Author Archives: Brian

Episode 86: Time to Play the Feud

Literary feuds, aging pro-wrestler memoirs, Labatt Blue, Henry James’ classic story “The Middle Years,” wondering if we’ve done enough with our lives … it’s just another day at WITTScast HQ. Come join us.

Topics & Reading Discussed

Episode 83: Continuing Education

It may be the end of summer, but the WITTScasters aren’t letting the dog days get them down. Brian is writing, Jon is revising, and Ben is submitting. One of them is even going back to school, which leads to a debate about the role of formal education in a writer’s life. But first, the boys turn their attention–if not their powers of pronunciation–to Jodi Angel’s story “Centrifugal Force.”

Topics and Reading Discussed

Episode 80: Marriage! Kids! Houses! (or, “Bring the Darkness”)

Ben, Brian, and Jon didn’t get to the story they’d planned this week. But it’s fine, it’s fine — instead, they set aside some time to talk about all the big, new milestones in their lives right now, including becoming a father, owning a home, getting married, seeing the world… and assessing all art through the prism of the Barenaked Ladies.

Topics and Reading Discussed

  • Jerry Rice: Number 80 on the field, number one in your heart.
  • Jon’s philosophy of parenting comes from — bear with him — Sheri Fink’s nonfiction book Five Days at Memorial, a life-and-death account of a New Orleans hospital during Hurricane Katrina and one of the best books Jon read last year.
  • Kids these days prefer All the Pretty Horses to Goodnight Moon, at least in the Sealy household.
  • Typing the first few pages of a great story or novel is a great way to jump-start your own writing session; Jon first tried this with Richard Brautigan’s story “1/3, 1/3, 1/3” (PDF) and just recently with Kent Haruf’s Plainsong.  (Just don’t let the whole exercise spiral out of control like it did in Tobias Wolff’s novel Old School.)
  • If you wanted to emulate a writer, you could do a lot worse than Sam Lipsyte or Aimee Bender.
  • “The prince has always liked his London,” begins Henry James’ The Golden Bowl. Hopefully Ben does, too.
  • It will help if London has an answer to Dublin’s Literary Pub Crawl. They must, right?
  • At the very least, Ben should be able to find some locals to talk about the greats of cricket, like Sachin Tendulkar, Lasith “Slinga” Malinga, and… well, they can’t all be great.
  • Historically, Brian will leap to defend Barenaked Ladies, but he thinks their last two albums have been a letdown. Ben has experienced a bit of the same with Lyle Lovett’s latest, Release Me. What to do when you aren’t connecting with your formative favorites anymore?
  • Jon (reliably) relates the problem back to writing, noting that even his dude Cormac McCarthy puts out a dud sometimes.
  • Similarly, sometimes you’re afraid to revisit novels you loved in your youth because they might not resonate like they used to. See McCarthy’s Outer Dark or Michael Chabon’s The Mysteries of Pittsburgh.

Episode 77: Things Neglected

In episode 77, the WITTScasters try to build a list of the things most commonly overlooked by fiction writers–including why characters don’t get sick, how some stories seem to be set nowhere, and what you can tell about characters by where they buy their pizza. Also, Brian reveals that he’s gotten some writing done recently, Ben sees a light at the end of the teaching tunnel, and Jon wants to send kids back into the coal mines. All that, plus a quick trip to Ireland via William Trevor’s “The Woman of the House.”

Topics and Reading Discussed

  • You can read William Trevor’s story “The Woman of the House” at The New Yorker. For free, even.
  • Though this particular story isn’t included, Jon and Brian (if not Ben) would heartily suggest picking up Trevor’s Selected Stories.
  • Break kayfabe and learn about “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan and the Iron Sheik’s arrest for yourself.
  • And to learn about “working snug” and other related vocabulary, check out Grantland’s pro wrestling dictionary.
  • Philip Roth, in Everyman and other novels, is one of the best writers out there for examining the vulnerability of the human body.

Episode 74: Bad Reviews

They say two out of three ain’t bad, and the WITTScasters sure hope so, because one of them didn’t finish reading the story for this episode. But that doesn’t stop all three from weighing in equally on issues like how to handle criticism, whether literary journals should charge submission fees, and whether anyone should give a shit about teenagers.

Reading Discussed

Episode 71: Talent

How much of being a good writer comes from raw talent and how much from hard work? What do you do after you’ve mined all the “low-hanging fruit” of your life for material? What does empathy have to do with invention? And will robots cutting our hair signal the rise of the machines? All these questions, plus the timeless power of Charles Dodd White’s story “Hawkins’s Boy” on episode 71.

Reading Discussed

Episode 68: Getchu a Bowl

It’s the first show of 2015, and the new year brings new writing questions. Ben’s looking to cast off the shackles of traditional fiction, Brian’s wondering how to fit larger-than-life subject matter on the page, and Jon is… painting? Then the boys are nautically challenged by Amy Benson’s story “At Sea.” All that, plus the digital enhancement of murals, the artistic merits of Twitter aggregation, and the legendary toughness of Harley Race.

Reading Discussed

Episode 65: Politics & Prose

This episode finds Ben fresh off the campaign trail. But while the election might have left him feeling weary and picked apart, he’s got nothing on the kid in Adam Lefton’s story “Animals.” (P.S. Nobody tell him that Jon just got elected to office without even running.)

Reading Discussed

Episode 62: You Have Always Written Before and You Will Write Now

This episode finds Ben on a streak of creative fertility, Brian in a place of creative despair, and Jon trying to spin literary gold from the straw of pulpy fiction. Luckily for them, the answers to all their questions may be found in Julio Cortázar’s story “Blow-Up,” if they (well, if Ben and Jon) can figure out what it all means.

Reading Discussed

  • Ideally, everyone should read Julio Cortázar’s “Blow-Up,” and possibly even attempt his novel Hopscotch, as Jon has.
  • Ben is exploring billions and billions of creative possibilities by mining Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and digging into the late professor’s time at Cornell in William Poundstone’s biography Carl Sagan: A Life in the Cosmos.
  • Is reality intruding on your writing life? Take a few cues from Hemingway (but for god’s sake, don’t take all his cues).
  • There’s a lot to be said for lengthy creative gestation. See: Cold Mountain‘s Charles Frazier or The Long Home‘s William Gay.
  • The story Ben thought might’ve been Laura van den Berg was actually from another WITTScast author, Jamie Quatro. “Sinkhole” appeared in both Quatro’s collection I Want to Show You More and in the O. Henry Prize Stories 2013.
  • Jon’s been ruminating on how to write a page-turner with substance, with the help of David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks and our old pal James Wood’s review of that book in The New Yorker.
  • He’s also been loving Zia Haider Rahman’s novel In the Light of What We Know, set in increasingly historic 2008.
  • If you want to write, considering following Patton Oswalt’s lead and just quit Twitter. A few times, if you have to.
  • If you happen to be in Oswego, New York, and have mastered time travel, Ben highly recommends Don’t Blame Anyone, a visual performance of several Cortázar stores. He also picked through Blow-Up: And Other Stories to prepare.
  • In its meta-fictive elements, “Blow-Up” compares — though a lot more favorably — to Gordon Lish’s story “In the District, Into the Bargain,” which we read on Episode 48.

Episode 59: Hysterical Realism

Remember the year 2000? It was more than just the start of the Willenium. It’s the year that James Wood’s now-canonical essay on “hysterical realism” was published. So dust off your AOL CDs and join the WITTScasters for a discussion of what gives characters life on the page and why an intricately connected plot might hurt your novel. Plus, Jon gets religion.

Reading Discussed