Poetry Wednesday

Today’s poem comes from Shivani Mehta’s debut collection, Useful Information for the Soon-to-be Beheaded—the collection is made up of exclusively prose poems, and I promise they’re all as beautiful as the one below.


The hole in the air is clearly visible when I get out of bed, blackness so complete it shimmers around the edges. Photographs of us are scattered through the house, broken glass under my feet like a trail of seashells. I know I won’t find you. There are two kinds of people, you once told me, the kind who stay and the other kind. I smell rain in the kitchen, remember the taste of it on your lips—perfume of wet soil and inevitability. I’ve had a memory of your leaving since the day we met. The moon, its glimmer fading like an old lightbulb, swings by a rope from the fig tree.

A letter from Press 53 Publisher Kevin Morgan Watson regarding the Amazon/Hachette dispute

Dear Friends of Press 53,

The Amazon v. Hachette dispute has gone viral with posts on Facebook and Twitter, with an email sent to millions from Amazon decrying Hachette’s pricing of their e-books as “unjustifiably high,” and with a two-page ad in the New York Times signed by 900 authors calling on Amazon to stop punishing authors and get back to the business of selling books. So far, neither Amazon nor Hachette have budged.

As the owner of a small press, who owes much of our success to Amazon for selling our books when most bookstores showed no interest, I hope Hachette doesn’t budge. And I hope readers will stand beside them and think about where they buy books in the future. Hachette is only one publisher out of many who have had to deal with Amazon’s games and bully tactics. This includes Press 53.

Until I read Amazon’s email, I struggled to understand why so many of our titles at Press 53 began showing up on Amazon last October as “Temporarily out of stock” or “Usually ships within 1 to 3 weeks,” even though our printer, Lightning Source, Inc., can print and ship any of our books ordered from Amazon within 24 hours. I now understand that Amazon’s mission is to push readers to purchase e-books. Print books no longer fit their business model. As the Amazon letter said, “With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs…”

So this scrum match with Hachette is really about Amazon using its position as an industry giant to sway readers toward e-books, a medium that is more profitable to Amazon. It’s about Amazon flexing its muscles to prove dominance over “a big US publisher and part of a $10 billion media conglomerate” to fall in line with Amazon’s vision or suffer the consequences. And since Press 53 e-books are priced lower than our print books, Amazon is passive-aggressively nudging our readers toward the e-book by listing our print books as out of stock.

Large companies like Amazon and Walmart derive their power from consumers who voluntarily support them. My family no longer shops at Walmart because we refuse to support a company that pays its employees poverty wages, leaving many to rely on government assistance programs to survive. In essence, we, as taxpayers, are subsidizing the Walton’s, America’s richest family.

Shoppers have a choice to continue buying goods from these large low-margin, high-volume businesses like Walmart and Amazon, while we all watch them continue their march toward complete control of the marketplace, or they can choose to spend a little more with companies who appreciate their business and only want to co-exist in this world, not control it. 

Hachette should be free to set e-book prices that are in line with their own goals, not Amazon’s. And Amazon is free to leave the print book market to other booksellers and focus on the more lucrative e-book market, should they choose to follow their own advice. But using its position and power to force other businesses to get in line or go down should earn Amazon a time-out from people who value fairness and choice in the marketplace.

What we are witnessing with Amazon v. Hachette is not a battle for lower e-book prices for the good of readers. We are witnessing the corruption of power, where almost having it all isn’t the same, or as satisfying, as having it all. We are seeing how the desire for complete control will allow someone to set conscience aside while the lives and careers of others are toyed with like chess pieces, all while telling the world with a straight face that this power-move is for the good of us all.

Best regards,

Kevin Morgan Watson, Publisher

Press 53

5 Questions, 3 Facts

I’m really thrilled this morning to present an interview with Wendy J. Fox, the first ever winner of the Press 53 Award for Short Fiction—she stunned me from the first story, and the stories only kept getting better from there! Her debut, The Seven Stages of Anger and Other Stories, is out in October but is available for pre-order now. 

P53: What are a few of the books you couldn’t live without?

WJF: Melanie Rae Thon, Sweet Hearts; Ivan Doig, This House of Sky; anything by Alice McDermott; John Banville, Eclipse. 

P53: What kind of movies do you like to watch? Do you draw any parallels between film and literature?

WJF: I can’t really say that I like to watch movies—the last time I went to a movie theater was 2008 on a date with my now-husband. I think I thought going to see a movie was something we were supposed to do as part of the overall process. That said, if I like a movie, it’s something with a strong narrative arc or stunning dialogue, like good books have. I never seek films out, but occasionally I run into something that is compelling. If asked about a favorite, I default to No Country for Old Men because I like it the best (thus far) of the McCarthy films.

P53: Was there ever a point where you felt like you might give up on writing?

WJF: There was never a point where I felt that I would give up on writing, but many times I wanted to give up on publishing. Now, my alphabetized catalog of rejections is more of a travelogue and less of a bummer. The rejections continue to grow at a steady pace, but I have learned to not take it personally. Press 53 rejected my (as of now, still unpublished) novel Deals, for example, but later took my debut short-story collection. The business end of writing is a reality that we aren’t all always super keen on, but independent publishers, small presses, and literary magazines still care. I had work come out last month in two magazines who had said “no” more than one (okay, four and six) times before saying “yes!”  

 P53: What is your biggest non-literary influence?

 WJF: My biggest non-literary influence is my parents, by a long shot. My folks are split up now, but what I got from both of them was a sense of what anyone can accomplish through work. They both encouraged the writing life (my mom used to bring home a typewriter from work so I could hack away on it), and they both had, and still have, this kind of reserved optimism, a sense of Well, you won’t know until you try, and they always have advocated trying. 

P53: Drink of choice?

WJF: White wine when it is warm, red wine when it is cool. 

Three Facts about Wendy:

1. While I do have an MFA, my other three-letter degree is a GED. 

2. My favorite color is orange.

3. After living in the same place for my entire life, between 1996 and 2009, I moved 17 times.

Thank you, dictionary, for knowing me so well, and for loving me just the same, despite my sometimes detestable but always enjoyable proclivities.

Flash Friday

To cap off your week, we’re giving you a story from the forthcoming anthology Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet, edited by Clifford Garstang. The story comes from Brandy Abraham, and it may be short, but it’s unsettling and beautiful, for sure.

Following the Encantado

They continued on, farther down the shoreline, passing women throwing nets into the water and gathering reed moss from the shallows. He thought they would be naked. He subscribed to National Geographic. He thought their breasts would be like round rocks against their bodies. But they were wearing tunics that went past their knees. He felt himself being pulled toward them and he leaned out, pressing the side of the boat deeper into the water.

He noticed how they did not speak back to him. But he called out anyway.

The sea was not shocking to them.

They waded out. The bottoms of their tunics were sheer. The moss from the bottom had been dyed and the kimono color bled in ribbons across the current.

He bowed the boat deeper into the water, whispering. He could hear something ancient. Leaning his ear closer, nearly dipping it in, he heard it again. A low voice that sounded like fish scales being rubbed from raw skin.

Jacob, the boat driver, warned him that a piranha could jump out and grab him by the throat. But still he listened.

“There is music under the water,” he gasped.

“There is nothing but fish,” Jacob said back.

He rowed them away from the women. From the shore where a girl waved, her arms laced with strings and pebble beads, her tunic soaked to her navel. She had hair that melted into the water. He believed it looked like black glass. As if her eyes were all that illuminated and he was running into the night sky.

Let’s be real—the main function of a smart phone, for a reader, is as a dictionary.

What’s the last word you learned by stumbling across it in a book?

53-Word Story Contest Winner (July): Kathryn Kulpa

Congratulations to Kathryn, whose story “Seapowet Mills Picnic, Purgatory Lake, 1912,” was chosen as last month’s winner! The story will appear in a forthcoming issue of Prime Number Magazine, and Kathryn wins the Press 53 book of her choice! Read her winning story, below.

Seapowet Mills Picnic, Purgatory Lake, 1912

He’s the boss’s son. You’re nobody’s daughter, a Bridget, a Maggie. That won’t matter soon, and won’t the girls in the thread room die of envy? He leads you down Widow’s Walk to see the chasm. Your whispered secret echoes, your steps clumsy on the stones. His hand at your back is firm.


21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon and 2666 by Roberto Bolano

Y’all, my vacation made it onto Book and Beer!

Poetry Wednesday

For your Wednesday, a stunning poem from Therése Halscheid's new collection, Frozen Latitudes.

Air in the Room

Too often is this
sudden lure

because your mouth has opened,
because your skin is lined
with begging pores

all of you
a dreaded entrance

that I
must go through
good-willed and giving,
lighting weak caves in your body.

But give me your words,
I whisper

that I might wear
what is unspoken outward

into the world
at large. Breathe

and learn how committed I am
to rush your cry towards
the screen window

the renewing blue

then fly recovering
against the farthest trees.