February 23, 2010
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
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.”
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 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.
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
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
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
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
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.”
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
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.
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.