Pretty Omens

Pretty Omens_Anchor&Plume

 
Pretty Omens came through our submission manager and from our first reading we all agreed A. LaFaye was a storyteller in the southern tradition: she had a story to tell and she knew how to tell it. In the pages of Pretty Omens you’ll discover a haunting story-in-verse—told in language that grabs you and doesn’t let go—and a girl struggling to find her place in a community that shuns her.

 
About Pretty Omens:
Cass Anne Marie came squalling into her mother’s waiting arms, a mother who had known the hard edge of expecting after three previous stillbirths. A fierce winter crept over their small mountain community and took Cass Anne’s life, but her mother—“cried her back”—crying so hard she brought her infant’s soul back to the living, breathing world. The residents of the community believe this opened Cass Anne up to the devil so they shun her and her mama, protecting their families from the “devil child.”

In an effort to tip the cosmic scales in her favor, Cass Anne fills her days with small kindnesses for her unsuspecting neighbors. When she begins to receive omens of bad things to come, folks are certain the devil is using the child. Cass Anne isn’t to be believed and it is only after tragedy strikes that the town is forced to see that omens can be a thing of beauty and a young girl can be an instrument of grace.

With Pretty Omens, A. LaFaye has crafted a mesmerizing novel-in-verse inspired by the epic tradition and the myth of Cassandra that will transport you to a small Virginia mountain community where an ordinary girl becomes a hero.

 
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A. LaFaye is a writer, professor, mother of five, and wife. An associate professor of English at Greenville College, she is gearing up to launch their first MFA program in Multimedia Storytelling. She also teaches as a visiting associate professor in the graduate program in Children’s and Young Adult Literature at Hollins University. LaFaye’s other titles include: The Keening (Milkweed), Water Steps (Milkweed), and Worth (Aladdin). Catch up with her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/alafayeauthor.

 
Advanced praise for Pretty Omens:
In language as lovely as a curling mountain creek, A. LaFaye tells the story of Cass Anne Marie, born during a nasty winter on Crowley’s Ridge. Loved back to life by her mama, the young girl is shunned by the mining community because of her gift of omens. And yet this gift might prove to be their salvation. Pretty Omens, a story-in-poems by a pitch-perfect author, reads like a classic.
—Mary Logue, author of Sleep Like a Tiger and Lake of Tears

In LaFaye’s strong, fast-paced novel-in-verse, the voices of her characters ring true, the language dazzles, drawing the reader into Cass Anne’s story of love and redemption, religious intolerance, and belief.
—Paul Janeczko, author of Firefly, July, Publisher’s Weekly Book of 2014

Told in sparse free verse poems, LaFaye’s gritty tale of a young girl’s struggle against a town’s superstitions, is both powerful, and heartbreaking, and ultimately inspiring.
—Han Nolan, National Book Award winner, Dancing on the Edge

 
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Hop on over to the shop to pre-order your copy of Pretty Omens and preview a poem from the book.

Meet Kayla Pongrac

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Meet Kayla Pongrac, author of the forthcoming flash fiction chapbook The Flexible Truth:

What prompted you to write a collection full of offbeat characters? Literature is full of offbeat characters but there is something uniquely charming about yours I can’t quite put my finger on—can you sum them up in just a few words?

Just as these stories came to life rather naturally and organically, so too did the characters within them. Still, I was very much aware that I was creating characters with these weird quirks and unique voices/thought processes about them, and I’m quite sure that’s because those are the types of characters that I’m typically drawn to as a reader. I just finished Miranda July’s novel, The First Bad Man, for instance, and I would like to think that my characters resemble hers in the sense that you can’t predict what to expect from them. What you see likely isn’t what you’re going to get, and that breeds intrigue. I’m all about intrigue!

If I had to sum up the characters in The Flexible Truth, I would describe them as “strugglers.” Each of them is struggling in some way—in some sad, bold, and beautiful way. I love them for that, and I hope readers will, too.

Also, I appreciate you describing this cast of characters as “uniquely charming.” I’ll have to pass that compliment on to them, as I’m sure the dentist will blush and the bartender will offer a toast.

In reading the collection, I was struck by the variety of ways in which many of the pieces can be read: as interior monologue, as a written account or journal entry, and as a confession of sorts. Was this intentional on your part, to make the reader feel as if they’re overhearing/reading private thoughts?

I can’t say that it was my intention for these stories to be read in any specific way, though I will say that these characters are definitely confessing their thoughts and feelings as best as they know how. For some, monologuing interiorly (I made that phrase up—is that okay?) appears to be the most comfortable form of expression. Take “Balloon Cocoon” as an example; you have this character who is yearning for some conversation—and answers—as she watches her sister swing in a hammock: “Sam always used to say that we would get out of this town, that we would become two sisters who traversed the earth until we fell off the face of it . . .” Here the reader gets full access into the narrator’s mind, whereas the sister doesn’t. That’s some V.I.P. business right there, isn’t it? Anyway, I think that no matter how these stories are read, readers will appreciate how the characters are unabashedly revealing themselves. Here are their homes. Here are their belongings. Here are their relationships. Here are their thoughts and here are their feelings.

The titles of the pieces are a thing of brilliance and are utterly inventive. In my experience, coming up with titles can be difficult. Can you tell us how you came up with these titles that are both jarring and inviting?

It’s funny that you and Michael W. Cox (author of Against the Hidden River) complimented me on the titles in this collection because I tend to struggle with titles. I really do. I’ve even joked with some fellow writers that I’ve considered hiring a “title generator.” The titles assigned to the stories in The Flexible Truth, however, came to fruition with little to no effort, so I’m just going to blame this blessing on two really fantastic loose leaf teas that I enjoy drinking while writing. I think these “magical teas” made me feel determined to bestow each piece a title that was representative of not only the story, but also the characters within. Would the narrator in “The Benefit of Reading the Newspaper” name the story “The Benefit of Reading the Newspaper”? I’m certain she would.

If you had to choose just one of your pieces to define your outlook on life, which would you choose?

Hmmm. I’ve felt a strong connection to “Back to Betting” from the moment I wrote it. I can relate to this character because she’s hesitant to gamble but does so anyway; she’s well aware of the inevitability of aging; she may or may not be disturbed by the fact that some things never change; she reminisces quite often and that line at the end . . . man, that line at the end haunts me so. I don’t want to give anything away, especially since “Back to Betting” is the final story in the collection, but I just adore how comfortable this character is with being alone with herself. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t know what I’d do without my husband and my family and my friends, but I have always considered it important to be able to find happiness in your own company. It’s a lovely experience, spending time with yourself. I think people should spend time with themselves more often.

Was there a ritual you used to enter the world of The Flexible Truth when you sat down to write?

No ritual. I just drank a lot of tea and listened to Vampire Weekend’s “Modern Vampires of the City” on repeat. I love that album. I mean, I really love that album. Tea + “Modern Vampires of the City” + being in a creatively vulnerable state of mind made this collection pop. And now that The Flexible Truth is in book form, I hope it sparks.

Ed’s note: You can listen to Vampire Weekend’s “Modern Vampires of the City” here.

If Murph were to get a job writing fortunes for fortune cookies, what might those fortunes look like?

Ha! I love this question. The front of the fortunes would, of course, feature one-sentence “advice” from Murph, such as “I used to be scared of picture frames,” and “I owe a great debt to Band-Aids.” The backs would depict a simple yet terribly satisfying picture of Murph’s thumb . . . and he would be giving a thumbs-up because he loves his readers, even those who stuff themselves full of Chinese food. (Now don’t tell him I told you this, but Murph slurps wonton soup like a madman. For reals.)

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If you enjoyed getting to know Kayla, be sure to meet Murph, resident advice columnist to the characters in The Flexible Truth. For a sampling of Murph’s offbeat style, read this and be sure to send in your burning question!

Pre-order your copy of this extraordinary and unexpected chapbook here!

Dear Murph

DEAR MURPH

Dear Murph:
What are some of the best strategies for naming?  Cats, boats, babies, whatever it might be…
Sincerely,
Needing 2 Name

Dear Needing 2 Name: I’ve never thrown a boomerang. A Frisbee, yes. Boomerang? No. Sometimes I get real down on myself about this, keep telling myself I should get around to boomerang-throwing, but right now I’m perfectly content on my couch eating red seedless grapes.
Shuffle, Murph

 

Find more Murph in The Flexible Truth!

Dear Murph

DEAR MURPH

Dear Murph,
I have a stack of books on my bedside table to read. Should I start from the top of the stack? The middle? The bottom?
Jessica

Dear Jessica: My elderly neighbor keeps insisting that she take me out to lunch. I respond that I just can’t help when my stomach growls because it has—and always will be—a little brown bear.
Examine, Murph
Dear Murph,
My cat sleeps all day and I’m jealous because truth is, I want to sleep all day. Thoughts?
Lauren

Dear Lauren: Last summer I went to the beach, ate an ice cream cone next to the ocean, and wondered why in the world I haven’t learned to fold napkins the proper way. You know, fancy restaurant-style.
Hover, Murph

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Dear Murph,
What should I make for dinner?
Anne

Dear Anne: This afternoon a friend called to ask for directions. I told him to maneuver right, bounce to the left, and shoot ’em straight. Provoke, Murph

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Dear Murph,
I am trying to start a local non-profit business, but I am overwhelmed. This afternoon I unwrapped a stick of gum only to mistakenly toss the gum in the trash and put the wrapper in my mouth. Where do I start?
Scatterbrained in PA

Dear Scatterbrained in PA: When I go to the movies, I tell the employees selling popcorn that I applaud them for selling popcorn. Clap my hands and everything. They look at me with these film-reel eyes and suddenly I see all I needed to see. High-five, Murph

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Wondering about who Murph is? Have a burning question to ask? Details here.

Dear Murph

DEAR MURPH

 

The Bunburyist’s Bulletin’s “Dear Murph” is an advice column cleverly used as an “interlude” in Kayla Pongrac’s debut flash fiction collection The Flexible Truth. A quirky and can’t-be-missed character, Murph answers questions the best way he knows how: by not answering them at all. To celebrate the upcoming release of The Flexible Truth (now available for pre-order in the Anchor & Plume shop), Murph has kindly agreed to answer readers’ questions here on the Anchor & Plume website. Ask anything you want! We dare you.

Send your question for Murph to hello [at] anchorandplumepress [dot] com or via Twitter, @AnchorPlume.

P.S. Should you choose to submit a question, you’ll not only receive an answer to your question, but also a special offer from Murph himself. So . . . fire away—if you dare or even if you just need a laugh—Murph is at the ready, pen poised.