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Accessible Alt-rocker David Paige always has his eye on the prize. “I love being from Illinois,” says the musician, “It's made successful touring possible. As a growing independent artist, I have been able to go out on regional tours regularly and build up a fan base in several markets nearby. From Chicago, you can drive in any direction and it won't be long before you're near another thriving music scene!” Just back from one such tour, Paige spoke with Our Town about his influences, performance experiences and sound.

Our Town Who are your influences? 
David Paige I'm a child of the 90's, so I have a ton of influences from that time--Matchbox Twenty, Third Eye Blind, and Goo Goo Dolls. My first cassette was Nirvana's Nevermind. Listening to that tape, I felt the impact music would have on my life. My love for Nirvana turned into my discovery of The Foo Fighters, definitely one of my biggest influences. I also went through a three year phase in college where I only listened to the Beatles. I learned a lot about songwriting from dissecting their songs and exploring their harmonic choices, song forms and wide range of lyrical content. I've dialed that back though. Now I can enjoy the Beatles in responsible, healthy amounts.

OT How would you describe your sound?
DP I tend to borrow elements from several different styles, depending on what each specific song needs--similar to blending ingredients for different meals.

OT What's your writing process like?
DP Each song is different.  Sometimes I hear a melody in my head, and I'll work the chords to fit. Other times I'll have a lyrical idea and build a song to support the mood. I also sometimes write chord changes or riffs first, and pick out the melody from there. Once I'm happy with the song, I bring it to my bandmates to flesh out the rest of the arrangement. 

OT For you, what's the most challenging part of performing?
DP When I get really excited for a show, the time on stage flies by faster than I'd like.  Sometimes I can get so caught up in the set list, that I find it difficult to slow down and enjoy the moment. That's definitely something I'm working on. 

OT What do you enjoy about playing Chicago?
DP I love performing in my hometown because I get to see all my close friends and family in the audience! It's really nice to come home to that after being on tour. 


Learn more about David Paige at

Photo by Ben Sherman

ComedySportz Chicago member Dave Urlakis is no stranger to online comedy. He created the viral sketch comedy channel Awkward Spaceship, which has over 1.9 million views on YouTube and over 2.3 million views on Funny or Die. After the success of his first web series, Dentally Challenged, he decided to create Day Drinking, which follows alternative rock radio DJ Quentin Day, whose life is turned upside-down after he gets bumped to the graveyard shift. Our Town spoke with Urlakis about his hopes for the show.

Our Town What are the pros and cons to creating a web series?
Dave Urlakis The pros are that the sky's the limit. If you want to make a web series about a bunch of sous chefs in a submarine, you can totally do that and there won't be anyone to stop you (although, maybe there should be; that idea is awful). The cons are they take a lot of work, and, if you're like me, you're trying to get all of it done with practically no budget. Luckily, I have a lot of very talented friends who wanted to help out.

OT What was the initial inspiration?
DU The long term inspiration was that as an actor and improviser, I've frequently had to work weird hours, whether that's really late night shows or early morning calls to be on set. So, every now and then I'd bump into someone who worked third shift, and I always found it fascinating that there was a whole group of people out there living and working on a different schedule from the rest of us.The more short term, immediate inspiration was that our Directors of Photography, Alex Sherman and Ben Sherman, who've worked on a bunch of Awkward Spaceship videos, said that they had access to a bar set.  This got me thinking about who would be interesting to see drinking at a bar and the whole idea of watching a group of people who work third shift, so they'd be drinking at 9am, came to mind.

OT Take us through the preparation for each episode.
DU I'm a little unconventional in that I like to cast our main characters while I'm still in the middle of writing the episodes.  The reason being, I can then write to the strengths of the particular actors. For example, Jason R. Chin can turn lines in ways that a lot of other actors can't, Geoff Crump is fantastic at physical comedy, and Brit Belsheim is really great at playing strong, but vulnerable characters.  Knowing that, I can write moments into our episodes that showcase those abilities.

From there, I know I want to do an 11-episode series, so I write 14 scripts and cut the bottom three that I like the least.  Then we do a table read of the 11 episodes, we talk about the scripts and individual jokes, I take the feedback from the actors, and do another draft of the scripts.

Then, we get to set and we traditionally shoot two episodes over an eight-hour day.  We run the scripts one more time before we shoot and make any last minute changes to the dialogue and performances there in the room as needed.

Finally, all the footage goes off to our editor, Ryan DiGiorgi, and we keep hitting the episodes with the editing stick until we get them to a point where we're happy with them.  Then, I post them online.

That's more or less our process, although I'm glossing over a lot of late nights, swearing, and crippling self-doubt from all parties involved.

OT What are your long term hopes for the show?
DU I love the characters, so it would be great if someone wanted to foot the bill for us to expand it into a full half-hour sitcom, but my main hope is just that everyone involved with the production is proud of the finished project and that it finds an audience of people who enjoy it online.  

OT What are the best and worst parts about being a creative artist in Chicago?
DU The best part is that we have an overabundance of phenomenally talented people here in Chicago and they all want to do good work.  Getting to collaborate with even a handful of them is a dream come true. The worst part is the opposite side of that same point.  Since we have so many great people in the city that are always doing work, there's a lot out there to see, so it can be hard to find an audience, whether you're making a web series or a live show. Hopefully, we've made something interesting here and people will give Day Drinking a shot. 

Watch Day Drinking's first episode here.

Photo by Brian McConkey

TimeLine Theatre and Chaim Potak’s luxuriously vivid novel “I Am Asher Lev” represent an obvious match. Though Aaron Posner’s bare bones adaptation leaves something to be desired, it’s easy to see why the esteemed theater company chose to present this theatrical slice of culture and time. Our Town spoke with Artistic Director PJ Powers about Timeline’s goals, issues of faith and religion, and why the play’s message is too complex to boil down.

Our Town As artistic director, what are your goals for TimeLine?
PJ Powers I hope TimeLine can always be a place that piques people’s curiosity. This is accomplished, I believe, many different ways: picking plays that are provocative, creating a world within our theatre that is immersive and stimulating, designing productions with intriguing, unexpected choices, featuring both veteran artists and emerging artists that perhaps haven’t been seen before, and ultimately presenting stories that get people talking – stories that ignite dialogue about vital issues of today. It’s my job as artistic director to collaborate with a dynamic team, inspire their ideas and work to help bring those ideas to fruition.

OT Timeline's tagline is "Yesterday's stories, today's topics." How does a theater company benefit by prioritizing a connection to the past?
PJP Our mission of presenting plays inspired by history that connect with social and political issues of today is the heart and soul of TimeLine, informing all of our artistic decisions. And it’s important to recognize that this mission – along with our tagline – isn’t just about looking back. It’s also about looking at the here-and-now. We use history as a context for discussing issues of today. It becomes a framework to examine how we got to where we are right now.

OT Why is "Asher Lev" a good fit for TimeLine?
PJP "Asher Lev" is, much like our mission, about evolution and progress. It’s about honoring the past, while forging boldly into the future. Young Asher is finding his place in the world – finding his voice – and while he wants to honor his heritage, he cannot deny what is happening to him in the present. Anyone who has forged their own path, despite family disapproval, can identify with what it’s like to courageously pull away from their past. We were very drawn to that. We also were very interested in doing a play that explored issues of faith and religion – things that all-too-rarely are examined on stage.

OT If you're familiar with the original work, what compelled you about the adaptation? ie what are its strengths?
PJP The strengths of the adaptation are in the audience’s relationship with Asher. He leads us through the story with ease and dexterity, thanks to Aaron Posner’s adaptation. The play seamlessly shifts through different years and stages in Asher’s life, and the audience easily makes the leaps in time and leaps with changing characters in Asher’s life.


Comedian Chris D’Elia started out as an actor, but comedy was his first love. Thankfully, the star of TV’s “Whitney” found his way to standup and never looked back. Now on tour with The Oddball Festival, D’Elia spoke with Our Town about his influences, process and why his comedy is a family affair.

Our Town Why not start out in comedy?
Chris D’Elia It was just a daunting process. I figured I’d start acting and then maybe fall into standup, which is not a good idea--it’s better to just get on stage. I acted in stuff here and there and my career wasn’t going where I wanted. Finally, I was like, I just gotta get onstage. As soon as I started doing standup, people in the business were like, oh, this guy is funny. For the first time, they understood who I was. I started booking a lot more, and every since then things have been a lot better.

OT Do you remember how your first time doing standup felt?
CD I couldn’t sleep after my first show. I was so excited. I was like, this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.

OT Your dad directed your first stand up special, what was that like?
CD I really like what he does as a director, so I wanted him to do my special. It was cool because it was a family thing and obviously I trust him. He knows my act. He knows me.

OT Was there any discomfort doing material in front of a family member?
CD I always feel more comfortable when people I know are in the audience, including my family. I know comedians can feel like that’s awkward, but it’s really not for me. I always feel much safer. I can talk about anything in front of them.

OT How do you hone material?
CD I don’t really write stuff down. I work it out in my head a bit and then I’ll go onstage and just start talking and if it works, I’ll expand on it, and if it doesn’t I’ll maybe ditch it for a little while and then maybe it’ll come back again.

OT Are there some subjects you shy away from or can anything provide laughs?
CD I think funny is funny. It doesn’t matter what it’s about. I don’t like being crass, I guess some of what I say could be considered borderline offensive, but I don’t ever get gross with it.

OT Who do you consider influences?
CD I always loved Eddie Murphy and Jim Carrey and of course Robin Williams. I thought it was cool the way those guys parleyed comedy into a music career.

OT What’s your experience been like with the Oddball festival?
CD It’s been great, man. It’s rare that any comedian gets to play in front of that big of a group. It’s quite the experience. And of course it’s fun to be with all these comics who are at the top of their game. It’s just cool to be included in that group.

OT Do you find you approach your material differently if you’re playing a stadium as opposed to a more intimate space?
CD It’s a little hard to build a connection with 20,000 people, but you just kind of go out there and hope for the best. It’s a bit of an adjustment, but I’ve done it enough to feel out a room regardless of how big the crowd is.

OT Finally, what are you looking forward to about playing Chicago?
CD I just love Chicago. I like the people. I”m excited to get there.

The Oddball Festival hits Chicago's Tinley Park August 31st.


Growing up, there were three summer things I looked forward to.

First, the cool, tile floor of my parent’s kitchen. Uninviting in winter, it became a cerulean sanctuary in summer. I’d lie on my back with my feet propped on the kitchen cabinet and read Lois Duncan books, knowing my time was limitless. I had nowhere to be until school started--and that was how I wanted it.

Second, summer thunderstorms. Once, on our front porch, I saw the rain begin on the roof of the red brick house across the street, though the sidewalk at my feet remained dry. It took maybe thirty seconds for the rain to cross the street, but during that time, the sky split with lightening and I began to

"Excuse me, which way is The Shire?"

Third--and notable for the fact that it actually involved leaving the house--The Bristol Renaissance Faire. Each year, my mother and sister and I would make the drive to Kenosha. Anticipating garlicky mushrooms and epic jousts, we dressed to approximate 16th century garb. For me, that meant a hippie skirt of my mother’s, a rhinestone tiara and velvet slippers, which, by the way, was also what I wore for school picture day, my grandmother's birthday party, and the occasional trip to the grocery store.

Super Bad-ass until I dropped the arrow.

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Chicago Actor Landree Fleming may have been one of The Tribune’s Hot New faces of 2014, but we at Our Town caught the vision way back in 2011 when, after attending a gloriously smutty Off Off Broadzway show, we made her our Crush of the Month! Now Fleming is making a splash as Olive Ostrovsky in Drury Lane’s The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee, so we caught up with her to check in.

Our Town What was it like being named one to watch by tribune?
Landree Fleming Oh my goodness, it was a huge honor and I felt really special and cool, both to be named and to be alongside other performers that I look up to. 

OT When did you first realize you wanted to act?
LF I always enjoyed performing. I did the yearly musical in high school, but was typically cast as a chorus girl so wasn’t sure that it was really a viable option. In college, I never intentionally declared Theatre as my major, but when I got my Honors welcome packet, it listed my major as Theatre, so I thought well, might as well wait to change it because maybe this would be a good path. As I continued to act, I knew that I had to do it, that there was nothing else that I was so passionate about. So I stuck with it!

OT Why Chicago?
LF It was between New York and Chicago. I had a gut instinct that if I moved to New York, I’d be swallowed up—I’m an oddball that can be difficult to place. I had heard incredible things about Chicago theatre, so even though I had only been in the city for about three hours, passing through from a college visit, I picked Chicago and immediately fell in love.

OT What Chicago actors inspire you?
LF All the actors I've worked with and watched onstage inspire me and teach me--Chicago actors listen to their gut, they honor their heart and their emotions and everyone I work with and watch, through their honesty, asks me to be a better me. I suppose that sounds pretty cheesy, but it's the absolute truth. Also to single someone out, Larry Yando is really awesome. I love his work, and also I was in a class he taught, and his humility about the need to always be learning and be open to growth was really edifying.


Comic and writer Erin Judge is a renaissance woman. Not only has she appeared on NBC's Last Comic Standing and written for Salon, but she’s also penned “Vow of Celibacy,” a novel about a bisexual stylist for which she currently seeks a publisher. Judge brings her comedic stylings to Chicago August 3rd. Catch her at Chicago’s Truth or Lie Reading Series at 7:30 and at Town Hall Pub at 9:30. But first, read what she has to say about her influences, material and cribbing from other comics. (She was eleven, okay?)

OT When was the first time you realized you were funny?
EJ In middle school, I used to just repeat things I saw stand-up comics say on TV. That was the way I first got laughs from my peers, and the way I went from ostracized weird kid to having some friends. In my defense, I was 11 years old.

OT Who are your influences?
EJ When I started stand-up 12 years ago, my favorite comics were Chris Rock and Margaret Cho. Their hour specials ("Bring the Pain" and "I'm the One That I Want," respectively) blew my mind when I was in college. These days I think we all look up to Louis CK. I also really admire a lot of younger comics, like Baron Vaughn, Emily Heller, Myq Kaplan, Jared Logan, Aparna Nancharla. My peers influence me and push me to be better and smarter and funnier.

OT How do you hone your stand up material?
EJ I figure out a lot of jokes when I'm working out or taking a shower. That's just when my mind seems to do best with bits. Sometimes I get an idea for a joke while driving and I have to endanger myself and others by grabbing my phone and pressing a button on my voice recorder app. I hereby apologize to everyone. I will endeavor to remember to pull over first in the future.

OT For you, what's the difference between writing for the page and writing for the stage?
EJ I never type out my material for the stage. Stand-up is a unique beast. The elements of spontaneity and natural human speech have to be present, and I find the best way to achieve that is to work everything out on stage or in my head. My writing definitely has a rhythm like the spoken word, just because I'm a very auditory person, but I don't feel the same pressure to include constant punchlines. I co-wrote a comedic play once, and we actually improvised the entire thing out before we wrote anything down. It's so important to me to have an extremely high density of jokes for anything I've done on stage.

OT As a comic, are any topics off limits?
EJ I love stand-up because absolutely nothing is off-limits. Personally, there are topics that I'd like to tackle but I haven't quite figured out a way to make them funny yet. I think if you're gonna dive into the real dirt of life, your responsibility is to at least make it funny first. Otherwise you're just saying it for shock value or because you enjoy upsetting people. Lots of comics do. I've lost a lot of people to cancer, and I'd like to talk about it, but pretty much everyone has lost somebody to cancer. I have to be pretty damn sure that what I have to say is funny and also worth the audience's attention before I get into a topic that might bum people out or make people angry.

A representative New Year's Eve

I can’t have fun when I’m supposed to. Too much pressure. Prom overwhelmed me, but at least it only happened once. New Year's Eve shows up yearly, but thankfully only for one night. But summer? A season of compulsory fun. If you stay inside, you feel ungrateful, like you’re wasting your life.

But you shouldn’t have to leave your house to enjoy yourself. And it’s in that spirit we bring you the Our Town Weekend Round-up Low Pressure Edition. Because you’re a useful member of society whether or not you put on pants.


Listen: Pleasure Town-From WBEZ Chicago and the red dirt of the plains, PleasureTown is a fictional serial podcast about a fledgling utopian experiment whose inhabitants are free to pursue their own happiness…even if it kills them. Set in turn-of-the-century Oklahoma, the ambitious project was developed by creators Keith Ecker (Guts & Glory, Essay Fiesta) and Erin Kahoa (three-time The Moth slam winner) for the WBEZ Chicago podcast network. Featuring a who’s who roster of Chicago storytellers, the biweekly show fabricates a rich universe through the memories of the former town’s spectral residents. PleasureTown sets itself apart by being a crowdsourced narrative. Audience members are encouraged to contribute to the construction of the PleasureTown world through the show’s online “Join the Story” page. Talk about a low pressure way to interact.


Attend: On Saturday at 9:30pm, Filmspotting celebrates its 500th episode with a live taping at the Music Box! Join hosts Adam Kempenaar and Josh Larsen (Plus special guests!) for a celebration of all things film and Filmspotting. Tickets on sale now! So yeah, this happens in the outside world, but it’s pretty damn passive. And it’s inside. So it’s not like you’re expected to frolic on the beach.

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Read: Megan Stielstra’s recently released “Once I was Cool.” In these insightful, compassionate, gutsy, and heartbreaking personal essays, Stielstra, whose essay “Channel B” was recently featured in Best American Essays 2013 edited by Cheryl Strayed, explores the messy, maddening beauty of adulthood with wit, intelligence, and biting humor. The good thing about a book is you can read it on your back porch or at the park. The latter totally counts as being social. Especially if you pause ever so often to shout at people to stay off of your bench.

Sounds like a packed weekend to me!

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
IMPORTANT: the official Our Town site doesn't support comments. Join in the conversation by following and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.

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Artist Rebecca George grew up drawing. But without her father’s early support, she might not have won a scholarship to Maryland Institute, College of Art before later pursuing an MFA in Painting & Drawing at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Now this School of the Art Institute of Chicago faculty member and Founder of The Art House gallery and studio workshop is preparing for a salon-style exhibit featuring hundreds of rabbit-themed work. She spoke with Our Town about her influences, teaching and um rabbits.

Our Town Who are your influences?
Rebecca George Käthe Kollwitz --a major influence on me throughout my career--her use of gesture with the most direct and immediate application of materials is astounding. I also frequently return to Paul Gauguin, captivated by the undertone of hue in his earthy neutrals as well as use of intense color to convey emotion.

OT Is training necessary?
RG Great question. It is necessary for an artist to make art as often as they can. That, and suspending self-evaluation while they do it, is what most effectively trains any artist in making work that is uniquely theirs. I don't know about anybody else, but I've never been able to make art in my head. Art is an action, and action takes place in the present. Artists need to pay complete attention to what is happening in the moment. Training in the traditional sense adds exposure through feedback from other artists and so on. Even though that feedback is not always helpful, it is important for artists to open themselves up to being seen. There are, after all, two parts to being an artist: making the work and getting the work in front of people.

OT Tell us about The Art House
RG The Art House is a grassroots studio workshop and gallery space for emerging and professional artists. Courses cover a wide range of materials and are structured to accommodate artists at different levels of experience. We offer opportunities that support both studio and professional development. My work with classes and individual artists include the nuts and bolts about materials and techniques, curating exhibitions and maintaining a sustainable professional practice.


Each year, The National Black Chamber of Commerce holds their annual convention in a different U.S. location. Lucky for Chicago, they’ve chosen us for their 22nd. The event brings together industry leaders, celebrities, influencers and more to share best practices and speak on business development and sustainability. This year, there will also be a fashion presentation featuring local and budding African American designers.

Our Town spoke with several of those affiliated with the event including Desiree Rogers, former White House Social Secretary and current CEO of national media company Johnson Publishing. “Thrilled to be a part of this conference that celebrates African American entrepreneurship,” Rogers offered this advice to those just starting out in business: “It is very important to learn as much as you can from others around you. Ultimately, I think that you are most successful when you are passionate about what you are doing.”

Harry Alford, President and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce spoke further with Our Town about the event as a whole, explaining that the organization chose Chicago as backdrop for the convention because the NBCC “strive[s] to give something back not only to our attending members but also the communities in which we hold our annual conferences. Chicago is a lively city, especially during the summer, and it has one of the largest African-American business populations in the nation. It is historically and most recently a hot spot for many issues affecting not only the African-American community but the country, and we're thrilled to take part.” 

Alford said that attendees can expect “to hear motivating speeches, discover new business opportunities and partners, further their network and technical training and of course all can look forward to being entertained. International entrepreneurs are not excluded, as they can look forward to potential new alliances and export/import opportunities.”

Also weighing in was Keymanna Paulas, CEO of Keymanna Management, LLC and Convention Manager for the National Black Chamber of Commerce. When asked how important business entrepreneurship vs artistic endeavors are terms of empowering African American communities, Paulas said “Both entrepreneurial efforts work hand in hand. To put them against each other would be misleading. Business entrepreneurs make artistic endeavors to grow their businesses. They use talent and creativity to promote product and lifestyle themes to  consumers, while artists have to learn how to effectively share creative talents to capitalize and expand, so these two efforts are not at all mutually exclusive, but rather depend heavily on each other. The latter is especially true in today's instantly sharable world. For a basic example, people will always wear clothes. If someone has a passion for designing and creating garments, they will need the business savvy and entrepreneurial talent to run an efficient clothing line/business. The NBCC and more specifically, its annual convention, seeks to empower individuals to take their businesses to the next level. Empowerment is giving power and authority to that which moves you. To say that one line of business is more important than another is not an accurate depiction of today's entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurial landscape is more multifaceted now than ever before.”

The convention runs July 10-12. Visit NBCC Now for more info.

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
IMPORTANT: the official Our Town site doesn't support comments. Join in the conversation by following and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.


Chicago novelist Michael Alan Peck may be in the process of writing a series called The Commons, but there's nothing common about the author or his contemporary fantasy series. He spoke with Our Town about his writing, influences and love of anti-heros.

Our Town What’s your novel about?
Micheal Alan Peck The Journeyman is the first in a contemporary-fantasy series about an afterlife world known as The Commons. It’s a Purgatory-like place, only without the default setting of guilt and suffering. When you die, you end up there and are assigned a guide who helps you on a journey to determine what your fate will be. The landscape creates itself around your memories, dreams, and experiences, and you face a challenge tailored to you, your experiences, and your imaginings. It’s like Defending Your Life on Fantasy Island, I suppose, only with much higher stakes and a lot more weaponry, teeth, and claws.
There’s just one problem. The Commons has been taken over by a corporate-raider type who’s using its imprisoned souls to power his own immortality. The whole place is stuck in time, with random imaginary beings from all of the captured people’s dreams wandering the landscape—robots, dinosaurs, monsters … you name it. Three unlikely heroes—a New York street kid, an Iraq War vet, and her five-year-old special-needs son end up there, and they’re the only chance The Commons has to free itself—provided they themselves can survive.

OT Those sound like classic anti-heroes.
MAP Absolutely. I’m drawn to brave misfits thrown into situations they didn’t ask for. Most people are. My favorite part of Rudolph is the Island of Misfit Toys. If that’s not yours, we may not get along.

OT It’s mine, too.
MAP I knew I was onto something. I think life’s most valuable learnings can be gleaned from Rankin-Bass holiday specials. For instance, you can’t be counted out if you’ve got some magic corn in your pocket.

OT So pop culture plays a heavy role in the story?
MAP Pop culture and our relationship to imagination are a strong part of the story’s foundation. One of my main heroes is accompanied on his journey by a shotgun-wielding goth girl, a six-foot-six mummy, and a mute Shaolin monk with anger-management issues. It’s sort of The Wizard of Oz meets Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. And while it’s only touched upon in this first book, one of the things examined in the Commons series will be how we relate to our creations when they take on a life of their own—the same themes explored in stories like Frankenstein and Blade Runner, but with abandoned suburban shopping centers and 1970s custom vans.


July's Hot Writer: Laura Zorner

My genre: Creative non-fiction. I dabble in fiction on the side, although I am most influenced by life experiences so my fiction is really creative non-fiction on steroids.

My literary influences: Mark Twain, David Sedaris, Ernest Hemingway, John van de Ruit, Paulo Coelho, Gabriel Garcia Marques, Miguel de Cervantes and Mark Haddon.

My favorite literary quote:  “It’s not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing— they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter, and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.” – Stephen Fry, Moab is my Washpot

My favorite book of all time: I don’t believe “of all time” exists for me. Every time is different. I need a book to pair according to mood, season, and beverage. That being said, the most worn book on my shelf is “Gone with the Wind”.

I’m currently reading: I seem to constantly get caught up in a reading foursome. David Sedaris is always a player; currently, I am involved with When You Are Engulfed in Flames. At present, the other two members of our little group are On Writing by Steven King and The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain.

My guilty pleasure book: Paradise by Judith McNaught. I slip it into an old cover of Don Quixote de la Mancha when I read it in public. Literary brown bagging.

I can’t write without: My must-haves are comprised of materials and actions.
Materials- My computer, my leather bound note pad, a pen, and a mug of something. What that something is depends on which side of the sky the sun is in.
Actions- One: running. A run does more than clear the head, it inspires. I create my most interesting thoughts while on a run. Two: Chicago public transportation. There is nothing like a jaunt via CTA with fellow Chicagoans to prompt ingenuity or, more simply yet equally effective, to force writing as an effort to avoid uneasy eye contact.

Worst line I ever wrote: I’m afraid there have been many. Even more frightful, there will be many more. In that spirit, I think I will give you my first ever worst line, written at the wise age of eight: “It’s a good thing you’re not a skunk, you would have to smell your own toots.”

Brief Bio: Laura Zorner’s writing has appeared in the trash bin outside her apartment, in a box in her mother’s attic, and on her blog What the LaLa? When not using written language to turn her demons into angles on What the LaLa?, you can find her lost in a run along the lakefront or attempting to sneak her dog into bars. He weighs in at eighty-one pounds— it is quite a feat.

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
IMPORTANT: the official Our Town site doesn't support comments. Join in the conversation by following and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
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Before turning to writing, author Lynne Raimondo was a partner at a major Chicago law firm, the general counsel of Arthur Andersen LLP,  and the general counsel of  the Illinois Department of Revenue. Since then, however, she’s begun to make a name for herself as a mystery writer. In fact, Mystery Scene called her book "Dante’s Wood" “one of the best mystery debuts since V.I. Warshawsky solved her first case.” She spoke with Our Town about her process, her career path and that one time she went head to head with Barack Obama.

Our Town What was it like to transition from legal writing to fiction?
Lynne Raimondo Not as hard as you might think. I was already used to spending long hours in front of a computer fine-tuning sentences, and like most lawyers who do trial work, knew how to organize facts to tell a story. The biggest problem for me was turning off the hyper-logical, “this could never happen” side of my brain so that my imagination could roam. I still find suspension of my own disbelief to be a major challenge.

OT What compels you about the mystery genre?
LR Aside from the fact that I like a good puzzle, I think it’s some of the best, socially relevant fiction being written today. Crime novels don’t beat about the bush. They dive right into serious issues -- like drugs, domestic violence, and child pornography, to name just a few -- and the leaner style of writing favored by most authors working in the genre makes for a fast, engaging read. In my own work, I’m a big believer in the late Elmore Leonard’s advice to leave out the long descriptive passages most readers skip. This may be easier for me because my series character, Mark Angelotti, is legally blind. On the other hand, I love writing about Chicago, and I usually find ways to sneak in some tidbits about our complex and fascinating city.

OT What authors influence you?
LR That’s a tough question. But if I had to narrow it down to just a few, it would be Dorothy L. Sayers and Raymond Chandler. It may seem strange to mention a Golden Age author in the same sentence as a master of American noir. But I love Sayers’ clever characterization as much as I love Chandler’s dry wit and vivid metaphors. I’m also a huge fan of Michael Connelly’s Mickey Haller series. I’m sure my efforts don’t live up to any of these authors, but I give them my best shot.

OT What's your writing process like?
LR The best writing analogy I’ve ever heard is that it’s like driving a car down a dark country road when you can only see as far as your headlights. I usually start with a rough idea about a murder and who did it, though I sometimes change my mind as the novel progresses. When I wrote my first book, Dante’s Wood, I wasn’t completely sure whodunit until a third of the way through. That’s a roundabout way of saying that my “process” is sitting down at the keyboard every day and seeing what develops. Many of my best ideas have come to me that way.

OT You've worked with some high profile individuals. Would it surprise people to know about your pre-novel writing professional life?
LR Possibly. My novels steer very clear of the real-life cases I once worked on, including those for Arthur Andersen. Despite being high profile, most of them would bore the average reader to death. My protagonist is a forensic psychiatrist precisely so that I can write about some of the social issues I referred to earlier – the legal system’s treatment of the developmentally disabled in Dante’s Wood, and the shenanigans of Big Pharma in Dante’s Poison.


Singer/songwriter sisters Tegan and Sara have long been a cult favorite. Recently, they’ve added a radio-friendly dance vibe to their already compelling pop/folk style. On the eve of the first of two Chicago shows, tegan spoke with Our Town about fame versus fulfillment and her favorite Starbucks drink.

Our Town What’s your favorite cut off of your most recent album and why?
Tegan I Was A Fool. It started as an acoustic song with piano and I love that we were able to turn it into a pop song. It is a tough one for me to sing live. There is a lot of long notes and I have to coordinate my breathing a lot. But I love the way the crowd cheers when the piano starts off the top!

OT Take us through your writing process.
T I typically write during our time off between records. And I'll work 
on a song for a few days, then when it's finished, take a break. I like to write guitar 
or keyboard transitions first, then add melody and lyrics. After the structure and 
main parts of the song are written I share it with Sara and she'll approve or make changes. 
Often she'll collaborate and add some flourishes. 

OT How are you most alike as writers and how are you most different?
T We both have a deep interest in relationships and writing about them. I think we're both 
strong melodic writers. The production element of writing is less interesting to me, where as Sara will spend 50 hours creating a track with drums and bass and keyboard lines. Sara tends to spend a lot more time on her songs than I do. I like to write quickly, leave the song and then come back to make changes weeks later.

OT Your music has changed significantly over the years. Has that evolution been conscious?
T It's definitely been conscious in ways. But truthfully, the change in our style has also been very natural. We've been making music and touring for over a decade. We started writing and performing in high school. Our skill level  has increased, our musical interests have changed, our vision for our band has evolved and with it our sound.

OT As an artist drawing from life, what is your obligation to friends and family? What’s the morality around writing about people you know?
T We write in a way that is never specific to one person. Both Sara and I are often writing about our own experience and less about someone else and what they may have said or done. We try and be as respectful as we would  want someone else to be. There is a lot of illusion and fiction in our music. We're inspired by our world, our friends,  other relationships and other songs. Not everything is just about us. 


June's Hot Writer: Kristin Walters

My literary influences: Chekhov’s short stories made me want to write. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson made me want to work hard to write. Jennifer Egan’s short stories resonate with me personally and always inspire me to get out the ol’ pen and pad. George Saunders surprises me. Cormac McCarthy challenges me. Dostoyevsky thrills me. I think Jennifer Dubois is kind of a badass. David Foster Wallace’s nonfiction gives me all the company I need when I’m feeling alone.There’s more, so much more, and for that I’m grateful.

My favorite literary quote: “Wild hope can always spring/From tended strength. Everything is in that./That and nothing but kindness. More kindness, dear Lord/Of the renewing green. That is where it all has to start:/With the simplest things. More kindness will do nothing less/Than save every sleeping one/And night-walking one/Of us./My life belongs to the world. I will do what I can.” – from James Dickey’s “The Strength of Fields”
I don’t keep favorites well. They change all the time. But I’ve read James Dickey’s poem, “The Strength of Fields”, over a hundred times in the past few months, and I get chills every time I read the end, the section I’ve shared above.

My favorite book of all time: Again, I’m really not a favorites kind of gal. But I know that I carried "Housekeeping" around with me everywhere when I first started taking writing workshops in Chicago. I was (and still am) sure that if I spend a lifetime trying to write something half as beautiful as that book then I have wasted no time on this earth. I owe a lot to it, so I’ll at least call it my favorite here.

I’m currently reading: "Blood Meridian" by Cormac McCarthy, because one of my new year’s resolutions was to be brave and I’ve been afraid of this book for a while. Also, it’s my friend Zach’s favorite book and he’s a badass poet, so I believe him when he says it’s worth the gore. (In general, I believe badass poets.) To balance Blood Meridian I’ve also been rereading "Seating Arrangement"s by Maggie Shipstead after finishing and enjoying her second novel "Astonish Me." They are both fun, easy reads with much to be admired craft-wise.

My guilty pleasure book: It doesn’t exist yet, but its existence, I believe, is inevitable. My guilty pleasure book will be Coco Austin’s memoir, Shoefreak. I will read it dozens of times, and at least once aloud with my best friend Andrew. But if for some reason Coco’s too busy with her reality TV show (Ice Loves Coco on E!), fashion line and modeling to write her memoir, then my guilty pleasure book will be the also-not-yet-in-existence coffee table book about her shoe closet. Jimmy Choo, Ives St. Laurent, Giuseppe, etc.

I can’t write without: Reading all the time. Traveling. Large windows. Sunny days. RAINY days. Strawberries. Popcorn. Road trips. Beach House (the band). Coffee roasted by my best friend Jennie-mae. Wine from the Loire. Surprises. Talking to other writers about writing. Gratitude. Yoga. Bike rides. Brussel sprouts. Friendship. Family. Being a little freaking terrified.

Worst line I ever wrote: It changes every day I sit down to write.

Bio: Kristin is an MFA candidate in fiction at the University of Illinois where she also teaches and works on the literary journal Ninth Letter. Her guilty pleasures are watching movie trailers, eating all the strawberries and wearing flip-flops in the rain. Occasionally she tweets @kwwords.

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
IMPORTANT: the official Our Town site doesn't support comments. Join in the conversation by following and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.


Musician? SWOON. June's Chicago Crush is Chris MacCarthy.

Name: Chris MacCarthy

Hometown: Grand Forks, North Dakota

Profession: Musician and Graphic Designer

Hobbies: I don’t think that I have any hobbies outside of writing, recording, and performing music.
Wait… Is napping a hobby?

Our Town: You're a musician and a graphic designer. Does one pursuit inform the other?
Chris MacCarthy Not really. The only overlap in the two areas is when I’m designing a show poster or an album cover. Music is my primary creative outlet over graphic design.

OT Describe your music.
CM Whenever somebody asks what kind of music I write/play, my default answer is just, “Some kind of rock music”, and then I follow that up by saying, “You probably wouldn’t like it.”
I think if you took my list of influences and stuck them all in a blender, the resulting smoothie would be my style of music. That being said, it may not taste as good as it’s individual ingredients.

OT What inspires you to write?

CM This will sound vague, but I write when I’m moved by something that is going on around me, or that is happening to me. I feel that there is endless content to write about, and the sounds you can make with instruments are limitless.

OT Who are your influences?

CM This is hard to answer because it’s always changing, and also because it would take too long to list them all. 
Some consistent staples for me would be: Sonic Youth, The Frogs, Cat Power, PJ Harvey, Joni Mitchell, Radiohead, Mark Lanegan. Again, there are plenty more that I like just as much.

OT Best and worst things about Chicago
CM For me, the best thing about Chicago is the music scene. There are so many music venues to perform at or to see shows at. Like most people, I’m not a fan of the winters here. I am also not a fan of when people get killed by gang shootings.

OT Describe your worst date.
I can’t think of a date that stands out as being the worst. I think I’m pretty selective when it comes to dating, which helps. Although… I may be too selective… which hurts.They’ve all been great. Everyone is great. Everything is great.

OT Describe your perfect day.

CM My perfect day would start with being able to sleep in, and waking up to perfect spring or fall weather. The day would then consist of eating good food, doing fun things, and spending it with the person or people that I love.

OT Relationship Deal breaker.

CM Being materialistic
, not being generous
, smoking
, country music
, using the word “selfie.”

OT Who was your first crush?
It would have been around 1st grade… either Shelly or Kristi. Or both.

OT Why are you crushworthy? 
CM I don’t think that I am. I’ll just have to take your word for it.

OT Any questions for me? 
CM Yes. Did you put something in my drink? Whatever it was is making me woozzzzyyyy… zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
IMPORTANT: the official Our Town site doesn't support comments. Join in the conversation by following and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.

Rising Appalachia

Hey Chicago! Now all the men are showing off their toes for the summer it’s time to bring back our weekend round up!

Here’s what’s going on in Chicago this weekend....


Wanderlust Yoga in the City hits Grant Park May 31st. The schedule for outdoor yoga includes an array of classes and workshops punctuated with music by DJ Taz Rashid. Learn more here.

Riled Up

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Writing partners Mat Labotka and Pete Hassett are a match made in, well, childhood. Friends for more than two decades, the pair have turned their mutual love of animation into a comic book-writing partnership.

“I got my start in performance doing children’s theatre and Pete studied animation, “ says Labotka. “This unique pairing means Pete and I both love animated movies.  We see every new animated movie together [and] while we watch, I analyze the plot, character development, script, and direction, Pete analyzes the structure, character design, lighting, and concept; all the while the children around us laugh or fidget and we get a sense of what works and what doesn’t.  Really, we’ve been training ourselves for this very project for a long time.”

Labotka and Hassett who together make up Goat Ink Press, spoke with Our Town about Riled Up, their comic book series.

Our Town What inspired you to create Riled Up?

Pete Hassett Mat and I had talked about creating a comic book since we were in second grade. Fast forward twenty plus years and I had just returned from California with a one page story that would turn out to be our first graphic novel made up of three books titled Riled Up. We started building on the story and in a few short hours we had a solid five page outline.

Mat Labotka I guess it’s appropriate that when we finally got around to doing a comic, the story we started with is about kids the age we were when we wanted to do a comic to start with.

Q- Who is your target audience?
PH Children ages 8-14 but we have gotten good feedback from older kids and adults. Anyone who grew up in a town that had an angry old lady known and feared by all the kids in the neighborhood can relate.

OT Though longtime friends, this is your first collaboration. What was that process like?
PH Its brutally honest, but lots of fun. We take turns being the taskmaster and pushing each other making sure we’re staying on track and focused especially since we both have multiple jobs.

OT What’s the story behind your company’s name?
Mat:  Ink.  It’s like inc. you know, incorporated, but it’s also ink, because it’s a comic book.  Oh, you mean the goat part?  Don’t question the goat.


Chicago writer Kathleen Rooney’s new novel, O Democracy!, depicts a quarter life crisis narrated from the point of view of America’s dead founding fathers. If that doesn't pique your interest, I don’t know what kind of savage you are. Rooney reads at The Book Cellar Wednesday but first she shared some insights with Our Town.

Our Town How do I put this? Your work always seems so...massive to me. You don’t write little, personal character musings. Whether poetry or prose you write within a historical context—your work always feels very informed. Would you agree? Why do you think that is?

Kathleen Rooney: Thanks so much for saying that. I would agree. I think that serious writing (even if that writing is funny, which is the case in O, Democracy!) should be an occasion for getting outside of ourselves—of inhabiting unfamiliar or uncomfortable perspectives—or to consider our own circumstances in the sort of broader context that can be gained through learning new things, whether they be from history or literature or elsewhere. 
 I’m concerned that fiction, poetry, and memoir that focus very tightly on depicting an individual’s subjective experience—although they can be quite technically accomplished—sometimes risk not really challenging the reader in any significant way. Or worse, they just help us feel like we’ve read something serious and substantive when in fact we’ve just seen our own values uncritically put on parade. The best books for me, whatever their genre, are the ones that try to be ambitious thematically and historically while at the same time being personal. A book I read recently that does this and that I would recommend is King Me, the debut poetry collection by Roger Reeves—he’s able to incorporate his own subjective experiences alongside an array of other references and perspectives from Mike Tyson to Emmett Till and it makes for an unpredictable and unsettling read in the best possible ways.

OT How much research went into this book?

KR: Research is often my favorite part of any project because all of the energy is still potential energy: it’s the ball poised at the top of the hill before it starts to roll down—there’s a feeling that the manuscript could do virtually anything. Once you actually start writing, you begin to make choices, of course, and choosing one thing means saying no to a host of others. The research for O, Democracy!, though, had more to do with lived experience than time spent looking up sources or ordering books from the library. I went to work as an intern in the Chicago office of U.S. Senator Dick Durbin in the summer of 1999 and got hired on as a staffer in the summer of 2000. I continued to work there on and off in various capacities—internship coordinator, caseworker, press team—until 2010. I didn’t start out thinking, “I’m going to write a book about this.” But the environment was so full of the components that make for good stories—sizeable egos, high stakes, skewed power dynamics, a specialized vocabulary, gigantic characters, competing desires, and so on—that I did come to see the place as a subject I’d take on in my writing.

OT Your experiences inspired the book—in part, at least. How do you go about entwining personal experience and fiction?

KR: Writing the novel was largely a process of getting sufficient distance on my own experiences—of drawing distinctions between myself and Colleen Dugan, my perspective and the book’s perspective.  (This is why, for instance, I chose to have the book narrated by the ghosts of the dead Founding Fathers and not in Colleen’s voice.)  Writing the book as a novel was a good way to circumvent readers’ natural tendency when reading books about politics to focus on specific revelations and nuts-and-bolts detail; since these are hidden behind a veil of fiction, the emphasis falls instead on more fundamental concerns: systems and institutions, for instance.  In writing the book, I was free about inventing details – in some cases to make the plot more engaging or to deepen the thematic resonance of particular scenes, in other cases simply to signal that this book and these characters really are fictional, and not a memoir in disguise – but I was very, very careful not to alter the character of how the experience felt, and what it meant to me.

Photo by Andrew Zaeh

Maybe you’ve only recently become aware of rock/pop group Neon Trees, or maybe like they’re loyal fan-base, you’ve been aware of them for some time. Either way, the band’s energetic sound has probably made an impact. Our Town spoke with members Tyler Glenn and Branden Campbell about their writing process, accessibility and unusual honesty.

Our Town Who are your influences?
Tyler Glenn My mother and therapist and high school girl friend and couple dudes I’ve had secret relationships with, for the most part. Also my life experience.
Branden Campbell  For myself I'm often inspired by The Clash, The Jam, Neil Young

OT What’s your writing process like?
BC We have a variety of methods, for whatever yields the best song. We all get together, Tyler also co-writes great stuff with Tim Pagnatta, the bands producer.

In 2012, the band canceled a bunch of dates so Tyler could focus on mental health. Was that a hard decision?
BC We were all part of that decision. It had always been easy for us to put the machine before the members in order to get the band off the ground. At the point of T's breakdown, it was time to put people first. 
TG t was simple. I needed time off and it was better to be healthy then to be miserable.

OT What did that time allow for?
BC We all took personal time, but it wasn't long before we all ended up in a studio together. The music is in us, and we're going to play no matter what. Even when its just for us, playing together in our rehearsal studio. Tyler and I still hung out during this time. I'd give him a ride to see his therapist. But we just left it wide open as to when we'd get back on the road.

OT Interestingly, the band chose to be open about all of this. Why?
BCWhy not? This is real life, and real artists dealing with the trials that come about. Sure, not every band faces these same things. But we've also learned from the bands that sort of imploded due to these kind of things. So we had to step back, to save the band.
TG At the time actually we were not open about it. But experience breeds creativity, and this album ended up being created from my experience in therapy and finding happiness. So it made sense to discuss it. The album being Pop Psychology, it all related to thematically.

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