I’ve been contemplating the nature of Stephen Elliott’s appeal.  The author of several books of fiction, including the acclaimed and popular Happy Baby, it was his memoir, The Adderall Diaries, that seems to have catapulted him to the status of a literary “cult hero.”  Many critics have lauded Adderall Diaries as a work of genius–an assessment with which I so strongly concur that I have felt, at times over the past year, like Elliott’s pimp I seem to rave about him so frequently in public forums.  In fact, I might even feel a little creepy about it were it not for the fact that everywhere I go, I meet people who have been as deeply impacted by his work as I, and who are similarly shouting it from the rooftops to the point that they (such as the novelist Karen Palmer) profess to a similar groupie-like embarrassment.

So what’s with this guy?  Why are so many people obsessed with him?  To describe his writing style as “intimate” would be inadequate (he is, perhaps, the most intimate writer I’ve ever read) and yet he possesses an acute sense–deeper, in fact, than that of many writers who divulge much less about themselves in their work–that writing cannot merely be about the writer’s demons, whims or confessions.  It’s an intriguing combination that seems to help Elliott function simultaneously as a spokeswriter for the disenfranchised who have traditionaly existed on the fringe of artistic culture–runaways, sex workers, addicts, masochists–and yet also as a general literary “therapist,” not unlike The Rumpus’ earthy and wise advice columnist, “Dear Sugar.”  For Elliott’s obsession, more so than with any sexual fetish or drug, seems to be the pursuit of truth and art, with living a life of integrity, with the rights of children, and with what it requires to achieve true human connection.  This is the fodder of his work, never in a sanctimonious or distant way, but from the perspective of a desperate, sometimes-drug-addled, dominatrix-hiring seeker whose voice (despite being quintessentially unreliable for obvious reasons) we simply believe.  Reading Elliott–whether in one of his books or in his Daily Rumpus emails–the reader cannot help but be reminded that writing is, first and foremost, a form of communication.  I am not sure I have ever encountered a writer whose body of work–fiction, non, and blog-like–seems to illustrate this more than Elliott’s.  Daringly open, deeply engaged, and equipped with an eerie insight that was hard-earned on the streets and in group homes, one of Elliott’s favorite topics is his own fucked-up-ed-ness, but I’ve got to admit that if I didn’t know so many people who know him much better than I do and promise me this is not some kind of marketing schtick, I might almost disbelieve it because he is so damn wise.  There is a “Physician, heal thyself” paradox about Elliott, but in the end this duality of the artist as a wounded boy-man haunted by demons he makes no effort to hide, yet at the same time the smartest and best (indirect) advice-giver you may ever encounter, is only one of the many intriguing aspects of Elliott’s persona and his work.

I’ve read with Stephen at Chicago’s one-of-a-kind queer indie bookstore, Quimby’s; he blurbed my collection Slut Lullabies; we’ve exchanged the odd email here and there and once spoke on the phone.  But I am such a fan that when Brad Listi approached me and asked if I’d like to interview him to celebrate the release of Adderall Diaries in paperback, I basically nearly wet my pants in excitement, and had sent him these long-winded questions within a couple of hours.  Busy as he is, I figured I might hear from him in a week or so.  But because Stephen is about as manic as I am, instead I had the answers in less than 48 hours.

By the way, Stephen himself suggested that I include the Q&As that he “couldn’t really answer.”  But I’d already planned to do that, because his non-answers are answers of a sort, too, so I wouldn’t have had it any other way . . .

***

GF: The Adderall Diaries deeply examines the concept that no one person owns The Truth, and that everyone has his or her own truth.  In the book, you explore the ways your father’s truth differs from your own.  The way you come to accept your dad’s ownership of his version of events feels awe-inspiring and redemptive to the reader, and appears to have been transformative to you as a writer/person.  Can you talk about your process in coming to forgive your father despite the many real abuses done to kids who cannot defend themselves?  In other words, what is the relationship between the subjectivity of “truth” and the real existence of “right” and “wrong” in the actions we perpetrate on others?

SE: Jesus, this is tough question to start with. Here’s the thing, you have to look at this from two places.

From the point of society we need to do a much better job at protecting children and much of that is about money. We need better staff to child ratios in the group homes, better paid teachers in public schools. We need to give more chances to abused children. In other words, more than one chance. They need the kind of multiple chances that children in better homes get.

But from the point of the individual it’s hard to heal without forgiving. It’s not about right and wrong. Your anger might be fully justified but who is it hurting?


Despite the revelation of many intimate details of your life and psyche in The Adderall Diaries, the narrative never feels insular or narcissistic, but rather passionately engaged with the wider world.  Talk about your decision to weave in outside plots, such as the murder of Nina Reiser, and how this may have changed your writing process and the end result of the book.  How do you advise young writers to ensure that their work is “bigger” than a mere confessional tell-all while still being honest?

I appreciate that. But writing a memoir is always narcissistic. Most art and writing is narcissistic. Of course, that’s different from feeling narcissistic. As a writer you have to always remember the reader doesn’t give a shit about you. If you’re not offering the reader anything they’re going to put the book down.

The reader is the most important person with a book. The reader is doing the writer a favor. So any decision that doesn’t take the reader into account is a bad decision. Holding back information because you’re uncomfortable is just as bad as providing too much information because you want to get something off your chest. Everything has to serve the story.

Of course, there is no such thing as a book that everybody likes. The goal is writing your reader’s favorite book.

The thing to remember about honesty is that it’s much more than just not lying. Honesty is bordered by self-knowledge. It’s a goal, but it’s not actually attainable, because to be perfectly honest you’d have to have perfect self-knowledge, and for that you would have to be a person that never changes.


I don’t remember your exact wording, but you wrote once in a Daily Rumpus that the world does not owe artists/writers a living for following their passions and creating the art they want to make . . . I was very struck by this and have brought it up in recent interviews I’ve done about my own work.  I think what you meant is that most of the world doesn’t get paid to do something they love or that is their singular passion, and that artists can’t expect that either–that the economic world is quite separate from the artistic world, and that if you choose not to compromise and get a job that the culture rewards financially, you’re making a choice and have to accept responsibilities and the consequences of that choice.  I deeply agree with that sentiment.  Yet I also believe that it’s unfortunate–even tragic–that art is so devalued by most people, and certainly those in power, and I think you would probably concur.  So I find myself with this paradox: I believe artists “deserve” to be paid, and that their work has true value . . . yet I also believe that refusing to conform to the existing cultural norms of having a work-a-day job is a choice (sometimes a luxury), whether those norms are right or wrong.  Hmm . . . I’m not sure where the question is in here . . . I guess that, in a sea of writers who seem to be constantly be belly-aching about being underpaid, I was very intrigued by someone–especially someone who doesn’t have much money–being bold enough to say that we’ve made our own beds and should perhaps stop whining.  Am I understanding your views correctly, and can you talk more about your philosophy of art vs. commerce?

I think you’re understanding my views correctly. I’m in favor of more funding for the arts in a very general sense. But who would get that funding? And people would still complain that they weren’t getting the scholarships, grants, etc.

I was awarded a Stegner Fellowship that funded me for two years and it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Still… I had already written three books at that point, and continued writing books after the funding ran out.

I understand journalists who are upset because they can no longer afford to do in-depth stories but I don’t understand writers who think they are owed a living for writing a novel they want to write. And I actually think it’s a very negative space to be in, since everybody (or almost everybody) has a job when they write their first novel. I think what happens often is people associate the money they’re paid for their art with the value of their art, and that’s a disaster for the work.

When I finish writing something I always try to get as much for it as I can, but I never (or almost never) write it for that reason. I’m able to write whatever I want because I keep my expenses extremely low. I don’t have children; I pay cheap rent. Sometimes I worry about my financial security, but never in terms of writing. When I think of how I’m going to scrounge some money I never think, “I should write something.”


Speaking of money: we both grew up in Chicago, around the same time, in neighborhoods where being a writer was basically unheard of as a profession or aspiration.  It never occurred to me to major in Creative Writing in college because that seemed like something a kid with a trust fund would do, whereas my parents were below the poverty line, and my dad had never finished elementary school . . . now you, of course, have a background of economic hardship–living in group homes or on the street–that even far surpasses mine.  Can you talk about your process in coming to identify as a writer/artist and whether you found your “class” background to be a barrier, an asset, or both?

Well, that’s tricky. I left home when I was thirteen and slept on the streets for a year and then I was made a ward of the court (full story on that here: http://therumpus.net/2009/04/where-i-slept/). I spent the next four years in group homes and went to college on a scholarship. But before that I lived in a nice house. We weren’t rich, but we were certainly middle class.

All I’m saying is it’s not a competition.

I never really identified as a writer. I was a history major in college. But I always wrote a lot. I never imagined it as something I could do as a profession, and I guess I was right about that. I did start publishing at some point, and then I got that fellowship, and it was all really kind of sudden. Like, I sent these two novels to the slushpile of a new publisher (MacAdam/Cage), and they bought both of them for $18,000 a piece, and I got the fellowship to Stanford a month later.

I think traveling across many social classes has mostly helped me as a writer and a person. Middle class, group home, Stanford. I think that’s mostly an asset, on the whole.


In The Daily Rumpus as well as in your books, you write a lot about love, desire, loneliness, attachment and sex–to say that you have a romantic temperament would, I think, be a distinct understatement, and I mean that in a good way, the way it’s also true of, say, Steve Almond.  Yet you’ve indicated in some of your writing that you don’t think you’re really cut out to be in a long-term relationship, and that you remain immature for your age.  Given that commitment can come in all shapes and sizes, can you talk about what it takes, in your view, to be in a successful longstanding relationship and what constitutes the “maturity” for this to be possible?

I don’t think I can.


Your book tour for The Adderall Diaries was one of the most unusual and comprehensive in the history of book tours–it would probably be fair to say that you may officially be the “go to” guy now on the topic of touring!  What do you counsel all new writers to do when their books come out?  Is there anything you did that you wouldn’t do again or feel was either not successful or was more trouble than it was worth?

I don’t think I would do any of it again because I’ve already done it. When people ask me how to market their books I usually say they need to do something that nobody else has done. If it’s the thing you’re supposed to do when marketing a book then people are already doing it and it’s probably worthless.

The most important thing is to write a great book. That’s 50%, at least. If you can do that you have a chance. If you can’t do that the odds get longer.


How has launching The Rumpus and writing The Daily Rumpus impacted your life?  Discuss the rewards of The Rumpus and what, in general, drives writers (outside of any economic impetus) to take time away from their own work to help other writers, generate cultural dialogue and foster community.

The Daily Rumpus email was supposed to be just a bunch of links to interesting things on The Rumpus. Instead it became just a free-write, where I just write about whatever I’m thinking. Sometimes I make up stories. Often I think about things like marketing, connecting, relationships, love. A little about sex. Or I review things I’m reading and seeing. It’s gotten to the point where I spend two or three hours on it every day. It’s replaced long form writing as my creative outlet. For a while I fought against it, but now I embrace it. I just love writing them. It feels so fulfilling. I don’t know what they’re going to mean in the larger picture of my “career”, but that’s also because I don’t know what shape literary writing is going to take. It feels like a whole new form. I don’t know if anybody else is sending out an email of new literary writing every day.

As far as what drives writers to foster community, to take on editing projects and create publishing houses, I think it’s all of a piece. Those that are pushed to do those things are probably also gaining some creative substanence from doing them. But hell if I know.


What are you most excited about right now?

I’m excited to see Animal Kingdom tomorrow night. But you’re asking something else. I’m definitely curious to see how all of this turns out.


For those readers who don’t subscribe to The Daily Rumpus and may not have heard you wax rhapsodic about Roberto Bolano, whose Savage Detectives knocked me on my ass as well, will you riff a little here on why he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread and everyone should go out and read him immediately?

I was talking with a writer about Bolano’s 2666. He hadn’t read it but said he heard it was so good it made you not want to write. I told him it was the opposite. It was so good it made you only want to write. It also made you aware of what would be required from if you were to do that.


Elaborate on this line from The Adderall Diaries, and the way this fact impacts your own life, identity and choices as an artist: “The books of our time have little to do with the destruction of the self.  We expect our bards to survive, to figure things out.”

I guess what I was saying is I’m a mess.



As we all know (or at least we all get told an awful lot), publishing is a mess. It’s in trouble. It’s, according to my agent, the worst it’s been in his (and my) twenty years in the business. Which is all probably true. There are plenty of horror stories and statistics to back up the gloom and doom statements we all hear plenty of.

I started to jumble my words on the freeways heading into Chicago. Not truly badly, or to the point where I was nonsensical or in any way reminiscent of Steve Miller Band lyrics, but just enough that alarm bells started to ring.

So, while we were at McDonald’s, getting coffee, on the outskirts of town, Zara gently quizzed me.

‘Hey, what state is Hobart in?’

My mind was a foggy, cotton-wool blank.

‘Um… I know it’s not Western Australia, so maybe it’s… uh… fuck. I have no idea. Where is it?’

‘Tasmania,’ Zara said.

‘Oh! Yeah! Tasmania. That’s right. It’s the capital city of Tasmania. Well, I knew it wasn’t Western Australia.’

Even though there were only ten minutes to go to Gina Frangello’s house, it was unanimously decided at this point that Zara should take over the driving.


I’ve never met Gina Frangello, and when we hooked up on Facebook we both wondered why weren’t already friends.  Gina and I both write for The Nervous Breakdown (she more than I), and her book Slut Lullabies has just been published by the independent label, Emergency Press. Gina is cool lady, and a great voice of of our generation. I know that’s a bold statement, but check her out, she won’t disappoint. -JR

When We Fell In Love by Gina Frangella

In the world of my childhood, books were not common objects. Growing up in a blue-collar neighborhood, what I remember about the shelves often were built into the walls of Chicago apartments is that they were usually full of cheap, decorative items (plastic flowers; imitation Lladros), rarely books. Most of my friends’ parents were first generation American, and had grown up speaking Italian or Spanish; few had finished high school. One friend’s mother devoured paperback V.C. Andrews or Sidney Sheldon, and her reading habits all but rendered her “intellectual” status in the hood . . .

Amid this, my mother was an anomaly, with titles on our shelves like Understanding the City Child and Love on the Left Bank and The Brothers Karamazov. And yet even in her case, these books were relics of a bohemian youth: the mother of my childhood—in her early 40s as I am now—had long since abandoned reading as a pastime, either out of depression or a desire to assimilate into her surroundings, my father’s world. These books loomed over my daily life of watching Happy Days and Little House on the Prairie, scanning the “funny pages,” playing kick the can or sitting endlessly on the front porch listening to ladies in house dresses gossiping, or practicing dance moves to the Bee Gees or Donna Summer on the record player. They hinted at something else—a life my mother had left behind to marry my father. Another kind of world that might be out there, someday, for me.

I trolled the library. I do not recall ever entering a bookstore until I was in college, though this seems hard to believe in retrospect so I’m open to the possibility that it is an exaggeration. In my library forays, I was confined to the children’s section—the librarian did not let us into the adult section, and so what we knew of adult literature consisted of a school friend’s smuggled in copy of The Friendly Uncle, glued into the spine of Moby Dick, or borrowed gang-rape-and-kidnapping-love-stories by Harold Robbins, loaned out by my best friend’s mother, a party-girl divorcee who never seemed to consider that this might not be the best reading material for twelve-year-old girls. In the children’s section of the library, I made lifelong friends. The Changeling by Zilpha Keatley Snyder and A Pocket Full of Seeds by Marilyn Sachs; Anne of Green Gables; A Little PrincessThe OutsidersAre You There God, It’s Me Margaret. Titles flood my memory: Foster ChildThen Again Maybe I Won’tThe Westing Game. Characters as diverse as Esme Sanchez and Ramona Quimby. These books were my childhood friends. They served, if anything, as stark relief from the world of my actual friends, many of whom, by twelve, were blowing twenty-year-olds in exchange for coke, running away from home, having pregnancy scares. Like the titles my mother had treasured in her younger days, these books served as a guidepost to me that there was another lens with which to view the world—many other lenses, and many possibilities as to how I might “turn out.”

I had started writing. By the time I was eleven, I had a “novel” of several hundred pages on butcher paper, ripped off into roughly equivalent sheets. By the time I began high school, I had three such completed projects, all about the same characters: a quartet of orphans living in an urban orphanage worthy of Dickens or Kafka, though I had never read either. I fancied myself a reader, a writer, and imagined it, in some way, as my ticket “out.” As soon as I could, I had headed across the city to a college prep high school you had to test into, high on my perfect Reading test scores that had landed me there. Gladly, I left my old peers behind, prepared to reinvent myself and conquer the world of books.

Imagine my surprise, then, when my first two years of English class at this prestigious high school left me dry. I was entertained by Greek mythology, but by and large the Important Work we studied failed to move me as the novels of my childhood had. Shakespeare sonnets or Beowulf. The gimmicky schmaltz of Flowers for Algernon. Steinbeck’s The Pearl, which I vividly recall provoked me to write a diatribe of a paper on why symbolism sucked. I can’t say why entirely—perhaps I was simply too young, with a shoddy early education—but these works simply failed to move me on any personal level. Too old for Judy Blume and too . . . something . . . now for the strange romantic misogyny of pulp fiction, I began to lose interest in reading altogether.

Enter The Crucible by Arthur Miller. I was almost sixteen, nearing the end of my sophomore year. If this was not the first book I loved, then it was the first book I read with what would later become my obsessive adult habits: underlining passages I liked and copying quotes into notebooks, dog-earing pages, memorizing lines that still ring in my mind. What was it about this short play that resonated so deeply—that knocked me on my ass and made me remember again the power of reading? Well, what is it ever? The answers to such questions are elusive to some degree. I can say that The Crucible contained many elements that would later work their way into my own fiction: sexual secrets, the theater of hysteria, jealousies between women, the hypocrisy of religion. I can say that while the books of my youth sometimes did take risks and end semi-unhappily, on a note of murder (ah, The Outsiders!) or war, that The Crucible pushed beyond that to a place where darkness and death could also be triumph, and where the illusion of triumph through death (on principle) could also be absurdity, because lines are blurry and truth itself is subjective. After reading The Crucible, there was a hunger in me not just to “escape” through books as I had in my girlhood, but to learn about people, their minds, their foibles. How intimate reading could be! What it could reveal of the human psyche! And because it was a play, I saw what dialogue could do for character development, and long before I ever sat in a creative writing workshop I internalized a major dose of “show, don’t tell.”

The Crucible was not a first love, and in the end (it no longer figures on my “favorite books of all times” list, exactly) not even my Great Love. But it was the love that came precisely at the moment I needed it. It was my transitional object/ rebound kind of love that took me from the realm of childhood escape to the complex, sometimes-scary world of adult lit, and reminded me again not only that I was a reader, but why.

Recently, in the fine media tradition of griping about how sick everybody is of talking about something—and thereby talking about it more—I read a tweet that quipped, “Can we stop talking about the New Yorker’s 20 Under 40 already?”

The answer is no.

These days, it can be hard to believe in corporate publishing.The proliferation of pink-covered chick-lit beach reads, of C-list celebrity memoirs, of “literary fiction” seeming to have morphed into “morally inspirational books that appeal to middle-aged-lady book clubs”—well, it’s enough to all but make a girl give up on the galleys she receives from the Big Boys of New York publishing.I mean, sure, the occasional intimidatingly-smart, ultra-hip book by a twenty-or-thirtysomething white boy with shaggy hair still slips in among the drivel now and again to give us all a thrill; sure every year or so one or two foreign-born writers get championed as that season’s exotic thrill . . . but these moments can seem not only fewer and further between, but somewhat repetitive in and of themselves.Is there, for god’s sake, anything new and daring happening at the big conglomerates these days?

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.”

So what’s with the nipple on the cover of Slut Lullabies?  Are you trying to embarrass people on the train?

You’re at least the fifth person to mention public transportation in relationship to my cover.  When I first showed the cover photograph—which was taken by my dear friend Susan Aurinko, to people, several immediately said we should crop out the nipple so readers wouldn’t be afraid to take it on the bus.  My editor, however, fought the good fight for nipple inclusion, pointing out (rightly so I think) that anyone who wasn’t afraid to read a book with a title that seems to indicate musical porn wouldn’t be scared off by a little Seinfeld-esque nip action either.  I’ve got to admit, though, that since the book has come out, quite a few people have mentioned the looks they get on the train while reading it.  This makes me very happy.

It is dangerous to summarize an Emily St. John Mandel novel.Spoilers would abound in any description, but also a synopsis of Mandel’s thriller/mystery plots would risk trivializing or reducing this immensely talented writer’s work.I’ll limit myself, therefore, to saying that The Singer’s Gun, Mandel’s sophomore novel, is about a man named Anton who grew up with parents who sold stolen goods.Anton himself has worked with his beautiful and cold cousin selling fake passports, but has hankered after the “straight” life and tried to attain it.Of course he finds—as all characters find in fiction, and indeed most people find in life—that it is entirely difficult to outrun your past, and if you are serious about doing so you will probably need to make some pretty unpalatable sacrifices along the road to freedom.


If you happen to find yourself in New York on Wednesday, May 19, do stop by the upstairs lounge at Pianos at 7pm for an evening of fun & games, music & mayhem, dungeons & dragons, and books & booze.

The lineup of literary luminaries includes TNB regulars Gina Frangello (Slut Lullabies) and Robin Antalek (The Summer We Fell Apart), as well as Allison Amend and Zoe Zolbrod, who, in addition to having great books coming out (Stations West and Currency, respectively), also have perfectly complementary initials.

There will be music by Madame X (not to be confused with the lounge of the same name; don’t go there; the beers are too pricey), Ted McCagg supplied the awesome poster, and Yours Truly will host.

Kimberly M. Wetherell will atttend — that we know — but rumors that Slade Ham will pop out of Allison’s birthday cake are, as of this writing, unsubstantiated.

Hope to see you there!





Morocco is underexplored in English language fiction.Most novels with which American readers are familiar are likely to focus on Anglo foreigners traveling to or settling in the country, such as in The Sheltering Sky or Hideous Kinky.Laila Lalami’s debut novel, Secret Son (Algonquin; paperback March 2010) would have merit, then, if all it did was explore Morocco from the inside out: from the perspective of contemporary Moroccans rather than through an exoticized traveler’s lens.But Lailami, an ambitious and meticulous writer whose terrain is as emotional as it is geographic, achieves much more with this barebones, layered and daringly bleak exploration of one man—Youssef El Mekki—and his progressive defeat within a ruthless system.

Lit fans!  TNB fans!  Bookish folk!  AWPers!  Hold onto your hats, it’s time for some TNB served up in a Rocky Mountain oyster stew.  That’s right, TNB’s Literary Experience (TNBLE) is coming to downtown Denver, Colorado!

WHEN: Thursday, April 8th.  Doors at 6pm; program begins at 7pm

WHERE: Meadowlark 2701 Larimer St. / Denver, CO 80205, (303) 293-0251.

Readers will include award-winning author Alexander Chee (The Queen of the Night / Edinburgh), Ben Loory (his story “The TV” is in this week’s New Yorker magazine!), Tom Hansen (American Junkie), Gina Frangello (Slut Lullabies / My Sister’s Continent), Aaron Dietz, Megan DiLullo, Erika Rae, and poet Erica Dawson. Denver’s own Col. Hector Bravado from DenverSixShooter.com will emcee.

Live music from Hideous Men, Iuengliss and Ryat will follow at 9pm.

Happy Hour goes from 4-7, $1 PBR, $2 wells and domestics.

No cover; $5 suggested donation.

For more information please contact Erika Rae – [email protected].

Don’t forget yer spurs.

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.

A closer look at what you should be reading

When the fabulous Gina Frangello approached me to write a monthly column about books that cross my desk, my first thought was, “There are so many books, how will I decide what gets mentioned?”What I’ve realized is I have no formula for that except to say, if it’s unique in style or voice, I keep reading. Cover art is often alluring when I decide to pick up a book but ultimately, what matters most are the words on the page, how they fit together. Do they tell me a story or evoke emotion? If the answer is yes, I turn the pages. I think of writer in the same way I do an architect.A writer is in charge of building something beautiful and making it their own with style and imagination. Whether they place the words on the pageso they sound and feel good to say out loud or create a text that’s visually interesting to read or develop multi-faceted characters that feel as if they could be you or someone you know—all of these things make writing fascinating and help to build amazing stories. It’s what really happens between the pen and paper, or rather the fingers and the keyboard that count. What I do know is there are far more books than there are hours in the day for me to read every single one that’s sent to me; however I’ll try to keep you abreast of the best in my TBR pile. So, here’s some of what I’ve recently read. I hope that it resonates with you, dear reader, in some way.

December 25 marks a milestone at The Nervous Breakdown: the fortieth day of the existence of TNB 3.0. If the revamped site were the Ark, the dove would fly back with an olive leaf in its mouth. Or a sample from the bag of Jessica Blau’s “lemons.” Or a beanie Zoë Brock found on the side of the road in Frisco. Or…but you get the idea.

I feel like this momentous occasion should be commemorated by something other than the exchange of presents and spiked eggnog. Perhaps Megan DiLullo can organize a podcast? Or, better yet, a photo montage of TNBers dressed like Bond girls? (An editorial suggestion for Megan and Erika: next time, get the girls to wear the bikinis).

It’s been a month in which our contributors have displayed feats of tremendous bravery: David Wills swam with sharks. Matt Baldwin hiked with bear. Simon Smithson jumped off a tall building. Ben Loory stole money from Demi Moore. Don Mitchell wore tighty-whities.

J.E. Fishman is serializing his novel, Cadaver Blues. Between Cadaver and Cactus City, there’s a lot of blues going on at TNB. I hope 2010 is a happier year for everyone.

Richard Cox wrote a cool piece about the hoopla surrounded the Tiger Woods imbroglio, which—because we are above it here on this blog—somehow descended into a debate about the literary merits of Jonathan Franzen. The Corrections, it appears, refers to what Woods did to his swing a few years back.

Our Fearless Leader returned from blog post exile, and I think I speak for all of us when I say, Welcome back, Brad Listi. His piece, “You Lost Me At Hello,” was treated like the release of Chinese Democracy—top of the charts, top of the comment numbers—the only difference being that Brad’s post is good.

Someone named Darian Arky started writing for us from his redoubt in Prague. According to his dossier, he works for the State Department. How naïve do you think we are, man? I’ve read enough James Ellroy books to know that if a dude claims to work for the State Department, he’s really out there gathering intelligence, handling sources, and slipping Cold Ethyl into the Chivas of enemies of the state. I’m not sure what Arky is up to—other than contributing great pieces and leaving lots of comments on everyone else’s—but I find it curious that as soon as he shows up, Justin Benton vanishes.

Whether or not Darian Arky is an actual person, Darian Arky is a cool name. That seems to be a criterion for letting new writers on the site. Check out these new peeps: Gwenda Bond, Doreen Orion, Nathaniel Missildine, and Jeffrey Pillow all join Autumn Kindelspire, Slade Ham, and Will Entrekin in the Cool Name Hall of Fame.

(Alison Aucoin is a cool name, too, except that I have no idea how to pronounce it. Oh-KWAN? OH-cun? Oh-CYOON? Alison, please enlighten us).

The forty days have included lots of great stuff—if I neglected to mention you specifically, it’s not because I don’t like you, but because my daughter is yelling at me from downstairs to give her gum, so my attentions are diverted—but I’ve especially enjoyed the content from LitPark and 3G1B and WordHustler, as well as the fact that my kids routinely appear on View From Your Phone.

My favorite piece of the first forty days, however—other than my own self-interview, of course—is the trilogy submitted by Gina Frangello about her father. A must-read, it says here.

Happy holidays, folks. May 2010 be the year in which all your dreams come true…and the year in which we drop the idiotic “two-thousand” business and start saying “twenty-ten.”