When I was a little girl, I learned to read at a very early age, around two. I was already a very verbally precocious child; I learned to speak very early on, and by two, loved to sing almost anything. So, when I started “reading books” to people around me, my parents of course thought I was merely repeating the stories I heard, crediting me with a fairly good memory. So, of course, they did what all parents do, and tricked me. They took away all my books and replaced them with new ones I hadn’t read. Of course, I started to read them, and it was official: I was labeled a “gifted child”.

However, I had a fault that would show up in most aspects of my life…I tended to use my gifts more for evil than good. By the time I was about 9, I knew more about sex,marriage, and relationships than many 22 year-olds, courtesy of all the Danielle Steel and Nora Roberts books my mother and aunt left lying about. I learned a lot of British history and developed a lifelong fondness for historical fiction via reading Kathleen Windsor’s often banned “Forever Amber“. I learned about adultery and bad marriages and getting away with murder via “Presumed Innocent” and “Reversal Of Fortune”.

And like most pre-teens with a dark side who would later become angsty teenagers with dark nails and too much eyeliner, I was obsessed with the dark, Gothic, “this-couldn’t-get-any-more-wrong” stories from V.C. Andrews, particularly the “Flowers In The Attic” series.

For those who haven’t read V.C. Andrews, they are written on about a 9th grade reading level, but are full of things you don’t want your pre-adolescent daughters reading about; violence, sex, always a parent who dies, incest, beautiful women who kill (often their childen), innocent young girls with artistic gifts who get pregnant as teenagers. an evil someone locked in something, adult men who like teenage girls…as many taboos as you can fit into one story.

Of course, all the books and all the series were usually the same, and followed the Victorian gothic “damsel in distress who becomes empowered” model, only set in upper-class Southern society. The haunted mansions didn’t differ much between London and Virginia. Yet, I read them all, and I even remember a great many of them today…even that Flowers In The Attic is this hugely creepy story about the Dollanganger family.

Of course, the first book was published before I was even born, so I was reading some of these books between 10-15 years after publication. If they were scandalous and banned then (I remember having a V.C. Andrews book confiscated for reading it during study hall), I can only imagine the trouble they caused in the 1970’s. I would later learn that most of V.C. Andrews’ books weren’t even written by her; she died when I was only a child, and her estate took over writing the books.

So, of course I was thrilled to see they were remaking this story I never forgot into a cleaned-up, accessible version for cable, broadcast on Lifetime, and starring Ellen Burstyn and Heather Graham (who is a terrible actress, but looks the part.) And when I heard they were debuting the third movie, If There Be Thorns, on Sunday (Easter Sunday, oddly), it was some odd coincidence that the second film was on that same night.

Of course I watched it, and of course it was the same trashy soap opera that the books were, but they reminded me of being 9 years old and absolutely devouring these twisted stories. And although most teenage girls have read V.C. Andrews’ books, especially girls who grew up in the 1980’s or 1990’s, I have a confession to make that is somewhat embarrassing.

Most people who know me knew that when I was very much younger, I fell in love with someone online and flew to meet him—in the days when doing that was weird and taboo and not an MTV show or Match.Com ad. I did so much to try to make a good impression, and I arrived in New Orleans about a day and a half before we agreed to meet. I had left a copy of a V.C. Andrews novel lying on a chair in the little 2 bedroom apartment I was staying in, and didn’t think twice about wanting to read it when he was sleeping or in the shower.

Before we broke up, he told me a few things that had surprised and disappointed him, and one was that I was not as high-brow and cultured as I’d wanted him to believe, because I was 21 and reading V.C. Andrews. *laughs*

I’m now in my early 30’s, and looking forward to a twisted Lifetime movie based on a V.C. Andrews book. Uncultured and low-brow? Perhaps. But nobody in the history of ever said “Hey, I can’t wait to see that War & Peace movie!”.

(* I’ve also read War And Peace)
(** You can’t wait for war so something interesting happens.)

Am I the only one? Who remembers “Flowers In The Attic” as some sort of adolescent rite of passage?

On Thursday night, The Guy I Am Currently Dating sent me a gift on my Kindle: the third book in Juliet Grey’s Marie Antoinette trilogy. By 5:30 AM on Saturday, I’d finished the 400 page book and was lying in bed pondering the French Revolution. *laughs*

I’m not a history buff, by any means, but I love historical fiction. Particularly, there are a few personalities and time periods that intrigue me, and the life of Marie Antoinette is one of them. I own most of the major biographies and works of historical fiction that have been published about her, as well as the court of Louis XVI. I suppose there is just something about her with which I find it easy to identify, something other than her alleged love of fine clothes, parties, and throwing masquerades and putting on plays.

It took me a while to figure out what it was, because the outlandish persona of Marie Antoinette does not much resemble the real person. In reality, she was a petite strawberry blonde who felt self-conscious about not being a natural beauty, not a vain and flamboyant libertine with tall white hair, seeking to always be the centre of attention. She was not very well-read, not academically inclined, and her heart often kept her from following her intuition. She did not drink, did not smoke, ate little, had one long-term love affair outside of her marriage, looked down on mistresses and courtesans, and was actually quite prudish and conservative in her societal views. She loved family life, flowers, and convinced the women of an outlandish French court to walk around in what we call “peasant dresses” because she quickly tired of corsets, stays, petticoats, and the overly adorned way in which both men and women dressed at the time. In short, Marie Antoinette would have had a happier life as a French housewife than as an Austrian queen. Her husband, Louis XVI, was a natural introvert with a terror of crowds of people, a disinterest in sex, drinking, and staying up past 10 PM, an utter dislike of war or violence, and an honest desire to live a quiet life and see everyone happy. It is almost tragic that two people who were so despised that they were used as scapegoats for one of the most senselessly violent times in history were, by nature, ill-suited to everything they were meant to represent.

I think what fascinates me about Marie Antoinette and her life, and what makes it easy for me to identify with her, is this: When it comes to reputation, it doesn’t matter who you are. It is who people think you to be that becomes relevant.

This is something I’ve never really been able to understand, but a way of thinking that has hurt me a great deal in life. I’ve been judged tremendously and lost a great deal in my life simply because of how others perceived me, or what was heard of me “by reputation”. It is easy to say, “Let people talk; what others think of you is not important”. Yet, the story of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI is one of people who were turned into sacrificial lambs on reputation alone. The story of the French Revolution, in its entirety, is that no one person is of more value, respect, or esteem than another—and taking that view to the extreme created conditions where the greatest illustration of equality was that anyone could be killed, on any given day, and no human life meant more than another. In fact, if Juliet Grey’s portrayal is accurate, human life grew to mean nothing at all. The French Revolution began as an “us vs. them” complaint, and turned into a world of mob rule where there were eventually no more sides, no more ideals to fight for, no more plans for a better future, just a daily fight for survival.

It is interesting to note that while Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI, and most of their family, friends, and supporters were executed during the French Revolution, less than a year later, the group of military men and governing officials clamoring for their heads were similarly guillotined. Although the revolution was begun as a statement against the idea of aristocracy and monarchy, and that one class of people should live well while others starved, the death toll amongst all classes of people turned out to be roughly equal. It was death and an utter lack of humanity—to the point where people stopped fearing for their lives as much as they stopped valuing the lives of others— and not politics, that became the great equalizing force.

It is absolutely true that Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI had no idea regarding the proper management of money, or how to avoid war or put an end to a revolution, but they were a pair of teenagers who ascended the throne and didn’t make it to see 40. Juliet Grey describes the various buildings in which the royal family was imprisoned, and even those being full of relics that, if sold, could feed a small town for a year. It is absolutely true that the aristocracy did not consider liquidating a portion of their assets to keep the country from going into debt. However, when Paris and Versailles were under siege, the equivalent of billions of dollars worth of both precious heirlooms and current-day valuables were simply torn apart, smashed, and burned. The idea of holding someone, or a group of people, accountable for unpleasant living conditions was more important that sensibly working together to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

It is an interesting study in how the ideals of compromise and working for the greater good are not the default tendency of society. Society, when acting on base instinct, is self-protective, irrational, and vengeful.

It is also interesting to make comparisons between the world in which we live today, where an “us vs. them” mentality is created at every possible turn and the people suffer more for that divisive mentality, and the economic instability that turned into the French Revolution.

Marie Antoinette, when informed by an angry mob that the peasants were starving, never said “Let them eat cake”. (the offending statement has been attributed to more than one princess, all of whom lived centuries before Marie Antoinette was born.) In fact, she led the royal family to face a mob that stood in front of the palace with every manner of weapons, and threw her own expensive garments into the crowd. Louis XVI ordered that all the stores of bread in France be freely distributed and casks of wine set up in the streets. It would have happened, had a group of revolutionaries not attacked the palace and tried to kill the family, anyway.

Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were degraded in the worst of ways (the charges against her included incest with her own son, who was half-starved and beaten into signing an affadavit that he was molested by both his mother, and the King’s spinster sister Elisabeth. Elisabeth was only 30 when she was executed.), and their “trials” were shams that only prolonged their suffering. There was no doubt that no member of the royal family with any power or connections would be allowed to live. However, since the new regime removed both class and religion from the equation, it paraded around the idea that the law itself was supreme.

This, of course, was an exercise in hypocrisy. Marie Antoinette’s lawyer refuted every charge against her, proved most of the 141 witnesses against her provided false testimony, and did not find a shred of incriminating evidence. It didn’t matter, as jurors feared to not find her guilty or vote for her execution. Shortly after her death warrant was issued, her lawyer was arrested. In the trial of Louis XVI, the jury struggled with the issue of whether or not to execute or exile the former King. In the end, the vote that led to execution was the king’s own brother-in-law, a fellow aristocrat who lived a live of decadence on par with that of Marie Antoinette.

The irony is that both Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were guilty of their crimes. They were both charged with treason, and conspiring with foreign enemies against the state. They did, and often. Every plot devised failed, typically because conspiracies involve trusting numerous people, and many people either turned on the royal couple or abandoned them in time of need. Both the royal families of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette provided little or no assistance to the family in the midst of the revolution, fearing for their own safety. It was Marie Antoinette’s lover, a highly decorated Swedish officer, who accomplished the most in trying to save them.

If the law were really supreme during the Revolution, the royal couple should have been executed, as they were indeed guilty. Marie Antoinette, in particular, clung to the idea that royal blood meant something and her aristocratic birth was one thing that could not be taken from her, even as she was paraded to the guillotine in rags, resembling an 80-year-old woman. The problem is that the couple, often taken for being frivolous and dim-witted, were actually quite clever and not a shred of evidence was discovered to prove a guilty verdict.

It is difficult, when reading the biographies of those who lived during the time of the French Revolution, not to feel an intense sense of empathy. People subjected one another, rich and poor alike, to terrors and indignities unimaginable today. Perhaps only the accounts of the Holocaust reflect a time that is as dehumanizing and full of pointless death and suffering. For those like me, who have cried through the musical Les Miserables 30 times and found A Tale Of Two Cities utterly tragic, it’s important to remember that such stories are fictional—but the tip of the iceberg in reflecting the reality of the Reign Of Terror and French Revolution.

For those interested in the time period, Juliet Grey’s Marie Antoinette trilogy is one of the best reads around. Each book is close to 500 pages, but beyond addictive.

I don’t often cross-post things I announce on my Facebook wall on this blog, or vice versa. I mean, really, since I have mostly the same group of friends, and I don’t need strangers with Google to know what I ate for lunch or where I’m going clubbing on Friday, what’s the point?

However, this piece by Charles Warnke, entitled You Should Date An Illiterate Girl, appealed to me so much, thought everyone should read it.

I absolutely love this piece. Not only does it indulge my overly romantic, manic pixie side by making me feel a bit more appreciated for those sometimes annoying qualities, it makes a statement about the utterly boring, uninspired, conformist culture in which we’re all encouraged to participate.

If you are a guy who is, or was, involved in my life in any way, you will love this. If you are a girl who has read a book, you will love this. If you are a guy who is dating a girl who has read a book, you will love this. If you are unconventional, idealistic, and not willing to settle for the generic ennui of life, you will love this.

Read on.

They always say “Better late than never”, but in this case, it’s totally true! Yesterday’s “Literary Libations” did not appear in time due to my complete lack of motivation to be anything but a giant lump on my bed (I still blame the whole drug/health thing.), and the fact that sometimes even *thinking* too much tends to tire me out these days.

However, I feel so badly for not giving this author much-deserved timely attention! Lost Reunions by Shuhin Ali looks like a fascinating read, and I’ve definitely added it to my list.

So, sit back, grab a snack, and even though it’s Monday, take a few moments and get into that Sunday frame of mind.



Shuhin_Ali_Lost_Reunions
1) Please tell the readers a bit about yourself. Where are you from? Where do you reside now, and what is your latest project?

I grew up in a small city in the north west of England. My parents are Bangladeshi so I grew up with a mixture of both British and Bengali culture, which was great. I graduated with a degree in Accounting from the University of Liverpool and later qualified as a chartered accountant. I currently spend my time living between Cheshire and London. I’m always looking to learn about different cultures and can speak English, Bengali and conversational Spanish. When I’m not writing I spend my time trying to improve my Spanish, keeping fit through running ten kilometer and half marathon races, trying to stay on my feet in Muay Thai training and watching movies, reading books and listening to music.

2) If you don’t mind, share a little bit about your latest book? What is it about your writing that gives it a unique voice and appeals to readers?

My latest novel,
Lost Reunions
, is a contemporary tale of friendship, self-discovery and redemption. It explores the nature of staying true to your dreams and ambitions in the midst of the pressures and temptations of modern society. It charts the story of two friends, an investment banker and a doctor, who face very different challenges in staying true to themselves and the promises they’ve made. It’s set between the UK and Bangladesh and I’ve tried to transport the reader to those settings to give it a real world feel.

I think my writing appeals to readers because I try to write in a way that gives the reader the impression that the story could actually be taking place in the world around them, I try to do this by keeping the story contemporary and the characters’ emotions real. I like to think my readers finish the story feeling like they really know the characters.

3) When it comes to the creative process, what inspires you? Tell us a little bit about how your latest book came into being.

I’ve always been quite a fan of books, movies and music finding that they are great avenues for storytelling; it was this love for story telling which inspired me to begin writing. I try to take inspiration from the world around me. My book came into being through the different mix of cultures I grew up around and my desire to tell a story that shows it’s never too late to reach out for your dreams.

4)
Did you decide to go with a traditional publisher, an indie publisher, or self-publish your latest work? What do you consider the benefits and the drawbacks of the particular route you’ve chosen?

I decided to self-publish my novel. The same as most aspiring writers, I was sending the usual letters and three chapters of my manuscript out to agents and publishers only to receive rejection letters, and at times no reply at all. I was fully aware that the publishing houses would only publish a finite number of books and so competition was fierce for their attention, but I had faith and confidence in my writing and the novel I had written. After meeting a few authors who had self-published their novels successfully this gave me the impetus to embark on the self-publishing journey, it was either that or let my manuscript languish on my laptop forever. I am happy to say that I believe I made the right choice.

The benefits of the self-publish are that you maintain control of the publishing process and get to run with your own ideas. Additionally, you also get to keep a higher portion of the royalties from book sales. Also because you are closer to the process of inception to sale of the end product I feel it allows you engage with your readers more often as you have to be more hands on with the whole process.

The main challenge of self-publishing is going from being a writer to a project manager and learning about all the different facets of the publishing process. I gave myself a couple of months to research what a publisher does and learn about the different elements of the process as best I as I could. I worked with an editor to edit the final draft of my novel, I also worked with my cover designer to pull together a book cover that would best represent the essence of my novel. I had to establish the most efficient distribution channels and decided to go with Amazon’s Kindle and CreateSpace, and also used Smashwords to distribute to all of the e-readers. The hardest part for me was the time, it can be very time consuming especially as I already had a day job, much of the time I would work through to one o’clock in the morning. This went on for about a month, but it certainly felt good when I had the finished product.

5) Where, when, and how did you get your start in the writing world? Is this your first publication?

This is my first publication. Writing is a hobby for me, I had an idea for a novel and within five months I’d written my first draft. After a few editions of my manuscript I thought I would take a chance and put it out in the world. Luckily readers have enjoyed my novel, so far.

6) Your book deals with some serious subjects. In addition to being a work of fiction, it serves to raise awareness about the difficulties faced by those living in cultures unfamiliar to most Americans. Have you gotten positive feedback on that front, and do you think your work helps people to get out of the mindset of concentrating on “first world problems”?

Yes. So far the feedback has been positive. Some of the issues in the novel are new to some readers and they’ve enjoyed being exposed to issues being faced in our world today, and some have been inspired to look into some issues further and have got involved with charities to combat social and economic problems faced in the developing world.

7) Are there times when you experience “writer’s block”, and what do you find is the best way to get past that?

I’ve been lucky enough not have experienced writers block. I’m quite a keen runner and find that gives me the opportunity to gather up plots and narrative in my mind, ready for when I sit down at my laptop.

8) Other than yourself, of course, who is your favourite author? What’s the last book you read that really spoke to you in some way, and why?

My favourite author is Zadie Smith. I think her narrative is wonderful and her characters are always full of life and you very much get feeling that you could meet them out there in the world someday. Her debut novel White Teeth is one of my favourites.

The last book that really spoke to me was
One Day
by David Nicholls. The characters in the novel were so well developed that you finished the novel feeling like you had become close friends with them. I also thought the settings in the novel were great as the author used real life events throughout the novel which meant you could relate to the story and made you feel a part of it. It was one of those novels which I really didn’t want to come to an end.

9) Is writing a full-time career for you, or something you do in your free time? What do you ultimately hope to accomplish as a writer?

As I have a day job, writing is something I do in my spare time. At times it can be difficult to find enough time to write meaningfully but perseverance is key. What I ultimately hope to achieve as a writer is to tell stories that readers will find engrossing and enjoyable, and to write the kind of stories I would like to read myself.

10)
If there were one thing you’d like to improve about your life or your writing at this point in time, what would it be?

Something I’d like to improve about my writing would be to explore other mediums of writing such as screenplays. With screenplays lacking the narrative of a novel I think improving my dialogue would be my best way to successfully write a screenplay.

11) Do you enjoy other types of media and artistic creation, such as television, magazines, movies, music, fashion, social media, etc.? What are some of your favourite things?

I enjoying watching movies and listening to music. There’s so much variety in movies and music that there’s always something to keep me interested. However I have rarely found a movie adapted from a novel that has beat the book.

12) What’s your Zodiac sign?

I’m a Pisces.

13) One of the interesting things about you is that you’re not only well-educated, but well-traveled. What is your favourite place in the world, and why? Where haven’t you visited yet that you’d love to explore?

One of my favourite places in the world is Pulau Tioman in Malaysia. They’re two islands off the east coast of Malaysia with white sand and clear water. I spent some time there whilst backpacking around Asia. It truly was a wonderful place. Somewhere I’d love to explore is Madagascar because of the unique landscape and wildlife there, I doubt there’s anywhere else like it.

14)
Of course, we both want readers to rush right out and grab a copy of your latest book! Please tell us where we can find it. Additionally, if you have a blog, website, Facebook, or Twitter, please let us know so we’re able to follow you.


Lost Reunions
is available in paperback and as an ebook on Amazon. The ebook is also available on iBooks and Smashwords, Barnes & Noble and most major ebook retailers.

You can also learn more about
Lost Reunions
on the Facebook page, my website and Twitter. Links below:

*Facebook

*Twitter

*Website

Thanks so much to Shuhin for being a fascinating and wonderful guest this week. I’d also like to thank Shuhin for being so patient with the delays! I was set to get this interview up last week, when health issues kept me from completing the project. Even this week, with me not being at 100%, it is a day late…but hopefully not a dollar short!

To make up for the weekend I went missing in action, we’ll have an extra “Literary Libations” this week, with another fascinating guest author on Wednesday! Get your Kindles ready. :)

I’ve decided to start a regular feature here on Jaded Elegance where each Sunday, I’ll provide book reviews of things I’ve read lately, post an author interview with another writer, or have a literary guest blogger lend a new voice to this page for the day. This idea came out of hanging out on some of the message boards on Goodreads, which is a fabulous community for those who love books, but even more so for those who write them. Earlier in the month, a fellow author did an interview with me regarding the publication of Ophelia’s Wayward Muse, and I was inspired by finding a community of creative spirits who are supportive rather than competitive.

My first interview is with a lovely woman by the name of Kerry Louise Connelly, and her latest work is called Observation City. I chose her as my first author to feature on here because I think she and I have very similar styles, in terms of not only how we write but the subjects that inspire us to write. Therefore, if you like reading what I put up here on a regular basis, or you enjoy my creative prose, you’re the type of person who should immediately order your copy of Observation City.



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Let’s learn a bit more about the author, shall we?

1) Please tell the readers a bit about yourself. Where are you from, where do you reside now, and what is your latest project?


I’m an English born Australian author, currently still living in Australia – but who knows, may have plans to re locate in the future. My current title ‘Observation City’ is out now and has just been picked up by some other terrific online book retailers so it is easily findable, it’s a fun and easy read that encompasses 21 pieces about human behaviour and relatable life situations, written with humour. My latest project is a non-fiction story, ‘Shaken’: A story of emotional abuse and depression, which will be due out in the coming months.

2) If you don’t mind, share a little bit about your latest book? What is it about your writing that makes it stand out from the pack?


‘Observation City’ is a fun, relatable book which was originally aimed at women but I have found a lot of men are enjoying it also which is wonderful. It is told with raw, often sarcastic, understandable humour that I hope readers will enjoy.


‘Shaken’ is a different piece all together. It is a story of emotional abuse and depression, that is not only inspired by my own experiences with the topic, but is interspersed with informative material that may help those who are also involved in a confusing emotionally abusive situation and/or are dealing with a form of depression.

By talking to my reader and being honest and raw, I hope that is what will stand me ‘out from the pack’, I also encourage readers to contact me with any messages that I aim to always respond to.

3) When it comes to the creative process, what inspires you? Tell us a little bit about how your latest book came into being.


‘Observation City’ was written over a 2 year period and inspired by my own experiences that of friends and of strangers who seem to talk a little too load about their lives in public!

‘Shaken’ has been inspired through my own experiences with emotional abuse and depression and my learning to understand and work through the experience and illness.

4) Did you decide to go with a traditional publisher, an indie publisher, or self-publish your latest work? What do you consider the benefits and the drawbacks of the particular route you’ve chosen?

I decided to take full creative control and publish myself. Writing has never been about seeking world-wide fame for me or making a ton of money – as any author or artist will know, if you are seeking only money through your craft- you are in the wrong craft!

I love having the creative control to tell my story the way I want and to reach out to readers through my very own words, instead of being censored or edited by large publishing companies. It also gives me the freedom of choice to work in the cover design process. It really is a well-rounded artistic experience. The drawback is self-marketing, it is a whole other industry in itself, however a very good learning experience.

5) Where, when, and how did you get your start in the writing world? Is this your first publication?

I’ve always loved writing, ever since a child. My favourite school subjects were English and art/ drama/music etc., and I would constantly be writing. I have worked as a casual journalist and in radio broadcasting – where I would of course formulate articles and also in the radio industry I was able to interview upcoming talent and write a 12 piece film review series which broadcast to 180 community stations Australia wide.

‘Observation City’ is my first published book title.

6) What is the part of the process that comes the most naturally to you?


Automatic writing, I just write from an idea to the page.

7) What do you consider to be the most challenging part of the creative process?


Structure. Learning how to formulate your ideas and words into a well maintained creative structure that the audience can follow and enjoy.

8) Other than yourself, of course, who is your favourite author? What’s the last book you read that really spoke to you in some way, and why?


Books themselves inspire me rather than a specific author, however I have to say author Alice Sebold’s work on ‘The Lovely Bones’ is truly mesmerising and captivating. She has such an original way of combining violent tragedy with beauty that you don’t see very often.

The last book that blew me away was ‘The Flock’ by Joan Frances Casey and Lyn Wilson. It quickly became a book I have been raving about to anyone who will listen (ha-ha). It’s an autobiography of a multiple personality. Written in the first person as the core persona AND 19 multiples. Currently I am reading ‘The Road Through Wonderland: Surviving John Holms” ,by Dawn Schiller. You can see I love true stories.

9)
Is writing a full-time career for you, or something you do in your free time? What do you ultimately hope to accomplish as a writer?

A bit of both, I work dual roles as an education assistant which I love dearly and worked very hard to break into, and of course working as an author is something that also fulfils me. I think and hope I can do both, however, still put a lot of focus into my writing career.

10) If there were one thing you’d like to improve about your life or your writing at this point in time, what would it be?

I’d like to be given the chance one day soon to relocate to an environment where I can network with other authors and creative types, and have my work widely read.

Thanks to Kerry for her willingness to grace the pages here at Jaded Elegance today. I have her Observation City on my to-read list, and I hope you’ll do so, too. While there are some really wonderful books published through traditional publishing houses that are getting a ton of press, there is exceptional work coming out of the indie scene, as well. Please do show your support!

If you’re interested in getting to know more about Kerry and her work (I have, and I must say she’s a charming, down-to-earth person who’s the type I’d certainly meet for a coffee and chat any day!), please take the time to check out her author page, follow her on Facebook, or join her lively fan base on Goodreads.



BookCoverImage
Observation City is easily available at a number of retailers. Books can be bought through CreateSpace, Amazon, Amazon UK, Book Depository (based in the UK, but offers free worldwide shipping), and of course, Barnes & Noble

A great “thank you” again to author Kerry Louise Connelly, whose positive and authentic perspective is nothing short of a breath of fresh air. I certainly hope to hear more from her in the future, and perhaps have her back here for a guest post down the line.

Of course, if you’re a book lover who’d like to hear my thoughts on other works or occasionally follow the progress of my own creative endeavours, please join and friend me on my own Goodreads author page.

If you do read Observation City, don’t be afraid to let either Kerry or myself know what you thought of the experience. :) I’m certain she’d love the feedback!

See you next Sunday, fellow book lovers and creative spirits!

x


“My survival is, in fact, the final irony. Everyone was always in better health than me. All my friends, two husbands, my sisters, so many who never complained a day in their lives until death tapped them on the shoulder. The grass is green over them now–and I’m still here.” — “Mozart’s Wife”,Juliet Waldron

A few days ago, I completed an author interview that will hopefully be around and about in the next few months. In it, I was asked about the state of indie publishing, and whether or not traditional publishers were still the only reliable source for for quality literature.

A year or so ago, The Guy I Am Currently Dating bought me a Kindle Fire, which I wasn’t even sure at the time I wanted. As it turns out, I love it, and it’s gotten me into the habit of reading more. Since I don’t live near a convenient library and spending $15-$20 for a new release every time I’m excited to read something can become an expensive habit, discovering relatively inexpensive indie authors is a fun hobby. I’m already somewhat addicted to clothes and jewelry and headpieces and perfumes. I don’t need anything else on which to spend money (but more about me and my 2013 shopping adventures later.)

The truth is, for every 10 “free” or “99 cent” Kindle books I download, one is worth reading. Recently, I downloaded a book that sounded so promising to me in premise, and was written by a retired humanities professor with the requisite letters after his name. I made it through 10 pages. I couldn’t help but remember a time, as a freshman in university who was slacking off and called into the adviser’s office for a “chat about my potential”, the professor speaking to me told me that I was more articulate and visionary than many of his colleagues. Even though I studied in the arts, where graduating with a job offer is considered a success, my adviser expressed disappointment that I didn’t turn it down in order to continue my education. I remembered this episode, with a total lack of humility, because I encountered an instance that proved him right. Not every well-educated person should be self-publishing, at least without an editor.

I’m picky about what I read, in the same way that I don’t have the patience to sit through a bad movie and will fall asleep during a TV show I hate. I don’t mean to be critical. I guess I just am. If I dislike a book within the first 20 minutes, I’ll delete it without a thought. I’m sure plenty of people would do the same to mine. ;)

I downloaded “Mozart’s Wife”, because it was a work of historical fiction (which I enjoy), and because in my years of singing, my operatic repertoire has become particularly Mozart-heavy. Mozart loved his coloraturas, and wasn’t afraid to write very difficult pieces for them. Of course, I know a great deal about the less-than-admirable life of the child prodigy who, like so many child prodigies, did not end his life with the same promise with which it began. However, I know less about his wife Constanze (Konstanze, or Stanzi in this book). She’s always depicted as petite, slightly plump, voluptuous, and bursting with energy that attracted many admirers. Since Mozart has a reputation as a philanderer, an alcoholic, a gambler, and a person of many other vices, it’s widely portrayed in books and popular culture that his wife was of the same temperament. One would assume, especially after watching “Amadeus”, that they were a pair of liberal party-hoppers with high aspirations but little sense of practicality.

This book shows a different side to Konstanze, a woman who struggled to deal with a neurotic, unfaithful, and chronically irresponsible husband whose flaws were to be forgiven because of her genius. She also struggled of living in the shadow of two gifted sisters, one an extraordinary beauty Mozart wanted to marry but instead helped her to launch a career as a prima donna. In the character portrayed, you don’t see a flighty and sensual woman, but one who might have been content with a less glamorous and more stable life. Upon Mozart’s death, she found herself to be 28, in severe debt, prematurely aging, and willing to bury her husband in a pauper’s grave and lock up all relics of his life. You see someone who is not mourning the loss of love, but carrying the burden of anger at how many lives the man she loved destroyed.

I do not know how much of the story is fictional, and how much is based on papers left behind by Mozart himself (which Konstanze later edited and published in order to build a sense of financial security), but the speculation that Mozart had illegitimate children and died by poison at the hands of a fellow Masoner who found his wife seduced by the musician is certainly a possibility, and an entertaining one at that. Regardless of Konstanze’s feelings toward her late husband, if she had simply thrown his stacks of compositions and correspondence into the fire, history would have been denied much. An artist who struggled to earn a living for his family during his lifetime has been turned into one of the greatest legends of all time, and I suspect most of that is owed to the sheer practicality of his widow.

I’ve always adored Mozart’s “Requiem”, and the dramatization of his death surrounding the composition of it in “Amadeus”made it that much more heart-rending for me. At one point, Waldron writes a scene in which Mozart acknowledges the requiem he is writing is for himself, and cries during attempts to create the “Lachrymosa”. (the last part of the “Requiem” most scholars agree Mozart completed completely on his own.) This scene shook me, because it is perhaps the most musically powerful piece ever composed by someone who spent so much of his gift creating entertaining stories and bawdy farces. It is at the very end of his life, you see and hear the true genius that was perhaps never entirely discovered.

I had to look through 20 “free” Kindle books to find something as well-written, well-researched, and engaging as this novel. Fans of Phillipa Gregory, Juliet Grey, Antonia Fraser, and Alison Weir will all enjoy this work.

On a somewhat related note, I experienced something that I can now cross off my bucket list: receiving my first rejection letter. I submitted a series of short stories for publication as a chapbook, and it was rejected with a polite semi-form letter that said “I’m glad to have read it, and while I found much to like in it, I think I’m going to decline the chance to publish it as a title. Please don’t take this as a reflection on you or the work–when making editorial decisions like this it’s more about the larger picture of the vision for the grouping of titles as a whole than it is a singular comment on one particular book.”

I actually took the rejection harder than I thought I would. I am not unused to rejection. You don’t get through a lifetime of working in theatre without knowing how to handle rejection. You don’t live life as the sort of person who will tell someone how you feel about them without the risk that every so often, your feelings simply won’t be reciprocated. You don’t apply for freelance jobs expecting every single person will be awed by you.

Yet, there’s something about a rejection letter that’s extremely personal and final. It is the equivalent of hearing “It’s not you, it’s me, but it’s really you.” I cried and felt inadequate about the whole business. At least when you don’t get a role in a show, it’s often because of a director’s vision, or because you’ve seen with your own eyes that you weren’t right for something or someone was better than you. When you confess your love for someone who replies with “But I’d rather be with someone who isn’t you”, you cry and realise that person is just an emotionally unaware idiot and it’s for the best. When you don’t land a job, it’s a disappointment, but an impersonal one. The real and personal nature of a rejection letter has a way of hitting hard. It must be a little like being one of Taylor Swift’s ex-boyfriends listening to her new album for the first time.

It isn’t even so much that I believed that a chapbook was the right format for what I wanted to put out there. As always, a simple idea of “I should write some stories” turned into a larger project that will likely end up being a 150-page novella with an over-arching theme that 10 people will read. My inability to do anything on a small scale is nothing if not consistent.

I suppose it was more just a case of me hoping to hear validation and encouragement, in the form of “You’re a creative person who isn’t wasting time working on creative things.” When I received the opposite, it felt like quite a blow to my already delicate self-esteem.

On a final, somewhat related note, I’ve had my first author interview published regarding “Ophelia’s Wayward Muse“. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can read it here. Make certain to leave a comment or a “like”, to let both the blog owner and myself know you’ve visited and appreciated what you happened to read.

It’s been an odd week. The weather changes almost every other day, as does my mood, and both have been difficult to handle. I hope to be able to take some time in June to travel and visit a few friends I’ve been missing dearly, as both travel and the company of friends I see too infrequently generally makes me feel more exuberant and less…well…old. *laughs*

On the up side, we have tickets to see Fun. in October, and while that’s a lifetime away, I have something to look forward to. :)

“I gradually realised that I’m just not the muse type. Girls like me don’t inspire people. I’m just not muse material,I finally thought sadly on my 18th birthday, looking at a world wholly non-inspired by me. “I’m not a princess. I’m not a muse. Just being me isn’t enough. I’m going to have to dosomething instead.“—Caitlin Moran,“How To Be A Woman”

It’s been a little while since I’ve felt inclined to post over here. Chalk it up to the winter blues or simply a lack of anything truly different and interesting happening in my life, but blog topics have been few and far between. Sometimes, it comes to transpire in life that you have many thoughts and feelings you could express, but most are things you’re obligated to keep to yourself for one reason or another. When that happens, I notice that my blog gets a little quieter, but it’s easier for me to renew my habit of writing three pages a day in my journal, or to actually send letters to people.

Speaking of letters, I started out my day today by reading a beautifully handwritten letter from Randy of Narrative Urge, a project that’s garnered a lot of local publicity. He’s dedicated himself to writing a letter a day, each one to a different person around the world. It’s a little bit like a daily journal, I suppose, chopped up into bits and pieces and scattered around the world. It would be a very cool project for him to get back copies of every letter sent when the year is out, along with any responses from those he’s written, and turn them into a published anthology. Because I’ve recently become fascinated with the idea of human disconnection in a world that’s obsessed with making connection easier and more instantaneous, I think this is a wonderful idea on Randy’s part, and am happy he took time out to include me.

While I haven’t been the most productive blogger or worker bee, I have been keeping up with some reading and writing endeavours. I’ve completed the first draft of “Sophisticated Nothing”, a compilation of memoirs and short fictional pieces I originally intended to submit for publication as a short chapbook. The chapbook draft is complete, and I may send it off just to see if it is approved by a publisher and the idea is worth exploring. However, after I started work on it, I realised it had potential to be a much longer collection of short stories and personal memoirs. The concept behind it is, as mentioned above, about connection in an increasingly disconnected world. Every story is set in a different bar, restaurant, coffeeshop, or cafe, because these are public places where people interact, often forgetting they’re in a public place. They’ve also been inspirational places for people interested in observing people, or having exchanges with strangers. Once I thought of the overarching theme of the collection, I realised there were more stories to be told than could fit into a 50-page chapbook. However, I have a habit of allowing my projects to get too big, and therefore, never get finished. So, I’ve been debating what to do with my creative vision. I don’t really need another project that serves to make no money from distracting me from what should be a main goal in life—making money. *laughs*

I enjoyed reading two short but extremely witty books over the past two weeks. Both are by women around my age, and are part memoir, part sociological insight on subjects such as feminism, travel, relationships, independence, and self-esteem. It’s always interesting to me to read books by people who started off as bloggers, columnists, or writers for less-than-mainstream publications. They have different and more authentic voices—the kind Elizabeth Wurtzel and Alexandra Robbins got panned for before it became common for journalists to write about “myself and people like me”. It is still a style of writing that is reviewed quite harshly and described as “self-indulgent”, especially when penned by a female author, or one that can land you in the hot seat on Oprah if it turns out you made a lot of the colourful details up. I don’t really care; self-indulgent or not, fictional or not, I enjoy the kind of in-your-face style of writing that today’s version of diarists and essayists are putting out there. So, when many of them were on sale for $1.99 through Amazon, it was a good day.

I started with Caitlin Moran’s “How To Be A Woman”, which has been panned so harshly by critics and readers above the age of 40 with such passion, I determined I’d probably love it. (What are the chances that I’m not going to identify with a controversial book about feminism and being a woman in today’s society, written by a snarky British woman around my age?). I actually loved the book, and I don’t know what people were going on and on about, because there’s very little that’s controversial or shocking in what she has to say. Oh, wait. No. She talks about having an abortion and not feeling too upset over the whole ordeal. And she uses the word “vagina”. I guess that’s “controversial”.

A music journalist for Wired magazine back in the day, Caitlin Moran is the non-conformist cool chick who isn’t afraid to discuss how uncool and insecure she’s always felt about her place in the world. Moran’s stories alternate between being funny, heartfelt, and painful, and sometimes all at the same time. Since that’s rather how life is, I’d say it’s a successful book. It’s easy to read, and I don’t know the last time I used the “bookmark” feature on my Kindle so often, because she’s a quotable woman. I look forward to reading her other book soon, but I’ve added her to my favourites list for the time being.

After that, I moved on to Rachel Shukert’s “Everything Is Going To Be Great”, another happily settled thirty-something writing about her decade or so of finding herself. While Moran is a cool British feminist who hangs out with guitarists in drug-induced fits of being an asshole, Shukert is an American Jewish girl from a wealthy, suburban family that wants to live life outside of the “good girl” role. Needless to say, her exposure to the world without the security blanket of money, family, a supportive relationship, or even the comforts of living in your home country is not a seamless one. There are many points when I am reminded how the best part of the book is the ironic title, although it really isn’t. Even though all the sucky things that might befall someone traveling abroad seem to happen to this one rather lost and directionless girl, things always somehow get back on track and for a while, do indeed appear to be great.

Shukert doesn’t make any pretense about wanting to be a feminist or help a younger generation of women through the painful and funny journey of self-discovery, while Moran writes about these topics outright and seems to not only want to give you a dose of reality, but shock you in the process. These are clearly two very different types of girls, but the common denominator is they’re around the same age, both educated, both great writers, and end up finding a sense of self and stability in a chaotic world. If you’re looking for reading material for your next flight, either or both of these will entertain you for quite some time.

Although I myself haven’t done anything interesting in the past month (first, The Guy I Am Currently Dating was sick for 10 days, and then on the day he recovered, I got sick for 10 days, so February wasn’t the most action-packed of months.), I’ve used some of the down-time to be entertained by and proud of some of the cool things friends of mine have been doing. Dave Leach, a friend of ours for many years via my social group, appeared on the Jeopardy! Tournament Of Champions, and made it through to the semi-final rounds. After winning 6 times in 2012, it was really a fantastic way for Dave to put a cap on his Jeopardy! experience, and we’re all very proud of him!

Later in the month, long-time blogger-artist-friend-and-fellow-Philadelphian Gina Martinelli appeared on Lisa Ling’s Our World” with her rather colourful family. Gina is one of the voices over at Polyskeptic, and they all seem pretty happy about their appearance on the show. They were one of three families profiled about modern-day polyamory, and presented an interesting look at poly marriages and families. outside of the traditional primary/secondary partner paradigm that most people I know happen to embrace. (I’m still personally attached to a little more compartmentalization than these more “familial” relationships allow, because as it turns out, I’m remarkably private for an open and unconventional person who keeps a blog on the Internet. :P )) I have a number of friends who are actors that I’ve had opportunity to see on TV and in the movies, but somehow, it’s a little different when people are just being themselves in real life on camera.

Although I personally have been on the more introverted side of things, and am patiently waiting for the happy 70-degree days to arrive, I have more than a little travel wanderlust. I really just want a bag of cash and someone to watch my dog, and I’ll take off and see friends and family I’ve been missing over the past year or so. :P We’ve had some fun events, including dressing up and partying at The Shelter on more than one occasion, but sometimes, you want adventure and spontaneity that happens to lie outside of your Metro area.

Yes, a life of freedom and not being terribly concerned with money would make me a much happier person. I might even blog more. Perhaps that could be an Indiegogo campaign. :P *laughs*

Finally, if you do not possess a copy of my 2012 poetry anthology, “Ophelia’s Wayward Muse”, you can win one on Goodreads. Simply click below and enter the drawing. You’ll received an autographed copy with a personalised dedication. :)

 

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Ophelia’s Wayward Muse

by Alayna-Renee Vilmont

Giveaway ends March 17, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

You may have noticed I haven’t been around a whole lot lately, and I’m not sure why, other than I’ve been struggling with a sense of depression and isolation I don’t wish to inflict on my readers day in and day out, just as I don’t wish to be that person who’s always bringing my friends down in real life. The result is often a feeling that it’s too much work to talk to anyone, and I’d prefer my world quiet and filled with solitude. At the same time, I feel kind of a large weight on my chest that’s either anxiety, or a warning sign that my heart is about to go on permanent strike.

I’m still not recovering. I’m still gaining weight steadily, despite eating and drinking less than ever. Research into the subject shows this is an unpleasant side effect of my medication, along with hair loss, and short of discontinuing my use of beta blockers and restricting my calorie intake to about 800 calories per day to maintain my weight, there’s little I can do. I still suffer from headaches and intolerance to bright lights and sometimes, merely leaving my house. I sometimes wonder, “What if the doctor is wrong, like so many before him?” I wonder if I am dying, and how best to put my affairs in order, to make it easier on everyone if I don’t wake up tomorrow.

According to the literature I’ve read, my feelings are pretty normal, although they seem pretty screwed up to me. It mentions that being diagnosed with a chronic illness sends people through the five stages of grief typically reserved for coping with the loss of a loved one or receiving news of your own impending death. Instead of mourning for another person or preparing for the end of your own life, you’re mourning the loss of your former self, of things you believe you can no longer do, a person you can no longer be…at least for awhile. This makes a lot of sense to me, because it *is* how I feel. I just feel compelled to go through my process in isolation more days than I’d typically feel comfortable with just my own company. Too often, I don’t feel strong enough to face the world…and when I try and fail, the failure hits me hard. I wonder if I will be alone and unloved for much of the next portion of my life, after a life spent constantly on the go, in the spotlight, seeking the attention and approval of others.

I did make it out this weekend, despite some struggles with anxiety and feeling physically ill, and to a concert of all things. We saw Ani DiFranco at Variety Playhouse, and although Ani didn’t perform many of my personal favourites, I enjoyed a lot of the stuff from her latest album. Her opening act was a rather unknown act from Brooklyn called Pearl And The Beard. I liked their music a great deal, although the acoustics made it difficult for me to enjoy them as much as I’d have liked to. Their lead singer is a fabulous, eccentric lady, barely taller than I am, but with a belt voice that encompasses almost her entire range. It’s unusual to come across a white female who can belt without a break in her voice (no, it’s not racism, it’s just one of those weird biological facts learned throughout my years of vocal training.), but this band’s singer, Jocelyn, belts almost up to a high C. As an operatic soprano whose belt voice won’t even think about trying that, I’m both jealous and impressed….enough that I wanted to purchase their CD. Alas, it was sold out. We said a few words of congratulations to Jocelyn after the show and received hugs, so I hope to see and hear good things from them.

As for Ani, I think her voice only gets better with time. Like Tori Amos, she has an unusual, quirky voice that may fool you into thinking she lacks true vocal skill, but you’d be dead wrong (on both accounts.) Ani doesn’t have an interesting range or the ability to play with light and darkness in her voice the way Tori does, but she performs in a variety of styles and shows off a really strong voice when she chooses to. Other times, she chooses to take a Bob Dylan-esque, musical-without-singing, narrative approach. Both are equally compelling. As a person, I think she’s extraordinarily likable, slightly to the left of me in her personal and political views, and not afraid to tackle the controversial. This was my third Ani show, and I’ll keep seeing her, as long as she keeps coming to town.

This was my personal favourite from her latest album:

Ani DiFranco: Promiscuity

I made it through most of the concert without any unwanted feelings or panic attacks, until the bright blue gels went on and everything started flashing. I sat with my black wrap covering my head like a burka and using the hat The Guy I Am Currently Dating always wears as a shield. But,all in all, I’m glad I went to see the show.

In other news, I was invited to perform at an event at a local theatre, a monthly showcase called Write Club. It seems to consist mostly of actors, writers, and other theatrically-minded individuals. You’re given a challenge partner, and two sets of contrasting themes (i.e, Happy Vs. Sad.) It’s not improv; you have about two weeks to craft a 7-minute monologue, story, poem, performance art piece, essay, whatever you want to do. The person receiving the most applause “wins”, which pretty much means you’re entitled to choose a charity that one-third of the proceeds will go to benefit (there are three winners per night.) You also have the benefit of hearing some pretty interesting and talented people do their thing.

I submitted an application at the end of December, when on my “I’m going to break out of my comfort zone and focus on doing things I like, even if I’m sick” kick. I had rather forgotten about it, but was kind of impressed they wanted me to appear so soon after I’d submitted my application. It made me feel liked for a brief nano-second. :P

Since the show occurs the day after Valentine’s Day, the three themes are relationship related. Mine is “Stay Vs. Go”, and, appropriately enough, I have “Go”. I immediately wrote a piece that was funny and charming, in my own opinion, but since The Guy I Am Currently Dating has encouraged me to explore writing different pieces instead, I’m not sure he agrees with my assessment. The hardest part, of course, is fitting the story you’d like to tell into 7 minutes. On first reading, mine was 11. I had to edit my piece 5 times to get it down under 7 minutes, and there’s not much room for leeway still. I’m totally not used to editing, so of course, now I think the whole thing probably sucks. :P I’ll throw it under my bed somewhere with the rest of the random stuff that was a good creative idea at one time or another, but really wasn’t. :P

I also read Paulo Coelho’s Aleph, which I would have finished in one sitting, did I not have the terrible habit of only reading and writing late at night. Paulo Coelho is my favourite author, probably the best thing I got out of my time with someone I’ll likely never cross paths with again, but who made an impact upon my life in terms of love and spirituality and finding the essence of oneself. Not coincidentally, these are Coelho’s favourite themes. I enjoy some of his books more than others; the more abstract, philosophical stories he shares appeal to me on a much different level than those that read like a “My Trip To The Mayan Ruins’ docu-drama. Aleph is one of his strongest, along with “Eleven Minutes”, ““Veronika Decides To Die”, “The Alchemist”, and “The Witch Of Portobello”.. I have a habit, borne out of the friendship previously referenced, of sharing these books with those who touch my life in some extraordinary way…and are also the type to understand and appreciate the complexity of what’s being shared. This is certainly one I’ll be passing along.

On a similar note, I started reading a book called Yours Ever: People And Their Letters, a sad reminder of how bleak and emotionless our world will look 50 or 100 years from now, when impersonal communication has taken the place of the outpouring of ideas and feelings. I don’t think one person will be saving the tweets and e-mails of those who may potentially change the course of our world, which is a little sad. I think I am simply, at heart, part of a different era, one where communication and expression and vulnerability and human connection are valued….and not in blocks of 140 characters at a time. I think I may always continue to write little handwritten notes and cards, although it’s impractical and unfashionable.

The author of the book, Thomas Mallon, agrees:

In this electronic age, a letter is personal and permanent. It says you took the time and trouble to communicate. The impact of a letter is unique, whether you’re complaining about a disappointing purchase or declaring your love. The point is, write. A letter or a card is truly a unique gift—a piece of yourself.”

That being said, I’ve crafted some pretty memorable letters—both of the disappointed-and-pissed-off-with-your-product sort and the hopelessly-and-secretly-in-love-with-you sort, and sent them via e-mail. And I didn’t give myself an ulcer agonising for weeks until receiving a response. There are advantages to instantaneous communication.

I didn’t watch but the the last 3 minutes of the Super Bowl; I don’t follow football, commercials disinterest me, and it was largely too much work to turn on my TV to see Madonna. However, happy that New York came out victorious, since it’s only like the world’s most awesome place and stuff. :P
R

Perhaps it’s a good sign, one that means I’m regaining some strength and ability to concentrate on more than just 30 minute television shows, but I’ve gotten back into the habit of reading a good deal lately. I think some of this is to do with the fact that The Guy I Am Currently Dating bought me a Kindle Fire for my birthday, and as with my enthusiasm for anything new, I very quickly filled up my shelves with classics I’d been meaning to read and interesting works on Amazon’s $3.99 or less shelf. However, ironically, most of what I’ve been reading seems to be in the format of actual books.

I love my new tablet, for a number of reasons; when I am well again, or at least well enough to travel or spend my days outside my apartment, I suspect I will greatly appreciate the convenience of never having to travel with a carry-on bag full of books and computer accessories. I love, love, love the size and portability of it, and since getting an awesome pink case for it, it kind of resembles a little pink Bible.

On the down side, however, a number of the books on my wishlist—particularly newer ones—have the Kindle version priced at twice what it would cost for a used version of the book, plus shipping. Once I’m finished with a book, I tend to keep it on my shelf (if I love it; I only have so much space.), send it to a friend (if it inspires me enough that I absolutely must share), swap it on Paperback Swap, or sell it back for a few dollars on Amazon. On the Kindle, once I’m done reading it, I can’t do anything else with it. Therefore, I’ll likely never pay full price for a Kindle book when the actual book is being sold for the same, or less. Why would anyone? I hope that as book readers become more popular, there are more businesses launched like Paperback swap or apps where you can swap books with friends. This is just what people do, and have always done.

Yet, I’ve gotten back to reading, something I’d abandoned when I first became ill because attempting to look at the words on the page would trigger vertigo. Instead, I’d gotten in the habit of simply crawling in my bed and watching TV at night until bed, or eventually, writing in my journal.

I’ll probably put up a page on the site about what I’m reading this year, but here are some of what I’m reading one month into things. (I doubt I’ll reach my 100 book a year quota this year, but that’s OK, because I’m covertly working on writing my own from time to time.)

Learning To Breathe:My Yearlong Quest To Bring Calm To My Life
I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this book. While I’m a fan of Paulo Coelho and other writers who bring a sense of spirituality into their stories, you’re not ever going to catch me quoting from Eckhart Tolle or The Secret. I’m just far too much of a realist to really believe in what’s being espoused, though I have no doubt it’s helpful to others. However, this book was recommended to me by two different people in response to talking about my recent diagnosis with an anxiety disorder, and then I later read multiple articles where it was highly praised. It’s more of an “Eat, Pray, Love” story about coming to terms with yourself than a book of Louise Hay affirmations, which I appreciate. It also gave me a clearer understanding of what was happening to me; like me, the author suffered from having a “highly-strung” personality most of her life, but managed to live a fairly well-balanced, productive life, often self-medicating with vodka. She was unaware of having a panic disorder, or why she’d have one, until later in life, when forced to come to terms with the idea of mortality. Her journey through therapy, Buddhism, meditation, Klonopin, and all sorts of treatment is a good read for anyone who suffers with anxiety or panic attacks. These issues are rarely cured, but when the reason is identified and treated, it can get better. The down side? The author’s detailed descriptions of panic attacks provoked anxiety in moe in a way that I had to put the book down and come back to it later. It sucks to identify too much with someone else’s experiences, particular when they resemble your own.

The Book Of The Courtesans:A Catalogue Of Their Virtues. Like their Japanese counterpart, the geisha, the idea of the courtesan is an old-fashioned one that’s not understood in today’s society. Sometimes street prostitutes who worked their way up into a different realm of society, sometimes actresses and ballet dancers kept by a succession of powerful, rich, and titled aristocrats, sometimes middle-class girls longing for a better life, courtesans represented power in a time when women had none. Throughout history, these women lived independently and owned property when aristocratic women could not, freed themselves of the restraints of chastity and inhibition when society dictated that being confined and without want or feeling or opinion was the role of women, and associated with some of the most brilliant minds in history in a world where a woman’s purpose was largely decorative. Of course, in today’s society, where women are presented with more opportunities and the ability to choose independence in virtually any aspect of life, choosing to exploit one’s sexuality in exchange for being kept by a man, or series of men, is frowned upon—whether you’re a prostitute, stripper, gold digger, mistress, kept woman, or conniving baby mama. These women were all of the above, and their stories range from the dramatic to the tragic to the inspirational. (many of these women appear in paintings by grand masters, are the subjects of plays, operas, and novels, and have become synonymous with luxury and opulence. Some died penniless, or at the hands of the guillotine, or an enraged lover. Others became nuns or wrote novels. Still others married into aristocracy, and amassed fortunes beyond belief. One, Sarah Bernhardt, became the grande dame of the theatre, acting from her wheelchair well into her 80′s.) It’s a great book that re-examines what the meaning of “virtue” is, and should be, and gives a glimpse into many other periods of time in which beauty was less to do with physical beauty, and more to do with an innate ability to charm and captivate.

Wintergirls. A book I discovered because it was an Amazon special for the day, Laurie Halse Anderson has a lyrical way of writing that’s provocative and beautiful at the same time, much like the two girls whose stories she tells in the novel. Dealing with the lives of two teenage girls struggling through the angst of growing up—one with anorexia nervosa, the other with bulimia, and both lost and depressed souls struggling to appear normal in the midst of dysfunctional suburbia—it’s the kind of story that’s been told a million times, in every Lifetime movie. However, the way it’s written is extraordinary; the writer is unknown, but gifted. I’d liken her to Jodi Picoult, and I stayed up until 5 AM in order to finish the book in one reading. It also proved to me I could get into reading books on my Kindle.

Over the holidays, I also finished reading biographies of Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath, but for the sake of argument, we’ll say they belonged to last year’s list.

Next up, I have a few more biographies, as well as Paulo Coelho’s Aleph, which I will drop everything and read as soon as it arrives.

I haven’t tackled any classics yet, but maybe I’m just not in that classic state of mind quite yet. You see, Jersey Shore is back on, along with MTV’s new Challenge show, Battle Of The Ex-es. There’s also the Real Housewives Of Atlanta, Beverly Hills, and soon, Orange County…as well as Project Runway. February will bring Survivor and yet another Celebrity Apprentice, so I need to leave some quality reality TV viewing time.

Oh, and I’ve been catching up on How I Met Your Mother and Big Bang Theory, although all out of order, which is often on the confusing side.

Regardless, I’m pleased to note that Atlanta is #4 on the most literate cities list (odd, because I can’t remember the last time someone wanted to engage me in a conversation about a book.). Washington D.C. is #1, but then, they were also ranked #3 on the list. Maybe people in D.C. are only rude because you’re trying to interrupt them WHILE THEY’RE READING? :P

Whatever. I’d personally give Atlanta a spot in the top 5 on the rudest cities list. I suspect that, for some reason, gossip, judgment, and passive-aggressive behaviour are not registered as “rude” on this study. If they’re measuring the capability to be a total jackass to a stranger and not lose any sleep over it, might I recommend my home city of Philadelphia (which I’m convinced is nicknamed “The City Of Brotherly Love” by those who appreciate irony.)?

It’s been a bit of a challenging week here so far, so you’ll have to forgive me for being a little forgetful about keeping everyone in blog-world updated. I had the misfortune to, a few days ago, run out of my prescription Valium about a week before the next prescription was to be filled. This is completely my fault; rather than being on the suggested dose of 5mg per day, I’ve been steadily using 7.5 mg per day for the past few months, the “set point” at which the desired effect of the drug sets in.

For anyone who hasn’t experience with this type of drug, Valium, and all the drugs in the benzo family (Xanax, Klonopin, and Librium, to name a few) are frequently prescribed—and over-prescribed—for anxiety, panic attacks, PTSD, and as one of many drugs in the cocktail used to successfully treat bi-polar depression. My experience with benzos started after my first admission to the ER in July, returning from a trip to the beach where I’d gotten heatstroke and 2nd degree burns, and started to experience lightheadedness, chronic vertigo, intolerance to light, and worst of all, these never-ending moments where I felt as if I were having a heart attack. Finally, three weeks after my symptoms began, I started hearing a “wooshing” sound in my ear that drowned out everything, and intense spasms under my ear. I thought I had an aneurysm, so I went to the ER.

After a lot of tests, they found nothing was wrong with me except “sinus tachycardia” (an exceptionally high pulse rate) and an elevated BP, probably due to the chronic panic attacks I’d been having. (I didn’t know they were panic attacks, as I’d never had one before. I legitimately thought I was dying.) They put me on Ativan (another benxo) and antibiotics for a supposed ear infection. Although the Ativan let me sleep, the vertigo and light intolerance never let up, and as soon as I was out of Ativan, the panic attacks returned. 3 trips to the ER later, they’ve put me on a beta-blocker to keep my pulse rate from elevating and a long-term anxiety drug called BuSpar.

From my perspective, BuSpar is evil. From the second day I was on it, I was sitting in the dark (because I couldn’t stand light) with vertigo too bad to ride in the car, and a serious fear of leaving my room. I cried for hours at a time. I wrote suicide notes and burned personal letters and diary entries I didn’t want anyone to find when I was gone. I seriously needed help. I didn’t get it. The doctor told my boyfriend that it took 10 days or so for the body to get used to the drug. By day 7, I was on the phone with 911. I couldn’t stand the movement of the ambulance, and I thought my head was going to explode. The right side of my face was paralyzed. In the ambulance, they told me I was exhibiting signs of “aura” (associated with migraines and seizures) and my pulse was 180, high enough to indicate a trans-ischemic-attack, rare in a previously healthy 30-year-old.

That’s when I met Valium. After a CAT scan, MRI, and tons of blood work, nobody could find a thing wrong with me. My scary symptoms were caused by a negative reaction to BuSpar, which works by blocking your dopamine levels. Oooops. If being on BuSpar was bad, the three days I spent detoxing from it were worse. They prescribed me Valium to help me through withdrawals, at 20 mg a day, a very high dosage for a petite woman with limited tolerance to prescription drugs. I still had horrible BuSpar withdrawals; “brain zap” that felt like electric shocks going through my brain, shaking, constant headaches, the inability to sleep or leave bed for days. I immediately made an appointment with a neurologist, given a history of epilepsy in my family, and arrived in a wheelchair, wearing sunglasses, unable to stand without assistance. Thanks, BuSpar.

Many doctors and many tests later, what they discovered is nobody knows what’s wrong with me. I’m off caffeine, limit chocolate and alcohol, and don’t put any drugs in my system that don’t come from the doctor. The result was always the same: I have a generalized anxiety disorder. I’m not coping with life. Take your benzos and see a psychiatrist. They tried me on Xanax and Klonopin, as well as Antivert for the vertigo. Nothing worked.

Nothing, that is, except Valium. Although I’ve inconveniently gained 20 pounds as the result of Valium + beta-blocker (my heart rate no longer rises high enough to burn calories, and beta-blockers are notorious culprits of a 7-10 pound weight gain due to water weight, while Valium makes you want to sleep instead of exercise.); I am actually functional. I self-adjusted my dose over time, finding out that at about 7.5 mg of Valium, I don’t have vertigo. I don’t have panic attacks (although, ironically, I do sometimes panic about having panic attacks, which manifests as a form of social anxiety. Two drinks with vodka, and it’s gone, which tells me it’s an anxiety issue.). I sleep more than I ever have in my entire life:;9-10 hours uninterrupted.

Since then, it’s been discovered by visits to specialists that I may be dealing with a vestibular (inner ear) issue that causes the vertigo, which in turn caused panic attacks, which in turn caused high blood pressure and pulse. So, possibly, I have a physical disorder that shouldn’t be treated with psychiatric drugs, or heart medication. Unfortunately, until a diagnosis and cure is established, the only thing that keeps my vertigo and panic attacks at bay seems to be Valium.

Valium is highly addictive. The Prozac of the 1960′s, it was called “Mother’s Little Helper”, because it was given as the cure-all for stressed out, disenchanted housewives who needed jobs and a nanny instead. Nowadays, doctors dislike prescribing it, because you can get addicted to it in as little as a week. If you abruptly stop using it, you can expect detox symptoms ranging from shaking, vomiting, and the inability to function as a human being to seizures, coma, and even death. (Amy Winehouse was on the benzo Librium when she died, though she obviously disregarded the “Do not mix with alcohol” warning.)

I’ve been using Valium for well over 4 months. I am on a very low dosage, but two separate times I’ve tried to discontinue use, I’ve had severe side effects. Quitting Valium is apparently a long-term plan; one that involves your doctors lowering your dose every 3-4 weeks until you’re basically done with it. My doctors aren’t aware of this, which is information out there at every rehab center and on every medical advice website. They simply want me to stop taking it, so they’re not going to prescribe it anymore.

Never mind that they haven’t fixed the primary reason I’m using it in the first place: my vertigo and panic attacks leave me alone and help me function. For a time, I was on the brink of losing my job and not able to leave my house. Now, life is often normal for weeks at a time, courtesy of the “not messing with my drugs program”.

I now basically have 3 weeks to see the ear doctor and hope for some sort of diagnosis that will help me get past all this, and a psychiatrist or GP that sees the value in either keeping me on Valium or doing a safe detox plan. On top of it all, I’m broke and my insurance doesn’t want to pay…they’re dubbing everything a “pre-existing condition”, although no one knows what condition I have.

So, I spent the past few days going through physical and emotional hell because I dropped my Valium dosage from 7.5 to 2-2.5 mg a day. I couldn’t cope. I finally got a refill, with the caveat that there would be no more Valium for me, so I need to find a qualified doctor to handle this problem.

As if I weren’t stressed and broke enough…now it’s back to hunting for doctors, solutions, and finding more guesses and experiments than actual answers. And I have a limited time frame to accomplish it, if I don’t want to spend the holiday season in my bed, detoxing from Valium.

Don’t mean to sound whiny, because I know plenty of people have it worse. But when life decides it hates you, it really throws some crappy shit your way, and says “Let’s see you get out of this one”, while laughing hysterically.

During this rather depressing period, I’ve been reading a biography of Sylvia Plath (there’s something for every mood, I guess). Interesting character; one it’s a little to easy for me to identify with, with her oversensitivity, attraction to older and accomplished men, perfectionistic and ultimately masochistic nature, and high level of intuition. I mentioned to a friend that, as far as the Jungian/Meyers-Briggs types go, Intuitive Feelers seem to have the most difficult road in life, either becoming so disenchanted with themselves and the world that they commit suicide or get involved in self-destructive situations, or try to save the world, only to become disillusioned and depressed when they cannot. Just as there’s been much written about the link between creative genius and insanity, or at least eccentricity, there also seems to be a link between NF personalities and the ability to live a long, quiet, understated life.

Plath’s story is sad, but the sadder one belongs to her husband, Ted Hughes. A poet who is also a narcissist, sadistic, and likely meets many of the markers for being labeled a psychopath, he not only pushed his manic-depressive wife to stick her head in the oven, denying us years of literary genius—but years later, the woman he had an affair with while married to Plath would also commit suicide, killing his child along with her.

Sylvia Plath is an understandable tragedy. She lived a lifetime suffering from inherited bi-polar depression, in a time when nobody knew what bi-polar depression was. The story of Ted Hughes makes far less sense. From a psychological standpoint, at least, it’s interesting how one person can have the power to destroy without ever lifting a finger.