Booksellers Without Bosses: Push/Pull

Businesses are usually hierarchical and authoritarian. They put turning a profit first, sometimes to the detriment of the planet and their employees. In this interview series, we’re highlighting presses and bookstores managed along horizontal lines. Some are cooperatives, while others simply reduce hierarchies in their management. By spreading out leadership and in some cases ownership of a business, these companies allow their employees to steer them into making sustainable, ethical choices that aren’t driven by profit.

Push/Pull is an underground art and comic store, as well as a community space in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. They’re a cooperative producing and publishing art and comics in their own space. Push/Pull hosts art classes for adults and youth and is also an event space for art exhibits. This interview was conducted with Maxx, the director of Push/Pull.

They’ve been forced to shut their doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Please consider supporting them by buying some comics and artwork from their webstore, or by joining their VIP Club. You can also make a simple donation to them here.

This interview was conducted with Maxx Follis-Goodkind from Push/Pull.

Thomas Chisholm (TC)

How did Push/Pull begin? Where did it operate out of before the current location? When did it transition to a cooperative model?

Maxx Follis-Goodkind (MFG)

Push/Pull began in 2013 as a studio/gallery space in the Greenwood Collective. I had been a part of another collective gallery in the space and wanted to start my own project that allowed for more focus on illustrator artists who create more than just fine art. I wanted it to be a member model and asked at least a dozen artists if they wanted to be involved. Only one artist signed up, Seth Goodkind. For the first few months it was just the two of us showing our art and merchandise. In Spring of 2014, we started working together to curate guest artists and eventually group shows. In 2015, we decided that we wanted to move towards a cooperative business model and shift into a larger space that is open daily. We gathered our first members to help establish the Push/Pull Operating Agreement and rented out our current space in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. We were able to do it thanks to a successfully funded Kickstarter campaign.


What does it mean to be a cooperative at Push/Pull? How are workers’ positions organized, do people work in a specific role until they tire of it?


Everyone at Push/Pull is a member-owner and we all work together to keep things running on different levels. Members are asked to sign up for at least six months and are welcome to stay as long as they’d like, as long as there are not any conflicts with the Operating Agreement. There are only a few positions: Director, Assistant Director, and Member. Technically everyone is a member, but the Director and Assistant Director roles have additional duties. All members sign up for days to cover the front desk and do our daily duties. Everyone meets once a month to discuss business items and to make decisions. No one has a stronger voice than anyone else, no matter their title. Members are welcome to leave whenever they like, but are asked for thirty days’ notice. Members may express interest in Director/Assistant Director roles or be asked to consider them.


I imagine certain tasks require quite a bit of institutional knowledge, how are people trained? Are there departments? Do position changes happen in calendar cycles?


Most of the higher-level tasks are done by the Director, me. I went into this with a lot of knowledge of running organizations due to having many different roles in my professional career before Push/Pull. Each member is encouraged to take on administration tasks as they are able or as they would like. Members sometimes update the website, handle marketing tasks, or help with bookkeeping. I work with each member on what tasks they feel it would benefit them to learn. We don’t have departments or set changes.


How many members are there at Push/Pull? Are members paid?


Member numbers range between six and twelve, but right now we have eight. Members aren’t paid, but do have financial benefits—higher commission rates and lower rates for classes. Technically we have a profit-sharing agreement, but that requires making a profit (something we’re still working on).


Are there any Push/Pull volunteers?


We don’t have volunteers right now.


As the director and founder of Push/Pull do you own a larger share of the business? If so, do you see a day where this is no longer the case?


I do own a larger share of the business. This is mainly so that I can make financial agreements and decisions without gathering multiple people. I do see a day when this is no longer the case. We are actually working on a new business model as a non-profit right now, which would remove any ownership. We’re still at least a few months away and haven’t worked out all of the details yet.


How does Push/Pull sustain itself in a city as expensive as Seattle? Does being a nonprofit help?


Technically we aren’t a nonprofit—we have nonprofit projects, but the business is an LLC. There isn’t a model for being a cooperative business and a nonprofit—or at least not one that I can find. As far as sustaining ourselves, we’re lucky that we found a place four years ago with very reasonable rent. With everything else, we all just work really hard to make it happen. There aren’t days off for me. But, I believe in the work that we do and that it is worth it. I dream of a day when the city actually gives landlords incentives for renting to art groups, lower utility costs, etc. Thankfully we’ve got supporters and customers as stubborn as I am that have given and purchased generously to help keep everything going.


In my experience living in co-ops, everything happens incredibly slowly. Is there anything about the cooperative model that inhibits Push/Pull or its members? What are the drawbacks of cooperation?


Everyone has to have other sources of income, so it can be hard for anyone to focus on progress as much as we want. Things do happen slowly, but I wouldn’t say incredibly slowly. Complications happen when someone leaves Push/Pull and was in charge of a task and there isn’t a member to replace them. For example, I had someone helping with artist sales reports. When that person left I didn’t have anyone available with the same skills to take over, or anyone interested and I never force anyone to take on a task. That meant I had to divert my time over to working on sales reports; it’s nothing bad, but it slows down progress in other areas. I’ve never wanted to run an organization that was about me, so even with the occasional complications of cooperation, I wouldn’t say there were drawbacks. I think it’s the only model that works for me because we get so many awesome people with their unique experiences and talents. We don’t always agree and my ideas don’t always win, but that’s the point. We wouldn’t still be around without the dozens of artists that have been members, lending their time and voice to the organization.


What advice would you give to folks interested in forming a cooperative business?


I would tell them to leave their ego at the door because it’s not about you. I think one of the most important clauses of our Operating Agreement is the one that details how to remove me. Why? Because a cooperative is about creating a community and a community is not about one person. I would also say to be careful about who joins. It took us a while to figure out what would make a good member. Though we have an incredibly deep appreciation for our first members, the folks that we have now are a better fit for long-term membership due to specific skills that they can bring—like customer service, teaching, or marketing.

Fire and Flames

Most people don’t wish their house had burned down, but Ralph Herbertson did.

If it did, there would have been insurance payouts, an excuse to leave, new beginnings, and best of all—ashes in place of memories. For weeks Ralph sat on the porch watching the murky-orange glow of flames on the horizon, breathing in the crisp diffusion of smoke like the warm scent of an apple pie. The Northfield wildfire was devouring the Rocky Mountains, and all he had to do was wait.

Nothing had been right in the place since Marcie left. Yes, things had gone south long before then because losing a child is one of those things that destroys life’s puzzle. It shatters the pieces, scatters them into mayhem and leaves some forever missing. But it took another ten months for the marriage to dissolve.

They had failed their young boy, their only child. That’s what Marcie said, almost daily, and what Ralph came to believe as well. Since Henry’s death he felt more sorrow and despair than the human psyche could ever possibly digest, but the guilt was most potent. Guilt because no matter how much they did, how much they spent, where they went or the specialists they sought, the boy’s leukemia refused to be beat. It ravaged his frail body with the unresting persistence of a Vegas casino. And in the end, it proved the old adage true; the house is damn hard to beat.

Yet, every time Ralph glimpsed Marcie’s gray-blue eyes in the ten months that followed, he felt that they could have done more. It was a parent’s curse, Ralph knew that. But he felt it nonetheless. And when Marcie finally packed her bags and drove away in her little green Subaru, the house went irreversibly cold.

The lawyers did what lawyers do and Ralph signed where he was told. After the i’s were dotted and t’s were crossed, he was left with the house. Marcie didn’t want it. She proposed they sell and split the proceeds, but Ralph refused. He’d be damned if she could walk away from everything with half the dough, but he never had the slightest intention of staying. So, while the fire made its vicious progression toward the house, Ralph sat in comfort.

That big, bad, fightin’ machine ate up western Colorado like Thanksgiving dinner. It ripped through more than a hundred homes, turning walls and roofs to dust and rubble until finally it was Ralph’s turn to evacuate. He spent the time blissfully holed up in a dumpy motel room, tuned in to the reign of destruction. 50,000 acres of damage became 100,000, then 155,000. Six firefighters lost their lives. A terrible tragedy.

But at least Ralph’s house was as good as gone. Because life takes and it gives, right? It took Henry’s short life and ended the marriage; at least now it would take that dreadful house, too. Ralph would be left to move on, leave it all behind him, and start over with a sizeable check from the insurance company. Marcie would get nothing but disappointment and regret, and all in the world would be evenly calibrated once again.

Instead, after a month and a half in a Motel 6, Ralph was allowed to return home. His house had been saved. It was nothing short of a miracle, you’re the only house within a hundred acres that was saved, but we did it! The flames never reached your front door!

No, but they reached everything around it. Every stock of grass, every beautiful, blossoming flower. The flames purged everything Ralph loved about the property and left the one thing he despised.

And now, selling was no longer an option.

No one would buy a lonely house (no more neighbors) on ten acres of a dead, alien version of Earth. Not a single blade of grass for miles, just the firm, cement-colored soil littered with charred timber. The trees that once fostered a dynamic ecosystem were stripped naked and bare like millions of telephone poles devoid of energy. The animals (that survived) were gone.

It was just Ralph and his Rita Remote—Top of the market wireless smart remote with support for over 1,000 brands and compatibility with up to five devices.

He’d had it installed about two weeks after Marcie left, and what an advantageous exchange that turned out to be. Simply murmur Rita out loud and a lovely electronic hum replies, Hello. How can I help you? Turn on the TV? You got it. Play “Paradise City” by Guns N’ Roses? No problemo. Ask Rita Remote to dim the lights and she’ll even display a little digital switch on her screen so that your fat thumb can adjust it to just the right glow. With that small gizmo Ralph could control the entire house from the palm of his hand.

He took a sip from his scotch and reclined his Lay-Z-Boy. “Rita?”

Hello. How can I help you?

“Turn on Game Show Network.”  

And just like that, they were joined by Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek wearing that flat-but-cordial grin as the timer ticked away. It’s a cruel world with small pleasures.

Ralph brought his glass back to his lips as a pale beanstalk of a man requested American Presidents for 400, and Alex Trebek began reading the clue in his timeless American tenor.

Woodrow Wilson,” Ralph mumbled. The president who went by his middle name and established the Federal Reserve, prompting his later appearance on the $100,000 bill that was used sparingly but never circulated. That was an easy one.

I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that. What did you say?

Ralph snorted a laugh and caressed Rita Remote with his thumb. “Nooo, wasn’t talkin’ to you, darlin’,” he drawled. He took another sip and the remaining ice cubes followed the last droplet as it trickled out. Time for a refill.

Ralph ambled into the kitchen.

“Rita? Turn on kitchen lights.” He immediately regretted it. “Rita? Turn off kitchen lights.”

He leaned onto the counter and rested his head beside the tall bottle of scotch. The little journey from living room to kitchen had revived that mean thumper of a headache. That insistent hammering at his forehead. He closed his eyes.

Darkness. What a wonderful thing.

When Ralph looked up again, he caught a faint light out the kitchen window. He could only squint against the headache in his temples, but there was no need to open any further; the damn garage light was on.

He cursed his good-for-nothin’ memory.

What an unforeseen inconvenience it was not to have paid to include the garage in the Rita Remote’s installation. At the time it seemed like an unnecessary, even gluttonous, addition. And those new age techy specialists will nickel-and-dime you if you let ‘em.

But what a cheap idiot he had been. Ralph envisioned those techy kids chuckling at him, then poured another drink.

He stepped into a pair of loose leather boots and opened the front door. The bitter bite of the night air filled his lungs and gripped his throat. It felt wonderful. It was a welcome relief to what had been an unseasonably warm winter so far, and unseasonably warm winters led to summers where forest fires scorched the state. That was something Ralph could never forget.

He took a sip, then trudged across the yard. The space was once a fifteen-yard stretch of open grass that he and Marcie would intentionally leave uncut. A space where deer often grazed—sometimes a dozen at a time—on early spring mornings, just outside the living room window. Now, it was just charred dirt.

Ralph flipped off the garage light and took half a step before tripping. The glass of scotch shattered at his feet; electric pain shot up his shin.

“Godda—” Ralph clenched his teeth. It’s the umpteenth time he’s caught a pedal to the shin because Henry likes to jump right off and let the damn thing fall where it stands, never mind if that’s smack dab in the middle of the doorway. The boy has the whole garage, has the whole yard, and still

Ralph’s chest deflated when he flipped the light on.

It wasn’t Henry’s bike that tripped him, it was the edge of his rolling tool chest. And how awful to assume, even for a second, that it was the bike—that little thing hadn’t been around for years, let alone in the way.

Ralph kicked the steel chest. What he wouldn’t give for Henry’s bike to have tripped him instead. And for that little boy to be racing up and down the driveway again. The breeze combing his hair and tugging at each end of his smile.  

There was a pool of scotch and a spattering all the way to the spare gasoline cans against the wall. Shards of fractured glass protruding from the spill like rocks in a tidepool. But that was all right. The mess would be there in the morning and there was more scotch inside. There was always more.

“Rita, turn off—” Then Ralph remembered. He could hear the little remote burring a response in his pocket, but this was out of her jurisdiction. Ralph flipped off the light the old fashion way. He staggered back across the yard and through the front door, stumbling as he kicked his boots off one at a time.

“Rita, turn on entryway lights.” This time she did as instructed, but Ralph rested his head against the wall before the hall was illuminated. He drew a breath and fought back the headache slicing its own San Andreas Fault down his forehead. Only one fix for that.

When he returned to the La-Z-Boy with a new glass of scotch, Alex Trebek had been replaced by a round man selling the newest and greatest solution to hair loss. The guy would be better off focusing on a weight loss solution, Ralph thought, but to each their own. Ralph Herbertson would never be mistaken for an Olympian, either. Although—in the thirty or so years following high school—he had managed to stay on the right side of the obesity epidemic, if maybe occasionally walking the line. But it wasn’t hot doggies and French fries that turned him circular, it was the booze. And right about now, for the same reason, his bladder was screaming.

“Take a whiz for me, Rita.”

Hello. How can I help you?

“I said, Would you kindly relieve my poor bladder, please?”

I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that. What did you say?

Ralph chuckled. He pushed himself to his feet.  

Since Marcie left, the shift from room to room had the feel of trespassing across vacant property. She never filled the place with her presence, but without her there was an emptiness that permeated the rooms like the scent of an embalmed body: musty perfume masking the fragrance of death.

At least little Henry’s death occurred in a sterile, drug-infused hospital room and not this miserable place. The boy fell into his final sleep surrounded by Mommy and Daddy and several bumbling doctors incapable of preserving his innocent soul. But that wasn’t on Ralph’s mind as he staggered into the bathroom because scotch has a way of making you forget.

“Rita, turn on bathroom-1 lights.” One of the lights was out, casting shadows in odd angles across the square, half-lit room.

Ralph did his business, then stood in front of the sink and leveled his gaze on the reflection in the mirror. It was worse than the last time he dared a glance. You ugly sonofabitch, he thought. When had his wrinkles turned from seasoned to cruel? The evolution was complete now, stiff and cemented. But hell, when had he started to look like such a decrepit old geezer?

Probably when Henry died. Then Marcie went and expedited the process with all her blaming and sobbing. That was why he looked like shit.

Ralph opened the drawer under the sink. He took out an electric razor. There was a time in the marriage when Marcie had been so full of glitter and gold that she wrapped the razor under the Christmas tree as if it was an upgrade to his old-fashioned shaft and blade. He didn’t care for it and he didn’t pretend to, which is why the little electric toy wound up dusty in a spare bathroom drawer. An artifact from a former era.

But the baby still worked when plugged in. Of course it did. Divorce or not, electricity still reigned supreme. Ralph marveled at the buzzing vibration in his palm, the unburdened and persistent electric purr. He brought the sensation to his cheek, then to his scalp. He buzzed a straight line through the center of his hair, the opposite of a mohawk, and looked at his work in the mirror. It felt a lot better than it looked. He brought the razor back to his head and buzzed around his left ear. It was like a massage. Ralph closed his eyes, then buzzed some more.

The razor’s remorseless destruction was intoxicating, the way it devoured whatever lay in its path. But the ecstasy dulled as more and more hair gathered in the sink until eventually there was no remaining pleasure in dragging the vibration over his dry scalp.

Ralph turned the razor off and ran a hand over his head. He did a sloppy job; there were still various clusters of hair. They were in spots he couldn’t see, not that he was even looking. Ralph was locked in stare with his own sunken eyes. Their hazel tint gone somber and dull. They lacked their old gleam, lacked any sense of vibrancy at all.            

He took Rita Remote from his pocket. “Rita, my darling, rewind the clock ten years, will ya?”  

Did you say, Play “10 Years” by Wasteland?

“No. That’s not what I said.”

I’m sorry, I must have missed that. What did—

“Shut up.” Ralph clamped the remote in his palm to mute the sound. He glared into his reflection. The wrinkles spread like roots from chin to forehead. They were evidence of years he couldn’t remember. Evidence of struggles that yielded nothing but more struggles. And what did he have to show for it besides a dead son, estranged wife, and an empty house?  

Ralph tightened his grip around the remote. He clenched until his hand was shaking, until his whole arm was trembling, then drove his fist into his reflection. Right between the eyes.

“Rita? Turn off bathroom-1 lights.” He uncoiled his fingers and slide the remote into his pocket. In the dark, Ralph could feel more than he could see a shard of glass stuck between his middle and pointer finger. He plucked it out, felt a surge of blood merge with the warm pools settling in the creases of his palm.

You started it, Ralph.

“What?” He spun around in the empty bathroom.

You started the fire.

“Marcie?” he asked. No, it wasn’t Marcie. Didn’t sound anything like Marcie. Why would it be?

You started the fire.

“No I didn’t!” Ralph pushed through the door and staggered into the hall. “Rita, turn on hallway-1 lights.” He used a finger to dim them halfway down the dial. His hand was already dripping blood, spotting the floorboards with thick crimson blots. But it looked worse than it felt, much worse, and he could thank the patron saint of scotch for that.

Ralph brought his bloody hand into the kitchen and wrapped it with a dish towel. He plopped down on a chair. Marcie had neglected most of the kitchen items when she packed up and left, but these days it looked emptier than ever. Like every object turned hollow. All the non-perishable cans in the pantry, the bag of flour beside them, the milk in the fridge. Even the shadows—the same shadows cast by the same cheap light above—looked sharper and deeper.  

Why didn’t they just let this damn place burn, Ralph thought. He sure thought it would. Hell, he had been certain.

The little round clock on the wall beeped to signal the change of hour. Ten o’clock. Ralph poured himself a shot and threw it back.

“Rita? Turn off kitchen lights.” He stumbled around the corner and immediately stopped in place. His dead son was standing at the end of the hall. Ralph blinked.

“Henry?” he murmured. The boy was pale as printer paper. But hadn’t he always looked a little on the pasty side? Leukemia will do that to a child.

Ralph smiled and took a small step forward. “Welcome back, buddy,” he whispered. The boy took an equal step back. “Hey, it’s okay.” Ralph extended a hand. He took another step forward. “You’re home now.”

Henry began to cry. His fits always commenced with a quivering furrow in his eyebrows, as if he was programmed to render a warning before the tears, a brief flash of lightning before the big boom. It was happening now. His eyes swelled, then a single black tear trickled down his cheek.

“Rita, TURN HALLWAY LIGHTS OFF!” Ralph shouted.

It’s your fault, Ralph. It came with the darkness. As if it belonged to the darkness. Unconfined, like smog in the air. And it sure sounded like Marcie, but it was only her words—not her voice. No, definitely not her voice. Too artificial to be her voice.

You started the fire.

“No, I didn’t!” Ralph thundered. And that was true. He didn’t start the fire. It was some bang-bang-boom-loving drunkard expressing his passion for Uncle Sam through a series of fireworks you can’t exactly buy from the local shop down the street. Ralph had been at home, 150 miles away.

“I didn’t do it!” He staggered backward until his hand met the front door, then grasped the handle and turned. He fell into the night air, tripped backward, and folded to the ground. Such cold, dead earth against his face and arms. Ralph rolled over. Henry’s image hovered above him the way contours of a room linger in front of your eyes after the lights are abruptly cut. The boy’s gaunt face etched with tears the color of soot.

Ralph pushed himself to his knees, held a breath, then coughed it out and vomited. His shaved head felt newly naked and exposed in the cold. He vomited again.

Once the air was tainted by a sour and acidic stench, Ralph got to his feet and used the backside of his hand to wipe his face. His forehead was thumping—a jackhammer pounding away at a pool of concrete just above his eyes.

And the garage light was still on. How in the hell was that possible?

Ralph cursed.

He had already gone out to the garage, flipped the switch and tripped over his tool chest. His shin could testify to that. He turned the light on to assess the broken glass, then off again right after. Ralph was sure of it.

But he had also been sure that his house would go up in flames and that assumption was fool’s gold.

He fumbled his way across the yard, the patch that used to blossom with bright purple columbines for a few weeks every summer. Ralph looked up and froze in his sloppy steps. Henry was standing just inside the door. Dried, black tears crusted on his boney cheeks. Snot under his nose.

“No . . .” Ralph slapped himself across the cheek. He blinked, but the boy was still there.

It was you, Ralph.

“What? What did you say?”

But Henry’s lips hadn’t moved. They remained dry and sealed.

You started the fire.

“No!” Ralph took a step back. “No! Get away!” His shout echoed off the mountainside.

Henry began to lift his arm. His thin fingers curled until only one was extended. Pointing, Ralph realized. He followed the boy’s finger to the corner of the house, the big window displaying the living room. What he noticed first was that the TV was on (and dammit, he had without a doubt, most certainly turned that off) but his eyes shifted, and his every muscle went stiff.

There he was, sitting in his La-Z-Boy, eyes glued to the screen and scotch in hand. At least that’s what it looked like. Ralph turned to Henry, then back to the window. The figure was still there, slouched and unmoved from the recliner, like human Jell-O set in its cup.  

“Hey!” Ralph yelled. “Hey! Hello?”

Hello. How can I help you?

Ralph cupped his pocket to mute Rita Remote. He was panting. And he was also still sitting in that chair, watching TV. How?

He looked at Henry. Gradually, the boy brought his arm back to his side.

“Talk to me!” Ralph pleaded. He wiped sweat from his forehead. “Please! Say something!” A mumbled buzz came from his pocket. Ralph lifted his hand. “Rita?”

Good evening, Ralph.

He drew the little remote from his pocket.

Start the fire.


Start the fire, Ralph.

He looked up. Henry was gone—nothing left but the door frame, open and illuminated.

Do it, Ralph. Start the fire.

Ralph clenched Rita in his hand. He walked slowly, but without stumbling, through the yard and into the garage. He looked down at the spilled scotch on the cement. Then at the spare gasoline cans against the wall. Marcie’s fault, Ralph thought. She was the one who insisted on keeping the extra one-gal gas cans around. We live in the middle of fricken nowhere, it’d be nice to know we have enough gas if we inadvertently get low, she’d said. Yes, this was her fault.

Ralph stowed Rita Remote in his pocket and lifted a can in each hand. He returned to the house, set the cans inside the door and pulled out the nozzles. He started right there in the hallway, pouring a steady trail up and down the carpet. Ralph skipped the kitchen—no sense wasting good fuel on linoleum with a house made of wood.

He peered into the living room, ensured that the Lay-Z-Boy was once again empty. It was. He poured a circle around the recliner and depleted the rest of the can in the adjacent room that Marcie once used as an office. The last can was still waiting in the hallway. That one was for the living room exclusively.

But first, a drink.

Ralph removed a clean glass from the kitchen cupboard, took two ice cubes from the fridge, and emptied the bottle into his glass.

“Rita, my love, I wish we could share a drink.” He raised the glass in toast.

Cheers to friendship?

“Cheers to friendship,” Ralph said. He took a swig. 

He retrieved the second can from the hallway and stopped to grab a photo of Henry off the wall, one of Ralph’s favorites taken candidly of the boy playing with their cat Dewey. Old Dewey went the same way as Marcie, sitting shotgun in that old green Subaru as it sped away. But the boy’s smile was immortalized in a glow holding more life than he was afforded in years.

Ralph doused the living room. He left the two empty cans on the kitchen counter and took a box of matches from the drawer. He lit the first match at one end of the hall, dropping five more on his way to the office. Another two there. He hopped over the ensuing flames into the living room. There, Ralph lit the remaining matches and scattered them around the room.

He collapsed into his Lay-Z-Boy recliner with Henry’s photo in his lap. Ralph sipped his scotch and drew the remote from his pocket. “Rita?”

Hello. How can I help you?

Clean Magic

1. Legless

He wakes, parch mouth and belly scratch. First thing he sees is Lily gone. Second thing, he is missing his legs.

They were his. Grown out of his hipholes, and how she took them without his waking is wonder enough. He always knew she would leave him, so far out of his reach. But he thought she would leave him his legs.

The drapes are pulled back. He likes to drift off sleepy to the moon. This time of morning, the sun has taken its place. Yellow and warm on the blanket. Right where his legs used to be.

And, oh yes, no blood. Nothing open where a severing might have happened. This was clean magic. Like Lily. He never knew where she came from. Just got caught one day in her hairflow and skinsilk – then poof!

But oh, how to live from here on? This is what. A glass of simple water. An ocean away. A bedroom walk. Even a small one is hard. One crawl, his hipbones bouncing over footprints. His arms, the arms that held Lily like a feathercloud, will have to be his legs, knuckling him to the kitchen, and then what of the sink?

His ache for Lily has to deaden now, no time for love or desire. He drops like an orange to the floor. He makes it across the carpet, but what about the door? The knob just inches too high. He looks around. No phone. Lily saw to that.

Nothing to do but wait. More clean magic, maybe Lily coming back. Meanwhile, the thirst for everything is draping the room like sunlight.

2. I Left a Man

Left him to hobble, bobble across the floor. I took his legs. I took his heart. That was the best of him. I took his legs so he couldn’t come tracking after me. I took his heart because I could.

I’m an evil girl, some would say. Some others would say he’s lucky. I could have taken his arms.

I left a man for all the men I didn’t leave. For all the head-torn, heart-torn times and me rocking myself to sleep.

This time, I left a man who was kind, who stroked me gentle, sang me sweet lullabies. I was used to icy men, hearts of pure crystal. I didn’t know how to take love. The last man I had was married, three children, left me clanging at his door.

After that, I fell into a hole of want. My life had been boiled away. I finally got up and searched for a magic fix. I paid a man five dollars for a rock.

I set it on the counter. It glowed like a woman in love. It grew my hair lush and dark. It pillowed up my lips.

First thing, I called the married man, said I had his stolen watch. He met me and fell mad in love. I said, meet me later, pack a bag, and leave your squalling children. Leave your wife in a puddle of tears.

I watched his mouth, the mouth that had told me so many lies, say he’d be there with his life.

I waved his mouth right off him. And, if he went to meet me later, I’ll never, ever know. 

3. What is it like to be magic,

but trapped, like I am, in a rock? I ought to be out in the world, greening the trees, or blushing the cheek of a bride.

Instead, I landed here.  Sold for five bucks to a woman, burned with hurt, who uses me now for revenge.

I think of how I started, born in the heart of a star. Sprinkled across the nightsash. Soon after that, I started turning the seasons, lifting the sea, working always quickly and clean.

Now and then, something tricks me. This time, I entered a rock, mistaking its hardness for truth. My mouth is stopped up, gaglike, my voice is a muffled scream.

You would think I could wave myself out of here. Magic my own self free. But it has to pass in its own measured way, like time and dying and love.

A Visiting Congregation

Invasive bird, invasive branch. Heavy
is the tree with city kids, their eyes bright
as our yard’s starlings. The flockful kind. Youth
groups bussed to the corner-store church line up
this Sunday morning. You step through them all.
Bubbles jump up your bourbon bottle’s neck
like a level gone awry. A slant step,
wobbly in ankle-twisting boots, pregnant
until tomorrow. In the practiced shade
of the Tree of Heaven you lean against,
a forty-foot weed grown too deep to kill,
I pull at your arm to keep us moving.
Invited bird on invited branch. Red
light caught in the black of your undone braid.

The Call Is Coming From Inside You!

CW: Mention of self-harm in description of Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi.

March Madness 2020-style: a world where the concept of “going viral” has suddenly lost all appeal, where every day is Casual Friday, where we have all the free time we once wished for, although we’re spending it a little more reclusively than we’d perhaps imagined.

Self-quarantining, sheltering in place, social distancing—all of these practices are meant to keep ourselves and those at least six feet away from us healthy and safe, but some circumstances make it impossible for even the best-intentioned among us to follow the rules. I’m not talking about narrow footbridge quandaries or Good Samaritan curbside CPR or people who will just not stop spring (out)breaking—but how are you supposed to keep six feet away from someone who’s already . . . inside of you? When there’s someone or something in your head, sharing your body, elbowing your identity in the ribs, hunkering down in all those places Purell just can’t reach?

Here are ten tales of boundary-challenged people or entities whose presence would be burdensome enough in the best of times, but now? Now they could get you fined for noncompliance. If nothing else, they might make you appreciate your solitude a little bit more.

Come Closer

by Sara Gran

At the risk of losing a ton of followers, I gotta take a stand and call hard disagree on William Congreve’s “most furious things ever” rankings. Sure, a woman scorned will boil a bunny, smash a car window or two, maybe even ruin your credit, but Billy—hell hath actual demons. Who will literally wear you like an outfit. In this novel, one possesses the body and soul of an ordinary woman named Amanda and slowly burns her life to the ground: sabotaging her career, ruining her marriage, and making it impossible for her to ever go back to that one bodega again.


by Akwaeke Emezi

What’s worse than being inhabited by a demon? Being inhabited by a number of beings that aren’t quite demons but aren’t not demons either. Like how chimpanzees aren’t taxonomically monkeys, but—come on, look at ‘em—those are monkeys, am I right? Changes in a person’s behavior and personality, promiscuity, mood swings, eating disorders, depression, episodes of self-mutilation (the favorite game of a demon-bully: “Why are you cutting yourself? Why are you cutting yourself?”) . . . well, a demon’s the only logical explanation for any of that, right? Right?


by Octavia Butler

Sometimes it’s not a someone squatting in your mind, but a no one—an empty space where your identity used to be, leaving you a stranger to yourself, alienated from your own skin. The causes of memory loss are numerous: it can result from physical or psychological trauma or neurological decay, but sometimes a 53-year-old genetically modified vampire will wake up in a cave above a ruined city to find themselves trapped in the body of an 11-year-old girl and they, too, will have amnesia. Psychological trauma is a way more common cause, though.

Someone Like Me

by M.R. Carey

Have you ever felt like there was a better version of you out there? A more successful, happier, more fulfilled you who made smarter choices and has subsequently been living the life you ought to be living? The life you deserve? What if all you had to do was just . . . take it? To evict the spirity bits from the meat of other-you and move on in? Is it considered identity theft if the body is genetically yours? Does it count as murder if there’s still a pulse in that flesh?

All of these questions bring to mind that old Morrissey koan:

Does the body rule the mind
Or does the mind rule the body?
I dunno

The Eighth Girl

by Maxine Mei-Fung Chung

I say “demonic possession,” you say “Dissociative Identity Disorder.” Looks the same from the outside, but while a demon’s only interested in joyriding a human body until it crashes, DID’s revolving door of personas manifest to protect already-damaged psyches from further harm. And although both situations involve lost time and a side order of “what’s my body been doing?” panic, if you have to sublet, it’s comforting to know that whatever literally has your back will also figuratively have your back. Put it this way—there is zero chance that a demon shacking up in your skin is going to be washing your hands with antibacterial soap for twenty seconds every time you touch a door.

This Body’s Not Big Enough for Both of Us

by Edgar Cantero

If you’re already experiencing cabin fever irritability—throwing half-completed jigsaws at your roommate for finishing the milk, bickering with your spouse over takeout menus—imagine how much more claustrophobic those relatively trivial domestic disputes would feel if they were taking place inside you. For example, if you were twin siblings with separate consciousnesses, two genders, two discrete and wildly different personalities, but with only one body to share between you, and you had to fight for custody of that physical form on a daily basis. And also investigate crimes. Yeah. Now stop arguing about which takeout to get. Get both. Tip generously.

This Is Your Brain on Parasites: How Tiny Creatures Manipulate Our Behavior and Shape Society

by Kathleen McAuliffe

This is the only nonfiction book on the list, but its title alone is scarier to me than any horror novel I’ve ever read. If you don’t know anything about parasites, here are some bullet points: Some can change the color of their host’s skin to make them more visible to a predator. Some inject their eggs into their host’s body so their babies have something to eat once they’ve hatched. Some override the brains of their hosts, causing them to raise the parasite’s young as their own, or fling themselves into bodies of water, or run directly into the mouth of a predator. There are more than 430 kinds of parasites that can live on or inside a human body . . . and they LOVE sheltering in place. Sweet dreams!


by Mira Grant

Speaking of parasites, this is the first book in Grant’s Parasitology trilogy, a mash-up of science fiction, medical thriller, and moral philosophy seminar set in a near-future world in which humanity has conquered all diseases and disorders, from cancer to allergies, by simply implanting genetically engineered tapeworms into folks and forgetting that hubris exists. Everything is going swimmingly until the implants become a little more . . . sentient. Which is a real drag for the people who used to be in charge of a body that is now basically an Airbnb and there’s tenant rights and it becomes a whole thing. It’s a mostly horrible situation. But at least they don’t have COVID-19. Or condoms.

Rosemary’s Baby

by Ira Levin

Speaking of condoms, every mother who’s been cooped up quarantining with their young children for the past few weeks has no doubt found the experience all too reminiscent of those long months of pregnancy when being alone was never an option, and that kid was just always there, sucking away your energy, messing with your hormones. But it was All Worth It, right? All the discomfort of pregnancy, all the pain and inadvertent defecation of childbirth, all the sleepless nights and anxiety were all totally worth it because it’s a BABY! Yours forever! There’ll be a survey at the end of this quarantine, but I think I know what box Rosemary’s gonna check.

Half Life

by Shelley Jackson

If we’re going to hold a book written fourteen years ago accountable to standards for social interaction devised less than a month ago (and who’s gonna stop me, you? You’re as cloistered as I am, pal), then Nora is demonstrating a next-level commitment to social distancing by trying to get Blanche, her twenty-years-slumbering sister, surgically removed from their body. However, points are lost for being (gasp!) outdoors in San Francisco and later traveling nonessentially to London. I don’t want to sound like the municipal government of Bomont, Utah, here, but that kind of reckless behavior is just asking for trouble, missy.

April Literary Horoscopes


The Ram / Courageous, Adventurous, Independent / Domineering, Selfish, Arrogant

Finally, it’s Aries season! Feed your extroverted side with some dazzling friend dates. Organize some virtual movie dates, go to a posh Google hangout. Honestly, the sky’s the limit. It’s your time to shine, and shine you will, you delightful ball of sugar and everything nice.

Of course, I have just the story pick for you.

  • Teaser: “She’d always noticed the shadows at the corner of her eye, the glimmers of light that didn’t belong. It was her favorite game to pretend she was the focus of some Otherness, but only a game.”


The Bull / Loyal, Friendly, Resourceful / Self-Indulgent, Possessive, Greedy

These last few months have been fun but tiring for you, with all those dates and good—ahem. Anyway, be sure to kick your feet up in April. Take some time to really treat yourself. That could mean online retail therapy, creating a home spa, or watching good ol’ fashion Netflix.

You could also indulge with a lovely story: 

  • Teaser: “Their insistence was so wild it would have been an echo if there had been anyone to hear—if there had been any ears to register their reverberations, or any eyelashes to flicker against the pulsing of their not-yet-breath.”


The Twins / Intelligent, Adaptable, Creative / Moody, Opportunistic, Inconsistent

April will be quiet as a mouse for you and your other personalities. Change won’t hit you—uh, I mean you and the others—till the early days of May. You probably want to know if that Mack truck is good or bad news. Because I’m feeling charitable, I can tell you it’s the kind of change that is both good and bad (I’m winking, if you can’t tell).

You can always distract yourself with some good reads!

  • Teaser: “The other women had come out a little dazed, yes, maybe walking a bit slowly, but no one cried like this. Some had been alone, had walked out from the back rooms and headed toward the door as if they’d just had their teeth cleaned.”


The Crab / Honest, Generous, Faithful / Insecure, Needy, Crabby

Don’t worry about any gossip you might hear in social circles. After all, you’re fluent in Mom sarcasm and drink tears for breakfast. Plus, you’ll be rewarded for good behavior around the height of the month. Not only will you have a week of creative breakthroughs, but that flirtation with your favorite coworker just might turn into the best Skype date ever.

After you’re video-call ready, pull up this incredible story pick:

  • Teaser: “It happened slowly at first. Slits tracing shoulder blades down a pale canvas back, blood trickling like paint from an over-saturated watercolor brush. Feathers and bone and cartilage poking their way through the epidermis.”


The Lion / Cheery, Noble, Imaginative / Demanding, Boastful, Melodramatic

Obstacles are stacking like boxes in your professional life. Work off your frustration with some new fitness goals and, you guessed it, new workout clothes! That’s right, it’s time to bust out the lemon-yellow spandex and exercise videos. There might be a few more clouds on the horizon, but no need to worry about them. Yet.

Anyway! Save this gorgeous piece for a well-deserved treat.

  • Teaser: “At night, alone in her makeshift room on the sun porch, Cassie took out The Study and Practice of Astral Projection. Dream body, she read, was you, but only part of you, the part that was pure.”


The Maiden / Practical, Diligent, Kind / Obsessive, Self-Righteous, Compulsive

Good news, Virgo! You should be a magnet for monetary goodness this month. Toward the middle of April, you’ll also find two new friends in your orbit. Enjoy some hot and heavy courting of the platonic and remote variety. It sounds like a thrill a minute!

In the meantime, I’m predicting you’ll fall in love with this monthly read:

  • Teaser: “I need to catch a cold, because I have a funeral later this week. And I’m known around town as a great mourner. But I’m not really. I always get deliberately sick a couple days before the big shindig.”
carnival by narghee-la


The Scales / Compassionate, Trustworthy, Peacemaker / Disorganized, Materialistic, Indecisive

This month, you might become a tad disappointed with your family. Try to remember that they’re only human. The other areas of your life will be smooth sailing without a storm cloud in sight. I can’t say the same for May, but let’s save those pesky worries for next month.

Your monthly story pick will make you want to seize the moment, and really live—it’s never too late.

  • Teaser: “Atomic explosions are beautiful from outer space. There’s a bright, searing flash then a bulbous growth of angry clouds that flatten out like Portobello mushrooms.”


The Scorpion / Purposeful, Charismatic, Cunning / Aggressive, Manipulative, Possessive

February and March were all about embracing your marshmallow center. Think of April as “opposite day,” so put on that game face you usually wear, and prepare for a few anvils in your professional and personal life. Sorry to break it to you!

When you do take a breather, recover with this story pick:

  • Teaser: “Two weeks after the man moved in with the woman, the woman began to grow gills. They hurt coming in, like the pain of an emerging tooth. She hid her neck with scarves at first, partly because she didn’t want the man to see and partly because she didn’t want to.”


The Archer / Straightforward, Optimistic, Adventurous / Careless, Impatient, Hotheaded

Guess what, Sagittarius? A cutesy romance could be yours! Look for it around the end of the month, when you’ll be your best outgoing-even-while-virtual-self. But try to keep the chaos to a minimum, at least until the second Skype date (or the end of the first one).

In the meantime, I have a mesmerizing story for you:

  • Teaser: “Deep in the bowels of the circus tent, the air is sage and sweetgrass. A bundle of snapdragon pods lie on the table, faces like skulls. The hermaphrodite gives me tea laced with rum in a teacup that has no handle.”


The Mountain Sea-Goat / Traditional, Responsible, Ambitious / Unforgiving, Blunt, Pessimistic

Oh, Capricorn. February and March may have been months of boredom, but April will be pedal to the metal. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though; you’ll be the recipient of a rare opportunity at the height of the month.

Be true to your nature—a.k.a. you responsible sea goat, you—and enjoy this amazing story along the way:

  • Teaser: “This house was too small for six people, woefully so, but it’s too big for one; the empty rooms fill up with spirits. My father’s parents, who built the place from loam in the forties, turn up in the kitchen every so often to tut about the oven mitts I leave on the countertops.”


The Water-Bearer / Intellectual, Open-Minded, Outgoing / Unpredictable, Self-Conscious, Chaotic

While you can handle Negative Nancies like a pro, you should still watch your step around the workplace. This month, avoid pesky things like your coworker’s three-hour video chats, your coworker’s questionable meeting invites; really, anything related to your coworker—avoid that. 

Check out this story pick on your next lunch break. I can guarantee it will stay with you long after the first reading:

  • Teaser: “In this moment you don’t know yet that all this will remain with you, will become ingrained in you. That years from now you’ll wake up in your bed, skin glazed with perspiration, gasping and confused, with an impression of nakedness and shame.”


The Fish / Charitable, Intuitive, Artistic / Timid, Impractical, Indolent

Last month, you found the peanut butter to your jelly. The mac to your cheese. The cherry to your sundae (okay, I’m done). Now it’s time for a little spring fever, which means you’ll need to make a change. Let your adventurous spirit go wild—but not too wild, come on now—and follow that dust-beaten path wherever it takes you.

Before you hit the road, check out your monthly story pick.

  • Teaser: “We test every door knob, give them a little twist. When we find an unlocked door, we slide in, palm the loose change by the TV, slip a couple of smokes from the open pack, and slide back out.

Women on the Rise: Ten Emerging Female Authors

In celebration of Women’s History Month 2020, we’ve put together a list of emerging female authors who have recently made a big splash in the publishing industry. From poets and playwrights to graphic novelists and genre-blenders, there’s something here for everyone! Let’s look back at ten women writers who blew us away over the past year.

Fiction: Julia Phillips

What you might know her from: Disappearing Earth (May 14, 2019 from Penguin Random House)

Who she is: With a number of articles, essays, and short stories already under her belt, Phillips released her debut novel in 2019 to resounding praise. Disappearing Earth opens with the kidnapping of two young girls in a Russian city and explores the subsequent impact of the crime on the community—particularly on the women. The novel was longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence, shortlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, and a finalist for a National Book Award.

What some reviewers are saying:

“Phillips has certainly woven a sophisticated and powerful literary thriller; the stitches of her language make you go, Damn, that’s good.” —Randy Rosenthal, LA Review of Books

“More than a crime novel, the book questions how a girl, an entire region, a culture, could vanish into thin air because no one’s paying attention.” —Meredith Boe, Chicago Review of Books


Poetry: Camonghne Felix

What you might know her from: Build Yourself a Boat (April 2019 from Haymarket Books)

Who she is: Already a notable political strategist at the time of her debut poetry collection, Felix focuses on pressing contemporary social issues both within her writing and without. Build Yourself a Boat is an “anthem of survival” amid explorations of trauma, and was received with great acclaim upon publication, earning a spot on the National Book Award longlist. Felix also contributed to The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 2: Black Girl Magic, and was named one of Black Youth Project’s sixteen “Black Girls From the Future You Should Know.”

What some reviewers are saying:

“Camonghne Felix’s compelling debut drew me in and never let go…” —Bee, The Book Stack

“Camonghne Felix’ Build Yourself a Boat… is not meant to be a solution for any of life’s ills. It is, however, a look at truth.” —Christopher Margolin, The Poetry Question


Short Story Collection: Kali Fajardo-Anstine

What you might know her from: Sabrina and Corina (April 2, 2019 from Penguin Random House)

Who she is: Fajardo-Anstine’s remarkable short story collection follows the lives of Indigenous Latina characters navigating the harsh world of Denver, Colorado. A practiced short story writer already, Fajardo-Anstine released her debut in early 2019, and it became a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award.

What some reviewers are saying:

“[A] nearly perfect collection of stories that is emotionally wrenching but never without glimmers of resistance and hope.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“You will clutch your heart reading Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s short story collection Sabrina & Corina.” —Anjanette Delgado, New York Journal of Books


Nonfiction: Jaquira Díaz

What you might know her from: Ordinary Girls (Oct. 29, 2019 from Algonquin Books)

Who she is: Díaz’s debut memoir Ordinary Girls details a life growing up in the housing projects of Puerto Rico and Miami Beach—a life spent struggling with sexuality, mental health, and family, in addition to the threats of violence and colonialism. A writer, editor, and professor, Díaz’s fiction and essays have appeared in numerous publications since 2011. Her first book-length work has been labelled by Library Journal as “[a] must-read memoir on vulnerability, courage, and everything in between from a standout writer.”

What some reviewers are saying:

“It takes courage to write a book like Ordinary Girls, and Díaz does not shy away from her deepest, most troubling truths. She jumps into the writing of her story and gets her hands dirty, her heart broken, her spirit bruised.”—Reyna Grande, NY Times

“The stunning beauty of Díaz’s memoir grows out of its passion, its defiance, its longing, its love and its clear-eyed honesty.” —Henry L. Carrigan Jr., BookPage


YA [Fantasy] Fiction: Isabel Ibañez

What you might know her from: Woven in Moonlight (January 7, 2020 from Page Street Publishing).

Who she is: Ibañez’s debut novel, Woven in Moonlight, is a Bolivian-inspired YA fantasy packed with “magic, romance, and revolución,” following determined protagonist Ximena on her mission to restore the rightful leaders of her land. The sequel, Written in Starlight, is projected to release in Winter 2021. Besides writing, Ibañez also works as a graphic designer; she is founder of 9th Letter Press, and her work has appeared in notable brands across the country.

What some reviewers are saying:

“If the rest of the debuts [of 2020] are this promising, then we’re going to have a very good year.” —Zoraida Córdova,

Woven in Moonlight—appropriately—weaves a beautiful spell that takes culturally specific details and spins them into an engaging fantasy world.” —Caitlyn Paxson, NPR


YA [Fantasy] Fiction: Katy Rose Pool

What you might know her from: There Will Come a Darkness (September 3, 2019 from Holt Books for Young Readers/Macmillan)

Who she is: I bet you expected to see Katy Rose Pool on this list! There Will Come a Darkness blew readers away when it first hit the shelves last September. Praised for its excellent worldbuilding and attention to character, Pool’s debut fantasy—the first in a projected trilogy—follows five diverse characters set on a path to prevent—or cause—a prophesied Age of Darkness. There Will Come a Darkness is Pool’s first published work.

What some reviewers are saying:

“[C]lear your schedule as soon as you pick it up, because it’s a novel that’s almost impossible to put down once you start in on the first page.” —Lacy Baugher, Fansided

“Do not miss your chance to join what will surely be the next great YA fantasy trilogy at the beginning.” —Jamie Sugah, The Geekiary


Children’s/Middle-grade: J. M. M. Nuanez

What you might know her from: Birdie and Me (Feb. 18, 2020 from Kathy Dawson Books / Penguin Young Readers)

Who she is: J. M. M. Nuanez is new to the publishing scene, with her debut middle-grade novel Birdie and Me being her first published work. Birdie and Me follows a girl named Jack and her “gender non-conforming brother” Birdie, who together, after their mother’s death, look for a new home with their uncles. Nuanez is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), a self-professed cat lover, and the author of what one critic is calling an “outstanding debut.”

What some reviewers are saying:

“Sure-handed storytelling and choice details… mark a strong middle grade debut.” —Publishers Weekly


Playwright: Sylvia Khoury

What you might know her from: Power Strip (premiered October 20, 2019 at Lincoln Center Theater’s Claire Tow Theater)

Who she is: Her play Power Strip debuted in late 2019 at Lincoln Centre Theatre’s Claire Tow Theatre, preceded by The Place Women Go (February 2019) and Against the Hillside (February 2018), as well as the world premiere of Selling Kabul (July 2019). Khoury has been praised for her striking depictions of refugee and immigrant experiences in both Power Strip and Selling Kabul. Not only is Khoury debuting these two plays in the same season, but she is also in her fourth year of medical school!

What some reviewers are saying:

“Something ancient and enraged drives [Khoury’s] narrative. This is the rare script I long to read.” —Kathleen Campion, New York Theatre Guide

“It’s less a play, really, than an experience.” —J. Peter Bergman, The Berkshire Edge


The New York premiere of Selling Kabul opens at the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre on March 27, 2020. Find out more and buy tickets here.

Graphic Novelist: Hannah Templer

What you might know her from: Cosmoknights, Book 1 (October 22, 2019 from Top Shelf Productions)

Who she is: Having worked as an artist on such projects as the comic adaptation of GLOW, Templer was already a celebrated cartoonist before the release of her first solo work, Cosmoknights. Templer originally published Cosmoknights serially as a webcomic in March 2019, with the hopes that her story would be more accessible to readers still in the closet. Written and illustrated by Templer, Cosmoknights follows a cast of queer women taking down a galactic patriarchal society—one gladiatorial joust at a time.

What some reviewers are saying:

“[A] gorgeous and timely space adventure saga.” —Publishers Weekly

“Hannah Templer’s graphic novel CosmoKnights introduces an exciting space-operatic world with a queer twist.” —Peter Dabbene, Foreword Reviews


Genre-blending: Claudia D. Hernández

What you might know her from: Knitting the Fog (July 9, 2019 from The Feminist Press)

Who she is: Hernández stunned audiences with her release of Knitting the Fog, a memoir about immigration told through narrative essays and poetry in both English and Spanish. Besides being an avid poet, editor, photographer, translator, and teacher, Hernández also founded Today’s Revolutionary Women of Color, a project dedicated to inspiring young girls and confronting oppression by celebrating exceptional women of color. Her manuscript of Knitting the Fog won the second annual Feminist Press Louise Meriwether First Book Prize, which celebrates remarkable women or nonbinary authors of color by publishing a debut work.

What some reviewers are saying:

“[Knitting the Fog] pulls you in with its rawness, then keeps you there with its eye-opening journey.” —Jaylynn Korrell, Independent Book Review

“It is a work that is as important as it is beautiful and is a must-read, particularly in today’s political climate.” —Mariana Huerta,Latinas Leyendo


Resistance Writers: An Interview with Tara Betts

As societies around the world dip their toes in authoritarianism, we’d like to elevate authors of speculative fiction who imagine alternatives or help us demand the impossible futures of our dreams. In the Resistance Writers interview series, we’ll hear from a handful of writers from the 2015 anthology, Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements. Each writer elaborates on sources of inspiration and how activism informs their work. Our hope is to provide a source of guidance for aspiring writers of visionary fiction.

Thomas Chisholm (TC)

How did you get involved with the Octavia’s Brood project? How did the editors, Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown, discover your work?

Tara Betts (TB)

I met Walidah when we were both involved in the poetry slam community. We’ve corresponded over the years, and she reached out to me and invited me to be a part of the project. I was delighted to approach the anthology as a challenge to step outside my comfort zone and write something completely new.


What was your inspiration for “Runway Blackout?” Was it a piece you were already developing or did it come about once you were asked to participate in the Octavia’s Brood anthology?


As I was considering what I would write about, I wanted to think about an arena where Black people encounter multiple fronts of repression and shape our identities around. One of them is beauty, so I thought about Fashion Week and how Black people have had to do so much just to break into a field that constantly values a Eurocentric aesthetic, but there are so many fields that continue to do that very thing. However, everyone is interested in the idea of style and looking good, regardless of what color or culture a person identifies with, so I chose that environment, and I kept vividly seeing this beautiful woman with silvery long hair. I heard the narrator of the story starting to come out as a person who saw this woman every day and knew her well. I knew I wanted to write from the perspective of someone who had to show up to work every day, not just from a glamorous woman’s point of view, even if the setting was in a high-fashion world.


What kind of impact have you seen Octavia’s Brood make since its publication in 2015? What role do you think politically motivated fiction can play in today’s climate?


At first, I was pleasantly surprised to see the excitement that people expressed for the early crowdfunding campaign and the subsequent anthology. In terms of the book’s impact, I think it has been an encouraging presence for many more writers. I’m thinking about other anthologies too, like Near Kin: A Collection of Art and Words Inspired by Octavia Estelle Butler and the Hugo-nominated Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia E. Butler. Octavia’s Brood and these works continue what Sheree Renee Thomas started with the Dark Matter anthologies. Then there are other folks like Ytasha Womack, John Jennings, Bill Campbell, Stacey Robinson, Reynaldo Anderson, Isaiah Lavender III, and Adilifu Nama creating new anthologies, stories, images, and criticism. It’s pretty clear that these people, along with writers like Ibi Zoboi, Nnedi Okorafor, Nalo Hopkinson, and even more, comprise a growing group of writers inspired by Butler and Samuel Delaney. I’m also thinking that it has given Walidah and adrienne opportunities to pursue other writing projects and continue broader conversations about Black speculative and science fiction.


In the current climate the United States is in, I see a lot of people (myself included) criticizing the powers that be, while taking little action. How did you find your voice, and your place within activist circles/movements? How have those experiences shaped your writing? What guidance might you give to aspiring artists/activists? 


I started doing a lot of organizing and activist work in the 1990s, and I was also finding myself in hip hop and poetry. The intersection of that, combined with my love of Black literature and history, informed my zeal to keep organizing for the humanity of Black people and other oppressed people. I think getting a bit older has slowed me down, but I taught a lot of students who have gone on to become teachers and organizers in their own right. If you do your work right, be an example to people who will come up after you. I’ve consistently tried my best to be just that.


What kinds of fiction or what particular authors have shaped your thinking? When writing fiction, what comes first: the concepts and ideals you want to explore, or the characters? Do you write with a political goal in mind?


I read widely, and poets have always been a wellspring for muscular, vibrant language. Since politics informs almost everything I do, I tend to think of the concepts first. The choices that you make (and don’t make) are informed by your contexts. I’m also concerned with telling a good story. If you can’t pull people into a scene or a world with strong language and storytelling, the point, political or otherwise, will be lost.


Do you see yourself as a part of a community of writers and creatives? Does that impact your writing practice in any way? If so, how did you first find that sense of community?


I do see myself as part of a community of creative people, and that grows every day. I’m finding that I like to hear about and experience new works from other people and socialize sometimes, but most of the time, I crave solitary time to focus on my writing and hone my practice. One of the things I’ve enjoyed about writing in groups is having to show up and write at a particular time and place with other people. That accountability can be good for me sometimes, even though most of the time, I enjoy a quiet space at a table at home or in bed. Sometimes, the coffee shop works, while other times I crave sitting at a table with other people. So, that sense of community is an organic process that takes time to cultivate. It’s that simple, and occasionally that difficult.


What are you currently working on, politically and/or creatively? 


Right now, I have a third poetry collection that’s completed, and I have ideas for a few other books. I’ve been editing the literary section for Newcity, an arts and culture magazine in Chicago. Since the publication focuses on a Chicago angle, I’m very excited about covering writers from all over the city. I’m teaching a poetry workshop at Stateville Prison, a maximum-security prison near Chicago, but I’m also teaching workshops in other places. I’m working on some podcasts, so it feels like the beginnings of a generative phase for new work. Lastly, but not least, I’ve been doing more talks with authors about their books at Seminary Co-op Bookstore in Hyde Park. I wanted to showcase writers of color on the South Side, but I’ve also been honored to be a part of bigger events where I was in conversation with Ta-Nehisi Coates, Cyntoia Brown-Long, and Reginald Dwayne Betts. I’d like to continue those sorts of conversations so people can talk about the issues in these real times, in a room with other people too.


How is your writing process for fiction different from poetry? Did writing fiction inform your poetry writing process? Can we expect more fiction from you in the future?


The process of writing is often the same for me, regardless of the genre. I have often told my students who felt like they couldn’t write a poem, “Just write. We’ll figure out what it is later.”

That way of thinking has served me well because I don’t feel pigeon-holed and blocked by thinking I have only one mode for writing or creating. Considering that I have a lot of ideas and the drive to write more, I think you can expect more fiction, essays, and poems in the future.

Writers Talking About Anything but Writing

An Interview with Lyd Havens on The National, A24 films, and Wikipedia

Writers Talking About Anything but Writing is a series of interviews in which we ask writers to take a break from trying to document the world and just kinda chill out in it for a while.

Laura Villareal (LV)

At first I wasn’t sure that I’d seen any A24 movies, but I realized all the offbeat films I had seen over the last few years were by A24. How would you describe A24 films? What do you love about them?

Lyd Havens (LH)

There was a point in 2016 or so where I suddenly realized that almost every film I had seen in theaters and absolutely loved had been produced by A24. I think in the age of The Remake, and every single company being bought by Disney, it can be very easy to feel nihilistic about movies and believe that nobody has any original ideas anymore, but the movies coming out of A24 prove that completely wrong. You can categorize a lot of the movies together, but each movie is a different experience. Like, I personally think that A24 especially succeeds at good horror and coming-of-age films, which are obviously very different genres, but in a way they can also go together really well. I’ve joked before that The Witch (directed by Robert Eggers) is a really interesting coming-of-age movie, but really, how much of a joke is that?


Great point! It does feel like “the age of The Remake”! What are your top five A24 films and why?


  1. Moonlight—I can’t say anything about why this film is so amazing that hasn’t already been said many times over by much more eloquent people, but if there were ever such a thing as a perfect film, I personally think this is it. It’s visually stunning, every performance is fantastic, the score is beautiful (I’ve had “The Middle of the World” in my top 100 songs on Spotify every year since 2016). Also, I took a class last year where I had to write a screenplay, and the example I returned to the most often was Barry Jenkins’s screenplay for Moonlight. If you haven’t read it, it’s just amazing.
  2. The Florida Project—this came out the same year as Lady Bird, which I liked, but in that year’s conversation about movies that depict complicated mother/daughter relationships, I wish this one had gotten more of a spotlight. I’ve also never seen another film that better depicts how kids actually talk and act, especially kids growing up in really shitty circumstances. And even though the movie is really heartbreaking, you can tell that the child actors had some fun, too, which is a welcome respite from stories about child actors having the complete opposite of fun.
  3. Midsommar—until a couple years ago I was absolutely not a horror movie person. I couldn’t handle them at all, and I still question how I actually made it through Midsommar. I have a lot of thoughts on how Ari Aster handles mental illness, but for the most part this movie has stuck with me in an oddly cathartic way. Florence Pugh is fucking phenomenal. There are parts of her performance that still haunt me, but in a way that’s bizarrely comforting. Also, this movie somehow convinced me I needed to study abroad, which I’m currently in the process of applying to do over the summer. So, I guess I owe it a lot.
  4. Swiss Army Man—there’s literally no other movie like this one. The beginning is so ridiculous, and I think I read a lot of articles about how at film festival showings people would walk out in droves within the first 10 minutes just because they thought it would be some sort of DudeBro comedy. But it takes a really sharp turn in tone, and by the end I had cried as much as I had laughed. I haven’t gotten to watch it since I first saw it in theaters, but it was an experience in the best way possible. I’m also kind of biased though: I really love Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe, and seeing them together in that fever dream of a movie was a dream come true.
  5. The Witch—a lot of my love for this movie is honestly rooted in the memes about it, but it was also the first horror movie I was ever able to sit through on my own. Around the time I watched it I had also just finished a history class where we had to read The Scarlet Letter, and it was really interesting to see a take on the Puritans that was both fascinating and horrifying.

There are a lot of A24 movies I haven’t even watched yet and really need to that very well might one day end up in my top five, including The Lighthouse, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Ginger & Rosa, The Farewell, and A Most Violent Year.


Someone should pay you to review movies, Lyd. Swiss Army Man was such a strange movie—ever since you recommended it I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it how it possibly came to be. If you were to write a movie for A24, what would it be about?


Oh my god, you’re incredibly kind to say so! I often find it difficult to eloquently talk about the things that I love, so it means a lot to hear that.

Given the chance, I’d love to write a screenplay that takes place in Idaho, the state I currently live in. When I moved here, I was struck by how beautiful, solitary, and kind of terrifying so much of this state is. It’d be a great setting for a visually stunning horror film, or a visually stunning coming-of-age film, or something that’s both. There are some really great novels that use Idaho as a backdrop (I’m mostly thinking of Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson and Idaho by Emily Ruskovich), and already some amazing movies (Smoke Signals, My Own Private Idaho, and of course, Napoleon Dynamite), but there’s room for so much more.


My first encounter with The National was seeing Ragnar Kjartansson’s A Lot of Sorrow at a MAC Montréal in 2016. The band played “Sorrow” for 6 hours; as time passed the song changed, and I began to see how complicated the song was. I’ve seen you talk about music a lot on Twitter and in your writing. What makes The National’s music so special?


I’ve liked The National since I was in high school, and remember distinctly wanting my poems to someday do what their lyrics always seem to do for me. Their lyrics are obviously pretty poetic, and sum up a lot of very relatable feelings of longing and dry self-awareness, but I think what makes a lot of them so impactful (at least for me) is the fact that repetition plays such a huge role in a lot of their songs. Repetition makes things easier to remember, so I like the way their lyrics often stick with me. But there’s one verse that’s repeated in two different songs (“29 Years” and “Slow Show”) that were written years apart, and Matt Berninger sings it in two completely different ways: “You know I dreamed about you / for 29 years before I saw you / you know I dreamed about you / I missed you for 29 years”. On the first song, he almost sounds drunk, and the line is cool, but doesn’t really make me feel much. But 6 years later on “Slow Show”, he sounds steadier, older, and more matter-of-fact. The reprise of that verse in a completely different song, in addition to the varying ways it’s presented, just makes me emotional. I haven’t even been alive 29 years yet, and still every time I hear that verse, I feel it in my bones. I think that’s what makes their music so special, at least for me: their songs are very specific, and yet it’s so easy to see yourself and your emotions in them.


Wow, that’s an incredible observation. I really like the idea of coming back to a line from years ago and making it new again. Do you know of other bands that repurpose lines like that years later?


I can’t think of any other bands that repurpose their own lyrics (though I’m sure they exist), but I did think of this: Laura Marling, one of my favorite singer-songwriters, first got started singing backup vocals for the band Noah and the Whale, and also dated their frontman Charlie Fink for a time. They broke up; Laura left the band and went solo. She has a song on her album I Speak Because I Can called “Blackberry Stone” where she sings, “I’d be sad that I never held your hand as you were lowered / but I’d understand that I’d never let it go”, and Noah and the Whale had a song called “Hold My Hand As I’m Lowered” that she sang on. It took me years to make that connection, and when I did—ouch.


I hadn’t made that connection! What album would you recommend for someone wanting to get into The National for the first time?


My personal favorite albums of theirs all came out back-to-back between 2008 and 2013: Boxer, High Violet, and Trouble Will Find Me. I think both the composition and Berninger’s lyrics are at their prime in those three albums, so I almost always recommend that folks start with one or all of those. Trouble Will Find Me is my personal number one, but in terms of getting started, High Violet might be the best.


Wikipedia is as quintessential as Google. Do you ever go down Wikipedia rabbitholes? What do you enjoy using it to research most?


Oh, absolutely! One of my favorite rabbitholes to go down is starting with some sort of monarch and reading their page, then reading the page of their successor, and on and on and on, stopping to read related pages about heirs who died young, revolutions, natural disasters, guillotines, etc. The one I find the most interesting is the Romanovs in Russia, starting with Michael I and ending with Nicholas II and his family. It’s a pretty lengthy rabbithole, and it gets pretty bleak, but it’s fascinating, especially taking events like World War I into account. From a young age I knew that history is absolutely wild, but Wikipedia is honestly what got me so ferociously interested in it. 


That’s fascinating! Do you have any strange facts you’ve come across in your Wikipedia searches that have stuck with you?


Off the top of my head:

  • Richard Kuklinski, a famous hitman for the mob, used to watch Wile E. Coyote and other cartoons to get ideas for how to kill people.
  • During the filming of Titanic, somebody spiked a pot of chowder that the cast and crew ate with PCP. Dozens of them became violently ill (obviously), and the culprit was never caught.
  • This isn’t so much a strange fact as a recommendation for a rabbithole to fall down, but the “List of premature obituaries” and “Faked death” pages are absolutely wild.

February Literary Horoscopes


The Ram / Courageous, Adventurous, Independent / Domineering, Selfish, Arrogant

It’s official: love is in the air. Now, don’t groan—this isn’t the start of a cheesy movie. It’s the start of your entire month! Secretly, though, you’ll dig it. Embrace the season of love like it’s a swanky new sweater. Shed that cool-kid skin. Be a little vulnerable. C’mon, February only comes around once a year.

But first, read this wonderfully layered story:

  • Teaser: “There’s usually two of us, but it’s Christmas Eve and I got nowhere to be. Anyway, she’s just a little bit of a thing, barely 90 pounds from the looks of her. I can roll her onto the gurney.”


The Bull / Loyal, Friendly, Resourceful / Self-Indulgent, Possessive, Greedy

For you, the flavor of February is romance. Buy some extra breath mints, because you’ll either be entertaining a late-winter fling, or whisking your partner away for some hot and heavy dates. We’re talking shower-singing levels of happiness here. Just don’t bust out “Stop! In the Name of Love” until you buy that white-noise machine (trust).

And check out your monthly story pick.

  • Teaser: “If he was on the menu, you’d order him twice, one to eat now and the second to take home to be consumed by the glow of the naked bulb that lights your kitchen.”


The Twins / Intelligent, Adaptable, Creative / Moody, Opportunistic, Inconsistent

You might expect Cupid to look like a ham-fisted baby, but they could be that cute waiter, or someone standing in the next checkout line (hey, it could happen). You never know when you might be peanut butter to another person’s jelly. So check any hermit impulses and put yourself out there. It’ll only hurt a smidge.

Reward yourself with this gorgeous story pick:

  • Teaser: “Maybe the feeling beneath her skin is from the beer, carbonation rising from the pocket of her stomach, making her feel both full and weightless, the way an astronaut must feel seeing the world small.”


The Crab / Honest, Generous, Faithful / Insecure, Needy, Crabby

Happy Galentine’s Day! This month, you’ll be all about ladies celebrating ladies. Get together with your gal pals and shake it on the dance floor. Or enjoy wine together on a comfy couch. No judgment here—some of us prefer takeout on Christmas, and Galentine’s over Valentine’s. You do you.

Before you crack open that bottle, though, indulge with a poignant read.

  • Teaser: “As the car pulls up in front of her house, the woman isn’t wondering about first kisses. Or which one of them should make the first move. Because it’s already been made. She wore the black dress.”


The Lion / Cheery, Noble, Imaginative / Demanding, Boastful, Melodramatic

Guess what, Leo? It’s time to bust out those candy hearts and light your pink candles (bonus points if they’re tacky). This month will be all about fun and frivolity, which isn’t that different from your stellar January. Ride this winning streak for all it’s worth, my friend. Bust out those fancy schmancy moves and hit the dance floor.

After you dust off your suit, check out this touching story pick.

  • Teaser: “Both of them had tossed up the idea of moving south, somewhere warm and pleasing to their old bones. But just like Harold, Heidi was more comfortable in the cold. The heat made her nervous and claustrophobic.”


The Maiden / Practical, Diligent, Kind / Obsessive, Self-Righteous, Compulsive

Toward the beginning of the month, you might feel a little blue, but don’t let that melancholy keep you down. If last month was ripe with good times, then February will be more of a contemplative period for you. You might even forget about Valentine’s Day. And that’s fine. This year, you won’t be interested in celebrating with hearts and chocolate. Stay true to the course, my friend.

I have just the story pick for you:

  • NPCs, by Edward Ashton
  • Teaser: “She holds the bottle out over the alley, then lets it go — and like I have so many times before with Dana, I find myself counting seconds, waiting for the crash.”
female icarus by narghee-la


The Scales / Compassionate, Trustworthy, Peacemaker / Disorganized, Materialistic, Indecisive

In an ironic twist of fate, your ever-balanced nature will be put to the test. Some of you Libras will even be torn between two love interests. I know, it’s the rom-com moment you didn’t ask for. Valentine’s Day can be spent with McCutie #1, McCutie #2, or McPJs. Confrontation isn’t your style, but you can only pick one of these doors. C’mon, this might be fun—it’s a choose-your-own-adventure story!

Or, you could always pick secret option #4. Put off the decision and read this raw, stunning read instead:

  • Teaser: “He plays with my curls. I’ve been in love, he says. It felt like as if I was in a reduced gravity chamber, my insides tumbling. I laugh. Never heard that before. The lightness in my voice surprises me.”


The Scorpion / Purposeful, Charismatic, Cunning / Aggressive, Manipulative, Possessive

Strut your stuff in February and flash your romantic side. You’re an old hand at the game of seduction, but I know your secret—at your core is a soft, gooey center that loves the idea of a soulmate. Instead of ignoring it like usual, maybe try to feed that gremlin this month. It won’t hurt. Much.

Speaking of indulgences, I chose this story just for you.

  • Teaser: “It was May, but the trees outside the restaurant didn’t seem to know it.  Their blighted leaves shuddered and fell, lending an autumnal feel to the air even before Mary took me out to dinner and announced that she wanted to leave me.”


The Archer / Straightforward, Optimistic, Adventurous / Careless, Impatient, Hotheaded

When it comes to love, centaurs like to fight fire with fire. Oh, did I say fight? I meant match, of course. They say Sagittarius is best with fellow fire signs, like adventurous Aries or fun-loving Leo. This month, go all out and pursue your romantic interest(s). Knowing you, this whole venture will be last minute and just a tad risky. Be true to yourself, but maybe don’t spring for that escape-room date.

This poetry set can give you a great rush without the claustrophobic, climbing-four-walls-part. Just saying.

  • Teaser: “I dreamt that I inhaled pollen / sometime before the beginning of summer / I laid down parallel to the sky / and a forest grew in my lungs.”


The Mountain Sea-Goat / Traditional, Responsible, Ambitious / Unforgiving, Blunt, Pessimistic

February will be a tedious month of boredom for you. Try to ride it out and let your brain hang out in the slow lane (hey, we all need to stop and smell the roses). While you’ll enjoy Valentine’s Day, it’ll still be an unremarkable one for you. Around the 18th, remedy this ennui by communing with nature or jumpstarting a new project. If all fails, try some retail therapy.  

And read your story pick, of course.

  • Teaser: “He sat down cross-legged on one side of the blanket and I across from him, trying to keep the robe covering me. He smiled, a fluttery glimpse in the scruff of his unshaven face, and I thought he was nervous, too. He patted his guitar.”


The Water-Bearer / Intellectual, Open-Minded, Outgoing / Unpredictable, Self-Conscious, Chaotic

It’s all about you! At least until the end of February, when Pisces steals the spotlight. Until then, the stars will align, the odds will be in your favor, all that jazz. You’ll be romance central for most of the month. Whether you fall in love at first sight—what? It could happen—or a recent friendship turns into something more, you’ll be up on cloud nine.

When you come back to Earth, check out this moving, truly sublime read:

  • Teaser: “You’re 100 now. You have lived hundreds of lives, cried millions of tears, seen billions of stars, and you have realized that everyone on earth is the same, and yet the only people on earth you want to see are your mom, dad, sister, and brother.”


The Fish / Charitable, Intuitive, Artistic / Timid, Impractical, Indolent

Old relationships will show up on your doorstep like a box of ant-eaten chocolate. You might want to give them the finger, but a few could warrant some chalky Valentine hearts and a conversation over “adult” hot chocolate. You’ll be rewarded with a great hair day, not to mention an intense date with your favorite Valentine.

While you’re busting out the paper hearts and streamers, I have a gorgeously penned story waiting in your queue.

  • Teaser: “He leaned over me to look closer. The light caught his red hair and I was reminded of copper pennies at the bottom of swimming pools, how they shimmered just so and it made them seem worth so much more than just a penny. I always dove for them.”

Live Through This

Human beings: squishy, fluid-filled meat bags with terrible night vision and very little in the way of natural defense mechanisms—other than a frequently overrated thinking organ giving them all the unearned confidence they need to climb things they shouldn’t be climbing, ingest things they shouldn’t be ingesting, or strap themselves into fast-moving machines some stranger constructed (or some other machines built by some other strangers), thinking that because they’ve watched a bunch of seasons of Survivor or mastered using their Cheetos-stained opposable thumbs to up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start, they’d be some real-world badass if the situation arose for them to demonstrate this untested latent badassery.

And yet, on average, 151,600 people die each day.

Here’s a sobering syllogism: all people die/you are a person/you might die today. You only get one death. Make it a good one. 

You’ll never cheat death, but to help you make better choices, here is a list of ten books, both factual and fictional, in which surviving becomes increasingly less likely—from “Yeah, you got this, buy that whole gallon of milk, son!” to “I hope you’ve been diligent about clearing your browser history and have made arrangements for your cat.”

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death

by Maggie O’Farrell

To flip the script on a delightful old misogyny-chestnut: women are so badass they can bleed for a week without dying. Maggie O’Farrell raises that bar, cheating death seventeen times. So far. After ten or so brushes with death, I’d be asking myself, “Am I being careless?” Maggie O’Farrell just takes it in stride. Some of her experiences brush closer than others to Death’s musty robes, but how does the saying go—let he among us who has never had a machete held to his neck cast the first quibble.

Survivability: Excellent. Maggie O’Farrell is either immortal or is, in fact, two cats in a person suit.

Perfect Imperfection: Dog Portraits of Resilience and Love

by Alex Cearns

Cue the Sarah McLachlan music. This photography book features dogs who—through disease, abuse, or misadventure—have had to have legs amputated or eyes removed. Admirably undeterred by the injustice of their missing bits, they healed and rallied with that irrepressible canine optimism, overcoming adversity and serving as inspirations to their human rescuers and all of us human crybabies.

Survivability: You ever seen a three-legged dog? They are happier and more energetic than any human I know, mostly because they don’t know math—Oh, are there supposed to be four of these? Oh well, hey look—squirrel!

The Twenty-Ninth Day

by Alex Messenger

A memoir about how much more challenging a wilderness adventure becomes when you are grievously injured. Six seventeen-year-old boys headed out into Canada’s backcountry for forty-two days of canoeing and hiking in the great outdoors. One bear-maul later, and it wasn’t just bad weather and rushing rapids they had to contend with but pain and infection, terror and trauma—and there wasn’t even a merit badge at the end of it all.   

Survivability: I saw this guy at Book Expo, and fifteen years after his ordeal, he looked fine. He was not even a little misshapen.

Moon of the Crusted Snow

by Waubgeshig Rice

Moving further up into Northern Canada now, for a post-apocalyptic survival story with an echo of history repeating itself. Set in a small Anishinaabe community, where remoteness from “civilization” has already made self-sufficiency and interdependence a priority for survival, and where preservation of the old ways puts them in a better position than many when the world’s power grid suddenly goes down as the brutal winter approaches. That is until, from the ruined cities to the south, the white men come.

Survivability: Winter in the wilderness without modern conveniences can be done—has been done. Surviving desperate people who want what you have—well, historically, it hasn’t always been as congenial an arrangement as the ant and the grasshopper.


by Tade Thompson

This sci-fi/noir mashup takes place in 2066 in Rosewater, a Nigerian town surrounding a mysterious alien dome—which itself encases a mysterious alien city like some urban-planning turducken. The aliens’ arrival years ago also filled the air with microscopic fungal spores, triggering psychic abilities in some individuals—all of whom are now dying—and may just be the beginning of the end of the human race.

Survivability: This is the first book in a trilogy, so that’s just over a thousand pages of breathing room. But in general, it’s probably wise to be wary of alien domes that come bearing spores—sure, they can heal the sick, transform the living, and raise the dead, but maybe look that gift horse in the mouth before you start celebrating. 

Labyrinth of Ice: The Triumphant and Tragic Greely Polar Expedition

by Buddy Levy

The Greely Arctic expedition of 1881: twenty-five strapping men embarking on a journey for science and glory. Although they succeeded in collecting many biological and botanical samples and attaining Farthest North, their triumph was dampened by wolves, subzero temperatures, frostbite-related amputations, and only two Christmas’ worth of plum pudding. Stranded, starving, cold, and sick, they suffered through years of horrible conditions awaiting rescue, resulting in despair, death, and maybe some light cannibalism.

Survivability: If you are a dog, even a resilient one-eyed one, don’t get on the boat. If you are a human, your chances are better, but still suboptimal. Although if you were one of the few survivors of the Greely expedition, you have likely since died. Unless you are Maggie O’Farrell. Someone fact-check this, plz. 

Queen of the Conquered

by Kacen Callender

Set in a fantasy-tinged version of our world, the historical atrocities of colonialism in the Caribbean are here made even more horrific, and Death is so woke he doesn’t even distinguish between oppressor or oppressed—slave uprisings, politically motivated assassinations disguised as slave uprisings, the execution of slaves for sport or for protection from their forbidden magical powers, the casualties resulting from contenders vying for the throne, grudge-based murder plots. Death is kept busy, indiscriminately grabbing with both hands.

Survivability: Slavery always = dehumanization, and dehumanization = a decreased survival rate. Combine racism with politics and the livin’ ain’t easy here.

Battle Royale

by Koushun Takami

Japan’s proto-Hunger Games, where each year, random classes of teenagers are rounded up, collared, dumped on an island full of weapons, and encouraged to be the last kid standing. You know, for honor and country.

Survivability: You have a 1-in-42 chance. But you’ve probably killed all your friends, which means more nightmares and fewer birthday presents, so it’s a hollow victory at best.

Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster

by Svetlana Alexievich

Alexievich’s award-winning collection of first-person accounts of individuals directly affected by the 1986 meltdown at Chernobyl, which (as anyone with an HBO subscription knows) was a tragedy resulting from the hubristic qualities of the human spirit causing unprecedented damage to human bodies. In situations like these, where smug human progress courts its own destruction, e.e. cummings had it right:

pity this busy monster, manunkind,

not. Progress is a comfortable disease:

your victim (death and life safely beyond)

plays with the bigness of his littleness

— electrons deify one razorblade

into a mountainrange; lenses extend

unwish through curving wherewhen till unwish

returns on its unself.

                          A world of made

is not a world of born — pity poor flesh

and trees, poor stars and stones, but never this

fine specimen of hypermagical

ultraomnipotence. We doctors know

a hopeless case if — listen: there’s a hell of a good universe next door; let’s go

Survivability: If you live through it, you’ll wish you hadn’t.

The Laws of the Skies

by Grégoire Courtois

You know all those book-clubby books celebrating the triumph of the human spirit, illuminating how bonds forged in extreme circumstances can play a crucial role in surviving adversity? Yeah, not here. From the very first page of this tale of a doomed French camping trip we know that the twelve six-year-old children and three chaperones going into the woods are never ever gonna come out again. When one of the kids goes full psychopath, killing one of the counselors, everyone flees and everyone dies—and all the bonds of friendship and cooperation in the world won’t save ‘em. Fun fact: they won’t all be murdered; this book is like a choose-your-own-adventure story where every choice is wrong.

Survivability: None. You’re fucked. Get busy dying.

December Literary Horoscopes


The Ram / Courageous, Adventurous, Independent / Domineering, Selfish, Arrogant

Bad news, Aries: December probably won’t be a wintry wonderland for you. More bad news: Your current relationships are going to become more complicated than ever. Why, you might ask? Apparently, the cosmos chose you for some not-so-fun chaos!

When you’re not shaking your fist at the heavens, check out this innovative story pick…

  • Teaser: “It had been raining dead birds for four days. Donna winced as she heard the tiny bones crunch when she stepped on yet another corpse.”


The Bull / Loyal, Friendly, Resourceful / Self-Indulgent, Possessive, Greedy

No need to put on any airs with your friends this month. Wear those ratty but comfy robes, select that delectable croissant over one-point-five almonds; opt for indulgences over a strict regimen. You deserve a break and, frankly, November was kind of a nightmare.

Feast your eyes on this raw, stunning read:

  • Teaser: I never got out of bed to check on her. Looking back, I think I should have. I think I was afraid of what I’d find in the dark, so I’d just close my eyes and wait for morning.”


The Twins / Intelligent, Adaptable, Creative / Moody, Opportunistic, Inconsistent

Your ego might turn into Swiss cheese around the middle of the month. Don’t worry, though, Lady Luck will grace you with her presence around the 20th for some sweet, sweet relief. Earlier in the month, save your cash so you can splurge around the holidays.

This compelling story pick will help you through roller-coaster December.

  • Teaser: “Our hands hold each other through time. Mine reaches up from the mud and algae, through the tangled hair. Now I only talk with my story.”


The Crab / Honest, Generous, Faithful / Insecure, Needy, Crabby

Treat festive December as an opportunity to make up for lost time. You might prefer summer months, but when it comes to creative projects, the winter season is your oyster (see what I did there?). Don’t give in to your nesting urges or daydreaming tendencies all the time. C’mon, I know you can do it!

Your reward is this touching yet tension-filled read:

  • Teaser: “I launch my four-year-old son into the air and he laughs because he knows I will catch him. He climbs on my shoulders and his long fingernails claw at my neck. Daddy, he says. Play Monster.”


The Lion / Cheery, Noble, Imaginative / Demanding, Boastful, Melodramatic

Strut your stuff all month long, you slick charmer you. I would say don’t be a shrinking violet—your accomplishments this year have been impressive—but that’s really not a concern for leonine folks like yourself! Mind you, I say that with love.

Before you hit all the parties, though, crack open this truly unique read.

  • Teaser: “At a bakery blaze, volunteer firefighters nodded off. They napped on the sidewalk while smoldering icing imbued the air with a sweet char.”


The Maiden / Practical, Diligent, Kind / Obsessive, Self-Righteous, Compulsive

Oh Virgo, I’m glad you made it through a topsy-turvy fall season. Now you can sprint into the holidays and party like it’s 1999. Don’t forget to eat first, and hydrate like crazy (this is for your own good). Bonus: You’re either going to smash a work goal or hit a milestone at home. What? Sometimes these tea leaves are hard to read…

Ahem. After you’ve had your fifth cup of caffeine, check out this mesmerizing story pick.

  • Teaser: “You’ve had the Silence for only a couple weeks when someone calls, and you touch your clavicle. The phone vibrates. When you open your mouth, a little puff cloud appears.”
flowers all over you” by narghee-la


The Scales / Compassionate, Trustworthy, Peacemaker / Disorganized, Materialistic, Indecisive

You’re due to run into some unexpected complications this month. To make up for this crappy weather report, though, you will also have a nice, balanced holiday break. Your talents and compassionate nature will shine around the 28th, too. You’re a gem in a sea of sand. Keep your chin up, and stay positive.

Save this poignant, spellbinding read for when you need a treat.

  • Teaser: “He hated being reminded of how we are all teetering on the brink of an alternate existence, waiting with bated breath to know which reality will become ours.”


The Scorpion / Purposeful, Charismatic, Cunning / Aggressive, Manipulative, Possessive

In December, you might be a smidge disappointed with your friends. Try to remember that they’re only human. The other areas of your life will be smooth sailing without a wave in sight. I can’t say the same for January, but let’s save those pesky worries for the New Year. I don’t believe in spoilers for 2020 (I needed to make some kind of New Year’s resolution, geez).

Your monthly story pick will make you want to seize the moment, and really live—it’s never too late.

  • Teaser: “Arms stretched above her head, Morag mirrored the dancing girl, oblivious to the rivulets of water running from her elbow to her neck.” 


The Archer / Straightforward, Optimistic, Adventurous / Careless, Impatient, Hotheaded

Winter has finally arrived! You might feel the urge to run madly through the snow, cackle with glee at white-dusted trees, or start ten new projects in a single day. I’m not saying which of these you should choose, but pick that last one—your energy will ride high with the moon this month. It’s your time to shine, and shine you will, you delightful ball of sugar/spice/everything nice.

And don’t forget your story pick:

  • Teaser: “Amidst the consistent dinging of the microwaves, the off-kilter beat of the roller grill, the shushing of the soda machines—amidst this noise, I laugh along with her and hide the drop in my stomach that comes from the sudden thought of you.”


The Mountain Sea-Goat / Traditional, Responsible, Ambitious / Unforgiving, Blunt, Pessimistic

You buckled down in November, so now it’s time to feed your introverted, list-loving spirit. Set aside some mental health days so you can reflect and mentally prepare yourself for family-holiday-style shenanigans. And try not to feel guilty, either! We all need downtime. Also, you’ll be more productive if you rest up (I’m not above appealing to your responsible self).

I have a gorgeous poem for your monthly read, too.

  • Teaser: “I apply the lotion as they might have / a snakestone or bezoar to a wound made by serrated wings / or teeth. The way they brought forth silver and rose petals. / A jug of mercury, the salve for what must be cauterized by stars.”


The Water-Bearer / Intellectual, Open-Minded, Outgoing / Unpredictable, Self-Conscious, Chaotic

A few health issues might knock on your door this season. Like respectable house guests, they should only take you hostage for a day or two. Stock up on coffee and/or tea so you can be cozy while you rest (don’t forget your embarrassing Grandma sweater, either).

Once you’re all settled, check out this enthrallingly whimsical story pick.

  • Teaser: “I’m sorry to report that if you can hear me, you’re dead. Such a shame. But don’t worry, we’ll help you adjust. Being a modern ghost is tricky.”


The Fish / Charitable, Intuitive, Artistic / Timid, Impractical, Indolent

Last month was all about romance and good fortune. December won’t be quite as exciting, but it won’t have any major downers, either. Embrace the end of the year and ruminate on your goals for 2020. I might be biased, but I have a feeling we’re about to hit your best decade yet.

Celebrate with this offbeat and striking read. It will hook you and, if you’re me, feel like “cozies with teeth.”

  • Teaser: “My scars began forty-four rings ago. A couple sat beneath my thin, bud-filled branches as the sounds of their joy made its way through my bark spreading up to the tops of my leaves and down to the tips of my roots.”