Monday, February 24, 2014

Fitzgerald's Trimalchio Now Available as an Ebook

In what must be the worst marketing email ever written, I have discovered that Simon & Schuster has made Trimalchio, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s early version of The Great Gatsby, available as an e-book/Kindle.  We own the hardcover, which was $40-something when we bought it(!)—and are happy to have it—but this is a much better bargain at $9.99.

While the bones of The Great Gatsby are clearly there, as a writer and a reader it was shocking to come across a number of changes and rearrangements.  For example, there’s a scene where Daisy shows up at Jay’s house and is ready to run away with him (she even has a suitcase).  He refuses, saying that the point is that she needs to renounce Tom or some schoolboy ridiculousness that barely seems plausible.  Another early flaw is that we don’t learn Gatsby’s background until the book is almost over, in Chapter Eight (of Nine), when (IMHO) it might be a little late to gin up some sympathy for him.  And that awful title, of course.

If you’re a Gatsby fan, Trimalchio is a worthwhile investigation.  Here’s where you can order it and (supposedly) read more, though there’s not much to read.  But the cover looks great! (And here it is on Amazon, again without much explanation or text.)

Monday, February 10, 2014

AWP14: Where to Get a Great Drink in Seattle!

Reposted from June 2012, my husband’s take on the craft cocktail scene in Seattle from his "Two at the Most" column.  You know, just in case you maybe feel like having a good drink while at AWP this year:

I can report that the craft cocktail movement in Seattle is alive, well, and indeed—thriving.  In fact, I was waiting to take the ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island and in the small bar at the ferry terminal I had a Manhattan made with a rye distilled on Bainbridge Island, WA; Dolin Sweet Vermouth; top quality bitters; and a burned orange twist! It was better than 90 percent of what you would find in Washington, DC restaurants.

I was able to visit four places while I was in Seattle and only scratched the surface.  Ambiance was excellent in all of them.  Good cocktails in each.  I was surprised that all of the places I went to served significant/unique food. Not full dinners but small plates/heavy, gourmet appetizers.  I would recommend them all to people going to Seattle with the exception of Canon, which I may have just hit on a night with two “dud” mixologists. Fine enough, but I enjoyed the other places much better. All of them seemed to be open seven days a week.

This was my first stop on a Sunday evening.  My drink notes are probably the worst for Zig Zag as it was the only place where I did not sit at the bar. A little hard to find unless one looks at the comments on Yelp which are clear…if you do not leave them at the hotel. It is in an alley between two streets just below the façade of a three-story office building below Pike Place Market and above Western Ave.  Address is on the façade of the building.  Stucco, plants outside the door.  Nice size curved bar inside (10-15 seats) then a number of velvet banquets and some small tables.

Casey was working when we went in. Very attentive, asked what we liked, anything we did not like.  He prepared a variation on a martini for my colleague who is more of a beer drinker that he enjoyed, and I had a variation on a Negroni and then a Manhattan.  Cocktails he served didn’t really have names; he just tweaked the proportions and the liquors, which was fine, but I always like a name even if it is a personal creation.  Since we didn’t sit at the bar I don’t recall if they had full printed menus but they had a chalkboard with cocktails written on it.  Music was low, unobtrusive jazz. People sitting across from us raved about the food (Caesar salad/pasta dish).  They had no cocktails however.  Can I trust them?

Someone at another place I went to while I was in Seattle said that there was a bartender at Zig Zag who was supposed to be a “wizard” at the bar but he didn’t know his name. 

Prior to heading to Zig Zag we stopped at The Brooklyn on 2nd Ave., for oysters.  Great West Coast Oysters and had an excellent Dry Fly Martini there.  Not a craft cocktail spot but very good nonetheless. They know how to make a martini.

Visited Canon on Monday evening.  It was, unfortunately, a disappointment for me.  Easy to find, nice ambiance.  Cocktails were competently made but nothing spectacular, and no real interest in having a back and forth with customers.  Dark wood inside with long curved bar that sat about 20.  A few tables that sat four to six. When I sat down, I asked one of the two bartenders if Jamie Boudreau was working that night so I could mention a mutal acquaintance.  I was told he’d check in the back.  He never seemed to check and never got back to me one way or the other.  Later, I asked if Murray Stevenson was working and was told…”No, just us two!”  I was surprised he didn’t ask my name or if I knew Jamie. 

Onto the cocktails—I started with a Leopold and Cocci Americano (my suggestion to use the Cocci).  Was very good.  Balanced.  I have had Leopold Gin before and I liked this combination better that with Dolin. I followed that with what seems to be big in Seattle: you “pick your own base spirit,” and then they make something for you. I chose a Genever.  Again, the cocktail was good but when I asked what else he used, I was told it was a secret and he wouldn’t tell me. 


That sort of summed up the bartenders working that night.  Finished with an Aviation made with a Seattle gin I had heard about called Gun Club Gin distilled by Sun Liquor.  Good cocktail, good gin, but nothing I couldn’t make at home.  I had the pork buns, which were recommended online, and they were fine. Nice presentation with a cannon on the plate.  Should have turned the cannon on the bartender…then he might have told me what was in the drink.

Granted, I might have had a completely different experience with a different mixologist, but my experience being what it was I would not recommend Canon as my first choice based on my experience with other places in Seattle and with everything else out there I didn’t get to.

Undaunted, I headed down the street three blocks to Tavern Law.  Owned by Brian McCracken and Dana Tough.  Best cocktails and bartenders of the trip. Long winding bar and tables.  A little lighter color vibe inside.  Music was a little loud and didn’t seem to fit with the classic cocktail theme of the 19th and 20th century but that would be my only criticism.  Bartenders asked me what I liked…we looked at the menu and off we went.  They had an extensive printed menu of classics (most extensive menu of the trip—sours, flips, punches, juleps, coolers, etc.) and their own creations. 

Started off with a Fourth Regiment, which had a unique layering of flavors with the celery bitters. First time for me with that cocktail. In that vein, we moved onto a Greenpoint and finished with a Seelbach Cocktail.  I believe George was mixing most of the cocktails with Layne’s assistance.  Later in the evening, they gave me a black card with just a phone number to get into the super-secret upstairs, which was not open on Mondays.  Go to the phone on the wall and call up and they buzz you in.  They also suggested I purchase Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, which just arrived.  

In between cocktails, I had an excellent foie gras terrine. Fried chicken is supposed to be their specialty.  These folks make a great cocktail. They also suggested checking out Liberty on 15th Ave., East and a place called Rob Roy.

All in all a great experience, except for the music missing the mark.

Last night in Seattle, so the big debate was whether to return to Tavern Law and the super secret room or to venture off to new territory.  I headed west to Bath Tub Gin & Co., which was challenging to find.  It is actually between 1st and 2nd off Blanchard St., in Gin Alley.  Essentially walk around to the back of the building. Luckily, I cornered two guys going into the front of the building who directed me.

The ambiance here was probably nicest of all of the places…but it was the tiniest too.  Top level has a semi-circular bar that seats 6-8 with one table for two, and downstairs there were maybe three or four tables for two.  Dark wood.  Music was very low key. Another nice printed menu with a much smaller selection of cocktails but probably the largest selection gins and whiskeys. The menu was all their own creations, i.e. Jedi Mind Trick (Brandy, Absinthe, maple syrup, lemon juice, thyme), Just above Social (Gin, hickory salt & pepper falernum, Angostura Bitters, black olive).

Started with the Just Above Social (a line from a Hunter S. Thompson novel, the bartender explained) then moved to a martini with a gin I wasn’t that wild about (Cold River, I think) which he offered to swap out, but I didn’t take him up on.  Next did a “Dealer’s Choice” where I asked him to use the Yamazaki Scotch.  He pulled a drink together he called Carnal Knowledge (Scotch, Yellow Chartreuse, Bonal, and grapefruit bitters).  And, he not only told me what was in it he wrote down the recipe!  Finished up with a small Manhattan with Buffalo Trace which I had not had before.

The bartender (there was only one) was great and the ambiance was wonderful, but for some reason no drink was quite a home run here. However, based on the ambiance, the bartender and how nice he was I would give them another try. 

Tavern Law…best cocktails and most skilled mixologists with a unique menu…I’d give Bath Tub Gin & Co. best in show and with most potential and is Zig Zag, a solid choice for both cocktails and comfort.  And while I would recommend them all, I was sadly disappointed by Canon which was suggested by one of DC’s own craft cocktail gurus and features Jamie Boudreau and Murray Stenson (formerly of Zig Zag Café), two legends in the Seattle cocktail scene (neither was there the night I stopped in).

~Steve Ello

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Surviving AWP 2014!

I recently watched Robert Redford battle the elements in the fabulous movie, "All Is Lost," which reminded me that it's time for my annual list of helpful tips for dealing with the AWP conference, which will draw 10,000 bleary-eyed, name-dropping, crowd-scanning, black-clad, totebag-toting writers in desperate need of a drink and a blurb from Famous Writer. 

How can you survive the experience and live to tell the tale?  Read on for my own conference survival tips, based on my past AWP experiences:

Wear comfortable shoes, at least most of the day. There’s lots of traipsing around long hallways and the long (sometimes uncarpeted) aisles of the book fair. It’s also inevitable that the one panel you really, really, really want to see will be in a teeny-tiny room and you’ll have to stand in the back…or sit on the floor; see the following tip:

Wear comfortable clothes, preferably taking a layer approach. Wherever you go, you will end up either in A) an incredibly stuffy room that will make you melt, or B) a room with an arctic blast directed at you. Bulk up and strip down as needed. Also, as noted above, the AWP conference staff has a knack for consistently misjudging the size of room required for a subject matter/speakers (i.e. Famous Writer in room with 30 chairs; grad student panel on Use of Dashes in Obscure Ancient Greek Poet in room with 300 chairs), so you may find yourself scrunched into a 2’x2’ square on the carpet; see the following tip:

To avoid being stuck sitting on the floor, arrive early to panels you really, really want to attend. If you are stuck on the floor, hold your ground with a big bag and/or coat to get yourself some extra space. Whatever you do, do not be nice and squeeze over…those panels can seem VERY LONG when someone’s knee is wedged in your ribs. (Any resulting bad karma will be worth it.)

If a panel is bad, ditch it. Yes, it’s rude. Yes, everyone does it. (Be better than the rest by at least waiting for an appropriate break, but if you must go mid-word, GO.) I can’t tell you the high caliber of presenters that I have walked out on, but think Very High. Remember that there are a thousand other options, and you have choices. The only time you have to stick it out is if A) the dull panel participant is your personal friend or B) the dull panel participant is/was your teacher or C) the dull panel participant is your editor/publisher. Those people will notice (and remember) that you abandoned them mid-drone and punish you accordingly (i.e. your glowing letters of rec will instead incinerate). Undoubtedly this is why I have never been published in Unnamed Very High Caliber Magazine, having walked out on the editor’s panel.

There are zillions of panels: When you pick up your registration badge, you’ll get a massive tome with information about all of them, and—if last year is an indication—also a shorter schedule that’s easy to carry around. Take some time right away to read through the tome and circle the panels you want to attend on your master schedule. Then ditch the tome. Better yet, go to the AWP website now and scroll through the schedule tome and decide now where you want to be when. And best of all, use the “my schedule” planning feature on the online schedule to mark the events you’re interested in and keep that stored on your favorite technology (mine is a sheaf of printed paper…which may be smart since right now I’m too dumb to figure out how/where to re-access “my schedule”).  Anyway…no point waking up early on Friday if there’s nothing you want to attend. I checkmark panels I might go to if nothing better is going on and star those that I will make a supreme effort to attend.

Someone will always ask a 20-minute question that is not so much a question but a way of showing off their own (imagined) immense knowledge of the subject and an attempt to erase the (endlessly lingering) sting of bitterness about having their panel on the same topic rejected. Don’t be that person. Keep your question succinct and relevant. Maybe even write it down first, before you start to endlessly ramble. And yes, if you are “that person,” everyone will mimic your annoying question to their friends in the bookfair aisle, and your career is over.

Don’t ever say anything gossipy on the elevator, unless you want the whole (literary) world to know it. Do listen up to the conversations of others on the elevator, and tell your friends what you’ve overheard over your offsite dinner, embellishing as necessary.

Same advice above exactly applies to the overpriced hotel bar.

Support the publications at the bookfair. Set a budget for yourself in advance, and spend some money on literary journals and books and subscriptions, being sure to break your budget. Do this, and then you won’t feel bad picking up the stuff that’s been heavily discounted or being given away free on the last day of the conference. But, please, do spend some money!

Just because something is free, you don’t have to take it. Unless you drove, you’ll have to find a way to bring home all those heavy books/journals on an airplane. Or you’ll have to wait in line at the hotel’s business center to ship them home. So, be as discerning as you can when you see that magic markered “free” sign on top of a pile of sad-looking journals, abandoned by the grad students with hangovers who didn’t feel like dealing with their university's bookfair table.

It may be too late for some of you, but it’s inevitable that you will see every writer you’ve ever met in the aisle of the bookfair at one AWP or another…so I hope you were nice to all of them and never screwed anyone over. Because, yes, they will remember, and it’s not fun reliving all that drama as the editors of The Georgia Review gaze on.

Pre-arrange some get-togethers with friends/teachers/grad student buddies, but don’t over-schedule. You’ll run into people, or meet people, or be invited to a party, or find an amazing off-the-beaten-track bar.  Save some time for spontaneity! (Yes, I realize that I’m saying “plan” for spontaneity.)

Don’t laugh at this, but bring along Purell and USE IT often.  For weeks after, post-AWP Facebook status updates are filled with writers bemoaning the deathly cold/sore throat/lingering and mysterious illness they picked up at AWP.  We’re a sniffly, sneezy, wheezy, germy bunch, and the thought of 10,000 of us packed together breathing on each other, shaking hands, and giving fake hugs of glee gives the CDC nightmares.
Along the lines of healthcare, don’t forget to drink a lot of water and pop an Advil before going to sleep if (haha…if!) you’ve been drinking a little more than usual.
Escape! Whether it’s offsite dinners/drinks/museums/walks through park/mindless shopping or whatever, do leave at some point. You will implode if you don’t.

Finally, take a deep breath.  You’re just as much of a writer as the other 9,999 people around you.  Don’t let them get to you.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Lee Martin's Ten Thoughts About Writing a Novel

I’ve become entranced with the lists of 10 lately (worked for Letterman, didn’t it?) and I have some plans for my own future lists, but on this busy day, here is a great list that I’ll guide you to:  “Ten Thoughts about Writing a Novel” by the writer Lee Martin.  I like every item on his list, but I’m especially intrigued by number 2 and number 9:

2. Sometimes I read through a draft and identify the single piece of information in each chapter that contributes to some sort of shift in the plot. That’s my way of making myself aware of why each chapter exists. No important information for the plot? Hmm. . .maybe that’s a chapter I just don’t need. So much of revising a novel is a matter of making it lean. 9. At some point, I need to know what’s at stake for me in the writing of the book, not just what’s at stake for me as a writer, but also what’s at stake for me as a person. The two identities are never very far apart.

Eight more as good as those two here!


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.