Tuesday, May 30, 2023

TBR: You Don’t Belong Here by Jonathan Harper

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe. 



Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?


After his stay in a secluded artist colony, ne’er-do-well Morris Hines has fallen in love – with anonymity and endless drinking; with the sleepy resort town and its bohemian ways. Morris Hines is about to enter hell.


Which character did you most enjoy creating? Why?


The novel opens with my main character, Morris, in this isolated resort town and randomly stumbling upon a shadow from his past, Henry. And it’s an unsettling reunion – their friendship had ended badly.


Henry quickly became my favorite character to write about. He’s universal – we all have that story of the “bad friend” from our past and we all have wondered what it would be like to run into them again. It’s easy to assume the worst about them and usually there’s a part of us that desperately wants them to get their comeuppance.  


At first, it was easy to label Henry as the “bad friend”. But the more time I spent writing him, the more I saw his humanity. Yes, he was selfish and self-destructive, but he was also self-aware. He had regrets. He wanted to make positive changes to his life, but didn’t know how to shed bad habits and old reputations. In the end, I felt a great deal of empathy for him.  


And, which character gave you the most trouble, and why?


Yasmin, who is Morris’s fiancĂ© back home. While she plays an important role in the novel, she’s not physically in town with him. I worried she would turn into Hella from “Giovanni’s Room”, sort of existing in the background without getting any real development. I didn’t want that for her. I wanted her to have agency, which is difficult to show when she’s not present for a lot of the action.


Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.


I started with this vague idea of a queer man becoming stranded in middle-America, which led to these big questions of what it means to be stranded in the first place as well as how queer people exist outside of our bubbles. But I didn’t know where to begin. I was a short story writer and this was my first attempt at a novel – I was totally lost, couldn’t figure out how to enter the story much less take this idea and build a full plot around it.

Then, I was at my yearly writer’s colony, wandering around town lost in thought when I suddenly had this wicked idea: what if my main character was at an artist colony and just isn’t ready to go home. It was amazing how quickly the rest of the plot fit into place.


The writing process was slow. I was working on this throughout the Trump administration and a pandemic. It was so hard to focus when it felt like the world was ending. But it also fueled me with a lot of raw emotion that found its way into my writing. Maybe a little angst is good for art.


As for the publishing part, my story collection came out through Lethe Press. And while I did spend a year on the agent hunt, I eventually went back to Lethe and it felt like I was coming home. Steve Berman is amazing. He is supportive and brings a really incredible eye to the books he publishes. I am very lucky to know him.



What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?


The novelist Patricia Park once told me, “A novel is a collection of little moments.” At the time, I didn’t quite get what she meant by that, but it was something I thought a lot about during the editing process. Every scene counts. Every scene, even the most seemingly inconsequential, can be interesting if you use the right details.


My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?


When I wrote the first draft, I had left Chapter 2 blank. This was the chapter reserved for the history of the two main characters, Morris and Henry. I had plenty of notes on their backstory and a decent idea of who they were when they were younger. And this was a first draft, so I figured I didn’t need to have everything figured out right away.


Well, eventually it became to time write Chapter 2 … and Chapter 2 became my archnemesis. It was this blank page that just sat there, mocking me. And I had no idea what to write in it. Do you give a long comprehensive history? Or do you write a single specific moment that is full of meaning? And what on earth should that moment be?


It probably took another six months or so just to get a half-hearted Chapter 2 typed up. And then, once I read it, I realized that it changed the entire dynamic between the two main characters, which meant I had to rewrite the entire novel.


So, yeah. Chapter 2 surprised me.  


What’s something about your book that you want readers to know?


My novel is set in an unnamed Midwestern town, which is inspired by Eureka Springs, AR. I’ve been going there for over a decade for my yearly residency at the Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow and now, it’s a home away from home. I have long-time friends there, I wrote both my books there, and I have countless wonderful memories. Eureka Springs is and will always be very close to my heart.


But, “You Don’t Belong Here” is not set in Eureka Springs. I need to make that clear.


My novel is about a man who becomes stranded in a seemingly idealistic town only to discover it is not as idealistic as he thought. The town itself is not evil, but there is a darkness to it. I think that darkness can be found in a lot of places. I’ve felt that darkness in certain places. But not Eureka Springs. It feels wrong to associate it with a place that has brought me nothing but joy.


Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book?


Alas, not food. But drink. My novel is set in a resort town, a drinking town, and alcohol is almost its own character. It’s not a novel of rampant alcoholism, but it is booze soaked for a reason.

So, here’s a recipe for a Perfect Manhattan:


2 oz Whistlepig Rye Whiskey

½ oz sweet vermouth

½ oz dry vermouth

2 dashes of ginger bitters

Pour it all in, gently stir, serve in a coup glass with a lemon twist.

Sip while giving a withering glance.




READ MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR HERE: www.thejonathan-harper.com







Monday, April 24, 2023

TBR: Aisle 228 by Sandra Marchetti

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe. 


We don’t expect an elevator pitch from a poet, but can you tell us about your work in 2-3 sentences?


Aisle 228 is about the 2016 Chicago Cubs, listening to baseball on the radio, and going to games with my father. The book highlights milestones across Major League Baseball of the past 50 years and culminates in the Cubs World Series win. Baseball fans any team will enjoy this title, along amateur historians and readers of literary nonfiction—it also makes an excellent gift! 



What boundaries did you break in the writing of this book? Where does that sort of courage come from?


Well, I’m not sure about breaking boundaries, but I know of many female sports fans who were also writers who never published work about sports. Maybe they wrote it but didn’t show it to anyone? Not sure. Marianne Moore and Annie Dillard come to mind as two of them. Many women have come up to me after readings or panels and said wow, I never thought of sharing my experience with sports—they mention that they aren’t really athletes or that there wasn’t a place for their voice in that sphere. Other sports fans have approached me and said they never liked poetry but they liked these poems. Conversely, others say they never thought of writing poems about sports, but after hearing mine they have a “tennis poem” in them or something, and that delights me!


Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.


I started writing this book in 2013-2014. I work a 9-5 and wrote and edited this book on (short) winter and summer breaks and a few residencies I was lucky enough to get. It was rejected 100+ times. I went to trade publishers who didn’t know about poetry but liked the sports angle. I had an agent briefly until he realized that he couldn’t help me. I sent to dozens of contests only to hear from publishers “open to anything” that sports writing was definitely out. I heard it was too short. Sometimes I never heard back. I was told to self-publish dozens of times. I kept revising—every six months—trying to remember “every line must be a poem and the book itself should be one poem.”


The poems were largely written by 2017, but 2022 was the acceptance year. What kept me going was knowing this book was good and that someone should want to publish it. And I had to polish out every impurity to get there. Also, it helped that readers reached out to me asking when the book would be out and where they could get it. The buzz was palpable and I’m so grateful for that. It pained me that I couldn’t give this book to my audience so I kept going. I’m so grateful I found a press amenable to the subject matter.


What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?


“No threat, no poem.” ~Dave Smith


“Less is more.” –Maybe not writing advice, but as a “spare” poet, it’s always worked for me. I find we try to say things multiple times in our writing to ensure we’re getting our point across, but readers are smart and we don’t have to say it more than once.


My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?


There were a lot of surprises in the writing of this book. I guess the big one is that right in the middle of writing it, the Cubs won the World Series! Also, Ichiro’s retirement (he seemed like a demigod—almost like he’d never retire). So, those things changed the course of the manuscript. What started out as perhaps being a melancholy love song to this team of perpetual disappointment, quickly had to adapt. I was thrilled to write about a winner, but was almost intimidated by the prospect. A few publishers approached me wanting to publish the book back in 2016/7, hot on the heels of the World Series win, but it just wasn’t ready. For better or worse, I stuck to my guns on that one and the book became more holistic—not just about the team’s win, but a lot more, too.


How do you approach revision?


I work on individual poems for a long time. Sometimes a poem of 75 words lives in the revision process for two or three years. When polishing poems for a book, even poems I see as “done” sometimes need another pass. Not every poem in a book is going to be of equal quality (despite what people tell you). So, they may not all have the same “ceiling” of potential, but they at least need to have the same “floor”—does that make sense? So those that stand out as clunky during a read through years later still need work. I think part of what helped this book across the finish line was that two poems that seemed a little rough to me for years finally were “fixed” before the book was accepted. I had tinkered with them—revised them eight different ways—but refused to give up on them. When I finally got them right, the whole book just read better.


Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)


My favorite ballpark food is Gilroy Garlic Fries, available at Oracle Park in San Francisco. Enjoy them with a view of the Bay! Here’s my jerry-rigged home recipe:


½ bag frozen fries (Idaho Hand Cut Fries are a fave, or you can make your own potato wedges if you’re fancy)


5/6 large cloves of fresh garlic, minced


Freshly chopped Parsley, cilantro, or chive (according to taste)


Salt and pepper


Olive oil (can substitute truffle oil)


Parmesan cheese (optional)


1.)   Bake fries according to bag directions

2.)   Put all other ingredients in small bowl and mix

3.)   Add hot, baked fries to large bowl and pour mix on top

4.)   Use spatula to mix

5.)   Serve immediately (preferably with a steak sandwich or burger!)


(Optional: Therabreath Fresh Mint Mouthwash for after the meal. It does the trick!)




READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: https://www.pw.org/directory/writers/sandra_marchetti


READ MORE ABOUT THIS PUBLISHER: https://www.sfasu.edu/sfapress/


ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK:  https://www.tamupress.com/book/9781622889556/aisle-228/ OR https://www.amazon.com/Aisle-228-Sandra-Marchetti/dp/162288955X/


READ A SELECTION OF POEMS FROM THIS BOOK: https://www.havehashad.com/web_features/author/sandramarchetti




Monday, April 17, 2023

TBR: Hestia Strikes a Match by Christine Grillo

 TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe.


Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?


The year is 2023, and America has officially begun its second civil war. Meanwhile, Hestia Harris is forty, newly single, and her parents are absconding to the confederacy. She is adrift, save for her coworkers at the retirement village and her best friend, Mildred, an 84-year-old resident, who gleefully supports Hestia’s half-hearted but hopeful attempts to find love. 


Which character did you most enjoy creating? Why? And which character gave you the most trouble, and why?


Writing Mildred, the 84-year-old retirement villager and best friend, was a joy, because I was able to draw on several older women from my life. My maternal grandmother used to look at me while she adjusted her dentures, and say, “Don’t get old, kid,” which to this day has me pondering what she thought the alternative was. My ex-husband’s aunt used to pull me aside when we were at family dinners and ask me how my sex life was. Like Mildred, she loved, loved to smoke. I probably had the most trouble writing Sarah, who is a beautiful young Black woman. As I white woman, I couldn’t presume to know her experience, so I tried to “write what you know,” which was Hestia’s well-meaning cluelessness.


Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.


Trying to find an agent who believed in this novel was difficult. My low point was when a smart, successful agent told me that she didn’t think she could sell it because it wasn’t landing squarely in any genre: it wasn’t rom-com enough, or dystopia enough, or literary enough. I nursed that wound for a while, but finally found someone who loved it. She sold it within two weeks of putting it on submission, and the process has been rainbows and unicorns ever since.


What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?


I’ll be the jerk who lists my two favorite pieces of writing advice. The first one will not be news to anyone, but kill your darlings. I’ve backed myself into so many writing corners because of a line or a moment that I love, but it turns out be only a dumb infatuation. The second piece of advice is to keep it simple. I’ve had so much writing overlooked because I thought I was being subtle or lyrical, clever or nuanced—but the truth is that no one reads my writing nearly as closely as I do. I have to keep reminding myself to write for the reader who sometimes skims.


My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?


HESTIA is a novel about friendship and love, and I guess I was surprised by how much I seemed to know, intuitively and comfortably, about friendship, and how little I knew about love. When I had to make my characters talk about why they wanted a partner, I found myself grasping. For young people, pairing up is such a biological drive that it doesn’t need to make sense. But I’m not young anymore, and when I look logically at partnership, it’s not clear why we need or want it. I canvassed friends about love and was surprised by the wide range of responses. Some people want a partner but can’t explain why, while others do the cost-benefit analysis and decide to take a pass.


How do you approach revision?


My best revisions happen when I open a new document and start re-writing a scene from memory and instinct. My worst revisions happen when I edit a scene that’s right in front of me. There’s something tyrannical about an existing document, the way it hems you in.


Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)


In HESTIA, trade routes to America have been disrupted by civil war, so there are some foods that are difficult to get. Things like prosciutto, macademia nuts, and Kentucky bourbon are hard to come by, and they take on a currency of their own. There is one character, an Italian named Marcello, who insists that ziti should be baked, like manicotti, and I can attest to the truth in that.




READ MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250883773/hestiastrikesamatch



If you can’t purchase the book at your local, independent bookstore, try using



LISTEN TO AN EXCERPT OF THIS BOOK [AUDIO FILE]: https://soundcloud.com/macaudio-2/hestia-strikes-a-match-by-christine-grillo/s-KERQHr8prHg

Friday, April 14, 2023


TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe.


Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?


Colton Ward is the ultimate heist artist…who rips off other heist artists. Hey, it’s not really stealing if you’re stealing from other crooks, right? Banks. Casinos. Warehouses. Cargo ships. From Davos to Rome, Bangkok to the Isle of Man, Miami to the Twin Cities, Colton and his brother Denny carry out a succession of dangerous scores. Until their luck runs out. Colton’s pinched by the FBI and faced with a choice: go to prison or work for the world-weary Agent Hoskins, who heads up a unit that specializes in robberies exceeding one million dollars.


 Which character did you most enjoy creating? Why? And, which character gave you the most trouble, and why?


I do love a good villain. And Magnuson, the head of a Nordic gang called the Vikes, was terrifyingly fun to write. He’s covered in tattoos of Norse myths and at one point he interrogates someone while making them drink an entire bottle of whiskey (so as to bring down their defensive ability to lie).


But Colton, the main character, ultimately wins my heart. He’s the reason the novella exists at all. And he’s the reason there will likely be some follow-up stories.


Colton is a rip-off artist you can’t help but root for. He pulls off heists on the guys who pull off heists. Bank robbers. Casino robbers. Warehouse robbers. Not only is he always one step ahead of them, he lets them do the dirty work. He rests comfortably on the notion that it’s not really stealing if you’re stealing from crooks…and he has enough of a conscience that he dumps a lot of the money into charities.


One of his eyes is blue, the other green, a rare condition called heterochromia that captures the two sides of him.  Here’s the pleasant charmer who tips well and flirts with everyone and stops traffic so a family of ducklings can cross the street. And here’s the guy who will coldly stare at you down the line of the gun and tell you to do as you’re told.


He’s a liar. And his unreliability carries over to the storytelling. We’ll hear, for instance, several versions of his origin story. In one, his parents lose everything (because the bank reclaims their business) and his dad commits suicide. In another story, his father was a con artist who was finally cornered and gunned down by the cops at Colton’s Chuck E. Cheese birthday party.


In another, he and his family were shopping downtown, when a getaway car struck his father at a crosswalk. His body rolled thirty yards before coming to a stop in a broken heap. The driver had just robbed a bank, and he didn’t so much as slow down, squealing away in a purple Lincoln the size of a gray whale. Money fluttered from the open window of the vehicle. And little Colton picked up a twenty off the street. A twenty he keeps in his wallet to this day. The perp was never apprehended. So in a way, everyone Colton is robbing—as an adult—is some version of that guy. The guy in the purple Lincoln.


Whichever version is true, it’s clear that his father left behind an aching cavity he’s trying to fill.



Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.


This is novella, which is both my favorite length for a story and the most difficult to place. A literary journal or magazine doesn’t have the space. And you can’t really publish a 60-pager as a standalone book. So I’m thrilled to be working with NeoText. Not only do they publish novellas—digitally—but they also hire killer artists to illustrate the narrative. In this case, I worked with Michael Gaydos, who brings a gritty noir-soaked vision to the story.


Later on, I can include American Criminal in a published book of short stories, if I want, but for now, people can download it off the NeoText website or read it via Kindle.


What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?


When I took a creative writing workshop with Barry Hannah—way, way back in 2003—I asked him if he had any parting advice, and he lit a cigarette and blew out a cloud of smoke and said, “Thrill me!”


My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?


The story is very twisty—because it’s a thriller and because the narrator is unreliable—and so it’s constantly turning and turning and turning on itself in surprising ways. Given that I plot out my novels in advance, you’d think that would be the case here. But the architecture was very loose actually. And I ended up following the voice more than anything, discovering trap doors for the character along the way. That’s not normally the way I write, but I’m very glad I allowed myself that freedom here.


How did you find the title of your book?


I wanted a title I could build a franchise on, honestly. Like a True Detective. American Criminal felt right, because of the code this guy follows. It also felt right because of where we are right now as a country. The headlines are dominated by corruption. There’s a swelling divide between the one percent and the rest of us. Capitalism deserves disruption.


Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)


Does Chuck E. Cheese count? How about chicken wings at a sports bar? Or a few shots of Aquavit?




READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: www.benjaminpercy.com






Monday, April 10, 2023

TBR: Imagine Your Life Like This by Sarah Layden

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe.



Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?


We all long for something; what if we get it? The characters in this collection are on the verge of change, if only they could see themselves or their situations with greater clarity. If only they—and we—could come to terms with self-identity, perceptions of others, and the photographs that don’t match the picture in our minds.



Which story did you most enjoy writing? Why? And which story gave you the most trouble, and why?


I spent a seemingly inordinate amount of time on the shortest story in the collection: “Paternity Test” is only five pages long, but it has more characters and connections than some of the longest stories in the book. I wrote a very fast, very rough first draft in Fall 2020, and it struck me later that I was seeking out the day-to-day connections I was missing during the pandemic. It took many more drafts to tighten and figure out the story’s trajectory. Working in short forms like flash fiction, or in this case, a flash-adjacent/slightly longer story, is a challenge I enjoy.


As for struggles, a thing about starting some of these stories two decades ago? It’s shocking how fast society can change in that relatively short amount of time. “In Search Of” is an early story that remains set in the early 2000s, at a weekly newspaper where a man and woman take personal ads by phone for the Classifieds section. That sentence alone, along with the attitudes of the main characters about gender, bodies, race, and romantic entanglements, form a kind of time capsule. It doesn’t seem like that long ago, but it was, at least in terms of how much has changed since then. I wanted to capture that time, place, and feeling even as I was making large-scale revisions to the story and seeing it through more recent eyes. These characters don’t have the same luxury of hindsight.  



Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.


A story collection is such a tricky animal. I started a few of these stories in the early to mid 2000s, in my MFA program. Even though several were published, they were still taking on different forms post-publication. Particularly in the revision of this book, I struggled for a long time with the idea of “doneness.” This could be my journalism background, but to me it felt that once something was printed, it was finished, at least in terms of my consideration or attention. It was really a challenge to think about how they stories could take on a new life in order to operate as a cohesive unit. The collection went through multiple title changes, rearrangement of story order, and detailed revision of every story, including the ones previously published. To become a published collection, it had to evolve into a new creature.


I also entered many contests run by presses and journals, and was occasionally a finalist, which encouraged me to keep working on the book and submitting it. The review process of a university press can be intense, but it helped me see the work through new eyes, which is always the goal for me in revision: how does a reader outside of my own head read the work? And then, what am I going to do with that information?


What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?


I have many. But one I often find myself returning to is something I heard from Steve Almond: “Slow down where it hurts.” That moment in writing where you find yourself wanting to speed past or gloss over: what’s beneath it, either for you or the characters? It’s revelatory, the things that happen on the page when you let your characters fully experience or inhabit all their messy and true emotions in scenes. People are often trained not to pay attention to pain, and we can trace countless individual and cultural problems that stem from unprocessed pain. Terrible for human beings, great for fiction.


My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?


At the story level, there was a moment in drafting “I’m Not Who You Think I Am” when I finally understood what happened to the missing character, a runaway groom. That cracked the rest of the story open for me, and I rewrote the whole thing what that in mind.


At the book level, it’s hard to believe how many lives this collection has lived inside my computer. I don’t know if writing and assembling a short story collection is a straightforward process for other writers, but it certainly was not for me. I might be able to identify this as a Sarah problem, actually, as this trends across many of my life experiences. (Is there an emoji to convey overthinking while laughing and crying? That’s the right one for this context.)  


How did you find the title of your book?


The title story came late to the collection. When I was revising and wrote the line, I knew it would be the book title, too. I’ve always been interested in how we imagine or refuse to imagine the lives of other people, and what results from connection and disconnection, from misperception and failure of empathy. I like to think of the title, Imagine Your Life Like This, as a dare to my characters. Also to me. And you.


Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)


Half-moon cookies are a Syracuse staple and are featured in my story “Hysterectomy,” which takes place near the Syracuse University campus. The story was published in Stone Canoe, a journal once out of SU and now part of the YMCA’s Downtown Writers Center. Two of my former colleagues at the Syracuse Post-Standard give us the goods on half-moons: this Sean Kirst column illustrates the significance of these delicious cookies, and journalist and food blogger Margaret McCormick recommends this Saveur recipe (adapted and scaled from the Hemstrought’s Bakery recipe, which originally made 2,400. Oh, wow. Can you imagine? I can.)




READ MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK: https://uwpress.wisc.edu/books/6096.htm


ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK: Any site is fine!! Here’s one:



READ AN EXCERPT FROM THIS BOOK, “Nothing and Nobody”:  https://blackbird.vcu.edu/v18n2/fiction/layden-s/nothing-page.shtml


Monday, March 20, 2023

TBR: Saying Goodbye by Andrew Stancek

 TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe. 


Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?


The book details a year in the life of a six-year-old Slovak boy being brought up by his grandparents in Soviet-era Czechoslovakia. In this novella-in-flash, filled with heartbreak and joy, betrayal and love, Adam grows through adventures with his grandfather in a quest for acceptance.


Which character did you most enjoy creating? Why?


As Grandfather guided me through his adventures with Adam, I grew to admire his strength. In Adam’s eyes he is heroic, almost mythical, but the reader comes to appreciate a life marked by poverty, wars, poor health, and, during the events of this story, a daughter who disappears, leaving a child behind. He is complex and the challenge was to present him as not just Adam’s superhero, but a living, loving, flawed human being.



Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.


The book has been in the works for ten years; it has been envisioned as a full-length novel, as a collection of short stories, as a collection of novellas. Many parts have been reworked, many discarded. Once the publisher and I were happy with the format, we decided to race ahead toward an AWP 2023 Seattle launch, which became a marathon. Some authors who agreed to blurb could not meet that deadline. I am thrilled that Sara Lippmann and Nancy Stohlman juggled their schedules to provide generous praise.


A high has been holding the physical book in my hands, being able to sign and gift it to friends.


 What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?


1)    James Baldwin: “Discipline, love, luck, but, most of all, endurance. Write. Find a way to keep alive and write. There is nothing else to say.”


2)    Samuel Becket: “Fail better.”


My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?


The process is mysterious. You must allow the characters to lead you, to let them tell the story. But a time eventually comes when that world can overwhelm, when the author feels the weight of too many stories and has to assume control. Aggressive characters can scream bloody murder.


What’s something about your book that you want readers to know?


A childhood is sorrow-filled. Soon after the events of this book, armies of the Soviet Union and three other nations crossed the borders with tanks, to occupy Czechoslovakia and chase Adam’s family and 300,000 other citizens out of the country. The Slovak large, even mythic, stories remain largely untold, although a few authors continue to till that soil.


Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)






1 loaf of day-old white bread

4 eggs

1 cup of milk

6 tablespoons of butter

Salt and pepper

4 tablespoons of parsley (optional)


Cut the bread into one-inch cubes.


Separate the whites and yolks of the eggs into two bowls.


Beat the whites into a stiff meringue with an electric beater.


Add the milk into the bowl with the yolks and beat.


Melt butter.


In a large bowl, using your hands, mix the bread, the milk with egg yolks, the melted butter and the parsley, salt, pepper. Gently fold in the egg whites.


Place a steamer on top of a pot, add water, just high enough so it does not touch the steamer. Bring water to boil. In your hands shape the bread mixture into balls, about two inches in diameter. Place in steamer, cover, reduce boil to gentle, steam for about seven minutes. The finished dumplings should be solid and spongy. In my steamer I do batches of seven balls, and have three batches. If the dumpling is still runny in the middle, steam for another minute.


 Serve to accompany any stew or goulash, like the one below.





1.5 lbs pork tenderloin

2 medium onions (I prefer red)

Liter jar of sauerkraut

2 cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon caraway

1 tablespoon paprika

½ tablespoon hot paprika (optional)

3 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 cups vegetable stock

1 cup sour cream



Cut meat into one-inch cubes.


Chop onion.


Mince garlic.


Drain sauerkraut.


 Heat oil, add caraway and onion, cook for three minutes on medium heat.


Add cubed meat and garlic, increase heat, stir for three minutes.


Add paprika, flour and salt, stir for a minute.


Add stock, bring to boil, reduce heat to medium, add sauerkraut, cover, simmer for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally.


Check meat for tenderness.


Gently stir in the sour cream, cook through for two minutes.


Serve and ENJOY.




Read more about this publisher: http://www.cervenabarvapress.com/


Buy this book for your own TBR stack: https://www.amazon.com/s?crid=13G7VJ0L8RTQ7&k=andrew%20stancek&ref=glow_cls&refresh=1&sprefix=%2Caps%2C136


Read an excerpt from this book, “Rooster Crowed”: https://www.thephare.com/triptych




Friday, March 3, 2023

AWP23 Survival Guide!

It’s baaaa-aaaack! AWP23 is about to descend upon Seattle, Washington…and since I started thinking about restaurants and where I’m going to eat, I guess it’s time to post my AWP survival tips, honed after (yikes!) 20ish years of attending AWP conferences. "Survival guide" takes on a different feel in what is being called a "post-pandemic world," so my main point is to do what you need to feel safe personally and to take actions to protect the safety of others. For me, the risk of eating in a restaurant might feel personally worth it, but then how hard is it to sit quietly in a large room, listening to other people speak and wear a mask? My main tip here is to be thoughtful with regard to mask etiquette. 

Twelve thousand writers is a lot of angst, need, and glory to be packed into one convention center…here are my tried & true & freshly updated tips for success, based on my experience at past conferences:

Wear comfortable shoes, at least most of the day. There’s lots of traipsing around long hallways and the long (sometimes uncarpeted) aisles of the book fair. It’s also inevitable that the one panel you really, really, really want to see will be in a teeny-tiny room and you’ll have to stand in the back…or sit on the floor; see the following tip:

Wear comfortable clothes, preferably taking a layer approach. Wherever you go, you will end up either in A) an incredibly stuffy room that will make you melt, or B) a room with an arctic blast directed at you. Bulk up and strip down as needed. Also, as noted above, despite their best efforts, the AWP conference staff has a knack for consistently misjudging the size of room required for a subject matter/speakers (i.e. Famous Writer in room with 30 chairs; grad student panel on Use of Dashes in Obscure Ancient Greek Poet in room with 300 chairs). I suppose it’s hard to determine who is “famous” and so on…in any event, you don’t want to find yourself scrunched into a 2’x2’ square on the carpet, and so see the following tip:

To avoid being stuck sitting on the floor, arrive early to panels you really, really want to attend. And, in fact, official AWP does not sanction sitting on the floor because it’s a fire hazard and you’ll be creating a barrier to those who have accessibility needs. Not sure how they feel about standing in a herd in the back? The point is, don’t sit on the floor—be mindful of others if there’s a herd of standees, and arrive early.

If a panel is bad, ditch it. Yes, it’s rude. Yes, everyone does it. (Be better than the rest by at least waiting for an appropriate break, but if you must go mid-word, GO.) I can’t tell you the high caliber of presenters that I have walked out on, but think Very High. Remember that there are a thousand other options, and you have choices. The only time you have to stick it out is if A) the dull panel participant is your personal friend or B) the dull panel participant is/was your teacher or C) the dull panel participant is your editor/publisher. Those people will notice (and remember) that you abandoned them mid-drone and punish you accordingly (i.e. your glowing letters of rec will flicker and fade). Undoubtedly this is why I have never been published in Unnamed Very High Caliber Magazine, having walked out on that editor’s panel.

There are zillions of panels. And there's an app. Sadly for me, I dislike apps and I miss the massive tome of information and the smaller printed guide. BUT! Time marches on. If you're not an app person, and maybe even if you are, I suggest taking the time NOW to go to AWP’s website and scroll through the schedule and select EVERY panel that sounds even moderately interesting, and load those into the “my schedule” feature. Keep that stored on your favorite technology (mine is a sheaf of printed paper…which may be smart since I often forget how/where to re-access “my schedule,” which requires logging in and somehow finding “my account”; I assume app people are more adept than I am).  Anyway…no point waking up early on Friday if there’s nothing you want to attend. I checkmark panels I might go to if nothing better is going on and star those that I will make a supreme effort to attend. Give yourself a couple of options at each time slot so that if a room is too crowded, you have an interesting alternative.

I like to choose a variety of panels: people I know, people I’ve heard of, genres I don’t write but am curious about, topics I want to educate myself on. Stretch yourself. I also like to go to a reading in which I don’t know any of the readers, just to have a lovely sense of discovery! And don’t forget the ninety-trillion off-site events! (I suspect you’ll end up depressed if every single panel you attend is How To Get Published…remember, the way to get published, really, is to be an amazing writer. You’ll be better of going to some panels that will help you in that pursuit.)

Someone will always ask a 20-minute question that is not so much a question but a way of showing off their own (imagined) immense knowledge of the subject and an attempt to erase the (endlessly lingering) sting of bitterness about having their panel on the same topic rejected. Don’t be that person. Keep your question succinct and relevant. Also, everyone is groaning inwardly anytime someone says, “I have a question and a comment” or anytime someone starts out by saying, “Well, in my work-in-progress, the main character is….”

Don’t say anything gossipy on the elevator, unless you want the whole (literary) world to know it. Do listen up to the conversations of others on the elevator, and tell your friends absolutely everything you’ve overheard during your offsite dinner.

Same advice above exactly applies to the overpriced hotel bar.  Also, if you happen to get a chair at the bar, or, goodness, EVEN A REAL LIVE TABLE, hang on to it!!  People will join you if they see you’ve got a spot! Famous people! I mean it: the only reason to ever give up a table in the hotel bar is because the bar has shut down, you’ve consumed every bit of liquid in the clutter of glasses, and a beefy bouncer is headed your way. (Also, here’s a fun fact: AWP alcohol consumption often breaks sales records at hotels.)

Speaking of famous people or former teachers or friends…do not say something like this in one long breathless opening sentence right after hugging/fist-bumping hello: “Great-to-see-you-can-you-write-a-blurb-letter-of-rec-piece-for-my-anthology?” Ask for favors AFTER the conference! I mean, unless you enjoy that uncomfortable moment and awkward triumph of trapping someone into saying reluctantly yes in the hopes that then you'll go away.

Support the publications at the bookfair. Set a budget for yourself in advance, and spend some money on literary journals and books and subscriptions, being sure to break your budget. Do this, and then you won’t feel bad picking up the stuff that’s been heavily discounted or being given away free on the last day of the conference. But, please, definitely do spend some money! These journals and presses rely on OUR support.

Just because something is free, you don’t have to take it. Unless you drove, you’ll have to find a way to bring home all those heavy books/journals on an airplane. Or you’ll have to wait in line at the hotel’s business center or the UPS store at the convention center to ship them home. So, be as discerning as you can when you see that magic markered “free” sign on top of a pile of sad-looking journals, abandoned by the grad students with hangovers who didn’t feel like dealing with their university's bookfair table.

Try not to approach the table of each journal at the bookfair with this question: “How can I get published in your journal?” Also, I recommend avoiding this one: “How come you didn’t publish my poem/story/essay/screed?”  Try instead: “What a beautiful journal. Please tell me more about it.” Even better: “I’m thinking about subscribing.”

It may be too late for some of you, but it’s inevitable that you will see every writer you’ve ever met in the aisle of the bookfair at one AWP or another…so I hope you were nice to all of them and never screwed anyone over. Because, yes, they will remember, and it’s not fun reliving all that drama as the editors of The Georgia Review gaze on.

Pre-arrange some get-togethers with friends/teachers/grad student buddies, but don’t over-schedule. You’ll run into people, or meet people, or be invited to a party, or find an amazing off-the-beaten-track bar.  Save some time for spontaneity! (Yes, I realize that I’m saying “plan” for spontaneity.)

Don’t laugh at this, but bring along Purell and USE IT often. Even before Covid, post-AWP Facebook status updates and tweets are filled with writers bemoaning the deathly cold/sore throat/lingering and mysterious illness they picked up at AWP.  We’re a sniffly, sneezy, wheezy, germy bunch, and the thought of 12,000 of us packed together breathing on each other, shaking hands, and giving fake hugs of glee gives what’s left of the CDC nightmares.

Along the lines of healthcare, don’t forget to drink a lot of water and pop an Advil before going to sleep if (haha…if!) you’ve been drinking a little more than usual. (Also note that AWP offers a daily 12-step meeting open to all in recovery. Please take care of yourself.)

Escape! Whether it’s offsite dinners/drinks/museums/walks through park/mindless shopping or whatever, do leave at some point. You will implode if you don’t. Also, the food on the convention floor is consistently overpriced and icky…you will starve if this is your entire diet.

Bring your cellphone charger and maybe even a portable charger. Or maybe you like huddling around electrical outlets?

I can’t believe I’m writing this: I miss the Dance Party. It was a good to work off stress and reenergize after a long, sometimes daunting day after too many snubs, imagined and real. I mean, I’m sure there are all kinds of interesting undercurrents and nuances out there in the depths of that packed dance floor…but also, on the surface, it can just be FUN. I would love to see it return. In the mean time, look for ways to handle YOUR stress that do not include camping at the hotel bar: the quiet room/s, prompt writing, a long walk, yoga.

This is a super-secret tip that I never share, but I’ll share it as a reward for those who have read this far:  there will be a bathroom that’s off the beaten track and therefore is never crowded. Scope out this bathroom early on. Don’t tell anyone except your closest friends the location of this bathroom. Wear your mask in every public bathroom, and if you doubt me, google "toilet plumes."

Finally, take a deep breath.  You’re just as much of a writer as the other 11,999 people around you.  Don’t let them get to you.


If you're interested, I'm part of a panel about linked short story collections:

1:45pm to 3pm

Rooms 343-344, Summit Building, Seattle Convention Center, Level 3


Minding the Gaps and Mining Landscape in Linked Short Story Collections


Linked short story collections have become more popular, perhaps in part because of their hybrid nature. They can employ recurring themes, characters, and settings to situate readers in worlds that move beyond the borders of many short stories while stopping short of the breadth and propulsion of a novel. Minding the gaps, or the spaces, is key in writing linked story collections. How does space function between and within linked collections, and what stories does one choose to tell and why?


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.