From Old Notebooks
by Evan Lavender-Smith
Dzanc Books, December 2012
182 pages / $15 Buy from Dzanc Books
Martin Heidegger posited the idea that all criticism is existential and there is no impartial analysis outside of the experience of the reader. A reviewer of Evan Lavender-Smith’s From Old Notebooks asks: “Should the reader of F.O.N. expect the meaning or truth of the book to lie with its author? Does the truth/meaning of the book lie outside the book?” Furthermore: “There may be some question as to F.O.N.’s status as fiction, poetry, philosophy, nonfiction, etc. but hopefully there will be no question about its status as a book.” Both comments are from Evan Lavender-Smith critiquing his own book within the pages of From Old Notebooks, even revealing: “Why am I so averse to the idea of classifying F.O.N. as poetry? – Because poetry doesn’t sell.” That’s the way From Old Notebooks rolls, defying genre and classification, even defying the traditional boundaries of author and reader. On the exterior, it reads like a notebook filled with philosophical musings, hermeneutics, the germs of story ideas, dialectical exposition, hagiographies on dubious beliefs, aphorisms made ironic by their sincerity, and letters to death. But the flow of the notebooks is deceptively simple, appearing like a random collection of ideas when it’s in fact a journey through the Penrose stairs of Smith’s mind.
I came across From Old Notebooks several years ago when it was first published by BlazeVOX. F.O.N. was one of the first postmodern/experimental works I’d read. Since then, I’ve read a lot more experimental works, some of my recent favorites including Robert Kloss’s The Alligators of Abraham; One by Blake Butler, Vanessa Place, and Chris Higgs; and Janice Lee’s Daughter. With F.O.N. recently reissued by Dzanc Books, I was excited about diving back in. It’s hard to analyze experimental works because the experience the reader has is so subjective and without making assumptions about the author’s intent, a huge part of the critique, for me, comes down to how the work resonates on a personal level. Explorations of infinity and thought stripped away from form involve literary techniques that are invented along the path of creation, and as a result, often defy formulaic definition. That is what makes these works so bold and compelling. Part of the allure of From Old Notebooks, then, is its accessibility.
The subject matter and the themes vary, encompassing everything from film quirks to quandaries on death, musings on poetry, and pornographic abstinence. The notes incorporate personal whimsies, fears, and even worries about family. Rather than obfuscate, we have a movement toward revelation. But the investigation branches into even more questions and there’s a playfulness in the tone that engenders the feeling of a contemporized Socratic enquiry, only with oneself. As a few examples:
“God endowed the universe with an infinite number of signs, but only one fact.”
“Qualifying death as “unknowable” is, finally, an act of cowardice; death as “unknowable” preserves mystery, the possibility of mystery. The truth atheist knows death intimately; for him, there is nothing at all mysterious about death.”
“Perhaps they would be more palatable if independent films had more explosions in them.”
“Should I be concerned about exploiting my children by including them in F.O.N.?”
“Consciousness is my worst habit.”
June 10th, 2013 / 11:00 am
Love Doesn’t Work
by Henning Koch
Dzanc Books, 2011
143 pages / $16.95 or $7.99 for eBook Buy from Dzanc Books
Short story writing at its best must quickly introduce the outward facts of a given world and create some narrative interest. We see this in Raymond Carver or Alice Munro, who are both brilliant at making us believe by the end of the first sentence that we already understand the world of their stories. And then, of course, there are short story writers that flirt with genre, and this is where Henning Koch’s collection, Love Doesn’t Work seems to belong. While it hovers on the edge of fantasy, there are no swords or dragons in sight. Steven Gillis, the American novelist, once commented that there were parallels between Henning Koch and Raymond Bradbury and this seems quite close to the mark, even though there is really little science fiction in Love Doesn’t Work – mainly a feeling of a strong sense of imagination.
October 27th, 2011 / 12:09 pm
In the Devil’s Territory
by Kyle Minor
Dzanc Books, 2008
220 pages / $16.95 Buy from Dzanc Books
With In the Devil’s Territory, Minor writes primary characters who are to a one religious, but none who testify to supernatural events and miracles in their own lives, in part (it seems) to depict certain of them as areas of as much suffering as anywhere else, and where the traditional Christian lifeline, perceivable congress with God, has been cut and redirected through churches and church schools. He favors a multi-part story that shifts between perspectives to attempt “real story” triangulation (“A Day Meant to Do Less” and the title story). Characters each see a small part of a larger story, and the coordinates to which their narratives point is where the reader gains understanding they lack. Minor has a mind for simple, effective arrangements, which occasionally require narrational contortions to suit.
September 7th, 2011 / 4:02 pm
One of the things I love most when ordering a book from Amazon.com or a subscription from one of the well-established literary magazines is I know I can trust I will receive what I ordered in a reasonable amount of time. I know I am not just throwing my money into the wind and hoping for the best. Often times, however, when I order books and magazines from smaller outfits, it feels like a real crapshoot. Maybe I will receive what I ordered, maybe I won’t. Maybe what I ordered will arrive during the timeframe promised, maybe it won’t. More often than not, it feels like I have to track down small press books and magazines I’ve ordered and if I forget I’ve ordered something, I’ve essentially donated that money with nothing but, perhaps, good karma, to show for it. I’ve contributed to several Kickstarter projects and only received what was promised by two. I don’t really care but still, if you say you’re going to do something, you should do it otherwise you really undermine yourself and lose potential customers.
At times, I feel like we eschew professionalism. We don’t use contracts. We don’t stick to timelines. We don’t send out review copies in advance. Sometimes, I think we don’t bother trying to do what the bigger presses our doing because we think we can’t. Word Riot has proven that wrong. Paula Bomer’s book, for example, was reviewed in Publisher’s Weekly and had a mention in O Magazine. We don’t communicate effectively. We don’t update our websites or we delete our archives without notifying our authors. I’m generalizing here, but these things happen all the time and it can be frustrating, as a consumer, as a writer, as an editor.
1. Gina Frangello is the new Writer in Residence at Necessary Fiction where this month, she will be featuring a series of stories, Body Parts. The first installment, Hole, is quite stunning.
2. How to make the Internet very very angry: 1) Steal the work of a writer, publish it in your magazine, and when said writer addresses the copyright infringement, say that writing on the Internet is public domain and tell the writer they should thank and compensate you for stealing and “editing” their work 2) Have word get out via popular writers like Maud Newton, John Scalzi, Neil Gaiman, and countless others. Even Gawker! NPR is talking about it too! A round up, here. 3) Sit back and relax. You have to feel a little bad for the hapless editor who unwittingly stepped into a very angry hornet’s nest because the pile on taking place is a bit… shocking.
3. Dzanc Books has launched an e-book club where you will get 11 books for $50 . If you’re looking for some good e-reads, consider signing up.
1. Monday of next week (Oct 11) we’ll be hosting a live web interview / reading with Grace Krilanovich, author of the truly fantastic The Orange Eats Creeps, here on the site at 9 PM Eastern (that’s 6PM on the West Coast). Mark it! The novel was just selected for the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 Award.
2. Dzanc is running a 50% sale on many of their titles, too good a deal to pass up on if you’ve got some gaps in that collection you’ve been looking to fill.
3. This week The Faster Times is running a multipart epanel on intimacy and social networking involving myself, Stephen Elliott, & Christina Kingston, hosted by Jesus Angel Garcia. Part one is here, with part 2 following today, etc.
4. Those who were interested in the Wallace-inspired A Failed Entertainment exhibit I posted about at the beginning of this year should check out a new development in the series, with an open call for new exhibits for forthcoming exhibitions of the event.
I bought the $25 desk at a museum sale in California. The rolltop doesn’t function, one of the legs is coming off, and I have to pry the drawers open, but I like how the desk part slides a little forward. It makes me feel as if I always have secret extra space, the way our apartment includes a long frosted glass window with a light behind to suggest that there’s another room. The French doors open to the living room/dining room/everywhere else room. A Murphy bed fronted with bookshelves folds down beside the desk for optimum concentration. My office is essentially the bedroom. I don’t know what to say about that.
August 17th, 2010 / 10:03 am
Monkeybicycle No. 6 is available for pre-order here. From the editors:
In this edition of Monkeybicycle’s print version, we move back toward the traditional style of fine literature that we so recklessly abandoned for issue five. Loaded with dozens of incredible stories and poems from the likes of Ryan Boudinot, Kim Chinquee, Curtis Smith, Laura van den Berg, as well as so, so many more, this book is sure to please. Check out the full line-up below, and then pick up your copy today!
Contributors: Shane Allison, Sheila Ashdown, Richard Barrett, Matt Bell, Ryan Boudinot, Kim Chinquee, Martha Clarkson, Michael Czyzniejewski, Daniel O. Harris, Drew Jackson, Jason Jordan, Jing Li, Frayn Masters, Corey Mesler, Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz, CS Reid, Nora Robertson, Sarah Salway, Curtis Smith, Tyler Stoddard Smith, John Spiers, Joe Sullivan, Matthew Summers-Sparks, Twixt, Laura van den Berg, Cody Walker, Brandi Wells, and Jay Wexler.
It comes out April 25. [Reasons why April is the cruelest month: T.S. Eliot said so, taxes are due, Hitler's birthday. Reasons why April is the coolest month: Monkeybicycle No. 6 is released, Kind of Blue is recorded.] Big props to Kim Chinquee, who is in the current/new American Short Fiction, Bateau, and NOON.
March 25th, 2009 / 5:54 pm
New from the always creation-forward Dzanc Books comes the DCWS, a pay-by-the-hour series offering 1 on 1 creative writing tutorials online with a wide range of incredible authors.
Dzanc Books is pleased to announce our newest program: the Dzanc Creative Writing Sessions. The DCWS is an online program that will allow writers to work one-on-one with published authors and editors to shape their short story/novel/poem/etc.
With Indie Press Secret Santas being assigned today (massive props to Ryan Call for going through and organizing all that and emailing everybody, holy shit), we’ve received a couple special offers from publishers with Santa-only deals lined up.
1st off, Hobart is offering half-price subscriptions. Usually they are $18, so for $9 you can get your gift recipient a year’s worth of a really excellent lit mag. That even leaves room for two gifts. Can’t beat that. In your paypal order, just mention that you are ni the SS program, and make sure to include your recipient’s address (which will be coming with your assignments, half of which have already been sent. If you haven’t gotten yours yet, it should be coming soon).
2nd, from Dzanc Books:
Dzanc Books is excited about the HTMLGIANT Secret Santa program and will happily gift wrap any books ordered through our website for the Secret Santa program. We will gift wrap the book(s), place the gift wrapped books inside a postal envelope (we typically ship things priority) or box, as well as a half sheet page designed by our Art Director, Steven Seighman, which will announce that the accompanying gift wrapped package is arriving as a result of the Secret Santa program, and that their Secret Santa ordered them something from Dzanc Books, and that they should hold off opening the package until Xmas.
All a Secret Santa will need to do when they order directly from us, is add a note through the Paypal order that it’s for the HTMLGiant program. We will also accept checks/orders via email as well. Those can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
With these deals, you can get a pretty hefty present for $20, not to mention all the other sales going on now (such as the Word Riot bundles).
If publishers would like to extend other Santa promo deals for customers, the comments section is wide open.
Dzanc Books is sponsoring a Write-A-Thon. They need a little money.
Hey, you have a little money. A little, right? $5, maybe? You should sponsor one of the PARTICIPANTS of the DZANC WRITE-A-THON so that they can continue to publish Peter Markus and Yannick Murphy and Roy Kesey and Kyle Minor and Allison Amend.
And more Peter Markus is coming. And Dawn Raffel. And Robert Lopez. And Terese Svoboda. And Suzanne Burns.
Do it for Steve Gillis. Do it for Dan Wickett. Those guys love books and they take fiction seriously. And they do right by a bunch of really good writers.
You love those people. You know you do.
Hell, you all love Peter Markus. If you didn’t love Peter Markus, you wouldn’t be reading HTMLGiant. Do it for him. Sponsor him. He’s a participant.
Or Kim Chinquee. Sponsor her. She’s a machine. She’s a freakin’ short-short fiction machine.
Or Matt Bell! Everybody loves Matt Bell! He wrote that great essay about Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards for Hobart. Remember when you read that? And it made you laugh?
Or Jim Ruland! He had a great essay about the movie Repo Man in The Believer a while back. You loved that essay!
Dan Wickett, god of small presses, has announced a Write-a-Thon! on the Emerging Writers Network – basically, you get a sponsor to pay a certain amount of money depending on how much your write and then that money goes to Dzanc Books. He has better details over at the site.
I once did a Jump-Rope-a-Thon! and raised some money that way. I also went Trick or Treating with a UNICEF box.
Oh, also, a prize: the writer who raises the most money gets the ‘full run of’ Dzanc’s titles.