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NaNoWriMo: Over and Out

16,582 words. Far short of the official NaNoWriMo target of 50,000 words and even my more modest goal of 20,000 words. And I'm glad I did it this way. I don't enjoy revisions enough to spew out 50,000 words of slop during November that will later require heavy, painstaking editing to bring about a first draft that's even remotely readable. Sure, I could have cranked out that many words if I wanted to, but it wouldn't have left me that much closer to a finished book - and I don't write just for the hell of it, but because I want to craft stories that I'll be pleased with and that others might enjoy as well. So I write slowly and carefully, so I can get a decent first draft that will represent a much lower obstacle for future revisions.

I'm also glad that I've devoted significant time to The Night. The story has been in my head for several years now, and I thought it finally deserved some effort from me to see if there's anything viable there. And I think it is viable, but with a lot more work. So though NaNoWriMo ends today, I'm going to keep right on with the writing, Mondays through Wednesdays, starting tomorrow. Only once I've finished the first draft will I finally set it aside, then let it ferment for a while and come back to it later. I won't be able to publish any more excerpts at my NaNoWriMo page, though I may do so here periodically as the book progresses further.

Incidentally, I first thought up the premise for the book a few years ago, when Continuum Books was soliciting book proposals for their excellent 33 1/3 series. As it turns out, they are once again soliciting proposals, with a deadline of December 31. I'm not sure if I'll have enough of the book finished by then to decide whether or not it would be worth it to submit a formal proposal. Last time around I did make a proposal, despite having thought up nothing more than a few paragraphs of plot summary. This time I'll be close to having a completed first draft when it's time to propose, though I still won't be sure whether or not I'll have enough of it done to be able to commit to delivering a book. We'll just have to see about that.

November 30, 2008 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (1)

Song of the Week: Otis Redding

Otis Redding: Try A Little Tenderness

Wow, wow, WOW. There's not much to say about this song that Redding hasn't already imparted on a gut, visceral, unspoken level through the song itself, so I'll leave the talking to him. Probably the greatest soul singer who ever lived. How utterly devastating for all of us, even after all these years, that he was taken away so soon.

If this at all whetted your appetite for more Otis Redding - and I can't see how it wouldn't, assuming you're still alive and breathing - then check out this Ready Steady Go! appearance from 1966. Damn.

November 28, 2008 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

A treasure trove of old restaurant menus!

Here's a website that I'll be wallowing in quite contentedly for the near future: the Los Angeles Public Library Menu Collection. The database lets you search by city, so of course I pulled up all the Chicago restaurants. Here are my favorite menu covers (and if you click through the links, you can see the inside of the menus too):

Barney's Market Club

Cafe Bohemia


Edgewater Beach Hotel




Probably my favorite of the bunch is the Riccardo menu, whose stylishness is not at all surprising given how renowned the restaurant was for its art collection. And though the Colosimo's and Walgreen's menus have little artistic merit, I included them here for the sake of curiousity. Colosimo's was located in the notorious Levee vice district and was operated by Big Jim Colosimo, who was the kingpin of the Chicago mob before Capone took over. And the Walgreen's menu is notable for the breadth of its food selections - I've always imagined the old Walgreen's to only have soda fountains, but clearly they were regular short-order grills. (And I love how "perch" is crossed out with red ink on "Deep Fried Filet of Perch" and replaced with "haddock." Perch happens to be native to Lake Michigan, while haddock is an ocean fish. Odd that they ran out of the local species.)

It also occurred to me that this database is an excellent resource for fiction writers, especially those who write historic fiction. If one of your scenes is set in a 1950s restaurant, this would be a great place to skim old menus so you can get the old menu items (Swiss steak, anyone?) and prices just right.

November 27, 2008 in Chicago Observations, Ephemera | Permalink | Comments (2)

(Bolingbrook) Police Blotter

Ah, irony...sweet, delectable, scrumptious irony.
Exit sign sparks fire in Bolingbrook
BOLINGBROOK -- An electrical failure in an exit sign and exterior light caused a fire in an apartment building Wednesday afternoon.

Battalion Chief Trinedad Garza said the fire started around 3:03 p.m. in the apartment building at 501 Preston off of Boughton Road.

Firefighters had to evacuate the west side of the complex, but had residents back in their apartments in about an hour.

Firefighters had to pull down some ceilings and clear out smoke. There were no injuries and no one was displaced, Garza said.
Yes, I had to stray outside of Joliet for this police blotter item, but at least it still appeared in the Herald-News. So it counts.

November 27, 2008 in Joliet | Permalink | Comments (0)

Pentathlon? Tetrathlon? Quadrathlon?

After seeing this story (track and field officials are dropping one of the five events of the pentathlon in an attempt to keep the sport viable) I immediately began to imagine some other headlines...




November 27, 2008 in Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Showmen's League building, Harry's Hot Dogs are doomed

Well, it looks like the quirky Showmen's League building and its anachronistic tenant Harry's Hot Dogs (which I first mentioned here) are in their final days. While I'm pleased that the John Buck Company is buying out the properties instead of making the city play the eminent-domain heavy, I still can't understand why the most powerful real estate developer in the city needs a $7 million subsidy from the city to build a plaza (in the not-exactly-blighted West Loop) which will primarily benefit - surprise! - the adjacent Buck office tower on Wacker.

"The last thing Chicago needs is another windswept plaza, another vacant lot," said Jonathan Fine, executive director of Preservation Chicago. "It sounds like a stupid way to go about urban planning."

The Showman's League building is one of the few left in the Loop that date from the 1870s, Fine said. He said it doesn't merit landmark consideration because of severe alterations, but still is more productive than a plaza that would mostly benefit Buck.
Nice words, but Fine and Preservation Chicago are tilting at windmills. The deal will get done, Buck will get richer, taxpayers will get poorer and City Hall will pat itself on the back for fostering "progress", just like it's always been here. Get yourself over to 300 W. Washington and enjoy the carved elephants, and a hot dog at Harry's, while you still can.

November 25, 2008 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (1)

NaNoWriMo: Week 3

Things are already slowing down. I'm at 12,406 words and only anticipate three more days of NaNoWriMo writing. It's doubtful I'll get to even my reduced goal of 20,000 words, and I'm fine with that. The slowdown is due to a significant shift in my writing schedule. As I've mentioned before, I do all my writing on weekdays while on my morning and evening trains - two hours a day, ten hours a week - with no writing at night or on weekends. Those two hours a day that I write on the train are the ones I'd otherwise spend doing serious reading or, on the evening train, serious napping. Sleep deprivation for the sake of writing is one thing, but I've found myself quite driftless by not being absorbed in a book. I can't give up serious reading (my time at home is spent in other pursuits, with the only reading being casual - usually magazines), so I've decided to divide up my work week - until I have a finished first draft of The Night, I'll be writing Monday through Wednesday, and leave Thursday and Friday for reading. I think I'll be much happier with this arrangement.

I've posted another excerpt from the novel at my NaNoWriMo page (under the "Novel Info" tab) for what I hope is your reading enjoyment.

November 23, 2008 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (1)

Overheard: Home Cut Donuts

(Young African-American man, waiting in line and apparently eyeing the teenaged girls who are tending the counter, is asked by an acquaintance how he's doing.)

Man: "Fine lookin' young ladies...a cheap breakfast...I'm doin' good!"

November 23, 2008 in Joliet, Overheard | Permalink | Comments (0)

W. David Shaw


Throwback that I am [1], I find myself increasingly drawn to mid-century art and design. I particularly love this illustration of San Francisco by W. David Shaw, from the mid 1950s, which beautifully captures the color and bustle of the city. Check out the full-size magazine spread here, as well as a biographic piece on Shaw at Today's Inspiration.

[1] No, I haven't seen Mad Men yet, though I've been meaning to. I strongly suspect that the show might suddenly inspire in me an overwhelming passion for Manhattans, Brylcreem and boat-sized automobiles with tailfins.

November 23, 2008 in Art | Permalink | Comments (3)

Update on Concord Free Press

My copy of Give and Take arrived in yesterday's mail. I'm guessing I got one of the last copies of the initial run, as I've seen Concord Free Press getting a lot of online press this week. The press has gotten great response to their mission - the main page of their website lists 100+ recipients who have already donated to charity. Great concept and a great cause.

If you'd like to have my copy of the book after I've read it (and, of course, are willing to make a donation to the charity of your choice), just let me know.

November 23, 2008 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Joliet Citizens Brewing


Another sharp keg label, this one from Joliet Citizens Brewing Company, which operated here from 1904 through 1948. (Its latter incarnation, Bohemian Brewery, brought Joliet's long brewing history to an end when it closed in 1958.) Not exactly sure what Joliet Citizens produced during Prohibition to keep the doors open - I'm sure on an official basis it was "near beer", but Joliet was a pretty wide-open town back then, so my guess is that they never stopped brewing the genuine article while the authorities looked the other way.

UPDATE: The comment below from "Mr. X" prompted me to take a closer look at that label - despite the "Keg Beer" moniker, the label isn't from a keg at all, but instead a 64-oz. bottle. But I didn't mean to imply that this label was from the Prohibition era - instead it's probably from the 40s or 50s. The fact that it doesn't say "near beer" or "tonic" or any of the old euphemisms from the dry days indicates this is the full-strength variety and is most certainly "legit." Now, whatever the brewery happened to ship out through the back door during Prohibition under the cover of darkness, that's another story...

November 22, 2008 in Ephemera, Joliet | Permalink | Comments (3)

Alistair Cooke

Lovely piece from the BBC on Alistair Cooke, who would have turned 100 years old this week. As the story discusses, Cooke spent much of his life trying to understand and explain America to the rest of the world. This quote, as related here by his daughter, is particularly remarkable:

Perhaps in every period of affluence and self-indulgence, America needs a national crisis, a depression, a collapse of the money market, to throw up a benevolent leader - he had better be benevolent if the system is to hold - who mobilizes the best of America instead of the worst.

Remarkable, especially considering he said this in 1998, years before the rise of Barack Obama to the national stage. I doubt if many Americans even recognized its self-indulgence and the illusory nature of its affluence during the past few years, which have abruptly brought us to the crisis we're in right now. (And I certainly hope and trust that Obama is just such a benevolent leader.) Seems like Cooke knew us better than we know ourselves.

November 22, 2008 in Audio, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Working: Deep Miner and His Wife

The recent passing of Studs Terkel has prompted me to finally start reading Working, his marvelous and groundbreaking oral history in which he interviewed dozens of everyday Americans about their working lives. It's a very long book - my copy is 750 pages with very small type - so as good as it is I don't think I'll read it cover to cover. Instead, I'll probably read it in installments over the next few months, returning to it now and again, and savoring it like a drawn-out seven-course dinner. As I read, I'll post excerpts here that particularly strike me - every passage I've read so far has been excellent, so the excerpts will be what I consider to be the best of the best.

The excerpt below is from "Joe and Susie Haynes: Deep Miner and His Wife", who are a middle-aged couple in the coal-mining country of eastern Kentucky. Although their passage touches only lightly on work itself, I couldn't help being moved by their palpable anger at the strip-mining companies who have exploited their families for nearly a century and ruined their livelihoods, homes and their very way of life.

JOE: ...You're in one of the richest areas in the world and some of the poorest people in the world. They's about twenty-eight gas and oil wells. They have one here they claim at least a three-million-dollar-a-year gas well. One of the men that works for the gas company said they valued it at twenty-five million dollars, that one well. They offered a woman seventy-five dollars on the farm that the gas well's laid on, for destroyin' half an acre of her place to set that well up.

They can do that legally because they have the mineral rights - broad from deed. Eighteen eighty-nine, my grandfather sold this, everything known and that might be found later - gas, oil, clay stone...My grandfather and grandmother signed in with two X's. They accepted the farmin' rights. Company can dig all the timber, all your soil off, uncover everything, just to get their coal. Go anywhere they want to, drill right in your garden if they want to.

They took bulldozers and they tore the top off the ground. I couldn't plow it or nothin' where they left it. Come through right by that walnut tree. I've got corn this year, first year I raised it. About four years since they left. Nice corn over there. I had to move a lot of rock where they took the bulldozers.

They threatened my wife with trespassin' here because she called up the water pollution man, the gas and oil company did. (Laughs.) If the oil runs down this creek, it's kill the fish and everything in it. And I had a lot of chickens to die, too, from drinkin' that oil.

SUSIE: When they come through with those bulldozer and tear it up like that, the dirt from it runs down to our bottom land and it ruins the water. Our drinkin' water gets muddy. So we don't have much of a chance, don't look like.

Our boy in the navy when he comes back, he says all he can see is the mountain tore up with bulldozers. Even the new roads they built, they's debris on it and you can't hardly get through it sometimes. I guess that's what they send our boys off to fight for, to keep 'em a free country and then they do to us like that. Nothin' we can do about it. He said it was worse here than it was over in Vietnam. Four times he's been in Vietnam. He said this was a worse toreup place than Vietnam. He said, "What's the use of goin' over there and fightin' and then havin' to come back over here an' pay taxes on somethin' that's torn up like that?"

"A worse toreup place than Vietnam." Wow.

November 22, 2008 in Books, Studs Terkel: Working | Permalink | Comments (0)

Orange Alert!

Jason Behrends, the tireless and astoundingly productive proprietor of What To Wear During an Orange Alert? and fledgling publisher Orange Alert Press was kind enough to interview me on various writer topics, including blogging, promotion vs. self-promotion, fiction research, print vs. online journals, handling rejection and what I'm working on, plus shout-outs for some of my favorite litblogs, rock bands and the ever-glorious Intelligentsia Coffee. Please check it out.

(Mr. Tanzer and Mr. Ostdick, I patiently await your return hype.)

November 21, 2008 in Books, Personal | Permalink | Comments (2)

Concord Free Press

Stona Fitch had already earned my lifelong appreciation, as a founding member of Boston's great and long-departed Scruffy the Cat. But now he's raised himself even higher in my estimation, as founder of Concord Free Press. It's an indie publisher, but not just another indie publisher - CFP gives its books away for free, asking only that recipients donate whatever they wish to the charity or person of their choice, and when done with the book pass it along to someone else. And those hand-me-down recipients are also asked to donate wherever they wish, with the idea that CFP's books will foster a cycle of charitable giving as they circulate. A really fantastic concept, one that proves that the death throes of publishing have not yet arrived.

The first book is Fitch's own Give and Take, for which less than 100 copies currently remain available. I already requested my copy, and am crossing my fingers that I'll get it - I've heard good things about Fitch's writing but haven't yet read anything by him. But even if I miss out on this one, I definitely be in line for the next CFP release. I urge you to support them as well.

November 17, 2008 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Words to live by

I saw this somewhere over the weekend, but don't remember where or even the exact words, so I'll just paraphrase without attribution:

"In this economic climate, love the job you're with."

I'm taking these words to heart. I'm not at all enamored with my current job situation, but after being briefly unemployed last year (under considerably better economic conditions and while collecting full severance pay and having health insurance) I will readily admit that my employment sure beats the alternative. So I'm grinning and bearing, but also keeping an eager eye on the next step.

November 17, 2008 in Current Affairs, Personal | Permalink | Comments (1)

Julie and I make our cinematic debut.

Critics will probably dismiss this as digressive and emotionally overwrought, but I think it captures our artistic vision extremely well.

November 16, 2008 in Film, Personal | Permalink | Comments (2)

NaNoWriMo: Week 2

The story is going in fits and starts. Sometimes I'll be really inspired and feel it's going almost effortlessly, and other times I just can't get it going and start to doubt if I'll ever get even a first draft out of it. Part of that is because I've been fighting a cold all week and have had no energy at night on my train ride home, so whatever I've been able to write has been strictly on the morning train. Some good stuff has come out of that, but just not enough of it. I'm now at 7,971 words. Still hoping for 20,000 for the month but not as optimistic as last week. I've put another extract up on my NaNoWriMo page (click the "Novel Info" tab), which describes the moment the protagonist first discovers Morphine, a revelation which will completely change his life, both for better and for worse.

My friend Frank left a comment on my last update, asking if the book is autobiographical. To which my best answer is: yes and no. Yes, in the sense that I suspect few if any fiction writers write anything that is completely divorced from their personal lives. We all mine our present and past lives for characters, settings and plot, and though we dress up those aspects in creative finery there still is at least some degree of "real life" to them. Which is good - it gives fiction a grounding that the reader will hopefully recognize as genuine, which goes a long way toward drawing in that reader into the purely fictional aspects of the narrative. So in a sense all fiction is autobiographical, at least to a small degree.

But the answer is also partly 'no', since my protagonist is almost completely invented. Little about his life (he's a software developer in Boston) at all reflects my own. For the most part the only things we share are age, long stretches of solitude during our bachelor days, and a love for the band Morphine - although my passion for the band has never approached the obsession that eventually consumes him. In fact, I wouldn't even want to be my protagonist - in no way am I am getting any vicarious thrill out of writing him, though I do empathize with his situation.

November 15, 2008 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

So, you wanna be a book dealer...

One of my favorite bloggers, Marty Weil of ephemera, interviews Kenneth Gloss, proprietor of one of my favorite bookstores, Brattle Book Shop in Boston. Gloss offers some great advice to anyone who wants to pursue the insane dream of becoming a book dealer. (A dream I'd love to pursue myself, as soon as I have a spare million or two in the bank, courtesy of the lottery.) Julie and I enjoyed our visit to Brattle Books several years ago while on vacation - it's the only store I've ever seen with bookshelves outdoors. I could smell that glorious mustiness of old books when we were still two doors away.

November 14, 2008 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Pioneer Brewing


Lovely bit of ephemera from here in Joliet - a beer keg label from Pioneer Brewing, which operated here briefly in the 1930s and 40s. That street address is for a Chicago distributor, presumably the one the keg was to be returned to. But just above that, in oddly inconspicuous type, it says "Brewery - Joliet, Ill." The brewery operated in the previous location of the Fred Sehring Brewery, which had been a pretty big operation prior to Prohibition. Pioneer closed in 1948. The building is, rather remarkably, still standing, now housing an auto body company.

(Some guy's asking $8.50 for this label on eBay but was kind enough to put up a full-size, high-res image without one of those disfiguring watermark things, so I just downloaded it instead. If I thought I'd ever get around to renovating the basement into the billiards room I've always pined for, I might have bought the original for framing, but that's unlikely so I won't.)

November 14, 2008 in Ephemera, Joliet | Permalink | Comments (0)

News from the home front

Two great pieces of news were passed along today by the good folks at Gapers Block:

First, the original Goose Island brewpub (on Clybourn Avenue in Chicago) will remain open, thanks to a renegotiated lease.

"I could not be happier," said founder John Hall in a press release. "I felt terrible, like I was losing a part of my family. We would not have been able to reach an agreement with our landlord without the support of our loyal customers. I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support with e-mails, letters, and petitions."
I'm very glad that my earlier eulogy was premature.

Second, Ben Tanzer's Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine (which I reviewed here) is the latest selection of the Gapers Block Book Club. I'll take a tiny bit of credit for that, since I pitched his debut Lucky Man to the club a while back. Though they passed on that one, he apparently got their attention and his next book has now made the cut. As it should be - an engaging local writer and an entertaining book with plenty to discuss. Perfect for the book club.

Correction: Per Alice's comment below, Ben Tanzer's book was reviewed by but is NOT the next selection of the Gapers Block Book Club. I assumed, very much in error, that if a book was reviewed there, that meant it was the club selection as well. My bad. However, I stand by my earlier "great news" comment - a strong review like this one is always great news.

November 12, 2008 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (2)

R.E.M. believes...

...and so do I. From last Tuesday night's show in Santiago, Chile. (Via Stereogum.)

November 8, 2008 in Current Affairs, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

NaNoWriMo: Week1

The new novel, The Night, is underway at NaNoWriMo. I'm off to a slow start - only 3,709 words - as I've had some other stuff going on that took priority, but I'm pretty happy with what I have so far. I've posted the opening passage at my NaNoWriMo page (click the "Novel Info" tab). But I've got a lot of ideas to work on, and will probably be able to pick up the pace during the next two weeks. I've set the modest goal of 20,000 words for the month; as I mentioned earlier, I'm more interested in quality than quantity this year.

November 8, 2008 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (2)


"Once you wake up the human animal you can't put it back to sleep again."
- "Walter Lundquist", from Working by Studs Terkel

November 7, 2008 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Richard Grayson, Highly Irregular Stories

The second writer-friend book I've read recently is by Richard Grayson. (As before, I disclaim any pretense of objectivity. Just trust me.) Over the past year or two Richard has become a mentor and friend, one who is equally happy critiquing my work as he is swapping stories of Brooklyn and Chicago. He's a refreshingly candid and down-to-earth guy who has been writing great stories for decades and whose writing career has run the gamut, from critically-acclaimed young tyro eager to publish at every opportunity to a wiser, sales-challenged veteran who has mostly left the publishing industry behind and creates fiction entirely on his own terms.

Richard's book, Highly Irregular Stories, is a collection of four chapbooks from early in his career which show a young writer who was fearless in experimenting with form while never forgetting about storytelling. Much of the book is metafictional, with many stories cleverly being about the stories themselves. (And one story, "Narcissism and Me", even has the story's reader be its narrator – I can’t really explain it, so you’ll just have to read it.) His stories are funny, minimalist, and sometimes fantastical in nature. Though the entire collection is a rewarding read, I'll just point out a few of the highights.

The "Eating at Arby's" chapbook hilariously relates the primitive, childlike conversations (described by one reviewer as “equidistant between Hemingway's short stories and Dick and Jane”) of Zelda and Manny, an old Jewish married couple who relentlessly praise their South Florida home, their sunny dispositions desperately but never quite disguising many dark undercurrents - suffocating heat, racial tension, drug trafficking, murder - to life in the Sunshine State. "I Saw Mommy Kissing Citicorp" is a rollicking, episodic satire on corporate and government life, set in an absurd Manhattan where the chairman of the Federal Reserve faces down a balky ATM, his mother frets over him at their Trump Tower apartment while repeatedly watching an old videotape of her deceased husband, and the Comptroller of the Currency on a flight from LaGuardia struggles to figure out how he'll explain to his wife how the bag of bagels he brought home to D.C. for her is now half-empty, without bringing up the touchy subject of the cute teenage girl in the next seat who spent their flight obliviously enjoying both his attention and his bagel-generosity.

The strongest story of all is "My Twelfth Twelfth Story Story", in which the narrator tells of writing the twelfth and final story of his collection, all of which involve characters who live on various twelfth stories. The writer is a widower who is raising a young daughter, and struggles to write and earn a living while also being a good father as the girl lives in a fantasy world to avoid the reality and pain of the loss of her mother. Though Grayson isn't a father himself, he perfectly captures the joys and fears of every parent as well as the inner life of a young girl, showing a remarkable bit of empathy in doing so.

Highly Irregular Stories is another fine collection of stories from one very prolific and inventive author.

November 6, 2008 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ben Tanzer, Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine

Recently I've read two books by authors who were at first mere colleagues in the scuffling-writer fraternity and then became acquaintances, and now I'm proud and pleased to call each of them a good friend. Bear this in mind as you read my thoughts on their books, as I will make no claim to objectivity or impartiality. But even despite my bias I think both books are well worth your time.

The first book is Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine, the sophomore novel by Ben Tanzer. Like his debut Lucky Man, this one is funny, sad, touching and very true-to-life. But while Ben's first book involved four male friends who despite spending countless hours together remain emotionally detached from each other, Most Likely... tells of two young couples who are similarly detached, often intentionally so, as they struggle to communicate and relate to each other. While Paul and Rhonda avoid connecting emotionally by having copious amounts of sex, the main characters Geoff and Jen have endless conversations on pop culture to avoid connecting - and also to avoid exposing themselves to potential hurt. (Both characters have been missing a parent from a young age, a common formative experience that clearly scars their later relationships as adults.) Geoff and Jen's lack of communication causes a silly misunderstanding which threatens to wreck their promising but tentative relationship, and as the unspoken tension rises between them the reader sees the two could easily go either way, together or apart, and the story sensibly concludes with Geoff and Jen searching within themselves for what they really want out of life.

Ben draws his scenes very nicely, perfectly capturing the way guys talk (often crudely and callously) when they're together, which leads me to assume (since I’m not privy to the feminine realm) that his girl talk is similarly accurate as well. He has a great ear for language as well as an earthy humor that helps him recognize and gently pass along the human foibles of his characters. The scenes of Geoff shooting pool with his dad are also sharply written, showing two man-children (sometimes warm and close, sometimes silent and distant) who share both the love of the game and the emotional hurt of their family life.

Fans of Nick Hornby (whom Ben admires, as I do as well) and particularly High Fidelity will definitely enjoy this book, which has many echoes and parallels to that earlier novel. Most Likely... is another winner from Ben Tanzer, and I'm glad to have lived inside his characters' lives for a little while.

(Shameless promotion: Most Likely... is the debut release from the local indie Orange Alert Press, which is ably manned by the tireless Jason Behrends of What To Wear During an Orange Alert? blog semi-fame. During the month of November, Orange Alert is offering free shipping on all purchases of the book, as well as other free goodies. (Ask really nicely, and Jason might just send you the Where Were You in 92? mix CD that he put together of tunes from that era that the book's characters might very well have been listening to as the narrative took place.) Purchase info is here. Tell 'em Pete sent you.)

November 6, 2008 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Yes we can...


...and yes we will. Now the really hard work begins.

(Photo credit: Shannon Stapleton, via Reuters)

November 5, 2008 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)



Whether Democrat, Republican, Green, Independent, Socialist, Libertarian or what have you, get out there and vote today. The country really doesn't ask that much of its citizens, but one of our most critical responsibilities is voting and participating in the (small-d) democratic process. And if nothing else, voting today earns you the right to bitch for the next four years.

November 4, 2008 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2)

Barack Obama for President

Anybody who's read this blog, emailed me or talked to me in person during the last four years knows exactly whom I'm voting for tomorrow.

Barack Obama first grabbed my attention with his stirring speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and I've been a strong supporter of his ever since. I think he is the finest presidential candidate we've had in decades, a transformational leader who has the potential to be one of the greatest presidents in our country's history. Right now our country needs him - to restore America's tarnished reputation in the international community, to bridge the bipartisan divide that has our government in gridlock, to bring about equality and opportunity to all of our citizens, to move toward energy independence and finally get serious about fighting the global warming that threatens to destroy the planet, to dialogue and negotiate with hostile regimes and come to a peaceful diplomatic consensus without recklessly waging war, to bring about much-needed change and give us the hope that future generations will live lives even better than our own, and to calmly and thoughtfully develop solutions to the most pressing problems we face today. I am extremely confident that he will do all of those things and be exactly the leader we need.

I'm voting for Barack Obama tomorrow, and I urge you to do so as well.

November 3, 2008 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

NaNoWriMo begins again...

This morning I started my latest NaNoWriMo novel, The Night. The story is inspired by the great Morphine album of the same name, which will play an integral part in the plot. I wrote 617 words on my morning train. But despite NaNoWriMo's primary goal, I have no intention of reaching anywhere near 50,000 words. I won't be writing at night or on weekends, and I'm writing careful and methodically, paying attention to getting it right the first time and ignoring word count. Finishing November with 50,000 words of slop seems pretty pointless - as it is, I have trouble revising careful writing, let alone slop. Speed-writing 50,000 words would probably leave me with nothing more than another never-to-be-finished manuscript gathering dust in my desk drawer. Instead, this year I'm using NaNoWriMo as a disciplinary framework to compel to write for a few hours every weekday - like I should be doing anyway. Sometimes I need to force that sort of reminder on myself every now and then.

But even though I won't reach the 50,000 word goal, I'll update my word count daily on my NaNoWriMo page, where I'll also post an occasional excerpt. I'll be enjoying the ride, but at a very leisurely speed.

November 3, 2008 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (1)

Studs Terkel


As many others have already reported, Studs Terkel passed away on Friday at age 96. I can't say I was at all surprised - you have to expect it from anyone that age, obviously, and Edward Lifson mentioned several weeks ago that he had heard Studs was in his last days - nor am I particularly saddened. For him, at least. Don't grieve at all for Studs, for he lived an incredibly long, joyous and productive life. (I'd guess that one of the few regrets he would have had was not living to see Barack Obama in the White House.) Instead, grieve for the rest of us who now have to live in a world without Studs' warmth, compassion and wit. He was a tireless champion of common sense and the common man, and his departure leaves us everyday people without one of our greatest advocates.

Growing up in Chicago, I was inevitably familiar with his name. My parents had a copy of Working on the bookshelf, though I don't remember anyone reading it, as I didn't either back then. I first read his prose from his introduction to Nelson Algren's Chicago: City on the Make, which I first read in college; Studs provided the perfect overture to what has become one of my very favorite books. But I didn't read Terkel proper until several years later, when on a warm day off from work I stopped at a used bookstore on Broadway Street in Chicago and chanced upon an old copy of Division Street: America, which I bought and carried to the lakefront. I sat on the boulders along the shore, basking in the sun, fully absorbed in his conversations with everyday people - their joys, sorrows, hopes and fears - and in a way felt, from the yellowed and musty-smelling pages of that book, a little more connected with the world. Discovering the rest of his works during the ensuing years has been nothing less than a fascinating and often exhilarating experience.

When a major public figure passes away, particularly a very elderly one, it's almost become cliche to say that they don't make them like him or her any longer, and that the deceased will truly be missed. But in the case of Studs Terkel, those words are perfectly appropriate. He was one of a kind, and will truly be missed.

Farewell, Studs.

November 2, 2008 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (1)

"This Wonderful Scourge"


I've been somewhat remiss in mentioning this, because the image is saved on another computer and I haven't been able to upload it until just now, but...my "newspaper blackout poem" entitled "This Wonderful Scourge" was named a runner-up in Austin Kleon's monthly Blackout Poems Contest. My poem will be published as part of Austin's blackout poem collection, which is coming out next September. (Click on the above for a full-sized, non-squint-inducing version, and click here for the original text.) This was a really fun piece to put together - so many possibilities and combinations of words to choose from, and the inevitable Sharpie fumes weren't even that bad.

November 1, 2008 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (1)

My little Pokemon trainer


Actually, not so little any longer. Sigh.

November 1, 2008 in Personal | Permalink | Comments (1)

Song of the Week: Lee Dorsey

Lee Dorsey: Yes We Can

I won't say much about this song, as it pretty much speaks for itself. Regardless of Tuesday's decision, we all have to come together, find common ground, provide equality and opportunity for all of our citizens, and move this country forward. Yes we can.

Okay, a bit about the song. Lee Dorsey was a great New Orleans soul singer, best known for "Sneaking Sally Through the Alley", "Workin' in a Coal Mine" and "Ya Ya", and worked closely with the legendary Allen Touissant, who wrote the lyrics to "Yes We Can" and so many other Cresecent City classics. Here are the lyrics...please remember them as you vote this week.

Now is the time for all good men
To get together with one another
Iron out their problems
And iron out their quarrels
And try to live as brothers
And try to find the peace within
Without stepping on one another
And do respect the women of the world
Just remember we all have mothers

Make this land a better land
Than the world in which we live
And help each man be a better man
With the kindness that you give

I know we can make it
I know darn well we can work it out
Oh yes we can, I know we can
Yes we can, why can't we if we wanna
I know we can make it work
I know we can make it if we try

Take care of the children
The children of the world
They're our strongest hope for the future
The little bitty boys and girls

Make this land a better land
Than the world in which we live

Get together, get together now

November 1, 2008 in Current Affairs, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)