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Dalí is a person of the changeling sex, living in a future world within the domain of the Sol Fed government. Dalí is an ambassador for Sol Fed.

A changeling is someone whose body is neither inherently female nor male but can be either of those, changing structurally according to need and circumstance. Changelings are empathic, picking up on the emotions of people around them, and tend to morph their bodies to match desires and expectations, although they can also shift their shapes on their own whim.

Changelings are a minority and a fairly recent phenomenon, and are targets of hate crimes in this future world. Many people condemn them as unnatural freaks. Dalí's life has been upended by such violence: Dalí's two spouses, Gresh and Rasida, were murdered, and Dalí is still ripped up by it, scarcely caring whether they lives or dies.

Yes, two spouses. Dalí is poly. Polyamorous marriages are common in this future world. But they don't usually involve changelings and some folks are so creeped out by the idea of changelings marrying and consorting with normal folks that the prospect brings them to violence.

Dalí gets recruited to participate in undercover work to investigate these hate crimes. They ends up in jeopardy, a prisoner of a cosmic black market trader where, along with other captured changelings they is kept in a luxurious suite but faces the prospect of being sold as a sex slave.

Sharing those quarters are two other changelings, Dru and Kai. They have no idea that Dalí is working undercover and has allies who are working to spring them.

Holding the keys to their comfortable cage is Lord Rhix, he who rules this black-market domain. Rhix is the amoral vicious gangster feared by the traders and slavers and other denizens of the market, or so it initially seems, but when we get a closer look we discover a barbarian of principle, an evil lord whose stomach turns at some of the techniques of his predecessors. An enlightened hoodlum, he.

The person whose actions most directly got Dalí into this situation is Jon Batterson, son of the Sol Fed president and very much a spoiled powerful privileged wealthy villain, athletically powerful and arrogant. He is one of the bigoted haters and we learn pretty early that he's immersed in the kidnapping and selling of changelings, a convenient way to rid the Sol Fed system of unnatural freaks while profiting economically from their disposal.

Jon Batterson has a battered wife, or, rather, ex-wife. Tella Sharp escaped him and coincidentally happens to be the provider of nursing care when Dalí is recovering from Batterson's assault on her in the space station corridors. Tella finds Dalí enticing and returns for some steamy aftercare in Dalí's quarters.


DALÍ is a delightful gender fantasy. How totally fine, to be able to match one's body to one's gender of the moment, including a convenient neuter when you feel like it!

Yes, it does manage to echo the notion--held strongly by cisgender bigots and even loosely by some transgender folks (truscum)--that to properly be a given gender, your body must correspond. Being a changeling can be conceptualized as sex reassignment surgery on-the-fly, or, as Dalí's partner Rasida's journal article expressed it in the book, "A natural progression allowing transgenderism to correct itself".

But there's nothing in DALÍ that opposes ideas of gender variance that do not involve physical transitioning, and I just can't bring myself to be curmudgeonly enough to resent or criticize the formulation: it's just too damn deliciously cool. I don't have physical dysphoria and despite identifying as a gendered feminine I have never rejected my physical maleness, but if I could have a body that could speak either physical language? Hell yes, that would be more fun than being able to fly like Superman!

DALÍ avoids the pestersome problem of pronouns by using first person. "I walked down the corridor" instead of he, she, they, or some other formulation doing so. There are third party attributions of Dalí's gender--such as Brian, Jon Batterson's little brother down in the Rosetta Labyrinth referring to Dalí as "she"--but because they are third party designations of gender, we, the readers, may dissent.

There is hotness in this book. DALÍ gives us a sensuous and often horny changeling. I appreciated some of the departures from clichés that surround sexual shapeshifting characters in fantasy and science fiction, especially Tella Sharp directly lusting after Dalí as theirself, as opposed to seeking either a male or a female, and the scenes with Rhix in which Dalí is betwixt and between sexual morphologies and is manifesting with external tingly parts. That's seldom done: most tales featuring someone who can sexually shapeshift have the character bedding boys when shaped like a girl and doing girls when configured as a boy.

I was never very clear on the distinction the book attempts to make between "third gender" and "changeling". There are people who are described as "third gender"; and then "changeling" is either a subset of that or else a new and different (yet similar) thing. Tella Sharp, while examining and treating Dalí, says

"I studied third-gender anatomy, of course, but each person’s genitalia varies according to their dominant sex." Her fair complexion bloomed with rosy color as she discussed my genitals. "You don’t have one."


Seems to me that either a "third gender" person in this universe has physical anatomy that corresponds permanently to their "dominant sex", which differs from being cisgender only in the implication that they may also have a "non-dominant" sex (but we aren't told what a "non-dominant sex" actually is or what it does for a living); or else being "third gender" means one's physical anatomy is flexible and can change, in which case being "third" doesn't differ in any readily discernable way from being a changeling. As an atypical genderqueer person myself, far be it from me to cast aside or look askance at anyone else's gender identity just because I don't understand why the heck we need this additional category, but as a configuration within a work of fiction that doesn't explain it or utilize it more fully, I don't think it adds anything to the story.

Dru and Kai, the other two changelings in the story, don't change. Not because they can't, it just doesn't transpire that they ever do. Dru presents as female with a purseful of stereotypical femininity, while Kai is perennially male and manifests with textbook masculine traits throughout. I think it would have been more interesting to see Dalí interact with other changelings, but these are ersatz changelings, these two. They get gendered pronouns. Dru is all "she" and "her", and Kai is totally a "he" and "him" person throughout. Only Aja, a changeling who doesn't survive long enough to become conscious, is a "they".

Jon Batterson is a bit of a cardboard cutout, a bit too much unrelieved portrayal as stupid and dense, evil and deceitful; there's no individual and no allied group or contingent in the book which were ever in Batterson's personal orbit that he doesn't betray as soon as the opportunity presents.

The dynamic going on between Lord Rhis and Dalí is full-on neogothic: a brooding evil captor who turns out to be chock-full of ethical and moral concerns and is therefore worthy of the MC's love, and the MC can get through his emotional armor and cause him to love her too. I do love a well-delivered gothic romance and I liked the departure from conventional gothic trajectory too: the absence of any full reconciliation after he discovers Dalí's true identity as spy. Their departure scenes are more akin to heroic male opponents who express a grudging respect for their adversary. How appropriate! Well done.

DALÍ, by E. M. Hamill. NineStar Press.
E. M. Hamill

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Waldell, aka Pricess WaWa, is a bitter black gay femme, or so he would like to have us believe. Queen Called Bitch is his story.

It is a story told to us by a most erudite and expansively loquacious narrator, delivered in elegant but not particularly linear style. Waldell often begins in the middle with an excursion into his attitudes and feelings about a character before looping back to describe his history with that person. This is not a narrative of consecutive events arranged along a plot line, but more akin to what you might hear if you found Waldell at the bar and plied him with a couple shots (no more, please, he's a lightweight) and bribed the bartender to cue up Reba on the sound system for atmosphere and encouraged him to unload his tale.

An identity that includes being both gay and femme tends to be complicated: our society prefers to subsume them into each other, equivocating between gender factors and sexual orientation. Waldell doesn't specifically write as a feminine person without reference to being gay -- indeed, I'm not sure any gay male who is feminine can easily untangle that knot -- but he snarks a bit about meeting people on Grindr, "guys who think I'm a woman or beg me to be more masculine. Guys who are interested in a part time 'tranny' for play. I am neither of those things" -- writing from a feminine but not trans vantage point. "I pee standing up", he confirms.

He was a pariah in school, surviving the typical harassment doled out to sissy gay guys, but found some supportive teachers and eventually a road to connection and acceptance via the theatrical department at nearby Longwood University. He'd long since gotten in the habit of finding validation and voltage in music, television soap operas, dramatic movies, and God.

An easy and confident spirituality without shame was his to hold onto. As soon as he became old enough to notice church-based condemnation of gay people, he relegated that, along with its moldy misogynistic ideas about women, to the discard pile. The God stuff was about the inner feeling, and he had no significant doubts about that.

Queen Called Bitch is billed on the frontispiece of the manuscript as a work of fiction, complete with disclaimers about the coincidental nature of any resemblance to real people -- a time-honored confabulation used by many writers who choose to write about themselves and their own lives. But of course my own source of information about the author /character is this book, so I can't really know that, can I? And yet, I can't help thinking I do, and because of that I also find myself projecting and psychologically assessing him, making of his story something other than what he asserts of it. I don't find the cynical darkness to which he aspires, but instead see bitterness embraced as a protection, an attempt to avoid setting himself up for disappointment and heartbreak.

He's not so alone in this world: a good portion of the story revolves around the foursome of friends, the beforementioned Carol (Cann), Karen, Waldell himself, and Derek Island, and the everyday soap operas of their lives and their connections with each other.

The centerpiece is the delicately vulnerable romance between Waldell and Derek. Waldell the author shares this tale of romantic misery and thwarted love and would have us believe it was unrequited, this being the core of his broken-hearted bitterness. But as reader, I kept perceiving Waldell the character as wanting but being unwilling to believe it could be had, and second-guessing his opportunities in favor of reconciling himself in sporadic bursts of self-protective hesitation. Hence, this kind of exchange on the cellphone screen:

Me: You know I have feelings for you

Derek: I have some for you, was that not clear?

Me: I can't believe you have feelings for me. I never would have guessed. Honestly.

Derek: I've told you


Derek Island is leaving town and Waldell plots and schemes about how he is going to take the risk -- now or never -- of collecting on his first and most-wanted kiss, but he gets cold feet and a non-kiss ensues.

He's more inclined to air his grievances to Derek about how Derek does not reciprocate his feelings, building the narrative between the two of them to the effect that Derek mistreats Waldell, that Waldell is the person with the feelings. But he finds the feelings easiest to express in a forlorn mode:

Derek: I miss you my friend

Me: I can't talk to you


It is one of the minor passing characters in the story, Latesha, who gets to voice what seems apparent to me about these star-crossed novice lovers: she, who, Waldell notes, had witnessed the Derek saga firsthand, predicts to him that "one day the stars will align for you and Derek".

Queen Called Bitch, a coming-of-age and coming-of-want tale from NineStar Press. Waldell Abraham Goode

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The second and third major chunks of my book are set partially in Los Alamos and partially in Albuquerque. I wrote about Los Alamos in my July 2 blogentry, so I figured I'd describe Albuquerque a bit in this one.

Physically, Albuquerque is a mostly-flat city but surrounded by mountains to the east and the Rio Grande to the west. The land on the other side of the Rio rises up to a mesa so that from certain angles Albuquerque looks like a city in a bowl with the mountains making the rim. Satellite view The really impressive mountains to the east is the Sandia ridge and the smaller echoing ridge on the other side of the river is West Mesa.

In a pattern that people familiar with Manhattan would recognize, the majority of the city is laid out in a grid of streets making rectangular blocks. Three hundred some-odd thousand people were living in Albuquerque in 1978-1980 when the action in my story takes place. The population is up over five hundred thousand now. It's the big city in New Mexico.

It's at a lower elevation than Los Alamos, although still considered a high-elevation city, and the lower elevation means it is hotter and dryer. The surrounding countryside is a barren landscape of scrub and rock. Once shortly after I moved there, I went out for a long walk after getting stoned courtesy of my neighbor's bong pipe, and got it into my head to walk out beyond the bounds of civilization to be in "nature". The suburban streets featured trees, locusts and cottonwoods and oaks and whatnot, and I think I unconsciously visualized myself coming out into some kind of primitive forest. Instead, I found myself leaving a green oasis of lawns and trees and ending up in the desert.

In the book, I end up living in Albuquerque twice, both times for the purpose of attending a school: First, I was a student at Albuquerque Vo-Tech, a trade school that seems to have disappeared into obscurity (it wasn't the institution called TVI, but rather a different one); I think it was somewhere around Eubank, north of Central. I lived on Grove Street SE in a rented house with another Vo-Tech student in 1978 and 1979. I was 18 and I had bailed out on the college trajectory my folks expected for me because I wanted financial independence early and thought that I'd enjoy being an auto mechanic.

I was regarded by some who knew me at the time as having insufficient aspirations for myself, but my attitude towards money wasn't all that peculiar for the region. In much of the west, in fact, there's sort of an attitude that self-sufficiency is very important, but once you get beyond that you're supposed to be low-key about wealth. It's OK to have it, to be well-off or downright rich, but it's in poor taste to be ostentatious about it. In Albuquerque the millionaires are likely to be wearing denim and to spend very little effort trying to impress other folks or being snobby about how rich they are. And I had met my share of people who simply wanted to earn enough to be adequately comfortable and to put a higher priority on independence and respect, to do something well enough that you could get paid for your skills and call your own shots, move on if you don't like your job because your abilities are in demand everywhere, be your own person who didn't have to take shit from anyone else. Yeah, that looked good to me.

Albuquerque is roughly half Hispanic (or Chicano, as folks say in New Mexico) and half non-hispanic white, with a sprinkling of other races and ethnicities. This is a part of the country where folks of Spanish ancestry were here first, with the oldest families being in the region before Mexico had separated from Spain and other families having come north to settle here between Mexico's independence and Mexico's loss of this land in the war with the US in the middle 1800's. There is some ethnic friction, some of which is apparent as a social backdrop in the Albuquerque sections of my book, but it's not a high tension adversarial hostility so much as an occasional clash of cultures and different ways of looking at things.

I had a bigger problem with being in a virtually all-male environment. There were very few women at the Vo-Tech school, and my experiences during that year brought an increased awareness that I still didn't integrate particularly well with male company. It wasn't so much that I was the target of violence and hostility (although yes, there was some of that) as I was left lonely without people to be friends with and talk to. These were also my first years out of the parental home, getting used to living my own life and learning about myself and becoming an adult.

A contributing factor to my loneliness was the format of partying and socializing in Albuquerque. I had come from Los Alamos where the teenagers and young adults would congregate in a single specific parking lot and obtain beer and learn where the outdoor bonfire party was at this evening; and then the party was public and no invitation was required. The equivalent social action in Albuquerque took place either in people's private homes or in bars or, especially for younger people who couldn't legally drink in bars yet (like me at the time), driving around, cruising certain blocks and showing off your car and chatting with people through the car windows and so on. The indoor scene required social connections and invitations and doing the car cruising thing successfully required having enough money to spiff up your car and keep the gas tank filled. As a student on a tight budget with no income of my own, I could afford some weed and some beer but not much else.

I did, however, scheme and plan about pimping out my ride. I was training as an auto mechanic, after all. Someday, when I could afford it, it was going to have this additional equipment and that color paint job all deep lustrous laquer, and more chromium and seats like so... oh yes, despite whatever difficulties I was having mixing with the guys, I still conceptualized myself as a guy and I embraced some images and notions about how to be a guy, notions I expected to work for me. Countercultural cool, longhaired intellectual blue-collar neo-hippie, you know?

The attempt to kick off a career as an auto mechanic did not pan out for me for a variety of reasons. I passed the course but came out the other side without the years of experience that some guys had. I returned to Los Alamos but ultimately I was unable to land and hold on to a job that would give me the self-sufficiency I'd sought. A year later my folks succeeded in talking me into trying college after all, and I came back to Albuquerque to attend UNM in 1979.

The University of New Mexico is a commuter campus for the large number of students already living in Albuquerque, but this time around I lived in the dorms. I was in Coronado Hall. The campus is mostly compact instead of being sprinkled in pieces all over the city as some urban college campuses do; most of UNM's campus sits between Central and Lomas Boulevard with a somewhat looser sprawl of buildings north of Lomas. There are a lot of business catering to the student experience and campus life in the blocks south of Central Ave, trendy shops and eateries. Back in 1979 there was a head shop selling marijuana paraphernalia and Freak Brothers comic books and across from it a vegetarian restaurant called The Purple Cow, a used record store, and so on. Some scenes in the book take place in the Frontier Restaurant, home of the best huevos rancheros you'll ever eat, and in the Siren Coffeehouse, a feminist hangout that used to host poetry readings and women's music.

The front lawns of the campus were a congregating spot for people to sit and party and socialize. In addition to students, there were travelers hitching or driving through and local people who didn't attend the university but liked the scene. Here at last I found the informal socializing environment that most closely resembled the party scene I missed from Los Alamos. (It was also where one went to purchase weed and other psychoactive substances).

The music department buildings were nearby. I was majoring in music with the intention of becoming an orchestral composer and a performing / composing pianist, and I would get high and chat with folks on the lawn and then dive into the practice room, notebook and portable cassette player in hand, to practice and write my music.

It was during my time as a university student that I came out. It was an environment that theoretically should have made that easier--instead of the all-male and macho-inflected world of VoTech or the small-town cautions of Los Alamos, I was now for the first time in a place where other students were sending me signals left and right that they thought they knew my secret and that it was OK, that I should accept myself and that when I did I would find that others accepted me too. But I didn't know who--or what or how, if you will--I was yet. It wasn't what they thought I was, the identity that they were so ready and kindly willing to accept. They were onto something though. It was that kind of difference. The winks and gentle hints were as discomfiting to me as the violent hostility had been, a never-ending poking and nudging at me to deal with these questions for which I had no answer.

And that's the setting for the book's climax and reconciliation.


My book, The Story of Q: A GenderQueer Tale, is scheduled to be published by NineStar Press on November 27 of this year.


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Hi, E. M. Hamill!


YOUR BOOK

* What factors led you to feature a genderqueer main character?  Do
you draw on personal experience (whether your own or other folks in
your life), or were you more intrigued by the concept of being
genderqueer?


I’ve been bisexual all my life, though I’m not genderfluid like Dalí is. It’s something I never had the courage to express when I was younger for a variety of reasons, and then it felt like it was too late. Now that I’m older, wiser, and one of my children has also come out as non-binary, I am finally comfortable expressing this part of myself. Especially after the last election, I felt compelled to speak out at last and be counted with all my brothers and sisters. It’s never too late.


Even though my main character, Dalí, has been shattered by loss, I wanted them to be a person who revels in the fact they are attracted to all genders, and doesn’t hide who they are. They accept this part of themselves without shame, as they should. It was kind of cathartic.



* Are there other gender-bending science fiction novels or
gender-variant characters in science fiction that inspire you or that
you're particularly fond of?



The show “Earth: Final Conflict” fascinated me. The aliens in the show, especially Da’an, were genderless, and I loved that.  Of course, Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who, that most omnisexual of beings in the universe! Who doesn’t love him? One that doesn’t get a lot of notice is Inara from Firefly, who was decidedly bisexual. Lastly, most recently, “Sense8” and it’s diverse array of queer relationships and actors spoke to me on a huge level.


* Some science fiction operates as a sort of "intellectual
laboratory" to play out "what if" scenarios, and some is more of a
vacation fantasy, creating a fascinating different world to put
characters into, and so on.  Is there a 'tradition' or sub-genre of
science fiction that your book is a part of?



I would call it a space opera in the vein of Star Trek or Star Wars, with deliberate allegories to modern day social and human rights issues. Aliens and humans work alongside each other, and deep friendships or relationships develop as a result. 


* Is this a stand-alone book or are you working on a series?


This can be read as a stand-alone, but I definitely left the door open for more books featuring this character. I’ve already started writing their next mission.


* What sort of audience do you anticipate for DALI?  When you were
writing it, did you have an audience in your mind that you were
writing for?



I hope it appeals to all readers of science fiction, but especially to fellow queer readers. I also hope it resonates with mainstream sci-fi fans, because fiction opens doors to new ways of thinking.


* If you could inhabit the world in which your story takes place,
would you do so for a weekend, a year or two, or the rest of your
life, or would you pass on that option entirely?


Oh, a year or two, because you can’t get from our solar system to Zereid quickly!

* Did you have the idea for DALI floating around in your mind for a
long time before you wrote it, or did you write it more or less as it
first came to you?


Once Dalí started talking, they didn’t stop. I finished the first draft in six months, which is really fast for me!

* Aside from the science fiction element of it, you describe the book
as an "adventure"; is it a suspenseful action-thriller, or a big
drama with large social forces squaring off, a personal odyssey with
a central heroic figure... how would you characterize the plot?



I would characterize it as a suspenseful action-thriller, or spy drama. There are elements of a personal odyssey as well.


* How long did it take you?  If you've written and published
previously, how did this one compare to the others in terms of the
ease and speed with which you wrote it?


My first book took me five years from start to finish, but only two after I got serious about it. The second book in that series was easier. Dalí took six months to write, six months to edit, and I signed a contract with Nine Star Press in early 2017. 


WRITING


* What's your favorite environment to write in?  Do you have a studio
or do you just work in any convenient place?


I have a big recliner in front of my picture window. I get up before everybody else does, because it takes silence and solitude to get me in the zone. I have a small writing space carved out in our utility room, but it’s less comfortable! It’s the place I go when everybody else is awake.

* Do you do a lot of formal planning, with notes and databases or
spreadsheets and research, or do you work more spontaneously and
impose any additional needed order later on?


Nope. Total pantser. I love that improvisational writing mode. I start with an idea or a single scene that’s been in my head, and run. I break a cardinal rule by doing some heavy editing as I write, and also afterwards. 

* What's your main writing tool?  Do you write using a standard word
processor, a dedicated book-authoring software package, a fountain
pen and a ream of parchment, dictate your tale into Siri, or
something else?  What do you like about your preferred tool?



My trusty MacBook Air. It goes with me when I’m waiting to pick up kids from extracurricular stuff, in doctor’s waiting rooms, on long car trips…it’s an extension of my consciousness by now! Tool wise, I love AutoCrit software. Best investment I ever made. 


* Do you keep the contents of your book private until you like the
form it has taken, or do you like to solicit early feedback from beta
readers and friends?



As soon as I have the first draft out of my head, I run it by my alphas to see if it sucks or not! My betas don’t get to see it until the later drafts. I have the best critique partners ever.  You can’t have them; they’re mine.


* Do you write in 3rd person past tense omniscient, 1st person
present tense, or some other combo of perspective and grammatical
tense?  How does this affect the ways in which you include the
thinking of your main character and, if relevant, the internal
thinking of other characters in your stories?  Is this something
you're consistent about or have you (for example) written some
stories as an omniscient narrator and some from a 1st person
narrator's vantage point?



I write in both. My first three novels are third person past/omniscient, but Dalí was my first person/past tense debut, other than a few short stories. I’m not a huge fan of present tense as a writer or a reader, with one notable exception: The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern.


* Who were and are your favorite authors?  Have they generally been
writers who write in the same genres that you write in?


Guy Gavriel Kay, Ursula LeGuin, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Madeleine L’Engle, David Brin, Piers Anthony, Gregory McGuire, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Robert Heinlein, Stephen King, Robert McCammon, JRR Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander…I could go on way too long!  I write sci-fi and fantasy of all flavors, so they’ve all influenced me in different ways. I am a lifelong, voracious reader. I make occasional forays into paranormal and historical romance, with a few well-loved literary fiction books.

* What has been the most useful feedback you've ever received about
your writing?


Every bit of feedback I receive is useful. This is why I value my editors and CP’s above all. Most recently, it was to pay attention to body parts, especially eyes, wandering off to do their own thing…LOL

* Have you ever tried cowriting or being part of a collaborative
writing experience?  Is that something you would recommend, or
recommend against?



I haven’t yet. I’ve only heard horror stories, but there’s proof out there that it can work with the right partnership.


E. M. Hamill: NineStar Press hosted author page, primary website

DALÍ will be available in print and in e-book format from Amazon.



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Naturally, once I had a publication offer from NineStar, I wanted to see who my colleagues were and get a sense of how my book would fit in among the rest of their line. NineStar is LGBTQ-centric but most of it is fiction with LGBTQ characters. My book is nonfiction but it's a narrative with (hopefully) the same kind of story arc and reader-identification with characters that makes fiction fun to read.

Anyway, one of the titles and descriptive blurbs caught my attention and I ordered it and, when it arrived, found myself quickly drawn into it. Yeah, I'm in good company :)

The main character in THE SIMPLICITY OF BEING NORMAL is a high school student named Sam. Sam's situation and experience is different on many simultaneous levels, I discovered, as that situation emerges a bit at a time. Sam's mother and teachers refer to him as "Amanda": Sam is transgender and is not out to anyone yet. Most transgender narratives follow the main character's musings and inner conflicts and put on display for us the process by which they come to realize they are transgender and need to come out and do something about it. We meet Sam as a person who has already done all that internal processing; he knows he's a guy, he's planning a post-graduation future in which he will escape the conservative Mormon-dominated Idaho town he's currently in and get himself to a more tolerant place. He's already made his way into a bar catering to gay lesbian transgender and crossdresser people (during a school field trip) and experienced what it was like to manifest outwardly as the person he is on the inside. And he's already thinking about hormones and surgeries.

In a previous review (Tea and Transition) I noted that it did not sit well with me to be deprived of that narrator's self-discovery process. In fact, it felt like I'd come in after the story's main drama, with her already self-identifying as transgender. That should, theoretically, have affected me the same way in THE SIMPLICITY OF BEING NORMAL, but it didn't. I think it works as well as it does because Sam, despite his post-questioning confidence about his identity as one of the boys, is not generally out yet and is coping with daily experiences under the tension of being in girl drag and constantly misgendered, on the one hand, while being subjected to transphobic violence from a small contingent of hostile students who know his secret, on the other.

Stryker uses a concise canvas with a handful of well-developed ancillary characters: the teacher and secondary-story-narrator Todd Keegan; his sister with her own complex past, Julie, who also gets to narrate some chapters; Scarlet, his trainwreck of a mother; and his stunted brother Stevie. Other characters pass by in the background as part of the social scenery, but the main interactive tensions are between these people.

Switching the observational viewpoint from one character to another is a sophisticated and somewhat challenging approach to writing. It can be off-putting to the reader if the transitions aren't clear, creating confusion, and doing it well requires that the reader feel adequately comfortable behind the eyeballs of each character who narrates. There's a risk of context-switching within too short a sequence, usually because the author wants to reveal the internal thinking of more than one participant. At worst, this results in what authors and editors call head-hopping. But Stryker deploys it skillfully. Within the first couple sentences of each new chapter, the reader is made aware of who is telling the story, and it's done without boldface chapter subtitles. Sam is the primary vantage point from which we experience the tale, and his story is the central plotline; when we're inside Julie's or Todd's head, it is sometimes for the purpose of developing their stories and revealing to us things that Sam isn't present to see, but also on occasion to view Sam and his situation as it appears from the outside.

If I have any negative criticism to make of Stryker's writing, it's his tendency to describe a brief action snippet and then dive immediately into a long protracted internal monologue, often with a flashback to a previous incident, and then continue with the current action. It sometimes left me confused about what was happening in the current moment, requiring me to flip back and reread; and at times the action sequences were described without enough clarity about who had said what, where they were physically located, and what they would have seen or heard, so that I had some difficulty making sense of their actions and motivations. He does quite a good job describing people's internal consciousness, but describing scenes and people from an outside observer's viewpoint is something he does less well.

But there wasn't enough of that confusion and perplexity to keep me from turning the pages. The story itself, the situation in which Sam is embedded and the intrinsic tensions and conflicts thereof, creates a dramatic flow that held me and my attention sufficiently that I carried the book with me everywhere and read it pretty much nonstop from start to finish.

As has often been noted, there aren't enough stories about female to male transitioners. THE SIMPLICITY OF BEING NORMAL paints a very likable and admirable Sam, who is very much the hero of his own story.

The Simplicity of Being Normal. James Stryker. Albuquerque NM: NineStar Press (1970). Available digitally from NineStar or in print form from major retailers such as Amazon

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