Monday, October 21, 2019

C.R. Richards' 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, C R Richards  is throwing all the booze at the her upcoming book Creed of the Guardian, which drops on October 18th.

Ready to get your booze on???


Swamp Thing Cider

Creed of the Guardian, Book Three in the Heart of the Warrior series, documents the exploits of Seth the Ice Lion and his faithful squire, Riley Logan as they head to their first duty station with Andara’s Legion. North Marsh Outpost is built upon the only dry spot in the middle of deadly bogs and forgotten ruins. It’s damp, it’s cold and it’s boring.

Seth and the rest of the unlucky Apprentice Rangers spend their time marching in knee deep mud. Cold rain drizzles constantly as they circle about inside the massive stone walls of the outpost. Their only solace is the promise of rum with their meal of boiled meat and vegetables. It’s a dull assignment with bland food.

If I had the chance for a quick visit to the outpost, I’d bring along a special treat to liven things up. It’s Halloween. Why not add a bit of spooky fun too?

Swamp Thing Cider

In a cauldron cursed by three witches, bring the potion to a medium boil for 5 minutes. Then simmer on low heat for 15 minutes.

Apple cider
Cinnamon Sticks (amount depends on the size of your cauldron)

Ladle the prepared cider into a cup. Leave plenty of room for Spiced Rum (Captain Morgan is a good choice)

Omit the rum for your little ghosts and ghouls.

NOTE: If you don’t own a cauldron or aren’t acquainted with friendly witches, then a sauce pan on the stovetop works just fine. Blending this for a party? Try making the cider in a crockpot. Let simmer for 2 to 3 hours.

Happy Halloween!


C.R. Richards’ literary career began when she interned as a part-time columnist for a small entertainment newspaper. She wore several hats: food critic, entertainment reviewer and cranky editor. A co-author of horror and urban fantasy novels, her first solo fiction project - The Mutant Casebook Series - was published by Whiskey Creek Press in 2013. Phantom Harvest (Book One in the series) is the winner of the 2014 EPIC eBook Awards for Fantasy Fiction. Cynthia is an active member of the Horror Writers Association, EPIC and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. For more information about her books, visit her website:

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Where Writers Write: Sheila O’Connor

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 Sheila O’Connor. 

Sheila is the author of six award-winning novels for adults and young people, including, most recently, Evidence of V: A Novel of Fragments, Facts, and Fictions, published in Fall 2019 by Rose Metal Prss. Her other books include Where No Gods Came, winner of the Minnesota Book Award and the Michigan Prize for Literary Fiction, and Sparrow Road, winner of the International Reading Award. She is a professor in the Creative Writing Programs at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she serves as fiction editor for Water~Stone Review. Visit her website here. 

Where Sheila O’Connor Writes

My longing for my own writer’s studio began decades ago during a residency at Norcroft in the small, silent space they’d given me to work.  It was a simple shed with a desk and a chair, and a large window offering a stunning view of Lake Superior.  It’s true I was awed by the majesty of Lake Superior, but what I loved most was the way I left one world—the residency lodge where all the writers resided—for my very private, silent book world safe from distractions.  Even now, decades later, I have a deep visceral memory of leaving behind one world for the book that was waiting in that shed. 

It wasn’t until I received the Bush Artist Fellowship in 2009, that I was able to make my longing for a private, creative space a reality for myself and other writers who needed a space to work.  The plan I had was simple: a shed in my backyard with a window that looked out on the woods that could be shared. 

It was in that small white building in my backyard that my vision for Evidence of V began to find its shape.  Inside my shed, I imagined the talented young V singing on the streets of 1930s Minneapolis; I saw the crowded nightclub where she worked, Mr. C’s room at the Belvedere Hotel.   While snow fell on the woods outside my window, it fell inside my story.  First on Minneapolis, and later on the Minnesota Home School for Girls at Sauk Centre where V was held, and finally it fell over her parole days in Duluth. I have no doubt the overwhelming press of winter in that book came from the constant frozen world outside the shed.

As grateful as I am to have the shed, I’m still indebted to the artist spaces that made a home for me while I was dreaming V to life.  A short stay at WriteOn! Door County.  A month at the Anderson Center at Tower View that allowed me time to transcribe all the fragments of V I’d originally dictated.  The Studium at the College of St. Benedict where I ate dinner with the nuns and spent long silent days trying to write the final missing pieces for the book. 

In my quest for creative privacy and silence, I’ve moved between writing spaces made possible by the generosity of others, including the small white shed that waits in my backyard. There, my dog sleeps while I dream, and the bulletin board my daughter made holds whatever words I need to guide my work, and my son’s gift—the stone that says There has to be a story-- reminds me to keep writing, to trust new words will arrive. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Page 69: Whispers in the Ear of A Dreaming Ape

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 Joshua Chaplinsky's Whispers in the Ear of A Dreaming Ape to the test.....

Set up page 69 for us. What are we about to read?

Haha, oh boy. This is a section from my story, "Supreme Mathematics: A Cipher", which originally appeared in the Wu-Tang tribute anthology, This Book Ain't Nuttin to Fuck With, edited by Christoph Paul and Grant Wamack. It combines the story of a young woman returning home to introduce her child to its father with the numerological belief system of the Nation of Islam. I guess it's what the kids would call "experimental." There's lots of math involved, but it still has a strong narrative element.

The story was inspired by an image from the Jason Banker/Amy Everson film, Felt. That’s all I had for a while, and I didn’t know what to do with it until I joined forces with the Wu. Their devotion to Kung Fu movies and the Five-Percent Nation informed the rest of the piece. Think of it as a hip-hop take on Kill Bill.

Each section of the story consists of an element of narrative, as well as the protagonist's musings on the mystical meaning of a number. Let's just say she doesn't always agree with the interpretations she's been given. What you are about to read is from Part 9, the number 9 representing birth.

What is your book about?

Whispers in the Ear of A Dreaming Ape is a collection of weird genre stories, many of which are a weird mix of genres. It's dark, but I've also been told there's heart underneath all the cynicism. It features singularities, ciphers, and reappearing limbs. Alien messiahs and murderous medieval hydrocephalics. So, something for everyone, really. It's a pretty good representation of where I am as a writer, and of the type of stories I like to tell. Did I mention it was dark? I've already advised my mother that she probably shouldn't read it. 

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

Um... yes and no. Out of context, this is probably one of the more esoteric bits in the book. I can see it being a bit of a difficult sell. But I assure you, readers, this is a book of actual stories! Yes, I have a penchant for playing with form, so in that regard this page is representative, but each and every story in this collection adheres to a traditional narrative arc.

Most of them, at least. 

I like to say my weirder stories are "accessibly experimental." Tonally, though, this is definitely representative of the collection as a whole. 


body from its paralysis with another series of blows. He scurries off into the darkness after his companion.

 Part 9: Birth

 To be Born is to be brought into existence. It takes nine months to produce a Child. No other number gives Birth to itself. 9+9=18(1+8=9). 9x9=81(8+1=9).

 But if nine gives Birth to itself, does that render Man and Woman superfluous? You can’t have a Child without Birth. Can you have Birth without a Child? Does that make the act of conception itself immaculate?

 And what of Rebirth? Surely the gestation periods must vary. Because Rebirth requires a change of heart, a heart which must then also be explored. And no two hearts are the same. Due to the uncertainty factor, these final four chambers are the most difficult to traverse, the hardest lessons for a student to absorb.

 Rebirth times Freedom. 9 hearts x 4 chambers = 36

 The girl resists the urge to rest by the fire. Instead she approaches the gravestone at the back of the property. She slings the mei tai around to her front, the child only just stirring. She holds it


Joshua Chaplinsky is the Managing Editor of He is the author of ‘Kanye West—Reanimator’ and the story collection 'Whispers in the Ear of A Dreaming Ape.' His short fiction has been published by Motherboard, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Thuglit, Severed Press, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, Clash Books, Pantheon Magazine and Broken River Books. Follow him on Twitter at @jaceycockrobin. More info at 

Monday, October 14, 2019

Chris Bauer'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....

Chris Bauer's 
Would You Rather

Would you rather write a book without using conjunctions or have every sentence of your book begin with one?
No conjunctions. Since you didn’t say what kind of book, we’ll go with a children’s picture book, and we’ll leave out all the conjunctions, even in the title. I have one in mind. The rethinking of a classic: DICK. JANE. ZOMBIES. FUN. 

Would you rather write in an isolated cabin that was infested with spiders or in a noisy coffee shop with bad Muzak?
Coffee shop, Muzak, piece of cake. Seriously, if you gave me a piece of cake to go with the coffee and the shitty Muzak, I could probably make it work. And an MP3 player and earbuds. And other snacks. And some insecticide, in case the coffee shop is near the cabin with the spiders.

Would you rather think in a language you could understand but write in one you couldn’t read, or think in a language you couldn’t understand but write in one you could read?
You’re killing me here. This question may well be in English but I still can’t translate it well enough to answer it because it mentions three distinct places involving language: thinking, writing and reading. Best I can tell, we have a writer who is multilingual in one capacity and not multilingual in another, so which shortcoming would he be willing to live with?
So let’s do this: a pivot. Would you rather have pinkeye or blue balls? I’ll take pinkeye over blue balls any day.
(If I have to answer the question, it would be the former—able to think in a language you could understand, etc.—not the latter. I’d lose it if I couldn’t understand my own thoughts.)

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?
The latter. I can always write a second book that isn’t as crappy (don’t we all think we’ll do better the second, third, fourth time around?), especially if the first one makes some good coin and affords me the time and outlet to do it.

Would you rather have everything you think automatically appear on your Twitter feed or have a voice in your head narrate your every move?
You’ve been reading my tweets, haven’t you? Who is this really? I promise to filter my tweets from this point forward. I suppose I’d go with the former. To me living with brain dumps and their impact are far better than paranoid schizophrenia.

Would you rather your books be bound and covered with human skin or made out of tissue paper?
The human skin thing.
BONUS TRIVIA! SCARS ON THE FACE OF GOD, my first published novel, has as a central plot item a real-life 13th century manuscript called The Devil’s Bible that was written on what? ANSWER: Skin! It’s composed of 310 leaves of vellum claimed to be made from the skins of 160 donkeys, or perhaps calfskin.  SKIN IS IN!

Would you rather read naked in front of a packed room or have no one show up to your reading?
The reading naked thing. I always seem to survive the naked thing in my dreams (late for a final exam, didn’t study, I’m commando, then omigod where did my pants go?), so I’ll go with that.

Would you rather your book incites the world’s largest riot or be used as tinder in everyone’s fireplace?
How can anyone not pick riotous chaos versus being burned and lost forever? RIOTOUS CHAOS! LIGHT MY TORCH! RIOTOUS CHAOS!

Would you rather give up your computer or pens and paper?
Give up pens and paper, but this answer really hurts. I love having learned how to write in cursive, and having learned to print properly, but it has to be this way. It’s where we’re headed. Conserves trees, too. Add to this, I’ve gotten looks from my critique peers because I write my feedback in cursive on hard copies of their work. They would be mucho happy if I handed in critiques at our in-person meetings that were all typed. Writing in cursive is dying art.

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?
I’m not a tattoo guy, so I gotta go with the audio. Speaking of which, did I tell you that my political thriller JANE’S BABY came out in audio in August? No? Well yes, it did, and thanks for asking.

Would you rather meet your favorite author and have them turn out to be a total jerkwad or hate a book written by an author you are really close to?
The hate the book thing. An author can’t hit a home run every time. I just saw the movie Can You Ever Forgive Me? The story is about bestselling author Lee Israel falling on hard times so badly that she starts faking letters by famous authors and playwrights and selling them to pay her rent. It’s from her memoir, and in it she makes Tom Clancy out to be just such a jerkwad. Clancy wasn’t my favorite author, but he was still significantly revered. After this movie, maybe not.

Would you rather your book have an awesome title with a really ugly cover or an awesome cover with a really bad title?
Awesome cover art, bad title. We see this every day in many a genre.

Would you rather write beautiful prose with no point or write the perfect story badly? 
Write the perfect story badly. One example: THE DA VINCI CODE. Not perfect, but still a good story, yet arguably not a literary masterpiece. I do confess that I liked it. DON’T JUDGE ME.

Would you rather write only embarrassingly truthful essays or write nothing at all?
No contest here: write the damn essays. I already embarrass myself in so many other ways. Hopefully the essays would be entertaining on some level.

Would you rather be reduced to speaking only in haiku or be capable of only writing in haiku?
This is like asking what part of hell would you like to spend eternity in. I’m not a haiku guy. I’d have to pick the writing one, as sad as that would be for me. I’m not capable of speaking only seventeen syllables at a time.

Would you rather your book become an instant best seller that burns out quickly and is forgotten forever or be met with mediocre criticism but continue to sell well after you’re gone?
Give me mediocre criticism, which I assume also means mediocre success! And to be still selling after I’m gone? Good for my family, so that works for me. Where can I sign up for this mediocrity of which you speak?

Would you rather become a character in your novel or have your characters escape the page and reenact the novel in real life?
I’d rather be a character in my novel, or anyone’s novel, rather than let some of the characters that I create loose in real life. The good guys, okay-fine, no issue, but the bad guys, no, no, no. The stories do have some wonderful moments but they can be disturbing, violent, and at times gruesome, so let’s keep these people on the page only, or on the screen. (The screen. Yes! Having them make it to the screen would work.)

Would you rather have schools teach your book or ban your book?
Teach it. A plausible scenario for that happening? None that I can think of. The language and violent situations that the novel portrays would more likely get it banned.


Chris Bauer is author of BINGE KILLER (October 2019), HIDING AMONG THE DEAD (a Blessid Trauma thriller), JANE'S BABY, and the horror/thriller SCARS ON THE FACE OF GOD, 2010 EPIC Awards runner-up for best in eBook horror. Look for a new novel in the Blessid Trauma series in 2020. He's also editor of and contributing author to three CRAPPY SHORTS short story collections (SKID MARKS, NUMBER TWO, DEUCES WILD). As a Philly native he's had lengthy stops in Michigan and Connecticut, and he thinks Pittsburgh is a great city even though some of his fictional characters do not. He now lives in Doylestown, PA with his wife and supermutts Rory and Maeby Funke Bauer. He likes the pie more than the turkey. His short fiction has appeared in THUGLIT, SHROUD MAGAZINE, and 100 HORRORS, and he's been podcasted by WELL TOLD TALES. He's a member of International Thriller Writers. Find him at,,,,, His tagline: "The thing I write will be the thing I write." 

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

C.S. O’Cinneide'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, C.S. O’Cinneide is throwing all the booze at the her recently released new book Petra's Ghost.

Ready to get your booze on???


C.S.O’Cinneide’s debut novel, Petra’s Ghost, is set on the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile pilgrimage across northern Spain to the Cathedral of St. James. Daniel, an Irish ex-pat has come to walk the ancient path in order to leave his past behind. But the past follows him anyway. In the most sinister way.

Drink up the countryside and culture of Spain while enjoying this chilling ghost story. And while you’re at it, try this spooky Sangria recipe to get you in the mood. Perfect for Halloween.

Spooky Sangria

·         1 (750 ml) bottle red wine
·         1 orange
·         1 lemon
·         1/4 cup sugar
·         2 cups ginger ale
·         1-2 dashes of grenadine
·         I cup black grapes
·         Optional: Brandy
Pour the red wine into a large pitcher. Why not try a Rioja from the famous region in Spain where the rich red earth impregnates the grapes.
Cut the orange and lemon into wedges and squeeze the juice into the wine (don’t forget to remove the seeds).
Add the sugar and then the ginger ale with a good shot of grenadine to colour the drink an even deeper red. Throw in some brandy for an added kick on a cool fall night.
Drop in the black grapes or even some hard candy eyeballs to complete this spooky cocktail and enjoy.


C.S. O’Cinneide (oh-ki-nay-da) is a writer and a blogger on her website, She Kills Lit, where she features women writers of thriller and noir. Her debut novel, Petra’s Ghost, is a dark thriller set on the Camino de Santiago in Spain. The book was inspired by real events that occurred when she walked the ancient five-hundred-mile pilgrimage in 2015. Petra’s Ghost was recently selected as one of the “summer’s best horror books” in a review by the Toronto Star, and was included in the Library Journal’s “Wicked Good Reads” list. 

The Starr Sting Scale, a tongue in cheek noir and her first book in the Candace Starr crime series will be published in February 2020. C.S. O’Cinneide lives in Guelph, Ontario.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Where Writers Write: Donald M. Rattner

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. 

Donald is an architect who writes about how creatives can boost their performance by shaping and using space according to scientific research. His most recent book is My Creative Space: How to Design Your Home to Stimulate Ideas and Spark Innovation (Skyhorse Publishing). Previous titles include The Creativity Catalog and the Parallel of the Classical Orders of Architecture. He has also written for numerous print and online channels, including Work Design Magazine, Better Humans, and Residential Architect.

Donald had fun with this one and submitted a video in leiu of an essay and photos. Check it out!

Where Donald M Rattner Writes

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Where Writers Write: Julie E. Justicz

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 Julie E Justicz. 

Julie earned a law degree from the University of Chicago and received an MFA in creative writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. As an attorney, advocate and writer, Julie currently works on civil rights issues in Chicago. Her first novel, DEGREES OF DIFFICULTY (Fomite, 10/1/19) earned a starred Kirkus review. She lives in Oak Park, Illinois with her spouse, Mary, their two kids, and two dogs. Learn more at

Where Julie E. Justicz Writes

A (Storage) Room (Not) of My Own

Where do you write? 

What’s your creative space like?

Trying to answer these simple questions, I battle the same insecurities that accost me when someone asks what’s my novel about: Will it interest anyone but me? Can I pass the secret literary society test of gravitas? Or will I be exposed as a hack—another dilettante with no right to put pen to paper, fingers to keypad? Do I even deserve “money and a room of (my) own?”

On a good day, my office on the second floor of the old house that I share with my spouse, two kids, and two dogs, could be the habitat of a serious writer. Procreant clay-brown walls are graced with inspiring art: Two of Nancy Blum’s floral Spirograph works, a framed Tom Gauld drawing entitled: Characters for an Epic Tale, and a sepia photograph of an uncharacteristically bookish Amelia Earhartt. Two maple bookshelves are filled just beyond capacity with the works of my favorite writers, including Alice Munro, Marilynne Robinson, Ian McEwan, Jesmyn Ward; the lowest tier holds several books that I should have read by now, but somehow have never completed: James Joyce’s Ulysses, a translation of Gunther Grass’s The Tin Drum, and most embarrassingly, Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. A slim laptop and a journal beckon me from the clean desktop. Come, sit, write.

On a bad day, open my office door and watch out. Don’t trip on that broken toilet seat. Don’t slip on the scattered bills and bank statements waiting to be filed. Avoid the pair of running shoes, smelly socks, and a tangle of electrical cords under the desk. Careful with those three half-empty coffee cups next to the laptop. Speaking of next to the laptop . . . what’s with that can of Dr. Scholl’s “odor fighting foot powder?”

I’d like to think that I have more good days than bad days. Sometimes I tell myself that it doesn’t matter what’s strewn across the floor or on the desktop, that once I’m seated, I’ll get to work putting words on the literal or virtual page. But it turns out that the state of my office is a surprisingly accurate predictor of my ability to write, as well as a concrete manifestation of my writerly self-worth. When I am feeling creative, ambitious, ready to pound out the pages, my office greets me, tidy, clean swept and inviting; maybe a half-dozen fresh cut daffodils stand in a mason jar next to my keyboard. When I am out of synch, stuck, haven’t written in days, maybe weeks . . . well, the clutter accumulates and breeds. My office, never stoic, wears its loneliness and neglect like war wounds.

Turns out that the best way for me to jumpstart the process, to get a few pages written (and I swear this is not pure procrastination) is to start with a thorough cleaning of my room.

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.”