Podcast of the Week: Radiolab, “Debatable”

Part of the reason I didn’t update this site for over a year is because I became totally and utterly obsessed with podcasts. I can’t have a conversation now without saying, “I was listening to this podcast…” In fact, I try to give myself one podcast reference per conversation because I recognize how obnoxious I must sound.

So here and now, I will use my one podcast reference (per week) to suggest you listen to the latest Radiolab. It’s about debate, which sounds super lame, but it’s not. At all. And it connects back to my last blog about the invisible structure at work in all things.


Waiting and the Invisible Structure That Makes It Possible

I’m terrible at waiting.

I finished writing a book a couple weeks ago. Once you finish a book, you have a few options. The first time I finished a book, a novel that I’d started in college and finished in graduate school some seven years later, I shelved it; it was pretty bad and I was busy putting together The Northwoods Hymnal and didn’t feel fixing it. When I finished The Northwoods Hymnal, I went straight to a publisher, the wonderful and small, River Otter Press, where Diane was kind enough to take me and my stories in.

So: Shelf, publisher … self-publisher. Also an option. It seems to me like self-publishing requires either an enormous fanbase or the gift of marketing, two things I am generally without.

Option four: Find an agent. When I first started writing–seriously–I didn’t really think about getting published at all–at least not consciously. I knew people got books published, but I had no idea how. It was a slow agglomeration of tacit industry knowledge: what a lit mag was, how to get a short story published, what a cover letter looked like, how to get a book published, and on and on. This past summer at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, I had a couple weeks hanging out with people who had more of this knowledge than I’d ever run into–who knew that people still got advance money for books? Who knew that it wasn’t really advance money because they expected you to have written the whole thing first? You can just email agents? Just put together a query letter–very specific rules–and send it off to New York and see if someone likes your sentences enough to take a chance on your book? You can. I did. Over the past few weeks.

And now I wait.

And in the waiting, I’ve been thinking a lot about the invisible structures that exist in systems like book publishing–and probably everything else. I paid money to go to graduate school and met some people who taught me how to get short stories published, including someone who read for a couple lit mags to choose which stories they would publish, who then got his stories published as a book and suggested I send mine in too. Then that tiny press entered my book into a contest that I was hardly eligible for (I went to UNO and wrote big chunks of the collection while in residence at the Lied Center in Nebraska City) and that book got chosen as an award winner. Then I used that shiny gold sticker and a recommendation from grad school and a big chunk of change provided by my employer to attend Sewanee, where I met a bunch of writers and editors and agents that let me peak behind the curtain.

All this to say: I’m incredibly privileged. And I hope I can remember that. And a little waiting is nothing.

Welcome Back? (and a new Twitter handle)

A few weeks ago I received a late night email from a former student telling me that he had read through all the blogs and that I ought to keep writing them. “Maybe you should consider blogging again?” he asked, in that way that only a good Midwestern kid can.

So here I am.

I’ve been thinking a lot of the idea of the online self–and generally puking in my mouth about it. I finished a novel about the same time my student emailed and am now waiting on a handful of agents to read it and, as I’ve been waiting–only checking my email every 30 seconds or so–I’ve been trying my hand at Twitter again, mostly because I read somewhere that agents and editors and publishers care about that kind of thing. My problem is that I don’t care–it’s always been the same with blogging too; I do it because I think it’s what a writer/musician is supposed to do, in order to froth some non-existent public into interest.

Usually this sort of thing is a matter of reframing for me. I love the idea of reframing–I did it with my first book, reframing stories into songs, and I do it when I bump up against words or ideas or practices that I immediately want to toss out because they rub me the wrong way. Like networking. I hate that word. But this past summer when I was at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, I tried to think of networking as forming friendships (actually, networking is a way cooler term than forming friendships) and I wiggled out of that snake-oil feeling and started to ask questions of people, to genuinely try to get to know them, form a friendship with them.

So maybe I need to think of the online self in a different way. When I step on stage for a show (rare these days), I always take on some sort of alter ego. In fact, when I played in this noisy rock band a number of years ago, afte years of quiet folk music, my family was so bewildered by it that my brother made me a T-shirt across which he sprawled the pseudonym he had given me: Lazer. I’m mostly back to quiet folk music, but the name helped me settle down into that strange doppleganger skin for a while.

Maybe, in time, I’ll find some way to amalgamate my online self with my everyday self, an undivided heart and all that. But for now, for the sake of slipping out my cynicism, you can Tweet me at @lazerhawley.

New Words: Asktelling and Harwelling

I’ve been pushing hard (to no one but Jason Lief) for more usage of a verb I think invented last summer.

Asktell: To tell or order, only in question form

It’s super helpful, I suppose, if you’re in a position of some power, like an administrative position. For instance, let’s say you want to tell someone what to do, but it make it seem like it’s their idea. Or if you want to give an order, but leave a backdoor to swoop out in case everything goes wrong.

So maybe it’s not super helpful, but it is a thing that exists in the world, the asktell.

He's the one on the far right with the pipe in his mouth. (L-R Ric McBath, Jason "OJ" Schwarz, Me, Matthew Harwell)

He’s the one on the far right with the pipe in his mouth. The other two have also experienced “Harwelling” many times. (L-R Ric McBath, Jason “OJ” Schwarz, Me, Matthew Harwell)

I’d also like to hear more people use the verb “Harwelling”, named for my friend, the actor/model, restauranteer, and all around wonderful human being, Matthew Harwell, who used to come home from long shifts waiting tables at Country Kitchen, turn off all overhead lights, and light a couple candles, to get the mood lighting just right in our fairly unsanitary college house.

Harwelling: the progressive form of Harwell, meaning to turn down the lights to get the mood just right for … relaxing.

So, Invisireaders, your task: find ways to work “asktell” and “Harwelling” into your every day conversations. Especially if you’re ever in Vegas and have the opportunity to stop in at Carson Kitchen.

Final Draft(s)

I think the idea of a final draft is one for mythology. Things can always get better (or worse). There’s always tinkering to do. But at some point, you have to listen to your kids and just wrap the thing up. With that in mind: I’m working through the final draft of this novel that I started 3 and a half years ago. And it will be done in the next ten days. And then it will hit the (e)mail. And I’m … what am I? Feeling lots of feelings feelingishly? Something like that.

I’ve had a small and pluckish flock of first readers and after meeting with two of them yesterday afternoon, I’m proud to say that the work is in a complete form. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end and apparently all three acts work together. So, all ye invisible readers: Keep coming back and I’ll let you know when you can get your grubby hands on a copy. (Probably no time soon.)

Though in the meantime invisireaders, you should think about reading Olive Kitteredge by Elizabeth Strout. It’s really brilliant (and HBO agrees because they’ve made a miniseries that I’m going to have the library here order…)

Back to Blogics: “Say[ing] Everything”

It’s been about a year since my last post, which makes it the perfect time to begin again. That, and the fact that I’m currently teaching a class called Digital Journalism where the main assignment is to keep (and grow) a blog over the course of the semester. I’ve promised to get knee deep in the blogmuck just like the rest of them and see if I can do what I’ve assigned.

Part of the class is reading Say Everything by Scott Rosenberg. If you’re interested in blogging (or in the history of the internet), I suggest you check it out. It’s written in the vein of a lot of good informational nonfiction where each chapter is devoted to a different idea via a case study (or two) of real-life people. It’s fascinating (although I grinded through the chapter on political blogging). Check it out.\

My favorite quote thus far (from a chapter on the people who started blogger.com:

“In the meantime, Williams has gone back to basics: his latest company, Twitter, allows people to share updates, as with a blog; but each post, or “tweet”, is limited to 140 characters.”

It’s amazing how ancient a 5 year old book can appear.

Criticism, Making up songs, and a Beck Interview

I’ve talked about All Songs Considered before, but if you don’t listen to that podcast, you should. Bob Boilen is so awesome. I was just listening to him and Robin Hilton interview Beck and Beck was saying something about how when he first started making records, they just through everything in and that he wishes there was more room for bad records and how maybe internet criticism put an end to that, but maybe we’re just coming out of that fear of criticism too. He says it much better here:


I’ve never really been a Beck listener. It’s not that I don’t like his music, I’ve just never given it much time. I enjoyed the interview though, thought he was articulate and intelligent and appreciated his ideas about allowing people to just try new things. It’s something I strive for as a teacher; students ought to be able–no, encouraged–to take risks, to ask questions, to try stuff out. And I wish I had a better grasp on it in my creative life. So here goes. This is a commandeered lullaby. I wrote lullaby’s for both my kids and part of Eden’s is included in this track. She’s been asking me a lot about songwriting lately–or in her words, “Making up songs” (Which it is, right?)–and so, someday when she learns how to really use the internet, maybe she’ll stumble across this.

I Have to Stop Reading Books About How to Write

And I actually need to start writing. This is what Steven Pressfield calls RESISTANCE in his book The War of Art. And it deserves all those capital letters.

I am halfway through my next edit on this stupid novel. It is not going well. Or rather, it is going fine when I can convince myself to write, which is hardly ever. Why write when I can … do anything else? This is actually a good question. And the answer for me is: Mental Health. So, I should probably do it.

I suppose even this blog is RESISTANCE. Enough already.


I’m in the middle of a job hunt right now, which is really no different than the last five years of my life. Maybe eight? It’s a little different I guess. The job I have at this wonderful little college is a three-semester gig and I’ve been applying all over the place since the beginning of this, my second semester. It’s fine–at least I have a job while applying for other jobs. All this is pretty boring I’m sure.

My name is in the hat right Joe for the job I currently have. That’s the weird part. I totally understand that’s how things need to go an it wouldn’t be fair if they just gave me the job straightaway and I can deal with that. And with the interviewees that I’m sure will come to campus and be shown around and see my office which would be their office. That’s fine.

It’s the waiting that’s the worst. I’m not a good waiter. That’s not true–I pulled decent tips at my truck stop job in college. Bad pun. It makes me think of my little brother. At his preschool graduation, when they were announcing what the kids wanted to be hen they grew up, his teacher said something like, “Caleb wants to be a waiter.”

I want to be waiter. A better one anyway. And I think the trick lies somewhere in being happy where you’re at, which is another one of those things I’m lousy at. Contentment in just being. How do you learn that one? I have no idea. But it kinda-sorta feels like it might be the secret to a happy and meaningful life.