"The key to her sultriness was her slowness, and the key to her slowness was her sadness – but when she was Lucinda la Miel, she forgot about all that. She gazed at the men in her audience as if she was intimately acquainted with each and every one of them. She oozed across the stage, slow as honey, one thick thigh thrusting through the slit in her gown, spine pulsing with an earthworm’s mysterious, self-sustaining grace, the meat of her hips pleasantly sore, the web of muscles in her abdomen rippling against the velvet. Most of the men out there were broke, tired, downtrodden, angry, hungry, but when she took the stage and molted – slowly peeling off her clothes – they were her babies..."

The year is 1933, and Charlene James has lost almost everything. Her family home in Kansas is buried in dust. Her wealthy husband has deemed her an unfit mother and taken their baby away. The only jobs open to women seem to be in the booming world of burlesque... where the strange-eyed six-foot beauty becomes Lucinda la Miel, "Lost Queen of the Amazons" - and learns to smother her grief in new identities.

"She’d been dreaming up all kinds of future acts: a huntress Diana clad in shreds of animal fur, aiming invisible arrows at the crowd; a strip inspired by Houdini, the curves of her body straining to break free of zigzagging metal chains; a Lady Liberty act, complete with a torch that would blaze to life the instant she dropped her robe to reveal her naked glory."

Enter Arthur Smith, cooch show stagehand. Dubbed the "eunuch in the harem" by the dancers, he's a hard-working, meticulous man who avoids eye contact and human touch, a man who can barely speak, but can echo entire radio shows from memory. Seen by the world as dumb, 'touched,' schizoid, or just a good cheap worker, Art is bombarded by smells and sounds other people can't perceive, not to mention the euphoric - but dangerous - sensation that his mind is constantly escaping from the confines of his body.

A self-described "orphan son of an immigrant and a radio wave" - for he does have a voice, when he can get his hands on a typewriter - Art lives with Iron Grace, a crass old troublemaker who ruled burlesque in its gender-bending, anti-capitalist 1880s heyday.

When Lucinda is drawn into Art and Grace's strange Chicago sanctuary, the plot quickens as the possibilities - and the complications - grow....

"Demeter in Kansas," an excerpt from Inside the Wow, won second place in the 2016 Literal Latte Fiction Award. To read it, click here.

Inside the Wow is now 350 pages and counting! Infinite thanks to Blue Mountain Center for giving me a free month last summer to dwell inside my characters' minds. A residency for artists & activists "whose work evinces social & ecological concern," Blue Mountain Center is located in New York's wild, mossy, loon-haunted Adirondack State Park.

Next time-traveling portal: a Ragdale residency in January of 2017, where I'll have the good fortune to hole up and write on the frozen prairie.