Last night, I had the pleasure of reading with an awesome lineup of writers at one of the coolest new bookstores in Chicago -- Volumes Bookcafe in Wicker Park. The occasion was the launch of Tortoise Books' new anthology entitled "The Pleasure You Suffer: A Saudade Anthology." For those of you who are unfamiliar with the word Saudade (as I was), here is the definition cribbed from the preface:
Saudade reportedly has no direct English translation; it’s a Portuguese word describing the nostalgic longing for something that may never return, or may not exist. This feeling can be strangely comforting; author Manuel de Mello calls it “A pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy.” It permeates the music of Brazil, another nation steeped in slavery and sadness and the hope for a better life. Yet this heartsick yearning’s actually very familiar to those of us born and raised in North America; we often call it “the blues.”
Choosing a story to submit for this anthology was a challenge -- one that first required me to ponder what saudade really is. In my mind, the past colors the present, and the present clouds the past. Like two lovers trying to communicate but who more often than not wind up with crossed signals. Those crossed signals, between the past and present, for me, are what saudade is. And my story, "Homefront," tries to give voice to that.
When I found out my story was accepted, I was thrilled. Now, after getting a chance to hear some of the other authors from the anthology read, I'm positively giddy. It's a veritable all-star lineup of writers I admire (which, like any good all-star lineup, means all offense and no defense, i.e. lots o' fun!).
If you're looking for an interesting mix of stories and poems that strives to interpret this omnipresent itch-you-can't-scratch, you really ought to pick it up. Right now, the best place to get a copy in a brick-and-mortar store is Volumes Bookcafe. For those looking to order one you can do so through Amazon, or through Tortoise Books' website. Buy it!
I'm proud to announce that I'll be taking part in a reading on Friday, March 13, at 6:30, located at Powell's Bookstore at UIC (1218 S. Halsted). The reading is to help launch Tortoise Books' newest release: The Dark Will End the Dark, by Darrin Doyle (who shares my unhealthy fascination with Bigfoot, so you know he's a good egg).
In addition to Darrin, I'm humbled to be joining some of my favorite Chicago writers: Ben Tanzer, Joseph Peterson, and Rachel Slotnick. When you're slotted into a lineup that's that strong, you know you have to bring your A-game. So, for what it's worth, I'll be debuting a chapter from my novel in progress, The Prince of Infinite Space, which is a sequel to my first book, The Last Good Halloween.
I hope to see you all there!
The #MyWritingProcess blog tour combines the best elements of writing a chain letter and having a conversation with yourself. It works like this: You get an invitation from an author-blogger to answer four questions about your writing process. When you do, you also invite three more writers to answer the same questions to pass the torch onward.
I was given the chance to participate by the inimitable author and activist Diane Lefer, whose work includes The Fiery Alphabet, California Transit, and Nobody Wakes Up Pretty. If you're not familiar with her work, I'd suggest you treat yourself to some good reading and settle in with a handful of her titles. You can check out her Writing Process blog post here.
At any rate, on to the questions:
1. What are you working on?
Right now, I'm working on a sequel to my debut novel, The Last Good Halloween. Typing that sentence gives me pause because I never thought I would be the kind of writer who does sequels. It just so happened that, as I was going through the (lengthy and tedious) process of finding a publisher for my novel, I realized that there was another part of Kirby Russo's story to tell.
This new novel, which does not yet have a title, picks up two years after the conclusion of the first one. Kirby is seventeen now, and it's been quite a challenge to adjust his voice accordingly. The same words sound very different coming from a fifteen-year-old versus a seventeen-year-old. After a few starts and stops, I think I've finally gotten his new voice down, and I'm ready to tell the rest of his story.
2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?
Genre is a tricky concept for me because a lot of folks have been wondering if The Last Good Halloween was young adult or just a regular novel. The back-cover description sounds YA, but the writing and story involve some pretty sophisticated and adult-type situations. My responses to those questions usually take longer than a page to explain – even then, they mostly conclude with, "I'm not really sure. What do you think?"
As such, I guess that tells you all you need to know about how my work differs from others of its genre. It's a story about a teenage boy, but it dares to treat him, his problems, and his worldview as very much parts of the adult world.
3. Why do you write what you do?
The only reason I ever write anything is because I'm interested to see what a particular set of characters will do in a particular situation. If it doesn't make me nervous, I'll probably stop writing it.
That doesn't mean I'm writing about international espionage or serial killer stuff. Those are fine, but not the kinds of thing that interest me beyond a superficial level. What really makes me nervous is finding out what a child says to his stepfather who has decided to move out, or what a husband says to his wife when it seems like all hope for their love is lost. Those are the kinds of things that make my palms sweat, the kinds of things I want to explore in my writing.
4. How does your writing process work?
My writing process is highly ritualized. I like to light a candle and maybe a stick of incense. Then I sit down at a special writing desk that's small enough to NOT be able to accommodate any sort of computer or laptop – electronics are a huge distraction to me during this first step and, as such, must be limited as much as possible, by force if necessary.
I write everything out longhand using a fountain pen. Writing by hand slows me down just enough to allow me to consider the words I'm writing and helps make sure what comes out is reasonably decent. If I were to type my first drafts, I think I'd have to sift through a lot more garbage on the subsequent edits.
For any given project, I like to have one pen that I use to write the bulk of it. Thus, I can point to the Waterman I used to write my first manuscript. Or the Pelikan I used to write my most recent novel. Right now, I'm using a delicious Mont Blanc, which my father gave to me as a Christmas present. Writing with it feels like driving a 1978 Cadillac with spongy shock absorbers. It's a treat for my hand.
This is what a typical first draft looks like:
After I've written a first draft, it's time to enter it into the computer. Lately, I've been using the program Scrivener as my go-to word processor. It's been a little scary switching away from the old reliable Microsoft Word, but I'm sticking with it and I think it's finally starting to pay dividends. With Scrivener, I spend a lot more time thinking about the words than the formatting, which seems like a good trade-off.
Well, that's it for my blog post. Next week, I hope you'll tune in to the efforts of these fine individuals.
1. Gerald Brennan is a self-described corporate brat who’s lived all over the eastern half of the continent but currently resides in Chicago. He earned a B.S. in European History from the United States Military Academy at West Point, and an M.S. in Journalism from Columbia University. He founded Tortoise Books in 2012 to provide a new outlet for quality authors who haven’t found a niche in the traditional marketplace. He’s the author of Resistance, Ninety-Seven to Three and Zero Phase: Apollo 13 on the Moon. His work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, The Good Men Project and Innerview Magazine; he has also been a frequent contributor and co-editor at Back to Print and The Deadline.
His post will appear on the Tortoise Books blog space: www.tortoisebooks.com/whatshappening/
2. Natalia Sarkissian holds a BA and MA in art history, an MBA in international finance and an MFA in creative writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has worked as a curatorial assistant, a management consultant, an English teacher, a translator, and a writer. Her writing and photographs have been published in the US and Italy by, amongst others, the University of Texas Press, IPSOA publishers, Corriere della Sera, The Huffington Post and Numéro Cinq where she is on the masthead. Natalia divides her time between Italy and the United States and she blogs at Postcards from Italy.
Her post will appear at: http://www.nataliasarkissian.com
3. Alex A.G. Shapiro is DEEP in the research phase of a torrid exposé related, but not limited to, modern fatherhood. He is a graduate of the University of Montana MFA program. His fiction has been published in the Crab Orchard Review, MAKE Magazine, and Identity Theory.
His post will appear on his blog: http://shapishap.tumblr.com/
It's been a great and fun year, one that started off at a pretty low point, but continually picked up steam as the months passed. Of course, the biggest news was the publication of my first novel, The Last Good Halloween. Through that project, I've had the opportunity to meet and work with a lot of great, new people in the publishing world and for that I'm incredibly grateful.
Before we kiss 2013 good-bye, I wanted to mention a few fun items that came up at the last minute this year.
First off, I had the chance to participate in a Sun-Times blog series on hot writers in Chicago. This was an opportunity that definitely fell into the push-your-comfort-zone category -- especially since the point was to provide a "pin-up" style photo. After a bunch of bad ideas that didn't turn out well, I ended up embracing the concept and, well, you can see the results for yourself. Turns out the pic that worked best was a selfie. (And, for the record, this is the first time I'm typing that word.)
Second of all, I got asked by the good folks at The Next Best Book Club's Blog to give my top three reads of 2013. I'm proud to have been asked to participate and even more proud of how indie-press-centric the entire list is. If you want to find some reads that might be a little off the beaten path, check it out!
As for 2014, well, I've got some readings coming up in January and February, plus some more writing projects lined up, so stay tuned. I'll let you know more when I know.
Just a quick note to all the Chicago Folks:
My publisher, Tortoise Books, is sponsoring a table at the Chicago Book Expo this Sunday, November 24th. I'll be there signing copies of my new novel The Last Good Halloween. If you're interested in getting a signed copy, or just want to keep me company, I'd love to see you there!
The Expo is going from 11 AM to 5 PM. The address is 1345 W. Argyle.
Seeing all your bright faces will help take the edge off missing the Cowboys game, which, let's be honest, it's probably better if I don't watch it anyway.
As the publication date for my novel approaches, things are starting to snap into fast-motion, where once they seemed to mosey along without a care in the world. The biggest item thus far has been settling on a cover. We've gone through many iterations and had some great suggestions, but I think we're finally zeroing in on a coherent idea. There are still a few changes that'll need to happen, but here is the prototype:
From here on out, the rest of the work will center around launching and promotion. Stay tuned for an announcement regarding the launch party and for upcoming interviews/reviews. For now, I can tell you that I've already recorded an interview with the good folks at WordPlaySound. They'll be coming out with a special episode close to our publication date which will also include a recording of me reading an excerpt of The Last Good Halloween.
That's all for now. Surely more to come soon.
It's been a tough year, publishing-wise. It started out with high hopes and
a swirl of good news, only for it to slowly evaporate as the months dragged
on. Dark times call for soul-searching. As I was wandering through the foggy corridors of the interior, I came eyeball-to-eyeball with a surprising (to me) fact: I have been submitting stories, essays and novels to literary journals and agents and contests on a consistent basis for almost twenty years. That means for nearly half my life I've been on tenterhooks, awaiting responses on submissions -- trapped in a perpetual state of hope.
I'm starting to wonder if hope might not be an addictive substance, as damaging as the most seductive narcotic. Does that sound cynical? Perhaps. But bear with me as I examine some side effects of hope. I find myself constantly checking email, waiting for a response. Good news, when it comes, is inevitably buried under drifts of bad news. And even when there is good news, the high it produces is never as strong as I imagine it should be. Through it all, what does hope imbue me with most? Paralysis -- a sense of constantly waiting for things to change. I'm a hope-junky.
So it's time to go cold turkey. My resolution, if that's what you want to call it, is to go for an entire year without submitting one piece of writing. No contests, no lit journals, no queries. There's still a backlog of submitted pieces, which should take a few months to work its way out of the submission process bloodstream -- so it probably won't be until this summer that hope will be officially purged from my system. Then I'll be able to experience life without hope. I'm calling this experiment a submission-fast. (My freelance work is exempt from this fast due to the fact that I'm not subjecting those pieces to judgment. They're already commissioned, so the people paying me for them don't really have a choice. And I don't have to hope that they'll get accepted.)
What do I expect to accomplish from this? Aesceticism aside, the expectation is that by spending some time with absolutely no thoughts of submission, of purging the notion of hope from my psyche, I'll see if in fact it's better to live without it. Do I feel better day-to-day, not needing to check my email? Do I sleep better at night, not thinking if I should have put something else in a cover letter? Most importantly, will I be more productive with my time, not having to spend hour upon hour looking for submission sites and preparing the submissions? A positive side effect might also be to get back to writing for the sheer thrill of it. After all, if you don't expect anyone to ever see what you're writing, that can be liberating to write whatever the hell you want.
That's why I'm doing this. I'll report back as the year unfolds.
This week will mark the beginning of a new phase of the publication process. It's been a long road that somehow seems to have ended up back where I began almost a year and a half ago. Later this week, my agent will begin sending out my manuscript to publishers. I'd like to think that this step of the process will be short sprint toward a successful conclusion. But long, hard experience has taught me otherwise. So I'm mentally preparing for the long haul. I'm going to try to document the phases (both internal and external) that go into this. For now, I'm waiting for the word that the first sortie has been sent out. Then, maybe I can begin to cross my fingers.
This is a repository for all my semi-filtered thoughts on... blah, blah, blah.