New fiction picks from 3 Consortium publishers

I've been making lists of potential blog post topics since before I started publishing my3books, and I've been making further lists of possible books that would fit the potential blog post topics, too. One of the most challenging lists that I've been working on, adding to, subtracting from, editing, restarting, etc was the possible fiction picks from the Consortium catalog.

Consortium Book Sales & Distribution is the home of more than 100 great independent publishers, from established indie icons like Seven Stories, Copper Canyon, and Feminist Press at CUNY to brand new startups like the (previously featured on my3books) Exterminating Angel Press and Two Dollar Radio.

Every season, I get manuscripts and galleys and sales kits for hundreds of their books. It's far more than any one person could read, really. So now it's a kind of parlor game, trying to spot the books that will make for the most entertaining reading. It's like walking into the backroom of any bookstore and gazing upon the bookshelf of galleys in miniature - there's literally something for every taste.

These are three of the many, many books coming this fall from Consortium's publishers, three that caught my eye, and kept my attention.

The Cry of the Sloth
by Sam Savage
Coffee House Press (Consortium) | 9781566892315 | $14.95 | Sept 2009

From Sam Savage, the author of Firmin, the tale of a rat who learned to read by digesting his way through his cozy nest of books, comes the story of Andrew Whittaker, another type of lowlife. After reading Firmin, a reader coming to The Cry of the Sloth might well suspect it's the story of another kind of rat - a pack rat. It's a shocking understatement to call this an epistolary novel - it's told by way of letters, yes, as well as shopping lists, angry notices to tenants, complaints to the local paper, pieces of Andrew's attempted fictions, and entries from his diary.

Andrew Whittaker is the ne'er-do-well editor of a midwestern literary journal that he's struggling to keep afloat. He's also a poorly financed landlord of a depressing assortment of rental units, a sad sack ex-husband, and the would-be artistic eminence behind a not-yet-launched literary festival that he hopes will save his career and his standing in the local arts scene.

Over the course of an increasingly frantic few months, we read over Andrew's shoulder as he accepts and rejects queries from potential contributors to the journal, sends pitiable letters to his ex-wife, tries to rope in possible big name authors for his literary festival, and tries to fend off the amorous advances of one of his tenants.

Andrew Whittaker is a character ripped from the Community News pages of any small town's newspaper, a man who bears the weight of the local arts scene on his thin shoulders and his outsized ambition. I loved The Cry of the Sloth for bringing such an unloveable character to life with such honesty and charm.

***

How to Rob an Armored Car
by Iain Levison
Soho Press (Consortium) | 9781569475997 | $15 | Oct 2009

We've all seen hundreds of hours of Law & Order and watched the films of Michael Mann and Quentin Tarantino dozens of times, so it shouldn't come as a surprise when one of your friends thinks he could become a crime kingpin. We all know what NOT to do - don't leave your uniquely identifiable shell casings at the scene, don't charge the getaway car to your credit card, don't blab to your girlfriend in Queens, etc. The only question left, of course, is coming up with the right plan - what TO do and how to do it.

Mitch is the "brains" of the operation, of course, as he is the one who had the assistant manager job at Accu-mart until he quit. Kevin is the recently-paroled buddy who's running a dogwalking business to give him an excuse to get away from the disappointed gaze of his wife. And Doug is the shy one who holds down a job as a line cook in a ratty diner. Though they dream of a big score, all they really want is enough money to keep them well-supplied in pot and video games. Of course, they end up in way over their heads.

Watching these three smalltown Pennsylvania friends make all the classic mistakes and still soldier on cluelessly is what makes this new novel from Iain Levison (author of Since The Layoffs and The Working Stiff's Manifesto) so darkly funny and disturbing.

***

The Poison Eaters And Other Stories
by Holly Black
Big Mouth House / Small Beer Press (Consortium) | 9781931520638 | $17.99 | Feb 2010

How does Holly Black get everything done? She's behind two big-time fantasy series (her urban faerie trilogy that began with Tithe, and a little something called The Spiderwick Chronicles), a graphic novel series from Graphix/Scholastic called The Good Neighbors, and she's edited a new anthology for YA readers called Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd (with Cecil Castelluci). Oh, and there's this collection of her short fiction, The Poison Eaters.

I've read a few of her short pieces already, some from anthologies like The Restless Dead and some in the advance materials that Small Beer sent me for this collection. The Poison Eaters also features two stories that bring readers back to the world of Tithe.

The standout story so far is "In Vodka Veritas," which was first published in the anthology 21 Proms in 2007. If you've ever wondered what might happen when a rogue Latin teacher and the Latin Club decide to make a private school's prom a LOT more like a true Roman Bacchanalia, then you'll want to read The Poison Eaters. It warmed this former high school nerd's heart to see a member of the gaming club save the day.

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> Consortium Book Sales & Distribution distributes the books that these publishers create to bookstores around the US. You can download their Fall 2009 catalogs here. Follow them on Twitter and befriend them on Facebook.
> Coffee House Press is on the web, on Twitter, and on Facebook
> Soho Press is on the web, on Twitter, and on Facebook.
> Small Beer Press is on the web, and on Facebook.  Holly Black is on the web and on Twitter, too.