Monday, February 1, 2021

The Politics of Book Reviews

“If nobody talks about books, if they are not discussed or somehow contended with, literature ceases to be a conversation, ceases to be dynamic. Most of all, it ceases to be intimate. It degenerates into a monologue or a mutter. An unreviewed book is a struck bell that gives no resonance. Without reviews, literature would be oddly mute in spite of all those words on all those pages of all those books.” 

~ Patricia Hampl 

The reality of the publishing industry today, particularly for indie authors and
writers with small publishers is that gaining recognition in a crowded marketplace with hundreds of new titles released every other month, has become a struggle. Getting written reviews on such websites as Amazon and Goodreads, therefore, is an excellent way of making their work stand out. Unfortunately, though, it can also be the quickest way to get their work trashed, and their reputation as authors tarnished by toxic reviewers. In recent days, stories have proliferated online that some trolls on Goodreads who’ve been posting one-star reviews on books, sometimes without even reading them, have demanded payoffs from authors to remove them.

Authors have no control over what readers think of their work, and that’s fine as long as readers are honest. Honesty, in this context, does not necessarily mean positive feedback, but it also doesn’t have to mean an unwarranted attack on the author. While criticism is an integral part of publishing, a dislike for a particular book does not justify ridiculing its author. In the same vein, a writer’s crave for recognition does not justify paying for positive reviews. Not only does this mislead potential readers, but it also deprives the authors themselves of a fair and balanced appraisal of their work. As the American journalist, Jack Shafer noted in his 2005 piece, Fair Is Square, “… book reviews aren’t yearbook photos for authors to treasure. They are for readers.”

But that appears to be a memo some authors have not received. Not only do they indulge in the now frowned upon practice of review swaps, some, ignoring the reputable review groups on Goodreads, partake in toxic review exchange groups online where, as someone puts it, “anything less than a four-star review is flat-out rejected and considered harsh and unhelpful.” The trouble with this practice is that those who relish being flattered by their fellow authors deny themselves the chance to learn of any structural weakness in their work that might need attention. Since books are written for the public, eventually, real people will buy them, and if they find such books to be mediocre works, not only will the authors lose credibility, but they’ll have to face the disappointment of their readers which might manifest itself in angry one-star reviews on Amazon. If many readers, decrying the deception, leave such reviews, it’d inevitably call the authenticity of the earlier positive reviews into question.

Another negative aspect of certain review exchange groups is that since members do not get to choose the books they must review, some end up with genres they have no affinity for, which often deprives the book’s author of unbiased feedback. It is also interesting to note that outside of these review exchange groups, while authors crave positive reviews from readers, they are sometimes not equally generous in their reviews of other writers’ works. There are cases in which authors take issue with certain characters in a book, and strangely enough, based their review of the book on the bias they have towards the character rather than on the literary merit of the book. 

Now the industry is riddled with so much bias that some readers claim they are no longer swayed by the reviews they read on Amazon or Goodreads. Having bought books on the strength of the starred reviews, only to find the writing quality wanting, a new reality is dawning on many readers. Yet, these starred reviews continue to determine which books are promoted, and to some extent, which ones are bought. Fairness—once the hallmark of literary assessment of 
fictional works—has been thrown out the window, and replaced by an obsession with star numbers, resulting in the exaltation of 5-star reviews as a sign of literary excellence while all the others are considered worthless, except perhaps 4-star reviews which are generally accepted as just fine. One fact, though, remains unchangeable - if a book has no literary merit, its five-star reviews—be they from friends and family or from literary magazines that thrive on paid reviews—can not give it the core it lacks. And if a book is excellent, no single-star review posted by a biased reviewer or by a disgruntled author envious of another’s work can rob it of its substance.




Thursday, December 31, 2020

Go in Peace, 2020, But Please, Go


Not many people will argue with the assertion that the year 2020 will go down in history as the worst year in living memory—from the unprecedented wildfire that started in Australia in January, with 46 million acres burned, destroying the habitats of more than 800 vertebrate species, taking the homes and lives of many people with it. Then came the cruel murder of George Floyd, an unarmed black man on whose neck a white Minneapolis police officer knelt until he had no breath left in his lungs, which sparked racial unrest in the U.S. that spread across the globe, with public properties and historic monuments destroyed in its wake. But 2020 was only just beginning to show its hand. Many western U.S. states, as if taking their cue from Australia went up in flames and the Hurricane season broke a slew of records. By then 2020 was all set to play its main card—Covid_19—the deadly coronavirus that sprang to life in Wuhan, China, and then swept across the world with unpredictable consequences, shutting down countries, closing borders, killing millions, suffocating the global economy and sparking restlessness
.

January

It began in a familiar, erratic fashion, with tensions between the U.S. and Iran over the killing of an Iranian military leader, Qasam Soleimani by a drone strike ordered by President Trump. A surprising royal matter provided a scandalous interlude on January 8, when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry, and his wife Meghan Markle announced they were stepping down as ‘senior’ royals and left Britain, first to Canada and then to the U.S. 

Qasam Soleimani
The U.S. soon returned to its old ways with a Texas school shooting, followed by another in Aurora. There was no time to absorb the news of the two shootings over the weekend. The Federal Depository Library Program’s website was hacked by Iranians, who replaced it with a picture of a bloodied President Trump, and posted pro-Iran messages.

February

An impeached President Trump was acquitted on February 5, by the Republican-controlled Senate, and three days later the president fired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman who testified against him at the trial. 
The disgraced Hollywood kingmaker, Harvey Weinstein wasn’t so lucky.

On February 24, he was convicted of raping an aspiring actress and sexually abusing a TV and film production assistant. In an unrelated case two days later, a disgruntled employee at Molson Coors in Milwaukee, in keeping with the American tradition of gun madness, opened fire, killing five people.

March

The coronavirus, which arrived on U.S. soil in January, and downplayed by the president, had, by March 4, affected 129 people, including cases not yet investigated by the CDC - Center for Disease Control, with ten dead in the state of Washington, and another in California, prompting the state to declare a state of emergency. And as cases soared, President Trump signed an $8.3billion aid bill. Meanwhile, there was an explosion in Los Angeles, a shooting in Baltimore, a Teachers’ Strike in Minnesota, and the abolition of the Death Penalty in Colorado.

April

It was no April Fool joke when President Trump fired his senior official, Michael Atkinson believed to be the whistleblower that triggered the President’s impeachment trial. With coronavirus ravaging the country, some in California, defying the stay-home order, organisìzed a house party in Bakersfield and paid the ultimate prize when six people were shot.

May

On May, 16, Trump fired the State Department Inspector-General, Steve Linick who had previously begun investigating the secretary of State, Mike Pompeo for abuse of power while in office. Ten days later, at an intersection in Minneapolis, a black man, George Floyd was killed by a white police officer during an arrest for alleged forgery, when the officer placed his knee on Floyd’s neck, ignoring the latter’s pleas that he couldn’t breathe. Following the killing, protests erupted all over America and quickly spread across the world, with the Black Lives Matter hashtag assuming a new potency. Soon what started as peaceful protests degenerated into violent confrontations with the police, burglary, destruction of property, and the toppling of historic monuments, which quickly eclipsed the earlier sympathy enjoyed by the protests against racial inequality in America.   

June

The Black Lives Matter protests continued unabated. On June 7, a man drove his car into a group of protesters in Seattle. The man allegedly fired shots into the crowd, injuring one person. On June 12, officers in Seattle expressed a desire to return to their abandoned precinct which had been occupied by protesters who called the area the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone. City officials, either in support or fear of the protesters, allowed them to occupy the area, denying federal troops any entrance. And in response to the protests, Denver public schools decided to cut ties with the Denver Police Department which had provided security for the schools. On June 12, Louisville, Kentucky banned “no-knock” 
warrants after a black woman, Breonna Taylor was killed during a police raid months earlier, as it emerged the Police had the wrong house and shot Taylor while she was sleeping. On June 13, it was reported that 10 SWAT members in South Florida had resigned, stating that they feel unsafe on the job amidst the protests. Meanwhile, various police precincts voted to ban chokeholds as a form of restraint. Earlier in the month, former Vice President, Joe Biden was officially announced as the Democratic Party’s candidate for the upcoming Presidential elections after dominating Super Tuesday.

July

Just two days into the new month, federal officials arrested Ghislaine Maxwell in New Hampshire for her alleged involvement with billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Not only was she charged with sexual crimes against underage girls, but investigators also revealed there was a potential link between Maxwell and Epstein's finances. Meanwhile, as the coronavirus ravaged America and the BLM protests against police brutality and racial inequality continued, gun violence surged in many cities including Washington DC, New York, South Carolina, Chicago, and Atlanta.

August

Democratic Party Presidential nominee, Joe Biden picked Kamala Harris as his running mate, ending months-long speculation in the media. In Washington DC, President Trump’s counsel, Kellyanne Conway resigned in a move triggered by her 15-year-old daughter, Claudia Conway’s tweet that her mother had ruined her life. There were also multiple shootings, continued protests against police brutality, a hot air balloon crash, and an investigation into the operations of the USPS.  

September

A federal judge granted a temporary restraining order against the USPS that prevented it from sending ‘false’ statements. Colorado sued the company anyway for ‘misinformation’ regarding its untrue and conflicting guidelines about the upcoming presidential election mail-in ballots. The notable Supreme Court justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg died at the age of 87, and as speculated, the Republican Party-controlled Senate decided it would fill the seat immediately. It was no surprise then when President Trump announced Justice Amy Coney Barrett as Ginsburg's successor. The much-anticipated first presidential debate between Trump and Biden took place on September 29, an event that turned out to be the most disgusting episode in presidential debates.

October

After months of playing down the coronavirus and holding political rallies and Rose Garden events with no social distancing, and even mocking his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden for wearing a mask, President Trump, his wife, Melania, his son, Barron, and several members of his inner circle tested positive for Covid_19, which made him and his administration a laughing stock on social media. He recovered after a brief stay in the hospital, but the uncertainty created by the state of his health resulted in the cancellation of the second presidential debate. Meanwhile, ahead of the November presidential elections, record-breaking numbers in early voting were reported in several states, with a dramatic increase in the number of absentee ballots, and a boom in U.S. postal ballot requests.      

November

On the first day of the month, a group of marchers heading to the polls in North Carolina was pepper-sprayed by the police to break them up when they held a moment of silence. That same day, Missouri officials removed a noose from a voting polling center. The following day, a federal judge ordered all USPS services to expedite all ballots and guarantee a one or two days delivery even after election day on November 3. By November 7, with votes still being counted and President Trump alleging voter fraud, requesting manual recounts in key swing states, various news outlets, called the election for Democratic Party candidate, Joe Biden based on the projected electoral college votes of 279 for him, with Trump at 214 electoral college votes. Determined not to concede, Trump mounted legal challenges, over fifty of which were thrown out by both state and federal judges for lack of evidence.

December

A federal judge ordered the Trump administration to reinstate DACA, a program aimed at preventing the deportation of an estimated 700,000 undocumented immigrants called ‘dreamers’ who were brought to the U.S. as children.

On December 9, the courts again rejected a bid by Trump lawyers to overturn the election result in Pennsylvania, though the President continued to seek recounts, so far, with no results overturned. On December 11, in another blow to President Trump, the Supreme Court rejected Texas’ bid to block thousands of ballots. Soon afterward, the electoral college convened and finally confirmed Joe Biden’s win. 

On December 14, a Trump loyalist, Attorney-General William Barr who refused to go along with Trump’s claim of voter fraud, announced his resignation. By December 22, Trump began a pardon spree, favoring many of his allies, business associates, and loyalists.


15 Quotes That Define The Year 2020

 

1. “Day 7 of social distancing: Struck up a conversation with a spider today. Seems nice. He’s a web designer.” Unknown


2. “My life feels like a test I didn’t study for.” Unknown


3. “First time in history we can save the human race by laying in front of the TV and doing nothing. Let’s not screw this up.” Unknown


4. If you had asked me what the hardest part of battling a global pandemic would be, I would have never guessed ‘teaching elementary school math.'” Simon Holland


5. “The only thing I gained in 2020 was weight.” Unknown


6. “So far, 2020 is like looking both ways before you cross the street only to be hit by a passing drone.” Unknown


7. “Coronavirus has turned us all into dogs: We roam the house looking for food, we’re told ‘no’ if we get too close to strangers, and we get really excited about car rides and walks.” Unknown


8. “After all the stupid things I’ve done in my life, if I die because I touched my face, I’m gonna be pissed.” Unknown


9. “‘He chewed too loud’ became the number one cause of divorce.” Unknown


10. “I’m not saying I’m going to suck at homeschooling my kids but my daughter just asked, ‘Dad, what’s a synonym?’ And I replied, ‘It’s a spice.'” Joe Heenan


11. “2020 is the strictest parent I ever had.” Unknown


12. “I picked a hell of a time not to have learned how to cook for the past 29 years.” Alyssa Limperis


13. “My husband and I switched sides of the bed this weekend and that’s what we call ‘vacation’ now.” Ilana Glazer


14. I wish days of the week underwear was still a thing so I knew what the hell day of the week it is.” Mommy Owl


15. After years of swearing that I couldn’t clean my house because I didn’t have enough time, 2020 has proven that may have not been the reason.” The Super Mom Life

Saturday, November 14, 2020

From the Horse's Mouth:

Authors on Writing


Writers, like seasoned comedians, know, not only how to take a swipe at their profession but also how
 to poke fun at themselves. Sarcasm, self-mockery, and half-truths are some of the ways by which writers offer the public an insight into their take on themselves and the art of writing. When Thomas Mann said that “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people,” he was acknowledging, with great cunning brilliance the complexity of the art of writing even for those who do it for a living. 

Not that poking fun at oneself requires artfulness or subtlety, sometimes straight talk does it just as well. Take Charles Dickens who neither minced words nor offered a tongue in cheek aside when deriding the work of other writers. “There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts,” or Martin Myers who threw in a remarkable self-own, “First you’re an unknown, then you write one book and you move up to obscurity.” Sometimes funny and sometimes delightfully direct, here are writers in their own words:

“There is no idea so brilliant or original that a sufficiently-untalented writer cant screw it up.” ~ Raymond Feist

“A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it is to be God.” ~ Sidney Sheldon

“This morning I took out a comma and this afternoon I put it back again.” ~ Oscar Wilde


“I just sit at my typewriter and curse a bit.” P.G. Wodehouse

“The first draft of anything is shit.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

“There is no mistaking the dismay on the face of a writer who has just heard that his brainchild is a deformed idiot.” ~ L. Sprague de Camp

“Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Inspiration is a guest that does not   willingly visit the lazy.” ~ Pyotr Tchaikovsky

“Some stories have to be written because no one would believe the absurdity of it all.” ~ Shannon L. Alder

“When a work appears to be ahead of its time, it is only time that is behind the work.” ~ Jean Cocteau

“There are three difficulties in authorship: to write anything worth publishing -- to find honest men to publish it -- and get sensible men to read it.” Charles Caleb Cotton

“There is no idea so stupid or hackneyed that a sufficiently-talented writer can't get a good story out of it.” ~ Lawrence Watt-Evans

“Writing is a socially accepted form of schizophrenia.” ~ E.L. Doctorow

“Most editors are failed writers - but so are most writers.” ~ T.S. Eliot

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Writer's Block:

Facts & Fallacy

“Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say?”

Kurt Vonnegut

Of all the things that have been said about writer’s block, I find the English humorist, Terry Pratchett’s take most amusing: “There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.” I suppose he’s referring to Hollywood, a not-so-subtle dig at screenwriters. But he isn’t the only one who disparages the idea. “I don’t believe in writer’s block,” Peter Arpesella, an award-winning actor, writer, and published author, says. “If I can’t write, I go out and live. Then, if I’m a writer, I’ll find something to write.”

But writer’s block is real. It is a condition in which authors suffer a creative slowdown that causes them to lose the ability to produce new work. It could be poetry, songwriting, fiction, screenplays, et al. And contrary to what many think, it is not measured solely by time passing without writing, it is primarily determined by time passing without productivity in the task an author has embarked on. For example, a writer may choose not to write for a year or more for any number of reasons without necessarily suffering from writer’s block. But a writer who takes on a new project—songwriting, movie script, television show, fiction, or poetry—and produces little or nothing as time passes, is suffering from writer’s block.

When that happens, usually, some writers offer excuses that range from a flight of inspiration to problems with day jobs to family responsibilities to juggling too many ideas that make it difficult to decide on the best approach to the story, which, not surprisingly emboldens cynics in their belief that writer’s block does not exist. The American novelist and journalist, Norman Mailer, who’s written 11 best-selling novels, puts it bluntly, “Writer’s block is only a failure of the ego.”

If that sounds harsh, perhaps a subtle take on the issue by the essayist, Orson Scott Card, might be of some comfort, “Writer’s block is my unconscious mind telling me that something I’ve just written is either unbelievable or unimportant to me, and I solve it by going back and reinventing some part of what I’ve already written so that when I write it again, it is believable and interesting to me. Then I can go on. Writer’s block is never solved by forcing oneself to “write through it,” because you haven’t solved the problem that caused your unconscious mind to rebel against the story, so it still won’t work - for you or for the reader.”

British comic book writer Warren Ellis doesn’t share such sensitivity. “Writer’s block?” he says. “I’ve heard of this. This is when a writer cannot write, yes? Then that person isn’t a writer anymore. I’m sorry, but the job is getting up in the f--king morning and writing for a living.” Except that some people don’t write for a living, they write for a hobby. But for those who do, the author, Barbara Kingsolver has a word of advice, “I learned to produce whether I wanted to or not. It would be easy to say oh, I have writer’s block, oh, I have to wait for my muse. I don’t. Chain that muse to your desk and get the job done.” Why? Well, because, as the ghostwriter, Larry Kahaner, says, “Professional writers don’t have muses; they have mortgages.” And that probably explains why social activist, Jack London, insists that “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

However, for many writers, that’s easier said than done. For them, writer’s block is as real as day; but then, so is that elusive element called inspiration, both of which can be hampered or boosted by the same factor - adverse circumstances in the writer’s life, such as a broken relationship, financial difficulties, or pressure to produce work not attuned to their natural inclination, like an unsuitable genre, for example. What to do? Sometimes it helps to “walk away” for a while and concentrate on other things, but often, what transforms writer’s block into inspiration is extensive research. It also doesn’t hurt to pick someone’s brain on a particular subject-matter. 

“The wonderful thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting,” says J.K. Rowling. “The terrifying thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting.” 




Tuesday, June 9, 2020

The saga of a broken mind #MFRWHooks

Love is a mystery ... an indecipherable   MYSTERY 

#Love #Betrayal #Vengeance

A compelling backward journey through a broken mind.


Blurb:

Paige Lyman, an accomplished psychiatrist, is on the verge of madness but she doesn’t know it yet. The madness begins when she gets it into her head to write her memoirs. As her brilliant mind assembles bits and pieces of her life for the book, ugly skeletons, long forgotten in the closet, rear their heads.

It had all begun with a simple act of love. And love, for her, was a blond-haired Irish boy named Bill, so when Bill abandoned her for priesthood, the world around her collapsed. Seized by a different passion—vengeance—she seeks her proverbial pound of flesh in the beds of various priests.
But that was before she met Stern W, a medical researcher who swept into her life like a hurricane and married her. And they lived happily after until he died in a helicopter crash and she discovered the startling truth about who he really was. Now, transformed from a psychiatrist to a patient, Paige is saddled with a damning memory that she must decipher to be free.
Take Back the Memory is the saga of her compelling backward journey through her own life on a psychotherapist’s couch.


The Hook - {Book Excerpt}

       The door of the consulting studio swung open at 9.00 a.m. and Dr. Wilson, a slender, pipe-smoking clinical psychologist stuck his hoary head in the doorway. His face lit up at the sight of Paige sitting cross-legged in the cozy waiting room.
        “Hello Dr. Lyman,” he smiled courteously, “I had no idea you were here already.”
        Paige glanced up, her face a frozen scowl, and gazed at him. She had expected them to be on a first-name basis this morning; the unexpected formality fazed her quite a bit.  
        “Good morning, Dr. Wilson,” she said wryly. “Sorry I’m early, a habit, I guess.”
        “Oh, that’s all right,” he said quickly, the smile on his lips waning. “I’ll be with you in a minute.”
         She nodded and looked away as he disappeared back into the consulting room. Left alone, she gazed across the lounge. The psychotherapist’s studio was illuminated by the sun’s rays through an opened Venetian blind, and the balmy sunlit ambiance fascinated her. 
         “Like the cheery whisper of an admirer after a heartbreak,” she said wistfully and rose.
          As she did so, echoes of distant traffic momentarily brought her to a state of mental alertness. Palms sweaty, Paige walked to the window and opened it. She gazed, mesmerized, at the sun-drenched avenue on the breezy late September morning and noted the peak time for fall foliage in New York was weeks away yet. She closed the window.
Shrugging, she walked back to her seat and plopped down. Her hand trembled slightly on the black zebra-print clutch bag in her lap.
“Darn,” she mumbled, her thoughts turning to her daughter who had convinced her to come.
“I shouldn’t be here, Diane,” she whispered savagely. “I just shouldn’t.”
Anxious to gain control of herself, she heaved a sigh and leaned back on the comfortable davenport, puckering her lips.
She was wearing a rose-tinted shirt with a low-cut neckline that revealed abundant cleavage. A cherry, handcrafted silk scarf encircled her neck. Her knee-high black boots matched the color of her fringed skirt, accentuating its beauty. Angry with herself for letting Diane convince her to come, she started at the sound of a latch unfastening as the door of the consulting room swung open again.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Dr. Wilson said from the doorway and then walked to where she was sitting.
Paige rose slowly. Her eyes on his face, she smoothed her skirt and noticed his courteous smile had not waned completely. Without altering his gait, Dr. Wilson thrust his hand in front of her. Paige took the outstretched hand and shook it gently.
“Can I come in now?”
“Yes, please do,” he said, gesturing with his hand.
Clean-shaven, he wore no tie. His fawn-striped shirt, unlike hers, was buttoned up. Expensive clothing testified to a successful practice. He wore black semi-brogues and walked with a slight shuffle. Paige followed him into his office, full of expectation.
“Please sit down,” he indicated a black, buckskin couch. “Would you like some coffee?”
“No, thank you.”
Paige sat on the familiar couch, and as she gazed at him from the corner of her eyes on the chair that should be hers, the magnitude of the moment escaped her.
In the magnifying silence of the room, Dr. Wilson sat composed on his standard, comfortable chair, the tip of his pen held against his lip the way men who smoked would usually hold a pipe. His eyes remained on her, and hers were on his. For several seconds their eyes locked; at first warily, like two professionals trying to find a meeting ground, a starting point.
“Diane made me come,” she said, frowning. “Frankly, I don’t know why I’m here.”
“You’re here to talk to me,” he said, crossing one leg over the other. “I guess both as a colleague and as a patient, and I’ll love to listen to you as much as I’ve loved reading your work.”
She uncrossed her legs and quickly re-crossed them, and then she leaned back on the couch, her fringed skirt shifting upwards. She noticed his eyes, unlike those of most men, remained on her face and not on her legs.
“Don’t patronize me. Even my daughter thinks I’m going mad. Don’t lie to me. You think so, too, but I can still sit on that chair and listen to patients.”
“You certainly can,” he responded indulgently. “You were one of the best. However, we both know things aren’t the way they used to be. If you were on this chair, the first thing you would tell the patient would be to admit their situation and talk to you about it.” He paused a moment. “I think you have admitted that much within you,” he said without looking at her. “That’s why you allowed Diane to convince you to come. So, let’s talk, my friend. Let’s talk about the situation.”
Paige regarded him suspiciously. Let’s talk about the situation. Talk about the situation? Dr. Wilson’s words jangled in her head like the howl of a campanile. What was there to talk about?
Irritation rose inside her like the beginning of a toothache. Yet, she knew he was right. Things were not the way they used to be. In the course of her checkered life and career, especially in recent years, nothing was the same. It hurt her quite a bit the way everyone seemed to think she had gone mad, the way she had been transformed from psychiatrist to patient.
“Be frank with me,” she said. “Do you think I’m crazy?”
“Aren’t we all?” he laughed mirthlessly. “Come on, this is not about you being crazy.”
“What is it about?”
“It’s about you and me having a nice little talk so we can understand how things are.”
She was silent for a while. She wished he could give her a reason to scream. She wanted desperately to scream at someone this morning, so why not this psychotherapist with calm, upper-class manners? After what seemed like a long time, she realized, not without some satisfaction, that he was determined to be courteous with her this morning.
“I’m at a loss,” she whined and turned on the couch to face away from him. “I don’t know where to begin. I don’t even know what to talk about. I mean, there are so many things to explore.”
“Let’s start with the endearing subject of your book. Are you convinced you want to tell it as it is?”
“Yes.”
“Everything?”
“Every little detail.”
He watched her calmly. “I know you’ve never been afraid to bare your mind, but between me and you, is there any aspect of this memoir that disturbs you a bit?”
“Yes,” she turned and smiled at him. “But an autobiography has to be frank. What’s the point of writing it if you are going to shy away from the ugly part? I can’t keep it all inside. I want to let it out.”
“Very well,” he said, his eyes agreeing with her. “Maybe we should talk about some of the traumatizing aspects of the experiences you have recalled and want to write about.”
She gazed at him without a word. Her mind began to tumble backward slowly, very slowly.
“I think it all began with a simple act of love,” she said at length, her voice surprisingly nostalgic. “A simple act of love,” she emphasized, “between me and Bill when we were kids.”
“I’m listening.”
She sat upright on the couch. “My life is like a soap opera,” she muttered, grimacing. “A distressing mélange spiced with love, heartbreak, and vengeance. It will silence your thoughts.”
“I take it you loved this Bill.”
“Don’t interrupt me,” she snapped at him and the psychotherapist pursed his lips but did not smile. “What Bill and I shared wasn’t a sensual scream, okay? We were kids.”
“Okay,” he mumbled, nodding.
“We grew up together in Kenya,” she told him. “We were on an unending safari. Bill was a handsome Irish boy. You must understand, there weren’t many white boys around to connect to, so I fell desperately in love with him and thought I would marry him someday.” She paused and stared at the rug on the floor of the consulting room, her thoughts a riot.
She hated to remember that back then while she was nursing her infantile dreams of matrimony, Bill’s father was formulating a different program for his son. “Into the service of God you’ll go,” he had told the boy. “A priest, that’s what you are going to be.” Paige glanced up sharply and thoughts jangled in her head. It might have been different, she mused, if Bill had been a Protestant Irish and not Catholic.
She gazed at Dr. Wilson’s shoes as memories flooded her mind. She tried to speak
and her voice broke, but the psychotherapist’s gentle manners soothed her. She and Bill had attended the same school for expatriate kids in Nairobi, she explained. After the boy’s primary school education, his father bundled him into the junior seminary in Ireland and the world was never the same again. With all contact between them lost, she willed herself to be heartbroken for long, sad years while Bill went on to earn a degree in Theology and was subsequently ordained a priest, or so she thought.
“Did you eventually recover from this heartbreak?” Dr. Wilson said.
“Maybe I did, in my way.”
“What happened when you recovered?” His voice was wary.
Her eyes didn’t meet his, “A different passion engulfed me then.”
“What kind of passion?”
“Maybe you’ll call it vengeance.”     
“Was it vengeance?” Dr. Wilson, like her, uncrossed and re-crossed his legs.
“Yes. A strange kind though.”
Their eyes locked. “A strange kind of vengeance, you say?”
Paige nodded and looked away. “It was priesthood that caused Bill to jilt me,” she said in a defensive voice. “So, I figured a settling of scores might heal me.” She paused, sighed, and then spoke. “I decided to wage a very personal war against priests.”
Dr. Wilson narrowed his eyes. “You mean, like secretly assassinating priests?”
“No,” she frowned, staring at her skirt.
“But a personal war...”
“A personal war that made nonsense of their vow, if you know what I mean.”
“Not really.”
She gritted her teeth. “I seduced them, damn it, and then I made them suffer.”
Wilson gaped at her, “You seduced priests to get back at Bill for abandoning you for priesthood?”
“Yes.” She looked up at him now. “But that is only a small part of the story.”

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