Review: Bark On by Mason Boyles

From its first line, Bark On draws you into the world of the most intense physical endurance sport: the triathlon, consisting of swimming, cycling, and long distance running. Athletes are prepared to do anything to build their endurance, so they attract the type of coach who can get them there. In Bark On, Benji Newton is such a coach for Erza, the novel’s protagonist. Benji is addicted to the pliant obedience of young men and women desperate to win. Bark On, Boyles’s debut novel, is a critique of what can happen when this pliant obedience meets unscrupulous control. Boyles, a nationally competitive triathlete in his youth, holds an MFA from the University of California, Irvine where he received the Weinberg and Schaeffer Fellowships for his fiction and is currently a PhD student in creative writing at Florida State University.

In an author’s note, Boyles labels the novel, written during the COVID-19 quarantine as “the intersection between superstition, trauma and compulsion.” Bark On tells the story of twenty-five-year-old Ezra Fogerty who falls while participating in the Chapel Hill Ironman. On waking in the medical tent he meets Benji, an ex-trainer with a shady past. Troubled by his performance and his fall which has resulted in a humiliating photograph, Ezra is elated when Benji offers to become his coach.

Benji applies strange training methods to get him fit, which includes sending away Ezra’s Ma, taking over his home, his computer and cellular phone, and bringing in Casper Swayze, a pint-sized 18-year-old, to “cocoon.”

This literary novel, employing the method of writing through the body described by John Lee as using the “grammar of the gut, the syntax of the sinews [and] the language of the legs,” analyses the triathlon in all its facets: the effects on the body as well as the mind. With clinical precision, Boyles describes the anatomical changes in the body when pushed into extreme exertion until the mind shuts down. For some it is an escape from reality. Benji frequently admonishes his two charges to “keep [their] brain in [their] helmet” in order to reach the stage of “zenning” where an athlete can overcome body pain to reach peak performance.

The bleak setting of the novel is a futuristic vision of Kure, a beach town in North Carolina where erosion of the coastline has become a big problem, demonstrated by images of houses falling into the sea. Boyles’s Kure features a closed boardwalk and shuttered hotels, the result of bromine factories poisoning the environment. Coyotes have invaded to such an extent that Casper labels Kure a “flooded varm-bed of marsh.”

The novel has an odd-ball cast of characters: Benji, who sucks his hair believing it has magical qualities; Unc, who immerses himself into a dustbin filled with rain water to meditate; Ma, who binges and then trains hard; Doro, who walks on his hands; and Casper, a half-starved waif, who demonstrates a dog-like devotion to Benji. A protégé of Unc, a ruthless megalomaniac, Benji had his Achilles tendons cut but still imposes Unc’s brutal training methods on Ezra and Casper, calling them “tootsies.” Perhaps the most engaging character is Casper, whose snarky voice and lack of self-pity is admirable, and who has the propensity to make up words. He says: “I’d never known kin. I had to make myself, taking in others bursting,” the latter referring to being sexually abused while homeless. Ezra thinks Casper can’t read but Casper’s interiority has a mixture of talk about atoms, plus-minus, missing science class, and glassblowing, suffused by a home-grown wisdom and culture, showing an education which stretches beyond reading.

Employing a dark humor, Boyles references The Tibetan Book of the Dead, an ancient book which teaches a corpse on how to prepare for the afterlife. After death, an intermediate space—a bardo—follows, where the spirit dwells before it can be assigned to a new body. It seems that Boyles is suggesting that this bardo is another way to reach “zenning,” which can also be reached via drugs or meditation. In telling his tale Boyles utilizes different types of narration, some with better results than others: Ezra in third person, Casper in first person, Benji in second person and Ma who has first as well as second person narration, which didn’t land quite perfectly.

There are so many layers in this novel. The juxtaposition of Buddhism with Jewish ideas garnered from Ma’s Aunt Opal, the descriptions of the dying town, the encroaching coyotes indigenous to North America, the Shadefoot myth an “old hillbilly haint,” the Everywhen which Casper describes as when“[e]very person who’s gone into you, crams back in one sudden, ancestors bundle-stuck in a cocoon of now through history.” Benji who hums like the Nepalese throat singers, references to the Tulpa, an emotion so big that it attains a “corporeal manifestation” and the repetition of the word egregious. In some of his prize-winning short fiction published in the Wrath-bearing Tree, The Masters Review, and the Black Dandy, among others, Boyles returns to the same themes of poverty and dispossession such as being marginalized, living in a trailer, and hustling to make a living.

Bark On is not a book to rush through at one sitting but to savour slowly. I’m looking forward to reading it again and again, sure that it will reveal more nuggets each time.

Publisher: Driftwood Press

Publication date: February 28, 2023

We Endure Abuse to Survive, Part 1 by Karen Tate

An important topic. Most of the time abuse is hidden, leaving the victim even more isolated

I considered myself savvy and educated and an advocate for peace, fairness and equality. I thought abuse was something that happened to others, not me. But it was happening to me. It had happened to me and I didn’t see the danger signs as my life careened off the road. I became aware abuse and the resulting trauma can happen to anyone. I came to realize we have to examine all aspects of our lives for both blatant and insidious abuse. We must recognize it and take steps to eradicate abuse from our lives and society. That’s where I’ve been on for the last five years and I’m only now able to begin to share that journey. To write a new book, Normalizing Abuse, and bring my radio show, Voices of the Sacred Feminine, back on the air after a long hiatus.

Part One

If you knew me before…

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Looking for a publisher


I finished my PhD novel The Buried Chameleon. The title relates to a practice among the indigenous Khoi tribes. During drought they buried a chameleon to bring rain.

A short synopsis

Amberike from Abyssinia, 10 years old, arrives at the Cape of Good Hope with her older sister, Gilda (12). They are housed in the slave lodge. They are separated and Amberike does not see her sister again. While adjusting to life at the lodge Amberike meets the Cook, Klaas, Arrie and Maria who becomes her substitute mother. The Cook, a writer from Indonesia falls in love with Amberike. Her body maturing is noticed by the men at the lodge and Klaas and Arrie take a special interest.

Amberike attends the lodge school where she catches the roving eye of Egbert, the teacher. He wants her to learn manners and asks Meine’s wife, Anke, to take Amberike under her wing. Anke admires Egbert and agrees. Egbert and Anke have an affair. When it is found out Meine sends Anke away and sells Egbert’s slaves, ruining his future plans.

The Cook has the compulsion to run away from his enslavement. Although Amberike develops a crush on him she has to compete with his desire for freedom. She contracts smallpox, aborts as a result of it, and when she recovers she uses her acquired immunity to help the Cook assist the Khoi, for whom the epidemic has devastating consequences.

I self-published my collection Eye of a Needle: And other Stories but do not really want to go that route with this novel, although my stories did well, with the Department of Education buying it for school libraries. However, the sales on Amazon never took off. At most I sold about 20 copies.

I was so busy completing the novel and writing my reflective essay that I never got around to looking for an agent and/or publisher.

Manifestations and Memory: A Look At Trauma, Hauntings, and “Rememory”

I was searching for “rememory” one of the processes in my new novel and came across this article. Slave memory in South has largely been repressed and forgotten. Excavating such a history has been a real challenge.

BSU Digital Literature Review

Written By Elizabeth Palmer

Sigmund Freud writes that the uncanny is a distinct “class of…frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar.” He goes on to rhetorically ask how it is “possible…[for] the familiar [to] become uncanny and frightening.” What frightens us most are the things which we can almost recognize. Sometimes, that almost recognizable thing is memory. In Toni Morrison’s Beloved, the word “rememory” is used when the main character, Sethe, recalls moments that have been forgotten. She is faced with these uncanny re-memories—moments that are not quite familiar because they have been tucked away for so long—and at their sudden manifestation, becomes haunted by their existence.

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How to Get a Fellowship: Tips to Write a Kickass Proposal

The Productive PhD Ninja Blog

Writing fellowship/grant proposals and putting together applications for these can be both time-consuming and emotionally taxing. It’s a long process, success rates for the competitive ones are anywhere between 5-7%, and you have to make time for it during what would already be a busy semester or quarter. And there’s a good chance that you will not get it. I know… I have been there… a LOT.

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I am a proponent of perseverance. 🙂 So it won’t come as a surprise to you that I have written more fellowship proposals in the last four years than anyone else in my PhD program. Even though I have not won most of the fellowships I have applied for, I still have the highest number of fellowships anyone has received in my cohort. So the first advice I have for you is to keep…

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A new poem I’m working on


A dominant partner will


to regain lost control

like an alpha god will

fight to the end

the will to win so


The law becomes an


The will becomes … law.

A steamroller will


to rebuild a lost path

in the jungle of

She and He

no matter the configuration.

A rabid peer will

like a stag butt horns

like a rooster peck

coxcomb erect.

The Book Deal: Territorial Rights

Ask the Agent

The Book Deal: Territorial Rights

Most people think of book deals as just that: a author gets paid by a publisher to publish his/her book. But it is a little more complicated than that. The book deal is a  negotiation that includes, not just how much the author will get paid, but  also what “subsidiary rights” will be granted to the publisher for exploitation. There are numerous revenue generating opportunities when you write a book. They include: right to license in the English Language in the UK and other English speaking countries, translation rights, audio rights, e-book rights, sale of abridgements, magazine excerpts,  movie/tv/performance rights, merchandise spin-off rights, and many more. All book deals include negotiations of  which of these sub-rights are being granted to the publisher and what will be the revenue split between publisher and author.

Today we will talk about territory rights. These are important deal points…

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Slave novel done

At last I’ve completed my novel. After working on it for four years I was very relieved to send the final draft to my supervisor recently. I’d been writing on it through Covid and many personal challenges.

The first draft of my reflective essay received good feedback and I have sent in an Intention to Submit. My examiners are waiting (two international examiners and one local one) and now I’m freaking out, feeling all short of breath and scared. I’ve been working hard towards this goal so why the fear? Maybe fear of failure? Anyway I’m here now and have to push through.

I also have to find a publisher for my novel. I think it’s a good novel but I’m sure all writers think that 🙂