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The Unauthorized Biography of Michele Bachmann and Other Stories by Ken Brosky

The Unauthorized Biography of Michele Bachmann and Other Stories by Ken Brosky is a collection of short stories prefaced by a bit of background about each story in the collection, including his trio of “Dodge County” stories.  While this kind of preface can be enlightening or amusing, this one just seems unnecessary given the powerful stories beyond this “prologue.”  From surviving a car accident that takes the life of your best friend to surviving the loss of a new friend in Darfur, these stories are poignant and threatening.  They serve to demonstrate that loss can happen unexpectedly and can tear at you emotionally and physically.

“When you see your best friend’s neck snap back with all the force of three thousand pounds behind it before everything goes black, there are other bruises, too.  They hide under the skin, just out of sight, and they take longer to heal.” (“The Third Pile,” page 50)

Some of these tales of survival border on the surreal, such as the arrival of the horseman of the apocalypse or a man deciding his future based on how many virtual deer are killed in a video game.  Beyond the theme of survival, the collection also touches upon the theme of carpe diem — to stop waiting for something to happen or your fortunes to change — and take a risk.  Each story is narrated by the first person, but the narrators are not the same, though they are similar in humor.  Some narrators are harsh in their machismo, while others are self-deprecating about their accomplishments and talents.  Brosky offers a variety of insecure male perspectives in these stories, which demonstrate how men cope with their insecurities. However, there are perspectives that are determined and secure in their convictions, no matter how unorthodox.  Another interesting aspect of these survival stories is the settings chosen from rural areas to urban Washington, D.C., and with a range of characters from artists to war veterans.

The Unauthorized Biography of Michele Bachmann and Other Stories by Ken Brosky brings to the fore the power of indecision and chaos in a way that forces each narrator to struggle and survive even when circumstances are not as they expect them to be nor as they want them to be.  Brosky’s prose is clipped at times, weaving stories in very few pages that leave a lasting impression.  In some cases the characters are not as well developed and appear to be mouthpieces talking to the reader, although there is one essay with a satiric bent in which that is to be expected.  Some stories leave their marks better than others, but overall, it is a satisfying look at survival in a number of different situations.

About the Author:

Ken Brosky was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and received his bachelor’s degree in creative writing from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He received his MFA from the University of Nebraska-Omaha and currently teaches English at various colleges in the Madison-Milwaukee area. He’s currently averaging 3 short story publications per year and wants to keep it that way.

 

 

 

Additionally, this is a stop on The Literary Road Trip since some of these stories take place in/near Washington, D.C.

 

 

This is my 14th book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.

Reading with Sarah McCoy, Author of The Baker’s Daughter, at Novel Places

The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy was published in January 2012 and already has received a number of praising reviews and even one blogger, Anna of Diary of an Eccentric, says that the book will be on her best of 2012 list.  With all of this praise, I’m looking forward to my TLC Book Tour stop in March, but I also wanted to see the author in person.  Who is this woman who has generated so much buzz in the blogosphere with her sophomore book?  (Her first book for those interested was The Time it Snowed in Puerto Rico)  Lucky for me, Novel Places in Clarksburg, Md., was hosting a reading with this author and I could make it with some finagling by me to have the hubby watch “Wiggles.”

I’ve loved the few readings I’ve been to at Novel Places because the store is cozy and the readings are intimate — more like a conversation with a book club and author than a formal reading.  People arrived early to get copies of the book and chat with the author before 7 p.m., and I just sat and listened.  What I learned from the event was that most authors have the same type of personality in that they love listening to their characters in their heads and garnering inspiration from the people and things around them.

The Baker’s Daughter is actually inspired by a German woman whom Sarah met at a farmer’s market once and who told her how she married an American soldier at the end of WWII before coming to the United States.  That was all that was said, and while Sarah has not seen the woman since, it was enough to send her off on a journey of history, relationships, and more, which is all housed in her second book.  Although she says that she will never hand the woman a copy of the book and tell her that she was the inspiration, I think the woman would be happy to know that she touched the author in that way.

Author Sarah McCoy at Novel Places

I love that Sarah brought the red hat from the cover and although she’s too young to be in the Red Hat Society, she agreed to become a Pink Lady.  She was asked about her writing and revision process, which she says is long with journaling about her characters at the start, rather than plot outlines, and about 10-12 rounds of revisions once the first draft is written. Her research process is narrowed by the characters she is inspired to write about, limiting research to a particular year in a particular region or city in Germany for example for The Baker’s Daughter.  She says that otherwise, she would just research too much, get overwhelmed or after 10 years still not have written a book.

Her younger brother also was in attendance and was apparently not only chauffeuring her around to each event while she’s in the area, but also taking photos.  It was obvious from the way she interacted and talked about him and her family that they are all close.  It’s wonderful to see those family connections in person, especially given that her novel touches upon family connections and interactions during some difficult periods in history.

Answering Questions at Novel Places

She talked about her MFA program and her teaching stints in Texas where she now lives with her husband, though she is a former Virginia resident (her parents still live in Fairfax County).  Overall, it was an engaging and conversational event.  She’s affable, delightful, and vivacious, and obviously very outgoing; I think I was in awe of her — too in awe to actually ask any questions, though there were many buzzing in my head.  Perhaps, I’ll get the chance to interview her once I’ve had the chance to read the book and review it here for the blog tour.

Hopefully, I didn’t miss much in the conversation, but that sickness is going around and I think it has finally reached me because my head was feeling awfully foggy.  I’m lucky I remembered my book and Anna’s for Sarah to sign and to talk to her about how much Anna loved the book — by the way, she remembered Anna from that blue cat tattoo icon she uses. . .how cute is that?!

Thanks to Patrick for hosting another AWESOME event!

 

Additionally, this is a stop on The Literary Road Trip since Sarah McCoy is a former resident of the area and her family still lives here.

Interview with Eric D. Goodman, Author of Tracks

Tracks by Eric D. Goodman (my review) is one of the best novel in stories I’ve read in a long time, and it will likely end up on my best of the year list. It not only reads like separate short stories, if you just want to read something satisfying in a short slot of time, but also is a connected story by the train, the conductor, and the mystery/action storyline.  In many ways, I’ve thought about how it reminds me of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, but the reader is the detective.  However, there also are deeper themes at work of feeling stuck and unable to move on or wanting to change, but unable to accomplish that goal because of an inability to take a risk or the inability to let go of the past.  I digress, just go read the review, you’ll see what I mean.

I’ve got a great treat for my readers today, as Eric agreed to an interview about his book and his writing experiences. Please give him a warm welcome.

1. Since Tracks takes place on a train traveling between Baltimore
and Chicago, it is clear that trains are important to you. When did
you first realize that you loved trains and what do they mean to you?

As a child, I think I had a love of trains that many children share:
toy train sets, a need to watch trains as they passed by, an urge to
place coins along the tracks to be warped and smashed by the
locomotives. And there was always a spirit of adventure involved with
coming across a line of tracks and walking along it.

I was probably about six when I took my first trip on Amtrak. It was
exciting, an adventure, and much more fun than the usual cross-country
driving trips my family took. But then there was a long period of no
trains. Unfortunately, trains seem to be underfunded in our country
and, therefore, are sometimes more expensive than planes and certainly
cars and busses.

It was when I was a college student traveling in Russia that I
rekindled my interest in trains. Trains were a popular and
inexpensive way to get around. I took sleeper cars on overnight trips
often while in Russia. Sometimes, that was the most fun part of a
trip.

2. Baltimore is almost like its own character in the book, looming
ominously over some of the characters while anchoring others to a
sense of home. Was it hard to show both the darker and lighter sides
of Baltimore given its reputation as a high-crime city? And how do
you view Baltimore, as a resident and a writer?

Baltimore is a wonderful place to live if you’re a writer or an
artist. The literary community is tight knit and most of the writers
I know are very supportive of their fellow authors. As far as the
crime goes, I think Baltimore is a lot like any other large city:
there are areas with high crime, areas with virtually no crime, and
much of the violent crime exists in its own little sub-culture. I’ve
lived in Ohio, California, Rhode Island and lots of places in between.
I won’t pretend they’re the same, but I will say that I’ve personally
encountered no more crime here than in the other places I’ve lived. In
other words, it exists, but it’s easy to avoid.

Baltimore has a lot of character; it was easy to set certain scenes
from Tracks in rich locations with exciting backdrops.

3. When writing Tracks did you find that one scene or character
surprised you? If so, which one and how so?

My writing tends to be inspired by an idea or theme or some nugget of
conversation that I found interesting. It doesn’t begin with plot;
the idea comes first, then the character, then the plot. So my
characters surprise me often. I know what I want the theme or idea to
be, when I begin writing, but not always exactly what they’re going to
do.

The Conductor, Franklin, sort of surprised me. His two stories were
actually the last two I wrote. In the original manuscript, he didn’t
even have his own stories. He appears in everyone else’s story and
always seems like such a nice, chipper, friendly guy. And he is. But
when I began to dig deeper and write about him in his own stories, I
discovered that he had another side.

4. The conductor and the Amtrak train tie the stories together, but
the stories also could stand on their own. Was there any point in the
process where you thought that 
Tracks should just be a short story
collection and not be a novel in stories? What convinced you to stay
with the novel in stories format?

I had written three stories individually before I decided that I
should make this a collection. Then, as I continued to weave the
stories closer together, I thought it would be nice to create a sort
of hybrid—to write a novel and a set of stories at once. Part of it
was with the goal of both working on a novel and having stories to
submit to journals at the same time. But part of it was just out of
curiosity—could I pull off a “novel in stories?”

Coincidentally, by the time this went to print, there seemed to be a
revival in the format: A Visit from the Goon Squad, Olive Kitteridge,
Later at the Bar, The Civilized World. But I wasn’t riding a wave; I
was doing my first draft before it started!

5. From first draft to publication, how long did it take to complete
Tracksand find it a home on bookstore shelves? Have you had any
champions behind the book that spurred you to get it published and who
have helped hand-sell (I use this term lightly — noting that social
media and the Internet could help spread the word) copies?

It’s been a long line of track. I think it was back in 2006 when I
wrote the first draft. I tend to write a manuscript, then put it away
for a year or longer, then rewrite it. So although I didn’t spend
time each year working on the manuscript, about five years passed from
first draft to bookshelf. During that time I wrote a couple other
book drafts (one of which is with my agent now) and did a lot of
tinkering and polishing. I had it ready to submit to agents in 2009,
got an agent in 2010, and secured a publisher later that same year.
Then it was released in 2011.

I’ve been overwhelmed by the kind reception Tracks has received from
other writers. Some of the biggest include Madison Smartt Bell,
Thomas Steinbeck, Bathsheba Monk, Jessica Anya Blau, Rebecca Barry,
and Victoria Patterson. I even got notes of congratulations (but not
official blurbs) from Jonathan Franzen, Jennifer Egan, T.C. Boyle, and
Junot Diaz! It’s felt good to be noticed, even if sometimes only as
an insect.

Thanks, Eric for answering my questions. If you are in the Washington, D.C., area and interested in reading Goodman’s book, he’ll be reading at the Open Door Series at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Md., on Feb. 12 at 2 p.m. Register for the event.

 

Additionally, this is a stop on The Literary Road Trip since Eric is a local author in Baltimore, Md.

Graveminder by Melissa Marr

Graveminder by Melissa Marr is creepy and mysterious.  Claysville is a town in which its residents are protected, and there is a peculiar bond between the undertakers and the graveminders.  Not sure what a graveminder is? Readers quickly get an inkling of what they do and how they take care of the dead in the town.  Supernatural beings — both good and bad — are afoot in Claysville, and those that leave the town who were born there are often drawn back by an unnatural force.

“Absently, Rebekkah ran her fingertips over the wood of the desk.  Maylene had refused to let any one refinish it, arguing that the pattern of the scratches and wear marks from years of use made it uniquely hers.  Years leave stories written on every surface, she’d said.  The room, Maylene’s bedroom, was filled with stories.”  (page 112)

Rebekkah Barrow is called back home when her grandmother, Maylene, is murdered, and her on-again, off-again love Byron is there by her side as she buries the only family she has left.  Although Rebekkah is not a blood relative, she’s got a bigger job to do now that she’s returned, and Byron has to help her.  Blood relatives are beside themselves with jealousy, like Cissy, or are indifferent to the situation, like Liz.  And the town is full of people who know a lot more than they are willing to speak about aloud.

Marr has an excellent sense of how to create atmosphere; her novel reads like those dark movies where the fog machines are making everything misty and the characters are left bumbling around in the dark, trying to hold onto some sense of normalcy.  Byron and Rebekkah are surrounded by their pasts with one another and their histories with those in the town, but they must set their troubles aside for the good of the town.  Marr is clearly using an allusion to the Faust and his deal with the devil, but in Graveminder, the town has made a pact with the dead.  The body count gets larger and larger as the Undertaker and his Graveminder learn their craft, but the question is, will the pact be broken or will they find themselves broken by the pact that gave them no choice about who they were to become?

Graveminder by Melissa Marr has an interesting set of characters, though Cissy is a bit too much of a caricature and a little too outrageous in her outbursts.  Readers would almost prefer her to be less but more sinister.  Quick paced, and action packed, but the drama between Byron and Rebekkah could have been more subtle.  Readers searching for a book to curl up with and looking for a bit of paranoia with their late night reading should consider a Graveminder for a companion in the wee hours of the morning.

About the Author:

Melissa Marr grew up believing in faeries, ghosts, and various other creatures. After teaching college literature for a decade, she applied her fascination with folklore to writing. Wicked Lovely was her first novel. Currently, Marr lives in the Washington, D.C., area, writes full-time, and still believes in faeries and ghosts.  Check her out on Twitter, the Web, Facebook, and “like” Graveminder.

 

To see the other stops on the TLC Book Tour, click the TLC Tour Button.

 

 

This is my 7th book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.

 

 

 

Additionally, this is a stop on The Literary Road Trip since Melissa Marr is a Washington, D.C., resident and author.

Tracks by Eric D. Goodman

Tracks by Eric D. Goodman is a expressive and reflective novel told in stories or what some would call a short story collection published by Maryland-based publisher Atticus Books, and unlike other short story collections, there are very few weak stories, if any.  Each protagonist in the story is on the train headed somewhere and each of their lives is in transition, from a young woman on the verge of promotion who must decide between lover and career to a man and woman at the end of their years who must face their fears.  Goodman is adept at ensuring readers care about his characters in just a few pages, and even though the end of each story comes quickly, there is rarely a sense that there was more to the story that was not told.

“The train has a way of transforming a person.  Sometimes passengers become aware of things they didn’t know before boarding.  Something about the stillness on a moving train, being around people and alone at the same time.  They’re neither here not there — in transition.  That frees them up to do things or say things they might not ordinarily do or say.” (from the preface)

The Cardinal that rides between Baltimore, Md., and Chicago, Ill., carries all of these passengers on their way, and some of these passengers have been on the train in both directions, while others have traveled the rails between Chicago and Washington, D.C., and more than once.  It does not matter where these characters come from; what matters is that the rails provide them with hope and a time out from their hustle of their daily lives.  The train and the rails are an escape, a quiet place to contemplate their lives as the undulating sway of the cars lulls them into deep meditation.  Paralleling their actual lives, the trip on the train has each member making contact with strangers, and like the conscience that guides their decision making, the conductor on the train whispers advice and nuggets of observation/wisdom to those with whom he speaks.  Beyond the characters, the city of Baltimore and the rail line itself loom large in the story, almost becoming characters themselves, with the city representing an anchor weighing down certain characters and the rail a symbol of liberation.

“one station, joy; the next, grief
the soul pulled along
by the hope for peace
at the next junction.” (page 198)

Each story is tied together by the people the characters meet on the train, the conductor, and the railway itself.  The rails come to symbolize the journey life takes us on, with some of the moments in our lives speeding by us too quickly for us to pause and reflect, while others gently impress upon us the gravity of their meaning.  Readers spend time with each character, getting to know their reasons for being on the train, the events that have hammered them recently, and how they view their fellow passengers, but Goodman also sprinkles in a bit of mystery and mayhem into the narration with the introduction of Gene Silverman in “Reset” and Charlie in “One Last Hit.”  Several stories also delve into the detrimental effect of war on not only the victims who survive, but also the soldiers called to action.

Tracks by Eric D. Goodman demonstrates how we are all traveling the same line and how we have similar fears and failings, but also similar hopes and dreams.  In spite of that, we all end up in different places.  Even with the characters who seem unsavory or hard to like, they offer a lesson to readers — seize the moment because in the next, it could be gone.  Opportunity arises and disappears just as quickly, and life on the train ride of life is quick and unrelenting.  There’s not much time for reflection and a deeper examination of pros and cons when living life at full tilt, but stepping back for a few hours on a train ride can be enough to reassess and rejoin life’s journey with a new purpose.  Excellent novel in stories with a common theme, setting, and interacting characters tying them together.

About the Author:

Eric D. Goodman has been writing fiction since he was in the third grade, when a story assignment turned him on to the craft more than a quarter century ago. He regularly reads his fiction on Baltimore’s NPR station, WYPR, and at book festivals and literary events. His work has appeared in a number of publications, including The Baltimore Review, The Pedestal Magazine, Writers Weekly, The Potomac, Grub Street, Scribble Magazine, The Arabesques Review, and New Lines from the Old Line State: An Anthology of Maryland Writers. Eric is the author of Flightless Goose, a storybook for children. Check out this interview with Eric at Atticus Books.

 

This is my 2nd book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.

 

 

 

This is a stop on The Literary Road Trip since a lot of the book Tracks focuses on Baltimore, Md., the author is a regular on Baltimore’s NPR, and the publisher is based in Maryland.

Interview With Alma Katsu

If you are anything like me, then when you really love a book you want everyone to check it out.  You might be on Taker overload, but I’m going to hit you one more time this week.

What I loved most about The Taker is the darkness that is explored, how easy it is to be led astray when you think your life has changed inexorably, and what it means to love.  Love is a tricky emotion, particularly when you are obsessed with the object of that love.

What’s even better than loving the book, is adoring the author behind the book.  Alma Katsu is adorable, fun, and so intelligent, it hurts.  I was lucky enough to get her to answer a few interview questions via email, and I’m here to share them with you.  Of course, if you are looking for yet another entry to my ARC giveaway, please leave a comment below.

Without further ado, please welcome Alma.

The Taker is about love and immortals, but not vampires or werewolves. You may have been asked this question before, but why not vampires since they seem to be so popular right now?

When I started writing The Taker over ten years ago, the horror genre was languishing. Nobody wanted anything new that was ‘horror’, whether it was a vampire or a werewolf or something completely different. You’ve probably heard The Taker being compared to early Anne Rice; well, I remember at the very first agent consultation I had for The Taker, a well-known agent told me that no one wanted a vampire story, and there was room for only one Anne Rice in the business, so I should hang it up.

To be fair to the agent, my writing was pretty bad then, and maybe he thought he was doing a favor to the industry by trying to discourage me so very thoroughly. It just goes to show, though, that no one really knows what’s going to be popular in publishing (and again, to be fair to publishers, they admit this themselves.)

The atmosphere in your novel is rather ominous throughout, was it hard to ensure that condition endured through the entire book? Were there moments that were edited out that would have lightened the mood? If so, why did you eliminate them?

No, if anything, previous versions were darker! I think during my formative years as a reader, fiction tended to be darker and, in general, different from what modern readers have come to expect. And I have a fairly dark outlook on life, so the story it didn’t seem unusual to me.

(I would have loved to read the darker versions!)

You mentioned during the Novel Places event for The Taker that you admire Shirley Jackson and particularly, The Lottery. Did you have other influences as a reader and writer, and what about their style influenced you and can you see those influences in your work (i.e. feel free to provide an example of style from another writer in The Taker if you like)?

Speaking of writers of melancholy stories—Thomas Hardy was an influence (Hardy and not Dickens, that should give you some idea.) Patricia Highsmith, the crime and mystery writer. Nathaniel Hawthorne. Also, novels such as Fanny Hill or Moll Flanders—or their modern counterparts, Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue or Fanny by Erica Jong—that told the story of a woman trying to survive and making her way in the world during inopportune times.

I noticed a bit of a nod to Edgar Allan Poe in The Taker. Was that intentional? Have you read Poe? Which of his works would be a favorite?

I read a lot of Poe when I was very young. I admire his ability to create such original, yet deeply macabre, stories. He was not afraid to dwell on the dark thoughts that most of us occasionally have, and investigate them fully in order to find the story in them. Many writers toy at darkness and mimic what they’re read elsewhere, but Poe was willing to really understand darkness.

As a writer do you have any obsession and/or habits while writing, or music or how-to writing manual preferences? And can you offer advice as to whether an MFA is necessary for an amateur writer to get their book published or if the degree is worthwhile?

I went to a graduate writing program—Johns Hopkins—and while I got a lot out of that experience, I don’t think it’s necessary for everyone. It’s definitely a personal decision. Most programs won’t necessarily open doors to the publishing industry—only certain schools are well-connected enough to merit special treatment from a few agents or publishers. The only way to get the interest of an agent and publisher is to have written a darned good book or have an irresistible platform (for instance, you’re a big television star.)

I don’t think I have any obsessions but I try to have good habits: I work at writing every day, try to grow as a writer and produce better material today than I did yesterday.

Thanks, Alma, for sharing your thoughts on writing and writers.  If you are up in New England over the next week or so, Alma will be out and about signing books.  Pop by to see her, and please tell her I sent you.

Oct. 23 at Concord, Mass., Festival of Authors on the New Literary Voices panel at 3 p.m.

Oct. 27 at Longfellow Books in Portland, ME (This works well with her recent mention in Down East magazine and a short story in Portland magazine)

Oct. 28 at Jabberwocky Books in Newburyport, Mass. at 7 p.m.

This is a stop on The Literary Road Trip since Katsu has worked in Washington, D.C., and now resides in Virginia.

The Taker by Alma Katsu

Alma Katsu’s The Taker has received a number of rave reviews and some unfavorable reviews, and it was recently listed in BookList’s Top 10 Debut books.

Lanore, “Lanny,” shows up in her northern Maine hometown covered in blood, and the police say that she has confessed to killing a man and leaving him in the frozen woods.  ER doctor, Luke Findley, becomes the recipient of a Gothic fairy tale that is more dark and sinister than full of fairy dust, unless that fairy is an evil alchemist and sodomite.

“The stranger had appeared suddenly, at the edge of the gathering that evening.  The first thing Adair noticed about him was that he was very old, practically a shrunken corpse leaning on his walking stick, and as he got closer, he looked older still.  His skin was papery and wrinkled, and dotted with age spots.  His eyes were coated with a milky film but nevertheless had a strange sharpness to them.  He had a thick head of snow white hair, so long that it trailed down his back in a plait.  But most notable were his clothes, which were of Romanian cut and made of costly fabrics.  Whoever he was, he was wealthy and, even though an old man, had no fear of stepping into a gypsy camp alone at night.”  (page 162)

The Taker is a story within a story, within a story, spanning from the dark ages through the present day, and Lanny claims to be immortal, but do not be mistaken into thinking she’s a vampire or werewolf.  She is neither.  Her unrequited love for the town pretty boy, Jonathan St. Andrew, is the main crux of the story and how it brings about her downfall that leads to her life as an immortal.  Katsu spoke recently at Novel Places about the book and revealed that the story of Pinocchio is the backbone of her novel, which is clear in how the desire to grow up and become a woman with her own life separate from her family propels Lanny to be easily led astray.  However, that is where the similarity ends.  Katsu’s novel is ripe with sodomy, rape, kidnapping, murder, and more, which is why it would be a perfectly dark book to read this season as Halloween approaches and is what would once have been considered horror (rather than the popular category of paranormal, which has a “lighter” tone to it).

Lanny tells her story to Luke in the present day, but a more effective approach would have been to have her merely tell her story to the reader.  As many know story framing or using one character as a plot device for another character to tell his/her story is bothersome if the character/plot device is not well developed.  While Luke does have a back story here, it fails to round out the character enough, leaving him flat and boring compared to the characters of Lanny and Adair.  Even Jonathan is little more than a caricature of the pretty boy of the town’s founders, and it would have served to have more of him and Lanny’s interactions in the book at the beginning of their “romance” to demonstrate their affection for one another.  However, being told from Lanny’s point of view, it is incredibly difficult to demonstrate Jonathan’s perspective on their relationship and oftentimes he comes off as a callous womanizer who is incapable of love.

With that said, however, Katsu is adept at time shifts within the story that keep the pace of the novel moving quickly.  Moreover, she creates a deeply atmospheric novel where readers are combing through the mist to grasp the truth of Lanny’s story and to unravel the mystery of her immortality.  Some have said this is a romance; it is not.  Most will debate who is “The Taker,” but there is certainly more than one, and it will depend on your personal perspective as to which you believe is the taker.  They all are takers in their own way — taking what love and affirmation they can, taking the loyalty of others by forcing their hands, and taking pleasure in the act of taking.  Readers who shun violence in books, particularly against women should steer clear.  Katsu’s The Taker is dark and decadent; an excellent debut novel for those looking to tantalize their darker senses with interminable consequences.

Stay tuned for the next two books in this series; I know I will be waiting on the edge of my seat. I’m always on the lookout for horror books, as I’ve grown tired of EMO vamps and werewolves.

For a chance to win my gently used ARC (which has a signed bookplate), please visit this post about Alma Katsu’s reading near me.  If you’re looking for another bonus entry, leave a comment on this review.

Alma Katsu (right) Me & Wiggles

About the Author:

Alma Katsu is a 30-year DC veteran who lives in two worlds: on one hand, she’s a novelist and author of The Taker (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books). On the other hand, she was a senior intelligence analyst for CIA and NSA, and former expert in multilateral affairs.  Watch the book trailer or this one.

 

This is a stop on The Literary Road Trip since Katsu has worked in Washington, D.C., and now resides in Virginia.

 

 

This is my 61st book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Interview: Harrison Demchick on Changes in Publishing

Harrison Demchick of Bancroft Press in Baltimore, Md., agreed to be interviewed about publishing and editing, his current job and his new adventures.

His new Really Good Editing business is up and running for writers looking for a personal touch from an editor — the Website will be up soon.  Until then, you can check out his work through the icon and link to his Facebook page.  Also, feel free to email (reallygoodediting AT gmail DOT com) him if you are interested in his editorial services.

Without further ado, here’s our interview:

1.  Tell us a little bit about your publishing work and how you got started with the small press, Bancroft Press.

I started out at Bancroft Press as an intern in the summer of 2005. I was heading into my senior semester at Oberlin College and looking to get some editorial experience, and I couldn’t have found a better place. By the end of the summer, I was working on book-to-film adaptation and editing novels, and when I graduated in December, I knew Bancroft Press, and more broadly the publishing industry, was where I wanted to be.

I am extraordinarily proud of the work I’ve done at Bancroft. I’ve been lucky enough to edit all sorts of novels for all sorts of readers, most of which have been well-received, and I’ve had opportunity after opportunity to hone my skills as an editor. I can’t forget that I’m one of the lucky ones—I’ve been in a position to do what I love since the day I graduated. And I’ve learned a lot in the process.

2.  How has the publishing industry changed and what fears/concerns has it raised for you on a personal and professional level?

It’s difficult to tell sometimes where the publishing industry has changed and where it’s only my perspective that’s changed. Other times, there’s no doubt. My time in the industry has happened to correlate with the rise of the eBook, which has had a drastic effect on the industry. Every publishing house is struggling to adapt, and Bancroft Press is no different.

The way I see it is this: There have never been more ways for a writer to get his work out there. eBooks make self-publishing incredibly easy, and for a very select few, incredibly profitable. And the simultaneous rise of social media means there have also never been more ways to generate free publicity. But on the flip side, that means the industry has never been so crowded. The majority of eBooks, which don’t require the filter of publisher or editor, are inevitably going to be terrible. The new status quo doesn’t make things easier. It makes them harder.

I am very nervous about an industry that seems increasingly focused on marketing over quality. To create a hit book, more than a great product, you need a great campaign that makes optimal use of social media, and the right combination of print books and eBooks. As someone who has edited a number of books that have been genuinely terrific, it’s extremely frustrating to fight that marketing battle. Authors are told now that they need to spend two years building up their audience before their book ever comes out. That shouldn’t be. Authors should simply be able to write great books and have them succeed because they’re great.

But that’s not the way it works anymore. Maybe it never worked that way. But I’ve seen marketing become a greater and greater part of my job, and it’s not what I want to do. I don’t want to see the publishing industry reward popularity over creativity. Perhaps more than any other business, this is supposed to be a meritocracy.

Naïve? Definitely. But that’s how I feel.

3.  Rather than begin a freelance editing business, why not transition the publishing house to e-books?  Or is that also a consideration; if so, what challenges have you found in that transition process?

I don’t think going eBook-exclusive is the way to go. Understanding of the print book market is one of the critical advantages traditional publishers still have, and for all the upheaval and transformation, I don’t believe print books are dying. They’re just reaching a new equilibrium. That said, I’ve certainly been working hard these last couple years to help Bancroft Press adjust to the new reality. Figuring out new media has been a major challenge, especially seeing as we’re not natural marketers here at Bancroft. We’re book people.

Launching Really Good Editing simultaneously is far more of a personal decision. The part of this job I truly love is editing, and working with writers to make their work as wonderful as it can possibly be. Marketing is nothing but stress for me, but editing? Editing is pure meditation.

I wanted a job that would remove me from the parts of the job and the industry I don’t care for and zero in on what I really want to be doing. And that’s not to say starting a new business doesn’t also require marketing. Why, I’m marketing right now! And that’s also not to say that I don’t help my clients think about how to market their books. But primarily, I’m focused on the editing in a way I can’t be at Bancroft.

4.  What makes your freelance business, Really Good Editing, different from your competitors?  Is it lower rates, personal attention, something more?

I like to say that I write the longest and most detailed editorial letters known to man. Actually, this is probably true, but it also points to the distinction, which is that I’m a complete developmental editor. I don’t fix spelling and grammar and add the right punctuation—or, well, I do, but that’s not the main thing I do. I examine character, logic, and story. I diagnose what isn’t working in a manuscript, determine why it isn’t working, and explain to the author how it can work.

My goal is to teach an author how to make her work better. I don’t think most editors do that. I don’t think most editors know how. One of the most common responses I get from the authors I work with is that I haven’t just made their manuscripts better. I’ve made them better writers.

So, definitely, personal attention is a part of it. But I think the primary distinction is that I’m really, really good at this. I’m different because I’m the best. That sounds really egotistical. But it’s true.

5.  Has the decision to provide editing services been influenced by what some have noted as a lack of editing for some of the books coming out of the larger publishing houses?

It has not, but it’s definitely true that the major publishers no longer engage in real, in-depth editing. Some indie publishers like Bancroft Press still edit, but you go to Penguin and it’s probably not the case. They want the manuscripts they receive to be pretty much ready to go before they take them on.

So while it’s not a motivation for me that the big publishers behave this way, the fact that they do certainly suggests that writers need to invest in editors like me before they submit their manuscripts for publication.

6.  Do you think publishing books has become too much like a business and less about the art of writing and creating memorable tales and poignant stories about the human condition and society?

Absolutely. One hundred percent. I don’t know that stories need to be poignant and focused on the human condition necessarily—I’m not of the opinion that all fiction should be “literary fiction,” versus entertainment or genre fiction—but they should absolutely be stories that come from the author.

I hear about certain publishing houses where ideas come from the marketing department and are bandied about by editors before a writer is assigned to the job. That scares the hell out of me. And these books end up being insanely popular, yet they could not be more artificial.

Writing—fiction especially—is an art. And if the publishing houses that actually have the money and marketing might would use their strength for great books, and not just obviously popular books, I think we’d have a far healthier publishing industry.

7.  What are some of your personal obsessions or favorite reads from this year?

I’m rarely reading something new and popular. My bookshelf is filled with various books from various eras I haven’t gotten around to yet, and because so much of my job is reading, I so rarely do. I’ve just gotten back from vacation, during which I finally got some reading done. I read about half of Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon before losing it (darn it), then read Eoin Colfer’s continuation of Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, And Another Thing . . ., and finally started Stephen King’s The Shining, which I’ve always been curious about. (So far, it’s fantastic.)

As for personal obsessions, I’ve just spent Saturday at the Baltimore Comic-Con digging through thousands of comics searching for Spider-Man guest appearances. Does that count?

Thanks, Harrison, for answering my questions and for sharing your experiences.

This is a stop on The Literary Road Trip since Harrison works for a local publisher.

The Snow Whale by John Minichillo

The Snow Whale by John Minichillo, which is published by local Maryland publisher Atticus Books, is a satire of Moby Dick by Herman Melville to a certain extent.  The debut novel centers on the life-changing decision of John Jacobs, a zombified office worker selling desk doodles to corporations via telephone, to find out his ancestry through a cheek-swab DNA test.  The results come back and find him more than one-third Eskimo/Inuit, and its enough for John to quit his job, take a vacation from his marriage, and head to Alaska to claim his birthright and go whale hunting.

“And why couldn’t a mild-mannered desk doodle salesman like Mike be the recipient of the Genghis Khan gene?” (page 9 of ARC)

His wife, Jessica, is equally in a rut, but still enjoys her job as a ballroom dance instructor.  She wishes that her marriage was more passionate and spontaneous, but the spontaneity she gets from John is not exactly what she’s looking for.  However, she agrees that he should go to Alaska given the passionate gleam in his eyes.  While some of the actions John takes are irrational and a bit nutty, readers will enjoy the shear witty prose and dialogue that accompanies the surreal situations presented.

“Q continued to walk with half steps, arms folded.
‘Stop shivering,’ Jacobs said.
‘I’m fucking freezing.’
‘Act Eskimo.’
‘What does that even mean?’
‘This is the thaw.  This should be warm for you.'”  (page 88 of ARC)

John is on a journey to find himself and to shake up the mundane, but in the midst of his journey he comes to realize that his life was already full before he left for Alaska.  Meanwhile, the chief of the Inuit tribe, Akmaaq, is looking for an end to his suffering as the leader being slowly shunned and cast aside following a dreadful whale hunt the year before.  He is like Ahab more than John because he is seeking to meet the white whale — his fate and death.  Although Akmaaq is native, like Queequeg in the original Melville novel, Akmaaq is neither a cannibal nor seeking adventure in the wide world beyond his isolated tribe, but he has established a friendship with John to ensure his safety — at least partially — and is aware that death awaits.  Ishmael is John, here in Minichillo’s novel, because he is seeking adventure and change — he is on the journey.

The Snow Whale by John Minichillo is an excellent debut novel that will likely be on the best of 2011 list.  It incorporates classic literature, though knowledge of Melville’s novel is not necessary to enjoy the wit and captivating story Minichillo creates.  John is a quirky character that readers will sympathize with, and his journey may be a bit surreal, but probably mirrors some of the fantasies readers have had about escaping their boring lives behind a cubicle wall.  Book clubs would find a great deal to discuss from the modernization of tribal people to the misconceptions “white” people have about different cultures and peoples, and themselves.

About the Author:

John Minichillo lives in Nashville with his wife and son.  This is his first novel.  Please do check out the interview with John at Atticus Books.  Here’s a sneak peak of the book.

 

This is my 39th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

 

This is a stop on The Literary Road Trip since this book is published by Maryland house Atticus Books.

Guest Post: Bancroft Press’ Harrison Demchick on Small Press

Bancroft Press has Harrison Demchick on the front lines, and his press is another local one, situated in Baltimore, Md.  We’re going to be taking another Literary Road Trip of sorts today, as Harrison talks about being a small press and what that entails in the day and age of publishing battles in the media and beyond.

Anything you read most anywhere about the present state of publishing will dwell on the industry’s ongoing war, or transformation, or whatever you want to call it. They’ll talk of the trend toward self-publishing and the inevitable impact on the long-standing dominance of the New York super-publishers. They’ll talk of the eBook, and the way it’s changed the price of big press hardcovers from standard to outrageous.

In this narrative, the war has two combatants: the major publishers and the self-publishers.

Everyone forgets about the rest of us.

Bancroft Press represents the element you don’t hear about—the forgotten combatant, if you will. Between the big press and the no press is the small press, comprised of groups operating more or less in the mold of traditional publishing, but with a narrowed list of titles and authors. And what does that mean?

Well, if you’re only going to publish four, maybe six books a year, they’d better be books you believe in. This should be less a novelty than it is, but with the big publishers more and more focused on commercial appeal above all other considerations, and the self-published authors pretty much a total crapshoot in terms of quality, there aren’t many places left simply publishing good books they like.

Or maybe there are. Maybe you’re just not hearing about them.

It’s certainly not easy to be a small press. The major publishers monopolize the bookstore shelves—hell, Borders’ stock is under their control outright. Barnes and Noble won’t stock your book if they don’t like the cover. Most newspapers won’t read your book if they can instead read a HarperCollins book they know has the budget behind it to be a hit. Most don’t care about the diamond in the rough.

It’s a funny thing, actually. The major publishers have a huge budget and focus on only what their marketing departments believe they can sell. We have hardly any budget and no marketing department, and publish what we believe in regardless of perceived popularity.

If eBooks and the rise of self-publishing are evening things out a little, then all the better from our point of view. But that doesn’t necessarily make the invisible publishers visible—certainly not with the dichotomy most seem to believe exists. It’s a tough road, but the small presses wouldn’t be in the game at all if they didn’t believe their books deserved to make it.

So that’s small presses in general—but what’s Bancroft Press?

Our slogan is “Books That Enlighten.” If that seems very broad, it is. We publish a huge variety of books, the only determination being belief in the material. Bancroft began in 1995, founded by its publisher, Bruce Bortz. We’ve published Alex Award winners (Jonathon Scott Fuqua’s The Reappearance of Sam Webber), Edgar finalists (Libby Sternberg’s Uncovering Sadie’s Secrets), Pulitzer nominees (Gus Russo’s Live by the Sword), and also really great, even critically acclaimed books that didn’t sell the way they could have, and should have (Fuqua’s In the Wake of the Boatman, Ron Cooper’s Hume’s Fork, Elizabeth Leinkes’s The Sinful Life of Lucy Burns).

Right now, we’re focused on three particular projects.

Purple Jesus, which we published in mid-October, is the one you may have heard of. Ron Cooper’s second novel, a terrific Southern Gothic masterpiece, was called “a literary achievement of the first magnitude” by The Washington Post.

A small press literary novel with a major newspaper review, by the way, is an incredibly rare thing, and comes as a result mainly of persistent obnoxiousness.

You’re less likely to have heard of The Naperville White House: How One Man’s Fantasy Changed Government’s Reality, an offbeat and hugely inventive novel we published at the end of 2010. Jerome Bartels’s book, written as a nonfiction account, tells of a terrorist crisis resolved not by the real government, but by a fantasy government—think live-action role-playing meets fantasy football—comprised of a librarian secretary of state, a gas station owner director of national security, a customer service representative chief of staff, an obsessive gamer secretary of defense, and an insurance adjustor president.

There’s nothing quite like it. That makes it very, very hard to sell. We knew that going in—in fact, one New York publisher, which otherwise loved it, rejected it for explicitly that reason—but we believe in this book and published it anyway. We’re still pushing it and hoping it catches on.

Finally, there’s our upcoming foray into young adult adventure, The Atomic Weight of Secrets or The Arrival of the Mysterious Men in Black, the first book in Eden Unger Bowditch’s Young Inventors Guild trilogy. It’s the story of five genius children in 1903 who seek to break free from their bizarre, black-clad kidnappers to find their missing parents, using the mysterious creation they have all, unbeknownst to one another, been inventing.

We see it as the scientific answer to Harry Potter, and we have high hopes for its release on March 15.

So this is Bancroft Press: a small publisher putting its minimal but determined weight behind some truly amazing books. The narrative of the industry’s transformation would render us nonexistent, but we’re here, and publishing books every bit as good as the larger publishers—and sometimes quite a bit better.

It’s all about what we believe in. How could it be anything else?

Thanks, Harrison, for sharing your thoughts on the publishing wars and on Bancroft Press’ mission.  You also catch Harrison at the Maryland Writers Conference on Saturday, April 2, 2011, at the University of Baltimore’s Thumel Business Center.

An Interview With Dan Cafaro, Publisher of Atticus Books in Maryland

Today we’re kicking off Savvy Verse & Wit’s First Annual Indie & Small Press Month Celebration with Dan Cafaro from Maryland’s very own Atticus Books.  He was gracious enough to answer a few questions about his business, books, and some more personal matters, like obsessions.

Rather than provide you with all the connection details at the end of the interview, please check out their Facebook page, the Independent Book Sellers That Rock Our World Page, and Book Blogger Central (you may even find a picture of Dan on one of these pages).

1.  As founding publisher of Atticus Books in Maryland, how long has it taken to make a name for the publishing house in the industry, and what frustrations have you overcome to make it such a local success?

We haven’t yet made a name for ourselves, but writers, damn good writers, continue to find us and that’s more than half the battle for a small press in its infancy. We began in earnest less than a year ago when we signed our first novelist (Alex Kudera) to a book contract. I had just hung our shingle in Kensington when Alex took a leap of faith in me (and I in him).  I was a solo act with no staff support in sight. He was a former adjunct from Philly with a bitterly funny academic satire to sell.  I had worked in print media for 20 years and I had just ended a publishing consulting contract with an aerospace society; trade publishing was a far cry from rocket science; it was a whole new animal and I was elated to be in position to give it a whirl.

When the entrepreneurial muse came calling, little did I know what she had in store.  After exploring every conceivable hybrid book business model known to man and industry insiders—complete with storefront, café, antiques, wine, and/or an espresso book machine (to print books on site and on demand), I elected to conserve my capital, minimize the overhead, mitigate the out-of-pocket risk, and focus my energies on the writing.  My goal became an all-consuming, wildly passionate ambition—to find the greatest writers out there who simply are not getting the attention they deserve. I wake up equally frustrated and intrinsically rewarded every day, knowing in my old-school bohemian bones that I’m driven by a desire that defies all monetary-minded rationale.  If I somehow can make a living at doing what I love by 1.) forming micro-literary villages of likeminded souls online, and 2.) helping innovate a long established (some say, struggling if not dying) profession, then I’ll be the happiest working man-child alive.

2.  What’s the breakdown of books you publish (i.e. how many poetry books, fiction, etc.)?  How many are written by local authors?

We currently have produced three titles of fiction, including two novels and one novella (The Absent Traveler & Other Stories).  In 2011, we have five titles of fiction planned for release, all novels, with other book proposals pending and in development.  We’re taking a serious look at publishing more collections of short stories (a terrific weakness of mine) as I truly admire those who can say more with less, and I believe that the short story form is due a cultural revival. Short stories often provide a taste of better things to come from developing writers, so it excites me to think that I’m supporting a fertile mind from the beginning of its artistic bell curve.  Not that all writers follow this path, but those who have mastered the short form sometimes go on to use those same characters and charming turn-of-phrase aptitude in longer, more fully layered works of magnificence.

Our writers, more than half of whom are college English professors, scatter the map, from Massachusetts, New York (3), and Maryland to South Carolina, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. Eric D. Goodman, whose debut novel, Tracks, comes out in the summer, resides in Baltimore. Tracks contains a thread of stories told by characters traveling on a train from Baltimore to Chicago. It’s richly laced with colorful descriptions and insights of the city of Baltimore. Eric is heavily involved in Baltimore’s literary scene and supports the arts regionally through his participation in DelMarVa events, readings on NPR-Baltimore, and his blog.  His dedication to the area and involvement with the Maryland Writers’ Association, the CityLit Project in Baltimore, and the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference in Rockville, Md., factored in my wanting him in our camp.

3.  From the list of authors, online contributors, editors, etc. listed on Atticus Books Website, it seems as though the working environment at the publishing house is very collaborative, almost like a large family.  Was this environment intentional, and how well does it work when deadlines arise?

In an effort to keep this answer short, let’s just say, we’re one happy, dysfunctional family—and the dysfunction comes from none other than the patriarch.  One rule, besides unceremoniously leaving the seat down in the bathroom for Libby and Lindsey (my part-time, guardian angels), is to not take ourselves (and myself) too seriously.  As a former daily news schlep, I work better under deadline, particularly when that deadline is self-imposed and I get to revise it.  Once you’ve survived the pressure of filing stories on time, within length constraints, and without typos under the watchful eye of a half-crazed editor breathing down your neck in a noisy newsroom, a mostly quiet and serene book publishing environment is a piece of cake (filled with buttercream and surprise).

4.  Atticus also has an aggressive environmental policy against using paper from endangered forests, using at least 30 percent recycled fiber, and more.  Some publishers have said adopting an aggressive stance will increase costs so much that making a profit is nearly impossible.  What prompted your decision to adopt the policy, how did you justify it, and has it been as costly as other publishers have indicated it would be?

To be honest, I’m not sure we currently print enough books to know how much impact this is having (or will inevitably have) on our bottom line.  Our books are printed on recycled paper; we’re living in environmentally conscious (and limited natural resource-sensitive, i.e., tree-hugging) times and that practice doesn’t seem to be too much to ask of any business or individual, no matter how cynical or mercenary.  Perhaps if I pinched nickels and was hyper vigilant about economies of scale, I might care to calculate the loss of margin, but that’s not how I operate.  In poetic step and verse with Oscar Wilde’s definition of a cynic, I’ve never set out to be a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.  That statement someday may spell my financial ruin, but for now, it’s part of how Atticus Books says grace and carries on.

5.  In these tough economic times, do you think small publishers can make their mark on literature and the book selling market?  How best can small presses accomplish their goals?

If I didn’t think small presses and indie booksellers could make a mark on literature—I mean a real whale of a red-wine, dark chocolate-stain doozy, then I wouldn’t be in this Goethe-forsaken business.  I chose this vocation and lifestyle, partly because my selfless, well-compensated wife and a string of lucky breaks have afforded me the opportunity.  I believe in giving back to society when your circumstances grant you the luxury.  Will I always be in this fortuitous position?  Hell, if I know.  Will I fight the noble fight to the last breath to preserve the legacy of my authors?  You bet your life.

Small presses possess the opportunity to upset the landscape, upend the apple cart, tilt the paradigm, cloud the prism, and spoil the harvest of large publishers just by being.  Existing.  Resisting.  Insisting.  This is a game of Darwinian perseverance and as the inimitable Billie Holiday sang in “God Bless the Child”: “The strong survive while the weak ones fade.”  What makes the strong, strong and the weak, weak?  Beats the Oliver Twist out of me.  I’d rather leave that to sideline prognosticators and armchair quarterbacks.  Small presses need to rattle the right cages and make enough noise or create stirring silence to demand attention.  It won’t be easy, but there’s no such thing as impossible.

6.  Online reviewers, such as book bloggers, have gained additional recognition at Book Expo America and with publishers and PR staff.  Has Atticus Books tapped this market of reviewers to spread the word about its books and how formal or informal and/or important are these relationships?

We (staff aides Lindsey, Libby & I) love bloggers and I say that as a fan of anyone who has the wherewithal to post religiously without monetizing their effort.  Book Blogger Central, a page that we created on Facebook, is a service to those who blog and is a tribute to the work that book bloggers tirelessly perform.  And I say that not in the “brown-nosing, gosh, we need you to like us” sort of way, but more in the respectful, compassionate way that only a blogger (a fellow writer with far more faults and insecurities than time or patience) could understand.

I write (inconsistently).  I blog (just as inconsistently).  And I publish (consistently, I hope, though that’s a relative measurement).  What separates me, besides discipline, from those who do the first two things, but not the third?  Not much, really.  Do I have a pedigree in marketing or a Ph.D. in public relations?  No.  What I do have is instincts that I trust, authors whose abilities I believe in enough to invest hard-earned cash, and relations with individual media of which I’m just beginning to form.  Do I consider the opinion of bloggers as vital as the third rail of publishing (e.g., the New York Times Book Review section, Publishers Weekly, and/or Kirkus Reviews)?  Yes, without hesitation or fear of retribution, I can say I do.  Bloggers have their fingers pressed firmly on the pulse of contemporary culture as much as—if not more than—the establishment. In sum, bloggers, on the whole, are thoughtful, voracious readers who immeasurably influence their loyal, fast growing flock of followers as much as—and increasingly more than—those who represent the view of far-reaching institutions.

Now for a couple of fun questions:

7.  You’ve become a publisher to sift new writers into the market.  Who helped guide you to where you are today and has writing or reading  been a driving force in your own life?

Not to sound cliché  or patronizing, but I’ve been guided mostly by my parents to work hard and believe in myself, and I’ve been guided creatively by my friends and peers, particularly my best friend and contemporary—my beacon of a wife, to follow my dream.  I’ve also been guided by countless teachers, writers, artists, and people of unmistakable (though sometimes misunderstood) honor to pursue an honest living.

As an undisciplined writer and reader with undiagnosed ADD and an aversion to truthiness (vs. truth), I am driven by the responsibility of raising the clout and visibility of this generation’s unrecognized seers—i.e., the distinct, undiscovered voices of meaningful prose and poetry with unpublished works tucked away in the recesses of their underwear drawer.  My hope is that I forever keep in mind the indelible impressions left by those who’ve suffered for art and justice, the proverbial (but oft times, literal) starving artist, who personifies our best-in-class and highest-in-integrity ancestors.

8.  Do you have any particular obsessions, literary or otherwise, that help reduce your stress levels or ensure you remain on track?

My main obsessions are the Mets, Jets, pasta, single-malt scotch, and the security and well-being of my family, not necessarily in that order. These all prove to consume my time, passion, and addictions, usually more so than any Anne Sexton stanza or Edward Abbey diatribe, though I have to admit I’m affected daily by the things I haphazardly pick up to read.  One of the benefits of dropping out of the corporate world is being able to justify just about any casual reading or new literary discovery with research.

9.  When you were a young man, what was your dream job?  What’s your dream job now?

Heavy question, but definitely fun to consider.  I dreamed of being a baseball player and a doctor, but mostly, I dreamed of being a writer because it was the only vocation I thought suited me.  Writers (those who prefer words to just about anything else) are traditionally ill-suited for most conventional careers, not to mention situations.  As I grow older and make compromises (not of integrity, but age- and lifestyle-related), I realize now I’d probably make a good government worker (e.g., contract consultant) who happens to own both a funky small press and a minor league baseball franchise that barely make a profit between them.  As long as I can keep the two businesses in the black, afford to buy a round of hot dogs with relish, and support the career of the next John Steinbeck, then I’m not only living the dream, I’m creating it, too.  And that’s a dream worth pursuing.

10.  If you could give new and local writers one piece of advice about finding a publisher, particularly a small press, to publish their work, what would that be and why?

Explore and loiter on websites and blogs that speak your language; travel in the same circles as the writers and indie presses you admire.  There’s little good in being a lone wolf; run with the pack.  Find a community, a tribe that’s rightfully yours, and claim your stake in it.  Read works (and reviews of books) by small presses of kindred spirits and burrow in their collective skulls a while; plant your thoughts there; read between the lines of their fictional characters; see if you’re cut out of the same tapered cloth.  Then introduce yourself.  Howl at the yellow moon.  Play nice and bare your crooked smile.  Compliment your peer’s efforts.  (We’re all in need of a hug.)  Think of the publishing world as one large playground and the kindergartners have turned it upside down.  The runts of the litter are beginning to twist the upturned noses of the intellectually stunted bullies.  Take part in this leveling of the landscape.  Celebrate the renaissance.  Join the indie movement.

Instead of closing with a shameless plug about Atticus, let’s close with this piece of advice from E.B. White whose writing has inspired me a great deal over the years: “Advice to young writers who want to get ahead without annoying delays:  don’t write about Man, write about ‘a’ man.”

Read E.B. White.   There’s more wisdom in that man’s one pinkie (on his writing hand, of course) than I have in my entire body.

So, what did we learn today from this interview?

I can tell you what I learned:  First and foremost that there is a Indie/Small Press publisher in my own backyard!  How fantastic is that! And this big publisher (at least in my mind because of its ideals) loves bloggers.  What else do we need to know?!

I hope you enjoyed the first stop as we celebrate Indie and Small Press this month, and if you couldn’t have guessed, this was another stop on the Literary Road Trip.

Jarrettsville by Cornelia Nixon

Jarrettsville by Cornelia Nixon begins in 1869, four years after the Confederate surrender and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, in Jarrettsville, Md., just below the Mason-Dixon line.  Tensions continue to run high in this town with former Confederate and Union soldiers continue to hold their prejudices and wear them on their faces and express them in their venomous words.

With tensions running high, the only possible outcome for a young love between Martha Jane Cairnes, the daughter of a Southern and loyal Confederate family, and Nick McComas, a former Union soldier and advocate of Black rights, is heartache and murder.

Nixon rips pages from events in her family history to create a novel that breaths life into the tensions following the U.S. Civil War.  Despite the reunification of our nation, both sides are unwilling to let go and reconcile.

“‘We’ve got to get the Black Code back, by God.  Negroes roaming around free, reeling drunk, menacing descent women? We can’t have that here!’

‘And the women are worse than the fellows.  They’re degenerates, full of disease, corrupting our youth.  Even the little girls, I swear.’

‘That’s right, Negro girls can’t help themselves.  They’re overheated by nature, worse than the fellows, I swear.'”  (page 106 of ARC)

Martha is a strong-willed woman who sets her sights on what she wants and goes after it, while Nick is more deliberate and cautious in his approach to decisions.  However, when love takes them over, passions get out of control, leading them into compromising situations.  Then the rumors begin among the former Confederates about Nick and Martha, equally untrue and equally damaging to their reputations.  Unfortunately, these rumors are what slices and dices their relationship, particularly since it is so new and untested and both sides are tragically unable to confide in one another with the depth that friends would do.

The novel is broken into four parts, plus an epilogue, and those readers looking for integrated points of view throughout the story will find Nixon took a different approach, instead breaking up the narrative into parts dominated by one point of view or by several witness’ points of views in the final section.  The format is a bit disconcerting when the first sections end in the same place, but are told from different points of view.  However, although the events are similar, there are moments where more is revealed by one point of view than another, which helps explain more of the characters’ motivations.  Although not an ideal format for this historical fiction novel, it is easy to understand Nixon’s decision for choosing it.

Overall, Jarrettsville by Cornelia Nixon provides an inside look at the tensions that still plagued the south following the resolution of the civil war and how it tore apart families, friends, and neighbors.  Additionally, it depicts the struggles that the families in the south faced in light of scarce resources and finances.  Nixon is a talented writer who can deftly translate a portion of her ancestral history into a compelling tale of fiction.

About the Author:

Cornelia Nixon is the author of two novels, Now You See It and Angels Go Naked, as well as a study of D. H. Lawrence. She won first prize in the 1995 O. Henry Awards. She teaches in the M.F.A. program at Mills College, near San Francisco.

I hope you enjoyed this latest Literary Road Trip in Jarrettsville, Md., following the U.S. Civil War and assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

This is my 1st book for the U.S. Civil War Reading Challenge 2011.

This is my 6th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Confession time, I’ve wanted to read this book since I picked up an ARC at the 2009 Book Expo America.  This is my 4th book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge.