Green Apple Books is proud to celebrate the release of Volume 19 of the Chicago Quarterly Review on Friday, March 13th 2015 in our Granny Smith Room at 7:30pm. The night will include a short reception and readings from featured writers:
“Savage Breast,” by Elizabeth McKenzie
It had been an ordinary day, to a point. I had a headache that wouldn’t let up, and there was a party I’d promised I’d go to—I’d said see you soon to the people at work. But after I unlocked my door and kicked off my shoes all I could think about was jumping into bed. Once I allowed myself to think that this was a reasonable idea, I felt released from the grip of the party; I realized that if I slept right through nobody would really care.
I threw down my bag in the hall. A stale smell engulfed me, as if from a storage room that hadn’t been opened for a long time, but I was too dead to investigate. I groped for the light switch but instead felt a warm furry thing on my hand.
Next thing I knew, I was lying on my back in a bed.
The bed was hard, and there was a thin blue blanket over me. Looking up, I saw light coming through an old-fashioned shade that had been pulled down over a window. There was nothing like this in my apartment. Slightly yellowed, it had a cord hanging from it which had been crocheted around a plastic pull ring. There was a familiar water stain on the shade, a lion’s head coming out of a rose, and I sat up in bed with a gasp….
An Interview by Katie Alstadt
Don De Grazia is the author of American Skin, a contemporary coming-of-age novel. His stories have appeared in Chicago After Dark, The Chicago Reader, TriQuarterly, and in 2014, his story “Black Was Missing” appeared in the Chicago Quarterly Review’s special Chicago Issue. Don is also a professor at Columbia College Chicago, teaching fiction. I had the pleasure of catching up with Don recently to discuss his current projects and get his perspective on the future of publishing and literary fiction.
Don is currently working on two different novels and a collection of short stories. Several of the short stories are interconnected, sharing several common characters and environments. He’s also continuing to develop characters he introduced in prior works, such as Black from “Black Was Missing.”
Given Don’s versatility as a short story writer, novelist, fiction and nonfiction writer, I asked him about his writing process. “When I’m writing short stories, I have a very clear sense of the story’s end, the resolution and the themes, which are the driving forces of the story for me,” Don says. As for novels, Don states that unlike short stories he “writes on the edge of discovery,” meaning he lets the story and the characters guide him towards revelations and resolutions. I found this particularly encouraging as many young novelists and writers apply the same process to their larger works of prose.
Don also shared that recently, he has been writing screenplays. Initially he approached them the same way he approached his prose: with the notion that screenplays “are simply just stories.” However, he soon discovered that novels and short stories are very different from screenplays. “Screenplays are incomplete movies,” Don says. “The writer is challenged to focus on enhancing the storyline while thinking about elements that do not exist until later production, such as lighting and sound environments.” Despite these challenges, Don says that the technical concepts you learn in all storytelling can be applied to screenwriting. “You still need to develop an intriguing plot and focus on rich character development.”
Of all the forms he’s tried, which is his favorite? “I prefer fiction because I feel like much of the nonfiction and memoirs out there today are fictionalized. Our memories are subjective versions of reality where the writer puts order into something that previously did not exist.”
Don’s success is inspiring and I had the honor of working with him in a fiction class at Columbia College. So like all aspiring writers, I was interested in his experience with publishing and how his novel went from a simple idea to a published work of fiction. His response was moving. “If you devote yourself to writing a book and pour yourself into it, you will get published.”
The process of choosing a small press or a top publishing house after your novel is complete is more complicated and relies heavily on individual taste. Writers have to decide if they want more personal, detailed attention which they will receive at a small press or if they want to work with a top publishing house, where they might become a “bingo chip” in the pool of established authors.
However, with all these different options, including self-publishing, Don declares that young writers should be more encouraged than ever, as the publishing world is constantly changing forms and creating many more exciting opportunities. “The lines in the industry are blurring,” Don says.
Don recently shared with his students the example of a young adult novel written by James Frey entitled Endgame. The book is set to be the first interactive, multimedia experience and will incorporate e-books, interactive gaming and Youtube videos. Imagine the opportunities to engage the reader using audio and visual tools.
I appreciated Don’s professionalism and willingness to take time to share his insights and expertise. I believe he is a great example of the talent that exists within Chicago’s literary community and I am sure we will be hearing more great things from him in the future.
“Breeding Grounds” by Amy Bitterman, published in our Spring 2013 issue, has received a “Special Mention” in the 2015 Pushcart Prize Anthology! www.pushcartprize.com
by Katie Alstadt
A sense of community is difficult to find as a writer, a solitary profession that limits communication and interactions with those around you. If you’re a writer or if you write as a hobby, you know that sharing it is scary. Opening up your ideas and works-in-progress with other writers builds a sense of community, fuels ideas and keeps you moving forward with your work. This was the theme at the 2014 Kriti Festival, hosted on UIC campus in Chicago, Illinois. The week long festival celebrated authors, their works, their successes and the art of writing itself.
Syed A. Haider, the Chicago Quarterly Review’s chief editor, attended and spoke at three different panels and read a few selections from his short stories. He also shared his personal experiences in the arts, revealed his road to success, and discussed how to get work published. Syed started his writing career later in life. He came to America to be an engineer, studied psychology, and pursued a career in social work. He studied at the University of Chicago and met a professor that was generous with her writing criticism of Syed’s early work. He then went on to publish a book of short stories. Syed stated that he always thought he could write but not well enough to make money.
When asked on the panel at the Kriti Festival for advice how to publish and handle rejection, Haider simply said, “Keep writing, keep writing. Don’t worry about rejection.” He also said that it’s important for writers not to share their work with publishers or writing groups too early, as criticism during the writing process can be overwhelming and harmful to early drafts. However, Syed encouraged the aspiring writers in the audience to join writing groups whether on social media or within school as they build their help community.
Other writers on the panel, including young adult writer Rajeep Paulus, author of Swimming Through Clouds, also encouraged writers to follow their dreams but to do it sensibly. “Pay attention to your art,” she stated, “while reminding everyone to remain realistic and maintain other jobs while you write. Always have a Plan B,” Paulus said.
Manil Suri, award winning author and bestseller of a trilogy of novels named for Hindu gods, including The Death of Vishnu, also spoke at the Festival. I had the honor of speaking to Manil after his panel to ask him for advice for aspiring writers.
Dignified and calm after signing a stack of books for excited readers and fans, Suri told me that he originally started writing as a hobby and that it was something he did only in his free time. But as he continued, he found that writing was something he really enjoyed because it added another dimension to his already busy life. Suri attended the University of Mumbai and Carnegie for a major in mathematics. He wrote his first novel in 1995, after keeping the project secret from his friends and family for about fifteen years. When I asked him about his publication process, Suri smiled and admitted that he was lucky when he found his agent. It all started when he submitted the first three chapters of his novel to an arts center as admittance to attend. He was surprised to find that he received harsh criticism that “tore it apart.” Michael Cunningham, Pulitzer Prize winner, hosted the program and encouraged Suri to keep writing the novel at any cost. Cunningham also wrote Suri a recommendation to an artist colony in New Hampshire and it was there that Suri met a scout from Hollywood who took an interest in his manuscript. However, the novel was not right for film and he found an agent for Suri who later published the novel. Suri stated that writing should be for yourself first and that it should make you happy. If it does, then hard work and dedication will make success easier. “Don’t worry about the first ten years,” Suri said. “Try to get better and hone your craft, then worry about publication.”
I found that many audience members during other panels were interested in how authors found their inspiration, so I asked Suri the same thing. “I only need enough inspiration to get the idea but I think the mechanics are more important. I’ve found that biking or swimming will usually spark an idea.”
The Kriti Festival as a whole was inspiring for me as a writer. I met so many smart and gracious authors who were more than willing to share their secrets to writing, editing and submitting. But most of all, I felt very welcomed in the community as we all shared our experiences with the arts, and what we loved to read and write. The Kriti Festival advocated writers and their community, joining together and creating art, no matter what you may be interested in. I enjoyed meeting so many writers and even made some connections. I highly recommend attending the event next year and in the meantime, joining creative groups and getting yourself and your work out there.
Bay area contributors to CQR #18 read at Green Apple Books, August 18, 2014. Including Ali Eteraz, Thomas Lee, Willer de Oliveira, Dan Moreau and Moazzam Sheikh. A brilliant group!
Free and open to the public. Come celebrate the Chicago Issue of the Chicago Quarterly Review with Sharon Solwitz, Signe Ratcliff, Cecilia Pinto, Liz Radford, Syed Haider, John Blades, Jim Stacey, Elizabeth McKenzie, Umberto Tosi, R. Craig Sautter, Jason Economus, Natalia Nebel, Bill Lederer, Jim Stacey, Joe Weintraub, Jack Fuller, Robert Kerwin, Dipika Mukherjee, Paul Jones, Steve Trumpeter, Rogers Worthington, Garnett Kilberg Cohen, and Donald G. Evans. Join the writers at the bar at 6; reading starts at 7!
Curbside Splendor, The Ernest Hemingway Foundation, Oak Park Library, and826CHI are proud to present: POP-UP BOOK FAIR 2014
57th Street Books / Seminary Co-op
Another Chicago Magazine
Burial Day Books
Chicago Center for Literature and Photography (CCLaP)
Chicago Literary Hall of Fame
Chicago Quarterly Review
Dead Tree Press
Dream of Things
Fifth Star Press
Half Letter Press / Temporary Services
Hobart and Short Flight / Long Drive Books
Lake Claremont Press
Miss Nyet Publishing, LLC