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Tough love for literature

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Episode 100: Dennis Lehane, “Until Gwen”

This week we continue our theme-less fall experiment with a story by Dennis Lehane, the writer of the novels Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River, among others. The story, “Until Gwen,” was first published in The Atlantic and is included in Lehane’s collection Coronado.


We talk about crime writing as a genre, stylized dialogue versus overly stylized dialogue, hookers and blow, Boston catch phrases, and Lehane’s advice on making it as a writer, which includes never saying no to Clint Eastwood.

In the second half of the show we pay another visit to the forums for National Novel Writing Month to see how Nano-ers are handling the challenge this year. What music are they listening to? What characters can they not think up names for? What are they putting into their Nano jars?

As always, we’re happy to hear what you think about the stuff we talked about this week. You can email us directly, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the site. Also: we’re on Facebook, and gradually getting better about posting studio pics and links and such. So come visit us over there, like our page, etc. etc.

You can stream today’s episode by clicking on the little player thingy below, or download the mp3 file to play on your favorite device. Or visit us in the iTunes store, or wherever you normally get your podcasts, where you can download back episodes and subscribe (for free) so that you never miss another weekly installment.

Thanks for listening! And if you like the show, tell your friends!


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Episode 74: Greg Baxter, A Preparation for Death

In keeping with our fall theme, this week we’re discussing a memoir about failure: Greg Baxter’s A Preparation for Death, which recounts the author’s unraveling after failing to sell his first novel, moving to Dublin, and getting divorced. “Traditional autobiography is composed after the experience has passed,” Baxter writes in the memoir’s preface. “I wrote this book in the very panic of the experiences that inspired it.”


A March 2013 New Yorker essay called Baxter’s book “grim reading,” and said there was “much to dislike” about it. Since Mike is interested in the line between honesty and self-indulgence in memoir writing, and also often likes writing that’s polarizing, that skewering was enough to make him pick it up, and then foist it upon Tom.

We’ve also got another installment this week of Raccoon News, and another dip into the NaNoWriMo forums. Yes, we know it’s December, but we gave NaNoWriMo pretty short shrift this year.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, by clicking on the little player thingy below. Or download the mp3 file. You can also visit us in the iTunes store, or through just about any of the available podcast apps, where you can subscribe (for free) and never miss another episode.


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We always welcome your feedback on what we talked about on the show. You can email us, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the episode post. Thanks for listening!


Also: please take a minute to vote for us in The AV Club’s Best Podcast of 2014 poll. 

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Episode 72: Ravi Mangla, Understudies

This week’s book is a Tom pick, and was also the runner-up to The Silver Linings Playbook in last year’s donor voting. Ravi Mangla’s Understudies came out earlier this year from San Francisco-based Outpost 19. You can read a brief excerpt on the Outpost 19 website.

Also: It's November, which must mean it's National Novel Writing Month. This week we dig into the NaNoWriMo forums to see what the participants are struggling with: how to name alligators and horses, gas masks for animals, living in a clock tower, and a world where houses are sort of like computers or something?

You can stream the episode right here on our site, by clicking on the little player thingy below. You can also visit us in the iTunes store (link below) where you can catch up on back episodes and subscribe (for free) so you never miss another installment.

As always, thanks for listening to the show, and helping to spread the words to your literature-loving friends. If you’ve got feedback for us, we’re happy to hear it. You can email us, Tweet at us, or just leave a comment here on the site.


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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: Angry Peacocks

Another super-sized Writers Ask this week, not so much because we’re answering lots of questions but because we’ve got lots of opinions. Do you want to know what Tom thinks about the television show The View? Do you want to hear about the time in college when Mike was on a Dating Game-style game show in his dorm? Would you like some literary blind items about bad readings? If so, this is the episode for you. Also, we (nominally) answer some listener questions about, like, writing and junk.

Questions include: How can writers make public readings more entertaining? What weird editing marks do you make on your writing (or the writing of your students)? And how could the National Book Award people spice up their annual ceremony? Also, Mike’s got an update on his NaNoWriMo progress.

You can read Mike’s essay/argument/rant on readings here, on The Fanzine. You can watch full episodes of The View here. You can keep current on whether we’re alive or dead here. You can donate your hard-earned money to us, and receive valuable donor gifts here.

As always, you can stream the episode here on our site, or download the mp3 file. We’re also in the iTunes store, on Stitcher, and in just about any other podcasting app you might use. If you like the show, please help us spread the word–on Twitter, on Facebook, on your town’s most crowded sidewalks. We rely on word of mouth to find new listeners, so we appreciate any help we can get. Thanks for listening!


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Writers Ask: Running a Train

We’re neck-deep in National Novel Writing Month, listeners, and that means this week we’re bringing you a super-sized Writers Ask. Mike reads an excerpt from his NaNoWriMo work-in-progress, and Tom digs up questions from the NaNoWriMo forums: how to name characters (people have so many questions about how to name characters!), what to do if you can control and/or travel through time, how many candles it takes to summon the muse, and how to get your stubbornly passive characters to just do something exciting already.

Before we get to those very pressing questions, though, we’ve got advice to dole out about MFA programs, to both a prospective applicant wondering if she should go through with it and a current MFAer who is very, very unhappy with his (unnamed) program.

In case you’ve forgotten, we’re still in the midst of our annual fundraising drive, trying to raise a couple thousand dollars to keep the show going for another year. If you like the show, please consider throwing us a few bucks. We love doing the show, but it’s also a lot of work each week. We’ve also got ongoing costs to cover, like file-hosting for the episodes, which add up over the course of a year. But we’re not just asking for your altruism; in fact we’ve got a bunch of cool donor gifts we will give you in exchange for your money. It’s almost like capitalism! Visit the support page for all the details, or just click on that piggy bank over in the right-hand column.

In addition to your donations, we’d love it if you helped us spread the word about the show. We rely primarily on word-of-mouth to find new listeners, so tell your book-loving friends to check us out.

Also! Barrelhouse Issue 12 is now available! You can order it here! Do it for America! And yourself! Because it is great!

As always, you can stream or download the episode below, or you can visit us in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe to the podcast and never miss another episode. Thanks for listening!


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Episode 47: John Updike, Rabbit, Run

A jam-packed episode this week. We talk about the first of John Updike’s Rabbit series, in particular its portrayal of sex and the Male Pre-Middle-Life Crisis. Harry Angstrom is a 26-year-old former high-school basketball star who feels trapped in his marriage and his life, so he decides to take off, at least temporarily. We try to figure out whether we’re meant to sympathize with Harry or be critical of his life choices.


Also this week, Mike’s got an update on his NaNoWriMo-ing. And our first ever Rating Reconsidered, in which one of us has decided to change his rating of a book from a previous episode. Plus we try some brandy (and also try to figure out what brandy is).

We’re still running our fundraising drive, and we’d love to have your support. If we raise $2,000 we’ll record a bonus episode about a book chosen by our listeners (i.e., you). We’ve also got some great donor gifts, like our friends and family anthology, with stories by past guests Owen King, Katherine Hill, Paul Lisicky, and more. Please visit our support page, where you can donate quickly and easily using PayPal.

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


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Thanks for listening! If you’ve got feedback, you can email us at bookfight(at)gmail(dot)com, you can follow us on Twitter, or contact us through our website. And come back next week for even more good times.