Thursday, April 7, 2022

Page 69: Dream Kids

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 Wayne Hampton's Dream Kids to the test

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

This is the last page of the third chapter of the book titled “Kids with Choices.” Each chapter of the book has a title that previews its content. This moment takes place the night after Bryce’s first day at The Dream Academy when failed get the electives he wanted to set his own path towards happiness for the upcoming semester.

More importantly, this passage highlights the frustration Bryce find as he longs to be loved by his friend Paige once again who takes him and his love of granted. It also shows his attempt to make amends with his friend Jaycee whom he had hurt despite her affection for him.



What is your book about?

 Dream Kids is on the surface a novel about a group of teens attending an experimental high school where they are never sure of what exactly they are learning or why. At its heart though it is a love song to those tender years when each decision and action feels at once unknowable and likely to mark a person for life; the time when young lives have the most passion, take the greatest risks, are battered by messaging and advice, all while possessing the least experience or wisdom, and yet somehow have to make it through.



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 this page gives a good sense of the tone of the book as a whole though doesn’t represent the humor throughout. It is a good glimpse into the most central conflicts at play, and for a single page I am proud of that.



Michael Wayne Hampton is the author of five books. His criticism, essays, fiction, and poetry have appeared in numerous publications such as The Southeast Review, Fiction Southeast, and Rust+Moth. His work has won an Individual Excellence Award from the OAC and been nominated for Best American Short Stories. His writing has also been named a finalist or semi-finalist for other awards such as the Iowa Short Fiction Prize and The World's Best Short Story Contest.

Michael can be reached via his homepage at or on Twitter @motelheartache

Monday, April 4, 2022

Page 69: How to Adjust to the Dark

 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 Rebecca van Laer’s How to Adjust to the Dark to the test

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

We’re in the midst of a passage where the narrator, Charlotte, is interpreting a long poem that she wrote in a creative writing workshop. After her first episode of major depression, Charlotte is exploring the roots of her trauma through a simultaneously dark and humorous, Plath-esque poem about dolls. Here, we see some of her analysis of Part 3 of the long poem, “As a Doll,” as well as the beginning of Part 4.


What is the book about?

In How to Adjust to the Dark, Charlotte reflects on a string of doomed love affairs from her early 20s, as well as the poems she wrote about them. Through vignettes, poetry, and close reading, she untangles her beliefs about love and art to arrive at new theses about what it means to write about love—and what it means to love to write.

 Does this page give readers an accurate feel for the novel? Does it align itself with the book’s overarching theme?

This portion is a bit less narrative than the novella as a whole, grounded more in a moment of poetry and self-reflection than in a snapshot of Charlotte’s life. However, it is an accurate reflection of her voice, at once analytic and filled with compassion for a prior version of herself.




Just as children listen to the sound of the ocean in seashells and mistake the rushing of blood in their own heads for it, children hold dolls to their chests hoping to feel something from the doll, when all they can feel is what is already inside themselves.

But in this poem, when the speaker holds the doll’s cool face to her own it is not that the doll is like herself (lovable, warm) but rather that she is like the doll: pleading, silent. And so she names them, all of them, after herself. This is how I begin to retell my story, and to make sense in this poem: in naming my toys Charlotte, I indicated my likeness to them. I did not imagine dolls as extensions of myself, living and breathing, but rather saw myself as decorative, mute, and helpless.

I continued breaking up these reflections on myself

and my childhood.

4. Typology

Of course, there is a difference.

Sometimes, it’s like being in a candy store.

The vibrant yellow business suits

small magenta combat boots

heels that match the leopard eyes


Rebecca van Laer’s writing appears in TriQuarterly, Joyland, The Florida Review, Salamander, and elsewhere. She holds a PhD in English from Brown University, where she studied queer and feminist autobiography. She lives in the Hudson Valley. 

Friday, April 1, 2022

Where Writers Write: Aaron Angello


 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 Aaron Angello. 

Angelo is a poet, playwright, and essayist from the Rocky Mountains who lives and feels remarkably out of place in the charming, but very Eastern, town of Frederick, MD. He received his MFA and PhD from the University of Colorado Boulder, and he currently teaches writing and theatre at Hood College. His book THE FACT OF MEMORY is being published by Rose Metal Press in April.

Where Aaron Angello Writes

About a decade ago, I put together a website called the Denver Poetry Map. It was basically a google map of Denver that was filled with marker icons, each connected to a poem. When a reader clicked on a marker, a poem would open in a pop-up box. It was a simple concept, but poets and readers loved it. It really got me thinking about the relationship between a piece of writing and the space in which it was written. I asked poets to submit a poem that, for them, was connected to a very specific location in the city, whatever that meant to them. Some poems mentioned the location in the poem itself (a bridge, a tattoo parlor), but for most, the connection was much less literal. Poets attached poems to places that they were drawn to, to places that somehow inspired them, to places where they conceived ideas, and to places where they wrote. To me, the most interesting relationships between poem and place were the least literal, the poems that the poet could not separate in their mind the poem from the place, even if the content of the poem didn’t seem to connect to the location at all. The more enigmatic the relationship, the more interesting.

I like to think of poetry and lyric essays as records of thought processes. Each of them allows a kind of expression of thought that can only be expressed in that form. Both allow for disjunction and for multiple, complex meanings. Sometimes they meander, sometimes they are concise, often they meander in a concise way. As readers, if we read well, we kind of share in the patterns of thought that are presented. In his “Defense of Poetry,” Shelley wrote that a person (not just a poet) “must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own. The great instrument of moral good is the imagination.” He goes on to specify that “poetry strengthens the faculty which is the organ of the moral nature of man.” He’s writing about empathy, of course, and man, I love that. The writer must have empathy for others, certainly, but also, the poem allows the reader to share an experience of thinking with the writer.

One thing that the Denver Poetry Map taught me was that the thinking that is expressed in a poem is directly connected to the place in which the poem was composed. The reader, then, can empathetically connect with the poet, and by extension the place. Once the reader has read the poem, the place it’s connected to is forever altered in their minds. There is a circular bond that connects a physical pace, a poet’s mind, a poem, a reader’s mind, and the place again.

So, place matters. A lot. Yet, I don’t know if I can entirely identify why that is. I think about it all the time. I think about the power of remembering a childhood bedroom, the feeling one gets when they drive by their old high school, the overwhelming sensation one feels when they go back to that bar where they met a lover.

I also think about what a place does to the physical body. Does it invite the body to stretch out or constrict? Is the movement in the environment around the body that can be sensed, or is it still and quiet? Are the people or animals near the body or is the body isolated? Is the physical body larger than the objects near it or is it surrounded by giant objects? Is the environment natural or built? The place affects the body which, in turn, affects patterns of thought. I am convinced that any place one chooses to write is going to have a massive impact on the work that is produced in that place.

When I wrote the first draft of The Fact of Memory, I was living in a one-bedroom apartment in Boulder. I was doing a kind of daily, meditative practice where I’d get up before the sun, sit in a straight-backed chair that was adjacent to a large, sliding glass door, meditate upon a word from Shakespeare’s 29th sonnet, and then write. It was a profound and productive practice for me. Because there are 114 words in the sonnet, it took a while. (This is a photo of the herbs from my wife’s Instagram, but that’s the chair and that’s the window.)

Late in the process of writing that first draft, my wife and I went to California to visit a friend. We stayed at a beautiful little place in Palm Springs with lots of desert light and a swimming pool. I kept up the process of getting up early each morning and writing, but the stuff I was writing was entirely different – tonally and in the treatment of the content. Instead of sitting in the dark, looking out on a Colorado winter, I took my notebook to a lounge chair in the sun by the pool. I wrote, but what I produced just wasn’t a part of the project I was working on. It didn’t fit at all. It moved differently, and the intellectual engagement was of a different kind entirely. (Actually, I don’t recommend writing poolside – there’s no struggle in it. If you find yourself in that situation, I suggest just having a cocktail.) I ended up rewriting almost all of what I wrote on that trip.

Now, I live in Maryland. I’m currently writing this little essay in my office on the campus of the college where I work. It’s small, windowless, and a bit cluttered, but it suits me well. I find myself fighting the urge to answer emails or grade papers, which is no doubt affecting what I am writing, but this is a good place to think and to write.


Last spring, I wrote a play at a cheap little plastic table in my backyard. I wrote every morning with a cup of coffee and Max Richter and Philip Glass in my headphones. The air was lovely in the mornings, the birds were doing their bird thing, and my imagination felt unfettered. It was easy for me to slip into that liminal space where creative stuff happens. It’s like twenty degrees outside right now, though, so that’s not in the current mix.

 I like to work on poems on a little fold-up Formica table in my kitchen. This is also where I prepare food, so it’s often messy, and there’s always a connection to food when I’m there writing, for better or worse.

Ultimately, I like to try different writing spots out. I write in cafes; I write while sitting on park benches; I write on public transportation. I mix it up a lot. What I know is this: I need to move around if I want to continue to explore new ways of thinking in my writing. If I hit on a project, though, I need to stick with a spot.