Vouching: Music and Videogame Version

Vouching: Music and Videogame Version

It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of these.  Here are a few things I’m currently in love with:


1. Writing soundtrack: Hotline Miami OST.  I’ve found that videogame soundtracks are perfect for writing.  I’ve written several short stories to the atmospheric (and award-winning) soundtrack to Homeworld (even though I’ve never played the game), and I revised a lot of my first novel while listening to the Shadow of the Colossus soundtrack.  I’m not sure why this  worked so well, especially since that novel has nothing to do with magic, horses, or swords.  Maybe it’s because I’ve actually played SOTC: if memory serves, the game is twelve boss battles in a row where you fight mountain-sized stone golems with a sword, bow and arrow, and horse.  There must have been some magic combination between memories of that epic, gorgeous game, plus those lush orchestral swells in the soundtrack, with the (relatively) epic push to close the distance at the end of a six-year writing slog.

But at any rate, if you like dark, new-wave music (think the soundtracks to the movies Drive and It Follows), then I’d recommend the HM soundtrack.

2. The song “Pushing Daisies” by the Pittsburgh band Big Hurry.  Yes, I know this song is from 2011 and the band is probably defunct.  And I don’t care.

3. This song by Jessie Ware.  It’s a contender for my favorite JW song, although my favorite JW music video is still the one for Wildest Moments.  My God, what a voice.


4. The Swapper.  I wish I had more time for videogames.  I’d probably use that time for something else, but it would be nice to have it.  Anyway, I’ve carved out a few hours for this short videogame-with-an-awful-title.  The game is kind of like Portal, except it’s 2D and you have to escape from a doomed space station using a gun that creates clones and swaps your soul between them.  Someone once said that the beauty of mathematics lies in the idea that there is a solution for every problem.  And (unlike in Portal), there’s typically only one solution per puzzle, which creates an odd sort of satisfaction in finding it.  This might seem limiting somehow, but it’s probably necessary, since the puzzles become excruciatingly complex near the end.  But the graphics, atmosphere, and unique gameplay make for a lovely diversion.

SOTC photo from Tarstarkas.net.  Swapper photo from Facepalm games.

Rust Belt’s Pittsburgh Anthology on the Radio Tomorrow!

Rust Belt’s Pittsburgh Anthology on the Radio Tomorrow!


Pittsburgh’s NPR station, 90.5 WESA, will be running a segment on BELT mag and its Pittsburgh anthology! This will be part of the “Essential Pittsburgh” program our segment will air around 12:40pm. The program itself starts at noon and is repeated at 8pm. More info on the program here.

I’m honored to be featured in this anthology, which also features McArthur “Genius” Grant recipient (and Pitt colleague) Terrance Hayes, as well as many other Pitt folks, including Michael Gerhard Martin, Rachel Wilkinson, Ben Gwin, Yona Harvey, Dave Newman, Lori Jakiela, Rachel Mabe, and Scott Silsbe.  So many of these people have influenced and supported me through the years, and I can’t wait to read their work in here.

I’m especially proud to announce that Jess Craig, who was a student in my Mastering Point of View course at Pitt last fall, is also being published in this anthology.  I believe this is the first time I’ve been published alongside a student, so that’s really exciting.

Update: I just found out that my friend, the talented artist Rebecca Morgan, is in the anthology, too!  I’m a big fan of her paintings and can’t wait to see how her aesthetic translates to the written word.

Stray Thoughts on AWP, part One

Stray Thoughts on AWP, part One

Well, #AWP15 is long over.  It feels like it was forever ago, but for various reasons, I haven’t had room to breathe or to write until now.  Here are some stray thoughts on the experience:

1. I’ve been to several AWPs recently (Seattle, Chicago, DC, NYC), and I’ve gotten pretty good at packing for them.  (It’s no small feat because you have to pack under duress and factor in books, weight, and spatial concerns).  But you know what I’m definitely packing next year for AWP16 in LA?  A scarf and a bag of oranges.  This is the third AWP where I’ve caught some kind of horrific flu-like plague.  I think it’s the exhaustion, the extreme changes in temperature, the partying, the crowds of crowds, and the flight home, when you’re breathing the recycled exhalations of 300 other travelers for hours on end.

The first time I got sick at AWP, it was on day one in Chicago, and I was doing work for Chatham U, so being sick was not an option.  So that night, I cranked up the hotel’s heat as high as it could go and put on every sweatshirt I brought.  I yanked a hoodie over top and turned it backwards so the hood covered my neck.  I looked like an idiot and sweated through two sweatshirts, but I was fine the next day.  The sweatshirt thing is actually an old Korean technique my Tae Kwon Do instructor in college taught me.  Well, not exactly.  I think “Sweat it out, Robert” was the way he explained it.  But I honestly can’t recommend sweating it out for anyone, since this technique has probably killed more people than it’s cured.

At any rate, I’m hoping that wearing a scarf everywhere at #AWP16 will help ward off sickness, especially due to the wild temperature fluctuations.  (In March, it will probably still be snowing in Pittsburgh.)  Maybe people will assume I’m a tiresome dandy and avoid me, thereby creating a germ-free bubble.  Time will tell.  If that doesn’t work, I’ll just throw oranges at anyone who coughs on me.

2. New AWP Regulations: “The titles of proposed panels cannot contain the following words: ‘hybrid,’ ‘thread,’ ‘analog,’ ‘hyper,’ ‘agency,’ ‘agent,’ or ‘morph.”  This regulation should winnow the number of accepted panels from 550 to about 100.  Furthermore, mimicking the wording of any Raymond Carver book is strictly prohibited.  We predict this regulation will cut the number of proposed panels to 5.

The only exception will be for panels announcing nonfiction scientific coverage.  For example, if your panel is about the discovery of an exotic extraterrestrial species, then “What We Talk About When We Talk About the Hybrid Morphing Thread-Worms of Europa, whose Existence has been Proven by Several Government Agencies and Recorded via Analog and Digital Media” is a perfectly acceptable title for a prospective panel at AWP.

3. As someone whose shoulder and back are still aching from the plane ride home from Seattle, I swore I wouldn’t buy any books or journals at the bookfair this year.  Rather, I’d make a list of books and journals I wanted and buy them later (kind of like shopping at Ikea, with the AWP Bookfair as my showroom).  Here’s a Vine I made for Pitt’s Writing Program showing how well that plan worked out.  

4. #AWP15 marked the first panel I’ve ever participated in.  It was titled “How Writing Programs Can Meaningfully Utilize Social Media in an Age of Branding, Oversaturation, and Decreasing Admissions.”

The description: this panel will discuss different ways that writing programs and journals can use social media to recruit, advocate, teach, and promote literary citizenship. We’ll discuss our experiences and best practices for established and emerging digital mediums (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). In an age of “branding,” oversaturation, and decreasing admissions, how can programs and editors use social media meaningfully? This panel will provide practical advice, as well as thoughts on the digital future.

My fellow panelists were

Robyn K. Coggins

Kinsley Stocum &

Terry L. Kennedy.

At first, I braced myself for low participation because the panel was at 9AM and AWP had booked two giant hotel conference rooms for us, thereby possibly magnifying the low attendance to a soul-crushing degree.  However, as someone later noted, “9AM is a pretty reasonable time for most normal people,” and a good number of those normal people showed up.

Honestly, the whole thing was a blur, with so many smart ideas being passed back and forth between the panelists, and then the crowd.

Robyn had smart, practical things to say, especially about scheduling and connecting with audiences.  Kinsley gave great advice about personal and professional realms, as well as what does and doesn’t work on different platforms.  And Terry helped bring everything together, especially with his generous, community-building approach and different internal/external ways to use Facebook.  After the conference, we kept the conversation going with some audience members, and I even got to meet a couple future students.  I was incredibly relieved afterwards, and I honestly couldn’t imagine it going any better.

More to come soon.  In the meantime, please enjoy these photos:

Kirkus Review is live!

Kirkus Review is live!

The first official review for my novel is in.

Kirkus Reviews calls Eighty Days of Sunlight a “moving and darkly comic debut novel.”

“Equal parts hilarity and heartbreak in an accomplished debut.”


You can read the whole review here.  Honestly, there was a long, 5-year period where I was pretty sure this novel would never be published.  It would go to the great Unread Novel Graveyard, the three people on my thesis committee the only people who would ever read it.  If Mink Choi hadn’t chosen it way back in the day, or continued to champion it for years, it never would have made it this far.  Thanks to everyone who’s supported this project through its six years of evolution, and a special thank you to the reviewer at Kirkus for this life-changing moment.  I’m feeling very blessed and lucky today.

AWP Panel Y’all

AWP Panel Y’all

If you’re in Minneapolis this week for AWP and if you’re free on Friday, April 10 at 9AM, maybe stop by a panel I’m moderating about social media and academia?  (And yes, I realize that’s a lot of “ifs.”)

The details:

AWP Panel

Here’s some intel on the panelists:

Robyn Coggins, who has worked for the University of Pittsburgh and Creative Nonfiction Magazine, currently works at Longform and Pitt Med Magazine.  She has managed social networking pages since 2011.  At Pitt, she ran the Writing Program’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.

Kinsley Stocum is the Founding Poetry Editor and web/layout designer for IDK Magazine.  She served as Associate and Artwork Editor for The Fourth River and was the Rachel Carson fellow for Chatham’s MFA Program in Creative Writing.

Terry L. Kennedy is the author of the poetry collections New River Breakdown and Until the Clouds Shatter the Light that Plates Our Lives. He currently serves as the Associate Director of the Graduate Program in Creative Writing at UNC Greensboro and is editor of storySouth.

For mysterious reasons, I’m listed here as “Robert Stevens,” but it’s me.  Hope to see you there!