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My flash fiction story "Guaranteed" has been published by Spillway Review. This one is a long time coming, on several fronts.

I first wrote the story in early 2004, as an entry for the Summer 2004 issue of The First Line, where it was declined. (Interestingly, this is the third story I've originally written for TFL which has subsequently been published elsewhere, the others being "The Fixer" and "Can't Be Happy Today, But Tomorrow".) I then shopped the story around to a few more venues before coming across Spillway, a New Orleans-based journal which actively seeks flash fiction. But my timing was less than impeccable, for I submitted the story just a few days before Hurricane Katrina hit. Not surprisingly, the journal's editorial functions were seriously impaired, and the story wasn't accepted until this past January, and with their publication schedule being thrown out of whack, they didn't publish their next batch of flash fiction until just this month. Whew.

"Guaranteed" was one of the first stories I wrote after finally getting serious about writing fiction, and I'm quite pleased to see it published at last.

November 25, 2006 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (1)

Novels For Dummies

Wow. I've always thought Albom's writings were simpleminded, but third-grade level simpleminded? Kind of makes you wonder about what Starbucks really thinks about their customers' intellects. That chain is always striking that whole smart-and-sophisticated pose, and yet this weighty tome is the one they think best represents their demographic.

(Via Peter Darbyshire, Ninja Emeritus.)

November 23, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Great Minds Think Alike

Or, more accurately, my fair-to-middling mind thinks like Doctorow's great one.

"I do no research beforehand. I start writing and find what I need as I go along. You will find very few inaccuracies, if any, in my account of Sherman’s campaign. I always hew to the truth, though in some matters my truth may not be yours because a novel is, among other things, an aesthetic system of opinions."

The biggest reason that my first NaNoWriMo novel attempt failed (or, more optimistically, "is not yet finished"), with only 45,000 words written over two Novembers, was a naive obsession with historical accuracy. As I was writing that novel (set in the 19th Century) I labored over getting every single fact just right, or at least reasonably faithful to history. One reason that not even a complete rough draft has been finished is that I willfully omitted a key section that required research, to which I never returned.

Last year's novel went much more smoothly, since it was set in 1993 and was drawn almost entirely from personal experience. (It admittedly also remains unfinished, albeit for other reasons.)

This year I'm again writing a historical novel, but this time I'm doing it with absolutely no prior research, writing on the fly in an effort to get the basic story into a full rough draft. I'm trying this despite knowing virtually nothing about South Africa, diamond mining, diamond cutting, the dynamics of early 20th Century jewelry stores, the city of Philadelphia or any number of other factors which will be critical to the success of the novel. Once finished with the rough draft, my next step will be to do the research and then return to my manuscript, embellishing and correcting the narrative to arrive at a reasonable degree of historical accuracy.

In doing so, I'm inspired by the example of Kevin Guilfoile, who admits to using the write-it-all-out-and-fix-the-details-later approach:

I decided I would just start writing and when I came to a point where I was missing a piece of important information (and I couldn't find a reliable answer on the internet in a few minutes) I would just make it up. Then when I got to the end of the draft, I went back to these passages and came up with a specific list of facts I needed to know and I tracked each of them down to make sure I got them right.

Without having even one full rough draft to show for four years of NaNoWriMo, I figure this new approach can't be any worse that what I've tried in the past.

(Doctorow item via Ed.)

November 16, 2006 in Books, Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

He'd be, at best, bemused...

In its Beer of the Week segment, Chicagoist prefaces its review of Piece Worryin' Ale by pondering what Nelson Algren would think of his yuppie- and hipster-fied old neighborhood of Wicker Park, were he alive today.

We don't presume to know what Algren would have thought of modern-day Wicker Park, but we're sure he would have dug around to find its seedy underbelly, somewhere between the designer handbags and strollers. Would he have written of the ambivalent detente between yuppies and hipsters, or the subtle class warfare between black labrador and golden retriever owners? Would he have appreciated the irony of the Tribune, which called Chicago: City on the Make a "highly scented object" in its review, naming a short fiction award after him? Would he have schooled some folks at Rainbo in the basics of good hygiene?

I've long wondered how Algren would have reacted to the Tribune so honoring him in death when, during his life, the paper considered him a loathsome threat to the city's real estate values and tourism trade. Probably with a bitter laugh and an upward thrust of his middle finger in the direction of Tribune Tower.

November 16, 2006 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Kicking the Hardcover Habit

Another typically funny piece by Ian Frazier in the latest New Yorker...

"How do you tell a youngster that he can’t have that just-released Modern Library edition of the complete Sinclair Lewis he’s been dreaming of? But I guess that’s what I’m going to have to do; I don’t see any other option."

Now that's a good parent -- not depriving a youngster of reading the Sinclair Lewis that all the cool kids are so into these days.

As for me, I'm already reading frugally -- buying trade paperback originals, haunting the library, using gift credits at Powell's, etc. Plus, with my to-read list now standing at 50+, I never even consider buying a newly released novel until at least nine months later, when it comes out in paperback.

November 14, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

"Big Question"

My micro story, "Big Question", has just been published by Boston Literary Magazine. It's a tiny little thing, but I'm pretty pleased with its overall mood, the protagonist I can fully picture in my mind and grieve for, and, yes, the big question she asks. My thanks to editor Robin Stratton for taking the story.

November 13, 2006 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (1)

Candidates for Man of the Year

If these photos have already hit your email inbox, my apologies, but in case not I just had to pass along these priceless examples of the modern, enlightened, sensitive male. Cast your vote in the comments, and indicate what you (dis)liked most about your candidate of choice!

Candidate #1 - The Biker:

Candidate #2 - The Boater:

Candidate #3 - The Drinker:

November 13, 2006 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thoughts After the Elections

I'm certainly encouraged by yesterday's election results, and the clear direction this country is moving. I feel a hell of a lot better than I did two years ago, when I woke up the morning after the elections in something close to despondency, with Barack Obama's convincing Senate win being one of the few causes for hope. Sure, yesterday's results are partly caused by the natural right-to-left-and-back-again swing of our national mindset, but I think there's also a fundamental change going on.

I think more and more people are seeing through Republican deceptions and dubious priorities -- that invading Iraq was outright wrong; that "staying the course" there isn't a strategy at all, but blind stasis; that the physical health of everyday citizens is far more important than the fiscal health of pharmaceutical and insurance companies; that protecting our environment isn't a luxury, but something critical to the planet's survival; and that we need a more level playing field between consumers and corporations. I believe we're moving in that direction -- we haven't gotten there yet, but I believe we're on our way.

Specifics from yesterday:

Though I was disappointed to see John Pavich, a genuinely good, thoughtful and caring man, lose the Illinois 11th District race for the U.S. Senate, I was encouraged by the strength of his showing. He gained 45% of the vote, including 47% in Will County, the largest in the district, giving five-term incumbent Jerry Weller his worst showing since 1996. I think Pavich's performance showed that Weller is quite vulnerable, and will become even more so during two more years of loyalty to the lame-duck Bush Administration. I'm hoping the Democratic Party agrees, and will funnel much more money into the campaign of Pavich (who I hope will run again) or whomever gets the nomination. The Dems' money in Illinois went mostly to Melissa Bean and Tammy Duckworth this year, but I'm hoping they spread the wealth a bit more next time. Weller can be beaten.

Though Tammy Duckworth fell short against Peter Roskam in the 6th District, she did so by less than 5,000 votes, an amazing showing in one of the most staunchly Republican districts in the country. The 6th District is there for the taking, as well, although Roskam will be more formidable next time, given the natural advantages of incumbency.

And on a even brighter note:

Rod Blagojevich easily won re-election as Illinois governor, despite the well-publicized legal troubles of his administration and cronies. He even fared extremely well with voters who considered ethics and political corruption to be the most important issue of the campaign, which tells me one of two things: either a) Illinois voters like his progressive policies so much that they're willing to overlook substantial ethical lapses; or b) voters considered his opponent, the longtime Springfield insider Judy Baar Topinka, to be no better in the ethics department.

Nationally, the Democrats taking over the U.S. House, six governorships (including the key electoral state of Ohio) and at least four Senate seats (adios, Rick Santorum!) is extremely promising. Besides the welcomed shift in political power -- which should effectively neuter Bush for the remainder of his term -- the Democrats victory should teach them that it's okay, and even politically lucrative, to oppose the Iraq war, to promote diversity and tolerance, to challenge Bush's positions on executive authority, civil liberties, economic equality, energy and environmental policy.

In other words, it's okay to have backbone, and be a true opposition party, and not just be a meeker version of the GOP.

November 8, 2006 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Story Unfinished, Rocking Resumed

Two election-free items of note:

FoPL Richard Grayson has an unfinished story, "Superstition Freeway", as part of the aptly-named Unfinished Stories series at the blog of writer Kevin O'Cuinn. The series collects uncompleted stories from a wide range of writers, with familiar-to-me names among the contributors including Kevin Sampsell, Myfawny Collins, Elizabeth Ellen, Aaron Burch, Daniel Alarcon, and Claire Zulkey. Do check it out.

Chicago punk legends Naked Raygun briefly reunited to play a club show at the Subterranean, and Chicagoist was there. Funny to see Jeff Pezzati with his hand stamped, as if to prove he's of legal drinking age.

November 7, 2006 in Books, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)


If you're already done so, then good for you.

If you haven't, there's still plenty of time.

November 7, 2006 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Micro Monday...

...is on hiatus for the month of November. NaNoWriMo is ruthlessly devouring all of my creative output, even the tiny 100-word morsels. Micro Monday will resume on December 4th.

November 6, 2006 in Fiction, Micro | Permalink | Comments (0)

Brush With Greatness

Andrew Huff reports on a chance meeting with three of Chicago's most illuminating illuminati -- at the Billy Goat Tavern, no less.

I notice that a table over in the VIP (Very Insecure People) section is looking my way. It takes me a minute to realize it's Jim Coudal and Kevin Guilfoile, and they're sitting with Rick Kogan. They invite me to sit down with them, and I do.

Kogan's Mike Royko anecdote is priceless. Random serendipitous meetings like these -- or even the opportunity of same -- are something I really miss now that I no longer live in the city. Life's full of tradeoffs, I guess.

November 6, 2006 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (1)

Dorothea Lange, Impounded

A new book of Dorothea Lange's photographs of Japanese-American internment camps during WWII has been published, under the title of Impounded. The images were drawn from a trove of nearly 800 photos "unearthed in the National Archives, where they had lain neglected for a half-century after having been impounded by the government."

"They tell us that conditions in the camps were much worse than most people think," said Linda Gordon, a historian at New York University who edited the book with Gary Y. Okihiro, a historian at Columbia University. Both also contributed essays.

Lange’s work unflinchingly illustrates the reality of life during this extraordinary moment in American history when about 110,000 people were moved with their families, sometimes at gunpoint, into horse stalls and tar-paper shacks where they endured brutal heat and bitter cold, filth, dust and open sewers.

Sounds like a much-needed reminder of one of the most shameful government actions in American history.

And lest you think that such a thing is just a dusty piece of arcane history, that unwarranted detention of American citizens and xenophobic hysteria are things of the distant past, I direct your attention to Guantanamo, the Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Bill. The groundwork is firmly in place for all of that to happen again.

November 6, 2006 in Books, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

John Pavich for Congress

(Pardon me for sending this through your RSS reader again. This is important enough to me to say it again, once more for emphasis.)

John Pavich is getting my vote for the U.S. House of Representatives, 11th District. On the vital issues, here are his top priorities:

• Demanding more accountability from the administration on the prosecution of the Iraq war, and working towards a responsible, phased withdrawal and redployment of our troops.

• Strengthening our national security by appropriately funding our soldiers and enabling our intelligence services to do the job they have been given.

• Restoring fiscal responsibility to the federal budget by reducing, and eventually eliminating, the budget deficit.

• Demanding accountability from energy corporations regarding price gouging, raising fuel efficiency standards, and making hybrid and E-85 vehicles more accessible to all Americans.

• Fighting to protect the environment by supporting and funding research into alternative energy sources, such as wind, solar and ethanol power.

• Working to solve the serious fiscal problems that affect Medicare and Medicaid.

• Properly funding education programs in this country so that our children receive the education they need to succeed in this ever-changing world.

• Working to secure federal funding for stem cell research, and overriding the Bush veto (and Weller's vote) against stem cells.

• Working to bring jobs back to the 11th district by eliminating tax breaks to companies that outsource our jobs.

Although I don't agree with all of his views, particularly his opposition to a troop drawdown timetable in Iraq and his support for the Patriot Act, he's an infinitely superior choice than the incumbent Jerry Weller (he of the staunch allegiance to President Bush, questionable lobbyist dealings, secret real estate deals and tolerance for dictators).

The Peoria Journal Star agrees with me, giving Pavich their endorsement.

John Pavich is the superior choice for the 11th district, a fresh voice who will help bring much-needed change to Washington.

November 6, 2006 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

He Cares A Lot

In fact, he cares so much, frets so incessantly, that sometimes he gets less than eight hours of sleep per night.

Concerned about her young daughter's brain cancer and the public-health impact of a nuclear power plant near her Minooka home, Cynthia Sauer in early 2004 reached out to U.S. Rep. Jerry Weller.

After four telephone calls to his office, she received a "dear friend" letter from Weller (R-Ill.) in February 2004. Weller--whose 11th Congressional District includes three nuclear plants, more than any other in the United States--thanked Sauer for contacting him "regarding the environment" and listed his efforts in that area.

Of course, it's the corporate interests in his district that he frets about.

"I think it's another example of his misplaced priorities," Pavich said, noting that Weller has received more than $20,000 in contributions from Exelon Corp., which owns the nuclear plants in the district. "He puts the interests of his business clients, his largest contributors, above those of his constituents."

What about the corporations? Would someone please think about the corporations?

November 2, 2006 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

News from Hobart

Hobart, the best little lit journal in Michigan -- hell, the best in Michigan, period -- has some interesting news I'd like to pass along.

First, Michelle Orange, winner of the journal's inaugural minibook contest with her The Sicily Papers (quite a lovely little volume--I'm strongly considered snapping up a copy, even though my to-read pile is already at 50 and rising) has upcoming readings in Chicago, Ann Arbor and Toronto:

November 5th, 7pm
Myopic Books (with Eric Spitznagel)
1564 N. Milwaukee Ave in Wicker Park

Ann Arbor
November 8th, 7pm
Shaman Drum (with Aaron Burch, Stefan Kiesbye, Matt Bell)
311-315 South State Street

November 12th, 8pm
Gladstone (with John MacFarlane, Pasha Malla, Melissa Bell)
1214 Queen Street West

Second, they've launched a blog, joining the burgeoning ranks of journals-with-blogs (Kenyon, Small Spiral Notebook, et al). Welcome to the fray!

November 1, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Hack Writer Interviewed by Thoughtful Host

As I mentioned last week, Donavan Hall interviewed me for his podcast, The Daily Catch, on the subject of NaNoWriMo. The interview is now available here (9.7 MB, 21:07).

Yes, that toad-like warble is indeed my voice. No, James Earl Jones need not fear for his voiceover career.

November 1, 2006 in Books, Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)