On August 5, I’ll be teaching two seminars at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. If you’re interested (and in town) you’re more than welcome:
Going the Distance: Writing Longform Nonfiction
Some years ago, pundits predicted the end of the attention span. Then a strange thing happened: Publishers noticed that longer stories got more readers and better traffic on their websites. People, it seemed, wanted longer, more immersive story. Thus “longform” was born. In this class we’ll look at what that is, how to write it and how to sell it. We’ll learn how you can go long in your essays, travel, features and profiles. We’ll hear from some well-known writers who do this work, and will look at some of the techniques used by top writers to make their longform stories more compelling. Finally we will look at the markets for publishing longform work.
From Here to There: The Art of The Essay
The essay is one of the most ubiquitous genres of writing in our world, and can be the most fun to write. In this class, we will look at the essay’s history, the art of writing them and what is wrong with many essays today (and how to make them right). Essays have been around for a long time. Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) is usually credited with inventing the term and the genre, which derives it’s name from the French word, essayer, or “to attempt.” The idea is that an essay tries to move toward an understanding of some questions or event or issue. Today, they have become one of the more versatile, vibrant genres of writing out there, and we will look at essays running the gamut from the humble op-ed to the sprawling ambitious work of of the great writers of our day. We will finished the class by looking at where and how to published the kinds of essays you want to write.
Had a nice interview with Katie Heaney for her story at The Atlantic:
Is My Electric Fan Going to Kill Me in My Sleep?
When I was a kid, someone told me that running a fan too close to my face was dangerous to my health, and I’ve kind of believed it ever since. For the 20-some years since, I’ve assumed that person was one of my parents, but when I mentioned this to them recently, neither had any idea what I was talking about. “That doesn’t sound like something I’d believe,” my dad said, and he’s right, it doesn’t. But I know someone in my home once told me to move my fan further away from my bed so I wouldn’t get sick overnight, and if it wasn’t my parents, then who was it? My best guess at this time is a paranoid babysitter. No matter that I never encountered any substantiating evidence; the idea of a fan’s concentrated breeze making me sick held enough intuitive sway in my childhood psyche that it stuck there. Even though I know now that it isn’t exactly true, I wonder if there’s something to the idea—it had to come from somewhere. Right?
In fact, many cultures across the globe have their own stories of wind-based illnesses, says Frank Bures, author of The Geography of Madness. In his book, Bures writes that some ancient Chinese medical texts warned readers of “wind insanity” and even “wind stupidity.” Variations on these beliefs persist today, too; in Italy, people wear scarves around their necks to protect against colpo d’aria (a hit of air), and in the Czech Republic, some people fear the wind from air conditioners and refrigerators, believing they cause rheumatism, among other health issues. Most (if not all) Americans have been told not to go outside with wet hair lest we “catch a chill”—a belief in a cause-and-effect model with little scientific backing. Perhaps the most extreme form of these supposed illnesses can be found in Korea, where they call it something else: fan death, or the belief that running a fan in an enclosed room will actually kill you.
Read the rest here.
From Longitude Books:
One of the places I remember most clearly (and fondly) is Obock, Djibouti, a town on the edge of the Red Sea where I traveled several years ago for a story for Nowhere Magazine. Obock is hot and miserable and there is nothing to do. At night thousands of migrants stream through the area on their way from Ethiopia and Somalia to the Middle East where they hope to find work. When I got there I found that the hotel the tourism office in the capital recommended had closed long ago. On my first day I was harassed by the local police for being there.
What I remember best, though, was how refreshing it was to be so uncatered to, so far from everything. It didn’t matter to anyone (except a few curious folks) whether I was there or not. This must have been something like was the French poet Arthur Rimbaud felt when he first arrived there in the mid-1880s to escape his former life and become an arms dealer: It was like the whole world could slip away.
Read the rest here.
Consensus is growing that we have entered a new geological era called the Anthropocene. As it does, so does anxiety about our fate as a species. This was the subject of a recent piece I did for Aeon on our love of apocalyptic fiction, film and stories. We fear the end might be near, but we also fear we are part of something from which we have no way to extricate ourselves. If you feel this too, read on.
One day in the early 1980s, I was flipping through the TV channels, when I stopped at a news report. The announcer was grey-haired. His tone was urgent. His pronouncement was dire: between the war in the Middle East, famine in Africa, AIDS in the cities, and communists in Afghanistan, it was clear that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were upon us. The end had come.
We were Methodists and I’d never heard this sort of prediction. But to my grade-school mind, the evidence seemed ironclad, the case closed. I looked out the window and could hear the drumming of hoof beats.
Life went on, however, and those particular horsemen went out to pasture. In time, others broke loose, only to slow their stride as well. Sometimes, the end seemed near. Others it would recede. But over the years, I began to see it wasn’t the end that was close. It was our dread of it. The apocalypse wasn’t coming: it was always with us. It arrived in a stampede of our fears, be they nuclear or biological, religious or technological.
Read the rest here.
I’m not sure that I should be considered any sort of “branding expert,” but I do have an essay in the current Poets & Writers on my ambivalence about self-promotion, and the struggle to balance promoting your work with promoting yourself. See the print edition if you can get it!
In the December issue of Outside Magazine is a short piece I did on Eric Orton’s ideas for helping you run without injury. Orton was the coach featured in Chris McDougall’s book Born to Run (and the upcoming movie) but most readers missed his point, which is that strong feet make strong form. I say this as a chronically injured runner who’s had minimal issues since I using Orton’s foot strengthening exercises. In the past year, I’ve run more miles with less pain than ever before, including a 25k trail race. In the end, whether you’re a minimalist or maximalist, it’s what’s in the shoes that matters most. The piece is online here.
It may be a little late in the season for this, but it’s not too soon for planning for next year. In either case you can use this short piece I did for Men’s Journal as a jumping off point for your next trip into the singing wilderness:
The Boundary Waters region in Minnesota is a 150-mile maze of connected lakes and rivers surrounded by thick pine and cedar forests and speckled with small, rocky islands. The area has some 1,200 miles of paddleable routes, making canoeing the most practical way to experience it all. By August, most of the visitors (and bugs) have gone – you’re more likely to see black bears and moose than like-minded paddlers – but you’ll still need to get a permit ahead of time. Also bring a tent and a cooler with food (and a clutch of beers). “It’s just you and nature,” says longtime local guide John Schiefelbein. “You own that lake at night.”
Start at Lake One, about 25 miles east of Ely, Minnesota, where you can rent a canoe, if you didn’t bring one yourself. Pass through Lakes Two, Three, and Four, and into the 3,000-acre Lake Insula. In this deep, clear lake (with 11-foot visibility), camp on one of the dozens of little wooded islands.
Read the rest here.