Rainy Day Sale

So this morning, as I was packing up to leave for the Sawyer Yards Arts Market, I received a text and an email from the show’s organizer saying it was cancelled. Bummer! But we’re having some rough weather in Houston, so this is probably for the best. Alas.

Never fret, though — I’ve decided to have a Rainy Day Sale here on my social media instead! It will go this whole weekend, starting now, until 8 p.m. central US time Sunday (tomorrow) evening. Here’s what available:

I’m offering 10% off all of these items if you buy them from me directly. (I’m happy to ship them to you for the cost of whatever the postage and insurance you choose will be.) If you buy the books from Amazon or any other bookstore, you’ll pay their price, since they’re not participating in this impromptu Rainy Day Sale. Just post in the comments here or send me a direct email to forest.of.diamonds@gmail.com with “Rainy Day Sale” in the subject line to tell me what you want. Let me know, too, if you want the books signed.

I’ll update here when I know more about the rescheduling of the arts market. Thank you for your support!

Poetry Art Card #1; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2004
Poetry Art Card #1; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2004

 

Poetry Art Card #2; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2014
Poetry Art Card #2; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2014

 

Poetry Art Card #3; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2016
Poetry Art Card #3; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2016

 

Poetry Art Card #4; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2014
Poetry Art Card #4; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2014

 

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

 

Poetry Art Card #6; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2016
Poetry Art Card #6; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2016

 

Poetry Art Card #7; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2003
Poetry Art Card #7; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2003

 

Poetry Art Card #8; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2013
Poetry Art Card #8; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2013

 

Poetry Art Card #9; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2014
Poetry Art Card #9; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2014

 

Poetry Art Card #10; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2016
Poetry Art Card #10; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2016

 

Poetry Art Card #11; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2016
Poetry Art Card #11; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2016

 

Poetry Art Card #12; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2016
Poetry Art Card #12; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2016

 

Poetry Art Card #13; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2016
Poetry Art Card #13; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2016

 

Traveling Hiatus, An Excerpt, and the Last Few Days of a Sale

Hello, all. I’d hoped to post more frequently to the blog this month, but most of my social media interactions have been on Facebook and Twitter lately because I’ve been traveling a fair bit. I do have some newsy bits to share, though.

First, the discounted price on the Finis. ebook over at SmashWords is ending soon — July 31st, I believe — so if you want to take advantage of it, please head on over and do so. I’ve included an excerpt from the book below to whet your whistle. Of course, if you’d rather pay full price…okay, feel free! Head on over to Amazon and get the illustrated print version if you’re so inclined. (They have the ebook there, too, in case you’re wondering.)

Second, if you’re in the Houston area on Saturday, August 13th, come by the Sawyer Yards Arts Market, where I and fellow author Adam Holt will be authoring it up good like we did back at MenilFest in May. We’ll both have our various books for sale, and I’ll have my poetry art cards available as well. In related news, those cards have been a huge hit! (Thank you!)

All 13 designs -- and yes, a lovely box does come with the full set of the cards.
All the designs — and yes, a lovely box does come with the full set of the cards.

You can even purchase the full set of thirteen designs at a significant discount and thus be prepared for a wide range of card- and gift-giving opportunities. I’ve seen several examples of people who’ve received the cards putting them into frames and hanging them up as visual art, which makes me oh-so-happy. (Click the link above for information on how to get to the market.)

Third, I’m going to be traveling just a teensy bit more before school starts up again, heading out to the Labyrinth of Jareth (and yes, that is as cool as it sounds). I’ll be sure to post pics somewhere on my social media afterward, so be looking for that awesomeness. And when I return from that, I’ll be heading back to school (like, within days), and hopefully getting into a more regular posting schedule here on the blog as well.

Be well, enjoy the rest of your summer, read the following excerpt from Finis., and go get yourself a copy. Maybe one for a friend, too. Or several. Thanks!

 

***

FINIS. by Angélique Jamail (excerpt)

 

1

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.

 

2

Elsa hears the snarling from all the way downstairs and pushes the six button again, as if that would make the elevator go any faster. She doesn’t want to be late. As the doors finally, slowly open, she rushes out, bumping her shoulder on one of them. An accountant from the third floor, his mottled brown and gray hair in disarray, crashes into her as he flies toward the exit.

“I’m so sorry,” she says, helping him collect his fallen papers. Quietly she asks, “Are you all right?”

He pushes his round, dark-rimmed glasses farther up his beaky nose. “Those two new secretaries missed a staff meeting last night.”

He doesn’t have to say any more about the displeasure of the monster behind the big oak desk.

Elsa adjusts the neat hair clip she always wears and steps cautiously into the sixth floor receiving area, unwilling to navigate the labyrinth of cubicles to her own workstation next to the monster’s room. She can see fresh piles of beige folders on her desk, but horrible sounds are coming from the boss’ office. She realizes with chagrin her briefcase is still on Gerard’s patio and panics, turns quickly around and walks back out to the elevator bank. Artwork on the walls and a large aquarium filled with colorful fish and other placid creatures calm her. One young man from her office, a new hire, is staring mindlessly at a large, abstract photograph as if trying to lose himself in it. Another employee rushes out to stare at a particularly soothing canvas of gray paint.

She presses her fingertips to the front of the aquarium and several fish swim up to her. The larger ones seem to smile; the smaller ones seem to be trying to suck her fingertips, through the glass. Watching the kelp and anemone and angelfish tranquilizes Elsa’s nerves enough for her to go back inside. She turns around.

Lois, the switchboard operator, quietly beckons her. Thick glasses usually cover her pretty orange eyes, but today the spectacles sit atop her head, holding back a curly mane of dark copper hair that looks mussed, as if from dodging projectiles. She doesn’t look frightened, though, despite the palpable fear among the rest of the staff. Elsa hurries over.

“Are the secretaries going to be fired?” she asks. Three empty coffee cups clutter Lois’ desk, and dirt smudges highlight a dent in the tan wall behind it. The heavy wooden door to the monster’s interior office shakes suddenly as if something the size of a potted tree has just been thrown at it.

“Already done. The question now is whether they’ll have to be carried out.”

They watch for several tense minutes as the growling and yelling and sounds of people running around and things being thrown continue to distract everyone from working.

Suddenly a shriek from the interior chamber makes Elsa cringe. She recognizes the voice of that secretary — another Plain One, she’s sure, although the woman tried to keep it a secret. But Elsa knew, could see it in the nervous way the woman watched other people interact, in the dejected slump of her shoulders when she thought no one was looking at her.

Elsa debated whether to approach her, whether she would welcome sympathetic company.

Or perhaps they would each make the other more of a pariah, since no one liked it when underdogs banded together. Maybe the secretary would be angry and offended, would keep trying to hide who she wasn’t.

Or maybe Elsa was wrong about her and would be rebuffed, her position as outcast further solidified.

She finally decided it was easier not to try to be understood.

There’s another crash. It sounds like her inner debate is quickly becoming irrelevant.

A tap on Elsa’s shoulder makes her jump. Gerard is standing there, holding out her briefcase.

“Elsa, my dear, you need someone to look after you,” he says.

“No, I don’t,” she mutters.

“Who are you?” Lois purrs appreciatively, shaking his webbed hand.

“My cousin Gerard,” Elsa says. She holds up the briefcase, annoyed with herself for having forgotten it. “Thanks for bringing this.” Grudgingly she adds, “You’ve saved my hide.”

The monster’s door opens, and one secretary — not the one who piqued Elsa’s curiosity — stumbles quickly out, red hair up like a coxcomb. Her sleeve is gashed open. She points sloppily toward his office and mumbles, “Kelly…ambulance.”

There’s a roar, and Elsa clutches her briefcase to her chest. They can see the horns and hairy shoulders. The boss is nearly seven feet tall.

Lois sighs and picks up the phone on her desk. “I hope he’s paid up on the workers’ comp policy,” she says.

“That supervisor of yours is a nasty customer,” Gerard says evenly. “Somewhere in Crete a maze is missing its pet.”

Elsa knows she ought to try to find a new job. The monster has too much of a temper, and this sort of thing is happening more often.

 

3

It’s Elsa’s mother’s birthday, and she’s been summoned to dinner at her parents’ house, but just being around her family puts Elsa’s stomach in knots. After a Salade Niçoise she couldn’t even choke down, her mother announces that Elsa’s father has bought her a swimming pool for her birthday; they’ll break ground within two weeks. Everyone else is excited. When Elsa doesn’t muster the same enthusiasm as the rest of the family, her father asks what her problem is.

“Dad, you know I can’t swim –”

“No, you won’t swim,” he grouses. “There’s a difference.”

This is technically true. Elsa chooses not to submerge herself in vats of acid, too.

“I should’ve just thrown you into the water when you were little instead of listening to you whine.” He harrumphs, a gargoyle hunkering over his dinner. He and Elsa recall her traumatic first experience with a swimming pool in very different ways. “Faced with sink or swim, I’ll bet you’d have figured out a way to dog paddle.”

Elsa stares at her plate, pushes the food around on it. She nibbles a little at the bacon wrapping the shrimp and has eaten half her wheat roll, but nothing tastes good.

Her sister Joan is there with her husband Neil and their eight-month-old son, Stuart. The evening continues in its typical way: Joan and Neil and Stuart are the stars with their gaiety and antics; Elsa greatly vexes her mother (Why doesn’t she ever go out? Why doesn’t she ever bring friends over at the holidays? Is she ever going to get married?), which makes her father grumble, which makes Joan suggest Elsa do something different with her hair or her clothes or go out more or do something, which makes Neil pay more attention to Stuart, which makes Elsa’s mother say how much she loves grandchildren and would like to have more someday while glaring at her younger daughter.

“Sure, Mother, I’ll have some grandchildren for you. Right after I sprout two more legs and some wings and become a butterfly.”

Everyone becomes quiet then, the family’s frustrated dance around the subject of Elsa’s Plainness stuttering to a halt. Her mother looks wistful, as if she hopes such a transformation might one day come to pass and doesn’t understand why it hasn’t.

Elsa surveys them all: her parents, prominent figures in society, their stateliness exuding from every pore even in the privacy of their home; Neil with his raven coloring; Stuart, soft fuzzy hair on his velvet scalp, just like Joan had when she was young. And then Joan. Tall, graceful, even her freckles a lovely blanket over golden skin. Like her mother, a perfect giraffe.

“Elsa, I have the number of a doctor I want you to call,” her mother says. “One of my friends suggested him.”

“I’ve been to see doctors before,” Elsa reminds her. They examined every inch of her, inside and out, subjected her to the most embarrassing questions ever, but could find no evidence of her animal affinity.

The last doctor, a specialist, recommended shock therapy as a way to bring out Elsa’s true nature. “Your whole life will improve once we figure out what you’ve got hiding away inside of you,” he said, his small black eyes like beads in his ruddy face. “No one will question your intelligence or competence ever again.” He grinned at her with thin lips. “You might even find a boyfriend finally.” At Elsa’s surprised look, he shrugged. “Your dad told me you can’t even get a date. No worries, though. Once we figure out what you are, the whole world will see you in a more favorable light.” He cleared his throat and pinched his prescription pad, began scrawling notes. “I recommend eight to ten sessions –”

“Absolutely not!” Elsa said, tugging the medical gown tighter around herself. She wouldn’t endure some medievally-inspired torture just so her parents could feel better about their unusual kid.

The doctor cast her an indignant look. “Has anything else worked yet? Without an evident affinity, you’re only half your self.”

Elsa leveled an angry look at him that was more fear than backbone. “I’m not interested in shock therapy, thanks.”

“Fine,” the doctor replied coolly. “Enjoy being a Plain One.” Then he left the exam room, closing the door behind him with a little more force than was strictly necessary. Elsa put her clothes back on and left as quickly as she could. Her parents were annoyed with her for that, too.

“He was one of the best, Elsa,” her father said. “I had to pull some strings to get you that appointment. He’s usually booked seven months in advance.”

Elsa still can’t decide whether she appreciates her father’s efforts, or if he simply wanted to reassure himself it wasn’t his fault she’s so deficient. Either way, she knows she isn’t going back.

Dinner ends with a hedonistic dessert to which Joan politely demurs. “Watching my figure,” she says, smiling. As if Joan has to worry about that — she grazes all day and never puts on an ounce. Elsa takes a bite of the mousse cake and finds it delicious. Suddenly she’s hungry, but she hasn’t eaten three bites before Joan stops her. “Seriously? That’ll go straight to your hips.”

Later, when Elsa gathers her purse and keys to go home, she glances back at everyone chatting away and realizes no one is noticing her. The family room — a concoction of Stuart’s toys and Joan’s knitting bag and a book Neil brought over for her father to read — is filled with the presence of Joan’s family. Nothing of Elsa’s anywhere, except for the plain white envelope on the small table by the door. It contains a check, a small monthly supplement because Elsa’s income hasn’t kept pace with the rising cost of living, so that she can have an apartment of her own.

Nights like this, Elsa just knows her parents wish they’d stopped with the first child.

 

4

It takes about six months for Elsa’s parents’ pool to be finished. The deck takes another week, and then her parents arrange a pool party to celebrate the start of summer and their new backyard oasis. Elsa receives an invitation in the mail with her monthly check, a subtle but firm reminder that her attendance is expected.

“They could’ve just called me,” she says to Jonas, showing him the card. He swats at it with his front paw and knocks it out of her hand. Despite her attempts to buy his affection with toys and catnip and, those having failed, a tiny mouse that just made her sick when she had to clean its guts off the floor, their relationship has not improved in the last six months any more than her feelings toward her family have.

In fact, very little in her life has changed, but the time has passed quickly because she’s always working. Besides seeing Gerard sometimes, she has no life outside of that horrible job. She hasn’t quit, though, since she isn’t sure she can find another one. Work is thin for Plain Ones, even those who are educated, as she is. In the three employment applications she started to fill out, the box which was once labeled “Special Skills” now asks for “Animal Affinity.” It appears that in a tightening economy, employers can’t afford training people who will never reach their full potential, never understand the world in a complex way, never truly mature.

The monster has gone through three more secretaries. Elsa and Lois have started eating lunch together once or twice a week in the building’s cafeteria, and Elsa finds her laid-back attitude about work soothing, but she isn’t any closer to understanding this woman who’s like a patch of sunlight in the middle of a corral of scurrying, dismal creatures.

Elsa rummages through her dresser to find her bathing suit, to try it on before showing up in it at her parents’ house. She bought one for sunbathing, but that was years ago, and she isn’t sure she can still fit into it.

She finally finds it in the back of the bottom drawer: a glaring purple bikini she grimaces at and decides she’ll replace even if she is still that size. Sure enough, it doesn’t come close to fitting properly. The bottom is too tight and no longer covers her. This is no surprise — she knows women get rounder as they get older — but the top doesn’t fit anymore, either. Elsa never thought her chest would get any larger. It’s always been disappointingly average but now seems to have a certain fullness. The purple top stretches across her breasts obscenely, and she has trouble clasping it shut at the back. Elsa removes the bikini immediately and tosses it into her wastebasket. She takes the clip out of her hair — she can see even despite the tangles it has grown so long while she wasn’t paying attention — and looks at her naked body in the mirror.

“I’ve never been curvy before,” she says quietly with an optimistic smile. She looks across the room to Jonas, lying on the bed. “What do you think, kitty? Time for me to go shopping?”

He rolls over onto his back and turns his head to the wall. She walks toward him and rubs his belly just a little, the hopeful overture of peace an extension of her buoyed spirits. He even begins to purr, but then the wail of sirens a few blocks away interrupts the moment. He bites her hand hard enough to draw blood. She recoils in surprise and anger as he licks his lips repeatedly, staring at her.

 

5

It occurs to Elsa that she can make her own social event if she just insists on reserving the time to do it. At lunch on Friday, she invites Lois over for dinner the next weekend.

“My cousin Gerard will be there. He’s the one member of my family I have anything in common with.”

Lois raises her eyebrows.

“We both like seashells and hot chocolate,” Elsa answers.

Lois looks at her in surprise, as if to say, That’s all? Then she smiles, genuinely. “Yes, your party sounds fun. It’s strange, I think I’ve only ever seen you at work.”

Elsa replies slowly. “I’ve been something of a social leper ever since I…started working here.” She moves her corn around her plate. “I’m tired of it.”

Lois thoroughly enjoys a bite of her tuna salad before saying, “Well, it happens to everyone who works for the monster, sooner or later.”

“But not you. You go and do fun things on the weekends, don’t you? And you’ve been working here for as long as I can remember.”

“But I work for the building, not for him, and there’s never any work for a switchboard operator to take home. Besides,” she smiles, “I don’t let things bother me. I let other people’s problems get tangled in my hair during the day and then preen them out at night so I can sleep.”

“I could try that,” sighs Elsa, “but then I still have all these other things to worry about which are my problems.” She takes a bite of her roll.

“Such as?”

She feels too embarrassed to tell her co-worker about the ongoing gang attacks in her neighborhood, which for starters isn’t the safest, but which is the best she can do under her present circumstances. The fact that the area is so unsafe is probably the only thing stopping her building association from kicking her out. She doesn’t want to mention her crumbled relationships with her parents and sister, that they lost their patience and renounced their hopes for her when she didn’t blossom into something greater than herself by the time she reached adulthood. She’d in fact rather not acknowledge her Plainness at all. Likewise her fear that she’ll never be better than what she is, and that the world will never forgive her for it.

Lois contemplates Elsa’s face while she chews, then asks, “Why are you still in the cubicle maze, anyway? Haven’t you been working here for years?”

Elsa knows why she hasn’t ever been promoted: her boss is no better than the rest of the world. And although she’s worked her tail off her whole time she’s been here, he still refuses to see her work as equal to that of a fully realized person. But Elsa keeps silent, staring into her food, chewing ever so thoughtfully.

“Hmm,” says Lois, her orange eyes almost narrowing behind her glasses. She looks back down at her plate and then up again with a smile. “So what time shall we get together?”

 

6

Lois arrives first. Elsa is still buckling her shoes when the doorbell rings. She hops to the door, nearly tripping over the hem of her long green skirt. She checks her face in the mirror in the hall, noticing for the first time a large crack in the bottom half of the glass. She pushes her hair out of her eyes and opens the door.

“Hi,” says Lois. She looks calm.

“Hi.” They just stare at each other a moment, until Elsa remembers to move out of the doorway. Lois walks in and looks around the apartment, taking in the blue and green tones of the walls and furniture. There are photographs of a younger Elsa here and there, posed with people she doesn’t see much anymore. An antique snorkel collecting dust on the mantelpiece, a nautilus drawing taped to one wall — both things she found years ago in a thrift store and bought because they reminded her of Gerard when he was off at university. Jonas walks right up to Lois and curls, purring, around her legs.

“Hello,” she coos, picking the cat up and nuzzling him.

Elsa stares. “That’s Jonas,” she says.

“He’s sweet.” Lois rubs her face against his; it looks for a moment like Jonas’ whiskers are poking out of Lois’ cheeks. Elsa has never heard such loud purring.

“Do you want him?”

A strange silence as Lois seems to evaluate whether this is a joke. She lets the cat down but he doesn’t run away.

Elsa says, “Make yourself at home. I just need to finish my hair,” and wanders off to her bedroom.

“Take out your barrette,” says Lois, following her. “I’ve never seen your hair down before.” Reluctantly Elsa does; her hair is a mass of tangles falling, falling. “It’s so long! I had no idea.”

“It’s constantly snarled, too. Even after I wash it, I can’t get a brush through it.” She thinks of the way Joan’s hair used to tangle after her swim lessons when they were children, and the way she howled when their mother would yank the knots free with a paddle brush. Frightened by this ritual, Elsa refused to take lessons herself, but now her hair tangles that way, too. “It’s like I’ve always just gotten out of the pool.” She looks at Lois’ smooth copper curls. “I’ve tried keeping it short, but it grows so fast I’d be at the salon every three weeks just keeping it above my shoulders.” And salons are too expensive to frequent that often on her salary. Elsa has tried cutting it herself, but she can’t ever get it even and doesn’t know how to cut layers into it to “work with” its texture.

“No wonder you keep it clipped up.” Lois touches the dark tangles. “What color is this?” she asks quietly.

“I don’t color it. It’s always been this way. Strange, too, because my mother and sister are strawberry blondes.”

“It shines like the moon on the ocean.” Lois gently bats the ends of the tuft she’s been playing with.

“It’s my one unusual feature, and I have to hide it because it’s so messy.”

Lois just looks at her, as if she barely understands. She digs a large-tooth wooden comb out of her purse and begins coaxing the ends of Elsa’s hair. Some of the tangles give way to recognizable curls, but when she stops combing, the hair seizes back into its former mess. Elsa sighs. Lois seems genuinely confused.

“Don’t worry about it,” Elsa says. “I’m used to it.” She puts her hair back up.

Dinner is pleasant. Lois seems very interested in Gerard’s job at the aquarium, which he discusses with candor while keeping a wary eye on Jonas, who seems to be trying to smell him from the comfort of Lois’ lap all evening. When Lois excuses herself to use the bathroom, he says quietly, “I understand what you mean about that cat. Maybe Lois will take him home with her.”

Then sirens blare down the street and they hear the sound of glass breaking at a distance.

“And perhaps you can get a nice Doberman,” he adds.

Over dessert, Elsa mentions her parents have put in a new swimming pool.

“A chlorinated one?” Gerard asks, wrinkling his nose. “So harsh on the skin and hair.”

Elsa invites them both to her parents’ pool party. Lois’ smile fades. “That sounds very nice. But I don’t swim.”

“Oh, well, you don’t have to swim. I don’t. Just come with me, and um, enjoy the festivities.”

“I suppose it wouldn’t be so bad just to sit in the sun for a while.” She clears her throat. “My sister drowned in a river when we were young, and I’ve never been much for water. Pool parties really aren’t my thing.” Quickly she adds, “But I’ll go to keep you company.”

Elsa doesn’t know how to respond. She can say she’s sorry about Lois’ sister, but that feels so typical. What surprises her most is that someone has shared something dramatic and personal with her. Even beyond that, the woman’s life doesn’t seem to have been ruined, only affected, by the event. But then she realizes that if Joan drowned in a river, she might not get all weepy, either.

Gerard asks, “Were you there when it happened?”

The orange eyes look a little distant for half a second, then the dark copper curls bob up and down yes.

“I’m really sorry.”

“Thank you.”

They nibble in silence until Lois says, “It didn’t seem like a scary place at first. The river just sort of took up space in the middle of a forest. It didn’t look too big, maybe a hundred feet across, but it was mean.” She speaks slowly. “Some people we knew from school called it a ‘silent killer’ because you could never see any movements or hear any disturbances on the surface of the water, but the undercurrents were fierce. And in the rainy season, it could get as deep as twenty feet in some pockets. People would go out there to fish¾there was great fishing there, they said…”

Elsa knows this place; it’s only a couple of hours away. Her stomach turns inexplicably.

“…and they’d slip and fall under the water, be carried out by the undertow. They never came back, not alive. The river just took up space until you got close, and then it started killing people. It wasn’t surprising to hear of at least four people a summer dying.” She clears her throat. “At least it’s a peaceful death. Supposedly the senses dull, like being wrapped in cotton.” She shrugs, affecting nonchalance, but Elsa knows this is probably an act. “I hear it doesn’t hurt at all.”

Elsa has been to this river before. Close to a small salt dome in the hill country, it’s the only salt-water river for thousands of miles, and this makes it something of a tourist novelty. Her roommates in college took her there one weekend for a camping trip; she was coming into the realization that she might be a Plain One and feeling depressed about it, and they thought she might enjoy getting out of town for a while. Being with them was nice, but the notorious river gave her nightmares and they cut their weekend short. After graduation, those friends moved away to other cities, and Elsa doesn’t talk to them anymore. “Why’d your sister go in?”

“We didn’t know any better. It was right after we’d moved from Europe.”

Elsa almost jumps for joy at the subject change. “I didn’t know you lived in Europe! Where?”

Lois smiles softly, understanding. “All over, really. Would you like to hear about it?”

Elsa would. They don’t talk about the river again.

Eventually Lois stands up to leave, and the evening ends. At the door, Gerard has to shove a cloying Jonas away with his foot rather more forcefully than the cat likes. As he leaves, he reminds Elsa to lock all her doors and windows — or perhaps she’d like to stay at his house for a few days?

“No, thanks, I’ll be fine here.”

Reluctantly, he walks to his car and drives away.

*          *          *

If you enjoyed this excerpt, I hope you’ll head over to SmashWords or Amazon and get a copy. (Good karma if you leave a review at Amazon or Goodreads. Extra good karma to anyone who buys a copy and deposits it into a Little Free Library in your neighborhood.)

And as always, thank you so much for your support!

FINIS. in July

Hey there. This is just a quick note to let you know the ebook of FINIS. is going to be on discounted sale during the month of July over at SmashWords. Click this link to go to my author profile there and find the book super easily (or click the first link above to go directly to the listing).

Then click on this link to see the rest of the Summer/Winter Sale 2016 catalogue they have.

But first go buy my book. Because it’s awesome. (And you don’t even have to take my word for it: check out the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.)

***

Please note this discounted sale is for the ebook only. If you want the print version which includes illustrations by Houston artist Lauren Taylor — and oh my goodness, why wouldn’t you?? — you can find it here.

An Interview I Gave…

I was recently interviewed by one of the vendors at the Gulf Coast Indie Book Fest (where my books and poetry art cards were featured last month), and the interview went live today. A couple of other authors are featured in the post, too, including Adam Holt, whom I shared a table with. (Look for that collaboration again in the future, I suspect.)

Here’s the link to the post which includes my interview. Thanks to Dylan Drake for the interest and the opportunity!

The Turn of the Year

Happy New Year! Welcome to 2016!

 

free image from http://minndirmzs.tk/new-year-free-pictures/
free image from http://minndirmzs.tk/new-year-free-pictures/

 

Like I typically do, I want to share a few interesting — well, interesting to me at least — statistics about this past year in the life of my blog, and to also let you know about what’s coming up for this next year in my writing life. Brief mention of a resolution or several might accidentally find its way into this post, but since those things are notoriously adept at self-sabotage, maybe I’ll just make some suggestions about where, in this moment, I’m eager to see my writing career meander. You know, all casual-like, because we’ve seen that Pronouncements are rarely flexible enough to work In Real Life.

So first, some nifty stats.

Sappho’s Torque had a good year, with nearly 7,000 hits. That might not sound like very much, but for my tiny little operation that doesn’t even get a new post every week (more on that later), it’s kind of lovely. Building a platform with social media and a blog is a long, slow process, but a worthwhile one, it appears, since new subscribers are jumping on board with pretty much every post. (And hey, thank you!) WordPress tells me my blog is being read in 99 countries, but I’m not sure how much of that number matters and how much of it is Wonky Computer Network Ephemera That Means Nothing In A Practical Sense. What is interesting — again, to me — is that, after the US, the blog’s biggest readership is in the UK (not a surprise) and Brazil (definitely a surprise). It appears that Brazil has edged out Canada and Australia, which were previously two of my biggest audiences. Yet I know I still have faithful readers in Canada and Australia, so… Go Brazil! Welcome!

Among the most popular posts on my blog this past year were ones from some of my periodic series, including April’s Poet-a-Day, Women Writers Wednesday, and the 12 Days of Christmas Music That Won’t Turn Your Brain to Goo. But the most popular stand-alone post — and in fact it was one of the most popular posts of all this year — was The Pep Rally I Cannot Forget, an intense little memoir piece. These kinds of posts, ones that allow me to tell stories and comment on them, and sometimes come to terms with them, through the perspective of hindsight, are my favorite ones to write. One of my goals for 2016 is to write more of them. I’ve got a lot of material for this type of post, a long list of stories I want to tell, and my hope is that this coming year I’ll find the time to write a bunch of them and share them with you.

A recap of my writing accomplishments for 2015 includes the achievement of a few goals that I can’t quite tell you about just yet (though I will as soon as I can, depend on it), but also a few noteworthy things that I can now mention. For one, my newest collection of poems, PLAYING HOUSE, is almost ready for publication and should be available this year. Watch for exciting announcements in that vein in the coming months.

And for two, those of you who are fans of FINIS. — and oh, how I do so appreciate you and your emails and posts on my social media and your reviews on Amazon and Goodreads! — you will hopefully be pleased to note that the new, illustrated print version is now out and available! The print edition contains four beautiful drawings by Houston artist Lauren Taylor.

 

Elsa and Gerard, as imgined by Lauren Taylor
The fifth image for FINIS.: Elsa and Gerard, as imagined by Lauren Taylor.

 

You can click here to get FINIS. on Amazon in either ebook (unillustrated) or print (illustrated) form, but know that the ebook is still available pretty much everywhere ebooks are sold, and the print edition is coming very soon to other stores. (It may already be there by the time you read this post, but slow distribution times at the holidays being what they are, etc. etc. you know how it goes, etc.) I hope you love the illustrated print edition — early response to it so far has been very positive — and that you will continue leaving reviews of it on Amazon and Goodreads. Reviews are the best way to expand the audience for a book. Thank you again to those who have done so!

Many people have asked, since FINIS. came out, if I plan to expand it into a larger novel or if I’m writing a sequel. The answer on both of those, at the moment, is no; however, I am writing more stories set in that world. One of them is in its final stage of editing right now and is called “Farce Macabre” — a title I hope it will get to keep. I have a third story set in this world which is still in process and a fourth which is in notes. It appears a collection is in the offing, though the timeline on when it will be done is nebulous at best. A few other short stories and novellas, primarily of the “literary” fiction variety, are in the works, too.

My hope is that 2016 will see me write another novel and also launch the vlog I’ve been planning with the exceptionally awesome Sarah Warburton. We keep saying we’re going to do it; now we just need to finish what we’ve started. Other goals I have for the near future include finishing setting up my study in the no-longer-quite-so-new-to-us house and continuing to strive for something like balance in my two careers (writing and teaching). I swear, if I do nothing else this year but achieve work-life balance, I will consider myself the most accomplished person alive. (I will also never experience stress again and probably be able to fly around the world in five minutes like Superman, so don’t hold your breath.)

You can expect to see more fun stuff on the blog this year like A-Poem-A-Day for April and more recipes and stories and maybe even a writing contest or two. We have some political conventions coming up later this year, and those are always good for a short-form poem contest like the one we had back in 2012. I’m actively soliciting more work for the Women Writers Wednesday series, too, so if you’d like to suggest a female-identifying author for it, please send me a message here or on Facebook or Twitter (@AngeliqueJamail).

I’m also curious: what else do you want to see here on the blog in 2016? Feel free to make suggestions; I’m always interested in what you want to read.

 

10258987_940531539361127_3954791800612941073_n
Special thanks to Dharma Comics for permission to use this image. See their other work at www.dharmacomics.com or on Facebook here.

 

And An Announcement…

…so there’s something I’ve been working on for a while now, and it’s finally come to fruition.

You probably know about my magic realism novella, Finis., which came out as an ebook in August of last year. Well, now you can get it in paperback! Illustrated!

 

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

 

I teamed up with the fantastic, Houston-based artist Lauren Taylor, who illustrated several scenes in the story with her expressive and distinctive pen-and-ink style. Her renderings of these key moments are so lovely, and I’m thrilled to have been able to include her work in the print edition. It’s available now via Amazon Prime (just in time for that last-minute holiday shopping, yes?) and the CreateSpace eStore.

Happy holidays!

GOP Debates Haiku

So, here in the US the presidential campaign starts a couple of years before the election. And since everyone and their nephew has decided to run for the GOP nomination — with the exception of Rick Perry, who was doing it but who has since dropped out — we’ve been having debates. Big Kid Debates and Little Kiddie Table Debates (not my epithets), in fact. You have to be in the Top 10 to get into the Big Kid Debate, and the LKDs happen earlier in the afternoon for the lower-ranking candidates.

Back in July, HuffPo decided to quit covering Donald Trump’s campaign in the politics section. They’re still covering it completely, but just in the entertainment section, because Trump is, as they said, “a special case.” They didn’t want to give him credibility as a serious contender. Yet he manages to persist. Quite a phenomenon, as US politics seem to be filled with these days.

So back in 2012, I held a haiku contest on this blog during the Democratic nominating convention; it was fun and entertaining, and I’d like to invite you all to share your thoughts on the debates with us this time around. All political perspectives are welcome. Leave a haiku (any interpretation of that form you can validate) in the comments section below, and if you leave your email address too (or send it to me in a private message to forest of diamonds at gmail dot com with “GOP debates haiku” in the subject line), I’ll send you a free copy of Finis. (ebook) for participating.

Let the fun begin!

 

FINIS. One-Year Bookiversary!

Today is the one-year anniversary of the launch of Finis., and I want to take the time to thank everyone who has bought and/or read it. And especially thank you to those who have written reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and on their blogs!

royalty-free image from shutterstock.com

I’m hoping for a greater reach for this story over the next year, and one way Finis. can get out of its echo chamber is by having more reader reviews. Did you know an ebook won’t get into search results if it doesn’t have at least fifty reviews on Amazon? That’s right, 50. That’s a lot, and while the reviews we’ve gotten so far have been really good — and we love and appreciate that! — we haven’t reached fifty yet, not by a long shot. Have you read the story yet? Will you please consider (if you haven’t done so already) writing a review for it on Amazon and Goodreads? You will have my undying appreciation. And do spread the word!

cover design by Lauren Volness
cover design by Lauren Volness

For those of you who haven’t seen this story yet, here is an excerpt, the first three chapters. If you like what you see here, I hope you’ll click on one of the following links to buy it. You can get Finis. from Amazon, of course, but also anywhere else ebooks are available, including Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Scribd, iBooks, Smashwords, Blio, Oyster Books, and all of Amazon’s and Apple’s markets in other countries.

Thanks again for your support! Watch this space for more news later on this lovely little story, and while you’re there, go on and give that page a Like (and be sure to turn on the notifications so you’ll actually see the posts; there aren’t many).

Now, without further ado, your excerpt:

***

1

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 gangs¾I read about them in the newspaper. Packs attacking Plain Ones right and left, even children.”

“I saw that, too. They usually go for adults, though¾people 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.

2

Elsa hears the snarling from all the way downstairs and pushes the six button again, as if that would make the elevator go any faster. She doesn’t want to be late. As the doors finally, slowly open, she rushes out, bumping her shoulder on one of them. An accountant from the third floor, his mottled brown and gray hair in disarray, crashes into her as he flies toward the exit.

“I’m so sorry,” she says, helping him collect his fallen papers. Quietly she asks, “Are you all right?”

He pushes his round, dark-rimmed glasses farther up his beaky nose. “Those two new secretaries missed a staff meeting last night.”

He doesn’t have to say any more about the displeasure of the monster behind the big oak desk.

Elsa adjusts the neat hair clip she always wears and steps cautiously into the sixth floor receiving area, unwilling to navigate the labyrinth of cubicles to her own workstation next to the monster’s room. She can see fresh piles of beige folders on her desk, but horrible sounds are coming from the boss’ office. She realizes with chagrin her briefcase is still on Gerard’s patio and panics, turns quickly around and walks back out to the elevator bank. Artwork on the walls and a large aquarium filled with colorful fish and other placid creatures calm her. One young man from her office, a new hire, is staring mindlessly at a large, abstract photograph as if trying to lose himself in it. Another employee rushes out to stare at a particularly soothing canvas of gray paint.

She presses her fingertips to the front of the aquarium and several fish swim up to her. The larger ones seem to smile; the smaller ones seem to be trying to suck her fingertips, through the glass. Watching the kelp and anemone and angelfish tranquilizes Elsa’s nerves enough for her to go back inside. She turns around.

Lois, the switchboard operator, quietly beckons her. Thick glasses usually cover her pretty orange eyes, but today the spectacles sit atop her head, holding back a curly mane of dark copper hair that looks mussed, as if from dodging projectiles. She doesn’t look frightened, though, despite the palpable fear among the rest of the staff. Elsa hurries over.

“Are the secretaries going to be fired?” she asks. Three empty coffee cups clutter Lois’ desk, and dirt smudges highlight a dent in the tan wall behind it. The heavy wooden door to the monster’s interior office shakes suddenly as if something the size of a potted tree has just been thrown at it.

“Already done. The question now is whether they’ll have to be carried out.”

They watch for several tense minutes as the growling and yelling and sounds of people running around and things being thrown continue to distract everyone from working.

Suddenly a shriek from the interior chamber makes Elsa cringe. She recognizes the voice of that secretary––another Plain One, she’s sure, although the woman tried to keep it a secret. But Elsa knew, could see it in the nervous way the woman watched other people interact, in the dejected slump of her shoulders when she thought no one was looking at her.

Elsa debated whether to approach her, whether she would welcome sympathetic company.

Or perhaps they would each make the other more of a pariah, since no one liked it when underdogs banded together. Maybe the secretary would be angry and offended, would keep trying to hide who she wasn’t.

Or maybe Elsa was wrong about her and would be rebuffed, her position as outcast further solidified.

She finally decided it was easier not to try to be understood.

There’s another crash. It sounds like her inner debate is quickly becoming irrelevant.

A tap on Elsa’s shoulder makes her jump. Gerard is standing there, holding out her briefcase.

“Elsa, my dear, you need someone to look after you,” he says.

“No, I don’t,” she mutters.

“Who are you?” Lois purrs appreciatively, shaking his webbed hand.

“My cousin Gerard,” Elsa says. She holds up the briefcase, annoyed with herself for having forgotten it. “Thanks for bringing this.” Grudgingly she adds, “You’ve saved my hide.”

The monster’s door opens, and one secretary¾not the one who piqued Elsa’s curiosity¾stumbles quickly out, red hair up like a coxcomb. Her sleeve is gashed open. She points sloppily toward his office and mumbles, “Kelly…ambulance.”

There’s a roar, and Elsa clutches her briefcase to her chest. They can see the horns and hairy shoulders. The boss is nearly seven feet tall.

Lois sighs and picks up the phone on her desk. “I hope he’s paid up on the workers’ comp policy,” she says.

“That supervisor of yours is a nasty customer,” Gerard says evenly. “Somewhere in Crete a maze is missing its pet.”

Elsa knows she ought to try to find a new job. The monster has too much of a temper, and this sort of thing is happening more often.

3

It’s Elsa’s mother’s birthday, and she’s been summoned to dinner at her parents’ house, but just being around her family puts Elsa’s stomach in knots. After a Salade Niçoise she couldn’t even choke down, her mother announces that Elsa’s father has bought her a swimming pool for her birthday; they’ll break ground within two weeks. Everyone else is excited. When Elsa doesn’t muster the same enthusiasm as the rest of the family, her father asks what her problem is.

“Dad, you know I can’t swim¾”

“No, you won’t swim,” he grouses. “There’s a difference.”

This is technically true. Elsa chooses not to submerge herself in vats of acid, too.

“I should’ve just thrown you into the water when you were little instead of listening to you whine.” He harrumphs, a gargoyle hunkering over his dinner. He and Elsa recall her traumatic first experience with a swimming pool in very different ways. “Faced with sink or swim, I’ll bet you’d have figured out a way to dog paddle.”

Elsa stares at her plate, pushes the food around on it. She nibbles a little at the bacon wrapping the shrimp and has eaten half her wheat roll, but nothing tastes good.

Her sister Joan is there with her husband Neil and their eight-month-old son, Stuart. The evening continues in its typical way: Joan and Neil and Stuart are the stars with their gaiety and antics; Elsa greatly vexes her mother (Why doesn’t she ever go out? Why doesn’t she ever bring friends over at the holidays? Is she ever going to get married?), which makes her father grumble, which makes Joan suggest Elsa do something different with her hair or her clothes or go out more or do something, which makes Neil pay more attention to Stuart, which makes Elsa’s mother say how much she loves grandchildren and would like to have more someday while glaring at her younger daughter.

“Sure, Mother, I’ll have some grandchildren for you. Right after I sprout two more legs and some wings and become a butterfly.”

Everyone becomes quiet then, the family’s frustrated dance around the subject of Elsa’s Plainness stuttering to a halt. Her mother looks wistful, as if she hopes such a transformation might one day come to pass and doesn’t understand why it hasn’t.

Elsa surveys them all: her parents, prominent figures in society, their stateliness exuding from every pore even in the privacy of their home; Neil with his raven coloring; Stuart, soft fuzzy hair on his velvet scalp, just like Joan had when she was young. And then Joan. Tall, graceful, even her freckles a lovely blanket over golden skin. Like her mother, a perfect giraffe.

“Elsa, I have the number of a doctor I want you to call,” her mother says. “One of my friends suggested him.”

“I’ve been to see doctors before,” Elsa reminds her. They examined every inch of her, inside and out, subjected her to the most embarrassing questions ever, but could find no evidence of her animal affinity.

The last doctor, a specialist, recommended shock therapy as a way to bring out Elsa’s true nature. “Your whole life will improve once we figure out what you’ve got hiding away inside of you,” he said, his small black eyes like beads in his ruddy face. “No one will question your intelligence or competence ever again.” He grinned at her with thin lips. “You might even find a boyfriend finally.” At Elsa’s surprised look, he shrugged. “Your dad told me you can’t even get a date. No worries, though. Once we figure out what you are, the whole world will see you in a more favorable light.” He cleared his throat and pinched his prescription pad, began scrawling notes. “I recommend eight to ten sessions¾”

“Absolutely not!” Elsa said, tugging the medical gown tighter around herself. She wouldn’t endure some medievally-inspired torture just so her parents could feel better about their unusual kid.

The doctor cast her an indignant look. “Has anything else worked yet? Without an evident affinity, you’re only half your self.”

Elsa leveled an angry look at him that was more fear than backbone. “I’m not interested in shock therapy, thanks.”

“Fine,” the doctor replied coolly. “Enjoy being a Plain One.” Then he left the exam room, closing the door behind him with a little more force than was strictly necessary. Elsa put her clothes back on and left as quickly as she could. Her parents were annoyed with her for that, too.

“He was one of the best, Elsa,” her father said. “I had to pull some strings to get you that appointment. He’s usually booked seven months in advance.”

Elsa still can’t decide whether she appreciates her father’s efforts, or if he simply wanted to reassure himself it wasn’t his fault she’s so deficient. Either way, she knows she isn’t going back.

Dinner ends with a hedonistic dessert to which Joan politely demurs. “Watching my figure,” she says, smiling. As if Joan has to worry about that¾she grazes all day and never puts on an ounce. Elsa takes a bite of the mousse cake and finds it delicious. Suddenly she’s hungry, but she hasn’t eaten three bites before Joan stops her. “Seriously? That’ll go straight to your hips.”

Later, when Elsa gathers her purse and keys to go home, she glances back at everyone chatting away and realizes no one is noticing her. The family room––a concoction of Stuart’s toys and Joan’s knitting bag and a book Neil brought over for her father to read––is filled with the presence of Joan’s family. Nothing of Elsa’s anywhere, except for the plain white envelope on the small table by the door. It contains a check, a small monthly supplement because Elsa’s income hasn’t kept pace with the rising cost of living, so that she can have an apartment of her own.

Nights like this, Elsa just knows her parents wish they’d stopped with the first child.

***

Download Finis. to find out how Elsa tries to overcome her Plainness and what roles Gerard and Lois play in her life.

If you don’t have an e-reader, never fear: Amazon has a free Kindle app that works on smartphones, tablets, laptops — any mobile device. Click here to get the app (if you don’t already have it).

As always, thank you so much for your support!

In Which I Guest Blog An Essay About FINIS. Elsewhere

This week an essay I wrote about my experience finishing up the edits for Finis. appears over at Jennifer Brozek’s blog as part of her “Tell Me” series, in which authors write about their books without actually writing about their books. In my essay, I discuss what it was like to be editing the story while going through a personal tragedy. It’s a short read, but I hope you’ll give it a look.

While you’re there, check out the other “Tell Me” entries from other authors. I’ve been intrigued enough to download samples of other books from those guest posts, and you may find some interesting things to pique your interest as well.

Thanks to Jennifer for featuring me––and Finis.–– on her blog!

Women Writers Wednesday 6/3/15

Here’s an informal poll: what books have changed your life?

I’m not looking for a Facebook-viral list of 25 Important Books You’d Die on a Desert Island Without or anything like that. I want to know, what that one book is which changed something vital about your existence. You might have ten favorite books you could no sooner rank than you could choose a favorite among your children or pets. This is not that dilemma. What is the one piece of literature that made some aspect of you profoundly different?

There are many books which have affected me deeply, no doubt, in a variety of ways. But one book that absolutely changed the course of my life is Gregory Maguire’s Wicked. This book, and dinner with the author himself at a mutual friend’s home, inspired me to pursue fiction writing seriously rather than to get another degree in poetry. The course of my professional life was forever and probably irrevocably altered by this choice.

I’d love to know what book has mattered this much to you. In the comments below, leave an anecdote about a single book that has meant something special. In fact, the first five people to respond will get a free copy of Finis. for themselves or gifted to someone else.

Today’s Women Writers Wednesday comes to us from Carla Jean Whitley about a book which had a deep and lasting impact on her.

***

If you’re a bookworm, you’re probably acquainted with the experience of a book hangover, if not the term itself. It’s the feeling that overcomes you when you approach the end of a book that has captured not only your attention, but your heart. Book hangovers follow the stories, essays, or poems that affect a life so powerfully, it becomes hard to believe there are other books worth your time.

Within the first two chapters of Anna Quindlen’s “How Reading Changed My Life,” I knew that I’d encountered just such a book. In this essay collection, Quindlen recounts the value of reading, whether the object of your affection is high-brow literature or a novel from childhood. It’s only 96 pages, and so I was mourning its inevitable conclusion by the end of the second chapter.

from Random House's publicity site
from Random House’s publicity site

“How Reading Changed My Life” immediately found a place on the shelf among my favorite, most-trusted books. It’s a book I turn to time and again, and one I frequently select as a gift for fellow readers.

And while this remains the book of Quindlen’s I cherish the most, it is also the gateway drug. Her columns for the New York Times and Newsweek are compelling—she won a 1992 Pulitzer for her Times work, after all—and in the books that have collected those, I’ve found a kindred spirit. Quindlen is a writer, a mom, and a wife who offers insight on all areas of life. She left nonfiction years ago with the intent of working solely as a novelist (and her recent Still Life with Bread Crumbs is my favorite of her fiction). But over the years, Quindlen has continued to shed light on family, politics, life, and age. She is a woman I love to read.

***

Carla Jean Whitley is a writer, editor, and teacher based in Birmingham, Alabama, where she is a features writer for Alabama Media Group. She is the author of Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music and Balancing Act: Yoga Essays. Her next book, Birmingham Beer: The Role of Alabama’s Largest City in Changing the State’s Beer Culture, is scheduled for release this spring. Connect with her at carlajeanwhitley.com.

***

To see more kinds of reviews like the ones in this series, check out these blogs by Melanie Page and Lynn Kanter. And of course go to the Sappho’s Torque Books page here to see other reviews by me and by other contributors to the Women Writers Wednesday series.

The Women Writers Wednesday series seeks to highlight the contributions of women in literature by featuring excellent literature written by women authors via reviews/responses written by other women authors. If you’d like to be a contributor, wonderful! Leave a comment below or send me an email, tweet, or Facebook message with your idea.