About Hidden River Arts

Hidden River™ Arts, the independent literary and performing arts organization based in suburban Philadelphia is dedicated to the service, support and celebration of all artists. Named after the Schuylkill (Dutch for "Hidden River") which winds its way through the region, Hidden River™Arts is committed to nurturing the artistic community by providing varied and supportive services to creative writers, and artists of all genres. We offer competitions, publication, shows and live events, as well as outreach through workshops, classes and audience building events.

Irresponsible, Unresponsive, Extortionate: The 3-Headed Dragon Destroying the Small Press Community.

“Despair” by Bertha Wegmann

The independent small press community is filled with passionate people who love great writing, dedicated people who love helping talented writers bring their work out into the world. We often work on shoestring budgets, are almost always over-extended and running behind on everything. It has never been an easy occupation. It certainly doesn’t make anyone rich. In fact, it is not at all surprising to find a balance sheet completely in the red – cash negative, in other words. But the wealth of this life is to be found in the beauty of language, the excitement of new, well-written and well-edited manuscripts, the thrill of designing a beautiful book cover, of creating a physical artifact, proof of that which remains glorious in our crumbling society, our dying empire.

As the Founding Executive Director of Hidden River Arts, and Founding Editor-in-Chief of Hidden River Publishing, I am proud to be part of this community of determined dreamers and ferocious protectors of literature. Hidden River’s publishing endeavor passed our tenth anniversary during the pandemic. COVID nearly killed us. We’re struggling on many fronts to reframe our work in this post-pandemic world. It is to be expected that when a world-wide crisis causes a global meltdown, a lot of problems will remain even after the threat of disease has, largely, passed.

What was not be expected, and what should never be accepted, are the ways in which our supposed business partners are making it even harder to restore ourselves and get back to creating and launching high quality books by talented writers, books that readers fall in love with.

Let me be more explicit, and start naming names.

For the last month, I’ve had struggles with the online booksellers – and these are the sellers who command the lion’s share of all booksales in the U.S. (if not around the world). As an independent small publisher, Hidden River uses Lightning Source/Ingram for printing and distribution. When we first launched our publishing venture, it was a pleasure to work with them.

So, first, let’s talk about a troublesome situation that now exists with Lightning Source itself. We’ve been with them since 2010. It used to be that, if a problem arose, or if there was a question of any kind, I could simply pick up the telephone and call, speak to a knowledgeable and lovely employee (often with a charming Tennessee accent) and the issue would be resolved in a matter of minutes. Unfortunately, as Lightning Source/Ingram has grown, publishers are no longer offered what I see as a right to high quality, personal customer service. Now, there is no active by-phone customer service. Now, if there is a problem, you have to fill out an email or a “ticket” describing the issue, and then…..wait. Often, you wait for little more than a canned response that does little to address the actual issue, offers nothing beyond the canned language, and if the problem persists, you are plum out of luck since your only option, it seems, is to do it all over again. I’m sure that there is some “best practices” industry manual that claims this new procedural change is “stream-lined” and “cost-reductive”. But here’s a news flash: It does not address your customers’ needs sufficiently….or, in many cases, at all. It is not, in fact, “customer service” in any traditional or satisfactory sense. This change in Lightning Source’s business practices means that a small press often has to wrestle with the same problem in a kind of limbo, often for weeks or months. Sometimes the issue is never resolved. With impossible-to-solve problems externalized onto already overworked small press owners and staff, it means that the issue becomes yet one more largely unresolvable problem in a long line of what my attorney daughter would call “unbillable hours” of miserable frustration. This new practice of Lightning Source/Ingram is uncaring to the point of being hostile to its customers and business partners. Give us back our well-trained human representatives. Show us the respect we deserve. Go back to your older, more accountable and more honorable business model. Stop treating your partners with so little regard.

Now, let’s explore the nightmare that is Amazon. By far the most dominant platform for book sales, Amazon can make life and business absolutely miserable for authors and publishers.

Let me describe to you what we and our authors have been dealing with now for a month. During the first week in April, we uploaded three new paperback titles to Lightning Source. All three were picked up by the Amazon site without their cover images – and with a message that said there WAS no cover image. Since that same image appeared on the vendor pages of Barnes and Noble and Bookshop, it is unlikely that the problem is with the files at Lightning Source. (Although it sure would be nice to have a human at Lightning Source confirm that.) The problem that exists with Amazon is doubled by the problem that IS Amazon. Are there knowledgeable, well-trained, available humans ready to deal with such problems at Amazon? Of course not. A month has gone by, and several attempts to reach out to the organization, using its “help” links and “chat” options have accomplished nothing by way of corrected sales pages. Often, if you get a response at all, it’s from someone who, most likely, is using a false name who writes to tell you that the problem must be with your account at Lightning Source. In other words, their response is “Sorry. Not our problem.”

In addition to none of the three new titles having their covers showing on Amazon, one of the titles has a message that says the book has not yet been released, and that anyone interested should “pre-order” the book. The book has been available since April 5. Again – is there a way to deal with this, human to human? Of course not.

What does this do to our credibility? To our professional profile? To our sanity and the emotional stability of our writers and poets? To our sales? Take a wild guess.

As I write this, it is May 9, 2023; the problems have existed since the first week of April and remain unresolved. These three books all sit on their Amazon site like some digital version of a remaindered book with a ripped-off cover. Our only solution, at this point, is to drive as many readers and possible book buyers away from Amazon as we can.

Now to Barnes and Noble. Their site had our books up quickly with a functioning purchase button – within about 24 hours – with the cover art, but without the necessary book information – there was no book description, no bio for the author, no reviews. So….great. Here’s a picture of a beautiful book cover and the name of a book, but we’re not going to tell you anything that would inform or interest you in actually buying and reading the book. Would you buy a book, no matter how exquisite the cover, if you have no idea what it was about? Is it a cookbook?….a travel advice book?…..a Victorian murder mystery?…..a book about Mesopotamian clothing styles?

To their credit: Barnes and Noble does have a more transparent customer service structure, with specified emails for specified needs. They appear to be more publisher-friendly and more oriented to bookselling in a way respectful of books, of publishing, of writers, of the small press community. And, with them, there is something of a happy ending – although it took nearly THREE weeks, all three of our books, as of today, now have not only the buy button, the beautiful cover art displayed but the book info, the writer’s bio….but still none of the reviews or endorsements. So, for purposes of this writing we’ll be displaying ONLY the links to the Barnes and Noble site for these three titles, despite the fact that they don’t include the endorsements. But we’ll be leaning on our relationship with Barnes and Noble now, going forward; the goal is to partner more dramatically with the online seller that offers our authors and their work the most respect.

Now, to the final issue we’ve faced over these past few weeks: Bookshop’s issues. First, they were by far the slowest to upload our titles. Second, once they uploaded them, they also posted a sale price that was significantly higher than the price we posted with Lightning Source. Our price point was $21.99. Bookshop saw fit to post $25.29 as the price. If Bookshop exists in order to help independent bookstores compete with the behemoth online sellers, isn’t overpricing our books a sure-fire way to NOT be competitive? Here is their explanation:

They say: “Bookshop.org pays our booksellers 30% of the cover price of all books sold through them. That means that we lose money on any book with less than a 30% wholesale discount. If your discount is under 20%, we will increase the sale price of the book to make up for this loss. If you do not want your book’s price increased, please offer a wholesale discount greater than 20%. …If you are an IngramSpark author, you must offer a 40% wholesale discount; Ingram’s 20% distribution fee is non-negotiable, so to give Bookshop.org a 20% wholesale discount, you need a 40% discount overall.”

Since we are working with Lightning Source/Ingram, that means that our 30% discount isn’t sufficient for Bookshop, so they are going to jack up our price and take their chunk from the customer…..A customer who will not exist, obviously, since their prices are too high. However, if Hidden River (or any small press) feels hereby coerced into raising their discount to 40% in order to help out our potential readers and the independent bookstores, then WE are earning less money for each book sale. That means that what is left over after Lightning Source, Bookshop and the indy bookstore take their chunks is about $7 to be divided between publisher and author. Even at 30%, the publisher and author are earning less than everybody else along the publishing food chain. Obviously, this is not sustainable. It’s no wonder so many small presses are throwing in the towel.

Oh…one last thing. IF we were to give in to Bookshop’s passive-aggressive extortion, that means that a 40% discount would be taken by ALL the sellers, because, with Lightning Source, you can set only one price in each market (one for the US, one for the UK, one for Europe, etc). So, then, Amazon, B&N, and all other sellers would get that extra 10% from the sales, and we would get 10% less from all those sales, across all platforms. So, think about it: with those higher discounts, Amazon and B&N and the others may well decide they can drop the price of the book, thereby remaining cheaper than Bookshop anyway. And who loses? The author and the publisher.

I’m going to end my rant here for now. I’m going to ask those among you who are struggling with similar issues to reach out to us here and leave messages and comments. We want to start a conversation. We want to start a fire. If we come together, make demands in a chorus of voices, maybe even bring in the CLMP (who are also ignoring my emails requesting assistance) and other organizations in support of the authors and publishers, do you think there is hope of addressing and fixing this mess? Otherwise, what are our options?

By the way, here are those three wonderful new books, linked to their Barnes and Noble pages WITH their beautiful book covers. I encourage you to use these Barnes and Noble links should you wish to make a purchase.

Mediterranean by João Luis Barreto Giumarães.

Travels With Ferdinand (A Centennial Journey Through Austria-Hungary) by Mark Eliot Nuckols

Remembering Water: A Memoir of Departure and Return by Tuan Phan

You can also see our entire catalogue of books on Barnes and Noble here. Check them all out. They are spectacular. Our family of writers and poets are spectacular. They are worth fighting for.


Three Years since March 2020: A Post-Pandemic Update

Creator: janiecbros Credit: Getty Images

Many of us are shell-shocked, and are likely to remain so for quite some time.  Lockdowns.  Illness, death, occupational and financial meltdowns. 

A sense of dread was pervasive.  It has been three years.  Are any of us completely free of that feeling of dread?

A new term, “essential workers” came into use; a new respect for those who provide the rest of us with care, service, and support was expressed.  But it didn’t last long.  It certainly didn’t last long enough for our society at large to support living wages for those in such occupations. Our legislators haven’t passed laws sufficient to create the kind of changes that would right labor exploitation and wage theft. Instead, there is a zeal to put the “working poor” right back in their place and keep them there.

Another sort of “essential worker” appeared – those who provided us with the moments of pleasure that were so sorely needed.  The artists stepped up, didn’t they?  Live events were shut down; but it didn’t take long for those in our creative communities to figure out how to move all sorts of events, all kinds of entertainment, into online presentations.  Theatre professionals performed online.  Singers created Zoom cabaret performances.  Musicians, in general, provided thousands of hours of performance.  Artists built virtual galleries online.  Writers and publishers shifted book readings and interviews into the virtual spaces they worked to create.

Artists, by giving of themselves despite their own struggles and difficulties, helped to support the general well-being during very dark times. 

As life emerges into a post-pandemic stage, it is clear that many things have changed permanently. Security and trust in many of our institutions have been shattered. Communities are suffering even greater ruptures than before. 

But we have to remember: We still need all our essential workers; and we still owe them for what they sacrificed for the good of the rest of us. THEY could be depended upon.

We still need our artists.  It’s become obvious that, in times of difficulty, art is an essential part of healing, of community building.  Art provides uplifting moments of human experience and human interaction. Artists could be depended upon.

But post-pandemic, our arts communities are still struggling.  Financial difficulties, staffing shortages, operations in chaos, practices and programs in need of restructure….none of us have escaped without facing at least some of these challenges.  And for many, the challenges have expanded to become threats to existence.  Theatres and musical venues have failed to re-open, others opened their doors only to have to close them again.  Galleries remain empty. In person events, in general, are still struggling to re-grow pre-pandemic numbers of attendees.  They may never succeed. Arts organizations across all disciplines report these issues. 

We are all deeply exhausted; it’s hard not to feel demoralized.

At Hidden River, when lock-downs began, we had to shut down any and all live events.  In the past, we had maintained a gallery space with visual art on the walls, music and theatrical performance, poetry and literary readings.  We offered workshops and in-person classes. We took our programs into schools. 

All that is gone.  It’s unclear how, or even if, these programs can be restored.  Should we, like so many of our colleagues, construct virtual spaces in order to provide these events to a wider audience, in order for our offerings to be more far-reaching? There are benefits to that.  But there are also benefits to actual human interaction. Without these activities, Hidden River isn’t offering space for musicians or performing artists or visual artists.  We want to bring them back.

We haven’t really begun to address the questions about restoring the live arts programs, because we are currently wrestling with other difficulties that the COVID era caused.  Hidden River is an all-volunteer organization; maintaining a long-term committed staff in arts organizations like ours has always been a struggle.  But with the pandemic, we lost staff in higher numbers and have yet to rebuild sufficiently.  We have faced illnesses, we have faced a death.

Most arts organizations, especially smaller organizations, are facing extensive challenges. Here in Philadelphia, programs have closed, many of the small theatres have cut their seasons from four to one or two plays a year, musical venues are shutting their doors permanently. Galleries are closing. Even the Philly POPS orchestra – certainly not a small institution – came very close to bankruptcy and closing down.  Its future is still not certain. 

Across the country, similar reports are everywhere. Literary magazines and small presses are closing down. Small arts organizations are pulling the plug. Hidden River, which launched over 30 years ago, is still struggling with the aftermath of our pandemic shortfalls.  Without sufficient staff, our publishing pipeline has slowed, our award decisions have slowed. Our blog sits too long without being updated. Our newsletters are not being published. There is simply too much waiting for too long for the appropriate attention. It’s not fair to anyone.

At first, it appeared that we could catch up quickly once life “returned to normal”.  But there is no normal until a new “normal” is created.  Meanwhile, our questions here have been “How do we catch up on the mountains of backlogged work? How do we best serve our authors, and those who submitted their work to us and continue to wait for award decisions?”  How do we handle all this? 

The first decision:  We will not explore re-opening any of what had once been our live arts programs. They have to stay closed for now.  The second decision: We will suspend our calls for submissions and our literary awards, at least for the remainder of 2023.  This is in order to allow us to address the backlog of submissions too long awaiting proper attention. It will allow us to finalize awards. To course-correct the chaos of the last several years.  It will allow us to provide more attention to our authors waiting in the publishing pipeline – to attend to the editing, the cover and interior design, the community-building and promotion needed for successful book launches.  It will allow us to stay “on task” with our authors post-publication, to help them continue to grow their readership and reputation. 

We remain committed to those who have placed their faith in us.  We remain committed to our internship program, which is the one program that continued to run and to flourish even during the darkest times of the recent plague.

Some of the decisions we’ve made may become permanent.  It’s simply too soon to say.  For the time being, we want to focus on getting our house in order, and on serving those who have trusted us, and who are relying on us.

You’ll be hearing from us – announcements of the award decisions, introductions and profiles offered about our authors and their books.  There is still a LOT of work to be done here, and a lot to report as we move through that work.  

It’s been hard to share this news, and to write of our difficulties.  But our Hidden River family has always been filled with loving people.  This report, and these decisions, are the best way we can love you back.

Announcing Our Latest Title, CRAZY MOUNTAIN, by Elise Atchison

Crazy Mountain by Elise Atchison

Winner of The Eludia Award, Elise Atchison’s Crazy Mountain chronicles a rapidly changing place and community through the diverse and conflicting stories of the people who live in a fictional mountain valley in Montana over nearly half a century (1970-2015). As newly built roads carve through the primal wild, and the rural landscape transforms into subdivisions, McMansions and resorts, conflicts escalate between locals and newcomers, developers and environmentalists, the wealthy and the homeless. Through multiple perspectives we hear the voices of ranchers, real estate agents, carpenters, artists, New Agers, Native American activists, landscapers, movie stars, musicians, pizza delivery drivers, gun-toting fundamentalists, and others including Kate, a troubled young woman who becomes homeless over the course of the book and whose own story in many ways mirrors the destruction and resurrection of the land. These varied threads weave together into a rich tapestry of place, exploring timely themes of housing booms and homelessness, loss of open land to development, cultural clashes, and the correlation between how we treat the natural world and how we treat each other, especially the most vulnerable among us. What does it mean to lose a place we love, and what does it mean to gain from it? Perhaps it depends on perspective.

Praise for Crazy Mountain:

Crazy Mountain is a powerful story about possession and dispossession. Gritty and tough and gut wrenching, Atchison shows us how the West continues to be an explosive and embittered battleground, both sh*t show and love story. Crazy Mountain ignites a firestorm.”

  • Debra Magpie Earling, author of Perma Red and The Lost Journals of Sacajewea

Crazy Mountain is a grand tale of the power of wilderness to heal wounds-scars on the land and the troubled humans who live in it … This is a crazy and wonderful book.”

  • Doug Peacock, author of Grizzly Years and Was It Worth It, filmmaker, “Disabled Veteran”

“I absolutely love this kind of storytelling. Reminiscent of Winesburg, Ohio and Olive Kitteridge, this collection blooms from the diverse points of view held within Crazy Mountain’s boundaries. And the stories are the real thing-complex, sophisticated stories of the American West, not the tired mythologies that sadly continue to prevail. From subdivisions to resorts to the homeless, from wilderness to ski slopes to private land, we find an accurate, sensitive, and nuanced view of rural Montana.”

  • Laura Pritchett, winner of PEN USA and author of The Blue Hour and Stars Go Blue

“In the Mountain West, the landscape is a constant. It’s the people who change. Ranchers, realtors, carpenters, painters, archeologists, bad-ass baristas … in this artful, lyrical, deeply moving novel, Elise Atchison follows a piece of landscape through several lifetimes, capturing the dramatic complexity of the disrupted West through a full cast of characters, one lens after another. It’s a full-time job, trying to make sense of the West these days. I find that this extraordinary book helps make that job a little easier.”

  • Allen Morris Jones, author of A Bloom of Bones and Sweeney on the Rocks

“In Crazy Mountain the lives of those who people landscapes of beauty and despair are multilayered, evocative, and rich with unforeseen mystery. Elise Atchison’s prose is a vessel of precision and depth, unafraid to draw the reader into the more shadowed crucibles of life and help us emerge with light in our hands. In stories that cover nearly five decades in the life of a mountain and its residents, there is the wildness of the human heart shaped by the wildness that surrounds us. May you take this book home, cherish it as I did, and find in it the treasure it gives without measure … that of ‘the wildland that has been lost, and all that remains.'”

  • Shann Ray, author of American Copper and Sweetclover

“With great insight, intelligence, and intimacy, Elise Atchison explores a singular dilemma: How do we live in paradise without destroying the very thing we love? Set in a place changing so rapidly that its inhabitants no longer recognize the landscape, one another, or even themselves, these individual narratives of love and loss, celebration and lament, interweave as the dreams of one generation give way to the disillusionment of the next. A story of human intrusion and intervention, in which moments of brutality give way to gestures of charity, Crazy Mountain serves as a reminder that what we think we own may not be ours after all.”

  • Kim Barnes, author of In the Kingdom of Men and In the Wilderness

Crazy Mountain can be purchased at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Bookshop and other online sellers. It can also be ordered from your neighborhood brick and mortar store.

Introducing Charles Wyatt and His Collection, HOUSES

Houses by Charles Wyatt

Houses is a fabulous book of stories that keep wandering into locked rooms, to find worlds hidden behind worlds. Its nosy, resourceful characters can’t resist stumbling into the magical-sinister or rhapsodic, demonic or glorious. What witty, astute stories these are-haunting in the best possible way. A masterful collection.”

Joan Silber, author of Improvement, Secrets of Happiness, and Household Words

~ ~ ~

Charles Wyatt was the inaugural winner of our Hawk Mountain Award for a story collection. It is an astonishing collection, the style of which is hard to put into a single category or genre — and of course, that is the kind of work that we at Hidden River Arts are happy to support.

The stories in Houses invite us to enter the spaces and structures, the light and the shadow of our lives. Charles Wyatt invites us to think about the spaces and places we’ve inhabited in the past. His stories guide us into those places, the homes we remember from earlier times, the ones we have only dreamed of in our imaginations, those looming in our peripheral vision, whether they are real or imagined. His characters explore the darkened hallways, the locked rooms, the barren and uninhabited, the furnished and dust-covered, the inexplicable energies, sounds, sights and emotions discovered both in those surroundings and within themselves. The spaces we all inhabit, whether in built environments or those environments within our own heads are found, through Wyatt’s explorations, to be interchangeable. The interiors that surround us are the interiors within. To enter this collection of stories is to discover that mystery within yourself. There are elements of mystery, of surrealism, of the fantastic. Events seem to move into and out of dreamscape. It really is a collection created masterfully and not to be missed.

A musician, Charles earned a Bachelor of Music degree from the Curtis Institute of Music and a Masters of Music Degree from the Philadelphia Musical Academy. After a long career as the principal flutist of the Nashville Symphony and the Peninsula Music Festival, Charles earned his MFA from Warren Wilson College. He served as visiting fiction writer at Binghamton University, Denison University, the University of Central Oklahoma, Purdue University, and Oberlin College. His fiction includes Listening to Mozart, Swan of Tuonela, and Falling Stones. Houses is the inaugural winner of The Hawk Mountain Award for a collection of short fiction.

Charles, sadly, passed away in 2021. We continued to work with his widow to finalize the manuscript and design, and to bring this, his last book, out into the world. We have been honored to be part of this project, and our proud to include Houses in our catalogue of extremely powerful books.

The Secret Music at Tordesillas Wins the 2020 INDIES Award for Historical Fiction

We are thrilled to announce that THE SECRET MUSIC AT TORDESILLAS by Marjorie Sandor has been named winner of the 2020 Foreward INDIES Award for Historical (Adult) Fiction. As the editor-in-chief of Hidden River Publishing, and the proud publisher of this wonderful book, I am very happy for Marjorie, who has created a world that every lover of historical fiction should be eager to enter. It is the court of Juana the Mad, during the time of the Spanish Inquisition. It was a time when even the court musicians had to face the horrors of the Inquisition and were forced to renounce their own religions. What happens when a court musician secretly holds fast to his own spiritual traditions at risk of death? What happens to the underground religious communities during this time of great religious violence? You need to get your hands on this book and enter this world. Everyone who loves historical fiction should be rushing to add this book to their bookshelf.


Hidden River is Flowing

The Schuylkill River. “Schuylkill” is Dutch for “Hidden River”

As with many arts organizations, Hidden River has faced some obstacles, some slow-downs, some difficulties, during the pandemic. But we are still here. Submissions to our awards are still being deliberated – and we’ll be announcing the semi-finalists and finalists of a few of the awards over the next two weeks.

Our publishing pipeline has been a bit paralyzed, but we are starting to move once again, and will be launching two new titles – The Emigrant and Other Stories by Justine Dymond and Hillbilly Guilt by Roy Bentley – more news on that later this week. The next two books in the pipeline are Remembering Water by Tuan Phan and Houses by Charles Wyatt. We’ll be releasing news about all the titles in our pipeline shortly.

During the COVID shut downs, we put some of our awards on hold so that we could catch up with our existing submissions. As we move forward, we may be making some changes to the awards, so follow us here on our blog in order to be up to date on those details.

So, as summer 2021 begins, things here are coming back to life. Please be sure to stay connected by following us here, and we’ll be sure to keep things updated as Hidden River begins to flow again!

Jeffrey Voccola Receives the Inaugural Blue Mountain Novel Award

Jeffrey Voccola
winner of The Blue Mountain Award for his novel KINGS ROW

Jeffrey Voccola, of Kutztown, Pennsylvania has won the inaugural Blue Mountain Novel Award for his novel, Kings Row.** The award carries a $1,000 cash prize and publication with Hidden River Press, an imprint of Hidden River Publishing.

Jeffrey received an MFA from Emerson College. His fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals, including The Cabinet, Noctua Review, Cottonwood, Beacon Street Review, Folio, Whirligig. His essays have been published in Inside Sources, The Las Vegas Sun, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Jeffrey is currently Associate Professor of Fiction Writing and Director of the Writing Program at Kutztown University.

Kings Row is what Jeffrey calls a “literary mystery” about the murder of a university freshman in a post-industrial college town by one of the working class men of the community. Describing his novel, Jeffrey tells us, “Kings Row explores elements of racism and class-ism as they exist today, particularly in small communities…as rapid changes in demographics and social norms threaten their way of life. Kings Row is a tragic and heartbreaking story of two Americas growing farther apart. The book contains multiple points of view, including the victim, Christopher Roche, and the murder is mentioned in the first chapter. As a result, the reader is able to follow these two young men as their lives intersect. As a professor at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, I have a deep understanding of the characters, setting, and premise of this novel. Although the book is a work of fiction, the central conflict is based on an actual event that took place in Kutztown only a few years ago.”

The manuscript captured the imagination of our staff at Hidden River for its deep understanding of a struggle taking place across the U.S. and in all areas where the shifts in economy have hollowed out formerly thriving manufacturing towns, ruining lives and families and fracturing communities. The violence that takes place in the novel is representative of the kind of rage that is boiling beneath the surface of our society, rage which is often taken out on the most vulnerable among us rather than on those truly guilty of destroying our once-thriving economy.

Exploring a heartbreaking subject with language both honest and transcendent, Kings Row carries the reader along, through its exploration of the inner lives of many characters, to create a tapestry of suffering truly illustrative of current day America.

Here is a clip of Jeffrey reading from a portion of the novel:

Submissions are currently being accepted for the next cycle of our Blue Mountain Novel Award.  Please see our blog page for The Blue Mountain Award guidelines.

** Kings Row can also be purchased at all online booksellers, including Barnes & Noble, Bookshop and others. It can also be special ordered at your local bookstore. 

Celebrating the Launch of Kings Row by Jeffrey Voccola

Kings Row by Jeffrey Voccola

The inaugural winner of our Blue Mountain Novel Award, Kings Row by Jeffrey Voccola has been launched, published by our Hidden River Press imprint.

Joel Martin is a twenty-four year old construction worker who lives with his mother and struggles to provide for his four year old son. Longing to break free from the bleak confines of Langley, Pennsylvania, the dried-up industrial town where he has lived his entire life, he commits a series of burglaries with his brother, Derek, in the hope of finding more. Faced with legal troubles, problems with his ex, and the possibility of being separated from his son, Joel begins to unravel, and the unthinkable occurs when his life intersects with Christopher Roche, a freshman at Waylan University. Kings Row explores class disparities as they exist today and the tragic events that inevitably unfold when people are driven by anger and resentment. Rich in character and carefully observed, Kings Row is a gripping story of two Americas growing farther apart.

Praise For Kings Row

“In the utterly absorbing Kings Row, Jeffrey Voccola shows himself to be a master of the faultlines of class and of all the ways, large and small, in which people hurt each other. I couldn’t stop turning the pages of this suspenseful novel. Kings Row is a stellar debut.” –Margot Livesey, author of Mercury and The House on Fortune Street

“This beautifully-paced, eloquent and suspenseful novel is full of persuasive, sharply observed psychology, sociology, and topology, and an honest voicing of working class people, male and female….Voccola writes with dead-pan lyricism, an attentive ear, and generous heart.” –DeWitt Henry, author of Sweet Marjoram and co-founder of Ploughshares

“From its masterful opening chapter on, Kings Row captures the divides and resentments that have brought us to this moment in America. This novel is a deep study of people unsure of their positions in their personal lives and in the larger sphere of change. Voccola writes beautifully and compassionately, even about tragedy.” –Tim Parrish, author of Fear and What Follows: The Violent Education of a Christian Racist, A Memoir

Kings Row masterfully deconstructs a killing deeply emblematic of the class and race issues that plague our time. With lyrical, heart-piercing realism, Jeffrey Voccola evokes our deepest compassion for these ill-fated characters, showing us ourselves reflected in college students struggling to belong, in displaced working class communities. Provocative and suspenseful, Kings Row introduces an exciting new writer to watch.” –Wayne Harrison, author of The Spark and the Drive and Wrench and Other Stories

Kings Row can be purchased at
Barnes & Noble

The Blue Mountain Award is offered yearly. The next cycle of submissions opens August 30, 2020 and deadlines March 31, 2020. Please see the guidelines.

Jeffrey is available for readings, conferences, interviews and other events. To discuss options, please contact us. More information about Jeffrey, and a link to a live reading from Kings Row can be found here.


The Secret Music at Tordesillas by Marjorie Sandor

We here at Hidden River are thrilled to announce the release of The Secret Music at Tordesillas, by Marjorie Sandor, which is the inaugural winner of our Tuscarora Award in Historical Fiction.

The novel is set in 16th Century Spain. It is April, 1555, and Juana I of Castile, the Spanish queen known as “la loca,” has died after forty-seven years in forced seclusion at Tordesillas. Her last musician, Juan de Granada, refuses to depart with the other servants, forcing two functionaries of the Holy Office of the Inquisition to interrogate him in the now-empty palace. But is it really empty? Or is there, as Holy Office suspects, a heretic hidden on the premises, a converso 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—and a rich cultural and spiritual tradition on the verge of erasure.

Sandor has created a story so alive, so filled with intrigue and passion, that the time of the Spanish Inquisition comes boldly to life. So often, the story is told from the perspective of those Christians. For them, the reclamation of territories from the Muslims, through the conquests of Ferdinand and Isabella, is understood as a triumph. But this was certainly not so for the practicing, pious Jews and Muslims who had thrived, co-existing peacefully, during the period of Islamic rule. For them, the time brought the terrors of the Spanish Inquisition. What was it like to be a Jew or a Muslim during such a time? Specifically, what was life like for a court musician, secretly faithful to his real religion, but forced to masquerade as a convert to Christianity?

The Secret Music at Tordesillas has received much well-deserved praise:

“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

“In The Secret Music of Tordesillas, the fabulously gifted Marjorie Sandor tells the absorbing story of a Jewish musician and his queen, both living precarious lives in the tumultuous world of the Spanish Inquisition. Sandor’s lustrous prose resonates like the music she so eloquently describes and her characters are exquisitely complicated. Reading these gorgeous pages, I felt that I too had taken up residence in some castle full of dark corners.”
–Margot Livesey

“An historical novel of striking imagination and lyricism, this sly tale of sixteenth-century Spain, with its secrets and masks involving the interrelationships of Catholics, Muslims and Jews, has an uncanny bearing on our own country’s diversity tensions. It is a pleasure to have another of Marjorie Sandor’s delicious fictions: she is writing at the top of her form.”
–Phillip Lopate

“I found Marjorie Sandor’s The Secret Music at Tordesillas irresistible, as appealing for its grand romantic adventure as it is for its clear-eyed exploration of culture, tradition, and identity. Its narrative–replete with hidden Jews, palace intrigue, a captive queen, a hopeless love–is rendered in a prose as intoxicating as the ancient music that informs it. This is history in the form of a haunting song.”
–Steve Stern

The novel is available at:

Barnes & Noble



Marjorie Sandor is the author of four books of fiction and non-fiction, including the memoir, The Late Interiors: A Life Under Construction, (2011) and the 2004 Winner of the National Jewish Book Award in Fiction, Portrait of my Mother, Who Posed Nude in Wartime: Stories. Her earlier book of personal essays, The Night Gardener: A Search for Home, won the 2000 Oregon Book Award for Literary Nonfiction. In February 2015, St. Martins Press published her anthology, The Uncanny Reader: Stories from the Shadows. She teaches creative writing at Oregon State University in Corvallis.

Her debut novel, The Secret Music at Tordesillas, is the inaugural winner of the Tuscarora Award for Historical Fiction, and is forthcoming from Hidden River Press in 2020.
Marjorie’s work has appeared in such magazines as The Georgia Review, AGNI, and TriQuarterly, as well as in Best American Short Stories 1985 and 1988, The Pushcart Prize XIII, Twenty Under Thirty, and The Best American Spiritual Writing 2000. Sandor’s characters—real and imagined–inhabit urban gardens and old houses. They linger on the ever-shifting threshold between home and wilderness, between youth and old age, and most of all between the human quest for adventure, and the desire for refuge. In her stories and essays, she explores family, community life, and the pull of art to expose our darkest and best-kept secrets, our restlessness and comical mistakes and deep regrets; our desire to create a domestic paradise against all odds.

Praise for Marjorie:

“Whether she is writing essays, as in the splendid The Night Gardener (1999), or fiction, Sandor’s prose is as tangy and luscious as just-plucked fruit.”
—Donna Seaman, Booklist

“Marjorie Sandor has all the skills of a masterful writer of stories, but her compassion and beguiling tone are all her own. Her distinctive style and rich understanding of people raise our hopes.”
—Guy Davenport

Marjorie is available for interviews, readings and other events. Please contact us for further information.

The Story of the Heel String Incident of Angola Prison is Told Through Poetry in Remaking Achilles: Slicing into Angola’s History by Carol Tyx, Willow Run Poetry Book Award Winner

Carol Tyx
Winner of Willow Run
Poetry Book Award

We are pleased to introduce you to Carol Tyx, of Iowa City, Iowa, who is the inaugural winner of our Willow Run Poetry Book Award for her stunning collection, Remaking Achilles: Slicing Into Angola’s History. Tyx received the cash award of $1,000 and her manuscript has just been published on the Hidden River Press imprint of Hidden River Publishing.

Inspiration for Tyx’s work came from a gruesome historical event in 1951, when 37 inmates of Angola Prison in Louisiana slashed their own Achilles tendons in order to make public the brutal conditions at the prison. Interest in this event led Tyx to the prison itself, where she did extensive research and, with what began as a plan for one or two poems, found herself writing an entire book of poetry based on this incident. More information about Carol’s experience with this horrifying history can be read here.

Carol teaches writing and American literature at Mt. Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Her teaching interests include African American literature, U.S. Latino literature, creative writing, and service learning. Along with a colleague and many students, she facilitates a prison book club. Her poetry has most recently been published in Minerva Rising, Hunger Mountain, Big Muddy, Iowa City’s Poetry in Public, and Rising to the Rim, published by Brick Road Poetry Press.

Some early praise for Remaking Achilles:

Remaking Achilles brings alive the vivid realities of Angola’s history. I study Angola, …this collection paints the horrors and injustices of time past in a way that the simple facts never do. Carol Tyx has done a remarkable job of reminding us all of where we came from and why we do not want to return.” (Marianne Fisher-Giorlando, retired criminal justice professor and Angola historian)

“These sterling voices pretending to be persona poems are so well researched and authentically rendered that the painful and traumatic memories of Angola will continue to haunt readers long after the last pages are sliced open and left bleeding.” (Frank X Walker, author of The Unghosting of Medgar Evers)

“A compassionate and imaginative retelling of a harrowing period in American penal history. With each vivid and lyrical insight, Carol Tyx weaves a compelling poetic tale depicting the effects of institutional racism and cruelty, of unimaginable hardship, but also of the human impulse to resist and seek dignity. In the darkest hours, there are sparks of light.” (Andy Douglas, author of Redemption Songs: A Year in the Life of a Community Prison Choir)

Like the ghostly inmate who takes his place in the long line of U.S. prison atrocities, Carol Tyx claims her place in a long tradition of poets like Muriel Rukeyser (The Book of the Dead, 1938) and Carolyn Forché (The Angel of History, 1994), incorporating individual impersonations and historical documents into lines that incriminate us all. (Cecile Goding, The Iowa Summer Writing Festival)

Remaking Achilles: Slicing into Angola’s History is available at online bookstores, and can be ordered at your local brick and mortar store.


Barnes & Noble



The Willow Run Poetry Book Award is offered yearly for a book-length collection of original poetry. The next submission deadline for the Willow Run Poetry Book Award is February 20, 2021. For more information, please see our guidelines.

Carol is available for readings, interviews and other activities. Please contact for further information.