Welcome, Emily Jon Tobias!

This month we are celebrating the titles that we’ve acquired over the past twelve months. Some of them, like the one we’re pleased to present today, came to us by way of Nomadic Press. Read more about our plans to welcome Nomadic Press titles to Black Lawrence Press here. Today we bring you Emily Jon Tobias, whose forthcoming book Monarch will be published next spring. 

Have a manuscript you think we’d like? During our June Open Reading Period we are looking for poetry (chapbooks and full-length collections), short fiction (again, both chapbooks and full-length collections), novels, novellas, nonfiction (CNF, biography, cultural studies), anthology proposals, and translations from German. 



The Author

Emily Jon Tobias is an American author and poet. She is an award-winning writer whose work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, along with other honorable mentions, and has been featured in various literary journals and magazines. Midwestern-raised, she now lives and writes on the coast of Southern California where she is at work on her debut novel and other projects. She holds a Master of Fine Arts in Writing from Pacific University Oregon. MONARCH is her debut story collection.




On Writing Monarch

Originally an exploration of craft, my story collection was written almost entirely within the two years of my low-residency MFA program at Pacific University Oregon. Residencies in Oregon generated material for stories, but the collection took shape mainly on the coast of Southern California where I reside. Early stages were guided by inspiration from my favorite short form authors and under the mentorship of my advisors. During deep imagining, my characters began to guide me as I learned to question them and interrogate my own work. In doing so, I felt obliged to examine my intention with the process. Clearly, these characters reflected aspects of self, often those shades of me I didn’t want to see but knew I must in order to do the work justice. Commitment to characters was the requirement to see the work through.

Only when I freed my characters to tell their own stories was I able to finish the collection. I heard their messages that I took with me in my own healing. They taught me how small acts of kindness and love can catalyze change. How those who hurt others can nevertheless embody heroism relative to their willingness to face their own truths. I yearned to know these characters deeply, each contained to sovereign territories of time within the scaffolding of the short form structure. Each on their own timelines of transgression and transformation. My characters befriended me by bearing some weight of my pain on the stomping grounds of my most familiar American streets. In the end, the writing process had morphed into a psychological discovery, an emotional unearthing, of characters wounded in ways I had been. Through the collection’s unfolding, I witnessed my own. Now, in offering the work outward, I pay homage to my past, to how we all suffer, and to how love heals.



Excerpt from “Red Cardboard Hearts Hanging From Strings”


He’d been clear with you early on that having a family was never part of his game plan. You’d assumed he’d change his mind when he married you in a King County courthouse that stormy Thursday in February. You wore a black dress, forgetting about the holiday altogether. No bouquet, no corsage, not even a rose tucked behind your ear. Why? Because I’m allergic, Liza, fuck. How many times do I have to say it?

He was angry with you on the drive to the courthouse. Half-drunk—you only realized it because of how hard he gripped the wheel when you touched his arm. He said nothing. You lit a cigarette. He locked your window, leaving you to ash in your hand. Can you put this out, please? you asked. He looked straight ahead, mouth turned down. Baby, please? you begged, mouth forced up at the corners. You handed over the burning filter. He rolled down your window and flicked the butt out your side. You leaned back just in time, watching the thing get taken by the wind and rain. He took a long, deep breath before securing your side of the car.

You sat together waiting behind the bar in the gallery of the courtroom while an older couple finished their ceremony. The woman wore a long flowered dress. She was taller than her man with bright feathers in her hair. She reminded you of a peacock. She held a young girl’s hand while the judge read the vows. You heard them kiss from where you waited. The woman was weepy, but gleaming, and she kept touching the side of the man’s face with a tissue while tears rolled down hers. They were smiling, especially the daughter, and all three huddled at the end. The girl walked out between the couple, each hand in one of theirs. When the door closed behind them, the air thickened as if in a vault. Your left leg began to tremble.


Two weeks before, you’d lost the baby. The pregnancy was no shock given that you’d stopped taking your birth control pills after a conversation with your mother that ended something like,

When are you going to grow up, Liza?

Maybe never, Mother.

What else, Liza. What else?

What else is there, Mother?

Then, one Thursday night, he held up a small baggie, swaying it back and forth. After the first line, he ran his hand along your thigh. You sucked salt off the backs of each other’s hands and clinked wine glasses of cheap Tequila together until one shattered, leaving you holding just the jagged stem, as if in ritual. Liquor ran down your hand, your wrist, your arm. Like you, standing there, too high, on one last sundown of Hanukkah in your childhood home. The only teenage marking left on your body, a hot pink stripe against dark curly hair. You’d rushed home late from the 8 Bit Arcade, barely making it on time, your mother already in position at the dining room table. She loomed like a vintage portrait on the wall in the murky light from that ancient stained glass chandelier.  Barukh ata adonai, you sang and lit the match … Eloheinu melekh ha’olam … the candle shifted … you reached to catch the menorah from falling, your sleeve inching up. When your mother saw the small crane tattooed on your inner wrist, she kept her eyes down and said, Disgraceful. That was all she said. Then she left you standing there with wax dripping down your hand.

Later that night, he grabbed the bottle and flipped the lights off in the house. Then he led you outside to his front porch, where you sat on the stairs in the dark, slightly apart from one another but angled in, knees touching. Your clouded head streaked the skyline into a million thrashing comets. He pointed to the giant Ferris wheel. Said he’d propose up there, at the top. I’ll throw a penny in the Sound for good luck. No shit, you’ll say yes before the thing hits the water, he said. You laughed and kissed him, tugging on the back of his hair. He pulled his face away and said, If you’re lucky, maybe I’ll even put a baby in you by winter. You downed shots after each empty promise as if in sport. By the end of the bottle, you were puddled on the porch, fused into one another. It had been decided: yes, he’d stay with you forever; yes, he’d prove it; yes, he better; yes, you would. Then you went back inside, to his bed, more rigid than before. When a bright sun broke like a yolk behind Pier 66, you two were still wide awake, then hiding your eyes from one another. Somehow you knew there was a little girl in you.


You tried to tell him, you did. But that way he looked at you … the words were like dry bread stuck in your throat. If you could just get him to the courthouse, you’d tell him after the ceremony, you decided. Yes, right away, while he still had an oath on his tongue.

You’d already named the little girl Rose. And there she was, your child, in a puddle of your blood like a pistil wrapped in red petals. When you cried, salt from your tears spread dark on the bed. You bundled the sheets in your arms before your wound soaked through to the mattress, then dropped them into the washing machine before he could see. When he left that morning, you took a cab to the nearest Planned Parenthood.

How are you sleeping these days? the doctor asked.

Fine. Normal, you said. (Hardly at all.)

Lay back. Let me take a look. Just relax, she said, while you spread your legs, each foot to a stirrup.

Right, you said. (Impossible.)

Any undue stress at home?

You crawl your behind back a few inches on the table, still bruised from rough sex on a tipsy (blacked out) Saturday afternoon. Not really, you said. (Bruises in fingerprints on your upper arms that time you were in his seat when the game started … that welt from a playful snap to the bra when you took his fat joke too seriously … shocked by the first slap to your face in his car when you were too drunk at daytime … at a stop light, in broad daylight, on the edge of Occidental Park where a homeless lady selling roses out of a bucket watched. You remember how sad the lady seemed.)

What about alcohol use? the doctor asked.

No more than usual. (Chardonnay with a splash of OJ over ice for breakfast daily.)

Sitting up, you tugged on the hospital gown to cover your legs. Any halfwit would’ve seen the signs. You never did. The doctor removed her latex gloves as if you were her science project. You left her office with a Valium prescription and a referral to her psychotherapist of choice, specializing in addiction.

Give him a call, she said. He might be able to help you. In the meantime, try to get some rest. If you ever want to carry full-term, you’ll have to slow your roll. The good news is you’re young. You still have time. She winked and forced a grin, tossing her gloves in the bin on the way out the door.