Episode 48: Engineering the short story with author (and engineer) Nick Arvin

Hey Prosers,

So … a funny thing happened on the way to this podcast …

In April 2017, I invited author and engineer Nick Arvin to the school where I work. Over two days, he gave several talks on writing, and I recorded one of them: “Nick Arvin and The Short Story.”

For reasons explained in Episode 47 with Scott Alexander Hess, I had not released the show … until now.

Planning to get this show to you before 2018 sauntered in, I began working on Arvin’s audio transcript and show page early in December.

Meanwhile, two McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern issues that I purchased arrived. You may remember my obsession with landing a byline in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and then finally doing so, but I’d never read the print journal so I purchased Issue 50 and Issue 51.

Today, as I was preparing the show page, I searched my Gmail inbox for “Arvin” — He’d sent a PDF that I wanted to post with his podcast, but the first email in the search results was unexpected:

McSweeney’s               Out Today: McSweeney’s Issue 51              Dec. 12

When I search for Arvin's name, an email from McSweeney's turns up in the results.

When I search for Arvin’s name, an email from McSweeney’s turns up in the results.

My Issue 51 had just arrived a few days ago but I hadn’t started reading it.

“Is there an Arvin in 51?” I asked no one.

I clicked the email, hit Command + F and typed “Arvin.”

And there, highlighted in green under the table of contents was Nick Arvin.

Nick Arvin's name is highlighted in issue 51 of McSweeney's.


Let’s be clear: This was the Nick Arvin that I had just spent 5 hours transcribing (underestimation). THE Nick Arvin that gave an amazing lecture on his short story “Along the Highways” that appeared in The New Yorker. And that same Nick Arvin had apparently just published “The Interview” in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern … in the journal’s ISSUE 51 … which happened to be my first purchase of the periodical. Ever.

From left, The Reconstructionist by Arvin, McSweeney's Quarterly Concern Issue 51, and Articles of War by Arvin.

So apparently, I’m collecting books by Nick Arvin and McSweeney’s journals featuring Nick Arvin. From left, The Reconstructionist by Arvin on my Kindle app, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern Issue 51, and Articles of War by Arvin.

I had that same universe conspiring feeling that I got when Garrison Keeler told me John Updike lived in Reading or when I got a cable bill from an executive with my not-so-common last name. I began to run-down all the what-ifs that lined up to create this exact moment, and then, I tossed them aside.

There are too many to count! Besides, I’d rather be counting the ways that Nick Arvin’s podcast is going to leave you in more of a writerly way than it found you.

In this episode, which was recorded live, Nick discusses his short story “Along the Highways.” He gives one of the most thorough, honest, and humorous sessions that I’ve ever heard on writing.

He talks about his career in engineering and as an author and how each informs his work in the other. He cracks a lot of jokes (with good comedic timing) and even shares how much he got paid for optioning one of his novels.

Access it below or subscribe on iTunes or listen on Stitcher.  Then, my Prosers, listen, learn, and write.

Nick Arvin is the author of four books of fiction; his work has appeared in The New Yorker, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal; and his writing has been honored with awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the American Library Association, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Also an engineer, Arvin has worked in automotive engineering, forensic engineering, and the design of power plants and oil and gas facilities. In May, Conundrum Press, will be reissuing Arvin’s first book of stories, IN THE ELECTRIC EDEN, in a revised and expanded edition. His newest novel, Mad Boy, will be published by Europa Editions in June 2018.


Follow Nick on Twitter

“Along The Highways” by Nick Arvin in The New Yorker

Buy the May 5, 2005 issue of The New Yorker featuring Nick Arvin’s story.

Clio, Michigan (Nick’s hometown!)

The Reconstructionist by Nick Arvin

Articles of War by Nick Arvin

In the Electric Eden: Stories by Nick Arvin

McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Issue 51 featuring “The Interview” by Nick Arvin

“An Engineer’s Blueprint for Writing” by Nick Arvin in the Wall Street Journal