Author Archives: Adam Nannini

About Adam Nannini

The greatest writer of his generation ... which isn't saying much.

On The Late Mr. Ralph Wilson

I have always been and will always be (unless they move to LA) a Buffalo Bills fan, and this week, our great owner Ralph Wilson, one of the original pioneers of the AFl and the AFL/NFL merger in 1970, passed away at the age of ninety-five.

Can’t even argue with you on this one. It may seem corny or lame for me to write about football and football culture here on my writing blog, but it’s a big part of my life, and the Buffalo Bills have been at the center of that. So, if you don’t like it … too bad.

Ralph Wilson was a kind, generous, patriotic, and loyal man, and his presence will be missed in the city of Buffalo and by all Buffalo Bills fans. It’s been a sad week for us, especially with our great face of the franchise, Jim Kelly, undergoing cancer treatment this week for an aggressive recurrence. We wish you well, Jim.

Below are a couple of videos that were when Ralph (one of a very owners inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame) was inducted. The first is famous sports writer, Chris Berman, doing a tribute to Ralph:

The second video is of Ralph Wilson’s acceptance speech. He’s a very old man, so be patient, but I thought it was a touching speech:

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Why 90s Kids Love 90s Music

Have you ever noticed how annoying people who grew up in the 90s are about music? Well, I am one, so watch it! I think the reason we love that music goes beyond the fact that we grew up in that era (though that helps), and I’d like to explore those reasons.

Nerdvana? Seriously? So, I was in a particularly 90s-like area the other day (grungy, the ex-cool part of town, angsty music), and I was talking to another 90s friend of mine about that era of music and culture. Of course, culture and music are slippery, in that, they cannot be summed up as a singularity every decade, so for the purpose of this discussion, I am talking about early to mid-90s grunge and folk music.

So, the first thing that I think 90s kids love about 90s music is the earnestness. There was no irony in those early 90s lyrics. It may have been difficult and obfuscated, maybe best represented by lyrics like “A mulatto / An albino / A mosquito / My libido / Yay!” But all that aside, there was a feeling at the time that music was actually making a difference. The culture was aggressively shouting for political and social change (not so different from the late 60s), and we reconnected with a more earnest (in my opinion) approach to music, eschewing the over-produced party music of the 80s. That that, Reagan! “Jelly beans, Nancy?” … Nevermind (get it?).

You’re embarrassing yourself. Not only that, it felt like that age of music was better for women. We had female song-writers who weren’t just pretty and put on stage for their beauty (as Tom Petty so accurately describes in his song “Joe” off The Last DJ album) but were great songwriters and played music traditionally owned by men: Alanis Morissette, Tori Amos, Dar Williams, Dolores O’Riordan, Sinead O’Connor, Fiona Apple, Shirley Manson, Sheryl Crow (before she got lame), and others. This feels, in looking back, a huge shift from the 80s pseudo-hyper-masculine face of popular music, though people like Joan Jett and the women from Hart were movers. Now, I recognize and concede that Indie music (where I find any and all good music at this point) today has some great female musicians, but I’m talking popular music here.

Remember the good ol’ days? Okay, gramps. Not only that, many of my favorite musicians of different eras put out amazing albums in that time, maybe their best work. Tom Petty’s Wildflowers, Into The Great Wide Open, and Echo are perhaps my favorite albums of his. R.E.M.’s Automatic For The People came out in 1991. Bob Dylan’s Time Out Of Mind is a classic. Johnny Cash’s unforgettable American albums began to come out in the 90s as well. The list goes on …

So, what’s your gripe with modern music, lamo? I guess I would say that I’m tired of the American Idol approach to music. I’m tired of image over substance. I’m tired of dishonest music, where pretty people sing karaoke to lyrics and music written by someone else (and yes, I know this has gone on for a long time, but it was not always so rampant in our popular musicians). I think the Indie music scene is exciting, though often “ironic.” It’s solid stuff, but lacks the sort of punchy hope that came along with the early 90s music scene.

You may disagree with me. I’m sure you will (unless you’re a 90s kid like me … at which point, I would say, “GET THEE TO THE 00s, BENEDICT ARNOLD!”), but the point is, every era does some things really well. I’m just highlighting why the 90s were a special time in music. Maybe it is just loving what we’re used to, what we grew up with, but I do think it’s more than that. Besides, my personal favorite era of music is the late 50s – early 60s. What do you think?

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Writing Prompt: Word List Story

So, recently, I was assigned a writing prompt where I had to quick make a list of ten words (starting with “effervescence”) that had some sort of sound association down the line. Then, I had a few minutes to write a paragraph with a couple of the words. Here is what I came up with.

The Words: Effervescence, luminescence, longitudinals, spectacles, testacles, festivals, faithful, mouthful, mournful, scornful

The drink had such a scornful effervescence, the biting drug, the wild dog, it mocked his pain. “Why do you do this to me?” he asked. The drink did not respond, but turned slightly away, a hand planted firmly on its hip. “Don’t be that way, baby,” he said, but when he reached out, closed his eyes, and extended his lips, the drink inched away from him. “Fine. Fine,” he said. “I’ll just order another drink. What’ll you think of that!” he shouted, trying to get a rise out of the bubbly beverage. But the drink didn’t seem to mind. He slumped his face down on the bar, cupped his hand around his mouth and whispered, “I’m just fooling with you, baby. You know I’m crazy about you. Always have been.” He knew it was over when the bubbles stopped. It didn’t bubble for him anymore.

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“A Woman Named Hen”

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a new one-page story. Remember, these are sort of practice stories that I write, limited to one page, and done in ten minutes or so. Here is my most recent one, unedited. Hope you enjoy.

In the dim candlelight, with all of her makeup on, my mother almost looked young, almost looked alluring. Her real name was Susan. She went by Hen (I assume because she worked in a henhouse, though I’m not sure.). I’d found her by way of the christian missionary that had originally given me to another family as a baby. I’d tracked him down to his home on the edge of town. His legs didn’t work anymore, so he spent his days sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch smoking cigarette tobacco through his pipe. When I asked for my mother’s name and whereabouts, he declined to tell me, saying he’d made a solemn vow to her to never tell anyone. He said, “Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.” So I stuck my Smith & Wesson Model #3 up his nostril and dared him to decline me again. This time he didn’t recite any Bible, just names and places.

While I stood there in her room, having already paid for an hour’s time (they charged by the hour, though it rarely took that long), I told her my name and that I was her son.

She said, “Guess you’ll be wantin’ to know what I been up to, why I give you up.”

I said, “No ma’am. The long and short of it is that I need to be rid of you.”

She cocked her jowled head. “This here’s the only time you’ve not been rid of me. I ain’t got no interest in interfering with your business.”

I sat on the bed and laid my revolver on the sweat-stinking blanket. “See, it isn’t about that, ma’am. It’s about you interfering. But I’ve got some enemies who’d love to find out who and what you are and use that information against me in my business.”

“What business is that?” she said.

“U.S. Congress.” Her head cocked again, not understanding what I was saying, but she didn’t move as I pushed the pillow against her face, pressed the barrel in, cocked, and fired.

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My Approach to Writing

I have been challenged by a writing group to write down a sort of writing philosophy. This felt like a rather daunting task, but it was productive to think about what I do, and maybe more importantly, what I am trying to do. Here is what I came up with.

My writing is typically about characters who feel great solitude, even (perhaps especially) while among others. My stories are about characters who want, and it’s from these wants that I derive my conflicts (a necessity in my stories). I feel like I’ve been heavily influenced by the wide physical expanses of New Hampshire and the wide emotional breaks in the Midwest. There is an inability to connect between characters, a miscommunication, an ongoing struggle to find meeting points.

I often throw magic in my stories to accentuate the conflict(s) in the story. Magic, for me, is heavily influenced by Garcia-Marquez’s short stories (duh), and often, they come at a place of emotional break for a character. As in, I write from a very traditional and realist approach, but when strain has hit its peak for a character, the surreal will often enter one of my stories, though not always.

I feel like my stories rarely have what some people call “a satisfying ending.” The bad guy usually doesn’t get it in the end, the guy almost never gets the girl, though if he does, watch out for strings attached. My characters grow, but it may feel small or disappointing or negative. Not all growth is positive, and my characters often feed on hope and fall prey to leaning on such hope.

I write in a plain style. As Orwell says, “Never use a long word where a short one will do,” and I try to abide by that. I’m not trying to impress people with my word craft but with my narratives, my conflicts, and most importantly, my characters. Yes, I do try to put things in ways that allow people to see the familiar in a new way, but my emphasis on language is purely functional to communicate as best as I can with the reader what I see in my head. I typically write in scene, and usually one story for me means one scene. I’m not wedded to this idea, in fact, I’d like to write longer pieces, but my impulse is to write about a singular event.

I try to layer my stories in meaning and symbols, but sometimes I can be clumsy with that (either being too on the nose or too subtle). My hope is to never let go of my plain-spoken and simplistic approach, yet pen stories with an extremely heavy emotional impact. That’s what I want: emotional impact. And what I mean by emotional impact is this: I want my reader to be impacted emotionally by the main character’s struggles, weaknesses, fears, loves, and hates, as well as the tone of the piece and the use of symbolic imagery, and I want that impact to start at the heart and work its way up to the brain, and I want, eventually, to change the way the reader thinks about some small aspect of the world they live in.

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Dealing With The Past

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my past, how it has shaped me, and what I have become as a person. It’s tempting to say that the past “made” me some way, but it didn’t. I make me … if I make the choice to not conform to the shaping others have laid upon me.

I’m sorry for the disturbing image, but it will serve as an illustration. This passage is taken wholly out of context, but I’m going to repurpose it: Numbers 32:23b says, “be sure your sin will find you out.” I feel like it could just have likely have said, “be sure your past will find you out.” That’s the thing about the past. It doesn’t leave us. For all of us, we have shaping that takes place, that teaches us about ourselves, and no amount of time will change that shaping.

The old adage goes, “Time heals all wounds.” It doesn’t. It’s like every other wound. If left untended, if ignored, if left to its own devices, it will fester and become infected, like in that picture of the eye above. Time heals nothing. Time rots us. It’s medicine, it’s caring, it’s effort to fix a wound, and that doesn’t make it easy, but not dealt with, that wound can and will ruin us.

We take those emotional wounds or teachings or shapings, and we project them onto the world we live in. We have to. It’s what we know. That may look like projections onto others, onto strangers, onto loved ones, but maybe the most insidious is the projection onto oneself.

When people have been shaped to feel some way, taught how to interact with themselves, they internalize it, and they become the greatest abuser, because they carry out whatever dialogue (even nonverbal actions speak loudly) that has shaped them and continue it. The past does not die. It haunts us, it blinds us to the world around us and inside of us.

The sad thing is that we take on these negative emotions about ourselves, we see ourselves through perhaps a disrespectful, even unsympathetic lens. There’s a saying that goes, “People see us as we see ourselves,” and I think it’s true. So, the relationships we carry on in life mirror the relationships we had early on, and it creates a confirmation bias. It ends up feeling like Murphy’s law. We start to say, “Of course, that happened!” “Of course, that didn’t work out!” “Of course, I didn’t get what I wanted!” And the world becomes predictable … it is exactly what we expect: disappointing.

Maybe that’s where it starts: respect. Respect, to me, is the lowest form of love. It’s what the Bible talks about (in my opinion) when it says to “love thy neighbor.” Yet, how hard is it to respect ourselves (much more, love ourselves), to demand better, to treat ourselves as we would expect of ourselves in how we treat others. Seems the Golden Rule must go both ways in that regard.

There’s no outrunning the past, only dealing with it. It’s an ugly thing, and for some of us, many of us, it’s something we’ve let fester too long.

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The Past Review

This last week, I had a chance to watch a great French film called The Past at the Ciné Art Theater in Athens, Georgia. Here is my review.

French film, eh? You’ve gone soft, mister! So, I’ve been watching some foreign films of late, and it’s something relatively new for me. I mean, when I was a kid I watched and owned all of the Godzilla films. They are rarely seen as quality foreign films (though I would argue that the first one is quite compelling, especially for its time).

Anyway, The Past is a brilliant story about a broken family with a series of short-term father figures. The mother is a woman who is trying to figure out what she wants in love, and she seems to repeat the same mistakes in relationships, projecting onto her lovers a singular identity. The whole story ramps up conflicts for the characters (the daughter struggling to deal with her mother’s choices, the soon-to-be stepson struggling to adapt to his new “home,” the new husband’s struggle to move on from his wife in a coma, the ex-husband’s struggle to make a clean break from the family, etc.). Individually, these conflicts are tough to pull off, but The Past carries them all out spectacularly.

Geez. Spoiler alert! This movie feels so human, and it’s a great example of where fiction feels more real than real life. All of the characters are identifiable in his film. There are no easy or clear villains. And the characters are emotionally desperate, projecting their wants and pains on others, as they struggle to take responsibility for the choices in their lives.

Here is the trailer:

What is your verdict, oh judge, jury, and executioner? This movie is fantastically directed and dark, and the acting is top notch. There are no weak characters in this film, including the children. My rating on this movie is this:

Theatre One: This is a great movie. You should watch this movie any chance you get in theater. This is the kind of flick to see on opening night and then come back the following day.

Do yourself a favor and watch this movie. It’s great.

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I NEED MORE TWITTER FOLLOWERS! (AWP day 2)

At a panel at AWP, writers and journalists talk about the need to use Twitter as a way to reach an audience … just need an audience. Something I need to work on.

Adam in Seattle Coffee Shop

Nice Seattle Selfie. Thanks, Antagonist Me. I try. So, I went to a panel this morning at AWP about how writers can and should use Twitter. It was an interesting idea, though I would say that the panel itself felt a little undirected and more about personal stories than direct application.

Still, it was somewhat enlightening. As I Tweeted from the room, a number of people I could see were retweeting me. Strange relationship, that. But, I have about fifty Twitter followers right now, and the panel talked about how 200 followers was a low amount … which made me feel that my little Twitter empire was rather insignificant. So, I need to work on increasing my follower count.

It’s all about you, isn’t it. I think part of the problem is that I don’t have much of a Twitter strategy. Right now, I basically just make silly comments or point people to my blog posts. These are fine and good and all that, but I think I need to find a way to be more interesting to a general reader. Not sure how to do that, but it’s a good place to think from.

Anyway, having a large group of Twitter followers would be super useful to get more readers to my blog, to point people to publications (should that ever happen), to talk about events and whatnot that I’m taking part of. Twitter is a great tool, and I do agree with the panel that Twitter should be something every writer does.

I wish you kept your thoughts, so called, to 140 characters. Anyway, if you’re a Twitter user, let me know your handle so I can follow you. And if you want to follow me, my twitter site is Twitter.com/adamnannini. Any suggestions on how to expand my follower group, blog fan(s)? I’d welcome your thoughts.

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AWP Seattle 2014: Day 1

This is my third year in a row attending AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs {yes, I know it should be AWWP}), and this year it is in Seattle, WA. The last three years it has been in my three favorite cities: Chicago, then Boston, and now, Seattle.

You call yourself a writer? AWP is a great time. As I said before, I’ve gone three years in a row, and I plan on continuing to go (See you next year, Minneapolis!). Why, you ask? Well, it’s a great place to meet writers face to face (I’ve shaken Benjamin Percy‘s manly hand a couple times), talk to publishers (journals and presses), and hopefully, learn more about the craft and business of creative writing.

Writing as business … Ha! That’s a good one. So, I’ve been to two panels thus far this morning. The first was on structuring a novel. I’m interested in this because I have tried (unsuccessfully) to write a few novels, and I want my MFA thesis to be a novel. I have an idea for a new one, but the talk was helpful. The presenters were a few novelists: Summer Wood, Amanda Boyden, Melissa Remark, and Joseph Boyden. They talked at length about thinking of forms like the three act play or the hero’s journey. A few of them recommended paying attention to movie plot structures as a sort of easy way to think about sustained stories. As a movie fan, this is extremely helpful advice for me, so next time I watch a great movie, I plan on keeping a notebook out to track the general structure.

The next panel I went to was called “Like Sand to the Beach: Bringing Your Book to Market.” The presenters in the panel were an editor from a small press (Jarret Middleton), a bookseller (Karen Maeda Allman), an expert on self-promotion and social media (Rachel Fershleiser), and a very quirky and interesting author who’s made it on self-promotion (Jonathan Evison). I love self-promotion. I love the internet. I suppose I don’t trust the idea that anyone will be as invested as I am about my thoughts and my work, and this panel laid out the process of bringing a book to market and finding a reader base. They kept stressing relationships, that times have changed, and we have to connect directly to readers.

I’m sure readers are happy enough not to find your work. It was an empowering panel. I say that because, though I love AWP, I find a lot of the panels to be rather useless. There are a lot of abstract and ungrounded thoughts (example: “write from your heart” sort of advice), and it’s great to see a well-organized and practical panel that gives me tools to immediately apply. For example, based on the last panel, I created a Tumblr account for myself. If you’re a Tumblr fan, feel free to follow me here. My blog posts will now show up there. But with that, I’ve been thinking a lot about building up my Twitter followers. So, if you feel like following me on Twitter, go here.

Yes, yes. Good, good. I gotta go home now. Alright, well, the moral of the story is this: if you’re a writer, think about coming to AWP. It’s worth it. It can be overwhelming or disappointing at times, but the experience, the panels, the bookfair, I mean … it’s worth it. Give it a shot. On to more panels …

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House of Cards Season 2

There isn’t a lot I love on TV. Most TV shows (particularly TV dramas {I’m looking your way, CBS}) seem to be churning out stale, badly-written shows with stock characters. But there is hope ….

More like Frank Underwear! So, yes, my favorite TV show right now … well, it’s not on TV. It’s the Netflix original show that, unless you’ve been hibernating, you’re surely aware of. But are you watching it? If not, let me correct you.

House of Cards is the best written show I have seen (granted, I do not have an HBO subscription) since my favorite show, Homicide: Life on the Streets. The characters in House of Cards are rich, complex, deeply flawed, and almost unbearably human. In my humble opinion, this show represents Kevin Spacey’s best work, by far, but he, to me, isn’t even the most shining character on the show! Robin Wright, playing Claire, wife of Spacey’s Frank Underwood, is outstanding. She’s ruthless, powerful, sociopathic, and yet, somehow, I love her (you may remember Robin Wright from this).

You’re in love with Robin Wright?! Maybe, antagonist, maybe. Could you blame me? Anyway, the show came out last year with all of the episodes available immediately. It’s a very interesting approach Netflix has. I had some time on my hands, so I watched the first one on a lark. Within a couple of days, I’d watched all of the first season. It was addictive, encapsulating, horrifying, and magnetic. As far as I am concerned, we American TV viewers have not been treated to such a Shakespearean drama, filled with treason, murder, hubris, passion, and ambition in a very long time.

I will say that this show is not for everyone. It’s very dark, and it deals with adult stuff, so if you’re easily offended or if you’re thinking of having your kids watch this … well, I’m not their parent. Still, the best conflicts we see are not easy to stomach. The best characters are not so easily good. It’s when we’re challenged that we find the intrigue. It’s not to be shocked for being shocked’s sake, but it’s about trying to reconcile the fact that we’re drawn to such abject humanity … maybe it’s just humanity, for connecting with that does feel rather human.

I’ll watch it if you’ll shut up. So, don’t start at season 2. Do not start on episode three. This is the sort of show you’ll need to watch from the beginning. If you’ve seen season 1, don’t despair. It stays amazing. It’s all available now on Netflix, so go watch. I promise, you will not be disappointed.

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