Friday, May 22, 2015

Lavinia Reviews: The New York Stories

The New York Stories by Ben Tanzer
4.5 Stars - Strongly Recommended by Lavinia
Pages 224
Publisher: CCLaP
Releasing: June 2015

Guest Reviewed by Lavinia Ludlow

Nine years in the making, one could say that The New York Stories is Ben Tanzer’s greatest hits collection. Hardly just a mash-up of his most provoking work, this three-volume-in-one deal is the real deal.

The thing about Tanzer is that his writing is never irresponsibly fast-paced and disorienting. Instead, he uses the space as if it’s the last he will ever have—no piece is ever more than a couple thousand words, and there’s not a single moment that wanes or bores. Each story packs a straightforward and honest anecdote with situations most can identify with—growing pains, lessons learned through trauma, family issues, falling in and out of love.

Tanzer shows us how much it can suck sometimes growing up and living in Smalltown, USA, where everyone’s privilege to everyone else’s soap opera-like drama, no one is without some dark secret(s), and if they’re not directly involved in a broken family, they’re at the sidelines witnessing the harsh realities of what abuse, cheating, cutting, and divorce does to a person. On a more granular level, stories delve into a hot-for-teacher fantasy turned reality, a neighborhood sleazebag fucking everyone’s wife, teen pregnancy, cutting, and snotty teenagers torturing the less apt. Think the childhood innocence and beauty of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood crossed with the bizarre quirks of a Scott McClanahan collection, inclusive of those reoccurring crazy assholes who drive the whole town crazy.

These tales are common and can occur in any neighborhood or household at any given time. Their conflicts aren’t mind-blowing or have fanatical twists, but the simplicity and straight-forward narratives make them that much more poignant. Everyone can identify with crappy childhoods, bullies, prepubescent moments, familial rifts, relationship tensions, personal uncertainties, and the occasional existential tailspin. Tanzer gives us a front row seat in a theater streaming the everyday person’s hurt, frustration, tension, isolation, and despair as they stumble through the trials of life. We listen with empathy and heavy hearts as they admit in their most vulnerable states of mind what most won’t dare say aloud:

“I look at her. I miss her. I really do, the intimacy, her touch, being in love, all of it… I turn around to look at her, hug her, kiss her, have her tell me it’s going to be all right, but she’s gone, the house empty, devoid of life and love and anything that used to look like it.”

And separately:

“I used to wait for my dad to visit. I’d sit there by the window late at night, searching for him like a cop’s wife must do. Every shadow might be him, I thought; but no, it never was.”

The collection isn’t completely devoid of humor, and every so often, a laugh-out-loud moment breaks apart grey:

“What kind of man lets someone park in his lot without making a purchase?” Robby always says. “I’ll tell you, the same kind of man who watches another man fuck his wife.

Tanzer presents an intimate glimpse into the lives of writers, runners, sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers who can’t help but be oh-so-human at times. We have the privilege of seeing them at their most honest and vulnerable, and this summer, as you sit by the pool or lake with a cocktail/mocktail/light beer in one hand, make sure your other is clutching a copy of The New York Stories.

Check out my review of the second volume, sandwiched in The New York Stories, over at Marc Schuster’s Small Press Reviews:

Lavinia Ludlow is a musician, writer, and occasional contortionist. Her debut novel alt.punk can be purchased through major online retailers as well as Casperian Books’ website. Her sophomore novel Single Stroke Seven was signed to Casperian Books and will release in the distant future. In her free time, she is a reviewer at Small Press ReviewsThe Nervous BreakdownAmerican Book Review, and now The Next Best Book Blog

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Audio Giveaway - Love and Death with the In Crowd and Mating Calls

Jessica Anya Blau's super short collection of short stories - Love and Death with the In Crowd and Mating Calls - have recently been recorded as an audio book and she's given us a free download code (one for each collection) for two lucky winners. 

What Love and Death with the In Crowd is about:

We think of the past as a more innocent time. But in these stories of California teenagers acting out in the last years of the ’70s, it’s easy to see that love, loss, and heartbreak are even more poignant when viewed through 15- or 16-year-old eyes. Surrounded by friends and family who are spinning with their own losses and heartache, these teenage girls navigate the terrors and tenderness of life in the only ways they know how. In this touching and moving pair of coming-of-age stories, best-selling author Jessica Anya Blau makes it clear that once you step over certain lines, there’s no going back. 

Sample it here:


What Mating Calls is about:

Could a little yellow pill be responsible for landing Lexie James in the bed of her lover - and her lover's wife? Whatever the reason for this charmingly reckless school counselor's bad behavior, you've never been on a bender like this one. 

Sample it here:


How to win them:

Simply leave a comment here stating which collection you'd like to win, and leave a way to contact you. That's it. It's super-easy. This one comes with no commitment! 

We'll name the winners a week from today (Wednesday the 27th)

Good luck you guys!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Michalle Gould Recommends Andorra

And so we continue our Writers Recommend - a newish series where we ask writers to, well, you know.. recommend things. Like the books that they've enjoyed. To you. Because who doesn't like being recommended new and interesting books, right?! Think of it as a PSA. Only it's more like an LSA -Literary Service Announcement.

Michalle Gould Recommends Andorra

When I was in my first year of MFA school, one of the concepts the instructor for our first-year seminar introduced us to was that of the “paradigm shift.”  This was in 1998, but as I remember it, the definition of a paradigm shift in the context of literature was that it involved a moment in a book that changed your understanding of everything else that went before it but that was also “in retrospect, inevitable.”  

For me, Peter Cameron’s novel Andorra is the perfect embodiment of a book that causes the reader to experience a paradigm shift.  It presents us with a character, Alexander Fox, who is motivated by a personal tragedy to leave America and begin his life anew in the small country of Andorra.  Most readers will probably know little about the actual country, the sixth-smallest in Europe, located in the mountains between Spain and France.  Nonetheless, it seems clear from early on in the novel that there is something a bit off about the narrator’s life there and that it is doubtful that the Andorra of the novel bears much resemblance to the real one.  

The novel is unusual in combining an almost magical realist sort of setting with a very minimalist although elegant prose style.  Although quite a few readers appear to find the narrator unsympathetic or emotionally distant, that was not my own experience in reading - he caused me to think by contrast of the TS Eliot quote that “Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.”  The more the narrator tried to suppress his feelings through the neutral tone he uses to describe the people and situations he encounters in Andorra, the more I sensed the intensity of the regret and longing that was buried beneath the surface, for good or ill.

The novel turns in an unexpected direction as our main character becomes a suspect in a murder investigation and the new life that he has tried so hard to create quickly begins to fray at the edges.  One of the epigraphs for a section of the novel is “small countries make delightful prisons” (James Merrill) and the setting that seemed so idyllic and full of light at the beginning of the novel begins to appear more like a trap.  We fear that he will have to escape from this place that he has gone to precisely to escape from his former life.  And then there is that moment above, the one that changes everything.  To find out how, you will have to read for yourselves.  


Bio:  Michalle Gould's first full-length collection of poetry, Resurrection Party, was recently published by Silver Birch Press.  Her poems and short stories have appeared in Slate, New England Review, Poetry, American Literary Review, The Texas Observer, and other journals. She currently lives in Los Angeles, where she works as a librarian, and is in the process of researching and writing a novel set in the North of England during the 1930s.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Page 69: Among the Wild Mulattos and Other Tales

The Page 69 Test is not mine. It has been around since 2007, asking authors to compare page 69 against the meat of the actual story it is a part of. I loved the whole idea of it and so I'm stealing it specifically to showcase small press titles - novels, novellas, short story collections, the works! So until the founder of The Page 69 Test calls a cease and desist, let's do this thing....

In this installment of Page 69, 
we put Tom Williams' Among the Wild Mulattos and Other Tales to the test. 

OK, Tom, set up page 69 for us.

This worked out perfectly, as 69 (tee-hee) is the first page of the story “The Finest Writers in the World Today,” the fifth story in a collection of ten.

What is Among the Wild Mulattos and Other Tales about?

Any more, I feel I’m the last person to have the right answer to such a good question as this, because oftentimes when I’m asked such a question I have a really mundane answer, while the person asking has a far better response because they’ve brought to my words whatever they’ve experienced. Despite my poor track record, I’ll sally forth and say this: that ultimately the ten stories are all about the state of being in-between. In most cases it’s a character who is biracial—neither black, nor white but both—but it’s also characters who yearn to belong. To me this state has always been of such great potential and such great sorrow. I think it also speaks to a larger human condition: being a spiritual mulatto, in that one might have allegiances to different groups and yet never feels fully connected, never feels as though one really has found her proper “place”—whether that’s among peers, a certain region or locality, or mental space. We’re all, at least I believe, all sorts of in-between. Yeah, that’s what the book’s about.

Do you think this page gives our readers an accurate sense of what Among the Wild Mulattos is about? Does it align itself the book’s overall theme?

This is one of the “workplace” stories in the collection, and while there isn’t a specifically racial concern on this page (and throughout the story), it does orbit around the idea of identity, celebrity, and art—three issues I seem to never be able to shed in my fiction. And while I hope it operates as a story that supplies some good laughs in a book that toggles between high and low comedy, high and low art, it also asks some pretty serious questions about the relationship between (there’s that word again) art and commerce, writers and their work, writers and their audience. Funny stuff, right? And it’s told in first person plural, which everybody loves.


The Finest Writers in the World Today

To tell the truth, at first none of us believed there was money to be made from Tina Prescotts idea. Cause Celebs had been around for two-and-a-half years and was doing well enough to have five agents and about a hundred lookalikes because we understood our audience. They were people who wanted to bring pizzazz to the events in their lives, but on the cheap. For a nine-year- olds birthday, they couldn’t afford the real article, so what about someone who resembled Brad Pitt? That was a different story. And though Cause Celebs wasn’t the only agency in town, our lookalikes were dead ringers, as well as excellent vocalists and dancers. Or they wore great costumes and could lip synch.

Our performers broke down to two categories then. Dead celebrities was one: Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe, old and young Elvises and Sinatras—the perfect addition for your grandparents anniversary! We also had contemporaries, which at the time meant Britney Spears, P-Diddy, Madonna, Bill and Hilary, both President Bushes. And they were all good, dead or contemporary. They made a nice flat fee, five hundred for three hours, out of which we took our thirty percent. No one was


Tom Williams is the author of the novella The Mimic’s Own Voice (Main Street Rag Publishing) and the novel Don’t Start Me Talkin’ (Curbside Splendor). His newest, a collection of stories called Among the Wild Mulattos and Other Tales, will appear in July of 2015 from Texas Review Press. The Chair of English at Morehead State University, he lives in Kentucky with his wife and children.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Book Review: The Zoo, A Going

Read 4/16/15 - 4/20/15
2 Stars - Recommended Lightly, not a good book to start with if you are unfamiliar with Dzanc as a publisher
Pages: 132
Publisher: Dzanc
Released: 2014

Oh man. I was so torn while reading this book.

On the one hand, when compared to his 2011 release Girl With Oars & Man Dying, it's incredibly more readable. Girl With Oars was a shock to the system with its experimental language, which made reading The Zoo, a Going such a sweet pleasure.

On the other hand, The Zoo just seemed to go nowhere and was content to take its sweet ole time getting there. It's a contemplative day-long walk through the zoo. If you snoozed a bit on a bench in the shade, you weren't missing much, whereas with Girl With Oars, Tyler's style of story telling actually forced you to pay attention and keep up or it was going to outrun you and leave you choking on its dust.

Anyone who's experienced divorce as a child will immediately feel a tinge of nostalgia while cracking open The Zoo. Jonah, whose age is not disclosed, accompanies his parents to the zoo during a tumultuous time in their relationship. He is an anxious kid. He worries a lot, and not just about his parents and the signals they send out like fireworks in the night sky (he's hella observant and pays attention to how they interact with each other and with him). And he worries about other things, non parent-related things, things that most younger kids wouldn't necessarily find themselves worrying about. If he's not careful, he'll be gray and troubled by ulcers well before be needs to be.

And he certainly didn't hit the parent jackpot either. His dad is a prick. He bitches and complains and curses and ignores. His crankiness is wearing and tiring. Jonah's mom is the opposite. She laughs and shows patience. She dotes. Her behaviors and actions throughout the book scream "peace maker". She's unhappy but she's determined not to let Jonah see that. And she fails miserably at it. And it would appear that there was a baby brother somewhere in the mix - we aren't sure when or for how long or even what happened. Perhaps that was when all the troubles began? Having only an emotional, introspective little kid to rely on for this information, much is left unsaid, and we can only speculate.

Tyler has broken the book out into short chapters named for the animal Jonah and his parents are viewing at that moment. Jonah reflects on each animal, tries to engage his parents in some banal banter about them and then internalizes the animal and its current situation to a memory he has of time spent with his family. Some memories are tame and pleasant while others begin to show you how they ended up here, at the zoo, broken and faking it and fighting to hold it together.

It's one of those uncomfortable reads where nothing much is happening and the parade of animals appears endless and everyone (with the exception of the narrator) desperately wishes they were somewhere else. Yes. Everyone. Including us, the reader.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Indie Spotlight: Lorraine Devon Wilke

It's been awhile since we've had an author spotlight on the blog. So I was thrilled to hear that Lorraine Devon Wilke, author of the recently released Hysterical Love, wanted to share her thoughts on intentional self-publishing. 

Self publishing has worked hard at shedding the stigma that has dogged it for years. More and more often, authors - both long time "big 6" favorites and unknown debuts - are weighing out their options, doing the research, and intentionally choosing to publish their work on their own. 

Read on to see why Lorraine went down that road and why she believes it is time to stop auditioning....

When It’s Time To Stop Auditioning, Self-Publish 

Let me start with a disclaimer: this is not a screed against traditional publishing. Yes, those are trendy and there are lots of them out there, but this is not one. Life has taught me that when something sustains over a long period of time, it’s usually because it provides a useful and desired role in the greater scheme of things. I’d guess that’s the case with traditional publishing.

This is, instead, a few of my cobbled thoughts on the topic of why one might choose to self-publish, that newer paradigm in the bigger book industry picture. In the myriad of reasons why one might take that turn—and there are many—these are mine:

As someone who’s been involved in a variety of creative mediums throughout my life, the concept of stepping front and center to be judged toward some artistic goal is not a foreign one. Which is a convoluted way of saying, “I’m well-versed on the audition process.”

From birth on, in fact, we’re all immersed in the act of working for something: the cookie, the pat on the head, good grades, parental/teacher/coach approval, sexual attention of boys/girls, that job we want, the lead in the play, first prize, the record deal, a deserved raise, and so on.

If you’re a writer, an author? The “something” you work for is getting published. And back when traditional publishing was the only option available, or even now if you choose that road, the auditioning process toward that goal can be a brutal one.

An actor? You go up for a role, and, if you’re lucky, there’s a callback. If your luck holds, you go to the director, producer, network; whatever, and, usually, within a relatively short period of time, you know whether you’re in or out. Jobs, much the same time trajectory. Record deals, boyfriends/girlfriends, that raise? All of these come to fruition quickly enough that you either celebrate tout suite or launch your grieving process before the next snow.

Traditional book publishing? Dear God, who invented that process: Satan? I’m being facetious, of course (Satan wouldn’t know a good book if it arrived on stone tablets), but there is something oddly sadistic about the gauntlet authors who “go traditional” must traverse:

1.      Write the book and/or book proposal.
2.      Spend oodles of time (and money, if inclined to take classes) fine-tuning that notorious missive called “the query letter,” one that meets every arcane and immutable demand of the literary agent world (which will require several different versions of said letter).
3.      Diligently research which agents are open to unsolicited queries in your particular genre and note how they like to be approached.
4.      At this point, you should have your Excel spreadsheet out, organizing all the info you’ve gleaned into appropriate rows and columns (you do not want to double submit, for God’s sake, or query someone who won’t read fiction, or—dear Lord, NO—make the mistake of “checking back” if their site says “we only respond if we’re interested”).
5.      Once organized, put together impeccable packages with that perfect query letter and whatever else each specific, individual agent prefers; then judiciously send off in whatever amounts and time increments you see fit.
6.      There. Done.  
7.      Then you wait.
8.      And wait.

The seasons turn. You celebrate a birthday. Your sister gets married. The people next door move out. You lose the Oscar pool. Somehow you gain five pounds. You finish your non-fiction piece on elder care. You wait.

Then, oh happy day, you do hear back! From some. Most are quickie email responses: “Thank you, but I’m not the right agent for you.” Some are scribbled notes on your snail-mail queries...same basic message. They might give you some info as to why they’re not right for you (usually not), but whatever you do, don’t write back and ask; they won’t tell you. And they really don’t want you write back, ever. There’s little doubt literary agents are the busiest people in the world. Just not for you.  

But, if you’re lucky, you garner a few requests for more (more pages, chapters; manuscripts). You send whatever they request, excited to take that next step, thrilled that your sample chapters grabbed them, your “premise was intriguing,” or your title was “caught their eye.” You send it all off, wishin’, hopin’, thinkin' and prayin’...and then you wait. And wait.

Your parents take that cruise to Greece. You finally learn how to use Illustrator. More of the Arctic Shelf melts. You write another book. Your brother quits school to join a band. You start working out again. Your boyfriend gives you a cordless vacuum for Valentine’s Day. You wait.

And you either hear back on that additional material, that manuscript sent, those extra chapters, or you don’t. Usually you don’t. If you do, you get something like, “I didn’t fall for the writing as much as I’d hoped.” Or, “Given the competitive marketplace, I really have to love a project more than I loved this one.” Or, “You’re just a vapid writer of uninteresting pabulum and unless there’s a vampire, whip-wielding protagonist, or at least one set of six-pack abs in the opening chapter, we’re not the right agent for you.” Okay, probably not so much that last one, but likely some version of...well... some of that. Rejection comes in a wide spectrum of hues and shades.  

And then you...

Then you what? You’ve done your work, learned your craft, spent years honing it to a spit-shine by writing articles, blogs, short stories, screenplays, etc. You’ve gained the expertise to know how to build a crafty narrative, construct a propulsive story arc, and conjure characters that jump off the page. Your dialogue is spot-on, you can make ‘em laugh and cry; your themes are resonating, universal, yet unique, and those who’ve read your work are moved. Your book is loved (certainly by you), and it deserves life.

But you’ve essentially been auditioning for years at this point and, for whatever reasons, the literary agent who is right for you has not materialized. And traditional publishers aren’t all that welcoming to new writers who don’t have one of those. So what are you to do?

You self-publish. You DIY. You grab your destiny by the collar, drag it up on stage, flick on the lights, and let that sucker dance. Like indie filmmakers, indie musicians; indie theater companies, photographers, painters, potters, and mimes (yes, I do know some indie mimes), you take matters into your own hands. You access professional book builders—editors, formatters, proofers, cover designers—and you build the book you loved writing into the book you will love selling, one that looks and feels exactly as it should, just as you want it, with the cover, title, edit, and marketing plan you dreamed up.


You deserve it. It feels good, feels right. The sense that you stopped waiting for permission to proceed and just...proceeded. Power to the people!

I know there are countless stories out there about why authors self-publish. Fact is, some never even considered the “traditional publishing audition gauntlet,” choosing, instead, to leap into the indie pool without a second thought. Others straddle both worlds, bouncing back and forth, depending on the book (I believe that’s called “hybrid publishing”). Some would cut off their arm to get a traditional deal; others eschew that path as so much conformist malarkey.

Me? Yep, I finally stopped auditioning and gave myself the job. And it’s been a wild ride of hard work, empowerment, and tremendous satisfaction. Though someone did ask me not too long ago if I’d ever consider a traditional deal for upcoming books. To be honest, I would...if it came to me. I wouldn’t mind having passionate collaborators working alongside me on this journey (because, let’s be honest; it’s hard doing it by yourself!). But I wouldn’t audition for it. That process is not one I could imagine putting myself—or any beloved book of mine—through, ever again.
But whatever way each of our roads turn, however we get to where we’re going, whatever reasons compelled our decisions to independently strike out with work we believe in, how lovely is it that we now have the choice? Auditioning may be a valid option for some, it may still have a place in the publishing industry at large, but it should not be the only game in town. Lucky for us indies, it no longer is.    


Lorraine Devon Wilke is a storyteller in whatever avenue of the arts she’s exploring: photography, music, and, of course, her writing. Whether her blog, The Huffington Post, her photography or her original music, her mission is always to find the heart of the narrative. Her debut novel, After The Sucker Punch, and short story, “She Tumbled Down,” were 2014 successes, while 2015 brings the launch of her second novel, Hysterical Love (available at Amazon and Smashwords). Visit her site for all links and info.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Melanie Reviews: Kill Marguerite and Other Stories

240 Pages
Publisher: Emergency Press
Released: 2014

Guest review by Melanie Page

Megan Milks’s collection Kill Marguerite and Other Stories is both innovative and uncomfortable. The stories frequently use frameworks to shape the outcomes, such as the title story in which two adolescent girls battle it out for popularity and respect in a videogame, allowing them to use weapons, found objects (like jet packs and hearts), and lose lives when they are killed.  Other stories, like “Twins,” which comes in two parts (“Elizabeth’s Lament” and “Sweet Valley Twins #119: Abducted!”) use popular culture that many women today will admit they were raised on: Sweet Valley Twins, The Babysitter’s Club, and My Teacher is An Alien. The collection also uses song lyrics, Ancient Greek myth, violence, a whole lot of body fluids, and plays with concepts of gender.

The use of pop culture that is familiar to me was definitely my favorite aspect of the collection. Milks uses common conventions to make a connection to readers that also gives them the opportunity to reconsider what they thought they knew. In the title story, the girls live in a videogame world. Here, Milks is rather clever; the way players process new information in videogames and learn from it to make better choices after they die in a tough level challenges the notion that we can’t go back and have the perfect witty comment or knock the mean girl on her ass. Essentially, readers can relive their own brutal adolescence with the hope that a particular moment can be redone until it’s how we want it.

A problem with relying so heavily on popular culture is that it could leave a lot of readers confused. Had I not read hundreds of Sweet Valley Twins and Babysitter’s Club books, the references would have been lost on me. Personally, I’ve never read one of the My Teacher is an Alien books, but the title of that series kind of gives it away. There was also a story that uses lyrics from a song or band that I’ve never heard of. The relationships between the girls, though, are rather intricate but seemingly simplistic. Without knowing those relationships, some of Milks’s writing loses its power and sounds mean or trite, such as why one character is so popular and another is a loser. There is no room for expansion on these claims because they are well-known facts in the world of the Wakefield twins and the babysitters.

Another problem many readers may have is with Milks’s constant use of bodies being what we normally consider gross. Only in a few stories, like “Swamp Cycle” and “Slug,” did I have a deep-seated gross feeling (one that lasted for days). I expected “The Girl with the Expectorating Orifices” to be the worst offender, but instead I saw this story as the one that made the most sense. The girl with the expectorating orifices pukes when she’s drank too much, has snot running down her face when she’s crying, she menstruates, and gets diarrhea when she’s too anxious. This all sounds pretty normal to me, but we are so uncomfortable with our bodily functions that they are removed from public view. At first, the story seems gross, but as it goes on and the narrator shows how everyone has expectorating orifices, the story becomes almost comfortable and relatable.

Other stories, like “Slug,” explore bodies in a way I didn’t understand. “Slug” is the tale of a young woman named Patty who dates men and punishes them (I think) by shoving dildos in their assholes. She wears a strap on under her skirt and seems generally unsatisfied sexually. But when a six-foot slug climbs in through her window, suctions its way down her body, and then enters her vagina and nibbles on her cervix, Patty is sold. Eventually, she turns into a slug as well and, long story short, ends up eating off the other slug’s penis. Trying to figure out the symbolism of all of this is hard work—which doesn’t mean it’s not worth the work. At first, I thought that Patty wanted a penis and then became a penis (a slug), but then she…ate a penis? Or, the story could be a metaphor for a female to male transition (I think).

So, here is where I start to feel like both an idiot and a bad person. Because Milks’s characters are pretty gender fluid (pronouns switch, names typically reserved for one gender are used for another, roles disappear), I get that she’s writing about topics that are not discussed often in public, nor are we educated about such subjects, though I truly wish we were. I read as much as I can about gender so that I am educated, but I also recognize I am an outsider who may not fully understand. Since I don’t want to assume what Patty is doing in this story and end up looking like I don’t accept and respect gender differences, “Slug” left me feeling pretty awful.

On the other hand, “Earl and Ed” was a story that used metaphor to examine “unnatural” relationships that are shunned by the majority and how violence and sadness can result, and it was done in a way that allowed me to both learn and enjoy the story. Earl is a wasp (penetrating stinger—I’m making assumptions) that is referred to in feminine pronouns. Ed is a flower (just think Frida Kahlo) referred to in masculine pronouns. Ed can create life, whereas Earl is always leaving because she needs her freedom to fly (I kept thinking “and this bird you cannot change”). The roles of the characters change from what is “expected” and kept me reading and questioning what would happen to this bee-flower relationship.

Overall, Kill Marguerite and Other Stories stretched the boundaries of my understanding and comfort. I applaud Milks for writing challenging fiction that goes against the standard of easily-digestible reads that reiterate what readers already believe. Although a tough collection, readers who want to come away from a book feeling differently will enjoy this collection.

Melanie Page has an MFA from the University of Notre Dame and is an adjunct instructor in Indiana. She is the creator of Grab the Lapels, a site that publishes book reviews and interviews of folks who identify as women at

Monday, May 11, 2015

Page 69: The Damnable Legacy

The Page 69 Test is not mine. It has been around since 2007, asking authors to compare page 69 against the meat of the actual story it is a part of. I loved the whole idea of it and so I'm stealing it specifically to showcase small press titles - novels, novellas, short story collections, the works! So until the founder of The Page 69 Test calls a cease and desist, let's do this thing....

In this installment of Page 69, 
we put G. Elizabeth Kretchmer's The Damnable Legacy to the test.

OK, Gail, set up page 69 for us.

One of the novel’s key characters is a troubled young teen named Frankie. She’s a cutter and a chronic runaway, desperate to get away from her drug-addicted mom. In this scene, she’s at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and has just stolen a woman’s boarding pass to Vancouver, B. C. although she really wants to get to Oregon, where she’s hoping to meet up with a family friend who she knows will take her in. But first, she’s hungry, and she’s trying to buy a quick snack before scheming her way onto the Portland-bound plane.

What is The Damnable Legacy about?

The Damnable Legacy is about a midlife mountaineer who still regrets the decision she made thirty years ago to place her daughter for adoption, the biological granddaughter she’s never known (Frankie), and the minister’s wife who figured out the relationship between the two. Unfortunately, her discovery happened right before she died of terminal cancer, and she put a plan into place from her deathbed to bring them together. Now, she must helplessly watch (and narrate) from the afterlife as her plan tragically unfolds.

This is a story about love and survival, exploring the importance of attachment, faith, and place, and asking how far we should go to achieve our goals - and at what cost.

Do you think this page gives our readers an accurate sense of what The Damnable Legacy is about? Does it align itself with the book’s overall theme?

This page gives you a glimpse of Frankie - a girl with lots of chutzpah - and of the inevitable teenaged dichotomy of child versus budding adult. It’s Frankie’s desperate situation and her spunk that readers fall in love with and make her one of the most cherished characters in the story, and her hunger for that hot dog could symbolize, I suppose, her hunger for a greater form of nourishment and her discovery that all forms of nourishment come at a cost. But of course I wasn’t necessarily thinking about theme or symbol when I wrote the hot dog scene. Note: her reference to a dying grandmother doesn’t refer to the narrator; it’s a bit of a lie she’s making up to get on the plane. Also, anyone familiar with Saturday Night Live of long ago, or Chicago’s Billy Goat Tavern, might appreciate the Coke, no Pepsi line, although this hot dog vendor is independent of the BGT at O’Hare.


The Damnable Legacy


G. Elizabeth Kretchmer earned her MFA from Pacific University. Her short stories and essays have appeared in The New York Times, High Desert Journal, Silk Road Review, SLAB, and other publications. She independently published her debut novel, The Damnable Legacy of A Minister’s Wife, in 2014 and will be re-publishing it through Booktrope as simply The Damnable Legacy in July 2015. When she’s not writing, she’s facilitating therapeutic and wellness writing workshops or walking Lani, her Labradoodle/publicity director, in the Seattle area.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Kate Reviews: The Exit Man

The Exit Man by Greg Levin
3 stars - Recommended by Kate to readers familiar with the genre
Pages: 358
Publisher: White Rock Press
Released: May 2014

Guest review by Kate Vane

The Exit Man has a great premise. Eli, a man who is drifting through life, finds meaning after he takes over his late father’s party supplies store. He learns that his father and a friend, while both terminally ill, had hatched a painless and undetectable way to die. Eli’s father inadvertently spoilt the party by dying naturally. The friend requests Eli’s help to complete the deal.

Eli after some reflection, agrees to do what he asks. In so doing he turns his life around. He is inspired to continue his work as an exit man while still maintaining his upbeat, balloon-selling persona by day. Then he finds himself saving, rather than ending, a life and this throws up a whole new set of challenges.

The author is unflinching and compassionate in his descriptions of the terminally ill people Eli encounters. Some have humour and courage, while others are deeply unlikeable. They are all real and convincing.

However a couple of things don’t quite work for me. The first is Eli’s voice. He has some good lines, but he also explains everything to death. There’s a long, slow set-up showing how he came to do his first exit. Then we get the act itself. Then we get an explanation of how he felt about the whole thing. Then a recap of where he is in his life. This pattern repeats throughout the book. For a story like this to work, it has to have pace and momentum but, like a balloon, the author keeps blowing it up and then letting it deflate.

I also felt that the story, having promised big issues, shied away from them. The dilemmas which Eli faces are a little too neatly resolved. There are some plot twists but they don’t really relate to his own behaviour and its consequences.

It’s one thing to be in favour of euthanasia in principle, but how would you feel if you were actually there, doing it? For a stranger? Eli never struggles with a difficult case, one that makes him question what he’s doing, or his own motivation, or puts him in serious danger. Higher stakes for Eli would also make for more tension and energy in the narrative.

I would have liked to be more challenged by the issues and for this to be a shorter, sharper read. Trust the reader – we can deal with it.

Kate Vane writes crime and literary fiction. Her latest novel is Not the End. She lives on the Devon coast in the UK.