Saturday, May 30, 2009

Stewie talking about how much Matthew McConaughy sucks.

"You are just awful."

Friday, May 29, 2009

Hilarious skit about baby owls

I heard this on the radio about a month ago on the way to work. Funny stuff.

Tori Amos sings with 5th graders

In case there's any doubt how awesome Tori Amos is, if you haven't seen it check this out. The first video has her show up at the mall-show of a 5th grade chorus that sings some of her songs and listen in, crying halfway through.

The second video has her leading the chorus and singing with them herself. The band teacher asks if she'll sing something and she says "Can they sing with me?" If only every celebrity was that cool.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Pilcrow Lit Fest: The Aftermath

I wanted to set aside a post just to talk about some of the terrific people I ran into at Pilcrow, because (1) putting them directly into the posts was going to make them very long and confusing and (2) I met a LOT of great people. Just as an aside, I didn't put any more photos in this post because there would have been too many to list. For loads of photos of the entire week of Pilcrow, check out the official site at and their flickr pool.

Again. like I mentioned in an earlier post, this is far from being an exhaustive list, but I thought I'd take a moment to give a shoutout to:

Savannah Scholl Guz, author of the upcoming American Soma, by So New Publishing. Savannah and I got to talk quite a bit about Big Brother, GPS marking, little-agro, The New Yinzer, reviewing reference texts, and dog barfing. We traded recommendations for movies and books, and speaking of recommendations: if you like dystopian social-minded fiction, you're going to love her new book.

Deb Lewis, who made the panel on writing sexuality very comfortable and effective and even went so far as to dig into the work of each author to really get to know us before we came out. Moderating panels is tough enough, but making first-time panelists feel comfortable, especially on a panel about sex writing, takes a really rare sensibility. Deb even introduced me to several of her friends later at Literary Deathmatch and helped me get my bearings about who was who, so a very special thanks to her.

Zach Dodson of Featherproof books, who took a few minutes while we were walking to our transportation to chat with me about their downloadable mini-books. I thought this was a terrific idea and he gave me a little bit of insight into why and how they make these happen. Zach is co-publisher of Featherproof and he moderated the informative book design panel.

Gina Frangello, author and founder of OV (Other Voices). Gina took a few minutes after our panel on writing sexuality to chat with me about her upcoming books and she shared with me that two of her books won Gold IPPY awards this year! Gina was delightful to talk to and I look forward to reading more of her work.

Lenny Kleinfeld and Ina Jaffe, who also stopped briefly after our panel on writing sexuality (of which Lenny was a contributor) and talked about wine and thriller-writing mayhem. Lenny has had some success recently in interesting wine venues in his book, as Shooters and Chasers has as a character an assassin who dreams of making a world-class Syrah. That's a notion I think we can all get behind.

Tim Hall, the moderator of our panel on social and political writing. Sometimes I think being cool and down to earth are like two opposite lines on a graph, but right at the point where those two lines connect is Tim Hall. He kept the social and political writing panel very relevant and interesting despite it being very early and despite me holding up everyone for an extra two minutes while I grabbed a beer. Check out his books here.

Gwenolyn Glover and David De Rosa, who I had the pleasure of chatting with several times over the course of the week and got to eat lunch with on Saturday. They, like me, are just getting connected to the Chicago lit scene, and we had some great conversation about learning how to put books together for the first time, graphics design, and cover design. One of the funniest conversations of the week goes to David, who suggested that if we were all serious about making some money at publishing, we'd all be writing teenage vampire romance serials right about now. This sentiment was echoed by Young Adult panel contributor Daniel Kraus, who says he reads 5-6 novels a week and approximately 70% of it is "vampire fucking".

I got to watch Literary Deathmatch with Suzy T. from the Book Cellar, who aside from being fun to chat with has the coolest business card I've ever seen (a little book!). I also had the pleasure of meeting and talking briefly with Joanna Beth Tweedy (The Yonder Side of Sass and Texas), Drew Ferguson (The Screwed-Up Life of Charlie the Second), and Bobby Biedrzycki (Chicago's rad 2nd Story reading series). and Leah Jones's mom, Linda, who moderated the Young Adult panel.

I'm almost sure I've left a few people out, and if I did I apologize profusely. I have a stack of business cards, bookmarks, book cards, mini-books, mini-catalogs, pamphlets, and stickers to sort through, but most importantly I have a stack of new literary acquaintances that I can't wait to interact with some more.

And of course no account of Pilcrow would be complete without a very warm and heartfelt thanks to the people who invited me: Amy Guth and Leah Jones. It was very much my pleasure, guys, and I can't want to hang out with you again at the next rad Chicago literary event! Printer's Row, anyone? *nudge nudge*

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Pilcrow Lit Fest: Finale

To cap off the week-long Pilcrow Lit Fest, Amy and Leah organized an entire day, 9am to whenever the last person went home after midnight, of literary revelry. It's going to be hard to sum up all of the cool stuff that I got to see and do, so I'll save my impressions of specific cool people and things I saw for the next post and focus on the finale itself.

We kicked things off at 10:00 at Trader Todd's with the panel titled: "Social and Political writing". I was on this panel along with political blogger and Gaper's Block contributor Ramsin Canon, conservative humor writer Conor McCarthy, and dystopian fiction author Savannah Guz. The panel was moderated by author and political writer Tim Hall.

I remained at Trader Todd's for the panel on graphic novels, which turned out unexpectedly to be one of the better panels of the whole day, and included some very hip writer/artists of a genre I had never had a chance to interact with before. After that I went to the book design panel at Matilda's, moderated by the co-publisher and creative director of Featherproof Books, Zach Dodson. I made it back to Trader Todd's in time to eat lunch with local newcomers author Gwendolyn Glover and graphic artist David De Rosa. Gwen was part of the rowdy, lively Young Adult panel, where some hilarious conversation about the eye-rolling popularity of the Twilight Series and "vampire fucking books" was had. I also remained for the Queer As Words panel, moderated by Stacy Jill Jacobs.

Finally, to wrap up the discussions I participated in the panel about writing sexuality called "Stain the sheets", moderated by Deb R. Lewis and including Lenny Kleinfeld, Gina Frangello, Drew Ferguson, Joanna Beth Tweedy, Bobby Biedrzycki, and Lindsay Hunter. This was a very fun panel that drew from a large variety of writing types and backgrounds and covered a lot of the territory that I thought the audience came to see.

As if this weren't enough, the night finished off with a four-hour closing bash at the Viaduct Theater for the second installment of Literary Deathmatch Chicago and the Rebuilt Books auction to benefit Young Chicago Authors. The Viaduct was just exactly the sort of place you'd only find in the imaginations of trendy young authors and artists, and it was a terrific venue for the finale. Literary Deathmatch (again, if you've never seen it) is a sort of bracketed competition between four readers from different reading series. The readers are chosen at random and face off against one another. The winners are chosen by a panel of guest judges (all of whom were hysterically funny), but really the judging itself was rather moot. All four performances were top-of-their-game people doing pieces that were very, very entertaining, intense, and evocative. So secondary was the competition to the fun of it all that the winner of the night was chosen by a competition to see who could be the first to complete a simple long-division problem.

If it ever becomes available on YouTube, I would highly recommend looking up Jill Summers reading her piece about a student of hers handing in a term paper titled "How to be a Pimp."

Some of the best and funniest material of the night, however, came from the judges themselves who often went on riotous, random digressions, and the hosts, Amy, Leah and Todd Zuniga, who after a few drinks roared through the Rebuilt Books auction promising things like free copies of Opium magazine, $1.71 of his own cash, and phone messages from Amy Guth where she would call and cry on your answering machine if people would buy the rebuilt books for charity. At one point, they even climbed atop the bar in the lobby and hawked the auctioned items at the tops of their lungs. My rebuilt book went for $45, and I was so happy I gave the winning bidder a signed copy of the book so she could actually read one that wasn't shot and bleeding.

At the end of the day, a fifteen-hour non-stop literary tour-de-force, I finally came home and sorted through the stack of awesome cards, marketing materials, names, and notes I had collected.

Next Up: The Aftermath

Friday, May 22, 2009

Pilcrow Lit Fest: Rebuilt Books

So what exactly is a Rebuilt Book? A Rebuilt Book is what occurs when an author like myself meets the organizer of an annual city-wide literary festival like Amy Guth, and she tells me: "take your book apart and make it into something else."

"Something... else?" I ask.

"Yeah. Anything."

Anything is a big word.

So last year at Pilcrow, Amy and Leah managed to raise something like $2,000 to assist the rebuilding of the New Orleans public library system. This year, they're sponsoring the Young Chicago Authors with the proceeds from auctioning off the Rebuilt Books this Saturday.

So I was at a loss for a bit about how I wanted to disassemble Red Ivy Afternoon. What could I do that would jump out at people and still convey the story within? With the help of my editor Paul Hughes and (special thanks to) his good friend Adam Schrader, we hatched a plot to "take apart" my book. With guns.

I recieved in the mail a copy of Red Ivy Afternoon that had been gleefully blasted through with several calibers, including a gigantic 12-gauge hole the size of my thumb that you can look clean through to the back cover and beyond. We had a little fun figuring out how to make it all happen, but here's what I came up with:

The base is a small photo box that is actually featured on the cover of the book itself as part of the jacket image. For a little kick, the label says "property of Dr. Pyndan Calabas." On top of it sits the blasted book and the cartridges that did the deed, echoing the bullets leaned up against the barcode box on the back cover. Suddenly, my idea was taking shape: a 3-D version of the book cover image, with some dramatic flair.

I took a nice long drive into suburbia to Morton Grove to find a Michael's Crafts store that would have silk floral craft material, hoping they'd have red ivy. They did, but the leaves were comically too large, so I settled on the smaller-leaf green ivy with the idea I might dye or paint them. When I got home, I realized that the bottle of Testor's model enamel I bought was just about the same color as fresh blood.

Suddenly, it all came together. I'd make the book bleed. Bleed on the cover and bleed on the ivy, a third and unforeseen metaphor for "red". In an afternoon, carefully and using an old syringe to strategically set the "blood" drops, I had a book that looked as though it had been shot by a firing squad. I hot-glued the thing together and left it to dry overnight. I'm very happy with the final product.

So, if you're in Chicago and you're interested in putting in a bid on the 3-D version of Red Ivy Afternoon, stop in to the Viaduct Theater or Trader Todd's and check out all the Rebuilt Books!

Unemployment: Day 5

Well, I'm home with John today and Monday because our daycare provider decided she needed a four day weekend. That woman infuriates me some days. I was supposed to WORK this weekend, and she's just like "Monday is the holiday and we're closed tomorrow."


So, I've accomplished virtually nothing today. Yesterday was all right, I applied for 6 or 7 jobs, all with no hits. Then again, the world moves a little slower when you're home all day every day so I should take people's reluctance to get back to me too seriously. I've still got plenty of leads to follow up on which I should be doing right now instead of typing this. Pilcrow has been a nice and needed distraction from the growing realization that I'm broke and jobless. I Fight Dragons was going to be at the Apple Store on Michigan tonight for free, but I decided against it. I'm sort of tired of running around all the time even though I'd love to see them. Am I getting so lazy that I wouldn't go see one of my own favorite new bands live, for FREE just for the lack of wanting to hop on the L? Maybe I'll do it anyway.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Pilcrow Lit Fest: Local Author Night at the Book Cellar

Today's Pilcow fun was a trip to the Book Cellar in Lincoln Square. The Book Cellar is the official bookstore of the Pilcrow Lit Fest, and books from participating featured authors are available there.

The Book Cellar is nestled in a nice block of like-minded cool, urban boutiques in a part of Lincoln Square so trendy that a guy who weighed probably all of 110 pounds was stalking around in nothing but a pair of jeans, an iPod, and really scraggly beard. It doesn't get any trendier than that, baby.

Anyway, the big draw of the Book Cellar is that it's an indie bookstore, and a cool one. Instead of the sterile rows of brown-on-brown carpeting and prefab shelving at Borders that only reach to your knees, the Book Cellar is a warren of tall bookcases with ladders and doorways cut into the stacks. You walk through the shelves and you feel like you're stepping into a labyrinth of books. There are books crammed on the shelves as though there isn't enough room, and stacked atop the shelving where space permits. You'd think this would lend itself to an odd form of claustrophobia (or the occasional frown from the fire department), but for those of us to whom the concept of heaven resembles a cozy, comfortable library safe and isolated from the nonstop march of urban life, this place is womb-like and welcoming.

It's the sort of place you could be in for three hours and turn a corner to realize you'd missed an entire row of awesome indie books mixed with the best of contemporary big-house offerings. As an author, I particularly appreciated the hand-written notes on the shelves describing briefly books that wouldn't otherwise jump off the shelf but nonetheless are pivotal offerings of the selected genres. If only someone had put a little helpful note on "Ender's Game" when I was a kid, it might not have taken me as long to find it. Very cool.

Speaking of cool, I've got a trivia question for you: what's cooler than an indie bookstore with a wine list? Go ahead. I'll wait.

...Look, I haven't got all day, we both know NOTHING is cooler than that. The addition of food, wine, and coffee makes The Book Celler something like a cross between a wild stepsister of Starbucks and the magical personal library of a mansion owned by a hip, eccentric millionaire.

Jamie Freveletti and Gillian Flynn told us about their newest works (Running from the Devil and Dark Places, respectively) and we were even treated to a reading from Lenny Kleinfeld's book Shooters and Chasers, read by his wife, none other than NPR correspondant Ina Jaffe.

Next up: Rebuilt Books

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Unemployment: Day 2

Well, I woke up all full of piss and vinegar today ready to take on the world. And I sorta did. By eleven I had cleaned the house, taken John to Daycare, done three loads of laundry, walked down to the post office and library to mail a package and return books, and put two coats of paint on the windowsills that were marred from when they removed our old dinosaur built-in air conditioners. I had meant to do more in terms of calling job leads today, but I also had to run out to the Book Cellar with some books, do the fourth load of laundry, soak my foot (I have an ingrown toenail that feels like I'm being tortured by the Vietcong), write some emails, get a project set up for Silverthought's new summer intern, go get John, cook dinner fold four loads of laundry, re-make John's bed, do night-night, and then continue to fold until just about twenty minutes ago. I literally didn't watch any TV tonight other than the first hour or so of Before the Devil Knows You're Dead on Netflix, which is bizarre but not at all bad, while I folded laundry.

Some of the financing we had counted on to help us get through this had fallen through (God damn you, Sallie Mae), and that was a little jarring, but we'll be all right. It won't take long to find something else for me to do, and ultimately the whole episode just underlines the need to not treat this like a vacation and get lazy.

Tomorrow is more intense job hunting, repainting the bathroom window over the shower, getting my hair cut, calling some patients who still don't know I'm gone but will be upset when they find out, and the Pilcrow lit fest continues at the Book Cellar. Woo-hoo, Red Ivy on bookstore shelves!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Pilcrow Lit Fest: Reading Under the Influence

Tonight's Pilcrow event was Reading Under The Influence. I was particularly excited to see how this one would go because I had heard only good things about RUI from one of its curators, Amy Guth.

I'm happy to report that this event was awesome on several levels. The first, and most important, of which was getting to spend some further quality time (see also: drink beer) with Amy, Leah Jones, June Blazek, Tiffany Tate (a local filmmaker) and Edgar Garcia. Edgar, who brought to the event a rad bobblehead of himself and his card (yes I have one too) proclaiming him one fo the first 1000 fans of Chicago band I Fight Dragons, is himself somewhat legendary for being the subject of the "Edgar-ing" prank phenomenon seen here.

(See more photos at Pilcrow's Flickr pool)

Another level of awesomeness was the venue itself. Sheffield's bar on School and Sheffield in Wrigleyville/Lincoln Park was listed this month as one of the top 100 bars in America by Esquire magazine in 2009. The event had its own separate back room bar from which Leah and I ordered tall 22oz bottles of some terrific IPA called "Decadent Imperial" by SKA Brewing in Durango, CO.

Reading Under the Influence, in case you've never been, is a public reading event where local Chicago authors slam a shot of their choice and then read from their published and unpublished works. Most readings were the authors' own work and most were directly from published books, but these didn't seem like hard and fast rules. Immediately following the readings, the authors would then ask the audience literary (or not) questions which the audience would then howl back the answers to. When three or four finalists had been selected by virtue of answering quickest (or loudest), there would be a tie-breaker question which only they were allowed to shout the answers to (or not-one person randomly broke this rule to which one of the speakers roared "YOU SUCK COCK IN HELL!"). The person who won this round was rewarded with a book and a free shot.

The rules were clearly well-established, and the format familiar, which did help, given that the event went on for about three hours and the readers who read two or three stories were often several shots into the night by the time they took the mic. The only truly concrete rule of the entire experience that I could discern was that even though the readers/winners got a shot of their choice, you are clearly supposed to choose Jameson's. I saw no one deviate whatsoever from this rule except Amy Guth, who had a Jameson's-and-Ginger. I considered asking for a Patron just to be a smartass if I won, but I'd probably have gotten my ass kicked by a bunch of hammered local Chicago writers.

The excitement didn't stop there.

The stories themselves were great, most notable for me was a story about a young dad trying to get his adolescent daughter to listen to punk music, one about driving around the neighborhood pimp-like in an Ice Cream truck, a hilariously descriptive story about the way women smell, and a "very wrong" story by Amy Guth about how she wanted to fall in love with a man with no legs.

Anyway, a good time was had by all and for good reason Reading Under the Influence (which meets the first wednesday of every month at Sheffield's) was voted the best reading series in the city by the Chicago Reader.

Up next: Wednesday night is Local Author night at The Book Cellar.

Pilcrow Lit Fest: Opening night

I was thrilled to be asked to participate in the Pilcrow Lit Fest this year by fellow Chicago author Amy Guth and festival media director Leah Jones. Pilcrow is an annual festival that takes place over a number of nights and venues highlighting the work of independent writers, poets, editors, publishers, and book designers.

I went to the opening night cocktails at Matilda's/Baby Atlas on Sheffield last night, which was a really cozy and friendly venue for the event, and had the opportunity to meet some interesting local writers, editors, designers, and fans.

This is by no means an exhaustive list but I had the fortune to meet Chicago native and writer June Blazek who just graduated from DePaul and is working on a new book. June will be moderating the panel on Saturday about giving public readings. I also ran across Greg Hartel, owner of the very cool coffee shop The Fixx who clued me into the local Chicago horror/speculative group Twilight Tales. Twilight Tales has been publishing online and in print for a number of years and also has regular reading events at some of Chicago's classic pubs and venues.

(more photos at the Pilcrow Flickr pool)

Tonight will be my first trip to see Reading Under the Influence, which if it's half as good as people say will be a blast. Fun random fact: Reading Under the Influence was co-founded by Chicagoan Joe Meno, who among other things was the book review editor for Punk Planet Magazine when Silverthought: Ignition was reviewed there by another local Chicago Person of Coolness, Ari Joffe.

I'm also hoping to head over to The Book Cellar on my way to RUI tonight to visit. They're the official bookstore for Pilcrow and by all accounts a terrific indie bookstore.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Place to Be

Aside from preparing Red Ivy Afternoon for the Pilcrow Rebuilt Books auction (this year on behalf of Young Chicago Authors), some other fun stuff has been happening. John used the potty successfully for the first time today (yay!), and apparently Creed is on tour again. I warmed slowly to Creed back in 2001 right around 9/11 so they have always held sort of a small place in my heart. It might speak to the power of scarcity though that when they broke up I thought "shit, I won't get to see them live" and now that they're on tour I took one look at the $50 stadium-lawn-monster-show tickets and though "eh, no thanks." Apparently I only DO want the things I can't have.

Here's some new fun springtime music. I left "I Remember" by Damien Rice because frankly a hundred listen-throughs isn't enough of that song for me. I added "The Safety Dance" by Men Without Hats which was featured on a hysterical recent Family Guy episode, "My Sacrifice" by Creed because that's what I listened to the day after 9/11, and "The Eye in the Sky" by the Alan Parsons Project. I heard it on the satellite radio at work the other day and rushed to the reciever to identify it. It's one of the first pieces of music I have any memory of from when I was maybe just a bit older than John. It's both a bizarre and strangely groovy tune, otherwise I have no excuse for it.

Unemployment, Day 1

I probably won't post this for a while because I'd rather not broadcast my unemployed status to the whole world just now, but I'm going to write these just to keep track anyway.

Last week my boss called me into the office and gave me the bad news. He was actually really nice about it and even though I hadn't agreed with all of his management decisions, he was always a pretty good guy in general to me and my family, so I could tell how much it bothered him to have to give me the pink slip. I only got about two days notice, so I decided instead of going directly home and not coming back like my other co-worker did (which was probably the smarter thing to do, but oh well), I stayed for the remaining two days to sort things out and say goodbye to my patients. Most of my closer friends and co-workers had already left at this point, so the goodbyes with the remaining staff were a little awkward. I could tell that my leaving meant all of a sudden they were being asked to do my job, which was not small. If you're reading this guys, sorry about that.

Anyway, it was long past time I find somewhere closer to home without such demanding hours, so this came at as good a time as I was likely to get. I filed for unemployment benefits this morning and Obama's new plan has boosted this program to help people like me survive the inevitible layoff deluge that has been happening. Just in Illinois, the unemployment rate is now pushing 9 percent. I think the national average is even higher.

Ironically, the weekend before, I had signed up to take the GRE and go back to college. The economy as shitty as it is, I didn't figure there was much point in trying to eke out a stalemate with my finances for the next couple of years. Very little that happens in the next probably two years will mean much in terms of advancing my career. There just isn't capital. So back to school for me it will be in probably a year or so or however long it takes me to get into a PhD. program for sociology. UIC has a kick-ass sociology program with people researching things like organized labor for healthcare workers and the restructuring of the healthcare industry in the coming decade. Very, very interesting stuff.

Anyway, I thought this first day was going to absolutely suck and be deppressing, but I think I might be over my initial deppressed feeling already. I'm sitting in my own home office with the windows open and the sun and breeze pouring in and I'm making lists of my contacts to call for job opportunities. And I'm listening to the Alan Parsons Project. That I have no excuse for.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

"If you dig it, do it. If you really dig it, do it twice." - Jim Croce