Ericka at Authenticitee Speaks recently interviewed Indie Blu(e)’s own Kindra M. Austin. It is an illuminating dialogue between the writers that will have you asking yourself, “is writing just my hobby or my lifeblood?”

authenticitee speaks

I study the writers I choose to feature. It’s important to me to marinate in the pauses between their words. Words are powerful and those who are not afraid to stretch them beyond their original intent fascinate me. Kindra Austin is not afraid and she fascinates me.

Previously unfamiliar with Kindra’s work, I couldn’t have been more thrilled when she was recommended by one of my favorite poets; Devereaux Frazier! I had the honor of interviewing Devereaux a few months ago; so I knew I was in for a treat. Wise beyond his years he has a mature palate and sure enough the strength of Kindra’s gift “had me at hello”.

Kindra speaks…

Kindra M. Austin is an indie author from Chesaning, Michigan, USA. Her debut novel, “Magpie in August” was published in April, 2017, and her book of poems and prose, “Constant Muses” followed…

View original post 1,067 more words

Candice Louisa Daquin Reviews Sarah Doughty’s Just Breathe

One of the hardest things to do when reviewing a book is to read other reviews. I typically don’t because it can be intimidating or distracting. However, I was curious to know what others had thought of this series of books and interestingly more has been written about Sarah’s Earthen Witch Novels series than most books I have read. The sheer passion and length of the reviews as well as the quality and insightfulness point to something we should appreciate about this genre of fiction, much like fan-fiction it produces an incredibly loyal response from its readers.

I confess to not knowing what ‘urban fiction’ was, though I had heard of paranormal fiction of course, and romantic witch/vampire fiction and many of my favorite children’s books featured witches. Sometimes a genre is so misleading; it can dumb-down the value and importance of work or limit the potential readership. In the past, I would have passed by urban fiction or paranormal fiction as limiting genres, and that would have been my loss. Fortunately owing to the TV show True Blood I was somewhat familiar with romantic vampire fiction and had read all of Charlaine Harris Southern Vampire Mystery Series as well as her Midnight Texas series. She is known to write mostly in the Southern Gothic genre not unlike Anne Rice.

Prior to that, I had read some similar genres, though not too many, as they were not my favorite genre and tended to stick together indistinguishably. Among them, I had obviously read Anne Rice’s vampire series, been hooked on Poppy Z. Brite’s fantastic mostly stand-alone books set in New Orleans and hadn’t thought much of the much-hyped Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series but I wasn’t familiar with how many books in these genres existed, let alone that many were written by females. It is worth noting a comparison to other women is more accurate than comparing with male writers, not because women cannot be compared with men, but the very flavor and nuance of writing is so radically different that it’s necessary sometimes to compare like with like.

Initially, it seemed I couldn’t review Sarah’s book because I wasn’t well versed in the subject matter, but that’s the great thing about someone who actually can write, they ensure any reader can access their work without needing to be immersed in the entire lore of the subject. This is true with Just Breathe, and unlike the very overwhelming genre-laden books of contemporaries like Sherrilyn Kenyon and Laurell K. Hamilton, both of whom I had read but not completed their series, I felt Just Breathe didn’t force the reader to pay homage to the subject and could have been any genre, in that the quality of the writing and the character development is what you remember in a good book far more than whether it has witches and vampires or not.

Perhaps it’s snobby to say this, but I have found some books that pay too much homage to their genre become nothing more than the genre. They cannot stand up by themselves, the quality of the writing and the plot development suffers because of the attention given to the subject and the fantasy part of the novel. Whilst it’s necessary to pay due heed to subject-matter, it should not dominate the quality of writing and character development, and I compare this to movies that focus too heavily on special effects without a sound plot and solid memorable characters. Bottom line, if you don’t care about the characters, it doesn’t matter how much you like the world you won’t want to keep reading.

Sarah accomplishes this initial goal almost presciently, and even if I did not know how much she lives to write, I could tell this by the sheer weight she gives her words and the attention to detail and harmony her writing conveys. Furthermore, I read somewhere that Sarah sees her writing poetry as a moment, whereas her writing fiction as a lifetime, and when I read this, it made total sense to me because I’ve read Sarah’s poetry for years and it is a moment, a strong powerful smack in the gut moment, but definitely a moment, whereas when I read her fiction, I can see the entire universe is being considered and she is methodical, paced and thorough in her plotting and building of characters.

I say all of this prior to actually giving my impression of the book Just Breathe, because I’m aware this is not a stand-alone but part of a series and a world that Sarah Doughty has created. Many times reading authors I find myself trying hard to find positive things to say about their work because I am a little impatient with fiction and I have high expectations and demand a lot of the author. I can say without hesitation that Just Breathe delivered for me. I was surprised. When I found out the genre my heart sank and I worried that I wouldn’t find enough to say about the book that was positive (and contrary to popular practice, I’m not interested in tearing a book to shreds, I don’t think it helps the authors grow!).

I was wrong, Sarah knows her art, and she drew me into her world almost immediately. I hate reading online and had the book been shorter I would have printed it out but it did not bother me at all to read it on my computer (although for future reference, I’m always going to be a paper fan, that’s the luddite in me). That alone says a lot, because if you’re not comfortable with the medium your attention can wander and it takes a very captivating story to prevent that. I read the book in 2 days, which is slightly faster than my average, and again, indicates that the author knows how to keep a reader spellbound to her creation.

As I said before, I’m very familiar with Sarah’s poetry and have always appreciated her blunt and honest way of telling it like it is, that’s why it was a surprise to find out she is equally conversant and gifted with longer art forms, and has the alacrity of writing where she can describe in great detail, an entire scene such as her many battle scenes and intimacy scenes, and really conjure for the reader, the very substance of that moment, over many pages. I believe another reviewer commented on how one of her lovemaking scenes went over many pages, in another author this may have come across as pornographic, or over-kill, which again points to Sarah’s honed art as a writer, knowing what is enough and how to control the ebb and flow of her writing exactly.

It goes without saying if I appreciated this book it was in large part due to my liking the main character of Aisling, who whether she has autobiographic features of Sarah or not, is in her own right, a really well fleshed out character. Personally, I appreciate female authors who are unafraid to take their work further and have a political perspective and awareness to the role of women in any universe, including the fantasy ones. Too often male authors resort to dated and two-dimensional female characters, hence why female authors in the fantasy genre as a whole (once, almost entirely dominated by male authors) have shifted this balance and consequently, more women read the genre.

Sarah accomplishes this in Aisling and also her handling of Connor and the other characters. Aisling having been abused at the hands of her stepfather has the scars and trauma that accompany such an experience but in her own right, she possesses the enduring strength one requires to really cherish a heroine.

I don’t need my heroines to be squeaky clean and perfect, that’s too often the case and it really smacks of insincerity and hollow characterization. Humans are imperfect, it’s often that we love most about a person, not how accomplished they are. Too often the characters are expected to be indomitable and unrealistically untouched by trauma, and I don’t think when they’re that far removed you can really bond with them. I was able to relate to Aisling despite the supernatural element that can sometimes allow a reader to enter the fantasy but not relate directly to it. Through her suffering and her survival, I found a woman I wanted to succeed and it involves you at a deeper level than many fantasy novels that are preoccupied by the lore and fantastical part, in the end you need to care about the people in the story as much as the story itself.

Not too long ago I read a forgettable novel on a plane that was written by a woman and featured witches, warlocks, vampires and other supernatural folk. Sadly I couldn’t tell you today the authors name or the title. This is commonplace when a genre is saturated by very similar authors and characters; they merge together and rarely stand out. What I can appreciate in Sarah’s writing is that the quality of her writing stands out irrespective of how many other women may be writing on some of these themes. You aren’t going to forget who she is any more than some of the more recognizable and acclaimed authors who have broken through the morass and made themselves known.

That takes a higher standard of writing than is often found in fantasy genres. Those who do elevate the form are the ones whose names we recall. Personally, I always admired that ability even more so than originality, because many times we strive to be original but it is not enough to be original, we must be likable. Sometimes familiarity can be more likable than something we’ve never read before. In the fantasy genre, I’d take something well written and perceptive over something never heard of before. It can be tempting to keep creating out of the box to be the ‘first’ but you have to combine this with solid memorable writing skills. Without that, you’re just a good idea without legs.

Sarah has that strength in her writing, this isn’t just a hobby for her, you can tell she takes her writing very seriously and spends a lot of time ensuring she gets it right. The continuum of the storyline as well as the developing arc of the characters is a necessary component of any series, as all of us can attest when we have watched TV shows whose characters become more contradictory and confused as the season progresses. To achieve this you need usually to create your world and the people in it and omnipotently draw the trajectory of their lives before committing words to paper. Too often with fantasy authors, the temptation is to ‘write!’ and then go back and ensure it makes sense, but oftentimes you can tell when this is the way an author has chosen to construct their work and it ends up full of implausibility or holes that are too apparent to the reader.

The other reviews of Just Breathe and the Earthen Witch Novels have looked in detail at Aisling and her world, and used many quotes to convey to the reader reasons they may like to read this series. As that has been done, I have chosen to look at the genre and try to give you an idea of where Sarah Doughty’s work lies in that genre, and why her work is worth taking a serious look at. If you were say, to be confronted with all the novels with similar lore, you’d have a lot and how would you know which to choose? A blurb isn’t always enough, and short of a famed review or TV serialization, you may miss some of the best novelists out there. It is up to reviewer to explain why you should read this book more than what the book is about, that often spoils the purpose. I can tell you that aside the reasons given above, if you are a fan of realistic fantasy and by that I don’t mean the obvious oxymoron that implies, but an idea of making fantasy writing as believable as possible within that fantasy, then you will really appreciate Sarah’s novels.

Too many times I have not been able to convince myself enough to believe in the world created by fantasy writers, and whilst the very idea of creating a fantasy, means you should not require realism, it is our nature to need to believe in any creation, however fantastical and that can only be achieved by an adequate attention to making those characters realistic to us. It doesn’t matter if a character is a witch or a vampire and whether those things exist in our world or do not, it matters that we believe as we read that they are real. That way we become invested in them.

Another reviewer of Sarah’s work did a spectacular job of contrasting and comparing her writing and work to a feminist theme and theory. I appreciated this very much and her points were well taken, because oftentimes women as much as men, create female characters that are subjugate to men, sexually or morally or emotionally as well as physically. It must be tempting for some authors to believe in our inaccurate social stereotypes of what a woman is, than really question what she is capable of. Sarah doesn’t make this mistake. Her female characters are not unrealistically tough at all, but they are not pushovers, they survive, they grow, they deepen. And she doesn’t shy away from describing brutality and inequality and unfairness nor does she justify it in the name of action and excitement.

As a woman I respect that because fantasy writing was historically guilty of some really bad stereotypes and likewise with the sex scenes, the inequality of the genders was often apparent, and it took a really strong writer to break out of those stereotypes.  I did not get a sense of any such stereotyping in Just Breathe but rather, the fresh air of an unbiased mind. In that, I compare Sarah’s work to one of my favorite authors, Poppy Z. Brite who was long hailed as an uncompromising author unafraid of touching on difficult subjects or unconventional characters. This is another reason you are unlikely to forget Sarah’s work or jumble it in with all the other fantasy writers out there, she takes good care to be memorable in her careful attention to detail and her unwillingness to follow pastiche and typical character arcs.

This is one reason I never appreciated Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, whilst on the surface, the female characters had spunk, they were ultimately so wrapped up in their man that they gave some of their power away. I am not decrying love, but it needs to be balanced against a woman’s need to stand on her own and not compromise her core. I was happy that Sarah’s book didn’t let me down and was equally able to convey love and attachment without it becoming a dominating theme that ruined the potential of the female lead. In other words, romantic fiction of any ilk does not have to rely as heavily on old-hat notions of male-female and the female does not always have to be the one who throws the baby out with the bathwater. This is especially true here, where the lead female character has an abuse history, it is necessary for her to resolve this without relying solely upon another man to achieve this resolution, otherwise she’s just swapping abuse for safety without really growing in her own right. Fortunately, Aisling is the kind of woman that women can relate to and she isn’t afraid to stand up for what she feels is right, even as she was one so subjugate and becomes horrified to find out the legacy of abuse within her own family circle. For this reason, Just Breathe is a deeply redemptive book and that alone makes it worthy of reading.

On a metaphorical level, one can compare Sarah Doughty’s writing and thoughts to another beloved female author, Angela Carter. Carter enthralled me when I first read her in my late teens, she has the feminist backbone and the fantastical mind of a true artist and her work transports you to amazing feats of imagination as well as harking back to our race memories of fear and darkness. The childhood nightmare of the evil step-father is often sadly, a reality, the unspoken trail of abuse, cutting through generations, again, really happens. And where once we wove these realities into fantasy to hide the truth of them, now we can create say, a witch-hunter and a murderer both, and also see the real-life equivalent t in that treatment of Aisling’s step-father.

I liken Sarah’s work to Carter’s in that juxtaposition of what scares us and what empowers us. She is both able to shock us and make us tremble as she is to suggest ideas of strength and conquering those fears. In that she takes the metaphorical road that is the very essence of fantasy and perhaps why so many of us are drawn to it and weaves a story of fantastical proportions that we also can find ourselves in. Ultimately what I love about fantasy is we can go one step further in fantasy than we can in real life. And without giving away the storyline, I can say, the awfulness of the real world is held to account in the fantasy. And with this I leave you with one recommendation, pick Sarah Doughty’s work out of the genre and let it Just Breathe.

Daquin’s own life, traveling from her native France, via England, Canada and finally the US, has brought a myriad of experiences that others have often been able to tap into via her writing. A collection of lives really, and with this, she tries to weave greater meaning through poetry and touch those who experience similar questions, doubts, and hopes. Surely this is what writing attempts in its very human form?

Daquin’s themes include feminism in its complex, everyday form, and the experience of being a woman, a gay woman, a bi-racial woman, a bi-cultural woman and finally, a Jewish woman of Egyptian extraction (Mizrahi) and how this sits with the world’s current revolt between the dominant faiths.

You can read more of her writing at The Feathered Sleep.

Jasper Kerkau Interviews Christine Ray about Composition of a Woman



You started your journey in the past two years. In that time you have made enormous strides as a writer and a publisher. Is there validation in getting a book to press?

My life has changed a great deal in the last two years, hasn’t it? I knew nothing about blogging when I started Brave and Reckless, let alone publishing. It has been quite an education as I have learned how to negotiate the blogging world and then the world of small press publishing. I think my writing has improved dramatically over the last two years as I have found my voice and been exposed to some really incredible writing. Joining Sudden Denouement has really challenged me to refine my writing and take more risks.

If someone had told me two years ago that I would be publishing my first book of poetry this month, I would have laughed at the idea. Even a year ago I would have scoffed at the idea- I was still too new and too raw a writer. The idea that getting a book to press was an actual possibility grew very slowly. Even in early 2018, I was really struggling with the questions of “Is this the right time?” and “Is my writing really good enough to warrant a standalone book?”

Many steps along this journey have been incredibly validating. Winning the Sudden Denouement Writing Contest, having Brave and Reckless designated a Discover Blog by the WordPress editors, getting published in an e-Zine for the first time, getting published in Nicholas Gagnier’s Swear To Me, editing Anthology Volume I: Writings from the Sudden Denouement Literary Collective have all validated my sense that this is what I am meant to be doing. I can’t tell you how tickled I am that I have a Goodreads Author page and an Amazon author page! It’s crazy. Publishing Composition of a Woman is both validating and surreal, exciting and a little terrifying.

My experience tells me that a great deal of writers stop within a year. What suggestion would you give to new writers about seeing their dreams through?

Keep reading, keep writing, keep networking, give support to other writers as generously as you can, and find your tribe. What has happened in my writing life over the last two years is truly astonishing. But it wasn’t part of a master plan that I carefully developed. I just kept walking through the open doors when opportunity presented itself. And when there wasn’t an opportunity for something I believed in passionately, I asked myself if I could make it happen. Blood Into Ink, Go Dog Go Café, and Indie Blu(e) all grew out of that place.

At the core of your first book, what message do you want to articulate? What do you want the reader to take away from the book?

Writing is really my therapy, my diary, and my confessional. Composition of a Woman covers a wide range of themes: chronic illness, depression, love, loss, and identity. These are issues that many of us will wrestle with in our lifetimes. These pieces are both deeply personal and highly relatable. I want readers to feel less alone when they read Composition of a Woman. I want them to know I get it, that I’ve lived it. Perhaps I will be able to articulate their lived experience in a way they have never been able to.

You have done an amazing job communicating with other writers. How important is that your journey?

I didn’t start Brave and Reckless because of the writing community, but I have definitely stayed because of it. I honestly did not realize how much I needed those connections with other writers until I started to develop them. It was like some small, starved part of my soul woke up when I met other writers who create from the same place that I do. I hadn’t written in 12 years when I started my blog. My family and many of my real-world friends had never seen this part of me before and many of them just didn’t know what to do with it! Some of them treat reading my writing like a guilty secret while others find my candor in my writing very unsettling.

In addition to it being deeply important to my emotional health, the power of networking has had a profound impact on my writing life. I was always the kid who hated group projects but I love to write collaboratively. I love the way synergy occurs between writers and how organically something amazing develops. I have started other blogs with writers I have met on WordPress that continue to grow and thrive. It is really an honor to work with other editors and writers who I know have my back and who know that I have theirs.

Sudden Denouement is truly my literary home and I have made deep soul-satisfying friendships there, but my writing circles continue to grow. I have finally started to connect with my local writer’s community and thanks to the incredibly generous and talented Alfa (Silent Squall), I have started to connect with a large group of passionate poets on Facebook and Instagram.

I benefit every day from the support, generosity, friendship, and creative inspiration offered by these writing communities. It is not unusual for me to have four chat windows open while I communicate with writers all over the world- they are my friends, my comrades-in-arms, and my support system. I often hear people complain on social media about how jealous and petty some writers can be. I have been blessed to meet and connect with a writing community that really supports, encourages, and lifts each other up.

S.K. Nicholas stated that it is important to write every day. How did you balance life and writing in a way that provided you the opportunity to make this book happen?

Oh, how I miss writing every day! I used to write every day. I believe that I should be writing every day. I used to get up at 4 am daily just to have two quiet hours to myself to write. I have really been struggling with balance the last seven months. Some days I manage Fibromyalgia and frequent migraine headaches and some days they manage me. I love all the projects I am involved with but my writing and maintenance of Brave and Reckless often get pushed to bottom of my to-do list because of other, more time-sensitive tasks. I had to be pretty ruthless some days and close my email, mute my phone, put on my headphones, and just ignore everything else so I could have a chunk of time to work on the book.

It took an enormous amount of time just to assemble everything I had written since October of 2016 (over 450 pieces!) and start rereading and sorting through the pieces, making decisions whether to include or discard writing, and then organize the original manuscript. There were days that piles of my writing were on every flat surface in my house. My family ate meals amid tentative book sections on more than one occasion. I worked on Composition of a Woman and its sister manuscript, The Myths of Girlhood for months while also working on the Sudden Denouement Anthology and Rachel Finch’s A Sparrow Stirs its Wings. Some days I never thought Composition would never be finished but, here we are!

You have been an inspiration to so many. What advice do you have for the poets who have not found their voice, who are looking to become a writer of your caliber?

I still giggle when people say things like “a writer of your caliber.” I want to look around me to see who they are talking to, because they can’t possibly be talking about me!

It helped me to read good writing. Lots of it, as much as I had time for. Not just technically good writing but writing that impacted me—made me feel, made me think, challenged me. It was profound when I stopped worrying so much about pleasing an invisible audience and started writing for me. When I write poetry, it is a selfish act. I am writing what needs to get out, regardless of what anyone else thinks about it. I need to express my truth. Truth isn’t always easy or pretty. It just needs to be authentic.

This sounds like a weird thing to say, but it really made a difference when I stopped thinking of myself as another middle-age woman who wrote some stuff and started thinking of myself as a writer. I had to take myself seriously and see it as part of my identity. It made it easier to justify carving out time for my writing and helped me see this as a marathon, not a sprint. The more you write, the better your writing gets.

Collaborate! It really encouraged me to up my writing game when I started writing with other people. At first, I was really shy about asking people to write with me. I have gotten bolder and rarely has anyone say no.

I also took a college-level Creative Writing class that involved workshopping. It both helped reassure me that I had potential and also forced me to look more critically at my writing. I won’t say that it was always a good experience for my ego, but my writing voice evolved significantly during those 12 weeks. I left the class much more willing to take risks and much more confident. I also had a lot of fun! If you do not have easy access to a college writing program, there are lots of good online courses available, including many that are free.

Christine Ray is the author of the Composition of a Woman, as well as being managing editor of Sudden Denouement.

IMG_0157cropped B.W

Mariah Voutilainen reviews Christine Ray’s Composition of a Woman

Christine E. Ray’s Composition of a Woman invites readers to see what a woman is truly made of

By: Mariah Voutilainen

“Betrayal is an inside job” writes poet Christine E. Ray in her debut Composition of a Woman, which will be released July 31st by Sudden Denouement Press.   Ray, who unabashedly displays her “inner badass” on her blog Brave & Reckless, is no new-comer to the indie writing scene.  Careful contemplation went into the organization and creation of this volume, and as such, it speaks to Ray’s decades of experience in writing, years spent editing in the Sudden Denouement Literary Collective, and curating in the writer collectives she helped to found, Go Dog Go Café and Indie Blu(e).  In poems strung together like delicate bones, Ray has crafted a personal story that sometimes hinges on the idea of betrayal, but also on the inner strength of a woman finding love even as she has found loss, finding her voice in spite of being told she is less than.  The trajectory follows an atlas of human form, from nerve to blood, in which she describes a relationship to her body, to her thoughts, to her womanhood, to her writer’s existence.  I was taken in (admittedly in part by my own fondness for the poetics of muscle and bone) from the first poem, by words and phrasing that hang on themselves gracefully in their simplicity while conveying a multitude of emotions.

The imperative of a poet is often to unveil some hidden kernel of human nature or experience and attempt to imbue it with feelings that are difficult to translate into words.  To be an interpreter whose words reassure the readers that every experience is exquisitely unique and yet relatable.  In this, Ray succeeds, especially in the sections “Nerve” and “Blood”.

“Nerve” shows us the confusion, frustration and uncertainty of strange physical symptoms and the process of medical diagnosis.  Ray explores such subject matter with an underlying layer of humor, good-natured exasperation at the disloyalty of hips that creak and mouths that swear to reveal hidden pain.  In the poem “My Right Foot,” she informs us that “my right foot went on strike/declaring that unsafe working conditions…/made continuing unacceptable”.  The body eventually cooperates, even if petulantly, but most certainly amusingly: “my right foot…sulked the rest of the way home/damn ungrateful foot.”

And in “Blood,” Ray openly and strongly addresses society’s expectations of girls and women.  Although her poems draw from common characterizations of women like sugar and spice, the Virgin, the Mother, the Crone, and Lilith, they are still fresh through her voice.  In “Stepping off the Spiral Path” Ray declares “I reject the title crone…I refuse the mantle/of invisibility…I choose instead my naked soul”.  The extraction of this soul through words in “Lost Voice” requires the revelation of a “…truth so deeply hidden/that you must dive inside/hand to elbow buried into slippery entrails/to reach it”.

As I read Composition of a Woman I marveled at Ray’s ability to strike at the most tender of places in such an unassuming way.  True, there are many moments in which her voice roars, but as she brought the book to a close, I was left with a quiet simmering warmth.  It is this warmth that moved me throughout; traversing “Nerve” and “Brain” and “Breast” and “Rib” to finally settle in “Blood”.  Just as poetry is more than just words on a page, more than the sum of its well-placed allusions or expertly crafted metaphors, so too is a woman more than just the body she lives in.  In this book, Ray demonstrates just how much more.

Composition of a Woman is available at, (Canada), Amazon Australia, Amazon Europe (,,,, and,) as well as other major retailers.

Mariah Voutilainen, co-editor at Indie Blu(e), writes poetry and prose about all manner of things at

Nicole Lyons Book Review of Composition of a Woman by Christine Ray

Nicole Lyons Reviews Composition of a Woman. Due July 31, 2018 from Sudden Denouement Publishing

A Global Divergent Literary Collective

I was thrilled when the brilliant Christine Ray of Brave and Reckless asked me to read and review an advanced copy of her debut collection, ‘Composition of a Woman’, and let me tell you guys, you are going to want to mark your calendars for its July 31st release date! This book is fire, unbridled, out of control, glorious fire!

Composition Of A Woman - Christine E Ray - CS.indd

Cover Design by Mitch Green

Christine Ray’s debut collection ‘Composition of a Woman’ is an extraordinary glimpse into the essence of what it takes to make, and sometimes simultaneously break, a woman as strikingly powerful as she is beautiful.

Christine Ray brilliantly split ‘Composition’ into five thoughtful sections that work together beautifully to deliver the maximum impact of each poem while taking the reader deeper into a stunning journey of the mind, the body, the very soul of this person. In Composition, Christine Ray reveals so much of…

View original post 337 more words

Kristiana Reed Reviews Magpie in August, by Kindra M. Austin

Austin stuns with her debut novel, Magpie in August. A lovingly written narrative about living, dying and the purgatory in between.

I’ve been an admirer and reader of Austin’s poetry since late 2016, a little while after she started poemsandparagraphs. Austin always writes honestly with the razor-sharp ability to steal the breath from my lungs and make me punch the air with my fist. However, I did not know what to expect with Magpie in August, except it grew out of her relationship with her late mother (as revealed in her interview with Sudden Denouement founder, Jasper Kerkau).

Within the first few pages, Magpie, our protagonist, was sketched into my mind in vivid magenta, violet, and deep charcoal. Magpie’s love for Peter was palpable from the first time he called her ‘Beautiful’ as if it was her ‘God given name’. Her mother, Lynette, is an angel and demon wrapped up in one and Renny, Magpie’s reader and listener, a friend and foe. Austin leads us to believe we know everything there is to know about these people. Magpie can be cruel. Lynette is fickle and flippant. Peter is a watchful guardian and Renny is silent.

But, they are people, not characters and so our omniscient facade soon falls away. In every chapter, Austin gifts us a new angle, new mirror and new prism to refract everything we knew through. In fact, it is only Peter, quite fittingly, who remains the same.

Austin gave me a safe space to reflect on my own relationships, to draw parallels and thank my blessings. Her exploration of grief and loss is beautiful. A stunning, heart-wrenching tribute to the human condition and its difficulty to love unconditionally, when love, at the end of it all, is what we do best. Every person receives redemption of some form – Magpie, Lynette, Wren, Dalton (Magpie’s father) and even Jessica Wenzel.

Austin’s unwavering guidance into the darkness of rock bottom, Lake Huron and even the supernatural was superb. Authors like Cecelia Ahern (If You Could See Me Now), F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby) and Douglas Kennedy (The Woman in the Fifth) came to mind as Austin matched their ability to write people not caricatures and take them to places we didn’t expect; never once causing the reader to doubt their ability in ensuring it all makes sense in the end.

Magpie in August ends just as it should. The Magpie who wakes up from a dreamy slumber in chapter 1 is the Magpie embracing all the earth and sky have to offer in the final chapter. Austin brings us full circle; allowing us to reap the rewards of a woman saving herself.

Magpie leaves us believing she deserves to breathe, love and wait for her ‘beloved stars to awaken silvery blue in an inky sky.’

Magpie in August is available at

Kristiana Reed daydreams, people watches in coffee shops, teaches English and writes. She is a curator on Blood into Ink, a collective member of The Whisper and the Roar and blogs at My Screaming Twenties. She is 24 and is enjoying the journey which is finding her voice.

From Nicholas Gagnier: Leonard the Liar Excerpt #2

The bright lights give off an obnoxious combination of red, yellow and white glow. A visual overdose is spread across every corner of the travelling carnival like a neon bed-skirt. Kids infest every intersection. Games booths are commanded by charismatic university students over loudspeakers.

Carnies are the sheriffs of this lawless little land, when they’re not smoking pot or copulating with each other, shuffling folks onto rides and pressing a green button. Ferris Wheels and Gravitrons spin to life and slow with circadian rhythm, primed for the moments leading up to pushing the Big Red One.

Shuffle people out, shuffle people in.

It’s all routine.

Parents, single or otherwise, bring their offspring here in what they perceive to be a family night. It’s not even close. I can hardly blame them. It’s a night to set their monsters on a civilization of bells and whistles.

Teenagers travel in groups, beating the younger, less agile kids at games, contributing to anarchy any way they can. Maddening carnival music finds its way to whatever wondrous nook I find myself in, reaching peak volume somewhere along the House of Mirrors.

Skylar walks alongside me, buried in a sweater and thick glasses, having opted for sneakers over style. Her hair is tied back in a ponytail which sways with her swagger from side to side. Unnaturally focused on her environment, sentimental even, she constantly smiles at things she sees- a landed robin picking up food crumbs or a baby who lays eyes on her over a mother’s shoulder.

“I’m glad you called me,” she says. “I didn’t expect you to, but hoped.”

In return for three fucking days of torturing myself, I decided to act.

We arrive at the merry-go-round. Steel fences double as leaning posts for adults loitering around them, savoring a moment of peace before returning to ritualistic mollycoddling. Our fingers wrap around the horizontal bar, looking off into spinning abyss of colorful thought.

“Can I ask you a question?” Skylar asks.

“Depends on the question.”

“What changed?”

“What do you mean, what changed?”

She takes a deep breath, lips pursed.

“You never struck me as the guy who’d propose.”

I shrug.

“A lot changes in ten years.”

“Says the man who doesn’t believe in change.”

“I don’t know what to tell you, Skye. Somewhere along the line, it stopped being an issue. I had to change if I wanted to live to see thirty years old. I had to change because I was sick of the lying and the binges and the compulsions.”

I hesitate.

“One night, I got hammered. Really hammered. I was with this girl Trisha at the time. We did a bunch of coke at her apartment and polished off a bottle of Jack. I crashed Trisha’s car. Hit one vehicle, which hit another. I ended up taking out a fire hydrant. That was rock bottom right there. Face-deep in the airbag and a cut above my eye.

“I pushed open the door, fell to the sidewalk and puked up all over it. Passed out. I woke up in the hospital. My brother was there. My uncle was there. Three doctors standing over me and a pair of cops.

“Crown wanted to put me away for six months but the judge didn’t throw the book at me because I had a clean record. I spent two days in lockup and got sent back to rehab. When I got out, I dumped Trisha. Just stopped calling her. She came to my house once, lost it on me and walked away.”

Skylar takes a moment to process. Her brow rises and falls for the duration.

“And then you met Claire?”

I fix my sights on the carousel. Christmas lights in constant motion. Momentary assaults of clarity coincide with mental highlights.

“I met Claire at- this is going to sound ridiculous. But, um, she mistook me for the superintendent, which was known to be a notoriously vacant position.”

Skylar says nothing.

“She had just moved in down the hall, and her pipe busted. My roommate at this time, real dick named Greg, who played guitar at three at the morning and was fucking obsessed with Sambuca, offered to help her on condition of a ‘happy ending’.”

“Oh, God,” she says. “Some men.”

“Anyway, there was no superintendent at the time, so I broke into the building’s storage and ‘borrowed’ some tools. Fixed the pipe.”

“You always were a rebel.”

“The first time I saw Claire smile, the first time I heard her voice and it peaked in pitch as it does when she’s nervous; the simple, knee-high white dress she was wearing. Golden locks. Beautiful girl. I was at a loss. Felt like an idiot.”

Skylar is silent.

“I feel like I’m talking to a wall here,” I tell her.

“What do you want me to say?”

“Congratulations, Len, you’re no longer the biggest fucking tool I know?”

She snickers.

“Now you’re just fishing for compliments. You haven’t lost that about you.”

“Here I thought I was a changed man.”

She bumps her shoulder to mine.

“Congrats, Len.”

“Thanks. Want to start walking?”

We migrate away from the carousel, slipping back between the crowds, into anonymity. Pass the Ferris Wheel again, the game booths, the cotton candy stand housed in a commercially constructed log shack. The faint scent of popcorn filters through clear air before being pulled into the night.

Skylar reaches into her purse and pulls out a familiar brand. She sticks the cigarette in her mouth and grabs a set of matches. The fumes of sulfur engulf my senses before nicotine-laced fog takes hold of my nostrils.

“That’s so bad for you,” I mock.

“Shut up,” she says, “If I’m going to die young, you can bet I’m going to live the rest of it very fast.”

“Dancing. Stalking. Smoking. All these things were beyond you, Skye. Have to say, I like the new you. What’s next?”

She stops. Gray eyes drift upwards to a structure breaching the countryside backdrop. Something tall, in ultimate bad taste and shaped like a death trap. On a whim, she drops the cigarette, and starts toward a line for the roller coaster. Like she won’t live long enough to accomplish both.

“Come on, Len!”

I shake my head.

“Don’t be a wimp!”

Sigh. I follow her into line, one bursting at the seams with teenagers, disgruntled fathers and their youngsters. A human train moves along at a snail’s pace as I shuffle between sides uncomfortably.

“I thought you hated roller coasters,” I remark.

“You hate roller coasters, Len.”

“I take it this is something else you’re actively embracing?”

“What can I say? I’m not going to die in a hospital bed, at least.”

One of the dads in front of us overhears Skylar and glares back at her.

“Don’t worry. I’m not contagious,” she clarifies, “Although, it’s not so nice to stare at sick people.”

The man mutters something and looks away.

I check whether my jaw is still attached to my cheekbones.


“What? Because I told him to mind his own business?” she asks.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so confrontational with strangers.”

“I guess a lot does change in a decade.”

The line continues to push forward, twelve people at a time. From where we started, it’s progressed a little over halfway. The structure to our left shudders with the sounds of rumbling train-cars and their cheering occupants.

“So I think it’s my turn to ask a question,” I say.


“If the doctors came to you tomorrow morning and said they’d been wrong; you were going to live for another ten years, the whole shebang. Would it change anything?”

“I’m not sure what you’re asking,” she says, “Are you asking whether I’d keep doing crazy things I hate just for the sake of doing them, or whether I’d go back to my old life and revert back to who I used to be?”

“That phrasing works.”

She thinks on it, as if building the perfect answer in her brain.

“The doctor who came to my room with the MRI results couldn’t have been older than twenty-five. I don’t think she’d ever had to personally tell a patient anything like that. It took a while to stop beating around the bush and finally tell me. I know what a blood clot is. She proved living people shouldn’t hand out death sentences. Their delivery sucks.”

“”Do you always talk like you’re already dead?”

“In a way, I am. I did the denial thing, the anger and bargaining. I got to depression and I slept. A lot. Somewhere, in that huge clusterfuck of recurrent nightmares, there was a bit of serenity. But the doctors aren’t wrong, Leonard. Dying changes something in you. Even if they came to me tomorrow and told me they were, it’s part of me now. I’ll always live today like it’s my last.”

“I’m sorry,” I say, “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

Skylar wraps her fingers around the thick of my wrist.

“You have no reason to be sorry.”

How can she be so calm?

Why doesn’t her voice waiver, or her eyes tear?

Almost having inched our way to the stairs leading up to the loading platform, a couple juveniles hanging off the railing are approached by a security guard who escorts the punks out of line.

“If anything, Leonard, I have everything to thank you for.”

Ten steps to go.

I am not going to enjoy this.

“Why is that ?”

One of the trains comes to rest above us. Footsteps pound across the opposite end of the platform, a crowd spilling down a different staircase. Some are carried off into other corners of the carnival. Others rendezvous with their friends at the back of the line, ranting and raving about how great the ride was and vowing a repeat performance.

I can see the train cars now.

“I don’t know,” she replies, “With you, there doesn’t have to be a thing.”

“A thing?”

“The thousand pound elephant in the room called death?” she asks. “For the writers among us, let’s call it ‘dying with dignity’.”

“You remembered,” I say, somewhat impressed.

She grins. “Of course I do. Leonard the aspiring writer. It was romantic. I loved that about you. But I haven’t seen your name much at the bookstore, so I wasn’t sure how to broach that topic.”

“I wrote a couple. Published none.”

“Yeah,” she says, “well, don’t give up on your dreams, sweetie. Your day job’s not doing you any favours.”

“Funny. My parents always told me the opposite.”

“And how are they?”


“I’m sorry. Natural?”

“Car crash. Nine years ago. And I’ve made my peace with it. Not sure Luke has, but he has way too many other, self-created problems to deal with first. And that’s kind of what I’m trying to say here, Skye.”

“About what?”

“Dying with dignity includes your family, too. Now, I’m not going through what you are, and it’s not my place, but I would want my family to not….be caught by surprise, you know?”

We’re almost at the gate now. The smell of sweat is pervasive, more than a hundred people crammed together.

“That’s the problem,” Skylar says, “Telling the world will make me look vulnerable. I don’t want to look vulnerable. Not many choose the timing, but some of us can control the circumstances. I’m not going to be kept alive by machines. That, to me, is not dignity.”

Another set of cars unloads and finally we’re standing at remotely opened gates. The operator sits in a booth to our right. Two college girls ushering people in and out like a revolving door every few minutes compare boyfriends and nail colors in their downtime.

“You ready?” Skylar asks as the next car comes rolling in and several wheezing people take their leave down the other side.

“Abso-fuckin’-lutely not.”

She chuckles, slaps me in the chest with the back of her hand.

“Suck it up, buttercup. I’m forcing you to do this one time. Not only will you live, but I’ll have you home to your fiancee by eleven.”

The gate opens and we take our seats. The cold steel car locks its occupants in with colder steel bars cranking down in our laps. To make matters worse, there’s not much protection on either side of me.

“I’m not going to lie,” I say. “I’ve never been on a roller coaster.”

A schoolgirl giggle escapes her lips.

“Double score for me.”

Leonard the Liar by Nicholas Gagnier is scheduled for release on Tuesday, July 24th and will be available on