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Friday
Jan102014

When "Having it All" Means Working Over the Holidays

Lizzy Shramko

When people ask me what I do at parties (not that I really go to the types of parties where people ask that question), my first response is not “managing the social media pages of the organization I work for.” No. I am a writer. I like to DJ, read, cook, and I love riding my bike. I am also a closeted academic and read queer theory when I can get a good chunk of time to sit in front of a book and parse through the latest academic buzzwords. The tasks that I complete during time paid for by someone else can’t even begin to encapsulate the many interests and passions I have.

Yes, there are some super lucky people in the world who love the work they are financially compensated for (or suspiciously claim they do on Facebook), but for many of us a day or night job is just that—tasks you do during the day or night.  

More often than not, the hours that you spend doing stuff you get paid for do not represent your interests in their entirety.

This is why designated, paid time off for people is so important—and not for the reasons many people think.

If you have a full-time job, often times your responsibilities do not neatly fit in your workday. This translates to working on projects at 9:00 p.m. when you were supposed to be off at 5:00 p.m., or going in to work a shift at 8:00 a.m. and leaving at 8:00 p.m., or just spending time outside of work thinking about tasks you have to do at work. Even if you work under 40 hours a week these things are often expected—without the benefits.

The paradox of full-time work is that outside the 40 hour work week you are often expected to respond to emails or deal with “emergencies” as they rise. If you don’t have a full-time job, you lack the benefits that make it possible to feasibly have consecutive time off in the first place.

But paid time away from your job plays a vital role in cultivating the other work in life.

This is true for all people, not just “creative people”—whatever that means. Whether it is composing a remake of the Game of Thrones theme song using a cat on vocals or making time to paint landscapes or taking on the task of turning your bike into a fixie, these things take time, concentration, and valuable brain space that can be filled to the brim with tasks and projects from your paid work. Also, not to get all sentimental, but these things are the things that make a person who they are.

For me a full-time job is a different kind of burden.

I belong to a gender that has been historically and continually paid less than my male peers. 

I won’t receive the same benefits or be able to take similar amounts of time off (and I have the privileges that go along with being a college educated white woman, so there is no telling how others experience that). If I decided to quit my job to write full time it would be harder for me to find a publishing house that would publish my work, or a publication that would use stories with my byline. These are realities I, and many other people, face when making choices about work, life, and writing.

So after years of underemployment, now that I am a full-time employee with benefits, I take advantage of paid holidays to do actual work. I write. I take photos. I make lists. I research conferences and gatherings across the country. I strategize about stories I want to pitch to publications. It takes time to craft meaningful pieces, to factor in relevancy in a 24-hour news cycle, and to think about what artistic integrity means to you. During paid holidays I have an opportunity to shut off my working self and I have time to put energy into my writing. 

I don’t take Christmas vacation as an opportunity to engage in Christmas activities. I don’t spend time with my extended family, because they all live on the East Coast and I prefer to maintain my sanity and not travel during one of the busiest and most expensive times of the year. I don’t have kids, and at this rate I’m not sure I’m ever going to. There are many conversations about women “having it all” that have focused on one type of work outside of paid workraising a family.

For me “having it all” means having both the financial compensation/stability that goes along with full-time work and the time to create meaningful work outside of a paid job. Or better, being paid for work you create. This should be true whether you create novels or babies.

As a non-paid writer (I think I’ve made a total of $138.97 over my eight-year writing career), I don’t do it for the money (but I would if you paid me). Writing helps me process things, and as a young woman who identifies as a feminist, let’s just say there is a lot to process. The types of books that top the New York Times bestseller do not contain characters or points of view that reflect the complicated world I live in. Even independent publishing houses are dominated by a pervasive white masculinity that claims “objectivity.” This is why having days to spend 10 hours thinking through, imagining, and writing is so vital for me. There is a lot to process on the pathway to creation. Luckily I have role models that help me along the way.

My mom, doing what she does best.

I grew up in an unconventional household where my mother, Greta Huttanus, was a writer and poet. While she was paid to work at a bookstore (and not paid to work as a mother), she spent the few down hours she had writing. I understood at a young age that sitting on the couch surrounded by thick books and seemingly unrelated sheets of paper meant “research.” I also understood that writing took time—lots of time.

I was lucky enough to learn that it was not weird for a woman to be a writer and that what you do to earn a living does not define the person you are.

My mom, who thankfully quit her job at a bookstore, is still sitting on her couch reading, doing research, and writing. I currently date a full-time musician who works really hard, is super talented, and gets paid to do something he loves. But people who are paid for what they create don’t really get paid holidays, and they could write an entirely different blog post on the precarity of being paid for creating things. (Except they are probably too busy making things to do that.)

The point I am trying to make is simple. Time off is important—it should be available to everyone, not just people who work 40 hours a week. It is important for people who want to spend it with their families, or for people who choose to have kids, and for people that enjoy commemorating holidays. But it’s also an important time to create, to think, and to do a different kind of work that is just as, if not more, important than the stuff you get paid to do. Even if people don’t seem to get the importance of it.

So when people ask me what I did over vacation my answer is pretty simple: I worked. And while often I get sad looks and assumptions about an unhappy life at home in return, I can’t really imagine spending my vacation in a more meaningful way.

Thank you, Mom, for teaching me that is ok.

Wednesday
Jan082014

The Freelance Writing Survival Kit

Dakota Sexton 

My friends don’t normally come to me for serious advice. Like, ever. I usually provide a brain trust of a million different, but equally bad, dating-related ideas. If my life were a romantic comedy, this would mean I don’t have it together and am otherwise a clueless or jaded best-friend/supporting character that will never find love unless fate pairs me up with someone who is equally hopeless and probably both wildly sweet and also somehow a really big lost cause.

But I digress. This is about writing advice.

When friends ask about that, I have different answers. And I hold onto different helpful writing-related tips and articles. Almost nothing beats Richard Morgan’s essay “Seven Years as a Freelance Writer, or, How to Make Vitamin Soup.” In it, Morgan describes how he pitched fancy magazines like Playboy and Details while still living with his parents in Apex, North Carolina. During the same decade, he also has to make vitamin soup, mostly by mashing up a multi-vitamin with a bunch of garlic salt in hot water. (Sexy!)

If you need more inspiration than that, there are tons of practical, online resources. Among the best: Ann Friedman’s #Real Talk From Your Editor column for the Columbia Journalism Review. MediaBistro publishes a weekly How to Pitch column that provides advice on pitching to a single publication, which also includes tips from the publication’s own assigning editors. Chris Guillebeau has been writing to his readers about freelancing and budget-friendly travel hacking tips for years as a blogger (and he writes totally affordable books on the same subjects as well). There are also ultra-cheap Skillshare courses on everything from Humor and Personal Essay writing to how to pen a 10-minute film short.

What’s missing for me? More articles that detail how exactly to pretend to be professional when you need to invoice a client, especially for hourly-paid freelance work. Or when you haven’t been paid. Or how to get an interview transcribed affordably while sleeping. There are tons of budget-friendly applications and services for all of this, though. Below is a list of just a few of my favorites.

For Organizing Tax Deductions

I’d guess that “butt-loads” is the correct term for how many expenses most freelance writers could write off. Except I don’t really know that many people who actually do it. There’s an awful lot of effort required. And what if you get audited? A service called Shoeboxed wants to let you have your cake and eat it too, though, by letting people scan or mail in receipts and other business-related documents. Shoeboxed then trades you an IRS-accepted image to use for each document, plus provides other selective benefits.

For Writing and Editing

Have you heard of a writing app called Scrivener? Supposedly, a bunch of fairly-reputable writers think that it’s pretty cool. I’ve also tried it. Instead of recommending it to any other gullible people, however, I’d like to create a drinking game. It will punish you whenever you can’t remember how to do something really basic, and the game will also punish you whenever you can’t find a tiny piece of research because it was hidden in a sea of panels and/or obnoxious different boxes.

You could blackout for half of the day doing this, or just try out Editorially or iA Writer. Both are dreamy, well-designed writing apps that focus on minimalism and typography. They format text using a web-friendly language (Markdown) that easily converts to HTML without the additional garbage code other applications (Microsoft Word, Pages, and even Google Docs) unintentionally create.

When you finish a draft with Editorially, you can also easily invite friends and editors to read, comment, and edit your work. And as a bonus, there’s version control options built into both programs to reassure even the most paranoid and/or obsessive writer.

For Invoicing and Time-Tracking

Do you need to be paid for an article or something else you did? As a joke, try signing a contract and just cross your fingers. Someone might know you need to be paid, because magic. But if that doesn’t work out, try using Harvest. It’s an online and app-based service that can track task-based time and also help you invoice clients—repeatedly, if necessary. After creating a project and, optionally, toggling task-based timers, Harvest can generate an invoice that's automatically populated with all the relevant info you need.

If your client/publisher doesn’t still rely on billing practices that probably once originated in some kind of dinosaur age (like the 70s, or possibly just whenever the publication was founded), Harvest also helps you to accept payments online using Stripe.

For Email Reminders

Getting ahold of editors is hard. We’re busy, we get really distracting stomachaches sometimes, and it’s just hard to make yourself remember to keep reminding us to get back to you in the first place. That’s where Boomerang for Gmail comes in. After installing it in Gmail, you can set up automatic email reminders for any outgoing email. If say, an editor doesn’t get back to you in a week, a “boomerang” will let you know.

On the flip-side, if you don’t have the time to answer an email, you can set up a boomerang to hide an email for a few days.

For Transcribing Audio

Until recently, I transcribed all my own audio interviews. Other editors I knew just assigned that work to our interns, but I was personally too embarrassed to do that. Now as a freelancer/unpaid-and-non-glamorous editor, getting an intern to do it is obviously no longer even an option. There are professional transcribing companies (notably Casting Words), but the cost is usually out of the question on freelance money. Yet there’s hope: Mechanical Turk, a service launched by Amazon about 5,000 (actually 9) years ago.

As a “Requester,” you can post an entire audio file online for one person to transcribe or upload 6-7 small segments of the same file for multiple Turkers to complete—using one set of instructions. Get more tips on maximizing the service here and here.

For Your Health

For the most part, I don’t try to use a lot of health-focused apps. But I do use f.lux, a free app that adjusts your screen’s brightness automatically based on info you provide on your current room lighting.

For General Productivity

I name-dropped an app called TeuxDeux more times than anything else last year. It does one thing: lets you keep an online to-do list of everything you’re supposed to do in a given day. If you don’t cross a task/priority out, or delete it (the app lets you do both), then it automatically rolls over to the next day. That’s it.

It’s simple, but it works.

And if you spend a lot of time on the internet (you must), just set all new windows in your browser to open to TeuxDeux’s task listing and you’ll be constantly reminded of what you’re supposed to be working on. Alternatively, you can also download the TeuxDeux iPhone app.

That’s all. You should now have all the tips you need to bother every gainfully-employed editor in America, or at least the ones that matter. (Kidding! Sort of.)  

Band Aid icon by Wilson Joseph from The Noun Project

Friday
Jan032014

Things thought and words wrought at Social/Brief: Blank Slate

Holly Harrison

A few weeks ago I posted a short piece from Beyond the Margins to the Paper Darts Twitter account—Being A Good Literary Citizen: A Manifesto. I shared it even though I, personally, didn't meet all the criteria. I know I participate in the literary community in a different way than most literary citizens—being on staff at a volunteer-run lit mag is kind of between the two camps of "insider" and "everyone else"—but the manifesto reinforced the creeping feeling I've had that I'm not doing enough, that I somehow need to rearrange my free time to be a better participant in the scene that's been so good to Paper Darts.

I didn't want to make "be a better literary citizen" a New Year's resolution, because fuck those things, but the first event I wanted to check out happened to fall in the resolution-keeping time frame: January 2. It was Rain Taxi's next reading in its Social/Brief series, Blank Slate. It also happened to be New Year's themed—a bunch of 20 second poetry readings, by hand-picked poets and during an open mic, inspired by wiping the slate clean and planning for things to come.

I could talk about the ideal time for a poetry reading (20 seconds might actually be it). I could also talk about how chill the event was (no pun intended) and how it got me fantasizing about the benefits of doing more frequent but more laid back events compared to infrequent literary spectacles. But because I'm currently more committed to publishing things that are timely than things that are well thought out and analyzed (thanks, Internet Age), here are my notes from the evening. (Words said into a mic in bold.

  1. I have a total of $6, which can only get me a soda from the cash bar. Y'know, that's fine.
  2. These white couches are kind of cool. Hah, what if I get my period?
  3. Oh my god, what if I get my period?
  4. This is the first art gallery I've checked in to on Foursquare in five months? I'm so uncultured.
  5. Someone I know! Thank god.
  6. Keep thinking of things to talk about, keep thinking of things to talk about, keep thinking of things to talk about, shit shit shit.
  7. I wonder what came first—the blank slate theme or securing an empty gallery for the event?
  8. You must caramelize your life.
  9. Turns out that granola bar was not a sufficient dinner.
  10. I thought that "many lunches" line was going to turn into a doge thing. Why am I so disappointed that it didn't?
  11. Why do I love doge so much?
  12. Gretchen Marquette wears really tall shoes.
  13. Turns out the second best thing that can happen to you is heartbreak.
  14. What we need to do is give up more.
  15. Wouldn't a skinny person be fine on just a granola bar for dinner? Are skinny people hungry all the time?
  16. Fuck me like fried potatoes.
  17. I hope I can find that poem online later, even though it was definitely short enough to memorize.
  18. Found it.
  19. This woman's using poetry voice, noooooooooo!
  20. Oh, the poem was funny. That's okay then.
  21. All resolutions are the same.
  22. Whatever you're doing right now is it.
  23. Venus DeMars' coffin purse is pretty on point.
  24. Don't be humble.
    Fuck yeah.
  25. Hey look, I didn't get my period. 
Thursday
Jan022014

Let's just call it "smell ya later"

Well, it’s been a good run, dudes. As of January 2014, I am officially retiring from my beloved position as editorial director of Paper Darts.

I’ve been trying to write this blog for awhile now, and the words just aren’t coming easy so I’m going to keep it super brief.

The past three and a half years with Paper Darts have taught me more about publishing, myself, and the capacity for literary love in the Twin Cities than any paying job I could have possibly gotten right out of college. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the best and coolest authors in the world, and have seen more of my dreams come to life than feels fair. These have pretty much been some of the best years of my personal and professional life. But, ain’t nothing gonna last forever, baby, and a new year seems like as good a time as any to start a new chapter.

I’m leaving Paper Darts in the good hands of those who know it best and a hearty crop of new staff members who have brilliant, world-changing ideas. PD is going to continue to do fantastic things for the local literary community and beyond and while I won’t be there, I’ll still totally be there, you know?

Thanks to the Ladies of Paper Darts, to the local literary community, and to everyone I ever called in a favor to while working as editorial director—I totally owe you.

Monday
Dec302013

How to Write a Stellar Writer’s Twitter Bio

Alyssa Bluhm

Earlier this year when we were accepting submissions to the second annual Paper Darts Short Fiction Award, we reached out to writers among our Twitter followers to encourage them to enter. In the process of becoming acquainted with what felt like half of the Twitterverse, I became personally invested in the success of the Paper Darts following as it relates to their Twitter bios. Maybe a little too personally invested.

You see, sometimes people who call themselves writers in their bios turn out not to be [fiction] writers at all. This sucked because a) we were missing our target market in those instances and b) I began to worry that we were also skipping fiction writers who went the vague or ironic or withholding route in their bios. In the interest, then, of helping all the writers out there get recognized for their writer status — not necessarily by us, but by the entire internet — here are my tips to optimize your Twitter bio as a writer.

 

1. Start with what you do (and be specific). Most Twitter bios use this formula: list of jobs/accomplishments, small admittance of a personality trait, something witty to close. So you’re a writer, a mom, a caffeine addict, and a hardcore crochet-er? Honestly, when you preface your bio with “writer,” I’d be surprised if those other things didn’t follow. And even though this formula is so common on Twitter, it’s probably the most effective. So, start with what you do. Tell us that you’re a writer, and moreover, what you like to write. If you’re into fiction, poetry, or heart-wrenching obituaries, this is your chance to say it. Also mention any other jobs you have (attention: moms, dog walkers, editors, grocery bagging wizards, etc.), because that gives people a clue as to where you get your inspiration for writing, maybe.

 

2. Tell us where you find your work. In the same vein as telling us what you like to write, tell us where you’ve been published. If you’ve been published in a million different places, narrow it down to your favorites, or where the pieces you’re most proud of were published. And if you’ve written a book, tell us what it’s called! Some authors go so far as to link directly to where you can buy it. This is your Twitter after all, there’s no shame in promoting yourself.

Bonus points: Tag the places you’ve been published. This helps people find your work in the event that you were published by a not-so-well-known publication, and it also makes you look legit while throwing some attention your publisher’s way. You say you were published by @PaperDarts? Thanks for a) thinking we're that cool (sucker) and b) the web traffic!

 

3. Talk about yourself. This combines the personality traits and wit part of the formula I mentioned earlier. Mention your neuroses, your obsessions, and how you pass the time. We already know you’re a writer, but just remind us that you’re human, please. There are a lot of writers out there who have taken the advice of a friend or agent and have started a Twitter account for marketing purposes. They have nothing personal or personable in their bios, and you know what you’re signing up for when you follow them—endless self-promo. Don’t be like them. Tell the internet what you want it to know about you. But remember: it goes down better with a side of humor and lightheartedness. Unless that’s not your style, of course.

 

4. Let people know how to contact you. There’s a little place for a link at the bottom of your Twitter bio, and it is very worth your time to put something there. If you have a personal website with writing clips and whatnot, use that. (If you don’t have a personal website I recommend making one, because everyone loves those… but that’s a whole other blog post). Otherwise, a link to another social media profile you use more often, or anywhere that you can be contacted is very helpful. If your contact information can’t be found on a website, include an email address. Making it easy for people to contact you makes it easier to receive fan mail. Who wants 140 characters of praise in a DM when you can get sonnets by email instead?

Monday
Dec162013

Hello to All This: Gentrification and Artistic Dreamworlds

Lizzy Shramko

 

New York has closed itself off to the young and the struggling. But there are other cities. Detroit. Poughkeepsie. New York City has been taken away from you. So my advice is: Find a new city. 

Over three years ago, Patti Smith—a patron saint to New York City's storied art, music, and writing world of yesteryear—delivered the above words. It reads like an epigraph, one that should be chiseled into every newly restored Brooklyn brownstone. The statement was notably made in context with a conversation with Jonathan Lethem (who is emblematic of a very different New York City) and directed towards students at the prestigious art institution Cooper Union. Smith was speaking to these artists about writing, creating art, and the economic shifts that have rippled across the city and subsequently killed off artistic culture. 

While Patti’s directive to “find a new city” is a compelling one, it ignores an issue that seems more important. Why should these artists run away from home in the first place? Even if it seems like New York City is now out-of-reach to the troves of middle class, (usually) white bohemians with liberal arts degrees (who also frequently have basic knowledge of Photoshop), hasn't this very population of creative professionals contributed to the problem that causes their newfound inaccessibility? In contrast, New York City certainly remains relevant for the millions of New Yorkers who, born and bred in the city, still thrive and create art in their respective boroughs.

So maybe the question is not about how young and struggling artists might "find a new city" to invade. Instead, it's how they can build these communities at home.

This provides perspective  on the collection of essays Seal Press recently released that speaks to the XY parabola of creating art in New York City. Titled Goodbye to All Thatit is a collection that borrows nostalgia from Joan Didion’s defining essay of the same name. It features reflections on the city from women writers who followed in Didion’s footsteps, leaving home for the city that never sleeps.

While Didion’s essay was an eloquent soliloquy that spoke to the unique complexity of New York, she also used the city as an accessory to her writing—something that she could always walk away from. Or in other words: for Didion, her time in New York was always transitory. And each move she made, first to and then away from the city, required a freedom not afforded to most. Once Didion had outgrown the city, she was able to return safely to sunny California, with fond memories and probably better taste in coffee. 

The essays featured in Goodbye to All That are written by both native New Yorkers and transplants alike. But that mythological yearning that informs the way that non-New Yorkers, especially artists, are taught to see New York is on full display. It makes me ask: Why is it that this one city (which, yes, is powerful and dynamic and filled with creative energy) has become a necessary space to inhabit in order to produce meaningful work? Each of the writers speaks to their drive to experience this city. Some of the contributors knew at a young age this is where they had to live “to be” a writer. Others never left for fear of failure. But no matter what caused them to choose to live in the city, each of these writers come to the same conclusion. After getting out-priced, noticing how loud the city is, or just becoming aware of the extreme lack of space they have—something that women writers historically have not had enough of—they all decide to leave.

After reading Goodbye to All That alongside cultural theorist Sarah Schulman’s The Gentrification of the Mind, certain parallels become elevated here. Schulman’s work describes her experience living in NYC through the AIDS crisis. As she watched her friends and family die, she witnessed the literal displacement of bodies bring forth gentrification at phenomenal speeds. In comparison, one thing that becomes evident is this: many of the shifts that the transplanted writers in Goodbye to All That experienced are symptomatic of their own journey to the city. The disappearance of affordable housing—and of affordable food and affordable transportation—happens because these mobile bodies are able to foot the bill. At least, in the beginning. And hey, in exchange for the cultural prestige and the legitimacy that accompanies a move to New York, who wouldn’t eat ramen every night for dinner or couch surf for an indeterminate amount of time?  

As Schulman points out, the reason artists move to cities is “because they want to be part of the creation of new ways of thinking.”

In Minnesota, and the Twin Cities more specifically, these new ways of thinking are being explored in dynamic ways. In 2010 Minnesota spent more money per capita on the arts than any other state—double what New York spends. The Twin Cities is known for a thriving theatre scene and also one of the remaining independent book publishing hot spots in the country. But as the old adage goes: mo’ money, mo’ problems.

Minnesota has some of the highest racial disparities in the country, including the outstanding educational opportunity gap between white students and Black, Latino and Native students. Larger arts institutions, like the Walker, have a membership that is painfully white, a monolithic that is reflected in many of the independent galleries peppered across the two cities. So how do we prevent the Twin Cities from becoming the next New York? How do we challenge gentrification in the arts and streets? How do we cultivate artistic communities with resources, while simultaneously supporting emerging artists from diverse backgrounds?

To be clear: this is not just an argument of inclusion for inclusion’s sake. This is an argument of inclusion for art’s sake. A diversity of skills, points of view and visions contribute to artistic communities that imagine—and create—different, complicated and beautiful worlds. This diversity is precisely what built New York into the magnificent artistic space it was and is. 

And so, I return to Patti’s challenge to “find a new city,” and offer this in response: what if that search for newness is exactly what led us to this mess of gentrification, commercialization, and inaccessibility? What if our art was not predicated on displacement? What if instead of looking outward for cultural meccas to help us materialize our work—whether it is writing, painting, videos, or music—we built sustainable art communities exactly where we are? This is particularly relevant to people who aren’t normative and who are exiled from the communities that they were raised in. Whether you are gender-queer or a punk with green hair or black fashionista dude, NYC offers a refuge where your “weirdness” is not attacked (always) and is (at times) celebrated.

But what if we cultivated nurturing and challenging artistic communities that provided this refuge here at home?

It seems in Minnesota our particular challenge is to confront the gentrification of the artistic communities that exist and are being built (something that individuals and organizations are doing now in North Minneapolis, in St. Paul, and across the metro) and build dynamic artistic dreamworlds in the here and now. 

Friday
Dec062013

The (Fangirl) Guide to Literary Musicians

Dakota Sexton

I try to join any conversation I hear that name-drops David Byrne. It doesn’t happen often just because of my total lack of tact, or chronic fangirl-itus when it comes to The Talking Heads. It’s also because I’ve signed my heart over to anything Byrne touches. The man has not only collaborated with folks like St. Vincent to Arcade Fire, he’s also produced more than twenty-five-some art installations and interactive projects. In 2008 he designed nine custom bike racks for the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT), a series which notably included racks in the shape of a liquor bottle, a high heel, a dollar sign, and a dog.

The DOT sadly passed on the liquor bottle design, deeming it to be “in bad taste.”

But more to the point (at least, of my fandom), Byrne has also become a respected writer. In 2009 he published The Bicycle Diaries, a collection of essays that chronicled his experience traveling with a folding bike to meetings and gigs throughout the world, including in Buenos Aires, Manila, and New York City.

It’s one of my favorite reads. I don’t think I wave my fangirl flag about this because Byrne just wrote something I liked, though. It’s kind of a feat to be genuinely respected by both critics and fans alike outside your one breakout thing.

I mean, for every artist that’s done it successfully, there’s always a James Franco or (more frequently), a Corey Feldman.

But there are also many musicians who have gained genuine traction as authors and critics. They’ve written everything from creative nonfiction to YA and (so very much adult) post-apocalyptic fiction.

Laurie Lindeen

Heartbreaking and funny and sad are basically all the adjectives I like to feel in nonfiction. Laurie Lindeen accomplishes all of that in Petal Pusher: A Rock and Roll Cinderella Story, a memoir that portrays her take on the eighties music scene and her experience as the frontwoman of Zuzu’s Petals. To be fair, she also wins a lot of points for living in my hometown.

Alex Kapranos

Better known as the frontman for the band Franz Ferdinand, Alex Kapranos is also a former assistant cook and chef. He talks up both in Sound Bites, a book of fairly tightly-written essays about what he eats on the road and what he’s had to prepare in the back of a kitchen. I promise the book doesn’t just rely on the commercial appeal of Kapranos eating weird food or being a celebrity. It’s like, real literature, guys.

John Darnielle

This is definitely a man whose songs have a special place in the hearts of all writers feeling lonely, childlike, hopeful, or drunk. Darnielle is the fairly brilliant author of the Black Sabbath-focused book Master of Reality as well (for the 33 ⅓ book series). His writing additionally appears in the anthology Topograph: New Writing from the Carolinas and the Landscape Beyond.

Richard Hell

Despite his wide recognition as the frontman of the eponymous punk band Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Hell actually “retired” from music all the way back in 1984. He has since published a (sometimes bizarrely) diverse range of work, and for two years between 2004 and 2006 he was a film critic for BlackBook magazine. I read Hell’s debut novel, Go Now, from cover to cover at the age of 17. To be brief, it was awesome.

Tim Kinsella

You might already be in love with this guy for his involvement in bands like Cap’n Jazz and Joan of Arc. In the past, writing by Kinsella has included the similarly-lovely, music-themed novel The Karaoke Singer’s Guide to Self-Defense. But it gets even better. His second novel, Let Go and Go On and On, is actually forthcoming from Curbside Splendor in 2014.

Colin Meloy

Given that Meloy studied creative writing at the University of Montana and his band The Decemberists are kinda famous for complex storytelling, it’s probably not a surprise that he can actually write. But did you know he wrote a YA novel starring a seventh-grade girl obsessed with bikes and birds? I didn’t. I am, however, a sucker for anything with a bike and/or bird slapped on it, and ordered it immediately after finding out. It’s called Wildwood.

Nick Cave

If (perhaps instead of seventh grade girls) you generally favor stories about the post-apocalypse and sex and violence, there’s a novel for you by Nick Cave. It’s called The Death of Bunny Monro. The book wasn’t released with any accompanying soundtrack. But you can definitely make that happen. Just put together a playlist that includes songs like “Red Right Hand” and “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man,” and suddenly you’ve got the perfect Nick Cave-flavored night on your hands.

Patti Smith

No matter what, everyone should have a crush on Patti. She once referred to her work as just “three chords merged with the power of the word,” but with stuff like her 2010 memoir Just Kids, statements like that sound awfully modest. She’s your feminist famous author dream girl, and I welcome her to visit me and read bedtime stories about life in the ’60s with Robert Mapplethorpe any night. She also agreed to be a friend’s valentine once, but that’s really neither here nor there.

Other Reads

The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll
The Story of Pines by A Fine Frenzy’s Alison Sudol
The Progressive Patriot by Billy Bragg