Stephan Salisbury has been a cultural writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer for more than three decades. Britt & Jimmy Strike Out, his first novel, is a dystopian, satirical quest story about branding, live streaming, social media, and commercialization of lived experience. Britt and her friend Jimmy set out into a blighted urban landscape to find answers when Britt’s online brand starts to fail, friends start disappearing, and mysterious men show up at her home to intimidate and threaten her for not getting in line with the President’s brand. Ken Kalfus describes it as the “first great novel of the Trump Era.” Stephan Salisbury is also the author of a non-fiction book Mohamed’s Ghosts: An American Story of Love and Fear in the Homeland about the anti-Arab hysteria after 9/11 and its devastating effect on people’s lives.chop! chop! read more!
Joanna Ruth Meyer’s second YA novel, Echo North, opens with a classic fairytale premise: Echo, who was attacked as a small child by a wolf, is scorned by her village because of the brutal scars on her face. When her father remarries, the cruel new stepmother takes every opportunity to let Echo know just how ugly and worthless she is.chop! chop! read more!
Every self-professed American optimist should read the oeuvre of Walter Kempowski—not that they ever will. The chronicler of brutality was never given a fair shake even by his fellow Germans, and despite strong book sales, by literary award committees. Kempowski had plenty of reasons to be angry—angry at his Nazi father whom he betrayed, at what the agonized Sebastian Haffner once called the “moral inadequacy of the German character,” at the literary world for snubbing him, and at every center of power involved in WWII: the Russians, British, Germans, Europe itself. The triumphant Soviets—without whom WWII could not have been won—were responsible for imprisoning Kempowski as well as his innocent and elderly mother.chop! chop! read more!
Melissa Duclos’ debut novel Besotted is a lyrical, urgent love story about two young American women, Sasha and Liz, who run away to China to try to find themselves. Sasha has fled all the trappings of her privileged life, including her father who disapproves of her sexuality. Liz, the object of Sasha’s desire, has packed up and left her predictable existence and Amherst-educated boyfriend, having grown tired of being an afterthought of his otherwise-enchanted life.chop! chop! read more!
Grief is a waiting room with broken blinds. Cracks in the slats reveal some light outside, but since the pulleys won’t move, it’s impossible to know when—or if—the sun will shine on us again. The first time you lose a parent, this room feels strange and its shadows thwart your compass. Like death itself, you’ve been told that grief brings anguish.chop! chop! read more!
Consider the phrase, “We’re not out of the woods yet” meaning “we are still in danger.” This phrase can refer to innumerable types of danger. A doctor may say to the loved ones of a sick patient: “She’s not out of the woods yet;” or in the middle of a trial that seems to be going well the lawyer may say to his client, “We’re not out of the woods yet;” in a traffic jam that seems to be moving again, a driver may say to a passenger, “We’re not out of the woods yet.” The insinuation is that those involved are thinking about being out of the woods—there is a light at the end of the tunnel, a glimpse of something safer, better, or in their control—but it is not yet certain that they will reach that light; there is still a chance that the threat—the woods—will overcome.chop! chop! read more!
Adiós To My Parents is a universal family story. Although the setting (Mexico, Belize, Guatemala) is unfamiliar to me—I’ve lived in the Chicago suburbs all of my fifty-one years and, regrettably, have taken only one Spanish class—the people in this book are so richly drawn that I know them instantly.chop! chop! read more!
One imagines this first existing as a notebook, non-committal if tending toward provisional completion, then, as Stein might put it, becoming what it became. In his most explosive work, Trilce, César Vallejo’s more formally complex poems are not necessarily more ambitious than those done in prose, in which he tends to offer greater immediate clarity, yet equal force. In fact, some of these explorations are more heightened and exploratory than the often-sentimental and casually conventional Human Poems.chop! chop! read more!
“I hope you’re working on your platform,” wrote my agent last year after I sent a substantive revision of my manuscript. I had previously published three nonfiction books with small presses, but I typically spent more time following other writers on social media than promoting myself. That might not be unusual, but I did have one unique challenge: I needed to build online visibility, but I didn’t have a smartphone—a conscious decision. I wasn’t sure how to boost my social media presence without carrying a screen in my back pocket. But I was determined to try.chop! chop! read more!
Since 2016, many journalists—as well as academic, political, and literary writers—have been sounding the alarm about the future of American democracy. The writers trying to shake Americans out of their manifest-destiny stupor are a diverse cast, ranging from activists who wouldn’t hesitate to label themselves members of “the resistance,” like New York Times op-ed columnist Charles Blow, to people like David Frum, former speechwriter for George W. Bush, who is still reviled by many on the left for his role promoting the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
chop! chop! read more!
A few days after I finished Catherine Pikula’s chapbook I’m Fine. How are You? I read the following sentence: “I would like to make a book out of crumpled-up pieces of paper: you start a sentence, it doesn’t work and you throw the page away. I’m collecting a few … maybe this is, in fact, the only literature possible today.” The sentence came in the last hundred pages of The Story of a New Name, the second book in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. And while the “today” referenced above was Italy in the 1960s, the description was oddly reminiscent of the small, thread-bound chapbook published in 2018 that I’d recently put down, I’m Fine. How Are You?chop! chop! read more!
The question is a familiar one, full of angst and hand-wringing, one I often asked myself but never out loud: How do you do it? How do you become a writer?
There are more questions contained in this question—Where do you get your ideas? What should I write about? Where should I start?—and all these questions lead to the ultimate question: Is there a secret to this thing that I am not privy to?
Yes and no. Yes, there are secrets. It wouldn’t be an art if there were not. But no, they are not secrets you couldn’t be privy to. It only takes knowing who to ask and learning that the person to ask is ultimately yourself.chop! chop! read more!
“As with any book, my book had its own special fate—it was born by mistake,” claims Levan Berdzenishvili, in the opening chapter of Sacred Darkness. Levan wakes up in a hospital, sick and disoriented, with a high fever. He realizes he has some debts to pay before he can jaunt off to Hades. Levan is a specialist in Greek literature, so he doesn’t talk of “dying.” He refers to “my departure to Hades.”chop! chop! read more!
The Barefoot Woman opens with the author’s mother, Stefania, imparting knowledge to her daughters. “Often in the middle of one of those never-ending chores that fill a woman’s day,” Mukasonga writes, “(sweeping the yard, shelling and sorting beans, weeding the sorghum patch, tilling the soil, digging sweet potatoes, peeling and cooking bananas…), my mother would pause and call out to us.” Much of the book proceeds from this image: we learn the details of her mother’s life and rituals through her endless work and we learn the kinds of things passed down from a Tutsi mother to her daughter—one of only two of eight children to survive the 1994 Rwandan genocide.chop! chop! read more!
A Danger to Herself and Others is a wonderful, suspenseful read that does more than just tell a riveting story. The book opens the door to a larger narrative and seeks to cultivate compassion and understanding toward other, real-life stories just like Hannah’s.chop! chop! read more!
Would it be settling if I married him? If so, is it okay to settle, or should I hold out for some sort of great romance—which seems pretty silly to me at my age? And is there anything wrong with preferring your dog’s company to other people’s most of the time?chop! chop! read more!
Andrea Blancas Beltran, associate editor of MIEL, experimental poet, and proud fronteriza, made her chapbook debut in July 2018 with the poetry collection Re-. In it, Beltran stitches together a brimming handful of nostalgic recollections, inviting the reader to ponder the role of memory, the eerie beauty of forgotten things, and depth of emotion that can be found in everyday life.chop! chop! read more!
Panic Years, Daniel Difranco’s debut novel, is a hyper realistic account of a band on tour. Told from the perspective of laconic Paul, Panic Years follows indie bandmates Paul, Laney, Gooch, Jeff and later Drix across the country’s dive bars and clubs. “I’d joined Qualia because they were a good band with a shit-ton of underground buzz,” Paul muses on page five, setting the band’s intention for the rest of the tour: build Qualia’s indie fame to a record deal, or some serious label recognition.chop! chop! read more!
Almost anyone who has taken a writing class has encountered the sacrosanct dictum: Show; don’t tell. The late Wayne C. Booth, Professor Emeritus of the University of Chicago led me to question this doctrine in his influential book, The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961). I like books about rhetoric, so when I came across the book at my local Barnes and Noble, the title hooked me. Professor Booth is a warm and clear-eyed guide. And while he occasionally feels compelled to cut through thickets of scholarly debate, he always manages to keep his focus on the rhetorical devices that make fiction work.chop! chop! read more!
Narrator is brief and quirky, rich and absurd, metatextual and extremely simple. It’s a walking narrative (in reality, a stalking narrative), which means it depends upon the motion of the narrator in order to go anywhere in particular. However, this book’s range is only within the mind; Aron’s and G.’s movements throughout Reykjavik are completely uninteresting, encompassing mostly pubs and shops of little consequence. But G.’s thoughts circle neurotically around his family, his failures, and Aron’s ex-girlfriend, Sara, for whom G. pined. In this way, and others, the vertical dimensions of the book are much more compelling than its movements through horizontal space.chop! chop! read more!
“College people like getting greens with soil still on the stems. It makes them feel real in a world made mostly of plastic and propane.” This is what the first narrator, a 13-year-old Alabaman girl with a rotten tooth, tells the reader in Genevieve Hudson’s debut collection of short stories, Pretend We Live Here. This type of humor and keen observation peppers the entire collection of fifteen stories.chop! chop! read more!
DRAWING A BLANK
A Visual Narrative
by Emily Steinberg
Pipe bombs to 14 in the mail.
11 Slaughtered at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
Kroger grocery, 2 dead.
Hounds of hell unleashed
But Beto might win over Cruz!
and Javanka are still in the White House.
Civil War 2.0?
Election on Tuesday.
I can’t look.
Holding my breath.
So we had a Blue Ripple.
100 women elected to congress!
Next day, insane post-election presser.
Acosta banned, press pass pulled.
Sessions forced to resign.
Who the hell is Whitaker?
Then, Thousand Oaks shooting.
Then, California burns.
And then, Florida recount.
Then, more house wins!
Then, in France, no-show at cemetery due to rain?
Veterans Day, no Arlington visit.
And Saudis get a pass?
Have you no decency, sir?
The state of the union is fragile.
The ridiculous dissatisfaction with good fortune
begins in shade, when every bit of luck pops up
like a harlequin jammed in a jack-in-the-box,
and the hue of the lip is wrong wrong wrong—
ignoring for the moment the creepy leer of clowns,
or the gut twist borne of a springed lurch, or
the clatter of the trap click and clack when it opens—
and though the arms of the clown spill forth
It’s twilight on the fifth floor of New York-Presbyterian Hospital and a weak light seeps from the underside of the plastic-lined blackout curtains. It is growing dark against his wishes, yet Jacob Silbergeld no longer has the voice to catch the attention of a passing nurse who could adjust the transitioning of light he has hated for most of his life. Twilight is when slippery things happen, when one can be led by the hand to unwanted places. Twilight is when buildings surge in the skyline and become otherworldly, a time when one loses control. Jacob had fought against its demons for years with distractions of all sorts: films, friends, or when all else failed, a good book and a single malt scotch, but he is no longer in control of his environment, and the coming of night frightens him. He brushes his left hand over the blanket in search of the call button.chop! chop! read more!
I realize I do not wish to fall to the bottom of a well. With no one
to hear my screams (and screams are all we hear). Light is a pinhole.
Dark days, kept on a catheter, a transfusion of blood, poured into beakers,
baked on a Bunsen – I purge the present from the protoplasm.
No one bothered
to tip me
back into my own image.
Now, I’ve got
one eye seeing
forever thru an extra
lens of margin,
the moon’s side inside
of the book’s binding.
THE TOWER IN OUR CITY is always visible, no matter where we are, it doesn’t even matter what we’re looking at. Tapered at the tip, lifting up without lifting off like the gathering before the spurt, smooth on the surface—smooth and clear as an idea you don’t even need to think about because everyone has the same idea. It is never out of position, never in the wrong place, it’s about the most accurate thing there is. Not attached to anything—a tower isn’t a leash or a collar. Not showing off—the tower isn’t an ornament or a loose translation. When something happens we turn to the tower, we point to the tower as if this is the real reason, asking the tower what are we supposed to do? What is going to happen to us? What have you done to us? Rising straight up into the sky the tower doesn’t waver or swing like a pendulum, never moves to one side or the other, as if it has an idea, or bends at the waist as if it has a different idea, or leans toward us in sympathy—it’s the kind of stability we are attached to and depend on and are also tired of at the same time.chop! chop! read more!
TERMS AND CONDITIONS by Heather Holmes one month I am in philadelphia reading the Andrew Durbin book that describes this club The Spectrum, and the next month I am at The Spectrum watching women flog one another in an affectless way. that’s sort of how it is in new york, I guess, I say to someone later, ha ha, to read something is to conjure it. this is no safeguard against emptiness I wonder at length whether writing always has to stake out a new and special way of seeing. I just wanted to talk about how bored they looked even as the leather began to break skin . I plant the hyssop. I wait it out. I think about how far we are into this century and still I know three women named Geraldine, which G. #2 described to me as a man’s name suffixed diminutively. all three are … chop! chop! read more!
This was his third story,
the one after the one about dinosaurs
turning to glue and the ship trapped in a raindrop
sputtering back to life.
The kindergarten teacher did not
understand, but the boy knew
how it had to be. Mouse machines. Ralph.
perched on spindles of the branching spring
the wren with conspicuous brow, the buff sparrow with its
white appetite, ravishing the seed, the tweet-tweet-tweet of hunger
The apocalypse goes to Stonehenge during the summer solstice
and sings Joni Mitchell’s Blue while tripping on shrooms
The apocalypse is a teenager
The apocalypse is three billion years old
The apocalypse blows perfect smoke rings with its chipped lips
you can’t hold your man you can’t
hit a jet going six hundred miles per hour
with a .50 calibre machine gun
the second week in Junechop! chop! read more!
For a time I felt harmonious and whole,
if you know what I mean. Ringing bells alone
could make a Christmas and when I climbed
the red rungs of the fire tower to survey the tree line
INSPIRED TO SEE Paintings by Giovanni Casadei I was born and raised in Rome, Italy. Since the age of four I have been exposed to art, thanks to my Uncle Roberto, who religiously picked me up every Sunday morning to bring me to a museum to contemplate art. At the age of fourteen, I bought my first oil painting set with my savings, and I painted on my own for the next eight years. From 1978 to 1980, I studied at the Scuola Libera del Nudo (Free School for Drawing and Painting sponsored by the Academy of Fine Arts of Rome) under the instruction of the Armenian artist, Alfonso Avanessian. From 1980 to 1981, I was enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome, then from 1981 to 1983, studied further under Alfonso Avanessian, during which I experimented with drawing, oil pastels, dry pastels, tempera, watercolor, acrylic, and oil … chop! chop! read more!
He was standing outside the double doors of the restaurant, sweating underneath his blazer. He was exactly on time. He saw a girl walking towards him, a close approximation of the one whose picture he had on his phone. He waved to her. She didn’t wave back.
She waved back. Amelia. She was wearing a puff-sleeved pink fur coat, cropped at the waist. He could tell by the sheen of it—his ex-wife had been fond of mink—that it was faux. She trotted up to him and kissed his cheeks in quick succession without having to tiptoe.chop! chop! read more!
LEO RISING by Anna Dorn The first thing I do when I wake up is open Evie’s Twitter. I’ve been doing this every morning since she left about a month ago. If one of my patients did this, I’d roll my eyes. But I can’t help it. Evie won’t answer my texts or calls. This is the only way I can hear her voice. @LeoRising has five new Tweets. (I always thought astrology was nonsense, but Evie treated it with a religious reverence. The rising sign, she told me, is our surface self, our outward appearance. And Leo is the best, she said, and apparently I am one too). I always look at her profile picture first. In it, she’s narrowing her eyes at the camera in a way that never fails to excite me. The look says: I’m smarter than you. It’s the precise face I fell in love … chop! chop! read more!
Guilt, it has always seemed to Roger, is visceral. It takes up residence inside the body, burrowing or maybe perching there, as much a part of you as your bones or blood or lungs. You sense it waiting even when no one else can see it, even when you stop obsessing and the days and nights slip past on their conveyor belts.
chop! chop! read more!
My not-yet-stepdaughter sprawled on the couch, laptop open. Annabella was 12, her long hair parted straight down the middle. That evening I stayed with her for the first time while her father went to a work event. It seemed more normal than I’d imagined, just another evening at home. I read a magazine while she did homework.chop! chop! read more!
Buddy is a good friend but will be an even better Marine. He is open to following directions. He will die face down in Pleiku, far away from his dreams, alone. But today, Buddy is twelve and entitled to his share of dreams. After all, most nightmares are reserved for adults. Buddy’s stepdad had a job for us.
chop! chop! read more!
SEAN’S ROOM by Blake London Steam from the shower moves in columns to the ceiling. I’m holding Sean’s hand, and his eyes close with the bathroom door—we twine and twist into sheets of flesh. Sean said the comedown is the hardest, but I’m still electric, can hear a crooning in the static of my fingers on his spine. It’s a slow dance with small movements, and the glow in my bloodstream says sway, so we make the steam vibrate in the small space. My fingers smooth water from the divots of his waist. The lazy warmth of him runs down my legs, floods the pale stucco floor. His curves, his hardness, his breath on my neck all feel ancient and half-remembered, and here I am, touching him for the first time again. We let the water run down the drain, dry off with a shared towel, and crawl under the … chop! chop! read more!
He’s a grotesque in primary colors, as much David Cronenberg as Clark Kent. The cartoons and the movies and the coloring books—they usually forget that. The idea of Spider-Man is, at its core, revolting. When it is time to suit up, Superman bears his classically handsome mug. Batman, Captain America, and Green Lantern, at the very least, leave their chiseled jaws exposed. With Spider-Man, everything hides beneath his spandex. Should you be saved by him—hung up in his gangly, yet muscular arms as he swings you off to safety—you’d look into the face of your hero, and there’d be no reassuring grin or playful wink, but, instead, two pupil-less eyelets, teardrop-shaped and alien, staring hugely as if frozen in shock. It would take all you could muster not to scream.chop! chop! read more!
I receive a text from a friend.
Since preschool, our girls have been kindred spirits. They are on the brink of young adulthood, buds pressing through tee-shirts, splotches of pink and red in a of constellation across their hairlines, limbs long and gangly.chop! chop! read more!
Christmas morning two years ago. Cold and snowless. My father hauled a leather instrument case through the front door and set it at my feet. Next to its handle was a little gold plaque, its logo embossed in fine script. Martin & Co., Est. 1833. Up close, the case smelled like his car: a mixture of coffee, Red Bull, and sweat. I unfastened its buckles and pulled the top open. Inside was a new guitar. A particularly beautiful one, smaller than a dreadnought. Black, gourd-shaped mahogany body with ivory binding along its waist and edges. Cream-colored, vintage-style tuning pegs, pearlescent fret inlays.chop! chop! read more!
The dissection, in simple terms, is a search. Imagine searching your house for a pair of socks. Now, imagine searching your specimen—for our purposes, the body—and this time, the body is your house, and its secret is a pair of socks, misplaced somewhere in the body for you to unearth.chop! chop! read more!
Over dinner the Brazilian painter says she doesn’t believe in time, or maybe she says she’s skeptical about the measuring of time—I can’t be certain as we meet haltingly between languages. We are painters and photographers and musicians and one writer, me, in a crumbling Catalonian farmhouse at the foot of a mountain that looks like a pile of noses.chop! chop! read more!
Like you’re supposed to hate winter, with its cold and mountains of snow and how slip-walking on ice is a bitch and all that shit. Honestly, I love it. Honestly, I’d move to Alaska or the Arctic Circle or the South Pole if anyone would let me. In another life, I’d beg to be a penguin. Or a polar bear, except they’re going extinct.chop! chop! read more!
Instead of getting on the highway, Jake starts to drive deep into the woods, past the Savage Funeral Home and out 147, past Iona’s Country Bar. I can tell by now that this so-called spontaneous road-trip has been meticulously planned. I think, Iona’s in there, so is Lucky, so is Fran. I give a quick squeeze to my red rubber stress-ball. Jake’s got his box-cutter handy, for just in case we get into an accident and need it to free ourselves from our seatbelts.chop! chop! read more!
A girl at a house show expresses surprise and delight that I was from the Philippines. Her academic concentration is in environmental studies. She talks to me about conservation pursuits for American students, on the rivers and shorelines. I say, ha ha, yeah, we could use the help. Too glib: she thinks I mean it, or she just thinks I’m mean. Two years from that moment I write tongue-in-cheek poems about my mother, who waded in those rivers simply to scratch the red welts leeches left on her skin. How when she visits home now the tap water makes her stomach curdle.chop! chop! read more!
On a rainy morning in October my son erased me during craft time at the library. We made a wind chime out of old spoons and gray yarn and colored beads in green and purple and orange and a jar lid with pre-drilled holes. The pencils were there to sign up for mommy/baby yoga the following day. A new three-year-old, Milo no longer qualified for mommy/baby yoga, but he still helped himself to a pencil. Ignoring the pointy end, Milo scrubbed the eraser over the ring finger of my left hand until the finger disappeared. Using my other hand to help the mother next to me attach the final string to her and her daughter’s wind chime, I didn’t notice until it was too late.chop! chop! read more!
Every night, after a long day spent creating the universe, God removes his talents from inside His chest, like a handful of featherless baby birds, glossy with blood, and lays them on the bedside nightstand before turning out the light. “He’s a genius,” everyone says. “What He’s done with the universe, it’s just great. Can’t wait to see what His next project will be.”chop! chop! read more!