Adam Reger | Freelance Writer

Pittsburgh-based fiction writer

Tag: Hot Metal Bridge

Rad Website Alert

Today I came across MFA Dayjob, a pretty new site that speaks to an issue I’ve been very interested in, to varying degrees, since the time I started applying to grad school: work, and what kind of work graduates of MFA writing programs do to keep themselves alive; more specifically, what kind of work that is not teaching.

I felt surprisingly exceptional among my MFA program peers when I’d say that I was not interested in teaching, but expected to have some kind of office job, or to make a living as a freelance writer and editor. (NB: Time is having its joke on me, as I’m now pursuing more teaching opportunities.) Having existed outside the teaching economy (so far), I can say the main employment-related benefit to having an MFA has been the leg up it’s given me on BA-possessing English majors; that benefit hasn’t been anything a driven, competent, even brown-nosing recent (BA) graduate couldn’t have equaled through his/her own talents and ambition, however.

Anyway, today’s installment is an interview with Erin Fitzgerald, who edits the Northville Review¬†
(which published my story “Santo vs. Crushing Grief”). She also wrote one of my favorite stories ever to appear during my time as fiction editor of Hot Metal Bridge, wittily and weightily taking on the cute but in practice seemingly impossible theme of “Headless.”¬†Also, via this interview, I’ve learned she attended Sarah Lawrence College, which is where I started my own post-secondary education.

Anyway, good luck to MFA Dayjob, which fills a very specific niche but one that I think fascinates a vast number of writers.

Kurt Vonnegut’s 90th

Today would have been Kurt Vonnegut’s 90th birthday. I’m not usually one for celebrating hypothetical birthdays (Vonnegut died in 2007), but by coincidence today I came across this post, written for Hot Metal Bridge‘s blog while I was a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh. It could be more concise, but I remember well the incident described in the post, and am still charmed by the whole encounter.

New Fiction, Newish Book Review 2: On the Move

[Trivia question: What “classic” 80s movie had a sequel featuring the subtitle used in the title to this post? Answer at the end of the post. Hint, courtesy of the band Ween: “_________ was filmed at Woolworth’s / Boyz II Men still keeping up the beat.”]

I have a short story up at the Fourth River, a great literary magazine out of Chatham University that is now venturing into online territory. I’m very pleased to be part of that initial push, and to be published alongside Tina May Hall and Geeta Kothari. My story, “Woman in the Woods,” was written before I started graduate school and I worked on it most of the time that I was in grad school and a little beyond that, too. I submitted it for a (truly great and useful) exercise in Chuck Kinder’s fiction workshop wherein everyone submits a “crap story” at the outset of the class. No one is too put out to hear that their crap story is crap, and everyone’s defenses are lowered that much for the beginning of real workshopping. At the same time, the sometimes radical suggestions your classmates made for repairing the crap story were often brilliant, and of course you were desperate and detached enough to give them a try. At the end of the course you submitted a revision of the crap story; for me, at least, that draft was markedly improved.

“Woman in the Woods” is about the actor Bruce Campbell on the set of The Evil Dead, the classic 1981 horror film that launched the career of Campbell and of Sam Raimi, the director, Campbell’s childhood friend. Some particulars of the film’s plot are changed, and if you read the story you’ll see that it’s obviously fictional. But I tried to stay true to the sense of Campbell that I got from reading his autobiography If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor. In particular, there is one passage that inspired the story: during the filming of Evil Dead, staying in a remote cabin in Tennessee, Campbell got a telephone call from his father in the middle of the night, asking if he (Bruce) had seen his mother. It was the first realization Campbell had that his parents were splitting up. The book was otherwise such a good-natured schtick-fest, and Campbell on the page was so jokey and upbeat, that coming across that passage felt like a weird, lucid view through the cracks into something Campbell was keeping hidden, or that he’d forgotten as it receded further into his past. The choice to cash in favors and take out loans to shoot this low-budget horror film (and one, moreover, that was decidedly unorthodox in 1981, including elements of humor) represented a huge risk, and I could never quite buy Campbell’s depiction of the movie shoot as a long, relaxed hang-out session, albeit one that featured 16-hour days of getting fake blood dumped on him. I suppose I’m projecting now, and was projecting when I first wrote the story, but I guess “Woman in the Woods” is an interpretation of what my own internal state would have been had I been in the middle of nowhere, betting my future (at least to some extent) on this movie. I would have been, in a word, stressed.

Anyway, enough about that. I also have another book review up at Hot Metal Bridge. It’s of Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station. I’m proud of the review because it’s the first one I’ve done for a book that I felt less than enthusiastic about, and I think I remained pretty fair-minded in writing about this novel. Leaving the Atocha Station is a decent book, and Ben Lerner is quite a writer. But he’s not a natural novelist, and it shows. However, the mix of textual and extratextual stuff going on with this book, which I at least skim in the review, is pretty interesting: Lerner is best known as a poet, and so a lot of the preoccupations of the novel are with writing poetry, its potential, ways to interpret it, what it gains and loses from appearing within the context of prose.

[Trivia answer here. If you’d like to hear the song lyric I alluded to above, and/or if you love Ween—and you really should—see here.]

New fiction, newish book review

Some new publications to add to the lists: I have a story, “Santo vs. Crushing Grief,” up at the Northville Review. It’s an “alphabet piece”; note the letter that begins the first word of the first sentence, of the second sentence, and so on, and you’ll see what I mean. Also, the story’s about Santo, of Mexican wrestling fame. Santo was a wrestler—a luchador, with one of those great silky masks that laces up in the back—who made the transition into starring in movies (just look at this amazing filmography!) in which he fought against werewolves, vampires, etc., as well as more prosaic villains like the Blue Demon (also a part of my story). I wrote it during my undergraduate studies and have always been really pleased with it, and I’m especially pleased the Northville Review, which I like a lot, took it.

Second, I wrote a review for Hot Metal Bridge of The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht. That staggeringly, jealous-makingly great debut novel has been out for a while now, so you’re probably aware of it. But if you’d like to read my take, there it is. (I read The Tiger’s Wife while traveling in Germany and Italy this summer, and though the novel’s action is set a bit east of both places, it felt like a fortuitous turn of events; now, when I think of the novel, I think of a long bus ride from Rome to Florence as much as I do the novel’s striking images of a bombed city with exotic zoo animals running free among the wreckage.)

Review of “Abbott Awaits” at Hot Metal Bridge

I wrote a book review of Chris Bachelder’s Abbott Awaits and it’s up at Hot Metal Bridge (which is also up to lots this summer: you should check out the winners of their fiction and non-fiction contests).

Shorter review of Abbott Awaits: it’s good. Oh man, it is really good. Probably my favorite novel this year, and up there for the past five years. I like Bachelder’s stuff a lot: U.S.! and, to a lesser extent, Bear v. Shark, are precisely written, fun, and thoughtful books. But Abbott Awaits is a leap into a new category for Bachelder. I explain and justify all of this in the review, so rather than babbling more about how much I liked the book, go check it out.

(Also, just read as implied here notes of embarrassment and apology over having not updated the blog in about two months. As it happens, I’ve been busy, the sort of busy where there’s plenty to report but little time or inclination to report it. I wish I could say it will be the last time, but who knows. Anyway, look for more frequent dispatches in the near term.)

New MFA Week

I just updated my “Non-Fiction” page to include a cache of newly discovered blog posts over at Hot Metal Bridge, the online lit mag of the University of Pittsburgh’s MFA writing program.

In doing so, I re-discovered the fruit of one of my more inspired moments as an editor: “New MFA Week.” Being a mighty third-year at the end of the summer, I thought it would be cool to have various people contribute tips and advice to students who were at that moment finding apartments, registering for courses, and making travel arrangements to get to wherever they were starting their new lives as Masters students.

Some of the entries, like this dispatch on Pittsburgh’s vibrant food scene, are Pittsburgh-specific.

Other installments include how to go about locking down funding for your grad-school education; how to go about submitting your work to literary magazines; and some more general ruminations here and here (that one’s mine).

I feel most of the advice holds up, and should be of interest to non-Pitt soon-to-be-MFAs. (And the food stuff should certainly be of interest to non-MFA Pittsburgh people.) I wish we’d gotten to go a little more in depth, and there are people who I think could have contributed useful insights who I ended up not asking. But, you know: regrets, I’ve had a few / But then again, too few to mention, etc.

Jack Pendarvis & John Brandon Podcast

One of my most favoritest of contemporary writers, Jack Pendarvis, reads here at an Oxford, MS bookstore with the writer John Brandon (who seems poised for big success with his second novel, Citrus County, from McSweeney’s). I liked, but did not love, Brandon’s first novel, Arkansas, also from McSweeney’s. (A compendium of info on that book is here. They published a couple excerpts, but I’m unable to locate those on the website.) However, I loved, not liked, Brandon’s prose, so I may well check out Citrus County.

Jack Pendarvis cracks me up, whether I’m reading his “blog” or one of his story collections (Your Body Is Changing and The Mysterious Secret of the Valuable Treasure), or his novel, Awesome. (One of my great accomplishments during graduate school was, while fiction editor of the grad-student lit mag, Hot Metal Bridge, to solicit a selection from Awesome. Mr. Pendarvis was gracious enough to give us an excellent section of the book, and was a pretty darn nice guy to correspond with.) He is pretty funny here, reading from a column he writes for The Believer. It kind of bummed me out to hear him slated as the opening act, but I guess what with John Brandon’s being something of a rising star, that status may now be appropriate.

The Brandon reading is pretty excellent, too. After hearing what Citrus County is about—it seems to involve a terrible crime, and potentially a love triangle—I am all the more intrigued after listening to this excerpt, which features a middle-school teacher running his students through genealogy presentations and reluctantly planning for his tenure as coach of the school’s girls’ basketball team. If you’re like me, you love it when random stuff comes together.

One sour note about the podcast, as I experienced it: the player really, really sucks. And by that I mean it won’t let you pause or fast-forward (which would be a convenience if you tried to pause the broadcast, realized pushing Play took you all the way back to the beginning, and thought you’d like to skip over the ten minutes you’d already heard).