Lanternfish Press

Rare & Strange

Introducing Barbara Barrow, author of THE QUELLING

InterviewsFeliza CasanoComment

Clever, beautiful—and hopelessly violent.

Diagnosed with a rare psychiatric condition and accused of murder in childhood, sisters Addie and Dorian have spent most of their lives in a locked ward under the supervision of eccentric researcher Dr. Lark. Now on the cusp of adulthood, Addie has a plan: start a new family, to replace the one she lost. Dorian struggles to quell her violent tendencies in time to help raise her sister’s child. But Dr. Lark sees these patients as key to the completion of his revolutionary cure, and he will not allow the sisters' aims for their own lives get in his way.

Barbara Barrow's debut novel is harrowing, bittersweet, and at times claustrophobic. While we look forward to sharing The Quelling with the world in just a few weeks, we sat down with Barbara to learn more about the stories—and the person—behind the upcoming book.


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Thank you for taking some time to speak with us! Please introduce yourself and your work to our readers.

I grew up in Atlanta and lived in Germany, New York, and St. Louis before moving to Pittsburgh five years ago. My father was a taxi driver and used to take me out in his cab to pick up passengers, and I used to meet a lot of interesting characters and see the city this way. I have a lifelong obsession with books and I especially love Gothic literature and surrealism. Currently, I’m an English professor at Point Park University. I specialize in Victorian lit, but I love teaching courses like Detective Fiction and Mad Science & Lit as well as more contemporary novelists like Zadie Smith. In my spare time I like to explore the city and I also volunteer at a meal ministry on Pittsburgh’s North Side.

I read and write fiction with strange or offbeat themes and I like stories with multiple narrators. The Quelling is about two sisters who struggle with violent tendencies and decide they want to raise a child together. When the story starts, they are in an institution because they committed a murder when they were just kids, and they are obsessed with watching nature shows, those scenes of animals hunting—Animal Planet, BBC Earth, that sort of thing. A good friend describes it as a “feminist Clockwork Orange,” and I think this phrase captures the weird psychological atmosphere of the novel.

Addie and Dorian, Dorian and Addie – the relationship between the two sisters is central to The Quelling. What inspired you to focus the narrative on not a single protagonist, but on a close-knit sibling pair?

I’ve always been interested in close-knit friendships that are essentially like sisterhoods. In coming-of-age stories the focus is usually on a single character, but I wanted to show how when you’re younger, and when you’re in a close, even claustrophobic friendship like that, it’s almost like at times you don’t have a separate consciousness. Instead, your identity merges with that of the person that you’re close to, the person you’re having all these early formative experiences with, so that their identity becomes yours and vice versa. It can be powerful and tender and frightening at once, and I wanted to show that kind of tense sisterly intimacy.

 Photo credit: John Zeller

Photo credit: John Zeller

The sisters have a rare psychiatric condition, which is the reason they’re under Dr. Lark’s care at the start of the novel. Tell our readers a little bit about this condition.

The sisters have been diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder, which means they have difficulties forming emotional bonds with other people. Patients with this condition can act out violently and do things that sabotage or hurt themselves or others. There are many well-respected doctors and institutions that research and raise public awareness about the condition, but there have also been some bizarre and even abusive treatments. One example is the Candace Newmaker case from the early 2000s, which got national media coverage. Her doctors did a violent simulation of the birthing process and suffocated her, which sparked public outrage and some preventative legislation. I read a lot about this case and other abusive treatments when I was conducting research for the novel.

What comes next for you as a writer?

I’m in the very early stages of a second novel that takes place in Atlanta in the mid-nineties, and am finishing up some short stories and academic essays. My partner and I are also collaborating on a graphic novel called Furder, She Wrote. We’re hoping to reach out to some illustrators once we are finished writing and storyboarding.

Where can readers find out more about you and your work online?

I have a website and am also on Facebook and (just recently!) on Twitter @dustyoldbagz.


Barbara Barrow is a fiction writer and literary critic who adores all things feminist, fabulist, and surreal. Her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Forge Literary Magazine, Cease, Cows, Folio, Zahir, Nano Fiction, and elsewhere, and her journal articles have appeared in Victorian Poetry, Journal of Victorian Culture, Victorian Periodicals Review, and Nineteenth-Century Contexts. She is Assistant Professor of English at Point Park University in Pittsburgh. Follow her online at barbarabarrow.com or on Twitter and Facebook.

Introducing Charlie J. Eskew, author of TALES OF THE ASTONISHING BLACK SPARK

InterviewsFeliza Casano

These are the Astonishing Tales of
I'm Gonna Make It after All

In Charlie J. Eskew's Tales of the Astonishing Black Spark, a young man feeling trapped in his Midwestern hometown is endowed with brand-new superhero powers in the aftermath of a lightning strike. It seems all his problems are solved - until he discovers that the new powers have a price tag he may not be able to afford.

With a month to go before Tales of the Astonishing Black Spark comes to newsstands (and book retailers) near you, we sat down with author Charlie J. Eskew to talk about Spark, comic books, and more.


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Let’s start off by telling our readers what Tales of the Astonishing Black Spark is all about.

Tales of the Astonishing Black Spark is the story of Donald McDougal, a mild mannered, not so mildly neurotic nerd from Ohio who is struck by lightning, and is granted superpowers.  It’s a celebration of all those things in pop culture and fiction that discuss a morally uncompromised heroism without the means of achieving it.   Donald in this book is learning what the truth is of acquiring a superhuman ability, or talent, giving him a platform he never expected to have.  His challenge in that is how best to utilize it to not only survive, but thrive in the way that he’d been promised by being one of the smart ones.  I think more than anything though it is a story about compromise, about apathy,  about tokenism, about the Kryptonite that comes in a form not so supernatural for marginalized individuals. 

Oh!  It’s also about punching people in the snoot.

Fans of superhero comics and other superhero media will probably see a lot of familiar elements in Spark. What are some of the superhero stories that influenced you between your childhood and now?

I would most immediately point toward Spider-Man, sans clones and six arms and that really weird anti-smoking PSA issue.  Specifically though the Maximum Carnage run is where I fell in love with the character.  Anytime I think of it I remember a panel where he webs up his broken ribs and against everything pushes through to do what he knows he can.   

There are of course others, Kyle Rayner, the Emerald Dawn story line of Green Lantern when he picks up the mantel.  I want to say here its tied to the notion of picking up power after heroes have become something less than admirable, but mostly it’s the idea of a struggling artist getting cosmic abilities that resonated with me.

Of course, with a bullet, Milestone Media, and Static more specifically.  The history of their work in bringing narratives to audiences who were often left silent in the 90’s will always be at the heart of what I wanted to do with Spark

There are others of course, but I hope casual and more comic-centric readers will pick up on those as they read.

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Speaking of influences… Every writer has books and authors who’ve influenced them and their writing style. What are a few of yours?

Well as I’m sure every writer probably responds there are too many to go into without bullet points.  Regarding Spark my biggest influences are writers such as Ralph Ellison, Kurt Vonnegut, Mat Johnson, Dwayne McDuffie and George Schuyler.

While Spark deals with a lot of heavy topics—politics, racial tension and microaggressions, disillusionment—it’s an incredibly funny satire. How did you approach balancing the serious and lighthearted elements of the novel?

Thank you so much for saying that! I feel that in some ways the two go hand in hand.  Satire is all about bringing absurdity to light, but while satire can sometimes pick at wounds a little too fresh I also find parody to be a salve.  While I wanted to discuss issues surrounding race and identity, and how having tangible power doesn’t necessarily exclude you from facing these issues, I also wanted something that people could enjoy in its honesty and humor.


Charlie J. Eskew is a writer from Columbus, Ohio. He is a professional comic book shop lurker and tenured Black dude in America. Please satisfy your unnatural obsession with him via Twitter @CJEskew or his website, www.askeweskew.com.

Preorders for THE QUELLING by Barbara Barrow now open

Cover RevealsFeliza Casano
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Clever, beautiful—and hopelessly violent.

Meet Addie and Dorian, the sisters at the center of Barbara Barrow's debut novel The Quelling, coming to bookstores and online retailers September 25.

Addie and Dorian have always been together. They’re clever, beautiful—and hopelessly violent. Diagnosed with a rare psychiatric condition and accused of murder in childhood, the sisters have spent most of their lives in a locked ward under the supervision of eccentric researcher Dr. Lark. Now on the cusp of adulthood, Addie has a plan: start a new family, to replace the one she lost. Dorian struggles to quell her violent tendencies in time to help raise her sister’s child.

 Illustration: "The Bride," Alex Eckman-Lawn Photography: Jason Chen for Paradigm Gallery Designer: Michael Norcross

Illustration: "The Bride," Alex Eckman-Lawn
Photography: Jason Chen for Paradigm Gallery
Designer: Michael Norcross

But Dr. Lark sees these patients as key to the completion of his revolutionary cure, and he will not allow Addie’s absurd ideas to get in the way. As his “treatments” become increasingly bizarre, they put Addie and Dorian’s safety at risk. The girls’ only lifeline may be Ellie, a ward nurse with troubles of her own, who’s never felt the need to protect anyone—until now.

"When I think of The Quelling in a visual way, as a series of images rather than words, I think immediately of imprisoned women, bristling with a kinetic animal rage, in a very contained space," said author Barbara Barrow. "I’ve always loved Gothic novels, and I wanted to write something in that spirit of Gothic claustrophobia. Alex Eckman-Lawn's art perfectly conveys that Gothic aesthetic. The arching spines in the foreground, and the snakelike design on the right, both express a sense of coiled, bristling tension. The hollow-socketed skulls at the bottom hint at the novel’s weird psychological atmosphere and also symbolize the figures of the two sisters who both mirror and combat each other. The curtains and draperies suggest the novel’s themes of repressed or hidden secrets, but they also allude, in a more literal way, to one of the more bizarre treatments the girls undergo, one that is at the center of the plot.

"And there, in the middle of it all, is the misty figure of the woman, her face in shadow, her arms reaching out to the sides, with all these currents or filaments gathering around her. I think of the woman as representing the character Addie: vulnerable yet ferocious, contained and refusing her containment, looking outward in a way that strikes me as furtive but also confrontational."

The first 50 preorders of The Quelling through the Lanternfish Press website will come with a bookplate signed by the author. You can also preorder The Quelling from your local independent bookstoreBarnes & Noble, or other online retailers. And don't forget to add the book on Goodreads!

Cover Reveal: TALES OF THE ASTONISHING BLACK SPARK

Cover RevealsFeliza Casano

These are the Astonishing Tales of
Boom

We're thrilled to share the cover of Charlie J. Eskew's debut novel, Tales of the Astonishing Black Spark, forthcoming from Lanternfish Press on September 4 - and just in time for Comic Con weekend.

We asked Charlie for a few thoughts on the final version of the cover:

The first time I had the chance to talk to Ron I was able to give him an overview of the character, and he’s seemed to capture everything that mattered to bringing Donald to life, and then some.  I always had this murky image while writing Donald, and when I discussed my ‘ideas’ during our Skype call that was probably apparent.  Ron was able to strain out all the ridiculous bits of my rant though and form a character that leaps off the page, something that is pretty astonishing.  (Yeah, that was cheap, but I stand by it…)
He captured all the elements of Donald’s powers, and it made SO much sense to have his costume inspired by the 90’s era of comics, which Donald is most tied to.  Looking at the cover for the first time kind of hit me harder than I’d expected.  It wasn’t what I’d been expecting, it was so much more, and I can’t express my gratitude enough for the care that went into producing it.

Preorders for Tales of the Astonishing Black Spark are now open! The first 50 preorders through the Lanternfish Press website will include a trading card and signed bookplate. You can also preorder Spark through your local independent bookstore, Barnes & Noble, or other online retailers.

(And don't forget to add Tales of the Astonishing Black Spark on Goodreads!)

You can find more of Ron Ackins' work on Instagram and Tumblr.

Find Lanternfish Press at AWP 2018 in Tampa

EventsFeliza Casano

It's that time of year again, when writers and publishers from across the country descend upon a conference center for the madness that is AWP: the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Annual Conference.

We'll be heading to Tampa, Florida, for this year's conference, so please come say hello! You can find us at table T-1246 for the duration of the conference (March 7-10).

Two Lanternfish authors will be signing books: Allison Coffelt (Maps Are Lines We Draw: A Road Trip Through Haiti, forthcoming March 20) on Thursday, March 8, from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m. and Anca L. Szilágyi (Daughters of the Air, December 2017) on Friday, March 9, from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m.

Anca will also be reading from her novel at an offsite event, Strange Theater: A Menagerie of Fabulists on Thursday, March 8, 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. That's being held at 5 Star Dive Bar, 1811 North 15th Street, Tampa, FL 33605. She will join other fabulist authors including Anne Valente, Daniel Hoyt, Adrienne Celt, Sequoia Nagamatsu, Tessa Mellas, Jason Teal, Dana Diehl, and Melissa Goodrich.

You can find Allison on the panel "The Dividing Line": Blending Research in Personal Narratives, along with Jon Pineda, Joni Tevis, and Colin Rafferty. This panel will run in Room 13 on the first floor of the convention center on Friday, March 9, from 1:30 to 2:45 p.m.

We hope to see you soon. Come, visit; tell us what you've been working on since we saw you last!

If you won't be at AWP, you can follow along on our adventures via Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. (And don't forget to follow along with the conference at large with #AWP18.)