Tag Archives: Writing & publishing

Pittsburgh writers, take note: Coconut Writers’ Group forming

David V. Matthews (not the jam-band musician but the Pittsburgh-based writer) is starting a writers’ group and looking for like-minded writers to come along.

David has written for City Paper, Unicorn Mountain, the New Yinzer, and other fine publications, and maintains the site Coconut Orangutan. He also creating intriguing artwork. Do check out his site and swing by the writers’ group premier meeting.

Coconut Orangutan Writers' Group Announcement

Gladwell online

Recently Pittsblog pointed out that ESPN’s Page 2 had published a two-part email interview by Bill “The Sport Guy” Simmons of Malcolm Gladwell, an interview which mentioned Pittsburgh sports a few times but ranged from baseball to writing to the horrors of Las Vegas.

You know I have my issues with Simmons, but I agree with him now and then. Most specifically I agree with his opinion of Gladwell:

When I started reading you back in the mid-’90s, I remember being discouraged because you made writing seem so easy — technically, you were almost flawless, and since I knew I couldn’t write that well, you were one of those visible writers who made me feel like I was going to be bartending my whole life. You never waste a word. You come up with cool arguments and angles for your pieces, then you systematically prove/dismantle those same arguments and angles, and you do it in an entertaining, thoughtful, logical way. You never allow your biases to get in the way. You’re better at writing than me in every way. Basically, I hate you.

Here’s the best part of the interview. It’s by Gladwell:

Switching gears, I have one last point on the fact I never really watched sports on TV until I was in college. That’s not as crazy as it sounds. I would grade major professional sports in terms of their TV/live watchability in the following order:

  • NFL: A-plus televised. B-minus live.
  • NBA: B-plus televised. A live.
  • NHL: C-minus televised. A-plus live.
  • PGA: A-televised. D live.

So what do you miss by not having a TV? Really just a great NFL experience, and some golf. You will notice that I’ve left out baseball and that’s because I don’t believe that actually watching baseball under any circumstances enhances your appreciation of the game. As a kid, I read Bill James and Thomas Boswell and Roger Angell and followed the game through newspaper box scores, and I was a far more dedicated fan back than I am today. Baseball is a great idea, and a great story. But is watching it a great experience? Frankly I prefer the way the game was played in my imagination. This, incidentally, is why I’m such a fan of yours. I think that reading you on the Red Sox is more fun than actually watching the Red Sox. And before anyone objects, I would point out that there are lots of other human experiences that fall into this category. When you hear a ghost story as a child, or watch a war movie, or read a particularly powerful novel, you don’t want to be in the story. You don’t even want to be in the stands when the war is going on or the ghost is scaring the bejesus out of people. What you want is to be told the story. Right?

I’m reading The Tipping Point, and as I read I’m torn between the emotions Simmons mentions: deep love for the clarity and elegance of the writing, and raw jealousy for the guy who came up with it. (You may guess at which emotion is the stronger.)

It’s similar to how I feel reading David Foster Wallace, but kind of worse.

Gladwell recently created a blog, which he says he will use to expand upon/amend/invite commentary of his pieces in the New Yorker and elsewhere. I recommend adding it to your feed reader. (The most recent entry gives his thoughts on Freakonomics, especially regarding how it conflicts with his own writing in The Tipping Point.)

While we’reon the topic, David Foster Wallace does not appear to have a blog (at least not a real one), and as he claims in his essays to be a technophobe I don’t expect to see one soon. But he is featured in last weekend’s NYT Review of Books, if you need a fix but can be placated with reading what other people write about him.

An alcoholic is someone you don’t like who drinks as much as you do.

Whether you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this year or not, please know that November 4, next Saturday, is NaDruWriNi, National Drunken Writing Night. In other words, it’s your yearly chance to crack open your favorite beverage, type away madly and lushly, and participate in the long heritage of faculty-impaired writers.

I did this last year and plan to participate again. It’ll add an extra element of chaos to my new novel. I note that my tolerance for intemperance beverages drops with each passing year, so I don’t know how many hours/drinks I’ll be able to put in. But check back in then for live updates — and then check in the following day to appreciate the aftermath. (Note to self: Purchase extra bourbon within the next week. And a keyboard cover.)

Special note for those who abstain from intoxicating beverage: As others have ably shown, you can enjoy the event without bending your rules. Tune in and see what transpires.

Love in the Time of Caller-ID: NaNoWriMo 2005

Are you signed up for NaNoWriMo this year? Of course you are.

NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is an annual celebration of writing fiction, although around the second week it feels more like a punishment. Here’s the official definition:

What is NaNoWriMo?

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.
Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

As you spend November writing, you can draw comfort from the fact that, all around the world, other National Novel Writing Month participants are going through the same joys and sorrows of producing the Great Frantic Novel. Wrimos meet throughout the month to offer encouragement, commiseration, and — when the thing is done — the kind of raucous celebrations that tend to frighten animals and small children.

I have participated twice — I signed up a third year but barely even started and gave up almost before I began. The two times I applied myself I created completely crappy drafts of novels, just over 50,000 words each. One of these I’m in the midst of improving and revising, the other is waiting in the wings. But as I haven’t been writing or revising much of anything for the past year (!!!), I am embarking once again down the WriMo road to create a terrible first draft that I hope to later turn into a masterpiece. Along the way I fully intend to jumpstart my writing, so as to make the other novels come back to life.

I don’t want to let myself fail, so I hereby promise to post on this page a brief update every day in November, regarding progress or lack thereof. I’m going to do a small bit of preparation before November — all approved in the official manual of NaNoWrimo, No Plot, No Problem (written by founder Chris Baty). I’ll post about the preparation here too.

So far I have a working title. It’s going to change for sure, but let me announce it now anyway so as to make this as official as possible. The working title is Love in the Time of Caller-ID.

(I hope there’s no bad portent in the fact that I’ve not read any Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel through to the bitter end….)

And will you be diving insanely into a new novel too next month? Please let me know and we’ll urge each other on.

And don’t be telling me that you’re not a writer, you can’t write a novel. I promise you can. Note that the only excuse I accept for not participating in NaNoWriMo is that you are currently hard at work every day revising some other novel.

The gauntlet is cast at your feet. Pick it up.

Writing getaway

No, I don’t mean getting away from your writing, but rather getting away to it. Or for it. Or maybe with it.

How to word a phrase best is only one of the many elements of writing that will come under consideration at the Xtreme Critique Weekend. Spend an intense few days improving your stories, novel, poetry, nonfiction manuscript, or essays. And spend time with other writers in a social, non-competitive atmosphere.

The workshop runs Friday, October 14 to Sunday, October 16. Cost depends on yoru lodging choice. Find out more about the format, leaders, accomodations, and other details at the Fat Plum website.

Register soon, as space is filling up. We’re going to have a fantastic time and we’ll miss you if you’re not there.


“We are attending some function. Something sharp-dressed and dark and held in a crowded hall of unclear dimensions, full of humming silhouetted small talk. With a lilting social languor we lift chilly wineglasses and move through many people. A white-jacketed, slick-locked, ink-eyed catering fellow alights nearby with a bright white tray seemingly floating a millimeter above his fingertips, silently offering us tiny cubes of prepared fish poised in the centers of bone china plates as small as castanets.”

“Additive,” a memorable bit of writing at erasing.org.

Life gets in the way

I have so many things to tell you about, but I’ve been too busy doing and then recovering that I haven’t had time to write.

In brief:

1. The 412 Creative Nonfiction Festival was great fun. (Here’s a little press on the event.) Both of my writing ventures — Inkburns and Fat Plum — shared a table at the Media Fair. I met many interesting and engaging people, spoke on a panel that, despite an early morning start, was lively and thoughtful, and generally enjoyed the hell out of the event. I am now utterly exhausted, still, after two days of recovery. And I have so many things to follow up on, people to contact and websites to update and blog entries to post.

2. Also, I mentioned previously in this space that I was open to new career options. “Ask and you shall receive,” they say, and so it has been for me. Except that I asked for a high-paying gig, and the emphasis for my new job is certainly not on “high-paying.” Then again, it does pay something, which is more than nothing, and it turns out that something is exactly fine for me. Details to come — stay tuned.

And now to bed. More soon.

The Faders — and you! — on the BBC

Want to be on British television? You can be — we got the hookup for you. The Faders, our favorite local alt-country-and-more hipsters, are about to have a close encounter with the BBC, and they want you to be there. Here’s the scoop from Jon in the band:

It’s no joke … we got a call from a BBC crew who are filming in Pittsburgh next Sunday. They need to shoot a scene with a band playing at a small club, and they saw on the web that we’re booked at the Quiet Storm that afternoon. I don’t know any details, except that whatever it is they’re filming stars the woman who played the wife in “Babe,” and our set has to include the folk song “Home Sweet Home.” (seriously)

So if you’d like to join us for what should be a fun and vaguely surreal show, here are the details:

The Faders
The Quiet Storm, Friendship
Sun Nov 21, 3 – 5pm
Cover charge $6

Due to prior commitments I have to miss this one, much to my sorrow. But that just leaves more camera time for you.

What am I bid?

The Paris Review Foundation is holding an auction to raise money for itself. The auction runs from November 9 at 10:00 A.M., EST, through November 17.

Among the offerings are a bunch of unique, mostly writerly or readerly goodies — signed books and such. There are also events, some more literary (a wine-tasting with Jay McInerney) than others (lunch for four at the Playboy Mansion).

One item caught my eye: “[a] copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas shot with a bullet by Hunter S. Thompson.” This delightful specimen is not featured in the online preview, but it’s listed first in the Paris Review email newsletter. Once the auction opens tomorrow we will, one assumes, get to see a photo and more detailed description of the thing.

Oh, how I’d like to own it. But I predict the bidding will be well beyond my discretionary spending allowance (approx. $13) within seconds.

Disappointed though I am, this gets me thinking. Signed books are so commonplace; a distinctively modified book is much more exciting. I don’t know why I didn’t realize this before. Among the treasures in my library are a copy of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius with a custom, crayoned doodle by Dave Eggers. I’m also fond of the bird-like doodle on the dust cover of Lawrence Krauser’s Lemon.

Of course, signatures and doodles are easier to apply at book stores. And it’s hard to imagine anyone orchestrating a public event that combined Mr. Thompson with a loaded firearm. (Please insert your best “loaded” joke here.)

Still and all, a bullet hole in a book is pretty damned distinctive. And quick.

When I have a book published and do signings, I’ll need a creative means of personalizing them. And I do know how to shoot a gun, you know.

UPDATE: As of 9:45pm 11/14, the leading bid on the Hunter S. Thompson bullet-pierced first edition is $1000. Makes a great gift.

Not-so-lost weekend

Hang on a minute: It’s National Drunken Writing Night (NaDruWriNi) tonight and no-one told me. Hrmph.

I had planned to keep to an easy night tonight, due to having had one or perhaps three too many intemperance beverages last night. But I’m already skipping National Novel Writing Month, due to already having a novel in progress that I’m committed to finishing by December 31. And I drink and write, sometimes at the same time. So this event seems perfect for me this year.

My Plan: Finally, at last, revise the plot sheets for The Novel. I started them in the summer, then ran into a roadblock that required rethinking (or more fully thinking out) the characters. Then I couldn’t face the plot sheets, because … well, I don’t know the because. So here I think the inhibition-reduction of NaDruWriNi could help. I’ll post notes through the next few hours in the extended part of this post.

And I’m off!

Continue reading Not-so-lost weekend