Monday, April 30, 2018

Page 69: Into That Good Night

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 Levis Keltner's Into That Good Night to the test. 

Set up page 69 for us. What are we about to read:

Page 69 tells of the first time Greg Dombrowski meets John H. Walker, the local legend recently diagnosed with terminal leukemia. In the memory, Greg confesses his infatuation with Erika Summerson, the young girl whose murder sparks the novel.

Here Greg struggles through his hypermasculinity to express his feelings for Erika while he and Walker bond over a game of HORSE. Their time together gives Walker license to later ask Greg to join the group that searches for Erika’s killer.

What is Into That Good Night about?

 Into That Good Night is a story about a group of kids who become inseparable friends when a girl they love is murdered in the woods behind town. They bond while scouring a secluded section of the valley for clues to close her unsolved murder. They are soon harassed by a person they believe to be the killer. United against a common enemy, the group strikes back. Through the haze of adolescence in a predominantly white, working-class American suburb, the novel’s underdog protagonist Doug Horolez must then decide whether or not to help the only friends he’s ever known in their quest for peace and justice.

Do you think this page is a good reflection of the book overall? Does it align itself with the book’s overall theme?

Greg’s point of view is one of seven in the novel. This excerpt snapshots his white cis hetero adolescence, mid-attempt to figure it all out—the new and raw emotions, the transience of relationships, Life, his talents and passions, with his intense attraction to Erika underpinning every thought.

The excerpt reflects the novel in that it illustrates an adolescent mind trying to make sense of the world passed on to their generation.

The novel’s point of view shifts between all seven kids: E. Summerson, Tiffany Dennys, JosuĂ© Ortiz, Alex Karahalios, John H. Walker, and Doug Horolez, who gets most camera time. Funny enough, Greg probably gets the least.

Trying to make sense of existence is the work before us all to our last days, I think. Adolescence is a special time because many of us start to ask big questions and our observations are in some ways less bullshit than what we tell ourselves in adulthood, misbelieving we have all the answers.

I hope readers find the group’s outlook as refreshing as I did and fall in love with at least one of these unlikely and tragic heroes.

PAGE 69: 

cool to see him turn up alone on Greg’s court at Penny Park one November night, before Erika had died. The halogen floodlight mounted to the telephone pole behind the backboard had already whited-out the world beyond the court, right before Greg was about to head home, when the swings creaked. Greg saw nothing, then jumped—startled by the Dead Man on the sideline. Buried in a scarf and the hood of his parka, his face looked bloodless, zombiefied. The kid had cancer or something. Still, meeting Walker was worth skipping dinner for. They played HORSE. Greg won, but the game wasn’t a sweep. Walker might’ve had a chance if he’d stopped gabbing and focused when he had the ball. Greg remembered the kid asking after the winning shot if there was anything he loved more than basketball. Greg had said no. Greg then mentioned Erika, like some big stalker. He kept shooting, stripped down to his jersey and shorts, his body heat worked up, trying hard not to listen too hard to the bundled kid on the sidelines pushing with the personal questions, as though somehow he knew how sick Greg’s heart was for her, the guy saying, “Erika … Erika …” with these floats of white breath that Greg dodged on his way to the hoop, as if she would materialize out of one if the kid wasn’t dying and had a few ounces better lung capacity. Greg couldn’t shoot worth a shit, then, too afraid it could happen, which was dumb because of how badly he wished it would—until an hour later, when they were drinking hot Gatorade teas together—he and John H. Walker drinking Greg’s own winter game elixir, no shit—outside of 7-Eleven, like buddies, and Greg admitted wanting to love someone as much as he loved the game. “Something bigger,” Walker said and admitted he knew the feeling. Greg walked home that night with true respect for the kid, though feeling kinda that he’d gabbed and hardly let Walker speak, which wasn’t his style. Sharing feelings wasn’t his style. Still. So when the guy came up to him yesterday to say there might be a way to help Erika, he must’ve already known Greg would say yes.

The kids dug until daylight fled the crowns of the trees. All that time, they plodded with their long-handled shovels in the well-rooted earth while John went around saying, “Deeper. No—close. A little deeper.” Each thanked him for his feedback to be kind. They figured his condition made physical labor risky—everyone except E.


Levis Keltner is a writer, musician, editor, and educator from Chicago and living in Austin, Texas. He is the author of Into That Good Night (Skyhorse, 2018). His short fiction has appeared in Bull: Men's Fiction. He is the editor-in-chief of Newfound and teaches writing at Texas State University.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Guest Post: Steve Mitchell


  [Let this music play until further instructions.] 

  In the Fall of 2017, in anticipation of the publication of my novel, Cloud Diary, I began approaching musicians about responding to short scenes from the novel in any manner they chose. By early 2018, 19 musicians had responded with 25 original pieces. 

Writing, music, art: they don’t travel in a straight line. The roots of their narrative tunnel and curl, vanish and re-appear, spreading outward, never quite resting. It’s impossible to say exactly what art does, and while the arts speak to our connectedness, they also accentuate the vast gulfs between us: the breadth of interpretation, of response, and the uniqueness of that response.

Sometimes, in my process of writing, it happens that a piece of music takes on a value. It’s not an inspiration exactly, but it stakes out an emotional territory that’s not obvious or causal. An innocent bystander might never see the connection, but the music helps to form an interior landscape I return to throughout the writing.

Cloud Diary (C&R Press, 2018) is the story of Doug and Sophie, their intense relationship in their twenties, then eight years later when they meet again. Even before I’d begun the writing, Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane, Over the Sea became an anchor for the early part of Doug and Sophie’s life together.

Raw, loose, and loud, Neutral Milk Hotel has a dangerous, wailing nakedness, the kind which might pivot in an instant into something necessitating an intervention. I wanted that feeling around Doug and Sophie: a messy vulnerability, a life with dirt in the corners, a life of rummaging in couch cushions for change to do laundry, of hoping your more established friends invite you to dinner because it’s two days before payday.

 Yet, in contrast, I needed very quiet, still places within the book and a different kind of music could come into play then.

 The story of Doug and Sophie is one of intimacy, and powerlessness in the face of tests upon that intimacy. It’s intensely personal, in that it’s focused almost solely upon them over eight years of their lives.

In the middle section of Cloud Diary, the tone changes, becoming quieter, a bit more melancholy, as Sophie and Doug meet again after their separation. Their meeting is tentative at first‑‑‑there’s a lot of history to address or avoid---then tender, then more demanding than either might have imagined. In the writing, Neutral Milk Hotel was replaced by Sigur Ros; very specific Sigur Ros tracks from a 2004 ep, BA BA TI KI DI DO. That’s what you’ve been listening to.

In Philip K. Dick’s short story, The Preserving Machine, Doc Labyrinth invents a machine that converts great music into living creatures. He’s concerned that Beethoven or Bach might not survive a coming apocalypse and believes that through this conversion they might be set free in the wild, fend for themselves, then be scooped up in the future and converted again into beautiful music.

  [Scroll up and stop the Sigur Ros now. Scroll back down.] 

  [Start this music now.]


Things don’t go as planned. A year or two after releasing the various creatures into the nearby forest, Labyrinth finds every animal has changed in order to survive and flourish, and that to place the Bach bugs back into the Preserving Machine does not deliver Bach at all, but a whole new music.

As contributions to the Cloud Diary Music Project began to appear in my inbox, I was reminded of Dick’s story. All types of music were represented here, from barroom songs and bluegrass to electronica and avant-garde classical.

Each person who submitted knew very little about the book as a whole. They’d simply received a short scene and a three-sentence synopsis. (One likened it to peering through a hole in a construction fence. He could only see a couple of beams and girders, imagining the rest.) Each was creating something whole from a mere glimpse, in the same way a simple exchange overheard between strangers can become, for me, the basis of a short story.

The music you're listening to now was written and performed (with Steve Sollod) by Kim Church. Kim is a writer herself. It’s a response to a fictional scene written, in part, as a response to the music of Sigur Ros. In the scene, Doug and Sophie struggle with their future over a late night and a morning, working to rekindle old bonds, or perhaps establish new ones. There’s a darkness hanging over this scene. And a stillness.

When we write, we are translating feelings, images, conversations; we’re collating them, bringing them together, and then threading a needle of words to create something. It’s not a record, not a historical document; we are translating experience into another language.

This is what we do when we read. We gather the words and form our own images, feelings, history, even music, around them. They become our own. Every translation is different. Every read text is unique.

This is true even of our own work. Now, when I remember Sophie turning to Doug in the middle of that night and asking, quietly, “Can you just hold me. For a moment…”, I hear both Sigur Ros and Kim Church. They are distinct views of the same scene.

Because, once our creatures scuttle or dart from the nest they become their own beings and they, like Doc Labyrinth’s musical creations, will transform as they explore and chart the world for themselves.

With luck, they’ll learn to survive on their own. We may or may not recognize them when they do. 


Kendra Harding’s Lover Leap was written in response to a different scene within Part Two of the book. Music for this piece: Lucy Dacus, Historian / Big Thief, Capacity Steve Mitchell is the author of Cloud Diary and co-owner of Scuppernong Books in Greensboro, NC       

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Where Robert Lopez Writes

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

Where Writers Write is a series in which authors 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 Robert Lopez. 

He is the author of three novels, Part of the World, Kamby Bolongo Mean River, and All Back Full, and two story collections, Asunder and Good People.

Where Robert Lopez Writes

This is where I work, when I work. This is also where I spend a fair amount of time when I'm not working. I could never write in a cafe full of people and the sounds they make. I'm distracted enough here alone, what with the news and social media and all the other etceteras. I don't need real live people crossing through my field of vision at the same time. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Isabelle Kenyon's Guide to Books & Booze

Time to grab a book and get tipsy!

Books & Booze 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, Isabelle Kenyon whips up a new drink in honor of her latest collection of poetry, 

Ready to get your booze on??


Drink: 'Jungle Fever'
Malibu (fruity and tropical)
Coconut milk (cleansing, pure)
A starfruit garnish (think thick jungles and exotic new tastes and topics)
Lemon juice (bittersweet aftertaste)

I chose this drink because the book is entirely based on my time in New Zealand - exotic greenery, coastal beaches and fresh flavours. It was a time to cleanse the pallet so to speak, after the funeral of my Grandma, and so the exciting new experiences were often bittersweet.


Isabelle Kenyon is the author of poetry anthology, This is not a Spectacle and micro chapbook, The Trees Whispered, published by Origami Poetry Press. She is also the editor of MIND Poetry Anthology 'Please Hear What I'm Not Saying' and her latest release, Digging Holes To Another Continent, will be published by Clare Songbirds Publishing House this May. 

Monday, April 2, 2018

Suzanne Burns' Would You Rather

Bored with the same old fashioned author interviews you see all around the blogosphere? Well, TNBBC's got a fun, 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 odd bookish scenarios.

Suzanne Burns'

Would You Rather

Would you rather start every sentence in your book with ‘And’ or end every sentence with ‘but’?
I think starting every sentence with ‘and’ might end up reading like some sort of exciting and very long list of announcements. To me, ‘but’ would read like an overwrought and worrisome apology.

Would you rather write in an isolated cabin that was infested with spiders or in a noisy coffee shop with bad musak?
I could handle the cabin during the day. I’m quick and excitable enough to fend off any spider heading my way. Night, and sleep, and long hair is another story. But I could never write with noise and bad, or even good, musak.

Would you rather think in a language you could understand but write in one you couldn’t read, or think in a language you couldn’t understand but write in one you could read?
One has to understand their own thoughts or they couldn’t write in any language.

Would you rather write the best book of your career and never publish it or publish a bunch of books that leave you feeling unsatisfied?
A bunch of books that leave me feeling unsatisfied. That’s the constant state of artists, isn’t it? Why else do we all keep going? But if I did write the best book of my career and never published it, it wasn’t my best book.

Would you rather have everything you think automatically appear on your Twitter feed or have a voice in your head narrate your every move?
Twitter, because I’m not on it so would never check it. That way when I get weird, think PMS when potato chips for dinner combined with stalking exes on Facebook sounds like a good idea, I’d be oblivious.

Would you rather your books be bound and covered with human skin or made out of tissue paper?
Tissue paper. I have a suspicion that no one but my mom actually reads them cover to cover, anyway, and she loves collecting tissue paper. She has a large wooden box in the garage filled with the fluff.

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

I’ve had no one show up to a reading more than a few times, so I’m a seasoned pro.

Would you rather your book incite the world’s largest riot or be used as tinder in everyone’s fireplace?
Who doesn’t want to incite the world’s largest riot?

Would you rather give up your computer or pens and paper?
Computer. I write longhand.

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?

I think Catcher in the Rye would be a perfect fit.

Would you rather meet your favorite author and have them turn out to be a total jerkwad or hate a book written by an author you are really close to?
All favorite authors are total jerkwads.

 Would you rather your book have an awesome title with a really ugly cover or an awesome cover with a really bad title?
You obviously haven’t see this book. This is real. Yes, she is floating over a tree surrounded by a circular rainbow and yes, she has a shaved head and side boob.

 Would you rather write beautiful prose with no point or write the perfect story badly?
Beautiful prose with no point, like Proust.

Would you rather write only embarrassingly truthful essays or write nothing at all?
How embarrassing? I don’t have to mention that one time I did that one thing, right?

Would you rather your book become an instant best seller that burns out quickly and is forgotten forever or be met with mediocre criticism but continue to sell well after you’re gone?
Instant, forgettable, burned out bestseller.


 Suzanne Burns writes both fiction and prose. Her fiction most recently appeared in The Chicago Tribune. Her second short story collection, The Veneration of Monsters, published by Dzanc Books, received a starred Kirkus Review and went on to be named one of the Top 100 Fiction Titles of 2017. She is currently working on a new short story collection.