Friday, February 28, 2014

Book Review: The Mustache He's Always Wanted But Could Never Grow

Read 2/22/14 - 2/27/14
3 Stars - Recommended to those who enjoy reading about the downward swirl of bottom-rung humanity in the toilet of life
101 Pages
Publisher: House of Vlad Productions
Released 2013

Brian Alan Ellis doesn't have much hope for the human race. He doesn't see us in vivid technicolor. Rather, to him, humanity is drenched in darkness, hidden in shadow, and exuding guilt and sin. 

Scraping the absolute bottom of the barrel, we find him shining a light on the squirmy, dirty, shifty souls he discovers buried down there. Fetishists, a dead cat, drunkards, the cripplingly depressed, and self-mutilators all cling together and hang separately in this collection of short (and shorter) stories. 

In my opinion, the stories that bookend the collection - Crumbs of Love and The Sailboat/Hatchet Painting - are the strongest of the bunch. In the former, you have a dude sitting on the couch, absolutely in love with life and his girlfriend. When he opens his mouth to tell her this, she jumps down his throat and shatters his feel-good buzz. She's a bitch, this chick, and we can see it plain as day. But our poor ole dude is so love-struck, and now so panic-stricken at the thought of her not loving him nearly as much as he loves her, we just can't help but shake our heads. Cause we've all been there. At some point, we've all been sitting exactly where he sits, mouth agape with stupid ridiculous semi-blubbering shit driveling out of our mouths. In the latter, we meet two people (pretty sure they are brother and sister) chatting away meaninglessly about what's been going on in their lives. We learn about the sister's second ex-husband who used to crash at the brother's apartment (before the sister met and married him). The guy was an artist and we're given the rundown on the rumored sale of his one and only masterpiece - an unremarkable painting of a sailboat with a hatchet stuck through it that contained some remarkable "ingredients". 
Stories like Eulogy for Johnny Thunders, which is about a dude, his ex-girlfriend, and her mother standing graveside in varying degrees of mourning over the untimely death of their cat; Leftover Heels, about the pair of shoes an ex-girlfriend leaves behind and the things one lonely man does with them; Lunch Lady, where a husband has a bad reaction to his wife's new 'do; and Delia Done Wrong, where a guy who planned to cheat on his girlfriend while she's away on a trip gets what he wants, and worse, hold their own and help to set the tone of the remainder of the collection. 

Not all of the stories reach that same caliber, though. I started and then stopped reading For Pain with Sleeplessness and Loco Mask II because they just weren't grabbing me. And for all the awesomeness of its title, while The Mustache He's Always Wanted But Could Never Grow was short and well written, it was simultaneously disappointing. 

For all their faults, Ellis doesn't paint his characters in a poor light. He isn't asking for your pity. He's simply pulling back the sheet and saying "see, see this stinking, festering wound of a human here? see how handsome he can be?", bringing the ugliness of human nature to the surface so it too can find its moment in the sun.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Sue Lange 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, author Sue Lange takes it to the toilet. 
Sue has two published works of speculative fiction satire. Her first novel, Tritcheon Hash, was republished as an ebook by Book View Cafe in 2011, and was included in Kirkus’ best of list for that year. Her second novel, We, Robots, was included in io9′s 13 Stories that will change the way you look at Robots list. Her latest novel, The Perpetual Motion Club, is a trek into the Young Adult/Sci Fi genre. Her short fiction has bee published in Futures (Nature), Adbusters, Apex Digest of Science Fiction and Horror, and elsewhere.

Sue Lange's Bathroom Reading Experience

I just moved to an apartment. The bathroom is too small for reading. Serious reading takes a lot of space and accouterments. You can’t just crowd onto a rug in the corner or under the sink. Not if you’re reading big stuff like I read.

 The bathroom in my old house had a lot of space. There I had a throne, a bidet, a basin, a claw-foot tub, and a stand-alone shower. That was a proper reading room. This what I got here is just a travesty.

 Back when I was a queen and had a real bathroom, I read on the throne as well as while taking a good soak in the tub. My choice of reading material depended on which of the two stations I was working in.

 The toilet was reserved for hardcore material. I’m talking non-fiction, not pornography. Hardcore non-fiction includes things like software manuals, farming how-tos, political manifestos from the days when communism was still a viable philosophy. It was stuff that made you think. And you had to think to get through it. Only while dropping a dense load can you tackle such a dense load.

 I had to sell my house before I got to the instruction manual for the VCR, but that turned out alright because I had to sell the VCR too.

My escape to the tub included sensuous material, as befits a sensual activity. Proust and Colette were favorites. For more modern material, I’d turn to Swamplandia. Perfect for a water environment. The crocodile wrestling really came alive for me in the tub. If you’re going to try this yourself, I’d suggest adding some lily pads for authenticity. A frog or salamander wouldn’t hurt.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Indie Ink Runs Deep: Jason Helford

Every now and then I manage to talk a small press author into showing us a little skin... tattooed skin, that is. I know there are websites and books out there that have been-there-done-that already, but I hadn't seen one with a specific focus on the authors and publishers of the small press community. Whether it's the influence for their book, influenced by their book, or completely unrelated to the book, we get to hear the story behind their indie ink....

Today's ink story comes from Jason Helford. Jason has written two books: Written in Hell and From a Killer’s Mind. He’s a devoted husband and father, an avid comic book collector and an enthusiastic craft beer drinker. Prizing originality and creativity more than anything else, some of his favorite authors are Hunter S. Thompson, Chuck Palahniuk, Ray Bradbury, Terry Brooks, Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman, Robert Asprin and Albert Camus. Please don’t be offended if you are an author and your name wasn’t mentioned, he probably likes you, too. He lives in Maryland with his wife, Bella, his daughter, Maddie, and his goofy dog, Sunset.

I got my first tattoo last summer, at the age of 37.  The desire to get one was much, much older than that, but there was always a reason to wait.  Will my wife think less of me?  How will Mom react?  I’m a dad now, so is it the right call?  Why get one when I’m already so far into my 30’s?  Sure, they are cool, but what do I want on my body for the rest of my life?  After a couple seasons of watching tattoo reality shows with the wife, I decided my interest was deep enough to test the waters, and get some answers to the questions that had been holding me back.  The answers surprised me a little.  The wife was on-board, as long as it was something with meaning, and it was done by a good artist.  My mom told me she loves tattoos—who knew?!  My daughter told me, “Wow, Daddy, that sounds really cool!  Get one!”  And as for what I want on my body?  Easy.  Family and comic book art.  And so, in a matter of a few days, years of excuses and fears melted away, and the planning began.

I spent a number of months planning it out, and sketching up ideas.  After a while, I came up with my basic tattoo premise: the idea of a family crest, utilizing Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, and his winged helm.  My family is a family of collectors, and Thor happens to be my favorite comic book, so it was an easy choice once I settled on an idea.  I replaced Thor’s name on Mjolnir with my family name, to start the conversion to a personal crest.  The quill is to denote my life as a writer, and I used a black stork quill-feather to further bolster that theme, since it symbolizes creativity.  The runic words below the helm are written in Anglo-Saxon runes, and read Maddie and Bella, my daughter and wife.  I asked the tattoo artist to use Anglo-Saxon runes to give a nod to my mother’s side of the family, while still sticking with the Viking theme of Thor’s hammer and helm.  The ‘S’ in the leather strap hanging from Mjolnir’s handle is for my step-father and step-sister, standing for Safford.  I took the idea, and a basic sketch, to Dave Waugh at Jinx Proof Tattoo in Washington DC, and he changed around the composition, drew something up that was much better than I could ever produce, and put this awesome tattoo on my shoulder.  My daughter loves it, my wife definitely doesn’t think less of me, and I’m looking forward to number two at some point soon.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Tom Williams's Would You Rather

Bored with the same old fashioned author interviews you see all around the blogosphere? Well, TNBBC's newest series is a fun, new, literary spin on the ole Would You Rather game. Get to know the authors we love to read in ways no other interviewer has. 

This version of Would You Rather features some unique questions in support of Curbside Splendor's blog tour for Tom Williams's new release Don't Start Me Talkin':

Tom Williams's
Would You Rather

Would you rather be a comic or a musician?
Both vocations either attract tortured geniuses or turn ordinary people into tortured geniuses but a comic might have to appear on the Bob and Tom Show to promote his appearance at the Funny Bone in Waco. I'll take musician.

Would you rather be yourself and live your life with your flaws exposed, or an invented self, though nobody would know who you truly were?
Invented self. I don't know who I truly am, so what's the diff if nobody else does?

Would you rather be Brother Ben, the performer, or Mr. Mabry, the manager?
Brother Ben. Wilton Mabry has one path to follow; Brother Ben has many. I made him up and still haven't tracked him down fully.

Would you rather live in a world without music or a world without books?
You guys aren't making this easy. I guess it would be a world without music. I do, even in a time with music on my phone, in my car, on my computer, go without it for days at time. But a day without a book? Even to check the spelling of a word or to re-read a sentence I already know by heart? I couldn't imagine it. I think every writer who watched the Twilight Zone (which is every writer I know) shudders at the thought of that episode with Burgess Meredith, "Time Enought at Last," where just as he prepares to read all his books his glasses shatter. Yeah, I could hum and pat my knees for rhythm. A world without books, nah. Can't deal with that.

Would you rather “tell everything you know” or stay silent?

There's no room for compromise in Would You Rather, is there? Okay. I'd rather "tell everything I know" because I have been for a long time silent about a lot. I wonder if that's not the whole enterprise for me as a writer, though: holding in the words until they're all ready to spill on the page.
Would you rather play harp or guitar?

I currently play guitar badly, so I'll opt for harp. You can carry it in your pocket, nobody's going to bang you over the head with it. And on the roads traveled by bluesmen, a hasty retreat can often be for the best.

You’ve mentioned that you deal with race differently as an biracial person. Would you rather be mixed racial or a single race?
I'm just going to shut up now. I could carp and say nobody's really a "single race," but then I'd not be playing the game right. And the answer is, sure, I'd rather be mixed, just because it's the best of both worlds, even if I've made a career out of feeling ambivalent about it.

Would you rather be a well known author now or be considered a literary genius after you’re dead?
NOW, NOW, NOW. You can't get on Oprah after you're dead!

Would you rather write a book without using conjunctions or have every sentence of your book begin with one?

But why this false dilemma? And is this the right question? Or should we consider that . . . I could go on. Every sentence begins with one.

Would you rather write a plot twist you hated or write a character you hated?
Plot twist. I don't even know if I know how to do a plot twist. Seriously. And characters one hates--I don't think that's possible for me. I really do like them all.

Would you rather have schools teach your book or ban your book?
Ban, of course. If you want to see a young reader's eyes glaze over, tell her this book will be on her English IV syllabus.

Would you rather be reduced to speaking only in haiku or be capable of only writing in haiku?
Speaking. I'm inscrutable already. This would be a natural progression into incoherence.

Would you rather critics rip your book apart publicly or never talk about it at all?
"The only thing worse than being talked about," Oscar Wilde tells us, "is not being talked about."

Would you rather give up your computer or pens and paper?

Pens and paper. How can you look up Oscar Wilde quotes on your Bic?
Would you rather have everything you think automatically appear on your Twitter feed or have a voice in your head narrate your every move?
I already have the voice in my head thing. Doesn't everyone?

Would you rather read a book that is written poorly but has an excellent story, or read one with weak content but is written well? 
We have become a bunch of word-squeezers, haven't we? And you know, I've put aside plenty of books, but never because they didn't soar in every sentence; it was because there was no story.We want both, of course, and get that a lot. But yeah, give me story every time.

Would you rather read naked in front of a packed room or have no one show up to your reading?
Read naked. I've already had the other experience.

Would you rather have one giant bestseller or a long string of moderate sellers?
I think the one giant bestseller would be freeing. You could just start throwing things around that you mightn't have considered before.

Would you rather have every word of your favorite novel tattooed on your skin or always playing as an audio in the background for the rest of your life?
I like tats and prefer short novels, So, yeah, sure. Book me an appointment and get out my copy of The Moviegoer.

Would you rather become a character in your novel or have your characters escape the page and reenact the novel in real life?
Let the characters escape. I'm not too interesting. I'd barely be worthy of a walk on role.

Would you rather write without using punctuation and capitalization or without using words that contained the letter E?
Of the two constraints, the one that strikes me as most useful is the avoiding words with "E." Punctuation and Capitalization are both too crucial to the construction of everything. It would be like taking out mortar or bone.

Would you rather write an entire novel standing on your tippy-toes or laying down flat on your back?

Tippy-toes. I'd be better able to see what might be coming next. 


Tom Williams's newest book of fiction, the novel Don't Start Me Talkin', is on shelves and available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble now. He lives in Kentucky with his wife, Carmen Edington, and their son.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Audio Series: Craig Wallwork

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, Craig Wallwork reads an excerpt from his bizarro chapbook Gory Hole: A Horror Triple Bill
At the age of 10 years old, all Craig Wallwork wanted to be was a zombie. Spending most of his time shuffling from room to room, hiding in closets, and petrifying his neighbours, one sunny afternoon in 1982 Craig decided to consume 5lbs of raw mince meat and a bag of chopped liver from his parent's refrigerator. Two hours later it became apparent that he did not have the stomach for the zombie lifestyle, nor the money to pay for a new bathroom carpet. In this volume of short stories, Craig returns to his dream of living within a world inhabited by zombies, where normal people can consume meat without fear of contracting E. coli, and surviving the night means having a loaded gun and a stomach for the grotesque. Craig Wallwork is the author of the novels, The Sound of Loneliness, To Die Upon a Kiss and the short story collection, Quintessence of Dust. 

Click on the Soundcloud link to experience Human Tenderloin from the Gory Hole chapbook, as read by author Craig Wallwork:

The word on Gory Hole:

GORY HOLE is a triple feature of grindhouse-esque short fiction by Craig Wallwork. Billing includes: "Revenge of the Zombie Pussy Eaters", "Human Tenderloin", and "Sicko". 

“Like a grindhouse version of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Wallwork’s fiction is smart, innovative, and a hell of a lot of fun.” —Carlton Mellick III

“There’s a place where intelligence and weirdness meet, and Wallwork’s prose is comfortably nestled there, feeding off both with the keenness of a crazed tapeworm. Sharp, nasty, and bizarre, GORY HOLE is a perfect treat for those who like their fiction unique and with heaping sides of humor and gore.” —Gabino Iglesias

“When your laughter turns to tears, saline to bloody rivulets, you have found GORY HOLE by Craig Wallwork. A master storyteller, this trio of black comedy is lyrical prose dipped in deviant lust dusted with violent retribution—for the horror fan in us all.” - Richard Thomas, author of Staring Into the Abyss.
*lifted with love from goodreads

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Book Review: American Monster

Read 2/15/14 - 2/22/14
2.5 Stars - Recommended Lightly to fans of bizarro (because it's not quite bizarro enough) but should do nicely for straight up futuristic sci-fi fans.
332 Pages
Publisher: Lazy Fascist Press
Released: Feb 2014

I am huge fan of Lazy Fascist Press and admire the kinds of literature they publish and support. Every book they release looks and sounds amazing. They are one of the few small presses I endlessly solicit review copies from, unable to keep from drooling over the opportunity to be one of the first to read each title. 

More often than not, their titles blow me away. Like, grab me by the throat with their words and choke me so hard I see stars (metaphorically, of course. Wouldn't it be cool if there were books out there that could actually make you see stars?!). Every once and a little while, though, I find myself reading one that's just... meh. There's nothing wrong with it exactly; it just seems to be missing that extra something that makes me go WOW.

And maybe that's not fair to the book. It's not the book's fault that I set the bar too high, you know. Maybe, right from the get-go, I set the book up for failure because I had these unrealistic notions of what the book would be, assigning it this totally unattainable goal of being my kind of awesome when it was never meant for me in the first place. 

Such is the case with JS Breukelaar's American Monster. It looks all kinds of awesome. It sounds all kinds of awesome. But it's just not my kind of awesome. 

Taking place in a futuristic California that has effectively removed itself from the United States, a being known as NORMa (a network operation requiring minimal access) is on the hunt for the ultimate human horn. Finding and tagging the horn is her one and only ticket home. 

Norma isn't quite sure what she is - she looks human, and she certainly feels human, though there are parts to her that are otherworldly - and the longer she remains on earth searching for the elusive 'perfect' horn, the more determined she is to understand, and ultimately ignore, her mission. Her "Mommy", a body-less planetary consciousness of sorts, is a source of constant pressure and pain for her, demanding that Norma find an equivalent to the one Mommy let go all those years ago. 

There are so many things happening here, on so many levels. 

First, we've got a woman (part alien? part robot? part daemon? maybe a bit of all three mixed together? I never did get that part figured out) who can change her sex (she actually started out as a male named NORM when Mommy first created her) and carries some sort of tagging device in her dentata (erm, a curious term for her "vagina like hole") that is meant to be passed on/into the human horn (I'll let you take one guess) of her choosing. So basically, Norma is a horny, otherworldly being who is being driven around California by her semi-insatiable libido. 

Aaand, she's got major Mommy issues. Mommy can communicate with her, and keep tabs on her, through all sorts of mangled technology - consoles, cell phones, anything electronic - though she can also, sometimes, squeeze her way into Norma's mind and cause her physical pain when she disobeys or when Mommy fears she is prolonging her hunt for THE horn. At first, Norma wants to make Mommy happy, but she quickly begins to devise ways to shut Mommy out, or at least impede her awareness a bit, as she desperately tries to come up with a Plan B. And this makes Mommy mad. 

So yeah, there's some sex, and a whole lot of dentata-and-horn-talk, but there are also some pretty rad characters like her cross dressing BFF Bunny and the young, badass homeless girl Raye and her psychotic father Mac, who dreams of being Michael Jackson. Not to mention Gene, a gigantic bull of a man who falls hard for Norma and manages to keep her somewhat grounded when she feels as though she is spinning wildly out of control. And boy do things get wild and out of control. 

I found myself confused pretty early on - as to what was going on and why it was going on - and that feeling of 'not quite knowing' followed me about half way through the book. At the midpoint, things finally seemed to start sliding into place and I found that the pace of the book actually began to pick up. I was more interested in what was going on between the characters and had a better grasp on the overall story. Sure, there were moments here and there in the second half that left me just as confused as I had been in the beginning (if not more so)  but I was able to quickly get myself back on track and moving along again with the action.

My final verdict?  American Monster was just a tad too weird and otherwordly for me. Though it sounded like it would be right up my alley, it took too many left and right turns and lost me somewhere waaaaay back there. I really had a difficult time letting the story just whisk me away. 

This one is on me, you guys. It's totally all on me. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

CCLaP: Humboldt, or The Power of Positive Thinking

Six days ago, CCLaP released Humboldt, or The Power of Positive Thinking

Not only does it have the honor of being our first release of 2014, 
but it is also our first-ever, full length, widely distributed paperback!!!

Humboldt was written by debut author Scott Navicky and is a creative, satirical spin on Voltaire's Candide. The main character, Humboldt, is a bit of a dim bulb (think Forrest Gump) with a knack for dumb luck. It's cheeky and challenging, and unlike anything CCLaP has put out before.

The Iraq War? The housing market collapse? College football's concussion crisis? How can anyone be expected to understand such complexities, especially a "horticulturally dyslexic" farmboy with an eighth-grade education and a penchant for perpetually misunderstanding, misreading, and misinterpreting the world? Born on a farm in Ohio, Humboldt is content to spend his life "outside amongst the oxygen and unhurried hydrocarbons." But when his father's farm is threatened with foreclosure, Humboldt is forced to save it by enrolling in college, leading him on an epic absurdist adventure through Washington politics, New York performance art, Boston blue-bloods, post-Katrina New Orleans, multiple murders, and holy resurrections. Mixing the speed and structure of Voltaire's Candide with a heavy dose of Joycean wordplay, and a love of literary acrobatics worthy of David Foster Wallace, Scott Navicky's debut novel assails some of modern America's most cherished beliefs and institutions with the battle cry: "Ticklez l'infame!"


The book brought in some great reviews so far

Like this one from Abby over at Chicago Literati:  ..."moving along at breakneck pace, every chapter reads like an episode in a great screwball comedy from the days of yore. One-half Forrest Gump and one-half Zeppo Marx, the titular hero is unlike any you’ve read before or are likely to read again, and that’s fantastic."

And this one from Monika of A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall: "I was reminded of Candide, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, the naiveté of Don Quixote, and maybe even a bit of Monty Python. "

Katie, from Words for Worms describes the books as: ..."If A Confederacy of Dunces and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas had a moderately dimwitted but incredibly lucky love child..."


You can read more about Scott and the book in this interview with Chicago Literati
and get behind the book with his Research Notes, which appeared over at Necessary Fiction.


And listen to Scott Navicky as he reads excerpts from the book:

(be sure to view on its youtube page to see more excerpts!)


Humboldt, or the Power of Positive Thinking can be downloaded for free at its publisher's page (and a really super-cool annotated version will be available soon, for those of you who want more behind-the-scenes "footage" as you read), or purchased as a gorgeous paperback! Of course, the book is also available as a handmade, hypermodern hardback, but due to its size and length will cost you a pretty penny more than those we've sold in the past. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Indie Spotlight: Alan M Clark

Being a reader is kind of awesome. No matter what your particular tastes, no matter what your particular mood, you can always find the perfect book to whisk you away. Sometimes you want to get lost in a far away future. Other times, you want to be swept off your feet by a romance. Maybe you want a good ole horror story to scare the bejesus outta you. Or, maybe you just want to be pulled back into simpler days...

And if it's the past that's calling your name, well, author Alan M Clark has a guest post that'll be right up your alley. His latest novel, The Door That Faced West is an "early western" that takes place right at the turn of the 19th century. Today, he shares an essay that breaks down the differences between Westerns and his novel. Check it out and then check out his novel... (oh, and by the way, he is also an illustrator, look at those weapons he whipped up!)

an early western

Because most Westerns take place in the mid-to late 1800s, I have described my new novel, The Door that Faced West, as an Early Western since the majority of the story takes place in the years 1799 and 1800, when most of the continent of North America had yet to be explored and the western frontier was in the new states of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Georgia.

Besides the obvious geographical dissimilarity, here are some differences between most Westerns and what Im referring to as an Early Western:

1) Instead of the trusty 6-shooter or repeating rifle of most Westerns, in an Early Western all firearms are single-shot weapons. Loading these pistols and rifles, mostly flintlocks, takes a minimum of 15 seconds. As a result, much of the violence in an Early Western occurs hand to hand.
2) While most gunmen in Westerns carry only 1 pistol and a few carry 2, in an Early Western its not unlikely for a dangerous man to carry 4 pistols or more.
3) Most of the characters in Westerns have an American accent of some sort, whereas many of the characters in an Early Western have accents more like those of their European forbears.
4) In Westerns, the common mode of travel is horseback riding. In an Early Western, because most of the territory is heavily forested, folks get about on the poorly maintained trails faster on foot and horses are reserved for carrying supplies.
5) In most Westerns, the Indians are Plains Indians or from tribes further west, and they ride horses, but in an early western, the Indians are of the woodland variety and mostly get about on foot or by floating waterways.

Here are some similarities between Westerns and Early Westerns:

1) In both Westerns and Early Westerns, law an order is loosely established in frontier territories, and adjacent vast wilderness areas have no law and order, communication between isolated settlements is poor, and large criminal fraternities spring up along well-used trails and waterways to prey upon those using the avenues for commerce.
2) In both Westerns and Early Westerns, the inhabitants of frontier towns are those seeking a new start for either good or bad reasons.  Some are taking the opportunity to build a new home, carving a life out of the virgin wilderness that they can claim as their own, while others are escaping prosecution for crimes they committed in the East. The latter are often in hiding, having assumed new identities or at least new persona, and some of them maintain ties with criminal fraternities. Therefore the former, generally law-abiding folks, frequently are unaware of the rogue character of their neighbors.
3) Both Westerns and Early Westerns present wild settings and clumsy, young, and growing societies that are ripe with possibilities for drama.

The images of pistols with this post helps illustrate the difference 51 years can make in the development of firearms.  The one on the left is a typical flintlock pistol that might have been used in the period in which The Door that Faced West takes place. The one on the right is a pistol from 1851, such as might be used in a Western. The tomahawk in the middle is the preferred weapon of the deadliest character in The Door that Faced West, Micajah Harpe.

Other examples of what I would consider Early Western novels are the Leatherstocking tales, including Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper.


Alan M. Clark grew up in Tennessee in a house full of bones and old medical books. He has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the San Francisco Art Institute. His illustrations have appeared in books of fiction, non-fiction, textbooks, young adult fiction and children's books. Awards for his illustration work include the World Fantasy Award and four Chesley Awards. He is the author of thirteen books, including seven novels, a lavishly illustrated novella, four collections of fiction, and a nonfiction full-color book of his artwork. His latest novel, The Door That Faced West, is an Early Western that takes place in Tennessee and Kentucky in 1799-1800.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Drew Reviews: Woke Up Lonely

Woke Up Lonely by Fiona Maazel
2 Stars - Recommended Lightly
323 Pages
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Released: 2013 (paperback release this April)

Guest review by Drew Broussard 

The Short Version: Esme Haas hasn't been the best mother.  Or wife.  Or spy.  Her husband runs a cult, which may or may not have ties to North Korea, and she's trying to keep her daughter from finding out who her father actually is - and when a hostage-taking goes awry, it leads everybody to the breaking point.
The Review: I apologize if you've heard this one before, but once upon a time... I saw a production of The Threepenny Opera at my alma mater.  Despite being well-acted and featuring an interesting & engaging design, the show seemed impenetrable.  It was as though there was a scrim hung between the stage and the audience, effectively creating two separate rooms - the story played out in a self-contained fashion and before long the audience was distracted to the point of feeling as though they were, well, in a separate place from the folks onstage.  Not terribly conducive to a good theatrical experience.
And this novel feels the same way: as though there was an indefinite scrim between the action and myself.  I never found a way in and as a result, the whole thing felt like it was happening somewhere nearby instead of right here in my hands.  And I can't quite figure out why.  I think, at the end of the day, it has to do with stakes - I never really felt like there were any.
This is an odd thing to say about a novel whose central set-piece involves the prolonged siege of a cult-leader's house in Cincinnati.  Inherently, that's a high-stakes situation.  Similarly with the North Korea bits, the recruitment of the spies, etc etc.  It's all stuff that should zip off the page but instead I found myself just sort of dumbly clomping forward through the action.  We jump from moment to moment without ever getting anywhere remotely close to the characters and Thurlow & Esme especially both feel wholly made-up - so there's no sense of who we're meant to root for or side with or anything like that.  I'm all for the wacky - in fact, after this recent span of more serious fiction, I could use some wacky (which this novel does, objectively, deliver - more on that in a moment) - but not at the expense of believing in the characters' existence.  Zaphod Beeblebrox has two heads, the Librarian of the Unseen University is a wizard-turned-organutan, and James Bond should rightly be dead from either combat or drinking... but I never, when I'm reading their stories, believe anything other than their existence.  They are real characters in the context of the world that is laid out between the endpapers whereas not a single person in this novel (except, strangely, Martin the makeup-man/butler/assistant) felt remotely real.   There was no way for me to associate with any of them because they felt like constructs instead of characters.
I will give the book this: conceptually, there's some fun stuff happening.  An underground city of vice in Cincinnati?  Cool.  Too bad it only really appears in the last 75 pages and only glancingly at that - although that seems to be one of the big takeaways from the novel, which should really just serve to point out the problems with the rest of the book.  Similarly, Esme's whole super-spy thing is hilarious.  Her ridiculous costumes and disguises should play raucously... but because we don't care about her or believe in her, they fall flat.  Even the wacky plot she hatches to both spy on and defend Thurlow feels inherently interesting - but it just isn't in the execution.  

Rating: 2 out of 5.  Perhaps I just wasn't in the appropriate mood or mindset or something - but it feels like (as with that production of Threepenny) there is something interesting going on and I just can't get to it.  There's an artificiality to the book that undercuts the imagination that went into dreaming up the story.  Even Thurlow's cult, The Helix, is an interesting concept: we're all so lonely, let's join together to be less lonely - but it's almost there as an afterthought.  Based on the end of this novel, are we meant to understand it as the story of an odd couple?  Because it feints often enough to other things (cult novel, spy novel, slapstick comedy) that I just can't buy it at whatever face value it's trying to achieve.  I really hoped for so much more. [ed. note on Threepenny - I actually really like that musical and know that there's something interesting going on when I watch it.] 
Drew Broussard reads, a lot. When not doing that, he's writing stories or playing music or acting or producing or coming up with other ways to make trouble.  He also has a day job at The Public Theater in New York City.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Book Review: Made to Break

Read 2/08/14 - 2/14/14
3 Stars - Recommended to those who remember what it was like to be wild and free and careless with other people's lives
217 Pages
Publisher: Two Dollar Radio
Releases: March 2014

The first thing you notice is the way in which D. Foy manipulates language. He pulls it taught then lets it go, snapping it to and fro, filling the pages with words in fits and bursts; tensing things up and slowing things down with his hypnotic prose.

The second thing you notice is that Andrew, our narrator, and the four friends he is planning on hanging with at a secluded cabin in Lake Tahoe, are all completely out of their gords. Drugs, drink, sex, and a storm-to-end-all-storms set the stage for this story, and the set up is sure to put you in mind of certain b-level thrillers.

After a quick trip out for ice ends in an unfortunate car accident, leaving one of group sick and dying, the storm floods the roads around them trapping them tight. As the fivesome kill the time by passing around the hooch and playing a round of Truth or Dare, their paranoia, past histories, and Dinky's quickly failing health threaten to turn what should have been a relaxing New Year's vacation into a full out waking nightmare.

Unlike most of your typical B-level thrillers, though, there are no monsters or madmen lurking in the shadows here, unless you consider the passerby Super and his dog Fortinbras mad. Instead, this group of 30-something burnouts work at each other relentlessly, while taking turns watching over their ill buddy, racing out into the pouring rain and wandering through the wooded trails seeking help, hoping for a break in the bad weather by which they might get him to a hospital.

If wearing out your welcome and driving your friends nutty is your bag, and if being careless with other people's lives provides you with hilarious fodder, this book was written for you.

Friday, February 14, 2014

To Woo or Not to Woo - Love in Literature : Part Deux

On Valentine's Day, back in 2012, I had some fun with the whole hallmark holiday gush-fest and recommended some left-of-center love stories to you guys. Interestingly enough, looking back on that post, I still agree with every single word I said and still stand behind every single book I pushed your way. If you didn't take me up on the offer to read those bad boys back then, there's no time like the present, yo!

It would seem that we're smack-dab in the middle of the month of love again, and this Valentine's Day, rather than tackle the holiday all on my own, I solicited a little help from my friends - and rockin' TNBBC guest reviewers - Madeleine Maccar, and Drew Broussard!

And so, on this, the chocolaty-ist, cheesiest holiday known to man, we give you Love in Literature, TNBBC style.

Madeleine Maccar's Literary Love Picks:

Whether you're looking for the perfect date or the perfect gift, Valentine's Day is a great day to be a book lover (though it's not like there's ever a bad day for bibliophilia). However you're spending your February 14--romancing your better half, showing some love for your platonic pals, curling up with a beloved novel and/or Mssrs. Ben & Jerry, or Facebook-stalking an old flame (no judging: everyone gets there sooner or later)--there is most assuredly a book just waiting to complement your mood. After scrutinizing my bookshelves and revisiting some dearly loved favorites, I've tried to come up with a Valentine's Day list that addresses all the best that love has to offer and all the worst damage it can leave in its wake, to suit whatever spirits the day inspires.

The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
So maybe Bulgakov's scathing indictment of stifling bureaucracy is not a love story in the classic sense but it is absolutely a classic with a love story safety nestled within its madcap goings-on. The titular characters are but two players comprising the novel's cast, but they are the beating heart of this satirical gem. The Master is a writer whose career and mind are both in shambles; Margarita is his devoted love who believes him dead for much of the novel's first half; together, they prove that the bond between two souls is one of the world's greatest redemptive powers and that any insufferable trial is made more bearable when one's beloved is the light at the end of the tunnel.

Hope, Glen Duncan
Oh, Glen Duncan. Oh, my beloved, criminally under-appreciated Glen Duncan. You may have taken recent notice of him thanks to his just-concluded Last Werewolf trilogy but, like most of my favorite things, his older stuff is just the absolute best of what's around. His first novel, Hope, offers a nascent peek into what this literary powerhouse has to offer: Characters rendered just as vividly and palpably as the emotional gamuts they run, intimidatingly gorgeous prose, and the brutal, beautiful realities of existence. It's a love letter to the self, to a lost other, to the vices in which one finds both comfort and ruin, to misery, and to the past. And it's perfect for anyone who needs to be assured that someone else--even someone fictional--completely understands what it's like to be torn apart by all that love.

Ex Libris, Anne Fadiman
Some people love books. Those of us who loveloveLOVE books can find pieces of ourselves in Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, a bona fide bibliophile's serenade that sings of how it feels to truly love literature. Fadiman's lifelong love affair with reading is familiar territory for any of us who have no problem admitting that we prefer the company of books to most people, and it's tough to keep from shouting "I know, I KNOW!" throughout her collection of essays. For those of us who consider a marriage properly consummated only when two people's libraries become a couple's one, who compulsively proofread everything from traffic signs to television captions, who so thoroughly annotate our books that lending them out is akin to handing over a diary, and who take pride in letting our homes look less like domiciles and more like used-book stores, Anne Fadiman has created the ultimate love-letter to literature that is sure to resonate with her fellow bookworms.

Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Sometimes you find the absolute right person at the absolute right time, but you're just as likely to stumble upon that perfect person at the perfectly wrong time; Love in the Time of Cholera is what happens when the latter is your cross to bear and must wait out the lovesickness until your soul mate finds her way back to you. It's also penned by the incomparable Gabo so it's chock-full of the kind of writing that is made to capture the ups and downs, thrills and agonies of love both fulfilled and long delayed. For those who need some hope that sometimes an unhappy ending isn't the last gasp of a love that's destined to work out, albeit maybe not until one's golden years, find solace in this tribute to letting go of what you love and accepting that it will come back if it's meant to be yours.

Wizard and Glass, Stephen King
Stephen King's Dark Tower multi-novelled series has a special place in my heart because it's one of the first bookish commonalities my husband and I shared, even if he had to coax me toward it the first summer we were dating. Wizard and Glass is more or less the series' halfway point that flashes back to the saga's catalysts, events that include the most convincingly intense love between two teenagers since Shakespeare was writing such fare. To this point, we have only snagged whispers of the series' main character, Roland Deschain, before he became the hardened gunslinger who has seen too much and lost even more; here, he is a lovesick boy thrust into adulthood too soon by forces beyond his control. If you think Stephen King can't write a moving love story (complete with the immediacy and heightened emotions that youth has a nasty way of bringing to the party), this is your chance to be proven bitterly wrong--though I wish I could say the same about misguidedly doubting King's aversion to happy endings.

100 Love Sonnets, Pablo Neruda
What's a Valentine's Day roundup without a poetry collection? Pablo Neruda's so good that his work loses not a drop of ardent poignancy in its translation to English, and it's guaranteed to melt even the hardest and most guarded of hearts. It is sensual in the purest sense, inspired by the kind of love that is as exuberant as it is comfortable, that knows it is safely protected in another's heart and flutters to life with the thrill of beginning and ending every day with the only person worthy of being a lifelong partner. This is stuff that turns a tongue tied with an embarrassment of loving riches to a fluent instrument of rapturous, undying adoration.

The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break, Steven Sherrill
Please allow me to introduce what has been my go-to recommendation for more than a year now. The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break drops the mythical, monstrous Minotaur--now simply "M"--5,000 years and half a world away from his origins. In the modern-day American South, he is but a lonely creature who is heartbreakingly desperate for whatever shadow of human connection he can get. Hindered by his own limited speech and awkward strength, to say nothing about the cruelty of others, M finds a common sort of freakishness with a coworker and proceeds to fall madly in love with her. Yes, you feel a little weird rooting for a man/bull hybrid to get the very human girl (and, believe me, the novel's lone sex scene is hard to get through but is so completely necessary to the integrity of the story) but I defy you to not find M to be one of the most sympathetically, charmingly magnetic protagonists ever. This is a nontraditional boy-meets-girl yarn whose ending I refuse to spoil but the real love story here is of the kind where it's easy to feel protective of a fictional being to the point that it almost hurts to accept that he's not someone you can just wrap up in a life-affirming hug. 

Stay Close, Little Ghost, Oliver Serang
For those whose heartbreak is still fresh, either because of a recently failed romance or a long-healing wound that leaves you having imaginary conversations with an ex-love you'll never quite get over, Oliver Serang's debut novel, Stay Close, Little Ghost, is reminiscent of Murakami's finest moments. It is unflinchingly honest, magically immersive and so imbued with heartache that it's like revisiting your Top Five All-Time Worst Breakups à la High Fidelity. But at all once. And completely devoid of self-pity's trappings because it's too stuffed with raw emotion's introspection to fit much of anything else.

Love is a Mix Tape, Rob Sheffield
If you need a reminder that time with the one you love is fleeting and don't mind tearing through the rest of your flu-season Kleenex reserve in one night, look no further than Rolling Stone contributor Rob Sheffield's account of love, life and loss. Heartfelt without being mawkish, grieving but dignified, a tribute without erring on the side of sanctification, Sheffield paints his first wife, Renée, in all the vivid colors she comprised in life, as turning a memoir into a eulogy would obviously be a crime against the joie de vivre with which she was obviously thrumming. This biography of a marriage cut short is proof that true love transcends the limits of life and death, and that there is nothing like a shared love of music to unite two people every time their songs play.

Orlando, Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf both dedicated this book to and based its ageless gender-bending hero(ine) on her lover, Vita Sackville-West. While there isn't a whole lot of romance going on in the novel itself, the love and regard Ginny felt for Vita practically wafts from these pages. Woolf wrote Orlando with such immortalizing tenderness that it's almost like watching her court her lady lover with the written word. While one does not need to have bounded heedlessly and happily from friendship to romance with a kindred spirit to appreciate the unique sort of love on display here, this novel's themes and undertones will ring all too familiarly by simply knowing what it is to love someone, platonically or passionately, so much that you want the world to see this beloved specimen as radiantly as you do and preserve their unique wonder for all times.

Drew Broussard's Literary Love Picks:

So I am, at heart, an incurable romantic.  Flowers, over-the-top gestures, gifts and lavishments just for the hell of it - yeah, that's my kind of jam.  But I've always steered a bit clear of making a big to-do over Valentine's Day (because it's easy to feel weird on that weirdest of days) and so I've become a giver of books to my significant other/apple of my eye/romantic interest/attractive stranger (depending on my current relationship status).  Since I'm currently accepting applications for the 'attractive stranger' position and you, dear reader, are undoubtedly both attractive and a stranger... here are a couple of fun books for your love life, no matter what the status of it might currently be.

* David Levithan, "The Lover's Dictionary" - I genuinely don't think there's a more romantic book on the planet.  The novel is this alphabetically organized dictionary (which continues to expand via Levithan's twitter: and it explores so wonderfully the vagaries of romantic life.  The ups, the downs, and the in-betweens - often delivered perfectly in just a few sentences.  It's a celebration of love itself, even the messy bits.

* Eric Smith, "The Geek's Guide to Dating" - because even the non-geek can learn a bit about how to love both yourself and another person from Eric's hilarious guidebook. 

* Joyce Maynard, "Labor Day" - look, judge me all you want because I'm judging myself.  But every once and a while, some housewife-fantasy-love-affair stuff can hit all the right buttons.  You will feel embarrassed to be reading the book in public - and that's okay.  I promise.  Just lean into the fantasy, especially if you're on your own this Valentine's Day.

Lori's Literary Love Picks:

Never much of romance reader, I avoid lovey-dovey literature like the plague. If it boasts a traditional love story or cheesy erotic sexytime scenes, there is simply no way I'm going to read it. However, if it's down-in-the-dumps-I'm-so-depressed-I-can't-get-out-of-bed love, or I've-lost-the-only-person-I've-ever-loved-and-now-I've-lost-my-mind love, or I'm-totally-fucking-this-relationship-up-and-watching-it-go-down-in-flames love, then I'm all over that shit! So if you're like me and dig on the best worst-kind of love stories, do yourself a solid this month and shove your nose in these books:

Of Human Bondage, W.Somerset Maugham We never expect love to come easy. But when it's this hard, is it really worth it? Philip, our main man, has a lot of issues he's working through. His low self esteem is physically painful to read. But not nearly as painful as the way he pines over his girlfriend, who, by the way, treats him like a bag of shit time and time again, and poor Philip just can't seem to get enough of it.

Threats, Amelia Gray Whoa Nelly! If I die before my husband, I hope that he feels my loss like this guy does. David, our protagonist, is trying to come to terms with the fact that his wife is dead (this is not a spoiler. I promise). That she had, in fact, died right beside him on the hallway stairs and has since been delivered back to him, as a box of ashes, that sit on his kitchen table. The days immediately after her death are a mystery to him. He can't seem to get his brain to behave; he's misinterpreting things, he's paranoid and his memory is unreliable. Depression, or a complete mental breakdown? That's for you to decide. This book is a tricky little bitch and it is absolutely gorgeous to boot!

My Only Wife, Jac Jemc In this book, an abandoned husband grieves and mourns the disappearance of his wife. Ten years have passed, and it appears our nameless narrator is still reliving the memories of their failed marriage in an effort to discover exactly where things had begun to disintegrate between them. I eat this shit up. I love when it's the men who are all gut-wrenched and my-world-has-ended over their wives. It's about time!!

Under the Poppy, Kathe Koja 1800's war time brothels, baby! This book oozes sex in such a cool and smooth way. Prepare for all of your boundaries to be crossed - sex with prostitutes, a girl/guy/guy love triangle, and girl on... puppet?! Don't let all of that scare you off. I swear to you,  it's a truly amazing book. I wish I could read it again for the first time!

The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim, Jonathan Coe Sometimes, when your relationship crashes and burns right in front of your eyes, you need some time to withdraw from the world and let the sorrow have its way with you. When you're ready, you'll step back out into society, slightly unhinged but totally willing to make some new friends and meet a nice lady. Or, oh, stalk a pretty women who you saw sitting in the cafe with her daughter. And, well, fall in love with every chick who accidentally makes eye contact with you or assume every woman who makes small talk is in love with YOU. Or you could, you know, shuck them all and really fall in love... with the female voice inside your GPS system. Totally normal things like that, you know?  

There is No End to This Slope, Richard Fulco A delicious woe-is-me down-and-out'r, this upcoming release should be read as a warning sign for all those who fall helplessly in love with the wrong person, who should have seen the writing on the wall, and who, because they didn't, are now so utterly bereft, they not only lose the girl but go on to lose everything else they ever had too... their job, their house, their dignity. Read this book when you find yourself newly single, and no matter how horrible you are feeling, it'll have you saying "well, at least I ain't this guy!". 

From our blog to yours.... Happy Valentine's Day everyone!!!!