Talking to James Rahn makes me happy, even though it happens far too infrequently these days. Rahn leads Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Writers’ Group, quite possibly the country’s longest-running independent writing workshop.  For years, once a week in eight-week segments,  RWG was the high point of my life. I tiptoed into it in the early 1990s, dreadful fiction in hand, with an idea that RWG would help me make it less dreadful. And bless my fellow workshop participants — along with Rahn’s constant exhortations to “push it, push it,” to home in on the uncomfortable, queasy-making stuff — that’s just what happened.

Rittenhouse Writers’ Group


When I left Philly and headed West, RWG ranked right up there with my family in terms of the things I missed most. (OK, and those Tony Luke’s roast pork sandwiches.) Fortunately, Missoula offers The 406 Writers’ Workshop, with sessions in novel writing, poetry, short fiction, nonfiction, and screenwriting offered by the city’s wealth of writers — and populated, just like RWG, with folks who are determined enough to reject descriptions of their writing as a “hobby.”

406writersIn chatting with James this week, I got to hear about the road to publication for his book, Bloodnight, a brutal and gorgeous collection released this year about growing up more or less wild in Atlantic City. Also this year, David Allan Cates – who leads the 406 novel-writing workshops, and who gently steered my own novel away from many a literary cliff – published Ben Armstrong’s Strange Trip Home, which is indeed strange and also gorgeous.

Talking to David makes me happy, too, as does talking with the other 406 workshop leaders, not to mention my fellow participants – we got so much from the workshops that we met on our beyond them. It’s energizing to hear about other people’s work, to find the common problems and work through them, and especially to celebrate the successes.

Writing is tough stuff, and other people tend to dismiss it if you’re not cranking out bestsellers and working movie deals. Workshops shut that nonsense out, and force you to take your own, and one another’s, work as the serious business it is. How can it help but get better?

Filed Under: workshops Writers Writing

Jenny Shank‘s novel, The Ringer (The Permanent Press) won this year’s High Plains Book Award for fiction.

“Shank’s first at-bat as a novelist is a hit,” says Kirkus, of Shank’s tale of Denver cop Ed O’Fallon, involved in drug raid gone wrong. Both O’Fallon and the family of the raid’s victim come together over their sons’ baseball teams.

Shank, of Boulder, Colo., shares this year’s High Plains awards with, among others, Shann Ray for his “American Masculine” short stories and Jim Harrison for his poetry collection, “Songs of Unreason.”

Tom McGuane was named the Emeritus Award winner.

Filed Under: Awards Writers

Had to check out (mostly as a diversionary tactic from writing) Amazon’s recently unveiled list of its most popular authors. It didn’t take me long to stop paying attention to names – especially once I realized I’d only read two of the Top 10 – and turn to the faces.

A bit of studying (remember, I’m supposed to be writing, so this allowed me a delicious postponement) shows that by and large, the men are serious unto scowly and the women are smiling. Not across the board, of course. Thank you, Laura Lippman, for looking every bit as determined as your accidental PI, Tess Monaghan. And Rick Riordan positively glows with goodwill, while even Bill O’Reilly sports a bit of a smirk.

A bunch of the guys also pose in leather jackets, that universal sign of bad-assedness. Amanda Katz takes note of same in her delightful NPR essay on the whole phenom:


Most Popular Authors? What is this, the high school yearbook?  … It’s definitely slightly ridiculous, arraying photos of artfully blown-dry, leather-jacketed, middle-aged authors like so many pinups.

And speaking of pinups, two words:

Jo Nesbø.

That is all.

Filed Under: Writers

Terrific to see this nod from Cathy Scott to my former Denver Post colleague – and novelist and true crime writer – Ron Franscell, and his new book, The Crime Buff’s Guide to Outlaw Washington, D.C. In her Crime, She Writes by Cathy Scott blog, she says:

Ron Franscell

Franscell’s easy style in his use of language makes for a lively and readable trek through time and place. From the grisly (a cannibalistic serial killer at the former St. John’s Orphanage) to political (the Watergate Hotel break-in at the National Democratic Headquarters), it’s a fascinating read.

As Franscell tells it in his introduction, “It will take you to places where our crime history took unexpected, momentous, macabre, or even whimsical turns.” Simply put, he says, “Place matters, even in crime.”

Cool detail – the book includes GPS coordinates. It’s Franscell’s third in the Crime Buff’s Guide series.



Filed Under: Writers

Lucky, lucky University of Montana freshmen. Their First-Year Reading Experience book this year is Maile Meloy‘s “Both Ways is The Only Way I Want It.”

The short-story collection garnered accolades from the New York Times Book Review (10 best books of 2009), the Los Angeles Times (favorite fiction books of the year) and Amazon (top 10 story collections of 2009).  Meloy is no stranger to awards; her first book, “Half in Love” – also a short-story collection – won the PEN/Malamud award in 2003. And this year, her book for young readers, The Apothecary,” tied with “Wildwood” by her brother, Colin Meloy, and his wife, Carson Ellis, for the E.B. White Read-Aloud Award during the Indies Choice Book Awards.

Tonight, Meloy will discuss “Both Ways is The Only Way I Want It” at 8 p.m. in the George and Jane Dennison Theatre. She’ll hold a student forum Thursday at 11:10 a.m. in the University Center Theater.

The First-Year Reading Experience encourages all new students to read the same book, and teachers of freshman classes to use it as part of their curricula.



Filed Under: Awards Writers

I was enjoying this NYT Opionater post from Catherine Chung until I got to this part:

It was rumored that Park Slope had the highest number of writers per capita of anywhere else in the country.

Now, I love Park Slope. But I could swear  I heard recently – maybe at last weekend’s Montana Festival of the Book? – that Montana, perhaps even Missoula, lays claim to that particular statistic. Given that I’m supposed to be line-editing my own book, a task about as enjoyable as tugging at my fingernails with pliers, I instead went in search of stats.

One reference popped up right away, in a post last month on the blog:

Missoula has nearly the highest number of writers per capita in the country, second only to Manhattan. Art, writing, and sculpture are visible everyone in this university town.

Only problem – no source. Besides, it gives the nod to Manhattan. (Take that, Brooklyn!) So, onward to, of all places, a Bozeman site that touts the literary draw of its windy neighbor to the east, Livingston:

Livingston and the surrounding area is home to more professional writers, per capita, than San Francisco, New York City, or any other literary Mecca you’d care to name. In this corner of Montana known for its high density of literary talent you will find novelists, science fiction writers, adventure writers, screenwriters, journalists and more.

That’s all well and good, but as Missoula Mayor John Engen recently noted in a terrific prose poem, Livingston (I’m pretty sure he called it “goddamn Livingston”) is no Missoula. Besides, once again, there’s no source., however, does cite a source, no less than the U.S. Labor Department. Here’s what their stats show:

The cities with the most writers per capita are Missoula (Montana), Rochester (Minnesota), and Washington (District of Columbia), while the worst cities are Allentown (Pennsylvania), El Paso (Texas), and Columbia (South Carolina).

That’s good enough for me. Far more to the point, I’ve wasted enough time that I can face the editing again. Just give me a minute to find the pliers.

Filed Under: Writers