Category Archives: Friends of Orca

Discounted Novels to Help Pass These Difficult Times

Isolation and quarantines made necessary by the COVID-19 epidemic have some people looking for ways to fill the extra time spent at home. Our friends at 7.13 Books have a suggestion: reading discounted ebooks. All their ebooks are now priced at $2.99.

We’re partial to 7.13 because Publisher Leland Cheuk has put together a lineup of incredible titles by debut novelists, giving authors who would otherwise be ignored by the New York publishing industry a chance to introduce their work to the world. His press has received praise from many major industry review outlets.

Oh, and one of those books is Mr. Neutron, a science fiction/satire mashup by Orca Co-publisher Joe Ponepinto.

Whatever your situation during this crisis, the team at Orca hopes you stay distant and safe.

Book Review: The Uprooted

The Uprooted and Other Stories
By Michael Washburn
Adelaide Books

Time was some decades ago when American influence around the world was a given. Anyone who’s read books like The Brothers (regarding John Foster Dulles and Allan Dulles) knows of our clandestine operations to prop up or bring down regimes as befit our interests. In fiction our operatives were thought of as cut from the Our Man Flint mold, macho types who didn’t hide, didn’t have to, because Americans, whatever their motives, were too clever, too powerful, too feared to be defeated.

Times have changed. A lot. In The Uprooted and Other Stories those men and their relationships to the countries in which they find themselves have been updated to reflect the way the world looks at Americans today, and that long latent mistrust and outright hatred renders them far less aggressive than they used to be. No longer secret agents, they are instead often journalists or travelers out there looking for experiences rather than promoting American hegemony. But that fact doesn’t deter their hosts from traditional suspicions.

It’s a refreshing, necessary take on Americans in the larger world. Washburn’s stories offer characters with a far less secure sense of self, men who are curious about people in other lands, and do their best to fit into a culture, rather than manipulate it.

The writing in these mostly-published stories is thoughtful, and reflective of the modern American dynamic, but there’s still the air of mystery that made the old spy tales so popular decades ago. It’s an effective combination for the most part, although the premises from story to story—lone American finds himself immersed in foreign intrigue—tend to repeat, and at nearly 400 pages some may find that bit too much. Readers looking for women protags or people of color will be disappointed too. In that respect not much has changed in those fifty years.

– JP

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K. at Liberation: An Interview with David Southard

“As Najwa Karim awoke one morning from a troubled sleep she found herself transformed in her bed into Franz Kafka. She did not know this name, this face, this body, not then, of course; that came later, after the riots and arrest and torture.”

The opening lines of Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” are some of the most famous in the history of literature, so to adapt them for a modern novella is, at best, a risky proposition, subject to the criticism of purists as well as pundits. And to make the protagonist a woman, in fact a Muslim woman, is about as risky as a white male author can get in today’s politicized literary climate. But to read David Southard’s K. at Liberation is to read a work in which identities are subjugated to ideas, and labels are rendered unimportant while exploring an individual’s role in a larger society. There are truths that go deeper than what’s discussed in popular culture, and Southard is not afraid to uncover them. In that regard the risk taking never stops. Southard’s narrative challenges throughout. At 90 pages, it’s a fast, but engrossing read.

Najwa K., like many good protagonists, is a reluctant participant. In her particular situation, it’s the political upheaval in a Middle East city, where the population seeks to overthrow a repressive regime. Her character mimics Kafka, who, it seems, was a reluctant participant in just about every endeavor presented in his life. Najwa, though, is much more willing to engage the world around her, and she struggles with its conflicts, dealing with both a traditional family and progressive friends, while also dabbling in fantastical fiction of the type Kafka produced—oh, and dealing with waking up in a strange man’s body.

Southard makes it work by maintaining a tight focus on his protagonist. Najwa is not Kafka reborn, nor is she a mere face in the crowd, but is a thinking, evolving human being.

As I’ve worked with David Southard while editing at another literary journal, I took the opportunity to pose a few questions about the genesis and content of this remarkable book.

Joe Ponepinto: How did you come to tell the story through the character of Najwa, who is Muslim, particularly in this time when authors are regularly called out for “appropriating” characters from other cultures? What’s your familiarity with Islam and the Middle East?

David Southard: I hate to rely on what must surely be an outdated platitude about an old concept of creativity, but I didn’t really choose my character; she appeared. I took a course on Kafka when I was an undergraduate student some 15 years ago. My friend, a young woman who shares the same initials as my protagonist, came to class one day and said that she woke up feeling Kafkaesque and I wrote the first paragraph of a story where she woke up as Kafka instead of Gregor Samsa waking up as a bug. Nothing came of it, and soon after finishing school I stopped trying to write fiction. The story stuck with me nonetheless. It wasn’t until I was reading about the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 that Najwa started to form. After that, I did what I imagined any good writer tries to do—write a good and honest story. 

To do that meant research and care. I had already read the Quran and some collections of Hadith, and revisited them a little to help flush out a few of the supporting characters, but most of my research was on the Arab Spring and on Kafka’s life. In both, I found the driving force of this novel, which is about the fight for autonomy for one’s own authority, the fight against control, whether it be an overbearing patriarch or a suffocating autocracy. 

I have no interest in pushing stereotypes or staking a claim to a single character or even a single narrative somehow representing all of a culture or all of a historical event. I don’t feel that this book does that, though I suppose that is up for readers to decide. I hope they find something redemptive, something informative in reading it, something that makes them feel less alone. 

J.P.: This aspect seems particularly critical since you present Najwa as a nonbeliever, a woman who lives in what appears to be a Middle Eastern city in which a strict religious culture dominates. You write, “She had found little escape in Islam, though she prayed for it as a child, asked God to grant her some measure of belief. Maybe she could have shared that with Father or Fatimah or found some other connection to the world. But she could not fake those feelings. Prayer did little, practice even less.” I understand this may be a parallel to Kafka’s life.

D.S.: Kafka’s relationship to religion is still being debated among scholars, which exemplifies the beauty in the unknown, unexplained, and interpretive in Kafka’s writing. I think there are works that clearly show him dealing with aspects of Judaism, both culturally and religiously. The quote capture something a lot of people feel, including Kafka and myself, and that is the existential abeyance of seeing how people connect to being in the world while you exist outside of it and know you cannot use one of the oldest of tools to be a part of it.  

J.P.: Can you discuss some of the other parallels between Najwa’s life and Kafka’s. For example, the publication she writes for is named Kafia! (Enough!). They both write fantastical stories. Toward the end, Najwa succumbs to what appears to be tuberculosis.

D.S.: Both Kafka and Najwa deal with a father who seeks to control their lives. Both feel an inexplicable drive to write fiction. Both are trapped by a sense of guilt. Both seek redemption in a world that seems intent on refusing such redemption or is, at best, indifferent to the possibility. In all of these ways, the character of Najwa mirrors Kafka; or more accurately, she mirrors a great deal of his writing which was so much more than mere biography. 

J.P.: Najwa/Kafka becomes a participant in what appears to be an Arab Spring-type uprising. How does this tie into Kafka’s life, or does it?

D.S.: This, because Najwa the character is based on Kafka and his work, ties to both of their lives, and, I hope, to our own. The uprising is the real-world actualization of self-determination, at least the fight for it. The action we see taken in the world might spur the existential one within, as opposed to the other way around, which is how a lot of us stay trapped in our heads. We think if we can change ourselves than we can put that change into action. Sometimes, we need to act first in order to change ourselves.   

News from FOO (Friends of Orca)

News from Orca’s contributors, supporters, and other friends.

May, 2020: Kristyn Dunnion’s short story “Daughter of Cups,” which appeared in our first issue, has been selected for inclusion in Best Canadian Stories 2020, scheduled for release this fall. Dunnion also has a story collection coming out in September 2020 with Biblioasis Publishing. It’s called Stoop City.

July: Snowflakes in a Blizzard is a site devoted to profiling authors and books that typically don’t have a large publisher and marketing budget behind them. During the first week in July they are featuring Orca co-publisher Joe Ponepinto’s book, Mr. Neutron.

May: Our friends at Writer Advice’s are holding their 2019 Flash Fiction Contest. Send Flash Fiction up to 750 words. Entry is $14, and every entry receives a detailed response from award-winning author B. Lynn Goodwin. Deadline: June 1. Details and Submittable Link:

April: David A. Southard’s first novel, K at Liberation, was released by Books of Some Substance (B.O.S.S.) on April 17. Here is the opening line: “As Najwa Karim awoke one morning from a troubled sleep she found herself transformed in her bed into Franz Kafka.” That should be enough to make anyone with a sense of literary history to want to read it.

April: John Sibley Williams’s third book of poetry, As One Fire Consumes Another, was released April 2 by Orison Books. It’s the winner of the 2018 Orison Poetry Prize. Contest Judge Vandana Khanna said, “These poems rise as invocation, as testimonial to life’s unfiltered beauty, violence, and faith, to the ‘light . . . already in us.’” Williams will do readings throughout his home state of Oregon in May through the end of the year. See his calendar for more.

February: Jacob M. Appel’s seventh collection of stories, The Liars’ Asylum is out now from Black Lawrence Press. The book concerns the frustrations of romantic love in its various guises—a domineering kindergarten teacher for a dashing artificial foliage designer, a suicidal physicist for his star student, a dialysis patient at a sleep-away camp for the camp owner’s daughter—provide the common theme. As always, Appel’s literary short fiction offers a quirky window into the pangs and promise of love.

Are You a FOO? (As in Friend of Orca). To have your news considered for this page, please email us at

Orca Recovery Day is October 19

Better Ground, an organization dedicated to the environmental health of the Puget Sound region, has designated Saturday, October 19, as Orca Recovery Day. Residents of the area are encouraged to join in volunteer activities designed to improve the habitat of these special animals.

The site features an interactive map, and persons interested in getting involved can learn about activities in their area by clicking on their local county/conservation district.

Click on the map to go to the Better Ground Orca Recovery Day site.

Orcas flourished in Puget Sound for millennia. But now their existence here (and in other locations) is threatened due to environmental degradation. Estimates put the current population of local Orcas at only 75.