Adam Reger | Pittsburgh Writer, Editor, and Teacher

Pittsburgh writer, editor, ghostwriter, and teacher.

Category: Pittsburgh Copywriter

New, tiny fiction

Here is something new for me: I wrote a tweet-length story and it has been published by Tiny Text (@Tiny_Text), a Twitter-based literary magazine that publishes writing of 140 characters or fewer.

My story, “Spoiler Alert,” boils down all stories to a single, tweet-length formula (really).

You can check out the story here, then dive into Tiny Text’s many fine, super-compressed pieces here.

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New fiction at Euphony

I am very pleased and proud to have a short story, “Cruelty,” in the Spring 2016 issue of Euphony, out of the University of Chicago. You can read the story online here.

A little background on this piece. This is all that remains of a novel I wrote during graduate school, then drastically rewrote several times after graduation. That novel (working title: “Isolation Drills”), after lots of reworking, featured a narrator who was making an academic study of pornographic films and who met and began to date a woman. It was a classic first attempt at a novel, with lots of stuff pulled from my life (NOT the porn thing!), not much plot, and some not-very-well-drawn scenes and characters. The whole drafting process was an invaluable study in what’s required for a novel and how to write one (plan! Revise!), but I’m grateful I don’t have to look at or think about those pages anymore.

Even so, the central conflict of the novel and the relationship between the two main characters stuck with me, and at some point last summer I had two related thoughts: “Is there any way I can salvage anything from those multiple drafts and hundreds of pages?” and “What if the perspective shifted from his to hers?”

And so “Cruelty” came to be.

Notes for Next Time

(I was tempted to title this something flashy and contemporary-seeming, like “One Weird Trick to Make It Easy to Jump into Writing,” but opted for the more prosaic title you see above.)

Anyway, a note stemming from last night’s meeting of my “Writing Studio” class at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. (Briefly, this is a class whose purpose is to offer writers of all genres/backgrounds the time to write, with some hopefully-stimulating elements like a weekly craft talk, exercise prompts, discussion time, the option to share pages with me and get feedback. Basically, think of an open studio in pottery or painting—it’s like that, but with writing.) Two meetings in, the class has been great fun and very stimulating—for me but, far more importantly, for the students, a number of whom have told me they’ve been enjoying it and getting lots done.

We had a great discussion regarding writing process, and someone brought up Hemingway’s practice of stopping a day’s writing in the middle of a sentence so that he’d have a natural and easy place to start the following day.

This prompted me to share something I do when I stop writing for the day that has come to seem so natural, I quite forgot that I’d ever not done it. The students seemed interested, so I thought I’d share it here as well.

Going off the Hemingway practice, which was designed so that Papa could stop when there was more to be written and it would be fairly clear, the following day, what should come next, I have gotten into the habit of marking the place where I’m going to pick up tomorrow and then writing a short note about what I think can or will happen next.

For example, here’s what I wrote at the end of today’s work on a piece that I think will eventually add up to a novel:

“echoes of Homewood, someone saw him give Malaki a hug and wants a hug too; asks Pete’s advice on Hilda”

This will of course be complete nonsense to you, but it means something to me and when I begin work on this piece tomorrow I can look at this and remember what I thought might be a good next step.

I have the option to follow those notes as if they were a blueprint, but it’s only an option. What I think is important is that these ideas present suggestions I can consider following (and decide to do something else—for instance, I might decide this bit about the hug is stupid, after all, and ignore it), begin to follow and then change course, or follow to the letter if I’m simply not feeling very original (or if I still agree with these ideas).

As I said, this has become a thing I do unconsciously when writing, as ingrained as having a cup of coffee nearby and my internet connection disabled. But several of the students remarked that picking up the thread of a piece of writing often costs them a bit of time and effort each time they get started back up on something, and I remembered that that used to be an issue for me, too. Hopefully this is an idea that can be beneficial to somebody out there.

Runner-Up in Nelson Algren Literary Awards

I’m very pleased to announce that a story of mine, “Klamath Falls,” was named a runner-up in the 2016 Nelson Algren Literary Awards, presented by the Chicago Tribune. Here’s the Tribune story on the contest and the grand prize winner, Lee Conell. Congratulations to Lee as well as the four finalists and three other runners-up!

For their sake, not mine—well, also for my sake if we’re being honest—let me say that this is a big deal. The Algren Awards are deluged with submissions every year, and this year the judges received more than 4,200 entries. To make it out of a pool like that, through multiple rounds of judging, is an accomplishment.

The stories will be published in the Tribune‘s “Printers Row” supplement and online via the paper’s Printers Row app. I’ll post a link when “Klamath Falls” is out there, but Conell’s story appeared this past weekend. Go check it out!

Writing Studio: Slightly shameless plug of an upcoming writing class

Later this summer, I am going to be teaching a class at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts that I think/hope may be of interest to some of my readers (local ones, anyway).

The class is “Writing Studio” and it’s not so much a class as, well, studio time dedicated to writing (as the name may suggest).

Just as students in other disciplines at the PCA have studio options, and can drop in once or twice a week to work independently with ceramics, screen printing, sculpture, etc., students interested in writing will now have the opportunity to come in to the PCA’s education building once a week and get some writing done.

The class stems from a basic observation I’ve made throughout my courses at the PCA: most of the writers who’ve come through my classes have the most trouble not with point of view, plot, etc., but with the struggle to find time to write and to keep writing (both in terms of keeping their seats during a single writing session and coming back to the writing desk day after day). Building a healthy writing process, and the discipline to keep it up, is among the most pressing challenges for any writer, especially those just getting started. (And working a day job doesn’t make those challenges any easier.)

“Writing Studio” is meant to address these challenges by offering a dedicated chunk of time each week, as well as a space where students can come to work quietly, buoyed by the presence of others doing the same thing. Along with time to write, the course will offer a sense of community and the opportunity to discuss ongoing challenges, troubles, and triumphs. The aim is to give writers time and space to get work done during the five weeks of the course and to launch them into a productive and sustained writing routine long after.

I’ll supplement the core of the course—in-class writing—with writing exercises, craft lectures*, and availability for one-on-one feedback and discussion. But by and large, the class is about giving students a place and a time to come, sit down, and write.

The class runs five Mondays, beginning July 11 and concluding August 8. Each class will run from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.

If this sounds like something that may be of interest, I hope to see you in July!

*An important note: “Writing Studio” is designed to work for writers in any genre, so readers who don’t write fiction (as I do) may still find something useful in the class, even beyond writing time.

“Scaffolding” in fiction writing

I’ve had the post below saved as a draft for a while, and was inspired to go back to it after reflecting, today, on the conclusion of a really wonderful session of the fiction workshop that I’ve been teaching at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts over the last two or so years. (Shameless plug: another session of the workshop is starting April 6.)

I like to open each class with some discussion of an open-ended question. I do it because writing is such a solitary art form that a little time to compare notes, commiserate, and try to talk a little about how we do what we do (or what we’re trying to do) can be really important and really encouraging for writers, myself included. Also it’s a great way to ease into class before the students have to hear me lecture on plot, point of view, character, etc.

Some questions are better than others, and last night I came up with a good one: where does meaning—“theme,” that quality in a story of its being “about” something—come from? Do you start out thinking, “This story is going to be about human avarice and greed,” or “I’m going to write a novel about fathers and sons”? Or do you just write, and do something like hope a meaning develops? Or look for meaning only later, when you’ve thrown a few thousand (or more) words on the page?

It was a great discussion, and if there was any consensus it’s that your work will usually surprise you: that fathers-and-sons novel you had planned out so nicely will prove to have little to do with either fathers or sons, and that story where you just thought it would be fun to write about rodeo clowns might prove to have unexpected depths beneath the surface.

In any event, it got me thinking about an experience I had last spring and summer with a pair of stories, about which I started to write a blog post that I never finished. I’ve completed the thought and wanted to throw it out there in case it’s of any use or interest to anyone else in thinking about where not only meaning comes from, but where anything in a story comes from: the act/art of composition and the mystery of it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Two fiction classes at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts

A note to plug two excellent classes being offered this winter through the fantastic Pittsburgh Center for the Arts (PCA) (and yes, I am teaching one of them):

*”Fiction Writing I,” taught by Clare Beams, running from January 14 through March 10 (eight Thursday evenings, 6:30–9:30). Clare is a wonderful writer and teacher who I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know through our involvement with the PCA. This fiction class incorporates elements of reading fiction carefully for craft elements, completing writing exercises to generate material and practice specific fictional skills, and some workshopping. It is a fantastic place to start if you’ve been dabbling in fiction writing, wanting to work on stories or a novel in a more focused and sustained way (or perhaps have made a New Year’s resolution to do so), or have a story you’d like to get some feedback on. Clare is a generous, knowledgeable, and fun guide to the art and craft of writing fiction.

*”Fiction II,” taught by . . . me! and running from February 1 to March 16 (seven Wednesday evenings, 6:30–9:30). I use many of the same approaches and techniques as in Fiction I, with the difference that in this course we jump much more quickly into sharing our work with the class, offering comments and constructive criticism through a basic fiction workshop model.

I like to say that this class is not necessarily for advanced students, or even students who’ve taken Fiction I, but is more for students who have material ready to share, and/or who have a writing process that works for them. We will still cover crucial fiction skills such as plot, character, point of view, details, etc., we will still read exemplary stories and novel excerpts from published authors, and we will still dedicate class time to writing exercises that will help you sharpen those skill areas. But we will do it while also giving time to a weekly workshop of two to three stories, requiring students to read their peers’ work with close attention, preparing to discuss the work in person and to hand their peers written comments responding to the work.

*

Every workshop I’ve had the pleasure of leading at the PCA (where I have been teaching for about 2–3 years now) has been a wonderful experience; it’s easily in the top two or three things I get to do each year.

And that’s true not just because I get to talk fiction for several hours each week, or because the students are so wildly talented (although they are), but because I get to spend that time with others who care about stories and writing. If you are aiming to get more serious about your writing, wish to pick up a lapsed writing habit, or are finding your solitary writing routine a little lonely, both these classes offer the gifts of community and commiseration—things that can make all the difference to a writer, especially one new at his or her craft. One of my proudest accomplishments as a teacher is the fact that a number of writing groups have spawned from these classes, as students have gotten comfortable enough with one another as writers and critiquers that they’ve sought to continue those conversations on their own.

One final plug for either or both classes is just to say that both Clare and I are graduates of Master of Fine Arts programs in fiction writing, and we both have taken liberally from those curricula, not only in terms of how we run our workshops but in the way we approach craft elements. (Speaking for myself, my mini-lectures on things like point of view and dialogue are based on observations I made during a really formative “Readings in Fiction” class taught by the writer Michael Byers when I was earning an MFA at the University of Pittsburgh.) To put it a little bluntly, both fiction classes offer a high level of information and instruction—a level you’d typically pay quite a lot for—at a very, very low price.

OK, plugging is over. I’ve never really discussed these classes here on my blog, and I’m not sure why, because they’re a lot of fun to teach and I think both courses, along with the PCA’s offerings as a whole (and those of Pittsburgh Filmmakers, its sister organization), are really awesome, a credit to Pittsburgh in general.

More new fiction

Another of my favorite stories has just been published, this time in After Happy Hour Review, a terrific and fast-growing literary magazine based in Pittsburgh and affiliated with the Hour After Happy Hour writers’ workshop, which I was fortunate enough to participate in over the summer.

The issue was launched with a fantastic reading and party last night, and it looks great, from the front cover to the back.

My story, “One Man in Three Parts,” is a bit of an oddball but has always been a favorite of mine. It involves impalement, the middle finger, sociology, and a priest, Don Guanella, whose name might be familiar to anyone who grew up in the specific geographic area that I did.

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look into where this story came from: I wrote it during a period when I was obsessed with The Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs triple album, and in particular this song, “Papa Was a Rodeo.” Especially, I was amazed by Stephin Merritt’s daring temporal leap in the last section of the song, which begins, “And now it’s 55 years later / We’ve had the romance of the century.” Early drafts contained lines and phrases in the vein of “Now it’s 55 years later.”

Then I revised and rewrote it many, many times over a period of years, periodically forgetting about it and rediscovering it. I did some last-minute tweaking before passing it on to the AHHR editors, and they were kind enough to take it.

New fiction at Ekphrastic

One of my favorite all-time stories, “Mr. Critic,” is now online at Ekphrastic: Writing and Art on Art and Writing, a cool literary magazine focused on the arts.

I wrote the story during graduate school and it’s undergone many iterations since that time (including dwindling from a ridiculous 50 pages to its current, more reasonable length). It’s told from the perspective of an art critic following an artist-provocateur whose specialty is upsetting installation work. There’s also a conservative-columnist character, possibly slightly reminiscent of a real public figure, who enters the story to complete the love triangle. I love this story and its characters so much, I’ve written two sequels and have a weird hybrid novella-in-stories chapbook planned, if I can only find a publisher who accepts chapbooks of 50-60 pages.

Anyway, please check out and enjoy Ekphrastic and “Mr. Critic.”

Summer Reading: “The Leopard” by Giuseppe di Lampedusa

This summer I have been experiencing what a lot of my friends who teach have known of and enjoyed for some time: the stress and pleasure of living and working on a semester-by-semester basis. I’ve been looking over my list of the books I’ve read this year, and see that since the middle of May I’ve nearly doubled the number of books read up to that point.

That’s not the only pleasure of being “off” for the summer, of course. (And I’ll just say briefly that I have kept plenty busy with a number of different writing projects.) But it’s the one I want to focus on now and again over the rest of the summer, beginning with a book I’d heard a lot about for a while, and finally tackled this summer: The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa, first published in 1958, and first published in the United States in 1960.

Although I’d heard lots about The Leopard, I had no idea, really, what it was actually about. Is there a real living leopard in this thing, or what? I never knew before beginning. All I heard was that it was excellent.

Well, guess what. It is excellent. And there are no genuine, living, clawing leopards in the book. But Lampedusa’s slow, steady, consistently beautiful prose more than atones for the lack of wild animals. (Although a dog, Bendico, features prominently in the novel; Lampedusa called him the secret key to the whole novel, and he is a central player in the novel’s truly weird and beautiful ending image.)

In a nutshell, The Leopard traces the decline in influence of Don Fabrizio, his family, and his class of Sicilian gentry around 1860, when Garibaldi took over the island with aims to unite it with the rest of Italy. Fabrizio is the eponymous leopard, a giant, blond-haired man of delicacy and temper who’s both likeable and somewhat satisfying to see reduced by historical forces. After reading it, I can understand why I’d never heard too much detail about its plot, because the larger political intrigues and the familial ones—a nephew calculating whom to marry; a provincial neighbor wearing the wrong style of tails to dinner—don’t come across very powerfully when taken from their context.

What I’d like to do instead is offer this passage, which floored me. My wife and I were driving from Portland, Maine, back to Pittsburgh, and I asked her to read it aloud for me. (More on this trip in a subsequent post. Also, she was in the passenger seat during this reading.)

The ballroom was all golden: smooth on the cornices, uneven on the door frames, in a pale, almost silvery design against a darker background on the door panels and on the shutters annulling the windows, thus conferring on the room the look of some superb jewel case shut off from an unworthy world. It was not the flashy gilding which decorators slap on nowadays, but a faded gold, pale as the hair of Nordic children, determinedly hiding its value under a muted use of precious material intended to let beauty be seen and cost forgotten. Here and there on the panels were knots of rococo flowers in a color so faint as to seem just an ephemeral pink reflected from the chandeliers.

That solar hue, that variegation of gleam and shade, made Don Fabrizio’s heart ache as he stood black and stiff in a doorway: this eminently patrician room reminded him of country things; the chromatic scale was the same as that of the vast wheat fields around Donnafugata, rapt, begging pity from the tyrannous sun; in this room too, as on his estates in mid-August, the harvest had been gathered long before, stacked elsewhere, leaving, as here, a sole reminder in the color of stubble burned and useless now. The notes of the waltz in the warm air seemed to him but a stylization of the incessant winds harping their own sorrows on the parched surfaces, today, yesterday, tomorrow, forever and forever. The crowd of dancers, among whom he could count so many near to him in blood if not in heart, began to seem unreal, made up of that material from which are woven lapsed memories, more elusive even than the stuff of disturbing dreams. From the ceiling the gods, reclining on gilded couches, gazed down smiling and inexorable as a summer sky. They thought themselves eternal; but a bomb manufactured in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was to prove the contrary in 1943.

Wow!!!