Short excerpt from So Lucky

It came for me in November, that loveliest of months in Atlanta: blue sky stinging with lemon sun, and squirrels screaming at each other over the pecans because they weren’t fooled; they knew winter was coming. While Rose stood by her Subaru, irresolute, a large red-brown dogwood leaf—the same color as her hair—fell on its roof. She hated the mess of leaf fall, had threatened over the years to “cut that damned tree down.” Too late now.

“Mara?” she said. “Are you sure it’s all right?”

After fourteen years of course it wasn’t all right, but, “Yes,” I said, because she would leave anyway.

The shadows under her eyes, the tiny tight lines by her mouth, nearly broke my heart. I hoped the lover whose name I knew perfectly well but refused to use would know what to do when those lines crinkled down like concertinas, as they were doing now.

“You should get going,” I said, before she could cry. “Traffic.”

She shook her head, slow and baffled: How did we get to this?

I turned away. And tripped. A slippery leaf, I thought, if I thought anything at all. A twig. Or that uneven bit of concrete we really should fix. But it wasn’t we anymore. It was just me.

#

Aiyana sat, as she always did, with her feet tucked under her and her close-cropped head dark against the far end of the sofa. I sat catty-corner in the armchair. The physical distance between us was a habit developed four years ago when, one summer evening in a bar after a softball game, sexual awareness unfurled between us. We never spoke of it but we knew that to come within the orbit of each other’s skin-scent and cellular hum could end only one way: falling helplessly, spectacularly into the other’s gravity well, momentarily brilliant like all falling stars, but doomed, because I loved Rose. And this friendship was too precious to burn.

The day had been warm enough for the end of summer, but the sun still set at November times. At twilight I opened the windows and cool air began to move through the house. The dark was not close and scented with humidity, not sappy with bright greens and hot pinks, but spare and smelling as brittle as the straw-colored winter lawn.

Aiyana turned her glass of Pinot, playing with the refraction of the floor lamp’s low light. “So. She really left.”

“She really did.”

Her eyes were velvety but she said nothing because she was leaving, too. Two days before Rose asked for a divorce, Aiyana won funding for postdoc research at the University of Auckland’s Douglas Human Brain Bank.

“You’ve booked your flight?” She closed her eyes slowly, the way she said yes when not trusting herself to speak.

“When do you leave?”

“Two and a half weeks.”

Two and a half weeks. No Rose, no Aiyana. “I need more wine.”

In the kitchen I reached for the second bottle of Pinot already on the counter but then thought, Fuck it, and opened the wine fridge for the Barolo. My hand tingled and I shook it. Static maybe.

When I brought through the wine with fresh glasses she raised her eyebrows.

“If not now, then when?” I had been saving it for a fifteenth anniversary that would never come. I knelt by the coffee table. The cork made a satisfying thock, like the sound of summer tennis. I poured; it smelled of sun-baked dirt. I handed her a glass.

Perhaps because Rose was gone, or Aiyana was leaving, too, which made it safe, or maybe it was the smell of the wine or just that we wanted it that way, our fingertips touched and my belly dropped, and now the music seemed to deepen and the air thicken to cream. Her nostrils flared. We were caught.

Her feet were the color of polished maple, perfect, not like mine, not hard from years of karate. They needed to be touched. I needed to touch them. She sat still, wineglass in her hand, while I bent and brushed the side of one foot with one cheek, then the other. Under the soft, soft skin, tendon and bone flexed like steel hawsers as her toes curled and uncurled. I stroked the foot. I wanted to kiss it.

Her eyes were almost wholly black, fringed with dark-brown pleats. I kept stroking. She closed them slowly. I took the wineglass from her hand and put it on the table.

Our breath was fast, harsh, mutual. My cheek where it had touched her felt more alive than the rest of me and all I could think was how it would feel to lay my whole length against hers. So I did.

#

Josh next door had forgotten to turn off his porch light again and through my bedroom window a slice of light curved over Aiyana’s forehead, cheek, and chin. A face familiar from sweaty afternoons playing softball, drinking beer afterward, and sometimes coffee at the Flying Biscuit. But strange here. Nothing like the face I was used to seeing on that pillow.

“What?”

She didn’t smell like Rose, either. I slid an arm over her belly, breathed her in, then drew back and began to stroke in lazy circles. “Are you still going to Greensboro first?” Her grandmother lived there. Nana was old enough to be her great-grandmother, and to a woman of that generation, a granddaughter leaving for New Zealand was goodbye, a one-way trip.

“I can’t think when you do that.”

“Are you?”

“In ten days.”

I dipped my finger into her belly button, in and out. “Will you come back?”

“It’s just Greensboro, babe.”

I butted her arm. “From New Zealand.” The fellowship was for one year, extensible to two on mutual approval.

She arched so that her belly pushed into my hand and her head moved deeper into the pillow, and shadow. “Give me some incentive.”

(From So Lucky. Used with permission of MCD x FSG Originals. Copyright © 2018 by Nicola Griffith.)


See what others have to say about So Lucky.

Listen to an audio excerpt.

Preorder in paper, digital, or audio formats:

See where I’ll be reading and signing in support of the book in the next couple of months.

Animated book cover for So Lucky!

 

Image description: Book cover in matte black with the title “So Lucky,” and the author’s name “Nicola Griffith,” in big uppercase type rendered as burning paper. In smaller, brighter letters between title and author is, “A novel,” and, below the writer’s name, “Author of Hild.” It is animated so that orange flecks of burning paper drift across the image from lower left to upper right and the flame letters move subtly, as dying embers do.


I love this animation of the cover done by the amazing graphics people at FSG. (I added the sound, so don’t blame them for the poor quality…) Preorder (including audiobook—narrated by me!) here:

So Lucky audiobook available for preorder

audio cover w earbuds

Image description: Cover of So Lucky audiobook—matte black with title, “So Lucky” and author, “Nicola Griffith,” rendered in paper burning to grey with orange flame—with earbuds attached.


The audiobook for So Lucky—narrated by me!—it’s now available for preorder. Listen to an excerpt then go buy:

US: Audible | Google Play | Barnes & Noble | Amazon | iBooks
UK: Audible | Amazon | WaterstonesiBooks

If you want to hear more before you buy, then come to one of my readings.

In a week or so I’ll write a juicy blog post about how it was to be in the studio to do the recording. Meanwhile, enjoy that wee bit on SoundCloud.

Columbus, OH: 4/18 @3:45pm

On Wednesday April 18, with artist Riva Lehrer, I’ll be giving the Ethel Louise Armstrong Lecture on Disability Arts and Culture at Ohio State University’s 18th Annual Multiple Perspectives Conference at 3:45pm. The title of the lecture is “Disability in Art and Life.” We’ll be talking about our books, how they are intertwined with our disability and culture, and how our lives intersect with each other.

We’ve got some pretty exciting stuff lined up. Riva will be reading from and talking about her memoir-in-progress, Golem Girl (Oneworld) and I’ll be reading from and talking about my seventh novel, So Lucky (FSG, May 2018). Then we’ll have a staged conversation about our thoughts on all kinds of things. Then we’ll do an audience Q&A. We could talk about theory, of course, but we won’t. By this time, we’re guessing the academics will be stuffed to bursting with Disability Studies papers, panels, and policies, and might welcome two friends simply talking with passion about their art and their disabled lives. We’re also storytellers and entertainers—we know how to engage an audience—so join us!

Riva Lehrer and Nicola Griffith

Riva (left) and me talking about making her portrait of me. Photos by Jennifer Durham.

Image description: Black and white photo of two women, Riva Lehrer on the left and Nicola Griffith on the right, sitting behind a table. Both are holding microphones. Nicola is saying something that is making Riva howl with laughter.

Listen to me narrate the So Lucky audiobook

I just got finished files for the So Lucky audiobook. Holy shit! I can’t wait for you to hear this!

From the minute I finished the book, I wanted to narrate it. I love to read for audiences. I used to front a band and performing my own fiction has always been the next best thing to singing. So I thought I knew how it would be to do the whole book in a studio. I was so wrong—but I’ll tell that story in another blog post.

Meanwhile, I’ll just say it was thrilling to read the entire book aloud the way it was meant to be. Absolutely electrifying to feel the words I imagined come alive in the air, clothe themselves in the power of the human voice, and take shape. There are parts of this book that, on the page, are frightening; aloud, they are terrifying. I am grinning so hard! The ending, especially, is— Well, you’ll just have to wait and see.

Here’s the very beginning. It starts quietly enough…

Macmillan have only just delivered their assets to retailers so the digital version is not yet available through all platforms (notable exception: Google Play). But it won’t be long, so stay tuned.

How ableism affects a book review

review screenshot highlights

It’s been my policy to never comment for the record on book reviews except to correct errors of fact. I’m making an exception for So Lucky‘s first review because it epitomises the bias faced by novels about disabled characters written by disabled authors and it’s time this bias was called out.

Look at the first sentence of the So Lucky review:

This affecting and autobiographical novel…recounts

In How to Suppress Women’s Writing Joanna Russ lays out eleven methods to belittle the work of women (and, I would argue, of members of other oppressed groups). Labelling fiction as ‘autobiographical’ could be assigned to either Denial of Agency or Pollution of Agency. From a male-identified author (for example, Karl Ove Knausgaard), autobiographical fiction is Art. From a female-identified author, it is merely a transcription of real life with no creativity involved: Oh, she wrote it, but it’s not really art because it’s the story of her life. She just, y’know, transcribed what was actually happening.1

This same journal reviewing So Lucky has reviewed my previous novels.2 Here are some words and phrases plucked from those reviews:

Griffith opens her latest

Griffith is enthralling

Griffith’s work is hugely satisfying

Griffith goes boldly

Griffith’s compelling prose

Griffith breathes life into an appealing heroine

These are reviews of novels about nondisabled characters written (as far as the reviewer is concerned) by a nondisabled author: Slow River, The Blue Place, Stay, Always, and Hild (I can’t find the review of Ammonite). In these reviews, the agent is always ‘Griffith’, that is, the author. The author is acknowledged as the one responsible for creation and therefore the reader’s reaction.

But this review immediately sidesteps the author and names the ‘autobiographical novel’ as the actor and agent. When both author and protagonist are disabled it’s apparently the novel itself that affects the reader. My role as a novelist is denied. My expertise is dismissed.

Further on we get this:

the end product is a plausible warts-and-all portrayal

Again, the reviewer suggests that the subject, the doer, if you like, is not the author. Rather, it is the story of struggle and disability that evokes a response in the reader, not the author’s prose. In this review, rather than creating the story I become the story. It is not what I do that matter, but who I am. And what I am in this assessment is Other.

Now let’s turn to the description of the disabled protagonist, Mara. Her agency, too, is diminished. She does things ‘accidentally’ rather than, as I frame it in the novel, in a vicious rage. Her quite conscious and deliberate choice in the book, which becomes an almost-fatal error, is based on a crucial character flaw, yet is dismissed as a

subplot involving crimes against the disabled [that] could have been dispensed with

Agency appears to be incompatible with disability. A ‘meaningful’ life is also apparently incompatible, and so the book becomes about Mara’s ‘struggle’ to have a life ‘despite’ her MS. This ‘struggle’ is what apparently makes So Lucky ‘affecting’—struggle is used twice, in a 200-word review3. According to the reviewer, readers won’t be impressed or wanting more or thrilled by my hugely satisfying work and compelling prose, they will be ‘affected’ and ‘inspired’ by Mara’s disability.4

Inspired is literally the last word of the review.

In 2014 activist Stella Young coined the term ‘inspiration porn’.5 Inspiration porn is the portrayal of a disabled person as an object of inspiration for the benefit of nondisabled people. By objectifying disabled people, inspiration porn dehumanises us. Inspiration porn renders us Other.

So Lucky is not inspiration porn.6 It is reviewed as such here because of the unacknowledged, unconscious ableism of the reviewer. The reviewer may have felt benevolent towards both the author and the book, their bias might be implicit rather than explicit7, yet the review offers a reading of the novel in which the agency and humanity of both author and protagonist are diminished, denied, and dismissed.

Do better, critics.


1 Well, no. As with all my novels, I use elements of my own life but Mara’s story is no more my story than Aud’s in The Blue Place, Lore’s in Slow River, or Hild’s in, well, Hild.
2 I won’t name the journal. I’m not inclined to send them traffic.
3 And let’s not even mention ‘medical adversity,’ because, of course, what Mara is actually dealing with is the effects of the social model of disability. Her central difficulty is ableism—her own, and others’—not just illness.
4 This is the kind of review a queer novel could have expected 60 years ago in which the protagonist is remarkable only as a pitiful creature crying out to be treated as human and relying on the kindness and forbearance of strangers.
5 If after Young’s TEDx talk you want to know more about this, Wikipedia has some references that will get you started.
6 According to the disabled critics who have read it, So Lucky is ‘a new wave of disability story’ (Susan Nussbaum, winner of the PEN/Bellwether Award), a ‘tour de force of the onset of disability’ (Steven Brown, the co-founder of the Institute of Disability Culture), a ‘story of what we all share’ (Kenny Fries, multiple award-winning author and creator of the Fries Test), and a ‘hallucinatory exploration of the body, reality, and identity’ that is ‘disorienting, destabilizing, and game-changing’ (Riva Lehrer, this year’s winner of the President’s Award from the Society for Disability Studies, an artist whose works hangs in the National Portrait Gallery). These are well known, extremely well-respected scholars, artists, and cultural critics. They understand when a book is doing something exciting and different. (ETA: Many people assume that all members of a subculture know each other. While Riva is a friend, I’d never had any communication with the other three until I asked them to read the book.) So what game-changing narrative strategies does So Lucky employ to achieve this innovation? Well, wouldn’t it be lovely if a critic could get past tired ableist assumptions to ponder that question…
7 If I thought it would make a difference I’d ask reviewers to visit Harvard’s Project Implicit, take the implicit bias test for disability, and post their results along with the review.

Presiding over the heat death of the universe

I’ve lived the freelance life since I moved to this country 29 years ago. Mostly I’m just fine with that; I’ve learnt to shrug and roll with the emotional ups and downs that come with the territory. But I become hyper-aware of how precarious freelance life is when a series of Bad Things1 occur and my psychotic sense of self-belief teeters. I suspect most creators go through this.

I spend years at a time knowing with rock-solid certainty that life is good, that everything’s going swimmingly, and all will be well. Then, Whap! in the space of a day that towering belief falls, and I convince myself that, Aaaargh! I’ve lost my touch! My career is OVER! And from there I gallop recklessly up the ladder of assumption until I’m living in a paper bag under the bridge eating cat food, or presiding over the heat death of the universe.

Most of the time I consider myself relatively rational2 but there’s something about freelance, I-make-things-with-my-brain life that occasionally pushes a person over the edge into superstitious meltdown. The first time I went through this was when my first novel, Ammonite , which had already won a Lambda Literary Award and the Tiptree Award, was short-listed for the Arthur C Clarke Award (I’m telling you this not to boast but to show just how fucking irrational what happened next was). On the day of the award I was lounging about on the grass of our Atlanta back garden with a cat dozing on my lap. It was a lovely April day, smelling of honeysuckle and jasmine, threaded with birdsong, and the sunshine just right. I was smiling at the flowers, occasionally checking that the phone was to hand, waiting for news of my win—because of course I was going to win; Ammonite was on a roll. The award was mine; I deserved it. I had to win, because clearly that’s what the universe intended; top of the pile was my rightful place. But in the midst of this truly gorgeous day, I started to worry: What if I didn’t win? I might never win another award for Ammonite. And what would that mean? I might never win another award for a book again. And somehow might morphed into Oh-god-never-ever, and My career would be over… And then the phone rang and, with a sense of inevitability, I heard that, yes, I’d lost. That was it; the world had gone horribly wrong. My run of luck was over. I would never get it back. A vast shadow fell over the day and I mourned the end of my professional life before it had had a chance to really flower.

Now I look back on the moment and while I want to howl with laughter at the ridiculous young me I also respect what she went through. Because even today, every few years, I go through some version of it. It never lasts long—two days after that phone call in April I was happily back at work on the copyedits of Slow River—but it can happen anytime.

Sometimes I go through it at the start of a new novel: Oh my god I don’t know how to write anymore! My MS is rotting my brain! I’ve lost it, lost whatever talent I used to have… (As though writing were a lucky coin could that could fall out of a hole in your pocket.) Sometimes I go through it at the pre-publication stage: This is it, I’ve finally been relegated to the Publishing B Team; no one knows the book is coming, no one will pay attention, it will sink without trace. It doesn’t happen with every book, but I know that at some point, with some book, I’ll go through it again.

Illness, pain, stress make all this worse of course but they’re not the cause. The cause is just that weird thing called art, having to live in the undefined place, to hold strong opinions lightly, to balance two or or more opposing ideas at once. There are studies showing that on a daily basis willpower fatigues rather like a muscle; after a while you just can’t do it anymore and have to give up until you can hit the reset button (usually sleep will do it). I think the determined self-belief that allows an artist to decide that, Yes, it’s just shit I made up but people will pay their hard-earned money for this crazy notion that no one else has ever written before occasionally just quits and that’s when we fall into the abyss. The loss (for me at least) is always fleeting but every time—every single time—I think, No, this time it’s true…

It’s entirely possible that part of it springs from childishness: But Mummy I WANT this acclaim/award/cheque, I DESERVE it, I’m SPECIAL! And of course, yes, I am special. So are you. So is every single one of us. But there’s always a place where the artist’s necessary and almost psychotic self-belief expands into the untenable belief that the universe must and will warp itself around us; that we are the centre of all things. And the sudden pendulum swing is a necessary correction, a reset. (Otherwise we bcome like those dickhead writers we’ve all met.) We need both, I think, to make this thing called art and to remain reasonable human beings. Or at least I do. No doubt there are very many super sensible, unvaryingly sane artists out there. And congratulations; I’m glad it works for you (really). But for those of you like me: Hey, when emotionally you are living in the paper bag or watching the sun dim, don’t beat yourself up, open a beer or make a cup of tea, read a good book, and just wait. It’ll change. It always does.


1 To be clear, I’m fine. But I’ve witnessed two horrible accidents in the last three weeks, both (conveniently for my superstitious brain) connected to book stuff. One, involving a family member, came within a hair’s-breadth of, as our internist said to the patient, “Leaving you on a ventilator.” One result was that Kelley and I couldn’t go to Florida for the first scheduled reading from So Lucky. The second was on Monday, on the way to my second scheduled event for So Lucky, a PNBA Happy Hour at Queer/Bar: we were cruising slowly (probably no more than 15 miles an hour) for a place to park when an SUV coming through the intersection ahead of us got t-boned by another car. The SUV rolled, turned, and skidded on its roof right at us. We had to get into reverse super fast, and even so the crushed and shattered vehicle came to rest just 6 feet from our bumper. So now So Lucky is clearly The Book of Accidents because of course two data points make a trend, and it’s all about me :: eyeroll ::
2 For, y’know, a writer.