A Change You Can’t Ignore

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A Book Review of Sea-Change by P.W. Fox

(Buy it here on Amazon. See the author’s website.)

This novella is an epic tale, with evil aristocrats, witchcraft, warring clans, sword fights, and even a red wedding, condensed within a quick two-hour read. You’re probably thinking that would be a classic case of information overload, like when you read a sci-fi novel so crammed with facts and history that you can’t get past the first chapter. I have to admit, after the first few paragraphs, I was wondering if I would be able to remember all the names and events thrown at me. To my delight, however, I was given just enough for my brain to hold onto, and for the plot to blossom within. Fox paces the story so that we may use our own imaginations to fill in the gaps—we don’t need to know the whole history of these warring clans in this fantastical place, only enough hints to cradle the protagonist in our minds.

And he gives our minds breaks. The basic premiss of the story is that a future duchess befalls a terrible treachery (most of her family is slain, and she is sold into slavery), and she must escape her new fate (which she does with the aid of powerful sorcery), and find a way to reap revenge (bring down the usurper to her father’s ducal seat). After a beginning packed with such action, though, Fox slows down to let a reader enjoy the world he has created. The sun rises and sets, our protagonist sleeps, eats and runs on a sandy beach, boats row to and fro with the tide, the cycle of the moon advances. The realism of life experience helps to imagine the “sea-change” that the protagonist must be feeling, which is the most intriguing aspect of the story.

The hook in this brief tale is not what is told, but what is inherently understood: sex, and all the intricacies involved with both the gender and the act. For, the sorcery that is preformed early on changes the main character, a woman named Selena, into a man (he decides to call himself Seldon). That’s the sea-change; Selena partly uses the sea water in her spell to change form. I sat up a little straighter in my seat, as soon as Fox began describing Selena as “he,” as in,

“Selena walked from the water up to the dry sand trying to get used to the way his changed body moved. Selena was now definitely male in appearance, and larger than he had been as a woman. He gathered up the remnants of his dress and tore off what remained of the skirt to use as a loincloth like he had seen the fisherman on Grendar wear.”

It’s such a simple, yet strangely alluring, idea and it works perfecting in a short story. Fox doesn’t need to describe anymore magic, because our minds are buzzing with what that would feel like. We’re all either one or the other (or somewhere in between, in rarer cases), so we know intimately the details of being our own sex and are obsessively curious about the opposite. All Fox needs to do is hint at Seldon feeling strange urges towards a girl he meets, and our imagination is piqued, our senses actively engaged.

I won’t ruin the ending by telling whether or not Seldon (almost naked throughout the story, stuffing knives into his loincloth, and later riding a horse bareback) is able to return to his female form, but the possibility that the spell was flubbed and could be permanent hangs overhead. Rest assured that the conclusion is immensely satisfying.

–Sarah Wathen

Dark Mood, Dark Drawings

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Now I finally have a use for some mildly disturbing drawings I made during a frigid New York winter, while I was in grad school.

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My heroine from The Tramp, Candy Vale, loves to post her artwork on Tumblr (click here). Her blog runs in real time with the timeline of The Tramp, and when I looked at the calendar today, I thought, “Oh, poor Candy. She’s not doin’ so well right about now…”

I won’t blow the story by explaining why she’s so upset, but after my editor and I are done polishing in a few weeks, I’ll post some good samples. For more info on the book, see my page, “The Tramp, Book One of the Bound Saga.”

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The Tramp is scheduled for release in March of 2015. Click here for an email reminder when it comes out!

Too Much Fanny?

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When I was in art school, there was no such thing as “too much nudity” in drawing class–heck in any class. We considered ourselves privileged to even have access to nude models and we used our own bodies when we didn’t, especially in homework. We were warned in beginner classes that, should we decide to use the drawing studios late at night (they were open 24/7, so we had no excuse to scrimp on homework), we shouldn’t be surprised or ashamed to find other students there in various states of undress.

College campus rape alarm bells are going off, right? I know. But I’m not kidding. Art school was different.

The thing is, all the drapery, color, and texture found in clothing is much more difficult to represent than flesh, in charcoal on paper, or paint on canvas. We sought perfection in depicting the human form, and we were encouraged to get every last detail correct. Every wart, every wrinkle. It needn’t be pretty, decidedly not. And the best way to investigate the human body in all its forms, glorious or otherwise, is in the nude.

Some models were old, some were overweight. My first wasn’t. John.

I remember my first figure drawing class vividly. We were to use nothing but charcoal and paper, but our supply list was extensive. Pressed charcoal, vine charcoal, charcoal pencils, ad nauseam. And the paper. My god is that stuff expensive. I was a good girl and brought every item on the list to class, set up my drawing station, and waited.

I had seen an older, attractive man, dressed in business slacks and a white dress shirt, talking with the instructor before class. He hadn’t appeared to be one of the other students. To my horror, that same man then walked in, dressed in a robe. He dropped his robe, and took his place in a central position–a strange, stage-like gathering of old wooden and metal school chairs, crusty drop cloths, and one or two cow skulls (for the adventurous), with spotlights pointed advantageously. Students were arranged, ringing him around the room, each with a sturdy metal easel and maybe a stool drawn over to set an art utensil box on. No sitting for us.

John was finely made, with a tattoo and a nipple ring.

As I fumbled with my materials, averting my eyes and trying to hide my blush, my instructor walked past and jammed his face into mine.

“What are you doing? Don’t waste time! Get to work! Go go go.”

He even clapped his hands together as he resumed his patrol, frightening the rest of the students out of any natural embarrassment at the sight of nudity. No, I’m going to be more honest than that. Penis. Right there. In a spotlight.

It didn’t take long for all those normal inclinations–what most people would and should feel when confronted with genitals early in the morning in a school classroom–to subside.

Penis in a spotlight? Whatever.

I remember stalling for maybe a few seconds once, while considering my next stroke, in that drawing class on another day.

“Draw, don’t think,” my instructor hollered in my face.

Then, he actually ripped my charcoal out of my hand, tore away the newsprint on which I had been working, then attacked the new page. One hand held the charcoal in a fist, chiseling out the form, while the other gripped the easel as if we were in the midst of a World Wrestling Federation live broadcast.

“Get it down and get it down NOW!”

At that particular juncture within the class schedule, the model was to move from one pose to another in 10-second intervals, and we were to draw as much as we could in a series of “gestures.”

“See? You missed it.”

The model had already moved on.

Instructor dropped the charcoal on my shoe, then banged my newsprint board with animal intensity. Growling.

Nudity was not sexual in the slightest in art school. To even have imaged so would have been the height of uncool–even worse, amateurish.

So, when I selected one of my old art school paintings as part of my cover for Wicked Lover, “too much nudity” never crossed my mind. At first. As I continue working on the imagery, adding graphics and text, I’m starting to wonder. The nude form–I think her name was Christy–is becoming something very different than what it–she–was in that painting class ten years ago. I’m not sure if the reason for my squeamishness is that I have been seeing so many book covers for romance novels or erotica that don’t show as much fanny, or if I feel guilty putting Christy on display in an international arena.

I’m still going to do it, though.

Look for the Wicked Lover in November.

(Names have been changed, to protect privacy.)

Burqas Are Awesome

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A Book Review of Honor and Polygamy by Omar Farhad

(Find it on Amazon here.)

Okay, burqas aren’t exactly awesome, but…read on.

As soon as I read the description of “Honor and Polygamy” by Omar Farhad, I knew I wanted to read it—the subject matter was exactly the opposite of what I habitually read, and I’ve been making an effort to branch out. In the past, I would have turned a distasteful frown, like a driver annoyed by all the rubber-neckers ogling a wreck on the interstate, to a story about a man forced into a polygamist union in Afghanistan.

I am so glad I didn’t.

Like many Americans, I knew next to nothing about life in Afghanistan apart from sensational news snippets on the unpopular war. I admit I wasn’t interested in learning more either, the burqa being so offensive to me that it was hard to see past that particular part of the Afghan culture. But, for some reason I just had to know how the author was going to pull it off. How was Farhad going to make me believe that an American man was forced to marry a second wife, out of honor? After reading a couple of pages, I thought I had made a mistake at first. The spare writing style was so different from my favored literature, so masculine.

But, I couldn’t stop—I was hooked! The best part about Farhad’s prose is his use of the present tense to create suspense, right from the beginning. The story starts in New York and since I knew the main character, Nick Blake, was somehow going to end up marrying an Afghan woman against his will, I was so eager to get to the action that I found myself appreciating the straight-forward language used. No flowery, poetic passages steeped in imagery. No long conversations or hefty descriptions of characters. I was supplied with only what was needed to move the story along. Quickly. However, by the middle of the book I found myself with a strong sense of place and I was surprised how connected I felt to the characters. I even…wait for it…began to understand why a woman would want to wear a burqa.

I’m grateful to this author for bringing the fascinating land and culture of Afghanistan into my mind and heart—an intimacy I never would’ve imagined. Omar Farhad’s tale had me hoping against hope for a happy ending, as implausible as that would’ve been. I was willing to make the leap. I had fallen in love with the characters, indeed with the culture itself. Unfortunately, we all know there is no happy ending when it comes to Afghanistan.

At least not yet.

Inshallah.

—Sarah Wathen

Northside Lounge – Hold Up the Show 1997

The makings of a rock band and all that history. Very interesting blog about the band that’s producing the soundtrack for The Tramp…

Her Last Boyfriend

There’s no better place to start the chronicle of this band than in the middle of the beginning. The most memorable show for me never happened, because Gerard chopped off the tip of his middle finger on his left hand. You can’t play the bass like that.

But that didn’t really matter, because the venue got robbed at gun point before we ever got onstage.

Northside Lounge on Florida Ave, Tampa, FL, 1996 Northside Lounge on Florida Ave, Tampa, FL, 1996

Tampa, FL 1996 – The Northside Lounge. Gerard and I had been playing for long enough with our drummer Mickey, and it was the moment for exposure. What better place to start than a standing gig at a dive bar situated on Nebraska Avenue between Fletcher and Busch Blvd, Tampa’s notorious red-light district.

I don’t remember which of us originally found the “opportunity”, but I do remember that we took it seriously. At the time, I lived in…

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Edits, Round One!

 

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My editor hates all my “!”‘s, but I thought this title really needed one. You know, like someone announcing a boxing match? Sorry, Peggy…

The editing process is an eye opening experience and I can’t imagine trying it without a professional. How else would I know where I was being too vague in one area and superfluous in another? Anyone besides a pro would probably be worried that I might bite his or her head off for such an observation. My alpha reader isn’t shy, but he already knows the story and has sat through countless tellings of plot twists and juicy character tidbits along the way–all fascinating, I’m sure (thanks, Bill).

And who else would take the time to sift through each line, tweak, advise, and comment on a 100,000 word+ novel? It’ll be great when you guys get it, but trust me, it wasn’t always so.

Painful at first, but now exhilarating.

Editing is priceless. If you find a good one, keep her. Thank you, Peggy DeKay (see, I controlled my self–no exclamation point!).

The Best Thing About Creating Imaginary Worlds?

 

While you’re writing, you get to live in that world most of your day!

 

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Candy, from The Tramp, just posted the above painting (without me in it, of course) on her Tumblr page. She says, “Lately I just feel like my mind’s in a carnival, with fireworks going off overhead, so I’m calling this one, ‘Celebration.’ This is turning out to be an awesome summer after all.”

She’s so cute and dramatic–I love her. If you’ve been following along, you’ll know exactly why she’s all excited: she’s falling in love with Sam Castle.

It’s hard not to get caught up in your own story lines and characters while writing. If it doesn’t feel real for the author, how real could it feel real for the audience anyway, right? So I hang out with imaginary friends and live in a fantasy land while writing a my books. I say roll with it (just like Meg Shannon would, from Wicked Lover).