Thursday, April 30, 2020

Audio Series: Dare to Matter

Our audio series "The Authors Read. We Listen."  was iriginally 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.

In light of all the social distancing and recommended reduction to group events, we're happy to help support those who have recently published, or will soon be publishing, a book. It's hard enough to get your books out there, and now with the cancelation of book events and readings making it even harder, I want to do my part to help you spread the word!

Today, Shifra Malka joins us to write about her experience recording the audiobook and she shares the preface excerpt from her memoir Dare to Matter

Shifra is fascinated with the inner spaces humans inhabit. As the producer and host of a weekly radio program on social and educational issues that aired live in the Mid-Atlantic region, Shifra was known for eliciting hard, honest responses from her interviewees when posing the questions that others were too hesitant to ask. Underlying these conversations was one pressing question Shifra always wanted to answer: what makes our lives matter? Daring to step right into the heart of life’s complexities, her search for answers to this question is refreshingly approachable and impactful. Shifra resides in Maryland, where she occasionally puts her pen down so that she can roam around in pursuit of her next writing desk. She can be reached at 

Recording the Preface, Reading my Life

It took three hours to record the preface and the first two chapters of DARE TO MATTER.

"Ben," I told my editor/publicist after that first session, "There is something powerful about recording one's own story. I didn't expect that."

It was also intense, because the story itself was. I wondered more than a few times if I'd just resort to a pesky little habit of mine, to curtsy out of the remaining project, claiming that it didn't matter much anyway. And that it was too strenuous to sit there for hours at a time, drawing myself into the appropriate emotional space needed to tell the story. I did have an advantage, though. I wasn't merely doing a voice-over, as I had been professionally trained to do. I could hear the voices inside my head. Yes, they were the voices that traveled through my pen onto my hungry page. I knew how they sounded. Some were so hurt and cried deeply. Others laughed right out of my belly. 

And one other thing: This was a story about mattering. I knew that I would need to finish the effort because judging whether or not this work mattered was not an indulgence that I was willing to take.  Not now, not with this. It took me four years to get here. 

Not all Studios are Created Equal

This was not my first time in a recording studio. But it had been a long time since I last took a seat behind the mike – as the producer and host of a Sunday night live radio program that aired in the Mid-Atlantic States. I did that work at the radio broadcast station in Towson, MD, sitting comfortably on a high stool behind a semi-circular counter, with the sound engineer nearby in the same room. I kept my handwritten notes directly in front of me to prompt me as I moved along the program. Because radio is live, there is no editing or even pausing. The clock’s second hand is your master, and dead air space your demise.

Now I was in the Bel Air, MD custom-built studio of audio producer and sound engineer, Jamie Cerniglia. I read the audio book from my PDF manuscript on his iPad.  I could and would have to stop many times to re-record a line that did not cooperate with me. Often, I would catch it, while Jamie chased it other times. When all was spoken and done, he had 30,000 edits to do. The rough calculation is that six hours of editing is needed for every one hour of recording. Who says the spoken word is simple?

In both studios, the mike felt natural to me. Almost as natural as the pen in my hand …. both instruments for communicating our voice. And to be clear, our voice is who we are at our core.

Click the link below to hear Shifra read the preface to Dare to Matter: 

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Page 69: The Gringa

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 Andrew Altschul's The Gringa to the test. 

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

In this scene, Leonora Gelb, the central character of The Gringa, is seeking out a man she knows as Julian, whom she suspects of being a leader in a Peruvian leftist militant group called the Cuarta Filosofía. She's met him once before, after having expressed some interest in the group's activities, but was rebuffed and told not to come back. But a friend of hers has been disappeared by the government after a nonviolent protest in Lima's slums, and when his dead body turns up weeks later Leonora decides she can no longer sit on the sidelines while others fight for justice. Julian works in a cafe in Miraflores, a tony and touristy neighborhood where the wealthy barricade themselves against the desperation of the poor - in places like this, it's as if the "dirty war" of the 1980s and early 1990s, in which 70,000 people died, never happened.

What is your book about?

The Gringa was inspired by the real-life story of Lori Berenson, an American woman who, in 1995, was arrested in Lima by counterterrorism forces. She was renting a house in the suburbs in which a dozen members of the Movimiento Revolucionário Túpac Amaru (MRTA) were living and, according to the government, plotting an attack on the country's Congress; Berenson was convicted in a military court and sentenced to life in prison. The Gringa takes the broad outlines of that story and tries to understand who Leonora Gelb (the Berenson character) really is, what brought her to Peru, and whether she could possibly have been guilty of the things the Peruvian government accused her of. (Berenson has always maintained her total innocence.) It's narrated ten years after her arrest by another American expat - a failed novelist and "refugee from George W. Bush's America" named Andres. As his personal life unravels, he struggles to understand Leonora, to reconstruct her involvement with the militants, and to chronicle Peru’s tragic history. At every turn he’s confronted by violence and suffering, and by the consequences of his American privilege.

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 think it demonstrates one of the novel's overall themes, which is Leo's ambivalence about her role and her responsibilities. She's a true believer - she wants to do whatever she can to alleviate suffering and feels that she "can't live with herself" if she hasn't explored every possibility. She's a privileged American who recognizes what that privilege costs the rest of the world, and to her it seems that she has two choices: retreat into the bubble of comfort while others are dying, or go "all-in," though she's not yet sure what that means. Throughout the novel, she's constantly struggling against the mistrust of Peruvians, who simply can't accept that this woman would want to involve herself in their affairs and who regularly point out that she doesn't understand nearly as much as she thinks she does. And so "proving herself" to them is always a part of her complicated motivations, showing them that she's worthy of their trust and respect, that she's ready to take "the next step."

PAGE 69:

riverscape. She buys a cup of Jell-O from a vendor and savors the cold, sweet wriggling in her throat, watches the Lima gentry on their evening promenade – as if nothing has happened, no one’s grandmothers have been humiliated, no one’s children murdered. As if these things hadn’t been done in their name.

In a corner of her room, the copy of Moby-Dick lies splayed and gathering dust, a shiny new American Express card taped to the inside cover. To my own little Ahab, her father had written. May you never stop chasing your dreams.

Across the street, the bright café bustles with activity: bowtied waiters glide among sidewalk tables, silver-haired men take their wives’ coats. Over the clink of glasses, the sweet voice of Edith Piaf warbles into the night. A waiter opens a bottle of champagne, popping the cork with a flourish; the seated couple smiles up at him, their laughter thickened by the warm air. One more step, Leo tells herself. Take one step, then the next – or spend your life on this bench, enjoying the show.

When the waiter reappears she hurries to cross the street. “Got a light, amigo?” she calls out. She touches her lips with an imaginary cigarette. “¿Fuego?”

She almost laughs at his confusion. When Julian reaches into his apron, she says, “Oh, shit, I forgot my cigarettes! Thanks anyway” – then saunters past the cosmetics store, the frozen yogurt shop, and into the anonymous night to wait.

For ten minutes she wanders the back streets, admiring Spanish bungalows and prim townhomes, wrought-iron balconies, high walls trussed by bougainvillea. Her vision is sharp, her sense of smell heightened – since the fever passed she’s felt honed, whittled down; she moves through her surroundings watchful as a cat. At a corner, she stops before a long gray building surrounded by a wrought-iron fence. She studies the impassive façade, the arched windows and mounted security cameras that lend an air of vigilance, of dignity. When the footsteps come behind her, she doesn’t turn around.

“What did I tell you?” he says, his breath hot on her neck. “I said don’t go back there. Are you stupid? You don’t speak fucking English?”

“What is this place?” she says, nodding at the dark building. “What’s with all the cameras?”


Andrew Altschul is the author of three novels: The Gringa, Deus Ex Machina, and Lady Lazarus. His short fiction has appeared in anthologies including Best American Nonrequired Reading, Best New American Voices, and O. Henry Prize Stories. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow and Jones Lecturer at Stanford, he has received fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center, the Fundación Valparaíso, and the Ucross Foundation. He lives in Fort Collins, CO with his wife, the writer Vauhini Vara, and their son, and directs the Creative Writing program at Colorado State University.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Blog Tour: Velocities: Stories by Kathe Koja

I've been a big fan of Kathe Koja since I first cracked open Under the Poppies in 2012. It was my first time ever reading her work and I fell madly in love! and now I'm thrilled to be hosting a leg of the blog tour for her latest... a story collection called Velocities. Kathe joins us today to discuss words... how we receive them, how she presents them, and how it's the commonality between whichever format you choose read....

The Book Is the Words: VELOCITIES: STORIES
by Kathe Koja

My newest story collection, VELOCITIES, is just out from indie Meerkat Press, in print and ebook, with an audio version from indie Crossroad Press. So what do all those editions have in common, besides their bona fide indie cred?

The words.

Sounds simple, or even silly. But it’s a truth we might forget, since our technology can offer us so many ways to experience a book, or even define one. Some readers are adamant that a book needs to have paper pages to turn, and a cover to open and close (which VELOCITIES has, complete with glorious cover art via the talented Keith Rosson). Others’ parameters are more elastic, or they prefer the ease of an ebook, or the narration of audio (which VELOCITIES has, thanks to the amazing Joshua Saxon at Saxon Audio).

But what the book really is is the words. That’s where and how the conversation between reader and writer happens—because a story truly is that conversation, it’s not a broadcast, or a lecture, not me telling you something, but you and I making something together, as my words work within your mind’s eye, with your memories and fears and desires, your sense of humor and sense of joy, to create the one and only experience of that story.

Every reader will find the same table of contents in VELOCITIES, but no one will read the same stories. From the noisy nightlife arena of “Clubs” to the quiet Paris morgue of “The Marble Lily,” the yelping dogs in “Coyote Pass,” the bittersweet amaretti in “Toujours,” the babydoll that’s a not a doll at all in “Baby”—each of these details will come alive to every reader in a different way. Maybe you love the almond savor of those cookies; maybe barking is a lonesome sound to you, or a glad one; maybe you’ve been to Paris or live in Paris or have never seen Paris in your life. All of that will meet those words, however you might experience them—on a page, on a screen, in your ears—and that’s where each story will come fully, immersively, indelibly alive.
However you might choose to experience the words, VELOCITIES is here, and it’s ready. Let’s create some stories together.


About Velocities

From the award-winning author of The Cipher and Buddha Boy, comes Velocities, Kathe Koja's second electrifying collection of short fiction. Thirteen stories, two never before published, all flying at the speed of strange. Dark, disturbing, heartfelt and utterly addictive.

You can grab your copy from: Meerkat Press | Amazon | Indiebound | Barnes & Noble

You can also enter to win a $50 Gift Card !! Good luck! 


Kathe Koja is the author of VELOCITIES: STORIES. 
She lives in the Detroit area, and has always loved words. 
Find her on:

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Audio Series: Treasure of the Blue Whale

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.

In light of all the social distancing and recommended reduction to group events, we're happy to help support those who have recently published, or will soon be publishing, a book. It's hard enough to get your books out there, and now with the cancelation of book events and readings making it even harder, I want to do my part to help you spread the word!

Today, Steven Mayfield returns to the blog once more to read an excerpt from his latest novel Treasure of the Blue Whale

Steven is a past recipient of the Mari Sandoz Prize for Fiction and the author of over fifty scientific and literary publications. His stories began to appear in print and have been published by EventThe Black River Reviewcold-drillartisanThe Long Story, and the anthology From Eulogy to Joy. In 1998, he was guest editor for the literary journal, Cabin Fever, and his collection of short stories, Howling at the Moon, was a Best Books of 2010 selection by USA Book News and an Eric Hoffer Award Finalist. His novel, Treasure of the Blue Whale will be released by Regal House Publishing in April, 2020. Steven currently resides in Portland, Oregon with his wife, Pam, and three goldendoodles who can be annoyingly insistent around meal-time. He can order beer in four languages. His wife can say, “Pay no attention to this man” in five.


If you're free on April 2nd, Annie Bloom's Books in Portland, OR will be livestreaming Steven's book launch on facebook. There will be a Q&A segment following the reading.

As in-person events are canceled, more venues are turning to virtual solutions. On the upside, this means they can invite readers from all across the country to attend. Steven would love to see you there, and appreciates your support.

Here's a direct link to the event:


Click on the soundcloud bar below to listen to Steven  Mayfield read an excerpt from Treasure of the Blue Whale. 

What it's about: 

In this whimsical, often funny, Depression-era tale, young Connor O’Halloran decides to share a treasure he’s discovered on an isolated stretch of Northern California beach. Almost overnight, his sleepy seaside village is comically transformed into a bastion of consumerism, home to a commode with a jeweled seat cover, a pair of genuinely fake rare documents, a mail-order bride, and an organ-grinder’s monkey named Mr. Sprinkles. But when it turns out that the treasure is not real, Connor must conspire with Miss Lizzie Fryberg and a handful of town leaders he’s dubbed The Ambergrisians to save their friends and neighbors from financial ruin. Along the way, he discovers other treasures in the sometimes languid, sometimes exciting days of that long-ago season. He is rich and then he isn’t. He learns to sail a boat and about sex. He meets a real actor. He sneaks into villainous Cyrus Dinkle’s house and steals his letter opener. He almost goes to jail. He loves Fiona Littleleaf. He finds a father. And best of all, he and little brother, Alex, reclaim their mother from the darkness of mental illness.