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Introducing ALL IS BRIGHT

I am not a diligent writer. Though story ideas come to me easily, the will to do the actual work of writing is often lacking. I find that I need structure to make the writing happen, whether it’s the narrative framework that I choose to write within, or a fixed routine. I’ve written a few serialized pieces, but only to a single, specific reader, and never for the general public before the story is edited, polished and ready for the world. This time, I’m trying something different.

I recently read an ad for a “short-story Advent calendar.” For a not insubstantial price, one could buy a collection of 24 individually-bound short stories in a fancy box. I gagged on that price, and quickly decided against it, but the ad gave me the idea of writing a long-ish short story in daily serialized installments. And given the season, the story would be set on Christmas Eve, with the first installment appearing on December 1. 24 installments later, the story would be complete, also on Christmas Eve. But the twist is that only minimal editing will be done - each installment that is published will have been written the previous day, and will appear nearly verbatim (other than corrections of spelling errors or major grammar outrages) as first written, in longhand in my notebook. What you’re seeing is almost exactly as it was written, with no editorial second-guessing. Writing in 24 discrete installments, rather than writing the entire story at once and chopping it into 24 pieces, might also revive in me the discipline of writing every day, something I greatly need.

The story is called “All Is Bright.” Directions will appear here tomorrow.

I’m both excited and terrified to be attempting this. I think I have a pretty good story in mind, but as I mentioned earlier, ideas are the easy part for me. Whether I can do justice in writing to the story that right now exists solely in my head, remains to be seen. So, please be patient. By Christmas Eve you’ll either have a story you’ve enjoyed, or something to be forgotten in the midst of your holiday festivities.

November 30, 2019 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

“It’s not the best book I’ve ever read.”

The book that changed my life
Native Son by Richard Wright. I read it when I was 20. Nobody had ever given me a book written by anyone who looked like me. Some part of me didn’t think it was legitimate to think of myself as a writer. It’s not the best book I’ve ever read. It’s not my favourite. But it’s the old saying: “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.” And I saw it for the first time that this was possible.

This is Caryl Phillips, reflecting on his reading life. I had never heard of Phillips until hearing his thoughts on “the English canon” on a recent Guardian podcast. I suspect he’s under-published here in the States (thus partly excusing my ignorance) but I will certainly be on the lookout for his stuff. 

November 29, 2019 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


“I have nothing against domestic stories, I wrote plenty of them. But they are no longer enough in the world we live in. I have to try and look outside my own fence.” - Edna O’Brien

I agree...even as my latest fiction project (which should - should - launch in a few days) will stay inside my own fence - only the second story I’ve set in Joliet. 

November 27, 2019 in Books, Fiction | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tom Waits, American Poet

Hey Charley I think I'm happy
For the first time since my accident
I wish I had all the money
That we used to spend on dope
I'd buy me a used car lot
And I wouldn't sell any of 'em
I'd just drive a different car every day
Dependin' on how I feel

(from “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis”)

November 25, 2019 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)


“The culture had already started to shift halfway through the writing of the book, and I suddenly started to think, ‘Oh, maybe this book will be received differently’, because black women are suddenly on the agenda in a way that we haven’t been before apart from a few token gestures. So perhaps this book will find its readership.” - Bernardine Evaristo, on Girl, Woman, Other

November 24, 2019 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

“Midday was the bankers...”

The anonymous proprietor of Spitalfields Life visits Simpsons Chop House, which has been more or less in continuous business in London since 1757.

Let them tell you tales of the old days when the chops were grilled on an ancient contraption which set the chimney on fire with such regularity that patrons would simply take up their lunch plates and copies of the Financial Times, and step out into the courtyard until the fire brigade appeared.

Simpsons is exactly the sort of place I’ll visit if/when I ever visit London.

November 19, 2019 in History | Permalink | Comments (3)

“...a checkered canvas...”

A few weeks ago, I attended the 2019 induction ceremony for the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, which honored Frank Marshall Davis, Salima Rivera and Sam Greenlee. A fine evening. I really like Davis’ “Chicago’s Congo”, and especially this passage:

Across the street from the Ebenezer Baptist Church,
      women with cast-iron faces peddle love
In the flat above William’s Funeral Home
      six couples sway to the St. Louis Blues
Two doors away from the South Side Bank
      three penny-brown men scorch their guts with four bit
Dr. Jackson buys a Lincoln
His neighbor buys second hand, shoes
      —the artist who paints this town must
      use a checkered canvas ...

I hear echoes there of Nelson Algren's description of Chicago as being Janus-like and two-faced. Algren and Davis were contemporaries (born four years apart) and both were involved in the Federal Writers Project, so I assume they knew each other.

November 11, 2019 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (2)

Remembrance Day

Wilfred Owen, from “The Send-Off”:

Shall they return to beatings of great bells
In wild trainloads?
A few, a few, too few for drums and yells,
May creep back, silent, to still village wells
Up half-known roads.

I am fortunate to never have had any loved ones (nor, as far as I know, any recent ancestors) killed in war. But I respect those who have made the sacrifice, and those left behind.

November 11, 2019 in Books, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sinister vs. Dexterous

Merriam-Webster has an interesting piece on how left and right came to represent evil and good. The origins, not surprisingly, are Biblical.

The Book of Matthew describes how God will divide nations on the Day of Judgment, “as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats; and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left,” with those on the right sent to the kingdom of Heaven and those on the left “cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Left-handed people comprise only 10 percent of the population, and the preference for the left hand demonstrated by the popular minority was attributed to demonic possession, leading to accusations of witchcraft.

By coincidence, I happened to read the M-W piece shortly after reading Benjamin Franklin’s witty essay, “A Petition of the Left Hand”, which was narrated by, yes, a left hand.

My dad was a proud lefthander (but not a political lefty - quite conservative), the only one in the family. I think he wished that one of his kids was lefthanded but, at the same time, I think he liked being unique.

November 6, 2019 in Books, History | Permalink | Comments (1)

Hostel of the Dead

The house that inspired James Joyce’s “The Dead” will be redeveloped as a 54-room hostel.

In the 1890s the writer’s maternal great-aunts ran a music school at the four-storey house, 15 Usher’s Island, and hosted Christmas parties that Joyce used as the scene for the story, a meditation on love, loss and identity.

Evergreen themes, it turns out, because last week city authorities announced a plan to turn the House of the Dead into a 54-room hostel, prompting an outcry that property deals were trashing culture and zombifying Ireland’s capital to make way for foreign tourists, students and tech workers.

What the hand-wringers conveniently ignore is that the house is in a derelict part of Dublin, and has been available for purchase by the city or Joyce-loving nonprofits for the past two years, but instead was allowed to languish and deteriorate.

I’m less concerned about the loss of Dublin’s “cultural heritage” than the fact that gentrification is rapidly making the city (and countless other cities around the world) unaffordable for artists to live in and create their art. The fact that the next James Joyce might never have the means or the spare time (away from the inevitable day job) to create the next masterpiece is the real tragedy here.

Cultural future is far more important than cultural heritage. 

November 3, 2019 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2)

A new book title that I just stole from a Premier League broadcast

The Belgian Who Broke Through

November 2, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (0)


“Progress was all right. Only it went on too long.” - James Thurber

November 2, 2019 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)