I. Alive in Naked Earth

Holding shovel is a boy—not boy so much as a body growing.
How his skin—patch of ground—is like a bed. What can’t be
sown in youth? Clean well mouth—spring of throat. New. My

skin’s a stained sheet tied to a dry-line. I’ve asked him, to fold &
bury me? He’ll do as instructed. Spade corner to garden corner.
Hands of earth against my mouth—there was a time I believed

in the all consuming. I want to believe again. Holding a shovel,
is a boy. Buried alive, I reclaim something:
                                            remember when love smelled like rain?

One can’t predict what happens next, yet even
chaos breeds patterns of a sort: sly singles

at the bar, nocturnal creatures stalking shadows,
cars cruising for motion’s sake. I’m speaking out

of turn again. We all are sensitive
to first impressions, but initial conditions

shift swiftly and with little impetus.
I found him digging ditches in summer heat,

and soon we’d made declarations, smiled broadly
for photographs. It wasn’t meant to be

JT_Pic_EditThe back cover describes Academy Gothic as “hardboiled mystery meets academic satire.” How did you come to blend these two seemingly disparate genres?

The year I started Academy Gothic I was living on a steady diet of novels by Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald. Those writers are remembered in part for their world-weary tone, and to a slightly lesser extent for their plots, but I’m not sure they get as much credit as they deserve for their sense of humor. This was around the time my teaching colleagues and I endured a never-ending procession of what might charitably be called indignities. Our offices, for example, were relocated to a former swimming pool in the school’s abandoned gymnasium. That our move paralleled the fate of the title characters from Revenge of the Nerds did not go unnoticed. A few of us, recognizing the futility of anger, appreciated the Kafkaesque qualities of our plight and persevered accordingly.

51T6EkMTIlL._SX333_BO1,204,203,200_The people on the hill liked to say that God’s smile was the sun shining down on them. In the late afternoon, before scarlet ibis bloodied the sunset, light flooded the stained glass windows of Bird Hill Church of God in Christ, illuminating the renderings of black saints from Jesus to Absalom Jones. When there wasn’t prayer meeting, choir rehearsal, Bible study, or Girl Guides, the church was empty except for its caretaker, Mr. Jeremiah. It was his job to chase the children away from the cemetery that sloped down behind the church, his responsibility to shoo them from their perches on graves that dotted the backside of the hill the area was named for. Despite his best intentions, Mr. Jeremiah’s noontime and midnight devotionals at the rum shop brought on long slumbers when children found freedom to do as they liked among the dead.

Gas

By Seth Sawyers

Memoir

Sure, I tutored other kids during the free period after lunch. I took maybe not the hardest classes but the second-hardest classes. I started on English papers at midnight, nailed the SAT, was a Chemathon alternate. All of that came easy. That was school. But then there was not-school.

Not-school was my buddy Jesse and me sitting on his back porch one afternoon, staring at the netless basketball hoop that stood crooked at the head of the driveway. A cheap rubber Spalding rested in a patch of ivy, the top of the ball sun-bleached pale orange. I rocked in my chair, thinking of ways we could get a ride to the Constitution Park pool where there would be long, tanned girls in bikinis, girls who you could tell didn’t like getting their hair wet. But no one was around. We had no car and were too old for bikes. So we sat on the back porch, waiting. I was always waiting. It was just that Jesse made the waiting easier, or better. He made the waiting hum, like a power line.

Gautier_front (1)Aguanile

The phone calls from my grandfather began after Charlie Palmieri died. Grief-stricken, my grandfather called each time one of his favorite musicians passed away. Delicately, he announced the passing as if it were that of a family member or someone we had actually known. The calls had little to do with any ability on my part to appreciate the musicians he revered. He turned to me by default; none of his children shared his interest in the music. My mother and uncles eschewed all things Puerto Rican, and his second set of children shunned his tastes, preferring hip-hop and Top 40 tunes. Though not the aficionado he was, I had spent my summer vacation humoring him, and now he treated me like a fellow enthusiast, viewing me as a sympathetic comrade, a person who shared his first family’s blood but not its resentment.

Role/Model

By Gayle Brandeis

Essay

young compositeMichael and I had lunch at The Castle today, a new Middle Eastern restaurant in Riverside. The lentil soup was fantastic, spiked with lemon. The Lebanese salad was tart and fresh, a dice of cucumber and tomato and mint. The place is new, but not really. I can’t remember if you and I ever went there together back when it was still Pitruzello’s, back when you were still alive–I don’t think so, even though I can picture you in one of the booths, your pale skin glowing against the black vinyl; I can picture you there the way you looked before I was born, when people mistook you for Audrey Hepburn, your hair in a short beehive, a cigarette between your fingers. I can’t remember if I ever told you I answered the restaurant’s call for lunchtime tearoom models in 1987, when I was nineteen. Probably not. As much as you wanted your girls to be open with you, more often than not, your measuring gaze made us pause .

Even now, at 46, I’m not sure what compelled me to respond to the ad they placed in the San Bernardino Sun. I hated modeling as a kid–I was too shy, too self-conscious in front of the camera. I cried at almost every audition, every photo shoot. At nineteen, I didn’t see myself as the modeling type, either. I was a hippie chick with hairy armpits and legs, a sophomore at the University of Redlands. I had gained the freshman fifteen and then some eating three cafeteria meals a day, the only vegetarian options being cheesy, starchy casseroles like lasagna and enchiladas. My belly stuck out nearly as far as my small breasts; my face was almost as round as it had been when I was on long term steroids a few years before. When I looked in the mirror, all I saw was awkwardness. Flaws.

deskjob TNBI chugged hard on the last of my beer and wiggled the empty can in the air for Mustachio behind the bar to see. Another cold sweaty can arrived with its short shot buddy. Then another. And another. A parade of cans and shots across the bar and the place filled up with people.

A woman I recognized came through the door and pushed her way into the crowd. She walked down the bar and sat next to me on the only empty stool.

SpitPassion

From Chapter Four: Am I Paranoid Or Am I Just Bi?

Young, awkward and queer, Cristy C. Road takes her readers back to the moment when listening to her favorite band made her feel OK with the world. (Click the title above to see optimal images from her stunning graphic memoir.)

 

trailer 2

My father’s farm in Virginia is called Oak Hill. When he bought it, not long after he divorced my mother, there was in fact a cluster of enormous oak trees that shaded a white clapboard, nineteenth-century house that stood on the hill in the center of the farm, but the house burned down before my father could move into it. Some of the oaks survived the fire, which occurred on a Halloween night, but despite whispers that the previous owner had torched the house, no charges were ever filed. I remember surveying the charred remains and spotting, not charred even slightly, an old board game called Why, the Alfred Hitchock Mystery Game, which, according to the blurb on the box, involved “real thinking, planning, and memory.” I took the game home with me—I lived a twenty-minute drive from the farm with my mother, brother, and sister—but I never played it, and don’t know what became of it. Maybe my memory wouldn’t be so faulty if I had better developed it by playing Why.

Why did you get married at fourteen?

Because no one proposed when I was twelve or thirteen. Seriously, my mother was emotionally abusive. She’d also been physically abusive until I was ten, and I wanted to get away from her. She was not a bad person or a crazy person, and I don’t believe she was fully aware either of what she was doing or of how it was affecting me, but by the time I reached adolescence, I found it unacceptable to continue living with her, and I thought I could get away from her and make my life right by falling in love and getting married. Of course, I ended up in another troubled, problematic situation from which I also had to escape.

TNB TV
Please enjoy the trailer for Flatscreen, the debut novel by Adam Wilson, available from Harper Perennial. Sam Lipsyte calls it “one of the most hilarious and commanding debuts I’ve read in a long time.” The trailer stars Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood), Stoya, Sara Cicilian, Paul Rome, editor Michael Signorelli, and the author himself! Directed by Gabriel Wilson. As of Sunday, February 19th, you can hear Adam in conversation with TNB founding editor Brad Listi on his twice-weekly author interview podcast, Other People with Brad Listi.

TNB TV
Please enjoy the trailer for The Rules of Inheritance, the new memoir by Claire Bidwell Smith, now available from Hudson Street Press, an imprint of Penguin USA. Darin Strauss, author of Half a Life, calls it “a perfectly crafted story — not about grief, but how to walk out of grief with your soul intact; it’s not a lamentation, but a lesson. The Rules of Inheritance should be required reading for anybody who’s trying to get their arms around a big sadness.” You can now hear Claire in conversation with TNB founding editor Brad Listi on his twice-weekly author interview podcast, Other People with Brad Listi.