The Whacky World Wide Web and A Book’s Launch

So a little less than one day in advance of the book launch of your debut story collection, you find yourself trolling the internet, Googling yourself (!) and the book’s title. This is how you discover that the interview you did with that gentleman from the news service that includes 500 small papers is out, and you sound a little like you might have something interesting to say. This is how you find your interview with the big city weekly alternative paper. This is how you stumble over a review of your book by one of the jazzier on-line book sites, a review that makes you more than a little pleased.

Here, too, you find the expected: a short-short creative nonfiction piece; a reprint (with permission) of the book’s title story from some years ago; reprints (without permission) of travel articles you wrote; an interview about creative nonfiction (two, actually); information on panels, readings, presentations; an interview with that artist who is interested in text and image; mentions and plugs by friends and students and colleagues. And the not-so-expected: the title of one of your stories in a strange aggregate list likely put up by someone with more than a little OCD; a very nasty comment about your smile on one of those rate-your-teacher sites; summaries of talks you gave at a festival, a conference, a workshop; mentions in blogs by people you don’t know but should; pictures that are not all that flattering from one event or another.

Most interesting, though, are those things absolutely surprising, weird, and sometimes wonderful:

Discovering that nearly 700 people are in the drawing for your book on Goodreads, and that close to 100 have added it to their shelves.

The name of your book on the list of 52 books a young woman—whom you don’t believe you’ve ever met—plans to read before the end of this year.

Your book on the list of “Top Pre-Orders” in the category of short story collections of a book dealer in Australia.

And this, perhaps your favorite of them all so far, found on a website called Bruv World:

“I’m reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I think she had some serious problems (Rand, not Atlas). Just reread The Great Gatsby by F. John Fitzgerald. It was disappointingly uneven in the writing, with bits of brilliance (Mr. Wolfsheim’s tufts of nostril hair) interspersed with sudden shifts from first the third person for the purpose of back-story dumps…Last month I read a new novel coming out by Patricia Ann McNair, Temple of Air. Stunningly good…Of course, the best places to find zombies is any discussion of American politics. I’ve heard the same suggested of Brit politics lately but who knows if that’s true or not.”


Everyone Remain Calm! ~ Megan Stielstra’s View From the Keyboard

Megan Stielstra was a pretty blond girl in a Fiction Writing 2 class I taught some years ago. A bright and eager undergraduate student totally dedicated to her writing, Megan was someone I could tell would go somewhere. And so she has. Today Megan Stielstra is a lovely blond woman who was a founder of one of the coolest literary series in Chicago: 2nd Story. She also is about to release her debut story collection. You probably want to check it out: Everyone Remain Calm!  You really should. In the meantime, though, you can get a taste of the book here, and the view from Megan’s keyboard.

Megan: At this point in my life, writing is more about time than space. I have three jobs and a three-year-old. I’m trying to market one book that I love more than anything, and finish another one that’s got me so distracted I keep missing train stops and getting off the elevator on the wrong floor. I think this is the case for most working writers–how do you balance all this life? Time is my most precious commodity, and I use it whenever I can: writing in coffee shops, 2nd Story’s studio space between rehearsals, in the car in front of my son’s school, or my secret haunt on Columbia College’s campus (no, I will not say where! Took me ten years to find this place and I’ll guard it like a Brink’s truck). But in those lovely, rare times when everything slows down, before Caleb wakes up or after he goes to sleep and I can sit calmly with some coffee or wine (depending on the hour), there’s nowhere like my porch. It’s my room of one’s own in the middle everything, all the noise and movement of this city. We’re on the third floor, high above it alI, a stone’s throw from the Aragon and when I sit out there I can hear the shows (and also when the shows let out; rowdy, wild affairs. This porch has seen some shit, I’ll tell you what). We’re gearing up to move somewhere a little bigger, where my husband and I can have actual rooms of one’s own, but my heart will still be sitting here on this porch, listening to the Rob Zombie fans screaming his name.

An excerpt from “Shot to the Lungs and No Breath Left,” the first story in Everyone Remain Calm!:

It’s a scene straight outta some Vin Diesel movie: that big, six-foot pretty-boy is hard at work at the petrol plant, loading Exxon barrels onto the back of some truck. Suddenly—a hard, fast whack to the chest, so fast he’s not sure at first if it actually happened. He opens his mouth to speak but his breath is locked so he can’t get out the words, just two hollow gulps of air before his lungs soak red like a wet sponge and slowly, slowly, blood seeps through the canvas of his coveralls. In one fatal, horrible second everything connects: the dark red-brown staining his chest. The airless gasping like some cancer patient with a cigarette. The punch above his heart like a shotgun with too much pull and then, after he’s too empty of blood and air to keep on his feet, my dad walks right into his line of vision, that H&H Magnum pointed barrel to the ground. “Hey, there, Wade, how you doing?” Dad says, and Wade’s stupid blue eyes go glassy and there’s more blood on his uniform than there is in his body and in the last single second of life left in him my dad squats down and whispers: “She’s my girl, Wade. My one and only girl.”

My dad—he loves me like crazy. You can’t hate that hard if you don’t have love.


Oh yeah, and Megan said this, too: “I happily and fully agree to let Patricia McNair edit this submission for publication on her website/blog. I think Patricia Ann McNair and her website/blog are awesome things and being a part of the community she is building there would make me dance with joy. Also: someone should give her a million dollars.” (Thanks, Meg. If someone does give me a million, I’ll share. Promise.)

→For more from Megan Stielstra, go to her website: To find out about 2nd Story, go to theirs: Thanks again, Megan. And thanks for reading. -PMc←

Beating Back Writer’s Block ~ Jack London’s View From the Keyboard

Last week the new students in the Fiction Writing Department of Columbia College Chicago gathered for their orientations and welcoming events. So many bright faces, so many eager new writers. I am excited to get the chance to work with them this next year.

A question came up more than once: “How do you get over writer’s block?” This might be a subject for a longer post another time, but for now, advice from Jack London:

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

Thanks, Jack. Well said.

→Coming soon, Megan Stielstra’s View From the Keyboard, and that of DA Kentner (KevaD) as well. Thanks for reading. -PMc←

Democritus and Rough-Cut Women ~ A View From the Keyboard of Ken Rodgers

I can’t quite recall how this gentleman from Boise came to my attention over the world wide web, but I am glad he did. Ken Rodgers is one of those writers who lives a fascinating life and then tells us about it in poems, stories, and film. He also tells the stories of others–one of his most recent projects is a documentary film about the Bravo Company of US Marines during the Vietnam war (co-produced with his wife Betty.) Rodgers has “…chased sheep across the desert, chased the enemy through the jungles of southeast Asia, run the head gate to capture cattle, pounded the keys of a calculator, pounded the keys of a typewriter, peddled mountain real estate, and tailed off recycled redwood at a finishing mill,” we learn from his website. How can you not be intrigued? And he is deeply committed to writers and celebrating words, working in various capacities as a teacher and artist. Lucky for me–and for you, too–Ken Rodgers is willing to open up his writing space to us with his View From the Keyboard.

Rodgers: Space to nap, ponder, and write. A bookshelf bulging with poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. A corkboard with postcard-sized renditions of art that fetch my fancy or churn my memory. Copies of ancient mosaics, also Cezanne, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Velasquez, Chagall, Picasso, De Kooning, Degas, Manet, Magritte, have spurred chunks of my written musings.

I am particularly fond of a postcard copy of a Diego Velasquez titled “Democritus.” Democritus was an ancient Greek philosopher interested in answers that rely on material data in response to philosophical questions regarding existence. Not much of the spiritual, just atoms and material things.

Although philosophy is one of my interests, it’s Democritus’ face that captures me. The same face a longtime friend owned, and I wonder if Velasquez’ model isn’t my friend’s ancestor. The Democritus in the painting wears a quixotic grin that when rendered by my friend, meant mischief was afoot. Life was like a bronco that needed to be broken. Rollicking, hoof stomping. We drank whiskey and fought. We got drunk and he fought cops. He pulled guns on cops, and mostly got away with it. I watched. Busted Metaxa bottles on the backs of bars.  Gambel’s quail gunned down out of season. The one-night flings with rough-cut women.

Democritus would have recognized our shenanigans as evidence of the material. Not much of the spiritual in our behavior.

My friend has been dead many years but I still write poems, stories and lyric essays based on our common monkeyshines. Often prodded by Velasquez’ grinning—or is it sneering—“Democritus.”

 Stalled on the Runway in a Boeing 707, waiting for the B-52s to take off

A sudden blow, the great wings beating still…

             William Butler Yeats, from “Leda and the Swan”


We wait for them

stately black

and unmarked

to leave    on their missions


Await our turn to leave the wounds of war



On the Kadena tarmac

we wait


Lined up  they wait

to fly southwest

to carpet bomb the ridges

and tree-lined draws

the amber flats

the creeks that meander to the South China Sea


They wait

to loose their bombs

with red frown faces painted on

Bombs nestled in their bomb bay breasts


Stately black

their too-long wings bobbing up and down

as they rumble and creep

forward for their time

to fly


Stately black


We wait for them

Await our turn to leave the wounds of war




→Ken Rodgers, thank you. -PMc←