Archive for the ‘Web stuff’ Category

cheesesteak 2“Naked Came the Cheesesteak.” Weird fetish site? No. At least … I hope not.

Actually, it’s a “serial novel” mystery, with each chapter written by a different Philadelphia-area writer. And it’s happening right now at Philadelphia Stories, where a new chapter is being released each month.

So how do nakedness and cheesesteaks tie in? Here’s a little bit of background.

Back in 1969, a bunch of journalists played a literary practical joke by releasing a deliberately bad book titled “Naked Came the Stranger,” in which each of them wrote a different chapter and released it under a pseudonym. Their intent was to show that any book could be a success, as long as it featured lots of sex. Turns out they were right. The book became a best-seller.

In 1996, a bunch of South Florida-area writers — including the legendary Carl Hiaasen and the beyond-legendary Elmore Leonard — did something similar by crafting a mystery/thriller parody in which a different author wrote each chapter. Unlike “Stranger,” this one wasn’t a hoax. But the title, “Naked Came the Manatee,” paid tribute to its literary forebear. Or, should I say … foreBARE?

Sorry. I kind of hate myself now. Anyway.

Some of the folks over at the wonderful Philadelphia Stories decided to do something similar with a bunch of Philadelphia-area writers.

I don’t want to talk about it too much. I’ll let co-editor Mitchell Sommers take care of that in the following interview.

But I will say this. I recently attended the launch party for “Naked Came the Cheesesteak,” at which a number of the authors gave readings from their contributions. I can tell you already that it’s very different from “Naked Came the Stranger,” which the writers intentionally made bad. Because “Cheesesteak” features some amazing writing.

The writers themselves, who didn’t see the chapters that came after their contributions, have no idea if it’s going to hold together as a story. But hold together or not, it will definitely be worth reading for the quality of the prose, if nothing else.

That’s why I wanted to feature it here. That, and the fact that it gives me an excuse to use the word “naked” a lot, which I figure will boost my Google search rankings.

By the way, the writers associated with the project are: Kelly Simmons, Nathaniel Popkin, Kelly McQuain, Warren Longmire, Don Lafferty, Tony Knighton, Merry Jones, Victoria Janssen, Shaun Haurin, Gregory Frost, Mary Anna Evans, Randall Brown and Diane Ayres.

The co-editors are Mitchell Sommers and Tori Bond.

So here are the questions that co-editor Mitchell Sommers graciously agreed to answer for me:

Q: Can you give us some background on how “Naked Came the Cheesesteak” happened, and your involvement with it?

A: The idea of a serial novel has been something I’ve thought about ever since reading the Dave Barry/Elmore Leonard creation “Naked Came the Manatee,” which was also a serial novel/ murder mystery set in Miami using South FL writers. It’s a crazy book (and totally worth reading). And when I finally had a forum to try something like this in Philly, I decided to try it. I’m fiction editor for “Philadelphia Stories,” and the two co-editors and founders, Christine Weiser and Carla Spataro, were totally on board. They may have thought I was nuts, but they were on board. I very quickly realized that I was not even going to come close to organizing this thing myself, and I asked Tori Bond, who is also with “Philadelphia Stories,” and who is a recent MFA graduate from Rosemont College, to become co-editor. She has an important quality I lack, that being anything involving even rudimentary organization skills. (Note to my law clients: Please ignore what I just said.)

 

Q: What were you hoping to accomplish with this?

A: Two things: First, I wanted to see what a bunch of writers, with different styles, writing in different genres, could do on a project like this. The story very quickly became a murder mystery–that format worked well with the concept, and it was a way of paying homage to Naked Came the Manatee. And it really did take on on a life and shape of its own. Getting several member of the Liars Club (Kelly SImmons, Merrey Deedee Jones, Gregory Frost and Don Lafferty) was a big help. We also had two poets (Warren Longmire and Kelly McQuain), which I thought added some interesting shape and texture to the project. But really, every writer brought something cool to the project.

Second, I wanted to bring attention to “Philadelphia Stories.” Our mission is fostering a community of writers in the Greater Philadelphia Area, and this fit perfectly. I wanted people to read us, to stick with us, to come to our readings and our yearly Push to Publish one day writers’ conference. And, hopefully, give us money. Our on-line auction is up right now.

 

Q: Do you think there’s any particular literary quality that tends to characterize work from the Philadelphia area?

A: I don’t think pretense is a quality you’re going to find in Philly writers. They, like the place, are a tough bunch, without a lot of fake sentimentality. Funny and poignancy exist pretty much side by side.

 

Q: Obviously, everyone involved is having some fun with this. But do you think it reveals anything about the storytelling process?

A: That it’s mysterious, lively, capable of taking inspiration from all kinds of places and if I knew more, I’d use it to finish my own novel.

 

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about Philadelphia Stories?

A: We’ve been around since 2004. That’s 11 years. We publish quarterly, featuring poetry, fiction, non-fiction and artwork. We are completely, totally free, and are distributed across the Delaware Valley, including every branch of the Philadelphia Library. We also publish PS Jr., twice a year, featuring the work of children up to 12th grade. And the aforementioned Push to Publish writers workshop, in which more and more agents (the magic word to a writer) show up every year. It’s a great magazine. I’m thrilled to be a part of it. Nobody else would have let me do this.

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horrorA couple of years ago, I found some truly terrifying two-sentence horror stories on the Internet. I decided to try writing a few of my own. Now, for Halloween, I present another batch. And once again, you may want to avoid reading them if you have a heart condition.

The meeting starts in five minutes. The office copier says “CALIBRATE COLLATION DENSITY PARAMETERS.”

I accept my father-in-law’s friend request. Five minutes later, he posts his first racist joke on my timeline.

“You thought this was a date?” she says. “Oh gosh.”

“I like to think of my poetry as ‘anarcho-conceptualist,'” he said. “Let me explain.”

“You have a choice,” the wedding reception bartender says. “Coors or Coors Light.”

Your new supervisor likes playing music at work. He’s into rap metal.

You accidentally make eye contact with the loud, drunk guy at the bar. He smiles and begins approaching you.

You turn on the light in the Motel 6 bathroom. There are short, curly hairs in the sink.

“Let me tell you about our rewards program,” the cashier says. You take a frantic look at your watch and try to tell her you aren’t interested, but she presses on anyway.

I look across the restaurant and spot a fat, older guy. I realize it’s a mirror.

You complete the 20-page online form and hit “SEND.” Your screen locks up.

“First of all, I apologize that we’re running so much longer than we anticipated,” the guy at the front of the room says. “Now we have a Powerpoint presentation for you.”

 

My friend Carlette found my previous blog entry about the book “The Vampire Slayers’ Field Guide to the Undead” intriguing, so she decided to make it the subject of one of her blog talk radio broadcasts. And she graciously (foolishly?) asked me to sit in. Give it a listen if you want:

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/letteschat/2012/08/23/from-lore-to-ludicrous–all-about-vampires

Sometimes it disturbs me when I check out the search terms that lead readers to this blog, because they seem to reflect an intent that’s the polar opposite of what I’m trying to get across.

For example, I wrote a piece about the underlying misogyny in the movie “Revenge of the Nerds.” And some people apparently found that while doing a search involving the terms “cheerleaders” and “topless.”

Actually, that doesn’t bother me too much. I’m not one of these people who believes there’s something inherently misogynistic about porn. If there was, pretty much every guy on the planet could be termed a misogynist. And cynical as I can be about human nature, I’m not yet ready to jump off that precipice. (I imagine the people who stumbled across this blog in a search for topless cheerleaders were pretty annoyed, though. Sorry guys. I could be wrong, but I have an inkling that sort of thing is available elsewhere on the Web.)

I’m more concerned by the fact that one of my most enduringly popular blog posts, in terms of people reading it after finding it via Google searches on related terms, is this one dealing with secret FEMA codes on the back of traffic signs. As you can see, my purpose was to make fun of how batshit loopy that particular conspiracy theory is. I figured the guy who posted that video was the one guy who subscribes to it. Even by conspiracy theory standards, that one’s just too bugf**k insane to have a significant following, right?

But it’s had many hits in the months since I posted it from people apparently seeking more information on this plot to convey information about sinister hidden government bases via secret codes on the backs of road signs.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m not a big believer in conspiracy theories. I’m more of an Occam’s razor guy — absent compelling evidence to the contrary, go with the most basic and obvious explanation.

Yes, conspiracies happen. Yes, they can be widespread and insidious. The reason I generally don’t subscribe to them is because they tend to be based on a presumption of widespread organizational efficiency that’s rare under any circumstances, but especially for government operations. (I used to cover government as a newspaper reporter. Trust me on this one.)

And subscribers to these theories seem to prize them for their comic book theatricality to a point where they’ll pointedly overlook far more likely explanations because, hey, they’re kinda boring.

Prime example. I have a friend who’s very active in his Catholic church. He was convinced that he’d found evidence of a Satanic cult.

Apparently his church hosted a funeral Mass for a young woman who died of a heroin overdose. Her acquaintances — a heavily tattooed and multiply pierced crowd — had been in attendance. Afterward, a number of items such as candle holders had gone missing.

My friend was convinced that the young woman’s friends had stolen them for use in a Black Mass, where they would worship Satan.

My reaction? Yeah. That’s why junkies typically steal shit. To use them as props in Black Masses. Come on. If a bunch of junkies could summon up Satan, they’d probably steal his wallet and go score some smack.

If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know I’m absolutely shameless about plugging works by my many talented friends. But in my defense, I will say that I wouldn’t steer you wrong. If their work gets a mention on here, that means I think it’s genuinely good. (If it sucks, I just won’t mention it and change the subject should they bring it up. “Plug your interpretive-dance-based performance art piece on my blog? Yeah, that’s … uh … Hey! Are the Buffalo wings here any good?”)

So anyway, I’m really psyched that one of my all-time favorite bloggers is expanding her blog, “Lette’s Chat,” to a talk radio format. The “Lette” in question is Carlette Norwood Ritter. I got to know her by reading and commenting on her blog, and I was delighted when she took an interest in mine. She’s a very smart, witty person, and her blog is consistently thought-provoking and entertaining. So is her new talk radio show.

She’s got a background in radio and it shows. The broadcasts are professionally done, featuring interesting guests and topics. Give it a listen. Here’s the link:

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/mslette

And here’s the Facebook page:

facebook.com/letteschat