Monday, June 26, 2023

The 40 But 10 Interview Series: Neema Avashia


I had decided to retire the literary Would You Rather series, but didn't want to stop interviews on the site all together. Instead, I've pulled together 40ish questions - some bookish, some silly - and have asked authors to limit themselves to answering only 10 of them. That way, it keeps the interviews fresh and connectable for all of us!

Today we are joined by Neema Avashia. Neema is the daughter of Indian immigrants, and was born and raised in southern West Virginia. She has been an educator and activist in the Boston Public Schools since 2003, and was named a City of Boston Educator of the Year in 2013. Her first book, Another Appalachia: Coming Up Queer and Indian in a Mountain Place, was published by West Virginia University Press in March. It has been called “A timely collection that begins to fill the gap in literature focused mainly on the white male experience” by Ms. Magazine, and “A graceful exploration of identity, community, and contradictions,” by Scalawag. Another Appalachia was a finalist for the New England Book Award.

Why do you write?

I write to figure out what things mean to me. Why particular moments or relationships or interactions continue to be so salient, while others have faded. And I hope that in writing, and offering a window into my meaning-making, it helps readers to both make further sense of their own questions, and to know that they are not alone with those questions—that I have them, too.


What do you do when you’re not writing?

My partner and I just had a baby in November, so I’m definitely doing no writing at present. But I am reading a lot during the baby’s marathon naps when I’m trapped under her!


What’s the most useless skill you possess?

I can read words backwards on the page, as well as visualize and say them backwards. I honed this skill in high school Physics, where another student in the class was named Ameen (the inverse of my name), and we therefore decided to invert everything we read or said for the whole year. (Yes, I was that kid!)


What’s something that’s true about you but no one believes?

I was born and raised in West Virginia!


What’s the best money you’ve ever spent as a writer?

Paying to attend workshops (shouts to Kenyon Review Writers Workshop and the Appalachian Writers Workshop!) has given me time and space to really hone my craft, and to build relationships with other writers.


What is your favorite book from childhood?

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. In my copy, I crossed out everywhere it said Mike and wrote my name in its place!


What are you currently reading?

I’m on a Claire Keegan kick. Small Things Like These and Antarctica are my reads this week. Such powerful prose–tightly written. Not a single word feels extraneous.


Do you read the reviews of your books or do you stay far far away from them, and why?

I read them. I wrote the book in the hopes that readers would connect with the ideas and experiences I grapple with, so I want to know how they are responding. That said, I also have learned how to take what’s helpful from reviews, and let go of what doesn’t serve me or my writing. I taught middle school for 2 decades, so I’ve gotten pretty good at taking unvarnished feedback!


Do you think you’d live long in a zombie apocalypse?

No way. With my Appalachian upbringing, I’d try to say hello to the zombies and invite them to sit on the porch and chat and have some tea, and that would be the end of me!


Are you a book hoarder or a book unhauler?

I try to offload books as soon as I read them, but I seem to acquire them faster than I can give them away. So, an unwilling hoarder!


When Neema Avashia tells people where she’s from, their response is nearly always a disbelieving “There are Indian people in West Virginia?” A queer Asian American teacher and writer, Avashia fits few Appalachian stereotypes. But the lessons she learned in childhood about race and class, gender and sexuality continue to inform the way she moves through the world today: how she loves, how she teaches, how she advocates, how she struggles.

Another Appalachia examines both the roots and the resonance of Avashia’s identity as a queer desi Appalachian woman, while encouraging readers to envision more complex versions of both Appalachia and the nation as a whole. With lyric and narrative explorations of foodways, religion, sports, standards of beauty, social media, gun culture, and more, Another Appalachia mixes nostalgia and humor, sadness and sweetness, personal reflection and universal questions.

buy the book here:

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Page 69 Test: Under the Blue Moon

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 Joan Schweighardt's Under the Blue Moon to the test.

OK, Joan, set up page 69 for us.


Lola, one of two protagonists in Under the Blue Moon, is broadsided by another car in the first chapter. Jamie, the man who hit her, makes a run for it when the police arrive on the scene, but after a chase through a neighbor’s yard, he is shot and killed anyway. Several chapters later, Lola, who feels connected to Jamie’s death, almost responsible for it even though he hit her, decides she must visit Jamie’s mother. The woman speaks no English, but her teenage granddaughter, Jamie’s daughter, is there (it’s clear that she lives there), and following Lola’s awkward attempt to explain why she’s visiting, the granddaughter informs Lola that her grandmother is not in the mood for company but she can return the following week.


On page 69, we find Lola leaving the house, sad that Jamie’s mother would not see her but thrilled that she has been invited to try again. She is already wondering if she should bring her dogs, Pete and Blue, along, to cheer up the granddaughter, who she assumes is, like Jamie’s mother, in deep mourning. As she begins to drive off, her mind wanders, and before she knows it she is going over the details of her own daughter’s wake and funeral, which occurred ten years earlier.



What Under the Blue Moon is about:


Under the Blue Moon is about a woman who has been living for years with grief and regret and a man who, as a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, has recently become homeless. The book cuts back and forth between her story and his. Outside of the fact that they both live in the same city (Albuquerque, New Mexico) and that their paths intersect every now and then, they don’t really know each other and their situations are totally different. What they have in common is that they have both reached the end of their respective ropes; they have been wishing and hoping for change and it has not arrived, so now they’re ready to try to trick it into making an appearance.



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


Page 69 gives the reader a sense of what Lola has been through and the kind of person she is. The chapters in the book alternate between Lola and Ben, and since page 69 doesn’t mention Ben at all, the page can’t really be said to align with the larger theme of the book.



 Page 69

Under the Blue Moon


Lola was already thinking that she could bring Pete with her. Or maybe Blue. She was imagining running that by Janet. Now that Janet had called George and told him not to come, she was happy with her old friend again. But regarding bringing the dogs over to the Hernandez house, she already knew what Janet would say. She would say it was entirely inappropriate. She was already hearing herself responding, “But the girl,” and Janet listing all the reasons: The people could be dog haters; did she see any dogs there? No! They could have allergies; they could have cats. Janet, Lola conceded, would be right, this time. But she still couldn’t keep the vision from playing in her head—the girl smiling, bending to pet both dogs, Jamie’s daughter laughing, maybe, forgetting for a moment that her father was dead and she’d have to find a way to go on without him. The girl and the grandmother stood at the door and watched her leave. She felt as if she was walking on rocks, or as if her legs were different lengths. Finally she reached her car, her van. She looked over her shoulder in time to see the door close.


On the way home Lola thought about Valerie’s wake, a scenario that was always right there, a dark shadow from the past that fell over any number of activities performed in the present. She thought about how shocking it had been to see so many young people pouring in for those two days. The funeral home had had to open a partition wall between what had been two reception rooms to make one big one. Good thing we only had the one body, she’d heard the funeral director’s assistant say to the director. Lola remembered thinking—cruelly, she knew, but she couldn’t help it—that if all these kids who were coming in clutching one another, sobbing their little hearts out, had been kinder to Valerie when she was living, maybe she still would be.


Joan Schweighardt is the author of novels, memoirs, and children’s books. In addition to Under the Blue Moon, Schweighardt’s recent fiction includes the Rivers Trilogy—Before We Died, Gifts for the Dead and River Aria—which moves back and forth between the New York metro area and the South American rainforests from the years 1908 through 1929. She also conceived and co-edited an anthology entitled The Art of Touch: A Collection of Prose and Poetry from the Pandemic and Beyond, which features contributions from 38 poets and writers, to be published by the University of Georgia Press in November, 2023.

Monday, June 19, 2023

The 40 But 10 Interview Series: Kimberly Oclon


I had decided to retire the literary Would You Rather series, but didn't want to stop interviews on the site all together. Instead, I've pulled together 40ish questions - some bookish, some silly - and have asked authors to limit themselves to answering only 10 of them. That way, it keeps the interviews fresh and connectable for all of us!

Joining us today is Kimberly Oclon. With a BA in screenwriting and MFA in Fiction, Kim taught high school for six years before becoming a mom to the best girl and boy in the world. While teaching, she was fortunate to teach creative writing and film classes in addition to trudging through the classics. She also co-founded the school's first gender-sexualities alliance. Kim is a member of SCBWI and lives in East Dundee, IL with her husband and two kids. MAN UP is her first novel. Her second novel, THE WAR ON ALL FRONTS, was published in May, 2022.

What’s your kryptonite as a writer?

 As much as this would be another writer’s dream, my kryptonite is a whole day to myself to write. Having too much time makes me feel if I don’t use every minute, then I’m wasting time. I know this makes no sense at all. The Pomodoro Technique works best for me. I wrote my first book about 20-30 minutes at a time. It all adds up!


What’s the best money you’ve ever spent as a writer?

 The best money I’ve ever spent was the tuition to take Story Studio’s Novel in a Year class led by author James Klise in January 2018. I spent a year with eleven other incredible writers who have become friends. About nine if us still meet monthly to continue the habits and community we built during our time together. THE WAR ON ALL FRONTS wouldn’t be the book it is without those writers and our amazing teacher.


Would you and your main character(s) get along?

 I think so. Anthony and I could bond over our Italian-American families, their traditions, habits, and food. My dad would love to hang out with Anthony because they have similar taste in music. I’d love to have Sam for a friend. He understands the need for solid friendships.


What are some of your favorite books and/or authors?

 My favorite book (and subconscious inspiration for THE WAR ON ALL FRONTS) is THE THINGS THEY CARRIED by Tim O’Brien. I unwillingly read it for an independent novel unit in high school, volunteering to read it when no one else did because I loved my creative writing teacher. It was the first time I read something and knew I was reading something good and special.

 My favorite authors include Bill Konigsberg and David Levithan, both very successful in the young adult world. I tell everyone about David Levithan’s TWO BOYS KISSING because the point of view blew me away. The story is told from the perspective of a Greek chorus of gay men who died during the AIDS epidemic and features their observations of present day queer youth.


What is your favorite book from childhood?

 I loved THE BABYSITTERS CLUB and SWEET VALLEY TWINS. I still have #1-60 and the special editions in my parents’ basement. Kristy Thomas was my favorite character.


      What’s on your literary bucket list?

 I’d love for one of my books to be part of a high school summer reading list or book club selection. I’d also love to be invited to participate on panels at book festivals and literary events.


If you were on death row, what would your last meal be?

 Not sure about the meal as a whole, but it would definitely involve peanut butter and chocolate ice cream from Baskin Robbins. If possible, I’d request an extra hearty peanut butter ribbon going through it.


What songs would be on the soundtrack of your life?

 Lots of Frank Turner selections. He’s a musician from London. “Get Better,” “Be More Kind,” “Punches,” “Haven’t Been Doing So Well,” and probably “Why” from TICK TICK BOOM. That song wrecked me when I watched the movie for the first time.


What’s the one thing you wish you knew when you were younger?

 There’s a quote from BENJAMIN BUTTON where the main character talks about life having no clear rules or timeline and it’s never too late (or too early) to start again and try something new. I thought I had to have everything figured out soon after college graduation (whatever that means) but there’s time to try to new things, learn new things, and begin again.


It seemed as though Anthony and Sam had just found each other, and now they were already being torn apart. Sam to college in Wisconsin; Anthony across the world fighting in the Vietnam War. Through their separate journeys, they discover themselves, and rely on the one way to share their secret together. Corresponding with secret messages, scary truths, and fears about the war, readers will follow Anthony and Sam's path to friendship, love, and survival.

buy a copy here:

Thursday, June 15, 2023

The 40 But 10 Interview Series: James Brubaker


I had decided to retire the literary Would You Rather series, but didn't want to stop interviews on the site all together. Instead, I've pulled together 40ish questions - some bookish, some silly - and have asked authors to limit themselves to answering only 10 of them. That way, it keeps the interviews fresh and connectable for all of us!

Today we are joined by James Brubaker, who's books include We Are Ghost Lit, The Taxidermist's Catalog, Black Magic Death Sphere: (science) fictions, Liner Notes, and Pilot Season. He teaches writing and runs the University Press at Southeast Missouri State University. When he isn't at work, he is at home with his wife and three cats in St. Louis. 

What do you do when you’re not writing? 

Hang out with my wife, read, listen to records, teach, publish other peoples’ books, take pictures of my cats, play mobile games, browse screen savers on Roku, watch movies or shows.

What’s the most useless skill you possess? 

I’ve memorized and can sing all the words to R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).”

What’s your kryptonite as a writer? 

Research rabbit holes—I’ll pause to look up a small detail (ie., who drummed on “Deacon Blues” or find scans from 80s Yellow Pages) and end up spending an hour looking up a thread of adjacent details.

Describe your book in three words. 

Obsession. Grief. Solipsism.

Describe your book poorly. 

One guy dies under “mysterious” circumstances and his friend obsesses over the death, trying to figure out what happened, and understand why it happened, and there’s a being in the sky made of cosmic matter who watches the story unfolds and eventually comes to Earth and messes everything up. 

Would you and your main character(s) get along? 

No, which is maybe a problem because, in my latest, three of the main characters are  actually me.

If you could spend the day with another author, who would you choose and why? 

Pynchon, but so I can find out what he looks like so I can figure out if he actually briefly appears in the film adaptation of Inherent Vice.

What is your favorite way to waste time? 

Reporting obviously fake Twitter accounts created just to spread information, though nobody really seems to do anything about them since the new guy took over. 

What’s the one book someone else wrote that you wish you had written? 

William Kotzwinkle’s novelization of E.T., fully titled E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial In His Adventure on Earth – don’t laugh. If you know, you know.

What’s the one thing you wish you knew when you were younger? 

Everyone else is scared, too.



Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Indie Spotlight: Richard Cabut's Top Post-Punk Records


Today, British author, journalist, playwright, and musician Richard Cabut joins us to share some his favorite post-punk records of all time. His novel Looking For a Kiss drops June 15th. He penned this 80s post-punk, twisted tale of love and hate, set in Camden, Camberwell and New York during lockdown a period which reminded him of the time following punk in the late 70s/early 80s with the same sense of isolation.

The book is a fabulous chronicle of our protagonists Robert and Marlene struggle to find themselves and their lives whilst immersing themselves in sex, magic, chaos and post-punk music.

 Top post-punk records 

Blood and Roses – Spit Upon Your Grave

I wrote an article titled Positive Punk for the NME in January/February 1983 and according to academic Matt Worley, in his book No Future (Cambridge Press, 2017), had a hand in the invention of goth: ‘Exploring the edges of light and dark and some of the areas in between – fetishism, sex, magic abjection, death, Richard Cabut – writing as Richard North, in 1983 –  was the first to outline the basis of what eventually became codified as goth.’ Well, in any event, as fun as the scene was at that time, Positive Punk was a bit of a disaster, mainly because the music was, in the main, fairly poor. But one of the bands to stand the test of time are Bob Short’s Blood and Roses. Spit Upon Your Grave is one of their best. The Positive Punk article is reprinted in all its glory in the new edition of my latest book Looking for a Kiss (PC-Press, June 2023)


Brigandage – Pretty Funny Thing  (first track)

Brigandage, the other main band I wrote about in the Positive Punk article, were also very good. So, good, in fact, that I went on to join them. In 1984, we released FYM, a cassette-only live/demo compilation, which sold well. In 1986, we released a mini-LP called Pretty Funny Thing. One track, Angel of Vengeance, featured on Cherry Red’s 2017 Goth compilation Silhouettes and Statues. I wrote our sleeve notes, describing the LP as a facet of ‘the Velvet Underground archetype that spoke of viciousness, lust ‘n’ hate and leather (a fantasy of style); life as film noir, existential, nihilistic and a little apocalyptic, I guess; silver art – white heat, pale, glamour frail with the sheen of squalor that spangles; downtown slow dive low life, and other throwaway thrills. You get the idea. It was bound to end in tears.’ And it did! Ha.


Rema Rema – Rema Rema

In 2017, my book Punk is Dead: Modernity Killed Every Night was published. I edited and co-wrote the anthology which takes in sex, style, politics and philosophy, filtered through punk experience, while believing in the ruins (of memory), to explore in depth a past whose essence is always elusive. Significant contributors include Jon Savage (England’s Dreaming) and Jonh Ingham (the journalist who wrote the very first interview with the Sex Pistols, for Sounds). One of my favourite pieces is by Dorothy Max Prior, who was also in Psychic TV and Rema Rema. The latter were ‘the psychopath’s Velvet Underground’. Their Wheel in the Roses EP, released on the 4AD label in 1980, remains a dazzling and essential art-gone-afraid howl. The track Rema-Rema has been aptly described as ‘the post-punk Louie Louie.’


Brian Eno and Snatch - RAF

Judy Nylon wrote the foreword to Punk is Dead: Modernity Killed Every Night. She was part of the pre-punk London demi-monde – Derek Jarman, Andrew Logan, et al – belles of the epoch – so many amazing people concentrated into such a small space. In her foreword, Judy wrote about how that divine creativity fed into punk. She was also in the band Snatch, who collaborated with Brian Eno on the brilliant 1978 release, RAF.


Max – Little Ghost


Leslie Winer - Skin

Ten years after the events described by Judy Nylon, a different glittering London crowd gathered at places like London's infamous Taboo Club. Life at this time was being lived at high speed, with peddle to the metal. Kevin Mooney (ex-Adam and the Ants) and his then partner, Viv Westwood model Leslie Winer were at the centre of this avant-garde arts'n'drugs scene. Situated in Leicester Square and run by the late Leigh Bowery, Taboo was home to a bunch of provocative eccentrics following their own mad logic. Mooney and Winer were mates with doomed artist Trojan, a leading Taboo figure, who half-sliced his ear off as an artistic act and later died of a drugs overdose. In 1987, Mooney’s band Max released Little Ghost, about Trojan – ‘One for the blue boy, and two for the dead kings’. Leslie went on to ‘invent trip-hop’ with her LP C, featuring the track Skin.


The Fall – Repetition

Before I took the IPC shilling at the NME, I wrote and published a fanzine called Kick. I liked the punk scene in the early 80s –another punk Spring. Punk at that time became a way of life for an increasingly large and motivated group of people. Moreover, folk were, to paraphrase Malcolm McLaren, creating an environment in which they could truthfully run wild. We were making scenes that took people away from the confines of school and work. Instead of just listening to records in isolation and going to the odd gig, people were having life adventures – documented by fanzines like my own. One of my favourite articles in Kick was an interview with the Fall’s Mark E Smith. Repetition is one of their finest. Listen on repeat.





Richard Cabut is author of the novels Looking for a Kiss (PC-Press, 2023) and the modern/beat poetry book Disorderly Magic and Other Disturbances (Far West Press, 2023). He co-edited/-contributed to the anthology Punk is Dead: Modernity Killed Every Night (Zer0 Books, October 2017), and was also a contributor to Ripped, Torn and CutPop, Politics and Punks Fanzines From 1976 (Manchester University Press, 2018) and Growing Up With Punk (Nice Time, 2018).  

Richard’s journalism has featured in the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, NME (pen name Richard North), ZigZag, The Big Issue, Time Out, Offbeat magazine, the Independent, Artists & Illustrators magazine, thefirstpost, London Arts Board/Arts Council England, Siren magazine, etc. His fiction has appeared in the books The Edgier Waters (Snowbooks, 2006) and Affinity (67 Press, 2015). As well as on various sites on the internet. He was a Pushcart Prize nominee 2016. Richard’s plays have been performed at various theatres in London and nationwide, including the Arts Theatre, Covent Garden, London. His poetry has appeared in An Anthology of Punk Ass Poetry (Orchid Eater Press, 2022), and magazines such as Cold Lips, Foggy Plasma, 3ammagazine, etc. He published the fanzine Kick, and played bass for the punk band Brigandage (LP Pretty Funny Thing – Gung Ho Records, 1986).





Monday, June 12, 2023

The 40 But 10 Interview Series: Buick Audra


I had decided to retire the literary Would You Rather series, but didn't want to stop interviews on the site all together. Instead, I've pulled together 40ish questions - some bookish, some silly - and have asked authors to limit themselves to answering only 10 of them. That way, it keeps the interviews fresh and connectable for all of us!

Today we are joined by Buick Audra. Buick is a Grammy-award-winning musician and writer living in Nashville, TN. She is the guitarist and primary songwriter and vocalist in the melodic heavy duo, Friendship Commanders. Her new album, Conversations with My Other Voice, was released on September 23rd, 2022. The album is accompanied by a memoir in essays by the same name.

Find her online at, and on most socials @buickaudra


Why do you write?

 My writing started in music as a songwriter, and I suppose it happened because I heard melodies in my head and had sentiments I wanted to get outside of my body. Writing prose is not so different. I tend to write memoir and personal essays to tell what I’ve seen, lived, and felt—and to put it somewhere else. I wrote my memoir in essays because I had carried the stories around for years and had never seen a story quite like mine on the page. I’ll say that I write—music and prose—to tell, and to mark that I was here.



What do you do when you’re not writing?

 I’m a musician first, writer second, so my life is largely centered around my solo project and my Metal band, Friendship Commanders. I/we tour, write, record and release music, and then do it all again. Writing prose is something I have learned to build in time for, and that goes for reading, too.



What’s the best money you’ve ever spent as a writer?

 Scrivener. When I was starting to write the essays that would later become my memoir, I had documents all over the place, notes here and there. When I got Scrivener and was able to sequence the scraps and move them around freely within the project, the work became much clearer. And able to be finished. That was important.


If you could spend the day with another author, who would you choose and why?

 Nora Ephron. I love her work so much, but I also feel like spending a day with her would have involved some truly memorable food. I would kill to see her order, knowing that she based Sally Albright (When Harry Met Sally) and her noteworthy ordering habits on herself. A day in New York with Nora would have been a dream. Alas, I have her books, films, and recipes, and my Gibson 335-S guitar is named after her. It’s the best I can do in real life.

 Of the living, Miriam Toews. Brilliant, makes tough work, stays off of socials. I have nothing but respect for her.



How do you celebrate when you finish writing a new book?

 I’ve only written one so far, and I’m afraid I missed celebrating its completion! I was too wracked with nerves at the time. I later celebrated the release of the album and book together by getting pizza with my love. It was perfect.



What songs would be on the soundtrack of your life?

 I’m in the somewhat unique position to have written it myself! I’ve been writing and releasing music for most of my life, and I’m so grateful to my younger selves for documenting all of those different chapters. When my album, Conversations with My Other Voice, was released, some people called it the soundtrack to my book. But it was actually the other way around. The book was written to expand on the album. Maybe that’s what I’m doing now, writing prose to support the music! Flipping the script.


Do you DNF books?

 Absolutely. Life really isn’t that long, and if I’m not enjoying something, I don’t need to see it through. I file it under “someone else’s interest.”



What is your favorite way to waste time?

 I taught myself how to build guitar effects pedals in 2020 and it’s become my favorite hobby. I don’t do it as much as I’d like to, but whenever I have a few unassigned hours, I solder, wire, and assemble pedals. I find soldering to be oddly soothing.



    What’s the most useless skill you possess?

 The ability to identify and talk about various types of cigars! I worked at an old, legendary tobacco store in Cambridge MA when I was in college and learned more than anyone might need to know about cigars, pipe tobaccos, and cigarettes from all over the world. The rub? I’ve never smoked anything in my life. But I swear the knowledge will never leave my head. Ha!



 What’s the one thing you wish you knew when you were younger?

 That what other people think of me is none of my business—and if they insist on making it my business, they’re not my people.


In her debut collection, Buick Audra revisits events that have shaped her relationship with her own voice, literal and figurative. The essays are companion pieces to the compositions on her third album Conversations with My Other Voice. Between the music and the prose, the audience is given an intimate look into the life of a woman in music.

Buy the book here:

Thursday, June 8, 2023

The 40 But 10 Interview Series: Paul Michael Anderson


I have decided to retire the literary Would You Rather series, but didn't want to stop interviews on the site all together. Instead, I've pulled together 40ish questions - some bookish, some silly - and have asked authors to limit themselves to answering only 10 of them. That way, it keeps the interviews fresh and connectable for all of us!

Today we are joined by Paul Michael Anderson/ Paul is the author of the collections Bones Are Made To Be Broken and Everything Will Be All Right In the End: Apocalypse Songs, as well as the novellas Standalone and the upcoming The Only Way Out Is Through.


What do you do when you’re not writing?

The big obvious answers is that I'm a parent and teacher, but I don't think that's what's intended here.  I read a lot, obviously, and I'm a huge music fan, so going to concerts or fucking around on my guitar (currently trying to figure out how to play Modest Mouse's "Little Motel" in a way that doesn't sound dopey) take up a chunk of my time.  I like to walk in the woods, sometimes with our mutts and sometimes alone (I have no patience for hiking, but long walks are just the speed for this born-and-raised city kid). 


What’s the best money you’ve ever spent as a writer?

First time I was able to pay for the entirety of Christmas, or use the sale of a short story to pay utilities.  It sounds boring, I guess, but there's something about the fact that whatever talent I possess allowed me to take care of the basic functions of life in latter-day capitalism.  Sure, my day job handles all of that, but to have my writing manage to pull off that trick?  That's just fucking cool. 

How do you celebrate when you finish writing a new book?

Depends.  When I finished a novella recently, I took our dogs on an hour's long walk.  Sometimes I order food from local Thai or Indian places (we rarely go out to eat).  Pretty minimal stuff.  Here's the thing—I tend to downplay my writing.  Not the work or the effort or the successes, but to see them as just...part of the basic package.  I'm a writer.  It's something I'm programmed to do.  I stopped seeing it as a hobby and, instead, saw it as my job around the time we had our daughter—about twelve years ago.  When I changed my mindset, I had much more success, but it also led me to take a more working-man approach to the whole thing.  I don't tend to do anything special after the end of a semester of my classes, so the idea of doing something really out there when I finish a long piece of writing doesn't come naturally to me.  

What is your favorite way to waste time?

Reorganizing my collections—books, music, movies, the few comics I have from my childhood collection.  I'm hopelessly anal-retentive about the order of things, so if I'm directionless during the day at all, I reorganize something. 

I know I'm sounding less and less cool the longer this interview goes on. 

What is your favorite book from childhood?

The Talisman, by Stephen King and Peter Straub.  I'd grown up around genre films and what-have-you, but that book was the first time I felt like any of it was mine.  More, because King & Straub had a very approachable style, it was the first time, also, that I felt like I could do this, too.  I'd always liked writing, but that was typically couched in childishly sophomoric comic scripts about monster-superheroes.  The Talisman showed me I could create worlds. 

What genres won’t you read?

Being an English teacher who tries to keep up with the reading tastes of my students (who always stay the same age), there's little I won't read.   Given the books I carry and how I am, it tends to unnerve my students when I proffer opinions on, say, Sarah Dessen (she's good!).  Sports novels tend to be a harder pull for me, but that's all I can think of off the top of my head.  I tend to just read everything. 


What’s on your literary bucket list?

I've already hit a few of them.  Jack Ketchum, the author of novels like Red and The Girl Next Door, praised my first collection of stories back in 2016, and, man, I was on Cloud 9 for the next two weeks because of that.  In shorter works, I want to see my stories in venues like Fantasy & Science Fiction and Nightmare magazines. 


What songs would be on the soundtrack of your life?

How much time do you have for this question?  Pick a moment in my life, and I can find a song that will take me back to that time, regardless of how inconsequential.  In any event, if we're sticking to big moments of my life, here's five songs, without context:


"I-95" by Fountains of Wayne

"Invented" by Jimmy Eat World

"First Day of My Life," by Bright Eyes

"Antonia" by Motion City Soundtrack

"The Future Freaks Me Out" by Motion City Soundtrack

 BONUS: "Walls (Circus)" by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers


What scares you the most?

I've written a lot about the horrors of parenting—the pits and cliffs that exist because of this little thing you've brought into the world.  Nothing scares me more than something happening to my kid. 

That, and heights. 


Are you a book hoarder or a book unhauler?

Unhauler.  I grew up moving a lot, so I'm used to being extremely compact.  I hold onto the books only if I know I'm going to re-read them (and if I don't reread them within a certain set of years, I donate those, too).  Everything else, regardless of how much I enjoyed it, gets donated or given away.  I just don't want that much clutter in my life.  My TBR pile is never more than twelve or so books deep because otherwise it sets my nerves on edge. 



Charlie Brooks, a newly-minted State Trooper, hoped to begin a new life in the still-wild edges of northern Virginia at the dawn of America's Interstate Age.  President Eisenhower's Interstate Highway System is supposed to reshape not just the American landscape, but also its way of life, but there are shadows and people that resist this change, and Charlie finds himself in the middle of the conflict.  Hunted and haunted by the secrets his colleagues, the citizens he was sworn to protect and serve, and even the land itself have held onto for centuries, Charlie has only one chance for survival, and it means revisiting the very trauma that sent him to this corner of Virginia in the first place.


"Originally published in an anthology as I Can Give You Life, this revised road-tripping cosmic horror novella appears under the preferred title of The Only Way Out Is Through as a standalone book for the first time.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Blog Tour: The Measure Of Sorrow


We're happy to help Meerkat Press support the release of their latest title The Measure of Sorrow by participating in their blog tour. And if you're at all into winning free stuff, they're running a giveaway where you can potentially win a $50 book shopping spree.

Click here to enter!

For this leg of the blog tour, J. AShley Smith is putting his new collection, 

The Measure of Sorrow, to the test. 

Set up Page 69 for us: 

This is a bit of a mean extract to share. It comes in near the end of the novelette The Family Madness, about two kids, Leo and Cam, who go to live with their eccentric uncle after their mentally ill mother is taken away. Uncle Nathan disappears and the children find out his home is not the haven from insanity they had hoped... The extract comes at the end of a scene where they try to recreate a favourite meal in remembrance of their mother, only to have it come out all wrong. The return of the storm is the herald of an unseen and terrible threat, against which they are, apparently, entirely defenceless. (I said it was mean.)

Tell us what the story is about: 

The Family Madness is about the bond between siblings abandoned by the adult world. It's also about how children are hardened and can be broken by adult responsibility thrust on them too young; the responsibility of caregiver, for example. The children may be alone, they may be powerless against the horrific, ancient thing in the darkness outside, but they still have agency; they can still build an island of meaning, however small, to shield them from the cold vastness of the universe beyond their uncle's house. This theme—of the need to create your own meaning in a universe that at best doesn't care and at worst wishes you harm—is one that comes up again and again, in different forms, throughout the collection.

Family itself is another obsession shared by many of the stories. The painful complexity of parent-child relationships, the way children connect with one another, the kindness, the cruelty. The impacts on a person, on a family, when someone leaves, or is lost. The way friends and lovers may connect, perhaps without realising, over shared absences, shared anguish. There is something so foundational, almost primal, about our relationships with our parents, our relationships with our children. Even without the justifications of psychology, without invoking this or that complex, it's plain how seismic the impact these relationships—or their lack—have on our lives and the lives of those around us. Characters throughout the collection are struggling with ruptures in their most fundamental connections—death of a parent, death of a partner, separation, abandonment, grief—doing what they can to hold their lives together. All too often, their attempts to fix what's broken do more harm than healing.

Do you think this page gives the reader an accurate sense of what the collection is about? 

The Measure of Sorrow is a collection of horror stories; however quietly, obliquely or unsettlingly that horror may be evoked. Whether it's the writhing secret at the heart of a black reef, or the devouring urges of a forest regrowing after bush fire. Whether the pervasive seep of dark water that envelops the home of a mother-to-be, or the nameless melancholy that descends on a suburban community. The spread of an eldritch drug that darkens a once-vibrant party scene. The presence in the derelict barn that invites you to wallow—forever—in your most private shame. Or, as here, the featureless cosmic terror invoked by the madness of your uncle and his unusual 'instrument'. This extract, though random, somehow strikes to the very heart of the collection—and that heart is dark indeed.


Page 69 from The Measure of Sorrow:


...remember the bad times. Broken glass. Lentils. And the constant, unwavering vigilance.

Grim silence had descended over the kitchen. Leo and Cam leaned over their plates, ice cream pooling, pancakes untouched. The room was heavy with the memory of Cassandra, her presence, her absence. From outside, beyond the wood, thunder rolled, deep and long and filled with menace. Leo swallowed.

He took their plates to the sink, caught his reflection in the dark window. With the lights on, he could see nothing beyond the glass. Only the room behind him, Cam at the breakfast bar, and himself in the foreground, looking anxious and tired. He could see nothing outside. But anything outside could see them—could see everything.

Thunder rumbled again, closer this time. Leo’s reflection in the window was splintered by a blue-white crack of lightning.

“Turn off the light,” he said to Cam, his voice a croak. “We need to turn off all the lights.”

“Why—” Cam started, but Leo cut her off.

“Just turn off the lights!”

She hopped down from the stool and over to the switch. Leo ran into the corridor, flicking off lights as he passed. Cam called from the darkness behind him. “Leo? What is it? Don’t leave me alone!”

He felt his way back toward her. Even before his eyes had adjusted to the darkness, her hand found his. Lightning burst again like a camera flash, illuminating the breakfast bar, the stools, the dining table and chairs. Leo pulled her from the room.

“What, Leo? What is it?”

Leo’s throat was so constricted he could barely speak. “It’s coming.”

“What, Leo? What’s coming?”

Fumbling along the wall with his hand, he tugged her along the corridor, past the workshop, toward the bedroom. He almost fell through the open door, dragging Cam after him. The curtains were open, as they had left them, and the room was lit brief and stark by another flash of lightning. A shadow passed before the window.

Without a word they both dived to the floor, crawled beneath the bed. Side by side, they squeezed together as far under as they could fit, hidden but for the glint of their black eyes peeping from the shadows. It was dusty under the bed, and airless. The little gasps of Cam’s breath were hot against Leo’s face. His heart beat so hard...


Released Today!

Collection | Dark Fantasy | Horror

Shirley Jackson Award-winning author J. Ashley-Smith’s first collection, The Measure of Sorrow, draws together ten new and previously acclaimed stories of dark speculative fiction. In these pages a black reef holds the secret to an interminable coastal limbo; a father struggles to relate to his estranged children in a post-bushfire wilderness; an artist records her last days in conversation with her unborn child; a brother and sister are abandoned to the manifestations of their uncle’s insanity; a suburban neighborhood succumbs to an indescribable malaise; teenage ravers fall in with an eldritch crowd; a sensitive New Age guy commits a terminal act of passive-aggression; a plane crash opens the door to the Garden of Eden; the new boy in the village falls victim to a fatal ruse; and a husband's unexpressed grief is embodied in the shadows of a crumbling country barn. Intelligent and emotionally complex, the stories in The Measure of Sorrow elude easy classification, lifting the veil on the wonder and horror of a world just out of true.

BUY LINKS: Meerkat Press | Amazon |

J. Ashley Smith is a British–Australian author of dark fiction and co-host of the Let The Cat In podcast. His first book, The Attic Tragedy, won the Shirley Jackson Award. Other stories have won the Ditmar Australian Shadows and Aurealis awards. He lives with his wife and two sons beneath an ominous mountain in the suburbs of North Canberra, gathering moth dust, tormented by the desolation of telegraph wires. You can find him at, performing amazing experiments in electronic communication with the dead. His debut collection, The Measure of Sorrow, is out now from Meerkat Press.