Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Where Writers Write: Nicole Walker and David Carlin

Welcome to another installment of TNBBC's Where Writers Write!

Where Writers Write is a series in which authors showcase their writing spaces using short form essay, photos, and/or video. As a lover of books and all of the hard work that goes into creating them, I thought it would be fun to see where the authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happen. 

This is Nicole Walker. 

Nicole is the author of Sustainability: A Love Story (2018), Where the Tiny Things Are (2017), Egg (2017), Micrograms (2016), Quench Your Thirst with Salt (2013), and This Noisy Egg (2010). She edited the essay collections Science of Story with Sean Prentiss and Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction with Margot Singer. She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts award and is a noted author in Best American Essays. She teaches creative writing as a professor of English at Northern Arizona University.

This is David Carlin. 

David is a writer and creative artist based in Melbourne, Australia. He is the author of The Abyssinian Contortionist (2015), and Our Father Who Wasn’t There (2010), co-author of 100 Atmospheres: Studies in Scale and Wonder (2019), and the editor, with Francesca Rendle-Short, of an anthology of new Asian and Australian writing, The Near and the Far (2016). His award-winning work includes essays, plays, radio features, exhibitions, documentary, and short films; recent projects include the Circus Oz Living Archive and WrICE. He is a professor of creative writing at RMIT University where he co-directs the non/fictionLab.

Where I (We) Write

The place we started writing our book together was Fairhaven beach, near Melbourne, Australia. It is a pretty good place for dreaming up ideas. Not so good for laptops, so we only wrote it in our imaginations at this point.

David visited Flagstaff after (or before) one of our reconnaissance missions in Tempe, AZ for the NonfictioNOW conference. We hiked in the woods behind my house. We even went for a run! David wore all white because, in Australia, running is akin to playing tennis. It’s tricky to run in the woods of Northern Arizona. Rocks conspire to trip. Still we ran.  Writing in the forest is harder than running, even though it is, of course, the nature lover’s dream to sit under a big tree and write about the way of the world. Instead, we returned to the house. then showered, then came to my house to conspire on our own.

Near Fairhaven beach we are lucky enough to have a small beach house where we could write. The house is on a hill and surrounded by ironbark (eucalypt) trees. This means that one’s writing companions are most likely to be feathered. They look cute, these sulphur-crested cockatoos, but have a penchant for eating wooden railings. He is just waiting til I look away.

I don’t have an office so I write at the kitchen table. David and I wrote from here the day he visited. For dinner, I grilled branzino--the sea bass that’s pervasive in European restaurants. People don’t think you can get good fish in Flagstaff but we have an airport. Whole Foods and Karma Sushi fly fish in daily.

More often I (David) am in the city. We live in inner-city Melbourne. This is the view from outside one of my favourite local cafes, a sometimes writing spot. Looking over at the old milkbar on the corner, which is gradually becoming overgrown with a thicket of graffiti. Down the middle of the street, our beloved Melbourne tram tracks—we are so lucky they never ripped up the tram lines in the postwar frenzy when they thought car travel was the future.

I’ve just received a message that David has arrived in the United States. He is an intrepid traveler. He cured me, when he invited me to give a reading in Melbourne, of long flight fears. Still, in the scheme of things, I’d rather be on my deck, writing in the sunshine than trying to sleep on an airplane. But without airplanes, this book would not exist.

This is my desk at home. Hopefully you can’t read my terrible handwriting. The soft southern light floods in through the window (remember, I am in the Southern Hemisphere!). Outside there is the sound of construction. Cranes all around. New apartments blocks, urban infill. Too much concrete, but soon we will be able to walk to everything, we hope. This is where I sometimes Skype Nicole, and we compare our opposite seasons and opposite times of the day.

This is my writing chair. When David isn’t visiting, and no one else is visiting, and when I have finished with the tuition waiver assignments and the human resource trainings and the Environmental Certificate curriculum revisions, I sit down to write.

As all writers now know, we are not supposed to sit all the time. Sitting is not good for you. This is a challenge for writers. We are supposed to dream of having those treadmill desks, so we can both be walking along and feverishly writing away, at the same time. I have never actually tried one. We couldn’t fit one in, even if we could afford to buy one. So every now and then, I use my ‘standing desk.’ My standing desk is an old chest of drawers in the hallway. I can write there for a while (until my feet get sore), under the amused (or bemused) eyes of the tin toys on the mantelpiece above, who are always happily racing along up there.

But then, I get company, which is lovely, but makes the writing slow-going. 

In Melbourne too, there is daytime company for writers. Sometimes we have an adolescent ringtail possum that will wedge itself into a cosy spot for a long siesta. I like to think of it as the local spirit-animal for asking questions.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

My April in Reading

Here's a review of all of the books that I buried my nose in last month.

Colette Arrand
Split Lip Press
(March 2019)

4 Stars

haunted language, vintage rock, wrapped in a gorgeous cover, what's not to love?

JS Breukelaar
Meerkat Press
(February 2019)

3 Stars

A diverse and intriguing collection of short stories that span genres - horror, sci-fi, and just the right amount of bizarro for funsies - and showcase Breukelaar's range as a writer. 

Favorites include Union Falls' mysterious armless piano player; the subtle story of Ava Rune's white trashiness; the fierce secrets of Lion Man and unlikely friendship that forms in Fairy Tale; and War Wounds' cowboy roughness, for their more straight-forward story telling. 

Stories like The BoxRouges Bay 3013 were a bit too heavy on the strange for my tastes, and Fixed, which was a pretty decent story overall, lost me when (view spoiler). She broke my cardinal rule with that one!

The rest just hovered there nicely, sitting prettily between the covers. A perfect set of stories for someone looking to lose themselves in a collection unlike any other.

Ben Arzate
Cabal Books
(April 2019)

4 stars

A bizarro road trip novel for the, ahem, record books. Oh, c'mon, it's the perfect way to introduce Ben Arzate's debut novel, which is written as a surreal, fictional account of a wanna-be music journalist named Alex who, in an attempt to make it big, decides to hunt down the reclusive and relatively unknown (though wholy non-fictional) artist Y. Bhekhirst.

Stylistically, Ben is a less-is-more kind of writer, so the 134 pages read like a fever dream, jam-packed with minimalist dialogue and breakneck, nonstop action, easily making this a book that could be read in one sitting. The curious cast of misfists includes a ghost trapped in a vinyl record; Alex's BFF Larry, better known as Lobster due to a malformed hand in the shape of a claw; and Alex's girlfriend Primavera. Along the way they cross paths with a mystical shapeshifter, a pissed off cartel, a missonary church that acts more like a portal to other places, and a seriously badass evil boss. No bizarro book is complete without one! In keeping with the book's theme, the chapters are cleverly titled "tracks" and the book even contains a hidden one.

All told, The Story of the Y is a well balanced blend of the silly and the serious, and it's an absolute hoot to read!

Zachary Schomburg
Black Ocean
(April 2019)

3 stars

Not quite on par with Mammother, which I absolutely adored, though wholly unique and absurdly crafted. Broken out into chapbook length sections, I was most drawn to the storylike poems that were contained within Now is a Good Time, and the disconnected but appealing poetry of Oars. Those collected in the section titledHaircut and The Future/The Baby seemed to draw from the storylike format of Good Time while blending the chaos of language from Oars and also drew me in with their mysterious cadence. The parts that were good were really good, and those sections that I failed to name fell incredibly flat and missed their mark completely.

ST Cartledge
Clash Books
(April 2019)

4 Stars

Pixel Boy in Poetry World contains two independent chapbook-length collections of poetry. Within each, the poems align to tell a cohesive story of identity and survival, whether in the surrounding world or the more surreal world they've built inside their heads. Poets and dragons and pixelated tears accompany us as we navigate our way through the pages, following Pixel Boy and Basho on thier journeys.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Page 69 Test: Offline

Disclaimer: 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 Brian Adams' Offline to the test. 

OK, Brian, set up page 69 for us.

The poor girl! Banished by her parents to live a techno-free summer with her gay hippie grandfathers, seventeen-year-old Meagan is forced to attend a Netaholics Anonymous meeting where two hot boys come on to her. Not used to navigating offline relationships, the two have asked her out to the same party and she’s inadvertently said yes to both of them.

What Offline is about:

Offline is a young adult romantic romp through the dark underbelly of technology. Our heroine Meagan is an online dating addict scared to death to take those online “relationships” offline. Falling in with a ragtag bunch of Luddites, Meagan joins a zany softball team, takes the game of Scrabble to a whole new level, immerses herself in the world of invertebrate sex – all the while coming to grips with her raging netaholism and discovering the joys and heartbreaks of offline relationships.

Do you think this page 69 gives our readers an accurate sense of what the book is about?

Much of the humor in the novel comes from Meagan’s missteps and screw-ups as she desperately strives to rid herself of her online addiction and interact with the real world. The novel is heavy on snarky dialogue and clueless teen angst, while highlighting the serious and growing problem of netaholism. This page is one of many chronicling Meagan’s stumbling antics as she slowly unplugs and makes the transition offline.


            I took the phone and whacked myself in the head.

            “Shit!” I cried.

            “What?” Sheila asked. “What just happened?”

            I whacked myself again.

            “I can’t believe what I just did. Oh my God! How could I not have figured out who was who? I am such an idiot!”

            “Tell me!” Sheila said.

            “I just made a huge screw-up. It was Jonathan who I told about the bees. Not Derek.”

            “And . . .”

            “And so it must have been Jonathan who I said yes to the first time. Not Derek.”

            “Jonathan?” Sheila asked. “The other netaholic dude?”  


Brian Adams recently retired after teaching for 20 plus years at Greenfield Community College in western Massachusetts where he was a Professor of Environmental Science and co-chair of the Science Department. Brian is active in the climate change movement on and off campus. He has authored numerous health related brochures distributed nationally by ETR Associates. For his first novel, Love in the Time of Climate Change, which was a Foreword Reviews 2014 IndieFAB Gold Medal Winner for Humor, he drew heavily on his experiences teaching and working with students. Brian lives with his wife in Northampton, Massachusetts and now devotes his time to writing romantic comedies centered around environmental activism.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Where Writers Write: Pete Fromm

Welcome to another installment of TNBBC's Where Writers Write!

Where Writers Write is a series in which authors showcase their writing spaces using short form essay, photos, and/or video. As a lover of books and all of the hard work that goes into creating them, I thought it would be fun to see where the authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happen. 

This is Pete Fromm. 

He is a five-time winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Literary Award for his novels If Not For ThisAs Cool As I Am and How All This Started; the story collection Dry Rain; and the memoir Indian Creek Chronicles. He is on the faculty of Pacific University’s low-residency MFA program, and lives in Montana with his family. Find out more at petefromm.com.

Where Pete Fromm Writes

I write at home, which, for a long time, was in Great Falls, Montana, in the basement of a little Craftsman bungalow, a basement I finished just as my first son was born.  My old office upstairs, looking out onto the backyard, an ancient multi-trunked crabapple where, in not too many years, I’d be building a tree fort, had been turned into our son’s room, so down I went.  And it was kind of perfect down there, enough high basement windows to let in light, but nothing but a wall before me, a slate blank enough to let me travel anywhere, to let all sorts of people wander in.  In the early years, I typed with my son in his carseat on the pullout shelf of the old oak desk, the tapping of the keys lulling him back to sleep.

But, ten years ago, we moved over the mountains to Missoula, bought the only house we could afford in the place we wanted to stay, a hundred year old Craftsman of some small grandeur that had fallen onto hard times over the last decades as a rental.  After tearing out the walls upstairs, moving doors, windows, building bedrooms for both of our sons, I started in on the first floor, where my office was, moving my desk out onto the enclosed but unheated front porch, where I could work in the predawn dark and chill, listening to the coyotes yip and howl up on the mountain, before trading the keyboard for the tool belt, another day of an entirely different kind of work.

My newest novel, A JOB YOU MOSTLY WON’T KNOW HOW TO DO, started amid the rubble of that tear down and rebuild, the main character, Taz, imaginatively enough, becoming a finish carpenter rebuilding, yes, a hundred year old house in Missoula with his pregnant wife, Marnie.  Their place is a wreck they live in, work on, dream of, their lives stretching out before them until, eventually, Taz is there on his own, amid the wreckage and dreams, trying to learn how to raise a baby alone, rebuild far more than his house.

So, here is where I work, and where Taz and Marn lived, from the day we moved to Missoula;

Through the tear down we all lived through;

And all the way to today;

…surrounded by books, and reminders of where I’ve come from, from a shot of my grandfather, the ashes of my wild old friend Sage, a scale model of a British fighter my father built from scratch, to photos of my sons, the knives the French seem to give to me every time I tour over there.  Even Hemingway and Twain have snuck in, reminding me to keep it simple, and to have some fun.  And, of course, Taz and Marn, hanging around, seeing how it’ll all turn out.

Friday, April 26, 2019

My March in Reading

Here's a review of all of the books that I buried my nose in last month.

Peter Heller
Knopf Publishing 
(March 2019)

4 Stars

The best audiobook I've listened to so far this year. The narrator complimented the writing and his reading style kept me engaged the entire time. What starts out as a buddy trip quickly turns into a game of survival of the fittest when a moment of good intention twists iteself into the men's worst nightmare.

Jordan A Rothacker
Stalking Horse Press
(March 2019)

3 Stars

A collection of strange and somewhat forgettable stories. Of the bunch, Parables Three which is three stories within the story, one of a young boy who listens to an old man's story, one of a magician who fears he's a fraud, and one of a little girl who asks god for a christmas present; A Night, Like Any Other; Or Ooh, Ooh That Smell where a bullied boy finds release in burning a body, and Winter Solstice, in which a young man buries the star of his deceased mother's nativity scene, were immediate favorites. That is not to say that the rest of the stories were clunkers... far from it. Each one was uniquely skewed and twisted, but they lacked staying power, quickly fading away the further I navigated into the collection.

Ronan Hession
Bluemoose Books
(March 2019)

3 Stars

This is the most "feel-good" fiction I've read in a long while. A slow, meandering walk through the lives of Leonard and Hungry Paul - two awkward, introverted, thirty-something year old besties who still live at home with the 'rents - as they navigate slight but extremely distruptive changes in both their lives. Insightful in its simplicity, Hession's novel showcases the power of friendship, living in the moment, and embracing the person you are, flaws and all.

Maurice Carlos Ruffin
One World 
(January 2019)


I started to listen to this on audio during my work commute. I only made it a week, I just couldn't do it anymore. Part my struggle was the audio narrator. He was a speed talker for sure and came across as a little manic and high strung. I blame the rest on the overall pacing of the novel itself. It jumped and skipped around too frequently for me, as if the book's narrator (or the author himself) had ADHD. Though I really didn't want to, I had to call it quits. It just wasn't for me.

Paul Crenshaw
Mad Creek Books
(March 2019)

3 Stars

As a hard core literary fiction fan, I'll admit I'm still quite new to the whole genre of non fiction essay collection. In an effort to broaden my reading horizons this year, I'm trying to read it more often, but I keep finding myself torn with same old question of how-much-of-this-is-truly-true-and-how-much-is-fluffed-up-in-an-effort-to-keep-my-attention-or-fill-in-the-gaps-that-memory-leaves-blank? Paul himself, in his essay "Choke", takes a moment to acknowledge this very thing, stating that memory, and how one unravels or shares the truth, how things are arranged and shared within the essay, can change the story. So how many creative liberties and fill-in-the-blanks-when-we-don't-remember-the-specifics have to take place before the non fiction actually becomes fiction?

What's here is well written, and my preferred essays, though this shouldn't come as a shock, were those that focused most specifically on Paul and his family. I found myself most rapt when reading about his own experiences vs those pages he devoted towards researching and spewing out facts and numbers about his hometown, religious influences, and the like. 

Though, counter to what I just said, Paul also manages to cross over into my greatest pet-peeve territory by introducing animals only to kill them off. Only this is 10xs worse because it's for reals and not for the fiction novel shock factor. These deaths will haunt me for a long time to come. I hope he's happy.

Asja Bakic
The Feminist Press
(March 2019)

4 Stars

Strange and mysterious settings plague this intensely striking and infectiously readable debut collection of speculative short stories. From a woman who must write herself out of pergatory, to a future world in which all literature and their authors are packed up and sent away to Mars, many of the stories focus on the power of the written word in some fashion, creating interesting and alluring atmospheres. Worlds are upended, relationships are not what they seem, protagonists face personal epiphanies... it's a melting pot of sci-fi meets cli-fi meets dystopian meets speculative fiction in which every reader is bound to find something to love.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Paul Beckman Takes it to the Toilet

Oh yes! We absolutely have a series on bathroom reading! So long as it's taking place behind the closed  (or open, if that's the way you swing) bathroom door, we want to know what it is. It can be a book, the back of the shampoo bottle, the newspaper, or Twitter on your cell phone - whatever helps you pass the time...

Today, Paul Beckman takes it to the toilet. Paul’s published books are: Kiss Kiss (Truth Serum Press), Peek (Big Table Publishing), Come! Meet My Family and Other Stories (Weighted Anchor Press) Chapbooks: Maybe I Ought to Sit in a Dark Room for a While (Ink, Sweat, and Tears) 21 Stories (Web Del Sol), and a novella, Lovers and Other Mean People (Sugar Mule Press). He has over 400 stories published in print, online, and via audio in the following magazines among others: Pank, Necessary Fiction, Playboy, New Flash Fiction Review,  Pure Slush, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Thrice Fiction, Fictive Dream, Connecticut Review. Literary Orphans, 100 Word Story, Spelk Fiction, Molotov Cocktail, Jellyfish Review, Digging Through the Fat, Litro, and Red Fez. Paul has judged flash fiction contest for Brilliant Flash Fiction, and Cahoodaloodaling and short story financial award grants for the state of New Jersey. And he has had his stories short-listed two times for LISP London Independent Story Prize, Was one of the winners of the Best Small Fictions 2016, Nominated BSF 2019, Won the 2016 Editor’s Prize for fiction for the Southeast Review, and  had a story selected for the Norton Anthology of Micro-fiction 2019.

Paul lives in CT. with his wife, Sandra and he curates the FBomb NY flash fiction reading series monthly at KGB’s Red Room in New York’s lower east side.

Toilet Training at the Beckman’s

It started out a number of years ago when I was sitting on the throne and I realized I had a note in my pocket that I wrote earlier in the day with a story idea. I didn’t remember what it was about so I read it again, liked it and took my pen from the same shirt pocket and expanded on the note. When I finished my business in the bathroom I went to my office and typed up that story.

Weeks passed and I stopped and picked up the mail at the end of my driveway and had the urge to go so I jumped in the car, drove into the garage and ran to the bathroom. While I was sitting there I looked through the mail and then started to peruse that weeks’ Time Magazine. When I left the bathroom I left the magazine propped up against the wall.

Then I got a book in the mail and I took it in with me to read the dust jacket and then I was going to put it on my nightstand but it didn’t make it there.

Within a couple of months the books multiplied and I was stacking them in piles to read like at my nightstand and like at the end table in the living room.

My wife took a stand and said she wasn’t going to use that bathroom until I took the books out-- she’d use the guest bathroom and I’d better not go in there at all. I told her I didn’t know how all the books and magazines were piling up and I think, and she found this hard to believe, that they were copulating in there while we were sleeping and that’s why the books were multiplying.

I think  if I alphabetize them they won’t look so messy but every time I start to do that I start another book. Now most have bookmarks and the stack of Time Magazines are each folded to an article I want to read. I’ve come to accept me for who I am but I wish my wife would stop brining company into the bathroom so they can laugh at me. No one realizes the pressured I’m under with all those books and magazines calling to me. I may have to start sneaking into the guest bathroom.