Adam Reger | Freelance Writer

Pittsburgh-based freelance writer

Category: Reading

Now It Can Be Told: My Book!

I’ve been holding off on saying much publicly, but as today is its release date, I’d like to announce that a book I worked on last summer—doing a lot of editing and a substantial amount of writing—is now out in the world.

It’s called U.S. Navy Pirate Combat Skills and the publisher is Lyons Press. It’s a humor book, taking public-domain military manuals and editing the text to create a manual on how to fight old-timey pirates (think Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, etc., not Somali pirates with motorboats and machine guns). It’s full of great, funny illustrations (that I thought up, so maybe some bias there) by David Cole Wheeler (who also illustrated U.S. Army Werewolf Sniper Manual and U.S. Army Werewolf Sniper Manual, predecessors to the pirate book, both edited/written by Cole Louison).

It was a lot of fun to work on last summer, and then to see the illustrations as they were produced, and, later, to answer copy editing queries about whether I perhaps meant “cutlass” instead of “dagger” on page 93, and if I could tweak the text of a figure caption to better match the image of hand-to-hand combat between a sailor and a crusty seadog. The staff at Lyons Press, in particular Keith Wallman and Ellen Urban, were terrific to work with.

The most fun of all, though, was writing prefatory materials for the book: a guest foreword by retired admiral I. I. Scuttle, commander of the most decorated anti-pirate fighting force in U.S. Navy history that includes “The Pirate Fighter’s Creed” and the lyrics of the sea-chantey “Pirate Slayers We.”

Below the fold, to give you a sense of what you’re getting yourself into by picking up this book, a few verses of that famous morale-boosting thumper, “Pirate Slayers We”:

Read the rest of this entry »

New story at Twelve Stories

Twelve Stories, an online journal I’ve always liked a whole lot—isn’t twelve an ideal number of stories for an issue?—is up with its brand-new third issue. I’d say that the journal continues to get better, but my modesty prohibits that.

Which is to say that my story, “Elegy for Lost Ambitions,” is one of the lucky twelve. Be sure to check out the whole issue. I’m getting to the last of the other stories now, but everything I’ve read so far has been terrific. Also, as someone who knows next to nothing about typefaces, layout, et cetera, I’ve always found Twelve Stories whole aesthetic wonderfully clean and easy to read. So, you know, one more reason to check it out.

Friday Fun

Looking through some old files, I came upon a quite forgotten, quite weird document that I wrote some time near the end of my first year of graduate school. It’s an appendix to the novel I was working on then. More specifically, it is a four-page script for a scene in an adult film. (All the caveats you would associate with such a document apply here—mature subject matter, adult language, sexual situations, clumsy dialogue, unnatural transitions from everyday life to sexual situations, bad double entendres, etc.)

Here is the file, if you’d like to read it. Below the fold I’ve put in the background which will give you context—not that you exactly need it—for where and how this fit in and why I was writing it in the first place. Read the rest of this entry »

On Freaking out

This link has gotten around a bit, of British author Jacqueline Howett freaking out on a book review blogger, Big Al, in the comments section. Howett takes exception to the typographical and grammatical errors that Big Al notes in his review, insisting that he downloaded the wrong version of her book. She quickly loses her cool from there, going on to call the blog “Big ALs snake pit and rat hole” (sic) and tangling with the post’s anonymous commenters before signing off with a few genteel posts that say, simply, “F** off.”

I have no desire to pile on or say much about this specific case—really, it’s pretty cut-and-dried, as you’ll see if you read through the comments yourself. (As many commenters note, the irony is that it’s not really a negative review.)

What I’m interested in is how easily this author freaked out, and how the internet facilitated her freak-out becoming a very public thing very quickly. (See here for Big Al’s rundown of just how widely his review of Howett’s The Greek Seamen has been linked to.) Like a lot of things that go viral on the internet, the subtext of people’s enjoyment over Howett’s meltdown includes a heavy dose of “Thank God that wasn’t me.” (The rest is a vigorous sense of outrage. Other recent, writerly classics of this genre include the editor who reprinted a freelancer’s work without pay, then suggested that the writer should pay her and the Columbia University professor who wrote a condescending letter to her former students telling them how great Columbia is.) Read the rest of this entry »

New Story

I have a piece of flash fiction up over at Prick of the Spindle, a great online lit mag publishing lots of interesting fiction, non-fiction, interviews, and (I will have to take others’ word on this) poetry. My story is called “Root Canal” and is about, yes, a time I had a root canal. It’s very strongly connected, in my mind, to my first year in Pittsburgh. Not only did I have the aforementioned root canal then, but the other thing in the story—a noisy upstairs neighbor—was also a big factor in my life. Reading over it now really takes me back to those heady days in Pittsburgh’s Greenfield neighborhood. Anyway, I’m quite proud of it and excited to be published in Prick of the Spindle.

Pink Noise; or, Thank you, Jonathan Franzen

A while back I wrote about reading Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom: A Novel. In another instance, I talked about how Franzen described a program, “Eigenmelody,” in The Corrections: A Novel (Recent Picador Highlights)
that seemingly “came true” later, in the form of the technologies used by music sites like MOG and Pandora.

Anyway, I’ve decided it’s long overdue that I should praise/publicly thank Franzen for tipping me off, in the pages of Freedom, to “pink noise.” During a train ride, the (book’s most interesting) character (in my opinion), Richard Katz, puts on a big pair of headphones and listens to “an iPod full of pink noise,” thereby drowning out all the noise around him. I don’t have the book in front of me so I can’t quote it, but Franzen—quite clearly a low-level science geek—slips in a quick description of what pink noise is. (A technical treatise on it, featuring more info than you’d care to know, is here.)

For months now, I have been using an hour-long pink noise track to drown out all kinds of irritating background noise. I use it mainly at work, where I share an office. It has made a huge difference, and is incredibly effective at muffling all sorts of sounds. On the first or second day of my using it, the telephone, about three feet from my head, began to ring, but I didn’t notice until I caught the phone’s flashing red light in my peripheral vision.

Anyway, putting aside all its literary merit, Freedom was well worth reading for the discovery of pink noise alone. So, though you will never read this, Mr. Franzen, thank you.

AWP Post-Mortem: What Was That?

This past weekend I went to the annual conference of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP, though obviously it would more accurately be “AWWP”) in Washington, DC. It was fun. I got to see some great writers read, among them Stephen Elliott, Nick Flynn, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Amy Hempel, and Gary Shtyengart. I got a good, large dose of Richard Bausch, who is as entertaining, wise, and funny in person as are his stories. (Actually, he’s way funnier than his stories, which rarely “work blue,” in contrast to the man.) And I dropped in on a couple panels preoccupied with my own preoccupation, making a living as a writer (while not giving up on my personal, creative work).

But as I made my way back to Pittsburgh, the dominant feeling was something like “So that was AWP.” Kind of a flat feeling, like “Why did I do that again?” My hope for the conference was that I’d come out of it hungry to write, inspired by what I’d seen and heard. And while that sort of happened, to a greater extent, it didn’t.

I’d been to AWP once before, three years ago when it was held in New York. But in some ways I considered this my first conference because in New York I slept on a friend’s air mattress up in Queens, and it seemed that my days divided neatly into AWP Time and Friend Time. AWP Time featured panels and perusing the tables at the Bookfair. Friend Time began with a subway ride north, and was centered more on bars and strip clubs, with not as much overlap between the two as you might expect. In the time between conferences, I’d come to understand that a lot of AWP’s value stemmed from networking, and that a lot of that was done outside of panels and the Bookfair, at off-site events and over drinks (though never, that I’ve heard, at off-site events hosted by strip clubs, or over watered-down strip-club drinks).

My first reaction to the “flat” feeling mentioned above was that the trip was a waste of money and time (during which I got zero writing done, it bears mentioning). I opined to my traveling companion that it would have been better to do a writer’s retreat kind of deal, where a part of each day was spent actually writing.

That’s probably true, but in the fullness of time—two days later—I think that such a reaction misunderstands AWP’s purpose. I have a friend from grad school whose AWP schedule was positively packed, and the reason is that he attended a few of those writer’s-retreat deals—Breadloaf, Sewanee—and met a lot of people there. AWP’s function seems more to refresh those connections.

And/or to solidify them. My roommate, Sal “Chugg-a-Lugg” Pane, knows a lot of literary people only by way of the internet. It was interesting to see him talking with people in person whom he’s “known” for some time, but never actually met. (These observations also served to bring home the fact that a lot of literary people are quite awkward in person.)

These are incomplete thoughts, but when an experience feels flat or vaguely unsatisfying, it’s usually useful to think about why that is, and whether or not you’re “doing it” wrong. (Heh, heh.) I didn’t do AWP wrong, exactly, but it was less than it could have been. The way to do it, it seems to me, is to use AWP as a meeting space for old friends, understanding that it’s not going to help your writing transcend previous limitations, but, if done correctly, it might help you renew your commitment to the writing life.

Seemingly Unrelated Addendum: The writer Pam Parker (whose blog, Finding Meaning with Words, is well worth your time), is a Green Bay Packers fan and jokingly suggested some kind of wager between the two of us (as the Packers just played the Pittsburgh Steelers, my local team, in Super Bowl XLV). Nothing came of it, but in the spirit of friendly sports-wagering between writers, I thought I should acknowledge this “rivalry” and give Pam a small shout-out for having backed the winning team. Congratulations to the Packers, who also mowed down my real team, the Philadelphia Eagles, en route to becoming champs.

(This addendum is related, in case you are wondering (and still reading), because the Super Bowl was the culmination of my long, eventful weekend—i.e., I was home for maybe 90 minutes before kickoff—and thus the conference and the game are tightly linked in my mind.)

Pittsburgh’s Loss

Sad news (and old news, apparently). The Gist Street Reading Series has concluded its final season. I laded on the praise and affection a while ago; now it reads like an elegy. Ah, sad times for Pittsburgh’s literary scene. Gist Street was very much its crown jewel.

More novel writing stuff

As mentioned previously, Cathy Day had some interesting and useful thoughts on novel writing versus short story writing in an essay at The Millions. Over at her blog, Cathy posts an “outtake” from that essay that concerns making the jump from writing stories to writing a novel. I don’t have anything considered to say about it, other than 1) to be excited to see someone linking to Nidus, the University of Pittsburgh’s defunct-and-all-but-forgotten online literary magazine (for which I was once a lowly fiction reader, and which is a kind of predecessor to Hot Metal Bridge); and 2) to be slightly amused at all the metaphors building up around the process of writing a novel: to the marathon running one, Cathy adds Dan Chaon’s architecture/dark field simile, plus E. L. Doctorow’s night driving comparison. I feel like a person can get lost within the walls of all these competing metaphors. Not that you’d ever lose sight of the fact, but as someone thinking a lot about the process of writing a novel, it’s good to remember that what writing a novel is like, exactly, is crafting a well-paced, dramatically satisfying long-form story that includes fully fleshed-out characters who change over the novel’s course, theme, conflict, and emotional resonance, all rendered in aesthetically pleasing prose.

On Teaching (and Learning) How to Write the Novel

If you’re inside a particular literary circle already, this is old news to you. If not, writer and teacher (formerly in Pitt’s MFA program) Cathy Day has an insightful article over at The Millions entitled “The Story Problem: 10 Thoughts on Academia’s Novel Crisis.” (Her original title was the less-provocative “The Big Thing: 10 Thoughts on Moving from ‘Story’ to ‘Book.'”) Basically, it makes the point that most creative-writing programs are centered around the short story, rather than the novel, and goes from there.

It’s fascinating reading for anyone who’s concerned with this stuff. I suspect it’s even more crucial if you’re teaching a creative writing class, or enrolled in one; it looks like there’s been tons of commentary below the article itself.

For myself, I found the “problem” Cathy Day points to weirdly inspiring. (Quotes around “problem” because, as per her original title, it’s not so much a problem as it is the state of things, for better or for worse; she suggests “think[ing] outside the workshop” but isn’t more specific than that, which is fine since the piece is more a conversation-starter than a prescription for change.)

And by that I mean that I’m pleased to know that the novel remains outside the reach of academia. I don’t believe in the “MFA effect” or that there really exists an “MFA story.” In fact, I kind of hate that kind of argument. And yet, I do think that MFA programs have had a leveling effect on the craft side of things, allowing lots of decent writers to craft good-enough stories that eventually find homes in journals but which are not often worth reading. I guess that’s harsh, but my experience with most lit mags is more akin to a buffet than a feast: I try a little of this story, then move on to the next. Most are well-written, but fail to convince me to care about what happens in them.

I like, by contrast, that writing a novel remains a major feat, a challenge that workshops can prepare one for, but only so much. Cathy Day cites John Barth’s distinction of “sprinters” and “marathon runners” among writers, and I like that. Plenty of people run a marathon each year: I’ve seen estimates of about 500,000 Americans. But that’s something like five percent of all the people who ran at least one road race in a year, and less than two percent of Americans. It’s a strikingly uncommon phenomenon, for the simple reason that it’s difficult to do.

Both novel writing and running a marathon are difficult because of the sheer volume of work that goes into both. A personal trainer can give you tips on marathon training, and might even accompany you on a few runs. But unless he or she is really well-paid and/or really dedicated, you’ll be doing some of those runs alone, and you’ll have to get yourself up at 6 a.m. at least some of the time. The same idea seems to hold when it comes to novel writing, and it’s this problem that Cathy Day illuminates: a workshop can do a really good job evaluating the first chapter of your novel, but after that the volume of work it would take to properly critique the thing becomes prohibitive.

I guess that that’s what I like, that for some things the only answer is to work through it. Sure, there are running groups organized around a specific race, and you can form a group of friends who’re all writing their novel. But you’ve got to press every key yourself, just like you’ve got to take every stride. The act of keeping it up, of getting down to work and keeping your seat, isn’t something anyone else can teach. And I like that.