Monday, August 31, 2015

Page 69: The Lost Journals of Sylvia Plath

The Page 69 Test is not mine. It has been around since 2007, asking authors to compare page 69 against the meat of the actual story it is a part of. I loved the whole idea of it and so I'm stealing it specifically to showcase small press titles - novels, novellas, short story collections, the works! So until the founder of The Page 69 Test calls a cease and desist, let's do this thing....

In this installment of Page 69, 
we put Kimberly Knutsen's The Lost Journals of Sylvia Plath to the test.

OK, Kimberly, set up page 69 for us.

Katie and Wilson are perpetual grad students, married with small children.  Wilson loves Katie, but he often feels as if he’s been jumped into a gang he had no intention of joining.  Katie loves Wilson—in brief, flickering moments—but she is also obsessed with her neighbor Steven. 

Prior to this scene, Katie has coaxed Wilson into the wilderness for a night walk in a nature preserve—it is the dead of winter in Michigan.  They argue while standing at a bog looking for swans (Katie’s idea).  Katie confesses she is lonely and wants to find “her tribe.”  Wilson scoffs.  They fight.  Wilson says, “I am your tribe, whether you like it or not,” and Katie runs off into the woods, leaving him to fend for himself. 

On page 69, the lovers have made it home safely and are lying in bed, Katie suffocating in Wilson’s angry silence.  She remembers a time she joined a “goddess” group for one night.  There was kissing.  A woman spoke reverently of her “pouch.”  Katie wasn’t buying it.

What is The Lost Journals of Sylvia Plath about?

The novel is set in the frozen wasteland of Midwestern academia. Wilson A. Lavender, father of three, instructor of women’s studies and self-proclaimed genius, is beginning to think he knows nothing about women.  He spends much of his time in his office, not working on his dissertation, a creative piece titled The Lost Journals of Sylvia Plath.  A sober alcoholic, he also spends much of his time not drinking—until he hooks up with his office mate, Alice Cherry, an undercover stripper who introduces him to “the buffer”—the solution to his woes.

Wilson’s wife, Katie, is an anxious hippie, a genuine earth mother, and a recent PhD with no plans other than to read People magazine, eat chocolate, and seduce her young neighbor, a community college student who’s built a bar in his garage.  Katie is intelligent, funny, and disturbed by a violent childhood.  Her husband’s “tortured genius” exhausts and amuses her.

The Lavender’s stagnant world is roiled when Katie’s pregnant sister, January, moves in.  January is obsessed with her lost love, 80s rocker Stevie Flame, and is on a quest to reconnect with her glittery, big-haired past.  A free spirit to the point of using other people’s toothbrushes without asking, she drives Wilson crazy.

Do you think this page gives our readers an accurate sense of what The Lost Journals of Sylvia Plath is about? Does it align itself with the book’s overall theme? 

It does.  Much like the poet Sylvia Plath (whose “lost journals” Wilson is re-creating), Katie’s psyche is fractured, due to trauma she experienced as a child.  She is unable to find connection with other adults, even though it’s the thing she wants most.  Also, she is obsessed with her body.  And Wilson is a moody motherfucker.  (Is that a theme?)  But beneath and around and above all the characters’ soul-sucking angst is life: horrible and breathtaking and glorious.


“Oh God please don’t let there be kissing,” Katie had prayed, her entire body stiffening.

“Pass it on!” the pouched goddess had crowed as Katie stood, panicked, in the sacred circle, in the cold basement of the YMCA, surrounded by thirteen intense, fragile, kissing strangers.

“No physical affection,” she’d wanted to cry out, but could only grimace tensely and forget how to breathe. The other women had no problem; they were laughing, having fun. A few were weeping, smiles shining through their tears.

Katie hated every second of it. She didn’t want to be touched by anyone but her kids, her dog, Steven, and maybe Wilson, if she was in the mood.

And she hadn’t bought the pouch business. She’d looked at the offending goddess, at her bravely exposed belly and starry deluded eyes, and thought to herself, Babies don’t do that, Twinkies do. She never went back.

She would start an exercise program first thing in the morning. Getting up at five a.m. and running daily would be perfect. She’d be fit and friendly, like a good dog, and everyone would love her. Steven would love her. He’d renounce Lucy, and they could have wild sex every afternoon in his fragrant, bubbling bedroom. But first she’d have to find a babysitter, which, as every mother knew, was next to impossible, so . . .

The trick to running was the getting up at dawn. She glanced at the clock. It was almost midnight. If she fell asleep instantly, she’d get five hours of sleep, about half of what she needed. It wouldn’t be pretty. She’d be thin, maybe, but she’d also be sleep-deprived and manic, a scary mom on the fast track to a nervous breakdown.

If she and Wilson could only get along, life would be so much easier. After the walk—after he’d washed Lovely, cleaned his ears, fluffed him with the hair dryer, brushed his few intact teeth, and threw his collar in the wash—Katie had begged his forgiveness. When he didn’t answer, she pointed out that all he’d had to do was follow. And Lovely was fine. He’d never been lost in the first place. He had excellent homing devices and had met up with her halfway to the car, having instinctively known, the way a child does, that the fighting had begun and the fun was over.

Thinking about it, she was now much more angry than contrite. Wilson still wasn’t sleeping. He lay beside her in a kind of furious limbo, and she had the urge to pinch him and ask him to sleep on the couch. How could she rest beside his toxic mood? It was debilitating. He knew you weren’t supposed to go to bed angry. It was rule number one, they’d learned, at the first of the few therapy sessions they'd attended before deciding that the


Kimberly Knutsen is professor of English at Concordia University in Portland, Oregon. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she holds a PhD in English from Western Michigan University and an MA from New Mexico State University. Her short stories have appeared in Cimarron Review and Hawai῾i Review.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Celebrating Book Bargain Hunting Week

Bargain Hunting Week is celebrated during the first week of August, but if you're anything like us, you're always looking for a great deal, right?! In order to honor this fabulously thrifty holiday (and yes, I know, we're late!), we decided to share a few of our favorite places to save a few bucks on some books.

Drew's favorite ways to save:

* Here in New York, there are some great indie booksellers and plenty of used bookstores - but you can't go wrong with the Strand. They have, reliably, the best deals on books. Used books are never more than half-price and quite often they're significantly cheaper than that. And if you explore, you can find half-price new hardcovers and even a section of Advance Reader Copies... but I won't tell you where; you have to find it for yourself.

* Online, I'm a big fan (of course) of Powell's - but also of Book Depository. Book Depository is great for finding international editions at a reasonable price - and they've got free shipping. I have saved many a dollar by building up a Book Depository cart of UK covers and buying when they're all on sale.

* Final special shoutout to something that I've only recently become familiar with: stoop books. It doesn't happen so much in Manhattan, but books left out on stoops in Brooklyn is a legitimate trend - and my friends and I have all found free gems by walking down the right street at the right time.  

Bronwyn's favorite way to save:

LA’s reputation may be all about the entertainment industry, but we are, in fact, a very literary place. If you’re looking for used books, check out Stories in Echo Park or warehouse-sized The Last Bookstore downtown. You want books in other languages? We’ve got entire stores devoted to books in Armenian, Farsi, Korean, Spanish, and more. For great indies, there’s Skylight Books in Los Feliz, Eso Won Books in Leimert Park, Tia Chucha’s in the San Fernando Valley and Vroman’s in Pasadena. Prefer to borrow your books? LA County is home to more than 240 libraries.

But for a great selection of books at bargain prices, my favorite place is the Friends of the Santa Monica Library Bookstore. Many libraries have “Friends of…” groups that hold periodic book sales. A few have their own bookstores. But the FoSML Bookstore outshines them all. The selection is always outstanding. On a recent visit I picked up The Watchers by Tahar Djaout, The Land of Green Plums by Herta Müller, City of Thieves by David Benioff, and Gonzalez & Daughter Trucking Co. by María Amparo Escandón. They have trade paperbacks in every genre you might want, plus decent sections in politics and health. Prices start at a quarter and run to a couple of bucks for hardbacks in good condition. You might have to shell out ten dollars or more for a high-end art book, but it will still be a bargain. What’s more, every dollar you spend there goes to support the local library system.

Lori's favorite ways to save:

I'm a sucker for a great priced book. And when I discovered that the Bethlehem Area Public Library  (in Bethlehem, PA) held bi-monthly book sales in their basement I nearly cried. For the first few months, I hit it up religiously and brought home stacks of books for ridiculously cheap. Classics, current trade paperbacks, poetry, you name it, they have it, and you're gonna get a great deal. This book sale is the reason I now own more books than I could ever hope to read in this lifetime.

And if you don't yet know about Better World Books, you're doing yourself an incredible disservice. This online book site not only sells books on the super-low and has free shipping all over god's green earth - yes free, internationally, no matter how much, or little, you spend - they also go Book for Book, where they donate a book for every book you buy to some awesome charities. They support worldwide literacy and are incredibly eco-minded. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Where Writers Write: Rosie Forrest

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 Rosie Forrest. 

Rosie is a writer, teacher, and program director currently living and working in Nashville, Tennessee. She is the winner of the 9th Annual Rose Metal Press Short Short Chapbook Contest judged by author Pamela Painter, and her work has been published with Dogwood Literary Journal, LIterary Orphans, Hobart, Wigleaf, Whiskey Island, and SmokeLong Quarterly, among other journals. Rosie was the 2013 writer-in-residnece with Interlochen Arts Academy, and she holds an MFA from the University of New Hampshire. She teaches for Vanderbilt University in a variety of capacities and is the Assistant Director of Academic Residential Programs with Vanderbilt Programs for Talented Youth. 

Where Rosie Forrest Writes

The year I turned nine, we moved to a townhouse in Silver Spring, Maryland, mauve carpeting stuck to all three levels. There were two nearly identical bedrooms, mauve spilled into each, and I picked the one with the larger closet. The closet wasn’t spacious by adult standards, a basic white door on a track that bent when tugged, and inside a single bar stretched the length of the space. I picked it because it was long enough for both my clothes and the items I required for my “office.” A small, elementary school desk fit sideways, a short wooden chair, a desk lamp, an afghan in blues, a purple battery-powered Casio radio, and a plastic tub for markers and pencils and pens and stickers; they all fit plus me, and except for a necessary gap for the cords, the door walled me up inside.

I stalk these spaces like a shoplifter. Nooks. Attics. Garden sheds. Corners that make a person bend and tuck. Just last year I made a Pinterest version in my bedroom that gave me a cozy, accomplished feeling. I took pictures of the finished product and applied a hazy filter. I texted them to my best friend in Reno. We squealed. But despite my best efforts, I can’t write there. The space pinches me. The piles of books and magazines that stack and slide, they have no room to breathe, and eventually I bust outdoors for my own breath of air.

These days I write at my dining room table. It’s a working space I try to erase before company arrives. Close friends I subject to the truth of it. The chairs are still small and wooden, but light plays off the walls, textures dances around, and I feel part of something larger.

I’ve moved around in the past seven or eight years, multiple states, which has caused me to think about stuff in terms of cardboard boxes and bearable weight. In 2008, I rid myself of multiple walls of books. It had to happen. I restricted my collection to one three-shelf bookcase, and everything else had to go. Books are treasures, but I consider them now to be wild things, to buy for a privilege of time, to leave, to give away, to lose. I’m no saint about the whole thing, believe me, and I can do serious damage at the bookshop, but I relish hints of impermanence. 

Oh, I’ve got my running list of musts and must-haves. I need access to bodies of water, and I’ve taken for granted the oceans, rivers, and lakes that have for brief moments been so close. I am a nighttime writer with morning writer envy. Theatre books and poetry surround me more than fiction. I write out loud, speaking as I type. Music is everywhere, sometimes contrasting albums in different rooms simultaneously because silence is far too noisy, and paragraphs have time signatures. Magazine photographs of the outside become placemats and coasters and bookmarks. There is usually a dish of olives nearby. When I need to redirect or pause, I stand in the shower.

But whatever it is—the place, the space, the habit, the pattern—I wreck it once it’s built. The trick for me is to love the demolition of what once was sacred; too soon it becomes white-knuckled, and not my own. I need these fingers. They do me no good clenched around some ideal of the way it should go. Because beyond my curated spaces with white dishes and paisley pillows, the writing space is a pool hall, a stairwell, a food court at the airport, a Walgreens parking lot, an ER waiting room, a summertime parade, thigh deep in a frigid river, and anywhere life gets bossy and says, “Let’s do this thing.” 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Tanya Olson "On Being Indie"

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

Tanya Olson lives in Silver Spring, Maryland and is a Lecturer in English at UMBC (University of Maryland, Baltimore County). Her first book, Boyishly, was published by YesYes Books in 2013 and received a 2014 American Book Award. In 2010, she won a Discovery/Boston Review prize and she was named a 2011 Lambda Fellow by the Lambda Literary Foundation. Her poem 54 Prince was chosen for inclusion in Best American Poems 2015 by Sherman Alexie.

I love the optimism of this section and the way it makes it sound like poets have a lot of options in the matter. Let’s admit that for most poets, publishing with a small, independent press is a matter of necessity, not choice. I confess I had no big presses knocking at my door, but there were a couple of smaller presses asking about the manuscript of Boyishly. YesYes Books was the first to bite and they proved themselves the right press for me. So maybe for poets, the question should be why one small press instead of another.

            One way YesYesBooks impressed me was the way they found writers. They went to readings, asked editors for names of people they had heard or read that excited them, and generally tried to find books to publish by finding poets whose work they were interested in. That sort of old-fashioned, beating the bushes method requires an investment of time which reflects a certain seriousness about literature, but also led me to believe the press was more interested in the work as a whole than a manuscript in specific.  When a poet sends a manuscript to a contest, that’s all the press knows- that collection of poems on a page. Since YesYes solicited work based from me after hearing me read and reading earlier work, I felt like they had a more thorough understanding of me as a writer and were responding to that rounder profile. That made the acceptance feel more like they were investing in starting my career as a poet than they were in one specific book. YesYes bets on the poet more than the book and I appreciate that investment.

            YesYes also feels more like an “investment” press than a “I liked your manuscript” press in the way it treats poets. YesYes regularly puts a little cadre of poets with new work together and sets up shop for a week in a city; there the poets read together 5-6 times over the course of a week. This obviously isn’t a money making move for the press, but a growth move for both the poets and the press.  Again, it feels like more of a long-term investment in career and poetry than it does an attempt to sell books.

            Does that mean you as a poet have to look for the same things I did? Do you have to find what I found in YesYes to be happy? Of course not. But, I would suggest all poets (maybe all writers) ask themselves what they want for themselves as writers. I knew I wanted to be a poet more than I wanted a book, meaning I was after a lifetime of writing, growing as a writer, and exploring what writing can do. A book might be part of that journey, but it wasn’t the whole journey, an end in itself. YesYes matches that goal for me and the great thing about the sheer number of small presses right now is, there is likely a press that will match your goals, if and when you know them. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Celebrating a Month of Romance

It's romance month....

...and we're doing our best to keep the love alive this month by sharing our favorite romance novels with you. Of course, our definition of "romance" may be a little loose, so you know, we're just kinda going with it.  

Though you won't find any mushy-gushy recommendations from me this month - I run for the hills whenever the word romance is tied to any kind of fiction - our contributors surprised me! Melanie and Kate are about to woo you with a handful of awesome books to fall in love (winkwink).

Melanie Recommends:

The One-Week Marriage by Renee Roszel:

This was the first Harlequin my mom bought me, and I remember her saying that I should tell her if something too…steamy…happened. Nothing like that ever did, but I do know I fell in love with the headstrong lead, Izzy, and her too-perfect boss, Gabriel! Gabriel wants to gain an account with an eccentric old man who owns a baby food company; however, the old guy is a family man and only wants to work with family-oriented people. Gabriel is a playboy. Therefore, Izzy, Gabriel’s secretary, who protests the whole time, must pretend to be his wife for a week to dupe the old baby food tycoon. This story is so bonkers that I actually wrote several chapters of a parody during my MFA. I then read those chapters at an (required by the MFA program) open mic night and had people rolling all over the place. It was naughty.

A Girl’s Guide toVampires by Kate MacAlister:

Two best girl friends go on vacation to the Czech Republic. Joy is a total skeptic about paranormal activities, but loves to read vampire novels. Her favorite author will make an appearance at a festival the ladies want to attend, and Joy can’t wait. Her girl Roxy will believe anything, so her job is to fuel doubt. Enter a man so perfect that Joy can’t help but wonder if he’s a vampire, or just a really, well, perfect. He’s got a big meat stick and everything. Someone has to be a vampire—just look at the title!—and so we spend the book wondering if hot stranger is a liar or a blood sucker. In the meantime, the sexy boning will keep you happy.

Don’t Die, My Love by Lurlene McDaniel:

I got this book when I was in elementary school when Scholastic Book Order Day rolled around. Oh, how I loved Scholastic Day! My mom would give me a plastic baggie with coins and the order form. So, this book is meant for young adults, which elementary school children are not. Luke and Julie are high schoolers devoted to making it work after they graduate, but when Luke discovers he has cancer, they wonder if he’ll graduate at all. Ridiculously sad, but also touching, Don’t Die, My Love made a big impact on the way I thought about responsible relationships.

Sex and the City by Candace Bushnell:

This book is really “as advertised.” I felt it resembled the show very little and instead focused mostly on Carrie (not all 4 friends), who often seemed cold, but was always after some great sex. Love didn’t really seem to be a factor, and the characters aren’t always likable as they are in the show, which causes many readers to hate the book. But, I think this is a different side of the romance novel that not many writers explore.

Spur of the Moment by Theresa Alan:

I recently got a hold of Ms. Alan and was able to interview her for my blog, which was awesome! I don’t typically get a bestselling author over at my digs. Spur of the Moment focuses on 6 improv actors. Ana is the main character, but there are all kinds of misunderstandings about who’s in love with whom and when. There are sad moments, like Ana having a bad day at work and suddenly realizing she got her period, but such moments sound strangely familiar to some women. This is a lively, funny book that kept me entertained the whole way through.

Kate Recommends:

Small World by David Lodge

This is the second novel in Lodge’s campus trilogy and is playfully subtitled “An Academic Romance” by the author. Lodge’s cast of academics jet around the globe to attend conferences, foment rivalries and carry on affairs.

Unlike his later novels (which basically seem to be stories of a bloke a bit like Lodge having implausible amounts of sex with young, beautiful women) this has strong characterisation, clever literary references, a fast-moving plot – and it’s very funny.

The Doves of Venus by Olivia Manning

Ellie is a bright girl from a poor background. At eighteen she moves to Fifties London, dreaming of a life of art and bohemianism. She falls in love with an older man, Quintin.

Manning beautifully captures their relationship and the clash of Ellie’s naïvety and Quintin’s casual cruelty. Ellie sees excitement in everything – a house party or an evening in the pub are filled with drama as she meets Marxists, drunks and divorcees - all the people her mother would disapprove of. Yet she is living an impoverished life and doing work she finds ridiculous, yearning for meaning and love from a man who has nothing to give.

You yearn too – for her to keep that freshness while becoming wise enough to ditch the loser.

This Charming Man by Marian Keyes

I like Marian Keyes for her sparky characters, her sharp humour and her zeitgeisty references (though she does write rather more about shoes than I would like). This is my favourite of her novels and it goes deeper and darker than some of the others. And it references a Smiths song.

It tells the story of four women in Dublin. They have all had their lives changed in some way by involvement with prominent politician Paddy de Courcy, and are coming to terms with the news that he is to marry. There are stories of addiction and violence interlaced with glamour and power and great insights into contemporary Irish life. There’s even a female character who doesn’t like make-up.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Drew reviews: The Absolution of Roberto Acestes Laing

The Absolution of Roberto Acestes Laing
5 Stars - Highly Recommended by Drew / The Next Best Book
Pages: 176
Publisher: Two Dollar Radio
Released: 2014

Guest review by Drew Broussard 

The Short Version: A journalist comes to meet with Roberto Acestes Laing, a near-mythic figure in film culture who worked for major directors and who, as a film librarian, destroyed the only copies of several films from now-famous directors. But what does the journalist really seek - and what does Laing actually offer?

The Review: Few books in recent years have stolen into my consciousness and set up shop like Marisha Pessl's Night Film - specifically it's creepy reclusive director, Stanislaw Cordova. And it has only been in the wake of that book that the films of strange auteurs like David Lynch and Alejandro Jodorowsky have begun to make true sense to me. Their aesthetic has always been one that interests me, but I couldn't say that I "got" those films until sometime in the last few years - certainly post-Night Film and, quite happily, pre-The Absolution of Roberto Acestes Laing.

This is not to say that you can't or won't enjoy Rombes' novel if you don't enjoy or understand the films of those directors, but having a working baseline turned this from an ordinary novel into one that connected, much more richly, with my world.  I felt awed and a little saddened by the prospect of these lost films, having been tantalized by Rombes' (and/or Laing's, depending on how you want to break it down on a technical level) descriptions of them - and I think any reader who likes film, who likes imagining lost things, will feel similarly.
But this book also pulls off an even more impressive feat than making short-story-length descriptions of films interesting; it evokes a mood of near-paranoia without ever actually giving you anything to necessarily be paranoid about. Perhaps this comes from my love for aforementioned filmmakers and Marisha Pessl's book - but I think it's more than that. Everything seems to vibrate at a subsonic level in this book and I found myself breathing shallow each time I picked it up. There's even the weirdness of things not seeming to line up chronologically, for something fundamentally corrupted at the core of the story, making everything recounted just a little suspicious. It's all deeply weird and absolutely wonderful.

The films themselves are all, to a one, unsettling and strange. As Laing describes them to our main character, this interviewer, it becomes clear that there is something off about them. It's a cool idea, don't you think - an object of art (book, record, film, painting, etc) that seems to give you some quote-unquote fundamental truth of the universe... and that truth is, at the end of the day, altogether far too dangerous for public consumption? It's the legend of Prince's "Black Album" or the Necronomicon and everything in between, but instead of hinting at the unknowability of the artifacts, Rombes dives right in and has Laing explain (and, in one instance, deliver a full treatment on paper) the stories and the scenes... and one's sense of terror slowly mounts. 

This is not to say that he gives in, at all, to the expectation that horror must culminate. The book's great staying power comes, I think, from the fact that there is not necessarily any conclusion to speak of - because what, exactly, was the quest or question in the first place? The journalist has tracked down Laing to seek truth... and he ends up, as the title of the novel implies, bestowing a kind of absolution on Laing... but the films linger in our minds. So, too, do the background hints of oddness: the missing children, the waitress at the diner, the mysterious red cone, the weather... something is off in the world and perhaps it is because these films existed even for a second. Perhaps Laing is a hero for destroying them, for shouldering this burden for himself. Perhaps he is a truly great villain, for depriving the world of such things for who knows what they could've done in the great scheme of things?

It is a testament to Rombes' knowledge of film and his skill as a writer that these films feel real to me. I should be able to find Destroyer or Black Star or Gutman on if not Netflix than perhaps some TOR-found film site somewhere... but they don't exist. Even if I can see these scenes in my brain as though I watched them on my laptop just now, I didn't. I not only didn't, I only actually 'experienced' them through a narrative within a narrative - that is, Rombes writing Laing explaining the films. There should be some level of artifice that separates them from me but, just as some of the films describe a sort of blurring out into reality, so too does this book. The lines of fiction and fact get hazy in the fog of paranoia and maybe, just maybe, you'll stumble across an old VHS somewhere that's simply marked AXXON N. and realize that it wasn't just a story after all...

And even if you don't, you'll always wonder 'but maybe'...

Rating: 5 out of 5. A far weirder book than Night Film but a sibling to it in a wonderful way. I looked at the world differently after reading The Absolution of Roberto Acestes Laing, not in the sense of understanding it differently but in the sense of having briefly slid across into a neighboring universe and seen a glimpse of a place that is just slightly not the one we're currently inhabiting. At its core, this is a novel about the power of film - but it achieves so much more than that with an ease and skill that bely the author's debut status. And if you're lucky and you reach out to Mr. Rombes, you might even end up, as I did, with more sense of the blurring line between fiction and reality - for in my mailbox the other day came a note with a filmstrip and some ephemera from Laing's own archive...

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.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Blog Tour: Brigid Series

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. We're thrilled to help wrap up their Brigid Series blog tour! 

Today, we have the honor of being the final stop in the blog tour and Sheila R Lamb is back on the blog, reading an excerpt from Church of the Oak, the third book of the Brigid series. 

Sheila Lamb received an MFA in Creative Writing  from Queens University of Charlotte and an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from George Mason University. Her short stories have earned Pushcart and storySouth Million Writers Award nominations. She is a writer-in-residence at the Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities and is a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA). Sheila is the author of the Brigid of Ireland historical fantasy series, which tells the story of Brigid as goddess, druid, and saint.  Sheila has traveled  throughout Ireland and participated in the Achill Archaeology Field School. She loves Irish history, family genealogy, and is easily distracted by primary source documents. She lives, teaches, and writes in the mountains of Virginia.

Check out all of the tour stops from earlier in the week here:

Click on the soundcloud image to hear Sheila read an excerpt from Church of the Oak:

The word on Church of the Oak:

When the druid Brigid starts a rigorous druid training school, she’s threatened with a lifetime of slavery. In order to survive, she must span two worlds and two faiths, an undertaking that places her in Patrick’s path once again. Memories of the past haunt her…shadows of a clandestine love and secrets she must hide with her life. Fifth-century Ireland is the backdrop for their turbulent lives, a place where history and myth live side by side.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Indie Spotlight: Owen Thomas

Today, we find Owen Thomas standing in our Indie Spotlight. Author of three novels, it was the hefty, two part story The Lion Trees , all 1600 pages of it, that caught our attention.

In the essay below, Owen discusses the relationship between his two halves - fiction writer and book marketer - and the war that erupts between the two.

I have a feeling that this topic will touch many of us, as we find more and more often that for any one author to find their audience, the hardest part of their job isn't landing a publisher. It's in the promotional work that comes after!

Doing it all: Independent Writers Leaving the Shire

As an independent writer, I am actually two people: fiction writer and book marketer. Accommodating two people in one head is hard enough. But the double identity is all the more inconvenient for the fact that those two personae really do not like each other very much. The writer fancies himself as an artist and has more than just a little disdain for the soulless marketer. The marketer considers the writer a feckless romantic willing to die in obscurity. I suppose that there is nothing particularly new here; the battle between art and commerce within the same head has been raging since some Neanderthal began taking a cover charge for his First Friday Cave Art exhibits. You can bet he lost sleep after every show wondering if he had sold out his artistic vision just to pander to a bunch of knuckle-dragging… well, Neanderthals. But as old as that artistic dilemma may be, it is not exactly the internal schism that is on my mind, which is less about art versus commerce and more introvert versus extrovert.

As a writer, I am a classic introvert. I tend to like humanity a whole lot more than I like actual people. It’s not that I generally dislike other people. I have plenty of friends and a great marriage. I exchange kindnesses with strangers. I have generally been treated very well by my fellows. So misanthropy is not the point. The point, rather, is that personal interaction – particularly in groups of people – requires an enormous amount of energy. Compulsory meet-and-greets, even with wine and food, so thoroughly drain my battery that it takes me the entire next day to recover. Small talk and superficial connection dampens my creative spark to a dull ebb, making it next to impossible to write so much as a birthday greeting, let alone a new chapter in whatever novel I’m working on. Left to my druthers, I’m a one-on-one guy. Or even a one-on-zero guy. It is in that dearth of company that the writer in me thrives. As my real-world interaction with other humans diminishes, my imagination seizes the controls and my internal landscapes bloom, taking on color and texture. This is how I write books. And I know I am not the only one; this is how most writers create. We live in our heads.

All of which is terrific until the book is written and it finally exists as a real thing in the real world. Suddenly the solitary writer finds himself at the gates of the marketplace. Launch parties. Book fairs. Signings. Readings. Book clubs. Interviews. Humans everywhere. The introverted writer finds himself invoking Obi-Wan Kenobi’s warning to young Luke Skywalker as they take in the chaotic spectacle of Mos Eisley: “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” I know this is a ridiculous and unfair over-reaction; these are wonderful, talented, necessary people. As a writer I couldn’t live without them. But that is what it feels like to emerge from the inner sanctum. Frodo, having left the Shire’s bucolic perfection, stares in disbelieving horror at an army of advancing Orcs. Seriously… flesh-eating mud demons. Book marketing is the introvert’s nightmare.

The independent writer must, to succeed, become a marketer. He must sell. He must advocate and haggle. He must trust and risk and spend and weigh his options. He must forge effective relationships with promoters, publicists, reviewers, web designers, bloggers and booksellers. He must navigate the byzantine channels of Internet commerce through a dozen different portals. Two or three dozen if he is really serious. He must explain himself and politely disagree and consent to critical examination. He must give himself over to a state of extroversion or, more accurately, to the appearance of extroversion, for none of this comes naturally or without great effort and forbearance. The longing for quiet and relative isolation is like the door at the end of the nightmarishly lengthening hallway. Every step the marketer takes only seems to make the hallway that much longer and the door to the quiet refuge of introverted writers that much further out of reach.

And yet, somewhere amidst the chaos of the marketplace is something priceless waiting for the introverted writer who has ventured out into the madness. Somewhere in all of that is an encounter – a quiet, personal encounter – with a reader. Not a purchaser. A reader. Someone enthralled by the power of language harnessed within a story. A person with fidelity to character and theme. A person who has absorbed all of the words, your words, from the title to the back-cover blurb and who confesses to having been transported, and in some small way transformed, by the experience. It does not get any better than that. Ever. That drug never lets go.

So what’s an introvert to do? Writers and marketers make for strange brain-fellows. Independent writers face a discomfiting reality: going it alone means doing it all. And so you must. Even if you have no idea what you’re doing. Even if it rubs all of the fur the wrong way. Even if it stretches you well out of your comfort zone.

But hear me, my introverted comrades in letters: it’s well worth the stretch, just for that one magic encounter. Your pens glow blue. Over the hill and into the fray.


Owen Thomas, a life-long Alaskan with an abiding love of original fiction, is a product of the Anchorage School District and a graduate of Duke University and Duke Law School. While managing an employment litigation practice in Alaska, Owen has written three novels:  Lying Under Comets: A Love Story of Passion, Murder, Snacks and Graffiti; The Lion Trees, winner of thirteen international book awards; and a novel of interconnected short fiction entitled Signs of Passing, winner of the Pacific Book Awards for Short Fiction. Owen maintains an active fiction and photography blog on his author website at You can find Owen on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Instagram. Owen has come to understand that there is a strange disquiet in referring to oneself in the third person. Owen is seriously afraid he will not be able to stop.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Darrin Doyle'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, Darrin Doyle is back on the blog talking up his collection The Dark Will End the Dark. Only this time, he's getting his booze on. Check it out: 


None of these drinks are my own invention, because I figure I’ll leave invention to the experts.  Some folks are good at making drinks, others at drinking them.  I am the latter.  I was also shocked to realize, once I looked at each story with alcohol in mind, that nearly every piece includes some mention of booze.  Not sure what that means in the big-picture, other than maybe I need to challenge myself to write a sober character.  Anyway, here are drinks to accompany some stories in my collection The Dark Will End the Dark.

#1:  The Bone

2 oz. Whiskey
1/3 oz. Lime Juice
1/3 oz. Simple Syrup
3 dashes Tabasco Sauce

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled shot glass.

This drink proves that little packages can knock your socks off, so naturally this goes with the flash piece, “Penis.”  The name “The Bone” adds a juvenile pun as well.  Honestly, this drink is hot as hell and kind of weird and unpleasant, and most will think it’s plain wrong – which is exactly what the story is.

#2:  Captain’s Blood

1 ½ oz. Dark Rum
¼ oz. Lime Juice
¼ oz. Simple Syrup
2 dashes Agnostura Bitters
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

A great drink to go with “Tugboat to Traverse City.”  The story on one level is a philosophical allegory about death, and in it the captain of the tugboat is mysteriously absent.  This drink is delicious, as I hope is true of the story as well.

#3: The Correct Cocktail

1 ½ oz. Gin
½ oz. Ginger Liqueur
½ oz. Triple Sec
½ oz. Lemon Juice
2 dashes Orange Bitters
Shake with ice and strain into cocktail glass.

I love how literal the name of this drink is, which fits well thematically with the story “Happy Turkey Day.”  This story deals with the randomness – and power – of naming, and how names can impact our lot in life. 

#4: Black Velvet on the rocks

1 ½ ounces of Black Velvet whiskey
Two cubes of ice

My favorite cheap whiskey, smooth as its name, it tends to help you forget your mistakes.  This drink is the perfect accompaniment to the story, “Ha-Ha, Shirt,” in which the protagonist makes many, many mistakes on a daily basis. 

#5: Milwaukee’s Best Light

Most of the characters in The Dark Will End the Dark are blue-collar, working-class types.  “The Beast” Light is a fine pairing with many of the stories, especially “The Hiccup King,” which is about a simple guy with simple tastes.  Crack it open and enjoy.


Darrin Doyle is the author of the novels The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo (St. Martin’s Press) and Revenge of the Teacher’s Pet: A Love Story (LSU Press) and the short story collection, The Dark Will End the Dark (Tortoise Books).  His short fiction has appeared in many literary magazines, most recently BULL, Redivider, Pure Coincidence, Blackbird, and Newfound Journal.  He lives in Mount Pleasant, Michigan and teaches at Central Michigan University.