an author’s dream come true: a generous, thoughtful review of small, fierce things

an author’s dream come true: a generous, thoughtful review of small, fierce things

A review of small, fierce things by Andrew Hamilton at maryjournal.org
A review of small, fierce things by Andrew Hamilton at maryjournal.org

This morning, my colleague, publisher, and fellow scribbler Jason Buchholz emailed me to ask if I had seen the review of my recent book of flash fiction, small, fierce things in Mary: a Journal of New Writing.

I had not.

As the writers out there know, and most readers probably don’t, the publishing world is not what the shelves at Barnes and Noble might imply. If you are not a Stephen King or a JK Rowling, (which 99.9999999999999% of us are not) finding a publisher for your book is not the domino that sets the rest in motion: it is only the first step. The next is a lonely, shameless, and grueling campaign of self-promotion and self-marketing through any and all means, such as selling your book out of your backpack, bringing your book to local shops to see if they are willing to sell on commission, posting relentlessly into the general cacophony of social media, begging your former teachers to consider teaching the book, inviting yourself to open mics and readings, and hoping your family, friends, and people from your writer’s group are not the only people who read it. In my case, I had the help of Achiote Press and my colleague Jason, who showed up at my readings, blasted his own social media to promote my work, and as this post shows, was out there looking for reviews of my book in his spare time (when he isn’t working full time, raising a child, co-running his small press, and writing his own novels.)

How does one get reviewed if you are a small, fierce mouse and not a large, visible elephant? You beg. You send out email queries and never hear back. You mail out free review copies to anyone who will take one, and then pass out after holding your breath for a few months waiting to hear back (while sheepishly googling your book title to confirm that no one has reviewed it.)

Then you give up.

And then, if you are really really lucky, a kind soul not only reads it, but reads it closely, and writes their observations down, and publishes it. In my case, that kind, generous, thoughtful reviewer is Andrew Hamilton at maryjournal.org.

I don’t know Andrew, but I would like to say this: writing book reviews for small presses is the literary equivalent of volunteering to get up and sing your heart out to an invisible crowd who may or may not be there, and who may or may not be paying attention. Most reviewers of fiction are not paid for what they do… except in review copies, a very small per-review stipend ($25-$50 if you write for say, Publisher’s Weekly) and the author’s undying gratitude (even negative reviews sell books). Book reviewers, in my opinion, work harder than the authors themselves… putting their craft and art into a piece of writing about someone else’s piece of writing. They are the (mostly) unsung heroes of the publishing world. Those who do have high visibility, like NPR’s Maureen Corrigan, give solid but eventually predictable and repetitively-styled reviews as bookends (yup) to Terry Gross’ show Fresh Air. If you are everyone else, you are competing to be read by an audience terminally distracted by the sheer white noise of the net. And don’t get me started on the reviewers who treat reviewing as an exercise in cynical showboating.

So, if you’ve read this far, please doff your hat to those book reviewers out there who do this work as a labor of love, a masochistic reflex, an unspeakable kindness, or whatever it is that makes them kind enough and crazy enough to donate their precious mental resources in this act of service. Andrew Hamilton, and maryjournal.org, thank you. 

Announcing my new book of illustrated flash fiction: small, fierce things

Announcing my new book of illustrated flash fiction: small, fierce things

Logo
 
Dear Readers,
In February of last year, we brought you news of our friend LJ Moore’s limited handmade chapbook small, fierce things, a project we fell in love with from the beginning for its sheer transportive magic. For the last eighteen months, LJ has been working to expand the collection’s stories and drawings. It’s complete now, and we are thrilled to bring you the re-release of this extraordinary work. Although it’s now printed and bound through conventional technologies (not hand-stitched by the writer herself with fishing net she collected above the Arctic Circle, like the original), we think its magic and grace remain intact. Here’s the copy from the website:
“This collection by LJ Moore exhibits a writer/artist in deep communication – with the natural world, with dreams, with her friends and family, with legends and folklore, with her craft, with her own subconscious. She creates startling and unprecedented connections among these entities, tying them together, conflating them, blurring boundaries and exploring overlaps. The result of this collection – forty-five drawings and some two dozen stories (they’re hard to count, with they way they move around, and sometimes mimic other things) – is an overwhelming feeling of synthesis, of unity, of a primordial oneness in which we all exist together. Here she gives us the freedom to delineate things in any way our imaginations deem necessary, so long as we promise to come back and tell our stories.”
the bird-shaped hole (excerpt)
she had always felt the bird-shaped hole. sometimes, after waking from certain dreams, it felt as if it had been filled. in these dreams she flew inside the bird, looking out its eyes, neither becoming absolutely the bird nor remaining wholly herself, riding as a welcome stowaway in a body whose dimensions were both right and strange. the owner of the wings and claws was aware of her presence, yet made no objection. together, they followed the wind’s suggestions, flexing and extending each remex and rectrix to barrel-roll between buildings, noting the astonished faces behind windows, and the neck-bobbing scatter of startled pigeons.
LJ Moore’s poetry, essays, short fiction, reviews, and photography have appeared in a number of publications, including Fourteen Hills, Limestone, Jacket, Publishers Weekly, Rain Taxi, Kalliope, Transfer, Instant City, Litseen, We Still Like, Artsmith, The Chiron Review, The Bold Italic, Sparkle&Blink, Enizagam, and forthcoming in 100WordStory. Her 2008 book, F-Stein, tells the story of family through pop culture, science, and the paranormal in the form of a replicating strand of DNA.
LJ Moore was a 2010 writer-in-residence at Headlands Center for the Arts, and completed a residency with The Arctic Circle, sailing on a tall ship around the archipelago of Svalbard with a group of artists during twenty-four-hour daylight. With Invisible City Audio Tours, she curated and narrated an audio tour of the gold rush-era ships buried under downtown San Francisco. She lives happily with two trained rats and a photographer.
– The Achiote Press team.
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even magicians find dust bunnies in their hats

even magicians find dust bunnies in their hats

There is too much stuff in my magic show.

beloved historiesThis became abundantly clear to me while sitting in my hallway this morning among the pocket watches, tiny carved boxes, ship’s gauges, hundred-year-old microscope slides, turn-of-the-century medicinal bottles, raven feathers, antique buttons, candelabras, photographs of people and animals long passed on to other adventures… and books.

Over 500 books.

I have a svelte magic show, by a common magician’s standards: it all fits in one hallway, one bedroom, and two closets. It is tidy and organized. There is no dirt, no piles of things, no boxes of forgotten junk. There is no muffin top here, no spare rabbit, no cage full of doves- only feathers and broken time pieces. Only beloved forgotten spells cast by strangers into the world that somehow ended up in my pockets, and I’ve carried them for years, listening to their wonders, and wondering about their secrets.  At night, when the noise of traffic keeps me awake, I try to tune my ear to a deeper place, to the restless, unending whispering of these objects. Each has a pulse, a story that goes on.

This might be sounding a bit creepy at this point, so let me clarify: I suffer from no terrible Gollum-like lust for what was. Neither am I guarding horcruxes while my actual soul withers and splits. I am just a poet. And a poet is a magician of words… an intermediary, a translator, an amplifier, a caretaker of stories. Look at all the stories!

souls transcribed and somewhat immortal

But every few years the same thing happens, no matter how small a space I live in, not matter how much I maintain my resolve to not accumulate… I end up losing my equilibrium. I’m the raccoon that is caught in a nail trap because I won’t let go of the shiny object in my fist. I am, as George Carlin once joked, enslaved to my boxes. I work so I can pay for a box to put my boxes in, which are full of more boxes. And books are like the tesseract of boxes… they are boxes that contain hundreds of very thin, double-sided boxes, with ink printed in box shapes, and should you be able understand the spells written in these boxes, suddenly each produces an entire heretofore unknown reality… right into your brain… as if you experienced it yourself. And in a sense, you did, because you add your own images, your own particular interpretation of what you find there, and it stays with you, and over time you might pass it on by giving the book away, or telling the story to someone else, or dropping a clever reference about Voldemort or Tolkein into your blog post… a wink wink, nudge nudge to others who have been in the box and know the status of the cat.

Books are the deepest sorcery that exists. Do I need to mention the old/new testaments?  torah?  qur’an? confucian analects? bhagavad gita?  book of mormon?  Okay, just checking.

So here is the question: what does a magician keep? What does a poet let go of?  As the world continues its shift to convert so much of what was physical into encoded (smaller) versions of the physical, we may be reducing the visible cache, but we are increasing the volume to an ear-splitting level. And what is the value of thingness?

I don’t keep these objects because of their monetary value. Most of them are monetarily valueless. I took 30 music Cd’s to Amoeba yesterday and was offered $16 cash or $32 in trade. If I sell off even 1/5th of these books at Green Apple, I might get $50 if I’m lucky. These are not financial investments, they are the currency of dreams, and the record of a silent, collective experience that our living memories simply don’t have room for. We press the “clear cache” on these events more and more quickly as the decades gain thrust… because we have to.

LIFE magazine from 1980. TIME magazine from 2005But physical reminders are necessary. This 1980 LIFE magazine contains a hopeful report on thousands of people surviving cancer. As of 2007, the number was 11.7 million…  in the United States alone. This TIME magazine shows a woman holding her mother in floodwaters after hurricane Katrina. This information is all over the web, but the context in time has been lost. What these events meant when they happened is a subtler understanding that comes from reading what’s around the articles in these magazines…  advertisements for the boxy 1980 Dodge Aries K with the tag line “America’s not going to be pushed around anymore,” is laughable and sad when you consider the Hummers and Suburbans and Ford F150 fiberglass leviathans that cars ballooned into by the 2000’s. In 2005, photographs of bodies floating in Louisiana’s floodwaters are surrounded by mostly pharmaceutical ads promising restful sleep, pain-free diabetes monitoring, effort-free weight loss, and cholesterol-lowering drugs.

The physicality of objects is a tangible memory of what people were in a place and time. What they felt, and what was important to them, is not so much in the information, but in how they put it together, and what they included and excluded, and even more so, what they considered a “given”. In a pocketwatch, you see precious metals, intricate gears, jewels and flywheels and springs that must be cared for in order to work together as a precise mechanism. If you owned a pocketwatch, you owned not only an object of necessity and utility, but one of moveable wealth, and you quite literally, kept time in your pocket. Nothing about this can really be understood by the idea of a pocketwatch. You have to carry it around, remember to wind it, attach is safely to your button with a fob, have it accessible at any moment. Without it, you don’t know what time it is. The world will move on without you.

But even a magician doesn’t have room in her hat for everything. Sometimes, it’s time to reach in there and sort the bunnies from the dust. Sometimes the urge to purge becomes overwhelming and indiscriminate. I fantasized this morning about carrying down every object I owned by armfuls and leaving it all out on the street, and watching people carry it all off to new life and purpose. But screw that, I’m not a neo-hippie. If I want to go to extremes I’ll dye my hair again.

What I do in this situation is ask myself… what kind of magician am I… and what do I really need to accomplish that? I think a little bit of hunger is in order. I don’t want to live inside a curiosity cabinet, I am a curiosity cabinet, and the feeling of being beloved is much more like light than like money.  If I pass on some of these books, I pass on the stories that live inside them, but like the sunlight that bounces off the moon, someone else can experience the illumination, without any diminishing of mine.

battery-powered 1970s owl clock

All that said, there are certain objects that no sane person would have produced in the first place, let alone used, and cherished and hauled around from place to place.

That is why I am so not getting rid of this clock.

This Terrible Symmetry: a review of Helsinki, by Peter Richards

This Terrible Symmetry: a review of Helsinki, by Peter Richards

by Peter Richards

I rarely have a viscerally bad reaction to a book, but when it comes to connecting with a reader, I find it frustrating when surrealism is confused with, well, confusion. Other reviewers describe this book as containing an “exuberant grief,” but in my review this month in Gently Read Literature, I argue that there is a way to use surrealism in poetry to heighten and clarify awareness, particularly when writing out of grief -T.S. Eliot did it in The Wasteland– but Richards does not sustain it in Helsinki.

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