The Island of Ex-Boyfriends ~ Stacy Bierlein’s View From the Keyboard

If you are reading this View From the Keyboard today, Thursday, April 12, 2012, then you are in luck. Especially if you are anywhere close to Chicago. You see, Stacy Bierlein, my friend and fellow Elephant Rock Books author, will be reading tonight in Chicago at the very wonderful Book Cellar on Lincoln Avenue. 7 PM. You should go. Really. You should hear this smart, funny, sexy, and talented woman read from her brand new collection of short stories A VACATION ON THE ISLAND OF EX-BOYFRIENDS. And just in case you can’t do that tonight for some silly reason like you need to spend time with your family or go to class or do your taxes (shame on you, you should have done those already!) and perhaps you live in or near Saint Louis, well then you can come to Left Bank Books on Sunday, April 15, 2012 at 4 PM and hear Stacy read. And me, too. We will be reading together then, and it should be a blast. There is even a resident cat at Left Bank; his name is Spike. How fun is that?

In any case, Stacy Bierlein is a writer to pay attention to. We were in classes together about (mumble mumble) years ago, and even then I was aware that this woman was going to have a literary career. And she does. Editor, Contributor, Writer, Teacher, Presenter. She definitely lives a literary life. And she lives it in California, lucky girl. But she can tell you about it some herself.

Here, then, is Stacy’s View From the Keyboard:

STACY: It is more difficult than I imagined to get a good photograph of my writing space. Throughout the day sunlight bursts in at odd angles–

those who know me may have noticed that I often keep a pair of sunglasses ready on top of my head. The year-round sunlight is disorienting at first to former mid-westerners. I met a man once who had moved back to Illinois saying, All that sunshine, all that optimism; I couldn’t take it anymore. My desk faces my husband’s–a decision that seemed quaint when we moved into our new home and became somewhat problematic later. I’m just saying, the key to a good marriage may very well be separate offices. My bookshelves are to the left of my desk. The day I took my books out of boxes and put them on these shelves was the day this house became home. To the right of my desk an exterior door leads to our small garden. When I’m in the office alone I leave that door open to let in the canyon noises and breezes and to allow my dog to come and go as she pleases. I somewhat obsessively painted the office walls the deepest cinnamon red to match the clay rooftops of the other houses in the canyon, as well as the small blossoms on the four plum trees in the garden. The poem attached to my computer monitor is my current favorite, “The Straightforward Mermaid,” by Matthea Harvey. It begins, “The straightforward mermaid starts every sentence with ‘Look …’ This comes from being raised in a sea full of hooks.”

Excerpt from “Why We Broke Up” by Stacy Bierlein

There was a dead rat above the engagement present closet. You kept insisting the odor came from potpourri my aunt included with a crystal bowl. It is not the smell of perfumed flowers, I kept telling you; it is the smell of death and decay. We pulled every single box, every glass, carafe, and bowl, from that closet. Nothing. I called an exterminator. He held his nose the moment he walked in and said, You have a rat all right. As far as he could tell it got in by crawling under a loose tile on the roof. It must have been trapped in the rafters between the roof and the ceiling. We could tear a hole and look for the carcass or we could just let nature take care of it, understanding the smell would get worse before it got better—our gorgeous gifts destined to sit in the stench.

You claimed not to know what a Twitpic was, yet you knew how to save them and kept an interesting collection. My friend Dara offered her Spyware but I was tired. I had limits.

Most mornings the California sky is cornflower blue. The world’s first tweet was sent on a foggy March morning at 9:50 a.m. In ancient animal legends a rat would arrive first to a party. Originally it was prophesy, not curse, that forced a beauty to a hundred year sleep. Male ostriches kill themselves fighting for harems; their heads slamming too hard into one another. It is so very disruptive to fall in love.

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Stacy’s Links

I am surprised by how much I like Twitter! Follow me @StacyBierlein. I recently interviewed one of my favorite authors, Josip Novakovich, for The Rumpus, http://therumpus.net/. I’m getting acquainted with Red Room and hope to post notes there soon, http://redroom.com/member/stacy-bierlein.

→Thanks, Stacy! See you tonight! -PMc←


A Vacation on the Island of Ex-Boyfriends ~ Another Wonderful Book by a CCC Fiction Department Alum

It’s Tuesday night, AWP starts tomorrow, and the literary happenings are starting to happen in Chicagoland. We just got back from a fabulous release party for the brand new book by Stacy Bierlein, A Vacation on the Island of Ex-BoyfriendsThere were beers and wine and goodies and books and t-shirts and people. Lots of folks gathered around a few rooms of a really gorgeous house in Evanston owned by Amy Davis (The Writers Workspace) and Lee Nagen (Fisheye) and we celebrated the new book, its author, and publisher (also mine) Elephant Rock Books. Stacy read the title story; we laughed and we sighed, and it was really a very, very good time.

And here’s the thing. Stacy Bierlein was a student at Columbia College Chicago in the Fiction Writing Department some years ago. We had a class together when we were both younger women. Amy Davis took classes there, too. In fact, Amy was involved in a really fine literary journal called Fish Stories, the first lit journal I was ever published in back in the day. Lee printed the journal. Jotham Burrello, the founding father of Elephant Rock Books, came to Columbia College as a graduate student in Fiction Writing after having worked for The Atlantic Monthly. Dan Prazer, editor for Elephant Rock Books was a graduate student in the Fiction Writing Department of Columbia College, too.

You might think that what I am getting at here is something akin to nepotism. But that is not my point. Not at all. My point is this: the Fiction Writing Department of Columbia College Chicago grows great writers, publishers, editors, and literary folk. It was so very many years ago that I was in class with Stacy, years and years since Jotham and I became colleagues. Amy published me in the 1990s. But it isn’t like we’ve been all hanging out together smoking dope in a basement and putting out little newsprint paper zines full of a bunch of half-baked stories by our buddies. We’ve grown up. We teach and we write and we cultivate writing communities in Chicago, in California, in Connecticut. We make good and real product. Books that are reviewed well, work that we are all very proud of.

You may recently have become aware of some confusion around the future of the Fiction Writing Department at Columbia College Chicago; you may have heard that the long-time chair of the department, Randy Albers (a mentor to so many) recently was informed that his chair contract will not be renewed. There is no scandal here, by the way; Randy has been praised highly by the administration and by his colleagues and his students.

But I don’t really want to get into any of this right now. What I am really trying to say is that I sat in this living room with a bunch of folks I have known for a long time, and some I’ve only come to know recently (Bill Shunn of Tuesday Funk Reading Series, Mare Swallow of Chicago Publishes podcasts), and some I don’t know at all, and we all leaned in to listen to Stacy read, to hear her story, to witness this first book launch of a fine debut. And it dawned on me that we were all there because of the Fiction Writing Department of Columbia College Chicago. We might have become teachers and writers and publishers even if we hadn’t gone to Columbia, but we did, and we are. And as Amy added to Stacy’s thanks to us all for coming, she mentioned this Fiction Writing connection, and really, I hadn’t thought of it before then. But then I thought how much I wished that Randy might have been there to celebrate with us (he had his own presentation going on at Columbia tonight) and how good it would have been if our college dean knew about all of this fine and important publishing stuff by past students, how good it would have been for the provost to hear, too, and the president. Because this is what happens when you have a good, strong, writing program. You help produce good, strong, writers, publishers, editors.

Congratulations, Stacy. Congratulations, Elephant Rock Books. Congratulations, Fiction Writing Department of Columbia College Chicago–you did it again.