Author Susan Weinstein talks about Paradise Gardens

Today, we have a guest post from novelist, Susan Weinstein, whose dystopian novel, PARADISE GARDENS, will be published in a new edition from Pelekinesis Publishing Group. This new edition contains wonderful illustrations by the author. You can read my review of on Goodreads, here. This novel is one of several new editions of Weinstein's work-- I interviewed her about THE ANARCHIST'S GIRLFRIEND on this blog (read the interview here.)

I'll let Susan take it from here.
Déjà vu our strange times.  In Nixon's 1969 America, a stranger leaped out of a car, took photos of me and my high school boyfriend and sped away. Afterward, I was called into the principal's office, and accused of being  a "ringleader" of a drug  ring.  My choice: give names or be expelled.  I gave facts.  My high school was conservative, mostly working class. Beer was the drug of choice and students  enlisted for Vietnam. Ten went to college.  One was me.  Fact: The drug ring never existed.

1969-70, I became an antiwar activist.  1980s, I began PARADISE GARDENS while working for a Wall Street publication for investors.  In that time, Reagan's religious right extolled corporate interests for the "elect.” Their destiny was to be rich.   In Manhattan, where I lived, this meant sky-high rents and asking prices. Rent-controlled apartments were preventing this preordained "destiny."  

SHE lowered her blinds, but it was too late. He had seen her.
2017 is again a time of deception and alarm.  Paranoia is a rational response to an insane society (to paraphrase Freud). In paranoid fiction, such as Philip Dick's 1968 "Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep," logic is non-linear.  Facades fall apart, and  truth is revealed in the chaos. 
PARADISE GARDENS begins in 2250, after government has dissolved amid environmental breakdown.  A real estate project underground  is sold  to the surviving corporate elite. Rather than Big Brother, a database runs this world and controls human destiny for the benefit of corporate planning-- even producing employees.  

Like most paranoid fiction, there’s a kind of clairvoyance in retrospect. Some elements that I wrote about, before there was an Internet, like  "Information Pirates" have already happened. But there is light and hope in PARADISE GARDENS.  I believe cautionary tales like this can bring us through our worst fears to a better  place.  We can sleep and imagine a more utopian future.
Find out more about PARADISE GARDENS below.

Susan Weinstein's BLOG
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Pre-order the book HERE 

Celebrate Women's Month: Read Shirley Jackson

More reasons to celebrate.  Finally -- and wow, this is overdue--Library of America has created an edition of Shirley Jackson's great novels and short stories.  I say, finally, because Jackson has had to wait in line after, say, Dashiell Hammett.  Huh.

Don't get me wrong.  Nothing wrong with giving Hammett his due.  I like (sort of) Hammett (well actually, I don't, but he can be part of the canon.)

But seriously?  If the mission of LOA is to honor America's great writers, where was Shirley Jackson?  She's a writer who gets into your bones and your head.  She is just a great writer.

Hers is the voice of everyday, familiar fears, the woman who crawls inside families, sisters, crazy houses made crazy by the people in them.  Jackson is the voice of everyday hatred turned into evil.  The world that is always about to turn dark, and unpredictable, the world teetering on itself.  There are just so many fine short stories and two truly unforgettable novels -- "We Have Always Lived in the Castle" and "The Haunting of Hill House."

So celebrate and read.  It's a good time to be scared.  

Celebrate Women's Day: Carson McCullers

So thrilled that Library of America (whose efforts deserve our support) has done the right thing and published the collected writings of several women authors-- overdue, perhaps, but welcome nevertheless.

So, in the spirit of celebrating women, consider reading Caron McCullers.  No question that McCuller remains an original, and among the Southern writers, the one who gets me everytime.

Maybe it was her early, failure in music, but there's a certain "something" -- what a critic has called a "universe of yearning" that is unmistakeably hers.  Her characters seem to come from the paintings of Edward Hopper:  McCuller is their champion.  She is the writer of loneliness, silences and the unrealized.  A writer who faces flaws, even cruelty, in people, and doesn't turn away, and never leaves the reader behind. And, at a time when most white writers didn't seem to know what to do (or what to say) about "Negro" characters, McCullers plunged right in.

You can start by reading (courtesy of LOA) one of her first short stories-- about a prodigy who realizes that she isn't destined for greatness in music  The irony (for the reader) is know that Carson McCullers would become, well, Carson McCullers.

And while you're at it, consider the wonderful boxed set.  I'll be buying it for myself, as a treat, as my personal celebration of Women's Day.

Forever Unread: Thoughts for Valentine's Day

This originally appeared in Lost in Romance, 2012. 

A batch of submissions sits on the editor’s desk at Forever Unread. Among them is a well-plotted short story in which a man and woman, after a number of mysterious events, sip brandy at the Algonquin Hotel. Alongside it is another story in which two men, after any number of disgusting events, curse at one another at a dirty diner.
The ever-so-educated literary magazine editor reads both of these – one with pronounced boredom, the other with genuine gusto. It’s the second piece that excites him. To the cursing scribe, he gushes, “It’s edgy and gritty. It takes us to new places.”
To the other author (who naturally is an authoress), he writes, “Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, this is not for us. You might consider submitting this to a romance genre publication.”
The romance author, having surveyed the contents of Forever Unread, is philosophical. She has no plans to write about dirty diners, street fights or toilets. Most definitely she wishes to avoid toilets.
She meets her dear friend, Dr. Jill Evans, esteemed head of the literature department at a prestigious university. “Are vomit and pee-pee the new literary status symbols?” the author wants to know—for she is curious about the editorial fascination with bodily excretions.
“People need things to be real,” opines the professor, who herself edits a magazine called Literary Ammonia. “Vomit is real.”

“I want magic,” our author admits. “I like landscape paintings. I like Chopin and Faure. I like movies like Casablanca, books like Green Mansions.”

“Romance has sappy Hallmark card happy endings,” Jill sighs.

The author is annoyed, but only mildly. “Casablanca doesn’t have a sappy ending--neither does Green Mansions. A lot of romance is sad, it’s just not ugly.”
Jill opens a bottle of fine Cabernet. “Life’s dark.” (The author suspects that Jill’s sole contact with the Dark Side comes from HBO, but she remains wisely silent.)
“Sewers aren’t any more real than parks. Anyway, you don’t lead a gritty life,” the author replies, sipping wine and admiring the view. “Take Laurie Colwin—she writes about women I might know. She writes about women who have affairs, but not because they’re unhappy. They have affairs because their life lacks… magic.”
Jill immediately writes the name, Laurie Colwin (Find her books now). “Any other suggestions, I mean for just guilty pleasure reading?” she asks, rather eagerly.
The author lists her favorites with delight. Nancy Lemann, whose dizzy Southern girls long for loony men and sometimes get them, but only sometimes; the conjurer of all things Gallic, Dianne Johnson with her dazzling array of schemers, sophisticates and naives; Cathleen Schine whose heroines bump into love like Buster Keaton in a fast-paced chase scene; and recently romantic Allegra Goodman whose heroine in The Cookbook Collector charms without effort.

“They are stories of love – it’s sometimes flawed and it’s often brief – and they’re dreamers, even if the dreams don’t come true,” the author concludes. “Sure, promises get broken and kisses are fleeting, but without them, life’s pretty humdrum.”
Jill Evans looks out of her window and notices how beautiful Central Park is, when seen at twilight—and how quickly the light changes. “Dreams,” she repeats, and wonders where her girlhood copy of Green Mansions might be.
The next day finds Dr. Jill Evans immersed in the books of Laurie Colwin-- a writer who died as young as Jane Austen and whose spirit was as generous. Jill opens Goodbye without Leaving and swoons along with the heroine when Len first appears—and Jill feels a pit in her stomach when the two part—and a wish that the book would go on.
Soon Jill is seduced by Nancy Lemann’s Lives of the Saints. She finds herself yearning for the French Quarter in New Orleans, jazz, and hot drunken nights. She is heartsick to learn that many of Nancy Lemann novels are out of print but consoles herself by re-reading The Fiery Pantheon.
To the author’s amusement, Dr. Jill Evan’s undergraduate syllabus now includes Barbara Pym’s  A Glass of Blessings Grateful undergraduates have nominated Jill as Teacher of the Year—and many young women are seen, on park benches, reading and laughing at Pym’s Excellent Women.
The romance author cannot help but notice that the latest copy of Forever Unread sits on Jill’s desk – unopened and, yes, forever unread.

For Valentine's Day: Strange Courtships FREE on Kindle

Tomorrow, I will post another romantic tale, but for today:  if you would like a Kindle Edition of STRANGE COURTSHIPS, it's free on Amazon.

And on a romantic note, my husband designed this beautiful cover for me.

Click HERE  to download for free.  Please let me know which story you like best (and all Amazon reviews are greatly appreciated.)


No Old-Fashioned Romance
Carla Sarett
(This story first appeared in The Medulla Review)
For my mother, always
To my mother, the characters in novels were as real as you or I.  She remembered every detail about them, the way they spoke and the way they dressed, as if she had met them yesterday on one of her many long walks.  She spoke of them as if they lived in her own house which, in a way, they did.
But she was unusual in her approach, to say the least.  My mother focused on the minor characters, the ones whom literary critical often ignore, the characters who seem to make comic points or add texture to the story.  For her, War and Peace was "really" about the orphan Sonia-- “Sonia’s is the real tragedy.  Natasha gets what she wants, but Sonia has to work as a maid to that awful religious horror, Princess Mary.”  My mother always grieved for Sonia.
Decades after she’d read a novel, my mother could recall specific scenes and descriptions as I never could.  I suppose that explains why later on, I often told her stories drawn from my own life. 
One of those stories concerned a certain Cathleen Carter and her family. Cathleen was a woman of grave demeanor who worked in my small office building.  Like many consultants, she called herself a group, The Carter Group.  I believe that she consulted on environmental crises, which have might have accounted for her earnestness.  In her tiny way, Cathleen was pretty with intense blue eyes and a pixie-style haircut. 
Cathleen and her husband had two daughters: one from her husband's first marriage named Muriel, and the other from her own first marriage, named Marianna.  I confess that I often got the daughters mixed up because their names sounded similar.  
Both Cathleen and her husband had been married to Jews: in her case, a neurotic scientist, in his case, a sarcastic writer.  These marriages had ended bitterly, but now the divorced parents were forced to share the daughters.
Cathleen's daughter divided her week between her “real” father and Cathleen.  Even so, the girl consumed, or appeared to consume, Cathleen’s every waking hour.  For Cathleen, this daughter—Marianna--was a mystery of tears, whims and tantrums.  
I held tiny Cathleen's shoulders. “Your daughter’s just a teen, teens are moody.  I was a sad sack of a teen myself--it broke my mother's heart.  Besides, Marianna is a daughter anyone would be proud of, what are you worried about?” 
Because to me, you see, the girl was perfect, sparkling and filled with life.  I had seen her once with her mother-- a Viking girl, towering over her tiny mother, dressed in blue jeans and a pink tee with a little red heart.  
Cathleen explained.  She wanted her daughter to be engaged with “meaningful” community activities, Model U.N., working in the community, studying voice, learning about music.  And her daughter did those things. 
But, Marianna had a mind of her own.  She wanted to become a fashion designer, work for a clothing company like Anthropologie and perhaps one day have her own clothing line. Cathleen admitted that the girl had done well at a summer fashion school-- her designs had been singled out. 
Still, Cathleen viewed her daughter’s dreams as pipe-dreams.  She wanted Marianna to have a profession filled, as Cathleen put it, "with dignity."  Cathleen had no sympathy for a life devoted to style—to her, it meant nothing at all.  She herself wore clothes from a decade or so ago, with ungainly shoulder-pads. 
So the daughter went on with the life that Cathleen had organized—the model U.N., community leadership and so on.  And there was school-work--calculus, history, literature-- all subjects which the other daughter, Muriel, excelled at. Marianna fell behind in school.  Even though she worked past midnight, she failed to finish her homework –and teachers complained.  She became sick, angry at her mother.
The Jewish scientist father complained that Cathleen pushed the girl too hard.  “Leave her alone,” he said.  
I told my mother about Cathleen, her two husbands, the two daughters, how the histories and names confused me.  I spoke mostly about Marianna, Cathleen's daughter—my mother and I both loved fashion. 
My mother, though, was eager to hear about the other daughter. “What is with the other girl, Muriel?  What’s happening with Muriel?”
Muriel was fine, I said, an honors students, about four years older than Marianna.  In pictures, she appeared dark and beautiful.  I believed she lived, most of the time, with her sarcastic mother, who took her daughter’s success for granted.   I told my mother, “No one has to worry about Muriel.”
From that point on, my mother worried only about Muriel.  She felt someone had to care what happened to Muriel, even if her father and her step-mother and her sarcastic mother and I did not.  
“There's something wrong there,” my mother said.
A year passed, and things had improved for Cathleen and her daughter.   They had gone to a holistic spa in Arizona, just the two of them, where they attended meditation courses. Later that year, they took a mother-daughter weekend on Cape Cod where Marianna had held her hand and said I love you, Mom.  Cathleen looked overjoyed as she told of this -- as if it were a rare event. 
“Perhaps it was,” said my mother. 
  By this time, I learned, Muriel had entered college, not the Ivy League college she had aimed for but a small school down South.  Muriel's sarcastic mother was unable to conceal her disappointment.  At first, Muriel was crushed, but she recovered and now was happy, popular—and, Cathleen told me, made Dean's List. 
“That’s Cathleen’s version,” my mother said. 
I started to piece together a different narrative about Muriel.
At her Southern college, Muriel had become socially ambitious.   She sensed that her sarcastic brilliant mother looked down on her.  But Muriel felt she could outshine her mother on a social level. She joined a sorority that, in earlier days, did not accept Jewish girls.  She dressed down in the way wealthy college girls do, wearing shorts to fancy restaurants just to show how little it mattered.  She wheedled her father into buying her expensive jewelry for Christmas, jewelry he never bought for either of his wives—and even made him pay for trips to Europe, ski vacations in Switzerland. 
  Around that time, Muriel started dating a boy from a nearby college.  His name was Richard Madden, and he was considered a catch, from a prominent family.  Soon, Richard introduced Muriel to everyone in his social circle.  When she came home, Muriel showed pictures of Richard to everyone so they could see how successful her college years were. 
It was an old-fashioned kind of romance, Muriel said.    
I told my mother that Muriel was now in love.  “It’s like an old-fashioned romance,” I repeated, as if brainwashed.  
My mother was completely unimpressed.  “Mark my words,” she told me. “This is no old fashioned romance.”
  Over the next months, I learned that Muriel's real mother, the writer, was to be married again in March, in Washington, D.C., which was not far from Muriel's college in Virginia.  It was to be a surprisingly grand wedding, for a second wedding, with hundreds of guests.
The timing of the wedding was inconvenient, right before college mid-terms. Muriel didn't expect Richard to accompany her, but of course, she hoped. Richard insisted he needed to be there, just to support Muriel.   
Muriel told her father and Cathleen, “Richard will do anything to please me.  That’s the kind of man he is.” 
Muriel spent days searching for the perfect dress—and when she found an amazing pale blue gown trimmed with a tiny band of white lace, she marveled.  She e-mailed an image of herself in the dress to her step-sister—she even swept up her hair to reveal her diamond earrings.
Marianna created a beautiful crystal bracelet to go with it.  “You’ll be more beautiful than any one there,” she told her step-sister.  
The day before the wedding, Richard did not call and he did not return any of Muriel’s many messages and e-mails.  Muriel even called local hospitals, just in case he had been in an accident.  She waited all night for his call.  
Early the next morning, Muriel called Richard’s parents—it was awkward by that time, but she didn’t know what else to do.  Richard took the call.  He was angry at the intrusion, especially at his parents’ home.  He told her that he had no time to speak, and besides, she didn’t deserve it. She asked about the wedding--she had no other date.  He said he did not owe her an explanation and hung up.  He didn’t pick up when she called again.  He was done with her.
Muriel entered alone in her pale blue dress. At dinner, she sat next to an empty seat.  She made excuses but she knew no one, especially her sarcastic mother, believed her.  Several times, she checked her voicemail and e-mail, hoping for an apology.  But he sent none.  She knew she would never hear from him again, but she did not know why.  She reviewed every word and gesture, she could think of nothing that resembled an argument. 
Muriel assumed she would never see Richard Madden again, but in this, she was wrong.  The next week, he showed up on campus with one of her classmates. Richard gave a friendly hello and no more, as if he hardly knew her.    
After that, Muriel rarely saw her father or Cathleen—and mostly spent vacations with her sorority friends.  She disliked visiting the home that her father had made with Cathleen. Most of all, she couldn’t stand the sight of her step-sister, with her blonde hair and her doting mother.  She never been close to Marianna, but now, she despised her and taunted her.  Cathleen's daughter listened to the insults in silence—but she cried herself to sleep at night. 
My mother was unsurprised about Richard Madden.  “I never liked that boy,” she said. And for a while, we did not speak about Cathleen and her family.
Another two years passed, and Muriel went to Paris—the trip was supposed to last a few months.  That is when Muriel disappeared.  Her father hired a private detective to find Muriel. There were the usual false sightings and many dead ends, and eventually, the families gave up.  They accepted her disappearance. Her father removed her pictures from the wall—and no one spoke of her by name.
Marianna, though, had blossomed.  Despite her mother's opposition, she had entered a national fashion design contest and she had won.  She was perched for success.
But Cathleen told me, Marianna rejected the idea that Muriel was lost forever.  She had faith that Muriel would return eventually.  
I debated about which part of the story to tell my mother-- Marianna's new found confidence or the disturbing disappearance of Muriel.  Like many Jewish families, we had ghosts of our own and names that we never spoke.  But I ended up telling my mother the whole story.
And after I had told her everything, my mother said:
“The real story isn't about Richard Madden and Muriel.  It’s about the girls, Muriel and Marianna.  That's the real love story.  That's the one that no one else can see. 
“Marianna will find her.  Mark my words, Marianna will be the one.  You'll see, years from now, she will not have forgotten her.  She will never forget her step-sister.  Marianna is not that kind of person. She will go through every city in Europe.  She will never stop until she finds her. The girls will be re-united, and when they have children of their own, they will know each other and love each other.  Marianna is the only one who can find her.”
You'll see, mark my words.  

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