Cool Change

Saturday morning and I slept late, which felt positively marvelous. I feel rested and ready to kick some ass and take some names–at least for now, at any rate. Paul is going to be out of the house most of the day–appointments and going to the office–and therefore I have the Lost Apartment to myself for most of the day and no excuse not to get a lot of things done. I am still planning on walking over to the AT&T store to replace my phone–who knows how that is going to go?–but other than that, my day is pretty much set for cleaning, revising, and reading.

Last night, we started watching the new Netflix show The Umbrella Academy, based on the Dark Horse comic series–and while I didn’t madly love it, I am curious enough to continue watching. For one thing, it has both Ellen Page and Tom Hopper (who I’ve been crushing madly on since his days as Billy Bones on Black Sails), and it has an interesting premise. We will be continuing with it tonight, I think. I had just started reading Lori Roy’s Gone Too Long when Paul got home last night, and then was distracted by getting caught up on How to Get Away with Murder and then The Umbrella Academy.

And I’ve been dealing with yet another Apple upgrade issue that has fucked with my desktop, laptop, phone and iPad since last night. Now the cloud drive is missing from both my desktop and my laptop (I managed to resolve the handheld device issues last night) and so am trying to get that resolved this morning. Seriously, Apple–when you update/upgrade your systems, is it absolutely necessary to fuck up everything for your customers? 

Seriously, Apple. Do better.

So I am trying to resolve all this before scheduling a call from Apple Support…which I also don’t understand; you used to be able to do this in an on-line chat, but now of course they make you take a phone call. Why, precisely? And how able-ist is this? What about those of us who are hard of hearing, or those who are deaf? Seriously, fuck you in the ass without lubrication, Apple. HARD.

Thank you for allowing me to vent about these issues, Constant Reader. It’s helping me reduce the future body count.

This week I got a copy of Kyle Onstott’s bestselling Mandingo from the 1950’s. As Constant Reader is aware, I’ve been trying to diversify not only my fiction reading but to learn more about the horrible history of race in North America. Part of this has taking an amorphous shape in my head around a lengthy essay, tracing revisionism of slavery and the Old South and civil rights from such novels as The Clansman (which was filmed as Birth of a Nation) to Gone with the Wind to To Kill a Mockingbird and The Klansman, which I recently reread. As I was scrolling through Amazon Prime looking for something to watch the other night, I came across the late 1970’s film Mandingo, and remembered that it was also a novel. I bought a copy from eBay which arrived this week (I wasn’t able to get far in the movie because it was just incredibly bad; not even campy bad, like Showgirls, just bad.) The book arrived this week and….just looking at the note from the publisher in the beginning was horrifying. Yet Mandingo might just be the only novel about slavery and the Old South that actually tears the veneer of respectability and gentility away and exposes the true horror of what the “peculiar institution” was actually like. (Even John Jakes’ dreadful North and South series never delved deeply into the actual horrors; Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad was one of the first novels to truly explore this that I’ve read.) Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January series, set in New Orleans before the Civil War, also does a terrific job of exploring how deeply entrenched and horrible racism/slavery were.

This essay I am thinking about would probably wind up, should I ever have the time to read the books and write it (it would, for example, require a reread of Gone with the Wind and it’s over eleven hundred pages, as well as some in depth reading of actual history) would probably be a part of Gay Porn Writer: The Fictions of My Life…which is a project I really do want to work on someday.  Mandingo takes on an aspect of slavery and the South that is rarely, if ever, touched on in fictions: the sexual abuse of the female slaves by their masters (come on, like it never happened. Really?) as well as the breeding of actual slaves for better, more valuable stock, as well as raising them for fighting–kind of a human version of cock-fighting or dog-fighting. Is it more likely that never happened, or that it did? Slavery, as Harriet Beecher Stowe repeatedly explained in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, debases both slave and master; are we really supposed to believe that slave-owners didn’t abuse their ‘property’?

Given how people of color–theoretically free and equal in the eyes of the law in the twenty-first century–are treated in the present day, I’m not buying the notion of the kind, gracious slave owner.

Take, for example, this passage from the Publisher’s Note to the movie tie-in paperback edition which I just received in the mail:

From today’s vantage point,, almost a hundred years after the cataclysm, the developing situation may be viewed objectively. Actually, the finger of blame should be pointed at no one geographical group of people. Although the factions that promoted the abolition of slavery were ethically in the right (emphasis: mine), Southern planters in general are shown to have been victims of circumstance rather than diabolical tyrants as they have sometimes been painted. (again, emphasis mine.)

Doesn’t get more apologetic than that, does it? Those poor planters. (massive eye roll)

And is it any wonder that we still have so many societal problems of racial injustice today?

And on that note, back to the spice mines.

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Devil with a Blue Dress/Good Golly Miss Molly

I decided that for 2019 I was going not only to continue, regarding my reading, with the Short Story Project but was also to create and dedicate myself to a new reading project: The Diversity Project, which entailed reading books and stories by marginalized authors. Marginalized authors, of course, can mean anything from authors of color to queer ones to women, for that matter; pretty much anyone other than a straight white cisgender man. I’ve been reading mostly  women authors for the last few years, with the occasional straight man thrown into the mix, and my reading has primarily focused on crime novels, with the occasional horror novel thrown in. Over the years, I’ve been supportive of marginalized writers; I’ve been buying their books and helping to publicize them on social media…but I’ve not been actually reading the books, despite hearing wonderful things about the writers and seeing them win awards. I came to realize this was white privilege in a nutshell and kind of a subconscious bow to white supremacy; whether it was intentional or not I would buy the books but when it came time to select something to read…I always reached for a book by a white writer and justified it with the rationale well, women writers are also marginalized; this is why Sisters in Crime exists in the first place.

But it isn’t enough and it’s definitely the mentality of the limousine liberal–who is all about marginalized people and their rights, but never has anyone from a marginalized community in their home.

If I am going to talk the talk I need to walk the walk.

My adult life has been an education on race, an education that continues as I grow older. As I was saying to one of my younger co-workers the other day, who was telling me about visiting a Civil Rights museum…I remember the Civil Rights Movement. It happened during my lifetime, and I saw it all on television, on the news. The recent blackface scandal in Virginia? I was about the same age as the  governor of Virginia when he did his blackface. I can honestly say I don’t remember anyone in college when I was there doing blackface, but I remember horribly racist “South of the Border” theme parties and “Pimps and Hos” parties which were equally bad. The history of race in America is complex and hideous and horrible; if you haven’t read Howard Zinn, I highly recommend him to you. My elementary school education was an indoctrination into white supremacy and American exceptionalism; it’s taken me years to understand that Columbus wasn’t a hero and that Andrew Jackson committed genocide, among other historical lessons that were not accurate. Gone with the Wind used to be one of my favorite books and favorite films; now I can see how problematic they are, and I question my embrace of both. (At some point, I am going to sit down and reread Gone with the Wind, which, at over a thousand pages, is a gargantuan task. But I think reading it as a more aware adult in my late fifties, with my eyes more open to the barbarities of slavery and plantation life, would be an interesting thing to do; particularly since it, along with Birth of a Nation, did more than anything else to perpetuate the mythology of the genteel Southern plantation way of life. I tried watching Mandingo on Amazon Prime the other day–it was a much more, I think, realistic look at the barbarity of slavery than Gone with the Wind but it was hindered by being a terrible movie.)

So I selected Walter Mosley to kick off the Diversity Project (the actual first book I read for this was William Bradford Huie’s The Klansman, but after reading it decided it didn’t count). And Devil in a Blue Dress, the first Easy Rawlins novel, is quite a gem of private eye fiction.

I was surprised to see a white man walk into Joppy’s bar. It’s not just that he was white but he wore an off-white linen suit and shirt with a Panama straw hat and bone shoes over flashing white silk socks. His skin was smooth and pale with just a few freckles. One lick of strawberry-blond hair escaped the band of his hat. He stopped in the doorway, filling it with his large frame, and surveyed the room with pale eyes; not a color I’d ever seen in a man’s eyes. When he looked at me I felt a thrill of fear, but that went away quickly because I was used to white people by 1948.

I had spent five years with white men and women, from Africa to Italy, through Paris, and into the Fatherland itself. I ate with them and slept with them, and I killed enough blue-eyed young men to know that they were just as afraid to die as I was.

The white man smiled at me, then he walked to the bar where Joppy was running a filthy rag over the marble top. They shook hands and exchanged greetings like old friends.

Easy is a World War II vet originally from Houston who’s moved to Los Angeles to work in a factory–following in the footsteps of any number of people of color who fled the South to the factories of the West Coast and the Midwest in the post-war years, not only to escape Jim Crow but to improve their lives (poor Southern whites also did the same; my parents among them). Easy owns a house, of which he is justifiably proud, but also recently lost his factory job and is worried about losing said house…which makes him more susceptible to an offer of work from DeWitt Albright, the white man in Joppy’s Bar. Basically the job pays a hundred dollars and all Easy has to do is locate a white woman named Daphne Monet…but as ever in a hardboiled/noir novel, there is a lot more going on than that, and this simple task involves Easy in a dangerous world of corrupt racist cops, politics, and gangsters. The hardboiled sensibility of crime fiction is given a brilliant overhaul by Mosley in this novel; invigorating the genre in much the same way Sara Paretsky, Marcia Muller, and Sue Grafton did when they gave a tired genre a shot of adrenalin in the early 1980’s, bringing the genre back from the almost-dead.

Devil in a Blue Dress does much the same, and really, is there anything more noir or hard-boiled than the life of people of color in American society? As I watched the movie last night (after finishing the book I found the film on Amazon Prime, and it’s also quite good), the scenes where Easy is basically the victim of police brutality and has zero recourse come across much more vividly on the screen than on the page–and the scenes in the book were pretty fucking powerful. How do people exist in a society where justice is regularly denied them by the people who are supposed to provide it for them?

And that, I think, is the key. As a gay man, I constantly struggle with the idea that justice and fairness, the two things I was raised to believe are the cornerstones of American society and government, aren’t available to everyone. We are raised to believe as white Americans that the criminal justice system works for everyone, and it is our recourse whenever we are victims of crime. We want to–need to–believe that the police and the system enforce the law equally and fairly for everyone, and realizing, and recognizing, that isn’t true shakes our foundation of belief in everything, so we tend to look the other way and pretend that isn’t true.

But denying there’s a problem means the problem never gets fixed.

And injustice for one means there’s no justice for all.

I highly recommend this book, and can’t wait to read more of Mosley’s work.

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Pop Muzik

Friday, and a new month. Rabbit, rabbit, and all that, you know.

Or did I mess that up by typing something else first?

I’m so bad at these things.

Anyway, it is now February, and Carnival is just over the horizon. Parades literally start three weeks from today. #madness

I am taking vacation during most of the parade season; the new office is too far for me to walk to and from, so I decided to simply take vacation and actually enjoy parade season for a change. I should also be able to get a lot done during those days–kind of like a mini-staycation (although I loathe that not-a-word and can’t believe I still use it from time to time). I also can’t believe the first night of the parades is in three weeks. THREE WEEKS.

Of course, as Facebook seems to remind me on an almost daily basis, Carnival is late this year. Usually at this time parades are rolling and the city is full of tourists and I am exhausted from walking and working and going to parades. So, yes, Carnival is later this year than usual and yet somehow…it still snuck up on me? Go figure.

I finished reading The Klansman last night, but as I did some things occurred to me–namely, for a book about the Civil Rights struggle and racism in Alabama, there sure weren’t many characters that were people of color. Yes, a book about civil rights and racism placed the white people at the center of the story. Admittedly, the book wasn’t aimed at or written for people of color; the audience was white people…but I can’t see racist white people in the 1960’s reading the book and not being outraged by its “sympathetic” depictions of people of color. The book also sports the trope of the white savior–the “good white man” who stands up for the people of color and therefore becomes a target of the Klan.

There’s a really good essay–and one I might try to write–about the arc from The Clansman (the horribly offensive novel that Birth of a Nation was based on; it’s actually available for free from Google Books) to Gone with the Wind to The Klansman and how Southern people and authors rewrote history to not just romanticize and glorify the Southern Cause in the Civil War, but also the Ku Klux Klan; and how those narratives have changed perceptions not only of the war and racism, and the South itself. The Klansman is an attempt to reverse that trend, but to expose racism in the Jim Crow South not as something romantic and necessary, but as an evil on par with the original sin of slavery itself.

William Bradford Huie (who also wrote The Americanization of Emily, The Revolt of Mamie Stover, and The Execution of Private Slovik) deserves a lot of credit for writing this book, despite its flaws. He was born and raised in Alabama, and still lived there when he wrote and published this book–which couldn’t have earned him a lot of fans in the state. I’ve read any number of books by white people that have attempted to talk about the Civil Rights movement–and there are always these heroic white Southern people who stood up to the Klan and fought for the rights of people of color at great risk to themselves and to their families; as well as pushing the narrative that the real racists in the South were the working class and poor whites, while the middle and upper classes wrung their  hands with dismay but didn’t try to do anything. I think that narrative is false; white people aren’t the heroes of the Civil Rights movement by any means. And while class certainly played a huge part in Jim Crow and the codification of segregation and racism into law; I find it really hard to believe that more financially stable white Southern people weren’t racists. I first encountered the class discussion in David Halberstam’s The Fifties (which I do highly recommend); but while I do believe the class discussion has merit–and discussion of class/caste in America is way overdue–I don’t think it completely holds water, or holds up under close scrutiny.

Ironically, Jim Crow and codified racism is part of the reason the South lags so far behind the rest of the country economically.

We continue to ignore class in this country at our own peril, quite frankly.

I am going into the office early today to get my four hours out of the way, and then I am going to go run errands so hopefully I won’t have to leave the Lost Apartment this weekend. I hope to get all the cleaning and organizing done today, and then I am most likely going to either read Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress or Caleb Roehrig’s White Rabbit, which I am picking up at the library today. I also am going to tackle some Stephen King short stories this weekend, rereading Skeleton Crew. I need to get back to work on both the Scotty book and the WIP this weekend; I also want to do some short story revisions so I can send some more stories out for submission. I also have some other projects in the beginning stages I’d like to organize and plan out.

And on that note, ’tis back to the spice mines. Have a terrific Friday, Constant Reader!

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Coward of the County

Thursday! Didn’t think we’d make it this far, did you, Constant Reader?

Yesterday was cold–not as cold as it is pretty much everywhere north of I-10–but today’s not so bad. Forecast to be in the fifties with a high of 61, the sun is out and the sky is blue and full of puffy white clouds. I only have to work a half-day today and tomorrow, so I’ll be sliding into the weekend relatively casually.

I finished proofing Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories last night, and now just have to fill out the corrections form to turn in. I also watched another episode of Titans, which introduced us to Jason Todd, aka Robin 2.0, and the show has done an excellent job of casting and writing this character. The young actor who plays him–I didn’t take the time to look up who he is–is pitch-perfect; even more so than the actor playing Dick Grayson. Titans is so well-done that DC Universe really needs to use it as a guide for any other super-hero team shows it might do; so much better than Legends of Tomorrow, which I was very excited about but lost interest in very quickly; I think I only watched two episodes.

I really do miss Agent Carter.

I also read more of The Klansman yesterday, and while it is still wince-inducing, it’s actually really good–or so I think. The horror of the racism and sexism of 1965 Alabama is incredibly difficult to read, but it is in-your-face, pull-no-punches honest….a lot more honest, frankly, than To Kill a Mockingbird, which I also read for the first time the same summer I read The Klansman. One of the things the author, William Bradford Huie (who was from Alabama and lived there) does really well is pull aside the pleasant mask most racists were and expose the ugliness underneath, while also showing their humanity; a humanity that exists despite their malignant beliefs and values.

Take, for example, this paragraph:

The Atoka Hospital was the most visited institution in Atoka County. This was because the people of the county were friendly. Each day the local radio station broadcast the names of the patients admitted the previous day, so whenever a person remained in the hospital for several days he could count on being visited by most of his relatives, many of his friends, even a few of his casual acquaintances. But this visiting was not interracial. Whites visited whites; Negroes visited Negroes. In the first twenty years of the hospital’s existence, from 1945 to 1965, no white man, unless he was a doctor or a policeman, visited a Negro patient. A few white women visited their Negro cooks. But certainly no white man ever visited a Negro girl. So when Breck Stancill, after hearing Dr. Parker’s report, visited the private room occupied by Loretta Sykes at 11:20 pm, he gained invidious distinction and caused ugly talk.

(aside: I am really glad the word negro has passed out of usage; as you can see from the above paragraph, it was commonly accepted in the 1960’s and was preferred to the n word and colored. Huie also used the n word liberally throughout the book, but it’s always used in dialogue by racist characters and never in the prose, unless the prose is going inside the character’s head.)

This is the kind of world that racists want us to return to; one where ‘whites’ are superior and separated (above) from other ‘races.’ This book is set in 1965 Alabama; and I was four years old at the time. This was the world I was born into, this existed and changed during the course of my lifetime. Huie perhaps does one of the best jobs I’ve ever read of writing about the reality of racism and segregation; and by humanizing his racists he makes them all the more horrible to contemplate; the three-dimensional monster is always more frightening than the one-dimensional.

I’ll probably finish reading the book tonight, since I get off work early, and I am taking voluminous notes…but probably won’t review the book until this weekend.

And now back to the spice mines.

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More Love

So, yesterday I went to pick up the mail–I’d ordered some sleepy-time tea on line, and they’d arrived on Wednesday, and yes, this tea actually works–and discovered FOUND MONEY in the mail. Back when I worked for that Unnamed Airline (Continental), in my last year there they gave us stock–something I would imagine they continued doing–but it was Class B or something; whatever it was, we couldn’t sell it. Flash forward and they merged with United. Fine, it was only ten shares, whatever, I always get the notice every year and just toss it in a drawer.

Yesterday, I actually read the thing and discovered that–wait, it’s now the kind of stock you can sell. It took me five minutes, but I signed into the stock website and sold that. It only took another five minutes for it to actually sell. How cool! I love when found money suddenly shows up, you know? It makes me quite happy.

I knew when I woke up yesterday was going to be a marquee day for the week, and it was. Huzzah! Part of it was after feeling so low energy all week, despite being rested, was waking up with batteries recharged; that happened again this morning in time for my short day this week. I have some errands to run this morning before I go in this afternoon; and some other things I need to get done around the Lost Apartment.

I’m still reading Last Seen Leaving  by Caleb Roehrig, which I am enjoying. I hope to finish reading it today, and then I am moving on to another Diversity Project book (after reading some short stories), and I think I’ve decided to read The Klansman by William Bradford Huie. I read this book when I was about nine or ten originally; I know the book belonged to my uncle, and I read it one lazy summer I was spending in Alabama (the same summer I read To Kill a Mockingbird.) Huie isn’t really talked about much anymore–at least not that I’m aware of–and The Klansman was a look at the violence and horror of the Civil Rights Era from the perspective of a white sheriff in a small county in Alabama who’s trying to keep the peace. Huie also wrote The Execution of Private Slovik, and other books illustrating social justice issues. I liked the book a lot, and it was, I think, the first time in my life I was ever given a different perspective on civil rights other than what I was hearing at home or at school, so I am curious to see how it holds up. I can’t remember when I remembered the book and tracked down a used copy on line; but am pretty certain it was after some tragedy involving racism in the last few years–unfortunately I can’t be more specific than that because there have been so many.

So, I have a nice busy weekend ahead of me–reading, cleaning, reading page proofs, and perhaps working on the Scotty revision. I’d also like to go to the gym both days as well; it never hurts to get the working out monkey off my back and start making time for the self-care and self-improvement I desperately need to make this year a winner.

Our Internet was out last night, so we couldn’t watch anything on television–no Australian Open, no US Figure Skating championships, none of the shows we watch regularly, nothing–so I spent the night doing some cleaning and some more reading. The good news, of course, is that it back this morning and a lot faster than it was before the crash last night (or of the last few weeks or so), which is lovely.

And on that note, probably should get back to the spice mines. Happy Friday, everyone.

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Black or White

Sunday morning. Seriously, I got absolutely nothing done yesterday; no writing, no reading, very little cleaning, no trip to the gym.

Nothing.

I also overslept this morning. I didn’t wake up until after ten, which is completely inexcusable. I went to bed early last night (my bedside reading is Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King, and it is riveting. We so frequently (deliberately?) forget just how awful our society was before the Civil Rights movement (awful as things can be now, sadly it was much worse back then),  that this book, and others about the Jim Crow south, should be required reading for all Americans…not that the racists would take anything profound away from it. Isn’t that always the problem? The people who should read a book are precisely the people who would never read it.

Today I may or may not make it to the gym–you never know, but sleeping so late has kind of thrown me off my gameplan (which is the problem with being so anal retentive/borderline OCD; when the plan gets thrown off I generally surrender and don’t try to make any of it work), so in a moment, after finishing my last cup of coffee for the day (I don’t drink coffee after noon; or rather, don’t make a cup in the Keurig after twelve) I am going to start reading “A Whisper from the Graveyard” out loud, followed by reading “This Thing of Darkness” out loud, and possibly “The Problem with Autofill”; I think I’ve found a place for it to be published (or at the very least, considered for publication). I also came across another place to submit a story; they are looking for historical crime stories…of which I have none, and might possibly mean having to write a new one. I might be able to find one that is in progress somewhere that might work…I have some stories set in the past but I also don’t know what they mean by historical crime. Does it have to be in the distant past, or can it be in the recent past, as I have some stories set in the 70’s and 80’s and 90’s. Of course, I could email them and ask for a more precise explanation of historical. It might even be fun to try to write something very far back in the past, like during the time of Catherine de Medici, or Michelangelo.

Which of course means I could play around writing notes in my journal, which is always kind of fun.

The next story in Florida Happens is “When Agnes Left Her House,” by Patricia Abbott.

Patricia Abbott is the author of more than 125 stories that have appeared online, in print journals and in various anthologies. She is the author of two print novels Concrete Angel (2015) and Shot in Detroit (2016)(Polis Books). Concrete Angel was nominated for an Anthony and Macavity Award in 2016. Shot in Detroit was nominated for an Edgar Award and an Anthony Award in 2017. A collection of her storiesI Bring Sorrow and Other Stories of Transgression was released earlier this year.

She also authored two ebooks, Monkey Justice and Home Invasion and co-edited Discount Noir She won a Derringer award for her story “My Hero.” She lives outside Detroit. You can find her blog here.

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“When Agnes Left Her House” by Patricia Abbott

When Agnes left her house, she picked her moment carefully. Only the greenhorn oil trucker battling the steep road coiling around her house might have caught a flash of red gingham in his mirror.  He did not.

As she crossed the fields lying between the house and Haycock, her resolve hardened. A walk turned into a trot, and then into a sprint, as she moved as fast as she could toting Henry’s old track bag. She wasn’t sure where she was headed, having seldom been south of Lancaster and never east of Smoketown.

The boys would be home from school in a few hours and find the kitchen table scrubbed clean but no snacks laid out. Had there been a day in the last eighteen years when she hadn’t baked cookies or brownies, made popcorn, or cored apples? And dinner was usually half-made by one o’clock, the smell of soup or a stew welcoming their return. Today not a single pot sat on the stove and the oven was cold. The only sign of tonight’s dinner was the chicken in the fridge, lemon and thyme sprigs resting inside and garlic tucked under the skin. She’d prepared it before the idea of escape overtook her.  

 Last night’s words with Henry rankled until taking off seemed like the only sane course of action. Sane—that word was ping-ponged across the kitchen table in a battle lasting until three a.m. She’d successfully ducked the back of his hand and his reach for her hair, loosened in the struggle. Swinging wildly, he caught his foot on the table leg and fell hard. By the time he stood up, she’d locked him out of their bedroom. That was the last she saw of him. Surely, the kids had overheard some of their scuffle. She blushed with shame.

This story is a gem. Married to an abuser, and mother of five young sons, Agnes packs a bag and goes on the road, running away from her life. Florida is her final destination, and Abbott offers no sentimentality about how Agnes gets there and what she has to do to survive. It’s a shocking story in some ways, but utterly realistic and honest and painful to read. Women like Agnes–there’s not really any answer for them in our society, and her descent is terrible to read about….and yet never once does she think it would be better to head back home to her family. And there’s a lovely twist at the end. Stunning and brilliant.

And now, to read some of my own stories aloud.