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December, the end of the Julian calendar year. For critics, it’s time to get listy, to go all effusive, doe-eyed, and misty over what we’ve read during the prior three-hundred-and-something days. For authors, it’s time to hunker down in our metaphorical emotional foxholes, to employ one of four battle-proven strategies:

1.  Get depressed, drink heavily, get more depressed, and jag-cry. (You were left off the holy lists but can’t for the life of you figure out why.);

2.  Get pissed, drink heavily, scream, and stamp your feet. (You know exactly why you were left off the holy lists. A vast right-, left-, and middle-wing conspiracy against your genius, obvis.);

3.  Get deliriously happy, drink slightly less heavily, and do freestyle “ballet” moves in the living room (You made it for once!); or

4.  As in 3, but let it go to your head. And for God’s sake, make sure you slop that confidence all over Facebook before sobering up. Otherwise, you’ll never be able to remember.

I thought about doing some sort of list here—longest books of the year starring an author’s ego in a supporting role, best works of Middle High German-to-English translation my cat vomited on, worst sestina collections I feel uncomfortable criticizing. But for obvious reasons (see above), we’re going with the uzhe, a Microbrewed literary six-pack of new books.

P.S. I may still do a list. Or two. Or six. Stay tuned.

oracle-of-los-angeles-amanda-yates-garcia

The Oracle of Los Angeles is the guest on this week’s edition of the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast. Her name is Amanda Yates Garcia. She is an artist, writer, witch, healer, and oracle.

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d11112b022aIs Everyone Loves You Back really your first novel, or do you have five more hidden in your desk?

I wish I had five novels stashed in my desk. But no, this is really my first novel. I did start one back in the late 80s. I got about 50 pages in and showed it to a writing class. Big mistake. One of the other writers, an experienced editor, or so I thought at the time, told me I had no idea what I was doing, that my pacing was all wrong, more like a short story than a novel, and that I would run out of steam unless I made an outline and slowed things down. Now that I am recounting this, I wonder why I didn’t just make the outline and keep on going? But I didn’t. I put the book away and never finished it.

elyb_7Bob Boland is surrounded. Yuppies everywhere. Goddamned professional women with their blunt cuts and power suits, their wimpy men, pale faced and narrow shouldered, their PhDs, MDs and JDs on proud display in their book-lined studies.

The neighborhood has always been full of snobs — half of it belongs to Harvard, the other half to Harvard professors, grads, and wannabes, the type who donate buildings and gymnasiums, who endow symphony chairs in perpetuity — but there used to be room for the little people, who deliver the mail, plow the driveways, clean the teeth, fix the burners. Now the new rich are crowding them out, throwing around so much money that the neighborhood is barely recognizable. Slate roofs, copper drains, specimen trees, heated driveways — nothing is too good for them. If there’s a beautiful front yard, they put up a fence. If there’s a fence, they tear it down and put in a hedge. Blacktop becomes lawn; lawn becomes groundcover; groundcover becomes brick. And God forbid the house should peel. Bingo! An army of painters descends, airlifted from the latest Third World country in collapse, sanding, scraping, hanging like bats under the eaves, risking their lives to try out matching trim colors.

unnamedWhy did you write Wedding Bush Road?

Because I needed to, and no one else could have.

 

Isn’t that kind of self-involved.

Perhaps, but it’s true.

 

Don’t you write for an audience.

If I start engineering a story to appease some notion of readership, the story risks losing its propulsion and integrity. I want to tell the story that I need to tell, not what I think someone needs to hear. I trust that the novel will find its own readership.

jason-diamond-searching-for-john-hughes

This week on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Jason Diamond , author of the memoir Searching for John Hughes is available now from William Morrow. (Photo credit: Elyssa Goodman

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Hi, Karen. Thanks for taking time to talk to TNB today.

My Pleasure. This is way more fun than what I usually do while my kids are at school.

A grocery store is a good place to hide. Do not underestimate your own resourcefulness, your strength. Comfort one another trapped, away from loved ones, but do not fear your thirst. Work together to see babies again or to avenge their deaths. If the zombies find you, bash their slack-mouthed heads against linoleum tile with five-gallon bottles of Tide, gouge the brain with beer bottles and broom handles. Barricade! Barricade! Barricade! with fifty-pound bags of dog food. Do not use sides of beef obviously or shopping carts which roll. Unfurl and plaster aluminum foil over windows until it’s gone. In a pinch, find the picnic supplies and un-fold all the paper tablecloths. Hang them over the long windows in double layers with packing tape from the stationery aisle. If you make it through the night, avoid using the P.A. to rally those left among you, as zombies have keen hearing. Instead, a crude telephone, something like you and your cousin devised, when you were kids, decades ago and far away from the city, with empty soup cans and long, long string and bunkers of unfathomable time.

Dis/comfort

By Kristen Arnett

Essay

 

arnett1

 

I don’t know what’s inside me, but I’ve got ideas. Discomfort is not a word I’d thought to associate with the egg-sized lump in my guts, but after the lump arrived, it made me uncomfortable to understand I knew so little about my own body. My body, I thought, was a private place. The lump arrived without my knowledge or consent. I had no control over it.

 

***

 

MRI machines create a non-rhythmic thumping, a kind of kunk-a-chunk-chunk-kunk-kunk-ing that never settles right in your brain. I’ve got on headphones that a hundred other people have worn. The oversized pleather cups dig into the soft space behind my ears. It’s clear in the unkemptness of the technician, a man well into his fifties who wears a white lab coat covered in dark stains, that these headphones haven’t ever been cleaned. His coat is the kind I might wear, if I were a tech. This is how I know the headphones still hold the residue of everyone who came before me—I’d have never cleaned them.

Before he slid the headphones over my ears, right before he tangled his hands in my hair and accidentally pulled some out, straight from the root, the technician asks, “What kind of music do you like?” He holds my thigh in his ungloved hand, cupping the soft place near my ass, positioning my knees over a cushion other people have already put their legs over. He maneuvers me into the tube. My elbow bangs against the narrow rim. Staring up at the plastic overhead just three inches from my face, I try to regulate my wild heartbeat. I fail. A navy line runs down the tube’s center, a positioning indicator improperly aligned with the middle of my body.

He’s going to tell me when to breathe.

He’s going to tell me when to hold that breath.

He’s going to tell me when to finally let go.

dscn1184She was nudged from slumber by a hollow thump—followed by another.

Poor Rosie.

The half-blind shepherd had the unfortunate habit of thwacking her tail in her sleep until she woke herself—sniffing the air, whimpering at imaginary predators, seeking out a comforting scratch behind the ears.

She dropped a drowsy arm over the edge of her bed.

Murmured, “Hush, girl.”

Wondered, what did the dog dream about? Meadows? Squirrels?

Burying her head into the crease of her damp pillow, she thought perhaps Rosie dreamt of Ben.

A tiny thought. A seed. She pushed it away, submerging herself in rumpled sheets. But the synapse of connections spread into an invasive tangle of memory—like a cancer.

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Not to have this be an all-out puff piece, but let me try and describe two types of virtuosity I like. Maybe it’s because I spent all summer watching basketball. Dunks and jumpers. Crossovers. If you hate sports, bear with me. But for instance, a jump shot. A technique to it, there’s a purity you can appreciate. That buzzer-beater, last second of the game, or even just pulling up in traffic, as they say, soaking wet; smartly, coolly executed, or from the couch, surrounded by snacks, even watching the pros do it, the effect is weirdly triumphant, gratifying.

Here’s the other type. Because, to get that jumper to go, to have that moment, there’s hours and hours you’ve got to spend, hundreds of thousand of hours, more than shooting, also dreaming, thinking about jumpshots. Let me go ahead and say Jane Liddle’s debut is about murder, not basketball. In that sense, Murder is about nuance. In that we’re all going to die. Right? Sooner or later. And we’re all capable of killing, probably. Consider it that way, and a story, any story is actually, truly, only the details. Fifty-eight murders. Some tragic, some frightening. A funny one or two. Each only a couple of pages. Some like poems. Some, tightly plotted, 3-act short stories. The murder in there about “the Saint,” that was disturbing in a way I can’t exactly explain.

adam-soldofsky-memory-foam

This week on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with poet Adam Soldofsky , author of Memory Foam, available now from Disorder Press.

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by-chelsea-bieker

Good Afternoon!

Good Afternoon! Writing to you from Miami—I’m in my hotel lobby. There is a beautiful strange wood ceiling, incense burning, and cacti. And everyone is walking through in bathing suits.

Some of the elements of life
will survive microbial disaster,
will refuse to recognize us,
will come up to the newspapers
and affect a response.

Descartes found himself in the bright blue
strong wind of the northern climate. There,
the erratic queen demanded he give her philosophy
at five in the morning and, calling in a cold,
he died.

fredmugford_2016As I was putting my underwear on, the right foot got caught. The big toe of the right foot was stretching the fabric. I continued pushing my foot down harder as I was pulling the underwear up by the dark blue waist band. I was stubborn and I wasn’t going to let the underwear win. I was standing balanced on my left foot, in the bathroom, after taking my shower, and my feet, my skin, was still damp, I think that is why the big toe got caught and wouldn’t let go no matter how much I pulled up or pushed the foot down. All this became infuriating, even for the underwear too, because the cotton fabric began to stretch, I could feel the stress it was going under, but I demanded to be right this time, to be the winner, to push my foot through the hole, the second hole, or third, in the underwear, but it just wouldn’t go through. I don’t know if I was willing to tear the underwear, it was a relatively new pair, it was a comfortable pair, still clean and thick and it hugged my contours nice and tight, holding everything in place just right, snug in a word. If the underwear was old, if it had a tear in it, I probably would have sacrificed it with pleasure. The band of the right leg hole had in fact dug itself deep between the big toe and the toe next to it. And by this time I was starting to lose my balance, and on top of the frustration of not being able to push my foot through, I now had the compounded fear of falling and dying from hitting my head on one of the porcelain fixtures inside the bathroom, the bathtub or the sink or the toilet or even the floor or the tiled walls or maybe even the handlebars I installed in the bathroom for my father. And now I lost my balance and was ready to fall over to my right because my right foot was the one that was up trying to go through the hole in the underwear made for the right leg to go through, and I felt myself leaning over to my right, and I had to make an instant decision, should I continue pushing my foot down to get the right foot through the hole before I hit the floor, or should I just let go of the underwear and let the right foot touch the blue tiled floor and let the underwear dangle half on between my legs, or a third choice, which is what I didn’t want, was to just fall. So I chose to let go, with a click of the tongue and a sigh, in frustration, like I was telling myself, no, I didn’t get to win this time, I had to let go, and now I have to try putting my right foot through the right leg hole all over again. My right foot hit the tiled floor with a slap, a sound of naked flesh hitting a hard cool, smooth surface, it was kind of a satisfying sound, even if it sounded hard, nothing like the sound of skin slapping skin, which always leads to some kind of pain, I was thinking of my mother slapping my face real hard, I don’t think she ever did that, and I was trying to think of times I slapped myself on purpose, and I couldn’t, except if it involved pleasure, possibly, which I can’t think of right now.