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

All The World ~ image by Martha Weintraub

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

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.

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 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. 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.















On Loneliness, Friends, Tweets, Circles, and THE BOOK

I heard on NPR the other day that you can buy yourself followers on Twitter. True story. There is speculation that some of our “popular” politicians are doing just that. Stuffing the ballot box, in a way. And you know, I’d be lying if I said I don’t look at the following/followers numbers when I hook up with a new TweetBud (I don’t know what the current, cool slang is for these people; forgive me,) as if it matters how many friends my friends have.

It is a version of the cafeteria, really. You know. You don’t want to be the only kid at one of those long tables, your tray of impossibly red spaghetti and carton of milk the only thing to keep you company. And you don’t really want to be at the table with the misfits, either: the girl who eats paste still at 14, the boy who has a patch over one of the lenses of his glasses to strengthen his lazy eye, the albino boy, the girl who wears a helmet all day long. (As an adult I’ve come to realize that these kids grow up to be the most interesting, by the way, but the stigma of being among the losers is hard to outgrow.) Where you want to sit is with the cool kids. And if you can’t get into that elite circle, then you want to at least be in a huge circle. A vivacious collection of friends and acquaintances who know things, do things, are things.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about this social media stuff lately. Especially as I have just joined Google+ (why? because I was invited) and been blogging for a few months and I tweet, for godssakes. My brother Wesley McNair (poet laureate of Maine, you know. Yes, I am bragging.) talks about the internet being anti-poetry. And I guess I believe it is as well. A distraction. A place to write without nearly as much consideration or conviction or revision as one might put into a fully-realized poem, a short story, a novel. And yet, even as I know that, here I am on the internet, on all the sites, chattering with my “friends” and my “followers” and my “circles.”

Mostly because of the book. I want people to know about my collection of stories, The Temple of Air, and so I reach out this way. Yet this isn’t just about my book, it is about THE BOOK. (No, not the bible, silly.) THE BOOK. The thing that holds words and stories and lives and wisdom and dreams and fantasies. I turn to these media now to stump for THE BOOK. For writers. For publications. For the on-going struggle of sharing our work and our ideas. Yesterday The Guardian had a piece about publishing houses making record profits these days, partly due to the ease of ebooks. And we were all worried, remember? What will happen to the future of the book without Borders, without “real” books, without pages and dust jackets and paper cuts? Who would have guessed that maybe, just maybe, people are actually reading more…

Yes, all of this attention I have been paying to social media lately has much to do with THE BOOK. But here’s another thing. It is also about friendship. I am one with many friends, but rather few close ones. The closest are a couple of women in Mount Carroll where I have my house; Anne-Marie Oomen, the fabulous Michigan writer; Dennis McFadden, the wonderful upstate New York writer; Jana and Gail; my niece; my husband; a handful of colleagues at Columbia. I don’t call any of these people very often; we don’t chat on the phone like I used to with my high school girlfriends or boyfriends. Like I used to with my mother every day before she died. Like I did with my brother Roger before he did (one year ago today.) We send emails and thumbs-up over Facebook; we try to get together for dinner or drinks now and again.

And still, this matters. And so do my new “friends.” I know that I cannot consider people I only know through Facebook (Maxine Hong Kingston–who sent me a music video her son made, Alan Heathcock–who allowed me to interview him for my blog, Melissa Luznicky-Garrett–who is doing all she can to support independent publishers and authors) my true friends, but I am grateful for their Facebook friendship nonetheless. We share ideas and gripes, we share good news and political grievances. I am grateful, too, that through these social networks I am able to keep “talking” with people I’ve met for just a few days: Lucricia, Rachel, Chuck, Kathie. In the past when you met someone at a conference, say, or a reading in another state and you said “let’s keep in touch,” maybe you would. The occasional letter, perhaps; but usually these people who often meant so much for a brief period of time would just slip away, out of your life. It still happens, yes, but it doesn’t always have to, and sometimes it takes a little longer than it used to.

And maybe I am thinking about this because this is the anniversary of my brother Roger’s passing. I feel very lonely in that place I held in my heart for him and him alone. As my book launch comes up and I try on the dress I bought especially for it, I remember how he would whistle at me when he liked what I was wearing, would simply say “yeah, cool,” to let me know he didn’t without flat out insulting me. I know he would be proud of this phase in my life; that he would be passing out postcards for the book from the front seat of his cab. That he would be there to give me rides to bookstores and bars for my readings, to the airport when I was lucky enough to get gigs a flight away.

We–those of us still here–sometimes keep our loneliness at bay with these distractions, just as we can keep our real work away. But sometimes, too, these distractions–our followers, our friends, our circles–can remind us that there are still interesting, kind, people out there who are delighted and disappointed with life just as we are, who are filled with wonder and compassion and spirit and even rage when necessary. As I grow older, my closest real circle loses members now and then, and they cannot be replaced. Mom, Roger, Robyn, my Uncle Miller. But I’ve reconnected with people from my past (Gayle, Dale, Helen, my cousins) through this wide web, and I am glad for that. Things shift and tilt and there are empty spots that cannot be filled; and yet, life goes on. A cliché of the worst kind, but true, too. I am glad of the ever widening circles I find as my life goes on, and I thank you for your part.

A Small Place of Enchantment ~ Marjorie Kinnan Rawling’s View From the Keyboard

“I do not understand how anyone can live without some small place of enchantment to turn to.”  ~ Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Today, August 8, is the anniversary of the birth of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and so it is in celebration of her life and work that I offer you this glimpse (image from the Florida Artist Hall of Fame website) into her writing space.

A small place of enchantment. I have been working in various corners and chairs in our apartment this summer, without any particular writing space. My writing room is inadequate: too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter. Is this why I’ve written little fiction this past month? No small place of enchantment to return to? Some would say that the enchanted place is the writing itself, and I’d usually agree. But I am one of those folks who likes my space to be just right…

Really, though, it is probably this business of the book that keeps me from sinking fully into my next fiction project. Blogging, tweeting, calling in markers, contacting publicity folks, inviting the world to the book launch of The Temple of Air. I’ve had other writing assignments along the way and have carried them out, but my mind, and my work at the keyboard, always goes back to the book. For now, this will have to enchant me, for this is the place I must return to.

Still accepting submissions for View From the Keyboard. Guidelines here. Thanks for reading. -PMc←

Warm Walls and Tiny Gifts ~ Shelli Johnson’s View From the Keyboard

Shelli Johnson is one of those writers who is smart, talented, enterprising, and industrious. An important combination if you want your work to get out there, get noticed, get respect. Her first novel Small as a Mustard Seed has received a number of accolades since its publication, not the least of which is this from Publishers’ Weekly: “An intense and heartbreaking story of the fallout of war.” And for those of you who want the inside scoop on how to be a mom and a writer, you might ask Shelli. Here, then, is her view from the keyboard.

Shelli: My writing space is my favorite room in the house. I made sure I decorated it so I loved it because I spend 8+ hours a day in it. Some of the time is writing fiction, the rest is doing my day job.

If this room were a person, it’d be my best friend. Really, there’s something about walking into it that’s calming and comforting and nurturing. You can be having a bad day—failed on the page or weather stinks or jeans won’t button—then walk into this room and, I don’t know how it works but it does, feel better afterward.

It’s amazing, too, what some windows and a warm color on the walls will do for your writing. The lightness in my writing ticked up a notch when I started working in here. Don’t believe me? Try writing in a basement, which is where I used to have my workspace. See how the tone of your work changes.

I’m actually not a neat freak—the rest of my house can attest to that—but I found when I’m writing that if I have papers everywhere, I get distracted too easily. So . . . the reason for the nice, neat desk. What you don’t see in the pictures are all the piles of paper in a ring around the floor and in boxes under the desk.

There’s a little collection of trinkets next to my computer that started 8 years ago when my son was 2 years old. He came toddling up to me one morning and handed me a seashell. He said, “Make you happy.” And so I’ve saved everything my kids have ever given me since. Here’s a sampling: a ceramic mushroom, a plastic Yoda from a Happy Meal, B.O.B. from Monsters vs. Aliens (which my youngest wouldn’t out right give to me, LOL, so we share it). All these tiny gifts make me smile and are a great little motivation, too, especially on the days when I’m tired and the writing’s tough and I’d rather be doing something easier, like watching TV.

Anyway, I’ve written two novels in this space and I’m going to be sad to see it go when we move in a few months. Hopefully, it’ll be a creative haven for the next owner, too.


Rose had never felt a stir like that, something hot and shocking as an explosion.  She shifted on her seat to relieve the warmth between her thighs and, utterly without meaning to, her lips bobbed a bit closer to him.  Her breathing was coming quick and in short little gasps.  She tugged downward on the hem of her mini-skirt, the violet color so dark against her pale fingers.  He leaned forward, his fingertip brushing against her mouth, and without thinking, just pure reflex, she flicked out her tongue and licked the warm, dusty pad.  It tasted like salt and flecks of grease and something mossy like damp earth.  She closed her eyes and saw herself in the back seat of his car, slipping out of her shoes and sliding her skirt up her hips and feeling his hands dancing across her ribs as he pulled the blouse over her head.  Then the bar door opened and sunlight drifted over Danny and spilled onto Rose, tugging her out of her steamy fantasy and back into the dim, air-conditioned bar.  “Huh?” she said.

“I asked what you’re drinking, darlin’?” Danny said.

“Can you get me outta here?” she answered.

He cupped her cheek in his rough hand, the palm tough and callused, a small water blister near the ball of his thumb.  “Sure, we can go anywhere you like.”

“It’s my birthday,” Rose said.

“How old are you?”


“Whew,” he said then leaned back on his stool, the wood creaking beneath him.  The jukebox petered out, and Rose heard him mutter, “Nineteen.”


Shelli’s award-winning novel, Small as a Mustard Seed, is available as an eBook for Kindle, Nook, and iBooks. You can find out more about Shelli Johnson through her website:; her blog:, her Facebook page:; and on Twitter: Thanks, Shelli, for this visit to your space. -PMc←

And the Winner Is… Book Giveaway Part 3

We have a winner! JoAnne Ruvoli is an avid reader and a huge fan of short fiction (see, publishing world? These people are out there!) and also very clever. She got 9 out of 9 right, proving that the test, while by no means easy, was not impossible.

So without further ado, original quotes first, then their answers:





  1. “The others present, including the landlord, he regarded with the boredom of long habit and with a shade of lofty disdain, as if he considered them too much his inferiors in rank and education to speak to.”

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

  1. “Way up beyond the white pines, out of sight, was the open, hilly land full of bristly mosses, ground birds, deer, and wild turkeys, even.”

AMERICAN SALVAGE by Bonnie Jo Campbell

  1. “Pulses were beating in his eyes, veiling their sight, and he felt the fever of his cheeks.”

ULYSSES by James Joyce

  1. “The flowers came up to his waist.”

CARAVAN THIEVES by Gerard Woodward

  1. “Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth, but there was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget: a singing compulsion, a whispered ‘Listen,’ a promise that she had done gay, exciting things just a while since and that there were gay, exciting things hovering in the next hour.”

THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald

  1. “Ran away.”

STORM WARNING by Vanessa Gebbie

  1. “I shake my head quite a lot.”


  1. “I had planted them too far down in the earth.”

THE BLUEST EYE by Toni Morrison

  1. “After which they are sent down to the Embryo Store.”

BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley

Well done, JoAnne; congratulations! JoAnne will receive an autographed copy of THE TEMPLE OF AIR (I know, shameless, right?) for her fine and astute work. Thanks to all who attempted to find the answers. And thanks again for reading!