PechaKucha Night, November 13, Shelburne Museum, 6 p.m.

A blank page or screen can be scary, but a blank map…inspirational! Join me for a presentation about storytelling as world building — in 20 slides at 20 seconds each slide. Here’s more information on the event.

Ralston street map 1

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Film role: Uncle Paul in Patrick Burke’s “Where Are We Going?”

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Relaunching “The Outside Groove” as an E-book — Why not?

WHEN MY FIRST NOVEL for young readers,
The Last Mall Rat, was published in 2003, TheLastMallRata pretty famous Vermont author told me that I should promote the hell out of it as fast as I could because, in a few short months, the book would turn to yogurt. Her word—yogurt.

She wasn’t completely right, I’m happy to note, as later that book was released in paperback and earned a small profit for the publisher (Houghton Mifflin) and me. She was mostly right, though, as The Last Mall Rat did what most books do unless someone adapts them into movies (which is hard to imagine in the case of The Last Mall Rat): It found a quiet home on the publisher’s backlist, which is industry jargon for yogurt.

When I learned that The Last Mall Rat and my third YA novel, The Outside Groove, Dust jacketwould be published in electronic form, I wasn’t quite sure what to do: let them find, or not find, new audiences among e-book readers or try to promote them all over again. I’ve decided to do both: to let The Last Mall Rat find its own way in the wider world but to put a bit more effort behind The Outside Grooveeven if it might seem weird to be touting a title published in hardcover seven years ago. So be it. I think it’s a good book, and I think there are readers out there, particularly among the immense fandom of auto racing (a subject of the book), who would enjoy it.

I’ve tried to make it possible for readers to encounter The Outside Groove through its own Facebook page and, down the line, through a promotion that I’m calling United Short Tracks of America. The promotion will involve inviting racing fans to post to a blog site and/or Facebook page short videos chronicling a day or night at their local track. The videos will go into an interactive map of U.S. short tracks. Watch for that.

I’m working a few other angles for The Outside Groove, including trying to get Adam Walker’s great book trailer out there. The trailer features a killer original soundtrack by the Reverend Screaming Fingers (pictured). Reverend Screaming FingersSurf rock meets a high-baked quarter mile oval of asphalt. Rubber. Exhaust. Noise. The Reverend may have unleashed a new musical genre: NASCore. You can check it all out here.

I suppose there’s a lot more I could do to promote The Outside Groove, but even I’m willing to admit that all this self-promotion—justifiable and necessary though it may be in the current publishing climate—becomes, at some point, a rationalization for procrastinating. I should spend more time working on a new book than pushing old yogurt.

But, then, one of my all-time favorite TV shows, Arrested Development, arrested-development_large_verge_medium_landscapehas just been relaunched seven years or so after being canceled. I wouldn’t call the Bluth family members role models, but the show is, in its odd way, kind of inspiring.

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Auto Racing–themed YA Novel Now Available as E-book

Dust jacketContact:

Find The Outside Groove on Facebook: “The Outside Groove”


Auto Racing–themed YA Novel Now Available as E-book

BURLINGTON, VERMONT — Author Erik Esckilsen is pleased to announce the recent release of The Outside Groove (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) in e-book form. With auto racing as its subject, The Outside Groove makes a solid summer reading recommendation for young readers interested in one of the nation’s most popular sports. Since its hardcover publication, the novel has found a diverse readership, with strong appeal among young-adult and middle-grade female readers. Here’s why:

The novel’s narrator and protagonist, 17-year-old Casey LaPlante, is a headstrong young woman who decides to take up auto racing to compete against her older brother — their small town’s next great hope of big-time racing glory — and to show her community that she won’t live in his shadow.

“One of the more potent themes in YA literature is the challenge of staying true to one’s values and aspirations against conflicting forces in one’s surrounding community,” Esckilsen says. “Casey LaPlante starts out racing cars to become visible in a world that won’t acknowledge her. Winning would give her the authority, she thinks, to tell her racing-obsessed family and neighbors that their worldview is limited and foolish. What she doesn’t count on is getting hooked on racing, uncovering the deeper meaning of the sport to her family and neighbors, and understanding herself in relation to her hometown in ways that surprise and change her.”

Ed Sullivan of Booklist wrote, “Strong descriptions of racing action and the well-integrated story of Casey’s own internal conflicts make for both an entertaining and interesting read that helps fill the void of good sports fiction with girl protagonists.” Read more reviews and press here. The Outside Groove is a story about the empowerment that comes from head-to-head competition in an arena where one is underestimated and unwelcome. Casey’s decisions — and the actions they set in motion — are transformative.

New multimedia content offers a glimpse into The Story Beyond the Story, including an audio essay written and narrated by the author, “Circular Logic,” on the inspiration for the novel.

Erik E. Esckilsen is the author of The Outside Groove and two other YA novels, Offsides and The Last Mall Rat, both published by Houghton Mifflin/Walter Lorraine Books. His articles and essays on the arts and culture have appeared in such publications as the Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, Seven Days newspaper, and other publications. He has been a contributor to the Cowbird storytelling community since February 2012. He is an associate professor at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont, where he specializes in courses on digital storytelling, rhetoric, and the intersection of global cinema and international politics.


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An Anecdote Analyzed: Anatomy of a Pep Talk

The following describes the structure of a pep talk given recently by the director of a nonprofit center.

The occasion: an impending deadline

The audience: most of the 50 or so employees working on a project of particular importance to the future of the center; average age, 21

Time of the talk: 9 p.m. — significant, as convening for this talk requires something of a sacrifice on the part of all in attendance, which will be a theme of the talk

I. The speaker discusses her individual history with the project; she is its founder.
Effect: This ethical appeal garners respectful attention.

II. The speaker shares a) some common misconceptions of the team she assembled for the project at its outset (including employees in attendance at the pep talk) and b) her refusal to subscribe to those unflattering misconceptions.
Effect: The speaker’s credibility is reinforced in light of her faith in her team.

III. The speaker discusses the broad cultural implications of the team’s work, framing such work as a social responsibility.
Effect: The team members are essentially asked to set aside complaints or misgivings in light of the long-term value of their work — should it be completed on time.

IV. The speaker reminds the team of their deadline and describes what is at stake in failing: essentially, the future of the center.
Effect: This is a bit of a scare tactic, although it apparently does not distort the truth of the predicament.

V. The speaker shifts to a rundown of the project’s accomplishments to date.
Effect: The emphasis shifts to the team’s capability.

VI. The speaker describes for the team what they stand to gain in meeting their deadline: professional survival and the satisfaction of having made a worthwhile contribution to society.
Effect: The mood continues on an upward swing.

VII. The speaker presents statistics on similar projects’ impact.
Effect: The team revisits the value of their work, finding solidarity with others who have worked to see similar work come to fruition, possibly under analogous pressures and constraints.

VIII. The speaker closes by reiterating the deadline but in varied terms — the number of remaining days against the number of tasks to be completed.
Effect: Having been reminded of the value of their work and inspired to reach their utmost potential, the team now regards the deadline as a challenge rather than a symbol of their professional demise.

The team returns to their workstations inspired anew to succeed.

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The Caffeinated Self

The graph below was a gift from Mavis Loach, the daughter of some friends who live outside New York City. On a recent visit, after dinner at their home, my friends and I were discussing the generally high quality of coffee to which we are now accustomed, in contrast to the stuff we drank in the 1980s and early ’90s. I testified at some length, and with enthusiasm, about how much coffee I drink daily and how much I enjoy it. Mavis, who is, I believe, 16, lingered at the table for a few minutes after coffee had been served but then disappeared for a while. When she returned, she presented me with this graphical account of my discourse.

The Caffeinated Self

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Singing to Siberia

Cai-Jun-watchingI finally digitized this recording of a long-ago conversation with my traveling companions on the trans-Siberian express in winter 1991.

Listen to an audio version with the image at left posted in the “Cowbird” storytelling community.

Here’s the same audio excerpt alone featuring the enigmatic Cai Jun singing.

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Revisiting the Iron Rooster

I’d been sitting on a story for 20 years — the story of my life’s greatest adventure so far (outside of getting married and having kids, of course) — when I finally had a good opportunity to tell it. It’s the story of riding the trans-Siberian railway in the winter of 1991, right at the historical fault line where the Soviet Union died and a new China was born. My audience for this telling, on January 18, 2012, was about 60 or so residents at the Wake Robin Lifecare Community in Shelburne, Vermont. I told them my story in about 45 minutes of continuous talking, punctuated with slides. They seemed receptive.

Now I’m trying to figure out how to tell the story digitally, maybe with interactivity (of a different sort than that interactivity innate to the oral telling). There are a lot of directions in which I could take it, but its most compelling element, at least based on the Wake Robin reception, is the story’s central character: the enigmatic Cai Jun (below), with whom my traveling companion and I shared a small train compartment for almost six days straight. I’m eager to tell his story, inasmuch as I can. Meantime, if you see him, would you please tell him that I’m looking for him?

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Simply Inspired

Thanks to a good friend for sending this amazing video of Japanese women covering a post-punk song from a British group named for corrupt Chinese revolutionaries.

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An Anecdote Analyzed: “The Name of One’s Cat”

Collected: November 15, 2009, 9:50 a.m.

Setting: Golf course

Narrator: Male, 45, Caucasian

Audience: One Caucasian male, 45

Topic: The name of one’s cat

Bacon, the cat

Transition: NA

Opening Strategy: The storyteller proclaims the topic of the story with an arresting statement to the effect of “Here’s what I had to do regarding my cat.”

Exposition: The story begins in the recent historical past, whichframes the narrative, with the storyteller relaying the events of a recent visit to a veterinarian with his cat. During the visit, the veterinarian inquires as to the cat’s name, the answer to which becomes the central conflict in this story.

Rising Action: The story shifts to the more distant historical past, and to another state, when the storyteller’s cat was routinely brought to the veterinarian by another caregiver, the storyteller’s romantic partner, who did not share the storyteller’s name. Hence, the cat’s last name is different from its current owner’s (i.e., the storyteller’s).

Climax: The storyteller expresses annoyance that his cat officially has a last name other than his own.

Falling Action: The storyteller announces, with clear dismay, the cat’s official first and last names.

Denouement: The storyteller ends the story with a statement to the effect of “So, this is what I have to deal with.”

I. Arresting statement
II. Opening frame: recent historical past
III. Central conflict introduced
IV. Rising action in more distant historical past
V. Climax: expression of annoyance
VI. Commentary on the outcome of the climax: dismay
VII. Closing frame: present state of affairs

Paralingual Cues: The storyteller makes frequent use of hands to indicate a general state of exasperation, often directing them, as if accusatorily, at the sky and off in various directions.

Interruptions: NA

Comments: The story seems designed as a report on the teller’s state of mind regarding his pet, perhaps as a metaphorical statement on his condition, and on the human condition more generally, which finds us responsible for pets that, notwithstanding their companionability, remind us of those of our own species who fail us in this regard.

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