Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Indie Spotlight: Joshua Young

Earlier this month, TNBBC took a step out of our comfort zone and reviewed our very first play - Joshua Young's The Holy Ghost People. Drew of Raging Biblioholism, our resident thespian review contributor, enjoyed it so much and discovered so much to chew on within its pages, that he found himself reading it multiple times!

Today, we're thrilled to share this essay from Joshua about how The Holy Ghost People found its way out of his head and into the world, shaped from his past and formed in the present:


THE HOLY GHOST PEOPLE started out as pages and pages of aphorisms and notes that I didn’t know what to do with. At first I had all these little scraps of paper, and ripped out pages, stacked in this notebook, and I decided to type them up. I had been thinking a lot about my past in the church—now apostate—and how I felt about my friends and family who were still believers, I was thinking about the rhetoric of the church, and of faith: I thought a lot about what I told kids and non-believers, when I was a youth leader—shit I look at now and feel ashamed of. I had been thinking a lot about space travel and how the universe functions—space stuff. Growing up, I was taught that evolution was a lie. At one point a youth pastor told me that if there was a question on a science test about evolution I should write in “I don’t believe in this.” I did that, even though I didn’t want to, because I felt guilty about answering what the teacher taught us. He came up to me the next day at school and said, “Just tell the correct answer to these questions, please?” I felt guilty, but I told him what I had learned and he said, “Thanks,” paused, then said something like, “You know, this is real life I’m teaching. We didn’t make it up. Believe what you want, but this is science.” As you can imagine, I didn’t learn a lot about how the universe was made, and what I did learn I shuffled out for strange explanations my youth leaders gave me about carbon dating being messed up from the flood, about all things being possible through god, and a lot of other justifications for my beliefs. So, there I was simultaneously watching Battlestar Galactica and How the Universe Works, and learning so much about Science Fiction and well, real science. These two things were weaving through all these images and notes about neighborhoods . I hadn’t made any progress on another project I was working on and felt like I needed space from it, so I started looking at all these notes I had typed up and saw a conversation forming. Initially the conversations were these little lyric moments that sort of riffed off each other. I kept putting them together. At first they were just these little blocks of verse that were sort of placed in no particular order, but certain threads of conversation were starting to form. I could see two different voices speaking. I saw the believers and the non-believers.

So I had all these pieces and I knew that it needed structure. My first book, When the Wolves Quit used the stage/play as its structure. That worked because there were these moments that needed to happen offstage. I needed an actual stage to make the narratives work. But it only happened because my second book To the Chapel of Light (which was actually written before Wolves) used film/ screenplay format as structure, and it just hit me that this needed to be tied to a narrative form that situated it in some kind of expectation. So, here was this project that needed a form, but I didn’t want to force anything—it needed to come organically. I just couldn’t see what it wanted to be. It felt cinematic at times (the space stuff) and dramatic at others (the preaching, biblical stuff). I also didn’t want to do something I had done before. I had just finished a sort-of Symphony-in-Verse, and I knew that these pieces had to be something other than poems. It needed form and structure that existed outside of poetry. I don’t know if that makes sense.  It had to be more than a collection of poems.

I sent it to my friend and poet Daniel Scott Parker he said, “This wants to be a play, dude. Just make it play. It makes sense.” Begrudgingly, I tried that. I could see these two groups of people talking, arguing about faith and God and morals. I could see the stage coming together. As I started to put these pieces to dialogue, the scenes and settings filled in. Once I started building this into a dialogue, I knew that there would be believers and non-believers—the fragments already reflected this tension, these conflicting voices.  I had all these crazy logical fallacies and lies all over the manuscript and as I started really bringing them to the surface, exposing them for what they were, I saw these people preaching. I had this stray line about white-throats and clothing whipping in the wind, and it happened. THE HOLY GHOST PEOPLE rose. It was/is important to me that while we doubt the logic and truth behind the Holy Ghost People, we doubt our doubts. We see and hear things that make sense, or seem to, that the science-fiction, the fantasy of these interactions of their claims gain ground and begin to seem plausible in this world. In fact, we should begin to question our own understanding of what’s real.

When Tyler from Plays Inverse first starting talking about his press to me, I didn’t know that this would be ready by the time he was ready—so THE HOLY GHOST PEOPLE (which was still rough and not what it is now) was at another press. I sent Tyler a section of THGP and he wrote back immediately and said he wanted it. I had to tell him that someone else was considering it, but they passed a couple days later. I immediately sent it to Tyler. Let me be clear, THGP is the play/book it is because of Tyler’s work as an editor. He fucking GRILLED me with questions about the characters, about the setting, about the structure and form, about the logic of The Holy Ghost People. We did at least ten drafts. I think. Maybe I’m exaggerating. Maybe not. Every time, Tyler’s notes would pull on something that would either lead to a decision to cut or uncover something sort of blurred by me trying to overwrite something, me trying to be a “poet.” He would say, “Why are you writing it like this? Don’t you mean this?” And I would say, “Yes.” And he would say, “Well just say it.” So I would cut the ornamental language and just say what it is to say.
Tyler also gave me a reading list. I read plays. In fact during the editing of THGP I only read plays. I just went to the library with my family and I’d leave my wife and kid in the play area for ten minutes, run over to where the plays were grab all the plays I could find that Tyler recommended, and grab a few more random ones.

I could be wrong, because I misremember things, but I think that the violence came to the surface because of Tyler’s notes, the Sylvia character became a major part of the play because of Tyler, the flawed logic of the The Holy Ghost People became consistent and evolving because of Tyler’s questions. But we didn’t just talk about the book. We talked about faith, my frustration with religion, our own backgrounds, how shitty logic and fucked up rhetoric can lead even intelligent people into a shitty situation. Tyler wanted context and I couldn’t just bullshit him. I had to really think about my answers, and I had to be willing to say, “I don’t know.” In fact, we both embraced this idea that sometimes we didn’t know what The Holy Ghost People were saying, sometimes, when we thought their logic was asinine, we had to let it go and let the characters do what they needed to.

In terms of plays, what lacked in Wolves was a realistic format and structure—it didn’t look like a play. THGP would look like a play. We knew it had to. But it also had to read like poems. Wolves would be nearly impossible to stage as is (maybe it can be done—challenge?—but it’s hybrid in the sense that there are letters, offstage happenings—key things, dream sequences, and underworld, and songs, and this entire town in the Pacific Northwest with its vegetation and the Ghost Woods), whereas THGP is doable (with resources). Right? It’s totally doable. At least that’s what I’ve been told.

I thought this post was gonna be about my process writing, my thinking, about what THE HOLY GHOST PEOPLE is about and how it functions, but it turned into something about how a project/book can change with collaboration, with peers who know your work, and an editor who digs in and asks difficult questions. I love collaboration. And I know most of my books wouldn’t be what they are without my mentors, friends, peers, and editors. In the same way, I think a staging of this play would mutate my expectations and understand of these characters. Editing did that. I don’t see why the stage wouldn’t do it too. I’m not gonna lie, I hope someone puts THE HOLY GHOST PEOPLE on, stages it, brings something new to it. I’d like to see what other people see in this play. I want to see what these characters look like to others.


Joshua Young is the author of THE HOLY GHOST PEOPLE (Plays Inverse Press), 2014); The Diegesis (Gold Wake Press, 2013), co-written with Chas Hoppe; To the Chapel of Light (Mud Luscious Press/Nephew 2012) and When the Wolves Quit: A Play-in-Verse (Gold Wake Press 2012). His latest feature film, Do You See Colors When You Close Your Eyes? was official selection at Seattle International Film Festival, Athens International Film Festival, and Montreal International Black Film Festival (2011). He is Associate Director of Poetry & Nonfiction at Columbia College Chicago where he teaches Poetry and writing. He lives in the Wicker Park neighborhood with his family.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Audio Review: The Troop

Listened 4/8/14 - 4/16/14
5 Stars - Highly Recommended / The Next Best Book - this book is felt as much as it is read
Audio CD (uncertain of length)
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Audio
Released: February 2014

If you're familiar with TNBBC, you know I typically don't review the 'big publishers' on this blog. Heck, I don't usually read the big publishers. But in the rare instances where one of their books catch my attention, I have no qualms with taking it up on audio and giving it a listen on my commute to and from work.

When Simon and Schuster initially pitched THE TROOP my way, I couldn't say no. It simply sounded too amazing to pass up. I explained my audio preference and within weeks (due to some issues I was having with the audio downloading from their site onto my pc) their publicist had burned a copy onto CD and shipped it over.

THE TROOP is a slow-burn horror novel that grows in the deepest, darkest parts of your gut. It sneaks up on you from behind, like the villain in a monster movie, tickling the hairs on the back of your neck with its rancid breath, sending horrible shivers down your spine. And the very moment you become aware of its presence is the moment you realize it's already too late...

Think Lord of the Flies meets The Ruins and you'll begin to understand the nightmare that is THE TROOP.

It all begins with five teenaged boys and their scout master, Tim, as they embark on a camping trip out on Prince Edward Island - an uninhabited body of land, complete with a cabin and very little else. At first, the group of boys get along fine, forgiving each other their differences under the friendly guidance of Tim. There's Ephriam and Max, BFF's for as long as they can remember; Kent, one of the most popular kids in school, who enjoys bossing the rest of the group around; Newton, the nerdiest of the bunch; and Shelly, quite possibly the most disturbed. As the boys settle in and prepare for their first night on the island, scout master Tim discovers someone else is there with them - an incredibly thin, incredibly ill, and insatiably hungry man. He knows there is something unnaturally wrong with the unwelcome visitor but is unable to stop himself from offering him help. Bringing the stranger back to the cabin kickstarts what is quite possibly the most mentally tormenting and physically assaulting book I've read in years.

As the unwell man infects the troop with the bioengineered horrors his body contains, life on the little island takes a turn towards survival-of-the what? The smartest? The fittest? With no means of escape, the boys begin to quickly turn on each other, and some even turn on themselves.

As I listened to the audio, I found myself driving my car with one hand wrapped around my throat, or covering my mouth, in horrified reaction to what was happening as narrator Corey Brill read Nick Cutter's words aloud. There were even moments where my finger hovered over the pause button, so close to ending the whole ordeal because I didn't think my stomach could handle it, but unable to do it because I had to know what would happen next.

Cutter did a great job of stretching out the tension by interspersing the main story with court hearing transcripts and scientific experiment logs that gave us a peek into the history (and future) of what, exactly, our troop was dealing with.

While not a book for the extremely sensitive or weak-stomached, I highly recommend this novel to anyone who craves a well written, gut wrenching horror story - one that will challenge them, one that will push them to their very limits, and stretch those limits further than they ever thought possible.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Nik Korpon'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, Nik Korpon assigns each of his books a drink. Bottoms up!

Drinking in Baltimore: A Functioning Alcoholic’s Guide to the Books of Nik Korpon.

A lot of my writing is set in bars. I don’t know what that says about me. Or maybe I do, but I don’t want to admit it. I worked as a bartender for a couple years, saving up money to put myself through grad school. Met my wife while standing behind that same bar. The way I like to frame it is that I’m a naturally curious person, as all writers probably are, and I enjoy watching people, seeing what mask they put on in front of a specific person, or if they even feel the need to wear one. As a crime writer, there is an untold amount of stories to be lifted from day laborers after their third Turkey with a Boh back, and nothing’s more unbelievable than real life.

If I was to get philosophical about it, as I am wont to do about trivial things, I’d say that—at least in Baltimore, a city that clings to its working class roots as fiercely as it tries to gentrify its neighborhoods—bars are as much a representation of a block as they are a cross-section of the various socioeconomic group that inhabit that street, and the same could be said for how a drink order displays someone’s personality. In that spirit, I thought I’d draw up a drink menu for a couple of my books. It shines a little light on the disposition of each one. Might make it a little easier to get through as well.

Old Ghosts­ (Snubnose Press)
Presidente Beer

This novella is all about trying to outrun the—ahem—ghosts of your past. Cole is trying to restart his life after having to flee Boston. He’s got a pretty wife, Amy, and a cozy apartment that his construction wage barely manages to pay for. When his ghosts catch up with him—it wouldn’t be dramatic if they didn’t—havoc ensues. A lot of this novel takes place in the Butcher’s Hill neighborhood of east Baltimore. When I lived there, my wife and I drank a lot of Dominican beer because there were a ton of bodegas around and it was hot and this beer was tasty.

By the Nails of the Warpriest (Outsider Writers Press)
Budweiser or Abita Beer

I debated putting this novella on the list because I’m currently turning it into a novel, but fuck it, I guess. Warpreist follows an unnamed thief who steals memories and sells them on the black market. Along the way there are preachers who bloodlet, a one-eyed assassin and numerous manifestations of the Catholic Guilt I’ve lived with for thirty-odd years. It’s sort of a future dystopian, gritty crime stories about fathers and sons and the past we can’t outrun (sense a theme here?) and I printed out photos of post-Katrina New Orleans as inspiration for the setting. I read an interview with David Simon once about the importance of having locals on set, because everyone in Treme initially drank New Orleans-based Abita beer. Locals, though, they informed Mr. Simon that only white folks drank Abita, and the rest kept to regular old Budweiser. I thought that was an interesting distinction.

Bar Scars: Stories (Snubnose Press)
Natty Boh and Wild Turkey

I stole the title from a great column Anna Ditkoff used to write in Baltimore’s City Paper, and stole the stories from a range of people I met while at bars, whether behind the bar or leaning against it. With one exception, these are the stories most real to me, because I see these people every day.

Punching Paradise (Fight Card Pulps)

A Boharita is a true Baltimore drink that tries to make the intolerable manageable, which is pretty much what Neckbone tries to do for most of the novella. He’s nothing if not honorable, something that’s hard to come by in the underground boxing circuit. He’ll take a fall if it earns him a little scratch on the side but he makes damn sure everyone knows he doesn’t go down unless he wants. Then he loses his temper and knocks a man down too early, inadvertently throwing a young boy into the crosshairs of Bill Stokes, the local promoter and aspiring gangster. Like most everything else I write, it all gets worse from there. Kind of like a Boharita. Open a can of Natty Boh and sip off the top, then pour in Jack Daniels until it crests the top. Sprinkle on a little Old Bay and sip to your liver’s content. Or until you get a waking hangover.

Stay God, Sweet Angel (Perfect Edge Books)
Yuengling, Jameson, Murphy’s

Stay God, the original novel, was a strange experience for me. Above being my first book, I wrote it in a six-week fever dream between grad school semesters. I was living in London and missing Baltimore like hell. Incidentally, I think that’s the best representation of Baltimore: I’d been scheming for seven years to get out of there and three weeks after landing in London, one of the most exciting cities in the world, I almost spent two months’ worth of my living expenses to buy a ticket back because I missed the place so damn bad. After my girlfriend—now wife—talked me out of it, I decided instead to write a book about my friends back home. Though their quirks are slightly exaggerated and criminal tendencies (mostly) invented, I’m pretty proud of the way they came out. All the weirdness, the random run-ins, the bordering-on-suffocating intimacy of the city, it’s all Baltimore. They don’t call it Smalltimore for nothing. So why the drinks? Not as esoteric a reason as you might think. Yuengling is a great $5/6-pack beer. Nothing special, but if you don’t want to drink Natty Boh here, you drink Yuengling. At least I did. And Jameson is just good. Those were the two go-tos when I lived and bartended here, and damn it, I missed them. If I wasn’t able to procure (not to mention afford) them in London, then that’s what Damon would drink in the book. Murphy’s, on the other hand, was a revelation in England, not because it’s a great stout, but because it was less than £2.50 a four-pack. No way in hell I’d pay that stateside, so I got my money’s worth while I was living there. Not bad for student living. Doing more with less.

Actually, I think that about sums up my books.


Nik Korpon is the author of Stay God, Sweet AngelFight Card: Punching ParadiseBar Scars: StoriesBy the Nails of the Warpriest; and Old Ghosts. His stories have ruined the reputation of NeedleNoir NationOut of the GutterShotgun Honey, and Yellow Mama, among others, and he is an associate editor at Dark House Press. He lives in Baltimore with his wife and kids. Give him some danger, little stranger, at

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Audio Series: Tim Chapman

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, Tim Chapman reads us one of his short stories, in the hopes of drawing your attention to his debut novel, Bright and Yellow, Hard and Cold. 

Tim is a former forensic scientist for the Chicago police department who currently teaches English composition and Chinese martial arts. He holds a Master's degree in Creative Writing from Northwestern University. His fiction has been published in The Southeast Review, the Chicago Reader, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and the anthology, "The Rich and the Dead." His first novel, "Bright and Yellow, Hard and Cold," was recently released by Allium Press. In his spare time he paints pretty pictures and makes an annoying noise with his saxophone that he claims is music. He lives in Chicago with his lovely and patient wife, Ellen and Mia, the squirrel-chasingest dog in town.

Click on the soundcloud bar to experience the short story "What We Do For Love", as read by author Tim Chapman:

The word on Bright and Yellow, Hard and Cold:

Contemporary Chicago forensic scientist Sean McKinney tracks a serial killer who is targeting senior citizens associated with the 1930s era Barker-Karpis gang. Interwoven with his story is that of Delroy, a Kentucky farmer who comes to Chicago in the 1930s and reluctantly becomes aligned with the gang.
*lifted with love from goodreads

Friday, April 18, 2014

CCLaP: Turtle and Dam

On Monday, CCLaP celebrated the birth of another book!

Say hello to Scott Abraham's Turtle and Dam

Turtle and Dam is Scott's literary debut, and if you enjoy literature that elbows cultural references and differences in the ribs, you'll find a lot to love in here. It pokes fun at so much and yet it tells such a serious story about going after what you believe in. 

Turtle - a twenty something year old American educated Chinese man and recent college graduate - is desperately hunting for a job. He is also incredibly full of himself. Hilarity and head-biffs ensue as the reader follows him into the unexpected and incredibly awkward career of newspaper journalism. 

Like millions of other only-child Chinese twenty-somethings, Turtle Chen is graduating college and vicariously desperate (via parental pressure) to find a job, though he would probably settle for a girlfriend. He speaks English. He studied abroad in America. Employers, ladies, what's not to love? With a bit of bravado and some hometown luck, this engineering grad lands himself an entry level position working for the state news agency; not that he particularly cares about politics or journalism, not that they particularly want him to. Through a class assignment, Turtle learns that his grandmother's village will soon be inundated to make way for a dam construction project. His parents tell him not to worry about it. His bosses tell him not to worry about it. He would be only too happy to oblige, and yet despite his best efforts not to care he finds himself on the front lines fighting bulldozers, next to what some villagers claim to be the ghost of Chairman Mao. There's bribery, corruption, computer games, and text messages imbued with uncertainty. Air pollution, censorship, and a job fair where students attack employers with paper basketballs. And it's all told through the eyes of a young man with impeccable English ('impeccable English,' that's correct, yes?), who's right there in the middle of it all. 


Check out what people have been saying about it:

Scott Navicky, one of CCLaP's very own authors, says: 
"Turtle and Dam is a book to cherish. It’s smart, insightful, and extremely funny. In particular, Abrahams’ ability to humorously weave together the foreign and the familiar is nothing short of astounding."

Lixian, the blogger behind Word, Notes, and Fiction says: 
"Turtle and Dam was an enjoyable read ... funny and relatable."

Goodreads user Joshua Marshack says:
"[F]or ragers against the rat-race, for anyone that's struggled with life and love, I wholeheartedly recommend this book."


Turtle and Dam is available as a traditional paperback or you can download it for free, as with all of our other titles, as a digital file. Happy reading!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Lavinia Reviews: Shut Up / Look Pretty

Shut Up / Look Pretty - Anthology
193 Pages
Publisher: Tiny Hardcore Press
Released: 2012

Guest Reviewed by Lavinia Ludlow

In 2012, Lauren Becker, Erin Fitzgerald, Kirsty Logan, Michelle Reale, and Amber Sparks released Shut Up/Look Pretty, a collection of short stories and micro fictions about everything from bad break ups, vampires, to classic familial dysfunction. The contrast of narrative voices brought a charming feel to the compilation, and collectively, made for a unique reading experience.
Becker opens with a story called A Simple Explanation, which reads more like a low self-esteemed angst-ridden unhinged teenage girl than a mature woman struggling with her reality—think every single Fiona Apple song. A reoccurring personality who takes (or maybe invites) emotional abuse by the stereotypical emotionally void asshole, pining over the wrong men who ignore and abuse her, and leave her self-hating and loathing because she doesn’t fit a certain mold: “You marvel aloud at your luck in meeting me. I like you and want to warn you, but it’s really your own fault. Don’t envision a history with me. Just take me home tonight and don’t call tomorrow. I will cry and think ‘always’ and ‘never’ and it will feel right to me.” Independent Living was a glimpse into the black hole of an old folks’ home. The well-written piece exposed Becker’s true talents as a writer as she conveyed complex emotions of the dismal environment in mere sentences. Becker’s prose is often fragmented, but she’s mastered the art of expressing the darkest emotions of the human experience, which most choose to bury, drink away, and forget.
Erin Fitzgerald imaginative stories of hospital stays and unemployment take place in small-town college dorm rooms and doctors’ offices.

Where Did It All Go Wrong is a heartbreaking tale of giving up the daily comforts, quite possibly necessities, in the heart of the economic recession. Fitzgerald hits hard with blatant one-liners, but also conveys a slew of somber emotions, as exhibited in the opening of Fed Up In Phoenix, “You started getting the newspaper right after you got married, because Laurie thought it would be cute for the two of you to read the paper over breakfast. Then both of your shifts changed and you ate together less and it stopped for a while.” A story with such a powerful twist that it sucker punched me in the gut and I walked around for the rest of the day with an inexplicable ping in my side. This Morning Will Be Different is a humorous and engaging story about coming home from a surgery to an empty house after a fresh break up. “I will start taking ibuprofen three times a week, even if nothing hurts that ibuprofen would fix...If I can’t find someone to talk to that early in the morning, I will invent an eccentric friend in an artist’s colony in Taos, where it will be 4am. She will not have been able to sleep, she is so filled with inspiration.” As the collection presses on, Fitzgerald’s prose and content increase in eccentricity, from stories of fraud to inmate snail mail in a “To Lindsay Lohan from Erin,” a one-way dialogue with no other than Lindsay Lohan. Nonetheless, a great collection of short stories.

Kirsty Logan’s novella Local God is about a Scottish rock band and its stereotypical womanizing sociopath of a lead singer, Francis Faskally. Logan’s dynamite writing never wanes, particularly when she’s introducing a character: “Before I met Tibor, I thought I knew what Christians looked like—this was vital information so that I could avoid them. Then I met Tibor, with his shaved head, nose ring, and muscled arms, like a threatening extra from a prison movie. Several local god girls at uni are feverishly, obsessively, frantically in love with Tibor. They are all beautiful and insane. Tibor is not bad-looking and he’s in a band—which is plenty for some girls—but he also has a secret weapon. Tibor is saving himself for marriage.” Logan has the matchless ability to set the scene and draw out her characters so precisely that I feel as if I’m there in the room listening to the dialogue unfold and tensions rise. Though the short story starts off slow and cliché, it morphs into an entertaining, engaging, and fantastical mind fuck. My only gripe is that I can’t read it again with a virgin pair of eyes.

With a dream-like writing style, Michelle Reale uncovers the barbaric and ugly side of suburbia, culture clashes, dysfunctional relationships, and even blind dates in flash-length stories. In Folk, the connection between two people fizzles just as quickly as the 200-word piece reads: “We tried to be fascinated by one another in the car on the way to the folk festival. We’d met over e-mail. He wrote with dashes like Emily Dickinson and I fell for it. He picked me up at a Denny’s on the highway, asked me not to smoke when I slid one from the pack. We had things to say, like the fact that he petrifies citrus fruits on windowsills and has a lime back from the summer of ’87. I told him about my fascination with the two drums of Ireland, the Lambeg and Bodhran and how my loyalties can become easily divided. The air-conditioning was on full blast. My eyes went dry. We ran out of things to say. At the festival we saw each other, but he just looked straight ahead like he didn’t know me after all we shared. On the way home we passed by a ramshackle house with a statue of a big wooden bear, his claws out. On one side was: ‘Welcome.’ On the other side: ‘Go Away.’ I lit my cigarette and didn’t care. ‘Imagine that,’ I laughed. He rolled down the window and looked the other way.” In What Passes For Normal, a young girl watches and listens to her callous mother verbally abuse a child with a mental disability: “‘God gives them strength since they have nothing upstairs to work with!’ She taps her head with a French-tipped fingernail. My mother blows a stream at Belinda. She laughs when the girl sputters. Belinda’s mouth looks like the downward grimace of the tragedy mask of theater. The smoke from my mother’s cigarette drifts forming a corona around Belinda’s head that looks too small for her body.” I had to re-read a few of Reale’s more poignant stories, but the second round was a literary adventure in itself and I was able to gain a better understanding of her vision. 

Amber Sparks’ poetic and ethereal stories of life, death, and the gristly transitions in between remind us mortals of our inevitable (and grim) battle with mortality. Sparks fuels her stories with darkly comical details, which become increasingly graphic throughout her collection. She opens with A Great Dark Sleep, one man’s portrayal of living among ghosts and their playground. Haunted by some isolated trauma, the man is unable to let anyone new into his life, and devotes his time and energy to keeping the “ghosts” content. He even bans his daughter from using any technologies such as the internet, TV, and phone under the belief that “the signals would interfere with those the ghosts give off, with the live trails they leave looping through the air.” The Stages of Human Decay is none other than a play-by-play narrative of the human body decomposing: “After only five days it seem impossible she wouldn’t recognize you, but you are not you. You have transmogrified; you are a monster, a shiny, blistered human skin sack stuffed with liquefying tissue, leaking juice and gases from every orifice. You would be embarrassed to be seen in this condition. You were always so tidy and clean.” From cola guzzling vampire hunters to a murdered husband who somehow returns to life and sprouts wings, Sparks’ well-written content draws on the imaginative occult.

At times, navigating through a 300-page collection of intense and heavy material from five of the scene’s powerful and artistic writers was overwhelming; however, the generous sampling allows each contributor to highlight herself as an individual and as an essential voice in Shut Up/Look Pretty’s multifaceted illustration of the human condition. Available for purchase as an e-book at Amazon.

Lavinia Ludlow is a musician, writer, and occasional contortionist. Her debut novel alt.punk can be purchased through major online retailers as well as Casperian Books’ website. Her sophomore novel Single Stroke Seven was signed to Casperian Books and will release in the distant future. In her free time, she is a reviewer at Small Press Reviews, The Nervous Breakdown, American Book Review, and now The Next Best Book Blog

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Where Writers Write: Anne Valente

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 Anne Valente. 

Her first short story collection, By Light We Knew Our Names, releases from Dzanc Books in October 2014. She is also the author of the fiction chapbook, An Elegy for Mathematics (Origami Zoo Press, 2013). 

Her fiction appears in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Ninth Letter, The Journal, and Redivider, among others, and won Copper Nickel’s 2012 Fiction Prize. Her work was also selected as a notable story in Best American Non-Required Reading 2011, and her essays appear in The Believer and The Washington Post.

Where Anne Valente Writes

I’ve moved around a lot in the past few years, with lots of different writing spaces, but this is where I currently write: in a small corner of my current apartment, painted lime-green by the previous tenants. Though my writing space seems to constantly be changing, a few things remain constant: tea, the small totems I keep on my desk, and a view of the outdoors. When I first moved into this apartment, I pushed the desk up to the window immediately. It helps my writing process to be able to stare out the window at constant change – the sun rising each morning though sometimes through clouds, sometimes the moon still visible, sometimes rain or snow or the trees bending in the wind. Out this particular window, a family of finches lands on the brick ledge most mornings. They shake their feathers and peep and sometimes they peer into the window at me.

Since I write in the morning, I always have tea. My sister gave me this small teapot a few years ago that is perfect for the writing zone. I’ve never been much of a coffee drinker, but I could spend hours in a teashop. Right now, the piles anchoring both sides of my desk consist of my notes/schematics for the novel I’m currently working on, notes for the production of my short story collection due out in October, and notes for a craft essay on time in the novel. Behind the piles and the teapot, I keep a bamboo plant that my parents gave me after my very first reading in 2009. They drove from St. Louis to Ohio just to be there, and they brought this little bamboo plant for good luck. I’ve never had much of a green thumb, but I’ve kept this plant’s watering schedule on my calendar for the past five years and counting.

I also keep a collection of writing totems on my desk for inspiration, a collection that seems to keep growing. Here, I have a snow globe and a cat figurine and a small ceramic bird, all gifts from close friends. They remind me to keep imagining. I also have a small collection of antique pill boxes that belonged to my grandmother, a jellyfish paperweight from the Seattle Aquarium (it glows in the dark!), a plastic dinosaur that was part of my Halloween costume in 2009 and reminds me of my MFA cohort at Bowling Green, and the little plastic ring my husband gave me when we got engaged. I like to keep the people I love around me in totems, like they’re all there with me in the room when I write.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Indie Ink Runs Deep: John H. Matthews

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 John H. MatthewsJohn is a Chicago-based writer who has worked as a cigar store clerk, office equipment mover and academic library specialist. As the “M” half of the comic “A.M.” he drew artwork for the Evanston-based monthly, Strong Coffee, also contributing his short stories. His writing has appeared in anthologies and several literary magazines, including Wisconsin Review, Pindeldyboz, Opium Magazine, Word Riot, 2nd Hand and others. 
He is the author of This is Where it Gets Interesting.

Can Pink Floyd and Black Flag live in harmony?

They did, for a while anyway, on my left shoulder as an unlikely tattoo.

Long a fan of Floyd’s moody songs of alienation, sometime in 1987 I discovered punk music and jumped in with both feet.

Floyd lost the turntable war to Flag and my hippie hair got cut. I had quickly found my way to the most scathing of L.A.’s hardcore offerings.

 My first tattoo was the simple yet elegant Black Flag “bars”, an inventive design by Flag guitarist Greg Ginn’s artist brother Raymond Pettibon meant to depict a flag waving in a breeze. A black flag also represents anarchy. Perfect!

Maybe as a way to temper the leap into tattoos and punkdom, or possibly to ensure my literary, more sensitive side was represented, I went to Floyd’s last album with Roger Waters to a song called “Two Suns in the Sunset”.
The last lyric on The Final Cut goes: “Ashes and diamonds, foe and friend, we were all equal in the end.” It was a song about nuclear war and the end of the world. Also perfect!
“Equal In The End” would be inked onto my shoulder above the Black Flag bars in an arch.
First tattoo facts: Tattoo done by a guy named Ray. Fifty-dollar job. Easyriders magazine in the waiting area. Authorized by utilizing a fake ID (I was only nineteen). Pain was not bad.
For tattoo number two a year later, I chose an Aztec sun design because I am deeply into Aztec history and culture. No wait! That’s right . . . it was because I was digging Henry Rollins at the time and decided to get a version of the sun that adorns his back tattooed on my arm.
Second tattoo facts: Work also done by a guy named Ray. Seventy-five dollar tat. There was a large snake in a dirty tank in the waiting area.
I spent a few years with my Black Flag/Pink Floyd combo, then the inevitable happened: Rollins’ neck began to resemble a redwood tree trunk from excessive weightlifting and screaming poetry, and I felt the need to distance myself from the man.
In 1993 I went in for a change, this time to a tattoo studio that featured fine artists: Guy Aitchison’s Guilty & Innocent in Chicago. Since Guy’s waiting list was explained to me as “Ain’t gonna happen for you, ever,” I chose a worthy backup, his apprentice at the time, Deborah Brody. After meeting with Deborah to explain that I wanted a dragon on my left arm, she looked at the rudimentary art already laid down and said, “OK, so we’re going over these, right?”
I quickly explained that I actually wanted to keep most of the existing tattoos and saw the dragon as sort of wrapping around them, connecting them as a whole. But what I did want covered up was that Equal In The End business. You see, even worse than walking around as miniature Rollins was explaining to potential girlfriends and drunk, sweaty skinheads what the words above the bars meant. I barely got past Pink Floyd lyric when eyes would glaze over and whomever I was speaking to would disappear to see if there was any more Budweiser left in the keg.
The dragon’s tail would curve over the bars and hide the phrase and I would be free!
Deborah dutifully drew up a design using my descriptor “bizarre” as her guiding light, and created what I still think is some kick ass art. The tattoo was done on a bitterly cold night in January. It was just Deborah and I in the shop, listening to the cool punk and psychedelic music emanating from her boombox as she worked. In the four hours, I think we took only one ten-minute break.
Third tattoo facts: Broke the Ray cycle. Total cost of the ink and labor: $200. Plastic skeletons in the store front windows and a shameful admission: I forgot to tip. It didn’t dawn on me until I was on the bus home that I’d stiffed her. Doh!  I blame the needles. I was loopy there at the end.

* * *
If anything is stopping me from having my now fading tattoos redone, or getting additional ones, it’s that I can always think of something else I’d rather have. I could get a new guitar for example, or a used guitar. I could get a new pair of hiking boots or a decent winter coat.
In the twenty-some intervening years since I became The Boy With The Dragon Tattoo, I have never once (as several friends have) received a tax refund and immediately converted it to ink. My feeling is that strong forces must compel you to climb into a chair and pay many dollars to have someone jam electric-powered needles in you and those forces, for me, have apparently left the building.
This doesn’t mean I regret the tattoos I have or would dissuade anyone from getting one, though. Faded though they are, I find my tattoos, even the old Black Flag art, comforting. Tattoos hammer down time. They stand to honor a life period as well as the moment of their own creation. Sailors used to call them “travel marks” for a reason. They show the world you went somewhere. You went somewhere and did something.
And there’s a practical side to tattoos as well, one you may not have thought of.

Long ago, upon hearing I’d gone in and got permanently scarred, my grandmother remarked, “Well, at least now we have another way to identify you should that ever become necessary.”

Monday, April 14, 2014

Book Review: Die You Doughnut Bastards

Read 4/5/14 - 4/7/14
3 Stars - Recommended to fans of light bizarro cause light bizarro's like a box a chocolates, you never know just what kinda crazy ass stories you gunna get.
196 pages
Publisher: Eraserhead Press
Released: 2012

Every once in awhile, I gotta take a break from the overwhelming pile of review books and stick my nose into something else. A little breather reading. Something fun - not that what I have in my review pile isn't fun, mind you - but a pressure free read that I can escape into, like a warm bath after a mentally draining day at work.

For these side-reads of mine, I like to pick up lighter books, funkier books, books that don't ask to be taken seriously. Because lord knows 'serious' books require quite a bit of work and effort on the part of the reader. (Wait till you read my upcoming review on You Lost Me There, which isn't written yet because I'm still chewing on it all. Yeah.)

Cameron Pierce's Die You Doughnut Bastards was just the bizarro brain candy I was hungry for. I downloaded the collection for 99 cents on a whim when Eraserhead Press had a can't-pass-this-shit-up sale (my words, not theirs). Knowing Cameron through his position as head editor at Lazy Fascist Press, but never having read any of his own writing, I figured hell, for 99 cents, even if only one of his stories blows me away, it was worth it!

But I really shouldn't have worried. Typical of the work he chooses to publish over at LFP, Cameron is king at creating his own absurdly awesome and awesomely horrible worlds. Regular sized pet guinea pigs that develop a taste for blood and escape the confines of their cages to chew their way past your eyeball and into your brain? Check. Spooky Christmas pancakes that howl and scream while you drown them in maple syrup and cut into them? Check. Oh, and how about a prison made of pizza that drips sauce all over its anorexic inmates? Yup, it's got that too. And how can we not talk about the opening apocalyptic story that involves killer doughnuts? It'll have you thinking twice before biting into that Boston Creme with your morning coffee!

Not all of the stories are as whacked out as these, however. Some are actually quite sweet and touching. "Lantern Jaw" is a lovely, if not strange, little love story about two misfit high schoolers, while "Mitchell Farnsworth" is more a lusty fuckfest-gone-to-pot between two former roommates. And then there's "The Death Card" which is part bittersweet and part goopey-doopey, where an expectant young father is tasked with packing up his "toy" room to make space for their baby.

Cameron walks a delicate line between being overly sappy and slightly too gross, threading just enough of each into his stories, blending just the right amount of awkward into the absurd. You almost don't trust where he's about to take you. And it's a pretty cool feeling.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Melanie Reviews: Two Small Birds

Two Small Birds by Dave Newman
296 pages
Publisher:Writers Tribe Books
Released: 2014

Guest review by Melanie Page

In Two Small Birds, readers are reassured that they will probably fail, despite their best efforts to be “good” when they know they’ve been “bad.” The novel follows 23-year-old Dan Charles as he shuffles between an undergrad degree in poetry plus a few bad part-time jobs, to full-time truck driver. Well, truck driver for a year; that’s all he’s promised his brother John that he can do. Truck driving is the most boring, soul-crushing job that forces Dan to choose between right and wrong and more money versus little money on an hourly basis. He finds that if he takes speed and drinks he can stay on the road longer and make more cash, but he’s nearly dead when he gets three days off, which he uses to sleep at his brother’s apartment. Or, he can eat well, exercise, and stay sober, but then he has trouble driving for ridiculously long periods.

The whole truck-driving career is part of a plan for Dan and John to invest in a wire that other companies won’t carry--it’s expensive, but everyone sells the cheap imitation that has to be replaced all the time. Dan drives truck and saves up money for his part of the investment, and John continues working his crappy on-call job as his end of the bargain. Both know Dan’s job is harder, and tension grows as Dan remembers their childhood when John would lie to get Dan in trouble or beat his younger brother to keep him in his “place.” Here’s where readers start to feel distrusting of John. “Boys will be boys” is a cheap excuse adults use to justify brothers abusing each other, but when does it stop? Is John going to screw Dan over despite them being in their 20s?

The beauty of this novel comes from two places. One is its specific appeal to American ideals: working hard, bootstraps, that sort of thing. John and Dan aren’t part of a get-rich-quick scheme; the hours Dan logs are equivalent of years of working. But the jaded America we live in today tells us that whether John is trustworthy or not, their dream is dead before its up and running. Compared to those who reach out and achieve success seemingly without effort, the brothers are like two small birds trying to survive in nature’s deadly ecosystem. Dan wants to be a full-time poet and reader, but others who work those man’s-man jobs are skeptical of his employability: “You should go to prison,” his landscaping boss advises, “They have a good welding program in prison.” Do we live in a place where prison serves us instead of us serving in prison?

The other beauty of Newman’s work is his attention to people. To capture such weird, unbelievable characters and make them wholly likeable is a feat that no other in contemporary small press author comes close to. Newman does dialogue like nobody’s business. In unfamiliar territory, Dan stops to ask if there is a Chinese restaurant around the area:

The skinny guy said, “Yeah, next exit. Head east. Only place on the road.”
“That’s not Chinese. That’s Korean,” the old guy said....
“What the fuck’s the difference?”
“I was in Korea,” said the old guy.
“...You’ve been bullshitting about car racing like you know everything and now you’re 
bullshitting about Korea. You’re a bullshitter. Shut up and watch the TV.”
“My big brother was in Korea for the war. Got shot in the pinky toe.”
“So your big brother was in the Korean War and got shot in the foot and now you’re an 
expert on Korea, is that it?”
“I didn’t say I was an expert.”
“No, you said you were in Korea.”
“I misspoke,” the old guy said. “Now I’m going to go out to my truck and get my gun and I 
wouldn’t be surprised if it misspoke right in your skinny fucking face.”

For anyone who has been in those “good-ol’ boys”-type bars, you know these patrons. You’ve seen them or argued with them. They’re probably members at your local Eagles or Moose or Elk club. Newman grabs these personalities, rips them off their bar stools, and smacks them on the pages of Two Small Birds. Even the prostitutes are likeable when they’re making you mad. This is definitely some manly fiction with a humanities bent.

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

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Indie Book Buzz: Quirk Books

It's the return of the Indie Book Buzz here at TNBBC. Over the next few months or so, we will be inviting members of the small press publishing houses to share which of their upcoming releases they are most excited about!

This week's picks comes from Eric Smith,
Social Media & Marketing Coordinator at Quirk Books.

World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters
July 15th, 2014

When I started at Quirk Books four years ago, I was already a fan of Ben H. Winters. I’d read his mashups (Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters!), followed him on Twitter, and was just really excited to get to work on whatever books came through the Quirk HQ with his name on them.

So when he pitched a trilogy to Quirk, one with a pre-apocalyptic angle, I was beyond psyched.

World of Trouble is the final book in that trilogy, a series of books called The Last Policeman. It imagines the world on the brink of the apocalypse, with an asteroid heading towards the Earth. What would our final days look like? How would people treat one another? What would society become? Winters seeks to answer these questions, and explores them through Hank Palace, a detective who keeps doing his job even though the world is destined to end.

It’s been a moving and exciting ride (especially when he won the Edgar award for the first book!), and while I’m sad to say goodbye, I’m thrilled at the success the series has had. Definitely pick up the first two books, and get yourself caught up.

William Shakespeare’s the Jedi Doth Return by Ian Doescher:
July 1st, 2014

Oh my goodness, another end to a trilogy! Excuse me, I’m busy experiencing serious feelings.

Okay, let’s continue.

Last year, Quirk published the New York Times bestselling debut of Ian Doescher, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, a mashup of Shakespearian writing and the plot of Star Wars Episode IV. We followed it up with another bestseller, The Empire Striketh Back. And now, the trilogy comes to a close with The Jedi Doth Return. Just look at Jabba on the cover! LOVE IT.

These books have been a thrill to work on. Star Wars fans love them, and watching the Internet explore whenever one comes out has just been fantastic. When Quirk was pitched the books, it was just a given. We had to put these out. And we’re so happy that we did.

Nick & Tesla’s Super Cyborg Gadget Glove by Steve Hockensmith & Science Bob
October 7th, 2014

This is the fourth book in the Nick & Tesla series, an adorable bunch of books by Steve Hockensmith and Science Bob. And thankfully, it isn’t the last book, which prevents me from having another emotional breakdown. You might have one of the authors, Bob, on Jimmy Kimmel, where he performs amazing experiments to the delight of the audience.

The Nick & Tesla series introduces readers to a brother and sister duo who solve mysteries using projects they make themselves. Burglar alarms, glow in the dark tracking ink, simple robots, things of that nature… and as kids read along, they can actually make the projects too! The books have the instructions in them!

I read every book we put out at Quirk, and just love it when a new Nick & Tesla book pops up. They’re middle grade reads, so I usually get through them in a day or two, and love every page. They are the kind of books I would have devoured as a child, and I’m glad we put them out. You can learn more about the series at


Eric Smith is the Social Media & Marketing Manager at Quirk Books, and the author of The Geek's Guide to Dating (Dec 2013). He's hopelessly addicted to good books, bad movies, writing, and video games. You can follow him on Twitter at @ericsmithrocks and Quirk at @quirkbooks.