Discover more from On The Yellow Brick Road
Thank you to all who helped the soft launch last month of “On the Yellow Brick Road,” my new Substack Newsletter, by subscribing, reading, and commenting—over 1000 subscribers and growing. While the Substack began at my publishers’ suggestion to expand readership of my novels and essays, I hope this platform will also be a forum to highlight writers at risk around the world, focusing on at least one case a month, and a forum for discussion with a monthly blog post and reviews of other books.
I returned to Europe in August—to England, Czech Republic, and Italy—partly on vacation and partly to expand my knowledge. This month I’m happy to announce the March 2024 publication of my next novel The Far Side of the Desert (Oceanview Publishing), an international political thriller with a cover reveal here. A summary of the novel is already posted on book sites, and the novel is available for preorder. The paperback of my novel Burning Distance will also be released February 2024, including a first chapter of The Far Side of the Desert.
While in London I was able to visit scenes from Burning Distance and am republishing at the end of this Substack some of those social media posts.
While in Prague I had an interesting meeting and introduction to the work of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty with its hundreds of journalists around the world who investigate and write about the impingements on citizens’ freedoms. I’ll expand more on that in the October Substack.
I hope you had a fun and productive summer if you are in the northern hemisphere and the same for those in winter in the south.
My latest novel, The Far Side of the Desert, will be published March 5, 2024 by Oceanview Publishers and is available now for pre-order!
I’m happy to see $1.99 Kindle Special for my novel Burning Distance! I hope you’ll enjoy, write a review and if you see a similarity with Burning Distance’s ending and a current event, let me know in the comments section or on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter/X or LinkedIn, and I’ll send you a signed copy!
I spent part of August in London, one of the centers of the universe for many of us English literature majors in college and life. Though I revere Russian literature and have read great novels from Japanese, Ukrainian, Indonesian, Indian, Chinese, Nigerian, French, German and other cultures, these have all been in English translation. I have visited these countries, but I haven’t lived in the countries and cultures. However, I did live in central London on several occasions in my life—first in college, then in my first year of marriage and for six years with my husband and young sons, who were influenced by their experience living abroad, especially during the first Gulf War.
As a college student I lived on my own in London for three months the summer between my junior and senior year in college, working as a receptionist at The Christian Science Monitor where I published my first story in an international newspaper—a feature with photos on Hyde Park Speakers Corner.
As I wandered old haunts this summer, particularly the great parks of London—Kensington Gardens, Holland Park, and Hyde Park—I moved among memories even as I observed current London. It is no coincidence that my recent novel Burning Distance and my next novel The Far Side of the Desert (March 2024) are in part set in London with characters who live there. Both novels required a good deal of research into issues of trafficking—arms, drugs, and people—as well as money laundering and financial manipulation, the smothering membrane that encompasses large parts of many societies.
But research is just the beginning, providing the context of the outer world. A novel works to the extent the author penetrates the inner world of characters and knits inner and outer worlds together into a story. It is the characters who drive the story. As a former journalist, I want to be assured that I have the factual context as accurate as possible so that when imagination and invention take off, I know the platform from which it launches.
The Far Side of the Desert opens in Santiago de Compostela, Spain and flashes to London, Washington, DC, dwells for a time in the Sahara Desert then accelerates to Morocco and Gibraltar and the historic area where the ancients claimed the world ended as two sisters—Monte and Samantha Waters, one a diplomat, the other a TV journalist—get drawn into a criminal vortex.
For me, as for most writers, the process of writing is a journey of discovery. I’m led by the sleuth/journalist in me, one clue leading to another, and by the best friend or mother, listening to what the characters have to say for the characters develop their own voices and view. While the writer has created them, the characters also inform, letting the author glimpse the fullness and creative nature of Mind.
I’ve been writing for years, and in the odd flow of life, my novels are now finding their readers. I hope you’ll be one of them. The Far Side of the Desert can be pre-ordered, and Burning Distance, published March 2023, is available now and will come out in paperback February 20, 2024 with the opening chapter of The Far Side of the Desert included.
I hope you’ll order, read, tell friends, and leave reviews and comments. Thank you! Happy reading!
(Source PEN International)
I’ve been engaged in human rights work and advocacy for writers over many years, yet I still find it remarkable that leaders of acclaimed powers are afraid enough of a woman writer with a voice to imprison her for decades. In a society where women are restricted and confined, their imprisonment and torture illumine the cracks and vulnerabilities in the regime.
Narges Mohammadi, an Iranian journalist and human rights defender, vice president of the Defenders of Human Rights Center (DHRC), has already spent years in Evin prison. In 2016 she was sentenced to 16 years for “taking part in assembly and collusion against national security” and “spreading propaganda against the state.” In February 2020 she was served with further charges, including “spreading propaganda against the system” and “assembly and collusion with intent to take action against national security.” These charges arose from her role in staging sit-ins, conducting educational classes and “defaming” the governor of Evin prison by accusing him of torturing and assaulting her. She was handed a new sentence of 30 additional months in prison and 80 lashes. She has spent months in solitary confinement and has written about its toll on prisoners, labelling it “white torture.” In her book, White Torture, she documented the imprisonment of thirteen women, including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and their shared experiences: harassment and beatings by guards, total blindfolding and denial of medical treatment.
Released on medical leave in February 2022 because of a heart condition, Narges Mohammadi, was rearrested in April 2022 and ordered back to jail with an additional 15 months on her sentence, followed by a two-year ban on travel and joining political movements or parties and a two-month ban on phone calls with her family. This was punishment for her leading role in organizing protests in prison during the protest movement that swept the country following the death of Mahsa Amini. She was not allowed to call her husband, prominent journalist Taghi Rahmani, who spent 17 years in prison and then fled Iran for France in May 2011, or her children, who live in exile with their father.
Since January 2023, the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence has brought additional charges against Mohammadi in retaliation for her activism while incarcerated, including her protesting against the government’s brutal response to protests and her speaking up against the rise in executions and violence against women in detention. Between January and June 2023, Iranian authorities initiated five new investigations into Mohammadi’s activism in prison. According to her family, Mohammadi now faces a total of 10 more years in prison, 150 lashes, and a 12 million Iranian Rial fine (approximately $320). Her family has expressed concerns that she isn’t receiving the medical attention she needs and that she might face further convictions.
In an Open Letter October 2016, Narges Mohammadi declared: I have faith in the path I have chosen, the actions I have taken, as well as my beliefs. I am determined to make human rights a reality [in Iran] and have no regrets. If those who claim to be spreading justice are firm on their judgment against me, I am also firm on my faith and beliefs. I will not waiver under tyrannical punishments that will limit my freedom to the four walls of the prison cell. I will endure this incarceration, but I will never accept it as lawful, human or moral, and I will always speak out against this injustice.
Linked here is also a letter to PEN members Narges Mohammadi managed to get out of Evin Prison on her incarceration in 2016.
To Take Action:
You can write to the Iranian authorities, noting that Narges Mohammadi’s imprisonment is a breach of her right to freedom of expression and call for her immediate and unconditional release. Urge Iranian authorities to grant Mohammadi access to all necessary care and not subject her to physical or psychological torture and ill-treatment.
Appeals can be sent to:
Leader of the Islamic Republic Grand Ayatollah Sayed ‘Ali Khamenei
The Office of the Supreme Leader Islamic Republic Street
End of Shahid Keshvar Doust Street
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Twitter: @khamenei_ir (English-language account), @Khamenei_ar (Arabic-language), @Khamenei_es (Spanish-language account)
Head of the Judiciary
c/o Public Relations Office Number 4
Deadend of 1 Azizi – Vali Asr Street
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
President of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Pasteur Street Pasteur Square
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
An attack on a writer, the shutting down of a publishing house, the torching of a newspaper reduce the space in the world where ideas can flow. Freedom of expression is vital to writers and to readers but is challenged daily around the world. Listed here are organizations whose work on human rights and in particular issues of freedom of expression I’ve been engaged with directly and indirectly over the years. Some of the organizations have broader agendas, but all have contributed to keeping space open for the individual voice.
PEN International (with its 147 centers in over 100 countries)
PEN American Center
Human Rights Watch
Amnesty International USA
International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX)
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
Index on Censorship
Poets and Writers
International Center for Journalists
I’ve had the pleasure of reading the recent short story collections of Margaret Atwood and C.W. Smith this summer. Both books are written from a perspective of an advanced stage of life and career as the authors look back and forward with grace and wit.
I’ve known Canadian novelist and poet Margaret Atwood for a number of decades through work with PEN International, and I know Charlie Smith from my hometown of Dallas where he teaches at Southern Methodist University and is a celebrated Texas and Southwestern fiction writer.
Both writers are masters of their craft and observe and render their stories and characters with clear eye and ear, drawing the reader into a time when girls took cooking classes and boys took shop, when attraction led to love and marriage and children but then was complicated as the rules and culture changed. Each collection has an enduring marriage at the core with an array of poignant, funny, and sometimes dystopian, stories in the mix.
In “The Dead Interview” in Old Babes in the Wood, the reader eavesdrops on a conversation between the author and the deceased H.G. Wells as Atwood contemplates the space between the dead and living, women and men and the passage of time. Because I both read and listened to Old Babes in the Wood, I got to read Margaret Atwood’s droll voice on the page and also hear it, an experience that made the text even more vivid. The stories of Nell and Tig which frame the collection take the journey full course of man and woman together and then separated by the departure of the man from his “meat envelope” as H.G. Wells calls the frail body.
The stories in C.W. Smith’s The Museum of Marriage expose the heart of young love, searching love, betrayed love and possibly love-ever-after with characters in a time mostly half a century ago, yet characters whose feelings resonate in any time. My favorite stories were “Caustic” about a blind teacher whose students play cruel tricks on him but who ultimately prevails, the story “Leave Me Be!” about the distance between a husband and wife, and the final story “Suitors” about the choice a young woman makes between two men. From the author’s note at the end, that choice and the marriage that followed endured for 63 years.
While in London I visited several settings in my latest novel Burning Distance and thought it would be fun to share them with you along with passages from the book.
Part of speech: adjective
Origin: Unknown, 17th century
1. Hard to deal with; dubious.
2. (Of people) Having a character difficult to assess.
"My new neighbor seems a bit quisquous, and I can’t get a read on him yet."
"There are many quisquous characters in mythology; the fox (in East Asian cultures), Anansi (spider god of West Africa), and Loki (Norse god) are all viewed as tricksters."
Part of speech: adjective
Origin: Author Lewis Carroll, 1871
1. Delightful; joyous.
"The first sunny and warm day makes my class positively frabjous at recess."
"She shouted with frabjous glee when she saw her mother waiting for her at baggage claim.”
“O frabjous day! ‘Callooh! Calay!’
He chortled in his joy.”
—The Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll
I’ve enjoyed giving readings at bookstores, addressing audiences in many venues, and moderating discussions around the world, speaking on a wide range of topics. Click here for a list of past and future speaking events.
I’ll be talking with several book clubs over the next month and love engaging with readers. If you are in a Reading Group or Book Club and read one of my books, I'd be glad to be in touch by email, zoom, or when possible in person. I can also suggest discussion topics.