Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Where Writers Write: Dinty W Moore

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 Dinty W. Moore. He is the author of The Mindful Writer: Noble Truths of the Writing Life, as well as the memoir Between Panic & Desire, winner of the Grub Street Nonfiction Book Prize in 2009. He also edited The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction: Advice and Essential Exercises from Respected Writers, Editors, and Teachers. Moore has published essays and stories in The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, Harpers, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine, Iron Horse Literary Review, and Crazyhorse, among numerous other venues. 

A professor of nonfiction writing at Ohio University, Moore has won many awards for his writing, including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction. He edits Brevity, an online journal of flash nonfiction, and lives in Athens, Ohio, where he grows heirloom tomatoes and edible dandelions.

Today, he shares his reasoning for keeping a grungy writing room:

Where Dinty W Moore Writes

Call it superstition: I have moved five times in the last twenty so years and always make sure that my writing room is the least attractive space in the house. Once moved in to our new home, we paint the bedrooms, spruce up the living room, dining room, and kitchen, and sometimes, when we can afford it, upgrade the bathroom fixtures, but the writing space stays more or less as it is found. Shoddy, rough around the edges.

Even my computer is old, running an outdated version of Windows and very few other programs. Fewer distractions that way. The computer is not, thank goodness, connected to the Internet.

Why such adherence to roughness? I’m not sure, but I do know that about fifteen years ago a friend of mine had some wonderful with his second novel, and pocketed a hefty royalty check or two. He took that money and built himself the writing studio of his dreams: a massive space above a three-car garage, with natural wood floors and high beamed ceilings, an antique desk, two fireplaces, a reading nook with comfortable furniture, a full bathroom, and best of all, a picture window overlooking a long, green valley of trees and hawks and clouds.

Best I can tell, he has never written another thing since moving into that aerie of a space.

There was just too much to do in that room, other than write, and too much pressure, maybe, to live up to the grandeur.

So give me the grunge. Give me a pock-marked, garage sale desk, discarded sheets as curtains, and unpainted walls. I did upgrade my chair recently – my aging back demands it – but I’m resistant to spend another cent.

Superstition? Yes. Actually an important writing requirement? Probably not. But I believe in it, and thus it works for me.

Check back next week to see where Carol Guess writes.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Caleb J Ross's Guide to Books & Booze

Time to grab a book and get tipsy!

Books & Booze is a new mini-series of sorts here on TNBBC that will post every Friday in October. The participating authors were challenged to make up their own drinks, name and all, or create a drink list for their characters and/or readers using drinks that already exist. 

Kevin Drinking Playlist

Considering most of I Didn’t Mean to be Kevin is, as author Joey Goebel says, “an American road novel from hell,”—keyword being “road”—associating alcohol with the novel might potentially be irresponsible. Then again, should you be reading the book while driving, even without imbibing the booze listed below, you’d be irresponsible. Therefore, all blame, no matter how you decide to take this blog post, reverts to you. Read Responsibly.

These drinks, did I drink them? Do the characters in the novels drink them? Some yes to both, some no. They are meant as a way to evoke the feeling of the novel, of the reader’s expected experience, more than literal reflections of the text and my time with it.

Coke and Jäger (and a drop of grenadine if you’re feeling syrupy)

  • ·         1 part Cola
  • ·         2 parts Jägermeister
  • ·         Ice
  • ·         Dash of grenadine

Early in the novel the main character, Jackson Jacoby, visits a bar called Town Royale (the bar itself inspired by a bar of the same name in Emporia, Kansas where I attended college; the bar was known as the English Major drinking hole, probably because it wasn’t as cool as the other bars, resided at the edge of town, and catered to those less interested in aesthetics [the tables were little more than glorified picnic tables], and more interested in conversation). The novel Town Royale resides along a non-descript highway and serves as the impetus to Jackson’s cross-country journey. Jackson orders a Coke and Jäger, casually, implying that he may be a regular at this bar.

I started ordering this drink in college, though I don’t recall Town Royale being the birthplace. I wasn’t much for beer at the time (oh to be young and stupid) but knew enough not to take in neat liquor every night. The Coke and Jäger was born of a need to be social without feigning a taste for beer.

Whisky in a flask

  • ·         1 part Whisky
  • ·         Remaining parts flask

There’s something about a flask that simultaneously connotes elegance and poverty, addiction and choice. Though I Didn’t Mean to be Kevin doesn’t contain a flask at all, the romance one might associate with a flask is imbued throughout. Jackson travels the country, telling lies, claiming to be someone special, when the truth is he’s probably not special at all. When I see a flask in the wild, I can’t help but feel that the drinker is utilizing such an unnecessary, cumbersome item (seriously, why not a plastic flask bottle off the shelf) in order to appear interesting. That’s Jackson, a man in need of awe and validation.

Drinks from the Name Dropping Checklist

One of my favorite aspects of I Didn’t Mean to be Kevin is the inclusion of literary references throughout, which I use to validate myself as an author (“I’ve read lots of books, see”) the way Jackson tries to validate himself to strangers (for those of you curious about the references, check out my 4 part video Easter Eggs series in which I reveal all 13 Easter Eggs in the novel). With this in mind, these final drinks are an amalgamation of drinks that feel at home in the worlds depicted in the referenced books and stories.

  • ·         The Great Gatsby – Prohibition reigns in the world of Nick Gatsby. This makes an alcohol reference difficult. However, by means of the name alone, I think an Old Fashioned would be a good drink to fit the Gatsby portions of I Didn’t Mean to be Kevin.
  • ·         “The Blue Bouquet” – Octavio Paz’s amazing short story opens with a dreamlike awakening, something I would liken to the romance associated with Absinthe. Though the hallucinogenic properties of Absinthe are grossly overstated (re: non-existent), the drink still carries enough weight in the world of the surreal to have a sense of place among I Didn’t Mean to be Kevin.
  • ·         Kiss Me, Judas – Will Christopher Baer’s Phineas Poe trilogy, which starts with Kiss Me, Judas, contains references to a drink simply called The Pale. The text doesn’t offer much in the way of what exactly The Pale is, so I’ll pull from the name and offer Pale Ale as a suitable drinktrack for the Kiss Me, Judas-y parts of I Didn’t Mean to be Kevin. Many breweries have Pale Ales, so choose your favorite, and relax into I Didn’t Mean to be Kevin.

Caleb J. Ross has been published widely, both online and in print. He is the author of Charactered Pieces: stories, Stranger Will: a novel, I Didn’t Mean to Be Kevin: a novel, Murmurs: Gathered Stories Vol. One, and As a Machine and Parts. Visit his official page, his Twitter feed, his Facebook and his Google+.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Indie Spotlight: Sundog Lit

One of the things I love most about the interwebs, and obsessive social media sites like Twitter, is the lightening speed rate at which you are bombarded by new things. Some of it turns out to be trash, or outside the scope of your interest, true... but if you're following the right kinda crowd, a lot of what comes at you is right up your alley and you sudden fall down the rabbit hole of awesome-new-things-I-must-immediately-become-acquainted-with. 

In my case, running in bookish circles as I do, my rabbit hole is small press publishing. And this week, The Insatiable Booksluts all but shoved me down one with their links to the stories published by new-to-me Sundog Not only are they snagging some awesome literature from even awesomer writers, they love running features and series nearly as much as I do! But rather than listening to me go on and on about why these guys should be placed on your must-watch-closely and expect-great-things lists... I thought I'd let Managing Editor Justin Lawrence Daugherty do it for me. So, without further ado... Sundog Lit:

This is an introduction, of sorts, a hello, a how-do-you-do, a pleased-to-meet-ya. This is a howdy to the world.

Hello back at ya, you say. Who are you, though?

This is Sundog Lit, an online lit mag of incendiary, earth-scorching literature. I wrote about the early days, the all-or-nothing days (mind you, only 2.5 months ago, that was), the days of sweat and calloused fingers, for the Passages North blog. I wrote about how this beast first breathed life from its lungs, about how this began at AWP in Chicago this year and how it eventually came to where we are, really, now.

But, there's an untold story. I think part of the story is my own tale to tell. About how I returned to Omaha, Nebraska, the town I spent the first 27 years of my life, the town I left with a fiance, and came back to without that fiance, and with a sense of loss – not of her, but of having left Marquette, Michigan, Lake Superior, friends, Northern Michigan University, a girlfriend (whom is also no longer in the picture). I had left behind what had very much defined me for the last few years, an MFA program where I grew – I like to think – exponentially. In Omaha, I felt a need to connect, to be a part of something.

Sundog Lit came about in part out of that, but also out of the desire to see a venue for literature that really is active, incendiary, full of broken bones and blood and fury and all that. A venue for new, emerging, passionate voices. We wanted literature that really connects with the reader, makes them feel something, makes them unable to forget what they've read. Literature that breaks into your skin, gets deep in your bones like a chill in winter.

At first, we were unsure what we would get, what this mag would really look like, if we'd get any submissions, whether there'd be a first issue. There are so many magazines out there that you have to stand out, have to really try and shake foundations. We launched the site and soon had a few series – Photogene, an art-and-writing prompt contest (free!) that we run on the site, This State of Literature, a series of guest articles written by publishers and writers and lit mag runners on the state of literature in our world, and Friday Rex, our Friday recommendation series showcasing excellent literature from around the online literary world.

I spent a ridiculous amount of time on Twitter, on Facebook, out there promoting every single thing we created. Sometimes it felt like too much, but we generated interest, buzz, electricity, I think. People seemed excited for the first issue. There were hiccups, of course, but in October we finally released Issue One, something I'm so proud of, and featured so many amazing writers, people who I am really excited to have been able to feature and publish.

 Since then, we've partnered with Robert Kloss to offer Texts Inspired by Robert Kloss' The Alligators of Abraham, a series of texts from established writers responding, in some way, to Kloss' excellent novel. That series runs throughout November, 2012, in the run-up and aftermath of the release of the book. We're working on partnering with a couple other writers to do exciting, new things in conjunction with their book releases early next year.

We launched a blog, where we'll publish interviews and reviews, new series and feature articles and guest posts. We are preparing theme issues and contests. We're spreading and building quickly. There's something to be said for the slow build, but I've never been great with patience.

We will be at AWP in Boston. Come see us!

What my big dream is, though, is to launch a press, to publish books that push boundaries and incite readers, books that make readers really mull over what they've read, books that make them want more, more, more. I hope to work on that early next year. So, stay tuned.

The reaction to what we've done so far has been truly inspiring. People seem to love what we're doing and what we're putting out. The writing we've been blessed with publishing has been great. That's the most important thing. The writing. That's the reason any of us do this at all, the reason this mag exists. It's all about the writing. 

BIO: Winner of the 2012 Gigantic Sequins Flash Fiction Contest prize, Justin Lawrence Daugherty manages Sundog Lit from Omaha, Nebraska. His work has appeared in or is forthcoming from The Normal School, Barrelhouse, Monkeybicycle, NAP Magazine, HOUSEFIRE, Whiskey Paper, Midwestern Gothic, Bluestem, A-Minor, Recess Magazine, Heavy Feather Review, and elsewhere. He is an Assistant Fiction Editor for Bartleby Snopes and the Music Editor at Used Furniture Review and is at work on putting together a podcast with a few other fine folks, to be announced soon. He is at work on a novella, a novel, and several other projects. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Where Writers Write: Lydia Millet

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 Lydia Millet. She's the author of The Shimmers in the Night, a brand-new novel for middle readers that is the second in the Dissenters series that began last year with The Fires Beneath the Sea. She’s also written fiction for adult readers, including the short-story collection Love in Infant Monkeys, a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

Today, Lydia shows us where she finds her inspiration to write:

Where Lydia Millet Writes

I drive 35 minutes across a mountain range to take my two young children to school in the morning, and I stay in the city till school ends, since I don’t want to traverse the mountain pass four times a day and I like to stay close to the kids. I edit press releases for six hours daily and intersperse that with writing my books, whenever I have half an hour free; it’s a hybrid life. I like to write in public, with a low hum of noise but nothing too intrusive, so I float from venue to venue seeking subdued company and avoiding crowds.

Coffee. First there’s a bagel emporium. I’d prefer a local, hipster coffee shop to a franchise, but this is a chain-store part of town. Most of the regulars are retired, plus there’s a huge group of mentally challenged adults from an assisted living facility. Finally, most every day there’s a table of gun-wielding cops from the corner sheriff’s station, and sometimes a fireman from across the street. Emergency services abound. Advantage: Manager attractive; on bathroom runs, laptop completely safe from crime. Disadvantage: When retirees, cops and challenged enter at once, horrible din.

Food. Then there’s a diner across the sun-baked parking lot where I can get a salad, if I have time for lunch, and work as I eat. Here again I’d prefer a more idiosyncratic décor, but beggars can’t be, etc. My weekday life is a mini-mall. This place has sports on TV, but not too loud. Advantage: Booths, ranch dressing. Disadvantage: Insides freeze from giant cups of ice water + Arctic A/C. Waitress won’t hold the ice. Violent shivering.

“Fitness.” Next I work in a small lounge that’s actually part of the women’s change room at my gym, a character-void national chain where TVs surround me once again, tuned to things like FOX, and pop music plays incessantly, most of it repugnant. When I’m not typing I emerge from the change room, much like an ogre clumping out of its cave, to drape myself slowly and sadly over an exercise machine. The lounge is a conversational danger zone; one personal trainer comes in with a headset and talks loudly to a boyfriend in prison. Another health enthusiast, seemingly insane, has a beauty routine that lasts two full hours. Advantage: Puffy armchair; fitness potential, chiefly latent. Disadvantage: Half-naked, hard-bodied individuals saying bad things; many have pink acrylic talons.

The Library. Finally it’s over to the public library to finish out the workday. Here the lights are far too bright, like every other place I work, and there are a number of homeless patrons, mumbling/smelling. If I were homeless, I’d be here too. Advantage: I love libraries and librarians categorically. Disadvantage: Rage at cell-phone talkers. Festering.

Check back next week to see where Dinty Moore encourages his writing mojo.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Where Writers Write: Barbara Richardson

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 Barbara K. Richardson, author of Tributary, which released back in September.

She believes in the interconnectedness of all things. How else can you explain Mitt Romney running for president and The Book of Mormon musical storming Broadway just as her Utah historical novel comes to print? 

Barbara lives in Colorado with her sweetheart of 34 years. She designs landscapes and edits manuscripts for a living. And now, she shows us where she writes:

Where Barbara K. Richardson Writes

The real writing nearly always takes place in bed. Just as my mind relinquishes the cares of the day and swims out into restful waters, bam. Insight comes. I keep my Mighty Bright clipped to a notepad, with pen, on the window sill. I write into the darkness. With my latest novel, Tributary, I stayed up six hours a night taking notes for three weeks. I am a bloodshot-eyed novelist.

Later, when I type up the manuscript, every word is supported by the OED!

Check back tomorrow when , back on our regular schedule, we discover where Lydia Millet writes.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Review: A Pretty Mouth

Read 10/16/12 - 10/20/12
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended to readers who enjoy sick twists on classic lit
Kindle Book
Publisher: Lazy Fascist Press

Lazy Fascist Press brings it again. And this should not come as a surprise to anyone. They've brought it before and will continue to bring it, forever and ever, amen. I've reviewed enough of their quirky, accessibly bizarre fiction to know that whatever they put out, I'm going to want - no, need - to get my greedy little hands on it.

This time I was wowed and cowed by Molly Tanzer's A Pretty Mouth. In this collection of interconnected stories, we are forced to bear witness to the dark and twisted history of the high-class  Calipash family. Black magic and treachery abound in these creatively manipulative tales. Beginning at the end and working their way backwards through time, each story introduces us to a new generation of Lord Calipash's and slowly pieces together the curse that has dogged their bloodline for generations.

Let me start by saying that the more you know about the literature for each time period Molly visits, the more fun you'll find yourself having and the more sting her satire will carry. For example, the opening story, "Dolor-on-the-Downs", pairs its current (and financially floundering) Lord Calipash with, of all people, Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves. Now, promise you won't laugh when I confess that I had no clue this was a sick twist on the ACTUAL Wodehouse stories. How could I possibly know that when I'd never read one before? I just assumed Molly was poking fun at it by naming the valet after the famous savant manservant. But as I read on, and confessed my confusion to @booksexyreview, the story began to come into sharper focus and I quickly caught a whiff of what Molly was cooking up. And once I knew it was the actual Wodehouse men, the story took on a whole different meaning for me!

So we've got Jeeves helping our twenty-seventh Lord Calipash to solve the perplexing problem of the strange sea creature that lives in the bowels of the hotel in which they are relaxing. Then we've got the Bronte-like " The Hour of the Tortoise",  a creepy Gothic Victorian tale of a young lady called back to the residence of a dying Calipash, who finds herself in possession of a strange trinket that binds her to the family mausoleum in the most unexpected way.  A school aged Calipash and his band of bad-ass buddies appear in the title story, in which mad-scientist experiments and bawdy displays of power determine the fate of their hopeful classmate Henry. And the final story finds us knee-deep in Roman times where it all begins with the earliest Calipash, who has been shipwrecked on an island populated with strange barbarians, becoming the unfortunate recipient of this unshakable curse.

If you think A Pretty Mouth sounds like a lot of fun, it is. Molly's got a style unlike any other's. It's one that doesn't take itself too seriously while at the same time impressing upon the reader not to take it too lightly. Beware the enemy, even when it turns out to be you.

This goodreads review, by SP Miskowski, sums the collection up better than I could ever hope.

Many thanks to Lazy Fascist Press for constantly feeding my addiction for challenging indie fiction. Keep fighting the good fight and putting kick-ass literature out in front of our faces.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Out of True Blog Tour

Welcome to the next stop of the Out of True blog tour!!

I'm thrilled to be a part of this blog tour which is honoring the release of Amy Durant's (aka @lucysfootball) debut poetry collection, and is being spearheaded by Susie of The Insatiable Booksluts.

Despite a pretty nasty virus that may very well force my laptop into an early grave, I am here and bouncing up and down in excitement, you guys! I have an audio recording of Amy reading her poem "Fever" for you... but before I share, I wanted to gush a bit about her collection. 

You know what most people are thinking when they hear the P word, right? Oh, gasp, poetry! Horrible rhyming things full of clunky, awkward sentences that no one would ever speak out loud in public, unless they were drunk and possibly looking to get their ass kicked. Oh, ew, poetry! The sappy embarrassing outpourings of unrequited love that would be better kept to yourself except you're too hung up in the moment to see how sad and pathetic you sound. Or, for those of you had a bad time of it in high school literature, cringing and cowering in the corner upon hearing the P word, thrown back headlong into those excruciating memories of being forced to critique and "close read" individual lines of wickedly famous and practically undecipherable poems.

Well, snap out of it, man! If you weren't a fan of poetry before, you will be once you lay your eyes on Amy Durant's Out of True. This collection contains poignant, passionate perspectives on human relationships and celestial lovefests. She writes free verse, so each poem reads like flash fiction, a sweet one-two punch to the gut that has you all tied up in knots. 

And the best part for me, as I read through the collection? She's scattered witty one liners throughout the collection that reach out and shake you awake as you read. "Poet's tongues are fat with lies" is one of my favorite lines. Or what about these? "I want everything you are made of to be a part of me" and "I want to touch him just for the reaction"? If you don't feel something when you are reading lines like those, you may as well jump into the grave with my laptop because you are dead or dying, my friend! 

While a good portion of her poems revolve around her own personal love and loss, there are others that are sprinkled here and there within the set that explore other, more impossibly delightful things, such as: XYZYGY which is the coolest little love story of the sun and the moon; Samson and Delilah which takes the tale we thought we knew and puts an interesting spin on it; and Fundamental Forces which attempts to blow your mind with the fact that even though we feel as though we are touching, it is a scientific fact that we actually are not.

As I read through the collection, I remember finishing a poem and going "man, that was the best one yet" and then reading the next one and going "oh wait, no no no, THAT was the best one yet".... 

But don't just take my word for it. 

Have a listen as Amy sets the stage for her writing, and reads you the poem titled "Fever":

As an additional treat, 
I've got one copy of Amy's poetry book, Out of True, to give away internationally

So do be sure to leave a comment down below to get your name thrown into the hat for it! 

And I do mean a hat, literally. 
I love pulling names the old school way! 

The giveaway will end on Friday, October 26th... best of luck to you all!!

Amy Durant is a writer living in the Capital District of New York. She writes for her own blog, about much less serious things than her poetry would lead you to believe, and for Insatiable Booksluts, about all things bookish. She is currently the artistic director of Albany Civic Theater and the proud owner of a very unintelligent and chubby, but very lovable, Siamese cat. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Review: Cure All

Read 10/9/12 - 10/10/12
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended to readers who appreciate vivid imagery and stories detailing with things you would never have imagined on your own
Pgs: 119
Publisher: CakeTrain

A revolver pining for a light bulb can only lead to disaster. A woman allows a spider to eat her face as a form of beauty treatment. Reflections that detach themselves from their reflectees.

The flash fiction contained within Kim Parko's Cure All infiltrates your brain like a fever dream. Images of dark hallways and wispy spiderwebs dance through your thoughts as you lose yourself in the unusual worlds she weaves.

Recurring themes appear throughout this collection of twisted realities - morbid, silent morticians gathering around situations; The Curtain, at once protective and deceiving, capitalized as though it is a proper name; and Molly and Bruce, a couple who sometimes hang out with our narrator and move in and out of the collection, like little children, touching everything and always in motion. 

For me, when reading stories such as these, I always wonder what the writer was like growing up. Did she stay up late and watch too many scary movies as a little girl? Did she spend a lot of time lost in her own head, troubling out amazing and outrageous universes for her toys when she played with them? Did she jot down her dreams upon waking in the hopes of deciphering their codes? Did she work long, lonely hours on a graveyard shift somewhere where her mind could wander and build these bizarre worlds for her characters to populate? Would I know her just by looking at her? 

Whatever the influence...Parko's surreal prose, intense imagery, and grim perspectives make this a collection worth consuming. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Review: Mad Hope

Read 10/1/12 - 10/6/12
3 Stars - Recommended to fans of short stories that take a look inward and aren't always obvious
Pgs: 223
Publisher: Coach House

One of the things I like most about reading short story collections is the hunt for the connections. Sometimes, the authors make it extremely easy and connect the dots from story to story for you - every story might contain the same narrator (Jesus' Son); every story may take place in the same town (Volt); every story is a fantastical fable (A Hollow Cube...). Other times, the stories put on the appearance of being completely and confusingly separate of each other while hiding their ties just below the surface.

MAD HOPE is very much the latter. Grounded in familiar territory, Heather Birrell has created this incredibly tricky collection of stories that will either satiate or exhaust its audience. If you're a casual reader who appreciates a well told story, you'll find comfort and satisfaction in what she's written. If you're the type who wants to understand how these stories interact with each other - and they do interact with each other - you've got to read a little deeper to discover the connections that will allow you to put the book to rest.

Let's start with the cover. I admit that I love the green of the frogs against the brilliantly burning red background. It's really quite striking. And so the first question I ask myself is... why frogs? Where will they make an appearance in the stories? Will it be an obvious 'gimme' or is Heather going to hide this answer like an Easter egg? As if in response to the question, upon turning back the front cover, you immediately notice that the endpapers are designed to look like millions of little tadpoles swimming across the page. A few pages in and there is this oddly phrased quote about a frog by Anonymous. And in just a few more pages, you see that her stories are grouped together into chapters which are identified by frogs. (One frog - chapter one. Two frogs - chapter two.) And then, of course, there is the story that is titled Frog. That was pretty easy, right?

But it wasn't enough for me. I continued to wonder if there was a deeper significance to her use of the slimy green suckers. Frogs, as you know, appear all throughout our written history - in folklore and fairytales, most commonly. They are gangling and ungraceful and though they appear to be simple-minded, they are assumed to have a trick up their sleeve. They are usually not what they appear. A quick peek on Wiki reminds me of the old Looney Tunes cartoon where the man finds the singing, dancing frog and attempts to make a buck off of him by showing him around town. But the frog acts like a frog in front of the audience, donning his top hat and doing the high-kick only when he and the man are left alone. Another example would be the classic fairytale  prince who was turned into a frog and tricked the princess into kissing him, thus breaking the spell and regaining his handsome, arrogant human form.

But, alas, trickster frogs have no place within Birrell's collection. Heather's tricks are slightly less obvious than that. Her frogs, or the connections between stories that otherwise do not appear to be connected, are not so quickly identified.

As you read through the collection, you'll begin to notice that many of her stories revolve around children - siblings witness a murder, a mother-to-be miscarries, another mother-to-be decides to abort, a pregnant woman prepares for the birth of her baby. This similarity, the familiarity of the characters, their struggles and situations, gives birth to an unspoken undercurrent of human resilience and our ability, or built-in survival mechanism, to cope with and overcome just about anything.

This same sense of inevitability appears again in a set of stories, smack in the center of the collection, that are told from the points of view of a brother and sister - who each must deal with and share the news of their father's passing. Again, Heather uses her characters to subtly backlight the irresistible and difficult decisions we make in order to get back to life and move on. Because we have to move on. Because we must retain our mad hope.

I guess the moral of this review is that there are always connections to be found within short story collections, if you only take the time to look. However, you might also be chasing ghosts and grasping at straws that aren't even there, and forcing connections where there were never meant to be any, but then again, isn't that the fun of reading fiction? To take away from it what you will. Make it your own.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Kathe Koja's Guide to Books & Booze

Time to grab a book and get tipsy!

Books & Booze is a new mini-series of sorts here on TNBBC that will post every Friday in October. The participating authors were challenged to make up their own drinks, name and all, or create a drink list for their characters and/or readers using drinks that already exist. 

Drink yourself UNDER THE POPPY

Being as Under the Poppy is a louche and intoxicating brothel, it follows that liquor must be involved: intoxicants just naturally go together that way. For several of the immersive performance events we created, based on the novel, refreshments were indeed served - first, wine and chocolate, and later a more elaborate outlay of period-appropriate food (including lavender cookies with rosewater frosting) and drink (Champagne for a toast, and a pretty ferocious rum punch. Those Victorians knew how to party).

For the final event, one which will pull out all the stops, let all the puppets out to play, and leave all sorts of stains on the knickers of your heart, I knew that we would need something special for the Poppy patrons.
So of course I turned to my readers, and invited them to submit their concoctions to a create-a-drink contest for the Poppy.

And of course they came through.

Not only were the drinks delicious-sounding, they had some amazing names, among them "The Pearl Necklace", "Puppet's Folly", "Courage & Passion", and (staff favorite) "The Blow Job". But there were two cocktails between which I simply could not choose, so they were both winners: the "Vera," named after one of the Poppy's more enterprising floozies, and the romantically decadent "A Kiss, From Ashen Lips". Below are the recipes for those of you over drinking age.  If you have a top hat or a pair of frilly knickers, now is the time to put them on.
Herewith, the winning cocktails:

James Taylor Jr.'s "VERA"

1/2 tbsp vodka
 1/2 oz strawberry liqueur
 1/3 oz toffee liqueur
 1/2 oz milk
 Blend the ingredients in a cocktail class with ice. Garnish with a white clover flower.

* * * * *

Charles Henke's "A Kiss, From Ashen Lips"

A seductive confection of poppy seed syrup with no sense of moral integrity.

1.5 oz rum
 1 oz cranberry juice
 1 oz poppy seed syrup*
 Garnish with fresh blueberries

*1/2 cup orange juice
 1/4 cup water
 2 tablespoons sugar
 1 tablespoon honey
 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
 Heat the orange juice, water, sugar and honey in a saucepan. Bring to a boil for 1 minute and remove from heat. Let the syrup cool. Add the poppy seeds.

* * * * *
  Update from the brothel: At an exclusive patrons' event in late September, these drinks were in fact prepared, premiered, and enjoyed! To wit:

This is Kathe Koja, writer and Detroit native.  She has written 15 books including THE CIPHER, SKIN, BUDDHA BOY, TALK, HEADLONG, UNDER THE POPPY - which I recently reviewed and loved! - and its sequel, THE MERCURY WALTZ (forthcoming in 2013). UNDER THE POPPY has been adapted for immersive performance. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Where Writers Write: Sean Lovelace

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 Sean Lovelace. 

Sean lives in Indiana, where he eats nachos and plays disc golf and teaches creative writing at Ball State University. He recently dropped Fog Gorgeous Stag (Publishing Genius Press) and a flash fiction collection with other authors, They Could No Longer Contain Themselves (Rose Metal Press), on the world. 

He writes for HTML Giant. He blogs at He likes to run, far. 

Where Sean Lovelace Writes

I don’t eat any meat that I didn’t personally scout, stalk, kill, butcher, and cook. So? Well, this means I spend a lot of times in trees, with a bow and a book and an iPhone (oh, and with doe urine and flashlight and grunt tube and skinning knife and snort wheeze and…oh, never mind. This isn’t a hunting blog. Or is it?) Sometimes deer meander along, but not often. That’s hunting. Mostly you wait in the cold, maybe twenty or thirty feet up in the air, silently. A few branches stir, a cumulus billows by, but, for a long while, nothing much happens. So I read books. And I write.

(Photo of me reading last year. This is PANK.
Do you read PANK? You probably should. )

Reading and writing from high in a tree has many advantages. First, it’s pretty difficult to disrupt my writing time. I’m not going to suddenly go make a pot of coffee or get a beer from the refrigerator. I’m not going to jump online to see what new tragedy/celebrity is on CNN or to peruse helicopter crash videos on YouTube (oddly mesmerizing) or surf eBay for nacho bowls (I prefer wide, green ceramic bowls for nachos) or, you know, other internet things (OK, porn). I’m not answering any phone calls (I sometimes do reply to texts, since this activity is mostly silent). I’m not watching any TV. I’m not going to discuss with my wife the awful sound the car is making (it’s near the left rear wheel and resembles a tumbling bison). I’m not going to go find my lost four year old (she’ll be in the dog’s cage, most likely, playing with an assortment of toy rabbits). In a word, I’m not going to be disturbed (unless a deer shows up, and as I’ve said—that’s a rarity). So I actually have time and space to write.

(OK, sometimes deer pass below. This is a small buck.
Yes, I did shoot him, but relax—I only shot him with my  camera.
Then I let him walk right by.)
And what a space! See this photo? This is a hollow alongside a ridge of oak trees, a series of dense thickets, and a flowing creek. Here we have what deer admire: food, water, thick cover. And what I admire: nature. The rich smell of soil and leaves. The creek gurgling by in a lovely fashion. The air is clean, the sun a bright coin in the sky. I feel, right. I’m a distance runner and when I’m running I think, “Humans have run for eons.” As a hunter, I think, “Humans have hunted for eons.” I feel my ancestry in my bones. But I digress. Or maybe I do not digress. Maybe feeling right clears the mind for writing? Who knows. 

Another thing about writing in the woods is the way it affects my actual creative thinking. I’ve noticed nature appearing more often in my prose and poetry, especially the juxtaposition of nature and the modern world (anti-nature). This can be a powerful concept, I feel--as humans, we are, and are not, animals. We are in nature and simultaneously stand removed from its essence. While hunting, I will see red foxes and opossums and squirrels and crows and owls and all other types of animals. I get to observe them. I’ve listened to the trees howl and the leaves rustle (are they waving at me? Maybe.) I’ve seen a hawk snatch a squirrel. A three-legged coyote loping along. One time a raccoon climbed into my tree! I’ve seen two bucks fight. I’ve sat for hours in the brilliant whisper of a snowfall. I think there’s something in all of this that informs my art, especially juxtaposition, as I’ve noted. Some mornings I come in from the woods and walk into the kitchen and then drive into the city to teach class. I pass clanking cars and garish billboards and listen to sports radio (the most banal medium in the world—I am rather addicted to it) and later I stand with a coffee mug in front of my bright university classroom and think, “Hours ago I was deep in inky woods.” I mean it’s absurd, but amazing. If that makes any sense.

Want to see something cool? Sometimes I hunt from a ground blind. This really makes for easy reading and writing, since I can more easily move my hands. It also makes for startling images, an almost unexpected abstract art. See how strange and wonderful it can be?

Check back next week to see where Barbara Richardson writes.