Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Book Review: Swallowing a Donkey's Eye

Read 10/13/16 - 10/16/16
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended: it'll blow you off your ass like a donkey bomb, yo!
Pages: 276
Publisher: ChiZine Publications
Released: 2012

This book knocked my fucking socks off. I found the subversive and satirical nature of the novel intriguing as all hell and chewed through the thing like ET on a trail of Reese's pieces.

In it, we find ourselves in the hands of an unnamed narrator who's signed himself over to Farm for six years in an effort to help relieve his mom of some of her financial burdens. Farm, as its name would imply, supplies City with food and relies on people like our narrator to break their backs for slave-wages. There are apples to pick, animals to tend to, and strange guided tours where City residents are escorted by people dressed in Chicken and Duck costumes on trams, where they can watch Farm's indentured servants hard at work. Our narrator, like all Farm members, smiles and waves (smile and wave boys, smile and wave) all the while counting down the years he has left before he can finally walk away from it all. That is, until one deranged Duck passes along the message that his mom is in danger of losing her home. After our guy checks in with his barn manager, he discovers his checks haven't been cashed and his mother's account has been terminated and begins to plot his escape to find her. Of course, he doesn't have to wait long, because Duck and her fellow furries revolt against Farm and our narrator makes a break for City under the cover of all the chaos.

City is, well, the city, and like any city, is crowded and crappy and full of assholes. City is where our narrator grew up. Through some incredibly well placed chapters, we learn all about our narrator's fucked up relationship with his mother, whose name is Mary, and about how they were abandoned by his father Joseph (because Joseph wanted to focus on becoming a priest and hello, loving the names and the religious themes that are buried within this story right now you guys). And now, too, it's starting to make sense, why our narrator would leave the relative (I use this word loosely) comfort of City for the controlling and demanding servitude of Farm. And wouldn't you know it, as our narrator enters City and breaks into his mother's home, which true to Duck's word appears to be empty, he stumbles into his father the Father, who has a proposal for him. His father the Father needs him to run for Mayor, and in doing so, father the Father promises that City will not prosecute (AKA terminate) him for running away from Farm. Welp. Looks like our main guy has little choice in the matter, then. So run for Mayor he does. And because he is a wanted man, during his campaign father the Father forces our dude into hiding under City.

You should know that City is built on Pier, which is like any ole pier, made of wood and suspended over the ocean, except this particular Pier is where City dumps its waste, both garbage and human - it's where the homeless and sickly citizens are sent to keep City clean. Father the Father has been working under Pier for years, caring for the terminally ill in a section called Home, where the dying are comforted and then cremated and released into the ocean. Our narrator is put to work in Home against his wishes, and spends time wandering Pier, looking for sick people to bring back Home with them. During these searches, he continues asking about his mother and will not stop until he discovers where they - City, Pier, or Farm - have sent her.

Farm were my favorite, and far and away the strongest, chapters of the book. In them, Paul Tremblay did a fantastic job setting the stage for this dystopian, futuristic world and imbued his characters with such fascinating and sometimes downright ridiculous senses of humor. He perfectly balanced the bleak 1984 feel of the novel with things like a monthly mating dance for the Farm residents (I kid you not, they even issued them condoms!). And the deeper into the book we go, through City and ultimately Pier, the further we are buried beneath the horrorshow that is our narrator's mayoral campaign. Yet through all of the bureaucracy and the dehumanization, Tramblay continuously pulls us out from under it all and gives us a poke in the ribs - an exploding donkey's ass, a golden-shower (I swear!), and some good-humored banter between father and son - to lighten the mood and give us a bit of a breather. 

A great addition to the always growing sub-genre of dystopian, big-brother fiction. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Eat like An Author - Matt Wallace

When most people get bored, they eat. When I get bored, I brainstorm new series and features for the blog, and THEN eat. And not too long ago, as I was brainstorming and contemplating what I wanted to eat, I thought how cool it would be to have a mini-foodie series where authors share the things they like to eat. Photos and recipes and all. And so I asked them, and amazingly they responded, and I dubbed it EAT LIKE AN AUTHOR. 

Today, Matt Wallace - author of the Sin du Jour series - dishes on his relationship with food. 


I will embrace blog post as the new confession cubicle and release this sin: I have done horrible things with and to food.

I’ve come to accept I’m a deeply emotional eater, despite the fact I never felt particularly emotional when I’d buy six Lunchables and consume them all in a single sitting (the meat wasn’t so important as making sure they had that good processed American cheese, not the cheddar. And you have to have the discipline to save the dessert from each one for last, like accumulating pudding cards in Sushi Go!). I insisted to myself I only hid cans of bacon-cheddar spray cheese around the house so no one else would eat them (the folly of this line of thinking being two-fold: 1) No rational person wants to ingest spray cheese, and 2) “Eating” implies it’s food when the opposite is very clearly true). I mainlined multiple candy bars or an entire package of Chips Ahoy Reese’s-filled cookies strictly for the sugar rush that helped me write all night. 

Of course, the truth is I was attempting confectionary solutions to emotional problems, and I did this for much of my writing life. I loved crap. It was easy, cheap, chemically rewarding, and possessed all the comfort of warm childhood memories. It soothed and rewarded me in my broke bachelor writerdom.

I won’t even get into the fast food here.
Fortunately, meeting my fiancée helped cure me of my crap binges (although we cultivate a similar problem with high-end food and restaurants, and I won’t deny I’ve fallen off the wagon a time or two). Not having been raised on processed foods, the mere idea of eating pressed lunchmeat or sugary cereals makes her retch. She has been a godsend in that and many other ways.

These days I eat much cleaner and better and revel in cooking more. I like to wake up, shotgun a bottle of water in place of coffee to actually wake myself up (I’ve never been a coffee drinker. I’ve always received my caffeine from soda, which became a huge problem unto itself I’ve also managed to cut way down), and accomplish at least an hour of work before I reward myself with breakfast that is also sometimes lunch. I keep it simple and delicious. Lean ham and eggs, tuna salad with low fat mayonnaise and sweet pickles, and a sandwich (read: singular. One sandwich. Not eating everything in multiples, i.e. simple portion control, has been a big zen pursuit for me) composed of fresh meats and cheeses from the actual deli counter are all standards these days.

I’ve also learned to keep a big Costco bag of trail mix at my desk to both enable guilt-free snacking and prevent me from leaving my desk and impinging my productivity when I feel snackish. Which is often.

As I work at home and my fiancée deals with a hellish daily commute, the task of cooking dinner falls to me. In our continuing effort to battle emotion-based eating in the face of constant work and life stress, and not enable each other to that effect, we’ve been restricting ourselves to basic proteins and doubling up on green vegetables (roasted potatoes are a hard give-up, for both of us). I’ve learned turkey is versatile, healthy meat, and a big salad every night only gets boring if you don’t step up your homemade dressings game. Also new to my life: Roasted Brussels sprouts as a potato substitute.

The struggle is real, but so is fresh-caught, never frozen ahi tuna.

 We abide.


MATT WALLACE is the author of the Sin du Jour series, The Next Fix, The Failed Cities, and the novella series, Slingers. He's also penned over one hundred short stories, some of which have won awards and been nominated for others, in addition to writing for film and television. In his youth he traveled the world as a professional wrestler and unarmed combat and self-defense instructor before retiring to write full-time. He now resides in Los Angeles with the love of his life and inspiration for Sin du Jour's resident pastry chef.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Buried in Books - My New Precioussssess

Because I can't possibly read every single book that finds its way into my home IMMEDIATELY, though I fully intend to die trying, allow me to show off our most recently acquired precioussssess...

For Review

Leo X Robertson
Psychedelic Horror Press
October 2016

In Bonespin Slipspace, all is not what it seems. Rudy and Tammy may have made the biggest mistake of their lives by accepting an invitation to Blackburn's manor to party with the depraved Manorites. Head-games, ghoulish hallucinations, and disturbing memories lurk around every corner of the psychic and physical labyrinth that is The Manor Experience. Rudy and Tammy may never get out alive, but, in Blackburn's world, even death may no longer offer the familiar escape. Give Rimbaud an x-ray machine. Tie up and gag Baudelaire. Introduce Poe to bondage. Do you dare enter the realm of Bonespin Slipspace?

*From author for review

Katie Kitamura
Riverhead Books
February 2017

A mesmerizing, psychologically taut novel about a marriage's end and the secrets we all carry. A young woman has agreed with her faithless husband: it's time for them to separate. For the moment it's a private matter, a secret between the two of them. As she begins her new life, she gets word that Christopher has gone missing in a remote region in the rugged south of Greece; she reluctantly agrees to go and search for him, still keeping their split to herself. In her heart, she's not even sure if she wants to find him. Adrift in the wild landscape, she traces the disintegration of their relationship, and discovers she understands less than she thought about the man she used to love.

A story of intimacy and infidelity, "A Separation" is about the gulf that divides us from the lives of others and the narratives we create for ourselves. As the narrator reflects upon her love for a man who may never have been what he appeared, Kitamura propels us into the experience of a woman on the brink of catastrophe. "A Separation" is a riveting stylistic masterpiece of absence and presence that will leave the reader astonished, and transfixed."

*from goodreads power user summit

Ron Rash
September 2016

Ron Rash demonstrates his superb narrative skills in this suspenseful and evocative tale of two brothers whose lives are altered irrevocably by the events of one long-ago summer — and one bewitching young woman—and the secrets that could destroy their lives.

While swimming in a secluded creek on a hot Sunday in 1969, sixteen-year-old Eugene and his older brother, Bill, meet the entrancing Ligeia. A sexy, free-spirited redhead from Daytona Beach banished to their small North Carolina town until the fall, Ligeia will not only bewitch the two brothers, but lure them into a struggle that reveals the hidden differences in their natures. Drawn in by her raw sensuality and rebellious attitude, Eugene falls deeper under her spell. Ligeia introduces him to the thrills and pleasures of the counterculture movement, then in its headiest moment. But just as the movement’s youthful optimism turns dark elsewhere in the country that summer, so does Eugene and Ligeia’s brief romance. Eugene moves farther and farther away from his brother, the cautious and dutiful Bill, and when Ligeia vanishes as suddenly as she appeared, the growing rift between the two brothers becomes immutable.

Decades later, their relationship is still turbulent, and the once close brothers now lead completely different lives. Bill is a gifted and successful surgeon, a paragon of the community, while Eugene, the town reprobate, is a failed writer and determined alcoholic. When a shocking reminder of the past unexpectedly surfaces, Eugene is plunged back into that fateful summer, and the girl he cannot forget. The deeper he delves into his memories, the closer he comes to finding the truth. But can Eugene’s recollections be trusted? And will the truth set him free and offer salvation . . . or destroy his damaged life and everyone he loves?

*from goodreads power user summit

Jason Rekulak
Simon & Schuster
February 2017

A dazzling debut novel—at once a charming romance and a moving coming-of-age story—about what happens when a fourteen-year old boy pretends to seduce a girl to steal a copy of Playboy but then discovers she is his computer-loving soulmate.

Billy Marvin’s first love was a computer. Then he met Mary Zelinsky.
Do you remember your first love?

The Impossible Fortress begins with a magazine…The year is 1987 and Playboy has just published scandalous photographs of Vanna White, from the popular TV game show Wheel of Fortune. For three teenage boys—Billy, Alf, and Clark—who are desperately uneducated in the ways of women, the magazine is somewhat of a Holy Grail: priceless beyond measure and impossible to attain. So, they hatch a plan to steal it. The heist will be fraught with peril: a locked building, intrepid police officers, rusty fire escapes, leaps across rooftops, electronic alarm systems, and a hyperactive Shih Tzu named Arnold Schwarzenegger. Failed attempt after failed attempt leads them to a genius master plan—they’ll swipe the security code to Zelinsky’s convenience store by seducing the owner’s daughter, Mary Zelinsky. It becomes Billy’s mission to befriend her and get the information by any means necessary. But Mary isn’t your average teenage girl. She’s a computer loving, expert coder, already strides ahead of Billy in ability, with a wry sense of humor and a hidden, big heart. But what starts as a game to win Mary’s affection leaves Billy with a gut-wrenching choice: deceive the girl who may well be his first love or break a promise to his best friends.

At its heart, The Impossible Fortress is a tender exploration of young love, true friends, and the confusing realities of male adolescence—with a dash of old school computer programming.

*from goodreads power user summit

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Lindsey Reviews: i be, but i ain't

Pages: 80
Publisher: YesYes Books
Released: 2016

Dog Eared Review by Lindsey Lewis Smithson 

In a sidestep from my usual reviews, this time around I am featuring a full length collection of poetry instead of a chapbook. Now, you may think that reviewing either length would be the same, but that would be a sad misunderstanding of each form. In a chapbook most poets explore a single theme, or style, or image, using their roughly 25 pages to put a spotlight on one thing. A full book, much like a novel compared to a short story, can dip its toes in many forms, emotions, and images. For me personally I find chapbooks to be a more intellectual experience while a full length collection to be an emotional one. But that, again, is just me.

Aziza Barnes has demonstrated many forms, ranging from blocky prose poems like “the mutt debates what it might come down to:” to the slim and streamlined left justified pieces, such as “descendants.” I’d go out on a limb and say the the signature style is the breathless free verse that is peppered throughout to great effect. On this train of thought the poem “a good deed is done for no good reason” is a wonderful example of the form and the key substance of the collection as a whole. There are many shades of the political within, be it the government pushing in, or society horning in, but in the end the reader needs to remember that “industry of human hands/you are just/ yourself & no one has made you.”

The personal and sexual sides of politics, how the world as a whole and the individuals specifically, are incessantly pressing their ideals and expectations onto us, trying to shape us, is so key to this collection. Another key theme, one that shapes almost all discussion, is race. No poem better encapsulates racial politics better than “brown noise;” the pieces travels over stereotypes and realities so deftly, and with such a restrained hand, making it all the more effective and devastating. There are also visual moments that support the content, with the poem “down like a shot” coming to mind. The physical structure of the poem matches the content, with the lines quickly diminishing like a shot. The lines also mimic that wordless slip into passion and the abrupt stop out of it with the second to the longest line “don’t start something you can’t finish is maybe the worst advice” coming after the shortest. It is all these careful content and style choices, this blurring between the art and the reality, that allows many of the poems to transcend the words on the page.

Dog Eared Pages:

14, 15, 18, 19, 25, 27, 29, 30, 33, 34, 36, 39, 40, 43, 44, 49, 50, 61, 62, 64, 65, 70

Lindsey Lewis Smithson is the Editor of Straight Forward Poetry. Some of her poetry has appeared on The Nervous BreakdownThis Zine Will Change Your LifeThe Cossack Review, and Every Writer’s Resource: Everyday Poems.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Page 69: Blitz

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 David Trueba's Blitz to the test. 

Please set up Page 69 for us. What are we about to read?

It is a fundamental moment in the novel. Beto, the protagonist, wakes up in Helga's house. What happened last night? He is a young Spaniard completely alone and abandoned in Munich. He is trying to continue living.

What is Blitz about?

It is a novel about solitude and the necessity of company, an arm to put around you. It is the story of a sentimental survival.

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

 Blitz is a very condensed novel, and my purpose was that every line of the book signals the heart of the book, a sense of the novel.


again. I thought about breaking into a run and escaping
from the apartment, but I wasn’t sure I could find
the door, and I thought it would be terrible to make
Helga chase me down the hall and around the furniture
in the living room. I’d scream, like a coward in a
castle full of ghosts.

Naked, I stuck my head out the bedroom door and
called her. Helga? But nobody answered. I opened
the door all the way and walked down the short hall
toward the other bedroom without turning around.
She was probably asleep. Silence reigned in the apartment,
except for the song of a canary I eventually discovered
in a birdcage in the kitchen. I went naked
into the living room, looked for my overcoat, found
it, pulled out my brand- new cell phone, connected
to the Internet, and left the phone on an arm of the
sofa. There was a note on the kitchen table. Call me
if you need anything, I have work to do. Helga had
written down the number of her own cell phone and
ended with a quick signature, indecipherable except
for the enormous H, like scaffolding in front of a collapsed
edifi ce of letters. Then she’d added the word
Kaffee, with an arrow pointing to the coffeemaker
and the clean cup she’d set out for me, and the word
Plätzchen, with another arrow aimed at a little plate
of cookies.

I went back to my room, stepped into the shower,
and let the water run over my face. Although the
scent of the shower gel was too intense for my liking, I


David Trueba was born in Madrid in 1969 and has been successful both as a novelist and as a scriptwriter. “La Buena Vida” was his widely acclaimed debut as a film director and was followed by “Obra Maestra” (2001), “Soldados de Salamina” (2003), “Bienvenido a Casa” (2006), and “La silla de Fernando” (2007). He is also the author of two previous novels Four Friends and Learning to Lose.
(photo credit to Aldolfo Crespo)

Monday, October 10, 2016

Buried in Books - My New Precioussssess

Because I can't possibly read every single book that finds its way into my home IMMEDIATELY, though I fully intend to die trying, allow me to show off our most recently acquired precioussssess...

For Review

Stephen Kozeniewski
Sinister Grin
August 2016

Someone has begun targeting vampires. Vampire leaders of the thirteen Houses attribute the string of recent losses to over-zealous vampire hunters. Only Cicatrice, the most ancient and powerful vampire in the world, suspects that the semi-legendary Hunter of the Dead may be the real culprit.

Carter Price, a vampire hunter who despises the way his profession is becoming centralized and corporatized, begins to suspect the Hunter of the Dead is back, too – and no longer distinguishing between vampires and mortals. Against his better judgment, Price agrees to work with Cicatrice.

The uneasy allies attempt to uncover the truth about the Hunter, while a vampire civil war brews in the background. But perhaps most difficult of all, they must contend with their new apprentices, who seem to be falling in love with each other against every rule of man and monster…

*Unsolicited by Publisher for review

Connor Coyne
Gothic Punk Press

Just when the whole world has written off the city of Arkaic, Michigan, billionaire A. Olan puts up funds for a new university in an abandoned psychiatric hospital. There, strange engines turn human memories into electrical power. Join students Samo, Monty, Ezzie, and Dunya as they study, work, flirt, explore, and battle powers of ancient evil. Will they survive their first year of college?

*Unsolicited by Author for review

Andrew Miller
Civil Coping Mechanisms
June 2016

"Andrew Miller’s If Only The Names Were Changed is an ode to the American fuck-ups and the art of fucking up." -Beachsloth,

“Unflinchingly honest, Andrew Miller’s stories are akin to Francis Bacon portraiture. Mixed in with all of life’s brutality and banality are moments of astounding beauty that echo the angelic opening to Damien Rice’s song It Takes A Lot To Know A Man.” –Scott Navicky, author of Humboldt: Or, the Power of Positive Thinking

“Politics, religion, sexuality, society and psychology: Miller is unapologetic and brutally honest, galloping through it all at such a speed as will leave you breathless. There are moments when he is almost unforgivingly intellectual, moments of thunderous untempered rage and moments of poetic sublime.”
–Emily Ruck Keene, editor of Paris Lit Up

*Unsolicited by Author for review

Douglas Hackle
August 2016

Ever since he was a young orphan, Hansel Higginzshire’s dream has been to break the long-held Guinness World Record for hottest gay man ever killed in a shark attack. 

Big Problem #1: Hansel is not hot. At least not in the classical sense. In fact, the deformed man has a head the size of a wrecking ball. Big Problem #2: Hansel digs chicks, not dudes. 

Still, that shouldn’t stop a big-headed mofo from dreaming big, no?? 

But if those obstacles weren’t enough to impede Hansel’s path to Guinness World Record greatness, he finds himself wanted for murder. Now on the lam, his situation pretty hopeless, Hansel agrees to die a horrible death in a snuff film for just few measly bucks. 

But perhaps the misfit companions Hansel meets on his westward cross-country trek to Hollywood—Rosebud (the drunken, down-on-its-luck, former actor, and sentient sled from Citizen Kane); a living, talking amputated arm that once belonged to a famous rock drummer; and a geeky keytar player born with a small polar bear head instead of a human head—can convince Hansel to follow his dreams again and attempt to become . . . THE HOTTEST GAY MAN EVER KILLED IN A SHARK ATTACK!!! 

(By the way, yo mama is a character in this book. Yeah. For real. Sorry.) 

*requested for review

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Leland Reviews: Be Cool

Be Cool by Ben Tanzer
Pages: 373
Publisher: Dock Street Press
Released: Feb 2017

Reviewed by Leland Cheuk

There’s a line in The Flaming Lips song “Fight Test” from their seminal album “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots” that goes:

I thought I was smart
I thought I was right
I thought it better not to fight
I thought there was a virtue in always being cool

There cannot be a better set of lyrics to describe the premise of Ben Tanzer’s new “memoir (sort of)” Be Cool.

Tanzer’s writing persona of the middle-aged, white, do-gooding dad is fully formed. After covering similar ground in his 2014 book of essays on fatherhood entitled Lost in Space, in Be Cool, Tanzer is older, wiser and funnier, and the book as a whole coheres in a way that indicates that Tanzer is at the top of his game.

The essays are arranged chronologically by decade, which gives the memoir a simulation of a plot—at least, as much of a plot as one can impose on the picaresque of real life. Each essay contains the theme of Tanzer trying to be cool, though it’s threaded into the writing in subtle, often non-explicit ways. In “The Big One,” he writes about his ‘tween boy crush on Parker Stevenson (Shaun Cassidy in The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries). Tanzer finds a way to connect the act of writing Stevenson a fan letter to the compromises he has to make in middle age as a father and husband with his own literary ambitions.

It is the kind of failure which recognizes that I won’t do absolutely anything to get something I want so badly, which is to be a successful novelist, or maybe somehow write for television or the movies…

I won’t stop working full-time to write, because then I would compromise my health insurance and retirement plans.

I won’t ignore my wife or kids or disappear for days at a time just so I can get more done, because I don’t want to be that kind of husband and father.

I’m not even sure anymore that I really sent that letter to Parker Stevenson, but I want it to be true, because I want, need, to believe that I took a chance, a restrained chance maybe, but still one where I was willing to at least risk a different kind of failure, that of being rejected.

Should Tanzer the Writer fight for his right to chase his loftiest artistic aspirations, even if it means that his family will become less stable? It’s an age-old question that isn’t asked often enough. Tanzer comes back to this idea of the road not taken repeatedly as his essays change settings from San Francisco to New York to Los Angeles to Chicago, where he now lives. At the end of these roads not taken, there are imaginary pots of gold—cooler, larger, hypothetical successes that will become less and less possible as he ages.

The inherent sadness in these essays gives Tanzer’s sense of humor its weight. In “Mexico City Blues,” Tanzer takes an ill-fated trip in the 80s as a teen with his brother to the capital of our southern neighbor, only to discover the luxury that is clean water.

But it is our third night in Mexico, a country where everyone actively discourages one from drinking the water that we make a grave mistake—we all decide to order shrimp scampi.

As you might imagine, bathroom adventures ensue and another attempt to be cool and travel to a place that has become, in recent years, a hip destination, goes awry. Tanzer has a gift for visceral descriptions. In “Drinking: A Love Story,” he’s walking in New York City when a random homeless man assaults him, a frightening incident that could have ended worse.

His next punch catches me on the tip of my nose. I see little dots and swirls of color, purple mainly. I’m stunned, frozen in place. I have become a statue…There is a final blow, broken glasses and an eyebrow split neatly in two.

The vast majority of the 30 essays focus on Tanzer’s adventures as a younger man living in various “cool” cities. Scarce time is given to the do-gooding part of Tanzer’s life, namely his career in social work. He volunteered at Gay Men’s Health Clinic, facilitating HIV/AIDS support groups. He worked with homeless individuals with serious mental illness, as well as Prevent Child Abuse America. Clearly, Tanzer is a person who believes in selfless good works. I wished for a few more essays on why Tanzer chose that important line of work. Despite that noticeable gap in the narrative, on the whole, Be Cool is a smart, entertaining tour of a middle-aged everyman’s lifelong belief in the virtues of always being cool.

Four of five stars.

Leland Cheuk is the author of the novel THE MISADVENTURES OF SULLIVER PONG (CCLaP Publishing, 2015) and the story collection LETTERS FROM DINOSAURS (Thought Catalog Press, 2016). He has been awarded fellowships and artist residencies including ones from the MacDowell Colony and Djerassi Resident Artists Program, and his work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications such as Salon, The Rumpus, Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, [PANK] Magazine, and elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Tricia Dower'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. 

Today, Tricia Dower, with the help of her hubby's taste buds, whips up a drink for a character in her book Stony River, who's known as Crazy Haggerty. 

How about a Crazy Haggerty tonight?

Stony River opens with two girls spying on the dilapidated house of someone they call Crazy Haggerty, a man they’ve seen stumbling drunk down the sidewalk, wearing a magician’s suit and red shoes. There’s more to James Haggerty, the reader learns over the course of the novel: former professor, practitioner of Irish witchcraft and grieving widower. He does like his whiskey, though, and keeps a flask of it in his bathrobe pocket.

Good sport that he is and knowing whiskey isn’t my thing, my husband taste-tested a few concoctions before we settled on this recipe for a “Crazy Haggerty.”

·         1 ounce of Irish whiskey -- we used Jameson
·         1 ounce of well-chilled dry mead -- we used Magick Mead from Hornby Island, but another good dry mead will do
·         1/2 ounce of Irish Mist honey liqueur
·         Serve over a single ice cube

According to Wikipedia (the internet’s Oracle of Delphi), Irish Mist is “made from aged Irish whiskey, heather and clover honey, aromatic herbs and other spirits, blended to an ancient recipe claimed to be 1,000 years old.” It’s produced in Dublin but available in 40 countries. We live in Canada and found it easily at a liquor store near us.

Apparently mead is trending with the upwardly mobile, Game of Thrones crowd.  Personally, it makes me picture unwashed, bearded men brawling in a dank medieval hall.  It’s perfect for a “Crazy Haggerty,” however, as it has a long history with the Celts who once thought it had magic properties.

If James Haggerty had concocted the potion we named after him, he might have drunk it from the pewter chalice that sat on his altar. We used a Waterford (as in Waterford, Ireland) crystal glass.

Lest you think Stony River is all about magic spells and Irish witchcraft, I hasten to tell you it isn’t. It’s a mystery that shines a light on the type of secrets that hid behind closed doors in small-town America in a time we often romanticize. A mystery inspired by a true-crime story that shows how perilous it was for some girls to come of age in the 1950s.


In 2002, Tricia Dower retired from a career as a financial services executive and reinvented herself as a fiction writer. Her novel Stony River has just been released in the US. She’s also the author of the Shakespeare-inspired collection, Silent Girl, and the novel Becoming Lin. Born in Rahway, New Jersey, she now lives in Canada. Learn more at her website. Visit her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Page 69: The Learn (Blog Tour)

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 Tony Halker's The Learn to the test. 

OK Tony, set up page 69 for us:

Page 69 appears early in this story of The Learn; a young Celtic boy, Owayne, travels outside his immediate homeland for the first time. In company with a Druid priest he is exposed to new things: blasphemy, tribal conflict, abuses of power and an opportunity to see his own world through a new eye. His mind has begun to grow as it crystallises questions that he did not consider before the events of The Learn.

The scene is set on the south coast of Anglesey in North Wales where the land reaches out and almost touches the mainland of Snowdonia, where you can look South on a clear day and see up towards the high mountains which we now call the Carneddi. It is early morning, with the first sounds, smells and sights of the day.

What is The Learn about?

The story takes us along the path of developing Druid Priests showing us their world and values. It is set in bronze age places that exist now in North Wales and draws on what we know of their way of life through folklore and the artefacts they bequeathed to us. The story is about manipulating power through technology and trade and the use of religion and tribal loyalty to take that power. The Learn is a cumulative process of endurance and adding to knowledge for the benefit of Celts. It is about being sworn to The Learn above family, regulated by Chant and belief. The life involves denying comforts while valuing beauty because Nature allows it to be created.

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

The scene gives us hints about technology, religion, nature and the sword, all of which are key elements of The Learn. It does not evoke the richness of Celtic festivals, for example, celebrating the moment when summer begins, these are an important part of the tale. It is not a page of dramatic events which include murder, love, fertility, psychology in warfare, the calling of charcoal from wood and metal from stone. There are no women in the scene, yet The Learn describes a society where women share power being tribal leaders and priests, where they are revered for fertility as well as what they contribute to The Learn.

Emerging technologies are extremely important; without writing Celts are able to pass on technologies accurately so that others can continue to develop them. Fine bronzes are made repeatedly, involving subtle amounts of tin and copper. Technology takes on religious significance; when new things threaten to displace established technology and the rites and ways that support it. Those who want power seek to control the emerging technologies for their own tribal gains, citing religion and blood loyalty to achieve them.

The landscape of The Learn plays a prominent, active part in the story. I really want the hills, valleys, sea and weather to be a person, certainly a character. Page 69 helpfully is very much about the start of a day when the first things that are important are sounds, weather, birds and sea noises. The Druid Merle is described after he has been gifted food for the day, he is clattering about on rocks in tree bark sandals to protect his feet, so Nature, the Goddess is giving things for her people to take and use. The portents for the day are good. These ancestors of ours lived close to nature leading insecure lives; the signs and sounds at the start of each day must have been a focus for everyone as to what the day may give or threaten.

I know all of  the places in which the book is set, they are beautiful, ever changing; fascinating because they lift the mind's eye. These places are scattered with bronze and stone age structures, footprints and fingerprints that make one wonder and think about people who not only lived here before writing could record their activities, they also prospered. There is enough evidence in mounds, observatories and burial chambers to be in awe of what they our ancestors achieved; The Learn seeks to weave a tale of those places and people.

I hope the descriptions of place in page 69 give a positive and lifting feel; it was places like that which in part motivated me to create the characters and the story they led me in to.


Chapter Eleven

Return to the Frame and the Henge

Noise of white gulls wakes me, not the light of the sun or its warmth, birds are diving arguing over fish; pointing squabbling faces above water in a seething wing mass.

I cannot see Merle, he is likely in sword and staff trance, in a quiet spot; he soon returns heralded by wooden sandals clapping on a rock below. He carries crabs, small wild apples and a grey shiny scaly fish which he says a gull had dropped as it flew up from the sea. He says this is a gift to us a good omen for our journey. We break the grey oily fish between us, scraping away scales that mirror the clouds in the sky on summer days as the sun’s warmth drives them off. The flesh is grey blue dull, oily to taste and touch, filling our bellies we wrap the head and tail in skin, keeping bones and scales, later the scales can shine drying and dulling in the sun to be eaten with fish or berries.

There are more clouds than yesterday, the Carneddii less visible are shrouded at the top. We hear then see people as we approach the narrows, they are heading to the Menai crossings aiming for the mainland paths and passes, there are people, priests, animals. It is low tide, there are coracles being pulled across from the jutting lands, then we see small islets where priests and coraclers labour to get people across, some coraclers putting small nets into the water to trap fish as they carry out their other tasks.

We continue along the coast, on and off a rocky shore, with cliffs and tree covered slopes looking down, the 


Born in London, Tony Halker studied geology at Leeds University after which he worked as a geologist, travelling extensively overseas. Following an MBA at Cranfield School of Management, he became a manager in hi-tec business and later a businessman and entrepreneur. His writing is inspired by powerful natural landscapes and his interest in the people and technologies emerging from those hard places. His two daughters were born in North Wales. He lives with his wife there and in Hertfordshire.


The Learn by Tony Halker

Blending reality, history and legend, about a time when women were considered as important as men, taking power in an oral society that worships the Goddess. A whole Celtic Druid world is laid out before us, incorporating beliefs, technology and the natural environment.

A Celtic boy, a beach scavenger, is pledged to the Learn, a life of endurance, a path to become sworn Druid: scholar and warrior.  Young women and men progress, becoming Priests and Druidii. Friendship, affection, passion and care develop as novices mature, confidence emerging.
Seasonal battles of winter and summer bring rich festivals when seeds of men are taken by women in pleasure to prove fertility. Small damaged, hurt peoples on the margins of Celtic society blend in and out of vision.

At frontiers with Nature, dependent for everything on what the earth gives or takes, an emotional response to the natural environment defines who people are and the values they live by.
A lyrical novel resonating with modern readers through portrayal of character, language and history; arising from a landscape of today, yet centred in the Celtic Bronze Age of North Wales.