The Voices of Those Walking By ~ A View From the Keyboard of David W. Berner


So pleased to have David W. Berner give us a glimpse into his workspace. David is an award-winning journalist, a radio guy, a fiction writer, and a colleague of mine at Columbia College Chicago where he teaches in the Radio Department. Most of all, though, this man is a storyteller. I may be wrong here, but I think story is among those things he values most. In fact, he developed a course at Columbia called “The Radio Narrative – Tell Your Story,” in which he helps students find the best of the stories that have meaning for them and produce them for radio audiences. Story? Yes, please. And pass it on, I say.


The romantic side of me wants a shed, a Dylan Thomas-esque boathouse, some spare spot of fertile ground where wonderful ideas could germinate. But, I don’t have a boathouse, or a boat, or live near water. Truth is, I write in a lot of places: coffee shops, trains, slumped in my living room couch. But one spot is a favorite. It’s a corner of my small dining room near the window where I can hear city noises. I like the soundtrack of traffic, car tires on rain, the bells of the old church across the street, the voices of those walking by. I like being surrounded by books I’m reading and the beloved old ones. Their presence inspires. Coffee is necessary. And behind me are two photographs that have always been special to me. One is of Hemingway’s writing space at his home in Key West and the other is by the famous photographer Zeny Cieslikowski entitled “San Francisco.” It’s an image of the the street outside City Lights Bookstore, one of my favorite literary destinations. Below them is a portable Royal typewriter, circa 1940. I don’t always write in this space, but when I do it may be the best place in the world.

Excerpt from “Over the Edge and Into the Wind”after opium

(First published in Epiphany and then part of After Opium.)

The next day, Michael and Tony traveled 500 miles to San Francisco, drove across the Golden Gate, walked through the Haight, downed late night beers in North Beach, then found a room at the Crystal Hotel – what some called a flophouse on Eddy Street – to sleep away the long ride from Arizona, each taking turns on the floor and the bed. And in the morning, Michael found on the wooden table near the door, a napkin slid under a hard plastic bathroom cup, a crushed cigarette butt still smoking from its bottom. On the napkin was a handwritten note.

I hope you find what you want, and always write what you love.


That fall, Michael found himself back in Las Cruces. He had taken a full time job teaching English at the high school, and each early morning he had made it his routine to steep a pot of tea, sit at his small kitchen table and look out the window toward the Organ Mountain range, and write verse that mattered to him. And sometimes on the weekends, Michael would roll out his sleeping bag on the stony desert ground to sleep under the Southwestern stars and dream of flying.


After Opium is available for purchase through Amazon and at–as are others of David’s books. And to hear this gent read live, why not check out 2nd Story’s “Tough Guys Talk Tough: Stories of Image and Action”, March 10 & 11, 2013 (two shows) at Webster’s Wine Bar in Chicago. Thanks, David, for letting us into your space. And as always, thanks to all for reading! -PMc←

Duck Day 2012

Last night I had the opportunity to attend the launch party of the brand new essay anthology, BRIEFLY KNOCKED UNCONSCIOUS BY A LOW-FLYING DUCKI know, great title, right? Full disclosure here: I have a piece in this anthology about my mom, my cat, September 11, 2001, love, loneliness, a cabin in the woods, students, black squirrels, Tom Waits, coffee. And the publisher is the publisher of THE TEMPLE OF AIR, Elephant Rock Books.

But anyway. The launch was a celebration of these essays, but also a celebration of stories, story telling, and story sharing. This anthology is a collection of 23 pieces curated from more than 300 that have been told as part of the long-running, once Chicago, now international, live story series 2nd Story. (Shout out here to Megan Stielstra and Andrew Reilly who edited the book and are part of the driving force of this story telling collective.)

So last night, there were three truly remarkable readings. Eric Charles May read “A Cautionary Tale” about an ill-fated night when he might have ended up in more than a heap of trouble just because he (a black man) happened to be with a drunken (white) woman when she did something really stupid. (That’s all I’m gonna tell you.) Molly Each read the hilarious “A Prostitute Comparison” about an expected evening in the red light district of Amsterdam. And Deb R. Lewis–well, I still find myself getting a little damp-eyed over Deb’s piece “Why I Hate Strawberries” about the very, very bad deeds of her grandfather and the lasting effect on his family.

All in all, a good night. And today? Today I am doing my best to try to help promote BKUBLFD by encouraging anyone who might be thinking about getting a copy of the book to go over to and buy one TODAY. (Duck Day, get it?) If we have a good showing of it, this little book put out by a lovely little publisher might just get a leg up in the world of a million titles. And speaking of a million, this morning BKUBLFD was ranked at one-million-something on the Barnes & Noble sales rankings. Right now, at 5:56 PM central time, it is ranked at something like 181. Not bad! Thanks to all of you who have already put in your orders.

What else can I tell you? Oh, I know. Quack.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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