My Writing Process ~ A Blog Tour


Today is My Writing Process – Blog Tour Day, a sort of literary roundtable/chain letter kind of thing. Once a week, writers all over are scrambling to be part of this global writing community, and I want to thank Eileen Favorite, author of The Heroines for inviting me to take part as well.  You’ll want to stop over to her site,, to see what she is working on now.

The idea is that we each answer the same four questions about our work and our process…so here goes:

What am I working on?

I am nearing the finish line of the draft of a novel, Climbing the House of God Hill. It takes place in New Hope, the fictional small Midwestern town of my story collection, The Temple of Air. The story revolves around a scandal involving a home-schooled girl and a neighbor. The tensions lie in the conservative, mostly white town’s coping with this new neighbor (an immigrant from Latin America who lives with his large, brown-skinned family); the blossoming sexuality of a teen-aged girl; and the intolerance of certain members of the new church in town, the House of God. The novel is set against the backdrop of a small town facing economic downturns and a sometimes provincial world view, in the aftermath of the tragedies of September 11, 2001 and while the US engages in more than one war.

How does my work differ from others of its genre? 

An interesting question, but as opposed to being different, I would rather think of this book being part of a continuum of realist novels that depict ordinary people in somewhat extraordinary times—if there is such a thing. Is it extraordinary to face financial hardship, war, tragedy, prejudice? Or are these times that we find ourselves in more or less the same as all others?

But that doesn’t really answer the question, does it?

What my work—this book—has to offer is a frank portrait of a young girl who is eager to experience the physicality of the man/woman thing, a community point of view that is designed to draw the reader into the story and the community, a strong sense of place, and a picture of the Midwest that will be both familiar and troubling, and at times joyful and startling.

 Why do I write what I do? 

I am intrigued by recognizable characters (my neighbors, the kids I grew up with, my relatives) and how they get through their days. (Cue movie narrator’s voice here:) In a world of complicated relationships at the closest, most intimate level, as well as at the broadest, most global level, I find it remarkable that any of us connect at all. And so when characters do—in good ways and bad, in love and distrust, in need and desire, in joy and despair—I want to explore these connections through the writing that I do. I am also interested in those characters that face isolation, either through circumstances or by intention, and they, too, find their way into my work.

How often are we misunderstood, do we misinterpret? Misjudged, misguided, mistaken, misaligned, misconstrued, mistreated, mis… well, you get it. These “misses” inform my writing as well. If things ran smoothly to a satisfactory ending, with no missteps or mismatches or mis-anythings, there would be no real story, would there? Or no story of interest to me, I guess I mean.

In a recent interview, Richard Bausch said “…I am always interested in the hurt people carry around.” And Kurt Vonnegut told us this: “Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”

It gets me into trouble sometimes, this dark streak in what I write (as does the unflinching sexuality,) but readers who know and seek out my work aren’t squeamish, and they are willing to look into the shadowy, gritty, sexy corners with me.

How does your writing process work? 

I remember reading once E. B. White (I think it was) saying in response to an invitation to be part of a series on writers on writing something like: “How about writers on not writing. I know more about that.”

Sometimes it feels like that to me; I spend more time not working than I should. I carry my stories with me as I move through the day, work on them in my head while I run or work out, while I do dishes, while I read, while I talk with students. But it is getting it on the page that really matters, and sometimes I have to trick myself into doing that.

“Here,” I tell myself, “just sit down for a minute and look at this chapter ending again. Is it exactly right? No? Well change it, then. Good. And now that you’ve changed that, what do you think the first line of the next chapter should be? And the next?”

“Here,” I tell myself, “try that part of the book near the ending in your journal here. It doesn’t really count handwritten like this, just see what happens….Well, what do you know? You’ve written four pages.” (I am a big fan of the journal, by the way.)

“Here,” I tell myself. “Work on this writer’s process blog for a bit. Talk about your book until you can’t wait to get back to it.”

The physical part of the process is this: write in my journal for some time (stuff to clear my head, story parts, budgets and practical things that distract me,) coffee, laptop on my lap (this is new, I used to work at the desk,) coffee, commit some words to the page, read them out loud, tweak, keep going until I can’t. A chapter might take a week or two or three or four, reworking along the way, rereading out loud, listening. Finally the chapter is reformatted and put in to the file that is the novel proper, printed, put into a binder that is a book draft in the making. (I like to lift it up, test its heft and weight as more pages are included.) Coffee. Back to the journal, work out things there, talk about what I’ve done, what’s to come, issues, questions, things I know I eventually will need to do when I go back to redraft the whole. Coffee. Read parts to my sweet and patient and encouraging husband, Philip Hartigan, who says great things like: “Excellent! When do I get to read the whole thing?” And “Oh, that’s good. When do I get to read the whole thing?” And “I can’t wait to read the whole thing.”

So I guess it boils down to just a few key things-





So there you have it, my little part of the international My Writing Process ~ Blog Tour Day.

Next up are at least two (and I hope three!) writers whose work and personhood I admire greatly. They will be answering these same questions next week, April 7, 2014. Check ’em out!

Samantha Hoffman is a runner, a reader, a film and theatre buff, tech geek, blogging queen, personal assistant, chef, wine enthusiast, animal lover, volunteer, lover of life and…oh yes, a writer.Cover with frame

Her stories have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Dieter’s SoulThe Corner Magazine in London and numerous other print and online publications. She also writes a popular blog about life in Chicago, at

What More Could You Wish For, is her first novel.


Tony Romano is the author of the novel When the World Was Young and the story collection If You Eat, You Never Die. Coauthor of the text Expository Writing: Discovering Your Voice. Born in Italy, raised in Chicago, and, he tells me, will be happy never to see snow again.

Read Tony’s blog at

Mystery author number three…soon to come!

→Thanks, Eileen, for the invitation. Thanks Samantha and Tony and Mystery Writer for playing along. Thanks everyone, as always, for reading! – PMc←






The Writer’s Handful with Tom Williams


Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to.

“Part elegy, part master-student story, part road-trip Americana, Williams riffs on the dichotomy between appearance and reality.” That’s how Kirkus Reviews talks about Tom Williams new comedic novel, Don’t Start Me TalkingThe story of Brother Ben, the “only remaining True Delta Bluesman” (Ted Dawson, and anyone else who is enthralled with music and blues culture, get this book!) is one of the latest additions to Curbside Splendor‘s fabulous literary roster. Lucky for us, Tom had a moment to answer some questions here, just as he heads back on the road.

Welcome Tom!

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

No, because I’m on an early leg of a book tour and only just got my power cord out of my car, which was parked in the garage next door to the hotel and am still trying to orient myself to Central Time.cover

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

Aside from things I had to do in school, the first thing I remember was in the winter of 1978, which was a pretty bad one in Central Ohio, so bad that my school system could only reliably heat the junior high. Thus, all the kids would come in on one day of the week and get their weekly assignments, then go back home until the next week. I was in sixth grade, so I was eleven. But in addition to all this, my grandmother, who lived a couple hours away in Akron, started sending my sister and me these supplemental things to do to pass the time while we watched the winter take over our lives. And each week she’d ask us to do extra chores and some intellectual and creative exercises and then we’d get twenty bucks if we completed enough tasks. One thing was to write a story. I cheated and wrote a comic book, borrowing characters from Marvel and DC and throwing them into a time-travel/dinosaurs deal, but I remember still the thrill it gave me, and, as Hawthorne said of the “sensible ends of literature”: “the solid cash.”

What are you reading right now?

I’m teaching, so I just finished re-reading Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” and was surprised at how much I cannot tire of that. I also just finished Samantha Irby’s Meaty, and it is a real wonder. She’s a label mate at Curbside Splendor, so I’m probably biased. Just as I am with Dave Housley’s Commercial Fiction and Ben Tanzer’s Orphans: both dynamite. But this is a period where the books keep coming and there’s a lot to choose from and, most of all, a lot to be wowed by.

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

Hemingway and Andre Dubus: Stop in the middle of a sentence and come back to it the next day. I have done this for years now and find it to be so useful and practical, yet it verges on the spiritual. Stopping in the middle very nearly makes one commit to completing the next sentence, and it stands to reason that another sentence will follow.

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

A chameleon. Though I just found out that, really, chameleons don’t change color to match their backgrounds, that common misperception is what I want my writing to do: I want it to always take on the characteristics and hue and heft of the story I’m trying to tell, to be so integrated that it’s only in the briefest of moments—and then you’re not even sure—that you see a flash of movement that suggests there’s more to the story than at first appears.


Tom Williams is the author of the novel, Don’t Start Me Talkin, just released by Curbside Splendor. His first book, The Mimic’s Own Voice, a novella, was published by Main Street Rag Publishing Company. He chairs the English Department at Morehead State University and lives in Kentucky with his wife, Carmen, and their son.


→Don’t Start Me Talkin’, just released. Thanks, Tom, for talkin’. Thanks, as always, to everyone for reading. -PMc←

The Writer’s Handful with John Mauk

Mauk Photo1 (1)

Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to.

I am so excited to bring this chat with John Mauk to you today. John is one of those remarkable fiction writers, the kind whose work makes your mind spin and dance, makes you ache and rejoice. But don’t take my word for it, preorder his upcoming collection of stories, Field Notes for the Earthbound, forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press. Its release is imminent. Be the first on your block.

Welcome John!

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

I wrote a little. I’ll call it polishing–maybe even fussing over a story. Okay, it was fussing. But in defense of fussers and the art of fussery, I think some of my more delicate discoveries come after the tenth, eleventh, or twentieth draft and just before I’m ready to send a story out. When I commit to submitting, that’s when my radar goes way up, when I detect those last few phrases that seem flat or familiar or simply out of tune with the story. In short, I did write today, but no worlds, humans, situations, or scenes were invented. A couple movements or descriptions got a bit more oomph, maybe more vitality or breath.

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

The first creative thing I wrote and made public was a poem about autumn. I drew orange leaves drifting around and down the page. And I remember a line about a single leaf–dying alone, broken free from the others. Funny. I was in the 6th grade. We’d been reading Poe. Poe!!! My God. If I ever say anything crabby about public education, someone remind me that middle school teachers had us reading Poe and I’ll shut the heck up. Bravo to them.  

What are you reading right now?

At night, I’m reading some early Marquez stories that I somehow missed along the way. ?!!! Down here in my basement, where I hide out in the evening, I’ve got a Lee K. Abbott collection by the chair. That’s typical a formula for me: a couple different writers for two rooms in the house. Also, I’m generally always reading Foucault. He’s on my coffee table and has been for years. When I don’t read Foucault regularly–even a section or chapter every week or so–I start not-hating the goofy worldview that I’m supposed to inherit and implement as a productive citizen, a sane person, and a teacher of English. Foucault throws me out of the big, safe, cultural boat. Okay. I’ll shut up about that. In short, to the question, I’m currently reading some early Garcia Marquez and some fine Lee K. Abbott stories.

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

That’s hard. Someone recently told me to slow down. Well, it was a sheriff. He was talking about my speed, but he meant it broadly too. I could tell. He was one of those guys. I drove off and thought, yeah, what’s my hurry? IMG_1582 (1)

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

On good days, my writing is a pack of wolves. It eats, rolls in carcasses, picks up foul stenches, and howls into the distance. Ya-freakin-hoo. On bad days, my writing is a singular domestic dog–a schnauzer, I think. It eats brand-name biscuits and growls at children.

wolf call


John Mauk has a Masters degree in language and literature from the University of Toledo and a PhD in rhetoric from Bowling Green State University. He is a college instructor and an avid student of philosophy. He has a fiction chapbook (The Rest of Us) published by Michigan Writers and a forthcoming collection (Field Notes for the Earthbound) on Black Lawrence Press. He has three college writing textbooks and currently teaches at Miami University of Ohio. For more info, please see:

→Thanks, John, for the chat. Looking forward to Field Notes! And thanks everyone, as always, for reading. -PMc←

The Writer’s Handful with Ben Tanzer


Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to.

This week marks the launch of Chicago writer Ben Tanzer’s 1,000th book. Okay, not really 1,000th, but this guy is giving Joyce Carol Oates a run for the money in words written and books published. Tanzer fans have waited patiently for Orphans, and now the wait is over. Ben Tanzer and a handful (see what I did there, Ben?) of his writer pals (me included) will celebrate the release of this new Tanzer title this coming Wednesday, November 6, 2013, 7 PM at Chicago’s Beauty Bar. But before that exciting event, you get this.

Welcome Ben!   

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

I did not. For a handful of reasons. See what I did there? Sorry. Mainly though I have been on a stretch starting some time in 2012 through this past summer, where I’ve felt incredibly manic, mostly in positive ways, but everything has seemed like an idea for a story or essay, a new book. Every conversation, every interaction with my kids, wife, at work. Every article I’ve been reading. Every fucking thought I’ve been having. And it started to scare me, so I decided that when I finished the things I was working on, I was going to take a break and try to chill out, which I have, and though I’m still thinking about writing all-day, every day, it’s been surprisingly pleasant. Was that too much information?Orphans

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

I never really wrote until I started writing at 30, though I thought about it for years before that. But I did write a story for a required creative writing class my senior year in high school inspired by the song Downbound Train by Bruce Springsteen. Guy loses his job, and his girl, and in my story he kills himself, puts a shotgun in his mouth, but he doesn’t die, it just relieves all of the pressure he’s under. Which seems somewhat telling given the answer to my previous question. Not to mention, that if a student turned in that kind of story today they would be referred for therapy. But I was kind of celebrated for it, which felt good, though it didn’t feel better than the act of writing it, which felt really good, and that feeling lingered for years, and still does now that I actually write, and don’t just think about it.

What are you reading right now?

So many cool things, mostly some wonderful ARCs for books at Curbside Splendor where I oversee Publicity and Content Strategy, including The Old Neighborhood by Bill Hillman, If I Would Leave by Lauren Becker, and Once I Was Cool Megan Stielstra, but also, the already released elsewhere and quite terrific Transubtantiate by Richard Thomas and Understories by Tim Horvath. A lot of goodness really.

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

Moisturize. That or hydrate. Really though it’s a tie, and it’s writerly. One, don’t edit first drafts until you’re done with the first draft, and two, don’t linger on rejections, send the work right back out to someone else who will love it like you do.

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

I Googled the words “animal sparse quick punchy,” thinking that might help me determine said animal, and I came up with the novel We the Animals by Justin Torres, which apparently takes place in upstate New York where I grew up. So color me intrigued as far as that goes. Not that this answers your question. I am not really into animals, but thinking quick and punchy, if not sparse, how about a hyena, they seem to make quick work of things, and they’re sort of rough, yet still funny and seem to enjoy themselves. Plus, they play a key supporting role in The Lion King, which I name-drop in Orphans, so now I’m marketing, and cross-pollinating, and there we go. Thank you.



Ben Tanzer’s official bio says this: Ben Tanzer is a prolific novelist and an Emmy Award-winning public service announcement writer. He lives in Chicago where he lives with his family. Visit him at

And, in case you are wondering: In Ben Tanzer’s futurist science fiction novel Orphans ( the metropolis of Chicago has morphed into a place called Baidu, a burned-out shell of its former self. Homeless people have been banned from the central city and have set up makeshift camps along the lakefront. Drone helicopters constantly patrol city streets from above, and hapless people who congregate run the risk of being summarily executed. The recession has devastated the landscape and all menial jobs have been taken over by life-like robots. The lucky few who can find work are scanned, profiled, and even cloned by “the corporation,” a secretive and ominous organization reminiscent of Orwell’s Big Brother.

It is a story about the impact of work on family. How work warps our best intentions. And how everything we think we know about ourselves looks different during a recession. It is also a story about drugs, surfing, punk music, lost youth, parenting, sex, pop culture as vernacular, and a conscious intersection of Death of a Salesmanor Glengarry Glen Ross with the Martian Chronicles and the Silver Surfer. Ultimately, Orphans is a literary survey of the 21st century male psyche, yet it does so with a newfound twist and contemporary themes. This is a world where the recession is all we know, work is only available to a select group, and this group not only need fear being replaced on the job, but in their homes and beds.

→Thanks so much, Ben, for the chat. See you Wednesday! And thanks everyone–as always–for reading. -PMc←

The Writer’s Handful with Daniel Nathan Terry

Drayton Hall SC_Ben with Umbrella and Umbrella without Me

Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to.

Today I am so excited to share with you a brief conversation with Daniel Nathan Terry. Many of you already know the work of this fine poet (and fiction writer—Dude! Welcome to our playground!) I was lucky to be on the program with Daniel at Southern Illinois University’s 2012 Devil’s Kitchen Fall Literary Festival (sponsored and curated by Grassroots Undergraduate Magazine.) His work is stunning. Check it out immediately.Front-Cover-of-Waxwings-194x300

Welcome Daniel!

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

I worked on revisions of the few poems from my current manuscript that remain unpublished. Well, I call them revisions, but I think of them simply as poems that are not finished yet. It’s all drafting, to my mind, until the poem lets me know that it’s done with me. The one that just finished with me has been very difficult to get out. It’s about the stillbirth of one of my best friend’s daughter and the movie Wings of Desire (Sky Over Berlin). I have been negotiating with the poem since 2009, trying to free it from the movie, but, in the end, it would not abandon the film and so it is called “This Day Needs Peter Falk.”

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

Photo from author's website
Photo from author’s website

I wrote my first poems when I was quite young. I don’t remember writing them, but my mother has the evidence: a few poems (mostly religious, as my father was and is a Baptist preacher) scrawled in huge block letters on that paper which has the dash lines between each solid one. She keeps one framed on her sewing table to this day. I won’t quote it here, for my own sake. The first thing I remember writing was a short fantasy novel called The Four Kingdoms. I think I was 13 or so, and I was madly in love with Tolkien, Bradbury, and Bradley. It was, I’m sure, terrible, but I worked on it even during school, sitting in the back of the classroom pretending to take notes. No idea what happened to that draft or the maps and drawings I made of the kingdoms and characters. The only thing I truly remember about the story was a queen who had given her life over to controlling the savage storms that besieged her kingdom. She had to forgo any sort of life or happiness and remain in a high tower channeling the storms through her body until they fell as gentle rain on the crops. I was also reading a lot of myth and lore at the time–and poetry, of course, which I was raised on. Yeats was my go to poet at the time.

What are you reading right now?

Kristin Bock’s first collection of poetry, Cloisters. It seems I am always reading that book. It’s like no other book of poetry I’ve ever read, and it continues to give and give to me whatever I need at whatever time it is in my life. So much beauty and pain. It cannot be described; it must be read. I’m also reading Jason Mott’s new novel, The Returned, and Rebecca Lee’s collection of short stories, Bobcat. Both are wonderful, though very different. But then my reading tends to be all over the place. And I am always reading reference books and nonfiction–usually about horticulture or whatever has possessed me at a given time. Right now that is Drayton Hall, a plantation near Charleston, South Carolina that is the model for Sothern Gothic novel I am currently writing between poems.

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

I can think of two things–one writerly, one not. The first was from my first writing teacher in undergrad when I was 18 (I think his name Ben Miller–he looked like a very handsome version of John Denver, and I had a massive crush on him). He told me that my stories and poems usually began about a third of the way into my first draft. He was right, though I resisted him at the time and was determined to write “opening lines.” I think that impulse to open something brilliantly before the piece is written is the root of most cases of writer’s block. At least it is for me.

The other came from a rather obnoxious and opinionated customer of mine when I worked in retail. No matter how difficult she was, no matter how demanding, I smiled and did what I was supposed to do according to my job description. One day, as I was completing her transaction, a fake smile plastered on my face, wishing her gone, she said, “You know, if you don’t like someone, they don’t like you either. Doesn’t matter how well you pretend–the other person can feel it.” I was dumbstruck. I thought my dislike of her was a well-kept secret of mine and that she adored me–after all, I treated her like a queen. That insight has proven to be so valuable over the years. Now, I hope, I never fake it. At least not for long.


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

A crow–no doubt about it. Beyond the obvious symbolism (darkness, death, memory), I feel, and hope, that my writing is omnivorous, wandering, moving between the world of the animal and of man, the living and the dead. Loud and harsh at times, but always beautiful if caught in the right light. Capable of flight and of being communal but of also walking solitary on the roadside. I think crows appear in my poetry more often than any animal other than humans. And it’s odd–they’ve been used so often in literature, you’d think they would dry up, and maybe they have as an intentional metaphor, but as a subject they seem as boundless as humans. Maybe because we are so much alike. I think that’s why so many people hate or fear them–they don’t like the mirror they hold up. I think it was Coetzee who wrote (and this is a butchered paraphrase at best) something like, “We hate the animals that refuse to be destroyed or subjugated by us, that survive us, that flourish in our trash, in our excesses despite our efforts to eradicate them–the rat, the cockroach, the crow.”

"City of Starlings" by Benjamin Billingsley
“City of Starlings” by Benjamin Billingsley


Daniel Nathan Terry, a former landscaper and horticulturist, is the author of four books of poetry: City of Starlings (forthcoming from Sibling Rivalry Press, 2015); Waxwings (2012); Capturing the Dead, which won The 2007 Stevens Prize; and a chapbook, Days of Dark Miracles (2011). His poems and short stories have appeared, or are forthcoming, in numerous publications, including Cimarron Review, The Greensboro Review, New South, Poet Lore, and Southeast Review. He serves on the advisory board of One Pause Poetry and teaches English at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington, where he lives with his husband, painter and printmaker, Benjamin Billingsley.

For more info about and other writing by Daniel Nathan Terry:

→Thank you so much, Daniel! And thanks to all, as always, for reading. -PMc←

The Writer’s Handful with Chris L. Terry


Writers + Mondays = Finally something to look forward to.


Happy, happy, happy to feature Chris L. Terry on The Writer’s Handful today. Chris’s debut novel, Zero Fade, was just released from Curbside Splendor and already it is garnering quite a bit of buzz and fine reviews. Kirkus gave the book a starred review, calling it, “Original, hilarious, thought-provoking and wicked smart: not to be missed. Jake Austen of the Chicago Tribune says the book is “funny, funky and pitch perfect.” And Emily Roth of Chicago Literati writes: “As a whole, Zero Fade succeeds, entertains, and sets the bar (and my excitement) high for Chris L. Terry’s future novels.”Zero Fade Front Cover

Not bad stuff for a new guy, huh? But don’t just believe what others tell you. For a taste of this delicious stuff, check out the trailer.

Then read an excerpt on VOL.1 BROOKLYN.

And then go to your favorite bookstore and get a copy – or order it here.

Welcome, Chris!


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

No, because my 34-year-old ass decided to stay out until 1am on a Sunday night, seeing a terrific punk band called the Future Virgins. I usually write in the morning before work, but that did not happen today. I got some stuff done yesterday, though. I’m collaborating on a story with Zero Fade cover artist Ezra Claytan Daniels and we worked on that at Metropolis.

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

In third grade, we had to write a story. Mine was about a caveman couple named Sonny and Cher. I made a layered cover where the top sheet had a hole torn in it to look like a cave opening. It was the first time I cared about an assignment at school.

What are you reading right now?

The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Just finished the issue of Truckface zine about the CPS teacher strike.

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

I like in On Writing when Stephen King says to write every day. I’m a firm believer in keeping the machine greased.

Also, my dad used to say, “Don’t shave naked, you might drop the razor.”

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

My writing would be a raccoon because it’s out there at dawn, going through all sorts of shit.

Photo Source
Photo Source

Fun Facts about Chris L. Terry (from his website

  • Lived in Boston, Richmond, Brooklyn and Chicago.
  • Black father, Irish-American mother.
  • BA in English from Virginia Commonwealth University.
  • Spent late teens and early twenties touring North America and Europe, singing for punk bands.
  • Over five years’ experience editing writing.
  • Has contributed to Razorcake magazine since 2006.
  • Past jobs that start with B: babysitter, bartender, barista, bassist, baker, bicycle mechanic.
  • Runs 15-20 miles a week.
  • Cooks at home as often as possible.

And Chris got his MFA from the Fiction Writing Department at Columbia College Chicago.

→Follow Zero Fade and Chris on Facebook: And see Chris’s work space on View From the Keyboard. Thanks again, Chris, for taking the time to chat. And thanks to everyone for reading! -PMc←


The Writer’s Handful with Elizabeth Earley


Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to.

Today I am delighted to feature a conversation with Elizabeth Earley, a woman whose forthcoming debut novel, A Map of Everything, will draw you in and hold you (sometimes gently, sometimes with a tighter than-is- exactly-comfortable grip) in its narrative grasp from beginning to end. Watch for its release in early 2014.

Welcome Elizabeth!

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

Yes. I wrote some crap for work (advertising) and fulfilled my daily word count with exposition about when my girlfriend first moved in with me. Nothing felt particularly inspired or inspiring today, which is why I discipline myself with a daily word count. If I do that, eventually, maybe, something worth keeping will sneak out. If I don’t, I’m guaranteed to have nothing.

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 either a poem or a song I wrote for Elton John. The poem was a trite, rhyming thing that I still remember, verbatim. The song is something I wish I remembered or kept a copy of. I actually mailed it to Elton believing it would be his next big hit. I was nine years old.

What are you reading right now?

A novel called Cha-Ching! by Ali Liebegott. It’s witty and funny and depressing and disturbing — one of my favorite combinations.
What’s the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)

The most important writing advice I ever received was to write every day. Success, unfortunately, has little to do with talent and most to do with dogged persistence.

The most important advice in general I ever received was to take myself (and the world) less seriously. Keeping a light touch on it all and knowing that I don’t know makes it all more entertaining and less heartbreaking.

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

An owl. Because: It’s predatory; it wants to kill me. It’s nocturnal. It doesn’t come when I call it, just stares me down with spooky, fixed eyes. My writing has decorations that serve no function but are cute, like the tufts of feathers atop owls’ heads. My writing, like an owl, does more than just hoot — it creates many different vocalizations.


Elizabeth Earley holds an MFA in Fiction from Antioch University Los Angeles. Her stories and essays have appeared in Time Out MagazineThe Chicago ReaderGeek MagazineOutside MagazineGnome Magazine, and Hypertext Magazine. Her fiction has appeared in The Windy City Times Literary SupplementHayden’s Ferry ReviewThe First Line MagazineFugueHair Trigger, and Glimmer Train among other publications. Her debut novel, A MAP OF EVERYTHING, is forthcoming in the spring of 2014 from Jaded Ibis Press. For more about Elizabeth, please visit her website:

→Thanks so much, Elizabeth, for taking the time to speak with us. Eagerly looking forward to A Map… . And thanks to all for reading! -PMc←

The Writer’s Handful with Jacob M. Appel

Mondays + Writers = finally something to look forward to.

Week nine (sorry we missed last week, on the road) of The Writer’s Handful welcomes Jacob M. Appel, the author of many things, among them the much anticipated and exciting new novel The Biology of Luck, forthcoming from Elephant Rock Books. Funny, smart, bold—this book (The Biology of Luck) is just another indication that this industrious and prolific writer is definitely someone to watch!

Welcome Jacob!

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

Yes.  I wrote six progress notes on psychiatric patients at my hospital.  Also a few dozen medication prescriptions.   They were not terribly literary.  When I return home, I will likely write something that I hope has more artistic promise….

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

I wrote an obituary for my first grade teacher.  Unfortunately, she was still alive and not particularly appreciative when I gave it to her during class.  In fact, it earned me a visit to the school psychologist.

What are you reading right now?

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy.  It’s better than it was in high school.  Amazing how much his writing has improved in twenty-five years!

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

Be optmistic.  Change into clean underwear before going on a date.

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

Leona Helmsley dog.  $12 million would go a long way…..


Jacob M. Appel is the author of the forthcoming novel, The Biology of Luck, and the forthcoming short story collection, Scouting for the Reaper.  His most recent novel, The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up, won the Dundee International Book Award.  He practices medicine in New York City.

The Writer’s Handful with David (DA) Kentner


Mondays + Writers = finally something to look forward to.

Week eight of The Writer’s Handful welcomes David (DA) Kentner, the pen behind the wonderful interview and book series The Readers’ Writers. The series is published in newspapers all over the United States, and longer versions of these interviews are published on his site, DA Kentner: The Readers’ Writers. Clearly David is interested in all sorts of writers, readers, and books; these things keep him quite busy. So I am really pleased that he has a little bit of time to hang with us today and chat a bit.

Welcome David!

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

I write, something, every day. Today it’s blog posts and then back to work content editing and doing rewrites for a nonfiction author extremely knowledgeable in his/her field, which doesn’t include writing. I was hired to help produce a more marketable book; a new venture for me, but one I’m really enjoying at the moment.

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

I was a toddler with a piece of paper and a box of crayons. I wrote a picture story on the floor while my mom typed an episode for a soap opera. Her dream was to become a script writer. Unfortunately, that never happened. She stopped writing to raise her family. I learned the alphabet and discovered a whole new avenue for storytelling. My first published pieces were a short story and a poem I wrote in high school. Nothing spectacular, and because I chose to pursue a different career path, it would be thirty-eight years before I tried being published again. That said, I never stopped writing. I have boxes of poems, song lyrics, and stories no one has ever seen, and that’s probably for the best.MeSanta

What are you reading right now?

Right at this moment, I’m not reading anything. I just finished Scott Blagden’s Dear Life, You Suck. It’s brilliant, though won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. I read constantly in order to select authors I’d like to interview for my column The Readers’ Writers. I’m a few weeks ahead, so I’m taking a short break from reading.

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

Harlan Carbaugh, my friend and life mentor, once said, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” He was talking about chainsaws at the time, but those words ring true in everything we do. When we take people, especially those we love, for granted, it shouldn’t be a shock when we wake up alone. The same holds true for whatever endeavors we attempt. In the case of writers, the moment an author assumes that whatever they publish will be accepted, and the author gets lazy, not pushing their limits and striving to produce a better story, the author is cheating their readers. It won’t be long before the readers go find a new ‘favorite’ author.

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

A platypus, maybe? On the surface, the poor platypus appears disjointed, a hodgepodge of evolution unsure of what it’s supposed to be. However, if we take the time to fully understand the story the animal has to tell, the reasons it has adopted its shape and methods of survival, we find a whole new way of looking at the world around us and accept that nothing needs to fit into the predetermined parameters of expectation. I think that’s how I view all writing, not just mine. I want to experience something new with every story I read or write. I want to be entertained, and I hope my stories entertain readers.



David Kentner, also known as DA Kentner and KevaD, is a prize and award-winning author currently wondering why his lawnmower has become his most determined nemesis. His greatest writing reward to date was when a reader who asked him to write a certain style of book, which became the suspense novel Whistle Pass, came up and hugged him, exclaiming how the reader “loved” the story. David lives with his wife Virginia outside Freeport, IL, and hopes to live long enough to run out of stories to tell. Which isn’t possible.


→David, thanks so much for this fine little conversation! As always, it is a delight sharing ideas with you. And to everyone, thanks for reading! -PMc←

1st Class Artist and 2nd Art ~ Interview with Artist-Writer-Artist Philip Hartigan

I met Philip Hartigan in 2000 at The Vermont Studio Center, an artist residency in Vermont. His British accent and the way he sang Beatles songs during the evening bonfire events lured me in, but his art and his love of story trapped me. You may know this by now: I married the guy. And now I am eager to share with you some of his thoughts on making art, on writing, and on imagination and creation.

PMc: Your exhibition, “The Lucerne Project” is currently on display at Finestra Art Space in Chicago’s Fine Arts Building on Michigan Avenue. You describe the project as “A multimedia project documenting personal narratives about people I’ve never met, in a place I’ve never been.”

There are so many parts to that description I hope you will be willing to speak about. First, can you talk about how you decided to “document” a place and people you don’t really know?

PH: The idea grew naturally from my own studio work, which in the last few years has become focused on exploring memories of my own childhood through prints, sculptures, and videos. The pieces that I made started either from a visual memory, or as a result of actually writing the memories out in narrative form. The final piece of visual art would alternate between a direct telling (for example, through an animation with voice-over), or more indirectly in images and objects that seem to be derived from reality, but which are less easily interpreted.

So that’s my general process. “The Lucerne Project” came about for a number of reasons. I’ve worked on a couple of projects in the last two years, including a public art project, that used text and image to document the memories of other people. I found out, completely at random, that Lucerne, Switzerland was a sister city (twin city, in UK English) to Chicago, where I now live. I wanted to make a very big artist’s book, and I wanted to work on a project that I could add to throughout one year. So all of these things came together in “The Lucerne Project”: a 100 page accordion book of prints, a blog that I added to over a period of a year, an imaginary travel diary, and audio recordings of me reading from the diary.

The Lucerne Project: 100-Page Accordion Book

PMc: You aren’t the first artist or writer who has imagined real places in order to serve their work. Franz Kafka’s novel America comes to mind. It is difficult, though, to make a place you don’t really know become real. Can you talk about how you worked to try to make that happen in both the imagery and the words?

PH: I started with a general plan: look on the internet for images that people had uploaded of themselves on holiday in Lucerne; download them and print them out; make Xeroxes of them, playing around with multiple enlargements, different sizes, different details; print the resulting images in different combinations on printmaking paper, which would eventually be combined to make a very long artist’s book.

So the starting point is a photo of real people in a real place. But through the Xeroxing and printing process, something emerges that I call “damaged photos”: the resolution begins to break down, the meaning of the image (if it was ever clear to begin with) starts to become more obscure. As I printed the images using a printmaking process called paper-litho transfer, I found myself making decisions based on form and colour: alternate pages with faces and pages without; large, dark forms versus linear forms; dark colours and lighter colours. In this process, any narrative connections between the combined images, any stories, are accidental, only implied.

To balance that, I began writing this imaginary travel diary, which is basically a first-person series of vignettes, trying to imitate the feeling of someone arriving in a strange city for an extended stay and writing about what happens to them day by day. I think the first couple of entries started with the prints I had made, but the imaginary diary, which formed the basis of the blog, quickly took on a life of its own. After writing a few thousand words, I started experimenting with different fictional forms – dream telling, rant, journey story, opposite characters – and even putting in some of my own personal childhood memories.

So in the end, the show as it was exhibited created a sense of a place, but it would probably be unrecognizable as Lucerne to someone who has actually been there. But that’s what interests me at the moment, I think: how to work with stories that are somewhere in between the obscurity of the symbolic image, and the total clarity that is possible with writing.

PMc: I know that you are intrigued by and deeply interested in the interplay of text and image, of artists who write and writers who draw. How did you come to this interest? Was it fed at all by your own education first in literature and then in art?

PH: It started there, yes. My BA was in English Literature, and my MA was in Fine Art – Painting. All my life, since the very beginnings of my creative life in my teens, I’ve veered between wanting to be a writer and wanting to be a visual artist. And though I think of myself primarily as a visual artist now, I remain very close to the writing world: married to a writer of fiction, teaching not in an art department but in a fiction writing department, writing about art and the creative process on several blogs. The class that I teach with you, “Journal and Sketchbook”, began with the discovery that many famous writers also drew or painted, either as a way of seeing their stories better, or just as another creative outlet. It’s that idea of the ‘second art’ that fascinates me now, and the potentially important things that this stepping over into another medium has to say for the creative process in general.

The Lucerne Project: Opening Night

PMc: Why do you think you have moved more fully into the visual arts in your work? Why did you decide not to simply follow a writer’s path?

PH: Simple answer: I tried to be a writer in my twenties, got the backing of a very successful London literary agent, got very close to having a novel published, but in the end it didn’t happen. In the same month that my manuscript was finally returned to me, I got my letter of acceptance to the Fine Art MA program. (I had been painting in my spare time, showing in a south London gallery, and had applied to Winchester School of Art on a wing and a prayer.) I took that as a sign, and decided to concentrate my creative energy on visual art.

PMc: Are there artists whose work in text and image you particularly admire?

PH: There are so many. Some writers whose visual art I find compelling: ee cummings, Jack Kerouac, Kurt Vonnegut, Maxine Hong Kingston, DH Lawrence, Gunter Grass, William Faulkner. Visual artists who wrote very well: Michelangelo, Gauguin, Delacroix, Kokoschka, Kara Walker. And recently I’ve been interviewing contemporary artists who are less well known than the people just mentioned, but who are absorbed in writing as an important part of their work as visual artists: Dianne Bowen, dm simons, Linda Peer, Helen Crawford, Tullio DeSantis.

PMc: Since this is a writerly blog, mostly, would you mind talking about any theories you might have on the importance of visual rendering, drawing, sketching, in a writer’s creative practice?

PH: My ideas on this have developed from: seeing the effect of drawing activities on writing that takes place in the Journal and Sketchbook class; considering the work of writers such as those mentioned in the last answer. In each case, I think that moving straight from a visual art activity (drawing, painting, sculpting) to the writing produces an immediate heightening of sensory awareness. The writing becomes more imbued with details of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching. A deeper visualization often occurs, too: the writers/writing students see their characters better, see better where the story is taking place, and they see the shape or outline of the story as a whole more clearly, too. Perhaps what happens with that last thing is this: working with drawing, something that isn’t directly writing words on a page, takes the mind away from the creative problem for a while, allows it to percolate in the background, so that when the writer returns to the page, an obstacle has been removed, and they have simply been freed to go forward with the material that they were hesitating about before.

Most of these thoughts derive from empirical observation in the classroom, and from reflecting on the work of writer-artists from the past. But a lot of what I’ve said is beginning to be verified by recent experiments in neuroscience, too. Not that I think artists need that ‘verification’, really, but it’s an interesting convergence nevertheless.

PMc: You very often work with narratives, sometimes personal, sometimes more public in your creative expression. What is it about story that compels you?

PH: Hmmm. I suppose it’s that story implies a continuous time, a series of moments, rather than the still moment of a work of art. If I could find a way of telling all that I could about my memories of my childhood in a purely visual form, I probably would. But there must be a reason why I keep going back to the written and the spoken word for that, and it must be because a fully written story is still the best vehicle yet devised for expressing narrative. After all, the word “narrative” derives from words meaning “sequence of events”, and also “to know”.

PMc: Is there more work you are doing with “The Lucerne Project”? What other projects do you have underway or simmering?

PH: I am working on a public art project for the City of Urbana, Illinois, which starts with street interviews and will end with a public installation of word and image in Spring 2012.

After “The Lucerne Project” exhibition ends in mid-November, I would like to go to Lucerne, Switzerland, and work with a community of students or civilians on the reverse idea: work with them on producing their own word-and-image project based on people they’ve never met, in a place they’ve never been. That could be Chicago, or some other imagined place for them. Then I’d like to exhibit the results from both sides of the Atlantic in Lucerne and Chicago. And after that, why not extend it to more of Chicago’s sister cities? In a few years’ time, maybe we’ll be talking about The Shanghai Project, The Delhi Project, and The Vilnius Project.

For more from Philip Hartigan and the artists he knows, admires, and hangs out with, check out his blog PRAETERITA. You can also read his contributions on the art and culture blog HYPERALLERGIC. And if you are in or near Chicago, you might want to stop by Finestra Arts Space, on the 5th floor of Chicago’s historic Fine Arts Building, 410 S. Michigan Avenue, to view “The Lucerne Project”. Thank you, Philip, now go feed the cats. -PMc.←