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←

Beating Back Writer’s Block ~ Jack London’s View From the Keyboard

Last week the new students in the Fiction Writing Department of Columbia College Chicago gathered for their orientations and welcoming events. So many bright faces, so many eager new writers. I am excited to get the chance to work with them this next year.

A question came up more than once: “How do you get over writer’s block?” This might be a subject for a longer post another time, but for now, advice from Jack London:

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

Thanks, Jack. Well said.

→Coming soon, Megan Stielstra’s View From the Keyboard, and that of DA Kentner (KevaD) as well. Thanks for reading. -PMc←