The Jason Fisk Salt Creek Anthology blog tour has now arrived here.
Today I'm hosting the latest stop on the blog tour of Jason Fisk, for his story cycle Salt Creek Anthology. I first met Jason last year and have enjoyed his fiction and writerly camaraderie ever since. (Yesterday's tour stop was at Curbside Splendor; tomorrow's stop is with Claire Stokes). Here is an exclusive essay which Jason wrote specifically for this visit.
by Jason Fisk
Historically, fiction authors’ relationship with fiction and reality has been tenuous, to say the very least. The first author that comes to my mind is James Frey and his A Million Little Pieces debacle. Last year, I watched him on one of Oprah’s final shows as he explained his writing process, and explained how the whole lie came to be. I’m not saying that I bought his story (I honestly can’t even remember the complete explanation), but I did feel sorry for him. Frey couldn’t find a publisher that was interested in his book as fiction, but when he switched its genre, and called it a memoir, it sold.
There he sat on one of Oprah’s final shows with studio lights pounding heat on his head, defending his writing to the world. Oprah walked the TV audience through her complex reaction to finding out that the book was not a true memoir; that she had been lied to. I say complex with a bit of contempt; really, she was just plain pissed. He had to parcel the truth from fiction. Oprah leaned forward and asked him about the truthfulness of a particularly gruesomely descriptive section of the book where he had to suffer through a root canal without medication. “That wasn’t true,” he admitted. Oprah looked horrified. Frey explained that he had to go so far as to hire legal representation to deal with all of the lawsuits from people who had found “life changing inspiration” in his story, and then were so crushed emotionally that it negatively impacted their lives.
I’ll be honest with you, while there are fictional elements to Salt Creek Anthology; much of it is based on real life situations that actually occurred in the neighborhood I currently live in. I used my neighbors as inspiration, a diving board if you will, to delve into the deep, dark side of my imagination. I saw nothing wrong with this; however, as I was going through the editing process with Jason Pettus, I was reading Charles Bukowski’s Post Office: A Novel, and I noticed a disclaimer at the beginning: “This is presented as a work of fiction, and dedicated to nobody.” I began to experience a little bit of panic.
I forgot to mention that I had also decided to have a barbeque/book release for Salt Creek Anthology at my house. It only made sense to me; a book about a neighborhood, in the neighborhood that inspired it! The closer the date grew, the more I began to freak out. What if one of these neighbors came over to see what was going on? What if they wanted to buy a book? Surely they would recognize themselves, and then I would have to live here until I could sell my house, which I bought in 2006, and am upside-down on. So, I asked Pettus about maybe adding a disclaimer, and about maybe changing the venue for the book release. There currently is no disclaimer at the beginning of the book, but the venue for the book release was changed.
The whole situation made me think about drawing that line between fiction and reality. What is mine and belongs to me, to be included in my writing, and what events or personality traits belong solely to those around me? Is there a cut off point? Maybe I should’ve made an effort to disguise these characters a little better, but then again, is that being true to myself as a writer?
In a podcast discussing The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz said (and I’m paraphrasing here), that none of his family members were able to recognize themselves in that novel. He seemed proud of that fact; like the characters in that novel had come alive; fully inhabiting the shells he had created for them. Maybe that is the next step in my development as a writer.
There is an upside to the way I wrote Salt Creek Anthology; it has a gossipy type quality to it. I was a bit surprised when I went to talk to a book club in Minnesota, and they wanted to know what was real, and what was fiction. I was more than happy to oblige, which left many a mouth agape.
"Watch the nothing."
Lovely short piece here, sort of prose poetry (though I couldn't define "prose poetry" even if I tried) by B.L. Pawelek. Sometimes nothingness is the best thing to watch.
The quiet solitude of coffee
(Via Calumet 312.)
Boy's gotta have it.
At first glance, the tuxedos and slick decor might suggest this was a nightclub or cocktail lounge. But the plain water glasses, napkin dispenser and (apparent) sugar bowl instead marks this as a diner. Still, quite the stylish one.
Check out this fantastic 1898 birdseye map of Chicago's Loop. One particular curiosity can be seen at the bottom center of the closeup above, which shows an extra bridge (for the Metroplitan West Side Elevated line) between Jackson and Van Buren. The bridge no longer exists. From the larger image, at the left you can also see the original course of the river, before it was later straightened to be more north-south.
(Via James Iska.)
Update: The Chicago Past tumblr just posted this 1907 photo of that very same bridge. Very nice!
Gong!Rejection number seven just arrived for Wheatyard, from another small press. They gave me a two month turnaround, which I can hardly complain about. I'm not too disheartened on this one, since I wasn't overly enthusiastic about the press anyway - I sent it out mostly on a whim, and I'm not sure my writing fits their style. And it would have been awkward repeating the name of the press to my mom, among others. The book is now under review with four publishers, including one which I queried this week. Onward.
"...her pathetic little snare was set..."
Another memorable anecdote from Jane Addams' Twenty Years at Hull-House:
Another girl of American parentage who had come to Chicago to seek her fortune, found at the end of a year that sorting shipping receipts in a dark corner of a warehouse not only failed to accumulate riches but did not even bring the "attentions" which her quiet country home afforded. By dint of long sacrifice she had saved fifteen dollars; with five she bought an imitation sapphire necklace, and the balance she changed into a ten dollar bill. The evening her pathetic little snare was set, she walked home with one of the clerks in the establishment, told him that she had come into a fortune, and was obliged to wear the heirloom necklace to insure its safety, permitted him to see that she carried ten dollars in her glove for carfare, and conducted him to a handsome Prairie Avenue residence. There she gayly bade him good-by and ran up the steps shutting herself in the vestibule from which she did not emerge until the dazzled and bewildered young man had vanished down the street.
What an elaborate and expensive ploy to not only keep up appearances, but fabricate them.
Wheatyard has been declined for the sixth time, with the latest by Seven Stories Press. (I've refrained thus far from naming names, but will do so in the future when I've been treated fairly and respectfully, as was certainly the case here.) I knew Seven Stories was a longshot, but they have an open submissions policy and have long championed Nelson Algren (my literary hero), so even the slight possibility of being published alongside Algren made a query impossible to resist. Though their rejection letter was fairly boilerplate - not even mentioning Wheatyard by name - at least it was on actual company letterhead and personally signed by the editor. Despite being yet another rejection, I'm very glad I gave this one a try. Onward.
An anniversary of sorts
Fifteen years ago today, I had my first date with Julie, the woman who would soon become the love of my life. It was actually an accidental date - we worked together, and planned to meet a co-worker and her sister at The Cue Club, an upscale pool hall in Chicago on Sheffield near Diversey. But there was a big snowstorm, and the other two couldn't make the drive in from the suburbs, leaving Julie and me (we both lived in the city) to ourselves. I had been interested in her for more than a year but still hadn't gotten up the courage to ask her out, and so that evening (with plenty of pool and many drinks) proved to be the perfect opportunity to get better acquainted. Julie has readily admitted ever since that she had no interest in me before that night, but something was definitely sparked there, and when I finally asked her out later that week she enthusiastically agreed. We've been together ever since.
Interestingly enough, that was the only time we were ever at The Cue Club together. The place closed years ago, as did the locale of our first formal date, Dolce Vita on Armitage. Fortunately our relationship has fared far better than either of those two places.
Today's Inspiration has a great batch of woodcuts by Lynd Ward, who is generally considered to be the first graphic novelist. (I've been meaning to peruse his Library of America omnibus, Six Novels in Woodcuts, hopefully from my local library. It's expensive and not necessarily the sort of thing I'd ever "read" a second time, so I might go the library route as a trial run.) Intriguingly, that blogger says that while Ward's better known woodcuts leave him cold, "there is another side to Ward's work - one less well known," which he'll begin presenting tomorrow. Looking forward to that.
Second in a series of memorable curbside discards from around Joliet. Here, on John Street: two couches, a recliner, an ottoman and - judging by the fullness of the dumpster - possibly everything else from the living room.
"This is not the kind of face that inspires confidence in a nervous and jittery stockholder."
The incomparable Groucho Marx penned this great letter in 1961 to the president of Franklin Corporation, of which Groucho had recently became a shareholder.
Mr Roth, Chairman of the Board, merely looks sinister. You, the President, look like a hard worker with not too much on the ball. No one named Prosswimmer can possibly be a success. As for Samuel A. Goldblith, PhD., head of Food Technology at MIT, he looks as though he had eaten too much of the wrong kind of fodder.
Though undoubtedly of the 1%, I'll bet Groucho's sympathies were with the 99% - for the 1%-skewering comic potential, if nothing else.
Chicago's oldest restaurants
I've only been to seven of the top twenty-five: The Berghoff, The Walnut Room, Cafe Brauer, Lou Mitchell's, Swedish Bakery, Twin Anchors and the Billy Goat. You're right - I don't get out nearly enough.
(Via Gapers Block.)
February 15Post-Valentine's blues? None for me, but if you have them, then commiserate with my favorite Valentine-aftermath songs: Billy Bragg's "Valentine's Day Is Over" (from The Peel Sessions) and the Crabs' "February 15th" (from What Were Flames Now Smolder).
From north to south
I'm in the early, conceptual stage with my novel, Express. The first section will be about a former jazz musician and now homeless man named Leon. I envisioned his story revolving around Chicago's Near Northwest Side (near Elston and Armitage), taking its cue from this old sketch which I wrote more than ten years ago, while I still lived in the city. The book will be very much about loss, both for the city as a whole (Algren's line "some sort of city-wide sorrow" is always present when I think about this section) and for specific characters. The setting of Leon's section comes straight from that sketch, and involves the departure of heavy industry from that neighborhood and the resulting economic impact.
But this morning I missed my usual train, and had to take the Rock Island Line instead. I ride the Rock Island now and then, and usually sit on the right side of the train, but today I sat on the left side, which provides a westward view as the train rolls through the South Side. This change in perspective drew my attention to the neighborhoods, so much so that I couldn't concentrate on my reading. I set my book aside, and focused on the passing view outside. The South Side is a tough place to begin with, and appears even more grim on a cloudless winter day. As I saw block after block of shabby houses, I was saddened with the realization of how solidly comfortable and middle-class these neighborhoods once were. My mom is a South Sider, having grown up in Auburn Park during the thirties and early forties before the family moved to the western suburbs in 1945. She has only rarely been back to the old neighborhood since, and not all for several decades, so heartbreakingly decrepit as it has become.
I finally came to the realization that Leon's story is, instead, that of the South Side. The North Side may have endured decades of decline, but it's gradually come back during the past twenty years. Much of the South Side, I'm afraid, will never come back. It's been hollowed out by the departure of factories and blue-collar jobs, then white flight and finally the diminished social safety net, leaving behind only the poorest of the poor to mostly fend for themselves. That's not the case with most of the North Side, and thus Leon's story would be much more compelling if set somewhere to the south. The deterioration of the South Side is a metaphor and frame for Leon's steady decline, from the heyday of Bronzeville's jazz clubs to the tumultuous sixties and the exodus of prosperity from that decade onward.
Now I'll have to rethink most of Leon's story. His circumstances will remain mostly the same, but the entire setting would have to shift, to neighborhoods that I'm not as intimately familar with as my old North Side haunts. Writing this won't be as easy, but I think it will be a better story for it.
Reading in Public, New York City, year unknown
Photograph from the archives of The Forward newspaper. I haven't posted one of these "Reading in Public" photos for a very long time, and thought this memorable image would be a great way to dive back in. I now hope to revive this series.
(Via Stephany Aulenback.)
A belated welcome
I'm a photographer and small-time camera collector. The collecting mania hasn't completely taken over, but whenever I see old cameras at yard sales, estate sales or antique stores I always stop for a look. These photos are of my most recent acquisition, which I made a couple of years ago but never blogged about. It's a Kodak Hawk-Eye No. 2 Folding Cartridge, which I picked up at an estate auction in Joliet for $20 (as part of a boxed lot of various items). I haven't been able to dig up much info on this specific model, but it must have come out sometime between 1910 (the patent date, visible just below the lens aperture) and 1926 (when the followup Model B came out). It's a very clean camera, the aperture works, and it uses 120 film which remains commercially available, so this could conceivably still be functional - though I'm sure I'll never use it for anything other than a fine display piece. That last photo shows the pieces taken apart (which would be necessary to load the film) - the shaft of the takeup spool is actually made of wood, which I was quite surprised and pleased to see.
The Hawk-Eye shares a bookshelf with my Mamiya C33, Beacon and Kodak Brownie.
You never forget your first.
It recently occurred to me how, with bands and musicians that I've discovered in their mid-career and later, it's the first album of theirs I hear that remains my long-term favorite. No matter how great their other albums are, it's the first that stays with me. The most prominent examples are R.E.M.'s "Reckoning", Sebadoh's "Bakesale", Lou Reed's "New York", Dumptruck's "Positively", the Replacements' "Pleased to Meet Me", Hüsker Dü's "Flip Your Wig", Built to Spill's "There's Nothing Wrong With Love", and the Mekons' "Rock and Roll." There must be some sort of mental imprinting going on. At mid-career or later, despite there already being a broad body of work to experience, it's the first-heard one that really sticks. When I've been listening to a band from the very beginning (like the Vulgar Boatmen, Uncle Tupelo and Vehicle Flips), it's more understandable that I would glom onto that first album and love it to death, especially with the band not yet having a second album to distract my attention.
The only major exceptions to this first-heard rule are the Pogues ("Peace and Love" was the first, "If I Should Fall From Grace With God" is the favorite), the Feelies ("Only Life" the first, "The Good Earth" the favorite) and Pavement ("Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain" the first, "Slanted and Enchanted" the favorite). Obviously not a hard-and-fast rule, but there still seems to be something to it, at least for me.
Boy's gotta have it.
Now at Contrary
My latest piece, "Jane Addams and the snare of preparation", is now up at Contrary.
TOB, US v. UK
Over at The Millions, Max Magee reprises his great project of last year, comparing the U.S. and U.K. covers of eleven of the contenders in this year's Tournament of Books. Here's my take:
The Last Brother: US. That image of the half-fleshed, half-skeletal bird is just so wonderfully striking.
The Sense of an Ending: UK. Took a while to sink in, but the floating seed pods seem to suggest death, which is what I assume the "ending" of the title refers to.
Open City: UK. The yellow-on-gray lettering jumps out much more than red-on-yellow, and I like that the bird is more hidden than the US version.
The Marriage Plot: Neither. Both are pretty ordinary.
The Art of Fielding: UK. Nice old-fashioned feel.
The Stranger's Child: Neither. The US is bland, and the UK just looks like a stock photo.
1Q84: US. Love the mystery of the woman peering through the letters, while the UK is a mess.
The Tiger's Wife: UK. Even though that weird child-beast affection reminds me too much of The Tiger Who Came To Tea, a kids' book which I never cared for.
The Cat's Table: UK. This time it's the US that looks like a stock photo, while the UK evokes classic ocean liner posters.
State of Wonder: UK. Though it's not a very memorable image, at least it's not bland like the US version.
The Devil All the Time: UK. The US is a mess, which gives the slightest of nods to the UK even though I dislike the 90-degree rotation on the title.
My favorite of the bunch:
Contrarian that I am, today I will ignore the ridiculously overhyped Charles Dickens bicentennial, and instead give a birthday nod to Laura Ingalls Wilder, who was born on this date in 1867. Happy 145th, Half-Pint.
This past weekend, I found this interesting snapshot in a box of old family photos. As you can see, it's a man standing outside a movie theater (the poster is for Jezebel, starring Bette Davis), apparently on his way inside. Based on the man's general build, hair color and attire (hat cocked to the right), along with the fact that the photos in the box are all from my mom's family, I'm pretty sure this is my grandfather. The movie's appearance dates the photograph at 1938. I'm very glad to have this unique view; almost all of the other photos in the box are standard, straight-on posed shots, but this one almost has an artsy feel to it.
Special thanks to Michael Leddy for identifying the movie, based on just that visible portion of the poster.
Aspiring booksellers, beware
5. If someone comes in and asks for a recommendation and you ask for the name of a book that they liked and they can't think of one, the person is not really a reader. Recommend Nicholas Sparks.Though I have recurring fantasies about opening a bookstore, the economic necessity of selling crap like Sparks makes me think I might not be good at the job. Instead, I would probably be like Jack Black's character in High Fidelity who responds to the customer who wants to buy a 45 of Stevie Wonder's "I Just Called to Say I Love You" for his daughter's birthday, by berating the poor dad for his horrible taste in music.
"...believed that his remorse would prove lasting..."
Sad anecdote from Jane Addams' Twenty Years at Hull-House:
I recall a similar case of a woman who had supported her three children for five years, during which time her dissolute husband constantly demanded money for drink and kept her perpetually worried and intimidated. One Saturday, before the "blessed Easter," he came back from a long debauch, ragged and filthy, but in a state of lachrymose repentance. The poor wife received him as a returned prodigal, believed that his remorse would prove lasting, and felt sure that if she and the children went to church with him on Easter Sunday and he could be induced to take the pledge before the priest, all their troubles would be ended. After hours of vigorous effort and the expenditure of all her savings, he finally sat on the front doorstep the morning of Easter Sunday, bathed, shaved and arrayed in a fine new suit of clothes. She left him sitting there in the reluctant spring sunshine while she finished washing and dressing the children. When she finally opened the front door with the three shining children that they might all set forth together, the returned prodigal had disappeared, and was not seen again until midnight, when he came back in a glorious state of intoxication from the proceeds of his pawned clothes and clad once more in the dingiest attire. She took him in without comment, only to begin again the wretched cycle.
Other than a difference of fifty-something years and another continent, this could have come straight from Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes.
Use your allusion
Interesting piece here by Elizabeth D. Samet on the use, and danger, of allusions in literature. On the one hand, allusion can make the writing richer and deeper by connecting it to other works, but it can also alienate the reader who doesn't catch the reference. One of my favorite books, Nelson Algren's Chicago: City on the Make, is loaded with allusions to Chicago history - Carl Wanderer, Yellow Kid Weil, etc. - that I never fully understood during my first few readings. But that actually enhanced my enjoyment of the book, adding a bit of mystery to the narrative - and without being distracted by some editor's explanatory footnotes, I could stay immersed in the brutal poetics of Algren's prose.
The important thing is that Algren, with his great writing skill, was able to convey the meaning and mood of his references without explicitly explaining them. But from reading other books over the years, I've gradually learned many of the specifics behind his allusions, which made me appreciate the book even more. First I fell in love with the prose, and later the specific meaning. I doubt the experience would have meant nearly as much had I first read the annotated 60th anniversary edition of the book.
Behold my new online addiction
Calumet 412, a fascinating collection of Chicago ephemera from the same tireless folks behind Forgotten Chicago. That photo above is of Stouffer’s Top of the Rock, atop the Prudential Building, circa 1960. Now, that was style and class.
Month of Letters - REMINDER!
Just a reminder that I'm doing Month of Letters right now. The first two letters are already mailed, but at the moment I only have two other people who have indicated interest in hearing from me. If you want a good, old-fashioned, hand-written anachronism filled with my generally lucid musings, drop me an email (pete_anderson [AT] comcast [DOT] net) with your snail mail address. Or if you're sure I already have your address, then just leave a comment below. I may even include some thoughtfully chosen ephemera with your letter. Don't miss out!
A small East Coast press, which I greatly admire, has apparently declined Wheatyard without even telling me. I sent them a query last summer, and after not hearing anything for months, I asked a writer friend of mine (who has published a book with the press) to casually inquire about the status of my submission. The publisher told my friend that he wasn't interested in my book, and that he doesn't reply to queries unless he's interested. In other words, no news is bad news. Though it doesn't seem like that much of a bother to send a boilerplate email to a writer as notification of a rejection, apparently that publisher feels otherwise. This now makes five official rejections for Wheatyard, but never mind - I just mailed off a new query (with sample chapters) to another East Coast press yesterday. The fact that I went to the trouble of stuffing a manila envelope and trekking to the post office should tell you how much I revere this publisher. Fingers crossed. Onward.