Wednesday, December 23, 2009

An Open Letter to the Brains Behind Yankz Never Tie Laces Again

As promised, I am making good on my campaign to get one of my quibbles picked up by

McSweeney's Internet Tendency. Going forward I will cut to the chase and leave out the disclaimer. Happy eggnog-chugalogging!

An Open Letter to the Brains Behind Yankz Never Tie Laces Again

I’ve sat through all the U-tube tutorials, scratched my head through the PDF instructions you’ve written on your website in 7 languages, and read the many bright-eyed and bushy-tailed testimonials touting your one-of-kind lace-replacer. Well, I hate to break to you— mine split, snapped back and added more water to my knee. My knee has been crummy for years, but this little episode didn’t do it any good. Not that I’m going to foot you with my massage therapy bill. I entered a gentleman’s agreement when I bought your product. I’m not the litigious kind in case you couldn’t tell.

What I’d like however, is for you to replace my damaged goods. I’m through with calling your headquarters. I find your taste in Muzak deplorable. I realize that a good hunk of this country digs Uptempo Smooth Jazz, but I haven’t the stomach for it. So when I have to wait ten minutes on the line to get through to a live person you can bet I’m going to be cranky.

All I want is to get what I rightfully deserve, a working set of Yankz. Your ad clearly states in pure English (And I’m assuming, though I cannot read it, in German, Mandarin, Spanish, Russian, and Farsi) that a person who puts on Yankz will never have to lace-up again. Your weisenheimer customer service rep ID number FQ415964 suggested I buy a pair of loafers if I truly abhorred the thought of lacing up for eternity. Now I love a snarky sense of humor as much as the next guy, but not at my expense.

In short, I’m asking you kindly, for the last time, to make good on your national advertisement and send me a good pair of Yankz. I have no intention of suing if that’s what you are thinking, however, so help me, if one of your smarmy customer service reps mocks me again I will have no choice but to unleash my message in a bottle campaign. I’ve already got 100,000 bottles lined up and I have begun to stuff them with Yankz Sucks paper scraps.

Imagine all of these bottles landing on shores from Daytona Beach to Dubai? Imagine one of your fearless tri-athletes getting bopped in the noggin with one of them? How’s that for irony?

Don’t think of me as the pebble in your shoe. Think of me instead as the crusader for a better sneakerhood.

Yankzfully Yours,
John Gorman

Monday, December 14, 2009

New Gimmick

Don't ask me why but I have decided to include a quirky little section in my blog postings for the rejections I receive from McSweeney's Open Letter To People or Entities Who Are Unlikely to Respond to You. McSweeney's does respond to me, unfortunately they do not accept my entries. So you, dear readers, will get the royal treatment and see my unpublished rejections. Although, since I am posting them on Paper Cut, I guess they will then be considered published. Whatever. The point is, I am sharing my Open Letter To People or Entities Who Are Unlikely to Respond to You. And, should you decide to send them a submission of your own and then have the good fortune of getting it published then please, by all means, let me know. You'll be entitled to a free Inca Cola.

Warm Wishes,
Blogger John

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Before Goobers

Today marks the 115th anniversary of Popeye creator E.C Segar's birthday. Did you have a can of spinach to celebrate? Neither did I. Oddly, enough I tend not to think of spinach when I think of Popeye and I tend not to think of Popeye either, but rather Robin Williams.

I remember going to the movies with not one, but two Daniellas. The date, if you could call it that was chaperoned. Okay, it really wasn't a date. I was six and a little too old for kindergarten. Daniella One's mom packed lunch and snacks for us: baloney sandwiches with Mayo, which I proceeded to rub off into the tinfoil. I had button candy for the first time. I had a bit of trouble grafting it from the paper. So my first impression of it was that it tasted a bit like a sugary spitball.

I was thrilled to sit the the back row with two girls and a chatty mom. We clapped after each of the trailers. We the opening credits to "Popeye" came on we shushed each other, but then as the movie started we made wisecracks when the opportunity arose. I'd never seen Robin Williams before. That was quite a treat. I thought he looked very Popeyeish. I also marveled at how bulky his forearms were, better-proportioned, so I thought, than the comic-strip sailor. I took careful notice of Shelley Duvall too because she was so goofy. A few years later, when I was able to sneak in "The Shining" on HBO I had trouble dissociating the Olive Oil impression I had of her.

I had been primed on live musicals. I already had "Annie" and "Peter Pan" under my belt and I'd seen "Meet Me in St. Louis" with my folks so I was familiar with the genre. I did feel strongly though that it was a bit ridiculous that "Popeye" was a musical too. That was what most of my wisecracking was about. Still, I did watch the whole film through-- not one nap.

By the end of the film, I had finally mastered the art of peeling the candy buttons off their strip. I noticed that Daniella One didn't seem so fond of them either.

"Why did your mom give us these?" I asked her.

"Because she had them when she was a kid," Daniella said.

"And she didn't finish them," I said.

"And she wants us to have them too."

Daniella One stuffed her candy buttons into the brown paper bag she saved. I stuffed whatever I had left over into the bag too. We handed it over to Daniella Two who was only too happy to get the leftovers.

On the way out of the theater Daniella One and I pressed our noses up to the glass candy case. There were Sugar Daddies, Raisinettes, Milk Duds, Chuckles, and Goobers. Daniella One and I looked over at each other. I'm sure sure we were thinking the same thing. It was a long way off till Halloween, but as I left the theater I promised myself not to get shortchanged on my sugar rush the next time.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Pawn Stars

Did you know that the first pawn shops came from ancient China or that today there are over 12,000 of them operating in the United States alone? With the economy going the way its going it just might be a new business trend. Forget the Starbucks, open up a pawn shop. Better Still, put it on the tube.

The other night I saw the dude’s version of “Antique Road Show.” Guys desperate for cash showed up at their local pawn shop ready to practically give away a 17th century rifle, a set of prehistoric shark teeth, a propeller that belonged to Charles Lindbergh, and even a classic '60s Shelby Chassis.

Although I wouldn’t exactly lump myself into the dude category, I was immediately hooked into the disparate stories associated with each historic relic. The guest experts called in to identify the provenance of these relics made me think of “Antiques Road Show” however there is definitely a reality show element underlying this version dubbed “Pawn Stars.” No doubt the name itself a cheap pun on something else that is very guysy establishes a target audience.

There are also some shady characters who try to turn a quick buck on things like a Willie Nelson keychain and other stuff that whiffs of bogus. In this, I see the possibilities for great fiction. And although I haven’t plotted anything out yet the wheels are turning. Frankly, I think this is an awesome show to flip back and forth while watching Monday Night Football.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Drift in Spate

In my Sophomore year of High School I had an art class for one trimester. This was all my fancy pants school thought was necessary to instill a creative mind. I won’t go down that route. I haven’t been back there since. You do the math.

There was a cool newly acquired art teacher by the name of Mr. Solo that wanted to jazz things up a bit. I was new to the school too, a transplant from Xavier in Manhattan. In addition to teaching the art class Mr. Solo spawned an art club and also launched a zine called Spate. It was the first time I had come face to face with a no frills creative journal. Students submitted sketches, photography, and even poetry. I am sorry to say that none of my subs made the cut, but I was still eager to participate and went to all the after school meetings.

Things were run like it was an underground Cabbala. The cover for the first issue of Spate was highly debated. There were votes for a Cyclops, a dragon, a clover with a single dew drop. We settled on a generic beast that bore some resemblance to a Beelzebub. When we finally put it out it was the buzz of the school. Most of it was less than kind. A clutch of provincial dead beat parents wanted to know why the heck there wasn’t a young entrepreneur’s club, a young republicans club— God help us— and when they would spring for better computers.

I admit I hoped to be skilled draftsman, but it was far from my reach though I was quite good at shading. I’d like to think of my magnum opus sketch as a brave prophetic interpretation of the Dancing House in Prague that had yet to be erected. You know that warped glass house that tilts gapes into the Vltava that I’m sure would make Billy Joel enormously proud.

Solo never pulled me on the side and said “Hey Johnny I think you need to quit while you’re ahead.”

He welcomed everybody in his class and club. He reminded me of the role Robin Williams’ played in Dead Poets Society or maybe that’s just my imagination running wild. Solo didn’t last a full year. Rumors had it that the Brother Headmaster had enough of the art du jour and wanted to bring in an Economics prof. The next year they did. I don’t know what really happened to my old Solo, but I’d like to think as his named suggested he drifted as a wanderer into his own brand of spate.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Little Treasures From A Shoebox

I went with my dad and my friend Vinnie and his dad to my first baseball card show. I was new to the convention. Vinnie and his dad had gone many times before and had a game plan. If you didn't know any better you would swear each table had an elaborate cloth of baseball cards spread out in all directions in a giant VFW Hall. There were cards, autographed baseballs and bats, glossy photos. You could buy brand new packs of cards. Some dealers showed their cards behind glass cases, the prices stamped on like supermarket canned goods. I wasn’t shocked at the high prices. I had been reading Beckett price guide for a few months before that first show so I was schooled in the number's department. I wasn’t going to spend a lot of money. I had ten dollars on me. That would only go so far. My dad had already forked over the thirty bucks to get both Don Mattingly and Bret Saberhagen’s autographs. The Royals had just come off their World Series win over their neighbors the Cardinals and I wanted to get the ace pitcher’s John Hancock. My dad wanted me to have Don Mattingly’s autograph too because he thought he had a swing as sweet as the Stan “The Man” Musial.

Getting the autographs was something like a cattle call, the monster of a line dragged out to the front door. All the way off on the stage, the players looked weird in their street clothes. Actually, it was really off-putting. And as I thought about it, standing on the line, it was nothing more than a business deal. I’d asked ballplayers for autographs at the Stadium. That was fun. There was nothing like flagging down a player and having him sign it right there when you caught him off guard his spotless uniform in front of you. And that brief moment before he shuffled off and you looked down at the scrawled initials on your ball or glove or whatever you happened to offer and the rush of adrenaline as if you had just stuck your head into the mouth of a lion that was what it was like to catch an autograph at the stadium.

I stood on slowpoke line with my dad with an awful puss and he called me “smellpot” which was the name he gave me when I was in a mood.

“What gives?” he said.

“I don’t want it,” I said.

“Mattingly is going to be batting champ. Trust me, now is the time to get it.”

“Not like this.”

“You don’t like him?”

“He’s no Dave Winfield.”

This was more or less the thrust of our verbal barb. I moped on line until I got both Mattingly and Saberhagen’s autographs on 8 x 10 glossies. Then I went off and searched the show to find any nifty collectibles that would fit my budget. I shied away from the glass cases. Those cards were well out of my ballpark, but I helped myself to the dollar shoe box. Yes, there was actually a table that had a shoebox filled with mainly old common cards and a few surprises. I nabbed a 1974 Rod Carrew, his bat dipped to his back shoulder in a classic pose waiting to get into the batting cage.

Then I picked up a Ted Williams. He wore the same painless grin as always but was merely a splendid splinter of the early images I'd seen of him from books and newsreels and though he donned a red cap it was with the Washington Senators insignia and not the Bosox. It was a 1971 Topps manager card for only a dollar. Who could pass up such a find? There was also a Willie Mays in an Amazing Mets uniform. Holy Cow. I never knew he even played with them. It was his last card. To round out the playing field I took a Johnny Bench, and a George Brett. My five cards for eight dollars, a frugal but spirited selection.

I walked around some more and saw some odd things like Pete Rose candy bars. Never heard of them. I knew there were Reggie Jacksons and Baby Ruths, but these things looked stale. Who would want to buy old candy? And I never was a big fan of Charlie Hustle.

When I met up with my dad and my friend Vinnie and his Dad I saw that they had 2 boxed sets already clutched under their respective pits. Vinnie also had a few loose cards in hard plastic-coated shields, mostly new stuff with flaming orange letters Hot Prospects. Vinnie’s dad looked down at my stuff.

My dad saw the Ted Williams in my hand and a nonplussed expression washed over his face as if I had pilfered the Missing Link.

“Where’d you get that?” he asked, reaching over to get a better glimpse.

“Over from the shoebox. It was only a buck. I got all these cards for eight dollars.”

I showed them off, the Williams, Carrew, Mays, Bench, and Brett.

“That’s all they’re worth,” Vinnie’s dad said with the vacant eyes of poker player.

What an asshole I thought. He was a stick-in-the-mud if ever there was one, a killjoy from the word go. I felt a little bit crummy because I knew that these cards weren’t worth much. Sure it would be great to have a heyday Williams or a “Say Hey” Mays when he was on the Giants, but where the hell would I get the dough to buy them. But, I liked my cards and I wasn’t ready just yet to fully let the long thread of fantasy that made my cards magical leave my head or hands.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Cost of the Cake

A funny thing happened at the cafe this morning. I was paying for my chocolate cigar and when the barista rang me up I saw four digits flash on the register. Wow, twenty-one hundred dollars for a chocolate cigar. I guess I shouldn’t have asked her to douse any white powder on top of it. She laughed. “Oh, is that what reads on your side?”

“Well, yeah,” I said. “I see the dot now, but I never noticed a three decimal place on a register before.”

Maybe I’m not so observant. Maybe I was starving for my morning sugar rush.

I mulled over the sweet treats that could warrant hefty price tags. First on my mind was Miss Havisham's wedding cake. A single slice would probably ring in at two grand. Also J. Peterman’s Christie’s bought cake from King Edward the VIII wedding and maybe even the bit of Napoleon I snuck off Ann Bancroft’s plate in Fair Harbor when I was five-years old, dining with my mom during our annual vacation on Fire Island.

Okay, so maybe that last one doesn’t weigh in as high on the fiscal scale, but the memory was golden.

I have another child memory that probably better captures the irrational exuberance of sweettooths. It happened at an elementary school bakeoff in which two dads tried to show off who had the deeper pockets. The bidding war started over a single brownie then moved on to a whole dish and then ended up being over a whole table. I remember the wild joy gleaming in Sister Mary Ellen’s eyes. She must have been thinking how awesome it would be for her, a transfer nun/schoolmarm, taking the competition. Sister Ruth, the unhabited wonder Queen of Sheeba of our school, was not about to go down without a fight. She kept pestering Mr. Langone to throw a few more bills into the bid.

“It’s for a good cause,” Sister Ruth kept saying.

And Mr. Langone obliged. Nobody saw any money come out of either Mr. Langone or Mr. Fernandez’s pockets. They raised their hands as I imagined big-time bidders at Sotheby's might do bidding over a rare painting.

At some point Mr. Fernandez scrunched down to look eye to eye with his daughter Marisol. I really didn’t know her all that well, she was a second-grader, but she glowing with hope that her daddy would do whatever it took for her class to win to coveted pizza party. He nodded as his daughter pulled at the elbow of his Burberry's sleeve and you just had that feeling he was done. He was probably thinking what a waste, three hundred eighteen dollars worth of Betty Crocker. It would rot his daughter’s teeth, put a hole in his stomach, and would only be a harbinger of things to come.

Mr. Langone dropped out at three hundred and fifteen dollars. You could see the sweat cooling on his forehead, but what a relief. His bratty kid Charlie didn’t say goodbye to his dad when he shipped off.

I was ambivalent with regards to the whole matter. None of my folks were wasting their coin on this competition. I wasn’t even into these cheesy baked goods. I brought my A game to magazine sales.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

USQ Mega Tasting

The USQ Mega Tastings are a fine way to spend the afternoon. Although I prefer it when there are fewer grubbers there for the free booze. I made it to the second session with a diverse lineup I must admit: Spanish, Italian, French, South African, Californian, and a few other surprises too.

I started off with Etude’s Pinot Gris from Napa. The ’08 vintage is clean, crisp, and an altogether delightful mélange of apple blossom and stony citrus fruit. I next tried a rather interesting Beaujolais Nouveau. I am never really fond of the Beaujolais Nouveau, but I usually sample them year after year because of all the euphoria and just to be vinously hospitable. The ’09 Domaine de la Madone was surprisingly beefy for a Nouveau— earthy to the point where it had much more in common with a Moulin à Vent, a Chénas or another cru Beaujolais.

I later sampled Fattoria del Cerro 2004 Vino Nobile de Montepulciano that also carried a meaty flavor as if I were drinking a delicious wine reduction stew. This didn’t come as such a surprise to me as the Beaujolais because Vino Nobile de Montepulciano has that meatier, earthier stock in its makeup.

A standout for me at the tasting was a rare Aglianico del Vulture. I have always had a penchant for this ancient grape from Southern Italy. It tastes like the sun-baked soil. Many of the Agliancos I have enjoyed have come from a producer called Mastroberadino whose family has been planting vines for centuries. Those grapes are sourced from Campania the region that touches Naples and the old Roman city of Pompeii. Aglianico del Vulture comes from the neighboring Basilicata and is marked by a volcanic richness of its local soil. Tenuta Le Querce 2006 “Il Viloa” was a delightful dark brooding wine and a little bit sweet on the attack and mineralic. I considered an engaging wine

There was also a noteworthy Spanish red made from the Mencía varietal. D. Ventura 2007 Pena do Lobo from the Ribeira Sacra in the province of Lugo all the way Galicia. The Pena do Lobo is culled from 80 year old Mencía vines that rest near the Sil River. I found a pungent aroma of grilled lomo on the nose and almost bready quality that followed on the palate. An interesting blend of wild berries and minerals— a wine that clearly flourishes in its cool environment.

Then I had a Gran Reserva Rioja from Bodegas Lan. A big wine indeed that showed its 5 plus years of oak cask aging. This Gran Reserva wall well-integrated, classic Tempranillo that somehow reminded me a little bit of left bank Bordeaux although Tempranillo usually does remind me a little bit of blackcurrant in taste. The tannin had been tamed, but as I continued to swig my last few sips I thought what a pity not to have, in the very least, some yummy tapas to accompany my vino.

I ended my tasting spree with Royal Tokaji, a 2005 vintage and 5 Puttonyos of pure sin. Before I even retrieved my glass from the pourer, I smelled a burbling hot pot of crème brûlée. That’s how redolent, how powerful the smell of Tokaji can be. And with 5 Puttonyos of sugary glee I was lusting for my glass. Surprise of surprises it wasn’t as sweet up front, but built up into a convincingly profound hyperbolic crescendo of caramelized goodness.

I got out of there as quickly as I could or else I would’ve looped my way into another round.

Friday, November 20, 2009

NaNo Wrimo Advice: Look to the Scene Amigo

NaNo Wrimo has crossed the halfway point. Now the uphill battles begins. There are eleven more days to make the critical threshold. It might be a good idea to call in sick from work if you are overly stressed and want to hit your number. Maybe you write better under pressure.

I’ll tell you something that often works for me and I do this with all of my fiction. I go to dialogue when I need to spur fresh writing. I want to see my characters respond in different situations. I might even find something juicy about my character and when I learn it a spate of information rushes forth. And there is your writing blitz.

If it were another month I’d spend more time exploring the underlying reasons why my character did such and such. I might even question it and see if it jived with the stuff we knew about him previously. But, that’s not going to cut the mustard, not if you are only at 20,000 words and you need to bang out 30,000 more in eleven days.

The point is you need to do whatever it takes to open up your story so that it will move forward. Let me strike that previous comment. It’s okay to move backward too. Let’s say you feel you’ve hit an impasse because you think you ended your novel. That’s fine, but with the writing frenzy you’ve been partaking in there’s no way in the world you’ve scratched the surface of a fully-realized character let alone a full cast of them.

Go back and develop fresh scenes. Use dialogue to move it along. See how each character responds to plain comments, random comments, and bizarre requests. And especially pay attention to that last one. It might just carry the seed to another chapter or even a whole new novel.

Think of these encouraging words by Philip Roth. “It takes two-hundred or so pages just to get going.” Now this seems daunting, it makes writing a herculean task and frankly it is. But, if it takes a master that long to get going you can see how manipulating your characters will be for the their best interest as well as the success of your novel.

I am also a big believer in taking short pauses to gather yourself and figure out where you want to go next. There is plenty of free-writing. But, I don’t always see the merit in pure free-writing. For the most part, I see it as fruitless typing. I think your best off if you arm yourself with a few simple questions. Have them written down so you can return to them when you are in a writing session. Nobody says you have to answer the question in any particular way. But, by making the effort to answer the question you will have keyed in some words. That’s the point.

I had a great writing teacher by the name of Craig Lesley who was a student of Raymond Carver and Craig always said when you get into trouble always go back to the scene. We talked a lot about this very subject when I was working on some short stories and he asked me, quite slyly, “How many scenes do you have?” and I remember the first time he asked me this I hadn’t a clue. Well, a lot has changed since then. For one, I think in scenes even if I am spouting off in a stream of conscious narrative. Go back to “Portnoy’s Complaint” if you don’t believe me. Roth’s narrator starts off by telling his shrink everything in his head. It’s essentially and unfiltered monologue, but low and behold there are scenes in it and it’s not because after a while you realize he’s talking to his shrink, but because he directly addresses his mother, his father, and even his alter ego. He replays scenes from childhood.

Don’t rewrite “Portnoy’s Complaint,” but if you find yourself coming to a halt then go into interrogative mode. Pit different characters who haven’t met each other yet into scenes. Some really nifty things will happen. I promise you. And don’t worry whether or not you think this is going to make it into the final draft. NaNo Wrimo is about getting it onto the page. Give your inner editor the month off.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

What's Inisde The Box

I'm a fan of Faustian drama. My favorite is "A Picture of Dorian Gray." Goethe's "Faust" is a close second to Wilde's interpretation. The original Twilight Zone from the Rod Serling years had plenty of episodes where characters made deals with the devil and even if you could smell the rankness of the inevitable outcome the acting was divine-- you could make the exception.

"The Box," unfortunately, is far from sublime. Let me be frank, I've never really cared for Cameron Diaz. She's no Laura Linney. Frank Langella does keep it somewhat interesting and James Marsden actually make a great sideburn-wearing junior astronaut. But, as engrossing a premise as this oft-reproduced subject is you have to feel for the characters. I connected with none of them. A blight on my sensitivity? Not a chance. I'm an aesthete.I demand superior performance. I watched schmaltz.

The climatic scene where Cameron Diaz confronts Lucifer in a three-piece-suit is deplorable. I had to keep myself from cracking up not because it was predicable or because Diaz will never break from her "There's Something About Mary" pinnacle, but because the combination of the corny lines, the unnecessary sobbing, the bad delivery and the wooden cast of characters behind this film left me flat.

Sure she dies at the end so that her son will be able to see again. The kid will get a one-million-dollar interest-bearing trust fund. Marsden gets arrested and will never be a sideburn-wearing astronaut. Big deal.

It's not about plot twists, happy endings, or hard-boiled reality, it's about the substance of film. Ironically, with most of the junk parading as film these days, this is an above average flick.

Sometimes it's better not to know what's inside the box. Remember the end of "Barton Fink" with John Turturro strolling on the shore?

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Waterworks

In preparation for “Homer and Langley” I have decided to tackle E.L Doctorow’s “The Waterworks” first. I’m not a chronological person by nature. In fact, I never read short story collections cover to cover, but skip around because I find that to be more satisfying. I might as well be talking cantaloupes and iPods because there is little, if any, correlation between short stories and novels much less M.O.s for reading them. And, for good measure, there really is no prescribed way to approach an author’s oeuvre.

Actually, I am already familiar with a couple of the chapters from “Homer and Langley” because I recently had the good pleasure of listening to Doctorow read aloud from his newly minted libro. I find the premise, an insider account of the Collier brothers, intriguing although I find the opening “I’m Homer the blind brother,” a bit over-the-top in its attempt to connect with the old world’s storytelling canon. Nonetheless, I have opted to read his mid nineties work about an obsessed newsman.

“The Waterworks” chronicles the life of McIlvaine, a newspaper man and his search for his lost freelancer, Martin Pemberton. That’s the tip of the iceberg. “The Waterworks” is much more than a who done it caper. It’s about seizing ghosts from our past. I imagine, Doctorow’s newsman narrator wincing at the sound of this. He scoffs at the notion of ghosts existing and yet he is plagued by his own ghosts, the papery-thin children hawking papers and flowers in the street and the boy who drowned in the reservoir. Like most Doctorow novels “The Waterworks” flirts with a creative brand of historical fiction. At times, it reads almost as a detective novel as the cantankerous McIlvaine checks in on the missing Pemberton’s fiancée Ms. Tisdale, the lush painter Wheeler, and the Reverend Grimshaw, and so on. McIlvaine is true to his ilk and reports the facts but every once in a while lets on that he is a human being.

There’s something Sinclairian about Doctorow’s novel “The Waterworks” the way the Bronx Bard zeroes in on the inequities caused by the Industrial Revolution. Newsman Mclvaine’s objectivity has a way of unraveling when examining the raggedy paperboys who are responsible for pushing the papers. He describes these “street urchins” and “street rats” as being unremarkable as paving stones.

McIlvaine becomes absorbed in his quest to find Pemberton. It is the confluence of his journalistic acumen and his budding conscience. For me, this is where the story takes off. He develops an affinity for the widow Sarah Pemberton, Martin’s mother, and is enamored by her mothering the youngest boy. This is the flash of McIlvaine’s underbelly— a lightning fast glimmer.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Independent Book Store Week

Are you tired of looking at the Usual Suspects decked out in the front of the midtown, downtown, and around the town B & N and Borders then try an indie shop this week. If you live in NYC or if you are visiting NYC this week drop in at a local indie bookshop. This is your big chance to really help the lifeblood of the cutting edge in books.

There is also a scavenger hunt. Check out for more details you might win yourself a bookmark or a cool chapbook.

I recommend 191 Books in Chelsea, Bluestocking int eh lower east side and Word in Brooklyn. There are many other, too many for me to spout off about right now

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

NaNo Plan B

Kids don't try this at home. I am about to do something that seems a bit cannibalistic. I going to eat my darlings. I started a novel for this year's NaNo that really isn't gelling with me. I take all the blame. I probably should have plotted it out a bit. The thing is I had a great idea months back and it got lost in the back of my mind.

So for National Novel Writing Month I ran with an idea that was probably better-suited story idea. Frankly, it didn't have the brick and mortar to make it as a novel. This is of course my opinion. Nonetheless, I have decided to cut my losses because I feel I'm at a stalemate in terms of story development. It's not writer's block. I am still punching away at my keypad it's just that the story isn't turning into fluff. And I don't endorse fluff. I don't eat fluff and I don't write.

So what's Plan B? Well, it just so happens that there was blog post I made months back about a topic that totally fascinated me. I'm willing to share it because if you can guess what that blog topic was you are entitled to a free copy of Shades of Luz. How's that for stealth diplomacy and promotion?

I figure this. I need to love what I am writing. Does this mean I probably don't have the makings of being a top ghost writer? Probably. But, I'm more interested in pushing the envelope of literature anyway. So don't worry about me.

Here's the hint. It's not about tennis. If you'll recall I did a few tennis posts in late August and early September. That narrows the field a bit.

Am I afraid that I might not hit my NaNo number by the end of the month? Not a chance. This is actually only the second time I've competed in NaNo, but when I first signed on in 2006 I was already a week late. Point is, I'm a prolific writer. And I indeed to bang out my 50,000 words and then some.

Will I share any of my posts? Well, certainly not before somebody has taken a good guess at my topic so I can send off a copy of Shades of Luz. But, I will do a weekly update on my progress.

Go ahead and reply to this and or any of my upcoming posts with answers to what you think my novel topic will be on.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Touching Base

I want to apologize to my readers for the holdup on new material. There will soon be a bunch of new posts.

Since Shades of Luz of Luz hit Best Seller I have been triple-time communicating with various contacts. Some new and exciting things are indeed on the horizon. Paper Cut will be back to normal in a day or so. And catchup posts will be added as well.

Thanks so much for your patience and understanding. In the meantime, if you haven't caught some of the wonderful past interviews with Bonnie Jo Campbell, Shya Scanlon, Linda Courtland, Katherine Gilraine, and Maria Hooley then please check them out. They all very talented writers

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Taste of Bordeaux A La Wine Woot

This past Saturday I went to an amazing Bordeaux Wine tasting at a friend’s house. He has been a part of Wine Woot for a while and the members are really into their vino. I need to step my game up whenever I go to an event despite my years of imbibing experience and certifications from WSET and ASA.

Some folks tell me that there is a world of wine beyond Bordeaux. Burghounds for example, will pontificate until they are blue in the face and Burgundy in the teeth about their celestial delights: Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny, and of course the untouchables La Tâche, Richbourg and Romanée-Conti.

Give me Latour, Haut-Brion, Margaux, and some of those splendid satellites in Lalande-de-Pomerol and I am happier than a fly on a plate of black truffles. But this kind of partisanship is like Republicans and Democrats or Labors and Tories trying to sit down and have an unbiased discussion about their political leanings.

I digress.

The lineup included a 1976 Haut-Bages-Liberal, a 1983 Cos D’Estournel, a1986 Talbot, a 2000 Château Olivier, a 2000 La Lagune, and a 2006 Prieuré-Lichine. So there was a nice spectrum of vintages and producers in this mini Bordeaux tasting. There were also a couple of Sauternes to accompany pralines, dark chocolate, and espresso-covered almonds.

The ’86 Talbot showed the best. Château Talbot is the second farthest inland of the St. Julien Growths so there is less sea breeze for this property than the Léovilles or Ducru-Beaucaillou. I was immediately taken by the earthy aroma, the whiff of clay, the full mouthfeel and the weight of the wine. I drank it wishing for lamb shank. Steal frites in the very least. I have always been happy quaffing this amiable Fourth Growth, but this was the first time I hailed it a champ amongst a panoply.

Haut-Bages-Liberal is due north of Pichon Longueville and Château Latour and it and bears a Paulliac character of black currants. And as Oz Clarke would note, “There’s a hint of unbridled fruit on the palate.” Though this was the oldest wine we tried for the evening it showed more life than the ’83 Cos D’Estournel. It was my first time I had the Fifth Growth, but I found it well-integrated, mature, yet exuding supple and complex secondary and tertiary flavors. There was darker fruit up front that gave way to a hint of herbal on the finish.

I had to smile to myself realizing as I did after a while that the 1976 vintage was none other than the one chosen by Steven Spurrier and the famous Paris Wine Tasting in which the Americans finally topped the French growers.

I have to say I was a bit disappointed with the Cos D’Estournel which is usually, hands down, one of my favorite wines. The 1983 however is from a so-so vintage one year after the legendary ’82 vintage. Having met the man behind the estate before, Bruno Prats, I have always had an infinity for the Super Second as it is often referred to. I even have an autographed bottle of the 2000 vintage. Nevertheless, Cos D’Estournel is perhaps the greatest wine from St. Estephe and for years has been billed a Super Second, meaning that although it is a Second growth it is as close as you can get to the elite 5 First growths.

The fruit was somewhat reticent and the scent was reserved, not nearly as earthy as other vintages. In all fairness, there was a bit of trouble opening the bottle and a wee bit of cork plopped in. I made a note too about the wine’s provenance. A pleasant and unexpected scent and taste of green olive found its way onto my tongue. Very feminine.

The Olivier and The La Lagune were both agreeable, but was it not for the labeled bottles and their classic 2000 vintage I would have kept going back for more Haut-Bages-Liberal, mainly because I was amused that the supposedly inferior vintage had made its impression on me.

The 2006 Prieuré-Lichine showed well, but was still a bit young. Fresh blackcurrant and cassis, and a little cola followed onto the middle palate and I swirled the fabulous Fourth Growth. I am very excited to see what other tricks the right bank specialist Stéphane Derenoncourt can bring to this left bank property.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Interview with Bonnie Jo Campbell

(Photo by Chris Magson)

Today my guest is the incredible Bonnie Jo Campbell. She is the author of Q Road, Women and Other Animals, the her newest collection AMERICAN SALVAGE has been nominated for the National Book Award

JG: It’s a real pleasure having you here today.

BJC: Well, thank you for inviting me. I didn’t know we’d be doing this interview on the Partridge Family bus. This is so wild. Look at these black lights and posters, and all this room to play Twister where the seats are taken out! Even the bathroom is lovely—and I never would have expected a bidet, and such a pretty one. Will the driver stop for cow sightings or pie shops?

JG: You’re an amazing writer. You have what I’d call a magical way of turning the horrific and profane into poetry. Some of your characters are so raw, touching the edge of villainous, but yet they’re lovable. How do you do it?

BJC: Thank you for your kind comments. I guess that your use of “horrific” and “profane” and “villainous” means you wouldn’t want to hang out with my characters. I’m always a little surprised that people think my characters are so bad. As human beings we are all capable of being both gracious and horrible (in fact, within the last 24 hours I have been both) and everywhere in between. I am interested in writing about characters who are in lousy situations, and so often they are stressed psychologically, physically, and financially, and desperate people don’t look quite so attractive as folks who are doing just fine. So I guess I see my characters as human, and I strive to find and show their humanity even when the characters are not looking or doing their best.

JG: In your newest collection, American Salvage, there’s a wonderful story entitled “The Inventor 1979” would you like to share the inspiration behind that piece?

BJC: That story was inspired by a neighborhood story. I grew up in the same house my mom grew up in, and when she was a kid, another neighbor kid drowned in the pond experimenting with his own scuba equipment. When I was young, a friend of mine got hit by a car on the way to school. She was walking with my brother, and she happened to be a niece of the boy who drowned. So I worked from there. Nothing much in the story is actually true, but it’s my pondering of old events that inspired to write what I did.

JG: Joyce Carol Oates described your characters in Women and Other Animals “as real as if perceiving them through an opened window.” You don’t actually spy on people, but how do you make them so real?

BJC: I make my characters real by BEING all my characters. By the time I’ve spent hundreds of hours writing the stories, I have thoroughly embodied the characters in those stories.

JG: From Women and Other Animals it’s a toss up for me, I love both “Shotgun Wedding” and “The Smallest Man in the World” what’s your favorite story in that collection?

BJC: I guess I don’t have a favorite story from that collection. Not sure why. I guess I love “Old Dogs,” but it’s a very sad story. I read it aloud once, and the room filled with despair. I think one poet in the audience was crying.

JG: From your website and from some of your stories I can see you love animals and especially gorillas. You know I have a penchant for our primate cousins too. How’d did your affinity for them come about?

BJC: I don’t know if I love gorillas, but I feel that I sometimes become a gorilla, and it’s possible that one day I won’t turn back into a human, so I need to keep friendly with the species.

JG: What are you reading now?

BJC: I’m reading Kristina Riggle’s REAL LIFE AND LIARS. It’s funny. I’m reading a book of poems by Sharon Dolin, BURN AND DODGE. It’s essential and complicated.

JG: I have to know what was going through your mind the day you got the National Book Award nomination. What were you doing at that moment? Did the announcement come in the mail, was it an email, a text message?

BJC: They called me one day in advance, and told me that I couldn’t tell anyone but my husband. I asked if I could tell the donkeys, and they said that was fine, but not the chickens. Chickens couldn’t be trusted to tell the secret.

JG:Besides American Salvage what other book deserves to win? Is that a leading a question?

BJC: I don’t buy hardcovers, and the finalists are all checked out the library, so I haven’t read the other books. I’m sure Jayne Anne Phillips is most worthy.

JG: What's your daily writing routine like?

BJC: I write every day that I can, all mornings, and I’m sad when I can’t write. When life is richest, I can also grab a few evenings for writing, but that doesn’t happen very often.

JG: You have a pretty cool blog called Screen Porch Literary Adventures. How did it come about?

BJC: I have three blogs. The Screen Porch Literary Adventures blog was for writing about any time that three or more writers congregate on my screen porch. Lately my toilet has been screwing up so I haven’t been inviting anyone to sit and drink on my screen porch. I have to get that fixed. Its at
My regular writer blog is “The Bone-Eye”
I also have an events blog, in case anyone wants to figure out where I’ll be:

JG: What’s your next stop on the book tour?

BJC: I just got back from Ann Arbor, and next week I go to Elgin, Illinois, to visit Elgin Community College. They’re a great bunch there. They have a great writing program.

JG: You have this reputation for being one of the coolest writers and a bit of a party gal. I saw you once slap-boxing with the poet Kim Addonizio. Care to comment? What other things do you do for fun?

BJC: Oh, gosh, I’m normally a dullard, just sitting around and writing and reading. I do get lively when I’ve got a drink in me, and I remember my former life as wild woman and tour guide. Then anything can happen. I have my reputation to consider, so I won’t tell tales on myself.

JG: What’s your favorite place to hang out?

BJC: I really like to hang out in the donkey barn. The donkeys make a lot of sense to me. If I want to socialize with the humans, I go to Bell’s Brewery, also called Kalamazoo Brewing Company, downtown.

JG: Who are some of your influences as a writer?

BJC: I’d like to say Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck. Realistically, though, I’m probably very much influenced by my mom, who tells outrageous stories about people stealing equipment from construction sites and dancing with lampshades on their heads. I’m also probably my old grandpa, who always started every one of his many stories, “It was kind of cute …” His stories established the basic humanity and commonality of all the folks in his stories.

JG: The word is you used to be a math professor. The only other mathlete writer I know of is Manil Suri. How did this switcheroo come about? Did you secretly always want to write?

BJC: I always wanted to write. I always wrote, but I wasn’t planning to put my eggs in the writing basket. I tried to resist. I was in a Mathematics PhD program. I was going to write my thesis on graph theory. And then I started weeping all the time. My PhD advisor, Dr. Art White, suggested I take a writing class. I took my Master’s Degree in math and jumped ship. I was hooked on fiction writing. I loved teaching mathematics, and I do miss that.

JG: What advice would you give young writers?

BJC: Write, have adventures, write better, have better adventures, get to know other writers with whom you can grow and share. Have adventures with those other writers. Write stuff that other people might want to read.

JG: Would you say you've had an a-ha moment as a writer?

BJC: When I suddenly realized that I should write about my own people, my tribe, I began to write a lot better.

JG: By the way, I love the souvenir tattoos for American Salvage. Did your publicist come up with that idea? How can I get one of those?

BJC: That was my idea. I wanted to have something fun for my book release party. I had matches for my second book, and also a local brewery brewed me a special beer. I’ll mail tattoos to anyone who wants them. I have thousands.

JG: I feel it’s my duty to ask you a question about the craft of literature. I know that sounds hokey but could you share with the readers a bit about the nuts and bolts of what you do. Like how long it takes you to write a solid draft? Do you work on multiple projects at once? I’m guessing because of your math background you’re analytical, but I may be wrong. Maybe your approach to writing is straight from the gut.

BJC: It takes me hundreds of hours to write a short story. A novel seems impossible, so I just keep plugging away without thinking about the time. I work on lots of projects at once. I don’t believe in writer’s block, though I can get tired of working on a given piece. I try to write from the gut, but that analytic mind sure is helpful in revision, which is ninety five percent of what I do. I write as best I can, and then I share my work with fellow writers, and I value their comments immensely.

JG: What are you working on now?

BJC: Lots of things. I wish I had eight hours a day to write. I’d spend two hours a day just on poetry. I’d write an essay every month. Really, though, I can find about three hours a day.

JG: What is the next project?

BJC: A novel. I don’t want to say any more.

JG: Any final words of wisdom you’d like to share?

BJC: Hey, I love being on this crazy bus. Can you ask the driver to pull over so I can get out and take a photograph of that three-legged cow?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Interview with Shya Scanlon

My guest today is the talented writer Shya Scanlon who is the author of the serialized novel Forecast 42, which will be released by Flatmancrooked in Spring 2010. His poetry collection In This Alone Impulse will be published by Noemi Press next month.

JG) Tell us about Forecast 42?

SS) The Forecast 42 Project is a serialization of my novel Forecast across 42 online literary journals and literary blogs.

JG) I think it’s fascinating that you are doing a serialized Novel it makes me think of Dickens. It’s huge. What drove you to do Forecast 42?

SS) Yes, Dickens. Actually, I just published an article about the history and future of serialization at The Faster Times. But I didn’t know much about it when I began the project. It came about largely because I was fed up with following the usual publication path. The book is difficult and strange, and many of the people who would not balk at those elements of it are involved in the alternative and independent press scene. It seemed to make sense to look for my audience there—but an audience is a difficult thing to build, so I went to where the readers are.

JG) How many different journals have your chapters appeared in? Would you like share some of their names?

SS) I’ve been very fortunate to find the support of a very engaged community of editors and bloggers. I couldn’t have asked for more. There is a full list of the 42 web sites involved on the Forecast 42 Project page at my blog:

JG) Your website is pretty cool. It’s a cross between bold minimalism and chic modernism. Did you design it yourself?

SS) For that I have my friend Matty Harper to thank. He’s designed my site, as well as the Forecast cover, and the cover for my forthcoming book of poetry.

JG) What’s Nervous Breakdown? I believe you’ve been a contributor there for a while.

SS) The Nervous Breakdown is a web site run by author Brad Listi devoted to nonfiction and memoir by a ton of great writers (over 200), both emerging and established. I’ve been contributing for a few months, yes. My literary agent sold Brad’s first book, and she introduced us. But this is the exciting part: on November 15th, the site is launching a 3.0 version, which will include fiction, poetry, arts & culture, and all sorts of other great content. It’s going to be massive. And I’ll be co-editing the fiction section, along with Gina Frangello and Stacy Bierlein (editors of OV Books —part of the Dzanc empire), and award-winning author Alexander Chee We’ve got some tricks up our sleeve, and it’s going to be one of the most exciting places for fiction on the Web.

JG) A few years ago I saw you at a Literary Death Match in the world-renowned Tompkins Square Park. What’s it like doing that live, totally awesome reading series?

SS) I’ve participated in the LDM twice, and lost both times. Along with San Francisco author Andrew Dugas, this makes me the losingest LDM contestant—a title I’ll defend to the death.

JG) I don’t want to put you on the spot but you are kind of literary maverick. Would you say that about yourself?

SS) Actually, funny you should say that, because I just got back from my weekly lunch with John McCain, and we were swapping battle stories. Of course, his are a bit more heroic, but I think he knows that succeeding in the small press literary scene requires the same mixture: grit, innovation, and perseverance. Seriously, though, I don’t think I’m that uncommon. A lot of authors are realizing they have to step up their self-promotion in order to get their work read, because traditional lines of promotion are being cut, even by major publishing houses. Whether or not you’re “cut out for it,” you have to find some way of establishing visibility. Plus, it can be fun in its own right.

JG) Your new book deal is with Flatmancrooked, a cutting edge outfit from California, when is your book coming out in print?

SS) I don’t think they’ve set a hard date yet, but we’re shooting for spring, so I’d guess April. We’ll see. We want the book to be amazing, in both content and form, so that’s more important than meeting a deadline at this point.

JG) Would you like to add anything about your relationship with the Publisher? Did James recruit you or did your submission make it past the slush pile?

SS) Actually, the author I mentioned before, Andrew Dugas, somehow caught wind of my project in its germinal stages, and since he was writing an article about alternative publishing models for Flatmancrooked at the time, he included a mention of my project in his essay. They liked the project, signed up to participate in the serialization, and ended up liking the entire manuscript enough to pick it up. They’re a remarkably vibrant, optimistic and smart group of people, and anything they get behind is bound to be extraordinary. I couldn’t have hoped for a better fit for pushing Forecast out into the world as a physical object.

JG) What are you reading now?

I’m in the midst of conducting an interview with Terese Svoboda for HTMLGIANT, so for the last couple weeks I’ve been reading and re-reading a number of her books. She’s an excellent stylist, and possesses a strong moral compass to boot. I recommend both her first novel, Cannibal, and her recent memoir, Black Glasses Like Clark Kent. She also has a novel about pirates coming out next year from Dzanc that looks promising.

SS) I’m also reading the surreal comic novel The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien, and am about to pick up Dune for the first time—a book that’s been recommended to me several times over the years, by such a wide range of readers that I simply can no longer chalk its popularity up to nerds.

JG) What projects are you working on now?

SS) I’ve been spending a lot of time revising Forecast for publication, and have my hands in a lot of “side projects,” such as editing a Fan Fiction section for Opium 9, managing an exquisite corpse story involving 65 contributors (must be read to be believed), and of course working toward the imminent launch of The Nervous Breakdown 3.0. It’s been a number of months since I finished my last novel—a novel-in-stories called Look No Further—and I’m definitely eager to get started on my next book, but I’m not sure when that’ll happen.

JG) Where can I buy your books?

SS) Well, nowhere, yet. But In This Alone Impulse will be available in mid-December through Small Press Distribution —a perfect stocking stuffer for your strange, uncommunicative nephew!

JG) Where did the idea for Forecast come from?

SS) Forecast was the result of a number of different interests and forces in my life. It’s ultimately a story about being an author—the book is narrated by a man whose job it is to constantly watch a woman, and to essentially create a narrative of her life, to get inside her head. Perhaps inevitably, he gets too attached to her, and so when she begins to slip from his grasp, it’s difficult for him on a technical level, but also on an emotional level. Anyone who’s written a novel knows something about post-partum depression, and there’s a strong current of this anxiety running through the book. But it’s also about Seattle—a city I grew up in—and capturing the strange combination of high-tech and organic sensibilities that converge there. The city just has a very futuristic feel, an optimistic feel (look at the Space Needle hovering above the skyline), but it also has a lot of rain, a lot of frustration, and not a little apathy. A society in which everyone has something to gain from self-delusion or denial is an exaggeration, sure, but a realistic exaggeration, if such a term is possible, of life there.


Shya Scanlon’s prose poetry collection In This Alone Impulse will be published by Noemi Press in December, 2009. His novel Forecast will be published by Flatmancrooked in Spring, 2010. Shya received his MFA from Brown University in 2008, where he won the John Hawkes Prize in Fiction. A contest has been named in his honor. He lives in various places with his girlfriend Erin, a strange man named Matty Harper, and their dog Violet.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Flash Fiction Tips with Linda Courtland

(Today Linda Courtland, author of Somewhere to Turn: Stories will be sharing her expertise in flash fiction. Her collection is comprised of 37 terrific shorts.)

Write and Publish Your Flash Fiction: Ten Tips

by Linda Courtland

1. Kill the Adverbs – Get rid of as many modifiers as possible. Slash them with red ink and pack more action into your story. Verbs and nouns are your friends.

2. Keep it Simple – Use short sentences. Keep proper names to two syllables. Use “said” in dialog tags.

3. Use your Emotion – Stir up your senses with rock ballads, patchouli oil, dark chocolate, or whatever moves you. Then transfer that passion to the page.

4. Laugh a Little – Comic touches can set your story apart. Check out how I tackled environmental issues by hiring dolphins to work in office cubicles: Day Job of the Dolphin
Link to:

5. Name your Baby – Pick a title that will stand out in an online Table of Contents. Be clickable. Go for something unusual or provocative.

6. Make a List of Markets – Read the bios of writers you like, and check out the places where they’ve previously published stories. Do research at Subscribe to flash newsletters and blogs.

7. Study the Submission Guidelines – Follow the rules, exactly. If an online market asks for plain text, don’t copy and paste from Microsoft Word. I tried it, and my story about the Secret Wheat Police now has fractions where the hyphens used to be. Witness my shame at: Not So Simple
Link to:

8. Be on Your Best Behavior – Be polite and respectful. Say Please and Thank You. Never argue with an editor if she passes on your story.

9. Learn to Deal with Rejection – Always have a back-up plan. If a story is rejected, send it out again, the same day, to the next place on your list. If it’s rejected three times, consider rewriting, or try submitting to a different type of market.

10. Celebrate Like the Rock Star You Are! – When your piece is accepted, do something special. Tell people, lots of people. And revel in your success.

Here’s wishing you fun and satisfaction with all your flash submissions. Happy writing!

Linda Courtland
Author, Somewhere to Turn: stories

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Second Skin

Once upon a time, I was a pirate, a cowboy, a knight in shining armor, a werewolf, Spiderman, and even a Gary Carter baseball card. And I didn’t just dress up for Halloween. I really dug costumes. At home, I reenacted the Star Wars Cantina scene playing John William’s album full blast. I liked to pretend I was Walrus Man, never Greedo. Greedo got blown away by Solo. I wasn’t a dummy.

I wore a costume to my first Broadway show, Dracula, starring Raúl Juliá. I was five and I donned a cap to the performance. My parents took me to Sardi’s for a snack before the show. When I made my grand entrance into Sardi’s, plastic-fanged, slick-haired, and cape-clad the captain announced, “The count has arrived.”

The whole restaurant set its eyes on me. I grabbed part of my cape to hide my mouth not because I was scared, but because I was a real ham. Know anybody else with the theater bug so early on in life? I really should have been an actor.

Naturally, whenever Halloween arrived I was excited about playing a new part. I wore two different costumes, one for the daytime and one for nighttime. After school, I went trick-or-treating in The Forest Hills Gardens, my neighborhood. Some of the houses had the spirit, cobwebs strewn through the hedges, a plethora of skeletons dancing in the window, fresh-cut jack-o-lanterns. There was none of this storefront candy-begging although the first threat of tampering was making news.

We tended to go to the same houses each year and at night I went in my building. That’s when I put on a second skin. Mom didn’t always have to make two. Sometimes I appropriated a store-bought-job, other times I recycled from previous years. My costumes took up a good deal of space in my toy chest.

Spiderman was my favorite. I really enjoyed slipping into his character though I regretted not having true web-slinging abilities. What especially resonated with me and sometimes weirded me out was the fact that Peter Parker, Spidey’s Alter Ego, grew up in Forest Hills, my neighborhood. He was a science whiz, had tendencies toward being a loner, and is probably the most sensitive Super Hero. When I skimmed through the comic and studied Stan Lee’s sketches I wanted to tread the same ground.

Even though he was hands down may favorite I didn’t wear his getup every year. I reserved it more for private time. I don’t think I liked the way I saw some people gaping at me when I wore his outfit, especially on those cold Halloweens when my mom made me wear a jacket. It didn’t seem right to cover up Spidey’s second skin. And I didn’t like wearing his outfit in the building because my neighbor’s saw me with my dad and naturally this would betray the Spiderman identity.

So you can see my little conundrum.

I guess maybe I took my play life too seriously, but the strange coincidence of my favorite Super Hero living in my neighborhood brought me my first superstition. And it happened during a critical imprinting phase, my youth. To compensate, to quell this little bugger I ate lots Snickers, Mr. Goodbar, Milk Duds, Goobers, whatever was in my goody bag. I wore different skins, twice each Halloween, and other days until I got it out of my system.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Interview with Katherine Gilraine

Today my special guest is Katherine Gilraine, author of the The Index Series a dazzling fantasy novel.

JG) Katherine, thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to chat with Paper Cut.

KG) Thanks for having me here.

JG) I'm sure my readers are interested in knowing about your creative process. What's it like?

KG) For the lack of a better word, random. Highly, highly random. I can be walking down the street, or be at work, or knit something and notice that it would be great if I wrote this down and spiced it up a little. Usually, that's exactly what I end up doing. Usually, I end up writing completely at random and baste the scenery together.

JG)Love the way you sneak a choice cooking word in there, baste. Mind if I borrow it?

KG) It's recyclable.

JG)How long did it take you to write the Index Series? How did you come up with the title?

KG) The Index has been named by a friend of mine, actually, and very inadvertently. He was working on a screenplay and had been tossing titles around, so we ended up bantering about what to rename my series as well as his screenplay. The Index seemed to be most fitting.

It took me about the better part of two months to finish out the first draft of Book 1. NaNo 2006 was responsible for about the first twelve chapters, but after I claimed the win, the story was effectively writing itself. I let it write itself to completion. I finished it out about a week before Christmas 2006.

JG)How are book sales going? Marketing? Is anybody helping you with getting the word out there?

KG)Sales are slow, but the word is slowly getting out there. Marketing, though, is going fantastic - also in a huge part thanks to NaNoWriMo. I really have to thank my friends, though, because they were and still are instrumental in story development. A talented journalist I know, Miss Lisa Basile, had crafted a press release and is working on distribution. So only a few people have directed my own marketing efforts - business cards, blogs, website.

JG)Where can I get a copy of your book?

KG) - as well as on Amazon. I am working on the bookstores as well!

JG)I understand that you hold a regular job in addition to your writing and you also manage a jazz band, what's that like?

KG) It's definitely an exercise in time management! My regular job is wonderful as far as letting me have a "writing break" between work-related tasks, so I usually take about 5-10 minutes at a time to quickly type a something up, and write over my lunch break as well. After hours, I generally stay at the office and multitask my writing with booking calls. The band had actually been there from the conception to publication stage, since I wrote and edited during most of their shows...earned me a lot of points from those guys, but they're fantastic and I love booking for them. Overall, I try to do as much as I can and manage my time to the best of my ability.

JG)With all the things you are juggling how do you get things done? What's your game plan?

KG) In a single My game plan is to focus on the here and now and crank as much as I can to the best of my capacity - I can plan the future until the future arrives, but if I don't act, I will still be exactly where I started. Nothing ventured is nothing gained.

JG)What books do you like to read?

KG)I'm a sucker for history - period history had been a recent fascination and I did a lot of Tudor/Elizabethan era reading; learned a lot about society structure of the yesteryear, so to speak. I am also a major, major fan of true crime, and to be specific, unsolved mysteries. I love solving puzzles; which is why I'm pulled to things that people now either don't think about or just can't figure out.

JG)Who are your favorite authors?

KG)Hands down - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. You can go far and wide, but you can never compare to the original sleuth, Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

JG)How long have you been writing?

KG)Truthfully - all my life. When I was a kid, I would do poetry, short stories, various derivative fiction based on classic adventure books. Mostly, I'd just keep a journal, put my thoughts on paper before I got my own comp. Nearly every day involved some form of words being put together into something.

JG)I know you are active in NANO. How many times have you participated? What's it like? And how has it helped your writing?

KG)This will be my fourth year and I credit NaNo fully in being the catalyst I needed to go forward with publishing. Every writer needs some sort of a deadline and without NaNo, I severely doubt that I would have written Book 1, or its follow-ups. Writing on a deadline pushes the creative capacity to the absolute limit in a way that very few things can replicate and it's a great way to lay out the bare bones of the story. The touch-ups are for the editing phase.

JG)Do you have any upcoming readings? Where?

KG)Not at this moment, but I'm hoping!

JG)Share anything else you'd like to about the craft of writing.

KG)I mentioned a saying, that I actually incorporated as a personal motto: Nothing ventured is nothing gained. I see a myriad of authors for NaNo with some seriously amazing manuscripts who never go forward with getting them out there. And I tell them: venture. Even if it will be tough, next to impossible to garner attention to your work - put it out there. Venture. Because there is always going to be a reader, there is always going to be someone who will love it and be inspired by it. For every author, there is bound to be a reader.

JG)What is your next project? Have you begun a new novel?

KG) The Index is my pet project for life, for all I know! The story and the series really began to write themselves after I wrapped up NaNo 2008 (Book 3). The characters' stories are ever-continuing and this year will be Book 4 - the final book of the first arc. The second arc is going to be another story, for sure.
My next big project, however, involves the band. I want to do well on booking them and I'm working for a few places that may be a good fit for their talent. They're a fantastic bunch, really - and who knows, I may well not be the only person that can edit a book at a jazz show!

JG) Well, I want to thank you once again for visiting my home away from home. You've been a fabulous guest. And I'm sure we all will be hearing a lot more from you and The Index Series in the future.

KG) Thanks again.

Check out Katherine's website for The Index Series

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Behind The Book

I want to go on record as saying that the gift of reading is probably the greatest gift a child can receive. It's something taken for granted, but life-changing. When I heard Martha Southgate say she'd met with a young man who had told her that "Third Girl From The Left" (her novel) was the first book he had ever read I was moved.

How lucky that young man was, how lucky the writer for giving a priceless gift, the love of words.

There's something called Butterfly Theory that says the simple flutter of a single butterfly's wing can change the world. It sounds too phenomenal, bordering on preposterous, in fact its almost maudlin in its sense of careless hope.

How much impact can we make on one person's life? And how would we measure it? So many people need so much help it's overwhelming. There's poverty, illness, gross violation of the soul. How can teaching a child to read matter so much?

Well, it's simple really. This small gesture opens a young mind, bridges the gap between what is impossible to what is possible. It takes great effort and discipline. It's almost biblical teaching a child to fish instead of giving the child the fish, yet the irony here is that the reader cannot read without a book.

Pardon my slippery sense of allegory there is indeed a point. I've come to know Behind the Book for a few years and have seen some readings, attended a function or two, and seen some of these extraordinary people at work. They're goal is simple to teach the young to read, but what is so challenging is getting the necessary materials, the books, to the classrooms. Sounds hard to believe, but in today's world with so much corporate and bureaucratic irresponsibility where time and again bailouts go to the deepest pockets while the smallest pockets stay empty pockets. Children suffer.

There are schools who seriously need to beg for books. That is a crime. It's unconscionable. Behind the Book has done something at a critical juncture. While they are not a new kid on the block, they've been around since the Spring of 2003, what they do is heroic. They offer books, they offer time. They put the authors, whose books have been donated, in the classrooms to get kids excited about reading.

Jo Umans is the founder and fearless leader of Behind the Book. She gathered the idea for her organization while serving as a part-time librarian in her sons private school. She saw how excited students reacted to the guest authors as the writers read their words aloud. A kind of magic unfurled. This, she figured, could take place in the NY City public schools if the resources and the right people worked together.

If you peruse the list of authors on their roster you will be amazed at all the support for this fabulous organization. Francine Prose, Myla Goldberg, Jennifer Egan, A.M Holmes, Colum McCann, Rick Moody, Colson Whitehead, Jonathan Lethem, and on and on and on.

It's about cultivating a lifetime love of books.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Guilty Movie Pleasures

Guess I am in one of those bonky moods. I feel compelled to share a top ten list of guilty movie pleasures. Usually, I pride myself on being this film dweeb who is a snob about everything from cinematography, shot-tracking, dialogue, narrative arc, fade-ins, segues, leitmotif and all this other spiffy stuff, but I'm going sweep that under the straw mat- for today anyway.

1) Rocky IV (the soundtrack rocks and I love that awesome Drago line You vill looose)
2) Wedding Singer (great cheesy flick. Love the scene where all hell breaks loose and the father-of-the bride bites Sandler's leg. Love Steve Buscemi's wedding toast "What were they again oh, yeah hookers)
3) Devil Wears Prada (Guys don't admit to liking it. Love Ann Hathaway. Tucci has all the best lines.)
4) Dirty Dancing ("Nobody puts baby in a corner." R.I.P Patrick.
5) Breakfast Club (Allie Sheedy's response to Judd Nelson's sex question: I'm a nymphomaniac. I'm a compulsive liar)
6)Selena (The late, great tejano star, played by a stunning J-lo. "I would do anything for S-E-L-E-N-A-S")
7)Goodfellas (Can't get enough of it. "Funny, funny how! Am I hear to amuse you?")
8)Sideways (How can any wino not love this. "I'm not drinking any Merlot.")
9)American Splendor (Love Paul Giamatti. I think he's the cat's pajamas. They should post his pic on a box of Cheerios.)
10)Bad News Bears (The Original with Walter Matthau. Nothing better than that Buttercrud, lush and Tatum O'neil playing catch.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ommegang's Three Philosophers

Cooperstown is known for the baseball Hall of Fame, but it also happens to make some great beers too.

Ommegang Brewery, part of the Duvel Belgian empire, is domiciled out there. Great hoppy brew. The one I've been fond of is the Abbey Ale. Tastes like a Trappist treat. Its fruity, nutty, has medium-plus body and is a perfect pair with cheese that bites back.

Recently,I had their Three Philosophers, which is also tangy and tasty. After a big swill your mouth feels like its sucking on fine Ecuadorian cacao with a touch of roasted chestnuts.

If I was forced to say what Three Philosophers this beer brought to mind I'd have to say Kierkegaard, Dewey, and Mo from the Simpson's. I think you'll find it as good good, maybe even better than Chimay's Blue label. Though I've loved that gnarly Belgian in the past my taste buds have been undergoing a transformation lately.

Drink it with a bowl full of nuts and Camembert.

Monday, October 26, 2009

'86 World Series with My Dad

Since it’s that time of year I feel it is fitting to write about the Fall Baseball Classic. This is not a scoop on whether the Yankees or the Phillies will take this year’s World Series nor do I wish to rehash the playoffs. Instead, I would like to share an incredible memory from childhood, the time my dad brought me to Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.

If you’re a baseball fan you can recall the drama of that particular game. Redsox fans were sure they had it in the bag with their Rocket on the mound, and quite frankly, the Mets were floundering on the field and at the plate.

The whole complexion of the game changed on a routine-hit-grounder, through the legs of Bill Buckner, (a lifetime .300 hitter) who would unfortunately be known as a goat for the rest of his ballplaying life.

As unbelievable a game as it was there’s a part of my memory that trumps the whole game and the 56,000 crazy Mets’ fans waving foam thumbs, blaring horns, screaming their voice boxes into laryngitis. The most amazing thing about that night was that my dad and I rebuilt a bond that was slowing slipping away.

We didn’t have a ticket for the game. Okay, so you’ve probably bought a scalped ticket at some point in your life: rock concert, charity ball, maybe a football game. This is not that story. We didn’t have tickets and we didn’t buy any. Got me so far? We didn’t sneak in either. My dad simply flashed an usher his fireman’s badge, and the old timer let us pass the gate. It was the greatest magic trick I had ever witnessed, and my dad’s full hazel eyes gleamed with triumph. When I think of it now it’s like a gateway to the past, his beaming joy that moment we made our way in the stadium must have been the same joy he’d experienced going to a ballgame with his dad. But, maybe that’s even a lame comparison because he set a new spark for us, kept us from drifting apart, at least for the magical night.

I think it’s worth mentioning that I was a 12-year-old twerp, who’d been passed the solipsist’s gene from some distant relation. On the twerp-scale, I ranked in the highest percentiles for complaining, whining, nagging, and demanding. “Get me popcorn, get me a soda, get me another hotdog.” I’ve never been a true fan. I love the game of baseball, but I’m the consummate analyst and sometimes prefer reviewing scorecards then actually watching games. I’m not sure what that says about me, but it is what it is.

My dad had to slap the scorecard shut just so I wouldn’t miss a homerun. He must have felt the lost grip he’d had on me. I had already drifted into a pre-teen haze replete with non-stop gaga over pop music, girls, and the mother of all pipedreams that I’d trod the wet dirt of Shea Stadium’s infield, as their future star third baseman. This last point, this hope was one he shared with me, but that too was slowly ebbing as I found less time to take practice swings.

None of this was going to ruin the night. Dad held his badge in high esteem. He was a member of a grand brotherhood, men from a bygone generation willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country, their community, their sons. When I saw my dad pull out the last of his bills from his wallet, to get me another dog and Coke, I caught glimpse of his badge, shining in the moonlight. I noticed the right side was dented. It reminded me of his helmet which was partially melted from the excruciating heat of the fires he fought.

His badge poked out of his wallet like a Crackerjack prize. I asked him if I could hold it, and the expression on my dad’s face was pure pride. He put it in my hand. It was surprisingly warm and it made my fingers smell like a thousand nickels. It was unvarnished, plenty of nicks by the ladder company number, but when a bit of moonlight kissed the brass it glowed like a piece of King Tut’s tomb.

We watched the game, huddled in our pullovers, hands stuffed in pockets with a gentle whisk of wind blowing the wisps of hair behind our caps. For a brief moment we were invincible.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Chronic City, Jonathan Lethem

At the reading last night, Lethem dispels a haggler who lambastes him for talking ill about Russians by saying "For the paperback, I'll say a few bad things about the Chinese." Lethem has a reputation for being an equal-opportunity-satirist, it's his specialty. He also knows something about scribing kickass prose.

I became I disciple after I read Motherless Brooklyn. I remember going on a junket with a couple of droogies of mine and passing by the Gowanus and saying hey that's where Lionel Essrog tread. Then The Fortress of Solitude became a must read for me. Lethem spins a story of Brooklyn that's full of grittiness and whimsy. How the hell does he do it? Well, he's a King's County man for one and he's an urban anthropologist if this city ever had one.

Chronic City is his latest baby. And it's a beaut. Chronic, just so you know, is top-of-the-line pot, the good shit, the antithesis of schwag. Chase, the former child star, Upper East Side dinner party fixture pals around with Perkus Tooth an oddball highbrow cultural savant. Perkus has this ferocious ability to think elliptically-- he doesn't even know when his synapses clank onto their prescient discoveries.

Chase and Perkus get into some mischief and whatnot. There's a lot of choice verbal barbing. Chase is also in a relationship with a female astronaut who pens letters from outer space. I've seen some critics comment that this book seems more Pynchonian than his earlier works. I see Jonathan Lethem busting out identifying with his Chronic-juked Chase.

The Brooklynite plans to read a different chapter at each of his readings so you could listen to his whole book. In a recession like this, that's a sweet deal on his part. Trouble is you'd have to get yourself to all his events. He got the idea while he was chilling out with some pals in Maine before the novel went into print. Instead of reading to himself, whereupon he might've sluffed through slow parts he put his performance voice in high gear and swigged lot's of honeyed tea.

If you don't feel like pawning yourself as a book groupie or plunking down for the lit gem then I suggest catching a bit of him on podcast. Oh yeah, and Wall Street Journal actually offered a free excerpt. What up with that?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Good Rejection

I've been meaning to do one of these posts for a while now. After you're a published author it doesn't get any easier. You still get rejected. Lately I've taken my lumps from independent bookstores, publishers, journals, newspapers and magazines trying to build the buzz, I've even gotten rejected from a few fine chicas hitting on them (what else is new) even though I showed them an excerpt of my novel and blurbs about me on my Blackberry.

So what do you do? Grin and bear it.

Yesterday I got my umpteenth rejection from Pindeldyboz, a pretty solid lit journal. I've been sending to them for 5 years now. Pretty much anything I send them comes back with comments. Mostly praise. I hate form rejections. I only think they gave me one of those, three years ago. But, they've become increasingly more positive over time. In fact, yesterday's letter seemed like a glowing review. The editor in question, since I'm dropping a name this time, actually apologized for passing on it. He wanted the story to turn out somehow differently. I think my ending was a real bummer for him.

This begs a different kind of question. How does a bummer story earn a rave review? Through a twist of Bizarro logic I suppose. I'm not one-hundred percent sure. What I do know is that I will be on Pindeldyboz pronto and sending another story their way. Maybe this time a personal essay. I think I am starting to get the hang of that.

I have a special request. Send your own story out to them. They are a fine journal and publish both in print and online so you don't have to worry about throwing out the journal and never again being able to live onto literary immortality. If you happen to get lucky let me know maybe I can ride your coattail.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Interview with Maria Rachel Hooley

Today my guest is writer Maria Rachel Hooley, author of New Life Incorporated, When Angels Cry, & The Sojourner series.

JG: Maria, thank you so much for taking the time to share your writing experience with us.

MH: It’s my pleasure.

JG: You’ve written 20 books. Tell us a little about your creative process.

MH: I've been writing most of my life, and I think over time the process has definitely gotten a lot easier. Perhaps as writers, we not only grow into our own style, so to speak, but also our own 'skin' the longer we do this. I don't start a project thinking of a specific genre. It typically starts with character and the rest develops around that, which is why I write in so many genres. The process I typically use is what is called The Snowflake Method because it starts with one of the hardest things to write--a one sentence pitch about the whole novel. Then the steps gradually expand until the novel is plotted, and the writing begins. It is awesome for developing conflict and making sure all threads of the story are tied together.

JG: My readers would love to know how you market your books.

MH: Marketing is tough, especially for self-published authors, but there are so many different places online which can help you establish your platform and get your name out there. I have a Wordpress blog and I also have a website. I also have an Author Central page with Amazon. In addition to these, I also frequent,, and others. One of the good aspects of marketing as an independent author is that a lot of readers take a more active approach, and a lot of the online social and marketing sites are geared toward this. One thing I will say that made it easier for me is that over the years I've built a strong publishing history with poetry and other shorter forms.

JG: How has your writing evolved over time?

MH: I think the biggest thing that helped my writing evolve is poetry. It's one thing to have the basics down, but learning how to use images really transformed my style. I can definitely see a huge difference in the first five novels I wrote and those which came after because that's about the time I started to really hone my poetry skills.

Aside from that, overall, I think the writing is a lot cleaner and tighter. While my writing has always been about characters first, I think my Achilles' heel, description and setting, is finally getting closer to where I want it.

JG: Byline is an impressive journal that does short stories, poems essays, how is Carolyn Wall as an editor?

MH: I really can’t say much about Carolyn Wall because she was not the editor in question when I had the non-fiction piece about greeting cards published. The editor I worked with was Marcia Preston, and Marcia was very good. She had a specific direction she wanted the piece to go and gave great suggestions. I do know that Carolyn is a member of OWFI and I've heard really wonderful things about her.

JG: What books do you like to read?

MH: I really love fantasy and historical fiction. I think the common element is the feeling that a journey is involved.

JG: How do you divide your time between family and writing life, do you have a routine?

MH: As far as dividing my time between writing and family, it's really a juggling act. There's a whole lot of things that vie for my time, from my job as a high school English teacher, to my adjunct job of teaching remedial English classes at a local university. I don't really have a schedule because there are so many expectations, but for me, writing is rather like an addiction. I'm always doing it. If I have fifteen minutes, I'm in the story and writing. I don't wait for huge chunks of time because that might not happen. I tend to write every day, but I never know quite when I'll be doing the actual writing from day to day.

JG: What's the literary community like in Oklahoma?

MH: I know that Oklahoma does have some wonderful writers, and there are several different kinds of events, from literary festivals to writers’ conferences, to poetry readings and more where artists can find a great place to share their craft.

JG: Do you belong to any writing groups or workshops?

MH: I do belong to the Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc. I have belonged to OKRWA, Oklahoma's RWA chapter. I also participate in The Scissortail Festival in Ada, among others.

JG: Have you hosted any events?

MH: I have never hosted any of the workshops. I have acted as a judge or category coordinator in different writing contests, typically in poetry, but I've also judged scripts.

JG: What are your thoughts on writing workshops?

MH: Writing workshops are valuable for numerous reasons. For a beginning writer, there's lots of information on writing and submitting that will help. For writers who are more experienced, you meet a lot of contacts there, and sometimes that makes a huge difference in opening doors. For a published writer, workshops and conferences can provide places to meet readers and places to sell books, as well as making new contacts.

JG: Favorite books, authors
MH: I love Atonement by Ian McEwan, The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, and Ariel by Steven Boyett.

JG: Would you say you've had an a-ha moment as a writer?

MH: I think the biggest a-ha moment was when I entered a writing contest with two different entries, and both judges made the same comment: I was working through personal issues. I consider this an a-ha moment because both pieces were completely fictional. There wasn't a shred of reality in them, yet my words had made the judges believe I had submitted something real. At that moment I knew I wanted to keep writing because I knew I could possibly make a difference with the reality I created.

JG: Here's a silly question: I see you use Wordpress. Did you ever use blogger? Do you have a preference?

MH: I've thought about looking into blogger but because my days are so swamped, I just haven't done it. I don't really like how the widgets work with Wordpress, and I couldn't get the fReado widget to work at all.

JG: What are you working on now?

MH: My current project is a science fiction thriller called Eternity Systems. It focuses on a homicide detective investigating a string of brutal murders tied to a virtual reality corporation called Eternity Systems, a company made famous by its claim that even the dead don't stay dead in virtual reality. Yet now living women are being stalked and killed as victims to feed a serial killer's depraved desires in his own virtual reality.

JG: What is next project?

MH: The next project will probably be a second YA urban fantasy in my Dreamwalker series which deals with a teenage girl whose dreams now affect her waking life in the form of supernatural creatures seeking to destroy her.

Maria Rachel Hooley is the author of 20 novels and most recently Sojourner and When Angels Cry. Below you will find blurbs on both her new books.
Check out her website at

Sojourner (YA urban fantasy)
Seventeen-year-old Elizabeth Moon has been dreaming of her murder her entire life, and in those dreams, a dark presence is there, watching. When she returns home to Hauser's Landing, the very place her father disappeared, she comes in contact with a gorgeous boy named Lev Walker, and it's not long before she's falling in love. But there's something wrong with Lev. When she realizes he's the eerie watcher in her dreams, she'll have to discover the truth. Is he a guardian angel or a sojourner, an angel of death who has come to collect her soul?

When Angels Cry (women's fiction)
Kaylee Renard has never taken the time for love. Independence and financial security have always been top priority. Besides, she believed there will be time for a relationship later, when she can fit it in. In light of a terminal cancer diagnosis, however, her views change, and when Kaylee passes out and falls into a pond, Bastian Connelly, alone and suicidal, goes in after her, hoping that in trying to save Kaylee's life, he will end his own. But life isn't done with Bastian, and neither is love. As Kaylee comes to love him, she wonders what she's missed and seeks to find whatever gifts fate might grant her.