Book Fight!

Tough love for literature


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Writers Ask: Worm Cans

On this week’s Writers Ask, we counsel someone who’s been rejected from all the MFA programs to which he’s applied. Should he simply give up? Choose a different path? Or put his head down, keep working, and apply again next year? We also tell someone whether they should self-publish, and we share a few of the writing prompts we use in our creative writing classes that have proven particularly useful.

After this week, we’re taking a little break from our Writers Ask episodes so we can embark on a special summer project. We share some details of that project this week, and also workshop potential names for it. (Not to worry: there will still be an episode every week; but these alternate-week episodes will be a little different for the next 2-3 months).

Talking points this week include: rejection, cargo sweatpants, bookshelf organization, worms, Philly dirtbags, and clubs: welcoming or off-putting?

Here’s a link to the Jill Talbot essay Tom mentioned w/r/t formal experimentation.

As always, you can stream the episode here on our site, download the mp3 file, or visit us in the iTunes store, where you can catch up on back issues and subscribe (for free) to never miss another weekly installment.

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Writers Ask: Heaven Is For Real

This week we revisit the topic of writers’ conferences, and try to offer specific advice on how to find a good one that will actually help you improve your work. We also talk about “the classics,” and whether writers need to be well-versed in some version of the literary canon. Plus: Mike channels a questioner who’s writing from heaven, and our first drunken email! (Well, at least the first time an emailer has identified himself as drunk.)

If you’d like to send us emails–drunkenly, soberly, or from some pleasant place in between–you can do so right here, from our site, or at bookfightpod(at)gmail(dot)com. You can also ask us questions via Twitter, or by visiting Tom’s house on a pleasant spring evening and waking him up by pelting his window with tiny pebbles.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or visit us in the iTunes store, where you can download our entire back catalog and subscribe (for free) to never miss another episode.

Thanks for listening!

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Writers Ask: Book Fight After Dark

We recorded this episode pretty late at night. I am posting this episode recap pretty late at night. We talked about some things, like how much MFAs cost, whether grad student pay rates are fair, and why Tom is so anal retentive about organizing books on his super fancy bookshelves. We also talked about Baywatch. And now you can download our conversation and put it in your ears. Isn’t modern life wonderful?

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Writers Ask: Writing Apps and Unlikeable Narrators

In our last Writers Ask segment we talked about ways to jumpstart your work when you’re between projects or feeling listless, which included breaking out of old habits and giving yourself some prompts. This week, Tom goes a step further and dives into the weird world of writing-prompt apps, to see if a smartphone and a few bucks can buy inspiration. In our second segment, we’re joined by Lucas Mann, author of Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere, to answer some questions about the relative importance of “likeability” in nonfiction. Could you dislike the narrator of an essay and still love the essay? How do you write about your uglier impulses while making it clear you understand their ugliness?

As always, you can stream the show right here on our site, or download the mp3 file to play on your favorite device. Or visit us in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe (for free) and never have to worry about missing another episode. You can also find us in Stitcher, or on just about any of the podcast apps that are floating around out there in the universe.

Thanks for listening! If you’ve got questions you’d like us to answer on the show, or just want to give us some feedback on what we’ve talked about, please don’t hesitate to email us. We almost definitely won’t yell at you!

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Writers Ask: Baby Detective

This week we’re answering questions about how to best make use of your limited writing time, and how to jolt yourself into action when you’re between projects. How do you pick your next project? How do you generate material when you’re not sure what you want to write? How do you choose between a bunch of potential writing projects when you’ve only got so many hours in the day?

We also tackle a question about present tense, and revisit the dust-up over its apparent omnipresence that was kicked up in 2010 by British novelist Philip Henshler, who complained in the Telegraph about how many of that year’s Booker Prize nominees employed present-tense narration. Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials series, also weighed in against the preponderance of present tense in fiction, comparing it to the increasing use of handheld cameras in film. We consider the potential cultural implications of so much present-tensing, but also try to offer some practical advice to writers who might want to use it in their work.

Also this week: A couple more rejections by friend-of-the-show Lee Klein, whose book you can check out here. We consider what Tom should do with himself, now that he’s a successful novelist with nary a care in the world. Plus we workshop ideas for a detective novel starring a baby with soiled diapers.

As always, you can stream the show right here on our site, or check us out in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss another episode. We appreciate your feedback on any of the issues we discussed: feel free to drop us a line, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the site.

If you’d like to help support the show, you can donate here, or just click on the piggy bank over there in the right-hand column. Also, please consider shopping for books at Powell’s: if you use any of the links scattered around our site, we’ll get a little taste on the back end.

Thanks for listening!

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Writers Ask: Elevator Pitches and Caviar Dreams

Lots of websites and conferences promise to help you craft an “elevator pitch” for your novel. But is that something writers will ever use? This week we’re talking agent queries, the good and bad of writers’ conferences, and a few scams writers should avoid, like agents charging fees. We also answer a question about confident protagonists, specifically: How do you create a confident character without veering into a parody of confidence?

Other talking points include: AWP table antics, dirty Valentines, overalls, faking your own death, selling a novel, good agents vs. not-so-good agents, dramatic irony, how to pronounce the word ‘quixotic,’ and Tom’s forthcoming novel.

For more on “agent” Melanie Mills, here are a couple stories worth checking out.

For a hilariously pedantic/pissy argument about how to pronounce the word ‘quixotic,’ check out this Wiki discussion.

As promised on the episode, here are a couple photos Mike took while Tom sold his novel in a Wawa parking lot in Delaware.

"Silver Linings Playbook? Never heard of it, sir."

“Silver Linings Playbook? Never heard of it, sir.”

Half-eaten hot dog, sneaker that's seen better days.

Half-eaten hot dog, sneaker that’s seen better days.

Oh, and here’s a photo of Dave Housley from the early 90s, from the Barrelhouse archives.

"Hey Lance, if this doesn't work out, what do you think about starting a lit mag?"

“Hey Lance, if this doesn’t work out, what do you think about starting a lit mag?”

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file. Or check us out in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe (for free) and never miss another episode. While you’re there, do us a favor and leave a quick review, which will help us reach new listeners.

Thanks for listening! And come back next week for more!

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Writers Ask: Spies Like Us

On this week’s episode we discuss a recent essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education—How Iowa Flattened Literature, by Workshop grad Eric Bennet—and whether we agree with the various charges it levels against Iowa specifically and the project of teaching creative writing more generally. We also answer a listener question about how to select the journals to which you submit your work, and whether there are special considerations for as-yet-unpublished writers.

Alternate titles for this episode include: How the CIA Killed My Novel of Ideas, and Dr. Conroy: Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Sensory Details.

Your podcast correspondents, enjoying a winter in Iowa City.

Your podcast correspondents, enjoying a winter in Iowa City.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file. Or check us out in the iTunes store (or through whatever podcast app you prefer, like Podcatcher, Stitcher, or Instacast) where you can subscribe for free and never miss another episode. If you want to help support the show, and also a great independent bookstore, please use any of the Powell’s links on our page–if you get to their site from ours, anything you buy will throw a little money our way.

Thanks for listening! We welcome feedback on what we talked about. Feel free to leave a note in the comments, or shoot us an email.

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