Monday, November 20, 2017

Christopher Marlowe in Interview with Kathe Koja

Earlier this year, Kathe Koja released Christopher Wild. Her literary love affair with Christopher Marlowe continues below, in this fictional interview....







Interviewing Mr. Marlowe



Interview by Kathe Koja

Let’s meet him in a noisy pub, at a narrow scarred table near the door, with friends or disputants rowdy on either side: because he likes a drink, and enjoys a verbal brawl, he knows exactly how to argue, when to use logic, when to use force. He’s young, he’s dressed to impress, his name is Christopher but everyone calls him Kit: Kit Marlowe, who’s famous all over London as a wit and a poet and a playmaker, whose words are declaimed by actors and quoted by citizens and even scrawled on walls to incite civil insurrections. He’s admired and emulated (hello, Will Shakespeare), he’s envied and maybe hated, and now he sits there waiting for us to stand the next round.

It can be chancy, to let a writer’s oeuvre do all the talking, but if we’re going to have answers to our interview questions, that’s the way it has to be. So let’s start with the hardest question first:






Q: Is it true that, beyond being a superstar playwright, you’re also a spy for Queen Elizabeth’s secret service?

Christopher Marlowe: Might first made kings.

Q: Is that a yes?

CM: Matters of import, aimed at by many, but understood by none.

Q: Classified, OK, we’ll read between the lines . . . And you’ve written some agelessly beautiful, indelible lines—“Is this the face that launched a thousand ships? Infinite riches in a little room. Make me immortal with a kiss” starting with your first play, Tamburlaine. Tamburlaine was a game-changer for the whole of London theatre, wasn’t it.

CM: From jigging veins of rhyming mother wits, and such conceits as clownage keeps in pay, we’ll lead you to the stately tent of war—[pause as pint arrives] And then applaud his fortune as you please.

Q: Hard to say which is more gorgeous and bloody, your blank verse or the action onstage! Tamburlaine is a hardass –

CM: The scourge of God and terror of the world –

Q: And you brought him to life. What was it like, to be just out of school, and score such a sudden, stunning success? Tamburlaine had an immediate sequel –  

CM: The general welcomes Tamburlaine received hath made the poet pen his second part –

Q: – and your other plays have been just as commercially successful, even though your subject matter is extreme. In Doctor Faustus, a man sells his soul to the devil—though you’re not a religious person yourself, are you?

CM: Shall I make spirits fetch me what I please, resolve me of all ambiguities? . . . These vain trifles of men’s souls! I count religion but a childish toy, and hold there is no sin but ignorance. If I were to write a new religion—!

Q: Blasphemy’s kind of illegal here, isn’t it . . . You have a master’s degree from a very prestigious university. What’s your take on higher ed?

CM: To this day is every scholar poor – 

Q: You were a scholarship student yourself.

CM: – gross gold from them runs headlong to the boor! I’ll have them fill the public schools with silk, wherewith the students shall be bravely clad. Fantastic liveries, a short Italian hooded cloak . . . Speak well of scholars.

Q: Let’s talk about your translations of Ovid and Lucan, both of them controversial poets like yourself. In fact, Ovid’s erotic verses were suppressed –

CM: I mean not to defend the ‘scapes of any –

Q: They were pretty hot –

CM: – or justify my vices, being many. [Laughs]

Q: And your own “Hero and Leander” was pretty hot, too! Two gorgeous young people, separated by a dangerous river, risking their virtue and their lives to be together –

CM: Whoever loved that loved not at first sight?

Q: All your plays’ central characters—Tamburlaine, Faustus, Barabas the Jew of Malta, King Edward—are men at odds with their societies. Would you say you had an outsider’s view of the world?

CM: That like I best that flies beyond my reach. And peril is the chiefest way to happiness . . . The hour ends the day, the author ends his work –



And just like that the glass is empty and our interview’s done, he’s off from the table, he’s leaving the pub—is he headed for his lodgings in grimy Shoreditch? Or his wealthy patron’s estate in Kent? Someone says something about a meeting in Deptford . . . We’ll hope to meet him again, if not in this pub then always in his words.



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Bios:

Christopher Marlowe, poet and playwright, brought blank verse to passionate heights, and blazed the trail that Shakespeare followed, with his enormously successful plays for the London stage: Tamburlaine, Doctor Faustus, The Jew of Malta, Edward II, The Massacre at Paris. But his clandestine career as a spy put his life in peril; he was stabbed to death in what the government rushed to call a drunken argument in an eating-house in Deptford. He was 29.

Kathe Koja’s novel CHRISTOPHER WILD takes immortal badass Kit Marlowe from his past into our future. She is currently adapting Marlowe’s EDWARD II into an experiential performance event, GLITTER KING, set in a Detroit punk bar, for early 2018.




Friday, November 10, 2017

Hank Early's Would You Rather

Bored with the same old fashioned author interviews you see all around the blogosphere? Well, TNBBC's got a fun, literary spin on the ole Would You Rather game. Get to know the authors we love to read in ways no other interviewer has. I've asked them to pick sides against the same 20 odd bookish scenarios.



Hank Early's
Would You Rather



Would you rather start every sentence in your book with ‘And’ or end every sentence with ‘but’?

Goodness. I guess I'd go wth but. Might be a little more challenging and therefore more interesting? I guess?



Would you rather write in an isolated cabin that was infested with spiders or in a noisy coffee shop with bad musak?

Noisy coffee shop. No contest. I actually like background noise when I write. And I despise spiders.



Would you rather think in a language you could understand but write in one you couldn’t read, or think in a language you couldn’t understand but write in one you could read?

The second one. Wait, no, that would suck. Gotta go with the first one. Because if you can't think, you can't do anything, right?



Would you rather write the best book of your career and never publish it or publish a bunch of books that leave you feeling unsatisfied?

Well, I think authors do the second all the time, so I'll take that one. I can't imagine anything more torturous than writing a perfect book and having no one read it.



Would you rather have everything you think automatically appear on your Twitter feed or have a voice in your head narrate your every move?

I'd rather have the voice in my head. We could all do with less twitter and more voices in our heads.



Would you rather your books be bound and covered with human skin or made out of tissue paper?

Tissue paper. I don't even want to think about the other ones. Shiver. (yes, I do write scary stories, but that doesn't mean I can handle grossness).



Would you rather read naked in front of a packed room or have no one show up to your reading?

I already suffer from social anxiety, so I'm fine with the second option.



Would you rather your book incite the world’s largest riot or be used as tinder in everyone’s fireplace?

This is a tough one. I'd say riot as long as the riot sparked a positive change in the world. If not, tinder, baby.




Would you rather give up your computer or pens and paper?

What are pens and paper?



Would you rather have every word of your favorite novel tattooed on your skin or always playing as an audio in the background for the rest of your life?

So, I hate needles, but I think the audio would be worse. I'll take the tattoo.



Would you rather meet your favorite author and have them turn out to be a total jerkwad or hate a book written by an author you are really close to?

Both have happened. Sort of. But I'd rather the first happen.



Would you rather your book have an awesome title with a really ugly cover or an awesome cover with a really bad title?

I think covers sell books. So, I'd take the second.



Would you rather write beautiful prose with no point or write the perfect story badly?

This is every author's dilemma, no? As much as I love the beautiful prose, I've got to have the story. Story is the point, after all. At least for me.



Would you rather write only embarrassingly truthful essays or write nothing at all?

I'm good with embarrassment. I'm not good with not writing.



Would you rather your book become an instant best seller that burns out quickly and is forgotten forever or be met with mediocre criticism but continue to sell well after you’re gone?

Hey, I'll take the bestseller. I can always make the next one a critical darling!




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Hank Early spent much of his youth in the mountains of North Georgia, but he never held a snake or got struck by lightning.  Heaven's Crooked Finger (Nov. 7, 2017; Crooked Lane Books) is his first novel. He holds a Masters in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and has been a middle school teacher in central Alabama for nearly 20 years. Hank Early is the pen name for horror author John Mantooth, whose novel The Year of the Storm was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award.  The author enjoys a good beer, strong coffee and wild storms. He’s married and has two kids who are constantly giving him ideas for his next novel.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Where Writers Write: Caitlin Hamilton Summie

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 Caitlin Hamilton Summie.

She earned an MFA with Distinction from Colorado State University, and her short stories have been published in Beloit Fiction Journal, Wisconsin Review, Puerto del Sol, Mud Season ReviewHypertext Magazine, South85 Journal, The Belmont Story Review and Long Story, Short. Her first book, a short story collection called TO LAY TO REST OUR GHOSTS, was published in August by Fomite and has earned excellent reviews, including a starred Foreword. Most recently her poetry was published in The Literary Nest. She spent many years in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Colorado before settling with her family in Knoxville, Tennessee. She co-owns the book marketing firm, Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity, founded in 2003. Find her online at caitlinhamiltonsummie.com.







Where Caitlin Hamilton Summie Writes



I write in a room that is meant to be the living room of our house. My computer sits on a melamine board laid over two white filing cases. I’ve had the melamine board since at least 1992. The filing cases are recent replacements of my much-moved and dented ones and were supplied by my parents when they downsized.

I write surrounded by books, photos, mail supplies, and (many) work files.

In the corner: a blue overstuffed chair that has perfectly placed armrests for my height.

Ahead: a window with a view of a glorious maple tree.

To my left: a smaller window that gives me a peek of a teeny dogwood tree on the corner of our lot.

And everywhere, hanging on the walls all around me, the vibrant, bright colors of my children’s artwork from age 2 on…



Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Indie Spotlight: Rick Claypool







In today's Indie Spotlight, we welcome Rick Claypool, author of the recently released Leech Girl Lives. In the essay below, Rick explains what influenced him most as he put pen to paper and wrote his novel. 








Things That Inspired Me While Writing Leech Girl Lives

I’ve always been into weird stuff. Weird music, weird movies, weird stories. As a kid, the Muppet I most identified with was Gonzo: the weirdo. As a grownup, I find myself writing weird fiction.

During the time I was writing Leech Girl Lives (Spaceboy Books 2017), I rekindled more than a few oddball childhood obsessions, discovered new things to geek out about, got pissed off about social problems. And I felt unusually productive while gathering all this strangeness around me, as the strange things I was appreciating were now the raw materials for my own creation.

For me, the writing process really is all about getting excited about the latest bizarre idea that pops into my head and running with it. It’s also about letting myself become unapologetically excited and passionate (or angry) about the things that spark my interest.

And so, dear reader, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share with you some of the things that were knocking around my head and exerting an influence in one way or another on Leech Girl Lives as I was writing it. (Because even if you haven’t heard of me or my book -- and let’s be honest, odds are, you haven’t -- I hope you’ll find the idea of mashing up this stuff into pulp fiction page turner more than a little interesting.)

Adventure Time - Pure imagination fuel. Equal parts silly and sharp -- and occasionally quite sad -- this cartoon helped me learn to be ok with embracing my weirdest ideas.

Final Fantasy IV - My ur-text for speculative adventure. Released as Final Fantasy II for Super Nintendo in the U.S., I spent an inordinate amount of time as a kid playing and re-playing this epic, and it's admittedly complex and convoluted plot is permanently imprinted in my brain, and it’s probably why I feel so drawn to stories populated with monsters.

Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed - The smartest and most sensitive work of political science fiction I’ve encountered. The structure of my book, with its shifting chronologies, was largely inspired by the structure of this book.

Global inequality - When I’m asked what Leech Girl Lives is about, the first thing I want to say is “supply chains,” which I realize is probably not a very useful answer. My original idea was to write a book where, instead of geographic space separating exploited workers who produce goods from the comparatively well-off people consuming them, these groups are separated by time. The inevitable result: class tensions that span time, with the people of the future exploiting the people of the past.

Tardigrades - As an 11-year old, I was obsessed with bugs. In this context, tardigrades incredibly fascinating and frustrating to me. I pored over every photo, illustration, article, and book I could find for information about these strangely cute, practically indestructible microbes. This was before the internet, so this interest meant checking out stacks and stacks of biology texts, where each 500-page volume devoted maybe three paragraphs to tardigrades. Supposedly they’re everywhere, but invisible to the naked eye. So in the book, I made them the size of kaijus.

Sam Pink’s Person - Nihilism and absurdity and depression and poverty in minimalist prose, but funny. Reading Sam Pink’s novels helped me embrace my own minimalist tendencies. (Because, contrary to what I tried to convince myself for a time in college, being a writer doesn’t mean composing lyrical, meandering sentences like Proust).

Synthwave on Bandcamp - While I was writing the book, listened nonstop to retrofuture electronic music by the likes of Carpenter Brut, Perturbator, and Gost, which I stumbled upon among the many synthwave artists on Bandcamp. These artists became the soundtrack to my worldbuilding and writing.

Doctor Who - Full disclosure: I haven’t followed the show for a couple of seasons, but I was at the peak of my interest during the David Tennant and Matt Smith years, when I also was writing my book. Wacky, imaginative, and heartfelt, the best episodes expose unfair economic models, which no doubt had an influence on Leech Girl Lives.  

Jasper Fforde’s Shades of Grey - If Douglas Adams wrote a surrealist dystopia and arbitrarily arranged its society around color. So clever it almost hurts and the most interesting contemporary work of dystopian fiction I’ve encountered, and I try to read a lot of this stuff.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission - For my day job, I spend a lot of time thinking about how the 2010 Citizens United ruling lets corporations and the rich spend as much as they want to distort our elections. The political debate between those who want election spending to be completely unregulated and those who want restrictions did much to inform the conflict in the book between makes of unsafe art and the inspectors who work to stop the unsafe art from harming viewers.

Four-hour commutes - For a few years, I had to travel to Washington, D.C., once a month for work. From Pittsburgh, that’s a four-hour drive without traffic. I would use this time on the road to think through narrative challenges and come up with ways to complicate the story. Occasionally I would write myself notes while driving 70 miles per hour on the Turnpike, a practice I don’t recommend.

Foxconn suicides - Foxconn is a manufacturing company that oversees Chinese factories where Apple’s iPhones are assembled. The company’s initial response to 14 people throwing themselves off of the factory roof, killing themselves, was to put up nets and add a “no suicide allowed” clause to workers’ contracts. Later scenes in the book were inspired this very real horror story.

Dougal Dixon’s Man After Man - When I was a kid, my interest in dinosaurs led to a general interest in evolutionary biology, and Dougal Dixon’s books are to blame. In this one, scientists genetically engineer humans to fill the ecological niches of animals we drove to extinction, only to be later repurposed as slaves and food. His art is incredible.

Being attacked by bird mites - Several years ago, I had to evacuate the cheap apartment where I was living because it became infested with bird mites. Pigeons, the foulest creatures on Earth, where roosting in the eaves. The mites are super tiny and they swarm at night to drink blood. I feel itchy just thinking about this traumatic turn of events. And my landlord was a real asshole about it.


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Rick Claypool is the author of Leech Girl Lives, a weird dystopian story of resistance. His short fiction appears in TL;DR Magazine, The Mustache Factor, The Allegheny Review, and in the forthcoming Not My President: The Anthology of Dissent. For more, visit rickclaypool.org.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Indie Spotlight: Lily Iona MacKenzie





In today's Indie Spotlight, Lily Iona MacKenzie discusses her newest novel, Curva Peligrosa, and the struggles of discovering who your characters really are and helping them find a life of their own. 











Giving Birth To a Fictional Character



My novel Curva Peligrosa opens with a tornado that sweeps through Weed, Alberta, and drops a purple outhouse into the center of town. Drowsing and dreaming inside that structure is its owner, Curva Peligrosa—a curiosity and a marvel, a source of light and heat, a magnet. Adventurous, amorous, fecund, and over six feet tall, she possesses magical powers. She also has the greenest of thumbs, creating a tropical habitat in an arctic clime, and she possesses a wicked trigger finger.

When Curva had ridden into Weed on one of her horses two years earlier, she was like a vision from a surrealistic western, with her two parrots, a goat, glittering gold tooth, turquoise rings, serape, flat-brimmed black hat, rifle, and six-shooters. After a twenty-year trek up the Old North Trail from southern Mexico, she was ready to settle down. Her larger-than-life presence challenges the residents of Weed, who have never seen anything like her. I must admit, I hadn’t either.. I am neither 6-foot tall nor as buxom as Curva. In my external life, I’m pretty conventional. I’m happily married, teach college-level rhetoric to freshmen/women as wells as memoir workshops to seniors, and have never backpacked. Nor have I traveled hundreds of miles by horse with a travois. 

Unlike me, Curva is amoral and not bound by the usual codes that restrict many middleclass women not only in terms of their relationships but also in the daily choices they make. She lives fully in her senses, bedding with multiple men if she desires, enjoying what she refers to as walking marriages where a woman invites a man to spend a sweet night with her, but he must leave by daybreak. She also pursues her dreams, no matter what hardships she encounters in doing so (as in trekking the Old North Trail for twenty years with horses, dogs, a goat, and parrots).

Given that I was a high-school dropout and single parent at sixteen, my options were severely limited. I had a son to raise on my own and received no child support from his father. A quick learner, I parlayed the typing skills I had learned in my high school commercial course (it was assumed then that most women would end up as clerk typists or some versions of that role) into a variety of office jobs after starting out as an office girl. Consequently, in Curva Peligrosa, I wanted to create a female character that was fully feminine but not as restricted as I had been either by self-imposed limits or by society’s boundaries. 

Curva didn’t fully come alive for me until I discovered her name. Originally, I had called her Lupita, yet I was having trouble getting inside her character. But then my husband and I visited Cuernavaca, a small town two-hours’ drive from Mexico City. On our way there, I kept seeing signs along the side of the road with the words curva peligrosa, which means dangerous curve. The name itself released this character. Suddenly, I could hear her speak, I could see her interacting with others, and I knew her. She seemed to emerge full blown as Athena did from Zeus’ head, and Curva also has a mythical quality. 

Was Curva based on anyone I know in actual life? No. I wanted to create a character that was not like someone we’re likely to run into. But she does reflect elements of various goddesses. Curva’s love of nature and willingness to travel solitary in the wilderness reminds me of Artemis, goddess of the hunt.  She also can be associated with a kind of Eve figure who creates her own Garden of Eden that she would like to establish in Weed. Curva wants the northerners to be able to experience this more idyllic state that her lush greenhouse represents. Finally, Curva has an earth-mother dimension. She’s a kind of Demeter figure, associated with animals and the earth, and doesn’t do well in chronological time.

Have I succeeded in midwifing Curva’s birth? Will she find a home in readers’ imaginations? In September 2017, the paperback edition of Curva Peligrosa was released, and now you, dear reader, will join in this creative process. 

Together, we’ll give Curva the opportunity to continue her explorations. 


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~




Lily Iona MacKenzie has published reviews, interviews, short fiction, poetry, travel pieces, essays, and a memoir in over 155 American and Canadian venues. Her novel Fling! was published in 2015. Freefall: A Divine Comedy will be released in 2018. Her poetry collection All This was published in 2011. Lily taught rhetoric at the University of San Francisco for over 30 years and currently teaches creative writing at USF’s Fromm Institute for Lifelong Learning. She blog sat http://lilyionamackenzie.wordpress.com.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Indie Ink Runs Deep: Shannon Baker



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....


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Today's ink story comes from Shannon Baker, author of Dark Signal, which releases tomorrow. 









I’m the last person in the world you’d expect to get a tattoo. I could be a grandmother, for God’s sake, if I hadn’t scarred both of my daughters so much they’ve sworn never to have kids. I never wanted a tattoo. What if I get invited to the White House for dinner and it wouldn’t match my evening gown? And talk about commitment, I get nervous making holiday plans in case something better comes along.

Besides, I grew up in rural Nebraska. Enough said.

My youngest daughter begged to have the Red Hot Chili Peppers logo tattooed on her arm when she was 15.  I gave her all those motherly words of wisdom, “Why would you want to ruin your body with ink? You’re perfect just the way you are. You can do whatever you want when you turn 18.”
My writer friends started gathering tattoos, some of them inviting me to join with a matching design. That’s nice, I thought, but not for me. That ship sailed and I don’t need a tattoo at this late stage.

And then….

It started like an itchy mosquito bite. Then grew to an all-out rash. I found myself Googling tattoo designs. Sheepishly, I brought it up to my husband. “What would you think if I got a tattoo?”

He didn’t raise an eyebrow. “Why wouldn’t you?”

We sketched it out. I wanted something that symbolized my mystery writing career. I visited various artists, and debated whether I should smoke something medicinal for the pain I knew it would cause, or maybe secretly knock back some tequila before I went under the knife needle. Finally, one bright summer morning, I got my tattoo, totally without pain meds. Honestly, I’ve had kitchen accidents hurt worse.  

I know, you’re all rolling your eyes and muttering, “What’s the big deal?”

Beats me. So much angst went into it and it ended up being pretty anticlimactic. I gotta tell you, I love my tattoo.

One of the things I love best about it is the reaction I got from my daughter. After the stunned silence, she said, “Now I’m the only one I know without a tattoo.” See, I really did scar her for life. 



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~







Shannon Baker is the author of the Kate Fox mystery series, set in the isolated cattle country of the Nebraska Sandhills. She was voted Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2017 Writer of the Year and Stripped Bare earned the author a starred review in Library Journal (as their Pick of the Month) and a nomination for the 2016 Reading The West Award from Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers. She also writes the Nora Abbott Mysteries (Midnight Ink), featuring Hopi Indian mysticism and environmental issues inspired by her time working at the Grand Canyon Trust. Shannon makes her home in Tucson where she enjoys cocktails by the pool, breathtaking sunsets, a crazy Weimaraner, and killing people (in the pages of her books).


The mystery author will be traveling across America for special events and conferences. See her full schedule: http://shannon-baker.com/where-ill-be/

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Book Review: Absolutely Golden

Read 10/1/17 - 10/10/17
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended
Pages: 197
Publisher: Stalking Horse Press
Released: September 2017




Absolutely Golden strikes me as more style than story, in that D. Foy has penned a protagonist with a sanguine temperment swimming in ridiculously lovely prose. His sentences are either abruptly short or languorously lengthy, drizzled with commas and packed with so much emotion they shine like the sun, so bright we must shield our eyes lest they themselves get burned. You can feast on his writing:

"We suffer, we people, we do. We carry secrets we know nothing of, and harbor them even, and sometimes even nurture for life. And we keep this torment because we deserve it, or believe we do, because, really, nearly always, we feel guilty."

"The sun was rising, thought still the mountains hid it.  My room lay covered with that hazy pall of brass-colored light that with each day's coming makes the world seem everything's good, and yet I hadn't slept but for the haphazard snatch. And when actually I did catch a wink, it was to be assaulted by disfigured cherubs, their hair aflame, and defecating gressils, and jackals and crones, and enless piles of hacked-off limbs. Tranquility, in short, had been a distant song."

"It was so quiet, in fact, you could hear the friction of smoke on the gathering dark, of its rising from the pits, slither, slither, thither and thence, the steady trudging as well of anys in their line in the soil between a crack in the stones on the path, the motes of earth beneath their constant legs, the sound even, above, of the night itself, settling down like the breath of a woman on her sweetheart's eyes."

Keep in mind this takes place in the 70's at a nudist colony, where our narrator - a thirty something widow named Rachel - has reluctantly agreed to follow her hippy deadbeat boyfriend and his 'cousin' Jenny, chasing a much needed break in her rather stuffy, boring life. 

There is much drugging and drinking and swinging (both of the dancing penises and switching of partners kind). The characters are eccentric, almost overwhleming so, and are prone to fits of fabulous story telling, regaling their audience with tales that often send the reader on multi-page-long diversions that eventually, and perfectly, weave themselves right back into the here and now (or then and there?). 

I've read early reviews that refer to this book as comedic, the reviewers admitting to moments of actually laughing out loud. The back cover even refers to it as comic. Perhaps the author's sense of humor was lost on me? Perhaps I was just more strongly drawn towards D. Foy's hypnotic prose and the sheer awkwardness of our middle-aged sun-burned goddess, trying to make her square self fit into the star-shaped hole of Camp Freedom Lake? 

Whatever its intent, I found Absolutely Golden to be a bright and fascinating trip back to a simpler, if not necessarily sanier, time. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Indie Spotlight: Jorge Armenteros



I know it seems like I haven't been around much lately, but we're still cranking out the content, I promise! Slowly, but still...

Today we have a guest post from Jorge Armenteros, author of the upcoming release The Roar of the River, which drops on September 15th with Spuyten Duyvil Press. He shares some insight into his writing process and how he reacts to the pull of the plot and the reader/narrator relationship.







On writing

On a warm August afternoon, walking down La Promenade des Anglais, the rhythm of my steps approximating the basso continuo of my thought process, I open the floodgates.

There is plot, but I’m always more interested in situations. Situations change and that’s a kind of plot. Language is a plot, too, and so are mix-ups and nonsense. Really, any situation can be a plot because as it changes, time moves forward.

Forward, I walk.

And a writer meets another writer who’s ten years younger and has a keen eye for people on the street, but has a drowned mind. The writer sees a tennis player meeting another tennis player who is ten years younger, but has reached stardom. The writer meets his friend from childhood and wonders, What took you so long? All within a writer’s day.

I write the books I have yet to read. In essence, I jump over the edge of tradition and throw my words up in the air hoping for the wind to take them places no one else has reached.

Yes, I wrote and explored. I learned not to be harmless.

Not harmless…

Everyday contains a moment when you think you will touch immortality. What follows next is the stuff of novels.

And when the rain comes down, my words are safe in my dry within. I flourish from inside my skull.

From that very skull the vision of meaning ascends.

Is meaning created through the interaction between person and text? It seems so. In many of his short stories, Borges implies the disturbing supposition that the meaning of literary works is entirely dependent on the varying historical and social contexts in which they are read. In other words, that literary meaning is constructed through mental processes irrevocably tied to location and period. Reading, then, is more central to a text’s intellectual “life” than its writing and, consequently, a reader is more important to a text than its writer.

We can see how influential Borges’s ideas were on contemporary writers. For example, in Hopscotch, Cortázar invites the reader to participate in his innovative project by letting the reader choose in what order to read the chapters. He writes: “For my part, I wonder whether someday I will ever succeed in making it felt that the true character and the only one that interests me is the reader, to the degree in which something of what I write ought to contribute to his mutation, displacement, alienation, transportation.”

I like his use of “alienation.”

If we are to have a high esteem for the reader, we have to invite her to the party. Not every sentence needs to be complete, not every plot needs a twist, nor does every flower need a color. Let the reader create alongside the text. Easy prose is akin to baby food. It is time to take the spoon out of the reader’s mouth.

I walk some more, never looking back.

In an effort to transcend traditional narrative, I strive to wield words under the constraints of the novel’s tremendous weight. Consequently, I discard many rules to bring forth this vision. In so doing, I may be creating an anti-democratic experience that leaves out the middle-class, or middle-reader, the populous group which has generated the traditional novel. Yes, I explore the inner world of my characters, experiment with nonlinear formats, employ multiple points of view, embrace philosophical constructs, use lyrical language, and make clear and not-so-clear allusions while not explaining everything in an expository way. I may be writing outside of the traditional mold but I am not the first, nor will I be the last one. My challenge, dear reader, is how to manage this difficult and complex task, how to pull off the high-wire act without crashing down to the floor. I invite you to watch.

I watch myself as I walk but I do not see me that well.

Most books today land on the reader’s lap, defanged, tamed by the weight of tradition, ready for easy consumption. I prefer when the book doesn’t offer itself to the reader like a shelled pistachio. Better to compel readers to do the work of shelling through words, rhythms in prose, and the unconscious in order to savor the book. And it is the alliance between the reader’s effort and the author’s meditations that conjures the best literature.

Un-conscious, uncon-scious, unconsc-ious…

The author who tries to expand the frontiers of the human experience can fail. On the other hand, authors of conventional literary products never fail, they take no risks, they use the same proven formula, a comfortable formula, a formula of concealment. Using language for the mere purpose of obtaining an effect, without going beyond what’s expected, is essentially immoral. The ethical approach is found in the search for new formulas.

I slow down and start to walk in a diagonal down to the old port of Nice.

The relationship between an artist and reality is always an oblique one, and indeed there is no good art that is not consciously oblique. If you respect the reality of the world, you know that you can only approach that reality by indirect means. My path is a diagonal one.

Creativity on the part of the author involves structural innovation, the ability to generate an, in principle, infinite number of different structures. But the reader’s creativity is expressed by functional innovation: the ability to imagine what a text could mean. A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.

This is where a cup of coffee is completely necessary. But I chose red wine instead.

According to Foucault, “Literature is a form of language that breaks with the whole definition of genres as forms adapted to an order of representations, and becomes merely a manifestation of a language which has no other law than that of affirming in opposition to all other forms of discourse its own precipitous existence.” It then follows that in literature, questions of fact or truth are subordinated to the primary literary aims of producing a structure of words for its own sake, and the sign-values of symbols are subordinated to their importance as a structure of interconnected motifs. So, can we finally do away with literary genres?

Maybe…

According to Ezra Pound, [we live] “in a country in love with amateurs, in a country where the incompetent have such beautiful manners and personalities so fragile and charming that one cannot bear to injure their feelings by the introduction of competent criticism.”

That is the USA for you.

So how, then, do we identify good writing? It is now plain that any debate over who is, or is not, a better writer, or what is, or is not, a more legitimate writing is, for the most part, a surrogate social struggle. The more pertinent questions are what is the community being addressed in the writing, how does the writing participate in the constitution of this audience, and is it effective in doing so. The state of our literary nation is fractured.

And I think of her…

A woman thinks thoughts that barely make sense. A man thinks thoughts that make no sense to anyone. A woman knows not to reveal she knows you’re after her thoughts, that you want to devour her. A man tells you nothing but lays a suspicious look on you. A woman knows not to trust you. This man thinks you are all mighty. You know you’re not but he doesn’t know that. A woman keeps on thinking thoughts that barely make sense to her.

And as I walk through the cities whose people still believe in libraries and bookstores, I feel as if I am walking through Paradise. And for as long as I can, I will suspend my disbelief. I will go on dreaming.

Nice, please, don’t close them down. The temples of the book.

It is not about religion, that is the easy way out. It is not about idiocy, for you would need to be almost mentally retarded. It may be about the very essence of the human condition, a malleable mush, a fertile ground. We are children of our time, of our town, and of our ignorance. So how do we transcend hate? With books, naturally.

Another glass of wine…

The relationship between a reader and a narrator is as intense and emotionally complex as any relationship between that reader and another human being. The slow manifestation of the soul of the other, a satisfying human need, occurs in the turning of pages and the deciphering of life as rendered by prose. The novel offers an intercourse with selves, albeit imagined, but just as real. And as the contemporary self is being obliterated by the continuous fragmentation of attention and time, we need the novel more than ever.

Breathing now. Wary of the day.

I would like to know what the ultimate purpose of writing fiction is. What are the best approaches to producing innovative prose? What is the real value of reality in fiction? Should the novel be clear and open to all? Who are the readers? And in a more existential vein, does it matter to the universe whether I write a novel or take a piss in the river?


Please, don’t answer.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~




Jorge Armenteros has written four novels since the start of the MFA program. THE BOOK OF I is the first novel to be shared with the public. The second novel, AIR, was recently published by Spuyten Duyvil Press.

Nowadays Jorge resides in the South of France. And when there is a free minute in the day, he practices the violin. Coincidentally, the violin is the subject of his fourth novel.
  

Monday, September 11, 2017

Bronwyn Reviews: Eve Out of Her Ruins

Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi
Translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman
Pages: 160
Publisher: Deep Vellum
Released: 2016  




Reviewed by Bronwyn Mauldin 





Saadiq is still hanging on in school, finding kinship in the poetry of Rimbaud and trying to write his own story on his bedroom wall with a marker. Clélio is a thug who’s been in and out of jail all through his youth. Savita is the good girl trying hard to set an example for her younger sister. Eve is the beautiful, bone-thin object of their desires. She is the object of desire for many in the impoverished cité of Troumaron, on the edge of Port Louis.

The setting for Ananda Devi’s heartbreaking and lyrical novel, Eve Out of Her Ruins, is the capital of Mauritius, an island nation in the Indian Ocean smaller than the state of Rhode Island. The island was colonized by the Dutch in the 17th century, followed later by the French and the British, and finally gained independence in 1968. Mauritian Creole, French, English, Bhojpuri, and at least eight other languages are spoken by its nearly 1.3 million people.

Troumaron, home to those four main narrators of the story, is a fictitious neighborhood created by Devi. Its name, she explains, is meant to refer to a “brown hole” or a “hole for escaped slaves (marrones).” On rutted neighborhood streets littered with trash, Eve feels as if she is living through a siege:

“But this isn’t just the city. The world is also fighting against everything that staggers forward, everything that doesn’t walk in victory. Its distant rhythms aren’t for us. It’s better to be born blind so as not to see the rage in its eyes. Everybody’s preparing for war.”

Mauritius is generally presented as an African success story. Sugar cane, jewelry manufacturing, tourism, and financial services make up the bulk of the country’s economy. The annual growth rate has been above three percent for several years. The Troumaronis of Devi’s novel, however, are the people hidden behind national statistics.

At seventeen, Eve uses her body as a weapon to get what she needs from those who have more of everything than she does: more money, more power, more hope. She is as proud of her solitude as she is lonely, but she refuses to let Troumaron steal her soul even as people use her body. Her self-awareness is both keen and gendered:  

“We’re all born with this naked and open flesh. Then each of us fashions an armor of thorns and spiky brambles. But the two sexes don’t have the same heritage. We’re not born with the same burdens.”

Now is a good time to be reading about Mauritius and its people. A long-standing dispute between the country and former colonial power Great Britain over control of the nearby Chagos Islands has heated up in recent months. The islands are home to the secretive Diego Garcia military base jointly managed by the UK and the US. In June the United Nations General Assembly voted to refer their dispute to the International Court of Justice, which has no legal power to enforce whatever ruling it makes.

Eve’s tragedy, when it strikes, has an inevitability about it. There is a hierarchy even among the poor, and she is at the bottom of it. We read to learn not only who committed the crime, but whether the powerful will be held accountable.   

Eve Out of Her Ruins was originally published in French in 2006 and quickly began to gather awards. It was adapted for film, appearing as Les enfants de Troumaron in 2012. English language readers had to wait until 2016 when Deep Vellum brought out Jeffrey Zuckerman’s excellent translation, which has garnered its own awards. The story Devi tells is as unique to its place as it is universal. The beautiful language of the text and the voices of its four main characters are what make it stand out and well worth the read.







 Bronwyn Mauldin is the author of the novel Love Songs of the Revolution. She is a past winner of The Coffin Factory (now Tweed’s) magazine’s very short story contest. Her work has appeared at Akashic Books, Literature for Life, Necessary Fiction, Clamor magazine and other places. She is the creator of The Democracy Series zine collection. In September 2016 she was Artist in Residence at Mesa Verde National Park.