Thursday, July 6, 2017

Kaitlin Solimine Takes it to the Toilet

Oh yes! We absolutely have a series on bathroom reading! So long as it's taking place behind the closed  (or open, if that's the way you swing) bathroom door, we want to know what it is. It can be a book, the back of the shampoo bottle, the newspaper, or Twitter on your cell phone - whatever helps you pass the time...

Today, Kaitlin Solimine takes it to the toilet. She is the author of the new novel Empire of Glass, which was called "bold and luminous" by National Book Award finalist Sarah Shun-lien Bynum and received a five star review in Foreword ReviewsHer award-winning writing has been published in National Geographic News, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, China Daily, Guernica Magazine, and Kartika Review, among others. Her work focuses on travel, exploration, expatriate culture, US-China relations, environmental issues, and motherhood. She has lived around the world—from New England to China to Singapore to San Francisco—and is co-founder of the academic media network Hippo Reads. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and daughter. She was a 2016 SF Writers Grotto Fellow and is working on her next novel while also associate producing the childbirth documentary, Of Woman Born

Ode to a Poop

I labored on this toilet. So I can’t ignore the fact this porcelain bowl has deep significance beyond defecating and urinating into it. This toilet has received so much, and, at the same time, offered an equivalent amount of serenity and support.

There’s been much written and elucidated about the similarities between writing a book and giving birth. But I have never written a book while sitting on the toilet. I nearly gave birth on this toilet (my daughter was born an hour later on my bedroom floor in a planned home birth). I guess that is a critical difference between the two—I don’t think I could ever write on a toilet; the stench, the hard seat digging into one’s fleshy thighs, is just not what I need to write. Thinking and reading—sure. But writing and creating literary worlds don’t mesh with defecation for me (despite how both can be arduous, painful, and yet deeply satisfying in the end).

But reading: yes! Toilets are lovely reading spots. And when you have a noisy, curious toddler, bathrooms can be incredible places to seek quiet and respite. I do a lot of thinking on the toilet, the waiting for the bodily relief of what is hopefully to come (when it doesn’t arrive quickly), and then luxuriating in the space post-poo, taking a few breaths, a needed escape, before returning to the world. I also use the toilet to catch up on reading that has otherwise fallen to the wayside. Before I had a child that meant The New Yorker. But the stack beside the toilet grew onerously high and only reminded me I was an entire year behind in my reading—so I shamefully gave up my subscription because I couldn’t bear to see that pile and be reminded how much reading I had yet to catch up on. Now, motherhood consuming me, the books beside my toilet are entirely parenthood related—Touchpoints by T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., Diary of a Baby by Daniel Stern, Mothering Your Nursing Toddler by Norma Jane Bumgarner, La Leche League’s The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, and Buddhism for Mothers by Sarah Napthali.

These books seem quite practical, but imagine pooping and reading Stern’s dreamy psychoanalytical lyricism describing the experience of infancy: “Each moment has its own sequence of feelings-in-motion: a sudden increase in interest; a rising, then a falling wave of hunger pain; an ebbing of pleasure.” Or in Mothering Your Nursing Toddler, “The difference between limits and control is an important one, like the difference between a protective bubble and a straightjacket.”

What I love about what we read and do on the toilet (aside from the obvious) is how, like the act of defecation, it speaks to some kind of essentiality of our individual human experiences. For example, before I had kids and was an aspiring writer (okay, I’m still the latter), I thought reading The New Yorker would make me smarter, be entertaining and enlightening. So that’s what I did on the toilet. At other times, like in college, the toilet was where I read gossip magazines because it was where I could do my “dirty business” (e.g., catch up on celebrity gossip or articles on how to snag a husband in less than three dates). I don’t know why shit and pop culture go so brilliantly together (okay, maybe that’s obvious) but I suspect there’s always been a correlation throughout history. My husband reads about politics on the toilet. Given recent political news, that correlation couldn’t be more clear.

Yet perhaps we don’t give bathroom reading enough credit. Perhaps it speaks to our most critical inner need at that moment. Like the need to defecate, how we’d die of sepsis without doing so, maybe it fills a space of both inane and mundane, echoing what it ultimately is: Ode to a Poop. As in how and where we give birth, bathroom reading matters greatly, accompanies, and plays accomplice to, one of our most necessary, most overlooked, most universal human acts.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Page 69: Coulrophobia & Fata Morgana

Disclaimer: The Page 69 Test is not mine. It has been around since 2007, asking authors to compare page 69 against the meat of the actual story it is a part of. I loved the whole idea of it and so I'm stealing it specifically to showcase small press titles - novels, novellas, short story collections, the works! So until the founder of The Page 69 Test calls a cease and desist, let's do this thing....

In this installment of Page 69, 
We put Jacob Appel's Coulrophobia & Fata Morgana to the test! 

Set up page 69 for us, what are we about to read?

This is the second page of the short story, Boundaries, about two American border agents who are assignment to guard an obscure Canadian border crossing on Christmas eve--only to find themselves confronting unexpected cases of love and smallpox.

What’s the book about?

On the surface, this is a quirky short story collection featuring a minister whose dead wife is romantically involved with Greta Garbo, a landlord antagonized by a rent-delinquent mime and a diplomat's wife who attempts to seduce her chimney sweep through Norwegian lessons. Of course, at a deeper level, its a complex cryptogram whose solution reveals both the Pentagon's nuclear codes and the locations of El Dorado and Atlantis.

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

No.  This is the weakest page in the book by leaps and bounds.  My agent and editor, upon reading the initial draft, both said.  "We loved your book.  It's a masterpiece to rival the best writing of Shakespeare and Tolstoy.  Pure genius.  Except for page 69.  What drivel!  What sentimental bunk!  What blasphemy and obscenity!  We both strongly recommend skipping straight from page 68 to page 70."  I didn't follow their advice, and here is the result....


Jimmy Durante accent. “Maybe it’s acute global cooling,” he adds. “They say the Nineteenth Century Minimum came on without warning.”
I don’t know much about Little Ice Ages or Nineteenth Century Minimums, but I’m willing to trust Artie’s opinion. He’s not only a first-rate border agent, but he’s also the most talented art-glass blower in Franklin County, as well as head docent at the local historical society, so he knows more about most things at thirty-four than I know about anything at forty-seven. If he told me we were actually slipping back into the nineteenth century itself, I’d probably believe him. The truth is that, except for the security cameras mounted on the eaves, our little colonial-style headquarters has hardly changed since my French-Canadian grandparents migrated south. Last year, Chief Crowley even found a sheet of unused three-cent stamps at the back of her supply closet.
“You’ve outdone yourself, Phoebe Laroque,” says Artie, surveying the bowls of green beans and candied yams and chestnut stuffing crammed onto the folding bridge table. “This is truly a feast fit for royalty.”
Artie offers this same praise every year—and every year his words flush warmth through my cheeks like a pitcher of red wine. “Merry Christmas, my dear heathen friend,” I say, grinning, raising my mug of fake eggnog. “Bon app├ętit!”
“To the chef!” answers Artie. He taps his mug against mine—gently, like Eskimos nuzzling noses. “To the Julia Child of the North!”
He’s not drunk, just enthusiastic. I wish I had one-tenth of his energy. Even when I was thirty-four and happily married to Neal—or when I thought I was happily married to Neal—I never loved life like Artie does. Not with that much gusto. I suppose if I’d been born beautiful—externally beautiful, like my sister, Valerie—I might have found


Jacob M. Appel's first novel, The Man Who Wouldn't Stand Up, won the Dundee International Book Award in 2012.  His short story collection, Scouting for the Reaper, won the 2012 Hudson Prize and was published by Black Lawrence in November 2013.  He is the author of five other collections of short stories:  The Magic LaundryThe Topless Widow of Herkimer StreetEinstein's Beach HouseCoulrophobia & Fata Morgana and Miracles and Conundrums of the Secondary Planets; an essay collection, Phoning Home; and another novel, The Biology of Luck.  He practices psychiatry in New York City.  More at: 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Indie Ink Runs Deep: Lee L. Krecklow

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 Lee L. Krecklow, who recently released his debut novel The Expanse Between

"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars, and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’”

It took me until I was nearly 40 to get my first tattoo. I was never opposed to the idea. I didn’t need to build up courage. But there was never an image, an idea, a mark I thought I could carry forever and with which I could always identify. Nothing seemed like it could last. But once I found it, I was ready.

The typewriter, the classic machinery of writing, is permanently associated with the craft. The image lasts. Much like vinyl for music, the tool was supplanted in popularity by newer, more convenient machinery, but it lives on for those with a deeper, more reverent understanding of the art. On my arm I wanted to see the workings of the machine. The mechanics. The glint of the metal. I wanted to hear it.

Kerouac wrote those words on an Underwood typewriter, and I used the same type of machine as the template for my tattoo. “On The Road” is one of the few books I’ve returned to over the years, finding more in it on each passing. Not only does it work for me as literature, but also as a blueprint for how I wish I could write. Here, burn, burn, burn is less for me about the context of the full quote, but more of a reminder to work as Kerouac did, by never leaving room for a yawn or for a commonplace word, but to open up and explode and to leave anyone who might be generous enough to read your work going, “Awww!


Lee L. Krecklow is the author of the novel The Expanse Between (2017, Winter Goose Publishing). He was the winner of the 2016 storySouth Million Writers Award, and has fiction appearing in Eclectica, Oxford Magazine, Midwestern Gothic, The Tishman Review, Storychord and others. Find more at