THE BOOK: Iola O.
PUBLISHED IN: 2019.
THE AUTHOR: G. M. Monks.
THE EDITOR: C. A. Casey, senior editor.
THE PUBLISHER: Bedazzled Ink Publishing. The company was founded in 2004 by Claudia Wilde. It is dedicated to publishing general and literary fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books that celebrate the unique and under-represented voices of women and books about women that will appeal to all readers.” They are located in Fairfield, CA, and publish 20 – 25 books per year.
SUMMARY: Iola O begins in 1931 in a narrow-minded village in rural Tennessee, home to Iola Boggs, who at her young age rejects its mean prejudices. She becomes enamored of airplanes, leaves home, and learns to fly. The story jumps ahead to 1941 where we meet Jim Lewis in Philadelphia. Iola has by now become a non-combat WASP pilot during World War II, although her job ends before the war is over. After the war, the two of them meet. Jim is a closeted gay man. He well knows the terrible risks he would suffer if he came out of the closet. They marry in Philadelphia and raise a family against the backdrop of the paranoid era of Joseph McCarthy.
Their marriage is held together by their love of their three children. Illicit liaisons and grief bring them life-changing insights. Part historical, part family saga, part love story, Iola O is about resilience, diversity, self-discovery, and acceptance. It’s about beating the odds. A reviewer on Goodreads said, “…The manner in which Jim is presented is as accurate and sensitive as the author’s portrait of Iola, and throughout the novel the story is related from each primary character’s perspective and perception. The result – a polished novel of depth and insight into motive and goals…”
THE BACK STORY: At an early age, I had an interest in literary fiction. In high school, I read Dostoyevsky. In my early twenties, I read Sartre, amongst other writers. I started to seriously write later in my life. I write because I enjoy it. Over a period of about ten years or more I attempted to write a novel. Although I did many other things also during that time. This included earning my BA degree, master’s degree, and then my doctoral degree in psychology, which entailed moving from one state to another to another. Within those ten years or so, I scrapped my first attempt and Iola O was then started. It took a ton of revisions and another bunch of years, while also writing several short stories and poems. It was written and published in California where I was born and raised. I now live in Pennsylvania.
WHY THIS TITLE?: While the book has two protagonists—Iola and Jim, Iola is the less conflicted of the two. Iola O is a nickname she is given by a pilot who has a ton of respect and love for her and thus a subtle hint of what is to come.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Anyone who enjoys reading about diversity in its various forms, about feminist issues and LGBT issues of one sort or other. Anyone who enjoys reading historical fiction, who likes a good plot combined with a literary style of writing, combined with a family saga with humor, love and tragedy thrown in for good measure.
“Taking place primarily in the mid-1950s, Iola O is a biting and forthright look at personal hopes and dreams, thwarted and received, within the framework of love, marriage, and family. After escaping small-town life to become a pilot Iola is briefly signed on to the WASPs but laid off at the end of the war. Jim is a thwarted chemistry major who forfeited his university savings to pay his sister’s medical bills. Now he lives with his mother, who never stops reminding him of his obligations to her. As if this weren’t enough, he is a closet homosexual who is dragging his guilt and shame around like a ball and chain as sadly many men in the ´50s had to do. When Jim and Iola meet, they don’t so much fall in love as fall in marriage. Three children follow. Life just happens throughout much of this extremely well-written novel told in short chapters in staccato-like stream-of-consciousness thinking/dialogue, alternating between Jim and Iola’s point-of-view. Jim comments that the marriage is held together by ‘kid cement’. Iola never gives up her dream of flying and is briefly rewarded, but the consequences are painful. She finally realises that Jim is gay (were the setting contemporary, I think this lightbulb moment would have come sooner) and asks him about it during a poignant moment, when they both admit to having had an affair. There are no recriminations, no need for forgiveness―just acceptance and relief. This is a rewarding account of the mundanity of life. It’s not historical fiction as I have come to know it, but the descriptions keep it firmly grounded in the ´50s. Monks has an acerbic wit and is unflinching in her portrayal of these deeply flawed individuals (and their observations of others) who love each other in their own way. Much to be learned here.” — Review by Fiona Alison of the Historical Novel Society.
“You’d have to search far and wide to find a voice as distinctive as that of G. M. Monks’, a character as unique and appealing as Iola O, or a sense of humor as quirky. This highly original story of women’s determination to fly planes and break out of the confines of prejudice will leave your own spirits flying.” — Celine Keating, author of Layla and Play for Me.
“Southern storytelling that will totally captivate you. In this page turner, the interactions of irresistibly flawed yet resilient characters shine through the darkness of prejudice and bias. — Alice Wilson-Fried, author of Outside Child: A Novel of Murder and New Orleans.
AUTHOR PROFILE: In addition to my debut novel, I also write short stories and poems. You can access links to several of my published short stories on my blog—gmmonks.blog. My short stories and poems have appeared in the Best of Choeofpleirn Press, The Militant Grammarian, L’Esprit Literary Review, Birdland Journal, The Hunger, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, The RavensPerch, Kansas City Voices, and elsewhere. Awards with publication include finalist in Ben Nyberg Fiction Contest 2022, finalist in the 2020 Breakwater Review Fiction Contest, and runner-up in the 2016 Big Wonderful Press Funny Poem contest. I was a finalist in the Arts and Letters 2020 Unclassifiables Fiction Contest. Two of my stories were nominated for Best American Short Stories 2023, one of which was also nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Iola O was nominated for the 2020 PEN/Hemingway Award for New Fiction. Some of my favorite writers include Anthony Doerr, Sandra Cisneros, Ernest Hemingway, James Herriot, Georgia Hunter, Barbara Kingsolver, Frank McCourt, Toni Morrison, Alice Munro, and Arundhati Roy to name a few. My favorite national parks are Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. My favorite cooking is Italian, but I do love French baguettes and macaroons and any dark chocolate.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: My best hope is that my novel inspires empathy in the reader for the human condition—the sorrows, the loves and joys, the successes, the failures, the comedies, the tragedies. We’re all in it together.
SAMPLE: You can read a sample on the book’s Amazon page or Barnes & Noble page.
LOCAL OUTLETS: Any neighborhood bookstore can order the book through Ingram. The ISBN number is 978-1-945805-0.
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: It is also available at Amazon, and at Barnes & Noble, either as a paperback or eBook.
PRICE: $17.95 paperback, $9.99 eBook/
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: email@example.com, gmmonks.blog, @gmmonks