Voices of the Middle West Lit Fest 2015 – Some Takeaways

This year, I was able to make it back home to Michigan to attend the 2015 Voices of the Middle West Lit Fest, brought to us by Midwestern Gothic, and the Residential College at UM Ann Arbor. The photo above was taken at the BELT Magazine table as I proudly hold my purchased Detroit Anthology. (You can read my story On The Rouge on the BELT website!)

The book fair was a fun opportunity to talk with Midwest presses and lit mags, spend money, and enjoy some giveaways. I had to go to my car part way through to unload my acquisitions. I now have new readables from Two Dollar Radio, BELT, Cream City ReviewMid-American Review, Michigan QuarterlyPleiades, Southern Indiana Review, and more! Plus my book of matches from Hobart.

Matt Bell signed my copy of his story collection How They Were Found, and Stuart Dybek signed my copy of his Coast of Chicago. (It was also cool talking WMU for a minute. He was teaching while I was there, but alas, I never had him for class). I also met and talked to other attendees, including the writer Adam Schuitema who I’d only been Twitter buddies with up to that point.

I also read at the open mic, which was pretty rad.

I attended two panels: The Midwest as Place and Midwestern Fabulism. Here are a few takeaways as jotted down in my notebook. Most of the time I didn’t write down names next to notes, so credit to ALL the panelists and moderators!

Midwest as Place: Melba Boyd, Caitlin Horrocks, C.J. Hribal, Marcus Wicker; Mod: Aaron Burch

– “The Great Lakes keep  me anchored.” (Melba)

– “We’re a Laverne & Shirley re-run. We are complicated. (C.J.)

– We are writing into a voice of the popular mindset of what the Midwest is. We are working against, with, around, etc. the images and spaces people have.

– The Midwest is often defined by what it isn’t.

– The Midwest can still affect our writing even if a story isn’t specifically set here.

– We are stewards and critical champions of the Midwest. We’re outsiders even when inside. Our internal rhythms change even when moving around within the Midwest.

Midwestern Fabulism: Matt Bell, Laura Kasischke, Alissa Nutting, Anne Valente; Mod: Elizabeth Schmuhl

– We can use fairytale tropes even in more realist work. (Matt)

– Fairytales have so much contemporary potential; they are story shapes you can’t wear out; the building blocks have so much life in them.

– Magical realism allows you to bend the world.

– Nonrealism helps in approaching issues and problems from the side. (Matt) Also, as a male writer, it can be a more palatable way to approach sensitive subjects.

– Writing imitations of fairytales can help with inspiration.

– In fairytales, when you need something, it’s there. Let things happen without clean cause and effect to make way for other interesting things to happen.

– Magic needs to be in the DNA of a story, not just added like a bad Instagram filter. (In magical realism, the magic by definition HAS to intersect with the realism.)

– To indicate or not to indicate at the outset that the story will delve into the fabulist…

– Fantasy elements from the subconscious–let the writing surprise you in the first draft. Put everything in there and then deal.  (Matt)

– We all pick different magic. What magic to I see?

– “Euchatastrophe”: the good that comes out of a tragedy.

– Fairytales use exaggeration to make a point.

Stuart Dybek Keynote

– Writers are builders of place.

– Chicago writers are humanists, but we’re also realists. We’re not afraid of sentiment. We’re writers of class.

– Midwest writers work with landscape (rural) and class (urban); those who stayed vs. those who ran away; realist vs. fabulist.

– His Chicago is a made up place.

– The Midwest is not an area that values pretension. We have a good talent for smelling it out.

Looking forward to 2016!

“Dance of the Ring” in Midwestern Gothic

MWGissue11Midwestern Gothic  is a quarterly print literary journal based in Ann Arbor, Michigan dedicated to featuring work about or inspired by the Midwest, by writers who live or have lived here. My essay Dance of the Ring is part of Issue 11 (Fall 2013) their first devoted to Creative Nonfiction. I originally presented this Mad About You-inspired  story as part of Solo Homo 8 with NewTown Writers in June 2010. The now defunct Q Review published it online in June 2011. I’m honored to be a part of this exciting issue and to have it as the new literary home for my story.

Pick up a print or digital copy at MidwestGothic.com. Cheers.

Inspiration from Disintegration

The following was originally written in November 2012 for my coursework in DePaul University’s Master of Arts in Writing & Publishing program. Here, I examine literary editing, writing, and revision by way of The Cure’s 1989 album Disintegration.  Enjoy.

Disintegration

Amongst a certain segment of the music-loving population, The Cure’s 1989 album Disintegration is one of the best albums ever recorded. I count myself as part of that population.

As I thought about the art of literary editing and revision, I wondered how I could glean lessons and reminders from a master work of art as I work on both my own art and the art of others. For writers, music is often a huge influence on mood, story, and evoking time and place, among other elements. Here, I draw inspiration from the album’s individual song titles and their content and the album’s overall mood and history. While it might be jarring to think of our work in these terms, doing so may give us the editorial distance we need to make it successful. Much like changing a story’s font to trick the brain into seeing things clearly again.

The following is an in-order track list. Don’t worry, I won’t include the B-sides.

Plainsong. The album begins on the quiet, subtle note of tinkling wind chimes, which ultimately sets the tone for the next seventy-plus minutes. For the first-time listener, the chimes might invoke a curious wonder; for long-time listeners, chills of anticipation. This minimalist beauty soon erupts into a keyboard-laden symphony set to a slow drum beat. Then finally, a single guitar guides us to the edge of the world where singer Robert Smith evokes images of rain, cold, and smiles.

The song is a brilliant beginning to the album, and the song itself could begin no other way. As writers, we all strive for the perfect sentence, image, or action with which to begin our stories, whether fiction or nonfiction. And then the perfect follow up. Plainsong offers an alternative to immediately banging the drums and hitting the guitar: striking minimalism opening into grand lushness. On the micro level, we can shape the words until our brains bleed. But in the bigger picture, our choice of beginning sets forth the entire structure of the piece: Is this a linear story? Or circular? Or plotted by short vignettes? The beginning also conveys tense and point of view.

In editing a current short story in progress, my original painstakingly crafted opening moment has found its way much further into the story, leaving me with a new beginning to finely comb over. If I keep changing my mind, at least I’ll have several well thought-out passages to  make up the whole. I think of how if The Cure had decided on a different opening track might that have changed the entire album? How might our relationship with this song have changed? Valuable questions to ask as we edit our own and others’ work.

Pictures of You always reminds me of my friend Chris, the one who is thankfully to blame for my obsession with The Cure. He nudged me out of my Bon Jovi box all the way to buying me my first copy of Disintegration (on cassette) for my fifteenth birthday. When we had a brief falling out a few months later, I pined away listening to this song, thinking about the loss of a best friend. In other words, I pictured a person. A character. I see Chris as he was then, as he is now. The details of his various haircuts, the depth of his voice, the way he wanted to change his name to that of the deceased by suicide lead singer of Joy Division. I know the relationship he had with his mom before and after she died. I know the taste of his mom’s Jack Daniels that he convinced me to try.

I may write a short story or personal essay about Chris or about a part of Chris. Or inspired by Chris. I may use his name-change desire or not. Regardless, I’d have a pretty full picture to work with—something we need, even if we don’t use it all (and we never know what will come in handy.) On the macro level, we need to decide whether our characters are right for the story we want to tell and to make sure they are consistent, sufficiently motivated, and avoiding caricature or cliché. We also need to take care not to be blinded by the “real” person, especially in fiction—but also in writing nonfiction. A picture is only a single moment of a person anyway.

On the micro level, it’s helpful to think of the song’s video. The band set up palm trees in a snowy, rural part of England to make it look as if they were performing in a desert oasis in the middle of winter, thereby oddly juxtaposing different climates. While the idea was that on camera snow and sand can look the same, the band is still wearing heavy coats and throwing snowballs at each other and the crew. In choosing this premise, the band chose not to go the literal, sentimental story route. The song and video are an unlikely paring. As we shape our characters and character relationships, thinking about the jarringly juxtaposed details may open us up to many possibilities.

Closedown.  Sometimes it’s best to just close down the literal or figurative laptop and walk away. There’s that feeling of staring at a first draft—something with an actual beginning, middle, and end—and feeling a sense of relief from accomplishing this milestone. But then you stare a moment too long, and the draft begins to mock you. You start to feel “out of step”(as Smith sings) with your story. Both you and the story suffer an identity crises, and you don’t know who you are or who you are to each other. The faults in the story become personal faults. Close that laptop!

I’ve already mentioned a couple ways to achieve objective distance: changing the font, and filtering your story through other works of art (as in this analysis.) But sometimes all we need is time. And we need to decide how much is right for us. Do we wait a day or two tops to keep the momentum going, or do we wait weeks or months to gain a fresh perspective? Both are valid. For me, when it comes to time, I tend to go the longer stretch approach. Though sometimes that’s more of a matter of my self-diagnosed “writerly ADD” than a precise decision. Deadlines (for class, for a show, etc.) are great because they don’t allow me too much time.

At the end of the song, Smith just wants to fill his heart with love. However much time we take, we owe it to ourselves to open the laptop back up—while in a good, physical, emotional place—and take advantage of the momentum and perspective we’ve gained.

Lovesong. A gift to Smith’s high school girlfriend and new bride, this song is The Cure’s biggest hit (reaching #2 in the US on the Billboard Hot 100 chart). But at the time, it was also derided by some “real” Cure fans (i.e. Chris) who perhaps were still digesting this new entry into the band’s discography. Within an overall atmospheric album, this song has the most pop sensibilities. In terms of the editing process, here I think of intention and audience. Asking ourselves what we want out of a story—what we’re trying to say, who we might be trying to reach, what kind of character or message we want to showcase—can help us solidify the piece. While Smith has written lyrics from different personas, this song is clearly and publicly him. His message of “I will always love you no matter what” is obvious—there’s no vague symbolism or obscure literary reference here. Perhaps that was the turn off for some fans. Yet it also helped attract new fans. Initially, music executives where scared of the perceived inaccessibility of the album. So Smith, having been in the business for a decade at this point, included this song perhaps as a way to appease any anxiety. About to turn 30, Smith wanted to create an enduring masterpiece by this milestone. Yet in this first decade of the Cure’s tenure, Smith was also known to say that if they ever had a #1 hit, he’d break up the band. Lovesong to me encapsulates all the things we need to “worry” about as artists. They’re all valuable, but to stay sane, we need to separate them into their respective times and places.

Last Dance. While Lovesong isn’t a dance-happy pop track, it’s still upbeat. The track that follows Last Dance, Lullaby, is a playful if terrifying single again incorporating more pop sensibilities. So here, the band transitions back into (and out of) atmospheric somberness both in the arrangement and the lyrics (a colder, flatter Christmas falling late being a central image.) With this song, I think about transitions—and with a title like this, endings too. The rambling guitar riff that drives the intro makes us subtly convulse in place before the bombast of the keys takes over. At the end of the song, Smith leaves us with the image of a girl standing alone as the music fades to three seconds of silence. In that audio equivalent to white space on a page, we are left deeply thinking about the girl’s place in the world before the pluck of the next song kicks in.

In the context of the album, the song is a chill palate cleanser between singles. We can take this song’s example as we transition between paragraphs, sections, chapters, or stories. What do we want to leave the reader with (even for just a moment)? What tone or mood to we want to establish or continue? How will the next section connect yet be different?

Lullaby. Lyrically story based, this “lullaby” tells tale of a spider-man about to eat the narrator for dinner. “Rock-a-bye Baby” turned horror story. This song makes me think of language. The song juxtaposes opposing images, giving us a new way to think about lullabies and nightmares. The song’s images induce us to be creative in how we render in words our own images we seek to create in our readers’ imaginations. We should look for ways to get the most mileage from the relationship between our images and to maximize its subtext. Whether by making sense out of an unlikely pairing (such as my mother’s death and an early ‘90s power ballad), or by using multiple meanings of a word at once (in an essay about playing with toy guns, I used the word legends to refer to stories while nodding to its cartographic meaning and alluding to an R.E.M. song.)

Editing language also means freshening up clichés and other hyperbolic language and replacing any vague or overused adjectives and adverbs—or by taking familiar language and turning it on its head. In Lullaby, Smith whispers the opening line to Mary Howitt’s well known cautionary poem from 1829, “The Spider and the Fly.” Editing language makes sure that it properly conveys the action to your reader, both in logistics and intended effect. Thinking in terms of song lyrics, we can be inspired to give our stories in our prose the focus inherent in the lyrical form. And given the horrific nature of the song’s story, we can think about the brutal but freeing act of “killing our darlings” in order to make our language and overall stories as clear as possible.

Fascination Street.  For this song, the band was inspired by the mood and spirit of Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Lyrically, the song features a couple in reckless abandonment, cutting real conversation and not worrying about what they do or say. The song’s stand-out bass line literally pounds us into this underworld, and the guitar and keys create a psychedelic atmosphere where flashes of color blur in front of us through the smoke.

This song in particular makes me think of setting. As we edit, are there moments where the characters feel like they’re lost in space? Or was there a jarring transition from one place to another that yanks us out of the story? Do the details relate to the characters or create appropriate mood? If we’re basing setting on a real place, has the clear picture in our heads fully translated to the page for the readers who have never been to, say, our grandparents’ house? Are the traffic logistics of your street that are so central to your story rendered clearly for the reader? And how can we break away from the “real” place in a work of fiction? Handing over our stories to others will reveal any vacuous and inconsistent sections. Likewise, as we edit others’ work, their success and pitfalls are clear to us. How can we learn from them?

The specifics of time and place in our setting are ways of establishing character, mood, social milieu and everything else. How can we mix the Detroit of the 1980s with the universal? How can music inspire us to create our settings, whether with references to actual songs or with riffing on the stories and settings of particular songs and albums? My first Cure purchase was the Fascination Street cassette single, summer 1989, with Chris, at a Detroit suburban mall. And…go!

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Radio DePaul Reading & Interview

Hey friends, it’s finally this site’s official Radio DePaul post!  On January 20, 2012, I joined hosts Colin & Marcy and my classmate Bethany for this term’s second edition of DePaul Student Writers Series.

I read two of my personal essays, Dance of the Ring and More Than Words. Following the reading, we discussed the pieces and the writing process.  Definitely a cool way to spend a wintery Friday morning.

Listen via the show’s new site Welcome post, or go directly to the site’s embedded audio.  Please Note: the first couple minutes featuring announcements got clipped, but the main event is all there.  Also, I’m second guest in the line up.

It’s been a busy quarter, and I should be studying for my Language & Style test right now.  But I still have time.  I’m also involved in a really cool project for my Art of the Interview class.  More on that to come!

Be well, and enjoy the show.  Cheers.

It’s a Book! It’s a Miniseries! It’s…History!

The following was originally written for Open Books’ Read All About It blog, August 23, 2011. Re-posted with permission. Support literacy in Chicago by supporting Open Books.

Band of Brothers ~ The Book

Band of Brothers ~ The Book

One of our getting-to-know you questions we sometimes answer around the room during Open Books writing field trips is “What’s your favorite kind of book.” Depending on the age of the students, we’ll get an array of genres, titles, series, authors, etc.  “Scary books” and “funny books” are popular amongst the younger ones.  Harry Potter, Junie B. Jones, fiction, non-fiction, and adventure books are all cited.  When I’m feeling a little sassy and want to get a reaction, I’ll stray from the more conventional “literary fiction” and answer “World War II Memoirs.” Yeah, that’s my field trip trump card.

I blame Stephen Ambrose.  In 2006, I finally got around to watching the HBO-Spielberg-Hanks-produced 2001 Miniseries Band of Brothers based on Ambrose’s book, when I borrowed the DVDs from my brother.  A long time history fan, particularly that era that’s still (barely) within our grasp, I hunkered down in my and my partner Ernie’s house in South Bend, Indiana and followed the story of Easy Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne. And sobbed. And became a little obsessed. And found fan sites and official sites.  Looked up all the actors on IMDd, found photos of the real guys, found out who was still alive and who wasn’t. Wanted more, more, MORE. I bought my own DVDs in 2009, and have re-watched it in its entirety every summer since. And I’m still a sobbing mess at the end of each episode.

The Real Band of Brothers

The Real Band of Brothers

Of course, it started the book. Actually, it started with Hitler and that whole reality of WWII thing. But it started with the book.  Which I finally read (my brother’s copy again) last year (and since picked up my own at the Open Books store) and retraced the story, getting a different perspective and more behind the scenes.  I’ve also read (SPOILER ALERT) books by Easy Company vets, Easy Company Soldier by Donald Malarkey and Parachute Infantry by David Kenyon Webster (published posthumously and a major source for Ambrose and the screenwriters). Again, different and deeper perspectives.

When Hanks and company produced last year’s follow up series, The Pacific (also very good, though I don’t yet have the DVDs), I rushed out to pick up its source books, E.B. Sledge’s With the Old Breed and Robert Leckie’s Helmet for My Pillow (with an eye out for their other books, both fairly prolific writers).  I recently picked up a book by Gene Garrison, a veteran of Patton’s Third Army, entitled Unless Victory Comes, which will give me another in to the Battle of the Bulge.  Band of Brothers as a whole has served as a sort of gate-way drug to further reading, just as Harry Potter and the Twilight series (or Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary depending on one’s age…) have gotten even more books into young readers’ hands.  And all that’s a good thing.

Band of Brothers ~ The Actors

Band of Brothers ~ The Actors

There are more books by and about other veterans of both series, which I’d like to eventually pick up. Band of Brothers has really launched an entire niche industry of publications, artwork, lectures, and official tours to Normandy and other sites. It’s inspired a whole legion of fans from history and military die-hards to younger fan girls and boys (not that these groups are exclusive…) who post animated photos on Tumblr.com, write fan fiction portraying the “characters” in less than chaste situations, and edit film clips to rock and pop songs on YouTube. There is also an ongoing series of actor interviews that’s been celebrating the series’ 10 year anniversary since June of last year.  Their Jumping For Heroes event to raise money for a memorial in Normandy took place on August 21 of this year.

Thinking about this fandom is fascinating–there is a sort of falling in love with these guys—the real guys, their personas and relationships as filtered through art, the actors who played them, what they did.  There is borderline fetish, hero worship, pride, and gratitude.  There is a trying to make sense of our own lives through them.  It is a connection to our own family histories. With that, I feel in some ways I know more about these guys than I do either of my own grandfathers.  I didn’t have all the conversations about these things that grandfathers and grandsons should have before it’s too late. I’ve since been going through my dad’s dad’s Army photos and learning more through my grandmother, and just working with what I have.

 

My grandfather, Frank Van Kerckhove (kneeling, 2nd from right), with his own band of brothers. He trained for the Pacific, but remained States-side working the Signal Corp and weapons inspection.

My grandfather, Frank Van Kerckhove (kneeling, 2nd from right), with his own band of brothers. He trained for the Pacific, but remained States-side working the Signal Corp and weapons inspection.

During Ernie and my recent trip to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, one of the Band of Brothers actors was in attendance at the play his fiancé directed.  I happened to know he was going to be there because of his recent interview.  I saw him come in and sit in his seat. My heart pounded and I squealed inside like the fan boy that I am. But I was cool, yo.  And I didn’t end up talking to him, which I’m totally (I think ) at peace with.  But it’s like–You’re here, and despite all the other work you’ve done you are still Webster—Webster whose book I’ve read!  What would I say?  Maybe just a Thank you.  That would’ve been good.  But I remained calm….

In an essay of mine entitled Playing Guns where I tackle my youthful war games with brothers and friends, my family’s own military past, and my interest in war stories, I write: “Give me one soldier’s memoir over a dry shot-by-shot account.  While the places and triumphs and losses in each tug at me, I ultimately prefer legends over maps.”

“Playing Guns” @ Essay Fiesta!

Hello Friends!  The latest News is my up-coming reading at this month’s Essay Fiesta!  7:00 PM, Monday, February 15, 2010 at The Book Cellar, 4736-38 N. Lincoln Avenue in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood.

Essay Fiesta is a new FREE monthly reading series (which kicked off this past November).  Raffle tickets will be sold to benefit the work of the Howard Brown Health Center, Chicago’s leader in GLBT health.  Check out Essay Fiesta’s Facebook Page for more info, to become a Fan, and to RSVP (Official Event to be posted soon, I’m sure….)

The line-up will be announced bit by bit.  So far, myself and author Randy Richardson have been made official.

I will be reading my piece, Playing Guns, which has its tiny roots in the Arlene Malinowski’s solo performance class at Chicago Dramatists in 2005, and was later workshopped for real via my coursework at Indiana University-South Bend.  I’ve written about the piece here on this site a coupla times.

Join us for a Valentine’s Day hangover cure, or to celebrate President’s Day, or for whatever old reason you feel.  Can’t wait to see you!

Update of an Artist in November

Sticking it to 'em.

I suppose this post will also cover some of October to fill in all those gaps between cookie baking, Kathy Griffin, and Miley Cyrus.  I know your lives feel empty without knowing the scoop.

This photo here was taken on my pre-birthday road trip to Gebhard Woods State Park and the Illinois & Michigan Canal Trail in and around Morris, IL.  I had a window of good October weather and time off work.  ‘Twas a lovely quiet day of hiking and talking to myself and the voices in my head.  Lots of writerly conversation. 🙂  While only an hour away or so, it fulfilled my wanderlust in the tradition of past October trips to Vermont, Oregon, and Europe.  Took many photos, most but not all of which have been uploaded into my Flickr.  This was one of my favorite finds! All the naturey stuff was cool, but this find made my day.  As I say in the photo’s Flickr description, it’s not 100% accurate and fair to say that All Mormons Hate Us, but they sure as heck have been making a name for themselves lately. I’m feeling the pain of Maine (& etc.)  I definitely felt a kinship with the trail walker who came before me.  So, yay to whoever you are….

My birthday on the 25th was a good one.  Mellow, but wonderful.  Brunch, then later dinner and drinks with Ernie and friends.  Some time to myself in between.  I made a trip to the Art Institute. It had been a while, a few years.  I always love their photography gallery.  They’re currently showing a collection of Victorian photo collage works.  SO cool.  I also hadn’t been to the new Modern Art Wing.  Breath taking.  I dig all that stuff.  Had a moment with Picasso–it was his birthday too! I also enjoyed the student/journalist/etc. interviewing the gallery worker in the section with the clown abuse film, light installations, and other very contemporary work (sorry for the general terms here).  I wanted to hang out and listen more, but that would’ve been creepy. Like the clown.

NewTown Writers goings on are winding down for the year.  Our October NewPlay Readings event was a success.  I know the authors, actors, and audiences had a good experience.  I put my producer brain in overdrive, which was good for me, though I’ll tweak some things for next year.  I attended the final workshops of the year (and met a couple new writerly friends), my 2009 Artistic Director report has been written and sent out, and we have a Board meeting this weekend to talk 2010–the group’s 30th Anniversary.  Oh, and you can become a fan on Facebook, too. 🙂

I’ve attended a couple writerly events in the City in the past couple weeks.  As always, the amazingly fun 2nd Story had an event on the 8th at their home base, Webster’s Wine Bar.  My Solo Homo pals, Byron and Sara, read and directed respectively.  Last night, Essay Fiesta, a brand new series held its inaugural event at the Book CellarEssay Fiesta features personal essays and comedy.  It’s a free event, but with the opportunity to buy raffle tickets to benefit the Howard Brown Health Center.  They had an awesome turn out last night.  You should go to the next one in December.  It’s right around the Holidays, but if you’re around and inclined and want to hang out in the way cute Lincoln Square neighborhood, do it.  I’m looking to hopefully be involved in future editions.  And of course, 2nd Story’s December deadline approaches….

I’ve recently gotten in the habit of tracking my writerly activities on my private/Friends Only blog.  I call these entries “Writerlogged.” I jot down every day-ish what I’m doing, working on, attending, etc.  They’re keeping me in check.  And they’re things that don’t necessarily need to be posted in a public forum like this–jottings of works in progress, process, hopes and dreams I don’t want to jinx by announcing them to the world.  Etc.  When I feel like my life is being taken over by laundry and my restaurant job, I can be like Hey, this is what I did and this is what I need to focus on and stuff.    The posts also apply to reading and watching which feed the writerly stuff.  It’s good.

So I have been working on various things.  I’ve been giving some love to a handful of short stories that are in various stages of life.  Also working on a CNF/Essay/Solo piece.  I like going back and forth with this.  Sometimes I really don’t want to deal with myself and my own life.  So I write about others.  Beyond this, there are always photo, media, etc. projects that want love too….

Organized my reading list.  I wish I could read all the books and all the lit mags and all the blogs, but you know, I can’t.  Listed are things we have in house, things I need to acquire, things to finish.  In the middle of the Best American Short Stories 2008.  Realize the new one just came out.  Oh well.  Also, my Walt Whitman collection.  The latest issue of MAKE Magazine.  All in due time.  Recently finished Band of Brothers, the Ambrose book, that I borrowed from my brother.  Having my base of knowledge from the film was helpful, and I was able to fill in any gaps and experience the source material. Waiting in the wings is my copy of With the Old Breed, E.B. Sledge’s memoir which was used in HBO’s The Pacific, which can’t come soon enough.  Recently finished Richard Peck’s Past Perfect, Present Tense Young Adult story collection.  Cool to have a perspective from that genre.  I also received Kathy Griffin’s Official Book Club Selection for my birthday.  Started that because Kathy’s awesome.  I need to acquire and start the new John Irving soon, too.  I won’t bore you with the rest of the list, but know I’m reading stuff. 🙂

And writing too.  I’m not a speed writer, though this time of year many are.  While I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo this time around, I am with all my NaNo friends and others in spirit as I work to accomplish something writerly every day. Whether it’s updating my writerly site, or swooping the editing comb through a story, attending an event, or just walking through UnAbridged Bookstore to be surrounded by tried and true printed real books.  Etc. 🙂

With that, I’ll end this, but hope to post other bits soonly.  Happy Creating, Everyone.

Cheers.

Update of an Artist in August

It’s almost the middle of August, and summer is definitely trucking along.  We had a delightfully cool July but are definitely feeling some dog days this month.  A hot summer makes the relief of Autumn even more special.  For those who know me, Autumn is high holy season around here.  It’s my first back in the city.  I’ll definitely miss Indiana for it’s Autumness, but will seek out the city’s delights–but that’s a nerdy post for later.

To follow up on my Band of Brothers Revisited post, shortly after I posted it, a fellow WordPresser lead me to Alan Sepinwall’s blog, What’s Alan Watching?  He’s the TV critic for the New Jersey Star-Ledger.  This summer, he did an amazing series on Band of Brothers. I recently finished going through his posts and many of the comments.  Had I known about it (we were watching it at the same time!), I would’ve definitely joined in the conversation.  Alas, he wrote his last post about the same time I wrote my own BoB post.  I still want to comment on his final entry.  The whole thing is a wonderful in depth conversation for BoB nerds everywhere!

I’ve spent part of the last month haunting neighborhood used book stores (plus my indie bookstore down the street) looking for Malarkey’s and other related books. I think I want to read at least Malarkey’s before I borrow my brother’s copy of the BoB book, which I still haven’t read.  I want to despite the gnawing voices of the Ambrose haters on Amazon (which does have everything I want…).  I should stop reading things like that.  Just upsets me. 😛  I’m also interested in reading E.B. Sledge’s With the Old Breed, which is one of the sources for the upcoming The Pacific film.  How exciting that Sidney Philips will be a character in the new project!

I’ll save my WWII reading for the Fall, as I’m trying to focus on other reading this summer. My “To Read” list is growing with older and newer books (like, I still need to get to Sarah Vowell’s latest!), recent acquisitions, and books on Ernie’s shelf.  I’ve taken a couple times to sit outside–even go to the lake–and read my Walt Whitman collection. Perfect for summer on a blanket on the grass with the lake’s breeze.  Definitely won’t finish it this summer, but it’s good to have at my side when I’m inspired.  I also have the Best American Short Stories 2008 collection at my side when a dose of short fiction is in order.  I finally finished the 3rd (with six more to go!) Sookie Stackhouse book, Club Dead, and totally loving the new season of True Blood!  My current non-fiction reading is Michael Davis’ Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street. What a joy!  And it had me in tears in the first paragraph of the prologue for real.  I’m three chapters in, which is a fascinating account of the history of children’s television in general.  The Captain Kangaroo stuff is cool.  I’m trying to make more time to read actual books.  Less sitting in front of this computer and more reading, yo!  But the computer is good too.

On the writerly front, I’ve been focusing on two short stories this past month or so.  I’ve also been working to organize all my works in progress.  I’ll always be adding ideas, but I’m trying to focus on further developing my most developed work so I can start taking it to the next level.  One story is inspired by my neighborhood in South Bend.  I really love this piece (which I started in November for my short story edition of NaNoWriMo) and am getting more and more into it.  It’s also been good to harness my Indiana experience creatively–something I want to continue.  Another story is more fantastical and quirky and inspired by an Indiana friend of mine.  That’s all I’ll say for now. 🙂  These stories are written in 1st and 3rd person respectively, and if I’m going to flip flop between strories, I like that variety.  On the CNF front, I made it through the first draft of a story about Truman’s bar in Indiana.  I’ve also rebounded from Playing Guns rejection and am preparing it for another submission–to a place that’s perhaps a better fit.

I’ve also typed out my grandfather’s journal like I said I wanted to.  Very cool.  With that, I’ve registered another WordPress site which will be more family oriented.  Not sure how public it will be, but it will definitely be a cool place for family and friends hopefully.

With all this Indiana talk, I did take the time to reflect on my time there.  Here’s an excerpt from my Friends Only blog:

It was this random, amazing, frustrating, weird, beautiful, creative, inspiring, annoying experience in our lives. While we can definitely tell our “Indiana stories” boiled down to some laughable cocktail party tales, I get a little Stockard Channing at the end of Six Degrees of Separation where she seeks to make sure her experience truly becomes a meaningful part of her life. I know I will continue to do this myself in my work–whether in short stories, solo pieces, journal entries, or what have you. Just like I try to do with everything else. I can’t deny the new perspective our time there offered.

All the wonderful people I met along the way–those I’m still in touch with and those I’m not–will not be forgotten. 🙂

Finally, in NewTown Writers news, after a successful Solo Homo 7, the Fall 2009 event is in the works.  We wanted to do some sort of short plays event, and it looks to be gearing toward a Reading event with some brand new works.  I’m currently working with a number of members on developing their pieces–and looking to include a few more.  I’m wearing my producer & director hats on this one so I can focus my writerly energies on other things.  We’re looking to go up mid-October.  Will post more later!  I’ve also started attending the bi-weekly literary meetings.  I’d never done that before, mostly because of my old work schedule and not living in the city for a few years.  It’s been fun–I’ve been able to workshop one of my current stories as well as hear some of the work in progress for the fall.  And now that meetings are looking to be at the Center on Halsted, that’s a bonus since I can walk there.  Awesome!

Upcoming fun things are in the works. Looking forward to them and to getting more work done.  Will tell  you all about it….

Onward—->

Band of Brothers Revisited

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This afternoon, I finished watching the special features in the Band of Brothers DVD set.  Thus completing my 2nd full viewing of the film. I’d been keeping an eye out for a discounted copy since last time I watched it, I borrowed my brother’s set.  While back in South Bend for a day trip to teach class, we ventured over to the Best Buy, and there, on the shelf in the HBO section were new copies at 50% off for a limited time.  So for only about $30, each episode plus extras was mine.  Score!  AND with cheaper Indiana sales tax to boot.  Once upon a time, Ernie had expressed interest in watching it with me–mostly I think because of Ron Livingston and his Sex & The City connection.  When I brought it up with this purchase, he’d forgotten about his initial interest.  So I was on my own.  While Ernie was down in Kansas City this past month working down at the Coterie Theatre, I had plenty of time.  Watching it solo means I can rewind parts and get as obsessive as I want.

I’ve written about the film and its connection to my writing & family projects–and general WWII interest before.  So I guess this is a follow up to previous posts: Workshopping “Guns” and  The War. I’m not completely sure if this follow up will have a conclusive point, but we’ll see.

I’ll report that I’ve recently revisited my piece, Playing Guns. This past May had me working two deadlines.  I had my Solo Homo piece to work as well as my 2nd Story submission.  I wrestled with starting from scratch for this submission, but given the state of Life and Art I had to make some executive creative decisions.  I ultimately didn’t get a slot for the next round, but I feel good about my work on the piece.  I received some solid feedback and totally agreed with the things to work on as far as fitting the piece into the 2nd Story aesthetic.  I’ve also chatted with my new 2nd story pals and don’t feel discouraged at all. I love what the group does and hope to be more a part of it down the road.  This latest revision process found me restructuring and slicing and dicing (for both time and focus) and really had me looking at things with a magnifying glass.  I feel part of my problem, though, was that I was in a way trying to cram a non-2nd Story into a 2nd Story mold.  Some of it fit–and some of it didn’t.  Next time I can work on the piece with new found focus, but without any restraints (and I’ll have a better idea of what I’m doing for my next submission!)  Getting the piece readier and readier for Battles with Boys. It’s coming….

Back to the film.  I mention it indirectly in the piece.  War films and images play an important role in the story.  My interest and into obsession are a part of the story.  It’s so damn good.  I know it has its detractors and people who get their panties in a bunch over various things (various inaccuracies & poetic licenses, the anti-Stephen Ambrose camp, etc.), but I don’t get into that, and don’t let it bother me.  I appreciate and celebrate it for what it is (and before I forget, I can’t wait for the follow up, next year’s The Pacific!)  I love the story.  I love learning the stories behind the stories.  I love learning about the real guys behind the “characters.”  I love learning more about the actors (especially the lesser known ones.)  It’s EASY (pun intended) to become just a little obsessed. My “BoB” bookmarks are filled with things like THIS and THIS and THIS.  Though I do have my limits.  There are those who know which weapons came out when and who had what and noticed how they changed in the film and all that (even I, a huge Cure fan can’t rattle off remix titles like they were my own children as some fans can.)  But each to their passion, I say.  I haven’t read ALL the books.  The new one looks interesting.  I am interested in reading Tech Sgt. Don Malarkey’s (adorably played by Scott Grimes in the film), though.  I’m happy to have this film in my collection and will revisit it when inspired to–and continue to let it (and its gorgeous score) inspire me in Life and Art.

This all keeps me thinking about family and history and our own stories.  I caught Diane Rhem’s show this morning (not on Chicago Public Radio, but on Michiana Public Radio–yay internet!).  She featured Vincent Cannato, author of American Passage about the history of Ellis Island.  The subject of immigration to Canada also came up–which is what my Grandpa V’s parents did back in the day (making me part Canadian, ya know!)  I have his handwritten story about his growing up there and his move to Detroit.  One of my projects for the near future (I thought maybe today, but we’ll see…) is to start transcribing it into a Word file.  If for nothing else but to preserve and share it.  But there’s also some tidbits of inspiration in there for other projects.  It’s good stuff.

All this is connected. Other people’s old photographs and stories; MY old photographs and stories. Maybe getting a feel from their lives can add to an understanding of my own history.  I still have access to some things, but unfortunately not to everything.

Right now, I feel like I’m at the borderline of public musings and private journaling and things that will become other things.  So I’ll end here and wish you all much love.