Today’s RNRHS post is from my amazing writing critique partner, Karen Stivali. Karen and I met online on the Nathan Bransford forums. I posted a question about writing and sex and Karen not only answered it, I remember thinking that it was a damn good answer. Lo and behold, she sent me a board message the next day inquiring about whether I might want a critique partner.
We were really lucky to find each other. Freakishly lucky. We were both at the same place with our manuscripts at the time, both able to commit the same amount of hours to helping each other (a LOT), and both able to give and receive criticism graciously (for the most part, there are days). We have all kinds of strange things in common: both Karen, both have British male MCs with green eyes and sloppy brown hair, have a similar turning point in our books, and, wait for it–Karen’s pen name before she met me happens to be my maiden name. We also share a brain. Some days she gets to use it, other days I get to use it. There are times when we split it and times when Fed Ex has it and nobody remembers where the tracking number is.
As always, let me know if you would like to participate in one of these. Everybody’s doing it, you know. Just send me an email at karen [at] karenbalcom [dot] com.
Super Suburban NJ High School, Class of 1984, Currently: prolific writer/compulsive baker/ insomniac
Band and/or song that reminds you the most of high school: The single song that reminds me the most of high school would have to be Sweet Dreams by the Eurythmics. Can’t say I particularly liked the song, but I remember it playing every single time the radio was on for the entire summer of 1983. Other bands that make me think of high school are The Police (like), New Order and Joy Division (like, but complicated memories attached), REM (like), Prince (didn’t like), Twisted Sister (hated), Foreigner (boo), The Ramones (love), The Violent Femmes (really love), The Psychedelic Furs (also love), The Jam (totally love), Air Supply (make it stop).
Favorite piece of music memorabilia (poster, t-shirt, etc.) in high school: My favorite music memorabilia from high school would be record album covers. Tons of them. I spent a lot of time trolling used record stores in NYC and I’d buy banged up copies of albums just so I could get the covers to hang on my walls. My favorites were probably the David Bowie’s Heroes cover and the Debbie Harry’s KooKoo cover, but there were tons more.
Band that you hated that everyone else at school seemed to love: So many to choose from—I was one of the very few punk/new wave fans at my rather preppy high school. First girl to wear a miniskirt to school (proud to say). I didn’t HATE many bands—I’ll listen to most anything—but I certainly wasn’t a fan or Genesis or REO Speedwagon and I remember those being hugely popular. Plus I never liked heavy metal.
Best show or concert you saw in high school: Without question the best show I saw in high school would be the REM concert I snuck into at Toad’s Place in New Haven, CT. We were all underage and REM wasn’t famous yet and it was just the coolest show. Second to that would probably be seeing the Butthole Surfers at CBGB’s in NYC—first CBGB’s show of many.
Optional bonus question: Best high school make-out song: I don’t know if it was the best make-out song, but I remember making out to the Violent Femmes at a party…why can’t I get just one… uh, nevermind. I’m sure there were others but the memories get a bit hazy for a variety of reasons.
Karen is the author of the erotic romance Always You. You can learn more about her by visiting her website at karenstivali.com.
I have amazing stuff this week from Stephen Akin and Chris Phillips. I’d planned to post their entries last week, but Stephen had some major excitement in his life with the arrival of a healthy baby boy, Charlie. Congrats to Stephen and his wife, Andrea. I thought it best to wait a week before making his life more complicated by posting his adolescent memories on the Internet. Stephen’s entry is fascinating to me–lots of Chapel Hill music folklore, some of it familiar because I’ve heard about it from my husband, Steve, and some of it new. Chris’s entry is fascinating in a completely different way–hillarious, illuminating, disturbing. I will never think of Little House on the Prairie in quite the same way. Please comment or send me an email at karen [at] karenbalcom [dot] com with questions or if you would like to participate in an upcoming installment of RNR High School. Rock on!
Chapel Hill High School, Chapel Hill, NC, Class of 1983, Currently: the Box Office Manager at PlayMakers Repertory Company
Band and/or song that reminds me the most of high school: Man that is tough, it changed like every month. So much happened. My friends and I discovered so much in that 3 year period, it was really that some new album blew our mind every week or two. The main bands that remind me of high school from Sophomore year are the Clash, the Specials, U2, the Police, XTC, and Devo. Then Junior and start of senior year add to that Psychedelic Furs, REM, the Jam, and Elvis Costello, and then the Pressure Boys because that’s is when they first played at the Junior Follies my junior year I think. Senior year was all about the Pressure Boys playing at the Station and Rhythm Alley. And the U2 albums and their show at Kenan stadium. That was also the year that me and Marvin Levi and Rob Ladd discovered hardcore and went through a phase that we only skateboarded and only listened to hardcore. So suddenly it was all Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Minor Threat, Bad Brains and Fear, etc.
Sorry I totally didn’t answer the question correctly. The thing is we loved all these different bands and we were seeing them live and listening to WXYC and learning about new bands all the time. Going to Schoolkids after school. I lived 2 blocks from Franlkin Street so I lived at Schoolkids’ basically, that’s why they finally gave me a job there. Actually it took longer than it should have because I was often working there for free until they finally started paying me. It was all so exciting to us. If I had to say just one band though it would be the Police because pretty much the whole school loved them, and almost the whole high school went to their show at Greensboro Coliseum with the GoGo’s on the Ghost in the Machine Tour 1982.
Favorite piece of music memorabilia: my Clash T-shirt from their show at William and Mary for the “North American Campaign 1982” that I ended up not even getting to go to the show because I couldn’t get off work, and all my friends went to the show and the Clash was my favorite band at the time so actually it’s kind of my all time least favorite piece of memorabilia because it reminds me of all that. I still have it, it’s too small for me now, but my wife wears it, so that’s kinda cool. So maybe instead I should say my huge Clash “Combat Rock” poster that I got from Schoolkids. That was pretty awesome and took up almost a whole wall in my room, and of course Paul Simonon is looking so cool in it.
Band that you hated that everyone else at school seemed to love: This is a good question. Actually sophomore year it’s easy, the Doors and Springsteen. Most of the juniors and seniors that year loved Springsteen and the Doors. We hated them and thought they were irrelevant to our generation. The River had come out recently and a bunch of them saw him at Greensboro coliseum and he “played for like 3 hours” or some shit. I would say “Fuck that I can’t stand him for 5 minutes, that sounds like torture” I didn’t want to hear about it. The book “No One Here Gets Out Alive” had just come out too and they were all reading it. Me and my closest friends thought it was total bullshit and wanted nothing to do with it. I actually like Springsteen now, but it took me a long time to get over my hatred of him based solely on the people who liked him in high school. I still haven’t gotten over that with the Grateful Dead but that happened in college anyway so it will have to go into “Rock and Roll College” when we do that one.
Best show or concert you saw in high school: Wow, again this is one that changed every couple months. I will again answer incorrectly with way more than one: U2 at Kenan Stadium, the aforementioned Police show, Elvis Costello and Squeeze at Carmichael, English Beat with REM at Page at Duke, Psychedelic Furs at Page at Duke, Circle Jerks with COC and No Labels at Fridays in Greensboro – senior year, that show changed my life.
Best High School makeout song: probably a tie between “Turning Japanese” by the Vapours, and “Dancing With Myself” by Generation X, since no girl would even touch me until the middle of my senior year.
Bishop McGuiness Catholic School, NC School Of The Arts, Mt. Tabor Public High School, Winston Salem NC, Class of 1986, Currently: self un-employed
Band and/or song that reminds you the most of high school: I want to say “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers because of the heavy story and hard hitting music. But I bought that at the local gracery store in grade school. So let me fast forward. Hmmmm…just thought of Journey, but thats more like junior high school. Still fast forwarding…wait a minute…Ive got it!
Clarence Carter – “Strokin” !!!! I think we can all agree that this poet merchant of love really tapped into a universal feeling here. He exploded beyond the bounds of Top Ten radio with this one. And what teenage high school student wasn’t singin’ this one in the hallways? Didn’t matter if it was girls or boys, jocks or preps. We were all just finally united against the man and singin’ that song! It was a song of Freedom and revolution.
Or was that “Six Pack” by Black Flag that united us against the man?
Favorite piece of music memorabilia (poster, t-shirt, etc.) in high school: I could never be unfaithful to George Clinton, who autographed my original copy of the very first Parliament record. I thought he was the absolute bomb. And he was. Plus he had that freaky wig. Although now that Im thinking about it, I was pretty into my Dr hook poster. But I think I thought he was a gay pirate or something and disavowed him.
Band that you hated that everyone else at school seemed to love: It’s a toss up between Foreigner or Aerosmith. Both totally useless streams of information. Volcanic fecal flow (thats gross I know). If I was a music critic and I had to review either one of their records my review would read as follows: Why?
Best show or concert you saw in high school: Heavens to Betsy thats a hard question. I can tell you my favorite food is pizzahamburgerhotdog, and my favorite color is brownyellowgreen. Favorite concert…..? I remember the Replacements being very transformational. Like when I left the movie theater after seeing “Rocky” and ran around swinging fists and running up and down stairs convinced I could be the champ. Like Jimmy Walker in Uptown Saturday Night. The Grateful Dead and Corrosion of Conformity were two other bands I saw often and probably influenced my general demeanor or lack there of. Black Flag was always good, but Roger Waters was even better. Molly Hatchet was good but not as cool as the Butthole Surfers. Where are all those concert ticket stubs I saved anyway?
Optional bonus question: Best high school make-out song: This one is hardly optional for me. I was the make out king. I would make out with anyone and anything. Dogs, kittens, hamburgers, sluts, prostitutes, fancy ladies, you name it – I did it. What was the secret weapon you ask? Ill tell you. Right now. It’s a little song called “Puttin’ On The Ritz” by Taco. Perhaps you have heard of it? I tell you no lie, Taco is a magic man.
As an addendum, I will also tell you another little known secret. The theme music from Little House on the Prairie was always good for making out and setting the mood. When you put that music on, you never knew what was gonna happen! Something freaky for sure though.
I attended the Writer’s Digest Conference last week in New York. It was a great trip—a chance for me to meet my writing critique partner, Karen Stivali, face-to-face (yay!), spend 48 anxiety-soaked hours with her, meet other writers, and learn about the state of publishing. I won’t give a full synopsis of my trip, because that would be dull (my flight was delayed, it was cold outside, I was a bit hung over on Sunday), but I did want to write about the dreaded Pitch Slam.
For those who don’t know, a Pitch Slam is literary speed-dating—600+ writers, 50ish agents, you stand in line waiting for your 90 seconds to pitch your book and the agent has 90 seconds for feedback and questions. Next!
In the weeks leading up to the Pitch Slam, I scoured the Internet for evidence of writers living through such an experience. I didn’t find much. I wanted to know what it would be like, what I should do, what I should wear. I found a blog post on All Things Literary that is nearly the written equivalent of Valium. Unfortunately, written Valium only lasts for a few hours.
So, here’s the deal.
Prepare. Practice, practice, practice and then well, you know. I pitched the cat, I pitched my twelve-year-old daughter, and I pitched the wall sconce in the hotel room (I was sure I would do great with any agent wearing a square lampshade). I wrote my pitch as I wanted to say it, and then I memorized it. Some people say this is a bad idea, but it was my safety net. I still improvised when I was delivering the pitches–that’s me, always revising.
Get a grip. Yes, these are agents. Yes, it feels like they hold your very future, the fate of the manuscript you’ve spent countless hours polishing, in their hands. But the truth is that they only hold that fate as it pertains to them. They’re lovely people, but there are other agents in the sea. If somebody doesn’t like your idea or your pitch, you should listen. Don’t argue. Just listen.
Keep it short. Don’t feel like you really have all of 90 seconds because you don’t. Maybe the guy ahead of you takes forever to get out of the chair or maybe the agent needs to jot down a note. I say budget for 60.
For fiction, they only care about your story. Some agents cared about things like my target audience, but they only asked questions about the story.
Show your enthusiasm. You love your book, you love your characters, you know everything about them and what makes them tick, so let the agent see how much you love your own book. Use your voice, use exciting (but simple) words, gesture. If you’re not excited, nobody’s going to be excited.
Adapt and survive. If an agent pokes a hole in your pitch (as happened to me), consider a tweak to close the hole. I made a change while waiting in line and had a request from the next agent I pitched.
Get out of your own head. This is counter-intuitive for most writers, but I found one of the best things for calming my nerves was chatting with writers more nervous than me. I was able to focus my energy on their worries and remind myself why it’s not worth the stress. I met some really awesome people this way.
Dress decently. Yes, you are already proving to them that you’re not a shut-in by showing up to do the pitch, but if you want people to take you seriously, you should dress like it. Wear what’s comfortable, but look the part of a capable, together person.
Have fun. Yeah, right. Nobody has fun doing this sort of thing, so that seems like terrible advice. I’m thinking a more appropriate ending to my list would be, “Head straight to the hotel bar” or, “Go outside and scream at the top of your lungs”, or as many people did, “Tweet your butt off about it”. The hotel bar is my favorite (see aforementioned hangover), but Sheraton, seriously? Sprite in a margarita? You’re killing me here.
Karen Stivali also has a fabulous post about WDC 11 and the Pitch Slam on her blog. Check it out at karenstivali.com.
This installment is a funny one–Sam Stephenson and Django Haskins, both incredibly smart and talented–scholarly Renaissance men, in my estimation. I fully expected stories of musical memories so outlandish and worldly that it would make me feel like the girl wearing sparkly blue eyeshadow, smacking gum and working at the Dairy Queen, and yet we have talk of Prince stickers on three-ring-binders and Bryan Adams slow dances. Turns out we all have some variation of the same experiences, which is a great comfort to me. As always, if you or anyone you know would like to answer one of these for me, drop me a line at karen [at] karenbalcom [dot] com. Enjoy!
Band and/or song that reminds you the most of high school: “Dirty Laundry” by Don Henley. I grew up in a town of nine thousand people in coastal N.C. (Washington) and we relied heavily on two local pop radio stations – WITN Rock 93 out of Washington, or Chocowinity to be exact, and WSFL 106.5 out of Bridgeton/New Bern. This song was in heavy rotation 1983-84 and I hated it. When I heard its first notes on one of the two stations I’d switch to the other one. Whenever I hear it today I’m taken back to the 1978 Pontiac Firebird that was passed down from my brother to me and suddenly I’m driving out to the mall on a cold, dark winter night, and I’m hitting the radio preset buttons as fast as I can to get to a different tune.
“Union of the Snake” by Duran Duran. During summers, holidays, and Saturdays I worked at Moss Planing Mill, which was a lumber and building supply company. A slightly older co-worker named Sammy Corey had a Buick Regal two-door sedan with a T-top and I remember jumping in his car one day to go to Hardee’s for lunch. He threw in a cassette with this tune cued up and he said, “This is some bad jam,” and we cranked it over to Hardee’s. That sticks with me bigtime.
Favorite piece of music memorabilia (poster, t-shirt, etc.) in high school: A purple Prince “1999” sticker that I had on my 3-ring binder. We didn’t have access to much memorabilia in Washington but it was around this time I got huge into Springsteen bootlegs after stumbling into a bootleg store on my first family trip to New York.
Band that you hated that everyone else at school seemed to love: The Police. I can’t really explain this but I never could dig those guys. I learned to like them later, and Sting later. But in high school I hated “Every Breath You Take” and all those tunes. Eddie Murphy singing “Roxanne” in the movie 48 Hours was part of a turnaround for me.
Best show or concert you saw in high school: We didn’t have access to a lot of concerts. We had to go out of town to see shows. Billy Joel in Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh circa 1979. I was in 6th grade. This was back when he was still Long Island cool, the 52nd St. tour, before he started being ticked off that he wasn’t Springsteen. There was 38 Special and Joan Jett at Minges Coliseum in Greenville, then Joan Jett and Donny Iris and some other forgettable acts in Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill. There was also the annual Beach Music Festival at Emerald Isle, NC, featuring The Embers, General Johnson and the Chairmen of the Board, and a lot of drunks fighting. I can’t say I really enjoyed any of these shows, other than the spectacle value. A couple of other things come to mind. I grew up next door to an African-American beach called Griffin’s Beach on the Pamlico River outside Washington. Nobody had air conditioning back then so our windows were always open. I went to bed every Saturday night hearing the thump of Earth Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder, and Commodores cover bands playing next door. Also, my family visited New York a few times when I was a teenager and we went to Tavern on the Green once and a band of young black musicians was playing jazz. That left an impression on me. I can’t remember any specifics. Looking back, I’m sure they were playing mild ballads in that environment. But there was something hip about it to me.
Band and/or song that reminds you the most of high school: Fishbone, “Bonin in the Boneyard.” I grew up in the country outside of Gainesville, Florida with an older sister who listened to Rick Springfield and Wendy & Lisa pretty much exclusively. The U of F radio station was strictly commercial and kept its playlist trimmed to the essentials: “All Right Now” by Free and “Radar Love” by Golden Earring. I was pretty much on my own in terms of finding cool bands. I think I first heard of Fishbone in the movie “Say Anything.” Since I was one of two fans at my high school, I had to make my own Fishbone t-shirt with puffy paint.
Favorite piece of music memorabilia (poster, t-shirt, etc.) in high school: Bo Diddley lived in Gainesville, and I once stalked him at his lawyer’s office with an old LP of his (my dad knew his lawyer and tipped me off). He signed it, wrote his telephone number on it, and told me to call him and “come jam sometime.” I’d just started playing guitar the previous year, so I waited a while before calling. When I finally did call, one of his many grandsons always answered and told me they’d leave him a message. I never did get through.
Band that you hated that everyone else at school seemed to love: Rush. Rush is Canada’s male chastity belt. It’s physically impossible to get laid while being a Rush fan. Not that I knew about either of those in high school.
Best show or concert you saw in high school: I didn’t see that many big shows, though I did see the Stones’ “Steel Wheels” tour. From where I stood in the football stadium, they looked like little moving action figures. Still, it was pretty great. Living Colour opened and then promptly went scuba diving.
Best high school make-out song: Don’t know about high school, but I distinctly remember slow dancing in middle school to Bryan Adams’ (pre-Whiskeytown) “Heaven” and thinking that, if I could get any of these girls to make out with me (I couldn’t), that’d be a good one to play.
In response to last week’s Wurster Brotherly Love edition, I couldn’t pass up the chance to have one of Lane and Jon Wurster’s best high school buddies, Matt Thorn, fill in a few of the gaps in the history of 80s music fandom at Souderton Area High School. Truly awesome. And speaking of awesome, our second contributor is Patrick Cudahy, Chapel Hill t-shirt purveyor, 80s music expert, and without question, the winner of any dance contest he enters. Seriously. Patrick also designed the fabulous Banks Forest logo. As always, let me know if you’d like to play with these questions yourself. I welcome anybody with a good story or two. Send me an email at karen [at] karenbalcom [dot] com. Post a comment below if you want to let me know what you think (rather than sending an email). Other people want to know your deepest thoughts, as well.
Souderton Area High School, Soudernton, PA, Class of ’83, Currently: I teach about, write about and translate manga. (Check out “A Drunken Dream and Other Stories” by Moto Hagio, translated and edited by me, from Fantagraphic Books!) I also make lightsabers.
Band and/or song that reminds you the most of high school: I would like to say R.E.M.’s Chronic Town, because it sounds better, but a more honest answer would be Adam and the Ants’ “Ant Music.” It was in my first year of high school, sometime in 1981. I was on the track team, along with Lane Wurster, who was a year ahead of me (and was an amazing long-distance runner, by the way). During track practice, someone had a boombox playing whatever the least horrible Philly radio station that we could pick up in Souderton was at the time, when a classmate of Lane’s, Ed Rodrigo, started freaking out. “This is it! This is it! Listen! Turn it up!” It was “Ant Music.” Ed cranked it up and started dancing around. This was my baptism into New Wave. I remember being blown away seeing DEVO on SNL in 1978, and Bowie with Klaus Nomi on SNL in 1979, but I saw those performances alone, and had no one to share them with. This was the first time I had a group of friends who were getting into this stuff and eager to share it. Yeah, Adam and the Ants were completely vapid, but they spoke to my adolescent angst, and even after being exposed to much better stuff, I remained an adamant fan. (Get it? Oh, I kill myself sometimes.) Until the release of Strip, that is, which was a rude awakening that forced me to acknowledge that Mr. Ant had the I.Q. of a tennis ball.
Favorite piece of music memorabilia (poster, t-shirt, etc.) in high school: That’s an easy one. My Hair Club For Men T-Shirt. Hair Club For Men was Jon Wurster’s first band. I can’t remember if Jon was still in junior high when they formed or was a sophomore in high school. Steve Grasse, now of artintheage.com fame, was the bassist, and designed the T-shirt. Turns out he had more of a knack for design than for playing the bass.
Band that you hated that everyone else at school seemed to love: That would be just about all of them. Too many to count. Foreigner leaps to mind as one of the most annoying and tacky.
Best show or concert you saw in high school: That’s a hard one. There were so many great shows. But I suppose I would have to go with the same Lane picked, which was the The Police, The Go-Go’s, The Specials, Oingo Boingo & The Coasters at Liberty Race Track in New Jersey, 1981. That was the first real concert I ever attended.
Best high school make-out song: I never even thought about it. The two most popular “slow dance” songs in Souderton back in the day were “Stairway to Heaven” and “Free Bird.” As a matter of principle, I could not acknowledge any merit those songs might have. Although I seem to remember more than once jokingly dancing with guy friends to those tunes, much to the horror of the jocks and heads in attendance. But make-out music? The only thing that pops into my head is “I Melt With You,” by Modern English (1982). That was “our song.” By which I mean, mine and Robin Kane’s. She was my first love, so naturally she turned out to be a lesbian. (But we’re still good friends.)
Gulf Breeze High School (really), Gulf Breeze, FL, Class of 1990, Currently: owns The Merch and plays in a band called ROBES.
Band and/or song that reminds you the most of high school: Gotta be “The Lung” by Dinosaur Jr. This whole record blew me away when it came out, but this song in particular seemed to be the one that no matter what i was doing, skateboarding, driving around w/ friends looking for something to do on a Friday night or just smoking cigs in the parking lot before school , this song was always being cranked on the stereo. But when we did decide to listen to mix it up a bit, Sonic Youth’s “Teenage Riot” did the job too.
Favorite piece of music memorabilia (poster, t-shirt, etc.) in high school: My giant Husker Du “Zen Arcade” poster, which i know didn’t come out while i was in high school, but i got it from a record store while i was in high school, so it counts.
Band that you hated that everyone else at school seemed to love: Pretty much all the hair metal bands (minus GnR)…and the Indigo Girls, which weren’t super popular, but 2 good friends of mine who had similar musical tastes as me got way into them at the end of our senior year, and they just always wanted to play it. It was brutal.
Best show or concert you saw in high school: Too many to name. I grew up in Winona, Minnesota where absolutely nothing happened, especially bands coming to play, but the summer before my sophomore year of high school, my parents moved us to Pensacola, FL, which should have sucked, but it was the total opposite. It had an amazing skateboard scene as well as a great indie music scene, and for whatever reason, tons of bands that i liked at the time, played P’cola…Bad Brains, SNFU, Fugazi, Das Damen, Screaming Trees, Dag Nasty, Flaming Lips…they all played, and all RULED!
Best high school make-out song: I remember having a pretty good makeout session w/ a girl named Mary in her car listening to New Order’s “Substance” cassette.