Saturday, March 31, 2012

Review: Three Ways of the Saw

Read 3/13/12 - 3/24/12
3 Stars - Recommended to fans of short stories
216 pages
Publisher: Atticus Books

Quite a few years ago, you would have found me turning my head at short story collections.  There was something about the start/stop/start rhythm of the story lines that irked me... but when pressed for a reason why, it's always been hard for me to put a finger on it... a lack of connection maybe, some missing ingredient that seemed to keep me at arms length. No sooner would I get used to the new characters and gain some insight into their current situation than I was ripped out of that story and thrust into another...

Over the past couple of years, however, with my focus shifting more and more towards independent literature, I find myself  accepting more and more short story collections for review. I don't intentionally seek them out but they do appear to have become more common in the independent world. Remember all of those authors and publishers who complained that short story collections don't sell? I'd like to sit them down and hear their defense on that one now...

So why do I bring this up? Well, because I have just finished reading Matt Mullin's debut Three Ways of the Saw, which released on Leap Day. It contains an interesting mix of flash fiction and short stories.. some of which are connected by characters and others that are connected by theme. One of the things that finally sucked me into the realm of short story reviewing, back when I still skeptical, was the interconnectedness or intertwining of characters and story lines within a collection. Why should that make a difference? Well, simply because it felt more like a novel. The characters, though fluid and glimpsed at different periods in their lives, remained constant... or the location and settings would remain constant... so the time I was investing into these stories no longer seemed wasted. There was a commonality that I could hold onto.

Black Sheep Missives, the first section of Three Ways of the Saw, revolves around the antics and guilt-ridden  self consciousness of an Irish Catholic son. Each story delved a little bit deeper into his psyche. Over the course of its 9 stories and 59 pages, you come to understand Dan and the inner-workings of his family life much in the same way you would watch a character unfold across the 2-- pages of a novel.

Discords and Ghost Limbs, the second and third sections, on the other hand, are more or less a mishmash of strange stories. Unfortunately, these stories more or less blended together for me. As I flipped through the book, preparing to write this review, I had a hard time distinguishing one story from another. Only a few jumped out at me while reading through the collection, rising above the pack: The Dog In Me - in which a man's German Shepard starts taking on human qualities while he begins to take on those of the dog - and The Braid - about the dangers of riding an ATV while wearing your hair in a glorious braid. And the title story, Three Ways of the Saw, which can be read in its entirety here. It's the story of a dying tree told in three perspectives - the tree's owner, the owner of the tree service company, and his teenage assistant. The only thing that could have made this story any better would have been a fourth perspective - that of the dying tree.... and yes, I realize that would have screwed up the whole symbolism thing....  Three Ways of the Saw, three sections of the collection... but it would have totally been worth it.

I think the back cover of the arc says it best ... "...this jagged chain of vignettes is for readers who try to hold their thoughts together with duct tape while never quite grasping the things they just can't seem to name". 

Friday, March 30, 2012

Indie Book Buzz: Coffee House Press

It's a great day for some Indie Book Buzz here at TNBBC. Over the next few weeks, we will be inviting members of the indie publishing houses to share which of their upcoming 2012 releases they are most excited about!

This week's pick comes from Anitra Budd, 
Managing Editor of Coffee House Press

The Last Warner Woman by Kei Miller
(Available now)

What it’s about
Adamine Bustamante spends the first part of her life in a Jamaican leper colony. Raised by the lepers and their caretaker after her mother died in childbirth, Adamine possesses the gift of “warning,” or prophesy. After a short and fairly idyllic time spent living with a revivalist church group, Adamine is married off to a church member who’s living in England. Upon arriving, she discovers that not only is her new husband not everything she’d imagined, but that her visions are taken for mental illness in the “civilized” streets of England. What follows is a remarkably beautiful story in which Adamine, now an older woman recounting her life, must fight for the truth with the mysterious “Mr. Writer Man.” But what Adamine doesn’t know is that Mr. Writer Man has a tale of his own to share, one that will cast her life in an entirely new light. 

Why you should read it
The Last Warner Woman is the sort of book lots of people can enjoy on different levels, and Kei has a way of painting Jamaica through sights, sounds, and dialogue that’s nothing short of transporting. But I think bookish types in particular will fall in love with this title because in large part it’s about the power inherent in storytelling and language. In this book, the difference between calling someone a prophet or a lunatic has enormous and lasting implications; entire lives are shaped by particular names, words, and stories. It brilliantly captures just how high stakes the stories we humans tell each other and the words we use can be, which is a concept book lovers understand intuitively—the old rhyme about words not being able to hurt you isn’t entirely true, and to me, there’s something terrifically exciting about that.

Anitra Budd is the managing editor at Coffee House Press, where she has worked with Kirsten Kaschock, T. Geronimo Johnson, Laird Hunt, R. Zamora Linmark, and Karen Yamashita, among others. In addition to acquiring and editing fiction, Anitra specializes in herding cats (also known as managing the editorial schedule). In the remaining days before her impending due date (April 3!), Anitra’s hoping to finally finish the last few chapters of Haruki Murakami’s riveting Underground, but she’s not holding out much hope. You can find her on Twitter at @anitrasb and occasionally chiming in on Coffee House’s Facebook page. 

So what do you think guys? See anything that catches your eye? Which of these things are you most excited to see release? Help TNBBC and Coffee House Press spread the buzz about these books by sharing this post with others!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Audiobook Giveaway: All My Friends Are Superheroes

There's nothing I love more than being able to share awesome indie books with you guys.
And thanks to Iambik Audio, I can do just that!

They've given me the green light to give away 2 audio file downloads of 

For those of you who are reluctant audiobook listeners, as I once was, this book is a great intro into the world of narrated fiction and an excellent sampling of what Iambik has to offer. Not to mention that it's hands-down one of the best books I've read (erm.. heard) so far this year, pulling in a rare Next Best Book rating from me!

All Tom's friends really are superheroes.There's the Ear, the Spooner, the Impossible Man. Tom even married a superhero, the Perfectionist. But at their wedding, the Perfectionist was hypnotized (by ex-boyfriend Hypno, of course) to believe that Tom is invisible. Nothing he does can make her see him. Six months later, she's sure that Tom has abandoned her.So she's moving to Vancouver. She'll use her superpower to make Vancouver perfect and leave all the heartbreak in Toronto. With no idea Tom's beside her, she boards an airplane in Toronto. Tom has until the wheels touch the ground in Vancouver to convince her he's visible, or he loses her forever.

This giveaway is open internationally

It will run through April 3rd.
Winners will be chosen randomly and 
notified here and through email/Twitter on April 4th.

To enter:

1. Simply comment here telling me why you would like to win a copy.
2. Be sure to include your email address or twitter handle to be considered for the giveaway.

While you're waiting .. why not check out Iambik's catalog and download a few audio's to keep you busy?

Good luck!!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Indie Spotlight: Ryan George Kittleman

Everyone wants to be a writer. But what happens to your authorly confidence when you've worked as a bookseller and watched passively as all of those advance readers from hopeful novelists never make it onto the store's bookshelves?

Debut indie author Ryan George Kittleman dishes on just that. Will his novel The Great Peace rise above the hundreds of others and find its place in the showroom window?


 Call me crazy, but bookselling is a good gig, right? Okay, sure, the pay stinks, but who among us feels otherwise? When I arrived in California with only a fat suitcase and slim savings account, pecuniary gain of any kind was a top priority; after all, the Golden State is not for the faint of wallet. Since I considered myself something of a bookstore-whore, and possessed nearly three-quarters of an economics degree, experience installing security tags at the University of Maine library (I lasted three days), hopelessly pale skin, and acute nearsightedness, it seemed inevitable that I would call upon my local bookstore to save me from penury. Despite my lack of bona fides, I conjured that great spirit so prevalent in the Bay Area, telling myself: it's not who you are, but who you want to be, and I wanna sell books, dagnabbit.

Somehow I landed the job, despite a rambling interview that came off like a macaronic mishmash of Dylan lyrics, misquoted Shakespeare, and insecure self-promotion. My boss was a mellow Texan with shoulder-length gray hair, worn proudly, as if in defiance of time and taste. As someone who still believes in the romantic idea of author-as-rockstar, I relished my boss's tales of partying with Hunter Thompson in Mexico City, '70s style, and swapping dirty jokes with Leonard Cohen. It seemed like a bygone era, memorialized in the books that surrounded me, but reduced to little more than a naive fantasy. What has become of the rockstar author? I wondered. Where have they gone?

The answer, I presumed, lie in the machinations of publishing. Each day, boxes of advance readers were delivered to the store from expectant publishers- big, small, and miniscule. As I padded my library, thank you very much, I began to notice how few, if any, of these freebies ever made it onto our shelves. Not unlike a record collector sifting through crates at a flea market, I found a peaceful commingling of gems, also-rans, and throwaways. Among the sheer volume of it all, there it was: a profile of the industry. A few make it, most don't.

As a guy who has played his fair share of crappy gigs, I found the comparison to music striking. I saw the author-as-bar band, the author-as-hotel crooner, grinding it out, honing their craft, hoping for a big break. A Morrissey lyric came to mind: “when it fails to recoup, well, maybe you just haven't earned it yet, baby.” All the while, the freebies kept rolling in. 

I eventually left the store to continue my education, in the hope of someday becoming a responsible adult, or at least an adult with responsibilities. In some ways I succeeded, I suppose, but it wasn't until my first novel was slated for release that these anachronistic feelings resurfaced. Geez Ryan, I asked myself, why on earth did you write a book, much less send it off into this choppy stream of commerce, knowing full well it's likely to be submerged, unnoticed and unremembered, among countless others, by better-known writers from bigger publishers, who are all vying for what little attention and shelf space an indie can afford? Hmmm, well...

I suppose it comes down to an article of faith. Despite the odds and evidence to the contrary, I still believe in the author-as-rockstar trope, even if it only means playing your heart out to five people in Schenectady or El Paso, or whatever the literary equivalent to that is. I also still abide by the notion that it's not who you are, but who you want to be, and although many years have passed, the calling remains the same: I wanna sell books, dagnabbit. Call me crazy, but it's a pretty good gig, regardless of what side of it you're on. 

About Ryan:

San Francisco-based arts attorney Ryan George Kittleman is the founder of Colony Pictura, a law firm representing filmmakers, artists, musicians, designers, authors and other creative minds.

Since the age of 14, Ryan has been a musician and songwriter, first cutting his teeth in a number of bands in the New York punk scene. He mellowed into a solo artist playing folk-tinged psych-pop and began recording alternately under the names The Three Potato 4 and Spent Waves. The SF Critic raved his 2009 “Album Savant” was “a successfully airy and listenable record.”

The New Yorker left his hometown of Albany for college in Maine, and eventually landed in the San Francisco Bay Area as an indie bookseller at Books Inc. in Mountain View. The Great Peace is Ryan’s newest way of delving further into the arts. His novel releases May 1, 2012, from ExplodingBooks, an imprint of Timbre & Yarn. You can follow him on Twitter (@RyanKittleman) and Facebook (RyanGeorgeKittleman)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Code For Failure: The End of the Tour But the Book is Only Beginning

A very happy release day to Ryan W Bradley and his debut novel Code for Failure!! As our blog tour for the book grinds to a halt today, let's look back at all of the wonderful people who helped us spread the word and jumped at the chance to show the book some love:

Day 1: The Next Best Book Blog (that's me!) kicking things off with Ryan dishing on what it means to be indie.
Day 2: Allison Writes (Allison Renner) teased us with some Truth and Dare - interview style.
Day 3: This Blog Will Change Your Life (Ben Tanzer) whipped up a podcast of Ryan reading from the book in a bathroom stall.
Day 4: Dead End Follies (Benoit Lelievre) hosted The Man Made Failure, guest posted by Ryan. 
Day 5: Booked In Chico (Erica Spangler) gave us an awesome Photo Tour, highlighting key places from the book, courtesy of Ryan.
Day 6: The World's First Author Blog (Caleb J Ross) shared his love of gas stations in appreciation of the novel.
Day 7: Monkey Bicycle (BL Pawelek) ran an interview he did with Ryan.
Day 8:  The Scarlet Letter (Laura Cline) posted her review of Code for Failure and a mini-interview with Ryan.

And of course, Ryan pulls it all together on his blog with some history behind the birth of the book and his appreciation of all those who have helped to support it over it's much anticipated delivery into the world!

Heart-felt thanks to Allison, Ben, Benoit, Erica, Caleb, BL, and Laura for doing such a kickass job during the tour. Without them, and without Ryan's willingness to work hard behind the scenes these past few weeks, none of this would have been possible. 

I hope we have done the book proud, and sent some of you scurrying over to the Code for Failure blog to purchase a copy. Still a bit hesitant? Seriously?! Ok, do me a favor, read this sample chapter (or have Ryan read it to you)... go ahead.. I'll wait....

Connect with the book on Facebook and Goodreads. And come back to tell us what you thought of it... We're still waiting...

(If you purchased this book because of our blog tour, we'd love for you to mark TNBBC as the "person who recommended"  the book to you!) 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Audioreview: All My Friends Are Superheroes

Listened 3/16/12 - 3/18/12
5 Stars - Highly Recommended / The Next Best Book
Audio download (approx 2 hrs)
Publisher: Iambik Audio / Coach House Books
Narrator: Gordon Mackenzie

What would the world look like to a guy with very low self-esteem, who views himself as just your regular-everyday-kind-of-Joe with no redeemable qualities or personality quirks to make him stand out in the crowd? Perhaps it would look something like "All My Friends are Superheroes"!

Tom is normal. There is nothing special about Tom. The only special thing about Tom is his wife, The Perfectionist. And the fact that she cannot see him. Because to her, Tom is invisible. Tom is not actually invisible, though. All of his friends can see him. All of his friends are superheroes, like his wife. They have tried to tell The Perfectionist that Tom is not invisible. But she remains convinced that Tom has left her, she hasn't seen him since the night of their wedding. And today she is flying to Vancouver to put the past 6 months of waiting for Tom to return behind her. If Tom cannot find a way to get her to see him before the plane lands, he will lose her forever.

As you read through the book, you quickly begin to realize that Tom's friends are not actually superheroes, not in the true sense of the word. They aren't running around like Batman or Superman or Wonder Woman trying to save the world from evil villians. But they do have interesting personality traits and odd habits that separate them from everyone else. Take his very own wife, The Perfectionist, for example. Her "superpower" is her need to organize. She will attempt to organize everything. Your hair, the garbage, even the falling snow. Then there is "The Couch Surfer", who has the uncanny ability to lounge around on his friends couches, roaming from couch to couch in a wonderful jobless stupor; "The Impossible Man" was named for his realization that trying things like building underwater fires and walking on water are simply impossible; and "Wild Mood Swinger" who tends to exhibit extremely high highs and terribly low lows, typically all within one conversation.

Tell me this isn't the coolest friggen thing you've ever heard of?! Imagine if everyone you knew were named for their most obvious trait. If you were to name yourself after your most outstanding quality/quirk, what would your superhero name be? In my case, I suppose I could don the name "Indie Girl" - forever reading and reviewing independent novels, never seen without a copy of a worn and torn indie book in her hand, always breathing quotes and concepts found within their pages...

This little book is full of awesome. The short, brisk sentences are practically painful, they're so perfect. The characters are emotionally intense. It's  maudlin and mopey and yet, at the same time, brimming with this incredible sense of hope.

I won the book in a giveaway contest held by Lit Drift many, many months ago and kept meaning to pick it up and read it. And for whatever reason, it just never made it off the pile of unread books into my hand. Then, a few weeks ago, I saw that Iambik had published it as an audiobook and snagged a copy for my commute.

The book clocks in at mere 106 pages. The audio ran just over 2 hours. Never in my life have I ever wished for an audiobook to be longer... yet there I was, nearly howling when narrator Gordon Mackenzie announced that we were at the end of the recording. Of all the Iambik books I've listened to, All My Friends are Superheroes is by far their best. I have yet to find a more perfect match between narrator and novel in their catalog. I adored Gordon's Canadian accent and felt his pacing was spot on. He became Tom.

I'm putting my Next Best Book stamp of approval on this one. Sure, I'm coming to it a little bit late - ok, almost 10 years late - but better late than never! Don't put this one off any longer... get out there and get listening to this. You'll be by to thank me later.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

This Blogger Will Be Kickin' It Oldskool

What was once old will be new again. This blogger is getting on the bus back to the 80's. (Yeah, I knew the 80's quite intimately... what of it, kids?! Don't hate...Appreciate!) Screw your fancy-pants digital e-books and MP3 downloads,  this blogger will be kickin' it oldskool style with her brand-spankin' new walkman, purchased specifically for the sexy-ass hot pink book-on-cassette "I Never Liked My Dad" by Sam Pink. You can't be any more hip than this.

This bad boy's got a direction button AND loop switch, AV in/out to allow me to play it on my car stereo, and ok... sure... it also comes with a USB port for all you kiddies out there who just gotta have them MP3's.. it'll convert each track for you, so you can download the darn thing straight to your iPod... quit yer whining already!

You're jealous. Admit it. It's cool, isn't it? You're upset you didn't think of this first, aren't you? Well, it's not too late to join in the fun and skip back down memory lane with me. Raise those Jelly Bracelet arms in the air and stomp those scrunchie-socked feet on the floor... you know you wanna.

Hey Patrick Wensink... I'm looking at you and your "Broken Piano For President" next!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Review: Under the Poppy

Read 2/14/12 - 3/7/12
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended to readers who don't get their panties in a bunch over a few bawdy puppets
Pgs: 360
Publisher: Small Beer Press

Holy brothels and puppets, Batman! Under the Poppy is quite unlike any other literary fiction I have ever read and while that's a really good thing for me, if you are terrified of puppets... then that could be a very, very bad thing for you. Now, don't get me wrong. These aren't scary come-to-life-and-get-all-Puppet Master-on-your-ass puppets. But they're, ya' know... puppets!

Let me break this down for you. Set in the late 1800's, in the midst of a war that is just beginning to boil, there sits a wonderfully campy brothel. This brothel, cleverly called Under the Poppy, is owned and operated by childhood companions Decca and Rupert. Decca runs the Poppy in much the same way Miss Hannigan ran the orphanage in Annie - she can't stand her girls, but loves her job. She keeps the brothel running in tip-top shape, pulling the customers in and working the girls morning, noon, and night. She takes shit from no one and dishes out more than her fair share of it. Rupert, on the other hand, is looked upon as a sort of Daddy Warbucks (if you'll allow me to continue the Annie references since I think it fits this book in a strangely appropriate way). He's the brains behind the business, always slipping out for a meeting here or there, dressed to the nines, a true schmoozer. He softens Decca's blows behind her back, allowing the girls of the brothel some down-time now and again.

Decca, for all her tough exterior, has pie-eyes for Rupert, but Rupert much prefers the company of her brother Istvan, who suddenly reappears at the Poppy after years of silence. With him, he carries a troupe of puppets who bring a much needed change to the brothel. Mixing his rather bawdy puppets into the evening performances with the girls, the crowds go wild, and catch the attention of some rather rough and rowdy military men. In the midst of the strange love-triangle that begins to brew inside, situations outside the Poppy are straining as well, with the impending war putting the pressure on them from all sides. Favors are called in, decisions must be made, puppets and people alike struggle to keep their heads on straight, and as the tempers flair and people begin to die, Decca and Rupert find themselves at odds when it comes to what is best for themselves and the Poppy.

Under the Poppy has this incredible old world feel to it - lush, rich writing that wraps you up inside of it and makes you woozy with its words. And author Kathe Koja doesn't skimp on anything. The book is bursting with sex and violence, love and lust, blackmail and revenge, naughty puppets and naive prostitutes. Everyone's got deep dark secrets they wish to protect and skeletons bound and gagged in the back of their closets. And as they each work furiously to keep these things hidden from sight, everyone unwittingly becomes someone else's puppet....

Small Beer Press is a new publisher for me. I discovered them, and this novel, through a link that Consortium Books shared during one of their #indieview twitter chats. The link listed countless book trailers to independently published novels. That's where I saw this, and decided I needed to get a copy post haste:

Funnily enough, this book contains two things I am not a huge fan of: war as a setting, circumstance of, or character within fiction, and puppets. The war thing is just a personal preference. It's a bit like football playoffs for me - I can't keep the teams and their players straight, I don't remember who fought who when, and I can never remember the score. Puppets, on the other hand, are things that instill an irrational fear in me. They are extremely creepy looking - and too life like for me - and I always wonder "what if they become self aware?". I have good old fashioned American horror flicks and tv shows to thank for all of that!

However, in Under the Poppy, they both work and work well together. Just be prepared for the puppets to exhibit some... uhm...  un-puppet like behavior. By the way, did you know that Under the Poppy has been adapted to the stage? Check out some of the stuff that has been taking place out in Detroit.

Let me close with this - Under the Poppy is a book that begs for a great soundtrack as you read. I found that my darker alternative tastes fit the bill extremely well. Almost too perfectly, in fact. The music of She Wants Revenge, Peter Murphy, The Cure, Depeche Mode, Portishead and The Cult blended right into the pages of the book like so much spilled wine. There something a little sexy, a little S&M, a little sad in each one of these...

Monday, March 19, 2012

Ryan W. Bradley Fails the Internet: The Code for Failure Blog Tour

Hold on to your internet, folks! 
Welcome to the first stop on the Code for Failure Blog Tour.

I cannot tell you how incredibly exciting it is to be hosting a blog tour for Ryan W Bradley and his very-soon-to-be-released novel Code for Failure this week! You're probably thinking to yourself, man... this Ryan guy and his Code for Failure sure sounds awfully familiar to us. And you would be right. Because for the past couple of months, I haven't been able to stop talking about him. And it's all for good reason, too.

If you're not already up to speed on Ryan, here's the quick and dirty: He's an author, poet, publisher, editor, and designer. I'm convinced he has super-human powers to be able to do all of this in what little free time his Monday - Friday job allows him. Either that, or he's discovered how to clone himself. In which case, Ryan, you better share the clone code asap cause I'm in dire need of a few more of me...

Code for Failure is Ryan's debut novel about a college drop out who takes a job pumping gas at a local gas station. On the surface, it's a fun, insanely honest read that will leave you feeling slightly dirty. If you're anything like me, you'll be dying to know just how much of this stuff was pulled from Ryan's own experiences during his gas station days. But then again, you'll realize that it's probably better if you don't know...

I am so happy you decided to pop in and check out the tour! And I am extremely grateful to Allison of Allison Writes, author Ben Tanzer, Benoit of Dead End Follies, Erica of Booked In Chico, author Caleb J. Ross, Barry of MonkeyBicycle, and Laura of Hawthorne Scarlett for offering up their blogs as additional stops. I am also immensely grateful to Ryan for his enthusiasm and willingness to work hard behind the scenes to help us prepare for what you are about to see.

We have a great tour planned for you. So kick back, relax, and let us woo you and wow you with all things Ryan W Bradley as we celebrate his newest release and pray that we don't fail the internet for him! 

To kick-start this party, Ryan will be sharing his thoughts on what being indie means to him and how community plays a part ....

Being “indie” or a part of the small press community is about just that, community. I’ve worked a lot of shitty jobs in my life, and the older I get the more I realize I’ll probably be working fairly unexciting blue collar jobs for the rest of it. The trick then to not being completely miserable is learning what aspects of a work environment are important to retaining your sanity. For me, one of the biggest factors is the people I work with. I’m lucky now, working at a university bookstore, that I like the majority of my coworkers. And that there are even a few who I get along with really well. These people make it feel less like work and any time you can achieve that you’re on to something. This is why community becomes such a buzz word, why people want to have communities in the first place, because when likeminded people band together great things can happen.

In the case of the small press/indie lit world those great things are strings of words. Sometimes printed inside books we can hold. And words and books are things I have loved for a long time. I also happen to love designing books, inside and out. And working with writers whose work inspires me. Or even simply having the chance to talk with writers who inspire me.

Writing can be a lonely and depressing venture. Our hopes are constantly dashed on sharp rocks and then we are forced to crawl across beaches littered with broken glass. While a community can’t sit at the computer and write my work for me, having friends who are writers, editors, publishers, and always readers it makes the rest of it bearable. We might not stop writing without the community, just as we might not quit a job because of coworkers we don’t want to hang out with, but having coworkers we enjoy makes going to work in the morning easier.

As a writer who likes to think he might be some small part of the indie lit community, I’ve always looked to Beck as a model for what I’d like to see become of my “career.” When Beck was courted by major recording labels in the early 90’s he chose Geffen, who offered him the least amount of money. He chose them because their offer allowed for the most creative freedom, including the ability to release less commercial albums through independent labels while under contract. While I hope to one day be publishing books with a big publisher I know the small press world will always be part of my writing life. But more important is the hope to retain the sense of community that is constantly being built.

** Be sure to check in with Allison tomorrow. She hosts Ryan in an interview version of Truth and Dare... This could get interesting!!**

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Audioreview: How They Were Found

Listened 3/8/12 - 3/15/12
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended to fans of wicked sharp short fiction
Audio Download (approx 6 hrs)
Publisher: Iambik / Keyhole Press
Narrator: Mark F Smith

Matt Bell's How They Were Found was one of those books that sat on my to-buy list near forever but never really jumped out at me from the shelves as I was roaming the aisles of bookstores looking for something to buy.

Yet when I recently saw that Iambik had recorded it, I knew this was my chance to finally give it a whirl and procrastinate no more. Thank god for Iambik, man. If they hadn't published this, how much longer might I have gone without reading it? I shudder to think....

The stories contained within this collection deserve more than the typical reviewer-type, cliche buzz terms that run the risk of cheapening them -  like "powerful" and "deeply affecting" and "compelling" - but strike me dumb if his stories aren't exactly those things. Stripped down to only the most essential words, Bell cuts to the heart of each story and paints moody, dark, twisted reflections of would-be realities.

The narrator, Mark F Smith, did a fantastic job with this collection. As the first track got underway, I couldn't help but compare his voice to that of a much more soft spoken version of Alan Heathcock (author of Volt, of whom I had the pleasure of hearing perform a reading, and who has this incredible southern preacher voice thing going for him), mixed with a little of our local radio DJ Jumpin' Jeff Walker (minus the distracting lisp thing). While this might not seem like a compliment, it actually is. His pacing and tone matched Bell's stories to near perfection. His voice became a vehicle for each story...

As with any collection, some of Bell's pieces grabbed me more strongly than others. The Cartographer's Girl, a story about a sleepwalker who disappears and the man who loves her who painfully maps out every moment and every place and every memory he can recall in order to try to find her, was one of them. Dredge, which revolves around an emotionally unstable man who starts his own investigation into the murder of the drowned girl he pulled from the lake and stored inside a freezer box, is another.

How about The Leftover, which tells the story of a woman who discovers that she actually misses and loves the things that she made her ex give up while they were still together (like smoking and leaving clothes all over the house) when those bad habits appear on the couch one day, in the form of a silent mini-version of him?

My absolute favorite story, though, is The Receiving Tower, which details the slow, mental breakdown of the men who have been searching through the static of the government's receiving tower stations for years under the orders of their heartless captain, listening for the decoded messages being sent across the airwaves, cruelly unaware of the fact that the world has ended and there is no rescue for them. It reminded me of something The Twilight Zone might have put out, back in the day...

Of course, there were stories that failed to blow me away - like Wolf Parts, which is a dark and strange take on the whole Red Riding Hood thing, and Her Ennead, which takes us through a soon-to-be-mother's wacky imaginings of what her baby will become - though I am aware that these particular stories are held in high regard by some reviewers.

No matter which of his stories you prefer, Matt consistently teases the reader something terrible by burying threads of hope within the pages of his bleak and otherwise soul crushing tales of loss and love and broken hearts.  If his sparse storytelling doesn't hook you, the unique, awkward, inappropriately sentimental situations his characters find themselves in most certainly will.

I highly recommend listening to Iambik Audio's version of the book. (And, just in case that statement didn't floor you, that's actually saying a lot, coming from a previously reluctant audiobook listener, so you know, you should totally take me up on it!)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Atticus Books on "Being Indie"

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

Meet Dan Cafaro. Dan is the founder and publisher of Atticus Books, one of my favorite small indie publishing houses. They have a great catalog, with books such as The Bee-Loud Glade by Steve Himmer and Three Ways of the Saw by Matt Mullins creating quite the stir.

He also founded the weekly online journal Atticus ReviewDan is no stranger to print and digital publishing. He has 20-plus years experience in the field and has commissioned the work of more than 100 book authors in various genres.

Did you know he was once owner and operator of Chapters Revisited, a quaint brick-and-mortar bookshop in Doylestown, Pa.? And now, he has partnered with TNBBC to share with us his impressions and ideas regarding the question I love asking... What does "Being Indie" mean to you? Take it away, Dan....

This Year's Model:  Being 'Interdie'
By Dan Cafaro

"There's no such thing as independent bookselling.  Who are we fooling?  We have every one of us been dependent from the day we were born.  Interdependent.  That's what being a person means.  None of us exists without all of us." — Andrew Laties, author of Rebel Bookseller

This beginning quote speaks directly to all of us who have chosen literature as our manna and the written word as our pulpit—publishers, authors, bloggers, and booksellers.  In the same vain that David Foster Wallace succinctly dismissed atheism ("In the day-to-day trenches of adult life...there is no such thing as not worshiping.  Everybody worships.  The only choice we get is what to worship."), I dismiss independence.  The only choice we get is how to be dependent.  As entrepreneurs.  As artists.  How do we help each other advance and how can others help in return?

At Atticus Books, we rely on the same creative juices, resourcefulness, and sheer force of will that keep the "big six" book publishers alive and relevant.  Our world is filled with the same abundance of wildly talented writers and our mission is largely the same: to tap into the imaginative wellspring of the creative community and strike flint to a concealed geyser.  Discovery is our mission.  Small, life-sustaining revelations, the narrative threads that fill our holy grail.

Where we differ primarily from our dense, gargantuan brethren is in our role and responsibility as curators.  We interdependent small presses mostly set foot on trails guided by muses—and we tend to make our way on instincts and nuance.  Contrastingly, the big six frequently depend on clearly defined roadmaps, established mileposts, and spreadsheet-driven trail marks. 

Our novelists breathe the same air as those who follow all the ground rules, only the liquid that our authors pass around the campfire often comes straight from the tap.  It's served less distilled than what typically ends up being screened, mass produced, and packaged by the majors.  Not always, mind you.  The majors are damn good at what they do.  They don't do it less honestly or earnestly; they're just more contrived.

We at Atticus like the taste of toxins in our water.  What doesn't kill our writers makes them stronger, bolder, more eager to experiment.  And fail too.  We admire writers who understand that failure is all part of growing literary skin.  For word alchemists, failure is not only an option, it's a rite of passage, a badge of honor.

"Being indie" means allowing yourself the freedom to flip the bird without fear of repercussion.  "Being interdie" means supporting the freaks who fly their flags and encouraging them to frolic among us.  "Being interdie" means not only recognizing those who deserve to walk tall and proud, but revering those whose voices demand our attention, even if they crumple and shriek at the mere thought of publicity. 

"Being indie" means thumbing your nose at conformist society and peacefully coexisting with even misanthropic artists whose eccentric spirits are vital to our culture.  "Being interdie" means proactively finding a welcoming tribe, such as Fictionaut, that celebrates diversity and feeds off the collective energy and imagination of the commune.

For the literary arts to prosper in 2012 and beyond, it's essential for the "indie presses" to reinforce the importance of thinking holistically.  Altruistically.  Interdependently.  It's not that last year's indie model is broken.  We've always known that we're nowhere without each other.  It's just high time that we add a layer of clarity to the indie concept and embrace—nay, proclaim—our interdependence.

The indie spirit is stronger than ever.  If we can combine intellectual forces with our brothers and sisters in letters, there's no saying how far our fictional offspring can travel.



The Lucky Man Re-Release and Giveaway

Happy 5 Year Anniversary and Upcoming Re-Release
 to Ben Tanzer's debut novel

How many authors can say that they were able to give their debut novel new life around the very day that it turned 5 years old?! By my count, only one. The Tanzer-man can! 

Initially published by Manx Media exactly 5 years ago today, the only way you can get your hands on an original printing is by buying it used. It's been out of print for quite awhile, which is why I was thrilled to near-tears when I heard that Artistically Declined Press had picked it up with their new imprint Antler Editions. (ADP's founder and publisher, Ryan W Bradley, designed the gorgeous anniversary cover you see up above.) It's anticipated re-release is scheduled for sometime this April. You can pre-order here. 

I've read just about everything Ben Tanzer has put out, which is saying a lot because the dude is like a literary machine, cranking out amazing stories every... what... 2.8 seconds? It's simply not human. When I think of Ben, I used to picture a man sitting at a table, a week's worth of beard and beaded sweat covering his face, scratching a pen furiously, feverishly, over sheet after sheet of paper, flipping them violently to the side as they are filled up with the words that have been beamed down from his brain through his arm into his hand and out of those fingers wrapped so tightly around the pen that they are bruised and blistering....

I've since had the pleasure of meeting Ben in the flesh and blood in NYC a few months ago, when he and Greg Olear did a reading at the KGB Barand now know that he is really nothing like that. Or if he is, he hides it well when out in public! 

Ben and I have been online pals for awhile, so it fills me with an incredible amount of joy to help him celebrate Lucky Man's new lease on life. We've been obsessively supporting each other's efforts for a few years now. Case in point - the 2010 interview when I interviewed Ben after reading Repetition Patterns; the previously unpublished short story he submitted to our Tell Me a Story series, which was then published (with acknowledgments) in The Party Pit, his companion guide to You Can Make Him Like You. Ok, so you get the gist of it, yes?

I'm especially excited about this particular release, not just because it's Lucky Man's second chance at cementing a cult readership but also because it's bringing Ben back together with Ryan and ADP. No author or publisher have ever been better suited for one another than these two!

Alright, yes, I know... I am getting dangerously close to gushy. So let me reign this post in by sharing a very special giveaway with you. 

In order to properly kickoff the Lucky Man re-release, 
we have cool package for one very lucky winner.... 

One set of the following titles.... SIGNED by Ben Tanzer

Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine
You Can Make Him Like You
My Father's House
Lucky Man

Tell us why these copies should go to you!
Winner will be announced March 21st.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Audioreview: The Cry of the Sloth

Listened 2/24/12 - 3/5/12
3 Stars - Recommended to readers who prefer books with a protagonist that will make them feel like less of a failure.
Audio Download (approx 6 hrs)
Publisher: Iambik / Coffee House Press
Narrator: Charles Bice

We know it's hard to be honest with yourself. Especially when you're a middle aged man desperately trying to keep your small literary magazine afloat while adamantly ignoring the fact that you are flat ass broke.

And we know how difficult it can be to look around and realize that you are fighting a losing battle, a battle that no one else cares about - or perhaps even knows about - yet feeling completely unable to throw in the towel.

The Cry of the Sloth is the story of Andrew Whittaker, a complete and utter failure at everything he ever attempted to be.. a son, a father, a husband, a writer, an editor, a landlord, even a pervy flirt. It is told entirely from Andy's point of view in letter after letter to his tenants, his ex-wife, his mother's caretakers, the bank and phone companies, old acquaintances, and potential contributors to his one man literary magazine "Soap". Sometimes sarcastic, other times quite pathetic and woe-is-me, it's no surprise that Andy is running extremely low on funds... sitting around the house, incredibly sloth-like, only bothering to leave the house when he needs more groceries or mails his never-ending correspondences.

He's got these grandiose plans for saving his magazine, a festival-like fundraiser of sorts, complete with awards, music and food, and would you believe it....even an elephant or two! As he attempts to make this fever dream a reality by pitching it to other professionals and begging some money off of them, he ignores his tentant's complaints about the poor living conditions. Andy has the gall, at one point, to blame the leaking ceiling one man writes about on his own fat wife, claiming that she must be filling the tub too high with water and then plopping her heavy body into it, causing it to spill over the edge and drain down into the ceiling tile!

He is also terribly aware of the fact that no one takes him seriously. The papers shove each other out of the way to bash him when he makes an ass out of himself at various literary functions. A teenage would-be-writer teases him ruthlessly over a period of months, back and forth in response to his letters, sending photographs of herself dressed provocatively, then writing about her boyfriend (the photographer). And he knows his stories, which are horrendous and the worst part of the book, will never see the light of day.

The stress and aggravation of it all, of not being able to pay his bills - the nerve of the phone company shutting off his phone, to hell with the bank for not allowing him to fall behind in payments - of living alone, of simply being him, seems to finally be affecting his health. In letters to various colleagues, he begins to confide that he fears he is losing his mind... forgetting where he has placed things, turning the house upside down, only to find the very thing he was searching for three days later, sitting right out in the open, as though it had always been there. He's got a noise in his chest and by god, if he isn't hearing static in his head now....

How do I always end up choosing books with incredibly fucked up protagonists. I must have a thing for damaged guys. i'm serious. I am beginning to wonder if it's some sort of sick comfort thing for me.

Ok, so since I "read" this as an audio, let's talk about the narration. Iambik's narrator, Charles Bice, did a pretty decent job of conveying our Mr. Whittaker's frustration across my car speakers. The veiled sarcasm - something Andy really prides himself on - the mini freak-outs... Charles definitely seemed to have gotten inside the character's head. There were times he had me shaking my head in embarrassment for Andy, while other times I wanted to reach out and throttle him for being such a complete ass. The book itself is one of the shorter ones I've listened to, and Bice's voice, though it's hard for me to recall in my head at this very moment, blended very well with the narrative voice I imagine Sam Savage might have had in mind as he wrote it.

Now, having said all of that, when the audiobook finally came to an end, I was left with no strong feelings either way for Andy, the narrator, or the book as whole. Maybe it has something to do with the way it just seemed to end... without actually ending. There really was no sense of closure, no great climax, no moment of revelation or resignation. Yet, I wasn't upset about that, as I typically would be. I didn't feel cheated. I didn't feel angry. I didn't really feel much of anything.

I am not sure what to make of that.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Reason #284 to Love Indie Authors - A Twitter Story

Ever wonder what would happen if you asked twitter for proof of your own existence? Well, if you're me, it might go a little something like this....

If you tweet that sometimes you just want proof of your own existence, you might have an indie author-slash-publisher tweet you a request to send him a photo of yourself so he can send it back with a picture of him giving it the thumbs up.

If the indie author-slash-publisher tweets you with a request of a photo, you might decide to tweet a photo of yourself across the twitterverse. 

If you tweet a photo of yourself across the twitterverse, said indie author-slash-publisher might actually tweet you back a photo of his thumbs up in front of the photo of yourself.

If said indie author-slash-publisher tweets you back the photo of his thumbs up in front of the photo of yourself, you might tweet him a thanks for the proof and the approval.

If you tweet him a thanks for the proof and the approval, another indie author might just wipe out the proof altogether.

If said other indie author wipes out the proof altogether, you might just find yourself with your mind blown.

*indie author-slash-publisher is the awesome Ryan W Bradley
*other indie author is the equally awesome Steve Himmer
*this is why I love indie authors!

Indie Spotlight: A.J. Scudiere

Where my audio-fans at? Ever wish your audiobooks had a little something extra to them? Would you consider listening to an audiobook that sounded like it came right off the movie screen?

A few months ago, Marissa DeCuir of JKSCommuincations began talking to me about one of her authors, A.J. Scudiere and the AudioMovies she was releasing. Intrigued, and wanting to hear more about them, I decided this was the perfect opportunity for a little spotlighting. Here's Marissa herself, with an intro....

A.J. Scudiere is all about pushing boundaries and finding new stories to tell - and just as fun for us readers - new ways to tell those stories.

Before you check out her guest post below (thank you Lori for having us today!), there's something you should know about the award-winning suspense author. Yes, her novels are awesome. Yes, you can buy them in print and ebook format. But what is so cool and unique about A.J. is that she's on the cutting edge of the AudioMovie industry.

Now I love regular audiobooks, but A.J.'s AudioMovies are so much more than a story being read aloud. I'm talking full on movies with sound effects, actors, a score - and they remain unabridged!

You can buy her AudioMovies at iTunes, and her website, where you can not only find them on CD and digital download, but also USB. Check out the special edition USB swords (Vengeance) and bracelets (Resonance) - and the adorable Utukku creature (God's Eye).

Enough from me, let's hear from the talented author herself, A.J. Scudiere!

Write what you know?
No, know what you write!

If authors only wrote what they knew, the world would be missing entire genres of literature: such as fantasy and sci-fi and possibly even romance. So, clearly, we cannot use the old adage as a rote rule. The whole point of writing fiction is to move beyond the boundaries of what we see in our everyday lives. In order to put the first word on the page we have to believe in something beyond what we know.

Still, there’s far more than a grain of truth to it. The best sci-fi often comes from writers with an earthly scientific background and great fantasy reaches out to other worlds but maintains relatable characters and conflicts. But what happens when you need a relatively ‘real’ reality, but don’t know facts behind what you’re writing about? Well, get some advisors and go research!

With my first novel, Resonance, I read every polar shift theory I could find and incorporated my years of college science. For Vengeance, though I did not go out and murder anyone (thank goodness it doesn’t have to go that far!) I did practice shooting two-handed until I could put a perfect hole in a windpipe or a kidney. I consulted with a gun shop owner and a martial artist and I broke into my own home numerous times. I made sure all the feats Lee and Cyn accomplished were plausible. For God’s Eye, I re-read Dante’s Inferno, studied texts of ancient demon and angel myths and started learning Latin.

It was during this research that I suddenly hit a wall I hadn’t hit before: I discovered that I couldn’t learn enough Latin in the time frame I had for writing the book.

I’m a huge believer in another old adage: Ask and so shall ye receive. You can find anything if you ask around, but you have to keep asking. (Evidence: it took me five months to find a Fire Department that would let me do a ride-along in preparation for my fourth book, Phoenix, but I found an amazing one. Thank you South Columbia Fire and Rescue!) And it took a while to find my Latin scholar, but I did.

Beau Henson was more than happy to put his fluency in a nearly-dead language to work for my book. He gladly emailed back and forth (and back and forth and . . .), answering all my questions about dual meanings and what to do with certain messages because no language translates directly to another. He corrected the interpretations I gave to my character Margot and even gave me a Latin phrase she could easily misinterpret.

I know there aren’t a lot of people out there critiquing the words of the Angels and the Demons in God’s Eye. But it’s important to get it right for the readers who DO understand it. I love when a fan comes up and says “So Margot is equivalent to the ancient Shaman character in the journey myths?” and I can say, “Yes, she is”. I smile if someone tells me they don’t think Lee (from Vengeance) can shoot two-handed with that kind of accuracy. I respond with “Actually, I’m pretty close. And that’s with just two months of practice.” I’m a firm believer that a person could use Vermont technique to get as good as Lee.

So you don’t have to write what you know; fiction should be limited only by the writer’s imagination. But those dreams in the clouds need foundations under them. The best writers learn. And by the time that first word goes down, they know what they write . . .

Author Bio: 

For A.J., texture reigns supreme.  Whether it’s air or blood or virus, it can be felt and smelled.  School is a privilege and two science degrees (a BA and MS) are mere pats on the back compared to the prize of knowledge.  Teaching is something done for fun (and the illusion of a regular paycheck) and is rewarding at all levels, grade school through college.  No stranger to awards and national recognition for outstanding work as a teacher, trainer and curriculum writer, like most true teachers, the real joy for A.J. is in the “oh!” - the moment when the student sees the connection and it all makes sense.

A.J. has lived in Florida and Los Angeles among a handful of other places.  Recent whims have brought the dark writer to Tennessee, where home is a deceptively normal looking neighborhood just outside Nashville. Follow A.J. on Twitter: @ajscudiere or at Find a sample of the audiomovie for God's Eye here .