Books by Friends: 2021 Edition (just in time for the Icelandic Book Flood!)

Happy Winter, Friends!

Thanks for virtually traveling with me to Iceland last month for our Fire and Ice Flash Fiction retreat! It was a magical time with Kathy Fish and nine incredible writers in the gorgeous, never-ending twilight and eerie beauty (and hot springs!) of Iceland. If you didn’t follow along on social media, check out some of our favorite pictures here!

Speaking of Iceland, you might already know that every December, Icelanders celebrate Jolabokaflod, the Annual Icelandic “Book Flood” and book gifting holiday!

And, in the spirit of Jolabokaflod, every December I share my list of Books by Friends from the previous year. Because if you’re going to gift books, why not gift books by friends?

Reykjavik last month

Books By Friends 2021 Edition:

(I’ve provided the publisher or author’s direct link if available)

(in no particular order)
Len Kuntz: This Is Me Being Brave 
What does it mean to be fully present in the moment? What does it mean to grieve? To confront your failings? Or to love like it’s the only love you’ll ever have? In THIS IS ME, BEING BRAVE, Len Kuntz addresses these issues and dozens more by splaying himself wide open for the reader. Full of wisdom and humanity, deeply personal and universally relevant, Kuntz turns bravery on its very head. And defies you not to be moved.

Chelsea Stickle: Breaking Points
In thirteen slick, innovative, and gut-wrenching flashes, the young women and girls in Breaking Points, the debut chapbook from Chelsea Stickle, hit the walls around them—walls constructed by family, friends, significant others, and insidious cultural perils. 

Grant Faulkner: All the Comfort Sin Can Provide
With raw, lyrical ferocity, All the Comfort Sin Can Provide delves into the beguiling salve that sin can promise—tracing those hidden places most of us are afraid to acknowledge. In this collection of brutally unsentimental short stories, Grant Faulkner chronicles dreamers, addicts, and lost souls who have trusted too much in wayward love, the perilous balm of substances, or the unchecked hungers of others, but who are determined to find salvation in their odd definitions of transcendence.

Twice Not Shy: One Hundred Short Short Stories. Laura Keenan and Linda Martin (eds)
A contemporary collection of 100 flash, micro and hybrid stories, each 500 words or less, by rising and established writers. Building on the success of Night Parrot Press’s first collection, Once, Twice Not Shy showcases the best of Western Australian authors writing in this exciting, challenging and condensed genre. Small but mighty, the stories linger long after reading them.

Bryan Jansing and Paul Vismara: Italy Beer Country updated 2021 edition
In 1996, a handful of men inspired a crusade—the Italian craft beer movement. Italy: Beer Country presents the movement’s humble roots and the passionate brewers whose persistent, dogged determination allowed them to overcome cultural bias, low expectations, and Italy’s infuriating taxes, to forge what has become Europe’s most vibrant beer scene. From less than 20 microbreweries in 2001, the movement has grown to over 1000 in 2021. Italy: Beer Country is the first, and only, written history of this evolving, creative craft beer scene.

Sylvia Petter: All the Beautiful Liars
As a child in Australia in the Fifties, Katrina Klain is taunted in the playground as a Nazi, long before she knows what the word means…Told in a thrillingly inventive narrative style, Sylvia Petter’s debut novel is a powerful, pacy tale about making peace with the past, which also paints a richly evocative picture of Central Europe in the early decades after the war.

Beth Gilstrap: Deadheading and Other Stories
Irrevocably tied to the Carolinas, these stories tell tales of the woebegone, their obsessions with decay, and the haunting ache of the region itself—the land of the dwindling pines, the isolation inherent in the mountains and foothills, and the loneliness of boomtowns. Gilstrap’s prose teems with wildness and lyricism, showing the Southern gothic tradition of storytelling is alive and feverishly unwell in the twenty-first century.

Selah Saterstrom: Rancher
To heal is to be changed, to be, potentially, revolutionized by the fracture whose initial presence signals as a wound. For all of its pain, the fracture sends out new lay lines – new paths of inquiry that necessitate new modes of knowing and being-with. Rancher follows such paths into the uncanny territories of life after rape: What happens when a lie becomes the truth? What happens when the ghost haunting your house turns out to be you? 

Cheryl Pappas: The Clarity of Hunger
“This is a sharp, wise, aching beauty of a collection. In these pages, Cheryl Pappas gifts us with afterflowers, an old woman frozen in place, beasts and witches lying in wait, a king who blithely dreams of tulips, volcanoes on Mars, and so much more. These stories are daring, daunting, desire-filled. Pappas brings tremendous skill and range to this captivating debut, landing it with truly one of the most beautiful and profound flash pieces I have ever read.”— Kathy Fish

Sarah Freligh: We
This me-too guide to We takes a deep dive into golf greens, mom & pops, cornfields, & figure salons to rescue the wreck eons of Kingship has wrought on everyone from the school shooter to Cassiopeia & the holy roller girl. Freligh’s voice is fresh & flagrant, tender as it is Olympic, the curse that works its own godspell—& this book broke my heart open.—Jane Springer

Francine Witte: The Cake, The Smoke, The Moon
Francine Witte’s precise economy of words and rich employment of voice, scene and imagery create such vibrant evocations in the extraordinary The Cake, The Smoke, The Moon. She is, without a doubt, a modern-day Chekhov, and one of the most luminous stars in the flash and micro world.—Nathan Leslie

This is What America Looks Like: Caroline Bock, Kathleen Wheaton, Jona Colson (eds):
Following an open call for submissions in February, 2020, the press received over 500 creative pieces, including new poetry and fiction from past WWPH winners. The ensuing pandemic and the nationwide protests for racial justice later that spring are reflected in the work reviewed and the pieces ultimately chosen to represent this extraordinary historical moment. 

Debbi Voisey: Only About Love
There’s no such thing as a perfect family. A perfect life. A perfect man. Frank is proof of this. He’s everyman and yet as unique as a fingerprint. With a wonderful wife and children who are the loves of his life, he couldn’t ask for anything more. But time and time again he keeps risking it all. In snapshots through time, Only About Love takes a sweeping loop around Frank’s life as he navigates courtship, marriage, fatherhood and illness. Told through the perspectives of Frank and his family, this story is one of intense honesty about the things we do to those closest to us.

Maddie Anthes: Beautiful Violent Things
“Drunk ghosts, feral mothers…riveting obsessions and unbelongings and captivities—the fragmented texts in Beautiful, Violent Things seethe and grip and fluoresce without apology. In these eleven dispatches, Madeline Anthes carefully weaves desire and estrangement, reimagines power as a woman’s capacity for hollowing a man, the ability to deliver impossibilities from her misappropriated body. ”— Tara Stillions Whitehead

Nod Ghosh: Toy Train
Toy Train is brutal, compassionate, sincere, mysterious, uplifting and devastating. Nod Ghosh is a flash master. Every sentence is significant. These are stories crammed with truth told in poetic language, rife with symbolism and brimming over with emotion. Make space for yourself to read this collection — it’ll leave you breathless.~ Epiphany Ferrell

Meg Pokrass: Spinning to Mars
“Meg Pokrass has written an exquisite collection of linked stories. As I read Spinning to Mars, I felt plunged, soaked, immersed … into a life both deep and wide. This book will spin you off to Mars with its exacting language and biting insight. Here is the kind of compressed writing that I long for and rarely find.” ~ Sherrie Flick

Stephanie Carty: Inside Fictional Minds
‘An invaluable guide to creating authentic characters by peeling back the layers and searching for the ‘why’ that lies behind all our actions. I have really enjoyed applying psychological theory to creative intuition, led by Stephanie’s accessible approach to creating believable, motivated characters.’
~Sarah Steele,

Michelle Elvy: The Other Side of Better
Fresh: yes! Authentic: yes! Poetic: yes! Brilliant: yes!! Here, with Michelle Elvy’s the other side of better, are wise reflections cast through refracted light. Here is the scent of the sea, the rift and grit of childhood. Here is an absorbing cinematic poetry in the telling – breathtakingly honest and elegant stories (personal, yet universal) about how we live, how we struggle and, most enduringly, how we thrive. A wondrous collection!~ Robert Scotellaro,

Jonathan Bluebird Montgomery: Nine Books
Nine Books is a book about the number nine. There are nine different books covering nine themes of my recent work with nine pieces each, which will be posted regularly over the next nine months. By subscribing you’ll get access to the content of each book (a new one posted over the course of each month) along with exciting multimedia content such as photography, audio recordings, video, and invites to exclusive events.

Diane Klammer: Love, Love
Love, Love is a book of poetry about love sports and relationships, their intersections and juxtapositions. It takes the reader on a journey of the body, mind, heart and spirit. Sometimes it is funny, sometimes sad, like love itself, but it is always about the human condition. Written in part from life and in part from the imagination, it allows the reader to be simultaneously vulnerable and strong. 

Diane Simmons: An Inheritance 
An Inheritance is a gem of a novella. It succeeds in spanning seventy years and four generations of one family, exquisitely capturing their relationships, secrets and divided loyalties. The historical changes wrought by each decade are delicately interwoven throughout the twists and turns within the family’s life. This captivating narrative will make you weep and smile.”–Joanna Campbell

Charmaine Wilkerson: Black Cake (coming 2022!)
PRE-ORDER US EditionPRE-ORDER UK Edition
In this moving debut novel, two estranged siblings must set aside their differences to deal with their mother’s death and her hidden past—a journey of discovery that takes them from the Caribbean to London to California and ends with her famous black cake.  This is a story of how the inheritance of betrayals, secrets, memories, and even names, can shape relationships and history.


Damhnait Monaghan: New Girl in Little Cove
It’s 1985. Rachel O’Brien arrives in Little Cove seeking a fresh start after her father dies and her relationship ends. As a new teacher at the local Catholic high school, Rachel chafes against the small community, where everyone seems to know her business. The anonymous notes that keep appearing on her car, telling her to go home, don’t make her feel welcome either. 

Nuala O’Conner: Nora
Dublin, 1904. Nora Joseph Barnacle is a twenty-year-old from Galway working as a maid at Finn’s Hotel. She enjoys the liveliness of her adopted city and on June 16—Bloomsday—her life is changed when she meets Dubliner James Joyce, a fateful encounter that turns into a lifelong love. 

P.S. This is an ever-evolving list, and I’m bound to have forgotten someone! If there’s someone you think should be on this list, please let me know! xoxo

Be Icelandic for a day and give books this holiday season!
Happy Jolabokaflod, everyone!
(me in Iceland below)

So You Wrote a Book? Damhnait Monaghan

A deceptively slim book that tells an entire Irish family saga, Damhnait Monaghan’s debut, The Neverlands, is a beautiful treatise on who we love and how do we love–especially those closest to us. In this story love is vulnerable and risky…but it is also redemptive. A stunning mini epic full of equal parts sorrow and hope, each tension-filled story stands alone and yet together they create something powerful and universal. 

Damhnait laughing

Nancy Stohlman: Describe this story in six words:

Damhnait Monaghan: Family. Motherhood. Habits. Loss. Change. Hope.

NS: I love your opening story—the spray-painted phrase “Seamus O’Riordan is a gobshite” sets the tension and tone for me immediately. Was this story always the opening story? Or did this tale begin elsewhere for you?

DM: The Neverlands began as a mosaic flash written during Fast Flash, an online writing group led by the inimitable Kathy Fish, and was published at Jellyfish Review. A shorter version of the opening story was the first micro in that mosaic flash. It seemed a good place to begin the novella-in-flash as all three family members – Mammy, Nuala and Da – are referenced.

NS: How did the stories find their order—were they written mostly chronologically or did you mosaic around an idea?

DM: The five mini-micros in the original mosaic flash covered a lot of ground. Writing the novella-in-flash provided the opportunity to slow things down and fill in some of the bigger gaps between the original micros. I was vaguely aware of the overall arc I hoped to achieve, but I didn’t write the new stories chronologically, instead writing around images and ideas which then inspired more pieces. For example, I wrote a flash about Nuala’s holy communion ceremony where Mammy cuts down her wedding dress for Nuala. This led me to write a flash about Mammy and Da’s elopement, where Da shows up with that wedding dress.

NS: The title of the book, The Neverlands, comes from a literal misunderstanding of “The Netherlands,” but of course it’s a beautiful mistake. In some ways, “misunderstandings” both beautiful and painful are a defining feature of this epic story. Your thoughts?

DM: Yes, I think Nuala in particular misunderstands things that occur, partly because she wants to believe. For example, in ‘Holy Communion’ she half rises out of her seat to go look for the money tree in the garden that will pay for a new dress; she wants to believe in that money tree. But Mammy too makes mistakes; in “Star-crossed Lovers’ she runs off with Seamus/Da at sixteen, thinking his flattery is “dead poetic.”

NS: Your characters are Irish, and most of the story takes place in Ireland, but Ireland feels almost like a translucent background that you see in hints only. In the same way, I love how you pepper the Irish dialect without having it intrude on the story (as some written dialects can). What are your thoughts around writing in dialect?

DM: My parents were Irish, but emigrated to Canada before they married. I’ve never lived in Ireland (although I have visited) so I was over the moon when the wonderful Nuala O’Connor described the dialect in The Neverlands as ‘pitch-perfect.’

Done well, dialect adds another layer to a story, but I’ve read books where the dialect is so dense it’s off-putting (naming no names). I’m in the midst of dripping more dialect into the manuscript of my first novel, which is set in Newfoundland. I’m looking for that balance between a desire for authenticity and the need for clarity.

NS: At some point the child Nuala wants to stay and watch grandpa whittle, “wishing she could see what animal crawls out of the wood today.” I think your writing is a bit like this— you do an amazing job “carving” to the essence of each story. Talk about your writing process? Do you do a lot of editing/whittling or do they come out in big chunks? Or something else?

DM: Flash can be distilled right down to the essentials of the story. When I’m writing flash, I tend to write big, then pare down, changing words, tense, etc to polish the piece. The Neverlands underwent a fair amount of editing, as I explain below, and I was conscious of the need to ensure that each individual piece worked towards the whole, as well as the need for continuity.

NS: I really love the scene with the teabag—anyone who has traveled internationally will relate to being faced with unfamiliar and/or losing familiar cultural rituals. In your hands I felt this story as a point of compassion: being an immigrant is hard in hundreds of small ways (we usually only think of the big ones). Your thoughts?

DM: Thank you and yes, as an immigrant myself I agree that small things matter. When I first moved to the UK from Canada, I thought everything would be so easy. I figured, you know, Canada is a former British colony, we speak the same language, how hard could it be? Ha. There were myriad small differences that made day to day life incredibly frustrating in those early days.

As the daughter of immigrants, I so regret not quizzing them more about their culture shock -imagine their first winter in northern Canada! –  while I still had the chance. The tea bag scene is based on a story my mom liked to tell about her first encounter with a teabag. During a layover in New York, en route to Canada, she had tea in a restaurant with her friends and they all had to take instruction from the waitress on how to “work” the tea bag.

NS: You use both Mammy and Nuala as story “headings.” It’s a simple strategy, but it works. How did you decide to do it this way?

DM: That was a suggestion made by my wonderful editor and publisher Sarah Leavesley at V Press. As there are two different voices in the novella, I think it helps to quickly ground the reader.

NS: The Neverlands is currently called “short fiction”—it could just as easily be called a novella in flash. Why one and not the other? And does it matter?

DM: Great question. At the time of publication, I was hung up on the apparent need for each flash in a novella-in-flash to be stand alone and wasn’t sure if all of mine did. (although reviewers seem to think they do.) But now, I think, why do they all have to be stand alone? Who made that rule?  What is a novella-in-flash? It’s a short novel told in flash. If I was publishing it now, I would absolutely call The Neverlands a novella-in-flash. (Phew, glad to get that off my chest!)

NS: Ha! Now this is your first book—congratulations! Talk about V. Press and/or your road to publication?

DM: Thank you! The whole process was a delight, which I understand is not always the case in publishing. I met Sarah Leavesley of V Press at the 2018 Flash Fiction Festival and discovered they were open to submissions for flash pamphlets. At that point all I had was the original mosaic flash and another flash called ‘Habits’ written in that same Fast Flash course. The original mosaic was in Nuala’s voice and ‘Habits’ was in Mammy’s.

Well, it seemed these two characters had much more to say. While still at the Flash Fiction Festival I attended Karen Jones’ visualisation workshop (highly recommended). I was prepared to go wherever the visualisation took me, but allowed myself to hope it would be towards Mammy or Nuala. It was. The words flowed into rough drafts which I polished, later submitting a sample to V Press. Sarah got in touch to request the full MS and subsequently offered me publication. We then spent some time to-ing and fro-ing on edits until we were both happy with the final result. I can’t praise Sarah enough. She is a fantastic editor and also designed my gorgeous cover.

NS: Advice for writers who are writing a book?

DM: Oof. There’s so much advice out there, much of it conflicting. Do what works for you. Find your tribe, be it online or in person. For me, literary Twitter has always been a brilliant and supportive writing community, but there are lots of other avenues. Find what works for you. Don’t compare yourself to other writers and celebrate their success as much as your own.

NS: Anything else you want to add?

DM: Just to thank you so much for this opportunity to chat, Nancy. I’m sad we won’t see each other again this year in Bristol, but will cross my fingers for 2021!

NS: You are so welcome, and yes, long live 2021!

Links to buy the book or other promo links:

9781916505261

 

The Neverlands is in its second printing and can be purchased from V Press 

Or for a signed copy, contact Damhnait direct via her website: www.damhnaitmonaghan.com

or on Twitter @Downith

Damhnait Monaghan was born and grew up in Canada but now lives in the U.K. Her writing has won or placed in various competitions and is widely published and anthologised. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions, and Best Microfictions. Her novella in flash The Neverlands was published by V. Press in 2019. She is an editor at FlashBack Fiction, an online literary journal that showcases historical flash fiction. You can find her on Twitter @Downith.