THE COLOR OF LAW: The Forgotten History of How our Government Segregated America

coloroflaw

book by Richard Rothstein

annotation by Angela Bullock

There is a historical narrative I’ve always interpreted as true. In it the Southern States played the role of the evil ones while the Northern States played the role of the good guys. I came of age clinging to the notion that Southern Whites and their state governments were to be feared while Northern Whites and their state governments were liberally righteous in their fair minded measured approach to race relations. It is painful to have such a late awakening to the insidious facts. Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law is just that—a late awakening.

Race has always been a chip played for gain in our Democracy. A pawn on the chessboard, used to keep the Union appeased and unified. The progress of African Americans has been in part held hostage to a larger political game.

The evidence that my thinking was flawed has always been there. Historically, all States were run by the inheritors of European settlers—save for the period of reconstruction when the South was forced to share power. Still, the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow with its blatant terroristic tactics, encouraged a continued belief in this original and more traditional narrative. Alas, the world is far more complicated than a young woman’s fantasy.

On a level of craft, The Color of Law is a well-researched textbook detailing the inherent biases found in American housing practices. Using examples of deliberate social practices as well as legislation, Rothstein explains why and how American cities and towns continue to remain segregated.  My hope is that his book becomes a standard for the continued examination of a set of systems put in place to perpetuate African American disenfranchisement.

Beginning with a description of segregated San Francisco, each of the twelve chapters focuses on a different aspect of the organization of segregation fostered by local, state and the federal government alike.

I take these revelations personally. Because I knew it was the Federal government that fought to enact civil rights then voting rights and finally anti discriminatory housing policies in the form of the Fair Housing Act, I always sided with the U.S. Government over the argument for States Rights. It was the racist practices of the Southern States that subjugated people of color. They were the villains. However, Rothstein’s research puts a lie to the narrative that institutional racism was the exclusive province of southern states.

Each chapter reveals a well-researched litany of rules, ordinances, laws and behaviors, which I define as the practices of exclusion. They included but were not limited to restrictive covenants, redlining, discriminatory lending and white flight. Many of them were unspoken social contracts which resulted in keeping white neighborhoods homogeneous while perpetuating the continued isolation of African Americans. These practices of exclusion resulted in the limiting of educational opportunity and the overall stagnation of economic upward mobility.

***

People have an ability to exist and move forward despite blatant discriminatory practices. I do remember over hearing the talk of death threats our neighbors Mr. and Mrs. Grant received when they attempted to purchase a Levittown home. The Grant’s were two of the day people I describe in my memoir. Devoid of the insidious pathologies that inflicted some public housing families, when they escaped the projects, it was to a brownstone purchased in all black Bedford Stuyvesant Brooklyn.

Though they didn’t talk about it with their children, my parents must have known. Having left Jim Crow behind, perhaps they were simply satisfied with the housing accommodations made available to them. They certainly accepted those accommodations. So, I don’t know what my parent’s felt at the time. However it is the laws on the books they didn’t know were there, the secret agreements between financial institutions and business establishments, the places of employment set up to exclude them and other subtly coded racist practices that catches me in the throat. These facts create a queasiness in me now, years later, merely for being so naive.

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ article “The Case for Reparations” gives a very informative overview of these practices. However, the uniformity and pervasiveness illustrated in Rothstein’s tome is enough to justify the general belief in popular African Americans conspiracy theories, like the U.S. Government’s spread of crack cocaine and HIV/AIDS within black communities in order to keep Black people down.

And yet the more I examine the disparate confluence that make up American society, the more I understand this democracy to be—as many others have noted—simply an ongoing experiment. That Jefferson’s words  “We hold these Truths to be self evident that all (men) are created equal…” is nothing more than a fragile ideal. One that we citizens will keep attempting and failing to attain.

Whether FDR, the Father of the New Deal, was himself a racist believer in white supremacy, a gifted and pragmatic politician and public servant or some combination of both is beside the point. The results of the laws and practices he and many others promulgated have fostered a huge gap in financial prosperity and resources within our society. It has affected levels of education, incarceration and the overall well-being of an entire subsection of the American populous. Yet there’s an irony as well, that since emancipation and despite the pervasiveness of the practices of exclusion, the United States has made real and demonstrable progress. The Ideal is far from reached but incrementally sought.

I’m finally letting go of the narrative that the southern half of the United States is uniquely responsible for American race relations. Politicians compromise, collude and compete with one another. Roosevelt’s challenges are today echoed in the revisionist policies of Trump and his Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

I am conflicted concerning Rothstein’s mitigation of his facts. On one hand I wanted to feel the author’s righteous anger at the injustices he so well illustrates. I believe, however, that the neutral academic tone of his work will prove itself useful as America continues to have difficulty confronting race and privilege. Despite this point, The Color of Law is an important addition to the confusing, convoluted mosaic of what, who, and how our experiment in democracy has developed and continues to evolve.

 

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Tell the Wolves I’m Home

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book by Carol Rifka Brunt

annotation by Douglas Menagh

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt is a coming of age story about June Elbus, a 14 year old high school girl living in upstate New York. The novel takes place in 1987, just as her beloved uncle, a painter named Finn Weiss, is dying from AIDS. Following Finn’s death, his partner Toby connects with June. Although distrustful of Toby at first, June soon develops a connection with Toby. The two help each other cope with and heal from the loss of Finn. Eventually, June and Toby develop a friendship in their own right.

What is beautiful about Tell the Wolves I’m Home is the way Carol Rifka Brunt presents June’s character arc. This is a story about how the loss of Finn brings Toby into June’s life and how that friendship affects her development. While June is skeptical about Toby at first, she grows to love him because she finds that the characteristics of Finn live on through his partner. This causes June to wonder, “What if everything I loved about Finn had really come from Toby?” (148). June realizes that Finn had adopted the behavior of Toby because they cared for each other and emulated one another. June experiences this first hand in her relationship with Toby. By caring for him, she picks up some of his habits and evolves as a character. On her own transformation because of Toby, June reflects, “And right then it was almost impossible to believe that there was a whole other me, who drank Volcano Bowls and smoked cigarettes and took care of people who used to be strangers” (286). Brunt demonstrates through character arc that, despite loss, loved ones live on by passing along their characteristics.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home affected my own understanding of who my characters are and how to create their arc. The growth of characters through personal loss was very useful to me when I was writing about grief in my own coming of age novel. My novel is about a family grappling with the death of a father and the resulting loss of each member’s identity in the wake of the loss. The characters in my book began to imitate the qualities and characteristics of their lost loved one. Through this process, they were able to regain a sense of self and become who they were always meant to be.

June’s character is revealed wonderfully through the first person. She is a deep and complicated character, though introverted. June loves medieval times, and this pining obsession for a world now gone colors her perspective. “The Cloisters are the best because they’re like a piece of another time right at the top of Manhattan. And I’m not just saying that. They’re actually made of huge chunks of French medieval monasteries that were shipped to New York and stuck together” (64). The way June sees life gives the book elements found in lyrical fantasies and builds the world in the novel. Her longing for the medieval world correlates with her pursuit of traces of her lost uncle. June’s connection to medieval times helped me understand my own characters’ affinity to history and how nostalgia plays a role as a coping mechanism in dealing with loss. I found this useful as a writer because the characters in my own novel feel nostalgia for other time periods just like they do for loved ones now gone. This book made me realize that there is a connection between longing for a place in time and longing for a person.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home was informative of my own process in writing a work of fiction about characters coping with loss and overcoming grief. June’s transformation and the change in her worldview influenced how my own characters heal and come of age. June discovers that Finn lives on in the present through the loved ones still alive. Later on, June says, “I didn’t know what Toby was trying to do at first, but I took a long slow breath of his coat and there, like, magic, was Finn. The exact smell of Finn” (273). This perspective showed me the way my characters could also cope and heal from their loss. By discovering ways in which loved ones live on in the present, my characters were able to heal in dramatic and unexpected ways.

 

 

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories

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Annotation by Nate Elias

Book by Ken Liu

The stories in Liu’s collection all border in the realms of science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction. Playing with the forms of fiction seems to be one of Liu’s inherent tactics when bringing his characters and ideas to life in each narrative. The first story in the collection, “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species,” Liu weaves a narrative that is void of characters and rather focuses on the process of reading and writing in made-up (possibly alien) species. Opening with this story sets up a tone for the book that hints for the reader to approach each story as its own text and to read with the body, soul, and mind in unison.

Liu makes up for the absence of characters in the first story by utilizing vivid character-building techniques in “State Change.” The main character, Rina, has a habit of checking refrigerators, freezers, and ice cubes as a method of therapy and calming nerves. While the plot has nothing to do with this character trait, the character trait itself is a metaphoric tool which reflects on the title, “State Change” and the epiphany Rina has when she comes on to Jimmy, who represents salt which cannot be frozen. This story also utilizes a non-traditional linear narrative technique by utilizing excerpts from letters, memoirs, and history texts.

“The Perfect Match” uses a more traditional narrative flow but requires simplicity compared to Liu’s other stories because the high concept plot requires more suspension of disbelief. The story proposes a software called Tilly (reminiscent of the iPhone’s ‘Siri’ function, only gone haywire) that makes all the decisions for the user. The consequence of this is that people choose to not think for themselves anymore. The main character, Sai, uses Tilly for every decision until one day his neighbor, Jenny, encourages him to turn it off for a short time. While she seems like a conspiracy theorist at first, it turns out that her speculations about Tilly were accurate when suited men arrive try to stop Sai and Jenny when their efforts to hack into the system go too far.

Although Liu’s content deals with science, technology, and speculation it does not read as genre science fiction literature; it reads more like literary science fiction, which is a much smaller niche. His prose often utilizes poetic language such as in the story “State Change”: “I have no candle to burn at both ends. I won’t measure my life with coffee spoons. I have no sprint water to quiet desire, because I have left behind my frozen bit of almost-death. What I have is my life.

I’m currently at work on my own speculative short fiction and Liu’s collection provided a framework of how to fully make a high-concept premise within the confines of the short story form concrete.  Liu exercises poetic language, structural range, and importance of character which serve as a reminder that it is not just the story being told, but how it’s being told. 

 

The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis

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Book by Jose Saramago

Annotation by Mary Kay Wulf

When I read my first novel by Jose Saramago, The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, I was intimidated by his block style, his sentence structure, and his original, spare use of punctuation. In an interview he recommends reading his work aloud to catch his rhythm and understand his meaning. It works for me, especially in the speeches. The lack of stops and white space on the page eliminates the dead air and elevates the language. It also increases dramatic tension and forces the reader to pay closer attention to what is being said by whom. Once I’m well into the novel and know the characters, I don’t have to reread the passages of dialogue as often to determine who is saying what to whom.

In this novel, I admired the author’s use of unlimited omniscience. It is ironic, reliable, fluid in time and space, and extremely complex. First, there is the author who makes himself known particularly through his religious and political views, then there is the narrator who, I assumed was also Saramago, who has, for this story, resurrected the famous Portuguese writer, Fernando Pessoa, who, upon his death in 1936, lures to Portugal, one of his heteronyms, the poet and doctor, Ricardo Reis. Pessoa appears to Reis much like Hamlet’s father’s ghost, “doomed for a certain time to walk the night,” and mostly dispenses advice on life before it is Reis’s turn to die. When the reader is presented with Reis’s sexual and physical humiliations, the POV is extremely and effectively intimate.

In regards to the roles of the two women in the novel, I thought in a large sense they represented the mystery of their sex in the eyes of the two poets. Both Reis and Pessoa claim to be frightened of women. Reis, the more experienced of the two, describes women as “an enigma, a labyrinth, a charade.” Throughout, Reis is inept in the role of seducer and refuses to claim paternity when he impregnates his hotel’s maid, Lydia. Undaunted, she appears to be the wisest and most genuinely alive character in the novel especially in light of her hard, impeccable work, the Lydia poems which Reis/Pessoa have devoted to her, and her refusal to accept Portugal’s hideous political alignment with Hitler in the days before the outbreak of WWII. Reis travels to the circus of Fatima to search of Marcenda, a much younger, wealthy, aristocrat. He fails to find her and departs before the closing ceremony in honor of the other virgin, the Virgin Mary. His humiliation is painful and yet the reader detests his and the Church’s class-consciousness. Marcenda’s infirmity seems to mirror her sterility as a member of the Catholic upper class, those who support Germany and the regime of Franco in Spain. Reis imagines Marcenda lifting her right arm in the “Roman salute.” Her paralyzed arm may represent Portugal.

This novel is so beautifully crafted. The author employs as his protagonist, Reis, the frail creation of a dead, revered poet (Passoa) and then gives him a brief life after Passoa’s death in order that he may fall in love and discuss with both the living and the dead, the state of this world and the next. It’s crazy original. Now I feel I must read the work of Pessoa. I also enjoyed the wealth of cultural and literary references, although it was Richard, not Henry, who offered to trade his kingdom for a horse. Or was it Reis beginning to lose his memory?

I want to address the statement made by the narrator in reference to the struggle between the classes. There are many of these but the one in reference to the wealthy eating figs is particularly memorable because it follows the scene in which Lydia serves coffee to Reis and Marcenda and points up Lydia’s position as only a chambermaid. The narrator states that, “The rule is that some eat figs while others watch.” It reminded me of a line delivered by Addie in the play, The Little Foxes, by Lillian Hellman. It reads, “Well, there are people in the world who eat the earth and eat all the people on it…. Then there are people who stand around and watch them eat it.” As writers, we must observe in order to write, but the act of writing is participatory. I believe Saramago’s novel is certainly an act of protest. Against what? That, I think, would require a volume in itself. Political issues are pervasive throughout the novel: imperialism, socialism, nationalism, and communism to name a few. Throughout the novel, whenever Reis attaches himself to a mob, whether it has gathered for religious, political, or celebratory reasons, he is hurt physically and psychically.

Regret, too, is a prominent theme throughout. Pessoa laments the “tug of war between memory that pulls and oblivion that pushes…” And in the end, “the world forgets everything.” “In every age we find reasons to go to war.”

I was struck by the title and its significance. Halfway through the book, I turned it over to read the cover again, hoping the word “Death” wasn’t there. As maddening as Reis is, his frailty and foolishness are universal. I felt only pathos. Passoa, Lydia, and the reader love him in spite of his faults, in spite of the fact that he doesn’t exist. As childish as it seems, I thought if anyone could rescue a doomed man, it was Lydia. Silly, I know. But that was what kept me reading. Hope.

Grace

9781619027206

book by Natashia Deon

annotation by Kate Maruyama

I have been itching to read GRACE ever since I heard Natashia Deon read a bit of it at David Rocklin’s ROAR SHACK a few years back. This was someone who clearly knew how to create scene, cared about language and the voice of the book had clear, strong, narrative clarity and control. I always tell my students that the key to voice is creating a voice so strong that the reader feels in good hands. From what I’d heard, I was definitely in good hands.

Once I got a hold of GRACE I was not disappointed, the book is hard to put down. From Naomi’s first line,

I am dead.

…the voice has such strength and assuredness that you have no choice but to sink into the narrative and absorb it.

Starting with your narrative character dead is nothing new, but Deon takes it one further. Because of her predicament, Naomi can observe several characters’ stories. She spends the book telling her story, and the story of her daughter, over whom she watches as things unfold. But she can also, without the glibness of an omniscient narrator, fly around and observe things happening in different environments that will affect her daughter. Through this tool, Deon manages to let Naomi tell several other people’s entangled stories herself.

I tell my students that as long as you keep the reader oriented, you can get away with a lot. And Deon is masterful at keeping us anchored in a complex array of characters in a voice that creates its own rules and sometimes bends them a little. Naomi has these “flashes” of hindsight, portions of her life that unfold more fully in narrative than they did when she was living them. It launches the reader, much like that long view in magical realism, into a broader overview than the character would be capable of observing on her own:

You may never know.

May never know about the choice somebody made for you that changed your life. Just like I didn’t know about the choice made for me that day. By the time I was standing behind Albert, watching him bang those last nails in, my life had already changed.     — Page 353

 

Naomi can then, because we feel we are in capable hands, fly over into the world of a character who, without her knowing, will change the course of not only her life, but of her daughter’s. This is not her ghost being conscious of the world as it unfolded to her during her lifetime. This is a “flash” of a more fully realized hindsight from her ghost consciousness-perhaps a broader sense of things a soul can have once freed from its body. And this is deftly handled.

The narrative devices result in a richly layered story that is laid against not only the cruelties of slavery, but that volatile difficult time after Abraham Lincoln declared the slaves free, but in the South it wasn’t to be a reality until a few years later after several bloody battles. And the repercussions of the cruel system that spawned slavery still haven’t completely passed as of today, a consciousness that is woven carefully into this period piece.

Within Naomi and Josey’s story is that of Charles, whose life is central to both of theirs as well as the stories of Cynthia and Annie, two different morally complex white women doing what they can to survive not the repercussions of the war, but trying to live life on their own terms in a time that simply wouldn’t allow for it. In that lost moment of war between old and new, they slice out a bit of life by use of their wits and their bodies. Cynthia and Annie are so wrapped up in their own problems they have no idea that their whims and often careless decisions can change, even destroy people’s lives. And their ripple affect through the delicate web of two generations of women around them creates a solid portrait of the danger of unconscious white privilege which, while shown in the past, can easily be applied to the present.

With all of these characters, and Naomi’s ability to glide in and out of their lives as they unfold, Deon can deal with issues of gender roles, slavery, race, powerlessness, love, family, power struggles, individuality, strength and of course grace, all while keeping us rapt in the language of her storytelling.

South of Resurrection

 

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book by Jonis Agee

annotation by Tisha Reichle

Before I sign up for a workshop or class with any writer, I always read at least one of her books. If she has multiple novels, I choose the one that has some element similar to what I’m doing with my own writing. I selected South of Resurrection by Jonis Agee because it is in a rural setting with characters who are not wealthy; these are the people of my childhood. The characters also battle nature and a history of racism; this has been the chaos of my adulthood.

Immediately, Agee sets the stage with a place where the narrator, Moline, will experience turmoil. After 23 years away, Moline returns to her home town of Resurrection, “the sort of no-count, nowhere place … [that] could not be revived to a bedraggled glory” (1). The character’s musing about the place establishes her as an outsider who only crawls back home because she is broken and has no place else to go. The tension created between person and place makes the town of Resurrection a character in the novel, one that wreaks havoc on numerous relationships, not just on Moline’s. I want to make the setting of my novel come to life in that same way.

The character of Resurrection intensifies as the region experiences weather extremes. In the middle of a conversation with her childhood friend, Titus, who is the town’s preacher at the black church, Moline notices the “steady darkening of the sky from the clouds bellying up against the hills … the hollow went dim and smoky as if there were a fire just beneath the scattered pine needles and last year’s leaves underfoot” (180). The foreboding weather precedes a warning to Moline from Titus’s wife; she wants Moline to leave and take the trouble she’s stirring up with her.

Agee’s use of colloquialisms, gives Moline a distinct voice, representing the Ozark region in its glory and gloom. Early in the first chapter, one of the essential themes surfaces in the line, “Dreams hunkered down, refusing to be driven out” (3). Initially, Moline is critical of others and clearly indicates her stay is temporary. She mocks them, increasing the tension between herself and the people of Resurrection. She is clearly trying to avoid returning to some conflict from her past. But it is inevitable. She characterizes her attraction to Dayrell, “like going underwater, the sinking inside, all the resistance going away, the weight overhead insistent as a hand pushing me down” (231). In a town this small, she cannot avoid him, the man she once loved.  Or his horrible brother, McCall. This antagonist has no redeeming qualities, according to Moline. She looks at him with “the numb panic of the frog when it sees inside the dark of the snake’s open jaws” (185). But he is as complex as the other characters, manipulating his brother and charming the women of Resurrection out of their land, money, and dreams. He is a predator and Agee develops him with grace.

In spite of strong opposition from her own cousin, Pearl, Moline eventually tries to establish new dreams in Resurrection. With the help of several formidable female characters, including Great Aunt Walker and the sometimes weak, Lukey, Moline faces the abusive men and capitalist intrusion with resilience and determination. Agee has a cast of complex people who are damaged by their families’ past but determined to change the community into what they think is best for everyone.

Agee also uses detailed descriptions of furniture, buildings, and the natural surroundings to parallel the torment each character experiences. Moline helps her Aunt Walker and Uncle Able at their hotel, one that “even the special viciousness of raiders and occupying armies could not put an end to, that even the dying-out Rains family would not allow to expire, a hotel that housed not only the racial history of this town, but also the story of everyone and everything in its museum. If there was anything permanent at all, it was the Rains hotel” (212). This parallelism is effective at contrasting the weary tone Agee creates to portray the people and the land triumphant.

There are religious undertones scattered throughout the story as well; it is to be expected in the South. One character is a preacher and several are clearly God-fearing, Bible-beating, devout believers. In sharp contrast, Moline is skeptical and denies any belief. “Praying hadn’t worked before …God and I hadn’t been on speaking terms since I left Resurrection. No reason to think He was even listening anymore. It just seemed like one of the things you try when you hear the sounds of the well being capped above you” (169). Until she decides that she wants to hang on to her tumultuous relationship and remain attached to the dysfunctional community she is determined to protect.

Most prominently, this is a haunting novel, where a present-day mystery in the town is clearly connected to Moline’s dark past, the reason why she scurried out of Resurrection at sixteen and never looked back. With this added layer of conflict, Agee established the need for me to keep reading, turning each page looking for answers and hoping for resolution. It is not a fairy tale ending, but there is satisfaction in what she leaves unresolved.

Wylding Hall

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book by Elizabeth Hand

annotation by Kate Maruyama

I got a glimpse of Elizabeth Hand’s Wylding Hall last summer at Readercon, and couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into it. Of course, life being life and work being work, I didn’t get to it until just last month. But the moment I opened it, I tore through.

Told in a collage format reminiscent of a rockumentary, Hand introduces us to a variety of characters with distinct voices: from the band’s manager with his outside view of things to Lesley, the sole American in the group, who is deeply enamored of the elusive and beautiful lead singer, Julian. The band has been sent to a remote manor, Wylding Hall, to record an album. The desire to remove them from all distractions and the remote nature of the manor itself creates a hyper-awareness in the summer’s observers and the variety of points of view builds its own tension as each character refers in bits and pieces to what is to come. “That’s why it was so strange about the girl.” The story is told to us in pieces, each character’s strong distinct viewpoints affecting his and her reliability in the matter. We are given bucolic surroundings and Hand creates the manor itself with mysterious twists and turns in such a tangible sense that the reader is left standing there, experiencing each moment.

Sometimes individuals have broken out into their own scenes, but often not. In the case of one beautiful afternoon in which the album’s greatest hit is recorded and a photograph is taken that will weave throughout the rest of the book, Hand gives us all of the points of view in each moment. She creates a multi-dimensional image filled with so many different kinds of want and different takes on one very specific scene, that it crackles throughout its recounting with mounting tension. The weaving of these tellings, back and forth in their own rhythm, evoke a dreaminess as well as a creepiness, as we are certain something will happen. This is storytelling at its most expert; as a reader you cannot help but surrender.

The world of the manor itself, with its shifting halls and curious encounters weaves its own mystery and fear. We know we are in the middle of the English countryside somewhere and the reader feels as cut off from the outside world the band. In this concrete space of beautifully described rooms and edges, Hand gives us turns and stairwells and “don’t go in there!” in a wonderfully creepy and unpredictable way. It’s a good reminder of how important specific, sensory physical description is in the paranormal. And it is quite lovely to feel in such good, certain hands when a supernatural tale is being woven.

Hand deftly invents an imaginary album and in the yearning descriptions of all of her characters and brings it to life.  Each of them, from a different perspective tries to describe the magic of that one album. By the end of it, the reader yearns to hear it, but also somehow has a grasp on its ineffable quality.

Will Fogerty (rhythm guitar, fiddle, mandolin) reflects:

I’ve never known anything like it. Music, it’s always hard to describe, isn’t it? You can describe what it’s like to hear a song, how it makes you feel, what you were doing when you first heard it. And you can describe what it’s like to write it, technically, and how to play it—the chord changes, slow down here, pick it up here. A Minor 7, C Major.

But this—this was different. It’s a cliché to say something’s like a shared dream, like a movie or a concert—you know…

This wasn’t like a dream. It was like being lost; not in the dark, but in the light. Blinding sun through the windows and that fug of smoke from cigs and spliffs, motes in the air like something alive, atoms or insects all silver in the smoke. You couldn’t see to find your way;’ we couldn’t even see each other’s faces, it was so bright and so much smoke. You could only hear the music, and you followed that. Lesley’s deep voice and Julian’s sweet one, Jon grabbing the edge of his cymbal so you could hear only this thin, silvery sound. Ashton’s bass. Me and that mandolin I built from a kit; Les wailing until she nearly passed out.

The writing throughout is lovely while remaining completely economical. There is so much room for Hand to launch off into the lyrical, but she remains true to her characters and their specific feelings of nostalgia.

Despite its collage affect, or perhaps because of it, Wylding Hall hangs together of a piece. The rhythm of the cutting, the building of different tensions across stories from petty jealousies to disagreements over specific events, these are artfully measured and stitched together. The moment you open the book, you know you are in very good hands. As if taking a page from the narrative music of that period of folk rock, Hand creates a larger musical movement throughout the book and a very solid, satisfying ending. This was likely not easily accomplished and probably took a great deal of rewriting and editing.

I’m constantly exploring different points of view in my new work. How different characters see things from completely opposing perspectives and how each point of view can be exploited for its degree of reliability or grasp on the story; especially when a different point of view gives us new insight on something we’ve already experienced in the consciousness of another character. Wylding Hall is such a fantastic use of different points of view, woven together to one end. Hand has got me thinking about the balance of voice, and how snatches of story can be as illuminating as spelling out the whole thing.
When I’m putting together a novel, I’m often stopped by “this isn’t working” or, “where the hell is this going? It’s not what I set out to do.”  I’m trying harder now to open up a bit, write at the outside idea all the way, listen to the secondary characters if they are starting to speak to me. They may have no place in the final draft, but this writing at can get me somewhere I’d never go if I tried to remain within the constraints of an imaginary book. I’m trying to listen to the story all the way and trust the drafting process. So often we get bogged down in visualizing the finished product while drafting. Which shelf will it fit on? Who will read it? When the truth is, we cannot truly imagine that yet and the book may take us on a different journey altogether. A number of times I’ve had books start out as one thing and turn into a completely different animal by the end. I’ve also become more content to throw out pages that aren’t working for the book. I think I cut over 100 pages in my last novel, which is now out to editors. But, had those pages not been written, I wouldn’t have arrived at the final product.

Wylding Hall is a gorgeous example of a book that is artfully and beautifully delivered. It’s important to remember as we beat our heads against our keyboards that the product is out there somewhere, and if we keep working at it we’ll get there. And novels do not emerge, fully formed. Even the most frustrating parts of the journey help us get there.