Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Page 69: Songs From Richmond Avenue

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 Michael Reed's Songs From Richmond Avenue to the test

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

The unnamed narrator of “Songs From Richmond Avenue”; a woman he has a crush on, Michelle; her stripper roommate, Honey; and his former co-worker at a Houston newspaper, Jonesy, arrive at a grocery store late at night after drinking in a bar. Because he’s vomited on his shirt and can barely walk, Jonesy stays in the car, while the others go in to shop. Jonesy, wearing a huge pink smock Michelle found in the trunk to replace his shirt, gets out of the car briefly and is accosted by a pickup truck full of drunken yokels who had driven by earlier and liked the looks of Honey; Honey returned to the car just ahead of the other two. Page 69 picks up with the narrator and Michelle back at the car.  

 What’s the book about?

It’s about a guy of questionable work ethic, the narrator, who has settled for a life that involves spending a lot of time in a bar that’s frequented by gamblers and other low-end types. He undergoes something of an epiphany following a bus stop encounter with Michelle, a woman he declares has “skin so perfect I doubted she even had pores.” He wonders if she could provide some sort of redemption – at least give him a reason to shoot for something a little better. Maybe she can, but not until he deals with Michelle’s baseball bat-wielding former boyfriend, a paramilitary Buddhist barfly and the suspicious death of a friend, who fancied himself the father of Brute Generation poetry. That the narrator is drunk almost the whole time also complicates matters.

Do you think this page gives our readers an accurate sense of what the book is about? Does it align itself with the book’s overall theme?
I would say it does, for the most part: The tone is somewhere in the middle on this page, not super-intense like the book occasionally gets, but there is a fair amount of weirdness taking place. Alcohol is central to the situation the characters find themselves in, obviously, but it would be a rare page where that was not the case.
The narrator and Michelle are the two central characters, so it’s good they are both prominent on Page 69. Honey is in a fair amount of the story and Jonesy is a pivotal though not major character, so that fits in nicely, too.
Obviously, it’s unlikely one page of any book will reveal much of its plot line, but, overall, Page 69 is a fair representation of “Songs From Richmond Avenue.”


I looked in the passenger’s seat and saw Jonesy sound asleep and wearing what now appeared to be a tattered, pink blouse. It wasn’t hard to picture him standing in the parking lot looking like a massive transsexual, complete with well-defined cleavage. I couldn’t even imagine the conversation that had preceded the altercation, which we were told, ended abruptly when Honey produced a can of pepper spray and a lighter shaped like a derringer.

“I started to call the cops even after they left, but you know, I guess it was kind
of funny,” Honey said, checking her nails for damage.

“How can you say it’s funny?” Michelle said. “What about his feeling?”

“He did seem pretty sensitive about all that hair on his back,” Honey said. “He
kept trying to cover up, even after they left when it was just the two us. I think he might like me. Maybe I shouldn’t have flirted with him so much.”

Jonesy’s body had become something of a breeding ground for unwanted hair
in recent years. I seemed to recall him lamenting that fact once during an outing to Stewart Beach, where he wore a lightweight football jersey in hundred-degree heat, even in the water. Come to think of it, even his nose hair tended to be the long, flowing variety when left unattended.

“Look, it is a little funny,” I said. “Besides, he won’t remember any of this in the

Michelle looked at me. This time she wasn’t smiling.

“You two,” she said, shaking her head and walking toward the Cadillac. “I sure
know how to pick ’em.”

In hindsight, the whole escapade made little sense, even as such escapades go.
Half the city ran around shirtless eight months out of the year, anyway. For that matter, most women who could pull it off were wearing the equivalent of Band-Aids at that very moment and calling them tops. A smock was unnecessary as long as Jonesy stayed out of the store, and a pink smock was unnecessary at any time. Of course, there was the whole back-hair issue and the highly unusual involvement of women in our antics to consider this time, I suppose.

Hell, if back hair bugged him that much, Jonesy should have pulled me aside and said something. I could have put up with him wearing his smelly shirt until I dropped him off at home. Then Michelle and I could have taken his car to another bar or two, maybe even run down to Galveston really fast. That’s the kind of things friends do for friends.


Michael Reed is a Texas journalist, meaning he lives in inexpensive apartments and drives paid-for used cars. He does not have a wife or children, which is probably best for all concerned, and has never owned a washer or drier, something he takes great pride in. This is the Southern Illinois University graduate’s first novel.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Melanie and Nick Discuss My Hero

My Hero by Stephen Graham Jones
Format: Graphic Novel
Publisher: Hex Publishers
Released: June 2017

“Je ne c’est pas ici une bande dessinée”

A review/conversation with Melanie & Nick Page

Melanie: You look at the cover of My Hero and see a sketch of someone, like Superman. So, you’ve got some expectations for this comic book going in. But it’s all words. Like, not just speech bubbles, but words describing what a picture should be instead of a picture. I thought this could go someplace interesting -- form matching content. What was your first impression?

Nick: I glanced at the cover but did not notice that the crosshatching on the figure was the names of superheroes written in small text. Immediately, I noticed that the pages are framed in the type of template that comic artists tend to draft panels in, that being a box with spaces to mark which issue, page, frame, etc. Once you got in, were you able to pick up the story?

Melanie: Ha, no, not at all. I couldn’t tell who the speaker was. I could tell there was a plotline about kids wanting to create a superhero comic together, but the character names come about randomly, so it was hard to piece together a story. I ended up getting frustrated and stopping about one-third through to see what else was in My Hero. I saw there were some color images . . . I kept going and found at the end of the book Stephen Graham Jones’s explanation of how this book came about, how he had a bunch of time off and was going to focus on a werewolf book (I assume the now-published Mongrels), but couldn’t let go of the idea of a comic book after he bought some drawing paper while in the craft section of a store with his daughter. I like the idea he had: one time when it flooded in Texas during his son’s Boy Scout camping trip, Jones backed his truck through the camp to rescue his son’s tent gear. He now realizes that he could have killed anyone’s kid in a very stupid moment. But was that what the comic book My Hero was about?

Nick: I don’t think it was about anything. This seems more like an idea-sketch that isn’t meant to represent a coherent narrative as much as it is supposed to be an opportunity to play with the form. I end up thinking back to Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics in which he breaks down the rules of comics and explores how they work. McCloud discusses the continuum between the word and the picture, so my first thoughts were trying to place this book somewhere between a conventional novel and a graphic novel. There are odd examples somewhere in the middle like Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves that start from the novel end of the spectrum and use creative typesetting, font choices, and story breaks to add a visual element. I have also seen webcomics, such as Erfworld, that alternate between graphic novel and pages of text that may include an illustration. Between examples starting from either end of the continuum, I think Stephen Graham Jones was trying to sit somewhere in the middle and scratch a creative itch more than tell a story. What were some of the details that stuck out to you?

Melanie: I just kept thinking about the kids in the tent in the backyard, holding flashlights and getting amped about the comic they would write. Why didn’t they write a comic about a superhero who accidentally hurts a kid instead of saves him? We’d get meta-comic book action! And Jones would get his story about the truck. But in the end text, Jones says that he is the narrator and also the man with the truck? I guess there aren’t enough indicators in the first part of the comic to help me get something out of My Hero. I want to say that Jones’s work reminds me of Gertrude Stein, who, when asked why she didn’t write the way people read, answered, “Why don’t you read the way I write?” Jones could fall into that camp . . . except he doesn’t when he goes about explaining himself so much in an endnote. Every book of his I’ve read has been explained either in the book or an interview. And all I can think about is the end of a fiction workshop. The writer has been quiet, the students have talked over his story, and then the writer explains what he meant to do . . . and the students all get excited about the writer’s ideas, forgetting the ideas aren’t even in the story. I also have no idea what the drawings without words, which is like a separate comic book afterward, are about.

Nick: There’s a comic-story layer and a story-about-the-comic-the-kids-are-writing layer, and their superhero, Doby, gets pulled from one layer to the other. It looked like people from the comic-story layer think Doby’s dead and the pages with art are of the funeral. An interesting element of this book is that you’re asked to imagine all of the visuals, but the book then goes ahead and fills you in on what the kids’ comic book characters really look like. Totally in line with your point about Jones needing to go back and explain his story. I did notice a couple of things in the book that might be references. At the funeral, a girl’s boots remind me of the Infinity Gauntlet, which will be familiar to fans of Marvel comics. The number #52 was scribbled in a couple of places, which could be a reference to a DC comics series called “52” that came after a mini-series called “Infinite Crisis” which was a sequel to “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” The point of these books was to unravel decades of messy backstories, crossovers, and side plots put together by hundreds of DC comic writers across all the different superhero series. Appropriate to reference in a book that seems to be trying to conjure a sense of deep backstory for characters we only meet briefly. The framing device seems to be the star of the show here, the comic artists’ template complete with coffee stains and such. It was interesting to see the thought process of Jones trying to figure out how to fill the space on the page with words, but do you think it carried the book?

Melanie: I loved the concept, but found no story and then was further confused when Jones wrote what My Hero was supposed to be about . . . of which I saw no traces. I would guess the audience is graduate students in an experimental fiction class. Plus, it’s a hardcover book, which limits the audience further due to the cost. Why not publish it like a comic book?

Nick: I don’t think superhero fans will find much in this book, but it may be interesting if you are trying to approach comics from an academic perspective - especially if you’re a fan of Jones’ fiction. If you set aside the bits of plot and look to how Jones, as a novelist, works through the process of plotting out a superhero comic, you can sort’ve pick out where he’s was going with this book, but ultimately Jones all but admits this was a pile of notes published as a book by Hex Publishers, which seeks to promote genre comics from voices outside of the mainstream. But, I don’t think My Hero would find a publisher if it wasn’t carried by the name of the author.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Kaitlin Solimine 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, Kaitlin Solimine takes it to the toilet. She is the author of the new novel Empire of Glass, which was called "bold and luminous" by National Book Award finalist Sarah Shun-lien Bynum and received a five star review in Foreword ReviewsHer award-winning writing has been published in National Geographic News, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, China Daily, Guernica Magazine, and Kartika Review, among others. Her work focuses on travel, exploration, expatriate culture, US-China relations, environmental issues, and motherhood. She has lived around the world—from New England to China to Singapore to San Francisco—and is co-founder of the academic media network Hippo Reads. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and daughter. She was a 2016 SF Writers Grotto Fellow and is working on her next novel while also associate producing the childbirth documentary, Of Woman Born

Ode to a Poop

I labored on this toilet. So I can’t ignore the fact this porcelain bowl has deep significance beyond defecating and urinating into it. This toilet has received so much, and, at the same time, offered an equivalent amount of serenity and support.

There’s been much written and elucidated about the similarities between writing a book and giving birth. But I have never written a book while sitting on the toilet. I nearly gave birth on this toilet (my daughter was born an hour later on my bedroom floor in a planned home birth). I guess that is a critical difference between the two—I don’t think I could ever write on a toilet; the stench, the hard seat digging into one’s fleshy thighs, is just not what I need to write. Thinking and reading—sure. But writing and creating literary worlds don’t mesh with defecation for me (despite how both can be arduous, painful, and yet deeply satisfying in the end).

But reading: yes! Toilets are lovely reading spots. And when you have a noisy, curious toddler, bathrooms can be incredible places to seek quiet and respite. I do a lot of thinking on the toilet, the waiting for the bodily relief of what is hopefully to come (when it doesn’t arrive quickly), and then luxuriating in the space post-poo, taking a few breaths, a needed escape, before returning to the world. I also use the toilet to catch up on reading that has otherwise fallen to the wayside. Before I had a child that meant The New Yorker. But the stack beside the toilet grew onerously high and only reminded me I was an entire year behind in my reading—so I shamefully gave up my subscription because I couldn’t bear to see that pile and be reminded how much reading I had yet to catch up on. Now, motherhood consuming me, the books beside my toilet are entirely parenthood related—Touchpoints by T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., Diary of a Baby by Daniel Stern, Mothering Your Nursing Toddler by Norma Jane Bumgarner, La Leche League’s The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, and Buddhism for Mothers by Sarah Napthali.

These books seem quite practical, but imagine pooping and reading Stern’s dreamy psychoanalytical lyricism describing the experience of infancy: “Each moment has its own sequence of feelings-in-motion: a sudden increase in interest; a rising, then a falling wave of hunger pain; an ebbing of pleasure.” Or in Mothering Your Nursing Toddler, “The difference between limits and control is an important one, like the difference between a protective bubble and a straightjacket.”

What I love about what we read and do on the toilet (aside from the obvious) is how, like the act of defecation, it speaks to some kind of essentiality of our individual human experiences. For example, before I had kids and was an aspiring writer (okay, I’m still the latter), I thought reading The New Yorker would make me smarter, be entertaining and enlightening. So that’s what I did on the toilet. At other times, like in college, the toilet was where I read gossip magazines because it was where I could do my “dirty business” (e.g., catch up on celebrity gossip or articles on how to snag a husband in less than three dates). I don’t know why shit and pop culture go so brilliantly together (okay, maybe that’s obvious) but I suspect there’s always been a correlation throughout history. My husband reads about politics on the toilet. Given recent political news, that correlation couldn’t be more clear.

Yet perhaps we don’t give bathroom reading enough credit. Perhaps it speaks to our most critical inner need at that moment. Like the need to defecate, how we’d die of sepsis without doing so, maybe it fills a space of both inane and mundane, echoing what it ultimately is: Ode to a Poop. As in how and where we give birth, bathroom reading matters greatly, accompanies, and plays accomplice to, one of our most necessary, most overlooked, most universal human acts.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Page 69: Coulrophobia & Fata Morgana

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 Jacob Appel's Coulrophobia & Fata Morgana to the test! 

Set up page 69 for us, what are we about to read?

This is the second page of the short story, Boundaries, about two American border agents who are assignment to guard an obscure Canadian border crossing on Christmas eve--only to find themselves confronting unexpected cases of love and smallpox.

What’s the book about?

On the surface, this is a quirky short story collection featuring a minister whose dead wife is romantically involved with Greta Garbo, a landlord antagonized by a rent-delinquent mime and a diplomat's wife who attempts to seduce her chimney sweep through Norwegian lessons. Of course, at a deeper level, its a complex cryptogram whose solution reveals both the Pentagon's nuclear codes and the locations of El Dorado and Atlantis.

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

No.  This is the weakest page in the book by leaps and bounds.  My agent and editor, upon reading the initial draft, both said.  "We loved your book.  It's a masterpiece to rival the best writing of Shakespeare and Tolstoy.  Pure genius.  Except for page 69.  What drivel!  What sentimental bunk!  What blasphemy and obscenity!  We both strongly recommend skipping straight from page 68 to page 70."  I didn't follow their advice, and here is the result....


Jimmy Durante accent. “Maybe it’s acute global cooling,” he adds. “They say the Nineteenth Century Minimum came on without warning.”
I don’t know much about Little Ice Ages or Nineteenth Century Minimums, but I’m willing to trust Artie’s opinion. He’s not only a first-rate border agent, but he’s also the most talented art-glass blower in Franklin County, as well as head docent at the local historical society, so he knows more about most things at thirty-four than I know about anything at forty-seven. If he told me we were actually slipping back into the nineteenth century itself, I’d probably believe him. The truth is that, except for the security cameras mounted on the eaves, our little colonial-style headquarters has hardly changed since my French-Canadian grandparents migrated south. Last year, Chief Crowley even found a sheet of unused three-cent stamps at the back of her supply closet.
“You’ve outdone yourself, Phoebe Laroque,” says Artie, surveying the bowls of green beans and candied yams and chestnut stuffing crammed onto the folding bridge table. “This is truly a feast fit for royalty.”
Artie offers this same praise every year—and every year his words flush warmth through my cheeks like a pitcher of red wine. “Merry Christmas, my dear heathen friend,” I say, grinning, raising my mug of fake eggnog. “Bon appétit!”
“To the chef!” answers Artie. He taps his mug against mine—gently, like Eskimos nuzzling noses. “To the Julia Child of the North!”
He’s not drunk, just enthusiastic. I wish I had one-tenth of his energy. Even when I was thirty-four and happily married to Neal—or when I thought I was happily married to Neal—I never loved life like Artie does. Not with that much gusto. I suppose if I’d been born beautiful—externally beautiful, like my sister, Valerie—I might have found


Jacob M. Appel's first novel, The Man Who Wouldn't Stand Up, won the Dundee International Book Award in 2012.  His short story collection, Scouting for the Reaper, won the 2012 Hudson Prize and was published by Black Lawrence in November 2013.  He is the author of five other collections of short stories:  The Magic LaundryThe Topless Widow of Herkimer StreetEinstein's Beach HouseCoulrophobia & Fata Morgana and Miracles and Conundrums of the Secondary Planets; an essay collection, Phoning Home; and another novel, The Biology of Luck.  He practices psychiatry in New York City.  More at: 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Indie Ink Runs Deep: Lee L. Krecklow

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 Lee L. Krecklow, who recently released his debut novel The Expanse Between

"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars, and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’”

It took me until I was nearly 40 to get my first tattoo. I was never opposed to the idea. I didn’t need to build up courage. But there was never an image, an idea, a mark I thought I could carry forever and with which I could always identify. Nothing seemed like it could last. But once I found it, I was ready.

The typewriter, the classic machinery of writing, is permanently associated with the craft. The image lasts. Much like vinyl for music, the tool was supplanted in popularity by newer, more convenient machinery, but it lives on for those with a deeper, more reverent understanding of the art. On my arm I wanted to see the workings of the machine. The mechanics. The glint of the metal. I wanted to hear it.

Kerouac wrote those words on an Underwood typewriter, and I used the same type of machine as the template for my tattoo. “On The Road” is one of the few books I’ve returned to over the years, finding more in it on each passing. Not only does it work for me as literature, but also as a blueprint for how I wish I could write. Here, burn, burn, burn is less for me about the context of the full quote, but more of a reminder to work as Kerouac did, by never leaving room for a yawn or for a commonplace word, but to open up and explode and to leave anyone who might be generous enough to read your work going, “Awww!


Lee L. Krecklow is the author of the novel The Expanse Between (2017, Winter Goose Publishing). He was the winner of the 2016 storySouth Million Writers Award, and has fiction appearing in Eclectica, Oxford Magazine, Midwestern Gothic, The Tishman Review, Storychord and others. Find more at