Friday, April 30, 2010

Harper Collins Author Book Tours for May 2010

Hi everyone! Seeing how I have been reading a lot of Harper Collins novels lately, I thought it only fair to let you know which of their authors are hitting the road to promote their new books. Grab yourself a copy and join the party -
(please note that the book descriptions have been taken from

First up we have Minrose Gwin and "The Queen of Palmyra" - an unforgettable evocation of a time and a place in America—a nuanced, gripping story of race and identity.

The tour dates are:
May 1 – McIntyre’s, Pittsboro, NC
May 29 – Book Passage, Corte Madera, CA

Next up is Myrlin Hermes and "The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet" - a delectable treat that upends everything you thought you knew about Hamlet; Witty, insightful, playful, and truly wise.

The tour date:
May 13 – Bloomsbury Books, Ashland, OR

Attica Locke wrote "Black Water Rising" - pacing that captures the reader from the first scene through an exhilarating climax.

The tour date:
May 21 – Book Soup, Los Angeles, CA

Finally, we have Willy Vlautin and "Lean on Pete" - the unforgettable story of a friendship and of hope in dark times, populated by a vivid cast of characters against a harsh landscape.

Tour dates are:
May 3 – Green Apple Books, San Francisco, CA
May 4 – Sundance Bookstore, Reno, NV
May 5 – Sam Weller’s Books, Salt Lake City, UT
May 6 – Tattered Cover Bookstore, Denver, CO
May 11 – Vroman’s, Pasadena, CA
May 12 – Book Soup, West Hollywood, CA

Be sure to drop a comment here if you happen to see any of these authors during their book tours. Pictures at the reading welcome :)

Author Guest Post - M. Clifford

This guest post comes to you from M. Clifford, author of The Book, a dystopian novel that depicts a world where the government controls what we read, what is available to us, and what we are allowed to think. Completion of The Book, ironically (or not) coincided with the release of the Apple Ipad, and the death of J.D. Salinger.

He can be found on Goodreads, Facebook, and he regularly updates his blog entitled: M.Clifford, Author.

In this guest post, Clifford discusses why he self-publishes, how his main character acquired his name and trade, and his experience as a quarter-finalist in the ABNA's.

A Conversation with M. Clifford, the author of The Book

I have to open with my thanks to Lori for allowing me an opportunity to reach fellow bibliophiles! Her charge to find the next best books is one to be admired and it inspires me, as a writer, to see how many of you lift a similar torch in your search for stories. The world needs more of you!

So, here's a bit about me. My full name is Michael Clifford. I've written steadily for fourteen years and have only now allowed others to read my work. I'm a native of Chicago and, unlike most writers today, I am self-published by choice. Yes, as unnatural as that sounds. I have never sought a contract by a major publishing house, nor will I at any point. Barring some outrageous contract that bursts at the seams, sending letters off the page like ninja stars, I plan on a long career wherein I am fully in charge of my writing, my characters, my word count, etc. regardless of 'the bottom line'. I'm fired up about the subject because I'm currently working on a non-fiction book about self-publishing called,
If You Can't Join 'Em, Beat 'Em. This may be a bit much right at the start, but I'll give you a taste because it relates to my novel. We are on the brink of a Gutenburgian revolution in the publishing world and it revolves around new eReader technology and the ability for the average voice to be heard on the world stage through the serene click of a button. Publishing houses have essentially been an old boy's club from the beginning. They controlled what we were allowed to read. That is rapidly changing. By supporting the self-published author, taking a chance on books that don't have sticky posters in the window at Borders, you are supporting the emancipation of free speech! Good for you!

Wow, this soap box has splinters…I'll step off.

Of course, my decision to remain self-published comes with a hefty share of difficulties - one being the ability to gain trustworthy readership. Yes, I could find success like other authors by pricing my book at $1, but then I'm saying my story is worth $1! And who wants to read a full-length novel when the author thinks it's worth the cost of a water bottle? Thankfully, there is a grass-roots movement starting about my novel,
The Book. This started with the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Competition.

ABNA began in February and ended (for me) this past Tuesday. It is an American Idol style competition where 10,000 previously-unpublished novels are submitted from across the world and 2 winners are given publishing contracts with Penguin. The top 500 quarterfinalists receive personal reviews from Publishers Weekly. When I heard that, I had to enter! My novel was judged first on my summary, then on the first 5,000 words and finally, the complete manuscript. I reached the quarterfinals last month (top 500/10,000!) and I'll be receiving my priceless Publishers Weekly review within the next week. I couldn't be happier!

When you're self-published it's difficult getting someone to trust your writing. There is quite a bit of bad writing out there and too many of you have been burned to continue risking. A bump from Amazon, Penguin and Publishers Weekly (and Lori!) has and will continue to solidify my ability to play in the same arena.

I currently have three books in publication and will be coming out with at least four more by 2011. I am in the process of planning a book tour across the US to begin in September due to the outcry from high schools that I speak to their students concerning the topics covered in
The Book.

The Book is a dystopian perspective of our future if we don't protect our digital words from being controlled/altered/deleted by those who publish the eReaders. In my story there is only one reading source - a government-issued, handheld digital reading device called
The Book. My main character is pulled into the deep conspiracy by finding a rare paper page preserved as "wallpaper" in his favorite Chicago bar called, The Library. His name is Holden Clifford.

Yes, I titled my book
THE BOOK and I gave the main character my last name…

Trust me, I'm not that arrogant. I've covered the title so let me explain the name. I gave Holden my last name because of what was happening in my life at the time. My father passed away - suddenly. It was such a shock to my family. There were so many questions I had for him that will never ever have answers. I needed to find a distance from the reality of his sudden departure so I instantly dove into the favorites of my youth -
Fahrenheit 451, 1984, and The Catcher in the Rye. As I began writing The Book, Holden became the pure combination of me and my father - down to his job as a sprinkler fitter and the geometric tattoo on his forearm. He was my glory-less hero, so that's how I wrote Holden and it brought my dad back to life for me.

On a less personal note, let me explain the book tour. English teachers across the country have been speaking with me over the past month because of their students. They don't want to read books anymore. They believe everything they read on the internet including easily-editable online resources and encyclopedias. These teachers are concerned with the future of our writing and they believe that my novel could make a difference. As do I. At the back of my book, I included tear-out letters that the reader is supposed to send to their senators, begging them to consider the state of our speech. How it is changing and how it needs to be protected. Essentially keeping fiction from becoming fact.

So, I guess I gave you an overview of who I am and what has fueled and is currently fueling my novel,
The Book. There are other controversial topics that light up the interior, but I'll let you find them as you slowly turn the pages.

Let me leave you with this sentiment. I was born in 1978 and my generation is probably the last to have a romantic attachment to paper books. I love the new technology, but if enough people read my novel and tell others about it, we may be able to encourage the youth to keep the tradition of reading from paper books alive for the future. A tradition that, in view of the newspaper industry, is hanging on by a thread.

Thank you kindly for your time. Feel free to find me on facebook, twitter, etc. and you can always contact me through my website: There you can read the first two chapters of The Book and learn more about me.

Many thanks to M.Clifford for taking the time to blog with me! Please keep an eye out. We will be co-hosting a giveaway/contest for a couple copies of his novel THE BOOK very soon. How Exciting!!!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

If You Follow Me

Read 4/21/10 - 4/27/10
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended
Pgs: 356

Many thanks to Harper Perennial for allowing me the opportunity to review Malena Watrous's "If You Follow Me".

This was my first adult woman lit novel in a very long time. It's a genre I tend to overlook nowadays - though not because I dislike it.

When I first found myself craving novels again, back in my early twenties, "Chick Lit" was all I read. I tore the bookshelves at Border's apart, searching for the next Anna Maxted, Sophie Kinsella, and Helen Fielding. They were books with main characters I could relate to. But they were also all very similar. After awhile, the themes became predictable: Girl works crappy job, locked in crappy relationship. Girl quits job, dumps boyfriend, wonders if she did the right thing. Girl finds great job, better man, lives happily ever after. My reactions to those novels became predictable too: I can't wait to start this novel, oh no I can see where this is going, darn it why don't they ever create a strong female lead character, I gotta find something better to read, Thank god it's over.

I eventually started branching out and widening my literary scope. Instead of reading books about woman living similar, if not outrageous, lives, I needed more. I wanted something different. Visits to the book store found me, more often than not, clutching classics and old school sci-fi novels to my chest as I waited in line to pay. Almost refusing to acknowledge the "other" genre.

As I've gotten older, and wiser (perhaps), I have come to find great stories in just about every literary category there is. I know better than to shut out an entire group of novels just because of the label it is given. And Watrous's novel is the perfect example of that.

Struggling to come to grips with the recent suicide of her severely depressed father, Marina meets Carolyn at a group grief session, and they quickly fall in love. When she finds out that Carolyn plans to teach in Japan, Marina wastes no time in applying as well, eager to leave the life she is currently living, hoping this will help her move beyond her fathers death and closer to the woman she loves.

Upon their arrival, both girls find adapting to the Japanese rules and culture difficult. Marina's supervisor, Hiro (Miyoshi-sensei) writes her numerous letters informing her of the gomi (garbage) rules. Her neighbors watch her wearily, and report her every misstep, her girlfriend itches for a space of her own.

Tensions rise as the girls struggle with their students, and keeping their relationship a secret. Carolyn starts to count down the days left until she can return to the states, while Marina focuses on breaking down barriers and building relationships with the people around her.

"If You Follow Me" breaks the typical "Chick Lit" mold. It introduces you to Marina, a young american school teacher, who moves to Japan to teach high school students English. It's more than just a young woman's struggle with identity and love. It's about overcoming stereotypes, breaking boundaries, understanding and accepting different cultures, and transitioning from temporary to something more permanent.

A great read. A book that you can curl up with, but that will also challenge your mind.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Author Guest Post - Collin Kelley

Welcome to TNBBC's second Author Guest Post.

This blog comes to you from Collin Kelley, author of Conquering Venus, which was recently reviewed by yours truly. He has a beautiful blog that he updates regularly, and a gorgeous website for his novel. - both of which I encourage you to check out.

In this guest blog, Collin describes the dream-relationship between his two main characters, his reaction to rejection and advise during the editing phase of the novel, and synchronicity.

The Dreaming: Unconscious connections in Conquering Venus

By Collin Kelley

I began writing my debut novel, Conquering Venus, in 1995. While the plot was altered slightly over the course of nearly 15 years, the direction and motivation of the two main characters – Martin Paige and Irène Laureux – never wavered. These two very different people – a young American writer and an older Parisian widow – first meet in a series of lucid dreams.

Martin, who is traveling in Europe and mourning the suicide of his lover, feels that he is fated to meet Irène, an agoraphobic whose husband mysteriously died during the 1968 student/worker riots. As their proximity to each other increases, Martin and Irène’s unconscious visions begin to manifest as waking dreams. In the opening scene, they slip into trance like states and can see each other through mirrors, Martin in his London hotel room and Irène in her Paris apartment.

Magical realism – or paranormal, as one editor dubbed it in a rejection letter – is a connective tissue throughout the novel. Many editors who read the novel found the connection between Martin and Irène to unorthodox and unbelievable; they were unable to suspend their disbelief to see how this plot device could be part of “traditional” literary fiction. Obviously, they never bothered to read Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits, which was an early inspiration for my incorporating magical realism into Conquering Venus.

I took the advice of many editors about plot, cutting pages, adding dialogue, but I refused to remove the dream sequences. Without them, there would be no novel. Martin and Irène would never meet. The Paris of Conquering Venus is grounded in reality; Irene’s recollections of the Nazi occupation and the 1968 riots are historical fiction, while the terrorist threat and bombings of the city’s Metro system in 1995 are also based on fact.

During those “real” moments, the fantastical is introduced in a straightforward way with no major build-up or unnecessary explanation. As the story progresses, Martin and Irène’s psychic link deepens to the point where they are sharing dreams and at one point encounter “ghosts” of people from their past who may or may not be alive.

The general, accepted thought is that dreams are simply manifestations of the chaotic mind trying to resolve worries and pressures of day-to-day living. As psychiatrist and dream analysis pioneer Carl Jung suggested, I believe dreaming taps into higher brain function that we have yet to comprehend. Is it so hard to believe, in this world full of unbelievable things, that two people cannot be psychically linked? Think of it as an extension of the ESP that twins share.

Past lives are also a major tenant of the story, and a medium suggests in a scene that Martin and Irène have known each other since time began and will be linked to each other forever. Many cultures and religions reject the belief of reincarnation, and dreams about past lives are considered just that – dreams.

The Aboriginal people in Australia believe in Dreamtime, where we exist on two parallel streams: one is the everyday life we lead and the other is a state called The Dreaming that is more real than reality itself. The chapter where Martin and Irène see each other in the mirror is called The Dreaming, so I will leave it up to the reader to decide if Conquering Venus is set in the "real world" or a parallel one.

Speaking of Jung, the relationship Martin and Irène share is a physical manifestation of his synchronicity theory. There is no real rhyme or reason to the experiences that Martin and Irène have shared, but they are not casual occurrences. There is a larger framework to how these complete strangers have lived similar lives, shared similar experiences and emotions, and have now come together at this moment in time.

Jung's favorite instance of synchronicity was in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass when the White Queen says to Alice, "It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.” I’m working on the sequel to Conquering Venus now, and it that story Irène begins to dream backwards, and those dreams will finally lead her to the truth of how her husband died.

Several readers have asked if I will ever explain the dreams and links Martin and Irène share. The simple answer is no. As with many occurrences in real life, some things cannot be explained, and any attempt to do so would diminish the magic.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Book Giveaway - Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine

Welcome to TNBBC's 2nd book giveaway!

This giveaway was made possible by author Ben Tanzer, creator of This Blog Will Change Your Life and This Zine Will Change Your Life. Not only is Ben a super cool writer and blogger, but he is also very generous and giving. He has sent me a signed copy of his 2008 novel "Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine", released by Orange Alert Press, to giveaway to one lucky reader.

>Here's the summary from Goodreads: "
Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine takes place in an early nineties New York City and follows the romance between Jen and Geoff the novel's two main characters. It is a story about fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, the value of friends, the reason its best to go out for coffee on first dates and what exactly defines being on the rebound. The characters riff on their favorite books, channel Yoda and Bob Dylan, deal with siblings and try to make sense of a world that shouldn't be as confusing as it seems to be. They also seek greater self-awareness and debate why Dallas will always be superior to Knots Landing, even as they find love, lose it and find it again."

The giveaway will run until May 1st. If you want a shot at winning this signed copy of "Most Likely...", summon up your worst dating story and email it to me at Be sure to mark the subject of the email as "Most Likely Worst Dating Story". I will chose the best story and post it, along with the winners name, here on May 1st.

So dig deep, the more embarrassing, the more painful, the better....and good luck!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day

How did you help Mother Earth today?

Click on the video if you are having a hard time seeing it. It appears my blog is not wide enough to view it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Everything is Wrong With Me

Read 4/20/10 - 4/21/10
3 Stars - Recommended to readers familiar with genre/author

Memoir's can be a tricky animal.

First, you gotta have a life worth writing about.

I didn't know much about the author, Jason Mulgrew, although I did hear his blog is what put him on the map. Apparently he has a lot to share, and has no problems sharing it! And I suppose if you put enough of your life story out there, and you grow a large enough readership, you are destined to put pen to paper and publish a book with the smartest, wittiest, most embarrassing moments for EVERYONE to read.

Then, you gotta find your voice.

For most people, having a story to tell is easy... determining how the heck to tell it can be a stumbling block. In Jason's case, he found his voice over 5 years ago, when he began his online blog. Taking a very raw, sarcastic, depreciating tone throughout his collection -he shares stories not only from his own lifetime, but quite a few from his parents lives before he was born as well.

While most reviews I see praise his book and call it "hilarious", I admit to feeling a bit sorry for him. At times, I think Jason pokes a little too much fun at himself - coming across as sort of clownish, happily acknowledging his place as the comic relief / the brunt of most of the jokes within his circle of friends. It certainly didn't make me feel any better knowing he accepted things that way.

Finally, you have to get it all to tie in together.

Which, for the most part, Jason did. Perhaps I was expecting a more consistent flow - Starting with his parents lives, easing into his earlier years, and ending with his most recent life experiences. I can't fault Jason for jumping around, it was his story to tell, and he told it well. However, there were things I wished he had spent a little more time delving into, or circling back to. Like - the recurring quips about his questionable sexuality; his issues with his weight; and his obsession with having a teeny weeny. These were things that he mentions many times in passing, but never quite brings full circle - leaving me with a somewhat incomplete feeling.

Jason scratched many surfaces, but the ones I recall best are the ones he spent time detailing . A few of the stories that stood out most for me: The one about his "uncle" and the pepper - in which his "uncle" and friends trick him into eating one of the hottest peppers in the world; the memory of participating in the New Years Day Mummers Parade, complete with embarrassing photo; and his first grade classmate critiquing the way he holds his "bird" while relieving himself at the elementary school urinal (he's a "pincher", not a "cradler").

While it may appear that I am being overly critical, I do have to give him credit. Writing about family and close friends in this manner has got to be one of THE most difficult things to do. Laying the brutal truth out there for them in black and white, knowing that millions of people are moments away from reading about them. Checking the caller-ID every time the phone rings, expecting an irate or mortified friend or family member screaming "How could you write about that, man?!?!?"...

Perhaps I am missing a vital piece of the picture, having never read Mulgrew's blog?

I want to thank Harper Perennial for sending me this book for review. It was a very quick, entertaining read.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Book

Read 4/14/10 - 4/19/10
5 Stars - Highly Highly Highly recommended
Pgs: 302

Don't read The Book.

Let me begin by saying that I don't mean This Book. You should definitely read This Book!

I mean The Book, the one that M.Clifford tells his story about. The Book that replaced all other books. The Book that is governed, updated, and edited by The Publishing House. The Book that is full of lies.

Imagine a world eerily like the one Bradbury introduced to us in Fahrenheit 451. A world where owning a copy of a paper book is illegal. A world where books are recycled - burned, destroyed. Except, THIS world is in the future. And everything is digital. The government demands that people begin to take care of their Mother Earth, to stop harming her, to stop ruthlessly cutting down her trees to make paper - a world where everything you ever need to read can be found within the electronic screen of The Book.

There was a Great Recycling. Everyone was urged to purge their homes of their paper books. If they turned in their paper books, they would receive a free copy of The Book - filled to the brim with every book they could ever dream of reading. Those that didn't cooperate were fined. And eventually jailed. Until the government, The Publishing House, felt certain that all paper books had been recycled.

There were those who concealed their collections, those who saved and protected their books for sentimental reasons, hid them in fear of being found out and punished... but the world was obsessed with The Book. The world would wait with bated breath as the Editors interrupted their reading with endless Updates. Rather than using a stylus to navigate it's many options, The Book readers began to sharpen the nail on their pointer finger. The mark of a true reader.

Holden Clifford was a true reader. Holden believed in The Book. Holden was not alive during the Great Recycling, and had never read from a paper book before. Until the night that Holden met Shane at The Library - a bar that was run by Marion, the daughter of bar's owner. A bar that featured pages from books plastered all over the walls, as if it was used for wallpaper. Marion's father's way of "recycling".

Holden pushed his way into the bathroom that night, urgently needing to use the bathroom. Only a stall was available. As Holden leaned in to release his bladder, his eyes happened across a page from the wall that belonged to his favorite novel "The Catcher in the Rye". He read the page. And then re-read it. And then read it a third time before admitting that something was not right. The words he was reading on that page were not in the digital version of The Book. He was certain of it.

He left The Library, and returned home to check himself. Pouring over the pages, before and after the one he read on the wall, Holden discovered a horrifying truth. The Editors of The Book had changed the story. This revelation leads Holden on a journey to uncover the truth. A truth that The Publishing House and The Editors will do ANYTHING to keep a secret.

Do not read The Book.

M. Clifford creates a frighteningly realistic digital future. One that I can certainly see coming to pass if we are not careful. A world where we blindly believe the information we are fed. A world where people control what we read, what is available to us, and what we are allowed to think.

Imagine - no books. No bookshelves, no libraries, no journals. No ink. No writing.
Imagine - everyone carrying around one government owned eBook instead of newspapers, magazines, and novels.

M.Clifford takes our current digital world and cranks the dial way up. A warning? Perhaps. A vision of what we might become? Maybe.

Read his book!

Monday, April 19, 2010

CityLit Festival Highlights

On Saturday, April 17th, my husband and I found ourselves standing at the front doors of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, waiting for the clock to strike 10am, and signal the beginning of my very first Book Convention.

I found out about this event quite on accident, as I was perusing the other literary blogs out there in the world wide web-isphere.

As the vendors and DIY authors and publishers set up their tables, I stood in the back and soaked it all in. Prepared with a pamphlet that outlined the days itinerary, having highlighted the panels and readings I was most interested in attending, I watched as Central Hall began to fill up.

Shy, in the presence of my hubby (who, truth be told, is not much of a reader, and would rather have stayed home), I zigzagged my way through the tables, glancing at the books that were displayed, seeing what might catch my eye. I had assumed the books were going to be free for the taking, but that was not the case - most authors and DIY's and publishers were selling their books at about $10 a pop.

A few business cards swapped hands, and we decided to make our way to the first panel of the day.

I sat in on the DIY Comics, Zines, and Chapbooks panel, which was hosted by Marianne Amoss of the Urbanite. She was holding discussions with Neal Shaffer, Pat Tandy, and Christopher Casamassima. Sadly, there were only a handful of people sitting in, but I enjoyed listening to them talk about self promoting, word of mouth - the use of Twitter and Facebook, and other social networking means to get their products out there - and the overall powerful message of "don't let people tell you what you can't do! Go out there and do it!".

I crossed the hall and got comfortable as Carol Maccini introduced Masha Hamilton (author of 31 hours) and Thrity Umrigar (author of The Weight of Heaven). Both women took turns reading from their novels, and then opened the room up for questions. Carol had read both novel, and made some very interesting connections between the two - religious/spiritual undertones, strong flawed lead male characters... I had the opportunity to ask both novelists what the writing process was like for them - How long was it from the beginning of the idea to the first rough draft, and then how long was the editing and revising phase? I also asked them how close the final, printed version was to the original draft.

From there, I bounced back to the other side of the hall to witness my first 510 reading. It was hosted by Michael Kimball (who has agreed to send me a copy of his new paperback "Dear Everybody" for review!!!!), and featured the following authors who read a 10 minute section of their novels for our listening pleasure: Geoff Becker ("Hot Springs"); Andy Devine ("Words"); Dawn Raffel ("Further Adventures in the Restless Universe"); Sam Lipsyte ("The Ask"). There were no questions from the audience in this particular reading panel, however, Devine and Lipsyte's snippets were hilarious, and Becker's sneak peek was lovely.

The final reading was performed by Elizabeth Kostova, author of The Historian, and her latest release The Swan Thieves. After reading from the book, she took questions from the audience, which ranged from how she researches her novels, to whether she considered writing a straight history novel, to advise for writers trying to get published.

I got to ask Elizabeth the final, and in my opinion, best question! I wanted to know what she thought of the new digital craze, eBooks and eReaders, and how she thought they affected the future of writing and publishing.

It turns out that Elizabeth is not a fan of digital books, and she predicts it will get harder and harder to get by as a writer as the eReader fad grows. She mentioned how her publishing company would not allow a contract without approval to release her new novel digitally, though they are going to wait 3 months to release the eBook version, in order to give the hardcover a fighting chance.

Elizabeth also made the comment about how a book becomes an extension of your body, and that she can't imagine "an old Kindle will smell the same as an old book". I loved that!! Elizabeth Kostova is a book smeller!!

Overall, I thought the event was well worth the 3 1/2 hour trip, and overnite stay in the Hampton Inn and Suites Hotel! It is definitely going on my yearly Must-Do list, and I encourage you to check it out and put it on YOUR Must-Do list as well.

CityLit Festival 2010

Thursday, April 15, 2010

TBWCYL's Ben Tanzer Gives Me a Nod

Being fairly new to the blogging world, I tend to forget how much we rely on, and appreciate, good ole fashioned Word Of Mouth! Social networking is a strange and incredible process, and I know I am only just scratching it's surface.... I don't think I will ever get used to things like this:

Ben Tanzer of This Blog Will Change Your Life gave my review of "Conquering Venus" by Collin Kelley a shout out today! Check it out, and while you are there, be sure to add Ben's blog to your blogroll! And let him know TNBBC sent you :)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Spiritual Significance of Music

Read 4/14/10
2 Stars - Recommended Lightly
Pgs: 163

Justin St. Vincent asked 1,000 people from different religious backgrounds, from musicians to psychotherapists to writers to keynote speaker, what they felt the spiritual significance of music is. He then took a mix of 100 of those interviews and created "The Spiritual Significance of Music".

I was hesitant to accept Justin's offer to review this collection of interviews at first. Religion tends to be a sensitive subject, and something that can be difficult to remain objective about. It's a topic that usually ignites strong feelings, has been the cause of many fallings out between friends and families, and of course, has been the reason behind some of the most gruesome historical wars.

However, when it comes to reading, I like to think that I am open to just about anything. And I knew this book would test my ability to critique the subject matter while keeping my personal opinions out of it.


I have to commend Justin for his ability to remain open to the many diverse perspectives he received in answer to his question, printing a Christian believers response beside a Black Metal Satantic musicians reply.

Music is an ever present part of everyone's life. From gospel to R&B to country to death metal, each one of us has been touched at one time or another by a songs lyric, or drumbeat, or guitar riff. What Justin attemps to do is show the world just what music means to us and how music affect us, differently, spiritually.

I suppose you would have to begin by defining what "Spiritual" is. For some, it is a direct connection with their Creator, a feeling of being connected to God through worship or praise. For others, it is a feeling of bliss, of inner peace, of balance. Euphoria.

Now to link that definition to music itself - How does the music we listen to, the many different forms of music, affect us spiritually?

Here are some of the responses:
David Amram claims that "music is the language of the soul...A way of recording history that all people can understand". For me, this makes sense. How many artists out there write songs that chronicle historical events, current events, political views? It's a tool we often use to lay down the feelings and emotions of the times.

Kevin Asbjornson states that "music provokes our thoughts and evokes our emotions." This is a given. You would be hard pressed to find someone who wasn't emotionally touched by a song, or a particular lyric. Someone who has never felt that rush of nostalgia, or reminisced about where they were or who they were with when a certain song was released.

Seth Hecox talks about the way "artists create a doorway with thier music that bridges our mundane physical existence with our mysterious spiritual life". No one knows what the next life holds for us. Or if there really truly is a next life.... Music is often used as a tool to express a persons fear, or reinforce their belief. It's a way to connect with others who feel the same way or are concerned about the same things.

Iasos says "music is a conductor of emotions... of states of consciousness... and of intent" that is transferred from the music-creator to the listener. Again, a theme of connectivity, of sameness, of letting people know that they are not alone, to share what you are feeling and help others feel the same thing.

Lenny Ibizarre believes "it's a spiritual vehicle that allows us to let go of thoughts and worry and". How many people out there throw on a CD when they are stressed out, an album that they can just lay back and relax to? How many people read to peaceful instrumental music? How about just playing your favorite party tune when running around preparing for a night out on the town?

These are all views I can get behind. These are the ways in which music has affected and impacted me, my life. These definitions of how music impacts spirituality make sense to me.

There were others that I struggled to finish reading because I disagreed so strongly with them.

Trey Pearson of Everyday Sunday, a christian rock band, feels "it is important to be careful what we entertain ourselves with." He goes on to discuss how he believes that music was created to worship and glorify God and leaves you with the feeling that is wrong to sing about anything other than worshiping Him.

This touches a bit of a sore spot with me. As a high school teenager, I was friends with some kids who were practicing Christians, and they had talked me into accompanying them to their weekly bible study group. It was in this bible study group one night that I was looked down upon for the music I chose to listen to. The youth group leader, and suddenly my so-called friends as well, began to pray for me because I listened to R.E.M. and The Cure... bands that sung about physical love, rather than spiritual love. Are you then also telling me that Bette Midler and Journey are off limits too?

Florence Larue is a firm believer in God and wanted to sing his praises professionally. Though she claims that when she considered entering the Gospel Music field, "God spoke to my spirit and very clearly told me to stay in the secular arena and minister in song to those who did not know Him and wouldn't attend a Gospel concert". Here is where it gets difficult for me to stay objective. Am I to believe that God interferes with people in such a way as to the point of directing them on what to sing? On how to influence the masses through straight up rock and roll? Is this the same God that Trey believes doesn't enjoy secular music because it isn't directly praising His glory?

XDeathstarX agrees with Trey in that music was "created for one purpose and one purpose only: to worship and bring glory to God". I believe music was created for myriad reasons. One of which would be to revel in the glory of the Lord, should you so chose to. However, it was also created as a way to connect with other humans, to share feelings, and to express things that cannot be spoken.

Whatever your feelings on religion, whatever music you chose to listen to, you listen to what you listen to because it makes you feel - something! Happy, sad, free, relaxed, energetic, connected, not so alone.... any number of different emotions or all emotions at once.

Music is a part of us. As is our spirituality - no matter what your belief system. It is what makes us who we are. And in some cases, it is the reason we exist.

Justin asked 1,000 people a question. He got 1,000 different responses. So let me ask you, TNBBC followers - what is the spiritual relevance of music to YOU? Do you agree with the few points of view I have pulled from the book, or do you have one of your own you would like to share?

Conquering Venus

Read 4/10/10 - 4/14/10
3 Stars - Recommended to reader familiar with genre

Have you ever read a couple of books, one after the other, only to find that they are unintentionally linked to one another through subject matter and theme? Perhaps a character from your previous read has a similar affliction to the one you are reading about now. Or the characters visit the same locations. Maybe they have similar backgrounds and histories?

I love "book serendipity", and how utterly random and jarring it can be. And that is exactly what occurred while I was reading Collin Kelley's "Conquering Venus".

Prior to reading his novel, I had just completed Jeannette Katzir's "Broken Birds" (A story of Holocaust survivors and their family struggles), and a few before that - I was reading D.R. Haney's "Banned for Life" (A story that contained a character who suffers from Agoraphobia).

Not far into "Conquering Venus", we are introduced to Diane - an American teacher whose parents were Holocaust survivors. Though she is not very religious, we are reminded of her Jewish background and of the impact Nazi Germany had on her family life. Of course, this is not the main theme of the novel, but just one of those strange little coincidences that I enjoy stumbling across.

When we are introduced to Irene, we learn that she is suffering from the crippling, imprisoning fear of the outdoors - Agoraphobia. This is an important character flaw, as a significant portion of the novel hinges on Irene and her inability to leave her apartment. She mirrors a character by the name of Jim from "Banned For Life", who is also unable to leave his home due to the same fear.

While this has nothing to do with the review of Kelley's novel, I had to point out the sheer coincidence of reading books nearly back to back that were sent to me by the authors for review - and which were read in the order they arrived on my doorstep - and just how serendipitous it was.

"Conquering Venus" is an ambitious first novel that is quoted to be "grounded in reality...a mystery, a love story, and a journey of self-realization". It centers around Martin, a young American gay man, who is haunted by his ex-lover's suicide. It also centers on Irene, a much older Parisian woman afflicted with a debilitating fear of the outdoors, who is unable to move beyond the death of her husband. Both suffer from highly disturbing, foreboding, foreshadowing dreams of their lost loves, and - strangely - of each other.

Martin's best friend Diane is chaperoning a group of graduating teens on a trip to Paris, and she invites Martin along - hoping it will help him move past Peter's suicide. While in Paris, as Martin pines over David, one of Diane's students, Martin meets Irene, and they feel an immediate and startling connection.

Initially unknown to them all, Martin, Diane, and Irene share eerily similar pasts.

They are the keys that unlock each others secrets. Forced to face their pasts in order to truly live in the present, they extinguish their inner demons together, and aid the healing of old wounds.

Collin Kelley tackles heavy topics - what it is like to deal with the pressures and perceptions of being a gay man in today society, how we as humans deal with death, and the idea of having a soul mate or "familiar" from another life. Kelley uses dreams to capture just how deeply scarred his characters are, helping the reader to see into their past and to peek into their future.

Overall, an intense look at a world of which I was not overly familiar with. While I don't have much experience with Gay Lit, I do have a TON of experience with reading in general, and Kelley can certainly hold his own with the best of them.

Collin has quite a few collections of poetry, of which I am most definitely going to get my hands on, and is also the recipient of the 1994 Deep South Festival of Writer's Award for Best Play "Dark Horse". I have heard it mentioned that Collin is working on a sequel to "Conquering Venus". I would be very interested to see where he takes Martin and Irene next.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Author Guest Post - Jeannette Katzir

Having just finished reading her memoir "Broken Birds", I asked Jeannette if she would compose a guest blog for me, describing one aspect of the writing or publishing process for us. I felt this would be better suited for her and her memoir - and add a different level to my usual "author interview" post. Here is what Jeannette very thoughtfully wrote:

Why I wrote Broken Birds, The Story of My Momila

I wrote Broken Birds for the same reason I photograph things: to allow others to take a peek inside my soul.

When my mother died, almost 6 years ago, my world imploded. All the life lessons I had learned were thrown up into the air, and I was in pain. Writing allowed me a healthy avenue to go through the pain.

“Write everything you’d like to say,” I was told when I first began. The book was massive, but I said everything to everyone I had ever wanted to, and that felt great.

I began to write in almost a frenzy. . . anywhere and everywhere. While on trips abroad, I would take my manuscript and write and re-write in lieu of watching in-flight movies. While driving back from a photo shoot in a national park, I sat in the back seat and scribbled my thoughts.

Writing is liberating and the perfect medium to expel all the thoughts, feelings and questions one might have regarding any selected subject. In memoir writing, the biggest challenge is attempting not to have the book too jaded, but it is inevitable because the book is coming from you and out of your eyes.

Writing a memoir is a balancing act of reader interest and the personal project called Broken Birds. Objectivity is a long and difficult word. Parts of the book I feel are needed are carved down to make the information more palatable for the reader, while always making sure the flow is smooth.

Writers write because we have something to say– a story to tell–and because, tucked away between the vowels and consonants, you’ll find us.

Jeannette Katzir, Author of Broken Birds, The Story of My Momia

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:As a child of Holocaust survivors, Jeannette Katzir's life has been a study of the lasting effects of war. Inspired by her own family experiences, Katzir has dedicated years to in-depth research of the impact of World War II on survivors and their children. (Author Blurb from "Broken Birds")

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Broken Birds

Read 4/3/10 - 4/10/10
3 Stars - Recommended to readers familiar with genre

Jeannette was kind enough to mail me a copy of her story - and a lovely matching bookmark as well! - and has waited patiently for me to read and review it.

Broken Birds, written by Jeannette Katzir, is the multigenerational memoir that documents the lives of two Holocaust survivors and the unfortunate, irreversible damage that inflicts upon their relationships with their remaining family members, their children, and their children's children.

While I tend to walk past non-fiction novels while shopping, I do remain open to reading them when they are recommended, or gifted to me. It's true that I am a fiction lover through and through. But I am also a well-told story lover. And that is what Jeannette has to offer her readers - a well-told story.

What a challenge it must be to write the story of your life, and the life of your parents. When an author is telling a story from their own point of view, they run the risk of, at times, tainting it by their own emotions and personal recollections of the facts and conversations that occured. How difficult it must have been for Jeanette Katzir to tell her story, the Story of her Momila, how painful and draining, and how brave to write it all down and to allow the world the opportunity to critique and criticize it.

Jeannette managed to write her story in such a way that it reads like fiction - the chapters flow off the page, the details so sharp and the people so human - I had to remind myself that what I was reading was real. That the events Channa and Nathan (her mother and father) are described to have survived were real events, and that this story, all of it, is real.

Katzir lays it all out there. The fear those events instilled in her mother, the way the trama of being a survivor unintentionally soured how she dealt with "strangers" and unconventionally attempted to protected her children. The way the fear manifested itself - in her appearing "cheap" and not allowing anything to be wasted, stashing money all over the house, sheltering her husband from infidelity for fear that he would leave her for "someone better", and infusing doubt into every single one of her children when they tryed to make a better life for themselves. How living under those circumstances actually caused the one thing she feared the most to happen - her family began to fall apart.

Katzir describes how she and her siblings fought amongst themselves as adults, and mistrusted one another. Turned their backs on one another or teamed up against each other. She describes the life her father Nathan lived - hard working, peace-making Nathan - and how her mothers death dealt the final devastating blow to them all.

A painful and vivid picture of how the damage of the Holocaust and the reign of Hitler continues to make itself known generations later. And how Katzir and her family attempt to repair their broken wings, and move beyond the bitterness to a better life.

Author Interview w/ D.R. Haney

D.R. Haney is the author of "Banned For Life". He is an autodidact who is fearful of horses and has held a variety of interesting jobs: a model, a Wall Street waiter, a telephone salesman, and a contributor for zines and small publications. He spent 9 years writing Banned, published under Vancouvers And/Or Press, which was influenced heavily by his love for underground music and having survived a near fatal accident. I want to thank him for allowing me this opportunity to interview him. And for being such a warm and friendly conversationalist!

I understand from your GoodReads profile that you read "omnivorously". What was the first book you recall connecting with, and why?

Well, first, I should say that I used the word “read” in my GoodReads bio in the past tense. I used to read omnivorously, but I don’t have the time to do so now, particularly since Banned for Life was published. Promoting Banned, or trying to promote it, has proven to be a full-time job.

In any case, the first book I remember loving was Homer Price, by Robert McCloskey, about a boy growing up in a small town in Ohio. It’s really a collection of stories, and the story I liked best was about a doughnut machine that wouldn’t turn off. My second-grade teacher read the stories aloud, one by one, in class for a week or so. I was born and raised in Virginia, and there was Southern feeling about Homer Price, despite its Midwestern setting, and that may have been why my teacher thought the class would respond to the book. She was right, at least in my case.

What authors do you enjoy reading? Do you have a favorite novel?

There are numerous writers that I’ve enjoyed reading, but there aren’t many to whom I find myself returning. Norman Mailer would be one of them, and so are Kerouac and Flannery O’Connor and John Fante and Nietzsche; and I’d love to get around to those books by Milan Kundera that have so far managed to escape me. I’d also like to read all of Chekhov’s stories, as well as Leaves of Grass in its entirety, and to take another crack at Dostoevsky. I always regretted that I put down The Idiot.

Lately, I’ve been making my way through the diaries of Virginia Woolf. I much prefer her informal writing—her letters and diaries—to her fiction or essays. In the diaries especially, she brilliantly analyzes friends and acquaintances. Mailer, I think, has a comparable genius for character analysis, which may be what I most prize about him. His sketches of the Apollo 11 astronauts in Of a Fire on the Moon are superlative.

I’ve also recently returned to Faulkner. My friend Jeannie, learning that I’d only read Faulkner’s novels and never his short stories, sent me a collection of the latter, and it’s fantastic, as I should’ve known it would be.

My favorite novel? Celine’s Journey to the End of the Night. There’s a very high level of intensity in that book that’s sustained without a lapse from beginning to end, which is what I tried to accomplish with Banned, and I’ll go on trying to accomplish. But I don’t think Celine ever pulled it off again. I’ve read a few other books by him, but only Death on Layaway came close to Journey—close and yet so far.

If your house were to catch fire, which 5 books would you rescue, and why?

Here’s hoping my house never catches fire—and that goes for all houses.

Well, first, I’d have to save my copy of Kerouac’s On the Road, because of the enormous impact it had on me. The cover is now scotch-taped together, reflecting the number of times the book has been handled. I wouldn’t say, by any means, that On the Road is one of my favorite books, but it led to the discovery of my true favorites. Kerouac was, for me, a gateway writer.

I’d also save Shadows of the Sun, which is the diary of the Lost Generation poet Harry Crosby. He shot himself in 1929 in a suicide pact with a beautiful girl he called The Fire Princess: one of his many mistresses. He’s a fascinating character and the subject of Black Sun, a terrific biography by Geoffrey Wolff. Black Sun is still in print, but Shadows of the Sun is not. I love the design of my copy, which was published by the now-defunct Black Sparrow Press. Black Sparrow had a distinctive house style, design-wise. Their covers had a textile-like grain and bold, simple graphics.

Then there’s my copy Henry Miller’s The Wisdom of the Heart, which I’d save because it was a gift from my ex, Kerry, who died four years ago. Kerry was herself a writer—a playwright, and a good one, educated at the Yale School of Drama—and she gave me several books, but Wisdom is the only one in which she included a personal note.

Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! I’d save because I read it at my grandparents’ farm, and I always transpose events in Faulkner to my grandparent’s farm, where a Civil War battle occurred. I think of the farm, which I never visit now that my grandparents are dead, every time I pick up my copy of Absalom, Absalom!

Finally, there’s The Epic of Man, a kind of coffee-table anthropology primer that was published by Life magazine in the early sixties, and includes myriad photographs of ruins and relics, as well as illustrations of Cro-Magnon villages and Pharaohs holding court and the like. I stole The Epic of Man as a keepsake from my grandparents’ library around the time my grandmother died. I was mesmerized by the book as a child, not least because it featured so many naked women, so I’d save it for sentimental reasons, as with most of the books on this list.

But can I really only save five books? I own many worth braving the flames.

Writing "Banned For Life" was a long, personal journey for you. Tell me about the process. How closely does the novel reflect your life?

Well, spiritually, the overlap is significant. I felt a great deal like the narrator, Jason, as a teenager and at many other points in my life, but I wouldn’t say I felt like him always. Jason is more conventional, for want of a better word, than I am. If you met him, you might never suspect his background in punk rock and independent film and all the rest of it. He has an all-American quality that I lack. If he’d lived in Hollywood in the sixties, he might have picked up extra cash as a bit player in surfer flicks—that is, if he’d maintained a tan. Also, I’m more cerebral than Jason, and naturally inclined to rebel (as my parents will confirm), whereas Jason found to hard to rebel, at least in adolescence. He expressed his alienation passive-aggressively.

I lived in most of the same locales as Jason, and I was involved in the same scenes, but his involvement was greater in some cases, and vice-versa. As for the other characters in Banned—Peewee and Jim and Irina, and so on—they’re all, to one degree or another, hybrids of real-life people. Irina—Jason’s romantic Waterloo—is modeled most closely after a single, real-life counterpart, and even she’s not an exact replica.

In terms of the journey of writing Banned, I had the initial idea for it ten years ago, as I write these words, in April 2000. Then it took me a year to begin the book, after many failed attempts, and I moved to Belgrade, Serbia, where I could live cheaply, to write the first draft. I was pleased with the first draft, and naïvely thought there wouldn’t be much revision, but back in L.A., my adopted hometown, I joined a writers group, and that caused me to take a scrupulous look at what I’d written, so I revised and polished until April 2005, when I was sure I had a final draft. I even went out and celebrated with friends—meaning I got unbelievably drunk.

Still, no one had read the manuscript from start to finish, and once people did, I heard criticism I hadn’t expected to encounter, and spent two more years in revision. Then I worked with an editor in New York, who raised still more concerns, which led to another year of revisions. Then publishers read the manuscript, and though they demanded editorial control of a kind I wasn’t prepared to cede, I went through yet another year of cuts and additions bearing their comments in mind. In fact, I was making changes up until the last minute, after I decided to go with a friend’s imprint in Canada. I’m afraid I drove the poor layout guy crazy, with words or whole paragraphs crossed out in the galleys and their substitutes scribbled in the margins; arrows pointed every which way.

It was a nine-year process, all told. I never, ever anticipated that it would take as long as it did, but the book became more personal as I went along, since I was always adding details, sometimes culled from my life, or the lives of friends.

Of course it would’ve been personal anyway. Jason’s my boy, and his best friend Peewee is my hero. I love that kid.

Music is the driving force behind Jason and Peewee's relationship. What kind of music are you listening to right now? Which bands have had the most impact on you?

There have been so many!

When I was a teenager, I was interested in older music, the Beatles in particular. I knew everything about the Beatles, and still know a great deal, though I rarely listen to them now.

Later, like so many people, I was blown away by Nirvana, and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion was an important band for me, since I discovered them at a point when I thought there was nothing new worth hearing, being very out of touch with the underground. But in the spirit of my earlier comment about Kerouac and books, Blues Explosion was a kind of gateway band: because of my interest in them, I discovered Federation X and KARP and Drive Like Jehu and Girls Against Boys and Atari Teenage Riot, and many other great underground bands. And I still listen to most of them. I’m stuck in the nineties, I’m afraid, and I’m partial to music from the Pacific Northwest for some reason. I remember going to shows where I’d see some band I liked, and I’d walk up to them later and say, “Where you are from?” and they’d say, “Olympia.” It happened again and again.

But it’s not a hard and fast rule. Probably my favorite band is Sonic Youth, which is funny because for so long I couldn’t stand them. Unwound (from Olympia) is another favorite, and they were greatly influenced by Sonic Youth, as was yet another favorite, Die Princess Die. I was practically a de-facto member of Die Princess Die. They started in San Diego, but most of the guys ended up moving to L.A., which is where I got to know them. They were stellar. Even when I loved a band, there came a point where I lost interest in seeing them, but that never happened with DPD. Their shows were always electric, including their last two years ago. It was a drunken fiasco, but they still commanded attention, if only because you didn’t know what was going to happen next. You’d think, “How can this get any worse?” And then it would.

Describe your novel in 5 words.

Protagonist rediscovers erstwhile hero, disastrously.

What can we expect next from you?

I’m currently at work on a novel that I’m tentatively calling A Perfect Example. It’s about two brothers and their Cain-and-Abel relationship, though it doesn’t conclude with one killing the other, despite the occasional fratricidal impulse on the part of the “Cain” brother. It takes place over a long period of time, like Banned, and I hope it amounts to a portrait of American culture, as was my intention with Banned. But while Perfect will have lots of drugs and sex, there won’t be much rock & roll, so in that way it’s dissimilar to Banned. Also, the form is radically different, and there’s a thematic emphasis on vanity and changing definitions of masculinity, which weren’t pressing concerns in Banned, though they’re present, I think, in the margins.

What is your take on eBooks and eReaders, as an author and as a reader?

I have mixed feelings about eBooks, which is probably true for most writers. It puts me in mind the old McLuhan thing—the message is the medium—and I’m surprised more people don’t realize how reading on a screen shapes and colors the experience—or maybe they do realize it, and they simply prefer the experience of reading on a screen. But I know, in my case, I don’t tend to concentrate as much as when reading a hard copy. I scan and skim, as the nature of the medium encourages. Staring at a light triggers a different brain wave than staring at something that reflects light—i.e., paper. There’s a hypnotic effect.

I’m sure many of us can agree that the culture has become increasingly superficial over the last few decades, and it can’t be coincidence that technology has become omnipresent in the meantime. There’s more and more emphasis on how things look, so that our most ballyhooed artists, aside from pop stars, are designers—in fact, pop stars often become “designers,” launching their own fashion lines. Meanwhile, as I understand it, fewer and fewer people are reading books (as opposed to online content), so, in that sense, I don’t much care how people are reading books—whether it’s on a screen or it isn’t—so long as they’re reading them at all. I just don’t want to see books as objects perish, as it seems to me our corporate overlords wish, with complicity on the part of the digital-happy public.

Some, of course, say that eBooks will simply coexist with paper books rather than supplanting them, but I think it’s still too early to call. But hard-copy newspapers and magazines are currently in a lot of trouble, as we all know, so that gives me pause when it comes to the future of books.

Do you currently hold a "day job"? If you had to choose a career, other than writer, what would it be?

I’m unemployed at the moment—rather desperately so.

In terms of desired careers other than writing, I’ve already had one of them: I’ve worked as an actor quite a bit, though not always happily so.

Meanwhile, if I didn’t think it were too late and too foolish a thing to do, I’d love to be in a band and make records and tour. I’m not talking about being a rock star; I’m talking about just being a guy in a van, eking out a living. Yet I know many people who’ve done, or tried to do exactly that, and almost all of them came to hate it. It’s a hard life.

What authors/novels/websites would you recommend to our audience?

Well, I always try to elicit interest in Mailer if I can, because I think he’s in danger of being forgotten—many of his books are out of print—and also because I’m afraid his oft-buffoonish self-promotion and reputation as a misogynist have proven a stumbling block for many. I can’t agree that Mailer is a misogynist. He devotes many pages in The Executioner’s Song to a sympathetic portrait of the central figure’s paramour, Nicole Barrett, just as he’s frequently diverted from Lee Harvey Oswald to his wife, Marina, in Oswald’s Tale. That, to me, says more about Mailer than any foolish remarks he made by way of calling attention to himself. His journalism is his good stuff. I generally don’t think much of his fiction.

In terms of contemporary fiction, I don’t read much of it, just because it’s so hard for me to find novels that really grab me, but I’d definitely recommend Greg Olear’s Totally Killer, which I devoured in a couple of sittings shortly after it was published late last year. It’s a thriller, with a healthy dash of black comedy, set in New York City in 1991.

Greg, like me, is a contributor to The Nervous Breakdown, which is an online literary collective. There are a number of outstanding contributors, some of whom have published books (including its founder, Brad Listi, and Jonathan Evison, who brought me to TNB), and some of whom so far haven’t (including Ben Loory, whose story “The TV” was recently published in The New Yorker, and Lenore Zion, who’s now putting the finishing touches on her first novel). I love TNB. I visit the site unfailingly every day, and would even if I weren’t a contributor. Check it out, y’all!

Here is an older blog where Haney posts his very own handpicked soundtrack for Banned.
Do yourself a favor, and pick this novel up. It deserves to be read! But don't just take my word for it (although shame on you if you don't!) - check out an excerpt and see for youself - Chapter one.

Friday, April 9, 2010

CityLit, Baltimore..Here I Come!

So, Sometimes I stumble across things accidently. Like author readings that I might have missed had I not been browsing Barnes and Nobles online. Or like the Book Bloggers Convention and BEA that I will be attending next month in NYC.

And most recently, Baltimore's CityLitProject, which is a one day long, free literary convention that is held at the Enoch Pratt Free Library. Thanks to my utterly awesome skills of persuasion, I have gotten my husband to agree to accompany me!

I have never been to a literary conference before, and I get uber nervous when I think about the BEA ... So I am really looking forward to this weekend trip out to Baltimore. It should warm me up nicely for BEA, as well as give me an idea of how to balance my schedule as well as balance all those free books I expect to get!

I can't wait to start sharing my book blogging business cards :)
This is going to be harder than waiting for christmas morning as a kid. I don't know how I will survive the week!!!

Are you going to be attending? If so, post me a comment... maybe we can meet up?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Book Blogger Survey

I receive a daily newsletter from - It's full of great up-to-date publishing tidbits. Today, I saw a link to The Book Lady's Blog. they have created an anonymous survey for Book Bloggers like us in an effort to improve blogger/publisher relationships. Check it out. It's quick and easy. The survey is open until April 20th. Once it is closed, they will then survey the publishers.

Blog about this, tweet it, facebook it! Let's get as many of us taking this survey as we can!

Author Interview w/ Matty Byloos

Matty Byloos has quite a diverse work history: a teacher, an online marketer, a painter, a musician, and a writer. He has a website - - that exhibits his work, which are definitely worth checking out. Matty's first published collection of short stories is called "Don't Smell the Floss". Dark and seedy, Matty demonstrates his flexibility as a writer by exposing the uglier, stranger side of humanity. He was wonderful enough to answer the following questions for us.

At what age did you start writing? Can you remember what your first story was about?

I think I took my book reviews in grammar school very, very seriously. Pages and pages of writing on things like *A Clockwork Orange* by Anthony Burgess that probably read more like fiction than a grade school report.

I think I took a stab at a short story towards the end of high school. I had this summer job working in a trade union in the motion picture industry, specifically at one of the main film labs in Hollywood. There were a couple of real characters there, especially in the shipping department, and they were always bantering about ridiculous experiences, probably blowing them all out of proportion. But I was a good listener, and intrigued. That first story was about a guy named Shithead Gary, who throws an old television in the back of his El Camino, convinces a co-worker to join him, and drives out to the desert to blow himself up.

A painter, a musician, a writer. Which came first? If it's possible to choose, which are you most passionate about? Which do you feel you
have to work harder at?

I think I'll have a different answer for this one every time!

Music feels like group sculpture to me, and I mean that in a way that should speak to the difficulties and nuances of getting a group of creative people together to work on one thing that exists in space. My experience of music has been very rewarding -- there is a real sense of freedom of expression, of immediacy, of trusting my gut with whatever part I come up with for someone else's material, or for a riff that I come up with that later becomes a song. But I'm a very independent person as well, and so the idea of a band being this unruly, ever-evolving thing, like a relationship or whatever, that's the part that makes it hard for me.

With writing, I feel like I can really get after an idea, write freely from an idea, and then use editing to go back in and analyze what's going on, try to make it happen more on purpose, change things around. I think both sides of my personality are represented nicely in writing, and maybe in a way that is difficult to get at for me with painting.

I do love to paint -- would probably argue for myself being a painter more than anything else if I had to put it down to one thing, but that might be shifting now. I don't do anything that I can't feel passion for, especially when it comes to creative pursuits. I think I have to work hardest at writing.

Describe your book "Don't Smell the Floss" in 5 words. How did you come up with the title?

Perverse. Probing. Baroque. Sensitive. Dangerous.

The title was just a phrase that came into my head -- and after picking it apart, it felt right to me. I think it's great to tell people to not do something, to not look at something or not think about it, because nine times out of ten, they immediately will. It's a weird part of human
nature. Like an inner rebelliousness or something, which I like to prod. Smelling the floss to me is like this impossibly visceral experience. It's unbelievable what the body is capable of making, the organic ugliness that can come out of us. I think there is something there that mirrors the
potentially awful behaviors we engage in as essentially socialized animals. All of this is intriguing to me -- those moments I think are where I've made camp for writing fiction. Dirty, visceral, ugly and possibly otherwise overlooked. There's a spot for me to feel comfortable being like an investigative reporter or something.

You recently toured to promote your book. What was that like? How have people responded to your book?

Still touring and about to get more aggressive about that, as so far, it's just been a limited west coast thing with dates in and around LA, and then up in San Francisco and Portland. I love to read to people, and if there is some sort of contemporary revival going on, sponsored by the good feelings people have about things like This American Life and the Moth in more mainstream venues, then so be it.

I think it's a lost art -- storytelling. I think that kind of sitting around the fire to listen to each other map out our collective histories is wonderful. I also am finding that on a practical level, getting one's book out to people is a really difficult proposition, and making an actual, personal connection is mandatory on some level. So you read directly to them, you talk to your audience, express gratitude for their ability to listen and their desire to be engaged by what you are making, and then people get a book. It's great.

I had my first experience last week of someone actually buying a book beforehand, and then bringing it to a reading to have me sign it. I was completely humbled.

Many of your stories contain dark, damaged characters leading sad, strange lives. Of the fourteen stories published in "Don't Smell the Floss", which are you most pleased with? Which story was the most difficult to write? Which stories resonate most with your fans?

Hmmmm... I'd have to say the pleasure of each story (and my problems with each too!) is quite individual in terms of my level of enjoyment and or comfort, and that seems to shift a lot depending on the day.

It's weird -- the stories, some of them anyway, date back quite a while, so there's a kind of ongoing process of discovery and re-discovery happening at any point for me. I love to read the character descriptions from "Conrad 'Connie' Borscht on Looking" -- those 2 actors feel very real and very close to me.

I'm happy with the weird poetics and strangeness of each of them and the pages dedicated to putting flesh on their bones. People seem to respond nicely to "...E. Leon Spaughy," the story about the Buddhist skunk who appears as a wandering spirit guide to the distressed and lonely copywriter. There are video pieces or slide shows that accompany many of the stories so far, and I've partnered with an artist named Josh Atlas to bring something different to my live readings ( A different dimension, something tangential or metaphorical or at least visually compelling to allow me to read 20-30 minutes of text to a stranger without necessarily losing their attention.

I just read the "Brief History of the Tupperware Party" story for a podcast, and was very happy with that -- it was my first time reading it, and it felt very touching, this story about this sad, insecure Sasquatch-like figure trying too hard to be accepted and loved completely by his little wife. The dentist/jack-off-club/nativity bukkake story (that should be enough to make ANYONE want to read it, or you might actually be dead) is always a crowd-pleaser. For the video component, we actually got a group of dudes together to simulate some of the scenes. Cue riotous laughter and embarrassing here, please.

Are you currently writing anything? Are there any characters from "Don't Smell the Floss" that may make an appearance in future stories?

I am hard at work on a new book of short stories, all of which have been vaguely mapped out, a few of which have been completed. Something I didn't do with the first group of 14 was to get them published in journals and magazines before the book, so I'm trying to build some relationships there in order to get the work out in another way to a different audience before I go looking for someone to help me get out a second book.

Like I said earlier, the characters from "...Connie Borscht" (Pygma Meadows and Clara Latch, Connie himself and Darby Ammon), I could see myself spending some extra time with them. Not sure, though. "...Dangersby" really reads like the very confusing end of a relationship, and I could see writing my way into more of that, backwards, I guess.

What book(s) are you reading right now?

A few more pages left to go in *Platform *by Michel Houellebecq, my second read of his. Essays from Kathleen Rooney (*For You, For You I Am Trilling These Songs*), finished up Kevin Sampsell's memoir a couple of weeks ago and highly recommend it for sure (*A Common Pornography*) -- it's one of the smoothest reads I've had the pleasure of picking up recently. Also have gems from the WB press on my pile and sorting through them, Paul Maziar's *What It Is, What It Is*, and Michael Roberts, *No More Poems About the Moon*. Both lovely reads. Picked up or traded for works by Tao Lin, Matthew Simmons, Matthew Stadler -- all very exciting to me and hard not to quit my job and just read all the time....

Which 5 books would you save if your house were to catch fire?

I gave my girlfriend a first edition, signed copy of an Anne Sexton book of poems for her birthday last December, and seeing as we will be living together soon, I'd definitely put that at or near the top of my list. It really is marvelous -- being able to give someone something so precious, and also being able to imagine the poet's actual hands holding the book, and a pen, and them signing it. Super freaky to me but amazing somehow. *The Loser*, by Thomas Bernhard. A large catalogue of Peter Doig's paintings, and another of Francis Bacon's paintings. For number five, maybe something sentimental. My copy of *Catcher in the Rye* from high school. I'd also have to cheat on the total amount and can imagine grabbing *Butterfly Stories* by William T. Vollman. That would be a must read over and over again.

What is your take on eBooks and eReaders, as an author and as a reader?

My take so far is just from the gut. I hate 'em. But I also don't have one, so on a technical level, my opinion is totally worthless. I get the convenience aspect as far as traveling is concerned, and having less stuff to carry, but whatever on convenience -- sometimes I think we make things a bit too easy for ourselves, maybe. I just tend to be a bit of a romantic, purist, traditionalist, etc. about the experience of the book as an object, not a file full of neatly organized 1s and 0s. The whole thing is special, and always will be, at least to me. Buying a book, the smell of the used bookstore, unwrapping a book for a present and reading a hand-written dedication, meeting a favorite author and getting a book signed, the object itself.... I guess I just don't think "progress" is always for the best.

What authors/books/websites would you recommend to your audience?

I read Big Other, The Fanzine and HTML Giant religiously. I also like The Nervous Breakdown, Dennis Cooper's blog, and a few others. I think my audience, if I have one, might be all over the map, so I'm reluctant to say that maybe there is a site or two that perfectly suits them. I'll be starting up my online magazine again after a few years of it being dormant. Maybe that one? Smalldoggies Magazine dot com is the address, and it'll be up and running in another month or so.

(Photo:Copyright 2009 Anela Bence-Selkowitz)