Book Fight!

Tough love for literature


Episode 127: Spring of Success, Donald Ray Pollock (“Bactine”)

This week we’re talking about an unconventional literary success story. Donald Ray Pollock quit his job of 30 years at a paper mill, determined to give writing a go. If he didn’t make it after five years, he figured, he could always go back. Instead he wound up getting an MFA at Ohio State University, and a book deal for his first collection of stories, Knockemstiff, a fictionalized account of a real place in southern Ohio. He’s since published a novel, The Devil All the Time.

Here’s the author chilling on his front porch like a boss:


In the second half of the show, we talk about the proliferation of those “20 under 40”-style lists in the literary world, and why we’re so obsessed with youth.

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 wherever you get your podcasts, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss another episode.

And if you want to check out Tom’s recent travel essays on his newly revamped site, you can go here.

Thanks for listening!


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Episode 121: Spring of Success, Wells Tower (“The Brown Coast”)

Welcome to the Spring of Success! And welcome to all our new listeners, post-AWP! We can only assume our half-assed marketing efforts and semi-charming personalities have drawn in thousands of new folks, curious to see what this show is all about. This week the show is all about artistic success stories, including the breakthrough story collection Everything Ravaged Everything Burned, by Wells Tower.

Here’s a picture of the author enjoying his success next to an empty cake stand. One can only assume the cake was given to him as a reward for being so successful, and he ate it all just before this photo was taken.


On this week’s show we try to track how Tower achieved so much success with this book, and how the book came to exist in the first place, major-press story collections being a pretty rare breed these days. Tower’s first two stories, including the one we read for the show, were published in The Paris Review, which no doubt helped. He also got a boost from Ben Marcus, one of his grad school professors. Of course it also helps that Tower’s a really good writer.

In each of these special spring episodes, we’ll also consider different aspects of artistic success. This week: People who don’t achieve big success until after their deaths, and why we’re so obsessed with that particular genre of success story. Are those stories meant to be sad? Hopeful? And how many of them really check out? People talk about Melville as a writer who achieved big success after his death, for instance, but while it’s true that his career had tapered off in his later years, he’d written a series of well-reviewed, best-selling novels.

As always, you can stream the episode for free, right here on the site, by clicking on the player below. Or download the mp3 file to play on your favorite device. You can also find us in the iTunes store, on Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

If you enjoy the episode, please consider telling your friends about the show, either in person or online. If you have comments about the things we talked about, just click on the ‘Fight Back’ tab above to send us an email, or leave a comment here on the post itself. We’re also on Twitter and Facebook, so you can keep up with our latest doings there.

Thanks for listening!


Download Episode 121 (right-click, save-as)