My one confession: it has happened more than once
that, when considering the present, I denied
the point of living in this tense when I have had
so few examples to convince you that I tried.
And if there is no bottom line, where do I start?
It’s not the syntax that’s disturbing me, but this:
there is no order in the way we chose to fail,
there is no logic in the parts of you I miss.
So take two wholes and half a chance to get it right,
or take this rubbish out for good and lock your doors,
or take this whole damn thing apart ’til it makes sense,
or take the hand of someone else to hold in yours.
That you have lost me is no matter big or small;
that I can live without you hurts me like a bruise.
My one concession to the language of your world:
my perfect past, the only tense I ever use.
And if there is no bottom line, where does it end?
Do feelings stop, like people stop and change their minds?
My punctuation is all wrong and I forget
an open-ended sentence, every time –
You and me
is not grammatically correct
You and I is right
but you don’t play by these rules,
Back to you and me
and our grammar:
me is not the same
as in I love you
as in you made me cry.
me-me-me is much more musical a sound,
the ‘m’ of missing
stay the same,
in grammar or in fact,
regardless of me
or whatever I might say.
if you were to look at me
I would gladly stand aside
and let you
bring me forward.
Me and you
I haven’t read that much YA fantasy, but in my limited experience of it, I have really come to resent the term “dystopia” and the almost complete absence of hope and downright inhuman cruelty that goes with it. I read The Hunger Games, the entire trilogy, with a morbid fascination but not much pleasure at all. I came away feeling slightly dirty, and deeply concerned that this sort of thing is now a recipe for selling millions of copies. Because, what does that say about us?
I am very happy to report that John Darryl Winston’s IA series does not follow that formula. The world it is set in is not dystopia, but a slightly altered alternative reality. It’s not a real place, but it’s still a world you recognise. Winston obviously has an imagination capable of creating new worlds, but he’s not showing off about it; there’s a subtlety in the “fantasy” element of the series that I appreciate. Literature should equally provide a reprieve from everyday life and an opportunity to understand it from a slightly different point of view, and it’s a hard balance to strike. And that, I think, is the greatest challenge of the fantasy genre: to create new worlds and new realities where parallels can still be drawn to the reality the reader can relate to and the issues that concern them. Even more so when it comes to YA fantasy, which has the added responsibility of addressing a very suggestible and potentially vulnerable group of people; people who are still open to learning, and being taught, who still look to adults for answers – even as they pretend to dismiss us. It’s a privilege, I think, that shouldn’t be taken lightly: there is potential here for teaching, for motivating, for empowering. And there is also potential for embittering, for disheartening, for creating a skewed, sinister version of reality and sending young people straight into it, unarmed. Rhetorical question: what exactly do The Hunger Games and their dystopian friends teach us about life?
IA: B.O.S.S. (just like IA: Initiate before it) does have things to teach, good things, and that is perhaps due, in part, to Winston’s background as a teacher to young people himself. To me, the IA series is about personal strength and growth, overcoming obstacles both external and internal and becoming the best version of yourself that you can be. It’s about a boy growing up in an underprivileged neighbourhood, finding his place in the world without losing himself. It’s about peer pressure and bullying and the value of friendship and the unexpected allies you come across, if you open yourself up to them. Naz’s personal strengths may manifest as supernatural powers imbued by his mysterious genius dad, and the opposition may not come in the form of straight-up bullies but the darkly menacing IA gang, but these storytelling elements serve to enhance the real-life parallels and messages rather than distracting from them. And it is all delivered with a sensitivity and intelligence that is sorely absent from much that passes as literature these days.
I wouldn’t describe IA: B.O.S.S. as a page-turner, and that’s a compliment. That’s another concept that I’ve taken against recently: why we think that compulsively reading a book is a good thing. To me, books should be savoured – and yes, there should be enough tension or suspense to make you want to turn the page, but not at the cost of the page you’re actually on. It’s a symptom of the way we live these days, where we’re always skipping ahead, where everything we do is a stepping stone to the next thing, where a moment has no value except for what it might bring. IA: B.O.S.S. doesn’t lack tension or suspense; it raises questions and sends you onwards, looking for answers. But it does so at a comfortable pace that allows you the space and time for reflection and contemplation, for taking in what you’ve read and appreciating it. And it can afford to do that, because it has substance, rather than just plot and fancy dystopian scenery and the debatable value of shock.
The IA series may not sell millions of copies although, if the world made sense, it would – and I really hope it does. But those of us who’ve read it are the lucky ones, the privileged ones; lucky enough to have come across these books, and privileged to see the world through the eyes of an author with a genuine voice, a genuine heart and a genuine message to impart.
So read these books. Turn the pages slowly. Enjoy.
As for me, I may be skipping ahead, but I’m already looking forward to the final part of the series. But patiently.
Get your copy of IA: B.O.S.S. here.
It is the day before Christmas. And quite a few creatures are stirring, actually, though mostly outside of the house. Slow, black beetles and skittery spiders and bees buzzing around the rosemary bush and a bright green lizard disappearing between the stones in the wall. Boy Cat rolling around contentedly is his favourite desk chair, and the Black Cat That Coughs leaping through the grass, chasing a pale yellow butterfly that she will never catch. Flies zooming in through the open windows, and out again, back to the light. There is a lot of light.
Christmas Eve in Sifnos and the town is all astir, despite the warnings and the scenes of mass exodus at the port. This is not a town of ghosts. Everyone who’s still here is here, it seems, picking up last minute supplies for dinner, and their pensions, and presents from the two or three shops that are open, with stars and snowflakes drawn in glitter across their windows. A lady in the supermarket is looking for fresh mushrooms, which cannot be had; the butcher’s is busy, the meat cleaver falling loudly, crunching bones. Cars crawl down the road, blocking it frequently as they stop to exchange words with other cars, or motorbikes, or people on foot. Everyone is going somewhere, but slowly, their mellowness in contrast to the jagged, manic edges of every other Christmas Eve I’ve known. I wouldn’t know, but for the decorations.
There is no Christmas Village in the square, but the village knows it’s Christmas, and tinsel twinkles everywhere as it catches the sun, sending strange reflections across the whitewashed walls. A nativity scene, lifesize, has appeared in the yard of an unoccupied building, and classical music drifts out the café up the road. Golden baubles hang in windows and over doors, dangle from pergolas and awnings, and dance in the breeze. The village knows it’s Christmas, despite the brightness that causes everyone to raise their hands up and shade their eyes, and the warmth that has them all loosening their scarves and wiping their brows. On every step and every doorway there is someone lounging in the sun, with sleeves rolled up to expose their arms to the heat. I take off layer after layer and end up sitting on a high wall in my vest, with a bundle of clothes rolled up beside me, looking over the edge of the land towards Paros, where our bigger island neighbours are getting ready for Christmas, like we are, but with bigger roads and bigger shops. I feel like waving, but I don’t. I’m getting enough curious looks as it is, sitting here in a pink vest and leopard-print leggings, and staring at the sea.
On the way back a transition, through the outskirts of town where houses and shops give way to fields and orchards, past the gas station, quiet, with long flags hanging limp from long poles, and those funny little bundles that are curled up cats, on ledges and rooftops, following me with their eyes, and several dogs, chained and free, yelping excitedly when I get too close, and then onto the ring road, private, sloping upwards just for me. I walk in the middle, along the white dividing line, trusting in the absence of cars and half-blinded by the sun, until I reach the top and the mouth of the grassy path carved by the stream that will bring me home. There I stop, and listen, and look: Christmas Eve in Sifnos. Mountaintops and sky. Bells, intermittent, as the animals shuffle from one patch of grass to the next. Little birds twittering in the bushes, an eagle flying silently overhead. A flock of doves, mostly white, cooing as they alight, in perfect synchronicity, on a telephone wire. A cock crowing insistently on a distant farm over the hill. In the valley below, the echo of a dull, rhythmic tapping, manmade. Fields of the greenest green dotted with yellow and purple flowers. A secret garden of citrus trees that I’ve never noticed before, walled in amidst the olive groves. A single tree on a hilltop outlined against the milky blue horizon. A stone dove house on the edge of a cliff, semi-derelict, triangle openings and flapping wings. And everywhere around mountaintops and sky. So much sky, for such a small piece of land.
Christmas Eve, and now the church bells are ringing, summoning the faithful inside to sing the psalms of Christmas in yellow flickering candlelight, as the day grows dark outside. Boy Cat is still in his deck chair; he stirs as I pass him, and gives me a look that is almost trust. I turn the lights on, all of them; the house seems darker, somehow, at this time, just before sunset, than it does in the blackness of night. I will do some yoga now, and cook dinner, and wait for the church bells to ring again. I will not heed their call, but I will listen. They make a lovely sound.
Christmas Eve, undecorated. Of all the good decisions I’ve made or stumbled into, this is one of the best. Christmas Eve in Sifnos, with nothing much to distinguish it from any other day, and this is the one I’ll remember. Of all the Christmas Eves I’ve spent in decorated houses, houses much brighter than this, with presents and carols and tables laden with food, wearing the spiky garland of stress that we wrap around each other for the holidays, like fairy lights tangled up in the branches of the tree – this is the one. The only time I heard the church bells ringing; the only time that sound has reached my faithless ears, free from the noise of every other Christmas Eve I’ve known. I wouldn’t know, but for the silence. This is the one that means something to me.
It is the night before Christmas. And whatever it means to you, wherever you are, whether you’re where you want to be or somewhere else, make it a happy one. The church bells are ringing. You might not hear them through the noise, but they make a lovely sound. You wouldn’t know. But listen.
This cannot be the end
are not just bodies,
not just limbs,
not just bones and tissue and skin,
not a collection of cells,
not just a sequence of genes.
Because the heart
is not just a drum
that beats out the tune of a life.
Because a life
is not just the body
that contains it
this time around.
And the soul
barely even notices these things
as it passes through,
as it crosses our paths,
with a nod.
But we notice.
Those of us still contained
within these bodies,
by our genes
and our words
and our deeds,
still tethered to our paths
by hearts that beat.
We notice when you pass.
But regardless, regardless –
and no matter what box they put you in –
this cannot be the end.
Because I still have words
to describe you.
Because we are all of us magicians
and we can conjure people up
in our hearts.
Because you defined me, in part,
with your part in my life.
Because a life
is what you make of it
and I will make yours last,
with my words
and my deeds
and my heart,
with a nod
towards wherever you are,
until our paths cross again.
“Think of the Indie publishing world as a team: we are all working together for the greater good of a collective.” Brenda Perlin, Indie Authors Unite: Instant Karma
I am feeling a bit rebellious right now. I’m feeling all kinds of slogans coming on. One of them is indie books rock! and I’ve turned it into a reciprocal support and promote site for indie authors, where members share their social networks to grow the pool of potential readers for everyone involved.
It’s been coming on for a while. Ever since I self-published my first book, 100 days of solitude, on CompletelyNovel last March, I’ve been involved in a one-woman marketing campaign in the social media. And I’m constantly looking for ways to do it better, while staying genuine and not feeling like I’m selling out in the name of selling my book. Connecting with other indie authors has always made sense: we’re all in this together. And then, last week, I came across an article by Brenda Perlin, entitled Indie Authors Unite: Instant Karma, and it all came together, and indie books rock was born.
The concept is very simple: authors list their independently-published books, and then promote the site to potential readers within their social networks, thus substantially increasing exposure for the work of all members. It’s like a little good karma community for indies, exactly as Brenda suggests. And it’s going well: the site’s been up for less than a week, and we have 17 authors and more than 40 books featured already. We’re not rebels: we’re just writers doing the best we can for our books.
Perhaps, then, the word is not rebellion. My decision to self-publish 100 days of solitude was not a rejection of traditional publishing. I simply wanted it out there, being read, rather than sitting on my hard drive as I searched for representation. It wasn’t an either/or decision, nor was it driven by rebellion at the time. But as time goes by, I am feeling increasingly conflicted about the conventional vs independent publishing debate. I always imagined that I’d eventually get an agent and publish my work through the conventional route, but I’m no longer certain. There are, of course, undeniable benefits to traditional publishing. There’s the validation, to begin with, and it’s a big thing. There’s the fact that you have an editor to work with. There’s distribution, and exposure: publishers have a wider reach. But support? Success? Many traditionally-published authors I’ve spoken to have confirmed my suspicion that the task of promoting their books once they’re published rests mainly on their own shoulders, and they’re out there, on the social media, along with us indies, trying their best to get the word out. And one of the questions that come up is whether chasing the dream of conventional publishing is worth it. Is the time and effort we put into looking for agents and publishers better spent actually writing?
Perhaps it doesn’t have to be either/or. Self-publishing doesn’t exclude the possibility of working with an agent and traditional publisher at a later date. But regardless of what the future brings, the decision to go indie is a choice that we make and I, for one, will stand by it for as long as I’m in it. I might remain conflicted, but for now I’m a proud member of the indie community and the good karma it brings. I’m not a rebel; I’m a writer, out there with the rest of you, indies and non-indies alike, doing the best I can. Chasing the dream.
Visit indie books rock to submit your work and/or discover great books by independent authors.
This article was originally written for and first published on CompletelyNovel.