Friday, October 31, 2014

Drew and Melanie's Frightful Fall Reads

Halloween is upon us. While the trick-or-treaters beat a path to your front door for their sugar fix, what better time to curl up on the couch wrapped in that fuzzy blanket and bury your nose in seasonally frightful reads. 

Our review contributors Drew (of Raging Biblioholism) and Melanie (of Grab the Lapels) share their favorite reads for this time of year:

Drew's faves:

* Of Bees & Mist, Erick Setiawan - a lovely examination of romance and relationships, set in a vividly colored world where magic and the unexplained are commonplace.  Ghosts, fortune-tellers, witches, and more populate this charming (if a little over-long) novel and it's perfect for weekends under the trees with a mug of cider.

* 'Salem's Lot, Stephen King - tied with The Shining for the scariest thing I've ever read, but maybe a little more seasonally appropriate.  

* Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury - is there a better tale not just of the magic of adolescence or the relationship between a father and son, but of the October Country overall?  I say nay.  

* Horrorstor, Grady Hendrix - inspired by everyone's favorite Swedish furniture store and designed to look like a mail-order catalog, Horrorstor is a silly-scary delight.

Melanie's faves:

Fall—the best time of year. Smell the pumpkin everything? I don’t; a skunk lives behind my apartment, but what can you do. Fall means October, and that means Halloween! Here is a list of some of my favorite terrifying, yet unconventional, reads.

1. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
A total classic, Jackson makes you question what you know, and what you think you know. When Eleanor and Hill House do a little psyche dance, you know things just ain’t right. Literary horror at its best, Jackson makes scared in ways that you feel shouldn’t…because it’s not happening….guys?

2. Altmann’s Tongue by Brian Evenson
A sweet man and multi-talented author and translator, Brian Evenson is just the bee’s knees. But his first collection, the one that got him removed from the college where he was teaching, is just terrifying. He’s the new literary horror (I was assigned to read him in grad school). But if you think watching “torture porn” movies is bad, imagine being in the head of the torturer! Kitty’s just sleeping, right?

3. The Last Final Girl by Stephen Graham Jones
Of course SGJ is on this list. What kind of Halloween/small press fan would I be if I didn’t include him? The Last Final Girl is written like a movie script, one that changes points of view from the killer to the police to the victims, much like Halloween of 1979. Essentially reading a movie leaves room for the imagination, but helps spur it along, too. Check out SGJ’s newest collection, After the People Lights Have Gone Off, published just in time!

4. Everyday Psychokillers: A History for Girls by Lucy Corin
Every wonder why we’re so quick to call someone who cuts us off in traffic a “psycho.” So was Lucy Corin, and thus, Everyday Psychokillers was born. Corin follows along with a young girl who is constantly in danger from the crazies around her—not the normal kind, the cut-you-up-and-rape-you-when-you’re-dead kind. The Mansons. The Dahmers. The ancient psychokillers we don’t care to examine, but whom Corin shoves in our faces. How easy is it to slip from crazy to psycho?

5. Cruddy by Lynda Barry
Is Cruddy a horror novel? Not really. But if you can resist the fear that rises in your throat and clenches your breathing tube when “the father” threatens Roberta/Clyde, then you are a better reader than me. These characters are so broken, violent, and real that I’m fairly convinced I’ll meet one of them someday—and he/she will cut my finger off.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Book Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Read 10/23/14
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended for the campy fun of it
Pages: 216
Publisher: Touchstone
Released: originally published in 1955

The other night, I was standing in front of my bookshelves looking for a quick read to curl up with. Something seasonally appropriate that wouldn't mush my brain or try my patience too much. And that's when I saw the yellow and white spine of Invasion of the Body Snatchers staring out at me. To be honest, I'd forgotten that I even had this book. But suddenly, it was the only thing I wanted to read. So, I immediately pulled it off the shelf and started reading.

Side note: It's not hard to forget which books I own since I have two whole bookshelves that are devoted entirely to unread books. Because I have a book-sale buying problem. Because I can never have enough books, ever.

Another side note: I've never watched either of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers films. But I do admit to youtubing clips of the 1978 version after finishing the book - holy young Donald Sutherland and Jeff Goldblum! but holy bad acting and special effects, right? Did you see that dog with the man-face? What in the hell?!?! Even though I really dug the book, I think it's pretty safe to say I won't be looking that one up on Netflix, ever.

Thankfully, the book - initially released in 1955, set in 1976 - holds up a hell of a lot better. Kinney's writing is gripping, the story line tight in that "it's science fiction and so I know I have to suspend belief to get the most of out it" way, and the tension perfectly... tense? I mean, a small town out in the middle of nowhere, slowly being taken over by alien pod people, right under the townspeople's noses? Finding blank unformed pasty bodies in your basement, laying there, patiently waiting for you to fall asleep so they can duplicate you and turn you into dust? Who wouldn't freak the fuck out over that?!

I was a total sucker for the increasing sense of dread and doubt and confusion Kinney created, though the whole "who can we trust" thing? Yeah, not to brag, but I knew Miles' confidant Manny was tainted ages before Miles caught on. Only, that really didn't stop me from thinking, shit.. what if that was happening in my town, right? I mean, how WOULD YOU KNOW who you could trust when everyone looked the same and talked the same and knew all of the same things they knew before they were alienized? You'd become a blubbering, paranoid lunatic in no time.  Invasion of the Body Snatchers is so typical of the 1950's science fiction scene, with the world - at that time - completely obsessed with the idea of alien invasion. It's so perfectly campy and so not a thing that anyone really worries about any more.

I can't tell you how much I love reading classic sci-fi like this, that's set in a future that we've already outlived. And that deals with a fear that we've learned to overcome. It's a humbling peek into our history, into what we perceived the future to be like, and it's nuts to see how un-far we've come but such a fun way to spend an evening.

Oh, and for a good laugh, check out this review of the book. I don't know who they are, but they are a riot!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Review: Thanksgiving For Werewolves and Other Monstrous Tales

Read 10/13/14 - 10/16/14
3 Stars - Recommended to fans of light monster fiction, more for the fun of it than the fur and teeth of it
Pages: 156
Publisher: Tiny Toe Press
Releasing: Unknown

As I review this, there is a part of me that thinks I should hold off and post it closer to Thanksgiving. (Much like when Giano Cromley and I decided to host the Author/Reader Discussion for his novel The Last Good Halloween in October, as close to the holiday as we could get. Makes sense, right?) But seeing as how ML Kennedy's forthcoming Thanksgiving for Werewolves deals more so with monsters or monstrous things, I think it fits in with the whole Halloween theme just as nicely.

The opening story, Dinosaurs versus Cyborgs, revolves around two girls shooting the shit in their local mall, mentally preparing themselves for an imaginary attack on their city by the likes of a godzilla-ish creature. Though cute and incredibly pointless in the ways of most conversations between teenage girlfriends, it does little to prepare the reader for the bizarre outlandishness Kennedy has planned for us in the rest of the collection.

The title story - more a novelette, and smartly placed in the number two spot - however, kicks things off with a bang. In it, we meet Christopher, a second rate indie wrestler, who just wants to chill out in a restaurant with a couple of buddies when, without warning, the world as they know it is changed forever. Chalk it up to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Fellow patrons a table away suddenly begin donning fur skins, which immediately transform the wearer into the animal of the skin it donned. It's like shape-shifting, only without the painful and disgusting body contortions. As teeth begin to gnash and people begin to die, Chris does what any respectable person does and hides in the bathroom. But of course, he gets sniffed out and the rest of the story follows Chris and his numerous attempts to outrun, outsmart, and ultimately outlive those magical, monstrous beasts. Hyenas and foxes and bears, oh my!

Sprinkled throughout the rest of the book are stories of zombie inoculations, of bad things hidden in the back of basements, of a vampire who will only kill when absolutely necessary, of a man who finds a strange hair growing out of his chest and soon discovers that the hair is the LEAST of his worries (this one kinda grossed me out a bit), of a roommate with an awful secret to hide...

ML Kennedy infuses each story with his unique brand of humor, eschewing all out blood-and-gore for more of a feel-good funny sort of horror. These characters, they're like your every day, average, schmuck-next-door types. The kind of people that would never think of finding themselves face to face with a walking, talking vampire, or a fur-donning werething, and they react in the same ways you and I might. First with disbelief - this isn't happening, there is no fucking way this is really happening; then with the dawning realization of the situation - oh shit, did you see that thing's teeth, this can't be happening, I can't believe this is happening, holy fuck; and then RUUUUUNNNNNNN! And Kennedy's writing style is extremely simplistic and conversational. No fancy-pantsing or hi-browing here, folks. He's certainly not a word-waster, getting right down to the nitty gritty of it all.

The stories as a whole were fun and flirtatious. This is a collection that does not intend to be taking seriously (or, at least, that was my assumption as I was reading it). A super quick read for those of you who are looking not for a book that begs to keep the light on at night, but for one that solicits a side-grin every now and then.

Currently unassigned a release date and still moving through the editing process, Thanksgiving for Werewolves will be published at some future date by Tiny Toe Press.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Scott Navicky Recommends In the Kettle, The Shriek

And so we continue our Writers Recommend - a new series where we'll be asking writers to, well, you know.. recommend things. Like the books that they've enjoyed. To you. Because who doesn't like being recommended new and interesting books, right?! Think of it as a PSA. Only it's more like a LSA -Literary Service Announcement. Your welcome. 

Scott Navicky Recommends In The Kettle, The Shriek by Hannah Stephenson

I’m not very smart.

Experience has taught me that it’s best to just be upfront about this. Yes, at first glance, I may appear to possess a good vocabulary, but upon further inspection, it becomes painfully obvious that the bulk of my wordhoard consists of misused, mispronounced, or made up words. And yes, I am pretty good at quoting Nietzsche, but seldom do I have the slightest clue as to where these “Nietzsche Nuggets” come from. And yes, I do sometimes ask searching questions, but just as frequently I ask infuriatingly aloof questions like “is Thanksgiving always on a Thursday?” and “how does anyone really know that dogs smell fear?” And here’s the worst part: I’m okay with my notsmartness. Actually, I kinda prefer it. Being smart terrifies me. I’ll explain.

Like many schoolchildren, I was dogged by the constant specter of schoolyard bullying. At my school, noogies, wedgies, and swirlies were the least of anyone’s problems. What the bullies who hung around my school liked to do was grab kids, shove them behind a tree, and quiz them. Anyone who answered these questions correctly was deemed “too smart.” The punishment for such smartness was having a bottle of foul-smelling liquid poured over your head. (As an adult, I’ve come to realize that this foul-smelling liquid was cheap bourbon. In retrospect, I can’t help wondering who was buying all these wayward children Pappy van Winkle and why were they wasting so much of it?!)

Once such bullying occurred, your schoolday was ruined. Upon catching a whiff of you, your teacher would immediately send you to the Principal’s Office. The Principal would call your parents, and once they arrived, you would be asked to explain why you smelled like Boris Yeltsin. Of course, you couldn’t tell the truth! You had to make up some outrageous story involving a Big Gulp being thrown out of a window of a passing car, or a bucket falling off a ladder, or tripping into a giant puddle near the backdoor of Cheyenne’s. If your story was believable, you would only get a stern lecture on the evils of alcohol; if not, there was a good chance you’d end up in some creepy basement of some random Presbyterian Church attending an AA meeting, which is pretty darn confusing for a 5th grader.

Of course, none of this terrified me. What really terrified me was the thought of having to spend the rest of the day wearing wet socks. I HATE wearing wet socks: always have, always will. So whenever I found myself rudely thrust behind a tree, I showcased my notsmartness to its fullest extent:

Q:        Who was William Shakespeare?

ME:     Third baseman for the Yankees?

Q:        Tell me something about Existentialism?

ME:     It’s the name of a Tribe Called Quest album?

Q:        What do you know about Bosnia Herzegovina?

ME:     She plays tennis? No wait, isn’t she dating Ellen DeGeneres?

The result of such ridiculous answers was that my interlocutors look on me with not anger, but pity. To them, I was obviously short bus material. And hey, as long as my socks stayed gloriously dry, I was okay with that. An unintended consequence of such behavior was that my bond with serious intellectualism was severed irreparably. If pain is the greatest aid to mnemonics, as Nietzsche suggested in Atlas Shrugged (or was it The Fountainhead?), then the avoidance of pain is a pretty darn close second.

To cope with my notsmartness, I’ve learned how to magpie the opinions of unquestionably smart people. Whenever I need a quick opinion on – say – Shakespeare, I just magpie something from Harold Bloom. On politics: Ralph Nader. On Healthcare: Atul Gawande. And for everything else: I just repeat shit my dad says and/or things I’ve heard Charles Barkley say on Inside the NBA

For poetry, I turn to David Baker. Perhaps you’ve heard of him? If not, here’s a quick list of his accomplishments: Poetry Editor of The Kenyon Review, Guggenheim fellow, two-time winner of a National Endowment of the Arts award, Pushcart prizewinner, and winner of the 2007-08 Kia NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award. He also teaches at my alma mater.

Given my reverence for David Baker, it was no surprise that upon discovering the following quote affixed to Hannah Stephenson’s poetry collection In the Kettle, The Shriek, it took me approximately .002 seconds to slam the ADD TO CART button:

“Here is a poet of clarity and connective grace, full of good will and wily stories alike-funny, neighborly, amused, observant, she’s a storyteller with an aphorist’s flair for precision… Hannah Stephenson makes poetic testimony into a manner of lyric, laic testament.”

And yes, I had to look up the word ‘laic.’ (Thanks again,!)


I just realized that quoting the country’s most insightful, intelligent poetry critic in your review of a poetry book is a pretty boneheaded thing to do! Baker’s quote definitely reinforces Nietzsche’s opinion that all quotes cry out: “I am precious metal and all around me is worthless lead.” (And by the way, if anyone knows where that quote comes from, please post it in the comments; seriously, I’ve been trying to find it for months!)

Okay, with this in mind, here comes some worthless lead:

Everyone demands something different from poetry. Some people demand erudition; others cleverness; others hokum. What I demand is livewithableness. No matter how many times Harold Bloom reiterates his love for Hart Crane, I am NOT rereading The Bridge. I want poetry that expresses a specific kind of casual elegance that enriches everyday existence. And this is exactly what I take away from Hannah Stephenson’s poems. Phrases like “Every type of hunger is biological./ Our bodies are babies,/ brats” (We Are Engineered To Want), “the chaos fairy” (Comfy), and “In winter, salt. In spring, mud” (In Silos) are extremely easy to incorporate into my everyday consciousness, as is the idea of someone twisting, “rotisserie-style” in bed, which is pretty much what my son and I do every night. (How to Sell A Mattress). But casual elegance shouldn’t be confused with whimsy or weightlessness. After all, confronting the unavoidable gravity of existence is something we all have to live with. And Stephenson doesn’t shy away from such a confrontation, as when, in my favorite poem from the collection (After After), she says: 

Childhood trains us
to expect the great ocean
of time around us,
endless, and always more
of it rolling in and away.
A couple of decades
in, and we know scarcity

You don’t have to be a brainiac to know that such scarcity is inescapable. Why not try to combat it with beauty in abundance and daily doses of poetry? 

Scott Navicky is the author of Humboldt: Or, The Power of Positive Thinking (Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, 2014). He attended Denison University and the University of Auckland, where he was awarded an Honors Master’s Degree in art history with a focus on photography theory. He currently lives in Columbus, Ohio.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Audio Series: Don Mitchell

Our audio series "The Authors Read. We Listen."  was hatched in a NYC club during BEA back in 2012. This feature requires more time and patience of the author than any of the ones that have come before. And that makes it all the more sweeter when you see, or rather, hear them read excerpts from their own novels, in their own voices, the way their stories were meant to be heard.

Today, Don Mitchell reads an excerpt from his novel A Red Woman Was Crying
Don is an ecological anthropologist, writer, and photographer, who grew up in Hilo, on the island of Hawai’i. He studied anthropology and creative writing at Stanford and earned a PhD in anthropology from Harvard. He taught anthropology for many years at a state college in Buffalo, NY. His story collection A Red Woman Was Crying (2013) takes the reader into the rich and complex internal lives of a South Pacific people called the Nagovisi, among whom he lived for several years in the 1960s and 70s. Through the narrators the reader knows the young anthropologist, himself struggling with his identity as a Vietnam-era American, who’s come to study their culture in a time of change. Don Mitchell lives in Hilo with the poet Ruth Thompson.

Click on the soundcloud link below to listen to the excerpt:

The word on A Red Woman Was Crying:

Don Mitchell's new collection of short stories, set among tribal people on Bougainville Island in the late 1960s, demystifies ethnography by turning it on its head. The narrators are Nagovisi - South Pacific rainforest cultivators - and through their eyes the reader comes to know the young American anthropologist, himself struggling with his identity as a Vietnam-era American, who's come to to study their culture in a time of change. Beautifully written, evocative, and utterly original, A Red Woman was Crying takes the reader into the rich and complex internal lives of Nagovisi -- young and old, male and female, gentle and fierce -- as they grapple with predatory miners, indifferent colonial masters, missionaries, their own changing culture, their sometimes violent past, and the "other" who has come to live with them.
*lifted from goodreads with love

Check out my review of the book here

Friday, October 24, 2014

Review: Winterswim

Read 9/30/14 - 10/7/14
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended to those who desire their indie lit dark and mysterious
Pages: 138
Publisher: Civil Coping Mechanisms
Releasing: December 2014

Ryan W Bradley's arrestingly designed upcoming novel Winterswim shocks the system in much the same way that being immersed under freezing cold waves would. Gasping and sputtering, his sparse language pulls you under from the very first page:

"There were a few inches of snow on the ground and more falling. The pastor walked to the edge of the lake cautiously, dragging the girl, naked but for a pair of white ankle socks, behind him."

Though incredibly different from anything he's written before, Winterswim still contains much of what we love about Ryan - gritty sex scenes, tons of underage drugs, that comfortable uncomfortableness we've come to know - and now, this... a new element of murder....

Within its pages, we are introduced to Pastor Sheldon, a man who has decided to take the Lord's work into his own hands; judging for himself those who are full of sin and in need of his intervention to become clean and worthy of heaven once more. His understanding of religion is unorthodox - a mix of his abusive father's sermons and his mute mother's tribal beliefs - and his method of cleansing, a sin itself. One that he is willing to commit. One that he believes to be incredibly necessary.

At the same time, we are introduced to Steven, Sheldon's son, and his pensive infatuations with every hot girl who attends his school. Though, suddenly, those girls begin turning up in the local mortuary, pulled from the frozen lakes that border the town. The word on the street is that they were accidental drownings, but Steven's not so sure. Enlisting the help of Kate, an old crush of his who's recently returned from Hollywood, they decide to investigate and the clues they uncover begin to lead them in a direction neither one could predict.

A lightening quick read that sobers you up as it drags you down, Winterswim showcases the psychotic side of religion and the lasting, devastating scars of familial abuse. Gone is the sweet, heart-wrenching, incredibly sexy poetry I first came to know Bradley through. Here instead he has birthed a monster, one who is called intensely by powers outside of (and within) himself, prowling his congregation for willing victims to whom he can play savior and saint.

If nothing else, it'll cause your lady parts to curl up and hide, and cause you to look at religious figures a tad bit differently in the future.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Drew Reviews: Horrorstor

Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix
4 Stars
Pages: 256
Publisher: Quirk Books
Released: September 2014

Guest review by Drew Broussard 

The Short Version: Amy is an ordinary worker at Orsk in Cuyahoga, OH.  But this is no ordinary Orsk: the staff has been coming in in the mornings to find destroyed furniture and other creepy messes - and Amy, low man on the totem pole, gets tapped to stay overnight with her boss and another employee.  What ensues is a horrifying descent into near-madness.
The Review: Right out of the gate, we must address the physical object.  A friend of mine, after a rather awful experience with IKEA this summer, saw the book on my desk at work and had a minor freakout, thinking it was in fact a catalog for the Swedish retail giant.  And Hendrix leans in hard, right down to the color scheme and the almost-cartoon product graphics.  But he also saves himself from any sort of libel suit or anything by making his store a knockoff called Orsk.  Right there, in the novel, they acknowledge that it's a shoddy IKEA knockoff made up by Americans - and while that doesn't really do anything to shift you away from imagining IKEA the whole time, it's nice that he made the effort.  
But I was actually surprised at just how... well, how traditional? I guess? the whole novel ended up being.  While Hendrix's story isn't terribly original or innovative, that's not really a bad thing. It felt, in some ways, as safe as buying a BILLY bookshelf: you know exactly what you're going to get and while it isn't the classiest or most sturdy of products, it will do its job damn well.  For one thing, I don't know anyone with an imagination who hasn't walked into an IKEA (or, hell, any big box store - classy ones or Wal-Mart, doesn't matter) and had some brief flight of horrible fancy about how scary the place must be at night and wouldn't it just be the perfect place for a hell hole to open up?  But Hendrix is the one who wrote it down first - and tapping into that sort of groupthink nightmare makes the book feel like a story you know, somehow.  That and his liberal use of horror tropes makes it pretty much exactly what you paid for - and that's the best part.  Things are so much better when Hendrix just leans into the scary stuff and lets it rip, instead of trying to do anything terribly new or philosophical.  
I mean, sure, there are some gentle musings on some of the issues of these stores: the way they are designed to disorientate the shopper, the predatory methods the store clerks use to get people to buy, the sense of blurred voyeurism that comes from wandering through the store... the fact that the prison from whence the evil in the store originally came (previously on the site, knocked down, etc etc) was a panopticon feels like the sort of tidbit an undergrad could seize on to justify his stoned idea to write a paper about this book.  But, for my money, it doesn't really matter that much.  The evil's background isn't so terribly important, although it allows for some smart twists on the whole office-as-torture trope.  Instead, it's more fun to just sit back and let it be really unsettling when a hallway that can't be there appears - or when, out of the darkness of the unlit store, you come across a vision like Trinity on the treadmill desk... 
The writing is not all that flashy and there were times when I felt like Hendrix almost could've gone a little further - really pulped up some of the scarier moments in order to make the reader really feel it.  Instead, the scares might give you a little tremor down the spine but they never quite land in the way that the premise dare-I-say deserves.  But I appreciated the fully realized characters.  Even as they settled into horror-story roles, they remained human for me - especially Basil and Amy.  Neither of them are particularly likeable, necessarily, but they aren't unlikeable either.  They are people stuck in a ridiculously freaky circumstance - both just the reality of their day jobs and the unreality of their long night in the store.  And the novel's end might actually be one of the strongest moments, on that note.  I won't spoil it, but I'll just say that it felt like the right image to end on - clichéd as it most certainly was.

Rating: 4 out of 5.  I mean, the design of the book alone is worth picking it up.  I plan to sit this on my coffee table with the most recent IKEA catalog maybe under it or something - let people not notice until they notice, you know?  And the team at Quirk did an amazing job making such a wonderful object.  But at the end of the day, the story inside is traditional.  That's not a bad thing, especially at this time of year - a good, rip-roaring horror story (not one that will give you nightmares like from Uncle Stevie, just a good couple of thrills) is sometimes all you need.  And dressed up like this, it could have been a lot worse and I'd still have had a ball. 
Drew Broussard reads, a lot. When not doing that, he's writing stories or playing music or acting or producing or coming up with other ways to make trouble.  He also has a day job at The Public Theater in New York City.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Where Writers Write: Margaret Chapman

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

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

This is Margaret Patton Chapman. 

Her novella Bell and Bargain is forthcoming from Rose Metal Press in November, 2014 as part of the collection My Very End of the Universe: Five Novellas-in-Flash and a Study of the Form. She is fiction editor of decomP MagazinE and her short fiction has appeared in Wigleaf, The Collagist, Juked, and the anthology The Way We Sleep, among others.  She received her MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and recently moved from South Bend, Indiana, where she was teaching writing, back to her hometown of Durham, North Carolina.  You can find more of her work at

Where Margaret Chapman Writes

I have always wanted to be one of those writers whose process was routine, who got up at 7:00 or 5:00 or 9:00 everyday, went to my desk or overstuffed chair in my writing shack or my fancy office, wrote a few thousand words, checked things off my list.

I don’t do that, though.  Instead, I find a time and place to write when I can and when I need to.  I write all over the place.  A major revelation to me was when I learned that writing in bed was a viable part of a writer’s process.  I have written quite a lot in bed.  I have also written a lot in hotel beds, in vacation rentals, in guest beds in other people’s houses.

At home, I go through phases. I move through the house, following the sun, writing in one room after another as the seasons change.  I’ve moved around a lot, too, since I started thinking of myself as a writer, and so my arrival at each new home has been accompanied by a sussing out of its best writing spaces, and how they work best.  This usually involves a lot of furniture moving.

For this post, I rummaged through old images of of desks I’ve had, writing places, nooks I hid out in with my laptop.  I miss a few of them, and I began imagining a house of writing spaces, a fantasy “writing shack” in which each room was just for writing: a writing bed, a writing kitchen, half a dozen rooms with desks and chairs and bright windows.

One of my favorite places to write, in any place I have lived, was my writing porch at my old house.  Much of the writing I’m currently publishing was done there.  It was a little upstairs “sleeping porch” with windows all around. There were plenty of trees around for shade, but it faced south and when the trees lost their leaves the sun blazed in, keeping it bright and warm in Indiana winters.

In my new house, I don’t have a writing porch, but I’m trying to turn the small office into a sunny writing place.  Wherever I write there are a few things I prefer to have around me:  college ruled steno pads, note cards, small post-it notes, a bulletin board, and a few cute things (animal figurines, drawings, postcards from friends).  In her essay on this site, Anne Valente called these little guys totems.  I like that. 

At my new place, I’m still sussing out the best space, but I like this room.  There are chickens in the yard next door, and a contraband rooster, who crows throughout the day.  The leaves will stay on the trees longer, so there’s not as much light in the room.  It’s still the sunniest place in the house, and I’m liking camping out here for now.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

ML Kennedy Recommends: A Night in the Lonesome October

And so we continue our Writers Recommend - a new series where we'll be asking writers to, well, you know.. recommend things. Like the books that they've enjoyed. To you. Because who doesn't like being recommended new and interesting books, right?! Think of it as a PSA. Only it's more like a LSA -Literary Service Announcement. Your welcome. 

ML Kennedy Recommends A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny

When I was thirteen years old, I wasn’t really sure what to read. I had read all the Hardy Boys Casefiles, all the Ramona Quimby, and few other examples from both sides of gendered children’s literature. I was ready to move on to more adult books. The problem was that most of them were not interesting to me. I read some Hitchhiker’s Guide and Earthsea and those were good, but not exactly what I wanted. My mom read stuff like Sidney Sheldon and Danielle Steel; pass. I tried some Stephen King, but was put off by the lengthy descriptions of small town life. Tolkien always bored me: lengthier descriptions of even smaller town life.

I was pretty desperate, and ended up reading novelizations of films I had already seen, re-watching Universal Monster movies and buying more comics and Mad Magazines.

Then I got one of those flyers in the mail. It was basically for one of those scam “twelve CDs for a penny” record clubs, except for books. It was in there that I saw A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny. The book’s cover featured a guy who looked like Sherlock Holmes and a guy who looked like Dracula. I read the description, and holy shit, this is a book with Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, the Wolfman, a witch and Jack the Ripper.

I needed to join this club!

Fortunately, my mom remembered the hassle of the time I needed to join the twelve CDs for a penny club. Instead, we went to this giant new store called Media Play, and bought the paperback (and maybe a laserdisc too).

Basically, this book broke my brain.

I knew that it took a comics style approach of mixing characters from different books, but it was still the first novel I read that had ever done that. Larry Talbot and Sherlock Holmes were talking to each other!

The book was written in first person present tense; could you even do that?

Strangest of all, it was narrated by Jack the Ripper’s dog! It featured all sorts of talking animal familiars (in my head, purely kid stuff), but also unknown allegiances, occult rituals, killing and Lovecraftian horrors (seriously adult stuff). (Of course, being fourteen at the time, I referred to Lovecraftian horrors as “that weird stuff.”) (All these parentheses are next to each other; must resist urge to multiply them.)

It was kid stuff and adult stuff at the same time! It was like comics and had all the old movie monsters! This book was written just for me!

I read the A Night in the Lonesome October in two sittings, and hungered for the next Roger Zelazny novel. I checked the newspaper for new book releases, and never found another one. It wasn’t until years later in college that I learned that it was Roger Zelazny’s last book; he had died in 1995.

My heart sank.

But what’s this? With this newfangled “internet” I was able to read all about Roger Zelazny. Turns out, A Night in the Lonesome October wasn’t really what he was known for. There were these things called “Amber” and Lord of the Light and Damnation Alley and thirty years’ worth of stories to discover.  I’ve spent the last fifteen years checking the “Z”s first in every bookstore I’ve encountered.

And my first book was written in first person present tense. 

(ML Kennedy once punched a mouse to death, but then felt really bad about it. He has a blog where he writes stories in exactly 100 words. You can find out more about those and his slightly longer stories at )

Monday, October 20, 2014

Audio Series: Meg Pokrass

Our audio series "The Authors Read. We Listen."  was hatched in a NYC club during BEA back in 2012. This feature requires more time and patience of the author than any of the ones that have come before. And that makes it all the more sweeter when you see, or rather, hear them read excerpts from their own novels, in their own voices, the way their stories were meant to be heard.

Today, Meg Pokrass reads two chapters from her story "Here, Where We Live", which appears in upcoming collection "My Very End of the Universe, Five Novellas-in-Flash and a Study of the Form
(Rose Metal Press, 2014). Meg is the author of two additional collections: Bird Envy (Harvard Book Store, 2014); Damn Sure Right (Press 53, 2011). Her stories have appeared in more than 200 literary magazines, including McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Green Mountains Review, The Rumpus, storySouth and numerous anthologies, including the forthcoming Flash Fiction International (W.W. Norton, 2015) Her latest collection of stories "The Dog Looks Happy Upside Down" is forthcoming from Etruscan Press (Spring, 2016).  Pokrass has been showcased as “Digital Author to Watch” by Galleycat/Media Bistro, and is considered an innovator in the use of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. Pokrass lives in San Francisco where she speaks and consults with MFA programs and authors on creative strategies for the digital-publishing revolution. Her newest self-published collection, Bird Envy, became an April 2014 bestseller at the Harvard Book Store, the renowned indie bookstore in Cambridge, Mass.

Click the soundcloud link to hear an excerpt from "Here, Where We Live" , as read by Meg.

The word on My Very End of the Universe:

My Very End of the Universe is a celebration of an increasingly popular genre: the novella-in-flash: a novella built of standalone stories. The novellas in this collection—Betty Superman by Tiff Holland, Here, Where We Live by Meg Pokrass, Shampoo Horns by Aaron Teel, Bell and Bargain by Margaret Chapman, and The Family Dogs by Chris Bower—are compact and specific, yet whole and universal, using the flexibility of the form to offer a polyphony of setting and emotion. Accompanying each novella-in-flash is a craft essay by the author, making this anthology an ideal text for both entertainment and instruction, as well as for use both in the classroom and out. Additionally, the editors’ introduction by Abby Beckel and Kathleen Rooney offers a detailed history and discussion of the evolution of the versatile and hybrid novella-in-flash genre.
*lifted with love from goodreads

Friday, October 17, 2014

Matthew Roberson's List Blog Tour

Always flattered to be a part of the Grab the Lapels blog tours because Melanie Page is doing such wonderful things to get writers the exposure and attention they deserve. In today's blog tour post,to celebrate Matthew Roberson's new book, Melanie writes an essay on Generation X and their struggles with growing up....

Synopsis—Vignettes of a middle-class American family told through lists, each reflecting their obsessions, their complaints, their desires, and their humanity.
A suburban family of four—a man, woman, boy, and girl—struggle through claustrophobic days crowded with home improvement projects, conflicts at work and school, a job loss, illnesses, separation, and the wearying confrontation with aging. The accoutrements of modern life—electronic devices and vehicles—have ceased to be tools that support them and have become instead the central fulcrums around which their lives wheel as they chase “cleanliness” and other high virtues of middle American life.

Generation X Grows Up—And Fictionalizes It

Generation X is turning 40, and no one seemed to notice. What happened to Winona? Admit it, you might have to Google her to find out. Kevin Smith suggests Dante and Randal are going to be fine in Clerks 2 when he realizes the characters co-owning The Quick Stop (no more shitty bosses) is the answer to laziness. Generation “slacker” is all “grown up,” so it’s time to ask: did they actually grow up?

            Matt Roberson’s new novel, List, follows a man and a woman who have a boy and a girl and some dogs and a house. When did the freedom to have some time to themselves jump ship, and how do they feel about following the kids/house/job path?

            For the most part, things are good. The man and woman very much love their children, could not imagine life without their children. The house is a pain in the ass, always breaking or wearing down or in chaos. The dog just might shit on the carpet. Life is good.

            Gen Xers, writes Susan Gregory Thomas, “are always in a state of triage, always in a survivalist mode.” Okay, sometimes things are tough. The man could try Xanax to achieve that one night of sleep, that one good night of sleep. Or will he? There’s always tomorrow to worry about. What’s on the schedule tomorrow? What will appear unscheduled tomorrow? “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,” the man laments.

            They have the whole world of options open to them, Generation X, and that can lead to agoraphobia. When his career comes to an abrupt halt, the man considers his options: a new career, going back to school, starting a business. It’s not that he has limited options, but almost too many. Is a job loss a chance to reinvent himself? As a man with a wife and kids and a dog and a house, does he have that luxury?

            “Downward mobility,” explains Neal Pollack, “is the hallmark of [Generation X]. I just feel like we’re not going to pull ourselves out of the hole. But what can you do? You have to be a grown up about it. You can’t be dissatisfied and unhappy about it all the time. We don’t have that security...” The man doesn’t fully accept his loss of security. He’s going to grow a beard, watch porn, surf the internet. Start drinking. He tries to be an adult in appearance, but inside he’s worried “about money, and how his kids maybe saw him, and his failure, as he saw it, and money and the future, especially...” Is hiding anxiety the true hallmark of Gen Xers?

With clients and muffins and board rooms (oh, my!) the woman reflects on her younger days when she believed she would live in a big city in a small apartment close to cultural attractions, not a nine-to-fiver. A.O. Scott argues that many Gen Xers never really grew up, that they “donned the binding garment of maturity only tentatively, and accessorized it with mockery, as if it were a hand-me-down from Grandpa or an ugly shirt plucked from a used-clothing rack.” The woman realizes that she is the primary source of income for her family, but she’s not above imagining packing a suitcase and leaving the corporate world for sandy beaches.

            While business is an act of playing dress up, buying items to fill the void of missing parents is not. Raised by a TV, Gen Xers, as a result, are some of the best shoppers. Nina Munk can relate, explaining, “We don’t just shop for anything, of course. Generation X is defined by a few recognizable artifacts...” Munk describes expensive TVs, strollers, name-brand bags and shoes, and Land Rovers. The man and the woman follow the trend and buy, buy, buy:

            “Their self-satisfied espresso machines. Their Honda Odyssey EX Minivans with
Variable Cylinder Management™, Vehicle Stability Assist™ with Traction Control, Wide-Mode Adjustable 2nd-Row Seats with Armrests and Walk-in Feature, One-Motion 60/40 Split 3rd-Row magic Seat®, and 229-Watt AM/FM/CD Audio System with 5 Speakers including Subwoofer, Their FLOR brand carpeting, and Sleep Number beds. Their flat screen TVs. TIVE, for fuck’s sake. iPods and iPads and game players and smart phones and desktops and laptops. They owned furniture worth more than a small country. They had manicured yards. Fiber cement siding on their homes. Summer cabins in the woods.

And what really galled our man?

The towels....

Seriously. How many do you need?”

Claiming independence, and with a lack of parental watchfulness (i.e. latchkey kids), Gen Xers fill old holes with new items, all the while thinking they won’t sell out or be sold to. The world is a scary place full of new threats. So, Rinzler Buckingham points out, “My life is hard enough already, so if splurging on a big entertainment unit makes me feel better, why not?” But the man is self-aware; he knows that he’s buying things, that it’s ridiculous, that it might mean the end of something he used to know.

            Even the kids indulge. While the man tries to settle arguments between his girl and boy over what show to watch, he hopes something educational will present itself on TV. “The question of managing screen time and who is on what screen and how to protect those in front of the screen from things they might not un-see or un-hear,” Allison Slater Tate confesses, “is a constant, exhausting issue that frankly makes me want to go full-on Amish on all of them and throw every last blinking screen away.”

            But Gen Xers are not simply leaving their children in the fuzzy embrace of the TV babysitter à la Jim Carrey’s mother in Cable Guy. They go to beaches and indoor water parks, drop their kids off at school and tackle lists of tasks of the everyday. There are always more lists, more bills, more ways to move forward--and the man and woman in List do just that.

If you missed yesterday’s post, head back to Words, Notes, & Fiction to read a list of lists in List. Today is the last stop, so to see the entire tour schedule and get links, click HERE.

Matthew Roberson is the author of three novels, 1998.6, Impotent, and List, and the editor of a critical book, Musing the Mosaic. His short fiction has appeared in journals such as Fourteen Hills, Fiction International, and Western Humanities Review. He teaches at Central Michigan University, in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.