'Writer. Blogger. Provocateur.' An interview with Nolan Whyte part one
For 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.
How 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…
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