Thursday, September 30, 2010

Big Announcement, Big Changes

October 4th is my two-year anniversary writing this blog. My first post talked about a class I had just finished at Grub Street. Two years later I'm still talking about taking classes and writing and books and publishing. For the most part. Which is great. And I plan to continue writing about writing, but just not on this blog. 

Why keep a blog? It is standard publishing-business wisdom that a writer trying to make it in the cut-throat lit world must keep an active blog, keeping a high profile up and running continuously. So, that's what I've been doing. And I love keeping a blog, but feel I've covered, in two years, about all I can say about my little world of literary without starting to get redundant.

And if we're talking audience, I've averaged about 20 views a day for a good long time, and don't see that changing. So switching it up at this point isn't going to break a lot of lit hearts. Besides, as my regular readers probably know, I post over at Beyond the Margins once every couple of weeks. I'm lucky and grateful to be a part of that blog and am finding more often than not I save my tastiest morsels for that outlet.

But I love Unreliable Narrator, and am glad I started it when I did and have kept it going, because it's a wonderful feeling to look back over two year's worth of posts and see the bulk of writing that continues to accumulate. I had no idea I could turn the fiction side of me off so cleanly, and push aside my technical writer brain, for these brief spells. It's been a challenge to write in these chunked blocks of essays.

Unreliable Narrator has never been about the daily life of a writer. I've never felt comfortable spilling my guts on an internationally accessible forum. I did not use UN to talk closely about my current writing projects ("Dear UN, today really sucked because chapter 3 is not going well. I'm having trouble with Claude, my new talking horse character, and also I can't seem to describe how maple syrup flows, or how one chainsaws a branch. I wonder if I should write in third person instead of first? That flashback I wrote last week about Claude's bad time with the nuns back in parochial school is taking on a life of its own, and could be the start of a screenplay or a pilot."), although there are writing blogs that have that focus, which is well and good.

But I am of the mind that after you start talking to everyone you know about your current project, the air starts getting let out of the proverbial first-draft tires, and soon you can't help thinking what everyone is thinking about your writing. I'd rather go off in a corner and write for a few years, then start showing it to people, and then start worrying about what people think about it.

So. I'm trying something different with UN. Starting in a couple days the format will change, temporarily. For one year I will be writing about a topic other than literature (for the most part, there will be days when I will just have to share some writer/book/pub thing with y'all). What's that other thing? I'll announce it soon. While I whip up a tasty post about why I want to write about that topic, and the concept behind the switch. Yes, there's a concept, an idea. Or as they say in the publishing world, a platform. My blog is soon to have a platform.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

October is Literary Festival Time -- 2010 Edition

If you live in Massachusetts, and are a reader or writer, then it's a good time of year. Over the next month there are no fewer than three festivals geared toward book lovers and writers. The following is a run down of the upcoming events.

Jack Kerouac Literary Festival
Where: Downtown Lowell, MA
When: Sept 30-Oct 3
Cost: Most events are free, although donations for some events encouraged

This is an annual event here in Lowell, although this year the festival is touted as new and expanded. The Jack Kerouac Lit Festival boasts a great line up of authors and speakers including Alan Lightman, Jay Atkinson, Russell Banks, Andre Dubus III, Ann Hood, Tom Perrotta, and Anita Shreve.

There will be lots of readings, films, panel discussions, walking tours, and other events. The cobblestone streets and industrial mill architecture in and around downtown Lowell really lend a great atmosphere for this crowd-pleasing event.

Highlights include:
  • Historical Kerouac pubs tour (Friday night starting at the Worthen House tavern)
  • Poetry and street prose competition
  • Dennis McNally's presentation on Kerouac and the American Bohemian
  • A walk in Doctor Sax's woods led by Margarita Turcotte
  • Children's book illustrators event, featuring David Macaulay, Chris VanAllsburg, David Wiesner, Christopher Bing, Kelly Murphy, and Matt Tavares.
  • "Art and Commerce" panel discussion, featuring Anita Shreve, Ann Hood, and Tom Perrotta.
Boston Book Festival
Where: Copley Square, Boston
When: Saturday, October 16th
Cost: Most events are free

In only its second year, the Boston Book Festival (BBF) promises to convene plenty of talent for a single day of packed events. I attended last year and the hardest part is deciding which event to view at any one time since there are multiple events for each time slot. But, how else can you do it? There is a great variety, so if you're a fiction writer or reader, then you can choose a fiction reading over a memoir reading. While the schedule hasn't been set, click here to see a description of each planned event.

Speakers and authors slated to show include Atul Gawande, Stacy Schiff, Nick Flynn, Joyce Carol Oates (keynote), Chip Kidd, Bill Bryson, David Shields, Daphne Kalotay, Michelle Hoover, Gish Jen, Ann Hood, Joshua Ferris, Tom Perrotta, Dennis Lehane, A.M. Homes, and many more. And be on the lookout for fellow Beyond the Marginer and Drum founder Henriette Lazaridis Power who will be hosting the Fiction: Time and Place and Fiction: the Web of Relationship events.

Highlights include:
  • Writer idol: Have a professional actor perform the first page of your manuscript, then stick around while a panel of four judges that includes agents and editors let you know what they think. Presented by Grub Street. I attended this one last year, and it's actually a great way to get some immediate feedback on your first page, to find out whether it's working or not working, and why. And you also get an idea of what kind of writing agents and editors are seeking.
  • Guided open mic. With Steve Almond. Get on up there and read five minutes of your story, novel, or what have you, then see what Mr. Almond has to say about it, in terms of performance and reading choice.
  • Antique book appraisal. Bring in your rare and antique books, maps and ephemera for appraisal by  respected industry experts. Sponsored by the Boston Antiquarian Book Fair.
  • The Book Revue: An evening of music and words. Features Nick Flynn, Kristin Hersh, Dean Wareham, and Joe Pernice.
  • Lots of booths representing literary magazines and book publishers. Great place to pick up stuff that's often hard to find elsewhere.
Concord Festival of Authors
Where: Concord, MA
When: October 20 - November 7, 2010 (2 weeks, people!)
Cost: Most events are free

The Concord Festival of Authors has been around for years. And for the past few years some of the events were held in Lowell. Unfortunately this year not a one will grace city limits. I suppose it makes sense if you're a festival with Concord in the title. It was never the Concord and Lowell festival. Still, it will be missed here in town.
This year's lineup offers up the usual stellar cast of authors who just want to talk about books and writing and publishing. Is that so wrong? Authors scheduled to appear include: Gish Jen, Brunonia Barry, Jon Katz, Andrew J. Bacevich, Nathanial Philbrick, Iris Gomez, Rusty Barnes, Tara Masih, Pauline Maier, David Macaulay, and Stace Budzko among others.
Highlights include:
  • Hoaxes, Frauds, and Forgeries. Panel discussion.
  • New Literary Voices 2010. Four emerging fiction writers (including Iris Gomez) discuss and read from their work.
  • Flash Fiction Panel. Discussion to answer the question, what is flash fiction. Features Rusty Barnes with whom I've studied at Grub Street. And yes, he knows much about flash fiction.
  • Publishing a Book in the Digital Age, panel discussion.
  • Community Reading Series. Poetry reading sponsored by The Concord Poetry Center.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

An Evening with Teenage Fanclub

I used to see a lot of bands play live. It was a thrill, the whole gestalt of heading out for an evening with like-minded friends to hear some energetic fools bang away for an hour in a smoke-filled, beer-stinking dark cave of a nightclub was my idea of a night out.

Those days of dragging my ass out the door after dinner to drive into Boston (I live about 25 miles northwest) are long over. This became painfully apparent a couple months ago when, after buying tickets to the Wedding Present at the Middle East, the Monday night of the show came and went and I was just too tired to make the drive into Cambridge, stay up past midnight, and drive home, and then get out of bed the next morning to go to work. I missed my favorite band play my favorite album of theirs, Bizarro, in its entirety. Painful.

That's why I was less than enthusiastic for Teenage Fanclub's set at Boston's Royale last night. I should have been excited. I mean, it was a Saturday night, so I wasn't tired after a long day of taxing my brain on the tech writing front. And I've never seen the Fanclub play live. But after my Wedding Present fiasco, I thought, this is it. Unless one of my favorite bands is playing the Tsongas Center or across the street at the Blue Shamrock (doubtful), this is my last live rock band.

Well, last night's Teenage Fanclub show was well worth the foray into Boston. First off, the Royale is a beautiful place to see a band. I had never been there. It's been the Royale for about six months. Before that, it was the Roxy, a dance club, for about 20 years, and started life as an opera house. There were plenty of seats, tables, and benches so that my lazy butt could sit, stand, or lean as much as I wanted during the show. Plus, there were copious bars manned by bored-looking 20-somethings who were probably counting the minutes before the club opened for dancing after the show.

Liz and I decided to drive in (instead of taking the T) and parked across the street in a garage. Easy. We were late to see the entire set from opening band and Teenage Fanclub Merge label-mates, Radar Bros. But what we heard we liked: country-alt folk rock. At 8:00 sharp Teenage Fanclub took the stage. We watched from the back of the balcony. The sound was clear and plenty loud enough, although I still wore earplugs.

Teenage Fanclub started life around 1990 as fuzz popsters (good tunes, still a little grungy) out of Scotland. Lately they've been releasing an album every few years full of pop gems. So, no surprise the show was pop heavy, with many selections from their new (and excellent) album Shadows, including the radio ready Sometimes I Don't Need to Believe in Anything and When I Still Have Thee. They also concentrated on songs from their last Merge release Man-Made, including It's All In My Mind. I Need Direction came from their album Howdy! Their incredible Songs From Northern Britain album was represented with Start Again, Can't Feel My Soul, and I Don't Want Control of You. There may have been a few more from this record, but to be honest pop gem after pop gem starts to blur. As far as I could tell they didn't play anything from their follow up to Bandwagonesque, Thirteen, or their odd pairing with Jad Fair, Words of Wisdom and Hope.

Still, they dug into their history for the hardcore fans (which I am one) for Sparky's Dream, Everything Flows (their first single), Star Sign, and finished off with The Concept (from Bandwagonesque), which, in terms of airplay in the states, was one of their biggest hits. Granted you would have had to listen to WFNX in the early '90s or watch MTVs 120 Minutes to find it. It still sounds great. I'm not slagging their newer stuff, because I like all incarnations of the Fanclub, but I still like it better when they turn up the guitars, bass, and drums for a more rocking sound.

Show's over. You don't have to go home but you can't stay here. They cleared out us aging hipsters to make way for the young ladies in their short skirts and heels who just wanted dance the night away.

Video: It's all in my mind: 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Book Signing: Phil Beloin, Jr.

This past Saturday Phil Beloin, Jr. signed copies of his book The Big Bad at an independent bookstore in Naugatuck, CT. This was Phil's first signing for his debut novel, which was published in July by Hilliard & Harris. I drove down to CT. to attend the signing with my friend J.W. Phil, J.W., and I were classmates in film school, and the last time we were together was at my wedding almost eight years ago. So on top of the signing event, it was a mini film school reunion.

The signing was in at Tina's Cafe & Bookshop, a new establishment off the town green. Phil was their inaugural author. Tina's is more cafe than bookshop, but hopefully the townsfolk will rise up to demand more books in their town.

Phil's friends, family, and other supporters turned out for the signing, and a few passersby stopped to check out the stack of books Phil had out on display. J.W. bought a copy and had his signed, and I picked up a second copy that I'll give to some deserving pulp fiction fan as a gift.

If you didn't get a chance to drop by for your copy you still have a chance because Tina's got a shelf devoted to The Big Bad, and Phil just placed more copies in an independent bookstore in Shelton.

Phil tells me he's working on the sequel to the The Big Bad, tentatively titled The Bigger Bad. The second in a trilogy. I don't have any plot details as yet, but as Phil says about Nick Constantine, his main character: "There's no way Nick's not getting into more trouble."

Read an interview with Phil here.
Read my review of The Big Bad here.
Read an article on Phil here.
Buy your copy on Amazon.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Book Stack

Went to Used Book Superstore in Nashua today. And this is what I found.

I guess you could say I have a problem. I guess you could say I don't care.

I can think of worse problems to have. I may not read them all. But I had a great afternoon picking them out. And bringing them home. And thumbing through them. And coveting them.

Tomorrow's another day.