A few years back, I enroled in a short story workshop in the MFA program at Virginia Commonwealth University, home to the library where I work. The students were lively, interested in their craft, and critiques slanted useful. All in all, it was a very useful experience and helped me to grow as a writer.
The classroom dynamic varied like every workshop, with discussions ebbing and flowing around the speaker of the moment and the writer of the story, but I was always glad when Tom Batten‘s work came around. Tom’s a dark-haired guy with a perpetual five o’clock shadow, and he’s blessed with a thoughtful face. Presumably he’s occasionally thinking something like “urrrr, pickles good,” but he doesn’t look it. His mien wanders from reserved to intensely conversational (conversationally intense?). In short, he could have come out of central casting under the description of “writer,” but his stories! They brim with character. I’m not talking George the Butcher or Susie Ewok, but, you know, character. Every time you bite into one, it’s rich and chewy, with no artificial filler.
Which brings me to The Tom Batten Show. Look, you already know: most blogs are pretty bloggy. If they’re not about selling something or “building a brand,” they tend to the inchoate. Not a bad thing, but it’s what they are, and your pleasure in reading them usually is tied to whether you’re buying what the author’s selling.
Tom’s blog wanders from one thing to another like most blogs but it’s damn good. Punchy prose, listicles, creepy anecdotes, soul-crushing cynicism: every post a different thing, but wit and a love of words run through it all. Reading Tom’s blog is like (warning: tired trope incoming!) watching SNL, back when it was good. Humor often gets a bad rap, and for a good reason: the formulaic, standardized humor that appeals to enough people to make it big tends to be… formulaic and standardized. Tom’s the opposite of that, near as I can tell. He likes to smile at the raw pieces of life that haven’t yet made it to the Archly Post-Ironic Irony Processing Plant.