Fucking books, man. [Said in a generally affirmative way, not, like, actually fucking books. Unless you’re into that, in which case, ours are soft and absorbant.]
Good morning from your Online Community Manager! Who wants to play some parachute games?
We offer poorly paying internships, so our interns can feel both morally superior via not participating in the exploitative system of unpaid internships and yet also adequately exploited to read popular blogs about underemployed twentysomethings and think, “that’s me.”
Let’s have a big fat LIKE so Maggie doesn’t lose her (poorly paying) job.
Our books will make you look like someone who’s fairly smart, but with questionable taste.
Click like if you want to read Jamie Heller’s “A Broken Fender” on your Kindle. Joke’s on you, because we won’t have any e-books until the publisher dies!
Click like if you want the publisher to die!
Trading phone numbers for cigarettes: discuss. Also, books!
If you’re interested in the complex feelings a young woman of today might have about not being texted within 12 hours by a guy she gave her number to in exchange for a cigarette, look elsewhere for books that will fascinate you. If you’re interested in metaphorical guitars, click like!
Message us a color and we’ll tell you what you should read this weekend. It’s gonna be one of our books, so bear that in mind.
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My mom is happy to have me home for the summer. Here are the things she’s happy to bring to me: popcorn, soda, beer, cigarettes, vodka, pot, painkillers, and guys from the bar. She’s working on an Adderall hookup.
She married my third stepdad Ron last summer, but I rarely see him. When he’s not at work, he’s in the basement working on his model train set and drinking Busch. He most commonly emerges for food and happy hour.
She doesn’t technically cheat on Ron, but she flirts heavily—up to and including “dances” with guys at the VFW that leave no room, as the nuns who ran her grade school might have said, for the Holy Spirit. She draws the line at kissing, and when they try to move in, she acts shocked and declares loudly that she’s a married woman. Ron doesn’t go to the bar with her, which is just as well given the sullen reaction he tends to have when he sees Mom chatting with, say, a teenage boy working behind the counter at SuperAmerica.
When Mom and I are drinking, she likes to reminisce about her second husband Jeremy, a nice guy who left her when he caught her in bed—fully clothed—with his brother. Jeremy was truly her soulmate, she says…”except,” she acknowledges, patting my arm, “for you, honey.”
I have an older sister, but we don’t see much of her—she lives in Massachusetts, where she works as a horse trainer. My mom thinks she’s gay, which she says she’d embrace if Marnie would just open up to her and talk about it—even just answer her damn phone!
Marnie and I are not close, but the evidence I’ve seen suggests that Marnie is sleeping not with the butchy stable owner who appears in many of her Facebook photos. Rather, I think she’s in a complicated relationship with a guy from Taiwan who works in Boston as a consultant but has a fiancée back home. My evidence for this is that when Marnie and I were sent to the store last Christmas for tonic and ice, she spent the whole way there speaking in very theoretical but suspiciously intense terms about “this guy I know” who fits that description.
Mom never cares where I’m going, but always asks. She has nothing meaningful to say about my relationships, but likes to know what the status is. She doesn’t understand my college major (American Studies), but she likes to mention it. She wants me to take care of myself, but keeps bringing me drinks. As moms go, I guess I could have done worse.
I found my neighbor’s cat wedged between two washing machines in my apartment’s laundry room a few weeks ago.
The cat mewled sadly as I transferred my dirty clothes into one of the washing machines. I ignored the mewling as I measured my detergent, closed the machine’s lid, and turned it on.
The washing machine made a loud rushing water noise that startled the cat, causing it to bolt out from between the machines toward the laundry room’s door.
I had shut the door behind me when I entered the laundry room.
Poor kitty was trapped.
The cat batted half-heartedly at the laundry room’s door and I walked over to let it out. The cat looked up at me and mewled softly as I approached. I squatted down to pet it.
I recognized the cat as the cat that hangs out on the fire escape outside apartment 221, the apartment directly below me. It had only been hanging out there maybe a month.
A new cat.
Apartment 221. Dave Hubert, twenty-seven, grocery store clerk. Quiet. Wasting his life being quiet.
The cat was a petite blue-eyed grey tabby. Blue-eyed cats are uncommon. I know enough about cats to know this.
It was a girl-cat, spayed. I picked her up by her scruff to check. I know enough about cats to be able to tell.
Dave Hubert, twenty-seven, quiet with a cat. A new cat. She was petite in the kind of way that you couldn’t tell if she was just leaving kittenhood or simply a petite cat.
I went from squatting to sitting and the cat nuzzled my hand as I scratched her ears. I looked at her collar: a phone number and a name. Cynthia.
Dave Hubert and Cynthia Sherman. That’s what the buzzer outside used to say. Now, just Dave Hubert.
Dave Hubert has always been quiet. Cynthia Sherman would cry, sometimes, late in the night.
Sometimes, when I heard her crying, I’d turn off the television and lay above Dave and Cynthia’s bedroom, listening to Dave being quiet as Cynthia cried.
Then one day she disappeared quietly, or died, or turned into a cat. Crying, sometimes, late in the night, can make you grow grey hairs. From the stress. And make you lose weight. You shrink. Cat-sized.
I still like to imagine sometimes what it might be like to see Cynthia Sherman naked as often as you would like. She was pale, petite, just leaving teenagehood.
I stood up in the laundry room, picking up Cynthia the cat, and put her into my laundry basket next to my detergent. I left the laundry room and got in the elevator.
In the elevator I pressed the button for the second floor.
On the second floor the elevator doors opened and Cynthia mewled.
I didn’t move and the doors closed. I pressed the button for the third floor.
* * *
Cynthia has been living in my apartment for about three weeks now.
I think she might have grown a little, but she is still petite.
Dave Hubert put up a “missing cat” poster in the lobby of our apartment building, but as far as I can tell he hasn’t spoken to anyone about it. He is too quiet to ask anyone if they have seen Cynthia.
Nobody but me has seen her, anyway.
Cynthia prefers wet cat food over dry cat food, and sadly mewls by the window to the fire escape every day.
I would love to let her out, but I am scared Dave Hubert will see her.
Last night I called the super with an anonymous noise complaint against Dave Hubert.
I might start to do this weekly, until he is evicted.
Dave seems like an alright guy, but I’d really love to let Cynthia out onto the fire escape.
She seems to really want to like it out there.
The Internet is a strange thing. I’m ambivalent about most of what people do on it, but since I’m not terrified of it, I was a plausible candidate for any of the several internships I applied for this summer. They have different names—”online outreach internship,” “digital media internship,” “Web strategy internship”—but basically, they’re all I’m Not Terrified of the Internet Internships.
The company I finally signed up with isn’t just terrified of the Internet, they hate it. It’s a nonprofit literary publisher that lands grants on the strength of its back catalog, which includes several national award winners. The founder, who’s in the 70-Something-and-Still-Feisty-But-Also-Kind-of-Crazy demographic, has a long history of being able to convince foundations that he can take their money and use it to publish books without seriously fucking anything up. It’s true that he can do that, but it’s also true that the books are read by fewer and fewer people. The publisher’s solution has been to jack up prices, print everything in hardcover, and describe the books as “craft editions.”
Nothing here goes on the Internet. The Internet is the enemy. My hire was forced by the three under-50 board members who told the founder he had to get the company on Facebook and Twitter, or else no one would take us seriously. He doesn’t believe that, and plans to ignore me and the Internet I represent as much as possible.
Representing this Internet-hating company on the Internet is like trying to have a conversation with your ex and his new girlfriend: you keep everything positive and superficial, and skate around the fact that you actually hate him, hate her, and hate the conversation. Sample tweets:
Our author Alec Robinson talks about why he’s proud to be in print! [link]
Check out these stunning letterpress designs by the studio that prints our chapbooks. [link]
Welcome to Twitter: @RoseColoredBooks, a proudly independent poetry store in Oxford.
The arms-length relationship with the Internet is ironic given that this is a literary publisher: an enterprise founded on the premise that there’s value in putting a lens on reality, on valorizing the subjective. “The Internet isn’t real,” grumbled my boss when he resentfully hired me. You wonder what ditch-diggers and plumbers would have to say about letterpress chapbooks.
So here’s my summer: using one medium to promote another, all in the service of freeing writers to express themselves and advance human imagination through institutionally sanctioned channels. This should be good practice for writing short stories that will be graded by a TA being supervised by a professor who was hired by a dean who liked the books the professor published through a company owned by an international conglomerate. The business of literature, the science of art.
Whatever. Like all writers, I basically just want to get paid and get laid.
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She could feel herself wanting simpler and simpler things as it became harder to compartmentalize, to rationalize, to trust that she would soon be free. She wanted to sit, to stand, to move, to breathe freely. The tree seemed to be pressing harder and harder, and she wondered whether she was imagining it or whether it actually was sinking slowly into the moist ground, pushing her ribs to the breaking point.
* * *
Grey skies and coffee.
Pull the front door behind you, slamming it tight. Listen to the loose glass rattle, wonder when it will fall out and slice someone’s foot open. Down the stairs, brown paint wearing thin. Cut across the lawn, finding the key in your pocket. Take a look at the neighbors’ houses. Nothing going on.
Look for traffic, insert key, feel the lock pop open. Watch your coat, maybe sigh a little as you lower yourself down into the seat. Slam the door, fasten lap belt, start the car, shoulder belt slides into place. Hair out of face, check mirror, carefully shift transmission into gear and pull out.
Pass the church, new sign. New when? A year ago? Two? Three?
Pass the yellow house with the barking dogs.
Pass the yard with the huge boat in the driveway, oversized garage that had to be set back, building plans modified late in construction, a sign mounted one day cursing the mayor and the governor.
Wait for the jogger, hands limp in front of her, headphones on, doesn’t look into your eyes. Turn onto Peak Street, an easy four blocks. Drive past the junior high with loitering juniors, past the college with dozens of bikes chained up but not a student in sight.
Benjamin Street, always busy. Any time of the day. Wait for the light, turn right and it’s one block down to Dexter Avenue. Wait, wait, turn again, and turn into the parking lot. One tiny space, it’s yours.
Ignition off, key out, door open, slide out, coat collecting grime from the wagon’s side panel. Next comes the Busy Walk, a busy person’s walk across the parking lot, chin high and purse shouldered.
Turn onto the sidewalk, walk past the empty dingy white plastic patio furniture, the smell of roasting coffee beans fogging into the air.
Door #1. Yes, we’re OPEN.
Door #2, and there’s the counter. Earthy folk music playing, earthy folk woman behind the counter, always in her twenties, always a bandana, always something pierced. Wobbly round black tables intermittently full. An old man doing a crossword puzzle from the paper. A young man in tight black turtleneck with legs crossed presidentially, reading Ayn Rand. Two librarian girlfriends look up at you through large thick glasses, their tote bags on the floor leaning against their chairs.
Shaggy-haired student with his Macintosh laptop, nodding to music on his headphones.
Always the moment’s pause, as though you’re thinking about it. Twenty-ounce cappuccino, very dry. $3.57. Hand over a five-dollar bill and a punch card. Smile, thanks, keep the buck, forty-three cent tip. The milk steamer roars. Wait. Take a small glass of water, toss the waxed paper cup in the trash. Watch the beans cooling in the roaster. Read about the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea, which produce a bean that is mild and sweet yet lively.
Plastic spoon from the dingy bin. Just stand there, spooning the foam off and eating it straight. The first few scoops are pure foamy milk. Further down, brown espresso begins swirling its way into the foam. Finally, you hit liquid.
Toss the spoon, cap the cup, smile at the earthy folk woman and you’re back on the street in the cold air, holding your cup, the inside of your hand burning and the outside freezing.
* * *
She tried to will herself into a sort of semiconscious state, tried to close off any notice of time passing outside and blood leaking inside. They would come soon, and she just had to be ready to call to them. Calling, calling, she called and called.
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Maybe because he was busy kissing his girlfriend, Lindsey didn’t notice me putting a condom on. I was already in position and about to slide between Leah’s legs when Lindsey noticed what was happening.
“Whoa. Whoa there, bro. Hang on.”
Leah and I both just looked at him, saying nothing. He kept his hand there on Leah’s tit, and looked back and forth between us, like he assumed we knew what he was thinking. I did, but pretended I didn’t.
“It’s okay, sugar.” Leah put her hand to his cheek. “Just…feel the moment. Feel the energy.”
Lindsey sat up. “Yeah,” he stammered, “yeah, yeah, it’s cool, but…come on, man.”
“Right, it’s cool,” I said, and moved back in on Leah. Lindsey blocked me with a hand on my chest.
“WHOA!” he shouted. “Just don’t…do that, okay?”
“Hey, baby,” said Leah, sitting up. “Don’t worry, all right? We all wanted this.”
“Yeah, well…” Lindsey shook his head. “I didn’t want…that. I didn’t want…”
“You didn’t want me to fuck her?” I yanked the condom off, since it was clear the party was over.
“Well, yeah. I mean…I wanted to see you two together, I just didn’t want…that.”
“You just wanted to see us get to third base,” I said.
“Aw, shit.” Leah reached for her cigarettes. “I don’t believe this is happening again.”
“Again?” I asked.
“Yeah,” said Leah, lighting her Camel. “This is just like last time, except that was with a girl.”
“And he didn’t want you to fuck her?”
“No, he didn’t want him to fuck her. I gave her a shitty blow job, then she wanted him, but when she climbed on top of him, he started to cry.”
“Oh, for chrissakes.” Lindsey stood up and put his hands to his head, his dick flopping around between his skinny legs. “I’m sorry, okay? I just don’t want us to be unfaithful to each other.”
“We’re all on the same plane here, honey,” Leah said in a voice containing little affection, dangling the cigarette from her lips like a Blues Brother. “We were all getting aroused together. We were all in the moment. We were all loving ourselves and each other. What does it matter whose parts are where?”
“It matters!” exclaimed Lindsey. “It’s the difference between making out and…and making love.” He put his hands on his hips. “Making love is for lovers.”
I reached for my clothes. “Listen, I’m…”
“No, hang on.” Lindsey dropped her smoke in a half-empty can of High Life. “Come here.” She grabbed my shoulders and pushed me down. “I want to finish this.”
“Should I get another rubber?” I asked.
“No!” cried Lindsey.
“Hey,” said Leah, “let’s just finish this on a nice note.” She reached for my dick, but before I could decide where to put my hand, I heard Lindsey choking back a sob.
I sat up. “I can’t do this,” I said. “You two figure your shit out.”
Leah sighed and shook her head. Crawling under the covers, she turned towards the wall. “Whatever,” she said.
“I’m sorry, bro,” said Lindsey as I pulled on my jeans.
“No,” I said, “it’s fine. Now I just have to go jerk off to a relatively recent memory of having my dick pressed up against your girlfriend’s naked ass. But don’t worry—we didn’t make love or anything spiritually intimate like that.”
Lindsey hung his head. “I don’t believe I suggested this.”
“I do,” I said as I buttoned my shirt. “You wanted to get laid tonight, and you knew nothing would happen unless you spiced it up. Now, excuse me.”
As I went down the cottage steps, I heard Lindsey try to say something to Leah, but she interrupted him. “No, just be quiet, lover. Come over here and work this knot out of my back. But put on your pajamas first…I hate it when your junk dangles on me.”
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In the last six weeks, I’ve been given a 1,400-page unpublished novel to read, asked to sign a printout of a blog post I wrote called “Fuck This Shit,” posed for a Snapchat that was sent to “this girl I know who likes to read,” and hit on for sex (twice) and an egg donation (once). All without even leaving this goddamn house.
They’re now calling this place a “writers’ retreat,” and I’m now a “writing fellow.” My presence is advertised in the brochure as a perk: paying guests get to rub elbows with the esteemed fellows, “promising young writers who have already achieved substantial recognition and are honing their craft.” Fuck that. If I didn’t shit out the next Great American Novel when it was just us staying here—and I didn’t—these goddamned rubberneckers aren’t going to make that outcome any more likely.
I made it through the first 28 years of my life without being labeled “a writer.” I just wrote sometimes. Most of what I wrote got thrown away or lost or rolled up and smoked, and if it’s ungrammatical to write “got thrown away,” I can’t tell you, because the only people who ever read anything I wrote were teachers who were incompetent (grade school), lazy (high school), or stoned (college).
I was the “outsider” picked for this program, the “vernacular stylist,” as Arts & Letters Daily put it. Now I’m officially a “writer”—and, worse, a “fellow.” I’ve been certified by someone with money (because that’s all that really matters, even in the world of Arts & Letters) as a Writer Who Matters, and therefore I’m assumed to have things like a Process, an Aesthetic, and a Trajectory.
Being able to assemble coherent sentences does not make me special, it makes me your mom. Writing about sex and drugs does not make me Jack Kerouac, it makes me someone who was a 28-year-old college dropout working at the kind of service-sector job where if you don’t steal from the register or bone the manager (and then bone someone else), you don’t get fired. Writing online does not make me “alt lit,” it makes me someone who doesn’t have a book contract.
Here’s what made me a “writer”: I said I was. Only once, but that was all it took. I wrote one cover letter for one program and said, “I’m a writer from Columbus, Ohio.” They believed me, and gave me some money, and now everyone suddenly wants to know what angle to the sun I prefer when I compose prose. All because I said I was a writer, which I did because I didn’t give a fuck what a “writer” was. I still don’t give a fuck, and you do, and that’s why I’m a writer and you’re not.
I expected Lily to be furious, but instead she was scared and excited. I gathered that from the way her hand trembled when she set her Martini down on the poolside table that night, after I returned from the park. She was stretched out in a lounge chair wearing only her black bikini, her pale skin seeming almost to glow in the darkness.
“The neighbors,” I said.
“Fuck the neighbors,” she replied, lighting a Marlboro. “We’re moving soon anyway, I presume. This is going to get messy.”
I couldn’t argue with that.
“Do you know who’s going to go?” she asked forthrightly.
“Maybe we can all stay,” I said.
She shook her head and sat up, pulling her knees to her chest. “You’ve never been that strong,” she said.
“I’m stronger now.”
The look on Lily’s face was incredulous. “I don’t think so,” she said. She rolled the olive into her mouth and chewed it slowly.
“Where’s Anna?” I asked.
Lily pointed up to an upstairs window. “Watching me.”
I looked up, and there was the outline of Anna’s head, black against the brightly lit bedroom. She must have seen me looking at her, but she didn’t look away. “She’s probably wondering what you’re going to do,” I said.
“Maybe,” said Lily. “Want to swim?”
I did. It was wrong to have the scent of Johanna on me when she wasn’t there in the house. I pulled my shirt up and dropped my pants.
“Let’s live somewhere remote next time,” said Lily as she stood up. “Somewhere people won’t see us.”
“We tried that,” I said.
Lily stopped to remember, looking up at the moon. “Yeah,” she acknowledged. “Maybe somewhere semi-rural,” she suggested. “A college town.”
“You’re so sure you’ll be there,” I said coldly.
Lily turned towards me, a quick look of anger flitting across her face before she smiled broadly and reached for my shorts.
Just at that moment, the back door opened and Anna came running across the lawn, completely nude. She grabbed Lily’s hand and yanked her into the pool. They surfaced together, laughing, and Anna reached around to unhook Lily’s top. I jumped in after them, and Lily yanked my shorts off.
They both knew it was one of our last nights together, and that one of them would soon be going away forever. They didn’t know which, and each was filled with a mixture of hope and dread that it might be her. That’s how it is with us. The staying is miserable, but we never want to go.
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7:10 AM: Woke up. Thought about masturbating. Thought about Lena Dunham obsessively-compulsively masturbating eight times in a row. Jealous if girls can actually do that. Can girls actually do that? She makes it sound terrible, but how could it be? Had a smoke in bed. Masturbated thinking about Spring Breakers, which made me think about Hipster Runoff, which got me thinking about Alice Glass. Had to get back to Spring Breakers to finish. Finished, started watching Tiny Furniture on Netflix.
8:01 AM: That whiny little shit is thumping around already. He’ll be on his iPad in the living room. He doesn’t even bother to use headphones. Didn’t anyone tell him this is a motherfucking writers’ retreat?!
9:32 AM: Finished watching Tiny Furniture, went down for breakfast. Danny makes the best over-easy eggs—one clean swipe of the spatula, and BOOM. He says he learned it at a ranch in Nevada where he stayed with his lover Molly Ann and her crystals. “Those crystals gave her some energy, man, you hear what I’m sayin’?”
10:05 AM: It occurred to me that someone would probably give me a book contract if I came up with something while I’m here. Brainstormed book ideas: premature memoir, book club book, fantasy adventure for tweens. Thought of Jenni’s kid, filled with hatred of tweens. Gave up on book ideas.
11:38 AM: Asked Tanner if he could get me a fake so I could drink in town. He replied (a) no, (b) why would I want to go into town and drink when I can drink here for way cheaper, and (c) everybody in town knows about the teenage prodigy staying at the house on the lake, so I wouldn’t be apt to pass for 21. Shit.
12:30 PM: Went to Tate’s room, told her I’m bored. She said (again) that it was my decision to come out here, and pointed out how much I’d hated school. She asked if I’d done my Internet school stuff yet. I said no, asked what she was doing. She said she’s thinking about getting back to her novella. I said that sounded great. I said it in a sarcastic way.
1:00 PM: Started my Internet school stuff.
1:17 PM: Finished my Internet school stuff. Took a nap.
2:47 PM: Looked out the window and saw Jenni come back from her run, sweaty in spandex. Masturbated.
3:33 PM: Went downstairs for lunch. Ate a bag of Goldfish that I knew were meant for the kid.
4:07 PM: Let Lou teach me how to play cribbage. Spiked my Mountain Dew. He had no clue.
5:45 PM: Barb asked me to help make dinner, so I chopped shit for soup. Continued drinking Mountain Dew and gin.
6:13 PM: Drunk. Picked up Catcher in the Rye, felt like a stereotype, put it down. Started watching something on Netflix, felt like a stereotype, turned it off. Kept drinking, felt like a stereotype, kept drinking.
7:34 PM: Family dinner. Jenni asked if I’d been drinking, Bets said “obviously not” and went back to her soup.
8:16 PM: Pretended to pass out on the couch, listened to Tanner and Tate talking about ye olde times. Lucy showed up and sat on me. I threw up a little in my mouth, and Tate said she was going to go work on her novella. Tanner and Lucy decided to go to the bar and let locals try to pick them up.
9:53 PM: Decided to do some Internet school stuff before I got too sober.
10:40 PM: Tate came to check on me, saw me doing Internet school stuff, was impressed. “Whatever it takes,” she said.
11:58 PM: Went outside for a walk. Thought I heard something in the trees, came back. Fucking nature.
12:23 PM: Lucy and Tanner came back, and I followed them out to the place where Leah and Lindsay were staying. Leah and Lindsay had pot. We smoked it. “When you gonna start chipping in for the stash, little bro?” asked Lindsay. “When you stop calling me little bro,” I said. Everyone laughed.
1:44 AM: Lucy put on Justin Timberlake and we had a three-minute dance party, until Lindsay turned it off. “Sorry, I just can’t do that corporate shit,” he said. “Fuck you,” I said. Everyone laughed.
2:09 AM: Thought of Leah’s cornrows. Masturbated. Fell asleep.