Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Celebrating Short Story Month

Did you know May is Short Story Month? I don't know about you, but I've been finding myself reading story collections more and more often over the past few years. It's strange, because it wasn't intentional. When I was younger, I actually used to avoid short stories like the plague. I much preferred losing myself in big, chunky novels. Perhaps it's a change that's come with age, or maybe it's just a temporary literary itch I hadn't realized needed to be scratched. Either way, in honor of Short Story Month, Kate Vane and I present our favorites. Prepare for those TBR piles to start expanding...

What Kate's Into:

Blood by Janice Galloway

“Visceral” is a word I try to avoid overusing in reviews but it perfectly describes Janice Galloway’s writing, never more so than in the title story of this collection. A schoolgirl’s apparently uneventful visit to the dentist is drenched in significance.

Galloway is always innovating – as well as writing fiction she has written opera libretti and has collaborated with visual artists. This collection too shows her willingness to experiment with form as she dissects her subjects with a ruthless eye and dark humour.

The Unknown Errors of Our Lives by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

These are beautifully realised stories about women in India and America. Many are immigrants. More than that, though, these are stories about the “between” space where we all live – not just between cultures but between generations, between love and hate, between self and society.

Divakaruni’s beautiful imagery and understated style create an effect which is, like many of her characters, quietly powerful.

The Complete Short Stories by Guy de Maupassant

When I was about twelve, a teacher read us Maupassant’s “The Diamond Necklace” (also known as “The Necklace”) and I was absolutely stunned by the ending.

Maupassant was prolific and the quality of his stories varies but at his best he created vividly drawn portraits of nineteenth-century bourgeois France.

Endings tend to be less emphatic in contemporary stories but I like to get to the end of a story and feel that something in its world has changed. Maupassant gives you a world – and then turns it upside-down.

What Lori's Into:

Zombie Sharks with Metal Teeth by Stephen Graham Jones

Jones is like a mad scientist, rolling up his sleeves to play elbow-deep with his creations before strangling them quietly to death and burying them deep in the ground where they'll dissolve into dry and brittle bones with our memories of them buried right there, alongside. 

The writing, people. The writing is phenomenal in this incredibly fucked up kind of way. Dude's got a great way of working out the bizarre to make it seem just normal enough... and oh my GAWD the opening story with the dad and his son. 

This Time While We're Awake by Heather Fowler

Heather Fowler has taken literature to places I hadn't known it could go. A practice baby for expecting parents, that looks and acts just like your own baby would (so creepy); drugged breeders who are awakened for one day of copulation and impregnation, then put back to sleep while the baby gestates (so freaky); a town that allows an alien species to harvest one of them per visit in return for their continued protection against the assumed horrors that exist on the other side of the walls that seal them off from the rest of the world (so scary).

A wickedly dark and haunting collection that shows its readers an alternative look at the future of humanity; a deep, devastating spiral into strange and frightening circumstances.

I Am by Ben Tanzer

Ben Tanzer takes on celebrity has-beens, almost-weres, and still-ares in this saucy collection of stories told from each individual perspective. Some stories connected with me immediately - Vanilla Ice, Richard Simmons, Corey Feldman, Darth Vadar - while others floated out in over-my-head land because I simply lacked the name recognition. That didn't lessen the impact of the collection, though. Tanzer brilliantly birthed each persona, forced their words up off the page, and made each one come alive much like a puppeteer brings life to his marionettes.

A quick, enticing collection, clocking in at just under 100 pages, that demonstrates a brand new side of Ben.

What are some of your favorite short story collections? 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Bronwyn Reviews: I'll Be a Stranger to You

Pages: 315
Publisher: Outpost19
Release Date: 2011

Guest reviewed by Bronwyn Mauldin

You’ll never save the world if you can’t even save yourself. That’s the hard truth at the heart of Cara Diaconoff’s novel, I’ll Be a Stranger to You.

Each year, thousands of young American Peace Corps volunteers strike out for places like Lesotho, Kyrgyzstan and Bolivia, full of heady idealism about saving the world. After two years of trying to make their small corner of it a better place, they return home with a certain ambivalence about their experience. I got a lot out of it, I’ve heard them say, but I don’t know if I helped anyone else. “Teach a man to fish,” the saying goes, but they’re sent to places where people have been making their livelihoods from fish for millennia.

The Mormon missionaries of I’ll Be a Stranger to You stand in striking contrast to the returned Peace Corps volunteers I know. Diaconoff’s novel is set in Moscow in the 1990s, a few years after the Berlin Wall has fallen. The political, economic and social order of the former Soviet Union is unraveling, and these fresh-faced, young American Mormons are certain they have the answer to what the new Russia needs.

All except Lucas Tiller. Tall, thin and lopy, Lucas stayed on in Moscow after finishing his mission, launching a small tech business with financing from his wealthy father-in-law. That business is on the brink of failure, as is the country’s currency and economy. He has laid off most of his staff – all of them Russian – and is trying desperately to hold on to the few small contracts he still has. He hasn’t paid himself a salary in months. He is, by turns, trying to save his business, his marriage, and himself. Lucas, his hair in a ponytail, too long for a missionary, tells the head of the Mormon mission in Moscow, “Well, you’ve come to the right source, then… if you want humble. I gave up all my high ambitions months ago.”

It’s not just his failing business he’s thinking of. Lucas is also struggling to come to terms with his sexuality. He’s a closeted gay Mormon who thinks his secret is safe. His wife, Marianne, has returned to the U.S. for an extended visit. They’ve told each other it’s temporary, it’s because Moscow is too foreign for her. He knows she wants to go back permanently. What we will learn is that’s only part of what she wants.

Walking through the metro on his way to work one morning with a copy of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People under his arm, Lucas passes a “samovar,” a quadriplegic veteran propped up on a skateboard. “Back home, if you saw such people, they at least rode in wheelchairs, or maybe even had artificial limbs – the point was they had things around them, a whole cushioned apparatus, so that you could more readily accept that behind their eyes still resided a brain and a soul that functioned just like yours did.” Lucas tries to strike up a casual conversation with the man, who responds by asking for cigarettes. He briefly imagines sitting in the park with the samovar, talking and laughing under a tree filled with twittering birds. Lucas imagines lighting a cigarette for him, putting it in his mouth for him to smoke. Though the brief scene can be read with sexual subtext, it is Lucas’s sense of loss and loneliness that shine through.

Diaconoff’s novel offers a peek behind the scenes of the missionary experience. Thousands of young Mormons go through intensive language training (Lucas turns out to be particularly adept) and are sent each year to proselytize around the world in their white shirts, black pants and ties. Lucas and the other young missionaries refer to each other as “Elder” or “Sister.” When the challenges they face threaten to overwhelm them, they get on their knees together and pray. Their earnestness matches the Peace Corps volunteers’ belief in their own power to save the world.

The story is told primarily from Lucas’s point of view, though occasionally we get brief glimpses of what other characters are thinking. A significant section is devoted to his wife Marianne’s perspective back in the U.S. It runs long, giving more back story than is perhaps needed, but it pays off when Lucas fails multiple times to get a crucial piece of news. Lesson: always check your phone messages, even when you’re expecting bad news. It could be worse than you expected.

A number of scenes take place in seedy Moscow nightclubs. Lucas’s attempt to end his friendship with an older openly gay Englishman named Clyde begins at one and ends with the two of them in jail, Lucas dressed in a woman’s silk pajamas and pancake makeup. His effort to save his business takes him into a different nightclub where he meets with the Russian mafia. This, too, does not end well.

At the center of I’ll Be a Stranger to You is a collection of people seeking to save what cannot be salvaged. Marianne returns to Moscow and attempts to save her marriage, even as Lucas falls in love with Adam Held, another Mormon missionary. Lucas tries to save his business in the midst of a collapsing economy. Adam tries to save a young army deserter because he is in love with the soldier’s prostitute sister. Lucas tries to save himself from his own sexuality. Nearly all of them will fail. The memory of their struggle will stay with you.   

Bronwyn Mauldin is the author of the novel Love Songs of the Revolution. She won The Coffin Factory magazine’s 2012 very short story award, and her Mauldin’s work has appeared in the Akashic Books web series, Mondays Are Murder, and at Necessary Fiction, CellStories, The Battered Suitcase, Blithe House Quarterly, Clamor magazine and From ACT-UP to the WTO. She is a researcher with the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, and she is creator of GuerrillaReads, the online video literary magazine.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Page 69: Nativity of a Devil

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 C.V. Ruisdael's Nativity of a Devil to the test.

Ok, CV, set up page 69 for us.

On Page 69 of Nativity of a Devil, a demon named Botis is luring the protagonist, Virgil, back in time to Constantinople to show him one of the seven deadly sins. In this scene, Botis is showing the boy the sin of gluttony, which is personified by the Glutton on this page. As history tells us, before the Empress Theodora actually became an empress, she had been a courtesan and burlesque dancer and, in this scene, the Glutton is trying his best to buy her for the night.

Botis and Virgil are watching the transaction from afar. (The currency that they mention, ‘silvata’ and ‘solidus’ are the equivalent of silver and gold.)

What is Nativity of a Devil about?

Nativity of a Devil is a semi-comical story about predestination and repentance: A boy named Virgil is constantly ridiculed at school because he has two strange nubs growing out of his forehead. The boys at school constantly call him a “Devil” and laugh at him. One day, Virgil lashes out on his classmates at school and gets suspended for seven days. And when his father learns about the boy’s suspension, he calls him a “Devil” as well in a bout of anger.

Since the whole world is calling him a “Devil,” Virgil actually starts to believe it and even thinks that he destined to be in Hell. Once the boy wishes to be in Hell, a demon named Botis emerges from the depths and carries him down into Hell. He tells the boy that he is indeed “predestined to become a demon,” and tries to show him how to be a demon by displaying all of the seven deadly sins in seven different historical periods. The demon shows the boy the Pride of Robespierre during the French Revolution, the Lust of an Archbishop during the time of the Black Plague and the Envy of a Roman statesman during the time of the Roman Empire.

After seeing all of the sins, however, Virgil wishes to return back to London and to beg forgiveness of his father. But the demon insists that the boy is predestined and must remain in Hell for all time to come.

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

Although this particular page doesn’t align with the overall theme, it is a fine example of the adventure and humor that occurs in each of the seven chapters showing a deadly sin. All of the “sin chapters,” as I call them, are all different, however, are just little stories within a story—a frame narrative of sorts.

PAGE 69 

Returning to Virgil, the demon rested his chin on the boy’s shoulder and said, “Let’s see what happens here…”
     As the Glutton’s back-sweat glistened in the candlelight of the theatre, the demon looked on, pondering. “I wonder what she will she charge him? One thousand silvata? Three thousand? Four? She is, after all, the most coveted courtesan in all of Constantinople—so much so that even the Emperor Justinian will someday come and marry her.”
     “Eight?!” the Glutton shouted, almost tripping over one of the chairs. Slowly, he regained his balance. “—Eight thousand solidus?” he murmured, as the flabbiness of his chin wriggled and shook.
     “Eight thousand. And if you cannot afford that, sir,” Theodora answered, pointing at Botis, “then I shall ask the gentleman in the cowl what he is paying.” 
     “Ten thousand silvata!” Botis whispered in Virgil’s ear, laughing. 
     Flustered, the Glutton turned around, looked at his servants and reluctantly nodded. “Eight thousand it is,” he told them. “Go and get it.”
     “Silvata?” the servant asked, seeming a bit confused.
      “Solidus,” the Glutton answered.
     Casting all of his regret aside, the Glutton looked back at Theodora adoringly and smiled. “Come, now. Let us eat,” he said. “Come,” he repeated, wrapping his thick, greasy fingers around her small, delicate wrist.
     Theodora slapped his hand away proudly. “I do not


C.V. Ruisdael currently lives in Philadelphia, PA, but has lived in a number of cities in France, the Netherlands and Belgium. Nativity of a Devil is his first novella, but he has since prepared a number of short stories and, also, a full-length novel, which is set for publication at the end of 2015.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Lavinia Reviews: The New York Stories

The New York Stories by Ben Tanzer
4.5 Stars - Strongly Recommended by Lavinia
Pages 224
Publisher: CCLaP
Releasing: June 2015

Guest Reviewed by Lavinia Ludlow

Nine years in the making, one could say that The New York Stories is Ben Tanzer’s greatest hits collection. Hardly just a mash-up of his most provoking work, this three-volume-in-one deal is the real deal.

The thing about Tanzer is that his writing is never irresponsibly fast-paced and disorienting. Instead, he uses the space as if it’s the last he will ever have—no piece is ever more than a couple thousand words, and there’s not a single moment that wanes or bores. Each story packs a straightforward and honest anecdote with situations most can identify with—growing pains, lessons learned through trauma, family issues, falling in and out of love.

Tanzer shows us how much it can suck sometimes growing up and living in Smalltown, USA, where everyone’s privilege to everyone else’s soap opera-like drama, no one is without some dark secret(s), and if they’re not directly involved in a broken family, they’re at the sidelines witnessing the harsh realities of what abuse, cheating, cutting, and divorce does to a person. On a more granular level, stories delve into a hot-for-teacher fantasy turned reality, a neighborhood sleazebag fucking everyone’s wife, teen pregnancy, cutting, and snotty teenagers torturing the less apt. Think the childhood innocence and beauty of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood crossed with the bizarre quirks of a Scott McClanahan collection, inclusive of those reoccurring crazy assholes who drive the whole town crazy.

These tales are common and can occur in any neighborhood or household at any given time. Their conflicts aren’t mind-blowing or have fanatical twists, but the simplicity and straight-forward narratives make them that much more poignant. Everyone can identify with crappy childhoods, bullies, prepubescent moments, familial rifts, relationship tensions, personal uncertainties, and the occasional existential tailspin. Tanzer gives us a front row seat in a theater streaming the everyday person’s hurt, frustration, tension, isolation, and despair as they stumble through the trials of life. We listen with empathy and heavy hearts as they admit in their most vulnerable states of mind what most won’t dare say aloud:

“I look at her. I miss her. I really do, the intimacy, her touch, being in love, all of it… I turn around to look at her, hug her, kiss her, have her tell me it’s going to be all right, but she’s gone, the house empty, devoid of life and love and anything that used to look like it.”

And separately:

“I used to wait for my dad to visit. I’d sit there by the window late at night, searching for him like a cop’s wife must do. Every shadow might be him, I thought; but no, it never was.”

The collection isn’t completely devoid of humor, and every so often, a laugh-out-loud moment breaks apart grey:

“What kind of man lets someone park in his lot without making a purchase?” Robby always says. “I’ll tell you, the same kind of man who watches another man fuck his wife.

Tanzer presents an intimate glimpse into the lives of writers, runners, sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers who can’t help but be oh-so-human at times. We have the privilege of seeing them at their most honest and vulnerable, and this summer, as you sit by the pool or lake with a cocktail/mocktail/light beer in one hand, make sure your other is clutching a copy of The New York Stories.

Check out my review of the second volume, sandwiched in The New York Stories, over at Marc Schuster’s Small Press Reviews:

Lavinia Ludlow is a musician, writer, and occasional contortionist. Her debut novel alt.punk can be purchased through major online retailers as well as Casperian Books’ website. Her sophomore novel Single Stroke Seven was signed to Casperian Books and will release in the distant future. In her free time, she is a reviewer at Small Press ReviewsThe Nervous BreakdownAmerican Book Review, and now The Next Best Book Blog

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Audio Giveaway - Love and Death with the In Crowd and Mating Calls

Jessica Anya Blau's super short collection of short stories - Love and Death with the In Crowd and Mating Calls - have recently been recorded as an audio book and she's given us a free download code (one for each collection) for two lucky winners. 

What Love and Death with the In Crowd is about:

We think of the past as a more innocent time. But in these stories of California teenagers acting out in the last years of the ’70s, it’s easy to see that love, loss, and heartbreak are even more poignant when viewed through 15- or 16-year-old eyes. Surrounded by friends and family who are spinning with their own losses and heartache, these teenage girls navigate the terrors and tenderness of life in the only ways they know how. In this touching and moving pair of coming-of-age stories, best-selling author Jessica Anya Blau makes it clear that once you step over certain lines, there’s no going back. 

Sample it here:


What Mating Calls is about:

Could a little yellow pill be responsible for landing Lexie James in the bed of her lover - and her lover's wife? Whatever the reason for this charmingly reckless school counselor's bad behavior, you've never been on a bender like this one. 

Sample it here:


How to win them:

Simply leave a comment here stating which collection you'd like to win, and leave a way to contact you. That's it. It's super-easy. This one comes with no commitment! 

We'll name the winners a week from today (Wednesday the 27th)

Good luck you guys!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Michalle Gould Recommends Andorra

And so we continue our Writers Recommend - a newish series where we ask writers to, well, you know.. recommend things. Like the books that they've enjoyed. To you. Because who doesn't like being recommended new and interesting books, right?! Think of it as a PSA. Only it's more like an LSA -Literary Service Announcement.

Michalle Gould Recommends Andorra

When I was in my first year of MFA school, one of the concepts the instructor for our first-year seminar introduced us to was that of the “paradigm shift.”  This was in 1998, but as I remember it, the definition of a paradigm shift in the context of literature was that it involved a moment in a book that changed your understanding of everything else that went before it but that was also “in retrospect, inevitable.”  

For me, Peter Cameron’s novel Andorra is the perfect embodiment of a book that causes the reader to experience a paradigm shift.  It presents us with a character, Alexander Fox, who is motivated by a personal tragedy to leave America and begin his life anew in the small country of Andorra.  Most readers will probably know little about the actual country, the sixth-smallest in Europe, located in the mountains between Spain and France.  Nonetheless, it seems clear from early on in the novel that there is something a bit off about the narrator’s life there and that it is doubtful that the Andorra of the novel bears much resemblance to the real one.  

The novel is unusual in combining an almost magical realist sort of setting with a very minimalist although elegant prose style.  Although quite a few readers appear to find the narrator unsympathetic or emotionally distant, that was not my own experience in reading - he caused me to think by contrast of the TS Eliot quote that “Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.”  The more the narrator tried to suppress his feelings through the neutral tone he uses to describe the people and situations he encounters in Andorra, the more I sensed the intensity of the regret and longing that was buried beneath the surface, for good or ill.

The novel turns in an unexpected direction as our main character becomes a suspect in a murder investigation and the new life that he has tried so hard to create quickly begins to fray at the edges.  One of the epigraphs for a section of the novel is “small countries make delightful prisons” (James Merrill) and the setting that seemed so idyllic and full of light at the beginning of the novel begins to appear more like a trap.  We fear that he will have to escape from this place that he has gone to precisely to escape from his former life.  And then there is that moment above, the one that changes everything.  To find out how, you will have to read for yourselves.  


Bio:  Michalle Gould's first full-length collection of poetry, Resurrection Party, was recently published by Silver Birch Press.  Her poems and short stories have appeared in Slate, New England Review, Poetry, American Literary Review, The Texas Observer, and other journals. She currently lives in Los Angeles, where she works as a librarian, and is in the process of researching and writing a novel set in the North of England during the 1930s.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Page 69: Among the Wild Mulattos and Other Tales

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 Tom Williams' Among the Wild Mulattos and Other Tales to the test. 

OK, Tom, set up page 69 for us.

This worked out perfectly, as 69 (tee-hee) is the first page of the story “The Finest Writers in the World Today,” the fifth story in a collection of ten.

What is Among the Wild Mulattos and Other Tales about?

Any more, I feel I’m the last person to have the right answer to such a good question as this, because oftentimes when I’m asked such a question I have a really mundane answer, while the person asking has a far better response because they’ve brought to my words whatever they’ve experienced. Despite my poor track record, I’ll sally forth and say this: that ultimately the ten stories are all about the state of being in-between. In most cases it’s a character who is biracial—neither black, nor white but both—but it’s also characters who yearn to belong. To me this state has always been of such great potential and such great sorrow. I think it also speaks to a larger human condition: being a spiritual mulatto, in that one might have allegiances to different groups and yet never feels fully connected, never feels as though one really has found her proper “place”—whether that’s among peers, a certain region or locality, or mental space. We’re all, at least I believe, all sorts of in-between. Yeah, that’s what the book’s about.

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

This is one of the “workplace” stories in the collection, and while there isn’t a specifically racial concern on this page (and throughout the story), it does orbit around the idea of identity, celebrity, and art—three issues I seem to never be able to shed in my fiction. And while I hope it operates as a story that supplies some good laughs in a book that toggles between high and low comedy, high and low art, it also asks some pretty serious questions about the relationship between (there’s that word again) art and commerce, writers and their work, writers and their audience. Funny stuff, right? And it’s told in first person plural, which everybody loves.


The Finest Writers in the World Today

To tell the truth, at first none of us believed there was money to be made from Tina Prescotts idea. Cause Celebs had been around for two-and-a-half years and was doing well enough to have five agents and about a hundred lookalikes because we understood our audience. They were people who wanted to bring pizzazz to the events in their lives, but on the cheap. For a nine-year- olds birthday, they couldn’t afford the real article, so what about someone who resembled Brad Pitt? That was a different story. And though Cause Celebs wasn’t the only agency in town, our lookalikes were dead ringers, as well as excellent vocalists and dancers. Or they wore great costumes and could lip synch.

Our performers broke down to two categories then. Dead celebrities was one: Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe, old and young Elvises and Sinatras—the perfect addition for your grandparents anniversary! We also had contemporaries, which at the time meant Britney Spears, P-Diddy, Madonna, Bill and Hilary, both President Bushes. And they were all good, dead or contemporary. They made a nice flat fee, five hundred for three hours, out of which we took our thirty percent. No one was


Tom Williams is the author of the novella The Mimic’s Own Voice (Main Street Rag Publishing) and the novel Don’t Start Me Talkin’ (Curbside Splendor). His newest, a collection of stories called Among the Wild Mulattos and Other Tales, will appear in July of 2015 from Texas Review Press. The Chair of English at Morehead State University, he lives in Kentucky with his wife and children.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Book Review: The Zoo, A Going

Read 4/16/15 - 4/20/15
2 Stars - Recommended Lightly, not a good book to start with if you are unfamiliar with Dzanc as a publisher
Pages: 132
Publisher: Dzanc
Released: 2014

Oh man. I was so torn while reading this book.

On the one hand, when compared to his 2011 release Girl With Oars & Man Dying, it's incredibly more readable. Girl With Oars was a shock to the system with its experimental language, which made reading The Zoo, a Going such a sweet pleasure.

On the other hand, The Zoo just seemed to go nowhere and was content to take its sweet ole time getting there. It's a contemplative day-long walk through the zoo. If you snoozed a bit on a bench in the shade, you weren't missing much, whereas with Girl With Oars, Tyler's style of story telling actually forced you to pay attention and keep up or it was going to outrun you and leave you choking on its dust.

Anyone who's experienced divorce as a child will immediately feel a tinge of nostalgia while cracking open The Zoo. Jonah, whose age is not disclosed, accompanies his parents to the zoo during a tumultuous time in their relationship. He is an anxious kid. He worries a lot, and not just about his parents and the signals they send out like fireworks in the night sky (he's hella observant and pays attention to how they interact with each other and with him). And he worries about other things, non parent-related things, things that most younger kids wouldn't necessarily find themselves worrying about. If he's not careful, he'll be gray and troubled by ulcers well before be needs to be.

And he certainly didn't hit the parent jackpot either. His dad is a prick. He bitches and complains and curses and ignores. His crankiness is wearing and tiring. Jonah's mom is the opposite. She laughs and shows patience. She dotes. Her behaviors and actions throughout the book scream "peace maker". She's unhappy but she's determined not to let Jonah see that. And she fails miserably at it. And it would appear that there was a baby brother somewhere in the mix - we aren't sure when or for how long or even what happened. Perhaps that was when all the troubles began? Having only an emotional, introspective little kid to rely on for this information, much is left unsaid, and we can only speculate.

Tyler has broken the book out into short chapters named for the animal Jonah and his parents are viewing at that moment. Jonah reflects on each animal, tries to engage his parents in some banal banter about them and then internalizes the animal and its current situation to a memory he has of time spent with his family. Some memories are tame and pleasant while others begin to show you how they ended up here, at the zoo, broken and faking it and fighting to hold it together.

It's one of those uncomfortable reads where nothing much is happening and the parade of animals appears endless and everyone (with the exception of the narrator) desperately wishes they were somewhere else. Yes. Everyone. Including us, the reader.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Indie Spotlight: Lorraine Devon Wilke

It's been awhile since we've had an author spotlight on the blog. So I was thrilled to hear that Lorraine Devon Wilke, author of the recently released Hysterical Love, wanted to share her thoughts on intentional self-publishing. 

Self publishing has worked hard at shedding the stigma that has dogged it for years. More and more often, authors - both long time "big 6" favorites and unknown debuts - are weighing out their options, doing the research, and intentionally choosing to publish their work on their own. 

Read on to see why Lorraine went down that road and why she believes it is time to stop auditioning....

When It’s Time To Stop Auditioning, Self-Publish 

Let me start with a disclaimer: this is not a screed against traditional publishing. Yes, those are trendy and there are lots of them out there, but this is not one. Life has taught me that when something sustains over a long period of time, it’s usually because it provides a useful and desired role in the greater scheme of things. I’d guess that’s the case with traditional publishing.

This is, instead, a few of my cobbled thoughts on the topic of why one might choose to self-publish, that newer paradigm in the bigger book industry picture. In the myriad of reasons why one might take that turn—and there are many—these are mine:

As someone who’s been involved in a variety of creative mediums throughout my life, the concept of stepping front and center to be judged toward some artistic goal is not a foreign one. Which is a convoluted way of saying, “I’m well-versed on the audition process.”

From birth on, in fact, we’re all immersed in the act of working for something: the cookie, the pat on the head, good grades, parental/teacher/coach approval, sexual attention of boys/girls, that job we want, the lead in the play, first prize, the record deal, a deserved raise, and so on.

If you’re a writer, an author? The “something” you work for is getting published. And back when traditional publishing was the only option available, or even now if you choose that road, the auditioning process toward that goal can be a brutal one.

An actor? You go up for a role, and, if you’re lucky, there’s a callback. If your luck holds, you go to the director, producer, network; whatever, and, usually, within a relatively short period of time, you know whether you’re in or out. Jobs, much the same time trajectory. Record deals, boyfriends/girlfriends, that raise? All of these come to fruition quickly enough that you either celebrate tout suite or launch your grieving process before the next snow.

Traditional book publishing? Dear God, who invented that process: Satan? I’m being facetious, of course (Satan wouldn’t know a good book if it arrived on stone tablets), but there is something oddly sadistic about the gauntlet authors who “go traditional” must traverse:

1.      Write the book and/or book proposal.
2.      Spend oodles of time (and money, if inclined to take classes) fine-tuning that notorious missive called “the query letter,” one that meets every arcane and immutable demand of the literary agent world (which will require several different versions of said letter).
3.      Diligently research which agents are open to unsolicited queries in your particular genre and note how they like to be approached.
4.      At this point, you should have your Excel spreadsheet out, organizing all the info you’ve gleaned into appropriate rows and columns (you do not want to double submit, for God’s sake, or query someone who won’t read fiction, or—dear Lord, NO—make the mistake of “checking back” if their site says “we only respond if we’re interested”).
5.      Once organized, put together impeccable packages with that perfect query letter and whatever else each specific, individual agent prefers; then judiciously send off in whatever amounts and time increments you see fit.
6.      There. Done.  
7.      Then you wait.
8.      And wait.

The seasons turn. You celebrate a birthday. Your sister gets married. The people next door move out. You lose the Oscar pool. Somehow you gain five pounds. You finish your non-fiction piece on elder care. You wait.

Then, oh happy day, you do hear back! From some. Most are quickie email responses: “Thank you, but I’m not the right agent for you.” Some are scribbled notes on your snail-mail queries...same basic message. They might give you some info as to why they’re not right for you (usually not), but whatever you do, don’t write back and ask; they won’t tell you. And they really don’t want you write back, ever. There’s little doubt literary agents are the busiest people in the world. Just not for you.  

But, if you’re lucky, you garner a few requests for more (more pages, chapters; manuscripts). You send whatever they request, excited to take that next step, thrilled that your sample chapters grabbed them, your “premise was intriguing,” or your title was “caught their eye.” You send it all off, wishin’, hopin’, thinkin' and prayin’...and then you wait. And wait.

Your parents take that cruise to Greece. You finally learn how to use Illustrator. More of the Arctic Shelf melts. You write another book. Your brother quits school to join a band. You start working out again. Your boyfriend gives you a cordless vacuum for Valentine’s Day. You wait.

And you either hear back on that additional material, that manuscript sent, those extra chapters, or you don’t. Usually you don’t. If you do, you get something like, “I didn’t fall for the writing as much as I’d hoped.” Or, “Given the competitive marketplace, I really have to love a project more than I loved this one.” Or, “You’re just a vapid writer of uninteresting pabulum and unless there’s a vampire, whip-wielding protagonist, or at least one set of six-pack abs in the opening chapter, we’re not the right agent for you.” Okay, probably not so much that last one, but likely some version of...well... some of that. Rejection comes in a wide spectrum of hues and shades.  

And then you...

Then you what? You’ve done your work, learned your craft, spent years honing it to a spit-shine by writing articles, blogs, short stories, screenplays, etc. You’ve gained the expertise to know how to build a crafty narrative, construct a propulsive story arc, and conjure characters that jump off the page. Your dialogue is spot-on, you can make ‘em laugh and cry; your themes are resonating, universal, yet unique, and those who’ve read your work are moved. Your book is loved (certainly by you), and it deserves life.

But you’ve essentially been auditioning for years at this point and, for whatever reasons, the literary agent who is right for you has not materialized. And traditional publishers aren’t all that welcoming to new writers who don’t have one of those. So what are you to do?

You self-publish. You DIY. You grab your destiny by the collar, drag it up on stage, flick on the lights, and let that sucker dance. Like indie filmmakers, indie musicians; indie theater companies, photographers, painters, potters, and mimes (yes, I do know some indie mimes), you take matters into your own hands. You access professional book builders—editors, formatters, proofers, cover designers—and you build the book you loved writing into the book you will love selling, one that looks and feels exactly as it should, just as you want it, with the cover, title, edit, and marketing plan you dreamed up.


You deserve it. It feels good, feels right. The sense that you stopped waiting for permission to proceed and just...proceeded. Power to the people!

I know there are countless stories out there about why authors self-publish. Fact is, some never even considered the “traditional publishing audition gauntlet,” choosing, instead, to leap into the indie pool without a second thought. Others straddle both worlds, bouncing back and forth, depending on the book (I believe that’s called “hybrid publishing”). Some would cut off their arm to get a traditional deal; others eschew that path as so much conformist malarkey.

Me? Yep, I finally stopped auditioning and gave myself the job. And it’s been a wild ride of hard work, empowerment, and tremendous satisfaction. Though someone did ask me not too long ago if I’d ever consider a traditional deal for upcoming books. To be honest, I would...if it came to me. I wouldn’t mind having passionate collaborators working alongside me on this journey (because, let’s be honest; it’s hard doing it by yourself!). But I wouldn’t audition for it. That process is not one I could imagine putting myself—or any beloved book of mine—through, ever again.
But whatever way each of our roads turn, however we get to where we’re going, whatever reasons compelled our decisions to independently strike out with work we believe in, how lovely is it that we now have the choice? Auditioning may be a valid option for some, it may still have a place in the publishing industry at large, but it should not be the only game in town. Lucky for us indies, it no longer is.    


Lorraine Devon Wilke is a storyteller in whatever avenue of the arts she’s exploring: photography, music, and, of course, her writing. Whether her blog, The Huffington Post, her photography or her original music, her mission is always to find the heart of the narrative. Her debut novel, After The Sucker Punch, and short story, “She Tumbled Down,” were 2014 successes, while 2015 brings the launch of her second novel, Hysterical Love (available at Amazon and Smashwords). Visit her site for all links and info.