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April 2012 Archives

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Photo by John Orvis

May's Hot Writer: Anna Pulley

My genre: Exploiting my life experiences for money.
 
My literary influences: Reading Cheryl Strayed is like being simultaneously flayed and bear hugged. Lorrie Moore is the only author who consistently makes me laugh and cry in the same sentence. Sherman Alexie. I would seduce Susan Sontag SO HARD if she was still alive. As it is, I’m currently hard at work seducing her ghost. Margaret Atwood’s books are what I steal from people I’m dating. Pam Houston. Peter Orner. Tolstoy. Michelle Tea. Nabokov. Sloane Crosley. David Sedaris. Zadie Smith. Mary Roach. Tracy Clark-Flory.
 
My favorite literary quote: “The only transformation that interests me is a total transformation — however minute. I want the encounter with a person or a work of art to change everything.” ~Susan Sontag, Reborn
And: “They callin’ me a alien, a big-headed astronaut. Maybe it’s because your boy Yeezy get ass a lot.” ~ Kanye West
 
My favorite book of all time:
Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America is the book I refuse to lend ANYONE.
 
I’m currently reading: Terrorists in Love by Ken Ballen. The Collected Works of Eudora Welty. Just finished Wild by Cheryl Strayed.
 
My guilty pleasure book: That would be, Dark Angels. Otherwise known as lesbian vampire erotica. If you replace “guilty” with “self,” that is.
 
I can’t write without: first doing everything in the world that is NOT writing. This includes: perpetually seeking validation on Facebook, listening to far more Glee songs than is ironically acceptable, napping incessantly, having simultaneous G-Chat therapy sessions, crowdsourcing my dinner, columns, love life. Etc. Etc.
 
Worst line I ever wrote: See “guilty pleasure question” above.
 
Brief Bio: Anna writes a weekly sex advice column for the Chicago Tribune’s RedEye, despite having sex about four times a year. She was recently a guest on Dan Savage’s podcast, talking about why lesbians are so confusing. She has written reviews of everything from bars to restaurants to films to theater to sex toys, in addition to several different relationship columns for AfterEllen, Centerstage Chicago, and Chicago Now. She also writes a weekly social media etiquette column for SF Weekly, and her work has appeared in Mother Jones, AlterNet, The Bay Citizen, Salon, and The Rumpus. Plus, one time Amanda Palmer asked her out on Twitter, with Neil Gaiman’s blessing. Find her on Twitter at @annapulley. She’ll tweet you right.

Join Anna Pulley and Sarah Terez Rosenblum June 18th at The Booksmith in San Fransisco as they discuss obsession, a subject in which both are well-versed.

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," (Soft Skull press) is available for pre-order here. She 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 facebook.com/OurTownBlog.ChicagoSunTimes and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.

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Left to Right: Jessie Ewing, Kim Lile, Sharon Zurek

Filmmaker Sharon Zurek’s newest documentary is truly a labor of love. A Mind in Quicksand, which takes a hard but humane look at Huntington’s disease, began as an attempt to educate, but grew into something much richer. She spoke with Our Town about Huntington’s disease, the film industry and her very personal reasons for gravitating toward the project.

Our Town How did you become involved with A Mind in Quicksand?
Sharon Zurek Kim Lile and I met in college. Over the years we worked in the Chicago film industry with many of the same people. Then a few years ago she explained that she had recently been diagnosed with a brain disorder. I’m sure she said Huntington’s, but it didn’t register with me. Basically she said her brain was shrinking and it was something terminal. It was a lot to take in. A few weeks passed and Kim called to say that she wanted to start work on a video to educate the public. She had been having trouble with taxi drivers, the police and other people in public service who thought she was high or drunk. By then I had my own production company, Black Cat Productions, and had produced, directed and edited corporate and independent programs for years. Our mutual friend Jessie Ewing was also on board to begin work on the video. She was incredibly supportive in helping to provide the initial funding for videotaping through her family’s charitable foundation. So the project began with just the three of us – Kim, Jessie and me.

OT What was your role?
SZ From the very beginning, our documentary was a collaboration. The three of us took turns picking up video cameras to shoot our preliminary interviews and cutaway footage. Over time we took on specific titles, Kim as director, me as producer and editor and Jessie as executive producer, and the creative collaboration continued. Chicago Filmmakers became our fiscal sponsor which meant we could receive tax-deductible donations from individual donors and grants. We now had an established media arts organization in our corner too. One by one, friends in our film making community came on board to help during videotaping and then during post-production.

OT What was the most interesting part of the process?
SZ I think the most interesting moment was when we learned from Dr. Kathleen Shannon’s interview that Huntington’s disease can start in any family at any time. That the human gene is so unstable that even if you don’t have Huntington’s disease in your family, it is possible that the next generation in your family could develop it. This information seemed to me to take Huntington’s disease to a global level rather than where it has been “hiding” - in isolated areas of families. Everyone should know about Huntington’s disease. The journey also meant Kim was learning about where Huntington’s may have started in her family, wondering what had caused her dad to commit suicide and trying to find out why others in her family didn’t want to talk about the disease.


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Candy Johnson and SHE ART. Photo by Patty Michels

My idea of home decor is a vat of peanut butter and a futon, but Our Town strives to represent diversity. One of these days, we might even write about sports. For now though, let us turn our collective attention to a couple of LGBT owned Chicago stores.

SHE ART Chicago, first located in Oak Park and now opening in Andersonville is an eclectic celebration of the female form. Co-owner Candy Johnson spoke with Our Town about the store’s ambitions and esthetic.

Our Town What inspired you to open SHE ART?
Candy Johnson I have been a Treasure Huntress for over 40 years, collecting everything from hand painted tiles to antique buttons. When I met my partner Mercedes, she collected women in all forms. In 2004 we were talking about what to do with our collection, and how there were many "Female" collectors out there. We brainstormed and came up with "SHE ART Chicago", a store that would carry the female from all eras. In 2005 we opened "SHE ART Chicago"  in Oak Park.

OT How did your background in art influence your vision for the store?
CJ [Artist renderings of] the female form have been around for centuries; the stories, the history, the eclectic mediums, and textures were all inspirational for us as artists. Our background helped us dig deeper to hunt for unusual pieces from our history. We all have a story and so does art. Art is emotional...both in the eye of the artist and the buyer. We started to appreciate not only art from the past, but current local artists. So, we carried local artist on a commission basis. We totally enjoy being a part of the community of artists, were we share stories, inspiration, and a commitment to make Chicago art available to the public.

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Photo by Patty Michels

OT SHE ART has a new home in Andersonville. What are your hopes for the store/location?
CJ We want to be a part of the community. I will be reaching out to local organizations, schools, and charities to donate space for art shows;100% will go to that benefit. I want people to come in, enjoy the store, know that I am part of their community. In the future we will be exploring growth in other locations in the states and possibly other countries. Right now, I am just enjoying the store, the people, and the hunting.

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“You just saw me run out of my Travelers Zen,” Dar Williams tells me after the second time she’s forced to hang up and call me back. In the midst of forty eight hours of layovers, cancelled flights and delays, it’s no wonder the singer/songwriter is stressed. However, even under pressure, on tour to promote her ninth studio album, Williams is as earnest and genuine as her fans might expect. Between interruptions, Williams tried valiantly to discuss folk music’s connection to social justice, tips from Joan Baez and the greening of American towns.

Our Town In the Time of Gods, like most of your albums, seems to coalesce around a theme. Obviously the public’s relationship to music has changed with technology. Instead of buying and listening to a whole album the way an artist might envision it, most people pick and choose. I’m wondering if that’s changed the way you conceptualize your work.
Dar Williams A song versus an album is not like a scene versus a play. It’s more like, you can always enjoy a painting in a museum, but if you go to a retrospective or a planned exhibit it’s that much better because the setup allows you to get inside somebody else’s head. Even though there’s an integrated theme, I hope that each of the songs can hold up apart from one another.

OT You write when inspiration strikes rather than having a daily writing practice. Is that an approach you advocate for others?
DW You can never presume what will work for other people. You’ll almost encounter a superstition amongst musicians, people sort of go through strange rituals, what they need to do to write a song. The only thing I’ve noticed is that the friends of mine who write every day struggle just as much as I do, just in a different way. And they have more stuff that they throw out, which is fine. It’s hard for me to create anything that isn’t somehow interesting to me. So instead of saying I’m going to write a song about the set of bowls that my aunt gave me because that’s what I’m looking at, I wait for the thing to find me, the theme or the subject. However, there is a daily practice to holding an open enough mind to receive such a thing. So, that’s a practice.

OT Are there any songs you feel have helped you advance as a writer?
DW There’s a song called "February" where I was developing this metaphor and then suddenly the metaphor just broke open into reality. My sister and I have spoken about this because she’s a writer and we basically said, the story is more important than the metaphor. You can get very academic, but at the end of the day, your heart is in the story. Writing February made me realize that breaking form is a way of letting the song be human.

OT You’ve moved back and forth between songwriting and novel writing. How are the experiences different?
DW They’re really different. The book writing, I did show up for every day, and I always looked forward to it because I knew that whatever I was feeling I could find a part of the book that would fit my mood. So if I was feeling wistful, angry, frustrated, excited there was always a character who could absorb that. Writing a book wasn’t like that kind of fine motor skills of writing a song-- really parsing things out, phrasing them and rhyming them, and oh by the way, what’s the song about? It was a really rewarding experience. Inevitably I always felt better at the end of a writing session and always felt glad that I’d sat down. It was creativity without all the frustration of getting things painstakingly, poetically tight.

OT When you get an idea how do you know whether it wants to be a song or a book?
DW Its a pretty clear line. There are long cinematic things that come into my head and then there’s very specific phrases that will pop in and those are clearly meant to be as long and short as a song.

OT There are certain performers who you go to see not just for the music but for the relationships-and to hear what they’ll say. I’m thinking of Girlyman and The Nields Sisters. You’re also someone who talks and shares and is funny onstage. I interviewed Nerissa recently and I want to ask you the same question I asked her: was relating to the audience in a really casual, funny way a conscious decision, or did that evolve for you?
DW That was very much the world that I was in in Cambridge and New York at the time. You know, John Gorka and Patty Larkin and Greg Brown. The early nineties were all about something bigger than just the songs, that would make the songs bigger. It was not a way to deflect; it was a way to bring it all together. The first concert I saw was Cheryl Wheeler. Cheryl sang eight songs in an hour and fifteen minute set. Usually you can do about twelve in that time. And even Jane Siberry, who will sing a song that can be up to ten minutes and can be very meditative, she’ll say just enough in between songs, so this idea that you can kind of weave it together. Or Loreena Mckennitt, she did this beautiful piece and I thought, this is going to be a very musical thing and she’s going to preserve her mystique by not speaking; she spoke right after the first song and was so lovely. I think people want to know where it comes from. It’s an elemental thing. We like to find the connection to the source of a song. The singer/songwriter tradition preserves something that people like, and it’s different than any other genre.

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Design by Tosha Sherman

What do you get when Swarovski meets The School of the Art Institute of Chicago?

Inspired designs and dazzling garments.

This month SAIC kicks off its 2012 fashion program, and to celebrate, Swarovski will unveil a dynamic window installation by students of the Fashion Body & Garment Master’s Program at its flagship boutique on Michigan Avenue. A leading designer of fashion jewelry, Swarovski offered its boutique windows in celebration of its sponsorship of SAIC’s annual benefit gala and runway show, THE WALK 2012

Our Town spoke with SAIC student Tosha Sherman, whose design was chosen to open the prestigious runway show.

Our Town You entered SAIC to study painting and sculpture but now focus on fashion. What changed?
Tosha Sherman It was [professor and chair of the SAIC Fashion Design department] Nick Cave’s work that inspired me to take classes in the fashion department. As a dancer and artist, I knew there had to be something for me to discover and explore in fashion. Once I entered the department I felt all the creative aspects of myself merging into one medium. As a dancer I feel the movement of my designs, as a painter I create a composition, and as a sculptor I see the relationship to body and garment. Fashion is the umbrella for all of my creativity.

OT Swarovski is sponsoring the show and donating jewelry. How did the knowledge that you’d have access to the materials influence your design?
TS [When] the department informed the students that Swarovski would be donating, I had already began creating the pattern for my garment. I was thrilled because I had already intended to purchase Swarovski myself. When I was designing, I was thinking about how we are able visually understand the perception of light. Crystal prisms catch and project rainbows of light that we are able to see.

OT Were you able to chose specific crystals?
TS In my proposal, I requested specific jewelry pieces to be used. I received twenty pairs of Swarovski stud earrings to incorporate into my design.

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All photos by Patty Michels

The first thing you need to know about Baconfest is it took place at the UIC Forum right next door to the reptile convention. THE REPTILE CONVENTION. Okay, maybe that’s not the first thing YOU need to know, but I sure as hell wish I’d known. I would have worn my hazmat suit or carried a machete or at very least parked across the street.

Anyway, once I’d made it past a building I knew was seething with POISONOUS SNAKES, I spotted the line for Baconfest. Though the dinner shift didn’t start for another hour, outside the UIC Forum, the line snaked from the building coiling like a....nevermind. I’m not going to think about it.

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Inside, I was given drink tickets, a Baconfest tote bag and was directed into the event space. “You’ll be able to smell it,” the vegetarian working the press table told me.

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She was right; the room's aroma was a bit like the alley behind a Chinese restaurant, but visually the space was pristine. Friendly and outgoing, the staff cleared tables, emptied garages, and refilled soda bins. The chefs and food-workers manning each booth seemed cheerful and informed, happy to share their offerings and curious about what their neighbors had concocted. Overall, the event was one of the most well-organized I’ve attended.

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I mentioned in a prior blog that I’m not so much a bacon person, but I’m definitely a chocolate person, and luckily there was plenty: chocolate chip cookies made with bacon grease, chocolate chip and bacon bit dotted cannoli, chocolate bacon biscotti and more.

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I also sampled an awesome bacon Bloody Mary, as well as small bites from Girl and the Goat and Epic.

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Adjacent serpents aside, Baconfest seemed a smashing success, even for a non-bacon-lover like me.

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A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," (Soft Skull press) is available for pre-order here. She 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 facebook.com/OurTownBlog.ChicagoSunTimes and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.

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I came late to the zombie genre but just like everyone and their flesh-eating mother, it's got me by the entrails now. 28 Days Later was my turning point, my zombie awakening if you will; images of that chittering priest amid a church full of zombies still accelerates my pulse when I head for the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Jason Geis, Co-Artistic Director of pH Productions knows what I mean. A fast-zombie aficionado himself, (“Why? Because they can catch you and eat you.”) Geis is responsible for the much anticipated annual Zombie Pub Crawl. A benefit for pH Productions, the crawl started on a lark and has grown exponentially with each passing year. Below, Geis discusses all things zombie.

Our Town Zombies have been around for decades; what’s behind the recent cultural resurgence? 
Jason Geis There are a lot of theories on this. Obviously shows like Walking Dead help push the zombie meme harder. But my favorite theory is that we can relate to zombies. They aren't hard to kill, they aren't particularly sneaky, but they can overwhelm you pretty fast. In this day and age with all the emails, and Facebook and everything else - if you don't keep up with it all you feel overwhelmed and can fall prey to the zombies. Zombies as a metaphor for modern society - how's that for brainy? 

OT What’s the Zombie pub crawl origin story?
JG A former cast member came to us and told us that Minneapolis had done a Zombie Crawl and wouldn't that be a funny fundraiser. I immediately thought - not funny - downright awesome. So now we do it every year. The cast looks forward to it as much as the zombies. 

OT Why Andersonville?
JG I'm actually not sure why we picked Andersonville for the first crawl. I think we were trying to think of an unexpected location that might go for something quirky like this. We have since kept it in Andersonville, because that is where we want to move our comedy theater permanently. It's an amazing neighborhood, with amazing people, amazing businesses and amazing leadership in the alderman and chamber of commerce. Did I say amazing enough? I think I did. 

OT How do you go about enticing neighborhood bars to participate?
JG After the first year it was easier. Bar owners saw how many people came out. On a non-Cubs Saturday afternoon there's a pretty nice potential to make some profit for your bar. Plus, we try and get a beer sponsor to give cheaper beer to the bars so they turn more of a profit that day. It's a win-win for everyone. Oddly, there are still bars that will not participate; they are skeptical that they won't make any money or they think we are going to destroy their bar. Simon's and Hamburger Mary's have been on from the beginning - and I'm sure they could tell you otherwise. 

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If you haven’t heard of The Retar Crew your life is meaningless. Okay, maybe not meaningless but definitely lacking in dick jokes and Shakespearian influenced Hip-Hop. While Retar Crew members The Q Brothers created Chicago hit Funk it UP About Nothin (by the q bros/CST/Richard Jordan productions), an urban “hip-hoptation” of the Bard’s classic comedy Much Ado About Nothing, The Retar Crew as a whole is perhaps more famous for the internet sensation "No Homo." But whether updating Shakespeare or slyly skewering the same people who embrace their music, The Retar Crew remains fresh, silly and unexpectedly shrewd. This May, all four members are involved in the much anticipated Othello The Remix which goes up at London’s Globe Theater, but first, member Jackson Doran spoke with Our Town about humor both high and lowbrow.

Our Town How did you get involved with Funk it UP About Nothin’?
Jackson Doran In 2007 I was freestyling drunkenly at a party to the repeat of the Napoleon Dynamite DVD menu when another guest joined me and basically slaughtered me with his skills. I never saw the gentlemen again until about a year later, I was drinking bourbon by myself at my local pub and noticed another fellow a few stools down also drinking bourbon alone.  It was the same guy from the party.  I was like, "JQ?" and he was all, "Jackson?" and for the next two hours we proceeded to play the Megatouch game where you are a polar bear trying to hit a fish as far as you can with a baseball bat.  JQ remembered I could "rap" and that I was a struggling Chicago actor.  He had written a play with his brother, Funk It Up About Nothin,' which adapted Shakespeare into hip hop. JQ said he would get me an audition and I [told] him not to blow smoke up my ass.  Two days later I got a call from Chicago Shakespeare.

OT What makes Shakespeare and Hip Hop such a good fit?
JD Shakespeare and rap actually use many of the same poetic and rhetorical devices.  GQ always says if Shakespeare were alive today he would be a rapper.  

OT How do you go about transforming Shakespeare?
JD J and G as "The Q Brothers" write the hip-hop adaptations of Shakespeare.  They go through and translate line by line to make the whole play into rhyming couplets. From there, the play goes through anywhere from 20 to 40 drafts. [It’s] transformed into a new conceptual rap form of the same story, usually a condensed version and very fast paced.  Since this style of theater is relatively new, the form is being adapted as we create more pieces.  
 
OT And The Retar Crew grew out of your experiences doing the show?
JD While in Edinburgh [where Funk It Up About Nothin,' won best musical at the Fringe Festival] JQ and I began writing little refrains about our experiences abroad--the Fringe Fest is a pool of art and debauchery. When we returned, out of depression and boredom, we began to develop our little ditties into real songs. We asked JQ's brother GQ and their long time collaborator and friend, Postell Pringle to write verses on the songs.  After six months we had ten tracks about sex and drinking to complete an album. The Retar Crew* was formed.

OT I have to ask how you got your name and, seriously, why?
JD The first time JQ and GQ let me come on stage for their set at  Lollapolooza-- they perform at the kids stage every year--I rapped about having fun and getting crazy and rocking the mic real hard. Then in front of hundreds of kids I almost rhymed "hard" with "retard" and stopped myself before I could finish the ‘d.’  We never mention or write about mental disabilities and indeed one of our mission statements has become to kill the stigma and hate that words can cause. We are against political correctness and stretch the boundaries of appropriateness in a satirical way.  Needless to say its been a rough road trying to go mainstream.

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Don’t mind me, I’m just writing to you from my chaotic hutch of doom. We're painting the living room (By which I mean my Significant Other is painting the living room and I'm complaining about the smell.) So everything we own is shoved in one corner of the dining room. It’s actually the best thing ever. I love small spaces. I love being surrounded by my possessions. I don’t think of myself so much as a hoarder as a raccoon. In order to type this blog I had to crawl around the coffee table, over the couch and then under the dining room table. But I managed to get here and you dear reader can manage to submit a short story to the Our Town Contest by the fast approaching deadline. Below please find all the details you’ll need. Happy writing! (I really have to pee but I’m never getting out of here.)

Hey Chicago writers!

Quit playing Words With Friends/standing in front of the sink eating cold fried rice with your fingers/reorganizing your bookshelf/tweezing your eyebrows/singing to your dog or whatever you’re actually doing when you tell people you’re writing.

Instead, check out Our Town’s Short Story Contest. You could also call it a Flash Fiction contest if you’re so inclined. Of course I might judge you for it. Wait, I’ll be doing that anyway if you submit your writing.

Let me break it down: Our Town (this, what you’re reading, right here) and Fictlicious (Micki LeSueur’s fabulously successful new reading series, the one Stuart Freaking Dybek contributed to last month, yeah, that one) are teaming up to offer you some artistic exposure.

Here’s what you need to do:

Submit one and ONLY ONE short story. By short we mean under 2000 words (we’ll let you get away with 2005 but they better be the most amazing words ever—“serendipity” or “lackadaisical” are two possibilities, definitely not “snot” or “kelp.”) You got that, right? One entry per writer.

The theme for the contest is “Lucky.” Take that as you will.

The contest deadline is midnight April 15 2012.

The contest winner will receive the following:
Publication on The Sun Times website—right here on Our Town.
The opportunity to read at the one-year anniversary of Fictlicious, that’s May 15th 2012. You MUST be available May 15th. I’m going to put on pants and leave the house to introduce you so you better show.

Please email your entry to ourtownstorycontest@gmail.com subject line “Lucky.”

Your entry should be IN THE BODY of your email, DO NOT attach your entry.
Your name should appear only on the email, not within the story. Here’s how the entry should look:

YOUR Name
YOUR Contact email
YOUR Entry

The contest is blind. It has a service dog and everything. Ok, not that funny. But that’s because we’re serious about keeping your name separate from the entry. An unbiased third party will be opening each email and pasting your entry into a new document for the judges’ perusal. Which brings us (by which I mean me) to….

Your judges:
Sarah Terez Rosenblum (by which I also mean me)- Author of Herself When She’s Missing forthcoming in June 2012 from Soft Skull Press and teacher at The StoryStudio.
Micki LeSueur- writer/founder of Fictlicious.

Any questions? Email ourtownstorycontest@gmail.com, subject line “Question.”

What are you standing around for? Go! Write! (Or take another bath, whatever.)

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," (Soft Skull press) is available for pre-order here. She 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 facebook.com/OurTownBlog.ChicagoSunTimes and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.

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April's Hot Writer: M. Molly Backes

My genre: Young Adult Fiction
 
My literary influences: Tillie Olsen, Barbara Kingsolver, Natalie Goldberg, E. Lockhart, Sarah Dessen, Chris Crutcher
 
My favorite literary quote: “You are brilliant and subtle if you come from Iowa and really strange and you live as you live and you are always very well taken care of if you are from Iowa.” – Gertrude Stein
 
My favorite book of all time: The Bone People, by Keri Hulme
 
I’m currently reading: Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child and a brilliant novel manuscript by one of my StoryStudio Chicago students.
 
My guilty pleasure book: Laurie King’s Mary Russell series (but I’m not guilty because they’re great).
 
I can’t write without: coffee. I’m hopelessly addicted. Without it, I’m like the dormouse in Alice in Wonderland.
 
Worst line I ever wrote: “I do not care what anyone thinks / of my poetry. / Especially you, / chair.” (I may have been slightly drunk, and feeling just the tiniest bit defensive.)
 
Brief Bio:
M. Molly Backes is the author of the young adult novel The Princesses of Iowa (Candlewick Press, May 8, 2012). Molly is the Assistant Director of StoryStudio Chicago, where she also teaches creative writing classes to adults and teens. She has lived in Wisconsin, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Illinois. She's not the kind of person to play favorites or anything, but she might just like Iowa the best.

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," (Soft Skull press) is available for pre-order here. She 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 facebook.com/OurTownBlog.ChicagoSunTimes and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.


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The closest my dog will get to Baconfest. Photo by Patty Michels

You guys, I don’t actually like bacon. I know. That’s like saying I don’t like sunshine or babies. Which I also kind of don’t. But just like zombies, bacon is having its cultural moment and Chicago food writer, software analyst and bacon enthusiast Seth Zurer is thrilled. Along with Andre Pluess and Michael Griggs, Zurer was driven to found Baconfest in order to share his passion for pork with the masses. A succulent success in 2011, Baconfest is back this year, bigger and better. Zurer spoke with Our Town about what those lucky enough to attend the sold out fest can expect.

Our Town Bacon: Always tasty but only recently culturally celebrated. Why so trendy all of a sudden?
Seth Zurer I think that we're in a Golden Age of Bacon.  Chefs have always loved bacon, but they didn't always have the kind of exposure that they do now; they're hosting talk shows, travel shows, cooking shows. They're the new media darlings and celebrity stars [and] they've brought to the general public an enthusiasm for local craft bacon that dovetails nicely with the farm-to-table, locavore, artisan food movement on the rise in the culture.  Or it could just be that bacon is damn good?

OT What inspired you to create Baconfest?
SZ My two partners, Andre Pluess and Michael Griggs, attended a rock'n'roll puppet musical called "Beer" that the NeoFuturists put on in 2009.  They were impressed that the creators of the show had been so passionate about beer that they'd want to create a whole production devoted to it.  After the show, they sat down to talk about what thing they felt as passionately about and bacon immediately came up.  Pretty shortly, they'd dropped the idea of a musical, and settled on a festival instead - a "Burning Man" of bacon.  I had some experience in the restaurant media world and was known for my love of pork, so they called me up to see if I thought it was a good idea.  I did, it was, and here we are!

OT What kind of restaurants and vendors can attendees expect?
SZ We've got chefs from the best restaurants in the city - celebrities like top chefs Heather Terhune from Sable and Stephanie Izard from Girl & the Goat; craft people like Art and Chelsea Jackson from Pleasant House Bakery and Charlie McKenna of Lillies Q, fine dining powerhouses like Cafe Spiaggia and Vie, gastropubs like Three Aces and the Bristol.  Our vendors include artisan local bacon makers like Nueske's, Dreymiller and Kray, Spenser's Jolly Posh British and Irish Foods, JDY Gourmet, and Big Fork Bacon Sausage, plus bacon entrepreneurs like Meng Yang of Know Your Flag who makes unbelievably stylish bacon prints and tee shirts.  Drinks from Goose Island, Greenbush Brewery, Pabst and More.

OT Nueske's Amateur Cookoff saw 33 candidates submitting recipes for bacon-y dishes incorporating Nueske's bacon. You helped choose finalists who will then attend Baconfest. What was that process like?
SZ It was tough - contestants submitted recipes and in many cases photos of their original recipes.  We asked our fans to help choose by opening up voting on our website - over 4500 votes were cast. Then we consulted our friends at Nueske's and chose five that spoke to us and to our fans.  Those five finalists will all get to attend the fest and present their dish to a panel of judges.  One lucky winner will receive a Golden Rasher Award, the Oscar of Bacon. 

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“My whole life I’ve been completely wrapped up in writing,” says jewelry designer and writer Tara Walker. “At a certain point though, I think I just longed to make something with my hands, something physical that could just be done when it was done – unlike a piece of writing which never really feels finished to me.”

Walker’s jewelry line, Lucky Whale proved just the outlet Walker craved.

“For a while,” she says, “I had a hard time seeing the connection between [writing and making jewelry] until I realized that one process frees me up for the other. I think the reason I make jewelry, in some ways, is to refresh my sanity for my writing.”

This week Lucky Whale bobs up at The Andersonville Galleria, where Walker is proud to begin showcasing her designs.

Our Town How did you come up with the name for your store?

Tara Walker Completely by accident. I have a really good friend in Denver who draws the most wonderful things without even thinking about it. One day we were at a restaurant in Denver and he started doodling on the children’s menu. One of his doodles was the whale with a shamrock in his hat. At the time I was looking for a name and a logo for my jewelry business and suddenly there it was, in front of me. There have been times when I’ve thought, weird, I have a smiling whale for a logo. But overall I think it actually fits with the playful aesthetic that I bring to my designs. 



OT What sort of things inspire your designs?

TW Right now the majority of my inspiration comes from hunting for interesting things to reuse. I don’t want to make things that are just pretty. Pretty is fine, but I want to make something surprising, something that stretches my imagination in the process. One of my favorite things to do is repurpose images from unexpected places. For instance, I found a bunch of brochures from the ‘50s at the Brown Elephant – (my favorite was about the “father of steel”) and they had these wonderful illustrations in them. The most fun thing for me is seeing something like that and imagining what it can become. 


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OT You’re a writer and your visual art often contains literary elements. Coincidence? Conscious choice?

TW A little of both. There seems to be an obsession with putting birds and butterflies on jewelry. (“Put a bird on it!”) That’s fine of course, I like birds and butterflies – but I am always looking to push myself away from the traditional aesthetic. I like books and poetry so I think it was inevitable that they end up in my jewelry. One of my favorite literature-inspired pieces features the Dorothy Parker poem Resume. The whole thing fits into a 1x2 inch pendant so it works really well. It’s a pretty gold pendant so it looks like there’s going to be a prayer or something inside it, but you look closer and suddenly it’s Dorothy Parker’s quippy “Razors pain you, rivers are damp, acids stain you, and drugs cause cramp…”

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I’m at it again, trolling Twitter. This time Matt Trupia caught my eye. A writer and performer with sketch comedy group The Backrow, Matt also boasts a presence on the Chicago literary scene, having contributed to online literary magazines Hobart and fictionatwork.com. However it was his endlessly witty Twitter feed that sealed my deal. (That sentence sounds like the result of a computer program designed to generate clumsy and inaccurate sexual euphemisms.)

Here’s a sampling (of Matt’s tweets, not of clumsy and inaccurate sexual euphemisms although the phrase ‘Matt’s Tweets’ sort of sounds like a clumsy and inaccurate sexual euphemism. But now everything kind of sounds that way. Like when you start thinking about breathing and suddenly you’re aware of every inhale and exhale and then you think maybe your throat is beginning to close up. Am I still typing?)

Ahem, Sampling:

“I find the angle at which the mailman approaches my mailbox to be a little too confrontational for my tastes.”

“Spring: When it becomes 70% harder to pretend your neighbors are dead.”

Does two count as a sampling? Maybe just a samp.

Regardless, after a brief perusal I knew I’d found April’s Chicago Crush!


Full Name: Matt Trupia
Hometown: Nyack, New York
Profession: I design and write online training courses for a software company by day. But by night...I am probably doing some laundry and catching up on "Breaking Bad."
Hobbies: I write for a blog with some great Chicago writers and performers on http://bitcity.tumblr.com. I write fiction when I can, and sketch comedy with the group The Backrow. I also tweet under @Tamalehawk, which is great because you can do it fully prone on your couch. What else...judging people? Is that a hobby? Really feels like it.

Our Town When did you first realize you were funny?
Matt Trupia Maybe like college. I started doing improv, sketch, and writing plays. College is a great microcosm where you can feel confident and accomplished without having really earned the right to feel either.

OT How has becoming a parent changed your sense of humor?
MT Kids are pretty naturally hilarious in my opinion. They think and say really direct and random things, which I find kind of mirrors the nature of a stand-up comic. They are always trying to get you to laugh or convince you of something. It’s opened up my sense of humor some. I have to try a little harder to stay spiteful; an interesting challenge.

OT What’s the secret to good sketch comedy?
MT I look for the mix of emotions you can pack into a sketch. Moments when a character is being sincere, or earnest, or really driven often create the most memorable sketches. I hate when characters are just boring vessels for jokes and have no real or relatable point of view. Also editing. Trying to make every line either really necessary or funny--ideally both.

OT Worst improv experience?
MT One show a random guy was sitting in with us and he jumped on my friend's back with no warning and they both fell onto the leg of a person in the front row. I think I just straight up apologized. And then of course, plenty of deafening silences that make you want to unzip the earth and crawl into the void. But that kind of thing makes the good moments that much sweeter, right? Please say right.

OT Get writer-ly with me, why write in second person?  
MT I think that comes from my sketch comedy background, where you are usually aiming for a faster pace and impact. So I wind up trying to write fiction that has a performative quality. The first and second person can have an immediacy that is fun to read out loud.

OT You’re reading April 2nd at The Whistler. What can we expect?
MT You can expect to see three other superior writers: Amelia Gray, Tupelo Hassman, and Lindsay Hunter. It's a Featherproof Book release show for Amelia's terrific new novel, Threats. I will have something new written for that. If I had a poster for my reading, though, it would probably read “More Of The Same!” I’m really into my comfort zone these days. Maybe by 2015 I’ll be using multiple characters and basic narrative structure. Baby steps.

OT Describe your perfect day.
MT Definitely an open weekend day with my family. A languid breakfast that seamlessly transitions to an interesting and easily-assembled lunch, with frequent animated discussions about dinner. Seeing some friends and avoiding strangers. Not standing in any kind of line. Concluding with butterscotch.

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