Monday, March 31, 2014

The Audio Series: Cris Mazza

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, we kick off the Cris Mazza "Something Wrong With Her" Blog Tour with a special audio clip of Cris reading an excerpt from her memoir. 

Cris is the author of a dozen books of fiction, mostly recently Waterbaby (Soft Skull Press 2007). Her other titles include the critically acclaimed Is It Sexual Harassment Yet?, and the PEN Nelson Algren Award winning How to Leave a Country. She also has a collection of personal essays, Indigenous: Growing Up Californian. Mazza has been the recipient of an NEA Fellowship and three Illinois Arts Council literary awards. A native of Southern California, Mazza grew up in San Diego County. Currently she lives 50 miles west of Chicago. She is a professor in the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Click on the soundcloud link to hear Something Wrong With Her, as read by the author:

The word on Something Wrong With Her:

Something Wrong With Her is a groundbreaking “real-time” memoir by author Cris Mazza that begins with Mazza’s anorgasmia – the inability to have an orgasm. Research suggests that at least 75% of women cannot reach orgasms through vaginal intercourse, and upwards of 15% are completely anorgasmic. The surplus of contemporary sexual memoirs would have us believe otherwise. But Something Wrong With Her is not a book about overcoming anorgasmia. Rather, it is a poignant memoir about a girl who didn’t feel the sexual awakenings she knew she was supposed to feel, and about the boy who loved her nonetheless. Thirty years later Cris Mazza went back to find that boy, now a man, only to discover that he’d never stopped yearning for her. Worse, in an attempt to numb his feelings for her, he’d sealed himself into an abusive marriage. Something Wrong With Her is an astonishing real-time testimony of a couple’s reconnection while — and within — the writing of this memoir, and their candid wrestling with 30-year-old memories, questions and regrets.


We are also giving away one signed copy of the book
to a lucky US resident!

All you have to do is comment on this post to enter to win, 
(be sure to include an email address so I can contact!) 

Winner will be chosen randomly on April 4th.

Best of luck to everyone!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Melanie Reviews: Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard)

by Michael Kimball
from Mud Luscious Press, 2013
186 pages

Guest review by Melanie Page

Michael Kimball’s fiction has never failed to break my heart. Never. I go in feeling like I know what sadness is and come out feeling like I’ve never understood humans--that’s how much Kimball has to teach. But his postcard project is non-fiction. The postcard project started when Kimball was waiting his turn to read at a performance festival and his friend encouraged him to write the life stories of strangers just small enough to fit on postcards. There are none too young nor old to be interviewed, nor is the life story of any person too “normal” or “uneventful.”

Michael Kimball is a Facebook friend of mine. We’ve never met in person, nor do I remember how we became Facebook friends. I do remember, though, seeing his blog post updates of the postcard life stories and being jealous that a cool writer had taken time out of his day to explore strangers’ lives. What made them so special? I joked in the comments that I wanted my life story on a postcard, and Kimball agreed. I declined, thinking I wasn’t postcard material. This collection teaches me I was wrong: “I wrote one for anybody who wanted one,” Kimball explains. “I didn’t want anybody to feel their life story wasn’t interesting enough.”

In his introduction to the postcard project, Kimball explains that he grew as a person because he came into contact with so many who admitted personal thoughts and experiences that they’d never told anyone. People discuss adoption, love, addiction, homelessness, coming out, and religion. All of the postcards collected here (there were over 300, but not everyone wanted them shared) feel vitally important, and Kimball notes the responsibility of being the one releasing these stories and writing them correctly (stories are gathered interview-style first and then condensed). Not every story is decades of turbulence, but many feel internally feel chaotic despite what they label “good childhoods.”

This book was so hard to put down. I’d only heard of 2-3 people about whom Kimball wrote (including himself), but because an entire lifetime is condensed to postcard size (a practice Kimball feels helped his fiction writing, especially when he could skip 10 years in one sentence), it was like watching tiny movies. The “treat” at the end of each postcard was the update. These are completely unpredictable because they aren’t fabricated. One postcard might claim that the individual met the love of his life who changed him forever and he can’t imagine living without her only to reveal in the update they’ve parted ways. Or had a child. Some who have had highly traumatic experiences are updated as positive, content individuals while others have since passed away as a result of suicide or illness. A huge responsibility, indeed.

Melanie Page is a MFA graduate, adjunct instructor, and recent founder of Grab the Lapels, a site that only reviews books written by women (

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Where Writers Write: Gregory Robinson

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

Where Writers Write is a weekly series that will feature a different author every Wednesday as they showcase their writing spaces using short form essay, photos, and/or video. As a lover of books and all of the hard work that goes into creating them, I thought it would be fun to see where the authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happen. 

This is Gregory Robinson. 

Gregory is a writer from Boulder City, Nevada. His book, All Movies Love the Moon, is a hybrid collection of prose poems and art about silent movies. Taken as a whole, it is both a history of silent movies and an experiment in ekphrasis. 

He is also the Chair of the Humanities Department at Nevada State College in Henderson. When he is not writing or hanging around NSC, he is hiking around the desert his wife Joan, walking his dog BinBin, or (of course) watching movies.

Where Gregory Robinson Writes

I write in bed, usually under the covers. I mean, not totally under the covers, but at least up to the waist, my back propped up on pillows. This is not limited to creative work either. If I am able to stay home and work, I do that in bed as well. I have typed up all kinds of policies and course proposals from bed and I often wonder if people recognize my habit, even unconsciously. In my mind, someone is reading my edits to the academic grievance policy and saying aloud: “There is something calming about this policy, a kind of quiet reassurance that everything will be okay. I no longer feel the need to grieve.”

Proust wrote in bed. Truman Capote did as well, and famously stated that he could not think unless he was lying down. Robert McCrum argues in The Guardian that writing in bed provides a creative gateway, where “[p]art of you is still in the shadowy cave of dream world; part of you is adjusting to the sharp brightness of reality. The mixture is fruitful and often suggestive” (

I could come up with all kinds of other philosophical justifications, but the truth is fairly bland: I live in a small house and I do not have much room for a formal writing space. The bed has to take on the responsibility of being where I sleep, write, and work.

There are a few important elements nearby. The first is a painting by my father, just to the left of the bed. He retired from a career in banking and began to paint vehemently, producing a garage full of works in the span of a year or so. The man contains multitudes.

The second item, just out of view in the bed in the first image, is a painting of Mary Magdalene on tin. I am not particularly religious, but I love Mary’s expression, and I am particularly enamored by how nonchalantly she carries a tiny skull in her left arm.

The final item is also out of view to the left side of the bed. It is a painting by Gina Quaranto, one of my favorite Las Vegas artists. It is a quadriptych with a door as the focal point of the third panel and a command: Open Door.  There is something sort of Carrollian about it. Even though there may not be a clear narrative, I am always coming up with stories that connect the four images.

I suppose I ought to mention the bookshelf as well. If you look carefully you will see a decent collection of Rose Metal Press books, alongside the others that I like to keep close. I used to be a librarian, so keeping books nearby provides some comfort, in the way that family heirlooms might do for others. I look at them sometimes from bed, as I am about to write or doze off.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Jonas T Bengtsson'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, Jonas T Bengtsson celebrates the release of his newest book, A Fairy Tale, with this bookishly boozey blog post of The Red Fairy....

Red Fairy

I usually go to Prague two or three times a year: to relax, to take long walks, to look at the beautiful gothic architecture, to get lost and feel a little bit like Kafka and blame my confusion on the narrow crooked streets which intersect at weird angles that always throw my poor sense of direction.

But I also love Prague for its amazing bars. Where you can get drunk on Czech pilsner for a few euros, or go high life, and drink cucumber sake cocktails in the local Buddha Bar?

And since my generation of hipster douchy writers and artists favor Berlin, it hasn’t been spoiled yet.
I was in Prague a couple of weeks ago, with my girlfriend who is also a writer. She was about to have her second book published, so the plan was to help her relax: walk around, and get drunk - the basic preparations for a good book launch. We arrived late Monday evening. Our driver from the airport told us he had gotten the lead guitarist from the German rock band Scorpions to stop smoking. They had been best friends for years.

We had a late dinner, and afterwards we thought we’d go for a night cap.

We found a bar close to our hotel. From the outside it looked shut down. I grabbed the door handle; it opened. The lights were dimmed, the walls were painted red.  There was a nice smell of weed in the air, a good sign that this was a place you could light a cigarette without getting arrested.

We sat at the bar, we talked with a young Slovak who worked as a waiter at a medieval themed restaurant. He spent all day strapped with a sword and yelling at customers. He loved it.

After a few beers the bartender leaned over the bar.

“You wanna get fucked up?” he asked me. Since giving up recreational drugs when I became a father, I was definitely interested in what he had to offer.

He pulled down a bottle of green spirit from the shelf: the local absinthe, almost fluorescent, very high proof and with a lot of wormwood. He put a single ice cube in a tall drinking glass, pouring one third of absinth in the glass and topping it off with the local Redbull clone called Semtex. He threw in a maraschino cherry - tada!

I had a few of those. I felt pretty great. Maybe a bit disappointed that it didn’t quite have the promised effect on me.

My girlfriend advised me to at least wait until the next morning to get my forehead tattooed.

When recently asked to come up with a cocktail that embodies one of the characters in my latest novel, I thought of this bar, this night, and the drink the bartender had called “the red fairy.”

The mix of old world absinthe and something as artificial as generic redbull might serve as a nice analogy for the father in my novel. A man caught between two worlds, the old and the new. An anarchist who wouldn’t subscribe to that label, because he hates ‘isms. A man fleeing from Christianity who believes in angels.

Mix that with the brutality of modern life, caffeinated and artificially sweet, and something bad just might happen. 


Jonas T. Bengtsson has published two previous novels: his 2005 literary debut, Amina’s Letters, winner of the Danish Debutant Award and BG Bank First Book Award; and Submarino, the film adaptation of which took the 2010 Nordic Council Film Prize. He has also received the P.O. Enquist Literary Prize and was nominated for the Weekendavisens Literature Prize. He lives in Copenhagen.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Audio Series: Bob Waldner

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, Bob Waldner reads an excerpt from his book Peripheral Involvement
Bob was born and raised in Trenton, New Jersey, before heading off to Duke University to study mechanical engineering.  After spending two years working as an engineer in Maryland, he changed course and enrolled in the University of Michigan Law School.  For the past fourteen years, he has represented banks and hedge funds as a transactional attorney in private practice in New York.  He lives in Manhattan with his wife, Erinn, and his two daughters, Maureen and Madeleine.  Peripheral Involvement is his first novel.

Click on the soundcloud bar to experience an excerpt of Peripheral Involvement, as read by the author:

The word on Peripheral Involvement:

Jack Caufield never imagined that he would wake up one day and find a dead woman in his bed. That sort of thing wasn't supposed to happen to guys like him. He was on his way to law school, but instead of fielding Socratic questions from law professors, he finds himself facing the third degree from a bunch of angry cops. Despite their efforts, they find nothing incriminating, and Jack is allowed to get on with his education and his life. 

Over the next fifteen years, he becomes a modestly successful corporate lawyer, a well-paid but insignificant cog in the Wall Street machine. He's resigned to playing a disappointing role in the system that he has come to disdain, until he learns that his encounter with that unlucky girl may not have been coincidental. Confronted with the possibility that the men who run the prestigious financial institution that he now represents may have been involved in a shocking conspiracy, his search for the truth is complicated by the knowledge that discovering it could cost him the success that he's spent his life chasing. *lifted with love from goodreads

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Hold My Blog Hostage

In the interest of bringing you fresh content as often as possible, we get a kick out of creating new and interesting features to call attention to small press authors and their books.

This time I think I might've taken things too far!?!

My latest series centers around the idea of authors kidnapping my blog for a week. A full-out, uncensored, 5 day long hostile takeover. Authors can use TNBBC to write guest posts on whatever topics float their boat, contribute to our current features, write reviews about their favorite novels... the wilder, the crazier, the better. We're talkin' complete control, captive audience, the whole kit-n-kaboodle!

But in order to kick things off, we need kidnappers. Shoot me an email at Tell me your deepest, darkest desires for the blog... then ball gag me and throw me in the trunk of your car while you jump in the drivers seat and take TNBBC by the wheel.

I promise I won't make too much noise.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Indie Ink Runs Deep: Sue Lange

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 Sue Lange, and it's our very first VIDEO tattoo post! The big revel is at the end, it's a real riot!

Sue has two published work 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 short fiction has been published in Futures (Nature), Adbusters, Apex Digest of Science Fiction and Horror, and elsewhere. She lives in Pennsylvania with a dog, two cats, and a refrigerator. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Indie Spotlight: David Beers

Every author has a choice to make when they hold that finished manuscript in their hands for the very first time. Submit to an agent and try to get published traditionally, or self publish.

For some, I suppose, there is no question. They've dreamed of being a traditionally published author. Or they just don't have the time, energy, or desire to take on the roll of (or seek out) editor, designer, graphic artist, publicists, etc.

For others, self publishing is more appealing. They want complete control over the finished product. They don't want to settle for a measly percentage of sales. Or, in the case of David Beers, author of the recently self published The Devil's Dream, these four simple reasons made self publishing the only way to go....

The Four Reasons I’ll Never Go Traditional

I remember being unsure about whether to traditionally publish or self-publish. I remember being unsure even after I self-pubbed my first book. I remember being unsure after my second. I remember being unsure up until about 2/25/2014, which, at this writing, was three days ago. Three days ago, I understood without a doubt, that regardless of the economics underlying either one of the choices, I wasn’t going to traditionally publish. Here are the 4 reasons why:

1.       I can’t work for anyone else. I mean, I’m almost unemployable. I hate being questioned; I hate being talked down to; I hate being told what to do. If someone even ASKS if my data could possibly be wrong, I almost have an aneurysm. My jaw opens slightly, my eyes turn into boiling pots of hate, and I stare at them…until they leave—and, that’s about a job I really don’t care that much about. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have a publisher tell me I have to change something in my novel or it’s not coming out. I can’t imagine an editor cutting huge chunks from my novels to make it fit their word counts. There is no doubt, in any of those two situations,  that I would end up in jail for murder. So where does that leave me? I’m unable to take order from anyone else but I can’t stop writing? Self-publishing.

2.      I don’t want to just be a writer. This goes back to not wanting to work for anyone, but it also extends from that. I want to produce, and I want to produce things that I’m proud of. In self-publishing, writer is not your only title; in the beginning, CEO of a start-up would be more apt, and when you reach Konrath status, CEO of a one-man corporation. When you begin to think of self-publishing like that, at least for me, it revealed a whole new meaning of what I was actually doing. My job wasn’t simply to write novels. It was to control everything, from the first words I type on my computer, to what I’m reading to keep myself educated on the industry. Which leads me to my next point.

3.       Control. Not over just your business, but of your destiny. I’m not at the whim of a manager who may or may not like me. I’m not plugging away at making my numbers for the quarter so that the corporation’s stock rises a few points. I control my life. When I wake up, when I go to bed. How hard I work and in turn, how much success I have from that work. I write what I want. My covers look how I want. I implement the edits I want. When I think about it, longer term, I can’t imagine failure if I’m in control, because, quite simply, I won’t quit.

4.       Hard work. I’m addicted to it. Literally, I may end up in some kind of twelve step program someday, but not until I’m rich. They never tell the unsuccessful that they’re work-a-holics, they just say they’re trying to make ends meet. Right now I work sixteen hour days, Monday through Friday, and a little less on the weekends. I end each day completely spent, with maybe only a few minutes to read the current novel I’m on before my eyes shut. There isn’t any other way I would want to live. Now, I know I can work that hard for a corporation, or as a teacher, or any other profession, but with self-publishing, I get to do what I love. I get to write. I get to speak with fans. I get to create, and I get to do it all day, every day, if I choose.
Those four reasons aren’t for everyone and, to use a clich√©, self-publishing isn’t for everyone. They’re for me though; they fit everything about my personality. This isn’t a choice for me anymore—I simply won’t traditionally publish.

Unless they offered me like an eight figure deal. Then I could probably throw those four reasons away.


I used to deliver pizza. I was pretty good at it, too. I mean, it's not that hard, but if I'm not going to brag, who is, right? Anyways, so I'm delivering pizza while I'm in college, and my boss has been in the pizza industry like six years. He's supposed to graduate from college this year, and I ask him, what are you going to do after college? We're all supposed to go out and conquer the world right after college, so this guy has to have some kind of plan. He looked at me like I was delusional. "I'm a writer, man." Those four words changed my life more so than anything else ever spoken to me.

I'd always written, since I was twelve participating in online-wrestling forums in which you acted out your character. I wrote because it came naturally. Never once, in the entirety of my nineteen years did I think that writing could be a career though, until a Pizza Sage said those four words to me. 
So what did I do? I went home and wrote a short story and immediately understood that I was the greatest writer to ever touch a keyboard. I brought it to the Pizza Sage and he told me what anyone could have told me--it was horrible. I might be dumb, probably am, but I'm also tenacious.

I spent the next seven years writing almost every day. My first novel grew to the length of 40,000 words, then I threw it away. My second novel grew to 140,000 words. I didn't throw it away, but it was rejected about 50 times by agents. My next novel ended up at around 55,000 words, which I showed to a few friends and shelved. Then I wrote Dead Religion, which received amazing reviews. I just put out my newest novel The Devil’s Dream! (Get in touch with David through Twitter or Facebook

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Book Review: Nefarious Twit

Read 2/28/14 - 3/9/14
3 Stars - Recommended to readers who can forgive a cool story its rough writing
Pages: 298
Publisher: Branch Hand Books
Released: Dec 2013

Debut novels are tricky little things. Especially when you read reviews where said debut is described as "if so-and-so-super-famous-author and so-and-so-super-famous-author had a baby and that baby ended up on an acid trip and wrote a book". Cause you know... I mean, c'mon, you KNOW it's not gonna compare to those super-famous-author peoples. They've been honing their skills for years. They've had a shit-ton of practice and some pretty hard-core editors tearing their shit up. And if you read the first book or two that they published, you'll see that back then, even THEY weren't so great. Not back then. Not when compared to what they can write NOW. So can we all agree to stop promoting every new debut author by claiming that they are on par with literary super-gods? Cool? Yes?

Because, to be fair to the debut author and what they are bringing to the book at hand, we should really just judge them against, well, themselves. And go in with no (but not low) expectations. This way, if they suck, we might not think they are as sucky as if, say, we were expecting so-and-so-famous-author awesomeness. And if they are great, we can actually say they are great without worrying about the comparison to so-and-so-famous-author so they can be great within their own right.

So why the chatty intro about debut novelists and comparisons to other authors?

Well, frankly, I wasn't sure how else to start this review. See, Tony McMillen is making his debut with Nefarious Twit, and prior to picking up the book, I had read reviews where he'd been compared to some similar-in-concept-but-in-my-opinion-not-similar-in-writing-strength authors aaaaand I'm pretty sure those comparisons caused me to expect something a bit... more from this book than it was capable of giving. Which left me a bit frustrated and may have affected the way I read it, which isn't exactly fair to the book or the author.

I was well aware of this bias as I went into it and tried to be less critical when grammatical errors, strange phrasing or wonky sentence structure reached up off the page and slapped me in the face.

Tony's approach to the story itself was interesting. The narrator played it close to both the reader and the characters, behaving as our guide and confidante as we progressed from chapter to chapter. He would begin each chapter with little pro-tips, letting us know if it contained information that was important to the plot or additional backstory on a main character. He even warned us away if a particular chapter was heavy on violence - though, let's be honest, there's not a whole lot that I'd find too violent or excessive, did you forget that I grew up on a steady diet of Stephen King and that I'm a fan of bizarro lit?!

At its core, Nefarious Twit is a book about books, a book about drugs, murder and mayhem, and a book about family, for better or worse. Our main man Rick is the son of Nefarious Twit, estranged father and legendary children's book author. Rick's mother recently committed suicide and he's bringing his half-brother Lou along on a hunt for dear ole dad. This won't be a warm and fuzzy family reunion. Oh no. Rick is going after him for some revenge, and he's removing the final page in every copy of his father's book along the way. There are drugs and lots of them. Strange and trippy things happen. Tiny time travelling alien things happen to Lou. Hard things happen to Rick's face. There are girls and then there are dead girls. And there are no happy endings. Sorry, but it's just not that sort of book.

If you can forgive the blatant overuse of drugs as a plot device, and the somewhat slow and repetitive story telling for favor of a cool tale of jealousy and revenge, then go ahead and bury your nose inside this one.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Indie Spotlight: Leo X Robertson

I first discovered Leo over at Goodreads while I was pitching books to reviewers for my "moonlighting" position as Marketing Director with CCLaP (and for a side job I had as publicist for a couple of Davis Schneiderman's titles). He's got eclectic taste when it comes to literature and when he reached out to me about his debut self published novel Findesferas, I knew I had to get him over here on the blog. By the way, if you are interested in taking a peek at his book, it's available as a free epub download here.

Today, he shares an interesting concept - the lies he tells himself while writing. I think you'll get a kick out of these, or, if you are writer, perhaps you'll see something of yourself in them?

 Lies I tell myself when writing

I recently self-published my first novel and already feel like I learned a lot from the experience. Far be it from me to speak with authority about the process, so instead I’d like to share with you some lies I tell myself while writing, and what I suspect is the truth.

I don't wanna read anything- I'm too jealous/ this author's rubbish/ this author's too good (“this author” may or may not be the same author)
Reading when you’re writing is a great way to pick up new ideas, even if they’re not directly related to what you’re working on. You’ll probably feel that you’ll never be good as someone, and you’ll also be outraged that someone clearly less talented than you is writing for a living while you’re slaving away at etcetera. Everything’s fine. Learn what you can from good or bad writing and do your own thing.

I’ve just started/ I'm too young to have to write anything good. No one even knows who I am, I’m sure they’re not expecting anything stellar.
People have been defying logic by writing from the irritatingly young to the why-start-now old. You are the leading authority on your life right at this moment, and there are readers your age or otherwise looking for a different perspective or new insight. I wrote my first novel during my master’s studies and incorporated a number of scientific concepts that I barely remember studying now- if I’d waited, chances are I wouldn’t have been able to use them. If you have an idea for a piece you wanna write, you should start now, and whatever you write, do it with conviction and to the best of your ability- that’s something people can expect.

I heard this great anecdote from a friend the other day, and it sounds exactly like something my character would do. Shame I can’t use it…
I used to think that everyone else was sequestering their stories for their own creative outputs, but having asked, I’ve generally found people quite willing to help out and contribute. So long as the input doesn’t get too heavy and cloud your judgement, it can be very helpful.

I need to focus on one project at a time: I won’t start something else until this is finished.
Up to you but it can enhance inspiration when you have thoughts that are related to many different projects. It’ll prevent your current project from becoming confused with too many differing ideas if you start assigning them to their most appropriate piece. This also makes your next project easier because of the bonus planning!

I can't use that writer's technique: I don't think I understand completely why they used it, and if people recognise it and think it’s an homage to that writer and that I used it incorrectly, they’re gonna think I’m stupid.
Sometimes writing can hit you viscerally but you don’t know why, but you probably understood it better than you think. If you didn’t understand it but you still like the technique, then use it for your own purposes- maybe this is even better because people will think you're stunningly original!

I can't let anyone see this- I hate it!
Might happen. If you've edited it and read it enough times until it's lost all meaning, I think you're supposed to hate it by the end. Who knows? If you don't hate it, you might not have proofread it enough! If you’re really unsure, just leave it a while, no rush at all and you can come back refreshed.

I'll just write something simple to begin with.
Great! Get started with something you can do, but funnily enough you might find it easier if you choose something ambitious, complex in theme or structure, number of characters, subplots whatever it is. If you have a lot planned and you haven’t yet fulfilled all your criteria, it means you must have more to write, and anything which gets you thinking about writing more is usually helpful, as is any reasonably challenging ambition for your book.

I'll write when I have an idea/ I’ll just write the scenes as they enter my head, then connect the dots later.
If your story is to have any kind of progression, connecting the dots, while there are infinite ways to do it, can be restrictive, and you may well end up with a later scene which takes your characters in the wrong direction. This typically leaves you with thousands of words that you grow an affection for and refuse to throw away- then a week later you’ll concede but keep one or two good sentences and put them somewhere where they don’t belong, making your manuscript a bit too disjointed. It’s a sign of a great writer if they can throw away their crap bits, but it can be painful. I try to minimise opportunities for this happening: working from beginning to end is one way to do this, while a note here or there about how the story might progress is a nice way of keeping a goal in mind.

I can’t be doing with all this new software. Good writing is good writing, I don’t need any help.
Yeah… So I got a copy of Robert McKee’s book Story (which is great) and he suggests that you plan all your scenes by writing them on flashcards and putting them up on your wall, which I did. But I hadn’t yet heard of Scrivener. Your story can be planned, re-worked or discarded more readily using for example Scrivener’s corkboard feature. Similar to the random scene order technique, throwing away work you’ve done is not easy, and any method which is going to make you cling on to bad material for sentimental purposes should be avoided, ‘cause if you’re anything like me, you pure will and you’ll have to fix it later. Different software could make your creative life much easier.

I’m not aiming for a strong plot: this novel’s more literary, more conceptual. It’s not about character either. It’s about… um… ah… eugh.
You won’t (or at least shouldn’t) get away with a book that lacks plot, conflict, characterisation, no matter what your aims are with the text. Every great book, literary or otherwise, has had a plot- sometimes you need to look for it but it’s still there. Crack out your conflict!

Phew! I’m not necessarily cured of all these thoughts, but sometimes it’s just nice to know it happens to someone else too. Best of luck with your writing!


Bio: Leo X. Robertson is a 25 year-old Scottish chemical engineer living in Stavanger, Norway. His first novel, Findesferas, is available in paperback or as a free ebook. Find him on Twitter: @Leo_X_Robertson

Friday, March 7, 2014

Indie Spotlight: James Dorr

The trick to getting short stories picked up sometimes isn't really a trick at all. Networking, submitting appropriate stories to the right magazines, and being thick skinned are all necessary travel-mates down the road to being published. 

Today, author James Dorr, whose THE TEARS OF ISIS was published with Perpetual Motion Machine, shares some of the keys to his success to those writers out there who may feel as though they are bashing their heads against the brick wall of submissions and rejections....


I had just come back from a horror convention where an editor who had published me some years back happened to mention that he still had slots open in his latest anthology -- one that was supposed to have been closed months before.  I made a point to say hello and chat a bit and, once I was home, looked up the old guidelines on the computer and went through the stories I had on hand.

I thought I had one that just might fit.

And that’s how the game is played.  It may be a long shot, yes, but he’d liked my work in the past and now he’s been reminded of this.  The anthology pays a professional rate, so I’d be a fool if I didn’t try.

So that’s part of it, to be on the lookout for opportunities to submit work and to be ready to jump when you find them.  I belong to a number of online groups, for instance, on Facebook and elsewhere that sometimes, along with the rest of the gossip, give marketing tips.  I also check lists like from time to time and, even though it costs money now, I’m still getting Duotrope on the assumption it will earn its cost back on sales I‘ll make as a result of its listings.  And of course I also keep in touch with other editors’ and publishers’ websites who’ve used my work, checking to see if they have new guidelines for upcoming anthology projects as well as check back with magazines in terms of theme issues.   This includes, if I’m at a convention, looking these people up in the dealers room if only to ask how things are going, but at the same time giving them a face to connect my name to, as well as underscoring that I care -- sort of what businesspeople call networking.  It’s not necessary, but it doesn’t hurt, nor does keeping a fairly high profile, getting on panels when I can, giving readings, etc.

To give an example, a year or two ago I sent some stories to a semipro publisher, Dark Moon Books, for a couple of flash fiction anthologies they’d announced guidelines for.  These were accepted and, at 2012’s World Horror Con, I went to their table to pick up a contributor’s copy of one that was just out.  While there, I talked with the publisher about various matters, and also met one of their assistants, Max Booth III, who  it happened was editing an alternative history anthology for them called ZOMBIE JESUS AND OTHER TRUE STORIES which, as it also happened, I had sent a story to about a month before.  As a result, when it came time for him to decide on the stories he’d use, he remembered my name and seeing it in the stack, as he said himself later, “quickly read it and knew right away I wanted it.  The story was, in fact, the first story I accepted for the anthology.”

So, okay, if it was a good story he would have accepted it anyway, but there’s more to it.  When he was later promoting the book, among other things running interviews with some of the authors, I emailed him to let him know I was available too and otherwise worked to cooperate with him.  Then, last fall, he set up his own publishing company, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, and, liking what he’d seen of my work thus far (in this case including some other anthologies we’d both had work in), he sent me an email asking if I’d consider doing a book with him.   

The result:  in May 2013, my latest collection THE TEARS OF ISIS was published, timed by mutual agreement to be available a month preceding that year’s World Horror Convention in New Orleans in June -- seventeen stories and an opening poem of horror and dark fantasy, with some mystery and other things thrown in, about art and artists, and vampires and ghouls. . . , well, Max having given me a free hand, mostly stories published before that have been favorites of mine for various reasons but also chosen with an eye to a coherent whole, along with at least one that’s never been seen before.  And also tales about rats and dragons, and UFOs, and insects, and sleeping beauties and Medusa and Isis. . . .  

So not everyone’s going to publish a book, at least not right away, but we are in a sense members of a family, we writers and publishers and editors.  And when the time comes, it never hurts to have made connections.  But there are other aspects to submitting as well.  I already mentioned reading guidelines, usually obtainable on a publisher’s website.  These may vary in information quality, but if an editor states a preference -- or lists taboos -- adhering to the editor’s wants as closely as possible, or at least explaining in a cover letter why you might be bending a rule if you have a good reason to, will leave a good impression for future submissions even if this particular one fails.  And if an editor says, even though rejecting this story, to please send another, take him or her up on it if you can.

That’s the big rule for successful marketing:  perseverance.  For myself, I try to send something or other out on an average of three or four a week and, needless to say, when something comes back, the first thing I’ll do is look to see where else I can send it.  But also be polite, businesslike, and cooperative if an editor has suggestions or requests.  If an editor asks you to rewrite something, you don’t necessarily have to agree with everything asked, but if you don’t, give him or her a reason why or, better yet, suggest another way of changing it as a compromise.

Then one more thing, with the number of pieces I send out, it doesn’t mean that I’m that prolific -- just that I’ve been around a long time.  You’ll build up a stable of stories that, while still good, for one reason or another have not yet been published, so keep looking out for places to send them.  But also a lot of marketing I do these days is with reprints, especially in a soft economy where the number of higher paying markets may not be that great, and that’s another reason to read guidelines carefully.  Some markets will be for new stories only, but others are happy to look at older work that hasn’t been in print for a while.  From my point of view it’s still extra money for something I’ve already sold before as well as exposure to new readers.  So on the one hand, I’m not going to get rich on short stories and poems, but now and then if I can make, say, an additional $10, that’s enough to buy a pizza.  Pizza is good.  But also, aggressively keeping my work in the marketplace can sometimes engender new opportunities, a case in point being THE TEARS OF ISIS.  


James Dorr’s newest collection, THE TEARS OF ISIS from Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, joins STRANGE MISTRESSES: TALES OF WONDER AND ROMANCE and DARKER LOVES: TALES OF MYSTERY AND REGRET (Dark Regions) and his all-poetry VAMPS (A RETROSPECTIVE) from Sam’s Dot Publishing. You can find out more about James Dorr at, and learn more about THE TEARS OF ISIS at

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Indie Spotlight: Rafael Alvaerz

I am convinced that most of us can remember the person, place, or thing that helped us define what it was we wanted to be when we grew up. That one teacher who made you fall in love with learning, and decide to become one too; a particular photograph or artist that influenced a similar passion in you; a specific book that spoke to you so strongly that you began to shape a lifelong dream of publishing some of your own...

In today's indie spotlight, Rafael Alvarez - author of the recently released Tale from the Holy Land - shares a short reflective essay on his dream (before he realized it was his dream) of becoming a writer:


I am currently living the dream of an 8-year-old kid who didn't even know what the dream was. I was in the third grade and the teacher - Mrs. Jean Ortgies, she seemed ancient at 50 - read aloud to us. My favorite was Stuart Little and I could see myself in the matchbox canoe with him.

I went home and told my parents I was going to be a writer. They were kind, smiled, and told me to eat my vegetables. (I often hid peas and lima beans in the corners of my mouth and excused myself for the bathroom where I spit them in the toilet.)

I never lost sight of that dream and today - Feb. 6, 2014, three days before the 50th anniversary of the Beatles appearance on Ed Sullivan (which changed my life two years before the stuart little epiphany, which i use to connect the dots from a kid who liked to read to a kid who wanted to write). I am driving through the south in search of warm weather and an audience - one or two, wherever two or more are gathered - to hear fictional accounts of those very people who told me to eat my vegetables, stories collected in tales form the holy land: my father the tugboat engineer who sailed to venezuela as a teenager on a Baltimore ore ship; my Polish-American mother who liked nothing better growing up than chocolate milk and coconut custard pie, who went to work with her depression era cannery worker mother - the great anna potter jones - and played in bushel baskets while her mom snipped string beans on an assembly line. 

I sleep in the back of the truck by the side of the road and dream bigger dreams, all of which take me back to a holy land bounded by the Baltimore harbor on the south and Johns Hopkins hospital on the north. When there are no customers, I give the books away. I want to be read ...

  - Rafael Alvaerz, on the road, 02.06.14, rocky mount NC


Rafael Alvarez is a short story writer based in Baltimore and Los Angeles. A longtime City Desk reporter for the Baltimore Sun where he wrote obituaries while documenting the folklore of the old port city – Alvarez wrote for the first three seasons of the HBO cop drama, The Wire.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Eat Like an Author: Alan M Clark

When most people get bored, they eat. When I get bored, I brainstorm new series and features for the blog, and THEN eat. And not too long ago, as I was brainstorming and contemplating what I wanted to eat, I thought how cool it would be to have a mini-foodie series where authors share the things they like to eat. Photos and recipes and all. And so I asked them, and amazingly they responded, and I dubbed it EAT LIKE AN AUTHOR. 

Today, Alan M Clark, author of the bizarro early western The Door That Faced West, shares a southern recipe you are sure to fall in love with...


Certain flavors of the American South stick with you, especially if you are a Southerner as I am.  They create nostalgia to smell or taste them. As one who has written historical fiction about southern people and environs, such favors are just the thing to put me in a creative state of mind. I’ve always loved cajun and creole cooking. Visiting New Orleans and some of the surrounding State of Louisiana, I’ve sampled many different cuisines particular to that part of the world.  When not in that area, I’ve tried a cajun or creole restaurant here and there, but I never found the food to be very good. I wanted to make a good pot of gumbo or shrimp creole, but I didn’t much like the recipes I found.

In the ‘80s I taught painting at Centennial Park in Nashville, TN, and had a student whose name was Roberts (It’s been so long now, I cannot remember her first name). She had illustrated her mother’s cookbook.  Her family was from New Orleans. Her mother, Bobbie Roberts (I know the name because it’s on the cover of the book) had written the M√©lange!  A Celebration of Louisiana Kitchens. In it, I found recipes that tasted like those you find in and around New Orleans!

I’ve altered the recipe for gumbo that I got from the cookbook a bit.  It gets rave reviews when we have a house full of hungry guests. Here’s my recipe, based on Bobbie Robert’s version.  

Mine I call Bog Mummy Gumbo. 

—3/4 cup oil
—3/4 cup flour
—5 onions
—1 bell pepper
—2 stalks celery
—1/2 cup okra
—1-large chicken, preferably a hen
2 beers
—a small dash of molasses
—1/4 cup “Whats-This-Here-Sauce” (Worcestershire sauce)
—season with salt and ground green and black peppercorns and cayenne pepper.
—1 lb. Andouille sausage.  If this cant be found use a smoked sausage such as Kielbasa
—cup of parsley
—cup of green onions or onion tops
—2 Tablespoons of Gumbo File (ground sasafras leaves)

All the vegetables should be chopped roughly. 

Make a roux in a heavy cast-iron pan using the oil and flour.  Heat until a dark brown, stirring constantly.  Do not allow to burn.

While roux is hot throw in all the vegetables except the parsley and green onions or onion tops.

Once the vegetables look cooked, dump in the chicken whole, pour in the beers, the “Whats-This-Here-Sauce,” molasses, and enough water (you could use stock made from boiling crab and shrimp shells) to cover the chicken.  Add salt and ground green, red, and black pepper to taste. Simmer slowly for 2 hours.

Remove chicken and allow it to sit and cool a bit.

Chop the sausage roughly and throw it in the pot.  Continue to simmer very slowly.

When chicken is cool enough pick off the meat and chop roughly, then return it to the pot.  Throw away the skin and bones of the chicken.

Add the last three ingredients and serve immediately in bowls over a small amount of rice.  Just before serving you can also put crab, shrimp, crawfish and such like in it.

Gumbo is one of those dishes that you can add a few extras to, such as cave crickets, crayfish, tree bark slimed by the Mingit Toad, oysters, and such-like.  It is usually cooked in a big pot, so be careful not to fall in—unless you really want to.


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.