Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Book Review: Cartilage and Skin

Read 12/16/14 - 12/30/14
2 Stars - Tread Lightly / A slow and strange book that leaves you wishing you you could face-punch the narrator
Pages: 328
Publisher: Starcherone Books 
Released: 2013

I've read my fair share of books that featured narrators who were incredibly immense jerks. Disgrace featured a world class jerk. Saturday featured a hoity-toity jerk. Both of these books grated on my nerves, and the leading jerkyhead jerks kept pissing me off, and yet... against my better judgement, being the optimistic reader that I am, I continued to read, hoping for some kind of final-hour-redemption, only to end up totally aggravated and stewing over the hours I had wasted on them.

You can go ahead and add Michael James Rizza's Cartilage and Skin to that list. This book failed to grab me from the get-go. The pace was excruciatingly slow and the main dude - Dr. Parker - was a total sleazebag. The book starts out with our Parker picking up the mail for a reclusive female neighbor. Except, instead of giving her all of it, he begins keeping the packages of photos that an apparent "admirer" sends her. And then he begins fantasizing about her. And when the lust becomes almost too much to bear, he beings to stalk and harass her at her front door.  Turns out she's this grotesquely large woman who used to be into this fetishist stuff and she knows he's been withholding those packages. Hell, she tells him that the dude whose been sending her the packages knows he's been keeping them, too.

So now he's all paranoid that this dude gonna come after him. Meanwhile, he's been humoring this sick little homeless kid - paying him to run errands for him so he doesn't have to leave the house - until the kid gets so sick that Parker has no choice but to call an ambulance, which suddenly brings this shitstorm of an investigation down around him. Apparently the boy's got a nasty history and had recently been abused pretty badly and Parker's the first one they're looking at. When Parker is called in and fails to offer the information the case worker and her investigators are looking for, his privacy is threatened.

In the midst of all this shit - the anxiety of the investigation and the paranoia of the photo fetish dude secretly stalking him - Parker meets Vanessa, who runs a vintage clothing store, and inadvertently but also kinda knowingly, pulls her naive ass into all of this shit too.

Parker plays like he's this anti-social, innocent victim of his circumstances but you get the feeling the whole way through that this guy is totally playing you. He's not an honest narrator and he's making everything worse by hanging around and instigating the situation.

It's not often I want to face-punch a protagonist. But the combination of Parker's sheer cluelessness, his ridiculous hyper-vigilance, disgustingly low self esteem, and the ease with which he lies and shrugs off the seriousness of his situation made me want to take him by the shoulders and shake him fucking silly. 

I've read some of the reviews on this book and had a good laugh at the ones that claim it's a creepy read. The only thing that I found creepy about it was our narrator, a Grade A creeper if ever there was one. The few relationships he had were odd and malformed. The only person he ever really seemed to give a shit about was himself. And then there were these horrid moments within the book where Parker would divert from the actual novel and philosophize for page after page about shit I could care less about. Some of these digressions were borderline torturous. At a minimum, they were just plain ole boring.

If I could go back in time, to December 16th, the day I started this book, I'd tell myself not to bother. I'd explain to myself that if I picked it up and read it, I wouldn't feel right putting it down, and that when I got to the final three pages or so of the novel, two entire weeks later, I'd only end up pissed off and frustrated. So frustrated, in fact, that I would go on to immediately review the book, still feeling the heat and hatred those final few pages created in me... 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

John Mauk's Guide to Books & Booze

Time to grab a book and get tipsy!

Back by popular demand, Books & Booze, originally a mini-series of sorts here on TNBBC challenges participating authors 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. 

Today, John Mauk, author of Field Notes for the Earthbound, contemplates what it'd be like to serve up his characters a couple glasses of coca wine, just for the hell of it:


            I’ve tried a J├Ągerbomb, and I wouldn’t recommend it. Instead, I’d like to buy the world a coca wine. Back in the nineteenth century, people drank it as a matter of course. They could walk down to the local apothecary, grab a bottle, and sail back home—yahooing into the sky or just humming quietly with a mix of pick-me-up and slow-me-down. Plenty of sources document coca wine’s popularity among those with means. Clergy, lawyers, teachers, and various writerly types consumed it openly and often. They celebrated its curative oomph—its power to eradicate headaches, calm nervous stomachs, or jolt groggy genitalia.

            Coca wine offered a unique glow, something more than a belly full of bourbon or a straight shot of stimulant. Apparently, the alcohol and coca bean joined molecular arms in the blood stream and spawned a euphorigenic creature known, in chemical terms, as cocaethylene. And I suspect that coca wine tasted better than any of our current liqueur-based beverages. I imagine it running over the taste buds with the same oozy refinement as tawny port—and I imagine that it induced a calm wakefulness, like zooming over a cartoon hillside on a wind-powered skateboard. No internal combustion, no high fructose aftertaste. Unfortunately, some good ol’ fashioned racism converged with the forces of temperance and made a bogeyman of coca wine. By the twentieth century, it was mostly gone. Racism was not.

            The characters in Field Notes for the Earthbound come along in the mid-twentieth century. Their stories are set on the Ohio flatland just as alcohol starts showing up in small town grocery stores—a sign, for some, of the end times. They don’t have coca wine or anything close. In fact, I’d say they live in a culinary wasteland, an era fueled by potted meats, canned vegetables, and watery bottled beer. So if I could, I’d serve my surviving characters, especially the cranky ones, a coca wine. Now that they’ve finished their narrative chores, they deserve something other than tight-lipped temperance or Old Crown.

            After a second pour, a third for the cranky ones, my characters and I’d get all metaphorical. We’d talk hard about their stories. I’d claim that they dramatize the battle between euphoria and temperance, magic and reality. I’d say it just like that. Marigold Holloway would reluctantly agree and then sob, finally, for her dead husband. Jacob Ferrick, whose mother was a witch (a real witch), would argue that it’s no battle at all, that reality is always under the yoke of invisible forces most people cannot imagine. Peckerhead Phil, of course, would take the opposite stance and insist that stories are one thing, reality another. In the space between assertions, Walter Laney, the retired priest turned insult comic, would call everyone names and laugh himself stupid. Gene Whitman, the old Nazarene healer, would stay silent. He’d drink his drinks and smile from the corner of the room.

            Tweaked up and dreamy on cocaethylene, we’d carouse through the night. We’d invent theories about Kathryn Mueller’s famous final flight, how she went from night bird to dead girl facedown in a field. We’d raise glasses and toast her lucidity, her absolute certainty about what people are and how they work. And then we’d roll along until sunrise listening to everything Jeremy could not divulge in “The Electric Nowhere,” all the things he omitted about his uncle, his yearning for Helen, and his final violent act on the flatland. He’d say terrible things about Len Polk’s last seconds on the planet, and maybe we wouldn’t care so much because, damn it, Len Polk was a lowdown scoundrel.

            And maybe at the end, we’d hear from Helen and Joel’s child—a woman now, someone most of us never got to meet. She was just a slight bulge when she was carried off. I would recognize her, of course, because she’d have Joel’s and Helen’s features—his fierce jaw, her crystalline eyes. I would say that I’ve wanted to hear her voice for years, that I’ve wondered what tales she’d heard about all of these crazed flatlanders. And with all of us leaning in close, she would describe her life in California—after all these stories and far away from her own beginning. She would tell us—I’m certain of it—how she sometimes, on calm nights and for no apparent reason, lifts her window and howls into the air, back to the east and through the decades.


John Mauk has a Masters degree in literature from the University of Toledo and a PhD in rhetoric from Bowling Green State University. He writes and works at the intersection of rhetoric and fiction. He has three college writing textbooks, published by Wadsworth/Cengage. In 2010, his short collection "The Rest of Us" won Michigan Writer’s Cooperative Press chapbook contest, and its first story, “The Earthbound,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His debut novel, Field Notes for the Earthbound, was a finalist in the Hudson Prize contest. For more info, visit

Monday, December 29, 2014

Stephen Kozeniewksi On Being Indie

On "Being Indie" is a blog series, here on TNBBC, that introduces us to a wide variety of independent authors, publishers, and booksellers as they discuss what being indie means to them.  

Stephen Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key") lives with his wife and two cats in Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the modern zombie.  During his time as a Field Artillery officer, he served for three years in Oklahoma and one in Iraq, where due to what he assumes was a clerical error, he was awarded the Bronze Star.  He is also a classically trained linguist, which sounds much more impressive than saying his bachelor’s degree is in German. You can find him on AmazonFacebookTwitterGoodreads, at his Blog, and join his Mailing List.

I don't know what being indie means.  I don't know if I am indie.  I guess I am.

I don't mean this in any sort of a smartass way.  And I certainly don't mean it as a political statement, which, trust me, lots of people do.  Imagine, if you will, a professorial type, black plastic frames to his glasses, a jacket with leather elbows, smoking at a pipe of pungent tobacco.

"Indie?" he proclaims, nearly choking on his $200 bottle of cognac, "Poppycock!  Certainly not!  I'm traditionally published, old sport."

And then he breaks into a rousing rendition of "Boola Boola."

On the other hand, picture a hipster, one finger to his upper lip to show off his moustache tattoo, the other desperately clutching a can of PBR.

"Traditional, maaaan?" he cries over the Arcade Fire anthem pumping in the background, "You mean legacy publishing?  Dead pulp matter?  Hell to the no, droog, I'm indie all the way!"

And at this point about half of you reading (aka the readers) are going, "What the hell is this guy on about?"  And the other half (aka the writers) are nodding along in pained sympathy.

It's a minefield out there, you see.  First of all, nothing means anything.  If you write but don't have a book out you could be "pre-published" or "unpublished" or "a writer but not an author" or an "aspiring author" or just a damn "author."  Not to mention "agented" or "unagented."  If you have a contract with the Big 6 (or "Big 5+1", or just "Big 5"), sometimes it's called "traditional publishing" and sometimes it's called "legacy publishing" and sometimes it's just called "publishing" as though nothing else counts.  And if you released your book yourself, my God, you could be an "author-publisher," an "indie author," "self-published," or just damn "unpublished" as far as some people are concerned.

And pretty much every single one of these terms is emotionally charged to certain segments of the population.  (I'm not even kidding.  Try calling someone "self-published" when they describe themselves as an "author-publisher."  Let me know how that pans out for you.)

So.  What the heck am I?  Well, I guess I'm an "indie."  That's fine if someone wants to call me that.  If someone wants to call me "traditionally published," too, I'm fine with that.  The only time I really worry about it is when a reviewer specifies they don't accept...some kind of which case I call myself the one they do accept. 

I went with a small publisher for all three of my novels.  One was published with Red Adept Publishing, a very new and impressive press out of Raleigh, NC.  The other two were with Severed Press, a well-regarded horror publisher out of Hobart, Australia.  (Fun fact: if I ever have a dispute with my publisher, by contract I have to present at the courthouse in Tasmania.)

My publishers took care of all the crap work as far as I'm concerned.  They did the covers, the editing, the accounting, and some of the marketing.  I still have to market quite a bit myself.  For instance, um, writing blogposts like this.  (Beats genetically engineering an albino gorilla to shout "BUY BRAINEATER JONES!" from the rooftops, I guess.)

So I'm kind of a hybrid?  But I'm also not that, because "hybrid author" is a whole other thing I don't even want to get into right now.

But here's what I want to say about being "indie" if that is what I am.  ("Jesus," I can hear you all saying, "Only took you until 500 words into your 800 word essay to get to the point, huh, Hemingway?")  The people that I have met in this business are a point of joy in my life.  There are fellow Red Adept authors, like Mary Fan, Elizabeth Corrigan, and Claire Ashby, who I speak to literally every day for support.  There are Severed authors like Ian McClellan and H.E. Goodhue who I can commiserate with on how to fix a scene, how to get the most gore out of my zombie, what, exactly, would come out if you ripped someone's face off, all that important stuff.

And then there are the fans.  No screaming groupies yet.  (Although you know where to find me, ladies.)  But I have people who message and e-mail me to say they like my work.  Or they leave reviews and say, "I never left a review before, but I wanted Steve to know..."  And then there are professional reviewers, people like Shana Festa, who, despite putting me at the kiddie table, I still tolerate, and Syliva Bagaglio and Sharon Stevenson and Nikki Howard and and and (and hopefully Lori if I haven't rambled on too long already.)  People who eagerly gobble up my books, tell the world about them, and even talk to me afterwards.

So, whatever "indie" means, if being indie means I get to be a part of this community, then I'm indie all the way, baby.  *shotguns can of PBR*

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A TNBBC Twist on "Top 2014" Lists

We've been putting our own little spin on Top End-of-the-Year Lists for three years running. In the past, we had asked small press authors to share some of their favorite reads from the year. This year, we're shaking things up again and asking our review contributors to share theirs....

TNBBC Review Contributor Series: Top Reads of 2014

Lavinia Ludlow (author)

Ludlow’s Top 3 Books Read in 2014

If you’ve been (un)fortunate enough to know me up close and personal this year, you probably know I am lucky on many fronts: to be alive, to be alive with all parts intact, to have been well enough to write this, and to have been well enough to have read some phenomenal books by a few writers I have always respected, and new writers I’ve come to respect just the same.

Rope by Matty Byloos
Full review at The Collagist

A must-read. Unconventional story telling and storyline, and not without Byloos’ notorious dark humor. This book will knock you out, and when you regain consciousness, you’ll secretly be asking for more.

The Collected Works of Scott McClanahan Volume I
Full review at Nailed Magazine

McClanahan’s small-town stories are life-lessons embedded in dark-humored, jaw-dropping tales. You feel sorry for his protagonists (in most cases, it’s McClanahan himself) but you’re also laughing and simultaneously enlightened by the painful yet hilarious conundrums.

Love Songs of the Revolution by Bronwyn Mauldin
Full review pending

Don’t let the title turn you off, this is an amazing and well-written novella about a seventy-year-old man reflecting on his life as a political refugee. A heart-breaking and humbling thriller, and I quote, “Read this story as your passport demands: a love story, a murder mystery, a story of political intrigue. Perhaps by the final page, those stories will converge.”

2015 is going to be a big year. I’m thankful for the opportunity to kick it off in style at The Next Best Book Blog. Thanks Mrs. Hettler for keeping the faith, and for keeping me going. Here’s to many more.


Drew Broussard (Raging Biblioholism)

4 Favorite Overlooked Reads:

* The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero 

A really fun adventure story, using just about every gimmick or affectation it could think of (from things like video transcripts in the text to character tropes like the sassy female sidekick) and somehow ending up super-successful instead of frustrating.  Cantero's imagination just goes bonkers and I can't remember the last time I had so much fun reading a book.

* Tigerman by Nick Harkaway 

Harkaway continues to be relentlessly inventive, writing one of the best superhero origin stories in a long time.  He comes armed with humor, heart, and a savvy geopolitical eye to boot.  And the UK cover is just the most beautiful thing.

* See You in Paradise by J. Robert Lennon 

An excellent collection exploring the malaise of the middle American suburb.  Smart, well-crafted, and just vaguely unsettling - just like the suburbs...

* The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner 

Flying way under the radar comes this well-crafted tale about a clan of lobster-catchers in Maine.  It takes a lot of inspiration from King Lear (down to the names and some of the character traits) but it's also a celebration of local American mythology - both the truly magical and the self-made magic of self-made men (and women).


Melanie Page (Grab The Lapel)

Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life by Tom Robbins

Because Robbins was born long before TV (in 1932), storytelling is a vital part of who he is, and Tibetan Peach Pie demonstrates the oral tradition in a way that makes you want to read the vignettes aloud to those around you. Robbins may be 82 now, but he’s kept up on pop culture just fine. He makes fun of Sarah Palin and e-books (how can his writing be reduced to those tiny 0s and 1s??). This is not a guy frozen in time wishing for “the good old days.” Each day is a new adventure, a new challenge, and I’m not even sure Robbins suggests he’s ready to slow down. Robbins is hilarious, yet slows life down so that you can enjoy it.

Scoot Over Skinny: The Fat Nonfiction Anthology edited by Donna Jarrell & Ira Sukrungruang

The editors of this anthology, self-proclaimed “Fat Americans,” choose pieces that explore the love of fat, the disgust and guilt; the essays are written from the perspective of the fat and the skinny; the entries are humorous, serious, and sad. In an ever-fatter America, this collection is great to gain some perspective from all voices.

Off Course by Michelle Huneven

The setting of Off Course is the Reagan-era recession, but how is that different from the 2010s? People study and work hard, and as the end of that schooling nears, reality becomes an abstract thing, a toothless monster that makes moving forward seem impossible and bends adulthood into an undesirable shape. Because Off Course is so long (and the pages are densely packed), there is so much for each reader to take from this book. It’ s a novel that made me look at the pieces, picking each one up and turning it over for inspection.

Limber by Angela Pelster

A whole book of essays about trees; how is that even possible? Angela Pelster makes it happen in her sleek collection containing 17 essays, usually around 5 pages each. With titles like “Temple” and “Ethan Lockwood” and “Artifacts,” you may not immediately get the connection to trees. More so, you may not have a sense of direction with the content. But Pelster leads readers along and takes us to unknown territory that opens up like the door through which Dorothy crosses from black-and-white into a color-filled world in Oz.

Her Own Vietnam by Lynn Kanter

A young woman volunteers for Vietnam to go in her brother’s place in the hopes that being a nurse will be awful, but not deadly. Kanter captures the brutal details of war, including the graphic descriptions and unimaginable feelings. She craftily sidesteps clich├ęs and predictable territory and instead focuses on the female perspective, one that is sorely underrepresented.


Lori Hettler (TNBBC)

The Best Small Press Books I've Read in 2014

Above All Men - Eric Shonkwiler

It's a bleak tale of the beginning of the end of the world. Of a family man who feels the weight of everyone's worries on his shoulders. Of this man who, regardless of consequence, is determined to make sure everyone is alright, even if it means hurting the ones he cares about most. It's a tale of survival as much as it is one of destruction. And Shonkwiler pulls it off effortlessly. It's a killer read. It does all of the things you want it to and some of the things you don't. And that's what makes it so powerful. That's what makes it THE one.

The stories in Elegantly Naked in My Sexy Mental Illness, Heather Fowler's fourth collection, hold a scalpel to the brain of each of its protagonists, in an attempt to differentiate true mental illness from what is natural and normal. When does a simple crush become an obsessive desire? At what point do we decide that these paranoid thoughts in our head are no longer innocent, no longer healthy? After you read her stories, your guard will be up. Your eyes will turn their suspicious gaze left and right, left and right, all day long. You'll automatically diagnose everyone around you, and begin to keep your distance. But I promise it won't last long. Because the unease will wear off. The routine will suck you back in. And that's ok. Because it's the norm. And because sometimes, we find mental illness a little thrilling, a little sexy.

Deep Ellum - Brandon Hobson

Brandon Hobson's Deep Ellum is very much a sentimental look back at that broken childhood, at family relationships gone bad (and getting worse), at why they say "you can't go home again", and rightly, who the fuck wants to? It also details, more specifically, a reluctant last-gasp attempt to pull the pieces back together when three siblings are called back home after their mother's most recent failed suicide. Hobson is at his best when creating wholly uncomfortable familial situations and is also a master at word economy, expressing only what's necessary and trusting, or simply allowing, his readers to infer the rest. He isn't afraid to hold a mirror up to all the ugly shit families are famous for pulling on each other, either. Whether you've lived a similarly messed up life or not, you certainly know someone who has, or can relate to some of the circumstances here.

Apocalypticon - Clayton Smith

A post-apocalyptic novel that makes fun of itself and every book or film that's ever come before it? Uh, yes please! Clayton Smith knocks it out of the park - The Magic Kingdom's parking lot, to be exact - with this hilarious tale of two BFF's who've managed to survive the apocalypse (which was brought about by Jamaican 'Flying Monkey Missiles' if you can believe it) by apparent sheer dumb luck. Time and time again I found myself wishing I could hop inside Clayton's world and tag along with these guys. Their "laugh in the face of danger" attitude and incredibly poorly timed curiosity made APOCALYPTICON an edge-of-your-seat fun house ride. Sprinkled throughout with pop culture references and served with a heaping dose of well written dialogue, I'm naming APOCALYPTICON the must-read book for fans of post-apoc literature.

Hold the Dark - William Giraldi

Set in an Alaskan village so far off the map you'd never know it existed unless you were born there or beckoned there, during the teeth-chattering and snot-freezing dead of winter, Hold the Dark is a twisted, chilling thriller of a story. It is an extremely dark and violent, slow moving, tension-filled tale that's meant to mess with your mind. William Giraldi's careful prose and simplistic world-building go a long way to pulling the reader in, despite it's slow place. His willful withholding is actually part of the book's charm. And the near-tender descriptions of his characters' violent acts render them almost beautiful. Kudos also to Blackstone Audio, for finding a reader capable of conveying the quiet fierceness of Giraldi's words.

Honorable Mentions:

Suckers - Z. Rider
Winterswim - Ryan W Bradley
Starship Grifters - Robert Kroese
Romance For Delinquents - Michael Wayne Hampton

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Sarah Yaw Takes it to the Toilet

Oh yes! We are absolutely running a series on bathroom reading! So long as it's taking place behind the closed  (or open, if that's the way you swing) bathroom door, we want to know what it is. It can be a book, the back of the shampoo bottle, the newspaper, or Twitter on your cell phone - whatever helps you pass the time...

Today, Sarah Yaw takes it to the toilet. Sarah Yaw’s novel YOU ARE FREE TO GO (Engine Books, 2014) was selected by Robin Black as the winner of the 2013 Engine Books Novel Prize; her short work has appeared in Salt Hill. Sarah received an MFA in fiction from Sarah Lawrence College, and is an assistant professor at Cayuga Community College. She’s the mother of Jed and Ella, the best bathroom invaders ever. She lives in Central New York.

Confessions of a Bathroom Reader

My View

In the bathroom over the last five and a half years, I have started and not finished the following: Eat the Document, The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel, The Pale King, The Burgess Boys, that really brilliant article in The Atlantic about race in America, Ulysses, Transatlantic, Swann’s Way, Love Medicine, The Pale King, that other really cool Atlantic article about kindness, Salvage the Bones, The Presence Process, Absence of Mind, Mountains of the Moon, The Pale King, myriad New York Times pieces (forget the New Yorker), and any article you posted on Facebook that I thought, Ooh! I want to read that.

I have 5 ½-year-old twins. The bathroom is a refuge where for the length of my twins’ lives I have read the first pages of books or a tease of each interesting article trending in my social networks, but almost never a whole anything. I try to finish. I decide, I’ll take my reading to the couch, flanked by watchers of that curious monkey or that cute tiger or those morons on Kickin’ It, so that I can finish what I started in the bathroom. It almost never works. They always ask for juice. It’s all fits and starts. The bathroom remains my best hope. And yet…

their view

Have you ever tried to go to the bathroom with young kids around? I have used the potty, a word I now reflexively use because I’ve become an idiot in certain aspects of my life, with not one but two babies on my lap. Never have I ever gone to the bathroom and not told my kids where I was going. Never have I ever arrived in the bathroom and not been asked in a yelling voice from a very far corner of the house, “Mama, where are you?” “Mama, what are you doing?” “Mama, are you done?” “Mama, mama, mama, mama, mama. I forgot what I was going to say, but where are you?”

I always spend too long. You posted something wildly exciting, and I got lost in it or I made it to page two in Swan’s Way, and then the thundering footsteps, the busting open door and…

I'm semi-informed. I know just enough to know what's going on, but not enough to feel included in deeper cultural conversations. This has lead to a general sense of interruption. This has lead to an ongoing lack of satisfaction. This has resulted in a state of stoppage, which I can tell you is no way to leave the bathroom.

The best days are poetry days, when one of you reposts a poem of the day and I have the time to read it, reread it, let it resonate and lift me up before, well, you know. On those days, my daily constitution is given a rare sense of completion, and I’m told I have a spring in my step, a certain glimmer in my eye.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Audio Series: Stewart Dudley

Our audio series "The Authors Read. We Listen."  was hatched in a NYC club during BEA back in 2012. This feature requires more time and patience 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.

Stewart Dudley reads an excerpt from The Cutting Room. He spent more than 20 years as a film and video director, scriptwriter, cameraman and editor before leaving the industry to focus exclusively on writing. His credits include hundreds of scripts, ads, speeches and websites. The Cutting Room, his first novel, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2014. He lives in Ottawa, Canada.

Click on the soundcloud link below to hear Stewart reading from The Cutting Room:

The word on The Cutting Room:

Jeff Whittaker has been a trusted communications advisor at the highest levels of government and industry. Now, no one seems to want his advice. Unemployed at fifty-five, Whittaker volunteers at the Jamieson International Documentary Film Festival, where greater value is placed on his clean driving record than his strategic public relations expertise. He is assigned to chauffer one of the festival’s biggest draws—Margaret “Terror” Torrance, a Hollywood star at the top of her game and the bottom of most casting lists. Although inhabitants of different worlds, Whittaker and Torrance share the scars inflicted by personal and professional slings and arrows: Torrance self-reinvented by sheer force of will; Whittaker an unapologetic introvert still scouring his life for meaning. Across five days of film screenings, media interviews, workshops and parties, the actor and the communications expert clash and click, challenging each other to stave off the entropy of middle age.
*Lifted with love from goodreads

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Where Writers Write: Greg Boose

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


Where Writers Write is a series that features authors 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. 

This is Greg Boose.

His Young Adult novel The Red Bishop was published by Full Fathom Five Digital in November, 2014. Greg is the former Los Angeles and Chicago editor of BlackBook Magazine, and his work has appeared on/in Chicago Public Radio,, Time Out Chicago, The Huffington Post, McSweeney’s, The Believer, and others. He ghostwrote two New York Times best-selling YA novels in 2011 and 2012. He received his MFA from Minnesota State University Moorhead, and now lives in Santa Monica, CA, with his two young daughters. You can find out more at

Where Greg Boose Writes

I admit to being one of those coffee shop rat guys who secures the best table the moment the OPEN sign is flipped around on the door. And, yeah, I’m one of those coffee shop rat guys who often overstays his welcome, but also one who orders something substantial and always tips. I’ve written at least half my books at these wobbly, sticky tables, and that’s because the hustle and bustle of customers and espresso machines make me feel like I’m a true part of the workforce somehow. Because everyone knows how lonely and unseen writing can be. Being a writer can often feel like being a ghost.

The first draft of The Red Bishop--a book that takes place entirely on Cape Cod--was written in a dozen different coffee shops in north Chicago: nice ones, divey ones, ones with an inch of slush melting across the scuffed tiles. These coffee shops were such a huge part of my book-writing process that they ended up infiltrating the pages of the book: 95% of the characters in the novel were named after Chicago train stations: names like Lake, Logan, Madison, Halsted, Kimball, Cermak, Rosemont, Racine, Laramie, etc. (See the little red boxes?)

But there’s always a closing time, or a barista giving me the “You’ve been here long enough, dude-with-the-patchy-beard” eye, so I eventually have to make my way home to my chipped West Elm desk and craigslist chair and still try to feel like I’m a part of the hustle and bustle.

I’m no longer in Chicago. Moved to sunny Santa Monica three years ago where the only slush is on some editor’s desk in the form of a wobbly pile of manuscripts. (Note to the editor sitting at that desk: READ MINE NEXT COME ON.) And the thing about being in Southern California is that there’s rarely a good reason to stay indoors. Because, let me tell you, it’s pretty nice out. Yesterday was nice, today is nice, tomorrow will be nice. So, to stay inside for a block of hours and toil away on a novel that no one has asked for or knows about, is kind of difficult. I can’t exactly look at a Midwestern blizzard of “thunder snow” raging out the window and tell myself it’s the perfect time to stay inside and write.

So, this is what I do: I turn off my wifi, turn on some spooky-yet-energizing Trent Reznor instrumental albums like the soundtracks for The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and I take a deep breath and shut the blinds. (Because palm trees.) And then I turn my wifi back on and mess around for a bit until either inspiration or desperation hits. This is where and how I write.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

James Tadd Adcox Recommends The Illuminatus! Trilogy

And so we continue our Writers Recommend - a newish series where we ask writers to, well, you know.. recommend things. Like the books that they've enjoyed. To you. Because who doesn't like being recommended new and interesting books, right?! Think of it as a PSA. Only it's more like an LSA -Literary Service Announcement. And this one comes along as a part of the blog tour for James Tadd Adcox's newest, Does Not Love. You're doubly welcome.

James Tadd Adcox recommends The Illuminatus! Trilogy

Several years ago I went to see an interview with the science fiction writer William Gibson at the Chicago Humanities Festival. The interviewer asked him about his influences, and he made the comment that if you ask a writer who his or her influences are, the writer is most likely to answer with a list of people he or she would like to have as influences. The books that influence us the most deeply, he said, are those we read before we had any conception of what we “ought” to be reading, those books that we pick up because they’re around or because they have a cool cover or whatever and which we fall intensely in love with as kids before we know we’re not supposed to. A writer’s real influences are the ones that he or she is embarrassed to talk about.

I’ve been thinking about those early influences, the books that I stumbled upon and loved before I knew enough to care about what I was supposed to love. One of those books— or perhaps the book that supplied the bridge between those embarrassing ur-books and the “literary” stuff I’d read later on—is The Illuminatus! Trilogy, originally published, as the name implies, as three books, but really a single novel. I first read Illuminatus! towards the end of middle school, when I was maybe twelve or thirteen years old, too young to understand a lot of things in the book and just barely old enough to understand some other things. Bizarre sexual practices play a pivotal role at several key points in the plot, if I remember correctly (and I am almost certain that I do—for a couple of those scenes I’ve got the sort of so-called “flashbulb” memory people talk about having the moment they learned Kennedy died). Politics, too, featured heavily; not as exciting as the sex, okay sure, but I was always strangely interested in politics as a kid, as I tried on one set of political beliefs after another, from Rush Limbaugh conservative to Marxist to anarchist to God-only- knows.

I’m tempted to look this book up on Wikipedia, to tell you, for example, that it is described there as “a satirical, postmodern, science fiction-influenced adventure story; a drug-, sex-, and magic-laden trek through a number of conspiracy theories, both historical and imaginary, related to the authors’ version of the Illuminati,” covering themes such as “counterculture, numerology, and Discordianism,” the latter being a religion that may or may not, but probably was, made up by the authors and which spread in subsequent years to the world outside the book. But I would prefer not to do that. I would prefer to rely here on my
memory of the book, accepting that I’m going to get certain things wrong. Illuminatus! was a thousand-some page book (one of the longest, possibly the longest, that I had read up to that point in my life) written by a pair of ex-hippies and then-anarchists, both named Bob, Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. At that time I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy novels, and I found this book in the science fiction section of my hometown library. God knows whether it makes sense to classify the book as science fiction or whatever else at all. What deeply impressed me about the book was its approach to the real world.

Previous novels I’d read always seemed really clear on what parts of the book were of the real world, or were intended to be, and what parts were the novelist’s additions to it. In a typical science fiction novel, for example, there are some scientific theories or facts that are posited as real, such as the existence and basic science relating to black holes, and some fictitious extrapolation from these facts, such as the use of black holes to travel through space. Or, in literary fiction, certain facts about the world will be posited—such as the
structure of racism in the American south—to which will be added certain fictitious elements, such as the existence of a lawyer named Atticus or a recluse named Boo.

This clear division didn’t hold in Illuminatus! Certain elements, clearly, were fictional—the main characters, or most of them, anyhow, were probably made up, and the authors probably didn’t have any direct knowledge of how long it took for various world leaders to get off during encounters with skilled prostitutes (rounded, if I’m not mistaken, to the nearest half-minute). Other parts were clearly based on fact—the aforementioned world leaders seemed to be clearly based on their real world counterparts, for example. But a wonderfully broad swath of the book seemed to inhabit a shadow space between these categories, things that might be true, things that might be mostly true, things that the authors might believe to be true regardless of their real-world status, things that people besides the authors thought were true that the authors were willing to go along with. But you would never know which was which without doing outside research—and what good would that do you, really? How would you ever know that you’d researched enough? Just because you couldn’t find one of the sources the authors cited (because of course they cited their sources)
doesn’t mean that the authors made it up. Just because you found a book that said such-and-such never happened, that such-and-such happened instead—well, you could find books that said all kinds of things, couldn’t you? There were books that said that the pilgrims and the Indians were friends and that colonialism was glorious and that human beings really did, honest to God, land on the moon.

Reading Illuminatus!, you got a sense of something like vertigo, a sensation of falling even as you were sure (weren’t you?) that you were standing on solid ground. It’s the first book that I can remember ever giving me this sensation, and it’s in large part responsible— I’m eighty-nine percent sure of this—for the path my taste in books and movies and possibly even music would eventually take. I am forever looking to be overwhelmed. I’m reading a book right now, a very good book, called The Absolution of Roberto Acestes Laing by Nicholas Rombes. I’m reading it for a review, so I won’t say much about it, to make sure I still have something to say when it comes time to review it. But there’s a moment when the narrator is describing some avant-garde films the protagonist is watching, and he says that they’re “the sort of films that poisoned you if you saw them at the wrong (or right) age.” I don’t think it’s going too far to say that something like this occurred when I read Illuminatus!: I was precisely the wrong or right age, and I am poisoned.


James Tadd Adcox is the author of a novel, Does Not Love, and a collection of stories, The Map of the System of Human Knowledge. He lives in Chicago.

Set in an archly comedic, alternate-reality Indianapolis that is completely overrun by Big Pharma, James Tadd Adcox's debut novel chronicles Robert and Viola's attempts to overcome loss through the miracles of modern pharmaceuticals. Their marriage crumbling after a series of miscarriages, Viola finds herself in an affair with the FBI agent who has recently appeared at her workplace, while her husband Robert becomes enmeshed in an elaborate conspiracy designed to look like a drug study.