Monday, January 26, 2015

Kate Reviews: Salaryman Unbound

Salaryman Unbound by Ezra Kyrill Erker
4 stars - Strongly Recommended by Kate
Pages: 189
Crime Wave Press
Released: March 2014

Guest review by Kate Vane

Salaryman Unbound is a stylish, darkly comic novel of psychological suspense.

It tells the story of Shiro, a Japanese IT manager with a midlife crisis. He has considered the conventional responses to his sense of ennui – an affair or an unsuitable hobby – but in the end settles on murder.

From this starting point, the novel follows Shiro’s attempts to implement his plan and its consequences. He turns out to be a fairly inept criminal. His ideas about detection are based on what he’s read in the papers and crime dramas on TV. He has an almost adolescent idea that he will become sort-of famous as the unidentified perpetrator of an ingenious unsolved crime.

He wants to commit the perfect murder by choosing a random victim but when these attempts fail he adapts his plan. He settles on an attractive but unhappy neighbour, Sayuri, as his victim.

There are some shocks in this novel for the reader but much of the pleasure comes from irony. Shiro, caught up in his conspiracy, is unable to see what we can. His murderous fantasy keeps brushing up against the constraints of the real world. His interactions with Sayuri and his wife Naomi are particularly well observed. They continually undercut him with their cleverness and practicality.

Shiro’s behaviour is both absurd and totally believable. It is also menacing. We are not quite sure what he is capable of, and who might get hurt.

The Japanese setting gives the book an additional dimension. The life that seems so banal to Shiro will be unfamiliar to many Western readers. We learn about the texture of the characters’ daily lives – what they eat, what music they listen to, where they go at the weekend.

More profoundly, we see how Shiro’s marriage is changed by Naomi’s return to her career and the irreverence of his children as they fail to show the respect he showed his parents. Shiro’s business trip to Thailand and his interactions with his Thai subordinates give an insight into the changing economy. The Japanese salaryman is being challenged on all sides.

There is a further irony. As Shiro’s plan progresses, he steps out of his normal world. He takes risks. But paradoxically, he misses opportunities to make bigger changes. There is a pleasing ambiguity in this – his obsession is both changing him and making him fail to see what he really needs to do.

The only thing that jarred for me slightly was that the book, while mostly written from Shiro’s point of view, sometimes makes abrupt shifts into another character’s voice. This breaks the spell as we are suddenly outside Shiro’s crazed vision. One of the strengths of Shiro’s narration is that we can see his effect on other characters even when he cannot.

However, this is a small point. This is an absorbing and atmospheric novel with a satisfying twist at the end.

Kate Vane writes crime and literary fiction. Her latest novel is Not the End

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Five Pet Peeves: Book Abuse

For those of you who were hanging around the blog yesterday, you may have met our newest review contributor, Lindsey. Lindsey runs the Straight Forward Poetry journal and will be reviewing... wait for it... poetry and chapbooks for us. Her format - Dog Eared Reviews - is an interesting and anxiety-inducing one:

She actually dog-ears her books as she reads them!

I'm suddenly finding it hard to breathe.

Hang on a sec...


Ok. It's ok. *pictures smooth, crisp, unfolded page corners, hundreds and hundreds of smooth, crisp, unfolded....* yeah, I'm fine. Phew!

So, needless to say, Lindsey's preferred way to mangle, I MEAN read, her books suddenly had me mentally ticking off pet peeves when it comes to how people abuse, I MEAN handle, their book as they read them.

My top five "Book Abuse" pet peeves:

5. Cover Stains - Books should never be used as a drink coaster. I know this, I am sure YOU know this, but man, how many times do you witness someone placing a cold, sweating can of coke or a hot, dripping mug of coffee on top of their current read, amirite?! You know who you are, you book abuser! That poor cover will forever bear the wrinkly water marks and brown coffee ring stains of your bad decisions. Or how bout using your book as a buffer between your hand and the kitchen table when you are painting your nails? Oh gosh how that stuff makes me cringe!

4. Food Crumbs - Eating and reading really don't go together. I don't know why people try it. You know you are going to need both hands to read with... one to hold the book, the other to turn the pages.... There is nothing worse than opening a book and discovering crusty old cookie crumbs way down deep in the pages. Or how about powered cheese finger stains, the ghostly remnants of a snack left behind as you turned the page...

3. Dog Ear - Believe it or not, this is a middle-of-the-road peeve of mine. More anxiety-inducing than the snacking and drinking. those poor folded page corners just look so painful to me. Sure, you can straighten them out and get the pages to lay somewhat flat again but the telltale triangular crease will never go away. And those once-perfect pages now have a weak spot, one that might entice its reader to unconsciously finger, or fold back and forth, until that abused little corner just gives up and detaches itself. Gasp!

2.  Marginalia - Marking up the interior of books sets my teeth grinding and my skin crawling. Pencil, pen, colored marker... I don't care what writing tool you use, I can't STAND when people write in their books. A good plenty of the 700+ unread books I own came from library and book sales. It amazes me just how many people out there make notes, underline, and highlight in their books. More times than I can count, I've had to make the tough choice to put a book I've been DYING to read back on the shelf and walk away because of how severe and distracting the marginalia was, I want to read the author's words, not your thoughts on their words. God, use sticky notes or index cards for the love of all things literary. Or, better yet, since you "loved" the book enough to mark it up to hell, why not just keep it forever? Why give it up at all?

1.  Cracked Spines - Oh how this makes my heart break. Those poor, prematurely aged books with the cracked and broken spines. Those evil, awful book abusers who actually ENJOY breaking a book in by grabbing a handful of pages from either side and CRAAAAACCCCKing that baby right down the middle. You know you who you are! Or how about those sadistic readers who fold their paperbacks over as they read them, so that the front and back covers are always touching? Which creates a million little hairline cracks down the spine... Ack! I've adopted my shared of cracked-spined books from used book stores and book sales. As I read them, I handle them with extra care, and love, and can't help but shed a tear for them as I turn the page and it partially separated from the inside of the spine because the damage was so intense. There should be a jail for readers who abuse their books so badly!

So what about you? What are your biggest pet peeves when it comes to "book abuse"??

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Lindsey Reviews: The End of the West

The End of the West by Michael Dickman
Pages: 89
Publisher: Copper Canyon Press 
Released: 2009

Dog Eared Review by Lindsey Lewis Smithson (review contributor)

Michael Dickman’s debut collection of poems The End of the West from Copper Canyon (2009) reads like a physical move through grief and acceptance. The first poem, “Nervous System,” sets the path that the rest of the collection follows, with lines like “Make a list / of everything that’s / ever been // on fire—,” All of us running around / outside our /  deaths” and “I wish I could look down past the burning chandelier inside me.”

The early poems deal with several different deaths or separations, but the emotional turn begins to appear in the poem “Returning to Church,” saying  “I get the feeling / diamond after / diamond / is what’s really /  going to happen.”  Near the end of the collection the reader is offered not only relief, but also a rally cry that everything will be alright; “What I have / is finally invisible // Singing a little tune     They can’t take that away from me.

The early pages are dark, and may be emotionally difficult for some readers, however the path that Dickman paves is a beautiful one of strength and growth. Follow him and you won’t be sorry you did.

Like many readers I like to dog ear, highlight, and make notes in my books as I read them. Sometimes a single line stands out, other times it is an image, the spacing, or a feeling I had that will cause me to pause and take note. Here are the pages that I Dog Eared in The End of the West:

Pages 3, 8, 9, 13, 14, 15, 17, 19, 24, 32, 39, 41, 44, 45, 50, 51, 56, 58, 63

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, January 20, 2015

Indie Ink Runs Deep: John Smelcer

Every now and then I manage to talk a small press author into showing us a little skin... tattooed skin, that is. I know there are websites and books out there that have been-there-done-that already, but I hadn't seen one with a specific focus on the authors and publishers of the small press community. Whether it's the influence for their book, influenced by their book, or completely unrelated to the book, we get to hear the story behind their indie ink....

Today's ink story comes from John Smelcer. One of the last students of the legendary John Gardner, widely considered the best creative writing teacher in America, John is the author of 50 books, including the award-winning novels The Trap, The Great Death, Lone Wolves, Edge of Nowhere, and Savage Mountain (forthcoming this summer). The American Library Association named Lone Wolves as one of the best feminist novels for young adults in 2014, along with I Am Malala. The Great Death was named the best novels about sisters in 2008.

Tit for Tat: A Writer Apologizes

What can I say about my tattoo, except for what kind of numbskull has the audacity to sport one of the most iconic images from pop culture on his shoulder? More importantly, what does it say about me? Even as I write this, I’m re-watching the first James Bond movie, Dr. No (1962), for the umpteenth time. Ursula Andress standing on the beach in a bikini with her dagger drawn never gets old.

James Bond burst onto the silver screen the year before I was born. Yet, I have the vivid memory of watching it at a theater when I was six. I was enthralled. Here was a dapper, self-assured man of action, who always got the bad guy and the girls (lots of girls). Growing up in the decade of Flower Power and Free Love, 007 epitomized the latter. I loved Bond. I wanted to be him.

James Bond: Role Model.

It’s an oxymoron akin to Shakespeare’s “O Loving Hate!”

But what kind of role model is James Bond for a boy and later a young man? He may have been a woman-lover, but he was also a misogynist who treated women disrespectfully, saying and doing anything to get them into bed. Did he even remember their names afterward? Did he remember them during? (Who could possibly forget Octopussy or Pussy Galore?) Or, in that instant of passion, did he simply call out his own name?

In retrospect, I realize that much of the trouble of my life was because of James Bond, because I adopted his shameful persona. I remember going to my eighth grade prom with one girl and, by the night’s end, I had clandestinely (like a secret agent) asked three different girls to go steady with me. They figured it out soon enough, and I didn’t get a date again until high school.

Bond made me do it!

In the mid-1970s, when I was a tweenager, my mom left for a couple weeks to be with her folks. While she was gone, my father gave me permission to put a hundred nudie posters on my bedroom walls. (It was he, after all, who took me to see Bond films.) Needless to say, my mother didn’t appreciate my artistic sensibilities.

Again, Bond made me do it!

Before I type another word, I feel a need to apologize to all the girls I wronged in my life. Mea culpa. I was clueless.

As an adult—only a year younger than the Bond film franchise—I drink Vodka martinis, even though I don’t enjoy them. I’ve owned sports cars. And like Bond, I like to dress sharp, especially in classic black, gray, and white to the point that I’m a bit of a clotheshorse. I’m an Anglophile who studied at Cambridge, Bond’s alma mater, and I sometimes speak in a fake English accent.

So why did I get a 007 tattoo on Valentine’s Day a decade ago while my wife sat in the adjacent parlor chair getting her own tat? What does my tat say about me? Is there any redeeming characteristic in Bond’s personality? Can I look at my shoulder in the mirror with any sense of self-respect? Maybe. Maybe the thing I carry in me nowadays, as a husband and father of two daughters, is simply a yearning for a bygone childhood during a confusing time in America. Maybe Bond resonated with a nation trying to figure itself out. Maybe I’m still trying to do the same thing. For those of you who enjoy poetry, I present the only poem I’ve ever written about James Bond.


James Bond went to see a doctor;
he was having a little man trouble.

They took some blood and asked him
to list all his sexual partners on a form,
but there wasn’t enough room.

Besides, he couldn’t remember them all.

There was

Octopussy, Honey Ryder, Holly Goodhead,
Solitaire, Mary Goodnight, Triple X, Jinx,
Plenty O’Toole, Strawberry Fields, Mayday,
Domino, Christmas Jones, Tiffany Case,
Jenny Flex, Xenia Onatopp, and his all-time
personal favorite—Pussy Galore.

The test results finally came in.

Horrified, doctors discovered Bond had sexual
diseases they had never even heard of before.

So they put him in a yellow bio-hazard suit,
hung an “Out of Order” sign around his waist,

and quarantined him on the dark side of the moon.

Monday, January 19, 2015


Pages: 226
Publisher: Melville House
Released: 2014

Guest review by Drew Broussard 

The Short Version: Cambridge University. A class of boys taking philosophy under the strange tutelage of a man they dub Wittgenstein. Over the course of the term, they will question so many things about philosophy and life. 
The Review: I am a fan of philosophy. A book-length novel that essentially just discourses on life, reason, philosophy... it's not for everyone, not for all times, but sometimes (for me), it's exactly what you need.  Enter Wittgenstein Jr..  Now, I didn't study any Wittgenstein in my few philosophy courses at school - his was a philosophy that worked in logic, in mathematics, in the very basis of philosophy itself.  My sister, who took a philosophy degree in England, would undoubtedly know more about the man's theories than I - I leave it to her to decide whether or not that makes for better enjoyment of the book, should she read it.  But I don't think one needs to know Wittgenstein, mostly because the character who is dubbed Wittgenstein in this novel (curiously, we never learn his real name) is possessed of his own philosophy, a philosophy that becomes the only Wittgenstein we need in this book. 
And there is a whole lot of him. Of it; his philosophy. There are numerous walks, even more numerous classes, still more numerous considerations of philosophy.  Not of any particular one, but of philosophy itself.  Of the reasons why we must wrangle with the nature of humanity, of the world, of the universe.  Sure, there are particulars that are brought up - but all in the pursuit of the larger questions.  My own existentialist leanings served me well when I began to engage with parts of the book: for example, Wittgenstein holds forth on the absurdity of suicide and how the act is the most violent of rebellions - and I thought of Camus, discussing how the only serious philosophical problem is suicide.  These thoughts are on my mind of late, after the untimely passing of a young man close to many in the New York theater community and, as all good philosophy should do, I was pausing in my reading to grapple with the thoughts on my own.  What an impressive achievement in any text, let alone a piece of fiction.
Still, it's not all philosophical mumbo and/or jumbo.  There's definitely a whole lot of that... but there's also some good clean collegiate fun. The boys drink, do drugs, shack up (with girls, boys, each other) - a recurring bit is that Guthrie recreates the life and death of famous philosophers as a sort of party trick.  These reenactments are well-received and just the sort of thing you'd expect to see at a party like this, along with the guy snorting coke next to you and the girl puking in the bushes.  There are armchair bits of philosophy, exactly the sort you'd expect from kids at 20, 21 - the questions of life, the universe, and everything because you just dont know.  Life awaits, you're told, but you have no idea what the hell that means. If anything, it probably means you're about to get screwed (Iyer gets in a good dig about this towards the end, in a chapter where Peters and Ede make fun of the career center brochures about opportunities after college).  But it felt organic, it felt real. I understood these boys because I once was one of them. Hell, I still am in some ways: any given night with friends at a pub, you can wager I'll get us started on something at least modestly weighty.  But philosophy is a life's work - you can't expect to learn it at school and then be done.
And this is where the novel begins to tip into some troublesome territory.  Wittgenstein as a character, we realize, is a bit ridiculous.  Not just ridiculous, he's a little... unreal. His frenzy, his paranoia, his peculiar method of teaching - it just rings a little... well, a little fictional, I suppose.  This would all be fine and dandy if the book ended at the end of section 3.  However, it does not: there is a section 4 and this is where things get weird.  I'm also, for those interested in reading the book, about to get into some SPOILER talk.
So Peters (our main character, the often-just-recording-it-all narrator) ends up falling in love with Wittgenstein. And vice versa. They briefly become lovers at the end of term, after everyone has gone home, and it is a fiery and torrid little affair. And, at this moment, the book dropped in my estimation in the same way a plane sometimes drops suddenly.  It is an unpleasant thing to experience. I find myself wondering why Iyer added this more-personal dash of development to these characters, to this story.  The boys (and Wittgenstein) were all fully formed enough to be definable, albeit with simple terms (this one wears the swear-word t-shirts, the twins are crazy jacked sports dudes, etc) but their characterization was not the point.  The point was, at least as far as I could tell, the philosophy.  The decision to engage, in short-novel length and form, with major questions of existence and being, seen through the eyes of both students and a wacky Cambridge prof. Suddenly the book became a little other than that, but this other undercut everything that had come before. Perhaps it is important to see Wittgenstein crumple, fail, flee - but I don't think so. Perhaps this was a lesson that Peters needed to learn - but I don't think so. Their romance feels so out of place that it almost could've been dropped in from a different novel, a novel taking place at Cambridge at the same time with the same characters even, just written by someone else and following a different plot.  As a result, the novel became a somewhat predictable disappointment at the end.

Rating: 4 out of 5. I am, perhaps, giving the book slightly higher marks than it deserves - but that is because I cannot help but like the idea of putting serious philosophical questions out there in such a way as makes the reader engage.  I engaged with these ideas in this book and enjoyed doing so.  And I enjoyed the depiction of these young men at such an august institution, one that is and forever will be bigger than any of them, still fighting to understand the ridiculous things about the world even as they are told that they probably won't. Or can't. Or shouldn't. But we ridiculous young men (and the commensurate young women) won't ever stop coming.  It's just a shame that Iyer's novel didn't stop a little short of where it does.  Philosophy should be pure, not sullied by unexpected romance or "plot" - but, then, this is a novel, not a philosophy text.  

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

Friday, January 16, 2015

Robin Antalek's Would You Rather

Bored with the same old fashioned author interviews you see all around the blogosphere? Well, TNBBC's newest series is a fun, new, literary spin on the ole Would You Rather game. Get to know the authors we love to read in ways no other interviewer has. I've asked them to pick sides against the same 20 odd bookish scenarios. 

Robin Antalek's 
Would You Rather

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

Would you rather have one giant bestseller or a long string of moderate sellers?
I want to be here for the long term – so a string of moderate sellers sounds good to me. Having a bestseller isn’t a reason for me to write. For me it’s just telling a good story – and hoping it touches someone. 

Would you rather be a well known author now or be considered a literary genius after you’re dead?
Ha! I guess I’d go with the after-life accolades. Too much pressure when you’re alive!

Would you rather write a book without using conjunctions or have every sentence of your book begin with one? 
Without. It is a challenge.

Would you rather have every word of your favorite novel tattooed on your skin or always playing as an audio in the background for the rest of your life?
Wow, that’s hard. Not into pain, so I guess audio. There’s always ear plugs, right?

Would you rather write a book you truly believe in and have no one read it or write a crappy book that comprises everything you believe in and have it become an overnight success? 
No question – a book I believe in.

Would you rather write a plot twist you hated or write a character you hated?
A character. A plot twist can change the entire story so I’d rather live with an unlikable character. 

Would you rather use your skin as paper or your blood as ink? 
OUCH. I’m going for blood here. Skin is too Silence of the Lambs for me to even think about.

Would you rather become a character in your novel or have your characters escape the page and reenact the novel in real life? 
I’m all for the reenactment.

Would you rather write without using punctuation and capitalization or without using words that contained the letter E? 
I’ll try the postmodern route without punctuation or capitalization. I think the letter E would be too hard to give up!

Would you rather have schools teach your book or ban your book? 
Well, I’ve had the pleasure of being taught in schools. So why not try the ban?

Would you rather be forced to listen to Ayn Rand bloviate for an hour or be hit on by an angry Dylan Thomas? 
An angry Dylan Thomas might be interesting, because Ayn Rand is always going to be Ayn Rand – at least with Thomas it might result in something to write about. 

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

Would you rather be stuck on an island with only the 50 Shades Series or a series in a language you couldn’t read? 
I’m going to learn that new language if it’s the last thing I do/read!

Would you rather critics rip your book apart publicly or never talk about it at all?
Well, the Internet age has made everyone a critic. Even your grandmother. Talk away, people, talk away. The other good thing about the Internet age is that attention spans are short.  Today’s news is all gone by tomorrow.

Would you rather have everything you think automatically appear on your Twitter feed or have a voice in your head narrate your every move? 
I don’t have a Twitter feed. So I guess that voice that’s there all the time anyway would be “live narrating” my every move. Real time? Is that what they call living these days?

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

Would you rather write an entire novel standing on your tippy-toes or laying down flat on your back? 
Laying down. I have weak ankles.

Would you rather read naked in front of a packed room or have no one show up to your reading? 
During my first book tour I had a store where no one showed up. It wasn’t that bad. I made friends with the booksellers. Naked is out of the question.

Would you rather read a book that is written poorly but has an excellent story, or read one with weak content but is written well?  
I’ve read enough of both in my lifetime so far – and I’ll always go for the good story. 


ROBIN ANTALEK is the author of The Summer We Fell Apart (HarperCollins 2010) chosen as a Target Breakout Book and the forthcoming The Grown Ups (William Morrow 2015). Her non-fiction work has been published at The Weeklings, The Nervous Breakdown and collected in the following anthologies, The Beautiful Anthology; Writing off Script: Writers on the Influence of Cinema; and The Weeklings: Revolution #1 Selected Essays 2012-1013.  Her short fiction has appeared in Salon, 52 Stories, Five Chapters, Sun Dog, The Southeast Review and Literary Mama among others. She has twice been a finalist in Glimmertrain Magazine, as well as a finalist for The Tobias Wolff Award for Fiction. She lives in Saratoga Springs, New York. You can visit her site @ ,

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Book Review: The Great Texas Trailer Park Escape

Read 1/6/14 - 1/14/15
2 Stars - Recommended Lightly - Humorous caper with some annoying grammatical errors and odd moments of character-building for the sake of.... character-building?
Pages: 76
Publisher: Biting Dog Publications
Released: 2013

Uncovering unknowns can be both a super-power and a curse, where my love for the underdogs sometimes finds me falling headfirst down the rabbit hole of strange indie fiction. And though these trips through indie-internet-wonderland always hold the promise of ending in triumph, more often than not I usually crawl my way out of it worse for the wear.

I discovered a free download of Biting Dog Publication's The Great Texas Trailer Park Escape through one of those very same rabbit holes. Though I'll never be able to reproduce the chain of events that led me to this thing, once I found it, I knew I wanted it. The cover looked pretty sweet, the description - "an adventure novel set in East Texas, “It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World” taking place in the trailer-laden world of the people of Walmart." - sounded pretty cool, it's a digital novella, and it was free, which always takes the gamble right out of it. I mean, if it sucks, what did I lose? A couple hours of my time?

So onward I trekked, into the scrappy East Texan trailer park where the missing $20 million dollar lottery ticket has just been found. Turns out this dude Skeeter bought it 6 months ago and forgot all about it, only just now realizing he's had it the entire time when the news reports that tomorrow is the last day for the winning ticket to be turned in. Skeeter figures he's got some time to celebrate before cashing it in, so he calls up his buddy Spider to tell him the news, then promptly wraps himself around a pole in a motorcycle crash. 

On his way to Skeeter's place to search for the ticket, Spider bumps into a nasty old drug dealer he owes some dough to and in an effort to save himself from an ass whopping, promises to split the money with him. While they're crashing Skeeter's trailer, the local sheriff Cheatwood gets a call to check it out and makes a dirty deal with the two of them to get in on the fun. Meanwhile Jack, Skeeter's neighbor, is eavesdropping the whole conversation from outside the trailer's window.

And here starts the most goofy, poorly coordinated, and hilariously comic "be the first to find the hidden winning lottery ticket and become a millionaire" caper that ever was. As you read it, you can't help but envision this as a black and white silent film, with that funny organ music playing in the background as you watch these four characters fumble and bumble around, side stepping and back stabbing one another in a million different combinations. Who will be the last man standing, with more money than he could ever dream of spending? Well, c'mon, you're going to have to read the book yourself if you want to find out. 

While I found the story itself to be entertaining and fun to read, the grammar and oddly timed moments of character-building kept getting in my way. 

Some sentences were awkwardly phrased. And the author had a bad habit of creating new paragraphs for each line of a character's speech and quote-end quoting them, which looked as though someone knew had started speaking, though that wasn't always the case, momentarily throwing you for a loop when it happened.

Kerr would also deviate from the main story at odd intervals to give you a little backstory on each of the characters. Information that could have been shared about them when we were first introduced, but for whatever reason was held onto and added into the mix later on. It almost always stalled the story, which was frustrating. And if I had to hear one more time about Jack's broken leg and how he couldn't run yet there he was running and how often he forgot about the broken leg until the broken leg began to bother him because of something he tried to do with a broken leg that no one with a broken leg would ever try to do because its a broken leg broken leg brokenleg brokenlegbrokenlegbrokenaaaaaAAHHHHHHHHH! So yeah, repetitive much? 

With some really honest feedback and a half decent editor, I have no doubt that this could become a much stronger book. So... my final verdict? Cool story, mediocre delivery. If you're more into what the story is than how it is told, and are a super forgiving person with grammar and syntax, you'd probably really dig this one. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Where Writers Write: Rebecca Foust

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 Rebecca Foust.

Rebecca was the 2014 Dartmouth Poet in Residence and is the recipient of fellowships from the Frost Place and the MacDowell Colony. New poems are in the Hudson Review, Massachusetts Review, Mid-American Review, North American Review, Omniverse, and other journals, and an essay that won the 2014 Constance Rooke Creative Nonfiction Award is forthcoming in the Malahat Review. Foust’s most recent book, Paradise Drive, won the 2015 Press 53 Award for Poetry and can be pre-ordered at and for more information visit

Where Rebecca Foust Writes

Where I write is—everywhere—I never know when an idea is going to ping my awareness, and I try to be ready by carrying a small notebook and pencil stub anywhere I go, even on short walks and especially in the car; there is something about the mind-disconnect that happens while driving that seems to invite ideas in.

Before last year I’d never been on a writing retreat. Who needs it, I thought. Look, I have a desk. With the kids grown up, I have some free time in my day. Why leave home to write? But I decided to try it and last year attended three long writer’s residencies: Vermont Studio Center (January), the Frost Place (July and August) and the MacDowell Colony (October). What I learned was a more profound version of what I’d experienced walking or driving: motion and change-of-place wakes up the part of the brain that receives ideas. I also learned the value of a longer retreats for projects that otherwise can seem too big or sprawling to tackle at home.

At the Vermont Studio Center I joined a community of about 60 other writers and artists, meeting for meals and evening talks and otherwise working in solitude in a bright warm studio that was, (thankfully in that long span of days where below-zero temperatures bloomed ice feathers from river mist) only steps away from the dorm where I slept and the “Red Mill” where delicious healthy meals were served. While there I worked on a significant revision of Paradise Drive, the manuscript that recently won the 2015 Press 53 Award for poetry and will be released in April at AWP.  I’d been writing those sonnets since 2009 and had tried several book sequences, but it was at VSC that Paradise Drive really jelled into a narratively-linked sequence telling the story of a modern day pilgrim who makes a spiritual and geographic journey that begins in the mountains of rustbelt Pennsylvania and ends in the postcard-perfect hills of a tony suburb in Marin County, California. One of the wonderful things about pulling together a book is that the process generates new poems, and I came away from VSC with not only a stronger manuscript but also a sheaf of new poems. This was my view while I worked at my desk at VSC:

I enjoyed the after-dinner artist talks and especially Open Studio night where I saw a glass sculpture that brought the chinkle and glitter of the icy outside weather into the room:

The Vermont Studio Center takes applications year round for its artist’s residencies, see

While writing all the sonnets that eventually became Paradise Drive, I was continuing to free verse and in other forms, and my focus while in residence at The Frost Place was finding all those other poems, printing them out and trying to discover if I had another book. TFP’s Dartmouth Poet in Residence program is a wonderful, unique residency experience which gave me the chance to live and work by myself in Robert Frost’s farmhouse in Franconia, NH for two months. Here is a picture of what the house looked like when I arrived in July 2014:

I knew I wanted to work on a new book while at TFP and that to do that I needed to see all the poems at once. When she showed me through the house, Cleopatra Mathis told me about how she had taped her poems up all over the walls of Frost’s house during her own residency in 1982. I was very excited when I saw what became my main work space in that house—a screened in back porch with a long conference table looking out over a sunset yard bordered by the woods.

When the first table filled up with my poems, I set up a second one and it soon filled up too. One day I looked up and noticed two empty clotheslines and got the idea to do this:

 Again, kinetic energy proved a source of inspiration, and it was also good for my back to be able to walk back and forth “editing” the book by unpinning a poem from one spot and moving it to the next. As at VSC, I found myself writing new poems while in the process of revising and sequencing older ones. Having nearly two full months alone with no responsibilities—except to the writing was amazing—so much creative space opened up! I remember feeling buoyant and emptied in a good way of the pressures of normal life, suspended in that timelessness a child sometimes feels. The Frost Place offers three vibrant poetry conferences every summer, in the fall takes applications for the next summer’s Dartmouth-Poet-in-Residence program,

The MacDowell Colony  was more like VSC than TFP in that it offered a community of writers and artists (this one, about 30 people) I could join or take refuge from, exactly as I pleased. Meals were communal, and it was not just the wonderful food that trained me not to miss one—I quickly realized that the company and conversation of other artists abuzz about their projects fed my own work. As at VSC, I absolutely loved having a separate place—in this case a 1930’s era stone cottage in the woods—for my work. Once I crossed the threshold, I was all in.

The walls of this cottage were bulletin boards, and I soon had poems tacked up everywhere as well as ranged in long columns on the rug laid before the fieldstone fireplace. That cottage offered the luxury of TWO desks, so I set up my laptop on one and used it for editing and on the other set up my notes and supplies for making notes by hand on a completely new project that I worked on in the late afternoons. When the light slanted in and touched that desk, I knew it was time to switch gears and work on the new project.

The MacDowell Colony takes applications for residencies that take place twelve months of each year,

I’m back home now in Northern CA writing at my desk overlooking a small garden vibrant with birds this time of year and with flowers and vegetables when the weather is warmer. Now that my husband and I are alone, a room as been dedicated as my office and for the first time in my writing life I have my books all around me on bookshelves and—this is the real key—a door that closes. It’s a great spot but I still find myself migrating back to places I used to write—the kitchen table, a local cafĂ©, even my car. When I get stuck, I take a walk go for a drive, do a few yoga stretches. And now that I know the value of a writing residency, I hope to go to one at least every other year.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Jacob Appel On Being Indie

On "Being Indie" is a blog series that introduces us to a wide variety of independent authors, publishers, and booksellers as they discuss what being indie means to them.

Jacob M. Appel’s first novel, The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up, won the 2012 Dundee International Book Award and was published by Cargo.  His short story collection, Scouting for the Reaper, won the 2012 Hudson Prize and was published by Black Lawrence Press in 2014.  His most recent books include a novel, The Biology of Luck (Elephant Rock, 2013), an essay collection, Phoning Home (University of South Carolina Press, 2014) and a short story collection, Einstein’s Beach House (Pressgang/Butler University, 2014).  Jacob’s short fiction has appeared in more than two hundred literary journals including Gettysburg Review, Michigan Quarterly, Southwest Review, Threepenny Review and Virginia Quarterly Review.  His prose has won the Boston Review Short Fiction Competition, the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Award for the Short Story, the Dana Award, the Arts & Letters Prize for Fiction, the North American Review’s Kurt Vonnegut Prize, the Missouri Review’s Editor’s Prize, the Sycamore Review’s Wabash Prize, the Briar Cliff Review’s Short Fiction Prize, the Salem College Center for Women Writers’ Reynolds Price Short Fiction Award, the H. E. Francis Prize, the New Millennium Writings Fiction Award on four occasions, an Elizabeth George Fellowship and a Sherwood Anderson Foundation Writers Grant.   His stories have been short-listed for the O. Henry Award (2001), Best American Short Stories (2007, 2008, 2013), Best American Nonrequired Reading (2007, 2008), and the Pushcart Prize anthology (2005, 2006, 2011, 2014).   In 2003, he was honored with Brown’s Undergraduate Council of Students Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2003.   He is currently on the faculty of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

I imagine most aspiring authors, at some point in their careers, have conjured up similar visions of their literary futures.  In my rendering of this collective fantasy, I prefect my first manuscript and send it off to a handful of high-end New York City agents, who claw each other’s eyes out scrambling to represent it.  A similar battle royal the next day blinds several of the city’s leading editors, but results in a seven or eight digit book deal.  The publishing house then suspends production on several of its best-selling novels—and even diverts resources from its chain of Dutch radio stations and Austrian record labels—in order to print my volume on the spot.  A few weeks later, after my masterpiece appears in bookstores to glowing reviews, the German overlords at my publishing house dispatch me on a book tour that includes the great capitals of Europe and joint readings with Philip Roth and Salman Rushdie.  By the end of my first month of literary stardom, I have a nine-book deal that could bankrupt many African nations, my face is as recognizable as Muhammad Ali’s, and I’m dating a besotted Karen Russell, who pledges to dedicate her future Nobel Prizes all to me.

Needless to say, the literary life rarely follows that trajectory.  Certainly, this was not my path to publication.  (I was just grateful not to have followed in the footsteps of John Kennedy Toole, the author of A Confederacy of Dunces, whose mother was only able to find a publisher for his manuscript after his suicide.)  When my first agent proved unable to sell my first novel, I despaired.  When my second agent proved unable to sell my second novel, I grumbled.  In hindsight, as my fourth agent now attempts to sell my fourth novel, I look back with some relief that those first two agents—both very talented, I must add—didn’t secure me a small deal with a major publishing house, because such a deal was a recipe for failure.  After all, most first novels fare poorly and are rapidly remaindered.  That leads to disappointment and makes publishing a chart-topping fourth novel (my current plan) all the more difficult.

            I am very fortunate to have publishing six books with six very distinct, small to mid-sized independent publishers:  two literary novels (The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up with Cargo and The Biology of Luck with Elephant Rock); a mystery, Wedding Wipeout, with Cozy Cat Press; an essay collection, Phoning Home, with the University of South Carolina Press; and a pair of short story collections (Scouting for the Reaper with Black Lawrence and Einstein’s Beach House with Butler University’s Pressgang).  I have been able to connect with readers and to build up a fan base that will help me promote future books, a painstaking yet rewarding process that would not likely have been possible with one of the big five houses.  Along the way, I have learned that the keys to successful independent publishing are threefold:  generosity, creativity and relentlessness.

            The first step in marketing any book is valuing readership over profit.  Some writers are insulted when a friend or even a stranger asks for a free copy of their book.  I make a point of being flattered.  To the degree that I am financially able, I give away copies to those who ask, knowing that if they enjoy my work, they are likely to recommend it to others.  I make a point of giving copies to salesclerks in shops where I read, to all fellow readers at public events, and to local libraries whenever I visit them for research.  Obviously, few if any of us have the resources to give away tens of thousands of hard copies of our publications.   A hundred well-placed copies, or even a dozen, can generate both sales and long term interest.  There is no pride or value in being pennywise and pound foolish.

            The second step in marketing a book—and particularly an independent book—is to exercise the same creativity in marketing as one did in writing.  I am frequently amazed that authors who generate imaginative plots and highly-original characters prove unable to generate marketing plans that extend much beyond placing their books on Amazon and hoping strangers will invest in them.  Far better to engage in wild and zany guerilla tactics.  I am reluctant to share my own yet—but keep your eyes open and feel free to copy.

            The third step, and this cannot be emphasized enough, is relentlessness.  Make your own rain.  Go anywhere you’re invited.  I once gave a reading for one single patron in a small town bookstore, and sold precisely one book—but that’s one more book than I would have sold without doing the reading.  Relentlessness means reaching out constantly:  to booksellers, reading venues, libraries, other authors and even directly to potential readers.  It also means that you have to keep on writing.  You’ll want to publish book reviews and articles and short stories that draw attention to your byline and continued interest in your work.  While it might be lovely to retire on one brilliant book a la Harper Lee, this is a poor career plan to bank on.

            Finally, a trusting, ongoing relationship with ones publishers is essential.  If you spend your energies scrutinizing your royalty checks for errors, or gripe over typos, you are not using your limited emotional resources effectively.  Never forget that the person most responsible for marketing your book isn’t the publisher; it is you.  However, in my experience, the effort you put in as an author is often met with a matching effort by publishers.  Independents cannot afford to support all of their authors equally, so they devote their time and connections to helping those authors who are already helping themselves.

            I am very pleased with my tiny below-the-radar-screen niche in the world of independent publishing.  I can boast that I am a published author at high school reunions.  My grandmother is proud.  That being said, if you’re a Teutonic media conglomerate interested in offering me an eight figure book deal, or you’re Salman Rushdie and you’d like to do a joint reading, my loyalties to independent publishing might prove reasonably negotiable.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Audio Series: Ryan MacDonald

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.

Ryan MacDonald reads from his debut story collection The Observable Characteristics of Organisms, which was recently published with FC2. He is the winner of the 2012 American Short(er) Fiction Award. His work in art and writing has been exhibited performed or published at Notnostrums, New York Live Arts, Fast Forward Press, the Continental Review, Fountain Studios, Flying Object and elsewhere. He teaches art and writing at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst where he received an MFA in English and an MFA in Studio Art. He blogs at  

Listen to Ryan read BRASS TACKS from his collection by clicking on the soundcloud icon below:

The word on The Observerable Characteristics of Organisms:

In Ryan MacDonald’s stories, most no more than a page in length, we are given glimpses of a father and daughter at the zoo; an isolated man lamenting the absence of TV in his life; two young men atop a fridge at a party, drinking wine. These are stories of marriage and family, of the oddities of the natural world, of college parties, of web-cams and media obsession.

Despite the range of circumstances they reveal, these stories are unified by a brightness of vision, deft observation, and consistently sharp, funny, and unbridled language.

“I love Ryan MacDonald’s stories for their humor and absurdity, their intuitive logic, their beguiling juxtapositions. They are sweet and cruel and plaintive, and they express, in changing terms, our failures and obsessions, the plain ways we neglect and punish and please and love and forget one another.”
—Noy Holland, author of Swim for the Little One First

“Ryan MacDonald's short tales of seemingly quotidian life lead us to the end of the diving board—and then leave it to us to take the plunge into the depths of exploding implications. Everything's normal, until it isn't. Through these stories MacDonald invites us to look around our own lives and wonder what is moving around just beneath the surface and about to break free to surprise or frighten us. A stimulating, intriguing collection.”
—Stanley Crawford, author of A Garlic Testament and Log of the S.S. the Mrs Unguentine

“Do you know what the lurid intermixture of complicated emotions produces, according to Nathaniel Hawthorne? That’s right, it produces the illuminating blaze of the infernal regions. Ryan MacDonald’s glorious shards of prose are both lurid and blazing, and together they comprise an anthology of complex feelings—dream-like, vivid, and never, ever obvious.”
—Chris Bachelder, author of Bear v. Shark and Abbott Awaits

“Concise and contrary, exquisite and eccentric, these stories unsettle, then settle, then unsettle again.”—Susan Steinberg, author of Hydroplane
*lifted with love from goodreads