Saturday, April 28, 2012

Is Finding New Content the Issue...

...or is it finding the time?

I was sitting here this morning, scrolling through the last few weeks of posts on my blog, and I noticed that... short of writing reviews... I've been slacking off on actual content.

Which is quite funny, really, because Tara from booksexyreview and I have been discussing this exact topic quite a bit over the last month or so.

What stimulated all the talk? Well, to be honest, it was the birth of The Reading Ape's Book Blog UnCon (which is taking place on the same Monday as BEA's Book Blogger Con) and its call to bloggers for prospective sessions that got the conversation started. Our slightly obsessive love and passion for building content and developing blog-worthy ideas has kept the discussion-ball a'rollin'.

See, for me, content ideas always come fast and furious. I find I'm never short of cool new series to kick off. But the series I envision typically rely almost entirely on content from publishers and authors. Why? Well, partly because I'm incredibly fascinated with what goes on behind-the-books. So I develop ways in which I can gather information from people in those fields and showcase it here on the blog. But I also do it because I really don't have the time to sit and write out my own content. I'm sure my hard core followers have noticed this habit of mine by now, yes?

Over the years, I hope you'll agree that I've had some really fun series kicking around the blog: "What I Want to Know" where bloggers, authors, and publishers were questioned on a different topic each week; the Indie Spotlights where publishers and bloggers are thrown under the stage lights and given carte blanche to share whatever they wish with TNBBCer's; Indie Book Buzz's like this one, where publishers dish on the upcoming books they are most excited to publish... among many others.

The Insatiable Booksluts is a great example of a blog that develops timely, intriguing, and engaging self-content. They use what they see and hear in the news, on Twitter, and in similar social media sites to snag content and then go on lovely rage-rants that make my heart swoon and my brain hurt! These are the types of blog posts I wish I had the time and energy to write, but lo! I do not.

Some bloggers seem to rely heavily on meme's to generate new weekly content. For my own personal reasons, I steer clear of meme's. However, I can see their appeal - without a doubt, meme's are excellent community builders.

Others do nothing more than review books.

The great thing about all of this? Content is content. It doesn't really matter what it is -reviews, interviews, vlogs, meme's, series - what matters more is where you're getting it from and why you choose it.

So, Tara and I are proposing an Uncon group session focusing on open discussion about just that:

- Blogger/Publisher relationship: who decides what is buzz-worthy?
- Deciding what to review
- Beyond the "Review": finding and developing new content.

Hopefully you find this subject matter as intriguing as we do!!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Indie Spotlight: Gary Slaughter

When an aspiring author sits down for the first time to write their novel, they dream of publishing companies fighting each other for the rights to the manuscript. They envision the yacht and beach house they will purchase with their first royalty check. They imagine the book flying up the NYT Best Seller List in a matter of weeks, nay, days after it hits the bookstore shelves.

But the cold reality is... the chances of that happening is very slim. Most authors share the same backstory - years of hard work, severe revisions, hundreds of pitch queries sent out and hundreds of rejection letters sent back. Especially for a debut author, am I right?

Indie author Gary Slaughter (of the Cottonwood series) has been through it all, and he's decided to help aspiring and debut authors by sharing his own experiences in the form of an informational letter:

Advice for Prospective Authors

Like other published authors, I am constantly asked by prospective authors how they should go about getting their book published. I have developed the pro forma letter below to answer them.

Dear Prospective Author:

You have asked my advice on how to publish your book. To answer your question, I have outlined the steps to follow and mentioned some pitfalls to avoid. Here is what you must to do:

1.      Make sure your manuscript is perfect. For an unpublished fiction author, it should be no more than 80,000 words.

2.      Show your manuscript to someone who reads the kind of novel you have written and who knows how to write. This person should be objective and willing to give you honest feedback. 

3.      Incorporate that person’s feedback into your manuscript.

4.      Purchase the annual Guide to Literary Agents (GLA). You can find it at most bookstores.

5.      Read the preliminary information, including essays and articles, in the GLA. Then identify a number of candidate agents, i.e., those who deal with your kind of book.

6.      Visit the websites of the agents you have selected to learn of these agents’ latest submission requirements. They often differ from what is printed in the GLA.

7.      Start to think about developing a query letter, synopses of differing lengths, and a writer’s resume.

8.      If you don’t know what these things are, search the Internet to learn. There are volumes written on these subjects.

9.      There are also good books on preparing your query package and your manuscript to meet publishing industry standards. Incorporate these standards into your query package.

10.  Following the agent’s submission standards, submit your query packages to as many agents as you can. Avoid agents who want to charge for their services. Preferably the prospective agents you select are members of the AAR, The Association of Authors’ Representatives. AAR has a very stringent code of ethics. AAR agents do not charge for their services.  

11.  Secure an agent and take his or her advice from there. Be very careful here. There many charlatans out there who take advantage of unsuspecting people with manuscripts to place. As a rule, legitimate publishers do not accept manuscripts from new writers without agents.

This is the process for finding a publisher. There are no shortcuts.

I hope you have the stamina to succeed. Most people do not. It took my wife and me a year-and-a-half and 170 tailored query packages to agents to secure my agent. It took another year of rewrites to make my agent happy with my first book. After that, it took another six months to find a publisher.

Given the number of hours that we have devoted to the five novels in the Cottonwood series, despite having sold a respectable number of books, we have made mere pennies an hour. The point is, most writers of books published today cannot live on their royalties. So don’t quit your day job.

Keep in mind that the competition is stiff. 81% of Americans think they have a book in them. From those people, there are currently six million unpublished manuscripts making the rounds of agents and publishers today.

If my advice seems unduly pessimistic, it’s because I want to protect you from unrealistic expectations

Good luck,

Gary Slaughter
Published Author

Fruits of Our Labor

We have worked long and hard to find a publisher for the Cottonwood Series and to produce five, 400-page novels. So far, my wife Joanne and I have each invested about 15,000 hours to date.

Has it been worthwhile? We invite you to judge for yourself:


GarySlaughter is the multi-award-winning author of the Cottonwood books. His critically acclaimed series includes five novels based on home-front America during World War II.

 Cottonwood Summer (2004), the first in his series and winner of the PIAS Award of Excellence. He followed with Cottonwood Fall (2006), a Benjamin Franklin Award finalist in the Popular Fiction category; Cottonwood Winter: A Christmas Story (2008), a ForeWord Book of the Year Award finalist for Adult Fiction and a Next Generation Indie Book Award finalist in both General Fiction and Young Adult Fiction; Cottonwood Spring (2009), a Benjamin Franklin Award finalist in Popular Fiction and a Next Generation Indie Book Award finalist in Young Adult Fiction; and finally his latest, to be released in the summer of 2012, called Cottonwood Summer ’45.

 When not writing, he presents his “Behind the Book” talk to audiences of all ages. And because of his extensive knowledge of POWs in America during World War II, he frequently speaks on that subject as well.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Review: A Hollow Cube is a Lonely Space

Read 4/17/12 - 4/18/12
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended to Bizarro Fiction newbies
Pgs: 91
Publisher: Eraserhead Press

What the world needs now.. is more strange fiction! Thank goodness for Rose O'Keefe and her "New Bizarro Author Series", which sort of equates to the shallow end of a really long, really deep, really freaky pool... It's the perfect, low risk way for a publisher - and curious reader - to dip their toes in the murky waters of debut bizarro fiction without having to take the full-out plunge.

For the uninitiated, Bizarro fiction has its roots traced back to Eraserhead Press. True visionaries of the sick and twisted, their fiction is a combination of the absurd and the grotesque, with a little satire thrown in for good measure. The interesting thing with Bizarro fiction is how flexible it is. Turn up the dial on the absurd and you'll probably get something like The Pickled Apocalypse of Pancake Island. Stir in a good helping of the grotesque and you might end up with something along the lines of The Baby Jesus Butt Plug. (You totally just clicked on those links, didn't you? You were dying to see what those books were about! For the record, I have not read either of these.)

And yeah, I realize that I am probably not doing S.D Foster and his collection of flash fiction/short stories any justice at all by linking to weird literature like that. But I do have a reason for it. And it is this. Not all Bizarro fiction is made up of the things you find in hallucinatory nightmares, or worry yourself sick over when you're stranded on the side of the road in the middle of a moonless night. Some of it is actually pretty cool.

Case in point: A Hollow Cube is a Lonely Space. This collection is one helluva interesting little book. Contained within these 23 stories, you will find some of the most approachable bizarro fiction this genre has to offer. S.D. Foster's fictional shorts offer up twisted perspectives and completely implausible yet highly intriguing and emotionally stirring situations.

Though the stories are short, they pack a lasting punch and chew at you for long moments after... I mean, how often do you hear the life story of a Clementine? Or get to know the extremely vain antics of a man who rips his head from his very shoulders when it begins to age on him?

Some of my favorite stories were told from the most unique and emotionally poignant points of view. There's The Trial of Ted - which follows the unfortunate life of a stuffed teddy bear after his young owner unknowingly drops him in the woods. Unbreakable - the story of a doll who is purchased to comfort a sick little girl during her last few months. Subsidence details the trials and tribulations of marrying a tree. An aging, mutated monster comes to terms with the fact that he must make way for an up-and-coming youth by banishing himself to an abandoned town in Slothra. And Mr. Rat demonstrates how you can take the rat out of the sewer but can't take the sewer out of the rat.

Each story is a parable or fable of sorts, with subtle warnings hiding between the lines. Don't place beauty before personality. Loneliness is sometimes preferable to poor company. Sometimes, being overprotective can cause more damage to someone than if you hadn't protected them at all. Be happy with what you have because you'll never be happy with what you get. Death comes for all of us, eventually.

Though his stories appear small on the surface, and typically feature non-human characters, there's something extremely human about each one of them. Or maybe I am just a sad ole sap for the emotionally tormented and tortured?

This book belongs in the hands of readers who are tired of reading the same ole, same ole. Forget that this is a debut author, because his writing doesn't read like one. Forget that it's associated with one of the most misunderstood genres in the industry. Forget that you might not be a fan of short stories. Just remember that TNBBC told you to go out and grab this sucker and get lost within its pages asap. Have I steered you wrong yet?!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

BookAnd: A "How To" Series (Part II)

Welcome back to TNBBC's first ever bookish video mini-series.

Last week, we introduced you to BookAnd - a brand new, still in beta, 3D build-your-own-bookstore website. My son demonstrated how to view your bookstore and shelves using a touch screen tablet.

This week, he shows us how to decorate your bookstore using your one time stash of 3,000 coins and BookAnd's easy to navigate shopping center. (Don't worry about being frugal. Remember, there are many different ways to gain more coins - tweet a snapshot of your store or link it through Facebook; add a store to your favorites list; log in for two consecutive days; borrow a book from someone else's store and add it to yours.)

In this video, he'll also show you how to give each book a star rating and add your own personal review...

What do you think? Do you like what you've seen so far?

If you are a tablet owner (Kindle Fire / iPad) I strongly recommend that you check out the site - you can register here by clicking on the Request an Invite link. Once you're in, and you've built your bookstore, come visit ours - TNBBC's Bookshop and Books 'n Stuff - and say hello. There are lots of upgrades on their way, the site keeps getting better and better. I'm looking forward to being able to export my books and reviews from Goodreads, and there's a 3D Cover Lab app in the works that will allow you to upload 3D images of the books...

Stay tuned for more review/video info on BookAnd soon.

(If you're up to it, leave a comment letting my son know what you thought of his  "How To" video. He's super excited (and nervous) about being featured on my blog!)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Review: The Sovereignties of Invention

Read 4/12/12 - 4/17/12
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended to readers who dig the odd and uncanny
Pgs: 109 (pdf)
Publisher: Red Lemonade (Releases May 2012)

Matthew Battles may be a new author to me, but he is not new to authordom. Back in 2003 he channeled his love of rare books and libraries and published Library: an Unquiet History (which has seen mixed reviews on Goodreads),  a book that tours libraries from all over the world throughout all of time.

His latest, The Sovereignties of Invention, is a collection of short stories that seem to be suspended just beyond the reach of time and place. Steeped in the uncanny and impossible, Battles stretches our imagination with stories like Time Capsule in which two men attempt to best each other in a never ending game of chess aided by pills that, when swallowed, move you back through time in one minute increments. Or the title story, The Sovereignties of Invention, which tells the tale of the man who purchased a machine that, once inserted into your auditory canals, can record your every subconscious thought.

It's like Battles is stirring up a war between man, animal, and machine...gathering all of the elements, giving them a good wind-up, and releasing them into the arena to duke it out. Who will come out on top? How will it all end? Does man overcome the machine? Does animal outlast man? Does it even matter..?

Within this collection of eleven stories, The Dogs in the Trees, Camera Lucida, and The Unicorn were particular favorites of mine, evoking much stronger emotional connections than any of the others. For reasons unknown to the townspeople, dogs take to the trees until their eventual deaths. A family vacationing in a hand-me-down summer home discover an old Polaroid camera that shoots photos of people they've never met and places they've never been. A man stumbles across an ugly, deformed, and incredibly sad unicorn in his local cemetery and the two quickly become inseparable. These are the sort of stories that I wish I could experience from the inside... by burrowing within their pages.

Other stories, like The Gnomon and The World and the Tree, contain incredibly strong, dreamlike qualities. Sometimes so strong that you want to shake its characters awake, certain that the things they are describing cannot possibly be happening.

If you're looking for a collection of stories that will challenge your mind while changing the way you view the world, I'm pretty sure you've just found it!

And you'd be in luck, too, because TNBBC is proud to host Matthew Battles in a discussion of this very collection towards the end of next month. Why not grab a copy (or read it here) and prepare to join us?! The discussion will go live on May 15th here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Review: The No Hellos Diet

Read 3/29/12 - 4/3/12
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended to readers who enjoy the humdrum of the everyday
88 pages (eBook/PDF)
Publisher: Lazy Fascist Press

We've all been there, unless we were born with a silver spoon in our mouths. Whether it was your first job or an in-between pocket-filler as you attempted to sort your shitty life out... I'm talking about those grueling, humiliating, horrendously mind numbing minimum wage positions we suddenly found ourselves in.

Mine was a part time position in a Carvel ice cream shop while I was still in high school. It was shit pay, and I had a shitty ass boss who thought it would be funny to make me carry the freshly made ice cream cakes to the outdoor freezer in the pouring rain... cause, ya' know, it's wet out, and my feet might stick to the freezer floor. That, or he could get a laugh by shutting the door while I was in there and hold me hostage for awhile. He and the cake maker used to get their kicks by blowing up condoms like a balloon and bouncing them back and forth as they talked about sex behind my back while I was washing dishes. I lasted two days, and that took amazing effort, let me tell you!

Then, when I was in college, I needed a job that could flex to my crazy schedule, and thought I had found it at a local ski resort as a Time Share Telemarketer. Let's just forget the fact that I absolutely despise telemarketers for a second. Cause I was willing to wipe that clear from my mind for a little commission. But my first night there, the auto-dialer rang up three non-English speaking families in a row and to top it off, the office manager threw a birthday party for one of the supervisors... with a male STRIPPER! What the hell? Weren't there Sexual Harassment laws back in the 90's? I left that night, after finishing out my shift, and never went back.

So when I pick up a book that's primarily about a going-nowhere twenty-something year old dude who stocks shelves at a department store for a living, I knew we were going to become fast friends. Sam Pink, author of The No Hellos Diet, has been there, done that, and lived to tell a pretty fucking good tale about it!

I think Pink's got to have a bit of genius in him to take something as mind-numbing as a job stocking shelves and turn it into a side street billboard showcasing the internal struggle of the awkward and antisocial. Using the slightly uncomfortable second person perspective, "you" are sucked straight into the mind of, well, yourself. You work at an Ultra-High-Risk department store too close to Blood Alley for anyone's comfort. You're made to watch an orientation video of interviews of past employees who are missing body parts and have suffered brain damage due to workplace accidents. You chill with co-workers with names like Sour Cream and humor his fetishist questions. You get a quick thrill out of crushing boxes in the compactor. Your brain thinks up the weirdest shit while you're working. It just won't shut off. It never stops...

"You load broken-down boxes into a compactor then crush them by pressing a button. Crushing the boxes, you always say, “Die. Die. Die.” Sometimes audibly, sometimes not. It feels the same either way. The box compactor squeals, compacting. Die. Die. Die. “Die. Die. Die,” you say, and watch the crushing. Feels good to watch the boxes die. Die. Die. Die. Sometimes when the store closes you empty the box compactor and press the button when there’s nothing in it. And the crushing mechanism stops a little bit above the empty bottom then comes back up. Lately, it is enough to consider that maybe when the compactor crushes without anything there to crush, a new universe opens horizontally with the crushed air. And that maybe all the crushed atoms of air open horizontally into a new material plane of possibility. And that maybe you’ve been absorbed by one, the same look on your face as always. It is enough to consider that happening."

Sam sees beyond the surface of the typical every day things. He scratches through its skin, slipping an inquisitive finger around the muscles beneath, and tugs, gently, just to see what it does. His words, very much like those fingers, wrap around you as you read them, tugging at your brain, tickling around your ribs... testing out your softer spots. It's humorous and gross, it's honest and it's way out there, all at the same time. It's almost like it's so strange it could have actually happened. All of it. In a "dear diary, you're not going to fucking believe this" kind of way...

I bet there's more truth here than you first realize.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Hey Small Press 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 Don Antenen. He is one of two founding editors of Hey Small Press!, a non-profit project promoting independent publishers to public libraries all over the United States, which exists to encourage libraries to acquire small and independent press books. He lives in PhiladelphiaPennsylvania. His fiction has appeared in the Used Furniture Review, and he cheers for his beloved Cincinnati Bengals every Sunday.  Sometimes he writes very short reviews on Goodreads

Hey Small Press! reviews some amazing indie fiction and if I were you, I'd add their website to your blog roll asap... Here's Don with his thoughts on what being indie means....

What is Indie?

I am the editor of a website that promotes indie press books to public libraries (, but I have never formulated a strict definition of what "indie" means.  The definitions of artistic labels are inevitably vague or nebulous, and "indie" is no exception.  But so it is not totally meaningless: being indie is a confluence of aesthetic inventiveness, financial independence, and artistic control.

Comparing the catalogues of indie publishers like NYRB Classics or Coffee House Press to corporate publishers like Random House or Penguin, there is a clear aesthetic divide.  This divide is clear even with the "good guys" of corporate publishing like FSG or Harper Perennial, who publish great, difficult books by inventive writers (see: 2666, There is No Year, Parallel Stories, etc etc), but only after these writers have succeeded in the indie press world, won a big award, or there is potential for a movie adaptation.  For example, Roberto Bolaño was first published in English by indie press New Directions.  Curiously, this works in reverse as well.  When big publishers do publish great writers, they don't stick with them.
Vintage published the first and third book of Nobel Prize winner Imre Kertész's trilogy, but the second book, FIASCO, wasn't published in English until indie press Melville House published it last year.
(FIASCO was undoubtedly the best book published in 2011).

Financial independence is a thornier question.  In some cases, it is clear when a publisher ceases to be indie: Schocken press was purchased by Random House in 1987.  Schocken still publishes interesting books now and then, but it is no longer the indie press that brought Franz Kafka, Walter Benjamin, and Hannah Arendt (not to mention more obscure writers like Bernard Lazare!) to the Anglophone world.  But what of indie presses like Dalkey Archive Press, which receives funding from government cultural agencies to publish translated fiction?  Or Starcherone and Black Lawrence Press becoming imprints of Dzanc Books?  And if the books are amazing, does it matter where the money comes from?

The last bit is artistic control.  Imprints of multimedia corporations publish lots of books the editors and promoters do not actually like (in unguarded moments they'll admit this).  For indie presses this is not the case, as they publish fewer books and do not have a company above them making decisions.  The end result is that I can comfortably walk into a bookstore and buy any book from NYRB Classics, Archipelago Press, or Fiction Collective 2 (to name just three) without knowing anything about it other than the publisher.  This is not the case for any big publisher, nor could it be.

I started Hey Small Press! because my experience working in public libraries showed me how underrepresented indie press literature is on library shelves and how little (some) librarians know about the incredible books being published by the indies.  Jessica Smith wrote a great short article for the Library Journal website attacking the "Blockbuster model" used by many libraries.

Her article sums up well my ideas about developing library collections with small press books, but I would add that it's important for readers of small press literature to speak up at their library and request books a lot.  At Hey Small Press! we send out a monthly newsletter to librarians and readers, so anyone can print it out and take it to their library and do just that.  The overload of best-sellers on library shelves, at the expense of developing diverse catalogues, leaves a lot of indie press enthusiasts alienated, but I think there is room for change if people who up to their library branch and start a conversation... then check the books out!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

BookAnd: A "How To" Series (Part I)

Welcome to TNBBC's very first bookish video mini-series!

What is BookAnd?

A few weeks ago, I was introduced to a new website called BookAnd. Still in its infancy stages, operating in  beta / invite only mode, BookAnd allows tablet users to create their dream bookstore. 

Placing an emphasis on 3D technology, BookAnd woos with you a call to build your own bookstore from the ground up - choosing from four different storefront locations and using coins to purchase an array of products with which to decorate your space - showcasing your literary personality. 

With BookAnd, you design your store, fill its bookshelves with your favorite books, write reviews for them, visit other Bookander's bookstores and add their books to your bookshelves  - all at the tap of the screen.

And who am I to turn down an opportunity to try out a new book-related social media site? This one in particular intrigued me... curiosity gnawed at me over how it will compare to bookish giants like Goodreads, Shelfari, and LibraryThing which already allow you to add, review, and share books and have the added community of bookish groups, forums, and live video chats with authors - things that BookAnd doesn't offer. 

Displaying MY Literary Personality

I had a lot of fun designing my bookstore - which is temporarily named TNBBC's Bookshop (until the name field is expanded to allow for more characters). I went for a simple, modern look. I'm using two bookstands to display the current and future Author/Reader Discussion Books - this month's The Baker's Daughter, and next month's The Sovereignties of Invention - and I already have three bookshelves filled with books of various categories: TNBBC's Past Group Reads, Recommended Indie Lit Reading, and books that are currently on my To Be Read / Reviewed shelf. I plan on using one of the other bookshelves for Audiobooks, and I haven't decided what I want to place on that last one just yet.

My littlest guy, when watching over my shoulder as I designed my store, fell in love with the site and begged me to add some of his favorite books to my bookstore shelves. Being the extremely picky booknerd that I am, I refused! But I did the next best thing and got him registered on BookAnd with his own account, and he's been working hard at designing and building his bookstore ever since!

He loves the site so much that he begged me to record him using it - to demonstrate to the world just how fun and easy (and addictive) it is to use BookAnd. Thus, TNBBC's very first bookish video mini-series was born. 

The How-To Series is Born

I am no professional camera-girl. I want to make that clear from the start. So no laughing at my camera or lack-of-editing skills. But I did think my kiddo was onto something. The videos we will be sharing with you will give you a much better idea of how the site works and what you can expect from it  - better than that boring ole screen shot of my shop up there can. 

We plan on releasing these in short 2-3 minute videos that focus on one aspect of the site at a time - from designing a store to adding and reviewing books, visiting other bookstores, and how to gain more coins with which to decorate your store...

So... without further ado, my cutie-pie book loving son demonstrates how to view his recently designed bookstore and bookshelves:

What do you think? Do you like what you've seen so far? It's pretty cool, actually. And, as a previously reluctant eBook reader, I kinda dig the whole virtual shelving aspect, cause now I feel like I can actually show off the eBooks I've been reading...

If you are a tablet owner (Kindle Fire / iPad) I strongly recommend that you check out the site - you can register here by clicking on the Request an Invite link. Once you're in, and you've built your bookstore, come visit ours - TNBBC's Bookshop and Books 'n Stuff - and say hello. There are lots of upgrades on their way, the site keeps getting better and better. I'm looking forward to being able to export my books and reviews from Goodreads, and there's a 3D Cover Lab app in the works that will allow you to upload 3D images of the books...

Stay tuned for more review/video info on BookAnd soon.

(If you're up to it, leave a comment letting my son know what you thought of his first  "How To" video. He's super excited about being featured on my blog!)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Review: Radio Iris

Read 4/4/12 - 4/8/12
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended to fans of whimsical writing with slightly unnerving, twisting tension
Pgs: 209
Publisher: Two Dollar Radio
Release Date: May 2012 (Read an excerpt of the book here)

I was first made aware of Anne-Marie Kinney's debut novel Radio Iris when Two Dollar Radio submitted it back in December as their Indie Book Buzz feature. It sounded absolutely amazing and I was desperate to get my hands on it.

I mean, a book about a socially awkward receptionist working for a company where her co-workers begin to disappear and her boss grows increasingly odd and secretive... yes please!

To most of us, it's a job like any other. Sitting behind the desk, answering the phone, typing up your boss's emails on the company letterhead, making the coffee-runs, smiling till your cheeks hurt as people you barely know putz around the office making copies and sending faxes. It certainly seems all status quo. Until you hear how Iris landed the job. Until you start to realize that she has no clue what Larmax, Inc. actually is, or does. Until you begin to notice how the once bustling office is slowly becoming devoid of employees. Until you look around and wonder, what the hell kind of place is this?

Iris, our 20-something year old receptionist, is plagued with a lack of inquisitiveness. She seems happy to show up to work, do what she's always done, and collect her paycheck even when things are changing around her. As the offices go empty and her nameless colleagues seem to fall off the face of the earth, she doesn't bat an eye. When her boss demands that she immediately run strange errands and then, upon her return, has disappeared for days without word, she shrugs her shoulders and etches cryptic messages in black sharpie on walls, furniture, and anything else she happens across. Left to her own devices, she begins arriving at work earlier and earlier and starts spying on the hermit-like man who appears to be living in the adjoining suite. Iris wears her awkward, clumsy personality around herself like a coat, burrowing in deep, comfortable in her uncomfortable nature. She has this unnerving, uncanny way of making the strange seem simply mundane. And that's the trick to the story. That's what makes Radio Iris work.

In my opinion, Anne-Marie Kinney is like a magician. She sets up the stage, positioning her key players and all of her props just so. We the readers, her captive audience, have one job - to sit back and enjoy the show. We see only what Kinney deigns to show Iris. We know only what she allows Iris to know. And as we passively sit there, knowing there is more to it than what meets the eye, knowing that Iris must know it too, we are powerless to act as Kinney slowly, magically shifts and twists our perspectives. Our attention completely on Iris, we follow her as she moves across the stage, from prop to prop, distracted by her while Kinney rearranges portions of the stage unobserved by us, realigning each prop after Iris moves on, setting the stage for her next big reveal.

Sometimes the changes in the story line are subtle and they unnerve us because we can't quite put our finger on it. Other times, we appear to catch on to it before Iris does, and we have to stop ourselves from jumping into the pages and pointing it out to her, to stop from asking her "why aren't you reacting to this!" If you are patient, though, you will come to a point in which none of that will seem to matter much anymore.

I wish I could say that everything gets cleared up by the end of the book, that the feeling of unease we experienced as we were pulled through the story is finally put to rest. But I can't. And again, that's part of what makes Radio Iris work. Can you trust in Kinney long enough to see if it works for you?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Book Giveaway: The Sovereignties of Invention

TNBBC is proud to be partnering with Red Lemonade and Matthew Battles
 for next month's Author/Reader Discussion!

In May, we will be featuring Matthew Battles upcoming short story collection

In order to stimulate discussion, 
Red Lemonade is offering up 5 printed galleys and 6 PDF's domestically.
(sorry International folks!)

Those who choose the PDF's have their choice of the eBook or a finished print copy once they become available.

Here's the description:
The thrill and anxiety of the Uncanny is the engine of this debut collection by rare book librarian and cultural critic Matthew Battles. He invents a new Creole, one that combines the baroque grandiosity of 19th century industrialist with the sleek grandiosity of the 21st technologist. Traversing musty libraries and austere technology conferences, Battles quietly but ruthlessly discloses the beauty and grotesquerie of our present times, our infatuation with the New and our nostalgia for the Old both lovingly depicted and then slowly roasted on the spit.
In "The Dogs in the Trees," man's best friends deliver an enigmatic rebuke. The protagonist of "The Sovereignties of Invention" is enthralled by a gadget that plumbs the depths of the stream of consciousness. In "The Manuscript of Belz," a librarian ponders the glamor of the book and the bloody limits of cultural experience. And "the Gnomon" seeks in Internet culture the same dark energies limned by Poe.
This contest HAS BEEN EXTENDED AND will run through APRIL 22ND.
Winners will be announced here and via email on April 23rd.

Here's how to enter:

 1 - Leave a comment stating why you would like to win a copy, and whether you prefer the printed galley or the PDF .

2 - State that you agree to participate in the group read book discussion that will run from May 15th through the end of the month. Matthew Battles 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 before the discussion begins). 

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

Good luck!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Audiobook Review: I Never Liked My Dad

Listened 3/31/12 - 4/1/12
4 Stars - Strongly recommended to fans of the mundane - a great retro intro to the world of audio
Audio on Cassette (approx 2 hrs)
Publisher: Tent Revivalist

Ringggg... Ringgg... It's the 80's calling, they want their audio on cassette back!

Oh my god, can I just tell you what a mind trip reviewing this audiobook has been?! Like some of you out there, I grew up listening to books on tape - all the Disney books, like 101 Dalmatians and Lady and the Tramp, and Star Wars stories... Remember when they used to sell them as a package, the book and the tape? So you could read along as you listened? Ahhhh... memories.

As I got older, though, I lost the ability to concentrate on audiobooks and became exceptionally picky over the narrators, so much so that I ultimately gave up audio altogether. So I found it funny when, last year during BEA week, I came to possess a couple of audio CD's. Having grown bored of the radio on my commute to and from work, I decided to give them a shot. As I'm sure you've heard, the first two didn't go down very well. They sort of confirmed everything I hated about the format. They were also nothing like the books I would typically read, either. Then, I listened to Go the Fuck to Sleep, and decided that, even though it was sure to be a rough road for me, it was certainly going to be worth the trip ... I was on a mission: seeking out the best of the best audio books out there. And so far, the local library and Iambik Audio have been awesome audio sources for me.

A few months ago, I stumbled across The Lazy Fascist , and through them, discovered Sam Pink's upcoming audio on cassette - I Never Liked My Father - which contains sample chapters from Person, The No Hellos Diet, and more than a few of his poems. New to both the author and the publisher, I was happy to see that the audio was read by Sam himself. I haven't had the opportunity to hear an author read their own work on an audio recording before. Handled through Tent Revialist, this collection gives the listener a little peek into Sam's poetic and fictional work. (And ladies, the guy's got an incredibly cute voice.)

I wanted this audio (and Patrick Wensink's upcoming audio cassette of Broken Piano for President) so badly that I purchased a walkman with USB capabilities so that I could listen to these tapes in my car, through the computer speakers, and even save them as MP3 files.. it's the past melding with the present, and I think that is cool as all hell.

The readings themselves sound as though they were recorded straight into the mic on a tape deck, mostly clear and crisp with some occasional feedback and background noise (unless that was the crappy quality of my walkman, which wouldn't surprise me since it is a no-name brand thing I ordered through It's an incredibly quick recording, clocking in at under two hours, and did I mention Sam sounds incredibly cute?

With poems like I am Going to Jumpkick Your Face and then Kiss It and The Earth Sniffed Paint While it was Pregnant with Me... I mean, come on, are you seriously going to sit there and tell me you're not the least bit interested in hearing what they're about? And this is the perfect opportunity to take Sam Pink's novels for a little no-commitment spin if you're new to him, as I was. Maybe you aren't ready to jump right into a new author-relationship. Maybe you're a little hesitant, not sure you'll dig his style. The publisher, perhaps aware of your wobbly kneed reaction to all of this, has offered up a sample poem for you listen to on their site. Go on, click the link. I'll wait.

Sam excels in relating the mundane (and he sounds cute, too, right?). He makes the everyday not so 'everyday' by stealing moments that could occur in anyone's life, going by completely unnoticed or with no more attention than we pay anything else, and building a cool little book out of it or shaping it into a poem that sticks with you for days. He's the everyman...

If you stick around, you'll see a review from me in the somewhat-very-near-future on Sam's novella The No Hellos Diet, which I was reading as I listened to I Never Liked My Dad. In the meantime, try to get your hands on the cassette. I believe it's being released in limited quantities - my copy is #36 of 50. Don't miss your chance to check out this audio sampling of Sam Pink's writing. And enjoy the totally retro feeling that washes over you as you stop the tape and flip it over to listen to the B-side. (This is where the term B-side originate from, kiddies!)

Many thanks to Lazy Fascist Press for putting me into touch with Sam Pink, and to Sam for shipping out a copy of the cassette and the accompanying copy of his novella Person.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Indie Spotlight: Chris Semal

One of the things I love about self published authors is their willingness to share their struggles. Nothing is a secret with these guys! Any lessons learned are lessons shared.

And when it comes to writing a novel, author Chris Semal spills the beans on what happens next. From celebrating the first draft, to choosing people other than your family and friends (god love 'em) as proof readers, to remembering to feed your pets.... Chris lays it all out in this guest post:


Any artist will tell you that there are growing pains involved with their process.  Bass players get horrible blisters at first. Painters learn not to wear their best clothing. Ice sculptors don’t work outside during the summer. Writers don’t run into these physical limitations, by and large, but there are many things that I do differently now than I used to, and experience is the only teacher. In descending order, here they are:

The first draft of the story should be read by no one but yourself. I know it’s a magnificent achievement and should be celebrated. Open up that bottle you’ve been saving for the occasion. Seriously, congratulations! This is no mean feat. Then let the manuscript sit for a week before you start to reread it. I know it’s the best thing since sliced bread, but don’t forget, no one has an ugly baby. It’s the same thing with my music. Whenever I write and record a new song, it’s a magnificent piece of music that will surely cement my legacy in the pantheon of great composers. Hey, some of them still sound pretty good when I play them now, but at the first blush of conception, the less listenable sound just as good as the best ones.

After finishing the first draft, do a bunch of other stuff for a little while that has nothing to do with writing and cleanse your palate. Whatever you do, don’t give in to everyone’s “Oh, that’s wonderful. I’d love to read it!”  Believe me, what that story looks like eight months down the road won’t bear much resemblance to what you first put on paper. Hopefully, the story will remain more or less intact, though it’s malleable, too. What will improve drastically is the writing, especially if this is a first novel. I was so proud of ‘Trial of Tears’ when I first finished it, I couldn’t wait to show it to everyone and send it out to agents. There’s a reason agents don’t want to deal with debut novels and novelists, and I personified the problem. All this time later, my overall plot hasn’t changed much, aside from streamlining and a sharpened focus, but everything else has. I don’t know exactly how many drafts I’ve done. I’d say it’s somewhere in the mid to high teens by now. It was after my sixth version that I finally landed an agent and then began the real writing revisions. Even if she ultimately couldn’t get it placed, this was a valuable experience.

When I finally realized that I needed to take publishing matters into my own hands, I held off for a while to save up enough money so that everything wouldn’t have to be done on a shoestring. This also gives you time to plan what you’ll need. Every writer has ancillary strengths they can draw upon. Some network well, others are good graphic designers, others are well versed in bookkeeping, etc., but no one does everything well. You need to build a solid team and learn from these people. Without a doubt the best thing I did was to hire an editor, a professional one. Your friends and first readers will give you valuable feedback, which you can take or leave, but a real editor will show you colors in the rainbow you never knew existed. The mental doors he opened for me enabled the story to go to a level it had never been before. Mind you, you don’t have to incorporate every single suggestion or correction into the manuscript, but even the ones you don’t use will make you think about something else you might be able to do. I estimate that I used about 70% of his advice.

One hard lesson that I’m learning in the latter stages before release is that I would love to have had a line proofreader at my disposal. Incredibly, a couple of punctuation errors managed to escape notice until the last minute, like cockroaches that have become immune to Raid. I’ll be cruising through a galley, satisfied with everything and remarking to myself that I’m still enjoying the story after all the times I’ve been through it, when a little bastard of a missing apostrophe will smirk at me from a page and I know I can tack on another ten days to the release date.

I’ve been pretty good in all planning stages with the exception of when this f****** book will be released. At the beginning of my working relationship with my publicist, we had a long conversation about expectations that segued into estimating a reasonable time for the release schedule. This conversation occurred in November and a detailed timeline led us to mid-February. Writers – be prepared that things always change. It’s not the end of the world though, it’s possible to make it through. Today is March 28th and I really, really do believe this will be out within the first ten days of April. I’ve had to revise my website,, multiple times on this subject. I imagine women nearing the end of their pregnancies terms must get tired of answering the same question, as well. I’m kind of glad I’m not putting it out this week, as everyone would think it’s an April fool’s joke.

There really are no such things as literary bars, at least not in Manhattan. There are all sorts of legendary ones like the Algonquin Hotel and the Minetta Tavern, but their reputations were established some fifty years ago. You’re more likely to run into tourists there than rub elbows and trade stories with novelists. There is a literary bar next to my computer, although I do have to go to the fridge for ice.

Finally, if you’ve been following my website blogs and video interviews on YouTube, you’ll have seen and read about Maurice, the leather-lunged orange tabby that shares his living space with my wife and myself. Make sure that you feed your pets before you undertake any artistic endeavors. They have a way of knowing when you’re trying to focus on something other than them and will make you pay dearly for it.

About Chris:

Chris Semal was born in New York City and has lived there all his life. He is aware that other places exist and likes to visit them from time to time, but the city is a hard mistress to resist.

A musician, singer and songwriter, Semal has played pretty much every rock club and bar in Manhattan at one time or another since the early 80s in various bands. He’s seen the underside of the music industry – the good, bad and ugly – also through his solo work, under the lewscannon heading.

Semal went to the University of Miami to study Music Engineering, heading back north to do the only obvious thing possible, becoming a municipal bond broker and eventually working as a consultant building financial models.

In the early part of the millennium, between both consulting and band gigs, he wanted to expand on the 80 or so words he used in writing song lyrics to the 80,000 he would need for a novel. And so Semal’s debut thriller set in New York City, Trial Of Tears (Paperback & eBook, Cannon Publications, April 2012), was born, along with a passion for developing plots and characters.

Friday, April 6, 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 Tricia O'Reilly,
Marketing Director of Coffee House Press

Windeye by Brian Evenson
(June 2012)

What It’s About
Well, to sum it up: the fantastical stories in Windeye are about understanding the idea of self in a world of shifting realities. Why is it important that you are you and not the person sitting across from you, or the one walking across the street outside? What would happen if you were forgotten? Would you still exist? The answers Windeye suggests are unsettling at best. Some of the characters in these stories: a woman falling out of sync with the world; a king’s servant hypnotized by his murderous horse; a transplanted ear with a mind of its own—these characters live as interlopers in a world shaped by mysterious disappearances and unfathomable discrepancies between the real and imagined. This is Brian’s most far-ranging collection to date, exploring how humans struggle to persist in an increasingly unreal world. Haunting, gripping, and psychologically fierce, these tales illuminate a dark and unsettling side of humanity.

Why You Should Read It
Brian Evenson is one of the most talented short story writers I have ever read. Why his is not a name that every person in American knows is a mystery to me, but I think it’s only a matter of time. Windeye, his new collection of stories that will be out in June, is his best to date.  There is not story in here that didn’t give me a visceral reaction. My favorites are “Grottor,” “The Second Boy,” and “The Sladen Suit.” Oh, and the title story “Windeye,” which was a O. Henry Prize winner. But pretty much every story is a standout example of tense, genre-bending beauty. If you had to put him in a category, it would be literary horror. Think Cormac McCarthy, except with a little bit more of a Twilight Zone feeling. They also kind of feel like fairy tales in a way, and have that creepy undertone that all the good fairy tales have: the quiet stranger is not really who he seems to be; innocence is challenged at every turn; people and things may swiftly vanish or slowly cease of being. So, why should you read Windeye? Because it’s an extraordinary presentation of excellent writing. But also so that when Brian Evenson achieves Edgar Allen Poe level status, you can say that you ‘read him first.’

Tricia O'Reilly joined Coffee House Press in 2010. A native of Queens, NY, her love for reading really took off at age 7 when she hijacked her mother’s Mary Higgins Clark books. She later discovered the beauty of her local library but maintained a love for age-inappropriate literature. Some of her favorite writers are John Steinbeck, Andre Dubus, Karen Yamashita, Tom Robbins, and Roald Dahl. She graduated from Williams College in northwestern Massachusetts, where she studied English and History. She sometimes sings along loudly to Neko Case when alone in the office.

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!