the best indie press books i’ve ever read

Rather than do a year end list or anything like that, I’ve decided to just talk about what books I think are the best ones that I’ve read since I started reading indie back in, like, 2008. These are in no order, but just kind of grouped by writer because it’s easier for me to remember them that way. This is by no means a complete list of the best indie books published in the last however many years. These are just the best of what I read.

No preamble!

Ledfeather by Stephen Graham Jones, FC2

The Bird is Gone: A Manifesto by Stephen Graham Jones, FC2

I’ve read both of these books by Stephen about four times, and they keep getting better. I’m not sure if I’d love contemporary literature as much without these novels. They’re some of my favorite books written in history, and I rank Ledfeather right up there with anything by Virginia Woolf or Ursula K Le Guin, which is a big compliment, if you’re me.

The Book of Lazarus by Richard Grossman, FC2

Girl with Oars & Man Dying by JA Tyler, Aqueous Press

Water by JA Tyler, Civil Coping Mechanisms

JA Tyler is endlessly underrate and overlooked. He’s maybe the most innovative writer in indie lit, and some day he’ll get his recognition. He published some of the best and most transformative books of the last decade and he wrote several of them too. More people need to love JA Tyler. More people need to be like him.

The Natural Dissolution of Fleeting-Improvised Men by Gabriel Blackwell, Civil Coping Mechanisms

The Alligators of Abraham by Robert Kloss, MudLuscious Press

I have almost too much to say about this novel. I think it’s the best book to come out of indie lit ever. Like, far and away so much better and impressive than anything else the rest of us are even trying to do.

We Take Me Apart by Molly Gaudry, MudLuscious Press

Beautiful and perfect. One of the books that introduced me to the wonderful world of indie lit and I revisit this book pretty often. Still waiting on whatever comes next from Molly. She’s another secret genius.

Poisonhorse by Brandi Wells, MudLuscious Press

Billie the Bull by xTx, MudLuscious Press

Wasn’t really a fan of xTx until this little book. It’s nearly perfect. It might even be completely perfect.

Black God by Ben Spivey, Blue Square Press

This novel, man. It’s almost too much. It’s like reading your own brain falling apart and rotting in your skull. But somehow beautiful and just as heartbreaking. This is a book everyone should read.

American Monster by JS Breukelaar, Lazy Fascist Press

The closest a book’s come to Samuel R Delany’s Dhalgren probably ever. Breukelaar is one of the best new writers around and I can’t wait for whatever comes next. Read this book. There’s really nothing else like it.

The Collected Works of Scott McClanahan: Volume 1 by Scott McClanahan, Lazy Fascist Press

If you don’t know Scott McClanahan, what have you been doing with your life? Funny and heartbreaking and amazing. These are the kinds of stories I would never be interested in if you told me what they were about, but I’m not sure there’s a better reading experience than a McClanahan book.

No by Ocean Vuong, Yes Yes Books

He makes me want to be a poet again, which is something I gave up on back in high school. Since reading this, I’ve written four poetry collections. So, yes, you should read this.

Collected Alex by AT Grant, Caketrain Press

Rain of the Future by Valerie Mejer, Action Books

Dark Matter by Aase Berg, Black Ocean

Butcher’s Tree by Feng Sun Chen, Black Ocean

Ordinary Sun by Matthew Henriksen, Black Ocean

Rather than talk about these books individually, I’ll just say you need to be reading Black Ocean. Every book they put out is pure brilliance.

Edie & The Low-hung Hands by Brian Allen Carr, Small Doggies Press

Brian Allen Carr, another underrate and unknown genius. No one writes like him. No one even thinks like him. I think he may be insane, but it’s the kind of insanity that makes me want to follow him to the ends of the earth.

Dermaphoria by Craig Clevenger, MacAdam Cage

Watering Heaven by Peter Tieryas Lie, Signal 8 Press

Understories by Tim Horvath, Bellevue Literary Press

Quintessence of Dust by Craig Wallwork, KUBOA Press

These three collections by Wallwork, Horvath, and Tieryas are the best collections to come out of indie lit, in terms of quality and diversity. They’re full of big ideas, beautiful worlds, and so much humanity. I don’t typically like short story collections, but these are probably the best ones to read outside of Yasunari Kawabata.

Town of Shadows by Lindsay Stern, Scrambler Books

This little book comes from another dimension, I swear. I’ve Sterns next book as well and it’s somehow even better. Stern is too young to be this good but she writes stories I wish I could write and she writes them in ways I never thought possible. She very well could become my new favorite writer if she keeps this up.

The Empty City by Berit Ellingsen

Beneath the Liquid Skin by Berit Ellingsen, Queen’s Ferry Press

Berit’s books are so different but so perfect. Beneath the Liquid Skin is a collection of fantasy stories that are so full of originality and oddness that they feel like they come from nothing and nowhere. And then The Empty City is so perfect in its quietness. It’s a beautiful book about silence. And, if you follow this site, you know that’s probably my favorite thing. I’ve read her next book as well, and it’s perfect. More people need to know Berit’s work, because she’s one of the true originals.

The Word Book by Mieko Kanai, Dalkey Archive Press

Witz by Joshua Cohen, Dalkey Archive Press

A Heaven of Others by Joshua Cohen, Starcherone Books

Discovered him through Steve Erickson, who’s probably my hero, and I fell in love with Cohen’s work. He’s up there with Kloss, writing so much better than the rest of us could ever hope. And these two books are so completely different that it’s hard to imagine one person doing such disparate things so much better than you can do any one single thing.

The House Enters the Street by Gretchen Henderson, Starcherone Press

The Half-Finished Heaven by Tomas Transtromer, Graywolf Press

For All the Wretched, Beautiful & Insignificant Things So Uselessly & Carelessly Destroyed  by Hosho McCreesh, sunnyoutside press

Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link, Mariner Books

We Make Mud by Peter Markus, Dzanc Books

What Precision, Such Restraint by Phil Jourdan, Perfect Edge Books

I hated this book when I read it. If Phil wasn’t a friend, I probably never would’ve finished it. But it’s a collection that keeps brewing in my skull, and it grows on me more and more each month. The entire book is an experiment, and one I’ve never seen attempted. I think the whole is better than the individual stories, but that whole is probably one of the greatest literary tricks I’ve ever experienced. Phil’s a wizard, children. He also makes groovy tunes.

The Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich, Two Dollar Radio

I think indie lit began here for a lot of us. Again, discovered her through Steve Erickson and I’m so glad I did. I love this novel, though it’s by no means an easy one to read or love. It’s chaotic and beautiful and grotesque. It’s hobo junky vampire teens and it’s absolutely brilliant. I wish she had more novels out because I need more of her. The world needs more of her work.

Through the Arc of the Rainforest by Karen Tei Yamashita, Coffee House Press

awp: when the internet sits in the same room

AWP is always one of the most fun things to happen every year. All these beautiful and insane people I know through the internet all arrive in the same place, drink too much, talk way too much, and don’t sleep enough. This year was no different, but it was also completely different.

I think this year was my favorite AWP yet, so hopefully this trend continues.

My first AWP was pretty intimidating. I didn’t really know very many people, didn’t really know what to do, and tried to do way too much, which resulted in me missing a lot of cool things and sort of wandering back and forth. I worked at the Lit Pub/MLP table where I got to hangout with JA Tyler, Molly Gaudry, Josh Denslow and a rotating cast of others. It was probably the best introduction to AWP for someone in my position. If you don’t know what to do, where to go, or who to talk to, just latch onto a table because people will think you’re important. It also gives you a break from the insanity that is the bookfair. I also got to finally meet a lot of the Velvet/Manarchy crew. I had known them for years and it was super awesome and fun to finally get to highfive and hug them in person, instead of just through the internet.

Last year was my second AWP and it was better than the first because I learnt to accept that you can’t see everything. You’re always going to miss out on most things, so just surround yourself with great people and let them guide you. Got to finally meet the CCM people, hangout with Phil Jourdan again, and hangout at the MLP/Dzanc table with JA Tyler and Matt Bell, which was awesome, of course. Though this year was better than the first, I still felt like I was running around, trying to see/meet/talk to as many people as possible.

That’s what made the difference this year. I felt much less of a need to explore and meet all the new faces and places and books and publishers. I feel like I met the group of people that I wanted to meet in 2013, and this year I got to spend more time with them, and get to know each of them better. In addition, the cast of characters grew. I got to meet Janice Lee and Peter Tieryas who are so so awesome. I wish I got to spend more time with both of them, but I’m really glad we had a few great talks. J David Osborne, too, was the bee’s knees and sort of completely different from who I expected him to be. JS Breukelaar was the big surprise for me, since I knew nothing about her, but then I spent hours just talking to her. She made me miss all my Aussie friends and reminded me how much I need to finally get there. Then there’s Rose O’Keefe and Patrick Wensink who are just so awesome and talked with me about ballet, because I guess we all really just needed to do that for a while. D Foy and Jeff Jackson are two of the coolest guys around and I’m excited to see D in Minneapolis in a few months. Oh, and then there’s Stephen Graham Jones. Coolest and nicest guy around. I’ve been reading his novels for almost a decade now and it made him seem intimidating at first, but he’s just a great person who also happens to write my favorite books.

And then there was the core crew from the previous year: Michael Seidlinger, Kyle Muntz, Cameron Pierce, Kirsten Pierce, and Alexander Allison. Michael, unfortunately, fell ill, which was a huge bummer, but I had an awesome time with Kyle [as always] and it was great to talk more with Kirsten and Cameron, who might be two of my favorite people in the world. They remind me of two of my best friends and they’ve convinced me that I need to be in Bizarrocon this year. And Alex was very english and very awesome and just always interesting.

And it seems like I’m falling into that bizarro crowd and I honestly think they might be the best people to know. To be honest, before I met Kirsten and Cameron last year, I thought bizarro was just a silly genre full of stupidity and weirdness. But you can’t talk to Cameron and Kirsten and ignore how intelligent they are, and if you pick up any of their books, you know there’s a lot more happening there than just strangeness. But most of the people I met this year are tied to bizarro in some way, and they’re all so awesome, so down to earth, and just so intelligent. They’re all normal people, and I think they’re actually quite a bit normaler than a lot of the literary genre folks. I really dig the people, their sense of community, and I’ve come to find that I really love their odd little books.

But, yeah, probably I’m forgetting people. Molly Gaudry and Jason Cook were great too! Seeing Molly always just sort of warms my heart, and Jason wears the dopest suits. Ah–Bud Smith and Sam Snoek-Brown too! Michael Kazepis and Nick Mamatas and and and-

Okay, I’ll just leave it there. If I forgot to mention you, just know I love you privately.

oh, today is full of things

There’s so much going around facebook right now that I can’t keep up, so I’ll try to dump it all here.

Congratulations to Mary Miller and Kyle Minor for all the awesome press they’re getting for their books, The Last Days of California and Praying Drunk, respectively.

Kyle Minor press:

Interview at Other People with Brad Listi

Tinhouse interview

Believer interview

Boston Globe review

Kirkus review

And then this Buzzfeed list is a good transition, since Mary and Kyle are both on it

Mary Miller:

Interview at Brooklyn Rail

Electric Literature interview

Hobart interview

Review at Heavy Feather Review

New York Times review

All right, I think that catches us up.

Oh, and some things about me:

Cover art for my forthcoming novel Noir: A Love Story done by Ryan W Bradley.

new novel

Some big news: my novel Noir: A Love Story will be coming out July 2014 from Civil Coping Mechanisms. CCM is doing awesome things and I’m super excited to be a part of their growing catalogue, being published by the same people who published one of my favorite writers, JA Tyler, and my favorite title by him, Water. Check out the whole catalogue here and see what’s coming here.

So what is Noir: A Love Story? I’ll keep it short for now, but more will come in the year ahead. A whole year. It’ll probably be best for me to just not think about it until next May. Anyway, Noir: A Love Story is the first novel I ever completed and I did that a little over two years ago. Or, not a little over, more like 30 months ago. I’d say it’s been a long, hard road to publication, but that’s not true. I mostly sat on it, which is problematic, but I’m getting better at submitting things. Anyway, it started from a joke, betting myself that I’d write a novel by Friday [this only a few months after finally becoming comfortable with being a writer who would never write a novel (I now have five written)], and so I started the following morning and by Friday I had a first draft. Saturday I read through it, amazed at what I had, and then I put it in the order it’s in now. I honestly expected to spend months editing that novel because of how quickly it came out, but I truly believe it came out just about perfect, and it remains, more or less, untouched since that Saturday when I shifted all the chapters around to put them in the best order.

I had always wanted to read a novel that could be read in any order but had never found one till I came across Richard Grossman’s The Book of Lazarus, and while my novel and that novel share no similarities, I’d say that’s one thing I accomplished with Noir: A Love Story. There are twenty six narrators all speaking about two people whom they didn’t know or barely knew. It is a detective novel without the detective. It is magic realism and american. It is habitual suicide and the howling frustrations of youth. It’s a novel about many things but all of that’s up to the reader. I could keep talking about this forever so I’ll probably just stop.

But one thing: I’ve written five novels and hundreds of short stories and I honestly believe this is my favorite thing I’ve written. That changes, of course, with each new novel written, but this one keeps coming back to me. I think I’ve perhaps written better things, but nothing that I love quite so dearly as this.

But maybe that’s everyone’s first novel.

We only get one first love, yes?

Anyrate, tracked down the post I made immediately after finishing it. Take a look at September 3, 2010 and see how the process went.

Oh, too, about 3,000 words and 44 pages into the new graphic novel. It’s highly surreal and more a collection of moods and short journeys by an eternal transdimensional man who forever lives his life over and over in different iterations but never remembering the previous world he travelled through. Really digging it and hoping to be done soon. My first graphic novel only ended up being about 8,000 words, and while this will be longer, it’s also much less narratively focused. This is my soundtrack by Ludovico Einaudi:

I’m enjoying the writing very much. I’ll leave you with an image by Kyle Thompson:

Take care, StarChild.

what about

Two more book reviews have been out for a few days/weeks, so I’ll post the links here.

JA Tyler’s Water:

J.A. Tyler’s Water is not a dream. It is two dreams. A dream of rain and a dream of fire. A prayer for land and a hunt for water. It is a dozen children gathered together, telling stories, finding worlds within one another, waiting for the rain to stop if only for a moment. It is a boy wandering the skies and lands, and a girl hiding from the herds of people who will take her apart for the dream she carries inside. It is the sound of silence, the music of the world, the chaos of rain and calamity of fire.

Berit Ellingsen’s Beneath the Liquid Skin:

Many short story collections suffer from monotony, where the stories all too similar, whether it be in content or tone or emotion, but this little book is one of the most fun reads I have recently encountered. It is a display for Ellingsen’s talent and imagination and yet it is so distinctly itself. These stories belong together for reasons I cannot really name, but if one were to be missing, it would be noticed. Where many writers explore the fantastic by revisiting myths or spinning tropes, it is almost as if Ellingsen herself came from somewhere else, some world beyond ours and carried back the stories of that distant place.