Sunday, September 30, 2012

Fobbit Tour: Notes From the South Dakota Festival of Books

"I am sockless in South Dakota."

That's what I tweeted Friday morning when I unpacked my suitcase in my Sioux Falls Holiday Inn hotel room and discovered, heart wilting, that I had neglected to pack anything with which to clothe my feet for the five days in South Dakota and then in Minneapolis.  I'd been so busy working at the Day Job right up until my departure for readings at Montana State University and Elk River Books in Livingston, Montana, that I'd thrown armloads of clothes and toiletries in the suitcase like I was in some sped-up scene from a Laurel and Hardy movie.  Stress and poor time management can really fuck up your life, ya know?

In truth, I wasn't literally sockless.  After all, I did have the pair of tube socks which I'd first donned Wednesday morning and worn on the plane ride to Sioux Falls.  They would have to last the weekend because, to the further collapse of my spirit, I discovered (after walking six blocks in all compass directions) there were no clothing stores near the Holiday Inn.

At the South Dakota Festival of Books' opening reception for its authors, I faced a fashion dilemma: do I "dress down" and wear jeans and (by now) moldering tube socks; or do I put on a pair of nice dark blue dress slacks, snazzy black shoes, and....white socks?  I opted for the latter, hoping I wouldn't have to sit down during the evening or perform a high-kick demonstration, thus exposing my sock-white shins.  I stood the entire evening, taking little mincing steps as I moved around the room to greet fellow authors.  No one looked anywhere south of my knees--or if they did, they were too polite to say anything.

Besides, there was too much going on north of the neck at the book fest.  Brains were humming in that room of authors.  Flesh was being pressed, backs were being slapped, and everywhere the air was spritzed with words like "writing," "reading," "books," and "have you tried the goat cheese canapes?"  It was a good start to a promising weekend, fashion faux pas aside.  Just take a gander at a partial list of participants: Pete Dexter, Kent Meyers, John Dusfresne, Elizabeth Berg, Leif Enger, Sherman Alexie, and Roy Blount Jr.  Like I said, that's just a partial list.  My contribution to the festival consisted of a reading from Fobbit and two book signings (at which I shared a table with Ms. Berg, Ellen Baker, and historian Jeff Barnes).

Here are some random notes from the three days I spent in South Dakota....

*     *     *

There are two great things about attending festivals like this.  One, you connect with readers, getting to know them on a more personal level.  Because Fobbit is still fresh in the world, there's still a relatively small number of people who have read it.  But I was so gratified to meet two enthusiastic readers, Rich and Patrick, who talked with me about Fobbit and our shared passion for the poetry of Brian Turner (Here, Bullet).  Then, on the second day, an older gentleman passed me in the lobby, did a double-take when he saw my nametag, and reached out a hand to stop me.  "I read your book three weeks ago--got it from the library--and I really enjoyed it.  You certainly have a different take on the war.  I never been in the service or been close to combat, but I could appreciate what you were doing with that book."

These are the small moments authors catch like fireflies, cup them in their palms and then later, when no one's looking, open their hands to enjoy the glow.
*     *     *

The other wonderful thing about book festivals is the author-on-author action.  In South Dakota, I finally had the chance to meet Karl Marlantes--who is just as smart and kind and engaging as readers of Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War and What It Is Like to Go to War might suspect.  Karl was kind enough to contribute a blurb for Fobbit early in the publication lifecycle of the book and the feeling is certainly mutual since I consider What It Is Like to Go to War one of the most IMPORTANT books of our young century.  It should be required reading for every member of the armed forces, highest rank to lowest rank; as well as: members of Congress, housewives, career women, stay-at-home dads, stockbrockers, bricklayers, college faculty, Taco Bell fry cooks, hawks, doves, and everyone else in between.

It didn't take long for Karl and I to bond over a steak dinner in downtown Sioux Falls.  We talked about what we're going to talk about when we talk together at University Bookstore and Powell's in October.  We also talked about the trajectories of our lives, our kids, coastal Oregon, book reviews, and discovered we had a mutual love for French cinema.

Here's another trio of authors I'm now honored to call my friends: Joshilyn Jackson, Ellen Baker, and Wendy McClure.  None of us knew each other before arriving in South Dakota (though J. J. and I were Twitter friends--"Twends"?).  The four of us also bonded over food--a unique South Dakotan dish called chislic.  I'm happy to say it tastes better than it sounds.  It is, essentially, deep-fried meat.  And you eat it with toothpicks.  This is South Dakota, after all.  Though Joshilyn, Wendy and Ellen mocked me for ordering a "girlie" drink with "frosted cake vodka" and lemonade, I showed them a thing or two when I popped a whole hunk of meat in my mouth at once and unleashed my Inner Caveman with a grunt-n-growl.

Here's a bonus benefit of meeting authors at events like this: you buy their books and discover some great writing you might have otherwise missed.  Here are the first lines from the latest books by my new BFFs:

I was born in 1867 in a log cabin in Wisconsin and maybe you were, too.
The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie
by Wendy McClure

My daughter, Liza, put her heart in a silver box and buried it under the willow tree in our backyard.
A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty
by Joshilyn Jackson

Violet set out from the little white house walking, but, when the pains came, she was brought to her knees.
I Gave My Heart to Know This
by Ellen Baker

*     *     *

[Notes jotted on an index card during John Dusfresne's presentation on the writing process]

"You won't know everything about your book when you start out.  For instance, the first chapter of my current work-in-progress has five corpses on the floor and I spent at least 279 pages trying to find out who did it."

First notice everything:
The stain on the wallpaper
of the vacant house,
the mothball smell of a
Greyhound toilet.
Miss nothing. Memorize it.
You cannot twist the fact you do not know.
--from "Let Me Tell You" by Miller Williams

Dufresne:  "The first act of writing is noticing.  Writers see what others don't.  The world is full of provocations and your job is to be sensitive to those provocations."

Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.

--from "For the young who want to" by Marge Piercy

Dufresne pulls his smartphone out of his pocket and tells us that he likes to surreptitiously take photos of interesting people while pretending to be talking to someone on the phone.  He takes photos of people and places he thinks might someday end up in one of his stories or novels so that he'll have a visual record of them when the time comes.  Smart.

The talk roamed far and wide and included comments about shitty first drafts, the myth of writer's block, revision, how to shape plot, conflict ("you write about people at the end of their ropes"), and how he unapologetically "steals" from Alice Munro and William Trevor--the two writers he most admires.

I especially liked this statement he made near the end of the hour: "The sad thing about life is that death is the central fact.  But the nobility of it all is that we keep on loving and caring about things in spite of that inevitable death."

*     *     *

Clyde Edgerton was on-stage at the Orpheum Theater singing about a glass eye and the audience was cracking up.  Sadly, the audience wasn't all that large (less than a dozen of us in that wide, deep auditorium), but we were cracking up nonetheless as he strummed his guitar and sang "How Does a Glass Eye Work?" from his play Lunch at the Picadilly:

What if it fell out in bed?
What if it rolled out your head?
Do they make something like Poli-Grip
For false eyeballs so the thing won't slip?
How does a glass eye work?

Mr. Edgerton proved to be as down-home funny as I suspected he would be, given the sly, smart humor of his Southern novels like Raney and The Night Train.

Using a sound file on his laptop computer, which he held up to the podium's microphone, he played for us the most amazing 30 seconds of music we were likely to hear all year.  From San Francisco Symphony conductor Michael Tilson Thomas' MTT Files on American Public Media, came a mashup of James Brown's "Please Please Please" and Igor Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring."  By interspersing the two, Thomas showed how the "pulse" of both pieces of music was the same.  It was flat-out amazing and exhilarating and I pity you for being unable to sit there in the Orpheum and have your brain bent in new directions.

Then Edgerton read passages from his next book, Papadaddy's Book for New Fathers, which is coming out in May 2013.  I am sorry to report that I was unable to write down some of those parental bits of advice (on how to help your wife through a C-section, on how to install a baby's car seat, on how to childproof the home, etc.).  I was laughing too damn hard.  Trust me, you'll want to get this book when it comes out next year.

*     *     *

And finally, I'll leave you with a virtual photo album of some of the beautiful sights around Sioux Falls--most notably, its SculptureWalk.  On every block of the city's downtown, you'll find specially-commissioned bronze statues (which change every year and are available for purchase).  They alone are worth pulling off the interstate the next time you're passing through South Dakota.

"The American Farmer"
Not a sculpture, but I like how the telephone line
perfectly kissed the top of the cross

The Falls, tumbling over stair-stepped levels of red Quartzite

My favorite, festival-appropriate sculpture

Inscribed on the ring around her are titles of children's classics
like Island of the Blue Dolphins, The Borrowers, etc.

"Sleeping Grizzly" guards the book I just purchased
at Zandbroz Variety (a superb indie bookstore):
The Everyman's Library edition of Dostoevsky's The Adolescent,
translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

The New York Times Book Review Applauds Fobbit

In case you didn't already see the skywriting, social media boasting, the David Abrams Jumbotron feed, or hear the marching band I hired to play outside your bedroom window, here's the latest news:

Fobbit is reviewed in today's New York Times Book Review.

Let me say that again: my debut novel, a trade paperback original, is reviewed in the Sunday New York Times Book Review.  I never thought I'd type those words in that exact sequence, but here we are, in the Land of Dreams Fulfilled.

Here's the money quote from the review by Christian Bauman:
I applaud David Abrams for sticking to his vision and writing the satire he wanted to write instead of adding to the crowded shelf of war memoirs. In Fobbit, he has written a very funny book, as funny, disturbing, heartbreaking and ridiculous as war itself.
Click here to read the full review

My e-friend MJ just sent this photo to me, proving it's REALLY REAL

Friday, September 28, 2012

Fobbit Tour: Elk River Books in Livingston, MT

Walking into Elk River Books in downtown Livingston, Montana, is like walking into a closet.

A closet packed with some of the finest, well-tended literature you'll ever find in a shop its size, that is.  It's a place where you are struck not by expanse, but by intimacy--which, in today's world of plush toys and hissing espresso machines competing for our book-centered attention, is a good thing.  A little cozy quiet focuses us on the matter at hand: buying a book, plain and simple.

Entering Elk River Books is like entering a comfort zone, a womb of paper and ink.  Shelves striped with multi-colored book spines crowd in on all sides; a quick glance at the parade of books reassures you that you're in the heart of literary Montana: McGuane, Harrison, Kirn, Crumley, Kittredge.

Marc Beaudin and Andrea Peacock are your tour guides.  They may be soft-spoken, but they are passionate about books and are quick to recommend a title to the rare customer who wanders in without a specific book in mind.  This was the case when I came to the store last year, weeks after it had opened, and discovered a first edition of John Cheever's The Wapshot Scandal in pristine collection.  It was one of the happiest book purchases I've made in recent years.

Since the store on Callender Street opened a year ago, Marc and Andrea have also been committed to enhancing the already-existing community of writers in Paradise Valley with Elk River as ground zero.  Two nights ago at my reading, there was a healthy turnout of readers--and fellow writers.  In an email to me the next day, Andrea said she counted only four non-writers in the crowd (and two of those were probably my wife and my mother).  It was gratifying to see such support for this debut novelist on a Wednesday night.

Before I read from Fobbit, I had the chance to chat with Marc off to one side.  He's a poet by trade who has lived in various places around the valley before finally settling in the town itself.  When I asked what prompted him to open a bookstore in a small (but vibrant) community in southern Montana, he grinned and said, “I had too many books.  I had to do something with all of them, so I figured why not open a bookshop.”

Across the room, I saw Jean perk up.  “I heard that,” she called out.

“Oh God," I said to Marc.  “Don't give her any ideas.”  In my mind, I was already building protective fortresses around the 8,000-plus volumes of the library in my basement.  Jean would love nothing more than to see them lining the walls of my own bookstore, I'm sure.

Reading from Fobbit in Livingston was a homecoming of sorts for me.  This town was, after all, where I got my first job as a newspaper editor (at The Livingston Enterprise--which recently wrote this article about my time in the valley back in the late 80s).  It's where I first discovered Richard Ford.  It's also where I made the life-changing decision to join the Army.  At the time, I was a young husband struggling to provide for a wife, two young sons, and a daughter on the way.  When I enlisted in the military “for job security and steady paycheck” reasons, little did I know I'd be back here today standing in front of the Livingston literati with a published book in hand, reminiscing about the good old days when I walked four blocks to work, head down against the legendary Livingston gusts in frigid wind-chill weather because I couldn't afford the gas money.  Full circle, my peeps, full circle.

My book of choice at Elk River Books was a memoir I've been itching to add to my collection.  Claiming Ground by Laura Bell now happily joins the other 8,121 books in my basement.  Released two years ago, it's the story of how Bell, according to the publisher's jacket copy, “left her family home in Kentucky for a wild and unexpected adventure: herding sheep in Wyoming’s Big Horn Basin.”  It's the kind of book with passages soaked in lyricism, the kind of book which causes writers like Mark Spragg to say things like: “First, it is the language you notice: phrases, whole passages composed with the musical authority of psalms.  Then it is the evocation of place, Wyoming rising from these pages as actual as a wild perfume.  But, start to finish, it is her honesty that keeps you up in the night, wondering at the frailty of what it means to be human and glad and brave and, at times, broken.  Laura Bell’s Claiming Ground is the finest memoir I’ve read.”  This is high praise, indeed, since I consider Spragg's Where Rivers Change Direction to be, hands down, the best memoir I've ever read.

Friday Freebie: Panorama City by Antoine Wilson

Congratulations to JoeAnn Hart, the winner of last week's Friday Freebie(s): The Dark Rose by Erin Kelly, Kings of Colorado by David E. Hilton, A Young Wife by Pam Lewis, and Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane.

This week's book giveaway is Panorama City, the new novel by Antoine Wilson from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  Antoine is this week's guest at The Quivering Pen's "My First Time" series and you can click here to read all about what it was like to open a box full of copies of his first novel, The InterloperPanorama City is a fresh and funny novel that should already be near the top of your bookstore shopping list.  Here's the jacket copy to tell you why you should read this novel:
Oppen Porter, a self-described “slow absorber,” thinks he’s dying. He’s not, but from his hospital bed, he unspools into a cassette recorder a tale of self-determination, from village idiot to man of the world, for the benefit of his unborn son. Written in an astonishingly charming and wise voice, Panorama City traces forty days and nights navigating the fast food joints, storefront churches, and home-office psychologists of the San Fernando Valley. Ping-ponging between his watchful and sharp-tongued aunt and an outlaw philosopher with the face "of a newly hatched crocodile," Oppen finds himself constantly in the sights of people who believe that their way is the only way for him.
The book has also drawn accolades from writers like Stewart O'Nan (The Odds), who says: "Oppen Porter is an American original, an innocent who believes he's bursting with wisdom.  The funniest thing is that, despite himself, he actually is. Though it takes place in down-at-heel Panorama City with its crappy burger franchises and abandoned shopping carts, The World According to Oppen is full of wonders and mysteries."  Pulitzer Prize winning author Paul Harding (Tinkers) also applauded the novel: "God bless Oppen Porter!  His innocence and lack of pretense are our good fortune and our delight.  Under his observation, our follies and schemes and manias go up in the brightest, funniest, heartrending flames.  This is precisely (and artfully) because he does not judge them.  Panorama City is charming and absurd, very funny and, best of all, humane through and through."

If you'd like a chance at winning a copy of Panorama City, all you have to do is email your name and mailing address to

Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line.  One entry per person, please.  Despite its name, the Friday Freebie runs all week long and remains open to entries until midnight on Oct. 4at which time I'll draw the winning name.  I'll announce the lucky reader on Oct. 5.  If you'd like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week Quivering Pen newsletter, simply add the words "Sign me up for the newsletter" in the body of your email.  Your email 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).

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, September 26, 2012

Here's to Small Fan Clubs, Big Hearts and Bonus Poops: Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend
by Matthew Dicks
St. Martin's Press
Guest review by Jim Thomsen

Matthew Dicks deserves a small audience.

This is a compliment.

We often say that novelists we admire “deserve a wider audience.”  The idea is that more readers equals more appreciators, which, sadly, hasn’t proven to be the case these days for most literary worthies, I suspect.  Often what you get are people who pick up a fifteen-minute-long buzz on somebody, grab one of the author’s books, putz through eighty pages or so, and put it away on a high bookshelf.  And never purchase another of the author’s books.  (When I visit friends with lots of books, I always see one David Guterson novel, or one Alice Sebold or Junot Diaz or Jhumpa Lahiri.  But never more than one.)

For Matthew Dicks, author of the recently released Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, I fervently wish a smaller audience.  A small but devoted audience that will buy each of Dicks’s books, a fan club exquisitely tuned to Dicks’ experientially narrow characters on their narrow emotional frequencies.  I wish for them to get together and host Big Lebowski-esque Burning Matt Festivals each year.  They could do the cheerfully, harmlessly oddball things that the characters in Dicks’ novels do: sing “99 Luftballons” in German; steal things from each other that the victims will never miss; pop the vacuum seals on jelly jars with sighs of almost sexual release; and eat a lot of good food but not enough that they’re forced to make Bonus Poops.  (Trust me, it’s worth reading Dicks’ books to find out what the hell I’m talking about.)  They could speak with whimsically flat affects and put their diagnosable personality disorders on pleasant parade (as Dicks does in his books) and Nerf-spray Twitter posts at one another (as Dicks does in real life).

You’re starting to see that Dicks’ stories aren’t serious Great American Novels of epic sweep and all-encompassing themes and self-conscious prose pyrotechnics.  They’re more like the literary equivalent of Wes Anderson movies, quirky small-scale tales of people who are a little bit off but not unpleasantly so, sweet with a little bit of sour, perhaps a bit precious but utterly unpretentious.  The sort of people who think, in the middle of sex, about how satisfying it might be to crack a tray or three of frozen ice cubes.

Memoirs of An Imaginary Friend is in a similar vein, though it’s a story told from the point of view of an invisible friend to an 8-year-old boy who is a semi-paralyzed puree of Asperger Syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder (as is every Dicks hero) and a bunch of other quirky stuff that most of us don’t have and maybe find hard to relate to.

Budo is the invisible buddy to Max.  Max can’t eat breakfast after eight-thirty in the morning, can’t “make a poop” at his Connecticut school, and gets “stuck” in a semi-catatonic state by most anything that threatens his rigid routine.  He has loving parents and sympathetic teachers, and while he doesn’t have friends, the other kids (mostly) leave him alone.  But still, Max struggles, even with special-ed help, to the point that his mother and father argue about whether to pull him out of school.

Budo wants to help Max.  But Budo also lives in fear of “disappearing,” which is what happens to invisible friends when their human creators grow up—or go sideways—and stop believing in them.  So it might be more accurate to say that Budo wants to help Max, but maybe not too much.

All of this sounds cute and soft and nonthreatening, and maybe a little earnestly dull as well.  But, as he did in his first two novels— 2009’s Something Missing and 2010’s Unexpectedly, Milo—Dicks lets unplanned reality swing a wrecking ball into his heroes’ carefully constructed walls.  Violently so.  And you sit up and say, “Wait … what?  What?”

I won’t give away exactly what upsets Max’s bubble in Memoirs of An Imaginary Friend, but I will say that it involves a teacher who takes too intent an interest in Max.  And it puts Budo in the impossible position of choosing between himself and Max.  If he lets Max go, he may ensure his longevity through Max’s displacement and need for emotional continuity.  If he figures out a way to save Max, or to help Max save himself, Max may well emerge from the experience finding that he no longer needs Budo.  But wait.  Does Max really want to be saved?  And how can an invisible friend who can’t open a door or make himself known to another living soul be of material assistance to a kid desperately in need of it, anyway?

The answers are well worth sticking around for, though Dicks may try your patience getting there.  His prose, like his characters, is fussy and fastidious and flatly declarative—imagine listening to this story as a nine-hour audiobook read by someone with Asperger’s—and it’s easy to find yourself fiddling with your shirt collar or thinking about making a sandwich as Dicks explores the boundaries of his characters’ world with excruciating and unhurried precision.  An example:
      Max is in the bathroom stall. He is making a poop, which Max does not like to do outside the home. He almost never makes a poop in a public restroom. But it’s 1:15 and there are still two hours of school left and he couldn’t hold it anymore. He always tries to poop before going to bed every night, and if he can’t, he tries again before he leaves for school. He actually pooped this morning right after breakfast, so this is a bonus poop.
      Max hates bonus poops.Max hates all surprises.

A little of that, I think, goes a long way.

But the worlds Dicks creates surpass the words that describe them.  Rarely, in my reading experience, have disorder-impaired people been rendered with such rich empathy.  (Not sympathy, but empathy, to the point that I wonder what Dicks himself might be diagnosed with.)

That empathy ultimately wins the day, as his characters labor to overcome hurdles of harrowing immediacy to win their own days.  Plotting isn’t Dicks’ strongest suit; he tends toward god-in-the-machine contrivances to get his characters in and out of trouble (I found it implausibly convenient that Budo happened to happen across a fellow invisible friend who can open doors and honk car horns, for example).  But again, ultimately you’re too invested in Budo’s frantic efforts to break through his boundaries and help Max help himself.  And so, when the climax comes, when Budo and Max finally make their breakthroughs, each helping the other, that moment is as heart-in-the-throat as anything in an apocalyptic thriller or serial-killer suspenser.

But wide audiences, it seems, prefer action heroes in the Jack Reacher mold, not invisible friends to little boys. Intellectually, I get that.  Emotionally, I’ll see the rest of you who see it my way at the inaugural Burning Matt fest.  I’ll bring the ice cube trays and my Blu-Ray edition of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (and maybe sneak in Moonrise Kingdom, which Memoirs of An Imaginary Friend reminds me of, a lot).  This time, I promise, they get away.  My invisible friend tells me so.

Jim Thomsen makes his living as a copy editor of novel manuscripts, and is at work at his first novel, a hardboiled crime tale set in his native Kitsap County, in Washington state.  He lives in Seattle.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Trailer Park Tuesday: Tell Everyone I Said Hi by Chad Simpson

Welcome to Trailer Park Tuesday, a showcase of new book trailers and, in a few cases, previews of book-related movies.  Unless their last name is Grisham or King, authors will probably never see their trailers on the big screen at the local cineplex.  And that's a shame because a lot of hard work goes into producing these short marriages between book and video.  So, if you like what you see, please spread the word and help these videos go viral.

More than any book trailer I've seen this year, the video for Chad Simpson's short story collection Tell Everyone I Said Hi creates a mood so palpable you could stab it with a pitchfork.  Using only a series of still images and Erik Satie's melancholy piano music "Trois Gymnopedies," the trailer evokes a feeling of sadness at the decay of abandoned buildings, vine-choked brick, rusting horse trailers, and graffiti-clogged silos of the Midwest.  These are the towns left to die by interstate bypasses, these are the homes whose owners left in 1973 and never came back, these are the grocery-store signs with one burned-out light bulb, these are the communities which have watched the world rush past on an express train, never climbing aboard.  The publisher's blurb on the book's Amazon site puts it this way: "With all the heartbreaking earnestness of a Wilco song, these eighteen stories by Chad Simpson roam the small-town playgrounds, blue-collar neighborhoods, and rural highways of Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky."  Those neighborhoods of empty swing-sets and houses with peeling paint are on full parade here in the video.  Not a word is spoken, not a person is seen--and yet, by the end of the two-and-a-half-minute video, we have a pretty good idea what waits for us in the pages of Simpson's stories.  The video literally sets the stage for the characters to populate--characters like "women who smell of hairspray and beer and of landscapers who worry about their livers, of flooded basements and loud trucks, of bad exes and horrible jobs, of people who remain loyal to sports teams that always lose."  Tell Everyone I Said Hi was already high on my wish list but now the trailer convinces me I need to read this book sooner rather than later.  It publishes next week.  Go get it.  (And yes, that's a direct order.)

Monday, September 24, 2012

My First Time: Antoine Wilson

My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands. Today’s guest is Antoine Wilson, author of Panorama City which arrives in bookstores tomorrow.  It's being published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  His first novel, The Interloper was published by Other Press in 2007.  Wilson was born in Montreal and grew up in Southern California.  He attended UCLA, and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, as well as a one-year fellowship at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing.  He's taught creative writing at Iowa, Wisconsin, CSU Long Beach, UC San Diego, and UCLA Extension.  Visit his website, like him Facebook, or stalk him on Twitter.

My First Unboxing

Like many would-be novelists, I spent inordinate amounts of my early twenties imagining what my first book would look like on the shelves of my local bookstore.  I thought about who it would be coolest to be published by and what cover designer I’d want to have, and what kinds of things I might say when I got up to accept my Nobel Prize.  I visualized my book wedging itself between Joy Williams and PG Wodehouse to occupy its spot, face-out, in the stacks.

There’s nothing wrong with fantasizing like this, but eventually, if you’re serious about writing, you grow out of it.  It’s a slow, almost imperceptible shift, but the reality of process eventually nudges aside the dream of product.  (Just like my wisest teachers said it would.)  Writing, which had once seemed like a single leap across a chasm to grab the brass ring, turned out to be a long, slow walk through a vast countryside, with a stile or two to get over fences and walls.

But vestigial dream-bits remained, and so when the box containing the first real-life copies of my first novel, The Interloper, arrived at my house, I expected the unboxing to feel like the culmination of all those youthful fantasies.  I thought I’d pull back the cardboard like the foil on a champagne bottle.  At the very least, I expected to feel something different than what I ended up feeling.

Which was: Oh shit.

The open box sat on the kitchen table for three days, a single copy pulled out and resting atop the pile, unopened.  I couldn’t bear to confront a simple fact: the book was done.  It was over.  The process of writing the book, the temporary insanity I’d endured and enjoyed and employed for more than two years, had come to a definitive end.

Eventually I’d go out and read from The Interloper and answer book group questions about it and generally enjoy the publication process, but that was publishing, not writing.

Now when I see my first book on the shelves of my local bookstore, part of me sees a milestone—I managed to navigate the world of literary publishing and get my work out there.  But another part of me, a deeper part, the writer in me, sees a grave marker.  The characters are now dead to me, no longer accessible to my imagination in the same way they’d been, no longer subject to an edit or a rewrite or a tweak, incapable of growth or transformation.  They have moved on, as we say, to a better place.

I can only hope that they enjoy a fruitful afterlife.

Author photo by Ward Robinson

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Fobbit Tour: The Tattered Cover in Denver

The last time I was in Denver, I was trying to get a role in a Francis Ford Coppola movie.  It was 1982 and I'd driven down to the Mile High City from Laramie, Wyoming on a lark with a friend of mine after we'd seen an ad for an open cattle-call audition for The Outsiders.  At the time, I was majoring in theater at the University of Wyoming and thought I was pretty hot-shit as an actor.  In fact, my shit was so hot, I was convinced there was no way FFC could deny my potential as a Hollywood talent, co-starring in a film with Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon and the then-love-of-my-life Diane Lane.  I was a rebel teen with a cause, I was Next-Gen James Dean, I was cool with a capital K.

I was also seriously self-deluded.  For all the time I spent slicking back my hair that morning, practicing an "Outsiders" swagger in front of the mirror, re-reading passages from S. E. Hinton's novel aloud for hours on end, and wearing a jacket with a flip-uppable collar, I'm sure it will come as no surprise to you that I didn't get the part.  Here's what I remember about that autumn afternoon in Denver 30 years ago: a long hallway shafted with bars of sunlight, three dozen other guys with flipped-up collars, standing in line until my feet screamed for mercy, 90 seconds of panicked stuttering in front of a table of restless I-want-to-be-anywhere-but-here casting scouts, and a long ride back to Laramie filled with crushing shame.

I returned to Denver yesterday with considerably better results as an artist.  Who needs Diane Lane when you've got a debut novel published by one of the most esteemed independent presses in the country?  This was the start of the "national" portion of my book tour and I couldn't have picked a better springboard than the legendary Tattered Cover Book Store.  I got to the Colfax store two hours before I was supposed to step up to the podium in the "Theater of Ideas."  This was ideal because I needed at least one hour and thirty minutes to browse the stacks of new and used books on TC's two levels.  (See below for the book I chose to buy for this tour's stop.)  The Tattered Cover has a well-deserved reputation as a book lover's nirvana.  And though I didn't have a chance to visit the other location in Lower Downtown (affectionately called "LoDo"), I've heard it's an even higher level of heaven.  So, the next time you're in Denver, you are well-advised to fence off at least three hours for a buying expedition to the Tattered Cover.

The store also has a robust reading series.  This month alone, Denver bibliophiles had the chance to hear Michael Chabon (Telegraph Avenue), Molly Ringwald (whose novel-in-stories, When It Happens to You, is getting great buzz), Jonathan Evison (The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving) and Kevin Powers (The Yellow Birds).

During my time in the TC spotlight, I introduced the audience to Fobbit's Lieutenant Colonel Eustace ("Stacie") Harkleroad: Public Affairs Officer, Brown-Noser, and Momma's Boy.  There were a couple of active-duty officers in the room and, happily, they supported me with chuckles rather than pelting me with tomatoes (thanks Glenn and Dave!).  All in all, it was a great experience, capped off by the moment events hostess Lisa Casper presented me with an engraved TC bookmark.  How cool is that?  I held it up to my friend Jenny Shank who was standing nearby and said, "I feel like I just got an Oscar.  I'm going to put this on my mantlepiece at home."

Jenny, by the way, is a terrific Denver author who heads an informal Literary Kidnapping and Drinking Club, abducting authors after a reading and spiriting them away, bound and gagged, to a dank, dingy basement where they're tied to a chair and forced to listen to round-robin readings from Tristram Shandy.  (I'm kidding, of course.  Authors aren't always bound and gagged.)  Last night, Jenny and her posse took me a nearby Tex-Mex bistro and plied me with drinks and empanadas until I finally broke down and revealed the secret of publishing a novel in today's occasionally-perilous market (in a word: "Luck").  A good time was had by all.

One last thing: as a way of supporting independent bookstores on the tour, I'm committed to buying at least one book at each stop.  This time, it was a no-brainer grab from the new non-fiction display at the front of the store: Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace by D. T. Max.  By now, readers of The Quivering Pen know I have a man-crush on DFW's brain and this new biography looks like a good way to tunnel into the complex whorls and swirls of that cerebrum.  I can't wait to start exploring, flashlight in hand.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Friday Freebie: The Dark Rose, Kings of Colorado, A Young Wife and Moonlight Mile

Congratulations to Cindi Hoppes, winner of last week's Friday Freebie: Vandal Love and Cures for Hunger by Deni Y. Bechard from Milkweed Editions.

Congratulations are also in order for Andrea Peacock, winner of the year's membership in The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.  Andrea will be receiving a book a month from Brad Listi and the good folks at TNB.

Happy Reading to both of you!

This week's book giveaway is informally called "Clear the Shelf of All Those Friday Freebies Which Have Been Hanging Around for Months."  The books do pile up on the desk here at Quivering Pen Headquarters on a weekly basis and, every once in a while, I need to have a big purge.  This time around, you're the beneficiary of said purge.

Up for grabs this week for ONE lucky reader: a hardcover copy of The Dark Rose by Erin Kelly, and trade paperbacks of Kings of Colorado by David E. Hilton, A Young Wife by Pam Lewis, and Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane.

The Dark Rose has been winning high praise ever since it was published earlier this year.  Maureen Corrigan of NPR said “Erin Kelly is an elegant menace…It’s useless to resist: You must read it.”  Here's why, according to the publisher's blurb:
Paul was led into a life of crime by his boyhood protector, a bully named Daniel; but one night, what started as a petty theft turned into a grisly murder. Now, at nineteen, Paul must bear witness against his friend to avoid prison. Louisa's own dark secrets led her to flee a desperate infatuation gone wrong many years before. Now she spends her days steeped in history, renovating the grounds of a crumbling Elizabethan garden. But her fragile peace is shattered when she meets Paul; he's the spitting image of the one person she never thought she'd see again. These two, scarred and solitary, begin a secret affair. Louisa starts to believe she can again find the happiness she had given up on. But neither of them can outrun his violent past. A story of secrets and guilt set among the ruins of a sixteenth- century English garden, The Dark Rose explores the extremes of obsessive love and loyalty, devotion and desperation. Like Kelly's critically acclaimed debut novel, The Poison Tree, this fantastically creepy, atmospheric novel thrills until the final shocking moments.

Kings of Colorado is  “a stark novel of violence and fierce friendship in a 1960s Colorado juvenile penitentiary,” according to Publishers Weekly.  Here's the plot synopsis:
William Sheppard had never ventured beyond his Chicago neighborhood until, at thirteen, he was sent away to the Swope Ranch Boys’ Reformatory, hundreds of miles from home, for stabbing his abusive father in the chest with a pocketknife. Buried deep in the Colorado mountains, Swope is shrouded in legend and defined by one prevailing rumor: that the boys who go in never come out the same. Despite the lack of fences or gates, the boundaries are clear: prisoners are days from civilization, there exists only one accessible road—except in the wintertime, when it’s buried under feet upon feet of snow, and anyone attempting escape will be shot down without hesitation in the shadow of the peaks. At 13,000 feet above sea level, the mountains aren’t forgiving, and neither are the guards. With twenty-four months of hard time ahead of him, Will quickly learns to distinguish his allies from his enemies. He also learns about the high price of a childhood lost. At Swope, herds of mustangs are trucked in to be broken by a select group of inmates. Once the horses are gentled, they are sold to ranchers and landowners across the Southwest. Horses come and go, delinquent boys come and go. The boys break the horses, Swope Reformatory breaks the boys. Throughout this ordeal, Will discovers three others who bring him into their inner circle. They are life preservers in a sea of violence and corruption. But if the boys are to withstand the ranch, they must first overcome tragedy and death—a feat that could haunt them for years to come.

A Young Wife centers around fifteen-year-old Minke van Aisma who travels to Amsterdam to care for the dying wife of an older, wealthy man named Sander DeVries.  She has no idea what awaits her. Within hours of his wife’s death, Sander proposes marriage, and within days the couple sets sail for the burgeoning oil fields of Argentina. But the future that seemed so bright takes a dark turn the morning their son, Zef, is kidnapped. Dire circumstances dictate that Sander immigrate to New York at once, leaving Minke little choice but to wait for their new baby’s arrival, follow Sander to America, and abandon her firstborn. What follows is a triumphant turn-of-the-century story of faith, betrayal, and redemption, an indelible portrait of one woman’s struggle to steer her own fate.  Booklist had this to say about A Young Wife: “In this compelling read, Lewis beautifully captures the essence of place, from the lushness of the Netherlands to the wilds of Argentina to the inhospitable urban streets of New York.”

Fans of Dennis Lehane already know he knows how to write himself out of a paper bag with style, but Moonlight Mile cements his reputation as one of the top-notch crime-thriller writers currently at work.  This novel serves as a sequel to his previous bestseller Gone Baby Gone, in which Patrick Kenzie located missing 4-year-old Amanda McCready and returned her to her neglectful mother, even though she would have been better off with her kidnappers.  If you saw the movie version of Gone Baby Gone, you know the power of that story.  Expect great things from the follow-up book as well.  Here's the publisher's blurb for Moonlight Mile:
Amanda McCready was four years old when she vanished from her blue-collar Boston neighborhood. Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro risked everything to find her, only to orchestrate her return to a neglectful mother and broken home. Twelve years later, Amanda, now sixteen, is gone again. Still haunted by their consciences, Kenzie and Gennaro must now revisit the nightmare that once tore them apart. Following the trail of a lost teenager into a world of identity thieves, methamphetamine dealers, and Russian gangsters, they once again put everything that matters to them on the line in pursuit of an answer to a troubling question: Is it possible to do the right thing and still be dead wrong?

If you'd like a chance at winning one copy of all four books--The Dark Rose, Kings of Colorado, A Young Wife and Moonlight Mile--all you have to do is email your name and mailing address to

Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line.  One entry per person, please.  Despite its name, the Friday Freebie runs all week long and remains open to entries until midnight on Sept. 27at which time I'll draw the winning name.  I'll announce the lucky reader on Sept. 28.  If you'd like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week Quivering Pen newsletter, simply add the words "Sign me up for the newsletter" in the body of your email.  Your email 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).

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, September 20, 2012

Not Your Average Road Trip Novel: The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving
By Jonathan Evison
Algonquin Books
Guest Review by Brian Seemann

It should come as little surprise that the front cover of Jonathan Evison’s latest novel, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, displays a blurb from Stewart O’Nan—an adept storyteller with the ability to span the range of human emotions within a short amount of space.  His latest novel, The Odds: A Love Story, covers a dissolving marriage, and in the process, he infuses the tension between husband and wife with several moments of lightheartedness.  Nothing ever comes off as laugh-out-loud humor, but in the midst of all the talk of divorce and bankruptcy, O’Nan reveals to the reader that even in such stressful situations, the human mind (and body) is still capable of eliciting delight; no situation is without a moment of possible levity.

Such is the case in Evison’s novel.  Faced with a divorce, a tragedy concerning his children, deep depression, and an inability to secure solid employment, Benjamin Benjamin wouldn’t come off as the most striking character, but Evison tasks the reader to accept him, and such a charge is easily carried out.  Through Benjamin’s voice alone, readers will fall for Evison’s first-person narrator.  He’s funny, sensitive, perhaps a bit dodgy but ultimately an immediately lovable character.  His story leads him on a road trip of discovery, and although such a plot device has been done to death, Evison manages to breathe new life into it, and The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving is everything a literate reader demands of a novel, not to mention an absolute joy to read.

After completing coursework to become a caregiver, Benjamin gets his first job working with Trevor, a nineteen-year-old stricken by Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.  Evison spends the first half of the novel building up the relationship between the two, constantly providing a good dose of humor to offset the adjusting both must make.  Here, some of the moments are indeed laugh-out-loud, particularly the conversations Trevor and Benjamin share when admiring the opposite sex.  To some it may come off as sophomoric, and in fact, that’s exactly what it is; however, the two share a stunted sense of adulthood.  They each have their impediments, and rather than wallow, they grow with one another.  Such moments might not be far off from scenes found in Judd Apatow films (Superbad, Knocked Up), but like some of those film moments, Evison imbues his scenes with heart.  The best comedies are always touched by drama, and throughout The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, readers are treated to momentary flashbacks showing Benjamin as a family man, a husband, a father.  Evison brilliantly allows only so much information to creep into these scenes so that readers are never completely aware of what’s happened in the past.  A disaster breaks the family apart, but for a large part of the novel, the details are unclear.  The importance of the past comes in how Benjamin chooses to respond to it as he works and grows with Trevor. 

The latter half of the novel concerns Trevor and Benjamin’s trip to see Trevor’s estranged father, Bob.  Along the way, road-weary travelers, including a teen runaway—Dot—and young, pregnant mother—Peaches—join the adventure.  As this makeshift family forms around Benjamin, he slowly grows into a responsible family man himself, one he might not have been prepared to become during his first marriage. 

A lone brown Skylark starts to follow the merry band of travelers, and given the protagonist’s double name, some readers will recognize the parallels to Lolita, but such allusions are easy to accept and move past, but perhaps some readers will scoff at the zany levels Evison reaches as Benjamin and his group near their final destination.  Fortunately, such cartoon-levels of action are kept to a minimum, and Evison rebounds magnificently as Trevor and Benjamin arrive at Bob’s house for the resolution and salvation they sought from the start of their expedition.

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving is a mostly festive, entertaining novel that hides its emotional core beneath a coat of hijinks and ribaldry.  With this, his third book, Evison seems to be following O’Nan’s path.  Both are serious storytellers with the capacity for creating sympathetic, truthful characters readers want to follow.  In Benjamin Benjamin, Evison has created a character lively in voice and optimism (for the most part) who seeks the answers to difficult questions, and while nothing easy comes his way, the journey is well worth the effort, for both him and readers in this dynamic, significant novel.

Brian Seemann is a writer, teacher, and bookseller whose most recent fiction can be found in REAL: Regarding Arts and Letters.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Door Kickers and Moneymakers in Iraq: Fobbit at Electric Literature

I'm a long-time fan of Electric Literature and the recent Recommended Reading series in particular.  From their mission statement: “In this age of distraction, we’re uncovering writing that’s worth slowing down and spending some time with.  And in doing so, we’re giving great writers, literary magazines, and independent presses the recognition (and readership) they deserve.”  I have yet to be disappointed by anything I read at Electric Literature.  The best part about all this great writing?  It's free.  If you know what's good for you, you'll subscribe.  Right now.  I'll wait.

Past authors at Recommended Reading have included A. M. Homes, Patrick Somerville, Steven Millhauser and Mary Gaitskill.  When fellow Iraq War veteran Phil Klay published his short-short “OIF,” I raved about it here at the blog.  So, when my editor at Grove/Atlantic, Peter Blackstock, told me a selection from Fobbit would be featured at EL, I was over the moon with happiness.

That excerpt went live today and it features a portion of a chapter where Staff Sergeant Chance Gooding Jr. is trying to give a heroic soldier a lesson in how to conduct an interview for the news media:

      Kyle Pilley was one of the best moneymakers the division had seen in the past six months and Harkleroad was practically piddling his pants with glee at the thought of all the goodwill his story would buy them in the mainstream media. He was already laying plans for Pilley to be interviewed, via remote satellite, by the Big Three morning-breakfast news shows (Good Morning America was on board, Today and CBS This Morning were teetering on the brink of a yes), not to mention features in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and, if Harkleroad was really, really lucky, Time and/or Newsweek. Yes, Kyle Pilley was the best thing to happen to Lieutenant Colonel Eustace Harkleroad and the rest of the Shamrock Division since they’d entered Iraq.
      First, however, Specialist Pilley needed the short course in Media Interview Tips 101, the preparatory briefing the Public Affairs Office liked to give to all soldiers, from colonel to private, before they spoke to major news outlets. A week before Gooding’s Qatar vacation, Harkleroad had given him this task because, he reasoned, the specialist might be more receptive to a lecture coming from an NCO than he would from a lieutenant colonel.
      “The first thing you have to remember,” Gooding told the twenty-year-old infantryman after he’d brought him into his cubicle and sat him down, “is that you are in control of the interview, not the reporter. This is your story and you’re going to tell it in the way that feels most comfortable to you—with a little coaching from us, of course. We’re here to help you smooth it out and make it sound more dramatic for the folks back home.”
      Pilley, a nervous kid with hair the color of bread crusts, wiped his hands on his pants, licked his lips, and croaked, “Sure.”
      “Take your time and don’t just blurt out the first thing that comes into your head.”
      “Okay.” Pilley tried to loosen something in his throat with an abrupt cough.
      “So … just a few questions to start off with.” Gooding went down the list on his clipboard. “Have you ever been convicted of a misdemeanor?”
      “Have you ever been involved in a bitter divorce or a nasty child custody dispute?”
      “Any paternity suits pending?”
      “None that I know of.”
      “Were you ever sent to the principal’s office?”
      “Once, but it was totally not my fault, what they said I did.”
      “Have you ever touched a member of the opposite sex in an inappropriate way so they would have cause to file charges against you?”
      “Hey, what is this, anyway?” Pilley’s eyes flicked around the cubicle, expecting McKnight from his squad to jump out any minute and yell, “Ha! You’ve been punk’d!”
      Gooding waved a not-to-worry hand through the air. “Just trying to shine a light on any shadowy areas of your life. We like to get there before the media does. So, what about it—any inappropriate sexual touching?”
      “No. No way.”
      “Okay, fine. Now, to the matter at hand. Have you ever been interviewed by a member of the mainstream media?”
      “Does my high school newspaper count?”
      “Not exactly.”
      “Then I guess the answer is no. Never talked to no media person before.”

Click here to read the excerpt in its entirety

Fobbit Tour: The Country Bookshelf in Bozeman, MT

Montana bookstores are the comfort food of the book world.  Walk through the doors of a shop like Fact and Fiction in Missoula, Chapter One in Hamilton, Elk River Books in Livingston, or even Books and Books here in Butte, and you'll soon realize you're in a place that values and cherishes the printed word.  Sure, that can be said of most independent bookstores across the United States, but it's especially evident here in Big Sky Country.  These are stores where you are guaranteed to not walk away empty-handed, thanks to the enthusiastic recommendations from behind-the-counter staff.

If Montana bookstores are comfort food for readers and writers, then The Country Bookshelf in Bozeman is the mashed potatoes and gravy on the plate.  Ever since I moved back to this state in 2009, I've made it a point to stop in the store whenever I'm traveling east of Butte.  The bookstore has been around since 1957, so that should tell you they're doing something right.  Ariana Paliobagis and her crew make book-browsing something akin to a candy-store experience.  I know I'm piling on the food metaphors here, but it's true that if you enter The Country Bookshelf hungry for something good to eat, you'll walk out the door a half hour later several pounds heavier due to the books tucked under your arm.

Ariana and events coordinator Laura Prindiville always set up some terrific readings and book signings as well (I've been to more than a few over the years).  These author events nearly always take place on the second floor of the store, giving readers and listeners a grand panorama of the brightly-lit shelves below.  Last night, I was privileged to be the one standing behind the podium with that commanding view of the store.

After a full day's work at the Day Job, I drove over Homestake Pass with Jean and we grabbed a quick salad at The Naked Noodle in downtown Bozeman before heading around the corner to The Country Bookshelf.  Of course every author loves the rock star treatment (don't let our false modesty fool you), and so I was tickled to see this as I walked up to the store:

Though most of the details of the evening are now a happy, candy-colored blur in my mind, I think the reading went pretty well (Jean said I kept the rambling to a minimum and I didn't embarrass myself too badly).  I read from Chapter 14 in Fobbit--a description of Captain Abe Shrinkle's reign as The Care Package King--and then took questions from the audience for about 20 minutes--like how I went about slimming the novel down to manageable size and whether or not I experienced culture shock when I deployed to Iraq.

Laura, me and Ariana looking at the wrong camera
I was sorry to leave the store at the end of the evening--it's always hard to stop eating mashed potatoes mid-meal, isn't it?--but Jean and I were concerned about having a close encounter with a night-grazing deer on the drive home.  Before I left, however, I made sure to pick up a new book to add to my collection.

I was a big fan of John Brandon's Arkansas when it came out several years ago, so adding his newest novel A Million Heavens was a quick and easy choice.  I didn't even bother to turn the book over and look at the jacket copy before I swiped my credit card, that's how confident I was that this would be a good read.  But now, on the morning after, I've finally had the chance to see what the book is about....and I am not disappointed.  It looks like the finest kind of mind-trip:
On the top floor of a small hospital, an unlikely piano prodigy lies in a coma, attended to by his gruff, helpless father. Outside the clinic, a motley vigil assembles beneath a reluctant New Mexico winter—strangers in search of answers, a brush with the mystical, or just an escape. To some the boy is a novelty, to others a religion. Just beyond this ragtag circle roams a disconsolate wolf on his nightly rounds, protecting and threatening, learning too much. And above them all, a would-be angel sits captive in a holding cell of the afterlife, finishing the work he began on earth, writing the songs that could free him. This unlikely assortment—a small-town mayor, a vengeful guitarist, all the unseen desert lives—unites to weave a persistently hopeful story of improbable communion.
The first sentence holds great promise as well: "The nighttime clouds were slipping across the sky as if summoned."

Stop.  Read that again.  Turn it over in your mouth, savor it, then swallow.  Now, doesn't that taste good?  There's plenty more like it on The Country Bookshelf's menu.