Tales from the Slush Pile

cd-pileIn the parlance of the publishing trade, a “slush pile” is a collection of unsolicited submissions that have been mailed to a publisher by unknown authors and agents. Typically, assistant editors are entrusted with picking their way through this glut of material, and on the occasions where they find a piece that interest them, these lower ranking associates then pass such work on to senior editors for consideration.

The grind of digging through all this slush can be a thankless job, but during the moments when one stumbles upon true glimmers of talent amidst numerous other attempts at crafting the “next big thing” all the strain can feel worth the effort.

The same maxim holds true in the world of the freelance music writer. Indeed, one of the biggest perks of writing about music for a living is the multitude of albums one gets sent for free and often before the official release date that the rest of the public must wait for. However, a significant drawback of this unfettered access to new tunes is that a solitary writer can often get overwhelmed by the numerous PR firms and label representatives who manage to get a hold of one’s contact information and quickly send a deluge of records, each with accompanying press materials that proclaim the discs sent as the greatest recorded sounds put to tape, at least until the next album is passed along with a similar tagline attached.

Still, the discovery of seeming greatness that lurks somewhere within the overflow never ceases to induce wonder and even amazement. Maybe it’s a guitar lick here, an unbelievable chorus there, or perhaps a previously unthought-of of use for some special instrument that has just never been put to tape in such a manner before that does the trick.

Of course even the most patient of listeners, no matter how much they strain, can never listen to it all. So as a critic one can become choosy and trusting of only a small number of labels or industry contacts. But when such narrowing of vision occurs, so can doubt emerge and make a writer question their instincts.

“What if I’m missing something?” They ask themselves. “There are at least a dozen names on the indie charts that I don’t recognize. Have I lost my touch?”

So the net once again widens, and more slush is slogged through to the point of persistent headaches and sore ears. But each lyric that ingratiates itself into the cerebellum or every multi-instrumentalist that awes with their mastery of…well…multiple instruments…can make the effort worth the work.

The lesson here is simple. Always keep an open mind. Your ears might not always thank you. But your heart will. And who knows, in some basement or garage right now the next voice of a generation could be honing their chops and nurturing the seeds of talent that will make them a star. They just need someone to hear what they have to offer. And wouldn’t you like that person to be you?

Then again, if this writer has to listen to one more intentionally tuneless art rock demo or the caterwauling of some wannabe pop star…

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‘Impresario. Raconteur. Rock Legend.’ The Nolan Whyte interview part two

Comeback Road book cover

Comeback Road book cover

As promised, here is part two of my interview with Canadian writer and blogger Nolan Whyte. To catch up on part one, click here.

Underground: I see from your site that you published the series/ novel Comeback Road as an e-book. Have you ever tried publishing any of your other material professionally, and if so, what was that experience like?

Nolan Whyte: I showed Comeback Road around in the traditional print publishing market, but it didn’t garner any interest. I self-published the e-book, but it didn’t sell much because its audience had already read it for free on UG. Pretty much everything I’ve written since then has been done with website publication in mind, so I haven’t pursued print or e-book re-publication. I’m in no hurry for that type of thing. It will come when it comes.

Who are some of your inspirations both musical and literary?

Artists, mostly, from any field. I’m interested in people who had to figure out their own ways of doing things. It’s hard for me to name names, especially with writers, because I usually get into someone’s work, explore them, and then move on. I think Dee Dee Ramone had an interesting life and career, both in the Ramones and then later with his projects in music, writing and art. I like guys who were willing to experiment in a variety of fields, and I appreciate artists who were able to put together long careers. Musically, it’s the same names that I drop in the novels: The Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, Ministry. Many others, always changing.

When did you start writing about hockey, and when did that sport plus the Tamp Bay Lightning become the focus of your blog?

I started the Frozen Sheets Hockey blog simply because I don’t have buddies to talk about hockey with. My wife doesn’t give a shit about hockey. I had stuff I wanted to say, so eventually I decided to just start writing it. It’s more of a hobby than the fiction stuff.

Other than subject area, how does writing about sports differ from your music writing?

The music stuff has mostly been fiction, but hockey blogging is me talking about my experience as a fan. What’s interesting is that I didn’t really read other hockey blogs before I started writing one, and after I started I was exposed to this huge field of well-written, extremely creative material that’s out there, being generated daily. I do it as a goof, but I’ve had some good responses to things I’ve written, and I’ve connected with some really cool, creative people.

What has been the biggest perk you’ve received from writing about a professional hockey team?

Not much. I was invited to join a larger blog network (SBN’s rawcharge.com), which gave my work some exposure to a wider audience. I was able to do a few interviews, including former NHL player Enricco Ciccone, and poet Randall Maggs, who wrote an amazing book of hockey poetry. His book was one thing that inspired me to start the hockey blog in the first place. I like doing interviews, although they aren’t something I would want to do all the time. I’ve mostly tried to just write about my favorite team in my own style and see if anyone pays attention. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.

What can you tell me about your other series End City: A Sci-Fi Satire?

I used to have a personal website where I posted my writing and art, and in 2007 I tried writing a daily fiction blog, called the Page-A-Day. It started out with a lot of short pieces, but pretty soon I started writing a novel, which became End City. It’s sort of a genre mash-up of science fiction and hard-boiled mystery conventions. I call it a satire because it’s so ridiculously over the top, full of ninjas and monsters and sexy killers and a typically clueless protagonist. It was influenced by more transgressive writers like William Burroughs and Hunter Thompson, and also by Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, which I was reading at the time. It’s very different from the UG stuff. Very loose in structure, very violent, very random. The UG novels tend to be very personal, with a lot of internal conflict, but this was more explosions and fist-fights. It’s also thematically very different from anything else I’ve done. It isn’t political in a left/right sense, but it does show more political awareness than my other work.

Do you have any future projects planned?

Not specifically, but one thing always follows the next. I’m focused on I Sing When You Shut Up at the moment. I’m very invested in that story, because I have it all planned out in my mind and I want to carry it off successfully. I may have the next project in mind before this one is done. Sometimes it works like that, where I’m able to finish one thing and move directly into the next thing, but sometimes I have to make a lot of false starts before really getting going on the next one. I did a huge amount of pre-writing and made several false starts on I Sing before it was ready to go. Hopefully the work pays off for the reader. The next thing will follow organically from there.

For more information on Nolan Whyte please visit his blog at www.frozensheetshockey.blogspot.com. Or, read his work on Ultimate-Guitar.com here http://profile.ultimate-guitar.com/Nolan+Whyte/.

Plus, don’t forget to follow the Northeast Underground on YouTube and Twitter:

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‘Writer. Blogger. Provocateur.’ An interview with Nolan Whyte part one

nolanwhyteFor numerous novice and semi-professional guitarists, the number one destination on the Internet is Ultimate-Guitar.com. However, amidst that site’s numerous tabs, chord charts and instrument reviews, there exists another resource responsible for drawing in aspiring shredders and ordinary music fans alike. That resource’s name is Nolan Whyte.

As a contributor to Ultimate-Guitar for the past seven years, Whyte has written several novels worth of rock ‘n’ roll-inspired fiction for the website, often doling his tales out in series-form by posting one new chapter per week. One story, In the Van On the Comeback Road, even became popular enough for Whyte to publish as an e-book. And all that activity doesn’t even mention the work he regularly performs as a blogger for his favorite hockey team the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Underground recently got the chance to catch up with the Canada-based Whyte via e-mail and asked him his thoughts on writing, music and the perks (or lack thereof) related to blogging about professional sports.

Underground: First off, what is your writing background?

Nolan Whyte: I started writing when I was young, first by drawing comic books. I grew out of that by the time I entered high school, and I gradually started reading more and trying different writing forms. Then in university I took some writing classes and participated in writing and performance groups.

After university I went to Korea to teach English. During my first year there I began to find my style, writing pieces meant for performance, which I read at drunken open mic nights. The pieces were short and dark, often funny, and written specifically to please a crowd of young, educated drunks from around the globe

During my second year in Korea I made my first serious attempt at long-form work. I made an arrangement with an art gallery in my home city in Saskatchewan where I would send them post cards. I painted the cards and wrote fiction on the back. Along with several short pieces, this produced a bad novel about traveling pre-hipsters.

Following this I made a few unsuccessful starts at different genre novels before I started putting my short work on the Internet. That was when I started writing for Ultimate-Guitar.com. I did some short humor pieces for them, but later had the idea to try a long fiction series. I was inspired to write a rock ‘n’ roll novel after reading Dee Dee Ramone’s books, and the result was In The Van On the Comeback Road, which became popular on the site. I briefly shopped the resulting novel for print publication, but it really wasn’t strong enough to go very far.

Since then I’ve done two more novels for UG: the short, concise Guitargasm! and a sprawling weekly series Riot Band Blues. I also wrote a now-defunct fiction blog which produced a sci-fi novel called End City. Small bits and pieces have been scattered around in other places as well, including some hockey writing.

What about music? The bulk of your work is pretty detailed in its description of playing and touring as an artist. Do you have any experience with playing an instrument or performing in a band?

During university my friend Ken played drums and he encouraged me to buy a bass so we could jam. That was fun for a while. I took a few classes at a music academy and then tried to self-learn, but I didn’t work very hard at it. I was one of those good-looking dilettante writer-artist-musicians who liked to hang out in bars talking about cool projects but not doing much. Later my friend Mike recruited me to play with him. He knew I wasn’t any good, but he just wanted someone to play with. He brought in a good drummer named Dev, and we became The Famists, an artsy hard rock band. Mike was talented and creative, but withdrawn. Dev was a good drummer, but occasionally left for work terms that put the band on hold for long stretches. I was basically an enthusiastic novice.

We played something like half a dozen gigs over two years, mostly events put on by people we knew. We were paid in beer a few times. We recorded some stuff on eight track cassette. We had one really good gig with solid material, and we put on a planned-and-executed performance in front of a big room that had people in it. That gig was our high point.

We’d already petered out by the time we finished university. That was the only band I’ve been in for any more than a few jam sessions. I don’t play much anymore. I don’t know if I’m a good writer, but I know I’m a terrible bass player.

I posted a short essay about playing with The Famists on UG. None of the novels are based on my time in that band, but I’ve definitely used a lot of details. Some venues in the stories are based on places I played, but those places could be anywhere.

Another view of Nolan WhyteHow about your position at Ultimate-Guitar.com? What led to you writing for the site and how would you characterize your role as a contributor there?

I found UG when I was looking for bass tabs, trying to learn some songs. I started reading their columns and decided to write some short pieces for them, really just to practice writing in a different style in a place with reader feedback. Some of the things I wrote got very good feedback. Then I pitched and wrote the first novel.

Later I realized that they paid contributors, so I asked for twenty thousand dollars to write a second novel. They said no, but they did start paying me for my work. It’s been a very good relationship. They’re looking for contributors now, by the way.

How long have you written for Ultimate-Guitar.com and how many works have you turned out in that time?

I started writing for them in 2005 and started the first novel in 2006. I’m now working on my fourth novel for them, called I Sing When You Shut Up. I’ve done a bunch of other short pieces for them as well.

Do you have a favorite story from the material listed above? If so, why is that story your favorite?

Comeback Road is a sentimental favorite. It was my first piece of long writing that worked on any level. It has a strong narrative voice and some memorable scenes. Of anything I’ve ever done, it’s the one piece that I’ve tried the hardest to pimp out and show to a wider audience.

I appreciate Guitargasm! as a successful attempt at a guitar-drama formula adventure. It was my attempt to give the audience of Comeback Road exactly what they appeared to enjoy, and it was very well received. It’s almost obnoxious in its levels of fan-service.

Riot Band Blues allowed me go into a lot of depth, because it was an open-ended series instead of a novel. It ran at a weekly schedule for ninety-one chapters, which stretched me. Because it was so long, I was able to write several story arcs, and the series had some strong characters. The drawback was that the ending was soft, because I eventually ran out of steam.

You took a break from music writing after the conclusion of the story Riot Band Blues. What made you return with I Sing When You Shut Up? What changed?

I was focusing on other things. You can’t keep doing the same thing all the time, and writing Riot Band Blues for almost two years drained me.

The novel that became I Sing When You Shut Up wasn’t originally intended for UG. I just wanted to write a good story, instead of specifically a rock ‘n’ roll book. Then, after I figured out what I wanted to do with it plot-wise, I realized it would work well in a music setting, and I offered it to the site. Because it wasn’t planned ahead of time to be a UG novel, it doesn’t follow the same story conventions of the previous three UG stories. It isn’t the same boy-joins-band plot that I’ve done already.

What has the reader reaction generally been to your work (old and new)?

The novels have all had enthusiastic, loyal readers. The response to the most recent series has been very positive, but quieter. I don’t know if that’s because of the material, or if people’s online commenting habits have changed over the last few years. Neither would surprise me.

Come back Thursday to read part two of the interview! But in the meantime…

For more information on Nolan Whyte please visit his blog at www.frozensheetshockey.blogspot.com. Or, read his work on Ultimate-Guitar.com here http://profile.ultimate-guitar.com/Nolan+Whyte/.

Plus, don’t forget to follow the Northeast Underground on YouTube and Twitter:

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Blogger Nolan Whyte returns with new Ultimate-Guitar tale – “I Sing When You Shut Up.”

Nolan Whyte

Nolan Whyte

Okay, this post is about seven weeks too late. But I’m happy to announce that one of my favorite music fiction authors has returned to action. Writer, blogger and self-proclaimed rock legend Nolan Whyte is back on Ultimate-Guitar.com with a new weekly series entitled “I Sing When You Shut Up.” Check out part one of the new saga here, and be sure to check back every Friday for additional chapters.

First debuting on the popular music-instruction site back on February 17, the story (so far) focuses on the troubles and trials of music writer Nate and his attempts to interact professionally with both his ex-girlfriend (who now plays in a band) and his upstairs aging rock star neighbor Terry (who many Whyte fans will recognize from his role in the previous serial novel “Comeback Road”).

While Whyte previously announced in January 2011 that he would be taking an extended hiatus from writing about music to focus on other projects, his break thankfully appears to be over. And judging from the wealth of positive reader reactions to his new work, the onset of fresh material couldn’t have come soon enough. “I Sing When You Shut Up” is after all the fourth complete novel Whyte has authored for Ultimate-Guitar.com, and many fans (this writer included) eagerly await the chapters to come.

For more information on Nolan Whyte please visit his other blogs at www.frozensheetshockey.blogspot.com and www.endcity.blogspot.com.

Plus, don’t forget to follow the Northeast Underground on YouTube and Twitter:

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Ultimate-Guitar writer Nolan Whyte surprises fans with latest story’s conclusion

Comeback Road book cover

Comeback Road book cover

Do you know who the Clutch Dogs are? What about the group Hellakill? Can you name the bassist for Riot Band? If you are able to answer any of these questions, then you must know Nolan Whyte.

As a part-time writer for the popular website Ultimate-Guitar.com, Whyte has spent the last couple of years crafting several series worth of hard rock fiction for music nerds and novice guitarists alike. Published chapter by chapter on a semi-weekly basis, each tale has largely revolved around the struggles of a different band and its members’ hopes and dreams for eventual success, or at the very least freedom from having to get a day job.

While each successive story has found a small but appreciative audience online, Whyte unexpectedly announced Tuesday that he would be ending his latest work (“Riot Band Blues”) nine chapters early and that he personally would be taking a hiatus of sorts by stepping away from writing about music for the foreseeable future.

He wrote:

“I feel it’s best at this time to bring things to a quiet close. There is always the danger of becoming complacent and trying to just ‘shift product’ for the sake of it, and I don’t want to sell the story’s very loyal fans short by presenting uninspired material.

A few months ago I said the series would end with the hundredth chapter. That would have been nice, but I don’t want to force out chapters that serve no purpose other than reaching an arbitrary number. The story can end here as well as anywhere, because it will always end in an entirely open manner…

[Also] I’ll be taking a break from Ultimate-Guitar for the time being. I have no plans for another series, but then again I had no plans for ‘Guitargasm!’ after ‘Comeback Road,’ or plans for ‘Riot Band’ after ‘Guitargasm!’ So maybe I’ll be back. It’s completely open.”

Despite such an optimistic sign-off, I for one feel more than a twinge of disappointment at the loss of what has become one my favorite Friday morning rituals. Open-ending aside, sympathizing with Whyte’s motley collection of protagonists over my daily cup of coffee was a highly rewarding experience as well as being infinitely relatable. However, as a fellow writer I can also understand his concerns about just going through the motions in order to reach some self-imposed quota.

Still, perhaps more surprising to me than Whyte’s exit has been reading his other fans’ reactions to the news. Instead of spouting out vulgar phrases and demeaning the author’s choice, which as any regular visitor to Ultimate-Guitar can tell you are almost required practices, the regulars on the site have shown almost nothing but respect and love. Inexplicably, in words typically reserved for eulogies to Dimebag Darrell or Randy Rhoads, many head-bangers have even shown actual soft sides for the work of a man who catered almost exclusively to their little community. See for yourself by following the link here.