The Writer’s Handful with Giano Cromley

Cromley Bio Photo

Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to.

A couple of months ago, I met Giano Cromley at Hyde Park’s famous Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap. He was there for a reading, a double book launch party for him (What We Build Upon the Ruins) and Joseph G. Peterson (Gunmetal Blue.) I didn’t know him or his writing before that day, and man, I gotta tell you, I am so glad that has changed. His work is haunting and smart; he creates the sort of characters you wonder over and worry about once the story has ended. What We Build Upon the Ruins is one of those collections that make a reader excited about short stories and their future.cover ruins And recently, Giano took a few minutes out of his busy book promotion to chat a bit. Here’s his handful.

Did you write today? If yes, what? If no, why not?

Not to get too cute here, but it depends on what you mean by the word “write.” I’ve always taken a fairly hard-line stance on it, in which case, I have not written today. Even though it’s Friday as I type this (and Fridays are typically my most productive writing days), vet visits and dishwasher repair appointments have conspired to put the kibosh on any notion of fruitful writing.

If, however, you subscribe to a more generous definition of the word “write” (a definition first proposed to me by the great writer Ben Tanzer) — a definition that holds that any writing whatsoever qualifies as “writing” — then, yes, I did write today. I am writing. Writing about writing, in fact. (Ouroboros reference fully embraced.)

All that being said, the only writing I find truly rewarding is the kind that involves a blank page and the utter mystery of what will go on it. I liken that feeling to driving down a dark highway at night with no headlights. You never know what’s going to pop into view. I recently had a book come out so it feels like it’s been ages since I’ve done that kind of blank-page writing. Part of me is nervous for the next time I sit down to do it. Will I still be able to pull it off? Have I lost that ability? Those are the kinds of questions that haunt my mind, but they always make it more exciting when I prove to myself I still can.

What’s the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?

The first thing I remember writing was in school, probably second grade. Our teacher would give us these big wide sheets of paper with the top half blank and the bottom half lined. We were supposed to draw a picture on the top half and write the story that went along with the picture on the bottom half. This exercise was pretty much the best thing I could ever be assigned. Complete freedom. Zero parameters. As such, I tended to write about the things my 9-year-old self found awesome at the time — typically dinosaurs. A frequent plot would involve characters on an expedition who came across a group of somehow-not-extinct dinosaurs, which they would then keep as pets. To this day, I maintain those stories probably are some of the best things I’ve ever written.Dinosaur Drawing

 
What are you reading right now?

Well… to be very honest, I’m currently reading Patricia Ann McNair’s collection of essays entitled And These Are the Good Times. Essay collections aren’t always the first thing I pick up when I’m looking for a new book. But I got the chance to hear McNair read this past fall and I so thoroughly enjoyed her reading that I had to get myself a copy. Then, a couple other books I had in line in front of it kind of fell flat, so hers quickly moved up the queue. And, boy, am I appreciative of that happenstance. I can hardly begin to explain how much I’ve enjoyed the collection so far. I think what I find so engrossing is the sense of place each piece inhabits. Whether it’s a steamy summer night on Foster Beach, an evening at the local bar with her father, or her collegiate office downtown, these essays feel so firmly rooted and confident of their locale that they give each piece an emotional heft that often leaves me squirming and gasping for breath. I’ve only got about 30 pages left and I already miss it. [PMc…awww…shucks. Thanks.]

What’s the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)

So much good advice I’ve received. So much good advice I’ve ignored. Here’s something: It was my first job the summer after my senior year in high school. I was the delivery boy in a radiator repair shop. (The shop was owned by my friend’s father, which was the only reason I got the job, rather than any mechanical aptitude on my part.) The job was 70% driving around to various truck repair garages to pick up faulty radiators or deliver repaired ones. The other 30% of the job was basically hanging around the garage and doing whatever needed doing. Sometimes it was stripping radiators, other times it was cleaning out the chemical solvent vats, others it was running out to get doughnuts for the guys. One afternoon, it was a slow day at the shop, and I didn’t have much to do. Or, rather, I didn’t see much to do. My friend’s dad came wandering into the shop and saw me idly loafing. He looked at me and said, “Don’t just stand there. Do something.”

That line has always stuck with me. Every day we have a finite amount of time given to us to go out and accomplish whatever it is we hope to accomplish. Wasting time, doing nothing is one of the worst sins you can commit. Whenever I find myself putting off writing or generally procrastinating, I remember those words: Don’t just stand there. Do something.

If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be? Because…

If my writing were an animal, it would be an otter. Here’s why: They’re very approachable and friendly seeming. After all, these are the guys that swim on their back and carry their food on their bellies. “Hey,” you might say, “isn’t that otter so cute?!” But if you get a little closer and observe them for a while, you’ll also see that they’re pretty fierce little guys who don’t take much shit from anyone else in the animal kingdom. Those teeth are not joke. Otters are also pretty clever. They have to use rocks to open up their clams and mussels, or they don’t eat. I’d like to think my writing, on its better days, exhibits all those qualities.

buzzfeed otter
Image from Buzzfeed

Giano Cromley is the author of the novel The Last Good Halloweenwhich was a finalist for the High Plains Book Award. He is the chair of the Communications Department at Kennedy-King College, and he lives on the South Side of Chicago with his wife and two dogs.

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The Writer’s Handful with Joseph G. Peterson

Joseph G. Peterson Author Photo

Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to.

I first stumbled upon Joseph G. Peterson’s work with the publication of his novel, Wanted: Elevator Man. Joseph’s line-up of books (a half-dozen so far) is diverse (including a novel in verse!) and impressive. His most recent book, just released by the very fine Tortoise Books, is Gunmetal Blue. Kirkus Reviews calls Joseph “one of the Windy City’s best-kept secrets…” and says that Gunmetal Blue is “…a stark meditation on grief, Catholic guilt, and guns.” Intrigued? You should be.

Here is Joseph G. Peterson in response to The Writer’s Handful.book cover gunmetal

Did you write today? If yes, what? If no, why not?

I’m on vacation in a condo overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. A cold snap grips the north, but down here in southern Florida, all is sun, reflection of light off the water, and the greenness of palm trees, crabgrass, and shrub. Because I’m on vacation, I actually have an opportunity to spend a little time in the morning writing, and I’ve been doing so each morning I’ve been down here. Today, I was working on a comic novel about an old guy who lives with his mom. In general, I’m not a very systematic writer. I sort of noodle around in the small margins of the day and usually that means very early in the morning (5:30 am) I’ll have a moment or two; or very late at night >10:45 I’ll have another moment or two. With just a few moments here and there it’s amazing how much work can get done.

What’s the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?

I probably wrote my first story when I was in first or second grade. It concerned a frog hopping around the log. I remember also telling stories in class very early on in my school career, and I was always appalled at how quickly my stories strayed from the truth. It wasn’t until later that I realized I just naturally liked to fabricate tall tales. My mother recently shared with me a prospective biography that I wrote when I was five or six years old and in that biography I had said I wanted to be a writer. I have no idea where that impulse may have come from, but it proved to be prescient.

What are you reading right now?

Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. When I travel on winter break, I’ve discovered that this is a good time to read a classic. Last year at this time, I read a novel by Conan Doyle, the year before that I read James Farrell’s Studs Lonigon… a great book. I’m also enjoying the short book,300 Arguments, by Sarah Manguso.

What’s the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)

When I was an apprentice writer, I used to search high-and-low for the holy grail of how to do it: how to write a novel. I read every Paris Review Interview there was, and I was most interested in understanding whether the writing process over the course of a novel was difficult, extremely difficult, or nearly impossible. For me, at the time, it seemed on the cusp of impossible. What those interviews taught me was that maybe persistence and doggedness might be the best tools for completing a novel. As to all the rules that writers liked to espouse in those interviews: show don’t tell, tell don’t show, use the Oxford comma, don’t use adjectives, write first thing in the morning, use a number two pencil, keep the iceberg submerged, &c.;  I never found one that was useful for me. As a rule, rules about writing bug me. At the end of the day the only writing rule that I subscribe to is this one: It doesn’t matter how you do it… whether you stay on the track of the customary way or veer far off course… all that matters is that the final product works.

If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be? Because…

Was it Isaiah Berlin who divided writers into two camps: Foxes and Hedgehogs? In any event, I like this binary classification, and as such I would put myself into the hedgehog camp. First of all, I like hedgehogs. There used to be quite a lot of them out along the Des Plaines river where I liked to fish, and I liked to watch them root around near their holes. Second of all, I think I’m the sort of writer that doggedly roots around his subject. You might even say, all of my books (six published so far) are an intensive rooting around the subject of what it means to be tossed out of the group or cast-out as the case may be. I study this subject mostly as it pertains to guys who have fallen out of the economy, fallen out of relevance, falling out of family, etc. I think of my broader work as concerns “The Life of Man”–and what interests me is what that life is like once the old social norms of white male status and privilege give way to a loss of power and marginalization, which, in this day and age is itself a subject that is getting cast to the margins of our literature.

Oliver Wilks Images
Source: ptes.org

 

Joseph G. Peterson grew up in Wheeling, Illinois. He worked in an aluminum mill and in the masonry trade as a hod carrier and he attended the University of Chicago. He is the author of five novels: Beautiful Piece, Inside the Whale, Wanted: Elevator Man, Gideon’s Confession, and Gunmetal Blue. He is also the author of the short-story collection, Twilight of the Idiots. His stories have appeared in numerous anthologies including, The Pleasure You Suffer: A Saudade Anthology, and Daddy Cool: An anthology of Writing by Fathers for & About Kids. He works in publishing and lives in Chicago with his wife and two daughters.

Jack Driscoll and the Short Story (on the day after Thanksgiving)

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A short while ago, I got to talk with Jack Driscoll, one of my all-time favorite writers, for an interview on The Rumpus. There is so much goodness here, it would take me forever to excerpt the highlights. So why don’t you just wander over to The Rumpus and give it a read? (http://therumpus.net/2017/11/its-only-a-matter-of-time-a-conversation-with-jack-driscoll/) And since it is Black Friday, or Thanksgiving Part II, you might want to consider buying a copy (or two, or three, or four) of his short story collection The Goat Fish and the Lover’s Knot from your favorite bookseller.

The Writer’s Handful with James Tadd Adcox

AuthorPhoto.Adcox

Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to.

Curbside Splendor is at it again–publishing cutting edge work by butt-kicking emerging writers. Does Not Love is the debut novel of JAMES TADD ADCOX, and folks are paying attention to it. Roxanne Gay says “…Adcox is a writer who knows how to make the reader believe the impossible, in his capable hands, is always possible, and the ordinary, in his elegant words, is truly extraordinary.” And Electric Lit tells us “Does Not Love is funny, surreal, satiric, pensive, and strangely haunting.”

On his blog tour, James Tadd Adcox stopped by The Writer’s Handful, and I am glad he did.

Welcome James!

Did you write today? If yes, what? If no, why not?

I feel like I’m basically always working on something. I do a lot of writing in transit. I’m planning to spend some time on a train, later, working on an essay about Donald Barthelme.Man & Woman Front

 

What’s the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?

A game, actually–I spent most of my childhood and early teenage years writing/designing games, mostly really complicated board games or card games, and then later on roleplaying games. I thought for a long time that I might want to design games as a career. (A friend of mine who used to be a collaborator in writing these games is doing that now, publishing them through indie games publishers on the West Coast).

The first game I remember writing was a book, something like a Choose Your Own Adventure but with some role-playing elements to it (you could collect items, buy things, your character advanced over time)–probably ripped off of this series of books that was around then, Lone Wolf, which did basically the same thing. I don’t especially remember the game’s plot, except that it had something to do with saving the world, and at some point a character who you were supposed to trust turned on you.

I’ve always preferred designing games or watching other people play them to playing games myself, though. I don’t know what that says about me, but I feel like it makes a kind of sense, as a disposition, for a writer.

 

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading Silence: A Christian History by Diarmaid MacCulloch, and Either/Or by Soren Kierkegaard. MacCulloch also wrote a massive history of Christianity called Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years; this one’s a bit shorter and more focused.

 

What’s the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)

I’m terrible at taking advice. Mostly I have to keep doing something wrong long enough to learn not to do it.

Though it isn’t really advice, and wasn’t directed at me, Bertolt Brecht at some point in his journals talks about needing to develop sufficient butt-strength to write a novel; he says, at the time, that he has not gotten good enough at sitting down long enough to write one, but he is working on it… Does Not Love is a short novel, which I’m okay with—I wanted it to be a short novel, and it ended up being right around the size that I’d planned for when I started—but I’d like to develop enough sitting-ability or butt-strength to write something longer.

 

If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be? Because…

There is a kind of spider that makes a decoy of itself out of leaves and dead insects, and can make the decoy move, just like a real spider. It looks realistic enough that at first it fooled the scientists that discovered it into thinking that the decoy was, in fact, the spider. Ideally I would like my writing to be something like that.

Image from wired.com
Image from wired.com

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James Tadd Adcox is the author of a novel, Does Not Love, and a collection of stories, The Map of the System of Human Knowledge. He lives in Chicago.

The Writer’s Handful with Carrie Etter

Carrie-small
Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to.

After a bit of hiatus, I am so very pleased to bring you The Writer’s Handful again. And I am even more pleased to have CARRIE ETTER, a remarkable poet and sudden prose writer, join us today. You must find Carrie’s work and read it immediately. She will break your heart. She will make you laugh. She will cause you wonder. She will speak to you as though you are close, close enough to touch. And her words will touch you.

Welcome Carrie!

Did you write today? If yes, what? If no, why not?

It’s marking season, as it were, one of those times of year where I have weeks of marking to do, and I find it hard to write when I’m doing so much marking, so I probably won’t write again until after it’s done. I don’t like the situation, but I’ve learned to work with it.

What’s the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?imagined_sons72_0

At age 3, on the large paper that’s half-lined, half empty space, I wrote (and drew) a story about ducks.

What are you reading right now?

Right now I’m reading four things in uneven rotation: H.P. Lovecraft’s Classic Horror Stories (a gift from a student), China Mieville’s The City and the CityDylan Thomas’s Collected Poems, and the current issue of New American Writing.

What’s the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)

I can’t really think of concrete advice I’ve been given, at least broad principles, that I’ve found especially useful. I had a personal revelation while working on my PhD at the British Library. I was thinking I’d give up on writing a difficult poem, when I realized that if I faced the same situation in my PhD–an established critic whose argument directly conflicted with mine, say–I’d have to find a way through it. I had to approach writing with all the rigor I approached writing criticism. That’s since been a touchstone.

If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be? Because…

I’d aspire for my writing to be like a dolphin, intelligent and elegant.

Image from Wikipedia
Image from Wikipedia

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Originally from Normal, Illinois, Carrie Etter has lived in England since 2001 and is a senior lecturer/associate professor of creative writing at Bath Spa University. She has published three collections, The Tethers (Seren, 2009), Divining for Starters (Shearsman, 2011), and Imagined Sons (Seren, 2014), and edited Infinite Difference: Other Poetries by UK Women Poets (Shearsman, 2010). Individual poems have appeared in The Iowa Review, The New Republic, The New Statesman, The Times Literary Supplement, and elsewhere. She blogs athttp://carrieetter.blogspot.com.

Thank you Carrie Etter, for taking the time away from poem making, marking, reviewing, and blogging for this little chat. And thank you, everyone, always, for reading. – PMC

The Writer’s Handful with Patricia Skalka

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Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to.

Putting together your summer reading list? Looking for a smart, tough mystery to add to it? Check out the fist in the Dave Cubiak Mystery Series, DEATH STALKS DOOR COUNTY, the debut novel by Chicago author PATRICIA SKALKA. Publishers Weekly calls this book “A tight, lyrical first novel.” High praise indeed!

Here’s the thing, though, the book has already gone into its second printing (released just weeks ago!) and if you are looking for it in Chicago bookstores, you may find that it is already sold out in many places. Hang tight, though, and place your order; more are on the way! And for those of you who live in the Chicago area, you can hear Patricia read from the book at the fabulous Tuesday Funk Reading Series at Hopleaf on Clark in Andersonville (June 3), or head out to Winnetka to The Bookstall on June 12. To hold you over for a bit before then, here’s Patricia answering a couple of questions for us.

Welcome Patricia!

Did you write today? If yes, what? If no, why not?

I try to write every day, but today I did not. Death Stalks Door County, my debut mystery novel, was recently published and I was awash in promotional details. From there I met with my critique group and then spent the rest of the afternoon answering emails. My thoughts on writing and reading, however, can be found in a guest blog post that went online recently at Buried Under Books.Skalka-Death-Stalks

What’s the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?

I started at about age 7, writing stories at the kitchen table — feet dangling above the floor, printing my tales on coarse lined paper that I’d staple together into “books.”

What are you reading right now?

Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose, an absolute gem both in terms of story and writing.

What’s the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)

My father once told me that anything worth having was worth sacrificing for. He wasn’t talking about writing but the advice certainly applies to anyone contemplating a career as a writer.

If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be? Because…

I’d have to say “cat” because I’ve done many different kinds of writing and so, like a cat, have found it necessary to be flexible and at home just about anywhere. At any rate, my cat usually dangles her tail over the keyboard as I write, and I have no doubt that she is sprinkling essence of cat into the work.

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Death Stalks Door County marks the fiction debut of award-winning, Chicago writer Patricia Skalka. A lifelong reader and writer, she turned to fiction following a successful career in nonfiction. Her many credits include: Staff Writer for Reader’s Digest, magazine editor, freelancer, ghost writer, writing instructor and book reviewer. (bio from author’s website www.PatriciaSkalka.com)

→Thanks, Patricia, for the chat, and continued good luck with your debut and the series. See you at Hopleaf. And thanks, everyone, as always, for reading. -PMc←

The Writer’s Handful with Dan Burns

DB Cover Photo for Book Jacket

Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to.

Chicago author DAN BURNS came at this writing thing by a different path than most, arriving at it after years of corporate work. But taking the long way around hasn’t kept Dan from getting where he wants to be. He’s just released his second book, a story collection called NO TURNING BACK, and most days (ok, maybe not today, but most) you can find him at his desk working on the next one. Impressive.

Welcome Dan!

Did you write today? If yes, what? If no, why not?

I did not write today, and it kills me to say so. I just released my new short story collection, and I am in the throes of a full-on, all-out publicity push. So, I set aside the day to promote my book, make some contacts, and set up some future publicity events. I certainly realize the importance of the publicity and promotion aspect of a writing career, but I’d much rather be in my office, writing. Only when I am getting the words down onto the page do I really feel a sense of accomplishment. It’s a good thing that I’ll be back at it tomorrow. I’m in the process of revising my next novel, A Fine Line, which is a crime mystery that’s set in Chicago, and my year-end deadline is fast approaching.

What’s the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?

It’s hard for me to think back that far. However, I can remember the first “real” short story I wrote after I made the decision to pursue writing as a career. I wrote the first draft of the story, No Turning Back, in August of 2006. In coming up with the idea for the story, I tried to think about what might be one of the most difficult acts a person might be forced to do in life, and then, what would it be like if the person had to do it twice?

I was 43 years old at the time and I remember how excited I was after completing the draft. I read the story and revised it at least a dozen times and I really liked it. I also remember the criticism I received after sharing the story in a writing workshop. Instead of providing guidance on how to improve the story, the instructor suggested that I change the story, and quite drastically. I remember she said, “If it were me, I would change the plot altogether and . . .”

Well, needless to say, I didn’t feel very good after that discussion. I thought about the instructor’s comments and I re-readNo Turning Back Cover Final 4 the story many, many times. In the end, I decided that I liked the story just the way I wrote it. I can live with that decision. It may not be the best story I ever wrote, but it’s important to me in that it really defines the beginning of my writing career. I’m happy to say that the story is included in my new short story collection—which also carries the title, No Turning Back—that was just released on April 29, 2014.

What are you reading right now?

I tend to have a number of different books going at the same time, and I’m juggling a bit right now. I’m reading The Tenth of December, the new short story collection from George Saunders. I’m also reading Brown Dog, the new collection of novellas by Jim Harrison. Lastly, I’m reading the new novel, Lost in the Ivy, by my friend and fellow Chicago Writers Association member, Randy Richardson. Each of the books is so very different, and I like switching back-and-forth between them based upon how I’m feeling on a given day. Diversity—it’s good for me.

What’s the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)

I am a student of The School of Prolific Writers. I find that I am able to learn the most from those writers who have come before me and who have produced the most successfully published stories. You can take your pick of your favorites and there are a lot of them, but they will all suggest the same advice: get the words down onto the page.

We can talk about writing, plan for it, and study for it, but in the end, the only way to become a successful writer is to actually sit down and write.

If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be? Because…

I’m going to stick my neck out (did I really say that?) and say that my writing is most like a giraffe. I don’t think I necessarily do it intentionally, but sometimes when I am finished with a story, it seems that what I’ve written ends up being a bit outside of my comfort zone, that I’ve stretched out and reached beyond what I thought I might do as a writer. As a result, I might question myself on occasion. What will someone think of what I’ve written?

I write about ideas, topics, and things that interest me and that come to me based upon everything that I’ve crammed into my head over the years. I write what I feel I am supposed to write. In the end, it’s important for me to just go with it, to finish the story and share it. Every writer has likely encountered the situation where he or she has questioned the validity of his or her writing. I know I have done it, and I think it’s healthy. It’s good to evaluate yourself and your writing. However, you have to push your own boundaries. You can’t let what anyone says, or what you think someone may say, stop you. You have to keep sticking your neck out.

giraffe

 

After a twenty-five year career in the corporate world, Dan Burns gave it all up to pursue his two, true passions: teaching and writing. He is a teacher at the DePaul University Kellstadt Graduate School of Business and a full-time writer of short stories, screenplays, and novels. He published his first book, the non-fiction career guide The First 60 Seconds: Win the Job Interview Before It Begins (Sourcebooks, May 2009) and embarked on an eighteen-month public speaking and book tour, talking with thousands of people about how to be more effective in their job search and career efforts. He recently published his first novel, a contemporary family drama titled Recalled To Life (Eckhartz Press, June 2013), and he just released his newest book, No Turning Back, through his new publishing company, Chicago Arts Press. No Turning Back is a collection of his short fiction that includes custom illustrations by Chicago artist Kelly Maryanski as well as his personal notes regarding the thoughts and ideas that inspired him to write the stories, adding a unique behind-the-scenes perspective of the writing process. He is currently putting the finishing touches on a new novel, A Fine Line, which is a crime mystery set in Chicago. For more information about Dan and his various projects, please visit his website at www.danburnsauthor.com.

→Thanks, Dan, for breaking away from the desk for a bit. Good luck with the new book, and the next one as well! And as always, thanks everyone, for reading. -PMc←