YA and Encouraging the Dreams of Young Women

I recently read to novels that would be considered read-a-likes on a bookstore shelf. (You know the shelf-talkers that tell you if you like X-book, you’ll also enjoy y-book.) Both appeared to have similar goals, even similar protagonists, but both addressed a key characterization point in a ver different manner: the protagonist’s passion.

wdmr-paperback-255x300.pngThe first book I read of the two was When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. I saw this book on many summer reading lists last year and thought it sounded like a fun storyline. Dimple is a recent high-school grad who has just been accepted to a prestigious summer coding camp. She is shocked when her conservative Indian parents agree to let her attend. What she doesn’t know is that her parents have coordinated with another couple to arrange a marriage between Dimple and their son, Rishi, who is also attending the same camp.

The book is a light romantic comedy and was, on the whole, a fun summer read. But I was a little put off and couldn’t figure out why.

1535332715.pngThat is until I encountered My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma. In this YA novel, Winnie, a aspiring film-maker and Bollywood-enthusiast finds her life-plan completely derailed. She was given a prophecy at birth describing her true love, but her high-school boyfriend who matched the description to a T has cheated on her, not to mention her aspirations to run the student film festival are looking a little rocky.

The book is filled with fleshed-out, quirky and lovable characters, and is tinged with a little magical-realism. (Also, full disclosure: I may have stocked my Netflix queue with a bunch of Shah Rukh Khan movies after reading this)

But why did I have such a stronger reaction to My So-Called Bollywood Life over When Dimple Met Rishi? I would have thought that I would have related more to Dimple with her experience in code over Winnie’s expansive Bollywood knowledge. But Sharma did something in My So-Called Bollywood Life that I didn’t experience in Dimple’s world. I got to learn things about film that I didn’t already know. I never even got to experience Dimple coding. Not once.

Both novel’s have themes of appreciating family and culture, exploring one’s future, and pursuing dreams whole-heartedly. But I think the last theme was done more effectively in My So-Called Bollywood Life.

As writers, if we want to encourage young women to pursue fields that are usually dominated by men, by placing a young female protagonist in that field, we ourselves, must show an interest in that field.

For Dimple, I felt the effort of her story was cheapened by a lack of attention put in to understand coding or how that may fulfill the female protagonist.despite the entire book taking place at a coding camp, there is never any coding happening in the book. We never get to experience Dimple in action and how that makes her feel.

On the other hand, we do get to experience Rishi’s passion—drawing— and how that makes him feel. For a book targeted to young women, I certainly felt an inequity here. In some ways, I thought there was more importance placed on pursuing a relationship with a boy than fulfilling a life calling or dream.

Sharma let us experience was it felt like for Winnie to splice film and talk about equipment. Was I able to totally understand as a non-filmmaker? Not entirely, but I did believe that Winnie understood and I got to feel a little bit of what her passion awakened in her.

Menon’s second novel was released this summer has a female filmmaker protagonist. I have not read From Twinkle, with Love, but I hope she was able to take a queue from Sharma and show young women what it is to live into your passion realistically.

What about you? Have you read My So-Called Bollywood Life or When Dimple Met Rishi? What did you think? What books do you think demonstrate the importance of pursuing a passion? What authors have you read that demonstrate a character’s passion well?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Until then, keep on reading!

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Books I’m Looking Forward to in 2018

Fiction

A Refuge Assured – Jocelyn Green

Released February 6

Green’s latest releases this winter with great pre-release reviews. I love her attention to detail in her beautiful and sweeping historical fiction novels. This colonial-set work promises to keep rank with her Christy-Award-winning Mark of the King.
Read and excerpt here.

Iron Gold – Pierce Brown

Released January 16

I’ve so enjoyed Brown’s Red Rising trilogy. I honestly don’t know if this novel is part of that series or a new story set in that world, but I don know Darrow’s in it and I’m down. I am so down.

Murder at the Flamingo – Rachel McMillan

Released July 10

Rachel McMillan debuts her new protagonist Hamish DeLuca. That last name might ring a bell—he’s the son of Jem and Ray DeLuca of Herringford and Watts fame. A mystery set in Boston in the thirties—I am all about this book! Also, have you seen that cover?

Noir – Christopher Moore

Released April 17

Moore always makes me laugh and his so clever in all his creative choices. I’ve been drawn into the pulp genre thanks to Lord Huron’s album and can’t wait to get Moore’s satirical take.

The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre – Gail Carson Levine

Released May 2

Ella Enchanted is probably my favorite book of all time. The Two Princess of Bamarre is the first book I hated. Both are by powerhouse YA and middle-grade author Gail Carson Levine—my fairytale retelling hero. So you can see why I’m on pins-and-needles to see which end of my book-spectrum this novel lives up to.
Read an excerpt here.

Non Fiction

Party of One – Joy Beth Smith

Released February 6

Joy Beth Smith is someone you need to follow on Twitter. Like now. Her book—which I’m sitting on an advanced copy of—is fabulous and I can’t wait to dig deeper into it over the break.
Access the first chapter here.

Even In Our Darkness – Jack Deere

Released March 6

Love heartbreakingly true stories? Then this memoir needs to be on your list. I’ve been saving it for the long winter days ahead and have the kleenex stocked to go.

Title yet unreleased – Anne Bogel

Released September ??

It doesn’t even have a title, but I’m so ready for Anne’s essays on the reading life. Her charm and bookish knowledge blow me away weekly on her podcast. And who doesn’t want to read more about reading?!

Books Out and on My TBR List

Recapturing the Wonder – Mike Cosper

This is my book club’s next pick and I’ve already cracked the spine. It’s a call back to the wonder and mystery of our faith in the everyday. I fully stand by the intro, and hope to stand behind the book as a whole soon!

American Wife – Curtis Sittenfeld

I plan on catching up on her fictional take of Laura Bush’s life before she tackles Hilary Clinton’s life if she had declined Bill’s proposal. (That’s what she’s writing next!!!)

My Name is Asher Lev – Chaim Potok

A friend recommended not that I simply read this, but that I go out and buy a good copy because I was going to want it around for a while. I respect this friend’s recommendations and I do what she says, dammit!

Catch Me If You Can – Frank Abagnale, Jr

This one is for new-project research. That’s all I’m gonna say.

Just Write – James Scott Bell

This one’s for new-project motivation.

My Favorite Reads of 2017

I’ve read more this year than I have since high school and I have loved it! This year has introduced me to genres I wouldn’t have otherwise touched and has added many new favorites to my shelves. Here are my top books from the year in no particular order:

Fiction

Red Rising – Pierce Brown

If you asked me in January, I would have said I was the farthest thing from a sci-fi fan. And then I encountered Pierce Brown’s debut, Red Rising. High stakes, highly original world, great themes of loyalty, love, sacrifice, and war. I would recommend this for fans of The Hunger Games and The Warded Man.

What To Say Next – Julie Buxbaum

Buxbaum writes with such strong voices for her two POV protagonists. I loved the unreliability of  both narrators without this being Fight-Club situation. YA in all it’s relatable-yet-dramatic glory. A great, short read for fans of John Green or Jennifer E. Smith’s books.

Landline – Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell has a collection of work I aspire to—great YA novels on top of funny contemporary novels, one with a dash of magical realism. Landline is packed with great pop-culture references, great character predicaments, and a magical phone. Seriously, could you want anything more? Perfect for fans of Sophie Kinsella or Meg Cabot.

A Trail of Crumbs – Susie Finkbeiner

The sequel to A Cup of Dust, Finkbeiner ups the ante in Pearl Spence’s world in the most heartbreaking and best way. I love the warmth of her historical fiction paired with characters that make me think of home. And one in particular that may literally harken back to yours truly…The second in a great series for fans of To Kill a Mockingbird or Jocelyn Green.

Dark Matter – Blake Crouch

As I said with Red Rising, before this year, I did not have a high view of science fiction, but you’ll notice that 2 are on my list of favorites for the entire year. Dark Matter was a relentless sci-fi thriller that I am still thinking about. Crouch’s concept was so original and mind-bending and his breakneck-pace was perfect. I have had so many great conversations about this novel and would highly recommend it for an unconventional book club pick. Great for fans of  Ernest Cline or Westworld (yes, I’m recommending a book based on TV interests.)

Non Fiction

You Are What You Love – James K.A. Smith

This book has changed my life and I’m not just saying that. Smith calls for a contemplative and intentional approach to faith that touches every aspect of life. This book has been a call back to quiet, daily faithfulness. I have been challenged and convicted by this book so many times since reading and am loving his backlist. Must read for readers of Alvin Plantinga or Augustine

Beyond Colorblind – Sarah Shin

Another convicting read, Shin’s debut book brings our culture’s racial tensions to the forefront of the church with such grace and wisdom. I think every believer needs to read what she has to say. This book is a worthy discussion about our full identities—ethnicity included—being valued in the diverse body of Christ. Great follow up read for those who enjoyed The Myth of Equality or The New Jim Crow.

Reading People – Anne Bogel

I’m a total personality nerd and have loved Anne’s podcast. Reading People was the best of both worlds—Anne’s wonderful insights and so much personality discussion. Because of this book, I’m now aware I am a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)—which those closest to me have apparently known and assumed I knew as well. A great book for those obsessed with Myers-Briggs or the Enneagram.

The Imperfect Disciple – Jared C. Wilson

Wilson’s humor and insight into the gospel have made this book one of my most recommended of the year. With snark and wisdom, he sets forth a call back to simple, gospel living. I’ve found his work so refreshing in a publishing landscape so saturated with a feelings-based theology. I would recommend this one for readers of Mike Cosper or Jen Wilkin.

At Home in the World – Tsh Oxenrieder

I love a good travel story and Tsh Oxenrieder has a few. Her memoir documenting her family’s around-the-world adventure was the perfect vacation read, especially as I got to walk in their footsteps through Italy. Her insights on home and place have stuck with me. This is a great memoir for those who enjoyed Chasing Slow or Bread and Wine.

What were your favorite reads of 2017? Share in the comments below.

Book Review & Giveaway: The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck

Readers bring so much to the table when they pick up a book, whether we realize it or not. Our expectations, experiences, and tastes determine so much what we receive when we’re reading.

I was reminded of this when discussing recent release The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck.

When the opportunity to review Bethany Turner’s debut novel came up, I jumped at the chance. I had been told that this was an edgy approach to Christian fiction, that Turner’s voice was fresh and funny. It had been pitched to me as a perfect read for the fans of Sophie Kinsella and Helen Fielding (of Confessions of a Shopaholic and Bridget Jones’s Diary fame respectively)—two of my favorites, so I figured this book was pretty much my guilty pleasure cup of tea.

Here is what I loved about The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck:

  • Turner is a just-plain-talented writer. Her voice is strong, especially for a debut novelist.
  • I laughed out loud a lot—something I’ve never done with a Christian fiction novel (at least not when I was supposed too…)
  • The fact that it’s was a light, slightly-edgy, fast-passed, romantic comedy in Christian fiction! The publisher taking a risk in this direction was encouraging.

This said, I was a little thrown that the plot was perfectly set up to subvert the usual Christian romance formula, but then ran into it’s arms…quite literally.

There is nothing wrong with that at all. It’s just not my preference as a reader.

So fast forward a week and I’m discussing my disappointment with a friend who works in the industry who I knew had also read the book. She is much more critical of what she reads than I am, so expected her to be “on my side” in this.

My friend very much enjoyed the book. She also found it fresh and funny. She was pleasantly surprised to see the boundaries the book pushed in Christian fiction.

See, my friend did not have the same pitch I had before the book came out. She instead had it come across her desk while she was working. No expectations—just the book itself. In the midst of Amish and prairie romances she often works with came a smart, modern book with an honest, funny, and relatable protagonist.

And it was true! The book may have been what I thought was formulaic, but it challenged a lot of the genres “rules.” The protagonist was actually broken and relatably flawed. She and her love interest felt sexual desire, but were convicted to actually be aware of it and deal with it—something authors just pretend isn’t a factor in a Christian relationship. The protagonist was divorced and unsaved at the beginning of the novel and her conversion was not an overnight now-she’s-perfect kind of thing. I saw myself and my friends in Sarah’s character and so did my friend.

I had put expectations on this book to be something I don’t think the Christian fiction genre is ready for. But after talking with my friend, I see great value in the strides this book has taken to bring the genre forward, and that I can respect.

Perhaps my expectations were not met, but I honestly look forward to Turner’s next book. Her wit and voice are a great contribution to Christian fiction and I can’t wait to see how she will continue to push boundaries.

I would recommend The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck for readers of Christian fiction looking for a good laugh and a great character. This is a quick read, perfect for upcoming holiday travels.

How have your expectations or preconceived ideas effected how you’ve approached a book? Tell me on the comments below!

Giveaway

Enter to win a copy of The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck by giving Bethany or I some love on social! There are multiple ways to enter. The winner will be randomly selected on Saturday, November 18, 2018 and contacted via email. Must be within the U.S. to be eligible to win.

Living Life by the Word Count

photo-1434030216411-0b793f4b4173It is with great shame that I confess that I have been working on the same novel for seven years.

It’s not that it’s really taken seven years to write, I’ve just taken my own sweet time with it. And granted, within those seven years, I’ve completed high school, began and completed an undergrad, started a business, gave up on said business, joined forces with a friend’s business, got a practically full-time job to supplement my work with the business, moved a couple times…

I really can go on with my excuses.

But I got sick of the excuses and really have figured it’s almost time for a year of jubilee. I am ready to be freed from this project.

I still love what I’m working on, but it’s just time for these characters to have their story in total and for me to move on.

So this is the year. This novel will be written.

But how?

By keeping a word count.

I’ve blogged a couple times about writing in community and I cannot emphasize enough how grateful I am for those I get to do my work beside. and I’m so grateful for the small team helping me complete this novel. Because it does take a village some times.

At the start of this year, I decided I needed to have some skin in the game and get this book done. I have two close writing partners who will be holding me accountable this year. My goal is to have the draft completed by November 23, 2016. If it’s not done by then, I owe them each $25.

MyNovel timeline-Should I need an extension, I will be taking them both out to dinner in which I’ll need to spend the complete $50.

So that’s my “punishment” but how do I avoid having to pay it?

By sticking to a word count. I have committed to writing 1,500 words a week until June, when the word count will grow. I have three times in my week designated for writing. I am not allowed to leave the manuscript until my 500 words are written in each session.

It’s hard. Sometimes that 1,500 mark is a struggle. Sometimes I get only shit writing out of it. Sometimes there are plot holes, but I need to just keep moving and save them for the editing process. Sometimes I don’t make the goal.

But the goal stands none the less. And I’m encouraged week in and week out whether I make it our not.

The word count rules the day right now and there is fruit coming from the labor.

Have you set a word count for yourself? How do you motivate yourself to stick to it?

Flash Fiction: The Door

It’s Labor Day so I thought I’d send something a little lighter your way. I’ve been working on some fiction samples for the blog this summer and I’m excited to share some of the results of that work. Here’s a piece of flash fiction that I hope you enjoy!

My laptop was set up on the desk in front of the old oak door in the lab.
I wasn’t supposed to get so wrapped up in this. Really, it was supposed to have been a simple DIY. Not that those words ever went together
I bought the door from that antique shop downtown. It was sturdy, classic. And the doorknob was a lovely ornate copper. From the moment I laid eyes on the door, I knew it belonged in my apartment.
Except that once I popped it onto the bathroom hinges, I found it was a half-inch too narrow for my door frame. My simple weekend project was a wash.
It wasn’t until I had gone through the whole ordeal and propped the useless door against my bedroom wall that I noticed its peculiar property.
So here I was, after months of research and tests, ready to put the door to action.
“Kat, you can’t really believe this is going to get you anywhere. It’s a nice door. That doesn’t mean it’s connected to any rip in time,” Charlie complained.
No one was supposed to know about my work with the door. Not even Charlie. I had planned to run my tests after work. He found me in the lab one night after he had forgotten his external hard drive. He then proceeded to wheedle the entire theory out of me.
I now rolled my eyes at his cynicism. He would realize soon enough.
“You saw through the key hole. How can you still question that there isn’t something supernatural going on with this door?”
He shrugged, adjusting his glasses before pushing his dark curls off his forehead. “Doesn’t mean there’s anything going on with the time-space continuum. For all we know, Monster’s Inc. is a real deal.”
“I know what I saw.” I turned away from him as I took a reading from the monitor to my left. “Besides, you’re not a physicist—you’re not the expert here.”
“You can hardly call yourself a physicist.” He looked from me to the door. “Besides, you’re already on probation with the board.”
“They have no respect for gut instinct.” I watched the monitor with clenched jaw. The waves surrounding the door were beginning to spike. I looked at the clock. 11:55.
“Not when you have nothing to back it up.”
“I’m gonna.”
“And what if you do? Remember how Michael J. Fox was always screwing up the present?” he teased. I looked to him. There was a smile in his eyes as he tried to ease the tension.
“You watch too many movies.” I returned to the desk, elbowing him out of the way. “Besides, it is just a theory; I don’t know if anything will actually work. But I’m sure as hell gonna find out.”
“Thing is, you are calling this a theory, but you think it’s fact. Explain that one.” He crossed his arms, looking down on me. That amused expression was always so irritating,
“Now tell me, Dr.expert-know-it-all,” I crossed my own arms, mimicking his patronizing stance. “Who was the biologist that wasted thousands in university funding based on a hunch? Something about antibiotics derived from—”
 “That’s not fair, Kat.” His teasing grin turned to pursed lips.
I just smirked up at him.
He was glancing over my shoulder. “It’s 11:59. You ready?”
“Oh!” I stripped off my lab coat and rushed to the door. “How are the levels holding?”
“Heightened, but holding steady as we approach oh-one hundred.”
I placed my hand on the doorknob. “Count me off,” I told him.
“Going in five…” He rolled his eyes as he began. I took a series of deep breaths, “… four…” closing my eyes, I prayed for the best, “… three… two…” I tightened my grip on the doorknob, “one!” he finally said.
Pushing open the door, I was more than a little surprised to find not the other half of the lab, but instead a bedroom. Just as I had seen through the keyhole. It was ornately decorated. Like a set from a BBC period drama.
At the foot of the bed stood an older man dressed in a waist coat and breeches, looking completely unphased, unlike my slack-jawed self.
“Well, Miss Katherine,” he spoke in a polished British accent. “You certainly have kept us waiting.”

I No Longer Believe in Writer’s Block: Part II

So last week I discussed why writer’s block is no longer an excuse for me. So now a question has emerged that I’d like to address.

So what happens when you’re stuck?

Well, I’d like to say I don’t get stuck, but that would be a bold-faced fiction. I get stuck a lot. And usually it’s not something time will just solve like I’d like to think.

When I’ve written myself into a corner, there are usually two things causing the issue.

The first issue I have to solve when stuck is usually connected to plotting. Usually I’ve taken an easy fix to a problem or have not been true to the story. Either way, I haven’t done my job. I usually have to go back and rework a scene that was written to quickly or change a plot-line that I didn’t want to think about when I wrote it initially.

The second and more common issue is characterization. If I’m trying to make one of my characters do something the weren’t meant to do or not meant to do in that way, things seem unnatural and stilted, and harder to write. I get stuck because I’m missing something. Either a character isn’t fully fleshed out, or not being true to themselves. Sometimes I don’t have a relationship between characters fully nailed down. This takes some thought and sometimes some experimentation. Sometimes it’s even helpful to interview a character. (And no, I don’t think my characters are real people, but sometimes it’s just easier to operate under the assumption that they are when I’m working.)

Writing isn’t cheap. Making any art isn’t cheap. It takes work and sweat. It takes a bit of yourself to make anything. Usually the end benefits outweigh this cost, but while in the trenches it’s hard to see this. This is where I get tempted to give up.

Don’t give yourself that option. Know that making your art is going to cost you now, but it will be worth it to see your work completed.

Burn Out

Why, hello, dear reader!

I hope spring has come to you at last. Here in western Michigan, we’re enjoying a nice rain. It’s been so long since I’ve got to enjoy that sound.
Now, we must have a short discussion.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am working on a novel. Well, at least pretending to work on a novel. I haven’t been able to invest much time into it in the last couple months.
It’s been difficult to balance a blog and small groups and a writing group, and healthy living conditions as well as a novel. As much as I love blogging and interacting with all of you, I am finding myself creatively dry at the end of the day.
I was encouraged this week to just write the blasted thing. To just get it done.
My priority is to be a writer. To put this novel down. Surpassing that is being a family member and friend, a following, perhaps, being a small group leader, and lastly a clean bathroom maker. (Why does that one always come last?) A lot of these roles have been put on hold in order to keep this blog as well as some other blogging collaborations going. I need to pour my creativity into the art I have been called to make.
As a result, I cannot be as devoted to long posts and lots of social networking. (I think I can hear some of you breathing a sigh of relief…) I’m not giving up on Preppy Bohemia. Posts will still come–hopefully on a weekly basis–but for the next four or five weeks, posts will be shorter and my reply time on comments and email may be a bit more delayed. This is not a formal break, but instead, a declaration of no structure for a short time. By May, I should be recharged and ready to do this thing. In the mean time, this place my look more like a writing blog, but hang on. I promise, I’ll be back to a full range of topics shortly.
I am excited to get to writing and am so thankful to all of you for your support and understanding.
What about you? What is something you need to return to doing? What is something you may have to put down to do it?
Here’s to the journey,
                  –Lex

Plotting the Course–How Do I Run This Thing?

Of all my favorite books, the ones that have really struck me are ones with complex, meaningful plots. You know the ones; everything that is described, everything that happens has a wonderful and intentional purpose. Not a moment is wasted and all the complicated knots of story smooth out to become a wonderful tale with an ending you did not see coming.

This is what I aspire to.

I understand that not everything can be a Christopher Nolan movie, but I love the ending you don’t see coming, but were totally set-up for. I chalk it all up to plotting. As an aspiring novelist, I love plotting. Dreaming up where things are going, back-stories, foreshadowing, twists, pitfalls, redemption–I love it! I have a notebook that goes with me everywhere. It’s a well-loved Moleskine filled with all my ideas–the majority of which deal with plotting. So here’s the rub:

I’m afraid to plot. When I come upon a story I’m moved to write, I usually have a rough idea of how its gonna shake out in the end. I have an end-zone in mind through the entire process, but getting there, I like to leave my options wide open. I feel that if the plum-line is laid, character will fill in the rest of the structure. I don’t want to become attached to a certain chunk of plot and sacrifice my characters or their journey.

What I usually do to safeguard my character-driven novel is only plot details to a certain point. This usually means I’ll only jot down detailed ideas in my idea notebook for future chapters and then compile them as I prepare to write the chapter they were intended for. I’ll look at what works, what progresses the story as well as the characters and go with what I feel is best.

This is my process, but there is no one way to plot. I’d love for all the fiction writers out there to weigh-in! Let me know what your process is and why it works for you!

If for whatever reason your comment is not posting, please email your thoughts to me and I’ll make sure they are posted at my nearest convenience. preppybohemia@gmail.com

In other news, my instagram account has changed! It was becoming too difficult to keep up one for the blog and my own personal account so the two have been combined. Please follow to see what’s up in Bohemia!

Enjoy the journey!

xo,
           –Lex

In Her Privy Chambers: Part II

Here is the conclusion of last weeks short fiction. Grace O’Malley has just arrived in  England and is about to face Queen Elizabeth, her supposed enemy. Enjoy!

The steward opened the door to me. Richard and about a half-a-dozen of my men followed after me.
The long, narrow room was made of wooden walls and stone ceiling, suited out in extravagant trappings. Curtains and tapestries lined the windows and walls. Hundreds of people lined the room, concentrated in clumps toward the far end of the room. They were all dressed like peacocks, ridiculous amounts of fabric on both the men and the women. The silks and velvets of their doublets and petticoats were a rainbow of colors. Their collars stood either up or out from their shoulders like odd exotic feathers. What a strange sight they were.
The room was chilled, but smelled of bodies. It reminded me of the smell that continued to linger in a ship’s hull even after the crew had left. Sweat and shit.
“Grace O’Malley, Your Majesty,” he called to the room.
I didn’t understand much English, but I knew enough of it to know it sounded ugly. They called me Grace. Bingham used the name. It sounded like the way a snake would say my name had it been given words.  It sounded slick on the tongue and not to be trusted.
As soon as my name rang through the hall, every powdered face turned to look at me. Some of them looked curious, others disgruntled, most just stunned.
At the far end, was a great chair where the lady herself was seated. I looked to Richard who stood behind me to my side. He gave me a smirk and a reassuring nod.
The crowed of smelly peacocks parted as I moved forward through the room, the polished wood cold on my bare feet. Looking at all of them in their frivolous clothing, I couldn’t help but feel underdressed.
I wore the green woolen gown Muireann had made up for me when Richard was given the MacWilliamship. I had paired it with the cape I wore on holydays. It was trimmed in fur and trailed behind me. I pulled it closer to me as I neared Elizabeth.
I felt comforted by the wooden floors beneath my feet. They were much smoother than the weathered wood of my ship’s deck, but I was able stride with greater confidence at I moved onward.
The woman did not rise as I approached. I paused in front of the throne, but did not bow.
“Grace O’Malley,” she said in greeting. She rambled off some sort of welcome in English so quickly, I could not quite make out the particulars of what she was trying to say. Instead, having come in from the rain, my nose began to drip and I sniffled.
The queen studied me as I flicked my finger under my nose, trying to keep my nose from dripping. “Dewyewneadakurcheeph?”she spoke.
English was an odd language. Harsh consonants and titling vowels. And they all spoke so rapidly, it was hard to distinguish in the language I used the least.
Everyone looked at me expectantly. They waited for me to respond. I could speak enough English to say what I needed. I could voice my complaint best in Irish. No one except Richard and my crewmen would understand me. Thinking on it for a moment, I responded in Latin.
Precibus meis,” I said. My apologies. “I do not understand.” I could hear Richard clear his throat behind me as I lied.
Video,” She responded. The queen’s Latin sounded more polished with her English accent. Still, neither of us was speaking in her more comfortable tongue. The tables were equal. We were able to express ourselves only as well as the other. “I had asked if you needed a handkerchief.”
“Please, m’lady.” A few gasps could be heard through the room. It was an address of low rank. But the queen was a peer. I couldn’t just be calling her Your Majesty like some scullery maid. Richard cleared his throat once more. This time in warning. I merely smirked at him over my shoulder as the queen gestured for one of the men present to hand me a square of linen.
I took the kerchief, trying to blow my nose as ladylike as possible. Not that I really knew how to accomplish that. I wasn’t sure how to keep the air from honking between my nostrils and the fabric.
Everyone in the court continued to stare as I brought the kerchief away from my face. No one moved to take it. I held on to it, figuring I could dispose of it momentarily.
“So you have come to me for an audience,” the queen asked. Her voice rang out through the stone ceilinged courtroom.
“Aye.” I nodded. “I have.”
“So what is it you have to say?” she asked. Her flock of peacocks all seemed to lean forward a tad.
“I say that I would like a private audience with her majesty.” I found prudence in using the title this time. Still, a collective gasp went up from the courtiers. Their hushed whispers made them sound like peacocks as well as look it, occasional squawks sounding amongst the hissing. I fiddled with the handkerchief nervously with my left hand. “If she pleases,” I added self-consciously for good measure.
After a few seconds of the hissing and squawking, the queen held up her hand and the flock fell silent. “Very well,” she said, standing. More gasps sounded through the room. Two stewards scrambled behind the throne over to a pair of doors I hadn’t noticed.
The queen stepped down from the dais and headed toward the doors. I looked back at Richard, both of us surprised it was that simple.
“Well go!” he mouthed.
Fine,” I mouthed in response, trying to scramble after the queen as gracefully as possible.
The stewards held the double doors open as we passed in to the privy chamber. One of them eyed me suspiciously as the other stared dutifully ahead. The courtiers behind us were silent as the door closed behind me.
We were alone.
The room was large, though less so than the court room. The privy chamber was square, with a tall ceiling and rich trappings. The floor of this room was made of the same dark wood, but was covered by a large green rug embroidered with golden leaves. The two great windows on either side of the hearth had thick drapes, only opened about a foot to let in light. Around the room, chairs and ornate sofas were set in clumps for entertaining. Another large chair sat on another dais at the back of the room. Blast! The woman must spend her days sitting. A china tea service sat against the left wall next to a servant’s door. Besides us and the furniture, the room was empty.
Elizabeth stood, staring me up and down.
“You’re less masculine than I would have imagined,” she observed.
I eyed her, puzzled. Was this an English complement? “Thank you.” I replied, just to be safe. Fiddling once more with the handkerchief, I decided now was as good a time as any to get rid of it. A fireplace was on the wall to my right. Nearing it, I could see out the two large, paned windows. They over looked the river, my galley visible in the distance. The embers smoldered from the morning’s fire. I stepped over and dropped the square of fabric on the ashes and it began to smoke.
Turning back to the queen, I could not mistake the look of shock that crossed her face.
“What?” I asked, confused.
“You keep that,” she said, stunned.
“I snotted in that,” I said, mildly disgusted. Why on earth would I keep the dirty rag? They had to have others, to be sure!
“You keep it in your pocket for the next time you need it.”
“Oh.” I felt my eyebrows scrunch. “I’m sorry, I guess I’m used to a higher standard if hygiene.”
I couldn’t tell if she was cross or amused by my comment. It took me a minute to recognize that it had been a tad backhanded. Silence settled over the room as we both stood in the privy chamber, enchanted by the carpet.
“Grace?” The queen asked after a bit.
“Granuaile,” I corrected without thinking. “Your majesty,” I added as an unconfident afterthought.  Her red eyebrows crinkled in puzzlement. I began to explain. “My name is Granuaile. Most of my men call me Grania. Bingham insists on calling me Grace.” I could feel my nose wrinkle as I said the disgusting name. Even saying it felt snake-like.
“Grahn-oo-wall,” she tested the word.
I couldn’t help but laugh at the pronunciation. “You can use Grania. It might be easier.” Beneath her white powder and red rouge, I could see the queen give a genuine blush. The tension in the room was beginning to dissipate, but I could still feel her discomfort.
I knew Elizabeth was only a few years my senior, but her face was beginning to sag with age. The wrinkles on her brow and around her eyes had attempted to be masked by the face powder, but the thin dust had settled into the creases, emphasizing the lines. Her lips were painted red to match the fabric of her gown. Her head was encircled with a large white collar that made her look more like a peacock than any of her ninny courtiers. Her hair was covered by a red wig that matched her brows and lashes. And beneath the lashes sat a pair of blue eyes that seemed a little sad as they studied me. I couldn’t help but feel an unexplainable pity toward the woman.
“You don’t get corrected often, do you?” I asked.
She eyed me, considering something before speaking. “Sit with me, will you?” she asked, gesturing to an embroidered settee.
I followed her to one of the seating areas. Sitting seemed a bit of a challenge for her, trying to worm her way through her skirts into a seated position. Once she was down, there was hardly room for myself. I made the best of it, pushing some of her gown to the side.
“So you’re the pirate queen,” she stated as I tried to get settled.
“That’s what the English intruders insist on calling me.” I nodded.
She shook her head. “You’re not what I was expecting.” She had spoken the same thought earlier.
“You were expecting some man in a dress to come tearing through your court?” I asked, trying not to smile at the absurdity.
“Well, if I am to believe Lord Bingham’s letters, yes.” She smiled as well. “You’re a woman in power. And you are inpower.”
I couldn’t help but give her an odd look. Was that supposed to make sense? Perhaps it was the Latin.
She shook her head, quickly. “What I mean,” she began to clarify. “Is that you have maintained your power, but you’re a woman?”
“You’re not?” I asked, still puzzled by this strange woman. They all acted as if she was God himself, and here she was right crazy!
She opened her mouth to speak, but then hesitated, folding her hands in her lap. After another moment, she finally found her words. “My advisors still do not believe a woman can be a worthy queen. To them, femininity is weakness and weakness has not place on the throne. Yet your men will sail to England to confront your better. How do you do it?”
I bristled at the word better, Richard’s words echoing in my head. Finery is not the mark of a ruler. It’s what they will do for their land.
“I do what I must to provide for my clan,” I answered. That was why I was here, wasn’t I? But I wasn’t here for my clan. Not entirely. “And my boy.”
“Right, your son.”
I nodded. “He’s committed no more treason than you have, ma’am. Any of his actions have been under my command. More against Bingham than yourself.”
The queen looked away, thinking for a moment. “Lord Bingham is really that terrible?” She asked, still not looking at me. From the tone in her voice, she already knew my answer.
“My people have not been safe on their own land in the last five years. No one knows when their farm will be taken in your name. Not to mention anyone can be accused and executed for treason at a moment’s notice.” I fingered the embroidered fabric of her skirt that pushed against my leg. “He killed my brother.”
The queen turned to me, her sad eyes now filled with concern. “In my name.” It might have been a question, but she spoke as if it was a statement.
“At least for England,” I nodded. We were both quiet for a moment as I thought about Donal. After a few moments, I spoke again. “Ireland may have been taken by you, but under Bingham, my clan is not willing to yield.”
“Is this a threat?” she asked. She didn’t seem angry. She just looked straight ahead of her, like she was thinking hard about something.
“Not at all. It’s just how things are.”
“So why are you here?” She turned, her light eyes becoming cold.
“I want my boy free. I want to be governor to my own clan. I want your permission to do what I must to maintain my clan by land or sea. Ultimately, I just want Bingham to leave me and my people alone.”
“So you are not threatening rebellion.” She looked to me once more.
I shook my head.
Looking about the room for a moment, the queen stood, freeing up more of the settee.
“Grania,” she said, beginning to pace outside the seating area. “I respect what you have done for the sake of your land. You have done nothing I would not have done myself in such a position. Nothing I wouldn’t do should Spain show up on my doorstep.” She paused, glancing out the window before turning on her heel. “I admire your tenacity. And I will acknowledge that Bingham has done you wrong. I apologize that he was acting under my orders, though I cannot apologize at my desire to squash any sign of rebellion.” She turned once more, the fabric of her gown making crinkling sounds like luffing sails with each step. The hem whumphed each time she came about. “I will write him directly, demanding your son be released. Should he have executed your son in the time you have been away, I will do what I must to right the wrong.” As she spoke these words, a knot formed at the back of my throat. Tibbot would be released. “I must think on the rest of your requests and will write you once you have left here. All I require is your word that your rebellion is against Bingham and not against England.” She stopped, directly in front of the closed door, looking to me expectantly.
I thought for a moment. I tried to form my words as diplomatically as I could. “I will stay out of England’s way if England respects my land.”
She nodded. “I feel that is fair.”
And with that, she turned on her heel, facing the door way. The audience was done.
Quickly, I scrambled up from the seat to get behind her. She cleared her throat a bit loudly and as if by magic, the chamber doors flew open simultaneously. The stewards behind them, holding them open with straight backs and indifferent gazes.
The courtiers on the other hand began to crane their necks, dying to see if there was any sign on our faces as to what had transpired. Being behind Elizabeth, I could see nothing of her expression. I could only try and suppress the smile on my own face.
The queen took her place once more on her throne. I moved beyond it down the room toward Richard. A smile broke out across his own face as he looked into my eyes.

“Come on,” I said, nodding toward the door. “It’s time to go home. We have to meet our boy.”