Monday, November 21, 2022

Page 69: Man in a Cage

  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  Patrick Nevins's Man in a Cage to the test. 

Set up page 69 for us.


One of the novel’s many tensions is between the narrator, Richard Garner, and his family, and that’s on full display on page 69. It’s 1891, and Garner, a Washington, DC, teacher and self-taught primatologist, is determined to go to Africa to observe chimpanzees in the wild. His plan is to build a cage in the rainforest and live inside it for several months as he studies the apes. In particular, he wants to study their “speech” after capturing it with a phonograph. He thinks this will have major implications for the theory of evolution. On page 69, Garner’s admiring an illustration of himself in an article on his planned research trip. In the illustration, he’s in his cage, which is surrounded by gorillas and elephants. His wife, Maggie, isn’t fond of his plan and would prefer he study apes in zoos, but Garner simply won’t hear it.


What Man in a Cage is about


Man in a Cage is based on a true story. Garner’s mostly been forgotten, but he was well known in his lifetime for his primate research. A lot of people didn’t take him seriously, though. There’s a little of him in Hugh Lofting’s Dr. Dolittle and H. A. Rey’s Man in the Yellow Hat from the Curious George books. Man in a Cage treats him with a lot more seriousness. Colonization, racism, and environmental stewardship are some of the themes that coalesce in the story of Garner’s first trip to Africa.


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


Yes, I think it passes the test. And there’s another theme—one that transcends the novel’s particular time and place—that comes out on page 69: ambition. Once Garner decides to study primate language, he can’t be talked out of it. His ambition is so strong that it often overpowers his reason. There are plenty of characters who stand in Garner’s way—other scientists, missionaries, big-game hunters—but Garner’s stubbornness might be his worst enemy.





Man in a Cage



“You don’t really intend to go through with this, do you? Please tell me it’s all just talk.”


“It’s not just talk, Dear. I fully intend to go through with this.”


The illustrator, besides portraying me recording the capuchins in Central Park, had ventured to draw me sitting inside a cage of steel bars pointing a phonograph toward a gorilla twice my size, while another approached from the rear of the cage. In the distance, an elephant raised its trunk, thrusting his tusks like great spears.


“Go anywhere you like to look at monkeys in zoos, take as long as you need—but Africa? You’d be away for such a long time—and it sounds terribly dangerous.”


“Where I plan to go is a French colony. A place to holiday, for heaven’s sake. I’ll take you there sometime.”


“A holiday in the jungle?”


“As for when I’m in the jungle, I’ll be protected by the cage I’m going to build.”


“But you’ll have to get there and build it first. You could get yourself killed. I’m tempted to pray that your friends at the Smithsonian will keep their purse strings tight. I’m sorry—but that’s just how I feel.”


“I am afraid it’s too late for that.”


“Oh, Richard!”



Patrick Nevins is an associate professor of English and the author of Man in a Cage, which was published in August by Malarkey Books. His short fiction appears in Crab Creek Review and other journals. He can be found online at

Monday, November 14, 2022

Indie Spotlight: Loren Stephens

 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!

Loren Stephens, author of the novel, All Sorrows Can Be Borne, interviews her main character Noriko with the help of her translator, Mitsuko.  


Noriko and I are walking through the bamboo forest in Arashiyama, a train ride from her home in Osaka.  The verdant beauty of the swaying bamboo and the birds chirping in the trees makes this a lovely afternoon – quite a contrast from what she tells me.

Loren: So Noriko, thank you for treating me to a trip to Arashiyama, I’ve never been here before.

Noriko: Later we will go to the onsen for a soak in the indoor baths.

Loren: Naked?

Noriko: It is customary in Japan even amongst strangers like ourselves.  And we have our translator, Mitsuko to explain the rules to you.

I imagined the three little girls from the Mikado.  Noriko is in her seventies, although she looks much younger and walks with a sprightly gait. In fact, she seems somewhat childlike in her observations about nature – the butterflies, the sun cutting through the thick bamboo, and the two Americans dressed as Rastafarians who were being trailed by a group of curious locals who had never seen anyone quite like them.

Loren: What was it like to live through the bombing of Hiroshima?

Noriko: As you know I was born there. I was at school and we were all ushered to the basement. I waited for an hour in the darkness until my father came and took me home on his bicycle through the streets that were filled with dying people. Black rain fell and our neighborhood was in ruins, but within six months things started to grow in our garden and I went back to school.

Loren: What did you hope to do when you graduated high school?

Noriko: I wanted to be a dancer and singer with the Takarazuka Academy but after all the music and acting lessons my father paid for, I shamed him by being rejected. They said I was too short, and my voice wasn’t strong enough. My best friend made the company which was like salt in a wound. I should have been happy for her, but I wasn’t.

Loren: So what did you do instead?

Noriko: I went to work at my sister’s tearoom in Namba, and I met my husband who was the manager. He was also a self-taught pianist, and we used to perform together just for ourselves – and for an occasional passerby. I remember one night, a beggar pressed his nose against the cafĂ© window and watched as we sang together. That was our only real audience.

Loren: Did you want to have children?

Noriko: Not really. I was so disappointed that my dreams had been crushed, and I was afraid that something might happen to my baby after I had been exposed to what we learned was radiation.

Loren: But you ended up with a healthy baby boy?

Noriko: Yes, I surprised myself by falling madly in love with my baby son. My husband referred to our unborn baby as “our love child” because I became pregnant on our honeymoon. But soon after  my husband was diagnosed with tuberculosis, so our life was turned upside down.

Loren: I understand that he forced you to give your son away. That must have been heart breaking. How could you have done that?

Noriko: I believed that by giving away my only son, the pressure that my husband felt about being a father, would be lifted and he would recover from his illness. During his confinement at a sanitarium, he was unable to work. The money that I had hidden in a glass jar under the sink disappeared; I thought about opening a checking account in my own name, but I never got around to it. I was too busy taking care of my baby and watching out for my husband whose mood swings were unmanageable. I held the fantasy that my husband and I might have other children although of course no child could ever take the place of my first born.

Loren: Where did your son go?

Noriko: My husband promised him to his sister, who lived in Montana with her Japanese-American husband. I had never met either of them and didn’t know anything about the small town where he was to live and be raised as an American. My husband thought he’d have a better life. He lacked confidence in me that I could be a good mother. Frankly, I was sick a lot of the time as well – exhausted from working to support us, and I wasn’t sure I could take care of both my son and my husband.

Loren: Did your husband recover?

Noriko: He died anyway, and I was left a childless widow in less than a year. I thought I might die.

Loren: What gave you the strength to go on?

Noriko: My religion. I am a follower of Tenrikyo – a sect that was established by a woman who believes that life is joyous, and that by sacrificing for others you will find happiness for yourself.

Loren: And is that what happened to you?

Noriko: Why, of course.

Noriko smiled and then laughed which I had come to recognize as a habit of Japanese who want to cover up their sadness.

Loren: Well, thank you for allowing me to interview you, Noriko.

Noriko: And now we go to the baths.

We changed out of our street clothes, sat naked on wooden stools, poured buckets of water over our heads, and then slipped into the tiled onsen for a relaxing soak. Three little girls from school in Arashiyama – Noriko, Mitsuko and me.


Loren Stephens is a widely published essayist and short story writer.  Her work has appeared in the LA Times, the Chicago Tribune, MacGuffin, Crack the Spine, and the New Plains review among many.  She has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. The memoir, “Paris Nights: My Year at the Moulin Rouge,” by Cliff Simon with Loren Stephens was named one of the top titles from an independent press by Kirkus Reviews.  She is also the president and founder of the ghostwriting companies Write Wisdom and Bright Star Memoirs. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Audio Series: Side Effects of Wanting


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

Mary Salisbury will be reading an excerpt from her story collection Side Effects of Wanting. Her short fiction and essays have been published in Fiction SoutheastWhitefish ReviewFlash Fiction MagazineCutthroat: A Journal of the Arts, and Cutthroat’s Truth to Power. Her chapbooks, Come What May and Scarlet Rain Boots, were published by Finishing Line Press, and her poetry has appeared in Calyx: A Journal of Art and Literature by WomenSpry Literary Journal, and Wild Roof Journal, and is forthcoming in The MacGuffin and Michigan Quarterly Review. Salisbury is an Oregon Literary Arts Fellowship recipient and a graduate of Pacific University’s MFA in writing program. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

Click on the soundbar below to hear Mary from her collection: 

In Side Effects of Wanting, author Mary Salisbury gathered together the pieces of humanity she saw reflected in the lives around her and distilled them into a poetically written, beautifully curated short story collection. In this debut, small-town stories speak of love and belonging, longing and regret. The people who populate these tales yearn for companionship and comfort—but all too often they must, instead, face the trauma of fractured relationships and the ache of not quite becoming the person they hoped to be.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Books I Read in October

 Halloween has come and gone and Christmas is like a blink away... where the heck did this year go?

I appear to have kept up a pretty healthy pace this past month, reading a total of 8 books in October! In case you were curious, here's a peek at which ones they were:

River Woman, River Demon by Jennifer Givhan

Oh yaaaas, this book hit the spot!

As the anniversary of her best friend's drowning approaches, the frequency of Eva's blackouts increase, a residual side effect from the trauma she experienced as a teenager all those years ago. Then one evening, Eva awakens on the couch to the sound of her husband Jericho moaning for help down by the river behind their home, and upon reaching its muddy bank, she finds him clutching the dead body of their best friend Cecelia. The cops show up and arrest Jericho, and Eva is left trying to pull together the pieces of what the hell just happened.

A chicana bruja and curandera, Eva searches for the truth through unusual means, calling upon the ghosts of the drowned women who haunt her and leveraging her ancestrial magick skills to keep herself and her family safe.

A gorgeously written novel that mixes the magical with the paranormal, River Women, River Demon is a haunting look at the power of our pasts and the achingly familiar desire to not lose faith when all the evidence screams otherwise.

The Animals in That Country by Laura Jean McKay

One of the best books I've read this year and it's crazy to think that it would have slithered right under my radar if I hadn't happened across a blogger's review of it when I was reaching out to them to pitch a client's book.

I'm also shocked at how many people are either on the fence about it or flat out disliked it. It's so friggen good you guys! How can anyone not like it?!

It kicks off in a zoo, where we spend time with Jean, one of the zoo's guides, her daughter-in-law Ange, who runs the zoo, and her granddaughter Kim, at the very start of a highly transmittable virus that quickly escalates to pandemic status. Not long after the initial flu-like symptoms wear off, the infected begin communicating with animals - first, they can hear the mammals. Next, the birds. And there are some, god help them when they reach this stage, who can hear the insects.

Initially thought to have gone mad, many of them kill their pets, or release them from captivity. Ange gets word that all zoos and sanctuaries are to be placed on lockdown, and so lock down they do. Jean and Kim used to play a game where they'd guess what the animals were thinking, and to them, this "zooflu" sounds like a dream. Imagine what that could be like... speaking to the animals. Breaking that barrier and truly understanding their thoughts. It's especially enticing to Jean, who has bonded greatly to a female dingo named Sue that she rescued as a pup. So when her infected estranged son Lee shows up at the gates, she embraces the opportunity to let him inside.

As the exposure sets in amongst the staff, Lee takes off with Kim towards the ocean where he plans to commune with the whales, and Jean, now starting to show signs of the illness, hits the road with Sue. What follows is a hallucinatory and heart wrenching journey to reclaim her family and maintain her humanhood in a world in which the animals now appear to have the upper hand.

Daphne by Josh Malerman

I don't know why I keep reading new Malerman books expecting them to blow me away the way Birdbox did. They just don't. And it's not a dig on his writing or the stories he's telling. But my god, nothing will ever come CLOSE to that book, imo. I think they all suffer from never-gonna-beat-the-first-book-I-read-from-the-author syndrome. (ahem, if you know, you KNOW).

His other books are hit-or-miss with me... it's the most bizarre thing. Some (Black Mad Wheel; Unbury Carol; Goblin) were incredibly underwhelming. Others (Pearl; A House at the Bottom of the Lake; Malorie) were pretty ok. We can add Daphne to the pretty ok pile.

I listened to the audio and thought it was really well done. In it, we meet a group of high school female basketball players who are being brutally killed off, one by one, by what the girls believe is the ghost of Daphne, a small town urband legend that allegedly stalks those who summon her by simply THINKING about her...

They Were Here Before Us by Eric LaRocca

I thoroughly enjoy Eric LaRocca's writing. His books are deliciously bingeable and shamelessly cringey. He takes body horror to a totally different place and his latest book, They Were Here Before Us, continues that fabulous trend.

In this thematically connected collection of short stories, we're treated to a variety of perspectives - we're a beetle in a decomposing corpse, a chimpanzee who has lost his human lover, a bird tormented by a young child, a married couple who struggle at the hands of dementia... it's nature vs nurture at its wildest and it's really friggen good.

I'm sure I'm preaching to the choir here, because you've all ready something of his by now, right? Right?!? If not, well jesus, what are you waiting for?!?!

Dark Harvest by Norman Partidge

A dark town with a dark secret and a really strange tradition of turning their teenaged sons lose on halloween night in a hunt-or-be-hunted race to midnight.

Picked up this hokey halloween book for funsies, not really expecting a whole lot from it and this hit the spot ... when you take it face value. Which I kind of can't. There was very little set up and almost no backstory and gosh I have so many questions!! Like, why do they lock their sons in their rooms and starve them in the five days leading up to the "run"? Why is it that only the sons participate, and not the daughters? How did this horrible tradition begin and why do they have to keep satisfying it year after year? And why can't the locals leave?

While it created more questions than it seemed to answer, I sure am glad I'm not being stalked by a machette carrying pumpkin-vine-crow stuffed with loads of delicious candy. That's all I'm saying.

Empire of Wild by Cherie Dimaline

I hadn't heard anything about this book when I stumbled across it while browsing in a bookshop, and was pleasantly surprised by it. The jacket copy definitely does not do it justice.

I picked it up thinking it was a going to be a mild native thriller about a woman who went searching for her missing husband but it turned out to be so much more than that. It's steeped in canadian native culture and forklore, incredibly atmospheric, and took a fabulous turn into 'horror-adjacent' territory.

If you're looking for a slow burn with some teeth to it, Empire of Wild should be on your to-read list!

Very glad I found this one!

Man Fuck This House by Brian Asman

It looks like people were somewhat split on this one, but I found it to be a really fun read. One that I could have finished in one sitting if I hadn't started it so late the other night.

It's a quirky horror read - strange, not quite scary - that plays on the haunted house trope. A family moves into their dream home but things are not what they seem.

The wife, Sabrina, begins to see and hear things that she cannot easily explain and, like most normal people in weird situations, attempts to rationalize them away until she can't - a strange man appears on her basement steps and carries a box of her husand's sports stuff down into the basement then disappears into the crawl space; she heads upstairs to run a hot bath only to find someone has already done it though she's the only one home; she turns on the TV and sees herself in every show... Unfortunately, she's the only one experiencing it and her family is starting to think she's mentally unravelling. By the time her kids start to catch on to the fact that something is not quite right, they may be just a little too late...

I think the less you know going in, the better off you are, because it's an interesting spin on the genre. If you pick it up, I'd love to know what you think!!

The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy

I am not sure how I feel about this one.

Taking it at face value, it was a good book. I enjoyed listening to it. I could listen to MacLeod Andrews read just about anything. I liked the rough grit of it. I liked the dual narrative - bouncing between Bobby Western's weird antics, after he works a salvage dive at the site of a crashed plane, and the inside of what we learn to be his deceased sister's schizophrenic mind.

But it just didn't feeeeeel like a Cormac McCarthy book. It felt more like... well... I'm not sure what it felt like exactly but it did not feel like him.

Is that weird? Am I alone in this?

Have you read any of these? What did you think? 

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Where Writers Write: Christopher Locke


 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 Christopher Locke. 

Christopher Locke was born in New Hampshire and received his MFA from Goddard College. His essays and short fiction have appeared in The North American Review, The Sun, The Rumpus, Slice, JMWW, SmokeLong Quarterly, Barrelhouse, and Atticus Review, among others. He won the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Award, as well as grants in poetry from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts. 25 Trumbulls Road, his first collection of fiction, won the Black River Chapbook Award. His latest collection of poetry Music For Ghosts (NYQ Books) was released in 2022. His memoir-in-essays, Without Saints, is due out from Black Lawrence Press in October 2022. Chris lives in the Adirondacks and teaches English at SUNY Plattsburgh and North Country Community College.

Where Christopher Locke Writes

I like to write in bed. I’m not sure how this all came to be, because in my 20’s and 30’s, I’m pretty sure most of my writing was executed upright at a pine desk. Back then, I had this big-ass Brother hybrid (part typewriter, part tugboat engine component) so it didn’t necessarily lend itself to being plopped down on my stomach, squeezing the life out of me as I banged out a litany of woeful poems, (I was filled with a lot of woe in those days).


I think I love to write in bed because I also write best in the morning, when my head is clear and untroubled by anxiety, and bed provides a natural extension to the process. I really enjoy that whole stretching out business, the elongation of it all. Propped up on several pillows while I am telling a story is not only comfortable, but frankly, humane; I’m not one of those writerly types who says they compose best at 2:00 am whilst a windstorm rages outside and I reach for another jigger of whiskey.  




And damnit, if it was good enough for Wordsworth, Proust, and Edith Wharton, it’s good enough for me!