Author Archives: Shane

Salvatore Pane’s Exemplary Syllabus

By Shane Solar-Doherty

Some time ago, when I was a much more active contributor on TTTR than I have been of late (I’m eyeing a big comeback in 2011), I wrote a little ditty about how creative writing programs should include literary magazines in their curriculum. I spoke a little about how undergraduate workshops are letting their students down by not exposing them to a broader world of literature (lit mags, indie publishers, fellowships and conferences, etc.) and allowing just about any student who has finished an intermediate writing class into the advanced workshop. This latter point gives instructors the go-ahead to set the bar low and basically hand out an A to every student who writes two stories in a semester, regardless of whether or not they make vast improvements in their revisions or provide constructive feedback during their peers’ workshops.

At the University of Pittsburgh, Salvatore Pane is doing things a little differently, and he’s letting everyone in on it by putting his 2011 undergrad workshop syllabus on his blog (which, might I add, has a very nice design).

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Guardian’s Got Shorties

The Guardian is celebrating the holidays with short stories. Like The New Yorker, they’ve started a podcast on which authors read their favorite stories. Unlike The New Yorker Fiction Podcast, which requires their readers to choose a story that was published in The New Yorker, the Guardian Short Stories Podcast has no real stipulations — authors simply choose their favorite stories and read and discuss them. The podcast started last Saturday. A new episode is being posted every day until Christmas. It’s a little bit of excitement, all leading up to that most exciting Christmas tradition, the burning of the Yule log on a TV screen in your living room.

-S

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Why Google and Amazon Don’t Change a Thing

By Shane Solar-Doherty

In the early 90s, Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores were popping up everywhere. I was young, so I don’t really know what it was like to see that happening. But there must have been a lot of people who said to their friends at dinner parties and such, There’s no way you’ll ever catch me step foot in one of those stores. And they stayed loyal to the owner of the bookstore down the street who had character and a unique business model. Occasionally they would travel away from home and, for lack of other options, they’d go into a chain store and perhaps purchase a book to read on the flight back home, promising over and over to themselves that for every book purchased at a chain store, they’d purchase ten at their local indie. And they would follow through on that. Not a mile away from where they lived there would be a Barnes & Noble or a Borders, where the selection was bigger and the prices a little cheaper, but they would not stray. It became second nature, and they passed it on.

Readers like the ones I’m describing understand this one simple concept: no matter where you buy the book from, the content within the book will not change; your purchase, however, will have an impact on the business that you’re buying it from and the people who run the business.

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Bookshelf Diversity

By Shane Solar-Doherty

As Book Forum pointed out yesterday, Roxane Gay recently questioned the diversity of fiction these days, LaToya Jordan counted the books by black authors on her bookshelf and noticed the absence of other ethnicities, and then The Economist took its 2010 curtain call when naming seven books by male authors — each of which are this year’s blatant go-to titles — as the best books of the year. Fiddlesticks.

If you haven’t already done so, I recommend you go over to your bookshelf and see what kind of artillery you’re packing. Last winter, I did this very thing, and realized that my bookshelf was, like The Economist’s list, in dire need of a gender makeover. So I read Lorrie Moore and Jincy Willett and Miranda July and Lydia Peelle. I thought it was important to do so, and it was.

Jordan says in her response to Gay, “Maybe we all need to take a look at our bookshelves and agree that we’ll all add writers who are not like us, whether that be because of race, gender, or sexual orientation. I wish none of this stuff mattered, but maybe the more we talk about it, the less it will.” It’s a great point, and I’m really glad that, at this moment, it does matter, and we are talking about it. We should constantly be conscious of both what we’re reading and who we’re reading, lest we become closed-minded and uninformed readers.

Looking at my bookshelf today, great female writers have taken their places on my shelves, thanks to the last time I took inventory of my library. And though a multitude of ethnicities are represented too, they are underrepresented to say the least, which suggests to me that it’s time once again to reevaluate my reading patterns and to make an adjustment. All of which I’m only too eager to do.

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A Story is Only as Good as its Title

By Shane Solar-Doherty

Over here, Betsy Lerner is talking about the importance of a book’s title. She says that an important step in selling your book to a publisher is hooking them with a good title. It’s part of the marketing strategy for your book. She says that a “bulls-eye” is when editors bombard you with compliments about your title, and that this is a very good thing.

In my senior year at Emerson, I wrote a story for my advanced fiction class that I titled “The Final Mission”. The class was unanimous in voicing its approval of the story, and I nodded with a real cool smile, though I was ecstatic because I had worked hard on the story and it seemed to pay off. Then my professor spoke up and said, The title could use some work. Indeed, the story was about the final mission in Iraq in which (spoiler alert!) some of the last American troops to be relieved of duty are attacked on the morning that they’re set to leave the desert. There’s grenades and blood and yes, even some Christ allusions. So so much ambition, so very little worldliness.

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Where We Live: On a train car

By Shane Solar-Doherty

I’ve been turning an idea over again and again in my head for weeks, that on my days off I should purchase a day’s train pass (I usually ride my bike or walk everywhere), and ride back and forth from one end of Boston to another, my face buried in a book for an entire day. It’s because I haven’t been reading enough books lately. I’ll take in a short story from a collection here and there, maybe start a novel on a Tuesday and bookmark where I left off, knowing that I might not open that book again until Friday, maybe Saturday. It’s unhealthy.

What’s great about reading on a train is that it’s one of the few times as a reader when you can actually multitask. As you become entranced in your reading, the train (or bus) briskly (or not) escorts you to your destination. And there’s all that noise, and it’s coming from the rails, like a bowling ball perpetually colliding with the pins, and it’s a good noise, because it drowns out the sound of the conversation taking place next to you, which would ordinarily distract you from your reading because you’ve been working on that short story for weeks and thus eavesdropping on conversations all over the city just so you can figure out the way to transcend the page and imitate real life. People will get on and off as they please, on their way to work or a matinee flick or the auto mechanic, and you don’t even notice them. And you know when your stop is, you don’t even have to look up, you’ve learned the hurtles and bends in the track, the whine of the rails when the train comes to a stop, the rush of air that pours into the car when the doors open, and you know how it feels when daylight illuminates the car once you’ve finally emerged from underground.

So this is that rare tribute to public transportation. Though we despise your tendency to delay our comings and goings, and your rancid smells, and your short stops, and your fares, and your (often but not always) rude employees, and your less than stable infrastructure, and your inefficient routes — though all of that we could certainly do without, we’ll take you for who you are, simply because you give us time and a place to read.

The Where We Live series is chance to travel to all the different places that writers and readers live, in a deeper sense than simply geography, but the mental and emotional space they inhabit during their creative lives. Interested in contributing your own Where We Live? Check out previous entries and send us what you got.

*Painting courtesy of Edward B. Gordon

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Your City is not Your City or is it?

By Shane Solar-Doherty

I spent Thanksgiving weekend immersed in all things New York City. During my commute from Boston to New York, I read Super Sad True Love Story, Gary Shteyngart’s novel set in a not-so-distant-future NYC, where technological savvy and physical attraction win you love and appreciation, and where book smarts and cultural knowledge only earn you disrespectful remarks and the stink eye. I was so wrapped up in the story that, although there were several references throughout the novel indicating landmarks and streets that I know very well, I could only think of Manhattan and it’s surrounding boroughs in the extreme terms that Shteyngart described — the towering poles on busy sidewalks where people went to inquire about their credit scores, the checkpoints where characters went through humiliating routines to get from one place to another, the people who walked around gazing into data streams and images being projected in font of them from little gadgets hanging from their necks.

To bring things back into perspective, I gathered my family into the living room the night before the big feast to watch Manhattan, Woody Allen’s flick in which he’s seeking love in all the wrong people. I needed to come back to reality (is that what Woody Allen’s films are based in?) and see NYC as it was and is. It was helpful. Things looked normal. And Meryl Streep was beautiful, which really helped too. And the next morning the parade was on, and a towering 62-foot-tall Spongebob float made it seem all was right in the world again. So I was doing fine.

But then I was back on a bus from NYC to Boston on Saturday and finishing up SSTLS, and NYC was once again some kind of creature that I vaguely knew and simultaneously wished I didn’t. You know what I mean?

It got me to thinking about writers’ impressions of their hometowns and cities. There’s a lot of ways to envision one’s community and surroundings. I liked how both Shteyngart and Allen were able to tell these incredible narratives that were set in the same city, yet, in each story, the people who populated that city and the way in which the city was portrayed were completely different in almost every sense. And I’m trying to think of other narratives that paint the same city in opposite terms. Is there an example like this for Boston? Paris? Des Moines?

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With Vouched, Christopher Newgent Levels the Reading Field

By Shane Solar-Doherty

Recently I was waiting underground for a train with a friend when we started a discussion about reading. First I told her about the books I was reading, a couple she’d never heard of, indeed that many of my friends have likely never heard of. Then she told me that she wasn’t much of a fiction reader. She said she wanted to read more, but she didn’t know where to look when it came to finding books. She said she usually turned to those first few tables we all come to in every bookstore, the ones that act as serving platters for the books that anyone and everyone could potentially be interested in reading. That’s a good place to start, I said. I said, read one of those books, and if you like it, read more by that author, or read other books from the same publisher.

But she wanted to know where else she could look when she wasn’t in the bookstore. She asked me where I find my books. And I started to tell her about the sites and the blogs and the podcasts I like, and I named off the places I turn to and the people and entities I follow on Twitter. The train came while I was talking and cut me off in the middle of a sentence, and when we got inside the car, I stopped talking about it. I felt like the information I was imparting was getting overwhelming and wouldn’t be of any use. Maybe she’d check out those sites I’d recommended, but then what would she do once she got there? Going to a site loaded with content for the first time is like being pulled into a conversation that you know nothing about and to which you have nothing to add.

In retrospect, that day on the train was pretty close to as good a starting place for my friend’s new exploration of fiction as any. She had shown great interest in what I had said at the station, and we certainly had the time during the train ride to converse further about what I was reading and what compelled me to read those books. Perhaps I could have told her more about the characters and plots. Perhaps I could have lent her the books right there, despite that I was in the middle of both. She could have read my copies, and I could have taken copies out from the library, and we could have discussed our reading experiences. But instead of any of that, we changed the subject there on the train.

Christopher Newgent is someone who isn’t changing the subject. In fact, when it comes to Christopher’s new book-promoting endeavor, Vouched Books, talking about books is the only subject.

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Flatmancrooked Nostalgia

Over at Flatmancrooked, Shya Scanlon’s Forecast is selling like Enron stock, sans all that unethical stuff. I ordered a copy of the book myself, then got real nostalgic and revisited the first promo video FMC ever shot, back before all their internet fame and glory. Here’s that video, for your viewing pleasure.

-S

PS – There are fewer than 50 copies left of Forecast. You know what you have to do.

PPS – Clicking on “Watch on YouTube” is totally worth it. Don’t let Sony Music prevent you from using your digit(al) muscles.

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Things They’ve Read Thursday

It’s Thursday. You know what that means.

Well, okay, you don’t. But I’m about to tell you. (Grab a beer.)

We read a lot here at TTTR. Seems appropriate enough. And since we can’t write a post on everything we read (no, we haven’t tried, but don’t test us. Please please please don’t test us), we thought we’d share with you some of the things we’ve read in the past week. This way, you can come away with your own conclusions, instead of reading our always correct opinions.

Also, please share with us anything you think we’ve missed that we need to read. Two way streets are the best kinds of streets, not to mention the most practical.

-S

THE ARTICLES

Nicolle Elizabeth, Marcelle Heath, Meg Pokrass and Susan Tepper talk about what Fictionaut has meant to them & their careers: The Writer’s Tools – Fictionaut

An oldie but a goodie: Michael Cunningham says that you need to write for your readers.

There’s this great Aimee Bender interview over at Guernica Mag.

Roxane Gay got us thinking with a couple of posts on HTMLGIANT: Let’s Keep It Real briefly explores James Frey’s new publishing scheme, and Barnes & Noble Made Me Sad Last Night is about a book graveyard.

If you can’t figure out the words to describe hipsters, let Mark Greif do it for you in the Sociology of the Hipster.

There’s some talk about Hint Fiction, an anthology of very, very short stories, over at The Millions.

10 Online Lit Mags You Should Be Reading.

Nadine Gordimer is 87, and she does a hell of an interview.

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