Wednesday, September 27, 2023

The 40 But 10 Interview Series: Amy Barnes


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!

We are joined today by Amy Cipolla Barnes. Amy is the author of Child Craft (Belle Point Press) Ambrotypes (word west press) and Mother Figures (ELJ Editions). Her words have appeared in many publications, including The Citron Review, JMWW, trampset, Flash Frog, No Contact Mag, Leon Review, Complete Sentence, The Bureau Dispatch, Nurture Lit, X-R-A-Y Lit, McSweeney’s, Southern Living, SmokeLongQuarterly, and others. She’s been nominated for Best of the Net, the Pushcart Prize, Best Microfiction, Best Small Fictions, and long-listed for Wigleaf50 in 2021, 2022, and 2023. She’s a Fractured Lit Associate Editor, Gone Lawn coeditor, Ruby Lit assistant editor and reads for The MacGuffin, Best Small Fictions, Mason Jar Press, and Narratively. Find her on X, Instagram, and BlueSky at @amygcb.

Do you have any hidden talents?

 Short answer: I can speed read. Long answer is more complicated. When I say that, I don’t mean a little fast. I mean freaky fast - two pages at a time or around 1500 words a minute. The words imprint like seared little brands on my brain if my brain was a marked piece of beef. I’ve been able to do this odd quirk since I was in elementary school. At a very high comprehension level to boot. My  inventive and still kicking into his 90s Gifted, Talented and Creative teacher decided to create a way to help us all read faster. This was in a time when that label meant we did chemistry experiments and ran a business and participated in plays – I was St. Nicholas - but it was also for the odd kids noone how or what to teach. Except Mr. Cheatham. He knew. He taught us how to speed read (and speed math.)  It also meant he had us reading a kaleidoscope of words on an old school slide projector he rigged up with a Radio Shack motor. I think we even all field tripped with him to buy said motor and peruse the aisles.

 The process went as expected for a while and then one day while he was off doing something teacherly or mad science-y, the projector went haywire and the ten of us sat entranced as words and paragraphs flew over and over again. By the time he returned to us, our eyes were spinning like Twilight Zone actors. He took that glazed look as a plus and promptly tested us on comprehension which somehow we did great on. And then he repeated the exercise every day for months at the roller coaster speed. In highsight, we were probably a little like lab rats. But, I also appreciate and hate the way I read at a blitzkrieg pace. I take in a lot of words and I understand them, but I don’t read casually. I can’t. I will always read like I’m eight in a dusty classroom entranced by the lightning round.


What’s the most useless skill you possess?

Being able to crack my index finger knuckle without touching it - thanks to a 3rd grade Twister game hand fracture.

If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

 Speed cleaning with only a twitch of my Samantha Stephens nose.


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

 Buying books.


Describe your book in three words.

 Mothers. Children. Stories.


Describe your book poorly.

 Mothers. Children. Stories.


If you met your characters in real life, what would you say to them?

 This is a fascinating question for a writer because I think we get to meet our characters in fictional life and tell them what to do. For me, they aslo dictate their lives as I write. If they were incarnated and I ran into them on the street, it might be difficult. I imagine they would be doing interesting and complicated things, but only up until the point when I met them. And then they would stand still on the street in front of an idyllic picket fence, waiting expectantly for me to give them the next words or next adventure or vegetables out of my garden. Make them walk that next sentient step. I would hope they would be dimensional, but I also picture papery, flapping-in-the-wind characters that would need a quick Choose Your Own Adventure infection of life. I would want to have written them fully enough to live but hypothetically – would I have?  So, what would I say? Go. Live. Do interesting things. Here are fourteen more paper people I’ve made for you to interact with. Sorry for what happened when I dropped you in a volcano or made you love that person you shouldn’t love. Sorry for the name I gave you. Sorry for not letting you go in the direction you should have. I might wipe the chocolate off the corner of their mouths with a wet napkin. And because I’m a new empty nester, I would tell them to go live their lives with my words as their backdrop, but not all of their future.


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

 Probably not. Because as much as I try to write the opposite of what I know (out of defiance and trying to challenge myself for some reason), that’s what I do. I write what I know, with much twistiness. Even though I write fiction, I am writing myself and I don’t know that I’d get along with myself. And I’m writing that self in a way that is an alternate universe sometimes, hints of autobiography in others. Better versions. Worse versions. The versions I don’t want to meet in an alley. The versions I wish had happened. The versions I don’t remember but fill in the details the way I might want to. The versions I do remember but I paint over them with word paint that would need to be sandblasted off. I think my characters would hate and love me, the way I hate and love them.

 So, we’d probably have tea and one of us would spill the tea (literally and in a figuratively-Southern way) and we’d sit there together until someone felt uncomfortable because I wrote them a new pathway and then we’d go our separate ways, mailing 19th century calligraphy letters back and forth and meeting up for the obligatory holidays. Oh, and we’re all very fancifully dressed in velvet dresses with lace, but wearing tennis shoes. And, it’s raining like we’re in the Alcott sisters attic because that’s where writers meet their main characters.


If you could cast your characters in a movie, which actors would play them and why?

 Because I write a lot of Southern lit, I imagine Reese Witherspoon and Oprah at least directing, maybe starring. And because I pick them, I also want the accompanying book to be their book club picks. Any of the Steel Magnolias actors. Sally Fields. Julia Roberts. A confused cosmetologist Daryl Hannah. Someone who has a baby in a bar because my stories have a baby in a bar. Maybe that Steel Magnolias set too. Gussied up in different ways for each of my different books-to-movie adaptations. Soft spoken actors playing sometimes-difficult roles with the quiet nuances and loud conflicts and juke box scores.

 On an ironic side note, during the pandemic I co-wrote an entire movie script with two friends that live in New York. It won awards, we did a table read of sorts with friends, family and industry folk, and we talked with a producer. Of course, we picked the worst time to try and do such a thing. The chick lit film was partly based in New York and partly in the South where I live, and explored our leading characters in both places. I think I always  envision my written words as potential screenplays too, that third dimension where they get lifted from the page into New York and Tennessee. This realization means I need to call my friends and revisit our script but it also guides how I write. I want and think I need to write characters that could be actors on a stage or in a movie. I don’t write books to specifically write screenplays but I think there’s something to that.


What’s the weirdest thing you’ve given/received as a gift?

 A whole pineapple. On a first date. No knife or cute picnic idea behind it. I had to carry the entire prickly thing around the entire time like a dreadful baby. There was no second date.



The unmistakable voice of Amy Cipolla Barnes returns in this new hybrid prose collection. To enter Child Craft is to enter a world of memories, both invented and remembered. The speakers of Barnes’ stories inhabit a space at times surreal but always vivid, evoking emotional responses that take readers to a place they could not have anticipated from the opening lines. As the title implies, Child Craft explores family relationships—typically from the perspectives of mother and daughter—and the ways that we continually shape them into something that can either help or harm us. These intimate vignettes comment on the many-layered realities of womanhood in modern life in a variety of settings. Whether passing through the wreckage of the Oklahoma City bombing or pretending that a pickle jar could save a missing woman, these stories open imaginative landscapes that will leave you feeling both haunted and a little less alone.


Monday, September 25, 2023

The 40 But 10 Interview Series: Helen Matthews


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 Helen Matthews, who writes page-turning psychological suspense novels and is fascinated by the darker side of human nature and how a life can change in an instant. Recent novels published by Darkstroke Books are The Girl in the Van, suspense and thriller genre winner in the 2022 Pageturner Book Award, and Girl Out of Sight. Her other books include Façade (family noir), Lies Behind the Ruin and a collection of short stories Brief Encounters. Born in Cardiff, Helen read English at the University of Liverpool and worked in international development, consultancy, human resources and pensions management. She fled corporate life to work freelance while studying for a Creative Writing MA. Her stories and flash fiction have been shortlisted and published by Flash 500, 1000K Story, Reflex Press, *1 Words, Rushmoor Writers anthology, Artificium and Love Sunday magazine. 

Why do you write?

 For me, writing is a compulsion. I could be on holiday or ill in bed and I’ll still reach for my pen, notebook and laptop. I’m one of those weird people, who’s both an introvert and an extrovert. I’m happy with my own company and can withdraw from life to live vicariously in the fictional world of my characters. But once my book is out in the world, there’s nothing I love more than getting out to do library talks, book signings and chatting to people about writing. I have a supportive family and some long-suffering friends, who understand why I’m not always available to meet up. I’m never bored. In fact, I’ve never been happier. I enjoy every day.


Do you have any hidden talents?

 I’m no domestic goddess. From the age of around eight years old, my mother used to force me to do compulsory housework and cooking on Sunday mornings while my friends were playing outside in the street. It was torture! I don’t actively dislike cooking but planning a family’s weekly meals can be a real time suck when you’re hoarding every spare moment  for writing. I’ve been married twice and both times I’ve stumbled upon men who are not only excellent cooks but actually enjoy cooking. My first husband was a finalist in a national cookery competition run by the Sunday Times newspaper back in the days before TV cooking shows, like Masterchef, were a thing. Husband number two has gone further. He’s done all the planning, food shopping and cooking of meals for years. So, I guess my hidden talent is spotting men who will take this burden from me and leave me time to write.


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

 I ought to say the MA in Creative Writing I studied in Oxford a few years ago. That was certainly the most money I’ve ever spent on anything writing-related. I learned a lot on the course and met some fantastic writers, many of whom I’m still in touch with, but the course was quite academic, perhaps aimed at authors who wanted to write literary fiction. I write psychological suspense, domestic noir and thrillers. At the time I didn’t know that there were courses run by publishers, such as, the Faber Academy, and the literary agency, Curtis Brown, that focus on helping authors hone their work for a more commercial market. With hindsight, I wish I’d taken one of those courses instead of an MA.



What are some of your favorite websites or social media platforms?

 This Itch of Writing Emma Darwin

The Empowered Author – a Facebook Group run by Sam Missingham and Katy Sadler to help authors with marketing.

 I belong to several other Facebook groups for writers, such as Lizzie’s Book Group, Val’s Book Bundle and The Writers’ Clubhouse. These are great gathering places for authors to feel supported. I should also mention the UK Crime Book Club which brings authors and readers together and has excellent events and author interviews. The Fiction Café hosts live author Q&As on Sunday evenings and has a review group where you can submit a novel for review – if you dare.


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

 Many of the authors I admired when I was reading English at university belonged to a different era, like Jane Austen, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and George Eliot. But omniscient narrators don’t work for today’s reader of suspense fiction. Recent authors who’ve inspired me are Eleanor Ferrante (the Neapolitan novels) for pulling the reader in so you feel you’re right there; Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) for fiendish plotting; Hilary Mantel for intellectual brilliance and Donna Tartt for the precision of her language.

I recently had the chance to write an article for about the authors in my own suspense genre who inspire me. You can read it here.


What are you currently reading?

 I’m lucky enough to be going on holiday to Jordan this year. I can’t wait to visit Petra, Wadi Rum and see Bedouin life in the desert. As part of my preparation, I’m reading The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T E Laurence (Laurence of Arabia).


What’s the single best line you’ve ever read?

 I’ve chosen the closing line of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald:

 So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.


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

 I’m incredibly grateful for many generous and insightful reviews of my novels. I love receiving four or five stars – who wouldn’t? But I respect people having different tastes. Some of my books deal with dark and gritty topics, including human trafficking, and won’t be for everyone. If someone who wasn't the intended reader picks up the book, they might leave a negative review. And it's not just readers who dislike our books we have to contend with – we also get bad reviews if the delivery company's packaging was torn or dirty. I once had a one-star review from someone who wrote 'I haven't read this book as I couldn't download it to my Kindle Fire' – I mean, come on, guys, what has the poor book ever done to you?


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

 Life is short. Terrifyingly so for some of us. Don’t put off doing the things that bring you joy or keep you sane. If you have a passion, whether it’s writing, art or sport, acting, gardening or spending time with the family – just do it.


What scares you the most?

 The thought of something happening to one of my children. They’re adults now and have recently started their careers. One is a police officer which is handy when I need to check procedural details for a novel but worrying if I have a sleepless night. She’s a high-speed response driver and the thought of her travelling at up to a hundred miles an hour, often on her own, to deal with a violent crime scares me. The other doesn’t work in a frontline emergency services job but commutes to work in central London by bike. And to make sure his weekends are equally spiced with danger, his main sport and hobby is rock climbing!



A tormented mother. An abandoned girl. A deadly game of survival.

What happened to Ellie?

Traumatised by events, Ellie’s mother, Laura, can’t bear to stay in the Welsh seaside town where she lives with her partner, Gareth. She escapes to London, breaking all ties with him, and refusing to tell anyone her new address.

After two years of living alone and working in a mundane job, Laura buys an old campervan and joins a singles holiday. Here, she meets Miriana, a teenage girl who bears a chilling resemblance to Ellie. As Laura uncovers Miriana’s story, she’s shocked by the parallels to her own life.

But stories can be dangerous, and someone out there will stop at nothing to prevent the truth about Ellie from coming out…


Buy a copy: 

Also, just for today, if you're in the mood for a free copy of her previous novel Lies Behind the Ruin, a twisty psychological suspense pageturner,  you can snag that one here

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Blog Tour: Kathe Koja's Dark Park


We're happy to help Meerkat Press support the release of their latest title, Kathe Koja's Dark Park 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!

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. Kathe Koja does just that.... check it out!

The 40 but 10 Interview Series: Kathe Koja


Q: What songs would be on the soundtrack of your life?

A: This list would definitely spool on longer, but these special songs begin it:

Inner City/Kevin Saunderson – Big Fun

R.E.M. – Discoverer

New Order – Slow Jam

Sinead O’Connor – Just Like U Said It Would B

Bowie – Heroes

Perfume Genius – Describe

Shearwater – White Waves

Nina Simone – Feeling Good

Sigur Rós – Glósóli

I’ve also sworn an oath to dance to the Weather Girls’ eternal banger “It’s Raining Men” whenever and wherever it’s played, so that’s in the mix too.



Q: Would you and your main characters get along?

A: In Dark Park (and Dark Factory) everybody gets along with Ari Regon, the star producer, except the people who try to control him—an impossible task—so he and I would do just fine. Ari’s always up for what’s next, no matter what it is, a new club, a new reality, and I find that kind of energy irresistible.

DJ Felix Perez is very talented and very mercurial: either we would vibe right away, or give each other a wide berth—though I would respect his intense work ethic, and dance to his beats.

Filmmaker Sergey Kendricks is equally intense, but his is a calm intensity, like the ocean rolling in. I would love to tag along and observe him at work—though he’d be observing me, of course, along with everybody and everything else around him. Because Sergey misses nothing.  

Marfa Carpenter is a journalist, so we would have writing in common. And she’s not afraid to say what she thinks, and I’m not either, so it would be a lively conversation. But she’s always ready to ask the question you’re not sure you want to answer.    

Max Caspar, the reality artist—oh Max.


Q: If you met your Dark Park characters in real life, what would you say to them?

A: I’d really love to know what they would say to me!


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

A: Oh I always read them, if I see them. I want to know if a conversation has taken place between that reader, that reviewer, and my book—that’s the whole point of writing and reading, to facilitate that shared engagement. Whether a review is positive or negative, if I can see that a conversation happened, if the reader/reviewer truly read and reacted to the book I wrote, then I’m content. 

I do believe that to make art professionally, the artist needs to come to terms, their own terms, with public reviews and reactions to their work, good and bad, and do that as early in their working life as possible.


Q: What genres won’t you read?

A: The more hyphenated a genre gets, the more striated, the more I worry. If a book is primarily about its genre, how much attention will it give to its characters, to its use of language, its voice? But it’s a moot question really because I read fiction for voice, and if the voice is there, genre doesn’t matter to me at all.


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

A: A twofer: Emily Brontë in the morning, for a long wordless walk on the hills, then all-night clubbing with Christopher Marlowe. What a total fangirl thrill, to contemplate spending 24 hours like that!


Q: What are some of your favorite websites and social media platforms?

A: Right now I’m excited by Elena Velez’ fashion and the masked world of Wintercroft, ravished by the scents of Sfumato, and learning about garden and habitat from Wildlife Trusts.

Daily, usually Vulture for quick pop trash and treasure, CfBD for news of the world, the Guardian for human news, and Exberliner for, well, Berlin news.

My favorite social media platform doesn’t exist. I’m on IG and Facebook and Threads.


Q: If you could remove one color from the world, what would it be and why?

A: That terrible babyshit brown. Call it sunset khaki, call it desert yellow, it is a color without excuse and it has to go.


Q: What’s the single best line you ever read?

A: “Though in Kyoto . . . I long for Kyoto,” by the forever-astonishing Bashō. Everything about life, about longing and desire, permanence and restlessness—it’s a novel in seven words.


Q: Why do you write?

A: Because it’s what I am.




Released September 19, 2023

Fiction | SciFi | LGBT | Literary

The only thing wilder than a night at the club is the morning after, in Paradise . . .

DARK FACTORY opened the doors to a reality-bending dance club, an online immersive portal, and the feeling that the whole world is on the brink of something new. DARK PARK follows visionary filmmaker Sergey Kendricks as he tracks Ari Regon and Felix the DJ through the fever and chaos of stardom and celebrity culture, while Max Caspar quests deeper into the unstable gaming landscape of Birds of Paradise: pursued and idolized by fans, acolytes, haters, and schemers, all dazed by beauty and searching for the end of the world.


BUY LINKS:  Meerkat Press | | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Kathe Koja writes award-winning fiction, and creates and produces live and virtual immersive stories that cross and combine genres. She lives in Detroit and thinks globally.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Indie Spotlight: Andrew Hook w/ Eugen Bacon

 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 joined by Andrew Hook and Eugen Bacon, as they discuss the importance of choosing the right setting for their novel Secondhand Daylight, which releases in October. 

Check it out! 

Location Location Location

 By Andrew Hook, author of Secondhand Daylight with Eugen Bacon


The setting in a story is just as important as character and plot, but how do you make the decision where to pay big attention to setting? Does it have to be somewhere you know well? Can you pluck a place out of the air and do some research? Or do you cheat (!), aka invent, and make the whole thing up?


I’ve done all three, but in my forthcoming novel – Secondhand Daylight – there was a very specific reason for choosing the location, which is predominantly set in Melbourne, Australia: my co-author lives there.


Secondhand Daylight is a collaborative time-travel novel written with the African Australian author, Eugen Bacon. When we suggested writing a novel together, I was aware Eugen was living in Melbourne, but I had also spent a few months there in 1991 while travelling. I had fond memories of the place – especially the Sarah Sands Hotel, which was a pub that had an alternative disco on Thursday nights and where I spent a lot of time on the dancefloor.


Knowing we both had knowledge of the city centred the novel, but also realising I could start my character’s journey in the early nineties, meant I could harness my experiences of Melbourne at that time. We initially agreed I’d write Green’s story, and Eugen would write Zada’s, but this shifted as we started writing—and that’s a whole different story! As my character, Green, moved forward into the present day, Eugen could pick up on the vibe of the city now, and then extrapolate that into the future. Melbourne becomes as much of a character in the novel as our protagonists, Green and Zada:


Thursday night I was back at the Sarah Sands Hotel. It afforded me an approximation of community. The post-punk crowd dressed as extras from a Cure video. The DJ who knew which records to spin, the dance floor which was my church. Within that rectangle, under multicoloured lights, cossetted by music, I spun and twisted, cavorted my body into memories and shapes, glimpsed othersdoing the same, amorphous companions who returned to the shadows once the song finished.


Melbourne comes alive in its own way in this story, not just in New Brunswick, where our Sarah Sands Hotel is located, enriched with my own memory of it, but also in Essendon, where Green owns a cul de sac, and in Collingwood, where Green’s father now lives with the woman who has replaced Green’s mother, and in Ringwood, where Green’s friend Batesman (Batey) lives with his family – the latter being Eugen’s renditions of a new Melbourne. Hopefully our experiences – mine and Eugen’s – make the novel more authentic.


Gaps in my memory were augmented by internet searches and I was also able to revisit suburbs such as Moonee Ponds via Google Streetview, which coupled nostalgia with being able to see how the area had changed. Eugen could draw on the present day, of course, and extrapolate – the creative author she is, who loves experimenting.


During the novel, my character also reminisces about time spent travelling the Gold Coast around the Whitsunday Islands. Another trip I had made. Again, personal experience came into play (except for weed? That was Eugen’s fictional add-on, I swear):


Batey and I had each scratched up enough for a plane ticket. I smiled wryly. Don’t even ask, I thought to myself. I’d knocked off something, a fan or an aircon, I couldn’t remember what exactly now. Maybe sold some of my records. Then I got some good hands-on bud, and weed always sold quick on the streets. With all that money, we went no further than Townsville and Noosa…


Batey and I, we’d driven north, pulled off the road and down a dirt track at random, so we could take a break and eat pre-bought meat pies and down a couple of tinnies. On a clifftop we’d glanced down into the sparkling azure and caught sight of a school of dolphins, their fins rising and falling in forward movement through the surf. No-one else around. A moment pure for us. At the time, I’d wished I had a girl there.


Later, in Zada’s story from the future, the scene replays from Bateman’s perspective:


He necks from the bottle of VB. Wipes his mouth. “Green and I went travelling together. There’s a bond there that can’t be broken. Two guys in a camper. No commitments. The naivety of youth. We headed up to Queensland. Noosa. Townsville. The usual. Spent a lot of time around the Whitsundays. Camped out on the beach with fruit bats chittering above us in the trees, their crap bouncing off the tent.” He laughs deeply, now. “One of those ovals dropped into Green’s cup of tea. I let him take a sip before I said anything.”


He roars. They’re laughing together. His teeth white as white.


“Jeez, those pure white sands at Whitehaven Beach,” says Bateman. “And the girls—a few of those too. But Green had to work harder than I did. He’s more thoughtful, lives less in the moment, you know.” Bateman pauses. “Although I imagine living in the moment is all he has now.”


While Melbourne (and Australia in general) worked best for this novel, I would say there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to setting, other than if you are using a real place then try and get the minutiae of your location pinned down as much as possible. There will always be someone ready to comment that a car can’t turn right at that junction, whether in the past, present or future.


Andrew Hook 
is a European writer with over 160 short stories in print, including notable appearances in Interzone, Black Static, and several anthologies from PS Publishing and NewCon Press. His fiction has been reprinted in anthologies including Best British Horror 2015 and Best British Short Stories 2020, has been shortlisted for British Fantasy Society awards, and he was longlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Short Story Prize in 2020. As editor/publisher, he has won three British Fantasy Society awards and he also has been a judge for the World Fantasy Awards. Most recent publications include Candescent Blooms (Salt Publishing)—5-star reviewed in the Telegraph. Find him at or @AndrewHookUK


Eugen Bacon
 is an African Australian author of several novels and fiction collections. She’s a 2022 World Fantasy Award finalist, and was announced in the honor list of the 2022 Otherwise Fellowships for ‘doing exciting work in gender and speculative fiction’. Her book Danged Black Thing made the 2021 Otherwise Honor List as a ‘sharp collection of Afro-Surrealist work’. Recent books: Mage of Fools (novel), Chasing Whispers (collection) and An Earnest Blackness (essay collection). Eugen has two novels, a novella and three anthologies (ed) out in 2023, together with the US release of Danged Black ThingVisit her website at and Twitter feed at @EugenBacon


Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Page 69: You Were Watching From the Sand


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 Juliana Lamy's You Were Watching From the Sand to the test.

Set up Page 69 for us.

 My Page 69 is the second page of a story called “We Feel It in Punta Cana.” This is a story narrated by a young Haitian boy working as a domestic servant in the home of a wealthy Dominican businessman, circa 1998. Though young, this narrator has eked his way through a series of tense working months at the Rodrigo household, but while he is bringing Don Rodrigo his lunch one day, the plate slips and falls out of his hands. Though he is just as much of a migrant worker as those Haitians working on what many have called “modern-day sugar plantations,” or bateys, in the Dominican countryside, this narrator has had a certain degree of insulation from the batey pace-of-life. Agitated and impulsive, Don Rodrigo takes the narrator to a batey near Punta Cana, where he forces the narrator to witness a moment of shocking violence. This is one of the only stories in the collection whose narrator remains unnamed throughout, insisting on a nearness of consciousness that makes the shock-joy-horror of the narrator as unavoidable of an experience for the reader as it is for the boy whose mind hosts it. 


 What is the collection about?

 This collection is about zombie girls and vandalism and geopolitics and Haitianness and horror and the surreality of having to carry out life-making and life-sustaining tasks—eating and talking and singing and such—while mind, body, and country are under siege. It is about Miami and anger and muscle memory and humor and creating people from mud when the loneliness gods you like that. It is about capers and balding tires and children up to no good and grown-ups no to no better. But more than anything, this collection is a tribute to the material, spiritual, and emotional lives of Haitian people.


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

 I’m really surprised by how strongly this single page distills so many of this collection’s themes. Social power, loneliness, labor, displacement, family (or the lack thereof)—each has its own claim on this short interaction between the narrator and Don Rodrigo. Give me a few more months and a complimentary speech-writing course, and I’m sure that each of this collection’s stories could be re-worked into a full-throated declamation of power. “We Feel It in Punta Cana” definitely deals with power more explicitly than the other featured pieces do, particularly in the way that it depicts the physicality of power, its immediate and violent bodily collisions with the affected people. Some of the stories here look at ways of re-configuring and re-possessing personal power, as Arbor does in “belly” when she makes her mud person, or as two children named Ezra and Angel do in “Open House” when they keep away their apartment complex’s potential new tenants by destroying vacant units, holding out hope that their evicted friends will be able to return to the units that they’ve kept free of new residents. Other stories spit on entire systems of power, like the two teenagers who decry economic inequality by stealing things from the houses of their wealthy neighbors (“Muscle Memory”).


“We Feel It in Punta Cana” 

Page 69

All I wanted to do then was be on the other side of what was happening. I wanted to be on the side that would let me forget.

But I’m feeling it all right now, with Don Rodrigo looking through me. I wonder what he’s seeing today. Sometimes I’m his little negrito, his niño listo. The best of my people, the first Haitian helper they’ve had here who never, ever cries even though he (who is me) is so young. Never cries, even when the nighttime comes and they’re sleeping in the back room closest to the chicken shed. Sometimes Don Rodrigo calls me into the living room from the kitchen and reads the newspaper to me.

Do you know who the president is?

No, Don Rodrigo. (I always say, even though I do. Don Rodrigo is happy happy happy when he’s telling me things he thinks I don’t know.)

Well, it’s un hombre de calidad, Leonel Hernandez.

And he’ll look at me and I’ll give him the surprise he needs to see. I’ll draw it on my face, like Rafi and me used to draw those houses in the dirt outside, with fallen sticks from the bannann tree, when we were really little.

He’s done a lot for your people.

Sí, Don Rodrigo.

I’ve done a lot for your people.

Muchas gracias, Don Rodrigo. Que dios le bendiga.

But I’m thinking, right now, while I’m looking at Don Rodrigo’s eyes light like the moon, that this is not going to be one of those times. I don’t say sorry because I know it will make it worse, whatever’s coming. When it rains too hard here all the cars go too fast. Juanma tells me it’s harder to drive. Whatever I say right now, it’ll

be the rain.

What scares me the most, while I’m watching Don Rodrigo get up from the table in the patio, is how quiet his face is. It’s like the pool outside in the backyard when no one’s using it


Juliana Lamy is a Haitian fiction writer with a bachelor's degree in history and literature from Harvard College. In 2018, she won Harvard's Le Baron Russell Briggs Undergraduate Fiction Prize. She spends much of her free time baking, because the measuring it requires is the best she's ever been at anything math-related. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workhop. Juliana currently resides in southern Florida.