Friday, October 21, 2022

Page 69: Josh Dale's The Light to Never Be Snuffed

 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  Josh Dale's The Light to Never Be Snuffed to the test






OK, Josh, set up page 69 for us.

First of all, nice. Wanted to get that out of the way.

So, yeah, page 69 is actually a strong point in both the plot and character arc of Jack Grand, the protagonist & narrator. 

It’s the first day of 3rd grade, the first time ever in a grade school classroom, he gets humiliated in front of the class…and he gets into a fight with another boy. 

It’s crude, a bit bloody, and sets up Jack for a scolding immediately after. 

Jack says a bad word right at the end of page 68, so you got lucky.

 

 

What The Light to Never Be Snuffed is about:

 This novella is about a broken family on the cusp of divorce and foreclosure. All told through the eyes of a battered, and plausibly mentally unwell, young boy. There are hallucinations, Pok√©mon, imaginary friends, and some shocking moments.

 Oh, and monstrous ants that are not just part of his imagination. Cannot leave out the ants.

 

 

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

 Oh, absolutely. Just when you think Jack is on the up-and-up, he plummets back down to earth. Jack ingests toxic ‘advice’ from Ron, his father, about what it means to be a man. This time, though, Jack makes the choice to lash out in anger.

This scene alludes to the theory that Jack is antisocial and does not do well under duress. He doesn’t see his peers as prey per se, but he just snaps and throws any restraint to the wind. A seed is planted earlier when Jack relates his dad to a ‘fire demon’ and given that he is the son of, he embodies this persona for the first time. He does all this after trying to woo a girl named Kelly. A page out of Ron’s Manly Manifesto…talk about a backfire!

 It calms down after this moment, but the 4th quarter of this novella is the craziest yet. Enjoy the breather while you can.


 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Page 69

The Light to Never Be Snuffed

 

The class gasped as I rushed him. Wailed my arms any which way they could. Skin hit skin. Bone hit bone. I transformed into the son of the fire demon. Devon hit me back in my chest. It hurt but I was enraged. We toppled to the ground.

 

Ms. Rochelle pulled me off Devon. I was not like my dad yet. I was contained. Some other students covered their eyes. But not Kelly. She stared at me, the only one that didn’t laugh. She looked like a ghost appeared and scared her forever.

 

“Mister, you’re in deep doo-doo,” Ms. Rochelle said, pulling me behind the desk.

 

Soon, the principal was at the door. A bald, pudgy man, His shirt was tight. His face got red like my dad’s. Ms. Rochelle cast me off to his spaghetti arms. Devon whimpered on the ground. Red splotches stained the new floor. A tiny tooth, too.

 

“Call the nurse for Devon,” he said. With my hat in his other hand, he pulled me toward the door. “With me, Mr. Grand.”

 

My hands felt like a lump of berries. Inside his muggy office, there was a small fan blowing onto his sweating head. (…)

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~





Josh Dale does well with cats, plants, and coffee. A native Pennsylvanian, he’s an alumnus of Temple & Saint Joseph’s. His debut novella, The Light to Never Be Snuffed (Alien Buddha Press, 2022) was released in front of a crowd of ants. His fiction has appeared in Breadcrumbs, Autofocus, Drunk Monkeys, Maudlin House, Rejection Letters, and a winner in the 2021 Loud Coffee Press Micro-Fiction Contest. More on his site: www.joshdale.co


Monday, October 17, 2022

John F Duffy 's Top Five: Albums of the Late Nineties From Emo Bands You Never Heard Of

 

Top 5 Indie Albums of the Late Nineties from Emo Bands You Never Heard of

 



When I was a senior in high school at the tail end of the last millennium, I found myself enamored with a very niche genre of music that not many people had heard of at the time: emo. Now, this was the late nineties, and what people call emo today is a far cry from the music of the genre’s second wave, which was a direct descendent of hardcore. There was no eyeliner, no Jared Leto, and definitely no jokes using the word “emo” as a stand-in for  self-absorbed-sadness. This was also a time when the internet was still for dorks, no one carried a cell phone, and if you wanted to play music in your car, you had a CD player installed (with a removable faceplate, if you could afford it). If you wanted to find out about cool, underground music, you hung around a local record store and went to the shows listed in homemade zines or advertised on the flyers taped to the front window.

 

There are plenty of bands who started off in this word-of-mouth world of small shows in basements that you may have heard of: Modest Mouse, Bright Eyes, Death Cab for Cutie, Cursive, and Jimmy Eat World to name a few. All of these bands released great music in the late nineties, but they continued straight on through the aughts and up until today, and so they have a lot of name recognition with music fans. So many more great bands came and went, and were only known to a small cadre of devoted fans who kept the scene alive by regularly attending shows and buying merch. 

 

In my novel, A Ballroom for Ghost Dancing, the main characters came of age, like myself, in the late nineties, and starting in their teens they made a semi-successful run at playing in an emo band until the drummer finally quit to pursue other interests, having only ever scored one almost “hit” song. The characters in my book would definitely own the albums on this list in vinyl, and they definitely would have seen the bands who produced them live, liking them long before they were cool, and lamenting them when they split up. 

 

Here they are listed in chronological order of release:

 

1. Texas is the Reason Do You Know Who You Are https://revhq.com/products/texasisthereason-doyouknowwhoyouarethecompletecollection-2xlpcolorvinyl-cd

 

With a band name ripped from a Misfit’s song about the Kennedy assassination, Texas is the Reason only released one full length record, and it was 1996’s Do You Know Who You Are? When I think of this album, I think of the tight heads on the drums, and the sharp pop of the tom hits in the opening song, “Johnny on the Spot.” I also think about the ultimate singability of songs like “Back and to the Left.” Of all the albums on the list, this one is the least “sad,” which may make listener’s question if it’s even an emo record. Their sound was absolutely unique for the era, and hearing it decades later it’s impossible to deny the foundation the band laid for pop-punk bands that would follow in the next decade. Listening to their record, it’s easy to see how Texas is the Reason could have been a household name, and apparently they almost were. Offered a contract with Capitol Records in 1997, they could have gotten that major label push, but the band members decided to break up and go their separate ways instead. 

 

2. Braid The Age of Octeen https://www.polyvinylrecords.com/product/the_age_of_octeen

 

Picking a Braid album for this list is tough, as their first three LP’s are all strong for different reasons, and I kind of consider them THE emo band of record. If ever you want to know what “the sound” of the genre was, it was Braid. Full stop. Their first full LP, Frankie Welfare Boy Age Five, is raw, full of feeling, raw, moves fast, and did I say raw? (And that’s the good, full powered rock-and-roll kind of raw, not uncooked organ meat served up for dinner, raw). Their third LP, Frame and Canvas, (which gets a shout out in my novel) is much more polished and impossible not to sing along to. 1996’s, The Age of Octeen, falls right in the middle. The vocals still get a bit “screamy,” which is good, because it makes you feel cool when they blast out the window of your 1987 Ford Escort as you pull out of the High School parking lot, but songs like “Chandelier Swing” bring that punch-you-in-the-gut tender dreaminess that makes the genre what it is. After all, it wouldn’t be emo if the music weren’t bursting from the seams with emotion.

 

3. Mineral The Power of Failing https://www.discogs.com/release/1448916-Mineral-The-Power-Of-Failing   

 

I don’t remember how I heard of Mineral, but I know I picked up their 1997 album, The Power of Failing from my local record store after being so wowed by the first track that I knew I couldn’t leave the shop without it (yes, you could listen to a CD before you bought it at local record stores). With the perfect mix of heavy, distorted guitars and also slow, melancholic crooning, this album laid an emotional blueprint for the genre at large. If you were seventeen, and needed an album that could make you pump your first one moment, then clutch your heart and feel all the feels about the general existentialism that gathers us up when we’re young and charged with hormones and longing thanks to the boy or girl in third period who never looked our way, then The Power of Failing was for You. And if now you’re in your mid-thirties, furiously swiping left and right on a matchmaking app, wondering what the hell happened to the world, songs like “July” will have you singing along with Chris Simpson as he wails, “The sun fell down again last night on my frustration, and on my spite, and I didn't even cry, I didn't even try to stop it at all, I just stood there and watched it fall.”

 

4. Sunny Day Real Estate How it Feels to Be Something On https://www.musicdirect.com/music/vinyl/sunny-day-real-estate-how-it-feels-to-be-something-on-vinyl-lp/

 

I actually heard Sunny Day Real Estate’s fourth album first, and often hearing a band’s more evolved work can poison a listener against their earlier creations, but that was absolutely not the case for me with 1998’s How it Feels to be Something On, which is an experience of an album. Singer Jeremy Enigk’s voice and style are unlike anything you find elsewhere in pop music. The album is melodic and drifting, and makes for the perfect road trip listen (which might be why my characters play it as they drive across the US in my book). Strangely, the album is so good, so tight, and so unique, that it is at once the quintessential emo record, but also beyond the boundaries that most listeners would suggest form the genre at all. Songs like “Every Shining Time You Arrive,” will grab you and never let go, making you wonder how you never heard of this band before, and making you wish you could go back and purchase this record while you were still in college, flailing about to figure out who you were, desperate for an artistic crutch on which to lean on in your despair. But don’t worry, it’s just as good now that you’re all grown up, and life has delivered on every promise.

 

5. American Football LP 1 (https://www.polyvinylrecords.com/product/american_football_deluxe)

 

It was 1999 when American Football released their first self titled full length album, so it comes in just under the wire for this list. Melodic, sad, but with an interesting selection of instrumentation that constructs an ideal home for the color-outside-the-lines style of guitar play that Mike Kinsella (who also sings) has been known for before and since. This album is one of my favorite autumn-into-winter listens, and always transports me to a Chicago apartment where I stare wistfully out the window as the first snow begins to fall. Best played after a breakup, or even just as the days grow short and dark, American Football’s LP 1 is perfect for a night at home alone while you think about everything you wanted your life to be, and having it in your record collection will demonstrate to all your party guests that you have an intimate understanding of the roots of emo, far more than the silly bastards who bought into all that Fallout Boy nonsense.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



Originally from Chicago, John F Duffy is a writer who currently lives just outside of Bloomington, Indiana. His short fiction has appeared in Fly Over Country Lit, The Jupiter Review, Terror House Magazine, and Cutleaf Literary. In 2022, his podcast series, "After the Uprising" was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. Duffy's debut novel, "A Ballroom for Ghost Dancing," is available now, wherever books are sold.


Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Indie Spotlight: Marc Joan's Hangdog Souls

Welcome to our Indie Spotlight series, in which TNBBC gives small press authors the floor to shed some light on their writing process, publishing experiences, or whatever else they'd like to share with you, the readers!



Today we are shining the spotlight on Marc Joan's 

Hangdog Souls





Described as "ambitious and spectacularly accomplished literary fiction for fans of David Mitchell and Haruki Murakami", Marc Joan’s debut novel, ‘Hangdog Souls’ (literary horror; Deixis Press) is set in India over a 300-year span (1770-2070). But what was the genesis of this idiosyncratic, label-defying work? Marc explains-:

“Some of the inspiration behind ‘Hangdog Souls’ clearly comes from my upbringing in South India – I spent the first 12 (and most formative) years of my life there, and the memories remain vivid. So the settings in the book come directly from places where I grew up – Tamil Nadu, the Nilgiris, the Palni Hills, Bangalore, Ooty, Kodai, Mysore -- and the books’ characters are flavoured with the habits and personalities of people I knew in those places. Regarding style, the book reflects my natural inclination towards dark/speculative fiction: it is somewhat gothic, somewhat macabre, and has elements of horror and subtle sci-fi. At the same time, it has a strong literary edge, and I don’t apologise for that – I like reading literature which feeds the cerebral appetite, so naturally that is also what I like to write.

“Interestingly, however, I was not aware of a (likely key) driver behind the book until well after I had finished it. I am what is known as a ‘Third-Culture Kid’ – brought up in a country and culture other than that of one’s parents, a home which one later leaves to ‘return’ to one’s passport country. The TCK experience is different for each TCK, of course, but for some it can be quite difficult, perhaps wrenching. Anyway, I recently found out that there is a growing body of work, by researchers such as Antje Rauwerda and  Jessica Sanfilippo Schulz, on TCK-authored literature. It turns out that TCK authors often write about similar themes: notably, guilt, migrations (and the losses that thereby arise), and the lack of a sense of home. When I heard that, the penny really dropped: in retrospect, I can find those elements in probably everything I have written, and they are clearly there in Hangdog Souls. For example, one of the book’s protagonists is struggling with guilt and shame – which have arisen through deaths associated with his migratory life – and is trapped between alternative realities! It’s just not possible to get any more TCK-ish than that.

“Perhaps this shows that authors are not always conscious of, still less in complete control of, what they write. We are all products of our histories as interpreted by our memories; in each of us, the subconscious weaves a story to make sense of those recollections; and when authors write fiction, their narratives inevitably emerge from that same subconscious loom. Writers can tinker with characters and settings, I think, but the fundamental themes they return to come from some hidden, unknowable place, and I suspect are quite resistant to change.”


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Marc Joan spent the early part of his life in India, and the early part of his career in biomedical research. He draws on this and other experience for his fiction, which has been published in magazines including Lighthouse Literary Journal, Structo, Bohemyth, Smokelong Quarterly, Hypnos, Chroma, Madcap Review, Danse Macabre, The Apeiron Review, STORGY, Literary Orphans, Bookends Review, Sci Phi, Weird Horror (Undertow Publications), The Dread Machine, Sein und Werden and Nightscript. His novelette, ‘The Speckled God’, was published by Unsung Stories in Feb 2017; he is a contributor to the forthcoming Comma Press anthology ‘Mirror in the Mirror’, the Night Terror Novels anthology Ceci n’est pas une histoire d’horreur, and the DBND anthology ‘Ghost Stories for Starless Nights’. His first novel. ‘Hangdog Souls’, was published by Deixis Press in July 2022.

Marc has been placed in various competitions as follows: he was a finalist in the Aesthetica Creative Writing Award 2017/2018; Runner Up in the Ink Tears Short Story Competition 2017/18; received a Special Mention in the Galley Beggar Short Story Competition 2017/18; long-listed for the Brighton Prize 2017; reached the last 60 (from nearly 1,000 entries) of the 2018 BBC National Short Story Award; received an Honourable Mention (placed in the top 4%) of the 2020 CRAFT Short Fiction Prize; was winner of the 2020 Punt Volat Short Story Competition, and finalist in the same competition with a second entry; was long-listed in the 2020 William van Dyke Short Story Prize (one of 20 semi-finalists from over 400 entries); achieved Highly Commended in the Gatehouse Press New Fiction Prize, 2020; was finalist / selected for publication in the 2020/21 Aesthetica Creative Writing Award; was short-listed in the 2021 Short Fiction / University of Essex International Short Story Competition (one of seven short-listed from ~780 entries); was long-longlisted in the 2021 Brick Lane Bookshop Short Story Prize; proceeded to the second round (top 5% of entries) of the 2021 Bridport Short Story Prize; and had two stories long-listed in the 2021 Exeter Story Prize.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnfcPFqBme8  


 


Monday, October 10, 2022

Where Writers Write: Jasmine Sawers

  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 Jasmine Sawers. 


They are a Kundiman fellow and Indiana University MFA alum whose work has appeared in such journals as Foglifter, AAWW’s The Margins, SmokeLong Quarterly, and more. Their fiction has won the Ploughshares Emerging Writers Contest and the NANO Prize, and has been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, and the Pushcart Prize. Sawers is proud to serve as an associate fiction editor for Fairy Tale Review. Originally from Buffalo, Sawers now teaches creative writing and pets dogs outside of St. Louis. To learn more, please visit https://www.jasminesawers.com/





Where Jasmine Sawers Writes

 

When we moved last year, my spouse insisted I get a new desk, because I was still creaking away at the slowly disintegrating pile of lumber I’d bought for $20 at AMVETS in 2009. I resisted because the expense seemed exorbitant, but eventually he, and the bits falling off the old desk that could no longer be contained with tape, convinced me. I was fussy about the style, but ultimately, I picked a desk and got a slab of plexiglass for the top of it, because the wood was soft and I wanted to keep it undamaged as long as possible. I promised myself I would keep it in good shape, and scrupulously clean while I was at it. An organized desk is an organized mind. So obviously it looks like this.

 



 I remember going to my dad’s big roomy office when I was a kid, precarious stacks of paper and accordion folders stuffed to bursting strewn across the floor, his desk, everywhere. His colleagues’ offices were always much tidier. Pristine, even. Their diplomas on the walls, maybe some tasteful art. Files appointed precisely in place. Not Tim Sawers; why expend all that effort when you know exactly where everything is in your maze? What my mother might call laziness is, for me, the sense that I can’t get up and break the alchemical process of working, even to, say, take my medication, so it needs to be right there and so do any books or notes I will need to consult. I guess whatever forces dictate DNA roulette gave me not only my father’s face and hair but his tolerance for mess.

 

It gave me, also, his propensity for books. He’d leave his spy novels and old white man canon in little piles around his bed. They’d get shoved in his closet or under the bed or behind the skirt of his bedside table. And then he’d wonder where all his books went. I’ve had to make a concerted effort to keep my books in their proper places, and sometimes I fail nonetheless, stacks growing here and there like unchecked weeds. I’ve also had to move six times in the last ten years and have been ruthless in getting rid of what I didn’t need, love, or plan to read. Still, I am running out of space. I’m going to need another bookcase.

 


 

When conditions are perfect—that is, when the weather is cooperating, I have no obligations for the day, and I am experiencing an overabundance of executive function—I will find a park where I can go into the woods and be alone at a picnic table. I will bring a book to read and a notebook to write in. Last time I did this, I wrote Elephants Bury Their Dead.

 

Recently, I found a good spot on a lake in a state park.

 



 I can’t do couches or beds or coffee shops. I can’t do anything but sit upright someplace where my only company is myself and noise is limited. I find it uninteresting and rigid, much like my writing process itself, but I can’t say it doesn’t get shit done.


Friday, October 7, 2022

What I Read in September

 And just like that summer is over. Pumpkin spice season is upon us and I'm not totally mad about that (just the pumpkin spice part, I mean). 

I'm still not yet back to my normal reading pace, having absorbed 7 books into my personality this past month, because what are we if not a reflection of the stories we've read?!?

In case you were curious, here's a peek at what I read and reviewed last month!




Mother Walked Into the Lake by Alana Capria

I bought this book last year when Kernpunkt Press was having a sale. I'd heard the author read from it and knew it was something I wanted to read.

It's uniquely written and narrated - the characters are only known as Mother, Father, Sister, and Brother. The protagonist, the eldest sister, explains that Mother walked into the lake and disappeared. After searching high and low for her, she suddenly reappears but is not who she was. Mother has changed... is changing... and the children are both frightened and enthralled. Mother hides and chases, she smiles and sneers, she's watchful and wary.

I wrongly assumed it would be a quick one-sitting read since it clocks in at just under 100 pages. Instead, I digested it over the course of four days. The prose is lush and quite literarlly breathtaking, requiring frequent breaks to allow its words to wash over you. It's psychological, trauma-ridden, body horrific fiction that's haunted but also haunting.





Dead Water by CA Fletcher

Oooh yeeeaaaah. A chunky slow burn of a watery horror-adjacent novel that's best dived into blind. Don't read the reviews before you read the book. Trust me.

I won't give anything away here so if you end up reading it, you gotta come back and tell me what you thought.

It's atmospheric and unhurried. The short chapters help you glide through the book pretty quickly despite it being so page-heavy. It's set on a pretty isolated island, so as the good stuff gets going it starts to feel a little claustrophobic. And it's very character heavy but that's not a bad thing in this case.

In tone and pacing, it reminded me a bit of The Town That Forgot To Breathe and The Shipbuilder of Bellfairie.

Go on. Get it. I think you'll really like it.





Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Had the opportunity to download this on audio as a review copy, though I was hesitant because it was blowing up on the socials and typically when a big five book is praised by the masses, it usually means it's not for me.

True to my hunch, it was a good car-ride companion but probably not something I would have enjoyed curling up with to read. The narration was well done, but the storyline was a bit long for me... I'm not a fan of books that span long relationships. And this one had a lot of break-up-get-back-together moments. Because of that, there's this weird built-in redundancy that's slightly nails-on-a-chalkboardish, a repetitiveness to some of the situations that really frustrated me - oh no, they are misinterupting each other's intentions again; oh gosh, why don't they just say it, why are they holding it in again, haven't they learned their lesson?; why do they remain friends if they so obviously can't get along?

I did enjoy the retro throwback feel of the book. Setting it in the 90's, just as gaming and computers were really blowing up, brought back a rush of nostalgia for me. As a non-gamer, I appreciated how the book didn't hyperfocus on the details of designing or playing, even though video games are basically what stitches the whole thing together.





Saturnalia by Stephanie Feldman

This one took me by surprise. I definitely wasn't expecting it to go where it went and ended up reeeeaaally enjoying it!

Set in an alternate version of Philadelphia, where climate change has ravaged the world, we meet Nina, who's barely keeping her head above water, when she receives a call from an old friend with a request that she can't turn down. He needs her to sneak into the Saturn Club - a super elite social club she broke away from three years earlier - and retrieve something for him. The timing is perfect, the city is celebrating Saturnalia, an ancient Roman festival that has become a trendy 'mardi gras' like block party, and it will provide her the perfect cover.

At first it's all carnival masks and flashbacks to when she was part of the upper echelon and discovering the reason she turned her back on it all... but once she learns exactly what she it is she has stolen, all the wheels fall off the bus and we find ourselves on one roller coaster of a ride. Out of nowhere, we're suddenly thrust into a strange underworld of mayhem and magic and alchemy and secrets darker than anything Nina could have ever imagined.

And it's just.... so.... good! If this wasn't on your radar, it is now, and now you've got no excuse!




Assemblage by Abigail Stewart

I am a fan of Abigail's. Her writing is ridiculously bingeable. Go ahead, crack open one of her books and tell me you didn't accidentally read it cover to cover in a matter of hours without even noticing the time passing.

In this collection, Abigail infuses each of her stories with just the right amount of magical realism. They lean slightly left of center when you least expect it and continued to surprise me at every twist and turn.




The Light Never to Be Snuffed by Josh Dale

Mother fucking ants, you guys!

The Light to Never Be Snuffed is a surreal peek into a young boy's damaged view of the world and the increasingly strange ways in which he copes with escalating domestic unrest.

Jack was homeschooled and is preparing to enter the third grade. His dad drinks, his mom wears bruises like jewlery, he's sick of the ants that seem to have run of the household, and he's probably got a concussion from the hit he took to the head when helping his dad in the garage.

He typically hides in his room and plays his gameboy, knowing enough to stay out of the way when his parents start to get into it. But he's concerned, he knows something's not right, and he creates an imaginary friend to keep his head occupied as things become increasingly more difficult for him.

It's a weird little novella that is easily read in one sitting but fair warning, it's not going to be for everyone.




Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

Listened to this one on my way to and from work and I'm glad I did because I'm not sure this was the kind of book I would have enjoyed sitting down with. It was a little too cutesy for me but worked really well on audio.

Elderly Tova Sullivan has experienced a lot of loss in her life. Her son disappeared when he was eighteen and her husband passed away after a long suffering illness. She's working overnights as a cleaner at the aquarium and quickly develops a meaningful friendshipwith their giant Pacific Octopus named Marcellus (who happens to be the book's narrator). Marcellus was a rescue from the Puget Sound, the very ocean her son is believed to have committed suicide in.

In a separate storyline, we meet Cameron, who just turned 30 and has traveled to Sowell Bay in search of the man he hopes is his father. After spending every cent he owned to get there, Cameron is in need of a job to pay back his aunt's loan and ends up taking over Tova's position while she's home recovering from a bad fall.

As the two storylines merge, astute readers will quickly read the writing on the wall and well, who cares. It doesn't ruin the experience because, as I mentioned, it's kind of a cutesy read (or "corny"... as I saw another review refer to it) so we're rooting for the happy ending we know everyone will be getting.


Have you read or listened to any of these? 


Monday, October 3, 2022

An Interview with Steve Adams

 


We're excited to welcome Steve Adams to the blog. His debut novel Remember This releases October 11th with University of Wisconsin Press. The book follows John Martin, a talented graphic designer employed as a word processor for a prestigious New York investment bank, as he enters into an affair with his married boss and is suddenly forced to confront his serial history of relationships with otherwise attached, emotionally complex women, and his damaged past concerning his family and three older sisters. 




Though Remember This is your debut novel, forthcoming this October, you have had stories and essays published in many venues over the years. When were you first bitten by the writing bug? 

 

It’s a much longer story, but I was twenty-five, in Austin and pretty lost, studying acting, jazz guitar, generally flailing about, just trying to find a place to put this “stuff” that was inside me and to get my feet under me. Strangely I’d never been exposed to modern poetry, and in a dance/movement class in the theater program our teacher had us spout modern poetry while leaping about (like fools, I’m sure). But the words struck me. I couldn’t believe I’d not been exposed to this amazing art form. So when they kicked me out of the acting program for stinking as an actor, I stumbled away and on a whim took a poetry class where I had the immense fortune of landing in an undergrad poetry class taught by the amazing, and still working, Albert Goldbarth. It was one of the best breaks of my life, and he even gave me a blurb for my novel. My life entirely changed direction at that point.

 

Can you share with us the experience of having been published for the very first time? 

 

It was pretty intense. After years of writing poetry, and then one-act plays, and moving to New York to see my one-acts produced, I took off to LA with dreams of cracking the big time as a screenwriter. It was a total washout and I soon decided it was time to give up writing and finally live a sensible life. No luck there! I didn’t last three months before I was so emotionally uncomfortable from not writing that I started writing prose for the first time just to blow off steam. I was thirty-eight then and realized immediately that after all this time I’d finally found my form. I wrote a half dozen short stories, one after another, and the first one to land won Glimmer Train’s New Writer’s Award, and—I promise I’m not making this up—I was staying at the motel across from Graceland in Memphis when I found out I’d won. I’m not making this up either—in NYC my last play to be produced there before I left for LA was a one-act called “Velvet Elvis.” Elvis has been my patron saint ever since. 

 

You write both fiction and non-fiction. Which comes more naturally? Why do you think that is? 

 

This is a tough question for me to answer, only because I don’t have a clear response. But the way my process works is my stories generally find me. Which doesn’t mean I don’t go out looking for ideas. But when one hits me, the fiction ones and the nonfiction ones just feel different. For one thing, my nonfiction, except for my writing process essays, is almost exclusively narrative driven, and so for me that means memoir. Of course you can always turn a true experience into fiction, but for me the true experiences always want to be written as memoir, because there’s the “truth” of the true story I want to uncover and get at.

 

When writing fiction, what comes first for you, the story or the characters? 

 

Honestly, I’m always looking for both, and with my stories that work it feels like they somehow happen at the same time. If a true character appears, that character will have a drive or a need or a want that’s unfulfilled, and that creates the trajectory of the story they’re going to follow. I think that’s why it feels they happen almost simultaneously. Though I’m not going to lie—I keep my eyes open for a purely brilliant narrative all the time. I’d kill for a premise as clear and solid as The Hunger Games.

 

How did the idea and storyline begin for Remember This

 

New York City is a very important place for me, and I probably feel like I belong there more than any other place, even during hard times. I lived there for sixteen years broken up into three forays over three decades, and in 2008 the economic collapse wiped out my job. As there was no work to be found in the city, I had to leave. I had several months of unemployment until my lease was out, so I spent those months wandering my beloved city, revisiting every place of importance to me. And, as I always do, I wrote. I started to write about what I was experiencing, that clock ticking on my life there. But I knew that alone wouldn’t sustain a full novel, so the idea came to me of a young man involved in an affair with a woman who is likely the love of his life, a married woman with a child, who is also his supervisor in the office where they work. They have two months together while her husband is out of the country. When John’s not with her he wanders the city much as I did, obsessively, taking it all in. And those two loves of his—the city and the woman—reflect each other, as the days wind down.

 

What was the most challenging part of the writing process for you? 

 

I am a writing coach and writing is a way of life for me, and also I know a lot of tricks to keep going. But if we’re talking about this novel, it was probably figuring out the structure. This was also one of the most exciting parts of writing the book, because I have two storylines: one current (the two-month affair in 1988 NYC), and one past (my protagonist’s childhood in Texas). The chapters are relatively short, and I grouped them together in sets of two and three, however it felt right organically. And I spent a good amount of time working with arranging these time periods so they’d click together, and build, and echo, and create emotional resonance. Once I realized I had—and I hope this doesn’t sound obnoxious, but—a beautiful, meaningful structure, I mean, man, that was a good day. There are so many elements that go into a successful novel, but it’s hard to think of anything more important than structure.

 

In what ways did the book change from first draft to the final manuscript? 

 

As I’ve said, the book has two storylines, the main one in 1988 AIDS-haunted NYC where my protagonist, John Martin, is an adult, and the second one nested inside, tracking John’s childhood with his three older sisters in Texas and how that led him to become who he is at this point, a man with a specific wound he’s unaware of. Anyway, my original draft just covered the main story—John wandering the city, in love with this woman and this city he is going to lose. After I finished and a few people read it, I realized this one storyline was not enough to sustain it, and I got this vision of him as a child in a very particular family in Texas with very particular issues. And so I wrote that storyline and inserted it, having the book toggle between the two stories. It made all the difference, giving a why to go with the what of John.

 

Which character, if any, do you most relate to? 

 

It would be John. We’re different, of course, and don’t have the same problems, but like him I moved to New York City and came into myself there. I would be there now if I could afford it. He and I share some history too, particularly hanging around the dynamic music scene in Austin in the early 80s. It was fun to pull some of those details into this book in its Austin section.

 

Which character was the most difficult to write?

 

This may sound obnoxious (again), but I didn’t find any of the characters hard to write. I didn’t struggle with them. In fact, it felt like they were teaching me about who they were. The hardest part of writing this novel was getting the structure right, making those two storylines line up. I had to make multiple runs at that, but once I had it, it clicked into place. I’m as proud of the structure of this book as anything else I’ve done.

 

What’s the most valuable advice someone has given you about writing?  

 

Writing is the best teacher of writing. So just write. Show up regularly, and produce pages, good and bad, it doesn’t matter. They will lead you somewhere, while at the same time teaching you more about how to write. As you know I’m a writing coach and I give variations of this advice to my clients all the time.

 

What’s a book you’ve read that you wish you had written? 

 

Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping. I’ve only read it once, but the whole experience of it was magical and overwhelming. I have no idea how she pulled that off.

 

1.     What are you reading right now?

      In trying to take some weight off my reading load during this intense publicity process, I’ve turned back to my first love, poetry. Right now I’m rereading one of my favorites, William Stafford, and his collection, The Way It Is. At the same time I’m reading a book from my beloved mentor, Albert Goldbarth. Just reading a poem or two every morning and not having to carry a full-length narrative in my mind at the moment has been supporting me.

 



Steve Adams’s creative nonfiction has won a Pushcart Prize, been listed as “Notable” in Best American Essays, and has been published in The Pinch, The Millions, and elsewhere. In fiction, he’s won Glimmer Train's Short Story Award for New Writers, and his stories have been anthologized and published in Glimmer Train, The Missouri Review, and elsewhere. He’s been a guest artist at UT, a resident artist at Jentel, a scholar at the Norman Mailer Writers’ Colony, and his plays have been produced in NYC. He’s a writing coach and editor, and his website is  steveadamswriting.comRemember This, his debut novel, will be featured at The Southern Festival of Books in Nashville the weekend of Oct. 14.