Posted in Appearances, Books, Conventions, Editing, Falstaff Crush, Other People's Awesome, Personal Real Life Stuff, Publishing, Writing process

ConCarolinas 2019!

ConCarolinas 2019It’s that time of year again – ConCarolinas is back, and I’ll be there! I only consistently show up for one fandom and writing convention a year, and ConCarolinas in Charlotte, North Carolina, is it. And this year’s slate of guests and events is particularly excellent. The people in charge have worked their collective cabooses off making this the best ConCarolinas/Deep South Con ever.

And I can prove it. They invited me. I’ll be there all weekend, Friday, May 31 through Sunday, June 2. I’m officially launching not one but two new books, and I’ll be appearing at the following panels:

bury me notOn Friday, May 31:

3:00 – Whose Story Is This? (in Walden): We’ll be talking about fan fiction; loving it, hating it, what it means, how to do it, what it can lead to. And I’ll actually be the moderator on this one, so batten down the hatches.

7:00 – ConCarolinas Short Takes (in a 3rd floor room, follow the noise): I’ll be one of a whole slate of author guests reading bits from their latest works. It’s a choice crowd, and we’ll all still be giddy with first-night-at-the-con glee. So a good time is pretty well assured at this one.

On Saturday, June 1:

11:00 – Tired Tropes of Women (Keynes): Parsing, bemoaning, and offering alternatives to the timeworn cliches of chicks in space and fantasy and horror, from the sexually voracious pixies who get confused tying their shoes to all those dead-but-loyal superhero girlfriends inspiring their men to greatness. If you’re a woman writing speculative fiction or a guy writing speculative fiction who wants to write better women, hit this one up.

12:00 – Historical Fantasy (Keynes): Ways to write the fantastical while keeping it real–and why it matters.

1:00 – Choosing an Editor (Keynes): You know you need an editor, but what kind of editor do you need? All the basic species will be on display and ready for your questions.

6:00 – There Is No Finish Line: Maintaining Energy and Momentum (Walden): Whether you’re just starting out as a writer or writing Book 27 of your bestselling series, you’re gonna have days when you think you might just quit. A panel of authors who’ve been at this for a while will offer war stories and advice on how to beat those urges and keep going (and why you must). I’ll be the moderator, and I can’t wait to hear what everybody else will have to say.

eat the peachOn Sunday, June 2:

SF/F: Are We Ready to Lighten Up Yet? (Lakeshore 2): A discussion of “Hopepunk”–what it is and why we might really, really need it. Or why we don’t.

I’m Not Bad, I’m Just Written That Way (Walden): Let’s talk about antiheroes, baby. (Why yes, I probably WILL mention that new season of Lucifer on Netflix; why do you ask?)

When I’m not on panels, I’m sharing a table with Alexandra Christian in Authors Alley, and I’ll probably stop in to annoy John Hartness and the rest of the crew at the big Falstaff Books booth. Get all the scoop about ConCarolinas 2019/Deep South Con 57 at their website here: https://concarolinas2019.sched.com/ Can’t wait to see you there!

 

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Posted in Books, Other People's Awesome, Politics, Pop Culture, Publishing

The Excellence You Swear You Cannot See

nicole's bookThe Romance Writers of America has released the names of the nominees for their yearly RITA Awards, and, you guessed it, they’re about as diverse as a glass of milk beside a plate of sugar cookies with white chocolate chips. So all of us writing and publishing types have taken to the Facebooks and beyond one more time to discuss the diversity problem. Even among those of us nice white cis straight folks who have stopped twitching every time we admit it exists, there’s a lot of panic, anger, and confusion when we start trying to decide what to do about it.

Like most of the RITA nominees, I’m a middle-aged straight cis white woman who writes books. In my current romance WIP, the heroine is Persian. In the Southern gothic I finished earlier this year, the protagonist is a Black woman. In the next book I’m scheduled to write, one of the main background characters is gay, and I’ve written multiple gay characters into books in the past, from medieval romances to urban fantasy. Having even this much diversity in my work does great stuff for me as an artist, assuming I do it right. It makes me step out of my comfort zone and enriches my narrative voice in everything I write; it broadens my market for the finished product.

For the cause of diversity in publishing, it does dickory do.

michael's bookEven if I do my research, get every detail as right as it’s possible to get it, my non-white, non-straight, non-cis characters are never going to be drawn with the same authority a writer who shares that identity could give them. And at the end of the day, my success with these books, artistic and otherwise, is success for yet another white straight cis writer. And don’t get me wrong; I am all about succeeding. Nobody is asking me or expecting me or wanting me or any other white straight cis writer to be otherwise, and I wouldn’t oblige them if they were. But if I honestly give a shit about creating a level playing field for all writers, I have to work beyond that, outside it. I have to get past my own fear of failure and focus that part of my energy on people who aren’t me and work that isn’t mine. I have to stop thinking like a writer and think like a reader instead. And as a reader, I have to actively seek out diverse voices. And when I find good reads from those voices, I have to make sure other readers know about them, too.

Every time an award-nominating body or a publisher or a whatever gets accused of lack of diversity in their choices, their first excuse is always, “We would have been diverse; we wanted to, really, really, but we just couldn’t find anything to read at the level we were looking for that wasn’t written by a white straight cis person!” That’s bullshit so blatant, it’s laughable on its face, but still, my purpose here is to be helpful. So in addition to the amazing work of already-famous people like N.K. Jemison, Michael Cunningham, and Colson Whitehead, let me recommend a kind of Whitman’s sampler of fiction from various genres written by amazing writers whose work I happen to know. As a reader, I would recommend any and all of them without reservation—this, my kittens, is the good stuff. If you want your own reading and publishing in general to be more diverse, this is a great way to start. Click on the links to buy. Read them, review them, tell your friends. Be part of the solution.

Sisters of the Wild Sage, a collection of weird western short stories by Nicole Kurtz, a Black woman. Nicole also writes horror, science fiction, and urban fantasy, and it’s all well worth your attention.

A Fall In Autumn, an amazing new science fiction novel by Michael Williams, a gay man. Futuristic noir, first in an on-going series.

Black Magic Women: Terrifying Tales by Scary Sisters, an anthology of horror short stories written by Black women. I have already gnawed the ears off everybody who will listen about how great these stories are, but if you haven’t read them yet, DO IT NOW.

Girl In the Gears: A truly fun steampunk adventure by E. Chris Garrison, a transgender woman. First in an on-going series.

And finally, dear ladies of the RWA RITA-nominating committee …

Passion and Ink: The latest bestselling contemporary romance by Naima Simone, a Black woman with multiple series on-going and a voracious readership of romance lovers of every ethnicity.

And so many others I could happily mention if I had the space. If you can’t find the best work in your favorite genre being written by writers who break the white, straight, cis mold, then I’m sorry; you’re just not trying. And if anybody has other recommendations for me, by all means, add them to the comments!

Posted in Books, Editing, Falstaff Crush, Publishing, romance

Falstaff Crush – Romance for All

huntressHeya Kittens – Long time no type!

Regular visitors to the blog-ness know how discouraged I’ve been for a while now about the state of romance publishing. While I wish every writer nothing but the best, the wild west atmosphere created by self-publishing and fan fiction has resulted in a market flooded to glut with the same old crap repeated ad nauseam with plots no self-respecting teen-age drama queen would scribble in her diary and action that is nothing short of porn. There’s still plenty of good stuff, but it’s continually getting drowned in all this other, and publishers, desperate to maintain any kind of profit whatsoever, are demanding writers write to an ever-more-stringent and ever-less-interesting template made of tropes created more to serve a keyword search than any kind of story.

For a long time, I’ve thought there has to be a better way to keep romance as a genre alive; I KNOW there’s a better way. And now, thanks to Falstaff Books, I’m getting the chance to prove it. I’m going to be an author and submissions editor for a brand new romance line with a brand new approach to the genre. Welcome to Falstaff Crush, romance for people who think they don’t like romance. Our tagline is “Love is the greatest adventure,” and that’s what our stories are all about. We do science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, adventure–all the genres we love as readers, all built around a strong romantic relationship between people who may or may not be what mainstream romance would call a couple. The setting and genre are more than just a costume, more than just an apparatus to get two or more people in the sack. We don’t do tropes; we do story.

Our first release, Huntress, is a high fantasy dragonslayer tale, and over the next month or so, we’ll have a weird western, contemporary gothic horror, and even a sexy Sherlock Holmes, with more in the pipeline to come. (We’re also open to submissions, so please feel free to check out our guidelines.)  Watch this space for updates, and as always, let me know what you think!

xoxo

Lucy

Posted in Books, Editing, Publishing, Writing process

Lucy Blue Edits!

librarianLooking through my bills for last month, it suddenly occurred to me that I really, really missed freelance fiction editing. For anyone who’s interested, here’s what I charge and how I do it and why I think I’m qualified:

Proofreading: $0.005/word ($250 for a 50,000-word novel; $50 for a 10,000-word short story)

I’ll read for typographical errors, spelling mistakes, punctuation errors, and minor formatting problems. I won’t correct grammar, word choice, passive voice, continuity errors, or make any suggestions as to content. If I think your manuscript needs more than a proofread, I’ll let you know after the initial read (see below), and you can decide if you want me to go forward and how.

Copy Editing: $0.01/word ($500 for a 50,000-word novel; $100 for a 10,000-word short story)

In addition to proofreading (see above), I will also read for problems with grammar, word choice, and continuity and mark corrections. I won’t make any suggestions as to content such as plot, characterization, pacing, etc. If I think your manuscript needs more than a copy edit, I’ll let you know after the initial read (see below) and tell you why, and you can decide if you want me to go forward and how.

Substantive Editing: $0.02/word ($1000 for a 50,000-word novel; $200 for a 10,000-word short story)

In addition to copy editing your manuscript (see above), I will point out any problems I see with plot, characterization, pacing, etc., and make specific suggestions for rewrites. As part of the substantive edit, I might also engage you in a developmental dialogue to help you refocus or sharpen aspects of your story that don’t grab the reader. I will also read at least one rewrite if you choose to do one at my suggestion at no additional charge. All substantive edits will also come with a full evaluation of the manuscript—what I loved, what I didn’t love, and any thoughts I have about potential markets and your work going forward.

Initial Read: First 10 pages only; no charge

Regardless of what level of editing you want, I will do an initial read of the first ten pages (2500 words) of your manuscript and let you know: 1)if I think I can help you; and 2)what level of editing I think your manuscript needs.  I reserve the right to refuse any job that I think is beyond me, for whatever reason. Manuscript evaluation is subjective; if I don’t think I can help you make your book or story better, I won’t take your money. But if I tell you I think you need a substantive edit and you tell me, um, no thanks, I’m just looking for a proofread, I will absolutely do a proofread.

So what do I know anyway? Credentials:

I’ve been a paid, professional fiction writer since 1998. I’ve published novels with two major publishers (Berkley/Penguin and Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster) and novels and anthologized short stories with three independent publishers (Purple Sword Publications, Mocha Memoirs Press, and Falstaff Books) in addition to running a micro-press, Little Red Hen Romance, with my sister, author Alexandra Christian. In doing so, I have gone through the editorial process as a writer with many different editors with many different styles, and I know just how painful a bad edit can be—and how much a good one can help bring a story to life.

I have an M.A. in English from Winthrop University, and I’ve taught English composition at Winthrop and at York Technical College. I was the fiction editor of Winthrop’s literary magazine my senior year as an undergraduate, and I have been doing freelance editing off and on for the past three years for small presses and self-published authors.

Nuts and Bolts:

Once we decide I can help and what kind of help you want from me, I’ll send you an invoice for the full amount of my fee based on your word count. I’ll need at least half of the fee paid to me through PayPal at lucybluecastle@gmail.com before I start work.

All manuscripts will need to be submitted in Microsoft Word. I hate Microsoft, too, and I’m sure all those other software suites are charming beyond all measure, but I want to spend my time as your editor editing your art, not wrestling with your software. Any manuscripts submitted in anything but Word will be returned unread.

To get started, email me your manuscript as a Word attachment to lucybluecastle@gmail.com. In your cover email, give me your name and your snail mail address and tell me a little bit about your manuscript—genre, etc. This isn’t a query for a publisher; I just want to know what to expect when I read your first 10 pages. I only plan to do a handful of manuscripts every month, so if I’m swamped, I’ll let you know.

Final thought:

I can’t promise that if you hire me, you’ll get published, no matter how much I might love your book. But I do promise to do everything I can to make it the best book it can possibly be.

Posted in Books, Horror, Lucy Blue Short Story, Paranormal romance, Publishing, Short Story, Sneak peeks at the new stuff

Cowboys & Krampus – A Christmas Romance

cowboys-and-krampusSo in honor of the season, I’ve written a sequel to my insane zombie western, Dead-sperado, called Cowboys & Krampus. It’s available here right now from Amazon, and it starts off something like this:

Two days before Christmas, we had been on the run from a bank job for a week and a half. I had expected us to head south toward old Mexico, but Cade had led us straight north. The rest of the gang seemed to know what he was doing and trust him, and I had only been riding with them since Halloween, so I kept my mouth shut. But looking up at the sky, I was pretty sure we were headed straight into a blizzard.

Just as it started to snow, we rode up to a two-story hotel in the literal middle of nowhere. The hotel and its stable were the only buildings in sight in the middle of a flat, open plain surrounded by mountains.

The little round innkeeper came out from behind his desk as soon as we walked in the door. “Mr. Cade,” he said as we huffed and stomped and peeled out of the frozen layers of our coats. “Danke Gott! When we received your telegram, I was afraid you’d be lost on the road.”

“Telegram?” I said, raising an eyebrow. As far as I knew, we’d been riding for our lives. When had he stopped and sent a telegram?

“Of course. We couldn’t just show up without a reservation, Daisy.” The smile on his face made him look like a man I’d never met. Elbert Cade was not a smiler. “That would be rude.”

“But who is this?” the innkeeper said as I unbuttoned my duster. “Daisy? You have brought your young lady?”

“Mr. Bhaer, meet Mrs. Cade,” he said. “Daisy, honey, meet our host, Mr. Bhaer.”

To my credit, I didn’t faint from shock. “Pleased to meet you,” I said, giving Cade a slant-eyed look that should have shaved off one of his sideburns. Rule number one of the gang was never dispute our fearless leader in front of decent folks, so I wouldn’t. But I wasn’t no more Mrs. Cade than I was the queen of Sweden.

Mein Gott!” Bhaer said. “Mother, come quickly! Cade has taken a wife!”

“Uh-oh,” Thomas, Cade’s second-in-command, said with a grin. “Now you’ve done it.”

The swinging doors behind the front desk opened, and people came pouring out, a stout little woman with blonde braids wrapped around her head and half a dozen little tow-headed kids. “You don’t mean it!” the woman exclaimed in the same thick German accent as her husband. “Congratulations!” She kissed Cade on both cheeks, leaving flour in his whiskers. “Papa, look!” She took my hands and beamed at me. “Ain’t she lovely?”

“Daisy,” Bhaer said. “Her name is Daisy.”

“Mr. Cade, are you crazy?” one of the kids asked, a freckle-faced little bruiser with mischief dancing off of him like sparks off an anvil. “Whatcha want to get some stupid girl for?”

“Klaus!” his mother cried, scandalized.

“Well, Klaus, to tell you the truth, I didn’t have much of a choice,” Cade said with a bit of mischief in his own eyes. “I fed her one time, and she followed me home.”

“Klaus, you are a very naughty boy,” Mrs. Bhaer said. “I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Krampus carried you away tomorrow night.” She smacked Cade on the arm. “And you, too.”

“I don’t think Krampus will be traveling tomorrow night,” Mr. Bhaer said. “Not in this storm.”

“But Papa, what about Saint Nicholas?” one of the other kids said, this one a girl barely as tall as her papa’s boots. “Ain’t he coming either?”

“Not to worry, poppy seed,” Thomas said, swinging the little girl up in his arms. “Saint Nick can always make it through.”

“Something surely smells good in the kitchen, Mrs. Bhaer,” said Luis, Cade’s other lieutenant. He’d been all but hopping on one foot since we came in.

“I am baking gingerbread, Mr. Gonzales,” she said. “Or did you mean Clara?” Her husband and all the other men but Luis laughed at her joke. Me, I thought I must have fallen off my horse and hit my head at some point without noticing. This had to be a crazy dream. “She’s been waiting for you all day,” Mrs. Bhaer went on. “You’d better come see her. Papa, get everyone else settled into their rooms. I’m sure Mrs. Cade is exhausted.”

“So how long have you two been married?” Bhaer asked.

“Not long at all,” Cade said.

“No kidding,” I muttered.

“We’re still on our honeymoon,” Cade said, stepping on my foot. I bit back a shriek of pain.

Wunderbar,” Mrs. Bhaer said. “The bridal suite it is. Come, children, help me fetch Mrs. Cade a hot bath.”

“Aw, nuts,” Klaus grumbled, making me laugh. That child was a caution and cute as he could be.

“That’s quite enough from you, young Klaus,” his father said. “Go now and help your mother.”

When we got to the top of the stairs, Cade went so far as to carry me over the threshold. But as soon as Bhaer left us alone, he set me down, and the honeymoon was over.

“What in hell has gotten into you?” I said.

“Mr. and Mrs. Bhaer are good Christian folks,” he said. “They’d be mightily offended if they thought I’d brought some…” He let his thought trail off.

“Some what, Elbert Cade?” I said. “And remember, I have a gun.”

“They ain’t like us, Daisy, he said. “They’re good and kind and peaceful, and they don’t understand that the rest of the world ain’t like that.”

The rest of the world like him and me. “Which makes me wonder how they know you,” I said.

“I got shot up real bad a couple of years ago about twenty miles from here,” he said. “The rest of the gang thought I was going to die, and most of them skinned out and left me. But Thomas and Luis loaded me up on a half-busted wagon and tried to get me to help. Just when they figured it was hopeless, they found this hotel.”

“And these folks took you in?” I said. I was shaking just thinking about him getting hurt so bad, but I’d have sooner died than let him know it. “A wanted outlaw?”

“Thomas told them we were scouts,” he said. “He said we’d been set upon by bandits when we were leading a wagon train west, and that I had fought off half a dozen men single-handed to save the rest of the party.”

“Lord God Almighty.”

“Hey, I had—they just happened to have been a lawful posse.” If I hadn’t been so mad, I might have thought his little grin was charming. “Anyhow,” he said, seeing my frown. “The Bhaers got me a doctor, and when I woke up, I was a hero. And we’ve been coming back here every Christmas since. Luis and the cook even have an understanding to wed.”

“And they don’t know you’re outlaws?” I said.

He at least had the decency to look embarrassed. “Like I said, they’re good people.”

“Stupid people, maybe.” When I had taken up with him, I had known I was giving up any hope of eve being respectable, that I wasn’t ever going to be the nice married lady I had always dreamed I’d be. But I had wanted him so much, I had told myself it didn’t matter, that there were things more important than being respectable. But now here we were, and he expected me to pretend.

“Now don’t be like that,” he said. “I didn’t tell you we were coming here because I wanted it to be a surprise. I thought you’d like it.” He took my hand and tugged me closer, and I let him. “Just think, darling. A clean bed.” He kissed me on the forehead, sweet and soft. “A hot bath.” I couldn’t help but smile, slumping against him. “When was the last time you had a hot bath?”

“It has been a while.” The last time had been in Carson City, and a fine time it had been.

“We can stay here and ride the storm out safe and sound, eating Clara and Mrs. Bhaer’s fine cooking.” I twined an arm around his neck, and he kissed my mouth. “Sleeping as late as we like.”

“That does sound nice.” Getting up before the sun was the thing I hated most about being an outlaw.

“No posse breathing down our necks.” He nibbled the back of my neck. “No Thomas or Luis snoring one bedroll away.” He kissed behind my ear. “No biting my shoulder to the bone, trying to keep quiet.” I giggled, and he kissed me on the mouth. I melted against him, and he walked me backward toward the bed. “And I was thinking,” he said, nuzzling my throat.

“Thinking what?” I untied the bandana at his throat.

“When the storm does break and we do ride out…” He kissed me again, cuddling my head in his hand the way he knew I liked. “…you could stay on here a while.”

I broke the kiss. “Beg pardon?”

“Just for a little while.” He put up his hands like I might have been a sheriff with a shotgun. “Just until the weather warms up and things calm down a bit.”

“You want to just dump me?” I said.

“Of course not.”

“Have I ever once whined or told you I was tired?” I demanded. “Did I ever cry when I got shot at or fail to shoot when I had to?”

“No, honey. I just thought–”

“I ride as good as Thomas and better than Luis.” I had never been so mad at anybody in my life. “If you’re sick of me, Cade, all you’ve got to do is say so. If you’re ready for another piece of–”

“Stop right there!” He didn’t holler at me often, but when he did, it was impressive. “I don’t want no other women, damn it! That’s the gawddamn point! I want you to be safe!”

“Then you ought not to have let me come with you in the first place!”

“You think I don’t know that?”

I caught my breath like he had hit me. Truth be told, I wished he had.

Somebody knocked on the door. “Mrs. Cade?” It was Mrs. Bhaer. “We have your bath.”

Cade reached out a hand to me. “Daisy…”

“Get out.” I couldn’t stand for him to see me cry. “Just get out.” I opened the door. “Thank you kindly, Mrs. Bhaer,” I said, putting on a smile. “Elbert was just leaving.”

Check out Cowboys & Krampus and the rest of our holiday stuff at our website, http://lucybluecastle.wixsite.com/littleredhenromance. Merry Christmas! 

 

Posted in Books, Current events, Lucy Blue Short Story, Other People's Awesome, Personal Real Life Stuff, Politics, Pop Culture, Publishing, Short Story

We Are Not This: Carolina Writers for Equality – Press Release

small-we-are-not-thisI’m lucky enough to have a story in this–“The Dark Lady” about a transgender actress in the days of Shakespeare. But even if I didn’t, I’d promote the living juice out of it. Much, much great stuff to read, all profits benefiting a magnificent cause. It’s available as an ebook right now from Amazon here, and print copies are on the way. Get a copy, boost the signal, spread the word. HB2 and the hate it represents are NOT North Carolina. 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CHARLOTTE SMALL PRESS RELEASES CHARITY ANTHOLOGY PROTESTING HB2

For Details, contact John G. Hartness
john@falstaffbooks.com

10/25/16

In an “October Surprise” for Governor Pat McCrory and members of the NC General Assembly, Charlotte-based micro-press Falstaff Books today released We Are Not This – Carolina Writers for Equality. The anthology, a collection of 31 short stories, poems, and essays by North Carolina writers or writers who feel a strong tie to the Carolinas, was created as a response to HB2, the divisive “bathroom bill” passed by the NC General Assembly earlier this year.

We Are Not This includes stories from NY Times bestselling author A. J. Hartley, noted singer-songwriter David Childers, Bram Stoker Award nominee Jake Bible, Charlotte Observer columnist and longtime educator Kay McSpadden, Hugo-award nominated editor Edmund Schubert, and a host of other writers. The anthology is currently available as an ebook, and will be available in print within the month.

In his introduction, publisher John G. Hartness writes “We understand that people are people, and all people deserve to be protected from discrimination. We understand that insuring equal rights for one group does not take away rights from another group. We understand that laws restricting freedom and taking away someone’s chance for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is the opposite of the values that this country was founded upon. We understand that we are stronger together, and that love is love.”

Proceeds from the sale of the anthology will be divided among NC-centric LGBTQ charities, non-profits, and lobbying organizations. The first group of organizations to receive funding will be Time Out Youth, Queen City Theatre Company, and EqualityNC.

Posted in Books, Other People's Awesome, Publishing

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead: a review

For the past few years, I’ve been reading mostly genre fiction. Graduate school and a long string of deathly dull reads had convinced me that the new literary novel was of interest to nobody who didn’t live in New York City and/or worship John Updike (or at least Cormac McCarthy) as a god. But this year, I’ve decided to return to my roots and at least read all the novels that made this year’s long list for the National Book Award. I started with Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad because it’s the only one on the shelves at my local library—thanks, Oprah! And reading it has confirmed my faith in the experiment. All kidding and personal prejudice aside, good books are being published every week in every genre, but not so many great ones. The Underground Railroad is great.

I won’t spoil the experience of discovering this story for anybody else by describing any single incident of action—it’s too damned awful and too damned good. It’s an epic saga, a journey of discovery like The Odyssey or Ulysses or Lord of the Rings. The heroine is Cora, an escaped slave who is neither Eliza Harris nor William Styron’s version of Nat Turner but a well-rounded, specific, relatable human being as all great epic heroes are. She moves through the various hellscapes of the 19th-century American “slave states” of the South and Midwest via the Underground Railroad which in this allegorical fantasy is not a metaphor but a literal railway system under the earth and the story’s central symbol. Like all great epics, Cora’s story brims over with poetry; Whitehead uses a clean, caustic prose style and his heroine’s unflinching point of view to create some of the most horrific scenes and incidents I’ve ever read without ever once resorting to sentimentality or melodrama. Again unlike Stowe or Styron, he doesn’t try to tug our heartstrings or even inflame our rage; he’s not arguing a thesis. He’s just telling the horrible truth. The novel is more artful than historical in its structure and approach, but everything that happens to Cora happened to somebody; it’s the history of slavery distilled.

The book directly references Jonathan Swift’s great fantastical allegory, Gulliver’s Travels, and the comparison is apt. I also saw a lot of Dante in Cora’s journey through layers of darkness toward the light. But if I had followed my original career plan and become a lit professor, I’d be assigning my students to read this book alongside Mark Twain’s great contemporary novel of the slave states, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I’ve adored Twain’s book since I first read it as a child, and the recent backlash and charges of racism made against it make me sad. But most of those complaints are aimed directly at the character of Jim, an escaped slave who becomes a father figure to the scrappy, abused, white trash child hero, Huck. Twain has great respect for Jim (his word choice in his naming notwithstanding) and great affection, and Jim is a great character. But he’s not real. Like Eliza and Styron’s Nat, he’s a white man’s fantasy of blackness. With Cora, Whitehead (among other accomplishments entirely unconnected to any other work at all) fills in that gap. He gives us the view from the other side of the raft—or rather, not from a raft rolling down the open air above the mighty Mississippi but from a broken boxcar steaming through a dark hole in the earth. There are also interesting parallels to be drawn between Whitehead’s villain, the slave catcher Ridgeway, and Huck Finn himself, and even Jim’s legal owner, Miss Watson, has her own dark shadow in Whitehead’s tale, a dotty old dear who dies without a will and damns the slaves she leaves behind to hell. A comparison between the two books could make one hell of a paper.

But the point is, it’s a great book. Don’t miss it.