Salvatore Pane

Month: March, 2012

Retro Video Game Finds II

This was a huge find for me and proof why you should hit up your local trade in spots as much as possible. There’s an Exchange retail store very close to my house (just a stone’s throw away from my favorite bar, the Squirrel Cage), and I tracked down this gem after stopping in on a whim before happy hour. Splatterhouse is a Turbografx-16 classic. I don’t own a Turbografx, but I’ve been considering making the plunge for a long time. I had Bonk’s Adventure for Gameboy as a kid, and I’m dying to play through the Bonk trilogy as it was originally meant to be played: on the Turbografx. Buying Splatterhouse for $10 is incentive. Now if I see a TG-16 for $75 with no games as I did in Chicago, I’ll have a good reason to pick it up. Plus, these game carts are so weird. I just like looking at them.

I’ve been trying to bulk up my Saturn collection since stumbling onto the system at my local Goodwill last month, and I recently picked up Virtua Fighter 2 for $5 at Ninja Entertainment in Dormont. NE is a great location for retro stuff, and they also resurface discs which apparently is pretty rare for Pittsburgh. I got the cart on the right for $10 at the Exchange a few stores over from Ninja Entertainment. They didn’t know what it was and had it lumped in with the N64 memory cards. The Interact Memory Card is a notoriously buggy device that allows you to play import games on your Sega Saturn. The 2d import library of the Sega Saturn is legendary, so I was pretty stoked to find this, but so far I’ve been unable to get it to work. I tried cleaning the exposed microchip with window cleaner and q-tips, but I might have to scrub down the actual pins in the system. If that doesn’t work, I can still buy the more reliable Pro Action Replay 4 in 1 + which acts as an import device, memory card, and ram card. Some of the 2d fighters on Saturn are so intense they need additional ram. The card usually runs for $25 plus shipping on specialty websites.

I visited my girlfriend Theresa a few weeks ago out on the eastern side of PA, and I arrived a few hours before she got out of work. So I headed to nearby Bristol and picked up The Ren and Stimpy Show: Buckeroos! on NES for $7 and Virtua Cop on Saturn for $5. The video game store there was pretty stocked with options and they had a neat little arcade room where they were taking bids on an old Mr. Do’s Castle machine. But they knew what they had, and their prices reflected that. Great supply of Turbografx-16 games though.

This is some king shit. A few days after finding Virtua Cop, Theresa took me to this amazing retro game store in Glensdale, PA called Classic Game Junkie. Reader, I’ve been collecting retro games for eight years, and this is BY FAR the best retro game store I’ve ever been to. You walk in, and the level end music for Super Mario Bros. plays. They had everything. NES, SNES, Virtual Boy, Turbografx, Saturn, pong clones, import games. They had ROBs and Power Gloves and Vectrex systems. They had rare oddities I’ve never even seen in real life before like the Famicom Disk System and Panic Restaurant. And best of all, the owner makes reproduction Nintendo carts. He had a reproduction of Nintendo World Championship 1990, the rarest game of all typically selling for $10,000, for $40. He had a repo of the never-before-released prototype of California Raisins: The Great Escape! I pretty much flipped my shit and bought the Saturn gun (the Stunner) and 3D Controller for a combined $30. Then I dropped $6 on Attack of the Killer Tomatoes for NES (it’s pretty uncommon, and I’ve never seen it before) and $14 each for NiGHTS and Street Fighter Alpha. If you’re anywhere near the eastern side of Pennsylvania, you have to check this store out.

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Pittsburgh Lit Events or Yeah I’m All Geeked Out/Got the Tortoise Shell Frames/Tom Ford Pea Coat/I’m a Lot More Dope/I’m a Lot More Fly/And My Wallet Stay Fat/But I Starve My Tie

My amazing, wonderful students from Chatham University and the University of Pittsburgh are doing a joint reading this Friday in the Mellon Living Room at Chatham at 4:30. It’s going to be totally outrageous and in your face, and I urge you to attend. There will be a few featured readers and then an open mic section. I boldly predict that it will be better than ten Super Bowls!

Vampire by Vampire: Genre Writing and the Creative Writing Workshop

Two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be part of the “Vampire by Vampire: Genre Writing and the Creative Writing Workshop” panel at AWP with Jeffrey Condran, Alissa Nutting, Elizabeth Weber, and B.J. Hollars. It went so much better than I hoped for and lots of interesting–and frustrated–students asked questions and stopped to talk with us even after the panel ended. A few days later, Matt Bell asked me to share my opening statement from the panel, and I figured I might as well put it here so that anyone who missed the panel interested in genre and the writing workshop could check it out. I’ve also included B.J. Hollars’ opening statement below, and if anyone else wants to contribute–from the panel or otherwise–please e-mail me and I’d be happy to publish them here on my website. I’d love to continue the amazing discussion we began at AWP. So, without further adieu, here’s B.J.

Genre fiction can be a colossal failure in the creative writing classroom, but so can more conventional fiction.  ‘Failed’ attempts are not monopolized by any one genre.  There’s a grand tradition of ‘failure’ in the workshop, none more so because a vampire makes an appearance in the prose.  In short, ‘failure’ takes on many forms.

Yet the workshop’s ‘successes’ are diverse as well.  The ability for students to give birth to multiple characters in less than a nine-month gestation period is a feat that not even nature can top.  And so when undergraduates do this, it’s something to be admired, regardless of whether these characters have razor-sharp canines or black capes or a B.A. in blood transfusion from the University of Transylvania.

Placing too many restrictions on genre—telling students what they can and cannot do—is almost like asking them to write stories with half the alphabet.  And writing is hard enough.

When a student leaves my classroom, I hope for two things.

1.)   That the student has a greater exuberance to write than when she first stepped through the door.

2.)   That the student has a greater exposure to the many genre possibilities available to her.

As such, in my creative writing classroom, students have few restrictions other than that I encourage them to write in more than one genre.  I call this my ‘shoe shopping theory.’  After all, how many of us walk into a shoe store and find the perfect pair of shoes on the first try?  Sometimes we need to walk in them for awhile, break them in, earn a few blisters.  By toying with genre, out students have more tools at their disposal, more opportunities for success, a greater versatility.

*

I am ‘pro’ genre fiction in the workshop for three reasons.

1.)   Genre fiction adds much needed diversity into the creative writing classroom.

2.)   It gives students the opportunity to write what they love, though it also encourages them to discover new loves as well.

3.)   In the end, the class is about the student, and I am only one person in it.  And frankly, I don’t want to be the teacher that told a seventeen-year-old Stephen King to knock it off with the horror, informed a young Nora Roberts that romance has no place in the world, asked Louis L’amour to holster his six shooters.  Sometimes a student has already found her niche, and I don’t want to ‘unfind’ it.

However, I acknowledge three ‘cons’ as well.

1.)   When workshopping genre fiction, I’ve observed the occasional pushback from other students.  They’re forced to recalibrate beyond a ‘normal’ aesthetic, which can be difficult.

2.)   For sci-fi and fantasy, it’s quite hard to create an entire world and its people in twelve double-spaced pages.  Similarly, it’s hard to workshop these pieces.

3.)   Finally, many professors feel that since they aren’t experts on genre fiction, they’re uncomfortable providing feedback to students that may lead the students in the wrong direction.  This seems fair.  However, I don’t want my own ignorance to stifle anyone else’s creativity.  Arguable, every story—regardless of genre—has a plot and characters and a setting.  All of these skills can be easily transferrable.  To quite Robert F. Kennedy (who may or may not have been talking about genre fiction), ‘That which unites us is far greater than that which divides us.’  And I think this applies quite well to genre fiction in the workshop setting as well. “

And now my statement:

My experience with genre writing is a little different than most in that I not only write literary fiction, but I also write very genre heavy comic books. Even my prose is varied in style. Sometimes I’ll write really realistic stories and other times there will be ghosts and haunted Nintendos. The schools I’ve taught at so far have been resistant to allowing student writers to produce genre fiction. On one hand I see their point. My experience with students who come into writing workshops who only want to write genre hasn’t been super positive. They’re often frustrated by the outside readings that are so unlike what they’re attempting to create, and their stories usually focus 100% on plot and often ignore characterization or any attempt at emotional complexity. On the flip side, I understand their frustration. They recognize that the university doesn’t value the kind of writing they most admire, and in so many ways, we’re discouraging them from producing the type of work they most care about. I can definitely relate to that as an undergrad. Whenever I brought in something to workshop that was slightly left of realism, the students and professor would essentially spend the entire workshop reconstructing the story minus those elements. That type of environment can be pretty demoralizing.

So far, I’ve mostly taught intermediate and advanced levels of creative writing, and one of my biggest concerns about genre fiction is that it sometimes isn’t allowed in senior and cap stone classes. Am I doing a disservice to students by allowing them to write in a mode that’s deemed totally unacceptable in upper-level classes? The best solution I’ve come up with so far is to first make it very clear that students can’t critique a story simply because it’s realism and they hate realism, or on the flip side, because it’s fantastic and they hate the fantastic. Then, I try right from the outset to include a lot of writers who are experimenting with genre elements in literary fiction. We read Etgar Keret’s “Fatso”, essentially a reworking of a traditional werewolf story. We read Matt Bell’s “His Last Great Gift”, about a 19th century minister building a techno robot savior. We read the ghost-laden craziness of George Saunders. And we read “Porn Star” by Alissa which involves anal sex on the moon. The key for me with genre students has been to show them that character still matters in genre writing and is the most important element of all writing. I ask them to think about any story they like, be it a movie, comic, novel, whatever. They always have memorable, interesting characters even if they’re not likable. I tell them that literary fiction is the ultimate umbrella genre. It can include elements from realism, sci-fi, western, horror, you name it. When students begin to understand that they hopefully start to see the university’s focus on literary fiction as an opportunity to experiment and not as some kind of arbitrary restriction meant to guilt them for liking what they like. When students put up straight genre for workshop, I’ll often discuss the differences between the original Star Wars trilogy and the prequels. One has memorable characters doing interesting things with emotional consequences. The other has one-dimensional names moving around in a video game. I ask them to aspire to the former, and I think they respect that.

Retro Video Game Finds

Now that I have a tenure track job and a forthcoming novel, I’ve decided to turn this blog into a tumblr about all the retro video games I find.

Ok. I’m not going that far, but I do think it might be fun if I document some of the games I find in my travels. Most people who know me in real life know I’m a huge retro game collector. I don’t much care for the new systems–I have a Wii that I mostly use for Netflix and occasionally NBA2K12–and instead prefer the games of my youth or earlier: the Nintendo Entertainment System and games where you go right and jump. I started collecting in 2004 and my ultimate goal is to own all 750 NES games. So far I’m a little over 200 mostly because I’ve dipped into collecting Super Nintendo, Atari 2600, Intellivision, and most recently, Sega Saturn games.

What most laypeople find relatively interesting about retro gaming is the way I go about finding them. I personally think buying them online is cheating and half the fun of the hobby is finding these things in the wild. That means flea markets, pawn shops, and thrift stores. You can find old games via retail outlets, but those are growing rarer and I try to avoid them because of the marked up prices. Nintendo games are not worth more than $5, and I do my best not to pay more than that.

Recently, I visited Chicago, Columbus, and Indianapolis. Here’s what I found along with a few things tracked down in Pittsburgh. Everything was purchased within the last two weeks.

I found these in an Exchange chain store in Chicago. They’re Super Famicon games–the Japanese Super Nintendo equivalent. Dragon Quest I & II, Dragon Quest V, and Dragon Quest VI. They’re text heavy and completely in Japanese and I have no way to play them, but at $5 a pop, I couldn’t pass them up–my friends Kevin and Katie were with me when I purchased these and when I told them they were completely impossible to play they just blinked at me; even the store clerk sassed me.

I also picked these up during AWP at a different retail store that had tons of retro games. I nabbed Wall Street Kid for 95 cents and A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Bloblonia for $2. I regret nothing.

These were total no brainers. Complete, in-box Intellivision games from the same Chicago retail store as above. Star Strike was $5 and Demon Attack was $2. The later is my favorite Intellivision game that I currently own, and the former was promoted by the Paris Review‘s George Plimpton.

I picked these up at the Exchange a few blocks away from my apartment. $2 each for Viper and Wrath of the Black Manta, common but fun games, and $5 for King of the Ring, a pretty uncommon, bordering on rare, late generation NES title. Plus it has Bret Hart on the cover.

Intellivision games are wildly overpriced, so I was ecstatic to find these three titles for $1 each at a retail store in Columbus, Ohio. BurgerTime is an all time favorite, and I’m curious to see what 1982 NBA action looks like on Intellivision. Tron Deadly Discs is the steal of the group, as I’ve seen it go complete, in-box for over $25. Plus, it yells at you. I have the Intellivision voice module and greatly look forward to being verbally abused by the Master Control Program.

Both of these gems cost $2. I picked up Marble Madness at the same Columbus store from above, and I found All Pro Basketball–developed by one of my favorite NES companies, Vic Tokai–at a flea market in Pittsburgh, Trader Jack’s.

Professional Idiot Chris Lee left his Nintendo 64 at my house last year, and I’m never giving it back. At Trader Jack’s, I haggled some bro eating a sandwich into giving me Perfect Dark and Wave Race 64 for a combined $4. Eat it, Chris Lee.

This is easily my best thrift store find–surpassing Double Dragon III for $1 in 2005–and my best system find ever–surpassing an Odyssey 3000 at Trader Jack’s for $6. I purchased this Sega Saturn with all the hook ups and a controller at Goodwill for $13. They clearly didn’t know what they had. Saturns can set you back $50 normally, and the clerk thought that a stack of Atari 2600 games would work on it. I MEAN COME ON.

The system has a broken watch battery inside, so every time I turn it on it asks me if it’s 1994–my girlfriend saw this and burst out laughing–but other than that, it works great.

Another steal at Trader Jack’s! I bought the turbo pad and multi-controller adapter for Saturn at $5 combined, and I found the regular pad in Columbus for $7. Now I can play Sega Saturn with five other friends. The only difficulty is finding a single other human being on earth who wants to play Sega Saturn in 2012.

Saturn games are pretty difficult to track down these days, but I managed some good deals. I found Dayton USA for $2 in Indianapolis and Fighting Vipers for $8 in the Dormont Exchange. Scud–based on a comic written by Community creator Dan Harmon–and The Hordea strategy adventure starring Kirk Cameron as a medieval servant named Chauncey–set me back $6 combined at Trader Jack’s.

AWP 2012 Aftermath

In no particular order, I give you my 2012 AWP highlights:

1. I read at the Beauty Bar for Mud Luscious, PANK, and Annalemma. The venue itself was really neat. You could get manicures and they had seasonal beers for three dollars. I read this new flash fiction piece I’d just finished called “I am Ronald Reagan: The Game” and it seemed to go over really well with the crowd. But being the clumsy jamoke I am, I hit my head on a low-hanging ceiling on the way to the stage. I mean really clocked it. And by the time I finished reading I’d totally forgotten hitting my head in the first place and slammed the thing twice as hard right between the eyes. I staggered down into the back room where all the readers where hanging out and there was all this blood coming out of my forehead. Yes. I injured myself reading.

In the closet-sized bathroom, I wadded up some paper towels and tried to stop the bleeding. There was only one stall and inside were Ben Tanzer and Ryan Bradley doing a literary podcast. I was stuck back there for pretty much the second half of the reading. Matt Bell came by and assured me I didn’t have a concussion or need stitches, and I shook Scott McClanahan’s hand while simultaneously holding bloody paper towels to my head. The best part was when Chad Redden came in and told me he’d read the chapbook I submitted to NAP Magazine and wanted to publish it. So if you listen to Ben and Ryan’s podcast and hear some lunatic shouting with joy in the background that’s bloody face me. I’m beyond excited about the chapbook! It’s called #KanyeWestSavedFromDrowning and it should be out late 2012.

2. I was very lucky to be included on a panel called “Vampire by Vampire: Genre Writing in the Creative Writing Workshop” with Jeff Condran, Alissa Nutting, BJ Hollars, and Elizabeth Weber. It went so much better than I ever even hoped for, and I was really moved when two current undergrads said they’d been so discouraged by their own universities for producing strange fiction that they weren’t even sure if they wanted to be writers anymore. Also, I explained the speeder bike level of Battletoads to the crowd, and then BJ told us about one of my favorite movies, The Wizard. I hope this starts a trend of more Battletoads references in AWP pedagogical panels.

3. At the Stymie reading, I finally met my boy Mark Cugini who came up to me and yelled, “Internet Friends!” We shared a cab with some folks to Literature Party and talked about fantasy football and Ms. Pacman which, if you know me, covers nearly all of my interests.

4. I ate Chicago style pizza with Geoff Peck, Dave Keaton, and Amy Lueck and Dave kept calling it a “Pizza Cake”.

5. The WPA in the 21st Century Panel with Geoff and Cathy Day.

6. While in line to register at the hotel, I saw Mike Meginnis and his wife Tracy a few people in front of me. We’d never met in real life, so I yelled, “Mike!” really loud and then tried to make it seem like I didn’t yell “Mike!” so if it wasn’t him I wouldn’t look weird. It was Mike. He recognized me because I was wearing a tie which is what many, many people told me throughout the conference.

7. I went to the top of the Sears Tower with Katie Coyle and Kevin Tassini and I basically spent the entire time complaining that they had all this shit about overrated Michael Jordan and nothing about Kanye West. We then dragged Katie about a half hour away so I could buy a handful of retro games including Dragon Quest I & II, Dragon Quest V, and Dragon Quest VI for the Super Famicom.

8. Oliu got a manicure at Beauty Bar.

9. I was drinking at the hotel bar with Peck, Lauren Becker, and Erin Fitzgerald when this dude came over to us and invited us up into his room for free wine. We went and met a bunch of really nice poets. Nobody lost a kidney which was a serious concern of mine.

10. I stepped off the plane and a writer gave me her card even before I made it to the subway.

11. Dancing with xTx, Roxane Gay, Ashley Ford, and a host of other people at Literature Party to “‘Mo Money, ‘Mo Problems” or as I call it, the greatest song ever conceived by humans.

12. I was able to grab a drink with the two other creative writing faculty members at the University of Indianapolis where I’ll be a TENURE TRACK ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH CREATIVE WRITING this coming fall! Pedagogy Level Up!

13. On the last night, me and Peck were closing down the hotel bar when this woman came over and basically advised us on every aspect of our lives. I’m talking some serious Yoda shit.

14. Steve Kowalski reading “When the Browns Win the Super Bowl” and it being as good as the time he read it in Cleveland.

15. Drunkenly rambling with Paul Morris about Nextwave, DC’s new 52, The Authority, and a host of other nerdy comic awesomeness.

16. Tim Kinsella is the Tim Kinsella from Cap’n Jazz.