Title Joyous Lies
Author Margaret Ann Spence
Genre Women’s Fiction
Publisher The Wild Rose Press
Maelle Woolley, a shy botanist, prefers plants to people. They don't suddenly disappear. Raised on her grandparents' commune after her mother's mysterious death, she follows the commune's utopian beliefs of love for all. Then she falls for attractive psychiatrist Zachary Kane. When Zachary claims her mother and his father never emerged alive from his father's medical research lab, Maelle investigates. What she discovers will challenge everything she believes, force her to find strength she never knew she had, and confront the commune's secrets and lies. What happened to love? And can it survive?
Maelle gripped her white coffee mug so tightly her hands, long-fingered, short-nailed, paled to the color of the mug. On the table in front of her, a laptop held her research notes. Had she proved there was a significant difference between plants exposed to a sound as opposed to those which had grown in complete silence? The trick was providing a sound in isolation. The world was never completely silent, except in an artificial situation like the one she created in her pristine laboratory. She’d added a sound of a predator. She believed the threatened plant signaled its companion that danger was near.
She put down her cup, sat back, and let the thought sink in. Yes, she’d proved plants could hear. And if they could hear, could they talk to one another too?
It sounded preposterous, but when you really thought it through, it made sense. Sound waves traveled through the atmosphere just like magnetic waves or radiation. Why wouldn’t plants be sensitive to changes in the atmosphere made by loud noises?
The bigger question was, if plants could hear one another, what were they communicating?
She’d always sensed they could, of course. All those years of seeking peace from the commune by walking into the forest and lying on the ground, feeling the earth underneath her, cool, prickly with twigs, alive. She’d lie there and just listen. The forest was blessedly free from the din of humans, the only sounds birdsong and the rustle of small animals. And after a while the forest itself spoke, full of noises. A regular cacophony of crashes and bangs, squeaks and murmurs. Not just the soughing of the trees in wind, but creakings and tearings. Trees were not passive at all.
She pulled her ponytail into a tighter knot, tensing her temples. She needed to get back to the forest this weekend, get out of the sterile lab environment and back to the farm. Her grandparents, Neil and Johanna, needed her more now they were getting older.
She needed another coffee to spark up her mind. She put away the sensors, uncapped the glass domes, returned the seedlings to their sunny place on the bench, and returned the closed laptop to the backpack she carried everywhere.
Outside, the sun shone, the day sparkled, and Maelle marveled at how nature managed to carry on despite the depredations of man. Chernobyl, for example. After that radiation leak which shut down the town in 1986, humans left it alone; the authorities forbade entry. But that didn’t stop the plants from invading the place and thriving, and the wild animals and birds of the region had come back.
She shouldn’t muse like this, locked in her own world. In the cafeteria, she smiled at a few people she’d seen around but saw none of her colleagues. She bought a coffee, using her own chipped mug (better for the environment!), and added a salad, realizing she’d gone out the door without breakfast. Finding an empty table, she sat down, plumping her backpack next to her. She was unzipping it, about to take out a book, when she sensed a presence beside her.
“Mind if I join you?”
Maelle looked up to a white shirt, then farther up to dark eyes, a long, tanned face with a crooked smile, and curly black hair in need of a cut. The stranger put his foam cup down on the table without waiting for an answer and folded himself into a chair opposite her. Despite the unruly hair, the man was more formally dressed than most at the university. He wore pressed pants, a collared shirt, and a jacket. A visitor, perhaps?
“Zachary Kane,” he said, extending his hand. “Here for a conference but had to nip out for a jolt of caffeine to keep myself awake.”
She smiled. “Coffee. Me, too. I’m Maelle Woolley.
“Psychiatry.” He raised his cup. “I’m in psychiatric research. Working on the genetic basis of mental illness. Bipolar disorder, for one.”
Maelle froze. Her mother’s face flashed before her. Angela, distracted. Angela shouting. Angela excited and waving her hands. Angela lying on the bed, too depressed to speak.
“Is mental illness inherited?” Her voice came out in a squeak.
“Probably. In some cases, anyway. We don’t know a lot yet.”
Slowly, Maelle let out a breath. She knew this, knew there was some genetic correlation. But that was the case in so many diseases. And anyway, no one had ever actually told her that her mother had been crazy. Perhaps her imagination had gotten the better of her. Even though she monitored her own moods obsessively, anxious for a sign, she felt as fine as an even-keeled boat sailing in smooth waters.
“You don’t do clinical work?” She sipped her coffee, looking at Zachary over the rim of the mug. Thinking about Neil, her grandfather, and his up and down moods, which made everyone walk on eggshells around him. Not that she’d bring that up with this stranger.
“No. Research only. Though I do believe talking therapy has its place, especially when there’s no clinical diagnosis. You know what they say about sunlight being the best disinfectant. Only by opening up the past and seeing it in the full light of day can you put it finally to rest.”
“It gets pretty dirty up at the farm. My grandmother opens all the cupboards and storage bins in the spring, cleans out the cobwebs and insects that nest in there.”
“You got the idea.” The skin around his eyes crinkled when he smiled.
“I spend a lot of time at ground level. Under it, actually. Studying fungi, roots, and other ways plants connect. I’m a botanist. Doing my PhD.”
She twirled her fork in the salad bowl. A piece of radish and a vibrant red beet nestled amongst the arugula under goat cheese and a dusting of nuts. Nature’s vibrant colors, created to attract pollinators. The libidinous plants, sluttishly exposing themselves for fertilization by any passing bee.
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Giveaway: I’m one of the authors participating in the Be Mine Bookish Giveaway and you can win an e-copy of Joyous Lies by Margaret Ann Spence. https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/92db775096
Runs February 1 - 28 and is open internationally for most prizes. Winners will be drawn on March 1, 2021.
Margaret Ann Spence’s second novel, Joyous Lies (February 2021) thrusts Maelle, a quiet botanist who studies the communication powers of plants, into a web of family secrets long buried on a Northern Californian commune. Unearthing the truth, both in her work and in her relationships, forces Maelle to rethink reality.
Born in Melbourne, Australia, Margaret has lived in the United States since the age of 23. She’s lived on both East and West Coasts and enjoys Arizona winters. She worked in publishing, as a journalist, a consular officer and as a real estate agent before realizing that writing fiction was more fun. When she’s not at her desk she tends an unruly garden, cooks up a storm in the kitchen, and cherishes time with her family. A love of baking, Boston (where she used to live), and all things British inspired her debut novel, Lipstick on the Strawberry. The book won the romantic elements category in the 2015 Beacon Contest, sponsored by First Coast Romance Writers. It was a finalist in the 2019 Eric Hoffer Prize and in the 2019 Next Generation Indie Awards for best first novel over 90,000 words.
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