Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Indie Spotlight: Jorge Armenteros

I know it seems like I haven't been around much lately, but we're still cranking out the content, I promise! Slowly, but still...

Today we have a guest post from Jorge Armenteros, author of the upcoming release The Roar of the River, which drops on September 15th with Spuyten Duyvil Press. He shares some insight into his writing process and how he reacts to the pull of the plot and the reader/narrator relationship.

On writing

On a warm August afternoon, walking down La Promenade des Anglais, the rhythm of my steps approximating the basso continuo of my thought process, I open the floodgates.

There is plot, but I’m always more interested in situations. Situations change and that’s a kind of plot. Language is a plot, too, and so are mix-ups and nonsense. Really, any situation can be a plot because as it changes, time moves forward.

Forward, I walk.

And a writer meets another writer who’s ten years younger and has a keen eye for people on the street, but has a drowned mind. The writer sees a tennis player meeting another tennis player who is ten years younger, but has reached stardom. The writer meets his friend from childhood and wonders, What took you so long? All within a writer’s day.

I write the books I have yet to read. In essence, I jump over the edge of tradition and throw my words up in the air hoping for the wind to take them places no one else has reached.

Yes, I wrote and explored. I learned not to be harmless.

Not harmless…

Everyday contains a moment when you think you will touch immortality. What follows next is the stuff of novels.

And when the rain comes down, my words are safe in my dry within. I flourish from inside my skull.

From that very skull the vision of meaning ascends.

Is meaning created through the interaction between person and text? It seems so. In many of his short stories, Borges implies the disturbing supposition that the meaning of literary works is entirely dependent on the varying historical and social contexts in which they are read. In other words, that literary meaning is constructed through mental processes irrevocably tied to location and period. Reading, then, is more central to a text’s intellectual “life” than its writing and, consequently, a reader is more important to a text than its writer.

We can see how influential Borges’s ideas were on contemporary writers. For example, in Hopscotch, Cortázar invites the reader to participate in his innovative project by letting the reader choose in what order to read the chapters. He writes: “For my part, I wonder whether someday I will ever succeed in making it felt that the true character and the only one that interests me is the reader, to the degree in which something of what I write ought to contribute to his mutation, displacement, alienation, transportation.”

I like his use of “alienation.”

If we are to have a high esteem for the reader, we have to invite her to the party. Not every sentence needs to be complete, not every plot needs a twist, nor does every flower need a color. Let the reader create alongside the text. Easy prose is akin to baby food. It is time to take the spoon out of the reader’s mouth.

I walk some more, never looking back.

In an effort to transcend traditional narrative, I strive to wield words under the constraints of the novel’s tremendous weight. Consequently, I discard many rules to bring forth this vision. In so doing, I may be creating an anti-democratic experience that leaves out the middle-class, or middle-reader, the populous group which has generated the traditional novel. Yes, I explore the inner world of my characters, experiment with nonlinear formats, employ multiple points of view, embrace philosophical constructs, use lyrical language, and make clear and not-so-clear allusions while not explaining everything in an expository way. I may be writing outside of the traditional mold but I am not the first, nor will I be the last one. My challenge, dear reader, is how to manage this difficult and complex task, how to pull off the high-wire act without crashing down to the floor. I invite you to watch.

I watch myself as I walk but I do not see me that well.

Most books today land on the reader’s lap, defanged, tamed by the weight of tradition, ready for easy consumption. I prefer when the book doesn’t offer itself to the reader like a shelled pistachio. Better to compel readers to do the work of shelling through words, rhythms in prose, and the unconscious in order to savor the book. And it is the alliance between the reader’s effort and the author’s meditations that conjures the best literature.

Un-conscious, uncon-scious, unconsc-ious…

The author who tries to expand the frontiers of the human experience can fail. On the other hand, authors of conventional literary products never fail, they take no risks, they use the same proven formula, a comfortable formula, a formula of concealment. Using language for the mere purpose of obtaining an effect, without going beyond what’s expected, is essentially immoral. The ethical approach is found in the search for new formulas.

I slow down and start to walk in a diagonal down to the old port of Nice.

The relationship between an artist and reality is always an oblique one, and indeed there is no good art that is not consciously oblique. If you respect the reality of the world, you know that you can only approach that reality by indirect means. My path is a diagonal one.

Creativity on the part of the author involves structural innovation, the ability to generate an, in principle, infinite number of different structures. But the reader’s creativity is expressed by functional innovation: the ability to imagine what a text could mean. A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.

This is where a cup of coffee is completely necessary. But I chose red wine instead.

According to Foucault, “Literature is a form of language that breaks with the whole definition of genres as forms adapted to an order of representations, and becomes merely a manifestation of a language which has no other law than that of affirming in opposition to all other forms of discourse its own precipitous existence.” It then follows that in literature, questions of fact or truth are subordinated to the primary literary aims of producing a structure of words for its own sake, and the sign-values of symbols are subordinated to their importance as a structure of interconnected motifs. So, can we finally do away with literary genres?


According to Ezra Pound, [we live] “in a country in love with amateurs, in a country where the incompetent have such beautiful manners and personalities so fragile and charming that one cannot bear to injure their feelings by the introduction of competent criticism.”

That is the USA for you.

So how, then, do we identify good writing? It is now plain that any debate over who is, or is not, a better writer, or what is, or is not, a more legitimate writing is, for the most part, a surrogate social struggle. The more pertinent questions are what is the community being addressed in the writing, how does the writing participate in the constitution of this audience, and is it effective in doing so. The state of our literary nation is fractured.

And I think of her…

A woman thinks thoughts that barely make sense. A man thinks thoughts that make no sense to anyone. A woman knows not to reveal she knows you’re after her thoughts, that you want to devour her. A man tells you nothing but lays a suspicious look on you. A woman knows not to trust you. This man thinks you are all mighty. You know you’re not but he doesn’t know that. A woman keeps on thinking thoughts that barely make sense to her.

And as I walk through the cities whose people still believe in libraries and bookstores, I feel as if I am walking through Paradise. And for as long as I can, I will suspend my disbelief. I will go on dreaming.

Nice, please, don’t close them down. The temples of the book.

It is not about religion, that is the easy way out. It is not about idiocy, for you would need to be almost mentally retarded. It may be about the very essence of the human condition, a malleable mush, a fertile ground. We are children of our time, of our town, and of our ignorance. So how do we transcend hate? With books, naturally.

Another glass of wine…

The relationship between a reader and a narrator is as intense and emotionally complex as any relationship between that reader and another human being. The slow manifestation of the soul of the other, a satisfying human need, occurs in the turning of pages and the deciphering of life as rendered by prose. The novel offers an intercourse with selves, albeit imagined, but just as real. And as the contemporary self is being obliterated by the continuous fragmentation of attention and time, we need the novel more than ever.

Breathing now. Wary of the day.

I would like to know what the ultimate purpose of writing fiction is. What are the best approaches to producing innovative prose? What is the real value of reality in fiction? Should the novel be clear and open to all? Who are the readers? And in a more existential vein, does it matter to the universe whether I write a novel or take a piss in the river?

Please, don’t answer.


Jorge Armenteros has written four novels since the start of the MFA program. THE BOOK OF I is the first novel to be shared with the public. The second novel, AIR, was recently published by Spuyten Duyvil Press.

Nowadays Jorge resides in the South of France. And when there is a free minute in the day, he practices the violin. Coincidentally, the violin is the subject of his fourth novel.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Bronwyn Reviews: Eve Out of Her Ruins

Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi
Translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman
Pages: 160
Publisher: Deep Vellum
Released: 2016  

Reviewed by Bronwyn Mauldin 

Saadiq is still hanging on in school, finding kinship in the poetry of Rimbaud and trying to write his own story on his bedroom wall with a marker. Clélio is a thug who’s been in and out of jail all through his youth. Savita is the good girl trying hard to set an example for her younger sister. Eve is the beautiful, bone-thin object of their desires. She is the object of desire for many in the impoverished cité of Troumaron, on the edge of Port Louis.

The setting for Ananda Devi’s heartbreaking and lyrical novel, Eve Out of Her Ruins, is the capital of Mauritius, an island nation in the Indian Ocean smaller than the state of Rhode Island. The island was colonized by the Dutch in the 17th century, followed later by the French and the British, and finally gained independence in 1968. Mauritian Creole, French, English, Bhojpuri, and at least eight other languages are spoken by its nearly 1.3 million people.

Troumaron, home to those four main narrators of the story, is a fictitious neighborhood created by Devi. Its name, she explains, is meant to refer to a “brown hole” or a “hole for escaped slaves (marrones).” On rutted neighborhood streets littered with trash, Eve feels as if she is living through a siege:

“But this isn’t just the city. The world is also fighting against everything that staggers forward, everything that doesn’t walk in victory. Its distant rhythms aren’t for us. It’s better to be born blind so as not to see the rage in its eyes. Everybody’s preparing for war.”

Mauritius is generally presented as an African success story. Sugar cane, jewelry manufacturing, tourism, and financial services make up the bulk of the country’s economy. The annual growth rate has been above three percent for several years. The Troumaronis of Devi’s novel, however, are the people hidden behind national statistics.

At seventeen, Eve uses her body as a weapon to get what she needs from those who have more of everything than she does: more money, more power, more hope. She is as proud of her solitude as she is lonely, but she refuses to let Troumaron steal her soul even as people use her body. Her self-awareness is both keen and gendered:  

“We’re all born with this naked and open flesh. Then each of us fashions an armor of thorns and spiky brambles. But the two sexes don’t have the same heritage. We’re not born with the same burdens.”

Now is a good time to be reading about Mauritius and its people. A long-standing dispute between the country and former colonial power Great Britain over control of the nearby Chagos Islands has heated up in recent months. The islands are home to the secretive Diego Garcia military base jointly managed by the UK and the US. In June the United Nations General Assembly voted to refer their dispute to the International Court of Justice, which has no legal power to enforce whatever ruling it makes.

Eve’s tragedy, when it strikes, has an inevitability about it. There is a hierarchy even among the poor, and she is at the bottom of it. We read to learn not only who committed the crime, but whether the powerful will be held accountable.   

Eve Out of Her Ruins was originally published in French in 2006 and quickly began to gather awards. It was adapted for film, appearing as Les enfants de Troumaron in 2012. English language readers had to wait until 2016 when Deep Vellum brought out Jeffrey Zuckerman’s excellent translation, which has garnered its own awards. The story Devi tells is as unique to its place as it is universal. The beautiful language of the text and the voices of its four main characters are what make it stand out and well worth the read.

 Bronwyn Mauldin is the author of the novel Love Songs of the Revolution. She is a past winner of The Coffin Factory (now Tweed’s) magazine’s very short story contest. Her work has appeared at Akashic Books, Literature for Life, Necessary Fiction, Clamor magazine and other places. She is the creator of The Democracy Series zine collection. In September 2016 she was Artist in Residence at Mesa Verde National Park. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Open Submissions - Bring Your Love of All Things Small Press

Yeah, ok, the word "hiring" might be a little misleading in this case, because as I'm sure you know, TNBBC is one-hundred-percent a labor of love. We're ad free and we don't take payment for reviews. However, we do love our review contributors to pieces and we can't wait to crush you with our love too!

TNBBC is currently open to submissions for small press book reviews, author interviews, excerpts, and think peices. Because you'd be doing this for gratis, there's no nine-to-five commitment here. No minimum number of reviews or posts you need to fulfill per month. You'll find we're really rather easy going.

So let's talk detail, to help you decide whether TNBBC would be a good home-away-from-home for your stuff:

Book Reviewers:

  • A love and passion for small press and/or self publishing is a must
We're all about promoting the underdog here, and helping our readers find their 'next best book'. We're not about promoting the same ole tired literature as everyone else. That's already being done. That's Zzzzz....

  • Writing skillz. You haz some. 
You don't have to be an English major to write great reviews. Hoity Toity, stuffy reviews are not welcome here. However, we won't accept mediocre or poor writing. So make sure your grammar and spelling is up to snuff. And you know, that you can start a thought and finish it coherently. 'Cause that counts for something. Oh, and if your review style is built primarily around gifs, this is probably not the place for you.

  • Let your personality shine, shine, shine
Do you review genre fiction? We could certainly use some of those. Bizarro, literary crime noir, shock horror, experimental poetry, post-apoc sci-fi, non-fiction... if you're reading it, we'd be interested in taking it. The only genres we truly steer clear from are romance/erotica and YA.

We want to showcase your unique voice, too. Don't cookie cutter or tailor your style to fit whatever mold you think we'll except. Make it yours. Keep it real. You got this!

And before you ask, we want your good, bad, and ugly! We don't sugar coat. (Do you let fly with colorful language from time to time? We are no strangers to the f-bomb around these parts.) If you hate it so hard lightening bolts shot out of your eyes and disintegrated the pages right out of your hands, we want to know why. If you love the hell out of the book, gush all over the damn thing. We have no shame here.

  • Books that need a good home 

Oh and we have a shit-ton of awesome small press books that need reviewers, so if you're looking for something to review, and don't mind reading digital copies, we've got a slew of amazing titles for you to choose from. Arcs... recent releases... backlists... we've got 'em all. I'm cooking up a page for the site that'll list out which books we have available for you to choose from. All we ask is that you review what you request from us. 

Author Interviews:

  • Authors are more than their latest book.
Look, everyone does the straight up question-answer interview right? If you've got something new to bring to this tired old format, we want it.  Two authors interviewing each other about their worst readings ever? Playing the "Have You Ever" game? Whatever. However. We just want it to be cool, and interesting, and fresh. 


  • Give us a sneak peek. Tease the hell outta us.
I would never pass up the opportunity to show off your work, as long as it fits our literary mission (small or self published, no romance/erotica, no YA/NA). Send us a snippet of your upcoming novel. Share a short story. We'd love to get inside that book of yours. 

Think Pieces:

  • You have ideas. Your ideas are relevant.
So this will be a new one for us. A deviation from the typical review-and-author-features we've been doing, we need people with something to say about things that are worth talking about in a way no one's quite talked about them yet. 

  • Platform is key. Have fun with your platform.

Maybe you're a lister. Someone who prefers to speak in lists. Your column will share whatever soap-box topic you're on in the form of a list, always. Top 5 Reasons I Won't Read Romance. Top 10 Pet Peeves of the Publishing World. Yadda, yadda. yadda.

Maybe you make up telephone book entries. You remember what a telephone book is, right?

Or maybe you write personal ads from your favorite novels? 

The spot is yours, do with it what you will.

We just have one request! We'd like first-run rights to the content you send. It must remain our original content until the DAY AFTER it is posted. Then, all we ask is that you credit us with a first-run disclaimer. Easy, peasy, right?!?

So, you think you want to submit to us? Here's what you've gotta do next:

  • Send your stuff in an email to
  • Make sure you include your bio/byline, relevant links to you, and any photos or revelant links that I'll need to format into your submission

The great news is there's no deadline. The submissions won't close. So keep sending us your stuff. We look forward to seeing what you're gonna bring! So come on... BRING IT!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Where Writers Write: Jennifer Tseng

Welcome to another installment of TNBBC's Where Writers Write!

Where Writers Write is a weekly series that will feature a different author every Wednesday as they showcase their writing spaces using short form essay, photos, and/or video. As a lover of books and all of the hard work that goes into creating them, I thought it would be fun to see where the authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happen. 

This is Jennifer Tseng.

Jennifer is an award-winning poet and fiction writer. Her previous books include No so dear Jenny (Bateau Press) and Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness(Europa Editions). She teaches for the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, FAWC’s online writing program 24PearlSt, and the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing.

Where Jennifer Tseng Writes

Like many writers, I have a deep appreciation for Virginia Woolfs notion of a room of ones own and I have lived my life in search of one. As soon as we moved into our 3rd floor apartment, it was clear that this Woolfian luxury would not be mine in the traditional sense, so I set out to find a way to create a nontraditional room for myself. I experimented with a series of makeshift arrangements in various corners of the apartment until finally settling on the living room window seat. Its about two to three feet off the ground and long enough for me to lie down in. No one can just walk in; if someone wants to enter they have to climb up. Its tree like and full of light.

When I climb into the window seat and close the curtain that separates it from the living area, it becomes a small room. I have treated it as such, hanging favorite pictures on its narrow walls, adding a little lamp I got at a garage sale, a wooden box that serves as a tiny table, a row of library books, a basket containing my manuscripts-in-progress, a seat cushion. I have covered the floor with rugs and quilts. Having curtains in every direction makes the space feel like a tent. Being so high up, jutting out past the apartment proper, I feel like Im in a treehouse. From here, I can see the sky, trees, a church, the train, other apartments. I can see people on the street but they cant see me. (Ive checked.) Early in the morning, when its quiet, I can hear entire conversations being spoken on the ground below. From here, I can see without being seen, hear without being heard. Its a perfect place for a writer.

Every morning at about 4:30, I go directly to my room and write with a pencil on loose sheets of typing paper or, if I happen to have one, in a notebook. Once the rest of the apartment is awake, I go to an ergonomically friendly stand-up station that I built in a slim, doorless closet, and type up my draft. Then I go back to the living room, print the draft, climb into my room and reread. 

On rare occasions, I open the curtains and find our cat Didi sitting in my place. More often, he waits for me to wake up, then climbs in after me, sits on my lap or curls up next to me. When its cold, he wraps himself like a genie around the lamp. I imagine house cats long to find their own trees in much the same way we writers long for our own rooms. So the two of us find ourselves in the window seat, imagining one thing is another, keeping each other company in the leafy light.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Zach Boddicker's Would You Rather

Bored with the same old fashioned author interviews you see all around the blogosphere? Well, TNBBC's got a fun, literary spin on the ole Would You Rather game. Get to know the authors we love to read in ways no other interviewer has. I've asked them to pick sides against the same 20 odd bookish scenarios.

Zach Boddicker's
Would You Rather

Would you rather write an entire book with your feet or with your tongue?

Feet. Writing a book with one's tongue conjures up repressed images of Gene Simmons and his man-bun, and that would prove to be too much strain. Dry-mouth, cramping, swelling – that sounds horrible.

Would you rather have one giant bestseller or a long string of moderate sellers?

I'd take the long string of moderate sellers. That at least implies that I'd be around long enough to produce such a string.

Would you rather be a well known author now or be considered a literary genius after you’re dead?

A reclusive, well-known author now – considering the thin possibility I'll be reincarnated as a literary genius with no ambition, due to a paperwork error or computer glitch.

Would you rather write a book without using conjunctions or have every sentence of your book begin with one?

I don't think I could go without conjunctions, so I'd have to begin every sentence with one.

Would you rather have every word of your favorite novel tattooed on your skin or always playing as an audio in the background for the rest of your life?

I'd go with the tattoo. An engineer at Intel or some other microprocessor manufacturer could probably fit 75,000 words onto a pretty small patch of skin. The background audio option – way too many risks there. Who would do the narration? Fran Drescher? Truman Capote? Walter Brennan? This world is an unfair place, and these voices would be among my options, I'm afraid.

Would you rather write a book you truly believe in and have no one read it or write a crappy book that comprises everything you believe in and have it become an overnight success?

Now that I've done the former, I'd be happy to write a crappy book that compromises everything I believe in. It could be a useful exercise that might lead to tremendous personal and spiritual growth. But, then to know that thousands of people were duped into reading it would probably cancel out much of that growth.

Would you rather write a plot twist you hated or write a character you hated?

The hated plot twist would be easier to deal with. If I were being coerced by an editor or agent into writing a plot twist that sucked, it would be my first instinct to ask myself “how can I make this suck differently, or suck even worse?” If I were able to come up with something that sucked worse, I'd at least be able to take some ownership of it. Writing a character you hate seems like self-flagellation, considering all the time you spend writing them.

Would you rather use your skin as paper or your blood as ink?

Skin-as-paper for smaller format pieces (postcards, stand-alone sonnets, et. al), and blood-as-ink for longer works.

Would you rather become a character in your novel or have your characters escape the page and reenact the novel in real life?

I'd much prefer that the characters in The Essential Carl Mahogany escape the book and reenact the novel. Though, if that were to happen, and I were there to observe it, I wonder if I'd be thinking man, the book was way better than this bullshit!

Would you rather write without using punctuation and capitalization or without using words that contained the letter E?

If not alive right now, there will be someone who, for whatever reason, cannot use words that contain the letter E. Let that person develop his or her talent.

Would you rather have schools teach your book or ban your book?

I would prefer TECM be taught, especially to students in rural areas. Banned books are a thing of the past, at least in the Western world. 

Would you rather be forced to listen to Ayn Rand bloviate for an hour or be hit on by an angry Dylan Thomas?

I'll take my chances with Dylan Thomas. At least there's some chance of dialogue with him, and possibly cooling him down enough to where we could head back to my place and listen to Rush's 2112 on cassette.

Would you rather be reduced to speaking only in haiku or be capable of only writing in haiku?

Speaking only in haiku wouldn't be so bad.

Would you rather be stuck on an island with only the 50 Shades Series or a series in a language you couldn’t read?

Give me the 50 Shades series. I can cut and paste with that.

Would you rather critics rip your book apart publicly or never talk about it at all?

I would love it if critics ripped my book apart. All are welcome and bring a guest!

Would you rather have everything you think automatically appear on your Twitter feed or have a voice in your head narrate your every move?

The Twitter feed option would probably be best. The vast majority of everything I think is so boring that no one would pay attention.

Would you rather give up your computer or pens and paper?

I'm looking at my computer monitor now, thinking I wish I could quit you.

Would you rather write an entire novel standing on your tippy-toes or laying down flat on your back?

Flat on my back please! I need the rest.

Would you rather read naked in front of a packed room or have no one show up to your reading?

Reading naked in front of a packed room would be ok. There'd be opportunities to conduct some fun experiments and ask some awkward questions of the audience.

Would you rather read a book that is written poorly but has an excellent story, or read one with weak content but is written well?

I would probably last longer with the poorly written, but excellent story. 


Zach Boddicker grew up living the country life north of Laporte, Colorado. Boddicker holds a B.A. in English and a MFA in Fiction from Colorado State University, which have proven useful for his endeavors into publishing. In 2014, his short story “Equipment” was published in “A Decade of Country Hits: Art on the Rural Frontier(Jap Sam Books / M12 Studio). His first book “The Essential Carl Mahogany” (2017), which has been deemed evocative of Nick Hornby, Hunter S. Thompson and Don DeLillo, is the first novel to be published by M12 Studio / Last Chance Press.

In addition to his work as an author, Boddicker has been a staple of the Roots Music scene along the Front Range for 20 years as a member of 4H Royalty, Cowboy Dave Band, Drag the River, and many others. He currently resides in Denver with his wife and two daughters.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Page 69: Songs From Richmond Avenue

Disclaimer: The Page 69 Test is not mine. It has been around since 2007, asking authors to compare page 69 against the meat of the actual story it is a part of. I loved the whole idea of it and so I'm stealing it specifically to showcase small press titles - novels, novellas, short story collections, the works! So until the founder of The Page 69 Test calls a cease and desist, let's do this thing....

In this installment of Page 69, 
We put Michael Reed's Songs From Richmond Avenue to the test

Set up page 69 for us (what are we about to read):

The unnamed narrator of “Songs From Richmond Avenue”; a woman he has a crush on, Michelle; her stripper roommate, Honey; and his former co-worker at a Houston newspaper, Jonesy, arrive at a grocery store late at night after drinking in a bar. Because he’s vomited on his shirt and can barely walk, Jonesy stays in the car, while the others go in to shop. Jonesy, wearing a huge pink smock Michelle found in the trunk to replace his shirt, gets out of the car briefly and is accosted by a pickup truck full of drunken yokels who had driven by earlier and liked the looks of Honey; Honey returned to the car just ahead of the other two. Page 69 picks up with the narrator and Michelle back at the car.  

 What’s the book about?

It’s about a guy of questionable work ethic, the narrator, who has settled for a life that involves spending a lot of time in a bar that’s frequented by gamblers and other low-end types. He undergoes something of an epiphany following a bus stop encounter with Michelle, a woman he declares has “skin so perfect I doubted she even had pores.” He wonders if she could provide some sort of redemption – at least give him a reason to shoot for something a little better. Maybe she can, but not until he deals with Michelle’s baseball bat-wielding former boyfriend, a paramilitary Buddhist barfly and the suspicious death of a friend, who fancied himself the father of Brute Generation poetry. That the narrator is drunk almost the whole time also complicates matters.

Do you think this page gives our readers an accurate sense of what the book is about? Does it align itself with the book’s overall theme?
I would say it does, for the most part: The tone is somewhere in the middle on this page, not super-intense like the book occasionally gets, but there is a fair amount of weirdness taking place. Alcohol is central to the situation the characters find themselves in, obviously, but it would be a rare page where that was not the case.
The narrator and Michelle are the two central characters, so it’s good they are both prominent on Page 69. Honey is in a fair amount of the story and Jonesy is a pivotal though not major character, so that fits in nicely, too.
Obviously, it’s unlikely one page of any book will reveal much of its plot line, but, overall, Page 69 is a fair representation of “Songs From Richmond Avenue.”


I looked in the passenger’s seat and saw Jonesy sound asleep and wearing what now appeared to be a tattered, pink blouse. It wasn’t hard to picture him standing in the parking lot looking like a massive transsexual, complete with well-defined cleavage. I couldn’t even imagine the conversation that had preceded the altercation, which we were told, ended abruptly when Honey produced a can of pepper spray and a lighter shaped like a derringer.

“I started to call the cops even after they left, but you know, I guess it was kind
of funny,” Honey said, checking her nails for damage.

“How can you say it’s funny?” Michelle said. “What about his feeling?”

“He did seem pretty sensitive about all that hair on his back,” Honey said. “He
kept trying to cover up, even after they left when it was just the two us. I think he might like me. Maybe I shouldn’t have flirted with him so much.”

Jonesy’s body had become something of a breeding ground for unwanted hair
in recent years. I seemed to recall him lamenting that fact once during an outing to Stewart Beach, where he wore a lightweight football jersey in hundred-degree heat, even in the water. Come to think of it, even his nose hair tended to be the long, flowing variety when left unattended.

“Look, it is a little funny,” I said. “Besides, he won’t remember any of this in the

Michelle looked at me. This time she wasn’t smiling.

“You two,” she said, shaking her head and walking toward the Cadillac. “I sure
know how to pick ’em.”

In hindsight, the whole escapade made little sense, even as such escapades go.
Half the city ran around shirtless eight months out of the year, anyway. For that matter, most women who could pull it off were wearing the equivalent of Band-Aids at that very moment and calling them tops. A smock was unnecessary as long as Jonesy stayed out of the store, and a pink smock was unnecessary at any time. Of course, there was the whole back-hair issue and the highly unusual involvement of women in our antics to consider this time, I suppose.

Hell, if back hair bugged him that much, Jonesy should have pulled me aside and said something. I could have put up with him wearing his smelly shirt until I dropped him off at home. Then Michelle and I could have taken his car to another bar or two, maybe even run down to Galveston really fast. That’s the kind of things friends do for friends.


Michael Reed is a Texas journalist, meaning he lives in inexpensive apartments and drives paid-for used cars. He does not have a wife or children, which is probably best for all concerned, and has never owned a washer or drier, something he takes great pride in. This is the Southern Illinois University graduate’s first novel.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Melanie and Nick Discuss My Hero

My Hero by Stephen Graham Jones
Format: Graphic Novel
Publisher: Hex Publishers
Released: June 2017

“Je ne c’est pas ici une bande dessinée”

A review/conversation with Melanie & Nick Page

Melanie: You look at the cover of My Hero and see a sketch of someone, like Superman. So, you’ve got some expectations for this comic book going in. But it’s all words. Like, not just speech bubbles, but words describing what a picture should be instead of a picture. I thought this could go someplace interesting -- form matching content. What was your first impression?

Nick: I glanced at the cover but did not notice that the crosshatching on the figure was the names of superheroes written in small text. Immediately, I noticed that the pages are framed in the type of template that comic artists tend to draft panels in, that being a box with spaces to mark which issue, page, frame, etc. Once you got in, were you able to pick up the story?

Melanie: Ha, no, not at all. I couldn’t tell who the speaker was. I could tell there was a plotline about kids wanting to create a superhero comic together, but the character names come about randomly, so it was hard to piece together a story. I ended up getting frustrated and stopping about one-third through to see what else was in My Hero. I saw there were some color images . . . I kept going and found at the end of the book Stephen Graham Jones’s explanation of how this book came about, how he had a bunch of time off and was going to focus on a werewolf book (I assume the now-published Mongrels), but couldn’t let go of the idea of a comic book after he bought some drawing paper while in the craft section of a store with his daughter. I like the idea he had: one time when it flooded in Texas during his son’s Boy Scout camping trip, Jones backed his truck through the camp to rescue his son’s tent gear. He now realizes that he could have killed anyone’s kid in a very stupid moment. But was that what the comic book My Hero was about?

Nick: I don’t think it was about anything. This seems more like an idea-sketch that isn’t meant to represent a coherent narrative as much as it is supposed to be an opportunity to play with the form. I end up thinking back to Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics in which he breaks down the rules of comics and explores how they work. McCloud discusses the continuum between the word and the picture, so my first thoughts were trying to place this book somewhere between a conventional novel and a graphic novel. There are odd examples somewhere in the middle like Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves that start from the novel end of the spectrum and use creative typesetting, font choices, and story breaks to add a visual element. I have also seen webcomics, such as Erfworld, that alternate between graphic novel and pages of text that may include an illustration. Between examples starting from either end of the continuum, I think Stephen Graham Jones was trying to sit somewhere in the middle and scratch a creative itch more than tell a story. What were some of the details that stuck out to you?

Melanie: I just kept thinking about the kids in the tent in the backyard, holding flashlights and getting amped about the comic they would write. Why didn’t they write a comic about a superhero who accidentally hurts a kid instead of saves him? We’d get meta-comic book action! And Jones would get his story about the truck. But in the end text, Jones says that he is the narrator and also the man with the truck? I guess there aren’t enough indicators in the first part of the comic to help me get something out of My Hero. I want to say that Jones’s work reminds me of Gertrude Stein, who, when asked why she didn’t write the way people read, answered, “Why don’t you read the way I write?” Jones could fall into that camp . . . except he doesn’t when he goes about explaining himself so much in an endnote. Every book of his I’ve read has been explained either in the book or an interview. And all I can think about is the end of a fiction workshop. The writer has been quiet, the students have talked over his story, and then the writer explains what he meant to do . . . and the students all get excited about the writer’s ideas, forgetting the ideas aren’t even in the story. I also have no idea what the drawings without words, which is like a separate comic book afterward, are about.

Nick: There’s a comic-story layer and a story-about-the-comic-the-kids-are-writing layer, and their superhero, Doby, gets pulled from one layer to the other. It looked like people from the comic-story layer think Doby’s dead and the pages with art are of the funeral. An interesting element of this book is that you’re asked to imagine all of the visuals, but the book then goes ahead and fills you in on what the kids’ comic book characters really look like. Totally in line with your point about Jones needing to go back and explain his story. I did notice a couple of things in the book that might be references. At the funeral, a girl’s boots remind me of the Infinity Gauntlet, which will be familiar to fans of Marvel comics. The number #52 was scribbled in a couple of places, which could be a reference to a DC comics series called “52” that came after a mini-series called “Infinite Crisis” which was a sequel to “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” The point of these books was to unravel decades of messy backstories, crossovers, and side plots put together by hundreds of DC comic writers across all the different superhero series. Appropriate to reference in a book that seems to be trying to conjure a sense of deep backstory for characters we only meet briefly. The framing device seems to be the star of the show here, the comic artists’ template complete with coffee stains and such. It was interesting to see the thought process of Jones trying to figure out how to fill the space on the page with words, but do you think it carried the book?

Melanie: I loved the concept, but found no story and then was further confused when Jones wrote what My Hero was supposed to be about . . . of which I saw no traces. I would guess the audience is graduate students in an experimental fiction class. Plus, it’s a hardcover book, which limits the audience further due to the cost. Why not publish it like a comic book?

Nick: I don’t think superhero fans will find much in this book, but it may be interesting if you are trying to approach comics from an academic perspective - especially if you’re a fan of Jones’ fiction. If you set aside the bits of plot and look to how Jones, as a novelist, works through the process of plotting out a superhero comic, you can sort’ve pick out where he’s was going with this book, but ultimately Jones all but admits this was a pile of notes published as a book by Hex Publishers, which seeks to promote genre comics from voices outside of the mainstream. But, I don’t think My Hero would find a publisher if it wasn’t carried by the name of the author.