Thursday, February 24, 2022

Indie Ink Runs Deep: Kathe Koja and Dark Factory


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 Kathe Koja, whose newest novel Dark Factory drops on May 10th!

Indie Ink Runs Deep . . . 

Max Caspar of Dark Factory [and Kathe Koja]

Dark Factory is Kathe Koja’s new immersive novel project from Meerkat Press, online and coming this year in print, ebook and audio. And the preorder swag package includes your own Dark Factory tattoo!

Max Caspar is the club’s resident philosopher, though he’d reject that title: But Max understands that the image of a thing sometimes is the thing itself, the same way a tattoo can be so much more than just a body decoration. Here’s Max’s interpretation of the Factory tattoos:

I knew Ari wanted to get a tattoo when he asked about mine—it’s an image of Tezcatlipoca, the roaring jaguar god who watches the world in his obsidian mirror, mine is, I mean. Ari said that sounded like a gamer, looking at the universe through a screen; I hadn’t conceptualized it that way before. Ari’s very good at that, turning the mirror around so you see yourself. Other people might see other things in my Tezcat tattoo.

Ari ended up getting a triskelion, three black whorls of the same size, on his wrist. I told him that that image occurs in a lot of different cultures, it represents creation destruction and resurrection, body mind and spirit, and so on. I don’t know what it means to him, except he and Felix—Felix is his partner—got one at the same time, Felix’s is of a minotaur, Ari says. Ari says Felix has other ones too, of flowers. Flowers have their own language, floriography.

Davide—he’s my work partner, a gamer, a games maker—doesn’t have any tattoos, though it seems like he should have plenty: Davide is hyper focused on symbols, and incorporating strong visual meaning into actual, physical life. Our other work partner, Clara, has a quote from Galileo on her arm: the English translation is, “It still moves,” his apocryphal answer to the Inquisition. It’s the motto of Clara’s business, Fantastic Fantoms, too.  

Mila never had tattoos—Mila, she’s a, a friend—and Marfa doesn’t either. Marfa lets her t-shirts do the visual talking for her, all her shirts are neon bright and in your face. Marfa is a journalist, she believes in words, not symbols; but words are only symbols, too.



Max Caspar: Max Caspar is a reality artist, concentrated on site-dependant, durational installations. He holds an MFA from Kunstfarm. He also writes.

Kathe Koja: Kathe Koja writes novels and short fiction, and creates and produces immersive performances that cross and combine genres. Her work has won awards, and been optioned for film and performance.


Monday, February 21, 2022

Caleb Tankersley Recommends Louise Erdrich


It's been a while since we'd dusted off our Writers Recommend series, dear reader, a fun excerise where we ask writers to, well, you know.. recommend things. Like the books that they've enjoyed. To you. Because who doesn't like being recommended new and interesting books, right?! Think of it as a PSA. Only it's more like an LSA -Literary Service Announcement. 

This recommendation comes from Caleb Tankersley. His story collection Sin Eaters won the 2021 Permafrost Book Prize and is published by University of Alaska Press. He is also author of the chapbook Jesus Works the Night Shift. His writing can be found in Carve, The Cimarron Review, Puerto del Sol, Sycamore Review, and other magazines. He is the managing director for Split/Lip Press and lives near Seattle.

Caleb Tankersley Recommends The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich



“A burst of radiance. The flowers fly into the air and scatter in the yard. Another crack so loud we’re right inside of the sound. Billy Peace, sitting on the iron bench like an oracle, is the locus of blue bolts that spark between the iron poles and run along the lantern wires into the trees. Billy, the conductor with his arms raised, draws down the power.”


I’ve given you this line with no context, no surrounding story, no character descriptions. You don’t know Billy Peace, and you don’t know who is witnessing him be struck by lightning. But none of this information is necessary for you to be drawn in by the energy of these lines.


That’s the genius of Louise Erdrich, who is—I don’t mine staking the claim here—the greatest living English-language fiction writer. You could read any of Erdrich’s books to understand how brilliant her work is—some of my favorites include LaRose, Tales of Burning Love, and The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse—but I think Erdrich’s linguistic skill is most on display in The Plague of Doves.


The book features a large host of characters who live around the small town of Pluto, North Dakota. We follow Evelina—a young girl trying to find herself amongst all her family history—as well as several characters in decades past who were involved in a series of horrific crimes and retaliations that still reverberated in the lives of Pluto’s white and Ojibwe citizens today.


I’m an easy cryer. A few violin strings or thinking about Zuko reuniting with Iroh and I’m wiping dust out of my eyes. But it’s fair to say that The Plague of Doves struck me on a whole other emotional level. Louise Erdrich should have a multi-million-dollar sponsorship deal with Kleenex. This isn’t to say the book is melodramatic; far from it. The Plague of Doves is deeply real, deeply genuine, and deeply funny, all of which make its emotional moments strike with a ringing clarity.


But what really sets Louise Erdrich apart as the GOAT and made me a life-long fan is illustrated in the passage above: her language. Each and every sentence is supremely polished and smooth, perfectly crafted. And while the scenery is clear and the movements crisp, Erdrich somehow imbues every line with magic. I don’t mean “magic” in the sense of fantasy or wizards, I mean magic. Possibility. The reader is firmly rooted in the real, tangible world, but Erdrich’s prose lets us know that the rules of this world are malleable. It’s as if the very atoms that make up her environments are vibrating, allowing anything to pass through at any time.


Erdrich’s plots lean into these magical elements in small ways, but it would be a bit simplistic to call The Plague of Doves a magical realist novel. A better description might be that Erdrich herself has a worldview that allows for magic to happen, and she’s happy to share that view in her writing.


And what happened to Billy Peace, the man struck by lightning? I’ll let Erdrich tell you as only she can:


“He is a mound, black and tattered, on all fours. A snuffling creature of darkness burnt blind. We watch as he rises, gathers himself up slowly, pushes down on his thighs with huge hands. Finally, he stands upright. I grab my mother’s fingers, shocked limp. Billy is alive, bigger than before, swollen with unearthly power.”


There’s a brief sample of what you can expect from The Plague of Doves. I’m envious of anyone reading this who gets to arrive at this book for the first time. Go curl up with a copy today (and bring some Kleenex).


If you feel so inclined, please check out Caleb's forthcoming book: 

Winner of the 2021 Permafrost Prize, Sin Eaters is Caleb Tankersley’s debut story collection.

Magical, heartfelt, and surprisingly funny, Sin Eaters paints a tumultuous picture of religion and repression, while hinting at the love and connection that comes with healing. These powerful stories illuminate the shadowy edges of the American Midwest, featuring aspects of religion, sex and desire, monsters and magic, and humor.

Sin Eaters is a fight for authenticity in a world that is mysterious, muggy, and punctured by violence. This stunning debut full of complex themes will both challenge and delight.

Sin Eaters arrives March 2022. Preorder  your copy now.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Where Writers Write: Marc Kristal

 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 Marc Kristal. 

Marc has authored, co-written or contributed to more than forty books, notably Re:Crafted: Interpretations of Craft in Contemporary Architecture and Interiors, Immaterial World: Transparency in Architecture, and The New Old House: Historic and Modern Architecture Combined. His journalism has appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times, Architectural Digest, Wallpaper, Metropolis, and Dwell. Also a screenwriter, Kristal wrote the 1990 feature Torn Apart, and created the script for Saigon ‘68, which received the 2013 Best Documentary award at the L.A. Shorts Fest and the CINE Special Jury award. He lives in New York.

Where Marc Kristal Writes

When I met my wife, nearly forty years ago, she was living in a prewar studio apartment that she’d rented in Manhattan’s Chelsea district in the mid-1970s. Though it may be hard to imagine today, given the neighborhood’s multimillion-dollar steam-cleaned townhouses, ever-changing cavalcade of theme-y restaurants and, most dismayingly, the conversion of the Chelsea Hotel into ‘luxury condos,’ the area was pretty dicey back then, with Eighth Avenue a random bricolage of gay and dive bars, Cuban diners, and sex shops, and Ninth the turf of the lower west side projects. For these reasons, my wife paid a stabilized rent in the low three figures, for what was, the building’s decrepitude notwithstanding, a pretty nice setup. The main room was ‘sunken’ – i.e. two steps down from the entry/dining area – the windows overlooked a series of well-tended townhouse gardens, and the place was dead-quiet, an especial bonus for someone who, as the saying goes, can hear a fish fart.

            Once we started living together, I began using her place as a writing studio, an arrangement that lasted for about 25 years. Alone, undistracted, at peace, I produced, in that situation, about 80 percent of my life’s work – two dozen screenplays, half as many architecture and design books, hundreds of articles, a play or two and, after a decade of wandering in a creative wilderness, a novel.

            About fifteen years ago, I was evicted. The building was sold, the crocodiles who bought it took everyone to court, and as our actual residence was elsewhere (and despite the fact that I spent six days and several nights a week there and had for decades), we were in violation of the city’s rent-stabilization laws, we would have lost at trial and couldn’t afford a lawyer in any case. It is not an overstatement to say that this constituted the most traumatic loss of my professional life. It was over.

            From there, I migrated six blocks north, to 28th Street, the heart of Chelsea’s Flower District. A charming block: every morning in all weather, the merchants would set out whatever was in season – mums, tulips, impatiens – in pots and buckets along the sidewalk, which made for a challenging walk and an unmixed pleasure for the soul. My twelve-by-twelve-foot room, which looked across an airshaft through uncleanable windows into a sweatshop, shared walls, floor and ceiling with four recording studios, all specializing in rap and hip-hop. I set up a little kitchen, did the breakfast dishes in the men’s room, hung some photos, and laid in a supply of Quies wax earplugs, The Writer’s Best Friend. The rent was double what I’d been paying, still not very much, but you noticed when you wrote the check. I lasted just under a year. I couldn’t deal with the 24/7 thud of the sub-woofers, above, beside, beneath.

By then, my wife and I were living in another prewar apartment, undistinguished but for a rather startling amenity: a walk-in closet measuring five by nine feet. The drawbacks of working in a closet (apart from the inevitable ‘jokes’ about being a closet writer, coming out of the closet, etc.) are 1) no windows, 2) no ventilation, 3) claustrophobia, 4) NOT ENOUGH ROOM FOR ANYTHING, 5) impossible to keep clean, 6) that’s where the 24-packs of toilet paper are stored.

            And yet. Once I put up a wall-size corkboard and pinned up pictures of my pals (Alain Delon, William Kentridge, Patricia Highsmith, Brigitte Bardot, and others), I felt like I’d taken ownership of the space. Two walls are covered in bookshelves, so if I dry up and want to refresh myself by dipping into my betters, they’re all within half an arm’s reach. The commute could not be shorter, though you have to make sure to get out a few times a day or risk turning into Miss Havisham or Howard Hughes (without the money). It’s cheap. It’s  cozy. And as I am opposite the bathroom, it might be said that I have a water view.

            This is not how I expected to end my creative days (and hopefully it won’t be) and given that things are so constrained, I am less productive. But I still show up for work every morning, and as every writer knows, once you get down to it, the world falls away. I’m in a closet, but I could be anywhere.

            There are a number of personal items in here keeping me company. Perhaps the most important is a postcard I purchased a few years ago, in the gift shop at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. It is a photo, by Arnold Newman, of Otto Frank, standing in the attic of the family hiding place – the Secret Annex – on 3 May 1960. It had been Frank’s decision to remain in hiding in the city rather than flee, and he was the only member of his family to survive the war. Which meant that, as he died in 1980, at 91, Frank had 35 years in which to ponder the consequences of his choice.

            The postcard sits directly in front of me on the desk, unavoidable – a constant reminder of how fortunate I am, to have a place of my own to work, to do what I love, to have had it so good, so easy, for nearly seventy years. A constant reminder to, as the saying goes, count my blessings. Things could be worse.


Set in 1990s Los Angeles, Permission tells the story of a screenwriter on the brink of success, derailed by a destructive marriage that drives him into a breakdown. Medicating his condition with a bottomless plunge into prostitutes and cocaine (his unlikely vehicles for self-analysis and personal revelation), he uses what he learns – and the new relationship he finds in this underworld – to come to terms with his nature, and to change his life.
Comic and horrific, shockingly explicit yet tender and lyrical, Marc Kristal's uncompromising, unforgettable novel is about the ways in which we create identities that let us overcome and hide from our fears, what happens when those selves crash into their limits – and how the worst sort of chaos can lead, in the end, to the best outcome.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Top Five Strangest Films Adapted from Literature

Top Five Strangest Films Adapted from Literature
Guest post by Madeleine Swann

There were so many unusual or artistic films adapted from books that I could have included, like Kwaidan (so beautiful), Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (again, beautiful), Call of Cthulhu (love to see modern silent films) and Viy (Gogol!). In the end, however, I can only choose five, so I picked the absolute strangest, and my absolute favourite, films adapted from literature.


The Fall of the House of Usher (1928, James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber)

At least two film versions of Edgar Allen Poe's short story were released in 1928; Jean Epstein's beautiful, dreamy version co-adapted with Luis Buñuel (who quit due to creative differences) and this short version by French Impressionists Watson and Webber. 

 It's unlikely the audience would have had a clue what was happening unless they were familiar with the source, but that's not terribly important as it’s more about a feeling and the characters’ subconscious and imagination. It’s strange, pretty and very surreal. The camera lurches uncomfortably and dreamlike shadows drift across the screen, culminating in a barrage of mind-whirling camera trickery. Also, you have to admire Madeline's fabulous outfit. 

Another, more modern, adaptation worth a watch is The Bloodhound, which is very understated while also addressing the character’s subliminal fears.


Zoo (2005, various)

Otsuichi (pen name of Hirotaka Adachi) adapted the script, made of five segments, from his own short stories. Each is an unpredictable curio, with even the trope of girls locked into rooms by a murderer taking an unusual angle. One of my favourite segments is a boy struggling to cope with his seemingly dead parents, both insisting they lived while the other died in a car crash, both apparently unable to see the other. Are they both ghosts? Is one still alive? Is a dimension shift happening? It’s a bit of a shame (in my opinion) that it explains too much at the end, but the explanation itself is slightly barmy which saves it.


Wisconsin Death Trip (1999, James Marsh)

One of the most hauntingly odd films I’ve seen adapted from an equally strange book released in the seventies. The book contains photographs and newspaper articles of sad and strange happenings in Wisconsin during the 1800s, when the endless snowy months drove its inhabitants to madness and despair.

 The film includes narration of articles over re-enactments, with the entries to the insane asylum whispered eerily. Some of the stories are quirkily uplifting such as the opera singer, no longer in her prime, who moved to Wisconsin from the big city and gave a denture clacking concert.

 Mixed with these black and white stories are scenes of modern Wisconsin in colour with locals discussing their home state. While these are interesting, I do feel they remove the viewer from the immediacy of the hard Victorian winters.


Hansel and Gretel (2007, Pil-sung Yim)

In this version of the classic fairy tale, with strong elements of It’s a Good Life by Jerome Bixby, the children are the creepy ones. Eun-soo just wants to visit his sick mother and get home to his pregnant girlfriend but crashes his car by a forest, where a girl leads him to a magical looking house populated by three children and their parents – or at least that’s how it seems.

 It’s visually wonderful, filled with rainbow cakes, pagan symbols, bright colours and old toys evoking those unsettling Edwardian Christmas cards. The mystery deepens as each of Eun-soo’s escape attempts fail while the children become increasingly threatening and, I said it, annoying. However, in the end, you can’t help but feel sorry for (almost) everyone involved.


Spark of Being (2010, Bill Morrison)

Bill Morrison’s films give me the uneasy feeling that I’m watching the videotape in Ringu, particularly Decasia. This one strings the archival footage that Bill is known for together to loosely recreate the story of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The different story segments are announced by chapter headings and we’re often placed in the “monster’s” POV as he watches the family go about their business on the farm or endures suspicious stares from city dwellers.

 As with the House of Usher it helps if you know the story because it’s completely without dialogue and intertitles. However, it's such a loosey goosey adaptation, that the main intrigue comes from the historical value of the archival footage and the trippy scenes you can zone out to. I think my favourite bit is the petri dishes and bacteria of Frankenstein’s laboratory (patched rhythmically together from educational films) while Dave Douglas’ jazz score goes absolutely nuts, very cool.


Madeleine Swann's collection, The Sharp End of the Rainbow, was published by Heads Dance Press and her novella, The Vine That Ate The Starlet, was released by Filthy Loot. 

Her collection, Fortune Box (Eraserhead Press), was nominated for a Wonderland Award. Her short stories have appeared in various anthologies and podcasts including Splatterpunk Award nominated The New Flesh: A David Cronenberg Tribute.   |     | Twitter

Amazon links for The Sharp End of the Rainbow: US   |    UK