Sunday, October 16, 2011


This fall I went to a few bookseller conventions and met wonderful, brilliant, devoted booksellers AND many, many writers. I was especially taken by a few new voices on the scene, and was reminded of my own debut and how I relied on more established people in the industry to introduce me -- like when you show up to a party full of strangers and someone grabs you by the hand and leads you into the sea of people. THESE are the writers that my students should be looking at very closely -- the ones who've broken through, recently, the ones who are down the road a ways, but not out of shouting distance.

So, in this new feature, I'm shouting to debuts only. Here are a few that I'm excited about.


"Set against the outlandish arrival of showman P.T. Barnum in 1840s Manhattan, Carlson's bighearted debut follows two employees of Barnum's — a giantess and a taxidermist--as they struggle to break free of their personal and emotional shackles... while Carlson rightfully revels in the oddities and curiosities, she also creates emotionally resonant characters who, despite being freakishly tall or joined at the hip, are driven by desires, fears, and that familiar need for human connection."
—Publishers Weekly

First of all, I love the cover. I love the subject. I love the focus on the need for human connection. Carlson herself was down to earth and still a little stunned -- her first book and first baby arrived only months apart. I am going to drag her here for a Q and A. (The book is now out.)

THE SNOW CHILD by Eowyn Ivey

"If Willa Cather and Gabriel Garcia Marquez had collaborated on a book, THE SNOW CHILD would be it. It is a remarkable accomplishment -- a combination of the most delicate, ethereal, fairytale magic and the harsh realities of homesteading in the Alaskan wilderness in 1918. Stunningly conceived, beautifully told, this story has the intricate fragility of a snowflake and the natural honesty of the dirt beneath your feet, the unnerving reality of a dream in the night. It fascinates, it touches the heart. It gallops along even as it takes time to pause at the wonder of life and the world in which we live. And it will stir you up and stay with you for a long, long time." Robert Goolrick, New York Times bestselling author of A Reliable Wife

The book description: Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart--he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season's first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone--but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.

Ivey does, in fact, live in Alaska. She's an ebullient person. I love the fairytale feel of the cover. Jacked about this one. Cather and Marquez? I'm in. (You can pre-order it now.)

Shann Ray's AMERICAN MASCULINE, short story collection, Winner of the Bakeless Prize

“Shann Ray's prose brings to mind Cormac McCarthy and Annie Proulx but is, thankfully, entirely his own. His work is lyrical, prophetic, brutal yet ultimately hopeful.”
—Dave Eggers

This is going to be controversial but here goes: it's very hard to debut in the publishing industry in fiction writing about the male experience. (Fire away!) The fact is that men, as a demographic, tend to read nonfiction (or genres like crime). Literary fiction? Not so much. (Don't believe me? Talk to editors and agents who work in the trenches.) Don't get me wrong... Has literature been male dominated for the ages? Yes. Have male writers been taken more seriously as literary artists? You bet. But there is a gap that's formed -- in the real world of selling literature --and the result is fewer male dominated literary works.

And short stories? We all know the deal on how hard it is to sell collections. Diversity, yes, yes, yes. We need all voices. And I'm excited about getting to know Ray's voice too. This is a voice that sounds like it has a fresh take on the American West.

Sheman Alexie writes about the collection: “Shann Ray writes about small western towns and their residents in tough, poetic, and beautiful ways. I recognize many of these people ... I'm also surprised and stunned by many others... Buy the book and read it tonight. You'll love it, too.”

It's great to see this collection out there -- and why contests like the Bakeless are important, in general, for short story collections to survive (and hopefully thrive). I'm hopeful that this book fills some gap. (It is now available.)

and ...

THE STARBOARD SEA by Amber Dermont

"With unflinching wit, Amber Dermont examines the harsh vicissitudes of life, and though the worlds she creates are often unsettling places, her sense of detail always makes for a pleasurable read. There is a vibrant lucidity to her language, a daring music…Her characters are simultaneously able to articulate their pain, pass judgment on their own behavior and pardon themselves for their transgressions.”-- Marilynne Robinson, Pulitzer Prize and Orange Prize winning author of Gilead and Home

I dove into this one and, once I get through the season of dissertation and theses defenses, I'm rushing back in. She's a wonderful writer and I love the claustrophobic setting. The main character is incredibly (heartrendingly) lovable. (This one is available for preorder.)