Tag Archives: Literary Fiction

Author Dr. Richard Barager Talks about the Interesting Subject Matter of His New Book “The Atheist and the Parrotfish”

We are pleased to welcome to our blog today Richard Barager, the author of the exciting new upmarket literary novel, The Atheist and the Parrotfish. He speaks a little about his process, and about what led him to the unusual but compelling story he brings us.

 
A frequent question in author interviews is this one: “What made you decide to write this book, of all the books you might have written?” In the case of my latest novel, The Atheist and the Parrotfish, there were two images seared on my brain decades ago that lingered and refused to go away. The exploration of what they meant became the basis for my novel.

One was of an encounter with a patient of mine, years ago. He was a gruff tradesman who came to my office one day wearing a dress and a bra and female wig, at a time when public cross-dressing was rare. I asked him why he was dressed like a woman. “Because I like it,” he said. “And that’s all I want to say about it.” I wondered ever since what exactly it was that he liked about wearing a dress? My memory of him that day eventually gave rise, over two decades later, to my exploration of what it means to be transgender—and why—through the character of Ennis Willoughby, described as follows in the story.

“Hairless legs latticed by thick veins peeked out between the rims of his white socks and the hem of his dress. With caved in temples and sunken cheeks, a dusky wattle dangling practically to his chest, broken teeth, sallow skin, and a glaze of despair in his eyes…All he lacked was the striped garb of Auschwitz.”

Another image indelibly graven unto my brain back then came during a trip to Paris, on a visit to the Louvre. I came around a corner and confronted one of the most arresting and disturbing paintings I have ever seen, a masterpiece by the Romantic painter Paul Delaroche, entitled La Jeune Martyre (The Young Martyr). It was of a young girl floating face up in the Tiber River, with her shear white dress billowing in the water and her wrists bound in front of her. A halo hovered over her, described in my novel as “…a thin gold circle of empyreal light…The lambency of the halo colored everything beneath it soft and yellow, even in the dark, lapping water.” The intensity of Delaroche’s rendering marinated in my mind for years and finally launched me on an exploration of religious skepticism and faith.

My memories of these images formed within several years of each other, but I had no way of knowing at the time that not only would I search for their meaning two decades later, but that I would do so in the same novel. Nor would I have believed it possible that my story would discover the same essential truth in each, a brilliant paradox common to Christianity and to cross-dressing. So striking was this elemental truth that I nearly titled my novel The Christian and the Cross-Dresser, instead of The Atheist and the Parrotfish. (Parrotfish, by the way, are hermaphrodites, spending part of their life cycle as male and part as female—like Ennis.)

What made me want to write this story, you ask? What makes most writers want to write literary fiction—the search for truth.
 

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A doctor’s religious doubt is shaken by a transplant patient’s eerie knowledge of his organ donor’s most intimate secret.

Doctors tend to the needs of their patients, but patients give meaning to the lives of their doctors. So it is for Cullen Brodie, a twice-divorced California nephrologist, and Ennis Willoughby, a troubled cross-dresser whose life is saved by a rare heart-and-kidney transplant.

Cullen’s bitter disbelief in the afterlife is tested when Ennis begins to exhibit tastes and characteristics uncannily similar to those of his female organ donor—whose first name Ennis inexplicably knows. When Ennis becomes convinced that the donor’s soul has inhabited him, Cullen sides with Ennis’s psychiatrist, who tells Ennis he has subconsciously confused his emerging transgender personality with the imagined characteristics of his female donor.

While his psychiatrist coaxes forth Ennis’s female side, Cullen is summoned to the South Pacific by an old lover for a reckoning of their past. On the island paradise of Rarotonga, he is forced to confront the heartrending truth about a tragedy that destroyed their college romance—a tragedy Cullen blames on religious zealotry.

Filled with resentment over what he has learned, Cullen returns to Southern California determined to shatter Ennis’s delusion of ensoulment. But Ennis’s eerie knowledge of his donor’s greatest secret forces Cullen to consider the unimaginable: Is it possible he is witness to a verifiable incident of transmigration, tangible proof of a human soul? Or is he witness instead to the miracle of being transgender? Male and female at once, the glory of one and the glory of the other, both shining—like a parrotfish, another miracle of nature, changing gender apace, beside its glorious, ever-changing hue.

Nillu Nasser

Description

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Nillu Nasser is a writer of literary fiction novels. She also writes short fiction and blogs.

She studied English and German Literature at Warwick University, followed by European Politics at Humboldt University, Berlin. After graduating, Nillu worked in national and regional politics, but eventually reverted to her first love: writing.

Nillu’s stories often take place in rich settings and explore the search for identity from an outsider’s perspective. Her debut novel, All the Tomorrows, was published in 2017, followed by her second novel, Hidden Colours, in 2018. A prequel short story to All the Tomorrows, ‘The Dancing Girl’ was released that same year. Her third novel, An Ocean of Masks, will be published in 2019.

First and foremost, though, Nillu is a reader. She is happiest barefoot with a book in hand. They are the first thing she unpacks when she is somewhere new.

She lives in London with her husband and three children. If you fly into Gatwick and look hard enough, you will see her furiously scribbling in her garden office, where she is working on her next story.

To find out more about Nillu and her latest books, read her blog, send her a tweet or sign up for her newsletter.

Books

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Watch for the literary/women’s fiction, AN OCEAN OF MASKS, to release in late 2019.

Deceit is sewn into the fabric of our lives long before our first breath.

Norah is all about tough love. As headmistress of a community boarding school in Brixton, South London, her job is to put children back together after their lives have derailed. She understands their anger because the same red hot fury pulses through her own veins.

When a lack of funding threatens to close the doors to her school, Norah’s pupils act out their anguish in increasingly dangerous ways. As the fate of her pupils hangs in the balance, Norah accepts an invitation to join a mysterious society of masked women who might be able to help her. Little does she know, she’s on a collision course to meet the mother who abandoned her as a toddler.

Some traumas never heal. With her carefully controlled world in turmoil, Norah fights to save her pupils and herself. Can she be an example to her pupils, not only of grit and courage, but vulnerability? Or will her single-minded focus on saving the school be her undoing?

Gregg Sapp

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Gregg Sapp, a native Ohioan, is a librarian, academic administrator, and a Pushcart Prize-nominated author. Having written over 60 academic articles and some 300 reviews, Gregg published his first novel, Dollarapalooza (or “The Day Peace Broke Out in Columbus”) in 2011 with Switchgrass Books of Northern Illinois University Press.

Since then, he has published humor, poetry, and short stories in various literary journals, including Defenestration, Imaginaire, Kestrel, Zodiac Review, Marathon Review, and Writing Tomorrow, and he’s been a frequent contributor to Midwestern Gothic. His forthcoming book, Fresh News Straight from Heaven, about the life and folklore of Johnny Appleseed, will be published by Evolved Publishing in 2017.

BOOKS

 

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Watch for the 4th book in the “Holidazed” series of satirical novels, MURDER BY VALENTINE CANDY, to release in early February 2021.

Oh, the irony! Billionaire ladies’ man Adam Erb is murdered by lethal valentine candy.

On Valentine’s Day, notorious bad boy and right-wing podcaster Adam Erb is found dead in the back of his limousine, his mouth stuffed full of erectile dysfunction pills disguised as candy hearts. Huck Carp, an adversary of Erb’s and a doctoral student in applied sociology, suggests to police that the perpetrator is a severe psychopath. Imagine his surprise when, in front of his would-be girlfriend, they arrest him for the crime.

To prove his innocence, and save his relationship, Huck must utilize all his academic research skills. Aided by friends from his favorite donut shop, he follows the trail of evidence from viral social media hashtags to private performances at the Booti Tooti Gentlemen’s Club, and behind the velvet curtain at the mysterious Society of Enlightened Celibate Savants (SECS). Huck is an intellectual, not a lover, but the deeper he probes, the more he realizes that solving this crime will require him to look into his own heart.

Richard Barager

Description

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By day I’m a nephrologist, treating dialysis patients and kidney transplant recipients. By night I write fiction. I believe the two finest callings in life are doctor and writer, one ministering to the human condition, the other illuminating it, and each capable of transforming it.

I earned BA and MD degrees at the University of Minnesota and did my postgraduate training at Emory University in Atlanta and the University of California in San Diego. I live now in Orange County, CA.

I am a champion of the healing power of literature, and sometimes prescribe novels or short stories to patients to help them cope with illness. Fiction explores meaning in a way science cannot. Sometimes only fiction tells the truth.

Books

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Coming June 2018:

Red clay and yellow grass, a battleground and a rock festival… the senseless slaughter of Vietnam and the folly of utopian fantasy.

David Noble is an orphan with a fondness for the novels of Walter Scott; Jackie Lundquist is a child of privilege, partial to J. D. Salinger and the importance of getting real. Their ill-fated college love affair implodes when David enlists to fight a war she opposes.

Angered by his choice—the marines instead of her—Jackie refuses to acknowledge his letters from Vietnam, where David is burrowed into the blood-red clay of Khe Sanh, one of six thousand marines entrapped by an army of North Vietnamese regulars. David survives the brutal siege, but returns home to find Jackie immersed in a counterculture world of drugs and militancy.

The two lovers find themselves fighting on opposite sides of the defining issue of their time, as the New Left and the New Right battle for a generation’s political soul. To Jackie, the faltering war in Vietnam is a failure of national conscience; to David, it’s a failure of national honor. But neither her rise to fame as the antiwar movement’s alluring Radical Queen, nor David’s defiant counter-protest activities in support of the war, can extinguish their passion for one another.

Their conflicted affair—and the Age of Aquarius itself—careen toward the mellow-yellow grass of Altamont Speedway, site of the decade’s last great rock festival: Altamont, the metaphoric Death of the Sixties, where honor and shame collide and tragedy awaits redemption.

Great Stories, Dynamic Worlds, Compelling Characters: The Making of Cassia by Lanette Kauten

Lanette KautenIn this interview, author Lanette Kauten discusses some of what went into her creation of Cassia, a literary exploration of the art scene, perfect for fans of literary or women’s fiction: a lesbian “Anna Karenina” set in an art district at the end of the Cold War.

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Interview with the Author:

CassiaWhere does your story begin?
Cassia begins at a baseball game in the year 2010. My main character, Tanya, is there with her husband and a married couple he knows professionally. The woman peppers Tanya with questions about Cassia, insinuating she knows too much about Tanya’s past.
 
The next chapter starts twenty years in the past and details Tanya’s torrid relationship with the enigmatic Cassia.
 
Who are your main characters? What do they want? What will get in their way?
As a reporter living in Deep Ellum, all Tanya Falgoust wants is to be accepted as part of the underground arts district. But living among free thinkers and musicians doesn’t make her one of them. Then she meets the sensual, rebellious Cassia, a performance artist who struts onto the stage and into Tanya’s bed.
 
No one knows who Cassia is, but her beauty and talents as an actress and dancer captivate the local scene. Tanya is mesmerized, and they quickly form a relationship. A close friend warns Tanya about Cassia, but she brushes him off. But when Cassia refuses to divulge anything about herself, where she lives, or even her real name, Tanya starts to realize her friend was right. And the secrets her lover is hiding are deeper and more damaging than Tanya could imagine.
 
As the pull of their relationship deepens and becomes more volatile, Tanya must decide whether to break from her desire before she loses the one thing she wants most—connection to the musicians who have accepted her into their community.
 
Where does your setting fit with what we know, and where is it unique?
Cassia is set in an arts/bar district just east of downtown Dallas, which in itself makes the setting both familiar and unique. A lot of cities have a section that’s pretty much reserved for the boho lifestyle—East Village in New York, 6th Street in Austin, and pretty much all of Portland, to name a few. Dallas has such an area as well, called Deep Ellum.
 
The neighborhood started as a Freedman’s town and was a Blues and Jazz hotspot at one time. For decades, it sat nearly empty except for the few businesses that never moved from the area. In the 80s, a handful of people saw tremendous opportunity to make it into a place for local musicians and artists.
 
What books, movies, etc, might this story be similar to, and in what ways is it unique?
The first book to come to mind is Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, because of its structure, and because the main character is a woman looking back on a particular year of her life and how the events of that year changed the direction of the rest of her life. But 1939 New York (Rules of Civility) is very different from 1990 Dallas (Cassia).
 
A generational tie exists with the book Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel, as both her book and mine deal with the struggles of a young crop of Gen-Xers. Outside of Wurtzel’s book being a memoir and mine being a work of fiction, there is a difference in writing style and focus. While Prozac Nation deals with depression in young adults, Cassia focuses on the postmodern view of art and sexuality.
 
Are more stories planned in this series?
I don’t write book series, but I am working on a new novel with Cassia as the protagonist. Tanya won’t even appear as a cameo in this new book.
 
Our thanks to Lanette Kauten for spending a little time with us, and we hope you enjoy her wonderful book, Cassia.

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