The Devil is a Black Dog

Though not the final cover, I am pleased to reveal one of the mock-ups for my translation of Sándor Jászberényi’s collection of short stories, The Devil is a Black Dog.

From the publisher’s Amazon description: In the nineteen extraordinary stories that comprise The Devil Is a Black Dog and Other Stories, writer and photojournalist Sándor Jászberényi shows us the human side of war and revolution in the contemporary Middle East and Africa, and of the social upheaval that has held Eastern Europe in its grip since the fall of communism. Characters contemplate the meaning of home, love, despair, family, and friendship against the backdrop of brutality. From Cairo to the Gaza Strip, from Benghazi to Budapest, religious men have their faith challenged, and people under the duress of war or traumatic personal memories deal with the feelings that emerge. Often they seem to suppress these feelings . . . but, no, not quite.

Set in countries the author has reported from or lived in, these stories are all told from different perspectives, but always with the individual at the center: the mother, the soldier, the martyr, the religious man, the journalist, and so on. They form a kaleidoscope of miniworlds, of moments, of decisions that together put a face, an emotion, a thought behind humans who confront war and conflict. Although they are fiction, they could have all happened exactly as they are told. Each story leaves a powerful visual image, an unforgettable image you conjure up again and again.

Jászberényi is able to do all this so convincingly, in part, because he himself is not a “helicopter journalist” but rather lives in a residential Cairo neighborhood. He is, moreover, from a corner of Eastern Europe where cynicism almost equates with survival, and yet his writing evinces not only wry humor but great sensitivity and a profound sense of beauty. He speaks Arabic (in addition to English and his native Hungarian) and immerses himself in the society he reports on. But, in doing so, he still remains a reporter, and as such the stories are approached with the clinical, observant eye of an outsider. Whether addressing the contradictions of international humanitarian work or the moral dilemmas faced by those who seek to improve the health and lives of women and girls, he does so in a singularly provocative and yet intelligent manner.

In addition to a story forthcoming  in AGNI Review, several stories can be found online including: “The Blake Precept”, “Professional Killers”, “How Ahmed Salem Abandoned God”, and “Twins”.

The Devil is a Black Dog will be published by Random House distributed New Europe Books in December 2014.

M. Henderson Ellis is a writer, translator, and editor. For the best in manuscript editing, check out


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Feels Like The First Time: Petra K and the Blackhearts

I am pleased to report that my second effort, Petra K and the Blackhearts, will be released New Europe Books’ YA imprint Young Europe Books on February 4, 2014. It has already received a good review from Kirkus Reviews, which my publisher excerpted as such,

“A breathless . . . adventure pits a poor, fatherless girl against all sides in a battle for a dragon’s heart and a city’s freedom. . . . Meticulously imagined, Petra’s city is built on ancient layers of cultures and traditions, with magic woven into its fabric. . . .[A] remarkable and distinctive offering for devoted fantasy fans.” Kirkus Reviews

“If you’re ready to go take a walk on the wildside and meet creatures you haven’t even imagined before, this is the book to take you there.  You might want to read it during the day… Happy reading.” — Jo Ann Hakola, Independent Online Booksellers Association

“Mocked at school and neglected at home, young Petra K finds sanctuary in the streets of Pava, where forbidden magic is still practiced, mechanized automatons hawk their wares, and miniature dragons run wild. . . . The blend of magic and machinery is eerily intriguing, much as in William Alexander’s Goblin Secrets. Petra K is a stalwart but accessible heroine—her struggles with her friends and her mother give her immediate appeal while her transformation from schoolgirl to revolutionary is authentically bumpy, occurring in fits and starts as she is plagued by doubts and miscalculations.  . . . [S]haring this as a classroom or family readaloud may . . . spur some thoughtful discussion about love, loss, and loyalty.” –Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“Ellis’s . . . years living in Eastern Europe give this steampunk fantasy . . . a strong sense of place and an unerring ear for the newspeak of totalitarianism. Archibald the Precious, a child dictator . . . takes the reins in Pava, the crumbling city-state in which Petra K lives. . . . Ellis’s pacing and plotting abilities show considerable gifts as Petra draws closer to the secret of Archibald’s power.” –Publishers Weekly

“This marks the first in a series aimed to reinvigorate the ‘Old World,’ and its strength lies in its sense of place, as Pava’s twisting alleyways have the feel of ancient Venice, where any shadow might conceal a thief or a bit of magic. . . . [F]or readers looking for a light mystery with a dash of fantasy, this book will open the door to an imaginative world.” —


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Keeping Bedlam in Play

Over the past months I’ve been lucky enough to receive these kind words endorsing my novel KEEPING BEDLAM AT BAY IN THE PRAGUE CAFE.

“In John Shirting, Ellis creates an American protagonist observing capitalism break over Prague. . . . The pages are filled with blinking lights and video game consoles, billboards, song lyrics, slogans, and the constant ousting and replacing of businesses and tenants in the changing city. The result is dizzying. . . . Passages containing beautiful imagery and ideas that strike at a truth about humanity abound. . . . There are wonderful descriptions of the place and people that made Prague Prague. . . . There is a deft re-creation of the chaos that accompanies revolutions, and the clashing of political and social systems—no easy task—paired with a great love of Prague at that particular time, that come together to create a novel of .  . . beauty. ”

The Coffin Factory

Keeping Bedlam at Bay in the Prague Cafe is a must for any contemporary literary fiction collection, highly recommended.”

“Small Press Bookwatch,” Midwest Book Review

“This book comes highly recommended along with the cliched statement, ‘If you’re going to read one book this year, have it be . . .’ Bedlam is chock full of hilarious set-pieces, strange characters, biting satire, and verbal bombast. . . . It is not only wonderfully written, but it is a book that has wide cross-over appeal. The Andrei Codrescu blurbs on the front and back cover give it the needed NPR hipster bona fides, but this is also a light comedy one can read on the beach, at the airport, and elsewhere.”
— Karl Wolff, Chicago Center for Literature and Photography

“Both charming and absurd in all the best ways.”
— David Gutowski,

“A novel for readers who enjoy smart writing, wry humor, fresh settings, and above all, eccentric characters. . . . [F]rom Shirting’s remarkable encounter with the philosophical skinhead to the novel’s funny and surprisingly touching conclusion, Ellis weaves their stories together with an impressive balance of comedy and poignance.”

“Difficult to put down, unsettling yet addictive, the novel is a must-read for anyone who dares to peek behind the postcard image of a famously beautiful centre of European civilization.” — Winnipeg Free Press

“An ode to expatriate living, culture clashes, and the heady days of early 1990s Europe, this novel is a manic, wild ride. . . . [D]arkly comic . . . immersive, nostalgic, and thoroughly enjoyable.” — Booklist

“[G]enuine imagination and an energetic wit. Ellis vividly re-creates the atmosphere of a city in the throes of transformation as well as the American Quixotes who populate this new frontier.” —Publishers Weekly

“Former barista John Shirting from Chicago, an expat in the hallucinatory Prague of the Nineties, stands in the good company of Ignatius J. Reilly, Chauncey Gardener, and Forrest Gump as a remarkable and original member of that autistic and exclusive club. In creating Shirting, Mr. Ellis has enriched the literature of estrangement and given us a marvelous portrait of postcommunist Prague in its heady and wild rush into capitalism. This novel is a worthy addition to both expatriate writing and Czech storytelling, managing also to reflect in its rollicking drive profound insights into the ideologies of the last century.”
—Andrei Codrescu, NPR contributor and author of So Recently Rent a World: New and Selected Poems and New Orleans, Mon Amour

“Don’t let the title fool you. The bedlam here is never kept at bay for very long. Ellis writes with manic, overcaffeinated energy about the wild westernization of Prague after the fall of the Iron Curtain and he captures that era perfectly. A strong and lively debut.” –Andrew Ervin, author of Extraordinary Renditions

“With fresh and evocative language, Ellis delivers us into a frenetic and history-haunted world. By turns strange and subtle, imaginative and knowing—and also often very funny—this assured and original debut novel is a must-read for anyone, like me, who ever daydreamed about expat life in 1990s Eastern Europe but didn’t have the nerve to go for it.”—Rosie Schaap, author of Drinking With Men; Drink columnist, New York Times Magazine

“Thanks to Ellis’s wickedly good writing and laser-like focus on the absurdities of expat life, Keeping Bedlam at Bay in the Prague Café is an arresting, hilarious, and thoroughly enjoyable novel—both a vivid portrait of an already-bygone era and an up-to-the-minute snapshot of civilization in decline.”—Katherine Shonk, author of Happy Now?

“John Shirting, master of mission statements, and misfit of the planet, makes his way to Prague to offer change that’s not needed. This loveable mess lives in the past while trying to escape it, often unable to tell whether he’s getting better or worse, but his obsession with building a global outpost of the American coffee-chain that fired him keeps him moving forward. Ellis has written a hilarious hallucinatory satire, built on shots of caffeine.” –Amanda Stern, author of The Long Haul, founder and host of the Happy Ending reading series

Mr. Ellis has fashioned a delightful, and ultimately moving, traipse through Middle Europe in bitingly satiric prose reminiscent of Joseph Heller, David Markson, and Alexander Theroux at their most playful. A pleasure.”
—Joshua Cody, author of [sic]: A Memoir

It beats “Best of luck elsewhere” any day.

-Matt Ellis, writer, manuscript editor

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A Thousand Little Deaths by Vicky Pinpin Feinstein

Congratulations to Wordpill client Vicky Pinpin Feinstein on the publication of her brave new memoir, A Thousand Little Deaths: Growing Up Under Martial Law in the Philippines. Below find the book description and a link to Vicky’s Amazon page.

“On an otherwise normal morning at a private school for girls, a 15-year-old student is picked up by soldiers and sent to a military camp, becoming one of the thousands of political prisoners arrested under Ferdinand Marcos’ repressive regime in the 1970s. A year earlier, Marcos had declared martial law and a military government effectively took over the Philippines. After her release, author Vicky Pinpin-Feinstein was required to report to camp, her probation lasting five years. She was never charged and was never told why she was arrested. The effects of prison and the long-term probation makes Vicky’s story an authentic representation of the pernicious effects of dictatorship and tyranny, effects that pervaded a life for decades to come. This is a historically vital memoir, not only moving in its rendition of what life was like for a young innocent girl, but also for its incisive analysis of the political forces that wrecked democratic ideals in a country where politics and violence have always worked together for the benefit of the few.”

A Thousand Little Deaths

and now in print edition here: A Thousand Little Deaths

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I don’t know exactly what happened, but I am working with Webhero to get the pages on this site back up. Meanwhile, there is this:

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Amazon Single Giveaway!

Starting tomorrow, for five fleeting days my short story, “I’m Still Your Fag” is free on Amazon.  Have a look here! And why not? UPDATE: the giveaway has ended, but the story is only 99 cents.

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