Happy Birthday, Wheatyard!
My debut novel Wheatyard turns one year old today, having been published on April 30, 2013. At last check, 94 paperback copies have been sold, plus there have been 374 free ebook downloads. It's been a fun year - plenty of good wishes, a handful of nice reviews, a tiny bit of cash, but first and foremost the reassurance that all of this writing is worth the trouble.
I really enjoyed reading "The Afternoon Party" at the Goreyesque reading last night, but even more I enjoyed hearing the other readers, especially Danielle Wilcox with "Little Sister" (with a wonderfully unexpected narrator) and the incomparable Joe Meno with "The Use of Medicine", a vivid story (from his first story collection Bluebirds Used to Croon in the Choir, and written in direct tribute to Edward Gorey) which perfectly captures the adventurous curiosity, innocence and sadness of childhood.
Afterward I reintroduced myself to Meno, and thanked him for being an ongoing influence and inspiration. I took a writing seminar from him years ago, before I had even published my first story, and his positive response to my work (specifically my novice novel, Eden) really helped me believed that yes, I was indeed a writer.
My sincere thanks to Todd Summar and the rest of the Goreyesque crew for letting me be part of this.
My daughter Maddie created this new logo for the blog. I love old neon, and totally dig this. I'm not sure it fits the current design of the blog, but if I ever do a gut redesign (which is probably overdue anyway) this might become the new banner.
"Goreyesque: A Tribute to Edward Gorey"
I'm very pleased to announce that I will be reading at "Goreyesque: A Tribute to Edward Gorey", next Tuesday (April 29) at Loyola University Museum of Art, along with Joe Meno, Sam Weller and several other local writers. LUMA is hosting a traveling exhibition of Gorey's works, and the reading event should be a fine tribute to the great artist and his influence on younger writers. The event runs from 6 to 8 p.m., which the first half devoted to readings and the second half to viewing the exhibition; the entire event is free. I'll be reading my Goreyesque piece "The Afternoon Party" which, at just 26 words, might just be the briefest public reading in recorded history. I might have to deliver it with ponderous, deliberate gravity (I'm thinking of some sort of James Earl Jones/Orson Welles hybrid) just to stretch it out to a full minute.
I love Marco Cadioli's tumblr Abstract Journeys, with its stark satellite landscape images. The image above is my own take on the idea, and shows the square block that includes my house. Not quite as abstract as Cadioli's farmstead images (and not as sharp; his are from Google Earth, mine are from Google Maps, which seems to have lower resolution) but, I think, still interesting.
19 S. Peoria Street, then and now
Sure, that parking lot is convenient and the employee picnic table looks inviting, but, still, I'm sure things were a lot more lively at Waller's Public Bath.
Duncan Ceramic Products, Authorized Dealer
Yesterday, I took a detour down a stretch of Center Street, on the north side of Joliet, that I had never driven before. Standing out amid the usual hundred-plus-year-old houses, I was very pleased to discover this old storefront building. I would guess it was originally a corner tavern or grocery (the name near the roof reads "Sievert"), though it's now empty and for sale. The decal on the front door for Duncan Ceramic Products indicates its most recent incarnation was some sort of art supply store, though I can't find any confirmation of that online through an address search. Such a store seems somewhat incongruous with the surrounding working-class neighborhood, which might mean it's been empty for a very long time.
"...to be lost in something so different than the life we know..."
In "The Unexamined Life", my great friend Ben Tanzer recounts his solo trip to Italy, shortly before becoming a father for the first time.
I eventually resurface to cut through an alley I believe will lead me to Trevi Fountain. It is so dark, quiet, and not crowded, however, that I question whether the previous moments were real or just the longings of a lonely traveler.
But then there is light.
I turn a corner and before me is an explosion of bearded, muscle-bound statues astride waves of all sizes and surrounded by columns and sea monsters that spring forth from every possible direction. I have stumbled onto Trevi Fountain and it is larger than life.
I sit before it, and I try to take it all in, bathed in the streetlights and the drizzle, and lost in its sheer audacity. It's magical really, and as I sit there soaking it all up I am reminded once again of why we travel in the first place, to be lost in something so different than the life we know, as if we have entered another world completely. I feel as if I could leave Rome that night if I had to, satisfied and complete...
The essay is from Ben's latest book, the nonfiction collection Lost in Space: A Father's Journey There and Back Again. Though I just got the book on Friday and had a busy weekend, I'm already halfway through it, and really enjoying it. Some of his strongest writing yet, I think.
Congrats to my friend Christine Sneed, whose novel Little Known Facts has won the 2014 Adult Fiction award from the Society of Midland Authors. Christine has been a mentor and supporter of my writing for a long time now, and she's a vital member of the Chicago literary community. This honor is well deserved, and I heartily salute it, even though it means Wheatyard (which I entered in the competition) has fallen short. Oh, well!
The doll at the window in Janesville, Minnesota
Fading Ad: Joliet Litho-Print
I've known about this ad for a while now, but only just got around to photographing it yesterday. This is Joliet Litho-Print, on Chicago Street in downtown Joliet. In the inset photo, you can make out "Service Printers", "Pamphlets" and "Catalogs", and if you look even closer, there's a lime-colored swoosh stripe (inverted, anti-Nike) just above "Litho-Print." Based on the company's limited web presence - I couldn't even find a website - it's unclear whether or not it's still in business, so I'm glad to have finally photographed this while I still could. I've been into fading ads for about fifteen years now, and have lost far too many ads by assuming they would always be around to photograph some other day.
"The Way Business Is Done"
I am thrilled, thrilled to announce the publication of my short story "The Way Business Is Done", in the latest edition of CCLaP Journal, the arts journal of The Chicago Center for Literature and Photography. The story is one of my oldest, having been written way back in 2005 and previously racking up almost thirty rejections elsewhere, and tells the story of a corrupt Chicago alderman (based heavily on Michael "Hinky Dink" Kenna) and his ill-fated attempt to secure a transit monopoly for a local tycoon (based heavily on Charles Tyson Yerkes). However, I threw in a twist, given that Kenna worked against Yerkes during the latter's ill-fated scheme in 1899; Kenna's primary city council rival, Johnny Powers, was Yerkes' actual point man for buying up votes. I made the switch due to rich and irresistible personalities of Kenna and his First Ward cohort, Bathhouse John Coughlin.
My hearty thanks to Jason Pettus and Allegra Pusateri for taking on this story. CCLaP Journal is a beautifully designed publication that I am truly proud to be associated with. The journal is available in pdf or online at Issuu (like all CCLaP publications, a donation is politely requested for those reading the electronic versions), or in a fine paperback edition for $9.99. With all of the prose content and especially the color photography, that $9.99 price is really a bargain. I can't wait for my contributor copy to arrive.
"...she had traded the anger of what should have been..."
In Laila Lalami's Secret Son, the teenaged protagonist Youssef has just discovered that his father, whom his mother has always said had died during Youssef's infancy, is alive, well and wealthy, unlike Youssef and his mother, who live in poverty in a Casablanca slum:
Always, and especially on days like this, he thought of what could have been. If he had grown up in a normal family, with a father, would he and his mother be struggling so much? The question usually made him feel melancholy, but now that he knew his father had been alive all along, he felt angry and bitter instead. Why should he and his mother be struggling so much? Perhaps that was why his mother had lied to him all these years: she had traded the anger of what should have been and given him instead the sadness of what could have been.
I like that dichotomy between anger/should and sadness/could. I had never quite thought about it that way.
This year's Irish March reading was pretty underwhelming. First off, I forgot all about it until halfway through the month (I was absorbed in my latest Structured Reading), and by the time I started all I could cobble together was William Trevor's The Boarding-House and some of Jonathan Swift's lesser-known satirical works. Though I loved The Boarding-House, and Trevor is one of Ireland's greatest writers, the story wasn't Irish at all, instead revolving around the oh-so-English residents of a rundown London boarding house. Then it was on to Swift, but after reading the brilliant and concise A Modest Proposal, I soon learned that A Tale of a Tub wasn't a story at all, but instead a very long and abstract essay. As I struggled to read the arcane prose, my eyes glazed over repeatedly (it was nothing at all like the imaginative and often fun storytelling of Gulliver's Travels) and I knew that even if I finished the piece it would be a long and unsatisfying slog. So with March ending yesterday, I abruptly ended Irish March as well. Next year I hope to be much better prepared.