Sunday, March 31, 2013

This is not your momma's poetry

Whether you noticed or not, TNBBC had taken an unannounced mini-break from the internets this week. While I was cleaning out my head and working through some difficult stuff, I curled up with some amazing new poetry collections from some of my favorite small presses.

All ode-to-video-games and grief-and-depression, incredible sexy-times-to-the-soundtrack-of-the-ocean and hold-your-tummy-hilariousness, these 4 poets are doing things with words you don't want to miss.

Beware, this is not your momma's poetry collection:

BJ Best (Rose Metal Press / March 2013)

Who doesn't love old school video games, right? If you're a GenXer like me, you can't pass up this collection of poetry inspired by the best of the retro-80's Atari and Nintendo games. Finding inspiration in the likes of Dig Dug, Pole Position, The Oregon Trail, and Space Invaders, BJ Best infuses his words with nostalgia and longing. Each poem recalls to us the wonder or aggravation of the game for which it was named, forcing us to recall those simpler times and sweeter victories. How very alike our feelings for these games mirror our interpretation of the world beyond the cartridge and console.

Even the collection's title, cleverly stolen from the Super Mario Bros game in which each castle defeat left the gamer frustrated because the prize - the princess - was yet at ANOTHER castle... even the title causes that familiar ache of love, expectation, and disappointment to wash over us. Imagine what the words contained within will do.

Corey Zeller (YesYes Books / March 2013)

To look at Corey - who I had the opportunity to meet at AWP this month - you'd never peg him as a poet. Not that I have this preconceived notion of what a poet should look like, mind you. But the words you'll find within the pages of this collection, words dripping with grief and ghostly ponderings, don't seem to match the man with the sideways cap and sleepy eyes.

There is incredible tenderness in these poems, a hesitant curiosity and confusion about what happens when someone we love leaves this world, and us with it, behind. Ghosts haunt its pages and feelings and thoughts seem to float up into the ether even as the poet attempts to tie them down and keep them grounded.

Ryan W Bradley (Concepcion Books {imprint of Curbside Splendor} / Sept 2013)

I got me a new collection of poetry from one of the coolest author/poets around. Ryan W Bradley is second only to Rod McKuen when it comes to tickling my heart and lady-parts with his words. That's right, I said it. His poetry touches me in all the most inappropriate ways and I simply cannot get enough.

This particular collection, an ode to Pablo Neruda's The Captain's Verses, contains some of the most passionate and love-drenched poetry I've read in a long, long time. Ryan, much like McKuen, has this incredible knack of taking a single, intimate moment and by turning it over and over again in his hands, stretching it into a lifetime into which he is born, lives and dies, and becomes born into again.

If you haven't had the experience of getting lost Ryan's poetry, I recommend you get that remedied right away. Since this collection doesn't release until fall, try these to whet your appetite: Love & Rod McKuen  and There Will Always Be Better

Jessy Randall (Red Hen Press / Sept 2012)

Jessy Randall is a girl after my own heart. Her poetry is about robots, muppets, monsters, dreams, video games, and motherhood. It's perfection parading around as paranoia. It makes you giggle, snort, hiccup, and gasp.

I stumbled across her collection just a few weeks ago while flipping through my twitter feed. Her Muppets Suite poem was linked through The Nervous Breakdown and I thought it was absolutely brilliant. The good news is... as awesome as this is.. there are poems within this collection that are even better. I know, how could that be possible, right?

Her approach to poetry is so refreshing. I'm betting she'd be a cool chick to hang out with. Go on and get this one. You're going to find so much to love here.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Jessy Randall's Guide to Books & (non-alcoholic) Booze

Time to grab a book and get tipsy!

Books & Booze  premiered as a new mini-series of sorts here on TNBBC back in October. The participating authors were challenged to make up their own drinks, name and all, or create a drink list for their characters and/or readers using drinks that already exist. 

In the Spirit of Carrie Nation

I don’t drink (my father was an alcoholic), so my Guide to Books & Booze will be in the spirit of Carrie Nation, 19th century axe-wielding teetotaler.

Injecting Dreams into Cows is a collection of poems. I know, yuck, right? Well, that’s what I think about alcoholic drinks, so shut up. These poems are about robots, video games, phone sex, Muppets, and Pippi Longstocking (not all at the same time).

“Your Brain,”  a poem about my first kiss, is a two-liter bottle of warm Tahitian Treat, because that’s what was available at the Saturday night Doctor Who get-togethers where I got to know that boy. Also available: Doritos. So, I had Dorito breath for my first kiss, but so did he, so I guess it’s all right.

“The Consultant,”  which gives my book its title, is a chocolate egg cream, because both almost always require additional information. “The Consultant” is a strange poem and I don’t really have an explanation for it. I can, and have, given instructions to servers at ice cream parlors on how to make an egg cream, even though egg creams appear on their menus. When they look confused at my order, I can’t change it, because if there’s a chocolate egg cream on offer, I want it. So I walk them through the recipe (it’s basically chocolate milk with seltzer in it).


The lavender lemonade at Shuga’s in Colorado Springs is the drink for “Muppet Suite,” because they are both a bit sour when you expect them to be sweet, with (I hope) some complexity to the taste. Shuga’s also sells a ginger lemon tea so spicy it bites you in the mouth. I don’t have a poem like that, I don’t think. Well, maybe “Phone Sex with You.”  

“She Confuses Up with Down”   has to be milk in a juice glass with a dinosaur on it, because that’s the usual drink of my children.


Jessy Randall’s poems, poetry comics, diagrams, and other things have appeared in Asimov’s, McSweeney’s, Mudfish, Painted Bride Quarterly, Rattle, and Sentence; they have also been hung from trees, hidden in birdhouses, and sold in gumball machines. Her new collection of poems is Injecting Dreams into Cows (Red Hen Press, 2012). She is the Curator of Special Collections at Colorado College, where she co-teaches a class on the history and future of the book. Her website is and she blogs about library shenanigans at  

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Susie (of Insatiable Booksluts) Takes it to the Toilet

Oh yes! We are absolutely running 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...

Susie, the brains behind Insatiable Booksluts, gives us a good soak in today's bathroom post:


There are many popular reading spots that just don't work for me. I don't like reading in bed very much; I can never seem to get comfortable when I'm completely horizontal, no matter how much I roll around trying to find a sweet spot for reading. I don't own enough pillows to get a good angle, and hubs gets mad at me for some reason when I try to commandeer the blankets to prop myself up better. Nor do I have a favorite reading chair these days; my papasan bit the dust in college when my idiot roommates left it out in the rain to get mildewed, and I never bothered to replace the cushion. I can't say that I don't like to read on the john--I frankly don't trust anybody who claims they never read there--but . . . well, I have to confess that I often use that time to level up in Bejeweled.

When Lori mentioned that she wanted to launch a bathroom reading series, I immediately knew that I needed to participate, even though it was geared more toward toilet reading and that's my Bejeweled time. Why? Because my ideal reading place, practically since I learned how to read, has been here:

The bathtub is perfect for reading, provided you can hang onto your book and keep it from taking a dip. (Have I had bathtub casualties? Yes, indeedy. Do I frequently risk dunking my Kindle anyway? I do. I live on the edge.) In the tub, I can lay at a perfect angle with ample back support, be surrounded with warm or cool water appropriate to the weather, and even dump in some bubbly smelly things to heighten the ambiance. The lighting is usually bright, and--the best part--people tend to leave me alone when I'm in the bathroom with the door closed. I can't get that kind of alone time in any other part of the house, where cats and husband vie for my attention. One of my cats does her best to actually sit on whatever I'm trying to read . . . but not if I'm in the bathtub, with a protective moat of water around me.

I particularly like my current bathroom. It has a cool focal wall and a window overlooking some trees. It lacks any kind of storage, but I made--I mean, asked--my husband to install some shelves. You know, for shampoo, soap . . . and books.

I keep a pile right above the tub to make sure I'm never caught without something good to read. It works if I don't have my smartphone handy for a round of games, too. (I may or may not also have The Old Man and the Sea stashed under a box of tampons. Papa H is probably rolling in his grave.)

Now you know my secret--when I talk about reading, I'm almost always parked right here:

Except, you know--without pants.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Where Writers Write: Mark A Rayner

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 Mark A Rayner

Mark has explored many storytelling media; the theatre, radio, print, and of course, the web.  He's had several plays produced, more than two dozen short stories published, and he has written three novels:  THE AMADEUS NET (ENC Press, 2005),  MARVELLOUS HAIRY (Crossing Chaos Enigmatic Ink, 2009), and THE FRIDGULARITY (Monkeyjoy Press, 2012).

His own tale is currently set in his hometown of London, Ontario (Canada).  He also works as a freelance writer and web consultant, and he teaches at The University of Western Ontario, in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies.

Where Mark A Rayner Writes

Dear readers,

Anytime you enter into one of my fictional worlds, you are, in essence, having a close encounter with my mind. Sometimes stuff happens in there that even I don’t understand. I try to make sure that none of it is too scary, and if I’m writing humor, I try to ensure that it’s funny. (Or at least that I find it funny.)

So this is my way of saying that the real writing happens in my head, not in a specific physical space. But if I was going to pick a place where a lot of my projects begin, it would be the beach.

Actually, that’s not entirely true either. Usually the absolute beginning of most of my stories come to me in my sleep, while I’m dreaming. But those are just intimations of stories. The story writing happens out on the strand where I can do a bit of walking and let those vaporous notions turn into ideas. My favourite beach is just north of the Pinery Provincial Park, on Lake Huron, in Ontario.

Here’s a picture of the beach:


Here’s an artier picture of seats looking out at the lake. Sometimes it helps to sit and stare at the water:

beach chairs

Here is a beach chair where I have contemplated humans turning into monkeys, or fridges taking over the Internet:

beach chair red

And in the interests of full disclosure, here's a resulting manuscript on my desk (I believe this is of The Fridgularity, my new book, which a satire of the technological singularity):

manuscript on desk

Next week, Fiona Maazel shows off her writing space, don't miss it!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Indie Spotlight: Michelle Muckley

Every writer has a "when I knew I wanted to be a writer" story. And every self published author has a "how I knew I wanted to self-publish" story.

In today's spotlight, Michelle Mukley - author of two self published novels (Loss of Deference and Escaping Life) takes a moment to share her own stories... that of the initial urge to write, of dealing with rejection, and of her choice to pursue the route of self publishing...

Invisible Filters and the Self Published Writer

When I first set out to start writing a book I was twenty one years old.  It was a rain soaked New Year’s Eve, I was stood in the courtyard of a local pub, and I was wondering why I hadn’t stayed at home and ordered a pizza.  I huddled under a small umbrella with a bottle of Budweiser in my blue hand and announced to my friend that I had an idea for a novel and that I was going to set about writing it.  But in spite of her excitement and encouragement, I never wrote that story.  At the most the story was lame.  At worst, it was unfeasible.  But the whole thought process left me with something much more important.  The desire to actually do it.

With a head full of ideas from there on I constantly made notes.  There were endless post-its in my diary, full with names or places that had no bearing to each other, but rather they formed a collective of random ideas from the mind of a disillusioned scientist who knew that there was something else from life that she wanted.

In the end, it happened.  I wrote The Loss of Deference.  Following an effort which spanned two years, writing chapters sporadically when time permitted, I was left with something that resembled a manuscript.  I privately proclaimed as I sat looking at the ‘finished’ book that I was a writer, and celebrated that fact by sending out the manuscript to an agent.  It wasn’t long after this that I got my first rejection letter.

It’s a strange feeling to have something you have worked on so passionately rejected outright without any explanation or justification.  I sent it out again to another agent, and the same thing happened.  Had I forgotten something?  Had an office junior made a mistake?  I would have liked to think so, but it was an over complicated solution for a problem that was much more simplistic.

It wasn’t good enough.

I left the manuscript in the cupboard for a while, partially out of disappointment, but more so out of a growing uncertainty at exactly what it was that I should be doing to make it better.  After a period of separation, I decided that I had reached the time for objectivity, and started to truthfully assess the content.  As hard as it was to admit, when I reread the manuscript, I easily found issues with it.  Not just typing errors, but larger areas of text where I knew I could make it better.  With that in mind, I forced myself back into the editor’s chair and rewrote parts of the story.  It was a difficult process, admitting to myself that what I had produced with such confidence had been unacceptable.  Nobody ever wants to believe that what they produce is substandard, especially when you want very much to be successful writer.  But in order to move past the point of failure I had to do just that.   Until I accepted it, I couldn’t rework the material subjectively. 

So, why when I am given an opportunity to talk about my work am I telling you my faults and failings? 

Because it is a fact that indie publishing grew by 287% between 2006 and 2011(source, Bowker).  Indie publishing is becoming more widely accepted.  It is becoming mainstream.  Indie is no longer considered quite so alternative, and most readers could name you at least one self published author who is enjoying success.  The reason?  For many writers like me, e-Book publishing through Amazon or Smashwords has effectively removed the barrier to publishing, giving us direct access to readers and an unrestricted route into print.  Anybody has the chance to become published.  No painful search for an agent.  No slush pile.  No rejection letter.  It’s an attractive option.  But what this also does is remove the inherent filter of the traditional publishing world, thus allowing many titles that would once remain unpublished a chance to find a place in the market.  So in a rapidly growing sector that is inundated by new releases, the only way to carve a niche for yourself is to bring with you a damn good set of tools.

I have published two books through Amazon KDP.  Since they were published I have reworked the covers of both books, and sat down and re-edited them.  I have listened to feedback and taken the criticism.  On reflection, it is only now that I think both of these books are of the quality and standard that a reader deserves.  Fortunately for me, readers have enjoyed both releases anyway, before I re-edited them, but that is not to say that either of the first editions were perfect.  So by admitting this does it make me brave or stupid?  I think neither of those things.  It just makes me honest.

When I buy a print book from the bookstore, I am not looking for a poorly edited proof, or a substandard cover.  I am looking for a quality product that is professionally finished.  Self publishing in the beginning is a bit like growing up as the child of an A list celebrity.  Our failings are there for all to see.  Our mistakes are made in public.  But like anything in life, mistakes will and do occur, and learning from them is important.  I am close to releasing my third book.  It is only this time, now that I have learnt from the process of the previous two releases that I believe I will get it right first time.  I now have an editor, a designer, a set of beta readers, and enough patience to wait to release the work.  It is only through the process of self publishing that writers learn what it takes to publish, and what kind of team you need around you.  The name of ‘self’ publishing itself is very misleading.  There is a reason that traditional publishers do not expect writers to come up with everything on their own.  There is a reason that it takes longer than any writer wants to wait before the book is published.  There is a reason that my first manuscript was sent back to me.  When there are no filters in the self publication process, isn’t it about time we start making up our own?

I decided that I was going to be a writer from a young age.  Apparently, I also decided to be a procrastinator, and waited twenty years before I finally wrote Chapter One.  In the meantime I studied science and started working in cardiology.  I loved this job, but there was a creative need that remained unfulfilled.   It was at this point that I began to write my first book.

Six years later, having uprooted from England and having settled on the southern Mediterranean shores of Cyprus, the dream to publish is now a reality. I am still working as a part time scientist, but I am also writing daily. When I am not sat at the computer you will find me hiking in the mountains, drinking frappe at the beach, or talking to myself in the kitchen in the style of an American celebrity chef.  Just think Ina Garten.  

Friday, March 15, 2013

Camilla Macpherson's Guide to Books & Booze

Time to grab a book and get tipsy!

Books & Booze  premiered as a new mini-series of sorts here on TNBBC back in October. The participating authors were challenged to make up their own drinks, name and all, or create a drink list for their characters and/or readers using drinks that already exist.

Camilla's Guide to Who Drinks What

My novel, Pictures at an Exhibition, has two settings. One is contemporary London, and one is the London of the Second World War.  Both have their drinks to match.

The story for Claire, my contemporary heroine, begins with her marriage is already falling apart. But there are plenty of hints that they were once happy together. She and her husband, Rob, felt the first flush of mutual attraction when they were students, and I can imagine them huddled at a table in the corner of the student bar drinking pints of cheap cider in plastic glasses and sickly shots in any number of lurid colours while planning their lives together.  Over time, they pass through wine-tastings on their travels to California and South America (Chardonnay and Chilean Merlot respectively), expensive champagne on the day they got engaged and slightly cheaper cava on their wedding day.  With the honeymoon two years behind them, they have slipped into the regular routine of a glass or two each night of whatever is on special offer at the supermarket.

Claire suffers a terrible tragedy in the book, and as a result becomes a gin and tonic character:  She acquires the bitterness of juniper berries, along with the sharpness of lemon and the coolness of ice-cubes. But, like the best gin and tonic, she remains complex and compelling.  Rob has got too busy with work over the years and become somehow more corporate in attitude, a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon  – reliable but not always exciting.

Daisy is my war-time heroine. She is younger than Claire, just starting out in life, and looking to see if she can find some fun even in the midst of conflict. She is definitely a ginger ale character – sweet and bubbly but with a peppery kick when you get to know her.  Daisy falls in love with war artist Rob, who thinks himself a little older and wiser than her. His idea of a perfect evening out would be drinking beer (most likely watered down) in the pub with a crowd of fellow creative types, talking about the next best thing.  He likes a whiskey too;  there’s nothing better to drive fear away on a cold, clear night when the air-raid sirens are almost certain to sound than that burning at the back of the throat. Put Daisy’s ginger ale and Rob’s whiskey together, add some ice for sparkle and you get a highball - by coincidence one of the most popular cocktails of the war-time era.

Camilla Macpherson is a writer and a lawyer. She lives in London with her husband and daughter.  Her debut novel, Pictures at an Exhibition, is published by Random House and is available from Amazon, on Kindle and from all good bookshops.  Find out more about Camilla and her novel at

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Where Writers Write: Denis Mahoney

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 Dennis Mahoney. 

He is the author of FELLOW MORTALS (FSG 2013) and can be found tweeting as @giganticide and blogging at 

He lives with his wife, son, and dog in upstate New York.

Where Denis Mahoney Writes

The previous owners of our house loved lace, and artificial flowers, and anything pink or rose or violently maroon. They also loved television. I like TV, too, but running cable connections into five separate rooms shows serious commitment. We adored the house as soon as we bought it, but the cosmetic overhaul was a multi-year process, and we let our young son spread his Legos and trains all around a long TV room on the first floor while we tackled the rest of the house.

I work at home. When our son started school, that long disaster of a room seemed primed for renovation. We wanted a den or a library, a place for sitting with guests and relaxing in the evenings. It could double as my writing room. But it had to be cozy, and warm, and torn limb from limb to get it just the way we wanted.

the before, during and after photos

I was only beginning to attempt DIY projects at the time. I didn’t know what I was doing when I tore up the carpet to reveal the original hardwood floor. I didn’t know much about windows when I disassembled the frames, and stripped and stained the sashes, and reconstructed anything that couldn’t be salvaged. I’d never built a bookcase. I read a lot of handyman books and Googled often, and I learned that DIY is mostly about having the guts to tear stuff apart. At that point, you have to fix it. A missing window is the mother of invention.

Real wainscoting is expensive, so I attached plywood to the walls and trimmed it with baseboards and molding. The floor was in decent condition, its major stains easily covered by a rug. We found a colonial yellow shade of paint, creamy and warm, that accentuated the richness of the wood’s dark stain.

We needed fire. Winters are long in upstate New York and fire would give the room life. A pellet stove seemed the way to go: efficient, environmentally friendly, and easy to maintain. Then came the fun part—arranging and decorating.

We’d gotten a great free couch from a friend and placed it in front of the stove. My mother scored a terrific reading chair for thirty bucks at an antique store and reupholstered the cushions for us. I found another chair, small and elegant green, out on the street and carried it home on top of my head. There was a broad wooden table, another item discovered at curbside (we love garbage night in summer), that fit perfectly next to the couch and would eventually accommodate our dog’s kennel, which is just the right size to sit beneath it.

the before, during, and after

I built my wife a little oak wine cabinet for the corner, along with three bookcases: two for books, one for my old-timey CD collection. With a number of other minor pieces in place, all of which we’d gotten on the cheap from yard sales and the like, we added the finishing touches.

There’s a round-framed caribou picture over the couch, next to some old shoemaker’s augers, since I always enjoy the effect of three-dimensional wall decorations. My favorite decoration is the god of the stove. We wanted something shapely and organic over the pellet stove, which is squat and boxy. I stumbled upon a cast-iron face of Zeus at a local antique store for only fifteen dollars. It was spray-painted gold so nobody wanted it. All I had to do was steel-wool the paint away, reveal the underlying metal, and hang it with a heavy-duty wall anchor.

We’re constantly tweaking details, but the library is essentially in place and has, in fact, become the centerpiece of the house. Our son loves it. So does our dog. We sit in there with guests and spend our evenings with the fire. I do most of my writing on the couch during the day, and I’ve taken to writing my first drafts longhand. It was a key decision to put our computer in another room and keep the library free of distracting electronics. (The iPhones, it must be said, wander in a little too often.)

The one essential piece of electronics is the stereo, hidden in the corner so it blends, through which we’re able to wirelessly stream music from iTunes and, yes, play CDs. All told, it’s the best DIY project I ever did, and it’s made the entire house a better place to live.

Check back next week to see where Mark A Rayner writes. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Review: Rontel

Read 3/2/13 - 3/10/13
3.5 stars - Recommended to readers who don't mind a few kitty cat neck sizzles.
87 pages
Publisher: Lazy Fascist Press (print) / Electric Literature (eBook)
Release Date: March 2013

Sam Pink is a little bit like a teenager trapped in a man's body. He's full of piss and vinegar, finds fascination in the silliest and strangest things, and wants everybody and everything to suck his dick.

In Rontel (as with most of Pink's novels), our narrator finds himself immersed in the humdrum of everyday life - hating his job so much that he simply calls off and never shows back up, hating cell phones so badly that he finds humor in torturing the salesman with ridiculous questions when purchasing a replacement, killing time shooting the shit with Chicago's homeless, and borderline bullying his brother and their excellently tempered kitty cat named, yes, Rontel. The things that poor poor cat has to put up with. Tsk.Tsk.

How this dude has managed to score himself a girlfriend and not die of malnutrition or some insanely unhygienic disease is beyond me. He lives in filth, showers only when he can smell himself through his cologne or is sweating like a dog, and has been known to live in the same pair of pants for nearly a month before giving them a good wash.

He gets pissed off at places when they don't call him in for interviews, even though he turns in the applications half filled out. He enjoys fucking with people and spends a lot of time pondering weird shit like how great it would be to give people "the business" and how long it would take him to use up 18 bars of soap and whether we will even be using soap when he gets down to his last bar. He even daydreams about buying a new video game and locking himself inside his apartment until he beats the thing.

With each novel that Sam Pink pens, I worry more and more about his mental state. He's like a present day Holden Caufield, all grown up, only... not. It's like puberty hit and took up permanent residence in his body. He's like a lost boy, all nasty energy and no idea how to release it. While he's completely bent on being miserable and making everyone around him miserable, I somehow find myself drawn to his arrogant and ridiculous nature and I can't help but think that the real Sam Pink is just like this. Or at least, has been like this at some point in his life.

I know that I will continue to read whatever new novel Sam Pink writes. I suppose I am glutton for punishment. Dude keeps it real, again and again... and I have mad respect for that.

Monday, March 11, 2013

CCLaP: História, História

Well folks, it's March 11th and do you know what that means? We have a book birthday to celebrate!

História, História: Two Years in the Cape Verde Islands begins its journey out into the big bad world today. This collection of creative non-fiction personal essays by Eleanor Stanford will break your heart while it lifts your spirits. It's an intimate peek into the life of twenty-something year old Ellie, a Peace Corps Volunteer who is stationed in the Cape Verde Islands - a cluster of islands off the coast of West Africa - with her husband. Ellie shares her struggles acclimating to the island lifestyle and the stress it puts on her young marriage; the nuisances of the Creole language; the eating disorder that she develops during her stay; and the students she teaches, who pull at her heartstrings. 


The book is already pulling in some very thoughtful and lovely reviews:

Rebecca, over at Love at First Book, felt a personal connection to História, História - her cousin volunteered out of Peru for the Peace Corps and one of his sisters is currently with the Peace Corps in Madagascar. Rebecca had this to say about the book:

"Her writing was beautiful....It reminded me of ‘The Sex Lives of Cannibals.’”

Jennifer of The Relentless Reader felt Eleanor's struggles pulling her straight into the story, and a strong desire to travel to Cape Verde to explore the island for herself. She says:

“[A] small book that leaves a big impression....Melancholy and luscious.” 

Heather, at Between the Covers, wished the book had been longer. Of Eleanor's writing, she says:

“...she does a great job of writing about ... the people and culture of Cape Verde (and how an American woman fit or did not fit within that culture)...”

Ash of Bitches with Books created a specialty drink for the book's release and had this to say about  História, História:

"... It’s engaging, cultural and thoughtful, and in some ways very haunting..."


Eleanor was interviewed about traveling on Ralf Pott's website Vagabonding:

"... living and traveling as a Peace Corps volunteer gave me a clearer understanding of the sort of travel I was interested in doing: that is, not so much traveling, as living in a place long enough to have an inside view of what it was like."

And she appears in a guest post, about why she wrote her book, in Superstition Review:

“ I cast about for what to do next with my life, Cape Verde’s landscape and people and the intensity of my experiences there haunted me.”

I'm really excited to be promoting Eleanor's book as first my "marketing director" project with CCLaP. It's certainly opened my eyes to a whole new world of writing - creative non-fiction is new territory for me as a reader. Though her collection is short, it packs such a powerful punch and will force you to take stock of your own life and your #firstworldproblems (as they say on twitter). Through História, História, Eleanor teaches her readers about the intricacies of Creole and the cultural nuances of small island life that we take for granted here. She also openly discusses the toll her experiences took on her, her body, and her marriage. 

Ellie and I met for the first time this week, grabbing a quick bite of breakfast with fellow CCLaP author Kevin Haworth, during the AWP conference. Incredibly sweet and lovely, I couldn't help but think to myself that I was sitting across the table from a woman who had experienced so many life-changing things, seen so many beautiful and heart-wrenching things, who had selflessly given her time and energy to another country... who was so wonderfully worldly... that at times it just blew me away. 

You can now purchase a gorgeous, hand-made hard cover edition of História, História on CCLaP's website. The book is also available for Kindle on

Look at those lovelies! I cannot wait to get my hands on one of those things! 

If you read it (whether in print or digital) and decide to share your thoughts, please link me to it so I can share it with the world! It'd also be cool to start a História, História meme, where, if you bought a hardcover copy, you take a photo of it out in the world somewhere and send it on over to us... I'll post every picture I get on CCLaP's facebook page!

Happy reading, everyone! 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Where Writers Write: Sybil Baker

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 Sybil Baker. She was named one of "today's strongest emerging talents in literary fiction and poetry" by the Huffington Post. She is the author of The Life Plan, Talismans, and Into this World. She teaches at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and is on faculty at the City University of Hong Kong's MFA program and the Yale Writers’ Conference. Recently she was a Visiting Writer at the American Writers Festival in Singapore, where she was awarded the National Critics Choice Best New Cross Cultural Literary Fiction and Poetry Writer of the Year. A recipient of Chattanooga's MakeWork Grant, she is Fiction Editor at Drunken Boat.

Where Sybil Baker Writes

Since my twenties, I’ve found it hard to stay put. I find that after a few months or years, I have the urge to move, whether is to a new apartment down the street or across the world. In 2007, I finally settled into a space, when I moved from Seoul to Chattanooga, and with my husband, bought a home.

Yet, it seems that I’ve transferred my peripatetic inclinations to my writing space, or rather lack of one. For a long time I used our kitchen table or couch, unable to commit to a specific writing space. Now after a recent bought of decluttering, I find myself with new writing options, yet still unable to commit to just one space.

My sentimental favorite writing spot is wicker and oak desk, which has been on my mom’s side of the family for a few generations. This desk has history and a story behind it, and since it’s in our guest room, I can write here when I need to be free of all interruptions.

But for practical reasons, I mostly write at a desk that has more space but little sentimental value. In my new novel, one of my characters is an amateur photographer, and one of my projects for the novel is to learn about photography and take my own photographs. I recently received a MakeWork grant to learn and develop my own photography skills, with hopes that I can use the photos in some way with the published novel. My little family desk is too small for the equipment I need for viewing and editing photographs. When I want to write or edit using the large monitor but don’t mind a few distractions (my husband’s desk is in the same room and a window allows me to watch the comings and goings of our neighborhood cats), I write here.

Since this is my primary writing space, I’ve surrounded my area with original artwork. My favorite piece is a green painting with a white chair painted by the author William Gay. I bought the painting when I was at his home interviewing him in 2011. It was the last time I saw him, as he died about seven months later. Another smaller painting is by a local painter, and I bought it because the work reminds me of Clyfford Still, one of my favorite painters. The fabric piece was by a former student who is an artist and the photograph is of a nameless Korean island, taken by a friend who is now a journalist in Afghanistan. These paintings inspire me in different ways to develop and commit to my own work.

Finally, when I’m writing out my first draft, I usually write by hand. This allows me to avoid the ever-present distractions of the Internet, and I find the rhythm of writing by hand allows me to get deeper into the piece, without the temptation of editing. Two years ago we found this chaise longue at a consignment store near our house, and I fell in love with it immediately. The Japanese pattern on it reminds me of my years living and traveling in Asia, and there’s a romantic notion of writing on a chaise longue that connects me to writers from earlier generations.

Generally I can write with some noise or music, depending on where I am in the draft. I tend to be able to edit with music, but often prefer silence when producing first drafts. Sometimes I listen to music to put me in the mood of the character, and in the case of my new novel, local Americana music will feature in the novel and as a CD, so I’ll be listening to more of that in the months to come.

I know that many writers have one desk or spot they return to again and again, but I find that I like options and choice, depending on my writing needs and mood. When in a pinch though I can write just about anywhere, coffee shops, hotel rooms, or libraries—any space that allows me the ability to leave the physical world and enter that of the imagination.

Check back next week. We've got Denis Mahoney showing off his writing space.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Things I Think I'm Doing at AWP

So...I'm doing it!

This is going to be incredibly strange, guys.

I'm packing up the car and heading out to Boston tomorrow, solo,  for AWP. Don't get me wrong. It's not like I've never gone somewhere on my own before. I braved it up and attended BEA all by my lonesome back in 2010 (I live 2 hours away so I drove in and out every day). And I've stayed at a hotel alone, for three nights, for a work conference. But staying at a hotel AND attending an event with just me, myself, and I is going to be weird. I gotta be honest.

Consider this your warning, Boston! I'm planning on making a nuisance of myself. This chick doesn't do "alone" well and she really, really wants to meet YOU.

So here's where you can find me, if you're so inclined (I'm begging you, come find me!):


I'll be arriving late afternoon, early evening, I think. I'm gonna be HUNGRY. Come out to dinner with me. Especially if you know Boston better than I do. (I've only been to Boston once, for work, so I'm pretty sure everyone on the planet knows it better than me).

Monster Magazines of the Midwest - 6pm : Then there's this. It's at the Back Bay Social Club, wherever that is. I might go. Sounds pretty rad. Is there food there, cause that'll take care of my HUNGRY problem.



9am (It's a toss up between these three)

Modern Fairy Tales(Anjali Sachdeva, John Crowley, Jane Yolen, Kelly Link, Kate Bernheimer) Authors who have written modern retellings of old tales will discuss the need for fables in modern society and the literary marketplace, as well as the writing process they use to go beyond archetype and tradition to create new tales.

A Capella Zoo (Laura Miller, Amelia Gray, Erin Stalcup, Mary Lou Buschi, Jack Kaulfus) A reading of the absurdist, uncanny, fabulist, cross-genre, experimental, bizarro, new weird, mythic, surreal, and fantastic.

It's Not the End of the World!  Poets Albert Goldbarth, William Greenway, and Dorianne Laux as they read their poems from the issue along with other apocalyptic work. The moderator, River Styx Editor Richard Newman, will discuss special themed issues and how writers can best submit their work to them.

10:30am (I'm leaning more towards the first one)

The State of Literary Publishing (Jeffrey Lependorf, Richard Nash, Daniel Slager, Julie Schaper, Max Rudin) A panel of distinguished literary publishing professionals discusses the latest challenges, innovations, and intrigues facing literary publishing today.

Being a Good Literary Citizen  - (Rob Spillman, Alan Heathcock, Emma Straub, Julie Barer, Matthew Specktor) An editor, agent, and two writers talk about the importance of being genuinely engaged with all aspects of publishing. Topics include using social media in a nonself-serving way, mentoring fellow writers and editors, helping literary organizations, and hand-selling books and magazines that have nothing to do with you.

12pm (Leaning towards the first one again)

Exploring Unconventional Strategies for Indie Lit Startups (Steve Westbrook, Matty Byloos, Carrie Seitzinger, J.A. Tyler, Skyler Schulze) Contributors to this panel discuss their recent experience of founding successful new journals, presses, and a reading series. As they examine how their efforts toward sustainability intersect or contradict industry lore, they offer strategies for developing alternative funding structures, distribution models, and marketing techniques.

Lit Writers Writing Pop Fiction(Ed Falco, Julianna Baggott, Lise Haines, Benjamin Percy) What exactly are we saying when we refer to a novel as literary or serious fiction, as opposed to popular or commercial fiction? Can clear distinctions be made? What do these commonly used terms—literary, serious versus commercial, popular—mean to writers? Is it possible to write a commercial novel that is also literary? Writers who have published literary works as well as novels that might be considered popular fiction explore these and other relevant questions.

Graywolf Press Readings(Sven Birkerts, Mary Szybist, Mary Jo Bang, J. Robert Lennon, Catherine Barnett) 

Cooperative Publishing and the Future of Small Press(Martin Woodside, Derick Burleson, Jacqueline Kudler, Chris Baron, Geoffrey Gatza) Representatives from Sixteen Rivers, City Works, BlazeVOX, and Calypso Editions discuss the role cooperatives have, may, and will play in the shifting publishing landscape. The panel explores how various cooperative models help reimagine ways for the 21st-century small press to thrive, sustain literary communities, introduce new writers, and keep great literature in circulation.


Red Hen Press Readings(Peggy Shumaker, Eloise Klein Healy, Katharine Coles, John Barr, Andrew Lam) 


Chapbook as Gateway(B.K. Fischer, Stephanie Lenox, Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, Susana H. Case, David Tucker)  The recent popularity of the chapbook invites examination of the challenges and promise of the form, the opportunities it affords for emerging poets, its role as a creative bridge to the publication of a full-length book, and the renaissance of artisanal book-making.


Can't I clone myself and attend them all?

Grub Street & Small Demons "Get Lit" - 6pm (Copley Square Hotel)
Anomalous, Tiny Hardcore, Rose Metal Press - 6pm (CCTV Studio)

Night of Presidential Fiction - 8pm (Sweetwater Tavern)
Curbside & Counterpoint - 8pm (Words & Music)

Apt Party - 9pm (LIR)



10:30am (leaning towards the first one)

Start a Nonprofit in Your Own Backyard(Bao-Long Chu, Allen Gee, Janet Hurley, Lisa Murphy-Lamb, Jerome Vielman) This panel of founding directors and arts administrators will provide useful information on how to start a literary nonprofit. We will guide participants through the process of incorporating one’s passion into a viable project, working for public good.

The Geek in Me(Ethan Gilsdorf, Lizzie Stark, Peter Bebergal) Geek and fringe subcultures such as Dungeons & Dragons, Larping, psychedelia, punk rock, and comic books can be ideal portals through which to examine the self, construct narratives, and comment on the culture at large. In this session, three panelists whose books mix memoir, pop culture, and ethnography discuss best practices for breaking into subcultures conducting fringe culture reportage and using that research to tell powerful and poignant stories about the human condition.

Books in the Age of ReaderCentric Publishing(Buzz Poole, Lisa Pearson, Richard Nash, Matvei Yankelevich, Elizabeth Koch)  These panelists challenge the traditional models of books and publishing by embracing contemporary technological capabilities while also honoring traditions that remain central to the notion of a book, whether fiction, nonfiction, or illustrated. In doing so, they prioritize authors and readers.

12pm (leaning towards the second one)

Experimental Fiction Today (John Parras, Daniel Green, Alissa Nutting, Ted Pelton, M. Bartley Seigel) Editors, writers, critics, and teachers discuss recent trends in experimental fiction and how such work enriches the publishing landscape, the creative writing workshop, and the direction and function of literature itself. What are some of the more exciting trends in innovative fiction? What are the special challenges and rewards for writers testing fiction’s limits? How does fabulist work work? If all literature is innovative, what distinguishes the experimental from other types of fiction?

How to Build a Successful Kickstarter Campaign(Meaghan O’Connell, Benjamin Samuel, Mat Honan, Joshua Mandelbaum, Laurie Ochoa) Kickstarter moderates a panel of editors from Electric Literature, Words Without Borders, Slake, Longshot, and Tomorrow Magazine for an instructional and informational session on developing a successful Kickstarter campaign for your periodical or publishing project. We’ll walk you through the process step by step and discuss how to best represent your brand, set a fundraising goal, shoot a video, create rewards, engage backers, and promote your campaign.


Where Marketing Meets Development (Whitney Scharer, Stewart Moss, Daniel Johnson, Andrea Dupree) Representatives of renowned nonprofit literary organizations—The Writer’s Center, Lighthouse Writers, 826Boston and Grub Street—speak about the intersection of marketing and fundraising for literary organizations, and how development efforts can create community, promote an organization’s programming and services, and be innovative and fun rather than daunting.


eBooks and Indie Lit Publishing(Craig Morgan Teicher, Fiona McCrae, John Oakes, Amelia Robertson, Dennis Loy Johnson)  In this panel, sponsored by Publishers Weekly, indie press editors will discuss and debate what has and hasn’t worked in terms of e-book strategy and how digital changes the indie publishing world.


Bring Out Your Dead (Rebecca Makkai, Tea Obreht, Lauren Groff, Tim Horvath, Alexi Zentner) The ghost story thrives in literary fiction as well as the oral tradition, defying genre. How do we keep these compelling tales fresh? How do we frighten without resorting to cheap tricks? How do we navigate the borders between spirituality, science, doubt, and a reliable narrative voice? And why are we drawn to these themes again and again? Five writers introduce you to their ghosts and tell you how they summoned them.


My Friday night needs some spicing up. Where will YOU be?

Ampersand, YesYes, Engine Books - 8pm (McGreevy's)



Wandering the bookfair for sure!!


The Business of Publishing 1st Novels / Author and Publisher Perspective(Dennis Loy Johnson, Christopher Boucher, Emily St. John Mandel, Vanessa Veselka) Melville House copublisher and cofounder Dennis Johnson will lead a practical discussion of the publishing process with three authors in various stages of their literary careers: Topics will include: acquisitions, editing, big-house versus independent publishers, publicity, marketing, tours, social-networking, and the changing role of the author.


Strategies and Tactics for Small Indie Nonprofit(David Rothman, John Barr, David Yezzi) This panel, featuring three speakers who have helped to direct and govern independent literary and arts organizations across the country, will address crucial strategic and tactical problems such as how to create a strong development program, how to build a mission-centered board, and how to retain strong leadership.


Literary Firsts - 530pm (MiddleSex Lounge)


While I'm there, I also plan to get some face time with some of the writers I've been buddying up to over the years. Steve Himmer, Joshua Mohr, Ben Tanzer, Carissa Halston, Alan Heathcock, Justin Lawrence Daugherty, J Robert Lennon, Tim Horvath - I'm looking at you!

Also really excited to meet these amazing small press peeps - Atticus Books, YesYesBooks, Rose Metal Press, Curbside Splendor, Lazy Fascist Press, Midwestern Gothic...

So that's my AWP week, sort of. What panels will you be attending? Which parties are you crashing? Wanna hang out a bit? You know how to find me - @TNBBC!!