Thursday, January 28, 2016

Where Writers Write: Tabitha Vohn

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 Tabitha. Tabitha is a pen name. Her creator is a certified bookworm, thanks to the countless fairy tales, Bible stories, and nursery rhymes she was read as a child, and the Gothic, Romantic, and Contemporary novels she enjoys today. 

She has earned a B.A. in English and a M.A. in Teaching, and currently teaches high school English.

On Writing, Tabitha says,"I strive to write the type of stories that I enjoy reading. Ones that question those blurred lines between love and lust, between good and evil. Ones that make us question human nature while simultaneously seeing the beauty in it as well." 

Where Tabitha Vohn Writes

Welcome to my favorite room! On summer days and snow days (perks of being a teacher), this is my favorite place to be. I'm ridiculously sentimental and love being surrounded by things that remind me of the people I love.  So here's a little tour:

The three pieces hanging above my "editing" couch were all created by former students. The middle portrait was my inspiration for my upcoming novel, A Different Path. Depending on whether I continue to self-publish or am fortunate enough to land a small press publisher, I want her to be my cover art. The cover is already done, in fact; I suppose whether or not I am able to use it is to be determined. The quilt was handmade by my father-in-law's late, adopted mother. I have so many quilts packed away. One day, I hope to have a house big enough to use more of them.

Above my desk is my little collage of postcards, cover art, vacation pics, and pics of the most important women in my life: my mom, aunt, and sister-in-law.  On my desk is a little figurine I brought back from Germany this past summer.  I was so bummed when I got to the Black Forest and couldn't find a single fairy tale souvenir (apparently, Germans are over the whole Grimm Brothers thing). The figurine is of the Loreley, a Siren legend that comes from the Rhine River about a dangerous, rocky passage that was notorious for wrecking trade ships. It was as close to a fairy tale as I could get.

On the opposite side of my little room is a third of my book collection. I have a bookshelf in the living room and two closet shelves that were in the process of buckling under all the weight, so my hubby was sweet enough to bring this giant home to me. Behind the shelf hangs another piece of student art and next to the door is a stencil that my aunt gave me for Christmas. She always signs her emails to me, "love you to the moon and back".  The red vase is also from her and-I believe-was handmade in Vietnam.

My Earthbound Trading Company tapestry. It's awesome! I visited a store in Gatlinburg a few summers ago and was hooked.  My brother and sister-in-law were nice enough to procure this tapestry for me on a trip to Portland, Maine to visit my aunt, back before Earthbound offered online shopping and the closest store (to me) was a three+ hour drive to Pittsburg.  So it's special. Beside it are an early painting my brother did of one of the ponds at my granddad's and a portrait by a very talented student of mine, who allowed me to use this gorgeous, tortured guy as the new cover for a Gothic novella I wrote a few summers back.

So this is my sunny, happy place where I'm immersed in beauty and creativity. Thanks for letting me share my writing room with you!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Lindsey Reviews: Bad Baby

Bad Baby by Abigail Welhouse
Pages: 28
Publisher: Dancing Girl Press & Studio
Released: 2015

Dog Eared Review by Lindsey Lewis Smithson 

If a book could be a best friend, I’d want this one to be mine. This succinct chapbook is able to create a fully realized personality, one which is wholly enjoyable. With each page readers are introduced to a multidimensional speaker, who is both relatable and as unfathomable as all human beings are.

The title poem shows up first in the collection and establishes the strong, self-reliant, feminist theme. Stating “That’s not a rattle. It’s my scepter./You will obey me or else/I will make a noise/you will never forget,” the final stanza should really be a rally cry for anyone (and everyone) who is looking to make themselves known. Later in the collection “Dawson Gets A Haircut” is a coming of age ode to all 90s babes, saying “I don’t want to relax./I just want to huff ocean./I skipped church in favor of baptism./This is the new holy water.”

Not all of the poems follow this personal journey, or this call to action. Several seem to mirror the way the mind works, with wandering paths that are both tired to the concrete and surreal. “Cows, Mad” and “Q&A” are two examples where, literary, there are times the reader may be lost, but emotionally every word makes sense. Often times this is how the human mind, and heart work; a flowing mix of memories and imagined scenes that form who we are and who we feel.

Of all the poems I can actually see myself framing “Hell Is” and hanging it over my desk. I don’t want to spoil the poem, since I think quoting any of it would pull the beauty out of context. Let’s just say that hell in Welhouse’s world is a scary, caffeine free place. I also would not be supposed to see the closing poem, “Stable,” show up in an ode to Plath collection, given the lovely similarity to the poem “Ariel.”

Basically, hunt down this collection, grab a cup of coffee, and meet your new best friend.

Dog Eared Pages:
1, 2, 4, 7, 8, 11, 12, 14, 17, 19, 21, 22, 24, 27

Lindsey Lewis Smithson is the Editor of Straight Forward Poetry. Some of her poetry has appeared on The Nervous BreakdownThis Zine Will Change Your LifeThe Cossack Review, and Every Writer’s Resource: Everyday Poems.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Bronwyn Reviews: Tram 83

Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila
Translated by Roland Glasser
Pages: 210
Publisher: Deep Vellum
Released: 2015

Reviewed by Bronwyn Mauldin

If your only knowledge of Africa comes from the recent film Beasts of No Nation or a viral video called Koney 2012, if the only “African” literature you’ve ever read is by Alexander McCall Smith, then let Fiston Mwanza Mujila take to you Tram 83 for a whole new view: 

“There are cities which don’t need literature: they are literature. They file past, chest thrust out, head on their shoulders. They are proud and full of confidence despite the garbage bags they cart around. The City-State, an example among so many others – she pulsated with literature.”

Mujila’s novel is set in an unnamed breakaway City-State in an unnamed African country, governed by a powerful dissident General. Everyone in the city is dependent on the region’s underground wealth. “For-profit tourists” arrive from around the world to exploit both minerals and cheap labor. Diggers and students alike work the mines. The earth is so rich residents are rumored to dig up their gardens and living rooms searching for veins of cobalt, diamonds, copper or bronze, silver, barium, tin or coal. They dig so wide and deep the foundations are undermined and buildings sink. Brave and foolish souls sneak into the mines at night to scrape out a few pounds of valuable stone, risking death at the hands of the General’s guards.

Tram 83 is the bar that brings them all together, “Inadvertent musicians and elderly prostitutes and prestidigitators and Pentacostal preachers… disbarred lawyers and casual laborers and former transsexuals and polka dancers and pirates of the high seas…” the list goes on for another page, ending with “…baby-chicks and drug dealers and busgirls and pizza delivery guys and growth hormone merchants, all sorts of tribes overran Tram 83, in search of good times on the cheap.” All these people, and Lucien and Requiem. 

Lucien has just returned from the Back-Country where he has been writing a “stage-tale” about he history of his country. A friend in Paris is trying to arrange to have it performed. Requiem is Lucien’s childhood friend, an ambitious player in the City-State’s great game of trying to get rich quick.

It’s at Tram 83 where Lucien meets Ferdinand Malingeau, director of Joy Train Publications. Swiss by birth and a resident of the City-State by choice, he decides to publish Lucien’s stage-tale. But first Lucien must make a few changes that include reducing the number of characters by half. But how can he reduce the number of historical figures that have made his country what it is today?  

Tram 83 is the first novel by Mujila, a poet and playwright born in Lubumbashi, Congo (formerly Zaire), a country in collapse. The language and rhythms of the book are inspired by the jazz and Congolese rumba he loves. In a recent interview Mujila said, “The City-State is like a paradise that’s run out of gas. And in this paradise, time is an illusion.”  

Perhaps the most haunting feature of the City-State is the never-ending parade of prostitutes soliciting business. “Do you have the time?” and “Would sir like some company?” and “Take me to your country” and countless variants repeat over and over in an arrhythmic chorus that breaks into every conversation, every argument and quiet reverie:

“Foreplay is like democracy, as far as I’m concerned. If you don’t caress me, I’ll call the Americans.”

The prostitutes of the City-State are just as dependent on the minerals beneath the ground as everyone else, eking their living off what people earn from the mines. When Lucien first arrives, he responds to their solicitations, if only to dismiss them. After a while they fade into the background for him and for us as readers. They become part of the music of the City-State, contrapuntal punctuation marks in Mujila’s jazz-inflected prose.

In the City-State, no one is immune from the stones in the mines. Even Lucien finds himself underground one night, pickaxe in one hand, notebook in the other, hacking away with Requiem and a few of his friends. As always, it is Lucien’s notebook that gets him into trouble.

Mujila’s novel is as hilarious as it is heartbreaking, the language as beautiful as the mine-scarred, train-wrecked landscape is ugly. It is a story of how people survive the impossible, usually over beers at Tram 83. 

Bronwyn Mauldin is the author of the novel Love Songs of the Revolution. She won The Coffin Factory magazine’s 2012 very short story award, and her Mauldin’s work has appeared in the Akashic Books web series, Mondays Are Murder, and at Necessary Fiction, CellStories, The Battered Suitcase, Blithe House Quarterly, Clamor magazine and From ACT-UP to the WTO. She is a researcher with the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, and she is creator of GuerrillaReads, the online video literary magazine.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Book Review: The Blizzard

Read 12/20/15 - 1/1/16
5 Stars - Highly Recommended / The Next Best Book
Pages: 192
Publisher: FSG
Released: December 2015
Translated by: Jamey Gambrell

What better day to review Vladimir Sorokin's The Blizzard, as I sit here on the couch in the midst of our very own blizzard? Wrapped up in the relative warmth of a fuzzy blanket, hands cupping a mug of spiced tea, as the wind whips the ever falling snow back and forth beyond my front windows, it's easy to take for granted the bone-chilling, snot-freezing cold that our brave protagonist ventures out into in an attempt to save a small 19th century town from the grips of a terrifying zombie plague. 

Doctor Garin holds the vaccine that will stop the epidemic from spreading and feels compelled to bully his way through the wicked snow storm, which currently has him stalled and horseless at a station house. After much shouting and cursing, the stationmaster is finally convinced to hook Garin up with Crouper, a local bread man with a fleet of partridge-sized ponies and a sled, who might be convinced to take the pushy doctor where he is determined to be. 

Garin applies the same bossy tactics with Crouper, who reluctantly agrees to head out into the raging storm, against better judgment. A trip that, under normal circumstances, should take but a few hours slowly and painfully turns into a never ending battle of man vs. nature.

It's the kind of book where nothing really happens but everything is just told so perfectly that you really don't care. It's got just the right touch of the fantastical too. I'm calling it "soft apocalyptic fantastical fiction". The zombies, strangely, never make an appearance, but other odd and wonderous things do. The deeper into the storm we travel, the more fantastical and otherworldly their circumstances become and all the while our characters grow more and more suspended in this sort of timeless past-future, which adds to the overall awesomeness of the novel.

It's beautiful, relentless, and tenderly harsh. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Kate Reviews: Death comes to Happy Acres

Death Comes to Happy Acres by J T Moss
4 stars – Strongly Recommended
257 pages
Publisher: Kenmore Books
Released: September 2015

Reviewed by Kate Vane

What happens when you’ve followed your passion but never quite made it? Wade Lovett, former jazz musician, is in his sixties and living in a trailer park. He has unexpectedly found, at this late stage in his life, that a number of women find him attractive, though he is self-deprecating enough to acknowledge that this is largely due to outliving the competition.

Now Carol, one of the three women he is seeing, wants to marry him and another, Peggy, is dead. Peggy named him beneficiary of her life insurance (and her pedigree cat) before she died. The police suspect him of her murder. Wade has seen enough cable TV to know that being innocent is no bar to being convicted and so he sets out to find out who really did murder Peggy. And he needs to find a home for that cat.

Wade plays down his ill health and financial worries with dry humour. He and his fellow residents at Happy Acres (where the streets are named after the fifty states, in no particular order) form an ill-assorted community. There’s a sense for all of them that life hasn’t quite worked out as they’d hoped but there’s also a dogged determination to wring what pleasure they can from it.

The fact that Wade juggles three women and can’t even be bothered to lie might seem shabby in a different character but here it says something about his disengagement. He appears genuinely surprised to learn they’re not as cool about it as he is. Wade keeps everyone at a distance. No one is allowed in his home – for reasons that become clear.

This book makes deft use of all the classic mystery devices but more than that, it’s the story of Wade’s realisation that his life at Happy Acres isn’t over. There’s a whole world in there, albeit one where Rhode Island is next to Nebraska.

Kate Vane writes crime and literary fiction. Her latest novel is Not the End

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Book Review: Mesilla

Read 1/4/16 - 1/8/16
5 Stars - Highly Recommended / The Next Best Book
Page: 113
Publisher: Dock Street Press
Released: September 2015

Confession: I've had this book downloaded to my Kindle for quite some time and for reasons that are not completely clear to me, I left it sitting in the good ole TBR pile. After seeing The Hateful Eight a few weeks ago, I suddenly had this overwhelming urge to read a gritty western that wasn't too concerned with the fact that it was a Western and turns out, Robert James Russell's Mesilla was the perfect choice. 

In this tight little story about survival in the unfriendly New Mexico desert, we meet up with Everett Root as he hides out in a mine after a recent shoot out. Having taken a bullet to the leg, Everett's in pretty rough shape. His only chance of survival is to outrun his pursuer, and get to Mesilla - a town he believes will offer him sanctuary. 

You'll find the usual Western tropes, or what I assume are the usual, since I don't typically read westerns - an unintentionally charming gunslinger; a relentless antagonist; hostile Indians; a mouthy damsel in distress; and a small chunk of silver that will hopefully ease his passage through the desert. But the beauty of the novel lies in Russell's prose, which flows like poetry off the page. 

Breathtaking, beautiful, and bloody as hell, Mesilla kept me captivated straight through to the very end. The book is all landscape and language, Russell is one helluva talented writer. The only complaint I have is that I wish it were longer. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Christian Larsen'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, Christian Larsen tells the tale of the perfect drink for his sophmore novel The Blackening of Flesh:


Al Capone is losing his grip on Chicago, but he’s still out to protect his turf, so when an upstart gang led by the Cerutti brothers gather at a farmhouse to wait for a shipment of alcohol, he sends his thugs to do to them what they did to the Northsiders the previous Valentine’s Day: wipe them out.

Serafino ‘Sam’ Cerutti sits on the porch, waiting for the truck as he sips on his favorite drink, a concoction of malört and ginger ale his brothers laughingly call a ‘horse dick’. It’s April and cool, but Cerutti feels warm with the drink halfway into his bloodstream. That’s when the headlights appear, but they aren’t the headlights of a truck. They’re the headlights of a 1928 Cadillac…

Behold, the HORSE DICK. 

3 parts ginger ale, 1 part malort, and a splash of cranberry juice on the rocks with an orange wedge. Stir with a licorice whip, and you’re good. 

Rumor has it, it's the last thing Serafino Cerutti had to drink before the Capones closed in…


Christian A. Larsen grew up in Park Ridge, Illinois and graduated from Maine South High School in 1993. He has worked as an English teacher, radio personality, newspaper reporter, and a printer’s devil.

His first novel, Losing Touch, was was named Best Horror Novel of 2013 in the Preditors & Editors™ Readers’ Poll. The story is about Morgan Dunsmore who, in the midst of a mid-life crisis, finds that he can walk through walls. 

The Blackening of Flesh is his second novel. In it, the grisly murder of five Prohibition-era mobsters starts as a means to get to know a girl, but becomes more than an obsession for a lonely high school graduate.

Larsen lives with his wife and two sons in the fictional town of Northport, Illinois. Follow him on Twitter @exlibrislarsen or visit

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Gint Aras' Would You Rather

Bored with the same old fashioned author interviews you see all around the blogosphere? Well, TNBBC's newest series is a fun, new, literary spin on the ole Would You Rather game. Get to know the authors we love to read in ways no other interviewer has. I've asked them to pick sides against the same 20 odd bookish scenarios. And just to spice it up a bit, each author gets to ask their own Would You Rather question to the author who appears after them....

Gint Aras' 
Would You Rather

Would you rather write an entire book with your feet or with your tongue?

Feet. It sounds like a way of writing and doing yoga at the same time. 

Would you rather have one giant bestseller or a long string of moderate sellers?

I guess the only way to satisfy my fantasy of waiting to check out at Costco and seeing a lady with my novel, a lobster and a robot in her cart would be to have one giant bestseller. 

Would you rather be a well known author now or be considered a literary genius after you’re dead?

I’d rather anyone who bought my book right now be considered a genius. I need to be known now or I’ll never have my Costco moment.  

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

Or rather not use formal sentences at all? And sustain the madness over 65,000 words? But throw in some clausal variety, like this: Yet the selfless woman bought the lobster only to set it free, and the novel only to help the author achieve fame, whereas the robot she needed for a private matter which remains none of the gentle reader’s business.

Would you rather have every word of your favorite novel tattooed on your skin or always playing as an audio in the background for the rest of your life?

This sounds like a choice between the modes of torture from In the Penal Colony and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. How would you like to be executed? I’ll take listening to my own Vogon poetry. 

Would you rather write a book you truly believe in and have no one read it or write a crappy book that comprises everything you believe in and have it become an overnight success?

The only compromise of all my values turned overnight success would be a memoir of how I made my fortune investing in Halliburton and Pearson. I’ll take the familiar hell of obscurity to the company of demons.

Would you rather write a plot twist you hated or write a character you hated?

Some characters deserve hatred. If Iago turned out to be a handkerchief tailor, and spent time filling a huge order from Morocco, Othello would suck. 

Would you rather use your skin as paper or your blood as ink?

I still write phone numbers on my forearm. Recently I wrote, “Get lobster.” 

Would you rather become a character in your novel or have your characters escape the page and reenact the novel in real life?

Trick question! You’re making me realize I should allow my characters more fulfilling sex lives. But model it on what experience? There’s the rub! 

Would you rather write without using punctuation and capitalization or without using words that contained the letter E?

Dude, I’ve always wanted to be a Japanese writer! あなたは日本語で素晴らしい小説を書くことができます。Thanks, Google! 

Would you rather have schools teach your book or ban your book?

I would like to have written the first banned book of standardized tests. 

Would you rather be forced to listen to Ayn Rand bloviate for an hour or be hit on by an angry Dylan Thomas?

Easy one. Come here, Dylan. We won’t go gently into that bad night. 

Would you rather be reduced to speaking only in haiku or be capable of only writing in haiku?

That’s taking the Japanese fantasy a bit far. I’ll take speaking in haiku. 

Would you rather be stuck on an island with only the 50 Shades Series or a series in a language you couldn’t read?

Looks like I won’t be doing any reading on the island. 

Would you rather critics rip your book apart publicly or never talk about it at all?

Sounds like the options available for the child of an alcoholic. I’ll take being ignored. It’s easier on the heart. 

Would you rather have everything you think automatically appear on your Twitter feed or have a voice in your head narrate your every move?

Does the voice get to be Scarlett Johansson? My behavior would change, believe me. Twitter doesn’t need to see my thoughts. 

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

Computer! I still hand write in a journal, one of my favorite pleasures. 

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

On my back. 

Would you rather read naked in front of a packed room or have no one show up to your reading?

I mean…they’d clear out. At least they thought it might be interesting, but it turned out to be some guy’s package.

Would you rather read a book that is written poorly but has an excellent story, or read one with weak content but is written well? 

The beautifully described lobster, still alive, beside a robot and my novel. I’ll quote my hero, Tom Waits: “The world is a hellish place, and bad writing is destroying the quality of our suffering.” 


Gint Aras (Karolis Gintaras Žukauskas) lives in Oak Park, Illinois with his family. He's a community college instructor, photographer, and has worked as an editor, columnist, interpreter, translator, and has published two novels, FINDING THE MOON IN SUGAR and THE FUGUE, Learn more at, or follow on Twitter @Gint_Aras

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Kate Reviews: Crux Lunata

Crux Lunata by E A Stewart
5 stars – Highly Recommended
Pages: 344
Publisher: Jugum Press
Released: Oct 2015

Reviewed by Kate Vane

This is the third book in the Accidental Heretics serial set in the early thirteenth century. The first two novels focus on a group of characters in the Languedoc (modern day south of France), all descendants of Crusaders in the Outre-mer, who are linked by an unknown legacy which threatens them all. Meanwhile they are caught up in Simon de Montfort’s crusade against the heretics of the region.

In this book the story takes us south through what is now Spain. A group of Languedoc knights hope to gain protection from Simon de Montfort as they ally themselves with the rulers of Aragon against the Muslim Moors. Tomas, a mercenary of mixed descent, is tasked by Pedro of Aragon to travel to Andalusia and use his family ties to disrupt the plans of a Moorish general.

The story is completely immersive, so you feel you’re there, among the sights and sounds and smells (especially the smells) of a Medieval battlefield, but yet it feels fresh and contemporary too. The characters are vivid and earthy. There is passion but there is also dry humour.

These books are uncompromisingly complex with their religious and ethnic and kinship divisions, but they are also great adventure stories, full of battles and ambushes, shifting alliances, betrayal and disguise. Even if I occasionally lost the thread of who was the enemy of whom and who was pretending one thing while actually believing another, I was so swept along by the story I didn’t mind.

Each book follows on from the one before, with many plot strands unresolved, so they need to be read in the correct order. I’m not sure when the serial is going to end (Book 4 is scheduled for release in 2016) but when it’s complete I think I’m going to go back and read them all again, one after the other. On a first reading they’re great stories but there is so much more in their world to appreciate.

Kate Vane writes crime and literary fiction. Her latest novel is Not the End

Monday, January 11, 2016

Indie Ink Runs Deep: Dean Moses

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 Dean Moses. Dean was born in England in February of 1991; however, he never truly felt at home, so at the age of nineteen he moved to New York City, where he hoped to fulfill two of his longtime dreams, marry the love of his life and become an author. For the past five years, he has written for newspapers, including the New York Amsterdam News and the Spring Creek Sun, as well as transcribed for the New York Times’ Lens Blog. He has also written a serial story for the website JukePop Serials. He currently resides in Queens with his wife and two cats.


The tattoos on my hand are a tad on the nose.  They represent my love for writing, and my need to do it. Christopher Hitchens once said of writing, “It must not be the thing you would like to do, but it must be the thing you feel that you have to do. It must be that without which you could not live.” I feel that quote sums up this tattoo for me. The quill overlapping the bone conveys the title of writer, it is not just a job, it is a part of me, and it’s who I am.

The wordsmith tattoo is somewhat ironic. It is the label I strive to obtain while knowing it is the stage that I will never stand on. I believe that no matter how many books you have published, how many awards you may receive, or how good others say that you are, there is always more to learn—therefore you will never be the best.   

The tattoos on my arm are a mishmash of time, places, and people I love. The BOO at the top was my first tattoo. Boo is the nickname for my Jack Russell, Locket.

The rose has a slightly more longwinded story behind it. I am originally from England. While visiting my future wife, Amanda, in New York City, we made plans to see The Phantom Of the Opera on Broadway. I won’t spoil the show for you in case you have not seen it, but a rose plays quite a big role in the love story. In an effort to ensure that I would never forget the importance of the day I spent with Amanda, I decided to get a tattoo of a rose.

The writing around the rose came about many months later when Amanda visited me in England. At the time, The Phantom Of the Opera’s sequel was playing in London’s West End. Key chains were being given away at the show with the title of the play written on them in Latin, Love Never Dies. The premise of those three simple words, which to me are just as powerful as “I love you,” was significant to my relationship.  In my opinion, love is not a fleeting notion that passes us by. It is an experience that is forever etched in our heart—in our souls. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Sheldon Lee Compton "On Being Indie"

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

Sheldon Lee Compton is a short story writer and novelist from Kentucky. He is the author of the short story collections The Same Terrible Storm and Where Alligators Sleep  and the novel Brown Bottle. In 2012, he was a finalist for both the Gertrude Stein Fiction Award and the Still Fiction Award. His writing has been nominated for the Thomas and Lillian Chaffin Award for Excellence in Appalachian Writing, the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, Best of the Web, and was a finalist for the Queen’s Ferry Press anthology The Best Small Fictions 2015, guest edited by Robert Olen Butler. Other work has appeared in the anthologies Degrees of Elevation and Walk Till the Dogs Get Mean, as well as numerous print and online literary journals.

The Holy Action

I don’t write to make a living.” – Breece D’J Pancake when asked if he wrote what he thought editors wanted.

For the longest time I always considered myself an indie writer, publishing with indie presses, placing short stories in indie, online journals. The works. But during some of this time, I’ll confess now, I harbored a secret hope to one day Make It Big.

I can now report I no longer suffer from this malady.

But it took getting close to landing a book with one of the big publishers in New York City to bring me back to the indie pack.

Last year I spent a lot of time working to flesh out a novel of mine to hit a certain number of words because I knew the big publisher who might be interested (Putnam) liked, well, a novel to be a certain length. I fretted, I expanded chapters, I added dialogue, I wrote new chapters, added characters. It was a marathon sort of situation, with all this taking place in two weeks.

I finished. I breathed. I sent the book off to the agent who was set to hand it off to the editor at Putnam if all went well. The agent took some time getting back to me. I fretted, I reread sections of the novel, I wrote different response letters depending on replies I thought she might send just to prepare myself.

It was a no go, she said.

Until this point I had always been indie. I sent my stories exclusively to the smaller journals, my first two books were published by a small indie press, and I spent my time and energy when not writing trying to promote other indie writers. After this experience with Putnam, my life as an indie writer was now set in stone.

The same week the NYC agent turned down my novel I sent it to a small press in Ohio. This was in November of 2015. Two weeks later I had a contract and the novel is, at this writing, due to be published in late January of 2016.

Those are just the facts, as they say. I’m not casting judgement, really, other than to say that I’m a writer who doesn’t write to make a living and that cannot work for agents and publishing houses in NYC. And they should choose material they know they can sell. Nothing at all wrong with that. It’s just not what’s most important in the indie lit community.

We hold the act of writing literature at the highest level as a holy action.

We consider the concept of community not as a “stable” of writers but as friends both talented and dedicated to similar ideals.

We live and breathe each and every day laboring for love in a real and gritty way that in no way resembles anything romantic.

And we do this knowing we reap mostly obscurity from the at-large public. Thing is, we don’t mind. Or I certainly don’t, at least. Nor do most of my favorite indie authors, my friends and colleagues, my peers and my inspiration.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Book Review: The Off Season

Read 11/28/15 - 12/29/15
2 Stars - Recommended Lightly - It all just falls apart, like, the book practically disintegrated right there in my hands
Pages: 262
Publisher: Resurrection House/Underland Press
Published: July 2015

December was a tough reading month for me. All three of the books I started in late November failed to captivate me and dragged ass through most of this month. I ended up DNFing two of them, which upset me greatly. Deciding to chuck a book aside, no matter how much or little time I've invested into it, is never easy. So why did I chose to stick it out with Cady's The Off Season when it, too, wasn't exactly doing it for me? Of the three, the writing was less dense, I suppose. And Cady's style was just more inviting.

The premise was pretty cool too. Point Vestal, a town in which time acts differently. Where ghosts, easily identified by their incessant flickering and 19th century clothing, 'live' among the townsfolk and tourists. Some hold old jobs. Others are destined to repeat their brutal deaths week after week, month after month, year after year. And yet others appear and disappear with each time jump. (oh yes, the people of Point Vestal can find themselves unexpectedly walking through different time periods, seemingly at random.) But time jumping aside, it's a sleepy little place where nothing much seems to happen. Until a defrocked priest and his cat sidekick hitch a ride into town with 'ole August Starling, and take pity on his lost soul. With a simple whispered prayer, asking God to release August from his repetitive ghostly cycle, Joel-Andrew  unwittingly unleashes a horrible evil and finds himself smack in the middle of a war between the living and the dead.

The book itself is actually being written as we read it, by a group of townspeople who have decided to share the "true" history of the town. The story, much like the town itself, jumps around in time and follows a sometimes dizzyingly non-linear path. We know something bad has happened. We know our narrators were part witness to, and partly played a role in, whatever it was that went down. And we just need to be patient as they work together to tell us all about it.

However, patience wasn't something I was willing to give. Cady really worked my nerves with this one.  The book ebbed and flowed awkwardly. His writing was inconsistent and confusing at best. And at its worst? It felt like he didn't even know what he was trying to say. Some of the time, I found myself only capable of reading 5 pages at a time before putting it down out of boredom or frustration. On other, more rare occasions, I managed to get through a good thirty or so pages before I had the urge to drop it.

And those last forty pages or so - I'm looking at you,Chapters 30 through 33. They were basically one giant jerk-off. Cady worked himself into one hell of a tizzy with all that slow tease bullshit that he just couldn't contain himself there at the end. When all the tension between the townspeople and the newly 'freed' August Starling was finally brought to a head, it was absolute chaos. All the moving parts came together so hard and so fast, I felt like I was totally forgotten in the melee. The climax was all about Cady. And what Cady wanted. Fuck his readers. He shot his load all over those final chapters like no body's business. And I felt... gypped. And even more frustrated than I had been before. Sure, he tried to redeem himself in that final chapter, slowing things back down, rubbing our backs and 'there there'-ing us. But I was checked out at that point. It was too little, too late, I appreciate the gesture but....

And it would appear I am not the only one who felt Cady missed some opportunities, judging by the reviews on Goodreads. I don't know. I guess I'm glad I was able to break that horrible. month-long spell of not finishing anything, but god damn, did it have to be with a book that turned out to be such a disappointment?

Here's to hoping that the next spine I crack open is more... sensitive to my needs.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Melanie Reviews: Imperium - A Fiction of the South Seas

Imperium: A fiction of the south seas by Christian Kracht
Translated by Daniel Bowles
Pages: 179
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux 
Released: Aug. 2015

Reviewed by Melanie Page

In 1902 August Engelhardt decided he had enough of the restrictive life in Germany and set sail for the south seas to live as a nudist vegetarian in one of Germany’s colonies on the island of Kabakon. Engelhardt worshipped coconuts, saying that because they grew high up in trees, close to the sun, that they were sacred and could cure any ailment. Engelhardt tried to start a cult called “The Order of the Sun” to gather like-minded people on his island. As you might have guessed, many people died. What you may not have guess is that August Engelhardt was a real guy.

I learned about Imperium from a segment on NPR and had to read more. The author, Christian Kracht, learned a bit about August Engelhardt and tried to find more. In the NPR story, Kracht notes, “The only thing I could find was a thesis by a student at the University of Auckland. So I went and met him in New Zealand, but somehow it wasn't enough." Engelhardt also published bits and pieces about his coconut community experiment, but not much more is out there. Based on what I’ve read, people don’t agree on many of the details anyway. So, why not fictionalize the story? Imperium is fiction based on the life of Engelhardt. The following is all information from Imperium and not necessarily true details about the life of August Engelhardt.

Photo from NPR

After reading a book encouraging a fruit-only diet, Engelhardt disavows all other food. He gets on a ship leaving Germany and heads for a German colony in the tropical south called Herbertshohe. The characters in Imperium are richly developed, even if they only play a minor role. For instance, Emma Forsayth is a shrewd businesswoman who discusses real estate opportunities with Engelhardt. He needs to find a way to sustain himself in the tropics. Here is her thought process:

“So he wished to buy a plantation? She had exactly the thing for him. A little island! Yet wouldn’t Engelhardt perhaps first want to explore the interior and think about whether he might like a larger-scale plantation there, albeit in a hard-to-reach location? Depending on the weather, a four- or five-day journey away, that is, around sixty miles from Herbertshohe as the crow flies, there was a coconut planting of some twenty-five hundred acres whose owner...had gone mad and doused himself, his family, and three black employees with pitch and set them alight. That plantation could be had, considering its size, for nearly nothing, since the planter’s will, written in a state of complete mental barbarism, could not be validated (Kill them all could be read in it) and the estate thus passed to the German Reich, and in particular to the firm Forsayth & Company, the director of which was sitting here before him.”

Even though Emma is discussing a business transaction to get Engelhardt set up with his new life, there are so many details revealed here. I believe she can tell Engelhardt is a nutbar; the perfect place for him is 60 miles away from everyone else on an island where another nutbar, who killed his family, lived. Wouldn’t that be great?! Truthfully, I laughed quite a bit when I read the passage. There are other lengthy passages much like the one quoted above. The descriptions are specific and keep going in a strange method of humor that is not common in American fiction.

As the years pass, Engelhardt gets crazier. It’s not hard to believe; his body is trying to function on coconuts. He is severely malnourished. Well, except the toenails and scabs he eats. Did I mention that? Never before in my life have I wanted to actually throw up while reading a book, but Imperium almost got the lunch out of me, especially when characters start suffering from leprosy and all those scabs are laying around. Who can tell which scabs are Engelhardt’s and whose are someone else’s? Enjoy! Nom nom nom *heave*

Engelhardt also becomes paranoid. The narrator suggests our main character may have murdered some people, and he starts digging huge holes on the island, covering them with sticks and leaves. For who, we don’t learn, but I get nervous every time someone shows up for a visit. According to sources, the real August Engelhardt wanted people on the island with him to start a community. In the book, however, people show up on Herbertshohe looking for Engelhardt, who is, of course, on his island 60 miles away. They lay on the beach for two weeks, getting sick and malnourished. When Engelhardt discovers he has followers, he freaks out and runs away. All followers are sent back to Germany. Sources say followers did try to join the real Engelhardt, but most of them died (there are lots of ways to die in the early 1900s in a tropical environment) and the government made people pay a deposit to join Engelhardt to cover their medical and travel expenses when they needed to be returned to Germany because they were nearly dead.

Overall, Imperium is a funny serious book. The sentences are dense (I had to turn to a dictionary many times) and grammatically complex, so it may not be a tale for everyone. However, if you finish the book, you will come away richer for it, and not in the way that people do when they finish Moby Dick only to say they read it. You’ll actually get something out of the experience.

Melanie Page has an MFA from the University of Notre Dame and is an adjunct instructor in Indiana. She is the creator of Grab the Lapels, a site that publishes book reviews and interviews of folks who identify as women at