Megan-Milks-Kill-Marguerite-author-pic-web“Milks.” That’s a funny name. Are you a funny person?

Nope. Not even going to deliver an anti-joke here. But I’m interested in comedy, for sure, especially the comedic grotesque and “stupid” writing. My fiction definitely has a sly side. Lots of deadpan humor, the occasional very bad pun. Plus talking insects, acts of gods, and winkingly insincere morals.

hansenspplash

Tom Hansen is the guest. He is the author of the memoir American Junkie and a new novel called This is What We Do. Both are available from Emergency Press.

 

Get the free official app. Subscribe for free at iTunes.

978-0-9836932-6-0-Stupid-Children-cover-low-Emergency-Press-214x300The first thing I did after finishing Lenore Zion’s Stupid Children was get in the shower, and the second thing I did was cry.  Like Zion’s first book, the collection My Dead Pets Are Interesting (published by TNB Books), Stupid Children is atypical in nearly every sense, but these eccentricities work in its favor, and work only because Zion is such a capable writer, rendering Stupid Children with a refreshing brutality, in both subject matter and also in her merciless scrutiny of the novel’s diverse cast of characters. Though brief, the book demands time and attention, triggering far more thought than its 150-page count will lead any reader to expect. I laughed to the point of pain on multiple occasions, and to get the tears out, which before Stupid Children, and Lenore Zion, I hadn’t thought possible.

The Nervous Breakdown and Emergency Press host TNBLE New York on May 28th at Public Assembly, in Williamsburg.  
 

For TNB NYC on May 28th, we will open up Public Assembly for 4 performers and writers – Edgar Oliver and Elna Baker from New York, and TNB authors Chad Faries and Lenore Zion. The event will be hosted by TNB contributor Tove K. Danovich. 
 

Oliver and Baker are featured performers at The Moth, the national storytelling organization. Faries and Zion are both Emergency Press authors. Zion, out of Los Angeles, is one of the original writers at TNB, and author of the novel Stupid Children, due out in early 2013. Faries will tell stories at the center of his new memoir, Drive Me Out of My Mind
 

Public Assembly is located at 70 North 6th St. (Wythe) in Williamsburg. Event runs from 7:00 – 10:00, and admission is $5 at the door. Full, satisfying bar. 
 

Chad Faries is the author of Drive Me Out of My Mind, a memoir published by Emergency Press. His two books of poems are The Border Will Be Soon and The Book of Knowledge. A recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, he lived and taught in Central Europe for many years. Currently he teaches at Savannah State University, where he also hosts a radio program on WHCJ 90.3. 
 

Lenore Zion is the author of My Dead Pets are Interesting, published last year by TNB Books. An original writer for The Nervous Breakdown (TNB), her first novel, Stupid Children, will be released by Emergency Press in early 2013. 
 

Edgar Oliver started performing in New York at the Pyramid in the mid-1980′s. As a playwright, many of Oliver’s plays have been staged at La MaMa and other downtown NYC theatres, including The Seven Year Vacation, The Poetry Killer, Hands in Wartime, Motel Blue 19 and Mosquito Succulence. As a stage actor, he has performed in countless plays including Edward II with Cliplight Theater, Marc Palmieri’s Carl the Second, and Lipsynka’s Dial M for Model. He is also one of the most beloved storytellers at The Moth. His film roles include That’s Beautiful Frank, Henry May Long, and Gentlemen Broncos. He is also the author of A Portrait of New York by a Wanderer There and Summer and The Man Who Loved Plants. 
 

Elna Baker is a writer, comedian, and storyteller who has performed with The Moth, on This American Life, Studio 360, Radiolab, BBC Radio 4, the Upright Citizens Brigade, and at many comedy clubs throughout New York. Her work includes the show, If You See Something, Say Something, and the book, The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance, published by Penguin in 2009. 
 

Tove K. Danovich is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn. She is a contributor to TNB and an associate editor at Anderbo literary magazine. Her work has most recently been published in The Brooklyn Rail and Slushpile. She is also the author of the food blog Eighty-Sixed.

In Kate Zambreno’s hallucinatory and disjointed Green Girl (Emergency Press), we are lured into the world of Ruth, a young American girl lost and damaged in London. Following this ingénue into her dark musings, the echoes of voices fill the page—Ruth, HIM, her mother, the author, and the silver screen flickering in the distance. It is a hypnotic read—the duality of Ruth—her good side and her darkness, the need to behave and the need to be punished.

Late Summer 1976

Behind City Market.
Iron River, Michigan

 

Has he lost his mind?
Can he see or is he blind?
Can he walk at all,
or if he moves will he fall?
Is he alive or dead?
Has he thoughts within his head?
We’ll just pass him there
why should we even care?

from “Iron Man

– Black Sabbath

 

At five years old it was hard to get me off the top of Barbie. When you’re the first boy born to a family of three aunts, a single mother, and a middle-aged grandmother on husband number four, you don’t have much say about what gets handed down, but you do have a say about use. Every afternoon I would take Barbie to my bedroom for her nap. I would undress her and place her plastic body softly on a pillow, take off my second-hand mismatched Garanimals, and mount her. Since my body hid her face from me, I stared at the poster of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders over my bed and picked a different girl each session to focus on. My favorite was Suzie Holub from the 1976 roster. Her hair was dark, and her smile even darker. In her brown eyes was a distance I wanted to travel, a distance that would fly me east over an ocean to a larger city on a larger river where Suzie would be at the bank, parting my hair and speaking the language of aliens. It was natural that her breasts were adorned with stars because she was of another universe. This supernova love was painful. My pee-pee was half the size of Barbie’s body so I just rested it there like a rocket on a launch pad until the boosters kicked in. And then I launched a thousand expeditions in minutes, and my rocket often got damaged in the atmosphere, but I figured if I did it long enough I would reach love.

It wasn’t supposed to be right for a little boy to play with Barbies, but it felt so . . . heavenly, in a Carl Sagan sort of way. I wasn’t playing with Barbie; I was nurturing her. I stole Grampa Duke’s moustache comb and ran it through Barbie’s hair. I washed down her body with my tongue, a damp sock, and undiluted Mr. Clean. With baby oil libations, I squeezed her through the love-tunnel of my grasped hand. I carried her in my back pocket and untucked my shirt to hide her.

I treated her well, and everyone knew it and was getting a little worried.

Aunt Molly was the first one to walk in on us in my new bedroom in the alley house behind City Market. My Spider-Man underwear were at my knees, and my ass travelled to and fro in the dank air of dirty socks, broken Crayons, and asbestos. She was 15 then, seven years younger than Mother and ten years older than me: silk-black hair, gap-toothed, busty, tushy, and already letting boys mount her like I did Barbie. She never made eye contact and “really liked praying” is what Gramma would say sarcastically. Maybe she was always just looking for the Lord, and I didn’t know much about that either so to me, he was just something like a superhero—Spider-Man, the Green Lantern, or even Ragsy, the mutt across the street.

“Jesus Christ! What the hell are you doing?” she screamed after she entered my room without observing the “Chad’s Domain” sign. “Oh my fucking God!” she said drawing out the vowel in “God” in a sharp ascending pitch. I was bummed because I had to look away from Suzie and my rubbing rhythm was all off now. Molly started running in place as if she were trying to escape something she clearly could not. All I saw were her breasts shaking freely under her Warhol Rolling Stones tongue shirt. In a half laugh/half scream she called for Aunt Ally to come and look. Molly and Ally were always visiting Mother in her new house because they were free to smoke cigarettes and meet boys there. I really dug them most of the time because when they babysat me we’d go to Ben Franklin’s dime store and steal art supplies for them and action figures for me so I could have some toys for boys. But nothing beat a naked Barbie and her breasts cutting the waves of excited adolescent shrieks, and a poster full of flat bellies and blue stars.

I made eye contact with Suzie again and got my rhythm back.

“Chad’s fucking a Barbie, for Christ’s sake!” It sounded so crude and base. I was trying to fill her with love, albeit unsuccessfully. It was the process of removing her clothes, combing her hair, licking her clean, and rubbing her down that really counted.

I tore my eyes again from Suzie and looked back over my shoulder at Molly there with her hands on the doorway jambs. I didn’t know what to do, so I didn’t stop. I just kept pumping her and pumping her while Molly laughed and ran and ran without going anywhere, still yelling for Ally to come, “Oh Lord, Holy fuck! You gotta see this Al!” I looked Molly right in the eye and kept giving it to Barbie because I remembered that is what I saw Ragsy—my buddy LittleMan’s mutt—do when he was giving it to Gramma’s Fox Terrier, Lady. I had walked into the backyard on Roosevelt because Lady was whining. I let out a scream when I saw Ragsy mounted on her rear-end. He just glanced over his shoulder at me with a really dumb look. I guess he was confused that I was disturbing him and not leaving. And that is exactly what I felt; why would Molly stay, all exposed in the doorway like that? Maybe she could have hid in a closet and observed in order to learn something, but to just gawk on like that was really strange.

Then Ally finally responded, the only one in seven generations of family to be a member of what Gramma would call the Itty Bitty Titty Committee. At twelve, her body was nearly fully matured just like the other women in the family had been. Her bitty-titties had no hope of growth. Her hair was as long as Molly’s with no bangs, but lighter, reds and blondes like the color of a sunrise, which fit her well because most of the time her thoughts were in the sky. “Spacey” is what Mother said, and I thought that’s what I wanted to be; to me, “spacey” and “heavenly” were the same. She was the most petite in character and stature, but when she had her mind made up about something, she painted it with loud, dark language and a glare from her icy eyes.

“What? I’m painting clouds,” she said in her spacey-tone from somewhere in the distance. She was really eating her stash of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes with Tang.

“Get your little tits in here and check this out!”

And so the loud painting came, “I said I am fucking painting clouds, slut-face! I’m coming now. Happy?” she said in a way that boomed from some deep, animal place. Seconds later the busty and the bitty were both there staring at me and laughing, like I was a scene in a cartoon that they had always wanted to see. “Wow,” is all Aunt Ally could say with her orange lips, and that could have meant she was really proud of me, or that I had disgusted her beyond words. It was always like that with her. So I just thought of Ragsy and kept going until I was so excited that I peed all over Barbie. That yellow was always my weakness, and I would manage to piss in every place I lay my head for ten years. A puddle formed on the pillow and overflowed to the linoleum floor and streamed toward Molly and Ally’s bare feet. They didn’t notice until the liquid heat touched their toes. They looked down, then at each other briefly, screeched “gross!” drawing out the vowel in “gross”—this time in a sharp descending pitch, spun around in opposite directions, accidentally knocked their foreheads together—and left me alone.

I had never given it to Barbie like that before and I’m not sure if she liked it. The only thing I got was a heart beating really fast and the shakes. If anything, I lost something, and that would have been my breath, I guess.

Nevertheless, there were benefits to Barbie fucking. Somehow people knew I wasn’t naïve about humping and petting. I got a little more respect and people laughed and joked about me admiringly. I sat up late at night thinking about what they would say:

“Dat Chad really knows how da give ‘er tarpaper,” Toivo Takala would say shaking his head, smiling, and staring at the ground with a beer in his hand, trying to picture it all and reframe his own childhood. It made people feel good about themselves and their youth to know I was screwing Barbie.

“Holy wah!” Vain might say, “What a character. Dat Chad is all right.” He was saying this from the arms of my Aunt Molly who he practiced with in the backseat of his car parked out at Cannon mine.

Barbie was my tool for practicing. I was just trying to figure things out, how a prairie dog knows his hole from all the others, what is flotsam and what is jetsam, am I a grown-up acting like a child, or a child playing “big.” People never stop trying to figure these things out. Mother was still working on figuring things out, and that’s why we had moved again.

 

* * *

 

Depending on the slant of the Earth’s axis and Mother’s inclination, we would roll up or down the hill that separated Iron River from Stambaugh in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula—U.P. for short. Had it been 60 years earlier we would have been able to take a trolley with an interior decked out in Mahogany. And we would have seen miners, red with ore dust coming up right out of the Riverton, Beta, Caspian, Buck, Fogarty, Berkshire, Seldon, Paint River, Mastadon, Nanaimo, Isabella, Baltic, Homer, Crystal Falls, or Hemlock mines. There was just one mine of over a hundred still operating, but the open pits right in the center of every community were a constant reminder of a better time, even though the whole county was now a toxic waste site.

So, the emotional tilt of the axis rolled us down the hill again and we came to a halt behind City Market. City Market was still pure Main Street U.P. and had the soul of that better time. It was no bigger than a living room and had one of everything you ever needed stacked in a metrical pattern that composed a song of processed food, saggy asses, and large guts. There was a butcher too. His name was Butch, and like any good butcher had a white fresh bloodstained apron with tiny animal hairs crusted into the fabric like shaggy scabs. He smiled a lot and was considered quite handsome by the over-40 conservative helmet-hair housewives who had voted for Nixon. They wore polyester pastel colors and white pumps—smoked cigarettes with fake ivory holders. My Gramma kind of looked like this, but didn’t care much for politics—liberal by nature, not by choice—and had an authentic ivory holder. Her preferred drink was a Bloody Mary and for a long time I believed that blood was the ingredient and never thought much of it. It matched her character, and anyway, all the women in my family were constantly bleeding and complaining about being “on the rag.” At five, you know that blood comes from somewhere, so you figure things out on your own—the women in my family drank too many Bloody Marys.

None of Butch the Butcher’s admirers worked, just shopped and flirted with him. They kept houses in order and food on the table. The prescription seemed to work well since there was nothing else to do other than Friday Fish Fry and Polka. But Mother and my aunts never read the instructions, and Gramma wasn’t a very good teacher, so they made up the expectations of women. Even after Eddy—Mother’s experimental half-a-year husband that divorced her and the entire U.P. for a life below the bridge back in Battle Creek—she wanted someone to expect something from her, still. All the women did for that matter, but you’d never know it if you heard one of their conversations:

“I said fuck that, I’m not putting up with his shit about wanting a good woman at his side when he rolls over in the morning with nothing more than a spent roach and a pocket full of blank applications. Get a real job and buy a proper bed that’s not stuffed with hay and maybe a good woman will appear. Wash your prick twice a day with laundry detergent too; it stinks from being stuck under your ass.”

If you wanted a man for more than a couple of days, this talk didn’t work. Nevertheless, it was fun to learn new vocabulary and I started to respect the boldness of speech, even though I would never want Barbie to treat me like that.

 

 

What motivated you to write this book?

Same thing that motivated me to learn karate—having the last name “Faries,” and I can show you how good I am, just like I showed Donnie Manfredi in 1981 when I did a round-house kick over a five-foot fence and knocked Donnie into the dirt. He didn’t take the bus for two weeks after that.

 

Tell me about music and its place in the book.

The book is music. If you put it to your ear I am sure you can hear a guitar solo. I’m just not sure if it is acoustic or electric. When the first box of review copies arrived in Thunderbolt, GA, the UPS driver strutted to my door snapping his fingers and swaggering through the humidity. He put the box on the porch, did an about-face, and abruptly dropped his head and shuffled back to the truck.

Each chapter is framed in a particular song that helps contextualize the emotion of place. In the 70s, rock and roll was still defining itself and it seemed to change monthly. It was moving, just like Mother and me. In trying to find itself, it was screaming, “Hey, where am I? What am I supposed to be doing? This feels good! How about this? Oh, you don’t like that sound? Well fuck you…. How about this? Can you feel that grinding? Can you feel my chest expanding and my britches getting bigger?” I am chopping down mountains with the edge of my hand. I am chopping down palm trees and they are landing on your back.

 

When writing a memoir, is there such a thing as objectivity?

No. Objectivity in writing is a myth because the very act of selecting content is by nature subjective. Now, in my book I was incredibly objective. For example, when Mother was making love to John P. on the mattress above the Jack-o-Lantern Bar I objectively described the situation: I was happily bouncing up and down because there was only one mattress. It was as if we were all playing together. There were strippers from out of town blowing men in the parking lot while we hid from Mother’s boyfriend , Junior, in this wonderful little upstairs apartment. That scene was just described objectively (sic).

 

Tell us a little about your concept of truth in memoir, or at least truth in this memoir.

Well, my narrator will likely be accused of making certain things up. But if you ask a first grader—raised by parents who were always tripping on psychedelics—why the family had 18 dogs, he would likely recount this mystical experience where he saw them all emerge from a vaginal opening in a barn door. And that is exactly what happened. If you are going to be a little magical, just remind your reader that you are a magician and not the messiah. They will watch your magic show and even accept some of your failures, like when you pull a monkey out of a hat when everyone was expecting the same old rabbit.

 

What’s the story behind your trailer?

The story is that two wonderfully fascinating mothers trusted me with their boys for a day. I transformed them both into Chadillacs (that’s been my nickname since birth) with Big Wheels, Barbies, classic cars, motorcycles, and music. It was the closest I ever came to being a parent. And Ashley Newsome, who plays my mother in the trailer, I spotted her at a coffeehouse where we were both watching the band Shovels and Rope perform, the song “Boxcar.” It had the same emotion as the book, and I looked over and saw Ashley in bell-bottom corduroys with a beer in her hand and knew she had to play my mother. We shot various scenes from the book. took a bunch of stills, and recreated the 70s. The most disturbing element was playing Mother’s boyfriend.

 

After what is now over 40 houses in 40 years, have you managed to stay put, or are you still rambling?

I’ve got rambling on my mind. I say I’ve got rambling, rambling on my mind. But I’ve now lived in the same house for four years. That is the longest I have ever lived in a single space, though I transform that space constantly. I am a carpenter, and I have created fantastic nooks and tree houses on my property so I can ramble from space to space. But I am not very successful at that either. I run away to ape sanctuaries and mountains on my motorcycle at least once a month. Rambling does have some costs I suppose. I really only have two childhood friends. And my friends from high school always treated me as a second-class citizen. Yeah, you know who you are and you are going to be in trouble. I know karate.

 

You are at your grandmother’s deathbed right now, on the release date of your memoir. I know it might be difficult, but can you contextualize the scene for us?

I am in Iron River, Michigan in the Northstar Hospital on the shore of Ice Lake. There is a window and I can see the water. I pissed in that water, cut my foot open in that water, had sex in that water. And I think Gramma did all of those things in that same water. And aunt Molly too. She is on the other side of the bed. Grandma calls us “the smart ones” sarcastically. That is one of the last full sentences she got out. The sun hasn’t shone in three days. Gramma has that death rattle people describe. It sounds like a car crash played in slow motion., complete with people screaming. But occasionally she will cough out a feverish laugh. Sometimes she sighs and lifts her eyebrows. When I touch her hand she breaths heavily and squeezes. “Grandma, I made the cover of the paper today” I tell her. I play the music from my trailer for her, “Boxcar.” Ain’t it just like you and me to go down like that? The dust jacket on the hardcover has an excerpt that reads “We talked fast because we thought we had a lot to live. And we did. Still do. We are all still alive, even with the years of damaging relationships and drug treatment behind us—years of cheap Wonder bread full of mold, and sour milk. No one has died, at least none of the women. They have centuries left I am sure.” Well, surely not. I am a damn stinking liar. I am telling you this now so you know there are no surprises.

 

Is there something you want to say to your grandmother?

There is a difference between scratching your ass and tearing a hole in it. Step up to the magic and disappear.

Dear Herman Miller:

I am writing to ask if you would please send me one of your Embody chairs. For free.

Before I proceed, I want to assure you that I realize that the Embody chair is a work of high art and should not be granted to just anybody. With a price tag of $1100-$1600 there can be no question in anyone’s mind that Bill Stumpf’s last design was created for a distinct class of the seated elite. That Backfit frame that adjusts so perfectly to the Pixel-Matrix Support pads could only have been hatched by an ergonomic genius. And with seven different possible adjustments, every conceivable curve and contour of the back is cradled by attentive efficiency, leaving only the soul jonesing for more and left to cry out for the fulfillment of productivity. Well worth the money…I don’t have.

With the success of the uber-popular Aeron chair hatched in the 90s, you have by now no doubt had hundreds of thousands of clients at Herman Miller. I read recently that the Aeron chair itself boasts over 50,000 clients. The fact alone that you can refer to one who sits in a Herman Miller chair as a “client” speaks volumes – as if the person is being served by an accountant or possibly a psychologist. I imagine that a client of the Embody chair doesn’t even need a psychologist, as the chair itself is a psychologist. Have studies been done on this? Do clients of the Embody chair need less psychological help? Does the Embody chair pay for itself in a matter of only a few spared sessions of therapy?

I realize that I am asking for a lot. I am not a particularly lucky person or habitual prizewinner, nor am I accustomed to receiving free things, unless you count coffee or socks. Perhaps you do not care to know about such things, but I do feel it is important to be honest with you if we are going to start off on the right foot. The socks were from an over-zealous store clerk who then wanted, in exchange, my phone number. He was clearly a college boy who did not realize that I was at least 10 years his senior and, by the way, married. His mistake was giving me the socks first and then asking for my number. By the time I set him right it was too late to ask for the socks back. He was brave through his inflamed acne-scarred cheeks and even stammered that, if I wanted, we could still go get coffee (his treat) after he got off work “as friends”. The socks were of the water-wicking wool variety. And comfortable.

At any rate, I do not frequently come across free things nor am I a woman of means. I am a writer, as well as a struggling entrepreneur. When I’m not blogging about what it was like to grow up so religious that I wasn’t even allowed to use a Speak N’ Spell because it contained the word “spell” and talked like the devil, I help run a rural ISP in the mountains west of Boulder from a bulky mess of a chair I purchased over 12 years ago from Office Max. Even as I sit here now, the chair wheezes and swivels habitually to the left toward my bookcase whereupon I am subject repeatedly to the temptation of literary escapism. That I can finish this letter at all in the face of such partisanship is a small miracle.

Even so, in 2008 – in the face of distraction from my left leaning chair – I co-founded a web-based social lending company, which ended up being named as one of Colorado’s most innovative companies in the same year. This was fantastic and would have been upgraded to positively thrilling had we actually been funded as a result of the honor. Unfortunately, I and my co-founders needed to eat so the company is currently treading water. I am not saying that possession of a Herman Miller Embody Chair, or possibly an extra in carbon balance fabric with an aluminum base on a graphite frame for one of my co-founders, would help the company get back in the race, but I am not saying the opposite would be true, either.

Of course, I would never ask for something for nothing, Herman Miller, and I realize that with a free Embody chair would come grave responsibility. I assure you, I am an avid user of several social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and would vow to regularly broadcast praises about the Embody chair while simultaneously typing from the comfort of one. Also, I would commit to end every blog post on TheNervousBreakdown.com and elsewhere with the tag, “This post was written from the blissful comfort of a Herman Miller Embody Chair and is certifiably 100% ergonomically correct.” In addition, my memoir about growing up Evangelical is due out from Emergency Press within the next 12 months, in which I will also happily make an endorsement of comfort.

Herman (may I call you Herman?), I realize it is not your policy to send out a free chair(s) to every person who asks for one (or two). In this case, however, I would like to offer that this could be a mutually beneficial exchange with potential for a lasting and, dare I say, passionate relationship. In other words, I will happily play Anaïs Nin to your Henry, er, Herman Miller.

If you will have me, that is.

 

Warmly (Not to be confused with the warmth that comes from constantly overcorrecting to the right),

– Erika Rae

 

 

PS – Should you decide me a worthy recipient, I will gladly cover shipping charges. Please email me at erae [at] thenervousbreakdown [dot] com or find shipping instructions in a subsequent post entitled, “Dear FedEx”.

 

 

Hester 2001

It was the year my favorite Beatle died, just a few months after the WTC terrorist attacks, early in my second decade at the nursery. Everyone needed diversion from the news. In the evenings I watched videos of Jane Austen novels, daytimes left my desk and went often to the nursery’s growing fields, the farthest ones out, started collecting snake skins, tortoise shells, looking for the rare mule deer antler.

Robert and Maya worked at the Hall of Humanity. Maya worked as a half-time Level IV Administrative Assistant ($14.59 per hour), and Robert worked as a Level V Superhero ($42,396 per year).

They once had this conversation while passing each other in the hall:

ROBERT: Hi.

MAYA: Hi.

Things to do on Twenty-Seventh Birthday:

1) Hit Louis Vuitton to get replacement foot for one that fell off tote

“Mmm, your skin’s soft as silk.”

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.