Evil Archetypes of Pop Culture: The Wicked Witch Versus the Wonderful Wizard

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He looks the part–but can you trust him?

By Shawn Stjean

We return to this series, as we often do in October, to devote a little analysis to the better understanding of commonly seen (and often misinterpreted) figures and events in storytelling.  Or, as I prefer to call it, our cultural mythology.

Entire blogs and books are devoted to the subject of witches, so I’m treating them here in a special circumstance: when appearing as half of two lesser-known figures that function together as a pair.  Other examples, beyond the familiar Oz universe,  of this pairing include:

-the Oracle and the Architect from The Matrix films

-Morgan Le Fey and Merlin of Arthurian legend

-Eve and Adam

-Pandora and Prometheus

Sometimes the witch-figure is masculinized, though the specific male-witch character will often exhibit feminine traits of nurturing and guidance:

-Gilliam and Wilford from Joon-ho Bong’s Snowpiercer

-Gandalf and Saruman from Tolkien’s Middle-Earth

-Arioch and Donblas from Michael Moorcock’s Elric saga

-Even Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader  function this way.

The fact that these two figures often covertly conspire together, or at least operate with a tacit understanding of the need for the other’s existence, signals their true nature at the archetypal level.  On the surface, the two might be bitter enemies–“Bring me the broomstick of the Witch of the West,” commands Oz–but perhaps “rivals” might be more accurate.

Beneath the local storytelling level, the couple are really two parts of a whole: the “witch” is an agent of the primal, universal force of Chaos, and the Wizard a custodian and operative of Order.  This fundamental addiction to dualism in storytelling results from the inability of mortal human beings to reconcile existence into its transcendent reality as One, as Joseph Campbell once told Bill Moyers.  However, this working together for balance, a yang-and-yin harmony, is the storyteller’s acknowledgement  of the need for both. One without the other?  You may as well ask for an ebb without a tideflow, a moon without a sun, female without male.

For westerners, this primal level can be hard to penetrate because of our cultural bias against Chaotic forces, identifying them as “wicked” or “evil.”  The original inhabitants of our American continent held no such biases.  Whatever was useful was good; otherwise, try to avoid it.  For example, in Lakota  mythology, Iya (the Eater) and Iktomi (the Spider) are siblings.  The Native Americans instead prefer a “Trickster” figure (a la Hermes among the ancient Greeks, as opposed to brother Apollo,) who sows disorder in a Boethian way–through ignorance, selfishness,stupidity, and accident, but without intent to harm.

(By the way, this shift in emphasis is not be taken as a philosophical argument that evil never exists.  Clearly, Hitler stood for fascistic order, and the Allied forces opposing him stood for a more tolerant, democratic order.)

How, then, to spot these figures in a story, and recognize that the story of “good vs. evil” is often really our cultural shorthand for a tension that exists in each human being, even at the biological level–every pump of the bellows of the heart, inhalation/exhalation of the lungs, every emotion and countering bit of logic?

Science and Technology are manifestations of Order as a force; Magic/”Powers” are manifestations of Chaos as a force–wherein the laws of physics, biology, mathematics, are voided.  Characters with command of magic don’t “play by the rules.”  A spell or enchantment violates space, or gravity, or free will; a prophecy violates Time.  But when a machine is built to accomplish these same feats?  Everybody wants one.  As old as the antagonism between reason and mysticism, is this divide.

There’s a complicating factor in the West: gender.  Cries of “Witch” at first glance signal acknowledgement of the presence of a powerful woman, but really mean a woman beyond control–and the use of the slur is a final desperate attempt to regain that power, to call in the force of the collective against the relatively vulnerable individual.  The parallel gender slur “Bitch” is a variant, defining the woman as merely a female, at the animal level.

Women have been villainized because they are unconsciously identified with Chaos–lack of control, emotion, a lure to sexuality, even insanity.   “She” embodies the human inability to understand (“Weird,” we say–as in Macbeth‘s Weird Sisters–as a placeholder for that which we have yet to comprehend.)  Recall that Circe–the most powerful female antagonist of Homer’s Odyssey–was denigrated from her proper status of goddess to a mere “witch.”

Often, agents of Chaos appear as Oracles–a brilliant trick, as it appears to sort things out–reveal the future.  But prophecies are riddles that are subject to, and often are, misinterpreted, a storyteller’s way of warning us against too-slavish devotion to Order.

And the Wizard?–well, let us not forget one thing: he’s a fraud.  Oz hides behind a bombastic projection of technology, Vader is half a robot, the Architect retreats to his room of computer screens.  Order is at least as artificial a construct as Chaos, and as tenuous–as anyone who has ever experienced the danger of over-reliance upon technology–a flat tire, a dead cell phone battery, a corrupted hard drive–can attest.  We crave order, routine, solidity beneath our feet, and we resist change, dynamism, and unpredictability–and yet these are catalysts of growth.  The struggle of losing control, regaining it, and losing again are the very rhythms of life.

Agents of Order often appear as policemen and soldiers (the Sheriff of Nottingham or Sherriff Will Teasle or Javert) versus the intrusive elements and undesirables (Robin Hood or Rambo or Valjean) that threaten the community’s authoritarian stability.  Thus we arrive at another of the tacit recognitions that Chaos is not inherently evil: the Western tradition of the rebel-hero (beginning with Prometheus versus Zeus).  Only relatively recently have women been gaining access to these non-stygmatized roles, appropriately enough as adolescents (Bella Swan of Twilight, Beatrice Prior of Divergent.)  Here, age prejudice intersects with gender prejudice in a kind of double-double standard.  It remains largely to be seen if adult and mature women of Chaos can gain heroic acceptance as anarchistic rebels, and cease being dismissed as crazy old crones.

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Scary, yes. But wicked?

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Humanism Lives Long, And Prospers: Star Trek Continues Review

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 By Shawn StJean

Who says it takes a hundred million dollars to do Star Trek right?

Under the wing of Farragut Films and Dracogen Investments, Vic Mignogna and crew have launched the second episode of their wonderful fan webseries, Star Trek Continues.  It takes place during the final three years of the original five-year mission that ended prematurely when the network cancelled Star Trek in the late 1960s.

All due respect to the rebooted mega-budget studio feature films–sorry, but this is where it’s at: no one is going to get resurrected by “Necrotic-Tribble-Cross-Superhuman DNA,” either.  That kind of technobabble/solution nonsense is for fans of Next Generation and its ilk.

I screened the just-released second episode in the webseries, “Lolani,” with a smile on my face the entire time.  This reaction was part nostalgia, part admiration, and part gratitude for Vic and the gang who’ve devoted themselves to continuing a great tradition of truly humanistic storytelling, even amidst the most technological setting.  I thought it bettered the excellent first episode (featuring the return of old nemesis, Apollo, reprised by Michael Forest).

As with the original series, the episode “Lolani” takes a local incident and extends it not only to allegorical proportions, but retains the Trek romanticism while it resists succumbing to the sentimentalism of dozens of silly imitation shows over the years.  An Orion slave girl, taking advantage of a dispute among her recent purchasers, kills the new owner who would have raped her.  The Enterprise rescues her from the drifting Tellarite vessel, and she proceeds to enchant the crew (Kirk included, naturally) with her pheromone-enhanced wiles.  The rhetoric of gender relations undergirds the script, and the threat of female power remains inescapable, but the story somehow escapes radical feminism and balances its themes in a way that would have made Gene Rodenberry proud.

The episode also does an excellent job creating moral ambiguity: given the laws of the Federation and perhaps even the Prime Directive, the crew is forbidden to interfere with her return to the slavemasters who sold her.  And yet, she gives a face to the thousands still under the thrall of the homeworld’s patriarchs.  Lolani herself, like so many women characters in literary fiction, remains a mystery until the end: part liar and manipulator, part sincere and helpless girl, worthy of the genuine love one crewman gives her.  Of course, the Captain wouldn’t be Kirk if he failed to make a pass at her along the journey.  In fact, many of the old tropes are present for the fans: the Vulcan mind-meld and neck- pinch, for example.  I have to admit to being disappointed that Kirk’s shirt wasn’t ripped during the fight scene–but then again, with a budget smaller than that of the original 45-year-old episodes, and adjusting for inflation–well, those things aren’t cheap.

The scripts of the old Trek were the reason for its longevity among fandom, and this tribute series follows suit.  While some may find the style hokey, I personally applaud the refusal to give in the cynicism and parody that invests so many of today’s remakes.  The production values: sets, costumes, special effects, music, lighting, and even a few stunts–really cannot be faulted by any reasonable viewer.  Some may wish for more professionalized acting, or folks who more closely resemble the original cast members–but naturally this would defeat the purpose of a fan-series, being both cost-prohibitive and elitist.  No one in the troupe’s ensemble cast fails to deliver competence, anyway, and guest stars like Sci-Fi vets Erin Gray and Lou Ferrigno are always welcome.  Naturally, such pros also deserve the thanks of fans everywhere for their contribution to keeping the Enterprise flying.

Visit the Official Site:

http://www.startrekcontinues.com/

And Kickstarter page:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/125377036/star-trek-continues-webseries

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Book Review: Write the Body–Post Rock Limestone Caryatids by Rachel Creager Ireland

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By Shawn StJean

Surely for not the first time in history, modern feminists proposed, forty years ago, that genuine women’s writing follows patterns that would seem alien to male readers: perhaps circular or spiral–or at least non-linear, non-phallic, and non-formulaic (this lack the greatest source of readerly anxiety: a defeat, though not a disappointment, of expectations).

Beginning with its title, one clearly not designed to enhance marketability (what genre is this?  Sci-Fi? Chick-Lit?  Naturalism?,) Ms. Ireland’s debut novel fits the non-pattern.  Although the setting eases us in–human beings living on the eve of the 22nd century, insulated, born into robotic nurseries and raised into cubicles and having contact only through computerized avatars via sanitized social networking and virtual sex, their bodies slowly falling to atrophy while the world outside slowly recovers from the human virus, in remission.  Meanwhile, privileged children are genetically modded and sponsored into Matrix-like docility/productivity as adults. Fans of political allegory and films like Neill Blomcamp’s Elysium or District 9, or anyone who’s ever simply slaved away in the human ice-cube-tray of an office building, should find plenty to satisfy their sense of satire here.

The plot, however, spreads its legs, so to speak: between a wealthy runaway escaping a controlling father to seek a free birth for her child, and a woman who abandons the cubicle life, following the death of her sister and loss of her infant niece to the state “corporocracy,” to go into the wilderness with an attractive, seductive politico-religious zealot.  One of the defamiliarizing aspects of the book is the consistent splitting of our attention back-and-forth, toward an eventual convergence in the great yonic center of our country, the Kansas prairie, the culmination simultaneously the most common and most miraculous of events.  Écriture féminine, indeed.

Male readers, especially, or any conditioned in the mode of phallogocentric writing, should not expect to find chase-and-gunfire narrative lurches and jerks, progressing hurriedly to an all-too-predictable climax.  As one of the protagonists learns in the company of natural childbirthers, patience, and release of control, form much of non-technological existence.

And the writing, at the paragraph and sentence level, frequently bares its beauty in a range from scatological to sublime, though in the least pretentious of ways.  One could read many passages as the journal of a writer who has herself plumbed both the mysteries and fears of homo sapiens childbirth, and the macro-birthing process of Mother Earth. Ireland could become one of the few legitimate woman naturalists–though this is only one of the book’s several modes–a tradition dominated by males in America since the 1870s.  (A scan through her author’s blog, http://veronicasgarden.wordpress.com/, will confirm this.)  “If Maeve were the only human alive, the only tragedy would be human, that is, that Maeve would be the last to witness to such immense beauty; yet this world would go on being beautiful, to itself, for itself, without suffering any loss.  It was somewhat reassuring to Maeve to know that the world was really that big, that her little human sufferings, meaningful as they might be to her, were really a very small part of the whole.”  Norris or Crane or Dreiser–all appreciative of the ironic scope of androcentrism that defines our species among the animal kingdom, would agree.

Buy it on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Post-Rock-Limestone-Caryatids-ebook/dp/B00AWE6B8O/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1366041370&sr=8-1&keywords=post+rock+limestone+caryatids

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2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award–2,000 of 10k New Books Advance to 2nd Round

Image10,000 books have been entered by their authors and publishers, in five categories.  Clotho’s Loom by Shawn StJean, published under the Glas Daggre Imprint, is among 400 in the General Fiction category selected for the second round, and will attempt to move on to the quarter-finals of the ABNA (100 will be selected from each category, announced @ March 12, 2013.)

List of 2nd-rounders:  http://www.amazon.com/b?node=332264011  Congrats everyone!

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Friend: An Indie Author’s Vocabulary Starts and Ends On The Word

Thoughts Inspired on a Super-Bowl Sunday

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Alternatively, the word would be Loyalty.

Am I wrong in declaring that about every independent author or small/self-publisher out there secretly longs to become a breakout success?  Not so secret.  Of course, we’re not all money-grubbing, would-be capitalist dragons dreaming upon treasure hoards.  Most of us are humanists, in one way or another.  But if we were to enjoy commercial fame, sell a lot of books, do the talk-show circuits, get reviewed and lauded in The New York Times, nominated for prestigious awards, and the rest, well. . .rewards vary.  A lot of us would simply like the financial freedom to write, full-time, without the drudgery of either having to support ourselves with a ten-hour-a-day-job, or having to network and promote for the better part of the writing-day.  Others could sure use the dough, to buy better houses, computers, and cars, or to get out of debt for ones already bought.

Whatever the motivation, the plain fact is that. . .most of us are not going there.  Most of us will live our lives continuing to work, write, revise, format, publish, network, and (hopefully) supplement our incomes as a modest, partial reward for daring to share ideas with other human beings, making our voices articulate among a 21st-century sea of overwhelming images, and dreaming well into adulthood, after others have stopped.

Agree with me?  I know, it’s a bittersweet vision.  Read on.

Given this dose of reality, what sense does it make, then, to continue to act like one of the mindless drones who actually subscribe to the slogan of the NYS Lottery: “Hey, it could happen“?  Groan.  This type of rubbish, preying on the hopes of normally sane people, has probably killed more human potential in our culture than War.

If you’ve made the decision to publish independently of the traditional commerical establishment (no matter what it is calling itself at the moment–you work, they take the profit, bottom line,) then Congratulations!  You’ve done a brave thing.  Don’t betray your own courage by then proceeding, out of ignorance, cowardice, or greed, to act as if you were still a slave.

Here’s what I mean: You won’t make it five steps, alone.  You’re going to need pals.  A lot of ’em (though not as many as you might think.  One good one is worth a hundred others.)  You’re going to be saying, “Buy my book” quite often, naturally, but at some point you’re going to have to give some away, and you’re going to have to buy others.  And if you want to get reviews, you need to write reviews for others.  If you want a manuscript critiqued, a blog post shared and tweeted, an endorsement, an introduction, an interview, a guest post, and so on–you’ll be repaying, in kind.  Not that every single event needs to be quid pro quo with every person, but you’ll at least be paying it forward to someone who needs it, the way you once did, before you moved on.

This is the beginning of a crusade well beyond whatever Facebook definition of “friend” your fifteen-year-old has.  Because you’re going to discover, as you go, that there are real, flesh-and-blood people behind those avatars.  This is a good thing–and exactly the reason you retreated from the monolithic, exclusionary moat-and-wall that surrounds the castle of commercial publishing.  You wanted to touch other people.  Well, they’re here on the ground, bleeding shoulder-to-shoulder with you, not up there on the ramparts.  And as you do rub elbows with your brothers and sisters-in-arms, you’re going to see that some of them are worth, as Shakespeare said, “grappling to thy heart with hoops of steel.” And others, not.

Let me offer one concrete example, among a legion.  I always hear about folks buying up domain names (this is like buying insurance on a blackjack bet,) in case you get famous.  Well, you wouldn’t want someone cashing in on your name, right?–and the first thing you’re gonna do, when you hit big time, is ditch that free WordPress host/domain, right?  Amplified groan.  I don’t expect everyone to agree, here, but consider what you’re doing.  Abandoning friends at the first sign of non-trouble. I personally have been running a blog at WordPress for eight months, and they’ve never asked me for a dime.  Never littered my site with ads, never annoyed my visitors with pop-ups.  ‘Cuz that’s what commercial entities do.  You know, there are things I wish WordPress would do better, and I suppose if I do enjoy a lot of traffic one day, I’ll pay them the mite they want for upgrades.  Hell, at this point I would pay without the upgrades, if they said they needed it to stay afloat–because, even though we don’t share text messages and swap cute animal pictures, I know there are still friends of mine, over at WordPress.  They’ve treated me well, and I’m gonna treat them well.  You can go all cynical and say, “Well, StJean, you dummy, they don’t care about you.  They make money off you whether you know it or not.”  If they do, I say, good. They’d better.  But even in business, there is such a thing as loyalty.  This is not The Godfather, in which “business” is a euphemism directly preceding back-stabbing (or garroting).

Now, if I’m not going to turn on an entity like WordPress, which doesn’t even have a human face, I’m damned sure not going to use and discard real people who’ve aided me, or at least wished me well.  (I can hear everyone out there saying “Neither would I!”  But you may not have thought it fully through.)

I’m taking about competition vs. cooperation.  When you compete with someone, you’re by definition trying to take their share for yourself.  No way around it, be it a title, a trophy, a dollar, or a slice of pizza.  And you might say, “we’re all competing,” but that’s not really true.  Only in the sense that every member of an army or sports team competes–some get medals, records, or payment for personal achievement, true, others remain obscure.  But still, a win for one is a win for the team.  When you cooperate, everyone cedes a bit of his personal share for the greater success of the whole–and this can be far greater than the sum of its parts.

Amazon knows this (not to target them gratuitously, but they are a pertinent example.)  They know that every author they sign into KDP Select, no matter how big a hack and how few books they sell, is one more author cooperating with them, by legally agreeing not to compete against them.  However, when that same author goes Kobo, ITunes, Smashwords, Google Play, Barnes and Noble, or some smaller outfit, maybe even just sells on Ebay and from a blog, then that’s one tiny step toward breaking the monopoly.  AND, when these little guys start teaming up, then you have a whole league (which is the way both capitalism and democracy are supposed to work,) of teams, with more-or-less equal viability in the forum/marketplace.  Competition continues, but it’s healthy, because everyone has a real chance.

Somewhere there, I shifted metaphors, away from the medieval and violent.  The cost of competition should not be measured in broken and severed limbs.  So, Sports.  A lot of intellectuals look down on sports fans–not without reason, at times–but even the drunken, body-painted clown standing up and obstructing your view knows one thing, for sure–he’s chosen his team, and he’s loyal to it through thick and thin, whether they win it all, or go winless that season.  ‘Cuz there’s another inning, another quarter, half, game, series, and season coming.  That’s why they play the games–you really never do know what the future holds–and the victories are much sweeter for the adversity that came before, and for the folks you’ve shared it with.

You and your girlfriend may both write Suspense-Thrillers or Romance novels, may both have gotten your M.A.s in the same grad program, have been up for the same scholarships, and are now eyeing the same prizes as surely as that Amazon ranking taunts you both.  But you’ve both been called up to the Show, now.  The big leagues.  Believe me, put your back to hers, and find others with the same colors.  Pros know, they’re going to be coming at you from all sides.

Assemble your team.  Make flags, design logos, sew uniforms if you have to–but much more, research and recruit the players (the best ones are not always the snazziest, loudest-talking, biggest chest-bumping, highest high-fiving either,) hire the coaches (the best ones don’t always already have high-profile jobs,) build the stadium (not always the newest, biggest, or best-located,) and run the game.  And don’t be a fair-weather fan–they need you when it’s raining and snowing, more than ever.  And you definitely need them.ImageImage

The Life You Save May Be Your Own: Imbroglio, by Alana Woods. Book Review by Shawn StJean

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Book Review by Shawn StJean

If the title of my review seems far less original than that of the novel it explores, that’s because there are some clichés that well-earn their familiarity.  For example, if overheard conversations, mistaken and assumed identity, and misdirected letters (nowadays more prevalent as lost or stolen e-mail correspondence and hacked computer files) are not fresh enough for your taste in fiction, then the entire suspense/thriller genre probably isn’t either.  Alana Woods deploys them all–there’s even a diary–but recombination is everything.

 

Far more compelling than these stock conventions are the book’s two main characters, David Cameron (you may need a pen handy to keep track of his several aliases,) but more especially Noel Valentine, a heroine worthy of a series–though Woods doesn’t appear to be setting us up for one.  Among all of fiction’s many self-made detectives, few are given a motive for their investigations–which lead them into all manner of professional and personal hazard–more credible than simple money.  The universal catalyst, serviceable for everyone from Sam Spade to Jim Rockford.  Oh, other reasons have been invented among the better writers: egomania for Sherlock Holmes, or the occasional impressment into service (Rick Deckard.)  Woods’ David, like Hamlet, was bequeathed the task by his dead father.  Good thing for audiences, too–for it doesn’t always wash, that the motives of those seeking truth are the identical ones held by those seeking to cover it up.

 

For Noel Valentine, the impetus necessary for the pursuit of semi-comatose David’s nearly successful assassins, leading to discovery of several convolutions of corporate wrongdoing, surfaces from the depths of her very plausible, damaged psychology.  “Why not go to the police?,” she’s asked at several points, and the answer simply lies outside the realm of logic and reason. 

 

Sure, she wants to ensure the man she dragged from a fiery car wreck heals, she wants a prestigious account at her PR firm, she wants the perks of her boss’ favor.  It all makes sense, yet none of it is really accurate.  In fact, one of the latent enjoyments of the novel is witnessing how many different misogynistic interpretations of her behavior can be put upon Noel by the old boys’ network, projecting their own malfeasance onto a vulnerable target.  “If there’s one thing I hate, it’s a dirty, double-crossing dame,” says one of the villains of the Hollywood noir classic The Killers, and apparently little has changed in three-quarters of a century.  Woods’ heroine must also endure multiple layers of claustrophobic pressure: from the confines of her tiny flat invaded by her healing counterpart, to sexual pressure from her boss and a nefarious client, and finally to the crushing depths of the sea itself.

 

No, for Noel, investigation is first about living dangerously–perhaps subconsciously attempting to carry out a long-time suicide wish of her own–and later, about simply living.  In fact, when the bad guys provide her with the perfect opportunity to slip quietly into that good night, guiltlessly in the world’s eyes and her own, it’s only then can she recover the id-energy to carry on and survive that her efforts on David’s behalf have been attempting to revivify all along.  That scene of crucible is worth the price of admission alone, straying so far as it does from the strictures of the genre, and invoking naturalistic archetypes from more high-brow literary fiction like Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, and even some Hemingway.

 

What difficulties there are can be faced down within the first half of the novel, which gathers much steam afterward–though thankfully eschewing many of the predictable action-elements we may expect (no car chases, and just a little obligatory gunplay.)  Sex, naturally, plays its role, though not overdone.  Woods provides several of her majors with fully stocked families, and various minor characters fill out the cast, necessitating full attention to relationships.  As for the geography, the locales of Cairns and Sydney, while well-described, may feel less familiar to non-Australian readers than we’d like.  However, it’s exactly this transportation of time, place, and generally stretching beyond the constricting neighborhood of the known-comfortable, among landscapes ranging to the deep psychic, that many will appreciate most.

 

 

 
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Clotho’s Loom in Print Gets Global Distribution

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Glas Daggre Publications has contracted with Lightning Source, a division of the Ingram Content Group, to print and distribute a matte-cover version of Clotho’s Loom in mass-market paperback, by Shawn StJean, in the worldwide market.  This means that, in addition to availability on Amazon.com and Amazon Europe, the new novel of literary fiction will soon be available from barnesandnoble.com and other online booksellers, as well as for-order through ground stores in the US, and in many countries (Germany and Brazil are the most recent additions to LS’s reach).

The book has not been translated, and is currently available only in English.  An audiobook edition, read by the author, is currently in post-production.