Meet the Neighbors: the 3:17am Blog

A journal like Little Patuxent Review requires a vibrant literary and artistic community to thrive–and even survive. In appreciation of the cultural entities around us, we present “Meet the Neighbors,” where we provide you with some personal introductions.

George Clack

Literary blogger George Clack (center) in expert-consultant mode, explaining it all to Clay Shirky and Frank Sesno at a July 2008 George Washington University conference. (Photo: Tim Brown)

Please meet George Clack of Columbia, MD, co-publisher of the literary blog 3:17am. You’re being introduced to him the same way I was: electronically. Though Little Patuxent Review is published mere minutes from his home, it took an online article in The Baltimore Sun and Facebook for me to become aware of both the man and the blog.

Turns out that George, until relatively recently, was the head of publications for the US Department of State. After retirement, he plunged into publishing of the social media sort with his longtime friend and colleague, Steve Altman. He also helped others participate in his current passion, teaching noncredit courses on blogging at The Johns Hopkins University and Howard Community College as well as an introductory course in social media at the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, VA.

So let me turn things over to George, who will tell you about how the blog was born:

The 3:17am blog on creative writing began over lunch one day in September 2009 at a DC Texan BBQ joint. My friend Steve and I had been meeting there for years to eat pulled pork and black beans and critique each other’s short stories and novels-in-progress. On this particular day, having retired from the State Department the previous month, I found myself rambling on about this new thing called “blogging.” Steve happened to be teaching a night-school course that fall for ordinary folks with a yen to write a short story. Before we knew it, we’d talked ourselves into starting a two-writer blog providing, as our initial tag line had it, “useful bits on storytelling.”

We took the plunge with no more thought than two boys daring each other to jump off the edge of a quarry into a swimming hole. But we had a long history. I’d become writing buddies with Steve 30-plus years before when I was a magazine editor and he was a hungry freelancer. We’d both been to grad school in English and had a reverence for the High Lit Tradition. Soon we realized we both had a serious case of what Steve calls “Gottawrite Syndrome,” the irksome yet ineradicable urge to write fiction. Over the years, we got into the habit of passing our latest efforts back and forth. Steve did manage to publish a Western novel early on, but mostly we had a way of starting writing projects and sticking them in the drawer, usually half-finished and in need of revision. We figured we had a lot to tell other writers.

Why do we call our blog “3:17am” ? Well, we googled just about every possible combination of the words “creative” and “writing” and “literature” and “books” and found other bloggers had gotten there before us. I think it was Steve who said, “Suddenly, you’ll wake up at 3:17 a.m., and the perfect title will be there in your head.” And I said, “That’s it. We’ll call it ‘3:17am.’” We see 3:17 a.m. as the time when airline schedules and tidal tables begin, infants wail, and those with the writing bug awake to jot down the ideas their dreams have given them.

In time, our blog’s niche grew a little wider. It’s not just tips for writers now but also Steve’s life and times; my musing on new media; and our take on the songs, movies, and novels we’ve loved. Storytelling remains the common thread.

Steve Altman

3:17am co-publisher, DC-based Steve Altman

The poet Delmore Schwartz once wrote a short story with the marvelous title “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities.” A good tag line for 3:17am nowadays might be “In whimsy begins obsession.” For both of us, 3:17am itself has become a form of storytelling–the story of our lives filtered through our passions.

If you’re looking for other area literary blogs, there are those written by people listed in our masthead, including Editor Laura Shovan’s Author Amok, as well as those by contributors to our print issues. Then, of course, there are those of our neighbors to the north, notably The Baltimore Sun’s Read Street, and our neighbors to the south such as First Person Plural, published by The Writer’s Center. A more comprehensive list can be found in the Beltway Resource Bank, which offers Delaware, Maryland, DC, Virginia and West Virginia links.

6 thoughts on “Meet the Neighbors: the 3:17am Blog

  1. JessieX

    hmm. was just thinking this morning that I’d like to have a hocoblogs party co-hosted by hoco published writers (who also blog). your post makes me think even more deeply on this subject. admittedly, ’twas Frank Hecker and his new epub best-seller, Dividing Howard, that had me go in this direction initially.


  2. Delores Asiedu

    This is a delightful insite into the 3:17 am storytelling saga! I’m just a little old lady who has followed Steve’s blogs for some time now. Having no experience or inclination to be a writer, I do enjoy every story he writes and introduces, and feel we have become friends through this experience.
    I look forward to reading Ilse Munro’s soon to be novel “Cold and Hungry and Far From Home”.
    Delores Asiedu


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