Features

General blog posts

The Long Horizon: An Interview with Shya Scanlon

by Lawrence Lenhart

The Guild of Saint Cooper Cover Image
$14.95
ISBN: 9781936873616
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Dzanc Books - May 12th, 2015

Celebrate Independent Bookstore Day!

May 2 is the first ever national Independent Bookstore Day, so come celebrate with us! As the Houston summertime arrives, we have a sweltering lineup, full of refreshments and literary luminaries. And come pick up some limited edition swag, including signed chapbooks from Roxane Gay, infographics from David McCandless, amazing limited edition prints from Chris Ware and more! These limited edition items will only be available in-store on May 2. Here’s the full schedule of events:

The America I Encountered: A Q&A with Paul Otremba

Pax Americana (Stahlecker Selections) Cover Image
$15.95
ISBN: 9781935536567
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Four Way Books - April 7th, 2015

The Currency (Stahlecker Series Selections) Cover Image
$15.95
ISBN: 9781884800894
Availability: Special Order - Subject to Availability
Published: Four Way Books - April 1st, 2009

Scars & Memories: A Q&A with Ryan Gattis

All Involved: A Novel Cover Image
$27.99
ISBN: 9780062378798
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Ecco - April 7th, 2015

As Authentic as Possible: Meredith Moore's I AM HER REVENGE

by Benjamin Rybeck

First, let me tell you this: I do not often read young adult fiction. Am I a snob? Yes, about many things, so maybe about this too? I hope not. It’s just that I rarely reach for it, for whatever reason. Maybe it’s just because, when I was a teenager, I was barely engaged in the experience of being a teenager. I read Tom Clancy novels when I was in third grade. I watched Ingmar Bergman movies in high school. I was an insufferable teenager, and I’m probably an insufferable grownup too.

I Am Her Revenge Cover Image
$17.99
ISBN: 9781595147820
Availability: Special Order - Subject to Availability
Published: Razorbill - April 7th, 2015

Metal/Not Metal: Michael J. Seidlinger’s Hustle

“I want to not get sick this year.” On a personal level, this is what Michael J. Seidlinger hopes to get out of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference in 2015. “Last year,” he tells me, “I went overboard with the free provisions and alcohol.” He can be forgiven for this, perhaps; it was his first year there representing Civil Coping Mechanisms, the independent press he runs, so like a college freshman, Seidlinger had a lot to do—perhaps not all wise.

It’s unfair to call Seidlinger a freshman, though: he’s been hustling for years. He’s the author of what seems like a new novel every six months, all published by independent presses (his forthcoming The Strangest comes from OR Books, but previously, his titles were mostly released by Lazy Fascist Press). Meanwhile, Civil Coping Mechanisms’ first quarter of 2015 catalogue contains five titles, which is more than some indies publish in a year. Beyond that, he’s involved with a number of miscellaneous endeavors: he’s the reviews editor at Electric Literature (where, full disclosure, I used to write for him) and involved with a number of hip literary sites, including the defunct HTMLGIANT, the classy Entropy, and the I-don’t-know-what-this-is Dark Fucking Wizard. He once lived in an airport for a few days to promote a novel called The Fun We’ve Had. In interviews, he talks about not sleeping.

When Seidlinger goes to AWP this year, what’s his primary role? Writer? Editor? Publisher? “I am who I am,” he tells me. “I don’t present myself in any other way. Other people have their game plans—authors may act a certain way, or editors might maintain a certain identity.” But Seidlinger finds such roles limiting: “A lot of people get self-conscious. We’re all literary types, and artists are introverted. So the piece of advice I give is, ‘Just fucking do it.’” By which he means, avoid regret and say hey to that writer or editor you love—but there’s still something a tad odd, I confess, in hearing a self-described literary-introvert-artist-type also evoke the Nike slogan.

But Seidlinger is a new kind of literary athlete: the Internet is his court. He has been making friends for years now online, spending an unfathomable amount of time on social media, promoting himself and others as a part of what used to get called “Alt-Lit” (and he now just calls “Indie Lit”) before controversy hit last year. He’s the kind of guy who posts excerpts from his own works-in-progress on Facebook, but he also finds the time to respond to literally every comment anyone leaves him (I know: I tried for ages, without telling him, to leave comments so inane that they should’ve inspired zero response, but there, always, was Seidlinger with a response, even if it was equally inane) and also to post endlessly about the publications of others.

The scene around Seidlinger has changed, continues to change. People drop offline—including some of the stalwarts who first helped build Internet literary hubs like HTMLGIANT. “You see it all the time. It makes sense,” he says. “[It’s] almost organic. Tao Lin, for instance, the effort he was putting in [on Facebook] probably wasn’t worth it after awhile. Some people decide there’s no point doing it anymore; they’ve evolved out of their current endeavor. He’s still quite active on Twitter, but I can’t help but think that he’s a perfect example of how things in the scene change. People change.”

###

As I write this, I glance at Seidlinger’s most recent Facebook post: “Looks up from computer screen, ‘Oh it’s Easter?’ Looks back down and returns attention to the current sentence.”

This is how Seidlinger and other writers in the Internet want to be perceived: as dedicated enough to the craft to work through Easter, but also dedicated to reminding people they’re dedicated to that craft. Of course, this post comes with twelve likes (so far)—which is enough to demonstrate the shrewdness of Seidlinger’s persona (but not so many likes as come with the average post by Matt Bell, the undisputed master of the hardworking literary persona).

Seidlinger has his own brand recognition though: the liberal use of the metal horns—or, \m/. (He once ran a Facebook contest where he gave away free books to the first people whose comments on his posts received a certain number of \m/s from Seidlinger himself.) “It does have a bit of a branding quality,” Seidlinger says, “but like any brand, if you use something to the point that it’s always there, it loses its appeal.”

Even so, most things in Seidlinger’s world seem to be metal. So I ask him if he wants to play “Metal/Not Metal” with me, in which I ask him a series of random nouns (crowdsourced from the Brazos staff) and he has to…well, you get the idea.

“Oak trees?” I say.

“Not metal,” he says.

“The magazine Redbook?”

“Which one’s Redbook? Anyway, it’s not metal.”

“Strawberry jam?”

“Metal.”

“Arugula?”

“Not metal.”

“What’s wrong with arugula?”

“Nothing, I’m fine with it. It’s just not metal."

“Busts of Napoleon?”

He struggles with this one a bit, then decides, “Metal.”

“How about Napoleon’s desk mask?”

“I didn’t know there’d be two Napoleon ones. Fuck it. The death mask is metal and the other one isn’t. Let’s swap them.”

“Is iron metal?”

“It’s gotta be.”

“How about science?”

“You mean the whole concept of science?”

I do.

“Definitely metal.”

“What are the primary qualities of metal-ness, literary or otherwise?”

“Metal-ness…jeez, man, that’s a question. I should say something clever. Or, you know what, can we just run the horns four times?”

Shelf Talking: Mark Doty’s DEEP LANE

The Talkers: Keaton Patterson (Book Buyer and Beard Model) and Ben Rybeck (Marketing Director and Hair Model)
The Book: DEEP LANE by Mark Doty
The Shelf: An award-winning poet’s latest collection deals with memory and gardening—“basically,” Keaton says, “a collection of poems only an older poet could write”

1. “Beauty’s the least of it”

Ben: Doty writes this in the very first poem. Is that true of this

Keaton: One of my mentors in college said something: poetry, in one way or another, is always about poetry. So is a poem meant to be strictly for beauty, or is it meant to have a meditative, spiritual, philosophical quality to it?

Ben: One of the interesting tensions in this book is between the beauty of language and also the pain of living, for lack of a better term. It’s right there in the first stanza: “I’m talking to the anvil of darkness: / break-table, slab no blow could dent / rung with the making, and out of that chop and rot...” All these tough sounds, right? And then the last line, “The fresh surf of the lupines”—everything gets lovely, smooth there. There’s a turn. All this darkness and hard work, but there’s still this beauty at the core of it.

Keaton: The gardening metaphor that runs through this book epitomizes how decay and growth are inseparable. All these reminiscences Doty has about fellow poets and lovers and people in his past, they’re all bittersweet.

2. Dinner with Alan Dugan

Ben: Do you know Alan Dugan’s work?

Keaton: Not much.

Ben: “Apparition” is a great poem…they’re at the dinner, and he watches Dugan cut his nails.

Keaton: It’s the simple, miniscule details that stick with you, whether with poetry or friendship or love.

Ben: Also, it’s that idea of the tension in this book. You have a celebratory dinner, everything’s nice, and the tension happens because the guy at the center clips his nails, which is this transgressive, ugly act. Or in the second “Deep Lane,” the dog, Ned—I guess it’s a dog—he picks up the stake from the funeral plot, and the speaker is torn between wanting to chastise him for disturbing this somber place yet also wanting to encourage him to “tear up that hill.”

Keaton: In both those poems, you have a ceremonious occasion uprooted or undercut by life in all its uncouthness.

3. “For years I went to Peruvian barbers on 18th Street”

Keaton: Doty goes to the same Peruvian barbershop for years [in “This Your Home Now”], and it becomes ingrained in his life. Then, that barbershop closes one day out of the blue, and Doty feels lost and disrupted in his schedule and identity, until he finds another Peruvian barber. Instantly, he falls back into his routine. While we have these parts of our lives that are important, they’re also built with interchangeable parts. And I love the end of the poem: “I’m going down to Jane Street, to a coffee shop I like, / and then I’m going to write this poem. Then...”

Ben: I never think about getting my hair cut.

Keaton: My wife cuts my hair.

Ben: It’s not an activity that holds any importance for me. For Doty, it’s interesting that going to the barbershop seems like another small thing, another strange detail in the whole of his life, an odd ritual he doesn’t think of until one day it isn’t there. And of course, there’s a connection between cutting the hair and trimming the garden.

Keaton: The word I keep thinking about is cultivation. It helps us grow, keeps us from decaying, I guess that losing battle, we’re all going to end up falling away, but we still go through the motions, we still grow our gardens, we still put our words down.

4. “if soul could be / understood as specificity”

Keaton: DEEP LANE contains a lot of hidden meanings, personal, private meanings, that I don’t think any reader not intimately familiar with Mark Doty would understand 100 percent. But it doesn’t take away from the beauty of the language or emotional power of it.

Ben: Well, we can relate to Holden Caulfield, even if we haven’t been a kid in a prep school in the 1940s, you know? I think it’s the specificity of the place of these poems and the details of Doty’s life that do become universal, because that’s one of the great paradoxes of writing: if you want to make something universal, you need to make it as specific as possible.

Keaton: So if the soul is specificity…?

Ben: The soul is the dinner with Alan Dugan, the clipping of the nails…and the next poem starts with “Into Eden came the ticks,” so more small, dirty details, yeah? Like clipping toenails, like pulling up the stake at the gravesite: the little things that disrupt.

4. With a Capital C

Ben: It seems like there’s a movement in DEEP LANE from the isolation of memory—early poems show a man alone, gardening, tending to his life—and then somewhere around the middle of the book, you get poems about being in the world, around other people.

Keaton: Yeah, this change from the internal to the external…and yes, this is a Collection with a capital C. It really feels like Doty conceived of this as a whole. And some of the poems stick out until you start to unpack them. Like “Little Mammoth,” which, on the surface, is just a elegiac representation of a baby mammoth trapped in a tar pit, but when you delve in deeper, you see how it thematically hooks up with everything else. In many of the poems, there’s a sense of connection with family or loved ones that gets complicated and taken away from us in some way. There’s always that degree of remove that life throws in the middle of our relationships—like tar separating a baby mammoth from its mother.

Ben: So is this a book about learning to live with those things?

Keaton: Yeah, I found a lot of acceptance and reconciliation with the changes that life throws at us as we wander down our deep lanes.

Ben: Well, you still have to get out of the house at the end of the day, right?

6. Doty’s Oeuvre

Keaton: I’m not sure how this will wind up viewed in Doty’s oeuvre, but if he never wrote another book, I could see this as being a nice coda in his career.

Ben: So who’s gonna like this one? Mopey old men? [Laughs]

Keaton: There’s not a lot of formal inventiveness here, you know? It’s a somber, reflective collection, which straddles that line between the poet’s internal and external worlds and how he or she navigates those two, which is something we all do. Poets put into words what can’t be put into words. I think Doty tackles a lot in this book, but he does so with grace.

Ben: I gravitate toward things that seem lonely. There are so many experiences in the world, and the thing you are responsible for as a writer is to, whatever the experience is, communicate it as clearly as possible. That way, it’ll enter into the brain of somebody else who has had that same experience and make them feel less alone. It’s the David Foster Wallace sentiment: literature is a way of assuaging loneliness. You read something and you say, “I’ve felt that way before, but I couldn’t say it.” It’s not like the writer’s smarter, just that the writer can articulate it.

Keaton: Yeah, I can’t remember the line exactly, but somebody said once that great literature lets you know there are lonely people out there just like you. But a great book ought to ring with—and here’s the troubling word—some kind of authenticity.

Ben: And DEEP LANE rings with that for you?

Keaton: Yes. I feel a naked honesty here.

7. The Depths of the Lane

Ben: Does Doty ever reveal how deep the lane is? It might’ve been helpful if he’d provided a diagram so you could see the exact dimensions.

Keaton: I imagine it as ravine-like…

Deep Lane: Poems Cover Image
$25.95
ISBN: 9780393070231
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - April 6th, 2015

Smarts, Quiet Strength, and Stubbornness: A Q&A with Kirstin Valdez Quade

by Annalia Linnan

If you haven’t already heard of Kirstin Valdez Quade, you should admire her for this: Google has nothing on her. She’s not on any social media platforms, but her photos are all great (no shots where she’s blinking or has her hands up trying to explain a metaphor). In fact, the whole of her web presence is her author profile over at Norton and her page at the University of Michigan, where she’s teaching writing as the Nicholas Delbanco Visiting Professor. Essentially, she is living the pre-millennium dream, judged only by her writing and what she decides to reveal.

Normally, this feat would impress me, but it proves nerve-wracking when asking her questions. Nevermind that Quade is also a former Stegner fellow, won the 5 Under 35 Award, and has work published in "The New Yorker, The Best American Short Stories, and elsewhere” (the dream bio). Her low profile gives me two impulses: to ask her everything (How old were you when you lost your first tooth? How do you feel about kettle corn?), and to leave her alone.

This is what you need to know about my response to NIGHT OF THE FIESTAS: I’ve spent a year reading short stories almost exclusively, but Quade does something I’ve only seen in the best non-fiction, which is step back and allow the characters to speak for themselves.

Quade’s stories are not about language (though for the record, it’s lovely) or morals or creating charged moments. They don’t even have a particular concern for plot. Take “Nemecia,” for instance, a crude summation of which could be, simply, “Maria’s cousin lived with her until she didn’t.” And yet, the relationship between Maria and Nemecia is so complex that Maria spends years of her life trying to unravel it.

Like her work, Quade is gracious and searching. She takes her time, though not in a way that seems guarded or calculated. She lets things breathe.

###

Brazos Bookstore: In an interview you did last year with The New Yorker, you said you "can never find [your] way into a story until [you] have a character." Which of your characters do you admire most? Which character challenges you the most?

Kirstin Valdez Quade: I care about all my characters—after embodying their points of view for the months or years it takes for me to write a story, I can’t help but care about them—but I think I most admire Crystal, the protagonist of “Ordinary Sins.” Despite some of her questionable decisions, she has smarts and a quiet strength and a stubbornness that she’ll need in the next few years. And while she has a tough road ahead of her, raising twins on her own, I think she’ll be a good mother, because she’s thoughtful about her weaknesses and determined to overcome them.

My most challenging character was probably Maria, the speaker in “Nemecia.” In telling the story of her cousin’s life, she is really telling her own story, and in many ways, we both faced the challenge of trying to understand her relationship with her troubled cousin and what that relationship meant to her own conception of herself and her past. Despite fearing and resenting Nemecia, Maria also adores her cousin and longs for her attention. Even as Maria comes to understand how damaged Nemecia is by witnessing a grisly murder, Maria still envies her cousin, not just because she gets sympathy from the adults around them, but because the trauma sets Nemecia apart and gives her a story.

BB: What surprised you the most when putting NIGHT OF THE FIESTAS together?

KVQ: As I was organizing my stories into a collection, I was surprised to discover how many themes I returned to again and again. I thought these ten stories were fairly diverse—my protagonists are men and women, children and retirees, set in the past and in the present—yet over and over I was writing about longing for transformation and betrayals within families.

As someone who works on stories for a very, very long time, it’s scary to no longer have control over them and not to be able to continue to tweak them. And yet it’s also kind of a relief, because I can officially move on to new stories!

BB: Many of your stories end with a single powerful image, a fixed shot, rather than a plot resolution or a particular lesson. How do your stories indicate when it's time for you to leave them?

KVQ: I really appreciate your saying that the images are powerful. Often I’ll have a sense of what I want the emotional arc of the story to be, and where I want the story to end, but I won’t fully understand how to get there. Or I’ll have the image I want to end with, but won’t exactly know what it means to the character or the story. My task, then, is to figure out what has to happen in the concrete world of the story to get the character to that emotional place.

BB: How does setting shape the way you think about a story? What is your connection to New Mexico?

KVQ: My mother’s family is from Northern New Mexico and has been there for hundreds of years. When I was a child, my parents and I moved away, and we continued to move all over the Southwest for the rest of my childhood. But through all those moves, we always returned to Santa Fe, and my grandmother’s house in particular always felt like home to me. The landscape of New Mexico inspires my work because it feels suffused with history and family history and my own history. When story ideas occur to me, they’re often inseparable from that landscape.

BB: You'll have no idea who we'll talk to for the next Brazos Q&A, but never mind that: What should we ask him/her?

KVQ: What’s the worst advice about writing you’ve ever received and why?

BB: Speaking of, Reif Larsen wants to know: What book brought you back from the darkness?

KVQ: What a great question! I’d have to say Alice Munro’s RUNAWAY, which reminded me there’s salvation in looking closely at a situation. In her stories she continues to peel back layers, revealing deeper and deeper layers of the story, deeper and deeper layers of mystery. And her curiosity about people seems to be limitless. She looks so closely at her characters and their situations, and that quality of attention is breathtaking.

Night at the Fiestas: Stories Cover Image
$25.95
ISBN: 9780393242980
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - March 23rd, 2015

Pages