Saturday, September 29, 2012

TNBBC's Night Out at the KGB

...went much better!

The KGB Lit Bar is quickly becoming my favorite NYC author reading spot. I love its moody atmosphere and its tight spaces. I love that a crowd of twenty or thirty people feels like a hundred. That's right, ya'll! We had a full house on September 16th for David Maine's reading!

I can't take all of the credit for it of course. David was one of two readers in the Sunday Night Fiction event, curated by Suzanne Dottino. The other author? Kathleen Alcott, who's debut novel The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets is causing a bit of a stir in the world.

The event went down better than I could have ever dreamed. Tara (booksexyreview, the ultimate bookish BFF) hung out with us; Christoph, a writer/ musician who I met on my last visit to KGB, popped in; and new TNBBC member Tim (hi, Tim!) dropped by the table and introduced himself.

I've got video, you guys! It took me a while to upload them and splice and dice them. Then I toyed with the idea of leaving my intro on there (Suzanne gave me the mic to introduce David) but I decided to spare you from my over-excited babbling and left most of it on the cutting room floor. Would you like to hear David read from An Age of Madness? Sure you would....


And here's Part II

The video is dark and grainy because, well, the KGB is dark and grainy! If you haven't been yet, I strongly you encourage you to swing by on your next visit to NYC. A huge thank you to David for allowing me the opportunity to book him a few gigs (even if the first one did end in a humiliating disaster). And as I am sure you can guess, I'm feeling much better about my little corner of the literary world right about now. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Review: It's Fine By Me

Read 9/19 - 9/22/12
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended; Audun's the Norwegian Holden Caulfield, y'all
Pgs: 199
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Release Date: Oct 2012

So there's this thing people are doing with books that feature young protagonists -  they are automatically labeling them "Young Adult" (YA). You've see it too, haven't you? I'm not going crazy, right?

For reasons that I find hard to put into words (or, that I find hard to put into words that won't result in me getting pelted with rotten tomatoes), this mis-classification really bothers me. YA is not a character-based genre. It's a reader-based genre. It's meant to classify novels that are written for young adults. YA books contain story lines that are particularly appealing to young adults, and that are written in age-appropriate language.

I mention this because I noticed, while adding Per Petterson's upcoming release to my goodreads shelves, that some of the reviewers there have It's Fine By Me filed away as YA, which it most definitely is not. Sure, it's got an angsty, teenage protagonist who goes out of his way to not fit in and makes a general ruckus of things, and it's likely going to resonate with anyone past, present, and future who disliked school and felt like they never quite belonged there, but it's not written specifically for the younger audience.

Audun Sletten is the Norwegian Holden Caulfield. I feel like this needs to be said. He's got some of the same crassness, that 'devil may care' attitude that feels comfortably familiar. He's been toughened by a rough childhood and doesn't want to talk about it. He fancies himself a loner - the kid in the shades, rolling cigarettes on his own in the corner of the school yard - who doesn't want any trouble, though he'll be the first to start it if someone comes looking for it and then make sure you knew you had it coming.

To his surprise (and mine), he befriends a young Arvid - who we met as a grown man struggling to come to terms with his ailing, secretive mother in Petterson's 2010 release I Curse the River of Time. A fiercely loyal companion, Audun passes the time away with Arvid by discussing Ernest Hemingway and Jack London and making rounds around town. But we know something his friends, and teachers, and even his own mother, doesn't - Audun's keeping a secret and is having a hard time reconciling his emotional side with his cool, calm, and collected image.

Per Petterson, true to the style that I loved in River of Time, take his time telling Audun's story, allowing the events and story lines to flow freely, in and out of each other, revealing themselves when they are ready, bleeding the past and present together, seamlessly. For Audun, it's a coming of age story. For us, it's a reminder of how hard that period in our lives had been - trying to discover who we were meant to be; developing our outer persona while struggling to tame the whiny, uncertain inner one; figuring out what we wanted and how that fit into what life was demanding...

Another knock-out novel from an author who is quickly climbing the ladder to the top of my favorites list. Is it possible for Petterson to put out a bad novel? Let's hope not, for my sake!!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Where Writers Write: Mike Kleine

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 Mike Kleine. He is an American author of literary fiction, and electronic music. He received a B.A. in French literature. Someday, he will begin his M.A. in English literature. He currently lives somewhere in the Midwest. Mastodon Farm (Atlatl, 2012) is his first book.

The book trailer for Mastodon Farm is pretty interesting. You should take a peek before Mike takes you on a tour of the places in which he finds himself writing:

Where Mike Kleine Writes

I’m 23 years old. I can’t afford anything so there is no writing studio for me.

Mastodon Farm, I wrote in France, so the picture of the desk and the chair is of that place in France.

Here, in the Midwest, I write in the living room and the bedroom.

Generally, I am in the living room. This is where I keep the desktop computer. I like typing on a keyboard that is not a laptop keyboard and I like to look at things on a screen that is not a laptop screen, so most of the time, I am on the desktop computer in the living room. After that, I’m in the bedroom.

There’s not a lot of room in bedroom, but this is fine I guess. How much room do you need, really (if you think about it)? Also, it’s tidy, since there isn’t that much room for anything. I have a mattress and all the stuff you need to build a complete bed, with the headboard and all that, but I never feel like putting it together, so mostly, I sleep on the floor.

I have a bookshelf, in the bedroom. I’ve never had a bookshelf, so this is something new for me. Usually, my books stay in cardboard boxes or plastic containers, so it’s nice not to have to do that anymore. Mostly though, I have the laptop in the bedroom because sometimes, I wake up super early so I can write down ideas. And even if there are no ideas, I still do it. It’s something good to do sometimes, I think.

The rest of the time, it’s for when I wake up in the middle of the night. It takes too long to turn on the desktop computer so I use the laptop computer to type things I think up in the middle of the night. I also have a notebook I bought—this great big black thing, with a hardcover—just for that, writing down ideas and stuff, but I’m too afraid to write anything in it, in case I mess up… So most of the time, I just write on envelopes and the back of old print-outs.

If I had the money for an iPhone 6 or whatever, I’d probably be writing my next book on that. But probably not.

Check back next week to see where Letitia Moffitt writes.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Indie Spotlight: MG Press

It's not often that I stumble across a brand new publisher BEFORE their first book releases. And what a great looking first book it is! World, I'd like to introduce you to MG Press, the micro-press extension of Midwestern Gothic - a quarterly print journal that calls Ann Arbor, Michigan its home. 

MG Press is poised to release their debut short story collection This Jealous Earth in January 2013. Though currently closed for submissions, their goal is a valiant one: to spotlight Midwestern literature, highlighting local authors and the region's mythology and culture.

The press's co-founding editor Robert James Russell is guest posting today to tell you all about Midwestern Gothics new literary adventure:

Indie Spotlight: MG Press

First things first: Where is the Midwest? Well, that varies slightly depending on who you ask. Traditionally—at least by U.S. Census standards—the “Midwest” extends from Michigan over to North Dakota, down to Missouri, and rounding back up to Ohio (including everything in between). Some people include Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and a few others, but really, if you’ve been here at all, you’ll know there are very particular states that have this unique and somewhat-shared history, mythology and culture. Of course, there are micro-cultures if you zoom in further, but in general, the people of these states are considered “Midwesterners” and very much of the same ilk.

Now that the geography lesson is out of the way, why the Midwest? MG Press, which is an offshoot of the literary journal Midwestern Gothic—formed in late 2010 with Jeff Pfaller—has a simple enough aim: to showcase talent from this region that we feel is vastly undervalued as a hotbed of artistic wonder. I mean, think about it: With the exception of maybe Chicago, you don’t necessarily think of the Midwest and think of authors, poets, artists, a lively food and music culture. Instead—let’s say, thanks to the media—you tend to think of cornfields and blue-collar workers and factories and, negative stereotypes about fat people. And that, to us, is a shame, because honestly, there is such a distinct history and culture to this place that assuming no talent lives here, or that no great work is inspired by the region, is a big mistake. Thus, Midwestern Gothic was born, a quarterly literary journal devoted to highlighting these very people, giving them a venue to show the world, “Hey, this is our home, and we’re proud of it. Very good things come from here!”

Regionalism has been a part of literature—especially in the U.S.—since, really, the dawn of literature. We have such distinct “areas” that it’s impossible not to notice how they affect the writers and their works. What we’ve seen, though, is while there have been and continue to be fantastic Midwestern authors who do find the spotlight, there’s never been a national push like there has been for, let’s say, Southern literature. Or even West Coast literature. The Midwest is as unique as those places, so why has it been overlooked?

That’s a loaded question, to be sure, one that deserves many devoted essays to be written about it, but if it’s possible to simplify any sort of response, I think it would because we don’t have the glam these other regions do. We don’t necessarily have a unique cuisine, or Hollywood or the likes of a New York City. We do have farms and factories and livelihoods that sprang up from these. We have hardworking, proud and—above all—cheerful men and women like you can’t find anywhere else. And while that created Midwest culture as we know it, it can easily be overshadowed by these other, more dazzling bits of Americana.

But ultimately, it doesn’t mean we don’t have stories to tell. And we were lucky to find that niche. Of course there are some fantastic Midwest-based journals out there, both print and online, but we didn’t see any whose sole mission it was to educate about the Midwest, to try to shine a spotlight to the region. So we took it upon ourselves to create one, a home for Midwesterners—or, even, anyone just inspired by the region—a place to showcase their work. Jeff and I were both born here and still live here, and the beauty we see in this place…well, it’s the reason we do what we do. We want the world to see this place as we do—a wonderland of talent. Simple as that.

And MG Press is an extension our original goal. We want to go further and really hype up this region, show the talent that's here and publish a small number of titles each year. Of course this is no easy task. Creating a press of any size isn’t. But we feel sticking to our original credo is a good start. (And designing pretty-looking books doesn’t hurt either.) We don’t listen to anyone who says print is dead—people who aren’t in the business say that. Because anyone who is, anyone who spends time talking with writers and understanding us—and readers too—knows it isn’t dead. Not really. Has focus shifted to eBooks? Absolutely. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But print is still here, and creating a press isn’t the most unheard of thing these days. It all comes down to the market, to having a niche, and again, we believe we do. What we’ve seen with the success of Midwestern Gothic is that people understand our vision, what we’re trying to accomplish. Our biggest fear early on was that people would shun us, push us aside as just another gimmick, but it’s been quite the opposite, and we’re hoping to keep that momentum with MG Press.

So, what’s ahead? We’re thrilled about our first release, This Jealous Earth, a collection of stories by the extremely talented Scott Dominick Carpenter—to be released January 2013. We’re busy marketing that and sending advance review copies out now, trying to get Scott and his wonderful book much-deserved attention, and as well to introduce MG Press to the world.

We’re going to open submissions up eventually for MG Press, but we’re not sure when—not exactly, anyway. This is all new to us, the book press aspect, and while it shares some similarities to the journal and how we produce and market that, there are enough differences that we feel we want to stumble through this first, figure out what works and what doesn’t before we start reading again. But we’re excited for the future, for what this will mean not only for us, but for the region. We just hope what we’re doing makes a difference—even a small one—on the mindset of those who consider us just “flyover” states. Because the truth is, we’re much more than that. Wait and see.

For more information on MG Press and This Jealous Earth, click here.

To submit your work for Midwestern Gothic, click here.

Robert James Russell is the co-founding editor of Midwestern Gothic. His work has appeared in Joyland, The Collagist, Thunderclap! Magazine, LITSNACK, Greatest Lakes Review, and The Legendary, among others. His first novel, Sea of Trees, was released in May 2012 by Winter Goose Publishing.  Robert lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Find him online at

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Audio Series: Herocious

Our 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.   

Last week we listened to Collin Kelley read from his short story collection Kiss Shot. Click here if you missed it. 

Today, Herocious is reading an excerpt from his novel Austin Nights, which had been reviewed here on TNBBC. Born in Miami to a Colombian woman and an Anglo man, herocious has pieces of himself scattered across the internet and his nail clippings float in some oceans. He edits TheOpenEnd. Like Don DeLillo, he believes each word triggers an electrical impulse inside our brains. When a perfect string of tiny explosions goes off, both readers and writers experience the deepest kind of pleasure. Austin Nights is his first novel.

The word on Austin Nights:

Bridget had a fierce desire for survival which made her a fighter. Michael had a hankering after immortality which made him a useless dreamer. And that was the great difference between these two Austin transplants who loved each other so well.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Review: May We Shed These Human Bodies

Read 9/11/12 - 9/18/12
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended to fans of short stories that charm, intrigue, and warn...
Pgs: 145
Publisher: Curbside Splendor
Releases: Sept 30, 2012

Amber Sparks has a knack for saying a lot with very little. The short stories in this collection range anywhere from a few paragraphs to a few pages long, and yet they tell their story more clearly and more entirely than some novels I have read.

This book popped up on my radar way before the review copies were available. And the wait was almost excruciating. Curbside Splendor teased us with the book cover, which is lovely, and shared blurbs by Amelia Gray, Ben Lorry, Michael Kimball, and Matt Bell, all of whom I've read and adored. That's always a good sign. And the title is just amazing, isn't it? May We Shed These Human Bodies. I envisioned people unzipping their skin, letting it fall off their shoulders and puddle down around their feet, as their robot-like inner spirits step out and shine like ghosts.

While I didn't find a story quite like that one in the collection (you have to admit, that would have been a cool one), I did discover a bunch of excellent tales about ghosts, of both the motherly and haunting kind; twisted spins on Peter Pan and Paul Bunyan; a nursing home full of cannibals; a city that longs to travel; trees that become humans; and a magical, mysterious bathtub.

The one I enjoyed the most happened to be the very first one that I read - Death and the People. It's the story of Death, who has come to Earth to collect a soul. But the people of Earth have grown tired of Death sneaking in and stealing the ones they love, one by one. So they stand their ground and bully Death into taking them all. It's a wily, cunning little tale that kick starts the collection and sets the bar incredibly high!

Amber weaves a wicked web with her words, saying what needs to be said without spending a lot of effort, trusting that her audience will have no choice but to be sucked in. And sucked in, I was. Her stories read swiftly, sting fiercely, and then retreat quickly to make room for the next. Each little world she creates breathes hard and fast and lingers with us long after we leave it behind.

I'd be very interested in seeing what she can do with a full length novel.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Crash Course on the Anatomy of Robots (Blog Tour)

Welcome to Stop #7 for A Crash Course on the Anatomy of Robots blog tour. 

I typically do not host a leg of a blog tour for books I haven't read. But I enjoy working with JKSCommunications and thought A Crash Course on the Anatomy of Robots sounded like something I could totally get behind (even though I knew I could never review it in time for its release). 

Here's what goodreads says about it:
Damien Wood's path to adulthood in the last decade of the 20th century is marked with effortless success - creative, financial, sexual. Yet, his half-Asian lineage with its inherent cultural clashes is coupled with the inability to be touched by feelings or the people around him. Damien's efforts to reach his inner self take him from place to place and one hollow relationship to another, but he remains stuck outside of his experiences, a robot convincingly playing the role of daredevil artist and globetrotter.
Then, the century turns. As Damien's mother dies after a long and agonizing illness, and 9/11 inaugurates a reign of fear and terror, his emotions, from desire to despair, begin to emerge unbidden. These birth pangs of humanity send Damien on a mordantly comic, darkly suspenseful quest from the Americas through Southeast Asia in the company of an expatriate colony with too little to lose - including values - until violence comes to claim him as one of its own. No longer a robot, Damien has become a wanted man...
The original soundtrack for A Crash Course On the Anatomy of Robots was written and recorded at On Studio in Guanajuato, Mexico. The album will be available on iTunes prior to the release of the novel and come free as a companion piece with the Kindle version.

Today, you're treated to a guest post by its author, Kent Evan, in which he discusses how he created the soundtrack for his book:

Incorporating music into a novel

Late last year I started writing the music for what would become the soundtrack to my new novel with my experimental drum and bass progressive funk metal collective We’re Not Vampires. I have often used music as a bridge between spoken word and writing, and in the beginning this was no different.

Me, Moises Ruiz and Benjamin Santana were playing out quite a bit and more and more I began to incorporate pieces from Crash Course. When we started talking about the novel coming out later this year, I was already in the studio working on a soundtrack for Bermudan director Antoine Hunt. I had recruited Ramon Hernandez from Barro Negro and Mike Severens (GTO orchestra, and Tom Petty, among others) to bring in drums, bass and cello respectively. Moi provided some additional production, as did my best bro and longtime collaborator Kienyo (DJ Sujihno from Nossa).

My approach to music is similar to my approach to writing, or to cooking or dancing, or any other creative form of expression for that matter. I take what I’ve learned over the years and approach it from the heart - from a gut level. I initially wrote all the guitar riffs, and then jammed em out with Vampires. They grew organically from there, and the excerpts from Crash Course just sort of popped out of the text screaming to be married to them. After that, Ramon worked really hard to help me realize my vision in the Studio, and Michael added the almost epic component we’d been missing with the Cello.

Once we started playing it just fell into place and seemed like a perfect fit for the iReader version of Crash Course to best utilize both the technology and showcase myself as a multi-platform artist. When you buy certain versions of the novel electronically it gives you the option to hear those pieces narrated/performed with musical accompaniment. More traditionally, if you buy a physical copy of the novel, you can either download the album from all major distributors, or order a physical CD from Amazon. For a novel with Robots in the title it only seemed natural to embrace the benefits that come with new technology.

The result is something I’m really proud of, and I think is really hard to fit in a genre. The iReader with embedded music and narration is something that has almost never been done, and I think both Crash Course the novel and the soundtrack defy easy categorization. On one hand we have an experimental Fictional Memoir told in everything from 3rd person narrative to direct conversations with the reader, and on the other we have a Spoken Word album that flows between Rock, Trip-Hop, and jazz in a natural way that has rarely been executed on this level. Together, they create a unique reader/listener experience that I think people are going to be surprised and intrigued by.

For the tour starting September 18th (Northeast, South, Texas, California) I’ve got some great musicians like Carl Restivo (Tom Morello’s Freedom Fighter Orchestra, Rhianna), Drew Trudeau and Anthony Valenzisi (Lions of Judah, Sicboy), Laura Wilson (Gypsy Fiddler extraordinaire), country singer and guitarist Johnny Hunt, along with some surprise guests who are gonna help recreate and re-interpret the album. In this way, the project continues to change and grow, and keeps me interested as an artist. I’m lucky that I’ve been able to take two of my great loves, writing and music, and been able to able to combine them in a way that I, and hopefully others, will enjoy.

Kent Evans is the author of Malas Ondas: Lime, Sand Sex and Salsa in the land of conquistadors, a semi-autobiographical novel about self-destruction throughout Latin America and finding that corniest of motivators – love. He was a fixture on the spoken word and experimental art scene throughout the 90’s and is currently pursuing his artistic craft through music and fiction. 

A Crash Course on the Anatomy of Robots released September 17, 2012 from Pangea Books. Half Cantonese and half UK, Kent was born in New York City in 1975 and grew up between New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island. He fully expects to answer that “but where are you really from” question the rest of his life.

You can follow the tour here on September 25th.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Where Writers Write: Isaac Marion

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 Isaac MarionHe was born near Seattle in 1981 and has lived in and around that city ever since. Deciding to forgo college in favor of direct experience, he dived into writing while still in high school and self-published three terrible novels before finally hitting his stride with Warm Bodies, his first published work. He currently splits his time between writing in Seattle and hunting inspiration on cross-country RV trips.

Personally, I adored Warm Bodies. (For those of you who haven't read it, For Shame! And also, Booo!) And I adore Isaac. I mean, beyond his obvious good looks, the guys got personality. Have you read his blog? In one post, when readers complain about his leading zombie's lack of zombieness in the upcoming film adaptation of his novel (yep, Warm Bodies is coming to the big screen), he basically challenges readers to learn the rate of decomposition by killing themselves. In another, he dissects the act of kissing. Seriously, world, what's not to love? He's also a badass artist - check out his paintings here - dabbles with photography, and is a musician to boot! 

Ok, enough pimping. Let's let Isaac do what he came here to do, and that's show off his writing space:

Where Issac Marion Writes

I can't write at home. It took me a long time to accept this, but after renting the nicest, coziest, most aesthetically pleasing apartment I've ever seen and setting it up to be the ultimate writer's lair with a big desk and comfortable chair and minimal distractions and finding that I still fled every day to the nearest coffee shop, I realized there was no escaping my wanderlust. There's just something about leaving the house that flips a switch in my brain, letting me know it's time to focus. If I write at home, it's way too easy to jump up and distract myself any time I hit a snag. "Hm, I'm not sure where this scene is going...maybe if I play piano for two hours and then eat lunch and then watch six episodes of Star Trek it will come to me." At a coffee shop, the options for retreat are very limited. I'm sitting at a table. There's nowhere to run.

My coffee shop of choice varies quite a bit. I wrote most of my first novel, Warm Bodies, at a huge place called Aster in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. I wrote most of my short stories at a tiny hole in the wall called Joe Bar in Capitol Hill. A few moves later, I've set up shop at Fremont Coffee in...well, Fremont. This place is pretty much my dream cafe because it has an unbelievable amount of table space, spread out through an amazing four separate rooms of window walls and shadowy nooks. This is the most important thing I look for in a work cafe. There's nothing worse than showing up ready to tackle a crucial scene and finding that the only seat available is the tiny one-person table placed right next to the front door. I'm borderline obsessive about where I sit. The Feng Shui has to be exactly correct. I have to be in a corner or at least against a wall, not too close to anyone else, but near a window. (I don't know how Feng Shui works.) I find it extremely hard to get in the zone if these conditions aren't met. It's ridiculous, but my brain knows what it needs and it's the one paying the bills. I don't argue with it.

The whole concept of writing at a coffee shop is ridiculous, really. I require absolute focus and don't want any human contact disrupting my concentration, so I go to a public place with a constant flow of human contact? It doesn't sound logical, but I've found it creates a certain ideal mix of solitude and stimulation. Even though I don't want to talk or interact with anyone, it's somehow still inspiring just to be around people. The background layer of noise and activity keeps my left brain occupied, leaving my right brain free to do its work without the left whining "I'm bored!" And perhaps most importantly, the human contact--even though it's indirect and barely registers--allows me to spend hours a day inside my own head without going insane from isolation. That faint aroma of humanity is enough to keep loneliness at bay while I'm deep in the mines.

Come back next week to see where Michael Kleine (author of Mastodon Farm) writes. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Audio Series: Collin Kelley

Our 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.   

Last week we listened to M.L. Kennedy read from his novel The Mosquito Song. Click here if you missed it. 

Today, Collin Kelley reads from his newly released eBook exclusive short story collection Kiss Shot. A novelist, poet and playwright from Atlanta, Georgia, Collin's second novel, Remain In Light (Vanilla Heart Publishing), was a finalist for the 2012 Townsend Prize for Fiction and is available in eBook format and trade paperback. His critically acclaimed debut novel, Conquering Venus (Vanilla Heart Publishing), was released in 2009 and an Amazon bestseller. He is co-director of the Atlanta Queer Literary Festival, sits on the board of Poetry Atlanta and on the advisory council for Georgia Center for the Book. By day, Kelley is the managing editor for Atlanta Intown newspaper. He has been a journalist for more than 25 years. 

Collin wrote a guest post for TNBBC back in April of 2010 on unconscious connections,  submitted a previously unpublished poem to our Tell Me A Story feature, and shot of video of his writing space for Where Writers Write.  

The word on Kiss Shot:

 [Collin Kelley]... explores his Southern roots with this collection of four short stories set in the town of Cottonwood, Georgia. A devoted maid recalls the hijinks surrounding her employer's death from a brain tumor in "How Fanny Got Her House," while a teenage boy comes to terms with his sexuality during an unexpected game of pool in the title story, "Kiss Shot." A woman escaping an abusive relationship arrives in New Orleans during a rain storm and wanders into the famed "Clover Grill" on Bourbon Street, and "I've Got A Name" follows the trials and tribulations of an overweight woman looking for love at a community theater company.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

TNBBC's First Night Out...

.. at Brooklyn's Book Thug Nation was a bust.

I had started promoting the event a couple months back. I threw together a flyer, designed a cute tri-fold to hand out at the event, special ordered Tshirts for David Maine and me to wear during the reading, and sent out personal invites, mass event invites, and event reminders through Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

I'm not sure what else I could have done to hype it up. And it's sad-making, because David Maine is an awesome author and I feel like Brooklyn really missed out on something good last night.


Yesterday was my first time visiting Book Thug Nation, our host space. It's this teeny little bookstore on N 3rd street in Willamsburg, Brooklyn. Barely larger than my bedroom, it sits beside an antique shop and directly across the street is this great little German bar that David and I slipped into, grabbing a celebratory beer before the reading began.

While sitting in the bar, my cell phone started getting hit with cancellations from the few people I had personally invited and had been really excited to see. Oh No, I thought. This does not bode well. And while it's always wise to be prepared for things like this, I don't think you can ever prepare yourself ENOUGH...

We head back over to Book Thug Nation, help the store associate set up the chairs, and while David grabs a seat in preparation, I scout the sidewalks to see who's coming and talk up the reading to a few of the browsers. One local, Anna, took an interest in hearing more about the book and the three of us chatted for a bit about music and books and mass-consumer-madness. 

Eventually, the store associate asked if anyone else was coming. She was itching to open the store back up to the public before she had to close for the evening. We had an audience of one, and David had no one to read to. Dejected and humiliated, I thanked Anna for hanging out, apologized profusely to David as I helped fold up the empty chairs, and asked for directions to our separate subway lines. 

After David and I said goodbye, I walked down the length of Berry St toward the L running everything through my head. I considered chucking in the towel. I replayed the conversation David and I had on our way to the bookstore earlier that evening - where we discussed the power (or lack thereof) of social media, blogging vs professional newspaper reviews - and how certain I had been that voices matter, no matter how small, so long as there was an audience for them. I thought about how he had tried to prepare me for tonight's event by making sure I had set "low expectations", and I thought that no one could ever their expectations low enough to prepare for a turnout of ZERO people. I felt like a failure. I felt like everything I had ever done up to this point was for shit. For nothing. For no one. Who was I kidding, I had no audience! No one was listening to a fucking thing I was saying! I was talking to empty space. But worst of all, I felt like I had let  David down. And that bothered me the most. 

So, it's the morning after, and while I continue to struggle with feelings of frustration and humiliation and gag on the ginormous heap of humble pie the universe served to me last night, I know that I am going to continue to fight the good fight for exceptional literature. I won't back down and play dead, I won't quiet my voice, I won't give up on spreading the word about the authors I enjoy and the amazing stories they have to tell... because I can't.  

Now excuse me while I burrow back under the covers and continue my pity-party-for-one. I'm not quite done feeling sorry for myself.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Review: Buzz Aldrin, What Happened To You In All The Confusion

Read 8/25/12 - 9/8/12
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended to those who prefer coming in second
Pgs: 471
Publisher: Seven Stories

Johan Harstad's novel had been lingering on my bookshelves for over a year. Though I cannot recall whether it was a copy I requested or one that was simply sent for review from Seven Stories, there it sat, patient, unassuming, and content, waiting for me to find a reason to pick it up.

And a reason found me on August 25th, in the form of tweets that alerted me to the passing of Neil Armstrong. I figured, what better way to remember the first man to step foot on the moon than by reading a book that contains a character who idolized the man who stood in his shadow. And so my love affair with the 471 paged translation began.

This awkwardly titled novel is told in the first person narrative of Mattias, a thirty-something year old gardener whose life goal is to play second fiddle to a world of attention-obsessed people. A loner, a worrier, a daydreamer and supposer, Mattias enjoyed being invisible. Growing up, he took pleasure in being the kid in the class who is easily forgotten. When he made friendships, they were few and fierce. Hell, he chose a career in horticulture because of the peace and quiet it afforded him.

But that all changes when his employer goes out of business, his long term girlfriend breaks up with him, and his best friend Jorn asks him to follow his band over to the Faroe Islands. A creature of habit, and not one to stick his neck out, Mattias deals with these sudden changes as you would expect... not very well at all. On the trip across the ocean, things go from bad to worse, and the next thing Mattias knows, he wakes up stretched out and bloodied on an unknown street in an unknown town in the middle of the night with an envelope of cash stuffed into his pocket and not a clue as to how he got there.

Lost and alone, he wanders the island until he is picked up by a wildly entrancing psychiatrist who delivers Mattias into the arms his crazy-farm (aka The Factory, the re-purposed building where a small group of mentally unstable islanders live and work together in relative peace).

Hang out with head cases and you are sure to become one! Mattias suffers a mental breakdown of sorts at the start of his stay at The Factory, but eventually finds himself taking to this new life:

"...I contemplated how everything had happened so fast. I'd lived through nearly thirty years with barely a couple of friends, I'd avoided other people, I'd snuck away from them or they'd passed me by in silence. And now it seemed new friends were tumbling in, in the pace of just a few hours, two women, and two men, and my unwillingness to talk, my unwillingness to accept them, was ebbing away. I was becoming two open arms." pg.152

This story worked for me in so many ways, and on so many different levels, and I was surprised to read reviews where people whined about it being slow and plodding and boring. Because here is how I saw it: We'd been given a complete backstage-pass to Mattias's brain. He allowed us the freedom to wander through his thoughts and leave no stone unturned and rummaging through someone's personal baggage takes quite a bit of time.

He gives us time to understand his obsession with Buzz Aldrin - the strength of character Mattias places in the ability to stand back and let others led the way, the "gigantic heart" of those who are content to take second place, as if it is a conscious choice, something people willingly strive for. Rather than something people must accept.

He gives us time to understand his subtle obsession with Tuesdays - at the start of the book, he mentions how Tuesdays tend to be the most overlooked day of the week, yet in Mattias's experience, they are the most notable. Watch for them when you the read the book. I found this to be one of the most fascinating hints he dropped for us.

He gives us time to accept him and forgive him and root him on.

Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion? is a long, hard, slow look at what it takes to overcome your own manufactured obstacles - those barriers and walls you've constructed around yourself, to protect or cushion yourself from things real or imagined. Rather than put himself out there and risk failure, Mattias successfully built a life where he found comfort in second-place. Until second place, and his creative invisibility, were no longer an option.

It's the anti-hero story. It's the cracking of the shell. It's the caterpillar emerging as the butterfly. It's the realization that people need people, whether you think you do or not. It's awkward and frustrating to watch but at the same time it has utterly captured your attention and refuses to be put down.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Where Writers Write: J.R. Angelella

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 J.R. Angelella. He is the author of the novel Zombie (Soho Press) as well as a forthcoming Southern Gothic supernatural YA series (Sourcebooks/Teen Fire) co-written with his wife, Kate Angelella. Their first book, Cursed, is set to publish in 2012. He is also a contributing author to the murder-mystery anthology Who Done It?(Soho Teen), benefiting the nonprofit organization 826NYC. He teaches creative writing at the Gotham Writers’ Workshop in New York City. His favorite band is the Drive-By Truckers and he doesn’t understand why they aren’t your favorite band too. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, and now lives in Brooklyn with his wife and their two flauntingly obese cats, Pacey and Bailey.

Where J.R. Angelella Writes

“What-ism: My Philosophy of Whatever Wherever & Whenever”

I thought that writing about where I write would be an easier assignment than it proved to be. A no-brainer. No big deal. As my mother likes to say, this assignment was going to be “a gimme.” What I realized, however, was that my writing habits are not, well, traditional, so to speak. I am not a writer who is a creature of any kind of habit. I don’t set daily word count goals for myself. I don’t write inside a rigid early-bird routine. I know that so many writers do set word count goals for themselves and write before the sun also rises, but I am just not built that way, or at least not right now.

Allow me to explain.

I do subscribe to a strict writing routine when I am on deadline for an editor or under contract with a publisher. Presumably, most of my creative heavy-lifting has been done at this point, and all that’s left is for me to turn my madman notes into some semblance of discernible prose. For me, it’s getting to that semblance of discernible prose phase that is the issue. I probably spend more time sorting through and organizing my schizophrenic ideas than I should, but working inside a regular writing routine generally make this process slower and more arduous for me. I used to get up at 5am every morning, cranky-crawl to my desk and pushing-and-pull at words until I had to leave for work at 8am. 

The problem was that I found myself spending an embarrassing amount of time deep-sea researching bizarre subjects online, and less time actually writing. To this day, I, quite innocently, clear out my internet browser history after every computer session, so that no one is subjected to whatever insane curiosity has recently piqued my interest. For example, this week I researched: the migration patterns of Mississippi Black Squirrels; the Zen-practice of provoking “great doubt” through the study of koans; how to harvest the Middle Eastern, DEA-classified, Schedule I narcotic catha edulis, better known as “Arabian tea” or “khat;” and how to tell the difference between a male (cob) and female (pen) Mute Swan. My point is this: clearly, my desk is not the best place for this writer to write.

For a while, I tried writing in bed. However, this, too, proved to be a failed experiment as my Maine Coon cat, Pacey, who I’m fairly convinced believes he will one day rule the world, became inappropriately fascinated with me and wholly committed to: knocking the pen out of my hand, sleep-smothering across all of my notebooks, waging a never-ending boxing battle with my computer chord, and not only ruthlessly stealing my headphones, but then refusing to give them back. 

Finally, I embraced my fate as the Goldilocks of writing spaces and opened myself up to the opportunity of unknown environments. There is an Albert Camus quote from his essay on the absurd “The Myth of Sisyphus” that states: “If the world were clear, art would not exist.” With this, my new philosophy took shape and has been my main belief ever-since: “What-ism: My Philosophy of Whatever Wherever & Whenever.” 

Allow me to explain. I write whatever wherever & whenever. For example:

Airport terminals 

The New York City Subway R Broadway Local Line – 
every day, back-and-forth between Brooklyn and Manhattan. 

Hell, I even wrote several key scenes of my novel ZOMBIE while an EMT moonlighting as a “sleep tech” prepped me for a sleep study, and hot-glued 22 electrodes to my head, strapped elastic belts around my chest, and fit a pressure transducer up my nose. 

Today I write with a fluid and flexible mindset that allows for the absurdity of everyday life to influence my writing at any turn. Camus, the godfather of “What-ism,” also wrote: “At any street corner the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face.” Again—another personal truthbomb as the absurd has followed me to the following of late: doctors’ offices, dive bars, chain hotels, the Bolt Bus to Baltimore, corporate coffee shops, independent bookstores, multi-national bodegas, every taxi cab in New York and most restaurants.

·         QUESTION: Where is it exactly that you write again?
·         ANSWER:     See definition of what-sim[1]

[1] What-ism –  (pronunced: wət izəm) (noun) the belief that opacity is the mother of art, which is created whatever wherever & whenever possible; also the illegitimate philosophy of the absurd.

There—does that answer your question?

Why yes, J.R., yes it does!!

Check back next week to see where Isaac Marion gets his writing done.