BOOK REVIEW: Apeirogon by Colum McCann

Review by Tina Isaacs

[Honest review in exchange for a review copy by Times Reads]

Apeirogon presents the intertwining real life stories of bereaved Palestinian and Israeli fathers Bassam Aramin and Rami El Anam – the unexpected and profound bond arising between them over a shared loss of their daughters: Bassam’s ten-year-old Abir was shot dead by a rubber bullet from the Israeli border police after a trip to the store to buy candy (“This,” Bassam says wryly, “is the World’s most expensive candy”); and Rami’s daughter, Smadar, was thirteen when she was killed in a suicide bomb attack – and the convergence of a multitude of personal accounts, anecdotes and trivia in 1,001 mini-chapters, a nod to The Arabian Nights: One Thousand and One Nights, the latter which Irish-American author Colum McCann aptly describes as “a ruse for life in the face of death.”

Apeirogon: a shape with a countably infinite number of sides. From the Greek, apeiron: to be boundless, to be endless. Alongside the Indo-European root of per: to try, to risk.

This 2020 novel is part non-fictional examination of Israeli-Palestinian history and politics, part curation of anecdotes of seemingly unrelated happenings, and part author’s exercise of creative license and conjecture into the motivations of those involved. The relevance of a vignette of the past introduced at an early chapter may take some time to fulfill its purpose within the overarching story, but the author expertly weaves a powerful and astonishing narrative which serves to whet the readers appetite for further reading into the conflict and the arguments for its resolution. Readers are dealt with gritty reflections on humanity within each family’s courageous handling of grief, and searing insights on Bassam and Rami’s resolve to participate in the Combatants for Peace, a civil disobedience movement, and the Parents Circle, a grief forum for Palestinian and Israeli families, for which both men are Co-Directors.

McCann’s prose is rhythmic, spare and raw, going back and forth in chronology, examining numerous angles and causalities which affect these anti-occupation crusaders and the communities around them. While the author’s voice is succinct, some of the scenes were so devastating and concepts so bizarre that this fictional masterpiece took me, a speed-reader, over eight weeks to finish. Oftentimes I needed to reflect on the images the author conjured, and found myself reaching for my smartphone to google historical concepts that I had heard of but of which, I am embarrassed to admit, I was blithely ignorant – Intifada, Dead Sea scrolls, stories from the Jewish Holocaust, French Artist Philippe Petit’s tightrope incident with the white dove (the symbolic cover image of the novel), Yasser Arafat’s reference to the Olive Branch at the United Nations General Assembly in 1974, amongst others. As the book filled me with insight, it also brought forth questions that had my mind brimming with curiosity.

While you may find its nomination for the 2020 Booker Prize is fraught with controversy, I would argue that Apeirogon is nonetheless a must-read novel on this subject matter. The book will haunt you throughout and beyond your reading, due to its thought-provoking and impactful narrative, and unique presentation style. It’s so strikingly original and mind-boggling, I’d wager you have never read a novel like this before.

I would recommend this extraordinary account to lovers of thought-provoking fiction and seekers of literary hyperrealism, and thus confer it a perfect score of 5 Stars (for my Goodreads review).

BOOK REVIEW: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Review by Tina Isaacs

[Honest review in exchange for a review copy by Times Reads​]

Girl, Woman, Other (Hamish Hamilton, May 2019) is a portrayal of the interconnected lives of twelve protagonists, predominantly women of colour, in modern day Britain. The novel presents a compelling narrative which spans generations, presenting the loves and tribulations of an array of characters: from first generation immigrant matriarchs to disillusioned youth, women traumatised by betrayal to feminist activists.

This is my first encounter with Bernardine Evaristo and I am now most assuredly a fan. Like sharp nails digging into my brown skin, the novel’s depiction of the struggle of “Otherness” in Britain resonated deeply with my experience as a teen of colour in the English education system during the 80s. The dialogue and characters’ reflections on their seemingly bleak lot in life were delivered with insightful aplomb and humour. I still can’t shake off the image of the old lady whose “face gone slack except for a mouth that holds all her misery like a drawstring tightened around a pouch”, or the people “wearing outfits so tight you can see their hearts beating”. Then there’s the precocious child who “was never told off for speaking her mind, although she was told off for swearing because she needed to develop her vocabulary”. When I wasn’t enraptured by the protagonists’ pain and courage, I was nodding and laughing away.

Evaristo’s experimental style throws writing rules out the window – more “telling than showing” and prose in stanza format. The fast-paced plot is delivered without linear chronology but never loses the reader’s engagement. As I delved deeper into the novel, I found myself on tether-hooks to find out how the different lives intersected. As it neared its conclusion, I was already planning a reread.

In the seeming dearth of literature portraying women of colour, Evaristo’s book stands out as a heartfelt contemplation of their experiences in modern times, generations after the abolishment of slavery, apartheid, and the advent of feminism. In my humble opinion, this 2019 Booker Prize Shortlister* is undoubtedly a necessary testimony to their voices.

For me, Girl, Woman, Other earns a perfect 5/5 Star score and I am pleased to recommend it to those fond of literary realism or fiction which focus on the existential and philosophical reflections, with a twist of humour.

*EDIT: This book was subsequently named joint winner of the Booker Prize 2019, with Margaret Atwood’s The Testament.

On Reading Submission Guidelines

A Guest Post by Jaymee Goh

http://jaymeegoh.com; https://ko-fi.com/jaymeegoh

Originally posted on 1 Aug 2019 as a Comment in the Malaysian Writers Community

Earlier yesterday, there was a post from a member inviting folks to participate in an anthology project. Several members responded with interest, which led to other members asking the original poster some questions about the publication and publishing model. From the answers, it became clear that this was a self-publishing venture, which required buy-in from everyone participating.

I was pretty flippant in my comment towards people who responded in the affirmative, but to be fair, it was not clear to me whether folks said “yes” because they misread the USD50 as a submission fee, or as payment.

If you mis-read it as payment, you’re not at fault!!! The post was not very clearly written. The rest of this post is for you.

If you read it properly, and were interested, also legit!!!! Participating in a self-publishing project is often very attractive for the writer who has no intention of making money from their writing, really just wants to see their writing in print, and is willing to pay money for that to happen. The rest of this post probably does not apply to you.


That said, what goes into a submission call? Here are some notes from the short story submission trenches:


PROJECT DESCRIPTION:

What is this project about? From the description you should be able to tell the medium (poetry? non-fiction?) and genre (memoir?), the wordcount, the prompts for submissions, and possibly examples of work they’re looking for.


FORMATTING AND COMMUNICATION:

Depending on the volume of a market/venue, publishers and editors will have list of how they prefer to receive their submissions. Things like font (Courier, Times New Roman are standard), file types (.docx, .rtf), spacing–most of these are in place to make your submission easier to read. What it also implies is…. whether or not you have actually read the submission guidelines and can follow instructions. If you decide to use a hard-to-read font because you think it’s ~fancier, it tells the editor that you don’t understand instructions and won’t take directions for revisions/edits well, so unless your writing is stellar af, you come off as difficult to work with. If there is an e-mail for you to send submissions to, which is not the editor’s personal/office e-mail, use the submissions e-mail! Do not send it to the editor, nor even CC them. It doesn’t make your submission stand out, unless you want to look annoying and arrogant.


PAYMENT AND RIGHTS:

Payment will usually either be listed as a flat fee or per word. Sometimes markets will list whether the payment will be upon acceptance, or upon publication.


PROJECT DESCRIPTION:

What is this project about? From the description you should be able to tell the medium (poetry? non-fiction?) and genre (memoir?), the wordcount, the prompts for submissions, and possibly examples of work they’re looking for.


FORMATTING AND COMMUNICATION:

Depending on the volume of a market/venue, publishers and editors will have list of how they prefer to receive their submissions. Things like font (Courier, Times New Roman are standard), file types (.docx, .rtf), spacing–most of these are in place to make your submission easier to read.

What it also implies is…. whether or not you have actually read the submission guidelines and can follow instructions. If you decide to use a hard-to-read font because you think it’s ~fancier, it tells the editor that you don’t understand instructions and won’t take directions for revisions/edits well, so unless your writing is stellar af, you come off as difficult to work with.

If there is an e-mail for you to send submissions to, which is not the editor’s personal/office e-mail, use the submissions e-mail! Do not send it to the editor, nor even CC them. It doesn’t make your submission stand out, unless you want to look annoying and arrogant.


PAYMENT AND RIGHTS:

Payment will usually either be listed as a flat fee or per word. Sometimes markets will list whether the payment will be upon acceptance, or upon publication.

Upon Acceptance means that as soon as the contract is signed, they’ll send you the money.

Upon Publication means that you have to wait until the piece is published, before they send you money, which may involve some rounds of editing.

(Neither is worse than the other. It’s just a matter of how publishers do their workflow.)

You may see, particularly for book anthology projects, payments by royalty, i.e. a % of sales. Payments by royalty is as good as selling your story for free. Anthologies very rarely make enough money for the publisher to justify the effort of calculating out royalty, and if you do receive payment, it will probably be like, a couple of dollars, if even that. And most publishers do not pay out unless it’s more than $10.

If there is no payment listed, that’s also something to take note of. Maybe you don’t need to get paid and that is cool! If you have a story of the heart that is best placed in this market, then submit as you wish.

Rights are what they are buying from you–what publishers usually want is to be the first to publish your work, and to be the only venue showcasing your work for a certain amount of time.In many SFF markets, this is usually a year, after which you are free to submit your work elsewhere as a reprint.

There are business reasons for this! Most magazines/outlets rely on providing original work to their subscribers. If your work appears in two different places, one of these publications has already lost the claim to say that they are publishing original fiction. (Even if they are providing the fiction for free, it still looks janky, like they couldn’t find anything new. This is particularly the case for specific markets with a targeted audience.) (With reprint anthologies, the publishers are relying on the taste and reputation of the editor to sell the book.)

Because of this, some may also specify whether they allow simultaneous submissions. That means whether they are okay with your piece being under consideration elsewhere. For example, if one ghost story anthology gets you writing one, and then another ghost story anthology comes up, with similar deadlines, to simultaneously submit is to send to both of them at the same time. Because of the reading schedule of editors varying, you could hear back from one sooner than the other, and the second one may want the story, and are gonna be unhappy if they hear you have it accepted elsewhere, which means they can no longer acquire it. Some places don’t mind this, but do ask that you let them know if your piece has been accepted elsewhere, so they know to remove it from consideration.


ON SUBMISSION FEES:

Depending on the venue you may or may not see a submission fee! Many popular genres do not have a submission fee, and in fact actively fight against them because submission fees mean only a certain number of people get to submit. This limits the pool, and prevents a lot of writers who are otherwise awesomely talented from submitting.WHY does this practice persist? The reasons boil down to:

snobbery: the market may be prestigious, and to separate the perceived wheat from the perceived chaff, they put in a fee, so only people who really want to be read will submit;

business model: the market does not have enough of a readership to make money off their subscriptions. Since there are probably more submitters than there are subscribers, they recuperate costs by charging submission fees. This is generally the case with many literary journals.

You may also see this called a “reading fee,” especially for writing contests. This is because however much money they are offering isn’t enough to pay the judges who are doing the reading, so the submission fees off-set that cost. While there is a general trend of pushing back against submission fees, you may still choose to submit to a venue that charges them, and that is your prerogative and your privilege.


WHAT ELSE SHOULD YOU THINK ABOUT?

Permanent website link: Most publishers will have their own websites where they will post their calls for submissions. Otherwise, an editor may post the call for submissions on their own website/blog. This gives you a chance to check out the oeuvre of the editor/publisher.

Lately, with the popularity of crowdfunding, the submission guidelines may themselves on on a Kickstarter page. But they are usually also replicated elsewhere.


Publisher website and catalog: Is this the publisher’s first shot at the anthology rodeo? There isn’t anything wrong if it is, but you should be aware of this going in! If not, look at their previous anthologies. What is their usual target market? Or are you familiar with these works in your genre? Are these books you feel you should be reading?

Often, this is also where you get a sense of their publishing model as well. Where do they usually sell, as mostly ebooks on Amazon, print books? No one’s gonna tell you their print run in guidelines because that’s not usually the author’s business, but knowing where the books are gonna sell is pretty helpful.


Hope this all is all informative, even if these are questions you never asked!!!

“Menyamar di Tanah Firdaus” published in “Daun Paku Ungu” SFF Anthology by JS Adiwarna

 

We are pleased to announce the publication of Tina Isaacs’s short story Menyamar di Tanah Firdaus, a translation/rewrite of her story Undercover in Tanah Firdaus into the Malay language, in JS Adiwarna’s SciFi/Fantasy anthology “Daun Paku Ungu” which was launched at this year’s Kuala Lumpur International Book Fair (KLIBF).

Copies are available for sale at the KLIBF for RM27 (West Malaysia) and RM30 (East Malaysia), and will soon be on sale at leading Malaysian bookstores.

Join Tina for a “Daun Paku Ungu” meet-the-authors session with her other co-contributors at the KLIBF @MAEPS, Serdang on Sunday 8th May 2016, 11am-3pm, JS Adiwarna’s booth (A1050-1052) Hall A1.