An Interview With Crime Novelist Dianne Gallagher

Dianne GallagherDianne Gallagher grew up in rural Minnesota and attended the University of Minnesota, where she graduated with a BFA in Theatre, focusing primarily on playwriting. Upon moving to Los Angeles so her husband could attend film school, her interest shifted to screenwriting. Eventually, she moved to Chicago where her focus would again shift, this time to novels.

Before her debut novel, Too Dark to Sleep, was released, Dianne took up various projects that involved editing, critiquing, and ghost writing. Too Dark to Sleep has been given five stars and a seal of approval by IndieReader, and is a finalist in the Readers’ Favorite International Book Awards this September.

In our interview with Dianne, she discussed her upcoming novel, Indigo, and the field of digital and self-publishing.

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Jeff Jacobson Discusses Writing as a Career

Jacobson's Foodchain has recently been released as an eBook.

Jacobson’s Foodchain has recently been released as an eBook.

Jeff Jacobson is a horror crime novelist who lives near Chicago with family and many pets. He was born and raised in rural Northern California, but has since spent more than 20 years in Chicagoland. He also teaches Fiction and Screenwriting at Columbia College Chicago.

We reached out to Jacobson for his input on the publishing process, writing as a career, and books going digital.

 

 

 

 

 

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Author James Gordon on Publishing & Marketing His Work

BoboG.P.A. (Greatest Poet Alive), aka James Gordon, is a Chicago poet, performer, storyteller, and most recently, a children’s book author — and that’s just to name a few of the big items on his resume. His newest book, Hi, My Name is Bobo: A Weekend in the Life of a 5th Grader, has received top ratings on Amazon and Goodreads. James was also recently nominated for Poet of the Year in the National Poetry awards, and you can vote for him here.

Camera in hand, I sat down with James to discuss publishing, the live lit scene, and the writing life at Muldoon’s Irish Pub in Wheaton, IL. This post is the first part of our lively discussion, and is focused on publishing — stay tuned to read and view more clips from our interview with G.P.A.

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James Gordon’s journey as a published poet and author began in 2007, when he published his first book of poems, A Confessional Heart of a Man. He’d always written poems (though, he confesses, he at first wrote them to woo women), but his dad had always told him to write a book. He set a deadline for himself, allowing only 30 days, and stuck to it. When it came time to publish, he went the route of subsidy publishing. He wrote, edited, and marketed the book himself, and hired a company to help him print it. “I just got my book out and I was happy,” says James. “I didn’t know there would be a second book or a fourth book or fifth of sixth book, anthologies — I didn’t know that. But I love writing.”

Though he didn’t see it coming, James has had a lot of success publishing his own work. But he admits it took time to get used to the idea of book marketing and promotion: “It wasn’t until the progression of time [after my first book] and networking with people that I said ‘Hey, you know what, you’ve got to have something in your budget for promotion,’” says James. “You’ve got to give away something free sometimes, as part of the promotion, to garner readers. So it was a learning process.” Recognizing that no one could be a bigger advocate of his work than himself, he set out to promote his work by immersing himself in Chicago’s literary scene. He performed in live lit events, promoted himself and his work on social media, and attended as many events as possible — putting his books directly into the hands of readers.

“I believe nobody pushes you like you push you,” says James. “I’m aggressive . . . I’m always looking for opportunities because the opportunities are always there. Facebook and Twitter, your social network — they’re all always opportunities.”

It wasn’t until Hi, My Name is Bobo, that James changed up his promotional habits. With his previous work being a sensual book of poetry, James surprised his fans and reviewers with a book for children. Instead of promoting it online and at events before it was available to readers, James waited until it was published to share it with his fans. The sudden change in genre caught the attention of readers, who were excited to see his range as a writer. James says the book is the first in a series, and readers will soon hear more from Bobo.

Watch the video clip to learn hear what James has learned from publishing and promoting his own work.

 

Christine Sneed’s Debut Novel: Little Known Facts

christine sneed

Christine Sneed is a graduate of the MFA creative writing program at Indiana University and has published  short stories in Best American Short StoriesPEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, New England Review, The Southern  Review, Ploughshares, Pleiades, Glimmer Train, Massachusetts Review, Meridian,Other VoicesGreensboro  ReviewRiver StyxPhoebe, South Dakota Review, and a number of other journals

Her debut novel, Little Known Facts, about a cast of characters orbiting Renn Ivins, a movie star with fame and  power equal to George Clooney’s, was both thought-provoking and a fun summer read and has been well-  received among critics, being recently named one of Booklist‘s top ten debut novels of 2013 and best new book  by a local author by Chicago Magazine

 LT: Little Known Facts was your first published novel. What was your writing process like?

 Little Known Facts is my second book, and it is indeed my first published novel, but I’ve written seven novels  (sigh…but they helped me become a better writer, I think, and most writers who have been at it for a while have  quite a bit of unpublished work in their desks and filing cabinets.)  I write most days of the week, if not all, when I’m trying to bring together something as long and fraught as a novel manuscript.  I edit on the page, usually after each new chapter is done; after this, I go back to the computer screen.  I’ve been writing for over twenty years, more than half my life (I started writing seriously in college, when I was twenty but wrote on and off since I was about ten or eleven), and it’s my job, no disputing this.  And like a job, you have to do it all the time if you want to keep a roof over your head.  Even if I’m tired or have a lot of other non-writing-related work to do, I go to my desk and write most days.

LT: The structure of the novel is very inventive; chapters that dive inside various characters’ heads and give us pieces of a story from different perspectives that come together to make a realistic whole. How did you conceive of this structure? Was this the plan all along or did you invent the structure as you wrote?

I did plan this from the start, or at least after I’d written the first chapter, “Relations,” and realized that it wasn’t only going to be a short story.   After I finished writing these pages, I knew that I wanted to tell the story of most of the characters I’d introduced in “Relations,” and I immediately began sketching ideas for subsequent chapters narrated by seven other characters.

LT: Each character seems so real and vivid; do you have a favorite or did you enjoy writing from the perspective of one character more than any other?

I think Anna was probably my favorite character to write – I enjoyed her two chapters quite a bit.  She’s probably also the least angry or bitter person of the eight point-of-view characters.  She wants mainly to be able to live her life with dignity, has noble aspirations with her medical studies, loves her parents and brother with fewer reservations and conflicted feelings than they all have for each other.  But of course she’s a flawed character too.  There’s her involvement with the married Dr. Glass, after all.

LT: What was your motivation for writing Little Known Facts? It seems a very appropriate novel for our Hollywood-obsessed culture; were you responding to or remarking on the “Hollywood-fetish” that is so trendy now, especially among young people?

Americans’ relationship with celebrity is one of many conflicts and contradictions, as I suppose a lot of interpersonal relationships are.  We want to be like the people we make famous, but at the same time, as soon as a celebrity does something stupid or embarrassing, the media is all over the story, and so many people love to make fun of this person, who in many senses is just as neurotic, unhappy, insecure as everyone else is – despite the fame, wealth, beauty, powerful friends, blockbuster movies and gold records.  These contradictions are what I wanted to look at most closely when I was writing Little Known Facts: why are we so sure that fame is the answer to all our troubles when we frequently see proof that famous people are as likely as we are to have family problems, relationship problems, money problems, etc.?  We buy the costly myths Hollywood sells us and then wonder why our heroes are so flawed. We should know by now that “having everything” isn’t really having everything – happiness, for one, is still elusive, maybe even more elusive for a famous person than it is for someone who isn’t famous.  Celebrities get used to a certain amount of attention, and when it starts to fade, then what happens?  Well, that’s where the story starts to go off script, and often, off the rails.

LT: Renn is certainly a “star” in the traditional sense; would you say he is also the “star” of the novel? Or is there another character that is more important or central to the novel?

He is definitely the focal character.  But each character, in his or her own way, is as important to the novel as he is.  Their stories too, as much as Renn’s, are what I wanted to tell.

LT: Were you thinking of any famous movie star in particular when you crafted Renn?

Not really, but men like Robert Redford, Paul Newman, and Harrison Ford were inspirations initially – to have the kind of fame, beauty, success, and sex appeal that they all did in their prime – how would it affect their children?  Their sons especially?  These were the questions that got me started.

LT: The “pursuit of happiness” seems to be something each character deals with in the novel; would you say that Hollywood hinders these characters’ pursuit or is happiness just plain elusive whether you are famous or not?

little known factsI’d say that happiness is elusive for most of us, but having the kind of success that people might achieve in Hollywood, and consequently having so many people wanting things from you…that all exerts a kind of awful pressure, I have to believe, at least at times.  I also suspect that it’s possibly harder, the more famous you become, to recognize when you’re happy, and to sustain that feeling.  To be happy, I think you also have to know how to relax, and that’s not so easy, especially the busier and the more successful a person becomes.  Hollywood makes it hard, I think, to sustain a peaceful and happy state of mind; we’re such a competitive species, for one.  And the rage that Hollywood films and TV show, the violence and machismo, too – there’s a reason why these elements are so present in so much of our media – where does all that rage go?  That fear of being overlooked?  Of other people getting all the good things we think we deserve?  There’s so much to think about, needless to say.

LT: When did you decide you were going to be a writer? Was there a specific moment?

No, not really – I think I knew in junior high, when I was probably 12 or 13 that I wanted to be a writer, but it wasn’t until college and the year I studied in France that I realized I could go ahead and write without waiting for someone to give me permission to do so.

LT: Are there any authors you tried to emulate in Little Known Facts? Do you have an all-time favorite author/novel & why?

I wasn’t trying to emulate anyone in particular as I wrote this book, but I did want it to be good, of course, and I was thinking about some of my favorite writers, like Deborah Eisenberg and Alice Munro, along with Jim Harrison and Edward P. Jones, who write with such clarity and insight into the human condition.  One of my all-time favorite novels is Ian McEwan’s Atonement – that kind of emotional beauty and impact, well, he did something magical in that novel.  It was inspiring too.

LT: Is there anything that had to be cut from the novel, and if so, do you wish it had stayed? What was your editing process like?

You know, compared to the other novels I’ve written, and the one that’s coming out next year from the same publisher and editor (Bloomsbury and Nancy Miller), Little Known Facts had few edits and few changes before it went into galleys and eventually became a book.  Not much was cut, really – Nancy and I edited some things, removed a couple of paragraphs here and there, and I wrote a few new paragraphs, but really, there wasn’t a lot of work after Nancy and Bloomsbury acquired it.  The new book, which we’re still discussing a title for – that’s different, I rewrote about 90-95% of the first draft when I was working on the second.  It was as if I had written two different books with the same cast of characters.

LT: You’ve never lived in Hollywood; do you find you tend to write about subjects not closely related to you (as is the case with Little Known Facts) or do you tend to write more autobiographically? A mix? Why?

I don’t write autobiographically, not at all; if I’m writing about myself, it’s nonfiction, and in an essay, not a short story or a novel.  In the fiction I’ve written, I often think of a character first, an emotional situation, along with a setting, and go from there.  The one way my fiction might be autobiographical is that I’m writing about feelings that I might have had at one time; I want there to be emotional truth, but the rest – the people, the plot – that’s all made up.  Fiction is my favorite mode, for this very reason.  But it also allows you to tell the truth about human experience, and to do it in a way that is perhaps more universal than nonfiction, which is limited by the fact it has to focus on specific people who are currently living or once were alive.

LT: What’s your next project?

The novel I mentioned above, which is called In the Spring currently, which is set in contemporary Paris; we’re editing the second draft now, and it’ll be out in May 2015.  It was harder to write than Little Known Facts, but I think and hope it’ll be as good and as interesting, maybe a little funnier too.

LT: Do you have any advice to give to student writers?

This is what I always tell my students: you have to love the world; you have to be very curious about other people and their experiences of the world.  You have to read with purpose and commitment and love to read too.  You have to learn to say no to tempting, more effortless things to do like going out for dinner or watching TV or hanging out at the bar when you know that you should be writing.  You have to accept that sometimes your work will be rejected if you try to publish it; you have to move on and in some cases, revise your work, and often more than a few times.  Moving on, not getting lost in self-pity or self-doubt – this is very important.  A lot of talented people give up because they can’t deal with rejection; you have to take it in stride and keep going.  I’ve received probably two thousand rejection letters in the twenty-odd years I’ve been writing and sending out work.  I set them aside and move on and keep reading and writing.  If you keep doing these things, you are a writer; this becomes your life.

Kathleen Rooney & Her Debut Novel, O, Democracy!

Kathy-019Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press and a founding member of Poems While You Wait. Her seventh book and first novel, O, Democracy!, has just been released by Fifth Star Press. Booklist has called it “shrewdly involving and acidly witty,” Chicagoist says that it’s “Well crafted with quick witted characters as well as an absolutely enthralling plotline and narrative voice,” and the Onion A.V. Club says it’s “a real rumination on what it means to be a patriot and how to reconcile that with remaining true to an established set of ideals.”

AH: At what point in your life did you decide that you were not only interested in writing, but were going to pursue it seriously and professionally? Can you pinpoint that exact moment in time? What was going on? Where were you? 

KR: Yes! I mean, I always knew I wanted to be a writer, I think in that cliché way most writers say, Ive always loved readingor My parents read to me.” But the moment when I was like, This is the thing that I know I want to do and that I could do,was when I sold my first freelance piece to The Nation magazine, which is a magazine I still admire. I like their politics—they’re progressive, they’re leftist, they’re based in New York. It was a piece on Oprah Winfreys Book Club, which my first book was about. This was before the book was finished. It was when I was still working on it and it was at this point where she had just announced that she was revamping the club,  sort of canceling it. Then she did that thing where she came back to the classics. So anyway, long story short, this happened and I was like, Oh, I have a unique perspective on this. Ill pitch a piece and write it.The Nation said yes and they paid me and I still remember it wasnt very much, but I still have the check. They paid me $300 for this little piece and I was like, Okay, I can do this.” 

AH: So, it was just an article about Oprahs Book Club as a whole? 

KR: Yeah, a piece on, I guess you would call it cultural criticism, where  it wasnt journalism, it wasnt just Heres what happenedbut Heres my analysis and what it means.’ Not that $300 is enough to live off. I didnt think that I was going to make a living as a writer, but I was like, This is going to be a part of my professional practice.I love to write creatively, but I also consider cultural criticism to be really important too. This was back in 2002, so that has shaped what Ive done since then. 

AH: Why write a piece on that specifically? Why were you drawn to it in the first place?

KR: I think throughout my career, you can kind of see in the work Ive published that Im very interested in secret histories or things that are undiscovered. Not to say that Oprahs Book Club is secret – it was huge! But I think what was undiscovered about it, and what kind of interested me, was that people seemed to have opinions about it, but I thought those opinions were uninformed and incorrect. A lot of times people would be like, Oh, this is for womenor She picks the sappy struggle-and-redemption booksor She gets people to read stuff thats bador She gets them to read in a stupid way.I thought a lot of that was coming from a place of sexism and probably some racism; people looking at her and who she was and saying, What right does she have?The more I studied it, the more I wanted to be like, Guys, its not what you think it is. Its something different.”  I like to hold stuff up to the light and say, A) Look at this if youve never seen it and B) Look at it again. You think you know it, but you dont know it.

AH: Did you have to read some of the books she promoted, as far as research is concerned? 

KR: Yeah, I read all of the books that she picked for her book club [laughs]. I quit eventually, like I didnt read the Edgar Sawtelle one, but I read all of them before that. Even when she brought [the book club] back again with things like, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides and The Road by Cormac McCarthy. But these are good books. Oprah is not the only person who thinks Cormac McCarthy is a good writer. But I think a lot of people were shocked when she picked Cormac McCarthy. I was like, No, she picks a ton of stuff, and its literary, and its good.” 

AH: Which period of your life do you find yourself writing about or referring to, directly or indirectly, unconsciously or consciously, the most? 

KR: Thats a great question. So far, I think Ive written most about my twenties. Im interested not just in my own life in those times, but in that time period. Im currently teaching a class now called Youth and Malice – and its not a class on young adult writing, although I respect young adult writing and have nothing against it. Its a class more about how to write young people for an adult audience: books like The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford and Ghost World by Dan Clowes. I think thats why Im, so far, most interested in my twenties. My book Live Nude Girl is about being an art model, which is something that took place chiefly in my twenties. I did a bit of it in my thirties and I still sometimes pose for friends, but I dont do it anymore out of a need for money; I do it when people ask. But I very much did it through my twenties as a way to actually support myself. Also, my book of essays, For you, For You, I Am Trilling These Songs is kind of about what it’s like to be a young woman wanting to make a difference in America. 

One of the things that interests me, not only in that time in my life, but in everyones life is when people are like, What are you going to do [with your life]?Im like, Argh, stop asking [laughs]Im thinking about it, but I don’t want to talk about it.I think a lot of times I write about it because theres a lot to figure out about that time period. And with the Youth and Malice idea, the malice part comes in where a lot of times adults forget what it was like to be young and confused, and they attribute behaviors or viewpoints to a phase. But maybe its not a phase, maybe its who I am. Maybe we would all be better if we didnt grow out of these phases. Often, people in their twenties are very idealistic and very unsatisfied with the world, and they look around at older people (or just the world) and think, This is so mediocre; it could be better.It drives me crazy when people are like, Youll get over that. Youll get your mortgage and your kids, and youll settle down, and youll see that this is just the way the world is.

AH: Yeah, and phasehas such a negative connotation to it. You know, it could be a phase where its confusing and you dont know what youre doing and thats okay. Theres nothing wrong with that.

KR: Youre right. The connotation of phaseit would be so much better if it was like your poetics, or your politics, or your aesthetics. But they dont even give it that much credit – they make it seem like its this unconsidered chaotic thrashing, which sometimes it is! And thats what draws me too. Its this idea of refusing to accommodate yourself to a world that could be better than it is. Instead of saying, Im going to change and get used to the way the world is, you either say, Im going to continue trying to be who I amor Im going to try to change the world to not just accept that income inequality is growing, or that women make 77 cents to a mans dollar, or that people in Englewood are dying disproportionately.Its the ability to be like, This should change.” 

AH: When you were in your twenties, did you write about your twenties? 

KR: Yeah, I did. I wrote Live Nude Girl. I was doing art modeling in my twenties and then I wrote that book. It came out in 2009, when I was 29. Then For You, For you, I Am Trilling These Songs came out just as I was turning 30. So, I did a fair amount of writing about [twenties] stuffnot as it was happening because I do believe in distance, but I also believe in immediacy. It was definitely a way to figure stuff out and also hopefully be of interest to other people [who were] figuring stuff out. 

AH: Do you think, as you get older, youll start shifting to [writing about] your thirties or do you think youll stay in your twenties? 

KR: Thats a good question. I think itll probably shift, because I have more experience. The knowledge that you have shifts and interests shift. Also, I feel that Ill have a chance to get to some of the interests I havent gotten to yet. Im really interested in walking. Im really interested in WWI. I have a lot of ideas about stuff. So, there are interests that Ive had for years, and years, and years that I havent had time to get to yet.

AH: What was the first piece of writing that you ever got published, what was it like, and how do you perceive it now?

KR: The Nation was the first official piece, but I think the first piece I got published was for my high school literary magazine. I was very much that girl who was into poetry. I didnt come to it late; I loved it as soon as I could read poetry. Ive always loved it. I went to Downers Grove North High School; the literary magazine was called North Wind [laughs]. So, I havent looked at those poems in a while, but that made me pretty happy.

AH: Does it make you nostalgic to think about what you wrote years and years ago, or is it a little bit embarrassing? 

KR: Its both. You know, the past self often feels like another person, which is something we talked about a lot in Youth and Malicehow even if its not that far in the past, you often look back at your child self, your adolescent self, and youre just like, Oh, youwhat a weirdo.[laughs]

AH: As far as O, Democracy! is concerned, what is the last scene or section that you wrote? This question also goes along with the way in which you write; for instance, do you write in chronological order from beginning or end, do you write particular scenes that you feel necessary to flesh out in a given time, or do you have a pre-book outline that you like to follow?

KR: I almost always have an outline, and I think that partly becomes just a way I keep myself on track. Im someone who likes to have a plan, both in my personal life and in my creative life. But I think it originates in the fact that I write almost all genres. So, Im not someone who sits down and is like, Oh my goodness, heres a character. Lets see what crazy stuff he wants to do.I think thats cool, but I just cant write like that. That doesnt happen to me. I dont have characters talking voices to me; I just dont have that. I have ideas. I always sit down and note, Okay, this is a poem, this is an essay, this is fiction.I think as a result of already knowing what form something is going to take, because it could take any form, I have an outline. O, Democracy!  took me a long time to write but I did have an outline. I made a list of characters, did story mapping for them, figured out my main plot and sub-plots, and decided what beginning, middle, and end each of these major and minor characters was going to need. 

The last scene that I ended up writing was actually the last scene thats in the book and this doesnt spoil anything because its based on a true story. We know how the 2008 presidential election turned out Im pretty sure we know. It ends with Barack Obama winning, in Grant Park in Chicago on election night, with the protagonist and her co-workers and friends as part of this big crowd of people who are celebrating ecstatically. The funny part of that is just because I have an outline doesnt mean everything comes out perfectly. I did write past that and the book had an ending scene that went just a little beyond the rally. But then, as I revised and once my publisher gave me feedback, it was too much and he was like, No, no, no, lets just end at the rally.So thats what we did and it was such a good decision; Im so happy that I cut the false ending. 

ODemocracyCover

AH: Does the outline help with you not being repetitive? I feel like that would be really difficult. Youre writing 400 pages, what if youre writing the same thing twice? How do you look back; how do you refer back to your pages?

KR: Totally! Yeah, absolutely, an outline is key and, I think, when Im writing poetry I dont outline in the same way. With fiction, for me, an outline is critical (especially for a novel) because it is so much information to hold in your head. I just finished a second novel (or what I think will be a second novel) and I outlined that too. I started it on the first day of the Polar Vortex and then I finished a draft.

AH: You did?

KR: Yeah! [laughs] Well, school got cancelled and I was like, Okay, time to start a new novel.But, in fairness, I had been thinking about this idea for seven years so its not like I had just sat down [with it]. It was something I had been meaning to do and I was like, Well, todays the day!I outlined and outlined because it had a complicated structure. Its like, historical; it takes place in the twenties and thirties and also in the eighties. I had to keep it straight, otherwise it would have been a mess. Theres that cliché of Well begun is half done” — I don’t know if youve heard of this; its like a little Ben Franklin kind of proverb. I very much live by that and do the same thing with my pitches. When I pitch stuff for freelance, I try really hard to have my pitches be stuff that I could almost just adapt into the essay. So, yeah, Im an outliner. 

AH: What particular phrase in the book are you most proud of? The most difficult part to write?

KR: One of the phrases that I like the best is from the Chief of Staff character who watches the protagonist  talk about how she really came to the office wanting to make a difference and change the world for the better, and how she was a huge idealist. He says something to the effect of, What she didn’t realize was that idealism was itself a form of violence against the world.Im excited about that thought because I think its important to keep that in mind. Few people probably sit down and think, I want to change the world for the worse.But theres so many instances of people trying to help where things go wrong. You know, now Im watching the Nigerian schoolgirl situation and how Obama has offered to help; its like, I understand that. Its idealistic, of course. Its horrific to think of these girls, but its also like, Wow, what would U.S. help look like? Does that mean more drones, does that mean more military escalation?So, its the [notion] that idealism comes from a good place but very often leads to unforeseen circumstances that we cant always feel good about. 

The hardest thing to do was not necessarily anything to do with content, but how I wrote, because this is my first fiction, and I really wanted to make it a novel. I didnt want it to be too bogged down with nonfictional details. It was just about wanting to shift gears and write something that would be plot-y and entertaining, as opposed to meditative and digressive, or full of facts. So I had to be like, Dont do that! Stay on target, stay on target, move forward!”  

AH: In your English classes, youve mentioned from time to time the ways in which we can stealmoves made by other authors and implement those moves in unique ways into our own work. What authors did you steal from over the course of writing O, Democracy! and how?

KR: The two big authors that I stole the most from, for O, Democracy! were Joan Didion, who I love so much. I love her fiction and I love her non-fiction, but she has a book called Democracy, which is very, very different. The way that my book is divided into little flash fiction chapters, in these little chunks, was an idea that I had very much gotten from her— the use of white space and the use of gaps to let the reader fill stuff in. And then, Walt Whitman was a huge one. In those sections, I also tried to adapt that kind of cadence of his poetry, his free-verse, especially in the voice of the Founding Fathers and in the crowd scenes. What I admire so much about Whitman is the way he talks about himself, of course, like in his Song of Myself.He is very much in there, but he does it in a way that is extremely egalitarian and extremely democratic, and he really does try to bring everybody in. So, those are my two guiding lights. 

AH: Why do you periodically use the perspective of the Founding Fathers throughout the text and what overall effect do you think it offers?

KR: As much as Im an outliner, that was a device that wasnt in my outline. I knew I wanted to [write it] mostly from Colleens perspective. And I wanted it to be a close third-person perspective, as opposed to a first-person, because the novel is very much drawn from real events, so I didnt want to get into the trap of making it just about me. I really wanted it to be a character, and I knew it had to be third-person to get that distance, so that we could see her somewhat objectively because I wanted her not to just be a heroic character but to be a flawed character, someone who makes mistakes. I recently wrote an essay about how bad decisions make good protagonists and I wanted her to make some bad decisions. 

About half-way through the writing process, I had this eureka moment where I thought that the real perspective of the book could be this first-person plural perspective of the dead Founding Fathers watching Colleen do stuff. For all intents and purposes, the book of the book is close-third. But then youre reminded periodically that its close third as told to you by George Washington, Ben Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Richard Nixon [laughs], whoever! And the reason I wanted to do that, too, is to do this Whitmanic thing of saying, This isnt just about any one person. Its about systems, its about structures, its about the stories we tell ourselves as people, the stories we tell ourselves about what kind of country we are” — that kind of creative nation building. 

AH: Did you ever consider second-person? Because I think second-person also has that distance, but youre commenting on the reader as well. 

KR: Yeah, I like second-person a lot but since its a 398-page book total it could get exhausting. 

AH: What did you edit *out of* O, Democracy!?

KR: I had to cut quite a bit of non-fiction stuff from my first draft. This book went through so many drafts, probably at least a dozen. Im a draft saver so I have all of them, but Ill probably never do anything with them Im like a draft hoarder [laughs]. Fortunately, they are not printed out. Most of the editing I was doing was structural, so I think I cut out set-pieces, things that were like, Oh this is a really good write-up of what an Earmark meeting at Fermilab is really like,but who cares, right? Its extraneous to the plot, it goes nowhere. Save it for an essay. I cut mostly stuff like that, really digressive stuff that didnt move the plot along.

AH: Was there something that you wish stayed? 

KR: There actually isnt! I had to think about that. I mean the Fermilab thing I mentioned was a scene, and I really liked it, but Im so glad its not in there.I look at where it would have been and Im just like, Phew! So glad.[laughs] But my editor told me to cut it because its not that it was inherently bad, it just didnt go anywhere. It would have been like a growth, it would have been like a weird weed in an otherwise lovely garden. 

AH: When you pick up your book now, is there a sense of, Okay, no regrets. I think everything is in there the way it should be

KR:  Yes, there is. I have a number of people to thank for that. I have my readers of drafts, but Ian Morris, whos my editor at Fifth Star, was a very good editor and very helpful at pointing out those spots where he was like, You know what, this doesnt make sense. This has to go, this gets bogged down, speed it up.His edits were great, and then Eric Platner, who teachers here [DePaul University] in the WRD department, also was one of my first readers and he was instrumental in helping me settle on that flash structure and using more white space to really let the story breathe. Had it not been for the two of them, I would have been like, Its [the book] pretty good.But now Im like, No, I did everything I could. This is the book it was supposed to be.People still might like it or not like it based on subjective factors, but Im able to pick it up and not be like, Oh, man, I wish I…” No regrets. 

AH: Its crazy what a difference it is if you use that white space versus back-and-forth, line after line, phrasing. Its like a different effect, right?

KR: Yeah, we just talked about that in my poetry class this morning. Were doing prose poetry today.Paradoxically, white space makes something longer physically, versus if you condense things, and youre like, Look, it all fits on half a page!Weirdly, you can read that half-a-page chunk and be like, Oof, this is so dense. I cant get through it.With the white space, its like snappy; it clips along, the pace is different, it just breathes better. So I think Im very lucky that Eric was like, Lets get some white space.

AH: How much weight do you give to the names of characters, either in this book or generally? Is it just an arbitrary process or something that you need to research, insofar as making the name fit with the character/personality? 

KR: Well, one of the things with O, Democracy! was a lot of the characters are based on actual people or are composites of people that I encountered. This is a book about public figures, like the Senior Senator (obviously Dick Durbin), the Chief of Staff, the junior Senator who becomes president (obviously Barack Obama). But a decision I made in O, Democracy! was to try not to use proper names for famous people and figures because I wanted it to exist not just as a book of 2008 but kind of out of time, and as a book that you didnt have to care specifically about Chicago in 2008 to be into, but that you could just be like, Okay, I get it. This is about politics more broadly; this is about democracy more broadly. I shouldn’t just picture Dick Durbin, I should picture any Senator. I shouldnt just picture Barack Obama, I should picture anyone whos as ambitious and successful as him who wants to run.” 

As far as the other characters, too, one of the interesting things that I tried to show is that Chicago is still very much a city of neighborhoods and ethnicities, and, for better or for worse, this matters a lot. I cant tell you how many times I walked into meetings and said, Im Kathleen Rooney,and people would just react with joy and be like, Oh! What a good, Irish name!My dads side of the family came over in the 1840s. Im so not Irish; I do not identify as Irish at all! My moms people are Czech; I just dont identify that way. I identify as American, but Chicago is still very much a place where that kind of thing matters. Youre not going to have an African-American community liaison whos not Black. Youre not going to have an Asian-American outreach person who doesnt have ties to the Asian community. I mean, you might, but in Durbins office, we absolutely matched people to their constituencies. 

The book, I think, reflects that. You have people who are dealing with their constituencies because, if you can speak Spanish, youre probably going to speak to the people who need to hear Spanish. In the book, people have names that reflect that and one of the things that I didnt want to shy away from was an honest depiction of how race affects peoples lives and peoples opportunities. I think names are so important. Im working on this second novel, and its based on this woman, Margaret Fishback. In my book, though, Ive named her fictional counterpart Lillian Boxfish because I wanted to retain that old-timey Margaret and then also, the absurdity Fishback/Boxfish. And that weird, iconic sounding name. I think really hard about my names.

AH: Do you use something to brainstorm or do you just sit there and think?

KR: Yeah, I sit there and think and do research. For Boxfish, I wanted to make sure it was a name that somebody might actually be called. With Lillian, I went back to the Social Security records you know, thats a great thing about the Internet. I love being a writer in the Internet age. As much as people complain its distractingyou know, people go on these residencies and are like, Its so great! I have no internet.Im like, That sounds like hell on earth.That sounds like a waking nightmare.” I guess I have enough self-control that I can avoid  Twitter/Facebook when necessary, but I need research. I research all the time. So, I just hopped on the Social Security website and was like, Top Hundred Names for Baby Girls Born in 1900.And I did that for other characters, too, because I didnt want peoples names to be like, “Colton.” Its like, no, he probably would have been named Chester in 1933. 

AH: Have you read something recently that made you think differently about writing in general, whether it be poetry, prose, and everything in-between? A particular phrase or quote that struck you as unique to traditional writing?

KR: Oh, man, so many things! [laughs] Ill give you three examples. Im in a book club and so is my husband, Martin. We recently did a double-header of detective fiction. We did The Maltese Falcon and we did The Big Sleep. The Maltese Falcon is third-person, The Big Sleep is first-person. Ive read both books before, but reading The Big Sleep again just made me realize how much I love similes because youve got Phillip Marlow whos always comparing stuff or making these comparisons: He looked about as inconspicuous as a spider on an angel food cake,or, His face looked like a snow bank with two holes punched in it.Stuff like that, and youre just like, Wow!So, my take-away is that similes are not just for poetry. Im reading right now, also for book club, a book called Speedboat by Renata Adler. She wrote it in the 70s but its very disjointed. Its in these short sections, so Ive read stuff like that before but its reaffirming for me the idea that [since] Im a publisher too, sometimes people are like, Oh, you publish experimental stuff thats doing new thingsand Im like, Yes, we are, but also, a lot of the stuff is not as new as we think.So with Adlers book, its like this fragmentation is almost a Twitter-esque sense of, Dude, I just pinged your consciousnessthat has been around for a while. 

The other book that I read that actually has some phrases I really like was Low Life by Luc Sante, which you should read! Its a history, kind of like a social/cultural history of the Bowery in New York but he kind of goes back around to the 1830s up to WWI. So, its not like the Bowery and the Lower East Side with Patti Smith (though all thats cool). [Sante] is way before that and shows how it became what it is now. He uses this phrase, at the end, about gentrification and why gentrification happens, and he uses the French phrase, nostalgie de la bouewhich means a yearning for the mud.Thats how it gets translated, and that attraction to “low life”like why so many artists are bohemians or why they are edgy people who come to parts of the city that are beneath them.A part of it is economic too; a lot of times it is artists who, even though they might not be of the ethnic or working class make-up of a neighborhood, are like, I do need to live somewhere cheap.But theres a lot of people who are sort of urban tourist thrill-seekers who are like, I want to live in this crummy, dive-y placefor some sort of exoticism. Its not an original idea, obviously, but its good to know that nostalgie de la boue is a term/phrase – the French have a word for it. The French have a word for everything!

AH: Final question: how do you juggle everything? You seem so heavily involved in all aspects of the writing world. How do you balance your life? 

KR: Well, I like to be busy. Thats the thing. Ive got this crazy work ethic where Im really happy when Im working. It’s not like Im a drudge; its like when Im working on writing, Im learning stuff and Im appreciating the world more. Its like that James Bond theme song, You Only Live Twice.In that case, its real life and your dreams. But in a writers case, I think its real life and then your writing. I feel like its work, but its making my life better in a way that maybe all work wouldnt. So, its not as exhausting as working at a factory, you know what I mean? I wouldnt be happy if all I did was write; I want to be a part of the community. I feel like its really important to meet other writers and just meet people. People interest me. Thats what keeps the literary citizenship alive. Also, I take a lot of walks, I do a lot of yoga, and I cook. I dont always just work. [laughs] Walking keeps me sane. 

Review of ALL MOVIES LOVE THE MOON

Gregory Robinson’s All Movies Love the Moon: Prose Poems on Silent Film is predicated on a history of pictures; exploring the power of images with only thought as accompaniment, Robinson presents a very individualized historical account, from the first Cinématographe Lumière to the intrusion of the talkies. Each poem is partnered with a title card captioned by Gregory’s impenitent hand. The poems themselves are present-day reactions to the films they are titled after. From tongue-in-cheek quips to poetic nostalgia to light, staccato snippets of audiences laughing together, Robinson suspends his readers through his unique hybridization of film and poetry. The connection between the two is highlighted through his exploration of “the link between identity and occupation” (“The Last Laugh”); from imagined lives of grand personas to the small, meek position of the McDonald’s employee, readers see Robinson’s work as images that break “free, first from stillness and then from their creators” (ix) taking direction from the films for which Robinson writes.  All Movies Love the Moon succeeds in creating a space for the two great genres of silent film and poetry to merge on a dialectic of passing thoughts and images.

All Movies Love the Moon is published by Rose Metal Press, Inc., an independent press from Chicago, IL that is dedicated to the publishing of hybrid genre work that transcends traditional forms. To see more work from Rose Metal Press, visit the website: http://rosemetalpress.com/index.html. Information for how to purchase All Movies Love the Moon is available on their website.

An Interview with Tony Trigilio

Credit: Jacob S. KnabbTony Trigilio is a professor of creative writing at Columbia College in Chicago and also co-founded the poetry journal Court Green. He has published several collections of poetry, two books of criticisms and chapbooks. His newest additions include a book-length poem White Noise and the poetry collection The Complete Dark Shadows (of my Childhood) Book 1. Along with being the recipient of many grants over the years, including the Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Poetry in 2009, he has published critical essays about the Beat Generation, articles and book reviews. On the side, he plays in the band Pet Theories and hosts the podcast Radio Free Albion.

Alyssa Walker: When and how did you decide you wanted to write as a career? What sacrifices, if any, did you make? How did your original path toward journalism influence this?

Tony Trigilio: While in school, I had fourth grade teacher Miss Omark, who had us do creative writing exercises all the time. When I was writing, I got this thrill that I didn’t get from anything else. One time, she had me write up a poem I’d written and put it on a poster board. She taped it up to her desk, and, now that I look back on it, I realize it was my first published poem.

As an undergraduate student at Kent State, I started working toward a degree in journalism. Even after I had switched into English and graduated, I was doing some freelance journalism. I transitioned out of journalism because I found thatthe field placed too many constraints on language and ideas. Journalism taught me discipline in my writing, and I’m grateful for this. But the boundaries it imposes on what a writer can say and think were too much for me, and I had to leave. I had to make a leap of faith, especially when I left the journalism field and was leaving behind a defined career path. I had to work extra hard and be disciplined if I wanted to succeed.

I think “sacrifice” is a strong word. There is of course my music career, and I did eventually have to make a choice between this and my writing career. When I went on tour with my band after a brief period of unemployment once I’d received my M.A. from Northeastern University (Boston), I realized just how hostile the American environment is to art-making. Happily, I’m playing music again, though, with the Chicago-based band, Pet Theories. I realized I needed to be back on stage—needed to be using a part of my brain that doesn’t work when I’m writing. I’ve finally gotten back to music and know what I was missing during that period when I had to leave. It’s not a problem to balance music and writing now.

AW: How would you describe your writing process–time, medium, aims, brainstorming, etc.? Does it change by genre or style?

TT: If I had to use one word to describe my process, I’d say“organic.” As we say in Zen Buddhism, I like to have a “beginner’s mind” when I’m working on a piece of writing—or, as my Zen teacher calls it: “I don’t know mind.” I try to start with as little preconceptions as possible. Start with an image or sound. Generally, I start in a notebook by hand and then go back and forth between hard copy and computer. I’m also an obsessive journal keeper and I’ve learned to put the editor who lives inside my your head outside the room when I’m working on a first draft. You have to be okay with first drafts. And there’s lots of revisions—and that’s when you need the editor in your head, during the revision process.

AW: It seems that all writers have a kind of fixation on a point in their lives that they tell over and over again. Tell me about a childhood memory or life-changing moment that has stuck with your during your writing career.

TT: There is the first time I got published in fourth grade, in Miss Omark’s class. That poem was about tornadoes, which scared me tremendously. I remember on television they would always say go in your basement during storms, but I didn’t have a basement.

In my earliest years, as a toddler, I would watch the soap opera Dark Shadows with my mom. As I got older and continued to write, a part of me was always trying to write about that experience, and this finally led to The Complete Dark Shadows (of My Childhood), a gigantic experiment in poetry and autobiography. Book 1 was just published in January 2014.

AW: Nobody talks about titles. What is your philosophy on them? How much value do you put on them? Does your attention to them change for single poems, books of poetry and criticisms?

TT: Everyone feels differently. I like titles a lot. Titles propel me into a poem. I do understand that some poems might feel like they need to be untitled but I push myself a little further if I start to think that. With books of poetry, the title has to reflect the core of the collection and the collection has to reflect the title.

With books of criticism, or any books like like that, the title has to forecast what the book will do. You’re working with a different audience and different tone when writing criticism, and the title should portray that.

AW: How do you know when you’ve collected enough to create a book of poetry?

TT: I write until I’ve exhausted a narrative arc. I work on one poem at a time, then look back and see if there is something there to suggest a collection of poems is forming.

AW: Talk about your process of finding a publisher: Who did you seek out first? Who gave you a chance? Why did you choose the route you did? How did the process change for you when publishing poems to when you were publishing books of criticism?

TT: With individual poetry, I sent my work to literary magazines I liked to read. All I want from editors is to read my work carefully. I also would look at the acknowledgements in the books of poets I love and send my work to those that published them.

My first book, I was a perfectionist. I was very gun-shy about sending it out into the world. When I finally started sending it out, it was to every contest and publisher I felt I had an aesthetic connection to.

AW: What other jobs do you have? How do they hinder or enhance your career as a writer? Do you consider yourself a writer first?

TT: I’ve been teaching for twenty-five years. Teaching is the best thing I’ve ever done with my life. I consider myself a teaching artist. The writing I do finds itself into the classroom and exercises, and what we do in class finds its way into my writing. I come home inspired by my students every day. Students come here as apprentice writers; they see you as a model.
Possibly the job that surprises folks the most was that I was a shoe salesman for a while right before college. I learned how to be communicative and clear, making sales pitches and anticipating the responses of my audience (while trying to get them to buy shoes!).

AW: What tips, quotes, books, tool, etc., have stuck with you as a writer? Do you still refer to them from time to time, such as with writer’s block?

TT: John Daido Loori’s Zen and Creativity, Chogyam Trumgpa Rinpoche’s Dharma Art. My favorite poems that remind me of why poetry matters to me and that help me regain a spark if I feel I’m losing one: George Oppen’s “Of Being Numerous,” Harryette Mullen’s “We Are Not Responsible,” and Allen Ginsberg’s “Kaddish.”

AW: As per your extensive work with the Beat Generation, specifically Ginsberg, how do you personally see that influencing your writing? Do you think all poets or writers in general should have an influence like that?

TT: Yes, it is inevitable. It gives you permission to be yourself. As for Ginsberg, there’s an experimental spirit in his work, and in all the Beats, that inspires me—they wanted to break apart mainstream writing and make something new. It made me trust my unconscious—reading poets like Diane di Prima, William S. Burroughs, Ginsberg, and Elise Cowen. I edited a collection of Cowen’s poetry (Elise Cowen: Poems and Fragments, published in 2014 by Ahsahta Press), and seeing her writing process at work definitely helped me with mine.

AW: Do you see your poetry as “fragmented, oulipian, chilling,” as other as said?

TT: I like all those descriptions. I’m very influenced by conceptual art, which has an oulipian essence as you said. I also do a lot of project-based writing. I try as hard as a I can to be vulnerable, even when you can’t find “me” in my poetry, like in White Noise.
I hope my poems are fun, too.

AW: With White Noise you explain how you were inspired by Bernadette Mayer’s ‘x’ method (from her poem, “X on page 50 at half-inch intervals.” Do you see this method of ‘cutting and pasting’ as unethical as a writer? As plagiarism by using Don DeLillo’s words? What did you do to keep it original but still invoke the message and feelings from the sources?

TT: The key to making it ethical for me is that I’m transforming the original work into something new—which is also how appropriated art stays legal, via transforming rather than sheer copying.. You have to sculpt the original into new work. The hardest and most satisfying part of White Noise was sculpting the methodically generated material into a new piece. That’s what made it feel like I was creating something.

AW: What is a question you would like to be asked in an interview? The answer?

TT: I’m probably asking other poets the questions I want to be asked in my podcast, Radio Free Albion. The interconnections between editing, publishing and teaching, which we already talked about, are important to me, and I like to talk about this with other poets who teach and/or edit. I also like to talk about the stories behind particular poems.

AW: I actually brought a poem with me that I was hoping to ask you. Being totally honest, I don’t fully understand your poetry. It’s cerebral in pure image. Can you talk to me about your poem “Evidence”? I’m not sure how we go from evidence to liability waivers. It seems as if that the evidence at the beginning is more of the conclusion to the poem and the beginning comes after.

TT: I think that’s a good close reading of the poem. The poem originated in a hike I took about 10 years ago in Colorado. This was the first time I’d ever been in a high-altitude setting. I’d always been told that high altitudes affect the body, but this was the first time I actually experienced this. After hiking up just the smallest of hills, I had to take a break because I could feel my heart almost trying to punch itself out of my chest. I’m in good shape, so I knew that this was an effect of the high-altitude. I’m not a nature person. I’m generally afraid of nature, so it was kind of bizarre for me to even be hiking in the first place. I prefer urban life. As my heart was pounding in the high-altitude, I thought about the liability waiver I’d signed about cougars before going on the hike. I began to regret the hike and its high-altitude discomfort and threat of cougars. I wanted to get out of nature as fast as I could and back to a city. This got me thinking about the collisions of civilization and nature—the liability waiver, for instance, and just the general presence of human beings in these wild nature settings. All of this was rattling in my head as I wrote the poem. The poem is my exploration of the evidence of our presence that we leave behind in nature, and the evidence of nature’s presence in us.

Interview with Hannah Pittard

 

Credit: Jeremy Lawson

Credit: Jeremy Lawson

Hannah Pittard is the author of The Fates Will Find Their Way and her forthcoming novel Reunion due out October 2014. A graduate of the University of Virginia and the University of Chicago, she is currently teaching fiction and creative writing at DePaul University. Her fiction has won her numerous awards, including the Amanda Davis Highwire Fiction Award in 2006, and appeared in magazines such as McSweeney’s. She is also a consulting editor for Narrative Magazine.

Alyssa Walker: When and how did you decide you wanted to write as a career? What sacrifices, if any, did you make? How did your original path toward criticism influence this choice?

Hannah Pittard: I’ve always liked writing – I liked writing essays, I liked writing stories, I liked writing sentences. Words have always impressed me with the subtlety they allow. When I was a kid, I remember listening to my uncle and grandmother debate – for nearly an hour – whether a particular bird outside the kitchen window had been sauntering or strolling.

AW: How would you describe your writing process—time, medium, aims, brainstorming, etc.? Does it change by genre or style?

HP: I write what comes. And I write what’s bothering me. I write the behaviors that keep reappearing in different circumstances.

I like to get as much house cleaning done as possible before sitting down to write because – if there’s a distraction, if there’s an excuse – then I’ll always take it. So it’s best – for me – to start with a really tidy home. Or, if that’s not possible, maybe just walk to a coffee shop.

AW: Tell me about a childhood memory or life-changing moment that has stuck with you during your writing career.

HP: Every ride in the car that I took with my father. Or with my grandmother. Or with my brother and sister. Especially if John Prine or Willie Nelson was playing. I remember them all and they stick with me.

AW: Nobody talks about titles. What is your philosophy on them? How much value do you put on them? How did The Fates Will Find Their Way come about?

HP: I studied, for a time, at St. John’s College. It’s there I fell in love with the Greeks. I also fell in love with Virgil, from whom the quote comes.

AW: Talk about your process of finding a publisher: Who did you seek out first? Who gave you a chance? Why did you choose the route you did? How did the process change for you when publishing your short stories to when you published your first novel?

HP: With stories, I did everything on my own. I didn’t have an agent. I made contacts. I sent emails. I submitted countless stories. I stayed, as best as possible, in people’s minds. I was polite, but tenacious. When I finished The Fates, I sent it to three agents, whose names I’d been saving since my days of submitting stories. All three wanted the book. I chose the one who sounded the most level-headed: he was excited but cautious. He was optimistic, but realistic. I liked that. He sold the book a week later.

AW: What other jobs do you have? How do they hinder or enhance your career as a writer? Do you consider yourself a writer first?

HP: I waited tables while writing The Fates. I waited tables, in fact, right up until my first day at DePaul. I don’t think waiting tables inhibited me. It helped. I spent my mornings and early afternoons writing. I spent my evenings making the money necessary to pay bills. You have to have a pretty strong will – you have to be determined to get up and do the work (preferably in a clean house).

AW: What tips, quotes, books, tools, etc., have stuck with you as a writer? Do you still refer to them from time to time, such as with writer’s block?

HP: Read. Read. Read. Read. And I’m not talking about re-reading Harry Potter. Read new things. Read old things. Ask you best friends what the best books they’ve ever read are. Read those. Ask your favorite professors what the best books they’ve ever read are. Read those. I dare you not to want to write after reading so much great stuff.

AW: How was The Fates Will Find Their Way born? What was going through your mind when you were writing it? Was it originally an idea made to be published or did it turn into that? How?

HP: It was just there, this idea. I’d thought I’d shrivel up and die if I didn’t write it.

AW: How do you see the role of your mentor, Ann Beattie, playing out in your work—specifically in The Fates Will Find Their Way?

HP: Ann has created an endless number of possibilities for me. From the first day I met he, I thought she was the bee’s knees. When I realized – miraculously – that I had her respect, I vowed to keep it, continue to earn it, and to try to impress her every day.

AW: What is a question you would like to be asked in an interview? The answer?

HP: Other dream career? Comedian.