Favorite New Fiction
from Small and Micro Publishers

Interview with Pamela DiFrancesco, author of The Devils That Have Come to Stay

Interview with Pamela DiFrancesco, author of The Devils That Have Come to Stay

In her starkly beautiful, poetic novel The Devils That Have Come to Stay (to be published by Medallion Press in February), Pamela DiFrancesco takes us into a dark and violent world that only gets darker with each turn of the pages. The novel brings us to California in the midst of the Gold Rush, and into the life of a saloon keeper whose wife has taken leave of him to care for her desperately ill mother in a town to the north.

Early in the novel, the saloon keeper (also the narrator) crosses paths with a Me-Wuk Indian, who’d vanished from the bar after stealing gold from another customer. When the narrator discovers the Indian scattering this gold, leaving a trail of white feathers, the Indian explains that he is only returning to the earth what has been “stolen” from it. “Perhaps if I can make it back to where the gold came from,” he explains, “my bag will empty, and the last feather will fall.” The place he has come from is close to where the narrator’s wife is caring for her mother, so the narrator decides to set off with the Indian. In the interest of not giving too much away, all I’ll say is that their journey is dark indeed, bringing the two men (and readers) in contact with the large-scale slaughter and the environmental, and spiritual, degradation that marked whites’ settlement of the West.

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Unhappy Holidays?

Unhappy Holidays?

For many people, the holidays can be far from joyous, especially for those who are grieving a loss: of a friend or loved one, of a way of life, or of anything else that felt—that was—essential and now is gone.

For a portion of the grieving, including me, few things are more depressing than full-bore holiday cheer: for example, Christmas carols lacking minor chords, or seasonal dramas or comedies with barely a hint of darkness. For people like us, any entertainment that aims to skirt the gloom seems to land us deep in the middle of it.

All this is to say that during this particular holiday season, I’m not turning my back on books, movies, or any other forms of entertainment that are less than cheery, or that face loss head-on. A binge re-watch of Six Feet Under, for instance, has helped me engage more deeply in, and deal with, death and grief, and the humor it delivers is just the kind of humor I need right now.

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Gifted and Talented

Gifted and Talented

Who among you remembers those golden days when a middling high school student—a kid with respectable grades but with ACT scores in the toilet, with daydreaming making up a solid sixty percent of her extracurricular activities—could get accepted into the only university she applied to? One offering affordable, in-state tuition?

“If you can make it through high school and still fog a mirror, Bob’s your uncle.”

I can’t recall who shared that observation about the admissions process, but I can tell you that the listener, the middling high school student, was me. I can also tell you that in the decades since I heard those words, I’ve reflected many times on how lucky I was—not just to have gotten into college but to have done so without having to toil through the emotionally fraught college-prep boot camp that the K-through-12 years have become for many students. Years in which—for far too many youngsters—daydreaming is seen as a weakness at best, as a character flaw at worst.

In her insightful, moving, and incredibly funny new novel, Gifted and Talented, Julia Watts takes us into the heart of what can be the most unsparing of educational boot camps: classes for gifted students—in this case, an honors class at a fictional magnet school, Fairmont Elementary, in Knoxville, Tennessee. At the center of the novel are Crispin, newly enrolled in Fairmont and its third-grade gifted class, and Crispin’s parents, Rachel and Ethan.

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How I Kiss Her Turning Head

How I Kiss Her Turning Head

The stories in Jennifer Woodworth’s strangely beautiful How I Kiss Her Turning Head examine the most primal aspects of mother-child bonds, bonds that can surpass love and approach obsession, yet, within the small, warm worlds of their origins, feel natural and necessary.

Throughout the book, Woodworth takes us to the physical and emotional heart of such connections, with vivid descriptions like this one, from “Stork Scissors & Baby Toes,” in which the narrator finds the scissors of the title too indelicate for her newborn’s toes:

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Women: Please send me your fiction.

Over the fourteen months since I founded Small Press Picks, I’ve noticed a troubling trend: during that time, about 85 percent the review queries I’ve received have come from male authors. I’ve learned about some great books that way, books it’s been a pleasure to review. But given my personal goal of ensuring that at least 50 percent of the books I review are by women, I would like to encourage more women to send me their small-press novels or story collections. (See this link for details on the types of books I’m most inclined to review.) And, of course, I will continue seek out small-press books by women on my own.

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Justice, Inc.

Justice, Inc.

After slamming a brick-weighted, $2,000 Gucci handbag into the skull of her boyfriend, a young woman, Emily, observes: “Technically, the law says you’re supposed to wait until they try to eat your brains before you take a whack at them, but what’s the point? Once the magic is gone, get them before they get you—that’s what I say.”

Emily’s world—in which a sexually transmitted virus is turning men into zombies—is just one of darkly comic dystopias that Dale Bridges brings to life in his new story collection, Justice, Inc. Some of the others: a post-apocalyptic megastore that both protects and imprisons its employees; a world in which death has been all but “cured,” making suicide a means of population control; and, in the title story, a corporation that aims to satisfy the desire for justice by staging public executions of cloned top criminals, like Osama bin Laden.

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The Seven Stages of Anger and Other Stories

The Seven Stages of Anger and Other Stories

The complications of romantic partnerships are often explored in fiction, but rarely with the depth and insight that Wendy J. Fox brings to her début story collection, The Seven Stages of Anger, winner of the first Press 53 Award for Short Fiction.

Through several stories, and through the perspectives of multiple characters, Fox suggests that happenstance, circumstance, and inertia—as unromantic as they may be—can play a much larger role in how relationships form, sustain themselves, or die than we may like to think. As for destiny and fate, for the most part, they are the stuff of fairytales.

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