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Eligibility is a ridiculous word.

In any case, it’s that time of the year–somehow–where we tally up everything we have published and say oh my god please find this worthy and put this on a ballot so I will be remembered and not forgotten in the long dark stretch of years to come. And well, it’s 2020, so. You know.

In June, Apex Book Company published my first collection, a collection of stories from my circus universe. The Grand Tour collects (hey, Elise, is it a collection??) nine stories and takes you on a whirlwind tour (hey) of space and time and love and heartbreak and you know, stuff. I am unreasonably attached to the whole thing, and can’t quite believe I’ve got a collection (hm) out in the world. I’ve wanted one for so long. It’s also a beautiful book; Apex spoiled me. Each story has a beautiful illustration.

Also in June, Three-Lobed Burning Eye published my story, “True In His Fashion.” Gay vampires but make it FASHION. Immortal men make clothing throughout the ages, searching for a thing that is missing, but never entirely lost. I love this story, and it took many, many years for it to find its proper home. I sat and cried when Andrew told me he was buying it.

Inside all was dark, the inside of an egg, perfectly sealed. The woman held me firm, by arm and throat both, and while I glimpsed her eyes in the darkness—crimson the way a summer berry may be—it was the froth of fabric around her throat which took my breath and rendered me unable to struggle.

The figure-eight folds of lace were flawlessly white; no dye, no colored starch. At each crest, a ruby gleamed. In each valley, seed pearls pooled. The pearls seemed to hover above her still chest, while the rubies drew in just enough of the day’s light to illuminate her jaw with a faint blush her own body would never manufacture.

In July, The Great Isolation: Colorado Creativity in the Time of the Pandemic contained my short story, “This Is Not a Love Song.” The story won second place in a contest from Western University. Colorado residents could submit work for said contest, to focus on isolation in the time of…the pandemic, hmm. I wrote this when I was broken-hearted, which you could say about almost all of my work.

You, recurring image.

You skitter across and through everything I love, everything I do. Though you have gone, you remain, and I remain, and so I watch (waiting is weakness, they say, and they are wrong). I stare at the sunlit shadows moving across the walls and you–and you.

You in shadow and you in sun. Barefoot and long-shadowed in summer. So tall you brought me bouquets of clouds–altocumulus stratiformis duplicatus, noctilucent, stratospheric nacreous. Wrapped tight and hunched in winter–

In Octobler (that’s right), Vernacular Books published the Evil in Technicolor anthology, which includes my story, “Blue Hole, Red Sea.” It is a terrifying deep dive into a hole in the floor of the ocean, opening into treasures and horrors untold.

The new sea was warmer, saltier. The water was like silk across her skin—bare skin, her wetsuit stripped away as if it had never existed. The salt water buoyed her up and up, as if she were in a balloon, and when she surfaced, it was an unfamiliar landscape that greeted her. She knew she was beneath the Mediterranean, safely wrapped in diving gear, and yet her eyes told her otherwise, for the land rose and fell in sandy, caramel hues everywhere. The sea around her was perfectly still, not shot through with fish. Before her in the sea spread a great darkness, a hole that bored into the water itself and vanished. And beneath the water, a whisper. A word she could not quite make out.

When editor Joe M. McDermott invited me to the project, I was wishy-washy. I was in a bad spot. Writing, was that a thing I even did any more? The anthology was also meant to help out writers who were struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic–was that me? Well, my day job is absolutely still on hold, so yes. I remain grateful for the invitation, because this story was a lot of fun to write. Even if editors have told me I don’t write horror.

The last thing I will probably see published this year is “The Witch and the Werewolf,” which is utterly contrary to everything I usually write. It’s an absolutely sweet Christmas romance between a witch and a werewolf (you don’t say). She’s Riz, he’s Bean, and together, they solve mysteries! Who doesn’t love some rice and beans. Happy Howlidays is an anthology from Paramour Ink, containing stories set in the same small Vermont town. Come to Bones Hollow this holiday season! My thanks to Lex Hunter for inviting me.

And I think that’s all she wrote. Sorry. I had to. It’s 2020.

P.S. Someone said I should mention that I drafted a new novel this year. I did, it’s not wrong. It was the first book I’ve written since Folley/Mallory, so it took some brain power. Now, the agent search begins. Again. Fingers crossed. Again.

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The Care & Feeding of Your New Steam Train

So you’ve acquired a steam train! Congratulations! They can be finicky and unpredictable, but this guide should help you with the most critical points of concern. We appreciate your time and attention and should you have any further concerns with your new acquisition, you can forward your questions to the engine, where they’ll fuel the onward journey into the unknown!

Don’t feed your train after midnight.

Everything has an appetite. It’s best to learn and respect that from the outset. You may think “okay, it’s a steam train, it needs coal,” but your new vehicle is going to require something a little more than that. Exactly what that is, we cannot say—every train is unique, and yours especially so. The more you travel together, the more you will know exactly what it (what she) needs. But not after midnight. Never after midnight. Just don’t.

Don’t worry about that extra car (or four)!

Sometimes you need more space—and we’re not talking legroom! Your new steam train is happy to accommodate you and your needs! She knows when your new passengers need more storage space, broader polar landscapes, or even an extra giant redwood or two to climb into. Whatever you need, the train can provide. You’ll quickly learn that some passengers need their own space, separate from other passengers. Really, really, really separate. Your train can handle it! Don’t worry!

Regularly clean the cow catcher.

Cleanliness is next to godliness, especially during these strange times (as if times are ever not strange, oh friend). The speeds this train reaches may be excessive at times and you never know exactly what’s on the tracks. Your cow catcher is one of your most important Train Features™, and keeping it clean and in working order is of vital importance. You never know when you’ll find an alien in it.

Only explore the caboose in daylight hours.

The caboose is filled with wonders, but none of these should be seen when the sun isn’t in the sky. When the sun goes down, we cannot be responsible for what happens within the confines of the caboose. You might trip over something and break a jar, and what then? These aren’t normal jars, my friend—you have no idea what might spill out. Supernumerary rainbows, a fully formed bat-girl, or maybe the month of February in the year 1164. But where in the world? That’s the right question. You won’t know in the dark of night.

There’s a disembodied hand in the engine car—and that’s perfectly normal!

Every train has a spirit, and some spirits are more unusual than others. Your train carries a disembodied hand. The hand carries a gold necklace, which in turn carries a gold cross. Don’t even consider pawning the necklace—you won’t like what happens when it is parted from the train. Leave the hand exactly where is it, with its cross. It won’t bother you, if you don’t bother it. You might imagine the hand was removed from its body with great upset and trauma, and you’d be right! You might imagine that the spirit of the person who owned that hand has now haunted the train. You’d be right again—but we like to call it “infused.” Your train is infused with the spirit of a nineteenth-century nun, who also may be an aspect of Fate. This is perfectly normal, considering where you’re headed.

Safe journeys, new train owner! Keep those limbs inside the windows at all times. You never know where your next stop will be.

(If, by chance, you haven’t yet acquired your steam train, it’s never too late to do so! It will be delivered straight to your mailbox for unpacking and exploration!)

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Run Away

In 2005, I sold the first of my circus stories, “Vanishing Act,” to SciFiction, edited by Ellen Datlow. It was a dream come true in many ways. It was the most money I’d ever been paid for fiction, and selling to Ellen was absolutely a bucket list item.

Now, in 2020, a bundle of circus stories are being published as a collection. It’s my first collection of any kind! I’ve been publishing for twenty years, and my fiction has never been collected before, it’s true. But this June, The Grand Tour arrives from Apex Book Company!

The Grand Tour takes you on just that, a tour across time and the world, because my traveling circus isn’t ordinary in any way. Naturally they travel through time! On a train! Of course! In this collection, you’ll get to meet Jackson, the strange man who leads the circus, and you’ll get to meet the train, which is sometimes also a lady. You will cross paths with the Weird Sisters, with conjoined twins, and also arrive at the end of the world. There’s also a dog or two or three, because who doesn’t love a pupper?

Artwork by Rolando Cyril, design by Mikio Murakami

The Grand Tour is up for preorder everywhere! I hope you’ll grab a copy or two, because running away to the circus is the best thing you can do right now. From the safety of your own home. #StayHome

Apex | Kindle | Nook | Kobo | Play | Trade Paperback @Amazon (soon!)

When you buy at Apex, you’ve got the opportunity to bundle The Grand Tour with The Kraken Sea. The Kraken Sea tells Jackson’s origin story, and got a star from Publisher’s Weekly!

Artwork by Magdalena Pagowska
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2019, a smol

Now that I have officially lost a World Fantasy Award, it appears time to post eligibility information for next year’s awards, and–

It really is an endless circle, isn’t it? Didn’t we just do this?

2019 has been an interesting year. It has been the least successful in my “career” when it comes to sales. It has been the most successful year in terms of previous work landing on ballots. Basically, never try to figure out publishing, because nothing makes sense.

Here’s what I did in 2019:

“Kill the Darlings (Silicone Sister Remix)” appeared in Do Not Go Quietly, edited by Jason Sizemore and Lesley Conner.

They say Nany Mars is a cunt, and they’re not wrong, but her hands are steady as she severs the last bit of flesh binding the three women together. Nany Mars makes careful stitches, sewing them back into their skins, their solitary skins, where once men had made them into one joined vessel for their pleasures.


It is hard, slow work, and when Nany finishes, she’s dripping sweat down her body, clothes soaked with it, and she sinks against the compound wall, staring up at the slice of sky that’s visible through the broken skylight. She ought to get that fixed, she thinks, but she’ll be gone come morning, and she only came to fix the women. There are so many women to fix.

The Ebon Jackal, from Apokrupha, concluded my Folley & Mallory series of novels. It has two (2) reviews.

Eleanor Folley walked slowly, yet with purpose, through the city market, still not having adjusted to the idea that its glory existed, that she could, and did, walk through its treasures. Everywhere she looked, Waset overflowed with life and activity, though in her mind she could still envision what the city had been in her own time, Luxor and a shadow of its former self. Crumbling into dust, rather than standing firm and sure.
 
Every morning when she woke, she expected to find herself back in her proper place, nineteenth century Paris, under crisp covers with coffee soon to percolate, but through the windows came the sounds of a different city entirely. Of a different time. Every morning it was not Paris that woke her, but New Kingdom Thebes as it would be called, flourishing under the rule of Queen Hatshepsut. It was Homer’s Thebes of the Hundred Gates, only Homer had yet to be born.

And that’s literally all she wrote! A reworked essay of mine appears in The Writer’s Book of Doubt, edited by Aidan Doyle, so maybe you’d also like to consider that as you make your year-end tallies.

Of course, we’ve a month and a half of quality work ahead of us, so don’t forget those stories and creators either.

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Hell of a Ride

When we got the news in April, Beth and I didn’t quite believe it. Shimmer was a Hugo finalist — and after thirteen years, that was a hell of a thing.

But in accordance with prophecy, Uncanny Magazine won for the fourth time, and Shimmer came in last. Those voting numbers will really fuck with your head, no lie. The prophecy also said that the late Gardner Dozois would win the short-form editor category, and he did. I came in last there, too.

One of the hardest things is that everyone suggests you write a speech, in case the impossible happens, in case you win. You spend weeks wondering how you can condense everything that happened in thirteen years into a few moments, because this is it — this is the end for Shimmer, there are no more chances, and how can you convey everything. You cannot.

Here’s the speech I wrote for my short-form editor nomination, in case you wondered how I tried. I started with Audrey Hepburn’s Oscar’s acceptance speech, as one must.

I want to thank everybody who, in these past months and years, have helped, guided, and given me and Shimmer so much. First thank yous to Beth Wodzinski, who took me on as a slush reader thirteen years ago, and then offered me an opportunity to edit. I would not be here without her. The #AHugoForElise hashtag was filled with such kindness and love—my thanks to everyone who was involved, especially Wren Wallis and Maria Haskins—we do so much of our work alone, and it was remarkable to hear how Shimmer impacted readers and our writerly community.

Thank you to my fellow finalists: Neil Clarke, Gardner Dozois, Lee Harris, Julia Rios, Lynne Thomas, and Michael Damien Thomas. You are all changing our community for the better, every day with every story. Thank you, too, to Matt Dovey and Alex Acks for going above and beyond, and being in Dublin to accept the award when I could not be.

Thank you all.

Today is hard, but we pick up and go on. It’s what badgers have done for thirteen years, and I’ve still got a World Fantasy Award to lose!

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Necessary

Near as I can tell, I wrote two things in 2018, which is an all-time low for me. I wrote “Kill Your Darlings (Silicone Sister Remix)” (out now in Do Not Go Quietly) and The Ebon Jackal, the last Folley & Mallory book (also out now).

Last week, I finished a novella. I wrote it without a market in mind; I wrote it just to write it, and that was liberating, as it let me noodle with an idea and see where it went. (It didn’t go where I intended? Where I thought?) But.

I wrote it just to write it.

I had the good damn luck to meet Sara Saab this summer — too briefly, but pancakes were involved — and we had time to talk about writing, and how so often we don’t write just to write. We write with an aim to publish, or we write for an audience. We don’t write for the sake of writing or we don’t write just for ourselves.

And that felt like a heck of a thing. To write something for yourself, because you want to. To take an idea out for a walk and see where it goes.

I don’t know that I will sell this novella, and that’s okay. It would be a nice bonus, I see a couple places it could go, but ultimately, writing the thing — and finishing it — were the goals.

Getting my writer brain back after Shimmer closed has been a heck of a thing, too. Shimmer closed to submissions a year ago (a year ago yesterday!), and I wrapped up my work on it in Januaryish 2019. And after that, I just wanted to lie on the floor.

I’ve spent a lot of that time thinking about writing, and talking about writing. I’ve spent a lot that time editing things that are not Shimmer. There is definitely a learning curve to the entire thing — regaining my creative brain.

Reading drafts from fellow authors I admire has also been vital to this process; seeing how a work comes together, seeing how a person begins. And you’re thinking “Elise! You’ve been publishing for nineteen years! How do you not know how to begin.”

And that’s when I’d just laaaaauuugh because sure, I know how to begin, but also I had to relearn it.

Here’s what I learned: it’s okay to not publish for a while (forever). It’s okay to write something for yourself. It’s okay to write for the sake of writing.

In fact, perhaps it’s necessary. Go finish the thing you haven’t finished. Even if only for yourself.

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The End, Kinda

The last book in my Folley & Mallory series drops today, and perhaps I am having feelings about that, but god forbid we explore those, because it’s all too hard to contemplate; this seems to be my year of endings.

The end! Everything must go!

Dramatic! But, many things have come to an end, so it feels apt.

There are quite a few hundred quotes about endings on Goodreads. By dudes. White dudes who wrote things. What if, instead we think about creation for a breath.

Week of 6/9 in Leo: A very certain type of creation. Is it really ok to just sleep. What if there is only that. Then be ready for it.— Astro Poets (@poetastrologers) June 10, 2019

A very certain type of creation.

A writer who has written a thing, and has closed the chapters on that thing, and is now… Writing the next thing. Writing the next thing in the wake of having read a thing that has convinced me I cannot write the very thing I hope to.

We are always trying to write the next thing.

Sometimes we succeed, and sometimes we sleep.

What if there is only that.

My first idea for the F&M books was that they were set in the future — they were Way More Science-Fiction, people from the future heading to the past by Techno Means, to salvage the world they wanted to live in from the dust of a centuries.

That didn’t work out.

My second idea for the F&M books was that they were set in the past — and also the ancient past. That they were about daughters and mothers, and the impossible tangle of Stuff between them. That they were about broken families, and chosen families, and how we can be deceived by the very thing we love so much.

What if there is only that.

These books didn’t achieve all I hoped they would. I will write the next thing. I will begin the agent hunt anew. I will submit the thing, and submit it again. I will write the next thing. I will begin the agent hunt anew. I will submit the thing, and submit it again. Maybe I’m not a novelist. My morning pages wondered if I was done with writing as a whole. But I don’t make such decisions in the wake of disappointment.

I will write the next thing.

We end a thing. We start a thing.

We end. We start again.

What if there is only that.

Then be ready for it.

Ready for adventures in ancient Egypt? Maybe you’ll give my books a peek! Archaeologist Eleanor Folley has searched for the truth about her mother’s disappearance her whole life — but the truth is stranger and weirder than she ever knew. Agent Virgil Mallory seeks answers of his own, but was never quite prepared for those he unexpectedly found in Miss Folley. Dean Smith-Richard claims it’s “Miss Fisher meets Indiana Jones,” and I cannot disagree, so I hope you’ll join Folley and Mallory on their adventures in early-20th century Paris, and ancient Egypt!

The Ebon Jackal: Amazon

The Series: IndieBound | Amazon | B&N

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Doubt

Doubt is a thing every writer struggles with — no matter how famous, no matter how many book awards, nominations, praise, cakes, etc. Your favorite writer has doubted themselves and their work. And probably quite a lot.

My friend Aidan Doyle has assembled a collection of essays about doubt, and he solicited content from other doubtful writers too — me included. (If you didn’t back the Kickstarter, it will be available for sale in July, so stay tuned!)

I’ve been struggling with writing a lot this year, and the reasons are varied, but the result is the same: I doubt every word I put onto the page. I’m trying to draft a new novel and it isn’t going well, Reader.

This past week, I decided I needed to set fire to the first 17k words I’d finished. Oh, they’re fine words and there’s a lot of content and detail that will still end up in this next round, but overall, it’s missing that spark of something. One reader said it needed more stakes, and they were absolutely right. I’m not yet into the hollowed out heart of my heroine, so I’m in the process of figuring out how to get in there.

(Right now, we’re rappelling and we love the sound of the singing rope as we plunge into the dark. Was that a scream??)

I always feel like we don’t talk about this side of writing enough. We see the highlight reel on Twitter and elsewhere, we see the shiny finished books with their beautiful covers; we see everyone signing copies, and talking about their work; we don’t really see everything it took to reach that point. We don’t often see how books are assembled — how it’s just a person and a page. A blank page.

A lot of writing is sitting and listening to the silence.

Part of my journey (is that the word) back into my own writing has been reading a lot of things that (hopefully) bring me joy. Some of that reading has been fan fiction. My writing roots are in fan fiction (X-Files taught me a lot, but my first piece was Star Trek TNG).

Nico‘s writing has also been helping me get back in touch with my voice. That Oscar Isaac poem. Whew. And also a really beautiful piece of Jaime/Brienne fiction, “If Tomorrow.” (Shout out to AO3 for being a Hugo finalist this year!)

I’m also reading When Women Were Birds: Fifty Four Variations on Voice by Terry Tempest Williams. Mothers, daughters, faith, writing, not-writing, absence and presence, and it was not what I thought it would be. It’s better.

I’m also playing No Man’s Sky, which involves finding planets and scouting them and following clues and discovering outcomes, and it’s a lot like writing. You have an unknown thing, you discover the best way to explore it, you write down what you find.

And repeat.

And repeat.

Kelly Link said writing is terrible, and she’s not wrong.

But it’s also great.

And repeat.

I think.

#doubts

And repeat.

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Do Not Go Quietly

Today is release day for Do Not Go Quietly: An Anthology of Victory in Defiance from Apex Book Company! Go grab your copy, right after you read this interview with E. Catherine Tobler, who is responsible for one of the stories in the anthology.

Edited by Jason Sizemore and Lesley Conner!

Elise, thanks for joining us!

Thank you for having me!

This anthology contains a lot of heavy genre hitters — John Hornor Jacobs, Brooke Bolander, Fran Wilde, Dee Warrick, Sarah Pinsker, Meg Elison, and more. How the heck did you get involved?

I heard about the anthology when Apex was running the Kickstarter, and decided to back it like a normal human-shaped being. And then when they had their submission window, I decided to get off my ass and write a story and submit it. Of course, I wrote something really weird and didn’t think the story stood a chance.

Your story, “Kill the Darlings (Silicone Sister Remix)” is…quite a thing. What can you tell us about it?

The story started with the idea of borders and people trying to cross them — notably, the southern border of the US, and the conflicts we’ve had there of late. I thought “a body could lie down right there and make a great wall.” Once I’d turned bodies into two-thousand mile walls, it felt like all bets were off, that I could do anything in that kind of a universe.

The main character, Nany Mars, is, well, a vagina?

Yes. Another aspect of this world is that a lot of the women have been turned into what men think of them. If men think you are only good for sex, perhaps you become a vagina. If men think you are fragile, perhaps you are made of glass. Women are only good for cooking — so perhaps a woman becomes an oven.

This character literally has an oven in her belly, to feed people on demand.

Make me a sandwich, right?

Whew. And the body at the border?

In this story, it is the body of a woman (of course), grown huge and cavernous, to “secure” the border, which, spoiler alert, doesn’t work.

What other kinds of women do we meet in this story? It’s a little bit The Handmaid’s Tale meets Alien because damn, that body horror.

We meet a crew of women who are invested in saving other women — from being used as men and the world at large would use them. Women who are determined to reclaim their bodies. Trans women. What becomes of trans women in this kind of world?

The Handmaid’s Tale was absolutely an influence, but so was The Haunting of Hill House, which maybe sounds weird, but the bodies here are like haunted houses, because they look like one thing, while being something vastly different inside for the person living there. Everyone is a House of Leaves, maybe.

And Alien is also a great comparison, having your body become something you never wanted or intended, based on another’s wishes… Yeah.

Given recent bills banning abortion…

Yeah. I’ve always written about body autonomy, but perhaps now it feels more relevant, though it always has been. Your body is yours, and no one should have the ability to take that away, or govern what you do with it.

Elise, thanks for joining us today.

Thanks for having me, me!

Readers, go buy this book, because these are the stories our world needs right now. Hardcover, paperback, ebook, whatever format is your jam, Apex has you covered!

From the Apex site:

From small acts of defiance to protests that shut down cities, Do Not Go Quietly is an anthology of science fiction and fantasy short stories about those who resist. Within this anthology, we will chronicle the fight for what is just and right, and what that means: from leading revolutions to the simple act of saying “No.”

Resistance can be a small act of everyday defiance. And other times, resistance means massive movements that topple governments and become iconic historical moments. Either way, there is power in these acts, and the contributors in Do Not Go Quietly will harness that power to shake our readers to the core. We are subordinates to a power base that is actively working to solidify its grip on the world. Now is the time to stand up and raise your voice and tell the world that enough is enough!

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Riverland

I didn’t have a sister to share the horror with, but I did have a Riverland, made of books, and dolls, and music, where nothing could hurt me, because even in stories, when something went wrong, there was the hope and opportunity of fixing the thing.

(That may explain why I became a writer.)

Fran Wilde’s Riverland was a hard book to read, but at the same time, I could not put it down, read it in a week. I needed to know that Eleanor and Mike would be okay. And of course, they are. That’s not a spoiler, because you don’t yet know the hows of Riverland, how the sisters come to the river, who they find there, and what they discover in themselves.

I was six and seven, a little older than Mike in this book. I had step-brothers who did not live in the same house. I had a stepfather who was angry all the time. I had a mother who knew how to magic things into wholeness once more until they were broken again. I had a clumsy mutt of a dog who I loved more than anything, because perhaps they were more clumsy and broken than even me, and beside them I could be invisible.

We packed the car when we left. We left because he’d finally hit her one too many times. Because I’d finally seen it happen. If I close my eyes, I can still see it. I have a distinct memory of that drive — I wasn’t scared, because at last things would be better, and I imagined I saw great bison roaming slowly across the dark plains as we drove west. As we came home.

You know home when you get there. Eleanor and Mike know, too. Sometimes home isn’t a building, but a place, a place where you have the time and space to figure yourself out. How you work, and how you live, and how you breathe. Home can be a story, in a book or in a song, or home can be in the places you make for yourself.

We don’t normally tell these stories about girls. We don’t show girls rescuing themselves nearly enough. If I’d had this book as a kid, would it have changed something? Would I have found the strength to say something? Maybe not — at that age, it’s so hard — but seeing someone extract themselves from a similar position would have been like the beam of a lighthouse at night.

In this book, Wilde gives us two strong girls, who become the heroines of their own story, a story they never quite dared to tell, until they were living it. This book may be a hard read, but it is an important one, too.

Recently, I found a letter my mother wrote to her mother, telling her we were coming home, that the marriage hadn’t worked out. She talked about how she married him because she believed I needed a father figure — everyone told her I did. She spoke at length about her failures, that the divorce was her fault — but never said a word about what he had done to her. What she feared he had done to me. (I went to counseling when we came home — faced with gray, cloth dolls, so someone could watch me play and determine if I’d been abused. No, not sexually.)

We don’t tell these stories. But now, maybe with Riverland, we do.

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