The first time saw Dana Johnson was on a panel at Skylight Books. I can’t remember what the panel was actually about, but I remember clearly what Dana said about her MFA experience — that she didn’t go right out of college, she waited a while until she was really hungry, ready. Then during her years at Indiana University, she wrote the stories in her first collection, Break Any Woman Down, winner of the prestigious Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. That’s pretty much the exact opposite of what I did, which was go to grad school at USC straight out of college and use the time as a sort of prolonged adolescence — the totally unproductive kind with lots of flailing around and remarkably little writing. If only I’d waited to go to USC until Dana started teaching there! Then I’d have been the recipient of her sage advice — though whether or not I would have done anything with it at that point, who knows. That said, everything’s turned out fine — But back to Dana. Break Any Woman Down is a complex and provocative collection of short stories, often starring characters in the margins of society. A black stripper tries to […]
I’ve been blogging about salsa dancing the last few weeks — so fittingly, this month’s giveaway is a salsa memoir! Samantha Dunn’s book Faith in Carlos Gomez: A Memoir of Salsa, Sex, and Salvation starts with the newly divorced, thirty-something Samantha’s introduction to salsa — via a lover who quickly becomes an ex lover because he turns out to have other lovers — then quickly spirals down to her sleeping with her very short salsa instructor — then spins into a heartwarming story of her actually learning to dance — on the dance floor and off. The memoir covers a lot of ground: the colorful Los Angeles salsa scene, a strained and competitive mother-daughter relationship, and Samantha’s love of horses. Get a copy of Faith in Carlos Gomez: A Memoir of Salsa, Sex, and Salvation now, or sign up with your email below to be entered to win a free copy! Already signed up for my newsletter? Then you’re already entered! Enter to win! ____ Come back mid-month to read a Five Firsts interview with Samantha Dunn.
I was first introduced to The Cost of Living when I heard Rob Roberge read at Roar Shack. The excerpt — about an addict called Bud Barrett whose friend talks him into digging up a relative’s grave to steal jewelry to hawk for drug money — was disturbing and intense and sad and unexpectedly hilarious! “She was dead,” the reluctant Bud rationalizes — So of course, I had to read the novel. Every page of The Cost of Living is an entertaining ride: Reckless musicians on tour, hooking up with strangers and going on drug binges. Recovering addicts going to all the uncomfortable places in search of redemption. The heady ecstatic highs of mania, the soul-wrenching lows of depression. The characters go all over the place — geographically and emotionally — and take you with them — Get a copy of The Cost of Living now, or sign up with your email below to be entered to win a free copy! Already signed up for my newsletter? Then you’re already entered! Enter to win! ____ Come back mid-month to read a Five Firsts interview with Rob Roberge.
*** Winner selected! Congratulations to John in Quincy, Mass! *** This month’s giveaway is my own book! After many years of wanting and waiting, I’m beyond excited and grateful that Cake Time is finally coming into the world on April 6, 2017. When people ask what my book is about, I say this: Cake Time is about a smart girl who makes risky choices about men and sex in Los Angeles. Here’s a longer description: Daring yet aimless, smart but slightly strange, Cake Time’s young female protagonist keeps making slippery choices, sliding into the dangerous space where curiosity melds with fear and desires turn into dirty messes. In “How Not to Have an Abortion,” the teenaged narrator looks for a ride from the clinic between her AP exams. In “Easy Target,” the now-college-grad agrees to go to a swingers party with a handsome stranger. A decade later, in “Glow,” she is suddenly confronted by the disturbing and thrilling fact of her lover’s secret daughter. Ultimately, Cake Time grapples with urgent, timeless questions: why intelligent girls make terrible choices, where to negotiate a private self in an increasingly public world, and how to love madly without losing a sense of self. […]
*** Winner selected! Congratulations to Gary in Dallas, OR *** “I find a list of pros and cons about me. Pro: Great sex. A good person. Con: Needy, both emotionally and financially.” * 52 Men is a thinly veiled memoir by Louise Wareham Leonard, written in tiny, flash pieces. Each of the 52 snippets features a guy with whom the narrator had a relationship — some affairs brief, some longer, some intimate, some cruel. The 52 men glimpsed through this book all are so unique — there’s one guy that sounds curiously like Jonathan Franzen, another who jousts with the narrator so she’ll remember him, several who die young…. The book’s like an ode to ex lovers but also an ode to the fragmentary memories of them. After the flash pieces, this book ends with a longer short story about a girl who has a sexual relationship with her older step brother — at first as a young teen who’s being molested by him, later as a woman, consensually. This story goes to all the uncomfortable, murky, in-between places around consent, desire, history, and power and is sure to make you think and feel intensely for a long time after […]
*** Winner selected! Congratulations to Daniel in Murray, KY *** What’s it like growing up white — with an adopted black brother — in 1980s rural Indiana? Tough — and much, much tougher if the two of you are not only taunted by racist peers at school but abused and neglected by your religious, punitive parents at home. In her searing memoir Jesus Land, Julia Sheeres tells the story of her and her brother David in painful and riveting detail. The kids try to fend for themselves while caring for each other in an increasingly turbulent environment — enduring physical and sexual abuse — until they’re sent to a religious reform school in the Dominican Republic. There, the siblings are disciplined with draconian rules that shame and isolate and silence students, subjugating them into obedience. Raised by religious parents myself, reading Jesus Land was a cathartic experience for me. It’s a fascinating and disturbingly close look at key social issues that still plague us today: racism, sexual assault, and child abuse carried out in the name of god, both in the quiet secrecy of family homes and the formalized settings of religious institutions. Get a copy of Jesus Land now, […]