Monday, July 9, 2018

Bronwyn Reviews: Downdrift

by Johanna Drucker
Publisher: Three Rooms Press
Released: 2018

reviewed by Bronwyn Mauldin

Koalas work in the construction industry. Coyotes run for school board. Armadillos breakdance. Prairie dogs gamble. Lemurs sell jewelry. Silverfish volunteer to take notes for crows gathering oral histories (this doesn’t end well). Giraffes develop a passion for flute playing. They partner with little jerboas that finger the notes by hopping about and pressing their cheeks against the flute holes.

I haven’t laughed so much while reading a novel in a very, very long time. And yet, Johanna Drucker’s Downdrift is completely serious. She sets the tone and intent in an early scene:

“The squirrels are tired of the purpose-driven life, sick of storing nuts against the barren winter. Suddenly they are addicted to the luxury of squandering their energy in useless production and consumption.”

In the “downdrift” of the title, animals increasingly take on human characteristics and behaviors. As the title suggests, this is a move backward in the evolutionary cycle. The “drift” of the title is the haphazard nature of their downward spiral. One species makes a rapid evolutionary leap, while another moves incrementally. In the animal kingdom as on a sandy shoal at the mouth of a river, downdrift is a form of erosion.

The two main characters are a Massachusetts calico named Callie and an unnamed lion on the Kenya grasslands. Something in the downdrift drives them to leave their homes and search for each other. Their journeys are narrated by an archaeon, a genderless single-celled microorganism that is networked around the globe, giving it an omniscient vantage point for observing the downdrift.

“The hyenas are good at many things. They recycle foil with a great passion, flattening its convoluted mass into worried surfaces that they read as if an augury. The rhinos keep them around for amusement, even if they have to police their behavior at times…. After all, the hyenas are helpful to them in many ways. For instance, they have an uncanny ability to assess inventory and are involved in what they consider to be a cargo cult.”

As animals become self-aware, natural law must be replaced with something more formal. Is it right for a lost suburban housecat to hunt down and eat a mouse that has become capable of communicating its emotions through an ecstatic dance on a piece of toast? Laws must be written, regulations promulgated, lines drawn. Under pressures both legal and social, Callie quickly becomes a vegetarian, falling off the wagon in only the most hungry, desperate circumstances, as at a hidden tide pool writhing with minnows.   

Drucker applies concepts from popular culture to animal behavior, at times using the language of bureaucracy to bring it all together in an uncanny absurdity that still seems familiar. In one scene, a goat looks up from the newspaper he is eating to read aloud to a group of beavers about the emerging new narcissism disease:

“The beavers, sounding the alarm and fearing for contagion, scream a warning about the ‘blue-eyed syndrome!’ Callie takes advantage of the uproar to scoop up a few more yams and yellow squash, which helps to calm her homicidal urge to attack the rodents. The goat who started the whole mess takes pleasure in the random chaos of the scene. Though he pretends to be a political pundit, he is really a nihilist at heart, and confusion provides him almost as much pleasure as consuming the last of the news.”

Reading Downdrift put me in mind of Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis (1997) and Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov (1925). Both are sci-fi-adjacent, speculative, satirical, brilliant, and heartbreaking. Animals take on our characteristics and behaviors with tragic results that reveal our human failings. What sets Downdrift apart is that humans are almost invisible in Drucker’s text, irrelevant to the story beyond their general evolutionary influences. As the book comes to a close we get one final look at the lion:

“Nobility is ascribed to him by humans, but their love of charismatic creatures spawns from their own aspirations. They adopt the animals as role models, as if the animal kingdom is a metaphor whose purpose is symbolic, not lived or real.”

This is the powerful eco-fiction ethic at the heart of Downdrift. Animals do not exist for our purposes. Their lives have value and meaning beyond our ability to see or comprehend them. Many other animals were here before homo sapiens emerged. They will, unless we make some terribly colossal mistake, remain long after we are gone, living their lives on their terms.


Bronwyn Mauldin writes fiction and poetry, and creates zines. She will be an Artist in Residence at Denali National Park and Preserve in summer 2018. More at  

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Audio Series: The Space Between

Our audio series "The Authors Read. We Listen."  was hatched in a NYC club during BEA back in 2012. It's a fun little series, where authors record themselves reading an excerpt from their own novels, in their own voices, the way their stories were meant to be heard.

Kali VanBaale is reading an excerpt from her recently released novel The Space Between. Kali is also t
he author of the novel The Good Divide. She is the recipient of an American Book Award, an Eric Hoffer Book Award, an Independent Publisher’s silver medal for fiction, and a State of Iowa major artist grant. Her short stories and essays have appeared in The Chaffey Review, Midwestern Gothic, Numéro Cinq, Nowhere Magazine, The Milo Review, Northwind Literary, Poets&Writers, The Writer and several anthologies. Kali holds an MFA in creative writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is a faculty member of the Lindenwood University MFA Creative Writing Program. She lives outside Des Moines with her family.

Click the soundcloud link below to listen as Kali reads from her latest novel:

What it's about:

Valentine's Day in Middle America. Judith Elliott fixes breakfast for her affluent suburban family. She kisses them all goodbye, tends to the house, makes plans for later with her husband. Then comes the news: her teenage son, Lucas, has taken a gun to school. He has killed two other students, a teacher, and himself. Judith must suddenly grapple with extraordinary grief and horror. As reporters gather and lawsuits loom, society shuts out the Elliott family--including husband Peter and daughter Lindsey--who are as blindsided by the tragedy as anyone. Judith is soon plagued by unanswerable doubts that may eventually disrupt her life more completely than the initial tragedy. Kali VanBaale's powerful Fred Bonnie Award-winning first novel examines this modern nightmare with clear-eyed dramatic precision. It will leave every reader wondering what lurks in the dark but unknowable spaces between even the most loving of family members.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Where Writers Write: Marshall Moore

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 Marshall Moore. 

He is the author of four novels (InhospitableBitter OrangeAn Ideal for Living, and The Concrete Sky) and three short-fiction collections (A Garden Fed by LightningThe Infernal Republic, and Black Shapes in a Darkened Room). With Xu Xi, he is the co-editor of the anthology The Queen of Statue Square: New Short Fiction from Hong Kong. His short stories have appeared in Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Asia Literary ReviewThe Barcelona Review, and many other journals and anthologies. He holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University in the UK, and he teaches English and Creative Writing at Lingnan University in Hong Kong. For more information, please visit

Where Marshall Moore Writes

I seem to move a lot. Here in Hong Kong, where I’ve spent the last ten years, I’ve lived in five apartments. I’d buy one but they’re too expensive. As a result, once the landlord raises the rent to an amount I refuse to pay, I find someplace new. My current one, in the Hung Hom district of Kowloon (which is the Brooklyn to Hong Kong Island’s Manhattan, but perhaps not as hip), is terrific: huge windows, lots of light, a view of Victoria Harbour. I have a long L-shaped living/dining room, and my writing alcove (I don’t really call it that) occupies the base of the L. I would prefer a room with a door I could shut, but the view almost makes up for it.

In order to get any writing done, I need quiet and solitude. Once upon a time, I could listen to music and write. I got the second draft of my novel The Concrete Sky done in a hotel room in New Orleans, listening to a lot of late-’90s French disco (Daft Punk, Cassius, Mirwais) and scaring the maids by staying in all day to work. I think they thought I was a vampire. I used to write on planes, too. I wrote one chapter of that book in a departure lounge at Narita, and probably some of it either over the Pacific or on the flight down to Singapore. The way I work changed when I was writing my second novel An Ideal for Living. I was in a failing relationship then, and there were constant interruptions. My cortisol levels have never recovered, so today I absolutely cannot have other people around while I’m trying to work. I’ve done some good work in hotel rooms, but -- forgive the cliche -- there’s no place like home.

The cat, nicknamed the Fur Bomb for reasons that are probably obvious, helps by broadcasting fluffy cuteness and keeping me from disappearing too far into my own head. My ideal writing day starts with breakfast at my desk (where else?) and a pot of coffee. By mid-afternoon, it’s time for lunch, and if everything has gone well, I will (a) have gotten a decent amount of work done, whether creative or academic, and (b) not have spoken to anyone other than the cat. Weather permitting, I’ll take a break and go to the gym. Sometimes, I’ll work in the evening as well, but if I’ve depleted myself for the day, I’ll do other things.

I have nothing but respect for authors who can work in cafes. One part of me wishes I could. Some great books have been written with the help of supportive baristas and endless cups of coffee or tea. But while I’m in this flat, here’s where the work gets done, and when my landlord jacks the rent up, which he will, then my next writing room will be totally different.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Jennifer Spiegel 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, Jennifer Spiegel takes it to the toilet. She is mostly a fiction writer with two books and a miscellany of short publications, though she also teaches English and creative writing. She is part of Snotty Literati, a book-reviewing gig, with Lara Smith. She lives with her family in Arizona. And So We Die, Having First Slept, following ten years of an unorthodox marriage involving Sappho, brain injury, and bath salt addiction, will be published in December 2018. 

I was looking for a Band-Aid. That’s why I was in there.

I opened cabinets, opened drawers, peeked behind dusty brown bottles of peroxide. Surely, we had one. Our kids had passed the Decorative Bandage Stage – no more Dora strips to be found. But everyone hurts. Everyone bleeds.

There was his toothbrush. There was his Über-Manly Hair Gel. I saw his contact solution, his floss.

And, right next to a roll of toilet paper, his book. . .

Greek Mythology!

My husband, on the throne, studies Zeus.

The books we read!

I have a vivid memory of my sister as a teenager: she is reading The Exorcist in the bathroom. She won’t come out. Hours pass. She is so enthralled that she apparently plans on spending the day reading on the toilet.

When she appears, the demon is gone.

Who doesn’t like a good book?

Yes, I’m more interested in what you’re reading in the bathroom than what I’m reading. What are the books that you keep by the stash of tampons, the stick of deodorant?

Why am I less interested in my own reading material?

Because I’m not reading anything in there.

I usually don’t bring a book (though sometimes I do).

But here is a list of some of the writers who are not in my bathroom:

There is no Sherman Alexie, who makes me laugh and cry. (Can he ever be in my bathroom again?) Elena Ferrante, with her brutal intimacies between women, is nowhere to be found. Hope Jahren does not offer her scientific ministrations, and Patricia Lockwood fails to turn these bathroom absurdities into poetry.  Francesca Marciano, who might offer international escape or expatriate memories, is not next to my body soap. Why are there no snap-crackle-pop Lorrie Moore sentences behind the color-safe shampoo? Sometimes, I have wished for a little Jenny Offill—for a snippet of wise-cracking prose. Marilynne Robinson, in story/devotionals, is not in my mirrored cabinet. David Sedaris, with his too-close-for-comfort and myopically perfect observations, doesn’t rest atop any tank. Colson Whitehead fails to offer me his perfect sentences when I am staid, captive to a porcelain bowl.

I have no books in the loo.

There, I’m just a mom.

I am mostly counting inventory, checking for parabens.

Parabens, here. Parabens, there.

No writers around.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Audio Series: The Mutual UFO Network

Our audio series "The Authors Read. We Listen."  was hatched in a NYC club during BEA back in 2012. It's a fun little series, where authors record themselves reading an excerpt from their own novels, in their own voices, the way their stories were meant to be heard.

Lee Martin will be reading an excerpt from his newest collection The Mutual UFO Network, which released June 12th. He is the author of the novels, The Bright Forever, River of Heaven; Quakertown; Break the Skin, and Late One Night. He has also published three memoirs, From Our House, Turning Bones, and Such a Life. His first book was the short story collection, The Least You Need to Know. He is the co-editor of Passing the Word: Writers on Their Mentors, and the author of Telling Stories: The Craft of Narrative and the Writing Life. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in such places as Harper’s, Ms., Creative Nonfiction, The Georgia Review, The Kenyon Review, Fourth Genre, River Teeth, The Southern Review, Prairie Schooner, Glimmer Train, The Best American Mystery Stories, and The Best American Essays. He is the winner of the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Ohio Arts Council. He teaches in the MFA Program at The Ohio State University, where he is a College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of English and a past winner of the Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching.

Click on the soundcloud bars below to listen to Lee read from his collection:

What it's about: 

In The Mutual UFO Network, Pulitzer Prize finalist and master of the craft Lee Martin presents his first short story collection since his acclaimed debut The Least You Need to Know. With Martin's signature insight, each story peers into the nooks and crannies of seemingly normal homes, communities, and families. The footprints of a midnight prowler peel back the veneer of a marriage soured by a long-ago affair. A con man selling faked UFO footage loses his wife to the promise of life outside the ordinary. And a troubled man, tormented by his own mind, lies in the street to look at the stars, and in doing so unravels the carefully constructed boundaries between his quiet neighbors.
From friendship and family to all forms of love, The Mutual UFO Network explores the intricacies of relationships and the possibility for redemption in even the most complex misfits and loners.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Page 69: Camp Austen: My Life as an Accidental Jane Austen Superfan

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 Ted Scheinman's Camp Austen: My Life as an Accidental Jane Austen Superfan to the test

Set up page 69 for us. What are we about to read?

This is from the second chapter, and it picks up partway through a visual survey of the Jane Austen Society of North America's public market at the society's annual summit. In film terms, what you're seeing here is a portion of a tracking shot.

What is Camp Austen about?

It's a reported work of narrative nonfiction, all about the rhapsodic (and occasionally riotous) world of Jane Austen superfans. The book also doubles as a family memoir: Austen is very important to my mother's side of the family, and I use these family reflections to illuminate the larger world of Austen enthusiasts. I also offer short analyses of Austen's novels, and of her biography, that help explain why so many readers find themselves singularly drawn to Austen. A lot of Austen conferences are like a big party among a boisterous extended family, and I want readers to enjoy eavesdropping on the party as much as possible.

Do you think this page is a good reflection of the book overall? Does it align itself with the book's overall theme?

I think it does! You see most of the book's concerns here: the flirting, the crowdsourced costume advice, the radical democracy of the fan-fiction world, the sheer characters who inhabit this universe dedicated to Jane (“Stone Cold Jane Austen”!). Also, Janeites place a charmingly serious emphasis on apparent trivia, and I think we get a flavor of that on the page in question (furled vs. unfurled umbrellas, etc.). This page is more of a catalogue or epic list than most pages in the book, and you'll find more slapstick elsewhere, but I think this offers a representative taste.


[… Ed]ward Taylor, upon whom (the Austen letters indicate) Austen had “fondly doted.” Women and men dressed as period haberdashers will remain in character while pressing homemade bonnets upon you; other people dressed as period haberdashers do not remain in character but nonetheless press homemade bonnets upon you.

     Outside the market, authors perch behind a row of tables, selling and signing books and answering questions from their public. At one table, several of the world’s most decorated Austen scholars share sympathy over their colleagues’ physical ailments while fielding breathless questions from graduate students for whom the presence of these scholars has the effect of an oracular experience. Four tables to their right, another author is peddling romantic spin-offs of the Austen novels—there is even a subset of fan-fiction predicated on subtextual homoeroticism in the original books; you wouldn’t believe what Darcy and Bingley get up to when the rest of Netherfield is asleep—and, to her right, two authors are signing mystery novels (The Suspicion at Sanditon!). If you poked your head in from the street, you might meet Devoney Looser, a professor at Arizona State University and an accomplished roller-derbyist who, when she’s on skates, goes by the moniker “Stone Cold Jane Austen.” Depending on the year, you might bump into John Mullan, a perceptive critic of Austen who has also answered one of the enduring questions of Austenworld: How many umbrellas appear in the novels? How many of them are furled? (The answers are seven and six, respectively.)


Bio: Ted Scheinman is based in Southern California, where he works as senior editor at Pacific Standard magazine. His essays and reporting have appeared in the New York Times, the Oxford American, the Paris ReviewPlayboy, Slate, and elsewhere. His first book, Camp Austen: My Life as an Accidental Jane Austen Superfan, is available via Farrar, Straus & Giroux/FSG Originals.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Scott Navicky 's Guide to Books & Booze

Time to grab a book and get tipsy!

Books & Booze challenges participating authors to make up their own drinks, name and all, or create a drink list for their characters and/or readers using drinks that already exist. 

Today, Scott Navicky is throwing all the booze at the his recently released new book 3Essays onImagereality.

Ready to get your booze on???


An Anythingarian Boozehound’s Guide to Absinthe & Afternoon Drinking
(Alternative Title: Barry Barry Barry Bonds, Y’all)

James Joyce pinched the portmanteau from Jonathan Swift. I pinched it from Joyce, stripped it of its religious vestments, and added alcohol. When it comes to booze, I’m a renowned anythingarian: I’ll drink anything as long as it isn’t sold in a hardware store. The one constant in my alcohistory is absinthe. The protagonists in both Humboldt: Or, The Power of Positive Thinking and 3Essays on Imagereality are absintheminded. My favorite absinthes are Émile Pernot Vieux Pontarlier and Lucid Absinthe Supérieure. Both are classified as historic absinthes. (While technically American, Lucid is produced in the famous Combier distillery in Saumur, which, in addition to being a working distillery, is also an absinthe museum.)

When drinking absinthe, it is essential to be mindful of not only what you’re drinking, but when you are drinking it. Drinking absinthe too late in the evening can be an invitation to riotous escapades. The traditional Parisian l’heure verte, or “the green hour,” was five o’clock. Observing l’heure verte transformed me from an evening drinker into an afternoon drinker, and this transformation opened up a plethora of new drink possibilities. For example, I adore Irish Coffee and steadfastly maintain that a well-timed Irish Coffee can save your life, but I’m often underwhelmed by its presentation. The temperature tends to be too tepid and it’s usually gone too soon. To avoid this disappointment, I create a Barry Barry Barry Bonds, Y’all. Don’t bother looking this drink up in Mr. Boston: The Official Bartender’s Guide because it’s not in there. I conjured it. The recipe is wonderfully simple:

1 espresso
1 pint of Guinness

Simply pour the espresso into the Guinness & enjoy

But don’t be misled by the simplicity of this creation: finding a good Barry Barry Barry Bonds, Y’all isn’t easy. You either have to locate the perfect proximity between coffeeshop and pub, or stumble upon a bar that offers both good espresso and Guinness on tap. One of my favorite Barry Barry Barry Bonds, Y’all bars is named Nighttown after a famous Joycean portmanteau. (Within the Circe chapter of Ulysses, Nighttown is Joyce’s rechristening of Dublin’s red-light district, known to local Dubliners as Monto.)

Circe is foregrounded by a drinking party at the National Maternity Hospital. When the party becomes too raucous, the revelers, including both Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, relocate across the street to Burke’s Pub, where Stephen begins ordering absinthe. Immediately after Stephen places this order, an ominous toast appears in Latin.

Translation: We will all drink green poison, and the devil take the hindmost.

The woozy wobblers stay at Burke’s until chuckingout time. When the entourage spills out onto the street, the scene is set for absinthe’s finest hour. No other author has been able to so playfully portray absinthe’s lucid beauty alongside its accused lurid vulgarity.

Easily the longest chapter within the novel, Circe is a delight for quotehounds. Lewd chimpanzees wander the streets, as the famished snaggletusks of an elderly bawd protrude from a doorway. In the middle of a lengthy hallucination, Leopold Bloom vows to build the new Bloomusalem. The ghost of poor Paddy Dignam appears via metempsychosis. Leopold Bloom speaks to his dead father, while Stephen is confronted by his mother’s undead spirit. Amidst all of this greenmadness, a Hobgoblin appears kangaroohopping, and the beardless face of William Shakespeare appears in a hallway mirror to crow Iagogogo!

This is exactly why you shouldn’t drink absinthe too late in the evening. Of course, James Joyce might not agree. An anythingarian boozehound with a preference for Swiss wine from the Neuchâtel region, James Joyce insisted on never drinking before the sun went down.


Scott Navicky is the author of 3Essays on Imagereality (Montag Press, 2018) and Humboldt: Or, The Power of Positive Thinking (Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, 2014). He attended Denison University and the University of Auckland, where he was awarded an Honors Master’s Degree in art history with a focus on photography theory. He currently lives in Columbus, Ohio.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Page 69: Into That Good Night

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 Levis Keltner's Into That Good Night to the test. 

Set up page 69 for us. What are we about to read:

Page 69 tells of the first time Greg Dombrowski meets John H. Walker, the local legend recently diagnosed with terminal leukemia. In the memory, Greg confesses his infatuation with Erika Summerson, the young girl whose murder sparks the novel.

Here Greg struggles through his hypermasculinity to express his feelings for Erika while he and Walker bond over a game of HORSE. Their time together gives Walker license to later ask Greg to join the group that searches for Erika’s killer.

What is Into That Good Night about?

 Into That Good Night is a story about a group of kids who become inseparable friends when a girl they love is murdered in the woods behind town. They bond while scouring a secluded section of the valley for clues to close her unsolved murder. They are soon harassed by a person they believe to be the killer. United against a common enemy, the group strikes back. Through the haze of adolescence in a predominantly white, working-class American suburb, the novel’s underdog protagonist Doug Horolez must then decide whether or not to help the only friends he’s ever known in their quest for peace and justice.

Do you think this page is a good reflection of the book overall? Does it align itself with the book’s overall theme?

Greg’s point of view is one of seven in the novel. This excerpt snapshots his white cis hetero adolescence, mid-attempt to figure it all out—the new and raw emotions, the transience of relationships, Life, his talents and passions, with his intense attraction to Erika underpinning every thought.

The excerpt reflects the novel in that it illustrates an adolescent mind trying to make sense of the world passed on to their generation.

The novel’s point of view shifts between all seven kids: E. Summerson, Tiffany Dennys, Josué Ortiz, Alex Karahalios, John H. Walker, and Doug Horolez, who gets most camera time. Funny enough, Greg probably gets the least.

Trying to make sense of existence is the work before us all to our last days, I think. Adolescence is a special time because many of us start to ask big questions and our observations are in some ways less bullshit than what we tell ourselves in adulthood, misbelieving we have all the answers.

I hope readers find the group’s outlook as refreshing as I did and fall in love with at least one of these unlikely and tragic heroes.

PAGE 69: 

cool to see him turn up alone on Greg’s court at Penny Park one November night, before Erika had died. The halogen floodlight mounted to the telephone pole behind the backboard had already whited-out the world beyond the court, right before Greg was about to head home, when the swings creaked. Greg saw nothing, then jumped—startled by the Dead Man on the sideline. Buried in a scarf and the hood of his parka, his face looked bloodless, zombiefied. The kid had cancer or something. Still, meeting Walker was worth skipping dinner for. They played HORSE. Greg won, but the game wasn’t a sweep. Walker might’ve had a chance if he’d stopped gabbing and focused when he had the ball. Greg remembered the kid asking after the winning shot if there was anything he loved more than basketball. Greg had said no. Greg then mentioned Erika, like some big stalker. He kept shooting, stripped down to his jersey and shorts, his body heat worked up, trying hard not to listen too hard to the bundled kid on the sidelines pushing with the personal questions, as though somehow he knew how sick Greg’s heart was for her, the guy saying, “Erika … Erika …” with these floats of white breath that Greg dodged on his way to the hoop, as if she would materialize out of one if the kid wasn’t dying and had a few ounces better lung capacity. Greg couldn’t shoot worth a shit, then, too afraid it could happen, which was dumb because of how badly he wished it would—until an hour later, when they were drinking hot Gatorade teas together—he and John H. Walker drinking Greg’s own winter game elixir, no shit—outside of 7-Eleven, like buddies, and Greg admitted wanting to love someone as much as he loved the game. “Something bigger,” Walker said and admitted he knew the feeling. Greg walked home that night with true respect for the kid, though feeling kinda that he’d gabbed and hardly let Walker speak, which wasn’t his style. Sharing feelings wasn’t his style. Still. So when the guy came up to him yesterday to say there might be a way to help Erika, he must’ve already known Greg would say yes.

The kids dug until daylight fled the crowns of the trees. All that time, they plodded with their long-handled shovels in the well-rooted earth while John went around saying, “Deeper. No—close. A little deeper.” Each thanked him for his feedback to be kind. They figured his condition made physical labor risky—everyone except E.


Levis Keltner is a writer, musician, editor, and educator from Chicago and living in Austin, Texas. He is the author of Into That Good Night (Skyhorse, 2018). His short fiction has appeared in Bull: Men's Fiction. He is the editor-in-chief of Newfound and teaches writing at Texas State University.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Guest Post: Steve Mitchell


  [Let this music play until further instructions.] 

  In the Fall of 2017, in anticipation of the publication of my novel, Cloud Diary, I began approaching musicians about responding to short scenes from the novel in any manner they chose. By early 2018, 19 musicians had responded with 25 original pieces. 

Writing, music, art: they don’t travel in a straight line. The roots of their narrative tunnel and curl, vanish and re-appear, spreading outward, never quite resting. It’s impossible to say exactly what art does, and while the arts speak to our connectedness, they also accentuate the vast gulfs between us: the breadth of interpretation, of response, and the uniqueness of that response.

Sometimes, in my process of writing, it happens that a piece of music takes on a value. It’s not an inspiration exactly, but it stakes out an emotional territory that’s not obvious or causal. An innocent bystander might never see the connection, but the music helps to form an interior landscape I return to throughout the writing.

Cloud Diary (C&R Press, 2018) is the story of Doug and Sophie, their intense relationship in their twenties, then eight years later when they meet again. Even before I’d begun the writing, Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane, Over the Sea became an anchor for the early part of Doug and Sophie’s life together.

Raw, loose, and loud, Neutral Milk Hotel has a dangerous, wailing nakedness, the kind which might pivot in an instant into something necessitating an intervention. I wanted that feeling around Doug and Sophie: a messy vulnerability, a life with dirt in the corners, a life of rummaging in couch cushions for change to do laundry, of hoping your more established friends invite you to dinner because it’s two days before payday.

 Yet, in contrast, I needed very quiet, still places within the book and a different kind of music could come into play then.

 The story of Doug and Sophie is one of intimacy, and powerlessness in the face of tests upon that intimacy. It’s intensely personal, in that it’s focused almost solely upon them over eight years of their lives.

In the middle section of Cloud Diary, the tone changes, becoming quieter, a bit more melancholy, as Sophie and Doug meet again after their separation. Their meeting is tentative at first‑‑‑there’s a lot of history to address or avoid---then tender, then more demanding than either might have imagined. In the writing, Neutral Milk Hotel was replaced by Sigur Ros; very specific Sigur Ros tracks from a 2004 ep, BA BA TI KI DI DO. That’s what you’ve been listening to.

In Philip K. Dick’s short story, The Preserving Machine, Doc Labyrinth invents a machine that converts great music into living creatures. He’s concerned that Beethoven or Bach might not survive a coming apocalypse and believes that through this conversion they might be set free in the wild, fend for themselves, then be scooped up in the future and converted again into beautiful music.

  [Scroll up and stop the Sigur Ros now. Scroll back down.] 

  [Start this music now.]


Things don’t go as planned. A year or two after releasing the various creatures into the nearby forest, Labyrinth finds every animal has changed in order to survive and flourish, and that to place the Bach bugs back into the Preserving Machine does not deliver Bach at all, but a whole new music.

As contributions to the Cloud Diary Music Project began to appear in my inbox, I was reminded of Dick’s story. All types of music were represented here, from barroom songs and bluegrass to electronica and avant-garde classical.

Each person who submitted knew very little about the book as a whole. They’d simply received a short scene and a three-sentence synopsis. (One likened it to peering through a hole in a construction fence. He could only see a couple of beams and girders, imagining the rest.) Each was creating something whole from a mere glimpse, in the same way a simple exchange overheard between strangers can become, for me, the basis of a short story.

The music you're listening to now was written and performed (with Steve Sollod) by Kim Church. Kim is a writer herself. It’s a response to a fictional scene written, in part, as a response to the music of Sigur Ros. In the scene, Doug and Sophie struggle with their future over a late night and a morning, working to rekindle old bonds, or perhaps establish new ones. There’s a darkness hanging over this scene. And a stillness.

When we write, we are translating feelings, images, conversations; we’re collating them, bringing them together, and then threading a needle of words to create something. It’s not a record, not a historical document; we are translating experience into another language.

This is what we do when we read. We gather the words and form our own images, feelings, history, even music, around them. They become our own. Every translation is different. Every read text is unique.

This is true even of our own work. Now, when I remember Sophie turning to Doug in the middle of that night and asking, quietly, “Can you just hold me. For a moment…”, I hear both Sigur Ros and Kim Church. They are distinct views of the same scene.

Because, once our creatures scuttle or dart from the nest they become their own beings and they, like Doc Labyrinth’s musical creations, will transform as they explore and chart the world for themselves.

With luck, they’ll learn to survive on their own. We may or may not recognize them when they do. 


Kendra Harding’s Lover Leap was written in response to a different scene within Part Two of the book. Music for this piece: Lucy Dacus, Historian / Big Thief, Capacity Steve Mitchell is the author of Cloud Diary and co-owner of Scuppernong Books in Greensboro, NC       

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Where Robert Lopez Writes

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 Robert Lopez. 

He is the author of three novels, Part of the World, Kamby Bolongo Mean River, and All Back Full, and two story collections, Asunder and Good People.

Where Robert Lopez Writes

This is where I work, when I work. This is also where I spend a fair amount of time when I'm not working. I could never write in a cafe full of people and the sounds they make. I'm distracted enough here alone, what with the news and social media and all the other etceteras. I don't need real live people crossing through my field of vision at the same time. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Isabelle Kenyon's Guide to Books & Booze

Time to grab a book and get tipsy!

Books & Booze challenges participating authors to make up their own drinks, name and all, or create a drink list for their characters and/or readers using drinks that already exist. 

Today, Isabelle Kenyon whips up a new drink in honor of her latest collection of poetry, 

Ready to get your booze on??


Drink: 'Jungle Fever'
Malibu (fruity and tropical)
Coconut milk (cleansing, pure)
A starfruit garnish (think thick jungles and exotic new tastes and topics)
Lemon juice (bittersweet aftertaste)

I chose this drink because the book is entirely based on my time in New Zealand - exotic greenery, coastal beaches and fresh flavours. It was a time to cleanse the pallet so to speak, after the funeral of my Grandma, and so the exciting new experiences were often bittersweet.


Isabelle Kenyon is the author of poetry anthology, This is not a Spectacle and micro chapbook, The Trees Whispered, published by Origami Poetry Press. She is also the editor of MIND Poetry Anthology 'Please Hear What I'm Not Saying' and her latest release, Digging Holes To Another Continent, will be published by Clare Songbirds Publishing House this May.