This issue marks the second full year for Embark, and what a wonderful two years it’s been! We’ve published the openings of novels set in eras ranging from Biblical times to the distant future, written by authors who live everywhere from Mumbai to Minnesota. Several of our contributors have connected with literary agents through Embark, and still more have sold or self-published their novels. As we enter our third year, the number of these success stories will surely keep growing! You can read more about them on our Contributor News page.
Like all the others, this issue contains a wealth of literary variety; part of our mission is to feature a range of genres, styles, settings, and characters. I was struck, however, by a similarity spanning all ten openings in our eighth issue: each addresses clashes between different world-views. Several of these encounters take place within families, as with Matthew Wake’s historical novel SORA, about a young man living on a small island in Japan after World War I: he yearns to see the world from the cockpit of an airplane but knows that this choice will disappoint his father, a traditionally minded fisherman. Elizabeth Gonzalez James, in MONA AT SEA, depicts another parent-child clash in a setting that could hardly be more different: Tucson, Arizona, in the aftermath of the 2008 crash. Unemployed Mona Lange, adrift after a childhood full of successes, struggles to convince her mother (and herself) that her life isn’t going to turn out the way they had envisioned it. The worst conflicts are those rooted in love, and John Califano vividly depicts the torments of such divides in his novel JOHNNY BOY, about a young boy in 1950s Brooklyn torn between his abusive, domineering father and his two older siblings, who are struggling to escape from their parents’ influence.
Divisions in families can cut deeper than any other type of conflict, and they often reflect larger cultural divides. In HARVEST, Jeffrey Ricker uses a familial clash to encapsulate one of the most pressing problems of our time: Rebecca Sinclair, a farmer in the not-too-distant future, has no interest in joining her brother in Earth’s first attempt at an off-world colony; but as the pace of climate change increases catastrophically, she is forced to reconsider her choices. Katrina Byrd, in SAVING GRACE, tackles another profoundly controversial issue through a family conflict, telling the story of two estranged sisters in Mississippi: one works at an abortion clinic, though this work comes at an enormous cost; the other finds abortion horrifying but must reconnect with her sister after suffering a brutal rape. Therese Doucet’s novel, THE PRISONER OF THE CASTLE OF ENLIGHTENMENT, is historical fiction set in 18th-century France, but in her depiction of a young widow urged by her father to become a Marquis’s mistress in order to ensure their family’s safety, we can see the age-old war over women’s bodies and their right to autonomy.
Sometimes irreconcilable perspectives can occupy the same mind, throwing a person into confusion and uncertainty. Johnny Spink, the protagonist of Michael Gaspeny’s novel A POSTCARD FROM THE DELTA, thinks of himself as a regular high-school kid in his small, all-white town in Arkansas. But when he falls in love with the new girl at his school, a member of the first black family to live in the town, he must rethink all his assumptions. Jenny Fan, in her novel AFTER LOVE, describes an inner upheaval sparked not by newcomers but by a medical calamity: the protagonist, her life upended by a diagnosis of breast cancer, struggles to accept her own mortality in a place of unworldly destruction and rebirth—the post-nuclear exclusion zone in Fukushima, Japan. A new setting also plays an important role in R. J. Brahmi’s novel ARINDAM, about a young man from Southern India who travels north to Bombay in the 1980s for his first job. There he will find his beliefs overturned, his expectations foiled, and his eyes opened to the thrills and challenges of life in an immense metropolis. Robert Garner McBrearty’s novel THE WILD CHILD, by contrast, demonstrates the changes incurred by a return to nature: Jim Holiday’s son has vanished into the woods outside their town in Western America, eschewing modern culture. Jim feels alienated from both his son and his community but yearns to reconnect, and his journey into the wild will change both their lives.
Together these ten openings show the depth and complexity of conflicts between world-views but also the power of connection and change. Two of the contributors ended their Author’s Statements with the word “hope,” and I believe that hope is, indeed, the unifying message of these thought-provoking and inspiring openings.
— Ursula DeYoung, Founding Editor
Table of Contents
ARINDAM – R. J. Brahmi
SAVING GRACE – Katrina Byrd
JOHNNY BOY – John Califano
THE PRISONER OF THE CASTLE OF ENLIGHTENMENT – Therese Doucet
AFTER LOVE – Jenny Fan
A POSTCARD FROM THE DELTA – Michael Gaspeny
MONA AT SEA – Elizabeth Gonzalez James
THE WILD CHILD – Robert Garner McBrearty
HARVEST – Jeffrey Ricker
SORA – Matthew Wake