2.14.2014 Journal Prompt

Image from Blue Valentine
Image from Blue Valentine

February 14, 2014: It started like this.

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The Writer’s Handful with Arnie Bernstein

Photo by Jennifer Girard
Photo by Jennifer Girard

Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to.

It is a new year, and we have a whole lot of new interviews with some of today’s most interesting writers. I’m excited to introduce to you a fellow Chicago author who fears no story: Arnie Bernstein.

Arnie Bernstein is author of the new nonfiction book from St. Martin’s Press Swastika Nation: Fritz Kuhn and the Rise and Fall of the German-American Bund, a history of 1930s American Nazis and how a disparate confederacy of politicians, newsmen, movie stars, and mobsters brought them to an inglorious end.Swastika_Nation_3-210

Welcome Arnie!

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

Besides this? Well, yes and no. I’m working on a new book proposal, so I’ve written notes within the research material I’m using. The kind of scribbling that ultimately grows into bigger things.

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

Since I was cognizant I created little comedy sketches, stories, biographies, and comic strips, so pinning an exact piece and age is impossible. Suffice to say, I learned early on that I had some sort of talent for stringing words together in entertaining fashions.

What are you reading right now?

Lots of stuff. Research materials for the nonfiction proposal I’m working on. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Buddhism by Gary Gach as part of the proposal research, but also out of personal inquisitiveness. Buddhism is a complicated belief system (contrary to the watered down New Agey versions of Buddhism you find peddled via trinkets hawked at incense shops), and this book breaks down the basic tenets into concepts I can comprehend. Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz by Thomas Harding; given my own book on Jews bringing down Nazis, I want to see how someone else dealt with similar themes.

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

Your name is on it.  Make it the best it can be.

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

A chimpanzee. I love to explore new terrains in my writing and figure out how to solve the problems I stumble across, plus I’m driven by natural curiosity. Also, I love bananas. Jane Goodall would have the time of her life watching me when I’m working, albeit I’m not one of those proverbial chimps who could turn out a Shakespeare play if given a typewriter. I’m good at nonfiction, not iambic pentameter.

chimp_at_typewriter

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Arnie Bernstein earned his master’s degree in creative writing from Columbia College Chicago’s Fiction Writing program.  His book Bath Massacre: America’s First School Bombing told the true story of a madman who in 1927 murdered thirty-eight children and six adults (including himself) in rural Michigan by wiring the local school building with 600 pounds of dynamite.  Bath Massacre was honored as a Notable Book for 2010 by the State Library of Michigan.  The Illinois State Library has also recognized him for his work.  He is determined to next grab all-expenses paid honors from the State Library of Hawaii.  Arnie previously wrote two books on Chicago history, looking at the city through its movies and its connections to the Civil War; and edited a collection of film reviews and essays written by Carl Sandburg during the 1920s.  He lives in Chicago and teaches freshman composition and developmental writing at Triton College in River Grove and Morton College in Cicero.  Check out his website at www.arniebernstein.com.

→Thanks for the chat, Arnie. And thanks, all, as always, for reading! -PMc←

Beautiful Sentence #11 ~ Nathan Englander

Author photo by Juliana Sohn
Author photo by Juliana Sohn

“And Author, who has played bigger and larger, who has, under all the pressure in the world, executed such evenings with aplomb, wipes his nose on his sleeve, takes a deep breath, and–leaning down close to the little book–reads on with all he’s got.” -Nathan Englander, “The Reader,” from What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank.

The Writer’s Handful with Christine Sneed

christine sneed

Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to.

Christine Sneed is enjoying a good run. Her fine collection of short stories Portraits of a Few of the People I’ve Made Cry has won a bunch of incredibly impressive awards. Her new, funny, and smart novel, Little Known Factsis generating great buzz. And just a little bit ago, Christine was named recipient of the Chicago Public Library Foundation’s 21st Century Award. This, folks, is a huge deal.  LittleKnwn_jac

Welcome Christine!

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

I did write, but only a little because it was a day of travel too (home from vacation, boo.)  I managed to put down a few words for a novel-in-progress.

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

I really can’t remember!  But I know that in fifth grade, i wrote a whole book of bad poetry for a young authors contest at my middle school in Libertyville, IL.

What are you reading right now? 

Sisterland, Curtis Sittenfeld’s new novel.

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

If you don’t really love writing, do something else with your life.  You have to love it because the rewards – publication, money, etc. are very hard won for most writers.

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

A monkey!  Because monkeys are playful but smart.  (Those are the qualities I aspire to when I’m writing.)

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Christine Sneed has a creative writing MFA from Indiana University and has lived in Chicago and Evanston, IL since 1998. She teaches creative writing at Northwestern University and Pacific University, and will be Fiction Writer in Residence at Columbia College Chicago in 2014. Her story collection, Portraits of a Few of the People I’ve Made Cry, won AWP’s 2009 Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, first-fiction category, was named the Chicago Writer’s Association Book of the Year, and has been chosen as the recipient of Ploughshares’ 2011 first-book prize, the John C. Zacharis Award. It was also long-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and named one of the seven best books of the year by Time Out Chicago. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Best American Short Stories,PEN/O. Henry Prize StoriesPloughshares, Southern Review, Massachusetts Review, New England Review, Notre Dame Review, and a number of other journals.

Portrtspprbk →Thanks to Christine Sneed for taking the time to chat, and thanks to you all for reading! -PMc←

 

July 3, 2013: Florence Update

One week away from our first Journal and Sketchbook class here in Florence. Everything groovy except that the wifi doesn’t seem to like to post photos to my WordPress blog. So for now, and for an experiment, I am linking to a slideshow from Philip’s blog and of student work from our last Journal and Sketchbook class in Chicago: http://philiphartiganpraeterita.blogspot.it/2013/05/journal-and-sketchbook-class-final.html

So bear with us while we sort out these glitches, enjoy the slide show, and be prepared to perhaps follow a link to the photo/prompts if we can’t get WordPress to cooperate!

Sorry for the inconvenience.

Ciao (for now)–PMc

 

Sometimes You Do Things ~ A Journal Prompt Response by Cyn Vargas

Image from Soy Cuba
Image from Soy Cuba

Every now and again visitors to my blog share with me the writing they do that comes from the site’s daily journal prompts. I have posted a number of these pieces in the past, and will continue to do so in the future. It is very satisfying for me to know that some little thing I might do can drive others to the page. So here is a small part of one of these responses. Cyn Vargas, who graced these pages once before with her contribution to View From the Keyboard, told me that she wrote a short-short story based on this prompt, and I twisted her arm into letting me post just the opening of that story here. She is shopping the full story around, so keep your eye out for it. I think you will want to know how the story ends.

SOMETIMES YOU DO THINGS – an excerpt by Cyn Vargas

Sometimes you do things because you want to. Other times it’s because you have to. That Sunday when the first frost covered the windows like frozen strands of cotton candy, when the branches no longer swayed in the stiff wind, I did the things I did because I had no other choice. It was me or him and a month before, hell even a day before, I would have chosen him, but not that morning. I made a choice to tell myself I had no choice, so I did those things and I haven’t seen him since. …

→Thanks again, Cyn, for letting me post this piece. Let me extend the invitation to readers to post their journal prompt responses to the comments section of these pages. And as always, thanks for reading! -PMc←