Meet Torg

Seven years ago I made the switch from high school English teacher and basketball coach to writer and professor.  Since that time, I’ve been blessed to have been hired to teach First Year Writing courses at St. John’s University in New York. I write novels, scripts, publish a podcast, and have just sent out my first documentary film for consideration at several film festivals.

Cherokee McGhee Press has published two of my novels. The first, Love on the Big Screen, tells the story of a college freshman whose understanding of love has been shaped by late-eighties romantic comedies. In writing that book, I drew upon my early dating experiences, my time riding the bench of a small-college basketball team, and my devotion to 80s films such as Say Anything and Sixteen Candles.   My adaptation of that novel won the Grand Prize of the Rhode Island International Screenplay Competition.

 

80s Movies music John Cusack John Hughes Say Anything Olivet Nazarene lovea scene from the novel by artist Keegan Laycock

 

Horseshoe is my most recent novel and is set in a fictionalized version of my hometown, Winamac, Indiana. It’s a place where everyone knows everybody else’s business.  Writer Bryan Fuhurness endorsed the novel by writing, “What Sherwood Anderson would have written if he had a sense of humor.”

William Torgerson 80s romantic comedy Winamac Indiana Say Anything Cusack High Fidelity faith God healing service

 

I ask my students to write a hybrid research paper we call a Scholarly Personal Narrative. I think of Colin Beavan’s No Impact Man and Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking as examples of this sort of text that combines a personal story with scholarly research.  The students also create short documentary films, follow Tweets in their area of interest, and compose ePortfolios as their final writing project.

In order to consider my professional life, I use a metaphor gifted to me by a former professor: Writing Floats on a Sea of Conversation. Given that, I invite you to respond to anything you find here as the first lines of what could be a rewarding conversation.  You can get in touch with me via Twitter @BillTorg or write me an email at William.Torgerson@gmail.com

Summer Camp, Complicated Relationships, and Maine: Jane Roper’s Eden Lake

In order to win Jane Roper’s novel Eden Lake I had to agree to read the book and participate in the accompanying Goodreads discussion as a part of The Next Best Book Club.  I am a finicky reader who has probably put down at least as many books as I’ve begun, and so I wanted to make sure I had a decent chance to like the story okay before I agreed to have it shipped to me.  I could already see myself ten pages into 300, not enjoying the read, but having to stay with it because I said I would.

I went to Amazon and checked out the opening pages.  I was happy with how things got started:  “Just before noon on the morning after Memorial Day, Eric filled the tank of the John Deere, started the engine and rolled out of the barn into broad sunlight.”  One of my favorite authors, Richard Ford, often starts books on a holiday (Independence Day, Easter) and there’s a lot competent in Jane’s sentence:  it placed me firmly in time and in the sort of setting where there would be a John Deere and a barn.  I knew I wasn’t in Queens anymore, and felt like my reading life was safe for the week I put it in  Jane’s control.

Jane Roper Eden Lake William Torgerson Maine Summer Camp Relationships 80s Love on the Big Screen

Jane Roper's Eden Lake

Maine, complicated relationships, secrets, and summer camp.  These are the primary ingredients of this story that bring together a group of brothers and sisters to run a summer camp that their parents ran when they were growing up.  There are surprises here—excellent ones—and they are spaced out nicely that in such a way that just when I got comfortable with how things were going, just when I thought I could see what was going to happen next, there was something that threw me for a good reading loop and reinvigorated my interest in the story.

I’ve heard several writers say that they don’t have one idea for a book, usually the book comes when several ideas seem to collide and this book has a good bit of that going on.  There are romantic and familial complications along with the tricky balance that running a camp that’s good for kids must be while at the same time paying attention to the fact that there are bills to be paid.  “Materialism is the opiate of the masses,” one character quips in part about all the upgrades to the camp over the years (i.e. a climbing wall).  Another remembers how in the old days the camp was supposed to be, “A vision of what the world might be.”  That last line, it reminds me of something fiction can accomplish as well.  Eden Lake creates a world I was thankful to have visited, enough so that I still haven’t stopped thinking about packing up the car and heading north to see if I could find some version of it.

Jane Roper Eden Lake William Torgerson Love on the Big Screen Maine Summer Camp Relationships 80s Love on the Big Screen

Click Here to Watch a Very Funny Book Trailer

Roper, Jane. Eden Lake. Boston: Last Light Studio, 2011. Print.

Prof. Torg’s take on Jennifer Egan’s A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD

If you have a Facebook page, own one of the latest cell phones, blog, or tweet, then you ought to at least check out chapter 13 in Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad.  In the following quote from the last chapter, a once big-time music executive laments about the state of the business.  Feel free to substitute ART in the place of MUSIC.  Here’s Bennie:

“The problem is,” Bennie went on, “it’s not about sound anymore.  It’s not about music.  It’s about reach.  That’s the bitter pill I had to swallow” (page 312).

Whose taste in art is for sale?

So when Bennie says “reach,” he’s talking Tweets, he’s talking Facebook Friends, and he’s talking hits on somebody’s blog.  The last chapter takes place in the future—and she could just almost be talking about right now—we all have to wonder if a book or album or any kind of art is really good or it’s just being promoted very well.  What is the Tweeter getting paid to say that this new artist is the next Bob Dylan?  What perks or gifts have been sent the book blogger’s way?  I just attended a BEA blogging panel where there was talk of ethics in the blogging world.

It may or may not have occurred to you that a novel can pay-off in various ways:  you can be made to feel as if you get to know the characters like people, the text can make you think, cause you to believe you are getting smarter, or make you bawl your eyes out or want to break stuff.  Another pleasing feature of a text can be the language, the words the writer chooses and the ways that the writer puts the words together in the form of sentences.  Egan’s text has that feature.  There are sentences beyond this one that would make for better examples of word choice but there are some original choices here—prewallet, overhandled, Sow’s Ear—and the clever detail of the guy who drinks flakes of gold.  An expensive habit, especially these days when an ounce of the stuff would cost over $1500.  This quote comes from the first story (notice also that it is a long sentence, not an always easy thing to pull off) when Sasha remembers stealing a wallet from a woman in the restroom while she was on a date.  We’ll also hear about Bennie here and we get to see him in the stories that follow.  He’s worth meeting.  Now here’s Egan’s sentence:

“Prewallet, Sasha had been in the grip of a dire evening:  lame date (yet another) brooding behind dark bangs, sometimes glancing at the flat-screen TV, where a Jets game seemed to interest him more than Sasha’s admittedly overhandled tales of Bennie Salazar, her old boss, who was famous for founding the Sow’s Ear record label and who also (Sasha happened to know) sprinkled gold flakes into his coffee—as an aphrodisiac, she suspected—and sprayed pesticides in his armpits.”

I tore that brown thing out on the side and used it as a bookmark.

This is a novel-in-stories, and I loved the first two.  I moved very logically with Sasha the kleptomaniac to her once boss Bennie in the second story who drinks the gold flakes and picks up his son from a previous marriage.  Most of the characters in the book are connected to the music business.  Egan almost lost me on the third story which takes place on an African Safari.  I felt internally frustrated as I was reading and trying to link each new story to the ones which had come before it.  On page eighty-seven, I wrote in the margins:  “I don’t know what the hell is going on or where I am.”

I gave up on trying to connect the stories and just tried to live in each one as a separate world.  I’d say this reading tactic helped, but really I think what happened is the stories got more interesting.  There were many good stories in a row and then on page two hundred and eight, I knew right where I was.  The stories were puzzling together.  I could see where all the pieces might go.  And then Chapter 12 is a Power-Point slide journal.  I don’t generally go for the story that could be called gimmicky.

I was just at a Writers Conference at Wesleyan University in Connecticut and most of the table moaned when I held up the book and showed off some of the slides.  One student is doing an MFA graphic novel thesis.  Suddenly, she was more interested in the book, and another guy at the table said, “I’ll never read a story like that.”

Fine, readers have their tastes I guess.  For me, Egan and The Goon Squad had won me over by the time the Power Point came up.  By the fifth slide I was laughing and my wife was wondering what was up.  It’s great the way I was taught by the text how to read it.  I say Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad is one you ought to read if you’ve got grown up and thinking tastes in reading.  I do.

Citation Information:

Egan, Jennifer. A Visit From the Goon Squad. New York: Anchor Books,    2011. Print.

Drop me a note if you want:

william.torgerson (at) gmail.com

How Would You Define “Retro” and “Indie”?

My questions for Lori  Hettler, author of The Next Big Book Blog:

I see you say you are interested all things, “retro.”  What do you mean?

I am a product of my generation. I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s… my fondest memories include Cabbage Patch Kid dolls (and those god-awful but so cool Garbage Pail Kids stickers!), slinkys, Pogo-balls, French cuffed Z-cavaricci’s , teased out hair, cassette tapes, the Fraggles, Sea Monkeys, and the Rubik’s Cube.  Today’s music cannot touch the stuff that came out of the 80’s – I’m talking about bands like R.E.M., U2, The Smiths, Depeche Mode, New Order, and The Cure.  Movies like The Goonies, Labyrinth, Say Anything, The Breakfast Club, Stand By Me – they are untouchable, they stand the test of time.

Retro according to TNBBC: Stand by Me

I love books that steep themselves in retro-ness – books like High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, Totally Killer by Greg Olear, Less Than Zero by Brett Easton Ellis, Banned for Life by D.R. Haney. Reading books like the ones I’ve just named gives me that “home-coming” feeling, you know?

What does the word “indie” mean to you and why is it important?

In the traditional sense, I believe Indie was coined for independent publishers, small press, and the authors who sign with them. Some indie publishers, like Graywolf Press, are non-profit. Most, like Two Dollar Radio, were (and still are) small start-up operations that have created a niche for themselves. A growing number, like Tiny TOE Press, Artistically Declined, and Curbside Splendor, are being brought to life by the authors themselves – authors who, due to personal choice or lack of interest from already existing publishers, decided to stand behind their work and present it to the masses on their own terms. I think, because of this increase of author-turned-publisher, the lines between indie and self published have blurred. Many self published authors are now referring to themselves as indie authors. And in a certain light, I suppose they can be. They are independent of contracts, and restrictions. They own the rights to their work. They can tour and promote as they wish. But I would say that only applies if they created their own company by which to publish their work.

Indie Press: Cherokee McGhee, publisher of William Torgerson's "Love on the Big Screen"

Indie can also be looked at as a way of life. It’s staying true to yourself, and your writing. It’s hanging in for the long haul. It’s not selling out. Indie publishers and authors are extremely important to the literary community. Because they are not caught under the umbrella of larger corporations and conglomerates, they have full control over which books they publish. They push the limits, they challenge their readers, they can afford to take chances on experimental, edgy fiction. They can offer their authors one-on-one attention. They throw wild and crazy events, and they rely heavily on word of mouth – The indie publishers and authors I have worked with are extremely receptive and welcoming of the support the blogging community gives them. Some of the best novels I have ever read were written by indie authors and published by indie publishers.

Support Indie Bookstores and Publishers: Click here

What was the impulse to start The Next Best Book Club Blog?

I started The Next Best Book Club blog when I realized that my Goodreads group (of the same name) had gotten too large, and my voice within the group had become too small. I needed a larger space, a space of my own – one that I didn’t have to share – to discuss my love of independent literature. I wanted to be able to showcase and highlight not only the books I read, but also the people behind those books, the authors and publishers. I wanted to introduce the world to what they were missing, to the great stories I felt they were overlooking. The blog and Goodreads group overlap by design, but it’s nice to have something that is just me, just my voice, sometimes.

Lori Hettler The Next Best Book Club

Lori Hettler writes The Next Best Book Club Blog

Click Here to Link up with Lori Hettler and the Next Best Book Blog Club

A Conversation With a Bookblogger: From French Cuffed Z. Cavaricci’s to the Art of Indie

I never really connected to the whole blogging phenomena, not until I recently attended a Blogger Conference in conjunction with Book Expo America (BEA).  Following a full day of hanging out with the bloggers at the Javits Convention Center in NYC, I left impressed with the community, impressed at their passion for books and need to talk about them.  I found people who are actually more interested in promoting literacy than making money.  What?!!!

Lori Hettler is one of the bloggers I met.  She’s a fellow Say Anything obsessive who also likes Nick Hornby and talks of French-cuffed Z. Cavaricci’s.  Remember those?  I had a purple pair about the time I graduated from high school.

William Torgerson, Bill, Torg, Love on the Big Screen, The Next Best Book Blog, Bloggercon, Blogworld,

Lori Hettler, author of The Next Best Book Blog

It was Lori’s use of the words retro and indie that caught my attention and so I asked her if she’d be willing to talk to me about her little niche of the blogosphere.  She agreed and I plan to share our conversation over several posts.  First, I asked Lori to give an overview of the bookblogging world, to tell us what we might be missing out on if we don’t participate.  Here’s what she said:

There are so many levels to book blogging. As a blogger, you can choose to participate at any or all levels. For starters, it’s your own personal space to dish about books in any way, shape, or form you wish. There are no rules, no parameters, no boundaries – only those that you set for yourself. It’s also a community. There are bloggers out there for every genre and niche you can imagine. They are welcoming and supportive. They share ideas and join forces. Nothing makes me happier than seeing bloggers come together to support a cause. Twitter hashtags, book tours, you name it, and they can and will do it!

As a blogger, you can also begin to build relationships with authors and publishers. You can host giveaways, develop features or meme’s, conduct interviews, gain access to ARC’s (advance reading copies) for reviews. It’s all out there, and it’s all what you make of it. I think, most importantly, book bloggers spread literacy. They get the world talking about books!

William Torgerson, Bill, Lori Hettler, Cherokee McGhee, Love on the Big Screen, St. John's University, I am a product of my generation. I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s… my fondest memories include Cabbage Patch Kid dolls (and those god-awful but so cool Garbage Pail Kids stickers!), slinkys, Pogo-balls, French cuffed Z-cavaricci’s , teased out hair, cassette tapes, the Fraggles, Sea Monkeys, the Rubik’s Cube.  Today’s music cannot touch the stuff that came out of the 80’s – I’m talking about bands like R.E.M., U2, The Smiths, Depeche Mode, New Order, The Cure. Movies like The Goonies, Labyrinth, Say Anything, The Breakfast Club, Stand By Me – they are untouchable, they stand the test of time. I love books that steep themselves in retro-ness – books like High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, Totally Killer by Greg Olear, Less Than Zero by Brett Easton Ellis, Banned for Life by D.R. Haney.

Check out "The Next Best Book Blog"

Link to The Next Best Book Blog Here

Look for more conversation with Lori in future posts.  If you’ve got questions or thoughts connected to book blogging, I’d love to hear from you.