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Write What You (Don't) Know

One thing I admire about Poets & Writers (my favorite magazine, by far) is how it routinely introduces me to writers I wasn’t previously familiar with and, more importantly, making me really care about those writers. The most recent example is Colum McCann, the subject of a nice profile (story not online) in the current issue. Here's a particularly insightful quote from McCann:

So many people believe that you should only write what you know. But I’m interested in writing toward what you want to know…Yes. It’s an absurd prospect. It is impossible -- philosophically and logically -- because ultimately we only write about ourselves anyway. However, I want my students to leave the shackles of their immediate geography, their suburban upbringing -- the mother who is still haunting them and taking their fiction down. I want them to lose all that. Invent your mother, invent a new father. Ultimately, they will carve it down to what they really can do. But it’s a question of liberation.

McCann practices what he preaches, going down into New York’s subway tunnels “four or five times a week” in researching the urban homeless for his novel This Side of Brightness, and spending extensive time in Roma (Gypsy) camps in Eastern Europe for his latest, Zoli.

I admire his enthusiasm for sociological immersion, partly due to my recent realization that something similar may be required of me with my novel-in-progress, Forever, of which I’m very close to completing my first draft. In writing the novel, I’ve willfully steered clear of my usual literary stomping grounds of Chicago and the Midwest, with the plot taking place in South Africa, New York City, Philadelphia and Atlanta. By necessity (both logistical and economic), I’ll probably have to forego visiting the diamond mines of South Africa, and the New York and Atlanta sections are largely interior, so no visit to those cities will likely be necessary. There’s also been plenty enough written about New York that I can probably glean any physical insights I need from books -- just for starters, I’m already considering re-reading Dos Passos’ Manhattan Transfer, and reading The Great Gatsby and Thomas Kelly’s Empire Rising for the first time, with each of these novels taking place at roughly the same time as the New York section of my book.

Which leaves Philadelphia, a city I know little of, and in fact have never even visited. The Philadelphia section of the book has a very strong physical element to it, with its descriptions based entirely on naïve presumption and conjecture on my part. I already know that subsequent revisions will result in my completely tearing apart and correcting the exterior passages (I’ve even been making up all the street names) for accuracy. This will undoubtedly require one or more visits to the city, preferably under the guidance of a patient and knowledgeable native. Any native Philadelphians, whether resident or expatriate, who might be bravely willing to undertake such an adventure may feel free to contact me.

December 31, 2006 in Books, Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

NaClerWriMo: "To Real Poets Everywhere"

To Real Poets Everywhere
My regrets to real poets, whether living or dead
Whose genuine verse of the heart and the head
Is sullied by clerihews published in this space.
To poetry, such doggerel is quite the disgrace.

(Clerihews compiled here; explanation here. This is the final clerihew entry for NaClerWriMo 2006. So long, it's been fun.)

December 31, 2006 in Fiction, NaClerWriMo | Permalink | Comments (0)

Joliet Police Blotter: 2006 Story of the Year

It's been a truly fine year for criminal stupidity in Joliet, as impeccably reported by the inimitable Joe Hosey of the Joliet Herald-News.

The runners-up:
Gunning for a child safety award?
Comment: Recklessly endangering children's lives makes this story much more appalling than funny. Since I value stupidity as much as humor in my police blotter reading, this story doesn't make the cut.

On wrong track
Comment: Drunkenly driving onto the train tracks is noteworthy enough, but banging on the neighbor's door and urging them to stop the train -- as if it was in their power to do so -- is quite the topper. Hosey's trademark dry wit ("residents were unable to comply with Flake's request", plus the Robert Frost allusion in the opening paragraph) also makes this item a particularly strong contender. But I can't get past the simple fact that the culprit was drunk, and let's face it -- we've all done stupid things while drunk, albeit probably not to this extreme.

Blazing his own trail
Comment: Another fine example of wayward inebriated driving. I love the mental image of a guy looking out his rear window at what is normally an idyllic expanse of wilderness, only to see headlights moving around. In making the comment "Deputies approached the driver and noticed several signs indicating he was intoxicated", Hosey also nobly refrained from adding the obvious, something along the lines of "...not the least of which was driving a station wagon 250 yards from the nearest road." But this story is missing that special something, like that the culprit wanted to go off-roading and could have sworn he was driving his Chevy Blazer at the time.

The winner:
One easy arrest
Comment: As my earlier post indicates, not much further commentary is needed. But unnecessarily alerting the police to your presence, when you have a big bag of pot in plain sight in your car, along with two loaded handguns, crack cocaine and other drug-related paraphenalia, earns this errant youth the grand prize.


These stories are just from the Joliet area. But I've really got to give a big honorable mention to this cringeworthy gem, from Chicago:

Man severs own penis, throws it at officers
Comment: None, absolutely none. In fact, I don't even want to think about this story any further.

December 30, 2006 in Joliet | Permalink | Comments (0)

NaClerWriMo: "Keith Moon"

Keith Moon
Moon drummed with a fury so rarely surpassed
Impossibly busy, unimaginably fast
His life was the same, jammed with parties and booze
Spent it freely, as if he had nothing to lose.

(Clerihews compiled here; explanation here.)

December 30, 2006 in Fiction, NaClerWriMo | Permalink | Comments (0)

Good Reading 2006

Yes, it's that time of year again. As the Arctic cold settles in and Christmas retreats in the rearview mirror, it's time to reflect on the best books I've read during the past twelve months. Since I rarely read a book in its year of publication, my list is drawn from books I've read this year, not ones published this year. The envelope, please...

1. James Meek: The People's Act of Love
2. Ander Monson: Other Electricities
3. Jonathan Coe: Like a Fiery Elephant: The Story of B.S. Johnson
4. Kevin Guilfoile: Cast of Shadows
5. Tony Fitzpatrick: Bum Town
6. Kurt Vonnegut: Slaughterhouse-Five
7. Miriam Toews: A Complicated Kindness
8. Richard Grayson: And To Think That He Kissed Him on Lorimer Street
9. James Joyce: Dubliners
10. Shalom Auslander: Beware of God

Honorable Mentions: Marjane Satrapi: Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood; Art Spiegelman: In the Shadow of No Towers; Colin Meloy: Let It Be; Jay Ryan: 100 Posters, 134 Squirrels: A Decade of Hot Dogs, Large Mammals, and Independent Rock: The Handcrafted Art of Jay Ryan.

Re-Readings: Theodore Dreiser: Sister Carrie; Franz Kafka and Peter Kuper: The Metamorphosis.

2005 List
2004 List
2003 List
2002 List

December 29, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

NaClerWriMo: "Tom Waits"

Tom Waits
Waits, irrepressibly brave troubadour
Of the downtrodden, those of less not of more
His compassion inborn and not just of choice
Heartening the luckless with life-ravaged voice.

(Clerihews compiled here; explanation here.)

December 29, 2006 in Fiction, NaClerWriMo | Permalink | Comments (0)

Top Downloads of 2006

Other than the first song, the rest of these appear in no particular order.

1. Tom Waits, "You Can Never Hold Back Spring"
The relentless optimism of this astounding song is nothing short of inspirational. By far, my favorite song of the year.

2. Joel R.L. Phelps & the Downer Trio, "Who Can I Burn?"
Beware the version of this album (3) on iTunes, which crackles and pops like it was copied from a used vinyl LP. I might have regretted my purchase had Joel Phelps himself not made things right, sending me an autographed copy of the CD, along with his two most recent and similarly out-of-print albums, all gratis. Oh, and the tune is terrific, too.

3. Tommy Stinson, "Someday"
Former Replacements enfant terrible returns from creative oblivion, with the remarkably mature Village Gorilla Head, from 2004.

4. The Replacements, "Color Me Impressed"
I'm a Replacements fan from way back, not so far back as to have witnessed one of their sloppy-drunk bar shows, but far enough to have seen their final show (a feckless effort in Chicago's Grant Park in 1991). This rousing song is one of their finest efforts, nimbly bridging the gap between their hardcore roots and their midcareer iconic glory.

5. Billy Bragg, "Tank Park Salute"
With his big reissue on Yep Roc, there are so many choices this year with Bragg ("Between the Wars", "The Crashing of Ideologies", his completely unexpected cover of "A Change Is Gonna Come") but if I have to choose just one, I'll go with this gentle, poignant track about a young boy losing his father. Heartbreaking.

6. X, "Fourth of July"
I've always loved this one, though I was first familiar with the version by Dave Alvin from his solo debut, Romeo's Escape. (He wrote the song for X, and only later decided to record it himself.) As much as I like Alvin's version, X's is even better, for the harmonic interplay between John Doe and Exene's voices. Alvin's lyrics are particularly vivid -- I can practically see those Mexican kids downstairs, recklessly shooting off fireworks.

7. Chin Up Chin Up, "Virginia Don't Drown"
Excellent Chicago band tones down its math rock impulses with warm keyboards, nimble guitar work and propulsive rythyms, while never forsaking their highly distinctive vocals.

8. The Mekons, "Last Night on Earth"
A song I've been familar with for some time, one which gained enhanced resonance by its key role in one of my favorite novels of the year, Kevin Guilfoile's Cast of Shadows.

9. Greg Graffin, "Don't Be Afraid to Run"
Venerable Bad Religion frontman steps away from the roar to make a traditional folk record. While the reduced decibel level may surprise longtime fans of the band, the song's message of populist protest shouldn't.

10. Sebadoh, "The Freed Pig"
Lou Barlow's 1991 swipe at former Dinosaur Jr. bandmate J Mascis, a perky tune made not at all irrelevant by Dino's inevitable recent reunion. In indie rock, there apparently are no burned bridges.

11. R.E.M., "You Are the Everything"
Moody, aching, as atmospheric as if Daniel Lanois was involved (which he wasn't), this is the best song off of R.E.M.'s most forgettable album, Green.

12. Cat Power, "The Greatest"
Yes, Chan Marshall backed by a syrupy string section. Yes, it works. Somehow.

December 28, 2006 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

NaClerWriMo: "George Bush"

George Bush
George Bush
Horse's tush
Wants to be king
But rules not a thing.

(Clerihews compiled here; explanation here.)

December 28, 2006 in Fiction, NaClerWriMo | Permalink | Comments (0)

Books Given and Received, 2006

Continuing on last year's post, here are the books I gave and received for Christmas this year:

Given:
Douglas Bukowski – Pictures of Home
Michael Pollan – The Omnivore’s Dilemma
The Best of the Sun, Vol. I
Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughterhouse-Five
Kevin Guilfoile – Cast of Shadows
J.K. Rowling - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azbekan
E.B. White – The Trumpet of the Swan
Daniel Levitin – This Is Your Brain On Music
Robert Morgan - Then Sings My Soul, Vols. I & II
Brian Greene – The Elegant Universe
Jared Diamond – Guns, Germs and Steel
James Meek - The People's Act of Love
Sara Gruen - Water for Elephants

Received:
John Updike and Edward Gorey - The Twelve Terrors of Christmas
Ivan Brunetti, editor - An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons & True Stories
Rick Kogan - A Chicago Tavern: A Goat, A Curse and the American Dream
Rick Kogan and Charles Osgood - Sidewalks: Portaits of Chicago


Kogan and Osgood's lovely book was particularly welcomed, as Kogan had told me of its upcoming publication when we chatted at Printers Row Book Fair last summer. Even better, the book was a gift from my mom, who had it autographed by both Kogan and Osgood; Kogan was kind enough to inscribe "For Pete: Fight the good fight for your art. Keep writing. - Rick Kogan." Quite nice.

December 27, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Overheard at Trader Joe's

(Customer eyes bottle of Young's Double Chocolate Stout.)

"Huh! Chocolate beer. That's not my forté."

December 27, 2006 in Overheard | Permalink | Comments (1)

NaClerWriMo: "Gerald Ford"

Gerald Ford
Farewell to President Gerald R. Ford
The Stopgap-in-Chief whom the lefties abhorred
For forgiving the Tricky One of all his crimes.
Letting bygones be bygones was best for those times.

(Clerihews compiled here; explanation here.)

December 27, 2006 in Fiction, NaClerWriMo | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Pogues Revived

The Independent has a terrific, loving article on the Pogues, whose reconciliation and reunion with Shane MacGowan has me overjoyed. Not that I particularly care if they ever release any new material -- just knowing that they're out there somewhere, in some whiskey-soaked barroom, joyously pounding out their indelible, timeless music is enough for me. I don't need a new record, as long as descriptions like this can still be written:

The Pogues are delivering a song-and-dance act that links generations, that defies time. A jumble of men in motion, they are doing it with an athleticism that also seems to defy time, at least as far as the accordion player James Fearnley and the guitarist Philip Chevron are concerned, and with a finely tuned sense of dynamics that somehow sounds abandoned amid the grand rush and sweep.

And Shane MacGowan is at the top of his game. He may blunder around the stage, kicking his microphone stand to hell, like the portly uncle of his previous upstart self, but his offhand rasp hits home, gruffly, in the right places, more often than it ever did. He sounds almost exactly like you want him to...

The article includes a nice history of "Fairytale of New York", which for my money is the best holiday song written in the past fifty years. Not to mention the only holiday song which will ever effectively include the line "You're an old slut on junk."

(Via Dogmatika.)

December 26, 2006 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Austin Kleon, "Birdseed"

One of my favorite 2006 discoveries, Austin Kleon, has a lovely online comic, "Birdseed", which is quite worthy of your perusal. If we all tried harder to be like the birdseed guy, this world would be a gentler, more liveable place.

December 26, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

NaClerWriMo: "James Brown"

James Brown
Give it up for the Godfather, Mr. James Brown
Hard-working man of such fame and renown
Who richly deserved the great Soul Brother name.
He always felt good, and made us feel the same.

(Clerihews compiled here; explanation here.)

December 26, 2006 in Fiction, NaClerWriMo | Permalink | Comments (0)

NaClerWriMo: "Santa Claus"

Santa Claus
Santa Claus, old Saint Nick
Being good does the trick
To get his free gifts, as goes the tradition,
Behaving yourself is the only condition.

(Clerihews compiled here; explanation here.)

December 25, 2006 in Fiction, NaClerWriMo | Permalink | Comments (0)

NaClerWriMo: "The Grinch"

The Grinch
Could the quite sour thoughts of that angry old Grinch
Have really been caused by shoes that did pinch?
Ne'er mind, for he found what makes Christmas worth living
Is not in the getting, but rather the giving.

(Clerihews compiled here; explanation here.)

December 24, 2006 in Fiction, NaClerWriMo | Permalink | Comments (0)

A Heartwarming Holiday Wish



To me, nothing quite embraces the holiday spirit like this classic Charles Addams image of the Addams Family preparing to pour what appears to be boiling oil onto a group of unsuspecting and innocent carolers.

Which begs the question -- do people still carol door-to-door any more? My family did it a few times when I was very young, but that's over thirty years ago already. Well, anyway, even if that old tradition has fallen by the wayside, Maddie, Julie and I would like to wish you and yours a happy and safe holiday season, and a healthy and prosperous 2007.

(Image via Patricia.)

December 23, 2006 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

NaClerWriMo: "P.D.Q. Bach"

P.D.Q. Bach
Incorrigible progeny P.D.Q. Bach
Imagined by Schickele, whimsical doc
With so many kids, even mighty J.S.
Sometimes, regrettably, settled for less.

(Clerihews compiled here; explanation here.)

December 23, 2006 in Fiction, NaClerWriMo | Permalink | Comments (0)

Oh Man Oh Man Oh Man!!!

An early Christmas present just arrived -- the single greatest cartoon ever made, Warner Brothers' "One Froggy Evening", courtesy of some brave copyright-defying citizen at YouTube. I've been looking for this one video for years, but haven't found it yet.

(Via Boing Boing, to whom I will now be forever grateful.)

December 22, 2006 in Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

NaClerWriMo: "Edgar Allan Poe"

Edgar Allan Poe
Troubed Edgar Allan Poe
Tells of terror, tells of woe
Into the maelstrom his soul sails
Heart forever telling tales.

(Clerihews compiled here; explanation here.)

December 22, 2006 in Fiction, NaClerWriMo | Permalink | Comments (0)

NaClerWriMo: "Sherlock Holmes"

Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes
Forever roams
The shady streets and foggy moors of my imagination
Solving mysteries and conundrums to my constant delectation.

(Clerihews compiled here; explanation here.)

December 21, 2006 in Fiction, NaClerWriMo | Permalink | Comments (0)

Save Book Market!

Walgreens, whose corporate policy apparently prohibits being able to drive two miles anywhere in the Chicago area without passing one of their stores, is eyeing yet another new location in my hometown of Joliet. Their plan would eliminate one of the oldest shopping centers in town, and displace numerous locally-owned businesses, including the only independent bookstore in the area, Book Market. This comes despite the fact that there's already a Walgreens just two blocks away.

The bookstore is, of course, "looking for space elsewhere", but such a disruption is the last thing any small business needs, especially an independent bookseller. Best of luck to Janet Staley, the store's owner.

December 20, 2006 in Books, Joliet | Permalink | Comments (4)

2006 Underrated Writers

Jeff Bryant (The Syntax of Things) and Trevor Jackson (Creekside Review) were kind enough to publish all three of my nominations for their 2006 Underrated Writers project: Kirby Gann, Richard Grayson and Miriam Toews. Check out my thoughts on these three fine writers, as well as the entries for all of the other writers. There's plenty more great talent listed there that I really want to explore further, with Chris Bachelder, Ed Falco, Laird Hunt and Katharine Weber being only the most obvious examples.

But, come on! Richard Powers and Benjamin Kunkel, "underrated"? In what alternate universe? Sure, they're not on the bestseller list next to King, Steele and Crichton, but I doubt if they'd even want to be. As far as critical recognition goes, neither those two nor their fans have much to complain about.

December 20, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

NaClerWriMo: "Michael Richards"

Michael Richards
The man once beloved as that goof Cosmo Kramer
Is now widely reviled as an angry defamer.
Ugly slurs hurled at hecklers, when jokes all fell flat:
Yes, Michael, there is something quite wrong with that.

(Clerihews compiled here; explanation here.)

December 20, 2006 in Fiction, NaClerWriMo | Permalink | Comments (0)

Heller, Unfinished

The new issue of The Paris Review presents an excerpt from Hagar & Ishmael, an unfinished novel by Joseph Heller.

It wasn’t my idea. Sarah thought of it first. But I was excited from the time she said so, and I began to wash myself everywhere every day, and to keep myself clean after noontime too. I was happy as a lark and chirped and flitted everywhere like a cute little bird, singing to myself merrily and winking to my friends and giggling behind my hands, after Sarah raised the question and Abraham moved me into his quarters to be near him, where I could be watched. Of course I would not have said no even if I could have, and of course I was excited by this chance. I was the envy of almost all of the other women, even of those with husbands.

Although I need another literary journal languishing unread on my bookshelf like the proverbial hole in the head, I just might have to splurge on this one. Abraham and Sarah ain't exactly Yossarian or Eugene Pota, but I still might check it out.

(Via Nextbook.)

December 19, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Royko on Daley

Here's a tremendous item from the annals of journalistic history: the late great Mike Royko's 1976 ode to former Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley, who died thirty years ago tomorrow.

In some ways, he was this town at its best -- strong, hard-driving, working feverishly, pushing, building, driven by ambitions so big they seemed Texas-boastful.

In other ways, he was this city at its worst -- arrogant, crude, conniving, ruthless, suspicious, intolerant.

One incomparable Chicagoan, writing about another.

December 19, 2006 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (1)

NaClerWriMo: "Mark Sandman"

Mark Sandman
Mark Sandman sauntered right into the room
The cold March night sweltering, somehow, like June
Had a drink at the bar, then strapped on his bass
Deep grooves, musky voice permeating the place.

(Clerihews compiled here; explanation here.)

December 19, 2006 in Fiction, NaClerWriMo | Permalink | Comments (0)

Rounding Third and Heading For Home

Unlike past NaNoWriMo's, this year I pressed on with writing my novel (working title: Forever) beyond November, not setting it aside with the delusion that I'd resume writing again soon. (That tactic left me with two unfinished novels from past Novembers, neither of which might ever be completed.) Instead, I soldiered on, extending my November routine of writing on my morning and evening train. Last Friday, I began writing the final section of the book, and since I already how the novel will end, all that stands between me and my first fully-completed first draft is connecting the dots between my current point in the narrative and that conclusion. The excitement is almost palpable, and despite my earlier trepidations I'm actually looking forward to doing rewrites as I slowly move toward having a completely finished novel.

As I've moved through the process, I've been heartened by the following quote from Dennis Lehane, from an interview in The Writer's Chronicle. After reading the quote, I clipped it out of the magazine and having been carrying it around in my wallet for inspiration ever since.

The great moment is finishing the first draft. You nailed it down. You've got something to work with. What was in your head is now on the page in some tangible form with a beginning, middle, and an end. And you still have all the freedom that subsequent drafts give you to make it look a lot prettier. The sadness, maybe, comes in when you've finished that final draft. That's when "What next?" pops into your head. You had real purpose for a year or two, and now you're back to square one. Still, that moment of finishing the first draft and looking at those pages stacked up -- This exists because you do -- that's pretty sweet.

I'm really looking forward to that "What next?".

December 18, 2006 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (1)

NaClerWriMo: "Mud and Spike"

Mud and Spike
Mud and Spike,
What's not to like?
Always catch z's
With greatest of ease.

(Clerihews compiled here; explanation here.)

December 18, 2006 in Fiction, NaClerWriMo | Permalink | Comments (0)

NaClerWriMo: "Billy Bragg"

Billy Bragg
The socialist folkie named Billy Bragg,
Whose passionate compassion might well never lag.
He's got brains and heart, of that there's no joke
But best of all is, he's a regular bloke.

(Clerihews compiled here; explanation here.)

December 17, 2006 in Fiction, NaClerWriMo | Permalink | Comments (0)

Studs Terkel's Right-Wing Agent

The November issue of The Sun has a nice interview with Studs Terkel (four-page excerpt here). I read pretty much every Terkel interview and profile that I come across, so many of the old anecdotes were already familiar, but this beauty was new to me:

So I wasn't working for a while, but I was fairly well-known in town (Chicago), and women's clubs would hire me, pay me a hundred bucks a shot to talk about jazz and folk music and play some records. And at every luncheon they were threatened by this Legionnaire in town, a self-proclaimed lieutenant of Joe McCarthy. And he would call these women's clubs up and warn them that I was a Red. Not one paid attention to him.

There was one elderly woman, very elegant, from an old-money family. She was so furious at this guy that she said, "Mr. Terkel, we are doubling your fee to two hundred dollars as a result." So I had no other choice but to write to this guy. I sent him a ten-dollar check and said, "You're my agent, it turns out. You got me an extra hundred dollars, so I'm giving you a 10 percent commission. Thanks very much. Keep it up." I never heard back from him.


The magazine's website also has part of the interview available (as a Windows Media file) in which Studs reminisces about preparing for a national radio broadcast with the great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson during the 1950s, which included the CBS network asking him to sign a loyalty oath. He refuses, of course, and Mahalia backs him up. Nice.

December 16, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

NaClerWriMo: "Kevin Guilfoile"

Kevin Guilfoile
The mystery writer Kevin Guilfoile’d
Prefer to write fiction that’s rather hardboiled.
But a father who never could say au revoir
Kept his fine debut from descent into noir.

(Clerihews compiled here; explanation here.)

December 16, 2006 in Fiction, NaClerWriMo | Permalink | Comments (0)

A New Kind of Shuffle

When I settled into my seat on the train this morning, I felt the urge to hear both versions of "Pink Frost" that I own -- the original by The Chills, and the cover by Joel R.L. Phelps & the Downer Trio. I selected the Songs menu on my iPod, and dialed all the way down to the P's, so I could listen to the two songs back-to-back. I meant to switch to something else after the two songs were over, but I got deeply involved in some writing and never made the switch, which means the iPod proceeded to play songs in alphabetical order. Here's what I ended up listening to:

Pink Frost - The Chills
Pink Frost - Joel R.L. Phelps & the Downer Trio
Pink Lemonade - Charlie Chesterman
Pink Turns To Blue - Hüsker Dü
Poor Old Tom - Peter Case
Port Of Charleston - Seam
Pot of Gold - The Bottle Rockets
Potomac - Vehicle Flips
Pretty (Ugly Before) - Elliott Smith
Pretty Persuasion - R.E.M.
Punch And Judy - Elliott Smith
Quicksand - Silkworm
Quit These Hills - Pinetop Seven
Radio Free Europe - R.E.M.
Radio Tower - Victor Krummenacher
Rafael - Seam
Rains Around Here - The dB's
Raise The Dead - Victor Krummenacher
Randy Described Eternity - Built To Spill
Real Cool Time - The Feelies

Give it a try sometime -- it's an interesting alternative to shuffle play.

December 15, 2006 in Music | Permalink | Comments (4)

NaClerWriMo: "Dr. Seuss"

Dr. Seuss
Dr. Seuss
Words run loose
The phrase-wrangling Geisel steers all into rhyme
Importful and humorish both at the same time.

(Clerihews compiled here; explanation here.)

December 15, 2006 in Fiction, NaClerWriMo | Permalink | Comments (0)

NaClerWriMo: "Rex Grossman"

Rex Grossman
Rex, Rex
Oh how you perplex
One week Joe Montana, but next Henry Burris
Which one shows for the playoffs has us rather curious.

(Clerihews compiled here; explanation here.)

December 14, 2006 in Fiction, NaClerWriMo | Permalink | Comments (0)

Chicago Fiction, 2006

In a followup to her nonfiction list, Alice Maggio of Gapers Block weighs in with her assessment of the best Chicago fiction of 2006. For once, I've actually read two titles on the list (Todd Dills' Sons of the Rapture and John McNally's America's Report Card) and have my sights set on the following:

La Perdida, by Jessica Abel
Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen (my wife loved this one!)
The Boy Detective Fails, by Joe Meno
Free Burning, by Bayo Ojikutu
In Persuasion Nation, by George Saunders

(Sorry, Ed, but I won't be reading Powers' latest.)

December 13, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (3)

Alvin Lustig Prints for Sale


Earlier this year I expressed my great fondness for the book cover artwork of the late Alvin Lustig. Now, tantalizingly close to the holiday gift-giving season, his website is offering four gorgeous, limited edition prints of Lustig's covers: Arthur Rimbaud's A Season in Hell, Gertrude Stein's Three Lives (probably my favorite of the four), F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and Franz Kafka's Amerika. Just $100 each, plus shipping. Be still my heart.

December 13, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

NaClerWriMo: "Sammy Sosa"

Sammy Sosa
Sosa, the (possibly chemically) inflated
And smiling slugger once had us elated.
But his towering homers soared not far enough
For pennant-starved Cub fans so fickle with love.

(Clerihews compiled here; explanation here.)

December 13, 2006 in Fiction, NaClerWriMo | Permalink | Comments (0)

50 Word Stories

I'm very pleased to announce my first paid writing publication, which comes in a very unusual venue. Le Méridien, a unit of upscale hotel chain Starwood Hotels, has launched a marketing initiative called "50 Beans, 50 Words" to promote its partnership with Illy Coffee. Illy's espresso is made with just 50 beans, so Le Méridien came up with the idea of soliciting 50-word fiction stories from a wide range of writers, each of which will be individually published on small cards to be handed out to customers to read while drinking their coffee.

Le Méridien has accepted five of my 50-word stories ("This Time", "Someday", "Roses", "Awake" and "Incarcerate") which will soon be appearing on the cards in their hotels, and can also be read on their website, which they're hoping will become "somewhat of a literary salon for this genre of literature." Though the Flash setup prevents me from linking directly to my stories, click on "50 Words" here, and then "Browse", and my stories should appear as numbers 27 through 31 in the series.

Le Méridien discovered my writing at 55 Words, which recently published my (55-word) story "This Time", which I subsequently revised to meet Le Méridien's 50-word requirement. Since the hotel's corporate policy prevents them from linking to any external sites (they couldn't even link to mine), I'd like to take this opportunity to give an extra special thanks to Rosemary Mosco and Anca Szilagyi of 55 Words for giving my writing such invaluable exposure.

December 12, 2006 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (1)

NaClerWriMo: "Mike Royko"

Mike Royko
Royko, the late renowned newspaper scribe,
When not hounding the City Hall pols might imbibe
A beer at the Goat after, parish to parish,
Playing sixteen-inch softball the locals so cherish.

(Clerihews compiled here; explanation here.)

December 12, 2006 in Fiction, NaClerWriMo | Permalink | Comments (0)

Pins and Needles

Absent-minded, perhaps...

The 20 finalists will be posted right after I put them in the mail. The announcement of the winner will be a little later than intended - again, not because I didn't believe any of the manuscripts were of sufficient quality, or even because I received way more than I expected, but due to a lapse in brain synapse functions.

...but he's certainly no Neil Azevedo.

December 11, 2006 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

NaClerWriMo: "Kirby Gann"

Kirby Gann
Kirby Gann is the one
Whose Southern Napoleon,
Hay Keebler, dared dream about saving the world,
His quest sadly doomed before even unfurled.

(Clerihews compiled here; explanation here.)

December 11, 2006 in Fiction, NaClerWriMo | Permalink | Comments (0)

Overheard at Sugarbucks

   "Excuse me, this was supposed to be an eggnog latté. I don't know what this is, but it tastes awful."
   (Baristas confer, one examines cup.) "It's coffee."
   "Like I said, awful."

December 10, 2006 in Overheard | Permalink | Comments (3)

NaClerWriMo: "B.B. King"

B.B. King
B.B. King
The man sure can sing
What makes him the real deal
Is the notes coaxed from Lucille.

(Clerihews compiled here; explanation here.)

December 10, 2006 in Fiction, NaClerWriMo | Permalink | Comments (0)

Richard Ford and the Deck Shoes

Richard Ford has been getting a lot of press lately, with the recent release of his latest novel, The Lay of the Land. But of all the pieces I've read, this interview at NewCity Chicago grabbed my attention for this revealing peek into one aspect of the writer's craft.

It'd be an entertaining self-criticism for any journalist to do, using Google to mine their commonplace words, a devil's dictionary of personal clichés. "Mm-hm, mm-hm. I know I have them. I'm particularly wont to have people wearing the same things. When I was finishing this book, one of the last things we did was, I suddenly became aware that everyone in the book had on a pair of deck shoes. So I had to go back and change everybody but one person's shoes. That kind of crazy-making stuff. But you're right, with a big book like this, the clerical issues are large."

I suspect I'll have a similar revelation when I do my first read-through of my latest novel-in-progress, Forever, though in my case it will probably involve sloppy overuse of the words "still", "even" and "indeed."

December 9, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

NaClerWriMo: "Barack Obama"

Barack Obama
With Barack Obama,
Each word and each comma
Is perfectly placed. But what sets him apart?
The depth of his mind and the depth of his heart.

(Clerihews compiled here; explanation here.)

December 9, 2006 in Fiction, NaClerWriMo | Permalink | Comments (0)

NaClerWriMo: "Ander Monson"

Ander Monson
Ander Monson
From north of Wisconsin
Where kids move away or else stay and grow old
Electricities linking souls hid from the cold.

(Clerihews compiled here; explanation here.)

December 8, 2006 in Fiction, NaClerWriMo | Permalink | Comments (0)

Chicago Nonfiction, 2006

At Gapers Block, Alice Maggio serves up her annual list of the best Chicago nonfiction titles of the year. Of particular interest to yours truly, and making a perfect Christmas gift for moi (hint hint), are:

Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement, and the Bombing That Divided Gilded Age America, by James Green

The Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City, by Carl S. Smith

Sidewalks: Portraits of Chicago, by Rick Kogan

The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, by Barack Obama

Richard Nickel's Chicago: Photographs of a Lost City, by Richard Cahan and Michael Williams

Black Writing from Chicago: In the World, Not of It?, edited by Richard R. Guzman

A Chicago Tavern: A Goat, A Curse and the American Dream, by Rick Kogan

Robber Baron: The Life of Charles Tyson Yerkes, by John French

December 7, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

NaClerWriMo: "Studs Terkel"

Studs Terkel
Studs Terkel’s histories have as their lessers
The dense tomes of cloistered old college professors.
Lively books tell of working and hard times and strife
With everyday stories of everyday life.

(Clerihews compiled here; explanation here.)

December 7, 2006 in Fiction, NaClerWriMo | Permalink | Comments (0)

NaClerWriMo: "Nelson Algren"

Nelson Algren
Algren, the great bard of the Northwest Side
Of Chicago, wrote much, for he could not abide
As society ignored, or dismissed with a laugh
The have-nots and their struggle for what little they have.

(Clerihews compiled here; explanation here.)

December 6, 2006 in Fiction, NaClerWriMo | Permalink | Comments (0)