Whom I’ve Been Reading: Marcus Sedgwick

Although my favorite thing to read is a novel, I also love linked collections of short stories. The forgiving nature of a series of discrete narratives doesn’t make me feel guilty when my schoolwork prevents me from reading a novel straight through.

Sometimes these collections are linked by place; there are many of these. Others are linked by characters, such as Justin Cronin’s Mary and O’Neill. By an object: Susan Vreeland’s Girl in Hyacinth Blue. Some by concept: Her Infinite Variety by Pamela Rafael Berkman. Sometimes by theme: Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by Z.Z. Packer.

And sometimes a collection is linked by all of these.

Printz Award-winning Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick contains seven linked stories which travel backward in time on a remote and unusual island near the top of the world. They explore the themes of love and sacrifice in the myriad ways that love and sacrifice impress themselves on our lives, sometimes obvious and sometimes not. But the writing is never obvious, never predictable. Sedgwick’s work is often, I think, categorized as YA, but even if you don’t usually read in that category, give this one a try.

Eric and Merle are two characters who orbit each other in time, meeting each other in different ways. Sometimes in love, sometimes bound by a family relationship, sometimes tossed together by external forces, their interactions show the breadth of love and sacrifice. The writing is lush without overpowering the reader. The stories are based on an actual historical painting, Midvinterblot, but everything else in the novel comes from Sedgwick’s own imagination.

Honestly, I don’t know what else to say about this book that won’t give too much of the story away. Aside from the writing being enjoyable even down to the level of the sentence, I love the structure, how each story is illuminated by a subsequent one, how the orbit comes around in such a satisfying way, how the island itself is a character, how the names of the characters evolve, how the dragon flowers on the island and the image of the hare anchor the narrative. There is a hint of the fantastical in this book, but I wouldn’t call it fantasy; magic realism is more its purview.

This novel-in-stories accomplishes what the 1994 film Being Human tried to do but couldn’t. Midwinterblood captures two important facets of the immensity of human experience with crystalline clarity. And like a faceted prism, this story reveals a depth of possibility in every interaction, that we are part of something larger than ourselves. That love and sacrifice cannot be contained. It asks the question, is life truly this rich?

And so, it is.

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

 

 

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.

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!

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!

FINIS. On Super Sale for One More Day

Hey there. You may be aware that my ebook Finis. has been on super sale for the holidays. There’s just one day left (tomorrow, Monday) to get it at the discounted price of 99 cents! After that it goes back up.

Remember that you don’t need an e-reader to access Finis. If you don’t have one, all you need is a smartphone or tablet or laptop. Amazon has a free Kindle e-reader app that lets you make any device compatible. I’ve used it myself on my phone and laptop and found them super easy to use.

***

Here’s the blurb of what Finis. is about and some advance praise for the story:

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.

“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 the Widdershins series and HOT LEAD, COLD IRON

“A silver vein of irony runs through Angélique Jamail’s fantastic Finis. It is a witty tale of conformity, prejudice, and transformation, in a world that is disturbing as much for its familiarity as for its strangeness. In a place where everyone is different, Elsa is the wrong kind of different, and that means facing pity, discrimination, danger, and sharp teeth. Dive into this story, readers, and confront them for yourself; it may just change the way you feel about things…” — Marie Marshall, author of I AM NOT A FISH and THE EVERYWHEN ANGELS

***

And here are the links where you can buy the ebook:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Smashwords

Oyster Books

Scribd

Kobo

Baker & Taylor’s Blio

Apple’s iBooks Store

I hope you’ll take advantage of this special offer. And tell your friends. Thank you, as always, for all of your support! I appreciate my readers so much. And if you’ve read Finis., please leave a review at Amazon or on Goodreads or on the story’s Facebook page — or anywhere else you’ve bought or seen it. I love hearing from you.

Thanks again!