Tag Archives: Shannon Yarbrough

Out In Print’s Best 13 Reads of 2013

I came across some absolutely amazing books in 2013; volumes that uplifted me as a reader as well as encouraging me to grow as a writer if for no other reason than to produce work as funny or bittersweet or beautiful or just plain damn good as the books listed below. Well done, everyone. This list is in no particular order, but they are all excellent. If you haven’t purchased them yet, you really need to. So without further adieu, here are Out in Print’s Best Reads of 2013:

Bitter-Orange-Cover-Shadow-V6Bitter Orange – Marshall Moore (Signal 8 Press) Buy from Amazon

Moore’s story of an individual rendered literally invisible is both stunning and satisfying, being at once a cautionary tale as well as a comment on our technological civilization (if those two words aren’t contradictory). But Bitter Orange is also possessed of a paralyzing wit that seeps through the dialogue and drips onto the prose itself. Moore is at his funniest when he’s making a point, and these points are so sharp, they hurt. In a good way.

Unknown_13A Romantic Mann – Jeff Mann (Lethe Press) Buy from Lethe Press

Mann’s fiction and essays are well-represented in many Best Of lists, but I found this volume of poetry to be as deep and poignant as any of his prose. Perhaps more so. Be it his romanticism, his BDSM predilections, his love of food, or his love of men, all are on display here in a celebration of language, lust, and lore. Even if you don’t normally enjoy poetry, you might find this a winning entry point. I urge you not to pass this by, for without it, you do not have a complete understanding of this multi-faceted author.

358171Light – ‘Nathan Burgoine (Bold Strokes Books)  Buy from BSB

I loved this remarkable debut novel, from its romantic underpinnings to its superhero flair to its slightly politicized action scenes. It has winning characters, a juicy plot, a neat twist, and a real love of language and storytelling at its core. And a dog. Can’t forget the dog. I have been proud to be associated with Burgoine at nearly the inception of his career, and it continues to be my pleasure to cheer him on.

350351Fortune’s Bastard (or Love’s Pains Recounted) – Gil Cole (Chelsea Station Editions)  Buy from TLA Gay

This marvelous Shakespearian mashup (of “Twelfth Night” and “Merchant of Venice” among others) is a delight in more ways than one. It inhabits the Shakespeare idiom perfectly in terms of language as well as character and plot. It’s so damn assured that I was in awe of how totally it achieves what it sets out to do. More than a pastiche, it’s perfection.

cache_280_427_3__80_ArtonFireArt on Fire – Hilary Sloin  (Bywater Books)  Buy from Bywater Books

This fictional biography of painter Francesca deSilva is memorable not only for the story it tells, but for the essays on deSilva’s work sandwiched between chapters of her story. Those essays are as brilliantly satirical of art criticism as deSilva’s story is involving and engaging. Her art informs her life as much as her life informs her art. But even if you’re not an art critic, this wonderful book is a portrait of a fascinating life. And an untimely death.

imgresThe Dirty Trilogy – Ashley Bartlett (Bold Strokes Books)  Buy from BSB

I don’t think this is a cheat since two of the three books came out in 2013 – Dirty Sex, Dirty Money, and Dirty Power are really all of a piece. Bartlett’s POV character, Vivian Cooper (Coop, please) is a marvel–a romantic, streetwise, smart-assed heroine who will leave you laughing tears. The plot is long and convoluted, involving love, the Mob, a fortune in gold, besties, fake parents, and real heartbreak. Start with the first one and hang on, baby.

41XZwbtIirL._SY346_Conjure: A Book of Spells – Peter Dube  (Rebel Satori Press)  Buy from RSP

A grimoire, no less. Elegant, understated prose poems promising “To Strike Obstacles from Your Path and Unlock Doors” or “To Undo an Error Past” but are mystically metaphoric. In terms of difficulty, this is the most challenging book I’ve read all year. Once its secrets were unlocked, however, I found it fascinating, enthralling reading — all the more interesting for the amount of work I put in. It’s not for everyone, but those who get it will be truly affected.

17949975Thoreau in Love – John Schuyler Bishop (CreateSpace)  Buy from Amazon

An entirely successful vision of what some missing pages of Henry Thoreau’s journal might have revealed, this marvelous piece of historical fiction is told with verve and enthusiasm. It takes chances with character, liberties with history, and its readers for a lusty, dizzying ride. Bishop’s research is impeccable but barely shows, Thoreau at last coming through as a person instead of a historical figure. It captures the heart as well as the head. 

cache_280_427_3__80_giraffepeoplelargewebGiraffe People – Jill Malone (Bywater Books)  Buy from Bywater Books

Much more than a young adult novel, Jill Malone’s Giraffe People is a wonderfully voiced and nuanced look at fifteen years old. The perspective is as adult yet as childish as you remember your own life at that time. If you have forgotten what fifteen was like, you need to read this. If you remember, you’ll be as involved in Cole Peters’ life as she is. And Malone maintains this voice with remarkable consistency, never putting a foot wrong.

Where Thy Dark Eye GlancesWhere Thy Dark Eye Glances – Steve Berman, ed. (Lethe Press)  Buy from Lethe Press

If any author’s work needed queering, it would be Edgar Allan Poe, and Steve Berman has collected a wonderful batch of take-offs, pastiches, and imitators–except none of those categories approaches the sheer originality of the stories, essays, and poems here. And the book looks as good as it reads. Lovingly produced and sumptuously written, Where Thy Dark Eye Glances is a class act that deserves your attention.

5100A Horse Named Sorrow – Trebor Healey (University of Wisconsin Press)  Buy from Amazon

Trebor Healey breaks his long silence and absence from fiction with a beautiful, elegiac road trip as Seamus Blake carries his boyfriend’s ashes back to Buffalo as he’d promised him he would. But as road trips go, he finds the journey to be more important than its end. Lyrical and sad, Healey’s prose uplifts rather than depresses. If you have ever had grief in your life, this will speak to you.

Who_the_Hell_is_Rachel_Wells_lgWho the Hell is Rachel Wells? – J.R. Greenwell (Chelsea Station Editions)  Buy from Giovanni’s Room

Eleven short stories collecting the best and worst of Southern manners and mannerisms, this collection is by turns heartbreaking and hilarious, sometimes in the same paragraph. Caricature? Well, yes. But there are characters here as well. Both subtly shaded and as outrageous as the best/worst drag ever, this batch of stories never relents in its celebration of Southern culture. Which is no contradiction in terms.

dickinstein-frontcoveronlyDickinstein: Emily Dickinson, Mad Scientist – Shannon Yarbrough (Rocking Horse Publishing)  Buy from Rocking Horse Publishing

An inspired mashup of Frankenstein and Emily Dickinson, the execution is as accomplished as the concept. By combining these two apparently disparate elements, Yarbrough illuminates both halves of the equation. Emily Dickinson wasn’t a mad scientist, of course, but Dickinstein certainly gives us the freedom to reimagine her.

And there you have them–a baker’s dozen of the most wonderful treats 2103 had to offer. Now, we begin expanding our critical waistline for 2014. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it….

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

Please note: The books included may not have necessarily been published in 2013, but read and reviewed here at Out in Print in 2013.

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A Conversation with Shannon Yarbrough

IMG_20130719_075701 Author, blogger, and amateur gardener extraordinaire Shannon Yarbrough has written about OCD baristas (Stealing Wishes), dysfunctional families (Are You Sitting Down?) and the difficulites of coming out in a small town (The Other Side of What), and for his fourth novel, Yarbrough has taken on the audacious task of mashing up Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with Emily Dickinson in Dickinstein: Emily Dickinson, Mad Scientist. Yarbrough put down his trowel and his laptop long enough to answer some questions for Out in Print regarding Dickinstein as well as some other subjects.

Out in Print: How did the idea of mashing up “Frankenstein” and Emily Dickinson come about?

Shannon Yarbrough: It happened last year on opening day for the movie of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. I was driving to work and some local radio station was talking about it. I had read and enjoyed the book the year before and was anxious to see the film. I started wondering what inspired the author Seth Grahame-Smith to write it, so when I got to work I did what anyone would do. I Googled it! Like any writer, this led me to thinking about what kind of mash-up I’d do if I dabbled in this genre. I immediately thought of Frankenstein. Vampires and werewolves have gotten plenty of attention in book, films, and pop culture, so I had to be different. But Frankenstein usually gets thrown into the zombie genre that’s all the rage these days since he was “undead.” I couldn’t get the classic Boris Karloff Hollywood image out of my head though and I wanted to pay homage to him. Given the themes of mortality in Frankenstein, I got to contemplating Emily Dickinson’s poetry which has similar themes, and slowly the two blended together in my head.  I knew it was a stretch but once I started my research and began to form a plot in my head, it just worked!

OiP: What kind of research did you do and how much?

SY: My research was quite extensive actually. I did a lot of it before writing a single word, and continued my research during my writing. Though the book is fiction, I dickinstein-frontcoveronlywanted it to feel real to the reader, as if it could have actually happened, and since Emily was my main character, I wanted her to be as real as possible. All of the background information I wrote on Emily and any secondary characters she interacts with is based on real history and real people. I had actually never read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, so I had to start there obviously. I was amazed at how different it was from what I thought I knew just based on pop culture or Hollywood. I’d read all of Emily’s poems before, but I read them again. Her poems introduce each chapter and there are pieces of poems throughout the story. I also picked up some other older volumes of her poems that contained historical information and letters. Next, I had to research quite a bit about her life, family, and home. Since I wasn’t able to visit, I purchased a spectacular coffee table book filled with pictures of her home and gardens which was quite helpful.

OiP: Was it tempting to write this first person and actually put yourself in her head? Or is there a reason you shied away from that?

SY: I admit I write better in first person at times. It certainly would have been exciting to be in Emily’s head, but I didn’t want to restrict myself there. I think the book would have certainly had a different tone. I needed that third person narrator who knew all mostly because of Emily’s relationship with others in the book: her best friend, her sister, brother, the maid, her biology teacher, her mother and father, etc. Their influence on Emily and on the storyline was just as important, so I had to make them multidimensional, instead of the reader only seeing them through Emily’s eyes.

OiP: This is such a different book than Stealing Wishes or Are You Sitting Down? Did it call for a different process in the writing?

SY: Yes indeed! Most of that involved the research. Anything from electricity in the 1800’s, to the school Emily attended, dialogue or even clothing all had to be researched to make my story feel accurate and historical. I’d always drawn from my own life and personal experience when writing my previous books.

OiP: What was the most difficult part about writing this book? The most enjoyable?

SY: The most difficult part was the dreaded middle, where most writers get stuck. When I sat down to start writing it, the story came pouring out. But I got to a certain point where I started losing steam. I knew how I wanted the book to end. I just didn’t know how to get there.  So, I actually skipped ahead and wrote the ending which was definitely the most enjoyable. After I’d finished it and had my ending, I backed up and had a better understanding how to tie it all together.

OiP: I’m always interested in how writers write. Do you do extensive first drafts with little revision, or do you write quickly and revise later? Paper and pencil or computer? Morning, afternoon or anytime?

dcccc0f28dfe7c4c6c1aa2a2b46b606SY: Stealing Wishes and Are You Sitting Down? were both written in sequential order, meaning I started right at the beginning and I wrote straight through to the end. As I already stated, that didn’t happen with Dickinstein though I did attempt it. I typically like to write one or two chapters a day, always on the computer. I step away, and then go back and reread them the next day before I start writing again. I fix any obvious errors, add or delete, and then start writing the next chapter. Once I’m done with the first draft, I print it out on paper. I let it sit for one week and then I pick it up and reread it with a red ink pen and a yellow highlighter in hand. I mark it up, fix things, make notes in the margin, and then I use it to construct the second draft. Once I’m done, I print again and repeat. After my third draft, I send it off to my editor. I’m typically a morning person when it comes to creativity. Through the week, I have an hour in the morning once my partner leaves for work and before I have to get ready for the day. I call it my magic hour because I’ve always been able to get so much writing done during that time. But with Dickinstein I actually wrote quite a bit at night too. After my partner went to bed, I’d spend an hour or two researching, reading, or writing and then pick up where I left off again in the morning. I wrote the first draft of Dickinstein in just eight weeks, averaging about 10,000 words a week!

OiP: Would you do another mashup?

SY: Definitely!  And it’s already been churning in my head for months. I’ve even been doing some light research. I don’t want to give it away but I will say it involves our beloved Truman Capote!

OiP: What’s the next project?

SY: If the Truman mash-up doesn’t come into fruition, I have a historical novel that I’ve been writing off and on for almost eight years. It takes place during present day and the Civil War. It’s a ghost story centered around a retired famous piano player and her page turner.  I’ve completely started over from the beginning numerous times and only recently I changed the lead character from male to female. If I never write another book after it, I am determined to at least finish this one some day!

OiP: What would you like people to take away from Dickinstein?

SY: If anything, I hope that readers will develop a newfound respect or at least an interest in Emily Dickinson.  I took great care in keeping true to Emily and her life. I’ve admired her ever since I was in college, so writing her in a somewhat historically accurate manner was very important to me. My tagline for the book is, “What was Emily really doing all that time up in her room?”  I’ve always had an interest in conspiracy theories or alternative history, so it was fun to create this unconventional world for Emily in order to answer that question, and in turn I challenged myself as a writer. I’ve never wanted to plug myself into one genre or subject. That’s why all of my books are so different. Writing Dickinstein has definitely been my biggest challenge as a writer, so I just hope readers are inspired and enlightened by it.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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Dickinstein: Emily Dickinson, Mad Scientist – Shannon Yarbrough (Rocking Horse Publishing)

dickinstein-frontcoveronly

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I love authors who are not afraid to mix things up and take chances. That’s the heart and soul of discovery and creativity, whether or not it works. Explore those edges. Expand those boundaries. Push the borders. Even if the result is failure, the attempt is noble and encourages others to do the same. But Shannon Yarbrough’s mashup of Frankenstein and Emily Dickinson is no failure. It’s not even close. Dickinstein is a wholly sucessful hybrid that gives some new insights and context to her poetry yet provides thrills as familiar (and philosophy as deep) as Mary Shelley‘s original.

Given Frankenstein to read by her friend, Benjamin Newton, Emily Dickinson is inspired to attempt her own experiments into regifting life to creatures of nature. She even establishes a code of behavior for this experimentation and finds that it informs not only her poetry, but her outlook on life itself. But, like many discoveries, it soon grows out of her control, aided by one of her professors who wants to see the principles applied to men. She reluctantly shows him how it works, and he sets about building a larger scale model. They are unable to find a human subject in accordance with Dickinson’s code, however. But when her friend, Newton, dies suddenly…

Dickinson’s reclusiveness and eccentricity lends Dickinstein an all-important air of possibility and makes the suspension of disbelief that much easier. Dickinson herself is not portrayed as an eccentric, however. She merely has other things on her mind. Her curiosity and powers of observation are keen, stimulating her mind so much she cares not whether she misses a meal. Yarbrough does an admirable job in bringing her to life and must have read her work closely indeed in order to construct a character who the reader believes could have written the poems which begin each chapter. And this reader firmly bought it. The poetry and the prose merge until one is another iteration of the other.

Leonard Humphrey, the professor who expands the scope of Dickinson’s experiments, plays the only other major part here–but he too is well-rounded. Intellectual, but with a touch of malevolence. All the other characters, including Newton, seem to be minor and fade into the background. This is clearly Dickinson’s show, which is as it should be.

As with John Schuyler Bishop’s recent Thoreau in Love, there is a marvelous sense of wonder and excitement in Dickinstein, and it’s not confined to the title characters. Creative joy seeps from the pages of both books, Bishop and Yarbrough running over their fields holding their soaring kites in their hands, giddy and giggling as their inventions fly marvelously high. And that sense of joy is infectious. Whenever I had to put Dickinstein down, I couldn’t wait to get back to it to see how her experiments would proceed, how the storyline would resolve itself.

So, Dickinstein is a great mashup and a rousing read full of intellect and creativity. Highly recommended.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

Don’t miss our exclusive interview with Shannon Yarbrough on Thursday. You’ll learn all about Dickinstein and so much more – that’s Thursday at Out in Print. We’re all you need to read about all you need to read. 

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