Book Fight!

Tough love for literature


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about how to select the journals to which you submit your work, and whether there are special considerations for as-yet-unpublished writers.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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Writers Ask: Down Under

Last week’s guest, Dave Thomas, stuck around to help us answer some listener questions about self-publishing, giving your work away for free, the differences between graduate and undergraduate workshops, and the joys and aggravations of academia. Plus Tom talks about the time he got punched in the face, and Mike can’t believe neither Dave or Tom has heard of Showbiz Pizza and the Rock-afire Explosion. Here is video evidence that they exist (and are awesome):

Now, at the actual Showbiz Pizza–which, incidentally, was much better than Chuck E. Cheese–the Rock-afire Explosion did both original tunes and covers, but unlike the above video, the tracks were recorded by an actual (human) band, so it wasn’t just lip-synching to the original. The Rock-afire was just one of three stages of animatronic entertainment. On another stage, Billy Bob the bear sang country tunes and bantered with his pal Looney Bird, who for some reason lived in a trash barrel. I don’t remember what happened on the third stage. Honestly, you should just watch this mini-documentary from the early 80s narrated by the guy who created the whole thing.

Sadly, Showbiz went out of business after merging with Chuck E. Cheese and getting rebranded, leaving the Rock-afire Explosion out in the cold. Though in more recent years the “band” has been revived as a traveling show and through online videos, like the Arcade Fire video above. Apparently there’s a documentary about it that used to be on Netflix Streaming but isn’t anymore. Maybe you should buy it. Honestly, the guys behind Rock-afire seem pretty awesome. Here’s the trailer:

And now you know all sorts of stuff about Showbiz Pizza and animatronics. Learning!

But the episode is about much more than animatronic musicians, we promise. As always, you can stream it below, or check us out in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe for free and never miss another episode. Thanks for listening, and for helping to spread the word about the show!


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Writers Ask: On the Nose

This week we cover listener questions about writers’ desks, literary agents, and recommendation letters. Also, Mike defends his choice of hardboiled eggs as an “anytime snack,” and Tom breaks his legendary silence about his brief turn as a reality-television star.

It’s a jam-packed episode, folks, with a little bit of writing and publishing advice, and a whole lot of jibber jabber.

Got questions for us? Send it our way! Your queries power the show; without them, we’re just two dudes talking to each other about nonsense in a basement.

If you’d like to spend even more time with us on the internet, there’s still time to register for a Barrelhouse online workshop–8 week classes begin June 2 and are capped at 12 people apiece. Tom’s teaching a workshop on nonfiction, Mike’s teaching one on fiction, and our friend and colleague Stan Mir is teaching a poetry class. The tuition helps support Barrelhouse, a nonprofit literary journal, and also helps Mike and Tom continue to eat food. Sign up here.

Finally, please support our sponsor, Powell’s Books, where you can buy such modern classics as The Silver Linings Playbook or How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age. Just click on either of those links, or any of the Powell’s buttons on our site, then shop as you normally would: a small percentage of your purchase price will come back to Book Fight as a donation, and you’ll be supporting a great indie bookstore.

As always, you can stream the episode here on the 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.

Thanks for listening!


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Writers Ask: Hurtin’ Feelings and Burnin’ Bridges

To MFA or not to MFA: That is the question. Or, one of the questions for this week’s episode of Writers Ask. With the proliferation of graduate creative writing programs, does the degree bring diminishing returns? How important is it to attend a “top tier” program? What can you expect to get out of the experience of devoting 2-3 years to writing? Will it help you build a career?

Also, we explain our beef with flash fiction, and share our pet peeves about writers and social media. Plus, Tom burns a bridge, and Mike tries to find some life lessons in past failures.

As always, you can stream the episode here, or download the mp3 file. Or, check us out in the iTunes store, where you can download past episodes for free and subscribe, so you never miss another update. While you’re there, please consider leaving us a quick review, which helps us reach new listeners.


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Please consider helping to support the show–and a great independent book store–by shopping at Powell’s Online. Just click on any of the Powell’s buttons on the site, like the one over in the right-hand column, then shop as you normally would. Anything you buy will throw a little money back our way. Win win!

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Episode 16: Tom Grimes, Mentor

Reading Tom Grimes’ memoir about his time at the Iowa Writers Workshop–and his long-running relationship with its famed director, Frank Conroy–has brought on a combination of nostalgia and post-traumatic stress syndrome in your humble podcasters, who both graduated from the Workshop roughly a decade after Grimes. Tom recounts his first, humbling workshop with Conroy, and Mike realizes he’s always longed for the kind of mentor relationship so lovingly described in the book.

Grimes has described Mentor as the autobiography of a failed novelist, though one clear lesson of the book is that success and failure are both relative. Continue reading