Salvatore Pane

Category: Writers

Culture Death Match #2: Tom Bissell vs. Sarah Vowell

What’s that? You read Culture Death Match #1 in which Amy Whipple and I talked Batman and Golden Girls and you’re dying for more? BEHOLD! Amy Whipple and I chat up Tom Bissell, Sarah Vowell, and who is assigned writerly authority and why that is exactly. It’s like a thousand Christmas mornings up in this bitch.

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I’m Sick: My Triumphs, My Failures

I haven’t done a thing with this blog in a week because I’ve contracted the sore throat from Planet Fuck. That, combined with a three class teaching load, has seriously eaten into my ability to get anything done this week. Mind you I’m not complaining. I’m lucky to have a job, especially one that’s actually what I went to school for. But I feel like shit, have been writing less because I feel like shit, and sometimes I send half-delirious e-mails to my students when one too many of them agree electronically about their complete contempt for all things James Baldwin.

Regardless. How productive are you while sick? Are you able to actually get writing done or is it one of the first things to fall by the wayside? I haven’t written since Tuesday which is disgustingly bad for me. I’m planning on remedying that today, but I’m just sleeping so much more because of this cold and it just hasn’t been working out. Instead, I’ve been playing a lot of Earthbound. Its electronic warmth comforts me. Also, I’ve been reading the absolutely wonderful Elephants in Our Bedroom by Michael Czyzniejewski and Richard Yates by Tao Lin.

Me too, Ness. Me too.

Mostly, I’ve been spending a great deal of time thinking about what fictional books I’d most like to read. I don’t mean fiction books, I mean books  written by fictional characters in TV shows and movies. I feel (although I cannot prove) that someone on HTMLGIANT did a thread like this awhile back, but I can’t remember. For my money, I’d most like to read My Triumphs, My Failures by Gaius Baltar from Battlestar Galactica and Wildcat by Eli Cash from Royal Tenenbaums. The later was written in an obsolete vernacular, and according to Wikipedia, a mash-up of Cormac McCarthy and Jay McInerney. What’s not to like, right? And the former is the type of dry political nonfiction I crave. “The nature of modern life is obsession,” Gaius writes in the penultimate episode of season three. Have truer words ever been spoken?

To reiterate: I’m sick, and this is the type of shit I do when I’m sick.

I Can Has Author Friends?: How the Internet Alters the Reader/Writer Dynamic via PANK

I’ve got a new post on PANK‘s blog about the reader writer relationship as illuminated by Ron Marz, Tao Lin, Jonathan Franzen and the Green Lantern. DO IT.

A Lot of Action and a Lot of Emotional Consequences: An Interview with Andy Schmidt

Mark Kleman–my Black List co-writer–and I recently had the opportunity to interview Andy Schmidt of IDW. A prominent face in the comics industry, Schmidt edits the G.I Joe and Transformers lines at IDW, runs online courses focused on comic creation, and writes the occasional mini-series. We specifically wanted to talk to him about 5 Days to Die, his new five-part series with the artist Chee that launched earlier this week. Read the interview, then buy the book at your local comic store.

Salvatore Pane: Your new comic launching this month is 5 Days to Die, a five-part mini-series with art by Chee and covers from Gabriele dell’Otto, David Finch, Michael Avon Oeming, Pablo Raimondi and Ben Templesmith. Give us the pitch. What’s the story about?

Andy Schmidt: It’s about a police officer named Ray, who is in a car accident that nearly kills his wife and daughter and critically injures him. The doctors give him five days before he dies. He’s hurt and he believes that the big crime boss in the city has put a hit out on his family. So, he’s faced with a decision: Stay and be with his family in the hospital, trying to repair their strained relationship, or go find and stop the people trying to kill them. It’s a tough, emotional decision for Ray, and it leads to a lot of action and a lot of emotional consequences.

SP: What’s your reasoning for releasing 5 Days to Die weekly over the course of five straight weeks? Why not go the traditional monthly publication route? On the flip side, why not collect all the material at once and release everything as a graphic novel?

AS: There are five Wednesdays (comic book day) in September so it all comes out this month. As for why the accelerated schedule, it just fits with the story. Each issue takes place over one of Ray’s final five days, so the increased schedule just was my idea to help add to the urgency of it all.

I didn’t want to do it as a graphic novel by itself. I like traditional comics and I thought releasing an issue as a day and making people wait the week adds to the fun of it.

SP: Tell us what it’s like to work with Chee. What specifically drew you to his work for this project?

AS: I’ve worked with Chee before and he’s an amazing storyteller. I like working with him, we had similar ideas about the kind of stories we like to tell and what’s most important for an artist to do, so we just click really nicely. And his style is a perfect fit for the crime, thriller, noir type genre.

SP: Hard-boiled crime stories are seeing a resurgence in mainstream comics through the work of Darwyn Cooke, Ed Brubaker, Howard Chaykin and a few others. Why do you think that is? Do you think it has anything to do with a turning away from the more lighthearted crime offerings of Hollywood like Cop Out and The Other Guys?

AS:  I don’t think it’s related much to Hollywood at all, at least not what Hollywood is doing now. I think a lot of us grew up enjoying crime stories. I love them. And I love film noir. So, for me, my main influences in terms of genre come from the stuff I grew up reading and watching, not what’s being produced now. And ultimately, there’s just a lot you can do with the hard-boiled stories that is a lot of fun to write and draw.

Mark Kleman: 5 Days to Die is a creator-owned project. Unlike Cobra Commander and Wolverine, the characters are yours and you have ultimate control over them. Does this make writing more or less difficult? What do you want readers to see in the characters of 5 Days to Die?

AS: It’s a bit of both. It’s easier to write in the sense that you’re creating them, so they don’t sound wrong to anyone because there is no pre-conceived notion of who they are or how they talk. That’s not the case for, say, Spider-Man. So that’s easier, but what’s harder is that they are mine and I have to create them. I can also rely on the back story of pre-existing characters to draw from, I don’t have to build the world as much, but all of that stuff is up to Chee and myself to build from scratch here. So it’s tougher and easier at the same time.

I’m hoping that people will see a bit of themselves in the characters of 5 Days to Die. Ray and Matt, the two main cops are both pretty complex and relatable. Ray’s sister-in-law has a pretty big roll and I think she evokes a point of view that much of the audience will share. But there’s real, genuine emotion underneath these characters, and I think that’s what carries the book (if anything does) from just being a fun concept to becoming a good story.

SP: Let’s move on and discuss your editorial work at IDW. You oversee the newly-revitalized GI Joe and Transformers franchises among others. G.I Joe in particular has seen a lot of reimaginings over the years, but the IDW-verse seems to be really sticking. What’s your vision for the line overall? How do you pay homage to the great Larry Hama stories of old without falling into the trap of the continual remake?

AS: G.I Joe is a very malleable franchise. It fits comfortably into a lot of different genres and lends itself to a wide variety of kinds of stories. Part of that is due to the varied history of the years. I try to make sure that comics feel grounded. So even when some big scifi element pops up, it still has a level of reality to it, that it works. And in other stories, we keep those elements out altogether. Ultimately, I just try to make sure the creators are telling good, honest stories that they’re passionate about.

SP: I think a lot of people were shocked by the brutality in the G.I Joe: Cobra series. It’s definitely one of our favorites from the line. Can you talk about the genesis of the series and what it’s been like to take a former gag of a character, Chuckles, and turn him into something really formidable and interesting?

AS: The use and development of Chuckles is due almost entirely to Mike Costa. He picked Chuckles, he developed the character for the series along with Chris Gage. The series itself came out of a phone call I was on with Michael, my Hasbro contact and Chris Ryall, the editor-in-chief here at IDW. On the phone, we knew we had two weeks to create the 16-page #0 issue. We didn’t think we’d have time to do one story with one creative team, so on the fly, I pitched a three-book launch with Origins and Cobra being the two books we I just made up on the spot. Michael liked the ideas. Chris and I hung up the phone and asked what I had on the two new books already. I guess I bluffed pretty well.

We figured out those two books in about two days and had 5-page scripts a day or two after that and all the art was done for the #0 issue a week after that. All that to say, we got darn lucky.

MK: You and Chee worked together on a comic adaptation of the motion picture classic Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Was it intimidating to bring the most honored story of Star Trek cannon to comics? How do you consider fans when approaching famous source material like Star Trek, G.I Joe, and Transformers as a writer or editor?

AS: Fans are a huge consideration. Not just because I like fans and am a fan of most of this stuff myself, but also because, that real core audience is the foundation of fandom. If they are really excited about something, they can get other people talking and something can really build.

Ideally, we’re building stories that appeal to long-time fans and potential new fans at the same time. That’s the goal, and it’s a tough one to hit sometimes.

SP: The famous saying about breaking into comics is that it’s like Fort Knox: every time someone gets inside, the authorities fix it so no one can ever use that route again. What’s the best way of getting your foot in the door these days? Self-publishing? Web comics? Going to conventions and making connections?

AS: That’s a bit over-stated. Breaking into comics is no harder (and I’m paraphrasing Brian Bendis here) then breaking into being a doctor. It often takes years and it takes training and practice but it can definitely be done. My other business is called Comics Experience where I teach online courses about comics writing and art and lettering along with other professionals. They’ve been a huge success and in large part because of all the strategies that we talk about on how to break in.

But honestly, all the strategies in the world don’t matter if you don’t have something professional to show once you get there. And that’s the major focus of Comics Experience, we help you figure out your art and your writing and give you the tips and strategies that are repeatable so you can create professional-level work every time out of the gate.

Self-publishing is probably the most popular way to get noticed in the industry right now. But it’s not as simple as just publishing something, you’ve then got to market it and sell it at conventions and get it into people’s hands so it gets noticed.

SP: Similarly, once someone has that first published work–be it via the smaller presses, self-publication, or the internet–what is the best method on contacting the bigger publishers like IDW, Image or Dark Horse? What is IDW specifically looking for in new talent?

AS: Send them the book! Put a cover letter in, talk to them at conventions. We’re all just people here. I suppose IDW looks for the same things all the other publishers are looking for, the right person, to fit the right project, at the right time. A great writer for Superman may not be great on Transformers, for example. But it could happen. You’ve got to fit the right talent together on the right project.

So, if you’re a writer, always be writing, and always be coming up with new stories that fulfill those basic story requirements and then add something on top. You’ve always got to be better than the guy next to you in line. And as an artist, always be doing your art, growing, and trying new things. A lot of people forget to experiment and challenge themselves. Again, this is something we do a lot of at Comics Experience. We’ve got an ongoing Creators Workshop with monthly challenges and critiques by professionals and all kinds of cool stuff to help people continue to improve and succeed.

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An Excuse to Talk About Fantasy Football or It’s Prime Submission Season!

For a few days, I’ve been trying to think of a good excuse for talking about fantasy football on a blog that’s supposedly about writing and books and shit. I’ve done this before, coming up with justifications to discuss Scott Pilgrim and Earthbound and and all kinds of esoteric subjects. I thought maybe I could pass the draft day experience as an unfolding narrative, how once choice affects another (for example, if you use your first pick on Chris Johnson, you don’t then use your second on another running back with the same bye week).

But, in the end, I couldn’t think of a single, solitary reason for why I’d talk about fantasy football on this blog which (normally) has absolutely nothing to do with fantasy football. But you know what? Fuck it. This is salvatore-pane.com, so if I want to talk about fantasy football I should be able to talk about fantasy football, right? Here’s the outcome of my draft:

Excuse me? Is you saying something? Nu-uh. Can't tell me nothin'.

How’d I do? I feel good about it with the exception of Winslow (I wanted Visanthe Shiancoe, but I’m in a league with Minnesota fans). Do you guys play fantasy? Or do you think, like Marvel Editor Nathan Crosby, that it “combines the excitement of the NFL with the sadness of role-playing games”? Can you come up with any parallels between the world of fantasy football and writing? Ok. Wait a sec. How about this shit? Assembling a fantasy football team is a lot like assembling the contents of a literary journal. You’ve got to balance things while playing towards your aesthetic. I’m a running back guy. I took one in the first round (then a WR then QB) and then a bunch of RBs in a row. Is this like editing a journal that primarily runs metafiction while still trying to balance things in terms of gender and race and sexuality? Are you also worried about Maurice Jones-Drew (language thugs like me call him The Hyphen) blowing out his knee and ruining your season? Are you too obsessed with the Talented Mr. Roto?

One last thing. And this has nothing to do with fantasy football but everything to do with lit journals. IT’S SUBMISSION SEASON AGAIN! I remember very vividly when I started my MFA program going for drinks with two recently graduated poets. They clinked glasses and made a toast to the new submission season. One thing I miss in an era when so much of what we do is digital is the idea that September 1st is the universal starting day for new submissions. So many online outlets read year round (which is obviously so much better for everyone–writer and reader both) that the anticipation of 9/1 just isn’t what it used to be.

However, I am preparing to send out a shit ton of new work. How do you guys go about this? Recently I told a current MFA student that I like to have no fewer than 30 submissions out at any given time, and she looked terrified. Is 30 high? Do you send to more places than that? Are you like me and get panicky whenever your submissions queue on Duotrope drops below 20? Do you not use Duotrope? How many times will you try a journal before you give up (DON’T GIVE UP; I’ve gotten into a bunch of journals that initially rejected my work)? How do you find new journals? Through the work of your peers? Through lit blogs like HTMLGIANT? If you don’t know Chris Johnson from LaDainian Tomlinson, but know the difference between Ploughshares and Diagram, hit me up in the comments.

What? Deal with it.

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Temple of Doom and Shit

Howdy, folks. Put up a new post at PANK in response to a reading at AWP way back in March. It’s all about what you want your writing to be like. And Temple of Doom. Beacuase, you know, Temple of Doom and shit.

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Underrated Writers on PANK

There’s been quite a shit show in the literary blogging world after a Huffington Post post about the 15 most overrated writers in America. FUCK THAT NOISE. Check out a post about three underrated writers I wrote for PANK.

DIG IT.

Robert Yune Has Shit To Say

Guys. I did a guest post for my buddy Robert about the “DEATH OF LITERARY FICTION!!!!!!!!!!!!111111111lolz”. Check it out along with his bodacious site.

Do You Trust Someone With Crappy Taste in Music/Movies/Etc When It Comes to Writing?

This is literally my top 25 list on iTunes. BEHOLD!

I have shitty taste in music. You have no idea how long it’s taken me to admit that to myself. In high school, I spent hours reading reviews on Pitchfork and putting band names into Amazon to see who else their search engines would recommend. I listened to Weezer, Saves the Day, Ozma, Texas is the Reason, the Pixies, the Ataris, and all kinds of bands (good and awful) that nobody gave a shit about in Scranton, Pennsylvania (or at the very least, my shockingly unhip Catholic school). If my plan was to get laid based on my extensive knowledge about the recording history of Weezer’s 1996 magnum opus Pinkerton, it backfired miserably.

In college, I tried to keep up with what was popular with the cool kids. I listened to Bloc Party, Arcade Fire, Belle & Sebastian, but what I discovered pretty quickly is that I don’t really like concerts that much. Whenever I go to one, I get bored and start hoping for the whole thing to be over. None of them can ever match the way I felt seeing Weezer in Wilkes-Barre at 16, and I think that’s kind of my problem. Musically, I’m completely stunted. I listen to most of the same garbage I liked in high school peppered with a handful of bands I saw in college and a whole mess of Kanye West. That’s about it. I’ve given up on knowing what’s hot, and most of my friends think it’s hilarious (not to mention sad) when I unironically listen to Offspring’s Smash.

My point: can you trust someone to have good taste concerning literature when you don’t respect their other entertainment choices? For example, if you were exchanging stories with someone who told you their favorite movie was Bad Boys II, would you be able to take their criticism on your short story seriously even if it was totally sound? I’ve been thinking about this a lot ever since Inception came out. Almost everybody I know in Pittsburgh claims to dislike it, but I found it pretty enjoyable (look at me defend it in this Rumpus comments section!). The same thing happened when I pulled out Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey after a Mad Men watching party. I claimed the movie was outright David Lynchian during the sequence where Bill and Ted play board games with the Grim Reaper in hell (only moments before they ask aliens in heaven to build them good robot versions of themselves to fight evil robots versions of themselves at a battle of the bands), and the entire MFA community stared at me like I was a drunken moron.

If some of my favorite “films” include Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, Santa Slays and Camp Nowhere, can you really trust my thoughts of A Gate at the Stairs? If I enjoy reading comic books where a crazed statue of Abraham Lincoln ravaging downtown DC can only be stopped by a statue version of John Wilkes Booth, can you still listen to my advice on your story? If I have 57 Kanye West songs on my iPod, can you ever take me seriously again? Or is literature so far removed from these other mediums that they’re not even comparable, just like how not knowing about feng shui doesn’t imply that you can’t be a wine critic?

THEY DON'T EVEN MEET THE ANTAGONIST UNTIL THE FINAL SCENE!

Come See My Panel At AWP 2011

Just got the good news yesterday. The panel I proposed for AWP 2011 has been accepted. Check out all the panels here. Hope to see you in DC.

The Future of the Book Review: How to Break In

Salvatore Pane, Roxane Gay, Irina Reyn, Emily Testa, Lena Valencia

The Future of the Book Review: How to Break In. The rise of the book blogger has forever altered the traditional book review. But what is the state of the book review moving forward in a digital culture, and how do interested parties actually go about becoming reviewers? Panelists including the editor of PANK, the book review editors of BOMB and Hot Metal Bridge, and published writers currently working in the field will answer these questions and more.