Hasanthika Sirisena’s essays and stories have appeared in The Globe and Mail, WSQ, Narrative, The Kenyon Review, Glimmer Train, Epoch, StoryQuarterly, Narrative and other magazines. Her work has been anthologized in Best New American Voices, and named a distinguished story by Best American Short Stories in 2011 and 2012. She is a recipient of fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and Yaddo. In 2008 she received a Rona Jaffe Writers’ Award. She is currently an associate fiction editor at West Branch magazine and a Visiting Assistant Professor at Susquehanna University.
“Denslow opens his debut collection by quoting a Tom Waits song, so it’s no surprise the characters within resemble the kinds of affable, sometimes-laughable sad sacks and beautiful losers you find in American fiction from Steinbeck to Bukowski.”
“Sasha moved to Shanghai a few years ago to get away from her overbearing father. Liz arrives in China looking for something to shake up the predictability of her life. Both working at the same international school, Liz gratefully moves into Sasha’s spare room and the two become roommates, friends, and eventually lovers. They explore the expat community of Shanghai, a raucous group of English speakers that meet in bars every week to party and remind themselves they’re not alone, including Dorian, an architect and longtime acquaintance of Sasha’s who wants to put down roots.”
We’ve received nearly 300 submissions in the past year–the vast majority of them appeared to be painstakingly crafted, the obvious result of years and years of work. In the end, the books I decided to accept for publication were ones that I felt were in my wheelhouse as an editor. Namely: contemporary, adult, funny, even absurd, and perhaps most importantly, moving. When I received New York Times bestselling indie icon Beth Lisick’s first novel, my initial impulse was to not bend my own rule about taking on first books only (she’s published five). But her novel about my hometown–like everything she does–is hilarious, weird, suffused with great empathy, and simply too irresistible to pass up. (And if you start an indie press and get the chance to work with someone as cool as Beth Lisick, you have to take it–my 25-year-old tech-bro-hiding-an-indie-heart self is especially excited.)
Few places are as ripe for humor as an educational institution. Rose Servis’s novel reminds me of some of the classics of the genre (Decline and Fall, Lucky Jim, and more recently the novels of Julie Schumacher). Ross Wilcox’s story collection was rushed to my attention by my summer intern Nathan Newbold, and I was hooked by the title story about an actual support group of bridge jumpers in San Francisco. The rest of the collection delivers the mordant, the strange, and the absurd with an expert hand.
Read on about these terrific books-to-be below. If you’re a submitting writer and your submission is in the queue, it is still being consider for publication in 2021.
EDIE ON THE GREEN SCREEN, a novel by Beth Lisick
Edie Wunderlich was an twenty-eight year-old It Girl in late ‘90s San Francisco, on the cover of the city’s alt-weekly, repping the freak party scene on the eve of the first dotcom boom. Fast-forward twenty years, and Edie hasn’t changed, but the city has. Still a bartender in the Mission, Edie now serves a seemingly never-ending stream of tech bros while the punk rock parties of the millennium’s end are long gone. When her mother dies, leaving Edie her Silicon Valley home, Edie finds herself mourning in the center of the Bay Area’s tech monoculture, and embarks on perhaps a last-ditch quest to hold on to her rebel heart.
Like the work of Diablo Cody and Miranda July, New York Times bestseller Beth Lisick’s first novel Edie On The Green Screen effortlessly mixes biting observational humor with disarming pathos, while asking, “What comes after It?”
Beth Lisick is a writer and actor. She is the author of five books, including the New York Times bestseller Everybody Into the Pool and Yokohama Threeway and Other Small Shames (City Lights). Her work has been published in various anthologies, including Best American Poetry and Santa Cruz Noir. She co-founded Porchlight, San Francisco’s longest-running storytelling series, traveled the country with the Sister Spit performance tours, and received a grant from the Creative Work Fund for a chapbook series with Creativity Explored, a studio for artists with developmental disabilities. Beth has appeared in films that have screened at Cannes, Sundance, and the San Francisco International Film Festival. Edie On The Green Screen is her first novel.
MISERY BOY, a novel by Rose Servis
At a liberal arts college in Michigan in 1980, the strange, perplexing poems by Roger Ackroyd have won him a cult following. But who is Roger Ackroyd? Just about the only person on campus not asking that question is Edward, Roger Ackroyd’s secret creator. Instead, Edward is flunking his girlfriend’s psych class, fighting with his family, and suffering writer’s block. Enter Jonathan, a rival artist pretending to be Roger Ackroyd. Jonathan is everything Edward hates—phony, pretentious, narcissistic, and self-serving. In his last week of college, Edward’s obsession with exposing Jonathan leads to a series of comically unwise decisions that threaten to reveal his true identity.
A hilarious college novel in the tradition of Evelyn Waugh and Kingsley Amis, Misery Boy skewers the nature of youth, friendship, and ambition, while making us feel for the lovable, but hapless Edward.
Rose Servis’ short stories have appeared in Trop, Entropy Magazine, and Phantom Drift. She lives in San Francisco.
GOLDEN GATE JUMPERS SURVIVORS SOCIETY, stories by Ross Wilcox
A battle of wills emerges when one of the suicide survivors in the Golden Gate Jumper Survivors Society turns the meetings into a yoga class. A small town is gripped by a lawn ornamentation craze. A woman dresses up as Paul Bunyan to rob banks to pay her ailing mother’s exorbitant nursing home bills. A married couple decides to 3-D print a son…and his entire childhood.
Golden Gate Jumper Survivors Society is a funny and poignant story collection about everyday people confronting everyday challenges with escalating absurdity. Reminiscent of the work of Aimee Bender, Ross Wilcox’s stories will make you view the mundane in an entirely new way.
Ross Wilcox is from Elk Point, South Dakota. He has attended Morningside College, the University of South Dakota, and is now finishing the last year of his PhD at the University of North Texas, where he teaches writing and composition. His stories have appeared in numerous literary journals. Golden Gate Jumper Survivors Society: Stories is his debut book-length work. He is currently at work on a novel. In addition to writing and fiction, Ross is a huge lover of basketball and a full-on disciple of LeBron James. He lives in Forth Worth, Texas with his wife and two cats. You can follow him on Twitter @rossofthewilcox.
“…a testament to a changing city in a changing country at a defining time in history…A thoughtful, caring examination of race, class, and wealth in America.”
Set in Lexington, Kentucky, Nightwolf is Willie Davis’s gritty, but affectionate portrayal of the new South, where around every dark and harrowing corner, there is a tender and redemptive path forward.
“Davis, a master of wit, one-liners and dead on observations, has done everything right. Nightwolf, often funny and always smart, is told through the eyes of Milo, a devastatingly funny and keen social critic. And through him, this story of Kentucky and youth and angst and self-discovery gleams.”
—Natashia Deón, author of Grace
“July 13 holds special importance for writer and publisher Leland Cheuk. Not only is it the day that, in 2014, he found out his life had been saved by a successful bone marrow transplant from a stranger, but it’s also the day that his first novel, The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong, was picked up by the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography. Two years later, on the same day, Thought Catalog sent him an offer for his first story collection, Letters From Dinosaurs. So when Cheuk decided to start his own small press in 2016, he didn’t hesitate to name it 7.13 Books (713books.com).”
In the smallish American city of Grand River, things are not so grand. The river is hopelessly polluted. City officials are in the pockets of oligarchs. And its best hope for meaningful change is a platitude-spouting eight-foot giant named Reason Wilder running for mayor.
Gray Davenport, a veteran political operative, isn’t faring much better than his hometown. His wife is about to leave him. He’s working for a mayoral candidate who has no chance to win and who can’t even pay for Gray’s services. When Gray notices that Reason may not be human, Gray embarks on a quest to uncover the truth about Reason’s mysterious origins, and the truth promises to change Grand River and Gray forever.
A satirical mashup of Frankenstein and Veep, Mr. Neutron is a hilarious genre-bender that speaks to the unpredictable nature of American politics today.
PRAISE FOR MR. NEUTRON
“Joe Ponepinto’s Mr. Neutron offers a hilarious and biting romp across the American political landscape through the eyes of beleaguered campaign operative Gray Davenport. Gray is a man accustomed to living a “slow-lane life” as an aide to a perennial office seeker, while conjuring up an imaginary alter ego, Monterey Jack, a tough hombre who bubbles with testosterone. Yet Gray’s existence picks up unexpected speed when his own wife signs on to manage the mayoral campaign of an eight-foot-tall opponent, Reason Wilder—a nemesis who seems hardly human. Soon several mysterious old men have hired Gray to investigate this monstrous neophyte…and what ensues is a mad escapade that perfectly captures the ongoing derangement of our current electoral order. Mr. Neutron is satire at its best: sharp, clever and unsettling. Ponepinto has penned the defining political comedy for our own tragicomic democracy.”
—Jacob M. Appel, author of Millard Salter’s Last Day
“Mr. Neutron is pure fun, satire at its best, skewering American government, politics, and society with delicious humor and insight. This is a book you’ll press on your friends, a book full of quotable gems and characters you won’t soon forget.”
—Kathy Anderson, author of Bull and Other Stories
“Just when you thought politics couldn’t get any stranger, Joe Ponepinto gives us this–a madcap, comedic tale of politics as usual–or unusual, rather. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll read, you’ll vote. And then you’ll read again.”
—B.J. Hollars, author of Flock Together
In eighteen stories that shine a light on people who are far from champions, Like a Champion is an ode to underdogs and long shots, sad office parties and one-sided basketball games, disappointed worker bees and hopeful lovers. Vincent Chu’s work is funny and big-hearted, like the best short stories of Sherman Alexie, and imbued with a generosity and warmth that reminds us that moments of glory can happen when we least expect it.
PRAISE FOR LIKE A CHAMPION
“Chu finds ways to turn the everyday into the revelatory… He covers a host of relationships – familial, romantic, occupational – and, in doing so, showcases the complexities of the characters on display. Chu’s stories are solidly realistic in their scope, exploring everyday issues with charm and empathy – and occasional moments of unexpected humor”
— Kirkus Reviews
“Vincent Chu takes us on a journey through real life, with brief glimpses into the lives of diverse characters. While each character and story is different, there is something relatable about them all. You’ll find yourself among friends in these stories”
— San Francisco Book Review
“Like a Champion is a lighthearted testimony to life’s unexpected turns… Chu creates a context where the lonely feel loved, connections thrive through conflicts, and private issues unfold in public spaces. Above all, each story retains a sense of hope or new beginning”
— Forth Magazine
“With gentle precision, Chu moves beyond the writerly adage of show don’t tell; he doesn’t want the reader to be shown or told anything, rather asking the reader to experience the feeling of being sucked into another person’s head… by the end of the book, we’re not just cheering for his characters, but for Chu himself”
— East Bay Review
“Chu decidedly hands us a triumphant collection of surprising, energetic stories and good, weird, sometimes sad people. It is an intimate book that made me laugh out loud more than once… I read this book thinking, oh bless their hearts, bless all of our hearts”
— Leesa Cross-Smith, author of Whiskey & Ribbons
“Vincent Chu can do many things, tell a story, create indelible characters, and craft spot-on dialogue, but what he does most movingly in Like a Champion is unpack our greatest fears, hopes and desires, in other words, what makes us human”
— Ben Tanzer, author of Be Cool
“The brilliance of this collection is not only these complex portrayals but the surprising twists that make us nod in recognition at what makes us hopeful and human. A fun and deeply moving read”
— Jimin Han, author of A Small Revolution
“The characters in each story reminded me of either myself or someone I know. Cannot wait for more from Vincent Chu. At the end of Like a Champion, I felt as if each story could be a full-fledged novel on its own”
— Shamala Palanappian, author of Elephant’s Breath
“These stories surprise and delight. Vincent Chu sees into the longings, quirks, and humanity of his characters, revealing the small moments that touch their lives with gravity and, often, grace”
— Lindsey Crittenden, author of The Water Will Hold You
“Independent presses are a lifeline in the publishing world. At a time when large publishing houses are merging into even larger conglomerates, writers may feel like finding a home for their work requires a very specific, and at times corporate, mindset. But indies show that there’s another way. Via contests, open calls for submissions (for agented and unagented writers), and targeted requests, independent presses provide an alternate arena, making publishing more of a reality for marginalized artists and those with unique voices and writing styles. Plus, they’re getting more and more recognition. This year Graywolf Press had several titles as finalists or longlisted for the National Book Award. Paul Harding’s Pulitzer winning book Tinkers was published by a university aligned press (Bellevue Literary).
Rosalie Morales Kearns, Leland Cheuk, and Laura Stanfill are indie publishers seeking to add to the publishing landscape in unique ways that speak to their own experiences and beliefs. I spoke with them about the missions of their presses, the challenges they face, and what authors and publishers should take into account about the business.
Jennifer Baker: In a world full of presses, why did you decide to create yours and what stands out about it that you saw lacking in the marketplace?”
Very excited to be announcing our 2019 books, a list that’s eclectic, diverse, and challenging, just as much so as the forthcoming 2018 list. I continue to be amazed at the quality of submissions (300+ in our first year). There are so many talented writers out there doing important work. I wish we could publish more of them.
If your submission is still in the queue, we’re now considering it for the 2020 list.
BESOTTED, a novel by Melissa Duclos
BESOTTED is the ballad of Sasha and Liz, American expats in Shanghai. Both have moved abroad to escape—Sasha from her family, Liz from a broken engagement. When they move in together, Sasha finds herself considering a future with Liz, who is far less certain. For fans of PRAGUE by Arthur Phillips and THE EXPATRIATES by Janice Y.K. Lee, BESOTTED is an expat novel that explores what it means to love someone while running away from yourself.
Melissa Duclos’s work has appeared in The Washington Post, Salon, Electric Literature, Fiction Advocate, Cleaver Magazine, Full Grown People, BookTrib, Mommyish, Bustle, and English Kills Review, and her essay in Salon was named Best Personal Essay of 2015. She earned her MFA in creative writing from Columbia University, where she was awarded the Guston Fellowship. She lives in Portland, OR with her two children and is at work on her second novel. You can follow her on Twitter (@melissaduclos) and at www.melissa-duclos.com.
NOT EVERYONE IS SPECIAL, stories by Josh Denslow
A teen who can teleport just wants to make his mom happy. A midget working as an elf in a year-round Christmas-themed amusement park battles his archrival: a condescending Santa. You’ve heard of Fight Club, but have you been to the Underground Punch Market? Like the work of George Saunders crossed with Richard Linklater, NOT EVERYONE IS SPECIAL is a collection of slacker fabulist stories that are at once speculative, hilarious, and poignant.
Josh Denslow’s stories have appeared in Barrelhouse, Third Coast, Cutbank, Wigleaf, and Black Clock, among others. In addition to constructing elaborate Lego sets with his three boys, he plays the drums in the band Borrisokane and edits at SmokeLong Quarterly. You can follow him on Twitter (@joshdenslow) and at www.joshdenslow.com.
PORTRAIT OF SEBASTIAN KHAN, a novel by Aatif Rashid
Sebastian Khan is 380 days away from the end of college. An art history major who’s as much a connoisseur of members of the opposite sex as he is of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, Sebastian starts dating Fatima, a Muslim American determined to transition smoothly from campus life to a stable white-collar professional career. Sebastian’s membership in Model United Nations, though, takes him to college campuses all around North America, testing his commitment to Fatima and his readiness for adulthood. PORTRAIT OF SEBASTIAN KHAN is a humorous coming-of-age novel about a charismatic but emotionally stunted Muslim American Don Draper, who wins as many hearts as he breaks.
Aatif Rashid is a writer living in Los Angeles. His work has appeared in, among other places, The Massachusetts Review, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and Metaphorosis, as well as online on Medium. You can follow him on Twitter (@Aatif_Rashid) and at aatifrashid.com.
KANSASTAN, a novel by Farooq Ahmed
Inspired by the American Civil War, KANSASTAN takes place in a dystopic Kansas that is besieged by its neighboring state, Missouri. Close to the state line, an orphaned Muslim boy lives atop a minaret and is relegated to custodial work by the mosque’s imam while the threat of occupation looms. The boy plots to take over the mosque and then lead the parishioners into war against Missouri, but his plans are upstaged by the arrival of his aunt and cousin. When his cousin is hailed as a new prophet and given command of the mosque, the narrator executes his power grab, for which he is imprisoned by his cousin’s followers as the faithful march on Missouri. Like Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD, but inspired by Islamic folklore and Quranic verses, KANSASTAN is a grim and harrowing look at the role of faith in America that is leavened by Ahmed’s singular lyricism.
Raised in the great state of Kansas, Farooq Ahmed is a graduate of the Columbia University Creative Writing Program and of Brown University, where he studied biochemistry. His writing has appeared in the Financial Times, Nature, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and has been lauded by the South Asian Journalists Association. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, two children, and a fear of earthquakes. You can follow him on Twitter (@mcfruke).
THE LIGHT SOURCE, a novel by Kim Magowan
When Heather finds out her best friend Julie is engaged, she becomes enraged. She’s watched Julie cycle through one boyfriend after another since they were boarding school roommates, always refusing to acknowledge Heather’s feelings for her. On the eve of Julie’s wedding, Heather makes sure the marriage doesn’t happen. That’s just the beginning of their two-decade-long on-and-off relationship. Narrated by seven characters, including Heather’s and Julie’s friends, THE LIGHT SOURCE is reminiscent of Meg Wolitzer’s THE POSITION and shows that what’s meant-to-be becomes increasingly complicated with age.
Kim Magowan’s debut short story collection, UNDOING, won the 2017 Moon City Press Short Fiction Award and is forthcoming in March 2018. Her fiction has appeared in Atticus Review, Bird’s Thumb, Cleaver, The Gettysburg Review, Hobart, New World Writing, Word Riot, and other journals. She is the Fiction Editor for Corium Magazine. She lives in San Francisco and teaches in the Department of Literatures and Languages at Mills College. You can follow her on Twitter (@kimmagowan).