Monday, July 30, 2012

The Audio Series - J. Robert Lennon

Oh yeah, baby! We've cooked up a new feature for the blog.

Our brand new audio series "The Authors Read. We Listen." is an incredibly special one for us. Hatched in a NYC club during BEA week, this feature requires more work of the author than any of the ones that have come before. And that makes it all the more sweeter when you see, or rather, hear them read excerpts from their own novels, in their own voices, the way their stories were meant to be heard.

Kicking off the series is the one, the only, the inspiration behind the whole kit-and-caboodle, J. Robert Lennon! For those of you who don't know, he  is the author of a story collection, Pieces For The Left Hand, and seven novels, including Mailman, Castle, and Familiar. He directs the Creative Writing program at Cornell University

Familiar releases Oct 2, 2012 by Graywolf Press
Photo of J Robert Lennon by Lindsay France

Lennon and I had a great conversation about audio books - more specifically: the Iambik Audio version of his novel Castle and his feelings about hearing someone else narrate his story - at the Graywolf Press booth during BEA that bled over into an after party when we found ourselves face to face again. It's amazing what a little beer and brain-picking can accomplish. 

I'm extremely excited to premiere Lennon reading from his upcoming October release Familiar in this especially-recorded, for-your-ears-only, you-heard-it-here-first excerpt!

The word on Familiar:

*A haunting, enigmatic novel about a woman who is given a second chance—and isn’t sure whether she really wants it

Elisa Brown is driving back from her annual, somber visit to her son Silas’s grave when something changes. Actually, everything changes: her body is more voluptuous; she’s wearing different clothes and driving a new car. When she arrives home, her life is familiar—but different. There is her house, her husband. But in the world she now inhabits, Silas is no longer dead, and his brother is disturbingly changed. Elisa has a new job, and her marriage seems sturdier, and stranger, than she remembers. She finds herself faking her way through a life she is convinced is not her own. Has she had a psychotic break? Or has she entered a parallel universe? Elisa believed that Silas was doomed from the start, but now that he is alive, what can she do to repair her strained relations with her children? She soon discovers that these questions hinge on being able to see herself as she really is—something that might be impossible for Elisa, or for anyone. In Familiar, J. Robert Lennon continues his profound and exhilarating exploration of the surreal undercurrents of contemporary American life. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Review: I Don't Mind if You're Feeling Alone

Read 7/7/12 - 7/11/12
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended to fans of poems that do not look like poems
Pgs: 121
Publisher: Yes Yes Books

Looking for intense, intimate poetry? Look no further than Thomas Patrick Levy His collection - I Don't Mind if You're Feeling Alone  has it in spades.

What you'll find here is not poetry so much as blasts of concentrated, unfiltered thought, scribbled out seemingly in the moment, words rushing and tripping over each other, competing with each other.  What you'll find is an abundance of corn in a town that doesn't know how to use it all. Corn that infiltrates the very breath and life of a young couple. You'll find a stalker who is so taken with someone that their car, the only thing easily accessible to him, becomes the object of his passion and rage, becoming a near-replacement of their body. You'll find obsessive notes to Scarlett Johansson, written out as if in one big rush of breath, void of all punctuation, that make desperate and crazed pleas to the actress. The Scarlett Johansson letters are by far my favorite. I spoke these out loud to myself, one evening when I was home alone, just to hear the crazy come out.

Levy doesn't make it easy for the reader. Much of what he says is coded and hidden behind other words, spoken in riddles that dance across the page. Or, at least, that's how it felt to me. After I stopped trying to make it all make sense and just let the words wash over me, I discovered that his language speaks more clearly to the heart than the head. 

Some of the lines within his poems really zinged me. You know the feeling... when you read a line and immediately the goosebumps grow on your arms, and you get that electric feeling through you? Lines that speak to some unfamiliar part of you? Like:

"I want to keep this warmth in small jars"
"In the night I want to hold the shape of your toes"
"We are a parking lot of ruined insides"
"Everything is a drained battery or your heavy cheeks or a pair of boots"
"Like a puddle I come together around your toes"

I think Levy's collection is one to simply be read. Don't fight to understand it. Speak the lines out loud and let their meanings come to you on their own. Poetry is only scary if you make it that way. It's truly beautiful and heart wrenching stuff, when you let it talk to you...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Where Writers Write: Greg Olear

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

Where Writers Write is a weekly series that will feature a different author every Wednesday as they showcase their writing spaces using short form essay, photos, and/or video. As a lover of books and all of the hard work that goes into creating them, I thought it would be fun to see where some of TNBBC's favorite authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happen.

This is Greg Olear. He is The Nervous Breakdown’s senior editor and the author of the novels Totally Killer (Harper, 2009) and Fathermucker(Harper, 2011). He teaches fiction writing at Manhattanville College. And he recently birthed The Weeklings, a website that boasts a single post a day, every day. 
Greg is certainly no stranger to TNBBC. When I was fairly new to this blogging thing, there was this interview. And of course the reviews for Totally Killer and Fathermucker. Then there was this awesome post where he cast my chart. And finally, our bloggish buddy-dom came to a head when we met face to face for the first time at his KGB reading in NYC. (Poor Greg had to deal with my typical New York City nervousness with the subway system).

Today, he visits us once again and shows us where he finds his writing mojo:

Where Greg Olear Writes

I write in a variety of places. My desk is where I crank out most of the essays I’ve done for The Weeklings, my new blog project.

When I work on my fiction, I like to go someplace with fewer distractions and free air conditioning. University libraries are ideal, especially in the morning, especially in the summer. You know how many college students are at the library at 9 am on a random morning in July? None. It’s just me and the guy changing the lightbulbs.

Also, there are bathrooms, and bathrooms mean graffiti. I love graffiti. Not the graffiti that defaces subway cars and houses—that’s odious—but the bons mots stressed-out students write in ballpoint pen on library desks and bathroom stalls. That sort of graffiti is just as full of life and energy and pain and longing and heartbreak that any of the books on the racks.

   Check back next week to see where Amber Scott gets her writing done!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Indie Spotlight: J.R. Wagner

While TNBBC focuses intently on small press and self-published literary fiction, we enjoy hearing from authors of all genres when it comes to the writing process. 

In today's spotlight, J.R. Wagner, author of the not-yet-released YA series The Never Chronicles, outlines the importance of developing your characters, no matter how small or insignificant they may be to the overall story line. I don't know about you, but I get all kinds of confused when I'm reading a sci-fi/fantasy novel that features a cast of umpteen million characters. Unless the book has a character guide or the author creates unique and memorable back stories for each one, I know I'll never be able to keep them all straight. 

Wagner takes a moment here to discuss fate vs. coincidence, why he despises stock characters, and how he rescues his own characters from becoming "extras"....

Getting into character 

In my soon-to-be released novel, Exiled, characters are not in short supply. As a writer, it can be difficult to get into the mind of each character as you are writing them.  My first question when writing a new character is not what they look like or how they talk as some would think.  I want to know the character’s back-story.  Every character I’ve ever written has an interesting back-story.  The main characters usually have a history that somehow intertwines with the other main characters or, at the very least, the plot. 

Why is this important? In my middle school writing class, I was told about ‘stock characters’ –those characters that have no relevance or influence in the overall progression of the plot. They talk in one-liners, they have no depth and they generally get in the way. I likened them to the Storm Troopers from George Lucas’s Star Wars.  I despise stock characters.  Everybody has a story.  Nobody should be just an ‘extra’.

The ‘extras’ in my story all have rich back-stories that may come into play in the future. Think about it, each person you interact with has, either intentionally or unintentionally shaped or shifted your life in one way or another.  That man who stepped out in front of you as you exited the subway the other day causing you to spill your coffee all over the baby stroller (fortunately empty) resulted in you being late for work.  Who was that guy? Was it intentional?  Fate? Chance? Coincidence? Let your imagination decide. 

My imagination tends to stray away from coincidence and toward intent.  To do that, I must know why that particular character has decided to step in front of you at just the precise moment your $7 coffee was off balance. He knows you or knows of you but you don’t know him. How can that be? You’re important; you just don’t know it yet. He, this coffee-spilling instigator, knows that each event in your life will impact the next and eventually lead to THE event.  The one you aren’t aware is coming yet. He’s been assigned to watch over you, not to interfere. As a result of his seemingly benign actions, this man you don’t even know and couldn’t even describe will be punished.

Things don’t just happen. Events lead up to THE event regardless of how insignificant THE event is.  The question becomes, why as this character chosen this path?  Is it because of something in his or her past? Someone in his or her present?  When you look at the face of a man –look at his eyes, the wrinkles around them, the hollowness of his pupils, the redness of his lids, you can see a story there…a back-story. The very way in which he carries himself –upright, slouched, slumped, can convey the burden that is his life story.

Every person has an interesting story inside them. Some life event that is out of the ordinary.  A great exercise in socialization, observation and mere intrigue is to find that story in a complete stranger. Go ahead. Sit next to the lady at the bus station whose single focus is wrapping that ugly pink yarn around her knitting needles and talk to her.  Dig. Find her story.  More than likely, you’ll be intrigued…and these are real people.  Imagine what you can do for someone whose only existence depends upon the perpetuity of your own mind. 

Imagine what that depth can do for a story. The readers begin to question. They question the character’s motivation for his or her actions.  They question his or her intent and most importantly, THEY’RE QUESTIONING.  They care enough about this character to give them more than a peripheral glance.  If they know you, if they’re familiar with your writing style, they’ll quickly learn that every character is more than they appear and in the backs of their minds, they’ll wonder what role they have yet to play or have already played that’s resulted in the present situation. 

From the woman behind the counter serving tea with a hint of lavender to the boy outside sweeping the snow from the cobblestone street with his painfully inefficient broom that drops bristles in its path, give them depth. Give them history.  Know why she nods knowingly at your protagonist and continues about her work. The readers may never need to know but, in order to create that web of events that each impact the next (otherwise known as reality), I believe this is essential.

Bio: J. R. Wagner was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania during a blizzard. A competitive cyclist, triathlete, mountain biker and adventure racer, he once received a medal for saving a woman’s life during the kayaking section of an adventure race. And the adventure is hard to miss in his debut novel Exiled (Live Oak Book Group, June 5, 2012), the first book in J.R.’s young adult fantasy series The Never Chronicles. He’s got a day job to keep him “grounded”; J.R. helps run his late father’s Downingtown, Pennsylvania floor-covering business.

J.R. first started writing at 10 years old with his sequel to “Return of The Jedi” – the self-proclaimed “Star Wars geek” had lofty aspirations of working with George Lucas on filming the project. In 1990 he began filming his version of “The Lord of The Rings” in his parent’s basement, but the plug was pulled after he nearly burned down the house. Since then the storyteller has also written a full-length science fiction screenplay, a thriller novel and a second screenplay.

After graduating in Kinesiology from Arizona State University, J.R. returned to Downingtown, where his creative fires were re-stoked by his two beautiful daughters. J.R. also endearingly considers his wife Lisa his muse. It was during their trip to Maine he began writing Exiled.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Where Writers Write: Ryan W Bradley

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

Where Writers Write is a weekly series that will feature a different author every Wednesday as they showcase their writing spaces using short form essay, photos, and/or video. As a lover of books and all of the hard work that goes into creating them, I thought it would be fun to see where some of TNBBC's favorite authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happen.

This is Ryan W Bradley. It would appear that there is very little he doesn't do. Writer, Editor, Publisher, Designer, Bookseller... perhaps the list would be shorter if I listed what he wasn't?! 

Ryan is no stranger to TNBBC. His small press was featured here back in June 2011, with his own personal spotlight following shortly after in July. Ryan submitted this awesome unpublished short story for us to share in August and speaking of stories... we've reviewed and adored his short story collection Prize Winners, novel Code for Failure, and his newest - a collaborative poetry project - You are Jaguar. So it is only natural that he show off his writing space here, with us, now, right?

Where Ryan W Bradley Writes 

I have no pretension when it comes to writing. I don't believe I need to be in a special place, or in a particular environment to write. My writing habits are more utilitarian, opportunistic. I write late at night on the weekends because that's when I have time to write. And I write in my spot in the corner of the couch, usually with something benign like SportsCenter reruns on in the background. I do this because it's the best and most comfortable place to spend a late night without bothering my sleeping wife and kids.

I have a nice office that is overrun by stuff related to books, music, movies, and numerous other things. I could write there if I wanted, I have Beatles stuff to surround me. But it isn't about environment. It is about convenience, comfort. When I write I have no quotes posted on a wall in front of me. Often there will be a book on the table next to me, because I will trade back and forth between writing and reading. I don't read something specific, I read whatever I'm in the middle of reading. I don't really keep notebooks, or anything else. I don't wear a tattered pink bath robe. I don't write on a typewriter or a roll of toilet paper. 

For people who know me well, or have read a (un)healthy amount of my work know me as a compulsive person, someone who builds routines out of everything. When it comes to writing I do not have routines, only a drive to make time to put words on the screen whenever I can make the time to do so.

My recently released novel, Code for Failure was written in emails to myself while I worked at a children's bookstore. I have written stories on couches in various houses, or cross-legged on my bed, or hotel beds. I have pulled out my laptop in my car and gotten words down in a parking lot. I have probably written in places that I am forgetting. For now, though, even as I write this I am enjoying the corner of my couch. It gives me what I need to write: a place to sit down. 

Check back next week to see where Greg Olear gets it all out!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Review: How To Get Into The Twin Palms

Read 7/5/12 - 7/7/12
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended to readers who have always wanted to be someone else and will do just about anything to become them
Pgs: 194
Publisher: Two Dollar Radio
Releases: July 17, 2012

Have you ever slept with a man that sort of disgusted you just to get something you want? Anya, a Polish-born, Russian-wanna-be will stop at almost nothing to get into the exclusive Twin Palms. Including pulling a man who smells like sour milk and may or may not be a local Russian gangster into her bed.

Living in the apartment complex directly across the street from the exclusive club, Anya begins to salivate at the thought of walking through those doors and up those stairs, mingling with her town's local Russian population. She hides behind the potted tree on her balcony, mesmerized by the comings and goings of those who are allowed entrance into Twin Palms. She studies their clothing, their hair, their attitudes... and then she begins the long, hard transformation from invisible blonde Polish girl to sultry Russian sexpot. 

Singling out one seemingly unattached club patron, Anya tests out her new persona on him... killing what doesn't work and turning up the dial on what does. 

During the day, she's barely scraping together a living, ignoring her overbearing mother's phone calls, collecting unemployment checks while calling bingo numbers for a bunch of horny old ladies. By night, she waits for Lev to come knocking and willingly becomes his plaything, even though there is much about him that turns her stomach... all to gain entrance into the mysterious Twin Palms.

You know how people always say "be careful what you wish for" and "the grass is always greener"? Well,  How To Get Into The Twin Palms  is the perfect cautionary tale for exactly that. Set during the great wild fire season in California, told in one of the most passive voices I have ever read, our leading lady seemed content to live her life in the passenger seat. Like those fires, she wandered where the wind led her, until it blew her across the street from Twin Palms. And when Anya finally makes a move of her own, things don't go quite go the way she anticipates. The flames from the fires she sets prove too difficult to control and in the end, it's Anya who's left to sift through the ashes.

Make no doubt about it... Karolina Waclawiak's got a knack for the nutty. Her novel speaks to the latent wanna-be in me; the girl who always gawked enviously at the punky chicks with partially shaved heads and rainbow colored hair, the ones with the coal black eyes and nose and lip rings, the ones who looked like they took life by the neck and wrung it without regret. It will speak to the women who wished they could pull off  floor length fur coats and flashy diamond rings. It will tease the sexy delinquent who hides deep inside all of us. But most of all, it will make you appreciate your good sense not to attempt to become those kinds of things. Because sometimes... living vicariously is so much less of a let down.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Americas Blog Tour Train Has Pulled Into the Station..

Thank you for riding the Americas Blog Tour Train Lines this week! We hope you have enjoyed your trip. Please watch your step as you exit the tour...

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 Jason dishing on what it means to be indie.
Day 2: Finds a wonderful review of Jason's short story collection on Insatiable Booksluts by Amy of Lucy's Football.
Day 3: Small Press Review's Marc Schuster posts an interview with Jason in which he lost its questions. 
Day 4:  Had Jason talking to Beth of Candle Beam Book Blog.  
Day 5: Tee Tate 's review of Americas was up on LitStack. AND Jen from Books, Personally interviews Jason there as well. It was a two-fer!
Day 6: Is hosted by Jen again, this time at her blog Books, Personally and features "Costa Rica" - an excerpt from AMERICAS
Day 7: Cozies up with Benoit from Dead End Follies and an essay from Jason on meeting your idols.

Heart-felt thanks to Amy, Marc, Beth, Tee, Jen, and Benoit for doing such a kickass job during the tour. Without them, and without Jason's willingness to work hard behind the scenes bending to their every whim 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 Jason's blog to purchase a copy. 

Connect with the book on 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 on goodreads!) 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Review: No Animals We Could Name

Read 6/27/12 - 7/5/12
3.5 Stars - Recommended to fans of the short story and those who don't mind the deaths of animals
Pgs:  234
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Released: July 3, 2012

So, my good friend Tara over at BookSexyReview  has a theory. And in my experience, it's a pretty accurate one. If an animal is introduced into a story, that animal will surely die.

If the story is about an animal, you can bet the farm the poor thing will be dead by the end of the book. Look at books like Old Yeller, Cujo, and Marley and Me - the classic "dog as man's best friend" pull-at-your-heart-strings-because-you-have-to-put-them-down tear jerkers or the scare-the-shit-out-of-you-because-it-wanted-to-eat-your-face-off-so-you-had-to-kill-it variety. Even beyond the usual, there are authors out there who find death for stuffed animals, as S.D. Foster does in his collection A Hollow Cube is a Lonely Place.

I know, I know, there are plenty of books to argue the other side, where the animals never meet their maker - such as Seabiscuit and Boleto - but we're going to ignore those so I can continue writing this review... I need you to work with me here. 

The animals found in Ted Sanders' short story collection  No Animals We Could Name - a motley grouping of dog, lizard, octopus, and deer - simply never see it coming. Well, hang on, that's not actually true, because the lizard wasn't exactly alive anymore at the start of his story, and we never really know what happened to the deer though we do get full treatment to the aftermath of the driver of the car that was headed towards the deer... (though if the driver of that car had the same kind of luck I do, he smashed the shit out of that thing before veering off the road)...

Now, the dog and octopus... their stories are bit more certain. I can pretty much guarantee they didn't see their ends coming. And what ends they get! 

No, no, don't worry. I'm not about to spoil the entire book for you. But I do want to warn you away if you're anything like Tara and me, and hate to read books that involve unfair and sometimes messy endings to our furry (and in one case, slimy) friends.

That's not to say that all of Sanders' stories involve animals. Because they don't. Quite a few of them are about humans. And the strange, animal-like, and irreversible things they do to themselves and those around them.

There's a growing sense of sadness in some of Sander's stories. It's dark and festering. It puckers at the seams. Sometimes it smells of disease and not nice things.  As you read them, you begin to experience this strange, slow growing hesitancy with each turning page - something akin to that crazy music that starts to creep up in the background of a film, as the main character reaches for the doorknob with a shaking hand -   but you read on, knowing something is coming. Not something outwardly horrific, nothing scary. This is not a hack-em-up-and-hide-em-in-the-basement kind of book. You know it's going to be something much more subtle and strange, something that's just sitting there sadly, crouching, watching and waiting... something that will crawl out of the pages and sit with you much later on... when you would least like it to. 

It's a book that you experience emotionally. Some stories will make you smile slyly. Some will make you pout. Most will make you wonder....

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Where Writers Write: Rachel in the OC

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

Where Writers Write is a weekly series that will feature a different author every Wednesday as they showcase their writing spaces using short form essay, photos, and/or video. As a lover of books and all of the hard work that goes into creating them, I thought it would be fun to see where some of TNBBC's favorite authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happen.

Today's post comes from Rachel in the OC (aka Rachel Thompson). She's the snarkalicious author of A Walk in the Snark and The ManCode: Exposed, a former Trojan Condom sales rep, and compulsive maker-upper of words. In between writing, tweeting, and blogging, she runs her own social media consulting website called BadRedHead MediaOh, and don't you dare call her cute!

Rachel and I met last year at the NYC Indie Book Event and she's been wonderfully supportive of TNBBC and all of our weird and wacky features ever since! She sent this video our way. Let's take a peek into the Queen of Snark's lair....

Where Rachel in the OC Writes

Check back next week to see where Ryan W. Bradley does the deed.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Audioreview: You Are Jaguar

Listened 6/28/12 - 6/29/12
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended to fans of uniquely packaged poetry
Audio Download (73 individual tracks)
Publisher: Artistically Declined Press / Twin Antlers Imprint debut
Released: June 2012

This is the way poetry should be.

Ryan Bradley and David Tomaloff have pulled out all the stops in this incredibly creative collection of poetry. Want to read it in print? Check! Want to listen to each poem as it's read to you? Check! Want to know what each poem would look or sound like if it were edited by two different poets? Check!

You Are Jaguar - a collaborative poetry project - is the multimedia melange debut of ADP's Twin Antler Imprint. And what a debut it is.

Here's how it all went down:

Ryan and David wrote the entire collection together. Then, separately, they edited each poem and gave it a name. When they came back together, what they brought to the table were two totally different, uniquely formatted collections. Released in a style equivalent to most translated poetry - because, as they mention in Jaguar's foreword, what is this process of individualized editing if not a form of translation? - the poems are laid out in print side by side.

What's interesting to me is the obvious differences between styles when the poems are laid out in this way.

Visually, Ryan prefers tightening the poems, condensing them, with a focus on word minimization, saying more with less. While David's poems are more spacial, sprawling, and wordy. Ryan uses the title to describe the poem. David's titles support the title of the collection, a liberal sprinkling of You Are's and We Are's.

The audiobook, which is how I initially digested Jaguar, was an auditory delight. The concept is for each poem to appear as an individual track, much like an music album. That means 73 audio strips that average less than a minute a piece. Which would have flowed like melted chocolate through my car speakers had I had an MP3 player that read them as such. Unfortunately, my Droid requires special attention and forced me to queue up each new track once the current one was finished. (I do not recommend doing this while you are driving during normal commuting hours!!)

Independent of that, the beauty of the readings did not escape me. David's recordings, throaty, breathy and gargled, sounded like a throwback to the days of vinyl. Ryan, on the other hand, is crisp and clear, as though sitting at the table across from you. The unique recordings help the listener to not only differentiate between reader but also influences the way you perceive the poem.

I would strongly advise you indulge in both - the visual and the auditory - to fully experience what Ryan and David have created. Go here to get them.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Review: Inukshuk

Read 5/29/12 - 6/23/12
3 Stars - Recommended to fans of multiple story lines, Arctic Expeditions, and Vitamin C deficiencies
Pgs: 220
Publisher: Bellevue Press

Every good writer must suffer as those within his story suffer. Become the characters, live as they lived, even if it means avoiding each and every food that contains traces of Vitamin C so you can purposely give yourself scurvy. At least, that is Thomas Franklin's hope.

Thomas - an angsty teenage boy (show me one who isn't) - believes he is a direct descendant of the historical Franklin from the failed Arctic expedition. He immerses himself in this fantasy, sketching out a movie of the expedition in an attempt to recreate the event, bringing life to the men aboard the ship, discussing it passionately with his father, while avoiding the more difficult conversations of their recent move to a remote northern corner of Canada and his adjustment - or lack thereof - to his parents' separation.  

John Franklin - teaching at his son's high school and distracted by an attempt to rekindle an on again/off again affair - tried his best to be the father Thomas needs him to be. He struggles to give his son space, allowing Thomas to revel in his fantasy world of icebergs and cannibalism without pressuring him for too much information. 

As Thomas and his father completely miss the point and avoid working towards a more intimate relationship, they become something like passing ships to one another. Thomas is unaware of his father's issues at school while John doesn't notice his son's blatant attempt to beat his body into a bleeding, starving scurvy-ridden shell. 

Gregory Spatz uses his novel Inukshuk as a platform for many meaningful subplots - which, at times compliment one another very well and at other times appear to work very much against each other. If I'm being honest, at times, I wasn't even sure what the book's main plot was... is it possible for a book to be made up of a series of subplots without ever having committed to one main plot? 

There's the overall family drama story arc - you have a father and son, with an absent mother, who struggle to develop and maintain a normal, healthy relationship and tend to work at odds against one another. This story arc is told through two clearly separate means: 
The father's side of the story - his inability to let go of the hope that his estranged wife will return, his obsession with Miora (the mother of a boy who beats up his son at school), his inability to find something he and his son can grasp onto, and the fact that he loses himself to his poetry as a means of escaping it all. 
And the son's side of the story - the embarrassing crush he has on his younger neighbor, his obsession with the Franklin expedition and the burning desire to write it all out, his devil-may-care attitude regarding school and fitting in with the other kids his age, and the early independence that his father has pushed onto him by not being around. 
Within this flip-flop style of writing - while we are immersed in Thomas's side of things - we are given an additional story line... that of the actual events that Thomas is creating and chronicling into a movie format of the Arctic expedition. We meet and read about the two main characters aboard Franklin's ship and the hardships they are facing as they freeze and starve to death in the middle of the ocean.

While Gregory weaves all of this throughout the pages of his novel, he maintains a strict third person narrative. This is perhaps the most jarring aspect of the entire book for me. The overall effect left me feeling disconnected. I had very little empathy for what was taking place in either of their lives. More often than not, I found that I was just reading for the sake of reading.

I'm left wondering how John and Thomas's portions of the story would have come across had they been told in first person. Would I have felt a more vested interest in their individual struggles? Would I have been unable to put the book down because I was dying to know what was going to happen to them next? This is one of the first times that I've ever been painfully aware of a novel's POV. Did Gregory test out different points of view before settling on this one? Did first person never cross his mind? If it was written in first person, would it have actually accomplished what I longed for - a deeper connection with and growing concern for John and Thomas? I suppose I will never know...

Inukshuk was a valiant effort at mixing history with present day. While it didn't make me want to research Arctic expeditions, or create any sympathy angst for Thomas and love-loss regret for John, it did tell a good story. I imagine history buffs would find much more to appreciate here than I did. I walked away feeling a wee bit of this book went right over my head.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Americas Blog Tour Starts...NOW!

All Aboard...
This blog tour train is headed to the Americas!!

Today, we are kicking off a week of bookish wonderment as we celebrate Jason Lee Norman and his recently released short story collection Americas. It's actually a pretty cool concept, if you haven't picked it up yet - 22 short fictional stories, one for each of the countries that make up the Americas.

Jason was a new-to-me author just a few months back. He made a twitter faux pas - of the typically deadly 'pitch a blogger your book' kind - and I took mercy on him because I appreciated his unique spin on book peddling. Jason is a really cool guy who just happens to be an indie author who just happens to have an in-your-face and uber contagious way of getting his work out there. He also has a funny bone the size of Canada and appreciates the occasional ego-stroking. I can't wait for you to meet him!

Jason and I have a great blog tour lined up for you guys. A million thanks go out to our hosts: Susie and Amy of The Insatiable Booksluts; Marc Schuster of Small Press Reviews; Beth Diiorio of Candle Beam Book Blog; Tee Tate of LitStack; Jennifer of Books, Personally; and Benoit Lelievre of Dead End Follies. These guys have some super cool bloggy toury things in store for you and I am beyond ecstatic to have them on board. If you aren't familiar with them yet, please check them out. Really. Right now. Go ahead. I mean it. And then come back and follow each of us throughout this week's festivities and help us spread the love of all things Americas!

Sit back, relax, and let us start by razzle-dazzling you with Jason's insight into what being indie means to him:

Am I indie now? Thank God! At least I’m something. When I first think of indie I think of it in the most direct sense. I’m all alone out here. There is no agent; there is no book deal from a big publishing house. I write what I want to write and I write what I think will engage and entertain other readers. That thought of being all alone out here doesn’t really last long. There are a lot of people out there who have either bought a book, written a review, or agreed to put me on local television that are helping me out every day. Maybe there’s no agent or publicist but there are people who believe in me enough to click a link or buy a book from me just because they think I’m a nice guy. I may not have a larger corporate network behind me but I still have to find ways to connect with my community so that they know I’m here and know what I’m about. If they like any of those things then I may just earn their support.

Secondly, I think that there is a community out there that would identify themselves as being indie in one way or another when it comes to writing and literature. This is the community that I am desperate to connect with. These are the people I look up to on a daily basis and I don’t even know them personally. Living where I live in Canada I can feel very isolated at times and very separated from other writers but the indie community that I am able to interact with on the Internet definitely takes that isolated feeling away. There are online journals and small presses doing wonderful things and connecting with readers in great ways. They publish bold writers (the list is too long to even try) and especially short fiction that I believe is better than anything else being done by any “established” or mainstream literary presence. This indie community is inspiring to me because they publish what they want and they put all of their energy behind the writers they believe in. When observing from a far off place like where I am, I sometimes think that these people have it all. These writers are read widely across Canada and the United States and the small presses are all doing great for themselves. This is probably mostly a na├»ve observation to make because the struggles that these smaller indie presses and writers have to deal with are greater than anything I’ve had to experience. They keep doing it because they love what they do and that’s what makes me look up to them so much. I’d love to be considered indie in the same vein as these groups of writers and I’d love for my book ‘Americas’ and anything else I produce to be considered as such too. To throw my hat into the same ring, into the same marketplace that these artists do each day is an honour. Although I can’t touch and talk to all of them on a daily basis, there is still a community out there. Everyone can feel it and you see more and more writers talk about it each day. They support each other and they respect good writing and they respect the proper attitudes that it takes to achieve any amount of success out there in the world.

Lastly, being indie means that I don’t have any money. Money isn’t that important to me but I would like to be able to take my girlfriend out to dinner some time. Writing a book is the most round about, ineffective, self-indulgent way of making money I can think of.

Go Indie!

P.S. buy my book 

Jason Lee Norman is probably the greatest writer in town. He has a glorious beard and is knowledgeable in almost any subject that exists. Do you want to kiss him? Probably. Friend him? Most definitely. Be him? Impossibly. Visit his website to learn more:

**Next stop on the Americas Blog Tour Train... Tomorrow: The Insatiable Booksluts review Jason's collection.**

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Indie Spotlight: Nicholas Dettman

Every writer has a story. The story of how they first came to be a writer: What or who influenced them to write a book - a family member, an author they met, a life experience; How the idea for that first book came to them - feverishly in the middle of the night, slowly and surely over the course of many years, accidently....

Nicholas Dettman, a first time, self-published author, recounts all of those things and more in today's Indie Spotlight. Taking the leap from writing for the paper to writing for the masses, he discusses who most influenced him to become a published author, how his book came to him, and what gave him the courage to self-publish: 

"A Life Worth Dreaming About” is my debut novel. It was released in February.

I was inspired to become a writer when I was eighth grade when I attended my mom’s cousin’s wedding. At the time, he was working for the Chicago Tribune as a sports writer and told me that he got to interview a lot of interesting people, such as Michael Jordan. I thought that was pretty cool.

When I got to high school, I joined my high school newspaper and really enjoyed it. It didn’t take long for me to make my decision that I wanted to pursue a career in writing.


Well, I’m an outgoing person who likes to talk and share stories. It seemed like a perfect fit to combine that characteristic with writing. Almost instantly, it proved to be a perfect fit.

I have worked at newspapers in Idaho, Indiana and Wisconsin, as well as contributed to many newspapers around the country, such as the Houston Chronicle and the Baltimore Sun. Sports have always been the focus with my writing career. That was until I saw my uncle release his first book.

I thought it was so neat to see someone I knew write a book. That’s when I decided I wanted to write a book some day. I believe I was about 20 years old at the time. I just needed a topic or story.

My book, “A Life Worth Dreaming About,” really just came to me overnight. I have a notepad that sits on a nightstand next to my bed. Anytime I have some kind of writing idea whether it is book related or something else, I jot it down. Well, when the idea to do “A Life Worth Dreaming About” came to me, I was up for almost two hours in the wee hours of the night. Even as I tried to get to sleep, I struggled. The next morning, I was at the computer with the notebook at my side. The next thing I knew, I typed more than 20 pages. I constantly found myself thinking about it and it didn’t take long to put it all together.

I finished “A Life Worth Dreaming About” in less than a year. However, I encountered a number of other problems I never counted on that slowed the process down.

I obviously knew getting published through a traditional house was going to be tough. I sent in the manuscript to a couple companies and didn’t get a response. Then, after a conversation with a former colleague at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, he introduced me to the idea of self-publishing. Everything sounded great, until the cost came into play.

For a year, the project sat untouched on the hard drive of my computer. I doubted my story would ever get published. It was highly frustrating and disappointing.

That’s when my family stepped in. With their help, we were able to collect enough funds to finally get the project off my computer and into print. Three months later, I held the physical copy of my book for the first time. I was so excited. A dream had been realized, three years later.

Since then, I’ve found out the pros and cons of self-publishing. The pros include getting the project published, being able to show it off and see it on store shelves. However, the cons include self-promotion, which has been the toughest out of the whole experience. It has taken a lot of time and a serious commitment. Promoting it has taken a great deal of time. At times it has been rewarding, but most of the time, it has been disappointing. Why? I believe it is a great book and one I’m extremely proud of. But, like publishing houses, customers aren’t taking a whole lot of chances on first-time authors. Of course, a tough economy is not helping my cause.

I dream of one day being a best-selling author. I love to tell stories. My specialty in newspapers is feature writing. I’ve won seven sports writing awards – all related to feature writing. I have discovered a passion to write and enjoy doing so. I hope my writing comes out that way to readers.

“A Life Worth Dreaming About” has some characteristics from authors that I admire, such as Mitch Albom, Rick Reilly, John Grisham and Tom Hallman Jr. It was Hallman that made the biggest influence in my career. I attended a workshop he hosted in Chicago a few years ago about narrative storytelling. He had my attention for the duration of the eight-hour workshop. The great influence was how he showed the people there that day how to turn the smallest detail into the greatest story.

For example, Hallman, who is a features reporter at the Oregonian in Portland, Ore., was to write a story about a politician’s funeral. Instead of taking the route most people would do and recall the good things he has done, he spoke with the person who dug the grave. It turned out that the grave digger hated him. Hallman taught me how to see, in a lack of a better term, outside the box.

I’ve had a lot of positive feedback regarding my novel, “A Life Worth Dreaming.” One of them include: “I read the novel cover to cover in just 24 hours. I could not stop. I can’t remember the last time I did that. In fact, I am sure I never have. At first I thought the extensive detail was too much, but as I kept reading, the extra detail painted such a clear picture of who Carl was and who he became after his experience.”

If or when you get the novel, I want to know what you think of it. What did you like about it? What didn’t you like about it?

And besides, who wouldn’t want to change a thing from their past? 

Bio: Nicholas Dettmann is a veteran journalist from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He has worked at daily newspapers in Idaho Falls, Idaho, Michigan City, IN and West Bend, WI. He has also appeared in numerous newspapers around the country, including the Houston Chronicle, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Baltimore Sun. He has won writing awards at the local, regional and national levels. Nicholas was first published in 2001 at only 19 years old when he wrote a poem, “Remembering,” honoring the death of a classmate. It received an Editor’s Choice award from

His writing idols include Rick Reilly, Mitch Albom, John Grisham and Tom Hallman Jr. In his spare time, Nicholas enjoys reading and spending time with family and friends. Nicholas’ specialty is writing personality profiles. He is married to his wife, Elizabeth, and they have two cats, Daisy and Dory.