Posts Tagged ‘interviews’
When one hears the words “geek” and “dating” in a single sentence images of awkward guys wearing taped glasses, too-short pants, and pocket protectors come to mind. Most likely they’re inching towards a girl who’s out of their league and scurrying off just as she’s about to notice.
While it’s true that many geeks, whether self-professed or labeled by others, might need a bit more help than the average person when it comes to socializing, Eric Smith is optimistic. Smith, a geek of the self-professed sort, believes that geeks are well-prepared for dating and, to prove it, has written a guide specifically for this vibrant and varied subculture.
In The Geek’s Guide to Dating, Smith harnesses the innate passion that connects all geeks, whether they’re spending their paycheck at the record store, on video games, or the latest epic fantasy series.
For the release of his book, Eric and I chatted about the definition of “geek,” why they’re well-suited for romantic involvement, and gay geek culture.
Contextual Life: This is a basic question but I feel like you might have an interesting answer, what made you write The Geek’s Guide to Dating?
Eric Smith: Actually, the book idea came from Quirk’s publisher, Jason Rekulak. He’s one smart guy that loves pulling ideas out of thin air.
I’d been writing essays about the intersection of relationships and my geek life (a few of which you can see on the Bygone Bureau), as well as rambling about local geek culture on my blog here in Philadelphia, Geekadelphia. He encouraged me to take my love of all-that-is-geek and mash it together with a dating book, one that we’d potentially illustrate with 8-bit artwork.
It was a natural blending of interests for me, and incredibly fun to write.
CL: You’re the Social Media and Marketing Manager for Quirk. What did it feel like to write a book for your own company?
ES: It was interesting! I mean, how many authors get to see the day to day creation of their book? I got to see incredibly early artwork, the “dummies” (blank copies of the book) floating around the office, specifics about the print run, publicity updates right from my colleagues who sit next to me; all that good stuff. I even put my own book on the company’s website!
There were also some challenges though. I promote all our titles via our various social media accounts. On the blog, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, you name it. I had to make sure I was balancing out promoting my book with everyone elses! It sounds silly, but it’s something I’ve been keeping very aware of. I adore all our authors, and I didn’t want them thinking I forgot about them.
CL: Another basic question, say we just met at a social gathering and I asked you to define “geek,” how would you answer?
ES: After I recovered from the shock that you didn’t know, possibly after sitting down and taking a deep breath, I’d explain that a geek is someone who is so invested in a hobby or a passion, that it becomes a part of their everyday life.
CL: In your book you differentiate between different types of geeks, which one are you?
ES: Me? I’m a video game geek and (much like yourself) a book geek. I’m the sort of guy who gets a kick out of midnight releases, takes days off to play new games, and plans evenings around gaming with friends on Xbox Live. I also love surrounding myself with books, from comics to classic literature. I spend a lot of time writing about both of those passions and love doing so.
CL: I’m so far out of the video game loop it’s not even funny. What kinds of games do you play and why?
ES: You know, it’s never too late to start a hobby that’s cripplingly addictive, Gab.
I really just love a game with a great story. Perhaps that’s my book geek shining through. Games that have epic narratives really get me excited to sit down and experience a new world. Some recent favorites include the Mass Effect series, Bioshock series (Infinite was incredible), and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I still haven’t stopped making “I took an arrow in the knee” jokes.
CL: We’re kids of the 80s so I have to ask, what was your favorite Atari game?
ES: The Halo series holds a special place in my heart. I’ll admit it, I’ve even read the Halo novels. I know, I know.
CL: You seem to believe geeks have an extraordinary amount of potential for dating. This is counterintuitive. What made you come to this conclusion?
ES: I’ve always felt like geeks are social creatures at heart. We thrive in communities where people share our interests.
I mean, just look at an event like San Diego Comic Con, DragonCon, or [Insert City, Video Game, or Genre] Con. We descend on those conventions en masse, eager to meet our peers and talk to the people who produce the things we love.
You can’t play Magic the Gathering or D&D without a bunch of friends. There’s no going raiding in World of Warcraft by yourself. I mean, I’m sure you could find a way. It’s just more fun with others.
CL: Speaking of Cons, what’s one of the best experiences you’ve had at one?
ES: Probably two years ago, when I went to Philadelphia Comic Con in my Master Chief suit for the first time. I’d never tried walking a convention floor in a costume before, and I was actually a little nervous that my armor wasn’t going to size up to the rest of the outfits there. My best friend Tim (who runs Geekadelphia with me), showed up in his Stormtrooper armor, and we made quite the pair, wandering the con together.
People stopped me every few feet to take a photo and it took me all afternoon to make it from one side of the convention to the other … and I loved it. We made so many people smile that day. Such a great, great feeling.
Also, the 501st Legion invited me to change with them, which was great. I was getting suited up next to a Boba Fett and a Darth Vader. No big deal.
CL: You acknowledge that The Geek’s Guide to Dating is written from the male perspective and that you use the male pronoun throughout; however, you say that your “sweeping generalizations” apply to both sexes. Do you find that geek guys and geek girls adhere less to gender stereotypes?
ES: That’s an interesting question, and one that’s always a hot one in the geek community. Stereotypes and what makes a geek a geek. What constitutes a geek girl? A geek guy? I think, unfortunately for us, there are tons of stereotypes slapped onto those titles. Real geek girls should do this, real geek guys should do that … personally, I don’t think we adhere to them at all, but some people assume that we do, or worse, should.
Sidenote, the amazing writers over at The Mary Sue dissect this issue a lot, and way better than I can. This tag rounds up all their outstanding pieces.
CL: How does this stereotyping affect geek dating?
Then again, if you’re the kind of person passing those kind of judgements, I really don’t want you talking to or dating any of my awesome geek friends in the first place.ES: The way all things do when you make assumptions based on no facts. Negatively. You’re judging a girl or a guy before you get to know either of them? Well, you might be missing out on someone totally amazing.
CL: Agreed! So, big news, you recently got engaged. Meeting your fiance seems to coincide with the writing of your book. This leads me to wonder what your research was like.
ES: Hah! Yes, it was pretty serendipitous! We met a few months before I started working on the book, leading her to ask me if there will be a Geek’s Guide to Engagements and Weddings.
My fiancee was actually a big fan of reading dating books, so, while I was doing research, she let me borrow a few of her old books. It helped a lot with some of the sections in the book. I also let her read bits and pieces. Though as a very non-geek girl, she had plenty of questions. I didn’t mind though. It actually gave me a chance to teach her more about all the stuff I care about.
So I guess, in a weird way, my book helped me with dating as I was writing it.
CL: That’s beyond adorable. By now people can tell that you are a heterosexual guy. Your book focuses on heterosexual relationships but I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on gay geek culture.
ES: Just that they have an amazing geek network! Geeks Out! does outstanding work, and now there’s the Gaymer X video game convention. All geeks rally together to support their passions, so it’s really no different.
And their gay geek icons are pretty damn incredible. Ian McKellen? Neil Patrick Harris? Sean Maher? So awesome.
CL: Huge thanks for taking the time to talk about your new book. I hope every geek reads it!
ES: Anytime! Thanks for having me! And hey, if you’d like to watch some cute geeky couples talking about their relationships, there’s an adorable webseries tie in to the book. You can catch them on the Quirk blog and on Geekosystem every Tuesday! Here’s a link to the recent videos.
This interview first ran on The Rumpus. You can read it in full here. Below are a few excerpts.
I first became aware of Scott McClanahan when Lazy Fascist Press released his short story collection, The Collected Works of Scott McClanahan Vol. 1, in May of 2012. The cover looked a lot like a Penguin Classic and it made me laugh. Who was this guy, risking a lawsuit? I asked myself. It was clever, reckless, and endearing. However, it wasn’t until a year later, with the release of Crapalachia, published by Two Dollar Radio, that McClanahan’s words were put in my ears.
The subtitle, “A Biography of a Place,” highlights one McClanahan’s strengths—capturing place. Many of his stories are set in West Virginia, the state from which he hails, but to think of him as a regional writer would miss the point. McClanahan, in all his work, explores people—and those people exist everywhere. A keen observer of the world around him, McClanahan often taps into the characters who populate his family, breathing life into them, and exposing their motivations, their frustrations, and their struggles with the day-to-day.
Through the stories of his Grandma Ruby, a true matriarch; his uncle Nathan, wheelchair-bound from cerebral palsy; and the neighborhood kids who play pranks on unwitting strangers, Scott draws readers into a world that is both harsh and relentless, but also full-hearted and smirky—a cold reality with a sense of humor. Now, just out with Hill William, a short story collection from Tyrant Books, McClanahan shows once again that words can mesmerize.
Defying the laws of geographical assumptions, Scott spoke with me from California—early in the morning on the East Coast, a punishing hour on the West. He assured me that I hadn’t made him get up; he still hadn’t been to sleep.
Rumpus: No one has to go out on tour unless you get paid a lot of money for your book and the publisher says, “You need to go do this,” so what made you decide to take the trip?
McClanahan: Well, I did that kind of Southern leg with my friend Chris Oxley. He played the guitar part of the time. It’s a good show—you’d love it if you saw it. Then I also did, with some friends of mine, what we call the the Future Dead Friends tour last fall, and that was through the Midwest. People were smoking crack, but why do I do it? It’s um…oh gosh…yeah, that’s a good question. Maybe I should think about it a little bit more and I wouldn’t have the financial difficulties that I’m having. ‘Cause they’re not big tour budgets by any means.
I stayed in a place in Mississippi called the Ole Miss Motel and it was a den of prostitutes and pimps. It really was. I’m talking P-I-M-P as pimps. I almost went into the wrong room one night, and they came and let me know I was going into the wrong room. Big girls with black eyes type of thing.
So it’s fun that way but, this is my answer: I think it’s important for writing to connect back to actual people rather than somebody—you know, a big publisher in New York telling you you should like something. Because you know this is a game, you’re a publicist as well. We know it’s a game. Somebody knows somebody who knows somebody, and all of a sudden you’re in Cosmopolitan or something talking about your book. I don’t want to be in Cosmo. Well, that’s not true. I do, but only if I’m on the cover.
I think it’s important to connect back to individuals who are out there—and by “out there” I mean, we’ve had cultural movements that have been in the middle of nowhere—Memphis, Tennessee in the 1950s, right? Absolutely nowhere, and they’ve not only changed American culture but they’ve changed the culture of the world. These bunch of country boys at Sun Studios. And so I think when you are out there and you read for people and you see people, there’s not that disconnect of literature with a lower case L—it’s not literature, the oral word. It’s Carl Sandburg, it’s V. Lindsey, it’s Dylan Thomas. It’s attempting to get back to that place…oh, I don’t know.
Shit, that answer makes no sense.
Rumpus: Your stories have a darkness to them—or they could be very dark—but there’s something that keeps them from going to this place where you’re buried. I’m going to reference that movie again but you were saying how you had this story about a dog that you thought was fun, but the whole audience was devastated.
McClanahan: Yeah. It’s a different perspective. You bring up a dog that committed suicide and some people aren’t going to find that humorous. But it’s all those things together. It’s like your daily existence. Are you in New York?
Rumpus: I am.
McClanahan: So, you know, you’re about to get on the train and go into work and probably within an hour, an hour-and-a-half, you’re going to have all different experiences. Oh my god, like whoa fuck, whoa haha, that’s hilarious, but that happens anywhere really. But I think those are the good things. It’s like being in a relationship. Like, you hate the person, you love the person. There’s darkness there, there’s lightness. That’s part of any relationship—a real, a real relationship.
Rumpus: What are you working on now?
McClanahan: The Sarah Book. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. The hardcover is going to cushy like a pillow. You know how some children’s books are like? So you can dream on it or use it as a sex aid. Sometimes people need to sleep instead of reading.
By the Way with Jeff Garlin
Possibly the best find of the year has been By the Way, Jeff Garlin’s new podcast. Recorded live at Largo in Los Angeles, Garlin sits down with his talented friends to discuss all sorts of things. Garlin’s laugh alone makes this one infectious but the conversations will keep you coming back. If you’ve not been listening to it, your 2013 has been a wash.
Longform journalism has been making some noise lately and, along with Longreads, the site Longform has done much to propel it into the public consciousness. What might not be as known is that they have a weekly podcast where they interview journalists about their work. The conversations range from particular stories the writer has worked on to how they make ends meet between jobs. I look forward to it every week.
Just over the 200 episode mark and still going strong, Other People, hosted by Brad Listi, is one of the best author interview podcasts out there. Not content with a simple conversation about the writer’s latest book, Brad delves into childhood memories, the writing process, and anything unique to his guest’s experience that they’re willing to discuss.
Literary website Book Riot started a podcast this year and it quickly became one of my favorites. Every weekend I look forward to the bookish banter of co-founder Jeff O’Neal and Senior Editor Rebecca Schinsky. Together they parse out the week’s publishing and literary news, discuss the latest book gadgets, and go over the week’s new releases. Always fresh. A must-listen.
Late Night Library
If you’re reading this site, there’s a good chance you can never hear enough about publishing. Late Night Library is an organization based in Portland dedicated to promoting book culture, especially the indie sort. On their podcast Late Night Conversation, along with writers they interview industry people about their various positions and how it works within the chain of events, manuscript to bookstore.
Pop Culture Happy Hour
Hosted by NPR editors, producers, and critics, Pop Culture Happy Hour is a casual conversation about the week’s pop culture news. The chemistry of the co-hosts, their familiarity with each other, is most-endearing. Perfect way to kick off the weekend.
I became aware of Debbie Millman after Maria Popova highlighted her book, Brand Thinking, a collection of interviews with design and advertising creatives. A look into these minds was fascinating, in large part due to Millman’s knowledge of the industry and her subjects. On Design Matters, a podcast hosted by Design Observer, Millman brings her impeccable research and optimism to the conversation.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Slate has perfected the podcast. Duration, format, everything. They’ve nailed it. While there are four main shows — the Political Gabfest, the Culture Gabfest, the Double X, and for all you sports fans, Hang Up and Listen, hosted by Stefan Fatsis, Josh Levin, and Mike Pesca — they continue to explore themed series. There’s Lexicon Valley, which discusses language, the monthly Audio Book Club, and, most recently, Mom and Dad are Fighting, a frank and honest look at parenting.
The popular site Boing Boing has a number of podcasts on their roster. One of my favorites is Gweek, a show where editor Mark Frauenfelder and friends bring authors, artists, and other creative types on to discuss their work. Some recent shows include interviews with Clive Thompson for his book on the Internet, book designer Chip Kidd, and Wired magazine founding editor Kevin Kelly.
Six Pixels of Separation
If you’re the least bit interested in where business and creativity meet, Mitch Joel’s interviews are a goldmine.
Long-form journalism—creative nonfiction which is longer than a traditional article but shorter than a novel—is all the rage these days. Whether you believe the genre has made a comeback or you feel it had never gone away, it’s hard to ignore the growing excitement for recently developed sites such as Byliner, Atavist, Longreads, and Longform.
Earlier this year, Buzzfeed announced its long-form section, breaking from its forte, the listicle; and just this past summer, The New York Times announced it was developing a new, long-form digital magazine.
Those who seek these medium length stories will be happy to know that Longform has a weekly podcast.
Hosted by Longform co-founders Aaron Lammer and Max Linsky, and Founder and Editor of Atavist, Evan Ratliff, the show asks nonfiction writers and editors about their assignments, creative processes, and careers. These free-flowing conversations offer invaluable insight into the world of journalism and the writers who bring you the stories.
Whether you’re a writer or a media junkie, this podcast, with sixty-five episodes in its archive, will be a highlight of your week. Here are just a few places to start, in descending date order.
Gay Talese began his writing career with The New York Times as their sports reporter in the late 50s. In the mid 60s he left to write full-time for Esquire. Talese is known for his profiles, most notably the one on Sinatra, “Sinatra Has a Cold,” which ran in Esquire in 1966.
Extra credit: Gay Talese, The Art of Nonfiction, No. 2; The Paris Review
Edith Zimmerman, Founding Editor of The Hairpin, talks about starting up the affiliate site to The Awl, running it, and handing it over to someone else. Known for unconventional approaches to writing profiles, she talks about her piece on Chris Evans, written for GQ, and what contributed to its originality.
Natasha Vargas-Cooper talks about crime reporting, her approach to perspective, trying to write a book in 30 days, and her interest in the human narrative. Her writing has appeared in GQ, Spin, New York, and on BuzzFeed.
Anyone familiar with Ann Friedman’s advice column on the Columbia Journalism Review’s website, #realtalk, won’t be surprised to hear that her episode is full of excellent tips for freelancers, like creating a weekly email newsletter and drinking with editors.
Extra credit: Ann writes a weekly column at The Cut on New York magazine’s website and recently wrote a piece about LinkedIn for The Baffler.
Emily Nussbaum, television critic for The New Yorker, talks about criticism today, how she chooses what to write about, and how Twitter helps her brainstorm.
Extra credit: Read Emily’s archive at The New Yorker. Follow her coverage on Twitter.
This post originally ran on Longreads, where I now contribute a monthly podcast roundup.
Hip hop began in the 1970s as an underground movement; today it’s everywhere. From house parties in the suburbs to national television advertising campaigns it’s recognizable, celebrated, and imitated. Snoop Dogg made headlines when he changed his name to Snoop Lion and Jay Z and Beyonce were given the same treatment as the British Monarchy when they had their first child.
Since its start on the street of New York, hip hop has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry. The cash flow now includes not only music but art shows featuring graffiti as well as successful clothing lines.
1. Stuff You Should Know: How Hip-Hop Works (52:13)
In this episode of Stuff You Should Know, hosts Chuck and Josh discuss the history of hip-hop, from The Sugar Hill Gang to the present. They add their own personal history, which includes stories of attempted breakdancing and well-intentioned clothing choices. You can read more about it on their site.
2. Los Angeles Review of Books: 2pac and Biggie (1 hr.)
Co-authors Jeff Weiss and Evan McGarvey speak with host Colin Marshall about their book 2pac vs. Biggie: An Illustrated History of Rap’s Greatest Battle. They talk about the artists’ rivalry, their beginnings, how their styles differed, and why you’re missing out if you only listen to one and not the other.
3. NPR Fresh Air: Questlove (45:14)
The drummer for The Roots talks about his influences growing up, how he listens to music, and his favorite part of Soul Train. (Bonus: Also check out Terry Gross’s classic 2010 interview with Jay-Z.)
Dan Charnas, a veteran hip-hop journalist and one of the first writers for The Source, talks with Jesse Thorn about the history of the hip-hop music business and how executives and entrepreneurs turned an underground scene into the world’s predominant pop culture.
5. WBUR On Point: Fame and Fortune of Jay-Z (48:00)
Andrew Rice, contributing editor for New York magazine, spoke about his article on Jay-Z’s business acumen with James Braxton Peterson, director of Africana Studies, professor of English at Lehigh University, and founder of Hip Hop Scholars. Together they delve into the financial side of Jay-Z’s career.
If you were around in the ’90s, you might recognize Michael Rapaport from movies like Zebrahead, Poetic Justice, and Higher Learning. In 2011, he came out with a documentary on A Tribe Called Quest. He talks to The Treatment’s Elvis Mitchell about his love of hip-hop, his childhood in New York City, and his experience filming his favorite artists.
This post originally ran on Longreads, where I now contribute a monthly podcast roundup.
For a while now we’ve been hearing about the rise of television, how shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones have surpassed the film industry when people think of quality viewing experiences. Gone are the days where writers and actors dreamed of making it big in pictures, now talent is flocking to small screen.
Here are some recent interviews that will be of interest to those who like to dig deeper.
A recent panel discussion on WBUR’s On Point featured Lynda Obst, a film and television producer whose credits include “Sleepless in Seattle” and whose recent book, Sleepless in Hollywood: Tales from the New Abnormal in the Movie Business, chronicles the recent changes in the movie industry—big blockbusters becoming more common with smaller films barely being made. Alongside Obst, sometimes arguing, sometimes agreeing, was Sharon Waxman, CEO and EIC of TheWrap.com, a site that covers Hollywood and film industry.
Still making small films, however, is Sofia Coppola. This summer she’s back with The Bling Ring, a film based on the real life events of a group of California teenagers obsessed with celebrities; so much so that they break into stars’ homes. Sofia spoke with host Elvis Mitchell about making a true crime film and her filmmaking career so far.
Mad Men just wrapped up its sixth season and has one more to go before it’s off the air for good. Terry Gross spoke with Elisabeth Moss, better known as Peggy, about the evolution of her character, how she came to be an actress, and how much she knows about the show’s direction before shooting an episode.
Another excellent show currently on television is Sons of Anarchy, the story of a biker gang in California’s Central Valley, running drugs, guns, and their small town. “Jax” Teller, one of the heads of the club is played by Charlie Hunnam who, in real life, turns out to be British. In this interview with Chris Hardwick he talks about being approached by real bikers, his life growing up in a working-class town in North East England, and what it’s like to play a character for so many years.
Something that’s starting to get a lot of attention these days are web shows. One show that’s doing particularly well is The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which, according the series’ site, “is a modernized adaptation of the classic Jane Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice” with the story told primarily through the lead character Lizzie Bennet‘s video diary entries.
Nerdist Writer’s Panel host Ben Blacker sat down with co-creator Bernie Su, writers Margaret Dunlap, Rachel Kiley, and Kate Rorick, and writer/transmedia guy Jay Bushman to talk about the impetus for the series and how it gets made.
Bonus: Orange is the New Black
I’ve started watching the new Netflix series, Orange is the New Black, a show based on author Piper Kerman’s memoir by the same name which tells the story about the 15 months she spent in prison for a small part she played in a drug smuggling ring. Orange stars Terry Schilling as Piper; Jason Biggs as her fiancée; Laura Prepon of That 70s Show as Alex Vause, Piper’s ex-girlfriend who introduced her to smuggling; and Natasha Lyonne of Slums of Beverly Hills, But I’m a Cheerleader, and American Pie as the ex-junkie inmate who knows how to get along on the inside.
You can read an excerpt from Kerman’s book on Salon, an interview with her on The Los Angeles Times about having her book made into a show, and an interview from 2012 about the book on The Rumpus. Piper even learned a few tips that you can apply to your worklife and shared them with Fast Company. Then, check out the two books Natasha Lyonne believes capture prison life.
Canada’s national newspaper The Globe and Mail was curious to know about New York City literary life. They were kind enough to ask me a few questions about bookstores, bars, and readings. You can read the feature in their travel section. Here are my answers in full.
What are your three favourite bookstores in NYC – please give a brief reason for each.
The best part about being a bookworm and living in New York City, and the surrounding area, is that there are so many independent bookstores, each with their own personality. Since I have so many favorites, depending on my mood–or current location–I’ll say that when visiting New York one should make sure to check out the iconic stores: McNally Jackson in SoHo, Strand near Union Square, and St. Marks Bookshop in the East Village.
One of the first things you’ll notice about McNally Jackson is that their fiction titles are shelved by region based on the nationality of the author. It makes for interesting perusing since you might not always know where a certain writer was born. The store also has a cafe where you can sit and read the books you’ve purchased or have brought with you. As one of the largest independents in the city, they host excellent events almost every night in the downstairs space. One of the liveliest stores in New York, it’s a great place to visit day or night.
If you’re looking to get lost in stacks of books, The Strand is the place for you. Started in 1927, Strand has 18 miles of new, used, and rare books. They also host many interesting events in their rare book room. Admission is the cost of the book or a $10 gift card. Definitely worth it.
St. Mark’s Bookshop, not actually on St. Mark’s Place but very close to it, opened in 1977. They’re known for a great collection of political and cultural studies books that are hard to find elsewhere. They also have a wide selection of poetry, literary journals, and zines.
Where are the best places for author readings, poetry slams or other similar literary events/performances (and what’s the best online resource where people can check for listings?)
Now you’ve tapped into one of the hardest parts about being a bookworm in New York City. As the evening approaches one is faced with a nearly unsolvable dilemma: which reading should I go to?
For this one, we’ll branch out to Brooklyn, which is a quick subway ride from Manhattan. WORD in Greenpoint devotes their entire basement to events; powerHouse Arena in DUMBO is known for hosting parties, not just readings; Housing Works is doing some creative programming and the crowd is usually packed with people in literary industry, whether it’s publishing or criticism; the Franklin Park Reading Series in Crown Heights is a monthly series that hosts a lineup of local and visiting authors; Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene not only brings in top authors but the storefront is a big glass window, which makes it an excellent place for those who like open spaces; Bluestockings on the Lower East Side is known for it’s LGBT events; and Community Bookstore has really ramped up their readings over the past few months since bringing the tireless Michele Filgate on board.
Two other places of note are the Bowery Poetry Club where you can find poetry slams and KGB Bar on West 4th where you can see rising literary talent, established local authors, and magazine launches.
As for finding out about events, my friend David Gutowski of Largehearted Boy and I started an online calendar, Book Boroughing, a little over a year ago. While it’s far from exhaustive we do include the major indie bookstore readings and some of the larger series around town. Before starting the calendar, I relied heavily on Slice Magazine’s (and still do). Time Out New York is also a great place to check for local happenings and can be found on newsstands.
Are there a couple of bars/coffeeshops where you’re likely to run into writers and other literary types – please give a brief description of each.
That’s a tough one. I think the nice part about the New York literary scene is that many local authors come out to events, so you can often run into them there. However, if you’re looking for some iconic bars, there’s the Blue Bar at the Algonquin Hotel, the White Horse Tavern and the Kettle of Fish in the West Village, and The Half King in Chelsea, which is owned by Sebastian Junger, Nanette Burstein and Scott Anderson.
Any other tips for bookish visitors to NYC – festivals, events, tours etc. – anything you can think of really that a travelling bookworm might enjoy.
My first piece of advice is to explore Brooklyn. It really is very close and the literary scene there is thriving. Nothing makes that more apparent than the growing success of the annual Brooklyn Book Festival that takes place at the end of September. Although the festival itself is on a Sunday, the events leading up to the day are staggering. There are a ton of readings and parties that take place all around the borough.
There are two annual Lit Crawls, one for New York City and one for Brooklyn. During the one-day event multiple readings, panels, and literary games take place around a designated area. Authors, publishers, and literary magazines all participate.
Book Expo America is a large publishing industry convention that takes place at the Jacob Javits Center. They’ve just opened it up to the public but, in true New York fashion, there are tons of parties and readings that take place after convention hours. During that week, while all sorts of literary and publishing types are in town, bookstores, publishers, and various publications use the opportunity to mingle with those they don’t have the chance to meet face-to-face during the rest of the year. Many of the parties are open to all.
While I’ve never been on a literary tour of Manhattan, I did come across one for Greenwich Village on the Fodors blog that is worth saving for your visit.
And finally, traveling bookworms might want to stay at the Library Hotel. It’s within walking distance of the New York Public Library, which is also a bookish place one should be sure to visit.
The mark of a great comedy podcast is having to give this caveat: if you aren’t comfortable laughing to yourself in public, best to listen to this one at home alone. Every one of the now seven episodes of By the Way, In Conversation with Jeff Garlin has made me laugh out loud, often with an uncontrollable sputter. Not only that, I grin nearly the whole way through, which, I might add, makes me appear friendly during rush hour, a threat to my tough New Yorker exterior.
Actor, comedian, producer Jeff Garlin, known best to me for his role as Larry David’s manager and friend in Curb Your Enthusiasm, hosts a conversation with fellow talented entertainment industry creatives in front of a live audience at Largo in Los Angeles.
The run time is about an hour and a half, with J.J. Abrams clocking in at an hour and fifty, but however long the show, it never gets tedious. Garlin is one of the rare hosts who can keep you engaged and entertained long past the standard 45 minutes.
Whether Garlin has had the good fortune of sitting down with people who enjoy his company, or if he’s just that good at putting people at ease, every conversation has been comfortable and paved the way for mutual openness. In the first episode, Garlin draws out Larry David’s quirks, of which there are many—one being his dislike of listening to music for its own sake. In episode two, he and Lena Dunham discuss the hell that is awards shows—unless, as was the case with Dunham, you have your quick-witted mom in tow. Parenting, and family life in general, is a common topic: both J.J. Abrams and Will Ferrell like to make their kids breakfast and see them off to school. Farrell volunteers at his son’s soccer games and J.J. makes up stories at bedtime.
Even if Garlin didn’t have great timing and a knack for getting stories out of his guests, his laugh, boisterous and infectious, would be enough to get your smile going. The only downside of By the Way is its lack of an archive, having just begun in January of this year. However, if you get in on it now, you’ll be one of the lucky ones with bragging rights, able to say you were listening to it back when, because, with a bit of luck and more excellent guests, this show will be around for a very long time.
By the Way, In Conversation with Jeff Garlin
This roundup’s strongest piece of journalism goes to Stephen Rodrick, contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine and contributing editor at Men’s Journal, for his piece Times, “Here is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie.”
Rodrick was given full access to the filming of Lindsay Lohan’s forthcoming low budget, Kickstarter-funded film, “The Canyons,” directed by Paul Schrader and written by Bret Easton Ellis. It reads as a fair piece, which, with Lohan as a subject, is a feat all on its own. What makes it so incredible, however, is that the writing is fantastic. It truly is a lesson in feature writing, to be printed, studied, and saved.
A bit of background:
Schrader wrote “Raging Bull” and “Taxi Driver” and has directed 17 films. Still, some fear Lohan will end him. There have been house arrests, car crashes and ingested white powders. His own daughter begs him not to use her. A casting-director friend stops their conversation whenever he mentions her name. And then there’s the film’s explicit subject matter. Full nudity and lots of sex. Definitely NC-17. His wife, the actress Mary Beth Hurt, didn’t even finish the script, dismissing it as pornography after 50 pages.
Noir-like description of Lohan:
“She was quite pale, her skin not on speaking terms with daylight.”
This article had been so popular with #longreads fans that they begged for an interview with Rodrick on their Longform Podcast. Rodrick discusses how the assignment came about, the access he had, and how writing stories for The New York Times works.
Another great interview in Longform’s growing archive is with Charles Duhugg, New York Times reporter and author of The Power of Habit. Here he talks about journalism, best practices for writing (and life), and (again) how The New York Times works.
On his approach to interviewing for a job, which can be applied to many other things:
You want to be surprising. People love surprises. That is how we stay interested.
On using edited material for “bonus features”:
The stuff that gets cut out gets cut out for a reason. The discipline of space is always a good discipline. If it deserves to be read, it shouldn’t be on the cutting room floor… If it ends up on the cutting room floor, there’s usually a reason why.
Parul Sehgal, Editor at the New York Times Book Review, former Books Editor at NPR, explores three essay collections in an essay of her own.
Invented in France by Michel de Montaigne, the 16th century’s great oversharer; perfected in England by Samuel Johnson and William Hazlitt; the essay found America very agreeable: “The United States itself — and even its name, according to some sources — is partly the outcome of the essayistic brilliance of the radical English artisan Thomas Paine,” Christopher Hitchens, one of its finest modern practitioners, wrote.
The Millions ran an argument in favor of reading fewer books in 2013:
This past year I read 56 books. That’s slightly off the pace of 60 books a year that I’ve set over the previous 12 years, but then I did read a lot of very long history books this year — yes, I’m looking at you, Robert Caro – and my wife and I did make a very time-consuming move to Canada late in the year. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself. Maybe the real answer is that I’m just getting tired of trying to read so damn many books.
Podcast host extraordinaire Colin Marshall sat down with Los Angeles Review of Books founder and editor-in-chief, Tom Lutz. They talk about the LA literary scene, book reviewing, and what it’s been like running the Review. You can catch Colin Marshall regularly as host of Notebook on Cities and Culture, “a twice-weekly long-form conversation with cultural creators, internationalists, and observers of the urban scene around Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Osaka, Kyoto, and beyond.”
Lena Dunham and Judd Apatow had this totally adorable–and insightful–conversation via Skype (transcribed for print) about how they collaborate. It sounds like a very healthy relationship.
Apatow: You know, the show is run differently from other shows because we’re trying to really filter everything through you. My goal is to have you do as much work as possible without getting killed. So part of what I’m trying to do is pace you so you don’t collapse. For me, a lot of the work is just having a very fresh brain and set of eyes to read things and look for where there are holes or trouble and then trying to help fix that.
Dunham: I feel like you’re constantly monitoring my brainpower and body power, even when I’m not able to tell what I’m feeling.
And Lena Dunham was on Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin. Incredible conversation.
The Bob Marley documentary “Marley,” now streaming on Netflix, is beyond amazing. I hope to have a proper writeup in the near future but, in the meantime, watch it. Seriously.
Here are a few things I came across this week that were exceptional.
Perfect Day Publishing on Late Night Conversation
I’ve mentioned The Late Night Library’s podcast, Late Night Conversation, before but their interviews continue to be amazing, so, here we are again. This Portland-based organization is devoted to spreading the awareness of independent publishing. The show, hosted by co-founder Paul Martone, features debut authors and publishing professionals from small presses. Martone has the conversational style that makes podcasts so great. He’s thoughtful, informed, and curious.
The latest episode features Perfect Day Publishing founder Michael Heald and author Lisa Wells, whose book Yeah. No. Totally was published by the press this year. I first came to hear of Perfect Day Publishing through a previously self-published book they’d reprinted after it gained some attention. Love Is Not Constantly Wondering If You Are Making the Biggest Mistake of Your Life is one of the best books I read in 2012.
In other podcast news, Alec Baldwin talked to Billy Joel in July and I just got around to listening to it. It was pretty great.You’ll probably enjoy it more if you’re from Long Island. A personal favorite, Teju Cole was on CBC’s Writers & Company, one of the best author interview shows out there today.
This weekend I came across an article by Blake Butler on HTMLGIANT called ‘22 Things I Learned from Submitting Writing.” At first glance I expected it to be snarky. While the site is typically earnest, there’s a level of sarcasm lurking underneath. This piece from Blake, however, was truly generous. Here are a few of my favorite points:
4. Often editors who reject you are doing you a favor. Either the piece isn’t great and needs work (thus saving you face of looking back later like whyyyyy did I publish this) or taking a strong piece and making it stronger because of force of will.
5. Some pieces are you learning. Some never get it right. Don’t publish your homework.”
13. Don’t lose sight of someone you love in the midst of this.
19. Be a person, not an email address with a social profile and an onslaught.
Also of note is writer Brad Leithauser’s essay about the different ways we read fiction–mainly two ways, like a critic and like a child. He recalls the time he and his then 15-year-old daughter had a conversation about Rachel from Daphne du Maurier’s “My Cousin Rachel.”
I’m eyeballs deep in noir at the moment and came across this great essay by Raymond Chandler called “The Simple Art of Murder.” I’m sure many crime fiction fans have already stumbled on this, a few possibly owning a highlighted copy in their drawer somewhere, but for the rest of us…
Every detective story writer makes mistakes, and none will ever know as much as he should. Conan Doyle made mistakes which completely invalidated some of his stories, but he was a pioneer, and Sherlock Holmes after all is mostly an attitude and a few dozen lines of unforgettable dialogue.
The Los Angeles Review of Books has quickly become the place to go for in-depth, thoughtful coverage of the arts. Their front page has a triptych that changes at least twice a week. Recently, I came across their LARBart Tumblr where the work is displayed and explained.
While the name suggests heavy coverage of books, LARB has able people writing about other topics as well. Recently, they ran an interview with Ellen Lupton, one of the curators of “Graphic Design: Now In Production,” now on view at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. Ellen runs the MFA design program at the Maryland Institute College of Art and is the author of Thinking with Type.
Today, every designer is a production artist — setting type, retouching photos, and making endless updates for clients. The convergence of design and production gives us more direct control over the outcome of a project, while also loading us with an ever-growing list of skills and tasks to master. … Many designers today are using their knowledge of production techniques to become publishers, authors, editors, and instigators.
The term “graphic” has long been a point of contention in our field. … I like the word “graphic” because it connects us to the world of text, as well as to the “graphic arts” — the processes of printing and production. Typography is always about writing, and writing is a graphic phenomenon.
I usually roll my eyes at algorithms, those computer generated recommendations, but the other night while I was clicking through Netflix I noticed a British program from the 80s that was highlighted for me, The Comic Strip Presents, a sketch comedy show featuring Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson of The Young Ones and Jennifer Saunders, who later went on to create and star in Absolutely Fabulous. If you’re a fan of any of the above, you should stop reading now and add it to your queue. For those more familiar with Portlandia, this is their long lost British forebear.
Here are just a few things I’ve consumed these past few weeks that deserve some sharing.
For all you publishing junkies, Rob Spillman, editor of Tin House magazine and editorial advisor of Tin House Books, talks to Late Night Library about the book industry. For those of you who like fairy tales, WBUR’s mid-morning program, On Point, spoke with author Maria Tatar about the Brothers Grimm and Philip Pullman spoke with NPR’s Weekend Edition about his book, Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, which retells the classic stories.
For something completely different, Oliver Sacks spoke with NPR’s Fresh Air about his history with hallucinogenics. And, once again The Nerdist came through with their incredible interview with veteran broadcast journalist Larry King. If you’re interested in interviewing, King shares some tips on how to get people to open up. This is a must-listen.
A few weeks ago when I tweeted Joe Queenan’s Wall Street Journal essay, which turned out to be an excerpt from his new book, One for the Books, my bit.ly count went skyhigh. The short sentence I used, “A case can be made that people who read a preposterous number of books are not playing with a full deck,” must have struck a nerve with those who follow my feed. I know it did with me. Since reading this fantastically funny piece I’ve finished Joe’s book. As a review is forthcoming I will not go too much into it. What I can say is that it was hilarious the whole way through.
Another great essay was Ian Sansom’s piece in The Guardian about paper. He, too, has a new book out (in the UK), called Paper: An Elegy. In his article he calls for the creation of a “National Paper Museum.” Sansom, as one would imagine, produces an ode to paper but instead of getting caught up in his own feelings on the matter, he digs into history to show readers how important paper was in the past and how it still endures today. At one point he goes so far as to call paper “our second skin.”
Meanwhile, over at The Millions, staff writer Sonya Chung talks about her own conflicted feelings about digital life.
Having just finished Season 4 of Sons of Anarchy, now streaming on Netflix, I started a new show, Person of Interest, now in its second season. For fans of espionage films and police procedurals, Person of Interest is worth checking out. The show follows an ex-CIA officer, played by Jim Caviezel, and his billionaire buddy, played by Michael Emerson of “Lost,” as they try to save the lives of people who are names by a secret surveillance system. Although a tad bit cheesy, any minor flaws the show might have are erased by the endearing characters and intriguing storyline.
I came across so many great podcasts lately, I just had to do another roundup.
The Nerdist Writer’s Panel wrapped up their series of live panels, taped at the ATX Television Festival.
The Books to TV Series featured David Hudgins (Friday Night Lights), Bob Levy (Alloy Entertainment: The Lying Game, The Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl), Julie Plec (co-creator, The Vampire Diaries), and Michael Rauch (creator, Love Monkey) talking about the process of turning a book into a television show. It was moderated by Meg Masters of TVLine.
In Stages of TV Writing,Noah Hawley (creator, the Unusuals), Kyle Killen (creator, Awake and Lone Star), David Hudgins (Friday Night Lights; Parenthood), Hardy Janson, and Evan Miller (Hook Ups) talk about their careers.
Late Night Library, a show that focuses on the independent side of publishing, sat down with Robyn Tenenbaum and Courtenay Hameister. The two co-founders of Live Wire!, a live public radio program in Portland, talk about producing an arts & culture variety show.
They also spoke with independent press publisher, Rhonda Hughes of Hawthorne Books, and Liz Crain, their editorial and publicity director. The three talk the business of running a small press.
The Readers, a show between two friends about books, talked about what happens after you finish a great book. They also wonder if there’s such thing as a British Novel. This week they have a casual chat about imprints.
The other week in the New Yorker, Oliver Sacks had a story about his experiments with drugs in the 60s, all of which he treated as scientific research. On the New Yorker Out Loud he talks about it.
Everyone’s favorite comedian, Louis C.K., has a great talk about movies and television with Elvis Mitchell on KCRW’s The Treatment. Over the course of the interview, C.K. calls his daughters his heroes. Then he says money spent on entertainment is sacred. Amazing.
Three Percent, hosted by two guys working largely with translated literature, talk about book reviews, sparked by some recent events in the publishing and writing community.
Ed Champion sits down with crime writer Laura Lippman, for the release of her latest book And When She Was Good. It was a great talk about the craft of writing.
For the 100th episode of the Other People podcast, host Brad Listi did not disappoint. He spoke with George Saunders, an excellent choice.
BBC Radio 4’s Open Book did a special on Scottish crime writing–or “Tartan Noir” as the specific genre is known. Host Dreda Say Mitchell spoke with an author and a publisher. It definitely made me want to run out and read some.
CBC’s Writers & Company rebroadcast an interview with British humorist Alan Bennett. If you like British humor–Stephen Fry, John Cleese, etc., and you don’t already know who Alan Bennett is, you’ll be psyched after hearing this.
Oh and … Joan Rivers was on The Nerdist. It was incredible.
Last week at McNally Jackson, an independent bookstore based in the heart of SoHo, Austin Kleon, artist and, most recently, the author of Steal Like an Artist, brought together three fascinating minds on the internet today. Joining him in conversation about creativity and curation were Maria Popova of the website Brainpickings, Maris Kreizman of the mashup Tumblr Slaughterhouse 90210, and cultural critic Maud Newton.
One of Austin’s ideas that I find most interesting is “creative lineage,” those who influence your work, whose fingerprints can be seen in your creations. For Maud Newton, Muriel Spark is woefully underrated; Maris raved about fiction writer Lorrie Moore and recommended Self Help and Anagrams; Maria named Susan Sontag along with Winnie the Pooh and The Little Prince; Austin, a fan of Midwesterners who include pictures with their writings, named Kurt Vonnegut and Lynda Barry.
Here is a profile I wrote and a Q&A I conducted with Austin early in April when his book first came out. It originally ran on The Nervous Breakdown. You can also read my riff on Austin’s analog vs. digital approach to creating, posted in March on this site.
Below are links to all the various places you can find Austin and the panel participants on the internet, along with more recommendations mentioned throughout the discussion.
“It’s not the book you start with, it’s the book that book leads you to” –Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist
In 2005 Austin Kleon experienced a bad case of writer’s block. Right out of college, after having studied creative writing, he was struggling to write a short story. To break out of the rut he took a Sharpie to nearby newspapers and started crossing out sentences, leaving only a few words and large swaths of black ink in his wake. Unknowingly, he created something he calls Newspaper Blackout Poems.
But as he said on the phone one Saturday morning before embarking on a major US tour to support his latest book, Steal Like an Artist — the title a riff on a popular saying in the creative world often misattributed to Picasso — “nothing comes from nowhere.” It was soon after creating these blackout poems that Kleon traced the style’s origins back 250 years to a former next-door neighbor of Benjamin Franklin’s. More recently, William Burroughs had done something similar with his cut-up technique.
Far from disappointed by his findings, Austin developed a philosophy, one that he celebrates in the book. “All creative work builds on what came before,” he continued. Whether it’s our subconscious at play or a dedicated effort, we all have influences whose work guides our own. Austin encourages us to embrace and cultivate them rather than see our mashup style as fraudulent.
“Just as you have a familial genealogy, you also have a genealogy of ideas. You don’t get to pick your family, but you can pick your teachers and you can pick your friends and you can pick the music you listen to and you can pick the books you read and you can pick the movies you see.”
Although his “family tree” is always changing, Austin named four influences who have stuck with him over time. Lynda Barry, his favorite cartoonist, showed Austin he could make a career out of pairing words and pictures. He believes her book What It Is should be required reading for high school students. Austin’s work is highly visual, the book features drawings throughout, so it was no surprise to hear him mention two other artists: Charles Schulz of Peanuts fame and Saul Steinberg, an illustrator best known for his work with The New Yorker. Acclaimed fiction writer George Saunders also made the list.
Although the influences he mentions appear cohesive, leading one to assume his work has a singular foundation, Austin says there’s no harm in variation. “Don’t worry about unity from piece to piece — what unifies all of your work is the fact that you made it,” he said.
The beauty of Steal Like an Artist is that it’s accessible, something that was important to Austin. As one can surmise from the subtitle, 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, a tagline that fits neatly into today’s culture of pared down how-tos, there’s a noticeable lack of technical jargon. Instead, Austin filled its pages with thought-provoking aphorisms and bite-sized insights. Structured around these ten simple rules, Steal Like an Artist offers a list that will most certainly transform the way you think about your work: use your hands; do good work and share it with people; be nice (the world is a small town); and be boring (it’s the only way to get work done) — to name a few.
Unlike many big thought books, Steal Like an Artist doesn’t leave you stranded: putting ideas in your head without a practical plan for going forward. In the last few pages Austin offers tips on how to harness creative energy: take a walk, get yourself a calendar, start a blog, and take a nap. As an avid reader and someone who believe books hold many answers, he includes a reading list of other books that might help you along the artistic path.
Ultimately, Steal Like an Artist is an inspiring conversation, one worth returning to again and again as your creative process evolves over time.
Here are a few bonus questions I’d asked Austin after our phone call. Check out what he has to say about procrastination, serendipity, and Carl Jung.
You talk about finding one’s voice. I’m curious to know how you found yours — or if you think the search ever ends.
Voice always confused the hell out of me in school. I really had no idea what professors were talking about when they said “find your voice.” I still don’t have a handle on it real well, honestly. The closest I’ve been to understanding is through something Billy Collins said: you find your poetic voice by emulating about 6-8 different poets, and once they fit together, so you can’t tell what comes from who, you’ve discovered your voice. I don’t think the search ends, though — at least I hope not. To have one voice forever sounds boring to me.
Do you feel procrastination is an integral part to the creative process?
Oh yeah. Basically, I always have 3-4 projects I’m working on and when I get sick of one I bounce over to the other. At some point I’ll become obsessed with one and run on that energy until it’s dead, then I switch again.
As much as we like being productive, We also need time to sit around and do nothing. To stare at the wall and think, or do something routine and mundane with your body so your mind is freed up.
How do you procrastinate productively?
I like going for walks and doing the dishes — both get me ideas, but one makes me less fat and one gets the kitchen clean.
You say “Creative work is a kind of theater.” I love that. As an artist, how do you see your work — or creative work in general — as theater?
The stage is your workspace — your desk, or your studio, whatever. The costume is your smock, or your favorite sweatpants, or a funny hat you put on to think. The props are your tools — pens, welding torch, etc. — and the script is just plain old time set aside to work. You know, just like actors “get into character,” I think we can trick our minds into get into the zone, too.
You mentioned recently that you’ve been making more of an effort to step away from your computer — your chapter “Step Away from the Screen” is one of my favorites — and that you spend your time in the local university library looking through the stacks. What’s your take on serendipitous findings in the physical world versus the virtual/online world?
Yeah, you just can’t beat having books in a physical space. I call it the “serendipity of the stacks” — you go looking for a book with a certain Dewey Decimal number, and then your eye gets caught on another book’s spine, and pretty soon you’re reading that book instead of the one you went looking for.
The same thing can happen on the Internet, but it just doesn’t feel quite the same. Steven Johnson says, if you can’t find serendipity on the web, you’re not using it right.
I’d asked you about your favorite artist biography or memoir and you mentioned Carl Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Did it change your life in some way?
I’m not sure it’s changed my life, but what I love about the book is how Jung is constantly on the edge between science and religion, rationality and mysticism, etc. it’s just a great story about one of our great minds coming into being.
Maria Popova: Website, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr
Maris Kreizman: Tumblr, Twitter
Maud Newton: Website, Twitter, Tumblr, The Chimerist (A Tumblr about iPad reading, co-run with Laura Miller of Salon)
Perchance to Dream: an essay by Jonathan Franzen in Harper’s Magazine
Who is Mark Twain?: an animated conversation with John Lithgow at the New York Public Library
Artist Marc Johns on Pinterest
Maud Newton outlines her day at the Paris Review: Part I, Part II
Maria uses Evernote
Austin likes the show Justified, based on Elmore Leonard’s novels
In Chuck Wendig’s debut novel, Blackbirds, a mix of gritty fantasy and noir, death and torture wait in the wings. Miriam Black, a broken-down, take-no-shit, young woman, has a terrible affliction: she can see the future. At the slightest touch, skin on skin, the other person’s death flashes before her eyes. She’s seen horrible things, fates she’s tried to alter but whose warnings have had no effect.
Now, while hitching a ride with Louis Darling, a lone trucker going her way, Miriam shakes his hand and witnesses his end. In just thirty days he’ll die a torturous death … while calling out her name.
In a fight to outwit a seemingly unalterable outcome, a battle between free will and determinism forces Miriam out of complacency and into the role of fierce heroine.
Wendig is the man behind the website Terrible Minds, a site where he offers weekly writing tips in his column “25 Things You Should Know About Writing.” Not your average instructor, Wendig’s advice has included “25 Reasons I Hate Your Main Character,” “25 Ways to Unfuck Your Story,” and “25 Things I Want to Say to ‘Aspiring’ Writers.” In one of his recent lists, “25 Things I Learned While Writing Blackbirds,” under the second tip, “Your First Novel Usually Ain’t,” Wendig writes, “Blackbirds is my debut original novel, but it damn sure isn’t the first one I wrote. It’s just the first one that mattered. It’s the first one that deserved to live.”
Author, screenwriter, and all around “penmonkey,” Wendig took some time out of his busy schedule to discuss his difficulty with plot, the importance of reading nonfiction, and what self-publishing and traditional publishing can learn from each other. After reading what he has to say, I urge you to follow Chuck on Twitter.
THE CONTEXTUAL LIFE: What made you start your “25 Things You Should Know About Writing” series?
CHUCK WENDIG: The writing advice in general is there for me above all else. I like to yell at myself. Whenever I run into problems with my writing or see funny things about the writing life, it feels a good place to both vent the steam and mine the “cray-cray.” That’s what the kids are saying these days, right? Cray-cray? Whew.
The “25 Things” in particular are my attempt to pare down the advice – which sounds, er, strange because those lists are pretty huge. But I pack a lot into ‘em, with each of the 25 items ideally being a weird Zen nugget of dubious writer wisdom.
This sounds like a good writing routine.
It helps me focus. Helps me tackle problems. Helps me help other authors, which in turn helps me by inflating my ego and making me feel like I actually know what I’m doing (and I most assuredly do not). Plus, on the barest, most simplest level, I’m writing. Any writing I do helps me to write better.
Plot is your trouble area. What have you done to overcome it?
Who told you that? Do you have cameras in my house? Is my computer bugged? Are you some kind of publishing witch?
Ahem. Yes. Plot is my biggest stumbling block. I countermand my own weakness by planning, plotting, scheming. I am a pantser by heart, but a plotter by necessity. If I don’t outline, then the book is lost in the woods for 5,000 pages. Covered in briar scratches and hunted by bears.
How was it to plot the first book in a series?
I did not know that Blackbirds would be the first in a series, necessarily. It was written to stand on its own, with the hope that it would one day earn a second in its series (which Angry Robot Books was good enough to grant me at the outset).
The trick in plotting was again outlining. I wrote an epic – and frankly unfinished – first and second draft that was meandering, unfocused, so blurry that as an artist I must’ve been considered legally blind. I found the first draft recently and read some of it. The core of the story and character are there, but it’s almost painful to read the way it stumbles around, zombie-like.
The way I focused the book was… erm, unorthodox, and just goes to show that every writer digs his own tunnel into this practice and business. I won a screenwriting mentorship with screenwriter Stephen Susco, selfishly thinking to use it to help develop Blackbirds both as a film property and then as a revived novel. First thing Stephen told me was to outline, and I laughed. “Ha ha ha, ohh, silly-man-from-Hollywood, I don’t do that. That would steal my thunder. It would wound my creative spirit!”
But he kept on me. And grudgingly, I tried it. Suddenly, I had a story that was gaining focus – and by the second outline, had a laser-like focus. So my fumbly bumbly book suddenly had a spine and a place to go. It was a zombie no more. So, I write the script, then used the outline and the script to rebuild the novel. The book that will be published is almost no different than that first post-outline draft.
What I find interesting is that Blackbirds is both the start of a series but can be read as a standalone. I find that refreshing, why did you set it up that way?
It was important in consideration of selling it. I didn’t want myself or my potential publisher to be pinned down in either a single or a series book. Plus, from a reader’s perspective, I didn’t want them to pick this up expecting it just to be a part of a story. It’s a whole story. A real boy. Nothing missing. All fingers and toes attached.
The next book in the series, Mockingbird, will it also be written as a standalone?
Well, it’s not precisely standalone – I mean, it helps if you read the first one. But I don’t think that’s precisely critical, either. You could pick up Mockingbird and it still gives you the information you need to move forward into the story. Further, the concept surrounding Miriam is, I think, relatively simple to understand: she touches you, sees your death, and then the question becomes, can she do anything about that and how hard must she fight fate to achieve it?
You’re also a screenwriter. The draft of Blackbirds was massive — about 90,000 words. Did your screenwriting background help you pare it down?
The screenwriting thing is all about brevity and focus. Each page of the script matters – in screenwriting terms, a single page equals a minute of screentime, and a minute of screentime is like, in Hollywood money, a bajillion-fajitallion dollars. So, you can’t blow up your script to 150 pages and expect to sell it. You have to compress. You have to possess an elegance of language – only including the dialogue that matters and the most critical descriptions.
Though there’s a lesson for screenwriters, too – the script still needs to be readable. I don’t mean legible, I mean, write to be read. Write to entertain even at the script level.
So, from screenwriting I borrowed that level of focus, particularly in descriptions. Dialogue, less so – and even still, Blackbirds still has to feel like a novel, still deserves to dig deeper than what you get in a script and on screen. I didn’t want to abandon what makes novels awesome, but I wanted to take some of the beauty and potency of scriptwriting and jack that into the novel mold.
As such, the novel is pretty mean and lean, I think.
I think so, too. It really moves along. It’s also a visual story. Is this because of your screenwriting experience? What are some things you’ve carried over into your novel writing?
I do write more visually. Some novels spend a lot of time in character heads or dally in scenes that, on-screen, would never work – oh, how often you see scenes of dialogue where it’s like puppet theater, just two characters standing there as mouthpieces for their respective ideas. Over-sharing, too. “Let me tell you my evil plan!” Blah blah blah. An expositional karate punch to the reader’s mouth.
I try to keep things moving. Try to show instead of tell – though there’s certainly a place and a way to “tell” the audience things, and that’s okay, but even there you kind of need to nest it in a process of showing. The way a character tells something or demonstrates a thing is powerful and meaningful. Or can be, at least.
You consider the author Robert McCammon a major influence on your writing. You first read him in your teens and would still read him today. What’s made you stick with him? How has he affected the way you approach your writing, and writing as a career?
McCammon’s Stinger was not the first horror book put into my hand, but it was the first I read and relished. My sister tried to get me to read some Stephen King and, as a young teen, wasn’t into it. But then she put Stinger on my desk and it was like – BOOSH, mind blown. Next came Swan Song, and that book blew even Stinger away. Epic 1000-page post-apocalyptic nuclear America. Powerful and horrific and with a spate of incredibly strong and damaged characters.
That book alone is plump with writing lessons if you care to find them.
But at that point I was reading McCammon – or, rather, devouring his entire back catalog – as a reader, not a writer. I knew I liked writing and telling stories but I wasn’t really sure it was a thing I could do. (Though I certainly wanted to.)
It was his book Boy’s Life that clinched it. It’s a coming of age book, not strictly horror, but it’s also very strongly about storytelling. And that told me: this is what I want to do. I want to write. I want to tell stories.
Interesting note is that, not long after, McCammon retired – despite being a bestselling author he had troubles selling non-horror work and he was moving away from that genre. So he dropped off the map for years, which was troubling to me: and it was my first glimpse of how being a writer was as much a business concern as a crafty, artistic one. It showed me that this would be a tricky industry.
You read nonfiction as well as fiction and consider it something all fiction writers should do. What kind of nonfiction do you read and how does it help you with your writing? What are the benefits of stepping away from fiction?
I do think that’s important! Reading fiction is reiterative. You’re reading other people’s creative pursuits and the best you can do with that as inspiration and research is remix and regurgitate (and you can see in Hollywood how much of it is a remix culture – some of that is fun and clever, but the lack of original ideas can be troubling).
Non-fiction can still be creatively delivered but is not itself reiterative or regurgitative. You read non-fiction and you get ideas that cannot come out of reading someone else’s story. It’s a far more fertile seed-bed in terms of both idea-farming and bringing pre-existing ideas forward through research and pleasure reading.
You read fiction, you can learn the craft and pick apart what XYZ writer is doing. Which is good, and essential. But it’s also an act of diminishing returns. Non-fiction doesn’t suffer from that.
As to what I read?
I’ll read anything. My non-fiction shelves are 75% of my total bookshelf space, with fiction only taking up 25% of it. Right now I’m reading a book about ants. Specifically: Adventures Among Ants by Mark Moffett. But I’ve got books on mythology and symbols and gun repair and Medieval weapons and warfare and the NSA and sex and culture and death and… well. The list goes on and on. And on.
In Blackbirds, your main character, Miriam, if she touches them, can see how people eventually die. What was it like to imagine peoples’ deaths? How did you come up with the idea?
Coming up with deaths are both fun and horrible. Some based in things I’d heard and seen. Others just straight up plucked from the twisted folds of my parasite-ridden brain.
The idea for Miriam comes out of that helplessness of death – both the helplessness you feel when your loved ones die and when you realize your own death is fast incoming.
A few years ago, there was a lot of death around you. At one point a few of your family members had passed away. I’ve heard it said before that much of fiction is working out personal problems. Do you think Blackbirds, specifically Miriam’s ability, which leads her to question free will, was a way of working out your thoughts on immortality? Maybe as a way to take control of it or maybe to face it head on?
Morality more than immortality – but yes, this is definitely me ripping off the scabs and letting the blood flow in an issue like this. Blackbirds in that way represents a harsh dose of reality (hey, holy shit, people die, you’re going to die, your dog will die, we’re all going to die) and also the fantasy (what does it take to move the seemingly immovable boulder of fate and force one’s free will by turning away the Grim Reaper’s hand?).
You’ve self-published in the past and were almost considering self-publishing Blackbirds before Angry Robot picked it up. What aspect of traditional publishing have you enjoyed so far and what are you looking forward to as your book goes out into the world?
I do think that writers these days – especially writers looking to make a living solely on their rampant penmonkeying – need to have a diverse publishing strategy which means taking advantage of all the publishing options that exist for us.
But while I do self-publish some work, I’m certainly enjoying traditional publishing, too. Listen, self-pub is tough stuff. You have to do a lot of stuff which is not writing – cover design and e-book formatting and needling self-promo. Admittedly, some of that is there with traditional publishing, but it’s amazing to me how much of what I do with self-pub just… magically gets done with traditional.
It’s like, out of nowhere reviews for Blackbirds started popping up like spring-time daffodils and I had nothing to do with it. And I see blogs talking about this kick-ass cover from Joey Hi-Fi, a cover I wouldn’t have earned by my lonesome, a cover that is most certainly a book-seller all by itself. (I cannot stress enough how lucky I got on the Kick-Ass Cover Artist lottery. I may not have won the Mega-Millions, but I won that one, for sure.)
I’m having a Blackbirds launch at Mysterious Galaxy in LA – also not an easy option for self-published authors. Sold German rights for it – not an easy option for self-pub. Talking to agents and filmmakers about film and TV rights – repeat after me, not an easy option for self-pub.
What are you working on now?
Eating some waffles.
Oh, wait, you mean creatively? Oh. Ahh. That makes more sense.
Well. I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire. I’ve got the third Miriam Black book outlined and ready to roll. I’ve got the start of a new series with Abaddon (tentative series title: Gods & Monsters). Got the next two of the Dinocalypse trilogy to finish now that the Kickstarter for that has gone through the roof. Plus, the Kickstarter for my Atlanta Burns novel, Bait Dog, went over 200% funded, so I’ve got that going on, too. I am, it turns out, a busy little ink-slinger.
Plus I do work with my writing partner, so there will be films and other digital endeavors. Fingers crossed on those!
Fingers crossed here. Thanks so much for speaking with me.
Thanks for having me, Gabrielle!