Thanksgiving 2016

Black Friday. Small Business Saturday. Cyber Monday. Giving Tuesday.

Worn-out Wednesday. (Okay, I might have made that one up.)

It’s a lot to take in, isn’t it? Yet sometimes the banality of life’s daily routine can shock us out of our paralysis.

Even in a year which I will be glad to see the end of, I have more than enough to be thankful for, and I am. I hold those things in my heart when I could easily rail against the unfairness of the world, the moral decrepitude of society, the crumbling state of…well, basically lots of things, including our environment, both literal and figurative.

I had been hoping to make this post on Facebook on November 9th:

30 Days of Gratitude: I’m standing here, with my daughter, in a field of broken glass, staring at the beautiful sky. There is no limit.

But that’s not a post I had the opportunity to make, no matter how many days, weeks, months, years I’d been looking forward to its being a reality.

I reminded my students, when they came to me that day seeking guidance, that culture is not always top-down. It also radiates outward from each person’s choices. It rises from the ground up when we lay its foundation through our actions and voices.

Our school adheres to four core values: honesty, respect, responsibility, and kindness. And even when we don’t see these values modeled for us in the public sphere — and oh, my goodness, we don’t see them there nearly enough — we have the ability to be honest and respectful and responsible and kind. We have countless opportunities every day to choose to adhere to those values, and we must.

If we treat others in every daily interaction, be it in person or online, with those four values, and if we do it consistently, then we can and will change the toxic culture around us.

It will radiate outward.

It will rise from the ground up.

It will shatter what holds us down.

VBF Giveaway Winners!

Thank you to everyone who visited my Virtual Book Fair booth this past week! As promised, here are the winners of the giveaway:

  • Jamie Rasmussen
  • amartinez87
  • Puppy Doc (Phoebe)
  • Michelle VanDaley (@scottysmom2004)

The giveaways were conducted across all my social media: this blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

Winners, please get in touch with me at forest [dot] of [dot] diamonds [at] gmail [dot] com and put “Virtual Book Fair Giveaway winner” in the subject line so your email doesn’t get lost in my inbox. Tell me your preference for prize: illustrated print edition of Finis., Finis. poster (limited quantity on that), or your choice of one of my poetry art cards (design choices here). I’ll get it out in the mail to you by Monday after Thanksgiving at the latest.

Thank you again!

Virtual Book Fair

Virtual Book Fair booth

 

I’m so excited to have been selected to participate in the Virtual Book Fair! Don’t you love my snazzy booth picture above? (It’s probably best no one lets me design my own book covers.)

So Finis. is the book being featured at this fair, and below you’ll find a story synopsis, some advance praise, and links for it. You can also see in the image above my booth’s Scavenger Hunt number, which is part of the larger Virtual Book Fair involving Amazon giveaways and other prizes. Be sure to check out the other authors’ booths; there are numerous genres and books being featured — and all are discounted to only $2.99 or less during the Virtual Book Fair.

But I’m also doing my own giveaway — actually, more than one! For everyone who shares this blog post on their social media, or who follows Sappho’s Torque (who wasn’t already following it), or who participates in the interactive fun below, you’ll be entered into a drawing that has several prizes. The contest closes at 11:59 p.m. on November 19th. I’ll announce the winners on this blog the next day and on my Facebook pages and Twitter, and then you can contact me to let me know where to send your prizes.

Thank you for stopping by and for participating! Now on to the nitty-gritty…

***

Finis.

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.

Just chilling on the couch, you know, like ya do.
Just chilling on the couch, you know, like ya do.

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 and The Widdershins Series

“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 and I am not a fish

***

INTERACTIVE FUN

So sure, a blurb is great if you want a quick and general idea of the story set-up, but haven’t you ever wished you could ask the main character of a novel more about the story? What about supporting characters or the antagonist? Have you ever wanted to know more about what’s going on with them?

Well, Elsa is available for interviews, and so is every other character in Finis., so ask your questions in the comments section here, and I’ll make sure they answer you.

I’m also going to be available for answering questions about Finis. or writing (ask me about fiction, poetry, and non-fiction) in general. Reach me at my author page or the Finis. book page on Facebook or contact me on Twitter: @AngeliqueJamail.

***

GIVEAWAYS!

Remember to share this blog post on your social media, or to follow this blog (if you aren’t already doing so), or to participate in the character and author interviews before 11:59 p.m. (Houston time) on November 19th to qualify for these prizes. Do all three and get three chances to win! So what am I giving away?

*  A paperback edition of Finis. with illustrations by Houston-based artist Lauren Taylor. Her drawings lend a whole new dimension to the story with their unique interpretation. (Note that the ebook version is not illustrated.)

*  A glossy 11×17 poster of the Finis. cover art, gorgeously designed by Lauren Volness.

Poetry Art Card #5; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2016
Poetry Art Card #5; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2016

*  Your choice of one of my handmade poetry art cards, which feature tactile art and fragments of my original poems on them. Cards are made on high quality stock and come with matching envelopes; they’re blank on the inside. They’re also great for framing. Click here to see all thirteen designs.

***

WHERE TO BUY FINIS.

*  Amazon (also available in other countries)

*  Barnes and Noble

*  SmashWords

*  Apple iBooks

*  Kobo

*  Scribd

 

 

A Rule-Breaking Poem for a Nail-Biting Vigil

The Path Often Traveled, the Path Less Celebrated, the Path of Ennobled Resistance

Do not go gentle into that stifling night;
Rage, rage against the snuffing of the light.

Do not go gentle into those good old days which were truly night;
Rage, rage against the smothering of the light.

Do not go gentle into that locker room of night;
Rage, rage against the rape of the light.

Do not go gentle into that back alley of the night;
Rage, rage against the beat-down of the light.

Do not go gentle into that Burning Time of night;
Rage, rage against the murder of the light.

Do not go gentle into that murderous night;
Rage, rage against the silencing of the light.

Do not go gentle into that good old boys’ night;
Rage, rage against the extermination of the light.

Crash ungently into that glass ceiling into the night,
and be light.

 

 

This Ish Just Isn’t Fun Anymore

“You’ll find more cheer in a graveyard.” – Gimli, The Two Towers

***

The thing about porn is that at some point––unless you’re an addict––you have to stop and say, okay, I’m done with this nonsense.

Last night I reached that point with what has become for many people a Sunday night ritual of torture porn, The Walking Dead.

It took me about five seasons to become a regular viewer of this show, and now that habit, I think, is purged. I’ve never been a fan of zombies; unlike vampires or werewolves, they’re just not my monsters. My husband has been with it from the beginning, and though I didn’t like it because inevitably there’d be zombie nightmares involving our children each night I’d watch it, I used to enjoy his humorous recaps of each episode’s highlights. When I first asked him what the show was about, back in the first season, he told me it was a zombie show, yes, but it was also, like most good stories, about the Human Condition.

“It’s about these survivors’ attempts to maintain their humanity in the face of the end of it all around them. It’s a story about whether they will stay human or become zombies, yes, but also about whether they will retain their goodness in the face of other survivors’ becoming monsters.”

Hey, an exploration of humanity in the face of an inhuman threat––sounds like some good science fiction, doesn’t it? It didn’t take long to realize that the true threat of the zombie apocalypse isn’t zombies, who can be stabbed or shot in the head by a kid with enough practice. (And the implications of that detail, in and of themselves, are horrifying to contemplate.) The true threat, of course, is the people who turn on each other. The ones who care about nothing other than power in whatever corner of the world they have left. The ones who aren’t really any better than the bad actors we have in real life, and who aren’t even any worse, they just have more clout in their respective spheres of influence.

This could have been a show about rebuilding society in a way that improved over the calamity of the past. But then I guess it wouldn’t have been horror.

I think one of the problems I have with certain movies and television shows is the lack of creative problem-solving. I’m not learning much if anything from a lot of these stories. I liked The Matrix and even the sequel, but the third movie made the whole trilogy worse. I just felt hollow after watching the end of that cycle, as if the people who had conceived of this fantastic science fiction plot and these engaging characters who could literally bend reality couldn’t come up with anything better than resolving their dilemmas with guns. I liked Daredevil really well until the characters couldn’t get along and everything was just ultra-violence: the first season was compelling; the second one, at times confusing and insensible. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was great for a while, but now it takes longer and longer for a season to get good while half the characters––the ones who get the most plot time––stagnate in a soup of poor choices. The Jason Bourne movies––which have devolved into a cast with only a couple of women (both of whom are caricatures), long masturbatory car chases, and a brooding spy who never answers the question of will he or won’t he––haven’t been good for a while now.

And the violence––good grief, the violence. Probably by now you’ve read a bunch of the commentary on why people are leaving The Walking Dead in droves after last night’s last straw. There was no real character development; no one did anything that wasn’t predictable. And Negan? Seriously? What the fuck is that guy? He delivered on the promise of the last season’s finale, but worse. I suppose, in retrospect, we couldn’t have expected that he wasn’t going to be this way. The episode last night was just a confirmation of our worst, stomach-turning dread, executed in the most unnecessarily assaultive ways. I’m not sure things could have been worse if Lucille had gone after Maggie in her stomach and then her face. I’m really tired of the cheap shock, of the tug on my heartstrings that doesn’t have any heart in it. If a story wants to upset me, it doesn’t have to attempt to be the most brutal, most bloody, most creatively grotesque gore we’ve seen yet. Believe me, I don’t find that stuff creative. Tedious? Yes, sometimes. Insulting? All too often. It’s like they don’t even care that human beings, people with thoughts and feelings and relationships, are in the audience watching.

Dictionary.com defines porn as “television shows, articles, photographs, etc., thought to cater to an irresistible desire for or interest in something.” Yes, we all know it first means this in a sexual context. But we now have food porn, disaster porn, and torture porn (among others, no doubt). I love food but don’t really care about seeing everyone’s dinner on Facebook. I used to love my superheroes and their big-budget action films, but I’m tired of the stakes always being world-calamity-high. I don’t feel connected to those stories anymore, because they no longer feel like they’re about people, not really.

When I think about The Walking Dead––and I’ve thought about this for a while now––I don’t know how much longer the series can go on. At this point the zombies are hardly even a character anymore. The cycle of find a place, meet another group who are assholes, fight that group, find another place, meet another group who are bigger assholes, fight them in an uglier way, lather, rinse, repeat––I just can’t. I no longer care whether that world survives; I’m no longer sure it should. And the thing is, I don’t know what disturbs me more: the content of last night’s episode or the show’s enduring popularity.

Have you been paying attention to what’s going on in our culture right now? If so, then you are probably aware that real life is pretty badly screwed up in a lot of ways. It’s –isms as far as the eye can see. I’m not looking to escape into worse violence when I turn on the television. It doesn’t make me feel better about my own situation; it makes me feel worse about the human race. What’s happening on some of these shows we’ve been watching turns my stomach, but what bothers me more is that I’m not having the zombie nightmares anymore. Even after last night’s episode, which literally nauseated me––and by the way, blood does not make me squeamish––I didn’t have those dreams. This tells me I’m becoming desensitized to it, even if only a little. And that tells me it’s time to pull out while I can.

Game of Thrones, you’re officially on notice. You’ve still got Peter Dinklage and amazing costume design going for you, and I’m genuinely curious to see how a world full of matriarchies plays out, especially since only two of the leaders of the various regions or clans appear to be psychotic––a significant improvement over the life art purports to imitate.

But pull any more sensationally cruel and insulting stunts like the Red Wedding, Sansa’s wedding night with Theon and Bolton’s bastard, and Princess Shireen, and you and your lack of taste and storytelling prowess will probably lose me, too.

***

For another really interesting post about giving up on The Walking Dead, check this out.

Forbidden Cookbook: Can’t Complain Beef Stew

This rich stew goes well with baguettes or another crusty bread and a nice cabernet sauvignon. To lighten the meal with a refreshing side dish, add your favorite green salad.

ingredients:
2 lbs. stew beef
flour
salt pepper
olive oil
2 envelopes dry onion mushroom soup mix
1 envelope dry Ranch dip mix
water
1 16 oz. bag frozen peas and carrots
2 15 oz. cans whole potatoes (drained)
3 cloves garlic, minced
pearl onions (peeled) — cipollines have a rich taste
2 envelopes dry brown mushroom gravy mix

Combine flour with salt and pepper (to taste) in mixing bowl. Coat chunks of beef in this mixture while heating large skillet with thin coat of olive oil on the bottom.

In skillet, brown the beef in olive oil. Transfer the beef to a pressure cooker. Empty two envelopes of dry onion mushroom soup mix and one envelope of Ranch dip mix over the beef.

Deglaze the skillet with water and then empty water onto the beef. Add more water until beef is covered and stir until everything is well mixed. Bring to boil, stirring now and then to prevent burning on the bottom of the pot.

Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir now and then to avoid scorching on the bottom of the pot. Then cover pot with pressurizing lid and simmer for another 20 minutes. (The pressure cooker helps make the stew beef, an inexpensive cut of meat, more tender.)

Remove pressure cooker from heat and release pressure with cool running water before opening it.

Add peas and carrots, potatoes, garlic, pearl onions, and brown mushroom gravy mix to pot and stir. If you’ve lost a lot of steam, you’ll want to add another couple of cups of water.

Pressurize pot again and cook on medium high heat until steam begins to escape the valve, and then reduce heat to low and cook for another 10 minutes. Remember to depressurize with cool running water before opening lid. Stir and let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Can't Complain Beef Stew with whole wheat French roll
Can’t Complain Beef Stew with whole wheat French roll

You can increase the recipe for larger groups: for 8 people (for example), add another pound of stew beef and another can of potatoes.

Our First Home

 

The first home my husband, Aaron, and I shared, before we were married, was the top floor of a charming but tiny 1930s duplex in the Montrose. It was the kind of apartment that let you appreciate Craftsman style and the fact that back then no one cared too much about kitchens and bathrooms or closets or privacy. We lived there because it was cuter and nicer and in a more artsy part of town than my generic mass-produced mass-populated complex, and because the rent was a better value when it came right down to what we were getting, and because Aaron had already been living there a couple of years.

But he hadn’t lived there alone. He’d shared this place with his girlfriend before me, a woman named Debra who’d suddenly died of an undetected brain aneurysm when she was twenty-seven. I’d met Debra a couple of times. I’d gone to college with Aaron, and we’d been friends for years, always in intersecting social circles, but I hadn’t known him well enough to have been chummy with any of his girlfriends. The third time I saw Debra was at her wake.

Five months of extraordinary personal growth later, Aaron and I began dating. Five weeks after that, we became engaged. The next year, I moved in. We had a house blessing, and though the space was never big enough, we were happy. We looked forward to buying our own house — one day. After we were married and out of debt. And in the meantime, we had a cute, historical-feeling place in a fabulous part of town. We were cool kids.

The apartment we lived in wasn’t perfect, though. The galley kitchen was definitely meant for one person, so we didn’t get to cook together or even clean up together that often. And our cats didn’t get along so well when we merged the two households. One of his, a black and white long-hair crazy kitty, liked to run through the house at high speeds for no apparent reason, meowing her head off, a lot of the time. (This cat, named Bubastis — Bubu for short — had seen some trauma. Her first owner had killed himself when she was barely weaned, and then she’d been close to Debra, too.) None of my husband’s cats particularly liked my own kitten, and turf wars in our cramped home were de rigeur. The amount of closet space in the whole house wouldn’t fit my clothes, much less both of ours and storage. We could hear the lumbering footsteps of the large dog downstairs echoing from the wood floors every day and night. The windows, original to the house, rattled in the wind, and the neighborhood lay under a major flight path, so airplanes flew loud and low overhead day and night. In the humid quiet hours of the middle of the night, distant train whistles echoed from all around us, and the mercury vapor lamp perched above the next-door neighbor’s driveway lit our bedroom orange. Even in our intimate newlywed moments, I felt safe only with the bedroom doors closed.

One night I woke from a dream, my eyes opening to stare at the bathroom in front of me. Unusually, the light was on in there, and backlit in the doorway stood Debra’s silhouette, dark and unfeatured, though I knew it must have been her; I could see the red edges of her hair. She stood still and silent, watching me. Frozen in sleep paralysis, I drifted back down, my eyes closing on the dream as her image disappeared and my slumber deepened. I woke the next morning without a care in the world. It has never been unusual for me to dream of the dead; it’s just another way my subconscious mind finds closure, and it usually gives me peace.

Fast forward ten years. Aaron and I have children and are living elsewhere, having graduated from that tiny duplex less than two years into our marriage. We’ve come into town to have dinner with some married friends, Roger and Celeste. Roger had lived in the garage apartment of that duplex Aaron and I had shared, and Celeste and I had gone to college together. They’d known Debra, of course.

After dinner, we’re sitting at their house telling stories, calculating in the lulls how much time we have until the babysitter needs us back in the suburbs. Celeste tells us about the ghosts in the Heights, where they live, how their house is like Grand Central Station for this spirit or that one. We speak of how much we like our house now, of how much space we have, even if it’s far away, and how I seem to have lost my fear of the dark. “I think it’s because the house we’re in now is mine, it’s my own. I’ve bought it, there’s a mortgage.” I’m an adult now, with children to set an example for, and have no need to fear the dark.

Then I admit I’d never really felt comfortable in that old apartment in the Montrose, how it’d been six months before I could even really go into the kitchen. How even the cats like each other in the new house, too, how Bubu has calmed down considerably since the move.

“Did the kitchen still have all those little cows in it?” Celeste asks.

Yes, it had — Aaron had forgotten that, when he and Debra had moved in, she’d decorated that room with little cow heads for cabinet doorknobs, with Holstein-spotted contact paper on the shelves. I’d always thought it was odd but hadn’t ever said anything; it hadn’t been my place to criticize the design choices of someone else’s home.

And then I tell them about the dream I’d had, the strange one when I’d half-woken to see Debra standing in the doorway of the room where she’d first collapsed, looking at me asleep next to my husband in our bed.

Aaron looks hesitant for a moment, then says he remembers that dream.

“But I never mentioned it to you,” I say. “It was nothing.”

“It wasn’t nothing,” he says slowly. “I had it, too — or rather, I didn’t. I wasn’t asleep. I didn’t tell you in the morning because I didn’t want to scare you.”

More talking, more triangulating, more uncovering the details to find it was the same middle of the same night.

It wasn’t a dream.

More putting the pieces together, more realizing I’d never felt at home in that apartment because I wasn’t the only woman there.