Friday, December 14, 2007

Scenes From a Notebook

Michelle Seaton is a nonfiction writer who currently teaches the "6 Weeks, 6 Essays" workshop at Grub Street.

Here are few paragraphs from the notebook I carry around with me, pretty much unedited. (Hey, it’s a blog. The hallmark of a blog is this: no editor.) Be patient. At the end is a writing prompt.

So, the other night I was putting out toothbrushes for the kids and listening to them giggle in the next room. Then I heard one of them say to the other one, "OK, now you smell my butt." I rounded the corner to find pretty much what you'd expect: both of them naked and bent over, one presenting and the other inhaling.

This is how I found myself standing in my own home, shouting "No Butt Sniffing" with great vehemence. My two children cocked their heads at me, bemused. Smiles twitched at the corners of their mouths. Mommy is so funny when the veins stick out in her neck. They are three and five and already they have the upper hand. "No butt sniffing." I said it again, like it might be less absurd, more serious the second time. "It's a rule."

That really is the bottom of the barrel, in parenting terms. Announcing that something's a rule. That's what I do all day; I make up rules. Don't pee on your sister. No fingers in the butt. Don't break that, don't throw that, don't touch that, don't lick that. (An admonition that is always, invariably followed by: STOP licking that.) Sometimes I hear a commotion in the next room and I start shouting KNOCK IT OFF and waving my arms in the air, even though I can't see what's going on. I run toward them yelling, NO, NO, NO, and secretly I'm steeling myself. How grossed out am I prepared to be right now? How much wine is left in the fridge? And then when I find them spitting down the necks of the dolls they've beheaded, and I yank the toys away, the kids are truly mystified. Sammie, who is three, rolls her eyes at me and says, "Oh, all wite," just like Elmer Fudd.

Yep, that's my job around here, bringing the party down.

YOUR PROMPT: Describe the last time you were really angry. (Even if you think you never get angry. Even if you think you’re at one with the universe.) Better if it’s extreme anger or frustration over something petty. I always give this prompt at the start of a memoir classes as a warm-up. People hate it. They give me that look. Yeah. That look. And then they start, and then I pretty much have to take the pen away from them, I mean yank it away, after fifteen minutes so we can start class. Anger has energy, fuel for work. It’s good to describe the event as a straight scene, and dive into the details. Better if you can morph it into something else. Play it for laughs. Make it sad or wry. Fiction types can distort it, make it happen to someone else.

~Michelle Seaton

Monday, November 19, 2007

Grub Street Rag, 11/19/07

*Heavenly Grub gossip
*Dastardly Grub events
*Donate to our YAWP program

"The test of any good fiction is that you should care something for the characters; the good to succeed, the bad to fail. The trouble with most fiction is that you want them all to land in hell, together, as quickly as possible."

--Mark Twain

Welcome to the Grub Street Rag, a newsletter of the Boston literary scene sent out every Monday from the back alley speakeasy at Grub Street's world headquarters. As always, if you are receiving this e-mail in horror, please advance to the bottom of the page to unsubscribe yourself.

Urgent! Help us Raise $5000 for YAWP by 12/31
YAWP, our writing program for teens, is an entirely FREE program for students age 13-18 that teaches them the craft of creative writing. If we can raise $5000 by the end of the year, a donor will match that with an additional $5000. Your dollars go twice as far, and every dollar counts. Click here to donate NOW.

The Young Adult Writers Program is dedicated to helping students age 13-18 with creative writing in and out of the classroom. Our program is based on the understanding that a love of writing is fostered through creative work, and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future academic success. Schools around the nation no longer have the resources to focus on creative work, and students with an interest in poetry or fiction have to look beyond their schools' curricula to find support in their creative endeavors.

Every dollar helps, so please, donate today. We look forward to building on the success of our teen programming and helping shape the creative voices of tomorrow.

Institution of Congratulations
Grubbie and children's book author Sarah Lamstein just published a new book called Letter on the Wind, a retelling of a Jewish folk tale. Read more about her and the book at Former Grub instructors Jami Brandli and Brian Polak, who now live in Los Angeles, wrote to tell us they are finalists for the ABC Disney Writers Fellowship. If thy're picked, they get $50,000 each for 2008, a mentorship with a seasoned TV writer, and TV writing jobs. There were over 1,000 applicants this year and they're currently in the top twenty. After Thanksgiving, they go through the interview process: a short intro to ABC Disney, a cocktail mixer with the
other finalists, and then a panel interview. All of us in Boston have our fingers crossed--good luck! Congratulations to all of you Grubbies, and keep sending us your great news.

Grub-"sponsored" NaNoWriMo get together
Tonight, Monday, November 19th at 6:30pm, a crew of Grubbies who are also NaNoWriMo-ers are all getting together at Remington's bar, (124 Boylston Street), just a few doors down from Grub Street. They'll be talking novels, sipping beverages, and connecting with one another. If you've been slaving away during National Novel Writing Month, now is the time to come talk to some other brave souls who've been doing the same. See you there!

Whitney, Sonya, and Chris (from Pennsylvania)

In addition to our ongoing workshops, Grub Street offers numerous writing-related events around town. See our website for a long-term view of all we do. Here is a sample of what's on the horizon:

LUNCHTIME COURSE: Brown Bag Lunch Series
Tuesday, November 27th, 12:30–1:15PM
Do you work downtown and want to fit some writing into your day? Or do you have a schedule that gives you free afternoons instead of evenings? Bring your lunch and come on over to Grub Street for a Brown Bag Writing Workshop – a series recently profiled in the Boston Globe. For 45 minutes, you’ll meet fellow writers and get your creative juices flowing with some cool writing exercises. Led by the fabulous Sonya Larson. Best of all, you’ll leave lunch with some new ideas to ponder for the rest of your day, and beyond. Maximum of 15 students. To sign up, email or call 617.695.0075.
FREE, Grub Street HQ, 160 Boylston Street, Boston, MA.

Writing For Radio
December 1-2nd, 2007, 9-4pm each day (includes an hour for lunch)
Instructor: Jennifer Mattson
*Sold out.
$195/ $170 for members, Grub Street HQ, 160 Boylston Street, Boston, MA.

The Story Details
December 1-2nd, 2007, 9-4pm each day (includes an hour for lunch)
Instructor: Rosie Sultan
Asked for advice on how to move stories and novels forward, Charles Baxter has said, "Don't orphan your details." Concrete, specific details work to give a story life, and they are often what make them stand out in the publishing world. In this workshop, we will look at short examples from Baxter, Chekhov, Flaubert, and Ishiguro and examine how these authors create lively details of sight, sense, taste, touch, action and thoughts as springboards to further their plots. Using Baxter's The Feast of Love, an excerpt from Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day and Flaubert's Madame Bovary, we will "borrow" their techniques as models to craft our own details of plot and character. By the end of the two days, we will hopefully have developed some tools to see our stories through to their best possible endings. A reprise of this summer’s highly-praised workshop!
$195/ $170 for members, Grub Street HQ, 160 Boylston Street, Boston, MA.

Finding Your Voice
December 1-2nd, 2007, 9-4pm each day (includes an hour for lunch)
Instructors: Jennifer Elmore and Becky Tuch
What makes your creative voice unique? Do your characters‚ voices embody the charisma and eccentricity of real life? Do your poems speak with authority? If you’re looking to jumpstart your fiction or poetry, or if either or both are feeling flat, join fiction writer Becky Tuch and poet Jennifer Elmore for a mixed-genre weekend workshop on the art of voice. Over the two days, we will explore our own creative voices - with particular attention to the details of diction. Come prepared to workshop current projects and participate in writing exercises. An expanded version of this summer’s popular one-night seminar!
$195/ $170 for members, Grub Street HQ, 160 Boylston Street, Boston, MA.

Grub Street wants to promote YOU!! Please send events for consideration to Our apologies if we can't fit you in.

--READING: Tuesday, November 27th, 7pm, How to Spell Chanukah: 18 Writers Celebrate 8 Nights of Lights
Steve Almond, Emily Franklin, Tova Mirvis, Josh Neumann, Mameve Medwed, and others are included in this collection of funny, poignant essays, and will be holding a reading and talk at Union Street. Sponsored by Heeb Magazine and Newtonville Books.
FREE, 107R Union Street, Newton Centre, MA.

--READING: Tuesday, November 27th, 7pm, The Writers' Room of Boston 2007 Annual Reading
Featuring the following authors: Mary Bonina - poetry, Eric Grunwald - fiction, Cynthia Staples - nonfiction, CD Collins - fiction, Katrin Schumann - fiction, Brian Kaufman - screenplay, Maureen Rogers - non-fiction, Tracy Geary - fiction.
FREE, The Poetry Center, Mildred F. Sawyer Library, Suffolk University, 73 Tremont Street, Boston.

--Writers’ Room Offers Fellowships for Free Workspace
The Writers’ Room of Boston, Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides affordable, quiet, and secure workspace in downtown Boston for area writers, is now accepting applications for three fellowships for 2008. The fellowships award use of the Writers’ Room at no cost for one year. The submission deadline for applications is November 30, 2007. Residencies will begin in early 2008. For an application, visit Further questions? Contact Administrator Eric Maxson at 617-523-0566 or

--OPEN MIC: Saturday, December 1st, 1:30 - 4pm, NaNoWriMo Open Mic and Celebration
Meeting House, a journal of New England fiction, is having a reading in celebration of National Novel Writing Month, and you should come! Saturday, December 1, from 1:30 to 4:00, we'll be at the Burren in Davis Square, Somerville. Come and share what you've written during November. You don't have to have completed the herculean task of writing a novel in 30 days, but let us know how far you got. If you didn't take part in NaNoWriMo but have something you want to share anyway, that's cool, too! Just email by Thursday, November 29th, and let us know you want in and what you plan on reading. And don't forget to check out each week for a new story by a New England writer.
FREE, The Burren, 247 Elm Street, Davis Square, Somerville.

--READING: Monday, December 3rd, 7-9pm, Four Stories Boston
This month is the fall season finale of Four Stories Boston, with the them: "The Bitter End: Stories of loss, endings, and final acts." Featuring: Jeremiah Healey, creator of the John Francis Cuddy private-investigator series and (under the pseudonym Terry Devane) and author of eighteen novels and over sixty short stories; Drew Johnson, author of stories from Harper's, the Virginia Quarterly Review, and StoryQuarterly; Julia Glass, author of the novels Three Junes, winner of the 2002 National Book Award, and The Whole World Over, as well as a forthcoming story collection; Joan Wickersham, writer of fiction from The Hudson Review, Story, Glimmer Train, Ploughshares, and The Best American Short Stories, and author of the novel The Paper Anniversary and the forthcoming memoir The Suicide Index. Plus tunes from guest DJ Michael-Borum!
Free, The Enormous Room, 567 Massachusetts Ave, Central Square.

Welcome to the end of the e-mail, where, like an ox at a sock hop, we offer you the chance to win a prize. In D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers, which of the Morel children dies when Paul Morel is a young boy, and of what cause? Email your answer to Whitney. Winner receives a certificate for ice cream at J.P. Licks.

Answer to last week's quiz: Here's the Taste of Grub "beginnings" quote from author Bret Anthony Johnston: "When Augustus came out on the porch the blue pigs were eating a rattlesnake--not a very big one." The quote is from Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove. WINNER: William Rafelson.

© 2007 grub street, inc.

160 boylston st. / boston, ma 02116 / 617.695.0075

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Any writing's good writing, right?

I have three best friends from high school--I may have mentioned them before in this blog, because they're the women I'm closest to in the world. Sadly, we all live in different cities, and only get to see each other one or two times a year. A few years ago, once we got too busy in our lives and careers to send around the "mass emails" we used to write every few days, the four of us started a rotating journal that we mail back and forth across the country. Like Fight Club, the journal has rules (except that we're allowed to talk about the journal, unlike FC). The journal can only be in the hands of one woman for three weeks. If we keep the journal longer than that, we have to buy a round of beers for the rest of the women.

Three weeks. Not hard. Anyone can write one journal entry in three weeks, especially if one styles herself a writer, right? Well, let's put it this way: at this point, two years into the journal, I am buying my friends a frat party's worth of beers.

I stepped outside myself and watched my behavior on this round, in the hopes of figuring out why I procrastinate on the journal. It's not for lack of interest--I LOVE reading the journal, I love writing in the journal, and I love popping it in the mail and picturing my friend Julie opening the package. Here's what I found out: Every time that I thought about writing in the journal, I would think, "Oh god, I haven't worked on my fiction. I should really do that before I write in the journal." But then I wouldn't actually work on my fiction, I would feel bad about not writing, and I wouldn't want to write in the journal because it would be an admission of defeat. And before I knew it, the three weeks were up and then I was depressed because that meant I hadn't done ANY writing of ANY kind for three whole weeks (or more).

So... yesterday, I got up early, trucked on down to Diesel Cafe and wrote in the journal. I wrote non-stop for an hour and a half and filled 9 pages. Gossipy, blathery stuff that no one but my friends would ever care about and I'll probably be embarrassed to read 6 months from now. And you know what? It felt great. It wasn't fiction, but maybe I'll try that tomorrow.

In dread,
Whitney Scharer

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Gangsta Toms

Sometimes an article comes along in the news that just SCREAMS to be turned into a short story. This week's winner: 4-foot tall, 20-lb. wild turkeys that are roaming through Brookline and biting people. These turkeys are big, mean, and unpredictable. Not only that, they travel in packs. According to NPR, "Neighbors would laugh watching the lawyer or pediatrician who lived next door being chased by a gobbling mob of birds."

Truly, my fellow writers, how can we not turn this into a short story? It's perfect material! If my job wasn't keeping me so busy, I'd write it myself, but instead I give the idea to you in all its glory. Just make sure that you're writing it indoors--you don't want to be attacked. If you are, the Brookline Police recommends "shooing the grumpy birds away with your purse."

In dread,
Whitney Scharer

Monday, October 22, 2007

Grub Street Rag, 10/22/07

the grub street rag. (Re)writing Boston since 1997.

* Electric Grub gossip
* Juiced Grub events
* Bid online in our silent auction

"A poet is someone who stands outside in the rain hoping to be struck by lightning."

-- James Dickey

grub street gossip.

Welcome to the Grub Street Rag, a newsletter of the Boston literary scene sent out every Monday by the relief pitchers at Grub Street's bullpen (er. . . world headquarters). As always, if you are receiving this e-mail in horror, please advance to the bottom of the page to unsubscribe yourself.

Grub Street Book Prize winner announced!
We are thrilled to announce that Susan Richards Shreve has won the 2007 Grub Street Book Prize, in Non-Fiction for her memoir WARM SPRINGS: TRACES OF A CHILDHOOD AT FDR'S POLIO HAVEN (Houghton Mifflin, 2007). Steve Almond was the final judge. Shreve will receive a cash award of $1000 and be brought to Grub Street for a reading, booksigning and reception in early 2008. The next day, Shreve will lead a 2-hour seminar for Grub Street members on the craft of memoir writing. Shreve is the author of thirteen novels, and WARM SPRINGS is her first memoir. Congratulations, Susan! We look forward to meeting you in '08.

Taste of Grub is Friday, November 2nd
Not that we're counting or anything, but A Taste of Grub is coming up soon, and space is limited. If you'd like to attend, or want to support Grub Street with a donation, please click here: Also be sure to check out the fantastic items at our second-ever silent auction. The Literary Silent Auction will take place at A Taste of Grub on November 2nd, but you don't have to attend the event in order to win: online bidding is happening NOW. Check out our website for all the details on A Taste of Grub and the Literary Auction.

Grub Gone... NaNoWriMo?
Got a great idea for a novel? Having trouble getting it down on paper? Like many of us, you might need a kickstart. National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30. And the best part is, there are lots of other Grubbies participating too! If you'd like to know who else in the Grub community is writing a lot of words very quickly this November, send an email to If there's enough interested, Grub will host a meet and greet for Nanowrimo-ers later this month. Good luck!

Deadlines extended
Ch-ch-ch-changes! We've extended the deadline for our Master Poetry class to October 26th (class begins November 6th and runs for 6 weeks; cost is $275/$250 members). Please send 10 pages of your poetry to Also, there's still time to sign up for our Young Adult Fiction class, which has morphed into a 6-week course and begins November 7th, costing you a cool $275/$250 members. Ring us at 617.695.0075 to sign up!

Whitney, Sonya, and Chris (from Pennsylvania)

grub events calendar.

In addition to our ongoing workshops, Grub Street offers numerous writing-related events around town. See our website for a long-term view of all we do. Here is a sample of what's on the horizon:

Novel Writing Weekend
October 27-28th, 2007, 9-4pm each day
Instructor: Jacqueline Sheehan
Our favorite novels let us step fully into the characters and experience their world through all of our senses, and keep turning the pages long into the night. This fiction-writing course will take participants through a series of exercises and discussions that will focus on strong character development, create specific details that will highlight motivation, amplify sensory images, and use dialogue to crank up the tension. Jacqueline Sheehan is also a psychologist and will teach participants how to pull from the world of psychology to add depth to your characters. Come to class with several pages of your novel, or with a summary of the novel that you are dreaming of writing. Plan to leave with expanded characters, clarified conflicts, and strong dialogue. $195/$170 members, Grub Street HQ, 160 Boylston Street, Boston, MA.

The Freelancing Payoff
October 27-28th, 2007, 9-4pm each day
Instructor: Eric Butterman
Freelance isn’t just a way to make extra income—it could one day be your income. Join Eric Butterman, who has written for Glamour,, and numerous other publications, as he shows you how to turn one assignment into many and how to expand your horizons from field to field. “There’s many misconception in this business—like that you can’t follow up with phone calls after you send out a magazine pitch,” Butterman says. “Half my business is directly attributed to the phone and we’ll drill through phone calls together so I can show you how to do them correctly.” But before you ever pick up the phone, you need to pick your brain for the right magazine idea. “From sources to use, to a snappy headline, to making your pitch into the voice of the magazine, the pitch needs to be done just right or you just won’t get assignments. We’ll come up with them together on the spot so you can see how the mindset works.” Students in Butterman's 5-week courses have landed $1,000-and-up assignments from Stuff, B'nai B'rith and more, all while the class was still going on!
$195/$170 members, Grub Street HQ, 160 Boylston Street, Boston, MA.

Point of View in Fiction
October 27-28th, 2007, 9-4pm each day
Instructor: Adam Stumacher
Point of view is, in the words of Henry James, the “central intelligence” of story. In this workshop, we will explore this crucial and fascinating element of craft. Through in-class exercises, discussion, and an array of readings – from Joyce to Eugenides, Borges to Z.Z. Packer – we will examine the wide range of point of view choices, from the conventional to the experimental. By the end of the weekend, we will be not only have gained an appreciation for the ways authors use these choices to astonish readers, but we will also be well on our way towards using point of view to breathe life into our own fiction.
$195/$170 members, Grub Street HQ, 160 Boylston Street, Boston, MA.

Score in Sportswriting
Sunday, October 28th, 2007, Special Time: 5pm – 10pm (with dinner break)
Instructor: Eric Butterman
Many people think you have to cover a sports beat at a small-time newspaper for 10 years to become a successful sportswriter, but if you craft a strong pitch and have a unique style, you could score quickly. Eric Butterman, writer for and the Sporting News, will show you how to get in with the top sports places by finding their needs and crafting pitches and a portfolio to match them. He'll teach you the art of filing a story just after the sporting event ends and help you figure out ways to land sports pieces in magazines which don’t normally come to mind. A perfect way for a sports lover to spend a Sunday night--especially in World Series season!
$95/$85 members, Grub Street HQ, 160 Boylston Street, Boston, MA.

LUNCHTIME COURSE: Tuesday, October 30th, 12:30–1:15PM, Brown Bag Lunch Series
Do you work downtown and want to fit some writing into your day? Or do you have a schedule that gives you free afternoons instead of evenings? Bring your lunch and come on over to Grub Street for a Brown Bag Writing Workshop – a series recently profiled in the Boston Globe. For 45 minutes, you’ll meet fellow writers and get your creative juices flowing with some cool writing exercises. Led by one of our award-winning instructors or ambassadors. Best of all, you’ll leave lunch with some new ideas to ponder for the rest of your day, and beyond. Maximum of 15 students. To sign up, email or call 617.695.0075.
FREE, Grub Street HQ, 160 Boylston Street, Boston, MA.

On the Horizon:
Friday, November 2nd, 2007: A Taste of Grub
Sunday, November 4th, 2007: You Have What it Takes to Write a Teen Novel
Sunday, November 4th, 2007: Reality 101

spreading the love.

Grub Street wants to promote YOU!! Please send events for consideration to Our apologies if we can't fit you in.

--CALL FOR APPLICATIONS: Boston’s Poet Laureate
Mayor Thomas M. Menino has approved the creation of a Poet Laureate position for the City of Boston. “[The purpose of] poetry ... is ... to teach and delight.” – Sir Philip Sidney (1554 – 1586). Applications are invited from poets who are currently residing in the City of Boston, and have been published or have been recognized for notable literary contributions at any stage in their career. Deadline is approaching: Friday, October 26th. For more information, visit the Mayor's Office of Arts, Tourism & Special Events website at

--READING: Wednesday, October 24, 7:00p.m, Author and Radio Host Bill Littlefield
The Blue Hills Writing Institute at Curry College welcomes author, radio host, and professor of English Bill Littlefield to read from his recently published book Only a Game. Sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, Littlefield’s take on the games people play is as refreshing as it is enlightening. From baseball hall of famers, to pickup soccer games among misfit high-schoolers, to the advances women have made in sports, to the most obscure nicknames and unusual mascots in college sports, the book collects memorable commentaries from Littlefield’s popular NPR sports show as well as previously published magazine essays. No matter the topic, Littlefield illuminates the dark corners and unlikely angles of sports with wry good humor and a lightly worn expertise that lets nothing pass. Refreshments will be served after the presentation and the Curry College Bookstore will have Littlefield’s book available for purchase. FREE, Parents’ Lounge in the Hafer Academic Building, Curry College, 1071 Blue Hill Avenue, Milton. For additional information, call 617-333-2346. For directions, please visit

--READING: Thursday, October 25th, 2007, 7pm, Margo Rabb and Steve Almond
Margo Rabb will read from her novel, Cures for Heartbreak, at Newtonville Books with Steve Almond, the author of Not That You Asked and Candyfreak, who promises to read lots of dirty stuff. More info on the authors can be found at and FREE, Newtonville Books, 296 Walton St Newton, MA.

--GRUB STREET NORTH AT CORNERSTONE BOOKS: Sunday October 28th, 3pm, Grub Street North: Hank Phillippi Ryan on First Novels
It's not ALL about ghouls and goblins! Join beloved investigative journalist and new fiction author Hank Phillippi Ryan as she gives us the scoop on first novels: what every author should know, but probably won't be told (except by Hank!!) Hank has just endured the first novel process with her Charlie McNally mystery (and Boston Globe bestseller) Prime Time, and its sequel Face Time is out this month. Come find out the real deal, and enjoy a free cup of coffee on us for driving to Salem in October! FREE, Cornerstone Books, 45 Lafayette Street, Salem.

--GRUB STREET SOUTH AT BUTTONWOOD BOOKS: Tuesday, October 30th, 7pm, Grub Street South at Buttonwood present Claire Cook on Finding the Muse
This month at the Scituate Library! How to start, and actually finish, the book only you can write. Since her first novel was published in 2000, Claire Cook has learned a lot about writing and the writing life, and she’s happy to share it all with you! What’s special about you, and how can you turn that unique perspective into a great hook for a book? And once you do that, how will you write the rest of it? And then what do you do when you finish? Practical strategies for living through it all, plus a chance to connect with other writers and pull together your own support group. And, of course, lots of fun stories from Claire! Claire Cook is the national bestselling author of four novels, Ready To Fall, Must Love Dogs, Multiple Choice and Life’s A Beach. To reserve, call the Scituate Library at 1-781-545-8727.

Welcome to the end of the e-mail, where, like a man with a plan for a canal, we offer you the chance to win a prize. What story in this year's Best American Short Stories features the lines "Mouth shut" and "Shoes on feet"? Email your answer to Whitney. Winner receives a certificate for ice cream at J.P. Licks.

Answer to last week's quiz: "It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it," wrote Charlotte Bronte in Jane Eyre. The novel was originally published under the pseudonum Currer Bell on October 9th, 1847. WINNER: Stephanie Gayle.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

On The Line

As many Grubbies have probably noticed, Grub Street doesn't have online registration. Instead, like some sort of Little House on the Prairie rerun, our registration process forces potential students to trek five miles through waist-high blizzard drifts, their chalkboards slung around their necks and hot potatoes stuck in their muffs to keep their hands from freezing off. Okay, maybe it's not that bad. But it does require them to--gasp!--CALL AN ACTUAL PERSON ON THE PHONE in order to sign up for a course.

You might think that I'm about to launch into a blog about the evils of technology and how in our modern world, isn't it great to be able to make a connection with another human, even if it's just their disembodied voice on the line? Don't worry, I won't do that to you. Frankly, if I didn't work at Grub and wanted to sign up for a Grub Street class, I'm sure I would be SO OVER the inconvenience of having to call during business hours. Get with the program, Grub, I would be thinking, if I can order a Starbucks latte online and then go pick it up in my car at the drive-thru window, I should be able to sign up for Novel in Progress over the internet. But I do work at Grub Street, and here's the sick, sick truth: I think we aren't all that concerned about online services because we LIKE having to talk to people on the phone. Maybe it's a power thing: You want to sign up for a class but you can't do it without my help. Maybe we enjoy the occasional call from someone truly batty, like the guy who called the other day and wanted us to publish his novel, and when we told him we're not a publishing house said (and I quote): "What I want to know is, is Grub Street just another chickenshit operation?" (The answer to that, if you're wondering, is yes. Yes we are.) But more likely, it's that we all love to talk to other writers, find out where they are in their processes, and help them choose the classes that will be the right fits for them. Obviously, we don't always get this right, but we really do enjoy offering advice, and--not to toot our own horns or anything--we know what we're talking about. Since we're such a small organization (only three staff members), by default we HAVE to have our fingers in all the pies. We all help choose the programming, we all meet all (or most) of the instructors, and we take Grub Street workshops ourselves. So call us!

This quarter, for the first time, we've listed on our website which classes are sold out for the fall. We did this because MANY of our classes are already sold out, and we got tired of disappointing people when they called in. But we did it with trepidation, because we're worried that it might stop people from calling and signing up for a different course--a class that might end up being as good (or better) than their initial selection. So, as fall term registration comes to a close (classes begin October 9th), here are some tips , advice, and not-so-secret secrets about choosing a class.

1. The teacher is the most important thing about the class. Level one, level two, ten weeks of stories or six, in the end it doesn't really make that much of a difference if the instructor's good.
2. The other students in the class are the second most important thing. While we can't control who takes our courses, most of the students who take Grub classes are truly dedicated to their work--and their dedication will help to make the class productive and inspiring for everyone.
3. Be sure you're really committed to the six or ten weeks of work before you sign up. Grub classes are demanding, and in most of them you'll find yourself reading anywhere from 30-60 pages of classmates' work, writing critiques, and working on your own stories each week. That's a big time commitment. If you're strapped for time, take a few seminars or a weekend class instead.
4. If you've taken a few Grub classes in the past, try something totally new. This term, for instance, we're offering something called "How to Edit Yourself," taught by an editor at Beacon Press. It might not seem like "fun" to focus on revision for six weeks, but we can guarantee that this class will take your writing to a new level.
5. Please, please do not assume you'll be the best writer in the class. Do not say things like: "Is there a level higher than the master level, because I'm a really, really good writer" or "I'm worried that having to read all the schlock other people turn in is just going to bore me, because I'm a really, really good writer." We're sure you are a good writer. But so are LOTS of other people who take Grub classes, and the point of the class is to learn something (see Michelle Seaton's great blog post from a few weeks ago for more on this).
6. Sign up soon! We've got lots of great classes that still have space in them, but they are filling fast.

In dread and on the phone,
Whitney Scharer

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Week Three

Some bad advice I used to give my Fiction II students at Grub is now coming back to haunt me.

I liked to share my half-baked theory that every writer needed one indulgence. I'd say, glibly: "Maybe you drink a lot. Or watch too much TV. Or overeat. That's fine! Go for it! Live it up! But you get only ONE of these indulgences. For everything else, moderation rules. Every day, you have to write a little, eat a little, exercise a little, read a little, make a little love, and sleep a little - not necessarily in that order. And somewhere in there, you find time to binge on your indulgence."

It made sense at the time. I must have been reading Ben Franklin or something, and thought how perfect that man would have been if he'd admitted to at least one of his vices in his *Autobiography.*

My vice at the time? Can't remember. Honestly. But since then I've learned that, in order for me to get *anything* done, I can't succumb to the big indulgence. Once I do, I get greedy. If it's baseball, I want to watch 6 hours of it. If it's food, I want to eat an entire pan of lasagna. The baseball cuts into my writing time; the lasagna cuts into my exercise time; soon, the entire regimen falls apart. I can only thrive when, like Franklin, I build my indulgences into that regimen. I will watch 2 hours of baseball; I will eat a small slice of lasagna and chase it with a handful of carrot sticks; I will read for 2 hours; I will answer emails and surf the web for 1 hour, etc.

For my first two weeks here, you see, I stuck to this regimen. Every day, it was a little this, a little that. And it worked beautifully. Balance. Order. It was gorgeous! I was renewed! It was like writing an excellent sestina -- art within order. Then I allowed myself to relax a bit. I took the day off from the gym. Instead of writing my 1000 words, I watched a day baseball game. Now I'm playing catch up -- I have to write 3000 words tomorrow, which means I'm setting myself up to fail -- and everything's out of whack.

I think this is especially true when you live alone, or have a career that forces you to be solitary. You have to be hard on yourself. No one's there to hold you to your schedule and your goals. And let's face it: writers thrive on self-sacrifice, martyrdom, etc., so we really should be able to handle this.

- Christopher Castellani

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Week Two

This week on campus:

There's an article in the student newspaper about how blogs are "the end of writing as we know it" partly because "it's impossible to have an original voice." Seems to me, though, that, given how new blogging is, there are greater opportunities for original voices in blogs than in any other literary medium. Nevertheless, I feel accused.

On Wednesday I taught my first workhsop, accompanied by the usual feeling that I've had pig's blood poured on my head and the entire room is laughing at me. My students are sweet and polite, though, and would never do such a thing. They're also excellent writers. We did the exercise where I call out 6 random words -- 1 per minute -- and they have to use them in the same scene. They read these scenes aloud, and I was very impressed by their imaginations, clarity and range of voices.

Among other texts, we're reading a chapter from Charles Baxter's *The Feast of Love* for next week, and also the first couple chapters of Francine Prose's wonderful *Reading Like A Writer.* Then, the week after, the actual workshopping begins.

I spent some time with my parents at the house where I grew up, also known as the Land of a Thousand Sadnesses. My mother had a bad reaction to her most recent medication, and spent most of Saturday night in tears and intense stomach pain. I spent the rest of my days there dealing with doctors and pharmacists and doing internet research and hearing stories about all my parents' friends who are dying. At the same time, I started reading Robert Ferro's novel The Family of Max Desir, which was recommended to me. It's beautifully written, but turns out it's about a gay Italian guy and his sick mother, so I've set it aside. Not sure if I'll ever be able to read it.

I've also done some writing when possible, and, after five sessions, I have 4600 new words. That's huge production for me, so, for that, I'm grateful.

-Christopher Castellani

Friday, September 7, 2007

Back to School

At the beginning of the summer term at Grub Street, I ran into fiction I instructor Mike Heppner in the hallway at Grub HQ. We’d met once at a staff meeting, so we stopped to chat. Mike started with the usual question.
“What are you teaching?”
“I’m not,” I said. “I’m taking a class.”
“Cool. Whose?”
Mike blanched at this news, and I felt for him. No one likes a surprise.
I’ve been teaching memoir and nonfiction classes at Grub Street for seven years. Before that, I taught a sophomore survey course at Boston University. Then last fall I took my teaching notes, my handouts and threw most of them away. The rest went into storage. I didn’t want to teach anymore. In fact, I wasn’t sure I wanted to write anymore. Instead, I wanted what a lot of new Grub Street students want, a sense of renewal, a sense of adventure that comes from trying something new. So I stepped outside my role as teacher and signed up for a fiction class. Then another, and another. These are not easy classes, and becoming a student has given me a few insights. So here they are: the four things I learned as a Grub Street student.

1. Like everyone else, I’m afraid to suck. Every instructor has seen this. Someone comes into class with a lot of writing experience, or several clips, and they are all smiles during the introductions. By week two they sit in stiff silence, unable to read anything aloud or write anything in class. By week three, they’ve gone AWOL, claiming illness or work issues, and they never return. By contrast, the folks who come to class with a sense of humor about themselves, regardless of their levels of experience, write reams of stories, forge intense friendships, and have a rip-roarin’ good time. For seven years, I’ve been telling students to loosen up, and this was excellent advice—until I had to take it myself. There I was, sitting in Ron MacLean’s wonderful Structure of Short Fiction class, forcing myself to read out loud, with my hands shaking so hard I couldn’t see the words on the page.

2. Deadlines are erotic. I took Stace Budzko’s class 10 Weeks, 10 Stories. Doesn’t everyone? I spent the spring in a panic, plotting as fast as I could type. The housewife has to run away with the mailman. The son has to drive his father to the asylum. The girl has to dance with the ghost of George Washington. All this has to happen in writing by 5 p.m., at which point I can print it out, load the kids in the car, tear over to Staples to make 12 copies, and then hand the kids off to my husband before barreling down the Pike to get to class on time. Look at those dirty dishes, the unpaid bills, the piles of unfolded laundry, and the blinking light on my phone—some message from an angry editor. Where is my story? I’ve been awake since 3 a.m., out of bed since 4, typing, typing. I am awash in shame over the important things I have neglected to do all week. I vibrate with the fear that this story is horribly, laughably bad. And, yes, I’m also a little turned on.

3. I fear praise. Once, I asked an editor what he thought of my work, and he said, “I wipe my ass with this.” What’s worse, he took the paper and rubbed it against the seat of his pants in the universal ass-wiping gesture. One of my editors routinely returns my stories to me with parenthetical queries after each paragraph. (I don’t get it.) (This is stupid.) (You’re putting me to sleep here). His comments are in all-caps. And red. Every writer deals with an avalanche of criticism. As a result, writers who teach strive to create a classroom environment that guards against the raw pettiness we’ve faced. I always worked to praise every story, every effort before pointing out a few little things that might need work. As an instructor, I prided myself on my ability to praise and encourage everyone. As a student, encouragement scares me. My efforts as a fiction writer are uneven at best. The stories meander, the characters are clichés sent in from central casting. My narratives often wander off cliffs and drop into the abyss. I know this, and I’m petrified to face a revision armed only with vague admiration. I’m not alone. In one class, we sat around praising a fellow student’s story. We went on and on about the lyrical language, the beautiful imagery, all of which was true. We neatly skirted the fact that we had no idea what the story was about. None. Finally, the writer stopped us. “Enough,” she said. “Don’t tell me how great it is. Tell me what to do with it. I need help.” We were so relieved. We ponied up the advice, some of it off-point and mistaken, and she was thrilled to get it all.

4. Hierarchy is self-imposed. I used to like identifying myself as an instructor at Grub parties, at readings, at the Muse. What do you do? I teach here. Not anymore. Last week Mike Heppner moved our Fiction I class to the Brookline Booksmith where we watched Joshua Furst read from his new novel The Sabotage Cafe. He arrived a bit late, and looked bewildered, just like a writer. Then he opened his book and nailed us to our seats for 25 minutes. Afterward, we had class in the basement of the bookstore. We worked on our stories, surrounded by books, and by people shopping for books. As a working writer, I worry constantly about the hierarchy of success. Who has better clips? Who has more time to work? Who is younger and more talented? As an instructor I worry about being good enough to teach. As a student, none of that matters. Effort alone matters, effort and showing up on time.

Michelle Seaton

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Be careful what you wish for...

Ever since Grub Street moved into our office in 2005, six windows on the east wall have been bricked over, ostensibly to save us from any construction site mishaps as Emerson built the behemoth dorm next door (sadly, this is not a joking matter: there WAS an accident, which sent a crane falling 8 stories and killed three people: a bystander and two construction workers. We were at work when it happened, and I'm sure none of us will ever forget the terrible accident scene).

Construction was completed last summer, in time for fall 2006 classes, but the bricks stayed up. Over last year, our feisty 84-year-old landlord would periodically appear on our floor, shouting to us from the hallway that the construction workers told her it would be next week, three weeks, mid-March, July, or some other date that the bricks would be removed. At first, we believed her (and them). Mid-March, we thought. Perfect! Just in time for our spring classes. But alas, the months dragged on and soon we forgot that those big black squares were windows at all. We got used to the interrogation-room quality of our small classroom, where the mixture of sunny yellow paint and lack of natural light made everyone appear a little jaundiced, as if after a long sea voyage. We went to IKEA and bought more floor lamps, decided that mood lighting was something that Grub Street could be known for.

Rumors abounded. The building that had been torn down to make way for dorm space had been a mafia building. Bodies were buried in the walls, and that's why they had to brick over our windows--as they tore into the structure, they didn't want us to see the ancient skulls and phalanges flying through the air. They had promised to leave eight feet of space between our building and theirs, so that light would still get to our floor, but we were convinced they hadn't: take down the bricks, and all we'd see was the concrete slab of Emerson, pressed as tight against 160 Boylston as a lover.

Finally, our building manager told us they were really coming to tear things down. We got ready, shuttling printers and papers to the hallway and generally reducing our office to even more of a mess than ever. And only one year and 2 weeks late, the construction workers really did arrive. Their method, which we have now been assessing for a full week, is for one man to chip at a brick with a pick and hammer while another man watches. When the brick is removed, it's dropped four stories down to a courtyard below, where another man is waiting to catch it. Luckily, a second man also stands below, watching the man waiting to catch the brick. As you might imagine, this is not a fast process. By the end of day one (which was supposed to be the only day), they had finished one window in the back room.

But o, what a difference it made! Even just that one window sends a flood of new light across the space, and the room appears to be twice as big as it used to be. Sonya and I kept walking back there, just to see it. We were ecstatic. Our space, which we have always loved, was about to become a million times better. Buh-bye, IKEA lamps, I thought happily.

Last night, they finished the yellow classroom, and like the back room, the difference is unbelievable. It's suddenly a place you want to hang out in, so hang out we did, standing next to our brand new view and occasionally poking our head outside to stare at the 8-foot-wide courtyard far below. As day turned into night, though, and the lights came on in the Emerson dorm rooms, we realized one thing that we hadn't really considered until then. 8 feet is not very much space, and those Emerson students are very, very close to us. As we looked out the window, we realized we were surrounded by activity. Personal, intimate activity, taking place in personal, intimate spaces. One woman had many bottles of Clorox wipes and a full-size plush statue of E.T. Another window revealed two girls in low-cut tops, ostensibly getting ready to go clubbing. A third had posters of beer girls and huge printouts taped to the glass that spell "508" (his room number?) When two shirtless boys stared back at us, and then one of them made some kind of lewd gesture, laughing, we went back to our desks, in our office where the bricks have yet to be removed.

And it was then that the other downside became clear: bricks are terrific sound insulators. Typing away at our keyboards, we heard noises unlike anything we've heard before. Whooping, cawing, that strange ululation people sometimes make in step aerobics classes, and this all at 5:30pm! We can only imagine what we'll hear when the parties begin.

All in all, natural light is worth any amount of leering shirtless boys and whooping underage drinkers. Our space is back to what it's supposed to look like, and we couldn't be happier. We think. We'll keep you posted.

In dread,
Whitney Scharer

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Real World, Part I

This is the true 14-part story of one writer's return to his alma mater to teach a fiction workshop, finish his third novel, keep up with the Grub community, maintain his long-distance marriage, and spend quality time with his elderly but vibrant immigrant parents, who live a mere 20 miles from the college. It's *The Real World: Swarthmore* minus the hardbodies and gratuitous sex (though possibly not the binge drinking).

Highlights of the first 5 days:

-- SATURDAY (Day One): Having copied the wrong address for my new apartment, Michael and I (with the help of the Swarthmore Police Dept) spend an hour roaming the dark leafy streets on foot trying to find it. Finally the landlord, History professor Marge Murphy (who initiated and runs the amazing War News Radio) appears in the driveway and ushers us into my new digs: three *enormous* air-conditioned rooms, including a walk-in closet and bathroom with jacuzzi tub. I share a kitchen and common area with two undergraduates, one of whom has already baked me a little cake.

-- SUNDAY (Day Two): Professor Murphy informs me that she has recently installed cable TV, including the MLB package. I resist the urge to throw my arms around her. Michael and I set up my room, then hit the King of Prussia mall, have a drink at a snazzy Manayunk bar and El Vez in the Center City Gayborhood. Back at the apartment, we install and test webcams and sign up for Skype. Fears of loneliness and isolation begin to ebb.

--MONDAY (Day Three): M & I make our first trip to the lush and majestic Swarthmore campus. Classes have started, and we gaze at the students as if at a zoo. ("Look how they check their mailboxes; isn't that cute?") I thought I'd identify more with them than the professors -- that I'd feel the 13 years since I graduated slip away -- but it turns out that the students all look twelve, and I am as fresh and vibrant as Methuselah. We hang out for a while in the English Department, and then make the inevitable trip to the airport. As M and I hug goodbye outside the AirTran terminal, the fears of loneliness and isolation resurge, and it occurs to me that webcams are tragically poor substitutes for human contact. I drive directly from the airport to my parents' house in Wilmington, where I am in charge of bartending and grilling for a 12-guest barbecue. After skimming half a martini per guest for myself, I soon pass out in my old twin bed.

--TUESDAY (Day Four): My dad fell last week, and now suffers from sharp pain in his leg that keeps him from walking comfortably for more than a few minutes at a time. Still he cleans out my car, fills it with gas, and makes me three days of meals -- all before I wake up (at 10:30). My mother is taking three different sets of pills for an illness she won't specify (all she and my dad will say is, "it's nothing serious. It's not cancer, so don't worry") and has to sleep most of the day. Still, she insists I drive her to Costco, where she buys me more food and other staples (i.e. a big jug of Bushmills) and, when I get home, sets me up with a new set of sheets, a comforter, and a coffeemaker. I head back to Swarthmore mid-afternoon and leave them standing in the driveway in their pajamas, waving.

The rest of my time has been spent preparing for my first workshop, which is Wednesday night (tonight!) from 7pm - 10pm, much like a Grub class. We're doing a writing exercise, introductions, and close-close-reading a short-short story. I'm eager to meet my 10 students, any of whom could be sitting among me at the bustling Kohlberg Coffee Bar, where I'm writing this. (Note: there was no coffee bar in this spot in 1994, just a cramped and creaky old building called the Annex, where I can guarantee no one ever lingered over a latte).

This is, of course, the best part of the semester. We're all optimistic. We're going to do our best work, write amazing stuff, attend lectures (even those in different departments!), and jog daily through the Crum Woods. We are our best selves, full of promise(s), eager and (gasp!) confident.

You can tell I haven't started working on my novel yet.

--Christopher Castellani

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Grub Street Rag, 9/4/2007

"One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore."

-- Andre Gide

Welcome to the Grub Street Rag, a newsletter of the Boston literary scene sent out every Monday (except when we take a respite from our labors) from the double-black-diamond-rated water slide at Grub Street's world headquarters. As always, if you are receiving this e-mail in horror, please advance to the bottom of the page to unsubscribe yourself.

As Heidi Klum would say, "Auf Wiedersehen"
First, the good news. We're delighted to report that Grub's own Artistic Director, Chris, will be a Visiting Professor at Swarthmore College this fall, where he will be teaching an Advanced Fiction workshop for ten lucky students. Now, the bad news: Isn't Swarthmore, um, not in Boston? Yes, it's true, Chris will be on sabbatical this autumn, making only brief, glittering cameo appearances in the Grub office, like some sort of exotic butterfly. Thankfully, he'll still be working for Grub Street remotely, and will be back for good in January. Look for the rare Artisticum Directoria Castellanae at Adaptations, A Taste of Grub, and on the web at the Penny Dreadful on Tuesdays. We'll miss you more than we can say, Chris, but we're so proud of you and excited to hear how your teaching goes.

Coming soon to a theater near you
On Thursday, October 11th, join us at the Coolidge Corner Theatre for our second "Adaptations" event. This year, acclaimed authors Arthur Golden, Russell Banks, Alice Hoffman and Scott Heim will read short excerpts from their novels, show the corresponding scenes from the film versions, and discuss the “translation” from page to screen. Films discussed include Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha, Banks’s The Sweet Hereafter, Hoffman’s Practical Magic, and Heim’s Mysterious Skin. Sure to be a lively, fun, informative and inspiring evening. Sign up early – tickets for the 2004 version sold out quickly, and seating is limited. Visit to reserve your ticket today.

A literary feast

Save the date: November 2nd, 2007, when Grub Street holds our third annual fundraising feast, A Taste of Grub. This year, we return to the beautiful and swanky Parkman House on Beacon Hill for a night of delicious nibbles, delectable sips from BRIX Wine Shop and Magic Hat, and provocative "beginnings and endings" from authors including Anita Diamant (The Red Tent). Tickets are available now, and more information is available on our website or by calling Whitney or Sonya at 617.695.0075.

The fall schedule is large and in charge
Our fall schedule is up on our website, and it's looking like this will be our biggest, best term yet. Some highlights: Christine Cipriani joins us from Beacon Press for the new How to Edit Yourself, Nick Mamatas instructs us on the ins and outs of Popular Fiction, and our sell-out Six Weeks, Six Stories spawns a non-fiction spinoff with Michelle Seaton's Six Weeks, Six Essays. Of course, old favorites abound as well, including Novel in Progress, Memoir I, Ten Weeks Ten Poems, and much much more! Check out the full schedule online and call us at 617.695.0075 to sign up today. Fall is always our busiest term, so don't wait until the last minute and lose your slot.


Whitney, Sonya, and Chris (from Pennsylvania)

The P.S. Grub Street's looking for a quality printing shop to print our fundraising invitations. If you have any recommendations--particularly somewhere that might give discounts or special rates to non-profits--please let us know! You can email with ideas.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Wood & Wood & Mortar & Wood... — by Daniel Pritchard

I've recently been indulging myself in high-end theory: Marxist criticism by way of Jameson's Late Capitalism. Reading Marxist criticism is something akin to hearing a person speak English with a thick accent, when you have just taken a percocet — "can you say that again? I'm sorry I don't understand the words you are speaking; can you repeat yourself more slowly? no, that didn't help..." It goes on like this, until you become accustomed to the patterns and the context, sort of like getting used to dissidence in orchestral music.

Late Capitalism is a book I've been meaning to re-read for a while, although I could not have told you why. Something in the brief section I'd read while at University struck a chord. Even in rereading the book I wondered whether I was really getting anything out of it. And then I came across a gem, a shockingly true paragraph-length labyrinth sentence. Jameson is analyzing the Marxist thinker Adorno's critical writing on aesthetics, and writes that late capitalist economics is obliterating "possibility and creative novelty by intensified repetition and sameness."

Commercials. Branding. Starbucks. Sitcoms. Chick-lit. Ironic-hipster authors. Harry Potter. Barnes & Nobles. Conglomerate news.

And then a question occurred to me: is this being dealt with in any meaningful way in modern literature? There are poets whose work is specifically Marxist coming out of the small presses, such as Mark Levine, but not very many. Novelists? Not to my knowledge. It made me think of James Wood, and how much he hates "hysterical realism." It has been claimed (in a recent Boston Globe article) that Wood doesn't "get" America because "a messy, sprawling country demands comparable novels." Hysterical realists and other author / novels Wood has lambasted would apparently provide that mimetic literary content.

But that is only relevant if you really believe that America is all those things. If you agree with Jameson / Adorno (or really, just open your eyes to any strip mall) then "hysterical realism" is no longer mimetic, no longer the voice and image of the country, and the novels are, in many ways, plasticized versions of those mid-century sprawling "great American" novels such as The Adventures of Augie March & On the Road. I love these novels, but also recognize that they have as much in common with my daily existence as Jules Verne.

Wood argues against the mimicry of America's "weirdness." But maybe that isn't what misses the mark with him. What he calls for is that authors deal with the universal-social / biological of being human, to step away from trying to mimic weirdness. Wood isn't a Marxist in any way shape or form, but that doesn't mean that Jameson's criticism is not on the mark and the situation isn't affecting the current literary output.

Is it possible that what Wood really finds appalling in the novels he derides is the sense that the authors are writing about an America that only exists in marketing campaign slogans? Is that why the best new novels seem to mostly be set in alternate, fantasy & futuristic worlds — because there is no model for how to write about the repetitive sameness that obliterates possibility?

Discuss amongst yourselves. Comment as necessary.

Liked this post? Read more from Dan Pritchard at The Wooden Spoon.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Sentimental Journey

I'm in denial of many things (mortality, finishing my PhD, the percentage of my income that goes to area restaurants) but one of them is about to become all too real: for the next four months, I will be living away from Boston, and Grub Street, and my husband, and my friends, and the gorgeous New England fall. This denial has kept me from sharing this news officially with the Grub community, though most of you know by now, and those who don't are probably wondering why they should care. (The answer: you shouldn't, really; Grub will be in Whitney and Sonya's expert hands).

I have no burning desire to leave Boston, you see, but I was given an offer I couldn't refuse: a visiting professorship for one advanced fiction writing workshop at Swarthmore College, where I graduated in 1994, and, with it, the time to finish a draft of a new book. It will be a nostalgic, sometimes lonely, but (fingers crossed) productive semester, and I am honored to have been given the opportunity. I look forward to working with 12 talented college students, who will, I'm sure, teach me a lot and spark hundreds of compelling debates about writing. I'm also looking forward to being a half-hour's drive from my parents, who have promised to (a) fill my fridge with lasagnas, (b) do my laundry and (c) fix my car. If they could give me back my curly hair and metabolism, I'd truly feel 18 again...

Anyway, I still plan to post here as much as possible, and, with any luck, I'll have some anecdotes (and maybe even a few pearls of wisdom) to share from the workshops. In the meantime, I wish you all a joyful and inspiring fall here in Boston, and encourage you to take advantage of the many great events, seminars, parties, readings, courses, etc. going on at Grub. I will see you when I'm back in town for Adaptations on October 11th, and also at Taste of Grub on November 2nd!

Chris Castellani

Friday, August 24, 2007

Vacation / Get Inspired


Michael Graves

As writers, we all possess the colossal urge to be expressive. It sometimes feels as though this urge can never be squelched. Currently, I am engrossed in the concoction of my first novel, Parade. This piece has been simply pouring onto the page (I give thanks to Buddha and Trim Spa). Because of my non-stop creative burst, I have ignored sleep, housewifery, messages and shitty television. I cannot stop writing! It’s a fantastic feeling! And I’m rather proud of the work that I have completed. Yet still, it’s time for a miniature mental vacation from my prose.
We all spend a great deal of time secluded in cafes, bedrooms, libraries, etc. We all take Grub Street classes or seminars. We all attend readings, book parties and other literary events. Living inside the writer’s world can become some sort of a one way street. We’re all zooming in the same direction (agent, book deal, sex tape scandal!) and, along our journey, we stop for tune-ups (conferences, writing groups, etc.). At certain junctures, though, it is in the best interest of the writer, and his or her work, to take a break. If one exists, solely in the writing world, one won’t have very much to write about. Tomfoolery, naughtiness and random acts of horseplay feed an artist’s work immensely.
As the conclusion of yet another summer approaches, I propose that we all nab just one afternoon or evening (an entire day?) and goof off. Attempt something new! Jump into an adventure. Who knows? Maybe this will help to inspire you creatively and otherwise.
Below, find fifteen ideas. Remember: Relax and let your brain roam free. Also remember: Don’t be a smartass and get arrested or anything.

1. Venture out to Davis Square and lick something at J.P. Licks ( After, sit in the bustling courtyard where you can listen to local musicians or just people watch.
2. Head over to the Coolidge Corner Theatre and see a classic flick. Some Like it Hot or Tron. Be sure to investigate the late night screenings offered too (
3. Take part in a New England tradition. Candlepin bowling! Visit Milky Way Lounge and Lanes and roll your balls around ( With a cool atmosphere and wall-to-wall scenesters, you’re sure to have fun.
4. Shag all day, be nasty. I don’t need to offer suggestions here.
5. Rent a pair of skates and try not to land on your ass. Visit Chez-Vous for their Sunday evening adult skate. It only costs ten bucks and, maybe, you can hold someone’s hand during a slow song (
6. Jump on the T (any color line will do) and take a trip to a place you’ve never been before. Go to Wonderland or Revere Beach. You never know what you’ll discover (
7. With a friend (or someone you like like), swap lunches. Ask he or she to make you a brown-bagged meal and you do the same. But keep it a secret. Trek over to the Boston Common, open up your surprise feast and enjoy (hopefully you don’t get something crappy like an egg salad sandwich).
8. Hit up CVS or your local drug store. Purchase some low-priced facial masks (don’t freak out fellas, beauty knows no gender). Slather up, following the directions carefully. Then, relax and listen to some jazz on 89.7 FM (
9. Dress up in something classy and prance into the Ritz Carlton. Have a delicious drink at their JER-NE Restaurant and Bar. Try a flute of the Champagne Ritz Brut…because luxury always nurtures the soul (
10. Drop by the Animal Rescue League of Boston and volunteer. Support the wonderful work that they do by lending a hand. Maybe you could walk a puppy or pet some kitty cats. Any critter would love your attention (!
11. Get wild with the working ladies! Stop by Centerfolds and take in the dancing sights. Tuesday is Amateur Night where the winner receives $1000! Awesome! Again, don’t get arrested (
12. Invigorate your mind by touring the Mills Gallery at the Boston Center for the Arts. The work is contemporary, fresh and stunning. Give them a look (
13. Create a mix CD for a friend or lover. This shit never goes out of style. And it’s a fitting way to show whomever that you’re thinking of them. Consider old school Chaka Khan and Cameo. Think about Steve Miller Band, Pink Floyd and Stevie Nicks.
14. Clean your room! Dig through your closet and drawers and collect whatever you don’t need/use. Throw a swap bash with friends! Donate your findings to Salvation Armani.
15. Give yourself a hug. Or give yourself more. You deserve a break and you shouldn’t beat yourself up about that fact. Give you and your writing time…all will be terrific.

Hopefully, these suggestions are useful and, hopefully, they infuse your creative soul with joy and enthusiasm. Keep writing!
If interested, you may find me at the local roller skating rink, at Centerfolds or at
Remember: Please continue to support Grub Street, Inc. The classes available this fall are going to be amazing!.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Modernist, Schmodernist: What makes a book a good book?

It's Friday night. Ryan and I are at the Jolly Trolley, in Westfield, NJ, waiting for his sister to come home and let us into her house, where we're staying for the weekend. The Yankees are on TV, and I make the mistake of jokingly shouting "Yankeeeeeees suckkkkkk!!!!" before remembering that I'm in a land where this will get me lynched. "Ha ha, just kidding!" I murmur weakly, as three beefy men turn to stare at me from behind their Budweisers, which suddenly gleam in the neon light like imminent weapons.

Ryan's having a Dead Guy Ale (fitting, no?) and I'm having an Amstel Light. We don't fit in with the general vibe, which is more "Eat-this-stale-snack-mix-they-have-sitting-on-the-bar-in-refilled-
Mason-jars-and-stare-blindly-at-the-telly" than "slowly-sip-low-cal-beer-and-blather-about-how-much-you-don't-
remember-about-the-Modernists" -- which happens to be what we are doing. We don't do this all the time -- thank God -- but we went to the same college, both majored in English, and sometimes like to reflect back to the old days when we sat around and read books all day because We Were Required To. We started down this conversational track because I asked Ryan to name his top five favorite books. You'd think I'd know his top five favorite books, since we've known each other for a decade and spend a more-than-average amount of time talking about literature, but I don't.

R: I really don't know what my top five are.
W. You have to know. Just think about it.
R: [surly] I mean, it's an impossible question.
W: [condescending] Well, I just think of which five books I've re-read over the past ten years, and figure those must be my favorites. Are they the best books ever written? No. But they're MY favorites, and that's what I'm asking you.
R: Yeah, but it's a category mistake to lump Crime and Punishment and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy into the same top five list.
W: [as to a child] Not if those are your favorites.
R: I always thought that the Modernists were my favorite writers, but all I can think of is Joyce and Woolf, and neither of them would be in my top five.

This led us into a discussion of the Modernists. Who are they? Ryan was insisting Faulkner was a Modernist, I was disagreeing. Predictably, though, I was not able to refute his argument with actual fact, and just began mumbling that Pound and Eliot were the only Modernists I knew.

The Trolley was not the place to wrap up this discussion, and now that I'm back at a computer, I'm happy to report that Conrad, Rhys, Mansfield and Lawrence are Modernists, Faulkner is not, and we don't NEED to remember what we spent hours learning in college because we have Google to do it for us. Phew.

The more lingering question is what puts a book on someone's top 5 list? Is re-readability a useful criteria? How about recommendability? If a book's ability to be enjoyed when recommended is the top criterion to rate its worth, then I'd put Donna Tartt's The Secret History at the top of my list. If it was quotability, Hitchhiker's Guide would be at the top of Ryan's. Or what about a book that when you read it, you can feel a writer's entire soul wrapped up in it? If that's part of the scale, then let's put Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson or The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt on there.

For what it's worth, here are my five, in no particular order:

1. On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan
2. Crossing to Safety, Wallace Stegner
3. Portrait of a Lady, Henry James
4. Feast of Love, Charles Baxter
5. Possession, A.S. Byatt

Ryan's still working on his. How about you?

In dread,
Whitney Scharer

Monday, August 20, 2007

Grub Street Rag, 8/20/07

* Pent-up Grub gossip
* Roomy Grub events
* Daytime writing

"A definition is the enclosing a wilderness of idea within a wall of words."
-- Samuel Butler

Welcome to the Grub Street Rag, a newsletter of the Boston literary scene sent out every Monday from the Mandatory Napping Room at Grub Street's world headquarters. As always, if you are receiving this e-mail in horror, please advance to the bottom of the page to unsubscribe yourself.

Our neighbors at Ploughshares
We love Ploughshares magazine, and not only because they're our neighbors. Their fall fiction issue looks particularly great, and is guest-edited by novelist and short story writer Andrea Barrett (if you don't know Andrea's work, be sure to check out her collection Servants of the Map. It's amazing!) The twelve-story issue of the magazine includes many of our favorite authors--some of whom even teach at Grub--including Bret Anthony Johnston, Paul Yoon, Jill Gilbreth, Ellen Litman and Peter Orner. It's on sale now online and in bookstores.

Grub instructor and novelist Jon Papernick (you may know him through his 1001 Book Project) is posting online podcasts of his new novel, Who By Fire, Who By Blood. Take a look at, or preorder the novel at

Department of Congratulations: Student and Teacher Edition
Grace Talusan, who just taught our Jumpstart Your Writing weekend, has a short story called "The Book of Life and Death," in Tufts Magazine. It's available online at Also, Grace's Jumpstart student, Lisa Braxton, is publishing her "novelette" as a serial in BostonNOW.
Read the first installments online and follow the story during your morning commute: Hurrah to both of you!


Whitney, Chris, and Sonya

The P.S. Rev up your engines, because our fall schedule will be online NEXT WEEK!

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Art of the Interview

Hello Penny Dreadful Readers,

Greetings from my blog AreYouOutsidetheLines! I’m Christopher Hennessy, a poet, book reviewer, interviewer. I’m pleased to be today’s guest blogger.

One of my passions as a reader and a writer is the art of the interview (check out some great links below). I authored a book of twelve interviews with some of today’s foremost poets, and in the process I learned a great deal about contemporary poetry, my own aesthetic and literary inquiry itself. As I told my students in the Grub Street Forms of Poetry course I’m currently teaching, “If you ever want to learn a lot about writing, lock yourself in a room with an author for a few hours with a tape recorder on.” Of course, it’s not that simple, but nevertheless, I do believe in the power of the interview as a vehicle for learning.

The art of the interview (hmm…sounds like a possible Grub Street course, no?) is one that, like any writing form, takes practice, study, a certain level of skill and hard work. My interview questions are drawn up by a close and thorough examination of an author’s work, as I believe is proper, and considerations of context, the author’s ‘project’, and how he or she has been influenced and influences others.

The worst question you can ask is the question that has been asked before. And the best question is the question that will elicit from the author the statement, “I’ve never thought about my writing in the light before, but I’m glad you asked” or something similar. Interviews should be neither fault-finding nor praise-giving. They should be investigations, shared journeys between the interviewer and his subject and following the map provided by the subject’s work.

Last year in the Guardian Review, Pico Iyer complained about decline of the literary interview because interviewers, he explained, had given their research over to Google rather that immersing themselves in their subject’s work. The article is certainly worth reading (and taking to heart), but I also enjoyed how he views the interview. He writes:

Interviews used to be one of the (occasional) perks of the writing life. A keen, or at least hard-working reader would approach you, after you'd written a book, and tell you things about yourself you didn't know.

At least in theory, and at least sometimes, interviews could prove a heightened form of conversation; as soon as the tape recorder's little red light came on, people paid attention, rose to the more eloquent side of themselves and talked with a care and intensity they would seldom muster in life. Text and interview circled round one another, and the latter served as a handy postscript (or complement at least) to the extended enquiry of the former.

My thoughts exactly!

A good question is always better than an answer.

Interview Links

The Paris Review interviews are often seen as the gold standard of interviews.

Check out the BBC’s many audio interviews. has a healthy repository of interviews.

The Academy of American Poets only have seven interviews, but they are with some of the most well-known contemporary poets. Their site,, also contains amazing resources, from bios to essays and of course lots of poems.

I just discovered this wonderful site, Identity Theory, which includes many interviews. I think this is my new favorite site.

Philly’s Kelly Writer House has archived a bunch of their interviews.

The PEN American Center is full of links, some of author discussions.

The Library of Congress offers up some audio programs.

Writers on Writing is a weekly radio program hosted by journalist and author Barbara DeMarco-Barrett

I can’t vouch for these poetry-centered podcasts (they are A LOT of them), but some of them indicate they have interviews.

Need a laugh. Check out this tongue-in-cheek interview from the Poetry Foundation’s dispatches.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

You Complete Me, and You Read

I've been trying to write about writers and booze, and why the two seem to love each other. You wouldn't believe all the studies and theories and experiments around this topic, including one that involved putting writers on a diet of whiskey and gin.

But there have also been quizzical studies like the one below, which suggests that fiction-readers are more socially able and empathetic than nonfiction-readers, and that nonfiction-readers may even be uniquely disadvantaged in this way.

I know plenty of nonfiction readers who would disagree. But doesn't it make sense?

"A study published in the Journal of Research in Personality and led by Raymond Mar, a doctoral candidate in psychology at the University of Toronto, found that people who read narrative fiction often have improved social abilities, while for those who read non-fiction, the opposite holds true.

"All stories are about people and their interactions -- romance, tragedy, conflict," says Mar. "Stories often force us to empathize with characters who are quite different from us, and this ability could help us better understand the many kinds of people we come across in the real world."

...The participants were asked to identify fiction and non-fiction authors from a long list of names (which included non-authors). Research has shown that the more authors a person identifies, the more the person reads.

They were then tested on measures of social awareness and empathy (such as recognizing a person's emotions from seeing only a picture of the person's eyes). The study found that:

  • People who frequently read narrative fiction scored higher on tests of both empathy (the ability to understand and identify with another person's feelings) and social acumen (the ability to make quick judgments of people and situations).

  • Frequent reading of non-fiction was associated with poorer empathy and social acumen.

A follow-up study found similar results. Those who read a short story from the New Yorker performed better on a social-reasoning task that followed than those who read an essay.

"In general, fiction print-exposure positively predicted measures of social ability, while non-fiction print-exposure was a negative predictor. The tendency to become absorbed in a story also predicted empathy scores," the researchers wrote.

Read the whole thing!

~Sonya Larson

Monday, August 13, 2007

Grub Street Rag, 8/13/07

* Incisive Grub gossip
* Salubrious Grub events
* Daytime writing

"I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we're reading doesn't wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? So that it will make us happy? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books."
-- Franz Kafka

Welcome to the Grub Street Rag, a newsletter of the Boston literary scene sent out every Monday from recently excavated ancient ruins at Grub Street's world headquarters. As always, if you are receiving this e-mail in horror, please advance to the bottom of the page to unsubscribe yourself.

You might not have asked, but we're still going tell you
We're excited to announce that Grub Advisory Council member Steve Almond has a new essay collection out called (Not That You Asked). It features a televised brawl with Sean Hannity, love letters to Oprah Winfrey, a lot of naughty oversharing, one amazing lobster pad thai recipe, and tributes to Kurt Vonnegut and insufferable Red Sox fans. You can read excerpts and check out the fall tour schedule at Steve's website, Here's what Kirkus had to say: "Almond scores big in every chapter of this must-have collection. Biting humor, honesty, smarts and heart: Vonnegut himself would have been proud."

New rules

Since release in early June, Grubbie David Scott's book The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to use news releases, blogs, podcasts, viral marketing and online media to reach your buyers directly has enjoyed terrific success. It scored a Publishers Weekly starred review, has been the number one bestselling marketing and PR book since release, and translation rights have been sold in Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Finnish, Czech, and Portuguese with more to come. David will be teaching a seminar on promotion and publicity this fall, which we're sure will be just as informative as his book. Congratulations, Dave!

Money, honey
Many of you know instructor Kris Frieswick from her popular Humor Writing classes at Grub, or from her awesome reading at our "Grub Gone..Silly" party. Now, Kris's multi-media series is live and online. Click the link below to check out "Buy Me Love," which explores the issues that arise when money and relationships meet.

Whitney, Chris, and Sonya

Friday, August 10, 2007

Meta-Meta Blogging


Chris Castellani,
No meta-blogging,
Blogging about blogging is a pet-peeve,
Of mine,
I disregard his wisdom,
The reckless intern,
I blog on,
Blogging not about blogging,
But blogging about blogging about blogging,
Meta-Meta Blogging.

Into the slipstream of cyber-garble,
Honking like a flock of Canada Geese,
On their way,
To Mexico,
For vacation,
I blog on,
And on,
Blogging like,
An injured raccoon,
To the break of dawn.

And when,
The flock descends,
On the sandy beach,
To order Anejo Tequila or,
Banana Daiquiris,
From Manuel,
The man known to friends,
As “El Guapo Pescador,”
He says “No, you only get cerveza … Canadiens.”

And the geese sigh,
“Oh Canada,
Oh blogging,
Oh hell,
We are Canada Geese,
Not Canadiens,
Those guys play hockey.”

“Serve us dear Manuel,
As we deserve after,
Our long journey,”
And Manuel laughs,
And pours Anejo,
And puts the bananas,
In the Blender,
And warns,

“No blogging about blogging exhausted Canadian Sirs,
Drink your drinks and fly home,
To the land of ice and snow.”

Advice received,
Chris Castellani,
A wise man,
And consummate,
Visionary leader,
And friend.

Note: This is the author's first attempt at poetry since his 8th grade epic haiku, "Mental Hospital," which sparked a teacher /parent conference in which he was proclaimed "intellectually dull." The author has not taken "Forms of Poetry" or received any instruction in poetry at Grub Street ever ... obviously.

All apologies,
Jonathan Sisler

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Power and the Glory

For its 10th birthday, Jane Roper gave Grub Street a lovely gift: a well-worn copy of The Glory of Grub Street: Impressions of Contemporary Authors, edited by A. St. John Adcock and E. O. Hoppe, published in 1928.

I was enchanted by Adcock's preface, which extols the pleasures of the struggling and hard-working writer -- the hack who lives "in Grub Street," that metaphor for struggle itself -- and suggests what we all might secretly know: that the tumultuous journey (the uncertainty, the labored revisions, the thirst for something greater in ourselves, the solidarity with fellow hackers) might really be the most satisfying aspect of the writer's life after all.

So here's the first part of the Preface, which mostly speaks for itself. I did want to point out, though, how it takes Adcock no time to at all to announce his own faults and failings as a writer. A true Grubbie! Enjoy --

"The title of this second volume of The Gods of Modern Grub Street was originally given to it for the comfort of my publishers and would have been altered if, before going to press, I could have thought of a better one. It is not intended to suggest that every author once lived in Grub Street, nor that those who did were not glad to get out; it is intended to suggest that the Grub Street tradition has grown and put forth branches until it is no longer a mere street but a whole literary world of many-coloured romance which seems to be as fascinating to the artistic temperament as webs are to flies, so that one almost may say of it, as Chaucer said of the married state, that 'They who are in would fain get out,/And they who are out would fain get in.'

Anyhow, you find the author who formerly dwelt in Grub Street, but has become prosperous and changed his address, will confess that, looking back from the affluence and tame security of the present, he realises that when he lived in the Street, and everything seemed possible and nothing sure, those early days were more stimulating, richer in excitement, adventure, even in happiness, than he was aware of at the time, and he has wistful feelings that if he could return there something of the freedom and enthusiasm he lost with his youth might be restored to him. On the other hand, authors who fortunately (or unfortunately) had no initial difficulties to overcome but walked or were handsomely carried to success along paths strewn with roses and other soft things, have unsettling suspicions that they have missed something and often take to Bohemian haunts and habits under the impression that they are thus breaking "their birth's invidious bar" and doing the thing properly; and of course they are, if they sufficiently think they are.

So, in a sense, you may say that all authors belong to Grub Street, and the glory that was Grub Street belongs to all authors, so long as they have left the place behind them or never lodged in it...When the Pilgrim Fathers emigrated they evidently took their share of the Grub Street tradition with them and planted it in that soil, and, from information received, it is flourishing there sturdily. "

~Christopher Castellani

Monday, August 6, 2007

Grub Street Rag, 8/6/07

* Fresh and clean Grub gossip
* Scrub-a-dubbed Grub events
* Manuscript Matchup

"A classic is classic not because it conforms to certain structural rules, or fits certain definitions (of which its author had quite probably never heard). It is classic because of a certain eternal and irrepressible freshness."

-- Edith Wharton

Welcome to the Grub Street Rag, a newsletter of the Boston literary scene sent out every Monday from the rooftop viewing deck at Grub Street's world headquarters. As always, if you are receiving this e-mail in horror, please advance to the bottom of the page to unsubscribe yourself.

Department of Congratulations

When it rains, it pours. We've got tons of great Grubbie news to report. First up, Jennifer Elmore won the prestigious 2007 Gulf Coast Prize for Poetry for her poem, "Incoherent Flash of Panorama." The judge was Terrance Hayes and the poem will appear in the next issue of Gulf Coast, due out in October. Next up, Lisa Genova's new novel, Still Alice, was just published to rave reviews. You can find the book now at or on Amazon, and Lisa will be donating up to $3.00 per book to Alzheimer's care and research.New member Anthony Donahoe just had an article published in the "Modern Love" section of the New York Times. It's called "I Made Him What He Is, but Who Is He?" and you can check it out by clicking here: Next, Cool Plums published a short fiction piece Ericka Tavares wrote called "Easy Money." Find it on their website: And last but certainly not least, Dave Demerjian has been accepted for a month-long residency at The Byrdcliffe Art Colony. Congrats to all.

National Department of Congratulations
A hearty Grub shout-out to Charles Simic, who has just been appointed as the Library of Congress's 15th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. Simic succeeds Donald Hall as Poet Laureate and joins a long line of distinguished poets who have served in the position, including most recently Ted Kooser, Louise Glück, Billy Collins, Stanley Kunitz, Robert Pinsky, Robert Hass and Rita Dove. The laureate generally serves a one- or two-year term. Simic is the author of 18 books of poetry. He is also an essayist, translator, editor and professor emeritus of creative writing and literature at the University of New Hampshire, where he has taught for 34 years.

Memoir II & Forms of Poetry morph into a new 6-week courses
Our Memoir II and Forms of Poetry classes have changed their lengths, prices and start dates. They are now 6-week classes that start next week, and cost $275 ($250 for members). Click on the class titles for all the details, and call us at 617.695.0075 to sign up.

Whitney, Chris, and Sonya