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So if you’ve been reading this blog for any time at all, you know my latest publication — fiction, this time — just came out this month. The title is Finis., the genre is magic realism, and the length is novelette (a classification that occurs in speculative fiction genres, but which is essentially a short novella). The response so far has been quite good. However, when searching for my book on Barnes & Noble and other retailers, some people have noticed there is some other genre work out there with similar titles to my book, which appear to be related to The Book of Revelations — and my story couldn’t be much farther from that!! So to clear up some confusion, here’s an excerpt from my Finis., just for you — the first chapter. (More information about the story follows the excerpt.)

***

ELSA’S PARENTS and sister have become meaner than usual, and her cat, Jonas, resents her. She has a nagging concern he wants to eat her.

“He bit me again this morning — I woke up to find half the toes on my left foot in his mouth! I kicked him away but he just came back, all fangs and hissing, till I locked him in the coat closet.”

But that’s only the beginning, Elsa tries to explain to her cousin Gerard. She has to speak in short bursts: he’s conducting his water exercises, his head bobbing in and out of the water in orderly arcs. She knew she’d be interrupting his routine, but this morning’s episode has brought things to a head. On her way to work, anxiety commandeered her every thought and movement. Before she could catch her breath, she found herself tearing through Gerard’s garden gate and rushing to his salt-water pool.

“Oh, Elsa,” he says, his feet spiraling around a large stalk of kelp just below the water’s surface. He runs a watery hand across his spiky brown hair, and brine curls down his back. “What are you going to do?”

“What’s even worse, my landlord left another threat-of-eviction notice today.” She sets her briefcase down near a baby potted corpse flower and ventures closer to the pool. “I’ve done nothing wrong. My rent is always on time. I’m a quiet, orderly tenant. I thought getting a cat would mollify the building association, but unless I become a cat, I don’t think it’ll help.”

Gerard dunks, flips neatly into a ball, and spins back up; he swims to where she stands at the edge of the pool and rises. “Have you had any hints of your self?” He looks at her carefully, scrutinizing, and she wants to shrink into the empty void of mediocrity. Still, his voice is tender. “Anything at all?”

“No,” she murmurs, mesmerized by the ripples his body makes, the way the water slaps against the side of the pool and then laps backward over itself, folding the brine under to dissolve in a never-ending cycle of thrash and renewal.

“I’m not sure I approve of where you’re living, anyway. Those nasty gangs — I read about them in the newspaper. Packs attacking Plain Ones right and left, even children.”

“I saw that, too. They usually go for adults, though — people who ought to have blossomed by now.” Her shame for the disgrace she’s caused her family burns on her face.

Gerard smiles. “Come in for a swim. You’ll feel better.” He shoots backward through the water, darkened spiny ridges flashing on his skin.

She almost wants to but imagines how painful it would be. “I can’t,” she says, then makes an excuse. “Work.”

“Of course. The monster.”

“I’ve never been a swimmer, anyway.” Even standing for too long in the shower makes her skin feel prickly and sore; she usually just soaps up before turning the water on and then washes her hair in the sink. “I think I’m allergic to water.”

He laughs. “Off you go, then. See you later–” His words bubble as he dives backward.

Elsa trudges out the gate, hardly even waving back at the friendly centaur trimming his hedges next door.

***

Finis. is an ebook, but if it had a back cover, this would be its blurb:

Elsa’s family grows more unkind by the week. Her boss, a seven-foot-tall rage demon, has control of everything but his anger. And her cat wants to eat her. Things could be better.

In a world where one’s Animal Affinity is a sign of maturity and worth, Elsa’s inability to demonstrate hers is becoming more than a disappointing nuisance; it’s becoming a danger. She has no confidence she’ll ever conquer her Plainness by “blossoming.” She also fears both the wolf packs that prowl her neighborhood and being stuck in a life plummeting rapidly from lackluster to perilous. Fortunately, she has a cousin and a co-worker who know her better than she knows herself and can see through to what society won’t.

Finis. is the magic realism of our time, a story of finding one’s way to the end of things, of persevering through the dregs of life to discover something more.

***

See advance praise in the following online listings, where Finis. is available for purchase:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Smashwords

Oyster Books

Scribd

Finis. is also available in Apple’s iBooks Store.

If you don’t have an e-reader, no worries! Amazon has a free Kindle app that will allow you to turn your device (laptop, tablet, or smartphone) into an e-reader. Finally, one more lucky person will win a free copy of the ebook by participating in my back-to-school poetry contest over on Twitter. You can also find the Facebook page for Finis. here.

If you’ve read the story, please consider leaving a review at one of the abovementioned places. I love hearing from my readers and am interested in what you think!

***

UPDATE (less than half an hour after this post went live): The Twitter contest is now closed! Thank you to everyone who participated. I may do another give-away in the future, so watch this space and Twitter for information about that. Cheers!

Finding Poetry

School has started, and I’m teaching again. My tenth grade English classes and my grades 9-12 Creative Writing class have not yet begun to look at me with abject skepticism, but then I haven’t asked them to write a lot of poetry yet.

When I was in high school, I detested poetry. My instruction had been confined to the episode in The Odyssey when Odysseus outwits the Cyclops by telling him his name is Nobody, “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold and a few other poems about World War I, some Shakespeare, and maybe a little Emily Dickinson. While all those things are great, there wasn’t really a sense that poetry was something still-living people did. Poetry itself did not live. The most contemporary poet any of my friends knew of was Sylvia Plath, and her caché was having tried so many times to kill herself. And by the time we were aware of her, she was also already dead.

Is it any wonder I considered myself a fiction writer only? In stories, for me, there was peace. There, in stories, was the world as I dictated it, a haven for a girl who felt invisible more often than not, silenced not by malice but through the daily machinations of the 20th-century Texas in which the accident of her birth had placed her.

And, much like the progressive French women authors who write comte de fée (fairy tales) centuries ago were able to make female characters into empowered heroines with agency and active motivations by couching those characters in the realm of children’s fancy*, stories allowed me to reshape the reality of the world as I knew it.

When I got to college, I knew I would be a fiction student. (I went to the University of Houston for Creative Writing.) And then halfway through my degree, I had to take some cross-genre classes. Poetry workshops were my new experience: I made friends with other student-poets; learned from living, breathing, author-poets; tried writing poetry myself. I read the works of the poets of my own time, I learned how to see the world around me in short bursts of lyric. The rain-drenched courtyard outside my dorm became leaves “on a black, wet bough.”**

I wrote nothing but poetry for several years, and through this practice what I learned about language, about the relationships among words and between word and meaning, completely changed the way I worked. When I came back to fiction afterward, my writing style was wildly different, dramatically improved. My stories had become worth reading, all because poetry had taught me language.

When my students tell me they don’t want to read or write poetry, when they confess it freaks them out, I remind them that poetry is all around us. We practice with short form debriefs about mundane things, focusing on turning a single image into two or three sparkling lines of metaphor and comment.

My friend Chris Noessel, who lives in the San Francisco Bay area, takes Casual Carpool to work and sometimes posts on Facebook his impressions of his varied carpool experiences. One day this summer a line from one of his posts caught me, felt like it had rhythm, and I turned his post into a poem. Not a great poem, by any stretch, but something fun to work with for half an hour while I sat, otherwise unfocused, procrastinating my novel revisions.

****

Casual Carpooler

In this immaculately aging sedan, my feet intrude upon
a floor mat bedecked with red and pink hearts, a riot of
affectionate color in a gray, gray mechanical world.

A plastic key fob boasts a picture of the driver and
children, witnessing a moment of joy on a roller coaster, but
her movements,
.                         now fastidious,
.                                                  brake – accelerate – brake – like
dressage. A full ten car lengths separate us from the white van

ahead. The driver’s back, ramrod, doesn’t rest against her seat,
stiffens against the radio’s latest testimonial: a man lamenting
his thug life full of guns, dope, and, oh yes, bitches.

.                                                                                       The driver taps
her index fingers – da dum, da dum – in time on the steering wheel.

doot doot do do, doot doot do do, doot doot do do, doot doot do do…

****

Find the lyric in at least one moment of your day, every day.*** It’s like meditation without having to meditate: this forced daydream of language, your moment of Zen in a chaotic world.

 

****

* For more discussion of this idea, see Jack Zipes’ When Dreams Came True.

** This line is paraphrased from the imagistic poem “In a Station at the Metro” by Ezra Pound.

*** I currently have a contest running on Twitter: the first three people to reply to me with a one-tweet-long poem about school starting up again will win a free copy each of my new ebook FINIS. You won’t be the first winner (that spot has already been claimed this morning), but will you be the second or third?

 

It’s not so much a photograph as the black-and-white computer print-out of a photograph. And it’s not so much placed on the windowsill among the framed snapshots and portrait prints of my family as it is stapled haphazardly into an empty spot on the aging bulletin board. The bulletin board whose juvenile illustrated border has been falling down for years, whose navy blue felt backdrop is dusty and faded by the sun around the rectangles where items like this not-so-much-a-real-photograph have been thumbtacked and stapled up for years. So many years.

But this picture matters to me. It’s a picture of my birthday. Or more specifically, of a birthday party my Creative Writing class threw me one year––in 2009, I think––and I’m there in the middle, surrounded by my students and desks piled high with paper plates and napkins and homemade cookies and random snack foods from the grocery store that opens before school starts and a chocolate cake with a candle on it. The photo is grainy and hazy and even a little graffitied by my daughter, who drew ball point pink hearts around her favorite students, ones who used to babysit her and her little brother before they moved away to college.

I am dramatically rearranging and overhauling my classroom this year. It began with the acquisition of a Promethean Board which necessitated moving my computer (and thus desk) to the opposite side of the classroom, and that meant moving my bookshelves around, which snowballed into moving everything else around, too. In cleaning off the bookshelves I let go of a lot of things I don’t need or want anymore, and halfway through inservice week I spontaneously decided to redecorate my bulletin boards, which I hadn’t really done ever, choosing instead each semester only to add more stuff on top of what was already there. The fire marshal might have written me up, if he’d seen it.

By any logical estimation, this not-so-much-a-photograph, this piece of paper, curling at the staple-holed corners and ripped down one edge, ought to be tossed into the recycling bin. But I cannot let it go. This casual print-out of a digital photo one of the kids emailed to me is proof that during at least one point in my teaching career, I was able to make a meaningful connection with a room full of high schoolers that was powerful enough that they found a way to throw me a surprise party in my own classroom on my birthday, complete with decorations, food, a cake, and even handmade cards and a gift wrapped in lovely paper with a bow. I seem to recall that one of them posted to Facebook a short video of them singing to me, then one of them saying, “Now get your germs all over that cake!” and all of them laughing as I––also laughing––blew out the candle and then cut each of them a slice. Only half a class worth of work got done that day, but no one really cared about that.

I keep this picture around because it reminds me that I am capable of making these meaningful connections, that no matter how difficult it is for my students to relate to me as I get older and they seem to get younger, to get less interested in school and in learning for its own sake, to get more involved in the digital world we all now inhabit to the exclusion of real, tangible interactions with actual live humans…I was able to make an impression on them once, and I will find a way to do it again. I have to believe that, no matter how difficult it feels the first couple of weeks of the school year, no matter how many people ask to be transferred out of my English class because they’ve heard it’s hard, no matter how many of them stare up at me on the first day of school with faces that have shut down to mask the fear in their eyes. I’m so tired of not being known, so tired of not being given a chance.

I’ve been giving my classroom a make-over this week. The bulletin boards are now covered in a cheerful robin’s egg blue with white and silver scalloped borders. I’ve put up new artwork––some of the best of it by my AP Gothic Lit. students from last year. I’ve even included the book launch party poster for Finis. The walls have been freshly painted, all the surfaces have been dusted and Clorox-wiped. By the time classes start on Wednesday, the classroom will look like a brand-spanking-new place that is my own, rather than a room I inherited when I started teaching in it so many years ago, and even my desk will be cleaned off. I will appear to have it together.

In this process, I’ve been wanting to give myself a make-over, too. Wanting to walk into Macy’s and head right up to the Chanel or Dior counters and tell them to give me a new look. Preferably one with a shade of red lipstick I actually like, not too pink and not too orange. Something that won’t rub off on my teacup. Maybe find a new blouse or two to go with my fabulous skirt wardrobe.

In clearing out the physical detritus, I’ve been yearning for an emotional purge, too. I’ve had some setbacks with this school year already, and classes haven’t even started yet. Monday it felt like I was being slaughtered by a thousand bureaucratic and technical paper cuts. Here I am, already back at school and my summer’s work isn’t finished: I didn’t finish the rewrites of my novel, I didn’t finish clearing out the clutter in my house, I didn’t finish reading all the books I wanted to. My thinking about all of this is so entrenched in the negative, I have to consciously remind myself of all the good things that have happened: traveling with my family, successfully launching a new book and the excellent reviews it’s garnered so far, getting two of the rooms in my house and my wardrobe really purged and cleaned out. My god, I have to remind myself, the summer is only so long. How much did you expect to get done and still have a life? I’m too hard on myself.

David Foster Wallace’s brilliant commencement address to Kenyon in 2005 begins with an old joke about two young fish swimming around, when they encounter an older fish who says to them, “Good morning, boys. How’s the water?” After the older fish leaves, one of the younger fish asks his friend, “What the hell is water?” Wallace’s point is that we sometimes cling to our natural default setting of disappointment in the tedious fulcrum of mediocrity upon which so much of daily adult life turns; in this self-indulgent laziness, we sometimes forget to appreciate the value of our own experiences among other human beings. In short, we focus on the negative of what we know we don’t have, instead of recognizing the potential beauty in what we do not yet know about what we are going to have. Wallace’s speech is one of the most impactful and glorious elucidations of the Human Condition I’ve ever heard, made even more poignant by the fact that he, just a few years later, ended his own life. I share this speech with my students every May, just before the school year ends. Yet as often as I’ve heard it, I still have trouble, sometimes, remembering its wisdom.

My classroom is looking great so far. So here is my own personal start-of-term make-over: it’s going to be okay. Look, I’m getting writing done this very morning. After my writing date, I’ll head over to Macy’s and get some new lipstick. Then I’ll go home and attack one pile of paperwork and finish my summer reading, and then take my kids to a birthday party. My students are going to be marvelous and smart and kind and find something about my classes interesting. It’s all going to be okay.

I just have to keep reminding myself, This is water, this is water, this is water…

Well, it’s been quite a week around here! The social media blitz should die down for a while, now that Finis. is out and we’ve had the launch party. The festivities yesterday were really wonderful; thank you, profoundly, to everyone who came out to celebrate and who has already bought the book and who has left reviews. Such a delightful end to my summer break — because, yes, I went back to my classroom today. *le sigh*

So I’ve been invited to participate in a blog tour by the excellent Leah Lax. (Thanks, Leah!) Without further ado, here we go!

.
1. What are you working on?
This summer I’ve finally been at a moment in my life — and hopefully this won’t be the last time I’m here — where I have that “writer’s trifecta” of a book about to come out, a book that’s in edits, and a book I’m writing (or in my case, rewriting). Though I love all these projects, I think for this interview I’ll focus on the book that has just come out, Finis. It’s set in a world where people are still quite human, but they also have distinct animal characteristics, called their Animal Affinities. They aren’t part animal, not really, nor do they traditionally have animal familiars, but they do evince certain qualities and tendencies that make them more than just human. For example, the protagonist’s mother and sister are giraffe-esque: they’re tall with golden skin and lots of big freckles. When they walk, they lope gracefully like distant ships on the ocean. Her cousin is like a seahorse, with his webbed fingers, prehensile feet, long nose, and spiky brown hair. Her problem? She doesn’t apparently have one of these Animal Affinities, and it’s causing terrible difficulties in her life. This is the story of her journey as she attempts to get out of that predicament.
.
2. How does your work differ from other work in your genre?
Finis. is magic realism, and as is the nature of magic realism in general, it is generally unlike the stories around it.
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3. Why do you write what you do?
I write the kind of things I like to read, which means I don’t tend to stay in just one genre all the time. My specialties are magic realism, fantasy, and poetry. Often a situation or a problem or a piece of dialogue will get stuck in my head until my subconscious starts to wrap a story around it, secreting layers of metaphor and imagery and character. Sometimes what comes out is interesting enough to start editing into something more meaningful. But nearly always the story begins as a tiny obsession in my mind, and then I have to write it just to stop thinking about it.
.
4. How does your writing process work?

Well, the school year is about to start, and I teach high school full-time, so my writing process is about to get a lot more desperate! I’ll borrow time here and there for a half an hour at a time during the week, and then on the weekend I’ll leave my house very early on Saturday morning to head out for a writing date with my friend and fellow novelist Sarah Warburton. We’ll sit at Panera for a few hours and get some work done. I also have a critique group that meets every few weeks, and having external deadlines on manuscripts that aren’t in the publishing process yet really helps me to get the pages in. I’ve found that external deadlines are absolutely necessary for me. I hate disappointing other people far more than I mind disappointing myself! I’ve also noticed that my writing process tends to change when I have a major shift in my routine; i.e., my habits during the summer are really different from my habits during the school year. And every time one of those routine shifts occurs, I try to revise the way I do things to always be more productive, more efficient. So we’ll see how things go this semester. One thing about having a schedule that’s always way too busy is that my writing time, when I do get it, becomes sharply focused. I no longer have time for writer’s block, and so I spend time thinking about what I’m going to write when I’m doing other things, like exercising, folding the laundry, trying to fall asleep — and then when I do finally get a chance to sit down and do it, I usually can. That makes my time in front of the journal or laptop more useful.

***

Thanks again to Leah for initing me on this tour! If you’re interested in Finis., here are some links where you can buy it:

Amazon

Smashwords

Oyster Books

It’s also available in Apple’s iBooks store, and more venues are coming online each week. Check the Finis. Facebook page for updates.

 

By now you now that this week, my newest publication, Finis., launched. I’ve tried not to overwhelm the Interwebz with announcements of it, but I admit that Tuesday, Launch Day, I was online most of the day just trying to keep up with the traffic and buzz about it and reactions to it. It was a great day, and I’m so grateful to those of you who’ve already bought the book, read it, and given me reviews. I’m glad you’re enjoying it so far! (Links to places where Finis. is currently on sale appear at the end of this post.)

 

cover design by Lauren Volness

cover design by Lauren Volness

 

This Sunday is our official launch party, and if you’re in Houston that day, please feel free to drop by! It will be at The Black Labrador from 4:00-6:00 p.m. in their Churchill Room.

Finis. is an ebook only at this time, due to its length, but there will be copies of an anthology I was recently published in, The Milk of Female Kindness — An Anthology of Honest Motherhood, for sale at the launch party. This wonderful international project brought together authors from all over the world; the book contains poetry, fiction, essays, interviews, and artwork around the theme of motherhood and offers a wide variety of perspectives. (It also contains two of my essays and three of my poems.)

 

The Milk of Female Kindness: An Anthology of Honest Motherhood

 

Here is a list of some of the reviews that have come in so far for The Milk of Female Kindness. (I wrote “some” because I know there are other reviews out there that I don’t have listed here.)

*  from blog The Reluctant Retiree

*  from blogger Carol Cameleon

*  from blogger Madhusmita Phukon

*  from Michelle Clements James at Book Chat

*  from Sharon Bonin-Pratt at Ink Flare

*  from Dale Newton at EllaDee Words

*  from blog My Train of Thoughts On…

*  several on Goodreads

I was so grateful to be included in this anthology; it really is an excellent publication. Kudos to Kasia James, the contributing editor whose brainchild it was, and to all the other authors and artists in it!

***

As promised, here are links to buy Finis. More retailers will be coming available soon, and when they are, I’ll be sure to let you know!

Smashwords

Amazon (This link is for the US store, but it is also available through Amazon in India, the UK, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Japan, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, and Australia.)

Finis. is also available through Apple’s iBooks store, but be sure you get the title that has my name attached to it, or you might end up with some very different literature you weren’t necessarily looking for!

 

 

FINIS.

So it has been quite a busy time over here! If you’ve been following along on my social media you know that this coming week is a very big deal for me. My first ebook, Finis., is coming out — it goes live on Tuesday!

 

cover design by Lauren Volness

cover design by Lauren Volness

 

You can already pre-order it at Smashwords by clicking on this link here. Smashwords also has free samples available if you want to give it a test drive first. Finis. will be available at Amazon this week, too, and I’ll be sending another post with the link once it goes live there.

 

UPDATE 8/6/14:  Finis. is now live and on sale!  :)  Get it from Smashwords or Amazon by clicking the links on their names. It’s just $3.99!

 

This post contains some information about the ebook and the launch party, advance praise for Finis., and (saving the best for last) some very important thank-yous.

***

First, if you don’t have a Kindle or Nook or other e-reader, never fear: you can still get this ebook! Download the Kindle reading app for free from Amazon, and you can turn any Apple, Android, or Windows device into an e-reader. I’ve done this with my laptop, and it works quite nicely (though I’ve been told that sometimes formatting doesn’t load quite as well with the app as with an actual e-reading device).

In case you’re going to be in Houston on Sunday, August 10th: we’re having a Finis. launch party at The Black Labrador in The Churchill Room. Come on by! Be sure to order yummy food and drink while you’re there; The Black Lab may have the best pub menu in town (because it’s also an excellent restaurant). I’ll be giving a short reading at 4:30 and again at 5:15 for those who come later and miss the first one. Copies of The Milk of Female Kindness — An Anthology of Honest Motherhood (which contains some of my poems and essays) will be available for sale there. (Look for more information on that later this week.)

***

Here is some advance praise for Finis.:

“It’s not often I get that viscerally emotional on behalf of a fictional character. In a setting of overt fantasy, Angélique Jamail has created some of the most real people I’ve encountered via text in a long time.” — Ari Marmell (author of Hot Lead, Cold Iron)

“A silver vein of irony runs through Angélique Jamail’s fantastic Finis. It is a witty tale of conformity, prejudice, and transformation, in a world that is disturbing as much for its familiarity as for its strangeness. In a place where everyone is different, Elsa is the wrong kind of different, and that means facing pity, discrimination, danger, and sharp teeth. Dive into this story, readers, and confront them for yourself; it may just change the way you feel about things…” — Marie Marshall (author of The Everywhen Angels)

***

Now, of course there are acknowledgements in the ebook itself of people who were an integral part of the process of making Finis. a real live book. I could never hope to list everyone who has supported me in such a short space, though, and here I want to take a moment to acknowledge a few people who have been just wonderful.

I’ll start with my editor Jayne Pillemer, whose insight is so sharp, and whose confidence in me and in Finis. has been sustaining.

Thank you to Russ Linton, author of Crimson Son, whose guidance through the self-publishing process has been invaluable. If you’re thinking about going this route, check out his blog, where he discusses at length his journey on this path, and his interview here on my blog about it and other interesting things.

When I was at my wits’ end trying to figure out how to manipulate the files for Amazon and Smashwords, I lucked into hiring Jesse Gordon as the formatter. I could not have made a better choice. His response time was quick, his expertise was thorough, and he handled my quirky combination of perfectionist and techno-luddite with grace and aplomb. He has my highest recommendation.

The gorgeous cover design for Finis. was created entirely by Lauren Volness, photographer and graphic designer extraordinaire. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Kara Masharani for being the fantastic and enthusiastic model.

Finally, I want to thank David Jón Fuller for the occasional lunchtime chat when I needed to be talked down from the proverbial editing ledge. Every writer needs friends like that.

***

This week will be busier than usual here at Sappho’s Torque as we gear up for the launch festivities. Stay tuned for more exciting information as it becomes available! All the best, and thank you so much for your support.

angeliquejamail:

Read this lovely essay from my friend and colleague Casey Fleming. And then consider following her blog. When you read more of her work, you will be so glad you did.

Originally posted on (non)seculargirl:

I first crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in 1996, at 19 years old.

I took an airplane.

No passport required then, I presented my Texas Driver’s License at customs in Mexico City as documentation of my American citizenship. My purpose: to help run a day camp for the summer through a YMCA exchange program called Mano a Mano Sin Fronteras. Each day, I walked a mile from my host family’s apartment in the city center to the metro station, rose out of the subway system 40 minutes later to catch a bus that dropped me another mile-walk away from the community center in Naucalpan, an outlying barrio of the federal district, where I spent my days with Kristy and Luis, my peer volunteers, building a program from scratch.

For weeks I fought off back-to-back cases of dysentery as well as a buzzing terror that lived in my ribcage—everyone spoke Spanish…

View original 881 more words

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