Lanternfish Press

Rare & Strange

A New Year: Looking Ahead, Looking Back

Christine Neulieb

2016 was a, hm, special sort of year. Deadly to celebrities, it left the rest of us unsure whether American politics's hard right into absurdity and post-factual vitriol was in fact real or whether the wrong person rolled the dice and now we're all trapped in the Darkest Timeline. 

But before we breathe a sigh of relief, let's remember: 2017 hasn't had time to show its true colors yet. Out of the frying pan . . .

Still, here at Lanternfish Press we didn't have such a terrible year.

Some highlights:

In September, we released Salamanders of the Silk Road, which is one of those books you'll read, then put down and say "I'm not sure what that was . . . but I think I liked it." A surrealist take on the legend of Prester John, Salamanders asks what happens to mythic figures when their time is past. (Hint: depression and run-down beach houses in Florida, apparently.)

Oh, and did we mention it has monsters?

We held the launch party for Salamanders at the legendary Parnassus Books in Nashville, where eager readers left the store sold out of copies and landed the book on Nashville's bestsellers list!

We confess, we patted ourselves heartily on the back after that.

Author Christopher Smith reads from Salamanders

Author Christopher Smith reads from Salamanders

In October we released our first-ever coloring book: Other Worlds, a space odyssey created by Philadelphia artist Saul Rosenbaum. Then, just for fun, we threw a whole bunch of parties where Philadelphians gathered to ink the pages. 

Other Worlds (1 of 34).jpg

Here's my masterpiece (as you can see, there's a reason why I stick to words most of the time):

In space the sky is pink?

In space the sky is pink?

For Halloween, we threw a party celebrating two years of The Afflictions, inviting people to dress up as diseases from the book. There was much to celebrate: the book was published in Spanish this year by La Bestia Equilátera, a publisher in Argentina, and is now forthcoming in Italian!

In November we opened for submissions. This was our first year using the Submittable platform, and tbh we're pretty in love with it. We were terrifically impressed with the quality of manuscripts we received (well done, you). We also welcomed on board a new team of manuscript readers, who even now are doing valiant battle with what remains of the slush pile. A million thanks to them for their keen wits and hard work.

There's someone else we should introduce to you: our tireless intern, Advait Ubhayakar. Advait, would you like to say a few words?

advait-pic-sq.jpg

"Hi, I'm Advait. Since the early 2000s, I have earned my bread and butter writing for businesses around the world. For spices, salt, and the meatier things of life, I write & read stories and poetry in English, and speak & sing four Indian languages. I am in the midst of revising a novel set during the 2014 Indian election: a time that seems so innocent compared to, umm, more recent world events."

As for 2017, well: who knows about the future. You really can't trust it. But we're pretty excited about our prospective new titles, which include reprints of hard-to-find Victorian novels as well as fresh original fiction. 

So stay tuned, friends. We can't wait to share more. 

Sign up for our email newsletter to stay posted!

Lanternfish Press Open Submissions

Call for SubmissionsChristine Neulieb

Lanternfish Press Submission Guidelines

Lanternfish Press is now accepting submissions through our shiny new Submittable portal. We’re looking for smart surreal and gothic fiction, genre-bending SFF and mystery novels, and writerly nonfiction works on politics and philosophy. We’re very eager to read submissions from women, people of color, queer and neurodiverse folks of all stripes, and anyone else who doesn’t look a whole lot like Jonathan Franzen.

Please NO short story collections, poetry, romance novels, YA, or inspirational.

Beyond that, it’s hard to describe exactly what we’re looking for in a manuscript. Often we don’t know until it crosses our desks. But here’s some general advice:

Read. Read voraciously. Read writers who don’t look like you. Read foreign writers. Read dead writers!

Writing is a conversation. It can offer people who lead wildly different lives a window on each other’s worlds. It can bridge gaps between cultures and gulfs in time, overcoming unbearable solitudes. We tend to click with writers who’ve grappled with many stories and whose work is informed by that broader perspective. 

Aim high.

Being “relatable” is overrated. Nine times out of ten it just means saying things that resonate with the favorite stereotypes of a given marketing demographic. Yawn. If you really want to wow us, shoot for a perspective that a European writer of the sixteenth century, a middle-class Nigerian teenager of today, and a woman born in an agrarian community two hundred years in the future might all be able to make sense of. If you have trouble putting your finger on what could possibly interest such different people, William Faulkner’s brief but pithy Nobel lecture is a good place to start.

Have fun.

Who says a “serious” book can’t also be entertaining? We love stories that aren’t afraid to have fun: raucous, gleeful, zany romps through new worlds bursting with life. 

Embrace your voice.

We appreciate skillful prose, whether the style is spare and clipped or elaborate and intricate. We have nothing against either long or short sentences. Don’t be afraid of your own voice. Shout it loud! 

As a matter of house style, we do tend to dislike present-tense narration unless the author has a very solid reason to use it. (“It’s more vivid” is not a solid reason.) Instead of reaching for immediacy through use of the present tense, we encourage writers to explore other ways of escaping abstraction and engaging the reader in a lifelike world of concrete things and sensations. 

/rant

Good luck.

Introducing Christopher Smith, Author of Salamanders of the Silk Road

InterviewsAmanda Thomas

Salamanders of the Silk Road just came out in September. We're excited to catch up with author Christopher Smith. If you're in Nashville on November 13, join us for the official book launch at Parnassus Books!

Hi, Chris! Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Well, there’s approximately three of me. I’m a dad and a husband. I live in Clarksville, Tennessee, just north of Nashville, with my wife, Kate, and our two daughters. My son is in his first year at college, and we—or rather, she—homeschooled him all the way through, not for religious reasons but because she wanted to. The girls started public school last year and are loving it, and Kate’s now working a great gig as a state librarian in Nashville. 

I’m also a journalist and editor. Off and on I’ve flirted with the idea of just being a full-time writer (I also buy lottery tickets), but for now I use my word skills to pay the bills working in newspaper journalism. I found the best way to both have time to write and make enough money to support my family was to go into newsroom middle management. I don't wear suspenders, but I do tend to walk around the office with a cup of coffee.

And I’m a writer. I’ve been writing fiction or dabbling in poetry since high school, and it’s the closest thing to effective therapy I’ve experienced. When I don’t write fiction, I become an unpleasant version of myself. I’ve been trying to find success with that for decades, and only now have I started to break through; I’m excited to see what happens next. So, yes, there’s three of me. 

And tell us a bit more about the legendary character you’ve brought to life: Prester John. Who is the real (?) Prester John?

Prester John is the most important historical figure you’ve never heard of. Quick version: In the 1100s, messengers appeared in the papal court to report on a so-called Prester John who promised in his letters to bring an army of monsters to fight in the Crusades. He claimed to have led an army to the Tigris River but turned back when the Tigris didn’t freeze to allow him to pass over. This mysterious Christian empire of the east was supposed to be filled with magical wonders and strange creatures, and the published and recirculated letters of Prester John grew in length and popularity in Western Europe as a sort of pulp fiction over the next couple hundred years. The legend was taken seriously enough that it inspired expeditions, including those of Marco Polo and Bartolomeu Dias. A byproduct of early cartographical confusion resulted in the kingdom moving from central Asia to Abyssinia. Into the mid-1500s, cartographers continued labeling central Africa as the kingdom of Prester John.

How did Prester John become the protagonist in Salamanders? What's it like to get into the head of a character who is immortal?

I’d been working on a short story about a man and a woman having a long discussion in a hot tub. They’d decided to kill themselves, but they were having an ongoing series of arguments, so the man couldn’t kill his wife because he wanted to kill her out of love, not out of anger. At the same time, I was reading Daniel Boorstin’s nonfiction work The Discoverers, and it was rife with references to Prester John. I’d never heard of him. I asked everyone I knew, and only three knew of Prester John: a friend who’d read Umberto Eco’s Baudolino, another who was a deep fan of Fantastic Four comics, and my wife, who’d read about him as a little girl in a mysterious legends anthology that she still has. So I thought, this is a great character who needs deeper treatment—plus, if he were alive in 1100 and still alive in 1500, he’d surely still be alive today. And maybe he’d be arguing with his wife and finally contemplating suicide. So Prester became the man in the hot tub, and the story blossomed into a novel. 

I had a lot of fun handling the immortality part. Early on, as he’s getting accustomed to his unique perception of time, he loses track of it, and some of my favorite passages are of him standing on a hillside for months at a time, watching his horse dying of starvation, an apple tree blooming, and the stars, which he mistakes for meteors flashing across the sky. But later in the story it gets deeper, with Prester coming to terms with everything that’s changed in the world and in himself, and with how gloriously he’s failed to deal with all of that. 

What writers have inspired and influenced you? Are there particular authors that you enjoy reading or look up to as a writer?

For story, Neil Gaiman, Chuck Palahniuk, maybe a bit of William S. Burroughs. Gaiman is brilliant at creative storytelling, at taking the fantastic and sometimes ridiculous and turning it into something poignantly beautiful. For tone, I like the poet John Berryman and Morrissey. Listening to The Smiths touches me in a place that just compels me to write. For style, definitely William Gay. I could read him every night for the rest of my life. He was a self-educated Tennessee writer who could spin these dreamscape paragraphs about wilderness hollows under a low-hung sky and the musky smell of sex amid the dust of red clay. You just want to underline everything. 

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What is your writing process like? How and when do you find time to write around your other obligations?

The first draft of what became Salamanders was written when I was working the night shift and we had three small kids we were homeschooling. My wife would go to the YMCA in the mornings for a 45-minute workout. She’d put our daughters in the nursery, and I’d take my son with me to a coffeehouse across the street that doubled as a Wiccan/spiritualist bookstore. I’d buy coffee and he’d get hot cocoa. He read Lord of the Rings and I wrote the novel for most of a year in those 45-minute spurts. Later, as the kids got older, I renovated part of the basement to create a man-cave, and that made things easier. I also write on vacation. I wrote a few chapters in an actual Florida beach house in between spurts of reading One Hundred Years of Solitude. You can and should force yourself to write. But if you don’t, eventually you write when you need to write. When I need to write, I find time, and it has to happen. If it didn’t, I’d probably take up smoking meth or something. 

You spend an enormous part of your professional life writing. How is writing creatively different from what you do at your day job?

Journalism writing and editing for me is like an artificial, hollow version of what I do when I’m writing fiction. It’s like the difference between playing a video game and actually driving, between cheap domestic beer and a craft ale, between masturbation and sex. I’m good at journalism, and writing or editing a news story can satisfy the urge, but afterward, I’m simply satisfied. Done. There’s none of the deep fulfillment that I get out of writing fiction, at least when I’m hitting on all cylinders. 

A good example of this: I started writing the novel after writing a weekly parenting humor column for five years. I enjoyed doing the column, but those five years of writing about reality absolutely propelled me into surrealism. I was so done with reality, I was ready not just for fiction but for sentient water that struggles when you gargle, for words that crash onto the floor in a rainstorm, smashing an alphabet soup of letters on the ground, and for constellations that fight in the sky and sulk at sunrise. Holding back on fiction for so long, I think, made me a better writer, or at least made writing a lot more fun.

Where can readers visit you on the internet?

You can find me at www.salamandersmilk.com!

 

"What are you going to be?"

Advait Ubhayakar

The signs are all around us. And they are spreading — orange gourds sit outside doors; the innocuous lamp over a favorite café sprouts fangs overnight; at the local library, children carve out faces of terror and glee. As you read this, the H-word is also infiltrating popup ads and emails that promise speedy delivery of ready-made costumes by week’s end. 

Humph. 

If you’re like us, you inhabit characters all year long. For readers, role playing is not a once-a-year activity but a perennial bug that draws us in search of stories. The plots and the voices wait for us, whether we’re riding to work on the bus or curled up snug in our beds. (How great are the days when we have nothing to do but roam wild amid the forests of words!) 

Still, it is really cool to have a day where we can all dress up in public, showing off the personas we’ve slid into in the privacy of pages. This year at Lanternfish Press, we’ve decided to dress up as the contents of our first book ever: The Afflictions. There’s a lot to pick from — this faux-encyclopedia contains over 49 disorders of the mind, body, and soul. (That’s a lot of body paint.) Expect to see us infecting the internet over the course of this week!

As the great (and greatly afflicted) DFW once said, good fiction’s job is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. We hope getting into character(s) can become timely proof of this dual role of fiction. A game of inhabiting another, and letting an other inhabit us. 

If you’ve ever stayed in with a book, you already know this: As much as fiction is an affliction, it is also a cure.

A trick. And a treat. 

This Halloween, look to your bookshelves for inspiration and share your literary avatars with the world! 

Join us as we #getafflicted.

Catching up with Vikram Paralkar, Author of The Afflictions

InterviewsAmanda Thomas

It has been two years since we published The Afflictions (time flies!), so we decided it was a good time to catch up with the author, Vikram Paralkar. 

For our readers who haven't met you yet, tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born and raised in Mumbai, and lived there until the age of 24. I moved to Philadelphia in 2005, and am currently a physician-scientist at the University of Pennsylvania. Literature has been a passion for me since my teenage years, when the works of Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges and Vladimir Nabokov introduced me to the power of words and ideas. The Afflictions is my first book, and it was wonderful to publish it with Lanternfish Press back in 2014.

It's been two years since The Afflictions was published, what's new in your writing life since then?

I have completed a novel The Wounds of the Dead, the protagonist of which is a misanthropic surgeon in rural India who is asked to operate on the dead to return them to life. My literary agent is currently looking for a publisher for the novel. I have also written some short stories during this time, one of which features a series of episodes in which the Hindu deity Vishnu appears at various scenes of inequity in modern-day Mumbai.

We hear that The Afflictions is being translated into both Spanish and Italian! Tell us more about that.

Soon after The Afflictions was published by Lanternfish Press, it caught the attention (through an blog entry) of Diego D’Onofrio, the editor of La Bestia Equilatera, a fantastic publishing house in Buenos Aires, Argentina. They got a translator (Laura Wittner) to translate it into Spanish, and it was released in July 2016. Though my literary agent, I have also signed a contact with Bompiani, a prominent Italian press that has been the publisher of the late, great Umberto Eco. That manuscript will be released sometime within the next year.

Readers are always curious about how writers do their work. Tell us more about how you write. What's your process? Where do you get your inspiration?

The ‘Process’ question is easier to answer - I compose all my writing on my iMac, at my desk (No romance-of-pen-and-paper-in-a-pastoral-field for me!). Music plays a very important role in my editing process. I might pick a particular piece that (in my imagination) matches the literary “texture” that I’m trying to convey through my writing at that moment, and then I “weigh” the words against the music, and sculpt them accordingly.

The "Inspiration” question is much more difficult - both Calvino and Borges are obvious influences for The Afflictions, but, beyond that, what I write is a complicated amalgam of sources that I couldn’t tease out if I tried.

We've heard that you recently put out a scientific paper too (congrats!). Tell us more about your day job. How does your career intersect with your writing?

In my day job, I am a physician-scientist - a specialist in leukemia. I treat patients with acute and chronic leukemia, and I conduct research into the way in which normal blood cells develop, and how they sometimes turn cancerous. In April 2016, I published a research paper in the journal Molecular Cell dissecting how a class of RNAs known as “long noncoding RNAs” regulate genes. I find my research immensely enriching, because it involves asking fundamental questions about biology. In school, I used to be the kid who spent my summer vacations doing scientific experiments with the tools available to me - magnets, baking soda, potato batteries. Now, as an adult, a career in science allows me to ask questions about the world that no other human may ever have asked. It’s an immense privilege to have that opportunity. So far, my writing career has clearly been influenced by my medical training. For instance, ‘The Afflictions’ harnessed the idiom of the medical vignette to explore questions about identity, exile, language and desire. ‘The Wounds of the Dead’ is heavy with medical language and surgical detail. In some ways, literature has as its main subject the same thing as medicine - the human animal. The tools and approaches are different, but they seek to dissect the same beast.