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Meet the Publisher!

11174290_10206631903539659_8952543251722406532_oYou’ve been waiting, and now the time has come:

We are always looking at ways to better connect with our local literary community. In the past year, we’ve published four books — two from authors who live here or have lived here. It’s been a fun year (fun four years, really, when you include all of the amazing local, U.S. and international writers we’ve worked with since this time in 2011); and to keep that alive in 2016, Cobalt is turning to you, our readers.

In that effort, Andrew Keating, publisher of Cobalt Press, will be holding open “meet the publisher” sessions with Baltimore authors, editors, designers, anyone who wants to get involved with Cobalt projects.

If you have a book or story or poem you want to pitch…

If you are a designer and want to help us create a future book…

If you’re a local author who has started a new project and just looking for some feedback…

come by Almack’s coffee shop (N. Charles, between Preston and Biddle) on Friday, June 26th, between 12-6PM. Andrew will hang out, drinking coffee, maybe eating some delicious Peruvian chicken from Grill Twelve24 a few doors down, waiting for you to stop in and talk about your latest books, stories, design projects, or whatever.

This is a great chance to get direct input from Cobalt’s publisher! Bring your manuscript, bring your portfolio, bring your ideas. We’re not afraid to take on a project that is still in its infancy.

If you have any questions, or you want to let us know that you’ll be stopping by (it doesn’t hurt to give us a heads-up), email and mention “meet the publisher.”

Excerpt from Cobalt’s Interview with Victor LaValle

Andrew Keating: I read somewhere that you wrote The Devil in Silver at a Dunkin Donuts in Queens. Is this a standard writing spot? If so, what does this particular DD offer that other locations might not?

Victor LaValle: I wrote The Devil in Silver in a Dunkin Donuts in Washington Heights, where we live now, not in Queens, where I grew up. I’ll grant you that this is a distinction that no one outside of New York City could give a damn about. I just wanted to clarify.

The Dunkin Donuts is about three blocks from our apartment. It was the only place close enough to our place that had space for me to sit and write for a while. There was a Starbucks even closer but the place was full of people writing! My wife had just given birth to our son in May and I was writing the novel over that summer. I needed to be close enough that I could get back home quickly. Also, there was no Wi-Fi in the store, no open networks nearby, so it was also a good place to disconnect from the Internet and just write. No bathroom though. That part sucked.

Keating: Where else do you typically work? Do you have any pre-writing rituals or habits?

LaValle: I don’t write in that Dunkin Donuts anymore. It was the right place for the last book, but not for my new one. Now, since our kids go to daycare, I write in the kid’s room. These days I stand when I write so the kid’s changing table is actually a great height. I plop my laptop down and type away amidst my son’s toy trains and my daughter’s chew toys. Since the new book is about parenting and children in danger I feel inspired by working in that space.

I used to play a little mood music depending on the kind of scene I needed to write, to get myself into the emotional state of the scene, but these days I really don’t have the same amount of time. I’ve got two hours each weekday–which is still a lot compared to most other people trying to write–so even a few minutes for a song or two seems like an indulgence. Usually, as I’m going to bed, I’m planning what the next day’s scene/moment will be like so I go into the writing time with a lot more preparation than I used to do.

If I do put in the two hours, though, I reward myself with a nice glass of bourbon or Scotch at the end of the night. It’s something to look forward to and makes me feel all writerly.

Keating:  As writers, our stack of failures typically exceeds our successes. You have no shortage of successes, so I’m curious: Do you have a drawer where you keep the unfinished/failed projects that haunt you in the minutes before you fall asleep, and what might that drawer contain?

LaValle: When I was younger, just out of grad school, I shared an apartment with my best friend and fellow writer, Mat Johnson. We had a railroad apartment in Harlem. When my agent sent my first book, a collection of stories, out to publishers we received about a dozen rejections, maybe more. Some were nice, making note of talent but still saying the books weren’t for them. Others were simply not interested. And one or two said ridiculously ignorant things.

I remember taking all those rejections and taping them to one wall in my bedroom. When posted this way they were like one giant billboard advertising my failure. Me and Mat called this my “Wall of Shame.” I put it up because I felt inspired to keep writing, to keep submitting, just to spite these twelve motherfuckers who were too stupid to recognize a good thing. That’s the way I motivated myself back then and it’s still the way I do it. I don’t keep a wall of shame anymore because if I did my daughter would tear the papers down and chew them. (She’s teething.) Also, I’m 41–not 26–and that kind of self-pity isn’t so charming at this stage. Nevertheless, I do keep a running log of the shitty reviews and backhanded bullshit in my head. (I’m not less self-pitying, just less willing to externalize the self-pity.) These things do haunt me but I try to use them as fuel. The only remedy for failure is another attempt at success.

The rest of this interview can be found in the second annual print issue, available now in the Cobalt store.

The Last Original Guitar Riff in G

Our work doesn’t bring us to the suburbs much. In my nearly six years with Containment, it’s mainly been recording studios, along with hotel suites and villas in Jamaica or the south of France, or an occasional surprise backstage at a nightclub when only the elite know that So-and-So is testing some new numbers. But on this bright summer afternoon, when Haines stops the van outside a three, maybe four-bedroom ranch that looks like all the houses around it except for the paint on the shutters, it’s like I’ve been transported to the neighborhood I lived in when I was in high school, where my biggest concern was whether I’d be platooning at end with David Dean or he’d play all four quarters.

Of course, I don’t tell Haines any of this as we exit the van. He’s got me beat by ten years in the Unit. He came on early enough to hear the stories from the first crews, those who’d been around when things were getting started in the fifties. I follow him down the sidewalk, silent, shading my hand over my eyes from the sun. Just like Fountainview Estates in 1984, the trees here haven’t grown to do much more than make navigating the push-mower difficult. An oil stain in the shape of Africa mars the driveway. We both avoid it, then step over the bike angled across the porch. I know little about Haines beyond what he’s told me about his life in the Unit and his life in it, along with what I can see in his wrinkled face, his high and tight that would still pass Corps muster, his gray suit, white shirt and black tie that match mine. Where was he born? What did he listen to when he was in school? Why is all this coming to me now?

Haines stops, holds a finger to his lips and points to the house. It takes me a minute but I can hear a guitar above the noise of squabbling siblings, wheezing garage doors, and roaring Weed Eaters. Just one guitar, playing the same few notes over and over, unaccompanied, sometimes cleanly, other times not. “Sounds like a Fender copy with a,” Haines pauses, squints. “Peavey. Definitely a Peavey.”

I nod, though I wouldn’t disagree even if I knew enough to. Haines is at the door in a blink, knocking. Not too hard. We aren’t the ATF or DEA. In fact, when this job came down from the head office, the recommended dress code was that we look like salesman. We needed to blend in and get to this street—what is it Cherry, Maple, Elm?—and get there fast, considering the potential of what was happening inside. I’m even carrying a sample case to complete the disguise, pretending to struggle though it’s empty.

Nobody answers the door, and the guitar keeps playing, now moving on to what sounds like the Stones or maybe the Who—I’m always mixing them up, which Haines can’t believe: “Do you even own a CD?” he’s always asking. Now the amp’s turned up a few notches and fuzzed out more than earlier. Haynes looks at his watch. I say, “Reminds me of home” and turn around to salute a rippling flag anchored to a house across the street.

“May I remind you that we’re on the clock,” Haines says, then knocks again, shifting from a couple of knuckles to a fist.

The guitar stops. There’s a hammering of feet on the floor. It sounds like laminate underfoot—surely no developer or homeowner would have laid hardwoods here. Locks get undone on the other side and the person who answers is just a kid. This shouldn’t surprise me. It’s a summer day. School’s out. Maybe he hasn’t got a job at McDonald’s or his shift doesn’t start until later. Still, we never see kids when we’re working. The youngest I’ve encountered was the twenty-two-year-old with the spiky blue hair and cheek tattoo who agreed he would, as Haines suggested, mute the power chords a little more on the next album.  But he and his band had sold over ten million units and we were outside his Austin mansion with the swimming pool shaped like an angry fist flipping off the world. It was hard to think of years as the way to measure him.

Holding open the door now, though, is really a kid, maybe sixteen, his mustache scant and his eyes sleepy, his hair a tangled mess like he woke only minutes ago. In Recon, I was trained to size people up quickly, know everything from ethnicity to which is their strong hand or where might they hide a weapon. You expect everyone to be white in a neighborhood like this, like mine, but I can’t figure this kid out. Mixed, I’m thinking, though I can’t figure out all the parts. If he was the one playing the guitar, experience tells me he’s likely part white. But none of this matters for now. Haines has started his spiel: “We were wondering if we might interest you in a product guaranteed to make your life 100 percent easier.”

The kid’s hanging on the door, his arm elongated and his mouth open. He doesn’t say anything but he pulls the door wider and that’s all Haines needs. He’s through and I follow. We don’t need to get physical—the main reason I’m here—but I flex my biceps and swivel around my neck just in case. “What’s in the case, dude?” the kid says, and I pause, remembering to hoist it like something’s actually inside. The kid’s eyes close again.

“Say,” Haines says, “what was that CD you were listening to before?”

This gets the kids eyes open. He gazes at my sample case, but doesn’t notice it’s just about as tall as he is. He says, “What CD?”

“Sounded like some pretty good guitar on it.”

Haines knows what he’s doing. I’m surprised. You deal with rock and roll guys as much as he does, he might have lost his touch with someone this young. The kid’s smile is brief, but I see it, and I wish I’d seen the color of his gums to have a better idea just what he is. He says, “That was me.” He digs a hand out of his pocket, wipes his mouth. “I was playing.” He cocks his head. He nods at the sample case. “What are you trying to sell?”

“I don’t believe it,” Haines says. “That was you?” He shakes his head. A smile as false as a promise tightens his creased face. He says, “Prove it.”

The kid’s smile is back, as legit as Haines’s isn’t. “Follow me.”

It doesn’t take him long to get to the room, which is as messy as mine was when I was his age, only instead of dirty clothes, shoulder pads and a helmet and Sports Illustrateds with Elway and Marino on the covers, his mess is made by heavy metal magazines, occasional rap ones, too, and jeans that all look like they’d fit Haines and me at the same time. I loosen my tie, undo a button, blocking the doorway while Haines clears off some space and sits on the unmade double bed. The kid plugs back in. I’ll be damned if the guitar isn’t a Fender copy and the amp has PEAVEY spelled out in silver on the front. And he’s banging out those same few notes, futzing a few of them but starting to get his timing down, and then, on the fourth try, playing each note so it rings like a coin dropped in an empty can and staring at Haines as if to say I told you.

Haines is off the bed and clapping before the kid can say anything. “Man, that’s good stuff,” Haines says. “Too good.” Then he stops clapping and turns to me, nods. The kid still smiles when I grab the neck of the guitar but his mouth and eyes both widen when I yank away his instrument. Next it’s his skinny arm, and I spin it behind his back. “Don’t resist,” I say. “It’s easier that way.”


On the drive back to the airport, Haines apologizes for the rough treatment and the short time the kid spent inside the sample case. He gives him the history during the flight, how, back in the fifties, the Unit was formed with the belief that this crazed teenage music, rock and roll, was not just a passing phase but a serious threat to social order that had to be contained. Not eliminated, Haines emphasizes, as there were individuals and corporations even as early as fifty-eight who’d figured out ways to profit from all the screeching, while containing it in a way that keeps it from becoming a truly transgressive moment in human history. Haines likes that last phrase. He’s said it every time we’ve been on such a call, and there are times when I think he believes it. But as he goes on, and the kid finally seems awake enough to understand, I stop listening. I’ve heard it before, plus I’ve never quite figured out how it’s all supposed to work or why it was determined around sixty-two that, by having British bands play essentially the same music that black guys did in the fifties, there would no longer be any of the interracial mixing that had frightened so many. I mean, I do and I don’t understand, for here’s exhibit a, the kid, of people of different races getting together. Yet there’s my own recollection of every concert we’ve gone to, Haines and me, and how the only black people at rock and roll shows are security. Things might be a little different at the rap and R&B concerts, but that’s not my area. I’m also confused about how the Unit operates, being both, as Haines says now (so I am listening, after all), above and within the government, here and abroad. Whatever the case, the checks don’t bounce so I do what I’m asked, which on this afternoon is to secure this kid’s transit to somewhere no one would know how to find him.

Haines is done with his story. I look at the kid and he’s nodding but in the way I used to nod to older people, hopeful that doing so would make sure this endless story was over. Haines pats him on the knee. “Understand what I’m saying then?”

The kid nods but as quickly shakes his head. He says, “This is about music.” He looks my way, flinches. His hand rises to knead his right shoulder. “Right?”

A signal flashes above the door to the cockpit. We’ll be landing soon. Haines says, “Shit, I don’t even know your name, buddy.”

I lean in closer, hoping to hear a name like LaMarcus or Jesus or Ban. “Jake,” the kid says, which even a bachelor like me knows is a popular boy name of the last decade. I quit. This is why I’m in Containment, not Inquiry, like Haines’s buddy Rothschild, who tipped us off about this one in the first place. The plane’s begun its descent, and I see Jake start at the angle. I wonder if it’s his first time on a plane.

We rarely get this far. Most of the performers in the business, they’ve been indoctrinated by somebody—a manager, record exec, a fellow performer—and we’re reminders, not enforcers. Oh, there’s been a few I’ve heard of who wouldn’t turn it down or switch to country or gospel or movie soundtracks. There’s a famous left-hander from Seattle, Haines says, who everybody thinks is dead but is really hanging out in this very unit, ordering pizzas from Domino’s and getting fat as a tick. But Jake’s too young, which is why we’re this far into the call. He doesn’t know enough to know better, and Haines tells me now, as we watch the kid sitting in an interrogation room that looks as swank as a hotel suite in Manhattan, that’s what makes this particular job so difficult. “I can’t tell,” Haines says. “Which way he’s going to go.” On the other side of the glass, Jake picks up a pack of Marlboros—which seems to me a sign that he’s mostly white—then looks around and pockets the pack, as if saving them for later.

“What happens if he says no?” I say.

“He stays.”

Jake’s probably a lazy little fucker who regularly slept past noon, talked back and kept up his family by playing too loud and too late, but he had to have people who might miss him. “Jesus, Haines,” I say. “What about his family?”

“They get this.” And he pulls out of the inside pocket of his jacket a folded piece of paper, which has, “Dear Mom and Dad,” at the top and “That’s why I don’t want to come back home,” right before his forged signature. “Kids go missing all the time. For real,” Haines says when I hand back the letter. He smacks the paper against his hand. “And Christ, did you hear that riff? It was going to blow shit up.” I wonder who turned Jake in, if it was a friend or a neighbor or a teacher or a family member. Or maybe the Unit already has the monitoring device Haynes keeps talking about on every guitar sold. “I guess so,” I say, but I’m not convinced. Then again, what do I know about music? Haines is right. I don’t even own a CD. On the radio I recognize a song or two, mostly ones on the oldies station that we listened to before games to get riled up. Stuff to chant and bang on shoulder pads to, but little else.

“I’m going to need you inside,” Haines says. He looks right at me. “It might get to that point.”

That point is a place I’ve never been in this job, at which I’m more than just the threat of being physical. I might actually have to cuff the kid around or make absolutely certain that he won’t ever be able to do anything on the guitar again. I stare at my hands. They’ve been there to take out who knows how many enemies back in the Gulf, but haven’t been one on one since I was trying to beat out David Dean for starting defensive end. “Just look,” Haines says, and sure enough Jake is walking in the direction of the guitar and the amp. They’re not hidden, exactly, but kept in a place where someone would have to look for them. This, Haines tells me, demonstrates just how important playing is to the person involved. That alone isn’t dangerous, but what Jake does next is:  he plugs in and bangs out that riff, which, now that I’m listening, is pretty catchy. Haines says, “Follow me,” and I do.

It’s probably the best guitar that Jake has ever played. The Unit never scrimps, and coming through the amp that’s nearly as tall as the lanky little fucker—I had to tuck his legs to fit him in that sample case—I’m really hearing what the kid’s playing and catch myself humming along as we walk in. Haines shouts, “Jake, could you turn it off for a minute?”

Jake nods but he rakes the volume knob higher and smacks the fat blue pick against the strings once more, really knocking it out. The sound is filling the empty spaces in me—between my ribs, behind my kneecaps—and moving me forward more than I am. Haines yanks the amp’s plug out of the wall. “That’s better,” he says. He’s smiling again, though Jake’s probably figured out enough to mistrust it. “How did you come up with that riff?” Haines says.

Jake needs a second to realize the volume is gone. He keeps playing and I wonder how loud the sound is in his head. He pockets the pick—little klepto—and rubs his chin against the torn collar of his t-shirt. “I was trying to play La Bamba,” he says.

“Why play that spic music?” Haines says, and I wonder if he’s trying to figure out the same thing that I am. I stand near the door, even though it’s locked, my knees bent slightly, my hands damp and pressed against my sides.

Jake says, “That’s not cool.” But that’s it. Nothing more. No curse words in Spanish or defense of his mother or father’s race. “Your generation is so out of touch.”

“So I am, so I am,” Haines says. He sits down on the sofa across from Jake. At last, the kid takes the guitar off and leans it against the amp. Haines says, “You understand then that my friend here and I aren’t just music lovers. That we’re here to make sure that you and that riff don’t go anywhere where  you might do some serious societal damage?”

“Why do you care?” Jake says, defiant.

“Why don’t you just make it easy on yourself, Jake,” Haines says.  “Just put the guitar down. Go back home. Have fun and dick around with your garage band or whatever. Just don’t play that riff in G any more.” He leans closer. He’s not smiling now. “Ever.”

“This is a joke, right? This is, like, totally un-American.” He looks at me and winces again. My palms grow even damper, like they’re feeling the guilt the rest of me is trying to ignore.

“Listen up, Jake,” Haines says. “You’re not the first person we’ve had here. You won’t be the last.”

“Like who?”

His eyes glaze over as Haines mentions some of the people the Unit has silenced or convinced to invest their efforts elsewhere, but a few make the poor kid wince. He’s shaking his head by the time Haines mentions that famous left-handed player, and Jake says, “He’s dead, man. I read two fucking books about him.”

“Oh no, he’s right in here. Blows away everybody in Rock Band, on drums and vocals, too. You can meet him right before we leave. After you promise to quit playing that riff.”

For a long minute, Jake just stares at the guitar leaning against the amp. It’s cherry red and shines so bright I can see the blurry reflection of Jake’s long face. His fists bounce on his shaking knees. I still don’t know just what he is and won’t until I ask him, but the way he seems now and with his memory of my sleeper hold, why would he say anything to me. When he stands and walks toward Haines, I relax, pretty certain that, like all the rest, he’s about to say that, in the end, a few cool notes don’t mean that much. And after Haines stands and extends his hand, Jake nods.  Their hands get pretty close before Jake wheels around, plugs in the amp, straps on the guitar, and jacks every knob up to such a volume that my teeth are rattling before he even strikes a note. Which he does, of course, hammering that riff out so cleanly it sounds like a recording from the most up to date studio around. Only this time, he’s got more. Rather than playing the riff over and over, he slides into a little solo, then some chords, his fingers forming the shapes while he stares directly at Haines. If he’s got words yet, he’s not sharing them now, but Haines has this to say to me: “It’s that time.” And my hands free themselves from my sides before I even think. Yet I want to watch this kid play. “Goddam it,” Haines says. “It’s time.”

I don’t remember a single moment like the one when I learned my football career would end. No members of a covert agency visited me to make that clear. There was just this moment when the lack of recruiting letters from even the tiny colleges and the shrinking playing time made it pretty certain that soon I would be turning in my equipment for a last time. When I take the few steps toward Jake and he keeps playing, I know  I should have in mind the fracture of a couple of fingers on both hands so they’ll never glide so easily over these strings again. Yet I can’t. Haines says my name twice and slaps me on the shoulder but he quiets when I get his left hand behind his back—I knew he was a portsider after our first five minutes together—and it’s almost like he knows what I’m doing when I put him in the hold, like he maybe approves. The sight of Haines crumpled on the couch finally gets Jake to stop playing, but before he says a word I hand him the cash in my wallet and combine that with what’s in Haines’s. “Eight hundred,” I say. “Plenty to get back home.”

“Why?” Jake says, the guitar still strapped to him, like it should never come off.

I shrug, say, “Get out of here,” and guide him back to my empty sample case. It’s a tight fit, sure, but when we’re off the base and he’s on his way to the airport to fly home I finally feel as though I come to, thinking that I have a decision of my own to make now and need to get moving. But already I can hear Jake’s song in my head. I don’t know if he’s got words of his own or needs to meet the person who’s going to supply them. Either way, it’s playing in my head now, like it’s on the radio, on the way to a Friday night game, when everything seemed on the verge of changing for the better.

About Tom: Tom Willams is the author of two books of fiction: The Mimic’s Own Voice and Don’t Start Me Talkin’. He lives in Kentucky with his wife and their son.

Tom Williams is co-author of Cobalt Press’ debut full-length book, Four Fathers.
Click here to learn more about the collection of fiction and poetry.


Two New Poems by Joe Jiménez

In the Time of Hog Death and Rogue Masculinities

There once were some hogs, a horse, a little well with some water.
The hogs wanting hunger satisfied, or knowing rage, chased
the mare, the livid tusks tearing at the sturdy legs. She bled.
Gashed, she limped. And my grandfather like my father
said, Here’s a gun. Boy, tie this rope. Stand there, hold this end.
For days, after, I heard the hog dripping. From the oak.
The hog strung up—there is a photograph—by her hooves, soaked.
The ground damp with dark heat and hog shit. Friend,
I smiled big and held my breath. We sat on the tailgate.
In my grandfather’s truck on a tarp, the sow lay leaking.
My ankles dangled. From the bed: a wispy tail
like a lie I was learning then to tell.

All night the tusk peak glared from her jowl meat.
That day, how I must have made them so proud.


Parable of Pillow Talk with a Chupacabra

Is there anything more lovely than a creature
who loves itself
when the whole world tells it, No?

In the dark
I am glamoured: the marshlands, like the rifeness
of spoiling marigold

whispering to aguanto, and I whispered
about the pelican, its idea
to slam its face full of want
into the dark sea

For a fish, won’t we do anything?
For a man.

But I want to show the pelican, in its brown
kingdoms of air and its spiraling,
how to save itself

for a fish, it doesn’t have to die

the tlaquache, the javelina strung from a tree,
my tattoo
on my belly of all of Aztlan

my lover
who offed himself used to sleep in this bed
the spot that you’re in

But then it wouldn’t be a pelican
any more, a pelican, you said

About Joe: Joe Jiménez is the author of The Possibilities of Mud (Kórima 2014).  Jiménez was the recipient of the 2012 Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Prize and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles.  He lives in San Antonio and is a member of the Macondo Workshops.  Click here to learn more.

Timmy Reed Reviews Kimball’s GALAGA

GalagaPew! Pew!

Michael Kimball has written a book about my personal favorite fixed-shooter space insect kill-fest, Galaga. However, after reading Galaga, I find that all my love for this game may pale in relation Kimball’s beautiful, compulsive, rewarding relationship with the arcade classic.

Pew! Pew, kids! Pew!

If you are unfamiliar with the 1981 Namco/Midway hit fixed shooter game: fear not, readers, this book is more than an instructional manual or video game essay. Kimball’s Galaga tells the author’s tender life story.  Parts will ring familiar from earlier Kimball works, like Big Ray; however, this time it reveals his life via his relationship with the game – and games in general. It is handled with the deft, bittersweet touch of a joystick hero who deals with all the big troubles and small joys life that shoots at him – or that he can shoot back.

But this book is also for the most hardcore old school gamers out there, packed with fascinating bits of trivia – mostly true, some that the author imagines only wishing they were true.  For instance, did you know that Galaga is pronounced with en emphasis on the second syllable, or that Galaga has been featured in both a 1982 Schlitz commercial and a song by Coolio? There are so many tidbits of information packed into this slim volume that you will feel like an expert on the game, regardless of whether or not you have ever slipped a quarter into an arcade machine and watched the Galagans descend upon your little ship.

And don’t get me started on the space battles. The action is one of the real treats of this often heart-breaking book about family and relationships and abuse and coping. No joke, Kimball keeps you on the edge of your seat. He manages to turn this 2-D 8-bit fighter into full-blown Michael Bay action sequences, during which you are gripping the book as if it were the wheel of your own spaceship. It really is a feat worthy of the admission price.

Boss Fight Books has been a very interesting project to watch. I loved Ken Baumann’s Earthbound, even though I had never been able to get into the game. I happened to be a Galaga fan before reading the book, but true to form Boss Fight Books has put out yet another video game book that is so much deeper than anything created in pixels. It tells of the life behind the game, the world created by it, and how it is more than a game to one man.  Empty out your sack of quarters and go pick up a copy of this Michael Kimball’s Galaga. You will know you are in the hands of a master. Pew! Pew!

136 Pages
Price: $14.95
Release Date: July 1, 2014
ISBN 13: 978-1-940535-03-6
Purchase from Boss Fight Books

About Timmy: Timmy Reed is a writer from Baltimore, Maryland. He has recently published or has work forthcoming from a number of places including Akashic Books, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Everyday Genius, Necessary Fiction, and Atticus Review. He  also published a collection of stories, Tell God I Don’t Exist, and has novels forthcoming from Dig That Book Co. and Underground Voices in 2015 and 2016. Click here to learn more.

Oh… and here’s Cobalt‘s interview with Michael Kimball from September 2012.

Ten Stories that Kind of Represent What Fiction Editor Rafe Posey Might Enjoy Reading

Over the past month, I’ve asked the Cobalt team to put together lists of ten works that represent the kinds of writing that excite them, the kinds of stuff they want to flood their inbox.

These lists are meant to give both clarity and inspiration to our submitters, as well as pay homage to great writers and great writing.

In this installment, which is also listed on our submission manager, fiction editor Rafe Posey chooses ten stories that he wouldn’t mind showing up in his submission pile. Continue Reading…

Creative Nonfiction Editor Samantha Stanco Selects Ten Essays/Memoirs

Over the past month, I’ve asked the Cobalt team to put together lists of ten works that represent the kinds of writing that excite them, the kinds of stuff they want to flood their inbox.

These lists are meant to give both clarity and inspiration to our submitters, as well as pay homage to great writers and great writing.

In this installment, which is also listed on our submission manager, nonfiction editor Samantha Stanco chooses ten essays and memoirs that she loves. Continue Reading…

LeVar Burton to Bring Back Reading Rainbow

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Want some confirmation that reading still matters? Look no further than LeVar Burton’s Kickstarter campaign to bring Reading Rainbow back to life, and free for every child everywhere.


And you can even pledge $10,000 to get a chance to WEAR HIS VISOR from Star Trek: The Next Generation in a photo with him. Yes. Not that I’m into that kind of thing.

But the real joy, for me at least, is to just watch the pledge count, which updates in real-time. When I started writing this post, pledges totaled a little more than $1,890,000. Now they are over $1,902,000. That’s twelve large in only a few minutes. Go over there, right now, and watch people all over the world pledging in real-time, supporting the arts, supporting READING.

Then go pick up a book. And read it.

What are you reading today? Post in the comments below.

Let’s Have a Serious Talk About James Franco

Okay, writers, let’s have a serious talk about James Franco.


We have been talking some shit about this guy for a while now, and maybe it’s worth revisiting that. Last year, shortly after Franco made a video of his less-than-inspired and less-than-inspiring “inauguration” poem, we set out on a mission to hate on everything Franco attempted to contribute to the literary world. We even wore cardboard-cutout masks of his face around AWP in Boston.

But the guy is trying, people. He really is. Perhaps what we need to consider is that Franco has so much fame and so many resources, that his trying is significantly more public than our own. I mean, I wrote a really shitty poem the other day, shared it with maybe four people, and then it disappeared into the ether.

The difference is that if Franco tries to share a shitty poem with even one person, that person is most likely going to pass it on to a dozen of their friends. And on and on.

And all of us writerly folks are itching for the next chance to piss on his work.

That’s why we’ve been going nuts over this upcoming Franco adaptation of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.

(Don’t get me wrong, here. I definitely was a little weirded out the first twenty times I saw his face below WILLIAM FAULKNER on the updated book covers.)

james-franco-as-i-lay-dyingJust think about it: you’re not going to boycott Franco’s As I Lay Dying because you have such low expectations for it; you’re going to pay $12.00 to see it when it’s still in theaters because you have such low expectations for it. And if it turns out to be a spectacular movie, sure, 75% of you will trash it because you and everyone else thinks it should be trashed; but 25% of you will be glad you paid the price of admission.

When I launched the Last Annual James Franco Award, I was not being serious. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I sincerely want Franco to send me his poetry. And I want it to be good. Should I not encourage him to write great stuff? That would kind of be like having James Franco as a student and telling him in every workshop, “I’m sorry, I just can’t take you seriously, James Franco. Maybe you should just give up or be somebody else.”

Yes, I will turn away any submissions that do not fit with the aesthetic of our press; but I’d be crazy to hate on Franco just because it’s cool to hate on Franco. When he sends me a poem, he will win the Last Annual James Franco Award. And if the poem knocks my socks off, I’ll publish the hell out of it.

Share your thoughts on Franco in the comments section of this post.

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Book Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

goldfinch-3_4When a book arrives with a $30 cover price, weighing about as much as a small animal, readers may possibly view it askance and move on to something else. Those readers would be wrong. The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt’s new novel, is enormous and intricate, not to mention expensive. It requires a commitment to wade through such a densely textured novel, and readers newly learning of Ms. Tartt may not understand that the commitment tends to be worth it. Her debut novel, The Secret History, appeared in 1992 and won her the hearts (and attention spans) of the masses. Her second, The Little Friend, came a decade later. Devoted readers have waited since then for another of her eccentric, intelligent, deeply literate novels, and this one does not disappoint.

Simply put, The Goldfinch is really, really good, not least because, as it turns out, Ms. Tartt is exceptionally good at bringing to life young men of a particular type as her narrators:  Richard Papen in The Secret History, and Theo Decker in The Goldfinch.

Theo and Richard are not that different — they’re both somewhat effete, socially grasping, unparented, out of their depth in every possible way, and inclined to a somewhat shifting morality depending on a) what they want and b) who else wants it. The advantage with Theo is that we spend many more years with him, and so we watch him age from a fairly steady boy into a wonderfully unsteady man as he becomes increasingly unmoored. It helps that Ms. Tartt is better at writing teenage boys than most current American authors. Oddly, she is not nearly as good at writing girls, which is part of why The Little Friend was not great. It’s also one of the weaknesses of both The Secret History and The Goldfinch — there are girls all over the place, but they are not as compelling or deeply drawn as even the minor boys. Even Camilla, who plays Muse to all the boys of The Secret History, doesn’t really come to life until the very end of the book, and Pippa, Theo’s focal point for much of The Goldfinch, is absent and too busy being enigmatic. Older adult women, however, fare much better — Theo’s dead mother is a cipher, but in a good way, and Xandra and Mrs. Barbour, the not-mothers to whom Theo attaches himself, are intriguing and compelling, as well as being among the few really sympathetic characters in the novel.

Meanwhile, The Goldfinch has so much depth, in so many ways, that it is often fruitcake-dense. The details of furniture and wardrobe, of restoration (in literal and figurative senses), of landscape, are intricate and deftly drawn. Several reviewers have called the book “Dicksensian,” which explains both what I loved about it and what I did not. On the one hand, the details are spectacular, and the narrative makes sense. It would have been brilliant as a serial. On the other, there are way too many people in the novel, and often too much reliance on coincidence, and sometimes it gets a little choked as a result. Stephen King, in his terrific NYT review of The Goldfinch, compares it to Oliver Twist. Having read his review, I now want to look at Oliver Twist again; making the comparison backwards might help me like Dickens. While I agree with King’s link of Boris to the Artful Dodger (more on Boris in a minute) and Theo’s terrible dad to Fagin, I think comparing Theo to Oliver is less clear — Oliver is naive and fairly boring, with none of the layers that make Theo so difficult and interesting. He is much more Pip or David Copperfield than he is Oliver.

Speaking of Boris, I have mixed feelings about him. He reminds me both of the expatriated quasi-Russian not-Soviet boys I used to teach in Queens and of Alex Perchov, the narrator of Everything is Illuminated. Boris is fraught in some of the same ways, but, like Alex, sometimes his weird (and often wonderful) accent and character take up too much space. The role that Boris plays in the huge narrative arc of The Goldfinch, and in the story of the painting from which the novel takes its name, is huge, and not entirely successful.

Also, normally I don’t mind prologues, but I felt that this one lent nothing to the story, and I wish that Ms. Tartt had begun at the beginning, with Theo and his mother. As for the end… There are moments of glorious light that come through it, but it presents a thoughtfulness (and a self-awareness) to Theo that I didn’t feel like I had ever seen before in the novel, and that I am still not sure I believed. Did the ending make my chest hurt? Yes, although not as much as I thought it would.

What really got me was the relationship between Theo and James Hobart, or Hobie, the furniture restoration master who befriends and mentors him. I don’t want to write much about Hobie, because he made me so sad, but I think he is the first Donna Tartt character I’ve ever wanted to know in real life. Also, I have rarely encountered a novel that handled grief as well as this one does; whatever else Theo is doing, he is also trying to understand the loss of his mother and how he can go forward after her sudden, awful death (this is not a spoiler, as Theo tells us she is dead almost immediately). The way that Ms. Tartt handles Theo’s sorrow is extraordinary — even when Theo gets a bit maudlin, the novel never does, and both his heartbreak and the misery of how his life has to change are gorgeously done. Likewise, the care that Ms. Tartt has taken to make the painting itself (a real painting, presented here with a wholly alternate life story) a character in the book is astonishing. Even when the other details of this read have faded, the little golden bird and its chain are going to stick in my mind for a very, very long time.

Overall, I loved this book, and I look forward to reading it again. Donna Tartt is perhaps better than she’s ever been. While The Goldfinch certainly has flaws and some moments where the prose gets ahead of itself, those problems are wildly overshadowed by the book’s strengths.

Info:  Little, Brown and Company, 784 pages, $30.00 hardcover, October 2013