I consider myself a pretty standard grammar Nazi. I double-check emails to make sure everything is spelled correctly. I’m insistent upon the correct use of “your” vs “you’re” and “there” vs “their” vs “they’re.” And I’ll admit that I take secret pleasure in correcting someone’s word use in a sentence.

But I’m human, and I make mistakes. I abbreviate heavily on G-chat, and I’m not above substituting a “U” for “you” when I’m rushing through a text message. But does this make me less literate? And what about the hundreds upon thousands of electronic device users running rampant through the country? We tweet, Facebook and IM, inhale information and spit it back out at an alarming rate. Do the language decisions we make on the internet say something about our literacy, our culture, or both?

Enter in this just-posted Rumpus interview with Constance Hale, journalist and language goddess, and a much more severe grammar Nazi than I’ll ever be. If you relish in words – their form, their sound, their vast array of meanings – then you’ll love this article. I’ve included an excerpt below, or you can read the full interview.

“What makes us different from everything else on the planet? We have language. We have the capacity to communicate and to touch each other intellectually or emotionally. It’s completely central to who we are, to our core being. And it matters a lot that we be able to communicate effectively. And yet, despite this, it isn’t taught very effectively in schools, and it isn’t taught very effectively, necessarily, within families. Your parents may make you feel kind of uptight about language if they correct you a certain way, or don’t correct you, or you might be ashamed of your parents. There’s a lot of stuff that isn’t taught very well.

That’s why I think it stirs up passions in two very different and kind of paradoxical ways. On the one hand, people love great language. We all love a great Bob Dylan song, and we all respond to a politician that’s able to speak really eloquently. We respond to good advertising. And all of us have our favorite writers, and part of the reason we love them is the way they use language. So there’s that positive passion.

And then there’s this negative passion, or anxiety, which is we don’t feel that we do it right and we haven’t been taught it in a particularly good way. As a culture, Americans don’t talk about language very much. We don’t talk about language at the dinner table. In some other cultures, they do. In some other cultures, they talk about language and grammar a lot more easily. It’s an interesting paradox to me, but it’s why I think people get so riled up about it.” – Constance Hale

 

-Genevieve

Well, folks, we’ve made it to Month #2 of 2013! How are your resolutions holding up so far? Don’t let them stagger under the oppressive weight of the dreaded V-word – Valentine’s Day. Instead of basking in the illusory glow of red roses and Godiva chocolates, we’ve conjured up a list of cool literary events that honor the day without going overboard. More coming up next week!

As part of their Committee on Creative Writing and Poetry Series, the University of Chicago will be hosting artist of the long form poem Campbell McGrath to read from his enormous collection of published poetry, most notably In the Kingdom of the Sea Monkeys, which celebrates its one year publication anniversary on Valentine’s Day. What better way to warm your heart than with humorous and satirical contemplations on American society? There is none. Monday, February 4, 5 pm at Lorado Taft House, 6016 S. Ingleside Ave.

Got your manuscript typed up, ready to go – but haven’t the foggiest idea what to do next? For $15 you have the opportunity to attend the Chicago’s Literati Networking Event, where you can munch on tasty appetizers whilst mingling with and learning from bestselling authors and literary agents. If you get there early enough, you can even get a take-home bag of goodies! Pretty sweet deal, eh? Tuesday, February 5, 6 pm at The Hidden Shamrock, 2723 N. Halsted St.

If you’re not big on spending, 19th United States Poet Laureate and Poet Laureate of Mississippi Natasha Trethewey is coming to town for a free reading. Her work focuses on issues of multiracial identity and explores the geography of the South to encounter the history of humanity lingering beneath the surface. See her Tuesday, February 5, 7 pm at the Poetry Foundation, 61 W. Superior

Bitter about the upcoming Hallmark holiday? Have no fear – there are plenty of other literary geeks out there who share your exact sentiments. For $3 you can attend RUI’s (Reading Under the Influence) get together and hear them wail about the unending woes of tainted love. But don’t worry, comedian Adam Guerino will be there to make sure things don’t get too depressing. Wednesday, Feb 6, 7 pm at Sheffield’s, 3258 N. Sheffield Ave.

Amy Andrews will be reading from her just published novel Love & Salt, a story of remarkable friendship between two women, and their individual tales of struggle with marriage, careers, and their spirituality told through letters. Andrews will be reading on Friday, February 8, 7:30 pm at Women & Children First, 5233 N. Clark St. 

-Genevieve

Good morning, fellow bloggers! Despite single digit temperatures and blasting winds sure to make your fingers freeze into flesh popsicles, Chicago’s lit scene is more active than ever with all your favorite authors hopping around town. Take a look!

Start off your week with a talk given by Lois Leveen, author of the recently published historical fiction novel The Secrets of Mary Bowser. Mary Bowser was a real-life person who was born a slave in the town of Richmond and later worked as a spy for the Union in the Civil War. Even though there’s not much known about Mary Bowser’s life, Leveen has no problem stretching her imagination to suit the novel’s needs – and with surprisingly satisfactory results. A definite read if you’re a history buff, and a free event with a chance to meet the author to boot! Monday, January 28, 4 pm at the John T. Richardson Library, 2350 N Kenmore Ave, Room 300.

Next up is a chance to have a conversation with none other than Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jane Smiley, whose novel A Thousand Acres closely follows the plot line of Shakespeare’s King Lear – except that it’s set in 1970’s Iowa, on a farm. Read it, then watch it on the silver screen in its film adaptation. She’ll be having a book sale and signing at the Metropolis Performing Arts Center, so don’t miss out! Call the Arlington Heights Memorial Library to register. Tuesday, January 29, 7:30 pm at 111 W Campbell St., Arlington Heights, IL.

Ann Leary will be promoting her new book The Good House, a humorous novel about recovering alcoholic and real estate broker Hildy Good and her friendship with the new neighbor, Rebecca. Stop by The Book Cellar to hear her read and to purchase a signed copy of the book! Thursday, January 31, 7:00 pm at The Book Cellar, 4736-38 N. Lincoln Ave.

And last, but most certainly not least, Dave Eggers will be making an appearance at Unabridged Bookstore to sign copies of his novel A Hologram For the King, which features the all-too-familiar story of a failed businessman eager for one last chance to turn his life (not to mention his economic status) around – but, like all good plots, there’s a twist! Saturday, February 2, 2:00 pm at Unabridged Bookstore, 3251 N. Broadway.

 

-Genevieve

Catapult Magazine recently published an eerily inspirational article that breaks open all the half truths and white lies that you – yes, you, avid reader and wistful writer – chant to yourself in the early morning hours when concealed in that tiny, dark hole you call your room, with only the glow of a computer screen casting an unflattering light on your shamefully pale face. But guess what? According to author Jeremy Bear, turns out these little lies only serve to stunt your potentially abundant creative flow. I’ve listed a few of Bear’s more memorable points below, or you can read the full article.

1. “I can’t show this to anyone.”

It’s a romantic idea: the cloistered genius, sitting on a treasure trove of half-finished poetry, paintings, essays and Great American Novels, a secret to everyone but her.  One day, when she’s gray and weary, a friend or relative will happen upon a fragment of her brilliance and immediately publish it, inspiring the world for all time.

While the image of the introvert artist has a certain Emily Dickenson-esque sweetness to it, it’s not doing most of us any favors.  As creative beings, we need to interact with others about our craft and we need to allow others to interact with our art.  What works?  What doesn’t?  What are we communicating clearly and/or uniquely and what’s impenetrable to everyone but us?  We’ll never know until we take the leap and share our art with others.  Terrifying, sure.  But it makes us better.

2. “I need to focus exclusively on self portraits for awhile.”

If we’re being honest, there’s always a tiny bit of narcissism associated with most creative endeavors.  It’s inevitable.  We’re all experts in one very specific subject: ourselves.  We blog, we tweet, we status-update about the minutiae of our day.  We compose poems and ditties about Our Very Special Pain.  We draw and paint pensive images of ourselves and spin fantasies about what we’d rather be doing.

Nothing wrong with any of that, but it can easily turn into a creative addiction.  And make no mistake, people and situations we know intimately inspire some incredible art, but it’s often a great idea to get out of our own headspace once and awhile.  Imagine a person we’ve never met or a situation we’ve never personally experienced.  Where does that take us?  And why?  It’s astonishing what we can explore and the sorts of walls we can knock down when we’re willing to leave “me” out of it.

7. “What worked last time will surely work this time.”

We’ve all been there.  The copy of Leaves Of Grass next to our keyboard combined with the Wagner channel on Pandora was the perfect springboard for one of our best-ever poems.  So we assemble the exact same recipe for a brilliant follow-up, this one twice as glorious as the last.

And…nada.

What produced lightning in a bottle a year ago seems tired and trite this time around, so what happened?  Nothing wrong with going back to an old, reliable source for inspiration, but it may not work again.  You weren’t exactly the same person and the world around you wasn’t exactly the same place when you wrote Poem #1.  Adapting is good.  It keeps us young and makes our work better.

-Genevieve

Here’s to another week of literary events to warm your chilled January heart!

The very first on the list is our very own Academy Chicago Publishers! Get your drink on, sit back and hear authors Dr. Cory Franklin, Terri Paul and Daniel Greenstone read from their recently published works on Sunday, January 20th at the Black Rock Pub & Kitchen, 7 pm, 3614 N. Damen Ave.

What better way to spend your MLK Day than to give back to the community? Essay Fiesta is hosting their monthly non-fiction essay reading at the Book Cellar, and you have a chance to enter in a raffle that benefits 826CHI, an organization that supports grade through high school students in their creative writing pursuits. Be there or be square on Monday, January 21st at the Book Cellar, 7 pm, 4736 N. Lincoln Avenue in Ravenswood.

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr Day, Dominican University will be presenting a lecture given by anti-racist activist Tim Wise, author of numerous books, including White Like Me: Reflections on Race From a Privileged Son. Wise is a true visionary and advocate for change and has lectured nationally – so this is an event you won’t want to miss! Tuesday, January 22nd at Dominican University’s Martin Recital Hall, 6 pm, 7900 W. Division St in River Forest.

So you probably ride the “L” every day…but who ever actually thinks about the history behind that rumbling, grumbling, winding, clanking, groaning piece of machinery? Greg Borzo sure does, and he’s even written a book about it titled The Chicago “L.” He’ll be chatting about the history behind Chicago’s cable cars on Thursday, January 24th at the Harold Washington Library, 6 pm, 400 S. State St.

Well, that’s it for this week, folks! Stay dry, warm and well-read.

Hello, readers! Jonah Ansell’s lyrical Cadaver: A Bittersweet Love Story is soon to hit Amazon’s cyber-shelves in February, but when it does be sure to check out the short film as well. The film features a singing and acting Tavi Gevinson (honestly, what can’t that girl do?) and her co-stars are none other than Kathy Bates and Back To The Future’s Christopher Lloyd. Have a gander at the trailer below!

NY Mag recently interviewed Jonah Ansell about the filming and production process, where Ansell divulges just a little bit about the inspiration behind the book and it’s leap into animated silver screen format – and whether or not Tavi was nervous about singing a cover for Pet Shop Boys’ “Heart.”

-Genevieve

 Hello darling readers! We did a brief Q&A with Richard Smolev, author of Offerings, an intense, fast-paced tale about a woman’s quest to return stolen art to its original owner amidst the financial turmoil and sketchy dealings of Wall Street. Learning about Smolev’s background and inspiration was a genuine treat, and I hope you pick up this book and enjoy it as much as I did!

Tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you get your inspiration for Offerings?

I practiced law for nearly 40 years, although part of me always wanted to write fiction.  When I finally found the time and courage to dive into writing and was wondering what might be an intriguing topic, I found a book in the Glencoe, Illinois library titled The Rape of Europa, which I mention in my acknowledgments.  The book focuses on the US soldiers who after WWII were tasked with recovering art the Nazis had confiscated.  Some of those soldiers actually stole a few of the pieces themselves.  The issue resonated with me because one of my partners was handling a piece of litigation between a museum and a family seeking to recover a stolen painting. The novel started from the perspective of a young man whose father was prosecuted for that theft.  Chris Franklin was the first character I developed.

Chris’s story needed more conflict and energy, so I put the painting into the middle of a deal.  Initially, the bankers on the other side were all men, but I wanted a fresh perspective and added Kate into the mix.  Telling the story from a woman’s point of view gave me the energy and traction I needed to shape the entire story.

Kate has such a resilient spirit, and one can’t help but feel deep empathy for her as she attempts to safeguard and uphold the domestic realm and juggle her dealings in the corporate world. Is this a struggle that you’ve encountered a lot in your life and work?

If you’ll allow me to generalize, I think it’s far harder for a woman to manage a high profile and high maintenance career while also dealing with family issues than it is for a man.  I credit my wife in the book as teaching me how a woman can keep so many balls in the air with such grace, but I could have mentioned so many of my female partners and colleagues at Kaye Scholer who, like Kate, respond to every business demand with strength and fortitude regardless of what family or other issues are tugging at them at the same time.

 It’s obvious from reading the book that you are comfortable with the jargon necessary to pull off such an ambitious plot. But how difficult was it to convey the financial world of Wall Street to readers who may not be familiar with it?

I spent my career in courtrooms, where I had to translate complex legal and financial relationships into terms that laymen can understand, so distilling the information in the story came relatively easily to me.  I also learned a great deal about how to present legal and financial topics in a way that readers both could understand and be interested enough to continue to turn the page by reading and re-reading a number of Scott Turow’s books.

 In between covering subjects such as WWII history, art, culture and economics, I imagine a lot of research went into writing Offerings. Can you give us a glimpse of what your research entailed?

Much of the research took the delightful form of travel.  Nancy and I were so taken by Gaudi’s architecture when we visited Barcelona that I was determined to give one of his masterpieces a prominent role in the story.  The Casa Batlló, across the street from Michael Hirsch’s office, is one of the most remarkable buildings I’ve ever seen and is why so much of the story takes place there.  And when we visited Montserrat in early May, the fields surrounding the church were filled with red poppies.  How could I resist bringing them into the story?

What authors or novels do you frequently turn to for guidance? What book is currently on your nightstand?

This is one of those questions that puts me at risk of creating a list and then forgetting someone, so I’ll be intentionally brief.  I turn to books where the author both sweeps me into the story and doesn’t let go and at the same time teaches me valuable lessons about the craft of fiction through the care and elegance of the writing.  Carol Edgarian, Min Jin Lee, Scott, Saul Bellow, Ian McEwan, William Trevor all come to mind quickly.  I’m currently reading (yet again) Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner.

 What did you learn from writing this first novel that you feel you could utilize in the composition of future works?

Every word counts.  Every scene must have crisis, conflict and resolution.  And, probably the hardest lesson for this lawyer to learn was that the author must give his narrator room to work and both of them should get out of their characters’ way as their stories unfold.

Do you have any advice for those writing their first novel?

Write.  Don’t find excuses not to write. You can’t edit a blank page. And if you have questions, turn to people who know the craft and can guide you.  I learned (and still am learning) so much from working with Tom Jenks.  Tom and Carol founded Narrative Magazine, a free online literary journal that has a huge archive of great stories that authors can turn to for inspiration.  Jump in and find an author that excites you.

 Do you have anything else you’d like to add?

Dreams sometimes do come true.  I’m so grateful to Academy Chicago for making one of mine find a home.  And may I promote my next book, coming out in a few months?  In Praise of Angels will take readers to a whole different time and place.

-Genevieve

Chicago Authors Night

Don’t forget… This Sunday at The Black Rock Pub!

Good morning, readers! Are you desperately seeking inspiration for your writing during these dreary winter months (today’s sunshine aside)? We thought so. So here’s some food for thought from John Manderino, who has published multiples titles with Academy, including Reason for Leaving: Job StoriesThe H-Bomb and the Jesus Rock, among others. Enjoy, and get back to your writing! 

When did you first become interested in writing? Has storytelling always come naturally to you?
I first became interested in writing around the time I became interested in reading books and what they could do to you, a book like The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter for instance, the secret places inside of you it could reach, places you didn’t even know were there. Also, storytelling seems to run in my family. You could never, for example, ask my mother a simple question without her unrolling a narrative with the answer at The End.

Tell us a little about your road to getting published and what you learned throughout the process (whether about yourself, the writing process, etc.).
The first book is the hardest because you don’t have anyone out there already interested in looking at it, the way you have with subsequent books. So it’s very hard to keep plugging patiently away, to keep caring wholeheartedly about the right word in the right place.

What is the most rewarding aspect of having your work published?
The most rewarding thing is holding the book in your hands, walking around with it, imagining the hundreds—no, thousands—no, millions who are going to have such a splendid time reading it.

How has your writing process changed with each work that you have had published?
With each book I’ve published, I think—or anyway like to think—I’ve been more willing to take chances, go a little deeper in the jungle, worry less about getting lost in there. The poet Mark Strand once said in an interview something like, “If I knew where I was going, I wouldn’t go there.” I believe deeply in the importance of following your nose, of discovering where to go as you go.

What is the most difficult aspect of writing professionally?
You have to ignore what’s succeeding out there and stay with what matters to you, what you deep-down feel is worth exploring, however marketable it turns out to be or not.

Which authors do you most enjoy and admire? Is there any one author in particular that has been inspirational or a role model for you?
Hemingway was probably the most sudden and dramatic influence on me. When I was young I was trying to write in a very lyrical way, to make the reader swoon, the way James Joyce does in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but I remember sitting in a coffee shop one day reading Hemingway’s story “The Undefeated,” the passage where he describes the picador working away on a bull, and I was stunned by the absolute clarity of it, in plain language that did not draw attention to itself but to the thing it’s describing, like the Japanese say about haiku poetry and why it’s so unadorned, how pointing towards the moon with a jeweled finger distracts your attention from the moon.

Can you pick a favorite out of all of your novels? If so, which aspects of this novel really stand out for you?
I guess my favorite is Reason for Leaving because I went after a very clean, stripped-down way of speaking and feel that I pulled it off, for the most part.

“The H-Bomb and the Jesus Rock” is definitely an attention-getting title, can you explain your inspiration behind the story and the title? How does the process of choosing a title usually work for you?
“The H-Bomb and the Jesus Rock” came out of a whole big bag of things from my grade school years—the fear of sudden nuclear annihilation, the equation of the Red Scare with the Red Devil, coldblooded nuns, a fat kid in the neighborhood with a vast collection of baseball cards and a perfect capitalist mentality, this letter the pope was supposed to open which the saintly little shepherd children of Fatima got from Mary, which would predict the fate of the world, and this complete belief we had in signs, in holy objects, for instance a rock that looked like Jesus, and the power of such a God-placed thing, and of course looking for empty pop bottles to get the two-cent refund—all of this was mixed together, so writing the book became a matter of separating all this stuff into elements that could carry a story along. I had a lot of trouble coming up with a title. I usually have one pretty early on, but I didn’t know what to call this one. I finally just jammed the two major elements of the story together.

Are you currently working on anything?
I’ve just recently finished a novel called Bopper’s Progress, about a young man who decides for various reasons—all of them wrong—to become a saint. I’m very excited about this one, I like it more than anything I’ve done, and hope something happens with it. Meanwhile I’m working on a collection of stories each of which has some sort of monster at the heart of it, literal or otherwise—I’m having trouble with a title.

What is the best piece of advice that you’ve ever received about writing?
I remember the novelist Ted Weesner saying something I’ve always kept in mind. He said whenever he got stuck at a place in a story and didn’t know how to continue moving forward, instead of trying to figure out some clever maneuver to pull him out of the ditch he would get up from his desk and walk around asking himself, “What is true here? What is true?” By that of course he didn’t mean factually but what is true psychologically or emotionally or what-have-you, and the answer to that question would tell him what to do next. Often it meant backing up, sometimes all the way to the beginning, which of course hurts but you have to be willing to do that.

Itching for a bit of dark humor to get you through the Chicago’s winter stretch? David Tabak will be reading from his collection of short stories, titled Lather Rinse Repeat, and fans of Kafka will delight in Tabak’s ridiculous tales and hearty rants. Wednesday, January 16th, 7 pm at The Book Cellar, 4736-38 N. Lincoln Ave.

Not quite your cup of tea? Salsa on over to La Bruquena restaurant, where Palabra Pura will be celebrating their 8th birthday and hosting a hot poetry reading in English, Spanish, or a mezcla of both! The event will include readings from authors like political activist and playwright Raul Dorantes and poet and director Coya Paz. Check out their youtube page of past readings. Wednesday, January 16th, 7:30 pm at La Bruquena, 2726 W. Division Street in Humboldt Park.

And who wouldn’t appreciate a more down-to-earth version of Abe after watching him hunt vampires? David Von Drehle will be reading from his book Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year, a historical account of America at the height of the Civil War and a very human portrait of the leader that brought the nation through it. Saturday, January 19th, 12 pm at Abraham Lincoln Book Shop, 357 W. Chicago Ave in Old Town.

Of course, don’t forget to attend the readings Academy Chicago Publishers is hosting at The Book Cellar and Black Rock Pub, January 18th and 20th.

-Genevieve