The Writer’s Handful with James Tadd Adcox

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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.

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The Writer’s Handful with Carrie Etter

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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.

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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←

Titillating ~ Remembering Edward Gorey with Todd Summar and Kenneth Gerleve

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“To take my work seriously would be the height of folly,” Edward Gorey once said. And yet, we do take it seriously. Gorey’s drawings and writing—sometimes creepy, sometimes silly, sometimes moving, and always skillful and clever—have inspired and delighted readers, writers, and artists for generations.

Among these Gorey aficionados are Chicago writer Todd Summar and Chicago artist and storyteller Kenneth Gerleve. In honor and celebration of the work of Edward Gorey, this talented duo have launched the journal Goreyesque, and are mounting a related exhibition this month at LUMA, Loyola University Museum of Art. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Todd and Kenneth about both of these endeavors. Todd Summar

PMc: Todd, tell us about the project:

Todd: Goreyesque is an online literary journal featuring work inspired by the spirit and aesthetic of Edward Gorey. It was originally created to provide a forum for work that celebrates Gorey’s influence across all genres, featuring up-and-coming artists and writers alongside seasoned professionals. The spark of the idea was triggered by the Chicago debut of Gorey’s work at the Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA). Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey and G is for Gorey C is for Chicago (a companion exhibition from the Thomas Michalak Collection) are on display until June 15, 2014. My partner Kenneth Gerleve is a visual artist and storyteller, and was asked by LUMA to design an installation that would appear in conjunction with the Gorey exhibition. Ken’s Summerland: A Ghost Story is a sixteen panel narrative installation that combines image and story in a fashion similar to Gorey’s famous picture books.

That project led to the conception of an anthology of work that would combine fiction with illustration and other forms of art in an ongoing literary journal style format. Sam Weller (co-editor of Shadow Show: All New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury) was an early supporter, and helped us establish a partnership between the Department of Creative Writing at Columbia College Chicago and LUMA. I joined forces with editors Howard Simmons, Corey Klinzing, and Jess Millman, and soon after, Goreyesque released its first issue in February, its second in March, and will release issue three on April 25, 2014 in advance of our public reading event to be held at LUMA on April 29. Established authors such as Joe Meno, Weller, and Adam McOmber will read their Goreyesque work, alongside writers specially selected by judges Weller and Mort Castle. After April, we will release issues on a quarterly basis. We have featured work from writers and artists from around the world, and continue to accept Summerland_Installation_600x900_Finalsubmissions on an ongoing basis.

PMc: Why did you choose Edward Gorey? 

Todd: Edward Gorey’s dry wit and darkly humorous style has inspired authors, filmmakers, and artists, such as Neil Gaiman, Tim Burton, and Lemony Snicket, for decades. His appeal spans genres and disciplines and is the perfect avenue for artists of all varieties to converge. Beyond that, Gorey’s sensibility lives on, and still feels fresh, after nearly 60 years of existing in the public consciousness. Work as recent as Wes Anderson’s latest film The Grand Budapest Hotel draws heavily upon the tone and style for which Gorey is known. When Ken began his work for LUMA, and I spoke to various people about the project, their reactions were overwhelmingly enthusiastic. It was clear that Gorey’s work captivates people’s imaginations, eliciting fond memories of their first exposure to his books, or reminiscence of the opening animated sequence he designed for the PBS Mystery! television show. On the other hand, people who may not have immediately recognized Gorey’s name were familiar with The Gashlycrumb TiniesCautionary Tales for Children, or other signature Gorey works. Before entering the Creative Writing-Fiction MFA program at Columbia, I was a big fan of the tribute Weller and Castle paid to Ray Bradbury with Shadow Show, and I wanted launch a similar project that would showcase work inspired by Gorey. The support the project has gained has been exciting and overwhelming.

PMc: You are a writer of many things yourself, Todd, including fiction of a haunting nature. Does this particular literary interest come in part from your exposure to the work of Edward Gorey? Tell us about your “first time” with Gorey. And Ken, do you have a “first time” story? Was Gorey an influence on your art before this project?

Todd: In my early youth, and in the years that I’ve grown as a writer, I was more influenced by authors and artists whose work actually veered into far darker territory than Gorey’s. But one of the key lessons I learned as I began to appreciate his work more and more, is that in even the most haunting of stories, a humorous or quirky element actually helps to enrich and deepen the material. Gorey’s wit, even when it’s as dark and dry as a bone, allows us to laugh in the face of death, to celebrate the mundane, and to considerate life with a deceptively insightful simplicity. When I find myself getting too morose or too monotone in my fiction, I try to step back and remember the skillful way Gorey managed to balance these light and dark elements in relatively few words and images. I think this is why his influence has endured.

My first memory of his work, like many people, would have to be The Gashlycrumb Tinies. I discovered the alphabetical picture book chronicling children’s deaths when I was grade school age, in the 1980s, right before everything meant for children was sanitized and scrubbed for safety. Back when kids could stumble upon books like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz, and its frightening illustrations, and stay up all night, disturbed by their own imaginations. I was captivated by Gorey’s frank, but humorous, depictions of the gruesome deaths of 26 children, describing but never quite showing the final moments. This fascination with the dark side of humanity always existed inside of me, but Gorey’s work helped draw it out.

Illustrations © The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust. All rights reserved.
Illustrations © The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust. All rights reserved.

Ken: When I was nine years old, my family took a vacation to Door County, Wisconsin. We stayed in a cabin on a lake with no television and little else to do. My parents’ concession was a trip to a local bookstore, where I found a copy of a young adult Gothic mystery novel called The Curse of the Blue Figurine by John Bellairs and illustrated by Edward Gorey. Needless to say, I became hooked. For years afterwards, I sought out and devoured copies of Bellairs’ books which were nearly always illustrated by Gorey. I also started to collect the reissued versions of Gorey’s Amphigorey anthologies and his individual books. I was devastated when both men died. When I started writing and illustrating my own stories in high school and college, I was essentially creating Ken portraitpastiches of their work. In a sense, The Osiris Mechanism—and “Summerland” by extension—is an homage to both men. [Editor’s note: The Osiris Mechanism is a larger work in image and text of which “Summerland” is part.]

PMc: In doing this work for Goreyesque, have you discovered anything new about the writer/artist that you didn’t know before?

Todd: I wasn’t always aware of the level of camp that Edward Gorey reveled in. In fact, he famously detested his work being called “macabre,” and instead preferred “titillating.” He enjoyed everything from going to the opera to watching The Golden Girls. There are many videos on YouTube in which he flamboyantly discusses everything from his own career to the prurient details of his favorite soap operas. Fans of his work may not automatically associate him with such wild contradictions, but upon closer examination, this playfulness exists throughout his stories. Besides, someone whose signature outfit once consisted of a floor-length fur coat with sneakers and shorts had to have had a fiendish sense of humor!

PMc: What do you hope his legacy will be, and how do you intend this project to be part of that?

Todd: Gorey’s obituary in the Guardian quoted him as saying: “I see no disparity between my books and everyday life … I write about everyday life.” One could argue that he presented everyday life through a somewhat bizarre and often whimsical lens. For those unfamiliar with Gorey’s work, or only familiar with limited aspects of it, I hope that a project like Goreyesque, and the works on display in the exhibition, will expose them to the vast range and multiple angles of life that Gorey explored throughout his career. He wasn’t just a children’s author, an illustrator of dark subject matter, or a godfather of modern Goth culture. I also hope that Goreyesque provides writers and artists with an enjoyable challenge – a writing or visual prompt, perhaps – that encourages them to approach their work in a new and exciting way and allows them to participate in this celebration of Gorey and to be part of this community of creative thinkers who have benefitted from his legacy for decades. We have already received so many interesting pieces from an amazing pool assortment of talent. I can’t wait to see what else comes our way.

PMc: Anything else you want us to know?

Todd: Though the LUMA show ends in June, Goreyesque will continue indefinitely, becoming a quarterly publication this summer. Our Chicago reading event at LUMA is April 29, 2014 but we are still accepting submissions for future issues. Chicago is certainly our home base, but we accept and encourage work from writers and artists around the world. We are hoping to eventually raise the funds to produce a printed anthology of the best selected works from Goreyesque, but that is a long-term goal and we will keep readers updated on its progress as we move forward.

Illustrations © The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust. All rights reserved.
Illustrations © The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust. All rights reserved.

 

Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey and G is for Gorey C is for Chicago and Kenneth Gerleve’s “Summerland: A Ghost Story” will be on display at LUMA, 820 N. Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL until June 15, 2014.

A special Goreyesque reading will be held at LUMA on Tuesday, April 29, 2014.

For further information, please go to these websites:

Goreyesquewww.Goreyesque.com

LUMA Gorey exhibitionhttp://luc.edu/gorey/

Kenneth Gerleve’s “Summerland”http://www.luc.edu/luma/exhibitions/summerlandaghoststory.shtml

Goreyesque Reading Eventhttp://www.goreyesque.com/news-and-updates/2014/4/18/goreyesque-reading-event

 

→Thanks, Todd and Ken, for filling us in. And as always, thanks everyone for reading. -PMc←

The Writer’s Handful with Eric Charles May

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Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to.

Happy Monday and Writer’s Handful, all! I don’t know when I have been happier to bring a debut novelist to your attention. Many of you already know ERIC CHARLES MAY and his kickass new novel, BEDROCK FAITH (Akashic Books.) And if you do, you know, too, that there is hardly a nicer or more industrious writer guy around, and that this new book of his is garnering all sorts of acclaim. O Magazine, Ebony, Booklist, Publishers Weekly and a bunch of other folks in the literary know are singing their praises to Bedrock Faith. Dennis Lehane (Dennis Lehane? The Dennis Lehane? Mystic River, Shutter Island Dennis Lehane? Yes, that Dennis Lehane) called the book “A wonderful urban novel full of vitality and pathos and grit. I dug the ever-living hell out of it.” Wow.

Eric and I have been colleagues for many years at Columbia College Chicago as well as Stonecoast Writers Conference and Solstice Writers Conference (back in the day.) Do I have stories I could tell you! But I know it is not my stories you come to this series to find. So I am going to let Eric speak for himself (in a previously captured conversation.) And in case you haven’t yet heard enough from him (and I guarantee, you won’t have) by the end of this brief chat, you can tune in to Chicago’s NPR station, WBEZ (91.5 FM) to hear some more Eric Charles May. Bedrock Faith has been chosen as BEZ’s Afternoon Shift Book of the Month for April. And if you are reading this today, Monday, April 14, 2014, you can even hear it live this afternoon. (Otherwise, it can be heard re-broadcast on-line.)

All right. Enough from me.

Welcome Eric!

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

Haven’t written yet today but I plan to later. I’ve been up to my eyeballs with preparations for my book launch party, travels to support the book, interviews, and last but not least, the preparations for and the teaching of my classes. When I get back to my neighborhood this evening I’ll sit down in a coffee shop or at a restaurant bar and write in my journal. I’ve been doing extensive journal writing the last two months on a novel-in-progress that’s two-thirds done. I’ve worked out a slew of plot problems with the journaling.BedrockFaith2-533x800

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

I was maybe seven years old. It was the story of my mother and father, my imagined scenario of how they met and their ages: My dad 22, my mom 21. Actually, my mom was a couple of years older than my dad, a fact that I did not find out until many years later.

What are you reading right now?

In one of my classes I assigned Sister Carrie, which I have read twice before but not for a number of years, so I’m reading it again and thoroughly enjoying Theodore Dreiser. I assigned Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy for another class, which I also haven’t read in a while. I’m giving it another go as well.

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

“Never have sex with anyone who’s crazier than you.” (The “you” in this case being me of course.) I haven’t always followed those cautionary words, but it was very good advice.

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

A walrus. It’s not particularly pretty, but under the right circumstances it can maneuver through waters quite gracefully.

walrus

ERIC CHARLES MAY is an associate professor in the Fiction Writing Program at Columbia College Chicago. A Chicago native and former reporter for the Washington Post, his fiction has appeared in the magazines Fish StoriesF, and Criminal Class. In addition to his Postreporting, his nonfiction has appeared in Sport Literate, the Chicago Tribune, and the personal essay anthology Briefly Knocked Unconscious by a Low-Flying DuckBedrock Faith is his first novel.

→Thanks, dear friend Eric Charles May, for the chat. Happy novel release, happy book club day, and happy belated birthday. Maintain. And thanks to everyone, as always, for reading. – PMc←

The Writer’s Handful with Jeff Jacobson

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Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to.

Jeff Jacobson will make your skin crawl. Really. Well, not Jeff, exactly—because he is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever want to know—Jeffory Jacobson’s writing will make your skin crawl. His work lives in the creepy shadows, he digs into the muddy plots of our nightmares, preys on our irrational (and our rational) fears. And he’s funny.

SLEEP TIGHT. FOODCHAIN. WORMFOOD. The titles of his novels sound almost innocent…His next one, due out in July, is called GROWTH. How scary can that be? Answer: very. And not just scary, but good. Very, very good.

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Welcome Jeff!

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

Fuck yes. I’m staring down the barrel of a deadline for my next novel, so whether the writing is good, bad, or ugly, it’s gotta get done. This one is about a small town under siege from a nasty threat slithering out of the cornfields. Basically, I’m exploiting concerns and fears about GMOs and the role food plays in our lives, but of course, as usual, the serious stuff is buried inside a goofy plot about monsters eating people.

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

The first thing longer than a page that I remember creating was a story called “Creature from the Black Swamp” somewhere around the first grade. I think it was essentially a retelling of “The Creature From the Black Lagoon,” where an adventurer/explorer hero goes searching for Bigfoot, and the monster tears the hell out of everything. Clearly, my writing has really evolved since I was a kid. The first time I ever felt a story take off and leave my control was my junior year of high school. A twist came out of nowhere and knocked me sideways and I felt the hair rise on the back of my neck. Later, I discovered that particular twist has been done a million times and it’s a godawful cliché, but at that particular moment, Sleep Tight Coverwhen I didn’t know it was a cliché, man, it fucking ruled. 

What are you reading right now?

I’m rereading A Feast of Snakes, by Harry Crews, to get a feel for how he tackled the POV shifts in a small town. Plus, it’s just flat-out amazing.  Sometimes I’ll read it out loud before I dive into my own stuff and hope that some of it will leap out of the book and into my own voice.  

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

Pretty much every rule I’ve ever read about writing has an exception, so I suppose the simplest advice is the best. I first encountered it from Joe R. Lansdale, but I think he heard it from someone else. Anyway, it wasn’t complicated. “Put your ass in front of a typewriter.” You can argue with just about any “rule” about writing, but you can’t really find a crack in the sentiment that if you want to be writer, you gotta write. The only other “rule” that I try to follow is pretty absolute as well: “If you want to be a good writer, you have to be a good reader.” You could try to argue with that one, but you’d be wrong.

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

God, how I long to say that my writing is like a Great White Shark, because it’s a fast, sleek, killing machine with a mouth full of teeth. But it wouldn’t be honest. I have too much fun pushing things to ridiculous extremes. So I’d have to say that my writing is more like one of those bears that’s been trained to ride around a circus on a tricycle. It’s sort of threatening when they first bring it out, then you get to laugh at the absurd image, and just when you least expect it, the bear lunges into the audience and rips somebody’s face off so they have to shoot it with tranquilizers before it kills anybody else.

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Jeff Jacobson‘s most recent novel, GROWTH, will be released this summer. His short stories have appeared in All American Horror of the 21st Century, Read by Dawn, and the forthcoming Cemetery Dance anthology Shocklines. He teaches Fiction at Columbia College Chicago and lives near the city with his family and far too many animals.

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→Thanks, Jeff, for the chat. Feeling a little afraid of going to sleep tonight now, though. Anyway, thanks everyone, as always, for reading! – PMc←