Michelle Brafman’s debut novel, Washing the Dead (Prospect Park Books, 2015) is, above all things, about the healing power of love and forgiveness, about letting go of the toxic wounds of betrayal and hurt. In fact, Brafman experienced a similar transformative purge; she admits that she felt “fluish” at times when writing it. The novel, told in first person by Barbara Blumfield when she is 17 and also when she is  53 (the two narratives woven together in what Brafman calls a double helix), centers on her family’s expulsion from their Orthodox Jewish community after her mother has an affair with a gentile. After Barbara is called back to the community thirty-five years later to perform the ritual burial washing of her beloved teacher, she is forced to confront her mother’s sins and secrets, as well as her own.


JEN MICHALSKI: Washing the Dead explores themes of exile, forgiveness, and redemption in an Orthodox Jewish community in Milwaukee, and you start it off with a bang: an affair. So where did that come from?

MICHELLE BRAFMAN: Yes, the inciting event in the book occurs when the main character, Barbara, discovers that her mother is having an affair, and so begins the family’s exile from their spiritual community. I’ve been told that the story reads a bit like a mystery, and as you read on, you learn that nothing that happens in these opening pages, including the affair, is as it seems. Affairs are complicated, I think. Perhaps they are often less about succumbing to some hot sticky lust and more about escaping an unbearable emotional intensity or healing old wounds or filling unmet needs for love or myriad other motivations. I wasn’t thinking so clinically, though, when I decided to use the affair as a means to launch this family into the diaspora. The idea evolved from digging into my characters’ family history and imagining how the carnage from their secrets might be expressed via misdirected and destructive efforts to secure love.

jerry.gabriel.high.rezJerry Gabriel’s second collection of fiction, The Let Go (Queens Ferry Press, April 2015) is old school. The reader is transported back to a golden age of the long, simmering short story, with its distinctly American milieu—the working class rust belt, boys at the cusp of adulthood, simmering cold war politics. As writer Charles Baxter notes, Gabriel’s characters are “barely hanging on and fear the let go”—of jobs, of identity, of innocence. And yet it’s hard not to feel the affection Gabriel has for them. The collection is less a suicide note of the American dream than a love letter to the tenacity of those caught it its clutches.


JEN MICHALSKI: The first thing that struck me after finishing The Let Go (and this is something my girlfriend points out to me all the time, for I do the same thing in my writing), is that, in addition to their mid-western milieu, so many of your characters are at the cusp of manhood (late adolescence or early twenties). Do you feel that your own crossover into adulthood had an impact on your writing life that is reflected in your choice of younger protagonists, or do you feel you are finally at a safe, wise distance to examine the folly of youth (and too close to write about, say, parenthood and mid-life). Or is it something else completely that drives you towards the troubled young souls in your work?

Chris Leslie-Hynan is a very busy man these days. With the success of his first novel, Ride Around Shining, he has been touring on and off for well over the last year. I caught up with him somewhere around Las Vegas to discuss his novel and also some of the biases and expectations he had to confront when writing about race, class, and envy.


It wasn’t too long ago that I thought undergoing chemo, again, would be the worst thing that could happen to me. I endured the first round a little under two years ago in the wake of a breast cancer diagnosis, the chemo infused through a medically inserted port just under my collarbone. Since then, I’ve had a lumpectomy, the port removed, radiation, recurrence, a double mastectomy with reconstruction, a hysterectomy, another recurrence, and another surgery. And in a few days I’ll be undergoing chemo once more, and I’m actually anxious to get started because, of course, chemo isn’t the worst thing. A particularly stubborn kind of cancer that keeps popping up again is. So on my last chemo-free weekend for the next several months, my husband, Joe, and I dropped my daughters off at my mom’s and bought tickets to Mad Max: Fury Road.


NOAH CICERO:  I finished your book and loved it.

Thanks for giving me a copy, I’m going to read Ben’s now.

I’m lying on a couch being really lazy, writing this.  I feel so lazy lately, I think it’s because I’m going off my medication, Seroquel XR, it basically causes me to sleep 10 hours a night, so I can’t even work a 40-hour week.  I factually don’t have enough energy to do it.  I can’t wake up before 8 a.m., and I can’t work the late shift without worrying about the stupid pill. All because I got really into Buddhism and meditate now and feel happy and okay with everything, so maybe I rewired myself and can go on.

Here are some questions:

Netflix-BloodlineNetflix’s new original series Bloodline begins with one of those familiar tropes of fiction, film, and television alike: the return of the prodigal son. In Bloodline, the prodigal son is Danny (Ben Mendelsohn), the oldest of four, who returns to his family’s hotel for a 45th anniversary celebration. Back home, his two brothers and sister await, seeming to dread his arrival and the chaos they expect to come along with him. His younger brother, Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz), believes he will only hurt their elderly parents, while his sister Meg (Linda Cardellini) just wants to placate. His brother John (Kyle Chandler), is the only sibling excited to see Danny come home. Behind the siblings looms their father Robert (Sam Shepard) and mother Sally (Sissy Spacek), who are big fish in the little pond of their small Florida Keys town. Something happened, long ago, that haunts them all and centers around Danny, who has become the family scapegoat. It takes several episodes to get a hint of what this central event is: the death of a sister, Sarah, which happened during a boat trip with Danny thirty years before.

Wrapped in Plastic coverTelevision in the new millennium can be a glorious place, where boundaries are pushed regularly, often by Hollywood heavyweights. It’s where directors such as David Fincher and Martin Scorsese come to experiment with long-form storytelling, and where renowned actors like Kevin Spacey, Jessica Lange, Steve Buscemi, Glenn Close, Kyra Sedgwick, and many others are willing to commit their time and talents. Sometimes there’s the allure of a great story that can be told in one season (an enticement that drew bona fide movie stars Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey to HBO’s True Detective). Other times, there’s the appeal of both creativity and freedom (Kevin Bacon only has to shoot 15 episodes a season of Fox’s The Following, allowing him to pursue big screen roles while also enjoying a steady paycheck). With the advent of edgy original programming across networks like AMC, Showtime, FX, Netflix, and HBO, the appeal of working in television has never been higher.

Hello Stranger

By D. R. Haney


The doorway scene in Stranger by Night

By my count, I wrote seven “erotic thrillers,” a largely and justly forgotten genre that combined noir and softcore porn. It was a favorite of tight-fisted producers of the VHS era, since it rarely required special effects, aside from squibs and silicone breasts, and the action was easily confined to a few affordable locations. Much of Stranger by Night, for instance, was set in the apartment of a distraught cop and the office of the female psychologist who was trying to help him determine if he had murdered any hookers during his alcoholic blackouts. She helped him as psychologists usually helped their clients in erotic thrillers: she had sex with him. Her husband was murdering hookers to frame the cop. Spouses in erotic thrillers were almost always predators or prey.


After I self-published my third novel Badge—both in paper and through a number of ebook platforms—in February 2014, I noticed something different about its Amazon page. In the upper right section where Amazon lists Badge’s paper-book availability, it read, “Usually Ships in 1 to 3 Weeks.” All of my novels have been self-published through the print-on-demand company Lightning Source. The availability of my other two, Stuck Outside of Phoenix and Ghost Notes, both published in the aughts, have been listed, with little variance, at the more POD standard “Only 2 left in stock (more on the way).” My books are stored in Lightning Source’s database and can be printed and mailed at will. The beauty of print-on-demand publishing is there is really no way to be “out of stock,” short of a computer crash.

Desire Will Set You Free 2

When Yony Leyser wrapped his first film, the documentary William S. Burroughs: A Man Within, Leyser indulged TNB with a round of 21 Questions. Now, Leyser’s back with his second film, Desire Will Set You Free, a feature film he describes as “venturing into docufiction.” Starring Leyser, Amber Benson, Peaches, Nina Hagen, and other faces familiar to the Berlin underground, Desire Will Set You Free tells the story of the relationship between an “American writer of Israeli/Palestinian descent and a Russian aspiring artist working as a hustler, offering access to the city’s vibrant queer and underground scenes while examining the differences between expatriate and refugee life.” Leyser has completed shooting on the film and is now looking to Kickstarter to fund the rest as he’d successfully done with A Man Within. Leyser has blogged in-depth about the making of Desire Will Set You Free at Indiewire along the way, and as the Kickstarter nears its end I asked Leyser just a few questions about Desire Will Set You Free, a project based on his own experiences in Berlin.


My husband works at a treatment facility for youth with emotional and behavioral issues. He reports that his students love films and novels about the end of the world. They fully believe the world as they know it probably will end, whether it be by war, climate change, or economic collapse. They aren’t afraid of this, though. What they love about these narratives is the idea of being a survivor, of seeing the structures of the existing world crumble, of creating a society full of fellow survivors who will create a new world the right way. Who can blame them? They’ve already been failed by family, school, and social services. For them, and many disenfranchised people, the idea of collapse comes as a kind of relief. The world is bad. Perhaps destroying it and starting over is the only way to create a better future. Apparently, my husband’s students are not alone.  Apocalyptic narratives are all over current popular culture, from films like World War Z to Noah to the wildly popular series The Walking Dead on the small screen.

Stag by Arv Miller In 1949, Marilyn Monroe, then an obscure starlet, posed for a beer ad shot by Tom Kelley at his commercial photography studio in Hollywood. According to some accounts, a Chicago-based calendar manufacturer, John Baumgarth, saw the ad while visiting Los Angeles and inquired about the model: would she pose nude for a calendar? In other accounts, Kelley recruited Monroe for the calendar job on the day he shot the beer ad, knowing that Baumgarth was shopping for nudes. Either way, nude photos could wreck a Hollywood career at the time, as Monroe was keenly aware, so she only accepted the job after being persuaded that nobody would recognize her. To further protect her anonymity, she asked Kelley to schedule the session for night, with no assistants save for his female business partner. Kelley agreed, and Monroe arrived at the studio at seven p.m. and posed for two hours on a red velvet theater curtain that covered the floor and complemented the color of her hair, then a reddish blonde. Twenty-four shots were taken, and Baumgarth chose one of them for the calendar he marketed as Golden Dreams, a name suggested by Monroe’s blondness, though it also inadvertently referenced the nighttime shoot.

Byrkit colored

Please explain what just happened.

You just walked in. A Question Robot with an attitude. Hello.


What is your earliest memory?

Not my earliest, but when I was five, I pushed a tin can deep into a huge barrel of duck feed, specifically as an act to remember forever.

SeanHartofilis_FC2 cropPlease explain what just happened.

I saw my nieces in the basement. They’re up from Florida and are the best.  


What is your earliest memory?

At track practice when I was very little, I overran the finish line and was jumped, for reasons I’ll never understand, by two little boys who I’m guessing were brothers. They pushed me down and pulled my hair and kicked me. Then their mother showed up and did the same to them. I wrote about it in a short story published by The Harlem Times called “The Summer of St. Nick.”  

Photograph of Novelist Katie CrouchBestselling author Katie Crouch (Men and Dogs; Girls in Trucks) has a new book out. Abroad is a quick-moving, high-action read that plays out both our best and worst fantasies of being a young, beautiful foreigner in Italy. Her characters are so perfectly drawn, so wonderfully vivid, you might just confuse them for people you actually know (or have read about in the news!).