Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Audio Series: Treasure of the Blue Whale



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


In light of all the social distancing and recommended reduction to group events, we're happy to help support those who have recently published, or will soon be publishing, a book. It's hard enough to get your books out there, and now with the cancelation of book events and readings making it even harder, I want to do my part to help you spread the word!



Today, Steven Mayfield returns to the blog once more to read an excerpt from his latest novel Treasure of the Blue Whale

Steven is a past recipient of the Mari Sandoz Prize for Fiction and the author of over fifty scientific and literary publications. His stories began to appear in print and have been published by EventThe Black River Reviewcold-drillartisanThe Long Story, and the anthology From Eulogy to Joy. In 1998, he was guest editor for the literary journal, Cabin Fever, and his collection of short stories, Howling at the Moon, was a Best Books of 2010 selection by USA Book News and an Eric Hoffer Award Finalist. His novel, Treasure of the Blue Whale will be released by Regal House Publishing in April, 2020. Steven currently resides in Portland, Oregon with his wife, Pam, and three goldendoodles who can be annoyingly insistent around meal-time. He can order beer in four languages. His wife can say, “Pay no attention to this man” in five.



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If you're free on April 2nd, Annie Bloom's Books in Portland, OR will be livestreaming Steven's book launch on facebook. There will be a Q&A segment following the reading.


As in-person events are canceled, more venues are turning to virtual solutions. On the upside, this means they can invite readers from all across the country to attend. Steven would love to see you there, and appreciates your support.


Here's a direct link to the event: https://www.facebook.com/events/218648499516644/



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Click on the soundcloud bar below to listen to Steven  Mayfield read an excerpt from Treasure of the Blue Whale. 







What it's about: 

In this whimsical, often funny, Depression-era tale, young Connor O’Halloran decides to share a treasure he’s discovered on an isolated stretch of Northern California beach. Almost overnight, his sleepy seaside village is comically transformed into a bastion of consumerism, home to a commode with a jeweled seat cover, a pair of genuinely fake rare documents, a mail-order bride, and an organ-grinder’s monkey named Mr. Sprinkles. But when it turns out that the treasure is not real, Connor must conspire with Miss Lizzie Fryberg and a handful of town leaders he’s dubbed The Ambergrisians to save their friends and neighbors from financial ruin. Along the way, he discovers other treasures in the sometimes languid, sometimes exciting days of that long-ago season. He is rich and then he isn’t. He learns to sail a boat and about sex. He meets a real actor. He sneaks into villainous Cyrus Dinkle’s house and steals his letter opener. He almost goes to jail. He loves Fiona Littleleaf. He finds a father. And best of all, he and little brother, Alex, reclaim their mother from the darkness of mental illness.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Audio Series: Artificial Wilderness



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


In light of all the social distancing and recommended reduction to group events, we're happy to help support those who have recently published, or will soon be publishing, a book. It's hard enough to get your books out there, and now with the cancelation of book events and readings making it even harder, I want to do my part to help you spread the word!



Today, Mandy-Suzanne Wong seized the opportunity and is reading an excerpt from her latest, a non fiction chapbook Artificial Wilderness, which published with Selcouth Station in March 2020. It was a winner of Selcouth Station’s Environmental Chapbook Competition. 

Her internationally acclaimed debut novel, Drafts of a Suicide Note (Regal House), was a finalist for the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award, American Book Fest’s Best Book Award, the Eyelands Book Award, and the Permafrost Book Prize as well as a Conium Review Book Prize semifinalist, a Santa Fe Writers’ Project Literary Award shortlistee, a Leapfrog Fiction Contest honorable mention, and a PEN Open Book Award nominee. She is also the author of the essay collection Animals Across Discipline, Time & Space (McMaster); the fiction chapbook Awabi (Digging), winner of the Digging Press Chapbook Series Award; and the essay collection Listen, we all bleed (New Rivers, 2021), a finalist for the Red Hen Press Women’s Prose Prize. Her work appears in Entropy, Waccamaw, The Spectacle, The Island Review, Quail Bell, The Deck Hand, Black Warrior Review, Permafrost, her monthly column at Manqué, and several other venues.








Click on the soundcloud bar below to listen to Mandy-Suzanne Wong read an excerpt from Artificial Wilderness:







What it's about: 


Artificial Wilderness is a book about the act of listening. Do you listen? Do you really? Have you ever let the sounds around you - the nonhuman sounds; the unwanted sounds - interrupt your private telenova? Referencing the work of sound artists dave phillips, Cathy Lane, Chris DeLaurenti and more, Mandy-Suzanne Wong implores us to listen. With illustrations from multidisciplinary artist and eco-feminist activist Kathryn Eddy, Artificial Wilderness is the perfect interruption to daily life.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Indie Spotlight: Steven Mayfield

Welcome to our Indie Spotlight series. In which TNBBC gives small press authors the floor to shed some light on their writing process, publishing experiences, or whatever else they'd like to share with you, the readers!


Today, we have a returning guest, Steven Mayfield, who will be celebrating the release of Treaure of the Blue Whale on April 1st.  Here's the jacket copy: 



In this whimsical, often funny, Depression-era tale, young Connor O’Halloran decides to share a treasure he’s discovered on an isolated stretch of Northern California beach. Almost overnight, his sleepy seaside village is comically transformed into a bastion of consumerism, home to a commode with a jeweled seat cover, a pair of genuinely fake rare documents, a mail-order bride, and an organ-grinder’s monkey named Mr. Sprinkles. But when it turns out that the treasure is not real, Connor must conspire with Miss Lizzie Fryberg and a handful of town leaders he’s dubbed The Ambergrisians to save their friends and neighbors from financial ruin. Along the way, he discovers other treasures in the sometimes languid, sometimes exciting days of that long-ago season. He is rich and then he isn’t. He learns to sail a boat and about sex. He meets a real actor. He sneaks into villainous Cyrus Dinkle’s house and steals his letter opener. He almost goes to jail. He loves Fiona Littleleaf. He finds a father. And best of all, he and little brother, Alex, reclaim their mother from the darkness of mental illness.


And here's Steven, sharing some insight and lessons learned on landing an agent....




On Landing an Agent 





One of my favorite movies is The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. The lovely Gene Tierney plays a widow who rents a seaside cottage only to discover that it is haunted by its former owner, a crusty sea captain played by Rex Harrison. Predictably, Mrs. Muir and the captain put off one another at first, then fall in love. Toward the end of the movie, Mrs. Muir writes a book about their romance that she then peddles in person to a London publisher. Let me pause here for a moment. Yes…You heard me right. She went to the publisher in person without an appointment and he didn’t have a security guard escort her out of the building. In person—she went in person! Directly into the publisher's office! No appointment!

So…here’s what I think. In Mrs. Muir’s time, publishers didn’t work with agents. They simply sat around drinking tea until someone who looked as good as Gene Tierney showed up with a manuscript that they promptly published. I imagine there are skeptics among you, but watch the movie yourself if you don’t believe me. It’s very different now. It’s tough for an indie writer to land a literary agent because THEY ARE VERY, VERY BUSY. I’d repeat that for emphasis, but it’s already in caps. For those who don’t want an agent, there’s a tip: Either repeat things unnecessarily or use a lot of caps. Your choice.

Anyway, because agents are so terribly, terribly busy, they cannot reply to all emails. If they are interested in you, they’ll reply. It’s very much like seventh grade when I would  write a nice note to a girl I was interested in, including a poll at the end for her convenience:

DO YOU LIKE ME?
YES ___ NO ___ (CHECK ONE)

          I got a giggle if she liked me. If not, she made fun of my buck teeth and got her boyfriend to break my glasses.

Literary agents are the Holy Grail for indie writers. But here’s the thing: even the best agents can’t sell everything they represent. This is why they have to be so selective. Besides, they are VERY, VERY BUSY, remember? I simply can’t emphasize that enough. They need to first be queried with a short letter that reduces your work to as few words as possible; the less words the better. They’re like contestants on Name That Tune. For those younger than 900 years old, Name That Tune was a popular TV game show on which a contestant attempted to guess the title of a song in the least number of notes. Many of them were quite good, naming songs after hearing only three or four notes. Literary agents are like that. They can pick a best-seller after reading merely three or four words of a query email, indeed, to an experienced agent a postmark, alone, is often revealing enough to earn a rejection. This is why there are articles, webinars, conference sessions, even books that try to unravel the mystery of the perfect query. It can be overwhelming, so here’s some advice.

In your query, begin with a plot hook followed by a zippy description of a character or event. Next, write something about yourself that is humble and yet confident; factual, but not boastful. If you have published and received an award, do not mention it unless it was a really important award. Same for reviews. Unless they’re from important reviewers, nobody but your mother cares. It’s best not to be funny and never, ever waste the agent’s time. That’s a big one. Don’t waste their time, okay? Seriously. They are very, very busy. I think I’ve made that clear. Last of all, make sure to let the agent know why he or she was picked from among all the agents on the planet. Literary agents are people, too. They like to be courted.

It might seem that I don’t like literary agents, and that may have been true until I got one and realized how valuable they are. I certainly understand why mine is so busy. She’s dealing with me. That’s a tall order. Ask my wife. Still, I miss the old query days. I know that there’s an agent out who can reject my work after reading not four words, not three, but merely two or less. That person is my Moby Dick and a big part of me wants to go on querying the seven seas in search of her.



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Steven Mayfield was born and raised in Nebraska, a place where people would prefer that you think well of them, should you think of them at all. He is a past recipient of the Mari Sandoz Prize for Fiction and the author of over fifty scientific and literary publications. After a hiatus away from creative writing that lasted almost twenty years—during which he published forty-two scientific articles, abstracts, chapters, and reviews—Steven resumed writing fiction in 1993. In 1994, his stories began to appear in print and have been published by EventThe Black River Reviewcold-drillartisanThe Long Story, and the anthology From Eulogy to Joy. In 1998, he was guest editor for the literary journal, Cabin Fever, and his collection of short stories, Howling at the Moon, was a Best Books of 2010 selection by USA Book News and an Eric Hoffer Award Finalist. His novel, Treasure of the Blue Whale will be released by Regal House Publishing in April, 2020.
Steven currently resides in Portland, Oregon with his wife, Pam, and three goldendoodles who can be annoyingly insistent around meal-time. He can order beer in four languages. His wife can say, “Pay no attention to this man” in five.


Monday, March 16, 2020

Audio Series: Ten Past Noon






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


In light of all the social distancing and recommended reduction to group events, I put out a tweet yesterday letting the small press literary world know that my blog is at their beck and call. We're happy to help support those who have recently published, or will soon be publishing, a book. It's hard enough to get your books out there, and now with the cancelation of book events and readings making it even harder, I want to do my part to help you spread the word!



Today, Tucker Lieberman took me up on the offer and will be reading from his recently released hypno-saga Ten Past Noon


Haunted by his acquaintance with the late author of Eunuchry, Tucker wrote the ghost story “Exit Interview” for DefCon One’s “imaginary friends” fiction anthology, I Didn’t Break the Lamp. His recent books include Painting Dragons: What Storytellers Need to Know About Writing Eunuch Villains and Bad Fire: A Memoir of Disruption. At Brown University, he received the Casey Shearer Memorial Award for Creative Nonfiction and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. He earned a postgraduate degree in journalism from Boston University. Originally from Boston, Massachusetts, he lives with the science fiction writer Arturo Serrano in Bogotá, Colombia. He is turning forty.









Click on the soundcloud bar below to listen to Tucker Lieberman read from Ten Past Noon.....







What it's about: 

In the Roaring Twenties, Edward Cumming might have become a railroad businessman, but he was more interested in literature. During the Depression, he tried to write a book about historical castrations. At thirty-nine, he died by suicide.

What went wrong for him? A lack of focus? A problem of fate? The number forty? Or was his book haunted?

In this train ride of an American biography, Tucker Lieberman tells the story of the would-be scholar of eunuchs. It is an essay about war, racism, gender, time, mortality, free will, money, argument, information architecture, and why a writer might not finish a book.



Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Sara Rauch's Guide to Books & Booze



Time to grab a book and get tipsy!

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




It's release day, and Sara Rauch is throwing all the booze at her brand new collection What Shines from It


Ready to get your booze on???




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Introducing the What Shines from It




2 parts bourbon
1 part yellow Chartreuse
1/2 tsp Angostura bitters
1/2 tsp grapefruit bitters

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Give it a good rattle. Strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a grapefruit peel if you’re feeling fancy.

*

When I started thinking about what drink I might pair with the haunted artists that populate What Shines from It: Stories, my first thought was, Bourbon, straight up. That’s my drink, and I rarely stray from it. Why mess with perfection?

But the more I thought about it, the more I remembered that What Shines from It is its own entity—I created it, and there is much of me in it, but it also exists outside of me, pulsing there on its own. My characters have their own preferences; they make their own messes and their own drinks.

My characters are drinkers. Not F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald drinkers or Denis Johnson drinkers or even Dorothy Parker drinkers. But drinkers all the same. There’s something stabilizing about a glass of Cabernet/vodka/gin/beer in a scene. You can see it sweating in the heat; you can see how the character approaches the world by how they sip, or guzzle. Even their choice of drink gives insight into who they are or who they want to be.

My characters are also heartbroken—sometimes because of a relationship ending, but more as a way of being in the world. They are cracked, and as Leonard Cohen says in “Anthem”: “There is a crack, a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in.”

So I set out to create a drink that glows the way my characters’ pain does, a drink like heartbreak: spirit-forward and unruly and intense and maybe a little bit seductive.

This cocktail will wallop you. It is beautiful, and throws light around in the most startling ways. But it is also intense: Chartreuse, for all its neon glory, is no mere mixer; it is 80 proof, blended and distilled from 130 different plants by French monks. It’s got an uncanny depth and swirls through the bourbon, which lends a nice, earthy backbone.

Take this one slow. Add an ice cube if you need to.

And remember, heartbreak—like beauty, like light—demands to be savored. 



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Sara Rauch is the author of What Shines from It: Stories
Her writing has appeared in Paper Darts, Split Lip, Hobart, So to Speak, and more. 
She lives with her family in Massachusetts. 


Monday, March 2, 2020

Page 69: Treasure of the Blue Whale

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








In this installment of Page 69, 


We put Steven Mayfield's Treaure of the Blue Whale to the test. 






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

Page 69 is from “Chapter Ten: The Zenith Stratosphere, a monkey, and a jeweled commode.” It features two minor characters—Coach Wally Buford and his wife, Judy—who provide comic relief in the tradition of Dogberry in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. At this point in the story, the townspeople of Tesoro, California, believing themselves on the cusp of becoming rich, have borrowed money against their anticipated largess, instigating a buying frenzy that includes the commode with a jeweled seat cover that has finally arrived.


What is your book about?

In Treasure of the Blue Whale, a whimsical, Depression-era tale, young Connor O’Halloran decides to share the treasure he’s discovered on an isolated stretch of Northern California beach with the entire community of Tesoro, California. Almost overnight, his sleepy, seaside village is comically transformed into a bastion of consumerism, home to a commode with a jeweled seat cover, a pair of genuinely fake rare documents, a mail-order bride, and an organ-grinder’s monkey named Mr. Sprinkles.


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

This excerpt from Treasure of the Blue Whale provides an accurate sense of tone, but not substance. Thematically, the book is, in part, about how money changes people and the Bufords’ desire to one-up their neighbors with an item that celebrates glittering uselessness is certainly an ingredient in that thematic recipe. However, this is Connor’s story, not theirs. In the sometimes languid, sometimes exciting days of that long-ago season, he discovers other, more important treasures. He is rich and then he isn’t. He shares in a great secret and a conspiracy. He learns to sail a boat and about sex. He meets a real actor. He sneaks into villainous Cyrus Dinkle’s house and steals his letter opener. He almost goes to jail. He loves Fiona Littleleaf. He finds a father. And best of all, he and little brother, Alex, reclaim their mother from the dark place that has held her for so long.






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

PAGE 69
TREASURE OF THE BLUE WHALE


…on his front walk when he returned, anxious to ooh and aah when the thing was uncrated. Judy and Coach Wally happily accommodated the looky-loo’s and before long the toilet sat white and gleaming atop its palette like a king about to be crowned. Wally attached the wooden oval seat and then unveiled the coronet: a cover encrusted in fake rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. He held it up for the crowd to behold, like a boxer displaying his championship belt, and then fastened it in place, afterward puffing out his chest and squeezing Judy’s hand as they basked in the chorus of “Well, I nevers” and “Don’t that beat alls” that poured out of the assembled onlookers. After the hubbub settled down, Coach Wally had a couple of his high school football players haul the commode inside where he and Judy contemplated the dilemma of where to put it in a house without indoor sewer plumbing.

“Eventually, we’ll have a real, big-city lavatory,” Judy asserted, “so we should put it where we think a proper bathroom might go.” The Buford residence was a nice little house but had only enough space for a couple of bedrooms, a living room, dining room, and kitchen, so they put the commode under the stairs while Judy worked on design plans. She took over the kitchen table with a pad of paper and a newly sharpened pencil. A day or so later the pencil and its eraser were nubs and the kitchen floor was littered with crumpled balls of rejected lavatory drawings. “There’s no place to put a bathroom,” she complained to her husband. “We’ll have to add on.”

Coach Wally was a creature of habit and ordinarily blew a gasket if even a scent of change in his routine was in the air. However, he kept his cool when Judy apprised him of her conclusion because he never listened to his wife, and with his tacit consent, she set about planning the renovation. In the meantime, however, Judy felt the commode deserved a more prominent position in the Buford furniture hierarchy.


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Steven Mayfield was born and raised in Nebraska, a place where people would prefer that you think well of them, should you think of them at all. He is a past recipient of the Mari Sandoz Prize for Fiction and the author of over fifty scientific and literary publications. After a hiatus away from creative writing that lasted almost twenty years—during which he published forty-two scientific articles, abstracts, chapters, and reviews—Steven resumed writing fiction in 1993. In 1994, his stories began to appear in print and have been published by Event, The Black River Review, cold-drill, artisan, The Long Story, and the anthology From Eulogy to Joy. In 1998, he was guest editor for the literary journal, Cabin Fever, and his collection of short stories, Howling at the Moon, was a Best Books of 2010 selection by USA Book News and an Eric Hoffer Award Finalist. His novel, Treasure of the Blue Whale will be released by Regal House Publishing in April, 2020.

Steven currently resides in Portland, Oregon with his wife, Pam, and three goldendoodles who can be annoyingly insistent around meal-time. He can order beer in four languages. His wife can say, “Pay no attention to this man” in five.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Audio Series: 25 Trumbulls Road





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



Today, Christopher Locke will be reading an excerpt from his novel 25 Trumbulls Road, out this month with Black Lawrence Press. 
Christopher’s writing has appeared in such magazines as The North American Review, The Rumpus, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Sun, Poetry East, Verse Daily, Southwest Review, Slice, The Literary Review, West Branch, RATTLE, Gargoyle, The Nervous Breakdown, Barrelhouse, Saranac Review, and NPR’s Morning Edition and Ireland’s Radio One, among many others. Locke’s most recent book is Ordinary Gods, (Salmon Poetry, 2017), a collection of poems & essays detailing his 25 years of travel throughout Latin America. His first post-punk/spoken word album, Late Lights, was recently released by Burst & Bloom Records. Locke has received over a dozen grants, fellowships, and awards for his writing including the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Award, state grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, and Poetry Fellowships from Fundacion Valparaiso, (Spain) and PARMA (Mexico). He teaches creative writing online at The Poetry Barn and in person at North Country Community College in the Adirondacks.










Click on the soundcloud bar below to listen to Christopher read from 25 Trumbulls Road: 







What it's about: 

Winner of the Fall 2018 Black River Chapbook Competition
This house has seen things it won’t let you forget.
When a new family moves in to the house at 25 Trumbulls Road, the narrator’s vivid dreams of a teary-eyed, raw-smelling woman who lives beneath the floor turn chillingly real. Five years later, the house’s new set of inhabitants are visited by the spectral presence of the little girl they lost. In these five tales linked by a single haunted house, the characters move through a world suspended between nightmare and loss, where the unexplainable and disquieting are fueled by ordinary grief and longing. Christopher Locke explores the ways in which our unspoken fears and everyday regrets sustain the darker heart of a home-its doorways and windows, its basements and lights-until it fills those corners of our lives with something close to terror. His stories ask: how does a home feed on this energy, growing stronger with each new, sinister end? As compulsively readable as it is unsettling, 25 Trumbulls Road takes us to the places we’re afraid to go, then leaves us at a destination where we are our most human.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Where Writers Write: Philip Cioffari

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



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





Photo Credit: Danny Cioffari


This is Philip Cioffari. 



Philip grew up in the Bronx. He is the author of the novels: CATHOLIC BOYS; DARK ROAD, DEAD END; JESUSVILLE; THE BRONX KILL; and the story collection, A HISTORY OF THINGS LOST OR BROKEN, which won the Tartt First Fiction Prize, and the D.H. Lawrence Award. His stories have appeared widely in anthologies, literary journals and commercial magazines. He wrote and directed the independent feature film, LOVE IN THE AGE OF DION, which won a number of film festival awards, including Best Picture at the Long Island International Film Expo, and Best Director at the NY Film & Video Festival. He is professor of English at William Paterson University in New Jersey. Philip's new novel, IF ANYONE ASKS, SAY I DIED FROM THE HEARTBREAKING BLUES, is due out in February from Livingston Press/University of W. Alabama. Find him online at http://www.philipcioffari.com/.









Where Philip Cioffari Writes






I write in a corner of my sixth floor apartment living room set up as a small office. When I write, I’m facing a window that overlooks trees and, beyond the trees, the buildings of my town, and beyond that a section of the George Washington Bridge and the skyline of New York City. 




I would say that the view of the New York skyline is crucial to my well-being while I’m composing. It connects me to the place where I was born and raised. If I lean out the window, I can actually see the apartment housing complex in the Bronx where I spent my youth. Since I often write stories and novels set in the Bronx, this view stokes the fires of my memory, and helps unite who I am now to who I was. I like to keep that connection active and vibrant.   

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Indie Spotlight: Jennifer Spiegel

Welcome to our Indie Spotlight series. In which TNBBC gives small press authors the floor to shed some light on their writing process, publishing experiences, or whatever else they'd like to share with you, the readers!


Today, we have a returning guest, and dear author friend of TNBBC, Jennifer Spiegel. Her latest book, Cancer, I'll Give You One Year, released just this past January. Here's what the Goodreads page claims:

The book is 100% narrative nonfiction and 0% self-help. It was actually written for the author’s children in case she died. This sounds morbid, but maybe “pointed” and “candid” are better words. Embracing candor as an aesthetic, this real-time story hits upon the sacred, the profane, a trip to Epcot, a colonoscopy, her kids’ responses to everything, and OJ Simpson’s parole hearing. Writing-centric, voice-driven, and conscious of a death sentence . . . no diets or exercises are offered, but the author may give horrible parenting advice. It’s undoubtedly funny, but also a meditation on meaning.



Now that you've got a better idea of what the memoir's about, check out Jennifer's unorthodox reading list below:






An Unorthodox Cancer Reading List: Annotated, Of Course

The Ferrante photo is literally in the pre-op room . . .
the socks were put on by the hospital.





Say you’ve got cancer.

You will have time to read, assuming, well, assuming you’ve got time. Crap. It’s tough. Read some books. It may be hard to focus, to delve into an alternate reality, to even want to give credence to someone else’s perspective . . . on, like, the disease that is possibly killing you. You may get angry. I don’t know how you process things. There are so many cancer offerings and they seem upbeat and positive and reading them might give you peace or, um, reading them might make you want to kill yourself.

I was going to include this as an appendix in my memoir, Cancer, I'll Give You One Year: A Non-Informative Guide To Breast Cancer, A Writer's Memoir In Almost Real Time. I removed it. I don’t know why.

Alas, here’s an unorthodox reading list . . .

  • Charles Bock’s Alice & Oliver. Very real characters, a marriage and cancer novel. With its New Yorkisms, its East Village collisions, CBGB-Limelight-Patti-Smith-Yaffa-all night Polish diner ministrations, I was bedazzled. I loved how a chic life could be turned on its head, the brutality of it—like some kind of plucked peacock. Which would make a great title of a story: A Plucked Peacock. Dibbs. All Rights Reserved. Copyrighted. Whatever.


  • Elena Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment. Yeah, don’t read this one. I literally read it on the chopping block. Like I think they took it out of my hands as I slipped into sweet slumber and rolled into surgery to take of my breasts. This was my first Ferrante. It’s very Ferrante. That excruciating intimacy. Like you’re in the head of the protagonist, unraveling her madness which sounds a lot like your own madness, and you’re so close to her that you can smell her breath. You might just want to skip this one and move onto her Neapolitan Novels, actually. You will not forget yourself or lose-yourself-in-a-book. But you will recognize the complicated lives of others. Ferrante is brilliant.


  • Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing is Monsters, Vol. 1. A graphic novel! This book is AMAZING, a tour de force. The artwork is fabulous. The writing is great. It's a complex story with monsters-as-metaphors, and interweaving narrative threads about the Holocaust and survivors, Chicago in the sixties, the murder of MLK, cancer, coming-of-age, not fitting in, being an artist, and siblings.


  • Vincent Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad.” Which isn’t even a book. I’m not going to tell you that Walter White was an inspiration or that, since you’re possibly dying, you might want to give up your ordinary existence and break bad. But I will say that this show did have something to say about endings and finality and taking care of shit before you go.


  • Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams. It’s decidedly secular, maybe postmodern, feminist, scholarly. I began to envy Jamison for her ability to step into some foreign world and be more than just a voyeur and write with empathy. Isn’t this something many, many writers long to do? Go to the places to which we aren’t invited and absorb the world in a real way, make it ours, if only for a moment? And to do so with empathy?


  • Adam Johnson’s Fortune Smiles. Johnson’s wife had breast cancer, and she went through everything. We’re not talking lumpectomy, folks. We’re not talking out-patient surgery, friends. I like Johnson’s work in general, but there’s a great cancer story in here.


  • Meredith Maran’s Why We Write About Ourselves. I mean, maybe you should write your own book. This collection of essays by famous memoirists is a good intro to memoir-writing. It can be summed up like this: Be unsparingly honest, willing to expose yourself and your own horribleness without reservation, do not neglect craft ever, and try not to hurt people--though you might have to and probably will. Cheryl Strayed emphasizes universality--how she's striving for universals. I loved James McBride's essay.


  • Sandra Marinella’s The Story You Need to Tell: Writing to Heal from Trauma, Illness, or Loss. (She blurbed my book.) I learned two things quickly upon my own diagnosis . . . First, everyone has cancer. Second, everyone with cancer writes a book about having cancer. Which is to say that there are a ton of books about cancer. Some stand out, and Marinella had me when I hit the Nelson Mandela epigraph. I loved the combo of craft and cancer. I loved the emphasis on storytelling--its power. I believe that fully, and here is a full and well-written and inspiring exploration.


  • Tig Notaro video. I actually forgot what I watched, but I think it was on Netflix. Though it may send my conservative friends into a full-blown tizzy, I have to say that I was utterly moved by the way she made art out of her cancerous life.


  • Roger Rosenblatt’s “I Am Writing Blindly” (TIME, November 6, 2000). This one-page essay, maybe, is the best thing I’ve ever read about why people write, and you can find it online. It’s why I write. About cancer and everything else.


  • Chaim Potok’s My Name is Asher Lev. And this is a must-read. A treatise on art and life. Cancer-free or cancerous. It’s so brilliant that, once I start gushing, I won’t be able to stop.


  • Mary Elizabeth Williams’ A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles. Is this my only “real” cancer book here? I read others, but only this one—ONLY this one—stuck. It’s miserable to say, but it's best when writers get cancer. Their books are the good ones. And here’s a game-changer. Personal with some science talk. Maybe, someday, our kids will survive because of this science.



Here are other books I liked:


Jennifer Hayden’s The Story of My Tits. A graphic memoir!

Teva Harrison’s In-Between Days: A Memoir About Living with Cancer. A graphic memoir!

Andrea Hutton’s Bald Is Better With Earrings. Orthodox-ish.

Tania Katan’s My One-Night Stand With Cancer. A little raw on the lesbian-side of things, but quite real.

Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air. Super moving. Downright beautiful. I could almost push it up to the top half of this list.

Meredith Norton’s Lopsided. How Having Breast Cancer Can Be Really Distracting. She died, so I get sad. This one is strongest when she talks about being a black woman from America married to a white man from France. Which brings me to her surviving husband. Thibault, if you're reading this, I'm sorry for your loss. Really so very sorry.

Nina Riggs’ The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying. This book terrified me. Nina Riggs is dead, and her death hovers over the memoir; what scared me horribly was that her initial diagnosis/prognosis seemed better than my own. Apparently, we were diagnosed around the same time. Maybe the exact same time. She's dead. I'm alive, supposedly okay, always conscious of my tenuous okay-ness. Her surviving husband is romantically involved with Paul Lalanithi’s surviving wife. How’s that for a love story? I liked the writing better in Riggs (the writing is actually pretty excellent), but I liked Paul Kalanithi, the person, a bit more. Is that okay to say? Nina’s story hit way too close to home, and I was actually wondering if this were healthy for me to read.

Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer in 1951, when she was a mom and wife—at the age (I think?) of thirty. Without her knowledge or permission, her cancer cells were taken (a sample of them) and harvested/multiplied/used all over the world in medicine. These "HeLa" cells have been instrumental in medical advancement for the last 60-70 years, without Lacks's family's knowledge, permission, or acclaim. Henrietta was a poor black woman at a particular point in history, and this book explores her contribution, her life, and her family.

Kara Tippetts’ The Hardest Peace. Religious. I liked it.




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Jennifer is mostly a fiction writer with two novels, one story collection, and one memoir. She also teaches English and creative writing. Additionally, she is part of Snotty Literati, a book-reviewing gig, with Lara Smith. She lives with her family in Arizona. For more information, visit www.jenniferspiegel.com