A Still Point ~ Lucricia Hall’s View From the Keyboard

One of the best things that happens when you attend the Interlochen College of Creative Arts Writers’ Retreat in Interlochen, Michigan, is that you meet a whole new circle of writers. Sure, there will be some you knew before, or at least have read and admired–Tony Ardizzone, Fleda Brown, Anne-Marie Oomen, Katey Schultz–but I am referring to the others here. Those writers who are in the early stages of their work, some having turned their backs on their creative life in order to raise families, start careers, follow more traditional paths. And those others who didn’t know they had writing in them, but who have discovered through their love of reading and sharing stories that maybe it is time to try this writing thing out themselves. I so enjoy these new (or newish, or returning) writers. Their enthusiasm is contagious. Their desire is great. Their talent is surfacing in ways they might never have imagined.

This past summer I met many of these writers, among them, Lucricia Hall. She and her husband Sam added so much to the retreat (including Sam’s considerable talent as an opera singer–he serenaded us one evening and brought many of us to tears.) They sat side-by-side at each event, faces turned upward, listening keenly, laughing, nodding, taking it all in. And since this retreat escape, Lucricia has made a commitment to her writing life, in spite of her busy other-life of being a mother, a nurse, a contributing partner. And now it brings me great joy to introduce Lucricia Hall to you all. Here she is:

Lucricia: When people ask me what I do, my knee-jerk reaction is to answer I’m a nurse. But what I “do” is write. I am not a published author; I don’t have an agent; I’m not making any money…but I write. I write because the stories whisper to me and I have the privilege of hearing them and bringing cohesion to the various bits. I write for the joy of creating something entirely my own. I share it on my blog in the hopes that people will enjoy my creation. And if they don’t enjoy it then maybe it will make them think, talk or write.

Yep, this is where it happens. One day I will have a space of my own but for now the dining table will do. I work full time so my writing happens in the evenings. I carry my journal with me everywhere because I never know when an idea will present itself. Painful past experience has taught me that I will NOT remember it later. From the journal to the blog. Repeat daily.

Here’s an excerpt from my blog The Still Point.

Didn’t I Already Do This?

I am exhausted! What have I been doing you ask? Training for a marathon? Saving puppies from burning buildings? Making sweet love to my husband?

NO! I am babysitting my niece, Lizzy, age 10 and my nephew, Kael, age 6. Now, my kids are 19 (the twins) and 15. I have not had to wipe a poopy butt, fix a lunch, get a drink of water, or “entertain” my kids in years. I am woefully out of practice!

First of all, you have to have the stamina of an Iron Man athlete to keep up with young kids. I think my stamina is that of a sloth or, on a good day, a koala. I have come to enjoy a life of leisure and it has been completely ripped from me this weekend.

Liz and Kael got here Saturday around noon. I needed a nap by 1:45 but plowed through the fatigue and sleepiness to blow bubbles, color, play soccer, make bracelets, get 7 glasses of water, make dinner and then reheat pizza because “I don’t like this” was sung in chorus, make beds in the living room, play with Legos, play Wii, watch Avatar (the cartoon), announce that it is bedtime, get 3 more glasses of water, make Kael go to the bathroom before laying down a third time, kisses on the head, I love you’s whispered, threats of death if you get up ONE MORE TIME and then the sweet oblivion of sleep!

Sunday: See Above.

Read the rest:


Lucricia, thanks for finding the time to share your work space with us. Good luck with the blog and the babysitting, and with the writing life juggle. -PMc←

In Praise of the Short Story ~ A Conversation with Joe Melia

The Bristol Short Story Prize out of the United Kingdom is one of the few international awards that specifically celebrates the short story form. With generous guidelines that allow writers from anywhere in the world to submit more than one story–so long as the writer is over 16 years old–and prizes that include publication and cash (or gift certificate,) the Bristol Short Story Prize does more than its share to support short story writers in their endeavors.

At the heart of this operation is Joe Melia. A man who has spent a good part of his life surrounded by books and people who read (he worked for years in bookshops around Bristol,) Joe continues to make a difference in writers’ and readers’ lives by coordinating the Bristol Short Story Prize and the brand new ShortStoryVillejamboree.

Recently, Joe was kind enough to spend some time in conversation with me about reading and writing short stories, and about the prize and the jamboree. Here’s what I found out:

PMc: The Bristol Short Story Prize, one of the most prestigious awards for short story writers, has been around since 2007, yes? Have you been part of it since the beginning? 

JM: Thanks for calling it ‘prestigious’, Patty, really appreciate it! Yes, we’ve just completed our fourth competition and published our fourth anthology. I’ve been lucky enough to have been involved from the start. I was working in a Bristol bookshop and had a meeting with three Bristol publishers who mentioned the idea along with lots of other stuff. As a short story fan it was a wonderful thing to hear.

PMc: Why did you choose to become so deeply involved in the honouring of the short story form? What are some of your favorite short stories? Why these?

JM: For the last decade or so I’ve read short stories more than anything else. I love the intense, all-consuming reading experience short stories provide. You have to surrender completely to a short story when you read it and that’s fairly unique, I think. There’s no cruising or drifting like there can be with a longer work. And that’s what makes short stories stand out for me. As a reader you are completely involved from the first word and that doesn’t change on second, third, or fourth readings. Reading a short story is a massive commitment, and also a joyful one.

As for favourite stories, there are thousands. Far, far too many to mention.  Other than the ones we’ve published, a few favourites that spring to mind are: ‘Bezhin Lea’ by Ivan Turgenev, ‘Barking’ by Emily Perkins, ‘The Chain’ by Tobias Wolff, Judy Budnitz’s  ‘Preparedness’, ‘Why I Live at the P.O.’ by Eudora Welty, ‘Go Away’ by Tania Hershman, ‘My Oedipus Complex’ by Frank O’Connor, The Distances’  Julio Cortazar, ‘Sweet Memory Will Die’ by A.L.Kennedy, ‘The Brown Pint of Courage’ by James Meek, ‘Misery’ by Anton Chekhov, ‘The Other Mr Panossian’ by Nik Perring, ‘A Small Good Thing’ by Raymond Carver, ‘Brownies’ by Z.Z. Packer, ‘The Mark on the Wall’ by Virginia Woolf, ‘A Real Durwan’ by Jhumpa Lahiri, ‘The Lunch-Box’ by Italo Calvino, ‘One Hundred Rupees’ by Ivan Bunin, ‘Harriet Elliot’ by Robin Black and ‘King’ by Alan Beard. There are many, many, many more. Have, also, read loads of great stories recently by Seth Fried, Kirsty Logan, Danielle Evans, Stuart Evers, Amelia Gray, Tom Vowler, Patricia Engel, Laura van den Berg and plenty of other writers – it’s such an exciting time to be a short story reader right now.

PMc: An impressive list. Can you tell us some about ShortStoryVille and how it came to be? What is your role in that—its inception and its execution?

JM: We wanted to find different ways to share our enthusiasm for short stories and ShortStoryVille is the result. We, also, wanted to get local schools reading more short stories and thinking about them. Inviting students to work with writers we have published—to produce work in different genres based on stories we’ve published—seemed like a great way of getting lots of different people together and also introducing school students to really exciting stories. And then putting them on the same bill as really established writers and publishers was the obvious way to go. There has been an explosion in short story activity in the last few years and we want to be right in the thick of it all.

I helped to shape the idea, I suppose. Two big influences were seeing Dave Eggers at the Hay Festival a few years ago, there was a great atmosphere and not a furrowed brow in sight as there can be at festivals form time to time. He was introduced by Zadie Smith and it felt like a really special, unique occasion. Dave Eggers was humble, hilarious, witty, irresistible. He chatted for a bit then read a story narrated by a pizza-eating dog called Stephen. The place was filled with an amazing exuberance. If we can eventually get within touching distance of capturing a tiny molecule of that spirit with ShortStoryVille then that would be brilliant.

And reading John Carey’s What Good are the Arts? had a big effect. It’s an absolutely amazing, stimulating, provocative book – immensely quotable and wise, and inspired the idea of getting schools involved.

PMc: How do you make time to stay current with your reading with all of the work you must have to do to coordinate these events? Do you carry a book in your bag at all times? Can you tell us a little about your reading habits (where, when, how you choose your books, etc.)?

JM: I nearly always have several books on the go at the same time. Short stories are great for that—overlapping and mixing up. Tend to read at home and in the evenings more than during the day. Choosing what to read happens in a variety of ways. There’s nothing better than a browse in a bookshop, discovering new writers and taking a punt on something. The internet is such a fascinating place with so many enthusiasts sharing recommendations and that’s probably where I tend to get the majority of triggers for reading choices. Sites like the brilliant theshortreview.com and Scott Pack’s meandmyshortstories blog are great for making readers aware of just how much great stuff is out there. Twitter is also a great source; I’ve discovered loads of great writers from Twitter recommendations.

PMc: Do you consider reading to be an important part of a society, of a culture? Why or why not?

JM: Reading helps in loads of different ways. It encourages and inspires understanding, empathy, creativity, knowledge gathering and so much more. So the answer is yes.

PMc: What other reading do you make time to do besides the short story? Dirty pleasures?

JM: I read the occasional novel and some non-fiction every now and again and try to read a few pages of John Carey’s What Good are the Arts? most weeks (yes, it is that brilliant). I love reading reviews too – not just in newspapers and magazines but online blogs too. You often get the most sincere and committed comment from the latter. As for ‘Dirty Pleasures’ I’m not sure what would qualify. I’m a big cricket fan and there’s an ex-player who writes about the sport for the Guardian newspaper, Mike Selvey, and he’s a champ of a writer…wish he’d have a go at some short stories, actually. Does that qualify?

PMc: Sure. So Joe, what is the hardest part of the work you do for the prize and for the festival?

JM: I wouldn’t call any of it hard, really, it’s a such a pleasure. Perhaps having to let some stories go when we’re putting the longlist together can be tough in a sense but I wouldn’t call any of it hard.

PMc: And are you writing short stories, too?

JM:  Did a bit of dabbling many years ago, but that’s long gone. Much, much happier reading, promoting and championing.

PMc: Thank you Joe Melia, for your support of the short story. Always good to have a champion in the corner. Thanks, too, for taking the time to talk with us. Good luck with next year’s prize and jamboree.


View From the Keyboard Guidelines

I invite you, my writerly friends, to submit to me a picture of your writing space. I’ll call this segment of the blog “View From the Keyboard,” but know that I am not limiting submissions to those of you who write on a keyboard. Whatever space you write in, whatever tools you use to write, whatever trinkets or photos or books or animals or libations, etc.,  you surround yourself with can be part of your photo. I’d also like to know what you are writing. And once I start to gather these submissions, I will begin to post them now and again, and share your spaces and your writing with others as well.

The How:

  1. Take a photo of your writing space (with or without you in it.)
  2. Write a brief description/explanation of this space. Say whatever you want about it. Some ideas–why this space? What little thing here inspires you? What can’t we see in the photo? How much time do you spend there? What time of day do you write? And so on. You get the idea.
  3. Submit–if you are willing–no more than 250 words of something you have written in this space.
  4. Self-promote anything you might want to here. Website? Publications? Etc.
  5. Make sure to let me know how to contact you in return.
  6. Send jpeg of photo. Cut and paste text into an email. Send to templeofair@gmail.com
  7. In your email, please put the words “I agree to let Patricia McNair edit this submission for publication on her website/blog.” And don’t submit if you don’t agree to this. I will respect your work and your words as best I can.

The What Next:

  1. Be patient. I will respond as soon as I can. I am hoping to use each submission I get, but may have to discriminate along the way depending on number of submissions and their appropriateness.
  2. I will contact you if I use your submission on my blog, but may post it before you receive and respond to the notification (see #7 above.)
  3. Check back regularly to see what others are posting. Share the site with friends. Expand this community of writers.


  • Thanks in advance to everyone who participates in any way, either by submitting, reading, or sharing. Looking forward to hearing from you!

Escribo Gatos

“As an inspiration to the author, I do not think the cat can be over-estimated. He suggests so much grace, power, beauty, motion, mysticism. I do not wonder that many writers love cats; I am only surprised that all do not.” ~Carl Van Vechten


Jes sayin’ -PMc←

Labor of Love and Neurotoxins ~ The View From Sam Snow’s Keyboard

Sam Snow is a writer of many things, including the very impressive graphic story you will find an excerpt from below. On one of his project sites, Fair Weather Militia Comics, he is referred to as “Hunter S. Thompson reincarnate.” I don’t know; Sam Snow may even be cooler than that literary icon.

His comic STRAITS, Sam tells us, is “a weird labor of love.” In that spirit, his workspace is shown, as he says, “how it feels rather than how it actually looks.”

Sam: This spot is the spare bedroom in our apartment. Pretty much anything worth messing with in that room is on that desk. Behind the lens is a bookshelf, crates of breakbeat and house records, some boxes, and luggage that I never got around to shoving back in the closet. Since this is a garden apartment, and since I was raised Catholic and am thus cursed with some sense of guilt no matter whether or not I’m actually guilty, I leave the blinds closed.

The written submission is something that I’m working on right this minute. It’s an excerpt from STRAITS, a comic book I’m working on with Kevin Anderson. The website is: www.fwmcomics.com

There’ll be more art and whatnot soon. We’re just getting started, y’see.

STRAITS (an excerpt, pages two and three)

D: Al has been cut in half along his waist. His upper torso is on the ground as though he is sticking out of the floor. His legs, still standing, are right next to him. He is smiling at the camera. Bottom: “BISECTION!” with the checked box.

E: A scan image of Al under the ground, buried. He is giving a thumbs-up. Let the scan be part of a device that is set up in front of a dirt-filled, clear-walled enclosure, like a square aquarium. Bottom: “CRUSH ASPHYXIA!” with the checked box.

F: Al is wearing what is left of a mostly acid-dissolved suit of what is easily recognized as assault armor. The armor is still bubbling, smoking, and melting in parts like candlewax. Al’s head is exposed, and he is smiling at the camera. Bottom: “ACIDS!” with the checked box.

G: A gas that should clearly be killing him surrounds Al. Instead, he is smiling at the camera and giving a thumbs-up. Bottom: “NEUROTOXINS!” with the checked box.

H: Al is holding onto two electrical coils, but the current passes along the surface of his body. His hair does not stand on end at all. The light from the arcing current cuts sharp shadows. He is smiling at the camera, looking a bit creepy. Bottom: “ELECTROCUTION!” with the checked box.


Readers, to get the full effect, do drop over at Fair Weather Militia Comics; some serious creating going on over there. Thanks, Sam, for inviting us into your space. -PMc←

Great Books, Great Places ~ Celebrating Indie Bookstores (guidelines)

All The World ~ image by Martha Weintraub http://www.marthaweintraub.com

Do you have a favorite independent bookstore? A place you visit in your own hometown or on the road? A place with friendly folks, great books, cozy nooks and crannies, a perfect cup of coffee? Interesting book clubs? Evocative readers’ series?

Great Books, Great Places is a series dedicated to celebrating the independent bookstore, and you can help. Here’s how:

  • Take a photo (or two, or three) of your favorite indie bookstore.
  • Write a brief description of the shop; perhaps an anecdote from your visits.
  • Provide the location. A website would be good, too, but not necessary.
  • Include in your contribution this line: “I agree to let Patricia Ann McNair use these images and this information in her blog series Great Book, Great Places.”
  • Send the photos and the rest to templeofair@gmail.com.

I will let you know when the post with your bookstore on-line. Make sure to let the bookstore know that you are honoring them in this way.

And thanks for reading! -PMc

Thanks to Martha Weintraub for the image above. www.marthaweintraub.com

An Alternate Life ~ House Hunters International and In Urbana, I…

Recently, through the wonder of Twitter, I found myself engaged in a conversation with Carolyn Kellogg, book reviewer from the Los Angeles Times, about the HGTV show House Hunters International. She’d put a call out for folks to be in touch if they watched the program; she was writing an article on it. Of course I had to answer. I am IN LOVE with House Hunters International.

Quick summary for those of you unfamiliar with the show: people who are looking for property in a country other than the U.S. work with a realtor to find said property, taking the viewing audience on virtual tours of three of the home choices. There is a bit of an overview of the area as well, but mostly we get to see inside these homes that are for sale. Silly-in-their-overly-indulgent-opulence condos in the United Arab Emirates; run-down-and-close-to-ruin French farmhouses; beach-front, thatched-roofed cottages in Central America. What is not to love here? And even though Philip and I don’t have television in our home, we do travel a lot and spend a lot of nights in hotels with cable and the occasional evening of House Hunters International marathon programming. I watch until I am bleary-eyed, a little giddy, and exhausted. Sort of like when I eat a significant portion of a chocolate layer cake all by myself.

What attracts me? It has to do with imagining lives, I suppose. A byproduct of being a writer, maybe. But more accurately I think it is about reimagining my own life. What if? When we travel someplace new or visit one of the places we have come to love (Mineral Point, Wisconsin; Interlochen, Michigan; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Tucson, Arizona; Saint Augustine, Florida; Montejaque, Spain; Berlin; Quebec City; Vienna; Krakow; and, and, and,) I’ll stop in front of the pictures at the real estate office on the main street, check out the buildings and their prices. Or I’ll pick up a real estate brochure. Sometimes—either before, during, or after the trip—I go on-line and plug in the postal code and a price range and a few other bits of information and spend entirely too much time surfing through the properties available. (That I put in a price range might suggest that this is not a pastime based entirely on fantasy.)

Is this a grass-is-greener thing? In some cases it surely is. When we knew my mother was in her last months of life and I was planning my wedding with Philip, I imagined running away with him to the UK where he still lived at the time, getting as far away from the sadness and grief I knew were coming headfirst my way. When Chicago life gets filled with traffic and expense and work stress, my bookmarked realtor.com pages and saved searches get lots of hits from this computer. I know, though, that the reality of such a move is much more complex than the enjoyment of dreaming about it. I mean, hell, we don’t even like to move apartments. And when we recently were faced with the actual opportunity to move across the ocean for a job offer, the prospect of the work it would take and the expense of the transplantation and the uncertainty of it all was more than we were willing to take on.

Perhaps that wasn’t the right move at the right time, and perhaps it wasn’t because I am a coward that we didn’t make that move. Maybe we didn’t do it because opportunity—the right opportunity—is still out there.

So, yesterday we spent the day in Urbana, Illinois. We were there working on a public art project (In Urbana, I…) that Philip got a grant for recently, and we spoke to dozens of locals visiting the Saturday morning Market At The Square. And after an hour or so in the bright sunshine amidst all those early morning shoppers with baskets over their arms and flowers or watermelons or bags of fresh-picked peaches in their hands, I could hear that little voice lifting up inside me. Could we live here? I wondered. Kids ran by and a flotilla of bubbles from a nearby booth wafted by on the breeze. Here? With these nice people in this nice place? A family of three generations—youngish looking grandpa in a flopping cotton hat and sandals, pretty twenty-something mom with dark hair pulled back in a ponytail, and little Jameel with huge brown eyes and an apricot in his grasp—stopped by to have their picture taken for the project. They chatted for a bit, talked about what they would miss when they moved from Urbana to another state, readying themselves to change their lives. They were uncertain of all that was ahead of them, but that uncertainty would not hold them back. I didn’t know this family, and yet I felt excited for them. And a little envious.

We are back in Chicago now, back in the apartment that we love, yes, but that we have lived in for four years. A mile from another one where I lived for thirteen years. Half-a-mile from the hospital where I was born. And in a moment I will finish this post and go back to what I was doing a little while ago. Realtor.com. Urbana. Now let’s see those little houses again. Ah yes, this one. Or maybe this. Or this.


Photos courtesy of Philip Hartigan. Thanks, Mr. Hartigan. -PMc←

They Talk, We Listen ~ A Brief Collection of Author Interviews

Author interviews. I have to admit, I like them quite a lot. A glimpse into what makes them think, write, rewrite, enjoy life, and so on and so on. When I read of their concerns, their vulnerabilities, their insecurities, I recognize that the authors I admire are just people, people like me, maybe. And sometimes the interviews can remind me that these authors are also something else, something sort of super-human…or if not SUPER, maybe EXTRA. Extra-human. Their lives, while filled with the daily considerations we all have (doing the dishes, finding socks that match, cleaning the litter box, watching our salt intake,) there lives are often spent looking deeply into these things, searching for story moments not just to imagine (because we all do that, right? Imagine little stories as we go on with their our days?) but to write down and making meaning of and from.

And so, I provide here a list of a few author interviews you can find on the internet. Some of the links will lead you to writers you have known and loved for quite sometime (Ray Bradbury, Thomas McGuane,) and others will lead you to discover someone new and emerging (Katey Schultz, Alan Heathcock.) And if you feel so inclined, I invite you to add any links you might have as well.

David Abrams speaks with Thomas McGuane for New West 

Katey Schultz answers Philip Hartigan‘s questions for Preterita 

Ray Bradbury‘s official biographer (and friend of mine) Sam Weller interviews the literary legend for Paris Review 

Another Chicago Magazine: A Conversation with Dinty W. Moore by Neil Stern

Alan Heathcock answers my questions here

Salt Publishing Blog conversation between Vanessa Gebbie and Jonathan Pinnock


Mike Pride interviews Maine’s Poet Laureate Wesley McNair



Bonnie Jo Campbell interviews Bonnie Jo Campbell in on
e of The Nervous Breakdown‘s Self-Interview series

Carrie Margolis interviews Anne-Marie Oomen 

Bookgroup talks with Gerard Woodward 

The Paris Review talks with Toni Morrison

Leah Tallon talks withGina Frangello for Knee-Jerk Magazine 

Jhumpa Lahiri talks with The Spectrum 

Andrea Waterfield interviews Dennis McFadden for The Missouri Review 

A transcript of NPR Weekend Edition host Scott Simon‘s recent interview with Roddy Doyle

A. Manette Ansay talks with K C Culver

And I could go on. Perhaps I will. Another time.