On June 16, 1976, I was waiting to hear if I had gotten into the University of Pittsburgh nursing school. Sharing a house with a PhD aspirant, two medical students, and a dental student, I had recently broken up with the boyfriend who had brought me to the Iron City from California. We didn’t have a television, and while I occasionally munged through the Pittsburgh Post-Intelligencer, I knew little about what was happening in Soweto, a small city very far away that I knew nothing about.
That day in June, thousands of middle and high-schoolers marched the streets of Soweto, protesting a final straw. The National Party had decreed that all students must learn Afrikaans, the language of their oppressors. A peaceful rally would be taking place at a nearby football stadium. Students walking to the stadium were fired upon by the Soweto police.
2 students were killed.
Soweto is a sort of shrine to South Africans, as this city north of Johannesburg was the long-time residence of Nelson Mandela. I had arrived in Joburg in the early afternoon and as usual, I had no plans except to wander around and get to know the area of Rosebank, where our hotel was. But lucky for me, the reluctant traveler who enters knew worlds with no itinerary in mind, a colleague cornered me and asked me to join her on a tour to Soweto.
Our driver was an articulate gentleman who would take us on the four hour drive.
There were three of us—myself and my colleague, and an American businessman who also had some time to kill. I am always astonished at the intelligence of drivers of taxis or hired cars. There is an untapped source of wisdom there.
First he circled Johannesburg, touting how the city with a reputation for violent crime had become safer than ever. He pointed out everything, beauty marks and flaws—the new football stadium resembling a giant stone sausage built for the 2010 World Cup, the high rises of down town, and the ridges of mine tailings enveloping the city suburbs. Winds would give a toxic dusting to the surrounding townships, and the country struggled to minimize the poisoning with water sprinklers to keep the dust down.
On the way to Soweto we saw the iconic cooling tower murals, no longer functional except as a bungee-jumping spot. We passed the hospital where one of our HIV clinics was housed. Then we pulled into a quiet suburban neighborhood and stopped for a tour of the Mandela house.
Nelson and Winnie Mandela lived in this tiny house from 1946 to 1990. Eighteen of those years, Mandela was imprisoned at Robben Island near Cape Town. Now the property of the Soweto Heritage Trust, it has been designated a national monument.
Just as we were leaving a full-sized tour bus pulled up. People come from all over the world to see this house, in this small city that was the heart of the rebellion against apartheid. Next our driver brought us to The Hector Pieterson Museum, situated in the same spot where 13 year-old Hector died, one of the two children murdered by the Soweto police. My friend and I spent far longer than the hour our driver had granted us inside the building, absorbing photographs and memorabilia of the rebellion. Our driver smiled and shrugged. It happens all the time, he told us.
When I got back to our hotel, I felt pale with fatigue, and it was not all from jet lag. I cherish the memories of that place I had been led to, without a notion of this powerful place of pride for South Africans.
Next week: The Reluctant Traveler comes home to her dogs and husband until she travels again.
Having directed it last night, I was called up this morning before four o’clock. It was full light enough to dress myself, and so by water against tide, it being a little coole, to Greenwich; and thence, only that it was somewhat foggy till the sun got to some height, walked with great pleasure to Woolwich, in my way staying several times to listen to the nightingales. I did much business both at the Ropeyarde and the other, and on floate I discovered a plain cheat which in time I shall publish of Mr. Ackworth’s. Thence, having visited Mr. Falconer also, who lies still sick, but hopes to be better, I walked to Greenwich, Mr. Deane with me. Much good discourse, and I think him a very just man, only a little conceited, but yet very able in his way, and so he by water also with me also to towne. I home, and immediately dressing myself, by coach with my wife to my Lord Sandwich’s, but they having dined we would not ‘light but went to Mrs. Turner’s, and there got something to eat, and thence after reading part of a good play, Mrs. The., my wife and I, in their coach to Hide Parke where great plenty of gallants, and pleasant it was, only for the dust. Here I saw Mrs. Bendy, my Lady Spillman’s faire daughter that was, who continues yet very handsome. Many others I saw with great content, and so back again to Mrs. Turner’s, and then took a coach and home. I did also carry them into St. James’s Park and shewed them the garden.
To my office awhile while supper was making ready, and so home to supper and to bed.
The ‘contorted birch’ demised a season ago, and did not come back. It was the centerpiece tree of our front yard.
Now, meanwhile, we decided to use a licensed spraying company for our gravel paths rather than kill ourselves trying to weed it all.
This means we had to scramble to get all the accumulated junk of winter AND the pond disaster picked up and the paths raked, the front likewise picked up and waked, dandelions removed in all the flower beds to which we are adding pre-emergent on our own—and having done all that in a few hours, aching in every bone, we plunked ourselves down in the living room while the spray guys were doing the work…
At which point I thought: two healthy guys who do outdoor work and may want to do some tree work for extra…So Jane asked if they could pull the dead birch and plant a tree. Oh, indeed. They recommended where to go to buy same (biggest supplier in the PNW [pacific northwest] and a good lot, too. And they’ll pick it up and plant it. So we decided to change species, birch having not liked the variable water levels next the water feature (seasonal). We went for a full-sized Japanese Maple, Emperor One. They don’t like sun that much, but our other Japanese maples are doing well, and we do have some shade during part of the day, thanks to the Fat Albert blue spruce and the towering firs or hemlocks or whatever they are. So we decided to risk it. The new tree is already an inch and a half thick, pushing two, and about 8 feet tall, though willowy. It’ll shade the water feature. And its thin leaves won’t cause much cleanup.
And we don’t have to pull the birch or plant this one.
Twitter threads: one, two, or I could just say "wrote that digustingly racist 16k meta (AO3-locked) last year", and a lot of you will know what I mean. Note that the second threads has screencap excerpts of the meta.
Con or Bust is taking auction offers through tomorrow, Sunday April 23 (end of the day Eastern time).
Bidding starts Monday April 24!
There's a bunch of cool stuff up already, a few more things going up today, and, I hope, more coming in that just haven't been submitted yet. So check it out!
I continue to self-censor, because I am afraid of some of you.
I was barely thirteen when I first read Mary Stewart’s Madam Will You Talk. It set the bar high for romantic suspense for me—and all these years later, it still works.
Romantic suspense has what for me is a perfect blend of romantic involvement and plotty action, creating a kind of double-barreled suspense. And when the book adds in literary references, humor, and a sense of history, I’m guaranteed to be hooked.
A lot of romantic suspense tends to offer dark, brooding, ultra-competent heroes in the Byronic mode–which inspired the Brontes way back when. There’s a Byronic hero in Madam Will You Talk. His name is even Byron, and just so you know he’s dangerous, almost the first thing he does is grab our heroine, ordinary widow Charity Selbourne, by the wrist, and call her a beautiful little bitch. Yeah, definitely an eye-roller nowadays, and there are other signs of the time it was written: everyone smokes like a chimney, drinks a lot, and Freudian buzzwords show up as character insight.
To counterbalance the beautiful bitchery, there’s the setting, the exquisitely described South of France. The story takes place during summer in the fifties, and Stewart paints in glimpses of Europe’s layers of history (much of it bloody) in the aftermath of World War II. The long shadow of that war lies over this story.
It’s not just history that tantalized me: in the first four pages, there are references to Alice in Wonderland, Shakespeare, Caesar’s Gallic Wars, Kipling, Norse epics, and the famous Chinese painter Ma Yuan. None of this is thrust in as awkward wodges. The references are so much a part of the characters that they feel natural. There was even a clue in the reading matter of a minor character: nobody reading Little Gidding is likely to be a murdering dirtbag.
I enjoy stories featuring badass women, but I really like stories like this one, in which an ordinary woman discovers her own agency through handling extraordinary circumstances. Despite its dated aspects, she manages it with wit and intelligence, all elements I look for in newer books.
And I’ve found most of these elements in some newer indie writers on the scene. Like Camilla Monk’s Spotless series, beginning with Spotless, in which I.T. nerd Island Chaptal, who reads romance novels by night, finds herself stalked by a gentlemanly hit man—who is not, by a long shot, the worst of the figures who suddenly start cropping up around her, making her question her assumptions about her early childhood and parental figures.
The narrative voice is both intelligent and humorous, with romance novel quotes at the beginning of each chapter that are hilarious. The pacing is fast, once the story gets going, the tension rising to a pulse-pounding pitch.
There are two more in the series, each better than the last as they ramjet all over the world to fascinating locales, with smart writing full of literary and cultural references, and splashes of other languages. The fourth, Butterfly in Amber, comes out in May. The best of the four, it wraps up the series in non-stop action.
If you like romantic suspense in space opera, with the dangerous hit man hero matched with a heroine who is supremely competent in her own way (especially with a sense of humor) you might enjoy Lindsay Buroker’s Fallen Empire series, beginning with Star Nomad,
Alisa Marchenko, once a pilot for the Alliance, wakes up after the war with the Empire is over, and wants nothing more than to find her mother’s old wreck of a trader to take her back home to her husband and daughter—to discover that her husband was killed in the war.
She ends up with a disparate group of refugees, including a human-cyborg who was once a colonel in the Empire—and who has some fairly dire secrets.
Alisa takes them straight into action, without intending to, which calls for extreme ingenuity as her old trader has no weapons.
Coming out this year a sequel series, set ten years later, The Sky Full of Stars. There are two out so far that I am loving even more, as it’s space opera with psi powers, along with action, romance, and humor. Alisa’s daughter Jelena, eighteen and dedicated to helping animals, commences as a trader—but she manages to find trouble as unerringly as her mother did, especially in the form of the broody, powerful Prince Thorian, ex-heir to the empire. Even though he’s out of a job, both sides of the old conflict are after him . . . The first, Rogue Prince, is only 99 cents.
I love the banter in these, and the lively and imaginative ways the heroines get into and out of trouble, with plenty of fast-paced action, fun characters, and slow-boil romances.
While the next author is not known for a humorous narrative voice, humor still shows up in the interactions between complex heroes and very competent heroines. The author is Melissa McShane. Servant of the Crown, a fantasy series set in a sort of magical alt-Europe with different names, starts off one series.
A countess, Alisa Quinn, is summoned to the court of Queen Zara to do service as a lady in waiting, where she discovers the library of her dreams—and encounters Prince Anthony North, the queen’s playboy brother. Sparks fly, especially when a mystery is uncovered.
McShane also has an entry in a now-popular subgenre, magical Regency, with the terrific Burning Bright. This suspenseful romance takes heroine Elinor Pembroke—who has developed a talent for creating fire—away from London and her grasping family into the reluctant service of the Royal Navy.
Vivid, well-written action, complex characters, and a fascinating magic system that has created some interesting differences between our world and that one make this story one of my favorite romantic page-turners.
It has a sequel, Wondering Sight, featuring another heroine with a different talent–and a third in this series will be coming out soon.
What are some of your favorite romantic suspense novels? What about romantic suspense appeals to you?
Up pretty betimes and to my office, and thither came by and by Mr. Vernaty and staid two hours with me, but Mr. Gauden did not come, and so he went away to meet again anon. Then comes Mr. Creed, and, after some discourse, he and I and my wife by coach to Westminster (leaving her at Unthanke’s, her tailor’s) Hall, and there at the Lords’ House heard that it is ordered, that, upon submission upon the knee both to the House and my Lady Peters, W. Joyce shall be released. I forthwith made him submit, and aske pardon upon his knees; which he did before several Lords. But my Lady would not hear it; but swore she would post the Lords, that the world might know what pitifull Lords the King hath; and that revenge was sweeter to her than milk; and that she would never be satisfied unless he stood in a pillory, and demand pardon there. But I perceive the Lords are ashamed of her, and so I away calling with my wife at a place or two to inquire after a couple of mayds recommended to us, but we found both of them bad. So set my wife at my uncle Wight’s and I home, and presently to the ‘Change, where I did some business, and thence to my uncle’s and there dined very well, and so to the office, we sat all the afternoon, but no sooner sat but news comes my Lady Sandwich was come to see us, so I went out, and running up (her friend however before me) I perceive by my dear Lady blushing that in my dining-room she was doing something upon the pott, which I also was ashamed of, and so fell to some discourse, but without pleasure through very pity to my Lady. She tells me, and I find true since, that the House this day have voted that the King be desired to demand right for the wrong done us by the Dutch, and that they will stand by him with their lives fortunes: which is a very high vote, and more than I expected. What the issue will be, God knows! My Lady, my wife not being at home, did not stay, but, poor, good woman, went away, I being mightily taken with her dear visitt, and so to the office, where all the afternoon till late, and so to my office, and then to supper and to bed, thinking to rise betimes tomorrow.
April 22nd is a day to demonstrate support for environmental protection across the world! On this day, billions of people participate in environmental education activities and march to demand responsible practices from business and governments. The goal for this year is to start a global campaign to achieve climate and environmental literacy by Earth Day 2020.
Flickr is home to many thousands of nature photographers who dedicate their efforts to raise awareness about the value of our wildlife and the global challenges affecting our environment: degradation of ecosystems, mass extinction of species, pollution of air, water and soil, and many, many other issues. In their honor, and in hopes of encouraging others to become aware of the fragility of our planet, we’ve put together a gallery with some of our favorite nature images from the Flickr community. Click here to see the full showcase and to add your photos and comments. Let’s not take this planet for granted!