Hotel Bound

By Amanda Miller

Essay

My family loved road trips. Collective confinement we loved somewhat less. My brother and I fought like thugs, my father was seething before we reached the city limits, and my mother’s duties trebled during this so-called time off, as she became not just mother but navigator and referee. Her warnings that we’d better not make our father stop the car earned brief respite from the din of our tiny, angry voices. We knew we deserved a good murdering and believed that one day dad would pull onto the shoulder and deliver.

1. A South Korean dog farm is not a good place to go on a date.

2. No one loves the Doobie Brothers; they are tolerated.

3. The Force has no truck in Louisiana.

4. The blue bus is calling us…to the pier at Hermosa.

5. We are famous in Belgrade.

6. Someone told me it’s all happening at the dump.

7. There is Korean rap.

8. Ohio is as good a place as any to wait for Godot.

9. It’s decreed: the people rule.

10. This is a really good way to organize your thoughts.

And two things we didn’t learn:

— What “Levon” means

Who texted Simon from San Francisco

I’ve noticed a few silvers in the mirror lately and I’m kind of freaking out. Not in the way you might be thinking. I’m not afraid to grow old. I’m just afraid of grey hair. There’s a difference.

By the age of 30, my dad’s hair was dipped and preserved in silver like a knight’s helmet of radiance. It was beautiful hair and I never associated it with being “old”, per se. He had a youthful heart clear up ‘til the end. His hair wasn’t old – it was dignified.

I like silver hair. I think it’s actually sort of sexy. It shows that a person has earned his or her Scout badges and is probably worth talking to. I have beautiful friends with beautiful silver hair. I love it.

On them.

At 36, I understand full well what’s expected of me going forward. No midriff exposing halters. No Spandex. No more dancing on bars. I’m not saying I’m ready to lie down and let the Grim Reaper have his way with me. I’m a mother. A fighter. I’ve been known to jump out of a plane. I once joined a Chinese protest which ended with me being escorted out at gunpoint. I’m persistent, a lover of fun, and just a little bit scrappy. Let age try and get me. I’ll kick it in the head. In the teeth. I’ll bite age in the ass.

So, why am I afraid of the greys?

It was 1984. That year is all jumbled in my head. It was back in the days before the Wall had come down. Before Perestroika. George H. W. Bush did not yet know he was “not gonna do it” at that juncture. Nobody had a home computer, and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway as Gore had not yet invented the Internet. Phones made a funny series of clicks when you pressed the number buttons and they always had a cord. Adventurous non-Asian Americans ate “Oriental food” like chop suey and Chun King Chow Mein from a can. There were no milkshakes in the yard – let alone a best one. Stretch denim and fleece had not hit the scene yet. Reality television was called “the news.” Life was in muted color, yellowed around the edges and prone to appearances of people with bad hair and even worse teeth.

At age 11, I was more awkward than most. And as this particular Year of Our Lord suggests, I was constantly under the scrutiny of my mother, who strove to keep me from falling into the clutches of unforeseen harm. My mother has a lot of motherly concerns: absence of a coat in winter, inadequate lighting – but nothing sends her into spasms of terror faster than the appearance of a freshly showered coif.

When I was younger, I would be putting the final touches on getting ready for school, when my mother’s silhouette would appear noiselessly at the bathroom door.

“And just where do you think you are going with that wet head, young lady?” She would ask, emphasizing the offense with raised eyebrows. “It is the middle of winter. You could catch pneumonia and die if you go out like that. I had a friend who died of pneumonia because of a wet head. Think about that for a minute. Her poor family.”

My mother has an entire graveyard worth of friends who have died due to unthinkable circumstances. They have fallen off three-legged stools, choked while eating in bed, fallen on screwdrivers while running…and yes, failed to dry hair adequately.

“Mom,” I would say, “It’s 60 degrees out. It’s not that cold.”

“Well, it’s too cold to be traipsing around with a wet head, that’s for sure. I want your hair dry before you leave this house.”

Obediently, I would take out the hairdryer and blast my head for several minutes. Gathering my coat and backpack, I would break for the door.

“Not so fast,” She would call from the kitchen as I turned the knob of the front door to catch my bus. “Wait, please.” She would then hustle to the door where she would proceed to run her fingers through my hair.

“It’s still wet,” she’d report.

“What? Where?” I would ask, trying to feel for myself.

“In the back. You can’t feel it because it’s in the back. Stop trying, you’re going to pull your shoulder out and cause permanent damage. That’s the last thing you need – permanent shoulder damage. Run back upstairs and dry it some more, please. And Erika?”

“Yes?”

“No more morning showers in the winter. Understood?”

At age 11, I was already more awkward than most kids. I was pudgy. I had a face that, according to my well-meaning father, would someday catch up with my nose. My arms and legs were covered in thick, brown wool, and I had a monobrow, the fact of which I was mercifully ignorant. I dressed entirely in outfits from a place called Anthony’s, which was mostly frequented by little old ladies and tired looking women pushing shopping cartfuls of children through the aisles. To make matters worse, my mother kept all of my sweaters in mothballs over the summer, so no matter how new my outfits from Anthony’s appeared, they always had a hint of the geriatric to them.

But most importantly, I had overactive oil glands on my head which made daily cleansing a requirement. Later, in my teen years, this excess oil problem would make a public mockery of my T-Zone. By the time I made it to my junior year, there was so much oil in my face and hair it would warrant the attention of OPEC. Men in robes and turbans would show up on our doorstep and attempt to make deals with my parents for drilling rights.

Regardless, my mother was resolute. There would be no hair washing in the morning before school. No daughter of hers would die of pneumonia from a wet head.

This was, of course, a problem. When I washed my hair before bed, I would wake up with large swirls and bumps, creating the impression that I had a large tumor growing under the surface. I could wet it back into place, but then we were back to square one with the whole wet head problem.

So imagine my relief when one morning my mother handed me a canister of MiniPoo.

MiniPoo, despite sounding suspiciously like something a hamster makes in the privacy of its cage, is a white powder intended for use in one’s hair for cleansing purposes.

When you can’t shampoo…MiniPoo!

Marketed to invalids stuck in their hospital beds, it is the answer to the problem of the wet head on a cold day. Simply shake the talc-like powder in your hair and brush out the oil and dirt. Et voila! Hair like a mink.

And who doesn’t want hair like a mink?

The picture on the canister showed a gorgeous shiny haired brunette who looked as if she had just stepped out of a salon. I’d shake that white powder into my slick brown locks and watch it go to work cleaning up like a baguette on an empty plate of peppers and Italian sausages.

At first, my roots would turn an unsettling color of gray, so I’d brush and brush the dirt and oil away. When the gray would not completely disappear, I would settle on trying to make the color of my hair uniform. It may not have glistened like the girl’s hair on the canister, but at least it didn’t make a cloud when bumped. At some point, I’d start to get frustrated when I would notice that the roots running down my part had attracted the MiniPoo, turning the white powder into a kind of a paste. I’d rub my head with a towel, trying to grind it in and out as best I could. When my hair was somewhat under control, I would notice that my monobrow was a distinctly different shade of brown than my hair. It was nothing that a little puff of MiniPoo couldn’t solve and I’d set to work rubbing that monobrow until the drapes matched the…table runner.

Thinking I had at long last conquered the problem of bad morning hair, I would grab my favorite moth-free sweater and head to the bus stop. Completely oblivious to the strange looks I was getting from my peers, I would take a seat alone at the front of the bus where I would strike up a conversation with the bus driver. Our bus driver was the father of my fourth grade teacher and often had funny stories to tell about when he was a young kid in school.

“Oh, those were the days,” he’d say. “Young Tim was always sneaking out of the house to go down to the dime store. There was a young lady he was sweet on whose father worked there.”

“Those were the days,” I’d nod, flipping my freshly MiniPooed hair back over my shoulder and releasing the sweet scent of an entirely intact sweater.

At school, the kids would give me a wide berth, although I didn’t understand why. It wasn’t until a kid in my homeroom class asked me what my room number at the nursing home was that I began to suspect that my new look wasn’t working for me.

Well, let me tell you, it wasn’t working for me then and it’s not going to work for me now. In a way not entirely unlike Benjamin Button, I’ve already been there, done that. And while I may have been raised under unusual circumstances, I simply refuse to return full circle to that reflection. And while I haven’t yet picked up the bottle of brown elixir and gotten to work freezing my hair in perma-youth, rest assured it is coming. Oh yes, it is coming.

I realize that the years may someday get the best of me. My hair dye may fail or I may get too old to regularly apply. The monobrow will no doubt return and I’ll be sitting in my attic apartment with the trunks filled with old clothes preserved forever with dichlorobenzine and camphor. My family will bring me pureed meals and give me the requested up-to-the-minute reports on the weather. At some point I’ll take permanently to my bed, never again to get up to use the toilet, let alone the shower. In those final moments, I will be transported back to my younger years – back to the fifth grade – and I will know with the wisdom that comes with age: I could lie there and let my hair become a grease pit so that when I die I could donate it to science, or perhaps to the chicken wing place down the street; or, I could MiniPoo, and die…with dignity.


 



The world shall one day wreak vengeance in retaliation for the current capitalistic blitzkrieg, just as Germany once paid dearly when its own blitzkrieg tactics proved that those tactics could conquer but not hold great quantities of territory.

The nature of power is such that, once unleashed, it automatically rushes towards suicide, unable to satisfy its bottomless desires. In just that way, capitalism will slit its wrists as its conquered territories release themselves from control.

The leader of the post-industrial anti-revolution, the United States, shall cast its gaze upon the earth that once belonged to it and wonder how it all fell apart. But “its” world could only fall apart, and it will fall apart. Until then, we must persist, survive and operate as partisan soldiers.

It would seem impossible to argue that capitalism would, as it has indeed done, produce gross inequities, which could easily have been extrapolated from capitalism’s own mechanistic definition. Yet even Wikipedia’s entry for “capitalism” cannot be agreed upon.

Often, the arguments made for capitalism are supplied by the very citizens most abused and exploited by capitalism. Why such citizens support their enemy can only be attributed to the Stockholm Syndrome. Nevertheless, when illusion and self-deception provide the basis for the post-industrial anti-revolution, everything seems disputable.

Dispute this:

That’s courtesy of a study by Dr. Emmanuel Saez. The hand of the market is anything but invisible, Mr. Adam Smith; it’s right there for all to see, a market skewed towards those who, like yourself, begin their journey to prosperity at the crossroads of prosperity and prosperity: “With the life pension he had earned in the service of the duke, Smith retired to his birthplace of Kirkcaldy to write The Wealth of Nations.

I shall not be unfair and delete that which apparently fails to support my argument. The same source just noted further quotes Smith: “How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature which interest him in the fortune of others and render their happiness necessary to him though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.” This is known as condescension and, in a more modern sense, PR and tax deductions. Thus, capitalism, whether or not Smith foresaw the all-too-predictable widget that would roll off the factory line of his theory, capitalizes upon charity itself. Consider the corporations that support the occasional PBS program that indites the very corporation that paid for the program’s production: all PR is good PR, as they say. Perhaps PBS should be re-monikered as PRS.

Of course, wealth inequity was purposefully encouraged, accomplished and secured by President -X and Vice President -X². As Dr. Saez notes, “…while the bottom 99 percent of incomes grew at a solid pace of 2.7 percent per year from 1993-2000, these incomes grew only 1.3 percent per year from 2002-2007. As a result, in the economic expansion of 2002-2007, the top 1 percent captured two thirds of income growth.”

Well, Mr. Smith?

Communism, as understood (or, more accurately, misunderstood)  by those who temporarily had the means to accomplish what Marx intended, failed. The idea that an economic system could operate by some sort of natural law is an absurdity made all the more absurd by the utterly-unnatural industrial revolution. This “orthodox” Marxism was refuted by Marx’s own statements. For instance, consider this from The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (2nd ed., p. 539): “In one letter, he [Marx] specifically warns against regarding his historical account of Western capitalism as a transcendental analysis of the supposedly necessary historical development of any and all societies at a certain time” [my italics].

While Marx’s writings abound with contradictions, it’s clear that the kind of systematic totalitarianism enforced by those who pursued “orthodox” Marxism had little to nothing in common with what Marx proposed. The Soviet Union’s economic system was nothing more than a less-subtle means of exploitation than capitalism would increasingly “accomplish.” In those italicized words, one can finally not glimpse Adam Smith’s “invisible hand of the market,” now at last guiding us by manipulations so subtle that noticing a few deserves a Tothotropolis’ Lifetime Achievement Award.

Fortunately, the entropy of capitalism can be proven an unavoidable consequence of capitalism’s self-definition via  thermodynamic and information theory. In the former, ice melts…entropy as inevitable as death. According to information entropy theory, “Intuitively you can think of entropy being generalization of the number of different possibilities there are for a random variable: if there are two possibilities, there is 1 bit of entropy; if there are four possibilities, there are 2 bits of entropy, etc. Adding one more bit of entropy doubles the number of possibilities.” Thus, the information so necessary to the post-industrial age can only increase the range of possibilities until they reach the point of utter chaos. We have reached that point. We must only await the melting of the ice.

For these reasons, I state without levity that Groucho Marxism*, as defined in the glossary on my blog, Violent Contradiction, provides the basis for the most unorthodox Marxism possible. Reformed communism would, under the guidance of this definition, recognize that any system degenerates into entropy. Trusting in systems is like trusting in one’s immortality: failure is certain and tragedy the natural consequence of hubris.

*Groucho Marxism: To succeed, reinvented communism requires an injection of humor as a preventative measure; dictatorships are humorless.

We’ve all heard the old adage: “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” or the revamped version penned by Joan Rivers:“If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit by me.”I generally keep my negative opinions to myself, but I’ve just about reached my limit.

JE: We love the spirit of independence around here, and it gives us great pleasure to cover indie releases that may not have the benefit of 100k print runs, and deep publicity coffers, books that won’t get waterfront placement in the chains, titles you aren’t likely to read about in People Magazine, but you might, with a little luck, and some word of mouth, see on staff picks and book club walls and blogs across America.

So, I hit up every indie editor I know (every one of whom is way cool), and I asked them each to preview a title or three from their upcoming spring list. This is a really exciting, and startlingly diverse list of titles which totally confirms my conviction that indie publishing is alive and well, and will continue to flourish in 2010. This is also a long list, which is why JC has made it a sidebar, so you folks can conveniently revisit the post if you’re not inclined to take it in all at once. Needless to say, there are plenty of great editors who are not in my network, so apologies to presses not represented herein. Editors, writers, and readers, please illuminate these oversights in the comment section! (glaring absences include Akashic, Melville House and Graywolf, all of whom I’m working on, for a later post).

Here’s hoping every title on this list finds the audience it deserves! And please investigate these fine publishers further! The list is alphabetical by publisher:

Dzanc – from Dan Wicket

Further Adventure in the Restless Universe – Dawn Raffel

short story collection – TPO with french flaps

Dawn’s writing cuts out everything that isn’t necessary to the story. She’s a writer that I think says as much in what she leaves out as most writers do in what they include. Vanity Fair just noted that the stories “are as sharp and bright as stars.”

The Taste of Penny – Jeff Parker

short story collection – TPO with french flaps

Tight, wry, dark and deeply funny, The Taste of Penny agitates the senses in stories modern and mischievous. This collection captures love, relationships, and finding one’s way in the twenty-first century.

Emergency Press – from Bryan Tomasovich

American Junkie – Tom Hansen
March 1, 2010 release from Emergency Press

american-junkie.com
emergencypress.org

American Junkie is the story of Hansen’s life as a musician and heroin dealer in Seattle during the punk and grunge movements. It’s American. It’s human underground.

If you’ve ever stood in front of the mirror and knew you’d be a better rock star than anyone ever dreamed, and later that night made it ever more true by getting drunk and higher than Jesus, then you’ll like this book. If you’ve ever lined up coke or heroin but didn’t have the guts to shoot it straight to your blood, you’ll love this book. If you’ve ever wondered why people do drugs even when it’s killing them and they know it, this book will help you understand. And if you think that all junkies are nothing but degenerates, then this book will change your mind.

In American Junkie, Tom Hansen takes us on a non-stop into a land of desperate addicts, failed punk bands, and brushes with sad fame selling drugs during the Seattle grunge years. It’s a story that takes us from the promise of a young life to the prison of a mattress, from budding musician to broken down junkie, drowning in syringes and cigarette butts, shooting heroin into wounds the size of softballs, and ultimately, a ride to a hospital for a six-month stay and a painful self-discovery that cuts down to the bone. Through it all he never really loses his step, never lets go of his smarts, and always projects quintessential American reason, humor, and hope to make a story not only about drugs, but a compelling study of vulnerability and toughness.

Slut Lullabies – Gina Frangello
June 1, 2010 release from Emergency Press
ginafrangello.com
emergencypress.org

Following her debut novel, My Sister’s Continent, which delved “fearlessly into questions of identity, abuse…trust, trespass, and delusion” (Booklist), Gina Frangello continues her exploration of the power dynamics of gender, class, and sexuality in this collection of diverse, vibrant short fiction. Slut Lullabies is unsettling. Like the experience of reading a private diary, these stories leave one feeling slightly traitorous while also imprinting a deep recognition of truths you did not know you felt.

It is through beauty, horror, humor and chaos that Frangello has managed to pull these ten stories out of her deep understanding of the human experience. A gay Latino man whose pious relatives are boycotting his ‘commitment ceremony’ becomes caught up in hypocrisy and splendor when his lover’s Waspy mother hires a glitzy wedding coordinator; a precocious girl seduces her teacher in order to blackmail him into funding her young stepmother’s escape from their violent home; a wife turns to infidelity and drugs to distract her from chronic pain following an accident; a teenage boy attempts atonement in Amsterdam after having exploited his naive girlfriend at home; and a socialite must confront her dark past as her husband’s deterioration from Huntington’s Disease destroys both her bank account and social standing.

Each insightfully drawn, deeply felt character moves delicately amid the despair and wreckage of ordinary life, but always towards hope. And Frangello’s oddly uplifting voice acts as the unifying thread, drawing out a beauty and dimension which demands both our criticism and our empathy.

Featherproof – from Zach Dodson

The Awful Possibilities – Christian TeBordo

Featherproof Books* April 2010* *$14.95* *Distributed by PGW*

Featherproof is really excited to publish The Awful Possibilities by Christian TeBordo this spring. He’s written three novels, but this book is is first collection of short stories, plucked from ten years of his work. We’ve interspersed these gems with bizarro postcards, dripping with death goo. No joke, there. The stories feature: a girl among kidney thieves who masters the art of forgetting, a motivational speaker who skins his best friend to impress his wife and a teen in Brooklyn, Iowa, dealing with the fallout of his brother’s rise to hip hop fame. In brilliantly strange set pieces that explode the boundaries of short fiction, Christian TeBordo locates the awe in the awful possibilities we could never have imagined.

Other Voices – from Gina Frangello

Currency – Zoe Zolbrod

TPO May 2010

The inaugural title in Other Voices Books’ new Morgan Street International Novel Series, celebrating fiction set across the globe, Currency is set in Thailand. When Piv, a small time Thai hustler, and Robin, an American backpacker, meet they are immediately drawn together by their love of travel and a mutual drive to escape the limits of their pasts. But when they run out of funds in Bangkok, Robin and Piv find themselves sucked in to an international ring of exotic animal trafficking in order to fund their big dreams, increasingly struggling to justify their choices in pursuit of their own desires. Amid cross-cultural misunderstandings and in danger from both the authorities and the criminals who employ them, the couple must negotiate the price of love and beauty in this provocative literary thriller.

Soft Skull – from Denise Oswald and Anne Horowitz

The Colony – Jillian Weise

TPO, March 2010

Jillian Weise’s forthcoming novel, The Colony, is by turns wickedly funny, cranky, vulnerable, and downright beautiful. Anne Hatley, a young English teacher from the South, takes a break from work and a tedious relationship and accepts an invitation to the nation’s largest research colony, where scientists (including DNA pioneer James Watson) want to study a rare gene she possesses, which affects her bone growth (she has one real leg and a prosthesis). Anne thinks she’s okay as is, but she has to fend off pressure from her peers and doctors when it turns out they want to pioneer an experimental procedure to make her the first patient to generate a new leg. Weise’s story is (in the words of novelist Chris Bachelder) “part Wellsian dystopia, part medical mystery, part Hawthornian allegory, and part reality show”—but most of all it’s a searing indictment of the way our culture treats (and has historically treated) those who don’t fit its preconceptions of health, beauty, and vitality. This is a novel that mines some of the most polarizing issues of our time—among them, medical ethics, body image, and genetic engineering.

Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk – Tony Dushane

TPO, February 2010

Tony DuShane has written an endlessly endearing and compassionate but eye-opening novel about what it is like to grow up in the claustrophobic (and, at times, odd) world of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and anyone who picks up Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk will have trouble putting it down until they’ve seen it to the end. In this hilarious coming-of-age story, Gabe is a teenage Jehovah’s Witness convinced God is going to kill him at Armageddon for masturbating. Gabe will certainly be one of the most charming, sweet, and memorable protagonists readers come across this year—but he’s accompanied by a whole cast of unforgettable characters, including his best friend Peter, who writes curse words in the margins of his Watchtower; Jin, their Korean friend, who lives on junk food, and Camille, who follows Gabe around, trying to be his girlfriend. Gabe is mainly preoccupied with girls (primarily Camille’s beautiful sister Jasmine, who barely notices him), and the fear that one of his classmates will be at home when he goes door-to-door preaching on the weekends. But as the dysfunction of the adult world around him becomes increasingly impossible to ignore (his dad is an elder in the congregation who decides the fate of sinners, like the married couple who confess to accidentally having anal sex, while his mother waits for happiness on the other side of Armageddon) Gabe’s values and beliefs are called into question, and he’s forced to grow up fast. Fearing eternal damnation and caught in the only belief system he has ever known, it’s up to him to find a path to romance, love, sanity, and something like happiness. This, as one commentator (Todd Herbert of “Not About Religion”) recently put it, “is a coming of age novel done right.”

Animals – Don LePan

Don LePan’s debut novel, Animals, is a powerful piece of dystopian literature that will make you think twice about the food on your plate. It imagines a world one hundred years in the future where the social issues of today have spun out to their worst possible consequences. It is landscape at once utterly horrifying yet all-too imaginable, where the ills of factory farming and the abuse of antibiotics have led to mass-extinctions in the natural world. With all of the animals humans have relied upon for sustenance having succumbed, mankind must literally look to itself for new options. This book blew my mind when I first read it—in the beauty of its story, in the braveness of its vision, and in the sheer boldness of it politics. It’s the twenty-first century’s answer to the THE JUNGLE, picking up where Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser leave off, bringing home the ills of our food system in the kind of profoundly affecting manner that only fiction can achieve.

Two Dollar Radio – from Eric Obenauf

One of the insanely cool things about publishing a seasoned writer is the excuse to go back and read their previous work. I’ve enjoyed doing that with Scott Bradfield, who critics have compared over the years to the likes of David Lynch, George Orwell, and Raymond Carver, and The People Who Watched Her Pass By should astonish fans of his work and new readers alike. I think Bradfield is a supremely talented wordsmith. I was driving with my wife and business-partner, Eliza, back from spending New Years in Georgia. She was doing a final copyedit of The People Who Watched Her Pass By, when she started reading this section aloud, which considering the state of our ’94 clunker felt both appropriate and serene:

“Being driven in Tim’s car wasn’t like transportation; it felt more like staring out the window at another world going by. Everybody moved faster than you did, and pursued clearer, more meaningful agendas. The entire car trembled – latches, seat frames, undercarriage, and something round, steel-like, and unstable in the gas tank, like a large iron caster in a dented iron bucket. The windshield wipers flapped brokenly against a gray, translucent mist that grew thicker with each beat, and the dashboard fans generated more noise than heat. Out here in the woods, even the high beams lost focus and determination. It was as if you needed to forget where you were going in order to get there.”

Joshua Mohr is a young writer who has been a lot of fun to work with. He’s the first author that we’ve felt compelled to sign to a two-book contract, which for a press our size is a fairly dramatic gesture. His first book, Some Things That Meant the World to Me, defied even our expectations: it was our first best-selling title, and made some stellar year-end lists (including O Magazine and The Nervous Breakdown). But more than that, we consider it to be a great word-of-mouth success; friends sharing with friends, that type of thing. Josh’s second novel, Termite Parade, is a bold follow-up, the story of an implosion after Mired either falls down the stairs, or is dropped by her boyfriend, Derek. Like Rhonda in Some Things, Mired is such a lucid and beautiful character who I love completely. Self-described as the “bastard child of a ménage a trois between Fyodor Dostoevsky, Sylvia Plath, and Eeyore,” Mired catalogs her “museum of emotional failures” in her own acerbic and witty manner. I think Termite Parade is an aggressive look into the true nature of the human animal, and should ultimately further Josh’s reputation as a writer that readers can be afford to be enthusiastic about.

Unbridled Books – from Fred Ramey

The Singer’s Gun – Emily St. John Mandel

In May, we’ll release the second novel by the astounding Emily St. John Mandel-The Singer’s Gun. It’s a wild story about forged passports, corrupt families and international crime, a tale of intrigue in which everybody is willing to use somebody else to escape the past. Like Mandel’s first novel, this one turns on gradual revelations about characters you’d wish better for. And it evolves from a nearly comic, if shadowed, urban story about a young man wanting a more legitimate life into a smartly twisting novel of suspense that reaches across oceans. Mandel is the real thing, and we’re proud to have her in our list; soon every reader will know her name. Watch.


Taroko Gorge – Jacob Ritari

And in July, we have Taroko Gorge, a breathtaking debut by Jacob Ritari. Three Japanese school girls disappear into the dense and imposing Taroko Gorge, Taiwan’s largest national park. A raggedy American reporter and his drunken photojournalist partner are the last to see the schoolgirls and, pretty suspect themselves, they investigate the disappearance along with the girls’ distraught teacher, their bickering classmates, and an old, wary Taiwanese detective. The conflicts between them all-complicated by the outrageousness of the photographer and the raging hormones of the students-raise questions of personal, desire, responsibility and unvarnished self-interest. Virtually everybody at Unbridled read this novel in one sitting, and what astounds me most is that such a page-turner has been written by an author so young. Ritari is 23.

Dear Ed McBain,

I recently re-discovered your 87th Precinct novels. Man. Let me tell you. While you never really scaled the literary heights like, say, Pynchon, Wolfe, or Seuss, that was a solid series you had going on there.

It was a sad day when you succumbed to laryngeal cancer. I didn’t know that until I’d looked you up on Wikipedia. I didn’t know you wrote the screenplay to The Birds, either. How about that!

Apparently you fell out with Hitchcock over a scene in the adaptation of the novel Marnie. Don’t feel too bad. Hitchcock and Chandler fell out too. Chandler is quoted as saying ‘Look at that fat bastard trying to get out of his car!’, so I’m going to assume that the relationship wasn’t a good one.

Now that I think about it, that’s pretty mean. Hitchcock struggled with his weight all his life.

Still, as an impartial observer, and from what I’ve read of your books, you’d appreciate it as a scene, if nothing else.

I like the way that your characters unfold across the books. Poor Bert Kling. He was a nice guy – why’d you go and give him such a hard time? Then again, you were nothing if not a good observer of the unfairness of life. And you seemed to have such sympathy for people. Affection, even.

I don’t think I’d call you a great writer, Ed. A solid writer, for sure. And a great storyteller. That’s a pretty good combination, and I’m glad you were around. I don’t even really read crime fiction as a rule, but then, I guess there’s always an exception. I’m glad you’re mine.

OK

Simon.

One night, Tony went to a bar to have a drink.

That drink lead to another drink. Then to another bar. Then people bought Tony drinks and Tony can never say no to drinks. One bartender refilled his beer without even asking, and Tony, one never a fan of wastefulness, made sure to keep drinking.

Tony decided to go to another bar and another bar, then Tony took a cab home. On the way he realized that he didn’t want to pay more than $5 for a cab ride, so he stopped the driver at $4.40. It happened to be at an intersection of a bar where Tony knew friends and he drank more.

The next thing Tony knew it was noon the next morning and he was in bed, sleeping next to The Herring Fairy. The Herring Fairy surprised Tony with a tale more embarrassing than David Hasselhoff trying to eat a hamburger on the floor.

The Herring Fairy woke up hours earlier at 2:30am to witness a stumbling Tony. She filled in the gaps from his alcohol soaked memories. She saw Tony taking off his rings. He was bent over the table, with his face two inches from his hands as he negotiated the intricacies of removing his four rings. The rings fought with him and dared to stay on until The Herring Fairy lifted Tony’s head to help him. A string of drool finally broke from the table to Tony’s open mouth.

They gave me free drinks, Tony said.

You need to learn how to say no, The Herring Fairy said.

Tony paused and stared at The Herring Fairy and said, I don’t know how.

There was sadness and desperation in Tony’s reply.

I’m hungry, Tony said. I haven’t eaten all day, Tony said. And said. And said. And said.

After The Herring Fairy listed the meager food inventory in the cabinets, Tony chose Herring and crackers.

The Herring Fairy fed Tony a full cracker with herring. Tony was too drunk to chew. The Herring Fairy pushed Tony’s chin up and down to help him eat.

You need to chew, you’re going to choke, The Herring Fairy said.

After repeated use of those pesky, alcohol saturated jaw muscles, the cracker and herring finally went down.

Whatever happened to that writer who died? Tony said.

What writer? The Herring Fairy said.

The one who choked on a cracker, Tony said and laughed as The Herring Fairy decided to bypass the crackers and just get herring into Tony’s stomach.

Down the long hallway Tony walked, gripping onto the walls, like he was Samson between the pillars. Then he did a face plant onto the bed, giving The Herring Fairy enough space to work at taking off Tony’s shoes and pants.

She finally rolled him over and he fell asleep.

At 5am, The Herring Fairy heard a huge thump. Tony sat on the floor next to the bed.

Did you fall? The Herring Fairy asked.

I have to go to the bathroom, Tony replied.

Hoping Tony meant to use the actual facilities and not go on the floor, The Herring Fairy was relieved to see Tony hold onto the walls and chairs as he stumbled to the bathroom.

Tony learned a valuable lesson that night. A lesson that may help others if they chose to accept help. A lesson that he’ll forever be thankful for.

Tony learned that everyone should have a Herring Fairy.

The End.


Starring

Lia Garcia as The Herring Fairy
Tony DuShane as himself

I’ve decided to post this list after having kept it scrawled in notebooks over the years. The inspiration for it comes from one of my favorite people on this planet, Tom Rhodes. He has a list of over 1000 things he simply calls “Happiness”. I started keeping my own list a few years ago – which has been edited and updated and deleted from sporadically over time – but still serves as my own reminder that there are far more good things than bad on these little paths we all stumble down.

When I was about eleven, I was a good but not great baseball player. I was an exceptional fielder – graceful, even – but only passable at the plate. In hindsight, I imagine much of my problem with hitting was not technique or skill, but confidence. At eleven, I did not believe in most any ability I had in life, hitting emphatically included. I think the only strengths I would have been willing to admit then were scooping up grounders and turning double plays.

All of this said, I was probably about a .280 hitter, which isn’t terrible, especially for an eleven-year-old in a Brooklyn league where foreign-born, over-aged ringers pretty much had the lock on pitching (we had one on our team – a Dominican kid named Pedro who didn’t speak a lick of English and threw so hard that nobody wanted to catch him). But I always felt nervous at the plate, uncertain. I liked running the bases but dreaded actually swinging the bat, and became pretty good at working out walks. That would have been a more important skill if I were fast, but I was not fast. A good, prudent baserunner, but not fast.

I remember a game in May, reaching the final inning around twilight, in which I was 0 for 2, having struck out and grounded out in my first at-bats. I came up with one out and a man on second, and we were down by a few runs. The light was not good for hitting, with shadows sprawling haphazardly across the field, and I took the first pitch on principle. I was hoping for a walk as always, but it was a letters-high strike that seemed to shimmer through the gathering darkness, not just unhittable, but practically unseeable. The next pitch was in the dirt and easy to take – I could see from when it left the kid’s hand it would be low, so I cocked my whole body like I was ready to pounce on it, then made a show of letting it go with disgust, leaning on my front foot and flexing my forearms. After that I fouled one off without thinking – I probably should have let it go, but I didn’t want to look like I was afraid to swing.

All the while, the catcher had maintained that classic patter that catchers do – half intelligible, repeated, meaningless mantras to soothe the pitcher: “Lay it in there lay it there, there ya go, nice and smooth, here we go, here we go,” gentle and regular like the way you rub a crying child’s back to calm him down. I didn’t pay it any mind, not because I was so cool at the plate, but because I was too wound up even to notice. But once they had two strikes on me, the kid started saying, “Easy out, easy out, you got this guy, easy out,” and I knew that he knew that I had made out my first two times to the plate. We were baseball kids and we cared about that stuff and kept track, and tried to remember players not just from inning to inning but from game to game – or that’s what I thought, anyway; I thought the kid had made me for a light-hitting shortstop who was not a threat, and for some reason, in that instant it drove me absolutely crazy. I was not one to look for fights, but I wanted to turn around, drop my bat, and belt the kid.

But just then the pitcher came over his shoulder with the pitch, and right when it was at the top of its arc, still in his fingers and being forced downward and to my right, the last ray of the sun picked out that grass-stained thing like a spotlight in a darkened theater and after that I never lost it. I watched it go from there, hovering in front of left center field, down and across my left shoulder, heading toward the outside part of the plate with a haphazard sort of spin and just glowing. And suddenly, everything was firing on all cylinders: my chest and my shoulders and my legs all got together and brought the bat around like a perfect reflection of the ball, like two dancers running toward each other at breakneck speed from either end of the stage, but you know you’re watching something choreographed, so they’re not going to crash into each other like two dumb kids on a playground, they’re going to spring perfectly into some kind of embrace or harmony. And I met that pitch perfectly, knee-high and an inch in front of the plate, and sent it right back where it came from, up over the pitcher’s right shoulder and four feet above the shortstop, strong and beautiful and unmistakably destined for the gap in left center field, the platonic ideal of a double.

The ball bounced confidently and fast the first time, then lower, and had slowed enough by the time the center fielder reached it that he picked it up barehanded and walked it halfway to second base. A faster runner might have stretched it into a triple, but it didn’t really matter – the run scored, the next batter walked, and then someone grounded into a double play to end the inning and the game. But when that ball jumped off my bat into the darkness, like a scripted answer to what the catcher had said, better than a punch or a sneer or a spitwad or a “fuck you,” I was in baseball heaven.