Monday, September 9, 2019

Tabitha Vohn Takes it to the Toilet

Oh yes! We are absolutely running a series on bathroom reading! So long as it's taking place behind the closed  (or open, if that's the way you swing) bathroom door, we want to know what it is. It can be a book, the back of the shampoo bottle, the newspaper, or Twitter on your cell phone - whatever helps you pass the time...

Today, Tabitha Vohn takes it to the toilet. She is the recipient of the B.R.A.G Medallion and the Awesome Indies Badge of Approval for her novel, Tomorrow is a Long Time. She is a writer, poet, painter, musician, wife, daughter, and friend. She is an advocate of compassion for all living things. Her latest novel They Tried to Forget was just released in July. 

What Tabitha Vohn is Reading in the Bathroom

It all started with the Berenstain Bears. Anything to take a little girl's mind off of going #2!

Now (many moons later), I use my bathroom time to indulge in the kind of guilty pleasure reading that I would not otherwise allow myself: magazines! And recently--even more indulgent than that--old faves. Yeah, that's right; trips through my teenhood.

Jane magazine was my ultimate. It was unlike any fashion/celeb rag I'd encountered and, for a girl in the 90's whose choices were often limited to the likes of Seventeen, Vogue, or Glamour, it was pretty groundbreaking. It was hip before hipster was a thing. Sure, towards the end, it got kinda porn-y and scary, and I wasn't always onboard with their politics; but in early years, it was the bombdigity. Jane was that crazy, unstable, bohemian friend who was alluring and dangerous but you nevertheless wanted to be best friends with. I followed reporters into White Supremacy groups, Hooters (as a waitress), survivalist camps, polygamous groups, women in the Middle East forced to wear burqas...I heard about the music and film and fashion that the mainstream was not talking about. And I read interviews with celebs that were intelligent, thoughtful, and human.

So, for now, I'm enjoying climbing back through the rabbit hole. Maybe it's the comfort of the familiar; maybe a fierce denial of the present. For whatever reason, this trip down memory lane offers a delicious escape (even if it's just from thinking about #2). 

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Jon Sealy Recommends F Scott Fitzgerald

It's been a while since we'd dusted off our Writers Recommend series, dear reader, a fun excerise where we ask 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 an LSA -Literary Service Announcement. 

This recommendation comes from Jon Sealy, publisher of Haywire BooksHe'll be on tour this month in North and South Carolina promoting the release of his latest novel The Edge of America, a stunning thriller set in 1980's Miami about greed, power, and the limits of the american dream.

Jon Sealy Recommends Tender Is the Night

Nearly everybody reads—or is assigned to read—The Great Gatsby at some point, but I’ve always thought Tender Is the Night to be a better novel: longer, richer, deeper, more true to life.

The story is about Dick and Nicole Diver, a glamorous couple living in the south of France. Dick is a successful psychiatrist and, as we learn, Nicole was his patient. He’d fallen in love with her, but he also believed the marriage would help keep her stable—would save her. Of course that kind of marriage is in trouble, and very quickly in the novel Dick becomes infatuated with a young actress. The marriage falls apart: Dick slides into alcoholism and slinks away, hoping for a comeback, while Nicole has her own affair and eventually re-marries.

In some ways, the plot of Tender Is the Night is preposterous—there are murders, affairs, and even a duel at one point—but these rough edges make it feel more lifelike. Life, after all, doesn’t fit neatly into a tidy story.

What really makes it a great book, however, is the way Fitzgerald plumbs into the secret heart of the marriage. On the surface, Dick and Nicole seem like a happy couple, the envy of their friends, but there are cracks in the fa├žade. In one early scene, they host a party in their house, and one of the house guests comes out startled by something she’s witnessed in the bathroom. We don’t find out what she saw, but it’s likely related to Nicole’s mental illness.

One of the other guests admonishes her, “It’s inadvisable to comment on what goes on in this house,” which suggests at least some of Dick and Nicole’s friends sense something is amiss in the marriage. Over the next 200 pages, Fitzgerald explores just what is rotten at the core, and we witness the fascinating shift in power dynamics between them.

I loved The Great Gatsby when I first read it, but revisiting it now in early middle age, it reads like a young person’s book—dazzling, romantic, but with a simple story and a somewhat one-dimensional view of the world. Tender Is the Night is the work of an author who has been kicked around a little bit, and who sees life’s complexity for what it is. It’s the rare book, as Virginia Woolf might say, “written for grown-up people.”

Monday, July 15, 2019

Indie Spotlight: Liz Scott

Today, Liz Scott joins us on the blog, discussing the recent release of her memoir This Never Happened (University of Hell Press, Feb 2019) and how performing from it at her book launch prompted her to reflect on the idea of narcissism. Check it out:

Narcissism: Good or Bad?

My memoir officially launched a couple of weeks ago at the venerable Powell’s bookstore in Portland, Oregon. Standing on that podium in front of some 120 people was a mind-blowing experience so before I could express my gratitude, I needed to admit how challenging the whole thing was for me. I talked about how I had lived most of my life trying NOT to be my mother who was a person of bottomless need and an unquenched desire to be famous—famous as a writer. So there I was, my name on the marque outside the store, having been on a TV show earlier that day, interviewed on the radio the day before and standing in front of 120 people who had come to see me—I was feeling kinda famous and, to my horror, it felt pretty damn good! To quote my own book, it was like I was on “…a grease-lined slippery slope straight down to Crazy Town.”

Which brings me to narcissism. It’s inevitable these days: turn on the news and before long you’ll hear the word “narcissist.” I’m not going to get on my political soapbox now and if you know me, you get enough of my ranting anyway. But as people who know me understand, I have a particular interest in this topic. At a broad level we are culturally fated to grapple with this personality feature. It’s in the American DNA. Ours is an individualistic culture where characteristics like self-reliance, independence, and personal ambition are highly valued. So different from collectivistic countries like Japan that focus on what’s best for the community and where unity and selflessness are valued traits. Doesn’t sound like us, does it. In 1979 Christopher Lasch wrote his famous book, The Culture of Narcissism, and if he were alive today, I bet he’d be writing a sequel because this personality feature seems increasingly endemic.

Then again, maybe it’s just me. I have my eyes peeled for narcissism. As the child of one—probably two—certifiable DSM-V narcissists, it’s the lens through which I view the world and I will lift up every rock if I catch a whiff. I’m on the lookout and I have not reserved that scrutiny for the rest of the world only. I have relentlessly applied it to myself as well. So there I stood on the podium, having written a memoir—a book where I is the topic so isnt that prima facie proof that I, too, am a narcissist? In theory I do believe that we all have a story to tell; that we are each entitled to the space we take up on this planet; that each of our voices should be heard. But the decision to commit my story to paper and send it out into the world has been fraught. Feeling entitled myself to have a story worth telling, that my life is worth the ink, feels perilously close to believing that I am extraordinary.

There’s this old Hasidic tale I heard. When a child is born, the Rabbi says you are to place one piece of paper in each pocket and carry them with you your whole life. One reads: The world was made for you. The other reads: You are but a speck of dust in the universe. The Rabbi instructs that we are to always hold these two seemingly contradictory concepts at one time. For those of us living in reaction to extreme narcissism, it’s easier to believe the speck of dust part. But that’s its own kind of pathology. In the original Greek myth of Narcissus he became so enthralled with his reflection in the waters of a lake that he would not leave for fear of losing sight of his image, ultimately dying from longing and starvation. But what about the person who cannot even look at herself at all, cannot bear to see what is reflected back? Maybe someone who can’t look in the literal mirror in the morning.  Or someone who can’t form a realistic assessment of their abilities. Healthy narcissism is a necessary characteristic in order to develop authentic self-esteem. Without the confidence that comes with a secure sense of self and a healthy level of self-regard, how able are we to meet the rigors of any life? Its vital to recognize and feel gratitude for your gifts and to take pleasure in a job well done. Healthy narcissism is knowing you are awesome (read:okay) without the requirement that others are less awesome. It does not depend on feeling like you are the center of the universe but on the belief that you, along with every other being, have a story worth telling and that you are worth the particular and singular space you take up on this good earth.

Like so many other things, narcissism is on a continuum. The capital N kind is pathological and, if you can, I suggest you limit your interactions with these folks as much as possible. But false modesty, marked feelings of inferiority and an unwillingness to assess one’s strengths and weakness realistically?—also not so great.

I’m working on it.


Liz Scott has been a practicing psychologist for 40 years, helping clients to identify life themes and make sense of the puzzle of their lives. She has brought this focus to her writing in the last fifteen years, first as a short story writer and most recently in her memoir, This Never Happened. She has been published in numerous literary journals and served two terms on the board of Oregon Literary Arts. Originally from New York City, she currently lives and works in Portland, Oregon. You can find more information at

Friday, June 28, 2019

Bronwyn Reviews: Black Wings

Black Wings
Publisher: Veliz Books
Released: 2019

Reviewed by Bronwyn Mauldin

An estranged mother and a daughter with a shared family trauma reunite after many years. Living together in the daughter’s house in Houston, they are still unable to talk to each other about deeper issues after so many years apart. So each begins to tell stories to the daughter’s two young children about their lives back home in Pakistan. Through the telling of their stories, the two women begin to understand each other’s pain and find peace.

Black Wings is about the power of storytelling. Mother and daughter experienced the same tragedy, but each experienced it differently, as we learn through the stories they tell. When tragedy struck, Laila was an adult woman who had made hard choices that gave her a comfortable but unhappy life. Yasmeen was a girl in her teens leading a charmed life where she and her twin Yasir finished each other’s dreams.

This novel is also about how often women’s decisions large and small are made from a defensive posture. Laila gives in to pressure and turns away from the man she loves to marry a man who will save the family business. Yasmeen travels 13,000 miles away to begin a new life in a foreign country in order to avoid her pain. As they walk through a crowded Karachi market, a mother wraps her arms around her daughter, elbows jutting out. When she walked through this market as a young woman, she tells us,  

“Some of my older female cousins used to hold open safety pins, ready to stab men who pushed against their bodies.”

Each of them has a story to tell about a childhood adventure when she sneaked out of the house while her parents were distracted. They tell stories about witches, both imagined and real. While Yasmeen goes through the motions of her life in Houston, her heart remains somewhere else. All the stories she and Laila tell are set in Pakistan.

Yet, when Yasmeen returns to Pakistan with her mother and children, she struggles to rejoin a place some part of her never left:

“[I]n Pakistan, there were no straight lines, no packets with directions that explained the process step-by-step. We dropped our shoes off to the cobbler without expecting a receipt. And when the driver went to collect on our behalf, the cobbler sat on the pavement beneath a tree – always the same place – and our shoes were returned, repaired and polished. To participate in the system, we relied on instinct and history. But I had been away for so long that I had forgotten how to let go of directions and answers.”

This is actually the second edition Black Wings. It was first published 15 years ago by Alhamra Books in Pakistan, and the novel’s opening scene at the Houston airport is as timely in the current travel ban era as it would have been in 2004. While this book is not about geopolitics, it is about the power of the stories we tell. It is about how refusing to understand another’s point of view will harden our own pain, and how listening to each other’s stories can help us overcome the barriers we build between us.

Bronwyn Mauldin writes fiction and poetry and is creator of The Democracy Series zine collection. Her newest short story will appear in Gold Man Review in November 2019. More at

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Where Writers Write: Nicole Walker and David Carlin

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

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

This is Nicole Walker. 

Nicole is the author of Sustainability: A Love Story (2018), Where the Tiny Things Are (2017), Egg (2017), Micrograms (2016), Quench Your Thirst with Salt (2013), and This Noisy Egg (2010). She edited the essay collections Science of Story with Sean Prentiss and Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction with Margot Singer. She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts award and is a noted author in Best American Essays. She teaches creative writing as a professor of English at Northern Arizona University.

This is David Carlin. 

David is a writer and creative artist based in Melbourne, Australia. He is the author of The Abyssinian Contortionist (2015), and Our Father Who Wasn’t There (2010), co-author of 100 Atmospheres: Studies in Scale and Wonder (2019), and the editor, with Francesca Rendle-Short, of an anthology of new Asian and Australian writing, The Near and the Far (2016). His award-winning work includes essays, plays, radio features, exhibitions, documentary, and short films; recent projects include the Circus Oz Living Archive and WrICE. He is a professor of creative writing at RMIT University where he co-directs the non/fictionLab.

Where I (We) Write

The place we started writing our book together was Fairhaven beach, near Melbourne, Australia. It is a pretty good place for dreaming up ideas. Not so good for laptops, so we only wrote it in our imaginations at this point.

David visited Flagstaff after (or before) one of our reconnaissance missions in Tempe, AZ for the NonfictioNOW conference. We hiked in the woods behind my house. We even went for a run! David wore all white because, in Australia, running is akin to playing tennis. It’s tricky to run in the woods of Northern Arizona. Rocks conspire to trip. Still we ran.  Writing in the forest is harder than running, even though it is, of course, the nature lover’s dream to sit under a big tree and write about the way of the world. Instead, we returned to the house. then showered, then came to my house to conspire on our own.

Near Fairhaven beach we are lucky enough to have a small beach house where we could write. The house is on a hill and surrounded by ironbark (eucalypt) trees. This means that one’s writing companions are most likely to be feathered. They look cute, these sulphur-crested cockatoos, but have a penchant for eating wooden railings. He is just waiting til I look away.

I don’t have an office so I write at the kitchen table. David and I wrote from here the day he visited. For dinner, I grilled branzino--the sea bass that’s pervasive in European restaurants. People don’t think you can get good fish in Flagstaff but we have an airport. Whole Foods and Karma Sushi fly fish in daily.

More often I (David) am in the city. We live in inner-city Melbourne. This is the view from outside one of my favourite local cafes, a sometimes writing spot. Looking over at the old milkbar on the corner, which is gradually becoming overgrown with a thicket of graffiti. Down the middle of the street, our beloved Melbourne tram tracks—we are so lucky they never ripped up the tram lines in the postwar frenzy when they thought car travel was the future.

I’ve just received a message that David has arrived in the United States. He is an intrepid traveler. He cured me, when he invited me to give a reading in Melbourne, of long flight fears. Still, in the scheme of things, I’d rather be on my deck, writing in the sunshine than trying to sleep on an airplane. But without airplanes, this book would not exist.

This is my desk at home. Hopefully you can’t read my terrible handwriting. The soft southern light floods in through the window (remember, I am in the Southern Hemisphere!). Outside there is the sound of construction. Cranes all around. New apartments blocks, urban infill. Too much concrete, but soon we will be able to walk to everything, we hope. This is where I sometimes Skype Nicole, and we compare our opposite seasons and opposite times of the day.

This is my writing chair. When David isn’t visiting, and no one else is visiting, and when I have finished with the tuition waiver assignments and the human resource trainings and the Environmental Certificate curriculum revisions, I sit down to write.

As all writers now know, we are not supposed to sit all the time. Sitting is not good for you. This is a challenge for writers. We are supposed to dream of having those treadmill desks, so we can both be walking along and feverishly writing away, at the same time. I have never actually tried one. We couldn’t fit one in, even if we could afford to buy one. So every now and then, I use my ‘standing desk.’ My standing desk is an old chest of drawers in the hallway. I can write there for a while (until my feet get sore), under the amused (or bemused) eyes of the tin toys on the mantelpiece above, who are always happily racing along up there.

But then, I get company, which is lovely, but makes the writing slow-going. 

In Melbourne too, there is daytime company for writers. Sometimes we have an adolescent ringtail possum that will wedge itself into a cosy spot for a long siesta. I like to think of it as the local spirit-animal for asking questions.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

My April in Reading

Here's a review of all of the books that I buried my nose in last month.

Colette Arrand
Split Lip Press
(March 2019)

4 Stars

haunted language, vintage rock, wrapped in a gorgeous cover, what's not to love?

JS Breukelaar
Meerkat Press
(February 2019)

3 Stars

A diverse and intriguing collection of short stories that span genres - horror, sci-fi, and just the right amount of bizarro for funsies - and showcase Breukelaar's range as a writer. 

Favorites include Union Falls' mysterious armless piano player; the subtle story of Ava Rune's white trashiness; the fierce secrets of Lion Man and unlikely friendship that forms in Fairy Tale; and War Wounds' cowboy roughness, for their more straight-forward story telling. 

Stories like The BoxRouges Bay 3013 were a bit too heavy on the strange for my tastes, and Fixed, which was a pretty decent story overall, lost me when (view spoiler). She broke my cardinal rule with that one!

The rest just hovered there nicely, sitting prettily between the covers. A perfect set of stories for someone looking to lose themselves in a collection unlike any other.

Ben Arzate
Cabal Books
(April 2019)

4 stars

A bizarro road trip novel for the, ahem, record books. Oh, c'mon, it's the perfect way to introduce Ben Arzate's debut novel, which is written as a surreal, fictional account of a wanna-be music journalist named Alex who, in an attempt to make it big, decides to hunt down the reclusive and relatively unknown (though wholy non-fictional) artist Y. Bhekhirst.

Stylistically, Ben is a less-is-more kind of writer, so the 134 pages read like a fever dream, jam-packed with minimalist dialogue and breakneck, nonstop action, easily making this a book that could be read in one sitting. The curious cast of misfists includes a ghost trapped in a vinyl record; Alex's BFF Larry, better known as Lobster due to a malformed hand in the shape of a claw; and Alex's girlfriend Primavera. Along the way they cross paths with a mystical shapeshifter, a pissed off cartel, a missonary church that acts more like a portal to other places, and a seriously badass evil boss. No bizarro book is complete without one! In keeping with the book's theme, the chapters are cleverly titled "tracks" and the book even contains a hidden one.

All told, The Story of the Y is a well balanced blend of the silly and the serious, and it's an absolute hoot to read!

Zachary Schomburg
Black Ocean
(April 2019)

3 stars

Not quite on par with Mammother, which I absolutely adored, though wholly unique and absurdly crafted. Broken out into chapbook length sections, I was most drawn to the storylike poems that were contained within Now is a Good Time, and the disconnected but appealing poetry of Oars. Those collected in the section titledHaircut and The Future/The Baby seemed to draw from the storylike format of Good Time while blending the chaos of language from Oars and also drew me in with their mysterious cadence. The parts that were good were really good, and those sections that I failed to name fell incredibly flat and missed their mark completely.

ST Cartledge
Clash Books
(April 2019)

4 Stars

Pixel Boy in Poetry World contains two independent chapbook-length collections of poetry. Within each, the poems align to tell a cohesive story of identity and survival, whether in the surrounding world or the more surreal world they've built inside their heads. Poets and dragons and pixelated tears accompany us as we navigate our way through the pages, following Pixel Boy and Basho on thier journeys.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Page 69 Test: Offline

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

In this installment of Page 69, 

We put Brian Adams' Offline to the test. 

OK, Brian, set up page 69 for us.

The poor girl! Banished by her parents to live a techno-free summer with her gay hippie grandfathers, seventeen-year-old Meagan is forced to attend a Netaholics Anonymous meeting where two hot boys come on to her. Not used to navigating offline relationships, the two have asked her out to the same party and she’s inadvertently said yes to both of them.

What Offline is about:

Offline is a young adult romantic romp through the dark underbelly of technology. Our heroine Meagan is an online dating addict scared to death to take those online “relationships” offline. Falling in with a ragtag bunch of Luddites, Meagan joins a zany softball team, takes the game of Scrabble to a whole new level, immerses herself in the world of invertebrate sex – all the while coming to grips with her raging netaholism and discovering the joys and heartbreaks of offline relationships.

Do you think this page 69 gives our readers an accurate sense of what the book is about?

Much of the humor in the novel comes from Meagan’s missteps and screw-ups as she desperately strives to rid herself of her online addiction and interact with the real world. The novel is heavy on snarky dialogue and clueless teen angst, while highlighting the serious and growing problem of netaholism. This page is one of many chronicling Meagan’s stumbling antics as she slowly unplugs and makes the transition offline.


            I took the phone and whacked myself in the head.

            “Shit!” I cried.

            “What?” Sheila asked. “What just happened?”

            I whacked myself again.

            “I can’t believe what I just did. Oh my God! How could I not have figured out who was who? I am such an idiot!”

            “Tell me!” Sheila said.

            “I just made a huge screw-up. It was Jonathan who I told about the bees. Not Derek.”

            “And . . .”

            “And so it must have been Jonathan who I said yes to the first time. Not Derek.”

            “Jonathan?” Sheila asked. “The other netaholic dude?”  


Brian Adams recently retired after teaching for 20 plus years at Greenfield Community College in western Massachusetts where he was a Professor of Environmental Science and co-chair of the Science Department. Brian is active in the climate change movement on and off campus. He has authored numerous health related brochures distributed nationally by ETR Associates. For his first novel, Love in the Time of Climate Change, which was a Foreword Reviews 2014 IndieFAB Gold Medal Winner for Humor, he drew heavily on his experiences teaching and working with students. Brian lives with his wife in Northampton, Massachusetts and now devotes his time to writing romantic comedies centered around environmental activism.