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!
It is with incredible sadness that we announce the passing of Kaiya Vesga-Cromley. It's hard to know how to talk about the perfect dog. Do we begin by mentioning her fierce loyalty to anyone who was lucky enough to know her? Do we start by talking about how she demanded nothing more from life than to be fed and loved? Or perhaps we go with small things – the thwap of her tail against the hallway walls before her morning walks, the tap-tap-tapping of her toenails on the hardwood floors before mealtimes, or her propensity for sneaking out of the bedroom in the middle of the night when no one was looking to find a comfortable couch to curl up on.
I first met Kaiya on a trip to North Carolina. Her mother and I were in the midst of a long distance relationship and neither of us knew where it was headed. Kaiya, always outgoing and personable, made me feel welcome immediately (as opposed to her brother, Niko, who tended to be more circumspect with his affections). It's safe to say that those early days of the relationship were made easier through Kaiya's gentle grace and sweet charm. A little over a year after that first encounter, in November 2004, a U-Haul truck pulled up outside my apartment in Chicago, and Kaiya moved into my life full time. Since then, she taught me daily how to love and forgive and forge ahead.
From the moment her mother first saw Kaiya shyly peeking out from the back of the dog pound cage, she knew this was the dog for her. Kaiya was fortunate in those early years to have the companionship of her older brother, Niko, who embraced his status as canine role model wholeheartedly. He frequently tried his best to steer her in a positive direction. If he ever felt like she was straying from the straight and narrow path – such as the time she tried to raid the trash bin in the middle of the night – he would not hesitate to rat her out to her parents. Kaiya learned a lot from Niko, and shortly after his passing, she had the opportunity to begin mentoring her new younger brother, Tanka. As soon as we arrived at the rescue sanctuary, it was clear that Tanka was highly impressed with Kaiya and took to following her immediately. Tanka has, admittedly, not always been the best of students, but Kaiya has unquestionably left a deep impression on him and helped him to become the lovable dog he is today.
During the fourteen years we were lucky enough to have her in our lives, Kaiya evolved. Some of her favorite habits – like stick-fetching and varmint-chasing and lake-swimming – she had to ease back on as she got older. When climbing onto couches became too much of a challenge, she found out that an orthopedic memory foam bed could be just as comfy. But some of the changes were for the better. Late in life she got over her fear of certain hardwood floors. She even became brave enough to wander into the bathroom on her own, without fear of being bathed. Another nice late-blooming development was her decision to spend more time with us in the living room the last year of her life. It used to be that as soon as the television turned on she'd head for the bedroom, but lately – perhaps possessing some secret knowledge no one else had – she chose to stay with us. We are intensely grateful for those extra hours we were able to spend with her.
The illness that took Kaiya from us came on suddenly and left little time for lengthy good-byes. Even still, despite the fact that it was clear she was having trouble with lucidity at the very end, she managed one last time to lift her head and sharpen those soulful brown eyes – first on her mother and then on me – for a few beautiful seconds. In that moment, she seemed to be thanking us for the wonderful life she had lived. I'd also like to think she sensed the gratitude we felt towards her for making our lives immeasurably better.
This memorial began by mentioning a simple truth, that Kaiya was a perfect dog.
And it seems only fitting to end with that assertion. Over the course of her fourteen years on this earth, she traveled a lot of places and met a lot of different people. Every single one of them could attest to the fact that she was a special dog, one in a million, the whole package. And we were so, so lucky to have her in our lives.
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!
I got a chance to write a review for one of my favorite books of all time: Billy Lynn's Long Half Time Walk, by Ben Fountain. The review, which is kind of a personal take on the book, is now up live at The Oyster Review.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, The Oyster Review is the editorial arm of Oyster Books, which is basically the Netflix of books.
I've had to chance to look around at their offerings and I have to say they've got an impressive variety of titles to choose from. For those of you who still have someone who's expecting a Christmas gift, you might want to think of giving them a trial membership.
In the meantime, feel free to check out my essay, which is basically a meditation on the pain of being a fan of the Dallas Cowboys.
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.
Starting October 20th, I'll be doing an on-line chat about The Last Good Halloween with the members of The Next Best Book Club, one of the best book clubs on Goodreads. I've seen some of the chats they do on TNBBC and those readers are sharp! I can't wait to field some of their thoughts and questions.
The chat starts October 20th and lasts all week long. If you're not part of Goodreads yet, you should be. If you're not a member of TNBBC yet, you should be as well. So once you're on Goodreads, and once you're a member of TNBBC, then there's really no reason NOT to join me for the book discussion. All you need to do is go here and start throwing the comments and questions out.
See you soon!
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.)
This is a repository for all my semi-filtered thoughts on... blah, blah, blah.