By Mike Gillis
The stories in Patricia Ann McNair’s debut collection “The Temple of Air” are steeped in a particular brand of hospitality and violence. They are definitively Midwestern, navigating deftly between the everyday and the disturbing, the prosaic and the poetic. Perhaps part of this is inspired by McNair’s biography. Though currently a creative writing professor at Columbia College, she has spent much of her life steeped in Midwestern small towns, soaking in the meter and rhythm of daily life there. The author talked with us about faith, taking inspiration from past jobs and how the Midwestern locales she features differ from Faulkner’s Mississippi.
Your author’s blurb portrays you as a jack-of-all-trades, to some extent, going from bartending to working on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Was writing always something you were developing during this time? Read the rest of this entry »
By Mike Gillis
By now, it’s past passé to note that we live in a literary era of pastiche and homage. But when questioned on the staying power of this melding of the literary and the pulp, Chicago author Adam McOmber becomes impassioned, his voice rising just slightly:
“I think that these type of stories—stories of the fantastic—reach back to mythology. Because that’s what myths are,” he says over a phone call from a sweltering vacation spot in Cape Cod. “If you read Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses,’ or something like that, what you’ve got are fantastic stories. There’s even a werewolf in that.”
If any part of his writings resembles the mythological, it is the overtly inexplicable spectacles at their heart. At times, reading a short story from McOmber’s new collection, “This New & Poisonous Air,” is like peeling back the shade of a curiosity shop. Questions gravitate around his dense prose as he weaves alternatively horrific and spectacular tales of the fantastic. Read the rest of this entry »
JenniferEgan/Photo: Pieter M. van Hattem
“Class Acts” is the theme of this year’s Story Week Festival of Writers in more ways than one. The fifteenth anniversary edition of Columbia College’s seminal literary event explores how the notion of class comes into play in fiction, and it features some big literary stars, including Jennifer Egan and Irvine Welsh. Other highlights include a panel on the future of publishing chaired by, among others, Chicago-based writer Joe Meno and Rahm Emanuel Twitter impersonator Dan Sinker. Also in the lineup: a playwriting class with Goodman Theater’s Regina Taylor, 2nd Story Storytelling at Martyrs’, and readings by Columbia College undergrads and faculty. Story Week concludes with Chicago Classics, a series of readings hosted by the Chicago Tribune’s Rick Kogan, in which twenty “guests from Chicago’s literary community”—including Newcity’s editor and publisher Brian Hieggelke—read works by their favorite Chicago authors. All events are free and open to the public. In its fifteen-year history, Story Week has evolved from a small junket for students to rub elbows with great writers to a smorgasbord of events from intimate readings and conversations to high-energy events at venues all over the city. “This is certainly the most jam-packed schedule we’ve ever attempted,” says artistic director Sam Weller. “There’s something for everyone.” (Benjamin Rossi)
Visit the Story Week website for complete details.
Photo: Ramsey Beyer
Last October, Quimby’s Bookstore in Chicago and Baltimore’s Atomic Books set a challenge for 2011: no less than the Revenge of Print, a glorious return to old-fashioned ink and paper in defiance of a world that amuses itself by betting on when print media will finally roll over and die.
With the 2nd Annual Chicago Zine Fest (chicagozinefest.org) March 25-26, payback time has arrived. The two-day celebration of independent publishing features events at Quimby’s, 826CHI and Columbia College, an exhibition of more than 200 zinesters’ works, and workshops on everything from book binding to how to make it as a full-time artist. Highlights include a discussion with popular self-publishers Al Burian and Aaron Cometbus and a DIY Film Festival curated by the Gababout Film Festival’s Eric Ayotte. All events are free and open to the public. Read the rest of this entry »
As of December 31, Ellen Wadey will conclude her tenure as executive director of the Guild Complex, an organization dedicated to promoting underrepresented writers. “I’m a jack-of-all-trades,” says Wadey. “I mean, I did have a small staff, but I worked both as the artistic director and the director of development.” Regarding her imminent departure, Wadey says, “The Guild is a good place—very flexible and reactive to change. I love this job, but I don’t think an executive director should be in place for more than a decade.” Upon leaving the Guild, Wadey plans to dedicate more time to her craft: “I’m a writer myself. I’ve actually been working on a novel for eight years now. I also teach at Columbia [College in Chicago] and I’m looking to do more freelance work soon.”
“That was a great warm-up, now you can start on the novel.” That’s what Mary Hamilton and Lindsay Hunter heard most often during their critiques in the writing program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Ranging between one and three pages of text, flash fiction is among the shortest forms of fiction writing. Famous Chicago natives like Ernest Hemingway pushed it even further with his six-word story, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn,” which now ranks as the shortest piece of short fiction ever penned.
But what makes flash fiction different from other forms of fiction is not just length, but how the story itself builds up. “Flash fiction eliminates all the window-staring and gets down to the moment,” Hunter explains. “It’s easy to go on for pages, but it’s not easy to inhabit the moment where something is really happening. Flash fiction is like writing in the moment and being thrifty with the word choice.” It’s a common misconception for people to think that flash fiction is a sketch for a longer piece. “If you gave me ten stories I’d cut the last sentence out of nine of them at least.” The trick with flash fiction is that it “starts at the crest and ends at the climb,” Hunter adds. “Its not like getting on the roller coaster up to that never-ending climb where you’ve crested, you’ve looked how far the drop is and taken the plunge then unbuckled yourself from your seat. Flash fiction denies the drop.”
Hunter and Hamilton met in the writing program in what they describe as “love at first sight.” Read the rest of this entry »
By Tom Lynch
Marcus Sakey suggests we meet at the Starbucks at Clark and Belmont, just across the way from The Alley. Late afternoon on a weekday, the place is packed. Nowhere to sit, line out the door. Better idea—wanna get a beer at the L&L instead?
“Now you’re speaking my language,” he tells me, and we head over to the bar. Nobody wants to interview a crime writer in a Starbucks anyway.
Sakey grew up outside Flint, Michigan. His dad worked in the auto industry. He always loved to read and write, but didn’t study it at school. After college he landed an advertising job in Atlanta and spent years in that world, developing skills he jokingly says are “perfect for a crime novelist.” Met a girl at his office, married her.
Remember that scene in “Fight Club” when Tyler Durden turns the car into oncoming traffic and asks the passengers what they wish they would’ve done before they died? Sakey’s asking me. He says that’s what the moment was like when he decided to write books, or, at least, that’s how he would’ve answered that question. He left the advertising and marketing world, moved to Chicago and started to type. Read the rest of this entry »
Is it wrong to feel optimistic? You couldn’t be blamed if you didn’t. Yet while the country’s economy crumbles around us and less and less funds are available for the producers of the printed word, those in the literary world are finding new and inventive ways to stay afloat. We will not go down without a fight, and progress, of course, is key. So is awareness—in order to get the word out more efficiently (and, likely, to untether itself from the uncertain future of the paper form), Printers Row Book Fair changed its name from “Book Fair” to “Lit Fest” to have a title that better fully represents the weekend’s events, in time for its twenty-fifth anniversary edition. As is our custom, we time our annual Lit 50 list to the weekend’s events; this year’s list of local behind-the-scenes literati—no straight-up authors or poets this time—covers a large spectrum of Chicago’s world of words. As with past years we sought out those behind the smaller presses as well as the monumental figures. Some new names have emerged and many staples appear again, but all tirelessly labor to bring this ancient art to the community at large. Read the rest of this entry »
Columbia College’s Hokin Annex echoes with the sounds of manual typewriters furiously clacking away. The school’s library is hosting the first ever “I Wanna Write Like Ray: The Typewriter Olympics” as one of many citywide The Big Read events.
The contest celebrates Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451″ by allowing students to revive the methods that he used to type the novel’s manuscript and to have their own work compiled into a book. Bradbury’s masterpiece was written on a metered typewriter—which needed to be fed a dime every half hour—in a basement at UCLA. Read the rest of this entry »