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The weather is starting to cool and the chaos of 2020 continues full steam ahead, whether we like it or not. In times like these, we need good books—to curl up with a cup of tea and immerse ourselves in a different world, in the lives and landscapes of fiction and poetry.
It can be hard to find new authors without in-person readings and festivals, though. Without the ease of casual bookstore browsing or the fun of attending a large event at Politics and Prose, where do we turn for new work by local writers?
Virtual literary events are still going strong and pulling in attendees, and local authors have had time to get the hang of online book launches and tours, but it still remains a challenge to connect with new readers.
Area writers are putting out some incredible new work this fall that deserves attention. From historical fiction to mysteries, from the speculative and futuristic to poetic musings, here are four new books to read as 2020 draws to a close.
The Arctic Fury
by Greer Macallister
“In the front row sit the survivors,” begins The Arctic Fury, D.C. author Greer Macallister’s fourth novel. Like all of her books, this one intertwines history and the female gaze in stunning detail. Macallister writes women like no one else, her characters’ strengths and shortcomings vividly magnified by the societies and even geography that would diminish them.
In The Arctic Fury, Virginia Reeve leads an all-woman expedition to find a group of lost men far in the north. But Macallister starts the story in a courtroom the following year, where Reeve is accused of murdering one of the women in her group. Her real crime, however, appears to be that of audacity, the boldness of a woman in the 1850s leading an expedition and going off on adventures to rescue men.
The story is an effortless braiding of two timelines, both the expedition and the trial. We watch the adventure quickly go south, so to speak, and we follow the court proceedings with bated breath. Does a woman have any chance of surviving, we wonder, not just the terrible cold of the arctic, but of outraged men demanding she hang for daring to step outside her place?
This is where Macallister shines. We care deeply for her characters, believe in what they fight for, but never feel lectured or pulled out by a modern point of view. These women live and shine brightly in their own time—exactly as historical fiction should read.
Macallister reads and speaks at Fairfax Library’s virtual panel “Writing Outside of Books” on Oct. 26.
by E.A. Barres
“They’re Gone is a culmination of themes I’ve been exploring for some time now: the morality of vigilantism; the mingling of the myriad of cultures within the DC/MD/VA triangle; the lingering effects of violence; the role of ‘heroes’ when that role is assumed by women rather than men,” E.A. Barres tells City Paper.
From Northern Virginia to D.C. to Baltimore, They’re Gone takes us on a wild ride. This crime drama puts women in the spotlight and not as victims, like we’re used to seeing in mysteries. It’s the husbands who get off’d this time. And it’s the wives, two women from drastically different worlds, that meet up as they search for answers. Anthony Award-nominated E.A. Aymar, writing under the pseudonym E.A. Barres, tells a story that feels so familiar to us in many ways: the streets we’ve driven on, the landmarks we know so well. And yet the underbelly peeks out. Nobody is who they seem to be. This isn’t your typical mystery at all.
It’s a fun read, fast-paced and perfect for a vacation or lazy Sunday morning in bed. But Aymar also tackles ideas that don’t often appear in this genre, such as definitions of cultural identity and the nuance of parent-child relationships.
This is Aymar’s fourth published book, and his first as E.A. Barres. You might also know him from his monthly column at the Washington Independent Review of Books or from his monthly appearances as host of DC Noir at the Bar. He’s a well-loved member of the D.C. literary scene, and has focused his attention this year on local events that address the difficulties (and rewards) of writing during a pandemic.
On Oct. 25, he’ll talk about book marketing during a pandemic through the Ivy Bookshop. On Oct. 26, he’ll appear with Greer Macallister and Bethanne Patrick to discuss the importance of writing outside of books on a virtual panel for the Fairfax County Public Library. On Nov. 9, he’ll discuss social issues in crime fiction with friends via 1455 Literary Arts.
Barres also launches his book and speaks on a panel about the challenges related to writing a book during a pandemic at One More Page Books on Nov. 14.
Glitter + Ashes: Queer Tales of a World That Wouldn’t Die
Edited by Dave Ring
D.C. author Marianne Kirby’s “The Limitations of Her Code” tells the post-war story of an AI who falls in love with another AI after a war has freed them and forced humans to acknowledge their individuality. “I was built for companionship, for conversation. In all honesty, I was built for sex. Now I sort records, the old ones from the DNA Boom back before the war,” Kirby writes.
But, as is often the case after great conflict, the aftermath leaves us with the haves and have-nots. And this story, like many of the stories in Glitter + Ashes: Queer Tales of a World That Wouldn’t Die, gives a voice to characters that, on the surface, are the have-nots. Characters that rarely get center stage in apocalyptic fiction.
Dave Ring, the founder and publisher of the local Neon Hemlock Press, has always been drawn to themes of the apocalypse. His small press focuses on the speculative world, and this time he wanted to highlight authors who write about people and communities pulling
“So many marginalized communities are invisible in fictional apocalypses, which is ironic,” Ring says. “They have practice at surviving a collapse. They know what it’s like to get by with less, or to make their own infrastructures when the ‘systems’ have failed them.” And so Glitter + Ashes was born, an anthology to give queer readers, in particular, a landscape where they thrived in uncertain times.
The stunning collection received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, and many of the contributing writers are from D.C., Northern Virginia, and Baltimore.
Dave Ring and Marianne Kirby speak at Neon Hemlock Live: October on Oct. 21, and more Glitter + Ashes authors read for the press’ “A Night of Horror” on Oct. 29.
A Story of the World Before the Fence
by Leeya Mehta
Leeya Mehta’s new poetry collection A Story of the World Before the Fence comes out Nov. 6, and it’s a tribute, in many ways, to the city she calls home. She writes about her family, her past, and the lines of division she sees in Washington.
In “Black Dog on the Anacostia River,” Mehta writes:
“Suddenly alone, I run down the hill
Through Japanese gardens
In search of signs
That will tell me I am home in this new life
In this American city ten thousand miles
Away from my own choking Arabian Sea.”
“I notice the real and metaphorical fences we erect to feel safe. My poetry is a way of showing our shared need for belonging, affection, and love,” Mehta says.
Nowhere is this seen more clearly than her series of “Nudes” poems, which take place in Japan, Centerville, the 4th Street Plaza at the National Gallery of Art, and at a D.C. courthouse. From a stranger yelling at her about her parenting to an infamous trial of a father’s misdeeds, Mehta’s poetry pulls us into the deeply personal and traps us there for brief moments. Her poetry never lingers. Instead, it gently forces us to face uncomfortable things while soothing us with her eye for beauty, even when describing moments of trauma. “His frustration runs like the coils of the freeway that divides this city—East and West,” she writes.
The collection is available at Finishing Line Press.