A Review of John Biscello’s Nocturne Variations

Nocturne Variations: John Biscello

Reviewed by Kindra M. Austin

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Nocturne Variations is a twenty-first century presentation of avant-garde literature.

Super. But what is avant-garde? Avant-garde is a French term that means advance guard; people and ideas that are ahead of their time. It’s a concept that refers to artists, composers, and writers whose works oppose mainstream values. As a noun, avant-garde is defined as new and unusual or experimental ideas in the arts. Often connected to political activism (think of Theater of the Absurd, Bob Dylan, and John and Yoko), there exists a misconception that avant-garde must always be politically driven.

Regarding visual art, it’s of popular thought that the avant-garde movement began in the mid-nineteenth century with French painter Gustave Courbet and his astonishing gift for realism. A notable example of Courbet’s opposite is fellow modernist Salvador Dali, the Spanish surrealist who created The Persistence of Memory. Courbet and Dali differ in style and perception, but their works are equally avant-garde.   

That’s all good to know, but we’re supposed to be talking fiction. So, what are some examples of avant-garde literature? Literary experts go bananas over James Joyce’s Ulysses; first published in 1922, this epic is best known for its stream-of-consciousness style. Another disturbance to convention was T.S. Eliot’s publication of The Waste Land, a poem that obliterated traditional form and ideals. 1922 had proven to be a formative year in the writing world. Thanks to writers such as Joyce and Eliot, we saw the influence of the modernist movement flourish in the works of Virginia Woolf, Ezra Pound, and ee cummings.

Fast-forward to post-modernism: radical novelists like George Orwell and Anthony Burgess, and the experimental poets of the Beat Generation continued to revolutionize written expression. In the twenty-first century, however, avant-garde literature, or experimental fiction—whatever you prefer to call it—has become rather familiar. We’re living in an age so saturated with uniqueness, it’s a challenge to produce anything that is not derivative.

Enter John Biscello.

Nocturne Variations is the tale of young Piers, a runaway, huffing enthusiast, and doyen of shadow puppetry. Within the pages, Biscello has created a kind of dystopian subculture where the illusory and the palpable breathe equal air; he’s built a world where even the shadows have distinct voices, and philosophy and folklore weigh the same.

“Of course the Neverlands vary a good deal.”
― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

 Welcome to Tabanid, the L.A. vaudeville nightclub where dark and lascivious characters come alive. We meet our protagonist in the coat closet, engaged in a tryst just as she’s due to take the stage. One develops an opinion of Piers straightaway; seemingly carefree and wild-hearted, what Piers may lack in savoir faire, she makes up for with an offbeat kind of charm. The camaraderie between Piers and her shiny shadow partner, Trink, endears her even more—as an observer, it may be easy for readers to overlook Piers’ addictions in the beginning.

The world in which Piers subsists is a cruel one, and not unlike our own. She is often confronted by a monster called childhood trauma, as well as the devastating knowledge that she isn’t who she is supposed to be. As her story progresses, the spiritual theme presents itself organically through her musings, self-reflection, and interactions. Yes, we learn a great deal about Piers when she must run away from L.A. We also discover that this world can be a kind and forgiving one, not unlike our own; for in the old coal-mining town of Redline, there exists a new life path awaiting Piers.

It takes the relationships that Piers develops with Henry Hook and Gwen to reveal Piers’ actual nature. Once the enlightenment hits, you realize you’re not only an observer; you realize that you want to take care of this tragical shadow being.

“Wait for me somewhere between reality and all we’ve ever dreamed.”

                                                                                                            —J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan 

Nocturne Variations includes an arrangement of features that one might consider too ambitious. On the contrary, these pieces intermingle with the narrative quite naturally. Poems; diary entries; newspaper excerpts; interviews; notable quotes; and notes on cinema all operate as single vehicles with a shared destination. This composite not only makes odd sense, but it excites.

Biscello’s command of dialogue interested me because of the unusual structure, and I’d quickly decided that standard formation would have only disrupted the story’s distinctive movement. This novel is proof that he is one of the great visionary authors of today. He impresses with his employment of unconventional construction, multiple points of view, and cinematic scene direction without sacrificing a single thread of the human element.

Simply put, this novel is bold in design and syntax. As an author, ravenous reader, cinephile, and lover of art, I challenge anyone to argue that John Biscello’s Nocturne Variations does not qualify as both avant-garde literature and multimedia artwork.

Nocturne Variations releases on 30 November, 2018, and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

Fear of Flying-Melody Lee

Fear of Flying

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I flew to Philly to meet his parents,

to be with him, to see the city and watch him smile.

I met him in the airport wearing my new dress

and black knee high boots. It was my winter break…

and it was seriously winter in Philly.

Snow every day.

Floridians aren’t accustomed to snow

and no Christmas tree left a weird chill in my bones

and an ache for home.

We ate bagels in the morning and had sex

in the afternoons, when his father was at work. Unlucky

for us, his step mom was always lurking somewhere

in their two-story house.

I missed how he played guitar for me back home, typically

something by Led Zeppelin, The Beatles or Paul Simon.

We took the subway to NYC, my first time for both.

I fell in love…with the lights, the fast pace,

the energy, NYC and Jewish delis.

He took me to Vassar, where he graduated with a degree

in Philosophy. I met his friends, got drunk, puked.

We skied in the Poconos, my first time on skis. I sucked.

Ice did not agree with my feet. My balance wasn’t right,

on the ice or with him. His father was stern. He didn’t like me.

His step mom heard us banging and my non-Jewish

moaning didn’t win her approval. Awkward. I didn’t like her,

but I adored his mom. She gave me “Fear of Flying,” by Erica Jong,

and that has stayed with me all these many years later.

 

© Melody Lee / September 2018

My Publishing Story-Sarah Doughty

 

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My origin story is much like anyone else’s, I suppose. I turned to writing because it helps me feel better. It’s what I’ve always done. When it came to a point in my life that I desperately needed something to help me deal with traumatic memories of my childhood, I turned to writing. Not only for the therapeutic benefit, but also as a means of proving – not just to myself, but as a middle finger to my abuser – that I was capable of doing something I loved and could do it well. Sure, it took time to grow and evolve, but that’s how writing is supposed to be. A constant evolution over time. It was the best decision I ever made. And I will never look back.

What is the name of your work and via which format (online, small press, e.g.) did you publish it?

I self-published all of my books (you can read more about them on my author page) for free through Smashwords. They don’t charge to distribute to retailers, and except for Amazon, all the major retailers carry my e-books on their digital shelves. (Mobi files, however, are available for Kindles through Smashwords.) I chose to do this because writing is therapeutic to me. Reading, for many others offers the same benefits – the escape. I didn’t want money to come between someone finding an escape in my books. That decision isn’t what many authors would do, and that’s okay. It works for me because the writing itself is reward enough. It’s icing on the cake to know that people are continually downloading and enjoying my books – just as I’d hoped.

What made you decide to self-publish/publish through a small independent press?

When I wrote my books, I did it with the intention to help me therapeutically – to escape into my heroine’s mind (or a temporary moment through my prose poetry). In many ways, my heroine saved me. I’m far from fully healed, but I was faced with a dilemma. Would I publish my books online for free so that others could read them and benefit from the story as I did, or wait until I was better to go a more traditional route? Considering the extent of the abuse I endured as a child and how long it lasted, I didn’t know when, if ever, I would be capable of the stresses of the book industry. So, I elected for option A. I would much rather share my words for free to help people than wait. As long as my writing helps me, I want to keep it free to help others as well.

Did you face any challenges in the publication process you chose, and if so, what advice can you give aspiring writers who are interested in taking that route?

My decisions aren’t what most writers would do, and that’s okay. But if anyone does decide to go that route, there’s very little stress involved. And once the books are published, that’s it. You don’t have to worry about advertising or trying to get books sold so you can take a vacation this year – unless, of course, you want to. Publishing was easy. Smashwords made it clear and simple and I don’t think I would go any other route for my e-books again in the future.

Many writers struggle with the question of when to publish their work. How did you know the time was right for you?

Just Breathe was my first novel in a lot of ways. I had never – not once – finished writing a novel successfully. I would always get stuck halfway through the story and have no clue where to go next. When I set out to write for its therapeutic benefits, I wasn’t going to let myself fail again. I found that carefully plotting was the right course for me. And I wrote my book from start to finish, coincidentally during National Novel Writing Month (November). The first draft was admittedly a mess, and it took twice as long to finish the first edit. But it was worth it. The story was important to me, and I finally wrote it out. I was determined to release it to the world.

When you write, who is your intended audience?

For many fiction writers, there’s a target audience. For my genre, since it’s a rather specific one (urban fantasy romance), my target audience is adult women, ages 18 and above. My books aren’t erotica, but they have some scenes in them that wouldn’t be appropriate for minors without an adult’s prior permission to read. My prose poetry is mostly for all ages, any gender, though some of the more sensitive subjects regarding my abuse, or romance might be better suited for people that can handle the content. But, more importantly, I write for myself. If I hadn’t written my books, I would put them among my favorites and go-to rereads.

Indie Blu(e)’s mission is to promote independent/divergent writers with an edgy ethos. What does being an indie writer mean to you?

I write to heal. It helps me feel better when I write, and I genuinely love what I’m writing. If you don’t, you’re doing it wrong. I had so much faith in what I was doing that I felt compelled to share my books as they were completed, for free of course, because I didn’t want anyone to be deprived of the escape or experiencing the kind of story I loved so much. I also write for the community. So many people have stories of their own that mirror mine, likewise for many other writers. So not only have I found some forever friends that are also badass writers, but I’ve found people that have connected with my words so deeply, that they feel as though I’m writing about them. That is truly better than being a bestselling author.

What and who do you most like to read?

I’m not sure why, but I’ve always loved urban fantasy – an often-secret supernatural world within the real world (often with a bit of steamy love interests involved), and horror. Stephen King made me fall in love with horror when I was maybe 7 years old and I watched It for the first time. To this day, Pennywise is by far the best antagonist I’ve ever read (or more recently, seen on the big screen). From Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series, Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress world, Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire series (True Blood fans, anyone?) and many more have captured my heart over the years.

In your recently published work, what is your favorite piece and why?

The last book I published was the most recent in my series. I think my favorite part was finally introducing a character I’ve teased about since Just Breathe. But I won’t spoil the fun. I’m currently working on a new poetry book that will cover the last few years of writing, as well as new pieces. Hopefully it will be released in 2019.

My Publishing Story-Nicholas Gagnier

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I wrote my first novel in 2008, at 23 years old. It was called Harbour City Story and, despite being light years short of publication worthy, it would lay the groundwork for the years to come.

After the death of my friend Michelle in that same year, it would take 3 years to write what would become my first published novel, released summer 2018. After it was finished in 2011, parenthood pulled me away from novels for six years. It sat in a drawer, unedited.

In 2012, I began posting poetry on a WordPress blog. That blog, Retkon Poet, would grow to over 8,000 followers in a 3 year period. In 2015 I shuttered RKP to begin what would become Free Verse Revolution. During those five years, I released several poetry books. At War with Water, my first, was the first foray into the world of self-publishing through LuLu Publishing. As expected, no one bought it. This had to less to do with the book itself than my ignorance of how to market it.

In 2013, I assembled several writer friends I had made through WordPress to release Ground Zero, a commemorative book to Michelle. It was my biggest success thus far, garnering local media attention, decent sales and (finally!) slight validation I was on the right path. For the next three years, I opted to publish several digital chapbooks that released through my blog as free reads; THE KILLING WAGE (2014); LITTLE CITY (2015); GENERATION WHY (2016) and MEN IN PAPER COATS (2017). Through cultivating my site and several writing relationships, I put together a follow up to Ground Zero at the summit of my forthcoming mental health journey. Bringing together 22 amazing people (many of them part of the Sudden Denouement Literary Collective), SWEAR TO ME included many of the people I now count among my closest friends.

In 2017, I began writing FOUNDING FATHERS, which would become my first full-length published novel. At the same time, I pulled out my novel from ten years earlier and edited it into a novella called LEONARD THE LIAR. The combination of these projects convinced me I would need a vehicle to drive these stories to market, using all the knowledge I had gained self-publishing poetry.

In 2018, I shuttered the Free Verse Revolution blog to start FVR Publishing with my friend Kristiana Reed. In summer, we joined forces with indie author Kindra M. Austin. Kristi took the reins of a six year old entity and will relaunch the original Free Verse Revolution blog where writers can contribute in a celebration of poetry. Kindra’s imprint One for Sorrow became our fiction-publishing arm and O4S and FVR merged under a new parent company, Blank Paper Press. Leonard released in July and Founding Fathers will be here in November. On the poetry side, FVR will release Georgia Park’s QUIT YOUR JOB AND BECOME A POET (OUT OF SPITE!) 2ND ED. on October 2.

Candice Daquin reviews Kindra M. Austin’s For You, Rowena

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For you Rowena – Kindra M. Austin

Review by Candice Louisa Daquin

I’ll begin by saying, it’s not easy to write a review of a book that you don’t want anyone to know the twists and turns of, because then what do you write about? With this novel I feel almost possessive, usually when you read a novel you really want others to read, you share what you most liked about it, but with a suspenseful and taut thriller that’s incredibly hard to achieve without giving key ingredients away. The reason this would be so devastating is that this novel builds brick by brick and so to read it out of sequence or know anything of what is to come, would spoil the crescendo.

Instead let’s talk about what I can make mention of without any spoilers. If you haven’t read a novel or poem by Kindra Austin then you may not know she’s a woman who absolutely doesn’t hold her punches. Think back 100 years, women couldn’t and wouldn’t do that, but even now, sometimes there is an apologetic politeness or restraint in how women describe the world. When you read someone who is willing to just BE on the page, then you know you have found the truth.

What is truth in fiction? Truth is reading the novel breathlessly and then when you put it down finished, you have emptiness, a feeling of wanting to go back, find the characters again, and inhabit them once more. Truth is relating so deeply to the carved souls of those people written on a page, that they become hyperreal to you. Just like Cathy and Heathcliff were to their generation of readers, we’ve moved on and we can use profanity and be honest about our frustrations as women; we can talk about sex and anger and rage and emotion and do so at a deeper level than we could when we were censored.

Women writers were really censored? You bet they were. And those who did speak truths did so through oblique metaphor rather than carnage on a page. Male writers however had many years of spilling it before women could join the fray and as such, they established themselves as the first of their generation to really ‘tell it like it is’ and women were usually not even part of the conversation. I’m not men-bashing by stating this, but women labored under a longer societal pressure to conform and behave and when they were freed, well fiction like this was born.

Are we talking Capote wearing a dress? By no means. A woman’s truth may be as visceral but it’s entirely different. The emotional landscape is vivid in an intensely feminine way, positively reflective, it goes deeper. The smut and sordidness of life may be equally explained but where a woman can be often two dimensional in male authors work, a woman can explode and show all her layers when a woman writes her.

Lately I’ve been fortunate enough to read some excellent male authors who did sterling jobs of creating female characters that I as a woman could relate to, but this is the first novel I’ve read in some time where I literally crawled beneath the skin of the two female lead characters. If I look up now, I may see them sitting at the table with me, I will smell them as I leave the room, and hear them laughing. They are so uncannily present I believe, it would be challenging for a man to write them with that much alacrity. Just as I could not write a man as well as some of the male writers I know. Does that limit the female and male author to their respective genders? Absolutely not. It simply gives a woman an opportunity to present female characters so fleshed out and present that its astonishing, in a world where male authors are still the dominant force (especially in the thriller genre).

Speaking of genres, I expected this novel to be a thriller of sorts, a psychological mystery. But it really defies any labeling in part because it is wickedly original and flies in the face of being nailed down as one thing or another. I read some female written gothic fiction once that almost reminded me a little, but still didn’t have its edge. At once disturbing, and familiar, you are not sure whether you want to run or continue to read, but you end up reading because of course you do, that’s inevitable. You’re a thing possessed.

I start a lot of novels and put them down, by the first fifty pages I am bored and don’t care what happens to the characters. So often that heady MFA format and predictable collection of characters (the genius who is dysfunctional, the bad-ass girl who happens to be gorgeous) are too routine. When reviewing a book you obviously can’t put it down even if it bores you so it’s always a fear reading a book that it may end up to be insufferable. This wouldn’t be the case here; if I had every novel ever published to read, I’d still want to read For you Rowena. Maybe the simplest way of reviewing this book is to tell you why.

For you Rowena is among other things, a love story, the kind you won’t be expecting and haven’t yet experienced. It has elements that all of us who have ever been caught emotionally in more than one allegiance will understand. In that, it is a very classic tale like Anna Karenina because we, all of us are suckers for love stories with tragic and painful experiences that we can relate to our own love histories, and those that go beyond anything we have experienced we live vicariously with, because ultimately, would anyone be as interested in reading a love story that has no tribulation and only happiness? Alas we are creatures of disturbance and as such, we demand emotional upheaval and not just calm waters. I’m not sure why that is, but an author worth her salt will need to ‘bring it’ and Austin brings it plenty. Hell, she sets it on fire and then invites you to dine on the embers.

Aside that beckoning lure, For you Rowena is also a masterful psychological expose of what makes us humans tick, emotionally. Something few of us really understand without referencing other experiences and looking back in hindsight. Austin gets the emotional jungle we live in, what we crave and we destroy and how we hurt those we love and we do things that make no sense but at the time they are what sustain us. Austin presents us with people we can peer into and discover things about ourselves, sometimes disquietingly. Her characters are shockingly realistic, at the same time there is a fantasy overlaying that and a mystical beauty to Austin’s descriptions of the world about her, which creates a deft juxtaposition between narration, description and dialogue.

Immediately after finishing, my first thought was how visual For you Rowena was. I could literally SEE the scenes and the characters as if they existed on film. It takes a lot to paint so vividly the entirety of a story, not just a realistic dialogue but the full fleshing of person’s you’ve created and then manipulate those creations into coaxing the reader into a sympathetic lasting relationship. Often times you can walk away from a character, you can say ‘I really don’t care what happens’ but that’s impossible here. It is equally impossible NOT to relate to their respective trajectories and the arc the story takes, you are sucked in and kept there, holding your breath until the end.

It would do no good to quote from For you Rowena because everything is within a context and doesn’t survive on its own. That is the intensity of the write, and to say this is simply about love or relationships or murder or desperation or frustration would in no way reveal the heart of this novel. As with any well written novel that stands the test of time, it is the relationship formed with the central characters, our sympathies, anger, and emotional investment that define our impression of the novel as a whole. Does it stand out in a literary sense? I believe it does, because Austin knows the nuance of novel writing requires that fine balance of character versus scene versus dialogue and she gracefully navigates the reader through a very intense hate/love storyline without once losing us.

On a personal note, any of us who have loved passionately and been unsure of our decisions can really sink our teeth into this tale, as Austin presents the quixotic ficklety of human nature, its treacheries, its alliances, and ultimately, its surfaces and depths. I wrote four pages of notes as I read, but I used nothing of them in my review, because they were more my impressions formed from the gut-punch of this book than something I could usefully employ. The ruin and recovery of people is written in the same intoxicating quality as I would expect to find in any memorable novel, adding only a modern flourish. Indeed there is even symbolism, redolent in the significance of broken things, and small observations that speak of loss.

Will it be a novel for everyone? I’m sure some will find the ugly nature of passion disquieting, but more likely there is something missing in all of us that we can discover in For you Rowena. If you have ever had a terrible ache, or shame, and not known how to articulate it, or understood yourself, what led up to its creation, this novel will explain those attachments, as it will bring you right to the edge of understanding how someone can kill. The horror of that and its shocking banality is vividly captured by a writer who can wield a psychological intuitiveness within her characters that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

Perhaps when you have read this you will see why I cannot speak at length about those characters and that story, just as we cannot casually open Pandora’s box. A novel that bewitches us will invariably defy breaking into its composite pieces, it works as if by magic, though the skill required to make those pieces harmonize and fit together is invisibly sewn into every page.

Plainly put, I loved reading this novel. It created in me such an admiration for its authoress and a real fired up passion to find more books that gave me that bequeathed thrill. I found nothing predictable about it, and everything original. For you Rowena literally grabbed me by the throat and held me until the reckoning, and what a reckoning it was.

 

My Publishing Story: Ashley Jane

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I first started thinking about publishing my poetry around a year ago. There had been people asking if I would for awhile, but I always made an excuse. “I don’t have the time.” “I didn’t go to school for that.” “I’m not good enough to publish. This is just a hobby.” But, along the way, I’ve met some amazing and supportive folks who encouraged me to stop seeing my writing as just something to pass the time. So, I decided I would go for it.

The first step was going back through all my words. I read stuff that I’ve written over the years, stuff dating back to high school, and it wasn’t all pretty. In fact, some of it was really bad! Others left me drained, because all those emotions I felt when writing the piece would come rushing back. It was a daunting task. I spent a few months wading through every poem, every story, every little quote and jotted note. I sorted everything into categories. I suppose my obsessive need to organize things came in handy there. I had already decided what I wanted for the title, so I began collecting things for that. I spent another few months re-typing everything into a word document, re-visiting and revising older poems, and writing new ones. I knew I would be self-publishing, so I created an account on CreateSpace. Due to social media, I’d met Christina Strigas and Alfa Holden, two awesome poets. They’d advised me to publish through Ingram Sparks too, if I ever wanted bookstores to be able to sell my book. I got lucky meeting them, because so many writers don’t realize the downside of using only CreateSpace.

After setting my titles up on both sites, I started piecing the book together. I did all of the setup myself, as I couldn’t really afford the extra money it would take to pay someone else. Luckily, I have amazing friends who helped me edit and proofread (thanks Alfa and Matt!). The art was trickier. I’m in no way artistically inclined. I had originally asked an old friend to do it, but that fell through and my timeline for publishing got pushed back. I think that was an important lesson for me. For future books, I’ll get the art nailed down a lot earlier in the process. I did find a wonderful artist though, and she created exactly what I wanted for the cover. With the interior art, I decided to do that myself. I searched various databases for vector graphics and art that was both free and fit with my aesthetic. I personally selected fonts to match my social media. I was pretty picky about making it look a certain way, but I think when you’re self-publishing, you have to be picky. Amazon will not accept a lot of things. The art has to be a certain dpi. The margins and art have to be formatted a certain way. It’s much harder than it seems. So, I take pride in having done it all myself. Some people will also hire cover designers to create their cover or build it. CreateSpace allows you to use their templates or upload your own cover. I chose to build my own and upload it. I was not easy, and it was definitely time consuming. It took awhile, but I was thrilled with the final result.

After several lengthy conversations where I picked Alfa’s brain, I was finally ready to hit publish. I was fortunate to have her to answer questions, because it’s a pretty confusing set up. You’ve got pricing decisions and material decisions and distribution options. And, it’s not instantaneous. In my head, I thought I’d submit the stuff, and they would be, “ok, great, you’re done.” But, no. They take awhile to inspect it, then they spit out issues that you’ve gotta go back and fix. When you finally hit publish, it doesn’t immediately show up on Amazon either. I think that’s the one bit of advice I’d remind others – with CreateSpace, it takes time for your book to show up. With IngramSparks, it can take even longer. So, be prepared for that. Don’t tell people it’ll be out on day X unless you hit publish before that. Otherwise, it may not be there.

In the end, I’m proud of the result. It makes me happy to search my name and see my book pop up. It’s cool hearing people say that they relate to my words, or that they love the look and feel of the book. Nothing can beat that feeling.

Ashley Jane
Author of Love, Lies and Lullabies

Twitter: @Breathwords
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Website: breathwords.com

For You, Rowena (release date 31 August)

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What lines would you cross for the one you love?

Rowena is a Helen of Today, dangerously coveted; she’s a paradoxical woman searching for self-certitude through pleasures of the flesh. Only one amongst her myriad of lovers can save Rowena from herself.

This is a story of human connection and its devastating power.


In three days, I release my third book, a novella titled, For You, Rowena. I’m honored to announce that Allane Sinclair has yet again created a cover that encompasses a universe I’ve imagined and put to paper. I couldn’t ask for a better collaborator than Allane. As always, I hope my words serve justice to the emotions that scream from her artwork. Allane Sinclair is the real deal, folks. She pours every bit of her soul into her work, and it shows.

For You, Rowena, at its core, is about self-preservation, true love, and the roads a person might travel to claim that love as their own, despite the obstacles; it’s about abusive relationships, self-exploration, redemption, and revenge.

For You, Rowena is not written in the narrative style of Magpie in August. Though two different animals, I hope that those who’ve read Magpie will recognize both the strengths and vulnerabilities I’ve instilled into the main women characters of Rowena.

For You, Rowena is scheduled for release on 31 August, 2018 in paperback and Kindle format via Amazon.