Friday, October 20, 2017

Friday Freebie: The Names of Dead Girls by Eric Rickstad


Congratulations to Michael Cooper, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: the Penguin Classics Deluxe edition of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Everything You Need to Know About Nightmares and How to Defeat Them by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller.

This week’s contest is for the new novel by Eric Rickstad, The Names of Dead Girls. I have a signed copy ready to put in one lucky reader’s hands. Here’s what others have been saying about the book: “Eric Rickstad is the rare writer who can wrap a dark, gritty story in smooth, poetic prose. If you haven’t discovered his work yet, The Names of Dead Girls is the place to start. It’s a taut, masterful thriller and a terrific read.” (Alafair Burke, New York Times bestselling author of The Ex) Keep scrolling for more information about the novel...


New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Eric Rickstad delivers another Canaan Crime novel and features once again detectives Frank Rath and Sonja Test as they track a depraved killer through rural Vermont. Every murder tells a story. Some stories never end....In a remote northern Vermont town, college student Rachel Rath is being watched. She can feel the stranger’s eyes on her, relentless and possessive. And she’s sure the man watching her is the same man who killed her mother and father years ago: Ned Preacher, a serial rapist and murderer who gamed the system to get a light sentence. Now, he’s free. Detective Frank Rath adopted Rachel, his niece, after the shocking murder of her parents when she was a baby. Ever since, Rath’s tried to protect her from the true story of her parents’ deaths. But now Preacher is calling Rath to torment him. He’s threatening Rachel and plotting cruelties for her, of the flesh and of the mind. When other girls are found brutally murdered, and a woman goes missing, Rath and Detective Sonja Test must untangle the threads that tie these new crimes and some long-ago nightmares together. Soon they will learn that the truth is more perverse than anyone could guess, rife with secrets, cruel desires, and warped, deadly loyalty. Mesmerizing, startling, and intricately plotted, The Names of Dead Girls builds relentlessly on its spellbinding premise, luring readers into its dark and macabre mystery, right to its shocking end.

If you’d like a chance at winning The Names of Dead Girls, simply email your name and mailing address to


Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on Oct. 26, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on Oct. 27. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.


Monday, October 16, 2017

My First Time: Eric Rickstad



My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands. Today’s guest is Eric Rickstad, the New York Times, USA Today, and international bestselling author of The Canaan Crime Series: Lie in Wait, The Silent Girls, and, his newest novel, The Names of Dead Girls. Dark, disturbing and compulsively readable psychological thrillers set in northern Vermont, the series is heralded as intelligent, profound, heartbreaking and mind shattering. His first novel Reap was a New York Times noteworthy novel. His fifth novel, What Remains of Her, is poised to be the most addictive and creepy read of the summer of 2018. Rickstad lives in his home state of Vermont.


The First Time I Knew I Had to Write

I can’t remember a time I did not read. Long before it was ever expected that kids “graduate” from kindergarten with the ability to read, I was reading at the age of four. In the fifth grade, I attended “literary luncheon” with the school librarian. Twice a week, instead of having lunch in the cafeteria, ten 5th graders met with the librarian in the principle’s conference room to discuss the merits of Encyclopedia Brown, The Secret Garden, Charlotte’s Web, Danny Champion of the World, and Freckle Juice.

I always wrote, too. When I read, I wanted to know how the writer did that, how she used words to manipulate my emotions so I felt sad or happy or scared, or conjured images as real as any object in the physical world. So, I wrote. Yet even with the influence of all the wonderful authors, my “writing” was not with purpose or intent or passion. I was in grade school after all, so my writing did not come from inside me. I mimicked the writing of authors I liked, and was typical gruesome kid stories, rip offs of stories such as Roald Dahl’s “Pig.” My version of “Pig” was missing the social satire —way over my head at the time—and concentrated on the gore and horror, putting a man through a bubble gum maker instead of an abattoir, stretching and torturing him until he came out the other side as a wad of bubble gum, got chewed by a cat, spat out on a sidewalk, stuck to a shoe, and so on.

Then, one summer day when I was still in junior high, my older sister’s boyfriend popped a cassette tape in the player as he drove his rusted, primer gray convertible VW Bug down the highway, and said: “Listen to this.”

The opening piano notes of a song played, and a voice sang, the words combining to create a story, a magic, of the likes I’d never heard.

The screen door slams/ Mary’s dress waves / Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays.

I saw Mary in her dress. I saw her standing on the porch. By the song’s finale, I saw her graduation gown lying in rags at their feet. I felt the lonely cool before dawn and heard their engines rolling on. I felt her aloneness, and the narrator’s aloneness and desperation and sincerity for something different, something more.

As the album continued, I felt the earnestness and fleetingness of youth and love, and their often broken promises. I felt the pain in the words. The lust and sadness. The struggle. The triumph. The loss. I felt the shots echo down them hallways in the night. I felt the hot sun and the mysterious nights and the complete freedom yet imprisonment of driving with no place to go. I had not yet lived any of these things, and I say I felt them because I did not really understand them. Yet, my gut and my heart felt it all, were awakened by the lyrics in a way no novel or short story had awakened them. That album reached me because of a deep loss in my life. My father had left my mom and three sisters and me a few years earlier, and that void, the pain and loneliness of it, was understood and respected in the words I heard blasting out the car speakers.

I saved up and bought the album and I played it over and over and over again trying to decipher its mysteries. I fell asleep listening to it, and awoke to the stylus of my cheap record player scratching in its endless final groove, cssuuusssh cssusssh csusssh, and before I rose from bed, I’d pick up the needle’s arm and set the needle back at the beginning to start my day.


Lyrics such as Barefoot girl sitting on the hood of a Dodge / Drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain and The poets down here don’t write nothin’ at all / They just stand back and let it all be cut to the quick. I knew nothing of this guy Springsteen. But I knew he meant it. He got it. He understood; and as I began to read about him, I saw comparisons in our lives of growing up working class poor, and our estrangement from our father’s, our loneliness and sense of being observers, outsiders, and a shared urgency to put all of it down on paper, into stories that tried to make sense of it and of our place in the world. He took the common and spun myths out of it. His lyrics made me want to write. For the first time. Really write. Even though I was incapable of doing it justice at that age, I knew I had to write what was within me. Let it explode on the page, however awful the adolescent writing was, however convoluted or self-pitying, or navel gazing, or juvenile. I had to write, because those lyrics also made me feel I had something to say, that we all do.

So, I wrote. And I’ve never stopped. I wrote, and learned how to “show” and not “tell” by listening to Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town and Nebraska thousands of times. I wrote, influenced by lyrics that possessed a singular voice, deep internalized emotion, a keen sense of place and story, and a lingering sense of mystery as to how the precise combination of words can resonate so powerfully. There is a magic to it.

I’ve tried to bring those essential elements to everything I’ve ever written, and it’s that combination I seek and admire most in novels and short stories I read, no matter how dissimilar they may be in many other ways. To give readers a sense that they’re reading a story or novel no one else could have written but me, a novel or story that impacts them, makes them think or feel, is a joy. If any of my stories or novels holds up to retain a sense of mystery, I’ve done my job well. After so many years of listening to Born to Run, even though each lyric and note was memorized long ago, their mystery remains. The magic remains.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Sunday Sentence: The Midnight Line by Lee Child


Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.


Right away he saw Billy was a hardscrabble country boy, maybe forty years old, lean and furtive, like a fox and a squirrel had a kid, and spent half the time baking it in the sun, and the other half beating it with a stick.

The Midnight Line by Lee Child

Friday, October 13, 2017

Friday Freebie: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Everything You Need to Know About Nightmares and How to Defeat Them by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller


Congratulations to Kristen Lodge, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash.

This week’s contest could be called a Freaky Friday the 13th Freebie. I’ve Monster Mashed a couple of books together just in time for Halloween. One lucky reader will win the Penguin Classics Deluxe edition of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Everything You Need to Know About Nightmares and How to Defeat Them by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller. So, there’s one for you and one for the kids (or, depending on your age, one for you and one for the grownups). Keep reading...if you dare...


First up is the deluxe edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the haunting adventure about ambition and modernity run amok. The Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition of the 1818 classic has an introduction by Elizabeth Kostova and cover art by Ghost World creator Daniel Clowes. Mary Shelley’s timeless gothic novel presents the epic battle between man and monster at its greatest literary pitch. In trying to create life, the young student Victor Frankenstein unleashes forces beyond his control, setting into motion a long and tragic chain of events that brings Victor to the very brink of madness. How he tries to destroy his creation, as it destroys everything Victor loves, is a powerful story of love, friendship, scientific hubris, and horror.



Everything You Need to Know About Nightmares and How to Defeat Them is, as the title claims, a handbook for beating nightmares from the New York Times bestselling authors of the Nightmares series, Jason Segel (also star of that TV show How I Met Your Mummy) and Kirsten Miller. Nightmares. They come in all shapes and sizes, from gargantuan lizards to teensy creepy-crawlies. No matter their form, we know all too well, they are truly terrifying. The good news is that every Nightmare, no matter how ferocious, mysterious, or hairy, can be defeated. And this book will tell you how. Everything You Need to Know About Nightmares and How to Defeat Them is your one-stop guide to battling anything that goes bump in the night. Whether you’re being chased by zombies or stalked by evil twins, this handy book will give you all the tools and tips you need to put your bad dreams to bed for good Keep a copy under your pillow and you’ll never fear Nightmares again.

If you’d like a chance at winning both books, simply email your name and mailing address to


Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on Oct. 19, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on Oct. 20. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.


Monday, October 9, 2017

My First Time: Paulette Livers


My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands. Today’s guest is Paulette Livers, author of the novel Cementville, a novel which opens in a small Kentucky town as coffins are making their way home from Vietnam, along with one remaining survivor, the now-maimed town quarterback recently rescued from a prison camp. Cementville was the winner of the Elle Lettres Readers Prize and finalist for the Center for Fiction’s Flaherty Dunnan First Novel Prize, Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year, and the Kentucky Literary Award. Paulette teaches at Story Studio and is Creative Director at Mighty Sword, a boutique writing and design studio serving writers and publishers around the country. Livers is a recipient of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs Artist Grant, and is a MacDowell Fellow. Please visit www.PauletteLivers.com to learn more about her works.


My First Brush With Mortality

With so many years spent making art and texts, countless firsts have come and gone: first workshop as my graduate program’s most nontraditional student, first contracts, first awarding of those coveted bona fides. There’s the first completed novel—that obligatory one-in-the-drawer; a second novel which would be the first published, to reasonable acclaim, and sad sales figures; and the first draft of a third novel, now in revisions after my agent’s close read.

Until last fall there was one first I had not experienced: An up-close encounter with mortality.

Oh sure, I’d gotten myself into dangerous scrapes: the near fatal car accident at 18. The heart-thumping race against a lightning storm while backpacking up a 14,000-foot peak in the Rockies. Class V rapids in the Grand Canyon. An idiotic rock-climbing venture with an “expert” whom every cell in my body told me not to trust. I consider myself a reasonable risk-taker with a faith in pushing physical and mental strength where it hasn’t gone before. After all, I’d always enjoyed perfect health. A doctor who examined me early last year said, “You’re trim, you’re active, and you have low blood pressure. You’ll live to be 100!” My body was the sturdy house for my mind, the dependable turtle shell from which I’d written and created for years.

But the body is a fickle partner to the mind. Mine started to turn on me last September, when I learned the bronchitis I hadn’t been able to shake was actually pneumonia—and something else. Hospitalization, an isolation room (they suspected tuberculosis), and multiple tests later, we uncovered a mycobacterial colonization of my lungs, which had found its perfect habitat due to an incurable lung disease I didn’t even know I had. Bronchiectasis had killed my sister at age 32; not until I was diagnosed with it did I learn that the condition carries a familial connection. Another sister has been living with it and managing it for a couple of years now.

But this was just the start.

A routine mammogram in October turned up something suspicious. Fast forward: biopsy, surgery, chemo, and at the end of June, the last radiation treatment. In the midst of all this, quarterly CT scans of my lungs showed a pesky nodule, and the word “biopsy” again hung over me. I was supposed to be celebrating freedom from breast cancer, and suddenly couldn’t be sure I was home free.

You might be asking, What has this to do with firsts in writing? Almost everything I’ve ever written has dealt with death, either overtly or as a subtext. Coming from a very large extended family, I’ve encountered so many losses at this point, I probably (foolishly) believed I was inured to what the personal confrontation with mortality might do to notions about my own impermanence.

Wedged in among medical appointments and new tests, surgeries and consultations, and injections of toxins no sane person would happily choose, daily writing practice morphed into a wholly unfamiliar mental beast. That third novel hung in a Twilight Zone world, its ending coming one sentence, one phrase, or even a single image at a time, little nuggets that two or three times a week glimmered weakly through the ever-present fatigue.

I credit my hard-driving mother for the relentless worker I am. Moving into the reasonable expectations I would undoubtedly advise a sick friend to embrace has been a lesson in acceptance I didn’t even know I needed. No one’s to blame; there isn’t some supreme being who took time off from keeping the planets in orbit in order to stick it to Paulette.

Illnesses happen to people every second of every day. I have health care in a country where that’s far from guaranteed. I have family and friends who love me. I have places like The MacDowell Colony, Vermont Studio Center, and Virginia Center for Creative Arts that will shelter and feed me so I can work without interruption. I have mobility, and a mind, and a body that, for all its insults and infidelities, is still not a total shambles of a house. Regardless of when my new novel eventually runs through a printing press, the planets are not likely to go whizzing off into the ether.

Today an image. Tomorrow a phrase. By the end of the week, a sentence. At some point, Finis.


Sunday, October 8, 2017

Sunday Sentence: “Doors, Doors, Doors” by Anne Sexton


Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.


Christ was a hornet inside his head.

“Doors, Doors, Doors” from The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton

Friday, October 6, 2017

Friday Freebie: The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash


Congratulations to Alyssa Davis, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: The Leavers by Lisa Ko and Never Coming Back by Alison McGhee.

This week’s contest is for the new novel by Wiley Cash, The Last Ballad. Keep scrolling for more information about the book...

The New York Times bestselling author of the celebrated A Land More Kind Than Home and This Dark Road to Mercy returns with this eagerly awaited new novel set in the Appalachian foothills of North Carolina in 1929 and inspired by actual events. The chronicle of an ordinary woman’s struggle for dignity and her rights in a textile mill, The Last Ballad is a moving tale of courage in the face of oppression and injustice, with the emotional power of Ron Rash’s Serena, Dennis Lehane’s The Given Day, and the unforgettable films Norma Rae and Silkwood. Twelve times a week, twenty-eight-year-old Ella May Wiggins makes the two-mile trek to and from her job on the night shift at American Mill No. 2 in Bessemer City, North Carolina. The insular community considers the mill’s owners—the newly arrived Goldberg brothers—white but not American and expects them to pay Ella May and other workers less because they toil alongside African Americans like Violet, Ella May’s best friend. While the dirty, hazardous job at the mill earns Ella May a paltry nine dollars for seventy-two hours of work each week, it’s the only opportunity she has. Her no-good husband, John, has run off again, and she must keep her four young children alive with whatever work she can find. When the union leaflets begin circulating, Ella May has a taste of hope, a yearning for the better life the organizers promise. But the mill owners, backed by other nefarious forces, claim the union is nothing but a front for the Bolshevik menace sweeping across Europe. To maintain their control, the owners will use every means in their power, including bloodshed, to prevent workers from banding together. On the night of the county’s biggest rally, Ella May, weighing the costs of her choice, makes up her mind to join the movement—a decision that will have lasting consequences for her children, her friends, her town—indeed all that she loves. Seventy-five years later, Ella May’s daughter Lilly, now an elderly woman, tells her nephew about his grandmother and the events that transformed their family. Illuminating the most painful corners of their history, she reveals, for the first time, the tragedy that befell Ella May after that fateful union meeting in 1929. Intertwining myriad voices, Wiley Cash brings to life the heartbreak and bravery of the now forgotten struggle of the labor movement in early twentieth-century America—and pays tribute to the thousands of heroic women and men who risked their lives to win basic rights for all workers. Lyrical, heartbreaking, and haunting, this eloquent novel confirms Wiley Cash’s place among our nation’s finest writers.

If you’d like a chance at winning The Last Ballad, simply email your name and mailing address to


Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on Oct. 12, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on Oct. 13. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.


Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Eclectic Shelf: Eric Rickstad’s Library



Reader:  Eric Rickstad
Location:  Vermont
Collection size:  No idea, a lot. Books everywhere.
The one book I’d back into a burning building to rescue:  My 1992 Best American Short Stories
Favorite book from childhood:  Danny, Champion of the World by Roald Dahl
My guilty pleasure:  Best American Short Stories Collection

OK, I don’t really have a library. Not in the sense that I think of a library, that vast room with shelves from floor to ceiling, a place worthy of Colonel Mustard and his pipe wrench. But I do have a lot of bookshelves and cabinets.


This is what’s left of what was my Best American Short Stories and O’Henry Awards collection from 1974-2005. I lost so many editions to severe water damage, it kills me. I first read BASS in the early ’90s when in college. These stories opened up my mind to what was possible with words, precise language, and love of craft. Each was a gem that excited me to read more ravenously than ever, and a challenge to write my best. Joyce Carol Oates. Alice Munro. John Edgar Wideman. Harlan Ellison. Alice Adams. Rick Bass. Denis Johnson. And on and on and on. Who were these word conjurers of tales so strange and wondrous and singular? I devoured the stories, and I bought each subsequent edition in the years to come, along with the O’Henry collections. After reading the first copy I ever bought in 1992, I searched for past editions and bought them whenever I was in a used bookshop. Searching for and finding them was a feverish, earnest pursuit. Of course, they led me to the literary magazine world, and I gobbled up every copy of Cimarron Review, Tri-Quarterly, Boulevard, Prairie Schooner, Ploughshares, and dozens of others in the periodicals section of the University of Vermont’s Bailey Howe Library. There was no going back. The door was flung wide open.

When several boxes of my editions got ruined by water damage during a move, I felt gut punched. I could recall each story in my mind and where I was when I read it the first of many, many times, what it made me feel and think, and how it made me want to write. I remember I started Kate Braverman’s “Tall Tales from the Mekong Delta” on the front porch of my college apartment and had to finish it inside when a downpour struck out of the blue. I read Denis Johnson’s “Emergency” while waiting for my clothes to wash at the Laundromat. And I re-read it and re-read it and re-read it. What. Was. This? Magic.

When I lost all those editions in the mid 2000s, I could have easily searched for and bought online all the used editions I wanted, with a few clicks. I could have owned them all again, and more. I still could. But, no. It wouldn’t be the same, it wouldn’t be them: found in the back labyrinth of stacks in ancient used bookstores, dog-eared and tattered and stained, sentences and words and entire pages underlined during those moments of revelation upon my first read of them. So, I salvaged those books I could from the water damage. Luckily, among the books that were salvageable included the first one I bought in 1992. They occupy the top shelf where they belong, and once in a while I’ll take them down and be transported, not just back into the world of the stories, but to the time I first read that story. I don’t keep them in any order—as you can see, one is upside down. I read them, and I still take notes in them. They are there to be read.


I try to arrange books by author’s last name, alphabetically. It’s hopeless. As I buy more books, it would mean having to get rid of older books to accommodate new books, and I buy new books by the dozens. I gave up on shelves for a spell, and the new books just pile up. This shelf demonstrates an attempt at order, and the eclectic array on any given shelf. New books. Used books. Hardcovers and paperbacks. Fiction and nonfiction. Genre novels by John Sandford, Don Winslow and Nic Pizzolatto live among Carson Stroud, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, and Mia Siegert. Strewn among them are the nonfiction work On Fire by the late Larry Brown, Animals Make Us Human by Temple Grandin, Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass, and Under the Stars by Dan White, a history of camping in the U.S. Near one of Stephen King’s newer annual tomes and Donna Tartt’s latest addition in a decade, sit The Stories of Breece Pancake, a Wild Game Cookbook from the ’80s, and a favorite book of essays and photographs, with a foreword by the late Howard Frank Mosher, Deer Camp: Last Light in the Northeast Kingdom. Each shelf is its own mini collection of writers.


Sometimes, even in alphabetical order, a shelf will represent just a few authors in a specific genre, like this one, which is Hakan Nesser-centric, and mostly mystery/crime genre.


Other times, certain kings of the book world get their own shelf, or shelves.

There are shelves with just cookbooks, and just children’s books, rock n’ roll biographies, essays, philosophy, Judaism, hunting and fishing, and art. I keep building or buying shelves and giving away books I love to others, so they can enjoy them. I stack them at the bedside table, and the floor, and on the stairs, and I box them up and put boxes in the closet. I think I may well need a library.


Eric Rickstad is the New York Times, USA Today, and international bestselling author of The Canaan Crime Series: Lie in Wait, The Silent Girls, and his newest novel, The Names of Dead Girls. Dark, disturbing and compulsively readable psychological thrillers set in northern Vermont, the series is heralded as intelligent, profound, heartbreaking and mind shattering. His first novel Reap was a New York Times noteworthy novel. His fifth novel, What Remains of Her, is poised to be the most addictive and creepy read of the summer of 2018. Rickstad lives in his home state of Vermont.


My Library is an intimate look at personal book collections.  Readers are encouraged to send high-resolution photos of their home libraries or bookshelves, along with a description of particular shelving challenges, quirks in sorting (alphabetically? by color?), number of books in the collection, and particular titles which are in the To-Be-Read pile.  Email thequiveringpen@gmail.com for more information.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Sunday Sentence: The Minor Outsider by Ted McDermott


Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.


Taylor came to the door and his heart fell apart.

The Minor Outsider by Ted McDermott

Friday, September 29, 2017

Friday Freebie: The Leavers by Lisa Ko and Never Coming Back by Alison McGhee


Congratulations to Jeffrey Tretin, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: The Disappeared by Adam Braver.

This week’s contest is for a pair of new novels whose titles seemed like a good match: The Leavers by Lisa Ko (recently longlisted for the National Book Award) and Never Coming Back by Alison McGhee. Keep scrolling for more information on the books...

One morning, Deming Guo’s mother, Polly, an undocumented Chinese immigrant, goes to her job at a nail salon—and never comes home. No one can find any trace of her. With his mother gone, eleven-year-old Deming is left mystified and bereft. Eventually adopted by a pair of well-meaning white professors, Deming is moved from the Bronx to a small town upstate and renamed Daniel Wilkinson. But far from all he’s ever known, Daniel struggles to reconcile his adoptive parents’ desire that he assimilate with his memories of his mother and the community he left behind. Told from the perspective of both Daniel—as he grows into a directionless young man—and Polly, Ko’s novel gives us one of fiction’s most singular mothers. Loving and selfish, determined and frightened, Polly is forced to make one heartwrenching choice after another. Set in New York and China, The Leavers is a vivid examination of borders and belonging. It’s a moving story of how a boy comes into his own when everything he loves is taken away, and how a mother learns to live with the mistakes of the past.

When Clara Winter left her rural Adirondacks town for college, she never looked back. Her mother, Tamar, a loving but fiercely independent woman who raised Clara on her own, all but pushed her out the door, and so Clara built a new life for herself, far from her roots and the world she had always known. Now more than a decade has passed, and Clara, a successful writer, has been summoned home. Tamar has become increasingly forgetful, and can no longer live on her own. But just as her mother’s memory is declining, Clara’s questions are building. Why was Tamar so insistent that Clara leave, all those years ago? Just what secrets was she hiding? The surprising answers Clara uncovers are rooted in her mother’s love for her, and the sacrifices Tamar made to protect her. And in being released from her past—though now surrounded by friends from it—Clara can finally look forward to the future. Never Coming Back is a brilliant and piercing story of a young woman finding her way in life, determined to know her mother—and by extension herself—before it's too late.

If you’d like a chance at winning both novels, simply email your name and mailing address to


Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on Oct. 5, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on Oct. 6. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.


Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sunday Sentence: Wolf Season by Helen Benedict


Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.


When his platoon razed the date groves around Basra, acres of waving palm trees, their fronds a deep and ancient green, their fruit glistening with syrups—when they ploughed those magnificent trees into the desert just because they could, he wept as if for the death of a friend.

Wolf Season by Helen Benedict

Friday, September 22, 2017

Friday Freebie: The Disappeared by Adam Braver


Congratulations to Kerry Pickens, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: Montana Noir, edited by James Grady and Kier Graff.

This week’s contest is for the new novel by Adam Braver, The Disappeared. This is one of my Most Anticipated Books of 2017. You can read about my enthusiastic anticipation at this month’s Front Porch Books. Keep scrolling for more information about the book....


A novel of two strangers swept up in the aftermath of two politicized acts of violence. The Disappeared traces a pair of survivors: a woman whose husband is missing in a San Bernardino-type of attack, and a man who believes his sister was an unidentified victim of the ’93 World Trade Center bombing. Here’s what people have been saying about the book:

“Adam Braver’s vivid characters move through a haunted landscape—the world forever changed by terror—that has become all too familiar to many of us. This compelling and elegantly written novel charts the intersections of individual and collective grief, unfolding in unexpected ways. It is both profoundly personal and smartly political, a memorable page turner with urgent, resonant themes.”
       —Alix Ohlin, author of Signs and Wonders

“Braver’s novel is rich and humane, a tightly controlled, beautifully orchestrated portrait of contemporary terrors and the feedback loops of fear and paranoia they create that mesmerize us and, tragically, sometimes drive us mad. There are those that disappear in the violence, and those that disappear searching for them in their wakes, trying to make sense of insanity.”
       —Paul Harding, author of Tinkers

The Disappeared concerns itself with the collateral damage visited upon two families in the aftermath of politically motivated trauma. Its aim is to personalize the effects of foreign dissent, of national protest, of mere happenstance, of sheer bad luck. Its two lead characters pursue their faithful remembrance of those they lost, who, then, after all, have not disappeared. It is a strangely uplifting book, given its subject and the times we live in. Highly recommended.”
       —Antonya Nelson, author of Living to Tell

If you’d like a chance at winning The Disappeared, simply email your name and mailing address to


Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on Sept. 28, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on Sept. 29. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.


Montana Noir hits the highway


     DezAray stared out the windshield: "There's a whole lot of out there out there."
     The western third of the state was the Rocky Mountains marching down from Canada, pine tree crags soaring more than a mile above sea level. East of the mountains meant scrub-grass prairies and chessboard-brown-and-gold fields of rotated crops, which if you weren't born there looked like one terrifying, big empty.
               "The Road You Take" by James Grady (from Montana Noir)

Montana is indeed a big state with plenty of empty spaces. Four-lane interstates, two-lane highways, and single-track dirt roads beckon and encourage exploration to the intrepid traveler. Starting tomorrow, the Montana Noir posse will hit the road on a whirlwind tour promoting the new anthology from Akashic Books. We'll read from our stories, talk about the nature of noir in film and literature, and generally have a grand old time in the Treasure State. We can't wait to see the out there out there.

If you're in Montana this coming week, we'd love to see you at one of the many events listed below.

Saturday, September 23
5:30–7 p.m.
This House of Books, 224 N Broadway, Billings, MT
With Gwen Florio and Carrie La Seur

Sunday, September 24
7 p.m.
Cassiopeia Books, 721 Central Ave, Great Falls, MT
With David Abrams, Gwen Florio, Jamie Ford, James Grady, Keir Graff, Eric Heidle, Yvonne Seng

Monday, September 25
7 p.m.
Country Bookshelf, 28 W Main St, Bozeman, MT
With David Abrams, James Grady, Keir Graff, Walter Kirn, Yvonne Seng

Tuesday, September 26
NOON
Butte-Silver Bow Public Library, 226 W Broadway St, Butte, MT
With David Abrams, James Grady, Keir Graff, Yvonne Seng

Tuesday, September 26
7 p.m.
Clark Chateau Museum & Gallery, 321 W Broadway St, Butte, MT
With David Abrams, James Grady, Keir Graff, Eric Heidle, Caroline Patterson, Yvonne Seng
Book sales by Books & Books

Wednesday, September 27
6 p.m.
Reception at Blackfoot River Brewing Company, 66 S Park Ave, Helena, MT

Wednesday, September 27
7 p.m.
Lewis & Clark Library, 120 S Last Chance Gulch, Helena, MT
With David Abrams, Gwen Florio, James Grady, Keir Graff, Eric Heidle, Caroline Patterson, Yvonne Seng
Book sales by Montana Book & Toy Co.

Friday, September 29
4 p.m.
Montana Book Festival: Panel and Q&A
Shakespeare and Co. Bookstore, 103 S 3rd St W, Missoula, MT
With David Abrams, Gwen Florio, James Grady, Keir Graff, Eric Heidle, Sidner Larson, Carrie La Seur, Caroline Patterson, Yvonne Seng

Saturday, September 30
6 p.m.
Montana Book Festival: Noir at the Bar
Union Club, 208 E Main St, Missoula, MT
With David Abrams, Gwen Florio, James Grady, Keir Graff, Eric Heidle, Sidner Larson, Carrie La Seur, Caroline Patterson, Yvonne Seng
Featuring music by Russ Nasset and the Revelators!


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Front Porch Books: September 2017 edition



The Disappeared
by Adam Braver
(Outpost19)

You have only to say four words —“Adam Braver” and “new book” — and I’m already halfway to my nearest independent bookstore in search of a copy. Lucky me, as a reviewer and blogger, I already received an advance copy of the new novel The Disappeared (though, a future trip to the aforementioned bookstore will be in order because, damn, I love that cover design!). I have been a die-hard fan of Adam’s work ever since I read Mr. Lincoln’s Wars a decade ago. My love for his prose only intensified when I later picked up a copy of Misfit, an imaginative retelling of Marilyn Monroe’s last days. Now here comes The Disappeared, a bit of a departure for the novelist who has set his previous books in the past (the JFK assassination, the early twentieth-century actress Sarah Bernhardt, etc.). The Disappeared concerns itself with more recent acts of terrorism, of which, sadly, we know all too well. No matter where on history’s timeline Adam chooses to turn his attention, you can bet I’ll be turning the pages eagerly and rapidly.

Jacket Copy:  A novel of two strangers swept up in the aftermath of two politicized acts of violence. The Disappeared traces a pair of survivors: a woman whose husband is missing in a San Bernardino-type of attack, and a man who believes his sister was an unidentified victim of the ’93 World Trade Center bombing. With a remarkable mix of nuance and momentum, Braver portrays their post-trauma experience in the face of relentless public feedback.

Opening Lines:  The morning of the shooting is the last day she’ll go out for a while. Already Lucy had been growing nervous about being out in public. Following a season of international terror attacks, her daily routine had been thus: get in the car, drive to work, eat lunch inside the building, get in the car and come back home. There was no more gathering in large public spaces. No more train to work. The unseen risks outsized the convenience. She’d even conceded all grocery shopping to Henry, refusing to be a target in the Raley’s parking lot or inside the crowded market. Think about it: at the time, who would have thought twice about sitting in a Parisian cafĂ© on that warm November night? Or who would have had any apprehension about just waiting for the usual commuter train in the usual station at the usual time in London or Madrid? The cable news shows said we now lived in an era of vigilance. Lucy saw it more as an era of cautious retreat.

Blurbworthiness:  “Adam Braver’s vivid characters move through a haunted landscape—the world forever changed by terror—that has become all too familiar to many of us. This compelling and elegantly written novel charts the intersections of individual and collective grief, unfolding in unexpected ways. It is both profoundly personal and smartly political, a memorable page turner with urgent, resonant themes.”  (Alix Ohlin, author of Signs and Wonders)



The Overstory
by Richard Powers
(W. W. Norton)

Just like Adam Braver, Richard Powers is another author who will immediately grab my attention when I see one of his books on the New Release table in stores. (If you haven’t read his tour de force about civil rights, The Time of Our Singing, you need to correct that mistake right away). Combine that interest with the subject matter of The Overstory — the fight to save our dwindling forests — and this new novel is a sure thing for me.

Jacket Copy:  The Overstory unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fable that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond. An air force loadmaster in the Vietnam War is shot out of the sky, then saved by falling into a banyan. An artist inherits a hundred years of photographic portraits, all of the same doomed American chestnut. A hard-partying undergraduate in the late 1980s electrocutes herself, dies, and is sent back into life by creatures of air and light. A hearing-and speech-impaired scientist discovers that trees are communicating with one another. These and five other strangers, each summoned in different ways by trees, are brought together in a last and violent stand to save the continent’s few remaining acres of virgin forest. There is a world alongside ours—vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.

Opening Lines:  First there was nothing. Then there was everything.
      Then, in a park above a western city after dusk, the air is raining messages.
      A woman sits on the ground, leaning against a pine. Its bark presses hard against her back, as hard as life. Its needles scent the air and a force hums in the heart of the wood. Her ears tune down to the lowest frequencies. The tree is saying things, in words before words.



Draft No. 4
by John McPhee
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

      A new book by John McPhee?
      Yes, please.
      A new book by John McPhee with the subtitle “On the Writing Process”?
      Say no more.

Jacket Copy:  Draft No. 4 is a master class on the writer’s craft. In a series of playful, expertly wrought essays, John McPhee shares insights he has gathered over his career and has refined while teaching at Princeton University, where he has nurtured some of the most esteemed writers of recent decades. McPhee offers definitive guidance in the decisions regarding arrangement, diction, and tone that shape nonfiction pieces, and he presents extracts from his work, subjecting them to wry scrutiny. In one essay, he considers the delicate art of getting sources to tell you what they might not otherwise reveal. In another, he discusses how to use flashback to place a bear encounter in a travel narrative, while observing that “readers are not supposed to notice the structure. It is meant to be about as visible as someone’s bones.” The result is a vivid depiction of the writing process, from reporting to drafting to revising—and revising, and revising. Draft No. 4 is enriched by multiple diagrams and by personal anecdotes and charming reflections on the life of a writer. McPhee describes his enduring relationships with The New Yorker and Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and recalls his early years at Time magazine. Throughout, Draft No. 4 is enlivened by his keen sense of writing as a way of being in the world.

Opening Lines:  In the late nineteen-sixties, I was working in rented space on Nassau Street up a flight of stairs and over Nathan Kasrel, Optometrist. Across the street was the main library of Princeton University. Across the hall was the Swedish Massage. Operated by an Austrian couple who were nearing retirement and had been there for decades, it was a legitimate business. They massaged everything from college football players to arthritic ancients, and they didn’t give sex. This, however, was the era when massage became a sexual synonym, and most evenings—avoiding writing, looking down from my window on the passing scene—I would see men in business suits stop, hesitate, look around, and then move toward the glass door at the foot of the stairs. Eventually, the Austrians had to scrape the words “Swedish Massage” off the door, and replace them with a hanging sign they removed when they went home at night. Meanwhile, the men kept arriving at the top of the stairs, where neither door was marked. When they knocked on mine and I opened it, their faces fell dramatically as the busty Swede they expected turned into a short and bearded man.

Blurbworthiness:  “[Draft No. 4]’s combination of shop talk, war stories, slices of autobiography, and priceless insights and lessons suggests what it must be like to occupy a seat in the McPhee classroom...McPhee’s observations about writing are always invigorating to engage with. And Draft No. 4 belongs on the short shelf of essential books about the craft.”  (The Wall Street Journal)



Sourdough
by Robin Sloan
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Robin Sloan’s debut novel Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore was an odd delight and one of my favorites of 2012. I still think about that shadowy bookstore which served as a nondescript front for an equally-shadowy group of high-tech code breakers. That novel brimmed with all the quirky complexities of Umberto Eco and Haruki Murakami. Sloan’s new novel Sourdough looks just as tasty. There are still strange codes to be broken, but this time they’re leavened by a ceramic crock of yeasty sourdough starter. My interest, like the bread itself, is definitely on the rise.

Jacket Copy:  Lois Clary is a software engineer at General Dexterity, a San Francisco robotics company with world-changing ambitions. She codes all day and collapses at night, her human contact limited to the two brothers who run the neighborhood hole-in-the-wall from which she orders dinner every evening. Then, disaster! Visa issues. The brothers close up shop, and fast. But they have one last delivery for Lois: their culture, the sourdough starter used to bake their bread. She must keep it alive, they tell her—feed it daily, play it music, and learn to bake with it. Lois is no baker, but she could use a roommate, even if it is a needy colony of microorganisms. Soon, not only is she eating her own homemade bread, she’s providing loaves daily to the General Dexterity cafeteria. The company chef urges her to take her product to the farmer’s market, and a whole new world opens up. When Lois comes before the jury that decides who sells what at Bay Area markets, she encounters a close-knit club with no appetite for new members. But then, an alternative emerges: a secret market that aims to fuse food and technology. But who are these people, exactly?

Opening Lines:  It would have been nutritive gel for dinner, same as always, if I had not discovered stuck to my apartment’s front door a paper menu advertising the newly expanded delivery service of a neighborhood restaurant.
      I was just home from work and my face felt brittle from stress—this wasn’t unusual—and I would not normally have been interested in anything unfamiliar. My nightly ration of Slurry waited within.
But the menu intrigued me. The words were written in a dark, confident script—actually, two scripts: each dish was described once using the alphabet I recognized and again using one I didn’t, vaguely Cyrillic-seeming with a profusion of dots and curling connectors. In either case, the menu was compact: available was the Spicy Soup or a Spicy Sandwich or a Combo (double spicy), all of which, the menu explained, were vegetarian.
      At the top, the restaurant’s name was written in humongous, exuberant letters: CLEMENT STREET SOUP AND SOURDOUGH. At the bottom, there was a phone number and the promise of quick delivery. Clement Street was just a few blocks away. The menu charmed me, and as a result, my night, and my life, bent off on a different track.

Blurbworthiness:  “[Sourdough] plunges through so much terrain: microbial nations, assimilation and tradition, embodied consciousness and the crisis of the tech industry, all without losing the light, sweet, ironic Sloanian voice familiar from Mr. Penumbra’s, a plot that makes the book a page-turner and a laugh-out-louder, with sweetness and romance and tartness and irony in perfect balance. What a great book, seriously.”  (Cory Doctorow, author of Walkaway)


Front Porch Books is a monthly tally of booksmainly advance review copies (aka “uncorrected proofs” and “galleys”)I’ve received from publishers. Because my dear friends, Mr. FedEx and Mrs. UPS, leave them with a doorbell-and-dash method of delivery, I call them my Front Porch Books. In this digital age, ARCs are also beamed to the doorstep of my Kindle via NetGalley and Edelweiss. Note: many of these books won’t be released for another 2-6 months; I’m here to pique your interest and stock your wish lists. Cover art and opening lines may change before the book is finally released. I should also mention that, in nearly every case, I haven’t had a chance to read these books.


Monday, September 18, 2017

My First Time: Jason Tougaw


My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands. Today’s guest is Jason Tougaw, author of The One You Get, now out from Dzanc Books. In The One You Get, Jason marries neuroscience and family lore to tell his story of growing up gay in 1970s Southern California, raised by hippies who had “dropped out” in the late sixties and couldn’t seem to find their way back in. With shades of Oliver Sacks and Susannah Cahalan, this honest and unexpected true story recasts the memoir to answer some of life’s big questions: “Where did I come from,” “How did I become me,” and “What happens when the family dog accidentally overdoses on acid?” Jason is a professor of literature at City University of New York. He is also the author of two nonfiction books, Strange Cases: The Medical Case History and the British Novel and Touching Brains: Literary Experiments in 21st-Century Neuromania. He blogs about the relationship between art and science at Californica.net.


My First Time

I had sex young, in seventh grade, on the older side of twelve, with my best friend since first grade. I wouldn’t call this childish experimentation. I’d call it experimental sex—adolescent sex on the way to the adult kind. We started out masturbating on opposite sides of the room and graduated to anything we could figure out.

Sometimes people respond to my adolescent sex life with something like moral panic. This must have damaged you. This must have been traumatic. It wasn’t. It didn’t. I could go on about the fact that children are sexual creatures, but instead, I want to take the occasion to be very literal about my first time, about how having sex—gay sex—so young shaped me as a writer.

For a couple of tween years, it hijacked my internal narrative. Maybe this means I’m gay? No, I won’t be. I’ll stop doing it. After next time. I’ll find a girlfriend (I did, several). I’m going to hell. What am I gonna do? This was a kind of writing. I was doing it in my head, the way I start my writing projects now. I was imagining possible realities, scenarios, futures, stories I could tell myself and the world to overcome the shame I felt—shame imposed by the extremely homophobic world I lived in, especially my middle school, where I was routinely taunted, shoved, and sometimes punched.

Then I got a little notebook. I didn’t write this stuff down directly. It was too scary. But I took phrases and images from the nonstop assault of my internal narration and turned them into lyrics I imagined for my favorite bands. I wrote tirades about bullies and popular kids.

The thing is, the writing interrupted the narrative. Slowed it down. The narrator was a source—the source. But it was also a tormentor. I caught a break by snatching bits of dialogue and translating them into marks on pages. When I did this, I changed them. Transformed them. They weren’t recognizable as the detritus of internal dialogue. They became something else. Something I controlled.

A few other fine strokes in this portrait of the sexual adolescent as a writer. My friend and I were doing something taboo. Our parents and our friends would have been horrified. We had a secret. In her novel My Name Is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout describes a novelist mentor whose writing was good—but not as good as it might be, because she was holding something back. The narrator suggests writing that resonates exposes secrets and taboos says and does things decorum asks us to ignore. My adolescent sex was an apprenticeship in the art of exposing difficult secrets.

My friend (who remains a beloved intimate to this day) and I were experimenting with each other’s bodies, with how they felt, what they could do. It was all pretty clinical. It was one more kind of exploration, like the time we spent tracking the behavior of ant colonies or playing Dungeons and Dragons. We were exploring the inarticulate. We didn’t have a theory of ant colonies, and we didn’t have a theory of being naked together. But we did talk our way through it. We used words, tentatively, to say what we thought we wanted to do, or to comment on how it felt. We were playing with the dynamic between the inarticulate and the articulate, what’s conscious and what’s hidden from consciousness. In my experience, that’s what writing is all about.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sunday Sentence: The Girl of the Lake by Bill Roorbach


Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.


She wouldn’t make any more direct reference to Grandpa’s death, Chick knew, and so Chick would say nothing, either. All that could be said about the old man’s death, sadness and grief and abiding love and anger, had been in the hug.

The Girl of the Lake by Bill Roorbach

Friday, September 15, 2017

Friday Freebie: Montana Noir


Congratulations to Jane Rainey, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie of three new thrillers: Close to Home by Robert Dugoni, Leona: The Die is Cast by Jenny Rogneby, and The Savior’s Game by Sean Chercover.

This week’s contest is for the new anthology of crime stories set in Big Sky Country: Montana Noir, edited by James Grady and Kier Graff. As many of you already know, one of my own stories is included in these pages. You can read more about “Red, White, and Butte” here. Keep scrolling for more information about the book...


Akashic Books continues its award-winning series of original noir anthologies, launched in 2004 with Brooklyn Noir. Each book comprises all new stories, each one set in a distinct location within the geographic area of the book. Grady and Graff, both Montana natives, masterfully curate this collection of hard-edged Western tales by David Abrams, Caroline Patterson, Eric Heidle, Thomas McGuane, Janet Skeslien Charles, Sidner Larson, Yvonne Seng, James Grady, Jamie Ford, Carrie La Seur, Walter Kirn, Gwen Florio, Debra Magpie Earling, and Keir Graff. From the introduction by James Grady and Keir Graff:
This anthology is a road trip through the dreams and disasters of the true Montana, stories written by authors with Montana in their blood, tales that circle you around the state through its cities and small towns. These are twenty-first century authors writing timeless sagas of choice, crime, and consequences. You’ll meet students and strippers, cops and cons, druggies and dreamers, cold-eyed killers and caught-in-their-gunsights screwed-up souls. But mostly, through all our fiction here, you’ll meet quiet heroes and see the noir side of life that makes our Montana as real as it is mythic. No doubt the state’s beauty will still make the very idea of Montana Noir seem incongruous to some. Noir is black-and-white. Streets and alleys. Flashing neon lighting a rain-streaked window. But while noir was definitely an urban invention, it knows no boundaries. Noir is struggle. It’s doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. It’s being trapped. It’s hubris. It’s being defeated yet going on. Sometimes it’s being defeated and not going on. That’s life everywhere. This is our Montana.
If you haven’t already done so, check out the sexy new website devoted to Montana Noir, including tour dates (I’ll be joining the editors and other authors as we barnstorm our way through Montana bookstores, culminating in a gala party at the Montana Book Festival in Missoula two weeks from now).

If you’d like a chance at winning Montana Noir, simply email your name and mailing address to


Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on Sept. 21, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on Sept. 22. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Marriage of Shelves: Jay Baron Nicorvo’s Library



Reader:  Jay Baron Nicorvo
Location:  Battle Creek, Michigan
Collection Size:  About 2,000
The one book I’d run back into a burning building to rescue:  My MacBook Pro. On it is everything! I’d suffer burns on 38 percent of my lower body to save the early starts I have on a new novel and a memoir.
Favorite book from childhood:  My Storybook Dictionary
Guilty pleasure book:  My own. I’m sorry, but here we are a few months post-publication and I still have a hard time believing my novel indeed made it onto shelves, that I did in fact write it, and that someone from St. Martin’s isn’t going to steal into my house, repo all my copies, and leave a note on company letterhead saying the whole thing was a terrible misunderstanding, but it wasn’t their fault, it was mine.


I’m fascinated by literary couples. Part of the compulsion is tabloid—I was crushed when Paul Lisicky and Mark Doty split; no book made me sob harder than The Best Day the Worst Day, Donald Hall’s memoir of the life he shared with Jane Kenyon before her death—but some of my interest is logistical.

For instance, when two writers move in together, how in hell do they organize their respective libraries? Is there a trial period of shelf separation—yours, mine—before a ceremonial marrying of the titles? Two well-suited people will surely share some redundancy. What’s to be done with the doubles when shelf space, as it’s bound to, gets scarce? Whose copy is kept? And why? Oh, I see, yours is signed. But so’s mine.

Thisbe Nissen and I met at a writers conference and, a year later, we got engaged at said conference (during my introduction to her reading, I slipped in an on-stage, down-on-bended-knee proposal). When we bought our first house, outside Saugerties, New York, in the foothills of the Catskills, among the first things we did was have bookshelves built. A few years later, when we sold that house and decamped for the Midwest, before we set up our son’s bedroom or renovated the handicapped shower stall in the bathroom—the previous owner was paraplegic—we had bookshelves built.

Thisbe and I merged and purged at the very beginning. But we did decide, for reasons now lost to me, to segregate by genre—poetry from prose. This meant that when my first book, a collection of poems, was published, it got proudly sandwiched between Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s Lucky Fish and Nila NorthSun’s Diet Pepsi & Nacho Cheese. But it was far removed from Thisbe’s books of fiction.


Our poetry ghetto. You should be able to see that the Bible is shelved here, alphabetized under G, and at some point Sonne, too, got shelved in poetry. He was just learning to talk then—what a lyrical time. These days, at age seven, his yammering tends more toward prose, but for a wordy kid he’s rarely prosaic.


In our library sits my desk (Thisbe has her own office) which I made from the flooring of a collapsed barn, after planing off the manure, and old porch posts that flake lead paint I try not to eat. Or snort. Over my desk hangs a digitally altered image, in the style of Shepard Fairey, made for me by my brother Dane. The distorted photo is of that uxoricidal addict William S. Burroughs, which I can’t bring myself to shove in a closet. Seems unjust, after what Burroughs went through to get out. I have little loyalty to Old Bull Lee. If anything, I’m drawn more toward his son, William S. Burroughs Jr., 4 years old when his father shot his mother, poet Joan Vollmer, and dead in Florida at age 33, having published two novels, Speed and Kentucky Ham, sometimes misattributed to his deadbeatnik dad. If, like WSB Sr., you’re closeted and you’re married, there are better ways to go about outing yourself than aiming low at the water glass balanced on your wife’s head, but those were, in some ways I suppose, tougher times.

Consider me guilty of harboring the old-school misogynist, little reassured by Patti Smith’s sentiments expressed in Just Kids: “William Burroughs was simultaneously old and young. Part sheriff, part gumshoe. All writer. He had a medicine chest he kept locked, but if you were in pain he would open it. He did not like to see his loved ones suffer. If you were infirm he would feed you. He’d appear at your door with a fish wrapped in newsprint and fry it up. He was inaccessible to a girl but I loved him anyway.” So Burrows looks ever down on me as I write because I love my brother and, too, because Junky, I must admit, was a formative book for me during a drug-addled time. Among the other photos and tchotchkes on my desk—severed foot of a barred owl, anyone?—is a framed letter from Don DeLillo advising me to “forget the chicken suit.” No explanation necessary.

Shelved over the window is just about everything I’ve even written, in draft, printed out and stacked sidelong in chronological order. On the far left is the first creative writing I did at age eighteen. I have no want to look and see what that might be. Likely some functionally illiterate dreck I turned in for a community-college class in Bradenton, Florida. At the far right, 22 years later, is a draft of the last thing I wrote, this.


When my first novel was published earlier this year, my proudest moment was not the generous endorsements from this or that long-idolized writer, nor the call from my editor to tell me my first review earned a star, not the launch reading at Bookbug, the local independent bookstore, or making some fancy list or other. My proudest moment was a quiet one. My box arrived in the mail and I climbed our stairs to our library with a copy. I made room on the alphabetized prose shelf and, thanks to the lucky nearness of our surnames, tucked my novel in beside Thisbe’s. You can see here the galley for her forthcoming novel, Our Lady of the Prairie, rubbing up against The Standard Grand. I like to think we’re inseparable. That is, unless we buy a copy of Thus Spake Zarathustra by Nietzsche. That or Sonne—whose last name is an unprecedented portmanteau, illegal in the state of Tennessee, of our last names, Niscorvosen—one day publishes a book of his own. We can only hope it isn’t poetry.



Jay Baron Nicorvo is the author of a novel, The Standard Grand (St. Martin’s Press), picked for IndieBound’s Indie Next List, Library Journal’s Spring 2017 Debut Novels Great First Acts, and named “New and Noteworthy” by Poets & Writers. He’s published a poetry collection, Deadbeat (Four Way Books), and his nonfiction can be found in Salon, The Baffler, The Iowa Review, and The Believer. He lives on an old farm outside Battle Creek, Michigan, with his wife, Thisbe Nissen, their son, and a couple dozen vulnerable chickens. Find Jay at www.nicorvo.net.


My Library is an intimate look at personal book collections.  Readers are encouraged to send high-resolution photos of their home libraries or bookshelves, along with a description of particular shelving challenges, quirks in sorting (alphabetically? by color?), number of books in the collection, and particular titles which are in the To-Be-Read pile.  Email thequiveringpen@gmail.com for more information.