Jennifer Robin Barr
Paula Marantz Cohen
Ann de Forest
Anjali Mitter Duva
Erin Entrada Kelly
Nathan Alling Long
Lawrence M. Schoen
Debra Leigh Scott
Joe Samuel Starnes
Nova Ren Suma
This month marks the tenth anniversary of the All But True series, which began at the late, lamented Musehouse in 2011 and has shifted venues a couple of times since then. In our usual readings that pair two fiction authors, plus a couple of Small Press events that included poetry and nonfiction writers as well, we’ve played host to 81 tremendous authors. We’d like to thank them all. Here they are in alphabetical order, or as close as we can come to it without repeating third grade.
On August 2, 2021, at 7 p.m. Eastern, the All But True series presents two award-winning historical novels about musicians fleeing persecution. The series is still on Zoom, via the bookstore A Novel Idea on Passyunk. Go here to register.
In Jennifer Steil’s Exile Music, winner of the Grand Prize in the Eyelands Book Awards, Orly is just ten years old when she flees Vienna with her musician parents to escape the Nazis. They end up in La Paz, Bolivia, where they are haunted by all they left behind—friends, relatives, and a life in music. Orly adapts well, but as she matures, she questions her own identity and sexuality. Then war criminals arrive, and a family secret puts Orly and her parents once more at risk.
“Steil expertly weaves historical details into this immersive narrative, complete with a focus on the impact of music in the characters’ lives.” --Publishers Weekly
Marjorie Sandor’s novel The Secret Music at Tordesillas, winner of the Tuscarora Award in Historical Fiction, is set in 1555. Juana I of Castile has died after 47 years in forced seclusion. Her last musician, Juan de Granada, refuses to depart with the other servants, forcing two functionaries of the Inquisition to interrogate him in the empty palace. But is it really empty? Or is there a heretic hidden on the premises, secretly practicing the forbidden rites of Judaism? Only Juan knows the answer, and his subversive tale is at once a ballad of lost love and a last gambit to save a life.
“Radiant, passionate, deeply intelligent and intensely moving, this brilliant novel brings alive a place and time surprisingly resonant with our own. Love and music burn like a laser through these glorious pages.” —Andrea Barrett
Jennifer Steil is a writer, teacher, and secret ballet dancer who lives in many countries (currently Uzbekistan, France, England). In addition to Exile Music, she is the author of the novel The Ambassador’s Wife, which won the Phillip McMath Post Publication book award and the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Best Novel Award; and The Woman Who Fell From the Sky, a memoir about running a newspaper in Yemen.
Marjorie Sandor’s previous books include the linked story collection Portrait of My Mother, Who Posed Nude in Wartime, winner of the 2004 National Jewish Book Award in Fiction, and The Late Interiors: A Life Under Construction. She is also the editor of The Uncanny Reader: Stories from the Shadows, an international anthology of short fiction. Recently retired from the faculty of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Oregon State University, she lives in Corvallis, Oregon, with her husband, writer Tracy Daugherty.
The phrase "ordinary people" took on special literary meaning with Judith Guest's novel of that name in 1976. Since then, many writers have grappled with an underlying question: to what extent can fiction succeed in conveying truly ordinary folk without putting us ordinary readers to sleep?
The key, of course, is to find the extraordinary in the ordinary, and that's the great achievement of the two novelists who will visit the All But True series for a virtual event on July 1 at 6:30 p.m.
On the outside, the aged Ms. Hazel Hicks could be taken for a stereotype—what in her day would have been called a spinster. Yet, as David Huddle reveals in his novel Hazel, she’s the most remarkable person in her small Vermont town. With fictional techniques as varied as Hazel’s personality quirks, the book explores her long life from multiple angles. "Hazel’s would seem to be the life story of one who has no life," says novelist Castle Freeman, Jr. "Nevertheless, owing to her creator’s utterly assured, sympathetic, multifaceted storytelling, she is never a tragic figure, or even a pitiable one. Rather, she appears with the contradictions, self-inflicted wounds (and blessings) the reader recognizes as belonging to life."
In The Nature of Remains, Ginger Eager portrays multiple characters in a hardscrabble Georgia town. This book was selected for the AWP Award Series in the Novel, and it's easy to understand why. Eager takes us below the small-town surface to see class struggles, gender discrimination, domestic violence—all the "typical" problems of contemporary American life. Yet the characters emerge with an individuality that makes us root for them even when they’re clearly in the wrong. Novelist Paula McLain compares this book to "the wrenching simplicity of Kent Haruf and the dark southern lyricism of Daniel Woodrell."
A long-time teacher at Bread Loaf and the University of Vermont, David Huddle is the acclaimed author of more than 20 books—poetry, stories, essays, and longer fiction. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, The New York Times Magazine, and The Best American Short Stories, and he has been awarded two NEA fellowships.
Ginger Eager’s short fiction, reviews, and personal essays have been published in The Georgia Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Jabberwock Review, and elsewhere. Her short fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and shortlisted in The Best American Nonrequired Reading series.
This virtual event is sponsored by A Novel Idea on Passyunk, one of Philly's great indie bookstores. To register for the event, go here.
We now have the registration link set up for the upcoming All But True virtual event at 6 p.m. on November 30. Click here to register.
The suggested (not required) $5 donation is to benefit our wonderful host bookstore, A Novel Idea on Passyunk, which has managed to survive the pandemic with aplomb and good cheer.
It's been a while since our last event! A little thing (actually a microscopic thing) called a virus got in the way, and then our host bookstore went out of business during the pandemic. But we've overcome all that, and now the All But True series is back, virtually, with the assistance of A Novel Idea on Passyunk, which besides being a great idea is also a wonderful indie bookstore.
The next event, online, is on November 30 at 6:00 p.m. Called Past Present: Time Travel & Historical Fiction for Middle Grade Readers, it features debut novelists Nicole Valentine and Jennifer Robin Barr. Info about registering to join the event will come soon. Meanwhile, here's a description of the two featured books:
In Nicole Valentine’s A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity, 12-year-old Finn copes with abandonment and grief by clinging to concrete facts in his physics books, until he learns that the women in his family are Travelers, able to move back and forth in time. His mom is trapped somewhere in the timeline, and she’s left Finn a portal to find her, if only he can leap beyond logic.
“. . . an incredible book, no matter which time universe you’re in.”
Goodbye, Mr. Spalding, Jennifer Robin Barr’s middle grade debut, tells the story of Jimmy and Lola, two enterprising 12-year-olds in Depression-era Philadelphia, who conspire to stop a wall from being built at Shibe Park—a wall that would block their rooftop view of Athletics’ games and cut into their family’s incomes. But the effort strains the friendship, and the pair must work to rebuild their relationship.
“A sweet debut about friendship and love of the game.”
Nicole Valentine earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She teaches writing workshops for children’s writers at the Highlights Foundation in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. She was also the founding Chief Technology Officer of Figment.com, an innovative website for teen fiction writers and readers, which sold to Random House in 2013. (Author photo by Nina Pomeroy Photography.)
Drawn to writing about little-known nuggets of history, Jennifer Robin Barr aims to bring the past alive through imaginative explorations of characters’ feelings. An assistant dean at Haverford College, Jennifer wrote two how-to books for adults before writing Goodbye, Mr. Spalding, her first novel. Her next novel is also set in Philadelphia, at Mount Pleasant in Fairmount Park.
On Thursday, December 12, 2019, 6:00 p.m., the All But True series presents two spectacular books of flash fiction.
In her debut fiction collection, FAMILYISM, Tori Bond explores the weird moments that make up family life. These very brief stories, averaging less than three pages, offer a unique blend of irony and tenderness. We meet a “sweet sadistic” bartender lonely for his wife; a couple arguing about the lack of verbs in their relationship; a wife who may have left her identity in the refrigerator, and another who contemplates sex with a stranger who happens to be her husband.
“Bond knows the vagaries of the human heart and explores it with warmth and wit and savage intelligence.”
—Kathy Fish, author of WILD LIFE
Dedicated to “those who don’t quite fit in,” Nathan Alling Long’s collection of 50 flash fictions, THE ORIGIN OF DOUBT (a finalist in the 2019 Lambda Literary Awards), brings us a postmodern collage of searchers, outcasts, travelers, immigrants, lovers and parents—doubters of all ages. The stories reveal the subtle currents of longing, anger, and hope hidden beneath our ordinary conversations.
“Each story is a gem, a glimpse into moments of yearning and unexpected perception, instants that many of us might otherwise miss.... These are stories of male and female desire, of love and longing and loss. They are told to us like secrets, each simple moment a revelation that generates surprise and wonder.”
—Patricia Smith, author of THE YEAR OF NEEDY GIRLS
“[Long’s] stories, intense and sensual, demand repeated reading. Like prayers, they trigger reflection.”
—Julia MacDonnell, author of MIMI MALLOY, AT LAST!
The event includes author readings, discussion, book signings, and free refreshments.
The venue, as usual, is the lovely bookstore at 130 S. 34th Street in Philadelphia. This was Penn Book Center, but the store has a new name and logo, reflecting its new owners and commitment to the community: People's Books & Culture.
A lively discussion of speculative fiction last night during the All But True reading series at Penn Book Center. Authors A.C. Wise (left) and Sarah Pinsker shared their recent work and then engaged with an audience of 25-30 enthusiastic readers and writers. The event was hosted by Miriam Seidel.
(Apologies for the lousy camera. Gotta put out some bucks for a new phone.)
We'll soon be posting details of the next reading, December 12, with flash fiction authors Tori Bond and Nathan Alling Long.
Just in time for Halloween, the All But True series presents two new and provocative novels, by authors A.C. Wise and Sarah Pinsker, that explore the frightful things that may lurk closer than we realize.
SARAH PINSKER’s near-future debut novel, A SONG FOR A NEW DAY, follows two women: Luce, a musician who can’t perform openly since public gatherings have been banned, and Rosemary, who’s too young to remember how it was Before: before the mass epidemic and violence that led to the circumscribed and digitized world she lives in now. The story celebrates the connective power of live music as opposed to virtual performances, and person-to-person as opposed to digital connection—a dichotomy all too familiar to us even now. This novel is one of Publishers Weekly’s “Most Anticipated Books of Fall 2019,” and Kirkus Reviews called the author “a rising star in the world of speculative fiction.”
In A.C. WISE’s CATFISH LULLABY, the back-country Louisiana bayou town of Lewis carries dark secrets in its past. When Caleb grows up to become the town’s young sheriff, he’s called on to try to untangle its mysteries, including the disturbing legend of Catfish John, a monstrous swamp creature, and whether Caleb’s strange, fragile neighbor Cere can overcome what appears to be her family’s evil destiny. Wise gives voice to the unheard with language that sears and soars in this tale of “cosmic horror.” Says Mike Allen, a World Fantasy Award–nominated author, "CATFISH LULLABY demonstrates the many ways saviors and devils can occupy the same body.”
The event includes readings, discussion, book signings, and free snacks.
Is it just us, or does it seem like the entire U.S. culture lacks maturity? Why are social media, politics, TV, even sometimes academia so ultra-juvenile? [Note to self: Do not refer to the White House.]
In the next installment of the All But True series, on Wednesday, March 6, 2019, two grown-up authors depict the lives of protagonists who struggle to reach emotional maturity even long after they can buy a legal drink.
In NONE OF THE ABOVE, author Michael Cocchiarale gives us 27 years in the life of an earnest Midwesterner, Increase “Ink” Alt, from childhood into his thirties. Like so many of us, Ink has trouble figuring out where he fits in the world. He constantly struggles to keep up with more sophisticated peers, and yet the reader sees that most of them aren’t good role models for him. Even when Ink returns to his hometown as a highly educated adult, he still has much to learn about himself. Trials and traumas put his maturity to the test in ways he never expected.
In THE MINORS by Chris Ludovici, both protagonists have to work on their maturity. One is Samantha “Sam” Heller, a teenager whose father has left to start a new job. Supposedly the family will join him soon, but the situation gets complicated, in part because of Nick Rogers, a 28-year-old contractor hired to fix up the house before it’s put on the market. Nick, a failed minor-league baseball player and habitual screw-up, gets drawn into being a confidant to the mother and a substitute dad for Sam and her younger brother—challenging roles for which he’s not at all prepared. In this novel all the characters need to grow up, and the author describes their difficult paths—full of betrayals, angst, and a few bloody knuckles—with both insight and compassion.
By coincidence, both of these books are published by Unsolicited Press in Portland, Oregon. You may want to check out their website.
The program starts at 6:30 p.m. at Penn Book Center, 34th & Sansom Streets in West Philly, adjacent to the University of Pennsylvania. As always, the event includes author readings, discussion, book signings, and free refreshments.
If we aren’t mature after this event, we will go home and listen to NPR.
Religion and spiritual tradition, and the way they affect our identities, are difficult subjects to tackle in fiction. But the January 30 All But True reading features two novels that do exactly that, in very different ways.
In Faint Promise of Rain, Anjali Mitter Duva takes us to the Rajasthan desert in 1554. On a rare night of rain, a daughter, Adhira, is born to a family of Hindu temple dancers. Fearing a bleak future, her father puts his faith in tradition: he insists Adhira “marry” the temple deity and give herself to a wealthy patron. But after one terrible evening, she makes a life-altering choice. Filled with the sounds, sights, and flavors of the Indian desert, Faint Promise of Rain is the story of a family caught between art, duty, and fear in a changing world. The novel was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Fiction and the Chaucer Award for Historical Fiction.
“Describes the sacred dances so vividly that the reader can almost hear the dancers’ feet hitting the floor and the tinkling of ankle bells.” —Library Journal
In They: A Biblical Tale of Secret Genders, Janet Mason offers characters from the Hebrew Bible—reinterpreted. Tamar lives with her pet camel in the desert, content with her life and happily barren. But her twin sister, Tabitha, becomes pregnant after seducing a muscular young shepherd. Tamar plots with Tabitha to trick the patriarch Judah into believing that the baby is his so that the mother can have status in society rather than being burnt at the stake. Then Tabitha gives birth to twins, who are both intersex. As Auntie Tamar becomes deeply involved in the children’s lives, the story’s sly humor sheds light on our own often-complex identities.
Janet Mason’s previous book, Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books, 2012), received a Goldie Award and was chosen by the American Library Association for its 2013 Over the Rainbow list. Janet is also the author of three books of poetry.
The program starts at 6:30 p.m. at Penn Book Center, 34th & Sansom Streets in West Philly, adjacent to the University of Pennsylvania. The event includes author readings, discussion, book signings, and refreshments.