Ordering Timothy Gager’s, The Shutting Door, $11 plus a free shipping option.

The online Ibbetson Street Press Book Store now carries The Shutting Door. You can order through the link or you can pre-order it through me by contacting me at ctgager37@yahoo.com (sending a check or paypal) for $11.

If you order through me, I’ll waive the cost of shipping which may save you a lot of money.


Timothy Gager is a genius of the quotidian, keenly observing the details of our lives and rendering them so that we can hear the deep pulse of our identities, of our pure being, within them. The Shutting Door is a ravishing, wonderful, enlightening book.

Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize Winner, Author of 18 books.


“The Shutting Door” is the first full length book of poetry in nine years from the prolific writer Timothy Gager.  I read these poems, constantly sucked in, pulled beneath the surface by the accessible complexity, the swirling eddy’s of darkness, shockingly abrupt intercuttings of profane and sacred, surprised by the streaks of tenderness… and thought , who am I to write anything about  a poet who, like his wolves, howls at the sun because the moon has yet to hear, who is an acute observer of the way things completely breakdown. And then I realized that in many of these poems Tim has done something remarkable and worth shouting about: he has rescued irony from the terrible detachment of the hip and the surface slickness of the cool. Rooting irony in the power of attachment, in gut felt emotion, connection and immersion,  he has once again made it revelatory and  profound. There is much more to be found in this collection but for that alone , hats off and shouts of joy to Tim Gager.

Michael Ansara, co-founder Mass Poetry


 In The Shutting Door, Gager studies the crisp space between life’s summation and the gathering of what harvest may wait for us as we work at a more genuine quality of being.  In a world of social media he shows himself brave and committed to truth, but not without humor.  This is a delightful new work from a poet who consistently shows that he believes in what connects us and makes us hu

Afaa M. Weaver, “The Government of Nature”and thirteen other books


Worldly, witty, and often satirical, these poems also have a tender side, a feeling of loss and longing, a sense of thwarted hopes and dreams. It is as if the poet has glimpsed something wondrous and maybe all-important just beyond a door that is closing. What did he see in there? Was it his beloved, or the remnants of love grown cold?  Was it the hem of God, or the remnants of a faith no longer held?  Was it a little bit of truth and beauty mixed together, or was it the death of either, or both? Questions on this order are at the heart of these poems, and the glimpses of the answers are real enough to help us keep going.

Fred Marchant, author of The Looking House


The Shutting Door is gritty, captivating book that immediately pull you in and doesn’t let go. Tim Gager writes through the lens of a damaged angel, someone who has seen forgiveness from all sides. The result is wondrously eloquent, giving us these beautiful, dangerous, arresting poems about what it means to be human.  Gager’s poems “never stop trying to fly


–January Gill O’Neil, author of Underlife, Executive Director of Mass Poetry Festival


“The Shutting Door” is unflinchingly honest and deeply personal, with a gentle sense of melancholy offset by the occasional touch of gallows humor. These poems shift effortlessly from meditations on nature, tales of love found and love lost, and astute observations on the human condition. Timothy Gager mines gems of truth from the plain soil of ordinary life.

–Charles Coe, author of All Sins Forgiven: Poems for My Parents

Posted in 2 Cents From the Editors, Poetry | Leave a comment

Aleathia Drehmer runs a gritty journal, shows her most grit.

Aleathia has published me numerous times (seven, in fact) in her gritty In Between Altered States: Flash Fiction that crosses dimension. For someone so into grit, I was very curious about what she felt was her most gritty work.

Her take on the poem she sent me: This particular poem reviled even my most morally devoid friend, thus, it wouldn’t be something I would ever consider reading in a room full of family members. I think this poems speaks to racism, genocide, sexual perversion, and the willingness to reduce ones self to a place no one should feel they have to go just to make a buck. Late at night, I sometimes think that there are people out there, real people, like the ones in this poem. It makes me sad, so I write it down.

Birkenau by Aleathia Drehmer

I hate his cackle
as he bind
my wrists to ankles.

I know it will
all go to shit
from here

with my caramel ass
in the air and his
calloused hand

marking his spot.
I smell heated metal
as it burns my nose,

mouth gagged
for submission
for quietness.

His thick German
accent burns me
like the brand

pushing into flesh.
He tells me he loves
how my smoking

skin reminds him
of the old days,
of the ovens
in the camps
he watched over.

He gives me a number,
a permanent mark,
telling me I would
always be worthless
to him.

Aleathia Drehmer is a writer of poetry and fiction.  Her work has been widely published through the small press since 2006.  Over the years she has served as an editor with Outsider Writers, MUST, Full of Crow, and Zygote in my Coffee as well as being the chief editor and publisher of a print micro-zine called Durable Goods and an online flash fiction website called In Between Altered States.

Since 2006, Aleathia has had several collections published in print.  Two small 8 poem collections, “Thickets of Mayapple” and “Circles” were published by Kendra Steiner Editions.  These collections have sold out and are currently out of print.  She has a shared collection of poetry with Dan Provost from Rank Stranger Press called “A Quiet Learning Curve”.  Her most recent collection, “You Find Me Everywhere” is still available from Propaganda Press.  Aleathia has also edited an anthology of poetry for Tainted Coffee Press called “The Beards” which captured a movement of poets in the summer of 2008.  She is also presently working on editing a compilation of fiction from the  In Between Altered States first 30 episodes which should be due out some time in 2013.


9/23    Jackie Corley
10/7    Matt Potter

Posted in 2 Cents From the Editors, How Do You Like Your Grits? (by Timothy Gager), Poetry | 1 Comment

Jenna Humphrey at her most gritty and boy do I owe her.

Jenna Humphrey buys books. She bought mine. Unfortunately she provided two addresses that the books were returned to sender. I must either get a correct one or return her money. I am a flawed individual so this post here is my attempt to do this? Really? God, am I flawed.

That being said, Jenna is good, Jenna is great and Jenna is awesome. Jenna sent me some grit and her statement on it was, “This is the most gritty piece I’ve ever written because of the extreme subject matter, which includes heroin use, prostitution, and internalized hate speech.” What did you expect with the title “XO until We Overdose”?


XO Til We Overdose by Jenna Humphrey

“You witness a certain seductive scene, then you are shown that it’s just a fake, stage machinery behind, but you are still fascinated by it. Illusion persists. There is something real in the illusion, more real than in the reality behind it.” -Slavoj Zizek

Ashley had said to make sure you get the money up front. I wasn’t sure how to make the conversation go–she said just say something like, “I just want to get this out of the way so that we can just have fun and don’t have to think about it.” But when I got there, I didn’t want to say that, or anything like that, I felt shy and weird and kept forgetting my fake name.

I met him in a Chick-Fil-A next to the hotel room. I was wearing a bright pink track jacket, and I didn’t like it because pink always made me feel ridiculous, the same way that mascara and blush and pumps made me feel ridiculous. He was a small Indian man with neurotic eyes. I wondered if I would date him–no way. Gap jeans. Faggot-ass wrinkled shirt that he got at the mall. I had traveled from San Francisco to Mountain View on BART, a two hour ride, and was reading on the way without really reading. I was high. I had smoked a little H, not too much, but enough to make Zizek’s communist rants too hard. I put on the Weeknd’s mixtape, House of Balloons, and listened to that instead.

I was scared. Not that he hurt me or not pay me or even that I would look like a dumbass. I was scared because I felt like this was a new place that you don’t come back from. But that was ok, because I didn’t want to come back, I wanted to keep going–it wasn’t happening fast enough. I had gotten careless how I mixed the H, I would mix it with a little Valium or would get some drinks down first, which I knew could make you overdose easier. It wasn’t working–nothing was working–I didn’t even know what I wanted. “XO Til We Overdose”–that was The Weeknd’s mantra. But I didn’t want to die. I wanted to be reborn. That sounds stupid, I know, but I thought there was something on the other side of where I was going that would tear the world open, and I would feel that feeling I had felt like in the morning in trees with air and new breath, so I guess that means I was looking for God or salvation or just, something real. It sounds ridiculous now. It sounds melodramatic. I know that.

San Francisco isn’t a melodramatic place. Everyone there acts like childless 30-somethings, they have jobs engineering solar panels and writing the soundtracks to Subaru ads. They go to music shows or art shows or out to dinner at places where $8 glasses of wine are served in enormous glasses, and they talk about the art and shows and food and politics that are interesting to them at the time. It was weird for me. I didn’t want to talk about any of that, even though I had left Louisville precisely so that I could. I had thought that if I went somewhere where people were like me, I would stop feeling that drilling pain that put me spinning around inside of my bedroom like a Betta fish with no other fish to fuck up. You know those fish, the ones that have to be left alone because they’ll kill each other. The ones that will attack their own reflection. I felt like that, like I wanted to bang my head against a mirror, to crack open my skull and find myself. So fucking dramatic. So you just shut the fuck up, keep your fucking mouth shut, and quietly stay in line as people talk about “the game”–there’s always some sporting event in Kentucky that everyone is really excited about–or in San Francisco, the new Dave Eggers book. Fucking gay. Everyone’s gay. I’m gay. I’m a fucking gay-ass fag. It was in my head all the time, those words, just like that. But I didn’t want girls or boys or men or anything. I just wanted. And there was no where to put it.

I didn’t shoot up, I’m not a mechanical sort of person. I had a guy at a corner store who sold me these little balloons full of black tar, pink or green or yellow or blue balloons. I liked thinking what color they would be. It was a cheap way to get high, I didn’t need much, and I didn’t want to learn how to shoot it up yet. But I thought I would maybe, because it seemed like that would be another place I needed to go before I could get to the other side. That other side. The grass smell and the horses on my dad’s farm. Red barn, blue sky. First forms. Pure forms. The way out is through. I had heard this somewhere. I heard it a lot in my mind. I didn’t know what it meant, or where out was, or what I was going through. It made me feel better, though.

So the Indian man. My first john. We were sitting at the Chick-fil-A, and he asked if I wanted anything. I thought to myself how Chick-Fil-A is closed on Sundays so that we can worship Jesus, and openly does not support gay rights. Then I thought about how stupid that sounded, how I sounded like all of my obnoxious liberal friends with their $8 wine glasses eating Ethiopian food. I told him I wanted a Diet Coke. He went and got me one, and the fake sugar tasted good–a little metallic, good like how chewing ice is good. He asked how my ride down from the city was. I told him it was good and that it felt good to be out of the city because the city is always cold. I smiled but felt sad. I thought that he could tell.

We left to go to his hotel room. There was a fountain and light yellow stucco and palm trees on the way, all of which felt very staged. This was normal: I had been feeling like everywhere was a stage, a reenactment of itself. This was a weird thing to feel, because if everything is a reenactment of itself, then where is the original thing to start with? We got to his hotel room, which had one of those stiff, thin comforters that makes you feel like you are in a cheap hotel. He had put two Heinekens and a Twix bar next to the dresser. This was cute because I had told him that I like Twix bars. He didn’t seem very bad. He said that the last girl he met, they had hung out for about a year. He had bought her an iPad and lots of clothes and stuff like that. He wanted a nice, cute girl to have fun with, he said.

He kissed me a little. He didn’t know how to do it right. He used his tongue a lot, and not his lips. It was the kind of bad kissing that you can’t correct, so instead I went and kissed his neck a little. I felt him get hard against his bad Gap jeans, which were too big, and not soft–you live in San Francisco for more than five minutes, and you get very judgmental about pants. But this was a Mountain View guy. A guy who probably did tech support for Nokia or something like that. I had this thought, and then thought about how that was racist, how maybe he read literature and felt genuinely sad when animals got hurt. It was impossible not to have racist thoughts about him, or sexist thoughts, like how he had to pay for sex because his sad little dick didn’t know how to get inside a girl on charm alone, or even money and charm, that pathetic little thing in his pants that was digging in spurts against my leg.

He took it out and stood over me like he wanted me to put it in my mouth. I asked if he had a condom. His dick looked stupid. I wasn’t sure why–if it was because his dick really was kind of stupid, or if it was because I didn’t want it. It was small and heavily right-leaning, and it looked like it would make one side of my cunt hurt after I fucked him. He said he didn’t have any condoms. The little thing went soft. I started to laugh. He asked what was funny. He seemed angry all the sudden. I told him, nothing’s funny, this is just weird, I don’t know what I’m doing. He still seemed mad, but less so. I told him that I wasn’t laughing at him, I just felt nervous, and I thought he was really cute.

He smiled. He said I was cute, too. But it felt wrong, he said. Something just didn’t feel right. I thought about how he was trying to make something deep out of the fact that I wouldn’t put his dick in my mouth without a condom. I asked him for some money. I told him I needed to pay my rent or I wouldn’t have a place to live. He pulled out his wallet, and gave me a hundred dollar bill. I asked him if I could have a little more, for train fare. He said that he didn’t have any more cash on him.

I started to cry. He asked why I was crying. I told him I didn’t know, that I felt stupid, like I had done something wrong. “You didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. He put his arm around me, and I sobbed into his shirt. I liked him right then. He was stroking my head in the sweetest fucking way. But I was coming down really hard, and I needed to get out of that room. This was hard to do, because it’s weird, it felt good with him holding me and stroking my head. Like I was a little kid, that felt good, I liked being small against his foreign chest.

He pulled away and looked at me. “You’re a good girl. You’re going to be ok. You’re beautiful, and you don’t need to be sad.” He wrote me a check for $500. I told him thank you, I told him that I didn’t know how I was going to pay my rent, and I was scared about that, and he was really helping me out. He gave me a good kiss then, and I pressed my hand against his thigh in a sweet way like what you would do to tease your boyfriend in public. I put the Heinekens and Twix bar in my purse. I walked out of the hotel room, past the fountain, and into the Chick-Fil-A bathroom. I texted Ashley. You’re right. It wasn’t that bad. I put my headphones on and played the Weeknd on my iPhone. Then I went into a stall and sat down on the toilet and took out my balloon, my kit, got high. I was careless with the smoke, let some of it go. I didn’t care. I was rich.

Jenna Humphrey has written fiction, poetry, and non-fiction for a number of publications. These include Eyeshot, 5_trope, High Times, SF Weekly, Creative Loafing Atlanta, MungBeing, Robot Melon, Gutter Eloquence, decomP magazinE, Cosmopsis Quarterly, Tiny Mix Tapes, Prefix Magazine, and Tea Party Magazine.


9/9      Aleathia Drehmer
9/23    Jackie Corley

Posted in 2 Cents From the Editors, Fiction, How Do You Like Your Grits? (by Timothy Gager) | Leave a comment

Who is xTx (not pictured) and is this her grittiest?

According to xTx, the poem below is her grittiest work. If you’re a fan of her writing you might debate this (in the same way you might debate the best scene by Paul Newman or the most heart breaking human tragedy). There is a certain level of difficulty in classifying such things.

xTx is a woman I’ve been following for years. There are many mysteries about her, for one, obviously,  her name, which also coincides with a lack of a photo.

I had the pleasure of meeting her at AWP Boston and being introduced to her by name. I know what she looks like, but I’m sorry to have to tell you that I will reveal nothing.

Here is, in all her honesty what xTx says about her most gritty work, a poem, I Like Watching Men Jack Off, So Sue Me : I have a lot of gritty poems but many of them i don’t find uncomfortable to recite. Lots of sex stuff and gross body stuff. I’m fine with those things.  This poem I would feel uncomfortable reading aloud because I use the “F word” for gays.  I wrote this poem a long time ago and feel bad and sort of disgusted with myself reading it now.  Also, maybe the poem itself is a bit, um, embarrassing. 

 I Like Watching Men Jack Off, So Sue Me by xTx

And I know you’re ‘not never’ jealous of

Michael Stipe cuz

“heeza fuckin’ faggot” but

REM man,


I’d fuck that



past his prime

old hag skin face

faggot any day –

over your lousy


dunce cap



xTx is a writer living in Southern California. Her work has been published in places like The Collagist, PANK, Hobart, The Rumpus, The Chicago Review, Smokelong Quarterly and Wigleaf. “Normally Special,” a collection of stories, is available from Tiny Hardcore Press. (http://www.tinyhardcorepress.com/) Her chapbook, Billie the Bull is forthcoming from Dzanc Books. Her story, “The Mill Pond” won the 2012 storySouth Million Writers Award. She says nothing at www.notimetosayit.blogspot.com.


8/26    Jenna Humphrey
9/9      Aleathia Drehmer

Posted in How Do You Like Your Grits? (by Timothy Gager), Poetry | 1 Comment

That’s one gritty Tower…

Nathaniel Tower is a fine writer who edits and maintains Bartleby Snopes with Rick Taliaferro. As a writer he also maintains a long list of publications which you should check out.

Out of these he had the task of sending NG his most gritty. What did he base his decision on?  Check it out:

I ended up choosing “Ugly” as the grittiest story I’ve ever written because I think it’s filled with cringe-worthy scenes. I feel like I’ve written a lot of stories with gritty scenes, but this one is almost unbearable from start to finish. The narrator is the most immoral and despicable being I’ve ever created. He believes his position in society gives him complete control over anything. He even chooses to pick up women he thinks are inferior just to emphasize his greatness. And he learns nothing even after the woman rejects him in a rather powerful and dominant way. I think the reader wants to cheer for her action but can’t because he just undercuts it at the end.

It was really close between this and a three-part series of stories called “The Outlaw Trilogy” that features a man going into small towns and killing all the men and raping all the women. While it isn’t necessarily graphic, it definitely creates discomfort in the reader throughout. The difference is that The Outlaw is more of an antihero. The reader still roots for him for some unknown reason. Maybe because it’s obviously a dark comedy. It’s definitely gritty, but it has something endearing about it. At least I think so. “Ugly” is just painful to read. It’s an ugly story.

Ugly by Nathaniel Tower

 She’s so fuckin ugly I just have to have her.

“Buy you a drink.”

“I don’t drink.”

She’s at a bar of course she drinks.

“Go home with me.”

“I don’t sleep with strangers.”

She’s dressed like a slut of course she goes home with strangers.

Her face is hideous like a picture they’d show you in math class as a demonstration of what asymmetrical means. If she won’t sleep with you who will? I stare at her aesthetically displeasing face. It’s not just her face that repulses me. Her whole body disgusts me so much that my sober loins burn.

She can’t possibly reject me. I’m wearing a fine Italian suit and my haircut cost $85 and my skin is perfectly tanned from forehead to toes although she cannot see the latter. I could model men’s underwear. Expensive brands.

“How can you say no to me.”

“Maybe you’re too forward. Maybe you’re not my type. Maybe I’m a lesbian. Maybe I’m playing hard to get. Who the hell are you to be so confident?”

“Let’s go look in a mirror. I think that will give us the answer we’re looking for.”

“There’s no mirrors here.”

“I have one at my house.”

“Then I guess we better go.”

I walk out behind her pretending I’m not with her. When we get into the cab I make it clear to the driver I’m just a gentleman doing her a favor.

“What’s your name?”


Silence, other than the noisy city life permeating into the windows.

“Don’t you want to know mine?”


“You know I don’t have to go home with you if you’re gonna act like this.”

“Yes you do. This is the best thing that’s ever happened to you.”

“Go to hell.”

I look at her disfigured face and imagine what games god was playing when he created her.

“I’m already there.”

More silence.

The cab stops at a red light. My loins quiver. I want to rip off her clothes now and see what terrible malformities exist underneath. The cab moves again. She looks over and can see the bulge in my pants. She smiles, and for a moment, in the flickering lights of the bustling city, there is the slightest hint of beauty in her face. My desires briefly subside. The cab stops.

“We’re here.”

“Nice place.”

“You’re damn right.”

We go inside. I nod at the doorman who furrows his eyebrows and recoils his head just slightly when he sees my guest. But he’s just a doorman.

We ride the elevator to the twenty-third floor and enter my room and she looks out the window at thousands of twinkling artificial lights.

“Great view.”

I stare at her ass wondering what it will look like naked. I approach her and place my hands on her lumpy hips.

“Hold on.”

I ignore her request and proceed caressing her body.


Again I ignore her, my hands finding their way under her skirt.

“Don’t make me warn you again.”

I laugh wondering what she thinks she could possibly do to stop me. Wondering why she would ever want to stop me.

In one swift motion she reaches into her purse removes a knife turns around and slashes my face from cheek to cheek.

I’m writhing on the floor. She steps over me. I’d be able to see up her skirt except my eyes are fogged with blood.

“What the hell?”

“I warned you.”

“But you couldn’t possibly turn me down.”

“You’re far uglier than I’ll ever be.”

As she takes her ugly ass out the door I think about how nicely the scars will heal and how wrong she really is.

Nathaniel Tower writes fiction, teaches English, and manages the online literary magazine Bartleby Snopes. His fiction has appeared in almost 200 online and print journals, and he has a novel and novella out through MuseItUp Publishing. When he isn’t writing or doing any of the other standard things writers do, he can be found joggling (running while juggling) through the streets. Visit him at http://www.nathanieltower.wordpress.com


8/12     xTx
8/26    Jenna Humphrey

Posted in Fiction, How Do You Like Your Grits? (by Timothy Gager) | 3 Comments

Susan Tepper gritty? I want to see this!

NG is happy to present Susan’s most gritty work called “Underground”. Important to note that this series isn’t the most gritty work we can find but rather the most gritty a given author has ever written, so if you’re looking for a yardstick, read some other works by our great authors.

What Susan says about “Underground”, a piece that originally appeared in Metazen is

What makes it most ‘gritty’ for me: “This is a modern day story about that level of power that will go to any lengths to debase another person for one’s own needs and desires”
“UNDERGROUND” by Susan Tepper
At night he brings the men through a passageway constructed under the old stables during the Civil War. It was for slaves— this town being a stop on the underground railroad. Only Sven and I know about the passageway. April, my wife, is clueless. He brings the men to my suite at the rear of the house. A mansion, I suppose. By then April has taken her pills and is far removed in her own suite of rooms, two floors above. Good.

 These men Sven brings— do they come for freedom also? In a manner of speaking. I pay well. Thousands to the really fine specimens. Tonight he leads in a new one. Skippie. It’s a joke between me and Sven. How he names them.

Skippie, wearing the requisite hood, is led like a horse to the track. Some of them you can smell their fear. They come anyway. The money too big to refuse. This one doesn’t throw off an odor. In fact there’s a sudden freshness to the room; despite my cigar; as if the windows were flung open letting in the crisp night air.

From the bed I can see he’s tall. Very. And beautiful. Even with the black hood. Lithe in the way of a dancer. Or, a prized race horse.

That’s the thing about media— you make it to the top it pays so damned well. Both my teenage kids are set for life. At their age I used to run around Hollywood playing corpses, bar drunks, walking trees; what-ever.

Sven’s got him by the arm leading him toward the bed saying remember that hood stays on I’ve got a gun you take it off— well…

Some respond with muffled sounds. Others shake their heads. One had a gag fit.

Skippie stands quiet next to the bed. He’s like an embalmed statue dressed up in khaki shorts and dark T-shirt, his pale arm and leg hairs glistening, soft, inviting. Flickering light from a dozen or more candles— Sven’s idea. You would’ve made one hell of a set designer I’ve told him.

Then before Skippie even climbs onto the bed, I know. Makes me breathless a moment.

He takes me like the best food he’s ever had. I die right then. I want to kiss him. I never want to kiss them but I want to kiss Skippie. He’s working me like there’s no tomorrow. Maybe for him there won’t be; though I don’t see any tracks.

Sven waits back in the shadows. Once or twice I hear him cough. It flicks through my brain: maybe he covets Skippie. But then I fall into rapture, Sven lost to me. The room dim, filmy, enormous. What money can buy! I feel myself enormous as I flood Skippie’s throat.

He comes back the next night, the next, and after. Same shorts, different T-shirts. Get that kid some clothes Sven and I joke.

He gives the same tongue, same tight body, same exquisite asshole. My finger immediately inserts. He tongues me back through the mouth-hole cut in the hood. The fourth, fifth time— I don’t know— I want to yank it off. The damned hood seems so unnecessary.

I call out to Sven: Gotta see Skippie’s face.

No don’t do that Sven calls back.

You don’t understand I’m shouting. Skippie silent under the hood. How many times in my bed and just his silence. But his perfection.

You can’t you will risk everything Sven is shouting. Everything sounding too loud.

I tell Skippie to take off the hood. He seems to freeze. Do you want me to take it off you I say. Almost weeping. What the fuck good is this life?

After what seems like forever he says I prefer to leave it on Sir. That’s if you don’t mind.

Susan Tepper grew up on Long Island where two of her recent books take place. What May Have Been: Letters of Jackson Pollock & Dori G is set in The Hamptons, home of the artist Jackson Pollock. In Tepper’s collection Deer & Other Stories, most of the stories are set on Long Island, or have a strong connection to The Island. Her third and most current published novel From the Umberplatzen (Wilderness House Press, 2012) is a quirky love story set in Germany and told in linked flash fiction.

Before settling down to study writing, Tepper worked as an actor, flight attendant, marketing manager, tour guide, singer, television producer, interior decorator, rescue worker and more.

Hundreds of her stories, poems, essays and interviews appear worldwide in print journals and online venues. Her bi-monthly MONDAY CHAT Interview column ran on the Fictionaut blog for more than a year and is archived on that site. Tepper is host of the reading series FIZZ at KGB Bar in New York City. She has been nominated nine times for the Pushcart Prize.Deer, the title story of her collection, was nominated for NPR Selected Shorts. Her novel WHAT MAY HAVE BEEN: Letters of Jackson Pollock & Dori G (with Gary Percesepe) was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

7/29    Nathaniel Tower 
8/12     xTx

Posted in 2 Cents From the Editors, Fiction, How Do You Like Your Grits? (by Timothy Gager) | Leave a comment

Sarah Sweeney’s intentionally exploitative, and totally autobiographical gritty poem!

Sarah Sweeney graced the stage of my Dire Literary Series with grace and grit. I asked her for a poem for NG’s “grittiest work I’ve ever wrote” series and she sent me “Lament for a Frat Boy” which first appeared in PANK.

Here are her comments on the poem:

This is definitely my most grittiest poem. It’s intentionally exploitative, and it’s totally autobiographical. I really did go home with a frat guy when I was in college. I was visiting a friend who attended Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. I was this punk rock girl, not frat guy material at all, but this kid took a liking to me anyhow. We left this party and drove to his house and I let him think something was going to happen if he let me spank him with a neon green glow stick that was hanging around his house. So I spanked him, and I loved it. Then I got really freaked out and fled from his apartment. I think it’s a great story, but this poem does make me blush a little when I read it. It’s overt and nasty, but it has to be. I simply relished doing something seemingly subversive to this white, straight-laced guy. That satisfaction comes through in the poem, I think. And I obviously never saw him again.

LAMENT FOR A FRAT BOY by Sarah Sweeney


He liked baseball and porn,

favored Girls Gone Wild and the Mets, liked me

to watch him pee while he sang Love Hurts

by Nazareth. His favorite color was a blue

Camaro, rain-rusted and troublesome.

I don’t remember his name,

just his breath: Jameson’s and a sweet candy

tongue. Oh, you are bad, bad, he said

as I memorized the Greek letters

of his smile, slipping his arm through mine

as we left the party two strangers.

I called him Cowboy, El Nino, Frankie,

and Pickpocket. We stopped by a payphone

where he dialed Dave Matthews

and said I never got that song,

the one about the ants.

Animals made him sad.

I said: I want to hold you down

and call you my monkey, want you

in red lipstick, want you to be a boy again,

tell me you’re a boy, now come and kiss

my toe— His house smelled like beer

and chicken. I asked about the videos,

his frat brother said, Show her,

and I said, Art has always been underage girls

in Cancun going down on each other,

inserting lollipops in their cha-chas.

Now take me to your room,

you are beautiful: he and his canopy

of half-naked girls. He pointed his girlfriend

of sixteen. She wanted to be a nurse, she had

her license, she visited on the weekends

if she didn’t have a test on Monday.

Sometimes he was sad, too drunk

and confessional, made me undress him

while he cried and whispered

about being so vulnerable right now.

He’d say stuff like Where am I going? and

You seem like you got it figured out.

Then we’d make out and I’d rub

his special spot,

his bald spot— He’d plea, Let me inside,

and I’d imagine his girlfriend’s window,

her father snoring in a recliner

on the first floor, her mother was dead.

He’d climb up her hair, it was as long

as Rapunzel’s, she’d flash her pom-poms

and he’d oooey-gooey right then

on her sweater. He was bad with his hands,

could never un-do the bra, but once

got an A in woodshop, liked the feel

of an axe. He dreamed women’s torsos

in wood, handled his chisels

and breasts like an arcade controller.

He said something about fantasy

made him feel real— the odyssey

of his feeble mind: I poked my fingers through,

bent him across my knee. I said, Call me

your mother, tell me you hate me,

bite at my thigh— He could cry on cue.

How my blue jean boy yelped,

his white ass in my palm, the moon aglow.

He balanced himself right there on my lap,

liked me to play him like a keyboard.

How his back flinched for each smack—

He said I was the best,

always asked for a cuddle. You should’ve heard

how he moaned a little in the morning:

the pain a pink, misshapen ink blot.



Sarah Sweeney copy

Sarah Sweeney’s poems and essays have appeared in Quarterly West, Pank, Barrelhouse, Thrush, Rattle, and others. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize this year for essay on stalking, “Before Adrian Grenier Got Famous.” She is currently at work on poems and a memoir about her Mexican adventures.


7/15    Susan Tepper

7/29    Nathaniel Tower

Posted in How Do You Like Your Grits? (by Timothy Gager), Poetry | 2 Comments

Barry Graham is known for grit and “Blackhorse” is maybe the grittiest he ever wrote.

Barry Graham, known for Dogzplot (flash fiction rules everything around me) is pretty gritty. He is also known for hitchhiking to gigs.  Also he is known for putting out a novel and a book of short stories. He also submitted a piece I read at Wilderness House Literary Review that was too gritty, even for me, to publish.

It was with fear that I asked him to submit his grittiest and he sent me a flash piece called “Blackhorse”


Blackhorse (First pubbed in LitnImage) by Barry Graham

All the neighborhood kids waited for the school bus on a small cement slab at the bottom of the first big hill on Blackhorse Road. My mother made me scrambled egg sandwiches on wheat toast every morning for breakfast before I left for school. Then one morning she didn’t. One morning she was sleeping in the front yard with her shirt unbuttoned and her pants pulled down around her ankles. I didn’t know what to do about breakfast.

The next morning I snuck into the corner store, beside the bus stop, and stuffed a box of cream-filled doughnuts into my backpack. I waited to eat them until I got on the bus and sat down beside Amanda, the only retarded girl in our school. She always wore long blue jean skirts and white blouses and my older brother Eric said she had three titties instead of two and she’d let anybody touch them who said please. When I asked her if I could touch them she said no unless I shared my doughnuts with her every day from now until the end of the school year. I told her I’d give her two right now and that’s the best I could do because after tomorrow there’d be no more cream until the farmers made more milk, and that was good enough in retard logic. I handed her the doughnut and slid my hand up the front of her shirt. Creamy drool dripped from her mouth to her skirt.


Here’s what Barry had to say about it:

I think Blackhorse is maybe the grittiest story I ever wrote. Not because it involves a son seeing his mother passed out and naked, not because of the lying or the manipulation or the stealing, not even because a mentally handicapped girl may have been molested, but because it forces readers to abandon their expectations of right and wrong, of social decency and preconceived ideas and stereotypes. On one hand you have a troubled teenage boy who feels up a mentally handicapped girl by bribing her with donuts. Despicable? Gritty? Maybe. On the other hand you have a hormonal teenage girl who found a way to get everything she wanted. She wanted those donuts and she got them. She used trickery and manipulation to get what she wanted and she even got a boy to touch her boobies. She used him. She outwitted him. She was in control. I think its hard for people to read the story that way because they are so hung up on the girl being mentally disabled and along with that comes the way we judge and size up people with disablities. But really, who got over on who?

Barry Graham grew up in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. After stumbling through thirteen different schools, K-12, he somehow found his way to college, eventually receiving an MFA in Fiction from Rutgers University and an MA from Eastern Michigan University.While at Rutgers, he was the founding editor of their annual graduate student anthology, Slush, and an Assistant Editor for their literary journal, Storyquarterly. While at Eastern Michigan University, Graham was the founding editor of their annual graduate student anthology, 50/50, and served as Vice- President of their Creative Writing Graduate Student Organization. He also served as an Assistant Editor for their literary journal Bathhouse Magazine and was awarded the university’s highest honor for fiction writing, the Jumpmettle Award.
Barry Graham is the author of the novella, Nothing or Next to Nothing and three collections of short fiction, This Isn’t Who We Are, Not a Speck of Light is Showing and The National Virginity Pledge, which was a finalist for the NGI Book Award.
Barry Graham has taught at Rutgers University, Madonna University, Adrian College, Monroe County Community College, Willow Run Middle School, and Ypsilanti High School as a Writer-in-Residence for Dzanc Books.
Barry Graham is a National Tic-Tac-Toe Association champion, food critic, investigative journalist, horror film screenwriter and enthusiast, spiritual adviser, editor/publisher, McDonald’s propagandist, father of two amazingly intelligent, kind-hearted, creative, beautiful daughters, and the founder ofDOGZPLOT.
Coming Soon:
7/1      Sarah Sweeney
7/15    Susan Tepper


Posted in Fiction, How Do You Like Your Grits? (by Timothy Gager) | Leave a comment

Wendy Ellis talks about and submits grit!

Wendy Ellis, editor supreme of Unshod Quills has some thoughts on reading gritty work and also gave us a gritty poem. I’m going to turn it over to her.

Wendy Ellis:  “Here’s a piece that is sort of the opposite of what Meg Tuitte did. I’ve written a somewhat long piece about writing gritty stories and poems and attached a somewhat short poem. I’m working on being fearless about my writing.”


After a long day in the stacks researching –honestly–Pacific Northwest basketry technique, I walked across the Seattle campus of The University of Washington to meet-up with some friends.   We were supposed to find each other at a coffee shop.

I’m an east coast girl through and through, but those Pacific Northwest coffee-houses had cemented my love of hot coffee and the funk of a ‘real’ coffee shop.  This one was big, noisy and very, very hip. It was 1985 and very far away from rural Maryland where I’d grown up. I felt a little out of place–but I had a moleskin notebook and an admonition from a wiser and groovier friend that if I wasn’t sure what to do I should just ‘pretend I was working on a novel.’

So that’s what I was doing. An hour ticked by. I had a very large cup of coffee.  Another hour.  Another cup of coffee.  You could smoke in coffee shops then, so I rolled a few cigarettes and smoked them. I was getting a little jittery–and I was nervous because my friends were late.

We were going to see the film Stop Making Sense that evening, and I was already lost. I had no idea where my friend’s parents lived or which theater we were going to.  Waiting was nerve-wracking.

A guy in an improbable hat came over and stood near me.  “So. What are you doing? Slumming?”

I had no idea what ‘slumming’ meant. I answered, “Actually, I’m working on my novel. What are you doing?”

He looked me up and down then said, “Are you a student?”

I said, “Yes, but not here. I’m doing research at the University.  What is slumming?”

He looked at my ratty Birkenstocks and patched up corduroy pants.  “Slumming is dressing like a hobo when you’re really a rich, east coast bitch who thinks she’s better than everyone else.”

Offended, I said, “You’re really quite rude.”

I turned away from him and, with relief, saw my friends coming in the front door.

As I stood to leave, he said, “You talk like you just had tea with the queen.”

I walked away and he called, “See you around, your Highness.”

I turned and gave him what I thought resembled a royal wave — which ended with an extended, and I thought, quite regal, middle finger.

Now this is not a terrifically gritty story. But it perfectly sums up my experience of the subtle disconnect between the way I speak and the way I think and write. I DO speak as though I’ve just dined at the palace. I use twenty-five cent words like shiny pennies.  But this is not how I write fiction and poetry.

I am working on a series of stories and poems about a poor, rural family which includes a missing father, a possibly alcoholic, depressed mother and two kids who are at odds with the world, and at a loss as to how to make their lives more manageable. There is love and trust, and fear and pain.  One of the grittier developing characters is the family’s teenager, Lawrence. He is taciturn, smart and suffering the angst of perceived betrayal and abandonment.  He compensates by fiercely championing his mother and sister and their home.  I think of him as authentically gritty–he has to be to survive.

But Lawrence and his family are complicated.  They do things that are inexplicable to me. Things that, when I write them, make me cringe and look away. I admire them and their motives, but ewww! Lawrence is kind of gross! Drunken people are difficult! The raw pain of a lost girl is wrenching.

There is real power in recognizing the magic of using another voice to tell an authentic story. There would be dissonance if I wrote about Lawrence’s idiosyncrasies in anything but his voice. It would be jarring to read a poem in the voice of a disheartened, drunk and lonely young mother if it read like a Vassar student’s 19th century diary entry.  Instead, Lawrence and his mother bark and brawl, they shout and sweat and swear. They are unkempt.

When I read these pieces aloud to the very small audience of myself, I hear my voice changing. I slur my words, I flatten my vowels. I stumble over detail.  I become gritty. I can be Lawrence, or his mother, or his sister, or the echo of his father. I can be gritty. It’s marvelous.


 Fortieth Birthday

fortieth birthday

and I’m a little bit drunk

when the kids go to bed

I’m gonna get drunker, I think

they’re watching TV, I’m drunk

but I’m kinda hiding from them

in the kitchen like I’m doing dishes

I heard ’em get jumpy when I

dropped a plate against

the hard edge of the sink

all those broken pieces in the soapy water

‘careful, careful,’ I say to the plate

and ribbons of blood swirl into the bubbles

the little webby part of my thumb is cut

and it stings and it’s bleeding like crazy

‘careful, careful,’ I say to myself

‘you guys, go to bed!’

‘you guys, what time is it?’

the sun is still up, it is still my birthday

they won’t go to bed for a while I guess

so I carefully, carefully put a pot on for coffee

so I can stay up late enough to get drunk enough

so I can get mad enough to hate you for not being here

if you call, I’d tell you I love you


 Wendy G. Ellis was born and raised south of the Mason Dixon line and now lives just north of it.  Her work has appeared in Housefire, Fried Chicken and Coffee and at Unshod Quills.   She is now an editor at the online journal Unshod Quills, and is working on a collection of stories and poems about a fallen tree.


6/17    Barry Graham

7/1      Sarah Sweeney


Posted in How Do You Like Your Grits? (by Timothy Gager), Non-Fiction / Rants, Poetry | Leave a comment

Robert Vaughan’s “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” is the grittiest work he’s ever done

My connection to Robert Vaughan was highlighted by him reading my piece on a National Public Radio broadcast he hosted in Milwaukee. His book, “Microtones” was published by Cervena Barva Press, which published two of mine. He also was an exemplary feature at the Dire Literary Series. I’m thrilled to present this story, the one he says is the grittiest work he’s every composed.

 Planes, Trains and Automobiles by Robert Vaughan

       1. Planes: February 14, 1981

 A smelly bathroom interior, charting intercourse with pilot Dan, overnight flight (Chicago- Paris), circa 4 a.m. while co-pilot catches a snooze.

Full speed ahead, clothes removed faster than a speeding bullet, cramped, pilot has his own key, he double locks from inside. Who’s flying this bird? No answer.

We’re somewhere over the Canary Islands, can’t get that Canary in a Coal-Mine song out of my pounding head as he pounds me from behind.

Is he heterosexual? Who cares? I wince out the tiny window into pitch black.

 2. Trains: February 14, 1991

 He passes my seat and heads into the coatroom. I follow. Standing upright against the floor length winter coats. Numb penguins. He rubs against me. Pretend I came to pick coat pockets until it happens again. Then.

Coatroom pas de deux, rush hour, Metro North heading south. He enters with the sounds of locomotion, chugga-chugga, chugga-chugga, breathing syncopation, undulations, stations stops: Cos Cob, Darien, faster, his furry hand muffles my moans. All aboard the express kundalini.

Pressed between coats, pinned, piled, mounted over coats like a high school rave. A third adjoins: ménage a trois. It’s my track coach with a butterfly net.

 3. Automobiles: February 14, 2001

 Inside smells of gasoline and rubber tires, or rubbers. Tried. Moving cargo.

We’re bound, tied against one another. Tethered. Immobile in this trunk. Car now parked, tear the tape from your mouth with my teeth, you do the same. We kiss as we’re taught, slowly, mouths closed. Licking, sucking, hearing the dark. Soon frenching with a devouring hunger. The earth falls away, are they coming? A matter of time.

Searching for a hole, by the pin-prick light in your eyes. The crushed lullabies, the stomped puddles. We come, like soldiers in the camps, barbed-wire barrier. Or I do. Either you or me.

About this story, Robert writes:

I borrowed the title from a 1980s movie which I can’t recall a thing about except it was a screwball attempt at comedy and was directed by John Hughes. I’d been working on triptychs, stories or poems in three parts, so the three names of transportation systems was a great fit. I do this often, find a title, then cram whatever material might fit into that container or backdrop.

 For content, I wanted to push my own boundaries regarding public sex, using the piece to discover how random (or not) a seeming encounter might be if it happened on one of these vehicles. No holes barred, so to speak. The last touch I added was the date (Valentines Day for each) and the years. Each one separated by one decade. So, it pushes the questions further- same narrator? Distinct different encounters? Who are these people? And then there are some references as a backdrop (such as the line lifted from a Love and Rockets song in “Trains,” or Bent, the play which explores homosexuality in a holocaust camp in “Automobiles.”) The piece was published, much to my surprise, and pleasure at Wilderness House Literary Review in April, 2011.


Robert Vaughan leads writing roundtables at Redbird- Redoak Writing. His prose and poetry can be found in numerous journals. His short fiction, “10,000 Dollar Pyramid” was a finalist in the Micro-Fiction Awards 2012. He is senior flash fiction editor at JMWW, and Lost in Thought magazines. He was the head judge for Wisconsin People & Ideas 2012 Fiction contest. He hosts Flash Fiction Fridays for WUWM’s Lake Effect. His book, Flash Fiction Fridays, is at Amazon. His poetry chapbook, Microtones, is forthcoming from Cervena Barva Press. His blog: http://rgv7735.wordpress.com.


================Coming soon================

6/3      Wendy Ellis
6/17    Barry Graham


Posted in Fiction, How Do You Like Your Grits? (by Timothy Gager) | 2 Comments