Fiction

One year ago, my son started at his new school.  This marked a major turning-point in our lives—the end of an exhausting struggle with the local district and state that spanned years and, at times, pushed all of us to the brink of despair.  Prior to this, the Kinglet’s situation was so dire, his mental health so precarious, that we’d had him homebound with (largely ineffective) tutors and therapists for most of fifth grade and part of fourth.  Even after we successfully argued with the DOE for alternative schooling, it still took a quarter year to find a suitable placement—none of the special ed schools that we liked wanted to take a risk on a volatile (that is to say, “challenging”) child, and none of the ones that would take him inspired any confidence (most were just a step up from juvenile prison).

It was in late April of 2017 that we found a match with a small Philadelphia private school that focuses on higher-functioning ASD kids.  The transition was not easy, but philosophical and pedagogical differences between this school and our home public school district were manifold.  Over the past year, the Kinglet has made remarkable progress, not just in catching up with the schooling that he missed being homebound, but also with the life skills he so desperately needed but wasn’t being taught. While we’re still not able to fully relax (will we ever?), we’ve never held our breath this long without a major setback, a devastating crisis.  Our latest IEP meeting was a (comparative) breeze—the changes are minimal, agreeable, reasonable.  In short, he’s doing really, really well.

MEANWHILE, our daughter started part-time preschool in the Fall—an integrated special ed preschool, actually, in

The writer from her sickbed, with guest.

the same district that wasn’t up to educating our son.  So that’s fun. Compared to the Kinglet, the Empress’ developmental delay (mostly in speech) is relatively mild.  In fact, it’s about as mild as it could get while still qualifying for spec ed intervention—although the nuances of “mild” and what that means in terms of services has already become a subject of debate between her parents and her team.  Silver lining, having been through all the fires with the Kinglet we’re neither ignorant of our options nor shy about using them, so the Empress has already had a top-notch third-party evaluation for speech & language, which we are about to bring to the IEP next month.  Otherwise, the Empress is blossoming into a hysterically funny and sassy little pixie who knows herself and misses nothing and lights up our world like the miracle she is.

As for me… having both kids relatively stable and out of the house at least *some* of the time is lovely, although it’s not as revolutionary to my life as I’d imagined it would be.  I had planned to use this time to work on a novel, and I tried, but by December of last year it became clear that I’m blocked.  I’ve been creative in other ways, most notably with my online lit journal, which is very satisfying, but producing work of my own has been incredibly challenging.  At times even composing an email was beyond me.  I’ve made progress—some blurbs, some poems.  But no fiction.  Given that the fellowship I won this year is for fiction, this is especially demoralizing.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about this block.  I spent all of 2018 thinking about it, actually, up until my health took a nosedive in late March/early April.  It was actually a relief to think about something else (how sick I was), except then I got so sick I could barely hold my head up, and that scared the shit out of me.  Not being able to work, like, at all, not just writing but all the daily things I HAVE to do, like care for my children…

Although my health issues are not resolved yet I am doing much better now.  I’ve had some time to catch up with the minutia, and even a few quiet days to consider where I am, and what’s next.  Which is what this post is really all about.

I think the long creative block was (is?) recovery time.  Enforced by who, I don’t know (and I’d like to have a word with someone about it, yes I would).  I didn’t *want* downtime, but the truth is I wasn’t well.  Things got better with the Kinglet over a very short amount of time, but the trauma that we—that I—went through before that was intense and extensive and, in all seriousness, could have killed me.  That isn’t something you just shrug off, apparently.  Why I couldn’t have worked through it with writing, IDK, but anyway.  That’s how it went down.

Now I think maybe the sickness was an extension of that.  If we’re going to look for existential reasons for things, maybe the creative downtime wasn’t enough—maybe thinking about it obsessively, even thinking about it in terms of self-care—just wore me down until my body couldn’t take it.

Or maybe it’s just a shitty fucking coincidence.  Or maybe I’m cursed.

Either way, IDK if I’m out of the woods NOW, creatively or physically.  I know I feel different, but I don’t know what that means.  I don’t know what to do next.  I don’t know my purpose, or how best to eke meaning out of whatever life I have left.  I don’t know why the clock always seems to read 11:11 when I look up. I’m trying to work all of that out.

I’m trying.  That’s pretty much it.

I have aspirations to write more blog posts – regular content, platform, and all that.  There are a lot of things going on right now that could use the added energy: Riddled with Arrows recently launched its second issue.  I’ve got new stories and poems floating around in the world or forthcoming.  Voting for the 2017 SFPA Rhysling Award just wrapped up (with two of my poems in the running),  the Dwarf Stars voting is now open (also with one of mine), as are the Elgins, plus we have a Contest and a bag of holding full of administrative happenings, well, happening.  In short, I done been busy.

But behind the scenes, life takes precedence.  We just wrapped up one of the longest and most difficult chapters of our family story, hopefully never to be revisited.  I’m still recovering, physically and spiritually, but mostly doing okay.  I’ve been enjoying a period of creative abundance–not just the desperate, defiant manic phase that I’m used to, but a purposeful, measured and meaningful stretch of good, old-fashioned work.  I’m hoping to keep up momentum over the summer to re-stock my story and poetry stables for submission, then maybe step into something bigger-picture come the fall, once both kids are safely ensconced in school (and not climbing on Mom’s head, literally, as she tries to write).

In the meantime, I’m prepping for a somewhat-surprise trip to northern California to visit my grandmother, who is turning ninety-six-years-young this Saturday.  I haven’t seen her in person in three or four years (or my hip uncle Bruce in more than I can remember), and I’ve never been to the West Coast before.  Although the hyper-focused, rarely leaves the house without her children mom in me is freaking out a little at the thought of switching planes in a strange city all by myself, the rest of me–the part that USED to have a life, and love adventure–is starting to get psyched.  I’m looking forward to a few days in new environs to work, write, and think without little voices overriding everything.  Plus, I get to spend a few more days (and, let’s be honest, the last ever) with a very special lady–the only grandmother I’ve ever known.

 


So that’s why I’m not publishing as much content as I’d like–I know, excuses, excuses.  This is just to say, hi, I love you, hope you’re having a nice summer! And also, stay tuned.  More words to come.  Eventually.

Last year (according to Goodreads) I read a whopping THREE books of fiction.

There was a time (in another life, in a galaxy far, far away) when I never went anywhere without a novel at hand. I’d pull that baby out at stoplights, read over meals, in the bathroom, standing over the printer at work—you know how it is.

Their absence now is an icky symptom of an over-extended life; what time I have for reading—in between parenting, writing, and other madness—is pretty minimal. I DO read for pleasure, but it’s mostly of the online, ephemeral variety, lately. A poem here. A story there. Nothing I can write home to Goodreads about.

While I’m telling you this partly because I have a free writing day for once so OF COURSE I want to spend it lamenting about my lack of time, I also want to make the following point:

My Dear, Darling Authors: when I go to my stack of TO READS and, out all the books I could possibly pick, I choose YOURS to bring with me to a four-hour-long appointment at the salon, it is a complement. Nay, it’s an HONOR. (Diana Gabaldon, YOU’RE WELCOME.)

I feel compelled to make this point because (1) it’s been an embarrassingly long time since I wrote a blog post, and though I have good excuses as to why, I still feel pretty lousy about it, so deflecting the issue by shedding light on the responsibility that authors have to their readers (i.e. me) to NOT SUCK seemed like a good strategy… but MORE IMPORTANTLY (b) I did actually, recently, so honor an author (no, not DG, she’s amazing) who so thoroughly DID SUCK that I feel personally insulted.

Prenovljeni_frizerski_salon_v_Gosposki_ulici_v_Mariboru_1960

Now I have nothing to do but sit here, grumbling, getting high on hair dye fumes. THANKS A LOT, Mr. Terrible Authorpants.

I mean, really. I invested time in this book (not much, it was really bad, so bad that after a dozen pages I almost threw it across the salon. But I didn’t bring another book to read instead, so there’s four hours I COULD have spent reading someone else.) Also, I invested money. Or, rather, my in-laws did—the book was an Xmas present off my Amazon wishlist)—which is kind of even worse.

Anyway. I will not tell you which book sucked so very much. I will not gift this “author” with any attention, even bad attention. But let me tell you this:

There is a reason independent authors and publishers get a bad rap. Yes, yes, yes, there are excellent self-published and small press books out there (I’ve been in some of the latter, and I’m about to wax poetic about the former, so please bear with me). BUT, so very many of them are badly edited, self-indulgent space wasters. There’s no accountability. There’s no gate-keeping editorial staff, no publishing house with an established reputation and at least some marketing dollars and savvy to back an indie author up. Some self-published and garage-published books at least have the decency of using fifth-graders as cover artists to clue you in to how much they suck, but often there’s no way for a potential reader to know if the random indie book they’re about to pay money for/invest time in (or select above all others to lug to their hair appointment) is going to be worth it.

Which is why I don’t buy a lot of indie books. (Could ya tell?) When I do buy one (or download one, let’s be honest, Indies give their books away in promotions all the time) it’s because I know the author, or else the book comes with the recommendation of someone whose judgment I trust.

THIS book, though. What upsets me most about how much THIS BOOK sucked was that it tricked me. I didn’t know it was indie-published. I came across it by expressing interest in similar books on Amazon or Goodreads or some such. It looked good. It sounded good. It was published by a “Society” that sounded Literary and Important and Knowledgeable In Such Things, and had garnered good reviews with words like Intelligent and Challenging and that referenced other Authors I Like.

But, no, this book was overwritten, self-indulgent, purple prosy, dense, badly edited crap which, upon closer inspection, was published by a “Society” of which the author is the “President” and which exists to bring literature to the masses by, like, hosting open mics at a venue the author owns. And stuff.

Oh, and those reviews? The author personally responds to each and every one. Especially the bad ones. At length. (I really wish I’d noticed that before I clicked “Want to Read.”)

So let that be a lesson to you, Good Readers. Or let it be a lesson to me, I guess. Someone should learn something from this experience.

But although I am still feeling ill from the bad taste this BOOK I SHALL NOT DIGNIFY BY IDENTIFYING left in my reading mouth (yes, that’s a thing), I’d like to use the remainder of this space to raise a metaphorical toast to a book far more worthy of your attention.

love in the time
For our recent family weekend camping excursion, I selected the next book in my READ ME queue: LOVE IN THE TIME OF UNRAVELLING, by Franetta McMillian, a Delaware author and acquaintances whose work I discovered at a local literary venue. Ms. McMillian has a captivating voice and a quietly stunning performance presence. As many open mic enthusiasts can tell you, lots of people can read fiction to a room full of people, but very few can tell a story. Not to mention, the story she read—THE FALL OF ROME (Gargoyle Magazine, Fall 2014)—was freakin’ awesome. So guess what? I bought her book… and then kept it in my SOME DAY pile for a year and a half before finally breaking the seal and exploring those words. And after my recent experience, I admit, I was wary.

Let me assure, you. Franetta’s got this.

LOVE IN THE TIME OF UNRAVELLING (2013), represents everything good that an independent book can be. Set in the “shattered States” of the mid-to-late twenty-first century, this collection of interwoven stories explores the tenacity of love, spirit and human goodness within one of the ugliest possible imagined futures. Mired in catastrophic global pollution and entrenched economic corruption, McMillian’s eclectic cast of survivors, visionaries, and misfits are surprising and compelling. Her writing is clear, evocative, and—lo! —clearly well-edited. Her storytelling is creatively non-linear, transporting the reader across time and geography in what seems at first a random set of “Quantum Leaps” but eventually reveals itself to be a clever pattern within the novel’s haunting and beautiful mosaic.

My only (only!) issue with LOVE was a bit of chronological confusion which may or may not be iron-out-able but, in the end, doesn’t really matter. (And I can’t remember the last time a book made me go back, take notes, and do the math, so there’s that.) With elements of science fiction, fantasy, and slipstream, McMillian’s stories hold appeal for lovers of genre fiction, yet they also maintain a consistent, resonating literary tenor that, in my opinion, has the strength to cross boundaries and affect a much larger audience. I can see her work fitting in the highest tier magazines or, with luck, backed by Big Name Brick and Mortar Inc. Yet Ms. McMillian embraced the Independent Publishing model, and more power to her. You can see her creative vision in every aspect of the book, from the cover art (her own) to the composition and scope (there’s a sequel, she informs me, so watch for that!) Which, I suspect, was entirely her point.

While I abhor a badly executed self-published book (particularly one masquerading as something else), I acknowledge that there is, absolutely, well-written, entertaining, and important works out there to be discovered. I bemoan the lack of filtering in the modern book market that subjects sensitive souls like me to total, time-wasting dren, but let it be said that there ARE ways to sniff out the good stuff beyond just random point and click. Getting to know the local talent is a big one (and supporting your local artists can’t hurt). Also important? Recommendations by people you love and trust—like, say, me!
So trust me on this one. LOVE is worth it.

With MiniWriMo come round again, I’ve been thinking about what to write this month – which led me led me to look back on what I have written, and, more specifically, how those stories came to be.

head-113927_640Sometimes, stories are NOT born because a mommy story and a daddy story loved each other very much.

Sometimes, story ideas come about fully-formed, like little gifts from fiction heaven. (And isn’t it peachy when THAT happens?)

Other times, it takes a lot of forethought and muscle on the writer’s part – like, conjuring one’s inner Frankenstein to hack and sew words together and scream at the Gods until the Thing takes a life of its own.index

And then, sometimes, the process falls somewhere in the middle. A little prompting, a little “hmmm-ing”, a little pen-to-papering, and then… hey, look. An idea begins to grow.
For me, this often takes the form of a “What If” story.

What If… Bad Was Good?

In April of this year, my flash fiction story, DEFIANCE, appeared in Plasma Frequency Magazine.

Issue 11 Cover Preview

DEFIANCE is a fun little piece. Written in late 2012, it predates – I swear! – the Syfy show of the same name. While both the story and the tv show involve alien invasions and pockets of humanity that remain, erm, defiant, that’s pretty much where the similarities end (at least as far as I’m aware – I lost interest in the series halfway through the first season. Sorry Rockne).

In my DEFIANCE, the main character is a soldier in Earth’s resistance against aliens that have enslaved most of humanity. Poised for a sniper attack on the roof of an old elementary school, Jackson recalls his pre-invasion childhood of classroom tantrums and frowny-face notes that made his mother cry. While we learn that it was his inherent defiance that got young Jackson separated from his mother in civilization’s final hour, it was also what spared him from slavery – and presumably it is what helps him thrive in an alien apocalypse.

So how was this a “What If?” Back in 2012, my six-year-old had a disciplinary record that could put any teenaged hoodlum to shame. He is a brilliant child and the apple of my eye, but our boy was (and still can be) a holy terror to his teachers. A year later, he would (finally!) be diagnosed with Aspergers/Autism Spectrum, but at the time the “whys” of him were a mystery. One of the labels bandied about was Oppositional Defiant Disorder, which is another way of saying “irascible, recalcitrant little butthead syndrome”.

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irascible, recalcitrant little butthead syndrome

On the verge of seeing my baby expelled from first grade, I spent one afternoon crying into my hands until, when my own brand of stubborn kicked in, I poured myself a glass of suck-it-up and sat down at my computer. “What If,” I pondered, “being a born butthead was a survival skill? What would that look like?” An hour of fevered-typing later, the world of DEFIANCE had taken shape. Murky shape, maybe – it is only 800 words long, after all – but lo, I’d invented a possible future for my son that wasn’t all bad.

 

WHAT IF can offer new ways of thinking about old problems – and conjure up kick-ass stories, too.

 

What If… Left Was Right?

Science Fiction is an especially appropriate Petri dish for “What-Ifs”; it is, after all, speculative by definition. What if we had the technology to…? What would the future be like if ?

My story, GHOST-WRITER (published thiScigentasyWEBheader2s month in Scigentasy) tackles the Sci-Fi challenge of “What If” in a couple of ways. The primary question, dealing with possible technologies, comes from a note-to-self I found while flipping through old files in search for story ideas: [sic] what if someone’s brain hemispheres suddenly switched dominance?

For those of us who aren’t psychology nerds, “lateralization of brain function” describes the different but complimentary personalities of the left vs right sides of the brain. Though the subject has long made my geek happy (google split-brain experiments), I had recently read a book that was a game-changer for me: My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bolte Taylor, in which a neuroanatomist describes how her life was enriched by a stroke that disabled her left hemisphere. Free from the constrains of language-labeling and logical thinking, Dr. Taylor describes a world she perceived as free-flowing, creative, and spiritual.

Blausen_0215_CerebralHemispheres
With my, “What If”, inspired by Dr. Taylor, I tried to imagine what it would be like not to lose the functions of one hemisphere or the other, but to have the hemispheres up and trade places – prince and the pauper-style? Would wacky hjinks ensue? Would the body even notice, short of some vertigo, a Matrix-like glitch? The brain is superbly plastic; science has shown that under the right circumstances it can recover from grievous wounds, basically re-wiring itself to restore lost functioning.

It was from this line of thinking that GHOST-WRITER was conceived. In it, my neuroscientist, Carla, has invented a means of restoring function to brain-damaged patients by getting the remaining, healthy hemisphere to annex the dead tissue and graft its own programming there. Though the titular “Ghost-Writer” project is still in its exploratory stage, wrapped up in the proverbial red-tape, an inoperable brain tumor and a pending divorce compel Carla into taking matters into her own hands.

All fiction can be a “What If” playground; as writers, we can pose the question and invent answers within the parameters of any genre. Science Fiction just happens to lend itself particularly well to pushing the boundaries of possibility.

 

What If… Maybe Was True?

For this reason, a lot of Sci-Fi doubles as social commentary: if we can imagine a future or world or an alternate universe with even a minor shift in our cultural norms, what would that look like? Sometimes this socio-political exploration can be overt, with plots that cover the author’s agenda like a dancing green alien’s chemise (*cough* Star Trek *cough*).

In other cases, like with GHOST-WRITER, the questioning can be more subtle. My “What-if” about the brain’s hemispheres was my primary reason for writing it, but because my main characters are gay women, the story naturally raised questions about the future of gender and sexual politics, in particular same-sex marriage (which was not recognizedl in most states in 2011, when GHOST-WRITER was written).

Gaymarriage

So I wrote Carla and Maggie as a married couple –more significantly, I chose not to comment on it. I wanted to create a future where same-sex marriage is not only legal, it’s a non-issue. And I wanted to allow for fluidity, too: when Maggie turns down a date with another doctor it is for emotional reasons – not because he’s a he.

These were little things – I think I said more on the topic by not saying much – but the fact that beta readers were surprised when Carla’s spouse turned out to be a female pleased me, because it means my  take on “What If” here had the power to challenge assumptions.  And that’s, well, something.
What’s great about “What If” is that it inspires us, as writers and readers, to consider possibilities. Not necessarily large or paradigm-changing ones; we should not expect, when we sit down with our laptops or pens, that what we write will save a life or change the world. But, then again, we can always ask:  – What If it could?

What_if_I_ask_for_help

This is my favorite picture from the Someone Wicked Publication Celebration at Newark Arts Alliance on Saturday, where eight of my fellow authors and I performed excerpts of twenty stories from the spectacular Someone Wicked Written Remains anthology.

 

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photo by Justynn Tyme

I had a blast at the event – loved talking with friends and fans, loved listening to the stories,  and loved performing.  I even slipped into a southern drawl during my performance of Chantal Noordeloos’ “Mirror Mirror” – something I hadn’t planned to do, but the dialog seemed to invite it, so I rolled with it.

Unfortunately, though, this is going to be one of those memories I avoid revisiting in pictures because of how I look.  I’ve lost half of my pregnancy weight in just 10 weeks, but for me, as with many women, it’s hard to look at HOW we look with anything but a glass-half-empty mentality.

Weight has always been the Achilles’ Heel to my ego.  I was fat as a kid, and tormented for it, and turned into an anorexic teenager to make up for it.  Even after I found my ideal weight, my height has always made me feel like a giant compared to other women.  It’s been a lifelong challenge to embrace my body type, to love who I am inside AND out.  Add *cough*-ty pounds of baby weight, I end up feeling like a holiday float.

So when I look at the pictures from my reading, I don’t see a lady who is already halfway back to her pre-pregnancy figure.  I see a holiday float in front of a microphone.

someone wicked 2

photo by Robert Lutz

But that’s ok.  Looking back through my old journals, I reminded myself that it took eight months to lose the weight from my first child (which is fair, I think, since it took ten months to put it on!) Thanks to nursing and a whole foods diet, I also lost *cough*-ty extra pounds, so that by the time my son had his first birthday I was sleek and happy in my size 10 jeans – just right for my type.

I’m hoping to do the same thing this time around.  I’m eating healthy whole foods again,  aspiring to exercise (heh), and watching the weight come down in a natural way (read: slow).  In the meantime, I’m trying to be kind to myself.  I’m enjoying my baby girl.  I’m embracing the things that I love, like writing.  Like performing.  I may never be able to gaze at those pictures of me at the mic with a warm fuzzy feeling, even when (and if) I lose the weight… but at least I’ll have the memories.  Float or no float, I did go to that party, I did get up to that mic, and I did do my thing.  And it was awesome.

I think that’s key to a full life: you don’t HAVE to love every inch of yourself, but you do need to be kind to you, and love you as a whole.  You need your whole self to show up, after all.  If you’re half-glassing it, you’re only half living.

I do need to get a babysitter, though, so I can get myself to that salon.    Note to self.  A nice cut and color can do wonders for self-love.

 

I’m meant to be working on my novel today.  I’m all set up in my comfy chair with my laptop and my coffee, but instead I’m turning to you, blogosphere.  Because that’s almost as productive….

writers block

It’s been ten months since I did anything with COVENANT.  Last spring I revamped the outline and rewrote the first few chapters.  I was really happy with the way they turned out – I even included an excerpt in my application for a major award and went on to earn an Honorable Mention over dozens of applicants.

But then I put it aside.

It was supposed to be just a summer break sabbatical.  My son, the Kinglet, would be underfoot all the time – there would be swimming lessons and summer camp and far too much noise under one roof for me to get anything done.  I intended to start back up in September, but then it turned into a So-it-turns-out-the-Kinglet-has-Autism-but-the-School-wants-to-Fight-Against-Services-Oh-By-the-Way-I’m-pregnant-Hello-Morning-Sickness-Happy-Holidays-More-Morning-Sickness-Get-the-Nursery-Ready-Why-Am-I-Still-Throwing-Up-Oh-Look-It’s-Spring sabbatical.

Don’t you hate it when that happens?

Now my novel is like a friendship left too-long untended… you think about it, you say to each other “we really should get together soon”, but so much time has passed since anyone made an effort that you’ve crossed into awkwardness and no one really knows what to do about that. I miss it – I know I need to do something, especially now, before the baby comes and steals my sleep and every ounce of creative energy, but gah, where to start? Do I even know this novel anymore?

awkward

I guess the only thing TO do is just dive back in, no matter how awkward it feels… just open up the file, find the place where we left off and … start writing.  If it’s anything like real-people friendships, pretty soon we’ll be sharing mental martinis and tripping over things to say to each other.

drinks

It’ll be like no time has passed at all. Right?

Right?

Last week I promised some exciting news.  As the heading suggests, I have THREE very important announcements, the first of which is:

 

Emerging Artist Fellowship, Honorable Mention

 

delaware

This year I was thrilled to learn that I have been awarded Honorable Mention for the 2014 Emerging Artist Fellowship, sponsored by the Delaware Division of the Arts.  My application was in the Literature:Fiction category, and included excerpts from my novels TO THE TOUCH (currently in submissions) and COVENANT (in progress).  My work was recognized from among 115 participating artists from my home state.

The Delaware Division of the Arts is an agency of the State of Delaware. Together with its advisory body, the Delaware State Arts Council, the Division administers grants and programs that support artists and arts organizations, educate the public, increase awareness of the arts, and integrate the arts into all facets of Delaware life. Funding for Division programs is provided by annual appropriations from the Delaware State Legislature, and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.

I have a lot of announcements to make in the days to come, including an explanation for why this blog has been quiet for so long (it’s a good one, I promise!).

In the meantime, please accept my belated congratulations to my friends and colleagues at The Written Remains Writers Guild and Smart Rhino Publications for the release of our much-anticipated anthology, SOMEONE WICKED, now available in print and e-book editions at Amazon.com.

206_SomeoneWicked_Amy_1“Avaricious, cruel, depraved, envious, mean-spirited, vengeful—the wicked have been with us since the beginnings of humankind. You might recognize them and you might not. But make no mistake. When someone wicked crosses your path, your life will never be the same. Do you know someone wicked? You will.

The 21 stories in the Someone Wicked anthology were written by the members of the Written Remains Writers Guild and its friends, and was edited by JM Reinbold and Weldon Burge.”

Someone Wicked is an eclectic web of stories spun around the central theme of evil incarnate, with a diversity of genre and style that is the hallmark of Smart Rhino Publications (and good anthologies everywhere).  The authors featured in this collection include veteran storytellers as well as virgin word-wrights for whom Someone Wicked is a first-time publication.  Contributors include:

  • Gail Husch – Reckonings
  • Billie Sue Mosiman – The Flenser
  • Mike Dunne – The Fire of Iblis
  • Christine Morgan – Sven Bloodhair
  • Ramona DeFelice Long – The Chances
  • Russell Reece – Abracadabra
  • Carson Buckingham – The Plotnik Curse
  • Chantal Noordeloos – Mirror Mirror
  • Patrick Derrickson – The Next King
  • Barbara Ross – Home Improvements
  • JM Reinbold – Missing
  • Shaun Meeks – Despair
  • Liz DeJesus – Sisters: A Fairy Tale
  • Doug Blakeslee – The Flowering Princess of Dreams
  • Justynn Tyme – The Semi-Aquatic Blue Baker of Borneo
  • Ernestus Jiminy Chald – The Tail of Fate
  • Weldon Burge – Right-Hand Man
  • Joseph Badal – Ultimate Betrayal
  • Maria Masington – Impresario
  • L.L. Soares – Sometimes the Good Witch Sings to Me

and – hey, that’s me! –

  • Shannon Connor Winward – The Devil Inside.

Interested in learning more?  Someone Wicked is being featured at The Mortuary, an online forum dedicated to the horror genre in all its forms.  Creep over to the discussion to see what readers and authors are saying about the Someone Wicked stories.

By the way, the illustration for the cover for Someone Wicked (which I absolutely LOVE) was created by Jamie Mahon and designed by Amy York.  Learn more about all the Someone Wicked, as well as news and updates, over at www.SmartRhino.com.

 

 

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Coming in late 2013!

SOMEONE WICKED
A Written Remains Anthology

a production of Smart Rhino Publications.


An anthology of stories by members of the Written Remains Writers Guild and its friends, SOMEONE WICKED is being developed for publication in late 2013.  It is edited by JM Reinbold and Weldon Burge.

Stories include “Missing” by JM Reinbold,”Right-Hand Man” by Weldon Burge, “Reckonings” by Gail Husch, “The Fire of Iblis” by Mike Dunne, “The Next King” by Patrick Derrickson, “Impresario” by Maria Masington, and “The Devil Inside” by Shannon Connor Winward.

 

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Book & Author details:

The Book by Jessica Bell
Publication date: January 18th 2013
Genre: Adult Contemporary (Novella)

 

REVIEW:

I knew nothing at all about The Book going in – hadn’t even read the synopsis.  So imagine my eyebrows arching when I opened it to find it begins with the syrupy –sweet, tired awe of new parents writing to their infant daughter in a diary.  It is the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me—to see you being born…” the father rhapsodizes in the first entry.  Later, Mummy confides, Being your mother is the most rewarding occupation. When I feel those tears coming on, I just look at your face, and it helps me keep them hidden until I go to bed at night…”

I remember those feelings.  I remember wanting to chronicle every little spectacular and mundane detail of my child’s existence – and my utter failure to keep up once the reality of parenting kicked in.  I smiled at the time gaps between the entries, how Bonnie leaps from newborn to her first Christmas to toddlerhood in just a few pages.  We have the best of intentions when we start out as parents, don’t we?

So I could relate,  but I was skeptical about what I was reading, and why. Epistolary fiction – a story in letters – is a challenge.  A little risky, not easy to do well.  Where was the author going with this? More importantly, would it work?  

I’m happy to say that, yes, The Book worked for me.  I found the structure interesting: I like how we gain insight into the characters through a variety of narrative techniques and points-of-view.  Bonnie’s parents use The Book – a shared diary – not just as a record of Bonnie’s early life, but as a means to communicate with their future daughter (and, sometimes, with each other). Later, five-year-old Bonnie speaks for herself in first-person narrative, with a strong, precocious voice.  Aware of The Book but not its purpose, Bonnie wonders why it seems to make her mother cry or her stepfather angry, and develops some surprising ideas – a neat twist.  And through transcripts of Bonnie’s taped sessions with a therapist, we see her from an outside, more clinical perspective.  The Book is complex, intelligently crafted and, so far as I know, quite unique.

Because it is heavy on narration and dialog, the actual story within The Book isn’t made explicit.  We aren’t given a blow by blow of how Bonnie’s parent’s marriage dissolves, for example, or the circumstances and relationships that arise between the characters afterwards, since the characters are writing to each other or narrating to themselves.  They have little need to spell things out in exposition.  Thus the story sneaks up on you bit by bit; as often you figure out what’s happened through what isn’t said, or what’s between the lines. 

I like that.  I’m a fan of subtle.  I’m a fan of stories that get under your skin without you realizing it until you’re hooked.  I read The Book in bits in pieces, usually over coffee while my son was eating breakfast.  I remember one scene in particular took me by surprise, and I had to keep reading in that peeking-through-your-fingers kind of way to find out what would happen. We ended up late to school that day.  I guess that’s when I figured out for sure that, yup, The Book is good.

There were a couple of things that I didn’t love.  Bonnie’s mother was weak in character in a way that chafed my feminine sensibilities.  I kept wanting her to get a backbone and stop being so dependent on men.  It is what it is and didn’t hurt the story, per se, but I don’t know how central it was either. I would have liked to have at least seen her weakness rooted in something, explained or justified, resolved and maybe overcome in the end.  I’m not sure that it was.

And though I admire the way the character of Bonnie just explodes off the page (somewhere I saw the author mention it was more like channeling than writing, and that definitely shows), there were times that I couldn’t quite get comfortable with Bonnie.  She is uncannily precocious for her age (it is eventually stated that she’s something of a prodigy).  Yet, at the same time, her narrative is riddled with a typical five-year-old’s corrupted spelling/pronunciation and contextual misunderstanding, to the point of redundancy.  Plus Bonnie is also an Australian five-year-old, and I’m NOT, so I think some things were lost in translation. (What, exactly, is “making doll’s eyes”? An unblinking stare? Batting your lashes??” I googled it, but I still can’t tell.)

As a result, Bonnie’s narrative often called attention to itself, which kept me from being as immersed in the story as I might have been.  But I can’t deny that Bonnie is a stand-out character.  I loved her forthrightness, her insights.  I loved her questions about human nature, and I was moved by her father’s attempts to answer them at the end of the book.  This is definitely a kid who sticks with you even after The Book is done.

I’m not going to go into too much more detail, because I think a little bit of mystery makes this an enjoyable read.  I’ll just say, overall, I was pleasantly surprised, and look forward to more from Jessica Bell in the future.

I would definitely recommend The Book to anyone who relishes smart and innovative literary fiction.

Cover
Synopsis:

This book is not The Book. The Book is in this book. And The Book in this book is both the goodie and the baddie.

Bonnie is five. She wants to bury The Book because it is a demon that should go to hell. Penny, Bonnie’s mother, does bury The Book, but every day she digs it up and writes in it. John, Bonnie’s father, doesn’t live with them anymore. But he still likes to write in it from time to time. Ted, Bonnie’s stepfather, would like to write in The Book, but Penny won’t allow it.

To Bonnie, The Book is sadness.
To Penny, The Book is liberation.
To John, The Book is forgiveness.
To Ted, The Book is envy.
But The Book in this book isn’t what it seems at all.

If there was one thing in this world you wished you could hold in your hand, what would it be? The world bets it would be The Book.

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AUTHOR BIO
If Jessica Bell could choose only one creative mentor, she’d give the role to Euterpe, the Greek muse of music and lyrics. This is not only because she currently resides in Athens, Greece, but because of her life as a thirty-something Australian-native contemporary fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter/guitarist, whose literary inspiration often stems from songs she’s written. Jessica is the Co-Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and annually runs the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca. For more information, please visit her website: www.jessicabellauthor.com
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