December 10 release date
Graphic Designs by Allane Sinclair
December 10 release date
Graphic Designs by Allane Sinclair
Politics are a bleak affair.
God, I haven’t thought that way in years- at least, not since the town in which I’ve spent most of my adult life was terrorized by white nationalists.
It’s kind of hard to be an optimist when that same town gets taken over by an armed militia five years later.
I know what you’re thinking. Why didn’t the cops come? Where was the National Guard? Why weren’t the feds sent in like they were five years ago when Viktor Quinn decimated this backwater shithole?
That’s part of the problem, though. Nobody wanted to live in Haven, Washington after that. The big companies that were still operating here pulled their franchises, and the small businesses were either hanging by a thread or already shuttered. The market price of my house sagged by a few fortunes, and my neighbours disappeared one by one.
Cynthia Harris next door finally keeled over. Stacy Thompson and her brood moved on, sans husband when she found out he was hooking up with some young thing in Paris or Morocco. Kind of like my ex-husband, who I hear was unceremoniously dumped on a cruise ship and had to share a room with the woman he left me for another week. Karma’s a bitch, I guess.
Even my friend Freddie, who lost his son when Haven was destroyed, has picked up his family and gone in search of greener pastures.
So to answer your question, the state police did come. They’re still stationed outside the town, somewhere. At least I hope.
The leader, Campbell Madison, tells me that’s his real name, but I’m not so sure. He’s a stocky man in his forties, decked out in a faded denim jacket with sleeves torn clean off- no scissors could be that imprecise- with a well kept goatee and slicked back hair. I met him from my television screen, as the standoff was quickly ended and the twenty-four hour coverage was more like twelve intense hours followed by static when Madison’s goons killed the cable.
Madison said we were free to leave, but the town was theirs. At first.
Now, on my knees, hands above my head, surrounded by men with shotguns and assault rifles; it doesn’t seem so likely we’ll be walking away.
My son Nathan and his girlfriend Nadia, both seventeen, imitate my posture, hands above their own heads.
Madison paces back in forth in front of us, in the very town square a supremacist rally cursed this town to be forever fucked up, double barrel shotgun over his shoulder.
“Just couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you?”
I cast my child a look to keep his mouth shut. His hair is short now, but never will I forget the paralysis he fell into, and the long hair that touched the grass that night. Stubble is starting to sprout on his boyish looks, a quality he definitely didn’t inherit from his father.
“People need heat, Campbell,” I say, “They need power. You can’t keep us in the dark like this.”
Madison snickers, rubbing the side of his skull along the barrel over his shoulder.
“I’m in control here. Not you, woman. And in fact, I think the number of feminists in this country is quite the problem these days. So, you’ll understand if I’m very tempted to knock one or two out of existence.”
“Nice try,” I retort, eyeballing his attempt at intimidation. “I’m no feminist, Campbell. But hey, sure, kill a defenseless woman and two kids. I’m sure you have something in all that bigotry to justify it.”
But Madison is unfazed by moral reasoning. It’s in the cud he chews and the twisted flesh down his face and his equally scarred worldview.
He removes the barrel from his shoulder and points it downward, chamber exposed over his forearm, as he bends down to meet my eye level.
“This is my town now, Samantha. Hell, Viktor Quinn may have been a fucking idiot, and deserved every shred of evisceration his dead body deserved. Did you hear what happened? Yeah, some kids dug up his corpse and left it in the middle of town at a streetlight. How’s that for the tolerant left?
“Anyway, Quinn was a piece of shit, but he gave me and my compadres here a gift. A town no one would give two donkey shits about.
“I gave you and your family a chance to get out. But the government needs to learn their place. We aren’t one of these unarmed populaces. We keep the feds in line just as much as the goddamned Constitution. The Second Amendment gives us that power.”
“You’re delusional,” I say, “Viktor Quinn might have ruined this town, but you are ensuring it will never prosper again. All to settle some fucking grudge, right?”
“Oh,” Madison chuckles, standing. “Oh Samantha, it will prosper. This is a place the disenfranchised can come. We don’t have to be Americans here. We don’t have to pledge allegiance to the flag, because we burn the American flag here. It’s a liberal symbol. Here, in this place? My flag is my gun.”
“People need power, Campbell. You have older people here, children. They will freeze.”
“Kind of audacious to be making demands under the gun, ain’t it?”
“Well,” I say, “I’m an audacious kind of girl. Can I put my hands down now?”
Nathan looks at Nadia in panic, but the girl I took in at eleven years old after her entire family was murdered; who survived war in Syria and challenges settling into American life, is calm.
Madison nods and waves at us to lower our arms. My muscles are sore from the last ten minutes of holding the back of my skull.
“We can’t keep doing this, Sam,” he says, “Sooner or later, you’re going to learn the hard way who is in charge here.”
I stand slowly, only half of me waiting for his permission. My son and Nadia do the same, brushing off their arms and skeptically watching my stand-off with Campbell conclude.
Hopefully, not with all of us six feet under.
“If I restore the power,” he says, “Will you learn your place for a while? I have more important things to do.”
“What’s more important than ensuring the people under your leadership are safe and warm?”
Behind me, Nadia- the girl who survived war and famine and a journey across the ocean, only to be met with hate and skepticism and more violence- said the words that draw Madison’s ire. A number of his boys close in around her and Nathan.
Madison chews his tobacco loudly, shotgun still over his forearm. The November air around us drops in temperature and numbs my cheeks and fingers.
Nadia speaks louder. Her accent is not as strong as it was years ago, but still cuts her words a different way than mine does.
“You say this is your town. You know who else said that? The army in my home country. But they killed more than they saved, and that is their legacy, long cemented. Will it be yours as well?”
Madison laughs. It is deep and slow and crawls under my skin.
“Little foreigner girl, you think you can make me feel bad for doing my God-given duty? Hell, you haven’t seen some of the things I’ve seen this country do to its citizens. You seen something, alright, but if you of all people cannot understand why I am making a stand against my state and federal governments; then, I’m afraid we have nothing left to talk about, other than how many bullets I can sink into you before you die.”
His words cut me just as deep as the laugh, even when they are not directed at me. And yet, I am usually the only one willing to go toe to toe with him.
“Then,” Nadia says, stepping forward, “it is a worthy cause. Do what you must.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Shoot me where I stand,” she says, “If what you say is true, that this is what God intended for you, then no woman or man should be able to stand in your way.”
“Nadia,” I say, but she doesn’t even look at me. Her eyes water and her lip quivers, but she stares at Madison, all of her attention on him.
“I’m sorry,” Campbell grins, “I could swear you’re taunting me to actually shoot you.”
“I am,” Nadia says, “We both know if you don’t, the men who followed you here will lose confidence in you. We both know if you don’t, everyone in this town will know you were too scared to put down your dissenters, and rise up against you.”
“Nadia!” Nathan hisses from behind us, held back by Madison’s men. “What are you doing?”
“I don’t want to live in this world, where men with guns own women and children. I have done this once.” She shakes her head, and her slowly freezing black hair flails in the strengthening winds. “I won’t do it again.”
“Nadia,” I tell her, “Let’s just think about this.”
“No, Sam,” she replies, still not looking at me, avoiding my gaze like she did when we first met and she cared for her father on the lawn separating our sloped driveways.
“And you’re sure this is what you want?” Madison says, “despite what your much smarter friends are telling you to do?”
She steps closer to him, so that they are almost touching noses.
The cold air falls silent. A light dusting has begun falling from the sky, trying to maintain frozen form but dissolving into water as the flakes settle on my hair and shoulders. Madison and Nadia study each other, each waiting for the other to stand down. Other than Madison chewing cud, everything is uncomfortably quiet.
Which makes the back of his hand striking Nadia’s cheekbone all the more sudden. She recoils, falling to her knees. Hair obscures her face, but the hand cradling it is clear.
“The men who followed me here are willing to die for this, just like I am,” Madison says, “But that doesn’t make us cold-blooded. It don’t make us killers. I am not Viktor Quinn. I will not indiscriminately kill people unless I myself am threatened! Same goes for all for you. That is the law in this town, and I’m your motherfucking sheriff. Get used to it.
“At the same time, I will not be cajoled or provoked into action! If you have a valid argument, bring it to me. If it is reasonable, I may consent. If it is not, I won’t. But if you turn irrational, or dangerous, I will have you put under guard!”
He looks from the crowd that has gathered around- even Nick Vance, one of Haven’s former deputies, has crept up behind us- down at Nadia.
“This is my town, little foreigner girl. But guess what? You’re not special here. I don’t see you as some subhuman vermin. No more than the rest of the people in this town, anyway. And I get it. You’ve probably seen things no child on this side of the Atlantic has. But at the end of the day; you live here, you obey.”
Madison turns to me. “I will restore the power. But telecommunication devices,” he says, raising his voice once again to the crowd, “-that is, cell phones, Internet modems, your grandmother’s fucking pager- are still forbidden! And God help the person who crosses me on that!”
As the crowd disperses and Madison summons his entourage of heavily armed guards to follow him, Nathan helps Nadia off the ground. They embrace and talk quietly to each other.
Five years ago, a group of supremacists hatched a plan to spark mass protests that brought the national media to town for the better part of a year. As I watch the back of Campbell Madison’s head, the vapour of my shallow breaths pouring out and up my nostrils, I can’t help but recall my friend’s words, spoken in another life.
Madison is a different beast. Between the slicked hair and confidence in the Second Amendment to protect him from the federal government, he’s a man with little taste for weakness.
It’s not going to be easy to liberate Haven.
“Mom?” Nathan says next to me, breaking my fixation on Madison, lighting a cigarette and conversing with his guards. “Mom, are you okay?”
“Yeah, honey,” I reply blankly, “I’m fine.”
“I think it’s time to call that moving company, don’t you? Get somewhere safe.”
I look at my son, with his father’s face and my eyes attached to him.
“You’re right,” I say, “Take the car and Nadia and go see your aunt Steph. She’s in Boston.”
“What?” Nathan protests, “I’m not going anywhere without you!”
I clasp him by his shoulders, like I did when he was young, and make him look me in the eye. Rather, make myself look at him.
“Nathan, listen to me! There are people here I need to help. Go somewhere safe. Drive, and don’t look back. No, don’t cry, honey. Drive. Drive far away.”
I push him away, the same way I push the tidal wave rising in my chest and the tears behind my eyes.
“Take her and go! Now!”
“Mom! No!” he says, but Nadia and I lock eyes, and she understands, pulling him away. When I’m sure he can no longer see me, I exhale all the breaths I’ve been holding.
When I open my eyes and my lungs are empty, I return to watching Campbell Madison, trying to devise a plan to wrestle the town back from his control. There are no good solutions yet, but something will come to me.
Revolution is a bleak affair.
From a young age I recognized something irreplaceable about the kind of writing that wasn’t neatly packaged into a ‘eat me now’ bite. Twelve isn’t a genre, it’s a diary that has come alive. I feel as if I shouldn’t be reading it because it’s like standing in a bathroom with someone throwing up, it’s feels wrong and addictive and horrifying and devastating and all the images Austin conveys burn into my retina and remain there, shocking, uncompromising and vivid. But Austin couldn’t ever look away, so neither can we. Austin can’t wake up tomorrow and call her mom, neither should we deny the hideous simplicity and infinite complexity of finding out the woman who gave you life no longer exists.
If I didn’t know Kindra Austin, I’d want to know her, it’s that simple. Her truth, the unashamed bright well written light on her pain, it makes you want…
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Let me speak plainly. Kindra M. Austin is not only my friend and an incredible writer, but my business partner at Blank Paper Press. If you are looking for a reflection of this book not steeped in bias, you may want to look elsewhere.
That does nothing to undermine my respect for Twelve, her newest release of poetry and prose. Nor does it mean I am incapable of critiquing it. As an anthology, it steers into its own darkness, and may not invite everyone quite like it spoke to me.
That said, Twelve is one of my favourite collections of the year, alongside Nicole Lyons’ Blossom and Bone and Austin’s novel, For You, Rowena. It ranks up there among one of the most heartrending collections I’ve ever read. This is because Twelve’s airtight narrative of bereavement gives you little breathing room against the barrage of Austin’s grief over the death of her mother.
You come to me often, and I can’t take it—seeing your Cheshire smile, and glittering eyes. I’d thought dreams of you would bring me peace, but those visions of you animated, and the dulcet tones of your voice, well-remembered, bouncing against the walls of my skull only cause me agony. I hold a wake with a devastated rib cage, fractured from the distension of a lamenting heart—my heart, it heaves, weeping tears of its own, crimson.
And this is not a beatification. There is a sad acknowledgement the relationship at the book’s heart was conflicted and imperfect, like any parent and child have. Yet, Austin comes out the other side more fond of her mother’s memory than not, and hopeful for the future. Nowhere is this more appropriate than Wedding Poem, which celebrates her newlywed daughter- an event Austin mentions in the fantastic opener Proem should have included her mother.
The imagery is bleak at times, but death and grief are not pretty affairs. It is Austin’s sheer command of the written word that bleak imagery is, in fact, imbued with more hope than hopelessness.
Happy Halloween— you’ve been dead twelve months today.
Poems like Someone Told Me I Was Queen and I Don’t Fear the Reaper are classic Austin I had seen previously, and was happy to see some of her best work included. But pieces I had not previously read- such as Thirty-Nine, Marbles and I Can Love September– made me stop and read them several times and gave the older poems new context.
Overall, Twelve is a collection which reminds us death is not about the dead, but those who are left behind. In Austin’s case, she has shaped it into a torch carried for hers, and wields it to light the dark ahead.
Mercy Road is a coming of age tale set in 1997, and told through the eyes of Harper Whitaker, a young girl who has recently lost her mother. This leaves her in the care of her father George, who is a police officer, and Charlotte, her psychologist at the Mercy Road health clinic. It is during sessions with Charlotte that Harper recounts her struggles and grapples with morality after she and a group of neighbourhood kids discover a local recluse has been keeping a young woman prisoner in his cellar.
At Blank Paper Press, we believe in a number of things. Two of those things are community, and supporting independent authors. As Christmas approaches, we wanted to reach out to friends and writers alike, and assemble a guide to help shoppers and fans support them, perhaps even find a new favourite author.
Without further ado, we present our first annual Holiday Shopping Guide.
Split into parts which correlate with Gagnier’s life as a man and poet, this collection is a wonder to behold. I followed Gagnier from his mid twenties into his early thirties; with reminiscent childhood pieces interwoven throughout. His voice and style is in flux as he changes but there is no doubt it grows in strength the further you fall into this collection of labour and love. Thus, by the time you reach #selftitled, a chapbook written for his daughter, the voice is the voice of a man who is willing to hold up his hands and admit he doesn’t have all the answers, but he will still try damn hard to make the world a better place for his little girl to exist.
Just weeks before his wedding, Leonard is approached by his dying ex-flame who is trying to make her peace with the inevitable. Her appearance triggers a chain of circumstances that turns his comfortable world upside down.
‘With the line; “Death is the ultimate break-up”, this novel plunges the reader into a fast-paced emotional rollercoaster, imminently relatable for anyone who has suffered loss, or queried the fates’
–Candice Louisa Daquin, Pinch the Lock
A backwater American town becomes the epicenter for a violent supremacist uprising that spreads across the nation overnight by harnessing the power of the modern Internet.
What lines would you cross for the one you love? Rowena is a Helen of Today, dangerously coveted; she’s a paradoxical woman searching for self-certitude through pleasures of the flesh. Only one amongst her myriad of lovers can save Rowena from herself. This is a story of human connection and its devastating power.
“For You, Rowena is among other things, a love story, the kind you won’t be expecting and haven’t yet experienced. It has elements that all of us who have ever been caught emotionally in more than one allegiance will understand. In that, it is a very classic tale like Anna Karenina because we, all of us are suckers for love stories with tragic and painful experiences that we can relate to our own love histories, and those that go beyond anything we have experienced we live vicariously with, because ultimately, would anyone be as interested in reading a love story that has no tribulation and only happiness? Alas we are creatures of disturbance and as such, we demand emotional upheaval and not just calm waters. I’m not sure why that is, but an author worth her salt will need to ‘bring it’ and Austin brings it plenty. Hell, she sets it on fire and then invites you to dine on the embers.”
-Candice Daquin, Indie Blu(e)
“Mysterious, detailed and thrilling. The best part? The characters. Their authenticity is haunting. As usual with Mrs. Austin’s work, the language is impeccable and unique. It’s an adventurous read!”
Nicole Keeler, Amazon Review
From FVR Publishing comes the reissue of Georgia Park’s QUIT AND YOUR JOB AND BECOME A POET (OUT OF SPITE!) Originally published in 2017, the second edition includes new work, 20% less typos and all the brilliance of this Salem, Massachusetts-based poet intact.
“Georgia Park’s poems will speak to you admire people who take social risks. If you think the world’s normal is your normal, and you know that your normal isn’t at all what society says is normal…but basically you don’t give a hoot. If you are that kind of creative, sensitive person, you will love Quit This Job And Become A Poet (Out of spite)
In this book, the poet, Georgia Park does a remarkable thing. Her poems expose the inner-editor she has in her head regarding the risks in life, yet seems to shut down the inner-editor having to do with the poetry. In other words, the work all hangs out. This is a gift that Park has which allows amazing lines or phrases to appear like magic out of nowhere.”
–Timothy Gager, Amazon Review
“Founding Fathers is a terrifyingly believable story of a supremacist uprising. The characters perpetuate acts of extreme violence whilst an anti-hero in the guise of Peter York is thrust before us, looking helplessly on, passively enabling events. This is Peter’s great conflict and through him Gagnier forces us to face the frightening truth that Peter is us.”
John de Gruyther, The World Outside the Window
“Nicholas Gagnier has weaved fire into Founding Fathers, and I dare anyone who reads it to step away and try not to check themselves and everything they believe.”
Nicole Lyons, The Lithium Chronicles
“The gritty, urban, naturalistic settings and details are my favorite quality of Gagnier’s writing, he doesn’t just take you there, he writes with uncanny visual acumen and the people he creates, stay with you long after finishing his book.”
Candice Daquin, Pinch the Lock