I don’t remember how I found Chuck Palahniuk’s website die-hard fans call The Cult or why, but I do remember when I discovered it, I was a hungry agent looking for fiction with a strong, beating heart and a voice to match. Chuck was already long spoken for, but his fans were writing. Not only that, they were organized about it. And serious. Real serious.They organized their efforts to develop their craft in the writing workshops supported by the site. I was further surprised to learn that Chuck oftentimes led some of these writers’ workshops, leaving behind him an impressive trail of craft essays and lessons showing writers how they could develop and strengthen their craft as he had.
A major, bestselling author supporting writers in this workshop format online was extraordinary back in 2005, when I was introduced to The Cult. In 2011, it’s still extraordinary. Sure, more major authors are blogging, tweeting and otherwise reaching out to their readers and readers who want to learn to write more than ever before, but throughout the past 6 years, few bestselling authors outside an established MFA program have rolled up their sleeves and gotten down in the trenches alongside aspiring writers.
The workshop proved successful; so successful, the creative team behind The Cult, Dennis Widmyer, Kirk Clawes and Mark Vanderpool made the decision to move the workshop from its original home to a new literary website, boasting a vibrant magazine with articles, book reviews, industry news, all around book geekery and more as well as the writers’ workshop with an impressive lineup of instructors ready to launch October 1st.
It’s called LitReactor.
Founding Partners Dennis Widmyer, Editor in Chief, and Kirk Clawes, Technical Lead, are here to shed some light on what LitReactor is, who it’s for and what this new, potentially revolutionary website aims to accomplish in the literary world. (Director of Education, Mark Vanderpool will be here Friday to share more about the workshops).
What Does LitReactor mean?
Dennis: At its fundamental meaning, the name conjures up a 'lit' reactor. Something that is on. Breathing. Alive. Functioning. The dictionary defines a portion of the word as:
Any of several devices in which a chain reaction is initiated...
To us, this is how we see our Writers’ Workshop, which is one of the core features we offer on the site. It's a place to come and be motivated. To get results.
The other side of this meaning reflects our Magazine. And here, the name could simply mean A reaction to literature.
All that aside, we just think it sounds cool.
What's the philosophy behind the site?
Dennis: Writers tend to exist in a vacuum most of the time. They have no one to share their work with. Network among. And get real feedback from. And all of that leads to what we call the “stall” - pushing off your hopes and dreams because you feel like you're getting nowhere. We wanted to provide a home for these people to link up with like-minded people, workshop their material, and take ground-breaking classes on par (if not exceeding) the lessons you'd get in a 20K+ MFA program.
Kirk: We wanted to create a home for writers to hang out, meet each other, improve their skills and to geek out about the thing we hope they all love - BOOKS!
How does LitReactor fill a gap in the writer's market?
Dennis: At LitReactor, every name has a face and a personality. Our classes are developed and taught by actual published authors and established professionals in the literary industry.
Beyond that, we are aiming to build a solid community of people who share similar goals and in addition to wanting to grow as writers; they want to help others grow as well. We hope to do whatever is possible to help facilitate those relationships.
What breed of writer will be most drawn to LitReactor?
Kirk: Without a doubt writers who consider themselves to be: hip, edgy, loud, experimental, opinionated. I could toss a dozen or so buzz-words here but in the end you always end up sounding cheesy. You'll notice I only used 5 buzz-words, which has scientifically been proven to not sound cheesy (not intended to be taken as a factual statement).
Dennis: We live in a generation right now where social networking has given people a platform to express themselves whether it’s in 140 characters or a three page blog. What this has done is light a match under a lot of people's butts. It's made them feel creative again. Hungry. Authors like Chuck Palahniuk, a writer who didn't pick up the craft until his mid-thirties (and learned through workshops!), seem accessible and give inspiration. At the risk of sounding cheesy... writing the great American novel (if that's your poison) seems manageable suddenly. And this is the frame of mind that makes LitReactor an unparalleled advantage for a writer looking to hone their voice.
When you began to create chuckpalahniuk.net, AKA The Cult, as a fan site, did you think such a serious, close knit writing community would be borne from a love of Palahniuk's work?
Kirk: I can't speak to this as well as Dennis as I haven't been around as long as he has - I began working with The Cult around 2002 in varying technical capacities. However, during my time I have seen some amazing things come out of the community. And though I started working with Dennis as a fan of Chuck's, what really kept me interested was the community of writers who were determined to see each other succeed.
Dennis: To be honest, I started the site really as just an archive, to collect every piece of media on Chuck Palahniuk I could find online. Then, when Chuck endorsed us and the publisher's started linking to us, we soon found that a ravenous community was forming, and that Chuck's love for mentoring, had a very key role to play. In 2005 the first incarnation of our Writers’ Workshop sprung up, through a joint idea between Chuck and I. It soon grew into our online classes which then soon grew to define a major arm of the site. By the time 2009 rolled around, we were already discussing plans to one day form a stand-alone site for this specific community of readers... readers who wanted to write.
What do you see happening in LitReactor's future?
Kirk: Primarily, I would like for us to be known as the place where interesting writers are developed. Kind of like what Second City in Chicago is to comedy. If all goes according to plan, we will continue offering top-notch classes and engaging content while growing a community of writers. I want it to be the place where when two writers meet they immediately exchange their LitReactor screen-names. There are also a lot of "big idea" things I would love to see happen, but those should probably stay under my hat for now.
TLC: Writers, what I know is this: I’ve been working with the LitReactor team for months and I’ve never met a more professional, passionate, and supremely talented group of individuals ready to deliver such a feast to a portion of the literary world that have been malnourished for some time.
Join us for LitReactor’s launch on October 1st, won’t you?