Fiction Friday: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 47

Previously: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 46

Leonard swallowed his mouthful of gojai and took a prolonged sip from his own mug, as john-mark-kuznietsov-61914crop.jpgmuch to give himself time to consider his answer as to draw strength from the rejuvenating brew. The flavors refreshed his tongue and his spirit, but it was no help in supplying words or the thoughts to form them.

If someone had asked him that question last night or before he’d come to Krosis, he would have had a more ready answer. Leonard would never have claimed to have become Wilhelmina’s confidant in the short time they’d known each other, but he had expected, and believed, there to be a certain level of trust and understanding between them; but the room that doubt had made for itself in Leonard’s chest seemed to expand as it had furnished him with its reasons.

Then there was all that Leonard had learned about his father over the past day or so, and the gaping chasm between it and what he’d believed to know and be true about him. He wasn’t sure how well he knew anyone anymore.

He mentally shook himself from doubts and redirected his attention to what he could do, be more discerning. His wonder had made him more willing to believe the first person to sound like they had answers. Now that he knew that there was even more to this picture than previously thought, he could adjust accordingly. Or at least do his best to.

Finally Leonard lowered the mug from his lips and swallowed, hoping that the right words would come to him.

“Well, that’s a difficult question to answer,” Leonard replied, slowly tasting the words along with the tea.

“How do you mean?” Osric asked. He replaced his own tea on the tray and let his palms rest on his thighs, an amused tilt to his mouth, but interest evident in the in crinkle around his eyes, the shadow of a narrowed brow.

“Well, for one thing, who is to say how well I thought I knew Wilhelmina corresponded with how well she believed I knew her. Or if what I considered to be knowing someone well corresponded with what you considered to be knowing someone well. Perspective and all.” Leonard knew he was being evasive, possibly even difficult. He couldn’t entirely explain why, but he wanted to see how Osric would react.

Osric’s smile was more like a grimace as he said, “You’re either dodging the question or stalling. In either case, I’d like to know why.”

“You might say some of both and a little of neither. But I think an equally important question would be, how well would you say you know your sister? Perhaps just as importantly, though, is, what is it you want from me?” Leonard channeled all of his energy into holding Osric’s stare, refusing to blink or look away, waiting for the other man to speak first.

At long last, Osric’s stoic face cracked into the boyish grin Leonard had grown familiar with earlier. Then Osric smacked his knee and laughed. “Straight to the heart of the matter. I like that, Leonard. I appreciate a straightforward man.” Osric’s tone was conspiratorial and he leaned in closer to Leonard as he spoke.

“I’ll be honest, Leonard, I wish I knew my sisters better. I know them only enough to imagine the things they’re capable of, but their motives are another story. Even though Etta has spent more time on Krosis, I didn’t get to know her much. She spent her time mostly on Krosis at another base and”-

“Wait…” Leonard held up his hands, flailing them in the air to stave off the words he wouldn’t catch after hearing the words ‘another base.’ He thought fleetingly of Jerra’s note. He licked his lips with a suddenly-too-dry tongue as he processed this surprising information.
“You mean, you know that Etta has another base on Krosis? Do you know where it is? Is she there right now?” Leonard was unable to control his questions, so they fired from his mouth at will until he needed to pause for breath, and Osric could respond.

“Woah, woah, there, slow down,” Osric held up his own hands, moving them in a slow downward motion, the internationally recognized signal for ‘calm down’ or ‘easy there.’ Leonard clutched at his cup of tea and busied himself with another sip, his eyes searching Osric’s face as he waited for him to continue.


Play stay tuned for Part 48!

An Interview With The Awesome And Creative James Stryker

Again I find it necessary to be thankful to Twitter and its ability to connect people. I stumbled across James Stryker on Twitter and fell in love with the concept of his then upcoming novel, Assimilation. I was eager to get my hands on it and found a generous author willing to give me a copy for a review, and so started my love for James’s work.

In addition to being kind enough to have furnished me with copies of his books in exchange for my thoughts, he agreed to spend some time to do a video interview with me to discuss his books and his own writing journey so far. He was also generous enough with his time and thoughts to read my own novel and willingly discussed it with me with interest, criticism, and praise.

So without further ado, my friend and colleague, James Stryker!

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DM: Thank you again, so much, for being willing to do this (interview)

JS: Thank you very much for your time. It’s a pleasure, an honor. I love talking to other authors and having the chance to talk about my stuff and – I mean I know you sent me a list of questions but please feel free to talk about your stuff as well.

(The man is humble and truly enjoys discussing others’ work. I let him know that while I appreciated that, this interview was about him, so we tried to keep the focus on James.)

DM: So, I’m not sure which to ask about first, Assimilation or Boy: A Journey, but essentially I’m really curious about the same thing on both of them, and that is, what’s the first thing you remember as far as your idea, the seed of that idea?

JS: Well, I’ll speak to Assim first. I did a brief stint at a funeral home, and so I’ve always just been very interested in cadaver prep, like embalmings, cremations, and all that really good stuff has always been very interesting to me. And I was just researching one day, just reading about a lot of the new advancements and everything with the cryonic preservation theories and about the new challenges that they have and all that kind of good stuff and something that I ran across was that an inherent part of that invasive procedure is just the impact on brain tissue. Like, if it becomes successful, there is a very real possibility that someone could come back and have different personality traits. Also, just knowing that gender identity, possibility, and expression, the brain just plays a huge role in that, more so than just genitalia. So I had the image of a young man basically paralyzed in a hospital bed opening his eyes to a different man expecting his wife and child so, the story just kind of built itself from there. One of those, what if this were the kind of thing that could happen and it truly could.

For Boy, I’ve always just been really passionate about being an advocate for the transgender community. I have a lot of friends and am involved in a lot of the online support scene for it and something that’s just personally always bothered me a little bit, and I know it bothers a lot of other transgender people, is that there’s a lot of sensationalism around it. It’s constantly seen as something that’s very dramatic, it’s constantly erupting, it’s just this scarlet letter that will follow you for the rest of your life, and that might be true for some people, and I’m definitely not mocking that or knocking it at all, but I think there’s a segment of the transgender population where they transition and then they just carry on because they don’t see their true authentic self as being transgender. So, it doesn’t impact them on a daily basis and it’s so seamless that you would really just never know, and my idea was that if a transgender person that chose they wouldn’t have to reveal their past to anyone, and really under the right circumstance, I don’t think they would even have to reveal it to their children. When I brought that idea up in a few circles, several people kind of doubted that it was possible. I actually even had a psychologist tell me that there was no way it could be down so I just decided well, screw you guys, I’m going to write it because it is possible.

DM: I really loved the ideas. That was my first desire really, was to know where the spark of each of those came from because they were such interesting possibilities.

JS: Thank you, I really appreciate that. High praise coming from you.

 

After a moment of my patented awkward and extremely appreciative thank you, we delved further into a discussion about some of the elements in Boy: A Journey and how they relate to the transgender community.

JS: In my involvement with the community I’ve met a great array of people and there are some individuals where they identify as transgender and that journey is so meaningful and impactful to them that they always- that is how they prefer to be known and they are comfortable with other people knowing that, and not to say that the faction of folks that I write about is not comfortable telling people, obviously in Boy: A Journey is, but I think that what you see in the media all the time is all the drama and all the people that it’s just, sorry for lack of a better word, is just constant drama, constant upheaval, and it’s never just something that you move beyond where I think that the dream of a lot of young transgender people just is, I’m going to go through transition and then I’m going to carry out my life as if I were a “normal” man or a “normal” woman, that can be done. One of the, I know there’s the whole big thing about the bathroom issue and there so many great stories that were posted in light of that, of pictures of people who are transgender, and you walk by them every day on the street and you have no idea, but it’s not those people that you see in the media, or that you see in a lot of books and, in my personal opinion, I just feel like that’s where a lot of transgender folks really do fall and so I wanted to write about those people.

The other thing that I definitely do want to add is that, what I just love about gender expression and identity is that, you also then have a faction of people where they identify as they/them or both and that gender fluidity which is wonderful, that’s not the type of people that I write about it, but I just think that that’s incredibly as well. Just capturing everything. I really loved working with Nine Star Press because that’s what they do, they capture all of the binary or as much as one can.

Even if you pop into some of the transgender chat rooms and support groups, so much of it is upheaval. I’ve talked to a lot of teens and young people who are starting the process and the constant fear I see is you know, I’m never going to be normal, I’m going to be this freak, people are going to look at me and they’re going to know immediately, and it doesn’t have to be like that.

I hope that even though I kill Jay off immediately, that maybe that gives some kind of empowerment to folks who think that ‘I’m always going to be seen as weird or a freak,’ you don’t!

DM: Definitely. I do have to say that, Jay may have been killed off immediately but he was a huge presence throughout the book. You did such a good job of giving a character who wasn’t there, character.

JS: Thank you, I appreciate that.

 

On the subject of Jay, we discussed further some of the changes that can occur after someone dies, like that they almost become a different person to different people.

JS: It was great to explore how this man is seen in three different lights from three different people, all of his motives are questioned in three different ways, and I just, I really enjoyed that because I see that so often and have experienced that when someone does pass away.

DM: How long did it take you to finish writing Assimilation and Boy: A Journey?

JS: Well, actually for Assimilation it went very very quickly. I wrote that over the span of a couple of weeks actually, after the initial idea was completed. I’m a very fast writer and what I’ll do is I’ll take time off of work and I will write. I can write up to 15k, 18K a day because I’ll just go for hours.

DM: Wow..

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JS: Really, Boy: A Journey was a challenge because I mulled that idea over and over, had dozens of false starts, like, several different ways I tried to go about it because I really, again, it was very important to me to represent that faction of the transgender community and I wanted to do a good job at it, so I started it several, several times. It took about seven years before that was finished, so I ended up finishing Assim first.

DM: How long did it take you to get Assimilation published, from when you decided you were done and going to start?

JS: I finished that in, oh…February 2014 and it took me over a year for me to get it published because after I finish writing I don’t immediately send it out, I do the editing, I let it sit in the sock drawer for a while, that kind of good stuff. I sent that query to, probably over a hundred agents and publishers and wasn’t really getting any bites until I went through #SFFPits on Twitter and it got picked up by Momentum Pan Macmillan. So, the entire process was probably, from completion, a year and a half to get that published.

DM: That’s pretty awesome.

JS: Yeah, it went well, I think.

DM: I have such a problem with that, a pitch is hard enough but especially when you’re pitching on Twitter it’s just….ahhh!

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JS: Yeah, no, and there’s so many like amazing stories out there, to really make yours stand out, it can be quite challenging. There’s Twitter contests that I would enter that I would get tons of faves and then others where it just seemed like it got lost in the shuffle so, it all just really depends.

DM: As writers we all know that we put pieces of ourselves and our characters in our stories, what would you say is perhaps a trait or a characteristic of yours that you put into one of your characters? (in any novel you’ve written)

JS: Well, I think that kind of leads into one of the questions you were going to ask about my favorite book, I really think it kind of leads into that. Because normally I do try to separate myself somewhat. I mean I put in a little bit of how I act in to everyone but really try not to write me.

DM: Yeah, of course.

JS: However, while I really do love all of my books, a novel that I completed a couple of years ago that’s really meant a lot to me and I put a great deal of myself in that book. To be frank I was in a very dark place when I wrote it because my wife and I had been trying to have a child for a very long period of time and it was not happening. I was actually finding it even difficult to leave my house because seeing children was triggering me into anxiety and I happened to make a joke to my wife one day that I just need to find a place where there were not any kids and the perfect job for me would be the child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  That comment actually got the wheels turning and in doing some research I just discovered that there wasn’t really anything out there about his backstory and, I mean, this is a guy who, in 2005 he’s voted the scariest villain in children’s books and in 2008 Entertainment Weekly said that he was one of the 50 most vile movie villains but nowhere is there any explanation of why this guy does what he does. So, I really decided to try to take on that, and I reimagine him as a person who wasn’t evil but was suffering through some severe depression and just trying to cope with the inability to have children. Really, writing that book helped me to work through a lot of what I was feeling and it’s probably the most the most personal piece of writing that I’ve done. It’s difficult for me to read that over. It’s been difficult for beta readers who know me personally to read it because there is a lot of my feelings and anger and incredibly frustration in that. So, I do hope when that does get out there, that it’s able to help someone else feel not as alone. But I would say, in a long winded answer to your question, that’s where, of all of my books, I really wrote about me and my struggles and so it’s very meaningful to me.

DM: Gotcha. Wow. I really appreciate you sharing all of that with me. That was definitely one of the books I saw that you had that would be coming out that I was like, ‘I have to have that, I have to read this, I really want to know!’

JS: I would very much love to get your thoughts on it. It’s the only one right now that is not actively doing anything, it’s just hanging out there. Again, it’s a difficult one for me to read through and it- I have queried it before. I had some people that were interested, but it’s something where- you know, you have writers say, ‘this book is my baby’, and the other books, they are very important to me, but this one is my baby. So it’s been really hard to…let it go.

DM: Oh, I can completely understand that one. I mean, that was one of the depression issues I was having with The Foretelling Spark is because I’m like, it’s not bad, but it’s not my baby. It’s not the book I’m going to hold up as being the proudest of and say that I’m so glad I wrote this book. I mean, it was the first thing novel-length I was able to complete and I didn’t throw into something and set it afire, you know?

JS:  Well, and it was great. I mean, I saw, and again I know we aren’t super bffs but, just in speaking with you and, you know, looking at your Twitter and things that are important to you and how you view the world, there was a lot of you in it, but you could tell that there was, you had also taken that editorial eye to where you’re not just writing every thought that comes into your head. I see that so much in other writers, where there’s just not that filter; not to say that thoughts aren’t important, but every one doesn’t need to be written down.

 

We continued down this slight detour of discussion concerning my own novel, which James was kind enough to read and give some feedback on. There was much blushing and giddiness on my part from James’s praise and thoughtful critique of my work. But this interview is about the talented James, so back to topic!

DM: So, what would you say your publishing experience has been like so far?

JS: Uhhh….*heavy sigh* a whirlwind! I mean, as I said, Assimilation was picked up non-traditionally through a Twitter pitch on #SFFPit. And then Boy: A Journey was picked up through #Pitmad from Ninestar, so that was again, another non-traditional being picked up there. They also asked to then see any of my other LGBT work and that’s how they ended up publishing The Simplicity of Being Normal. They offered me based on that, and then, while all of this other stuff was going on I was still out there, still trying to find a literary agent, and I received an offer on my YA manuscript. And I sent out that standard notice of offer of rep and I was just beyond ecstatic that my dream agent actually offered me! So now I’m out of the querying, Twitter paryting scene.

DM: Ah! Wow! Congratulations!

JS: I’m super excited. It’s nice to not have to worry about that anymore, it’s just a relief. It’s also an honor to really be working with someone as talented and awesome as she is.

DM: Sounds like a good match, then. So, what would you say has been the most difficult part of the entire writing process? The writing, the editing, the querying, publishing, whatever part of it?

JS: I mean, querying is, as I’m sure you know, frustrating as hell, oh my god! So that was very difficult, but really, I mean, in just my personal experience, I feel like the publishing has been more difficult, but that really could be, it seems like every time I start the process of publishing there’s also something else going on. So, what ends up happening is that I end up procrastinating, and ultimately I feel super rushed and super stressed out about it. So even though querying is super frustrating, at least it was, okay, I send out this query, there’s nothing else I can do about it, and I let it go. But with publishing when there’s all the deadlines, it has to go through like eight different people, and I don’t want to be the hold-up, so the rush is very stressful, so I would could that the most difficult part.

DM: Do you have a favorite writing spot?

JS: It really depends on what I’m working on and how deep I need my concentration to be. When I’m at home I usually just write at the dining room table which is where I’m at right now. But if I really need a chunk of time and I need to focus I will go down to just a local coffee shop; it’s kind of hard to get distracted there, I don’t have kids running around and dogs running around. So it depends on what I’m working on.

DM: Makes sense. How do you balance your writing and the rest of life necessities?

JS: Oh god…uh…I wish that I really did have two other mes, that would be nice. Um, I mean it’s, I try to carve out writing times at night. I mean, I do have a full-time job that I’m very dedicated towards there, I’ve been a foster parent for a couple of years now, so caring for any children in the home is a hugs priority for me. So I usually write when everyone else is asleep! Luckily I have insomnia so I’m up all night.

DM: Ah, a tell-tale sign of a writer, too often. Too many of us anyway.

JS: That is true.

DM: What are some of your interests outside of writing?

JS: Um, well, my nine month old little guy. Nothing really brings me more joy than he does so he’s probably my main interest. I’m also really passionate about my full-time job, I’m part of a leadership team at a call center and I find that very rewarding. I have the opportunity to use a lot of my creativity, I design presentations, photoshop stuff, as well as mentoring other people. So, those are my main things.

DM: I know you’re a fan of Sci-fi, so for the record, do you have a favorite writing or reading genre?

JS: I actually, even though Assim is sci-fi, it actually shocked me because I don’t know that I’m a huge huge fan of sci-fi/fantasy. I really like, uh- like, I’m so excited to get my hands on whatever you’re working on that’s dystopian, so kind of like that soft sci-fi, because I’m very much character driven; that’s very important to me. Again, this is just my personal taste as a reader, sometimes with a lot of sci-fi or fantasy novels, the world building and descriptions and all that, I want to move and know what’s going on with these characters, that’s what grabs me. I more go for literary fiction. I really love books that have beautiful prose, which again one of your strengths! Really, I like things that have a purpose beyond just merely entertainment. I want to walk away being a little bit different. I’m not saying I like to read inspirational, and I don’t want to be ‘fundamentally changed’, but to walk away with even just a new idea, new perspective. So yeah, I really am more literary.

DM: That’s exactly why I fell in love with Assimilation and your characters in general because that is definitely one of your strengths. As I said in my reviews and before, you really know how to grab a reader with your characters and not let go.

JS: Thanks. That’s what I like to read, so.

DM: You definitely write it well, so I understand why you love to read it too. I definitely enjoy very character driven work. I mean, who else are you investing in?

JS: I definitely agree. I don’t know why, I’ve always found that, from a very young age, that I read a book because I want to be somewhere else, I want to walk in someone else’s shoes. But you know, the other thing that I think is very interesting to that too, and that I’ve tried to convey in my books, is that I don’t necessarily think that that person has to be super likeable; I really enjoy reading about characters that are flawed, that are deeply flawed because I think that’s so much more approachable. I can’t imagine myself being in the shoes of some saint, but people who are affected by their surroundings, who make very poor decisions, who can be very cruel, as cruel as they are kind, I feel like that’s part of what sucks me in as a reader, and so I try to convey that in my writing as well.

DM: I definitely say you do that quite well.

 

I mentioned that this was something I needed to work on in some ways with my own work; I have a problem understanding or having a character do something that could be considered mean or cruel without having a purpose or a deeper reason, and sometimes characters need to do those things, or have them happen to them.

We discussed my characters and the notes James made about my novel, which led to an interesting and important thing to consider while writing certain characters.

JS: What it reminds me of is the book I’m working on with my agent right now. It has a main character that…he’s an asshole. A major, major asshole that keeps everybody at arms’ length, and that’s a problem because, even though there’s a reason why he is an asshole, and there’s a reason that he keeps everyone at arms’ length, keeping the reader at arms’ length, it was then a struggle for the reader to connect with him. It’s been something that I’ve had to go back through and think about, okay, I know why he’s doing this, I know why he is just very standoffish, and why he is the way he is, but we’re in his head. So, he can be that way to the world around him, but not to the reader.

 

He then related this back to my own novel and how it is something to take into consideration. It was helpful and great to discuss these issues so that I can attend to them, not only in revisions for The Foretelling Spark, but something to take into future projects as well.

Then I turned our conversation back to James.

DM: Okay, we kind of talked about this before, so just to clarify, what is your favorite book that you’ve written? Is that The Child Catcher, or another?

JS: No, it really is. I love all of my books and there’s, you know, a message behind all of them and a reason why I wrote them. I did go into some depth with Child Catcher and why that one is really the favorite book, the most personal. However, a close second would really be Boy: A Journey. I wrote that, even though I did write that a lot for the transgender community, the portions of it with Tom’s death were very difficult for me to write because I dedicated the book and wrote it with my grandmother in mind. That was something that, a lot of what happens there at the end when he actually does pass, that was very personal to me in that I was, that I went through similar situation and so I would say, after Child Catcher, Boy: A Journey is very very personal to me because it was me saying goodbye to her all over again so, reliving that.

 

After a moment of sharing condolences and brief discussion about writing and encapsulating the loss of a loved one, we turned to slightly fuzzier topics.

DM: So, I know you mentioned your pugs so, I’m going to ask you to tell me about any writing helper/minions or furry distractions you have, if you don’t mind.

JS: I do have the pugs, and like I said, I also have a nine-month old little boy. He used to be in the ‘help’ category when he was smaller. I actually edited Boy: A Journey standing up at the drafting table with him like, in a snuggie on my chest. But now he just wants to be into everything including the laptop so, he now falls into that cute yet distracting bucket. That’s also kid of where the pugs are usually, they like to pile around me when I write on the couch. In most of my profile pictures is my senior girl, Binky. I look better when I have a pug. So those are the minions, distractions, ‘helpers.’

DM: How would you say your writing community has affected you?

JS: Oh I mean, tremendously. Besides that I wouldn’t have published anything or really found literary rep without Twitter, like I said, I went the traditional querying route and it didn’t really get me much of anywhere. But I’ve also met awesome people like yourself, sharing best practices, and it helps to make me a better writer, honestly. I’ve met some really great friends, again yourself included. I’d also like to think that I’ve helped a lot of people too, or I’ve tried to. If I could give a small shout out to Elizabeth Hamill,who has an awesome LGBT sci-fi that’s releasing in July, and J.M Sullivan who just published Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles on May 16th, they just, they rock. I love Beta Reading for them and helping them, or I like to think I helped them. They were awesome without me, but maybe I helped just a little bit. If nothing else, just the self-esteem boost of telling them that they’re awesome, sometimes that really helps, in a sea of rejections.

DM Definitely! And how would you say you found or created your writing community? Did you just get on Twitter, start tweeting and find some people, or was there something else along the way?

JS: My wife actually was doing it first. She’s also a YA author and she was just very much into it for a time and was telling me all about these Twitter parties and everything. At first I thought it was just crap and then I finished my books and considered giving it a whirl. I really started doing it a lot because of her and the Twitter parties and everything, just participating in that, I had the opportunity to be a slush reader at #70pits last year where I’ve met a lot of super awesome people to connect with.

DM: For writing tools, do you have a preference for Word, Scrivener, old-fashioned handwriting?

JS: I like just, Microsoft Word. Sometimes I will get an idea, usually it’s dialogue, like dialogue will pop into my head at 2 in the morning (I’m sure you understand), and I have to, you know, turn over and write it in my notebook by my bedside but, normally I do like Microsoft Word because like you, I do agonize over word choice and structures and I can’t imagine doing it hand written because I would be be crossing things out, whiting things out. I like being able to type out a sentence and then switch it around fifty different ways.

DM: Which author drink stereotype would you say is your biggest vice, if at all, coffee, tea, or alcohol?

JS: Coffee all day and wine all night. Lots of coffee, and I like wine. There’s a lot of good wineries around here I frequent. I’m not a drunk, but I do enjoy a glass of wine while I write.

DM: So I know I asked you about the most difficult part of the entire process, but what would you say is the most difficult part of novel writing for you?

JS: I’m really crap at beginnings. I really am crap at beginnings. You’ve read things so far where I’ve edited and edited the beginning and believe me, everything you’ve read, that’s not where it originally started. And I’m still, I’m…happy with how they start now, but I always have to redo beginnings. I feel like in everything it doesn’t really start to get good until 15-20 pages in, and that’s not good. So beginnings, I really struggle with. I don’t know why.

DM: Okay, I promise we’re nearly done! So, The Simplicity of Being Normal is your most recent release, is there anything you can tell us about it?

JS: Sure. It’s more similar to Boy: A Journey than it is to Assimilation. It is told from three different points of view like the other two novels are, and of course it has LGBT elements in it. It follows the story of an underage transgender young man as he is living in a very conservative community and there’s a lot of bullying and abuse that is going on at school. He does find allies in a couple of teachers at the school but just how he navigates and of course, because we’re in three different perspectives the other two main characters, the teachers, they also do have some secrets that they’re hiding and struggles they’re going through as well.

DM: Well, I really can’t wait to read more. I’m only a few pages in and already, just oh, Sam!

JS: It’s a struggle. Again, I wrote Boy to show that there doesn’t have to be that sensationalism and that is also what I hope comes across with Sam; that this is just a young man who wants to be seen as normal. He’s not out there hurting anybody, like he’s not out there doing drugs, or anything like that, he just really wants to be normal, and people are just fighting him the entire way. That’s what a lot of young transgender people go through.  Especially in communities like he’s in where they don’t have the support, they [lack] the ability to receive treatment so they’re kind of just stuck in limbo until they hit 18.

DM: Which by then is just…the difference between being able to start before puberty hits, to be able to, it just…how is that so hard to understand?

JS: It’s incredible. And besides the fact that the changes to the body are just so much more effective the younger that you start. I mean the teenagers, we all know it, cisgender, transgender, what may have you, those are building blocks to the person you’re going to be and spending those formative years constantly fighting who you are, being so depressed, so anxious, hating yourself, that is so destructive to a persons’ self-esteem, self-confidence. I’m very excited to see your thoughts, but I would imagine that even though Sam is going to be feeling those things, even after transitioned for years to come as many transgender individuals do so, the earlier that you’re able to start getting treatments, it’s just so much better on many levels. So I hope you enjoy it.

DM: As I said, I definitely cannot wait to sink in further. Okay, the last question I have is, what is your next novel coming up and what can you tell us about it?

JS: The next novel is the one that I’m working on with my literary agent. It’s a contemporary YA, so I would imagine that’s going to be the next one to come out, unless everyone hates it and I have to work on something else. I would say that it’s kind of like a YA twist on Fight Club. It follows a young man with medically induced dissociative identity disorder and he’s basically fighting to maintain control of the shared body. So it’s kind of like YA Fight Club if you were rooting for Tyler Durden. It’s pretty gritty, reads kind of similar to The Gospel of Winter, so it’s not like a super deviation from my other work in the literary realm, but it’s also not told from multiple points of view, unlike the other novels. So that’s what’s next.

 

From there our conversation turned to my own work, once again. We discussed a WIP of mine that’s I’ve been slowly piecing together over this past year or so, and it was a wonderful and lively conversation. I enjoyed myself immensely.

I highly recommend you snag yourself one of James Stryker’s fantastic books. I will besimplicity of being normal finishing up The Simplicity of Being Normal, and you can expect a review to come after. I will also be eagerly waiting for more stirrings about his novels to come.

Another huge thank you James for his time and doing this interview with me, and of course, for his thoughts, criticisms and praise of my own work and willingness to share his thoughts. Thank you, James!

You can find James on Twitter, or through his site.

Review Corner: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

I’m not sure where I first saw Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, but I was intrigued with the description and tried multiple times for a copy of it on Goodreads giveaways and ARC copies. Eventually, I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC copy in exchange for an honest review through another channel.

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I finished reading this many months ago (okay, almost a year now), so I apologize for the delayed review. I got frustrated every time I tried to put my thoughts into words and kept moving on to other things.

As excited and interested as I was for the book from reading the blurb, I was unfortunately disenchanted with it….….actually more than that, I disliked it and by the end, I was angry.

It was easy enough to read through quickly. It’s written in often short, choppy sentences or pieced together fragments. It’s supposed to add suspense, but it’s mostly lacking. At times it works well, at others it’s annoying. Some more strategic use of this would have made it stronger in my opinion…at least the reading part, the plot- well, we’ll get there.

The story goes that Jason Dessen (also to be known to as “Original” Jason) goes out one night to get some dinner (I believe) for his family, but never comes back because he’s abducted. The “familiar” but mask-wearing culprit takes Jason’s clothes, asks him some strange questions, and eventually disappears into the ether. Jason is eventually left unconscious in the unknown location he’s been brought to.

He awakes strapped to a gurney, surrounded by people that supposedly know him, but that Jason does not recognize. “Original” Jason is believed to be a different version of Jason, one that never married (wife, Daniela, called Dani) or had a child (Charlie), is not a professor, and who continued to pursue work in the field of quantum physics; it’s this Jason’s work that brings “Original” Jason to where he is. This “other” Jason’s research and work created a way, through use of ampules and what was once a physically impossible box, to travel to different dimensions, thus the many various versions a person’s life (and the world) can take. (Here’s how it works: once inside the box you take the ampules then start walking down a hallway of doors, each door is a different possible decision or branch that changed something about the world beyond; so endless Jason’s making endless Jason decisions….talk about nightmare, but anyway…)

It doesn’t take long to piece together that the masked abductor was this other Jason, who had decided he had missed out on a few things and thought stepping into “Original” Jason’s life made more sense than…any number of other things…. such as trying to reconnect with the Dani in his dimension, or another woman entirely…the point is, this over-entitled supposed genius had options, and he went with abduction and switching lives….I’ll explain even more how this is a problem in a moment…

So essentially, “Original” Jason wants his life back and escapes with (and with the help of) a woman named Amanda that ‘other’ Jason worked with. So they travel with ampules and simple packs through the endless rows of doors, randomly picking ones to step through to find the right door to “Original” Jason’s life.

Throughout the book I couldn’t escape the feeling that it was written as a testimonial to the author having researched, learned, and understood some physics. The bulk of it is told from Jason’s perspective, so the delving into physics explanations was like the man giving himself a mini-lecture in his head every time he remembered something physics related; it did not work for me at all.

Most of what happens in the box and in the worlds “Original” Jason (and sometimes Amanda) visited isn’t really important. The descriptions of the worlds are varied, their reason for leaving the box routinely isn’t highlighted or well explained other than to give the book a “middle” and attempt to illicit more drama. The only thing you need to know is that “genius” Jason tries some asinine and repetitive things to go home, Amanda leaves him to be stupid and whiney on his own, and eventually he magically finds his way to the world and life he was stolen from.

Which then leaves the other glaring issues with this book (and its horrible conclusion).

So, something to keep in mind while “Original” Jason has been blundering his way back home, Daniela has been living and sleeping with a man who is not exactly her husband or the man she married….there is SO much wrong to me on the basis of consent when it comes to the devious and disgusting violation of Daniela as a human being with rights to her own body. Of course one of the first things ‘other’ Jason did is have sex with the wife he took to be his, even though she wasn’t, of course without telling her. It is NOT an interesting philosophical debate about if it’s really Jason or not- it’s rape.

But it gets worse.

You remember how the box creates branches at each decision Jason makes, which leads to a large number of versions of Jason converging on this ONE Daniela and Charlie; all believe themselves to be the “Original” Jason that deserves to be with Daniela and Charlie…and NONE of them seem to really believe it’s down to Daniela to choose. There’s one very brief quasi-choice given to Daniela, but it’s not a full and proper choice; it follows the story the author decided he wanted to tell.

This book was mostly that; pieces of a story made to fit together the way the author wanted, characters acting out a necessary script, plus some physics and erasure of women’s choices. Consider me not a fan.

I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone. It was a waste of time, a poorly plotted story (admittedly a difficult idea to tackle, but badly done), and unnerving in how many people seem unbothered by Dani’s lack of proper autonomy or the fact that she was violated throughout this book, which apparently didn’t matter because it’s all about Jason.

The very end is even more frustrating and further evidence of negating Dani’s rights and choices (it’s safe after the kitten under flannel):

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Dani selects her Jason (the one whose story we’ve followed)…BUT IT’S NOT ENOUGH!!! Apparently Daniela’s “choice” isn’t enough to persuade the other Jasons, so Dani, “Original” Jason, and Charlie all “have” to go into the box and choose another world to live in and hopefully hide from all the other Jasons…..
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Let me break that down again: Dani chose a Jason. The other Jasons still think they know better. Dani and her chosen family have to flee their lives…..

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kitten flannel safe from spoilers

(safe from spoilers now)

There are also issues with continuity and explaining away the presence of the boxes throughout the worlds, how they were exactly where they needed to be for whatever purpose in the moment, all without being noticed by really anyone other than the Jasons; then there’s how much Jason is talked about as if he is incredibly intelligent, but he does some of the stupidest things and fails to ask some of the most important and obvious questions of certain characters that he meets.

Add in the glaring issues concerning Daniela (and Charlie)….

Yeah, I’m not a fan of this book and I would recommend you spend your precious reading time on other, far worthier, books.


Recommendations:
Assimilation by James Stryker

 

Fiction Friday: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 46

Previously: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 45

“It took longer than I expected getting back here, sorry about that. Everyone seems to be wanting a word.” A cloud briefly darkened Osric’s face, but it was soon replaced it with an apologetic smile as he peered into the chamber over Leonard’s shoulder.

“I thought you could probably use a freshening of refreshments,” he continued and raised the tray, the tea’s aroma wafting directly under Leonard’s nose; his mouth watered. “Mind if I come in?”

Leonard hesitated, surprised by the actual request. Aside from Coppa and the young woman who had stayed only long enough to leave her advice along with his meal, no one had asked if they could come in, they’d simply entered.

“Oh, sure, of course. Come on in,” Leonard said, summoning a welcoming smile as he stood aside and held the door open.

“Oh, um, please forgive the mess,” he added sheepishly after shutting the door and turning to face the room.

Osric stood at the foot of the bed, one of the few uncluttered spaces of floor in the room, ducking away from the wall-lamp. Leonard’s rucksack and its disgorged contents looked multiplied when littered with such abandon. The remnants of Leonard’s meal were scattered over the tray, which had been somehow pushed partially under the bed.

Leonard crouched and started gathering the items. For a moment his heart jumped at the thought of Jerra’s note, but he then remembered tucking it safely into his boot.

“It’s no problem at all but, is everything alright?” Osric inquired as he placed the tray in pexels-photo-169685.jpeghis hands on the bed then stooped to join Leonard in gathering the papers, clothes, and various adventuring debris.

“Yeah, I’m“- Leonard hesitated, his hand hovering over one of the maps as he actually considered his answer. “I actually don’t know, to tell you the truth.” His answer surprised himself; less so for the fact of it being true than sharing it aloud with someone else.

“I can only imagine there’s a lot to take in,” Osric conceded, reaching for the last loose page to add to his stack. “Anything I can help with?”

It wasn’t the question itself that made the hairs on the back of Leonard’s neck stand on end. It was that there was something more pointed about pitch or the tone in Osric’s voice as he’d asked, like someone trying to stealthily sheath a blade before sinking it into your side. Leonard shook this unbidden thought away, blaming it on the influx of information, his weariness, and the many warnings against someone he thought he could trust; it was certainly enough to warrant a touch of paranoia.

“It’s hard to say. I could use some more information, though. That meeting was a lot to take in,” Leonard eventually replied as he stacked the remainder of his littered items on top of the pile he’d created at the feet of his weapons in the far corner. He took the pile Osric handed him and added them as well, making a mental note to properly repack his bag the next free moment he had.

When he turned to stand he found Osric’s hand waiting to assist him. The taller man pulled Leonard to his feet with ease and gestured to the bed and waiting food and drink.

“I have some questions of my own so I believe a chat would do us good. How about we start over a snack? I haven’t eaten since morning patrol, which was before you and Mina came along.” Osric flashed another grin at Leonard.

Leonard nodded and took a seat at the head of the bed. Osric lifted the tray and then sat at the foot, replacing it in the space between them. On it there were two mugs, both steaming with tea; a compact teapot, presumably containing more; a plate with a few pieces of the same bread from earlier, making Leonard the more grateful to the waiting teapot; a bowl filled with pieces of a bright purple fruit soaking in a juice of the same color; and lastly, a plate packed mostly with hunks of what looked like white cheese and a few fragments of some sort of meat.

“The bread is good to dip in the tea as well as the gojai juice,” Osric said, pointing to the bowl of fruit. He then reached over a grabbed the top piece of bread, ripping a chunk off and dunking it in the closer of the mugs.

Leonard followed suit, taking a sip of the rich liquid before dunking his own broken off piece of bread into it. He eyed the plate of meat dubiously but hazarded a slice of the fruit. He waited until he’d finishing his bread before placing a purple piece of gojai in his mouth; at first it was so tart Leonard almost spit it out, but a moment longer on his tongue unlocked a collection of sweet flavor he had not thought possible in one fruit. He nodded appreciatively.

“So, Leonard,” Osric began, lifting the large cup to his lips and pausing, “How well would you say you know my sister?”


Click here for Part 47!

Fiction Friday: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 45

Previously: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 44

Leonard was oblivious to time’s passing and was too tired to care. His head was much too heavy to bother with moving, so he didn’t. His only concern lay in the freedom his mind would have to roam without the focus of animating his limbs. Mercifully, his mind remained still enough to drift off to somewhere resembling dreamland.

Leonard’s dreams were made of the familiar luminescent blue and purple lights from his travels between the ponds, winking at him in their plethora of shades. He drifted through an endless tunnel of the memorable storming hues. Arcs of colored lightning streaked past his weightless form, ruffling tufts of his hair and feeling like a warm breeze.

A sound suspended somewhere between voices and music seeped into the background. Occasionally they blended and became what could have passed for an enchanting song, but the thread would break and the oscillating would begin again; the colors seemed to vibrate and meld in conjunction with them.

Eventually all that was left were the voices whispering, murmuring, chanting, in the palette of his surroundings. The surrealness made him no less eager to catch hold of the words wafting around him like he could tuck them into a bag and take them back to the waking world as long as he managed to gather them.

From across a distance too impossible to fathom, with a certainty too improbable to explain, Leonard recognized his father’s voice and knew this was not entirely a dream. He grasped with frenzied fingers towards the disembodied sounds of Gerard Letterman; it had no beginning or end, nowhere to follow a voice to, and still Leonard wandered through the colors in search of his father.

Leonard tumbled past an amethyst eruption of lights and caught a thin string of distinct words in his father’s recognizable baritone, as deep and encompassing as he remembered:

This will become the end, or the beginning…

Then, he was awake.

Leonard was not aware of when he shifted from the enchanting wonder of the luminescent realm to the muter settings of reality, but he felt the change acutely. He was lying on his back, arm still shading his eyes from the wall-lantern light. He was hesitant to move, unsure of what had pulled him back and wondering if staying immobile would lead him back to the colors, and a certain voice.

But it was not to be. He remained stationary on the bed, silence stretching further all around.

Leonard moved with a sigh, pushing himself into a sitting position and bracing his back against the wall. He blinked groggily as he surveyed the room, subconsciously searching for a clock he knew wasn’t there. He was all the more disoriented, uncertain of how long he’d been dozing, or how long it’d been since the tea; his stomach surprised him by giving an expectant grumble.

He shook his head and repeated the words, this will become the end, or the beginning, their meaning no more clear than when originally uttered. Before too long he was massaging his temples and muttering under his breath, throwing in the occasional curse out of pure frustration and lack of anything resembling progress.

Then there was a knock.

Leonard leapt in surprise and thumped his skull against the wall. He winced as he reached back to rub the newly sore sport; his head was becoming a minefield of tender areas. He chose not to bother with wondering who was on the other side and settled for finding out when he got there.

He rose from the bed on unsteady limbs, momentarily struck by a wave of dizziness from getting up too fast. He stumbled against the wall, gripping it for support and grazing his shoulder against a nearby bookshelf as he regained the ability to stand and see straight.

At last, he was able to step towards the door, sparing a moment of curiosity for the identity of this patient visitor. So far, they had left the steady knock-knock-knock as their only appeal to entry. Leonard was grateful.

He took a deep breath for no particular reason, then pulled the door open.

Osric’s sizeable form filled the entryway, his arms occupied by a tray laden with an assortment of food and what looked to be two large mugs of tea. Leonard took an experimental whiff and was pleased to recognize the same sweet scent from before.

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Click here for Part 46!

Fiction Friday: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 44

Previously: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 43

Leonard’s legs were weak and shaking beneath him. He stumbled his way back towardsStockSnap_JE1ESWH97H.jpg the bed, seeking to sink down on it, or fearing he would abruptly greet the floor again instead. One meet and greet with the floor, with a side of concussion, was enough for one day; and a long day it was turning out to be.

He sat on the bed, knees at right angles to the floor, elbows digging into the muscle between thigh and kneecap. He leaned forward until his hands cradled his head.

Leonard wasn’t sure if he felt more deflated, the air seeping out of him until he was shriveled up, or popped, violently punctured and rendered useless; maybe somehow, both.

“What am I doing here?…What am I going to do?” the muttered words dropped from Leonard’s mouth like saliva from a sleeping man.

He didn’t know.

The pieces he had of this puzzle weren’t fitting right; some seemed to be the devious kind that appear to fit until you pay a little too much attention to the details and realize the picture is obscured, or uncover a few of the right pieces, and find that there’s an impostor.

Leonard reviewed the most important of things he knew, or thought he knew, alternately massaging his temples and tugging at his hair.

He’d received a letter. The writer asked for help. Wilhelmina was the writer and sender.

Leonard had come. Wilhelmina had been surprised, suspicious at first, but she’d been relieved and happy too, right? Especially after Leonard had helped find the shard. She’d definitely been happy about that, at least. His stomach clenched.

Wilhelmina had given him information. Answered his questions (for the most part). Taught Leonard to defend himself (his clumsiness no reflection of Wilhelmina’s teaching). It was still time and effort she had put into Leonard, for a purpose, presumably for his own good as much as anyone else’s.

According to Wilhelmina, the problems in Palloria (and in some ways, Krosis), could be attributed to Etta. Also according to Wilhelmina, there was reason to believe that Etta was more than a problem, but also a traitor; to who, what, or in what way, exactly, was still fuzzy.

Wilhelmina was not sure how much she (and Leonard?) could trust Osric. She had kept and was still keeping information from Osric and the group (and Leonard). For all her talk of answering his questions later, he was not so sure she would answer half as many as she asked.

Osric had claimed there was no need for secrets due to…. Leonard couldn’t quite remember. He shifted his hands to gingerly touch the part of his skull that had met the stone floor earlier in a different room. Was that the cause of this lapse?

Gerard? Was that the reason? Like a bolt of electricity, Leonard thought he vaguely recalled that Osric had pronounced the need for secrecy over after mention of Gerard, Leonard’s father, being alive.

Leonard shivered and moved back to cradling his head, moving his thoughts back along with it.

According to Osric, there was no need for secrets.

No one seemed to have accepted Etta’s guilt in any matter (other than being absent), except for Wilhelmina. Osric was cautious, perhaps suspicious, but ultimately uncertain of Etta’s possible crimes.

There was Coppa. Coppa’s encouragement to listen to what people besides Wilhelmina had to say about what was going on. His promise to Leonard.

And Ursa. Ursa’s anger towards Wilhelmina. Ursa’s warning. Ursa’s pledge to help Leonard specifically.

Then there was Jerra. Jerra who had betrayed Wilhelmina. Jerra whose daughter was not well, not at home where she belonged.

Jerra’s claim that Wilhelmina was not being truthful. Jerra, who had written that certain truths had lives at stake.

Leonard groaned, threading strands of his hair between his fingers and pulling at them hard. He was torn between desperately needing more information, and not knowing what to do with or how to process all that he’d learned thus far.

How was Leonard to know who was telling to truth, what the right course of action was, or who to trust, when his only sources of information were the same people he was uncertain of? It’s not like they trained him for something like this working for the Post Office.

Leonard mulled these thoughts over, unable to escape the sensation that he’d been through them all before. Confusion, uncertainty, was exhausting.

In the end, things boiled down the same: without more information, without understanding the possible motivations of everyone around him, there was no way Leonard could determine who really needed his help. More accurately, whose cause was one Leonard would willingly fight for.

Though Leonard hadn’t ruled out the possibility of going home sooner rather than later, he was determined to find a few answers first.

With this much certain, Leonard felt uncharacteristically fatigued. His suddenly heavy eye lids were desperate to rest. Leonard surveyed the bed, the contents of his pack still littered across it. With one arm, he swooped everything off the bed in a haze, clothes, papers, pens and more hitting the floor with muffled mayhem.

Then he lay down, wriggling into a comfortable position on his back atop the covers. He moved his arm to fall over his face and cover his closed eyes. He let go a heavy sigh that had been rising in his chest, imaging his worries drifting out of him like smoke from exhaled lungs.

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Click here for part 45!

Fiction Friday: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 43

Previously: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 42

Leonard froze in mid-step as he listened to the knocker finish their polite but determined series of taps. Since his back was to the door, he slowly turned to peer over his shoulder, uncertain of what he should do next; he could only hope that his indecision met with a better fate than most deer caught in headlights.

The minutes of silence stretched on until enough time passed to warrant yet another succession of knocks, this set with a shade more impatience added to the end of each rap. Still, Leonard remained motionless like a child caught with their hand in the cookie jar, afraid that movement would break the spell of stillness and trigger a reprimand.

Would they give up and leave? Should he answer? Try to hide? Leonard’s options flitted through his mind as he remained peering at the door over this shoulder.

The next insistent and less friendly sequence of knocks made Leonard jump and turn toward the door, deciding he had no choice but to open it. He expected the now impatient person to let themselves in at any moment but desperately hoped that they either weren’t rude enough to, or that there was some locking mechanism he had not noticed that would keep them out.

Just as Leonard took a breath and intended to reach for the door, he froze and turned back toward the bed. Jerra’s note. His own note. Both sat there, waiting for just anyone to read. Leonard grabbed and folded the notes as fast and neatly as possible, then tucked them into his boot.

He gave the bed a cursory glance to be sure there was nothing else that might provoke undesirable questions. The mess was easy enough to explain with most of the truth; he’d had trouble finding an item in his bag.

Leonard nodded then retraced his earlier steps to the door, just in time to pull it open and interrupt the knocker with her fist raised in mid-rap. In that moment, Leonard wasn’t sure who was more startled.

Wilhelmina lowered her hand immediately and then gently but firmly pressed the door open enough for her to slip inside. She yanked the door from Leonard’s grasp and shut it with a muffled thud. She turned and took stock of the room before turning her attention fully to Leonard.

Leonard’s mouth was uncomfortably dry. He fleetingly wished he hadn’t already finished his tea.

What were you doing? Why did it take you so long to answer?” Wilhelmina whispered emphatically, speaking fast and closing in on Leonard until his back was literally to the wall.

“I-I must have zoned out, maybe nodded off a minute. I’m sorry I didn’t hear you,” Leonard replied, flustered as he struggled with relief and dread. He elected not to ask why she was whispering, but kept his voice low too.

The scrutinous look Wilhelmina gave Leonard made him gulp and want to curl up under the blanket on the bed like a child hiding from the monster under it. Her narrowed eyes threatened to slice him open and find all he was not telling her.

I beg yeh not to show this to Wilhelmina, lives are at stake. She’s not what yeh think, an’ her aims isn’ what she says they are.

Leonard tried to swallow but his throat was too dry.

Wilhelmina flicked her eyes to the door then said, “I haven’t much time now, since you took so long to answer. Has Osric been to see you, yet?” She asked casually, no longer threatening to dissect him with her eyes, but Leonard found nothing casual about her question, not anymore. He told himself he’d ask himself why that was, later.

Leonard shook his head, brow furrowed as to voice the question of his confusion.

“Then I imagine he’ll be along any minute. When he left me in my room, he said he was going to check something in the kitchen before coming to see you.” Wilhelmina’s reply hardly provided Leonard with the answers he’d hoped, and instead raised more questions; he vaguely wondered if it were possible to become physically ill from having too many unanswered questions, because he thought he might be closing in on the limit.

“Has anyone else come by? Spoken with you?” Wilhelmina’s voice still soft, mostly likely in attempt to avert possible eavesdroppers, but Leonard felt her question like crushing blow knocking the wind out of him.

Leonard was unsure what to say or to admit about who had come by, so he stalled. He gestured to the tray and evidence of his meal and rasped, “well, there was a young ah, woman-girl, the uh, the young lady came by with, um, tea and stuff.” Leonard wanted to kick himself.

Wilhelmina glanced over her shoulder and confirmed the presence of the tray with a brisk nod. She turned back to him, her face expectant as she waited for Leonard to continue.

“Wolfhart,” Leonard blurted as if he’d just remembered. He’d decided it would do no harm to admit his less than enjoyable conversation with Wolfhart. The man’s disdain and utter lack of confidence in Leonard would hardly be a secret.

When Wilhelmina remained silent, Leonard continued, “yeah, he uh- he came by and pretty much told me to go home because I wasn’t useful anymore.”

Leonard waited, expecting Wilhelmina to defend him in some way. He tried not to feel her momentarily downcast eyes like a jolt to his nervous system.

Everyone is useful in one way or another,” Wilhelmina began, reaching out and grasping Leonard’s shoulder. Somehow it was devoid of real warmth, and the look she gave him was more reminiscent of pity than encouragement. “It would be difficult to bring someone along who is less familiar with, well, skills necessary to our task. It would not be impossible, but more difficult for some in the group than others. Don’t take his words to heart, but do what you feel is best.” She gave his shoulder a friendly squeeze then released him.

Leonard was not comforted by her words, no longer secure in his belief that she wanted him here. Though some of her words sounded encouraging, there was an edge. He couldn’t escape the impression that Wilhelmina wanted him to leave, but he didn’t know why. It didn’t make sense to him.

Her next words cut off his train of thinking.

“Anyone else?” when Leonard looked confused Wilhelmina followed it with “did anyone else come by, or was that everyone you spoke with?”

Leonard pretended to pause and think a moment before shaking his head. Though his gut clenched, something told Leonard to admit nothing more.

“You’re sure?” Wilhelmina pressed, her face coming within an inch of Leonard’s.

“I’m sure. Just the tea lady and Wolfhart.” Leonard smiled weakly.

“No wonder you were so lost in thought that you didn’t hear me knocking,” Wilhelmina said with a feeble smile of her own, the slight reprimand coated in apparent compassion.

A noise in the hallway that sounded like muted voices and boots effectively ended their conversation. Wilhelmina turned to the door and pressed her ear to it.

She whispered to Leonard as she braced herself to flee, “I’ll be back later to talk more. I’m sure you’ll have plenty of questions. Remember, tell no one about the shard.” Wilhelmina waited for Leonard’s nod before cracking the door barely enough for a child to traverse and somehow disappearing through it like vapor.

The scent of water lilies followed the snap of the door closing.

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Click here for Part 44!