Tag Archives: Dzanc Books

The Best Thing I’ve Read This Week: [spoiler alert] by Laura Eve Engel & Adam Peterson

28 Jun

I’ve been working at a YMCA day camp this summer, bustling the kiddos around town–to the pool, to the park, to the library. In my bag each day, I carry a different book–a beloved book that I can piece through, or a journal that I can inhale one bubble at a time, while the swings are max high or when the cannon ball contest is over. Yesterday, it was a past issue of Copper Nickel, a great literary magazine sure, and this issue, number 16, being one I hadn’t got to hang with.

And there it was in the early pages, the snag. Two pieces from Laura Eve Engel & Adam Peterson’s project [spoiler alert] I read over and over. I remember the book holding these pieces, also called [Spoiler Alert], getting big nods and a good home from Dzanc Books back in early 2012. And that was as far as I got with it. Until now.

Until now, when I read these two pieces and went baffled by their placement of you, the you, you there reader you, in these tricky, weird, yet all too real dramatic situations. In the first, available here as a full excerpt, you find out your family is “not your family and they never were.” It unfolds and breaks–dismantles the relationships, ruins the comfort, breaks you in pieces–until even the dog knows the truth, sees you as a total stranger.

Until now, when I read these two pieces and I see how the two both combat one another and hold each other up, together. The first one of the breakdown through discovery, the second of discovery through breakdown, as you see a bear, in a place/time where bears are extinct, where this bear like never before is a miracle.

For years the scientists have been trying to deny the old report because bears are the most missed creatures, and here’s this bear in front of you, proving the existence of bears, doing all the hard work for everyone just by riding that unicycle around.

Until now, when I read these two pieces and then shuffled my feet for the chance to search for more. I found one at Sixth Finch. I found a bunch at The Literary Review. I found one at Diagram. 

And in each, Engel & Peterson create and dismantle worlds, often you and sometimes we as the tragic center, as the weird speck of hope. It’s too bad I’m so late, the chapbook sold out from Dzanc. These really are gorgeous pieces in a stellar project by some great writers. I suggest you do like I’m about to do and beg to the internet for a copy of this book.

Machines Like Us by Joshua R. Helms is the Winner

29 Apr

We (Vouched, you and me, the lit world, etc. etc.) got wonderful news the other day when Dzanc Books announced the winner of their poetry collection contest. The chosen manuscript was Machines Like Us by Joshua R. Helms. As a big-time fan of both Dzanc and Helms, this is gonna be YES I’m gonna guess.

Here’s what the judge, C. Dale Young, and the victorious poet himself had to say:

C. Dale Young notes:  “Machines Like Us is a dark and deeply obsessive book. It is almost impossible to forget the three primary characters in this collection after witnessing their twisted and repetitive attempts to connect, after witnessing the fact they cannot separate acts of love from acts of harm.”

“I’m so very excited to have my first collection of poetry chosen by C. Dale Young and published by Dzanc,” Helms reacted.  “I have great respect and admiration for the books Dzanc produces and I’m beyond honored to be among the authors they publish. I’m extremely happy that my collection has found a home with such a wonderful press.”

If you’re like this fella typing here, just itching as you wait, go ahead and (re)visit some of the poems from the manuscript like these awesome ones at Sixth Finch and metazen.

Awful Interview: Matt Bell

5 Apr

It’s easy to see that everyone at Vouched is in Matt Bell’s corner. Just search his name in our search bar (up there at the top right corner of your screen) and be amazed at how many posts pop up with his name. There are all sorts of reasons to like Matt Bell: he is likeable, he is accomplished, he has important things to say, he isn’t afraid to say those important things, and he writes crazy/awesome/beautiful words that will make your spine shiver.

I couldn’t be more excited for Matt to read in Atlanta with the rest of the Over the Top gang (along with Jesse Bradley, Melysa Martinez, and Amy McDaniel!) tomorrow evening.

In your first Awful Interview with Christopher, you told him that when you were young you read a lot of Science Fiction books. Any specific titles that stand out in your memory?

There’s tons of books I could pick probably, but I still have a few of the ones I had when I was a kid on my shelf: Robots and Empire by Isaac Asimov, the first of his books I read, I can see from my desk still, and I know that was a book my brother and I read and reread, and not just for all the implied robot-on-Spacer lust. (I can still get pretty excited about the Three Laws of Robotics, if prompted in conversation.) There’s a book (now out-of-print) by a writer named H.M. Hoover (who I just realized was a woman, since I knew nothing about her) called This Time of Darkness about two teenagers who have to escape an underground city that’s sort of a combination of 1984 and Soylent Green—I loved that book, but lost my copy and then couldn’t remember its name to buy another. Thankfully, it showed up again at my parents’ house, in the basement I lived in for a year or two between colleges.

More than just sci-fi, it was sort of broad genre fiction: I almost certainly read more fantasy than sci-fi, although there was enough of both. I read a lot of the D&D novels, like the Dragonlance Chronicles, and I was a huge fan of David Edding’s different series, especially the Elenium and the Tamuli trilogies. I actually got into Stephen King in the fifth grade or so through his The Eyes of the Dragon. When I was slightly younger, I got introduced to the Choose Your Own Adventure books, which quickly led me other series that combined the CYOA style with D&D-style role-playing, including character sheets and combat and so on. The best of those was a series called Lone Wolf, by a writer named Joe Dever, that I played over and over. I recently found my cache of those books as well, and then set about buying all the ones I was missing: The last few were never released in the U.S., and so count as one of the few things I’ve imported to collect.

That’s dedication. How long did it take you to track down the final few books? Did your love of D&D and role-playing ever branch out to text-adventure games, or are you strictly a twenty-sided die man?

It wasn’t terribly hard, honestly: the internet makes it pretty easy. The hard part was deciding to part with the cash, since the rarer ones were priced well above their early nineties cover prices. I actually think there’s still one I don’t have, because the copy I found was eighty bucks or something and I just couldn’t do it. Some day!

I played a lot of text-adventures when I was young. My younger brother and I would play them together, and try to solve the puzzles together. I’m not sure we understood them very often. The best ones were made by Infocom, and I think we probably played dozens of them. One of our favorites was based on The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (you can play an illustrated version at the BBC), which at the time we hadn’t read. Of course, the book works by a sort of absurdist logic that makes it hard to reason your way through the puzzles, and we were just completely stumped. There was no internet to look up clues, no one else to figure things out with. Somehow we beat the game, and it seems to be there’s something telling about my brother and I there, in that experience: that the two of us spent countless hours trying to understand and interact with an illogical world—and then succeeded—seems like a good example of how we became who we’d end up being.

You know what’s odd is my sister and I had the exact same system, except we played the King’s Quest series from Sierra Entertainment (and then later on Myst, Riven, etc., not to mention a bit of Wolfenstein 3D)
Do you feel that you are able to apply your RPG/text-adventure experience to real life? Can you give any examples?

We absolutely did the same thing with those Sierra games as well: We loved those, deeply. (A couple of years ago, I wrote an essay for Hobart about Leisure Suit Larry. It’s not online to link to, but a teaser I wrote for it is.) I’m not sure I ever applied the knowledge I gained in those games directly to real life, but it is funny how playing a lot of a game can seep into your daily awareness: A year or two ago I played a game called The Saboteur, where you’re a resistance fighter against the Nazis in WWII Paris, and in the game there are these communication towers you’re constantly knocking down—and they look just enough like cell phone towers that every time I saw one in real life I would have this urge to run over and knock it down. Not a real urge, that I was going to act on, but just that tinge of muscle memory, of learned behavior burning a track in my brain. I think there are a lot of those little reactions that build up, as we spend time interacting with video games. In the same way that one of the functions of the novel (especially of social realism) is to give us a way to think and feel through social interactions (something we’re never given second chances to do in real life, where every decision gets made on the fly and is irrevocable), so do video games give us opportunities to act out certain kinds of exploration, problem-solving, and behaviors. We’ll probably never be called upon to do the exact kinds of activities you and your sister did in Wolfenstein 3D, but that kind of exploration of spaces, avoidance of danger, and exploitation of limited resources is probably a handy kind of practice for many other experiences in real life.

 For certain! I couldn’t agree more. I imagine some of those lessons may come in handy when you’re on the road with Oliu, Newgent, and Gobble this week. I mean maybe not necessarily anything directly from Wolfenstein 3D or Leisure Suit Larry, but every road-trip usually involves those kind of limited resources/avoidance of danger scenarios you mention.
What’s your biggest hope for this book tour? What are you totally pumped for?

I think a lot of people go on book tours with the idea that they’re going to sell books, or get some kind of local fame, or some other kind of promotional goal. Nothing wrong with any of that, I guess, but if I had to choose I think I’d pick adventure over sales, memories over fame. With these three brothers in the car and three cities full of great people hosting our visits, I can pretty much guarantee that both the adventures and the memories are forthcoming—for us, surely, but also for anyone who comes out to join us. Tuesday morning I’m hopping on the Greyhound to Indianapolis, and from there I’m setting the GPS to QUEST for the rest of the trip. Can’t wait.

Holiday Book Buying

4 Dec

I’m sitting here working on my list of books that I’d like to buy, be given, and/or give this holiday season. I’m becoming overwhelmed as I realize (again) that tricky situation: so many books, limited money. I thought I’d share a few books that I haven’t read but really really want (or want to give) that seem like great choices for holiday shopping this December.

1. The Oregon Trail Is The Oregon Trail by Gregory Sherl (MudLuscious Press): Every book MLP puts out is that beautiful blur of story and sound. In his past work, Sherl is a fearless traveler of emotions, searching inside himself and carrying whatever he finds to his readers. Add in that obvious connection to the video game of my (our?) youth and this could be a good gift for any literary lover of our generation, despite it being a pre-order (better a little late than never!). Check out this excerpt from the book’s page:

In my dreams we always ford the river.
In the wagon I cover you with blankets
when you sleep. You often dream of ghosts
while I hunt bison wherever bison live.
The ghosts are vegetarian, your heart
is April wind, raindrops the size of half dollars.
We never hire the Indian guide. Instead,
we keep the five dollars, roll it up, hide
it in my wool sock. You look better in 3D.
I touch your breasts with my fingertips.
Then I touch your breasts with my whole
hand. I swallow the idea of independence,
finding the West before the dirt was soiled
by factories that build heat-seeking missiles,
amusement parks, & chain restaurants.
Chimney Rock is underwhelming. I spit
in the cracks of the rock, tiny crevices
that hide who the fuck knows. You are hot
shit & the other carpenters from Ohio
are jealous. They think about your hair
while they’re inside their wives, think about
your dimple while they try to repair the axle
on their wagon. True love is finding wild
fruit. We eat without bibs. By rivers I sleep
easy, knowing you’re cleaning the clothes nearby.

2. Issue 4 of Artifice Magazine: The next installment from our favorite super self-aware journal promises to be beautiful, both inside and out. It also will fit in a stocking. Most importantly, it features new work by wonderful writers like Ryan Ridge, Richard Chiem, and Caroline Crew that are sure to be mind-thumping.

3. So many things from Dzanc Books’ Holiday Sale: With sales like Buy One, Get One Free or free eBooks with every print book or sweet bundles, Dzanc continues to offer some of the best literary booyeah for your buck. Maybe you have a friend/relative that needs some good lit exposure; try some the 30 Under 30 Anthology edited by Lily Hoang and Blake Butler, featuring innovative fiction from the likes of Matt Bell, Evelyn Hampton, and Brian Oliu. Or maybe–like me (silly I know)— you still haven’t read Kyle Minor’s book, so ask for that. Or maybe one of those wild new releases has caught your eye, like Animal Sanctuary by Sarah Falkner:

Winner of the 7th Starcherone Prize for Innovative Fiction

A wild and mysterious novel of multiple characters and episodes structured around the life and career of a fictional actress and animal rights activist, is the winner of the 7th Starcherone Fiction Prize. The manuscript was selected by novelist and short story writer Stacey Levine.

Animal Sanctuary is a challenging, readable, powerful, and mysterious novel. The story—not a single plot, but multiple, peripherally connected episodes and discourses – concerns an American actress, Kitty Dawson, who stars in two movies by a famous (and famously obscure) British director, Albert Wickwood, both having animal disaster themes. Kitty then goes on to make a great many other pictures with animal themes, and to found in the 1970s a sanctuary for big cats that rich people decide first to have as pets, then abandon. Later, Kitty’s only son, Rory, raised in the animal sanctuary and as a young teen the lover of a renowned Austrian big cat trainer, becomes an installation and performance artist whose work incorporates animals & animal themes, as well as attempts to critique and get outside of institutions.

4. Please Don’t Be Upset by Brandi Wells: Missed out on Tiny Hardcore Press’s sweet sales awhile back? That’s okay, you’re not alone. But, you can still snag Well’s sure-to-be-sweet book for a stellar $8.99. I’m always impressed by how Wells’ writing, and THP books in general, can be in-your-face without being obnoxious, intimate without being awkward, and 100% hard-hitting.


Thanks Creative Loafing!

20 Oct

So many thank you’s to Atlanta’s Creative Loafing (and  Wyatt Williams) for writing this feature on VouchedATL for their Arts Issue, released today! It’s a honor to be coupled with so many phenomenal arts efforts in Atlanta.

Here’s an excerpt where we discuss Matt Bell’s How They Were Found, among other things:

The small-press books that Straub sells don’t have big marketing departments running promotions in newspapers or buying prominent placement in retailers like Barnes & Noble. In fact, you might be hard-pressed to find a copy of them anywhere else in town. Prior to starting Vouched, Straub read Matt Bell’s How They Were Found, a collection of short stories published on an imprint of Midwest nonprofit publisher Dzanc Books. “I love that book, and it was frustrating going to bookstores and not being able to find it really anywhere in the city,” she says.

As the cost of publishing a small run of books has declined, independent publishers have taken a cue from the DIY ethos that emerged from punk and indie rock record labels a few decades ago. They’re publishing work by adventurous young authors writing unabashedly contemporary work often deemed too risky or unusual by big publishing houses.

Read the rest of the article at Creative Loafing’s site, along with articles about what’s going on with the arts in Atlanta (so many awesome things!).

SSR #14 of 15: How They Were Found

21 Jul

In my head, there was already a Single Sentence Review for How They Were Found on Vouched. Why wouldn’t there be? We endorsed The Receiving Tower over at Willow Springs, reminded you of How They Were Found Day, we even awfully interviewed Matt to help promote the Vouched Presents reading back in January. It could easily be concluded that we are champions of this book.

So here it is, a single sentence review of How They Were Found. I’m so honored to be able to sell this book at my table in Atlanta. You will all love it. 


These stories should be mirthless, its characters are caught in their own labyrinth, consigned to oblivion; but Bell’s language breaks a hole in the ceiling and lets a little light in, illuminating the mire.

SSR #13 of 15: Dreams of Molly

20 Jul

The VouchedATL launch reading is so close, only three more days and then it’s Sunday! I hope you are all as excited as I am. My single sentence review for today is of another book released by Dzanc Books, Dreams of Molly by Jonathan Baumbach. 

If Dom Cobb incepted Woody Allen’s dreams, it would be a lot like this book.

SSR #11 of 15: In The Devil’s Territory

18 Jul

Kyle Minor‘s In The Devil’s Territory is a release from the good people over at Dzanc Books!

This is what it feels like to take a man’s confession: a rotted specimen is passed to your hand- peel its outsides back like wrapping paper, or crack it like a shell- hand it back to them to hold.