Monday, June 30, 2014

Audiobook Review: The Three

Listened 6/4/14 - 6/18/14
3 Stars - Recommended to fans of non-linear, non-main-character driven fiction 
Approx. 14 hours
Publisher: Little, Brown, & Co.
Released: May 2014

Where to start... where to start. 

When I requested a copy of the audiobook for review, I did so without fully understanding the style in which the book was written. In hindsight, had I known The Three was a non-linear, non-main-character driven story, composed entirely of conspiracy blog and book excerpts, tweets, emails, texts, and skype interviews, I definitely would have either requested the book in print, or shied away from it completely. I suppose I had expected the book to be something different than what it was. 

That doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it. Because I did. Once I got the hang of it - of the way the story was being laid out to us, of how the research was being conducted, of the two audiobook narrators and their ever-changing accents to depict the different characters - I became more comfortable with the format and felt myself, I don't know, sort of relaxing into it and trusting that the narration would make it all come together on its own. 

So four planes crash on the same day, in different parts of the world, within hours of each other. The only survivors? Three children, found alive and mostly unharmed, among the wreckage. And the cause behind the crashes? Terrorism was ruled out almost immediately but that didn't stop the world from working itself up into a frenzy. UFO freaks crawled out of the woodwork, blaming aliens. Religious nutters, following the lead of one outspoken rapture fanatic, believe the simultaneous crashes to be the sign of the four horsemen  - and they are adamant that a fourth child survivor still wanders out there, undiscovered.  Not to mention that those children, once released and sent to live with their guardians, are somehow... different. Changed. They are themselves, but.... not. Is it the trauma of surviving the crash that has affected their personalities so drastically, or something else entirely? 

Elspeth Martin, a journalist, has written a book about Black Thursday (the name given to the day of the crashes) and The Three (the name given to the three children survivors), entitled "From Crash to Conspiracy", and it is from this very book, and all of Elspeth's research, that we learn of the events that took place on and around those crashes. 

So ultimately, Sarah Lotz's The Three is a book within a book. A fictional book within a fictional book composed of fictional research... I know it sounds clunky but it's actually smartly done. 

Some may have a hard time sticking with it in the beginning. The story starts off terribly slow, but that's understandable because there is a lot of set-up that has to take place, so many 'characters' that have to be introduced and outlined - Bobby's grandmother (guardian of the child survivor of the Florida crash); Jess's uncle (guardian of the child survivor of the UK crash); and Hiro's cousin (guardian of the child survivor of the Japan crash), and all of those who have had contact with them; as well as Pastor Len - the man behind the four horsemen and rapture conspiracy, and a handful of his closest followers; along with taxi drivers, on-scene police and emergency personnel, and on and on... 

But once the first pass is made, and details of the crash starting coming to light, we start getting to know everyone on a more intimate level, and we begin to learn more about their current situations, their interaction with and concerns regarding the survivors. We being to question their and Elspeth's ability to remain objective and honest with us. Are they sharing all of the facts? What are they hiding? Why does so much of what we're hearing not make sense? 

If Sarah Lotz was going for a "scare you so bad you can't sleep at night" creeper of a story, it either (a) didn't come across well in the audiobook or (b) I'm immune to her style of creepy because it really didn't unsettle me in any of the ways some of the other reviewers claimed it had. And there's also the matter of the loosely open ending... one of my pet peeves, especially in a book that hinges itself specifically on the 'hook' factor. I couldn't help feeling kind of cheated right there at the very end. 

I definitely would not classify this as a horror story. Though if pressed, I'm not sure what I would actually classify it as. And for anyone considering picking it up, I strongly suggest grabbing it in print. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Eat Like an Author: MP Johnson

When most people get bored, they eat. When I get bored, I brainstorm new series and features for the blog, and THEN eat. And not too long ago, as I was brainstorming and contemplating what I wanted to eat, I thought how cool it would be to have a mini-foodie series where authors share the things they like to eat. Photos and recipes and all. And so I asked them, and amazingly they responded, and I dubbed it EAT LIKE AN AUTHOR. 

Today, MP Johnson shares his love of all things sugar and sweet! Holy moly, that's a lot of candy!!!


Last weekend I went to the biggest candy store in Minnesota. It’s a giant yellow barn out in the middle of nowhere. It’s filled with candy. There’s more than 100 kinds of root beer and more than 100 kinds of licorice. They even have root beer flavored licorice. I bought a big box full of candy and soda or, as I like to call it, writer fuel.

I got some old favorites, like Bottle Caps, which are becoming increasingly difficult to find around here, and Cow Tails, a weird, cream-filled dough candy that has always been hard to find, probably because it’s absurd. There’s something not right about a candy that lists its primary ingredient as flour. Anyway, I love Cow Tails.

I had to try some new stuff too. I bought banana soda because I love bananas. I also got some crazy ass imported candy from Denmark because it had a howling werewolf on the package. Weer Wolven Drop. It’s black licorice with some sort of caramel ooze injected inside. It’s gross as fuck. I’ve eaten half the bag.

Sugary junk food is the only thing I consume while writing, outside of the occasional glass of water. This has been true since I was a kid. I think it helps me tap into the spazzy part of my brain that my stories come from. And I type faster when I’ve eaten a lot of sugar too. Although sometimes it also makes me keep standing up and jumping around my apartment, so it kind of balances out.

As a special bonus, I find that if I eat a ton of candy before bed, one of the following happens: 1) I lay awake for hours thinking about stories, or 2) I fall asleep and have really fucked up dreams that I can turn into stories!

MP Johnson’s Recommended Writing Candy:

Bottle Caps
Cow Tails (The vanilla or caramel apple kind. The strawberry kind sucks.)
Junior Mints
Laffy Taffy (Throw away the apple ones. Banana is best.)
Root beer (Either Virgil’s or Bull Dog. Fuck that A&W shit.)

This is not a complete list.


MP Johnson’s short stories have appeared in more than 35 publications. His debut book, The After-Life Story of Pork Knuckles Malone, was released in 2013 by Bizarro Pulp Press. His second book, Dungeons & Drag Queens, is out now from Eraserhead Press. He is the creator of Freak Tension zine, a B-movie extra and an obsessive music fan currently based in Minneapolis. Learn more at
Also, check out his latest novel Dungeons & Drag Queens on Amazon.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Book Review: Sirens

Read 4/26/14 - 5/3/14
2 Stars - Recommended Lightly to fans of the bizarro-horror genre, and to those who don't mind the occasional strange sentence structure
Pages: 270
Publisher: Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing
Released: April 2014

I first discovered Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing through a happy accident on twitter about a month before reviewing this book. They've got a certain bizarro-horror charm to them and I had  a lot of fun browsing their catalog and getting to know their publisher.

Sirens jumped out at me in a way the other books did not. Something about the pulpy cover, the drippy 1970's sex and rock-n-roll description, called to my inner noir-child. And I decided this book was a must-have.

Upon reading the first few pages, I immediately became aware of two things: One - I definitely made the right decision by starting with this novel because I could totally see myself getting into this rompy sci-fi subtle-horror literary mishmosh. And  Two - I was going to have to fight the urge to cringe at the somewhat clunky and awkward writing style of its author Kurt Reichenbaugh. So much of what you'll find within its pages screams of 'first time novelist'. Though I am sure, as he matures as a writer, and works with stronger editors (no offense Max!) much of the sentence-structurey strange-nuancey stuff will work themselves out.

So here we are, in Florida in the late 1970's, hanging around with a pack of horny high school boys kicking around town, looking for something to do. A mismatched motley group, for sure. And when they are joined by the slightly older Benny, who spreads the promise of a bad-ass party happening out in the middle of nowhere, the boys reluctantly agree to accompany him there.

They enter into a familiar horror-typical situation when they turn down the deserted dirt road towards the dilapidated old house, meet up with red headed Suzie - a siren if ever there was one, and head down towards the lake for some good, clean fun. The sense of foreboding is a strangling one and we the reader find ourselves itching to warn them to get back into the car the moment they arrive. But of course, we can't do that. The story's already written. We are helpless, merely puppets, with eyes glued to the page, prepared for the worst, unsure at the moment of the exact type of hell Kurt is about to create for them. And oh what a hell it will be.

Suzie's other-worldly sex appeal is hypnotic and their lakeside conversation has a calming effect on the group. Almost calming enough to lull the boys into a false sense of awe, unable to believe their luck, to be hanging with such a gorgeous girl. Almost calming enough to cause them to wearily regard the unnatural glow at the bottom of the water and the lumbering twin henchmen and their strange scorpion-tailed dog with curiosity instead of fear. Almost calming enough to convince them into ignoring that feeling of concern and uncertainty that creeps into their very pores and threatens to send them scurrying.

And scurry they will, the moment they witness Suzie and that dog tear their ole bud Benny to shreds, the moment their entire world changes forever.

In the days that follow, as they gather their wits about them and set off on a mission to make sense of the events that took place at the lake, Kevin, Brad, Nick turn to their schoolmate Otto, an unlikely resource who thrills at the chance to unravel a mystery. The foursome end up investigating strip clubs and skanky bars, while fending off  Suzie's redneck henchmen; their dead friend Benny, who's apparently up and shuffling around again to do Suzie's bidding; and a duo of vapid, brainwashed cheerleaders who try to distract the group by practicing their own otherworldly siren skills.

Part every-80's-horror-movie-ever-featuring-teenage-leads-in-the-history-of-ever, part campy Killer Klowns From Outer Space (only replace the klowns with sexy ass sirens and replace the circus tent in the middle of the woods with a space ship sitting on top of a strip club), Sirens pokes fun at the horror genre while adding in elements that haven't existed anywhere else. I got the sense, as I finished it, that Kurt was attempting to woo the serious reader while engaging those who are just looking for a fun read. And while I don't think he completely nailed it, I certainly believe he gave it one hell of a try. So while I might not have been blown away with the book, something tells me this would make one pretty amazing film. It's definitely got that "better to see it" quality to it.... Someone should get on that. ASAP.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Drew reviews: World of Trouble

World of Trouble by Ben Winters
4.5 Stars - Very Strongly Recommended
320 Pages
Publisher: Quirk Books
Releases: July 2014

Guest review by Drew Broussard 

The Short Version: The end of the world is, quite literally, nigh - but Hank Palace has one case left to close.  As he tries to run down his sister (who thinks she's going to save the world), the clock is dwindling and loose ends are everywhere.  But the last policeman can't let the world end just yet.
The Review: Man. 
Give me a minute.
For one thing, I'd recommend reading this trilogy as back-to-back as you can.  There is something to be said for binge-reading this kind of apocalypse - in fact, I think it might be preferable.  Over the course of all three books, the question looms: what is going to happen at the end?  And I think it's better to try and address that question all at once instead of dragging it out.
And I don't mean "what's going to happen" in terms of the destruction and mayhem that will inevitably ensue upon impact - but rather what's going to happen to us?  How will we be at the end of all things?  In The Last Policeman, we saw society going on pretty much as usual - the edges only just starting to fray.  Countdown City saw the tipping point, the moment when it seemed like everyone woke up and realized that this was not a test but rather the real deal.  And now, in World of Trouble, we face the last week before impact and you cannot escape this book without looking deep inside and asking yourself what you would do.  Would you be like Hank?  Would you be like the trucker couple he meets?  Would you be like the kindly, if slightly deranged, Amish gentleman?  Or would you have checked out a long time ago, cashing in while you still had a choice?  
It's a deeply personal thing for a book to ask of a reader, especially a book that comes wrapped in an ostensibly genre package.  After all, isn't this a trilogy of mysteries?  But these stories were never about the crimes that Hank was trying to solve; they were about something more fundamental, something more elemental.  They're about the human reaction to adversity.  
On the one hand, Hank's decision to go after his sister rings deeply true with me.  Faced with the end of the world, I would absolutely want to know that my sister was okay.  And I would do a whole lot of things to make sure that she was okay.  But then you have to ask yourself... what does okay mean, in those circumstances?  Nico being alive and okay is important to Hank - but, honestly, for selfish reasons.  He wants her to be alive and okay because he wants that.  He needs it, in the waning days of humanity.  In this, Hank is perhaps no better than any of the darker variations he comes across on his trek out to Ohio.  Would it not have been kinder, in a way, to stay with the other cops in MA?  
But it is the case that drives him, of course - and the possibility, however faint, that his crazy sister just might be right.  Hank Palace would've, in another universe, made a pretty great policeman.  
As the book dwindles to a close, I don't think it spoils anything to say that we come right up to Impact Day.  October 3rd.  A Wednesday.  And that's where Winters' talent as a writer really shines: he makes the last chapters so authentic and real and horrible and beautiful that, again, you're forced to wonder what you'd do.  Where you would be.  As I fought back a tear or two on the train (the idea of such well realized destruction frightens me as it might a small child), I pondered this - and I don't know what I would do.  I really don't.  Would I stick it out - hope to ride out the ensuing global cataclysm as best I could, fight on to what would inevitably be a nasty and brutish end, regardless of whether I survived the immediate devastation?  Or would I have checked out early?  I don't believe it's cowardice to take the latter option, reader - and I think, between the lines, you see Hank considering this throughout the entire second half of the novel.  But, then, what are we (humanity, that is) better at than hoping?  Striving?  Staying alive? 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.  The "case", as it were, means even less here - although, somewhat paradoxically, it also matters more.  At this point, though, we readers are simply on board the train to the end.  Because, let's face it: everybody wants to know what's going to happen.  How it will happen.  And lunchtime on Wednesday, October 3, comes way sooner than we want it to - but that's the trick of inexorability.  The triumph of this trilogy is not so much in the individual crime stories but rather in the profound examination (both by the author, in his characters, and by the author's material, in the reader's mind) of humanity in the face of inescapable doom.  What makes us human, what it means to survive and have a purpose - and how to cope, when the end does come.  A stunning achievement.
Drew Broussard reads, a lot. When not doing that, he's writing stories or playing music or acting or producing or coming up with other ways to make trouble.  He also has a day job at The Public Theater in New York City.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Vincenzo Bilof's Guide to Books & Booze

Time to grab a book and get tipsy!

Back by popular demand, Books & Booze, originally a mini-series of sorts here on TNBBC challenges participating authors 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. 

Today, Vincenzo Bilof assigns each of the main characters from his books a drink. Bottoms up!


“Let’s have a drink somewhere.” The sentence may imply a lot of different things, from a sexual encounter to resolving a conflict with your nemesis. In fiction, characters who don’t abuse alcohol may often use a drink or two for the same purposes, and we figure that if the author included a scene in a bar, well, then, it’s important. Every word is important. Think about the scene in X-Men: First Class when Xavier and Magneto attempt to recruit Wolverine in a bar. That’s a great scene. We get one line from Wolverine…

If our characters are going to use alcohol, then it must be purposeful; characters who smoke or drink are in these situations where they use substances because it suits their character or drives the plot forward. A lot of convenient and inconvenient things happen in a bar (especially if you’re playing Dungeons and Dragons). But what if we take these characters outside of their fictional world? Would their “beverage of choice” say something about who they are? Here are some characters from my novels who might like a drink or two…

NecropolisNow (Severed Press)

The heroine in this book, Amparo Vega, is a hard, damaged woman. She loves guns, sex, and blowing things up. She’s a mercenary whose screwed-up sense of morality is challenged by zombie violence. She loves to drink; she’ll take shots of hard liquor over beer, but she’ll settle for anything in a pinch. She’s spent a lot of time drowning her guilt with bottles of Jack Daniels; someone offered her a shot of Everclear, or Bacardi 151, she wouldn’t hesitate.

GravityComics Massacre (Bizarro Pulp Press)

Brian Powers hates drinking and doing drugs. He’s driving through the Arizona desert in his van filled with people he loosely associates with; so when he takes his drug-addicted friends to a deserted town to check out the site of a legendary comic store where the owner murdered people and decorated the walls with their skin (and what could go wrong for a bunch of teenagers on such a journey…), he gives in to peer pressure and drinks Jack Daniels out of the bottle, which is unfortunately laced with some “extra” stuff. Even though Brian doesn’t like to party, Jack, Kurt, and Jamie are hard drinkers, and they bring more than a couple bottles of liquor into the ruins of a ghostly town.


Sake! This novel takes place in two different timelines (yes, there’s time travel involved), and since we’re in Japan, somebody has to drink sake… But during the contemporary segments of the novel, we see the world through the eyes of Edmund Grant and Morgan Brand, two werewolf hunters with completely different tastes. Grant will enjoy several cheap beers at a time, even when he’s on the prowl for a “fleabag.” Brand isn’t much of a drinker; he’s a fast food junkie, and he loves soda. If Morgan had to choose, he’d go with a mixed drink, but he’d much rather just crack open a bag of Doritos.

The HorrorShow (Bizarro Pulp Press)

The protagonist (who is nameless) in this poetry-narrative is a narcoleptic-amnesiac poet with sociopathic tendencies. His wife, Connie, has given him things to drink and has slipped sleeping pills and ecstasy into his beverages, but those are on “doctor’s orders,” because our protagonist becomes the subject of a wild psychological experiment. The poet, when he’s semi-conscious, enjoys Long Island Iced-Teas while he’s wearing dark sunglasses in seedy establishments.


From Detroit, Michigan, Vincenzo Bilof has been called "The Metallica of Poetry" and "The Shakespeare of Gore". He likes to think Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and Charles Baudelaire would be proud of his work. It's possible the ghosts of Roberto Bolano and Syd Barrett are playing chess at his dining table. Vincenzo is the co-conspirator behind the "Anti-Poetry" poetry movement. A member of the Horror Writers Association, Vincenzo is the author of nine novels, including the Zombie Ascension series and Gravity Comics Massacre. A novel written as a collection of poems, The Horror Show, is another one of his nonsensical works. When he's not chasing his kids around the house or watching bad horror films, he reads and reviews horror fiction, though his tastes are more literary. Forthcoming projects include the horror-satire Vampire Strippers from Saturn, and the meta-fictional novella, Vincenzo Bilof Must Die. He hopes that all of his readers are aged 18+. You can check out his blog here:
Gonzo is his favorite Muppet.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Sad Robot Blog Tour Stops Here Tonight... and Continues On Tomorrow Elsewhere....

Due to some scheduling difficulties, the Sad Robot Blog Tour makes a brief and unexpected - but completely appreciated - stop here for the night. I'm thrilled to be able to host a leg of this tour. And not just because I organized the whole thing. And not just because I absolutely adored Sad Robot Stories. I'm thrilled for those reasons, sure. But I'm especially thrilled to be hosting this specific post, because Mason has sent along a video of his writing space, and is such a super funny cutie pie! Be jealous, all of you.

You totally have to check this out.

Where Mason Johnson Writes

I was going to try and be funny and film this old, rotting desk that's been sitting out in my alley for the past three months, saying that it was my "work space," but as luck would have it, the desk was gone.

Wow. Just wow.

Here instead is my actual office/guest bedroom/cat shack -- it's not made of cats, cats just like it.

I sit at the computer, I disconnect the internet, I write. It's as simple as that.


You know you want more of Mason. You can't deny it. So don't even try. Here's where he's been, in case you've missed it:

Chicago Literati  - where those talented folks create cool illustrations for an excerpt from the book.
Hypertext - where Mason dished on his favorite robots, past, present, and imaginary. 
Glorified Love Letters - where Mason composed a playlist of songs sung by wanna-be-robots.
Two Dudes in an Attic - where Mason shares his reaction to a not-so-hot review. 
Words, Notes, and Fiction - interviews Mason

Here's where he's going to be, so you can make sure to be there too:

Tomorrow, Curbside Splendor's planning a review
Wednesday, Guiltless Reading will have a video reading of Mason
Thursday, Books, With Occasional Food will have an essay on the food of robot names 
Friday, Mason'll be doing something over at Banango Lit.
And The Weeklings will officially close us out with an essay from Mason on Cherry 2000. Zoinks!

Melanie Reviews: Tibetan Peach Pie

363 pages
Publisher: Ecco
Released: May 2014

Guest review by Melanie Page

Firstly, how can you resist the call to know more about Tom Robbins, legendary contemporary author of books like Even Cowgirls Get the Blues and Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates? If his name and playful prose style (the guy makes up catch phrases like “woo-woo”) aren’t enough to draw you in, here’s a bit about this huge tome:

Robbins claims Tibetan Peach Pie is not an autobiography and it’s not a memoir (“although it waddles and quacks enough like a memoir to be mistaken for one if the light isn’t right”). What you get are dozens of sections with brief titles like “holy tomato!” and “god bless bohemia.” Within those sections are smaller sections, often 2-3 paragraphs long. Robbins is basically breaking the book down into themes that he explores with brief stories from his life. He claims that the order is mostly chronological, which holds true. The first sections are things he did as a baby and then a boy, and we move into his marriages, publications, world travels, and controlled drug use (Tom Robbins, believe it or not, never used while writing--not even coffee). While it sounds like this could get jumbled, Robbins is a master at keeping his stories organized; they don’t jump around, and when he says he’ll “get to something more in a minute,” it’s in the very next section so that readers don’t forget the original connection.

Because Robbins was born long before TV (in 1932), storytelling is a vital part of who he is, and Tibetan Peach Pie demonstrates the oral tradition in a way that makes you want to read the vignettes aloud to those around you. Describing segregated Warsaw, Virginia, Robbins recalls a black preacher who drove a truck that said, “THE REVEREND EVER READY” on the side. The reverend would make stops to a race-friendly store where six or seven children would jump out of the truck and scatter. When it was time to leave, the reverend would yell, “All aboard! If you can't get a board, get a plank! If you can't get a plank, get your ass in the truck!” It’s specific memories like these that recall what people said and how they said it that makes Robbin’s “memoir” so readable. You can almost hear the language, see the children running for the truck. Robbins’s narrative paragraphs, too, read like someone telling you the story, not writing it.

His metaphors and similes are another thing you might remember from his novels, but if you’ve never experienced Tom Robbins, let me reassure you that this man compares the most mundane things to objects you would never think to pair. Because he grew up in North Carolina and Virginia and then later moved to the west coast, Robbins claims, “Today, my voice sounds as if it's been strained through Davy Crockett's underwear. While to my mind's ear, I might sound like an Oxford-educated intellectual, I have only to hear myself on tape to realize that in actuality mine is the voice of a can of cheap dog food--if a can of cheap dog food could speak.” When Robbins describes one of his trips around the globe, he confirms for readers that hippos are the most dangerous animals in jungles: “The hippopotamus is a vegetarian but ferociously territorial (you might find that true of certain vegans you know), and will flip a raft or bite it in half: once one is in the water, the crocodiles show up like a bunch of starving hobos descending on a boxcar full of fried chicken.” It’s the creativity to think of crocodiles as those rail-riding hobos and hippos as shouty vegans that makes him stand out among not only his contemporaries, but any writer.

My favorite example of Robbin’s using a simile is when as a boy he must shake the hand of a preacher whom he does not like because “...shaking his hand was like being forced to grasp the flaccid penis of a hypothermic zombie.” Robbins may be 82 now, but he’s kept up on pop culture just fine (and thus the zombie reference). He makes fun of Sarah Palin and e-books (how can his writing be reduced to those tiny 0s and 1s??). This is not a guy frozen in time wishing for “the good old days.” Each day is a new adventure, a new challenge, and I’m not even sure Robbins suggests he’s ready to slow down. A highly recommended and addicting read!

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

Friday, June 20, 2014

Book Review: The Fun We've Had

Read 6/9/14 - 6/11/14
3 Stars - Recommended to readers who prefer allegorical, non linear, reflective literature
Pages: 168
Publisher: Lazy Fascist Press
Released: May 2014

Lazy Fascist, my friend, I love you, but sometimes your choice of literature confuses me. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with this book. But. I mean. Well, there's something a little not-quite-you about it. It's definitely less bizarre than your usual fare and far more out-of-body than I'm used to from you. If that makes sense. To be honest, though, I do find it interesting that Michael J Seidlinger's writing shares similarities to the likes of Blake Butler and JA Tyler, both of whom you've published in the past. So maybe, now that I think about it, this type of book is more common to your catalog than I give you credit for? And I've just managed to read around it this whole time? Huh. Looks like I just talked myself into a big fat circle right there. Uhm. Ok. Moving on...

So I crack open The Fun We've Had - or, uhm, rather, I slide the pages from right to left on my smartphone - and begin to read about a 'he and she' who're paddling around the great wide ocean in a coffin. They are in love, were in love, will be in love once more, bicker and ignore one another, borrow one another's bodies, and move through the endless waters in a numbing humdrum of internal contemplation. They are each other's protector and rejector, judge and jury. They cannot escape one another, nor do they seem to want to. They harbor heavy guilt and concern for one another. Each exudes forgiveness while refusing to forget, and this inability to let go is what we begin to realize has been keeping them both afloat.

Seidlinger breaks the book out into chapters that resemble the various stages of grief - Anger, Fear, Acceptance, etc. The 'him' and the 'her' take turns sharing their viewpoints through that chapter's specific filter, divulging their side of the relationship as they "row", intimating their idea of where they are and why they are there, and how they might get themselves out of their strange and worrisome predicament. As they accuse (whether outwardly or inwardly) the coffin takes on water and they must work together to avoid it slipping beneath the waves. When the rain that falls upon them turns acidic, one scurries to protect the other.

At one point in the book, they move into each other's bodies and see themselves through the other's eyes - how they've let themselves go, how they've aged ungracefully - and little by little, as they acknowledge and accept portions of the other, they give the bits of their bodies back. At another point, the woman's mother floats up to their coffin out of nowhere and moves away again. All the while, they ask themselves and each other "are we having fun?"

Throughout the rotating chapters, we begin to piece together a moment, or series of moments, that took place in the couple's past, the catalyst that most likely influenced their current situation. And I'm afraid if I go any further I may just ruin the book for you - assuming I am spot-on with my assumption of what has been taking place throughout the entire book and am not completely off base or reading into something that is not there.

On the surface, The Fun We've Had appears to be a quick read but you'll soon discover how deceiving it is. Yes, at face value, it's a dissection of relationships. It's a call to arms for love and the fear of losing love, a look at the lengths we go to in order to never let go, to fight the final goodbye, and everyone who reads it is guaranteed to find themselves reflected in some way, some shape, some form, within its words.

But if you're like me, you'll find yourself stopping more and more often between character rotations to digest what has just been thrown at you. Like the sting of cold water splashed unexpectedly at your face, Seidlinger excels at tucking his meanings between the lines, lulling you to sleep with his prose, only to jolt you awake again with a statement or confession that causes you to look back at what you've just read through newer, more aware eyes.

This book is certainly not for everyone. Its style and structure will be an immediate turn off for those who prefer the more standard and linear forms of story telling. If you get a thrill out of reading books that pull you out of your comfort zone, that leave you questioning what exactly is taking place, then go on and grab this one. I'd be curious to see if you came to the same conclusion I did.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Indie Book Buzz: Atticus Press

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

This week's pick comes from Dan Cafaro, 
founder and publisher of Atticus Books

The Shimmering Go-Between: A Novel
by Lee Klein

Publication date: Aug. 19, 2014

What's It About
Set at the dawn of the Internet age, this imaginatively unhinged yet formally controlled contemporary fable dramatizes the struggle between impulsivity and restraint. A sort of semi-perverted post-YA novel, The Shimmering Go-Between is  . . .  

An “intricately layered debut novel [that] manages to reorganize the landscapes of conception, birth, death, Heaven and New Jersey . . . Klein leads the reader to a ledge of unbelievability and dares the reader to believe . . . Klein does it so well . . . and then he pushes you off that ledge. Giggling.
- Christopher Allen, Word Riot

It has been described as an OMG exploration of WTF.

Why You Should Read It
If Willful Suspension of Disbelief were a race in the literary Olympics, this moving and luminous debut would set the record. If this novel were edible, it’d be less like a plate of meat than an inside-out eel roll atop a Russian doll.

File under:
Contemporary American Fabulism

Why I'm Excited to Publish It
I started my own press to discover distinct voices and far-out, relentlessly inventive books like this one. So far I think this description by Christian TeBordo sums it up best:

"Comedy, genuine feeling, and an authentic sense of what it’s like to be alive in our time ooze from the pages of this book like tiny, nude women have been rumored to ooze from the pores of certain bearded men."

Lee Klein is the author of Thanks and Sorry and Good Luck: Rejection Letters from the Eyeshot Outbox (Barrelhouse Books, 2014). A graduate of Oberlin College and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he lives in Philadelphia with his wife and daughter.


Dan Cafaro is the founder and publisher of Atticus Books, a small press based in Madison, N.J. When Dan is not following his wife around the country, he is known to sit for long periods of time pondering how to live off the grid.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Audio Series: Brian Allen Carr

Our audio series "The Authors Read. We Listen." is an incredibly special one for us. Hatched in a NYC club during BEA week, this feature requires more work of the author than any of the ones that have come before. And that makes it all the more sweeter when you see, or rather, hear them read excerpts from their own novels, in their own voices, the way their stories were meant to be heard.

Today, Brian Allen Carr reads an excerpt from his latest novella The Last Horror Novel in the History of the World
Brian lives in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. His short fiction has appeared in Ninth Letter, Boulevard, Hobart, McSweeney's Small Chair and other publications. His most recent books are out with Lazy Fascist Press.

Click on the soundcloud link to experience La Llorona as read by Brian:

The word on The Last Novel in the History of the World:

The black magic of bad living only looks hideous to honest eyes.

Welcome to Scrape, Texas, a nowhere town near the Mexican border. Few people ever visit Scrape, and the unlucky ones who live there never seem to escape. They fill their days with fish fries, cheap beer, tobacco, firearms, and sex. But Scrape is about to be invaded by a plague of monsters unlike anything ever seen in the history of the world. First there's La Llorona -- the screaming woman in white -- and her horde of ghost children. Then come the black, hairy hands. Thousands, millions, scurrying on fingers like spiders or crabs. But the hands are nothing to El Abuelo, a wicked creature with a magical bullwhip, and even El Abuelo don't mean shit when the devil comes to town.
*lifted with love from goodreads

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Sad Robot Blog Tour

The saddest robot who ever lived is taking it on the road. Mason Johnson, author of Sad Robot Stories, will be appearing here, there, and everywhere over the next two weeks. Follow the tour here, by clicking on the links to each blog on the dates listed to see excerpts, musical playlists, clever illustrations, and more....

Thanks for following along as we hop from one cool slice of the internet to another!

June 16th
Chicago Literati creates a couple of clever illustrations for the story

June 17th
Hypertext shares Mason's thoughts on some of the coolest and strangest robots in the history of ever

June 18th
Mason shares a musical robotic playlist over at Glorified Love Letters

June 19th
Two Dudes in an Attic host Mason's essay response to a not-so-glowing review

June 20th
Words, Notes, and Fiction runs a review and interview

June 23rd
Mason makes a quick stop with a video of his writing space

June 24th
Curbside Press runs a review of Sad Robot Stories

June 25th
Guiltless Reading hosts a video reading from Mason

June 26th
Mason dishes on robot-friendly food over at Books, With Occasional Food 

June 27th
Banango Lit close out the tour with a little sumthin' sumthin'

June 28th
Mason has an essay appearing over at The Weeklings  

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Book Review: The Last Horror Novel in the History of the World

Read 5/26/14
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended to fans of bizarre not-quite-post-apocalyptic-but-definitely-shit-I-dont-ever-want-to-live-through literature / great gateway into bizarro fiction
Pages: 125
Publisher: Lazy Fascist Press
Released: May 2014

The end of the world is upon us and I can think of no one more capable of raining down some strange ass shit on the last of the human race than Brian Allen Carr. This novella is a strange and perfect mix of old school  Mexican (and mostly made up) myths and legends - the wispy lost souls of the dead walking the earth, a plague of rouge severed hands that are aching to tear you to shreds, and El Abuelo, who comes to ask you a question you better be damn sure you're able to answer.

The backwoods people of Scrape, Texas are so typically human it hurts, and they uphold the usual rompy B horror flick requirements - the old, ignorant hillbilly with a closet full of guns; the token black guy; the young couple who fuck their way through the end of the world, mostly oblivious to the racket all around them; the local drunk; and two cute town chicks just to make it interesting.

Carr spends a little time setting up the history of this trashy little town, sharing the stories of its local yokels in the usual barstool-gossip sort of way. Within minutes of cracking it's cover, you're well acquainted with the secrets and skeletons carried by every one of Scrape's citizens.

And right when you're getting comfortable and about ready to chug back that first can of sweaty cheap beer, right as you're leaning back in that creaky ole porch swing, Carr pulls the mother fucking rug right out from under you.

In a matter of seconds, the entire town collapses all around your ears, and you gawk and gape as he unleashes the most god-awful end-times can of whoopass you can imagine.

The Last Horror a quick, addicting read that runs you through the rinse cycle - soaking you to the bone one moment, mercilessly wringing you out the next, and whipping you around at break neck speeds - with some well placed breathers where time seems to slow down a bit - as our survivors take stock again and again of their ever-worsening situation.

The only criticism I have is with the ending. To me, it felt rushed and disconnected, very much the equivalent of Franco and Rogan's This is the End, which had some real kick-ass potential until that friggen devil-monster came out of nowhere and raped poor Jonas. The rest of the movie just devolved from there. Similarly, reading those last pages in Carr's novella, I got the sense that he might've shot his load a little too early and was left looking for a tissue with which to clean it all up. As if there was no where left to turn but to the devil, which, to me, even though we are taking end-times here, took a fairly disappointing turn.

All in all, a wonderfully wicked example of what the tamer side of bizarro fiction can be, especially for all you newbies out there who are still too afraid to give the genre a try.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Review: Zinsky the Obscure

Read 5/27/14 - 6/5/14
2 Stars - Recommended Lightly / for those who enjoy reading books where all they want to do is punch the protagonist in the face
Pages: 358
Publisher: Fomite Press
Released: 2013

*looks around at all of the other reviews of this book*
*scratches head, looking at her copy of the book*
*wonders if maybe, by some freak screw-up, she ended up with a different version from everyone else*

A letter to Ariel Zinsky, from an annoyed and unsympathetic reader:

Dear Ariel,

Life is hard. Some lives, well, they are harder than others. But we all have our shit to get through. I know you think you had it bad. Worse than most. And I know you think that this gives you the right to be a selfish, spoiled, ignorant asshole to just about every person you meet. But guess what? It doesn't. God, how I wish you'd get over yourself.

So you were born ugly. Boo hoo. You know who else is born ugly? A huge portion of the world's population. Ugly doesn't define you. YOU define you. Your actions define you. Using ugly as a crutch is a bitch-ass thing to do.

So your daddy beat you a bit when you were a kid. How many people now-a-days come from an abusive household? That doesn't make you special. That makes you normal. If our daddies didn't knock us around, they were calling us names and making us feel like worthless little shits, or worse, completely ignoring us. Big whoop. It's a hard knock life, and some of us get to live it.

And so what that you went bald at a crazily early age. Stress and genetics can be a badass motherfucker sometimes. Some of us go gray young. Some of us develop eczema. Or asthma. Or rheumatoid arthritis. But you learn to deal.

Look, you might not be aware of this, but you're not the only one who's considered suicide at a young age. Or still been a virgin in their early twenties. Shocking, I know. And none of this gives you the right to carry around a Jerk Card, whipping it out any damn time you feel like.

After viewing the world through such dark tinted glasses all your life, and because you didn't develop social skills the way the other kids did, I get that you had no idea other people suffered like you did. I get that you thought it was you against the world. And I feel sorry for you in way. I really do.

Your mom sure loved you, though, didn't she? She was always there for you - a shoulder to sob on, an ear to confess to, always with a reassuring pat on the back or squeeze on the neck. She never doubted you, or blamed you, and she always forgave you. She turned you into such a mama's boy that at times, Ari, I have to be honest, I got a little creeped out by just how affectionate you two could be with each other. She was the woman for all the other women to beat (when there were other woman, which I know, I knoooow, were incredibly few and far between).

And I also have to admit, I'm happy you were able to find true love in sports.  Losing yourself in football stats and following the careers of the players that caught your eye, taking your love and knowledge of the sport from a giddy passion to a money making business through your draft Guides and online blogging... that was really something! And it made me stop and take a look at all the bookish and bloggish things I do, and have been doing.. you gave me pause to consider what I could be doing more or differently to make THIS my career. But I digress.

How about those basketball buddies of yours, the ones who were able to put up with your whiny, woe-is-me bullshit, they were worth their weight in gold, weren't they? Thank God for them, yeah? They stood by you and broke you out of your shell. They gave you a confidence boost. They rooted for you when no one else even knew who you were.

But damn, Ari, I mean, c'mon. Your low self esteem is such a drag. Carrying that childhood baggage around with you into your mid and late twenties. Still dragging it along behind you in your thirties. The women you could have really had something with, made a real life with... I just don't get the decisions you made. Those decisions were, every single one of them, completely selfish. Every time you found yourself alone and sobbing (sobbing!!!) and confused, I pitied you for a moment because you truly did not see how you brought it all upon yourself.

The success you found in the Guide, you let it get to you. You gave it priority number one over anything else, anyONE else. And you allowed the confidence you drew from it poison your relationships. Your poor girlfriend Diana had to work to get out from under its shadow. You used your past and its resulting effect on your self esteem as an excuse to lie, and withhold information from her. And when you finally confessed, you used your past as a reason for her to forgive you. You turned your back on Sandy without a moment's hesistation, after trying to manipulate her in such horrid, horrible ways.

Here's a little secret: maturity doesn't come automatically with age, Ari. Constantly reminding me (and yourself) that you're 25 or 28 or 30 doesn't mean a fucking thing. I've known "men" who are in their late 30's and 40's, and yes, even 50's who are just as immature and selfish and self serving as teenage boys. Age doesn't mean shit. It's only a number. And it's still no excuse to be a douchebag.

Had I known you in real life.. had you ever tried to pull any of your bullshit around me, I swear I would have punched you in the face. Even with these 358 pages between us, I found myself wishing there was a way I could reach down through the words in those pages, reach right straight through into the story, my fingers seeking the soft flesh of your neck so that I could wrap them around it and squeeze with all my might.

I would wish you the best with the rest of your life but I have a feeling that, even with that feel-good final paragraph, that moment of recognizing where you've come from and of maybe finally seeing where you are, I have a feeling that no matter what I wish, you will still be doing douchebaggy things and pulling out that Jerk Card as you smile for forgiveness, reminding everyone of your shitty ass childhood.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Blog Tour: What Happened Here

Follow Along With Bonnie’s Virtual Book Tour Using the Link on the Banner!

We're helping Grab the Lapel's wrap up their What Happened Here blog tour today. If you didn't happen to catch any of the other stops, please click on this link and check them all out!


What Happened Here delivers a wildly different cast of characters living on the same block in North Park, San Diego, site of the PSA Flight 182 crash in 1978. The crash is history, but its legacy seeps in the stories of the neighborhood’s inhabitants, bringing grief, anxiety, and rebellion to the surface and eventually assists in burning clean the lives of those who live in the shadow of disaster. Amidst the pathos of contemporary life, humor flits through these stories like the macaws that have taken to the trees of North Park. The birds ensure that there’s never a dull moment in the neighborhood, and their outrageous colors and noisome squawks serve as constant reminds of regrowth.

You can purchase What Happened Here using this link!

The following video is called North Park Eclectic and was inspired by What Happened Here. In it, you will see interviews, photographs of the crash site, and the current North Park neighborhood.


Bonnie ZoBell’s chapbook The Whack-Job Girls was released by Monkey Puzzle Press in March 2013. She has received an NEA fellowship in fiction, the Capricorn Novel Award, A PEN Syndicated Fiction Award, the Los Angeles Review nominated one of her stories for a Pushcart Award, a place on Wigleaf’s Top 50, and a story published by Storyglossia was named as a notable story in story South’s Million Writers Award.  After receiving an MFA from Columbia on fellowship, she has been teaching at San Diego Mesa College where she is a Creative Writing Coordinator. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Indie Spotlight: Nathan Leslie

I always find it interesting to hear what goes into a particular story collection.

Are they stories that were written over a long period of time and pieced together into themed groupings after the fact or did the theme come to them first and then they wrote the stories around it, with specific purpose?

Are the stories based on personal experience and fictionalized to protect the innocent (or not-so-innocent) or are they based completely in the author's head?

Today, Author Nathan Leslie shares an essay on just that topic, how his story collections come together and how this one, in particular, came into being. Read on and enjoy getting to know a little bit about his latest collection Sibs:


Having written several thematically connected story collections before (Drivers, Believers, Madre, etc.), I thought I would turn my attention to brothers and sisters.  I’ve been writing a lot about family over the last five or six years, for a variety of reasons.  One of the main reasons probably has to do with the fact that I find family so central to good story telling.  Unless you are a hermit living in a mossy cave somewhere,  you probably have a family of some shape and size and you have complex and nuanced relationships with your family members which go back to your childhood.  I’m no different. 

With Sibs I wasn’t as interested in probing autobiographically, however; rather, I was fascinated by exploring the broad array of sibling relationships and how those relationships might spur on a compelling story.  Of course many components of sibling dynamics play out in real life:  age difference; rivalry—for one reason or another; personality.  I was driven to see how these relationships between brothers and sisters panned out on the page.

Let me make mention some particular stories in the collection that I find interesting to discuss or noteworthy, and then I’ll make mention of my writing process at large.  Two of the first stories I wrote were “The Bed” and “Preservation,” which I see as companion pieces—both revolve around a bed—as a piece of furniture.  Those stories were fun to write—to see how completely different stories could spin out of a somewhat similar initial conflict (though in one story the bed is a shambles; in the other it is a work of high art).  I also tried my hand at some flash fiction with this collection; or if they aren’t condensed enough to be considered flash fiction, then certainly shorter stories.  I particularly enjoyed writing “Just Cheese,” “Burlap,” and “A Day in the Park,” all of which revolve around children.  At readings recently I’ve been reading “Just Cheese” and “A Day in the Park” frequently.  The story “A Day in the Park” was also perhaps behind the wonderful cover which Ryan Bradley concocted for Sibs. Yes, I like to play chess—a lot—mostly online with strangers in some far flung part of the world, in a sort of pact of overly competitive shame.  It’s weird.

I wanted a sense of menace reverberating throughout most of these stories, so a few stories entail physical conflict, danger, or violence.  Thinking all the way back to Cain and Abel, siblings (especially when they are young) seem often to jockey for status, vying for the attention of their parents.  With “Olives” and “The Good Man” I was trying to tap into this wobbly territory.  With others, such as “Backsliding” and “Attending,” I wanted to tap into a kind of verbal intimidation—the kind that siblings sometimes (often?) unleash upon each other.  The two wildest stories in the collection are perhaps “The Mellow” and “Joy Pasture.”  The former involved a lot of linguistic restraint on my part, as I was going for a certain kind of craggy, pinched voice; for the latter, I did some research at the local library, which helped immensely with the hippie commune language involved.

My writing process is rather simple but methodical.  I do most of my initial writing by hand in ordinary composition books.  In Fairfax, Virginia where I live with my wife, Julie, we have a nice sunroom surrounded by trees and this particular place brings the best out in my writing.  I spend much of my summers out there scribbling away, napping, then scribbling away some more.  Later I’ll transcribe the first draft into the computer and use that transcription as a chance to make some initial changes in the story.  Then I revise in fits and starts during the school year when I’m consumed with teaching and grading.  Many people are surprised I write by hand first (perhaps also because my handwriting is atrocious), but I find that it slows down my eye, gives me entry into the written word and characterization that Microsoft Word does not, and maybe the slower process allows for additional layering somehow.

I enjoy writing these thematically connected collections most of all because the connection inspires me to be inventive and use a variety of methods, and frankly, the theme helps me arrive at more material.  The theme is almost like a dare I give myself:  Leslie, I bet you can’t write another story about siblings in a different way—and then I have to defy myself.  The challenge somehow keeps me sane. 

It took many years for Sibs to finally appear in book form, and I’m glad that it’s now available to readers.  I can relax for a few days before I unleash myself upon the next project.


Nathan Leslie’s seven books of short fiction include Madre, Believers, Drivers, and Sibs (just out from Aqueous Books).  He is also the author of Night Sweat, a poetry collection.  His first novel, The Tall Tale of Tommy Twice, was published by Atticus Books in 2012.  Nathan's short stories, essays and poems have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines including Boulevard, Shenandoah, North American Review, South Dakota Review, and Cimarron Review.  He was series editor for The Best of the Web anthology 2008 and 2009 (Dzanc Books) and edited fiction for Pedestal Magazine for many years.  His website is