Friday, January 11, 2019

Indie Spotlight: Watch TV Like an Author - Jennifer Spiegel

Jennifer Spiegel is no stranger to TNBBC. In fact, she may actually be the most frequent author contributor here on the blog, for which we are incredibly appreciative. 

Back in November, she self published her novel  And So We Die, Having First Slept. And today she's here sharing an essay on how much she digs.... TV.....

Watching TV Like A Writer*

I love TV.

I may need to justify my TV habit, my love affair, which it is. Nightly, when the kids are down, my husband and I—shamelessly—make our way to the big, brown couch in front of the big screen. He brings over his ubiquitous bowl of Frosted Shredded Wheat and raisins (why, oh, why did I fail to invest in raisins?). Sometimes I wear my purple socks with paw prints on the bottom for traction. We call our stinky dog into the room. And then, then, for one hour only, we watch TV.

 It just seems so—I don’t know—gauche?

I’m going to tell you a little story. It’s embarrassing.

I grew up with parents who watched Primetime TV. Like every night. My skinny-ass dad pulled out this black goblet from the kitchen cupboard, filled it with ice cream, and settled in for a night with my mom, miscellaneous pets, and the Idiot Box. Reading this now, I’m like, Oh No. I turned into my parents.

As a teenager, I couldn’t wait to get my nouveau-independent, brie-eating, book-reading self out of there, straight into the halls of Academia, where I could get on with the scholarly life. Always a dork, I didn’t dream of being a supermodel. I dreamt of Nabokov, Roth, Brontë. While I never stopped shaving and I never joined a Kill-Your-Television Hate Group, I did ban most TV-watching for years, making exceptions here and there.

But, by the new millennium, single-womaned out, I succumbed. There was a brief, dark time in which I watched “The Bachelor”—alone, in my thirties, with my now-dead cats, prior to hitting up e-harmony with a fake name (Jennifer Jacaranda). I had thought I was done with self-inflicted psychosis when I had stopped binging-and-purging in the nineties, but apparently not. I got a grip—though months had passed—and I turned it off, with a kiss-my-ass swivel and a clash-bang-boom.

Screw That Reality TV!

TV-tainted, I swore I’d never relapse again.

The rest of that decade is a hazy blur. I know that, somehow or other, I got married to another hater, had kids, read a book by Donna Tartt (seriously, this is all I remember), saw one doctor about removing varicose veins but didn’t follow up, and began—not without a measure of indignity—watching “Lost” with my husband.

But the crazy part is that TV seemed okay now, even among us faux-intellectuals. No one was ashamed anymore. TV was cool. Forty was the new thirty, and TV was the new novel? Getting old wasn’t that bad. Was there a TV Renaissance happening? Were we on the brink, with “Lost,” of Literary TV?

There I was, all highfalutin about character development (Sawyer and his heart of gold) and the combo of a backstory (I don’t remember it) with a current story (the Others!), along with the beauty of this story confinement in terms of time and place, et al.

Well, this tale ends badly, I’m afraid.

As you know, “Lost” went south with its craven ending (and the Smoke Monster). I still can’t talk about it. That grand finale—rife with McGuffins, a Deus ex Machina or two, and red herrings galore—killed me, like, religiously. Part of me died. I mean, by now, I was already in the throes of pretending I was a real writer—and I wanted “Lost” to work. I wanted it so badly. I wanted narrative success, not unlike a sinner craving redemption. With each show’s offering of clues and with climactic tension building, my hopes were high. My disbelief was so suspended that I was utterly convinced in the Dharma Initiative and All. But that conclusion was so unbearably lousy, so disappointing, so theoretically unsound, that I turned off the television for another couple of years. My hands still stained with the sin of Bad TV, I was in need of cleansing (not to be dramatic or anything). The TV stayed off.

Till the Renaissance was in full-swing.

And that was when the TV was declared a source of marital together-time, a discussion piece, a happy ritual. However, I needed it to somehow benefit my writing too. I then started my Big Project: Watching TV Like A Writer.

We discovered gold in the Renaissance. “The Office” was a gift. We only began watching when it was over.

And now a crash-course in what I look for . . .

Veracity/Emotional Truth: I am ever-conscious of authenticity. It’s a literary habit, yeah?

It was the appeal of “The Office.” The absurdity of the real. The side glances. The cast of nuts in our lives. The ordinary setting. The I Am A Nut Too-ness of it. The “Breaking of the Fourth Wall,” if done in a particular way, draws our attention to what is and isn’t real, to artifice. When Michael (or Leslie in “Parks and Recreation”) addresses the audience, the audience is asked to be active, not passive, to note the absurdity of the moment, to see it for what it is.

But it can be even larger than that. It can speak of the human experience. I might turn to “Better Call Saul” because I am perpetually blown away by strange human ministrations in the scenarios. It’s a quiet show, you know? One just watches Jimmy live out a breathtaking humanity that almost embarrasses the viewer with its scrutiny but also evokes empathy. It speaks to what it means to be human.

I often think of certain odd moments in “Saul.” One thing I really love about that show is how it will dwell in the moment. It will linger. TV (and other mediums) often doesn’t let the individual moment sink in before racing onto the next, maybe more exciting, moment. “Saul” savors such times, and I think writers might learn much about the ravishing or devastating or colorful effect of minutia. Watch this scene. There are many, many others like it. “Saul” dwells. Should writers do the same?

Character Development: This is really hard for TV, I think. It’s a plot-centric medium, yeah? Built to be an After-Dinner Drink, following the long, hard day. Characters on TV, for the most part, have always been stable. Reliable. We could count on Lucy to be Lucy. (Laverne to be Laverne!) Which is why we might make a case that there’s a TV Renaissance going on. Characters have the potential to develop as at least some shows get novelistic. Tony Soprano of “The Sopranos” goes into therapy, and it affects his behavior. Walter White of “Breaking Bad” transforms over the course of several years, making the phrase breaking bad meaningful. The direction of the plot hinges on character development.

(Side note: This is why I’m done with “The Walking Dead.” Rick gone, protagonist no longer on any kind of character-trajectory: The show is dead to me.)

The Good Detail: This, too, is maybe novel in television, because formulaic recipes have proven so successful. But how great is it that the family unit in “Breaking Bad” consists of a high school chemistry teacher, a pretty unlikeable mom, and a kid with cerebral palsy? How great is it that Jimmy’s brother in “Better Call Saul” is cra-cra and demands that cellphones are put in the mailbox? These are great not because of the eye-popping weirdness, but because they’re not formulaic and they’re painfully true. That’s the stuff of my life, your life. We’re the chemistry teachers, the ones with the crazy brother (or maybe we are the crazy brother).

Production Values That Are Probably Equivalent to Language: Well, yes. I listen for dialogue. But there are other kinds of language. I’m thinking of Nina Simone at the end of the first season of “The Handmaid’s Tale” or the use of the color red in the show. I’m thinking of the stylized settings and clothes from “Mad Men,” “Peaky Blinders” maybe (watch this!), and even early “Walking Dead.” I think, personally, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is the best in making a beautiful language out of its production values. Ouch--this is so great. I find it utterly chilling, nearly perfect.

Bad Guys: They need to be fully human, right? Tony Soprano and Walter White were bad guys who were also good guys. Remember Tony’s weird soft-spot for animals? Sometimes, there are great bad guys roaming the sets of so-so shows. I loved Boyd Crowder on “Justified.” (That show was a fave, though I’m not totally sure I can make a big case for it.) “Ozark,” a newbie, seems to have a great mix of complex characters.

Endings: I’m possibly over-sensitive about endings. I have a thing for closure. There is little I like better that a seven-year commitment to a television show with resolution at the end (this is hyperbole.) Resolution can be in different forms. I’ll try to avoid spoilers. There are two kinds of satisfying endings.

First, the This-Is-The-Way-It-Goes end of “Breaking Bad,” which was close to flawlessness. What true thing will follow these other true things? That is the lovely path of “Breaking Bad.” A variation of this kind of end is the Hate-It-Love-It End of “The Sopranos,” which requires the viewer to ponder the inevitable. That show ended with the lingering presence of the Inevitable.

Second, there is the metaphoric, Somehow-This-Totally-Works End. “Mad Men” did it. It’s right. It’s philosophic, symbolic. It’s probably—because everything is—a little Great Gatsby, even if no one rides off into the sunset like I was hoping they would. Another winner here was “Six Feet Under,” which you know we’re still thinking about . . .

I guess I would say that I’m in constant lookout mode for the satisfying end. I’m a student of ends. I don’t know if other writer-types feel as strongly about this as I do. For me, the value of the story may just depend on the end. I say that, and I’m sure that I can think of a ton of exceptions. Still, I always marvel at the effective ending. (“Seinfeld” bugged me; “St. Elsewhere,” a formative show in my early life, robbed itself of veracity.)

The Perfect Show is probably “Better Call Saul.”

Though “The Handmaid’s Tale” might be another kind of perfect: stylized writing—think about how George Saunders is real, but not real.

Watching TV Like A Writer means that school is never out. There is no such thing as downtime. I’m not all snob. I do or did “Downton Abbey,” “Call the Midwife,” “This is Us,”” The Americans,” and “Orphan Black.” I feel like I demand a lot from my narratives. Happily, my demands are often met.  


Jennifer Spiegel has an MA in Politics from New York University, and an MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) from Arizona State. She teaches college classes and writes. She is the author of three books: THE FREAK CHRONICLES (Dzanc Books), LOVE SLAVE (Unbridled Books), and AND SO WE DIE, HAVING FIRST SLEPT (November 2018, Five Oaks Press). Spiegel is also half of the book-reviewing team, Snotty Literati. She lives with her husband and two kids in Arizona. Please visit her at

* Some of this appeared in a slightly different form in an essay I wrote on “The Walking Dead” in Dead Inside: Poems and Essays About Zombies.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Page 69: The Truth About the Moon and the Stars

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

In this installment of Page 69, 

We put Brian Jacobson's The Truth About the Moon and the Stars to the test!

OK, Brian, set up page 69 for us.

Page 69 features the story’s eighteen-year-old protagonist, Shane, getting dressed up to break into his ex-friend’s family home. His mission is to retrieve a beloved prank call CD from his youth, The Ball Busters II-No Hang Ups. It is lost on Shane that he is cultivating the look of a Halloween burglar costume.

What is The Truth About the Moon and the Stars about:

 I’d say The Truth About the Moon and the Stars is about arrested development and haphazard, unintended occult initiation. Shane is a high school dropout who lives alone in the house of his recently deceased parents. While his peers are graduating high school and getting ready to head off to college, Shane spends his time engaging in anti-social hobbies like Chinese buffet brawls, Beanie Baby Heists and endless hours of prank calls. These activities lead Shane to discover a mysterious senior citizen, George. As Shane’s obsession with George grows, he finds himself hurled down a phantasmagorical rabbit hole that he isn’t prepared for.

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

It absolutely aligns itself with the theme of arrested development.  This page is a nice little snapshot of Shane at the beginning of the story. It gives the reader a glimpse into his obsessiveness, his proclivity toward transgressive situations, and his lack of self-awareness.



In the living room, Boyz II Men are singing “Motown Philly” on BET. As Boyz II Men demonstrate their Philly street style—pastel button-down shirts, matching khaki short outfits, matching bowtie outfits, cheesesteaks, lip-synching in front of a giant birthday cake, synchronized dance moves with canes—it occurs to me that David’s house might be empty right now. The fun, out-on-the-town vibe of the video jolts a memory; David’s parents used to go out religiously on Saturday nights. They probably still do. David and his sister are probably out as well. They both have lots of friends and it’s the last month of high school. I can’t believe that such a basic detail didn’t occur to me during any of my recent brainstorming sessions.

I call his house, hoping nobody will answer. Jackpot! I still don’t have a concrete plan, but if the house is truly empty, I won’t really need one.

I leave the TV on, wander upstairs to change. “Motown Philly” floats up to my bedroom as I sift through my closet for a black sweatshirt, black jeans, and a ski mask. Back-to-back Boyz II Men continues to serenade me as I slip into my chosen evening attire.

All dressed, I laugh at the masked man in the mirror. I fish through the closet for a crowbar while reminiscing about my favorite Ballbusters calls. There was the impatient deaf guy doing a survey. How can I forget the saucy rich prick who harassed a Rolls Royce dealership? I look myself over once more and decide that I’m ready to head downstairs.

Boyz II Men grow louder as I slide down the banister. I try to remember how far away David’s house is as I grab the keys. Should take about five minutes this time of night.


Brian Jacobson was born in 1981 and raised outside of Boston. He is a graduate of Emerson College and lives in Portland, Oregon. The Truth About the Moon and the Stars is his first novel.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Where Writers Write: Stephen Evans

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.


Stephen Evans is a playwright and the author of several books, including The Marriage of True MindsA Transcendental Journey, Painting Sunsets (12/2018) and The Island of Always (available 1/6/19). His website is

Where Stephen Evans Writes

What constitutes writing? If it’s only where you type the words into your computer, then my writing space is not particularly exciting. It consists of a tiny lime green desk that once inhabited my mother’s sewing room. Hanging on the wall above is a picture of the Iowa farm where my father grew up. Beneath that I have posted a quote from Marcus Aurelius Meditations:

If you work at that which is before you, following right reason seriously, vigorously, calmly, without allowing anything else to distract you, but keeping your divine part pure, as if you should be bound to give it back immediately; if you hold to this, expecting nothing, fearing nothing, but satisfied with your present activity according to nature, and with heroic truth in every word and sound which you utter, you will live happy. And no man is able to prevent this.

I’m not sure it’s true, but I like reading it.

But if you count as writing the imaginative time that comes before the typing and reading and editing, then my writing space gets more interesting, and beautiful.

Several years ago, after a difficult family time, I decided to take some time off from work to catch up on writing projects I had been thinking about for years but had not had the time or energy to tackle. It ended up being nearly a year, not because I intended to take that much time, but because it took months longer to find a new job than I planned.

During this sabbatical, I was able to write drafts of two books: The Island of Always, the sequel to a novel I had published a while before, and Painting Sunsets, a middle-grade fantasy novel I have had in the back of my mind for more than two decades. I am happy to say I am publishing both books this winter. I also wrote a new one-act play about Ralph Waldo Emerson entitled Monuments, which we hope to produce this summer. And finally I drafted a good deal of content for a book on comedy. It was a very good year.

Before this period, my writing process had always been to sit down at the computer and see what happened. But this year, my process changed.

Behind my condo, there is a little park that residents of the community refer to as the Broadwalk. The park is narrow, maybe 100 yards wide and half a mile or so long, with apartments and townhouses lining either side.

Down the middle of the park, an asphalt path wanders with no particular sense of purpose, willing to get there when to gets there. Benches are spaced along the way, for those of us who like to sit and think. Or just sit and breathe.

On either side of the path, trees and bushes and flower beds measure your progress. In the early spring, forsythia, skinny stairways made of sunshine, and jonquils, upside down bells of yellow gold, ring in the change of season. In late April, azalea paint the path in pastels (including light purple, like this sentence). A few weeks later, the dogwoods bloom throughout the grounds, myriad pink and white lace handkerchiefs waving in the breeze.

But the mature trees are year-round joys. The community was developed 50 years ago, and many of the trees are that old or more. The variety is notable, from oaks to poplars to birches and many more. About half the path is shaded by these welcome neighbors.

Every day, or at least every nice day, before sitting down to write, I got into the habit of taking a walk, hoping the creative space in my head would mirror the calm and beautiful space outside. Around noon, or maybe 1:00 PM, I would head outside, turn left (always the same direction) and stroll for about 45 minutes down the path, past dogs and humans in equal numbers. Having no dog I was often the odd man out and about, nodding to the humans and saying hello to the dogs.

I never really had the sense that I was writing. But by the time I had made the turn for home, my mind had also turned to the next scene, and I was deep in my creative space. My pace would pick up, because I knew exactly what my approach would be, often my exact words, and wanted to get to the keyboard without delay.

Though once in a while, something halted the stream of thoughts and images, diverted it into a different track. Then the beginnings of a new poem or a story would begin take shape.

What more can you ask of an office than to offer you stories to tell?

Monday, December 24, 2018

A TNBBC Twist on "Top 2018" Lists

2018 was a rough reading year for me, clocking in an all-time low of 40 books for the year. Granted, I did spend more of my free time focusing on freelance publicity, and most of what I read was for "work" purposes. Since I haven't read enough to create an impactful Year End list, I thought I'd enlist the help of some of my author friends, and see what books they were most impressed by.

The TNBBC Author Series: Top 2018 Reads

(author of Mr. Neutron)

This book renewed my faith in imaginative, intellectual writing. The stories in Chiang’s collection combine science fiction with themes of faith and possibility to create tales that speak to where humanity finds itself in the present day.

From Where You Dream, Robert Olen Butler
Possibly the best book about writing I’ve read, and I’ve read dozens. Butler connects good writing to the way in which people (readers) experience the world—through sensory perception. Then he takes the concept an extra step and shows writers how to apply those perceptions and the reactions to them in their work.

The Nix, Nathan Hill
A whopper of a book at over 700 pages, and yet it’s a fast read because you just can’t put it down. Hill uses the Chicago riots of 1968 as the backdrop to his story about finding family and self in an increasingly self-centered and confusing world. No gimmicks, no polemics, just compelling writing.

Throw out every preconception you have about human origins. Abandon the myth that we are born of different races. Recent DNA analysis shows how human interbreeding and migration over hundreds of thousands of years has produced the people we are today, with much more in common than we ever imagined.

The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood

I reread this book to help inspire a new project. It’s even more apropos today, as our society seems headed toward authoritarianism, than it was when it came out. 

Joe Ponepinto’s latest novel, Mr. Neutron, was published by 7.13 Books in March, 2018. He was the founding publisher and fiction editor of Tahoma Literary Review, a nationally-recognized literary journal that has had selections reproduced in Best American Poetry, Best American Essays, Best Small Fictions, Best Gay Fiction, and other notable anthologies. He has had stories published in Crab Orchard Review, Fugue, Lumina, and dozens of other literary journals in the U.S. and abroad. He is an adjunct writing instructor at Seattle’s Hugo House and Tacoma Community College.


(author of Scoundrels Among Us)

Large Animals by Jess Arndt 
– This story collection is such a killer mix of toughness and vulnerability, darkness and light, realism and surrealism. Arndt’s gorgeous prose had me feeling gratitude and the deep desire to do my own writing (which is the highest praise a writer can give, I think). Sentence by sentence I was mystified, challenged, and rewarded, and I completed the entire book in one sitting.

The Week by Joanna Ruocco 
– One quality of being an artist that cannot be taught is uniqueness of vision; the artist’s particular way of seeing and rendering the world. Ruocco’s vision is singular and dazzling. Some readers will say, “I don’t get it,” but I don’t think you need to “get it” any more than you need to “get” the open-mouthed wonder of staring into a steaming, churning volcano. Just sit back and enjoy.

What We Build Upon theRuins by Giano Cromley 
– A carefully crafted, deeply satisfying collection of realist stories. Cromley avoids the trite and sentimental, preferring the sort of complexity and psychological depth that will make you revisit these pieces again and again. Like most of the other books on my list, this features characters who are down but not out; evoking the work of Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolfe, the inhabitants of these pieces seem to be reaching for grace that hangs just out of their grasp.

Fever Chart by Bill Cotter 
– I love bold, unapologetic writing (as represented by all of the authors on this list). This novel, about a guy who escapes from a mental institution and drives from New England to New Orleans, where he becomes a world champion grilled cheese maker, is my favorite type of ugly. It’s full of colorful losers and miscreants who are far more interesting than anyone you will ever meet. Hilarious, sad, and of course reminiscent in the best ways of that “other” famous New Orleans comic novel.

The Largesse of theSea Maiden by Denis Johnson 
– A beautiful swan-song by a beautiful soul. This guy was so influential to me and countless others, and I read his final collection with joy, existential terror, envy, and wonder (that is to say, pretty much a typical Denis Johnson book). When I was in graduate school, I had the opportunity to work with him and even hang out with him a bit. He inscribed my copy of Jesus’ Son: “To Darrin – Thanks for your kind assistance in getting out of that whorehouse in Sonora.” A great dude and one of the best writers I know.

Darrin Doyle is Professor of English/Creative Writing at Central Michigan University. He is the author of four books of fiction, most recently the story collection Scoundrels Among Us (Tortoise Books), which The Bookends Review calls “a majorly imaginative, evocative, and rewarding read.” BULL magazine writes “His world vision, his heart, his ability to cut to the core of what makes humanity tic, what makes humanity ugly, what makes humanity beautiful–it all should be required reading for everybody.”  


Saturday, December 15, 2018

Guster (2019) Reading Challenge

I really love reading challenges because of the way it stretches your reading comfort zone, but I've always sucked at actually completing them. 

In 2015, over at Goodreads, we kicked off our most outrageous challenge ever, borrowing The Beatles Reading Challenge from another group I was a part of, which had turned their songs into reading tasks. And 2016, we whipped up The REM Reading Challenge. (I really sucked at this one. I couldn't even complete one album, but man was it fun trying!). And then to honor David Bowie's passing, in 2017, we pulled together The Bowie Reading Challenge! This past year I decided to take a break from our music theme and challenged everyone to read whatever the fuck they wanted in our RWTFYW challenge. The only rule was that there were no rules : )

(by the way, even those these challenges were kicked off in specific year, you can totally create your challenge for any of them any time you wish!)

I mean, there's just something about reading challenges right??? and so..... because I am glutton for punishment, here we are again!

For 2019, I decided to return to the music theme. And I chose Guster!! I'm late discovering this band. I first heard their song Satellite on Pandora about two years ago and fell in love hard. Since then, I've seen them in concert twice (going back to see them again in January!) and after listening to most of their songs, I realized their lyrics and song titles would pair really well with reading tasks. So.. here we are!

Whether you know and love Guster, or this is the first time you are hearing of them, what I think is most cool about these kinds of reading challenges... is that you don't even have to be a fan of the bands to participate. You just have to be a fan of READING!!


(follow the link to create yours!)

So here's how this works:

*The goal is to cross off as many Guster songs as you can throughout the course of 2019. 

You can challenge yourself to complete one entire album, focus on completing one decades-worth of albums, or build your own challenge by hitting your favorite song titles... it's totally up to you!

*You cross off the songs by reading a book that meets the criteria listed after each song title.

If the book meets multiple reading tasks, cool! You can apply it to multiple song titles, OR you can make the reading challenge more challenging by limiting yourself to one song title per book.

*There is a built in redundancy with some of the tasks. 

They are repetitive on purpose, to give you an opportunity to read more than one type of book and still get credit for completing a task. (Sneaky, I know!)

*You can copy and paste the entire list, or your customized challenge list, into your own thread in this goodreads folder and strike through the song titles as you complete them, OR, you can simply copy and paste each song title and its criteria from the master list here as you complete it. (obviously put your name in the thread title so we know whose challenge it is).

*Do not add your list directly to the thread. 

*YOU MUST LIST THE BOOK TITLE AND AUTHOR that coincides with the song as you complete it for the challenge so we know what you read!


An example of a completed song title task in your Challenge thread would look like this: 

“Parachute” – Take the plunge and read a book in a genre you don’t normally read - Death Valley Superstars - Duke Haney


Aaaaannnnnnnddddddd here's the list, 
broken down by album, in the order of their release:

Parachute (1995)

“Fall in Two” – Read a book with a number in the title
“Mona Lisa” – Read a book about art or that features art
“Love for Me” – Read a love story
“Window” – Read a book with an inanimate object in the title
“Eden” – Read a book about temptation
“Scars & Stitches” – Read a used book, the more banged up the better
“The Prize” – Read a book about someone who’s lost themselves
“Dissolve” – Read a book and take credit here if it didn’t leave a lasting impression
“Cocoon” – Read a book while you’re wrapped up in a blanket, or under the sheets in bed
“Happy Frappy” – Read a book that takes place near or on a river
“Parachute” – Take the plunge and read a book in a genre you don’t normally read

Goldfly (1997)

“Great Escape” – Read a book while you’re on a road trip, or in which a portion of the book takes place in a car
“Demons” – Read a book that features an evil entity or someone with evil intent
“Perfect” – Read a book about drugs and drug use
“Airport Song” – Read a book that you picked up at an airport, or that features an airplane/airport
“Medicine” – Take a sick day and read a book
“X-Ray Eyes” – Read a song about a superhero or someone with strange powers
“Grin” – Read a book that makes you feel good
“Getting Even” – Read a book about revenge
“Bury Me” – Read a book in which a character dies
“Rocketship” – Read a book that takes place in outer space

Lost and Gone Forever (1999)

“What You Wish For” – Read a book that was on your wishlist
“Barrel of a Gun” – Read a book written by or featuring a movie star
“Either Way” – Read a book you’ve been on the fence about
“Fa Fa” – Read a book that features a made – up language or dialect
“I Spy” – Read a book from your TBR pile that is on one of your friend’s bookshelves
“Center of Attention” – Read a book written in first person
“All the Way Up to Heaven” – Read a book in your coziest, most favorite reading spot
“Happier” – Read whatever the fuck you want and take credit for it here
“So Long” – Read a book with more than 400 pages
“Two Points for Honesty” – Read a book that someone recommends to you and then tell them what you honestly thought of it
“Rainy Day” – Read a book on a rainy day

Keep It Together (2003)

“Diane” – Read a book with a female protag
“Careful” – Read a book that you borrowed from someone (and had to return in pristine condition)
“Amsterdam” – Read a book set in a different country
“Backyard” – Read a book written by an author from your hometown/city/state
“Homecoming King” – Read a book about high school or a book that features teenagers
“Ramona” – Read a book written by someone who identifies as female
“Jesus on the Radio” – Listen to a bookish podcast or an audiobook
“Keep it Together” – Read a book that keeps freaking you right the fuck out
“Come Downstairs and Say Hello” – Read a book while at, or hiding from, a family gathering
“Red Oyster Cult” – Read a book that features a mother or focuses on the character’s relationship with their mother
“Long Way Down” – Read a book written in third person
“I Hope Tomorrow is Like Today” – Read a book that takes place in the future
“Untitled Hidden Track” – Read a book that you uncovered accidentally
“Two at a Time” – Read a book written by two authors
“Say That to My Face” – Read a book someone would classify as a “guilty pleasure”
“Starless Heaven” – Read a book at the beach
“Days” – Read a book that takes place over the span of just a few days

Ganging Up on the Sun (2006)

“Lightning Rod” – Read a Cli-Fi book (a book that features climate change or strange weather)
“Satellite” – Read a book that takes place primarily at night
“Manifest Destiny” – Read a book that someone randomly selects for you off your bookshelf
“One Man Wrecking Machine” – Read a Sci-Fi book (extra points if it features time travel)
“The Captain” – Read a book that takes place on the ocean or on a ship/boat
“The New Underground” – Read a book that takes place in a dystopian setting/time, or features a cult
“Ruby Falls” – Read a book with a color in the title
“C’mon” – Read a book that didn’t sit well with you
“Empire State” – Read a book that takes place in NYC or is written by an author who calls NYC home
“Dear Valentine” – Read a book that takes place on or around a holiday
“The Beginning of the End” – Read a book about the end of the world
“Hang On” – Read a book that’s about another book, or is written as a book in a book

Satellite EP (2007)

“G Major” – Read a book about music or that features a band or musician
“Rise & Shine” – Spend the morning reading a book and take credit here
“Timothy Leary” – Read a book with a man’s name in the title
“I’m Through” – If you’re reading a book that you’re just not into, DNF it and take credit here

Easy Wonderful (2010)

“Architects & Engineers” – Read a book that takes place in a city
“Do You Love Me” – Read a book by your favorite author
“On the Ocean” – Read a book that is dark and foreshadowing
“This Could All Be Yours” – Read a self-help or motivational book
“Stay with Me Jesus” – Read a book that features religion or is about a religious conspiracy
“Bad Bad World” – Read a book in which the title contains the same word twice
“This is How it Feels to Have a Broken Heart” – Read a book that takes place during a war or features a character who has served in a war
“What You Call Love” – Read a book in your favorite genre
“That’s No Way to Get into Heaven” – Read a book in which the main character(s) does something wicked
“Jesus and Mary” – Read a book that features angels or a rapture/biblical end times
“Hercules” – Read a book about a mythological character
“Do What You Want” – Read whatever floats your boat and take credit for it here
“Well” – Read a book that takes you down a weird, trippy rabbit hole
“Jonah” – Read a book that features a giant fish or whale
“Lost at Sea” – Read a book and if it made it absolutely no sense to you, take credit here

On the Ocean EP (2011)

“Big White Bed” – Read a book in bed, and only in bed
“Every Moment” – Read a book that you just can’t put down/stop thinking about

Evermotion (2015)

“Long Night” – Read a book that kept you up all night
“Endlessly” – Read a book and take credit for it here if it felt like it was never going to end
“Doin’ it By Myself” – Read a book in which the protag is a hermit/antisocial/lonely
“Lazy Love” – Read a book instead of doing anything else and take credit for your procrastination here
“Simple Machine” – Read a digital book
“Expectation” – Read a book and if it didn’t meet your expectations, take credit here
“Gangway” – Read a book with just one word in the title
“Kid Dreams” – Read a book that features a child protagonist
“Never Coming Down” – Read a book that’s set in the 70’s
“It is Just What it is” – Read a book that’s pretty straightforward
“Farewell” – Read the last book written by an author

Look Alive (2019)

“Look Alive” – Read a book about zombies or dead people
“Don’t Go” – Read a book and if it made you wish it had never ended, take credit for it here
“Hard Times” – Read a book you borrowed from the library
“Hello Mr Sun” – Go outside, sit in the sun, and read a book, then take credit for it here
“Overexcited” – Read a book you could not wait to get your hands on
“Summertime” – Read a book that takes place in the summer
“Terrified” – Read a horror book
“Mind Kontrol” – Give into the hype and read a book that everyone else is talking about
“Not for Nothing” – Read a book that you know is going to piss you off
“When You Go Quiet” – Read a book that you get totally, 100% absorbed in and take credit for it here

Good luck! And feel free to have some conversation in the comments section here to let us know how you are making out!!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Bronwyn Reviews: Strawberry Fields

Strawberry Fields
Publisher: Fence Books
Winner of the Fence Modern Prize in Prose
Released: 2018

reviewed by Bronwyn Mauldin

Strawberry Fields is a book of names. Half the chapters are titled “Alice,” the name of the novel’s protagonist. Each of the remaining chapters is titled for its narrator, 17 of them named, three identified only by nicknames. Alice and Modigliani are trying to solve the simultaneous murders in a hospital ward of Iraq war veterans. Names are important, as Alice explains:

“I had profiles of the victims, tons of background. In my notes I used their first names, hoping to call them up, make them feel known: Kareem, Frances, Jonathan, Sergei, Diana.”  

Through the course of the novel we have fleeting encounters with 36 more named characters, a few others identified only by an initial or characteristic, a handful of dogs named after their behaviors, one very, very bad man.

That man is Bill LeRoy, CEO of Xenith, a transnational corporation making millions selling war, mercenaries, and security services. Any resemblance to Erik Prince and Blackwater USA (now known by the more anodyne “Academi”) is intentional. One great conceit of this novel is that much of it is true. Dialogue is taken directly from former prisoners at Guantánamo and from Donald Rumsfeld. Protesters occupy a city park for weeks. Reporters try and fail to discover why innocent people were shot during Hurricane Katrina.

I started reading this novel just as massive wildfires were exploding across California. To be reminded of the Bush administration’s startlingly inadequate response to one of the worst natural disasters to hit the US even as the current president was tweeting out threats to cut federal funding to fight wildfires, was to be reminded the crisis of democracy we are living through today did not happen overnight. So many scenes in this book center around a war Americans are trying to forget. It may be tempting to look back at the Bush years and think, at least they had an ideology, in comparison to nihilistic drive to amass wealth and power driving the current administration and its camp followers. To read this book is to find yourself back in that time, but with the benefit of hindsight. Plum, by treating the Katrina murders and killings committed by mercenaries in a time of war equally as crimes, helps us see the ideology of that administration was nothing more than a wrapping of red, white, and blue tissue paper.

Those aren’t the only crimes and injustices Plum’s characters explore. Reading this novel is a bit like reading the newspaper. Its disconnected narratives leave you with the sense that no matter how much you’ve read when you finally put it down, tomorrow’s newspaper will offer more injustices to read. That is, of course, the point. We are surrounded by disconnected injustices, and we get only a cursory view of them through the news. Behind the stories we read are people, famous and otherwise, whose lives we will never know, even if we know their names.

In a chapter titled “La Gringa,” the American narrator arrives in the village where her grandmother had been born, somewhere in what is probably the Balkans:

“The village was much as one would expect, though the background of mountains and sky more spectacular than I would have imagined. The children’s clothes were not traditional but dirtied American castoffs – Mickey Mouse, Adidas, mesh shorts.”

While this novel gives us the victims’ names and reminds us to think of them as human, it treats them only as victims. We see the damage wrought by American foreign policy, but that is all we see. At the end of the novel we know Alice and we have a better picture of the five murder victims, but as when we read the newspaper, we know little about the other people we’ve passed along the way. Today, I find myself equally interested in seeing the world through the eyes of those who’ve lived through war and authoritarianism. I want to know how they find agency, continuing to go to school, fall in love, get married, go to work each day. How do they find the strength to live lives that are full and meaningful, even in terrible times? I am certain they have something to teach us.

Bronwyn Mauldin writes fiction and poetry and is creator of The Democracy Series zine collection. Her newest work appears in Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California.  

Monday, December 3, 2018

Where Writers Write: Sue Ingalls Finan

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

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

This is Sue Ingalls Finan. 

She is a graduate of University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana and Loyola University Chicago. She taught American history and literature in Chicago, Pittsburgh and Northern California, and her adaptive writing and story-telling are featured in diverse media – textbooks, anthologies, magazines, and newspapers. “The Cards Don’t Lie” (She Writes Press, Oct. 9, 2018) is her first novel. Now living in Sonoma County with her history buff husband Jim, she writes for her local newspaper and volunteers at hospitals and libraries with Duffy, her Irish wolfhound therapy dog.

Where Sue Ingalls Finan Writes

For me it’s not the where that’s important– it’s the important wear!...

When looking for inspiration, I slip into my snuggly Ugg moccasins. And while cuddled in their warm fuzzies, ideas slip into my head.

They take me lots of places – around our neighborhood of bulcolic lakes and wildlife, weekly visits to local libraries and museums, exploring and sightseeing our many diverse locales while in the passenger’s seat of my husband’s car, shopping for the latest and greatest at farmers’ markets, cooking Ottolenghie’s newest recipes in the kitchen, even perched on the sofa watching the Borgias or the Durrells on Netflix.

And always, as my feet are making impressions in the Uggs fleecy soles, so too are impressions being made on me, lining my soul with suggestive writing notions. Once ensconced in my “writer’s zone,, I jot down concepts on scrap papers and post-its, and sort through them later.   Llike that scene in the movie “The Post,; the “office floor” becomes littered with numerous pieces of the “evidence” - (my thoughtful manifestations-) and not worthy of being photographed.)  Such a delight to find that various notions I’d scribbled are quite plush proposals; and many a perfect fit for what I’d intended and needed.

And I’m again aware that all were enabled by the wear of my cozy moccasins: Hugs to my Uggs!