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Carswell, Sean, Train Wreck Girl. San Francisco: Manic D Press. 2008. paper,ISBN: 978-1-933149-21-9

Train Wreck Girl by Sean Carswell
Train Wreck Girl by Sean Carswell

Before I go any further, know that Train Wreck Girl will easily be one of the best novels of 2008. At 20 pages in, the earth paused. I remained absolutely entranced through the final page. Novels like this don’t happen very often, so pay attention.

Train Wreck Girl poses as a fairly straightforward story of a man traveling cross-country to flee his past, returning years later, only to re-immerse in all that he tried to originally escape. He’s outgrown this childhood town of Cocoa Beach, FL, but only in width. The slug line describes the narrative beautifully: One man’s quest to figure out what to do with his life now that it is too late for him to die young.

Beyond the immediately arresting imaginative structural elements (the first chapter is told as a countdown to New Year’s, 1999; some following chapters are told as itineraries outlining the protagonist’s day life) is a narrative so beautifully balanced between plot and character that it wasn’t uncommon for me to breeze through 50 pages without realizing a single blink.… Read the rest

Tom Waits, Tulsa OK, 6.25.08

I’ve been working on a novel for the past couple years inspired by the Tom Waits song, “Hoist That Rag.” This song is as close to religion as I get.

Strangely, or perhaps fittingly, I don’t know the literal meaning of the song. There’s a guy named Piggy, something about rat addresses, and of course, as with most religions, there are crying babies involved. What this means for my novel-in-progress is that everything is simply an interpretation. Again, very fitting with religion in general.

This past week I had the opportunity to experience this song live (Tulsa OK, USA, at the Brady Theater, 6.25.08). I had been looking forward to this show for months, but it wasn’t until I was standing in line at the venue that I began to have reservations about hearing “Hoist That Rag” live.

Until the performance my experience of the song had been entirely self-contained. But, how would my view change when surrounded by hundreds of individuals each with their own connections to the song?… Read the rest

This issue’s theme spawns from the great mind of Kurt Vonnegut, via your issue two editor, Jason Heim.

Vonnegut wrote:

“Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.”

And that’s just what we aimed to do with this issue of Colored Chalk.Colored Chalk Issue 2

I have a piece in this issue, “Exhibit One: A Letter From Alex Fumar,” which I hesitate to mention simply because it’s impact is so reliant on context. Read outside the Colored Chalk zine my piece would make absolutely no sense, and could possibly put first time readers off of my work for good. My logic is that if I called attention to “Exhibit One,” then I might as well call attention to other printed pieces which would make no sense out of context.… Read the rest

Marketing a book in an increasingly visually driven society is a tough role. Not to mention the ever decreasing number of people who actually read (books that is, not this stupid blog). According to statistics from sources that sound legit* 80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year [2002]. I’m hoping this figure can be taken literally to mean that these families did not physically purchase the book as a single group, with each member holding an edge of the book and simultaneously placing it on the bookstore counter. I would have never thought any family to do such a thing, so really the 20% of families who do is pretty eye opening. Unfortunately, the literal interpretation is a ridiculous dream. The truth is, most people simply do not read books.

But don’t fret my fellow 20%-ers. Veronis, Suhler & Associates investment banker** says that each day in the U.S., people spend 4 hours watching TV, 3 hours listening to the radio and 14 minutes reading magazines.… Read the rest

Until today I’ve thought to keep this page about my writing – the physical, textual, words and paper aspect of my writing. Today, however, I feel compelled to stray, if only slightly, into the meta aspects of myAnywhere I Lay My Head by Scarlett Johansson writing – the ambient noise and inspiration surrounding my work. Today’s theme, Tom Waits, the core inspiration for my current novel-in-progress, “Hoist That Rag” (I’ll look into the legal issues with such blatant inspiration once I secure a publisher).

Scarlett Johansson, of film and my dreams fame, yesterday released Anywhere I Lay My Head, an album of Tom Waits covers, give the lone original “Song For Jo.” Before I rant, let me put my love of Tom Waits into context: I have more Tom Waits CDs, posters, and inspired literature than I have love notes to my wife (most of the love letters I write go to Tom Waits; sorry Jenn). Waits is the single greatest recording artist in history, without argument.… Read the rest

Loading the Stone by Harley ElliottLike the subject matter in this, Harley Elliott’s twelfth book and first collection of non-fiction, there exists below the surface, universal binds and shared histories from which the impetus of progression can be said to reside.

The non-fiction moniker given to this collection belies the engaging, story-telling mode Elliott uses. Set against the backdrop of the Kansas prairie, Loading the Stone reads more like a story of a familial love of history used to explore the bonds threading father and son relationships than the listing of facts and dates that might be implied by the subject matter and genre. Perhaps, however, my assumptions of genre are just one example of the misunderstandings that Elliot explores. For example, the use of the word ‘Indian’:

The word had no relationship to the people [Christopher Columbus] encountered or the land they inhabited, or to the many generations preceding them, hunters of the big, antique bison and the mammoth.

Read the rest

Issue OneI’ve been a member of an online writing critique group for a few years, out of which I’ve not only gained a growing understand of craft, but perhaps more importantly, I’ve developed close associations with some fantastic writers. Each year around November we return for another year of ego-brutalizing kinship, which leaves us deflated and disoriented, but not without a mutual understanding that every single moment spent suffering is a moment we’re allowed to nurture precious scar tissue.

But even with the necessary humility we gain, there comes a time when a writer wants to experience the role of an editor. Who are those eyes able to tell the reading public what constitutes publishable fiction? Why them? Out of this curiosity came the Colored Chalk zine.

For each bi-monthly(ish) issue a single editor will nurture the zine from theme to content selection to layout and design. This approach promises to produce material both diverse and representative of the overall sensibilities of the close-knit writing group as a whole.… Read the rest