Into the Woods is the title and theme for this assortment of short stories, poems, essays, music, and one walking meditation. Each piece is unique in tone and genre and the result is that the collection captures the fascinating, frightening, fun, healing, and fantastical wonder of time spent in the woods.
The twenty-six contributors who attend Mindful Writers Retreats in the mountains of Ligonier, Pennsylvania, are donating one hundred percent of the proceeds to support the research and work of The Children’s Heart Foundation.
Ellie Trumbull squinted out the window of the Uber, gripping the door handle. The car swerved and bounced up the long driveway leading to the retreat center where the courts had sent Ellie for punishment. She grabbed her stomach to stave off nausea, but when it began to launch itself she smacked the driver’s arm. He slowed and stopped. Ellie pulled the handle, and tumbled out of the door onto all fours, heaving.
She gasped for breath, dizzied. Voices sounded as she struggled to stand. She focused on the group heading toward her: two women, a man, and several children who simply bolted past her, their squealing laughter filling the air.
A graceful woman with gray, bunned hair and dark skin approached. She took Ellie’s arm and pulled her close, leading her into a building. “Welcome. I’m Vera.”
“I’m Alice.” A stout woman with platinum spiked hair followed along.
A lanky man with hair so perfect it looked plastic picked up Ellie’s duffel bag. “I’m Brandon. Your husband’ll send the rest of your luggage shortly.”
Ellie grunted. They led her upstairs. Brandon rushed ahead to open a door. Ellie shuffled inside.
“Your room,” he said. “I’ll set your bag here.”
Ellie looked over her shoulder to see him smiling, as he’d been doing since she arrived. “Thanks, Guy Smiley.”
She ignored his question, held onto one of the top bunks and surveyed the space. Three large windows at the end of the room and three sets of bunks with plastic mattresses belted the perimeter.
Ellie collapsed onto a bed.
“Plastic makes it easy to clean,” Vera said.
“Shut those.” Ellie shook her hand at the windows.
The woman sighed, closed the curtains and lowered the blind that covered the center pane. She lifted Ellie’s feet off the floor and swung them onto the bed. “Housekeeping’ll make up the bed in a little bit.”
“Fine,” Ellie groaned.
Vera loosened Ellie’s shoelaces.
Ellie snatched her feet away. “I’m fine.”
Vera backed away, her large hands flailing for a moment before she tucked them against her belly. “Our healing circle begins in an hour.”
Ellie turned away and balled up. Leave me alone.
And a few seconds later the door clicked shut.
Giggling children and the sound of feet running down the hallway outside Room 2 woke Ellie. Her mouth was desert dry, so she headed downstairs to the great room where she saw a kitchen area. With the kids gone, the silence felt good.
Ellie startled at the sight of Alice, Vera, and Guy Smiley sitting around an island. Guy Smiley poured coffee. Healing circle.
“Ellie,” he said. “Welcome.”
Vera sliced banana bread. The scent threatened Ellie’s stoic facade. A smile tugged her lips, but she tucked away the fleeting happy sensation, hid it where it wouldn’t remind her how Maggie’s face would light up when she bit into her favorite treat.
Alice clomped her feet onto the coffee table. Vera batted them away and pushed the banana bread toward Ellie.
She looked away.
“I’ll take hers,” said Alice.
“I’d like to begin,” Vera said, her voice gentle and melodic. “The healing circle guides us into continued acceptance and strengthens our endurance as we grow through the pain that comes with losing a child. Each of us understands the daily shock of waking and realizing our lives will never be the same. So how do we go on?”
Guy Smiley sipped coffee. “Feels good to be with everyone.”
“Each time we meet I do better back home,” Vera said.
“Same,” Alice said.
“We hope you’ll find our group helpful, Ellie,” Vera said.
When Ellie didn’t respond the others went around describing how they lost their child. Ellie blocked out every word, rubbing her temples. Her own pain was enough. She wasn’t about to invite theirs inside. Her gaze strayed to the kids outside, the game of tag that left them breathless, rolling down the hill and out of sight. How lucky they were.
“Ellie?” Alice asked. Ellie turned her gaze back to see Alice glaring.
“It’ll help,” sweet Vera said. “To share.”
Guy Smiley slid forward in his seat, fingers steepled. “Change brings…blah, blah … comfort, healing…” He droned on and on and finally Ellie’s mind snapped back to what he first said.
“Change?” Ellie said.
He nodded. They all did.
Ellie’s anger surged. She wiped spittle from her lip. “I don’twantchange. I feel Maggie more now than I ever did… before she died I couldn’t wait to get to work, or girls’ night out or go away with my husband. My daughter… difficult from the day she was born… is dead. I’ll never sit with you people thinking about change and eating stinking banana bread.”
She stood and stomped away.
“She don’t want help,” Alice said.
“But her husband…” Brandon said.
Ellie got farther away, unable to hear what they said. Her husband? He was finished with her. She jogged to her room and crashed onto the mattress that housekeeping hadn’t yet returned to make. She covered her face and held back tears. With balled fists she tried to resist.
But she couldn’t.
Up off the bed, Ellie dug through her duffel and found it. Vodka. Cap unscrewed, she gulped, washing away the scent of banana bread, the thought that she’d never again see Maggie’s smile when she took a bite of it.
According to Audrey Happy LaShelle
April 30, 2018
Clean Teen Publishing
Cautious and introverted, seventeen-year-old Dove spends most of her free time pursuing her one true passion: painting. The twinkling lights of Balboa Island, the ferryboat to the peninsula, the fire pits on Big Corona Beach…these have long been the subjects of her canvases as she daydreams about finding an Audrey Hepburn-film kind of romance.
A hotshot jock is exactly not the type of guy she’s been looking for—but when Leo Donovan drops his cool act to show his vulnerable side, Dove begins to question everything. But first she’ll have to navigate her way through claim-staking mean girls and disapproving parents—and still keep her focus on attending the art school of her dreams.
Being in love turns out to be more complex than the average silver-screen classic. Can Dove follow her heart (and Audrey’s cues) to create her own perfect Hollywood ending?
Leo gently took the bag from my nose and wrapped the ice in the washcloth. “This will be more comfortable,” he said, eyeing my nose like an expert. “It doesn’t look swollen at all, that’s good.” He put the ice into my hand and helped guide it back to my face.
It was not possible to feel any more un-pretty than at this moment. Pain and embarrassment had now mingled into one big uncomfortable feeling. But another feeling was creeping up. I stole another glance at him. He looked like a Hollywood film star from the 1950s—chiseled, with a squinty stare.
I summoned the nerve to look into his eyes and finally spoke. “Thanks, I think I’m okay.” My attraction clashed with my desire to hide. Suddenly I wanted him to go away and stay all at the same time.
His brown eyes locked onto mine, and his mouth turned up at the corners. Was he enjoying my embarrassment? I had no choice but to laugh. “What?” I asked, pulling the ice away from my face.
He grinned and sat down next to me. “Dove, you need to keep the ice on it,” he said, placing it back onto my nose.
The gentle way he said my name made my heart race faster and I searched his face, drinking in its sincerity: his deep gaze—somehow it made me feel safe, and his lips seemed to be just waiting to… kiss me.
All at once, my enamored thoughts screeched to an abrupt stop.
My stomach twisted into a painful knot. How could I have fallen for the sensitive, caring act? Was I really lame enough to get all dreamy-eyed over a few sweet words and a pack of ice? There was no way I was going to end up as one of his conquests. With the ice still held to my nose, I stood with as much dignity as possible.
“Thanks, I’m fine now.” I lowered the ice and looked straight into his dark, concern-filled eyes, shooting him a glare. “I have to go.”
About the Author
Happy LaShelle is a writer, mom of three, and wife to a Basque baker who brings home loaves of crusty sourdough everyday. She lives near the mission bells in sunny Santa Barbara, but loves the cold, rainy banks of London’s Thames River just as much as the sandy shores of her Newport Beach hometown. She studied History at UCLA and enjoys taking pictures of old stuff, because everything has a story.
Almost twenty years in the making is Amsterdam Exposed before author David Wienir finally presents his story of the renowned Red Light District, where tourists “come for the weed, stay for the hookers.” Nonetheless, Wienir makes it easy to be drawn into turn-of-the-millenium Amsterdam, as he spends his Thursdays studying international law at Vrije University and his six-day weekends trying to get window girls to talk to him. Amsterdam Exposed is an alluring memoir giving a glimpse down the streets illuminated by red lanterns, as well as into the man who teaches respect for the women who work there.
Wienir opens his memoir having just arrived in Holland for a fall semester studying international law abroad. Wienir brings with him an ulterior motive to write a book about the Red Light District, inspired by a prostitute in Reno who told him that “people forget we’re human,” a year and a half prior. Over the next four months, Wienir sets off to find prostitutes willing to help him with his book, and keeps a code for himself: never pay a prostitute to talk, and never sleep with one. He’s turned down by every woman he encounters except for two, only one of whom actually comes to help Wienir.
Emma is a twenty-five-year-old prostitute from Estonia. She lives two lives in that she does not allow her work life and her personal life to overlap. When Wienir meets Emma in the District, Emma is interested in befriending him, but does not readily talk to Wienir about her work. Wienir devotes time to building Emma’s trust in himself, and eventually reaches Emma while unknowingly invoking change in Emma’s personal outlook.
Wienir actively writes in a voice that weaves the then-current state of Amsterdam with his own story of his time spent. He creates rich and descriptive settings that shine on Wienir’s professional background, effortlessly leading the reader to think of Wienir’s voice as a lawyer in the future casually telling his story over the wining-and-dining of his own law associates. Amsterdam Exposed confidently takes a risqué topic out of a captivating environment and places it in one that is approachable, adventurous, and thought-provoking.
Excerpt from Amsterdam Exposed
On a brisk September morning, I put on a pair of blue jeans and a white T-shirt and
boarded a plane to Amsterdam. I traveled light. If necessary, I could do some shopping
Money was an issue, and the cheapest flight I could find was on Iceland Air. This
allowed for a three-day layover in Reykjavik. I had always dreamed of visiting Iceland
and decided to spend a few days there. With a copy of Let’s Go Europe serving as my
bible, I found a bed in the Salvation Army Guesthouse. Back then, there were two travel
guides in play, Let’s Go Europe and the Lonely Planet. Let’s Go Europe was the guide
of choice for students, effectively funneling everyone into the same hostels, restaurants,
landmarks, and clubs. Within minutes, I connected with a group of international
students. We spent the next three days touring waterfalls, enjoying the local cuisine,
On our final day, we visited the waters of the Blue Lagoon. There were six of us, from
six different countries. Submerged to our shoulders, we floated in silence, looking into
each other’s eyes and carving out the moment. After a night partying in Reykjavik, we
said our goodbyes, knowing we would never see each other again. That was OK. This
was just a layover. I continued on my journey refreshed, feeling as if I had visited the moon.
David Wienir is a business affairs executive at United Talent Agency and entertainment law instructor at UCLA Extension. Before UTA, he practiced law at two of the top entertainment law firms where he represented clients such as Steven Spielberg and Madonna. His previous books include Last Time: Labour’s Lessons from the Sixties (co-authored with a Member of Parliament at the age of 23), The Diversity Hoax: Law Students Report from Berkeley (afterword by Dennis Prager), and Making It on Broadway: Actors’ Tales of Climbing to the Top (foreword by Jason Alexander).
Educated at Columbia, Oxford, The London School of Economics, Berkeley Law, and the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, David is married to Dr. Dina (to whom the book is dedicated), a pioneer of the cannabis movement who has been named “Queen of Medical Marijuana in LA” by Rolling Stone Magazine and is the inspiration for the Nancy Botwin character in the show Weeds.
The Gene Police
Elliott D. Light
Bancroft Press, May 2018
Before the words “white supremacy” filled the airways, before we learned of American Nazis and the alt-right, before there was a Muslim ban, and before we considered building a wall or knew what DACA stands for, there was eugenics—a pseudo-science that promoted the belief that a race could be improved by controlling who was allowed to mate with whom.
It was eugenics that compelled white doctors to inform Carl and Betty Langard that their new born baby had died. And it is the cruelest of circumstances—the murder of Jennifer Rice—that fifty years later leads Shep Harrington to search for Baby Langard.
As Shep soon learns, the quest brings him to the top of a slippery slope with an ill-defined edge. Question begets question, and the slide down the slope proves inevitable: What happened to the baby? Who took it? Why was he taken? And who killed Jennifer Rice?
When Shep learns that Baby Langard was born at a hospital run by Alton Nichols, a famous Virginia eugenicist, he is drawn into the dark history of the American eugenics movement and its proponents—the so-called “gene police.”
I handed the photos back to Reggie. “Let me see if I have this straight. All you want us to do is to ask the Residents if they remember anyone taking pictures at the poor farm or if they saw a woman with a baby.”
“That’s all,” replied Reggie.
“What if Jennifer Rice took the pictures of the poor farm?” asked Robbie. “What if she was the one with the baby?”
Reggie shook his head. “I don’t know. I just need to understand why my cousin’s DNA was found at the house where she died. Where that leads is anyone’s guess.”
We sat quietly for a moment.
“What a mess,” said Robbie. She glanced at me, then at Reggie. “I think we can ask a few questions.”
I can’t explain why those words excited me, but I did my best not to show it.
With the favor asked and granted, Reggie stood up. “Thank you. Some police reports, the photographs, and a CD of scanned versions are in the folder.”
“Promise me you won’t speak with Detective Hunter or the prosecutor without speaking with us first,” I said.
Reggie agreed and left.
Robbie was quiet for a few moments, her attention focused again on the pictures. She showed me the photo of the boy on the pile of bones. “Can you, for an instant, imagine what that was like? I can’t. I can’t imagine people doing this to other people.” She shook her head. “You can’t help but wonder why more wasn’t done to stop it.” She picked up the photograph of the woman with the baby. “Why would the hospital tell Reggie’s aunt that her baby died if he didn’t?”
“It’s a mystery,” I said.
“You don’t think his cousin was actually murdered?”
I shrugged. “I have no reason to think so. If you’re asking me if I believe that something like that might have happened, my answer is yes. The history we’re taught was written by our parents and grandparents, all of whom were white. I doubt they were keen on sharing their generation’s dirty laundry with their kids.”
“Sounds like something you learned in prison,” she said.
“Three years of mostly free time surrounded by some smart, educated inmates can open your eyes to the way the world is,” I said.
Robbie grimaced, then tossed the pictures on the table. “I know you’re worried about Reggie. But you can’t get caught up in the murder of that woman. You just can’t. I don’t want you to, and none of your friends want you to. We can talk to the Residents about the pictures, see what they remember, and tell Reggie what we learn. I don’t see how that can hurt anything, but that’s all.”
I smiled at her. “No,” I said confidently. “That can’t hurt.”
After years of research and teaching of Hindu and Buddhist art history and culture, author Madhu Bazaz Wangu presents her second novel, The Last Suttee. Through the story of Kumud, a woman director of a girl’s orphanage in India, Wangu tells a story of how just one single, driven female can change an entire community’s perspective on an established way of life.
Wangu draws her tale from the ancient Indian custom of sati, a practice which historically lead a widow to throw herself onto her husband’s funeral pyre in order to remain a “chaste woman,” literally, a “good wife,” even in her husband’s death. Wangu uses inspiration from the popular case of Roop Kanwar, an eighteen-year old girl whose decision of sati led to official legislation against sati. While fighting personal struggles within herself, Kumud proves to be a heroine by effectively preventing a young girl’s own sati.
The Last Suttee reads to show Wangu’s obviously extensive research into not only the custom of sati, but also the everyday customs and ancient folklore surrounding the Indian culture. The novel opens with an issue of dowry, and continues with insight into popular female overlook and condemnation. Wangu has the gift of setting, and expertly keeps her stage well-described and easily imaginable for the reader.
A powerful and relevant tale of liberation from a devotional but debilitating custom, The Last Suttee is an excellent representation of how the Hindu female population has found strength to grow against a binding and deathly tradition.
From the author: Why I Wrote The Last Suttee
On the morning of September 5, 1987, I was going through the Hillman Library card catalogue at the University of Pittsburgh when a friend stopped by. She told me something I would never forget. She said that an eighteen-year-old Indian woman, named Roop Kanwar, had immolated herself on the pyre of her dead husband. I was dumbfounded. Suttee in the twentieth century? It couldn’t be. But The New York Times confirmed the news. The ritual, known as suttee, was witnessed by the townspeople and thousands more came to see it from nearby villages and towns. When the news was leaked the following day, the town was swarmed for days by Indian and international journalists. I was stunned and speechless, my legs laden with lead. At that frozen moment, the seed for this book was planted.
The kernel stayed dormant, but the incident continued to sear like a wound at the back of my mind. The distress was raw, but I was not yet emotionally ready to write about what had happened and how it had affected me. In the ensuing years, I trawled libraries, bookstores, and the Internet, learning about the history of suttee and the cultural and religious traditions in which it is rooted. I studied records of the shrines dedicated to women who had committed suttee. I read the history and mythology of the namesake goddess, spelled Sati. Critically and carefully I analyzed the photographs of Sati temples and studied the engravings, drawings, and paintings of the goddess Sati and the suttee ritual that had been made by British, European, and Indian artists and travelers.
Sutteeis a centuries-old Hindu ritual. This ancient belief still persists in some remote corners in India. The belief is if a widow cremates herself with her dead husband, the couple will live in heaven as they did on earth. Furthermore, such a sacrifice guarantees a place in heaven for seven generations for both sides of the family.The ritual is rooted in the myths of two goddesses: Sati, Shiva’s wife, and Sita, Rama’s wife. Here are summaries of the myths:
Goddess Sati is the daughter of the high priest Daksha. Shiva, the world renouncer, is so awed by her yogic skills and asceticism that he grants her a boon. Sati asks to marry him. He agrees. Daksha dislikes Shiva. He finds Shiva unconventional and unkempt. Despite her father’s opposition Sati marries Shiva and they live in his mountain abode in Himalayas.
Daksha plans a great sacrifice. He invites all the important divine beings, except Shiva. Sati feels disgraced by the way in which her father has treated her husband. On the day of the great sacrifice, she throws herself in the fire pit meant for the sacrifice. And burns herself to death. When Shiva discovers what has happened to his wife, he is outraged. He pulls out Sati’s half-burnt body, holds it on his shoulders, and in anguish and lamentations whirls around the world.
Goddess Sita is an ideal Hindu wife. Her husband, Rama, is the center of her life. His welfare, reputation, and wishes are most important to her. One day, the demon king Ravana abducts her and takes her to his golden palace. He lies to her that he has killed Rama. Sita is horrified. She moans and tells him that it must have been her fault that her husband was killed. She warns Ravana she could burn him to ashes with the fire of her chastity, but she won’t because she did not have her husband’s permission.
In the end, Rama defeats Ravana and brings Sita home. There he severely tests her loyalty because she has spent days under the control of another man. Sita is shocked at such an accusation. She protests her innocence. She says she has remained wholly devoted and completely faithful to him. Rama persists.
Grieved by his false accusation, Sita asks for a funeral pyre to prove her innocence. A pyre is built, and Sita stands atop it with hands folded. Agni, the god of fire, refuses to harm her because she is innocent and pure. She returns to Rama unscathed. Yet he banishes her to a forest.
Sati and Sita are faithful and chaste wives, and they are devoted to their husbands. The lives of these goddesses are defined by their husbands. Although their dedication and chastity are exemplary, they pay a heavy price for being wives. In both myths, fire plays an important role. Whereas Sati voluntarily kills herself, Sita is saved by Agni. Their god/husbands are alive when the women jump into the sacrificial pit or on the funeral pyre. But ordinary women’s lives are no myths. When a woman is forced into being a suttee, neither her husband nor the god of fire will save her.
The suttee ritual was outlawed by British Raj in 1829. The ritual was described as “heinous rite” when cases surfaced about widows being tied to their husband’s pyre even after being intoxicated with bhang or opium. Many reports of widows escaping and being rescued by strangers were also recorded. Still, more than a century later, scattered instances of the custom have been reported, such as Savitri Soni’s in 1973 and Charan Shah’s in 1999.
The most notorious and controversial case, however, was of Roop Kanwar. Indian people either publicly defended Roop’s action or declared that she had been murdered. Following the outcry that followed Roop Kanwar’s suttee, the government of India enacted the Rajasthan Sati Prevention Ordinance on October 1, 1987. The law makes it not only illegal to commit suttee but also illegal to glorify the ritual or coerce a woman to commit suttee. Glorification includes erecting a shrine to honor the dead woman or converting the place where immolation took place into a pilgrimage site. Derivation of any income from such activities is also banned. The law makes no distinction between a passive observer and an active promoter. Everyone is held equally guilty.
The seed for writing a book inspired by Roop Kanwar’s suttee finally sprouted in November 2009, when I wrote its first draft as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a nonprofit internet organization that supports writers in an effort to complete the initial draft of a novel in one month.
It would take me seven more years to finalize the draft.
The story continued to incubate. I developed the characters, sketched the settings, wrote the narrative and dialogue. But to birth a healthy novel and bring it to life, I had to experience the environment in which Roop Kanwar was born, lived, and died. I needed to converse with the people who allowed it to happen. I wanted to know the antagonist and protagonist’s viewpoints.
I visited India for a month in 2013 for that purpose. I went to the small towns of Deorala, where Roop Kanwar committed suttee, and Jhunjhunu, home of an imposing marble temple dedicated to faithful women who sacrifice their young lives immediately after their husbands’ deaths. The visit stirred feelings of remorse and wonder. Why did people celebrate sacrificial death? How does blind faith hide behind the stunning structure? Domestic and temple architecture, middle and high schools, ancient mansions with bedroom walls made of mirror-mosaics (some now converted to five-star hotels) were breathtakingly beautiful. The local flora and fauna were intriguing, and men and women’s attire colorful. I fell in love with the place. But I wasn’t there as a tourist. I was there to fulfill a quest, to do something about an event that jolted the core of my being.
Meeting with the people of Deorala opened my mind to the fact that a community’s worldview can be so different from my own. Yet my sorrow and awe about Roop Kanwar and my feelings about other widows like her were not alleviated by talking to Roop’s father-in-law, her brother-in-law and his wife, or their neighbors. Nor did I blame them after visiting her neglected and unkempt suttee site. However, the visit helped me better understand the point of view of the town residents. A magnificent temple dedicated to the goddess Sati, which locals honor and regard highly, further clarified their worldview.
My interview with Roop Kanwar’s father-in-law took place in the verandah outside the room where Roop lived with her husband. This was the room where she dressed herself in bridal attire and decked herself in jewelry before following her husband’s dead body to the cremation site. The room has been turned into a shrine, and Roop has become an ishtadevi, a manifestation of Narayani Satimata, a local goddess higher in the pantheon of the thousands of village goddesses of India.
When I asked to go to where Roop performed suttee, her father-in-law declined to walk along, but he did ask other men to take me there. I treaded the path that evidently Roop Kanwar, most probably intoxicated with bhang, walked with the help of two women. They followed her husband’s litter, which four male relatives carried. I was told a lamenting crowd of men, women, and children followed the dead body and Roop as they headed toward her husband’s funeral pyre.
Facing the desolate ground where the ritual had taken place twenty-six years earlier, I shed tears of pain for an eighteen-year-old who didn’t know better, and who no one came to rescue.
The characters in this novel are fictional, but the setting is historic. Writing it does not feel like redemption, for I still ache for the women of the world who are engulfed in outmoded traditions, who are uneducated and dependent. Women with so much potential to offer their families, their communities, and, most importantly, to themselves.
Undoubtedly, the world over, women have made tremendous progress. Yet, the path to elevating women’s social status has many roadblocks, and the process is slow. I sincerely hope The Last Suttee not only helps remove a block or two but also adds substance to the process of change.
About Madhu Bazaz Wangu
Madhu Bazaz Wangu is an author, artist, world-traveler, and the founder of the Mindful Writers Group. She was a professor of arts and religions of India before becoming a full-time writer. She has a doctorate in the Phenomenology of Religions from the University of Pittsburgh, and a post-doctoral fellowship from the Harvard University. Over twenty-five years, Wangu has taught at the University of Pittsburgh and Chatham College in Pennsylvania, Wellesley and Wheaton Colleges in Massachusetts, and Rhode Island College.
In 1997, Dr. Wangu voyaged around the world with students and faculty members from various American universities for the Semester-at-Sea program. She loved the experience so much, that each year she has been revisiting places of historical significance in different countries, observing the cultures, meeting the people, and enjoying their cuisine.
In 2010, Dr. Wangu founded the Mindful Writers Group, and in 2015, she started a second group. Dr. Wangu encourages writers of all levels and genres to delve deeper in their work by body-mind-heart meditation. Her album, Meditations for Mindful Writers, was released in 2011. Dr. Wangu also guides writers in meditation and writing marathons. Twice each year, Mindful Writers Groups gather for writing retreats where groups practice sitting and walking meditations surrounded by nature in-between long writing sessions.
Madhu B. Wangu has published four books and numerous essays on Hindu and Buddhist goddesses and Indian religions. She has held five one-person art exhibitions in India and the US. Her collection, Chance Meetings: Stories About Cross-Cultural Collisions and Compassion, was published in 2015, and her debut novel, The Immigrant Wife: Her Spiritual Journey, was published in 2016. Currently, Dr. Wangu is writing a guidebook for mindful writing.
“A stunning story of one woman’s struggle to stop the ritual of suttee. The novel weaves centuries old traditions with the stark march toward twenty-first century. It progresses with surprising plot twists, a ticking clock, and stubborn and powerful antagonist who challenges the protagonist, Kumud, to stand up to the orthodox and close-minded community” – Bestselling author, Kathleen Shoop
I Stop Somewhere T.E. Carter
Published by: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: February 27, 2018
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Ellie Frias disappeared long before she vanished.
Tormented throughout middle school, Ellie begins her freshman year with a new look: she doesn’t need to be popular, she just needs to blend in with the wallpaper.
But then, the unthinkable happens, and Ellie is trapped after a brutal assault. She wasn’t the first victim and now she watches it happen again and again. She tries to hold on to her happier memories in order to get past the cold days, waiting for someone to find her.
The problem is, no one searches for a girl they never noticed in the first place.
The Lovely Bones meets All The Rage in a searing, heartbreaking contemporary story of a lost teenager, and the town she leaves behind. T.E. Carter’s stirring and visceral debut not only discusses and dismantles rape culture but also makes you slow down and think about what it is to be human.
From the Author: The story of the cover design and why it couldn’t be pink
Admittedly, I had very little involvement in the cover design for the novel, since it was handled internally at Macmillan. However, there are so many elements that the cover just got so right about the novel itself, that it’s a really interesting topic of discussion.
My editor did ask during our second round of edits if I had any feedback or specific requests. I didn’t, to be honest, except that I knew the cover shouldn’t be pink. There’s a recurring theme in the novel about what makes a girl and I worried that this would lead a designer to pink, and I don’t like the automatic linking of girls to pink. I don’t mind pink, but Ellie (the main character) doesn’t like pink, and one of the key themes of the book is that defining a girl is about more than stereotypes or this idea of what a girl should be. So pink felt somewhat antithetical to that. At the same time, I then thought maybe pink would be ironic and could be effective, so I wasn’t too useful in providing insight into the design process.
When they first showed me the cover, I fell in love with it aesthetically, but I also found myself a little confused. It was nothing like I had expected. I knew it was a cover that I would be drawn to, and it does make sense for the book when you stop and think about it, but I figured that the primary setting – an abandoned house – would play a role in the design. When there were no houses, I was a bit taken aback.
After thinking about it, though, I realized an abandoned house would have hinted at the book being horror or a thriller, and it’s not. It’s firmly rooted in contemporary realism, so combining a thriller-looking cover with a summary that’s a bit mysterious may actually have worked against getting the book to the target reader.
What I love about this cover is that it’s black, which clearly illustrates that it’s not a light read. It’s not a light or easy story and I like knowing what kind of book I’m getting when I pick up a book. The cover is also symbolic of so many aspects of the story. The leaves are covered in frost, showing that they shouldn’t even be alive. But there are small flowers finding their way through anyway. It’s this idea of life fighting for a way, even when it’s impossible. Plus, it also speaks to the story, which does try to show that even in the darkest and coldest places, there can be small bursts of good.
I also did some research into the plant itself, which is stinging nettle, and discovered that the plant thrives in places where iron has been left to rust. The town where the book is set has seen better days and is full of abandoned factories; it is, in essence, “rusting.” In addition, the plant symbolizes being detached from your body and a lost soul, which is the entire premise of the book. After an assault, Ellie is trapped and trying to find her way back to life before. Stinging nettle also helps heal trauma in youth, especially in situations of low self-esteem, and both of these are key parts of Ellie’s character. According to http://www.beefieldsfarm.com/read/2016/03/stinging-nettle, “[stinging nettle] is also useful for those whose body/soul fusion has been incomplete, or is damaged due to trauma,” and this could not speak more to the novel and its themes!
Finally, there’s the title. It’s so bold and the book is very much about Ellie not having a voice and not feeling like she’s even part of the world she lives in. As the summary says, she was a girl no one noticed, but the title refuses to go unnoticed. I like this, as it’s almost like Ellie screaming from the darkness and demanding to be heard for once.
So, while I had little say in the cover, it really does capture everything about this story beautifully and I think it speaks volumes to what a reader can expect.
Excerpt from I Stop Somewhere:
Later, I remember how my dad would stand in my doorway, watching me. Trying to reach me across so little space, yet so much. He stared at me like you look at a museum display or a creature in the zoo. I was the coelacanth and he was awed by my strangeness.
“I brought you something,” he said, holding a bag out across the threshold to my bedroom.
My room was an experiment. Posters and magazine pages and images covered the walls and the vanity and my dresser. All the people I wanted to be, wanted to look like. They were the people who mattered. I stared at myself in the mirror, hating how I looked. I hated how the curves made the boys poke me through the back of my chair in class, and how they made the girls call me fat. I hated how far the people in the magazines were from me. I thought I would never count, because I wasn’t them.
“What is it?” I asked my dad, gesturing toward the bag he was holding.
“I thought you might like it.”
It happened every few nights. He’d show up, presenting an offering in a plastic bag. Makeup. Clothes. Hair bands. He tried. He tried and so I tried, but the discount stickers said it all.
They were marked down, because the lipstick was too orange. The tank top wasn’t cut right. The hair pins would have been perfect for a girl my age – ten years ago. But I wore them for him and he smiled, because he didn’t know the difference.
“Thanks, Dad. I love it,” I lied.
“You’re beautiful, Ellie.”
I was a markdown girl.
I did know the difference.
T.E. Carter was born in New England and has lived in New England for pretty much her entire life. Throughout her career, she’s done a lot of things, although her passion has always been writing. When she’s not writing, she can generally be found reading classic literature, obsessing over Game of Thrones (she’s one hundred percent Team Lannister), playing Xbox, organizing her comic collection, or binge-watching baking competitions. She continues to live in New England with her husband and their two cats.
Brand new from Alexandra Sokoloff comes Hunger Moon, the latest installment in The Huntress Moon Series (which is in development as a TV series!). The Huntress Moon Series is the product of years of screenwriting in Hollywood and wondering why most serial killers are men. Today, Sokoloff shares an excerpt from Hunger Moon, and writes to share what inspired The Huntress Series, and what has molded Agent Roarke’s character. As a fan of true crime and how psychology is involved (and also of small towns with neon hotel signs), I can only begin to try to communicate through my fingers how interesting this series sounds.
Hunger Moon Alexandra Sokoloff
Publication date: October 24, 2017
Genres: Adult, Mystery, Thriller
“Some of the most original and freshly unnerving work in the genre.” – The New York Times
From the Author: Where The Huntress Moon Series came from
“My motivation for writing the Huntress Moon series is pretty basic. I am sick to death of reading crime novels and seeing movies and TV shows about women being raped, tortured, mutilated and murdered. I’m not too happy about it happening in real life, either.
So, my Huntress series turns the tables. The books follow a haunted FBI agent on the hunt for a female serial killer.
I worked as a Hollywood screenwriter for ten years before I snapped and wrote my first novel, and in that time I worked on several film projects featuring serial killers. One of my core themes as a writer is ‘What can good people do about the evil in the world?’ – and as far as I’m concerned, serial killers are an embodiment of evil. So for several years I was doing research into the subject every way I could think of, besides actually putting myself in a basement with one of these monsters. I tracked down the FBI’s behavioral science textbook before it was ever available to the public. I stalked psychological profilers at writing conventions and grilled them about various real life examples. I went to forensics classes and law enforcement training workshops.
And while I was doing all that research, one thing really jumped out at me about serial killers. They’re men. Women don’t do it. Women kill, and sometimes they kill in numbers (especially killing lovers or husbands for money – the “Black Widow” killer; or killing patients in hospitals or nursing homes: the “Angel of Death”). But the psychology of those killers is totally different from the men who commit serial sexual homicide. Sexual homicide is about abduction, rape, torture and murder for the killer’s own sexual gratification. (And please don’t get me started on books and films that portray serial killers as having an artistic or poetic bent. Ridiculous….)
The fact is, one reason novels and film and TV so often depict women as victims is that it’s the stark reality. Since the beginning of time, women haven’t been the predators — we’re the prey. But after all those years (centuries, millennia) of women being victims of the most heinous crimes out there… wouldn’t you think that someone would finally say, ‘Enough!’?
And maybe even strike back?
I believe my job as an author is to give my readers a thrilling, sensory, gripping adventure that makes them feel — and also makes them think. It’s all about the fight against everyday evil, for me, and about the deep connections people make with unlikely other people when they commit to that fight.
With the Huntress series I finally have an umbrella to explore, dramatically, over multiple books, the roots and context of the worst crimes I know. And at least on paper, do something about it.
Whoever she is, whatever she is, the Huntress is like no killer Agent Roarke – or the reader – has ever seen before. And you may find yourself as conflicted about her as Roarke is.
As one of the profilers says in the book: ‘I’ve always wondered why we don’t see more women acting out this way. God knows enough of them have reason.'”
Excerpt from Hunger Moon:
A bleak sky, streaked with white, stretches over the desolate South Rim of the canyon. There will be snow tonight.
The grinding of a pickup truck grates through the silence.
A four-door Tundra. Tonneau cover over the bed. Two men dressed in camouflage inside. Fast-food and jerky wrappers litter the wells at their feet. In the back seat, a cooler packed full of beer.
And three rifles, three-inch twelve-gauge magnums, strapped to the padded back-seat gun rest.
Hunters, driving the rim.
The front-seat passenger sets his sights on something moving ahead of them, leans forward greedily. “There we go, there we go.”
The driver follows his gaze, fixes on what he is tracking. Not a deer, but a young girl, shining black hair underneath the hood of her parka. Schoolgirl’s backpack on her shoulder.
On the men’s faces, something crude and capering.
“That’s some tasty-looking pussy.”
“Oh, yeah, that’ll do.”
The driver swerves the truck over to the side of the road, squealing brakes.
The girl hears the sound, stiffens, is starting to run before she even completes the glance back.
The truck skids to a stop in the snow. The doors fly open; the men are out of the car, grabbing for their rifles.
The girl runs for the rocks, but her pursuers are bigger, faster. Two of them, grown men, against a teenage girl.
They move forward into the strong wind, a military-style formation, heavy boots crunching in the sandy snow.
They pause at the rock outcropping, looking out over the boulders. The girl seems to have disappeared. Then a scrabble on the rocks betrays her. Hearing it, the men grin at each other.
The driver rounds the rock first, his mouth watering. He is already hard in anticipation…
The tire iron bashes him across the face, breaking his jaw. He staggers back, howling inarticulate pain.
The girl kicks him viciously in the knee, crumpling him, then swivels as the second hunter rounds the edge of the rock. She slams the tire iron against the side of his head.
Now both men are collapsed on the ground, moaning and cursing.
She steps forward, no longer feigning that youthful, hesitant gait.
She lifts her arm and uses the tire iron on their skulls. Two, three, four blows, and there is no more moaning. Thick crimson drops spatter the snow. Her breath is harsh. Her face is ice.
There is only the wind, swallowing the sound of her breathing.
Cara stands at the edge of the canyon, looking out at the spires of Spider Rock, the vast open gorge.
Below her is an icy crevasse. The canyon has any number of them, deep splits in the rock wall where whole sheets of the cliff have broken away. Behind her is the hunters’ pickup truck.
Their bodies lie at her feet.
She drags one, then the other, to shove them over the cliff’s edge, stepping back to watch each body hurtle down into the crevasse, tumbling into oblivion.
The snowfall tonight will cover all trace of them. Later, birds and animals will pick the bones clean.
Another offering to the canyon, and the gods and ghosts that haunt it.
PLUS: Books 1-4 are on SALE for $1.99 each for a limited time only!
Previous books in the Huntress/FBI Thrillers Series:
About the Author
ALEXANDRA SOKOLOFF is the Thriller Award-winning and Bram Stoker, Anthony, and Black Quill Award-nominated author of the Amazon bestselling Huntress/FBI series (Huntress Moon, Blood Moon, Cold Moon, Bitter Moon, Hunger Moon – now in active development as a TV series), and the supernatural Haunted thrillers (The Harrowing, The Price, The Unseen, Book of Shadows, The Shifters, The Space Between). The New York Times Book Review called her a “daughter of Mary Shelley,” and her books “some of the most original and freshly unnerving work in the genre.”
As a screenwriter she has sold original horror and thriller scripts and adapted novels for numerous Hollywood studios. She has also written three non-fiction workbooks: Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, Stealing Hollywood, and Writing Love, based on her internationally acclaimed workshops and blog (www.ScreenwritingTricks.com), and has served on the Board of Directors of the WGA West and the Board of the Mystery Writers of America.
Alex is a California native and a graduate of U.C. Berkeley, where she majored in theater and minored in everything Berkeley has a reputation for. In her spare time (!) she performs with The Slice Girls and Heather Graham’s all-author Slush Pile Players, and dances like a fiend. She is also very active on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. But not an addict. Seriously, it’s under control.
As the popular quote goes, “Hindsight is 20/20.” Looks like this is true of even authors. Next week, Book 4 of The Union Series is published, continuing a four-year-long telling of an American dystopia. Author T.H. Hernandez has taken a journey of her own, along with her readers, in discovering her characters – enough to feel a desire to revise Book 1, published back in 2014.
Here’s a look into what moved T.H. Hernandez to better Book 1, The Union, followed by an excerpt of her latest book, The Invasion!
The Invasion (The Union Series, #4) T.H. Hernandez
Publication date: August 1, 2017
Genres: Dystopian, Young Adult
From the Author: How writing Book Four led to revision of Book One
“When I first published The Union three years ago, it was the first novel I’d written. It had been through more than thirty rounds of edits, incorporated feedback from a publisher, an agent, and my critique partners, and had been professionally edited. However, when I went to pull some quotes for an upcoming blog tour, I realized my characters didn’t sound like themselves.
After writing three more books in the series and outlining a fourth, I know my characters so much better. Even though they go through incredible growth throughout the series, they are essentially themselves, and I wanted them to sound that way.
In addition to fixing character inconsistencies, I shaved off close to 12,000 words without altering the storyline. The result is a faster-paced story that I hope readers will embrace.”
EXCERPT FROM The Invasion:
Liquid fills my nose and mouth and I claw in front of me, searching for the surface. I gasp, choking on a combination of air and water, and shove my drenched hair out of my face. Hercules One holds an empty bucket at his side, water still dripping from the rim.
Dizziness takes hold when I sit up, my body tilting. H-1 grabs my biceps, yanking me to my feet mere moments before my head would have conked on the concrete. Guess he wants the honor of doing the head conking himself.
Something about my face doesn’t feel right. My fingers run over the planes of my face, hitting a tender spot on my cheek. Pain shoots through my jaw and into my head while stars dance across my vision until everything disappears.
Another blast of water hits my face and my eyes fly open to a pair of cold blue ones staring back at me. “Where did you train?” Draya asks.
My lips part to tell her off, but the words catch on their way out.
Hercules Two approaches me, and without warning his fist is in my stomach. A yell tears from my raw throat and I double over, screaming through my teeth.
“Where. Did. You. Train.”
“In the Northwest,” I gasp.
“Where in the Northwest? Which camp?”
The pain begins to ebb, allowing me to control my mouth. If I tell them what they want, they’ll have no reason to keep me alive. I’m just not sure how much I can tolerate before I verbally vomit the truth along with the threatening bile. H-2 strikes the left side of my face with the back of his hand, sending blinding pain racing from my head into my spine.
“Northwest Seven,” I scream. Shit, at this rate, I’ll tell them everything and be dead within an hour.
Draya’s eyes dim rather than brighten with the information. “Now we’re getting somewhere. Who was with you?”
“Other recruits. There was a whole truckload of us, plus all the kids already there.”
She narrows her gaze before turning on her heel and leaving the room, returning a few moments later with a tablet. “Several soldiers left that camp unauthorized, including the commander. Who was your commander, and where is he now?”
What the hell? First, I’m not telling her anything about Cyrus, even if she tortures me, but second… “Don’t you know who the commander was?”
Her only response is an unblinking stare.
The open-palmed slap doesn’t hurt any less as it rocks my head to the side. The stakes are too high now, and I manage to keep my mouth shut. “Answer the commander,” H-2 snarls.
I bite my lips together and prepare for the next blow, another backhand across my face. In an instant, the face of the first girl I shot to save Marcus’s life flashes before me. I close my eyes and do my best to stand a little straighter and take the next strike as penance for her. The fist in the gut is for the boy I killed, and I crumple to the floor. The boot to my ribs is for the kids blown up when the explosives went off. I hear the first crack, more than feel it. What they’re doing to me pales in comparison to what I did. I can take this, I deserve it. But I can’t prevent the small whimpers from escaping with each kick until the merciful darkness comes to take me again.
Book One, The Union, is only 99¢ for a limited time!
About the Author
T.H. Hernandez is the author of young adult books. The Union, a futuristic dystopian adventure, was a finalist in the 2015 San Diego book awards in the Young Adult Fiction category.
T.H. loves pumpkin spice lattes, Game of Thrones, Comic-Con, Star Wars, Doctor Who marathons, bad lip-reading videos, and all things young adult, especially the three young adults who share her home.
When not visiting the imaginary worlds inside her head, T.H. Hernandez lives in usually sunny San Diego, California, with her husband and three children, a couple of cats, and a dog who thinks he’s a cat, affectionately referred to as “the puppycat.”
It’s here! Saving Phoebe Murrow is now riding many shelves and I’m more than excited to welcome the author, Herta Feely, to Shelf Rider!
Here are some words from the lady of the hour and an excerpt from the book. Saving Phoebe Murrow (Upper Hand Press, September 2, 2016) is available in paperback and e-book formats via all online and select brick-and-mortar book retailers. Get your copy today on Amazon!
From Herta Feely:
In writing Saving Phoebe Murrow I hadn’t intended to focus on the “mean girl” phenomena, but in the process of writing this fictional story about cyber-bullying, mean girls emerged and their behavior became another key element. I don’t want to say too much about these characters in the novel, both young and old, because of its spoiler potential…but rather I’d like to invite you to take a moment to reflect on this issue.
After the novel was accepted for publication, women often asked me what it was about. Quite often this unleashed stories of their own daughters’ traumatic experiences of being bullied, cyber-bullied, and excluded from girl cliques. Likewise, I was surprised by the number of people who reviewed my novel and made comments like:
“Wow, I do not miss high school!” (Kim Gay)
“Bullying …in high school … was notes and rumors and just mean girls you could kind of avoid…nowadays cyber-bullying is WOW…I have no words.” (Stephanie Showmaker)
“Having been a target of mean girls long ago I know what Phoebe went through all too well, but thank goodness social media didn’t exist!” (Mary Ann)
“Saving Phoebe Murrow is a book that took me back a few years to being a teenager at school surrounded by bitchy, cruel girls who were always ready to knock you down with their comments.” (@SophieRTB, Book Blogger)
Though I had been bullied a bit in grade school for being German (during a time rife with WWII films), that the problem is so pervasive caught me by surprise. (Please note lots of statistics on this problem, which extends to boys as well.)
All this has made me wonder what can be done about the problem? For young girls to have good role models among the adult women surrounding them is, of course, critical. I would like to think that most mothers of girls provide this? But perhaps this isn’t the case? So who can substitute? It seemed that in the stories I was told the mothers of some of the bullies refused to acknowledge their daughters’ destructive behavior. How can we break down these barriers and also the cyclical nature of this problem being passed along from one generation to the next?
One answer is to discuss the problem more openly, and to rely on resources like http://www.meganmeierfoundation.org, dedicated to providing parents, students and teachers with anti-cyber- bullying tools. Your thoughts and ideas are welcome!
From Saving Phoebe Murrow:
“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” Phoebe said.
Though her figure looked more slender than her pudgy eighth-grade self last year, she knew she wasn’t the fairest of them all, but was she even in the game? Making faces at herself, she dashed on pink lip gloss, then grabbed her lime green monogrammed book bag and ran out the door, yelling good-bye to her mother.
“But you didn’t even have breakfast! Don’t you want me to give you a ride on your first day of high school?” Her mother’s shout reached her as she crossed the recently mown lawn of her family’s three-story home that stood in the shadow of the National Cathedral.
“I’m good,” she yelled back. She walked several blocks to the bus stop on Wisconsin Avenue and found a spot on the bench to await the bus’s arrival.
Today was no day to have breakfast, not on her first day as a freshman at Georgetown Academy. Ever since last year she’d vowed to lose weight and leave the ugly duckling years of middle school behind. She could still hear the hideous insults Skyla VanDorn had thrown at her after grabbing her thermal lunch bag last spring and dumping its contents onto the cafeteria table for everyone to see! Two sandwiches slathered with peanut butter and jelly, a container of yogurt, a banana, an apple, a Snickers bar and two Oreos. The girls around her had pointed at the pile of food and laughed. “Gee, Phoebe, eat much!”
Her visiting great aunt Marta had packed the lunch, and even Phoebe was appalled. What had she been thinking? But Phoebe knew. Growing up in Hungary after the war, great aunt Marta had often gone to bed suffering hunger pains. And then Skyla captured the attention of a few boys wandering by with their trays, and they’d joined in the hazing. Even Noah, who she had a crush on, hadn’t defended her. Though he did avert his eyes.
Phoebe had wanted to die. Instead, her face had flushed red, even brighter than her hair, and tears sprang to her eyes. She rushed from the table and headed to the girls’ bathroom. In the last stall, she sank to a crouch on the floor and sobbed. She was sick
of being humiliated, sick of being the brunt of jokes and teasing; Skyla had picked on her so often she’d lost count.
That’s when she found a paper clip in her pocket, and without thinking, untwisted it until one end jutted out like a tiny dagger.
She’d taken the weapon and run the sharp metal across the inside of her thigh, pushing it hard until droplets of blood surfaced. Then she’d stabbed herself. She’d done it again and again. What had surprised her the most was the sensation of relief that had flooded her body. The way the ragged cuts absorbed her sadness. She’d let out a deep breath of air, then torn off some toilet paper and dabbed at the blood, watching the scarlet color spread onto the tissue. That was the first time she’d resorted to what Dr. Sharma called self-injury.