Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Review: Fridgularity

Read 11/19/12 - 11/23/12
3.5 Stars - Recommended to font and word nerds, internet addicts, and end-times humorists.
Pgs: 397
Publisher: Monkeyjoy Press
Published: November 2012

I'm a GenXer. Born into that strange "slacker" generation where the Baby Boomers weren't yet ready to loosen up their death grip on the cool corporate jobs and personal computers and MTV suddenly became permanent fixtures in our daily lives - slowly softening, then mushing, then downright killing our brain cells. I can clearly remember the day our Word Processor was replaced with the Commodore 64. And the day my parents allowed us to upgrade our gaming system from Atari to Nintendo is forever etched into my mind. Or how about this doozey... remember Webtv? Microsoft's failed attempt at bridging the gap between those who were afraid of the internet and those who just couldn't afford a home pc? Yup I owned one of those bad boys! Even bought one for my mom when I moved out so we could keep in touch more easily. Heck, I think the first time I ever used a real, honest to goodness computer was in my High School Journalism class. It's amazing to me that my kids were TAUGHT on pc's  in preschool and kindergarten.

And please don't get me started on the transition from LP's to cassette tapes to CD's to MP3's.... I'm still a little bitter about being forced to move through each one of those phases; I lost some amazing albums along the way. And how about the evolution of the telephone? From princess dialers to wall mounted 20 foot corded phones to portables to cell phones to internet-enabled smart phones? Mind. Has. Been. Blown.

The one thing I will say about my generation? We are awesome at adapting. In a time of ever-growing and ever-changing technology, we've sort of had no choice. If it can be dreamed, it can BE!

And if you were to turn to me one day and inform me that our technology has grown smarter than us and is currently holding the internet hostage while it builds itself up into a god-like entity, well hell, I'd probably be awfully likely to accept and adapt to that too.

In Mark A Rayner's newest release, Fridgularity (a satire on technological singularity), that is exactly what is happening when a web-dependent generation is suddenly and horrifically without internet. An end-of-the-world panic blankets our Canadian characters with fear and a geeky corporate boy named Blake Givens is chosen by the bi-polar internet-stealing entity calling itself Zathir as its Speaker.

The country quickly divides itself into two groups - those who pledge allegiance to the extremely reluctant Blake and worship Zathir as the New Machine God, and those who follow the anti-Zathir movement led by Lord Sona (a lowly gamer who's tired of being a nobody). While these two factions duke it out, Blake finds himself acting as mentor and therapist to this highly unstable entity, which chooses to speak to him through his web-enabled fridge using a variety of fonts and poor grammar structure, while trying to keep his friends alive and healthy. The younger generation, those who have been plugged into the net since birth, are having a helluva time coping  - fighting the urge to become cyber-zombies, they "play" twitter and write on Blake's walls in an attempt to share information and validate each other's existence as they wait for the world to either return to normal or evolve under Zathir's new consciousness.

I want to laugh, but I can totally relate to the paralysis that accompanies not having access to Twitter or Goodreads or my blog. When my computer caught a virus that kept me offline for over a week, I was incredibly thankful for my Droid and Kindle Fire. Without them and their web-enabled little hearts, I probably would have been one of those cyber-zombies pacing the floors every five minutes, unable to read a book for fear of coming across an amazing sentence that screamed TWEET ME. Go ahead, I don't care what generation you were born into, try to live a week without being able to access the internet. I bet you use it more than you realize you do. And I bet by the end of the week you'd be biting your nails down to the nub... no email, no facebook, no evernote to jot down reminders for things... That's the power of Fridgularity... the more you think about it all, the more scary it becomes.... Mwahhahahaha

Rayner constructs this complicated new world with tongue firmly stuck in cheek. It's 1984's Big Brother but at a much more alien, satirical, and technologically crippling scale. It's a world I hope I don't have to ever adapt to, that's for sure!

Where Writers Write: Kristy Athens

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 the authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happen. 

Kristy Athens is the author of Get Your Pitchfork On!: The Real Dirt on Country Living (Process Media, 2012). Her nonfiction and short fiction have been published in a number of magazines, newspapers and literary journals. In 2010, she was a writer-in-residence for the Eastern Oregon Writer-in-Residence program and Soapstone. She is a contributing editor at Bear Deluxe magazine. Kristy lives in Portland, Oregon, where she works at Oregon Humanities. 

Where Kristy Athens Writes

This story is not about my usual writing place, but about two months I spent in Harney County, Oregon, as a writer in residence. In March and April 2010, I visited most of the county’s schools and the library in order to give workshops to children and adults, and worked on the manuscript that became Get Your Pitchfork On!: TheReal Dirt on Country Living.

This residency was ideal for me—not only did I have lots of time to write but I was immersed in rural culture. This was perfect because my book covers everything a city person needs to know if they want to move to the country.

Harney County is seriously rural. It’s 10,000 square miles and there is just 0.7 person per square mile. (By comparison, Portland’s county, Multnomah, is 430 square miles and 1,700 people per square mile.) Scattered around the county are a half-dozen elementary schools, which have two sides: kindergarten through third grade on one side and fourth through eighth on the other. Maybe twenty kids total.

The high school is a boarding school—students live at Crane High School Monday through Thursday, and travel on Friday for sports competitions or go home to help on their families’ ranches.

The only problem: Where to write. Because some of the towns are an hour or more from each other, I couldn’t stay in one place the whole time or I’d waste my whole residency in the car. But there aren’t hotels, and the two bed-and-breakfasts that would have made the most sense refused to open early in the season just for me. So I cobbled together a series of unique residences.

Stay #1: Frenchglen

I stayed in the guest room of the teacher’s residence, right next door to the school. Carolyn provided a great first impression of Harney County. She was a conscientious and easygoing host. In retrospect, I should have stayed longer, but I was anxious to have some serious sequestering and dig into my manuscript. I had reserved a trailer in the middle of the desert, where hundreds of scientists and bird watchers gather because of the major migration routes that pass over Harney County.

Stay #2: Malheur Field Station

Trailer for sale or rent …

Wow, they weren’t kidding when they said “trailer” on the website. It actually had a hitch on it!

Not that it would survive being moved. While it wasn’t dirty per se it was easily the most run-down, ramshackle domicile I’ve ever seen. The floor was squishy with layers over layers of rotting plywood patches under the yellowed, chipped linoleum. The mattress was gray, but it seemed cleaner than the couch. I cowered inside my sleeping bag at night and during the day tried not to touch anything except the kitchen table, where I worked. I got a lot of writing done there, because even washing was off the itinerary—the size, number and variety of spiders inhabiting the shower stall saw to that.

Stay #3: Crane Hot Springs

My cabin is on the right; the steam is from the hot springs

This modest resort seemed absolutely lavish after leaving the field station! I rented a little cabin next to the small lake that is fed by a natural spring. The owners were smart and pumped the water under the sidewalks, which was great because it was still snowing in March! It was very sweet but it didn’t have a bathroom, a kitchen, or, most importantly, a desk, only a giant overstuffed armchair. The whole room had a cowboy theme! I tried to save my back by piling pillows behind me and sitting on the very edge of the seat. Not sustainable. Luckily, I could go dip in the hot springs when I cramped up!

Stay #4: Silver Spur Motel

No vacancy on Fridays!

This was the most practical place for me, so I spent most of my time here. I had wireless internet, a desk and a microwave; there were restaurants within walking distance; I was across the street from the library; the motel served a continental breakfast. The only bad times were Friday nights—I hadn’t brought headphones so it was difficult to hold at bay the revelries of country copulation from all sides. One Saturday morning after a particularly long, acoustic night, I had my revenge: I woke at 9 and starting practicing my fiddle.

Stay #5: Riley Store

Taken from a picnic shelter under a billboard that reads, “Whoa! You missed Riley!”

Classic Western “town”: a post office on one side of the highway and a gas station/convenience store/taxidermy/gun shop on the other. There were two apartments over the store, and I rented one for a couple days. I wrote at the kitchen table, in front of the “fireplace.”

Stay #6: Lone Pine Guest Ranch

This bed and breakfast has quite the view!

My hosts were super-nice but staying there was a little surreal, as I was basically in a house in the next bedroom over from people I had just met. I could hear them talking (and only talking, thank you Jesus) in bed. I’ve always had fantasies of just walking into strangers’ houses and sitting down like I belong there, and that’s more or less what I did!

Being a bed and breakfast, the house was decorated to the nth degree—knicknacks and doilies on every surface. Those sorts of “kountry krafts” like wooden plaques on which things are painted like “God bless this mess.” I hoped they didn’t take it personally that I mostly hid in my room when I was there; the television was blaring in the living room so there was no way I’d get anything done downstairs. I sat on my lace-bedecked bed with my laptop on my legs. I put doilies on them so I fit in.

Stay #7: Reload Ranch

Fine hosts, indeed

During the workshops that I held for adults I met many fine people, including a literal one—Nancy Fine. We got along swimmingly, and she took my plight to heart when I lamented going back to the Silver Spur for the final week of my residency. I will always be grateful to her and husband Matt for inviting me into their home.

They were the ultimate hosts—because Nancy is also a writer she understood my need for a desk (she set me up in a spare bedroom) and privacy, but was always there when I needed food or a break to chat. We are still friends. The best was, truly and by far, last.

Check back next week when we show you where Joyce Hennefeld writes.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Audio Series: Erika Marks

Our 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.   

Today, Erika Marks is reading an excerpt from her novel The Mermaid CollectorA native New Englander, raised in Maine, Erika Marks now lives in Charlotte, NC with her husband, a biologist, and their daughters. She has worked as an illustrator, a cake decorator, an art director and a carpenter. THE MERMAID COLLECTOR is her second novel after LITTLE GALE GUMBO.

Click the soundcloud file below to experience The Mermaid Collector as read by author Erika Marks.

The word on The Mermaid Collector:

For thirty-five-year-old Tess Patterson, the legend is more than folklore; it’s proof of life’s magic. A hopeless romantic who is profoundly connected to the ocean in which she lost her mother, Tess ekes out a living as a wood-carver and longs to find a love as mystical as the sea. But when she’s hired to carve the commemorative mermaid sculpture for the coming festival, a chance to win the town’s elusive acceptance might finally be in her grasp.

For Tom Grace, life’s magic was lost at eighteen, when the death of his parents left him to care for his reckless brother, Dean. Now thirty-five and the new owner of Cradle Harbor’s prized lightkeeper’s house, Tom hopes the quiet town will calm Dean’s self-destructive ways. But when Tom discovers Tess working on her sculpture, an unlikely and passionate affair ignites between them that just might be the stuff of legend itself—even as it brings to the surface a long-buried secret that could tear everything apart.  
*lifted from goodreads with love

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Where Writers Write: Brian Griffith

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 the authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happen. 

Brian Griffith is an independent historian who's interested in culture wars and cultural creativity. So far he's published four books. The Gardens of Their Dreams: Desertification and Culture in World History examines how environmental degradation has affected society across the center of the Old World from ancient times forward. Correcting Jesus: 2000 Years of Changing the Story and Different Visions of Love: Partnership and Dominator Cultures in Christian History reflect on the culture wars that have raged within Christianity from the religion's beginning down to the present. A Galaxy of Immortal Women: The Yin Side of Chinese Civilization explores the alternative traditions and religions of Chinese women, which offer the world a powerful vision for partnership, health, and spirituality. Griffith lives in a multicultural marriage in the multicultural hub of Toronto.

Where Brian Griffith Writes

Here's my solarium tower, shown with the blinds pulled aside for a 10th floor view of Toronto's burbs. The view out the windows has remained almost unchanged for years in this economy. About half the year, the outside world is cold, gray, or just iced over. But that's okay for focusing on the screen or pieces of paper without distraction. For some reason, however, I always seem to write about other parts of the world. The flower pots seem to have baby date palms growing in them, because I ate dates on the job and tossed the seeds there. Guess we'll soon need a neon flamingo to go with the palm trees.

The office's interior walls are also of glass, as you see looking through them in the picture from the dining room table, The reference books and boxes of notes are fairly under control, and mostly inside drawers or bedroom closets. If my clutter was exposed to view, it would be clearly visible from the surrounding living and dining areas, which would clash with my wife's clean and open style of life. The desk has a fairly big surface, but still holds little more than the computer equipment, keyboard, and mouse pad. To use notes for writing or to keep style sheets for editing, I need to set up folding tables to the side. Anyway, that's the condo writing life -- small spaces with big views.

Check back next week to see where Kristy Athens gets her writing done.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Audio Series: Daniel Clausen

Our 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.   

Today, Daniel Clausen is reading an excerpt from his novel The Ghosts of NagasakiDaniel has wanted to be a writer ever since he was in elementary school. He has published stories and articles in such magazines as Slipstream, Black Petals, and Leading Edge Science Fiction. He has written three books, The Sage and the Scarecrow (a novel), and the Lexical Funk (a short story/word dance), and The Ghosts of Nagasaki (a novel).

Click the soundcloud file below to experience an excerpt of The Ghosts of Nagasaki as read by author Daniel Clausen.

The word on The Ghosts of Nagasaki:

One night a foreign business analyst in Tokyo sits down in his spacious high rise apartment and begins typing something. The words pour out and exhaust him. He soon realizes that the words appearing on his laptop are memories of his first days in Nagasaki four years ago. 
Nagasaki was a place full of spirits, a garrulous Welsh roommate, and a lingering mystery. 
Somehow he must finish the story of four years ago--a story that involves a young Japanese girl, the ghost of a dead Japanese writer, and a mysterious island. He must solve this mystery while maneuvering the hazards of middle management, a cruel Japanese samurai, and his own knowledge that if he doesn't solve this mystery soon his heart will transform into a ball of steel, crushing his soul forever. Though he wants to give up his writing, though he wants to let the past rest, within his compulsive writing lies the key to his salvation.
*lifted from goodreads with love

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Review: The Alligators of Abraham

Read 11/5/12 - 11/12/12
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended to fans of the unconventional / historical fiction but not really
Pgs: 214 (read on Kindle)
Publisher: Mud Luscious Press
Release Date: Nov 15, 2012

Beware readers. The Alligators of Abraham is not a book that is passively read. Written in the strangely comforting second person plural, Kloss sucks you into this novel, dragging you through the dead bodies that are left behind in this war, and our country's obsession with embalming EVERYTHING, and your father's particular brand of CRAZIES after losing his first son and your mother, and the death of Lincoln and the rise of Grant, and the uncontrollable infestation of alligators.

Unlike anything I have read before, and certainly not typical of what I normally read, this war-time explosion of sound and vision moves you beyond the historical and into the inexplicable. God, how often I found myself clawing at the surface for breath as I made my way through these sentences as thick as stew, these emotions forced out of the pixelated text, everywhere I turned was death and destruction and confusion and no way of escaping it.

And there was no escaping your father until he began to forget you, the general who lost his mind and hated you for being alive, the pining for your brother and mother that consumed him and the juices he pushed into his veins, perfecting and practicing for their own.

And the snapping, starving alligators that pulled themselves out of the waters to devour the dead, to pull down the still living, until the living struck back, and hung the alligators from the street lamps, leaving them to eat each other.

A powerful, possessing novel that crawls down into your throat and chokes you from the inside out, The Alligators of Abraham shakes loose the skin of fiction and marches through your streets bare and bloodied and full of rage.

I have been waiting to get this novel into my sweaty little hands ever since Mud Luscious Press premiered it in our Indie Book Buzz series last December and it was worth every agonizing second...

Listen to Robert Kloss as he reads an excerpt from the book.

Then go and give it a read. You will be gasping for air, too. That is a promise.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Indie Spotlight: Lance Carbuncle's Sloughing Off the Rot

Dear readers, you are in for a treat today! We've got an exclusive sneak peek at Lance Carbuncle's upcoming new novel Sloughing Off the Rot. 

Lance and I have known each other (cyberly) for quite awhile. I've read and LURVED both of his self published novels, hosted an author Q&A with him, and interviewed him for this blog. 

Actually, the story of how we first came to know each other is kinda funny-in-an-embarrassing-for-me way. Back in the days between TNBBC's birth on Goodreads and my decision to start blogging, before I really knew what "reviewing" was, Lance had reached out to me and asked if he could send over a copy of his first novel. I still have the message in my Goodreads inbox, where I responded by saying: 

Wait a minute, you're not a stalker, are you? I would hate for this to be some kind of sick set up for a new novel... {{Author visits the reader's home to 'hand deliver' the prized book, kidnaps and tortures her as she reads it, then leaves her on the side of the road, beaten and broken, after he forced her hand for a great review}}... 

Not my proudest moment, I can tell you. Anyhow, here we are, nearly 4 years to the month, celebrating Lance's soon-to-be-debuted new novel! 

Lemme go ahead and turn this thing over to Lance:


The Next Best Book Club is kind enough to present the opening chapters of my third book, Sloughing Off the Rot. This book is a bit of a departure for me in that it incorporates aspects of horror and fantasy and has something of a spiritual (but not preachy) tone to it. This is not because I am particularly spiritual (I’m not, at all), but because I wanted to address the philosophical theme of inherent goodness that is in each one of us (even the worst of us). Unexpectedly, when one eliminates the violence, gore, and weirdly uncomfortable situations from the story, Sloughing Off the Rot turns out to be an optimistic statement about innate human goodness thriving under the proper circumstances and guidance. Of course, you will have to wade, thigh-high, through a sea of blood, puke, piss and filth to get to the message of virtue and redemption (kind of like the bible without all of the boring parts about who begat what or how to compensate a man for the loss of his ass or daughter).

If you have read and (hopefully) enjoyed either of my first two books, I am confident that you will recognize the narrative voice of Carbuncle in Sloughing Off the Rot. Yes, in parts the story is vulgar and disgusting, but what do you expect from a guy who chooses to base his pseudonym on an infected boil. I guess that I like the challenge of making my readers cringe, yet at the same time still want to read more. And if you’ve already read my work, you know to expect this. Also, you will likely notice ties to my other books. It is a lot of fun as an author to continue the conceptual continuity of the fictional Carbuncle Universe. Hopefully this does not come off as self-absorbed or self-impressed. It was merely fun tie my other works in and I hope that my readers feel the same way.

Sloughing Off the Rot was a lot of fun to write. And, this book was even more enjoyable because I had a talented artist, Kelly Williams, illustrate it. It was a blast working with Kelly and watching the physical manifestations of some of my characters materialize. (Check out a bit of the awesome artwork below).

Check out the opening sections of Sloughing Off the Rot. And, if you like it you can preorder a signed copy at .

As a special offer, anybody who preorders a copy of the book through my website will get a free eBook version of their choice of either of my first two novels.  Thanks for checking out the excerpt of Sloughing Off the Rot.  Please spread the word about my work if you enjoy it. Thanks.


Sloughing Off the Rot 
Sneak Peek

And that night John went to bed without eating his dinner. Zonked on zolpidem and single malt scotch, wrapped tightly in his super-special 1,000 thread count sheets and nestled comfortably on his newfangled memory foam-reclining-adjustable king-sized bed, John blacked out just after lying down. Peaceful nothingness swirled around him, tossing off flecks of gold and strands of cool blue. The ten thousand things fled and left in their place a cozy void.
            And that night a screeching horn section from below jarred John from his warm nothingness. Dissonant, jagged saxophone, rending the night and prematurely tearing the morning from its belly. Screaming brass devil, like the Demon Zorn ass-raping Kenny G with a chainsaw. Raw blistering giggle-jazz. 
            And that night John heard a voice, as a trumpet in his head. And the voice commanded: “You shall henceforth be known as John the Revelator. And you shall walk 500 miles. And when you wake up, you’re gonna be the man that wakes up next to me.”
            “Who are you? What are you?” asked John.
            “I am the alpha and the omega, the first and last.”
            “I don’t understand.”
            “I am you as you are me as you are he and we are all together.”
            “What is that even supposed to mean?”
            “Enough of your questions and your havering.  There is important business before us,” the voice demanded.
            And that morning, when John received his walking orders, he asked no questions. He did as he was bade by the commanding disembodied presence that he assumed to be the God he never really believed in. Surveying his surroundings, John realized that his room was no longer a room, but instead a craggy cave. His bed was now indiscernible from the dusty ground, his memory foam pillow now a rock. And beside the spot where he awoke was a hole five cubits in diameter. John peered into the pit but saw no bottom. He dropped a rock but the sound of it hitting bottom never came to him. At the edge of the pit were claw marks in the sand and a trail that dragged itself to the spot where John awoke.
            The voice, now speaking in a gentler tone, said, “You have not been true to me, nor to yourself. But, you are a good soul. Now is your chance for redemption. Before your journey, it will be necessary to polish thy rod and salve it with balms and ointments. Do this and your seed will find purchase, thus populating this desolate land. Be true with the stroke on your sanctified rod and your issue will increase exponentially and be fruitful.”
            On the floor at his feet sat earthen jars filled with aromatic balms and ointments. The perfumed scents of frankincense, and myrrh and patchouli wafted from the containers. John’s member stood erect against his stomach when he bent and he noticed his nakedness for the first time. Inexplicable shame first gripped him but was quickly dashed by his arousal. Glancing around the cave, John confirmed that he was alone and dipped his hand in one of the clay pots. The golden goo from the pot warmed his hand and pleasured him greatly as he rubbed it on his loins.
            With each slow stroke of his hand John brought himself to ecstasy, and his loins issued great spouts of crimson spuz, like a massive bloody font. And a gory puddle formed at and around John’s feet, like the blood-soaked floor of a slaughterhouse. From the rippling surface of the blood-puddle, small unrecognizable forms dragged themselves, clawing madly at the ground, grimacing and pulling themselves through the dust, growing in power and size while leaving behind them rust-colored trails and torn membranes as evidence of their birth. And their screams, their wonderful horrible screams, gasped from newly formed throats. New jagged teeth cut through fresh pink gums. Some of the creatures stretched, morphing into muscular serpents, and slithered from the cave. Others took on three legs, four legs, five legs, more. Thick pelts of fur coated some while others were pale and wrinkled and unfinished in appearance. Horns and tusks sprouted from their faces and heads. Incipient bipeds, visibly growing and drunkenly stumbling away on awkward and uncoordinated spindles, instinctively sensed their superiority. A two-legged being fell on a small, bushy-tailed creature and beat at it, discovering the destructive power of the balled fists that had just formed at the ends of its arms. The biped, triumphant over the smaller creature, tested his pointy teeth and tore at the creature’s flesh, devouring it, fur and bones and all. Other two-legged creatures, some simian, some hominid, tore at the smaller creatures, rending their forms. And as the lesser creatures were destroyed, torn at, and stomped out, they reverted to bloody puddles, and new, different forms crawled from the pools and grew and moved out of the cave.
            Spent from onanism and birthing, John collapsed in a corner of the cave, and watched in both horror and fascination at the genesis of some creatures, and the death and rebirth of others. When the last of the beings slithered, slunk, scrambled, walked and crawled away, and the bloody puddle of mess was nothing more than a stinking brown taint on the ground, John wrapped his arms tightly around his knees and wept until all feelings deserted him. And he relapsed to the swirling nothingness of the void left in the absence of the ten thousand things.
            In a space of time that stretched out infinitely, but also contracted into a sliver of a moment, John wept away his fears and trepidations. And he rose and stepped wide around the rusty blot on the floor. And the commandment that he begin his journey rang in his head. And that morning, before dawn broke, John dressed in the white robe and breeches of fine twisted linen that were left for him. He slipped on leather sandals, exited the cave, and started walking.

            The red brick road snaked before him, a loopy serpent slinking its lazy way toward the horizon. John knew not the country around him and marveled at the alien landscape. Rust-colored rock formations presented with arches carved out of them by time and wind and water. The barrel cacti, in full bloom, birthed blood red flowers. The black and twisted skeletons of dead juniper trees silhouetted against the red sky. It all looked as arid and dusty as John’s throat felt.
            And as he walked along the road, the clanging tone and drone of an out of tune guitar tweaked John’s ears, the hint of a melody drawing him in while, at the same time, the slightly out of tune chords setting him ill at ease. An intermittently off-key twang of a voice crooned about garbage dumps and their previously unsung benefits. The grating voice finished the song with “and that sums it up in one big lump,” as the high E string snapped with the last strum.
            “Ah, it will be fair weather, my brother, for the sky is red.” The voice, with forty grit coarseness and dry as the red sand around them, issued from a slight figure with a crusty tangle of a beard and the mystical bearing of a holy man. With merely a girdle of skin about his loins and a leather pouch hanging from his neck, and holding a weather-beaten guitar close to his chest, the bearded man sat atop a balanced rock and bored into John with bulging, unblinking eyes.
            “Who are you?” asked John. “Where am I? What the hell is going on?”
            “I’m the son of man, son.” The man went silent and his face contorted, cycling through and miming random emotions. All the while, his intense unblinking eyes stayed locked on John. The face emoted confusion, switched to astonishment, followed by sorrow, glee, horror, amazement, anger, and settled finally on contentment. “I am nobody. I’m a tramp, a bum, a hobo. I’m a boxcar and a jug of wine. And I’m a straight razor if you get too close to me. I go by many names. Santiago. El Diablo. Jerry. Whatever you want to call me, I’m sure I’ve been called worse. Santiago will be just fine for our purposes.”
            “What are our purposes?”
            Setting his guitar beside him on the rock and cocking half of his bushy unibrow, Santiago smiled broadly and answered, “well for now it seems that our purpose is for you to toss questions at me as if I’m somehow obligated to give you all the answers. And then I’m supposed to spoon-feed you the meaning of life. Right, Johnny?”
            “Why do you call me Johnny? Is that my name? How do you know it?”
            “See, there you go again. All pushy with the questions. Yeah, your name’s Johnny, for our purposes. And how do I know? Shit, boy, I’ve been waiting for you twenty and five days and nights. I’ve been living on the desert jive, just stayin’ alive. You took long enough to leave the cave, didn’t ya?”
            “You’ve been waiting for me?” said John. “But why?”
            “I’ve been fasting. And waiting. And walking. I spent a little time on the mountain. I spent a little time on the hill. I knew you’d be here. I just didn’t know it would take you so damn long. I’m starving, Jack.” Santiago leapt from his rock, ratty guitar held to his chest, and stuck his landing right next to the pinyon pine several feet to John’s side.
            “I don’t get it,” said John. “I don’t know who I am. I don’t remember anything. I woke up in a cave and I must have been hallucinating because I can’t believe the things I saw. And now you’re here, telling me that you’ve been waiting for me.”
            “Right on,” said Santiago, cocking his eyebrow to the point that it looked painful.
            “So tell me again, what are our purposes?”
            “You’re going on a journey. Dig? A helluva trip. One big mind-fuck and I get to tag along.” Santiago accented his words with a fluttering hand and circled John. “Ain’t that a big kick in the nuggets?”
            “A journey?” John rolled his eyes, threw back his head and sighed deeply, trying to get on top of the panic that was rising in him. “You’re telling me I’m going on a journey. I’m in no shape for this. Obviously I must have suffered a head injury or something. I need to get to a hospital. And you say I’m going on a journey. Says who?”
            Santiago’s mouth snapped shut and a bland blankness washed over his face. Although his eyes lacked expression, Santiago’s fingers flew over the fretboard of his guitar while his right hand feverishly plucked strained strings, plinking away at a jangling staccato, ostinato arpeggio and ignoring John’s questions, circling John, dancing faster and faster as the tempo of his disharmonious notes quickened.
            “Stop!” shouted John, reaching out and trying unsuccessfully to grab the nimble little man by his hair. “Stop now and answer me.”
            Santiago danced and dodged and plucked the repetitive spastic notes, the strings going more and more out of tune and spitting out a warped, grating song. Born of his complete frustration, John mustered the speed and agility to finally grasp Santiago by his tangled hair and wrest the guitar away from him.
            “Ahhhh!” screamed John. “Ahhhhh!” and he bashed the guitar against the balanced rock, reducing the instrument to jagged fragments and splinters. The guitar’s wooden body lay in horrid disrepair at John’s feet as he stood, hyperventilating and grasping the broken guitar neck in his hand. Pathetic metal strings dangled from the neck, as if trying to drop to the ground and take root.
            “Oh. You wanna play rough, Johnny?” An almost joyful glint in his eyes, Santiago leapt back and dropped into a wrestling stance. His feet spread to shoulder width, one in front and the other lagging back, knees bent with elbows near the thighs, and hands held out in tensed claws as if to fend off any further attack. “I was just trying to play some music to help you calm down. And you attack me? I see how it’s gonna be. Well let’s roll then.”
            Before John could say “no” or even brace himself for the attack, Santiago sprang and was on him, a maddened savage gripping John’s torso and sweeping his legs. Face down in the red dust and choking on a mouthful of earth, John swung his arm back behind him in an effort to elbow the bushy-headed wild man off of him. Santiago effortlessly dodged the elbow and grabbed at the arm, twisting it high behind John’s back and dozing the red dirt with his face. With John’s arm still wrenched, Santiago mounted his back, wrapped his legs around and locked them on John’s inner thighs, rendering the larger man helpless.
            “Say uncle, Johnny,” Santiago whispered into John’s ear, the stench from his rotten mouth making John’s eyes water.
            “Get off of me.” John wriggled in Santiago’s hold but was unable to free himself. “Get the fuck off of me.”
            “Just say uncle and I’ll let you up.”
            “No!” John struggled and rolled but Santiago clung to his back, like a dog locked in coitus with a bitch.
            “If you won’t say it, then you’re escalating this thing.” Santiago leaned in with brown stumps that used to be teeth and tore off the top of John’s ear. Blood dribbled down his chin as he chewed on the gristle of the ear and swallowed.
            Blood rained from the remainder of John’s ear and soaked into the sand. “Owww! Fuck. Okay. Okay. Uncle. Get off of me.”
            Santiago sprung from John and reverted to his defensive wrestling stance, hands out in front and clawed for another attack. His unblinking eyes locked on John’s. “Are we done with this nonsense? Are we cool?” asked Santiago. “Can we get on with things now?”
            John rose unsteadily to his feet and wobbled, almost falling back down. Backing away from Santiago, John said, “You ate my ear. You ate my fucking ear. You’re crazy. Just leave me alone.” He continued to shrink back from Santiago, shaking his head in disbelief. “You ate my fucking ear.”
            Thin, dry lips parted, revealing Santiago’s moldy smile. “Come on, man. It doesn’t matter. Your ear will grow back. And besides, I warned you that I was hungry. I’m always hungry, man. You should have said uncle.”
            “What do you mean my ear will grow back?” John held his hand tightly to the side of his head to stanch the bleeding and felt the thub, thub, thub, thub of the injury throbbing on the palm of his hand.
            “That’s the way things work here.”
            “Where is here?” asked John, waving his free hand about around himself.
            “That’s what you need to find out,” said Santiago as he climbed back atop the balanced rock and sat, Indian style.
            “I need to be anywhere but here,” John said. He turned and started to walk. “I certainly don’t need to be attacked and chewed on.”
            “Wait up, man,” Santiago shouted from the rock as John continued to walk away. “Don’t you want to know what our purposes are before you split?”
            And John paused his retreat, stopping but not turning back. “Why should I believe that you have any answers for me?”
            “Because I’m spiritually allied with the desert, Jack. I’m spiritually allied with the scorpion and the wolf. You live in your physical realm. But, I’m in the spiritual, baby. I walk and talk and do all the physical things. But that’s only because I want to. Dig? If I don’t want to do something, I don’t have to. I’m not stuck on that trip. See?”
            “No, Santiago or whatever your name is, I don’t see,” said John, flapping his arms about spastically as if slapping Santiago’s words from the air before they could reach him. “You don’t make any sense. If you have some answers for me, please just give them.”
            “I have no answers.”
            “Then why did you ask me to stop?”
            “Because I know where your answers can be found.”
            “Well, tell me then,” said John.
            “You must climb the mountain and seek the counsel of the burning thorn bush.”
            “Okay, so you’re just talking nonsense again. I get it. Thanks for nothing.” John turned and began walking again. Almost immediately, Santiago appeared at his side, grabbing his arm to stop him.
            “For real, man,” Santiago said. “Just turn around and look.”
            With the last of his patience, John stopped and turned around. Santiago’s buggy whip arm extended his hand and pointed toward the mountain from which John exited. A stone’s throw above the cave entrance sat a thorn bush, alight with great blue and orange flames, but the bush itself did not burn.


Oh but wait... we're not done yet! 
Lance has cooked up a cool giveaway to help promote Sloughing Off the Rot.

2 Grand Prize Winners (US Residents only due to Shipping)
A signed copy of Sloughing Off the Rot

2 Runners-up (International)
eBook copies of both 
in the format of your choice


The giveaway runs through November 23rd
Winners will be announced on November 24th here and via email

(be sure to tell us what country you are in so your comment counts!)

Good luck!!

The Dr. Reverend Lance Carbuncle was born sometime during the last millennium and he’s been getting bigger, older and uglier ever since. Carbuncle is an ordained minister with the Church of Spiritual Humanism. Carbuncle doesn’t eat deviled eggs and he doesn’t drink cheap beer. Carbuncle doesn’t wear sock garters. Carbuncle does tell stories. Carbuncle’s stories are channeled through a pathetic little man who has to work a respectable job during the days in order to feed the infestation of children in his house. Carbuncle is the author of Smashed, Squashed, Splattered, Chewed, Chunked and Spewed and the 2009 Reader’s Views Literary Awards Humorous Fiction Winner, Grundish and Askew. Carbuncle’s third novel (unnamed at the present) will be released in November/December of 2012 by Vicious Galoot Books. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Where Writers Write: Nan Cuba

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 Nan Cuba. She received her MFA in fiction from the Warren Wilson Program for Writers, is the founder and executive director emeritus of Gemini Ink, a nonprofit literary center (, was twice the runner-up for the Dobie Paisano Fellowship, and received a Fundación Valparaiso Residency Grant in Mojácar, Spain. She is currently an associate professor of English at Our Lady of the Lake University. As an investigative journalist, she reported on the causes of extraordinary violence in publications such as LIFE and D Magazine. Her stories, poems, and reviews have appeared in Quarterly West, Columbia: A Magazine of Poetry & Prose, the Bloomsbury Review, and the Harvard Review, among others. She is coeditor of Art at Our Doorstep: San Antonio Writers & Artists (Trinity University Press, 2008), and her novel, Body and Bread, will be published by Engine Books in May 2013.

Where Nan Cuba Writes

I’m sixty-five, and I’ve reverted to the womb.  When I converted a bedroom into my office, I consciously filled it with memorabilia and art, surrounding myself with artifacts that stimulate and nourish.  Everywhere I look: faces, scenes, chatter.  Stuck for a piece of dialogue: glance at the bookshelf to the left.  Need an image: look inside the glass-fronted cabinet above the desk.  If nothing else works, check the window on one wall.

I’m a phenomenon of self-discipline, a holdover from my Bible-belt upbringing.  When I sit at my desk, I have no trouble getting to work.  So once, I tried writing according to a specific schedule.  Fitting time around my day job, I rose at 4:00 a.m., read the previous day’s product, then pounded out a pledged three pages.  I loved being in the world when everyone else seemed out of it.  The dark, the quiet, the stillness invigorated, sending me straight to my subconscious.  Like an automaton, I stuck to my schedule because I’d been trained that failing to meet a commitment meant irresponsibility, flawed character, and worse, a father’s disappointment.  I was proud, productive, and finally, exhausted.  After five months, I went to bed with the flu, sleeping almost continually for a week.

Now, like all my other tasks—planning classes, grading papers, running errands—I fit my writing into life’s evolving demands.  Although I miss that wee-hour nether-world, I can produce whenever I keep my appointment at the computer.  Like getting a haircut or attending faculty assembly, my writing opportunities vary but are slotted into my schedule.  I block out days on my calendar for upcoming projects and announce this to my family.  When I start writing, I find eating, talking, even dressing an irritation.  My husband brings meals on a tray.  I have arthritic hips, so I sit on a pillow, but eventually an ache forces me to rise and check the mail or take a trip to the bathroom.  If someone talks, I share what I’ve been working on, watching reactions.  Then I return to my computer.  Instead of clutching a rifle like Charlton Heston, my “cold, hard hands” will someday have to be pried from the keyboard. 

I used to listen to the local classical radio station, but I’ve switched to one that plays jazz.  My parents were characters straight from Mad Men, a glass of Scotch in one hand, a cigarette or pipe in the other, songs by Nancy Wilson, Sarah Vaughn, or Benny Goodman filling our house, all of it topnotch background music I still hear.  I remember watching these artists and others—Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Billie Holliday—on TV.  Once, I took my daughter to see Dizzy Gillespie at the Blue Note in NYC.  Now, it’s Coltrane, Simone, Monk, Parker, too many to name.  Like the narrator in Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues,” I enter every lick and pitch, listening to the haunting messages, warmed and bothered, opening while I type. 

Like these musical idols, amazing writers also inspire me.  Each came to my house while I served as executive director of a literary center, Gemini Ink (, and I collected their autographs on a door frame that now borders my bookshelf.  Former teachers, role models, a few friends—literary icons, all—they cheer me on.  What else?  My grandmother’s sinister ceramic Easter rabbits, my father’s knit booties and toy horses, a Michael Nye photograph of two Indonesian women in saris, a pottery figure of the Mexica goddess Tlazolteotl, an iron mask of Sophocles, a former student’s pen-and-ink drawing, “The Poetess,” of what looks like a manikin on a gurney in a torture chamber. 

I sit at my grandmother’s drop-front secretary, an antique my mother used in a room she called the study.  My wallpaper is a jumble of letters from the Greek and English alphabets.  Even my paperclips have a special holder, one passed from my grandmother, to my mother, to me: a ceramic bug-eyed baby bird, its mouth stretched wide, its right foot glued at the ankle.  I’m cushioned and surrounded.  Ready to write.

Check back next week to see the writing space of Brian Griffith.