romance, literary fiction

The Awful MessRecently divorced, Mary Bellamy buys a house in the small town of Lawson, New Hampshire. The breakup of her marriage hasn’t shattered her. Far from it. She’s glad to be rid of her childish, self-centered ex. She envisions a contented life as a single woman with a cat and a secure job as an editor–a job that requires her presence in the office only occasionally. She’s definitely not looking for romance, but it hunts her down anyway.

Soon after moving to Lawson, Mary becomes acquainted with Arthur Tennant, rector of the Episcopal church. Arthur is married and off limits. The marriage is far from happy, though, and Arthur is lonely. One evening he shows up at her house with wine. They drink, they talk, they have sex. Mary considers it a one-night stand, the unfortunate result of too much wine.

Meanwhile, a handsome young cop shows an interest in her. Mary reluctantly agrees to go out with him. To her surprise, she enjoys his company and gets along with his fundamentalist father.

Just as things seem to be going well, a series of misfortunes threaten to destabilize her new life. Her job turns out not to be secure after all. Mary might be laid off and lose the income that makes it possible for her to afford the house. Her ex-husband comes slinking around. He dumped Mary because she was apparently infertile, but now he’s unhappy with his new young wife.

Then catastrophe strikes. Mary discovers she’s fertile after all, pregnant with Arthur’s child. It has to be his. She hasn’t had sex with with anyone else. Soon everyone in Lawson will know she’s pregnant and the speculation will begin. If the secret is revealed, it will destroy Arthur’s life.

Author Sandra Hutchinson tells the story with economy, grace, and an occasionally comic touch. Lawson is not Hawthorne’s Salem, and the townspeople react in unexpected ways. Even the minor characters are complexly drawn. Particularly impressive is the treatment of the cop’s father. A less thoughtful writer would have made him the stereotypical fundamentalist Christian–intolerant, irrational, and unforgiving. As with much else in the novel, it’s not that simple.

The Awful Mess: A Love Story is an intelligent, entertaining novel that faces the truth about life’s difficulties without descending into bleakness.

Discover Authors

Today’s guest, Laurie Boris, makes a strong case for creating characters that are less than perfect. 

I’m a bit different from some authors. Instead of outlining and building a character from scratch, I let one fall into my head. I follow him or her around as we find the story together. So sometimes (oh, who am I kidding; it happens nearly all the time) I get to work with characters who are a little broken, a little damaged, or who don’t always make the choices I want them to.

This means I often hear the same comment from my early readers: I wanted to SLAP her!

If it’s any consolation to them, sometimes I want to slap her, too.

Yet to write a book any other way, for me, would feel wrong. It would feel like I’m forcing a character to do something contrary to his or her nature. Readers can sense this. It can make the characters’ journeys feel fake, like the author is moving them around on a chessboard to suit the needs of the plot.

When Sarah Cohen popped into my head for Sliding Past Vertical, oh boy, did I want to slap her. Probably more than any of my other heroines. She meant well. Underneath, I could sense that she meant well, and didn’t want to hurt anyone, but some of her decisions had unintended consequences because she wasn’t thinking them through. I really felt for Emerson, who still loved her after she broke up with him in college. Stop hurting my book boyfriend, I wanted to yell at her.

spv_v3But I had to let her do what she was going to do. That’s one of the most important lessons I learned from her. As I write a book (and for a while afterward), the characters feel as real to me as the people I come across in the supermarket, on the train, in the gym. That’s what some readers say they love about them. Yet real people don’t always make the best choices, especially if they are in trying situations. They make the ones that feel like the best thing to do at the time. And knowing this has not only helped me feel more compassionate toward other people, it’s helped me feel more compassion for my characters and for myself.

I haven’t always made the “right” decisions in my personal life. Who has? Through writing, and especially when I’m given the gift of a character like Sarah, it helps me grow and helps me learn more about forgiveness.

In a novel, though, if a character never learns anything or changes in some way because of what she experiences, well, what’s the point of having her in the book? It’s a question writers often ask themselves while a story is in development. Sarah, as much as I wanted to sit her down and talk some sense into her, deserved to stay because she had to go through a transformation. She had a lot to learn. I had to be compassionate enough to let her do that on her own, without pushing her around or making her be someone that she wasn’t. And maybe that’s why she came into my life.

Discover Authors

A warm welcome to today’s Discovery tour guest, Pavarti K. Tyler.

This week, my erotic romance Sugar & Salt released and I’ve been having oodles of fun posting reviews and talking about erotica with readers.  But in the mix, I don’t want to forget the Literary Fiction novel that came out in July.  Not that long ago in the scheme of publishing.

White Chalk, is a very personal story for me.  While it’s not autobiographical and I am not Chelle, I could have been.  So could you.  So could the kid sitting on the bus next to you on your way to work tomorrow morning.  The thing is, we never know what someone’s like is like behind the walls of their mind.  It takes very little to change the trajectory of a life.  A teacher who takes a special interest in a troubled child can save them, point them in a new direction, or take advantage and shatter their understanding of love.

About the book:

WCFinalCover-200x300Chelle isn’t a typical 13-year-old girl—she doesn’t laugh with friends, play sports, or hang out at the mall after school. Instead, she navigates a world well beyond her years.

Life in Dawson, ND spins on as she grasps at people, pleading for someone to save her—to return her to the simple childhood of unicorns on her bedroom wall and stories on her father’s knee.

When Troy Christiansen walks into her life, Chelle is desperate to believe his arrival will be her salvation. So much so, she forgets to save herself. After experiencing a tragedy at school, her world begins to crack, causing a deeper scar in her already fragile psyche.

Follow Chelle’s twisted tale of modern adolescence, as she travels down the rabbit hole into a reality none of us wants to admit actually exists.

Rachel Thompson, Award-Winning Author of Broken Pieces

Tyler combines shades of ‘Lolita’ and ‘Catcher in the Rye’ in a completely new way, drawing you in with poignant characterizations. ‘White Chalk’ goes deep into teenage angst with understanding and clarity. Savor, share, and use this poignant book as a primer on the brutal effects of abuse, neglect, and self-esteem.

I am delighted to welcome today’s guest, Deborah J. Lightfoot, author of the magical Waterspell series.

The Awesome Indies Discovery begins today and runs through December 14. Featured are eight simply awesome writers whose books have met high standards of quality and been approved for the Awesome Indies lists. I am pleased and proud to be in such distinguished company. Now here is my contribution to the tour. I’m also giving away review copies of the complete Waterspell trilogy.

WATERSPELL
by
Deborah J. Lightfoot

Magic, mystery, murder, and romance …
The Waterspell Trilogy:
An intricate save-the-world fantasy adventure with complex characters, cosmic calamities, and the gothic sensibilities of Jane Eyre

~~~~~

I wrote much of Waterspell while living in the tropics in a house that was open to the breezes of soft summer nights. Often I worked late, gripped by a writer’s high, my fingers flying over the keyboard while the world slept. Vaguely I would catch the hoots of owls and the fragrances of night-blooming flowers wafting in on the breeze, but I wasn’t really occupying the same universe as the house that held me. On those magical nights, I was living with—and in—the characters of my medieval fantasy. I saw through their eyes, thought their thoughts, and felt their anguish. I didn’t merely sympathize with their pain: I felt it.

Waterspell_Book_1_cover_AIA_badge-330My writing became an out-of-body experience as my consciousness melded with my characters. Nothing existed in those moments except my pulse-pounding rush to capture not only their words and actions, but also their deepest secrets. I saw behind their masks. I knew things they’d never told anyone—hidden things they had not fully acknowledged even to themselves.

In the small hours of the night when exhaustion finally drove me from the keyboard, I sometimes found myself thinking, as I headed for bed, that I would like to read more of the story which had so riveted me. Then I would realize that I couldn’t read more of it until I had written it. The experience was like being split in two. The hours I spent out of my body, my mind at one with my characters, made for confused dreams as my essence struggled to leave the world of Waterspell and return to Earth.

When at last the writing was done and I could declare the trilogy finished, I cried a little to be parting from my characters. They were real to me. For the better part of 16 years they had lived in me, and I in them. We had spent a life together.

Waterspell_Book_2_cover_AIA_badge-330But now they were moving into a wider realm. The books were published, and readers began responding. I’ve been deeply gratified by the emotional connections that many readers have forged with these idiosyncratic characters of mine. Reviewers have called them complicated, original, mesmerizing.

Beyond Character: Going Deep

But as thrilling as it is to see my creations become real in readers’ imaginations, I’ve now found myself hoping for reviews that will give equal time to the story’s deeper themes.

One of those themes deals with the human need to belong. We all want to fit in; we want a place and a community to call our own. My protagonist, a teenage misfit named Carin, is homeless and rootless as the story begins. Her quest is to find the place where she belongs. Or more accurately, her challenge is to make a place for herself in a world where she does not really fit.

Waterspell_Book_1_cover_AIA_badge-330That’s one subtext of the story. Going still deeper, camouflaged amongst the underpinnings of the trilogy, is a commentary on environmental exploitation, ecological devastation, and Nature’s powers of regeneration, if we’ll only give Earth the chance to heal. That theme is nuanced enough that I wouldn’t expect most readers to pick up on it until late in Book 2. And even when this subtext is more fully explored in Book 3, it’s far subtler than the adventure, mystery, and romance of the trilogy’s surface layers.

Even so, I’m hoping to connect on those deeper levels with readers who enjoy a good fantasy adventure, but who also want more from a book than simple entertainment. Come for the characters, love or despair of them as you will, but please know there’s more happening in the depths of Waterspell. On the surface, the story may seem medieval. Down below, however, it’s as contemporary and relevant as the latest natural disaster or planetary catastrophe to strike our Mother Earth.

If you’re interested in environmental literary fiction or you like characters who’ll keep you up nights, I invite you to sample Waterspell Books 1, 2, and 3 at any online bookseller. The three books of the trilogy—The WarlockThe Wysard, and The Wisewoman—are the beginning, middle, and end of a continuous story, and best read as a set.

Review copies are available in all formats. Please contact me if you’d like to review.

 

Discover Authors A warm welcome to today’s guest, Kate Policani, accomplished author of The Convergence series. Kate is also the creative mind behind Discover Authors. Thank you, Kate, for inviting me to participate in this tour. aia_low-res_sm-150x150   djabbim-cover-new-audiobook

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Magic

(Book 1 of The Convergence series)
By Kate Policani
Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Paranormal

The fabulous Awesome Indies have granted this book with the Seal of Approval. Since its last appearance on Discover Authors, my first Convergence series book has donned a new cover for ebooks and is Now available on Audiobook! 

Giveaway

One comment on this post will win a code for a free audiobook at audible.com! Let me know what you think of the new cover and the audiobook reading. The talented Heidi Baker  has narrated the first book in The Convergence series. This tale features a lot of humor and loads of fun. As an added bonus, you can HEAR what all those crazy words sound like. Hear a sample

Buy on Audible

Buy on Amazon

Buy on Itunes

Discover Authors

I’m honored to welcome today’s guest, Tahlia Newland, author of the award-wnning Diamond Peak series.

Diamond-Peak-Series

THE MIND-BLOWING FINALE TO THIS AWESOME FANTASY SERIES IS OUT NOW!

Yes; it is quite literally mind-blowing.

Don’t miss out on the award-winning Diamond Peak Fantasy Series. Each book in this new adult contemporary fantasy has been awarded an AIA Seal of Excellence in Independent Fiction.  (That means it’s pretty good.) Book one has also been awarded a BRAG medallion for outstanding independent fiction. Get the full series now and read some real magic.

WHAT READERS ARE SAYING ABOUT THE SERIES

A beautifully written, exciting fantasy-adventure with vibrant description.” Krisi Keley, author of Mareritt.

“A most exemplary work, a real joy to read. The colour, depth and vitality of both the writing and the narrative is stunningly good: the exploration of motives, outlooks and hopes of the characters quite intoxicating. It ranks as a true work of literary accomplishment.” Clive S Johnson, AIA reviewer.

“In a new twist on fantasy, Tahlia puts characters in fantastical situations, but they are actually fighting everyday situations that have to do with hate, greed, envy, and the like, as Ariel and Nick fight demons that prey off your emotions. Her characters are rich in real life experiences, following on life’s journey of emotional ups and downs. I love the relationship between Nick and Ariel. It’s so pure with the promise of young love and the maturity to put it on hold while they fought the demons they were pitted against. In a race to save Ariel’s mother’s life, Ariel discovers who she is and what she is capable of. This is a gripping series that I would recommend to anyone. It has a great moral compass to encompass the ages.” Cynthia Shepp, editor/reviewer

“I can’t even begin to describe all of the action you’ll find in this highly imaginative journey. This is a fantastic depiction of a fight between good and evil.” Crazy Four Books. 

ABOUT THE SERIES

Lethal InheritanceStalking ShadowsDemon’s Grip and Eternal Destinytake place in the hidden realm of Diamond Peak, a place that interfaces with the ‘real’ world, and is inhabited by demons and the Warriors who hunt them. Diamond Peak exists on a more subtle layer of reality than the one we normally see and can only be seen and entered by those who have refined their perception sufficiently to become attuned to its frequency.

sword_sparklesweb

Inside, rocks move, reeds whisper, people fly and sadistic demons feed on and stir up negative emotions in their human prey. Warriors seek to climb the mountain and defeat the Master Demon who resides at the peak, because his death will free the world of all demons. To attain this goal however, the Warrior must pass through the territories of his bodyguards, the heads of the demon clans, and face their inner demons before they can subdue the outer ones.

The layers of meaning within this series are rich, the symbolism profound and the characters’ experiences, though cloaked in fantasy, are the journey we all take through life whether we know it or not. It is a journey of self discovery on the profoundest of levels. It is the journey to enlightenment.

These are no ordinary books. The magic within them is real. The powers of the characters are within your grasp and their success can be yours.

dp-is-calling

 Run  and Ariel’s Dream are prequel short stories to the series. They are FREE in all major ebook stores and includes chapter one and two of book one, Lethal Inheritance. Book one is out in paperback and book two, Stalking Shadows, will be available in time for Christmas.

See all the books on my
Amazon author pageKobo author pageB&N author pageSmashwords author pageApple author page

SPECIAL OFFER

If you buy book one before the 15th of December and send me a copy of the receipt. I will give you book 2 for free and enter you in a draw to win the full series.

Email your receipt to CP(at)centrepieceproductions(dot)com.  (The email address is written like this to avoid being picked up by spammers. Replace (at) with @ and (dot) with a period.)

 Thanks to Kate Policani for organising the Awesome Indies Discovery Tour of which this post is a part.

Please help spread the word by sharing this post.

Today I’m pleased to host James DiBenedetto, author of the fascinating Dream series.

I was absolutely thrilled a couple of months ago when the first book in the Dream Series, “Dream Student” won the Awesome Indies seal of approval – it was a very nice bit of recognition.  It’s also sold several hundred copies, been turned into an audiobook and gotten dozens of great reviews.

And, honestly, I’m really proud of it.  What I’m most proud of is, ironically, the very thing that makes the book difficult to categorize: the way it straddles genres and balances several different aspects of Sara’s life.

Dream StudentIt’s not exactly a traditional romance novel; it isn’t a straight-out thriller; it’s not primarily a coming-of-age story; or a slice-of-life.  It’s all of that – or elements of all of those.  I tried very hard to maintain a balance in the book (and in the later books, as well) – showing Sara’s dreams and following them as they lead Sara into danger, but also giving plenty of attention to her day-to-day life.

And in the reviews, I can see that one of the biggest factors in readers’ reactions is what they expected the book to be.  Some people loved the time spent on Sara’s everyday activities and her friends and the minutae of college life; but others, who I think came to the book looking mainly for a suspense-filled thriller, didn’t like that at all.

Personally, I do think those parts of the book are important (obviously, since I wrote them!).  On a basic level, I wrote the story I wanted to read, but on a story level, I do think it’s vital to ground characters in their world, and make their lives relateable to readers – once readers can truly see themselves in Sara’s shoes and see their daily lives reflected in hers, then her supernatural dreams will be that much more effective, and readers will be willing to accept them and follow Sara as she tries to handle them.

Which leads me back to the question: what do I call this book, how do I pitch it, what genre do I stick it into?  I’ve been calling it a “paranormal romance/suspense” novel, and I’m still not happy with that, but it’s the best I’ve been able to come up with…

Discover Authors

Today I’m pleased to host Massimo Marino, author of the acclaimed Daimones sci-fi trilogy.

When I started writing I was too young to think of what I was doing and have moments of reflection on crafting a novel. My Dad received “Astounding Stories” but I wasn’t allowed to read the magazines but they did have astounding covers, and I dreamed about them. Based on those covers, I created stories in my mind, then put down on paper with a pencil in my little hands so that I could re-read and never forget them.

I didn’t think about plot and action, character development, building my voice, what themes and belief systems I had to, or wanted to cover. The place and the setting came from those cover pictures, and I wasn’t concerned with temporal or structural issues.

Later on, I kept doing that and stopped when I started my studies in Physics at the University. Between that and playing quarterback for the team of Palermo, my home town, chasing girls until I found my future wife thirty-four years ago, put a halt on writing. So it is only when I resumed that forgotten love and got the writing fever again—or my Muse awoke and found me ready—that I started exploring and thinking of  these elements in my work.

Suspense is one thing that will keep readers reading; there’s a tension in the pages and it is not resolved: The writer has been busy building suspense. A common mistake I’ve seen with writers still learning the ropes is eagerness with resolving the tension, as if it was a good thing to provide the readers with the resolution even on the same page. What a missed opportunity. Sure, the longer you wait, the higher the risk of disappointing your readers if the resolution is moot and weak. The readers would go “What! Is that all?” 
So keep in mind that suspense is your key factor to have your book defined by readers as a “page-turner”: they want to discover what resolves the tension points in your novel. If everything is in one page, there is no need to turn anything.

Daimones-Postcard-Front-smallYou will notice something very interesting that you may use as one of your mantras while honing your storyline: Where there is revelation, there is suspense.

Revelations can fall into many categories, it can be part of the plot, a trait of your main character, an anodyne, thinly disguised detail that goes undetected by most readers, and creates “Ah ha” moments later in the story. Try thinking of all the possible revelations in your book. How do these fit into your plot outline? If you have many to share with your readers, how can they be distributed in the storyline. Try not to amass all your revelations together and too early in the book as you need to keep up with the expectations of your readers through some 80,000 words.

Characters are revealed through their actions, what they do and what they say. Drama shows people at their extremes. Your main character must be in the midst of the battle of his or her life, physical or emotional, or an ultimate test, a challenge or crisis of faith.

As they say, “If you want to find out what a person is made of, put that person under pressure.” You’ll also will find that a place or a thing can also function as “character” and be developed. A place, or an object can be charged with emotions and tension to rival with the better developed characters of all stories.

You don’t even need to describe your character physically as if you were—and you are, if you do that—telling people about a picture you have of the character. A character is not a pair of blue eyes, blonde hair, fair incarnation, slim or not, tall or short, attractive or repulsive, beautiful or ugly. These are the traits of a cardboard, not a character.

Build your character slowly, with their thoughts, their action, their unique way of interacting with the events in the story and with other characters. This gives them depth, not whether they’re tall and brunette, or short and blondie. You can even avoid telling physical characters and have the reader guess whether they are tall (she’s able to reach the upper shelve without help) or short, she needs to be on her tiptoes.

Don’t tell how they look, show who they are, and the readers will fill in the gaps.
 If you need a physical trait to be unique and well described (but only if it is *needed* and adds to the story) then introduce that trait *when* needed.

Everyone can describe the picture of a person and tell how s/he looks like, but that’s not character development and—frankly—doesn’t add anything to the reader’s image of who is that person.

Forget physical traits, get into the characters’ personality and they will develop naturally and readers will love or hate them, but never indifferent to their fates.

Development and character—and how both are framed by time and place, and their impact on how your story is also a key feature of your storytelling. It is a key aspect of your story: where it is situated at a particular place. When I  am deep in writing a new story,  I have places and situations and scenes that build up. I try to view them via a close up on something particular in the landscape, or via a long shot from a mountaintop or a helicopter or any other vantage point from above.  I survey the scenery, and I forbid my characters to venture there with me. I explore, trying to “feel” the place well before my characters are allowed in. Then I walk with them, and I hear their thoughts, and question “How do you feel, here?”, “What excites you?”, “What scares you?”, and “Would you go there?”. Hearing “No” as an answer to the last question is usually a good sign that the place needs to be visited in the story

The plot of your book  can be an attempt to illuminate a particular philosophical problem, belief, or snapshot of a world at a particular point in time. In the plot, the writer can and wants to explore underlying belief systems, whether conscious or unconscious. Artfully understanding and using the thematic elements in your novel will result in a work that can be deep and resonant versus flat and merely commercial. Here you aim at writing with your heart, questioning your firm foundations of your persona, and forgetting about making more sales, while concentrating on how to better disrupt something inside the reader. If it bothers you to explore those things, it is a good sign they are good stuff to put the spotlight on in your story. But for this, you need to have the courage to write naked. You will aim at making your work even more resonant and expansive—a book that has the potential to be appreciated by many.

Voice. We’re in the habit of thinking, based on bland television and newspaper reporting, that a homogenized voice is the most objective and appropriate voice for conveying an unbiased story.  That may work well for presenting a certain type of general information to the public, but does not serve the richness and color and personal nature of authentic stories, stories that live and breath what life is really like and the gamut of human experience. For this last point, the only reflection I have to share is that your voice develops as an extension of you—the writer—as a character. When searched for consciously and purposefully it becomes affectation. Don’t fret on finding your voice, it will develop as part of who you are and if you write naked—again!
 The true worth of a writer is not in his style and voice, but in the feelings and sensations that come alive in the readers.

MaryMaddox-TalionI was flattered when reviewer Dan Hagen described Talion as “The Silence of the Lambs meets The Turn of the Screw.” Of course Thomas Harris’ famous thriller is quite different from Henry James’ classic ghost story, but my novel owes a debt to both. Talion explores the twisted mind of a serial killer and leaves readers uncertain whether the protagonist sees spirits or only imagines them.

Ironically, these two distinctive features of the story have caused the most complaints from readers.

Some are repulsed by the graphic violence and darkness of Rad Sander’s sadism. “It made my skin crawl,” one reader said. Another reader commented that Talion ought to be classified as a horror story rather than a thriller. I took her advice and began marketing the novel as horror fiction, the niche where it seems to fit better than anywhere else. And I added a warning to the book description.

In The Turn of the Screw the narrator sees malevolent ghosts that might or might not be figments of her imagination. So does Lu Jakes, the fifteen-year-old protagonist of Talion.

Lu is bullied at school and abused at home by her emotionally disturbed stepmother. Her alcoholic father ignores the abuse. Then Talion appears, a beautiful and mysterious spirit who eases her pain and gives her the strength to stand up for herself. Prompted by his sinister companion, Black Claw, Lu almost kills her stepmother.

When Rad begins to stalk Lu and her newfound friend, Lisa, Talion seems to be the teens’ only hope. But are his intentions benign? Does he even exist outside Lu’s head?

Talion only hints at answers, allowing readers to reach their own conclusions. To my surprise, some readers disliked not being told exactly what Talion is and whether he is “real.” They felt cheated. I could justify my use of ambiguity. (“Hey, Henry James did it!”) And no doubt the unhappy readers could justify their dissatisfaction. (“So what? If I wanted a book by Henry James, I would have bought one.”) It doesn’t matter. Writing fiction and reading it are personal experiences.

Other readers enjoyed Talion enough to hope there would be a sequel. There is. Look for Daemon Seer in the first part of next year. It offers more darkness, more violence, and some revelations about Talion.

18185976M. M. McVey’s novella The Trashcan Opera Society tells the story of the doomed love between Jordan, a onetime attorney who lives on the streets of Los Angeles, and Hannah, an aging stripper. The two meet when Jordan inadvertently saves Hannah from a violent patron by vomiting on the man.

McVey’s omniscient point of view keeps its distance from the characters and describes their world in a tone that manages to be both clinical and poetic. The narrative voice put me off at first. Occasionally it seems stilted or strained, but it’s the right voice for a story that blends harsh realism with operatic melodrama.

The characters are complex and unpredictable and very human. Not many homeless guys have premium season tickets to the opera. Not many strippers have the insight to their circumstances that I see in Hannah. I came to care about these two lovers who accept their hopelessness with such grace.

The author has a talent for description. Often I was impressed by the vivid detailing of scenes, but now and then I became impatient and wished the story would move faster. Take this  paragraph describing a chair in which Hannah is about to sit.

There was an old government gray chair resting in front of Donny’s desk that served as a resting place for the few visitors ever invited into his office. One spring, under the right side of the chair’s cushion was broken, forcing anyone sitting in the chair to tilt their body to the other side. The arm rest on the left side was worn through in most places. The exposed padding was gray with years of sweat and body oils. The remaining leather was slick as a saddle horn from a dime store mechanical pony.

I know exactly how Hannah feels sitting in that chair, but the knowledge serves no dramatic purpose. The chair merely reinforces the impression made by quite a few other paragraphs of description spread throughout the story: the joint where Hannah strips is a real dive.

In general McVey repeats too much. Readers are told over and over about Jordan vomiting on the man who attacked Hannah and about Jordan’s education and intelligence. I learn so much about Jordan so quickly that later revelations about him lose much of their impact.

My biggest disappointment with The Trashcan Opera Society is the sloppiness of the copyediting. Indie books usually contain more mistakes than books by commercial and small presses, and nobody is perfect, but this novella is closer to a workshop draft than a polished revision. It contains numerous errors and inconsistencies in punctuation and usage. Obvious errors have escaped correction. Several times its is used in place of the contraction it’s. Hannah has “taught stomach and leg muscles.” Lightening is used in a context where lightning seems to be intended, and discrete in a context that calls for discreet.

I encountered too many passages that made me want to reach for a red pen. Here’s one example:

The eyes acquire signs of aging early in a dancer’s career. It is due to  . . . the hard squinting to see if the paper money being waived before their body is a ten dollar or a one dollar bill.

If you see nothing wrong with the above passage, ignore my criticisms. As I wrote in a post last year, errors bother some readers more than others. If you see the errors and want to read The Trashcan Opera Society anyway, treat them like Jordan’s outward appearance. Overlook the scruffiness and you’ll find a moving story and characters worth knowing.

I’ve been working hard to finish the current revision of Daemon Seer. It’s not  the final revision (is it ever?) , but the novel is complete except for minor changes. My monomaniacal focus on finishing has led me to neglect Ancient Children, so instead of a book review or feature I’m offering the first couple of pages of Daemon Seer. Those who have read Talion will recognize the narrator, Lu—she’s 25 now—and a couple of other characters that she mentions.

Talion will also be back for the sequel—and he’s bringing all his friends.

 Chapter 1: The Co-Star of My Worst Nightmare

“I know who you are.” Ken leaned back in his desk chair and folded his hands. As usual he had on a gaudy jacket and clashing bow tie. His forehead and cheeks shone apple-like in the florescent ceiling light.

I thought of a smart-ass comeback –You ought to know, I’ve been working here for months – but it wouldn’t help matters any. The book was lying right there on the desk, a photograph of college professor Rad Sanders staring up from the cover. Rad looked nondescript, of course. Serial killers always do. Above him the book’s title screamed in lurid yellow: Professor of Death. Beneath his chin crawled the name of the author, Willard Steeples.

“How did you figure it out?” I knew Ken was itching to tell me. Otherwise he wouldn’t have summoned me to his office on work time. He scolded us for using the restroom when we weren’t on break.

“Two things,” he said. “Your name, Luanda. It’s quite unusual. And the town, Deliverance. It’s on your job application you went to high school there. So when I read about Luanda Jakes, one of the girls who escaped from this serial killer here, I thought, wait a minute, there can’t be more than one Luanda in a town that small. It so happens I have a cousin in Deliverance. I called him, and sure enough, he said the folks at Hidden Creek Lodge adopted Lu Jakes. He remembered their name. Darlington, the name you have now.” Ken finished with a smug smile, like I was supposed to gasp at his brilliance in tracking down my past.

“I really don’t like talking about it. I’m trying to get on with my life.”

When Willard Steeples asked to interview me, my foster mother, Debbie, had hired an attorney to threaten him and his publisher if anything about me, apart from facts of the crime that were public record, appeared in his sleazoid book. The publisher had backed off fast. Nobody had tracked me down. Until now. If Ken started blabbing, my coworkers would treat me like a freak and eventually reporters and sickos would come slinking to my door.

Ken lurched from his ergonomic chair, circled the desk, and put his hand on my shoulder. “You poor girl. It must have been terrible, seeing your dad killed right in front of your eyes.”

It had been traumatic — all that blood — but Duane Jakes was no great loss to the world.

Ken was massaging my shoulder. I fought the intense urge to shrug him off. Along with being my boss, he now had this secret to hold over me. So I let silence and passivity send the message. After a minute he got it. He eyed me with that way of his, sullen and kind of pitiful, like a dog driven away from the dinner table. You could say Ken would settle for scraps. He just wanted to cop a feel now and then, and I wouldn’t give him even that. Finally he removed his loathsome hand.

“I won’t tell anyone if you don’t want me to. But you killed that monster. You’re an honest-to-goodness heroine.”

“Thanks,” I muttered. “Guess I should get back to work now.”

“Yes.” He patted my shoulder one last time. “Good girl.”

I escaped back to my station.

“What did he want?” asked my coworker Alice. Maybe it was her eyeliner, the way it curved beyond the outer corners of her eyes, but she looked gossipy and sly. If she ever found out my secret, she would tell the world.

“What do you think?”

She snickered.

I spent the afternoon watching employees at Granville Imports, a business in Long Beach, California. Cyber Watch was in Salt Lake, but Ken had us spying for companies across the nation. One woman had figured out a system to work her eBay store in between creating shipping manifests. She would finish a batch, start printing them out, and then hop online to her seller’s dashboard. She stayed long enough to scroll through a few listings — Hummels, cut-glass dinner bells, and whatnot — or dash off an answer to a bidder’s question. Never longer than sixty seconds.

At first I couldn’t get a screenshot to prove what she was doing. Every time I checked on her, I caught just a flash of the browser window before it disappeared. This woman had to know she was being spied on. She’d installed a program that closed her browser when my remote eye landed on her, so I set the remote eye to take a screenshot the microsecond after it moved to a new target. I finally nailed a shot of her eBay dashboard and — bonus time! — a shot of the You Porn homepage on her supervisor’s monitor. A week ago I’d turned in the evidence and reported my suspicions.

The supervisor got fired, but someone at Granville gave the woman another chance. She was behaving herself now. She wasn’t using her phone to go online either. No phones except on breaks and for verifiable emergencies, a ban Ken always recommended to his clients. Of course he imposed the same ban on us.

*

Instead of going straight home after work, I strolled from the building where I worked to the Mormon temple in downtown Salt Lake. The two blocks seemed longer in my three-inch heels and pencil skirt, and my car was parked in the opposite direction. But I needed to calm down, and the temple grounds usually relaxed me. Not that afternoon. I hardly noticed the flowerbeds and tranquil fountains, the smell of roses mingled with traffic fumes, or the tourists gawking at the golden statue of Moroni blowing his horn from the temple’s highest steeple. I didn’t even snicker to myself at the name Moroni or wonder why Joseph Smith couldn’t think of something less ridiculous for his angel of revelation.

Ken’s revelation had me too anxious. He was bound to give up my secret. I imagined him at some backyard shindig casually letting it drop. You won’t believe this, but a girl who works for me was kidnapped by a serial killer . . .

My body remembered that night in the mountains with spells of dizziness and trembling. The fierce cold, even in summer. In nightmares I was falling into Rad’s bottomless gaze. Or I was splayed on the ground, my wrists and ankles scoured with pain. He didn’t torture me, but he staked Lisa to the ground on a tarp, the kind you lay underneath a tent to keep moisture out. Her blood pooled on the plastic.

The spells and nightmares had been going on for years, but lately I was having new symptoms. Moments when color leeched out of the world and bleakness sucked the life from me. Moments when pain seized my belly like a fist and I ached with hunger, not for food but something nameless. Two days ago, a fierce cramp had bent me over. My nose almost touching the keyboard, I could barely hear Alice whispering. Was I okay? Did I need to use the restroom? But the cramp hadn’t been my period, which had ended a week ago. The whole thing baffled me and pissed me off. After ten years I should be healing, not spiraling into some kind of weird post-traumatic syndrome.

Redfern Jon Barrett builds his dystopian novel Forget Yourself on a Kafkaesque mystery. The narrator, Blondee, lives in an enclosure with dozens of other people. None of them remember who they are. They assume they must be criminals since they are imprisoned, and they separate themselves into groups based on the severity of their crimes. But they can only guess at what they did wrong.

The story begins with Blondee in isolation, awaiting punishment for some unnamed transgression. She seems to believe she will once again lose her memory, a kind of death even though her body will live on.

Blondee relates how she first awakened in this strange place, her memory gone. She can still read and give names to things, but she has no personal history. No identity. She describes life in the enclosure, her grief after her lover deserts her, and her complex relationships with other prisoners. Barrett’s writing is descriptive and often poetic, rendering characters and setting so vividly that I become immersed in Blondee’s world.

The prisoners receive “rations”—half spoiled food and discarded items. Their food and shelter. They parcel it out according to their own rules, with those who supposedly committed the least serious crimes taking first pick and those who committed the worst taking whatever the others don’t want. Within the groups of criminals, couples receive better rations than single people. After losing her lover Blondee gets worse food and worse junk with which to furnish her ramshackle hut. And of course she’s lonely. She’s something of an outsider anyway, a rule breaker and troublemaker.

As long as the story focuses on Blondee’s predicament, it holds my interest. I almost forget the mystery surrounding it: What are these people doing here? Why are they imprisoned? How did they lose their memories? Or more precisely, who took their memories and why?

(The comments that follow will spoil the story for those who want to read it, so anyone intrigued by Forget Yourself ought to stop reading here.)

The mystery deepens when Blondee begins to remember her previous life. Barrett develops this part of the story masterfully. Blondee’s first memory is an image of a fierce huntress with dogs. She has no clue what it means. Gradually the memory expands, and the huntress becomes a figurine in the house where she once lived with her husband.

Blondee’s rediscovery of marriage is significant since relationships in the enclosure are not lifelong and have no gender limitations. Everyone seems pretty much bisexual. The problems begin—both for the inhabitants of the enclosure and for me as a reader—when she unearths an old magazine for brides. The magazine seems a bit too convenient as a plot device.

The articles on upscale weddings and honeymoons give Blondee an idealized notion of marriage. Driven by the need to remember who she once was, she buys in completely and convinces quite a few others that marriage is the correct way to live. She deserts a passionate female lover to marry a male who is merely a friend. Although I understand her motivation, I lose sympathy for Blondee when she dumps her lover.

Then comes a catastrophe that might or might not be connected to the changes Blondee has wrought. Antifreeze is included in the rations. The inhabitants of the inclosure think it’s something to drink, and many of them die. This brings the mystery back into the foreground. Why poison these helpless people?

I have to register my disappointment with the ending. For no discernible reason, Blondee is suddenly able to channel the memories of her companions in the enclosure. Their stories pour through her mind in italics, disjointed and contradictory, their worlds so unlike they seem to come from different planets. Taken together, they compound the mystery rather than resolving it.

The backstories are a convenient solution to a difficult narrative dilemma. The author funnels information through the consciousness of the first-person narrator. He could have brought down the walls and let Blondee see the world outside the enclosure. Or he could have let other prisoners regain their memories. Either of these solutions would make an already lengthy novel  longer, but they couldn’t be any worse than having the backstories dumped on the reader in a jumbled and inexplicable heap.