Reboot Review: Pretty Little Dead Girls

FictionReboot2Welcome to the REBOOT REVIEW–the book review portion of Fiction Reboot | Daily Dose! Today’s review concern’s Mercedes Yardley’s novel Pretty Little Dead Girls.

Reviewer: Lauren Swanson

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Byrony Adams, the heroine of Mercedes Yardley’s novel, is decidedly accepting of her fate to die. She had been reminded of her fate every day since her youth.   Every person she meets, greets her with knowingly somber eyes. Some respond with a desire to protect the young and beautiful Byrony, others respond by wishing to give her to the ominous fate.

indexByrony Adams lives in a world where one’s fate is written in their irises and combed through their hair each night. Her world is not one where the question “why?” exists. Rather, “why?” is predominated by another question entirely: “when?” “Why is Byrony going to die?” is not and should not be asked. Rather, it’s a matter of “When is Byrony going to die?”

It may seem that a fate to die would prompt a lifetime of adventures and experiences, however, Yardley’s Adams is emotionally (and often physically) numbed by her fate. She chooses the road most traveled, ensuring that it is well-lit its whole distance. She proceeds, in most aspects of her life, with extreme caution. However, Byrony proves to be naively trusting in interpersonal relationships. Byrony navigates her life with a confusing juxtaposition of cautiousness and naivety. This can be frustrating to the reader who is looking for solid character traits. (Though of course, the “real” world has its own confusing juxtapositions.)

The protagonist does, in fact, take a risk, albeit a late one. After surviving childhood and young adulthood, Byrony makes the bold decision that she is ready to fall in love. This decision seems to be a misguided choice in many respects. As a feminist reader, I certainly feel that every woman has the right to experience love (especially when they are in a constant war with death). But at the same time, Byrony seems to reject other opportunities for life fulfillment in exchange for a chance at love. Additionally, Byrony’s journey to find true love is brief and unrealistic as she experiences no trial and error or heartbreak. Perhaps, if I too were destined for untimely and gruesome death, however, I would be numb to heartbreak. In her fight with fate, Byrony’s life does seem to be filled with rather positive fate in love.

After graduating from college, Byrony called her father and enthusiastically declared that she was ready to fall in love. Making this declaration was important because she previously could not commit—her fear of death and fear of commitment entwined. However, her declaration seems more of the same—she falls for the (not surprisingly) dark and brooding musician, Eddie. Darkness, we find, loves company… but their love is spun positively in this book filled with darkness. Byrony was told to run from her fate, but Byrony ran towards love (even though this might, in fact, be her fate). It’s not always clear why…but this is, itself, perhaps the mystery.

Yardley guides the reader with beautifully, albeit brief, descriptions of Byrony’s world. Nature, in Byrony’s world, is far more realistic than any of the mystical characters that Yardley introduces. Those characters (Syrina, Stop, Rikki-Tikki) and their interactions seemed forced; their dialogues seemed about as impractical as a woman being marked for death since birth. But while impracticality may seem to prevail, the tale does make the reader think about humankind. Who amongst us is also marked and fated for a tragic ending or a tragically beautifully life? Despite my reservations about Bryony as a character (and despite my uncertainty about the core message), I found the book enjoyable and readable. Hear more about Yardley and her work here: http://abrokenlaptop.com/about/

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Lauren Swanson is in her final year as an English and dance major with a journalism minor at Wittenberg University. She is the Design Editor for the student newspaper at Wittenberg and has worked for VIP Magazine in Dublin, Ireland. She is currently a contributing writer for the online music magazine SoGutsy. She is extremely passionate about 18th century British literature, environmental studies, psychology, and creativity.

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Early Ectogenesis: Artificial Wombs in 1920s Literature

DailyDose_PosterWelcome back to the Daily Dose and Medhum Monday! If you are a regular subscriber, you’ll know that reproduction (literally and figuratively) features pretty regularly. The history of birth links to key questions about humanity, monstrosity, self-hood and science. Today’s post comes to us from Elizabeth Yuko, Ph.D. on ectogenesis and artificial wombs in the literature of the 1920s. Welcome Elizabeth!

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Tab IIII Casserius Tables, 1627

While the concept of artificial wombs may seem futuristic, the idea of creating a human being outside of a woman’s body is hardly novel.

In the sixteenth century, Paracelsus provided a formula with which to create a “homunculus” – an artificial man with no soul – in womb outside of a woman’s body.[1] This formula involves sealing a man’s semen in the womb of a horse for 40 days (or until it begins to live, move and can easily be seen), and then nourishing it daily with human blood for 40 weeks until it becomes a human infant resembling those born of a woman, only significantly smaller.[2]

The term “ectogenesis” – the gestation of human embryos in artificial circumstances outside a human uterus – was coined in 1923 by J.B.S. Haldane in his essay entitled Daedalus, or Science and the Future.[3] In his work, Haldane lists what he believes to be the six most important biological discoveries ever made. The list includes four discoveries “made before the dawn of history”: (1) the domestication of animals, (2) the domestication of plants, (3) the domestication of fungi for the production of alcohol, and (4) the altered path of sexual selection (that is, the shift to women’s faces and breasts as objects of men’s attention and attraction).[4] The remaining two biological discoveries cited by Haldane did not yet exist: bactericide, and the artificial control of conception.[5]

Haldane proceeds to provide a fictional essay written by an undergraduate student 150 years in the future (the year 2073), in which the student describes the birth of the first ectogenic child, which Haldane envisions would take place in 1951.[6] He then states that ectogenesis is “now universal,” and that in England, more than 70% of babies are born via artificial wombs.[7] Though he laments the demise of the “former instinctive cycle” of reproduction due to ectogenesis, he concedes that “it is generally admitted that the effects of selection have more than counterbalanced these evils.”[8]

Following Haldane’s publication, five additional works were published over a six-year period specifically responding to concepts found in Daedalus on topics such as ectogenesis and the separation of sexuality from reproduction; the benefits for society and the individual of scientific control of human nature; and the notion that humans’ biological and social behaviours were not natural, but naturalized.[9]

In Lysistrata, or Women’s Future and Future Women (1924), Nietzsche scholar Anthony Ludovici argues that ectogenesis is a feminist plot to escape not only pregnancy and reproduction, but also women’s domestic role, and potentially men themselves.[10] On the contrary, in his book entitled Hymen, or the Future of Marriage (1927), sexologist Norman Haire accepted ectogenesis as a way to liberate women from pregnancy, and to assist those who are unable to gestate.[11]

Despite his call to eliminate the biological family, socialist physician Eden Paul rejected ectogenesis in his essay entitled Chronos, or the Future of the Family (1930), insisting that women cannot be freed from pregnancy, at least in the foreseeable future, and considers the interuterine stage of gestation to be crucial for both the mother and child.[12] Likewise, in Halcyon, or the Future of Monogamy (1929) pacifist novelist Vera Brittain rejected ectogenesis, except as a last resort, claiming that the use of artificial wombs would jeopardize the welfare of the ectogenic children.[13]

Finally, in The World, the Flesh, and the Devil: An Enquiry into the Future of Three Enemies of the Rational Soul (1929) X-ray crystallographer and molecular biologist J.D. Bernal contended that ectogenesis would be beneficial as it would replace imperfect human bodies with machines.[14] (Machines and human bodies had been linked at least since Rene Descartes and materialist Le Mettrie in the 17th century).

This literary debate took place primarily in the To-day and To-morrow book series – which includes the six aforementioned publications – and occurred within the context of some of the most prominent social concerns and fascinations of the 1920s: feminism and the role of women, and the movement for sexual reform.[15] Several works of popular fiction followed – most notably, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) – that predict utopian or dystopian worlds of the future that include ectogenesis.

Our greater understanding of the complexities of the human gestation process has, in a way, only made the development and clinical use of artificial wombs seem even more futuristic than they seemed in Haldane’s time, and are likely to remain in the imagination and consciousness of the public as they have for nearly 100 years.

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As Dr. Yuko’s post makes clear, the thought of reproduction outside the human body continues to influence culture, literature, and even practice. My own work looks at the birthing machines of the 18th century, and the fears of human replacement that resonated through the industrial revolution, and still today. From an article on the Japanese artificial womb appeared just this past October, to the recent movie Ex Machina to be released in April 2015, we continue to query the possibilities (and ethics) of man, mother, and machine.

ABOUT THE GUEST BLOGGER

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist at the Fordham University Center for Ethics Education and is the founding and senior editor of Ethics & Society.

REFERENCES

[1] Scott Gelfand, “Introduction” in Ectogenesis: Artificial Womb Technology and the Future of Human Reproduction, ed. Scott Gelfand (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006), 3.

[2] Auroleus Phillipus Theophrastus Bombastus von Honenheim, aka Paracelsus, “Concerning the Nature of Things” in The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Paracelsus, Vol. 1, ed. Arthur E. Waite (New Hyde Park, NY: University Books, 1967), 124.

[3] J.B.S. Haldane, Daedalus, or Science and the Future (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1924).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Susan Merrill Squier, Babies in Bottles: Twentieth-Century Visions of Reproductive Technology (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1994), 66.

[10] Anthony Ludovici, Lysistrata, or Women’s Future and Future Women (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1924). See also Rosemarie Tong, “Out of Body Gestation: In Whose Best Interests?,” in Ectogenesis: Artificial Womb Technology and the Future of Human Reproduction, ed. Scott Gelfand and John R. Shook (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006), 62-63.

[11] Norman Haire, Hymen, or the Future of Marriage (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1927). See also Tong, “Out of Body Gestation,” 62-63.

[12] Eden Paul, Chronos, or the Future of the Family (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1930). See also Aline Ferreira, “The Sexual Politics of Ectogenesis in the To-day and To-morrow Series,” Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 34 (2009): 42; Tong, “Out of Body Gestation,” 62-63.

[13] Vera Brittain, Halcyon, or the Future of Monogamy (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1929). See also Tong, “Out of Body Gestation,” 62-63.

[14] J.D. Bernal, The World, the Flesh, and the Devil: An Enquiry into the Future of the Three Enemies of the Rational Soul (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1930). See also Tong, “Out of Body Gestation,” 62-63.

[15] Ferreira, “Sexual Politics,” 33; Squier, Babies in Bottles, 68.

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Friday Fiction Feature

FictionReboot2Hello readers, Tabatha here with a big welcome back to the Friday Fiction Feature. It’s no secret that I am finishing up my last year of graduate school, and in fact, I expect to be graduating this May!  (PS: I have found that people don’t mind if you read a book all through the ceremony so long as you aren’t sitting front and center in a doofy hat). Anyways, as I sit back and count down the days to NO HOMEWORK EVER AGAIN, I realize that the 49 days between then and now are filled with a great deal of homework indeed! (Just two graduate papers,  a presentation on Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and the dreaded Graduate Portfolio. Just.) And so, like any reasonable student with this much work and these few days, I have been entertaining the thought of running away. Far away. Where the homework can’t catch me.
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Glazed Murder (Donut Shop Mystery #1) by Jessica Beck

Glazed Murder (Donut Shop Mystery, #1)I have posted before on some possible career options for academics, but sadly most of those adventuring academics have degrees, so if I am going to flee, I’ll need a new set of options. After a recent visit to a local bakery, I have decided that I could run away to a bakery! Just think of it, you could spend your days surrounded by the smell of fresh baked bread. You could eat gooey cookies right out of the oven. And (perhaps best of all) you can trade in grumpy coworkers and disinterested students for happy customers! Since I’m pretty sure it’s physically impossible to be grumpy in the presence of pastry, almost everyone you see will have a guaranteed good mood! It’s a job to die for…or maybe kill for? Suitably enough our first book of the day, Glazed Murder, is the story of a woman who dropped what she was doing to run away and open up a baked-goods shop! (See, I told you it was a good plan!)

Meet Suzanne Hart, owner and operator of Donut Hearts coffee shop in April Springs, North Carolina. After her divorce from Max, an out-of-work actor she’s dubbed “The Great Impersonator,” Suzanne decided to pursue her one true passion in life: donuts. So she cashed in her settlement and opened up shop in the heart of her beloved hometown.
But when a dead body is dumped on her doorstep like a sack of flour, Suzanne’s cozy little shop becomes an all-out crime scene. Now, everyone in town is dropping by for glazed donuts and gruesome details. The retired sheriff warns her to be careful—and they’re all suspects. Soon Suzanne—who finds snooping as irresistible as donuts—is poking holes in everyone’s alibis…

A Peach of a Murder (Fresh-Baked Mystery #1) by Livia J. Washburn

A Peach of a Murder (A Fresh-Baked Mystery, #1)At first I was tempted to say that A Peach of a Murder seemed a rather violent way to go about making pies, but  it seems that if there’s any thing all this…we’ll call it research…has taught me, it’s that baking can be a dangerous business. And not just from the usual danger of trying to eat a hockey-puck of a cookie or the less usual danger of mistaking gnat poison for vanilla. Who knew trying to bake drew so many enemies? Oh well, at least if I do run away from school I’ll know there won’t be much competition.

All year round, retired schoolteacher Phyllis Newsom is as sweet as peach pie-except during the Peach Festival, whose blue ribbon has slipped through Phyllis’s fingers more than once…Everyone’s a little shook up when the corpse of a no-good local turns up underneath a car in a local garage. But even as Phyllis engages in some amateur sleuthing, she won’t let it distract her from out-baking her rivals and winning the upcoming Peach Festival contest. She and all the other contestants guard their secret, original recipes with their lives-and talk a whole lot of trash. With her unusual Spicy Peach Cobbler, Phyllis hopes to knock ‘em dead. But that’s just an expression-never in her wildest dreams did she think her cobbler would actually kill a judge. Now, she’s suspected of murder-and she’s got to bake this case wide open.

Brownies and Broomsticks (A Magical Bakery Mystery #1) by Bailey Cates

Brownies and Broomsticks (A Magical Bakery Mystery, #1)Adding a little more…spice… to the list is Brownies and Broomsticks, the thrilling tale of bakers who mean it when they say their cupcakes are baked with love. Or jealousy. Or the cure for your rash. (Also this one gets a few more points for it’s title–on that note, A Sheetcake Named DesireThe Long Quiche Goodbye are available as well).

EASY BAKE COVEN 
Katie Lightfoot’s tired of loafing around as the assistant manager of an Ohio bakery. So when her aunt Lucy and uncle Ben open a bakery in Savannah’s quaint downtown district and ask Katie to join them, she enthusiastically agrees. While working at the Honeybee Bakery—named after Lucy’s cat—Katie notices that her aunt is adding mysterious herbs to her recipes. Turns out these herbal enhancements aren’t just tasty—Aunt Lucy is a witch and her recipes are actually spells! When a curmudgeonly customer is murdered outside the Honeybee Bakery, Uncle Ben becomes the prime suspect. With the help of handsome journalist Steve Dawes, charming firefighter Declan McCarthy, and a few spells, Katie and Aunt Lucy stir up some toil and trouble to clear Ben’s name and find the real killer..

 

Bliss (The Bliss Bakery #1) by Kathryn Littlewood 

Bliss (The Bliss Bakery, #1)Bliss brings us another magical bakery, this time with magical recipies that have been passed down from generation to generation of…apparently of stodgy parents who refuse to let anyone play around with the magic! (What party poopers). That is, until the arrival of the troublemaking witch who’s going to fix all of this ‘responsibility’ nonsense. Also, this book paints a picture of the woman I want to be in 50 years “a mysterious stranger…[who] rides a motorcycle, wears purple sequins, and [can’t cook at all]” (I mean going to graduate school in itself has declared me a bit of a crazy lady, why not go all the way?)

Rosemary Bliss’s family has a secret. It’s the Bliss Cookery Booke—an ancient, leather-bound volume of enchanted recipes like Stone Sleep Snickerdoodles and Singing Gingersnaps. Rose and her siblings are supposed to keep the Cookery Booke under lock and whisk-shaped key while their parents are out of town, but then a mysterious stranger shows up. “Aunt” Lily rides a motorcycle, wears purple sequins, and whips up exotic (but delicious) dishes for dinner. Soon boring, non-magical recipes feel like life before Aunt Lily—a lot less fun.
So Rose and her siblings experiment with just a couple of recipes from the forbidden Cookery Booke. A few Love Muffins and a few dozen Cookies of Truth couldn’t cause too much trouble . . . could they? Kathryn Littlewood’s culinary caper blends rich emotional flavor with truly magical wit, yielding one heaping portion of hilarious family adventure.

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben H. Winters & Jane Austen

Sense and Sensibility and Sea MonstersI felt the need to tack this one on at the end because as wonderful as it sounds to surround myself with the smell of fresh bread, etc., I am still an English major at heart. And so I must admit that if Quirk Classics would have me, I’d be off like a shot to make something like Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters or Horrorstor in between loaves. I could spend my days composing the craziest, silliest mash-ups possible, and maybe even get paid (instead of my usual “Tab you’re weird” eye rolls). I’m thinking Tolstoy + 1960’s B-movie grade horror? Now that sounds like a fun way to use my English degree(s).

A new tale of romance, heartbreak, and tentacled mayhem.
Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters expands the original text of the beloved Jane Austen novel with all-new scenes of giant lobsters, rampaging octopi, two-headed sea serpents, and other biological monstrosities. As our story opens, the Dashwood sisters are evicted from their childhood home and sent to live on a mysterious island full of savage creatures and dark secrets. While sensible Elinor falls in love with Edward Ferrars, her romantic sister Marianne is courted by both the handsome Willoughby and the hideous man-monster Colonel Brandon. Can the Dashwood sisters triumph over meddlesome matriarchs and unscrupulous rogues to find true love? Or will they fall prey to the tentacles that are forever snapping at their heels? This masterful portrait of Regency England blends Jane Austen’s biting social commentary with ultraviolent depictions of sea monsters biting. It’s survival of the fittest—and only the swiftest swimmers will find true love!

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MedHum Mondays: Why Medical Humanities?

DailyDose_darkstrokeI have worked in the medical humanities for a number of years, now, and probably the one question that I hear most often is: what is it? I’ve defined it a number a times, a number of ways, but at its most essential “medhum” operates at the intersection of medical practice, medical history, and the studies of social science, ethics, anthropology, literature, and the arts. I like to think of it as a lens for examining health and the human, not just for buttressing medical studies but for looking carefully and analytically at how medicine influences and is influenced by culture. But I’m not principally going to speak about that today; instead, I want to address the second most important question I hear: why is it important?

Actually, that’s not the most accurate representation–it usually doesn’t come as a question at all, but an assumption. Things I have heard from people I’ve met (many of them medical practitioners): Medical humanities is “fluff stuff,” is “not important for the practice of medicine,” is “not real,” or alternatively–it is important, but insignificant enough to be shoe-horned into existing programs as a means of rounding out a doctor’s education.  On one hand, there is nothing particularly malicious here. It’s even complimentary in it’s way, and I’ve certainly met a number of physicians and directors trying to incorporate medical humanities in a positive and constructive manner. The trouble is, in an already robust program, you can’t really provide more than add-ons, and, given the strictures already placed on beleaguered med students, these are necessarily going to seem like “fluff.” This would explain the fairly luke-warm reception I get when I present medhum to doctors and residents at hospitals (something I do with some regularity). It’s not hostility. It’s often unintentional. After all, there is respect for what I do or they would not have invited me. The trouble is, you can’t answer “is medical humanities important” until you have radically reconsidered the question.

Not “what is it” or “is it important,” but “what are medical humanities for?” Let’s answer that first, and see where it gets us with the other two.

1. Medical Humanities provides a new way of seeing the connection between health and the human.

It’s for troubling the waters of progressive histories and instead stopping to reflect on the people, the doctors and patients, and what is at stake for them.

2. Medical Humanities can help us see how culture influences and is influenced by medicine.

It’s for stepping outside ourselves, using social medicine, anthropology, and history to see beyond our own culturally informed beliefs.

3. Medical Humanities can provide new means of expression about health and the body, specifically for under-served or unheard populations.

It’s for using the arts and literature not just to make doctors more humane (though this is often a positive outcome), but to provide an outlet for patients, their families, and others about health, body, illness, and medicine. It can be a means of hearing new voices, too, particularly those not “heard” in traditional discussions of medicine.

4. Medical Humanities serves as the basis for a broad, interdisciplinary field and can make important contributions to our understanding of medicine.

It’s for study, for research, for building knowledge. One reason medhum does not “shoe-horn” well is because it represents an enormous field of inquiry. Entire departments, centers, and schools have been dedicated to its study. Then why not just say “arts and sciences?” A reasonable question–but again, slightly wrong-headed. Medical Humanities are not for general education and study, but directed approaches that use the humanities, arts and sciences to critically analyze our relationship to medicine.

These four outcomes help to explain why medhum is important, while helping to elucidate what it is: show, don’t tell. Do, don’t speculate. It’s an active perception, a researched and guided approach. I’ve come at it from history and literature, others have come at it from sociology and anthropology, and still others from medicine and ethics. All of that is allowed. Encouraged, even. The intersection matters–it’s our greatest strength. Rather than assuming medhum to be some small component, some insignificant piece of a wider puzzle, we should see it as a meeting place. Here, we can make connections. Here, we can be heard.

And that’s why it matters.

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Friday Fiction Feature

FictionReboot2Something has been bugging me lately. I can find stories of action, adventure, academia, lost treasures, lost loves, etc. which is awesome, but I’ve noticed, the lost loves are always girls, and the heroes are almost always boys! As I have not yet been elected Supreme Ruler of the Universe (an egregious oversight, I’m sure), I can’t force more female heroes into the genre any more than I can make the the kidnapped beauties men with flowing chest-hair and pants that cling provocatively to their legs as they lean into the inexplicable wind that always follows kidnapped beauties. So I’ll have to content myself with this list of female adventurers and detectives, at least for now.
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Murder Most Unladylike (Wells and Wong #1) by Robin Stevens

Murder Most Unladylike (Wells and Wong, #1)If we’re going to make any changes in the detective/adventurer field, it’s important we start early, so our first daring duo is the inquisitive young ladies of Murder Most Unladylike. Like any good detectiving pair, these two must compete against time and a nefarious killer to figure out the twists and turns of a complicated case before the police get there and ruin all the fun. A model pair for any young ladies setting out to become the next non-gender-specific Sherlock Holmes.
Though it does make one wonder–what does a ladylike murder look like?

Deepdean School for Girls, 1934. When Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong set up their very own deadly secret detective agency, they struggle to find any truly exciting mysteries to investigate. (Unless you count the case of Lavinia’s missing tie. Which they don’t, really.)
But then Hazel discovers the Science Mistress, Miss Bell, lying dead in the Gym. She thinks it must all have been a terrible accident – but when she and Daisy return five minutes later, the body has disappeared. Now the girls know a murder must have taken place . . . and there’s more than one person at Deepdean with a motive.
Now Hazel and Daisy not only have a murder to solve: they have to prove a murder happened in the first place. Determined to get to the bottom of the crime before the killer strikes again (and before the police can get there first, naturally), Hazel and Daisy must hunt for evidence, spy on their suspects and use all the cunning, scheming and intuition they can muster.

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow PlaceFor the less scrupulous adventurer-in-training, we have The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place a group of young women who take an entirely different approach to the matter of boarding-school murder. Less concerned with the identity of the killer, these scandalous ladies scheme and connive to keep their new paradise of a teacher & parent-free boarding school. (Not that I can say I’d blame them…)

There’s a murderer on the loose—but that doesn’t stop the girls of St. Etheldreda’s from attempting to hide the death of their headmistress in this rollicking farce.
The students of St. Etheldreda’s School for Girls face a bothersome dilemma. Their irascible headmistress, Mrs. Plackett, and her surly brother, Mr. Godding, have been most inconveniently poisoned at Sunday dinner. Now the school will almost certainly be closed and the girls sent home—unless these seven very proper young ladies can hide the murders and convince their neighbors that nothing is wrong.
The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place is a smart, hilarious Victorian romp, full of outrageous plot twists, mistaken identities, and mysterious happenings.

Curtsies & Conspiracies (Finishing School #2) by Gail Carriger

Curtsies & Conspiracies (Finishing School, #2)We’ll finish off the school-section of the Feature with finishing school (har de har har) with the dangerous young ladies of Curtsies & Conspiracies. If nothing else, I think this novel has found out how to stop students whining that “School is so boooring!” and “We’ll never need to know this!!” I for one would never miss a day of class if it meant turning me into the classy and debonair spy/assassin who could make James Bond look sloppy (though it might not be so hard to compete with someone so…easily distracted).

Does one need four fully grown foxgloves for decorating a dinner table for six guests? Or is it six foxgloves to kill four fully grown guests?
Sophronia’s first year at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality has certainly been rousing! For one thing, finishing school is training her to be a spy–won’t Mumsy be surprised? Furthermore, Sophronia got mixed up in an intrigue over a stolen device and had a cheese pie thrown at her in a most horrid display of poor manners.
Now, as she sneaks around the dirigible school, eavesdropping on the teachers’ quarters and making clandestine climbs to the ship’s boiler room, she learns that there may be more to a field trip to London than is apparent at first. A conspiracy is afoot–one with dire implications for both supernaturals and humans. Sophronia must rely on her training to discover who is behind the dangerous plot-and survive the London Season with a full dance card.

Her Ladyship’s Curse (Disenchanted & Co. Book 1, Part #1) by Lynn Viehl

Her Ladyship's Curse (Disenchanted & Co., Book 1, Part #1)Everyone needs some kind of career to occupy his or her time after finishing school and even the detective/adventuring woman has to choose a specialty. One way to go is to follow this heroine’s footsteps and investigate fake paranormal activity such as Her Ladyship’s Curselearning all the tricks of that particular trade and revealing charlatans (hopefully with a grandiose unveiling). And since I have yet to see a story of a supernatural-debunker who isn’t confronted with real magic/ghosts eventually, this job comes with the added perk of seeing magic in action!

In a steampunk version of America that lost the Revolutionary War, Charmian (Kit) Kittredge makes her living investigating magic crimes and exposing the frauds behind them. While Kit tries to avoid the nobs of high society, as the proprietor of Disenchanted & Co. she follows mysterieswherever they lead.
Lady Diana Walsh calls on Kit to investigate and dispel the curse she believes responsible for carving hateful words into her own flesh as she sleeps. While Kit doesn’t believe in magic herself, she can’t refuse to help a woman subjected nightly to such vicious assaults. As Kit investigates the Walsh family, she becomes convinced that the attacks on Diana are part of a larger, more ominous plot—one that may involve the lady’s obnoxious husband.
Sleuthing in the city of Rumsen is difficult enough, but as she learns the truth behind her ladyship’s curse, Kit also uncovers a massive conspiracy that promises to ruin her life—and turn Rumsen into a supernatural battleground from which no one will escape alive.

Bewitched, Bothered & BeVampyred by Mary Jo Putney, Gail Northman, Vicki Lewis Thompson, MaryJanice Davidson, Lynn Warren, Shelly Laurenston, Terese Ramin, Susan Grant, Linda Wisdom, Michelle Rowen, Alesia Holliday, Judi McCoy, Jennifer St. Giles, Fiona MacLeod, Rachel Carrington, Gena Showalter, P.C. Cast, Sophia Nash, Kathryn Caskie, Elizabeth Holcombe, and Patricia Rice

Bewitched, Bothered & BeVampyredAnother obnoxious trend I’ve mentioned before is that of limiting adventure stories to young, single women who spend half their time solving mysteries and the other half falling in love. Life does go on beyond falling in love, and I would even make the radical contention that mysteries can be solved without taking time out to swoon. Fortunately the (many) authors of Bewitched, Bothered & BeVampyred agree with me and have given us a supply of stories, mystery, adventure, and otherwise starring all manner of  grown-up and married women causing and solving mysteries.

Welcome to Brokenoggin Falls, where the housewives are not only desperate, they’re Witches! (And one of them might be a Harpy)
The spells cast by moonlight frequently go awry. And there are times when toads and Chihuahuas seem abundant as black flies in the summer, the dragons are a little touchy, the Forest Trolls are in danger of extinction from teeny-boppers, the Gryphons need help conceiving and the scientist are crunchy and good with ketchup…

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Fiction Reboot Interview’s Barbara Rogan, Mystery Writer

FictionReboot2Welcome back to the Fiction Reboot!

Today’s Friday Feature interviews Barbara Rogan, mystery writer, agent, and teacher. Rogan has lived a diverse life; from New York City and Santa Fe to Europe and Israel, she has experienced many different places and perspectives that have factored into her writing. A writer with a love of thriller and mystery novels, Rogan also teaches online writing classes on her “Next Level Workshop” site. Her latest book, “A Dangerous Fiction,” combines Rogan’s loves of the publishing industry and of this thriller theme. The book was touted by Diana Gabaldon “a thriller with a psychological heart of mystery, a double-ended love story, and a fascinating look at the world of high-stakes publishing.” In an exclusive interview, Rogan discusses how her rich past plays a role in her writing.

bio_2_1949043100Author Bio:

Born in New York City, Barbara Rogan has spent much of her life traveling. In college she took a year off to journey through Europe and Israel. After she graduated from St. John’s College in Santa Fe, she took a publishing job in New York. Six months later, Rogan left for Israel, studied Hebrew and worked as a park ranger, horse wrangler, and editor in Tel Aviv. Two years later, she launched Barbara Rogan Literary Agency, which soon became the largest in the country. After the birth of her son, she sold the agency, moved back to New York, and became a full time writer. She has since published multiple novels and continues to teach online writing courses and revise fiction.

To learn more about Rogan, visit her website at www.barbararogan.com or follow her on Twitter at @RoganBarbara.

Interview with Barbara Rogan:

  1. You have a rich, diverse life. How does this factor into your writing?

It provides material and a wider view of life. I’m not an ivory tower sort of writer. Recently, a young writer asked my advice about going straight from college to grad school to get an MFA. I advised against it. I have nothing against MFA degrees. The degree itself isn’t critical, as writers are judged by what they produce, not how they got there; but the intense focus on writing and critical feedback required to attain that degree can be valuable indeed. The first thing the writer needs, though, is something to write about. I suspicion_1advised the young writer who asked not to go straight to grad school but rather to go out into the world, preferably someplace where he doesn’t feel at home.

  1. How did running such a large publishing agency in Israel shape your perspective as a writer?

It taught me how the industry works. Before I started the agency, I was an editor in a large New York City publishing house; so I’ve seen the publishing world from a lot of different angles. This is both good and bad for me as a writer. On the one hand, I’m not intimidated by any situation and I can speak the lingo without an interpreter. Writers who understand the business get a bit more respect and can help themselves more, or at least avoid hurting themselves. On the other hand, I can see potential problems coming from 50 different directions. Sometimes, it’s better to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

  1. Do you have a specific process that you follow when you write?

I spend months doing prep work before I start writing a book. I do research; I write down setting, character and plot ideas, and wait for them to cross-fertilize; and in the final stage of prep, I start plotting out the novel. In the beginning, it’s a pretty rough outline. I know where I want to start and end up, but not all the stops along the way. As I proceed with the writing, I continue to outline sections in more detail. I write down my goals for each scene, and the incidents that need to happen to get me there. After all that planning, I put my notes aside and just write. The notes have provided parameters for the scene, but writing without reference to them allows for unexpected things to pop up.

  1. Do you have any quirky writing habits?

I like to write naked, hanging upside down from a chandelier. Other than that, no.

  1. What draws you to the genre of suspense and mystery?

hindsight_1__1Well, for one thing I’ve always liked to read them. People should write what they enjoy reading I think. For another, they have a definitive form. Mysteries are to fiction as sonnets are to poetry. They have certain requirements and you can be very creative while playing within those lines; but they give a shape to the book and a solid resolution, which I find very satisfying.

  1. You taught for a long time and still continue to do so through workshops. Why is teaching so important to you?

I never had the opportunity to study writing in college or out of it; like most writers, I’ve learned through practice, good critical feedback, and other writers. Teaching is a way of exploring the art of fiction writing, consolidating what I’ve learned over the course of writing my books. It’s certainly made me a better writer.

I also enjoy working with serious writers, seeing their progress and offering a little help along the way. It’s hugely satisfying when my students go forth and publish, as many have. And I think it’s useful work. Most writers go through identical stages in learning to write, as babies do in learning to walk. You can’t make just anyone into a writer, but for those who have the skill and determination, a good teacher can shorten the path.

  1. How was your move from Israel back to the United States reflected in your writing, if at all?

My first couple of books were set in Israel. After I made the move back to the U. S., the settings moved as well. Part of the reason that I came back was for the language. When I lived in Israel, I read a lot in English but spoke Hebrew most of the time. After a number of years living abroad, I began to feel a certain disconnection to my native language, which is a living and evolving thing. Since I write in English, I wanted to re-immerse myself in that language.

  1. Tell me about your experience writing your latest book, “A Dangerous Fiction”?

DangerousFictionHC_jacket3“A DANGEROUS FICTION” is the story of Jo Donovan, a literary agent who came out of nowhere to become a star in the NYC publishing world. She’s living the life she always dreamed of until it all starts to go south. Jo’s problems begin with a stalker who insists that she represent him, but soon get much, much worse. I had loved the 15 or so years that I spent as an agent, traveling widely and working with brilliant, fascinating people, and writing this book gave me the opportunity to return to that world. It’s always fun to write a book in which the characters need be really clever. I did succeed in entertaining myself, always my first goal.

  1. Who are some of your favorite authors?

That’s tough because I read so many different kinds of books. In the suspense genre I like Dennis Lehane, Ron Rash, Gillian Flynn. Literary fiction: Don DeLillo, Edward St. Aubyn, Pat Parker, Barbara Kingsolver, Ivy Compton-Burnett, and the sainted Jane Austen, whose books I’ve read to the point of memorization. I read a lot of short stories, too: favorites include Katherine Mansfield, George Sanders, Amy Bloom, Lori Moore, and Tobias Wolff.

Thanks to Barbara Rogan for taking the time to speak with “Fiction Reboot.”

ABOUT THE BLOGGER
Keri Heath is a writer and journalist from Austin, Texas. She has written professionally for Austin Fit, Totally Dublin, Austin Woman, and ATX Man magazines. She has also seen her creative work published in NEAT and Straylight magazines, among others. When she isn’t writing, she loves to read, run, and play mandolin. You can view Keri’s work at readkh.wix.com/keri-heath or by following her @HeathKeri.

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Fiction Reboot Agent Interview: Sarah Davis-Goff and Lisa Coen

FictionReboot2Welcome back to the Fiction Reboot and the introductory post of author-contributor Keri Heath! Today we are reviving our previous series of interviews featuring agents and publishers. Join us in welcoming Sarah Davis-Goff and Lisa Coen of Tramp Press!
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Sarah Davis-Goff and Lisa Coen pooled their collective knowledge of literature and publishing to form Tramp Press, a small publishing agency in Dublin, Ireland. The press focuses on publishing excellent books, as Davis-Goff stated, “the absolute crème de la crème of Irish literary fiction.” The quality of the literature that Tramp Press publishes is obvious, especially since several of its releases have won the Irish Book Award. As Tramp Press looks towards the next step, it plans to increase the publishing experience for its authors by expanding to the UK. In an interview with the “Fiction Reboot,” Davis-Goff and Coen share their vision of Tramp Press’ place within the Irish publishing industry.

Lisa and SarahAgent Bios:

Sarah Davis-Goff received an MA in publishing from Oxford Brookes University in 2009 and has since obtained international publishing experience in New York, London, and Dublin. Lisa Coen spent several years working in the production department of Hot Press magazine, before deciding to complete an M.Phil and PhD in Anglo-Irish literature. The two met during their work at Lilliput Press and decided to found Tramp Press together.

For more information about Davis-Goff, Coen, and Tramp Press, visit www.tramppress.com.

  1. Why did you decide to start Tramp Press?

There were a few reasons, really. We were both working at The Lilliput Press here in Dublin, but our time there was almost up. We’re young(ish) women and we felt that the industry could do with more age and gender diversity. More than anything we felt we had a valuable viewpoint to offer, and we could publish brilliant works that other people were missing, and do it well. For instance Flight by Oona Frawley was rejected by publishers who thought it would be a hard sell. It sat around for a few years, but once we published it, it was nominated for an Irish Book Award and received a rave review in the Guardian, among others. We’ve had to reprint it twice already!

  1. What makes Tramp Press different from other small publishers in Ireland?

We’re different from other publishers in how we approach the process: with the decline in sales over the last years, publishers have been publishing more, throwing a load into the marketplace and hoping that one or two make a dent. We approach things from the opposite direction. We’ll only ever publish works that are skin-prickingly, heart-stoppingly brilliant, and we’ll publish them with great care, and attention to detail – and force. We maintain old-fashioned editorial values and work to develop long-lasting relationships with our authors. By devoting all our time and attention to a few brilliant books a year, we aim to publish harder and better than anyone else. We get great feedback on our books, not just the content, but for instance the cover design of Dubliners 100.

  1. What do you look for in the books you like to publish?

In a word – brilliance. We only publish fiction (so no memoirs, history, etc), but apart from that it doesn’t really matter what a book is about, and we’re not genre-snobs. We have diverse tastes and read widely and would love to see some fantastic YA or sci-fi. As long as a book is excellent, we’ll want to get it out there. We also publish ‘Recovered Voices: once a year we’ll take a lost classic and repackage it. In our first year, that was A Struggle for Fame by Charlotte Riddell, a witty, scathing book about being a public author.

  1. How closely do you work with the writers to see their visions fulfilled?

At least a part of excellent publishing is managing expectations. Not every book is going to be a market-leader, unfortunately, and the massive success stories you see in the media are very much the exception rather than the rule. So being honest and upfront with our authors and making sure that they know what we offer is very important. This starts with our submission guide on tramppress.com. We’re open to unsolicited manuscripts, but we’re upfront that the standard is high. Once we find a great manuscript, we work very closely with the author on editing or redrafting as needed.

With Dubliners 100 we really trusted Thomas Morris’s great idea and gave the contributors a broad brief: write a ‘cover version’ of a story from James Joyce’s Dubliners in its centenary year. People love a great idea, and because we trusted everyone and were kind of hands-off, we ended up with a terrific, award-winning collection of stories about contemporary Ireland.

Editorial is just one part of the process, once that’s in hand, we work really hard to promote our titles. So far we have achieved very wide review coverage for all our titles across newspapers and magazines at home and abroad, in the Irish Times, Sunday Times, the Guardian, the TLS, we’ve got a couple of mentions in the New York Times, and have had lots of radio and a couple of small TV slots – but nothing is guaranteed. We try to make sure that our vision of success for a title matches with the author’s.

  1. What do you usually read?

We both read a lot, of course, and although literary fiction is something we both reach for most often, we also enjoy a ton of other stuff. Sarah is reading Saga, a graphic novel right now and loving it, having just finished Anne Enright’s The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch, while Lisa’s been reading a lot of Neil Gaiman recently to balance out the non-fiction essay collections she read over the holidays. We both love good sci-fi, horror and YA. We initially bonded over our love for Stephen King!

  1. Do you think the publishing industry of Ireland is very different from that of other western European countries?

We’re lucky in Ireland. We’re a small country but everybody here reads, lots of people write, and it’s actually a strong market. There’s a lovely sense of camaraderie amongst small publishers and writers of contemporary literary fiction: it’s a great place to work. There’s a wonderful new movement of small presses achieving big things here and in the UK and France too, so we’re all in it together.

  1. Do you have any plans for the future of Tramp Press?

We do! Historically, being a small publishing company in Ireland has posed certain restrictions on success, both for the press in question and for its authors. Irish writers, generally speaking, get discovered her by small, ballsy publishers like The Lilliput Press (Donal Ryan, Rob Doyle), or the Stinging Fly Press (Kevin Barry, Mary Costello, Colin Barrett). Once their talent has been established and recognized, through sales and literary prizes, larger UK-based publishing companies will acquire rights to these works.

The deals involved will generally require the independent Irish publisher in question to give up rights to publication, in return for a fee to the author. In addition to this, most literary prizes that guarantee success and sales for writers (such as the Man Booker Prize, the Guardian First Book Award, the Baileys Prize, etc.) will only accept submissions from publishers that are established in the UK. Ultimately ambitious Irish writers have no choice but to sign with a UK publishing house.

This system can be bad for Irish writers, Irish publishers and Irish readers.

We want to be the first publisher to really break out of this mould, and have already made inroads to this ambitious task, by setting up UK distribution, sales and PR. In fact, we’re just about to have our first international launch in Waterstones in Piccadilly, of Sara Baume’s exceptional debut novel Spill Simmer Falter Wither. It’s the start of something big! In the meantime, we’ll continue to publish around three books a year, and to ‘rescue’ a neglected novel every year, so we can build a backlist and continue to gain readers’ trust.

A big thanks to Davis-Goff and Coen for their interview!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Keri Heath is a writer and journalist from Austin, Texas. She has written professionally for Austin Fit, Totally Dublin, Austin Woman, and ATX Man magazines. She has also seen her creative work published in NEAT and Straylight magazines, among others. When she isn’t writing, she loves to read, run, and play mandolin. You can view Keri’s work at readkh.wix.com/keri-heath or by following her @HeathKeri.

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