Sunday, June 14, 2020

Sunday Sentence: Blood Ties & Brown Liquor by Sean Hill


Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.

       A flock of starlings alights in a tree and chatters,
       each a night of twinkling stars on its back, then
       the hush and inexplicable lighting out en masse,

       black whirlwind wheeling against blue, rippling
       like breeze-ruffled trees, the path of prayers,
       searching before coming down to light again.




Sunday, June 7, 2020

Sunday Sentence: Blood Ties & Brown Liquor by Sean Hill


Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.

       Lord, I wish I knew what ails me. If I was good
       enough to be a dog I’d lose my bark.




Friday, June 5, 2020

Friday Freebie: The Mountains Sing by by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai


Congratulations to Carole Mertz, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie contest: Brave Deeds by David Abrams. Thanks to everyone who participated in the blog’s 10th Anniversary celebration!

This week’s contest is for The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai. You may remember hearing about this debut novel earlier at the blog; now I’m offering one lucky reader a chance to win a new hardback of the book The New York Times calls “[An] absorbing, stirring novel . . . that, in more than one sense, remedies history.” Keep scrolling for more information on The Mountains Sing and how to enter the contest...


With the epic sweep of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko or Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing and the lyrical beauty of Vaddey Ratner’s In the Shadow of the Banyan, The Mountains Sing tells an enveloping, multigenerational tale of the Trần family, set against the backdrop of the Việt Nam War. Trần Diệu Lan, who was born in 1920, was forced to flee her family farm with her six children during the Land Reform as the Communist government rose in the North. Years later in Hà Nội, her young granddaughter, Hương, comes of age as her parents and uncles head off down the Hồ Chí Minh Trail to fight in a conflict that tore not just her beloved country, but her family apart. Vivid, gripping, and steeped in the language and traditions of Việt Nam, The Mountains Sing brings to life the human costs of this conflict from the point of view of the Vietnamese people themselves, while showing us the true power of kindness and hope. The Mountains Sing is celebrated Vietnamese poet Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s first novel in English.

If you’d like a chance at winning The Mountains Sing, simply e-mail your name and mailing address to


Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail.

The Fine Print
One entry per person, please (or, two if you share the post—see below). Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on June 11, at which time I’ll draw the winning names. I’ll announce the lucky reader on June 12.

The Finer Print
If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your e-mail address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

The Finest Print
Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.


Thursday, June 4, 2020

Breaching the Levee of Rage


It’s hard to write this week. And yet, I composed something: a raw draft of my thoughts after returning from a peaceful vigil at the Montana State Capitol on Sunday. This is a departure from the usual book conversation on this blog, but now, I think, is the time to take a break from the everyday comfort of our lives and to read something that makes us shift in our seat.


Breaching the Levee of Rage

An acquaintance, someone you don’t know personally, emails you an invitation to attend a peaceful protest and vigil for George Floyd, the middle-aged man who died in Minneapolis after a cop knelt on his neck for eight minutes.

You share that invitation with your wife, who is in another part of your small apartment, on her own laptop reading news stories about protests in other cities (“Listen to this: they’re even protesting in London and Germany!”), and though neither of you say anything aloud in the quiet Sunday morning hush of the city apartment, and though neither of you have ever been to a protest or raised a sign in anger, there’s an unspoken understanding: you’ll both go. After passively reading headlines for too long, the levee of your rage has been breached. You are flooded with resolve.

You make signs.

You drive to the State Capitol building and think ahead to park under the shade of a wide-branched tree two blocks away. Who knows what will happen in the next two hours? Who knows how hot you’ll be after the rally? Who can predict if you’ll also be running for your life, lungs full of teargas and rubber bullets ricocheting off the street around you at the end of those two hours?

Hold on, you think. This is Montana, the so-called Last Best Place, and the chance of your day turning into one of smoke and screams is relatively low. This is not Minneapolis, this is not Washington, D.C.

But you never know. Anything can happen in this new world.

You are wary but feeling brave. You are unsure how to properly “act” at a protest but you’re ready to stand and occupy space on a sidewalk for two hours.

You approach the great lawn of the Capitol grounds and are disappointed to see the crowd is not a blocks-long, seething blanket of bodies and signs, but more like a child’s palmful of salt and pepper sprinkled along the sidewalk. The paper will eventually report 150 individuals were at the event that day. You are reminded of the importance of showing up and the dangers of complacency.

You join the others with signs markered with “Black Lives Matter,” and “De-Militarize the Police,” and “Justice for George.” Your sign is the bottom half of a sturdy cardboard box: you haven’t torn it apart to make one flat piece of cardboard—it is still itself, a box bottom, and can easily be reassembled with its top half, the two parts rejoined as one box. Your wife stands next to you with the other half of the box. You can each grip your box half by the finger holes cut into the side of the box and hold the flat, markered side out to the world. Your wife’s box has the words “I Can’t Breathe.” Your box is simply a line drawing of George Floyd’s face (rendered by author Edward Carey) taped to the center of your box-bottom, with “1974” running down one side and “2020” on the other.

You step to the curb. You raise your arms. You hold George Floyd’s face and the span of his life to the sky. Beside you, your wife’s box pleads, “I Can’t Breathe!”

You stand near the corner at a four-way intersection where cars are forced to slow and stop.

You hold your sign above your head and stare at the passing windshields, willing them with your mind to look at your sign, to flick their gaze from the road to see George’s face and to remember that here was a man who was suddenly famous, worldwide, simply because he died. You hope that driver passing you will think about the fact that the only reason he or she knows about George Floyd is because George Floyd is no longer on this earth and how incredibly sad that is, the fact that a man is now famous for no longer existing.

Some drivers honk and cheer, flashing upraised thumbs in your direction.

A greater majority of cars glide by silent as coffins. You think bad thoughts of those people. But then you have to remind yourself that just because someone doesn’t honk doesn’t mean they don’t support your cause. In fact, you yourself are generally a non-honker; why, just the previous day you drove past a young woman sitting at a cardboard table along Park Avenue to get people to sign a petition for a cause you support and your hand never touched the horn. You vow to start being a supportive honker.

You try to think good thoughts about all people.

Cars slide by, passengers and drivers pivot their heads to look at you. Some stare, some glare, some scoff with a harsh cough of contempt, some rigidly refuse to look in your direction. If you don’t see me, I don’t exist, right?

You are flipped off. Someone purposefully rolls down their window and insults your group with a terrible slur, their voice trailing out of their truck like a banner ragged and frayed at the edges.

Your back tenses, hardens like the concrete you’re standing on, and knots up with a half dozen marbles of pain. You take a deep breath and push your sign higher.

Cars honk. Cars don’t honk.

Some people in the crowd of 150—a weak, scattered few—try to start up a chant, but it doesn’t get off the ground. There are too many syllables and nobody really knows what anyone else is saying, so the chant ripples weakly, like a snake struggling to come to life, but eventually dies into a mumbling murmur and embarrassed laughter.

You start thinking about headlines from other protests. You look down and realize you and your wife are half in the gutter and half on the black tar of the street. You have a sudden image of your bodies flipping into the air over the hood of a car. You nudge your wife and tell her to step back onto the sidewalk.

An older man, maybe in his seventies, walks through the crowd carrying a huge American flag on an eight-foot pole. Even though he has a gentle face and appears harmless, he is surrounded by other protestors who question his intentions. You yourself wonder why he is so adamantly waving this flag, this symbol that now seems tainted by “the other side.” Your wife whispers, “I think he’s okay. I think he’s one of us.”

You think about those words. Us. Them. It’s come to this, then? You know it has and it feels like a tide too strong to resist.

At 12:50 p.m., protest organizers circulate and remind the crowd of the pre-planned moment of silence at 1 p.m.

When the time comes, a new ripple runs across the crowd. Voices hush, knees bend, and—pretty much in one accord—the crowd drops to the ground, one half of a stadium “wave” (remember those?).

You begin the eight minutes of silence: the length of time Office Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck on May 25.

Your left knee digs into the sidewalk. You prop your body with your right foot. You lift your sign above your head. You are uncomfortable but you are alive.

Your muscles clench, the grit presses into the skin of your knee, your breath comes faster and faster, strained through the thick sieve of your mask. You think you will die.

Only four-and-a-half minutes of silence have passed.

You think of George Floyd: he had no choice, he had to go the whole eight minutes, not knowing when or if that knee would lift off his throat.

You start to think of George’s jaw, pressed and wrenched and scraped against the pavement. Your face swells with tears.

Your body is now shaking uncontrollably.

Then the eight minutes are reached, the silence is broken by a low murmuring in the crowd, and you are alive again. You are a white person who is still alive on a sidewalk in Helena, Montana on a nice Sunday afternoon. Birds might even be singing in the trees over your head.

You stand, with the rush of blood flowing out into your veins from your knees, and you feel an electric surge of hatred for all those who flipped you off, called you that horrible word, and all those iron-necked drivers who, worse yet, refused to look at you. You surge with emotion, something like a growl even rips up and out of your throat.

You stay on the sidewalk for another five minutes after the moment of silence has passed, then you turn to your wife and say, “Are you ready to leave?” and she nods. You lower your signs then carry your boxes with George and his plea for breath back across the State Capitol lawn. Other people at the edges of the crowd are doing the same.

You are done. You have said, or not said, what you have come to say. You know it is not enough—it will never be enough—but you stood and you will stand again because now you have a fire in your belly. You are agitated and you are an agitator.

You go home, log on to Facebook and write this on your wall: “Thank you to the dozens and dozens of horn-honking supportive Helena drivers for your Symphony of Horns. Thanks also to the drivers who flipped us off and called us names—you helped us keep our perspective and remember that the world is not yet completely rid of tiny-hearted assholes. Keep fighting the good fight, my brothers and sisters.”


Sunday, May 31, 2020

Fresh Ink: May 2020 Edition


Fresh Ink is a monthly tally of new and forthcoming booksmainly advance review copies (aka “uncorrected proofs” and “galleys”)—I’ve received from publishers. Cover art and opening lines may change before the book is finally released. I should also mention that, in nearly every case, I haven’t had a chance to read these books, but they’re definitely going in the to-be-read pile.


Becoming Duchess Goldblatt
by Anonymous
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Jacket Copy:  Becoming Duchess Goldblatt is two stories: that of the reclusive real-life writer who created a fictional character out of loneliness and thin air, and that of the magical Duchess Goldblatt herself, a bright light in the darkness of social media. Fans around the world are drawn to Her Grace’s voice, her wit, her life-affirming love for all humanity, and the fun and friendship of the community that’s sprung up around her. @DuchessGoldblat (81 year-old literary icon, author of An Axe to Grind) brought people together in her name: in bookstores, museums, concerts, and coffee shops, and along the way, brought real friends home—foremost among them, Lyle Lovett. But who is the Duchess? In their own words: “The only way to be reliably sure that the hero gets the girl at the end of the story is to be both the hero and the girl yourself.”

Opening Lines:  I must have slept weird, folks. My backstory is killing me.

Blurbworthiness:  “After reading this unforgettable memoir, I figured out who Duchess Goldblatt is: all of us. Behind her brilliantly witty and uplifting message is a remarkable vulnerability and candor that reminds us that we are not alone in our struggles—and that we can, against all odds, get through them. As though casting a magic spell on her readers, she moves, inspires, and connects us through her unvarnished humanity. It was, for this therapist, a form of therapy I didn’t know I needed.” (Lori Gottlieb, author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone)

Why It’s In My Stack:  As a long-time follower/worshipper of The Duchess, I, like many of their royal subjects, am curious to discover what they look like behind the Twitter avatar.



Riding with the Ghost
by Justin Taylor
(Random House)

Jacket Copy:  When Justin Taylor was thirty, his father, Larry, drove to the top of the Nashville airport parking garage to take his own life. Thanks to the intervention of family members, he was not successful, but the incident would forever transform how Taylor thinks of his father, and how he thinks of himself as a son. Moving back and forth in time from that day, Riding with the Ghost captures the past’s power to shape, strengthen, and distort our visions of ourselves and one another. We see Larry as the middle child in a chilly Long Island family; as a beloved Little League coach who listens to kids with patience and curiosity; as an unemployed father struggling to keep his marriage together while battling long-term illness and depression. At the same time, Taylor explores how the work of confronting a family member’s story forces a reckoning with your own. We see Taylor as a teacher, modeling himself after his dad’s best qualities; as a caregiver, attempting to provide his father with emotional and financial support, but not always succeeding; as a new husband, with a dawning awareness of his own depressive tendencies; as a man, struggling to understand his relationship to his religion and himself. With raw intimacy, Riding with the Ghost lays bare the joys and burdens of loving a troubled family member. It’s a memoir about fathers and sons, teachers and students, faith and illness, and the pieces of our loved ones that we carry with us.

Opening Lines:  My father had decided that he would end his life by throwing himself from the top of the parking garage at the Nashville airport, which he later told me had seemed like the best combination of convenience—that is, he could get there easily, and unnoticed—and sufficiency—that is, he was pretty sure it was tall enough to do the job. I never asked him what other venues he considered and rejected before settling on this plan. He probably did not actually use the word “best.” It was Mother’s Day, 2013.

Blurbworthiness:  “Justin Taylor’s relentless, peripatetic, and tender search for reconciliation with his late troubled father blooms into a full-throated song of joy about his own life lived through music, teaching, travel, and literature. Riding with the Ghost is gorgeously layered and deeply felt.” (Lauren Groff, author of Florida)

Why It’s In My Stack: Well, Father’s Day is coming up....



A Small Crowd of Strangers
by Joanna Rose
(Forest Avenue Press)

Jacket Copy:  How does a librarian from New Jersey end up in a convenience store on Vancouver Island in the middle of the night, playing Bible Scrabble with a Korean physicist and a drunk priest? She gets married to the wrong man for starters—she didn’t know he was ‘that kind of Catholic’—and ends up in St. Cloud, Minnesota. She gets a job in a New Age bookstore, wanders toward Buddhism without realizing it, and acquires a dog. Things get complicated after that. Pattianne Anthony is less a thinker than a dreamer, and she finds out the hard way that she doesn’t want a husband, much less a baby, and that getting out of a marriage is a lot harder than getting into it, especially when the landscape of the west becomes the voice of reason. A Small Crowd of Strangers, Joanna Rose’s second novel, is part love story, part slightly sideways spiritual journey.

Opening Lines:  It was things like reading all of John Updike, and all of Elmore Leonard, and doing the crossword in the middle of the afternoon when she didn’t have to work, with the all-classical station pouring out the windows of her apartment over the dry cleaner’s. That’s what being thirty was about.

Blurbworthiness:  “As a fan of Joanna Rose’s groundbreaking novel, Little Miss Strange, I was eager to read the next, A Small Crowd of Strangers. Lucky readers—this novel, too, is buoyant, tender, and it’s so easy to invest in her lively characters and the gorgeously described landscape. At the center of the novel is Pattianne Anthony, a quirky reference librarian who is smart and witty, but who also tends to make major life choices on a whim. One of those is to marry a charming schoolteacher, Michael Bryn, and move from her childhood home in New Jersey to St. Cloud, Minnesota. It’s Pattianne’s discovery of self that most captivates through these pages—her budding realization that she has let life lead her instead of her leading life. As Pattianne ventures out, we witness her profound discoveries about love, family, faith, and the abiding strength of an eclectic community, and in this way Rose’s novel becomes sweetly intimate, a joy to read.”  (Debra Gwartney, author of I Am a Stranger Here Myself)

Why It’s In My Stack:  I thoroughly enjoyed the opening paragraphs which had enough kinetic energy to pull me right into the rushing current of words. I want to read more and more and more.



Barcelona Days
by Daniel Riley
(Little, Brown)

Jacket Copy:  Whitney and Will are a perfect couple by all appearances, their relationship rock-solid, and their engagement soon to be announced. Before their impending nuptials, however, Whitney suggests a lighthearted experiment: why not give each other three romantic “free passes” before getting married? Three opportunities to imagine other lives before returning with new appreciation for each other. On what’s meant to be the last night of a romantic Barcelona vacation, they agree to regale one another with details of these harmless trysts. They grin and bear it, and fall asleep feeling mostly satisfied, and relieved to be firmly together again. But then a volcano erupts overnight, spewing a cloud of ash across Europe and grounding all flights indefinitely. Trapped in Barcelona, their paths intertwine with a star basketball player, his future dashed by a crippling injury, and a foreign exchange student with a double life, about to return home and face reality. Whitney and Will flirt, provoke, dance, and drink. Over the next three days, they will use and be used by their new friends, once again testing the boundaries of their relationship—but this time, can it survive?

Opening Lines: “To you and me,” Will said, lifting his wine, a local something, butcher red. The label said it was from Penedes, just down the coast, and it featured a bull with roses where its horns should be.
       “To 1-2-3,” Witney said, lifting her glass to match, and they clinked a heavy clink, and it rang out around the dining room like a good idea.

Blurbworthiness:  “From beginning to end, the reader walks with Whitney and Will along the precipice marking an edge they may or may not have crossed. With dry humor and involving dialogue, Riley steps boldly into territory other authors have only tentatively approached.” (Enobong Tommelleo)

Why It’s In My Stack:  My first impression (based on the barest of skims through its opening pages) is that Barcelona Days gives off a Sheltering Sky vibe; this summer feels like a good time to immerse myself in literary affairs.


Sunday Sentence: I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott


Simply put, the best sentence(s)* I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without** commentary.


If you met him, you would want to marry him. But you can’t, because I already did.

*     *     *

When I am packing a suitcase and I’ve crammed every last rectangle of folded clothing into the bag and added shoes, makeup, a just-in-case-it’s-cold cardigan and a panicked last-minute backup outfit or two, and I’m mashing everything down as hard as I can, and I go from zero to psycho in a second because I can’t get the bag zipped, and I’m stomping on the bag and hammering at it with my fists, he calmly opens it, rearranges a few things, and zips it.

I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott


*I chose three. Sue me.

**I am breaking the rules this week, but I can’t resist commenting on how rich with humor both of these selections are: the first with a sort of snap-snap feel to it, and the second has an admirable momentum that should be used as an example of How to Write a Long Tightly-Coiled Sentence in writing classrooms. I mean, tear it apart and count the syllables and breath-beats to marvel at how MLP turns the first part of the sentence into luggage itself, full of details and hyphenated adjectives and verbs like crammed and mashing and stomped and then see how her husband comes in and acts as the zipper, closing the sentence with neat efficiency. Zzzzzip! Now that’s how you sentence, people!


Friday, May 29, 2020

Friday Freebie: Brave Deeds by David Abrams


Congratulations to Teresa Sweeney, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie contest: Fobbit by David Abrams (That’s-a me!).

This week, I’m rounding out the Quivering Pen’s 10th Anniversary celebration with the other novel written during this blog’s lifespan: Brave Deeds, published in 2017 by Grove/Atlantic. Like Fobbit, Brave Deeds is set in Baghdad during the Iraq War, but it’s written in a much darker shade of ink. “[Brave Deeds] builds to an emotionally wrenching and tension-filled climax . . . Filled with vivid characterizations and memorable moments, this novel . . . turns a single military action into a microcosm of an entire war.” (Publishers Weekly)

Keep scrolling for more information on the book and how to enter the contest...


From Fobbit author David Abrams, Brave Deeds is a compelling novel of war, brotherhood, and America. Spanning eight hours, the novel follows a squad of six AWOL soldiers as they attempt to cross war-torn Baghdad on foot to attend the funeral of their leader, Staff Sergeant Rafe Morgan. As the men make their way to the funeral, they recall the most ancient of warriors yet are a microcosm of twenty-first-century America, and subject to the same human flaws as all of us. Drew is reliable in the field but unfaithful at home; Cheever, overweight and whining, is a friend to no one—least of all himself; and platoon commander Dmitri “Arrow” Arogapoulos is stalwart, yet troubled with questions about his own identity and sexuality. Emotionally resonant, true-to-life, and thoughtfully written, Brave Deeds is a gripping story of combat and of perseverance, and an important addition to the oeuvre of contemporary war fiction.

“In one very full, very messed up and hair-raising day, Brave Deeds delivers everything we could ever ask for in a novel, no less than birth, death, and all points in between. David Abrams has written a flat-out brilliant book of the Iraq War, one that reads like a compact version of the Odyssey or Going After Cacciato. Soldiers on a journey—it’s one of humankind’s oldest stories, and Abrams has given us the latest dispatch from the field, to stunning effect.” (Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk)

“At the beginning of Brave Deeds I was laughing out loud, and enjoying the feeling of being among the Army squad, even one making an insane walk through Baghdad. But by the end of the book I was silent: I was really undone by it. David Abrams has done something very powerful, drawing together the different layers of this story so beautifully, and drawing us down below the surface to a place of darkness and sadness. It’s a tour de force. Bravo.” (Roxana Robinson, author of Dawson's Fall)

If you’d like a chance at winning Brave Deeds, simply e-mail your name and mailing address to


Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail.

The Fine Print
One entry per person, please (or, two if you share the post—see below). Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on June 4, at which time I’ll draw the winning names. I’ll announce the lucky reader on June 5.

The Finer Print
If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your e-mail address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

The Finest Print
Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.


Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Birthday Bash



I don’t remember this day at all. It was my 10th birthday, a decade of life, so you’d think even my young brain would have marked it as a milestone: a day to remember.

But it wasn’t until my mother (seen here in mid-sing of “Happy Birthday” on May 27, 1973) sent me this photo three days ago that the memories came, not flooding back but seeping through a thick filter of age. The dining room table set, hand-crafted and painted by the Amish and purchased by my parents in Lancaster, Pennsylvania when they were newlyweds. My mother’s coffee mugs hung on that hand-painted sign that insists “Happiness is Togetherness” (and yet, I spent so much of my childhood totally content in my solitude). And that old narrow kitchen of ours branching off the dining room of the parsonage, soon to be torn down and remodeled when my father’s church budgeted for a renovation. But so many other things about that photo, the unseen life beyond the pixels, elude me.

Who was I in 1973? Certainly, I was already well into my career as a reader. I can’t say for sure, but I believe my pre-teen To-Be-Read list would have included Nancy Drew, Big Red, and The Borrowers. I was still a couple of years away from the day my parents came home with a Chocolate Lab puppy, Shane, who became my best (at times, my only) friend all the way through high school. On this sunny May day in 1973, I was shy and anxious and fighting off lingering traces of a childhood stutter. Overall, though, I think I was happy. I had kind parents, the weather was nice, and I had a library card.

The picture is also a good way to illustrate the fact that this blog turned 10 earlier this month. The way I’m looking at that cake is how I tend to look at books: with surprise, with hope, and with hunger.

Update: My mother helpfully provided this addendum today in a Facebook comment: We had been in Jackson, WY for less than a year. I wonder what I wrote on that cake? And yes you were an avid reader even then. We arrived at our new home in Jackson the previous November and before we even got to our home you were begging us to find the library!


Sunday, May 24, 2020

Sunday Sentence: The Wasp Eater by William Lychack


Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.


At the bottom of everything, they were a family of silence—nothing but blind, black, coal-crumbling silence, his father never anchored or steady like his mother, his mother never sanguine or loose like his father.

The Wasp Eater by William Lychack

Friday, May 22, 2020

Friday Freebie: Fobbit by David Abrams


Congratulations to Jane Rainey, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie contest: The Incredible Journey of Plants by Stefano Mancuso.

As I mentioned earlier, this month marks the 10th Anniversary of The Quivering Pen. So, in honor of that decade of blogging, I’m offering up a signed copy of the book that was there at the very beginning: Fobbit, by yours truly. The blog proved to be a sort of child’s growth chart for the novel: I wrote about the process and content for several months before Fobbit was fully polished and eventually accepted for publication by Grove/Atlantic in 2012. Thanks to all of you who have reviewed the book over the years and who have come out through all kinds of weather to the bookstore readings. Your support has been one of the two-by-fours holding this blog upright throughout the years. Anyway, by now you Friday Freebie regulars know the drill: Keep scrolling for more information on the book and how to enter the contest...



In the satirical tradition of Catch-22 and M*A*S*H, Fobbit takes us into the chaotic world of Baghdad’s Forward Operating Base Triumph. The Forward Operating base, or FOB, is like the back-office of the battlefield – where people eat and sleep, and where a lot of soldiers have what looks suspiciously like a desk job. Male and female soldiers are trying to find an empty Porta Potty in which to get acquainted, grunts are playing Xbox and watching NASCAR between missions, and a lot of the senior staff are more concerned about getting to the chow hall in time for the Friday night all-you-can-eat seafood special than worrying about little things like military strategy. Darkly humorous and based on the author’s own experiences in Iraq, Fobbit is a fantastic debut that shows us a behind-the-scenes portrait of the real Iraq war.

If you’d like a chance at winning Fobbit, simply e-mail your name and mailing address to


Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail.

The Fine Print
One entry per person, please (or, two if you share the post—see below). Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on May 28 at which time I’ll draw the winning names. I’ll announce the lucky reader on May 29.

The Finer Print
If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your e-mail address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

The Finest Print
Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.


A Decade of Quivering



Ten years ago this month, I found myself closing in on the end of the first draft of my first published novel. [cue montage of furrowed brow, fingers tapping keys, pencil gripped between teeth]

At the same time, I was feeling full of book chatter, bursting at the seams like I’d just overeaten at Heavy-Meats Burger Shack, but had no one with whom to converse. I was lonely for a book community. [cue montage of staring out the window, heavy sighs, the silvery track of a single tear caught in mid-afternoon light]

So, I birthed this blog.

It arrived on May 2, 2010, 8 pounds, 6 ounces and full of self-doubt, wallowing in “dreams of Mailer, Updike, and Dickens.” In that first blog post, titled “And So It Begins...,” I began by saying: “I am standing on the threshold of the first draft of my second novel (the first, an oddly funny story about a midget stuntman, remains unpublished—and perhaps unpublishable). I am days away from typing the final period of Fobbit: A Novel.”

Fourteen days, to be precise.

And, in another two years, the messy manuscript became a reality between covers.

Random, idle, self-serving chatter about Fobbit soon faded to the background and more outward-focused book chatter commenced. And has been commencing and re-commencing, in fits and starts, over the decade.

When I started The Quivering Pen in 2010, I didn’t know how long I could sustain it. Would it last a year? Would it flash in the pan and then join the other fads of my life: stamp collecting, flip-phone games, that time I reigned as mayor of Foursquare, etc.?

Well, I’m here, and you’re here, so something must have gone right....

Damn the self-doubt and full steam ahead! Until...

Two weeks ago, a friend of mine blurted out in mid-conversation to me: “Blogs—does anybody really read them anymore?”

I hid my wince with a laugh and an “I know, right?!

All I can say is, blogs may be as useless as the appendix, but at least we carry those around for a while before they’re taken out.

I like this blog because it carves me a space, a tiny little scrape of the penknife against the Internet, where I can talk about the books I love and all the ones I think I will love in my future. It is a place where I can share bits and pieces of my own writing, hesitantly and nervously. It is a big overstuffed chair where I can settle in at the end of the day and open up my mail and show you the new books that came. And this blog has also been a microphone to which I’ve invited other writers to step up and share the stories of their “first time” or perhaps to take us on a guided tour of their home library. This blog has been all this—plus recipes and music—for ten years.

And yet, sometimes I fret that this blog is obsolete, that I’m trying to drive a dinosaur-drawn carriage with a whip. Does anyone read this blog anymore? (cups ear, waits for echo)

Well, even if I’m back to being alone, even if everyone else has moved on to other platforms (high, towering platforms from which to dive into new ways of communicating that are cleaner and simpler), even if I’m typing into the void, I think I’ll keep on doing it—maybe not for another ten years, but at least for another ten months. Somehow, it feels like a good time to be talking about books. We need them now more than ever.

[cue montage of dinosaur-rider wheeling his mount around, clicking between his teeth, “Giddyup, T-Rex,” and riding toward the sunset.]