Scott Sparling

Hallucinations, a blog about writing, trains, and Wire to Wire

Viewing Entries From: June 2011

Your Powell’s Cheat Sheet: 10 Questions

Posted on Jun 28th, 2011

The worst part of any bookstore reading is the moment right after the author says, “I’d be happy to answer any questions.” The painful silence. The awkward attempt to avoid eye contact. I’ve experienced this firsthand. As an audience member, I always feel like I ought to have an intelligent, insightful question at the ready—after all, I’m a fan of whoever’s reading, or I wouldn’t be there. But in the face of that silence, my mind goes blank.

To solve this for you when I read at Powell’s City of Books (Thursday, 7:30 pm, downtown Portland), I’ve prepared the following aid. Just choose any of the questions off the list below and practice them in the bathroom mirror until they feel spontaneous. If you need to write the key words on your hand, that’s fine. No one’s expecting a professional performance. The important thing is to be yourself.

Wire to Wire Questions

1.  Is Northern Michigan really that full of losers?

2.  How did you learn to ride freights? Would you consider teaching others?

3.  What kind of drug is a "Smiling O" exactly, and where can I get some?

4.  Did it actually take you 20 years to write Wire to Wire, or would it be more accurate to say that it took the publishing industry 20 years to get around to seeing the value in your book?

5.  Which character in Wire to Wire are you most like—Rose or Lane?

6. When robots attack, is it better to respond with logic or brute force? (Wait—skip this. Wrong book.) 

7. Do you have any charts and graphs that explain why Wire to Wire is not really a crime novel? 

8.  Have you secretly designated a well known, contemporary writer as your rival, and has that other writer won any major prizes lately? What does this desperate need for a rival say about you?

9.  Wire to Wire has yet to be included on any of those bogus "Best Books of Summer" lists that the mainstream media use to plug books that are already getting tons of publicity and need no further promotion. Does this mean summer might be canceled? 

10.  Will it seem selfish if I buy multiple copies of Wire to Wire? I'd like to have a spare in case I lose one.

Bonus Question: Is Tin House the coolest publisher in the world, or what? 

Better get practicing. See you on Thursday!






Hey, Mr. Powell's Marquee Man: Put my name up in lights, 'cause it's a miracle I'm standing here today: "Real Mean Bottle" by Bob Seger. 

Posted in Wire to Wire

Powell’s on June 30

Posted on Jun 26th, 2011

The Northwest is home to a lot of great bookstores, and I've had the pleasure of visiting four of them in the past weeks. A special thanks to everyone who joined me.

Third Street Books in McMinnville was a special treat. It's a wonderful store and a great place for my first solo event. Iron Legs Burk, my freight-riding friend, showed up to surprise me. Ears Two of Segerfile fame was there as well. There were decades of history in the room, along with new friends. And I made some charts and graphs to explain why Wire to Wire isn't really a crime novel, but an homage to one. 

Elliott Bay Books, the next stop, is now on Capitol Hill -- right next to the Comet Tavern, where I spent many evenings and a morning or two when I lived in Seattle. Writers from the Wet Dog and Touchstone writers groups came by. In effect, those two groups were my MFA program as I began Wire to Wire.

Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park was new to me. It's a fabulous store, made even better by old friends from Antioch College and Seattle. We closed the place down, then stood in the parking lot talking until the police cruised by.

And Village Books in the Fairhaven section of Bellingham is an amazing place -- especially when you stay a block away at Fairhaven Village Inn, where they also love books and authors. Before and after, I traded stories of freights, writing, and Puget Sound with a friend from my Seattle days.

Next up is Powell's -- Thursday, June 30, 7:30. The City of Books is a highlight of any book tour. When you live in Portland, it's also the place you dream about. Come join me if you can. 










Play some Live Bullet: The Wire to Wire tour continues in Michigan in July. "I've Been Working." 

Kicking out the jams

Posted on Jun 18th, 2011

I’ve been guest-blogging on a lot of sites lately. Here are links to some of the places I’ve been.

Powell’s Books – Five posts for Portland’s legendary bookstore. 

Book on the Tracks

Is it dangerous? That's the question people ask when they find out I spent a large part of my youth hopping freight trains and traveling in boxcars across the Midwest, through the western U.S., and across Canada.  Read more.

Crime and Lowlifes

A friend regrets to inform me that she won't be reading Wire to Wire. Tip: Never say that to a guy who's got a blog. Read more

Burning Down the House

Imagine a world where sex & money are out of control. Wait - how is that fiction?? Read more.

Saying Thanks

They say I've spent 20 years writing Wire to Wire. Really? That long? I guess it's possible — I lose track of time and get distracted easily. What I do know is that there’s little, maybe nothing, that I've worked at harder in my life. Along the way, many people helped. Here are four you should meet. Read more.

Heavy Music

Made in Michigan — Why Seger's music means so much to me. Read more

NW Booklovers – Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association

What You Need Most

One summer when I was visiting Michigan, a friend invited me to stay. I'd already spent six weeks in his guest room, gathering material. "Your book's all about Northern Michigan," he said. "Why not just stay here?" Read more.

Largehearted Boy – Book Notes

I remember exactly where I was when I decided to quit my job and write a book: at a Prince concert in Washington state. Can you hear the Purple One change my life in the Tacoma Dome? – "I know, I know times are changing / it's time we all reached out for something new / that means you too." Read more.

WORD bookstore

Scott Sparling, meet NYC.

The first scene of Wire to Wire takes place on 23rd Street in New York. A musician plays “Purple Haze,” but without an amp. I can picture it pretty clearly, but I’ve never actually been to that intersection. Read more.

Shelf Awareness, Book Brahmin  Interview

Q: What books did your high school girlfriend give you?

A: I remember three: The Kama Sutra, Siddhartha and One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. I didn't know what to make of the Kama Sutra with all its lingam and yoni stuff. Read more.

My Book, My Movie

I’m stumped. I have no idea who should play the main characters in Wire to Wire. Here’s what I do know. Read more.

What Writers Are Reading

When I finished Wire to Wire, I wanted to catch up on what others in the Northwest were writing. Read more.

The Page 69 Test

Page 69 is actually one of my favorite pages in the book – seriously – and one I almost always include in readings. Read more.

 Seattleite Magazine – Interview

"When I was living in Seattle, I read an interview where Dylan said, if you want to create something, go find the electricity. I was working for Seattle City Light, but that was clearly the wrong kind of electricity." Read more.

Book Divas – Ask A New Author 

Three rejected titles for Wire to Wire and some good writing advice. Read more.

A social media post on using social media. Read more.

My rejected PR tactics and other advice: Read more.


That's the list for now, but it's bound to grow. While Wire to Wire is on the shelves, I'll be blogging until they make me stop.









Let me up on the stand. And let me "Kick Out the Jams." 

Posted in Wire to Wire

The road begins and ends in McMinnville

Posted on Jun 6th, 2011

On a summer night in 1989, the freight-riding careers of Spider Rider and Iron Legs Burk came to an end in McMinnville, Oregon. We were two Michigan kids who lived near the tracks and fell in love with trains in the early ‘70s. We both ended up – or ended up so far – in Oregon.

Nights and weekends, when we were young – when we should have been chasing girls, drinking beer, or stealing cars – we’d steal away to the railroad tracks instead and grab ladder rides. One day, we got in a boxcar and rode a couple hundred miles down to Elkhart, Indiana and back. When I got home, and my parents asked what I'd been up to, I answered,  "Hangin' out with Deeg." That was his nickname. Freight stories were shared on a need-to-know basis back then, and our parents didn't need to know. They certainly didn't need to know our freight-hopping names. 

After that, we were hooked, and we rode everywhere. Durand, Owosso, St. Paul, East Dubuque, Minot, Havre, Yakima, Spokane, Eureka, Petaluma, San Luis Obispo, Sacramento, Bakersfield, Barstow, Salt Lake City, Santa Fe, Denver, Grand Junction, Omaha  – more towns than I can remember, though they're written in our journals.  And all across Canada: Kamloops and Moose Jaw and Medicine Hat and…well, the unit trains, the one-a-days, the slugs, and the hotshots. Any train with fresh orders and hoses hooked, we rode.


By 1989, things had changed. We both had jobs. Jesse was married and I was about to be. Boxcars were in short supply, replaced by container trains, and empties were rarer still. And we had lost a step or two, or at least I had.

But one day, Jesse – Iron Legs – put out the call, as he always did. One more trip. Portland to McMinnville. Leave work early. Meet me on the bridge. I said yes, as I usually did.

We rode south and west all afternoon and into the evening, and when we jumped out in McMinnville, we might have said something like, "Maybe that’ll be the last time ever." If that's what we said, we probably didn’t really believe it. But here it is, twenty-plus years later, and our freight-riding days seem to be done. You never know, though – we’ll both be in Michigan this summer, and if Jesse sees a slow-moving freight, well...I'll keep you posted. As things stand now, though, McMinnville was the end of the road.


So perhaps it's fitting that on June 16, at Third Street Books, McMinnville will be the beginning of the road for the Wire to Wire bookstore tour. Sure, there were a couple of warm-up dates out east last month. I read with a group of terrific Tin House writers at WORD in Brooklyn and the KGB Bar in Manhattan. Good places to loosen up and test things out. 

Warming up for McMinnville at the KGB Bar in Manhattan.


But McMinnville will be the first Oregon date, and the first time I read solo. Not even Iron Legs Burk will be there.

It’s being billed as a workshop/reading, where I’ll tell you everything I know about crime novels, which won’t take long. So if you’re anywhere near Third Street Books in McMinnville, Oregon on June 16, stop in and say hello.

When it’s done, I’m taking a walk down to the freight yard for old time’s sake, and you’re welcome to come along.









Iron Legs Burk in Oregon: Wanting things that can only be found in the Darkness on the Edge of Town.

Posted in Trains | Wire to Wire