Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Where Writers Write: Eric D. Goodman

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 Eric D. Goodman

He has been writing fiction at the same modest desk for about 30 years. His debut novel in stories, Tracks, (Atticus, 2011) won the 2012 Gold Award for Best Fiction in the Mid-Atlantic Region from the Independent Publishers Book Awards. Eric regularly reads his fiction on Baltimore’s NPR station, WYPR, and at book festivals and literary events. He’s probably at the old pine desk right now working on revisions for his second novel. 

Where Eric D. Goodman Writes

I write in a number of places; I can write virtually anywhere. But at least part of every work of fiction I’ve written has been done at the same modest, pine desk that belonged to my father.

When I wrote my first draft of my first novel in a spiral notebook at the age of 12 and then transcribed it on an old PC in a forgotten word processing program called “Multimate,” I did so at my father’s desk: a pine desk he purchased for his first PC back in 1983.

When I needed a desk for my first computer and Dad decided it was time for a new desk of his own, I inherited the modest pine. I’ve always planned to get a newer, nicer desk—a handsome cherry wood or mahogany goliath with room for lots of scribbled notes. But I can’t give up my primary writing desk.
The desk is kind of like the sofa in the old Cranberries CD; it has followed me around the world. I’ve written on it in California, Rhode Island, Japan, Virginia, Ohio, and for the past 12 years, in Baltimore, Maryland. The desk is tucked away in the little writing room of my home.

On and around my desk are a number of muses to inspire me as I write.  Here are a few of them.

When I was an exchange student in Nizhniy Novgorod, Russia, I spotted this Don Quixote statue in an art shop. It was a little pricey for me as a student, but I kept coming back to look at it. “It’s you,” my friends said. Finally, my Russian professor said I should buy it and always have it on my desk to inspire me. I did, and I have.

The candle holder was purchased in St. Petersburg, Russia, at a museum. It’s a duplicate of the dragon candle holder Leo Tolstoy used when he wrote by candlelight.

The wooden manuscript box was a gift from my kids on father’s day. It’s usually filled with notes, not manuscripts.

The glass paperweight is a handcrafted rendition of Venus made with ash from the 1980 Mt. St. Helen eruption. It was a gift from my family on my 40th birthday. It’s heavy, making it useful when the window’s open on a windy day.

 The fountain pen was handcrafted out of wood from the desk of former U.S. Transportation Secretary and San Jose mayor Norman Mineta. This had special meaning to me as I was born in San Jose.

My thesaurus and Strunk & White are always nearby … although lately I tend to find my sources online.

My favorite author, John Steinbeck, watches over me as I write. I picked up this woodcut at the Steinbeck Center in Salinas, right down the road from his boyhood home.

My writing studio is small, so a friend built in ceiling-to-floor bookshelves along one wall. That allows for a lot of books. Two of the shelves are filled with signed editions. The shelf also holds family photographs and trinkets I’ve collected over the years.

But the nucleus of the room is this modest pine desk. My dad’s been through a few desks since he gave this one up. Someday he might ask for it back.

 Next week, Sybil Baker shows off her writing space.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Indie Spotlight: Tara Ison

For most authors, writing a book is a labor of love. That heady, swoony sort of love - the intimacy of the words, the excitement of watching it all unfold, page after page, the certainty that it is the best thing you have ever written, the best thing you will ever write.

Today Tara Ison, author of A Child out of Alcatraz,  tells us how - as with all first loves - a little time and distance can add some perspective, revealing to us the imperfections within the text that we were initially too close to see, and yet... still find ourselves falling in love with our writing, all....over....again. 

Return to Alcatraz

My first novel, A Child out of Alcatraz, about a family living on Alcatraz in the 1940s and 50s while the husband/father works as a prison guard, was in many ways my first love. I invested so much into that relationship -- I researched the story for four years before I wrote a single word, I  dreamed about the world I wanted to both honor and recreate, the narrative structure, the experience of the characters, especially the mother and youngest daughter, whose story it really is (in this feminist re-interpretation of the Alcatraz myth.)
But I was terrified to actually write any of it down, as if I just wasn't ready for that kind of relationship, the seriousness of such a commitment. When I finally took the plunge, I wrote a first draft in six months: a heady, dizzying, passionate experience. I revised for another six months, then repeated the process with my editor – every word, sentence, paragraph, chapter, (every comma and semi-colon -- the fights I had with my editor over punctuation, the weight of the world resting on a single comma!) -- and I fine-tooth-combed the manuscript until I had it memorized. When the novel was published I did dozens of readings, until I could perform the entire thing virtually by memory; I felt like some ancient Grecian orator, letter-perfectly proclaiming the Iliad by heart.

As with any first love, I gave it my all, my heart, blood, sweat and soul, without any preconceptions or self-consciousness. I was a virgin writer; I had no experience of publishing or the publishing world, or any distracting lure of "expectation" -- who knew if I’d even finish it? Find an agent? Find a publisher? Who even cared? None of that was on my mind – my absorption in the novel was detached from reality, entirely pure in focus and intention.  It had all the innocence of first love – no embittered memories of rejection, of affections gained and lost, only the enthralling immediacy of the joyous moment at hand, of passionate devotion and open-hearted trust. Every word was new to me; every sentence I wrote and read was a discovery. My intimacy with my novel was the tender familiarity of a lover’s face, every freckle, every line – love is the exalting of the lover above yourself (well, first love, perhaps… ), and for years I abandoned myself to that novel, lived inside that world, the sound of seagulls and smell of salt from the San Francisco Bay. The complicated family dynamics and painful deteriorating of their hopes and dreams were more real to me than my own.

And then it ended. The book tour was over, reviews came and went, the book disappeared from store shelves -- to make room for younger, newer, fresher books -- my agent wanted my next novel, the friends and family who were so supportive of my Alcatraz obsession were, well, finally bored. I was devastated. Everyone wanted me to move on, get over it already. I knew they were right -- it was time for a new relationship, perhaps one made even better by some wisdom and experience, but it was so hard to let go of that first love, that first untainted, uncynical, unbaggaged innocence. I moved on; I wrote other stuff, and for fourteen years I have tried to enter into each new story or novel unfettered by longing or nostalgia, without pining for the “perfect” experience of that first book. You will love again, I told myself, and I have, but it has always been a different, more seasoned and tempered kind of love.

By the time Foreverland Press offered to bring A Child out of Alcatraz back into the world as an ebook, I hadn’t really thought about that old novel in years. A dim memory, that exuberant early romance. There’s a book-cover poster on my office wall, and a big cardboard box of hardcopies in a closet somewhere, and that’s about it. It was like receiving an invitation to a 20-year high school reunion. I thought of the young, uncynical, hopeful writer I once was, and smiled…

The process of a hardcover becoming an ebook involves lots of techno-speak and "format issues" I don’t understand, but eventually results in a digital manuscript that has all the words and sentences of the original in the right order, but is laid-out quite differently on the page. Foreverland Press was marvelous, and did virtually everything – but it was still my responsibility to proof the digital text, to re-read and make sure everything, every letter, word, comma, was, yes, still there, and survived the transformation correctly.
I’m actually not crazy about reading ebooks, so I was nervous about going through the novel again for that reason alone. But I had a bigger anxiety – how would it feel to revisit this first love? To sit down and spend the time getting reacquainted? To re-experience my story, my characters – would they be how I remembered them? Would I cringe, at the juxtaposition between my early wild passion and the more seasoned, critical reader of my own work that I am now?

Well, yes and no. As I read the digital manuscript, I was stunned at how much I'd forgotten about the novel, how distant and unfamiliar it now felt. That opening sequence I'd once thought was so compelling, so powerful... ? Looking back, I didn't capture the voice -- that of the youngest daughter, born on Alcatraz and trying to make sense of her strange world -- quite as brilliantly as I'd thought. Those nonfiction sequences of Alcatraz history, meant to thematically parallel the deterioration of the family? A little over-written, perhaps, they could have been edited down. The sexual experiences of the turned-teenager daughter? Wow, I'd written that a bit more explicitly than necessary, maybe. The device of the braided narrative -- alternating sequences of mother's story, daughter's story, Alcatraz history -- was that as effective (and clever) as I'd hoped, or, or, or... ?  Damn, I wish I could rewrite that one sentence. Take out that one clumsy adverb. Describe that character with just a little more compassionate insight. All the second-guessing I didn't do once upon a time, all the mistakes I made, all the flaws I couldn't see while in the passion throes of that innocent first writing, were there for the wiser, older, more critical me to reckon with.
Or... correct? It occurred to me that this was an opportunity to edit, revise, re-do. Return to Alcatraz, that long-ago first love, and make it all perfect. The new and improved A Child out of Alcatraz! Ah, technology!

I went back to the beginning of the file, prepared to make writerly corrections. This time, as I read -- re-read -- I did smile. What a haunting first chapter -- the little girl experiencing a critical, painful moment of revelation. Such vivid descriptions -- all that "information" really does inform the narrative, doesn't it, allow the reader to immerse herself in the sights and sounds and smells and reality of the prison, of life on Alcatraz, of mid-20th century San Francisco. The mother's mental and emotional deterioration -- I did cringe, but in empathy for her struggles, not in embarrassment. I found myself too caught up in the story -- scrolling pages almost impatiently -- to question any awkward adjective or misplaced comma. I felt enthralled, fully absorbed -- not as a writer, blindly forging ahead with her first novel, but as a reader, engaged in a story and characters I cared about, whose lives moved me, made me feel, made me think.

So, I didn't change a word, a comma, not a single thing. I love this novel. I loved revisiting this first love of mine. Not because it is "perfect" -- it certainly isn't! -- but because it reminded me of the fearless, open-hearted, un-baggaged young writer I once was and hope to still be, it allowed me to return to a time and place of passion and trust and honesty and pain, all the things we often learn -- as we age, as we "grow" -- to guard ourselves against as both writers and people. All the necessary stuff of writing, of reading, of life.

Set in the '50s and '60s, A Child out of Alcatraz paints a searing and compelling portrait of the downward spiral of a mother and young daughter. When the father takes a job as a prison guard, the family moves to The Rock, and soon the isolation and harsh living conditions become a metaphor for the dysfunctional family, forcing each member to escape in their own way.

About Tara Ison
Tara Ison is also the author of the novel The List (Scribner, 2007), Rockaway is forthcoming from Counterpoint/Soft Skull Press, and the short story collection Ball to be published by Red Hen Press. Her short fiction, essays, poetry and book reviews have appeared in Tin House, The Kenyon Review, The Rumpus,, TriQuarterly, Black Clock, Publisher's Weekly, The Week magazine, The Mississippi Review, LA Weekly, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune, the San Jose Mercury News, and numerous anthologies. Tara is also the co-writer of the cult movie Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead. She is the recipient of many awards, including a 2008 NEA Creative Writing Fellowship and a 2008 COLA Individual Artist Grant. Ison received her MFA in Fiction & Literature from Bennington College and is currently Assistant Professor of Fiction at Arizona State University. For more information, visit

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Fight Song Blog Tour Wrap Up

All good things must come to end! 

As our tour for the book grinds to a halt today, let's look back at all of the wonderful people who helped us spread the word and jumped at the chance to show the book some love:

Day 0: We kick off the tour with a little introduction.
Day 1: Pop Queenie give it an official kick off with Joshua's Mix Tape and her own Top Five Fight Songs.
Day 2: Finds Booked In Chico and Joshua Mohr discussing milestones!
Day 3: Comes back around to me for a peek at where Joshua Mohr writes.
Day 4: Is hosted by Heather of Between the Covers... it's an exclusive audio reading from Joshua Mohr.
Day 5: Amy from The Insatiable Booksluts pits two of Joshua Mohr's novels against one another in a DEATH MATCH - Which one won?
Day 6: Bitches with Books have given Coffen his own cocktail!
Day 7: Finds Rebecca from Love at First Book discovering Joshua Mohr's quest for happiness.

Then the ladies give way to the men.....

Day 8: Is in Ryan W Bradley's hands as he interviews Joshua Mohr.
Day 9: Brings another interview, this time by Benoit of Dead End Follies.
Day 10: Sets up a podcast between Managing/Founding Editor Justin Lawrence Daugherty and Joshua Mohr.
Day 11: Ben Tanzer gives a little reading of Joshua's book.
Day 12: The last stop belongs to Steve Himmer with a final interview.

What an incredible line-up, huh? I hope we knocked your socks off with our creative topics and interview skills! Where else are you going to find a two-week blog tour like this one?!

Heart-felt thanks to SJ, Erica, Heather, Amy, Ash, Rebecca, Ryan, Benoit, Justin, Ben, and Steve for doing such a kickass, flawless job during the tour. And a huge punk-rock, hard-core thanks to Joshua!! Without them, and without Joshua's willingness to work hard behind the scenes, bending to their every whim these past few months (that's right, MONTHS), none of this would have been possible. 

I hope we have done the book proud, and sent some of you scurrying over to Joshua's blog to check out all of his books and purchase yourself a copy or four. 

Connect with the book on Goodreads. And come back to tell us what you thought of it... We'll be here waiting...

(If you enjoyed this book tour, or added the book to your TBR pile because of our blog tour, we'd love for you to mark TNBBC as the "person who recommended"  the book to you on goodreads!) 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Where Writers Write: Erica Olsen

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. 

Photo: Michael Troutman
 © D. M. Troutman

This is Erica Olsen. 

She uses the subjects of place, landscape, and history to write fiction that reflects on the relationship between nature and culture. She is the author of Recapture& Other Stories (Torrey House Press, 2012). 

She lives in the Four Corners area, where she has worked as an archivist at Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum in Blanding, Utah, and as a museum technician at the Anasazi Heritage Center in Dolores, Colorado, both grant-funded positions supporting the preservation of archaeological collections.

Where Erica Olsen Writes

When I’m writing, I like being able to look up and see a long way. Living in the Four Corners area—in Blanding, Utah (pop.  3, 394), and outside Dolores, Colorado (pop. 933)—I can shift my gaze away from the computer screen, out the window, across what feels like a hundred miles of mountains and mesa tops. When I was finishing my first book, Recapture & Other Stories, I worked on some of the pieces in camp during backpacking and canoe trips.
Car camping is even more writer friendly. I live in an area with lots of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and Forest Service land; this is federal public land, which means we all own it, and most places, you can just pull off a back road and camp. This fall, I took notes for a new project while car camping in southeast Utah near Comb Ridge, a massive sandstone formation that appears in several of my stories. When stadium cushions meet suitable rock formations, you’ve got the perfect outdoor office.

On backpacking trips, I bring a small Moleskine notebook. (Don’t judge me. They’re expensive and have a hipster image, but the covers are really, really durable.) I also carry pencil stubs. Pencils yield visible evidence of writerly productivity, and half-size pencils feel best in my hand. When they’re down to about a 2” length, they go into the backpacking quiver. Gotta save on weight. It all stays organized in a Zip-Loc. (Here, in northern Utah’s Wasatch Range.)

 After my book was published, I took it on a day hike on White Mesa, south of Blanding. Recapture is light and packable, too.

In my stories, recurrent questions include: How does place shape the stories we tell and the lives we lead? And how do we imagine—how do we create—the places where we live? Often, the seed of a story was planted on a backcountry trip, or just a random moment when I drove down a dirt road to see where it might take me.

On second thought, planting a seed is too agricultural a metaphor. This process has been more like hunting and gathering. These story-seeds attached themselves to me, like those determined seeds that burrow into your socks. From the seeds’ point of view, a passing human works as well as the hairy hide of any animal to carry them to new ground.

Next week, we show you Eric Goodman gets his writing on!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

My CCLaP Journal: The Early Days

I apologize if this blog begins to feel a bit like a deserted dirt road in the middle of nowhere. It's still the early days of my position with CCLaP, and I haven't quite figured out how to balance these new responsibilities  with the old ones yet. My old friend Routine has packed up and run away and stubbornly refused to leave a forwarding address. But don't worry. I'll find it. I promise. It hasn't gone far... I hope.

To make up for the strange silence, though, I thought it'd be cool to post updates every now and then about CCLaP and our books and the interesting things I learn along the way as a newbie Marketing Director.

Like, take this database I've been creating. Have you used - an invaluable website that neatly organizes quite possibly every single independent bookstore (with or without a website) by state and city? I've been working off of that site, researching and emailing bookstores, for two weeks and I'm only just through Connecticut. Phew!

A few things I've noted about independent bookstores and their websites:

1. Some are amazingly indie - their websites have edgy themes and cool headers, and they have tons of information on their site for first-time browsers, giving those who are not familiar with their store a real feel for what they're all about.

2. Others are sadly information-less and seem to be no more than mere web-address placeholders.

The former makes my job incredibly easy - I can see what types of books they specialize in, I get a feel for their layout, and all of their contact information (including an email address - you'd be surprised how many list hours of operation and phone numbers but never list an email!) is easily accessible. This helps me determine whether or not they'd be interested in taking our books on consignment and whether or not our books would fit in with the rest of their stock...

The latter? Well... if the email address is there, at best, I'm blindly reaching out and crossing my fingers that our books and their store might be a match. And I really hate doing that. Because I liken this part of my job to that of authors who pitch bloggers.

(...lookit that segue. C'mon, admit it, that was sweet..)

As a blogger, I know how frustrating it can be to sift through endless author pitches requesting reviews of books that are just not a fit for you or your blog. A Vietnam War vet self published a memoir and they want me to review it why...?  You've written a historical steampunk romance novel and you're pitching me because...? Have you even LOOKED at my blog? 

I'm a firm believer in the power of proper pitching - of doing a little leg-work, donning that detective badge and sniffing out the blogs that are the absolute best match for your book. You've heard me advocate for that before. (Heck, some of the authors I've met and worked with have heard that from me before! Haven't you, fella's?) In order to help authors determine who and where to pitch, bloggers create "about me" or "review policy" pages. The purpose of those pages is to attract the types of books you most prefer to read and review, and warn away those authors whose books are a total mismatch, right? So, if you're a blogger, and you DON'T have a "review policy" page, you've made yourself vulnerable to all kinds of crazy pitches and you've got no one to blame but yourself.
(Edit:  Ann from Books on the Nightstand made a great point - that even WITH a review policy, bloggers still get buried beneath mismatched pitches, and that sometimes just HAVING a review policy page increases the likelihood that you'll be pitched ruthlessly with greater frequency. To this, all I can say is - those with a review policy in place now have the power to push back on the author who mis-pitched and help them "see the light", so to speak, and show them the error of their ways.)
The same goes for bookstores. If you're in the business of buying and selling books, everyone who's ever written or published one is going to want their books in your store. The best thing you can do for everyone involved? Create an "about" or "consignment" page. Let authors and publishers know what you're interested in, whether or not you support small press and self published literature, and if you do, in which ways you prefer to work with us. We don't want to inundate your inbox with emails that make your eyes roll and your breath push out between your lips and your head bang off the desk.

I want to find the bookstores that are a perfect match for our books.

But I need you to help me find you.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Sarah Gerkensmeyer's Guide to Books & Booze

Time to grab a book and get tipsy!

Books & Booze  premiered as a new mini-series of sorts here on TNBBC back in October. The participating authors were challenged to make up their own drinks, name and all, or create a drink list for their characters and/or readers using drinks that already exist.

A Homebrewer's Guide to What You Are Now Enjoying

When I learned about The Next Best Book blog's Books and Booze series, I jumped right on board. I was going to come up with a list of potent cocktails and get you nice and soused. First, I was going to ask you to take a shot of something—anything strong—before even beginning What You Are Now Enjoying, because these stories are weird. But I know nothing about making cocktails. And as I was talking to my husband about how I might pair up my stories with different drinks, I realized that he was the perfect partner for this essay. Several months ago, he took up a new hobby—homebrewing beer. And now my basement is littered with coils of plastic tubing and bottle caps and empties and yeasty residues. The hobby has spread out from our basement and taken over stair landings, coat closets, and kitchen cabinets. There's the constant bubbling of CO2 burping out of the airlocks of carboys and brew buckets. My four year old son thoughtfully chews on grains. The base malt grains are his favorite, because they are especially sweet.

I've realized that my husband has his own stories to tell through his new hobby. He researches the origins of various styles, tracing all the way back into pre-prohibition history. Tasting a finely crafted beer is like tasting a story, a complexity that can take us somewhere else entirely. So the following are craft beers that my husband would brew specially for the stories in my new book. He's come up with the perfect 12-pack. And apparently he knows what he's talking about. He just entered his first homebrew competition and two of his beers took third place in their respective categories. You can follow his brewing adventures at his blog, Drew's Brews.

What You Are Now Enjoying”—Milk Stout
My husband found this first pairing to be a bit awkward. The title story is about a group of young women who take part in a kind of therapy in which they breastfeed infant orphans, reaping the physical and therapeutic benefits of nursing without having to be a mother. So my husband found this first assignment to be “creepy.” But he was brave.

I'm going with a milk stout. Yeah, I went there. Milk stouts are smooth and a little sweet because of the addition of lactose sugar, which the yeast can't eat.

Dear John”—Double IPA
The narrator's husband disappears. But it's not as simple as it sounds. His vanishing is a gradual, strange process. My husband thought that an IPA would pair well with the mystery of this story.

The IPA style originated when Britain started shipping beer to India. The higher alcohol content and the extreme hop additions prevented bacterial growth during the long journey. So this is a brew that is going somewhere, which will make sense when you read the story about a disappearing husband. Also, hop character degrades quickly. Hoppy beers need to be enjoyed when they are fresh. Finally, because this is a Double IPA, if you drink too much you just might forget who you are.

Careless Daughters”—Belgian Trippel
This story takes on secular polygamy. Some men post ads on the Internet for multiple wives. And some women answer those ads. In “Careless Daughters,” there are three wives.

Belgian trippel has one of the strongest alcohol contents when it comes to Belgian beers. With three sister wives, I just had to go trippel on this.

Produce”—Spiced Pumpkin Ale
In this very short piece, the narrator distantly observes the raw precision of a stranger's grief. And the story takes place in a ritzy, overpriced grocery store that is full of strange fruits and vegetables from all over the world.

For this one, I'll go with a pumpkin ale. You add pureed pumpkin directly to the mash. But here's the difficulty with pumpkin ales—the higher protein content of the pumpkin makes it nearly impossible to avoid a cloudy beer. I like that complication and possible cloudiness paired with this story.

My Husband's House”—American Lager
Here's a story full of hard-working, Midwestern men who are rough around the edges. They hand-fish for giant catfish while guzzling cheap canned beer. Oh, and there is plenty of mystery and intrigue and infidelity and possible ghosts in this story, but these men want to be simple men.

These dudes wouldn't recognize anything other than a standard American lager as a beer. In his book Brewing Classic Styles, Jamil Zainasheff has a recipe for an American lager that he has named “What Most Americans Call Beer.” This is the brew for the men in this story.

Monster Drinks Chocolate Milk”—Founder's Breakfast Stout
The narrator of this story hangs out in the middle of the night in his kitchen with the monster who has been haunting his dreams since he was a little kid. They chat about the monster's anxiety and depression and drink chocolate milk.

I'd make the milk stout that I recommended for “What You Are Now Enjoying” and simply add about 4 ounces of Baker's Chocolate at the very end of the boil. And because I imagine these meetings with the monster happening frequently, perhaps at breakfast after a rough night, I'm going with a clone of Founder's Breakfast Stout, which includes not only generous additions of Baker's Chocolate, but also generous additions of ground coffee.

Vanishing Point”—English Mild
The characters in this story are at an odd group therapy retreat in the middle of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota. Drinking is forbidden at this retreat, but the lonely characters figure out plenty of ways to self medicate.

An English Mild beer is fitting for this story because it is illegal for outfitters in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area to sell beer with an alcohol content above 3.2%, and some milds go as low as 2.8%.

The Shopkeeper's Tale” and “Hank”—Apricot Wheat
For my husband, this pairing was even weirder than thinking up a brew for a story that focuses on breastfeeding. But once again, he pulled through.

It's weird to think of a beer appropriate to drink while reading two stories that are about babies who feel overlooked or neglected or despised. But here goes... I've been wanting to brew an apricot wheat for a long time now, but apricot puree is expensive. Recently I realized that I could make my own apricot puree in the little steamer machine that we used to make baby food for our two sons.

The Rockport Falls Retirement Village Rescuers”—Clone of Batch 19
My husband has created one of my favorite brew backstories here—one that really taps into the sense of longing and loss that haunts this story, which is set in a retirement community.

I imagine the people in this retirement community being about the same age as my late grandfather and his surviving brother, my great Uncle Donald. Uncle Donald really likes the fact that I'm homebrewing and tells me that I'm carrying on the family tradition. He remembers his dad (my great, great grandfather) brewing in the house. The people in this story, however, (like my grandfather and my great uncle) are post-prohibition children, born just a few years before it was repealed in 1933. Prohibition destroyed the craft brew industry. Only the large lager houses survived that period. Today, homebrewers long to find old pre-prohibition recipes, to rediscover what was lost. Coors even claims to have found a pre-prohibition lager that they call Batch 19. I'd brew a clone of that and share it with my Uncle Donald and say something like: This might have been what your dad was trying to recreate in your kitchen.

Wonder Woman Grew Up In Nebraska”—Drew's Brew (American IPA)
My husband did some awesome research for this pairing, tackling a story that imagines the cartoon-colored version of Wonder Woman growing up in the middle of nowhere Nebraska, killing time with her high school girlfriends each weekend at the airport bar. My husband has given her his favorite beer—a hoppy IPA with bitter, rich, and complex undertones.

I googled “What beer would Wonder Woman drink?” and a list pairing comic book heroes with beers came up. It was awesome. But sadly, Wonder Woman did not make the list. In the comments section, people mentioned Wonder Woman and suggested things like Smirnoff and Hard Lemonade. I thought: Screw that—Wonder Woman would break your face with that Smirnoff you just handed her. Drew's Brew is my house IPA, and that's what Wonder Woman gets.

Edith and the Ocean Dome”—Clone of Sapporo
This story takes place in Japan, so it seems natural that my husband would pick Sapporo, the classic Japanese version of a German-style pilsner. But his reasons are more complex than obvious. The story features a gigantic indoor water park that includes a fake stretch of beach and the world's largest wave pool. The water park is set right next to the real ocean.

Japanese style lagers tend to be brewed with rice as an adjunct. Beer purists get worried when you start adding too many fermentable sugars that do not come from the malted barley itself. Japan even bars you from calling it beer if you use too much rice. Your product would be too fake, not authentic enough. Any beer from Japan, Sapporo included, skirts the boundaries between the fake and the authentic by including non-malt adjuncts.

The Cellar”—Old Ale (Christmas Spiced)
Here is my favorite pairing. In this story, an elderly couple discovers their memories and various moments from their long relationship preserved in glass jars and boxes within the depths of their cellar.

For this story filled with nostalgic memories, I will brew an Old Ale made with treacle (a kind of British unsulfered molasses). This is the beer I want to brew for the next Christmas season. Old ales are best when they are aged for six months to a year. I will probably start this batch within the next few weeks. And to make it a Christmas Ale, I'll add dried orange peel and vanilla bean at the end of the boil, along with ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Then I will let it age in our own cellar until Christmas Eve. When the kids have finally settled down to sleep, I will enjoy one with my beautiful wife.

And after that, dear beer drinkers, I could care less about sticky residue on the stove after a late night of brewing. This homebrewer has stolen this storyteller's heart.


Sarah Gerkensmeyer's story collection, What You Are Now Enjoying, was selected by Stewart O'Nan as winner of the 2012 Autumn House Press Fiction Prize. A Pushcart Prize nominee and a finalist for the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction and the Italo Calvino Prize for Fabulist Fiction, Sarah has received scholarships to the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, Ragdale, Grub Street, and the Vermont Studio Center. Her stories have appeared in Guernica, The New Guard Literary Review, The Massachusetts Review, Hayden's Ferry Review, and Cream City Review, among others. Sarah is the 2012-13 Pen Parentis Fellow. She received her MFA in fiction from Cornell University and now teaches creative writing at State University of New York at Fredonia. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Fight Song Blog Tour: Where Joshua Mohr Writes

We're celebrating the release of Joshua Mohr's newest novel in style. And it's certainly a book worth shouting about - In Fight SongJoshua takes us on a journey of self-discovery, of finding friends in the unlikeliest of places, of learning the value of accepting help even when you weren't asking for it, and of shedding those layers of dead skin that have been weighing you down. It dropped yesterday. You can find it in a bookstore near you today.

In case you missed it, the party started on Monday, when Pop Queenie brought the music. Yesterday, Booked in Chico brought the milestones

But we're not stopping there... we've got an awesome, two week lineup... partying it up hardcore-like with the man of the hour. You'll want to get comfy...we still have to pass out the drinks, throw two of his books into the ring smack-down style, hear Joshua read a little summin' summin' from the book, and interview the pants off of him. 

Today, Joshua Mohr gives you a peek into his writing space:

I write between midnight and about 5 a.m. My insomnia is pretty brutal, but I actually sort of dig it. My work days are longer than most people's. I sometimes joke that I get to write in dog years. When I write every light in the apartment is off except the lap top’s odd illumination. I love seeing only the prose, and everything else is shrouded in darkness. It's only the characters in my novel who light up my world! 


Check in tomorrow with Between the Covers, she's sharing a snippet of Joshua reading from the novel. And click here to see the rest of the line-up, cause you're not going to miss this for the world, right? Thanks to Pop Queenie and Booked in Chico for a great start to this tour and a huge hug to Joshua for being such a good sport about the whole thing!

Before I go, I want to leave you with this - it's the Fight Song book trailer - an informercial for Scout's Honor. I won't ruin the tie-in, because you plan on reading the book, right?! So give it a look, and get ready to laugh your ass off. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

And Then There Was This....

Excuse me for a moment while I bask in the awesomeness of this NY Times article that name-drops me IN THE FIRST LINE! (breathe Lori, in... through the nose, out... through the mouth, you can do this)

The article's focus is Goodreads - as a leader in book discoverability; its ability to build community across the reader-author-publisher-spheres; and its presence as a platform for promoting new books. And I'm featured because of this itty, bitty little group I run over there. You may have heard of it? The Next Best Book Club? OK, who am I fooling...

In all seriousness, I was incredibly flattered to be included and was really shocked to see more than a passing mention of me and my group. As some of you might know, The Next Best Book Club began as a call to readers - I was on a mission to find the next best book and I needed to know where to find it. What better way than to ask what people were reading, right?

And this is really what the article is all about. Discovering books through one another.

Discovering Goodreads helped me discover books I may not have otherwise run across. Within the group, we trusted each other to take and make recommendations. As the years passed, and I became more sure-footed in the land of small press and indie publishing, I began to look at TNBBC more as a platform to intermix readers and the authors of the books they were reading. Today, rather than using TNBBC as a personal search engine for the next best book, I'd like to think that - through this blog and the Author/Reader Discussions I host within the group - I'm returning the favor by helping my members discover THEIR next best book.

Anyhow, here's to Goodreads! Because without them, TNBBC would not exist and my obsession with literature would never have grown so far or so strong. And here's to the members of TNBBC - old and new, past and present - because you are what made the group what it is today. And here's to the NY Times, for thinking that both of us were worth talking about! This pretty much made my day.

If you'd like to read it, here's the link to the article.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Fight Song Blog Tour

Time to dust off the ol' blog tour cap and get ourselves back into fighting condition! 

TNBBC is about to host its largest, most kickass blog tour yet! We're celebrating the release of Joshua Mohr's fourth novel - Fight Song. I've been a huge Mohr fan ever since discovering his guilt ridden debut novel Termite Parade in 2010. I adored his 2011 sophomore novel Damascus. How could I not jump at the chance to lead the charge in promoting this one?!

What you can count on is two weeks cram-packed-to-the-point-of-bursting with awesome, exclusive content to get you all worked up and dying for more. I've been a crafty girl and scheduled the tour in such a way that we've got a GIRLS vs. GUYS showdown.... take a look:

The Ladies

Monday 2/11,  Pop Queenie kicks it all off and brings the music. Tuesday, Booked in Chico's got Joshua writing about milestones and life's turning points on the day of Fight Song's release! Wednesday, I take the tour back to show off Where Joshua Writes while on Thursday, Between the Covers shares an audio of Joshua reading from his book. Friday, Amy from Insatiable Booksluts throws Fight Song into the ring with Damascas for a Death Match. Saturday, Bitches with Books gets boozey with a cool cocktail and Sunday finds Joshua sharing his quest for happiness with Love at First Book.

The Men

Monday 2/18, Ryan Bradley interviews the man of the hour. Tuesday, Dead End Follies has some questions of his own. Justin of Sundog Lit gets all podcasty on Wednesday. Thursday, Ben Tanzer reads a passage from Fight Song and Friday we're treated to an interview by Steve Himmer.

Saturday 2/23, we bring it back home to wrap things up.

I hope you like what we've done. And it couldn't have been done without SJ, Erica, Heather, Amy, Ash, Rebecca, Ryan, Benoit, Justin, Ben, and Steve. They rock (you're about to see why!), and of course, there would be no tour if it wasn't for Joshua Mohr and his willingness to be harassed and poked and prodded, and bled and embarrassed (all in a good way!) for original content with which to entertain you.

to our Fight Song Blog Tour...

Friday, February 8, 2013

Indie Spotlight: Gabriel Böhmer's Beetle Days

If there is one thing I love to do, it's promote the pants off of awesome small press and self published literature. Especially when the said awesome literature is in need of a big kick to get itself out there. 

Today, I'm letting Gabriel Böhmer take the reins and talk about our evolution from imaginative apes to creative humans to dung beetles. What, you say? Read on, it'll all make sense, I promise.....

He's got a story I think you're going to want to hear.....


You, my friend, are a beautifully creative monkey. And I love you for that. Alright, monkey is not quite accurate. Ape or primate is technically correct. It doesn’t have the same ring though, does it? But anyways, this is how I figured this out. How I’ve explained to myself drawing sounds on paper, or typing them into computationally able light-boxes. See, we’re all capable of being amazing imaginative creatures. We just need to figure out how, and in what.

Let us consider my amateur anthropological summary of ingenuity over time and its role in our development.
Creativity comes in many forms. Yes the musician and the painter and the writer, but also the medical scientist. It’s the most fundamentally human thing: an idea that presents an alternative to a familiar sequence. It’s what advances us. What’s more, creativity informs creativity. New ideas in different disciplines don’t necessarily influence, but they encourage.

I suspect we had music before a fully-fledged language. And they must’ve helped one another. Leading to better tunes, and more sophisticated communication. Which lead to strategic advancements in hunting. And then more meat. And then more time to paint in caves. And so on and so forth.

So the way I see it is this: if you have the opportunity, you’re obligated to maximize creativity. And this brings me to writing and making things. I could be wonderfully mediocre at a few professions. But I’m just a bit better at stories and pictures. I’m not saying I’m any good. That’s not for me to decide. But this is me maximizing my capacity for creativity.

Good writing fascinates me. We’re introduced to a world, and then we draw our own conclusions. The author has a point, but they have to dance around it. If it’s laid out like a hypothesis—if we’re told instead of shown—the most lovingly far-fetched story becomes an essay. This balancing act is mesmerizing. Especially when the surface story is satisfying in and of itself. I love consuming, and making, and dissecting, these puzzles. Writing down line-by-line what Borges or Hemingway did is a good time. And seemingly simple stories always turn out to be beautifully, methodically, and painstakingly constructed.

There’s just something about a primate mimicking the complexity and casual randomness of nature that is very special.

Not counting short stories, I’ve written a book or play every 18 months for the past 10 years. Sometimes these things would turn into films. But they all ended up the same way: in a dark closet. And I was happy with that. But I’m not anymore. What good is maximizing creativity if you don’t give it the chance to inform creativity? I’ll tell you, it’s not worth a damn.

We arrive at present, and my book Beetle Days. It’s not out yet, but it’s on the way to being self-published. Hopefully, with the help of some backers through Kickstarter, which ends February 15th. I decided it was time, because Beetle Days is mine. An effort that is distinctly my voice. And it’s mine in a particular moment in time. I’ll never think, or feel, exactly the way I did when I wrote it again. Beetle Days is a satire about the greed and herd mentality one so often sees today. Told as a fable of talking sheep, people, and dissatisfied beetles. Beetles that steal things whilst mouthing off.

So, I’ve qualified how I came to writing, why I want to publish this thing, and a little about the idea. But where the hell did it come from?

Well, I’d been calling people dung beetles for a while. I don’t remember why exactly. But I suppose there’s a rudimentary appeal in comparing individuals to something that spins crap for a living. In truth, this is completely unfair. Dung beetles are very useful and kind ecosystem contributors! They recycle nutrients in soil, and make it more hygienic. But regardless of this, as time went on I was calling more and more things dung beetles. Individuals, places, objects, and concepts.

But, one morning in a French café in Zurich it happened. I was so sleep deprived that everything became a little fuzzy. I intended to write about an unpleasant neighbor. But, for some reason I only wrote about beetles. I completely left the ‘person’ bit out. And I’ve never stopped since. It quickly became about much more than an irritation. Written, near-compulsively in 30 days, it fed on thoughts concerning the supply chain of food production, economic manipulation, and contrarian psychology.

Beetle Days is my capacity for creativity. I hope you maximize yours. And I look forward to your ingenuity informing mine. You beautiful monkey, you.


Writer Gabriel Böhmer was born in Zurich, and has lived in London, Buenos Aires, and Boston. He used to work in the consulting industry but left in 2011 in pursuit of his own work (a production company in its start-up phase) making things and writing. He enjoys long distance running, building fires (to cook things), and banging on random objects to see what sound they'll make.

Beetle Days is currently a Kickstarter project. The campaign ends Feb 15th. Official Site. Twitter

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Where Writers Write: Mark Maynard

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. 

photo by Tom Seawell

This is Mark Maynard. 

He is the fiction editor for The Meadow literary journal and teaches creative writing in Reno, NV. His collection of short stories Grind was released by Torrey House Press in December 2012.

Where Mark Maynard Writes

I’m fortunate enough to have a writing space at home. This is a place of ritual, inspiration and compartmentalization for me.

Ritual: The small built-in desk houses my computer and just enough flat space on the left (I am left-handed) for whatever notes I need for the task at hand. My work begins with me placing on the desk a particular notebook, book, or various scraps of papers related to whatever I will be writing. My reference materials are on the adjacent shelf, next to the vintage Underwood typewriter (see “Inspiration” below). Behind me is a small folding table that holds additional materials or papers to be graded. On the shelf just above me is my coffee mug from, and, as soon as I am ready to begin writing, I spin it 180 degrees so that its vulgar, heart-shaped imperative is visible while I’m sitting at the keyboard.

Inspiration: In addition to the ancient typewriter, I’ve strategically stacked my bookshelves to inspire me. Above me are a collection of books by mentors, colleagues and friends – a sort of karmic reminder of the potential results of years of hard work, perseverance and grit. Above that is a shelf of my favorite novels. To the left of that is a shelf of my favorite poets and just below that, immediately to writer’s left, is an alphabetized shelf of my favorite short story collections including T.C. Boyle, Ron Carlson, Raymond Carver, Amy Hempel, Hemingway, Alice Munroe, Tim O’Brien and Tobias Wolff. Interspersed among these are photos of my wife, my two sons, my dog, my parents and many of my friends. These help sustain me in solitary moments where I’d rather leave the desk and go out into the tangible world.

Compartmentalization: This room is my primary workroom. Here I read, write fiction , write non-fiction, conduct research on a documentary film I amworking on, review and edit manuscripts, and prepare for my college courses, including planning and preparing for lectures and grading papers. In order to be able to switch between these things, I have a constant rotation of neatly stacked piles, plastic file boxes, the folding table and several bags (the leather satchel contains school texts and papers, the canvas tote -- research and notes for the film project) that can be moved in a cyclical fashion through the various permutations of “work”.

Check back this time next week to see where Joshua Mohr gets his writing on!