Short Story: Transactions on Medium and a Blog Update

 

ribsThe Medium publication, Literally Literary, have just published my short story, Transactions, on Medium. I’ve got a bit of a preoccupation with human monsters and transformations (as people who’ve followed this blog for a bit will know), so this story is a continuation of a theme. Check it out. It’s either dark magic realism or noir-horror, not sure which. I never was any good at fitting into genres.

Apologies to people who enjoy my book reviews. I ran out of money to splash out on the queer fiction I read so much of last year. The print copies I read tend to be a bit more expensive than the average, as a lot of it’s published by small indie publishers, and my credit card was starting to smoke, so I’ve had to give it a rest for now. I hope to get back to it soon. One of my favourite books this year so far has been The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. It’s a lovely character focused exploration of friendship and human need. I’ve also enjoyed The Books of Blood by Clive Barker.

I’m intending to write more about writing craft, themes and representation, but have been working flat out on editing some longer work and getting new shorts up on Medium. I’ve been having a lot of fun writing and that’s always going to be my priority. I hope you enjoy reading my shorter work.

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Happy New Year and 2016 in Books

Happy New Year to my readers. Lots of love to everyone for 2017 and all the challenges ahead.

I resolved to make 2016 a year of books, so here’s my year in books.

books-read-2016

Here’s my Goodreads overview for 2016.

Next year, I plan to do plenty of reading, again. Maybe I can top this year. Making time for books has kept me sane. In 2017, I’d like to read more horror and more speculative fiction and counter-culture fiction with trans characters. Recommendations, as always, are welcome.

In 2016 I published two vampire novellas and finished the first draft of a 1920s horror story I’ll be editing and completing in the New Year.

I’ll see you on the other side.

 

Queer Book Club: Guapa by Saleem Haddad

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Guapa follows the life of Rasa, a young translator living in an anonymous Arab city, the day after his grandma finds him and his male lover in bed together. Rasa has never been open about his sexuality outside Guapa, an underground club, and a small group of friends. His lover, Taymour, is due to get married that night, seeking to conform to society’s ideals. As the optimism of the Arab spring turns to violence and oppression, Rasa’s friend, Maj, a drag queen and activist, is arrested.

Although the story is a day in the life of Rasa, there are a lot of flash backs throughout the story, which piece together and make sense of the present. (So, if you don’t like flashbacks, this isn’t for you.) I like the way that these different stages of Rasa’s life contribute to the person he’s become and how he relates to both his sexuality and his culture. The different stages of Rasa’s development really come through. Haddad weaves a complex picture of the conflicting forces of Rasa’s family and culture, Western liberalism, Western racism and Islamophobia, and Rasa’s internalised homophobia and conceptions of masculinity. At times, the whole book feels like one big closet.

Haddad’s nuanced portrayal of the sometimes irreconcilable pressures on Rasa is the strength of this novel for me. Nothing is perfect, everything is a compromise, whether in the personal or the political sphere—Rasa has to decide which compromises he can stomach.

Queer Book Club: Every Day by David Levithan

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Every Day is YA speculative fiction. Every morning, A wakes up to find themself in a different life, in a different body. They spend only a day in each person’s body and then move on. A has always moved from life to life, unable to make long-term relationships, careful not to leave a lasting mark on the lives they touch. But then they meet Rhiannon and fall in love and everything changes.

Every Day was a random second-hand bookshop find for me, although I read and enjoyed another Levithan book earlier in the year (you can find the review in the index), so I didn’t really know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised. Each life that A touches was well realised, a brief glimpse into someone else’s reality. Levithan jumps from life to life with incredible skill.

A is effectively gender fluid, taking on the gender of the person whose life they’re borrowing. They’re also pansexual/bisexual. I’m not sure why there is a male pronoun used in the blurb as A is explicit about not identifying with one gender more than another in the story. Probably marketing department shenanigans. Gender is handled quite subtly for most of the story—for A it’s not that big a deal, but it’s clear in the way the A interacts with others that their varied experience has given them a lot of empathy for others. This particularly comes across in A’s concern for the way that Rhiannon is treated and devalued by her shitty boyfriend and there’s a nice feminist undercurrent to that. There’s a little more explicit gender reflection towards the end and in some ways I preferred the more subtle gender and identity stuff because the whole model for the story gives ample opportunity for that sort of reflection. The trans person that A hops into towards the end becomes a bit of a vehicle for this. I liked the diverse representation (and overall there is plenty), but found it a bit odd that this was the only character that got an enormous coming out back story.

The only thing that is missing for me in the story is a little more existential reflection from A. There is a little, but as the whole set-up is such a huge opportunity for that, I think more big questions could have been asked. There are some slightly bland generalisations about people being 98% similar and religions all being similar which I was fairly ambivalent about. I guess that the big questions of existence are just something Levithan didn’t want to go near, maybe so as not to alienate people, so the story keeps a tight focus on personal experience and identity. Having said that, I’m happy that no explanation is provided for A’s hopping, though I’m sure it would drive some readers nuts.

This is worth reading for the deft way Levithan realises the different lives that A glimpses. Each chapter is a day and there are so many different experiences brought to life in the story. For me that’s really the main attraction of the book.

Queer Book Club: Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

eileen-coverEileen is the story of a young woman set in the early 60s, in a small New England Town. It’s told retrospectively by Eileen when she’s much older, and there’s a wry humour to the retrospective viewpoint. Younger Eileen is trapped, living with her alcoholic father in their run down house, and working as a secretary in a juvenile prison. Nothing is rewarding about Eileen’s life, and she dreams of escape. She fantasises about Randy, one of the prison guards, and stalks him from afar, but really she’s quite alienated from her own desires, and her own body. Increasingly, we learn in snapshots from her childhood, that the whole of her life has been loveless and without affection. When a beautiful woman gets a job at the prison, Eileen’s desperate need for companionship transforms into a powerful crush.

This book caught my eye on the Man Booker shortlist. I’m slightly iffy as to whether it belongs in Queer Book Club (the main character isn’t explicitly queer), but the action hangs around Eileen’s crush on the beautiful new prison educator, Rebecca, so that’ll do I reckon.

I’ve seen the book labelled thriller, but it doesn’t really have the pacing of a thriller. Most of the book is more of an intricate character study of Eileen, following her around for a week, leading up to an unknown event which will cause her to leave her hometown forever. I loved the characterisation. Some of it is pretty grim—Eileen lives in filth and squalor, and hates her body to the point where she near starves herself, and then purges with laxatives, whilst drinking pretty heavily. Her relationship with her father is strained—he’s been a drunk for years, and has delusions and paranoia. But as the story takes shape, it becomes apparent that there never really was a golden time for Eileen. The retrospective style of narration, with the promise of escape and a better time, lifts the book from utter bleakness, so there’s humour and hope.

Whilst Eileen’s situation is not typical, there are some interesting reflections on women and sexuality at that time, and the limited roles available. Eileen’s not simply a victim of circumstance. She’s often quite an unpleasant, frustrating character, although I actually found her sympathetic as well.

The thriller element only really makes up the later part of the story, when Rebecca embroils Eileen in a surprising plot that finally snaps her out of the trap her life’s become. I won’t spoil the twist, but it was unexpected for me, even though the narrative is shaped towards that moment.

Eileen’s well worth a look, if you go in expecting a deep character study, and not a pacey thriller.

Queer Book Club: Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz

not-otherwise-specified-coverThis is a YA contemporary novel. Etta doesn’t seem to fit anywhere—her bisexuality gets her into trouble with the “Disco Dykes” group at school, she’s not skinny or white enough for the ballet she loves, she’s not ill enough for people to take her eating disorder seriously, she’s not a good enough singer to go to theatre school. Etta’s struggling with social isolation, and being the only person who is providing the support she needs. Then she finds unexpected friends at her group counselling, in a younger white anorexic girl and her gay brother. Bianca and James are from a very religious family, and are having problems all of their own.

When I first picked up this book, I was a bit stunned (in the sense of being hit round the head). The style is pretty intense—Moskowitz gets right in Etta’s head, and she has a pretty full on pile of anxieties which she cycles through constantly. The style is both a positive and a negative—on the one hand, it feels realistic, and I could really feel Etta’s struggle to cope with all the problems around her, and try to stay positive and on top of them. She keeps telling herself she’s really up-beat and happy, even when she’s falling apart, and eventually it comes true. On the other hand, the style makes for a somewhat unhinging read at times, especially if you’ve had mental health problems yourself.

Moskowitz does a really good job of showing some of the difficulties faced by bisexuals in finding acceptance, and in facing bi-phobia and bi-erasure. I’ve not read a lot of books with bisexual characters, and so that made a nice change. The bullying Etta faces at the hands of the girls at school actually gets pretty nasty at times, and that’s never completely resolved, which was a bit unsatisfying. Etta does stop looking for their acceptance, at least.

This is a bit of a novel of extremes. The characterisation is excellent, but that makes it a tricky read at times, and not all of the emotional loose ends feel completely tied up.

Queer Book Club: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

lies-we-tell-ourselves-coverLies We Tell Ourselves is a YA historical fiction novel set in 1959 Virginia. It follows the story of Sarah and Linda, both seniors, who are on opposing sides of the battle to desegregate the town’s high school. Sarah is one of 9 black students starting in the previously all white high school, whereas Linda is the daughter of the local newspaper editor, a staunch and outspoken segregationist. At first, the two girls seem irrevocably opposed to one another, but are thrown together to complete a school French project. Despite the violence and bullying surrounding the new black students, despite their divisions, the two girls fall in love.

The novel is told from the points of view of both Sarah and Linda. It’s a heavy read. The first section, which is all from Sarah’s point of view, follows in close-up the horror of starting high school faced with so much opposition. The first walk up to the door of the school on the first day is a gruelling battle through racial taunts and missiles, while the police look on and do nothing. Every school day, every lesson, every lunchtime, every journey down a corridor, becomes fraught with danger and humiliation for the students. It quickly becomes clear that in order for this historic change to be made beyond a statute book or court, the students will pay with their physical and mental wellbeing. And things go from bad to worse as the strain takes its toll. Although the novel is told from both points of view, it felt more like Sarah’s story than Linda’s, and I think that’s a good thing.

This is such a powerful book. Talley captures the experiences of Sarah in such detail, and it’s painful to follow her, even though she’s incredibly strong through it all. Linda also goes on a journey, from blind prejudice to realisation that her father’s message of racial superiority, and the violence he brings even into his own home, are not the right way, even though she’s lived with them all her life. It’s definitely an eye-opening novel, if this is a period of history you don’t know a lot about. And if it is, Talley still makes it personal.

The story looks at the choices available to young women at the time, and both girls have to take control of their own lives before they can figure out what they want for the future. They must also come to terms with religious teachings that tell them their love for each other is wrong. I liked that there is nothing mushy about their relationship, nothing overly sentimental. Really, the romance takes a back seat to the history and self-discovery. Love isn’t going to fix everything, they have to do the heavy lifting themselves.

Even though this is a tough read, there’s hope and love. Talley has a particular gift for creating powerful moments, both of horror and joy, and I ended up in tears more than once. Not a book, or a historical lesson, I’m going to forget in a hurry.

Vampire Promo

loveiscrowtreeI’ve got the sequel to my gothic novella, Love is the Cure, coming out later this year. It’s going to be called Gods and Insects. I’m really excited about how the sequel is shaping up — it’s over twice as long as the first one, there’s plenty of angst, new characters, including a trans guy, and you get to follow Asher’s story on from the first book. Rather than jump around points of view like the first one, the whole book is from Asher’s point of view.

If you haven’t had a chance to read the first one yet, I’m running a free promotion for the ebook version on Amazon over the next couple of days (Wednesday and Thursday). It’s a quick read, but one you should enjoy. Other readers have compared it to Anne Rice, so if you like that kind of vampire book, you might enjoy this one. There’s a little teaser for the sequel in the back.

Honest reviews welcome. Reviews are really the lifeblood for indie authors, and are always appreciated.

You can read an extract here: Love is the Cure: Extract

And you can get it here: UK , US

 

Queer Book Club: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

song-of-achilles-coverA retelling of the love story of Achilles and Patroclus. The Song of Achilles follows the story from Patroclus’ point of view, from boyhood, charting his friendship and eventual relationship with Achilles, all the way until their tragic end in the Trojan War. (And I’m not going to apologise for spoilers. That would be silly.) Not a recent publication, but I loved it a lot, so I’m going to stick a review here.

It’s taken me a little while to process this one. Not because I had problems with it, but because the emotions are so huge, they took a little longer to digest than normal sized non-mythic emotions. It is a joy as a story, and also caused me to reflect on the use of epic emotions in storytelling, and the role tragic stories play in modern literature. As a love story, it is beautiful and well studied, and those epic emotions are heartbreaking at times. I love the larger than life quality of it—Miller really captures the mythic nature of the originals, while making it all much more personal and focused. The writing style is simple but lyrical.

There are some changes to the familiar stories, the main one being Patroclus is not a fighter. He chooses to focus his skills solely on herbalism and healing. The relationship between Patroclus and Achilles is committed and unambiguously sexual from their teens, though the content is fairly chaste. Miller focuses on the emotion side of their relationship. The gods still play a role, though their interference isn’t quite as constant as in classical myth. But there is a sense of doom and fate hanging over the story. Achilles’ mother, the goddess Thetis, is really quite a sinister figure in this version, and is set against Patroclus, as unworthy of her son.

Miller does a good job of making Achilles a sympathetic character, despite his overweening pride and epic ability to sulk; we see him through the eyes of his lover, and all his best traits shine through.

There’s something extremely satisfying in following a love story from start to end. And to witness characters acting out these mythic stories, driven by such huge emotions. Whether you’re a fan of Greek myth, or just like a good love story, this is really a wonderful book.