This Podcast Will Change Your LifeMy great friend Ben Tanzer interviewed me for his podcast, over lunch earlier this month at Chicago's wonderful Pittsfield Cafe, talking all about Wheatyard. I must be getting better at this, because I was much more eloquent than usual, with only a minimum of ums and uhs. It's also available on iTunes - search for "This Podcast Will Change Your Life", episode 62.
Ordinarily I love vintage signage, especially for a former Chicago institution like Karoll's. But I have to admit that this signage (shown in 1977) was kind of tacky, and really marred the exterior of the Reliance Building, one of the Loop's true architectural gems.
(Via Calumet 412.)
It's already been a very eventful week on the writing front. Besides Wheatyard being released yesterday, the collection Daddy Cool: An Anthology of Writing by Fathers For & About Kids (which includes my short story "Prague, Oklahoma") is now available from Artistically Declined Press. Other contributors are Ryan W. Bradley, Mark R. Brand, Nik Korpon, Caleb J. Ross, Corey Mesler, C.L. Bledsoe, Nathan Holic, Robert Arellano, J.A. Tyler, bl pawelek, Jason Fisk, Matthew Salesses, Seth Berg, Robert Duffer, Dave Housely, Dan Coxon, Fred Sasaki, John Barrios, Tom Williams, Davis Schneiderman, Patrick Wensink, William Walsh, Brian Allen Carr, Mike Smolarek, James Claffey, Joseph G. Peterson, Sean Beaudoin, Greg Santos, Richard Thomas and Ben Tanzer. Great bunch and, I suspect, great collection. I'm proud to be part of it.
Wheatyard is published!
My debut novella, Wheatyard, is now available at Kuboa Press, either in paperback ($3.95 plus shipping) or e-book (free!). It's been a long and grinding road getting here, since I first started thinking about writing fiction during the late 1990s, through several false starts over the following years and then finally starting Wheatyard in 2005, finishing it in 2011 and accepting Pablo D'Stair's wonderful offer earlier this year. It's nearly impossible to thank everyone, but if you ever enjoyed any of my short stories, talked to me about books, or just indulged my blog posts, you helped me to keep writing, keep pushing and make this book happen. So thank you, thank you, thank you.
Final excerpt from WheatyardWheatyard comes out one week from today, on Kuboa Press. Here's the final excerpt, from chapter ten:
But he spoke little, never looking me straight in the eye, as if embarrassed about what he had said that afternoon, as little as it was. Though he showed a flash or two of his old spirit, his mood was unlike anything I had seen during our three months of friendship—muted, subdued, detached. He mumbled a few stray comments about his manuscript and the publisher, but nothing more definite or decisive than anything I had heard before.I've really enjoyed posting these teasers over the past ten weeks, which I hope have whetted your appetite for the entire book.
Yesterday afternoon, while enjoying a brief stroll, I couldn't help admiring this bas relief on the Commonwealth Edison substation at 115 N. Dearborn. Though I'm not sure what that's supposed to be - maybe a superhero? Electric Power Man?
"...Jelly of Fear, which shak’d and quiv’ring lay..."I’m browsing through The Stuffed Owl: An Anthology of Bad Verse, a 1930 volume edited by D.B. Wyndham Lewis and Charles Lee. The book is mostly what the title indicates, though with the twist that instead of being truly horrible verse penned by incompetent poets, the poems are the clunkers and howlers of the greats, including Wordsworth, Keats and Byron. This is by Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle (1624-74):
From “Nature’s Dessert”Oh my, that’s bad. (I can imagine both Biscuits of Love and Jelly of Fear being bands in Spinal Tap.) And that title suggests this is only an excerpt of an even longer piece - although (fortunately?) I haven’t been able to find the full text online.
Sweet marmalade of kisses newly gather’d,
Preserved children, which were newly father’d,
Sugar of Beauty, which melts away soon,
Marchpane of Youth, and childish macaroon:
Sugar-plum words, which fall sweet from lips,
And water-promises mould’ring like chips;
Biscuits of Love which crumble all away,
Jelly of Fear, which shak’d and quiv’ring lay:
Then was a fresh green-sickness cheese brought in,
And tempting fruit, like that which Eve made sin.
Lewis and Lee’s wry introductions to each poet are consistently wonderful, including this on Cavendish:
After the Restoration it was her steady habit to dictate metaphysical and philosophical speculations at all hours, and the ladies attending her were compelled (according to Cibber) to sleep near at hand to her Grace in order that at the summons of her bell they might rise instantly during the night to record in writing inspirations which might otherwise have been lost for ever.And what a loss that would have been.
Oh, man, I love this. Spitalfields Life presents this 1966 Matchbox collectors guide and photographs of the production line at the Lesney factory, which was located in London's East End. Of the nearly eighty Matchboxes shown, there are at least ten or fifteen that I had as a child (Maddie has them now), though I now see that I missed out on the true gem: #74, the Mobile Refreshment Bar.
Sometimes, context is everythingI started reading Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping this week, but the first few chapters felt sluggish. I don't know if that was due to the writing style or my mood - probably both - but I seriously considered invoking the Page 50 Rule and abandoning the book when I reached that page. But this morning on the train, during heavy thunderstorms and with a view outside of torrents gushing down the hillsides and deep standing water, I read a vivid passage in which the author described heavy spring floods in the mountain town of Fingerbone. Robinson's makeshift family stoically retreats to their second floor, coming downstairs only to cook meals and refuel the fire, wading through floodwater in tall rubber boots and sending waves cascading into the kitchen walls. Looking at the flooding outside my train and then back to the page, Robinson's narrative suddenly came to life for me. It's still not quite enough to compensate for those early chapters, but at least it's keeping me reading.
Hinky Dink Kenna's gold star
Sweet relic of Chicago, interesting backstory. But the saloonkeepers and pimps of the First Ward owed Kenna a hell of a lot more payback and appreciation than that.
Excerpt from WheatyardThis week's Wheatyard excerpt, from chapter nine.
He said nothing, looking down at his folded hands, still sitting sunken deep into one end of the broken couch. Before him, perched on an aluminum TV tray, was his battered Smith-Corona typewriter, the constant companion he had fondly spoken of several times over the past few months. The typewriter sat sideways, facing a folding chair, where he must have sat as he worked. Next to the typewriter sat a half-empty jar of Folgers Crystals - the apparent fuel for his writing binges - and below on the floor teetered a stack of typed pages at least two feet high.Publication date is two weeks from today. Preorders are now being taken.
The darkness of Knut HamsunInteresting review here of Knut Hamsun: The Dark Side of Literary Brilliance by Monika Žagar, who skips the apologies commonly made on Hamsun's behalf, instead arguing that he was indeed a Nazi, and explores how all of that came about. Hamsun is yet another case of "celebrate the art, not the artist." Norway's championing of Hamsun is understandable in a small, low-profile country that is eager for heroes, but then again, even if they shunned Hamsun they would still have Ibsen, Grieg and Munch to cherish.
I might get around to reading Žagar's study eventually, though it probably won't be very soon, since I've already had Robert Ferguson's Enigma: The Life of Knut Hamsun sitting unread on my shelf for several years now. And a $30 university press paperback is also a bit hard to stomach.
Church of the Holy Pigskin
When my morning train passes through the Brighton Park neighborhood, to the south I always see a hulking building that looks like an auditorium. This morning, a few minutes of Google Mapping and a quick address search finally revealed its identity: the St. Agnes Parish Center, once a thriving local landmark (roller rink! bowling lanes!) but now vacant after having become much less vital with the demolition of the adjacent church a few decades ago. Clearly this parish took their sports very seriously, as this carved figure would attest. Carved gargoyles and crosses I'm used to seeing in church architecture, but football players? Hardly.
"...a sort of warm, speculative indifference seized upon her...""Once barely sipping at wines, cocktails, brandy-and-soda, she now took to the latter, or, rather, to a new whisky-and-soda combination known as 'highball' with a kind of vehemence which had little to do with a taste for the thing itself. True, drinking is, after all, a state of mind, and not an appetite. She had found on a number of occasions when she had been quarreling with Lynde or was mentally depressed that in partaking of these drinks a sort of warm, speculative indifference seized upon her. She was no longer so sad. She might cry, but it was in a soft, rainy, relieving way. Her sorrows were as strange, enticing figures in dreams. They moved about and around her, not as things actually identical with her, but as ills which she could view at a distance. Sometimes both she and they (for she saw herself also as in a kind of mirage or inverted vision) seemed beings of another state, troubled, but not bitterly painful. The old nepenthe of the bottle had seized upon her."
- Theodore Dreiser, The Titan
Old-Fashioneds and relish traysBrief interview here at Agate's blog with Ron Faiola, author of Wisconsin Supper Clubs: An Old-Fashioned Experience, which includes this great insight:
What is it about those relish trays?After being underwhelmed last year by Soul of a People: The WPA Writers' Project Uncovers Depression America, I'm wary of another documentary-film-to-book (filmmakers aren't necessarily good writers) but I'll still keep my eyes on this one.
A relish tray brings the salad bar to your table—something healthy to nibble on while you decide whether to get the king cut of prime rib or the all-you-can-eat fish fry.
Excerpt from WheatyardIt's Wednesday, which means that I'm a day late in posting this excerpt from Wheatyard, this time from chapter eight:
He certainly wasn't a sunbather. His pasty skin suggested he only went outdoors when he needed to—house to truck, and from truck to Simon's or Mullen's Tap or The Grind or Cellar Books. The sedentary act of sunbathing didn't fit him, nor the vain goal of a deep tan. I guessed that his house was such an oven that day that only sitting outside offered any relief. But not even being outside separated him from his writing; hence, the notebook and what must have been his latest misunderstood masterpiece.Pre-orders are now being taken at Kuboa Press.
Carey on Haruf
I usually don't have much interest in any of those "(number) (things) you should (action)" lists, primarily due to their implication that I'm not smart enough to figure out such things on my own. This list at GQ ("The New Canon: The 21 Books from the 21st Century Every Man Should Read") would ordinarily be one of those, especially since I'm never without a book to read. It's not a terribly interesting list, almost painfully predictable (Franzen, Roth, yawn) and inexplicably picks Ian McEwan's contrived Saturday instead of his magnificent Atonement.
But I do appreciate the handful of authors on the list who generously gave their own choices for essential 21st Century books, two of which I heartily agree with: George Saunders gives a nod to Stuart Dybek's wonderful I Sailed With Magellan, while Peter Carey praises Kent Haruf.
Kent Haruf is one of the great poets of the modern novel. He has an extraordinary capacity for love. He will give you the smell of the dirt and grasses of the High Plains of Colorado. He will never fail to engage your heart, but because he is an honest man, he will have you grasp the nettles. If you have never entered his beautiful singing sentences, I envy you your first time. If you do already know that Plainsong and Eventide are masterpieces, get ready for Benediction, out this year. This is why writers write and readers read.Technically, however, Plainsong is from the 20th Century - it was published in 1999. But I concur on Eventide, which was almost as good as its mighty predecessor.
(Via The Literary Saloon.)
"...the sultriness and the transparent gentle waves vexed her and whispered to her that she must live, live..."From Anton Chekhov's novella The Duel:
Nadezhda Fyodorovna adjusted her straw hat and cast herself out to sea. She swam about four fathoms then floated on her back. She could see the sea to the horizon, the steamships, people on shore, the town, and all of this along with the sultriness and the transparent gentle waves vexed her and whispered to her that she must live, live...A sailboat rushed past her quickly, energetically slicing through waves and air. The man sitting at the wheel glanced at her, and she found being glanced at pleasant...The story takes place during summer in the blistering hot Caucasus, where swimming in the Black Sea is a daily (and sometimes twice- or even thrice-daily) ritual, especially for the slacker government bureaucrats who live in the resort town, who seem to have little to do other than swim, drink and gossip. The bitterly unhappy couple at the center of the story, Nadezhda and Laevsky, are one of the least sympathetic couples I've come across in quite some time - vain, lazy and self-pitying. (Even in Madame Bovary, I felt sorry for the hapless husband.) I'm almost hoping for misfortune to befall them.
Wheatyard is now available for pre-order from Kuboa Press. And above is the fantastic cover, designed by Carlos M. Gonzalez-Fernandez. The reality of all of this is finally sinking in for me.
"...everyone who makes a sacrifice needs a little sense of satisfaction..."From Hans Keilson's Comedy in a Minor Key:
She had secretly imagined what it would be like on liberation day, the three of them arm in arm walking out of their house. Everyone would see right away what he was from his pale face, the color of a shut-in, which his appearance only emphasized even more. How the neighbors and everyone on the street would look when he suddenly walked out of their house and strolled up and down the street with them. It would give them a little sense of satisfaction, and everyone who makes a sacrifice needs a little sense of satisfaction. And then you'd feel that you, you personally, even if only just a little bit, had won the war.That last sentence is just so quietly, subtly devastating, as Marie finally starts to realize how dramatically the travails of her and Wim pale in comparison to Nico's plight. I didn't really connect with the first half of the book, but toward the end it really started to click. This book is due for another reading, a year or two from now.
It had all gone up in smoke. It wasn't even a dream anymore. None of the three of them had any luck. But really, him least of all.
Quote"If a good sentence occurs in an otherwise boring paragraph, I cut it out, rubber-cement it to a sheet of typewriter paper, and put it in a folder. It’s just like catching a fish in a creek. I pull out a sentence and slip a line through the gills and put it on a chain and am very careful not to mislay it. Sometimes I try that sentence in ten different places until finally it finds the place where it will stay — where the surrounding sentences attach themselves to it and it becomes part of them." - William Maxwell
Excerpt from WheatyardIt's Tuesday, so that means another Wheatyard teaser. From chapter seven:
"He's got manuscripts floating all around this building. I don't remember that one in particular, but I've read several others, and some of my colleagues have, too. He comes here looking for an expert opinion, though he never puts it that way. He's never on bended knee, in supplication, begging for validation. He'll hand a manuscript over casually, as if it means nothing to him, saying something like, 'If you have some spare time, maybe you could look this over.'"The release date is now less than a month away, on April 30, from Kuboa Press.
Mencken on drinkingH.L. Mencken (with whom I am proud to share a birthday), penned this wise piece, "How to Drink Like A Gentleman", in 1935.
A good dinner is made doubly good by being washed down in the ancient manner of civilized men, and a good sleep is made doubly sound and refreshing if the sleeper first untangles his nerves and quiets his brain with a few shots of reliable stuff.Considering how vehemently Mencken harangued against Prohibition, I'll rely on his moral authority on this important subject.