Friday, September 19, 2014

Melanie Review: Crocodile Smiles

Pages: 114 
Publisher: Black Scat Books
Released: 2014

Guest review by Melanie Page

“Are crocodiles capable of smiling,” we are asked, “if they can’t cry?” Yuriy Tarnawsky’s newest collection contains six short, absurdist stories--confessional in nature, of course--that that suggest the author borrowed from playwriting and well-known tales.

Each story is process-oriented. First a character does something, and then the next step, and then the next. Skipping one part of the process is unthinkable, which gives some of the stories their length. “Agamemnon (post mortem),” described to readers as taking place on a stage in front of an audience, begins with sounds: hacking, sawing, screaming, moaning, crushing. We are tuned into the audio portion of the event.

Next, characters bring out a large thing as part of a procession, including a dwarf man and woman whom we are told to guess are Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, the murderers of Agamemnon. When all proceed off stage, they return again with another large piece of something. As the audience watches--and readers “watch” too--the pieces are stacked and come together as the body of the murdered. The description of leaving and returning are described again and again. Once the deed is done, everyone retreats. But the story/play doesn’t end there. Offstage we hear the couple talk, the squeaky springs of post-murder fornication, and some arguing.

What could be the problem? Why something as small as who left the light on after they stacked the dead man’s body. Aegisthus must come from offstage to cross in front of the audience in near dark, squishing through the bloody puddles to get to the light. With everything necessary completed, the story ends. Skipping one step wouldn’t make sense to the story. So, the procession in and out seems agonizingly long, but makes it easier to imagine the act truly happening.

Why this style of writing wasn’t my favorite of Tarnawsky’s, I appreciated the exploratory toying with form and content. I much prefer his collection Short Tales (Journal of Experimental Fiction Books, 2011), which takes on absurdist and cerebral narratives that stick closer to traditional storytelling. You’re asked to go deep into your mind, but you’re told to go there in a way that you recognize.

Crocodile Smiles was somewhat like you imagine to be descriptive services for the blind, but as the stories progress, the language takes on a rhythm, much like learning to dance to a new song with foreign steps. But, when you get the moves, you enjoy that it is a unique experience.

Melanie Page is a MFA graduate, adjunct instructor, and recent founder of Grab the Lapels, a site that only reviews books written by women (

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Audio Series: Erika Wurth

Our audio series "The Authors Read. We Listen."  was hatched in a NYC club during BEA back in 2012. This feature requires more time and patience of the author than any of the ones that have come before. And that makes it all the more sweeter when you see, or rather, hear them read excerpts from their own novels, in their own voices, the way their stories were meant to be heard.

Today, Erika T. Wurth reads an excerpy from her brand spankin' new novel, Crazyhorse’s Girlfriend,which has just been released by Curbside Splendor. Her collection of poetry, Indian Trains, was published by The University of New Mexico’s West End Press. A writer of both fiction and poetry, she teaches creative writing at Western Illinois University and has been a guest writer at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous journals including Boulevard, Fiction, Pembroke, Florida Review, Stand, Cimarron Review, The Cape Rock, Southern California Review and Drunken Boat. She is Apache/Chickasaw/Cherokee and was raised outside of Denver.

Click on the soundcloud link below to experience an excerpt of Crazy Horse's Girlfriend, as read by Erika. 

The word on Crazy Horse's Girlfriend

Margaritte is a sharp-tongued, drug-dealing, sixteen-year-old Native American floundering in a Colorado town crippled by poverty, unemployment, and drug abuse. She hates the burnout, futureless kids surrounding her and dreams that she and her unreliable new boyfriend can move far beyond the bright lights of Denver that float on the horizon before the daily suffocation of teen pregnancy eats her alive.
*lifted with love from goodreads

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Tony McMillen Takes it to the Toilet

Oh yes! We are absolutely running 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, author Tony McMillen takes it to the toilet. Tony's debut novel Nefarious Twit was published by Branch Hands Press December of last year. He lives near Boston but grew up mostly in Tucson, Arizona. Besides fiction he also writes the humor column “Touch The Wonder” where he performs droll vivisections on pop culture with equal parts vitriol and whimsy. The column is published by DigBoston.

What Tony McMillen is Reading in the Bathroom

I’m a man who loves sitting down to pee. Sure, I also love the freedom and ease of standing up and letting her rip too. I’d be a fool to squander this, one of the many biological gifts Mother Nature has granted my sex. But that being said, sometimes I just like to sit down and take my time.

But sometimes you want to take it easy but not so easy that you’re bored, you kow? This usually leads to reading.

My bathroom has always had a steady rotation of reading material. Much like a hotel for books or probably more accurately a flophouse. If my bathroom was bigger I could see the appeal of putting a coffee table in next to my can just to support the sloppy pyramid of books that’s always there. Because the truth is usually anything that’s on my coffee table eventually at some point makes its way to a near permanent residence on the floor of my bathroom anyway.  The books will sit there across from the toilet, usually nestled near or beneath a small forest of underwear, socks and the occasional shirt.

Never pants. Pants are only to be taken off in the bedroom. This is a house of order.

This current crop of toilet literature in my book hotel/water closet is a pretty good window into my reading habits.

1. Sex Criminals, Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky, latest issue

Love this goddamn book. Brimper for life. Look it up, kids. (Unless you’re actually actual kids, then don’t look that up, play a violent, sexist video game instead?) Seriously, funniest book on the stands, also really sweet and realistic about relationships and sex despite being about time freezing orgasms.  I read it usually on the couch but go through the letter pages (which is titled “Letter Daddies”) while on the can in the morning to get a few laughs while I’m keeping regular.

2. Trilobites and Other Stories, Breece D’J Pancake

Just picked this up while I was in London. Vonnegut and Atwood both had blurbs on the book and that caught my eye after noticing the cool cover art. So far I’m really enjoying this collection of stories. Guy had a helluva voice. I can see some of this influencing dudes like Donald Ray Pollock the author of Knockemstiff.

3. Wes Anderson Collection, ginormous coffee table book

This thing lived on my bathroom floor for half a fucking year. It’s just a beautifully put together book exploring the director’s whole career. Lot of photos and some essays too. It’s good to just open it once and while and soak up the colors and patterns. My girlfriend got it for me for Christmas or my birthday (they’re only 5 days apart) she knew what she was doing.

4. Southern Reach Trilogy, Jeff VanderMeer

I know he doesn’t need any more press but he deserves it. I can’t wait to start the last installment of the trilogy. These books lived in my bathroom for a while but not so that I could pick them up and thumb through them again but because I needed to read them first thing in the morning after or during waking up and relieving myself. Unputdownable.

5. More Comic Books

Comics can be quick so for the last month or so you’ll find some of these titles and more piled up in the corner far away from the splash back factor of my shower:

Savage Dragon, Erik Larsen
Been reading this comic since I was 11. Unpredictable but dependable action and storytelling.

Supreme: Blue Rose, Warren Ellis and Tula Lotay
Really digging this so far. Story is solid and Lotay’s art is dreamy as hell.

Saga, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Read it. Whoever you are. Read it.

The Wrenchies, Farel Dalrymple
Very strange and sort of fever dreamish. Personal but epic too. Weird book, probably not for every one but I just finished it and it’s still hanging out telling me to pick it up and check it out some more.

All in all I think it’s important to keep reading material in the bathroom because if you don’t inevitably you’ll be faced with the difficult chore of frantically searching your bookshelves for the perfect 6 minute read while simultaneous trying to exert Jedi control over your bladder or bowels in an effort to stall the beyond imminent evacuations. And nothing is worse than taking too long to finally settle on a read only to find that you’ve done your Jean Grey trick a little too well and now you no longer need to use the facilities.

So you’re left with a book and no reason to sit on the toilet. What are you supposed to do? Read in the living room?


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

From Here Blog Tour

Always flattered to be a part of the Grab the Lapels blog tours because Melanie Page is doing such wonderful things to get women writers the exposure and attention they deserve. In today's blog tour post, Jen shares an excerpt from her newest collection FROM HERE, then breaks down the excerpt, sharing some insights. 

Today is the second stop of Jen Michalski’s virtual book tour celebrating her new collection, From Here. The twelve stories in From Here explore the dislocations and intersections of people searching, running away, staying put. Their physical and emotional landscapes run the gamut, but in the end, they're all searching for a place to call home.

Read the excerpt from “Lillian in White,” a short story from the collection, and scroll down to see the footnotes to get into Jen’s brain and see what she was thinking!


Lillian [1] calls Roy [2] out of the blue. It had been so long since they’d dated, for him, anyway, that he doesn’t recognize the number in his cell phone. But he knows the voice that speaks and is instantly filled with the warm giddiness of promise, the delusional kind in which Lillian has made a terrible mistake and wants him back [3]. He doesn’t know if he wants her back, necessarily, but he swings his feet over his bed and pulls on yesterday’s socks.

“Roy, I know it’s been a long time, but I have a favor to ask you,” she says, her voice breaking up as Roy walks around the room, looking for a shirt [4].

Favor. Shit. He falls back on the bed, suddenly feeling the need for a few hours’ more sleep.

“How long has it been, Lillian?” He tries to remember Lillian’s specific features, recalls her perky tits.

“Eighteen months, almost. Look, I know this is probably a surprise to hear from me, but I’m not sure where else to turn...”

“Well, with that opening, how could I refuse?” Not promising in the least. He closes his eyes, rubs his temples, wondering what he could possibly offer her. Does she need a band for her wedding? Maybe his band, Fabric Softener [5], can play the song he wrote for her. Not a marriage proposal, exactly, but a tacit acknowledgment that two years together had been a long time. Maybe she needs some sort of underhanded loan, or, well, Roy is running out of ideas. He’s not the go-to guy for many things. But he agrees to meet her, anyway. He rolls over, trying to erase the suddenly perfect image of Lillian in white.

She is not wearing white when they meet, at one of those shitty trendy coffee places near his apartment. He spent twenty minutes going through the few clean shirts in the closet and is wearing a pinstripe v-neck sweater his mother bought him for Christmas last year. Respectable, somewhat. Or something. Perhaps it will distract her eyes from the mustard stain on his jeans.

It is certainly not his dumpster-diving wardrobe that attracted Lillian to him, however. It was his status as the lead singer of Fabric Softener, his creative genius and promise. Or maybe chicks just really dug guys in bands. Lillian was hot, a theater major [6] at one of the local college who was friends with a friend of Sam, the bassist. Lillian was hot. But she also was smart and funny like a friend who is a girl, like the fat chick with glasses who secretly has a crush on you and makes you laugh so hard all the time. And sometimes bitchy. But that’s girls for you.

But yeah, Lillian left him. It was hard to believe they’d been together two years, long enough for Roy to feel like it was for forever. Long enough to write a song for her [7], a song the band never got a chance to play, because Roy never shared it with them. It lived, in the closet of his heart and scrawled on the back of a grocery list, unbeknownst to anyone else.

Lillian has a cup of tea. Roy wonders if she quit drinking coffee. He orders a cup, black [8], and they take a table by the window. The round table is so small his knees brush against hers and he inhales her familiar scent.

“You look good, Roy.” She smiles that little smile of hers and Roy feels like something is squeezing meanly in his chest.

He cried—yes, he’ll admit it—cried when Lillian left [9]. It was in a coffee shop much like this one, when she dumped him, a Sunday morning after a party at somebody’s studio apartment with no place to sit. Why he has agreed to come here today, when his life was pretty good, manageable, he does not know.

“I quit smoking,” he answers although [10], in his opinion, that has made him look worse. Ten pounds worse.

“Congratulations,” she answers, and there is a hollow between them that is tepidly filled by the percolation of coffee and people.

“So,” he says after a drag of an imaginary Marlboro. “What’s up?”

      “I’m pregnant,” she says simply.


[1]. I’ve got nothing on this name, except a girl named Lillian—or Vivian—sounds like a real prima donna, like wealth, a little bitchy, to me. She has raven black hair and dark eyes and arched eyebrows, like an actress in a movie adaptation of a Dashiell Hammett novel.

[2]. I love the name Roy—if I ever had a boy (although time is short for such things), I would name him Roy. Not after Rogers—although I did work in the drive-through at Roy Rogers when I was in high school—but after Roy Rossello, a member of the boy band Menudo whom I had a crush on when I was about 12 (yes, you’re getting all the deep secrets here). He was Puerto Rican, had a bit of a shag haircut, but warm pools of eyes, and I’m totally not embarrassed to say I think he’s still cute. On a general level, I associate the name Roy with a light-hearted, happy-go-lucky guy, a little slight and boyish, with dimples and a crazy-nice smile. The kind of guy I would date, if I were straight.

[3]. I think someone had just broken up with me a few months before I began working on this story, in 2007, so I was kind of half-waiting for the call or the text or even a visit from her ISP to my website so I’d know she still kept tabs on me or something—know you, delusional stuff.

[4]. I wish I could tell you how this story germinated, but I really can’t remember. It’s somewhat controversial or sensitive, as you find as you keep reading, but I’m pretty sure I had Roy and Lillian first, floating around in my head, broken up and wondering how to get them back together, at least for a day.

[5]. It’s always been an obsession of mine to think of imaginary names for the bands I would start, once I learned how to play the bass or take up the clarinet again (and before you laugh, when I saw Patti Smith in concert, she whipped out her clarinet and it was awesome). In college, my friends and I joked we would start a band called the Electric Dandelions (after those plasma balls you can buy at head shops). We wrote a bunch of song titles, several albums’ worth, all having to do with our own private drug references. We were too stoned most of the time to actually write the lyrics or any music. After college, around the time Weezer was big, unfortunately, I wanted to start a band called Wheezie (after George Jefferson’s wife, Louise Jefferson). I would probably name my band after some obscure lyric from another band I dug. I could go on, but I won’t. Fabric Softener is actually not a name I would choose for my own band.

[6]. I think girls named Lillian would also be totally hot and be theater majors in college.

[7]. When I was a freshman, a guy wrote a song for me. It was one of my most memorable gifts ever—a song! —second to the Zippo he bought me for Christmas with my name inscribed on it. (And we weren’t even dating!) Anyway, the problem with the song is that he was a bass player and when he played it for me, he could only play the bass line, so it was hard to envision the rest. He was a huge King Crimson fan, and I always am relieved to have heard only the bass line, because maybe it sounded like a King Crimson song.

[8]. I only developed a taste for coffee a few years ago, probably because of all the candy coffees out there now (thanks, Starbucks). But it’s more like I drink flavored creamer and put a little coffee in it to convince myself I’m not drinking flavored creamer.

[9]. I am terrible and pathetic at breakups. I’m not stalky, but I will cry totally out of proportion, like I’ve lost my entire family in a plane crash. It’s embarrassing and sad.

[10]. The longest I’ve gone without a cigarette since college is two years. It’s a terrible, addictive thing, and I think the government should bury all cigarettes in that landfill in New Mexico next to those ET games for the Atari 2600 that everyone preferred to light on fire and shoot into space instead. (God, did anyone ever win that game? I remember picking up those Reeses Pieces, which looked like 8-bit dog turds, and falling in the swamp (which looked like nothing, 8-bit or otherwise).

*Tomorrow, head over to [PANK] to read an interview with Jen about the content of the collection. If you missed yesterday’s post, go to the blog PhD in Creative Writing to learn about why Jen became an author!

Jen Michalski is author of the novel The Tide King, winner of the 2012 Big Moose Prize; the short story collection Close Encounters; and the novella collection Could You Be With Her Now. She is the founding editor of the literary quarterly jmww, host of the Starts Here! reading series, and interviews writers at The Nervous Breakdown. She also is the editor of the anthology City Sages: Baltimore, which Baltimore Magazine called a “Best of Baltimore” in 2010. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland, and tweets at @MichalskiJen. Find her at

Friday, September 12, 2014

Indie Ink Runs Deep: Anne Michaud

Every now and then I manage to talk a small press author into showing us a little skin... tattooed skin, that is. I know there are websites and books out there that have been-there-done-that already, but I hadn't seen one with a specific focus on the authors and publishers of the small press community. Whether it's the influence for their book, influenced by their book, or completely unrelated to the book, we get to hear the story behind their indie ink....

Today's ink story comes from Anne Michaud, she who likes dark things never grew up. She never stopped listening to gothic, industrial and alternative bands like when she was fifteen. She always loved to read horror and dystopia and fantasy, where doom and gloom drip from the pages. She who was supposed to make films, decided to write short stories, novelettes and novels instead. She, who’s had her films listed on festival programs, has been printed in a dozen anthologies and magazines since. Now, novels bearing her name are seeing the world, one title after the other.

She who likes dark things prefers night to day, rain to sun, and reading to anything else. She blogs ; She tweets @annecmichaud ; She Facebooks

Sad Ghost

I love tattoos, I always crave more – then again, don’t we all? My first (The Crow in dark shadow, low back) was done almost 20 years ago, because it took me that long to find exactly what I wanted... and it came my way over social media, of all places.

My friend posted this on Facebook, and that was it, I was in love: macabre and creepy, the black shadow begged to be inked on my skin. I knew that once it would be etched on the outside of my forearm, my sad ghost would leave one clear message to anyone who saw it: night is filled with shadows.

So I went to get it done and it hurt, burned, itched and scaled. It took me a few months to get acquainted with my new tat; not only was the sad ghost quite a piece to take in, but whenever I looked in the mirror, it seemed to move by itself, as if the ink settled after a while. And by the time the black sunk in, it was too late, I was in love.

It didn’t end there, this obsession with my sad ghost. When it was time to come up with ideas to promote the entire set of my paranormal books, I urged the artist Gina Casey to use my tattoo as a starter point… and much like the cover of my book Hunter’s Trap, she didn’t disappoint with the bookmark, either.

And now that I wear the sad ghost on my arm, I can only hope to do it justice and fill the night with shadows, just like him.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Book Review: A Red Woman Was Crying

Read 9/3/14 - 9/11/14
3 Stars - Recommended to fans of interconnected stories / stories that take place in a foreign setting, told from a foreign perspective
Pages: 266
Publisher: Saddle Road Press
Released: 2013

An American eco-anthropologist relocates himself to the Bougainville Island in the 1960's with the intent of studying the group of native Nagovisi there. Instead, he finds himself becoming an active member of their tribe, viewed as student and fellow clan-member, and the subject of the Nagovisi's own curiosities.

Based on the real life research of author Don Mitchell, these fictional narrations closely mirror the interactions and experiences Don had with the Nagovisi people. But there's a twist. The narratives are written from the Nagovisi point of view. Natural born story tellers and teachers, the tribe members each get an opportunity to share their thoughts and conversations with Elliott - our fictional anthropologist protagonist - as well as dishing up the dirt on some of their local legends. It's a clever spin on the short story with each story containing a vivid, colorful peek into their fears, uncertainties, and willingness, though not without wariness, in accepting a white man into their lives. And through these stories, the reader is then able to piece together just who this Elliott character is.

This collection of "Stories from Nagovisi", unlike anything I've read before and not likely to match anything I'll read going forward, is both sensitive and emotionally jarring. The writing is simple and beautific, perfectly complimenting what life in the bush must have been like back then. Clan members sit in their "cookhouses" and chew betel to pass the time. They teach Elliott their ways and immerse him in their daily chores. But this collection is also harsh, direct, and unpredictable, as is the culture of those who are narrating. Dogs are trained to dislike different races and are killed without a second thought when they misbehave. Each clan operates under its own rules and laws. Trust is hard to come by and when the clan feels threatened, it's leader, Mesiamo, will lay false blame to control the threat, which results in fighting and unchecked murder, all of which is forgiven once each side "becomes even".

Sparse and extremely straight forward, A Red Woman Was Crying breaks down the barriers and allows its readers to get directly into the heads of the Nagovisi; no holds barred, no punches pulled. The subtle beauty of a foreign way of life shines through in Don's capable hands.

*This book will be featured in an upcoming TNBBC Author/Reader Discussion: the giveaway will be held during the first week of December, with the week-long discussion taking place in mid-January. Details will be released as we get closer to the giveaway date.

*My review is in no way colored by the fact that we've selected this title for the discussion series. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Indie Spotlight: Emily Verona and Inkshares

Emily reached out to me a few weeks ago to introduce me to her upcoming Conversations: A Collection of Short Stories, which she's planning to publish through Inkshares, a crowdfunding website.  

As Emily was explaining the thought process behind her book and the path she was taking to get it published, I thought the idea of crowdfunding publisher was interesting; I felt there was a guest post buried in there. And so I asked her to share her story with you....


I write stories. Crack open the core of me and words would undoubtedly pour out. It has always been this way, for as long as I can remember.

At the age of eight I was scribbling stories in notebooks, fascinated by the ways in which people interact with one another and try so very hard to understand themselves. I wrote before I could spell or had anything close to legible penmanship. I wrote before I knew what it was to grow or to live. I wrote even before I knew what it meant to be a writer. 

As the years passed I developed an equally passionate interest in film, and it has been the blending of literature and cinema that has had the greatest impact on me. From dialogue-fueled films and reflective, quiet novels I have shaped my style. I began telling people that I wanted to be the literary love child of Jane Austen and FIGHT CLUB (the film, not the book). The comparison is surely strange and seemingly nonsensical, but I've remained committed to it all the same. 

Currently I am promoting my latest work, CONVERSATIONS: A COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES through Inkshares publishing. This contemporary work of fiction is composed of conversations, each of which stands as a separate story. These conversations take many forms, and often lead to very different results, but all of them explore the distinguishing marks of human nature.

This idea of "real-time" fiction is something I wanted to explore while earning my Bachelors degree. I was fascinated by films like Alfred Hitchcock's ROPE (1948), where dialogs serves primarily as action and the characters are forced to interact in a single setting.

It is not easy to put out a fiction collection. On top of an already competitive market, most publishers aren't looking for a short story collection unless it is tied to an already established author. Knowing this, I decided to opt for a slightly more unconventional publishing route.

Inkshares is a new publishing model based on the idea of reader-promoted content. Through crowd funding,  authors raise support for their work. Those interested in purchasing the book may do so via a donation, though they are free to make non-purchased based donations in any amount. If the funding goal is reached, contributors receive their copy of the book. If the goal is not reached, then all donations are refunded.

When that designated goal is reached Inkshares steps in as the publisher, backing the book by editing, designing, producing, and distributing the work locally and around the country. The idea behind this is that readers, not companies, decide what they want their books to be.

My aim is to publish a collection of fiction that means something and that upon reading these stories people are able to explore the bruised and battered nature of humanity.


Emily Ruth Verona received her Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and Cinema Studies from The State University of New York at Purchase.  She is the recipient of the 2014 Pinch Literary Award in Fiction and a 2014 Jane Austen Short Story Award Finalist. Previous publication credits include work featured in Read. Learn. Write., Fifty Word Stories, The Toast, Popmatters, Bibliosmiles, and Enstars. She lives in New Jersey with a rather small dog.

For more, visit

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Amado Women Blog Tour

Always flattered to be a part of the Grab the Lapels blog tours because Melanie Page is doing such wonderful things to get women writers the exposure and attention they deserve. In today's blog tour post, Desiree shares an excerpt from her novel The Amado Women, then breaks down the excerpt, sharing some insights. 

Today is the second stop of Désirée Zamorano’s virtual book tour celebrating her new novel. Mercy Amado has raised three girls, protecting them from their cheating father by leaving him. But Mercy’s love can only reach so far when her children are adults, as Sylvia, Celeste, and Nataly must make their own choices to fight or succumb, leave or return, to love or pay penance. When tragedy strikes in Sylvia’s life, Mercy, Celeste, and Nataly gather support her, but their familial love may not be enough for them to remain close as the secrets in their histories surface. Forgiveness may not be accepted. Fiercely independent, intelligent, they are The Amado Women.


[1] Nataly inspected the chintz teapot, the silver tea strainer, the black lapsang souchong that the server poured. The server did a deft job of it too, not a drip or a trickle down the teacup or teapot to disturb or distract from the floral pattern. Nataly dissolved a misshapen lump of brownish sugar into her cup with a heavy silverplate teaspoon and sipped. The table, the settings, the people around her, her sisters, her mother, dissolved into amber. Even Celeste. The tea was warm, smoky and sweet. She inhaled the amber and felt herself about to dissolve as well until she heard Celeste talking to their mother about another bill she had gotten in their father’s name. “Just send it to me, I’ll take care of it.” Celeste said. [2]

And she would too. She did everything she said she’d do. People like that, like Celeste, were fierce and frightening. But not to Nataly. She knew Celeste had constructed and surrounded herself in a plaster artifice. It was difficult to look at this Celeste. She wasn’t real.

Nataly watched her mother unwrap Celeste’s gift: a necklace with a glass pendant. The glass glowed with a light Nataly had not seen before. It swirled green and blue, streaked with gold. It was luminous. Nataly’s frame was crude and artless in comparison.

“I saw it in Venice and thought of you,” Celeste said. [3]

Nataly set her teacup down noisily. They turned towards her. “Really? Oh, come off it.” Celeste looked at Nataly as if not understanding the language. Then she turned back to their mother. Nataly stabbed a scone with a small butter knife, spread the clotted cream thickly over it, added raspberry jam, swallowed without tasting and choked on her mouthful. It was Sylvia who patted her back, pressed a glass of ice water on her and ultimately walked her towards the ladies’ lounge where Nataly could clean her sheer blouse of the spray of half eaten food. [4]

“So you’re against me too,” Nataly said, wiping her shirt with a wash cloth. The wet cloth left white fibers and an unattractive smear of water behind.

“For a baby sister, you sure got the baby role down. Look, nobody’s against you. Be a big girl and put on a pretty face. While you can,” Sylvia winked at her. [5]

“Don’t you see what Celeste’s doing?” If Sylvia asked Nataly what she thought Celeste was doing, Nataly wouldn’t know how to explain it. It was just a humiliating feeling that Celeste was, was—what? Winning. Celeste was winning and Nataly had lost. But lost what? [6]

“I don’t know how many times I have to tell you this,” Sylvia said. “I am Switzerland. I’m not going to say a bad thing about Celeste to you, and I’m not going to say a bad thing about you to Celeste.”

“I’ll bet that news will go over well with her.”

Sylvia held Nataly’s hands and said. “Nataly, I already have two children. You need to grow up.”

“What about Celeste? She needs to grow up.”

“I’m talking to you.”

Mercy looked around the table at her daughters: Celeste with her spiky brown hair and serious eyes. Sylvia, the curvy mama who had given her grandchildren, Nataly, the artist, the minx. Their windowside table was filled with a view of the terrace. The marine layer obscured the beach and the sea beyond. It didn’t matter to Mercy. Where your heart lies, there lies your treasure also. Her treasure was seated at this table.

“Where would I be without you three? You are my life.” [7]


[1]. The setting is the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Beach, California. Mercy, although perhaps not the most sophisticated, is all about glamor, and she chose this spot, far for all of them to get there, to celebrate her 60th. I thought this setting embodied her aspirations. The scene of the four women interacting moved in and out of the drafts--but ultimately it seemed a wonderful way of displaying their interactions and tensions early in the book.

[2]. Nataly, as a waitress, has a keen eye for good and poor service. Although not specifically named in the book, Nataly also has synesthesia; in other words, her senses work differently from most of us. Kind of like reading auras, she sees the colors of the energy or emotions around people and objects. The sugar, the setting, have lulled her into an almost calm moment, shattered by Celeste’s benign comment.

[3]. Here I wanted to display Celeste’s sophistication. The object is beautiful, and the reader knows that Celeste is a world traveler.

[4]. Nataly takes everything Celeste does personally--and has been wounded by what she now perceives as the inadequacy of her own birthday gift to her mother. I thought this was quite a universal feeling, the sense of not measuring up, and honed it for Nataly, who, in the manner of the immature, just continues to self-sabotage.

[5]. Sylvia, as the middle child, is trying to lighten the moment. Nataly, so offended by Celeste, lets Sylvia’s words roll right off of her. And Nataly is never ever offended by Sylvia, because she has never felt wounded by Sylvia.

[6]. How can one daughter be winning and another lose? Nataly is in a competition with Celeste, a competition that Celeste is unaware of, and one in which Nataly is keeping score. This really is about Nataly’s sense of abandonment.

[7]. Here I wanted to help the reader see how Mercy perceives her daughters, and how much she is oblivious to the undercurrents, and yet passionately loves them all. The scripture quotation hints at the subtle religious elements in the novel.

Follow along with the blog tour! Tomorrow, stop by [PANK] blog to read an interview with Désirée about The Amado Women. Also, check out yesterday’s stop at the blog PhD in Creative Writing.

Désirée Zamorano is Pushcart prize nominee, and award-winning short story author, Désirée has wrestled with culture, identity, and the invisibility of Latinas from early on, and addressed that in her commentaries, which have appeared in the Los Angeles Times and NPR's Latino USA. She delights in the exploration of contemporary issues of injustice and inequity, via her mystery series featuring private investigator, Inez Leon (Lucky Bat Books). Human Cargo was Latinidad's mystery pick of the year.

The Amado Women has been listed among 5 Must-Read Books for Summer 2014 by Remezcla, and has been named among Eleven Moving Beach Reads That'll Have You Weeping in Your Pina Colada by Bustle. It was selected as the August 2014 Book of the Month for the Los Comadres & Friends National Latino Book Club.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Eric Shonkwiler's Would You Rather

Bored with the same old fashioned author interviews you see all around the blogosphere? Well, TNBBC's newest series is a fun, new, literary spin on the ole Would You Rather game. Get to know the authors we love to read in ways no other interviewer has. I've asked them to pick sides against the same 20 odd bookish scenarios. 

Eric Shonkwiler's 
Would You Rather

Would you rather write an entire book with your feet or with your tongue?

Tongue. Do I not have hands, I guess? This cuts down productivity no matter what. I have to pause to drink coffee.

Would you rather have one giant bestseller or a long string of moderate sellers?

I’ll take the money, Regis. I can fade into obscurity without regret.

Would you rather be a well-known author now or be considered a literary genius after you’re dead?

As above, I’ll take the immediate gratification. Give it now, while I can enjoy it.

Would you rather write a book without using conjunctions or have every sentence of your book begin with one?

Writing without conjunctions seems like a smaller restriction than beginning every sentence with one.

Would you rather have every word of your favorite novel tattooed on your skin or always playing as an audio in the background for the rest of your life?

Tattooed, I think. But put my favorite passages where I can read them easily. (It’s McCarthy’s Suttree, by the way. I don’t know that I have the real estate for this tattoo. I’m not a terribly big dude.)

Would you rather write a book you truly believe in and have no one read it or write a crappy book that comprises everything you believe in and have it become an overnight success?

I’d like to think that I’ll write a lot of books, in my career. I wouldn’t be so ashamed of one book that puts me on all the lists if it meant my other books get widely read. Writing is my joy, but at the end of the day, I want that joy to be shared.

Would you rather write a plot twist you hated or write a character you hated?

I think this depends on how we’re defining hate. Do I hate the character because he or she objectively is poorly written? Or is it because s/he’s bad? I can live with writing a character I hate. Strong emotion one way or the other is good, I think, when reacting to characters in that way. My protagonists are rarely objectively good people, and I’ve certainly written people that were pieces of shit, before.

Would you rather use your skin as paper or your blood as ink?

Blood as ink. Again, limited real estate when it comes to skin.

Would you rather become a character in your novel or have your characters escape the page and reenact the novel in real life?

I think I’d sooner become a character. Reenacting the novel in reality means the world falls to pieces. I’d sooner save people that (though I think that fall is likely coming down the pike).

Would you rather write without using punctuation and capitalization or without using words that contained the letter E?

No punctuation or capitalization. I could see some folks saying this is a natural progression for my style.

Would you rather have schools teach your book or ban your book?

Ban it! Let’s see some revolt up in here.

Would you rather be forced to listen to Ayn Rand bloviate for an hour or be hit on by an angry Dylan Thomas?

I’d much sooner be hit on by Dylan Thomas. We could have a few whiskeys and get in a fistfight.

Would you rather be reduced to speaking only in haiku or be capable of only writing in haiku?

Speaking. I think eventually you’d get good at it, and it would become rather neat.

Would you rather be stuck on an island with only the 50 Shades Series or a series in a language you couldn’t read?

I’ll try to decipher the cuneiform, thank you.

Would you rather critics rip your book apart publicly or never talk about it at all?

Rip it apart. Publicity’s publicity, and I have to eat somehow.

Would you rather have everything you think automatically appear on your Twitter feed or have a voice in your head narrate your every move?

Love me or hate me, I’d end up with a lot of followers.

Would you rather give up your computer or pens and paper?

Pens and paper. Ultimately, my real writing has to occur on the computer. I only take notes on pen and paper some of the time.

Would you rather write an entire novel standing on your tippy-toes or lying down flat on your back?

I don’t think I have tippy-toes. I’ve tried to do that ballet move where you stand right on the tips of your toes, and no-can-do. I would, however, prefer trying it to lying on my back the whole time.

Would you rather read naked in front of a packed room or have no one show up to your reading?

Naked. I’ve been working out. “David searched for his beach ball. He asked the lady nearby. Have you seen a beach ball around here, ma’am? Looks, like, this? And he flexed his arms downward. I think it might be over...there? He pointed with his arm curled.” And of course I act all this out on stage.

Would you rather read a book that is written poorly but has an excellent story, or read one with weak content but is written well? 

Probably the latter. I think I’m more quickly infuriated by a poorly-crafted sentence than one in which nothing much happens. Suttree’s my favorite book, as I said, and it’s mostly about a really smart dude who wanders around getting drunk and fishing. Love the hell out of it.

Eric Shonkwiler has had writing appear in Los Angeles Review of BooksThe Millions, Fiddleblack, [PANK] Magazine, Midwestern Gothic, and elsewhere. He received his MFA in Fiction from University of California-Riverside, where he was the recipient of the Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellowship Award, and is the author of the novel, Above All Men, a 2014 Midwest Connections Pick published by MG Press. He was born and raised in Ohio and has lived and worked in every contiguous U.S. time zone. You can find him at and @eshonkwiler.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Book Review: Palo Alto

Read 8/31/14 - 9/2/14
3 Stars - Recommended to people who just can't pass up celebrity lit and read it knowing not to expect too much
Pages: 224
Publisher: Scribner
Released: 2009

I have a confession to make. I am oddly drawn to the things James Franco does. I don't know why I am drawn to them because I don't particularly care for him (I don't know about you but I find him to be a little... sleazy) and 99.999% of the time, I am guaranteed to be underwhelmed. But if there is a James Franco movie added to Netflix, I will usually end up watching it. If there is an article on him floating around Twitter, I will usually end up reading it. If there is a book written by him, and the price is right, I'll probably end up buying it.

And in this case, that's exactly what happened. Palo Alto was on sale for $2.99 over at Amazon and I figured "well, we've got a 50 / 50 shot of this book being something amazing or something incredibly god-awful, and I'm ok with paying a few bucks to find out".

A total newb to all things literary by Franco, having so far only been exposed to him as actor and cologne model - and of course, Gary Shteyngart's boyfriend in that one book trailer - I really wasn't sure what to expect, so I went in with extremely low, and I mean LOW, expectations. I've read Steve Martin (loved everything he's written with the exception of An Object of Beauty) and Ethan Hawke (for the longest time his The Hottest State was a go-to read for me - keep in mind I was just leaving my teens and getting into my first really serious relationship and that book spoke volumes to me!) and I know my own tastes so I like to think I know how to pick 'em... it's strange for me to admit that I neither loved nor hated this collection of interwoven stories. For starters, I got the strong impression that Franco's style wasn't really HIS style, almost as if he was trying to write like someone else. I know he idolizes Hemingway, but I haven't read enough Hemingway to know whether he's copycatting. He used a lot of analogies yet his writing seemed to be intentionally simplistic at the same time. Which is kind of contradictory, right? And he was incredibly repetitive throughout the entire collection. I can't tell you how many times I was re-introduced to the same group of characters by their nationalities or reminded of what their parents did for a living. Ugh. It'd be like the equivalent of going with your spouse to their work parties, and having to go through formal introductions with them every. single. time. you. went. I get it! Ok! Ed's father is a white mathematics professor and his mother is korean, so that makes him half korean half white, god, shuddup already! I think I'm starting to develop a twitch.

Another thing that made me twitchy - all of his stories are written in first person, which normally wouldn't bother me, except Franco kept switching narrators with each story and didn't introduce us to who it was until later on. So there was this extreme feeling of disconnect and confusion during those first few opening paragraphs when you asked yourself "ok, wait, is this written from a GIRL'S perspective? A guy wouldn't think like that, so there's no way this is still Teddy narrating, right?" And because the stories were all about this one particular group of teen aged kids, there was this unsettling feeling of familiarity as Franco bounced us back and forth in time and place from story to story. I knew the group, and was getting used to them as individuals but now I wasn't certain of the timeframe. "Oh, hang on, one of them is behind the wheel? Then this must be in High School, not Junior High. But in the last story they were all getting shit faced, and weren't they like, what, thirteen in that one? Shit. I'm so confused right now." There really seemed to be no sequence or reasoning behind how the stories were lined up within the collection. The result? I had all the pieces to the puzzle, I just couldn't figure out how they all fit together linearly. It was like trying to sort out a deck of cards, except all the cards had only the suits on them and no numbers.

His characters were always up to something - drugs, drinking, drunk driving, partying, sex, oh my god all of the sex these little kids were having, one on one, two and three on one, there were even vegetables at one point! They were portrayed as mostly shallow and devil-may-care, but then there were these moments where the kids would start waxing poetic and get all deep on each other. Those were some major eye-roll moments for me. Franco was pushing all of my buttons. I couldn't help it.

But for all of that, the stories, as individual stories, weren't all that bad. As a collection, they didn't stand up well together at all. But individually, there were pretty ok. Some of the shenanigans his characters got up to brought back memories of my own (granted, they were much tamer) - sneaking out of the bedroom window, or sneaking boys IN the window, while the parents were sleeping; hanging out under the pier at night, chugging SoCo and OJ around a campfire with a bunch of friends; driving around the main stretches with the windows down and the music up, looking for places to stir up some trouble...

Surprisingly not as bad as I had been prepared for, Palo Alto made for an interesting two day read. Definitely worth the few clams I dropped to sate my curiosity but also a pretty strong deterrent for any future curiosities I might start to develop.