Saturday, May 29, 2021

The Reincarnations by Nathan Elias: A Book Review

When I attend a film festival, I nearly always choose blocks of short films over feature-length films. I love a good feature, but I also love the "never quite sure what you're going to get" aspect to watching a curated block of short films.

Same goes with my fiction reading. I love a good novel, but a novel is a big commitment, reading-wise. I love the variety in a curated short story collection, especially when the stories, even in their diverse approaches, explore a common theme. The short story is an under-appreciated form (so too the short film). Neither is in anyway a "training ground" for their longer brethren. They are their own rich form. I wish both the short film and the short story had a wider viewership/readership than they currently do.

If Nathan Elias' short story collection, The Reincarnations (Montag Press) had a tagline, I think it would read as follows: "You can love whomever you want, but that love won't necessarily save them... or you."

Like with those short film blocks I mentioned, you never quite know what you're going to get in The Reincarnations. With the beginning of each story, you'll find yourself asking, "Alright, Elias, where are you taking me now? What emotions are you going to stir? How are you going to surprise me, yet again?"

In "The Alligator Theory" a father is certain that his missing daughter was taken by an alligator... which fuels his ambition to find that gator. In "Right Now at this Very Moment" a man and a woman share a loss... he, his best friend and her, her lover (the same man). In their mourning they find each other alone in a hotel room, and they suffer in both guilt and longing. In "Halcyon" Alice finds herself in a strange cult/commune where saying "Duty is our bond" is the equivalent of saying hello. Juno, the head of the commune in question, draws a very fine line between human and animals. In "Love Drugs," a story akin to "The Gift of the Magi" a married couple takes drugs to try to control or abandon their emotions.

Finally, in the penultimate story (and my favorite) "Taking Flight," a boy attending a technical academy falls in love with a troubled girl who attends an art academy in downtown Toledo. Unable to charm her when they meet at the mall, the boy decides to try out for a play at her school, which he knows she will also audition for. He lands the lead part of Peter Pan while she lands the role of Wendy. Their proximity wears her down, and she lowers some of her walls... only for him to surmise that there's an ugliness to her home life that could be too much for anyone to bear. As she's carted home from the play by her questionable driver, the boy clings to the side of the moving vehicle:

    "I won't let you go, " I said. I held on to the Buick, one hand on the passenger side mirror, one on the door handle. My legs hovered, parallel to the vehicle. She unbuckled her seat belt, leaned her head out of the window, and kissed me. Suspended in air, our bodies developed their own gravitational pull. Flying above the Maumee River, we defied the logic of love, reinvented the laws of physics."

Like many of the stories in the collection, "Taking Flight" is whimsical and tragic, fanciful and realistic... all at the same time.

As we head into a summer a little more free of the virus, I can imagine more than a few folks looking for a beach read. I would encourage people to forego a novel or two and instead reach for a collection of short stories. And, if that little bit of encouragement on my part gets them to make that choice, then I would follow up by encouraging them to purchase and read Nathan Elias' The Reincarnations.

They won't be disappointed.

The book can be purchased: here

Jeff "Van" Vande Zande is an English professor at Delta College in Michigan. In 2022, Montag Press will publish his dystopian novel, Falling Sky. His latest collection, The Neighborhood Division: Stories, is now out through Whistling Shade Press and available: here.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Fahrenheit 451... A Case for Paraphrasing Dollar Amounts

I'm a huge fan of Ray Bradbury's dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451. Most everyone knows (or should know) the story of Montag, the book-burning fireman who has an epiphany, suddenly realizing that books must be saved.

Like most dystopians, Fahrenheit 451 is set in an imagined future. Published in 1953, the book is a pleasure to read... especially witnessing Bradbury's ability to predict future technological advancements, including large-screen televisions, security systems that recognize fingerprints, ear buds and, more nefariously, society's turning away from critical thinking and compassion in the name of superficial relationships, consumerism, and just plain old having "fun."

Bradbury even predicted the idea of Transformers (but that's a different story).

For all of his futurist genius, there was one thing Bradbury couldn't accurately predict... and that's inflation.

It always blew me away that when my father started a full-time professor position at Northern Michigan University, his starting salary was around $5000 a year... and they were able to get a mortgage on that salary.

Inflation is something else! And it's something to consider when you're writing, especially if you don't want your book to be dated. Stating specific prices, whether or not your work is set in the future, is something you should consider.

This is especially true when one is writing a novel set in the future, however. In Fahrenheit 451, Montag's wife spends most of her days in the "parlor" where three of the four walls are television screens. She longs for the day when all of the walls will be screens... and she even asks Montag when they will have saved up enough money to tear out the last existing wall to replace it with a television screen. She tries to comfort him by saying it's "only two thousand dollars."

Montag retorts, "That's one third of my yearly pay."

Considering that in the 1960s my father was being paid $5000 as a starting, tenure-track professor, it probably, in the early 1950s, seemed like an enormous amount of money to Bradbury that a fireman would be getting paid $6000 a year.

In 2021, the average firefighter pay is around $40k... almost seven times the amount Bradbury predicted. Based on his story "The Pedestrian" which Bradbury called a prequel to Fahrenheit 451, some speculate that the novel is set in 2053 or so... some thirty-odd years from now!

How much will firefighters be paid then? I don't know... and Bradbury certainly didn't know.

As much as I love Bradbury's novel about censorship and its dangers, that moment, when Montag is talking to Mildred about his salary... well, that moment always takes me out of the book for an instant. It makes me think of Bradbury, the author, and how off he was when it came to inflation.

Of course, people aren't going to stop reading the book because of that... but it is a glitch. And, it's a glitch that could have been avoided.

In my literary horror novel manuscript The Dance of Rotten Sticks, my main character and his wife bought a vacation property on a lake in northern Michigan. Isaac, my protagonist, visits the cabin with his brother. The brother asks how much Issac paid for the cabin.

In the novel, because of paranormal activity, the previous owners were looking to offload the cabin quickly. Now, my novel isn't set in the future. Still, I didn't want to bother with research to find out how much a cabin like his would be worth... and then also research a realistic price cut coming from a motivated seller. In short, I didn't want to deal with specifics.

I handled the scene like this (the excerpt below is mid-conversation when Isaac and his brother Adam are discussing the purchase of the cabin):

        “Nice.” Adam crossed his arms, shaking his head in disbelief. “And you paid how much again?”
Isaac told him the price.
Adam whistled and shook his head. “God, that’s a steal. How did you even find this place?”

So, without being specific, I paraphrased "the price." Adam's whistle and his claim "that's a steal" take care of the idea that it was a really good price... without me having to look up the price.

It's something to think about as you deal with numbers/specifics in your own work. Imagine if Bradbury had done that. The scene in question in his novel would read differently... and might not jar readers like me out of the scene (the scene starts with Mildred expressing her love of television).


    "It's really fun. It'll be even more fun when we can afford to have the fourth wall installed. How long you figure before we save up and get the fourth wall torn out and a fourth wall-TV put in? It's only two thousand dollars."
    "That's one-third of my yearly pay."


    "It's really fun. It'll be even more fun when we can afford to have the fourth wall installed. How long you figure before we save up and get the fourth wall torn out and a fourth wall-TV put in?" She reminded him of the cost and spoke of the amount as though it were a pittance.
    "That's one-third of my yearly pay."

In this instance, we still learn that these walls are expensive (and a selfish luxury for Mildred)... without being able to calculate that Montag's $6k salary is woefully out of line with inflation. In fact, we don't learn the specifics of Montag's salary at all... because we really don't need to know.

Just something to think about...

Jeff "Van" Vande Zande is an English professor at Delta College in Michigan. In 2022, Montag Press will publish his dystopian novel, Falling Sky. His latest collection, The Neighborhood Division: Stories, is now out through Whistling Shade Press and available: here.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

David Leo Rice's Drifter: Stories

I don't know David Leo Rice. I mean, sure, we follow each other on Twitter... maybe have done some liking of each other's posts. But, we don't really know each other. 

I guess what I want to emphasize here is the randomness of Twitter. How all of your engagement, posting, experimenting with different tweets, etc can pay off. What I look for in folks... humble and real. I like when they don't seem like they just finished reading, How to Act Like Every Other Writer in the #WritingCommunity

Truthfully, this isn't a huge payoff for David. My blog gets minimal traffic. I started it last year around this time, and it has had over 11k visits.

I don't know if that's good or bad (and you don't need to tell me in the comments!)

You know, they say that posting links to your own book is about useless on Twitter for generating sales. I would say equally useless is posting stupid questions (for which you don't want the answers, but just "engagement"... whatever the hell that is), bemoaning some aspect of your writing life (to get sympathy likes/comments) doing the EVER STUPID #Writerlifts or #writerslift or whatever it is (which I have shamefully tried... and failed)

I'm starting to believe the best thing you can do on Twitter is send out some good karma. Just do another writer a solid and talk about their book (so they don't have to!)

Ok... enough of that because this post is about David and his new collection of stories, Drifter.

This is not a review because I haven't read the book yet (though I was offered a review copy just recently... at least a PDF... and though I'm backlogged on my reading and can't take that on right now, that's just a touch of the goodwill karma coming back to me).

This is simply an informational post about David's book, and I feel confident to do this because it's coming out from 11:11 Press... a small press I trust very much.

In fact, I reviewed another of their books: here

So, here's some info on David's new book. Take a chance on it. Support a small press author. Support a small press. Send some good karma out into the world with a random purchase.

Here's a link to order (preorder) directly from the press (which is best financially for the press and the author): here

David is doing the work and is already featured on a podcast about him and the book. Check it out:


Here's a link to his website to learn more about him, his writing, and his other books: here

And if Amazon is your thing (and I wish it weren't) you can also preorder: here

Jeff "Van" Vande Zande is an English professor at Delta College in Michigan. In 2022, Montag Press will publish his dystopian novel, Falling Sky. His latest collection, The Neighborhood Division: Stories, is now out through Whistling Shade Press and available: here.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Dystopian Novels and We (and other stuff)

My first real brush with dystopian novels came shortly after my first real girlfriend (we were together 7 months) dumped me. To console my broken heart, I decided (rather counterintuitively) to read 1984 by George Orwell. I was around 19 years old, and I recall very little of that first reading of the book. It was just another component in my summer of wallowing. 

That summer included me getting very drunk on Captain Morgan's at a beach party in Marquette, MI. I saw the woman that had wrecked me at the same party sitting on the sand. I stumbled to her, practically fell, and then rested my head on her thigh. I looked up into her four eyes (she didn't wear glasses, I was just seeing double) and I said, "So what do you think?" She got up, let my head thump into the sand, and walked away. I subsequently passed out and later woke in my own bed (which I learned later my friends had delivered me to) and then suffered through a near-dystopian hangover for the rest of the day and night.

To this day, I still can't drink Captain Morgan's... but I digress.

In my early thirties, I started to dabble in what might be called speculative or slipstream stories... stories not quite set in the reality of our world. As this genre and its potential to truly say something about our world while not being set in our world intrigued me further, I began an independent study in dystopian works. I started by rereading 1984. Then I moved on to A Clockwork Orange, Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, Brave New World, and eventually Fahrenheit 451. During my reading, I read B.F. Skinner's novel, Walden Two, which would be considered a Utopian novel... and a really interesting read in its own right.

I know that the dystopian novel is a tried and true (and perhaps abused) genre now, but the folks I was reading seemed to be cutting their teeth on the genre. It makes sense that in the 1930s through 1960s, when the world seemed to be changing exponentially that writers would need to create a futuristic genre that plays with the theme of "Hey wait, we're moving really fast here... and maybe we should take a second to look at how all of our advancements might be corrupting our humanity."

By reading what I was reading, I thought I was reading the canon in dystopian literature... and, largely, I was. With Brave New World, published in 1932, I thought I'd gone back as far as I could. Granted, I didn't get a PhD in Dystopian literature or anything. I'm sure people can point out source material that goes even further back. For instance, was the book Metropolis and its subsequent movie (1925 and 1927) dystopian or science fiction? Or was Twain getting into something dystopian with Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court or The Mysterious Stranger? I'm sure in terms of meeting certain dystopian criteria, both of these Twain works would fall under "unique" but not dystopian.

I'm sure there are others who know the dystopian history better than I (that's what the comments section is for!) But, I do recall, in my research coming across the book We by Russian writer Yevgeny Zamyatin, written from 1920-1921 and published in English in 1924.

Not an easy book, but interesting... especially for its influence on dystopian literature. Out of curiosity, I googled "first dystopian novel" and found that in 1907 the novel The Iron Heel was published by Jack London. So, is this the first dystopian novel? I'm not sure, but I'd never heard of it (and just ordered it!)

Earlier, I briefly mentioned B.F. Skinner's utopian novel, Walden Two. Here's an interesting article on the history of the Utopian novel and how it might have lead to the Dystopian novel:

I set out writing this blog to make people aware of We but the damn Internet (as it often does) reminded me of how little I know. We is probably most like the dystopias with which we are familiar (a world set in the future that turns up the volume on something questionable happening in our current world). In fact, some argue that Orwell was heavily influenced by We and even blatantly lifted elements of the novel for his writing of 1984 (and, ironically, Orwell accused Huxley of the same thing).

You need to check out the Wikipedia page about We. It may not be the first dystopian novel, but of the early works, it certainly sounds like it was the most influential. (While reading that page, I came across another Russian dystopian called Love in the Fog of the Future (which I couldn't find on Amazon... an event in itself that might be dystopian or utopian).

So, in the end, I'm not sure if I've said anything in this blog post... and so you can take comfort in the image of a young me waking with a terrible hangover, still crestfallen, and scratching beach sand from my hair.

Jeff "Van" Vande Zande is an English professor at Delta College in Michigan. In 2022, Montag Press will publish his dystopian novel, Falling Sky. His latest collection, The Neighborhood Division: Stories, is now out through Whistling Shade Press and available: here.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Cover Reveal for Leah Angstman's novel, Out Front the Following Sea

I’m pleased to be participating in the cover reveal for Leah Angstman’s debut novel, OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA, coming January 2022 from Regal House Publishing.

A Novel of King William’s War in 17th-Century New England

Publication Date: January 11, 2022
Regal House Publishing
Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook; 334 pages

Genre: Historical / Literary / Epic

**Shortlisted for the Chaucer Book Award**

OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a historical epic of one woman’s survival in a time when the wilderness is still wild, heresy is publicly punishable, and being independent is worse than scorned—it is a death sentence.

At the onset of King William’s War between French and English settlers in 1689 New England, Ruth Miner is accused of witchcraft for the murder of her parents and must flee the brutality of her town. She stows away on the ship of the only other person who knows her innocence: an audacious sailor — Owen — bound to her by years of attraction, friendship, and shared secrets. But when Owen’s French ancestry finds him at odds with a violent English commander, the turmoil becomes life-or-death for the sailor, the headstrong Ruth, and the cast of Quakers, Pequot Indians, soldiers, highwaymen, and townsfolk dragged into the fray. Now Ruth must choose between sending Owen to the gallows or keeping her own neck from the noose.

Steeped in historical events and culminating in a little-known war on pre-American soil, OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a story of early feminism, misogyny, arbitrary rulings, persecution, and the treatment of outcasts, with parallels still mirrored and echoed in today’s society. The debut novel will appeal to readers of Paulette Jiles, Alexander Chee, Hilary Mantel, James Clavell, Bernard Cornwell, TaraShea Nesbit, Geraldine Brooks, Stephanie Dray, Patrick O’Brian, and E. L. Doctorow.




“With OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA, Leah Angstman reveals herself as a brave new voice in historical fiction. With staggering authenticity, Angstman gives us a story of America before it was America — an era rife with witch hunts and colonial intrigue and New World battles all but forgotten in our history books and popular culture. This is historical fiction that speaks to the present, recalling the bold spirits and cultural upheavals of a nation yet to be born.”

“Steeped in lush prose, authentic period detail, and edge-of-your-seat action, OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a rollicking good read. Leah Angstman keeps the story moving at a breathtaking pace, and she knows more 17th-century seafaring language and items of everyday use than you can shake a stick at. The result is a compelling work of romance, adventure, and historical illumination that pulls the reader straight in.”
—Rilla Askew, author of FIRE IN BEULAH, THE MERCY SEAT, and KIND OF KIN

“Lapidary in its research and lively in its voice, OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA by Leah Angstman is a rollicking story, racing along with wind in its sails. Though her tale unfolds hundreds of years in America’s past, Ruth Miner is the kind of high-spirited heroine whose high adventures haul you in and hold you fast.”

“Leah Angstman has written the historical novel that I didn’t know I needed to read. OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is set in an oft-forgotten time in the brutal wilds of pre-America that is so vividly and authentically drawn, with characters that are so alive and relevant, and a narrative so masterfully paced and plotted, that Angstman has performed the miracle of layering the tumultuous past over our troubled present to gift us a sparkling new reality.”

“OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a fascinating book, the kind of historical novel that evokes its time and place so vividly that the effect is just shy of hallucinogenic. I enjoyed it immensely.”

“OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a meticulously researched novel that mixes history, love story, and suspense. Watching Angstman’s willful protagonist, Ruth Miner, openly challenge the brutal world of 17th-century New England, with its limiting ideas about gender, race, and science, was a delight.”
—Aline Ohanesian, author of ORHAN’S INHERITANCE

“Leah Angstman is a gifted storyteller with a poet’s sense of both beauty and darkness, and her stunning historical novel, OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA, establishes her as one of the most exciting young novelists in the country. Angstman plunges the reader into a brilliantly realized historical milieu peopled by characters real enough to touch. And in Ruth Miner, we are introduced to one of the most compelling protagonists in contemporary literature, a penetratingly intelligent, headstrong woman who is trying to survive on her wits alone in a Colonial America that you won’t find in the history books. A compulsive, vivid read that will change the way you look at the origins of our country, Leah Angstman’s OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA announces the arrival of a preternatural talent.”
—Ashley Shelby, author of MURI and SOUTH POLE STATION

“Rich, lyrical, and atmospheric, with a poet’s hand and a historian’s attention to detail. In OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA, Leah Angstman creates an immersive world for readers to get lost in and a fascinating story to propel them through it. A thoroughly engaging and compelling tale.”

“It’s a rare story that makes you thankful for having read and experienced it. It’s rarer still for a story to evoke so wholly, so powerfully, another place and time as to make you thankful for the gifts that exist around you, which you take for granted. OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a book rich with misery, yet its characters are indefatigable; they yearn, despite their troubles, for victories personal and societal. Leah Angstman’s eye is keen, and her ability to transport you into America’s beginnings is powerful. With the raw ingredients of history, she creates a story both dashing and pensive, robust yet believable. From an unforgiving time, Angstman draws out a tale of all things inhuman, but one that reminds us of that which is best in all of us.”
—Eric Shonkwiler, author of ABOVE ALL MEN and 8TH STREET POWER AND LIGHT

About the Author

Leah Angstman author photo Leah Angstman is a historian and transplanted Michigander living in Boulder. OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA, her debut novel of King William’s War in 17th-century New England, is forthcoming from Regal House in January 2022. Her writing has been a finalist for the Saluda River Prize, Cowles Book Prize, Able Muse Book Award, Bevel Summers Fiction Prize, and Chaucer Book Award, and has appeared in Publishers Weekly, L.A. Review of Books, Nashville Review, Slice, and elsewhere. She serves as editor-in-chief for Alternating Current and The Coil magazine and copyeditor for Underscore News, which has included editing partnerships with ProPublica. She is an appointed vice chair of a Colorado historical commission and liaison to a Colorado historic preservation committee.

The Reincarnations by Nathan Elias: A Book Review

When I attend a film festival, I nearly always choose blocks of short films over feature-length films. I love a good feature, but I also lov...