CCLaP Weekender From the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography
Model: Alyosha @ Ford
May 23, 2014
Giano Cromley: The CCLaP Interview Photography by Masha Demianova Chicago literary events calendar May 23, 2014 | 1
THIS WEEKâ€™S CHICAG
For all events, visit [cclapce FRIDAY, MAY 23
6pm Kevin Dettmar with Dave Allen and Hugo Burnham Seminary Co-op Bookstore / 5751 S. Woodlawn / Free semcoop.com The music journalist conducts a public discussion with these two members of the classic punk band Gang Of Four. 7pm James Fearnley The Book Cellar / 4736 N. Lincoln / Free bookcellarinc.com The co-founder of The Pogues discusses and reads from his new memoir, Here Comes Everybody. 7pm Adam Carolla North Central College / 310 E. Benton, Naperville northcentralcollege.edu The comedian and podcast host discusses his new book, The America That's In My Head, with local journalist Richard Roeper. Held at the college's Pfeiffer Hall. 7:30pm Johanna Stein with Claire Zulkey Women & Children First / 5233 N. Clark / Free womenandchildrenfirst.com The Hollywood comedy writer discusses her new parenting book, in an informal Q&A hosted by "Funny Ha-Ha" organizer Claire Zulkey.
SATURDAY, MAY 24 2pm JaQuavis West Englewood Public Library / 1745 W. 63rd / Free chipublib.org The author reads from his newest novel, Whitehouse.
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GO LITERARY EVENTS
3pm David Grubbs Corbett vs. Dempsey / 1120 N. Ashland, 3rd fl. / Free corbettvsdempsey.com The author reads from his new book, Records Ruin the Landscape: John Cage, the Sixties, and Sound Recording, followed by a discussion with venue owner John Corbett.
SUNDAY, MAY 25 3pm Mike O'Flaherty 57th Street Books / 1301 E. 57th / Free semcoop.com The author reads from his new novel, Where Do You Run. 7pm Uptown Poetry Slam The Green Mill / 4802 N. Broadway / $7, 21+ slampapi.com International birthplace of the poetry slam. Hosted by Marc Smith.
MONDAY, MAY 26 8:30pm Open Mic Kafein Espresso Bar / 1621 Chicago Ave., Evanston kafeincoffee.com Open mic with hosts chris and Kirill.
TUESDAY, MAY 27 6pm Angel de'Amor Whitney M. Young Jr. Public Library / 7901 S. King / Free chipublib.org The romance author discusses her new novel, His Betrayal, Her Lies.
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WEDNESDAY, MAY 28 6pm The Wrigley Centennial Trivia Showdown Harold Washington Public Library / 400 S. State / Free chipublib.org Newspaper columnist Rick Kogan and author Stuart Shea (Wrigley Field: The Long Life and Contentious Times of the Friendly Confines) help celebrate the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field at this special event, combining trivia questions and history lessons with a one-onone competition between audience members and such special guests as Tribune sports writers and ESPN's Christina Kahrl. Registration highly recommended at [chipublib.org]; doors open to ticket holders at 5pm, with seats only guaranteed if you arrive by 5:40. Held at the library's Cindy Pritzker Auditorium. 9pm In One Ear Heartland Cafe / 7000 N. Glenwood / $3, 18+ facebook.com/pages/In-One-Ear Chicago's 3rd longest-running open-mic show, hosted by Pete Wolf and Billy Tuggle.
THURSDAY, MAY 29 6pm Tom Campbell Barnes & Noble / 1 E. Jackson / Free depaul-loop.bncollege.com The nonfiction author discusses his newest book, Fighting Slavery in Chicago: Abolitionists, the Law of Slavery and Lincoln. 6:30pm The New Black release party City Lit Books / 2523 N. Kedzie / Free citylitbooks.com Dark House Press celebrates the release of their first book, a neo-noir anthology edited by Richard Thomas. The event will feature readings by Joe Meno, Lindsey Hunter, and other contributors. 7pm StoryStudio The Book Cellar / 4736 N. Lincoln / Free bookcellarinc.com A public reading by the students of the "StoryStudio" workshop program.
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7:30pm Dasha Kelly and Elsie May-Jones Women & Children First / 5233 N. Clark / Free womenandchildrenfirst.com The respectively Milwaukee- and Chicago-based poets read from their newest books.
To submit your own literary event, or to correct the information on anything you see here, please drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
May 23, 2014 | 5
GIANO CR 6 | CCLaP Weekender
A Montana native and a former political speechwriter, Giano Cromley is now a writing professor on the southside of Chicago; his debut novel The Last Good Halloween is a delightful look at a less-than-delightful teen, a “Reagan Youth” of the 1980s who has all the intelligence of an adult but none of the self-restraint. CCLaP executive director Jason Pettus recently had a chance to talk with Cromley for the center’s podcast about the book, his upbringing, and his opinions on the Chicago literary community; we’re happy to present the typed version of that talk here in the Weekender. [Originally conducted April 3rd, 2014, at The Sip coffeehouse in the Hyde Park neighborhood.]
ROMLEY THE CCLaP INTERVIEW May 23, 2014 | 7
CCLaP: Let’s start with what brings us down here to the city’s southside today. You live down here, right? For those who don’t know, Chicago has this sort of weird cultural split between north and south, and it seems like most of the people like artists and writers are all up in the north half of the city. Certainly almost everyone we’ve talked to on the podcast before have been up on the northside. So why don’t we start with you telling us a little bit about what you think of living down here? The streets in the 50s and 60s, that’s your general hangout, right? Giano Cromley: Yeah, that’s right. When I first moved to Chicago, maybe twelve years ago now, I moved to the northside because that just happened to be where people I knew were living, but I got a job teaching at a college here on the southside, called Kennedy-King College. So for about four or five years I made a really long commute. [Laughing] That is a long commute! Yeah, I was going from Lakeview to Englewood. So if I had really early classes, I was beating all the morning traffic; but if you’re going down 90/94 in Chicago, if there’s one little accident or anything, the whole thing gets backed up. So I could be thrown off [my schedule] really easily. And eventually a friend of mine who was also working at Kennedy-King at the time was looking at neighborhoods nearby to move to, and he mentioned to me this neighborhood called Woodlawn, which is just south of Hyde Park. Most Chicagoans, and a lot of people outside of Chicago, are reasonably familiar with Hyde Park, because it’s where President Obama is from. And the University of Chicago campus is here. Woodlawn is just directly to the south. And it was kind of a developing neighborhood at the time, so we started looking in the area, and eventually got serious about it and was able to find a place. So I think it was 2007 when we moved to the southside, and I guess you could say that we became fulltime southsiders at that point. And what do you think of being an artist down here? Does it interrupt your opportunities to perform and read and things like that? Or is there a strong neighborhood community of artists here? I think there’s a reasonably strong community of artists here. It’s really dominated by the university. I would say that I’m probably not as involved in that milieu, so I end up traveling a lot around the city to go to readings and things like that. But certainly there’s a group in this area that is really dedicated to that. 8 | CCLaP Weekender
And while we’re on the subject, let’s talk about Kennedy-King, which is one of the Chicago City Colleges. I was wondering about this myself, because of this student anthology CCLaP is doing later this year. When we think of the City Colleges of Chicago, we mostly think of the really famous ones downtown, like Harold Washington and others. I had never even heard of Kennedy-King until we started researching schools to get in contact with. What do you think of it over there, and what do you do over there? I love it over there. It’s where I first started teaching when I first moved to Chicago, so it’s kind of where I’ve grown up in a way. I teach English composition and literature, and like you say, it’s one of the seven City Colleges. The focus has changed a little bit here and there over time, but right now some of our biggest entities, as far as career programs we offer, is that there’s a big culinary school there, and there is a TV station and radio station. WYCC operates out of Kennedy-King. Oh, I didn’t know that. Channel 20. Exactly, exactly. So we’ve got a nice little niche of programs we offer, on top of the general academics, so that you can do your first few years of school there and then transfer to a university as a junior, and do it a lot cheaper than at a four-year school. So it’s a good opportunity for a lot of people. Do you like being a teacher? I do, I do. It’s interesting—I never set out to be a teacher, so I feel like I just happened to fall into it a little bit. But as I started to do it, I found that I was really enjoying it. I think what I get out of it, most of all, is that when you’re teaching, every day you have a chance to have a meaningful interaction with someone who really needs that meaningful interaction. Other jobs I’ve had, I might spend a whole day not talking to anyone, or maybe it’s a few seconds of small talk over the water cooler; but really in that [teaching] position, that conversation you’re having with that student is vitally important to that student, almost every day. I get a lot out of that. All right, let’s go all the way back to your childhood and work our way forward from there, and learn a little bit about what led you to the place you’re at now. You were raised in Montana, right? Most of us not from Montana have this really romantic vision of the place, “Big Sky Country” and all that. Tell us what it was actually like to grow up there. I grew up in Billings, which is the biggest city in Montana, about 100,000 people; so when people are envisioning Montana, they’re maybe envisioning horses and cows and stuff... May 23, 2014 | 9
[Laughter] Rivers running through things... [Laughter] Exactly, exactly. But where I grew up, there was that stuff, but not right around where I grew up. I spent the first eighteen years of my life there, and it’s always in my mind as home. So a generally good upbringing there. Yeah, very good. And even though I grew up in the city, I would definitely go hiking and camping and fishing and all those things. When people ask me about how I like living in Chicago—and I generally like living in Chicago— one of the things I always say is that I definitely have mountains in my blood. And that will probably never go away.
“When people ask me about how I like living in Chicago—and I generally like living in Chicago—one of the things I always say is that I definitely have mountains in my blood. And that will probably never go away.”
But nonetheless, you ended up going to Dartmouth for your undergraduate work. What took you out there? I had visited there before; my brother went there, and he’s four years older than me, so when I went to visit him, I thought, “Well, this is a pretty cool place.” So I went there, and it was one of those things where I went from growing up in a relatively small town to going to college in an even smaller town [laughter], so as isolated as Montana felt, New Hampshire felt even more isolated in a lot of ways.
Was the New England culture hard to get used to? Yeah, it really was, actually. I mean, the people are nice and wonderful, don’t get me wrong. But I think there’s a degree of formality that I probably didn’t experience growing up. In Montana, I think people tend to be a little less guarded. So for me, that was a bit of a transition. Especially, you know, when you go to a place like Dartmouth, you’re getting people from all over. So it was definitely a culture shock for me. And this is something I find really interesting about you; after your undergraduate work, you actually spent a good deal of your youth as a 10 | CCLaP Weekender
speechwriter for politicians, right? That’s right. After college I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, so I moved to Washington DC and got a job working on Capitol Hill, for a senator who just recently retired, Senator [Max] Baucus, a Democrat from Montana. Was that just a random opportunity that came about? A friend of a friend, maybe? Growing up in Montana, I think you always feel like you know your politicians to a certain degree, so I’m sure at various points I had seen Baucus speak and had shaken his hand. But at Dartmouth, you’re required to spend your sophomore summer on campus; and as a result, you have another quarter during the school year where you leave and have to go do something in another city, so I chose to go to Washington to do an internship. So I had interned with the Baucus office before graduating; and then once I did, it turned out there was an opening. But, now, my first job when I got there was answering phones at the front desk. So it was very much a case of working my way up. I didn’t just stumble into a speechwriting job at 22; frankly, at that point I wouldn’t have been very good at it. It seems like our public understanding of that entire milieu is so influenced right now by a whole series of movies and TV shows about how people in those kinds of positions, positions like what you held, are these sort of insiders, and that there’s a lot of weird exciting behind-the-scenes stuff that you’re all privy to, and these weird circles of power running around behind the scenes. What was the reality of that kind of stuff when you were working there? Certainly not in a drama-type way. [Laughter] Well, apart from West Wing fantasies. Yeah, we were doing no walk-and-talks. [Laughter] That disappoints me, Giano. Yeah, sorry, Jason. The bubble has been burst. You know, it’s a job. So just like any job where you go to an office, there’s a lot of boring mundane stuff, and also moments of exciting stuff as well. I don’t think this is saying anything too controversial, but I think there’s a disconnect between the conversations people might be having over funding a certain project or something, and the actual results of that decision in the real world. So I think it’s a bit insular from the actual consequences of the decisions that are made. But I would definitely say that it’s not nearly as interesting as it’s made out to be. May 23, 2014 | 11
And having spent time in that world now, does it leave you with an optimism or a cynicism about American politics? That’s a good question. I would say...not cynicism, but there are certainly a lot of earnest people trying to do good things, things they believe in, and I think you see that the system itself is not always cut out to help people realize those visions they have. So I would say that I’m hopeful about the process, but that it’s always difficult to do something positive. So I wouldn’t say cynical, but it’s more of a realistic eye that I have now. Now obviously, at a certain point you decided to change tracks in your career, and you ended up going back to school and getting your MFA, although I forgot to write down where exactly that was. I ended up going back to the University of Montana, in Missoula in the western part of the state, versus Billings which is in the central part. So a very different feel, even though it’s the same state. So that’s where I went to get my MFA. In creative writing? That’s right. You were at a point where you had a good, steady, middle-class job. We’ve talked with writers before who have been in that situation, how difficult it is to walk away from that surety in order to do something much more radical, either academically or artistically. What was that journey like for you? That’s a really good question. Oh, and how old were you at that point? Oh, 26 or 27. And this was before you were married? Yeah, yeah. So I had always known I wanted to be a writer; even when I moved to Washington and started working there, I knew that wasn’t my end goal. And so basically the question became, about four years after I left college, was how I could get back on track to what I wanted to do. And you’re right, that’s a very difficult decision to make, and I think that was probably the biggest benefit I got from my MFA program. Not that I suddenly learned how to write, or that I even got any kind of rigorous training or was meeting the right people; it just gave me the license to decide it was all right to start 12 | CCLaP Weekender
doing this other thing. The justification. Yeah, right. Sometimes you need an aperature in your life, some kind of framework to say, “Okay, this crazy thing I’m doing perhaps has some kind of justification.” So the MFA gave me the excuse to start [creative writing] without a guilty conscience, even though the risk for doing that was pretty high. The risk for failure is always high when you try to do something different. It seems like whenever we talk with published writers who got an MFA, I hear a wide range of opinions about what that education did for them, in terms of either supporting a commercial creative career afterwards or working against it. What was the experience like for you? Again, that’s a really great question, and depending on who you’re talking to, one that will get you a lot of different answers. For me, the MFA program was valuable in that it gave me time to pursue something full-time, without distractions or other things going on on the side. That being said, it’s not like I walked out thinking, “Okay, now I know how to write.” It would be more apt to say that I walked out thinking, “Okay, now I know how to work.” Because one of the things I realized, very quickly after I first got there, was that there were other people who were definitely more talented than me. [Laughter] Who were more talented, more published, had better connections than me. That if I had been planning on just sliding by on talent, that wasn’t going to fly; that the only way I’d succeed at this would be to work harder than everyone else. I don’t know if I did end up working harder than everyone else, but I did work very hard. So now that I have another job that takes up a lot of my time, it’s good to know, what it takes to be a writer is to just sit in a chair and do a lot of writing. And what brought you to Chicago? A good question. [Laughter] I knew I wanted to go to a big city. Perhaps Washington can be thought of as a big city, perhaps not; but I was living in Arlington and was commuting in to the Capitol each day, so it never really felt like the “urban experience” to me. So that left a couple options—New York, maybe Los Angeles, maybe San Francisco, and Chicago. So at that point I said to myself, I don’t have a job, I don’t have a lot of money saved up, so do I really want to go to these expensive places? Or do I want to go someplace that maybe has a lot more affordable housing prices? And that was really what it came down to, when it came time to make a decision. And what do you think of it now? What’s it like to be a writer in Chicago in the early 2000s? May 23, 2014 | 13
Well, according to me... [Laughter] It’s great, in the sense that there’s this really big community of people who really care about writing, who are interested in reading, going to readings, who just love books. I’m finding out more and more about that every day. And I don’t think I plugged into that community for awhile when I first moved here, because I don’t know, I just didn’t really reach out that much, but I see more and more of that the longer I’m here. And because New York is kind of known as the publishing world, and LA is known as the entertainment world, I think not having that kind of heavy moniker in Chicago enables it to be more laid-back, less pretentious, when it comes to things. It seems like every time I go to a reading, I meet really nice people who really care about writing. I think that’s great. It’s really refreshing. Are there good opportunities professionally here? Or do you regret now not booking it straight to Brooklyn after school? I mean just in terms of pure opportunities to publish. It’s always going to be hard. I can’t say if there are more writing jobs in Brooklyn, more money for writers there, but I think anywhere you go, it’s going to be hard to scrape together a living solely as a writer. I myself teach, and I happen to enjoy it, but that gives me a lot of room to write when I want to. I can’t say it’s going to be an easy path if you only want to write in Chicago, but I do know people who do it, and who make it successfully happen. Well, let’s talk a little bit about the book now. The Last Good Halloween, it’s called. Tell us a little bit about the path of getting it published. I understand that this is one of the first books your publisher has ever done. That’s right. They basically have no certain mandate about what they’ll publish and what they won’t; they told me that they just want to find quirky books that are interesting. And I think mine just happened to fall into that category, and I was excited about their interest. Was it just a random letter to them one day? Were you cold-submitting to a bunch of places? Right—just a cold query, and they said, “Why don’t you send us the manuscript?” So I did, and about a month later, they wanted to meet up for coffee and to chat. How far into the querying process were you when you got that interest? How many places had you contacted already? I don’t know if you can represent it mathematically [laughter]. I took a fairly circuitous route with this one. One of my previous manuscripts that has gone unpublished, I had gotten an agent in New York who had represented it, and 14 | CCLaP Weekender
had always said that she wanted to see anything else I wrote... That’s interesting. That previous manuscript, did that come out of your school work? Yeah, it was my MFA thesis. How did you get that agent? Was it someone specifically going out and looking at students? Did you meet them at some literary fest or something like that? It was just more cold-querying. I have my little techniques for doing that, and maybe everyone does; I go to bookstores and look for books that were similarly written, look at the acknowledgements to see who their agent is, then send that agent my manuscript as well. And she read it and said she really loved it, and had been unable to sell it but said, “I really want to see the other things you do.” So when I finished this one, I sent it to her, and she had a couple of suggestions— good suggestions—so I made those changes and sent them back. And one of the things I’ve discovered in publishing is that, as a writer, no one cares as much about your manuscript as you do. So you’ll never hear back from anyone as quickly as you think you should.
“One of the things I’ve discovered in publishing is that, as a writer, no one cares as much about your manuscript as you do. So you’ll never hear back from anyone as quickly as you think you should.”
[Laughter] Absolutely. So when I went through the process of revising the manuscript and her reading it again, that was actually about eight months of time. Everything moves glacially when it comes to that stuff. And eventually she did like the changed version, and said she wanted to represent it; and this is maybe something you’re going to ask about later, so I’ll go ahead and address it, but she was adamant that it be presented as a Young Adult [YA] novel. I had never written it as a YA novel, but it doesn’t matter to me; if that’s a label that makes people May 23, 2014 | 15
want to read it, I’m fine with that. So she went about the process of submitting it to editors, and the first round went out with no bites, then the second round went out and still no bites, and I was noticing that with each passing week, the time between our emails was growing longer and longer, and her responses to my questions were getting slower and slower, and a certain point I just thought, “At this point all I’m doing is sitting around waiting for nothing,” so I told her I didn’t want her representing it anymore. I find this really interesting. You’re one of the first people we’ve talked to on this podcast who actually had an agent in New York and ended up getting rid of that agent to get involved in the world of small presses. Well, don’t misunderstand me, I was really despondent at that point; I wasn’t some brave warrior for truth and justice, I was... In the corner crying? [Laughter] Yeah, that was more like it! “I’ll have another whiskey, please.” [Laughter] But I decided, you know, let me try this out for awhile. Instead of finding another agent, I just started querying small indie presses, and my wife suggested, “Why don’t you look at some Chicago presses?” And that’s when I started looking around, and Tortoise Press was one of the first people to really snap at it. All in all, when people ask me about publishing, I say that it took me longer to publish it than it took me to write it. That sounds pretty on-par for a lot of small-press experiences. Exactly. And I’m certainly not complaining now. It is a coming-of-age tale as you mentioned, and we’ll talk a little more about that, and about labels and the like. But it’s already very well-known at the CCLaP website that I have a low tolerance for most coming-of-age tales. I just find most of them to be these cookie-cutter stories; they just seem to tell the same story over and over again. I was relieved after reading your book to see that it’s different than a lot of those, and that I like it a lot more. And there are two main reasons for that, so I thought we would talk about both those reasons and go into a little more detail with them, and you can tell us how deliberate these two things were in your own mind as an author. First of all, the main character, Kirby—ultra-smart, ultracomplicated, a very complex person, and not to put too fine a point on it, but kind of a dick to a lot of people. That to me is what really saves the book, is what makes it such an interesting thing. How conscious were you of that kind of goal, going into the book? Very conscious. A friend of mine had read something I had written, a terrible 16 | CCLaP Weekender
screenplay I had been playing around with a while back, and it had all these weird supernatural things happening in it, and he said, “You know, I always thought you could write a coming-of-age tale. Why don’t you do that?” And like you, I had never really been drawn to writing one, because I thought that everything had been done before. But I also knew that I sometimes like a challenge, and I thought that this might be a good challenge, to write one in a way that was maybe a little bit different. So finding out who Kirby was was really the initial challenge in how I approached that. And I remembered something from this workshop I was in with Richard Ford, and someone had asked him how he writes children, and he said, “I don’t; I just write miniature adults.” And really, that’s how I approached Kirby, by giving him all the faculties, all the vocabulary, all the complexity of an adult character. The only thing he doesn’t have is that he doesn’t understand why. He knows all these things are going on around him, but he just doesn’t understand why. And really, he does all these things in the book, but it’s ultimately just to answer why. I felt that with that framework in mind, I could set about writing this coming-of-age story. The fact of the matter is that we’re all trying to figure out why. We’re all coming of age every day; it just so happens that this one is fifteen years old. And as long as we’re talking about him, I wanted to mention a detail that I found really delightful. It’s set in 1988, and you made him one of the so-called “Reagan Youth.” It seems to me that history is completely forgetting about these millions of teenagers in the ‘80s that suddenly became conservatives; other than Alex P. Keaton in Family Ties, it seems like that’s one of the only cultural references that has survived the 1980s, of this big sweeping wave of conservatism among young people that happened back then. Yeah, absolutely. I grew up in Montana, which is a fairly conservative state, even though my parents are Democrats. But I just had so many friends who sort of adopt their mindset through their parents, and just become that person because it’s practically inherited. That’s what’s so delightful about Kirby, that you really get that tone right from back then, all these young people who got swept up in this romantic idea of Reagan The Cowboy going out and kicking ass for the U.S.A. You really get that across in the book really well, I think. Well, thank you, I appreciate that. That was my initial mindset, that I just wanted to include that whole mental state, but then it became an integral part of the story itself—this search for a father, the country searching for a paternal figure at the time, it really dovetailed into my story very well. But I just wanted to duplicate that mindset. He doesn’t understand anything about [conservative politics], but he’s heard it, so that’s part of who he is and what May 23, 2014 | 17
he’s about. And then the other thing I thought was really good about this book is that, unlike a lot of other coming-of-age tales, this has a really sort of rampedup second half, and a plot that goes in these really interesting directions. There’s a lot at stake, and the characters really get themselves into this serious trouble, and we’re not quite sure how they’re going to get out of it. I’ll leave it up to you to decide how many spoilers you want to divulge as we’re talking about this, but let’s just say that things get a little crazy for them. How much of that was deliberately wanting to break the usual tropes of a coming-of-age tale?
“I remembered something from this workshop I was in with Richard Ford, and someone had asked him how he writes children, and he said, ‘I don’t; I just write miniature adults.’ And really, that’s how I approached Kirby, by giving him all the faculties, all the vocabulary, all the complexity of an adult character. The only thing he doesn’t have is that he doesn’t understand why. He knows all these things are going on around him, but he just doesn’t understand why.”
Well, A, thank you for that really nice compliment. That’s awesome. So one of the things I set out to do when I wrote this was that I had this character in mind, a voice and a character that I wanted to put into my story, and then I thought, “Okay, what is the story I’m going to put him into?” And I don’t think this is revealing too much to say that the situation that’s laid out after the first chapter is almost a Hamlet-type situation; a missing father, an uncle that’s basically usurping the family whatever. Or at least as Kirby sees it.
Exactly, as he sees it. And even his friend makes a direct reference to the fact that this sounds like Hamlet. So the first part is a lot of Kirby deliberating, and trying to figure out this new family landscape. But then just like in Hamlet, suddenly all hell breaks loose. And then lastly, let’s talk more about what you brought up about Young Adult versus coming-of-age. It’s such a complicated subject these days, especially when you’re talking about marketing and financing and things like bookstores. A YA label can get you more sales, theoretically, but it can also get you shunted off into this YA ghetto at the bookstore and less respect from adult audience members. How have you seen your book? 18 | CCLaP Weekender
That’s a question that comes up a lot with this, because it doesn’t fit neatly into one of these categories. And I’m sure that was part of the problem when I had an agent and they weren’t able to sell it; it’s kind of YA, but it doesn’t really fit the expectations we have of that genre. Right. When you’re talking about the big companies, and generally you don’t have an agent unless they’re out talking to the Random Houses of the world, a lot of those places want to have an easy categorization, and they don’t want to sign a book unless it fits right into the middle of that category. There’s a huge risk aversion [among major presses]. And so unless someone has done it before, and a person can see exactly what that is, it’s going to be really hard to find someone who’s going to take a chance on it. And especially for a first-time author who no one has ever heard of before. As far as whether or not I think it’s YA, I never set out to write a Young Adult novel. That was never part of my mindset. In fact, if anything, I think I was really hesitant to write this story because I thought it would be considered YA. So you very thoroughly had an adult reading audience in mind when you were writing it, huh? Absolutely. And I think that really freed me up in a way, to be able to really portray the teenage experience in a more realistic way. Like, I felt free to use whatever curse words I thought appropriate at the time. I deal with issues of sexuality and drug use and alcohol consumption and car theft [laughing], not to reveal too much. And because I wasn’t concerned about how parents were going to react, or whether this was too much for a fourteen-year-old reader, it allowed me to do that. And now I can leave that up to a parent to decide whether this is appropriate for their children; but I always remember when I was a kid, and I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but somewhere in my mid-teens, my mom came home from the bookstore and said, “Oh, here’s this new book that everyone is talking about. You should check it out.” And it was [Bret Easton Ellis’s] Less Than Zero. Which, you know, I don’t think she had any idea what was actually in it. But I remember reading it and my mind was blown. How old again did you say you were? You see, I can’t quite remember, but I want to say that I was fourteen or fifteen. Now, looking at the publication date, that may prove me wrong. 1985, I think. Yeah, so I was thirteen or fourteen. May 23, 2014 | 19
[Long laughter] There’s a whole scene in there of this teenage girl being tied to a bed and slowly tortured to death! Yeah, yeah! [Laughter] Right? It was totally inappropriate; and yet, I remember reading it and thinking, “Wow, you can write about anything.” The world is a big place, and to me that was a huge watershed moment, because it showed me what could be done, in terms of using words to express ideas and feelings. It was instrumental to me. Have you been hearing anything back from your readers so far about what they think of all this? That’s my number-one question from them, of whether this is Young Adult, and I say, “I don’t know; what do you think?” And some people have said, “Yeah, I recommended it to my daughter,” and I’ve had some people with much younger children who have said, “I’ll recommend it to them when they get a little older.” So I think by and large, once you’ve read it and digested it, most people see that it’s honest to Kirby’s experience, and I think as long as you’re doing that, it really opens doors to kids as far as, “Oh, I can talk about uncomfortable stuff with my parents.” Hopefully that will be something that can come from it. We’re almost out of time, but let’s wrap up by talking about what you’re doing right now and what’s coming up next with you. If I have my information correct, as a matter of fact, I think you’re writing the sequel to this book right now, aren’t you? I am. The further adventures of Kirby! That’s what it is! I know it sounds...I don’t know, I guess a cynic would say, [deadpan] “Oh, a sequel, great.” But it was something that occurred to me very organically, right at the time that my agent was going to start submitting it to the first round of editors, it suddenly popped into my head that I know what happens next. And so basically the book picks up about a year and a half, maybe two years, after this one ends, and it joins Kirby where he now is, which I won’t say because that would probably spoil the first book too much. And it just continues his quest. More of the same, emotionally speaking? Well, that idea occurred to me, but then when I was sitting down to write it, I was having a lot of problems. The difficulty is in the fact that there’s a big difference between being fifteen years old and doing bad stuff, and 20 | CCLaP Weekender
being seventeen years old and doing bad stuff. So I had to sort of adjust my framework. And Kirby makes that realization early on [in the second book] too—“I’m not this cute kid I used to be. I can’t get away with stuff like I used to.” So it’s a more mature voice, but still authentically him, and still containing his sort of acerbic wit about the world. But I certainly had to adapt, and that’s what I’m working on right now, is just getting that tone right. C
The Last Good Halloween is available from Tortoise Books at all your favorite stores, or order it directly from the press at tortoisebooks.com. Follow Giano online at gianocromley.com.
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NOW ACCEPTING SUBMISSIONS The Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, in conjunction with Columbia College, is proud to announce Chicago’s first-ever “City All Star” student anthology, a themed collection featuring work from over twenty different colleges and universities across the city and suburbs. This year’s theme is “Chicago After Dark” (being released as a 300-page paperback book on September 15th), and we are looking for YOUR creative interpretations on this subject, whether narrative fiction, creative nonfiction, or poetry. The submission process is free, and there is no minimum word count, with a maximum of around 5,000 words. Contributors will receive a free copy of the book, will be able to order additional copies at their wholesale cost and will be offered numerous opportunities to perform across the city in the 201415 school year, both on college campuses and in commercial venues, including possible appearances on radio and television. The latest deadline for submissions is June 1st, but the sooner your submission, the more consideration it will be given. All contributors will be paired with a member of CCLaP’s editorial team upon acceptance, and their piece given a professional editing before the book’s release. Please send all submissions as a Microsoft Word or Open Office attachment to email@example.com (and let us know which educational institution you’re a student of), or visit [www.cclapcenter.com/chicagoafterdark] for more information. We look forward to seeing your own take on “Chicago After Dark,” whether funny or serious in tone, dark or light in subject matter.
More at cclapcenter.com/chicagoafterdark Submit to firstname.lastname@example.org 22 | CCLaP Weekender
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Location: Moscow 25 years old, born and raised in Moscow, taking pictures for 5 years I guess. Before that I was a producer in fashion and advertising. Right now shooting model tests, fashion stories and personal series of different kinds of stuff. Big part of my inspiration comes from the movies. Right now Iâ€™m working on creating one. It will be a photo movie like La jetee of Chris Marker or Dogâ€™s dialog of Raul Ruiz.
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Like millions of other only-child Chinese twenty-somethings, Turtle Chen is graduating college and vicariously desperate (via parental pressure) to find a job, though he would probably settle for a girlfriend. He speaks English. He studied abroad in America. Employers, ladies, what’s not to love? With a bit of bravado and some hometown luck, this engineering grad lands himself an entry level position working for the state news agency; not that he particularly cares about politics or journalism, not that they particularly want him to. Through a class assignment, Turtle learns that his grandmother’s village will soon be inundated to make way for a dam construction project. His parents tell him not to worry about it. His bosses tell him not to worry about it. He would be only too happy to oblige, and yet despite his best efforts not to care he finds himself on the front lines fighting bulldozers, next to what some villagers claim to be the ghost of Chairman Mao. There’s bribery, corruption, computer games, and text messages imbued with uncertainty. Air pollution, censorship, and a job fair where students attack employers with paper basketballs. And it’s all told through the eyes of a young man with impeccable English (‘impeccable English,’ that’s correct, yes?), who’s right there in the middle of it all. Welcome to the delightful world of “Turtle and Dam,” the literary debut of Washington DC analyst Scott Abrahams.
Download for free at cclapcenter.com/turtleanddam
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The CCLaP Weekender is published in electronic form only, every Friday for free download at the CCLaP website [cclapcenter.com]. Copyright 2014, Chicago Center for Literature and Photography. All rights revert back to artists upon publication. Editorin-chief: Jason Pettus. Story Editor: Allegra Pusateri. Calendar Editors: Anna Thiakos and Taylor Carlile. To submit your work for possible feature, or to add a calendar item, contact us at email@example.com.
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