Friday, April 18, 2014

CCLaP: Turtle and Dam

On Monday, CCLaP celebrated the birth of another book!

Say hello to Scott Abraham's Turtle and Dam

Turtle and Dam is Scott's literary debut, and if you enjoy literature that elbows cultural references and differences in the ribs, you'll find a lot to love in here. It pokes fun at so much and yet it tells such a serious story about going after what you believe in. 

Turtle - a twenty something year old American educated Chinese man and recent college graduate - is desperately hunting for a job. He is also incredibly full of himself. Hilarity and head-biffs ensue as the reader follows him into the unexpected and incredibly awkward career of newspaper journalism. 

Like millions of other only-child Chinese twenty-somethings, Turtle Chen is graduating college and vicariously desperate (via parental pressure) to find a job, though he would probably settle for a girlfriend. He speaks English. He studied abroad in America. Employers, ladies, what's not to love? With a bit of bravado and some hometown luck, this engineering grad lands himself an entry level position working for the state news agency; not that he particularly cares about politics or journalism, not that they particularly want him to. Through a class assignment, Turtle learns that his grandmother's village will soon be inundated to make way for a dam construction project. His parents tell him not to worry about it. His bosses tell him not to worry about it. He would be only too happy to oblige, and yet despite his best efforts not to care he finds himself on the front lines fighting bulldozers, next to what some villagers claim to be the ghost of Chairman Mao. There's bribery, corruption, computer games, and text messages imbued with uncertainty. Air pollution, censorship, and a job fair where students attack employers with paper basketballs. And it's all told through the eyes of a young man with impeccable English ('impeccable English,' that's correct, yes?), who's right there in the middle of it all. 


Check out what people have been saying about it:

Scott Navicky, one of CCLaP's very own authors, says: 
"Turtle and Dam is a book to cherish. It’s smart, insightful, and extremely funny. In particular, Abrahams’ ability to humorously weave together the foreign and the familiar is nothing short of astounding."

Lixian, the blogger behind Word, Notes, and Fiction says: 
"Turtle and Dam was an enjoyable read ... funny and relatable."

Goodreads user Joshua Marshack says:
"[F]or ragers against the rat-race, for anyone that's struggled with life and love, I wholeheartedly recommend this book."


Turtle and Dam is available as a traditional paperback or you can download it for free, as with all of our other titles, as a digital file. Happy reading!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Lavinia Reviews: Shut Up / Look Pretty

Shut Up / Look Pretty - Anthology
193 Pages
Publisher: Tiny Hardcore Press
Released: 2012

Guest Reviewed by Lavinia Ludlow

In 2012, Lauren Becker, Erin Fitzgerald, Kirsty Logan, Michelle Reale, and Amber Sparks released Shut Up/Look Pretty, a collection of short stories and micro fictions about everything from bad break ups, vampires, to classic familial dysfunction. The contrast of narrative voices brought a charming feel to the compilation, and collectively, made for a unique reading experience.
Becker opens with a story called A Simple Explanation, which reads more like a low self-esteemed angst-ridden unhinged teenage girl than a mature woman struggling with her reality—think every single Fiona Apple song. A reoccurring personality who takes (or maybe invites) emotional abuse by the stereotypical emotionally void asshole, pining over the wrong men who ignore and abuse her, and leave her self-hating and loathing because she doesn’t fit a certain mold: “You marvel aloud at your luck in meeting me. I like you and want to warn you, but it’s really your own fault. Don’t envision a history with me. Just take me home tonight and don’t call tomorrow. I will cry and think ‘always’ and ‘never’ and it will feel right to me.” Independent Living was a glimpse into the black hole of an old folks’ home. The well-written piece exposed Becker’s true talents as a writer as she conveyed complex emotions of the dismal environment in mere sentences. Becker’s prose is often fragmented, but she’s mastered the art of expressing the darkest emotions of the human experience, which most choose to bury, drink away, and forget.
Erin Fitzgerald imaginative stories of hospital stays and unemployment take place in small-town college dorm rooms and doctors’ offices.

Where Did It All Go Wrong is a heartbreaking tale of giving up the daily comforts, quite possibly necessities, in the heart of the economic recession. Fitzgerald hits hard with blatant one-liners, but also conveys a slew of somber emotions, as exhibited in the opening of Fed Up In Phoenix, “You started getting the newspaper right after you got married, because Laurie thought it would be cute for the two of you to read the paper over breakfast. Then both of your shifts changed and you ate together less and it stopped for a while.” A story with such a powerful twist that it sucker punched me in the gut and I walked around for the rest of the day with an inexplicable ping in my side. This Morning Will Be Different is a humorous and engaging story about coming home from a surgery to an empty house after a fresh break up. “I will start taking ibuprofen three times a week, even if nothing hurts that ibuprofen would fix...If I can’t find someone to talk to that early in the morning, I will invent an eccentric friend in an artist’s colony in Taos, where it will be 4am. She will not have been able to sleep, she is so filled with inspiration.” As the collection presses on, Fitzgerald’s prose and content increase in eccentricity, from stories of fraud to inmate snail mail in a “To Lindsay Lohan from Erin,” a one-way dialogue with no other than Lindsay Lohan. Nonetheless, a great collection of short stories.

Kirsty Logan’s novella Local God is about a Scottish rock band and its stereotypical womanizing sociopath of a lead singer, Francis Faskally. Logan’s dynamite writing never wanes, particularly when she’s introducing a character: “Before I met Tibor, I thought I knew what Christians looked like—this was vital information so that I could avoid them. Then I met Tibor, with his shaved head, nose ring, and muscled arms, like a threatening extra from a prison movie. Several local god girls at uni are feverishly, obsessively, frantically in love with Tibor. They are all beautiful and insane. Tibor is not bad-looking and he’s in a band—which is plenty for some girls—but he also has a secret weapon. Tibor is saving himself for marriage.” Logan has the matchless ability to set the scene and draw out her characters so precisely that I feel as if I’m there in the room listening to the dialogue unfold and tensions rise. Though the short story starts off slow and cliché, it morphs into an entertaining, engaging, and fantastical mind fuck. My only gripe is that I can’t read it again with a virgin pair of eyes.

With a dream-like writing style, Michelle Reale uncovers the barbaric and ugly side of suburbia, culture clashes, dysfunctional relationships, and even blind dates in flash-length stories. In Folk, the connection between two people fizzles just as quickly as the 200-word piece reads: “We tried to be fascinated by one another in the car on the way to the folk festival. We’d met over e-mail. He wrote with dashes like Emily Dickinson and I fell for it. He picked me up at a Denny’s on the highway, asked me not to smoke when I slid one from the pack. We had things to say, like the fact that he petrifies citrus fruits on windowsills and has a lime back from the summer of ’87. I told him about my fascination with the two drums of Ireland, the Lambeg and Bodhran and how my loyalties can become easily divided. The air-conditioning was on full blast. My eyes went dry. We ran out of things to say. At the festival we saw each other, but he just looked straight ahead like he didn’t know me after all we shared. On the way home we passed by a ramshackle house with a statue of a big wooden bear, his claws out. On one side was: ‘Welcome.’ On the other side: ‘Go Away.’ I lit my cigarette and didn’t care. ‘Imagine that,’ I laughed. He rolled down the window and looked the other way.” In What Passes For Normal, a young girl watches and listens to her callous mother verbally abuse a child with a mental disability: “‘God gives them strength since they have nothing upstairs to work with!’ She taps her head with a French-tipped fingernail. My mother blows a stream at Belinda. She laughs when the girl sputters. Belinda’s mouth looks like the downward grimace of the tragedy mask of theater. The smoke from my mother’s cigarette drifts forming a corona around Belinda’s head that looks too small for her body.” I had to re-read a few of Reale’s more poignant stories, but the second round was a literary adventure in itself and I was able to gain a better understanding of her vision. 

Amber Sparks’ poetic and ethereal stories of life, death, and the gristly transitions in between remind us mortals of our inevitable (and grim) battle with mortality. Sparks fuels her stories with darkly comical details, which become increasingly graphic throughout her collection. She opens with A Great Dark Sleep, one man’s portrayal of living among ghosts and their playground. Haunted by some isolated trauma, the man is unable to let anyone new into his life, and devotes his time and energy to keeping the “ghosts” content. He even bans his daughter from using any technologies such as the internet, TV, and phone under the belief that “the signals would interfere with those the ghosts give off, with the live trails they leave looping through the air.” The Stages of Human Decay is none other than a play-by-play narrative of the human body decomposing: “After only five days it seem impossible she wouldn’t recognize you, but you are not you. You have transmogrified; you are a monster, a shiny, blistered human skin sack stuffed with liquefying tissue, leaking juice and gases from every orifice. You would be embarrassed to be seen in this condition. You were always so tidy and clean.” From cola guzzling vampire hunters to a murdered husband who somehow returns to life and sprouts wings, Sparks’ well-written content draws on the imaginative occult.

At times, navigating through a 300-page collection of intense and heavy material from five of the scene’s powerful and artistic writers was overwhelming; however, the generous sampling allows each contributor to highlight herself as an individual and as an essential voice in Shut Up/Look Pretty’s multifaceted illustration of the human condition. Available for purchase as an e-book at Amazon.

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 Reviews, The Nervous Breakdown, American Book Review, and now The Next Best Book Blog

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Where Writers Write: Anne Valente

Welcome to another installment of TNBBC's Where Writers Write!

Where Writers Write is a weekly series that will feature a different author every Wednesday as they showcase their writing spaces using short form essay, photos, and/or video. As a lover of books and all of the hard work that goes into creating them, I thought it would be fun to see where the authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happen. 

This is Anne Valente. 

Her first short story collection, By Light We Knew Our Names, releases from Dzanc Books in October 2014. She is also the author of the fiction chapbook, An Elegy for Mathematics (Origami Zoo Press, 2013). 

Her fiction appears in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Ninth Letter, The Journal, and Redivider, among others, and won Copper Nickel’s 2012 Fiction Prize. Her work was also selected as a notable story in Best American Non-Required Reading 2011, and her essays appear in The Believer and The Washington Post.

Where Anne Valente Writes

I’ve moved around a lot in the past few years, with lots of different writing spaces, but this is where I currently write: in a small corner of my current apartment, painted lime-green by the previous tenants. Though my writing space seems to constantly be changing, a few things remain constant: tea, the small totems I keep on my desk, and a view of the outdoors. When I first moved into this apartment, I pushed the desk up to the window immediately. It helps my writing process to be able to stare out the window at constant change – the sun rising each morning though sometimes through clouds, sometimes the moon still visible, sometimes rain or snow or the trees bending in the wind. Out this particular window, a family of finches lands on the brick ledge most mornings. They shake their feathers and peep and sometimes they peer into the window at me.

Since I write in the morning, I always have tea. My sister gave me this small teapot a few years ago that is perfect for the writing zone. I’ve never been much of a coffee drinker, but I could spend hours in a teashop. Right now, the piles anchoring both sides of my desk consist of my notes/schematics for the novel I’m currently working on, notes for the production of my short story collection due out in October, and notes for a craft essay on time in the novel. Behind the piles and the teapot, I keep a bamboo plant that my parents gave me after my very first reading in 2009. They drove from St. Louis to Ohio just to be there, and they brought this little bamboo plant for good luck. I’ve never had much of a green thumb, but I’ve kept this plant’s watering schedule on my calendar for the past five years and counting.

I also keep a collection of writing totems on my desk for inspiration, a collection that seems to keep growing. Here, I have a snow globe and a cat figurine and a small ceramic bird, all gifts from close friends. They remind me to keep imagining. I also have a small collection of antique pill boxes that belonged to my grandmother, a jellyfish paperweight from the Seattle Aquarium (it glows in the dark!), a plastic dinosaur that was part of my Halloween costume in 2009 and reminds me of my MFA cohort at Bowling Green, and the little plastic ring my husband gave me when we got engaged. I like to keep the people I love around me in totems, like they’re all there with me in the room when I write.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Indie Ink Runs Deep: John H. Matthews

Every now and then I manage to talk a small press author into showing us a little skin... tattooed skin, that is. I know there are websites and books out there that have been-there-done-that already, but I hadn't seen one with a specific focus on the authors and publishers of the small press community. Whether it's the influence for their book, influenced by their book, or completely unrelated to the book, we get to hear the story behind their indie ink....

Today's ink story comes from John H. MatthewsJohn is a Chicago-based writer who has worked as a cigar store clerk, office equipment mover and academic library specialist. As the “M” half of the comic “A.M.” he drew artwork for the Evanston-based monthly, Strong Coffee, also contributing his short stories. His writing has appeared in anthologies and several literary magazines, including Wisconsin Review, Pindeldyboz, Opium Magazine, Word Riot, 2nd Hand and others. 
He is the author of This is Where it Gets Interesting.

Can Pink Floyd and Black Flag live in harmony?

They did, for a while anyway, on my left shoulder as an unlikely tattoo.

Long a fan of Floyd’s moody songs of alienation, sometime in 1987 I discovered punk music and jumped in with both feet.

Floyd lost the turntable war to Flag and my hippie hair got cut. I had quickly found my way to the most scathing of L.A.’s hardcore offerings.

 My first tattoo was the simple yet elegant Black Flag “bars”, an inventive design by Flag guitarist Greg Ginn’s artist brother Raymond Pettibon meant to depict a flag waving in a breeze. A black flag also represents anarchy. Perfect!

Maybe as a way to temper the leap into tattoos and punkdom, or possibly to ensure my literary, more sensitive side was represented, I went to Floyd’s last album with Roger Waters to a song called “Two Suns in the Sunset”.
The last lyric on The Final Cut goes: “Ashes and diamonds, foe and friend, we were all equal in the end.” It was a song about nuclear war and the end of the world. Also perfect!
“Equal In The End” would be inked onto my shoulder above the Black Flag bars in an arch.
First tattoo facts: Tattoo done by a guy named Ray. Fifty-dollar job. Easyriders magazine in the waiting area. Authorized by utilizing a fake ID (I was only nineteen). Pain was not bad.
For tattoo number two a year later, I chose an Aztec sun design because I am deeply into Aztec history and culture. No wait! That’s right . . . it was because I was digging Henry Rollins at the time and decided to get a version of the sun that adorns his back tattooed on my arm.
Second tattoo facts: Work also done by a guy named Ray. Seventy-five dollar tat. There was a large snake in a dirty tank in the waiting area.
I spent a few years with my Black Flag/Pink Floyd combo, then the inevitable happened: Rollins’ neck began to resemble a redwood tree trunk from excessive weightlifting and screaming poetry, and I felt the need to distance myself from the man.
In 1993 I went in for a change, this time to a tattoo studio that featured fine artists: Guy Aitchison’s Guilty & Innocent in Chicago. Since Guy’s waiting list was explained to me as “Ain’t gonna happen for you, ever,” I chose a worthy backup, his apprentice at the time, Deborah Brody. After meeting with Deborah to explain that I wanted a dragon on my left arm, she looked at the rudimentary art already laid down and said, “OK, so we’re going over these, right?”
I quickly explained that I actually wanted to keep most of the existing tattoos and saw the dragon as sort of wrapping around them, connecting them as a whole. But what I did want covered up was that Equal In The End business. You see, even worse than walking around as miniature Rollins was explaining to potential girlfriends and drunk, sweaty skinheads what the words above the bars meant. I barely got past Pink Floyd lyric when eyes would glaze over and whomever I was speaking to would disappear to see if there was any more Budweiser left in the keg.
The dragon’s tail would curve over the bars and hide the phrase and I would be free!
Deborah dutifully drew up a design using my descriptor “bizarre” as her guiding light, and created what I still think is some kick ass art. The tattoo was done on a bitterly cold night in January. It was just Deborah and I in the shop, listening to the cool punk and psychedelic music emanating from her boombox as she worked. In the four hours, I think we took only one ten-minute break.
Third tattoo facts: Broke the Ray cycle. Total cost of the ink and labor: $200. Plastic skeletons in the store front windows and a shameful admission: I forgot to tip. It didn’t dawn on me until I was on the bus home that I’d stiffed her. Doh!  I blame the needles. I was loopy there at the end.

* * *
If anything is stopping me from having my now fading tattoos redone, or getting additional ones, it’s that I can always think of something else I’d rather have. I could get a new guitar for example, or a used guitar. I could get a new pair of hiking boots or a decent winter coat.
In the twenty-some intervening years since I became The Boy With The Dragon Tattoo, I have never once (as several friends have) received a tax refund and immediately converted it to ink. My feeling is that strong forces must compel you to climb into a chair and pay many dollars to have someone jam electric-powered needles in you and those forces, for me, have apparently left the building.
This doesn’t mean I regret the tattoos I have or would dissuade anyone from getting one, though. Faded though they are, I find my tattoos, even the old Black Flag art, comforting. Tattoos hammer down time. They stand to honor a life period as well as the moment of their own creation. Sailors used to call them “travel marks” for a reason. They show the world you went somewhere. You went somewhere and did something.
And there’s a practical side to tattoos as well, one you may not have thought of.

Long ago, upon hearing I’d gone in and got permanently scarred, my grandmother remarked, “Well, at least now we have another way to identify you should that ever become necessary.”

Monday, April 14, 2014

Book Review: Die You Doughnut Bastards

Read 4/5/14 - 4/7/14
3 Stars - Recommended to fans of light bizarro cause light bizarro's like a box a chocolates, you never know just what kinda crazy ass stories you gunna get.
196 pages
Publisher: Eraserhead Press
Released: 2012

Every once in awhile, I gotta take a break from the overwhelming pile of review books and stick my nose into something else. A little breather reading. Something fun - not that what I have in my review pile isn't fun, mind you - but a pressure free read that I can escape into, like a warm bath after a mentally draining day at work.

For these side-reads of mine, I like to pick up lighter books, funkier books, books that don't ask to be taken seriously. Because lord knows 'serious' books require quite a bit of work and effort on the part of the reader. (Wait till you read my upcoming review on You Lost Me There, which isn't written yet because I'm still chewing on it all. Yeah.)

Cameron Pierce's Die You Doughnut Bastards was just the bizarro brain candy I was hungry for. I downloaded the collection for 99 cents on a whim when Eraserhead Press had a can't-pass-this-shit-up sale (my words, not theirs). Knowing Cameron through his position as head editor at Lazy Fascist Press, but never having read any of his own writing, I figured hell, for 99 cents, even if only one of his stories blows me away, it was worth it!

But I really shouldn't have worried. Typical of the work he chooses to publish over at LFP, Cameron is king at creating his own absurdly awesome and awesomely horrible worlds. Regular sized pet guinea pigs that develop a taste for blood and escape the confines of their cages to chew their way past your eyeball and into your brain? Check. Spooky Christmas pancakes that howl and scream while you drown them in maple syrup and cut into them? Check. Oh, and how about a prison made of pizza that drips sauce all over its anorexic inmates? Yup, it's got that too. And how can we not talk about the opening apocalyptic story that involves killer doughnuts? It'll have you thinking twice before biting into that Boston Creme with your morning coffee!

Not all of the stories are as whacked out as these, however. Some are actually quite sweet and touching. "Lantern Jaw" is a lovely, if not strange, little love story about two misfit high schoolers, while "Mitchell Farnsworth" is more a lusty fuckfest-gone-to-pot between two former roommates. And then there's "The Death Card" which is part bittersweet and part goopey-doopey, where an expectant young father is tasked with packing up his "toy" room to make space for their baby.

Cameron walks a delicate line between being overly sappy and slightly too gross, threading just enough of each into his stories, blending just the right amount of awkward into the absurd. You almost don't trust where he's about to take you. And it's a pretty cool feeling.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Melanie Reviews: Two Small Birds

Two Small Birds by Dave Newman
296 pages
Publisher:Writers Tribe Books
Released: 2014

Guest review by Melanie Page

In Two Small Birds, readers are reassured that they will probably fail, despite their best efforts to be “good” when they know they’ve been “bad.” The novel follows 23-year-old Dan Charles as he shuffles between an undergrad degree in poetry plus a few bad part-time jobs, to full-time truck driver. Well, truck driver for a year; that’s all he’s promised his brother John that he can do. Truck driving is the most boring, soul-crushing job that forces Dan to choose between right and wrong and more money versus little money on an hourly basis. He finds that if he takes speed and drinks he can stay on the road longer and make more cash, but he’s nearly dead when he gets three days off, which he uses to sleep at his brother’s apartment. Or, he can eat well, exercise, and stay sober, but then he has trouble driving for ridiculously long periods.

The whole truck-driving career is part of a plan for Dan and John to invest in a wire that other companies won’t carry--it’s expensive, but everyone sells the cheap imitation that has to be replaced all the time. Dan drives truck and saves up money for his part of the investment, and John continues working his crappy on-call job as his end of the bargain. Both know Dan’s job is harder, and tension grows as Dan remembers their childhood when John would lie to get Dan in trouble or beat his younger brother to keep him in his “place.” Here’s where readers start to feel distrusting of John. “Boys will be boys” is a cheap excuse adults use to justify brothers abusing each other, but when does it stop? Is John going to screw Dan over despite them being in their 20s?

The beauty of this novel comes from two places. One is its specific appeal to American ideals: working hard, bootstraps, that sort of thing. John and Dan aren’t part of a get-rich-quick scheme; the hours Dan logs are equivalent of years of working. But the jaded America we live in today tells us that whether John is trustworthy or not, their dream is dead before its up and running. Compared to those who reach out and achieve success seemingly without effort, the brothers are like two small birds trying to survive in nature’s deadly ecosystem. Dan wants to be a full-time poet and reader, but others who work those man’s-man jobs are skeptical of his employability: “You should go to prison,” his landscaping boss advises, “They have a good welding program in prison.” Do we live in a place where prison serves us instead of us serving in prison?

The other beauty of Newman’s work is his attention to people. To capture such weird, unbelievable characters and make them wholly likeable is a feat that no other in contemporary small press author comes close to. Newman does dialogue like nobody’s business. In unfamiliar territory, Dan stops to ask if there is a Chinese restaurant around the area:

The skinny guy said, “Yeah, next exit. Head east. Only place on the road.”
“That’s not Chinese. That’s Korean,” the old guy said....
“What the fuck’s the difference?”
“I was in Korea,” said the old guy.
“...You’ve been bullshitting about car racing like you know everything and now you’re 
bullshitting about Korea. You’re a bullshitter. Shut up and watch the TV.”
“My big brother was in Korea for the war. Got shot in the pinky toe.”
“So your big brother was in the Korean War and got shot in the foot and now you’re an 
expert on Korea, is that it?”
“I didn’t say I was an expert.”
“No, you said you were in Korea.”
“I misspoke,” the old guy said. “Now I’m going to go out to my truck and get my gun and I 
wouldn’t be surprised if it misspoke right in your skinny fucking face.”

For anyone who has been in those “good-ol’ boys”-type bars, you know these patrons. You’ve seen them or argued with them. They’re probably members at your local Eagles or Moose or Elk club. Newman grabs these personalities, rips them off their bar stools, and smacks them on the pages of Two Small Birds. Even the prostitutes are likeable when they’re making you mad. This is definitely some manly fiction with a humanities bent.

Melanie Page is a MFA graduate, adjunct instructor, and recent founder of Grab the Lapels, a site that only reviews books written by women (

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Indie Book Buzz: Quirk Books

It's the return of the Indie Book Buzz here at TNBBC. Over the next few months or so, we will be inviting members of the small press publishing houses to share which of their upcoming releases they are most excited about!

This week's picks comes from Eric Smith,
Social Media & Marketing Coordinator at Quirk Books.

World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters
July 15th, 2014

When I started at Quirk Books four years ago, I was already a fan of Ben H. Winters. I’d read his mashups (Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters!), followed him on Twitter, and was just really excited to get to work on whatever books came through the Quirk HQ with his name on them.

So when he pitched a trilogy to Quirk, one with a pre-apocalyptic angle, I was beyond psyched.

World of Trouble is the final book in that trilogy, a series of books called The Last Policeman. It imagines the world on the brink of the apocalypse, with an asteroid heading towards the Earth. What would our final days look like? How would people treat one another? What would society become? Winters seeks to answer these questions, and explores them through Hank Palace, a detective who keeps doing his job even though the world is destined to end.

It’s been a moving and exciting ride (especially when he won the Edgar award for the first book!), and while I’m sad to say goodbye, I’m thrilled at the success the series has had. Definitely pick up the first two books, and get yourself caught up.

William Shakespeare’s the Jedi Doth Return by Ian Doescher:
July 1st, 2014

Oh my goodness, another end to a trilogy! Excuse me, I’m busy experiencing serious feelings.

Okay, let’s continue.

Last year, Quirk published the New York Times bestselling debut of Ian Doescher, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, a mashup of Shakespearian writing and the plot of Star Wars Episode IV. We followed it up with another bestseller, The Empire Striketh Back. And now, the trilogy comes to a close with The Jedi Doth Return. Just look at Jabba on the cover! LOVE IT.

These books have been a thrill to work on. Star Wars fans love them, and watching the Internet explore whenever one comes out has just been fantastic. When Quirk was pitched the books, it was just a given. We had to put these out. And we’re so happy that we did.

Nick & Tesla’s Super Cyborg Gadget Glove by Steve Hockensmith & Science Bob
October 7th, 2014

This is the fourth book in the Nick & Tesla series, an adorable bunch of books by Steve Hockensmith and Science Bob. And thankfully, it isn’t the last book, which prevents me from having another emotional breakdown. You might have one of the authors, Bob, on Jimmy Kimmel, where he performs amazing experiments to the delight of the audience.

The Nick & Tesla series introduces readers to a brother and sister duo who solve mysteries using projects they make themselves. Burglar alarms, glow in the dark tracking ink, simple robots, things of that nature… and as kids read along, they can actually make the projects too! The books have the instructions in them!

I read every book we put out at Quirk, and just love it when a new Nick & Tesla book pops up. They’re middle grade reads, so I usually get through them in a day or two, and love every page. They are the kind of books I would have devoured as a child, and I’m glad we put them out. You can learn more about the series at


Eric Smith is the Social Media & Marketing Manager at Quirk Books, and the author of The Geek's Guide to Dating (Dec 2013). He's hopelessly addicted to good books, bad movies, writing, and video games. You can follow him on Twitter at @ericsmithrocks and Quirk at @quirkbooks.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Where Writers Write: Gert Loveday

Welcome to another installment of TNBBC's Where Writers Write!

Where Writers Write is a weekly series that will feature a different author every Wednesday as they showcase their writing spaces using short form essay, photos, and/or video. As a lover of books and all of the hard work that goes into creating them, I thought it would be fun to see where the authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happen. 

This is Gert Loveday

Gert is the author of Writing is Easy, an Australian comic novel about the writing world.

Where Gert Loveday Writes

Yes, I'm sorry to say it really does look like this most of the time. If I sit at the desk to write, I just put everything on the floor. Every now and then I tidy it all up and am filled with a new sense of purpose and direction – for a while.

You'll see a music stand to the right with my computer on it.  I like to write standing up, which I find puts my hands in a good position on the sloping keyboard and means I don't get an ache between my shoulder blades.

You'll also see my yoga chair, which serves the double purpose of a seat and something to hang upside down on for a good stretch.

And here is my cat Celie who is always close by, and as you can see in my author photo, helps with yoga too.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Indie Ink Runs Deep: Nik Korpon

Every now and then I manage to talk a small press author into showing us a little skin... tattooed skin, that is. I know there are websites and books out there that have been-there-done-that already, but I hadn't seen one with a specific focus on the authors and publishers of the small press community. Whether it's the influence for their book, influenced by their book, or completely unrelated to the book, we get to hear the story behind their indie ink....

Today's ink story comes from Nik Korpon. Nik Korpon is the author of Stay God, Sweet AngelFight Card: Punching ParadiseBar Scars: StoriesBy the Nails of the Warpriest; and Old Ghosts. His stories have ruined the reputation of NeedleNoir NationOut of the GutterShotgun Honey, and Yellow Mama, among others, and he is an associate editor at Dark House Press. He lives in Baltimore with his wife and kids. Give him some danger, little stranger, at

I’d been getting tattooed and hanging out in shops since I was 19, so after I finished my book Stay God (now Stay God, Sweet Angel with an additional, origin-story novella), a celebratory tattoo was sort of a given. I hadn’t yet sold the book, but that wasn’t the point. It was more a matter of marking that moment, the culmination of six weeks of fourteen- to sixteen-hour writing days. That was the most euphoric period I’ve ever typed. Only problem was, I was living in London when I wrote the book and all my artist friends were back in Baltimore. There are a ton of great shops in London and any number of them would have made a great tattoo on me, but this wasn’t just some banger I’d wanted because I was bored (and I do have a couple too many of those).

One of the overarching themes of the book is the various incarnations of family. It could be argued that the book is also a love story, a la Hot Fuzz, between Christian and Damon, the two mains. (I did also get the bloody cricket bat from Shaun of the Dead, though that’s a different story.) It could also be said that Christian and Damon are based largely on myself and my best friend, Christian, though I am the one who usually talks us out of whatever trouble he gets us into. So I thought it would be appropriate if Christian, who is also a phenomenally talented tattoo artist, did my book tattoo. In the interim, I got tattooed at Frith Street tattoo, settling on a chainsaw for my then-girlfriend/now-wife because our first date was Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Once back in Baltimore, Christian drew up a cool little black jet in honor of Jet Black Records, the shop the character Christian runs. (The name itself was a reference to a song on Jawbreaker’s Dear You, an album that became the soundtrack to many of our road trips.) It’s a small tattoo that is frequently lost in the clutter of my arms, but it’s one of my favorites.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Drew Reviews: The Holy Ghost People

The Holy Ghost People by Joshua Young
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended
85 Pages
Publisher: Play Inverse Press
Released: Feb 2014

Guest review by Drew Broussard 

The Short Version: The Holy Ghost People - who are they? Where did they come from (are they aliens or are they human or are they ....)? What is the god they believe in?  Who are we to decide?  The Speakers might not believe (in any of it) - but that doesn't mean they don't have to come to terms with it all anyway.
The Review: I have a long and still developing history with non-traditional theater.  I still remember the first plays I read in Scott Cummings' "Dramatic Structure & Theatrical Process" class that forced me to start reconsidering what a play could be - and one of the earliest reviews on this blog, of a Mac Wellman play called Description Beggared, or the Allegory of Whiteness, saw me continuing to grapple with the idea that a playwright can present something that the reader, the director, the cast must then truly translate into a staged event.  See, even the strangest things I grew up experiencing ('bold' settings of Shakespeare, the occasional dip into Beckett) in the theater paled in comparison - and while I still believe that a traditional narrative structure is the stronger form, some amazing things can come from stranger and more thorny stylistic choices.
Such a play is The Holy Ghost People.
I was skeptical at first, I must admit.  There's a line early on in the play, Scene 7 I believe, where the Speakers (ostensibly ordinary average human beings) say to the Holy Ghost People (these potentially otherworldly and certainly strange human-esque figures): " talk like a grad student, the way you dismantle language..." and my first instinct (this, on page 17 of an 70-ish page script) was "oh, man, you've set yourself up with that one."  See, I usually don't go in for that sort of language in whatever I'm reading.  Lord knows I
struggle with the Blake Butlers of the world - for language must, to my mind, root in something in order to connect with me.  Rootless language, no matter how rhetorically beautiful, irritates me.  It feels like a sort of peacocking.  And I'll admit that, at first, I though that's where this play was going.
But shortly after this, after several pages in an ensuing scene of the two groups saying back and forth to one another "we drink from the same water" in some sort of hellish Meisner exercise, some policemen appear on the scene (they don't reappear in the play, at least not as policemen) and say "we got reports of some weird people being weird."  And all the sudden, the play won me over.  Just like that.  That single moment of self-awareness on Mr. Young's part reminded me to not only take this a little less seriously but also it showed me that he isn't just trying to impress people with his avant-garde linguistic abilities.  He's actually doing something here - and so it was that I found myself reading the play with an eye towards, well, staging.  We read novels and see the cinematic versions play across our mind's eye - why is it so much more difficult to do that with plays?  It's funny, isn't it?  But then, this is why I don't direct too often: it's rare that I can read a play and see it before me like I'd want it to be seen.
So color me pleasantly surprised when I looked up from the first reading of this play to find that I'd scribbled notes in the margins of the copy I printed out, thoughts about staging and about the lines and about the concepts - and I then read it again, thinking about the concepts more clearly and interestingly than I had before.
See, this is a play about (to me) religion.  Or perhaps more accurately: belief.  I am and always have been an atheist - but there are things that I do believe in that defy explanation.  And I've been called on to defend those things to those who would seek to shoot down my beliefs because they don't jive with their own.  And on both sides in this play - the Holy Ghost People and the Speakers - I saw that happening.  A fundamental unwillingness to truly communicate, even as they were communicating.  The Holy Ghost People speak of not just the present-day human conception of God (regardless of denomination or delineation) but of science as well as false, falsely believed in.  Their god is a different god than the one we understand - and so too is their science.  There's a spaceship, maybe, and there are definitely some things that are different about the Holy Ghost People - but are they just a version of us considering things differently or are they truly other?  It's a question raised and (to my mind) unanswered in the text of the play.  The crux is, instead, the debate between the two sides.  How they interact.  On the one hand, I'm inclined to side with the Speakers: nobody wants to be told that they are wrong, wrong, wrong and that they'll (essentially) be damned for it.  But on the other, the Speakers are the ones who escalate things and who react most impulsively, which doesn't look too great either.  There's something quite humanely flawed about both sides of the argument here - despite the other obvious differences as laid out in the text (like the fact that the Speakers look like us, pretty much, while the HGP are all in white robes).  It's an impressive effort and one that affords some truly deep writing in addition to the still-to-my-mind-unnecessary rhetorical hoo-ha that colors some of the pages.  Of course, that's just in the writing.  You put these words into the mouths of actors and something else entirely might well happen - I guarantee it.

Rating: 4 out of 5.  But even that is a fluctuating notion.  I've read the script yet another time (3 total, for those keeping score at home) and I keep seeing interesting things in it.  I don't know that Mr. Young manages to achieve the full engagement with the ideas here - there's a lot of good work but I think the play remains a little cool, a little insular.  But it has intrigued me immensely as a theatermaker, which might well be the greatest compliment I could give it.  I can see a way in which this play is augmented by its staging, a way in which it more fully achieves the potential on the page.  And isn't that the idea, in the end?  That a play only fully comes alive when it lands on the stage?  (I realize, looking at the Plays Inverse website that they're all about the reading-experience of the play too.  And while I dig this... well, I'm about the doing, too.)
Drew Broussard reads, a lot. When not doing that, he's writing stories or playing music or acting or producing or coming up with other ways to make trouble.  He also has a day job at The Public Theater in New York City.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Indie Book Buzz: Hawthorne Books

It's the return of the Indie Book Buzz here at TNBBC. Over the next few months or so, we will be inviting members of the small press publishing houses to share which of their upcoming releases they are most excited about!

This week's picks comes from Liz Crain, 
editor and publicity director at Hawthorne Books

I LOVED YOU MORE, Tom Spanbauer
(Released April 1, 2014) 

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Tom Spanbauer’s first novel in seven years is a rich and expansive tale of love, sex, and heartbreak covering twenty-five years.  At the heart of the book is a love triangle: two men, one woman, all of them writers.  The first chapters are set in the mid–eighties in New York City.  At Columbia, Ben forms a bond with his macho friend, Hank.  Their bond is deep and ostensibly formed around their love of writing.  But they soon find out their love is more than literary.  As C.S Lewis says, friendship is homosexual.  Hank is straight, though, on the Kinsey scale a zero, which means no men.  Ben is a five, which means an occasional woman.  But both are artists, and this affection between them is a force. How do you measure love?

Set against a world of writers and artists, New York’s Lower East Side in the wild eighties, the drab confining Idaho of Ben’s youth, Portland in his middle age, and the many places in between, the complex world disclosed in I Loved You More, written in the poisoned, lyrical voice of Ben, is the author’s most complex and wise novel to date.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: If you have a heart and are human there are miles and miles of emotional terrain for you to travel and connect with in this passionate, searching novel about intimate relationships and the complicated lives of writers set primarily in New York City in the eighties and Portland in the late nineties. I don’t know how much polyamory is a part of the fabric of modern relationship culture in other cities but here in Portland, Oregon – where Hawthorne Books is based and a good deal of Tom Spanbauer’s novel is set – polyamory, as well as other less traditional and less socially acceptable ways of navigating and understanding intimate relationships be they gay, straight or anything in-between is strong and has been gaining ground in recent years. Spanbauer’s I Loved You More moves about some of these less socially acceptable and less-easy-to-define sorts of relationships and sets its course on a long and winding years-spanning road of a non-traditional love triangle between two men and one women. I Loved You More is for anyone with a heart -- particularly those who have or want big, big love in all its messy, heartbreaking, beautiful glory.

THE END OF EVE, Ariel Gore
(Released March 2014) 

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: At age 39, Ariel Gore has everything she's always wanted: a successful writing career, a long-term partnership, a beautiful if tiny home, a daughter in college and a son in preschool. But life's happy endings don't always last. If it's not one thing, after all, it's your mother.
Knock knock.
Her name is Eve. Her epic temper tantrums have already gotten her banned from three cab companies in Portland. And she's here to announce that she's dying. "Pitifully, Ariel," she sighs. "You're all I have." Ariel doesn't want to take care of her crazy dying mother, but she knows she will. 

Darkly humorous and intimately human,The End of Eve reads like Terms of Endearment meets Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. Amidst the chaos of clowns and hospice workers, pie and too much whiskey, Ariel’s own 10-year relationship begins to unravel, forcing her to reconsider the meaning of family and everything she’s ever been taught to call “love.”

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: I’ve been a fan of Ariel Gore’s ever since she started the smart, alternative, zine-like Hip Mama Magazine in the early nineties. Since then Gore has gone on to write several nonfiction books including Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness and Atlas of the Human Heart: A Memoir. The End of Eve is one of Gore’s most dig deep and personal books and I know I’m not alone in wanting to get as close to Gore as humanly possible. When she was in Portland recently – where Hawthorne Books is based – for The End of Eve book launch all of us at Hawthorne were struck yet again by the black humor of the memoir. It taps into that old adage – if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. Well, you’ll cry a little bit too I’m guessing while reading The End of Eve but let’s just say that there’s a whole lot of funny in all that death and dying too. It’s ok, laugh. We want you to. It’s good for you.


Liz Crain is editor and publicity director at Hawthorne Books where she’s worked since 2009. She is also a fiction writer as well as the author of Food Lover’s Guide to Portland which has a second edition coming out from Hawthorne this September 2014 as well as Toro Bravo: Stories. Recipes. No Bull published by McSweeney's in 2013. A longtime writer on Pacific Northwest food and drink, her writing has appeared in Cooking Light, Budget Travel, VIA Magazine, The Sun Magazine, The Progressive, The Guardian and The Oregonian. Crain is also as well as co-organizer of the annual Portland Fermentation Festival.