Saturday, October 29, 2011

Review: Oryx and Crake & The Year of the Flood

Listened 9/28/11 - 10/28/11
20 Audio Discs (combined)
3.5 Stars (combined) - Strongly recommended for readers familiar with genre

Back in May, I had the unexpected honor of meeting Margaret Atwood and her agent Phoebe at BEA in NYC. At the time, I admitted to her that, though I consider her a literary idol, I had yet to read one of her novels. I did own 3 of them, however, and that had to count for something, right?

Last month, I finally caved and, after refusing to listen to them for most of my young and adult life, made the decision to join the library so I could borrow audiobooks for my daily commute to work. The first audiobook I took out? Oryx and Crake. I've had the book sitting here, unread, for a few years, and figured this would be the only way to move it up the TBR pile - in a manner of speaking.

I liked the narrator, Campbell Scott, right off the bat. That's important to me. Authors can pen amazing novels, but if the narrator is bad, the book becomes bad. And lord knows I've listened to my share of bad narrators.

The story begins with Snowman, who appears to be the last "true" human, living at the edge of the woods in some undisclosed place with "The Children of Crake" - perfect, immortal, man-made humans, free of all flaws, genetically incapable of feeling jealousy or romantic love - who are clearly dependent on Snowman for guidance and protection, after a devastating plague wiped out the earth's population.

Through the use of flashbacks, Snowman - whose pre-plague name was Jimmy - shares his memories with the reader to help us understand the events that led up to the fall of mankind.

We see the privileged, higher class citizens living in compounds, working like dedicated little ants, running bio-genetic engineering experiments such as splicing fruits, vegetables, and animals to create new and improved breeds; creating skin treatments that remove the signs of aging; modifying pig genes in order to clone human organs; and developing the ultimate guilt-and-disease free sex drug.

We see Jimmy growing up in a broken home, befriending the socially awkward Glenn, obsessing over a nameless girl he sees on a porn video. As their friendship grows, Glenn (the alpha-male) turns his disgust at the destructive nature of Homo Sapiens Sapiens into the drive to build a better human. And we see Jimmy tagging along for the ride.

Oryx and Crake is a subtle warning, a fictional peek at the not-so-fictional end of life as we know it, a future that - in all reality - may very well come to pass if we do not change our ways. Her imaginary splicing and cloning experiment are no longer imaginary, are they? The warring and abuse of the planets resources, the over population... sound awfully familiar to us now, don't they? Men playing God... and taking things much too far...

In her follow up book, The Year of the Flood, we are returned to the same plague infested world, though we see it through the eyes of two women - Toby and Wren - who are members of a lower class cult calling themselves "God's Gardeners". As with Oryx and Crake, the story begins with the women post-plague, and slowly takes us back through the years leading up to the "waterless flood" (as the Gardeners refer to it) through their flashbacks.

An interesting perspective on a story we thought we already knew... an intricate, though incredibly tedious, weaving of story lines - not only between Toby and Wren, but between them, Jimmy, and Glenn. The bigger reveals don't actually occur until well into the first half of the book, and the reader (or listener, in my case) is left struggling to make the initial connections and guess at where everyone fits into the story... which had me feeling quite frustrated for awhile. Of course, by the end, I saw what was coming a mile away, and made connections long before they were revealed.

Where we originally saw the creation of the plague at the corporate level in O&C, TYotF shows us the impact the plague had on the working class, the Gardener's uncanny prediction and preparation of it, and the influence most of these characters had on one another before and during the demise of mankind.

For this audiobook, I was less happy with the narrators. The woman who read for Toby had a grating voice - her speech was rather robotic, with odd upticks at the end of sentences and sharp S's that annoyed me. Wren's reader had a softer, sweeter tone that was more pleasant to listen to.

My biggest complaint, for both novels, is the order in which Atwood decided to tell her story. I wished she had simply told the story of the plague from beginning to end. In O&C, since the story was told from a single point of view, the jumping back and forth in time was easier to follow. In TYotF, with two female narrators who start the story at two different points of time, with two overlapping though different perspectives on the events that unravel, it was initially more confusing and difficult to follow.

A smaller and more personal complaint is my overall lack of connection to any of the characters. I love when authors tease out emotional reactions from me... whether it's positive or negative, I want to be made to feel something for the people I am reading about. In the case of both O&C and TYofF, I felt very little - if anything - for anyone. I found I was listening more to the how's and why's of the stories, rather than listening to the who's...

Don't get me wrong, there was an incredible amount of character development and individual growth throughout the course of the books, but I felt sadly disconnected from them all.

Having said all of that, now that both books are behind me, I have a much greater appreciation for the level of detail and slow, winding, twisting tale she has laid out for us.

A cautionary tale of what happens when we get a little taste of the power and pride of playing god. How far is too far? When is enough enough? Would we see the signs before it was too late? Are we a doomed species? Only time will tell.....

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Review: Dead Men Kill

Read 10/19/11 - 10/21/11
3 Stars - Recommended for readers familiar w/ pulp fiction
Pgs: 95

Funny story. On the first morning of BEA, as soon as we were given the "go-ahead" to enter the expo floor, as I made my way around the right hand corner of the vendor booths, Galaxy Press stopped me in my tracks and began aggressively pitching me L. Ron Hubbard's books.

Upon hearing the name, I inwardly cringed... "Oh no," I thought to myself, "They are going to try to Scientologize me. Run... run and don't look back!". The woman was incredibly polite and I couldn't find the nerve to be rude that early in the day, so I humored her. After she clarified that these were fictional books with no religious affiliations, we discussed the types of books I enjoy reading and she pointed me towards Dead Men Kill - which, while being incredibly pulpy, at least contained zombies.... Folks, I admit that my curiosity got the best of me and I... I... I stepped on the red carpet. God help me, but I did it! (if you've ever been to BEA, you know what I mean...)

I find pulp fiction to be predictable and generically written, but it can also be quite fun. If you can come to terms with the fact that the writing is a bit dated - my absolute pet peeve with dated literature: using the word "ejaculated" as a term for linguistic excitement / blurting something out - and if you can get past the fact that the covers are incredibly cheesy and gaudy, the few hours you spend reading the books will pass in a rompy, enjoyable blur.

Dead Men Kill is a murder mystery at its core. Executives are turning up dead; all evidence points to  strangulation at the hands of their recently deceased secretaries, but how can that be? What is causing the dead to rise? Why are they only attacking their bosses? And is Detective Terry Lane really on the hunt for... zombies?

Of course, it wouldn't be a true cop caper unless the Detective gets tipped off by a saucy, sexy nightclub girl who's got loads of inside information, and is dragged unwittingly into a dark and twisted plot that may or may not have anything to do with a lone receipt from a pharmacy in Haiti. And wouldntcha know it, Dead Men Kill has exactly those sort of ingredients!

If you're looking for a quick, fun, easy-to-swallow read that leaves no question unanswered, this is your book. L. Ron Hubbard must not be a fan of "cliff hangers" or of leaving stories open for potential sequels cause he was quick to solve this mystery and file it away in the drawer forever.

Case Closed!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Better World Books Does it Better

Over the past few weeks, I have had the pleasure of speaking with Erin Levin of Better World Books. I am extremely impressed with their green initiatives and business values. You might have seen me go RT-happy with them on Twitter... and it's for good reason. Did you know that they have already donated over 5 Million books and raised over $10 Million dollars for literacy and libraries, and recycled over 64 Million books? Did you know that they work with libraries to store and sell their unwanted, outdated books, rather than see them end up in landfills?

I have been a Better World Books customer for a few years now. I won't buy used books anywhere else online. Not only do they have competitively priced books, they also donate book for book - for every book you purchase, they donate a book to one of many worldwide programs, and they ship books for free worldwide! I LOVE knowing that my purchases are helping to spread literacy all over the world.

But don't take my word on it. Let's here what Erin has to say about it all:

What it’s like working for Better World Books?

 I LOVE working at Better World Books. It is a dream come true. Why is it a dream come true? I have always felt called to serve. Because of this, I went right into the Peace Corps after graduating college. Working on the ground in developing countries and in poverty at home is so important, but it's not the only answer. After working in Madagascar, I began a career in journalism at CNN. You can make a significant difference telling important stories through the media as well. But I wanted to find a job where I could help people 100% of the time while also sustaining myself. I thought there were only two options - living and working among the poor, or working for "the man." Better World Books is different. We are a Benefit Corporation. A new, sustainable, triple-bottom-line way of doing business. Businesses have a responsibility and a growing space in the social and environmental sectors. It is an honor to work at a company leading the way in this space of working for people, planet and profit together.

What can you tell us about the programs you currently have going on?

We have so many amazing programs at Better World Books. The latest and (perhaps) greatest is our Book for Book promise. For every book you purchase at, we will match with a donation of a book to someone in need. We partner with Feed the Children in the U.S and Books for Africa to give away books responsibly. Feed the Children includes age-appropriate books from us in their food packages to needy families across the country. We are the number one donor to Books for Africa and together give the most college textbooks to the Continent.

Literacy is vital to us at Better World Books. In addition to giving a book away for each purchase, a percentage of revenue of every sale is also donated to these literacy non-profits. To date, we have raised over $10 million for our literacy and library partners and given away over 5 million books. We also partner with college campuses to run book drives and help support the organizations they are passionate about as well. The majority of our funding goes to Invisible Children, Room to Read, Books for Africa, Worldfund and the National Center for Family Literacy.

Finally, we are a green company. We have reused or recycled over 64 million books - that’s over 70 million pounds of books rescued from the landfill. We have also helped libraries to reclaimed more than 720,000 pounds of metal shelving. We even empower our customers to make a difference with carbon balanced shipping options. We partner with 3Degrees, a leading green power and carbon balancing firm to secure verified carbon offsets and RECs from wind farms. Specifically we are using our carbon offsets to support the Tatanka Wind Farm, the largest renewable-energy project in North and South Dakota. This landmark wind farm will generate enough clean energy to power more than 60,000 homes!

Why should TNBBC members purchase their books through your site?

We're one of the best bookstores on the web. You will find the book you're looking for on our site for the same price or better than almost anywhere else, and if you're not 100% satisfied with your experience we will do what it takes to get you there. But your purchase with us goes much farther than the book. It's a purchase with a greater purpose, supporting literacy and business responsibility.

If you're going to buy a book, why wouldn't you want to power a book donation and create funding for literacy with your purchase? You don't need to pay more or change your actions, it’s just part of how we do business. We hope you’ll be pleased and share our story with all of your book-loving friends. If that’s not enough to convert you to a Better World Books shopper, here is a little discount code:

TNBBCBWB = 10% off your first purchase with us

Who came up with that awesome letter that we get from our purchased books?

This letter is kind of like Santa. It showed up like a gift one day and we've been using it since. Maybe it did actually come from a book. Why would you question such things?

We also want to let you know that we love groups like TNBBC. You are getting a community of book lovers talking and sharing about the impact of books. We believe just one book can change a life and the more people that care about raising literacy and education the greater impact we will all make together. Thank you!

What can TNBBC do right now to help Better World Books?

Thanks for asking!

1) You can buy a pre-loved book from us as a gift to yourself while also giving the gift of reading to someone in need.

2) Please “like” us on Facebook and “follow” us on Twitter and engage on our blog. For each new “like” and “follow” we will donate a book to a child in need via Feed The Children. You can make a world of difference with just one click!

3) Share our story with everyone you know. The more people who know about us, donate to us, and buy from us, the more the love of literacy will be available around the world.

Erin is an award-winning advocate journalist. Her production and outreach experience ranges from ABC and CNN to the Peace Corps and non-profits around the world. She is currently the Community and Social Media Manager at the world’s largest social impact online bookstore, Better World Books, and loves every minute of it! Erin is also in production of a documentary feature film about the African Children’s Choir. Traveling, spending time in the great outdoors and volunteering with friends all fill Erin with joy.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Authorageous Event at the KGB

Yes, I know. The event I am writing about took place 13 days ago. I admit it, I am not the most timely when it comes to blogging about events. I'm a bad blogger but I've come to terms with it!

On October 9th, I took the day off from work to attend my new niece's baptism. It just so happened to be the same day that TNBBC fave's Greg Olear and Ben Tanzer were doing a reading at the KGB bar in NYC. I couldn't have planned that any better. And there was no way in hell I was going to miss seeing these two guys performing together.

I snagged my mother mid-afternoon, after leaving the baptism party and my boys behind, and we headed out to Port Authority (my fail safe parking spot for all of our NYC adventures). Port Authority, as you know, is nestled comfortably between 41st and 8th - walking distance from every touristy thing your mind can conjure up. Worringly for me, the KGB event was taking place on 2nd ave and East 4th st. Which meant a trip on the subway. Which meant I had to navigate the subway system on  my own for the first time ever - my mother had never been on the NYC subway trains before so she was no help! (obligatory nervous swallow)

I was terrified of getting it wrong. I've never gotten on the subway without a seasoned NYer holding my hand, and 2nd ave was going to be furthest downtown I have ever been. Wait, is 2nd ave downtown? Or is it uptown? When I'm traveling from 41st, is it considered going downtown because the numbers go down? Or is 2nd ave considered uptown because it's at the top of the number chain? See what I mean? Now, also throw in the fact that the area to which I was traveling had NAMES for streets which would mess me all up, rather than a simple number grid which anyone with a brain can follow? (I can picture Home Between the Pages and Book Sexy Review slapping their foreheads in frustration as I type this!)

I had mapquested transit directions and copied down two options, because I had no clue which underground lines I might end up near. But it didn't help to calm my nerves as my mother and I descended into the bowels of the city that night. I had called Greg Olear, god bless his author soul for humoring this chicken-shit little city traveler, and was hoping to meet him out near the bar before the reading started, so I asked which line he was taking, which was none of the lines mapquest had given me, so I quickly nixed that!

After proudly demonstrating to my mother how to use the metro card machine once underground, I opted to give the R line a shot. (Rather than the ACE, which just looked too fucking confusing.) It required no transferring at all, which made me feel slightly less nervous. And it went off without a hitch. Counting 5 subway stops, we exited the subway and made the climb up to the street, popping out at 8th and Astor. From 8th we walked down (or up?) to 4th, and made it to bar without any issue, and extremely early.

As we waited for Greg to show up, and the bar to open, I got to see my first sky-writing in process. I have no clue what was "Now Open" but it was pretty neat to see the airplane write it all out as we waited. Only in NYC, right?

And then Greg showed up and the bar lights came on.. and in we went!

KGB is really tiny and dark and intimate. The walls are a deep deep red, the room was lit by candlelight, and there were creepy ass pictures all over the walls. As we sat together and watched the room fill up, Ben Tanzer arrived and much hugging and "so good to finally meet you in person's" were had, and then the readings were underway.

I was nearly knocked out of my seat when the KGB bar event was kicked off with the hostess introducing Greg Olear's novel Fathermucker using a snippet of my review! I wish I had caught that part on film because I barely believe it myself!! But I did happen to catch Greg's reading on video, and here it is for your listening pleasure:

Since this was Greg's event, and since it revolved around Fathermucker, it was dubbed Dad’s Night Out: An Evening of Readings by Literary Fathers. The authors were all fathers, and most of the readings revolved around fatherhood or having kids...

The next two readers were Darin Strauss (More Than It Hurts You, The Real McCoy, Half a Life) and Matthew Norman (Domestic Violets). I haven't read either author yet. Darin's novel was really depressing - about a young guy who caused a car accident that killed a young girl - and Matthew's novel has been on a lot of book bloggers lips this season. He read the first chapter which is all about a middle aged man's disgust at his own penis. It was quite hilarious.

The final author was Ben Tanzer, and he read from You Can Make Him Like You, and of course I recorded that reading as well:

It was really cool to hang with both of them. The atmosphere at KGB was amazing and the authors all sounded great. I thought Greg and Ben stole the night, and the audience was totally eating them up!

To top things off, at the end of the event, I spied Diana Spechler, who had recently joined TNBBC on Goodreads for an Author/Reader Discussion of her novel Skinny. We chatted as a group for a bit, then split up - the authors heading out for drinks and me and mom heading for home.. I had work the next morning and a long ass drive ahead of me, assuming we could find our R line and get the hell out of the city first!

Of course I couldn't let the night end without photo evidence:

(Me, Diana, Greg, Ben)

This night goes down in author-awesome-history! God I love these guys .......

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Review: My Father's House

Read 10/15/11 - 10/19/11
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended (with tissues at hand)
Pgs: 171
Publisher: Main St. Rag

So. You know how I've been reviewing Ben Tanzer's books for awhile now, right? And you know how I think this guy can do no wrong as an author, right? Ok... just so we're clear...

My Father's House is the newest of Ben's books, published this August through Main St. Rag. Dealing heavily with one son's worry, anxiety, and grief over the slow, cancerous death of his father, it was almost too uncomfortably intimate for me.

I don't have to know Ben well to know that a lot of what he has written here was drawn from personal experience. It cuts too close to the bone to be truly fictional. As I read My Father's House, I saw it as Ben's way of publicly expressing what it is like to lose a parent to the front row horror show that is Cancer. It felt like a cleaning of the slate and of properly saying goodbye. And I felt it was a true reflection of the chaotic feelings that rush through you from moment to moment, day to day, when preparing yourself for the ultimate and unavoidable loss of someone you can't imagine living without.

About nine years ago, I lost my step-father to cancer. I watched him fight and struggle and recover and fight some more. I saw him beat out the odds and break the doctors anticipated life expectancy only to slowly suffer and fade away from us, and Ben's book brought all of those old thoughts and inner-emotions rushing back to me.

In his novel, his unnamed character deals with his grief and simultaneously stuffs his emotions by lacing up his shoes and running, or heading out the bar to get loaded, or fucking other women (or, more truthfully, one particular nutcase) behind his wife's back. He tells stories about his father to anyone who will listen. They refuses to open up to each other, though, and say the things that they knows they should.

This book is a departure from Ben's much lighter-hearted look at socially awkward thirty-somethings in a pop culture saturated world. It should come with it's own Kleenex warning - "Keep Tissues Close When Reading". Though I very rarely ever get choked up while reading a book, this one had me close... I was right on the edge towards the end, as the reality of things really start setting in for our narrator.

It's a positive sign, for me, when an author connects with you in such an emotional way; when you are able to find something that you can relate to and empathize with. It's not often I can put myself (halfway) in their shoes....

Here's a cute interview of Ben, conducted and recorded by his son, on the novel:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Audio Review: The Halloween Tree

Listened 10/11/11 - 10/14/11
3 Stars - Recommended for readers familiar with audiobooks
2 CD's

Ray Bradbury and I have a strange author/reader relationship. Fahrenheit 451 is one of my favorite novels of all time, where he forecasted a dark and dangerous future where books were banned and owning one could cost you your life. I found myself on the fence with The Martian Chronicles, where we colonize Mars and find ourselves face to face with Martians who look just like us. A fan of the film version of Something Wicked This Way Comes, I just couldn't get into the book. It felt like something was missing....

But it's October, and I've recently become obsessed with audiobooks, and my library had The Halloween Tree sitting there begging to be borrowed. What better way to get into the Fall frame of mind than listening to the story of 8 little boys who end up traveling through time to find their friend Pipkin, who was kidnapped by death on Halloween night, while they learn about the history of Halloween - the origins of the Mummy, Witches, Gargoyles, and Ghosts. What better way to give Ray Bradbury another shot?!

For starters, the audiobook version was the first I'd ever listened to that had more than one reader: Mr. Moundshroud, the man who lived in the big old scary house with the Halloween Tree in his backyard, the story's narrator, and each of the little boys were all read by someone different. There was also a slew of sound effects and music, both creepy and fitting.

The story itself was odd and a bit preachy. It didn't feel entirely fleshed out, a bit gappy and a bit rushed. I'd read somewhere that the editor had a field day with the original manuscript, chopping huge parts out and turning it into more of a young adult story than Bradbury had initially intended.

Overall, the audiobook's atmosphere meshed well with the falling leaves and chilly weather. And its short for an audio, all crammed into two cd's. If you've read it, I would recommend giving the story a listen!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Book Giveaway: In the King's Arms

TNBBC has another cool giveaway to offer!

To celebrate it's recent release,
Sonia Taitz will be appearing over at TNBBC on goodreads
on November 15th to discuss her novel 

and we are giving away 3 domestic copies 
to get the discussion going!

(Domestic means US Residents only)
(Sorry International Peeps!)

Here is the Goodreads description:

Lily Taub is the brilliant, beautiful and headstrong American daughter of Holocaust survivors. Seeking relief from their traumatized world, Lily escapes to Oxford University, where she meets Julian Aiken — black sheep of an aristocratic English family. When Lily is invited to the family’s ancestral home over Christmas vacation, her deepening romance with young Julian is crossed by a shocking accident that affects them all. Julian must face the harsh disapproval of his anti-Semitic family, who consider Lily a destructive force, not only in Julian’s life, but to their own sense of order. In the King's Arms is a lyrical, literary novel about the healing possibility of love.

Sound like something you would like to read?
Here's how to enter....

1 - Comment here stating that you would like to receive a copy of the book, and explain whether you believe that love can conquer all.

2 - You must be a resident of the US and leave me a way to contact you (email is preferred).

3- Agree to participate in a discussion with Sonia about her novel during the weeks of November 15th - 30th.
(If you win, the thread for the discussion will be emailed to you before November 15th)

 Winners are chosen randomly and will be announced here and via email on October 22nd. 

 Good luck!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

James Boice on "Being Indie"

On "Being Indie" is a monthly feature that will be hosted here on TNBBC. It is my hope that we will meet a wide variety of independent authors, publishers, and booksellers as they discuss what being indie means to them.

James Boice is not an independently published author, though he absolutely considers himself an "indie". His three novels - MVP, NoVa, and The Good and the Ghastly - were published by a Big Six imprint, but I bet you haven't read him yet. And that's a shame. He deserves to be the next big thing!

His writing brings the violence, rocking it like a swift, bloody kick to the head. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.

Why I Am Indie Even Though I Am Published by Satan (or China)

Not too long ago I was in a JCPenney for some reason and there was a mannequin displaying an “indie rock” outfit one could buy—western shirt, CBGB shirt, pre-faded jeans. Any questions I had about whether the term indie still meant anything were laid to rest.

The term indie, however, still connotes something, and it is this: underdog. A piece of art that does not have the support of the forces and powers of the universe, an artist working alone, the odds stacked against him or her—this is what we mean when we say indie. That is why we like indie—because we like underdogs.

You can be an underdog in many ways. If your resources are iffy, if your budget is low, if your art is difficult or uncompromising or even just sincere, then I believe you qualify as an underdog and are therefore what we mean when we say indie.

I have had three novels published by Scribner—which is an imprint of Simon & Schuster, which is one of many objects residing in the vast portfolio of the CBS Corporation which is a massive media conglomerate probably owned by something bigger and scarier, some mysterious multinational that will turn out to be an alias for the Moonies or Rupert Murdoc or China or, I don’t know, Satan or something. And yet I am indie. Indie meaning underdog.

Here is why: There is a relatively big, moneyed mainstream apparatus behind my literary fiction novels and you still have never heard of me. I have published short fiction in everything from barely-known lit quarterlies to Esquire. My books have sold a few thousand copies each. I make very, very little money from writing. The indie lit apparatus thinks I am too mainstream because I have a big mainstram publisher, so they ignore me, assuming their support is more needed elsewhere. The mainstream lit apparatus—e.g., NPR, New York Times, et al—ignores me too, for whatever reason.

My novels tend to be about the dark, pathological side of humanity. They are not the kind of novel that exist just to make you feel good about a world we have no business feeling good about. I am physically repulsed by schmoozing, I am constitutionally unable to pander, I start barfing if I blab about myself, I avoid literary scenes and magazine launch parties and am friends with almost zero other writers, I do not enjoy readings (attending them or doing them) and only do them when I have a book that has just been published. I kneel at no altar, I swear no allegiances, I am short-listed for no prize, I am endowed by the grant of no foundation.

What I do do: I write books and try to write well and say true things. That is where I channel my energies and concerns.

There are a number of people who really, really get what I do. We are kindred spirits. It is good to know they are out there. They are the reason I keep writing. And I rely almost entirely on their word-of-mouth for support.

As a fiction writer working in 21st American society—a society that cares about literature as much as it cares about waste management—no matter what corporate conglomerate owns or does not own the apparatus publishing or promoting (or not promoting) my work, I expect to always be the underdog, to be accepted neither by scene nor mass audience, to be given at most only minimal and begrudging support by whatever gatekeepers there are.

In other words, I will always be working independently, as every artist should. That was the original point of people starting indie presses and indie record labels and making indie films: to stay true, to exist on one’s own terms and create for the sake of the art and nothing else.

As long as you are doing that, working on your own terms, regardless of the venue, no matter what, you are an underdog, you are indie.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Review: Hidden Camera

Read 10/5/11 - 10/12/11
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended
Pgs: 217
Publisher: Dalkey Archive

Every once and awhile, I stumble across a blog post or lit magazine article listing "the best books you're not reading".  I discovered Hidden Camera by just such a list, though you'll have to forgive me for not remembering who wrote it and where I read it.

How this book flew so far under my radar for so long (it was originally published back in 2003, and rereleased in 2005) is beyond me, since it's right up my alley in terms of writing style.

This cerebral novel takes place over the course of just one evening - beginning when our rather bland, home-bodied narrator returns home from his job as an undertaker and carrying him through the night from one strange destination to another. This creepy scavenger hunt of sorts starts when our narrator finds an unmarked, unaddressed envelope stuffed into his door, requesting his presence at the Film Archive for an unnamed showing that takes place within the hour. Curious, after spending much of that hour mentally deconstructing the intent of the mysterious envelope and it's even more mysterious origins - our narrator heads out on foot to see what it's all about.

Upon his arrival, he discovers only one other person in the theatre, a woman whose face is obscured by a rather large brimmed hat. And the show they came to watch? Why, it's a movie of him sitting on a park bench during his lunch hour, reading a book, completely unaware that his is the subject of a hidden camera.

Once the film ends and the house lights come back on, in a state of confusion and mortification, he realizes that the woman is no longer seated beside him. In fact, she is no longer in the theatre. Baffling as that is, he is even more baffled upon noticing another unmarked envelope that sits on his lap inviting him to a second hand bookshop across town in less than an hour, and he suddenly becomes convinced that the hidden cameras are still rolling.

And so our narrator begins the seemingly endless and increasingly curious journey from bookshop, to zoo, to underground elevator, to a church and it's odd tombstones, all at the silent request of two strangers..... and all  because he refuses to lose face and walk away from the opportunity to redeem himself in the eye of the camera, and in the hopes of encountering the woman in the large brimmed hat again.

This book is one incredibly amazing mind-fuck. Taking place almost completely within the mind of our undertaker, we experience everything in much the same way he does. There is very little conversation at all; in fact, our narrator takes extreme measures NOT to talk to anyone as he heads from one place to the next.

Is he going nuts, you wonder? Can this shit really be happening? Has he died, perhaps, and this is some freaky ass purgatory - which would be hilarious since he informs us that he doesn't see a link between death (something he is intensely close with) and birth (something he has no experience with, disregarding his own, which he cannot recall)? Or a dream? Yes, it must be a dream, right?!

The writing is wonderful; reminiscent of my favorite author, Jose Saramago, similar to him in the way he weaves an entire story out of one small, trivial thing.... In this case, an envelope tucked into a doorjam. Had the undertaker chosen to throw it away, like so much unwanted advertisements and junk mail, the story would have ended before it even began. It's the ease at which Zoran Zivkovic tells us the story, the pace at which it unravels itself, the subtle tension that eats away at your insides.. he hooks you before you even realize you took the bait.

Reader, beware.... look no further lest ye wish to be spoiled.....

You have been warned!

I have my theories. Knowing that our narrator is an undertaker and that he has strong beliefs - due to his line of work - that there is nothing after death, I found myself beginning to view the two strangers as ghosts before I was even aware of it. They seemed to know his every move, they seemed to anticipate what he would do next, and where he would end up. They are capable of moving silently, quickly, of setting up and breaking down "sets" without being seen or heard. They create impossible scenarios for our narrator, and yet they are possible because he is experiencing them. It just seemed otherworldly to me. In this light, it felt quite like a Christmas Carol, simply substitute Mr. Scrooge and his crappy attitude towards the human race and replace him with our narrator and his failure to see that there is activity after death. I saw these two strangers as the ghosts that show our narrator the error of his ways... instead of whisking him away from location to location, they tease him with envelopes and get him to go of his own accord, bait him with his own curiosity and polite manners.

Then I began viewing our narrator as the ghost. Perhaps he had died at work, and his spirit returned home to find the envelope - in a Sixth Sense kind of "I don't know I'm dead and I continue to believe I am still living" sort of way. The envelope then being a way to tether his spirit and force him to perform tasks, and come to terms with his own death, in order to cross over to the  land of the dead. The woman in the large brimmed hat then being his spirit guide, a living person who was helping him cross over. And still, this sticks to my theory of him being shown that there is activity after death, since he is the ghost, the one with post-death experiences....

The ending was quite ambiguous and though that usually bothers me, for this book I was ok with it. Because while it doesn't tell you exactly what the heck was going on all night, it certainly makes me feel like what I thought was happening, one or the other of my theories, is still a possibility.

Have you read this? I would love to find out what you think of it, and what you took from it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Scranton's "Pages and Places" Book Expo

I always enjoy killing my one weekend day off in a blur of bookish things. Usually, I'm heading out to Bethlehem every other month for their big library basement sale, or Allentown for the Fall AAUW book sale. It's not often that truly big book events find their way out by my neck of the woods.

I've known about the Scranton "Pages and Places" Book Expo since last year - though its first appearance was the year before that - but at the time I just didn't feel the draw. This year, however, I thought I would take the 30 minute drive out there and take a peek.

Were there Pages? Yes. Yes there were. An average amount of books - both fiction and non-fiction - mostly about local events and history, by local authors it would seem.

Were there Places? Uhm... sure. Ok. You could say that places were brought to you, I suppose. But you really didn't go places, unless you count crossing the street as "going places"...

Was it truly a Book Expo? Sadly, I didn't think so. It was an incredibly small event. I wish I could say it was small in a cozy way, but really, it wasn't. Only a handful of publishers were on display outside - Harper Collins being the only one I'd even heard of - though perhaps that had something to do with the weather? It was chilly and gray and the clouds were moments away from drenching the handful of passerby's meandering in the square. And I know that Harper has a warehouse somewhere in the belly of Scranton so it was really only a hop, skip, and jump from the expo to their front door.

I wish it had been more like the Brooklyn Book Festival... with hundreds of vendors, and endless free panels to attend featuring larger named authors. Perhaps they are building up to that? Sloooooowly?

The Book Expo also boasted a Civil War street fair, sure to entertain the entire family with things like face painting, sidewalk chalk art, and activities for the little ones. There was a guy juggling balls, and some ladies dressed up in period costumes, and a blanket laid out in the grass with the instruments, games, and utensils they used back during the war. While I thought it was meh at best, my little guy found a way to kill some time by drawing Spongebob and Patrick, snubbing all of the other arts and crafts they had on offer.

The highlight of the entire event was sneaking across the street to the Northern Light Expresso Bar, snagging a hot drink, and meeting Laura Ellen Scott - author of the newly released Death Wishing! We had been talking about "Pages and Places" on Twitter the night before and exchanged numbers, and I was very much looking forward to chatting with her about her book, and the website she created as an extension of the novel, Wish Tank (if you scroll down to wish #12, you'll see mine!!!) .

She was extremely warm and wonderful, and gave me some insight into how and why she wrote the book. We also discussed the workshops she teaches, and Stephen King, and Steve Himmer... and she replaced my arc copy of her novel with the published paperback and signed it for me.

When Laura headed out to one of the expo's ticketed workshops, I decided to split. And not a moment too soon, either. As I was driving out of Scranton, big fat raindrops began spattering across my windshield.

Do I think I would go back to Scranton's "Pages and Places" Book Expo next year? Most likely not. Though I could be persuaded to return if there was another opportunity to hang out with an author or two.... it is just around the corner, after all.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Review: Memoirs of a Violent Sleeper

Read 9/28/11 - 10/5/11
2 Stars - Not Recommended as an intro to indie lit genre
Pgs: 245

As most of you are aware, there are countless perks to being a book blogger. We get to meet authors and publishers, get invites to book events and expo's, and are in the unique position of having books pitched to us for review.

When we choose to accept those books, it is done carefully, with consideration of the genre and the anticipation that the book will be a good fit personally and for our blog.

It's never easy to write a review that is less than glowing, and even more difficult to do so when you have had contact with the author. Just knowing they will be reading this would be enough to make a blogger hesitate.
(Stop.... back away from the computer... slowly... slowly...)
(Maybe if I remove the book from my goodreads "currently reading" shelf, they'll never know I started it...)
(Maybe they'll forget they sent it to me, and won't remember to follow up on its status...)

This book, Memoirs of a Violent Sleeper, was pitched to me - and accepted - before I had gotten to know the author, so I feel that the book deserves a review, and hope that its author can find some constructive feedback to take back with him as he works on upcoming projects. Matt is a cool dude, and has an incredibly creative mind. He cranks out short stories like nobody's business. You may have seen the one we posted last month for our Tell Me a Story Feature? I owe him my honesty... and heck, doesn't everyone...?

Memoirs premise is what caught my attention, initially. It's about a guy who was diagnosed with a violent sleep disorder at a young age and how, as the years pass, he has allowed this disorder to define him as a person - withholding love from his family, friends, and much to his dismay, any women he may become romantically attached to out of fear of the illness. As you can imagine, there is much emotional turmoil, which manifests itself through drug and alcohol use and an unhealthy hunger for prostitutes.

The main character, Steven, is really hung up on himself - in a "I have this horrible affliction, no one understands me, woe-is-me" kind of way - and has this "fuck you" attitude about everything, until he falls head over heels for the gothy coffee girl that works with him. 

And the story itself was interesting. It has a tremendous amount of stuff going for it. Unfortunately, the writing and poor editing made it difficult to remain invested in it as a reader. Keep in mind, I do not usually let things like misplaced commas ruin a good read for me. God knows I need all the help I can get with my own grammar. But in this case, the entire book was plagued with odd phrasing and use of tense, along with willy-nilly comma placement.

Ex: Holding my, now empty, mug, asking, begging to be replenished, I look back at her. 

Matt also has this incredibly strange habit of narrating every little move and step his characters make. I say "strange" because it puts the author in a tough spot throughout the entire novel. What if the character takes the top off of the jar? You now need to make sure you write in the fact that he replaced the top, or else the reader will think he forgot, or that he's a radical kind of guy who opens jars all day long and leaves the lids off..... Does he not have faith in our ability to realize that in order to pour the drink, he had to remove the top and then replace it? Or in the case of the example below, does he question our ability to imagine that, in order to leave the parked car, the character must perform each one of these things in this exact order for the parking to be considered complete?

Ex: I Park, grab my phone, pull the keys, get out clicking the lock button on the door, shut the door, and run up the stairs, skipping several steps on the way up (pg.159)

The book was screaming for an editor from start to finish. And since this is the first book I've read from Creative House Press, I cannot say whether this is typical of their publishing company or not. But I have read other works by Matt, and I had to fight the urge to pick up a pencil and start rewriting sections of the novel as I went along. The magic is in there, but it's hidden under things that could easily be set aside or explained differently.

In the end, I think that this book suffered mostly due to lack of editing. I see it more as a rough first draft... something that was feverishly written and in need of a second, more thorough look before being published. There is something of a diamond in the rough here. More rough right now, less of a diamond, but still....

Matt has included two chapter excerpts on his website, which I would encourage you read. It will give you a  good feel for his style of writing. You may decide that I am out of my mind, and that I am needlessly tearing apart a perfectly good book. Which, in all honesty, could be true. If the goodreads reviews are anything to go by, I am clearly in the minority.

Though, I would caution you against reading this novel if it's your first experience with an independently published novel, as its quality is not representative of most indie published works of literary fiction.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Review: Fathermucker

Read 9/20/11 - 9/28/11
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended
Pgs: 310

Ok. I'll admit it. When I hear about books that revolve around the events of one single day, I cringe. I do. But I have good reason to. Saturday bored my socks off with it's hum-drum, well-to-do, fancy pants poshness while Fight For Your Long Day - an enjoyable read, don't get me wrong - crammed way too much stuff into one day to make it believable.

So experience tells me that the day in the life of novels never seem to find that happy medium between keeping me entertained while also keeping things realistic. Is it an impossible literary feat? Is it the Holy Grail equivalent of storytelling?

Not to fear folks! Greg Olear has found the magic combination with his "day in the life of a stay-at-home-dad" dramedy Fathermucker. It's a book that quickly worms its way to your heart while fingering your funny bone!

Josh Lansky works hard... at keeping his two preschool aged kids dressed, fed, and free of closet monsters while his wife is away on a week long business trip. On the day before his wife is due back, while hanging out at his daughter's morning playdate, one of the mom's drop a bomb on him : "I don't know how to tell you this, so I'm just going to tell you... It's about Stacey... I think she's having an affair."

As soon as the words leave her mouth, his daughter bangs her head and begins to cry. In the chaos that ensues, Josh fails to find out more details and ends up leaving in a daze. The rest of the day is a whirlwind of worries and concerns - dealing with his emotions and confusion and paranoia and inability to get ahold of his wife. Is she truly cheating on him? With who? When? How long has it been going on? How could she do that to him?

As he struggles to contain his inner turmoil, he also has to remain attentive to his children's needs - especially his son, who has Asperger's and is still quite dependent on him and prone to sporadic outbursts. He's got to make it through a field trip at the preschool, a play-date at the park, dinner, and bedtime without suffering a nervous breakdown or caving into his insecurities...

Fathermucker is a mosaic of fatherhood. It's clearly filled to the brim with pieces of Greg's own experiences and it tenderly balances the good with the bad, the funny with the serious, the parental frustrations with the silliness of childhood.  What is more hilarious than hearing your daughter tell you that she doesn't want to wear underwear to bed so she can air out her china? Or getting your kids to brush their teeth at bedtime by threatening them with the fear of developing "corn teeth"? Or promising to bring your son to Lowe's to buy him the newest edition of a home floorplan magazine if he behaves while you're out running errands? How could you make that stuff up?!

(I knew a guy who used to threaten his kids with "no milk at dinnertime" as a punishment for misbehaving! I'm not kidding!)

Oozing with pop culture goodness (it wouldn't be a Greg Olear novel without pop culture references), Greg not only addresses the old-fashioned stigma of SAHD's... he cleverly crumples the stigma into a ball, throws it into the air, and knocks it out of the park, giving the whole kit and kaboodle a new name and meaning!

Greg makes being a full time father cool again.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Book giveaway: Volt

TNBBC is nearly beside itself with joy - 
Alan Heathcock will be participating in our Author/Reader Discussion series in November!

In order to stimulate discussion, we are offering 10 domestic copies of 
his short story collection Volt!!!

(Domestic means US residents only)
(Sorry, international peeps!)

Here's the Goodreads Description
A blistering collection of stories from an exhilarating new voice One man kills another after neither will move his pickup truck from the road. A female sheriff in a flooded town attempts to cover up a murder. When a farmer harvesting a field accidentally runs over his son, his grief sets him off walking, mile after mile. A band of teens bent on destruction runs amok in a deserted town at night. As these men and women lash out at the inscrutable churn of the world around them, they find a grim measure of peace in their solitude. Throughout Volt, Alan Heathcock’s stark realism is leavened by a lyric energy that matches the brutality of the surface. And as you move through the wind-lashed landscape of these stories, faint signs of hope appear underfoot. In Volt, the work of a writer who’s hell-bent on wrenching out whatever beauty this savage world has to offer, Heathcock’s tales of lives set afire light up the sky like signal flares touched off in a moment of desperation.
And if you want to know what I think, check out my review!

Would you like to hear Alan reading from his novel? Here's a portion, recorded by yours truly at the 2011 Brooklyn Book Festival, of Alan reading from his short story SMOKE:

Like what you hear? Want to enter to win a copy? 

The contest will run through October 8th

Here's how to enter:

1 - Comment here stating that you would like to receive a copy of the book.

2 - You must be a resident of the US and leave me a way to contact you (email is preferred).

3- Agree to participate in a group read book discussion that will run during the entire month of November  over at TNBBC on Goodreads. Alan Heathcock has agreed to participate in the discussion and will be available to answer any questions you may have for him.

*If you are chosen as a winner, by accepting the copy you are agreeing to read the book and join the group discussion at TNBBC on Goodreads (the thread for the discussion will be emailed to you when before November 1st).

 Winners are chosen randomly and will be announced here and via email on October 8th. 
 Good luck!

Tell Me A Story - Daniel Shortell

Welcome to another addition of TNBBC's Tell Me A Story. 

Tell Me a Story is a monthly series that features previously unpublished short stories from debut and Indie authors. The request was simple: Stories can be any format, any genre, and any length. And many amazing writers signed up for the challenge.

This month's story comes to us from Daniel Shortell. He is the author of Where's Unimportant, a novel about a perpetual wanderer who finds himself tied down in a Manhattan-based soul-sucking career. The novel has been called "Amusingly sarcastic" and "Thought Provoking ". Daniel, a world wanderer himself, has put pen to paper to tell you all a different kind of story....


On When It Is NOT OK To Stab Someone In The Face

Staring down his opponent, the fact that this may be his last fight feels very real. A long career culminates into a moment defining legacy or obsolescence. A single loss on the minor circuit during his climb to the top, a technicality, killed the match before it began. Since that time, perfection, an absolutely flawless record. Never mind, perfection isn't reality and reality is rarely what it seems anyhow. This moment is all that  matters, this moment is his future, Rick "Painmaker" Johnson.
Rick sees Alonso, hell, Rick has been living and breathing Alonso for the past two months. Hour after hour of video reviewed, strategy refined, tactics played out on bloody, sweat-covered mats. A singular focus, stay alive; just make it to the end. Rick thinks of Elaine, then, just as quickly as the thought arrives, he pushes it away and regains eye contact with Alonso. Rick has learned to temper his emotions. He does not look at Alonso as an enemy, or even a threat. He is an obstacle, a physical specimen blocking the entrance to a tunnel. A door in life that must be walked through. A fear that must be faced. Rick thinks of his kid, Miles, and that little sticky lump forms in the back of his throat. Swallow. Gone, at least partially. Back to focus, back to Alonso "Wrecking Ball" Suarez.
Rick tells himself to quickly review his training, bask in it for a moment, prod, or better yet, stoke, his confidence. Origins in boxing. Years of mixed martial arts and 25 straight wins in the UFC. More recently, underground experience in the cages of Brasilia, raw jujitsu, no rules. Plenty of experience from which to draw and plenty to be confident about. Secure in his abilities, but childish in his methods of testing those abilities. Violence just always seemed to come natural, a perverse sort of contradiction to a coddled upbringing. Painmaker. A moniker earned in some focus-group-like method of character creation. A fierce, hard veneer to protect the warm, fatherly core.
Rick focuses on Alonso's weaknesses. He's not good on his back. He has a shorter reach. He's younger, less experienced. Rick shuts his eyes momentarily and speeds through as many situations as he can conjure up in ten seconds, developing counters to all perceived offences. The screams of the horde fade to silence and Rick's racing heart forces deeper breaths, more oxygen. A bouncing opponent looks on, focused, resolute. The bell.
Officer Jim Packer sits at his desk, reflecting on the previous week's activities. Chasing bookies around Queens and the Bronx, shaking down suspected contenders, assigning detectives to tail known promoters to get some semblance of the weekend's shape. Nearly all leads came up short, and, with so little evidence to go on, Packer resigns himself to a weekend of failure. Despite his best efforts, the matches will go on, money will change hands, lives will be made and lives will be dismantled. Just another weekend of illicit activity.
Packer has orders to follow which direct his action, decide how he allocates his time each week. He used to form opinions about the matches, but, over time, it has become easier to dismiss these thoughts and focus solely on his responsibilities as dictated by the terms of his employment. This is very convenient for Packer because morals no longer weigh and his point of view is rendered irrelevant. Only his job matters. It's not so much a parcelization of life, rather, it is a means by which to be a more effective custodian of the law: follow protocol based on the assumption that the system we operate within is fair and just for all. Period. If he gets any last minute leads, he will jump on them regardless of how involved he may otherwise be with his family on a Saturday night. This is what the job entails.
Alonso receives a powerful left sidekick to the ribs, and hears a very clear cracking sound. It's a familiar sound. At least one, perhaps two ribs just broke. The pain sears, but the mind compensates and a slight grimace is all that anyone could possibly detect from Alonso on a slow motion replay. Alonso fires back with a left hook, but it falls short as Rick clearly anticipated the shot.
Alonso, upon retreat, decides to take a fraction of a second to think about Carlene, his wife of two years. She is gorgeous, much more the desirable physical specimen than he. The smell of her hair, a concoction of indistinguishable fruits, sweet and usually the first indicator of her presence beyond sight. Fantastic. Something which never gets old, never ceases to arouse wonder or fails to evoke some Pavlovian sense of passion. Alonso knows that her attraction isn't his cauliflower ears or his massive leg press. It isn't his warm smile at the sight of her, or his surprisingly gentle touch considering his vocation and the callousness of his fingers. It has more to do with the thickness of his wallet and the paper it bends, but this doesn't unsettle his sentiments towards her. Much the opposite as he believes he is capable of providing her with everything she ever desired. Fists of steel, heart of gold, scent of money.
His attention returns to him in the form of a crushing kick to the inner thigh. Alonso puts his Carlene on hold to refocus on the task at hand. Jab, jab, hook.
Jeremy earns a nice living as the owner of a gentlemen's club on 3rd Avenue in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. He peddles skin and drinks, and easily clears $350k per year. His hobbies are single malts, sports cars and the underground cages up in the Bronx. Eight thousand dollars put him in the front row tonight, close enough to get splattered if conditions are just right. The splatter would be nice, but even better would be the 3:1 he placed on the Wrecking Ball. It would fetch him a solid $25k, easily enough for the new exhaust system. His wife doesn't know what he's up to in the Bronx, and she really doesn't give a shit either. As long as he stays away from the tramps at his establishment, everything else is fair game. This, of course, assumes that her comfy little lifestyle in Long Island is in no way compromised.
Jeremy came with Candi tonight. Jeremy never goes for a night on the town without being properly dressed, and what clings to your arm is just as important as what hangs from your neck. Candi is one of the many girls at Jeremy's club who is happy to earn a few extra bucks by servicing the big man. Just one rule, all after-hours activity is strictly confidential. The penalty for violating this one rule is termination of employment and a visit from Eduardo. Only Chastity has had the pleasure of Eduardo. A scarred face and a GED will get you 40 a week at $7.45 an hour at Key Foods, and the legacy of being deterrence exemplified.
Jeremy has no reason to doubt his choice thus far. "A Wrecking Ball has to take some damage through the steady process of pummeling the shit out of a building," Jeremy tells Candi who responds by checking her lipstick in her compact. Jeremy screams along with the other testosterone in the room and Candi alternates between nuzzling his neck and rubbing his moistening crotch. Wrecking Ball slashes at Painmaker, doing a bit of damage to his abdomen and Jeremy elbows Candi away, jumps to his feet in excitement.
One point five million dollars, that was his bet this evening. Richard Jennings sits in his high-roller box, swirling cognac, shifting his attention between his buddies and the fight. Most of the week, Richard sits decked in Savile Row's best, monitoring the fluctuations of market blips and coordinating financial assaults with high-powered technological salvos. The high-speed trading racket has been good, very good. Sure the hedge fund managers are banking more, lots more, but his trading status at Goldman has put him among the upper echelons of the trading elite on Wall Street. Tips come early off the wires from a network of insiders, and trades are executed ahead of market momentum. Puff up and pull back, let the little man hold the overpriced cards, then buy them back on a push-down the following week. A rollercoaster of unmerited profit. It's good business, with a solid cover of vague rules and no oversight.
The weekday stress pales immediately upon arrival at the cage. Drinks and blood flow, kicking the weekend off in style. Richard went long with his bet tonight, an unusually cocky week has him flying high, feeling invincible, perfectly in control of all around him. His horse is bleeding pretty good now, but Richard isn't phased. Painmaker jabs, fakes, then stabs to the right shoulder, quickly rolling out of the way. The gash is deep, it was a 'full shot' in cage lingo, meaning, the knife sunk to the handle. "Look at him," Richard yells to his friends, "Wrecking Ball is a fuckin' animal, he didn't even feel that shit. He so juiced that shit didn't even register!"
Alonso felt every bit of eight inches scraping across his humerus. Searing, burning pain, followed by an oddly cool reprieve, then, numbness. Carlene flashes, then his dead mother, followed by the cheers of victory. "Focus," he tells himself, "nothing but Rick, Rick is my everything, Rick is my only shot." Carlene and little green dollar signs fizzle to the outskirts of his mind as he wipes a bloody hand on his shorts, then wiggles his fingers before resetting his grip on the handle.
Big Ron lost his WPBF license first. He got caught by the board gambling on his matches at the underground bookies. His single infraction didn't deter the UFC, so he picked up a three year deal officiating all the top matches in Vegas. Inside a year, he was caught working a fix on another underground gamble, this time, passing quicklime to the underdog who staged an impossible comeback. The UFC didn't think too kindly of his interference, so he was told to pack up. Ron isn't exactly a moral person, which only enhances his credentials up in the Bronx. 
Ron's at home in his latest gig as referee. From what he could see, neither Painmaker nor Wrecking Ball had a clear advantage in this fight so Ron kept his money under the mattress. Plus, considering the illegality of the match, Ron has little net incentive to influence events as a pissed mob would probably lynch.
Without concern for the outcome, Ron's job tonight is an easy one in three parts, plus, he has the best seat in the house to witness each strike.
     Part 1: Check equipment
·                  Regulation boxer shorts
·                  Regulation metal helmet with neck and face guard
·                  Regulation 8" Bowie knife

     Part 2: Review the Rules
·                  Fight is one round and goes till a winner emerges
·                  All strikes are permitted
·                  First person to die is the loser

     Part 3: Declare winner
·                  Pause fight at any time to check pulse(s)

Not only does his job pay a nice chunk of cash, but he gets to witness those precious last moments in a man's life where his purest self is exposed. Lying, covered in blood on a canvas mat, eyes glassing over from the lack of oxygen, saying his mental goodbyes to those he loves. It's that little sadistic ripple, that little fading light, the moment where God meets man and a life crosses over. Wrenching pain triggering an existential fear, then a melting of everything into a quiet oblivion. Each man is different, handles his finality in a uniquely nuanced way, of which the variations never grow old in Ron's eyes. If only he could be the one to plunge the final blade, his depravity would be complete and he could stand one step closer to God without actually making his acquaintance.
At this point, Ron is a useless body, flailing around the cage, spectator #1. Wrecking Ball and Painmaker are cut up and drippy, but both are still on their feet, relatively steady. Ron dispels his excitement by hopping around the cage, further rousing an intoxicated crowd.
Elaine didn't want to come, in fact she and Rick fought over it for the past three weeks. He said he needed her support. She said she couldn't bear to witness the fight. "I can't lose, I have complete confidence. Have I ever lost?"
"No," she said, "But that is not the point this time"
"This is our chance to make it big, to really earn some serious money, just a single fight, then, back to smaller paydays in the pros, or possibly, complete retirement."
She was not convinced. The stakes were too high. Her high school sweetheart had never lost anything in his lifetime. He was the consummate athlete. She knew he stood a solid chance, but what if? Tears and screams were a mainstay in their house the week leading up to the bout. She took a stand not to come. He felt the blow of her rejection, but took it in stride the way he always takes a knock. Swallow, shake, guard back up. Now, as a morale-booster, she sits ringside, next to Wrecking Ball's tart, showing up at the last minute in support of her brave hero. She fights tears as Rick bleeds profusely from the stomach, hand and thigh. For now though, he appears to be on top, but the flickers of light off metal catch her eye, causing her to flinch knowingly.
Three percent fruit juice, twelve percent grain alcohol, guarana, taurine, gingko, caffeine and corn syrup. Made by a division of the Coca-Cola family of beverages, but legally incorporated as an entirely separate economic entity thereby limiting liability to the king of soft drinks. This legal separation is important, because should the fight get busted, the brand "Hell's Juice" can fold cleanly and begin under the name "Blitzkrieg" in a couple weeks after a quick retool, without impacted the legal budget at Coke.
"Teardowns" - Corporate entities of questionable legality designed to make large profits in short-term volatile situations. These entities can be destroyed and reconstituted in template fashion on short turn-around schedules. The larger corporate umbrella usually keeps three to five iterations of the teardown planned and ready to go once a bust-up occurs.
Vendors weave through the crowds selling 24-ounce cans for $25 each. An overhead signboard encourages fans to 'chug' each time a contender is slashed or stabbed. With each subsequent stab, the intolerable fan seated behind Carlene becomes increasing intoxicated, kicking her seat-back, causing her to lunge forward uncomfortably. She finds herself becoming increasingly irritated and wishing Alonso was seated next to her because he would "straighten that jerk out". For now though, he is tied up in a grapple which has both him and Painmaker outstretched on the mat, each with the other's wrist in hand, fending off a plunge of the blade.
Gerry and a handful of his friends are out for a night on the town. At two grand a pop, they dug deep in the wallet for tonight's least desirable seats. But hey, to watch a couple fights go to the death is worth some overtime down at the docks. "Damn," Reggie says to Gerry "check out Wrecking Ball's bitch in the front row, she's fine!" A Hell's Juice cheers and chug. Painmaker slices Wrecking Ball across his right forearm and a flash of red quickly emerges. "Fuck him up Painmaker!" Gerry yells as everyone chugs.
Dr. Wiley is above all the non-sense. He earned his credentials years ago, had a great little practice, until he couldn't keep up with insurance payments. Had to reduce staff, then close shop. Through a friend he learned how he could make a nice little stack under the table, and, better yet, only have to work a few hours a month, allowing him to focus on his first love: painting. Wiley is on stand-by. Once the winner is declared, he will rush to Wiley to quickly fix any gaping holes before being dropped off at the hospital for more thorough treatment. "Stupid barbarians" is how Wiley refers to them, yet he finds them to be the absolute best subjects for both of his crafts.
Rick collects Alonso's legs in his own, rolls and pins him to the mat. Alonso is clearly wearing down. Rick checks the clock. Five minutes have gone by and Rick is aware he has about one minute of full energy left before he succumbs to fatigue. He quickly lunges into a low mount, keeping Rick's hands pinned.
Alonso catches the glint of Carlene's eye. She is evaluating his progress, objectively, coolly, as if watching a couple of politicians rapt in a heated debate. A little hint of skepticism squints from her left eye as she evaluates the efficacy of the previous move. She bites her lip in contemplation, then remembering, she licks the lipstick from her teeth and rubs her lips together, smoothing out the little indentation on her bottom lip. Unknown to each other, their mental space collides as they both flash forward to their upcoming vacation in Bermuda, waves lapping on her pedicured feet, sun warming his lumpy scar tissue.
Rick is blind. He isn't seeing anything at this point. He's only vaguely aware of himself. Adrenaline overtakes him, a quick little burst of furious power, making his body light-weight and composed. He projects his victory, becomes certain of it, and a buzz tingles down through his fingertips causing him to grip his knife's handle with obscene pressure.
Sue is working late at the call center. Earlier today, she read an investigative piece on the elusive cages in the Bronx. They sickened her and she felt moved to take a position on the issue. Sue, the otherwise quiet, introverted, apolitical person. The last time she voted she wore a sparkling pair of jellies and one of those sweatshirts with no discernable neck. "Maybe I should write a little email to Schumer or Gillibrand, express one citizen's concern," she thought to herself. She nodded her way through a sense of righteousness as she sat daydreaming in limbo, the clarity of morning filling her head with ideas. Her cell rang. It was Elliot. He left his shin-guards on the kitchen table and needed them for practice later on. Then, the coffee machine buzzed to life with a fresh brew. Sue, drinking her coffee on the way to deliver Elliot's equipment ran through the to-do list for the day and decided that she would reward herself with a quick stop by Bloomingdales to get that new handbag she deserved. Now, on the phone dispatching 911 calls, her memory lurches and she thinks of a man taking his last breathes inside a cage, onlookers cheering. She alerts the NYPD of a GSW in Bed-Stuy, takes a sip of her Diet Coke then browses Zappos for the latest deal. She punches in just three hours.
The knife comes down. It probably didn't puncture the heart, but, most likely, it severed the aorta as the profusion of blood is overwhelming. Rick leaves the blade upright cause he knows that was the strike he was working for. There's nothing left to do, so he takes a pause to gain composure, catch his breath, assess his wounds.
Alonso is back-flat on the mat, sucking little breathes, hoping to capitalize on the leniency his opponent is showing. He tugs at the handle, but the shifting knife pulls at his rib cage causing him to heave nauseous from the structural jarring. Blood fills his mouth. Carlene looks on, calculating how she will approach her damsel in distress routine, rehearses a few lines in her head. Elaine is doubled-over, crying, unreachable to the outside world, connected immediately to what she believes is the grace of God squeezing her, suffocating her. She is trying to imagine just how large ticket sales were, and secondarily, feels an overwhelming sense of relief that her Rick is alive, standing, limping around the cage.
Richard Jennings isn't happy, but he's still in control, always will be and he knows this. "Dumb-fucker let Painmaker get a solid mount, of course he's going to lose at that point. Well, he got what he deserved. This turned out to be an expensive night, eh boys?" Richard's buddies look on, irritated at him for the hard sell, but more irritated at themselves for following his moves once again. Kissing their money goodbye, they take a moment's pleasure to watch their horse gasp for breath, retribution for their loss.
Ron's on his knees next to Wrecking Ball, watching his slowing breath. Clearly he is still alive, therefore, the match is not over. Ron gives the signal that the match is still in progress.
Dr. Wiley checks his watch. He's going to make his 11pm. He smiles at his good fortune.
Rick assesses the damage to his stomach, legs, and arms and glances over at Alonso to see if he is done yet. Nope, his chest is still growing and shrinking, his puckered lips regulating airflow. Rick is bleeding horribly, feels faint as he plods around in drying patches of carmine, his hands raised flaccidly to cacophonous cheers and jeers. Rick knows he is fighting a clock too, so he returns to Wrecking Ball, kneels, grabs the blade and begins jerking and twisting it side to side allowing blood greater access to the open air. Anemically, Alonso grabs at Rick's wrists, attempting to offset his motion, his legs jerk indiscriminately.
Alonso controls his breathing through his nose, as his ears slowly echo then mute the pulse of the crowd. He flashes between the sands of Bermuda and the touch of his wife. He can't remember her name. He can't remember his name. He doesn't know why he is holding the bloody hands of a stranger. He panics, then, stares off into space.
Dr. Wiley whip-stitches several holes shut, as two sobbing women approach. Tearfully, they both congratulate Painmaker then turn chipper as the judges levy their final assessment of the evening.


Candice walks through the door; another late night on stage. Jim, while he doesn't approve of her profession, he realizes the blatant hypocrisy of complaining considering their initial meeting was a one-sided dance in a smoky bar. Her choices don't exactly agree with his sense of morality, however, his erratic schedule is certainly a recurring complaint of hers. This is their compromise; blue lights for red neon is the exchange which bonds them.
Sue clocked out hours ago and is now home working her second shift with a colicky Rachael who placates herself intermittently at the nipple. Gerry comes stumbling into the living room, inebriated, but appears relaxed, satisfied for once. He struggles to string together a few words about why he arrived home so late, but Sue hushes him, smiles and tells him to sleep it off. She's proud of her husband and all of the extra work he has been putting in to help with the flailing finances; he deserves a night of fun.
Michelle was stabbed in the face three times by her boyfriend after she was caught in bed with another man in a bucolic-chic stone house off of E Shore Road in Great Neck. Rufus Nolan Wiley, a board-certified pediatrician was booked in Nassau County Jail and place on suicide watch.


The community was absolutely beside itself with anguish and a mountain of flowers decorated the front steps of Michelle's parent's house. Alan W. Voight, Chairman of the Board of The Coca-Cola Company eulogized his daughter and former New York State beauty queen in a private service at his Kings Point getaway. The donations to the Children's Heart Foundation in lieu of flowers was enough to push little Dianne's heart fund over the goal. Her surgery was successful and she quickly progressed out of the ICU.


Dianne Whitmore, survivor of childhood Restrictive Cardiomyopathy went on to lead a healthy, productive life. After completing her PhD in Astrophysics, she, along with her business partner and husband Miles Johnson, co-developed the foundational technology ultimately leading to the full weaponization of space.


I want to thank Daniel for participating in TNBBC's Tell Me a Story. If you like what you've read, please support Daniel by checking out his website and book. Help spread the word by sharing this post through your blog, tumblr page, twitter and facebook accounts. Every link counts! And be sure to check back with us next month for the next installment....