Jason Allen: Book Blog Tour Spotlight & Author Interview

I’m very excited to be hosting a spotlight and author interview on The Inkblotters with Jason Allen for his blog tour. This is the first time that I am hosting a blog tour stop so I’m incredibly thrilled to share this new amazing literary novel with all of you!

theeastend

A tragic accident threatens to unravel two families in this gripping novel of suspense and culture clash set in the Hamptons.

Purchase the novel on Amazon!

Plot Summary:

Corey Halpern, a local high schooler with a troubled home life, is desperate to leave the Hamptons and start anew somewhere else. His last summer before college, he settles for the escapism he finds in sneaking into neighboring mansions.

One night just before Memorial Day weekend, he breaks into the wrong home at the wrong time: the Sheffield estate, where he and his mother, Gina, work. Under the cover of darkness, Leo Sheffield—a billionaire CEO, patriarch and the owner of the vast lakeside manor—arrives unexpectedly with a companion. After a shocking poolside accident, everything depends on Leo burying the truth before his family and friends arrive for the holiday weekend. Unfortunately for him, Corey saw what happened, as did other eyes in the shadows.

Secrecy, obsession, and desperation dictate each character’s path in this spectacular debut. In a race against time, each critical moment holds life in the balance as Corey, Gina and Leo approach a common breaking point. With an ending as explosive as the Memorial Day fireworks on the island, The East End welcomes a bright new voice in fiction.

theeastend2

How would you describe your writing process? (Do you write at night? During the day? Alone or out in public at a cafe?)

On the best of days, I’m a marathon writer. I’m always most productive when I can devote an entire day to novel pages, ideally starting the moment I wake up, or right after the coffee is in the cup anyway, and then working until at least dinner time. I used to write very late at night, sometimes all night until the sun had risen and the birds reminded me I should finally sleep, but in the past few years, I’m more a morning writer overall. I also teach at a university and have a heavy teaching load, so some days I can only spend an hour or so working on my writing before grading papers or heading to campus. I’ve found that I can’t work on a novel in public. I have to be in total solitude and quiet, at least when working on a novel. For shorter pieces, especially essays or poems, I sometimes like the energy in a coffee shop or a diner because it can spark a new thread of strange associative thoughts or odd metaphors, but as far as the novels go, I need to be a hermit for large blocks of time in order to stay immersed in the prolonged dream of the fictional world.

What physical settings do you find most conducive to writing?  Where did you write the bulk of this novel?

I wrote a lot of the early draft of The East End while living in Upstate New York, mostly while on my old couch, looking out the window throughout a few full cycles of the seasons and many days while the snow was falling. I revised it while living in Atlanta and renting a first-floor apartment in an old decrepit house that had a porch. I usually brought my laptop outside to the couch that was on the porch. During the hottest, most humid, most mosquito-thick parts of the year in Atlanta, I worked way more at night when it was cooler and less buggy and quieter.

How did writing a novel compare to your previous experience writing poetry?

Writing poems is much more spontaneous for me than the novel writing process. The scale is also so dramatically different. A poem is a distillation of image and emotion, sort of like carving and polishing a figurine of a baby elephant from a palm-size piece of limestone, while writing a novel takes years of chiseling marble slabs, and then rearranging and questioning how all the animals in an acre of the African savannah should be positioned to tell their larger interconnected story. Most of the poems in my collection A Meditation on Fire connect to personal experience, the initial drafts written with a sense of urgency. The East End was a constant process of exploration until the characters felt so real to me that I truly cared about each of them.

What I love about writing poetry is that I can spend one day on a first draft and feel I have something that is at least close to finished. What I love about novel writing is that I can only plan so much, and at a certain point during the years it takes to reach the end, there is sure to be at least a hundred ah-ha moments, so many surprises, and overall it’s so satisfying to complete a work that took hundreds of days, sometimes thousands of hours, and to discover something about the characters’ journeys that makes me think more deeply about my own experience in this world. Whether it’s through the short form with poems or essays or short stories, or the long form with novels, I can’t consider a piece finished in any form until I feel the same sense of emptiness—and I mean that in a good way. Each medium allows me to empty my consciousness to a certain extent, to empty out the static of daily life that we all cope with in our own ways.

What inspired you to write THE EAST END?

Initially, I mainly wanted to illuminate the inner lives of the working class people of the Hamptons. I grew up there, and as a working class person in a seasonal resort area that attracts the wealthiest of the wealthy, as the Hamptons does, it’s impossible not to compare what “they” have versus what “we” have. I’d always been fascinated by just how extreme the disparity was between the multi-millionaire visitors and those of us who scraped by year after year, and that tension played out in so many ways each summer season. So I wanted to explore class, but also addiction, secrecy, obsession, and to do my best to write a complex story that highlights that tension among the disparate classes of people in the Hamptons. What I found over time, after delving into the depths of each character’s psyche, is that I truly believe that we are all more than the assumptions others might impose upon us.

What are some of the main themes in the book or some of the key takeaways?

The main themes are class (specifically class-divide), alcoholism and addiction, secrecy, obsession, loneliness and longing, and identity (including sexual orientation/ identification). The key takeaway, I hope, is that we should try our best not to judge any book by its cover. I had an easy time empathizing with the teenaged character, Corey, even as he starts breaking into houses, and also for his mother, Gina, even as she’s hitting bottom with alcohol and pills and is relatively absent from her two sons’ daily lives. I was surprised to find how much I cared about the billionaire character, Leo Sheffield, when in the past I could have easily written him off as just another greed-driven destroyer of the world, someone who deserves no empathy—but it was gratifying to care about them all, despite their flaws and bad decisions.

What are the commonalities you discovered between the elite and the middle-class characters?

Everyone suffers. Everyone loves. Everyone longs for something or someone. We’re all so flawed, all bumbling along through our lives; we’re all having a human experience, no matter our socioeconomic status. It just so happens that it will always be a bit harder for working class people in general—hardest of all for the poorest of the poor.

What was the hardest part about writing your debut book?

Maintaining relationships, maybe? It’s understandable that it might not be easy for most people to be in a relationship with someone who wants to spend days off from work in their pajama pants, shut away in a room for hours at a time. The work itself, I honestly love it—even when it feels like hard work. It’s incredible that after many years of writing, now I get to work on my next novels as others are reading The East End. I guess the hardest part is what happens after the writing is finished. I want everyone to like it… haha.

Your author bio says you grew up in the Hamptons and worked a variety of blue-collar jobs for wealthy estate owners.  How much did you draw from personal experience when writing this book?

I mined lots of lived experience for both the setting of the novel and the characters. My mother worked for a millionaire family at their summer estate in Southampton for more than a decade, and while the plot and characters are fictional, the setting is closely based on the estate where she worked (and where I worked with her for one summer). I also worked for the mega-rich in the Hamptons as a pool guy, a carpenter’s helper, lots of labor jobs in my teens and twenties.

What is your favorite genre to read?  Have any authors you’ve read influenced your work?

Literary fiction is definitely my favorite, but all of the best genre fiction always transcends its genre, so I love discovering an especially strange novel with magical realism elements, or one that introduces a dystopian world in a new and fascinating way (think the original Twilight Zone episodes, Rod Serling’s brilliant social commentary through sci-fi). Whatever the genre, the characters will always matter most to me, but also I find that I’m most grateful when an author obviously took the time to pull me through the story with relatively constant plot complications and tension—all the books I love, all the ones I just couldn’t down, have so much character complexity and tension throughout. I’m sure that every author I’ve read has influenced my work to varying degrees, and I’m always looking for that next book that will trick me into forgetting that I’m reading—the best novels always achieve this seemingly impossible magic trick.

What are you currently reading and what’s on your TBR (to be read) list?

I’m currently reading an advanced reader copy of a debut novel called The Tenth Girl, by Sara Faring, which is a brilliant, funny, twisted gothic story that takes place in a haunted girls’ prep school in Argentina, and at the same time I’m in the midst of another advanced copy of a wonderful literary debut novel Goodnight Stranger, by Miciah Bay Gault. I’ve also just finished Winter Loon, by Susan Bernhard, and loved it for its rich characters and the author’s bravery to show the true struggles of working-class characters. Some other recent favorites include: The Boat Runner, by Devin Murphy (if you haven’t read that yet, buy it immediately—it’s amazing); Eileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh (so unique, both dark and funny in all the most interesting ways); and I just reread All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, which I can only describe as a masterpiece, a novel in my top two or three of all-time.

Do you have plans to write more novels in the future?

Yes, absolutely. I plan to finish my second novel this summer. It’s a story set mostly in Portland, Oregon, where I also lived for ten years. It takes place during the winter of 2008, during the start of the Great Recession and the Housing Crisis, also during an especially cold winter. The characters are all down-and-outers, with addiction and family and desperation as the central themes. I’m also looking forward to revising my first memoir manuscript, as well as my first feature-length screenplay, and in the next year or so I will begin fleshing out my third novel. I have the novel-writing bug and realize now that I always have. I’m not hoping for a cure, either.

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Film Review: The Vanishing of Sidney Hall

vanishing

I went into this film, much how I often do with indie dramas, without much information about the movie itself other than knowing that Elle Fanning was in the cast (and I’ll watch any movie she’s cast in). When I read the plot summary of the film stating that it was about a former writer who after his ascent to stardom, decides to throw a disappearing act ala J.D. Salinger and travels across America’s libraries and bookstores so that he can burn his Pulitzer Prize-nominated novel, Suburban Tragedy, I decided to give this movie a go instead of my default horror film selection.

The film is directed by former frontman of the rock band Stellastarr, Shawn Christensen, who also helped co-write the script with Jason Dolan. Christensen proved to be a competent storyteller and director a couple of years ago when he won an Academy Award for the short film, Curfew in 2012.

We’re first introduced to the precocious Sidney Hall (Logan Lerman) whilst he’s reading an essay for his English class where he describes a girl he used to fantasize about and masturbate to. Some of the students giggle, while others are appalled, namely the English teacher who wants to report him to the principal. Honestly, I had to suspend belief there for a moment, cause I can’t see anyone in my high school getting away with reading an essay about masturbation in class (the teacher never would’ve allowed a student to read it all the way through without truncating it before it went into NSFW realm). However, I can see why the director opened with that scene, we, the audience are supposed to believe that Sidney Hall isn’t your typical teenager. He’s got talent and talented people can get away with being blunt as long they’re being creative about it.

sidney

Sidney isn’t particularly likable at first, but Christensen provides a “save the cat!” scene, where Sidney agrees to help jock and bully Brett Newport (Blake Jenner) with a favor if Brett in return promises to no longer bully the nerdy outcast at their school. Suddenly, we’re thought to believe that maybe Sidney isn’t such a jerk after all, but merely a misunderstood genius. Which is why we won’t bat an eye when he cheats on his wife (Elle Fanning) later on in life, because after all he can’t be too awful if he did that one act of kindness so many years ago!

The story is told in three parts, teenage Sidney, twenty-something successful Sidney, and thirty-year-old Sidney. Throughout the film we get scenes from all those three-time frames as we try to piece together exactly what happened that inspired Sidney’s debut novel, and also wish to know what caused him to become a hobo-looking book-burning nomad later on in life.

After viewing the film, I noticed that the reviews for it weren’t so positive. However, I loved the movie (maybe it’s because it’s about a writer who strikes it big but then has a major fall from grace moment, coincidentally that’s what made love Words too). Adult Sidney sees himself being stalked by “The Seeker,” (Kyle Chandler) which we don’t exactly know why he’s being pursued by him (if he the authorities or someone he wronged?). I thought the reveal of Chandler’s character was rather clever.

sidney2

I found the film to be compelling, emotional, and at times too raw and visceral but you can’t help but keep on watching and hoping that your hero will find some peace.

I recommend this to anyone who loves their indie movies to amp the tragedy and downplay cliché happy endings because if you’re looking for one you won’t find one here.

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Art Museum – Candytopia: The Sweetest Escape

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Entrance to Candytopia

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live in a real-life CandyLand or did you ever envy those kids who got to visit Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory? Well, Candytopia is the answer to all your childhood confectionary dreams!

 

 

I visited this new pop-up museum in Santa Monica with my boyfriend and high school friend (fellow Inkblotter) Phoebe Jane.

 

Not only are all the painting replicas and art installations made entirely of candy, but every room allows you to have a piece of candy before you go (but c’mon, ya know that my sugar addict self may have taken four or six each from every station, don’t judge me, I’m also a hoarder).

 

The funnest portion of the museum is of course, the marshmallow pit (not made out of real marshmallows, sadly) but still just as fun. The other rooms weren’t timed, but because of the popularity of this particular room, I think that we were given a mere fifteen minutes to bask in the bliss of a fluffy heaven.

 

So was the trip worth the $30? Well, if reliving the stupor and amusement of your 8 yrs.-old self could come with a price tag, then yes, I say it’s definitely worth it. And although going solo might be just as fun, I would recommend to bring some friends along (after all, you do need to have victims to pelt with marshmallows once you’re in that pit!).

Check out the Candytopia website for dates and future locations!

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Travel Post – Rotterdam (Part 1)

Erasmus Quote Rotterdam_preview

All the world is my homeland. – Erasmus

There’s nothing like discovering that a nearly 500-year-old philosophical dude has put one’s life experiences perfectly into words. Feeling at home in a foreign land is an enchanting experience. Referring to a map is less important than exploring the city. Getting lost is a good thing. Letting your feet lead you to incredible views, interesting people, and intriguing history is the purpose of the visit. My hope is that, after giving this a read, you’ll be entertained and inspired to get lost in foreign culture too. Even if it’s ten minutes from your house.

After many years of pining, I recently plucked up the nerve to book a solo trip to the Netherlands and London and I’m impatiently plotting my return. The day I bought my plane tickets, a surreal, hazy excitement fell over me. My entire life had been lived ‘going with the flow’ and letting others steer the boat. So this was my first big opportunity to do something I had longed to do – and to do it my way. Was I a little anxious? You bet. But it wasn’t the prospect of traveling alone that made me hesitant. It was the idea of having to plan all that travel! What a wonderful dilemma. I chose late February for off-season prices and fewer crowds to battle. Winter cold clings but the first signs of spring can be spotted if you look carefully. It’s a perfect in-between time, in my opinion.

Erasmus Bridge_preview

I hadn’t been outside the US in a while and it was blatantly obvious when I tried interacting with my new flight mate in the middle seat beside me. Trying to make friendly small talk, I tapped the armrest between us, smiled, and said,

“This belongs to you. It’s never easy being in the middle seat.”

At this, he replied with a long, “Yeeeeaaaa….uh….yeah,” and averted his attention back to the screen on the seat in front of him.

Was it my breath? Did I have something in my teeth? Then I realized: he might not speak English. It dawned on me that as soon as I stepped on to the plane I wasn’t really in America anymore. This was international territory and, silly American, not everyone speaks English. The meaning suddenly shifted perspective as I replayed our little conversation in my head:

I tapped the armrest between us, smiled, and said,

This belongs to me. Don’t test my patience today, pal. I’m in no mood.”

Perhaps this was closer to the truth than I wanted to admit. That armrest remained unused the whole flight.

I arrived in London just as my connection to Amsterdam was boarding. Even before the plane taxied, that feeling of, “Well, better just roll with this” had already sunk in. Oh how I wish I could watch the surveillance video of me rushing through the security check at London Gatwick airport, then on through kilometers of departure gates in half-undone sneakers while juggling my plastic bag of allowable liquids back into an overfull backpack. I stumbled into the gate just in time to wave goodbye to the plane. But it wasn’t a total loss. That was the best cardio I did all month.

Luckily, there was another flight just a few hours later. With the help of a flight attendant who was scheduled to work that hop, I got a backstage tour of Gatwick, a quick wave through customs and a fresh ticket on the next flight out. With what seemed like barely enough time to buckle my seatbelt, we landed at Schiphol airport just as evening closed in.

Amsterdam Meringues_preview

A kind woman at a kiosk set me up with a new SIM card for my phone and a friendly cabbie ushered me to the fanciest sci-fi-looking taxi I’d ever seen. A sleek black Tesla Model X beckoned to me with open falcon-wing doors. I swooned right into the backseat, feeling much like a passenger preparing for a ride on Star Tours at Disney World – but way cooler. And cleaner. Seductive city lights streaked across the tinted windows. Cars packed in around us on the highway, heading to a large festival just kicking off for the night. The possibilities that awaited me on this trip struck home. I was infatuated with the potential.

It was nearly eight by the time I arrived at the B&B I’d booked for the night. Ineke was a most warm and gracious hostess. She even received a package on my behalf when my Eurail pass would not ship to the US in time for my trip. She led me up several flights of narrow wood stairs, passing by unique antiquities and pictures mounted on the walls. The apartment was on the third floor of a hundred year old, traditional Dutch row house with an amazing rooftop garden. Spotlessly clean, comfortable, and utterly charming, it was the perfect landing pad after a very long day of travel.

If you get the chance to visit, I highly recommend BB Ginkgo.

https://www.bedandbreakfast.nl/bed-and-breakfast/amsterdam/bbginkgo/57812/

Delft Gate_preview

Oostpoort (Eastern Gate) – Delft, Netherlands 

After a refreshing sleep, I woke early the next morning and walked to Centraal Station. With a firm goal of packing an average-sized backpack for a ten day trip, I debated for many weeks on the one set of shoes I would bring. No amount of space saver bags were going to magically allow room for ten days of bulky winter clothes and two pairs of shoes. Ultimately I decided on a comfortable pair of sneakers and suffered being chastised by my ego for my middle-aged sensibility throughout the entire trip. Boots would have been way more chic…who cares if my feet fell off my ankles on day two, right?

Blue Delft Heart_preview

Venturing out of the quiet neighborhood and into the city center, there was a distinct divide, like two Amsterdams living side by side. During this seven-ish hour, Night Amsterdam moved slowly, as if in a twilight, hypnagogic state of sleep. It had the feel of a tired owl fluffing up and settling in to its nook after a long night of activity. Day Amsterdam awoke slowly. Little dogs off their leashes tumbled and yapped in a frosty park. Streaks of sun broke through the early cover of gray. Food stalls with coffee and stroopwafels sent steam signals into the cold air that they were open for business. Sightseers trickled in from side streets, congregating for selfies at an iconic I AMsterdam sign. While the energetic odor of ‘tourist trap’ gets heavy in the stretch by the Rijksmuseum and Centraal Station, to pass by this is to miss part of the experience. A tight train schedule didn’t allow time for a pop in to the ‘Rijks’ or the Banksy exhibition at the Moco Museum, but I vowed to explore them on a return visit.

Rotterdam Canal_preview

Stay tuned for Part 2 appearing next Tuesday!

Read PART TWO HERE!

By: Erica Ruhe

My Bad Romance: My First Time

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One of the most important moments in a girl’s life is the time she loses her virginity. So much time is spent on how we hope events will play out, who it will be, and how do we know that the guy or girl we’ve chosen for that particular moment is the right one? I know as a teen I obsessed over this so much (mostly over how was I gonna know that the person was the right person to lose it with?).

In my daydreams, I always thought it’d be a lot more romantic. Or at least, the setting would be far more romantic. But when it happened, it was kind of last minute, I hadn’t planned for it to happen, it just did.

I had just started talking to the soulmate. He had a music event to go to and asked me if I could be his date. That meant that I was going to go to London. I left that afternoon to get on the plane, and couldn’t wait for those three hours to pass by quickly. I knew that he liked girls dressed in leather, and I had worn a leather dress that I had “borrowed” from my mum.

The whole event was a whirlwind, and when it all ended, he asked me if I wanted to see his flat and listen to music. I was on the fence over whether I wanted cause I had recently read American Psycho and knew what happened to girls who fell for charming blokes ala Patrick Bateman.

When we arrived at his flat, we were greeted by his white cat Stardust. He turned on the radio and was busy looking through various CD’s as we spoke about various things. It was a cold February night, and I was freezing in my short ensemble, not to mention that I could barely breathe.

I looked over at the soulmate, his beautiful face. I thought: I love him so much, and tonight may be the last time I ever see him. That thought broke my heart. I knew he could be my everything, but I couldn’t tell him that because we had barely met and he was leaving for a lengthy tour.

“Please excuse the mess,” he told me, as he tried to cover up his unmade bed. His bedroom was filled with stacks of hardback books, CD’s, and cigarette packets strewn everywhere. Three guitars rested against the wall. I looked over at the clock and noticed that I had two hours before I had to be back at the airport.

A terrible song from Venga Boys started playing. He came close to me and being at loss for words, I was inspired to use those from a Meatloaf song, stating, “We shouldn’t let a night like tonight go to waste.” Those words changed everything. And I couldn’t explain to you then how important that moment was to me, cause really can you halt a storm just to spew technicalities?

When our lips met, it was like an explosion in the sky. Suddenly, it didn’t matter whether the room was a mess or that shitty music was on the radio, it didn’t matter that none of the settings coincided with my idea of how I wanted things to be. Cause what really mattered was that I was there with you.

Our clothes were on the floor and your lips were everywhere and I kept thinking, Is this really happening? Cause I couldn’t believe that any of it was real. That you were real.

When it was over, I held you close to me, too afraid that perhaps you weren’t real. I needed to make sure that you were there, and I didn’t know then what the future was going to hold, all I knew was that if I was given even that one night with you, it was enough to be happy. One night with you was worth a thousand nights with anyone else.

You were my sun, and I was merely a star that reflected off of your light.

Eventually, I said the dreaded words, “I need to get going,” but a part of me never left that room. My ghost still haunts that flat, and maybe even yours does too.

Maybe we couldn’t have a happy ending, but then again, we haven’t really reached the end. And our ghosts remain in that flat, unchanged, and happy.

london love

By: Azzurra Nox

Book Review: Dakota – A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris

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Synopsis:

In 2001 Kathleen Norris published a memoir titled Dakota: A Spiritual Geography. This rousing story illuminates what life is like in a rural town––but more than that, it begs the question of what it means to live life as fully and intimately as possible.

About the Author:

Norris is a well-known poet and essayist who lives deep in the rural Dakotas, in the little town of Lemmon. She moved here after spending much of her life in New York City, but also spends some of her time in Hawaii.

Other publications of hers include Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, The Virgin of Bennington, and The Cloister Walk.

Themes––Land, Humanity, Love, Prosperity:

The themes in Dakota are simple, yet profound. In this review I strive to provide an overview, and break down the whole of the book into four clear themes; however, the reader should note that each theme is like a lake––placid on the surface, but immeasurably deep. This review is meant to be just an introduction, not a full in-depth analysis, that will hopefully entice the reader to enjoy the book.

Our odd, tortured landscape terrifies many people. Some think it’s as barren as the moon, but others are possessed by it.
(p. 36)

Dakotans know why they like living here, where life is still lived on a human scale.
(p. 35)

Watching a storm pass from horizon to horizon fills your soul with reverence. It makes your soul expand to fill the sky.
(p. 9)

Norris muses about the wide, open plains and the lack of trees and large cities. To Norris, especially as a poet, the solitude of the land inspires her to a deeper connection with God, to the grittiness of real life, and to her creative pursuits.

Even urban monasteries run on a rural rhythm, taking notice of sunrise and sunset with morning prayer and evensong.
(p. 184)

Together, the monks and coyotes will sing the world to sleep.
(p. 217)

Norris writes that the 21st century has stripped us of all realness. She asks: What if we rose and set with the sun, just as God made us to do? She argues that humans have created their own sense of time, one that runs on hours and minutes and seconds, where we focus too much on the numbers of a clock and less on how our bodies are meant to flow with the days.

At first glance, these notions may sound strangely new-age––rhythms? Follow the sun? But Norris is not advocating for the worship of nature by any means; rather, she spends much time with the Benedictines who teach her spiritual disciplines and ground her in the teachings of Christ.

True hospitality is marked by an open response to the dignity of each and every person.
(p. 197)

Norris often mentions the extreme love monks have for their fellow humans. She is inspired by age-old proverbs of desert monks who gain knowledge by solitude––and who find that this intense solitude, such as experienced on the Dakotas, provides immense joy when social interaction is received.

In short, Norris writes that she is becoming like a monk: She sees a trip to someplace bigger than Lemmon as a great joy, a feast.

Both monks and country people take for granted that prayer works, and that it’s worth doing. Why not relax and enjoy it? Why not make it beautiful?
(p. 211)

Why not become all flame?
(p. 123)

Norris writes of the hard times in the poor, rural Dakotas. She recognizes the blessings this area has to offer but does not sugarcoat the struggles these people have endured throughout history.

Last Statements:

She leaves the readers with a sense of aloneness––but not loneliness. This idea, to be “all flame,” to transform into one whose religion is not a rigid set of rules, but a faith that at its root seeks truth in Christ, provides hope to the poor Dakota soul. In turn, the reader can also find hope.

Maybe the desert wisdom of the Dakotas can teach us to love anyway, to love what is dying, in the face of death, and not pretend that things are other than they are.
(p. 121)

Guest Post by: Amy

About Amy:  Amy is a lover of lilacs, old books, and authentic community. Her work has appeared in the Southwest Metro and Plymouth magazines, and the Crow River Ink literary magazine. She runs a blog called The Writer’s Refuge.

Short Story: ANIMORTIS

a scary undead zombie girl

Germany, 1861

“Easy! Easy, I say!” Charlie commanded and cajoled the four Windsor Greys to an amble with a firm pull on the reins. The bridles clanged and rigging groaned as the team clambered over each other in confused panic. “Steady, boys.”

The open-top landau creaked and slowed, halting in the middle of the dark forest road. Dusk had slipped away to a heavy indigo of evening, the small oil lanterns on either side of the carriage offering little beyond their stunted diameters of golden light. Charlie squinted into the surrounding shadows, searching for the source of the team’s unease.

“Is there a problem, Charles?”
Charlie turned to the passenger behind him with a respectful tip of his top hat. “No, sir.”
“Then why have we stopped?” the Earl asked the tone in his German accent as weary as his blue eyes.
The bitter October breeze carried an unusual quiet through the trees. Charlie shivered.

“I’ll get them back on their way.” Eager to dismiss the anxiety growing in his gut, Charlie snapped a smart nod of his head and turned back to the Greys. Assured all was under control, Earl Baumgart angled his book back to the lamplight and returned to his reading.

Charlie’s leader horses pawed at the spongy earth, grousing and chewing at their bits. Behind them, the soft, pointed ears of the wheelers twitched, straining to hear beyond their clinking tack. Charlie gripped the thick leather reins, digging frigid fingers into his palms to fight off the numbing fatigue.
“Alright, boys.” He clicked his tongue. “Be on, now.”

Defiant, the horses tossed their heads and snorted, refusing to move.
“Stroll on,” he gave a good snap on the straps, his patience waning. A few hours travel still lay ahead before they reached the Earl’s brother in Coburg. Every moment standing here in the autumn cold was another moment of delay from a full belly and a warm bed.

“Oy!” Charlie slapped the reins now. “I said get!” He gritted his teeth, pulling the riding whip from the socket.

The sudden snap of a twig and crunch of dry leaves halted Charlie, whip held above his head. On their guard, the horses remained rigid, listening. Charlie stuffed the whip back into the socket, unlatched a lamp from its post and stood, peering as far into the darkness as he could manage. Only emaciated shadows of barren trees swayed in the wind.

“Charles,” the Earl whispered and thumped his book closed, “is someone lurking about?”

Charlie wrapped the reins in a loose knot around the whip socket and disembarked from the coach bench. With the lamp in hand and caution in his feet, he stepped to the front of the team.

“Perhaps it’s only a small animal, sir.” He hunched his shoulders against the night chill and exhaled, cold vapor billowing over his unshaven face. A long moment passed. Nothing stirred.

“What is it, Titan?” Charlie muttered, patting down the wheeler’s broad neck and shoulder, breathing in the familiar, earthy scent of cold, damp horse. Titan blew a heavy gust from his large nostrils and tossed his head away, annoyed and distracted. His wide eyes roved toward a dark corner in the forest ahead.
Then, on the soft breeze, came a deep, guttural sigh.

Again, velvet ears snapped forward, this time with unnerving precision. Charlie eased further into the darkness, certain his mind wasn’t playing tricks.
“Hallo?” the word scratched in his throat as he raised the lamp. Pierced with the pungent odor of kerosene, the night air smelled sharp and inauspicious. Charlie swallowed. Crisp, naked branches creaked in the wind. “I say, is anyone there?”

Charlie held his breath. Fear seeped its way down his taut back. His heart thrummed in his ears. The whooshing of his blood blurred his senses. The miserable chill settled deeper into his bones.

A ragged moan flowed down the path in answer, low, monotonous.
“Sh-show yourself!” Charlie demanded through numb lips. Shielding his sight from the glare of the lamp, he tromped a few feet ahead of his team. His eyes snagged upon a curious shadow wading through the shrubbery.

“You there!” Charlie’s voice broke in a most unflattering manner.
The figure inched forward. She was an odd girl. Seventeen, perhaps, but her footing was awkward and unsure like a babe’s first step. Her head hung low, the lower half of her face shrouded in the shadows. Her eyes were sunken; merely two, dark pools reflecting the lamplight. Jagged branches teased and pulled at her disheveled blonde braids as she neared. She was the frail silhouette of a beggar girl. His courage restored, Charlie lowered the lamp and planted an authoritative fist on his hip.

“Do you get a jolly out of spooking travelers and their horses?”
The girl did not answer.

“You should get a good wallop on the backside for a prank like this! And what, in God’s name, are you doing out here in the forest at this late hour? What kind of a father would allow his daughter to wander about unescorted? And have you a coat? You haven’t—.” Charlie trailed off at the observation, appalled. “You haven’t even a coat,” he muttered to himself, strangely and suddenly compassionate. “You poor creature.”

He took notice of her red dress, the thin fabric torn and muddy. She remained silent as she shuffled forward into the outer reaches of the lamplight. It cast faint upon her visage, revealing her pitiful state. Her face was soiled, a cut stretching across her forehead. She inhaled and exhaled with effort, the raspy sound suggesting fluid in her lungs. Charlie’s tone softened as he realized she was hurt.

“I say, are you alright, miss? You must be freezing in this cold.”
She sucked in a laborious breath and dragged another foot forward, emerging from the brush and onto the edge of the road. Her head twitched to the side, revealing a large tuft of hair that had been ripped out of her scalp. The horses groused again. Her wide, glossy eyes stared, emotionless yet transfixed. Charlie’s compassion melted back into unease.

A smell hit him.

It was illness, and yet, something grotesquely viler. He swallowed down a gag and reached for a handkerchief to cover his nose. She stank of death.
“Gott in Himmel!” Earl Baumgart exclaimed, opening his carriage door and kicking down the metal folding step. “Come! I have a warm blanket. We’ll give you a ride to town! Where is your family?”

“Sir?” Charlie tried to control the rising alarm in his voice as he stepped back toward the coach. “I think we should be on our way.”
“And leave this unfortunate soul to freeze to death out here alone?” Earl Baumgart continued down the carriage step, flabbergasted. “Have you gone mad, Charles?”
The young girl raised her head with a renewed strength and sniffed the air. Charlie’s heartbeat broke into a gallop. He dropped the handkerchief from his face. An eerie, tight breath gurgled past her blood-covered lips. Thin, delicate fingers curled into trembling, stiffened claws.
Charlie squelched the rising urge to turn and run for fear of startling the horses. Instead, he continued his slow retreat back to the landau, choking down a gasp of terror. A splash of bright red cascaded down the girl’s chin and throat. It was as though she had bit her tongue right out of her mouth. The Greys blew strong gusts of air from their flared nostrils, catching wind of the horrid stench. They shuffled their heavy hooves, jostling the carriage. Charlie felt for the lantern hook and slipped the lamp back on to its rung.
“Sir,” Charlie urged, anchoring a foot onto the coachman’s step. “She appears to be,” he faltered, not knowing how best to describe her condition, “ill.”
Baumgart paused, a peculiar expression creeping across his face.
Charlie glanced back once more. Rivulets of blood stained the girl’s bruise-dappled arms. A shred of white ribbon hung tangled in the end of a loosened braid. Rouge smudged her cheek. The glint of a golden locket flashed bright around her neck. Charlie noticed her tattered, red dress once more.
He felt his breath catch in his chest.
Halfway down the skirt, it shone of fine white silk. The top was completely dyed red with blood. This was not a common beggar girl. She did not seem to be in pain. She did not seem to be coherent at all.
“We’ll…send someone back for you,” Earl Baumgart managed in a whisper, back-peddling to the landau.
The girl turned her head toward the sound. Her jaw went slack, arms reaching out as if to embrace him. Blood bubbled into froth around her mouth.
Charlie looked back and the two men nodded in unspoken, wide-eyed agreement. They scurried aboard, Charlie nearly missing a step and Earl Baumgart clapping the superfluous carriage door closed with a loud clack of the latch. Snatching up the reins and snapping a hard crack against the team’s backsides, Charlie cried out a desperate plea, “Run on!”

To be continued. Look for part two, next Thursday!

By: Erica Ruhe

 

Review: Sugar Pill Liquid Lip Color in Trinket

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What It Is: A long-lasting liquid lipstick

Perks: Cruelty-free and made in California

Verdict: I’ve tried out several liquid lipstick brands since they’ve gotten popular over the past year or so. I was looking forward to trying out Sugar Pill cause I’ve always been a fan of the brand, plus I’ve been trying to find the perfect rose gold shade with subtle glimmer. The colour I got, Trinket is simply gorgeous! The awesome thing about this specific liquid lipstick is that when applied, the colour is a rose shade, but once you press your lips together, the gold shimmer is activated. So, the more you smack your lips together, the more gold shimmer will be visible. It’s a very flattering metallic shade, and it can be worn both casually or for an evening night, especially now with the holidays, the gold glimmer will give you that much needed holiday vibe without going too overboard. As for the formula, it is lightweight, but long-lasting (and when I say long-lasting I truly mean it! I can apply this lipstick at 7a.m. and not need to reapply even once and it stays put till I remove it around 9p.m.). Another plus is that the formula doesn’t dry out your lips, your lips actually feel uber hydrated throughout the day (a much-needed bonus during the harsh winter temperatures!). So give this shade a try, and liberate your inner sugarplum fairy!

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Price: $18

Where To Buy It: I got mine at the Dolls Kill site (https://www.dollskill.com/) or https://sugarpill.com

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By: Azzurra Nox