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On the verge of losing her job, Shannon leaps at the chance to sell her graphic novel series to a major publisher. If only she could trust her reclusive artist partner, Ryo, to show up for editorial meetings at the science fiction convention they’re attending. She’d love to have a closer relationship with Ryo, but how can she count on a man who keeps disappearing with the flimsiest of excuses?

Ryo feels the same attraction to Shannon, but he isn’t sure how she’d react to the truth. He’s a kitsune—a fox shapeshifter—prone to transforming at awkward moments. Furthermore, a bungling amateur sorcerer is stalking him. When the wannabe wizard follows him to the convention, Ryo’s secret, liberty, and budding romance with Shannon are all threatened.

[Many people over the decades have written pastiches of C. S. Lewis’s THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS, so I decided to try one. This scenario imagines that the novice tempter Wormwood, having served out his sentence in the House of Correction for utterly failing with his first “patient,” has been given a second chance under the supervision of his Uncle Screwtape. The junior demon, on probationary status, has been transferred from England to the U.S.]

My dear Wormwood,

Yes, a period of political turmoil offers excellent opportunities to undermine your patient’s faith and virtues. However, I am afraid you may be on the wrong track. Do not waste your energy encouraging her to consider the “rights” and “wrongs” of particular issues. That’s the sort of thing the Enemy and His agents worry about. Our goals are purely practical—how can we use any given controversy to lure humans away from the light toward outer darkness? Furthermore, debate on the merits of an issue would stimulate the patient to exercise her reason, the last thing we want. We want beliefs and actions based on emotions and slogans, what modern humans label “sound bites.” As for matters of national policy, those decisions are made by spirits far deeper in the Lowerarchy than you or I. All government officials and other public figures, of course, have their personal tempters. Your sole concern is with your own patient.

What the humans call “social media” can be extremely helpful for guiding her in the desired direction. Encourage her to read messages that agree with the positions she already holds and ignore those that disagree. Or, if she does encounter opposing opinions, incite her to react with automatic outrage rather than rational thought. If you keep her immersed in an atmosphere of conflict, with luck she’ll soon exist in a perpetual state of anxiety and anger, poisoning her whole attitude toward life. If it occurs to her that she should spend less time with the “news” sources that provoke those emotions, remind her of her duty to remain an informed citizen. You should try to induce a mood of constant, low-grade fear as to the outcome if the “wrong” side prevails on Election Day. As I’ve mentioned before (in the context of your previous abysmal failure—I trust you have learned from it, for do not imagine you will be offered a third chance), leading a human to obsess over hypothetical future disasters can impede her embrace of the duties and pleasures of the present moment. Don’t let her pause to realize that it’s impossible for all of a dozen incompatible catastrophes to happen. Make her oblivious to the fact that the real world in which she’s now living bears no necessary relation to the future horrors she imagines.

If you can’t keep her away from “organized religion” (a useful label by which the Church is often delightfully stereotyped), steer her toward clergy who fuel hostility toward the political opposition rather than those who preach compassion, tolerance, open-mindedness, justice, mercy, and other qualities favorable to the Enemy’s cause. Study the letters to the Corinthians written by that supernal nuisance Paul and influence your patient to do the opposite of what he advises.

Train her to accuse all her opponents of offenses such as “racism” or “hating America.” Thus you inoculate her against any danger of considering the rational merits, if any, of their positions. Convince her that even entertaining the possibility that the other side may occasionally be in the right constitutes “treason.” Even better, get her to adopt the habit of using formerly neutral terms such as “liberal” or “conservative” as insults.

These interactions provide fertile ground for several of the cardinal sins, notably envy and wrath. Anxiety over allegedly limited resources may develop into avarice. Contemptuous dismissal of opponents as delusional plants the seeds of pride. The belief that the world will only grow worse and nothing an individual does will change it can lead to apathy and sloth. The patient can be discouraged from any civic participation, including the vote, on the grounds that it won’t accomplish anything. In time, apathy may blossom into the sin of despair.

Regardless of the results of the upcoming election, by exacerbating these conflicts we may rely on another four years of envy, avarice, wrath, pride, and sloth in American public discourse.

Your affectionate uncle,
Screwtape

A midsummer sailboat race is coming to Annapolis, and Celia Rossi’s 1950s-themed ice cream parlor will have a booth at the waterfront celebration. To keep her business flourishing, she needs to impress both locals and tourists on the festive day. But how? She receives unexpected help when she hires a part-time worker who pops up out of nowhere. Suzie Conroy proves to have an almost magical gift for the craft of artisanal ice cream, yet she acts clueless about some ordinary details of everyday life. And why is she so determined to churn up the perfect batch of tutti frutti?