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 excited and honored to be a part of this year's High Plains Book Festival, which takes place in Billings, Montana, from October 23 to 26. If you're in the area, try and stop by for some of the festivities. I'll be appearing in a panel for the first book finalists on Saturday the 25th at 10:00 AM at the Yellowstone Art Museum.
There are a lot of other great panels scheduled with some pretty awesome writers, so it'll definitely be worth your time. Come on out and help me celebrate the literature of the high plains region.
For pretty much as long as I can remember, I dreamed of the day I'd get reviews of my first book. In my youthful imagination they would all be glowing (How could they not be?) telling tale of an instant classic, destined to be read and studied by future generations so they could better understand the intricacies of life and learn the recipe for ultimate happiness.
Now that I've published my first book, the reviews have started to come in and, while they've been strong, they've fallen somewhat short of my youthful aspirations. (How could they not?)
But a new review is up on Montana Magazine. And this one is everything I've ever hoped for in a book review. Here's a taste:
"Part Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, Cromley’s book will make you laugh out loud and at the same time think carefully about the fragility of being a teenager."
Some flattering company there, and generous words to boot. So, yes, this blog post is basically just a complete and total brag. But for those rare moments when your dreams perfectly match reality, I think that's exactly what's called for.
There's been a slow leak of this news for the past week because I'm terrible at keeping secrets. Yes, my publisher and I both got a phone call confirming it, but I've been burned enough by the caprices of the Publishing Gods that I never want to mention something until it's a hundred percent, positively going-to-happen.
But now that the High Plains Book Award's own website has posted it, it's official as it's going to get, so I might as well grab my Mr. Microphone and shout it from the highest mountaintop (which, here in Chicago, is really no more than a knoll):
The Last Good Halloween has been named a finalist in the High Plains Book Award's first book category!
This is immensely gratifying for a lot of reasons, but mostly because there were many, many points along the way where I never thought this little book with a weird misfit of a narrator would ever see the light of day. So a big, heartfelt thanks to the judges for bestowing this honor on me and my book.
And I can't wait to participate in the High Plains Book Fest in October!
Finally! Good news for people who can't stand the sound of my voice, yet, inexplicably, still might be interested in finding out what I have to say about literature, writing, teaching, Chicago, and my first novel.
The good folks at the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography have published a transcription of our podcast interview from last month. You can check it out now in their Weekender publication here. It's also got some really cool photography in this week's issue, so do check it out post-haste!
(p.s. The cool photography does not include the slightly dopey-faced picture of me, but instead the actual good photography after that.)
I'm a little late in posting this to my blog, but spring is here and I'm just finally getting a chance to catch up on a lot of things. In case you feel like you've been deprived of the opportunity to hear me talk about my novel, you can now click on this here link to check out the interview I did with Jason Pettus of the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, which is a real powerhouse of indie publishing here in Chicago.
The interview was a wide-ranging discussion of life, literature, and Chicago. And I had a lot of fun doing it. So if you've got a few minutes and want to hear me talk a bit more about The Last Good Halloween, or about writing in general, head on over and give it a listen.
I'm pleased to let folks know that a new short story of mine just went live in The Adirondack Review's Spring Issue. (I'm going to assiduously avoid any mention of seasonal ironies here...)
Anyway, when I say short story, I do mean short. This one weighs in at just over 1,100 words. I won't say too much about it here except that I think it's one of the funnier stories I've ever published. And it clearly is the product of reading a lot of reviews of merchandise online.
If you get a chance, go ahead and check that sucker out. It won't take long and I pretty much guarantee you'll enjoy it.
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/
I was recently asked to contribute a post to the blog "My Book, the Movie." The premise is that authors get to pick which actors they think should play the characters in their novels.
Is there a little bit of vanity that goes into an exercise like this? Certainly. And I was a little hesitant at first. But once I got over my initial trepidation, it quickly became one of the most fun writing exercises I've engaged in all year. I actually found myself arguing about the relative merits of choosing a well-known star versus a lesser-know-but-possibly-hungrier actor. Even after I submitted it, I came up with new names and kicked myself for not thinking of them sooner.
I won't spoil the post by telling you who my picks were. Instead, go here and check them out for yourself. Feel free to let me know if you agree or if you have any better ideas!
For those of you who were unable to make it to my reading this past weekend, we were lucky enough to have Ryan Singleton of WordPlaySound on hand to document the whole night. If you're not familiar with WordPlaySound, they're basically one of the premier literary podcasts in Chicago. So it's an honor to be part of it.
Also, it was an honor to appear with kickass Chicago writers: Joseph Peterson, Mark Brand, and Ben Tanzer. Pretty doggone heady company to find yourself in, I must say. As if that wasn't enough, the event took place at The Book Cellar, which is one of my favorite bookstores in all Chicago. So there's that!
If you're curious and want to hear which chapter from The Last Good Halloween I read, you can follow this link and listen to the evening on your browser, or you can go to iTunes and subscribe to WordPlaySound's podcast, which would be well worth your time.
This is a repository for all my semi-filtered thoughts on... blah, blah, blah.