"Tongue" by Paul Luikart

She said kill Clay if you love me and he did love her, loved her more than he’d ever loved a thing or an animal or a person before, loved her so much that sometimes her face came to him in dreams that began before he could even fall asleep. Some nights when the hot wind blew into his open window he’d smell her. From out across the prairie, way out where the wind sheared the corn all night long, he’d smell her. Not the animals, not the shit in the fields, but her—earthy, yes, a grainy smell, but with a sweet, hollow pit that he hadn’t ever smelled until he met her. He said he would do it. In the morning he’d trek out to Clay’s cabin with his deer rifle and shoot him through the heart.
    “Through the heart,” she said. “That’s nice. I like that. Through the heart.”
    She touched his chest when she said it, a rusty upturned nail of a touch, one finger upon which he hung his existence.
    “Bring me something. Something of his,” she said.
    “You mean like his hat?”
    “I want his tongue.”
    “Okay,” he said, “his tongue.”
    In the morning, prone behind an oak stump, he watched Clay step out the cabin’s front door and scratch his crotch and stick a cigarette in his mouth. The little puffs of smoke drifted up and into the morning fog, the wet air that spread itself as dew on the grass that soaked his legs and the front of his t-shirt as he lay there. The crack leapt from the chamber, bounding across the fields and rolling back. Clay, struck in the guts, tumbled off the porch and inched in the grass like a caterpillar, moaning his own name.
    “Oh Clay, son of a bitch, Clay.”
    He was upon him, flipping him on his back, straddling him where the bullet had busted into his intestines. He yanked the Buck knife from its sheath on his belt, stuck it deep into Clay’s mouth and worked the blade around and around and eventually out came the tongue, a swollen thick thing with two white, stubby fibers poking out from the back. He felt stupid suddenly, standing over Clay, holding the man’s own tongue. Clay wasn’t dead, not yet. He blubbered and spat and flapped his arms, but the red spot on the front of his tank-top grew and soon the grass and dew were a slime of blood and he quit moving altogether.
    When he gave her the tongue, at the back table at Ray’s, she took it and wrapped it in a napkin and dropped it into her purse.
    “Even if you were still alive,” she said, “you can’t lie to me without a tongue.”
    “I love you,” he said. “I really do. I just love you.”
    “You fucking fuck,” she said into her purse.
    “I never said that to a woman before.”
    “Do you know,” she said, “he’d tell me, all the time he’d tell me, ‘I’m going to get a newspaper,’ ‘I’m going to get some cigarettes,’ and he’d be gone for days, weeks.”
    “Did you hear me, baby?” he said.
    “Sure, baby. I hear you. All the way I hear you.”

 

Paul Luikart's collection Animal Heart comes out May 3rd, 2016. Order it now from our online bookstore! www.hyperboreapub.com/bookstore

"Too" by Ace Boggess

Now that Hyperborea Publishing is set to release my novel A Song Without a Melody, I find myself thinking often about the rejections I’ve received over the years. Some of these haunt me, and being obsessive like most writers, I often used them while trying to make this story better.

The book has gone through many revisions (originally, it was a third longer). Rarely have I sent it to more than two or three publishers without significant changes before the next. It has received many personal rejection letters by editors attempting to be supportive and helpful. Those letters have touched on many things that I’ve considered during future revisions. One thing, however, has not proven helpful, despite being a constant in these letters: the word ‘too.’ It seems to be everywhere: a favorite term of editors. What hasn’t been consistent, however, is what follows that one little word. The next words have skittered in all directions and left their ugly trails like the footprints of a mouse that just climbed out of a paint can. Underground presses have described the novel as too literary, while literary presses have deemed it too much a part of the subculture. I’ve seen it labeled too dense, too loud (a personal favorite), and too cynical. One editor found it too out there, and another too easygoing. A few have said it’s too personal, and that’s okay with me (regardless of whether it actually is). Is any writing ever really too personal?

Needless to say, I’ve come to hate the word ‘too.’ It’s too—oh, I don’t know—damning. When editors use the word ‘too,’ they heat a brand with which to mark my pages. This has happened so much that the book already looks like it’s sleeved in tattoos or wearing a 1980s-style gray denim jacket overrun with patches and buttons from heavy-metal bands. It’s just too much, and that’s too bad.

One thing I haven’t seen in regard to A Song Without a Melody is the phrase “too existential,” which surprises me too much to admit. All my novels are, at their heart, existential novels in the sense of Camus or Hesse. They deal with questions of identity, illusions, awakening, and transcendence. Human questions. This one just happens to be set in Pittsburgh in the 1990s, where a timid young reporter covering the local music scene falls for the lead singer of a small-time alternative band, the two of them trying to figure out who they are as their lives spiral into chaos. It’s angst-filled and sometimes bleak, but as with all existential novels, a depiction of human nature and a product of the times it explores. So, I guess it’s more of a Gen-Xistential novel. But not too Gen-Xistential. No, never that.

In any case, I’d like to suggest to editors—at least those genuinely trying to be helpful when writing personal rejections to authors—that they should take a scalpel and excise the word ‘too’ from their vocabularies. It’s too specific (though at the same time too ambiguous and therefore too confusing). It’s also too painful and too often wrong. In fact, in the last rejection letter I received for A Song Without a Melody before Hyperborea accepted it, the editor referred to my novel as—I shit you not—too mainstream.

What?

I was too shocked to be outraged. What I wouldn’t give to be too mainstream…

—Ace Boggess, author of A Song Without a Melody

Horror and Compassion: Paul Luikart on 'Animal Heart'

Good fiction tells the truth of the world to the people who inhabit it, whether those people care to know the truth or not. And, of course, the truth stays true in all kinds of weather, even for the person who walks in the rain and claims that it’s sunny. Now, the John Keats people might say that it’s beauty enough for truth to be truth. “In fact,” I can hear them saying, “there cannot be more beauty than truth.” I’m not sure that’s true. The John Keats opposition, as if there were such thing as a codified group of anti-John Keats people, might say that in order for truth to be beautiful, it also has to be actionable. It’s not enough to simply be true, but beauty is truth and truth is beauty, in both of their brightest forms, when truth and beauty lead to action that opposes the ugly, the hideous, and the detestable. Even if that action is internal. To think differently, for example. Or even to consider thinking differently. If truth, though, in and of itself, is not inherently beautiful, then it is inherently redemptive. This can and should be found in good fiction. When fiction is written well, it provides a view not only to humanity’s bloody past and present, but also to the possibility of a peaceful future for all people.

Writing that is visceral, confrontational, immediate, and graphic (non-gratuitously so, of course) is therefore vital to telling the tale of human beings. (And, by the way, writing that doesn’t primarily tell the tale of human beings cannot be literary.) When I was in middle school and high school, I was in the Boy Scouts. We did a lot of backpacking and the mantra was always, “Never hike faster than your slowest hiker.” It’s more important to get someplace together than to get there quickly, in other words. “We” is more important than “there.” Certainly the same notion applies to the purpose and function of good fiction. The Leo Tolstoy people would go so far as to say that if a piece of fiction (or any other kind of art) doesn’t serve to elevate humanity above its base circumstances and unite its disparate factions in some way, then it’s not actually art. As to what the anti-Leo Tolstoy people would say about what good fiction and art are, well, it’s tough to tell, but it would probably be a lot of different things. To which the Leo Tolstoy people would respond, “See! You’ve proved our point!” I digress, but only slightly. The point is that good fiction cannot exist if it doesn’t, in some way, consider those among us who are, for whatever reason, at their worst. Even if the consideration of them is in what the Ernest Hemingway people might call the part of the iceberg that’s submerged. Please don’t ask me what the anti-Ernest Hemingway people might say. Damn them.

Once, when I lived in Chicago, I was going for a run on the Lakefront Path, a long, asphalt-covered trail along the shore of Lake Michigan. It’s very popular and is typically used by walkers, urban hikers, runners, and cyclists. About a quarter of the way through my run, I came across the scene of a recent bike wreck. A small group of people huddled around a cyclist who was sprawled on the ground unconscious, with blood pooling under his head. I was instantly and thoroughly repulsed. I wanted nothing more than to un-see and somehow un-exist the scene. But in the next split second I was nearly washed away by compassion. Will he be okay? What if he’s not okay? How can I help him? What can I do? I have to do something. I have to help.

On one level, the stories in Animal Heart are not for the squeamish. There’s a lot of blood and death and cussing. But what I’ve attempted to do with each story is to provoke readerly reactions of both repulsion and compassion. If repulsion is born from “I” as a force that drives one away from a particular person or circumstance for the presumed preservation of the self, then compassion is nothing more than a force of attraction in which the “I” is subjugate to the “you.” “You” as greater than “I.” As an author, and as a human being, I’m fascinated by this. How can two emotional forces that are seemingly opposite—one of repulsion and one of compassion—occupy the same space in my heart and mind? In your heart and mind? In our collective hearts and minds? Animal Heart delivers no answers (mostly because I have none), but, if I’ve done my work correctly, you’ll ponder those questions too.

—Paul Luikart, author of Animal Heart

Catie Jarvis on 'The Peacock Room'

I dreamed of a man with one leg so long that it stretched across an ocean. While dreaming this, I was twenty. It seems so young now, but it didn’t then. I was at home for the summer between junior and senior year of college. It was a humid night and I lay in my childhood bed in New Jersey, alone. I had lain there alone for many years, but now I was in love, and for the first time my bed felt empty with just me in it. I didn’t like this about love, that it changed me.

In the dream people were lining up on the shore to walk across this man’s leg. I don’t know what they were fleeing from or where they were going, but the man with the leg was a willing ferry. There was a kindness in him; there was a story. The man in the dream smiled at me, and I knew he was someone that would be with me for a long time.

The Peacock Room, set to come out from Hyperborea this year, was born from this dream. The novel would form and re-form all through my twenties. It was a precarious time for me: the verge of adulthood. I had just ended my career as a competitive gymnast, a sport I had dedicated my whole life to. And then poof, it was over! I was no longer moulding my body 20 hours a week, focusing my mind for competitions, working towards another flip or twist, the only goals I knew how to conquer. I spent a great deal of energy at the end of my sport dreading the inevitability of injury and age that would, and did, take me out. We have these bodies, and then they begin to fail us. We have these special gifts, but it’s hard to know what to do with them or for how long they will last.

A few months into my novel, I remember having a conversation with my boyfriend in his small dorm room bed. I imagine it as a Socratic conversation that went something like this…

“Do you love me?”
“Yes.”
“Do you love my essence and not just my body?”
“Yes, of course. How absurd!”
“But it is? Would you love me without one leg? Or without two?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“Without arms? Without a torso?”
“That might be more difficult…”
“Without a head?”
“How could you be without a head?”
“Would you love me as a concept that you could not touch or hold?”
“I don’t know!”
“If not, then is it really even love at all or just the desire of two bodies forcing tricks on the mind?”

I had begun my lifelong inquiry into what makes us who we are, and what, exactly, does it mean to love.

The Peacock Room was really the start of my exploration into surrealism. I began devouring books that explored the bizarre nature of reality, that push past real in search of truth. Of course Vonnegut and Kafka. Flannery O’Connor. I became particularly devoted to every Haruki Murakami and Salmon Rushdie book I could get my hands on. At the time of my first draft of this novel, I also specifically remember that I was reading a lovely surrealist book called The Planets, by the author James Finney Boylan, who has transitioned now into Jennifer Finney Boylan. I remember thinking of The Planets, Yes, this strange world, yes!, this is the space I want to stay in forever! There was so much about what it is like to be human in these surrealist writings, and that’s where my heart as a writer lies.

In the past ten years, I’ve written at least 15 different versions of The Peacock Room. It is the novel by which I essentially taught myself to write a novel (with the help of many professors, books, and friends/editors along the way). I pared the book down from a messy and quite bizarre 500-page cacophony, to the more lyrical and only slightly surreal novel that it is today. Strangely, though, most of the things that I wrote down that night when I dreamed of my main character, Jonis, remain.

I woke up that night fully inspired the way every writer wants to be. I lit a candle that I kept by my bed, and began writing pages of notes. Every major character in my novel came into formation that night, names and all, and so too came the questions that these characters were driven by, the questions that I have decided are my lifelong journey to examine.

What is the nature of our identity, the uniqueness that makes each of us who we are? What does it mean to transform? How can we reckon with the holding and releasing required of us in this life, and the natural human fear of change, which in my opinion causes all real problems: spiritual, political, environmental, ad infinitum?

—Catie Jarvis, author of The Peacock Room

E.J. Bancesco on the origins of 'The Scarf'

When I came to the United States early in 1983, I left behind all my Romanian books, worried that on impact with the vast unknown that was the English language, I would retreat for comfort into pages written in my mother tongue, and thus delay acquiring the vital ability to communicate in my new country. And I was right. No sooner had I found myself answering the telephone in an architectural office, than I panicked and fumbled for cover, but there was none.

Today, over three decades later, and with two novels under contract for publication, the English language doesn’t seem any less vast; but like an explorer deep in the wild, I feel a bit more equipped to confront the unpredictable.

I labored about fifteen years on my first novel, Adrift, and for most of that time I never made it past page 93, but in 2009 I began devouring how-to books on novel writing, and two years later I had completed a 94,000-word manuscript.

In 2015, after countless rewrites, I had a publishing contract. This brings me to The Scarf, my second novel, which Raphael was generous enough to show interest in, and then to accept me into his family of authors at Hyperborea. It took me eighteen months to write The Scarf, and just as long to polish it into a submittable manuscript. The plot was weaved around an episode in my adolescence in the summer of 1968 when I was singing with a rock band in a seedy port town on the banks of the Danube.

Just like Clovis, the novel’s main character, I was ambushed by a gang of black marketer hooligans and forced to have sex with a woman who was lame in one leg, only because I had the cheek to pursue a local girl whose protector the gang leader claimed to be.

I do not believe there is one friend of mine left not knowing about that incident. Indeed, I told it so many times, that one day my wife said: “Enough. Do us all a favor, bury this story in a novel, and be done with it.”

And so, I began thinking about this Clovis, and proceeded to endow him with a background, a personality, and a driving desire. These three essentials were daunting at first, like chambers piled up with straw that must be turned into gold by dawn, or else. But then, as happens with fiction when you fuel it with truth, the story came alive and I found myself a witness to its unfolding. Well, almost, and not constantly, for now and then I had to pause, think anew, cut passages I loved, or expound on things I knew nothing about.

In the process, I found that writing means scrutinizing the world with a probing eye, learning the truth about things you must bring into your stories, and most importantly, delivering the truth in a way that hasn’t been done before. Or at least trying until you hurt.

Literature and the Fight Club Demographic

Several authors and friends have rightly asked me how Hyperborea will set itself apart not only from the puffed-up penguins and random houses dotting the landscape of mainstream publishing, but also from the myriad other small presses that proliferate like mushrooms on the larger ones’ refuse. While I have answers involving the peculiarities of our business structure and operations, and the character of the material we publish—which have and shall be expounded in other places—another facet of the answer involves the specific readers we try to reach, and our reasons for so doing. This post deals with one such group. (Please do not misunderstand and think that it is the only one.)

Nowadays, women buy more books than men do, and they read more than men do. This asymmetry is especially acute among the uniquely lame “millennial” generation (a loathsomely sticky term used to denote people born between 1980 and 2000). This isn’t a historically unique phenomenon; there is, for example, the stereotype of the Victorian lady frolicking in the leaves of the latest frilly social novel, while her fulsomely mustached husband and father busy themselves otherwise, presumably hunting foxes and conquering India. And it isn’t always and everywhere a problem; women certainly should read, though frankly it would be nice if they’d go back to wetting themselves over Mr. Darcy and Count Vronsky rather than Edward Craven and Christian Grim. But today this disparity is a symptom of a truly virulent disease, and also, I believe, in a kind of vicious cycle, one of its causes. The disease is the crisis of identity, ability, and confidence that has afflicted western man during the past several decades—and now more acutely than ever. The erosion of religion, nationalism, imperialism with its associated core and frontier, and the “nuclear” family (I don’t like that term either) has robbed man—or a certain type of man, and a few women too—of his raison d’être. He is adrift in a milieu where he feels—and often truly is—utterly useless and obsolete. At best he is treated as something quaintly anachronistic, at worst as something brutal and frightening. Essential pieces of his being are treated as pathological, like bone spurs to be sanded off, as though he were born misshapen and now must be broken and set right. Admonished by his elders and cynical peers to “play the game,” he knows that the game he’s in wasn’t made for him, and balks at the notion that life and love should be a game at all.

In 1962 the ethologist John B. Calhoun showed that over-crowding and the absence of hunger and predation resulted in bizarre and destructive behavior among rats (read about it). I won’t draw out my argument pedantically here, but I and others believe that the same sort of thing has happened to young men in affluent western countries, albeit the causes are more complex as humans are more complex than rats. Many smart, healthy, educated, relatively affluent, and materially comfortable young men are nonetheless miserable and forlorn, rudderless and deracinated; and this affects not only them but the young women who they should be loving and caring for, their parents who love and care for them, and our once great now tremulous civilization. These men are materially comfortable, so why are they spiritually restless? It is because a certain type of man is not made to be comfortable; or at least for him comfort is not a satisfying end. (Once again I will emphasize that there is a small but important handful of women of this type too.) For this type of man, comfort is not dignity—there is dignity in striving, in learning more, in building more, in being more. But though these men are strivers with great potential, they are not all leaders; the large majority are followers and they have been misled and abandoned by leaders who don’t understand and don’t care for them. So like Calhoun’s rats they sink into flabby degeneracy, obsessing over video games, sports, pornography; drinking too much alcohol, eating junk food, taking too many drugs, and taking drugs for the wrong reasons; treating women like wads of Kleenex and measuring their virility by the number of notches on their bedposts rather than the affection and happiness they could share with any particular woman. They are lost; and to return to their proper path, they must rediscover who they are. They must embrace the “strenuous life,” physically, intellectually, and spiritually; and their personal renaissance may bring about a new golden age for us all.

I don’t want to over-romanticize all those things I mentioned before: religion, nationalism, empire, the frontier; even “traditional” gender roles can be fetishized by some who lament our modern ennui. Besides, time only flows in one direction, and we couldn’t really go backwards even if we all tried. But though western man and woman no longer believe in these things as they once did, these are not the only wellsprings of purpose and dignity accessible to the aforementioned striving type of man. There are also those liberal arts and sciences, some as ancient as the pillars of Athens, that empower us to connect with the universe around us, and in so doing to connect with ourselves, our past and our future. One of these pillars is the humble written word, the atom from which all our collective dreams and personal myths are made. It is my desire to reconnect the Man with the Word, and this desire motivates all my actions in my present enterprise, and will in the future, because I believe it can animate men once more “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

I could go on and on, because this is a jumping-off point for lots of other topics, and there are perhaps details I should add to be clearer and avoid misunderstanding—but I won’t right now. We’ll talk of these matters later. For now, brothers and sisters, my friends, I thank you once again for reading.

Sincerely,

Raphael W. Deketele, M.A.

CEO, Hyperborea Publishing

editor@hyperboreapub.com

613-290-2620

O brave new world that has such publishers in it!

Ladies and gentlemen, friends and countrymen, I am immensely pleased to unveil my nascent brainchild, Hyperborea Publishing, an independent book and e-book publisher based in Canada. Thank you for visiting our website and taking the time to read our first blog post.

Hyperborea has been established in response to the large and growing demand from writers—established and aspiring, in Canada and elsewhere—who are frustrated and disenchanted with the mainstream publishing industry. Many intelligent and creative writers who are producing beautiful work are nonetheless rejected by large publishers and literary agents because their work is not anticipated to sell in sufficient volume; and even those whose work is accepted earn meager royalties (7-12% of the retail price for paper books), and cede much creative control to publishers, who are typically unresponsive to writers’ concerns about the integrity of their art. Often writers can’t secure a publishing contract without employing an agent, whose fees cut into their earnings even further (typically by 15-20%). Writers go along with this because they think there are no better options. Sometimes they’re right. But we at Hyperborea are working hard to create a new publishing system that is profitable, fair to writers, and committed to producing intellectually and aesthetically powerful content.

Hyperborea is dedicated to publishing first-rate fiction, poetry, and non-fiction in the arts and humanities, while guaranteeing fair contracts and generous royalties for authors. Think of us as the fair-trade coffee of the publishing world—only the producers we work with are not salt-of-the-earth, basket-on-head farmers, but clever and talented (if occasionally moody and flighty) authors.

We’re new, small, smart, creative, politically incorrect, and openly contemptuous of authority. Personally, the only part of that that I want to change is the “small.” We’ve already begun receiving manuscripts of novels, novellas, short stories, and poems, and we are eager to gather more. This year, in addition to 5-10 novels, we are planning to publish an anthology of short stories and poems. In addition to soliciting manuscripts and promoting the company online, I hope to travel soon to visit with creative writing MFA students and writing groups across Canada, to meet up-and-coming writers and seek out great new work. We’re also looking to network with visual artists who may be interested in designing book covers in the near future; again, outside-the-box thinking and avant-garde style are appreciated here (and if this piqued your interest, be sure to stay tuned for details about our upcoming logo contest!).

This website (hyperboreapub.com) will be our online home. Though it’s sparse now, it will be filled with great content as we go along. Through this blog and various social media platforms, we will share information about our books as well as news, reviews, and commentary about literature, writing, publishing, and more!

Please help us get off to a great start by sharing this website etc. with your friends and family who may be interested, as writers or as readers. Like our Facebook page and bookmark our blog for updates. Submissions and inquiries can be sent to editor@hyperboreapub.com … don’t be shy! This is going to be an exciting and meaningful journey, and I humbly invite you—each of you—to be a part of it. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Raphael W. Deketele, M.A.

CEO, Hyperborea Publishing

editor@hyperboreapub.com

613-290-2620