Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Where Writers Write: Todd Seabrook

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



Where Writers Write is a series that features authors as they 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 Todd Seabrook. 

Todd grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and received his MFA from University of Colorado at Boulder, and is currently a PhD candidate at Florida State University. His work has appeared in Tin House, Mid-American Review, PANK, CutBank, Quiddity, New Ohio Review, and 30 Under 30 Anthology. Mud Luscious Press published his chapbook This Semi-Perfect Universe in 2011. His second chapbook, The Genius of J. Robert Oppenheimer, won the 2012 Firewheel Editions Chapbook Contest, and his third chapbook, The Passion of Joan of Arc, won the Atlanta 421 Chapbook Contest. His most recent chapbook, The Imagination of Lewis Carroll, won the 2013 Rose Metal Press Chapbook Contest.






Where Todd Seabrook Writes




Welcome to my quaint corner of shame and infinite loathing. While there are ostensibly worse places in the universe to write—an Albanian prison mine perhaps, or, say, the surface of Venus—there are few places in the world as saturated in such unholy levels of dread and malaise than here. I’ve worked at this desk for eight years, and for eight years it has steeped in my bitter anguish of having chosen to be a writer. The desk itself, I think, is made of reclaimed timber from 16th century breaking wheels, and the hardware is mostly re-smelted Prussian swords. When I sit down to work, “Dies Irae” echoes through the alcoves, and blood seeps from the wood screws. That is not to say it hasn’t been a fine desk. I appreciate the height especially, the looming, judging nature of it, reminding me at every moment that I write in the shadow of every human who has come before me, and that I will inevitably and unconditionally fail to tell their story. It’s really less of a desk and more of a smoldering nest of self-revulsion and blind rage—which, as it happens, is a pretty accurate description of my writing style.

But there are a few perks to having a corner desk:

- It narrows my peripheral vision, allowing more focus.
- I write on a pentagram, not a rectangle.
- It feels like I’m playing an organ.
- Can never tell if there is a firing squad behind me.

The carefully honed aesthetic of my writing space combines all the accoutrements of a hobo-clown’s bindle with the feel of a Papa New Guinea penal colony. The Post-It notes lolling off the carrel like jaundiced tongues consist of either unattributed quotes—I’m going to get a tattoo of a sticker—or reminders of bets I’ve made with people that they have assuredly forgotten. The rest of the notes are lists of movies, books, authors, small animals, angel hierarchies, 17th century astronomical devices, and here and there a one-line story idea that is so abominable I can never lay eyes on it again. I keep no writing journals, no notebooks, no idea boards. These things have always felt tedious to me, a chore rather than a useful mechanism. If I want to remember something, I do. If I want to see it in list form, I write on a Post-It note and slap it to my desk.

Those harlequin balls are indeed used for juggling. I can juggle, by the way.

There is also a small piece of cardboard cut from the top of a cereal box taped to the right tower of my desk. It reads, quite bluntly: YOU ARE NOT A WINNER. If I had a sigil, those words would be on it: Victor non es! My desk has no pictures of family or friends or animals. It has no typewriter. It has no fountain pens. It has no journals or moleskin notebooks. It has no quotes of famous authors. It has no quotes from anyone, actually. It has nothing that isn’t my own, and it has no time for the habits of others. I don’t write with coffee. I don’t write in the morning. I don’t write around others. I don’t write everyday. I don’t write with music. I don’t write with alcohol. I don’t write because it’s a lifestyle.


I write at night, alone, hidden from everything else, because that is the only way to see it all.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Thomas Whaley'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. 






Thomas Whaley's
Would You Rather




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

Definitely with my feet!  I swear my toes have their own little brains.  I’d surely be able to manipulate pencils, pens, erasers, Post-Its, and an extra large journal with these oven mitts.


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

I’d prefer a long string of moderate sellers.  Not only would it keep my name fresh in this competitive industry but I’d update my author pic for each book so my fans could experience the quick demise of living hair on my head.  It’s all about transformation.


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

I would rather be a well known author now.  It would grant me countless opportunities and experiences to share with my sons Andrew and Luke.  Besides, when they tell their teachers and friends that I am an author, I already feel like one.


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

I would want to try and write a book with every sentence beginning with one.  With there being three distinct types, the challenge and possibilities would be endless.


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 on my skin!  I love tattoos and envy those who have epic ones with meaning.  I have three that I despise because I was way too young and spontaneous.  Having the words from Leaving Montana made into arm sleeves would be amazing!


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 would rather write a book I truly believe in – which is precisely what I did with Leaving Montana.  Of course I hope that people will read it and love it, but knowing that I wrote it and it changed my life for the better is good enough for me.


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

Definitely a character I hated!  Sometimes writing with hatred and frustration about someone brings forth extremely interesting text.  This is why I used to keep journals when I was younger.  It can be very cathartic.


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

Even though many think blood is thicker than water – it still washes away…so definitely my skin as paper.  Besides, with the unnecessary amount of time I have spent and still spend in the sun, it is cured enough to withstand the elements, so I would feel confident that my words would never be lost.


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

Fortunately and unfortunately both choices hold personal weight with Leaving Montana – but if I had to choose, I would rather become a character in my novel other than Ben.  If the characters escaped and reenacted the story again it would be catastrophic.


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

I hate punctuation and capitalization.  It confuses and stresses out the elementary school children I teach and, at times, I still find myself questioning my own usage. Good riddens!  Besides, the letter E is just too extraordinary to evade.


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

BAN IT!  The idea of people sneaking around and reading it with the possibility of getting caught and expelled is exciting to me.  Forbidden or taboo things naturally peak curiosity – even for those who have been “saved”.


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

I would be tickled pink to be hit on by Dylan Thomas when he was angry!  Why not?  Being hit on is a compliment.  It takes courage to hit on someone. It would be even better if he were irate and hitting on me in public while reciting his poetry.  Now there’s a mental image!


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

This is the toughest question! I choose only writing in haiku. I am naturally a story teller, both socially and with my students, so speaking just in haiku would make that virtually impossible. 


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 am not sure if I am proud to admit this, but hey, life is too short to not go with your gut.  I would choose the 50 Shades Series.  At least I would have something titillating to read when my own ability to fantasize began to dissipate – that is, unless I had a volleyball to draw a face on.


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

I would rather them rip it apart publicly.  Negativity tends to stir curiosity.


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

TWITTER! If everything I thought automatically appeared on Twitter – people would either be fascinated with me or think I was related to Cybil. 


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

Pens and paper – no doubt!  I find both to be constant pains in the ass.  There is never enough when you need them or I find myself with an overabundance figuring out where to put them.


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

Lying flat on my back.  I enjoy multi-tasking.


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

There is no question – naked in front of a packed room.  My life is an open book, so why not toss in my dignity.


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? 

 I would rather read one with weak content that is well written because I would be able to focus on the characterization and story line, making it more interesting with my own inserts.  A poorly written one would make me manic and want to drink.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thomas Whaley was born in 1972 and has lived on Long Island his entire life.  He has been an elementary school teacher since 1999 and has had a passion for writing since childhood.  He earned his B.A. in Communications from Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia and his M.A. in Elementary Education from Dowling College on Long Island.   

Thomas has always enjoyed reading books, but particularly those that make him casually self-reflect or hysterically laugh at the idiosyncrasies of daily life. This is what inspired him to finally sit down and write Leaving Montana.

Thomas currently lives in Shoreham, New York with his husband Carl, their two sons Andrew and Luke, and their loyal dogs Jake and Sam. Leaving Montana is his first novel.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Audiobook Review: The Martian

Listened 7/29/14 - 8/10/14
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended, you gotta listen to it, you just gotta
Approx. 11 hours
Publisher: Podium Publishing
Released: 2013


You know I have no shame. None whatsoever. And that's ok. Because my shamelessness landed me the audio-review copy of Andy Weir's The Martian and it was awesome. And yeah, I know what you're thinking. Lori.. you think, you're always so far behind with the bigger books. What gives? We already knew this was a hot one, we've read it already. It's old news.

Hey, I never claimed to read the books from the "Big 5" and their imprint arms first. Heck, I kind of go out of my way to not read them. You'll find me curling up on the couch with a small press book in my hands, or its digital equivalent,  instead of one that's been read and reviewed by over 4600 other people (that's how many people have reviewed The Martian on Goodreads right now). I'm not knocking the bigger boys, by any means. It's just that my heart belongs to the underdogs of literature. And there's very little that will sway me away from them....

Unless. If I find out that a "Big 5-er" has an interesting looking book released in audio (see The Three, The Troop, and Authority as recent examples), well, that's a different story. I've got a pretty long work commute, and I don't know about you, but I get tired of listening to music after awhile. Audiobooks offer me a great opportunity to escape. They help distract me from the fact that I'm heading into work again (sigh) for another 14 hour shift (double sigh) and make that long drive disappear almost completely.

You should know, though, that I was totally going to let The Martian pass me by. I really had no interest in it at all until one of the TNBBC goodreads members nominated it for our August sci-fi group read. When it won, I figured, what the heck... lemme see if it's been released in audio. And that's when I discovered something really cool.

Did you know Andy Weir initially self-published The Martian? Yup. He did. He was giving it away for free on his website and selling it online for only a buck. Podium Publishing got their hands on it, recorded the audio, and then helped Andy get a publishing contract for the print copy. IN. YOUR. FACE. all you self-pub haters! I told you there's some golden nuggets in them there hills.

The Martian has been referred to "Castaway" on Mars, and I can't come up with a better comparison so we'll stick with that. Stranded on the red planet after a worse-than-anticipated dust storm forces his crew to evacuate the mission and leave him stranded (don't blame them, they thought he was dead), Mark has to face the facts - he is stuck on Mars, with only a few months of supplies and no way to communicate with Earth. He's fucked.

But the good humored astronaut doesn't let that get him down. He's a botanist and a mechanical engineer and he's got some tricks up his sleeve to at least EXTEND his life, even if it is for just a few more months.
Through daily audio-logs, Mark records his thoughts and survival progress for whoever ends up recovering them after he's long dead-and-gone. Heck, I'd do the same thing. If for no other reason than to feel like you're still connected to someone, somehow, somewhere, right?!

Turns out our pal Mark is quite the little MacGyver. Give him some martian soil, human feces, flammable gas, and a few fresh potatoes, and this dude can cultivate quite the little garden. Seriously. And he doesn't stop there. He's the coolest nerd to ever leave Earth and he's determined to get back there, at all costs. He was trained well before being dispatched into space. He's patient and extremely savvy. And typical of a book whose entire premise is set on building tension and dragging out the inevitable, every time Mark overcomes one obstacle, it seems Mars is prepared and ready to hit him with another.

But that good ole Mark, he just won't be stopped. Cool-headed and capable of thinking his way through just about any situation, Mark Watney's got my vote as the man I'd most like by my side when the world comes to a halting and apocalyptic end! I don't care that I can't understand half the science mumbo-jumbo that comes out of his mouth, the man knows his shit, and I'd trust him with my life a hundred times over.

Podium Publishing did a great job matching the narrator (RC Ray) with the Weir's writing. He nailed the balance between witty sarcasm and hopeful hopelessness... And don't listen to those reviewers who poo-poo the upbeat and charming personality of our fearless astronaut. The cheeky and refreshing humor was exactly what the book needed to keep it moving along and keep its readers engaged. I'm not sure any of us would have been able to handle a cranky, blubbering account of man's attempt to survive the unsurvivable.

And you've heard that a movie is in the works, right? I hear Matt Damon has signed on to play Mark... and I can't wait to see the book come to life on the big screen!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Adam Ingle's Guide to Books & Booze


Time to grab a book and get tipsy!

Back by popular demand, Books & Booze, originally a mini-series of sorts here on TNBBC 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, Adam Ingle shares the perfect "get your drunk on" drinks for his novel Necessary Evil and The Greater Good:











Necessary Evil and The Greater Good is essentially a story of Good and Evil in which those two ideas are not black and white, but a very mellow shade of gray...maybe even a baby shit brown. The novel follows the adventures of an Angel, Leviticus, and a Demon, Mestoph, as they try to con God and Satan into kicking them out of the afterlife so they can enjoy whatever time they have left until The End. The novel is fast paced, doesn't fuck around, and might even knock you on your ass (hopefully laughing, but I'll take what I can get). As such, I think if I were to throw it in my Calvin and Hobbes transmogrifier it would come out as a Long Island Ice Tea. This is the drink you have when you want to get drunk, but want to pretend you're not just having a bunch of shots one after the other. The basic recipe is as follows:

Mix equal parts of:
Tequila
Vodka
White Rum
Gin
Triple Sec
Mix together into a glass with ice, add some lemon juice and a splash of soda (though in the South you're just as likely to find it with actual sweet tea) and stir. Get drunk.



Now if you want to break the story down a little more, each character could easily have their own drink.
Leviticus is an Angel who works a monotonous desk job. He's a little rough around the edges for Heaven, and has a moral compass of questionable accuracy, but he's not a bad guy per se. He's not built for the rough stuff, so he wouldn't want to taste the alcohol and he's not aiming to get hammered so he'd likely be enjoying a Bahama Mama, and it would most definitely have a little paper umbrella in it.

A basic Bahama Mama goes thusly:
1/4 oz. coffee liqueur
1/2 oz. dark rum
1/2 oz. coconut liqueur
1/4 oz. 151 proof rum
Juice of 1/2 lemon
 4 oz. pineapple juice



Mestoph, being a Demon, isn't afraid to get his hands dirty. He's done some dirty things in dirty places, but he's also not pure evil. He's not squeamish; he just doesn't see the point of unnecessary violence. Although he does have a fondness for single malt scotch and a nice hoppy beer sometimes he just wants to relax and enjoy a nice sunset. When he does, he pours a little bit of Fireball (he likes the demon on the bottle, but any cinnamon whiskey will do) into his hot chocolate, tops it with some vodka whipped cream, and sips away the days cares.




Several of the other characters could have their own drinks as well. God reminds me a bit of The Dude from The Big Lebowski, so I could easily see him throwing back a few White Russians. Satan is a bit more refined and enjoys a nice, dry red wine; especially the earthy, fruity flavors of a Pinot Noir. St. Peter, the rough and gritty head of security for Heaven, doesn't imbibe often as it dulls the senses but once a millennium or so he's been known to enjoy a single cup of coffee, decaffeinated of course. There are several other characters, but those can be yours to discover and fit the drink to the personality. I on the other hand am going have myself a nice, cold mix of Harp and Bass Ale that I was told is called a Golden (it mixes instead of layering like a Black and Tan or Black Apple).

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~





Adam's a basement-dwelling, graveyard-shift nerd by night and an aspiring peddler of exorcised creative demons by day. He and his chinchilla live in a tin can on the side of the interstate somewhere in South Carolina.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Book Review: Day of the Milkman

Read 8/4/14 - 8/5/14
2 Stars - Recommended Lightly to readers already familiar with the stranger side of Bizarro
Pgs: 138
Publisher: Bizarro Pulp Press
Released: June 2014



I pride myself on knowing what I like and I usually do a pretty damn good job of picking books I know I'll enjoy. But every once in a while, I get it wrong. And when I do, BOY do I!

Day of the Milkman came to my attention as a Kindle Recommendation, based on other titles I had recently added or downloaded to the app. I took a peek at it on Goodreads, liked the cover, am familiar with the publisher, and thought the description sounded pretty cool. So I purchased it for 2.99. Thank god that's all I paid for it. A buck and a penny more and you might've heard me start pitching a fit over the whole thing.

To be clear, it wasn't the book's premise, so much, that turned me off. It was the way the author executed it. We went from something I could kind of get lost in to something that was just so ridiculously patched together I eye-rolled so bad at times I thought my eyes would roll right out of their sockets. Cartledge's writing style left a lot lacking too...

Here we have HiLo. Who is rocked awake on a piece of glass flotsam in a sea of milk. Because Milk. It's this bizarro world's version of water. And the glass? It was once a door. To an office. On a ship. A glass bottomed Milk Evaluation Ship of sorts. And HiLo was one of the ship's crew members. Now, he's the only SURVIVING member. The last milkman on earth. In a sea of quickly spoiling milk (gag). That's gotta smell great!

As the book goes on, we discover HiLo's  floating out there in the sea of milk because there was a storm. And this storm killed everything that was in (or on) the sea. Boats were torn asunder and submerged. Seamen were sucked under the milky waves and drowned. Sea cows - these cow/manatee hybrid creatures that replenish the milk in the sea by squirting it out of their nipples (slight gag) directly into the sea they swim and shit in (more gagging) - were boiled up and beached as a result of it, too. And whatever caused this storm is now causing the sea to heat up and start curdling.

And poor HiLo is left to face the rotting world on his own. Well, wait, not completely on his own, cause he's got this high tech holographic computer wristband chick Calcitine with him, but she's not human so yeah, totally, he's all alone.

He and Calcitine manage to paddle their way to an island, the island that houses a Milk Factory that pulls milk out of the sea and purifies it or something. Well, looks like the storm somehow caused all the landlubbers to disappear and die too (but where are all the bodies then?!), and now no one's around to run the machines. This is bad. Really bad. The milk is just totally fucking sour now. The sea itself is curdling up so fast it's becoming thick and gelatinous. There's not a drop left to drink. HiLo, I think you're screwed.

But no, wait, he and his hologram head out to the main land to search for supplies and fresh milk, if there is any, and other people, if there any of them left either, and along the way we're treated to some really bizarre dreams and hallucinations brought on by his malnourished mind. And then things get kind of.. .weirder.

There's a big blue beached sea cow that causes some troubles for HiLo, and some creepy androgynous mole-people, and a stolen milk machine that kind of sounds like a vagina with arms and teeth that not only shoots milk into an underground lake from some dangling cord-like teats while simultaneously giving birth to millions of eggs - eggs that contain ever evolving versions of more mole-people, sea cows, and whatever other DNA the milk machine sucks out of the milk lake. Ew. Just a whole bunch of ew....

Can one man and his hologram, and some mole-people and cloned eggs, and a vagina-like milk machine, all work together to rebuild civilization and recreate the milk sea?

ST Cartledge has one weird-ass imagination. I wonder if the idea for this book all stemmed from some horrible faux-fairy tale he would tell his kids (or someone else's kids) when they refused to drink their milk with dinner. I wouldn't be surprised. Honestly.

Apocalypse by soured milk. Wheeeee.....

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Clayton Smith'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. 




Clayton Smith's

Would You Rather





Would you rather write an entire book with your feet or with your tongue?
 That depends on if I’m writing on a typewriter or with a pen. If typewriter, then feet. If pen, then also feet.


Would you rather have one giant bestseller or a long string of moderate sellers?
 I’d rather have a longer public career, methinks, than be a one-book wonder.


Would you rather be a well known author now or be considered a literary genius after you’re dead?
 I’d rather be well-known now. That would make it easier to convince my wife that all the time I spend locked in my office writing is worth it. Besides, after I’m dead, I plan on becoming famous for a very different reason; being the world’s tallest ghost.


Would you rather write a book without using conjunctions or have every sentence of your book begin with one?
 For reasons unknown, I really enjoy starting sentences with “and” and “so.” So I’d go with the second option. And I’d love it.


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?
 Definitely tattoo. It’s hard for me to focus on writing (or working, or talking, or breathing) when there’s music or other audio playing. (But it would have to be roundly agreed upon that the tattoo would not be written in Comic Sans.)


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 much rather write a book I wanted to write and have no one read it. I think that, as a writer, you should write for yourself first. You shouldn’t write to be famous; you should write because you have a story in your brain that you can’t bear to not tell.


Would you rather write a plot twist you hated or write a character you hated?
 I’d rather write a character I hate, because I’d get the oh-so-satisfying opportunity to kill him off. With a bad plot twist, the only thing you kill is your book.


Would you rather use your skin as paper or your blood as ink?
 Blood as ink. It would pretty much force everyone to take everything I write very seriously. (Write books on your own skin, and you’re just a loony.)


Would you rather become a character in your novel or have your characters escape the page and reenact the novel in real life?
 Since Apocalypticon is an absurd post-apocalyptic adventure, it’s probably better for everyone else if I go into the novel instead of unleashing the novel on them.


Would you rather write without using punctuation and capitalization or without using words that contained the letter E?
 If Cormac McCarthy has taught me anything, it’s that punctuation is for sissies. I’ll go with Column A.


Would you rather have schools teach your book or ban your book?
 I love the mysterious allure of a good old-fashioned banned book, and it’d likely make it a better seller…but I think it’d be more beneficial on the whole if they taught my book. HashtagEducationFirst.


Would you rather be forced to listen to Ayn Rand bloviate for an hour or be hit on by an angry Dylan Thomas?
 EASY QUESTION. Being hit on by Dylan would be an honor. A DAMN HONOR.


Would you rather be reduced to speaking only in haiku or be capable of only writing in haiku?
 Oof. Poetry’s not my strong suit. I guess I’d go with writing in haiku, to spare my wife the day-to-day trauma.


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’d take the 50 Shades. With enough time, I could tear out and rearrange the words to write something more to taste. Sexy, sexy taste.


Would you rather critics rip your book apart publicly or never talk about it at all?
 Hey, any press is good press, right? I think I’d rather have them rip it apart. If the review is bad enough, maybe people will check it out for the train wreck factor.


Would you rather have everything you think automatically appear on your Twitter feed or have a voice in your head narrate your every move?
 Option 1 would be disastrous; I’d constantly be tweeting out bars from The Muppet Show opening number. I’d rather have the voice, especially if it’s Morgan Freeman’s.


Would you rather give up your computer or pens and paper?
 Not even I can read my handwriting. I’d do better to give us pens and paper.


Would you rather write an entire novel standing on your tippy-toes or laying down flat on your back?
 Tippy-toes. Gravity makes computers heavy and notebooks floppy.


Would you rather read naked in front of a packed room or have no one show up to your reading?
 Definitely naked reading. Think of the press! (And the horror. The press and the horror.)


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? 
 I’d rather read a well-written book with weak content. No question. I recently read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and it fell squarely into the first category. It was a horrible experience (though, to be fair, the photos were a great touch). It just makes you cringe, seeing all that potential fall flat. But if you write well, you can make even the most boring content sparkle.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Clayton Smith is a writer of speculative fiction living in Chicago, where he has become exceedingly good at cursing the winters. He writes novels, short stories, and plays, mostly. His work has been featured on the popular Internet site Amazon, and his plays have been produced rather mercilessly in St. Louis and New York City. He tends to inject a healthy dose of magical realism into his stories, which distresses his characters to no end. One day, they will likely rebel against him, but for now, they’re all fairly busy managing various disasters, villains, and the occasional apocalypse.



Monday, August 11, 2014

Drew Reviews: See You in Paradise

See You in Paradise by J. Robert Lennon
5 Stars - Highly Recommended by Drew!
Pages: 256
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Releases: November 2014


Guest review by Drew Broussard 



The Short Version: A collection of short stories that all seem to focus on, in one way or another, the weirdness of modern American life.  The simple oddity of suburbia - the terror, the pathos, the warmth, the... well, the Americanness of it all.  Some stories are simple, others a bit fantastical, but they all spin around that same '50s-esque invitation implied by the cover: that that green lawn and simple home might just be the closest we get to paradise.
The Review: Graywolf Press is one of the mightiest indie presses publishing today - just check out the simple weight of a collection like this one or Kevin Barry's Dark Lies the Island.  The stories lend themselves to individual doses; you can read one, put the book down, and come get another later that day or perhaps the next day.  They are not necessarily all fantastical (although some certainly are) but they all seem to capture the fantastic nature of everyday life with an ease and keen sense of observation that appears effortless (although I'm sure is anything but).
Lennon's last novel, Familiar, was my introduction to the man's work and I found it interesting but slight - I enjoyed, but did not love or really feel terribly passionate about, it.  But from the very first story here, it was clear that Lennon is an uncommon talent and perhaps even one of those rare writers who can achieve great things in that hardest of forms, the short story.  "Portal", that first story, tells of a magic portal that turns up in a suburban backyard - but Lennon allows it to be as mundane as any other 'feature' of a new house.  The family travels through it from time to time as a sort of bonding adventure... but slowly, despite this magic in their lives, they drift as any family might.  The magic doesn't save them, it doesn't even really necessarily change them - it just becomes a part of their lives that shifts as time goes by.  But the real trick is having put this story first: it forces the reader to stay alert for the rest of the collection.
Because the rest of the collection does not feature much magic or fantasy - indeed, really only two of the further tales do.  But as the next story, "No Life", begins (a relatively/comparatively mundane story of two families vying over an adoption [note: the story itself is not mundane, it's actually quite good, but the circumstances... no magic portal... you know what I mean]), the reader wonders just a little if something weird is going to happen.  Slight spoiler, it doesn't - at least, not in the way that a reader might've anticipated (e.g. magic or some fantastic twist) - but the slight instability in the reader's mind lingers and that seems to benefit the collection as a whole.
It also helps to read these stories in the setting that they were, perhaps, intended for: suburbia.  The petty arguments, the strange rivalries, the unfathomable depths of the human experience that hide behind the well-kept facades / within the air-conditioned walls of suburban homes... it's an never-ending repository of possibility.  Perhaps your neighbor, too, purchases a hibachi grill for his wife.  Or maybe they're having a party to memorialize the passing of their dog.  You don't know how the folks down the street's family vacation went - heck, you might not even know that they went on one.  But for those who live in suburbia (or even those who might be visiting it shortly), gather this collection to take with you [ed. note: ...once it comes out in November.  Sorry for the tease, folks.] and allow it to color your imagination as you drive down those tree-lined (or not) streets with the manicured lawns and mod-cons.
Even the stories that spin off out of so-called "suburbia" and into the city or into the wider world retain some sense of that non-city-life.  These are not stories of major metropolises and the people who live in them but rather everyone else.  The large majority of the country, in fact.  And those who have only ever lived in a city might not understand the appeal.  But that's because we've been taught that the city is where life evolves, while the suburbs are where it just happens.  But if you're one of the people where life is just happening, don't you think it feels like an evolution to you?  That's the thing of Lennon's stories and it is a marvelous trick.
[one additional note: I have been to a restaurant called the Buck Snort, but I don't think it was this one.  The one I visited was in Colorado and was a delightful woodsy place where I don't think anyone has died.  Just, you know, in case you get excited like I did when you come to that story.  Different Buck Snort.  FYI.]

Rating: 5 out of 5.  None of the stories leap out as better than the others, per se - I don't know that there's one where you'll go "OH WOW!" and post it up as a banner example of Lennon's work.  Instead, each of the stories spins together into the whole and makes this collection that oh-so-rare example of being greater than the sum of its individual parts.  And those individual parts are all good.  They are not connected, they are not linked - they are just all solid pieces of short fiction.  And reading them on a porch or in air-conditioned suburban 'security' was just one of those perfect confluences of time, place, and story.

Drew Broussard reads, a lot. When not doing that, he's writing stories or playing music or acting or producing or coming up with other ways to make trouble.  He also has a day job at The Public Theater in New York City.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Indie Spotlight: Jessica Null Vealitzek

Almost every author, at some point in their career, will find themselves writing books from points of views that are foreign to them. A female author narrating her novel from the POV of a middle-aged male. A male author writing from the POV of a single mother.  And every author worries if they are coming across authentic enough, if they can truly get inside that characters head and portray them appropriately. 

Today, Jessica Null Nealitzek takes a look at a similar question. Can she convincingly write a gay character? Take a look at her thought process as she worked on her novel The Rooms Are Filled..... 





Can a Straight Person Write a Gay Character?


I’ll admit, I was uneasy from the start. My novel, The Rooms Are Filled, is loosely based on a true story centered on the friendship of a nine-year-old boy and his closeted teacher. The fact that the teacher, Julia, is a lesbian is central to the story. But I worried—could I treat her sensitively enough? Could I accurately portray what it might feel like to be gay and in the closet? Might gay audiences brush me off as a straight person trying too hard or not hard enough?

The discomfort continued through the writing of my first solid draft. And my second. Beta readers kept responding, “I want to see more of Julia. What drives her? What’s her deal?”

I was avoiding her—so worried was I about somehow offending anyone. I was too worried to write Julia well.

Then one day, I had a simple realization: I’m not a nine-year-old boy, either. I’m not a single mother, or a father, or a cop, all of whom make appearances in the book.

Julia, like several characters, is a person struggling to accept herself. “Well, ok,” I thought. “I can relate to that.” And then, for me, the writing took off.

The response from readers, both gay and straight, has been wonderful. Some in the industry, though, are having a harder time placing my book. It doesn’t fit neatly on either side of LGBT or Otherwise. One industry person told my publicist, skeptically: “It’s a gay book written by a straight person.”

I don’t know, and I don’t care, whether the person who said that is gay or straight.
The implication, though, is clear: I don’t know what I’m talking about. I wonder, though, how J.K. Rowling knew how to write about wizards? And do you think James Patterson has actually murdered people?

My dad always told me to imagine what it might be like in someone else’s shoes.  Growing up, I often actually did this: I’d close my eyes and imagine a scenario and try my hardest to see it, smell it, feel it. I think very often this is the first step toward becoming a writer.

Isn’t that what we writers do? We observe, we stand in someone else’s—or our own—shoes, and we feel. We learn what we think is worth learning, and then we write it and try to help others know, too. At our best, we create understanding. So that you can say, “I’ve been there, too,” and she can say, “You’re not alone,” and he can say, “I see. Now I get it.”

We entertain, yes. But in the greatest sense, we writers create understanding—for our readers and for ourselves. We don’t write only what we already know, we write what we want to know. We close our eyes and find the parts that unify us, and extend a hand. Even a sliver of understanding is better than nothing, and worth the try.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~




Jessica Null Vealitzek is the author of the coming-of-age novel, The Rooms Are Filled. She lives and writes near Chicago. You can find her online at jessicavealitzek.com

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Product Review: "Gone Reading" Goodies



GONE READING PRODUCT REVIEW



TNBBC is breaking new ground today! We're reviewing some bookish goodies that were sent to us from GoneReading.com. Founded back in 2011, Gone Reading's mission is to sell book lovers brilliant products that will enhance their reading life. And they pledge to donate 100% of their after-tax profits to literary charities like Read Global and Ethiopia Reads.

When their founder reached out to me a few weeks ago for a potential review opportunity, I browsed their website and really liked what I saw. Gone Reading is like a book lover's cornucopia - from bookmarks to book caddies to bookish tshirts and candles, this place has it all. So I agreed to check out some of their stuff and share my honest opinions here...

And now... onto the review....


THE GREAT UNWRAPPING



A little like Christmas morning, isn't it? Getting a package in the mail and not knowing what's inside? Give it a little shake and test the weight... and then run for the scissors! When I opened the box, I saw a personal, hand written note, a box of earplugs, a book journal, a pack of bookmarks, and a scented diffuser kit. (That last one was specifically requested by moi.)


THE "YOU ARE HERE" BOOK MARK PADS (25 count)
$5.00


First thing I love about these - the color! I am such a fan of green. Especially lime green. These book marks are made of a sturdy material and would be a great gift for people who take notes or use stickies to mark pages as they read. 

The Pros:
The YOU ARE HERE book mark has a spot for you to write the title, author, date started, date finished, and a section in the middle to mark specific pages - with a tiny area for you to make a note about why you're flagging that page. Everything you'd need to know or remember about the book AFTER you've read it.

The Cons:
Ok, it's kind of obvious. One book mark per book. They're not exactly re-usable once you write on them. And oh, you totally can't use them for audiobooks or ebooks (which are the two formats I'm currently reading in) Booooo.... So while I'm not able to put one into use yet, I definitely will once I get started on an old-fashioned-print book!



$12.99


Your choice of hot pink, arctic white, or charcoal. Made of soft-touch hypoallergenic silicone, they kind of smell like those big pink erasers you bought when you were in grade school (yeah, I totally smelled them, like YOU wouldn't, pshhh!). 

The Pros:
They come in a cute little plastic holder so you don't loose them. 


The Cons:
Such a big price for such a little thing. Two wads of cotton would be cheaper and would probably be easier to pull out of your earholes. These things scare me. I won't test them. What if I push them in too far and can't get them back out again? Is there an emergency release button? Don't laugh. I can hear you snickering over there. 



MY BIBLIOFILE BOOK JOURNAL
$12.99


160 lined pages for you to write down your bookish thoughts as you read each book, with some fun "extra" pages mixed in (like the "reading trees" shown above). Sturdy hardcover to withstand your constant and abusive use. 

The Pros: 
It's a great way to capture your thoughts as you read each book. Perfect gift for those who like to log what they read, and with 160 pages, you'd only need to purchase one to log what you read all year, so well worth the price. It's got some cute "extras", like a place to note all of the author readings you've attended, a section to keep track of the books you've loaned out, and a few pages to write out your favorite book quotes. 

The Cons:
I'm not finding any cons, other than the fact that I'm not a book journal kinda girl and wouldn't immediately use it myself. Guess I could use in the event Goodreads goes down for maintenance and never comes back up again?!



FRAGRANCE DIFFUSER - INSPIRED BY MARK TWAIN
$28.00


Packaged in a book-cloth covered box, and marked with foil stamp labels, this diffuser set is absolutely gorgeous. Comes with tobacco flower and vanilla scented oil, reeds, and a 4 oz bottle/vessel. Claims that fragrance will last up to 4 months. 

The Pros:
The smell... the smell is AMAZING. All I did was open the oil and now I can't sniffing my hands! The packaging is beautiful. I brought this to work with me, and have already had people pop their head into my office asking what it was and where they could get some. (I had two small diffuser kits in the house that ran out of oil loooong ago, so I wet the bottom with some of this stuff, too.) If you don't dig Mark Twain, they also have it in Jane Austin, Oscar Wilde, and Edgar Allen Poe. So yay for choices!And everyone loves to make their  rooms smell good so it'd make a great gift. 

The Cons:
What? Seriously? There are none. Go buy yourself one now. Your welcome. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Audiobook Review: Wise Blood

Listened 7/19/14 - 7/28/14
3 Stars - Recommended to readers who like their characters slightly mad and incredibly unlikable
Audio: approx 4 hours
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Released: 2010



Welp! I'm no longer a Flannery O'Connor virgin. It's about time I popped that cherry. I own a few of her books, have had them sitting around here for years actually, but just never seemed to get around to reading any of them. And I'd always heard great things about Wise Blood, her first novel, so when I saw downpour.com had it on audio, and that it was narrated by Bronson Pinchot (who did a phenomenal job with Authority), I figured now was as good a time as any to get started on her.

Though, now that I look back at it, I wonder if this was the right book to start with because I found every single one of its characters to be wholly unlikable and more-than-a-little mad. And I'm not sure if that's typical of Flannery or if it's specific to this book due to its religious nature.

But before I get too far off course, let's set things up. Wise Blood tells the tale of Hazel Motes, a sour young military man who returns home to discover that, well, he has no home to return to. A quick peek through the house he grew up in is enough to tell him that his mother just packed up and disappeared. If that wasn't enough to put a chip on his shoulder, my guess is being asked if he's a preacher by every stranger he comes across certainly is. Maybe it's the suit and hat? Maybe it's the way he carries himself? Or maybe it's the fact that he claims to be an out-and-out atheist?

He's crotchety, and sarcastic, and looks down his nose at everyone, and now, out of the blue, he's decided to go on and preach a new church - The Church Without Christ - to prove to everyone just how anti-religious he is. He buys a beat up ole car, parks it in front of various movie houses, and spews his atheist views from the hood of it, proud to piss people off and even prouder to blasphemy the word of God.

As he builds his roaming Church Without Christ, he comes into contact with eighteen year old Enoch Emery, a kid who is incredibly mentally unstable and who's taken an extreme liking to Hazel. He follows Hazel around town endlessly, yammering away about his shit family life, and his current friendless existence, and tries desperately to befriend him. Hazel can't stand Enoch, can't seem to shake him off, and treats him horribly time and time again. But Enoch's got "wise blood", blood that talks to him, blood that tells Enoch to do bad things, things he isn't really keen to be doing, things he seems helpless to avoid. things that keep leading him back to Hazel.

Hazel, meanwhile, has become infatuated with Asa Hawks, an old "blind man" he meets on the street. The old man wants nothing to do with him, so to punish him Hazel devises a plan that includes moving into the old man's apartment building and seducing his fifteen year old daughter, Sabbath. The plan quickly backfires, though, when Sabbath returns his faked affections ten-fold, much to his dismay and frustration.

You'd have to be blind not to see that Hazel isn't all that different than Enoch. Wanting what he can't have. Following someone around town who won't accept his company. Putting people up on pedestals who have no right and no interest in being up there.

Little by little, Enoch's obsession with Hazel, his determination to help Hazel locate a new Jesus for his church, and his desire to have Hazel acknowledge him drives him mad. Well, more mad, I guess. Because lord knows that boy's head was never screwed on properly to begin with. And Hazel. Poor, miserable, confused Hazel. A man who claims he has no religion yet struggles daily with the fact that he isn't "clean"; who preaches The Church Without Christ yet punishes himself day after day in the name of the very religion he speaks out against. We watch idly as his growing obsession with The Hawks' and his own unclean behaviors drive him teetering off the deep end too...

A funny thing about religion. In order to be atheist - to disbelieve in the existence of God - you are kind of admitting that there is something to disbelieve in. By taking a stand against God, against the existence of God, are you not confirming that God does, then, exist? That's quite the little pickle he's found himself in. Like a snake eating its own tail.

Wise Blood doesn't attempt to define words like "grace" and "redemption" and "Jesus". Rather, it delves into how others perceive them. The powerful effect they can have on believers and nonbelievers alike.

Oh yeah. And it brings to life some of most mentally unstable and annoying characters I've ever met in literature!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Paul McCormack'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. 



Paul McCormack's 
Would You Rather



Would you rather write an entire book with your feet or with your tongue? 
Feet—if no other reason than to avoid the horrible mouth-related puns that would inevitably spring up in negative reviews: “bad taste in the mouth”, “sucks”, “throwing up on the page” and on and on. And if I used my foot there’d probably be some flattering Daniel Day Lewis references there. I’m down for some good DDL comparisons.


Would you rather have one giant bestseller or a long string of moderate sellers? 
That’s a tough one. Someone like Harper Lee who was content with one brilliant work doesn’t seem to me to be inferior to someone like Joe R Lansdale who’s done a lot of really good work but never had a mega-huge seller. If I’d finish a book and feel like that I’d done all I could do and was happy to leave it at that, then hopefully it’s big one.

That said, I think I’ve got more than one story left in me, so I’ll go for the “long string” answer.


Would you rather be a well known author now or be considered a literary genius after you’re dead? 
I imagine being well-known now would make paying bills easier, so that would be nice. Aside from that, I’m not sure I really care. Would you rather be Orson Wells or Ed Wood? Wells is clearly the better filmmaker but I get the feeling Ed Wood had more fun with his projects. Being able to enjoy writing for what it means to you is more rewarding than getting caught up in how you’re received in popular culture.


Would you rather write a book without using conjunctions or have every sentence of your book begin with one? 
Without. Can you imagine a book with every sentence beginning with a conjunction? That would be a lot of pronouns. I’m not creative enough because I can’t imagine a scenario where that wouldn’t be painful to read.


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? 
I imagine that would depend on the length of my favorite novel. A long one might be better to hear over and over compared to the excruciating process of getting it tattooed all over.

If I had choose one “favorite” it’s kind of in the middle where it’s tough to call, although the idea of getting “Po-tee-weet” tattooed on each eyelid is kinda kickass.


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? 
The former, especially since if it ends up being huge, you’d end up having to talk about it day in and day out. Having to talk endlessly about a project that you despise would be its own special kind of hell.


Would you rather write a plot twist you hated or write a character you hated? 
Character. You can hate a character for all sorts of reasons. More importantly, you can hate a well-written character for several very good reasons. I’d say it says a lot about you as an author if you’re able to write a good character that you detest like that. In contrast, plot twists you hate feel more like you’re cheating or doing something half-assed, which is never a good feeling.


Would you rather use your skin as paper or your blood as ink? 
This sounds like one of those “sounds good in romantic poetry but bad idea in real life” sorta things. Probably blood as ink. Despite my earlier answer, I’m not a big fan of tattoos so the skin/paper thing isn’t really up my alley.


Would you rather become a character in your novel or have your characters escape the page and reenact the novel in real life? 
Since a significant portion of my latest novel involves an impending universal cataclysm, I’m not really all that fired up to have that come crashing into reality (you can all thank me later for that). I guess the ethical answer would for me to be a character in the novel in that sense, although I’m not sure what I’d do—my actual characters have the action handled pretty effectively, I think. I’d probably just end up being “unnamed gas station attendant in Chapter 3” or something… I’ve had worse jobs.


Would you rather write without using punctuation and capitalization or without using words that contained the letter E? 
See, this is where I wish I’d finished that Japanese class in college—I could totally get by without using the letter “e” if I was writing in Kanji/Kana. Sadly I thought getting up at 9am was too difficult so I must settle on refraining from punctuation and capitalization.


Would you rather have schools teach your book or ban your book? 
Well, it depends on the reason it was banned. I’d rather be “Catcher in the Rye” than “Fifty Shades of Grey”.

Actually being taught in school doesn’t say much. Granted, I’m not a kid anymore so maybe it’s all changed, but when I was in school I remember having to slog through the likes of “Silas Marner” and “My Antonia” (whitewashed of any interesting subtext) and several other forgettable “classics.” In fact the only two books I remember enjoying in school were “Great Expectations” (largely because the teacher who taught it was able to show why it was a great story) and “To Kill a Mockingbird” (because it’s amazing). Sadly there’s a certain safe banality that schools feel the need to adhere to when it comes to literature. But what can you do?


Would you rather be forced to listen to Ayn Rand bloviate for an hour or be hit on by an angry Dylan Thomas? 
How do you mean “hit on”? Thomas was a drunken Welshman—if he were physically striking me, he probably wouldn’t be able to physically feel it himself and could keep going indefinitely not to mention “fighting drunk” guys go for cheap shots. I think it would be a deeply unpleasant experience. If he were “hitting on me” by telling me how good I looked and if I wanted to “go gentle into that good night” with him, it would be super awkward. Although being able to say, “Go home, Dylan; you’re drunk,” would be kinda cool.

Either way, they’d probably still better than listening to Ayn Rand.


Would you rather be reduced to speaking only in haiku or be capable of only writing in haiku? 
I’m not sure if anyone would notice if I only spoke in haiku, aside from wondering why I was always counting to five and seven on my fingers as I spoke.


Would you rather be stuck on an island with only the 50 Shades Series or a series in a language you couldn’t read? 
The alternate language would at least offer a puzzle to decipher to help pass the time. Of course I’m sure I’d end up finding out that the universe, in its ultimate sense of irony, saw fit to leave me on a desert island with the “Fifty Shades” series in Pashto.


Would you rather critics rip your book apart publically or never talk about it at all? 
Never talk about it. That way there will be all sorts of extra copies lying around so after the Apocalypse, when society is trying to rebuild, all they’ll have is copies of my books. And then I shall be the author of the civilization the rises from the ashes. Bwahahahahahahahahahahaha! I shall be as a god! Bow to me all my future minions, for I am the Chosen One!


Would you rather have everything you think automatically appear on your Twitter feed or have a voice in your head narrate your every move? 
I already have a voice in my head critiquing my every move, so narration wouldn’t be that much of a change.


Would you rather give up your computer or pens and paper? 
Pens and paper. And anyone who’s seen my handwriting would be cool with it, too.


Would you rather write an entire novel standing on your tippy-toes or laying down flat on your back? 
Tippy-toes sounds like an enhanced interrogation method of some sort. Laying down could work.


Would you rather read naked in front of a packed room or have no one show up to your reading? 
I just had this dream. I was back in high school and I was faking my way through a presentation because I’d forgotten that it was due that day. Then a giant Doberman named Morty started making crude remarks and snickering. It wasn’t a fun dream.


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?  
To me, there are few things more frustrating than an intriguing idea that’s presented poorly. Good story ideas mangled by bad or sloppy writing is like seeing a beautiful car used in a demolition derby. It’s just… wrong.

Weak content with good writing will only leave me with a “meh” feeling, but that’s at least something I can stomach.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Born and raised in North Dakota, Paul McCormack is the author of “All Things Right and Beautiful”, “All the Stupid Little Children”, “All the Lights That Have Shone”. His latest effort, “This Languid Earth”, a novel, is due out August 19th.

It is rumored that he once divided by zero and went back in time. The resulting paradox altered the course of human events and produced an entity known in this dimension as “Justin Bieber”. He is very sorry and sincerely apologizes for any damage or distress this has caused.