I’ve Been Published!

I’m so honored to have my crime story “And Then We Sailed Away” published in the wonderful Uncharted Magazine. My editor referred to it as a story about the nature of goodness and complicated family ties, which I think sums it up perfectly. This story is very special to me because I first wrote it in high school. Persistence pays off–I’m thrilled with where it wound up, and am so grateful for everyone involved in publishing it.

You can read the story below. Note that it does contain dark themes (given that it’s a crime story!) If you do read it, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.


Lit in the Time of Coronavirus: Three (?) Thrillers by Thomas Harris

Hello! Happy Lunar New Year! I hope you’re all healthy, safe, and reading your hearts out. I’ve read three thrillers, all by Thomas Harris—well actually… it’s complicated. Read on to see what I mean.

The Silence of the Lambs: Abridged, by Thomas Harris,
Read by Katy Bates

Fava Beans Nice Chianti GIFs | Tenor

“‘Goodbye officer Starling.’ ‘And the study?’ ‘A census-taker tried to quantify me once. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a big amarone. Go back to school, little Starling.’”

In last week’s reading, Stephen King explicitly said, “Don’t listen to abridged audiobooks.” This week, the first book I read turned out to be an abridged audiobook, but I only learned that fact after listening to the whole thing. Funny how things turn out, right?

In The Silence of the Lambs, Clarise Starling is a student at the FBI academy who is assigned the task of interviewing Hannibal Lecter for a psychological survey. Hannibal is a genius cannibal who drives people insane and then eats them. Clarise forms some kind of bond with him, and with his (not-so-reliable?) guidance, tries to solve the murders committed by a guy called Buffalo Bill.

The abridged version was interesting for its cinematic cuts. Its scenes flowed very nicely, and it was only 3 hours long. Even so, it felt very well put together. Other than that I don’t have much to say about it—it’s abridged, after all, so I don’t recommend.

The Silence of the Lambs: Unabridged, by Thomas Harris,
Read by Frank Muller

The Silence Of The Lambs Jodie Foster GIF - The Silence Of The Lambs Jodie  Foster Clarice Starling - Discover & Share GIFs

Warning: Profanity

“She didn’t let the room affect her. Starling walked up and down gesturing to the air. ‘Hold on girl,’ she said aloud. She said it to Catherine Martin, and she said it to herself. ‘We’re better than this room, we’re better than this fucking place,’ she said aloud. ‘We are better than wherever he’s got you. Help me, help me, help me.’ She thought for an instant of her late parents. She wondered if they would be ashamed of her now, just that question, not its pertinence, no qualifications, the way we always ask it. The answer was no, they would not be ashamed of her.”

So after listening to the abridged version I had no choice but to not listen to the whole thing again in the unabridged version.

The unabridged enchilada is about 11 hours long. What did they cut out in the abridged version? They missed moments of great characterization, like the one above. They didn’t explain things well enough in certain moments, which only became clear when listening to the unabridged version’s explanation. They also cut out entire subplots—Jack Crawford, senior investigator, has a wife who’s dying, for instance.

Overall, the original unabridged version is much better than the abridged version. It has great twists, great characters, and exciting subplots that actually add to the story. The only thing I will say is that Hannibal Lecter doesn’t actually seem that dangerous in it. He literally just asks Clarise questions about her life. There are moments when he does become dangerous, but it’s never towards her. That made me wonder why the author made that choice.

In any case, I would highly recommend the unabridged version, and not the abridged version.

Red Dragon: Unabridged, by Thomas Harris, Read by Alan Sklar

Fire Breathing Dragon Gragons Dogma GIF - Fire Breathing Dragon Gragons  Dogma Red Dragon - Discover & Share GIFs

“He sat in the jury box to read his letter. He wanted some relief. The letter was from Dr. Hannibal Lecter. ‘Dear Will, a brief note of congratulations for the job you did on Mr. Lounds [….] You know Will, you worry too much. You’d be so much more comfortable if you relaxed with yourself. We don’t invent our natures, Will, they’re issued to us, along with our lungs and pancreas and everything else. Why fight it? I want to help you Will, and I’d like to start by asking you this: When you were so depressed after you shot Mr. Garret Jacob Hobbs to death, it wasn’t the act that got you down, was it? Really, didn’t you feel so bad because killing him felt so good?’”

Red Dragon is another book by Thomas Harris. I read the unabridged 12-hour version.

It’s about an FBI member called Will Graham who is in retirement because he got Hannibal Lecter in jail, but in the process Hannibal attacked him. Now he’s brought out of retirement to find the Tooth Fairy, the legendary creature that leaves money under childrens’ beds when they lose a tooth a murderer who would rather be called “The Red Dragon.”

This book was interesting because Will Graham is much less heroic than Clarise Starling. As you can see from the excerpt, he even killed a man.

Will’s anti-heroism is complemented by Hannibal Lecter’s more villainous side. He actually tries to hurt Will (unlike with Clarise), which made this book more interesting.

However, most of Red Dragon was spent giving the backstory of the villain, which was really cool, but left me wondering about Will, because his conflict was never fully explored. At the end, there was just this convenient-seeming wrap-up of him philosophizing. He never actually dealt with his problems, which I felt was a wasted opportunity. Maybe Harris could have made the book a little longer to compensate, or cut the villain’s part down a bit to make space for Will, if that wasn’t possible.

In any case, this book was still good—not as good as The Silence of the Lambs, but still good, and I would recommend it if you are looking for a good thriller.

As for me, I’m on a thriller kick, so if you have any recommendations or thoughts, let me know in the comments below!

Lit in the Time of Coronavirus: Capote, Murray, and Benedict

In Which I Review “In Cold Blood” and “The Personal Librarian.”

Hello! Happy Tuesday! I hope you are all healthy and safe. I’ve read two books this week (midterms meant I had no time to do anything else). They’re completely different books. One’s about a murder, and one’s about the J.P. Morgan Library. They made for an interesting combo…

In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote

In Cold Blood' opens in New York City 50 years ago this hour #OnThisDay  #OTD (Dec 14 1967) - RetroNewser

“‘I wonder why I [killed the Clutter family].’ He scowled, as though the problem were new to him, a newly unearthed stone of surprising, unclassified color. ‘I don’t know why,’ he said as if holding it to the light and angling it now here, now there. ‘I was sore at Dick. The tough brass boy. But it wasn’t Dick. Or the fear of being identified. I was willing to take that gamble. And it wasn’t because of anything the Clutters did. They never hurt me. Like other people. Like people have all my life. Maybe it’s just that the Clutters were the ones who had to pay for it.'”

This book is about a real-life murder in Kansas.

It was very boring at the beginning, and I almost gave up on it. Except I didn’t, and I’m somewhat glad I didn’t, because the middle and ending were better. But still, why would Capote begin an interesting story with a boring description of the landscape?

Anyway what made the story become interesting was that Capote treated the murderers as humans. He did not justify their actions in any way (or sentimentalize their causes), but he made them understandable.

That level of empathy alone is commendable. Add to it the ability to string the events into an intriguing narrative and you have a book worth reading. Especially for Halloween.

The Personal Librarian, by Victoria Christopher Murray
and Marie Benedict

The Library | History of the Morgan | The Morgan Library & Museum

[Talking in front of a traitorous arts-dealer, Mr. Smythson] “I look at Mr. Morgan. ‘You needn’t worry that you will be faced with such deceit again.’ ‘No Miss Greene? Why is that?’ he asks, as if we’d rehearsed this exchange. […] ‘Because the next time we do business with Mr. Smythson, I will be on hand to verify the authenticity of any antiquity that comes to the doors of the Pierpont Morgan Library. And should an item that doesn’t pass muster arrive–which could, course, be no fault of Mr. Smythson…’ I pause, wanting the dealer to see how I have provided him with an excuse for his past reprehensible behavior. ‘Then we will resolve the issue before it even reaches your desk, Mr. Morgan.’ ‘Excellent, Miss Greene.'”

This book is about Belle da Costa Greene, a Black lady who passes as white in the 1900s. The stakes are high for her– she has just become J.P. Morgan’s personal librarian. If her identity is discovered, her life could crumble.

This book was interesting because of its fascinating historical subject (AKA Belle Greene and the world of antique art collection). The authors were also great at writing entertaining dialogue. However, they sometimes seemed to alternate between witty dialogue and info-dumpy dialogue (as seen in the passage quoted).

In terms of overall character entertainment-value, J.P. Morgan was surprisingly the most entertaining. Maybe it was his great dialogue that did it.

Meanwhile, the protagonist’s internal monologues felt somewhat info-dumpy. At the same time, it was an entertaining info-dump, and it certainly helped the story along because it made it clear why certain plot-points were relevant/important. As a result, I was able to understand clearly why such-and-such a plot-point mattered. Belle’s been granted permission to take her first trip to London? Well, this is her chance to prove herself worthy by swooping a rare and valuable item out of her rival art-collectors’ hands. So these explanations worked because they helped keep the story focused.

However, while the story was cleanly structured, there were some moments where the protagonist was in a deep crisis and then “suddenly knew what to do.” I didn’t find this believable. Readers need at least some interiority to figure out why characters have such huge epiphanies.

Overall, the characters didn’t feel quite alive (save for J.P. Morgan, somehow). Even so, the story was good, the dialogue was snappy, and the historical details were very cool to learn about. Read this book if you want something informative and entertaining.