Salvatore Pane

Tag: Belle Boggs

Dispatches From a Creative Writing Camp and the Strange Allure of the Nintendo Novel

This is my second week teaching at the Young Writers Institute, a University of Pittsburgh summer writing camp for middle schoolers and high school kids. I’m teaching 7th and 8th graders, and although I’ll undoubtedly write something longer about the experience later, there are a few things I want to discuss now. First off, it’s amazing to me the type of writers these kids respond to. Last week, we took them to the Carnegie Library and I managed to get a bunch of them interested in Flannery O’ Connor, Tom Perrotta, Stewart O’ Nan and Belle Boggs. One even picked up Kevin Wilson all on her own. Today we went through a bunch of the superb exercises in John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction. I expected Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl, and while the kids do all seem to like these books (can you believe current 7th graders were born after the release of the first HP book?!), they also seem to be drawn to “serious” “literary” fiction which is a promising sign.

But that’s not what this post is going to be about. One of my students reminds me a lot of a younger me. He’s unreasonably tall and built like a matchstick. He spends much of his day talking about Nintendo and always arrives earlier than anyone else. Usually, he has a new chapter from the novel he’s writing for me. What’s it about? It’s a sequel to a video game I never heard of, a Japanese Role-Playing Game that involves a bunch of Nintendo characters, including everybody’s favorite Italian stereotype, Super Mario.

For those unware, Japanese RPGs are extremely text heavy video games. They usually take 30-60 hours to complete, and much of that time is spent watching cut scenes or reading dialogue, the exact opposite of Tom Bissell’s beloved luddonarratives. Typically, these games are standard fantasy fare, i.e. knights and wizards. But in the nineties, things began shifting towards steampunk. When I was kid, RPGs were my favorite type of video games. And although I haven’t played one in a few years, I can relate to my student’s desire to ape this narrative style. A group of warriors and wizards are thrown together due to an extreme crisis. They band together and travel a fantastic world learning new abilities. They save the planet. I can relate to wanting to write in this style, but I don’t understand it.

As a child, I wrote many Nintendo novels, hundreds of pages of material following the typical RPG path. What I don’t understand is why this was the major type of story I, and apparently many others, tried to emulate. I was exposed to countless comic books and read a ton of young adult sci-fi and fantasy. Yet I never tried to recreate or sequelize those worlds. Why is that? Is it because they were more fully fleshed out? Because the worlds and characters of RPGs are only ever suggested and never fully realized? Is it because the stories of RPGs were inherently simpler than kid novels from writers like Bruce Coville, and thus, more easily copied? I’m not really sure. But I’m wondering if others out there tried to write Nintendo novels as kids. I’m wondering if anybody has any thoughts on why.

Review of Belle Boggs’ Mattaponi Queen

Check out my review of Belle Boggs’ Mattaponi Queen over on BOMB.

Media Survival Guide: Flying to AWP

I am not a good flier. I don’t get extremely nervous (except that one time from Denver to Oklahoma City when I could see lightning bolts outside my window), but I do get anxious being in such a cramped area for prolonged periods of time. My body is lanky and unruly. I do not fit comfortably practically anywhere. My knees bang up against the seat in front of me. I never knew all this until recently, because I never flew much before moving to Pittsburgh. Before last spring, the only place I’d flown to was Disney World for my twelfth birthday (I prayed before and after each flight because the trip messed up my confirmation schedule and I was positive God would blow up the plane in retribution).  Since then I’ve flown a lot. Atlanta. Chicago. Vegas. Baltimore. And what I realized flying from Atlanta to Vegas while reading Jane Smiley’s Moo is that one book will never be enough for restless flier Sal Pane. Especially when the in-flight movie is Confessions of a Shopaholic and the woman besides me keeps telling me about Twilight.

I’m leaving for AWP early on Wednesday. It’s a long flight with a long layover. I’m going to need a serious amount of entertainment (and booze) to do this comfortably. Below you will find my list of all the crap I’m taking with me just for the flight. If you have any suggestions please let me know.

Prose

1. Mattaponi Queen by Belle Boggs

I’m reviewing this collection of short stories for BOMB and need to get the review done in the next few weeks. I’m hoping to make some headway during the flights, but I’ve already read three stories and they’re not really my aesthetic cup of tea. But as a reviewer, I have to be objective about my personal feelings on sub-genres and take the book on its own merits. In that regard, it kind of reminds me of a mix of Sherman Alexie, Russel Banks and Jean Thompson.

2. Last Mountain Dancer by Chuck Kinder

This meta-memoir by Pitt fictioneer head honcho Chuck Kinder is a rollicking good time spent in the honky tonky bars of West Virginia. I started it a month or two back but keep taking breaks. I think it’s better that way, otherwise you become overwhelmed by the power of Chuck’s voice. I prefer it in doses.

3. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth

I tried to read Roth in college and failed miserably. I read American Pastoral and enjoyed it but didn’t think it was for me. Since then, I’ve realized the error of my ways. I went back to Goodbye, Columbus and was absolutely floored. This one was recommended to me by Irina Reyn after she read the latest draft of my novel, so I’ll be looking at this one extremely closely.

4. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon

This is another Irina recommendation, and yes, I know it’s astonishing I haven’t read this considering I’ve attended Chabon’s alma mater these last three years. I read Yiddish Policemen’s Union and The Final Solution but never his early work. Hopefully I can rectify that over the next week.

5. Three Delays by Charlie Smith

I don’t know much about Charlie Smith, but I received this book in the mail from the same editor who hooked me up with a copy of Justin Taylor’s Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever. This is the first novel I haven’t had to request to review. I got this one with no strings attached and I’d like to review it if I can.

Audiobooks

The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized Biography by John Ortved

I’ve never been a fan of audiobooks, but I recently listened to Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation during a nine-hour drive and really enjoyed the experience. This is one I’ve been looking forward to for awhile, and if you’ve met me in real life, you already know my penchant for quoting Milhouse at (seemingly) random moments.

Graphic Novels

1. Daredevil: Born Again by Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli

I just finished Miller and Claremont’s Wolverine a few weeks back and desperately wanted another Miller take on a classic Marvel character. Really looking forward to tearing into this. I splurged and got the copy with the original scripts. Hoping they’ll help inform the way I think about comic scripting.

2. The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba

When this was originally coming out in monthly format I refused to jump on because the writer is also the lead singer of My Chemical Romance. In the few years since he launched Umbrella Academy, he’s transformed from a crappy emo singer to one of the most revered writers in comics. People love this book. People who would never even dream of listening to MCR. Plus, Gabriel Ba is a god. Ok. Fine. I’ll give it a shot.

3. Justice League of America: New World Order by Grant Morrison and Howard Porter

I love Grant Morrison. I don’t know a ton about the JLA, but if I’m going to read a book about them, I want the Big 7, not the crap DC’s currently peddling. And the inclusion of Kyle Rayner as the group’s token Green Lantern instead of Hal Jordan? That’s a major plus in my book.

TV Shows on my iBook

Episodes 8-20 of Battlestar Galactica Season 2

I know this is starting to get insane, but man, I’m really loving BSG so far and completely regretting my decision to avoid it in favor of LOST.

Video Games

Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimore of the Rift

A week ago I posted about video games and mentioned how I was once very addicted to Japanese role-playing games but broke the habit about four years back. On Friday I drove to my local gamestop and purchased a Japanese role-playing game for my Nintendo DS. There’s lots of math and swords and mages. I planned on starting it on the plane and have already logged six hours. I am frightened that I will read nothing and return from Denver with level 99 summoners casting Ultima like it’s their job. I really hope that isn’t the case.