A Book I Love — guest post by Kasia James

Today’s post is by Kasia James, the mastermind and book-mother of the anthology The Milk of Female Kindness — An Anthology of Honest Motherhood, of which I was thrilled to be a part.

 

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Occasionally I hit someone who says that they don’t read. Not literally, although I am tempted to slap into them some sense of what they are missing. What I can’t really understand is how anyone can do without the escapism of books. To be absorbed into another world, and one created just as you would wish it to appear, is no small pleasure in the relentlessly attention grabbing world we live in.

When Angélique asked me to write about a book which had been influential to me, I spent a while tangled up in choice. There are many different types of beauty in books, just as there are in people, and the matter is just as subjective.

I thought of John Wyndham’s novels, which are written with sneakily simple language, so that the reader doesn’t realise the complexity of ideas that they are being asked to understand. I thought of Sarah Water’s fabulously twisted dives into history, as detailed and sensory as a tapestry. I thought of The Princess Bride, which my lover read out loud to me on a French riverbank.

Instead, I have chosen The Thirteen Clocks and The Wonderful O by James Thurber. Wait, you say. That’s a kid’s story! And two books to boot! Well, yes, but when I was growing up we had them compiled into one volume. It’s a book which I’ve known since childhood, and yet come back and read every so often, just for the sheer joy of it. It’s possible that I had it as a bedtime story, as my bibliophile parents did make some slightly odd choices at times.

Both stories are fairytales, and that can be refreshing in itself. They are largely free of social commentary, existential angst or complicated relationships – except ones which you know will end happily. I’ve found the same sort of complete retreat in some of Neil Gaiman’s work, and he too is a fan of Thurber. The copy I have on my shelves is introduced by Gaiman as, “probably the best book in the world.” However, they are unlike any fairytale you have read, or ever will read.

They are full of playfulness. The Golux, for example, says of himself:

“I am the Golux,” said the Golux, proudly, “the only Golux in the world, and not a mere Device… Half the places I have been to, never were. I make things up. Half the things I say are there cannot be found. When I was young I told a tale of buried gold, and men from leagues around dug in the woods. I dug myself.”

“But why?”

“I thought the tale of treasure might be true.”

“You said you made it up.”

“I know I did, but then I didn’t know I had. I forget things too.”

Primarily though, their playfulness comes about in the way that Thurber uses language. He juggles it, tickles it, messes about with it in a way that gives you the same feeling as watching a really talented magician. In some ways, they remind me of The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.

The whole concept of The Wonderful O is to pick out the fancy beads and see what is left of the necklace. A pirate who hated the letter O, “because his mother had become wedged in a porthole and they couldn’t pull her in, so they had to push her out,” sails to the island of Ooroo, and sets about banishing all words with the letter “O.”

“’Dius gre gling mins gress’ meant ‘Odious ogre ogling ominous ogress,’ but only scholars knew it. Spoken words became a hissing and a mumble, or a murmur and a hum. A man named Otto Ott, when asked his name, could only stutter. Ophelia Oliver repeated hers, and vanished from the haunts of men.’

The Thirteen Clocks also produces conjuring tricks like this astonishing snippet of alliteration and onomatopoeia.

“The brambles and the thorns grew thick and thicker in a ticking thicket of bickering crickets. Father along and stronger, bonged the gongs of a throng of frogs, green and vivid on their lily pads. From the sky came the crying of flies, and the pilgrims leapt over bleating sheep creeping knee deep in a sleepy stream, in which swift and slippery snakes slid and slithered silkily, whispering sinful secrets.”

Tell me the author of that wasn’t having fun.

One of the many things which I love about these books, other than the way he plays with language, is that they remind me that it is really not necessary to write within defined genres, which are of course largely constructed by the publishing industry to be able to flog books to readers. It is hard to sell something you can’t define, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth writing.

I know that Thurber did painfully revise and rewrite parts of these books, and had to be told to stop tinkering, but all that work is concealed from the reader, like the clockwork in an automaton. However, there is nothing laboured or mechanical when you read these stories. They flow and tumble into a different, and above all more lightheaded, world. It’s a world well worth the journey.

 

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Mother’s Day Giveaway!

In honor of Mother’s Day coming up this weekend (at least in the US, where I live), I’m giving away three copies of an excellent anthology I was fortunate to be included in, The Milk of Female Kindness–An Anthology of Honest Motherhood.

This book brings together women from many countries and cultures who have shared their writing and artwork on the theme of motherhood, and not just the concept of motherhood that mainstream media conditions us with. It’s an excellent, thoughtful project (and makes a wonderful Mother’s Day gift).

Milk of Female Kindness front cover

So how can you obtain one of the copies I’m giving away? Easy!

1.  In the comments below, write about your mother or some other woman in your life who nurtured you in a maternal way. I’m interested in your stories. They can be funny, poignant, bizarre. The first three people to do this will win a copy. (And if you’re planning to give your prize as a Mother’s Day gift, then the sooner the better so I can mail it to you before Friday afternoon!)

2.  Include your email address so I can contact you for your mailing address. (If I can’t contact you, I can’t send you a prize.)

3.  Finally, watch this space, because I’ll be confirming the winners here in the comments section. (Added bonus: you get to read other people’s stories!)

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 have my poems and essays included in this anthology. Kudos to Kasia James, the contributing editor whose brainchild it was, and to all the other authors and artists in it!

Fashion Friday 9/12/14

Today we have a Fashion Friday post from guest blogger Kasia over at Writer’s Block. Some of you might remember her as the force behind The Milk of Female Kindness — An Anthology of Honest Motherhood, an excellent and rather varied collection of essays, fiction, poetry, interviews, and art on the theme of motherhood. Check out her blog and the anthology, but first enjoy her timely post on style correlation.

 

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Are you a style icon? I’m not.

But I do like to watch and learn. I travel on the train to work, and if I’m too tired to do anything but stare around in a zombie-like fashion, then I can’t help observing my fellow commuters. Discreetly, of course – there’s nothing more likely to have you labelled as the train lunatic (there’s one in every carriage) than sticky-beaking unashamedly at the people around you.

As a result of my gawking research, I’ve come up with a working theory about style. There are perhaps three schools of commuters. Firstly, those who are bursting through the cutting edge of fashion – whether it suits them or not. Often they are beautifully groomed, having spent at least an hour in front of the mirror before hopping on the 8.07am. I guess that I can admire the time and effort that they must go to, although part of me wants them to rebel against the sycophantic dictates of the industry that tells them they will look wonderful in neon yellow this season. Unless, of course, they do glow in neon.

The second group just don’t care, and I suppose I’d divide them into those who have a noble disregard for their appearance (a freelance sculptor I know comes into this category – he used to come to work in his pyjama top), and those who are, well, slobs. Sometimes it can be pretty hard to tell the difference. It may come down to how articulate you are.  😉

The third group? These women have their own styles, regardless of fashion. It can be a brave position to take – the peer pressure to all look the same is not inconsiderable. This third group I’d also split, but by a sort of style correlation factor. Let me explain.

There are some women I see, about whom I think: “Wow – I love that top/skirt/magician’s cape! I wonder if I should try one of those?” High style correlation. I’m not saying that my taste is better than anyone else’s, just that these people have a similar look or body shape, and they have dealt with it beautifully. They give me ideas. Sometimes it’s just a small thing, like wearing brightly coloured stockings with a monochrome outfit – a little whimsy that I saw a woman in the city carry off with terrific elan, and which I now often wear in winter. I do love colour, and being able to add a flash of it to a more sober suit is a joy.

Some people are trying but, well, they just get it wrong. We all have those days, I think. Too tight, too short, not right for our body shape or colouring. I’d call this one Low Style correlation, because of course, it’s only my personal taste that says that look isn’t right. There is a woman who I see most days, who always wears black, head to toe. Layers of black, in an unflattering cut. I long to be able to suggest to her tactfully, that unless she is in mourning, she would look so much better in colour, but I know black is easy. Perhaps even lazy. Perhaps, and I suspect this is closer to the truth, she just wants to disappear into the background, which is a bit sad.

Then there are those who provoke the thought: “Wow – you look great in that! But not for me.” These women often have superbly quirky styles – the goth girl who is as white and lithe as bamboo grown in the dark, with long green hair.

 

 

Kasia's post pic #1

 

The chick who looks like she walked off the set of Mad Men (and the amount of time required to achieve that corseted, lacquered mid-twentieth century look makes me shudder).

 

 

Kasia's post pic #2

 

The lady with generous curves who dresses with terrific colour sense and flamboyance.

 

 

Indian Banarasi collection 2013 (http://styleuneed.com/indian-banarasi-saree-collection-2013-for-women/indian-banarasi-saree-collection-2013-for-women-2/#sthash.oiGpuTiT.QubxL5gG.dpbs)
Indian Banarasi collection 2013 (http://styleuneed.com/indian-banarasi-saree-collection-2013-for-women/indian-banarasi-saree-collection-2013-for-women-2/#sthash.oiGpuTiT.QubxL5gG.dpbs)

 

I would never choose to wear what they have chosen, but I can appreciate it. I love the fact that they have been able to bring their personality out in their clothes: that they seem to be having fun with their appearance. I see joy and playfulness in these women, each with their very different styles.

Style is inherently a matter of taste.

What I think these women have in common is a terrific natural self-confidence. They can rock their own style, to use a great American phrase. You’ve got to admire that. My point is this: you don’t need to give a stuff about what is in Vogue this year. You don’t have to bow to some bimbo in advertising. If you love hats, then wear them with verve, and people will admire you for it. If you want to wear studs and chains, go for it. Red rubber shorts? If you can carry it, and they suit you, why not?

You may need to grit your teeth at first. It’s a scary, judgmental world out there; you need only look at the statistics about body image to get confirmation of that. To give you some examples, 7 in 10 girls believe they are not good enough or do not measure up in some way, including their looks, performance in school, and relationships (from HeartofLeadership.org). Beyond Stereotypes, the 2005 study commissioned by Dove, surveyed 3,300 girls and women between the ages of 15 and 64 in 10 countries. They found that 67% of all women aged 15 to 64 withdraw from life-engaging activities due to feeling badly about their looks.

A random stranger once reached across, tapped me on the arm, and said, “You know, you’re very pretty,” and then kept looking out the window. I was blown away and have never forgotten it. It’s only happened once. I don’t even remember what I was wearing, but I do recall the courage it must have taken for her to say that to a stranger, and also how it made me glow all day. This could be a reflection of my vanity, but there are so many images and messages out there all the time telling you that you’re not good enough. You know the ones – the photoshopped perfection of magazines, the insidious messages of advertising. That sneaky little voice that says: “You could have perfect skin if you just buy this cream.” They’re all selling hope. Hope that you will look better.

Imagine if every time we saw someone with their own style who looked terrific, we could tell them so. They might be putting their own style out there, but cowering inside. A little encouragement can go an awfully long way.

If we all had the confidence to rock our own style, the world would be a much more intriguing, varied, and happier place.

 

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Would you like to write a guest post for our Fashion Fridays series? Check out the Fashion page on this blog for more information and some examples, then query me with your idea!

Reviews for THE MILK OF FEMALE KINDNESS and Links to Buy FINIS.

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!

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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!

 

 

Featured Poet: Kasia James

Today’s featured poet is the marvelous woman who brought The Milk of Female Kindness to the light of day; the anthology was her brainchild.

Kasia James writes primarily speculative fiction but has started to wonder if it is her mission in life to complete books in as many different genres as possible. She is the author of The Artemis Effect, which is an optimist’s science-fiction dystopia, and was contributing editor of The Milk of Female Kindness — An Anthology of Honest Motherhood

She lives in Melbourne, Australia, with a hydrologist, an ankle-biter, and a big black cat called George.  Enjoy her blog here.

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Train Traveller

Whisker rasped whisky
Dirty camouflage reflected in sunglasses
Rumbling with surprising calm
Before the amber bottle

 

 

Cover Reveal for the New Anthology!!!

Hey there!  I have something exciting to share with you all: the front cover of The Milk of Female Kindness: An Anthology of Honest Motherhood.

Milk of Female Kindness front cover

For more information about this book, click here.

I’m so excited to be included in this project, which contains a couple of my poems and a couple of my essays.

Click here to purchase the anthology from Amazon, or contact me directly at forest.of.diamonds@gmail.com for a signed copy.

 

An Interview…

I was interviewed this week by Kasia James on her blog Writer’s Block.  Her anthology The Milk of Female Kindness will be coming out soon, and I was fortunate enough to have a few pieces selected to go into it.  Check out the interview here, and while you’re there, check out the rest of her lovely blog, too.  Several of the anthology’s other authors are being featured there as well.