Vengeful Beast: Cicily Janus on David Nash’s Van Gogh’s Ear

Van Gogh’s Ear, David Nash, Star Cloud Press

If you talk to any writer, regardless of genre, you would know that it’s nearly impossible to get your work published in today’s literary climate unless you’re already “established.” Despite this fact, new voices emerge all the time. Some tank within the first month or two of their book’s release. Others flourish and pave the way for future works to be acquired. These are the writers who bypass tradition and go to great lengths to follow the voice in their works. They ooze with originality, landing them in the right hands at the right time. Star Cloud Press, an independent press based in Arizona, found their diamond in the rough when they signed David Nash. I must say that Van Gogh’s Ear, his debut novel, has proved to be one of the darkest, most intense and wonderful romps in literature I’ve come across in the last five years. As a budding literary agent, I do not hand this praise down lightly. The enormous amount of advanced praise for Nash is well-deserved.
Van Gogh’s Ear, is audacious. Impassioned. More than worth the read. Nash allows the controversial subject of rape to be intimately explored. VGE isn’t your typical witch-hunt. It’s more of a portrayal of the after effects that tear down the victim and their loved ones. Rightfully so, Nash does not displace or minimize the crime at any one point. Instead, he places it right in your face with its consequences glaring and clouding the reader’s view of reality. Morals and ethics are pushed beyond the norm and into the extreme. Fine lines of sane, rational thoughts cross over to the unspeakably insane.

From the beginning, the reader is tossed into the fatalistic mindset of a man (Ross) who is scorned upon learning that his true love has been defiled and damaged by the act of rape. Ross then sets out on a journey with no clear map or means of escape. A vengeful beast is unleashed within him that will eventually destroy everything in its path. This anger comes with consequence and risk. Unfortunately this involves the only family he has. Brentwood (Ross’ brother) then begins spiraling down the same drain with Ross. His sanity and unconditional love for his brother is then tested over and again until the hard weight of the climax, three brutal murders, reigns down upon them. Nash’ style is quite unforgettable. Thick and often sultry, his turn of phrase and beautiful prose thrives throughout. The voice is unwavering, a constant reminder of the pain his characters are living in…

Her voice was meek and breathy. She had more fear of the moment than any of us. But tremulously she stood there breaking down Ross on my scant behalf. Her face glistened like frost on the cusp of a melt. I bowed my head a bit without taking my eyes from hers…

For a first time novelist to pull off this style of haunting voice is impressive. Nash executes it with meticulous clarity allowing the reader to immediately drop into a vivid waking nightmare. It is obvious that risk taking is Nash’ strength:

I walked back out of the room and angled over to the other side of the living room to where I could see Ross’ door. It was open. On the floor at the bottom of the doorway an arm lay, flung carelessly into the living room area. It was still and bent awkwardly. It was long and thin with just the slightest glint of downy auburn hair riding the top of the forearm. It was not Ross’. I stared at it for at least a minute, looking around and behind me a time or two as if someone might be there to confirm what I saw. Its clumsy crook and peaceful stillness frightened me. It seemed paralyzed or asleep, but only because I did not want to consider the other possibility.

Nash poetically renders this tale of love that is lost, found and murdered in its own right with due justice. He is irrefutably unafraid to explore and excavate the darker side of the all too human yet criminal mind. I suppose each of us, even if we don’t admit to it, has this darker yet human side of our thoughts too. It’s our actions and conscious thoughts that separate us from the monsters of society. This especially comes to play when someone you love has been hurt. This makes novels such as VGE a thrill to read. Allowing the reader an escape all the while pulling back slowly, letting worry and fear bleed out onto its pages. This talent clearly sets Nash apart from the average writer…For Nash to display this level of maturity and the ability to harvest fertile and formidable words and worlds, is a skill that will serve him well. Hopefully he will continue to generate works like VGE, providing gripping experiences for readers of all genres.

The New Face of Jazz: An Intimate Look at Today’s Living Legends and the Artists of Tomorrow

The New Face of Jazz: An Intimate Look at Today’s Living Legends and the Artists of Tomorrow

By Cicily Janus

You’ve heard about them time and time again.  Their music—the most influential notes ever played.  Bird, `Trane, Miles, Ella and their peers are immortalized in personal CD and iTunes libraries around the world.  You can find their histories, the dirt behind their careers and endless archives in hundreds of books, encyclopedias and limitless websites.

Oh…and one more thing.
They’re dead.

The musicians cataloged in these pages are not.  They eat, breathe, sleep and live for Jazz. As unsung heroes of America’s only original art form, you need to know them.  As a matter of fact, you already should.

Because they’re accessible.

Most of all, they’re the number one music resource in your community. You can find them headlining gigs from coast to coast.  The players highlighted throughout this book are our first line of defense when it comes to the continuation of America’s cultural heritage. They teach all ages from kindergartners to master degree students, spreading their knowledge around to propel their art into the hands of future generations.

I must throw out a word of caution before you dive in.  They’ll grab you by the ears and soul until you’re tethered down to their notes.  And once you’re there, it’s difficult to breathe.  Their art will leave you gasping for air in their intense atmosphere.  Yet, you won’t want to leave.  Keep listening. It only gets better.

The language they speak is progressive, evocative and lyrical. Anything but dull.

With this book as your guide, join us aboard this powertrane heading towards the best musicians, festivals, venues, radio stations and schools throughout the country.  On the way, we’ll pass through clubs in Atlanta, St. Louis, and New York.  Brunch will be served up with tasty morsels of original music in San Francisco, Seattle and Detroit. Join us for festivals in Telluride, New Orleans, Monterey and Jacksonville.

When you’re riding this wave, make sure you take a good look out the windows to your left and right as we whiz through this Mecca of Jazz. I can promise that what you see and hear is completely different than what you’ve heard in the past. Come view the world through the eyes of the New Face of Jazz.

Purchase The New Face of Jazz

Writing Away Retreats

Announcing Writing Away Retreats

Cicily Janus, Founder and Head Adverb Abuser

May 1-5 Taos, NM

(Staff: Tim Oconnell Editor, Random House/Vintage, Gary Heidt, Agent at Signature Literary Agency, Doug Crandell Author with Virgin, Penguin and University of Chicago Press)

June 12-16 Vail, CO

(Staff: Kate Gale Editor/Owner, Red Hen Press, AUTHOR TBA, AGENT TBA)

October 16-20 Vail, CO

(Staff: Mike Signorelli Editor, Harper Perennial, Matt Marinovich Author, Harper Perennial, Gary Heidt, Agent at Signature Literary Agency)

Tired of the same conferences, with the same boring talks, zero productivity and cardboard hotel food?  Join us at Writing Away Retreats.  This is an all-inclusive writing retreat in secluded and luxurious environments.  Four days/nights with gourmet meals, MS consults and spa-like environment.  Award winning editors, authors and agents available.  Payment plans available and paypal accepted.  Discounts offered to students, military and overseas writers.  50.00 down reserves your spot.

Scholarship contests run frequently, stay tuned.

For more information, pics and registration info:

Read what others have to say about Writing Away:

“Writing Away Retreat was beyond a doubt, the most creative and inspiring thing I’ve ever done as a writer. I now have lasting friendships with incredible people. I’ve considered myself a “good” writer for a long time but having the opportunity to be critiqued (one of my favorite parts) by such talented and amazing people completely validated me and my life’s ambition. Thank you for never making me feel like an amateur (because I haven’t been published… yet). You have an amazing sense of what people mesh well together and I am honored to say that I was at the first of many, many retreats you will do. The scenery was gorgeous, the sit downs were so incredibly helpful, the food was extraordinary, and the creative energy that flowed through the house will remain unmatched I’m sure. I know that your retreat has spoiled me for any others I may attend that you aren’t in charge of.”

—Angie Harris, Writer attendee of Writing Away, October 2008

“It’s refreshing and inspirational as well as a priceless op. to re-awaken your creative energies and bounce ideas off of other creative minds and spirits. Cicily is an amazing hostess who plans everything so well and so smoothly, we were able to maximize productivity with our manuscripts without realizing we were even doing so because we were having such a good time while we were doing it. Food was wonderful, and it created such an atmosphere of good spirits and camaraderie which lead to establish good feelings and lifelong relationships. Where else in your life can you get around a table with so many amazing minds in one place? I’d do this again in a heartbeat as a staff member and as a writer.”

—R.A. Nelson author of Teach Me, Breathe My Name (Razorbill) and Days of Little Texas (Knopf),

“Nice, but that’s all,” Cicily Janus on Nathaniel Bellows’ Why Speak?

Why Speak?, Nathaniel Bellows, W.W. Norton



In Why Speak?, Nathaniel Bellows debut book of poetry, I find myself wondering why the poet is calling this a book of poetry rather than a memoir stolen from an overwritten book of his musings. Bellows works take a retrospective glimpse at one’s childhood and brilliantly paints landscapes and still-life bowls of past fruits from his memory. All the while, Bellows leaves out the true emotionally wrought excitement, perk, or pull that would normally lead a reader from page to page.   


His words without a doubt are well placed within what some would call prose rather than traditional or even experimental forms of poetry. Within the second part of the book, Bellows Foaling is unfolded before the reader as a series of images rather than something that has true meaning or something with real substance:

The hay was wet with blood and something that looked like tea. In the boughs of the firs behind the barn, where the chickens roost and drop their waste on the rusted cars hood, the cock was crowing. He cries at all hours for no reason. One time he cried all night


and no one came.  The next day half the hens were gone—only feathers left in wads around the yard. …………


With a knife I shaved soap into a bucket to wash down the horses. The shavings were white like the feathers I’d found in the fields—the place the fox had gone to finish the goose. In a shaded spot beneath the trees. 

This poignant series of descriptions is nice, but that’s all. I can see feathers, I can see the foal as it’s born in other parts of this “poem” but to tell you the truth, I would rather read Black Beauty again as an adult than this. Every poem, every peek, and insight into this life is utterly boring. For a writer who has blurbs and publishing contracts through an esteemed publisher such as Norton, I have to wonder if maybe they were lacking in something “middle” American to put out for the world to fall asleep to. 


The Boston Review heralds this as collection on the back of the book as coming from a novelist who has an “ear for sturdy, rhythmic lines, writes with wide-eyed candor of both the marvelous and the grotesque,” actually it is quite the opposite. Where is this rhythm?  In the third part of the book, in the poem An Attempt there are more awkward line breaks and phrases that again read as prose, instead of the poetry promised within the pages:

            The children dragged bluefish alongside the boat having lured them with

            flies. The fish flew as they were yanked from the waves, like sparks

jumping and spoons spinning in a sink’s cloudy pool. I thought of the fish


while looking at the bird, a living jewel sullied in the garden shadows. I

thought of you. Your gift to me a capacity for sympathy, mostly because

at times I feel sorry for you.  Not in the way I feel for the fish. Or the


bird whose beauty seemed absurd the longer I watched it

The rhythm is lost among the length of the phrases, the awkward breaks, and, most of all, the subject matter. How do fish flying and spoons spinning in a dirty sink relate to one another? Maybe my imagination is wrought with a surplus of traditionalists, or the imagery of Frost, Thoreau, or even Angelou for this caged bird is one that needs to stay home. 


Perhaps, I shouldn’t be so harsh for there is a wonderful display of self-indulgent skill in this book. The length of the book says enough and his words and his command of the language are clearly not amateur. His novel, On This Day, was marvelous and full of memorable characters and scenes. But as to the poetry…I would have rather read this as a series of prose musings, maybe backstory for his memoir. Yet in this form, the question “Why speak?” simply cannot be answered in the positive, and the art of what Bellows attempted to achieve seems as lost as the answer to his symbolic question.