Thursday, February 23, 2017

Violet LeVoit Takes it To the Toilet

Oh yes! We absolutely have a series on bathroom reading! So long as it's taking place behind the closed  (or open, if that's the way you swing) bathroom door, we want to know what it is. It can be a book, the back of the shampoo bottle, the newspaper, or Twitter on your cell phone - whatever helps you pass the time...

Today, Violet LeViot takes it to the toilet! Violet is a film and fiction writer who began her career as a film critic and arts journalist for, Baltimore Magazine (where she was voted "Best Arts Writer" in the 2008 Best of Baltimore awards), the Baltimore City Paper,,, and, and was a contributing writer for Defining Moments in Movies: The Greatest Films, Stars, Scenes and Events that Made Movie Magic (Cassell Illustrated). She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Rutgers University and is the author of the short story collections I Am Genghis Cum (2010) and the Wonderland Book Award winner I'll Fuck Anything That Movies and Stephen Hawking (2012, both Fungasm Press), as well as the novels Hotel Butterfly (2009, Loose Id) and I Miss The World (2016, King Shot Books). She lives in Philadelphia.

Bathroom Reads: The Atrocity Exhibition

"Not sure I'm doing this toilet thing right."

I've been reading J.G. Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition while in the bathroom. In some ways it's the perfect toilet reading, and Ballard says as much so in the introduction, where he suggests not beginning from start to finish but instead dipping at random, “much the way it was written.” This deliberately obscene experimental novel (William S. Burroughs wrote its effusive introduction) is most famous for having its first British edition pulped by its publisher Doubleday in 1970 because of the threat of lawsuits from celebrities who were depicted inside having breast reductions, dying in car crashes and assassinations, and whatever the hell Ronald Reagan is doing in the chapter/short story “Why I Want To Fuck Ronald Reagan” (which I now realize must have been an unconscious influence on the title of my short story collection I'll Fuck Anything That Moves And Stephen Hawking).

“Reagan” alone is worth the purchase, for anyone interested in the far edges of postmodern nose-thumbing, and it's made even sweeter by Ballard's recollection that “At the 1980 Republican Convention in San Francisco a copy . . . furnished with the seal of the Republican Party, was distributed by some puckish pro-situationists to the RNC delegates. It was accepted for what it resembled: a psychological position paper on the candidate’s subliminal appeal, commissioned by some maverick think-tank.” This is the story's first paragraph . . .

“RONALD REAGAN AND THE CONCEPTUAL AUTO DISASTER. Numerous studies have been conducted upon patients in terminal paresis (GPI), placing Reagan in a series of simulated auto crashes, e.g. multiple pileups, head-on collisions, motorcade attacks (fantasies of Presidential assassinations remained a continuing preoccupation, subject showing a marked polymorphic fixation on windshields and rear trunk assemblies). Powerful erotic fantasies of an anal-sadistic surrounded the image of the Presidential contender.”

 . . . and doesn't get any saner from there. I don't need to tell you substituting a certain name for “Reagan” will evoke both a little voodoo-doll prick of schadenfreudic relief with the numb horror that Ballard, as always, is right about the modern world.

So why does The Atrocity Exhibition make such great bathroom reading? The handsome paperback edition that I own (published by Flamingo Modern Classics in 2002) is comfortable in the hands. The typeface is unobtrusive, the paper of the pages has a satisfying tooth, and the layout inside is digestible and clean. But the best thing about it is that this book that the New York Times described as “a high water mark in English experimental fiction” is organized into “condensed novels”.

I'm not sure whether Ballard intended each paragraph to be a novel, or each cluster of twenty or so paragraphs to be a complete book. Maybe both interpretations are true, in a “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” kind of way, with each fetal vignette mirroring the whole: the adventures of a protagonist named Talbert (or Traven, or Travis, or Talbot, does it matter?), his obsessions with car crashes, celebrities, high rises, and the Kennedy assassination, a cold and antiseptic sexual relationship with a woman named Karen Novotny, who sometimes appears as a flesh-and-blood presence stalking the concrete landscape with him, and sometimes is seen sprawling in crash photos in poses that he remarks are pathologically erotic. A doctor appears here and there, always bearing morbid forensic artifacts in a way that reminds me of the reassuring physicians in 1950s cigarette advertisements, their head mirror headdress gleaming as if it was the crown of Thoth.

It's never explicitly explained this way, but Talbert's scattered attention is because of how fractured his powers of concentration have become in a media-colonized landscape, and how the interbleeding of death and fame in celebrity culture creates Schrödinger's Cat characters that are variably alive and dead on different parts of the page. It's a book whose narrative, if there can be said to be one in the usual beginning-middle-end sense of the word, can be absorbed in both a 400-word paragraph and/or the 40,000 words of the full text, like how Rumi said “You are not a drop in the ocean, you are the ocean in a drop.” It's a handy reminder to me, who just published a novel (I Miss The World, by King Shot Press), that in some ways is the anti-bathroom read, in that it's constructed as a no-chapters trench of a narrative that seals you in without a (bathroom?) break until it lets you out at the end. The Atrocity Exhibition reminds me there's no one way for authors to push the edges of form in the service of something new.

So whether you anticipate a short or long stay on the porcelain throne, The Atrocity Exhibition will expand and contract like the world's most perverse accordion, according to your needs. You can also make it a permanent fixture of your “smallest room” and read it, piece by piece, over the course of months or years, letting its artistry slowly accumulate inside you like lead poisoning. Think of this phrase as you're dancing the wiggle-dance to the toilet, and take comfort in its endorsement of what goes on in that magnificent bowl: “In the post-Warhol era a single gesture such as uncrossing one's legs will have more significance than all the pages in War and Peace.” 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Page 69: Billy and the Cloneasaurus

Disclaimer: 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  Stephen Kozeniewski's Billy and the Cloneasaurus to the test!

Set up page 69 for us (what are we about to read):

William 790-6, a clone just like everyone else on planet Earth, has discovered a mysterious windmill which may contain the secrets to how such a bizarre society came to pass. 

What’s Billy and the Cloneasaurus about?

Did you ever feel like you were just a face in the crowd, an interchangeable cog at work, a drab clone of all your contemporaries?  Imagine if that were literally the case.

Do you think this page gives our readers an accurate sense of what the book is about? Does it align itself with the books overall theme?

Sure, it covers some of the scary realities of a weird, dystopian universe that seems (if not literally, then metaphorically) to becoming true.


“At the pub,” 790 said, a bit plaintively, he could even hear it in his own voice, betrayed by his own ears which should have been hearing him as heroic and undaunted, not small and cowardly and mouse-like.

“At the pub, yes,” Wilson said, “Very typical.  You know, I suppose, where the beef comes from?”

 “From the freezer bank, of course,” 790 said, “Same as us.”

 “So, that is to say that something not unlike you is decanted in the freezer bank, killed, exsanguinated, slaughtered, processed, and served to you as food?”

 790’s eyes widened in horror.

“No, that’s…that’s grotesque!  What are you talking about?  They just grow the beef in the vats. It just grows like a plant.”

Wilson took off his makeshift glasses, folded them up, and used them to stir ever-widening circles in his ever-diminishing cup of coffee.  790 looked almost as shocked by this bizarre action as by the odd beliefs about the source of a clone’s food.

"There was a time, you must confess, when there were no vats.  No freezer bank.  No Williams, even.”

 790 waggled his finger in the air at Wilson, as though trying to connect a variety of spark plugs in a dying car.

“You know, I’ve been thinking that same thing lately, just idly trying to make sense of it.  But it doesn’t make sense, does it?  How could there have been something before?  Where would it have come from?”

“Ah, but the axlotl tanks had to come from somewhere, didn’t they?  They had to be built.  A man couldn’t have been originally decanted from something man-made.”

790 was profoundly quiet; quieter than he had been staring at the stars last night.  Quieter than he ever had been in his life.  If he had been familiar with the primitive Buddhist concept of a koan, he would have realized that he had, just in that instant, for the first time achieved the state of enlightened blissful ignorance which was the purpose of ancient man’s philosophy.  The tree fell in the forest, one hand clapped, and it suddenly became very clear to 790 that man must have built the first tank, and not vice versa.

“A cow is an animal…you’re familiar with the concept?”


Stephen Kozeniewski lives in Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the modern zombie. During his time as a Field Artillery officer he served for three years in Oklahoma and one in Iraq, where, due to what he assumes was a clerical error, he was awarded the Bronze Star. He is also a classically trained linguist, which sounds much more impressive than saying his bachelor’s is in German.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Blog Tour: When Water Was Everywhere

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 particular installment is part of the When Water Was Everywhere blog tour, which runs the entire month of February. If you like what you see here, be sure to check out the other stops!


Today, we've invited author Barbara Crane to snap some shots of her writing space. 

Her most recent novel, When Water Was Everywhere, won a Beverly Hills Book Award. She lives in Long Beach, CA near Rancho Los Cerritos and other sites she used in her novel.

Where Barbara Crane Writes

Virginia Woolf, the early 20th century novelist, famously writes about a writer’s need for a room of her own. While she was speaking about women—men already had society’s permission to pursue a career in the arts—the same is true for all creative souls. We all need a space where we can shut ourselves away, free to let our imaginations wander and follow the muse.

My office clearly says to me, “A writer writes here.” The space is good sized, about 10’x12’, with desk and bookcases along three walls.  I like the clear space in the middle. Usually, it’s cluttered with papers, because I spread writing projects on the floor. Sometimes I’m working on two or three projects at one time. It gets pretty messy, but I don’t see the papers as clutter. I think it’s an efficient way to put the pieces together and make sure I don’t forget anything.


I also like the window in front of my computer. I can look out and see the trees. I read a study recently which said that people who can see trees from their office windows experience less stress. It works for me!

  On my desk, I keep a drawing that inspires me: the high country in Denali National Park in Alaska, where I hiked a few years ago. The park’s wildness and beauty inspires me.

  I have a fair amount of space for books. Here’s one partial wall of my office bookcases. I keep research materials for writing projects I’m currently working on here as well as fiction and nonfiction that I want to read.

My husband established his office upstairs in the loft. He’s made it into a pleasant space. Sometimes, I use his office, for example, when I need better resolution on a photograph (he has better software than I do), or when my computer is down, or when I want to order a book on Amazon (our Amazon Prime account is in his name).

The loft isn’t all his, though. I keep a drawing table there with my drawing and painting supplies ready to use. Sometimes I fool around with pastels or watercolors to get ideas when I’m stuck.

I like a lot of things about my office. First, it has a door. I usually keep the door open, but if I really need to concentrate or make sure I’m not disturbed, I close the door. Second, it’s mine. I can put things where I like. No one will disturb the order—or disorder. And finally—and maybe this is more important than anything else—my office means work to me. Work can be something I have to produce for someone else. Or it can mean creative work. In any case, my imagination is free to roam in my room of my own.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Audio Series: The Secret of Ventriloquism

Our audio series "The Authors Read. We Listen."  was hatched in a NYC club during BEA back in 2012. It's a fun little series, where authors record themselves reading an excerpt from their own novels, in their own voices, the way their stories were meant to be heard.

Jon Padgett  reads an excerpt from his debut short story collection, The Secret of Ventriloquism, which was published by Dunhams Manor Press in late 2016. He lives in New Orleans with his spouse, their daughter, and two cats. He has work out or forthcoming in Pseudopod, The Lovecraft eZine, Antenna::Signals, Xnoybis and The Junk Merchants: A Literary Salute to William S. Burroughs

Click here to listen to Jon reading the short story "The Indoor Swamp" 

The word on The Secret of Ventriloquism:

With themes reminiscent of Shirley Jackson, Thomas Ligotti, and Bruno Shulz, but with a strikingly unique vision, Jon Padgett's The Secret of Ventriloquism heralds the arrival of a significant new literary talent. Padgett’s work explores the mystery of human suffering, the agony of personal existence, and the ghastly means by which someone might achieve salvation from both. A bullied child who seeks vengeance within a bed’s hollow box spring; a lucid dreamer haunted by an impossible house; a dummy that reveals its own anatomy in 20 simple steps; a stuttering librarian who holds the key to a mill town's unspeakable secrets; a commuter whose worldview is shattered by two words printed on a cardboard sign; an aspiring ventriloquist who spends a little too much time looking at himself in a mirror. And the presence that speaks through them all.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Book Giveaway: Under the Poppy

Since July 2010, TNBBC has been bringing authors and readers together every month to get behind the book! This unique experience wouldn't be possible without the generous donations of the authors and publishers involved.

It's the beginning of a new month and you know what that means..
Time to give away our February Author/Reader Discussion novel!

We will be reading and discussing Under the Poppy 
with author Kathe Koja

Kathe has made 10 signed trade paperbacks available for this giveaway. 

(Sorry my friend, because the author is shipping them, 
we are limiting these to US Residents only!)

What it's about: 

From a wartime brothel to the intricate high society of 1870s Brussels, Under the Poppy is a breakout novel of childhood friends, a love triangle, puppetmasters, and reluctant spies.

Under the Poppy is a brothel owned by Decca and Rupert. Decca is in love with Rupert, but he in turn is in love with her brother, Istvan. When Istvan comes to town, louche puppet troupe in tow, the lines of their age-old desires intersect against a backdrop of approaching war. Hearts are broken when old betrayals and new alliances - not just their own - take shape, as the townsmen seek refuge from the onslaught of history by watching the girls of the Poppy cavort onstage with Istvan's naughty puppets . . .

Under the Poppy is a vivid, sexy, historical novel that zips along like the best guilty pleasure. 

This giveaway will run through February 9th . 
Winners will be announced here and via email on February 10th.

Here's how to enter:

1 - Leave a comment here or in the giveaway thread over at TNBBC on goodreads. Remember, you must be a resident of the US to enter.

2 - State that you agree to participate in the group read book discussion that will run from March 20th through March 26th. Kathe has agreed to participate in the discussion and will be available to answer any questions you may have for her. 

 3 - Your comment must have a way to contact you (email is preferred).


 *If you are chosen as a winner, by accepting the copy you are agreeing to read the book and join the group discussion at TNBBC on Goodreads (the thread for the discussion will be emailed to you before the discussion begins).