Thursday, October 23, 2014

Drew Reviews: Horrorstor

Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix
4 Stars
Pages: 256
Publisher: Quirk Books
Released: September 2014


Guest review by Drew Broussard 



The Short Version: Amy is an ordinary worker at Orsk in Cuyahoga, OH.  But this is no ordinary Orsk: the staff has been coming in in the mornings to find destroyed furniture and other creepy messes - and Amy, low man on the totem pole, gets tapped to stay overnight with her boss and another employee.  What ensues is a horrifying descent into near-madness.
The Review: Right out of the gate, we must address the physical object.  A friend of mine, after a rather awful experience with IKEA this summer, saw the book on my desk at work and had a minor freakout, thinking it was in fact a catalog for the Swedish retail giant.  And Hendrix leans in hard, right down to the color scheme and the almost-cartoon product graphics.  But he also saves himself from any sort of libel suit or anything by making his store a knockoff called Orsk.  Right there, in the novel, they acknowledge that it's a shoddy IKEA knockoff made up by Americans - and while that doesn't really do anything to shift you away from imagining IKEA the whole time, it's nice that he made the effort.  
But I was actually surprised at just how... well, how traditional? I guess? the whole novel ended up being.  While Hendrix's story isn't terribly original or innovative, that's not really a bad thing. It felt, in some ways, as safe as buying a BILLY bookshelf: you know exactly what you're going to get and while it isn't the classiest or most sturdy of products, it will do its job damn well.  For one thing, I don't know anyone with an imagination who hasn't walked into an IKEA (or, hell, any big box store - classy ones or Wal-Mart, doesn't matter) and had some brief flight of horrible fancy about how scary the place must be at night and wouldn't it just be the perfect place for a hell hole to open up?  But Hendrix is the one who wrote it down first - and tapping into that sort of groupthink nightmare makes the book feel like a story you know, somehow.  That and his liberal use of horror tropes makes it pretty much exactly what you paid for - and that's the best part.  Things are so much better when Hendrix just leans into the scary stuff and lets it rip, instead of trying to do anything terribly new or philosophical.  
I mean, sure, there are some gentle musings on some of the issues of these stores: the way they are designed to disorientate the shopper, the predatory methods the store clerks use to get people to buy, the sense of blurred voyeurism that comes from wandering through the store... the fact that the prison from whence the evil in the store originally came (previously on the site, knocked down, etc etc) was a panopticon feels like the sort of tidbit an undergrad could seize on to justify his stoned idea to write a paper about this book.  But, for my money, it doesn't really matter that much.  The evil's background isn't so terribly important, although it allows for some smart twists on the whole office-as-torture trope.  Instead, it's more fun to just sit back and let it be really unsettling when a hallway that can't be there appears - or when, out of the darkness of the unlit store, you come across a vision like Trinity on the treadmill desk... 
The writing is not all that flashy and there were times when I felt like Hendrix almost could've gone a little further - really pulped up some of the scarier moments in order to make the reader really feel it.  Instead, the scares might give you a little tremor down the spine but they never quite land in the way that the premise dare-I-say deserves.  But I appreciated the fully realized characters.  Even as they settled into horror-story roles, they remained human for me - especially Basil and Amy.  Neither of them are particularly likeable, necessarily, but they aren't unlikeable either.  They are people stuck in a ridiculously freaky circumstance - both just the reality of their day jobs and the unreality of their long night in the store.  And the novel's end might actually be one of the strongest moments, on that note.  I won't spoil it, but I'll just say that it felt like the right image to end on - clichéd as it most certainly was.

Rating: 4 out of 5.  I mean, the design of the book alone is worth picking it up.  I plan to sit this on my coffee table with the most recent IKEA catalog maybe under it or something - let people not notice until they notice, you know?  And the team at Quirk did an amazing job making such a wonderful object.  But at the end of the day, the story inside is traditional.  That's not a bad thing, especially at this time of year - a good, rip-roaring horror story (not one that will give you nightmares like from Uncle Stevie, just a good couple of thrills) is sometimes all you need.  And dressed up like this, it could have been a lot worse and I'd still have had a ball. 
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.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Where Writers Write: Margaret Chapman

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 Margaret Patton Chapman. 

Her novella Bell and Bargain is forthcoming from Rose Metal Press in November, 2014 as part of the collection My Very End of the Universe: Five Novellas-in-Flash and a Study of the Form. She is fiction editor of decomP MagazinE and her short fiction has appeared in Wigleaf, The Collagist, Juked, and the anthology The Way We Sleep, among others.  She received her MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and recently moved from South Bend, Indiana, where she was teaching writing, back to her hometown of Durham, North Carolina.  You can find more of her work at margaretpattonchapman.com





Where Margaret Chapman Writes

I have always wanted to be one of those writers whose process was routine, who got up at 7:00 or 5:00 or 9:00 everyday, went to my desk or overstuffed chair in my writing shack or my fancy office, wrote a few thousand words, checked things off my list.

I don’t do that, though.  Instead, I find a time and place to write when I can and when I need to.  I write all over the place.  A major revelation to me was when I learned that writing in bed was a viable part of a writer’s process.  I have written quite a lot in bed.  I have also written a lot in hotel beds, in vacation rentals, in guest beds in other people’s houses.

At home, I go through phases. I move through the house, following the sun, writing in one room after another as the seasons change.  I’ve moved around a lot, too, since I started thinking of myself as a writer, and so my arrival at each new home has been accompanied by a sussing out of its best writing spaces, and how they work best.  This usually involves a lot of furniture moving.

For this post, I rummaged through old images of of desks I’ve had, writing places, nooks I hid out in with my laptop.  I miss a few of them, and I began imagining a house of writing spaces, a fantasy “writing shack” in which each room was just for writing: a writing bed, a writing kitchen, half a dozen rooms with desks and chairs and bright windows.



One of my favorite places to write, in any place I have lived, was my writing porch at my old house.  Much of the writing I’m currently publishing was done there.  It was a little upstairs “sleeping porch” with windows all around. There were plenty of trees around for shade, but it faced south and when the trees lost their leaves the sun blazed in, keeping it bright and warm in Indiana winters.

In my new house, I don’t have a writing porch, but I’m trying to turn the small office into a sunny writing place.  Wherever I write there are a few things I prefer to have around me:  college ruled steno pads, note cards, small post-it notes, a bulletin board, and a few cute things (animal figurines, drawings, postcards from friends).  In her essay on this site, Anne Valente called these little guys totems.  I like that. 



At my new place, I’m still sussing out the best space, but I like this room.  There are chickens in the yard next door, and a contraband rooster, who crows throughout the day.  The leaves will stay on the trees longer, so there’s not as much light in the room.  It’s still the sunniest place in the house, and I’m liking camping out here for now.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

ML Kennedy Recommends: A Night in the Lonesome October


And so we continue our Writers Recommend - a new series where we'll be asking writers to, well, you know.. recommend things. Like the books that they've enjoyed. To you. Because who doesn't like being recommended new and interesting books, right?! Think of it as a PSA. Only it's more like a LSA -Literary Service Announcement. Your welcome. 




ML Kennedy Recommends A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny





When I was thirteen years old, I wasn’t really sure what to read. I had read all the Hardy Boys Casefiles, all the Ramona Quimby, and few other examples from both sides of gendered children’s literature. I was ready to move on to more adult books. The problem was that most of them were not interesting to me. I read some Hitchhiker’s Guide and Earthsea and those were good, but not exactly what I wanted. My mom read stuff like Sidney Sheldon and Danielle Steel; pass. I tried some Stephen King, but was put off by the lengthy descriptions of small town life. Tolkien always bored me: lengthier descriptions of even smaller town life.

I was pretty desperate, and ended up reading novelizations of films I had already seen, re-watching Universal Monster movies and buying more comics and Mad Magazines.

Then I got one of those flyers in the mail. It was basically for one of those scam “twelve CDs for a penny” record clubs, except for books. It was in there that I saw A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny. The book’s cover featured a guy who looked like Sherlock Holmes and a guy who looked like Dracula. I read the description, and holy shit, this is a book with Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, the Wolfman, a witch and Jack the Ripper.

I needed to join this club!

Fortunately, my mom remembered the hassle of the time I needed to join the twelve CDs for a penny club. Instead, we went to this giant new store called Media Play, and bought the paperback (and maybe a laserdisc too).

Basically, this book broke my brain.

I knew that it took a comics style approach of mixing characters from different books, but it was still the first novel I read that had ever done that. Larry Talbot and Sherlock Holmes were talking to each other!

The book was written in first person present tense; could you even do that?

Strangest of all, it was narrated by Jack the Ripper’s dog! It featured all sorts of talking animal familiars (in my head, purely kid stuff), but also unknown allegiances, occult rituals, killing and Lovecraftian horrors (seriously adult stuff). (Of course, being fourteen at the time, I referred to Lovecraftian horrors as “that weird stuff.”) (All these parentheses are next to each other; must resist urge to multiply them.)

It was kid stuff and adult stuff at the same time! It was like comics and had all the old movie monsters! This book was written just for me!

I read the A Night in the Lonesome October in two sittings, and hungered for the next Roger Zelazny novel. I checked the newspaper for new book releases, and never found another one. It wasn’t until years later in college that I learned that it was Roger Zelazny’s last book; he had died in 1995.

My heart sank.

But what’s this? With this newfangled “internet” I was able to read all about Roger Zelazny. Turns out, A Night in the Lonesome October wasn’t really what he was known for. There were these things called “Amber” and Lord of the Light and Damnation Alley and thirty years’ worth of stories to discover.  I’ve spent the last fifteen years checking the “Z”s first in every bookstore I’ve encountered.


And my first book was written in first person present tense. 






(ML Kennedy once punched a mouse to death, but then felt really bad about it. He has a blog where he writes stories in exactly 100 words. You can find out more about those and his slightly longer stories at wbxylo.weebly.com )

Monday, October 20, 2014

Audio Series: Meg Pokrass


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


Today, Meg Pokrass reads two chapters from her story "Here, Where We Live", which appears in upcoming collection "My Very End of the Universe, Five Novellas-in-Flash and a Study of the Form
(Rose Metal Press, 2014). Meg is the author of two additional collections: Bird Envy (Harvard Book Store, 2014); Damn Sure Right (Press 53, 2011). Her stories have appeared in more than 200 literary magazines, including McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Green Mountains Review, The Rumpus, storySouth and numerous anthologies, including the forthcoming Flash Fiction International (W.W. Norton, 2015) Her latest collection of stories "The Dog Looks Happy Upside Down" is forthcoming from Etruscan Press (Spring, 2016).  Pokrass has been showcased as “Digital Author to Watch” by Galleycat/Media Bistro, and is considered an innovator in the use of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. Pokrass lives in San Francisco where she speaks and consults with MFA programs and authors on creative strategies for the digital-publishing revolution. Her newest self-published collection, Bird Envy, became an April 2014 bestseller at the Harvard Book Store, the renowned indie bookstore in Cambridge, Mass.





Click the soundcloud link to hear an excerpt from "Here, Where We Live" , as read by Meg.





The word on My Very End of the Universe:

My Very End of the Universe is a celebration of an increasingly popular genre: the novella-in-flash: a novella built of standalone stories. The novellas in this collection—Betty Superman by Tiff Holland, Here, Where We Live by Meg Pokrass, Shampoo Horns by Aaron Teel, Bell and Bargain by Margaret Chapman, and The Family Dogs by Chris Bower—are compact and specific, yet whole and universal, using the flexibility of the form to offer a polyphony of setting and emotion. Accompanying each novella-in-flash is a craft essay by the author, making this anthology an ideal text for both entertainment and instruction, as well as for use both in the classroom and out. Additionally, the editors’ introduction by Abby Beckel and Kathleen Rooney offers a detailed history and discussion of the evolution of the versatile and hybrid novella-in-flash genre.
*lifted with love from goodreads

Friday, October 17, 2014

Matthew Roberson's List Blog Tour


Always flattered to be a part of the Grab the Lapels blog tours because Melanie Page is doing such wonderful things to get writers the exposure and attention they deserve. In today's blog tour post,to celebrate Matthew Roberson's new book, Melanie writes an essay on Generation X and their struggles with growing up....

Synopsis—Vignettes of a middle-class American family told through lists, each reflecting their obsessions, their complaints, their desires, and their humanity.
A suburban family of four—a man, woman, boy, and girl—struggle through claustrophobic days crowded with home improvement projects, conflicts at work and school, a job loss, illnesses, separation, and the wearying confrontation with aging. The accoutrements of modern life—electronic devices and vehicles—have ceased to be tools that support them and have become instead the central fulcrums around which their lives wheel as they chase “cleanliness” and other high virtues of middle American life.



Generation X Grows Up—And Fictionalizes It

Generation X is turning 40, and no one seemed to notice. What happened to Winona? Admit it, you might have to Google her to find out. Kevin Smith suggests Dante and Randal are going to be fine in Clerks 2 when he realizes the characters co-owning The Quick Stop (no more shitty bosses) is the answer to laziness. Generation “slacker” is all “grown up,” so it’s time to ask: did they actually grow up?

            Matt Roberson’s new novel, List, follows a man and a woman who have a boy and a girl and some dogs and a house. When did the freedom to have some time to themselves jump ship, and how do they feel about following the kids/house/job path?

            For the most part, things are good. The man and woman very much love their children, could not imagine life without their children. The house is a pain in the ass, always breaking or wearing down or in chaos. The dog just might shit on the carpet. Life is good.

            Gen Xers, writes Susan Gregory Thomas, “are always in a state of triage, always in a survivalist mode.” Okay, sometimes things are tough. The man could try Xanax to achieve that one night of sleep, that one good night of sleep. Or will he? There’s always tomorrow to worry about. What’s on the schedule tomorrow? What will appear unscheduled tomorrow? “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,” the man laments.

            They have the whole world of options open to them, Generation X, and that can lead to agoraphobia. When his career comes to an abrupt halt, the man considers his options: a new career, going back to school, starting a business. It’s not that he has limited options, but almost too many. Is a job loss a chance to reinvent himself? As a man with a wife and kids and a dog and a house, does he have that luxury?

            “Downward mobility,” explains Neal Pollack, “is the hallmark of [Generation X]. I just feel like we’re not going to pull ourselves out of the hole. But what can you do? You have to be a grown up about it. You can’t be dissatisfied and unhappy about it all the time. We don’t have that security...” The man doesn’t fully accept his loss of security. He’s going to grow a beard, watch porn, surf the internet. Start drinking. He tries to be an adult in appearance, but inside he’s worried “about money, and how his kids maybe saw him, and his failure, as he saw it, and money and the future, especially...” Is hiding anxiety the true hallmark of Gen Xers?

           
With clients and muffins and board rooms (oh, my!) the woman reflects on her younger days when she believed she would live in a big city in a small apartment close to cultural attractions, not a nine-to-fiver. A.O. Scott argues that many Gen Xers never really grew up, that they “donned the binding garment of maturity only tentatively, and accessorized it with mockery, as if it were a hand-me-down from Grandpa or an ugly shirt plucked from a used-clothing rack.” The woman realizes that she is the primary source of income for her family, but she’s not above imagining packing a suitcase and leaving the corporate world for sandy beaches.

            While business is an act of playing dress up, buying items to fill the void of missing parents is not. Raised by a TV, Gen Xers, as a result, are some of the best shoppers. Nina Munk can relate, explaining, “We don’t just shop for anything, of course. Generation X is defined by a few recognizable artifacts...” Munk describes expensive TVs, strollers, name-brand bags and shoes, and Land Rovers. The man and the woman follow the trend and buy, buy, buy:

            “Their self-satisfied espresso machines. Their Honda Odyssey EX Minivans with
Variable Cylinder Management™, Vehicle Stability Assist™ with Traction Control, Wide-Mode Adjustable 2nd-Row Seats with Armrests and Walk-in Feature, One-Motion 60/40 Split 3rd-Row magic Seat®, and 229-Watt AM/FM/CD Audio System with 5 Speakers including Subwoofer, Their FLOR brand carpeting, and Sleep Number beds. Their flat screen TVs. TIVE, for fuck’s sake. iPods and iPads and game players and smart phones and desktops and laptops. They owned furniture worth more than a small country. They had manicured yards. Fiber cement siding on their homes. Summer cabins in the woods.

And what really galled our man?

The towels....

Seriously. How many do you need?”

Claiming independence, and with a lack of parental watchfulness (i.e. latchkey kids), Gen Xers fill old holes with new items, all the while thinking they won’t sell out or be sold to. The world is a scary place full of new threats. So, Rinzler Buckingham points out, “My life is hard enough already, so if splurging on a big entertainment unit makes me feel better, why not?” But the man is self-aware; he knows that he’s buying things, that it’s ridiculous, that it might mean the end of something he used to know.

            Even the kids indulge. While the man tries to settle arguments between his girl and boy over what show to watch, he hopes something educational will present itself on TV. “The question of managing screen time and who is on what screen and how to protect those in front of the screen from things they might not un-see or un-hear,” Allison Slater Tate confesses, “is a constant, exhausting issue that frankly makes me want to go full-on Amish on all of them and throw every last blinking screen away.”

            But Gen Xers are not simply leaving their children in the fuzzy embrace of the TV babysitter à la Jim Carrey’s mother in Cable Guy. They go to beaches and indoor water parks, drop their kids off at school and tackle lists of tasks of the everyday. There are always more lists, more bills, more ways to move forward--and the man and woman in List do just that.



If you missed yesterday’s post, head back to Words, Notes, & Fiction to read a list of lists in List. Today is the last stop, so to see the entire tour schedule and get links, click HERE.






Matthew Roberson is the author of three novels, 1998.6, Impotent, and List, and the editor of a critical book, Musing the Mosaic. His short fiction has appeared in journals such as Fourteen Hills, Fiction International, and Western Humanities Review. He teaches at Central Michigan University, in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Audiobook Review: Goodhouse

Listened 10/1/14 - 10/13/14
4 Stars: Strongly recommended to readers who enjoy being warned away from an inevitable and unwelcome future
Audio: 10.8 hrs, narrated by Will Damron
Publisher: FSG
Released: September 2014



Science will be man's downfall. We are getting too smart for our own good and it will be the end of us. 

In Peyton Marshall's near-future dystopian novel Goodhouse, we have discovered the genes that predict criminality. Believed to be passed down from parent to child, all male children born to convicted parents are tested at a young age for these genetic markers. If they test positive, they are taken away to Goodhouses - part boarding school, part prison - where they are locked away and trained how to be "right thinking" members of society by their 18th birthday. 

The problem with this? Well, for starters, the genetic coding seems to only detect criminality in boys. Not girls. So we're only in a position to attempt correction or rehabilitation on a portion of our population. To that I say, if you can't go big, you might as well go home. Throw the friggen towel in. The battle was lost before it even began. Talk about unfair. In other cultures and countries being born a boy meant a life of privilege.But not anymore. Turn up positive for those tell-tale genes and all of your rights are stripped from you in the blink of an eye. By the end of this century, you'd be better off born a girl.

However, after hearing about all the shit that goes on behind the gates and walls of those Goodhouses, you'd think that the proctors and teachers were actually trying to break, instead of heal, those poor young boys. Paired up in dormitories, as you might be during your freshmen year of college, the boys are issued new names and these neat little GPS chips - surgically placed under the skin near their bellies - that broadcast where you are, where you've been, and what you've been doing. If you fail to follow a rule, or report to your class or dorm room late, or you back-talk a class leader or proctor, you and your roommate are issued demerits. Yup. Both of you. Nothing like pitting you and your bestie against each other and creating a stressful, hostile situation, right? Hell, to sweeten the pot, not only do those demerits cause conflict among roommates once you earn them, those demerits also weigh against your statuses. Ultimately, you want to be a Level 1. That means you're top-notch. You behave yourself and abide by all the rules. When you graduate from Goodhouse at a level 1, you're guaranteed to return to society with all the privileges and responsibilities of a normal "civilian". 

Needless to say, Goodhouses are breeding grounds for some wicked fighting and mistreatment. An entire school, populated by frustrated, confused, brainwashed teenaged boys with mouths full of hate and fists of fury.... nah, we never predicted THAT would go bad, did we? As if they needed any more provocation, Class leaders are allowed to torture and torment their peers, right in front of teachers and proctors, without repercussion. And the only way to unseat a Class Leader is to challenge them in a fight. Win the fight, and you're the new Class Leader. Lose, and... well... it could be confinement for you at the worst, or a boatload of demerits at the best.

Oh, and did I mention that there's this crazy religious group called The Zero's who view the Goodhouses and all those who live within its walls as abominations? And they torch the buildings and students, setting purifying fires to purge the world of these miscreants? And some of them have worked their way into the system and function as Goodhouse staff, working their evil from the inside out?

Marshall's novel, written from the pov of one of the students, an older boy named James, is a tentative, cautionary look at the road humanity is heading down. And a warning to those of us who look to science as the cure for  what makes us human in the first place. Free will. This is the story of James' fight to take back his free will, to regain his entrance into society as a normal "civilian" and to tear apart the corrupted Goodhouse system, once and for all.

I highly recommend experiencing this novel as an audiobook. The narration was incredibly well paced and though I'd never heard anything read by Will Damron before, I was really impressed with how well he conveyed James' evolution from confused and fearful student to eventual unsung-hero. A great match between reader and content. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Where Writers Write: Kate Tough

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 Kate Tough. Kate worked for the Scottish Parliament for six years before returning to her home city and gaining a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow in 2008. She writes poetry and fiction, spends too much time on email and doesn't do 'social networking' because it competes with writing time. Kate volunteers with children to aid literacy skills and works with new writers through workshops and mentoring. 

Her debut novel, Head for the Edge, Keep Walking, was selected for WHSmith’s summer travel book club, the Kindle Summer Sale and has garnered five star status on Amazon.co.uk. Kate held a Scottish Literature residency at Cove Park, 2014, and has received two Creative Scotland Awards to develop work (2009 and 2013). More info, extracts and audio clips at: www.katetough.com 






Where Kate Tough Writes

I write beside a window. Always beside a window. With trees outside… always trees. In the last decade, in six different homes, the desk has taken that spot. I need daylight, awareness of the weather and space to stare into. Doesn’t everyone? In the last couple of years, as laptops became lighter and smaller, I got into a habit of writing curled up in an armchair, but my arm muscles rebelled with tightness and aches, so I’m back at the desk and very happy.
 

The desk is from Ikea, via Gumtree. The chair too. And the printer. And the laminator. Hmm, I hadn’t realised how much I used Gumtree over the years! 


When I’m making visual poetry, I kneel on the floor (the rug wasn’t from Gumtree). I write away from home as much (or more) than I do at home. Writing activity at home is often ‘writing-related’ rather than actual writing (e.g. admin, emails, articles, editing, rehearsing for events). The best way to get a good run at something creative is to take myself away (borrowing the accommodation of people I know). I prefer access to nature on these trips. For me, the best writing routine is to punctuate long working days with coast or countryside walks, or outdoor swims. I couldn’t do total isolation, though. A lone cottage on a deserted hillside? No thanks! I’ve done spells of writing in many places; below is a small selection. Sorry about the photo quality – I didn’t know I’d need them for a blog one day.

 
This is the view from my “writer’s cube” at the wonderful Scottish residency centre, Cove Park, in July 2014. International writers can apply, too. Hours, days and weeks were spent sticking poems together on the floor and watching ducks raise their young.
  


The view from the Edinburgh flat where I wrote a three-part poem, ‘Calm Seizure’.



The living room in the Galloway forest where a novel chunk was written. See andypriestman.tumblr.com  for photos of the stunning vista from the window.



The living room in Lochancroft Cottage, Wigtown (Scotland’s Book Town), where a novel chunk was written beneath the twin velux. It’s available to rent, too – book it and write! 
 

 The garden of the Spanish apartment where swimming breaks were enjoyed during long days of writing and editing. It made using my vacation for work a bit easier…!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Giano Cromley Recommends: Mystery in the Night Woods





And so we continue our Writers Recommend - a new series where we'll be asking writers to, well, you know.. recommend things. Like the books that they've enjoyed. To you. Because who doesn't like being recommended new and interesting books, right?! Think of it as a PSA. Only it's more like a LSA -Literary Service Announcement. Your welcome. 





Giano Cromley Recommends Mystery in the Night Woods by John Peterson






When Lori mentioned her “most influential book” blog series, one book leapt to mind – a memory-flash that brought me back to my most formative reading experience. I told her I’d do it and then set out to track down a copy of Mystery in the Night Woods by John Peterson. Published in 1969 and long since out of print, the interwebs assisted me greatly in finding a used copy.

I first obtained Mystery in the Night Woods when I was nine. My family had gone to the annual book sale at the Parmly Billings Library where I stumbled across this paperback with a picture of a scarf-wearing squirrel and a bat on the cover.

At 80 pages, it was the longest book I’d attempted to read up to that point. But it was immediately rewarding. This book had the perfect cocktail of story elements – friendship, betrayal, crime, struggle, redemption, and anthropomorphic cross-dressing animals – that set my nine-year-old endorphins pumping. It remained my favorite book until well after the point when admitting your favorite book has a character named Police Chief Skunk would prove to be a social liability.

As a writer, it showed me how a book can create an entire world. From the opening lines, Peterson’s writing is filled with tiny details that help draw you in to the Night Woods: “The setting sun made long shadows in the Night Woods. The day animals were going to bed. They were finished with the work of the day. Now the night animals were waking up. It was time for their day to begin.” In the span of its eighty pages, the reader gets a glimpse of the Night Woods’ judicial system, its banking system, its network of friendships and alliances. It’s a fully functioning society operating at night, like some kind of shadow universe just beyond the one we know. I was inspired by this act of creation. It allowed my pre-teen self to dream of other worlds, other stories, that one day I might tell.

The story revolves around the relationship between the charming but overbearing Flying Squirrel, and his friend Bat. We first see them on the night that Bat is teaching F.S. to fly. Soon after that night, F.S. is accused of a crime and banished to Far Island. The rest of the story follows F.S.’s struggle to redeem himself in the eyes of his fellow Night Woods citizens.

A used copy of Mystery in the Night Woods arrived this past week, and I was struck by how slender it felt. I was nervous that it might not live up to my memories. When I finally got up the courage to read it, though, I was not let down. The story is still engaging and the Night Woods are still as interesting and fascinating as ever.

I was also struck by details I could not have noticed as a child. I’d never recognized the hubris of Flying Squirrel. He believes everything and everyone in the world is malleable to this will – and this is what gets him into trouble. I was also struck by a somewhat superfluous section where F.S. is reunited with his mother, who he hasn’t seen in years. It is touching and painful in a way I could have never understood before.

There was one final gift this book gave me. Reading it last week, I came across a passage when F.S. is attempting to escape from Far Island and finds himself caught up in the raging waters of Bad Creek:

“Flying Squirrel sank toward the bottom of Bad Creek. He thought his life was over. Then he remembered something Bat had said: ‘A drowning animal sinks three times before he dies.’ The little squirrel kicked and paddled hard with his paws. ‘I’m going to get my three chances,’ he decided, ‘just like everybody else.’”

Seriously, just read that passage again for its profound truth! Now read it out loud, and feel the meter of those syllables! We all could benefit from hearing that lesson more often, repeating it like a mantra.


To me, writing is an act of resistance, defiance even. It’s a measure of how well you can take criticism, risk failure, and not let it crush your spirit. I didn’t understand that when I was a child, but I’d like to think this passage left a subliminal mark, that it made me more resilient, more able to bounce back from adversity, to swim toward the surface when all hope seems lost.






Giano Cromley was born in Billings, Montana. The Last Good Halloween is his first novel. His writing has appeared in The Threepenny ReviewLiteral Latte, and The Bygone Bureau, among others. He is a recipient of an Artists Fellowship from the Illinois Arts Council. He teaches English at Kennedy-King College and lives on Chicago's South Side with his wife and two dogs.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Book Review: The End of the World Running Club

Read 9/15/14 - 9/29/14
3 Stars - Great fun for fans of post-apocalyptic books that just keep going and going and going...
Pages: 355
Publisher: Self published
Released: June 2014


For Edgar and his family, the end of the world does not come quietly, in the throes of some unknown virus that reanimates those it kills. Instead, while on an early morning walk to calm his fussy little boy and shake off the last of his late night hangover, contemplating his dead-end middle-aged life, Ed and his neighbors get caught up in the confusion of a technological black-out and watch as a series of meteors head straight for their hometown. Acting on impulse alone, Ed grabs a case of water from his buddy's shop, races home and piles his family into the basement, bringing in whatever they can carry, whatever's within reach, to wait out the worst of it.

A week after the meteors wiped out most of the United Kingdom, Ed and his family are rescued - right at the very moment he comes to terms with the fact that he, his wife, and his two young kids will die in that dark, disgusting cellar. They are escorted to a makeshift shelter at an army barracks, and after the shock of seeing the devastated land around them, the routine of three straight meals and regular "work assignments" temporarily lulls him back into his disenchanted old ways. Until the day he returns from a routine salvage run to find his family gone.

This is the story of Ed's awakening. The world as he knew it has been blasted away; those who survived will live a simpler, more severe life; and it's just the chance this overweight, reluctant husband and father has been waiting for. Accompanied by a ragtag team of barracks residents, Ed follows his family across the UK, in a race against time and the long list of obstacles that stand in his way.

Adrian J Walker does a really nice job of capturing the human side of the apocalypse. Writing Ed as a self-depreciating protagonist helped to keep the dark times from becoming too dark and the brief moments of smooth sailing from becoming too boring. Darkly comedic, incredibly humbling, The End of the World Running Club shows us what can happen when we're pushed to the very brink of sanity. When everything we love's been taken from us, we've got a choice between stepping over the edge and plummeting into the madness or turning ourselves around and finding a reason to keep on going. Which path would we choose? What kind of survivor would we be? Or would we survive at all? How long would we last when the world around us begins to work against us? I swear, I could see myself ending up either (a) like the lady who was banging on Edgar's door right as the meteors were crashing down, praying that the kindness of a stranger might save me (and of course, it won't, and I'd die right there in the blaze and heat of it all) or (b) I'd ball up and become a bitch, taking whatever I need from who ever has it, and getting totally fucking lucky when I convince others to join my "team", as we reek havoc all over our new little territory. I'd like to think I'd end up the latter, but I bet I'd be dead before the opening credits finished playing out. I'd be a red-shirt for sure. In the post apocalyptic life, I'd be "nameless dumbass #2" whose 15 seconds of fame would be "standing in the middle of the street staring in disbelief as the meteors fell out of the sky above me".

While I thoroughly enjoyed the novel, I think it went on for much too long. Adrian could have easily shaved off 100 pages and still had a killer story. There were times, while reading, that I practically shouted out "Seriously?! How much more can this guy take? How can you STILL be throwing things at him?" However, that's not exactly a knock on the editing, because for all the hoops that Ed and his pals had to jump through, each part was well written, each event flowed easily into and out of the other (well, except for the labyrinth part maybe, that one was kind of rough).

The feeling I got as I read the book was more of a "kid in a candy store"... where there are barrels and barrels of candy, and the choice is almost impossible to make, so you start to fill your bag with a little bit of everything... This book offered so many cool opportunities. I mean, hello? A post apocalyptic novel where anything can happen, and people can become anyone and do anything they want! What writer wouldn't go a little overboard, right?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Audio Series: Roberto Calas



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


Today, Roberto Calas reads an excerpt from his novel The Scourge
Roberto Calas is an author and lover of history. This serial trilogy is about a 14th century knight fighting his way through a demon-infested England to reunite with the woman he loves. And every bit of it is true except for the made up parts. In addition to The Scourge series, Roberto has written The Beast of Maug Maurai (fantasy), and Kingdom of Glass (historical fiction in the Foreworld universe). He lives in Sandy Hook, Connecticut with his two children, and visits the United Kingdom on a monthly basis to be with his fiancée, Annabelle. Sometimes he fights demons to reach her. You can learn more about Roberto on his website: robertocalas.com. He'd be most appreciative if you liked his Facebook page, too: https://www.facebook.com/RobertoCalasAuthor. And if you feel you can only take 140 characters worth of him at a time, his twitter handle is, @robertocalas.






Click on the soundcloud link below to experience an excerpt of The Scourge as read by Roberto Calas:






The word on The Scourge:

A mysterious plague descends upon 14th century England, ravaging the country and trapping the souls of the afflicted in eternal madness. The feudal hierarchy--and even the church itself-- slowly crumbles as the dead rise to feed and the living seek whatever shelter they can. The bishops of England call for calm and obedience, but one man isn’t listening.

Sir Edward of Bodiam has been separated from the woman he loves and nothing on heaven or earth can stop him from seeking her out. 

Edward and two of his knights travel through the swiftly changing landscape of England, a countryside now overrun by the minions of hell. The knights encounter madness, violence, and sorrow, but Edward fights his way ever deeper into the thickening darkness of unholy terror. 

Roberto Calas brings you along on a dark, historical tale full of love, death, and black humor. Follow Edward as he journeys to save his wife, his kingdom, and his very soul.
*lifted from goodreads with love

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Mark R Brand Recommends: McTeague by Frank Norris







And so we continue our Writers Recommend - a new series where we'll be asking writers to, well, you know.. recommend things. Like the books that they've enjoyed. To you. Because who doesn't like being recommended new and interesting books, right?! Think of it as a PSA. Only it's more like a LSA -Literary Service Announcement. Your welcome. 





Mark R Brand Recommends McTeague by Frank Norris





McTeague (1899) by Frank Norris.

Why I recommend it: An enormous dentist who can pull teeth with his bare hands, his thrifty unassuming wife who has a sexual fetish for money, their love-struck elderly upstairs neighbors who sit on either side of a thin wall and listen to each other patter around their apartments, their former-heiress housekeeper who goads them into giving away what possessions she doesn’t steal outright, an alley-dwelling junk collector in search of a lost fortune in gold flatware, a winning lottery ticket, a gold rush, sex, squalor, murder, mayhem, a race through Death Valley… Need I go on?

Like a handful of other novels written around this time—Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle come immediately to mind, as does most of Jack London’s work—McTeague is deliciously sordid, adventuresome, and exciting. Norris’ prose is crisp and readable for the era and, as with a novel like Call of the Wild, it’s hard to put this book down once you pick it up. There are many ways to describe McTeague, but perhaps the most cogent for a modern audience is to think of it as a very early predecessor of Quentin Tarentino’s storytelling style. First, because it consists of equal parts quirky, hilarious characters finding their way into semi-absurd circumstances and reacting in wildly unpredictable ways, and second because the book itself is quite cinematic in its detail and pacing. It can’t decide what it wants to be; it starts funny, turns kinky, gets very dark, and then widens into a balls-out adventure tale, making the end product something far better than any of those taken on their own. It’s Amelie meets There Will Be Blood, and written by one of the masters of Naturalist prose whose scene framing and pacing could be dropped squarely into a film today and you’d never guess that it was 115 years old.


Best of all? It’s in the Public Domain. Download it for free at Gutenberg.org or listen to the free audiobook at Librivox.org.




Mark R. Brand is the two-time Independent Publisher Book Award-winning author of Long Live Us (2013), The Damnation of Memory (2012),Life After Sleep (2011), and Red Ivy Afternoon (2006). He is the short fiction editor of Silverthought Press and the editor of the collection Thank You, Death Robot (2009). His essays have appeared at Salon.com, The Weeklings, and The Good Men Project, and he is the creator and host of Breakfast With the Author.

Brand teaches English and first-year writing at Wilbur Wright College in Chicago and he is currently completing his PhD in English at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.