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November 2013 Archives


Who says romance novels can't be smart? Chicago native Julie Tetel Andresen is a romance novelist with a doctorate who blends her love of language and her fascination with the language of love. Whether writing within the academic discipline of linguistics or within the fanciful realm of romantic fiction, Anderson communicates with aplomb. She spoke with Our Town about everything from Noam Chomsky’s influence over the linguistic discipline to her BDSM novella.

Our Town Linguist and romance-writer seems an unlikely combo.

Julie Tetel Andresen In the popular imagination, a fundamental incompatibility seems to exist between people who read and write emotional, neck-down romances and those who engage in cerebral, neck-up academics. Since I do both, I believe I can explain the riddle of how it is possible for the two activities to coincide and cohere in the writing life of one person.

OT What’s the biggest misconception about romance novels?

JTA Many people think that romance novels are written by no-talent hacks for people with poor taste. To this misperception I have two things to say: i) sure, some romance are stupid, just as there are some stupid murder mysteries, thrillers, magazine articles, TV shows, movies, etc.; and ii) I emphatically do not think the idea that writing or reading about love – which (last time I checked) “makes the world go round” – is a stupid activity in and of itself. The stories are emotional, yes. Readers read them for the pleasure of participating in the formation of an intense emotional and physical bond between two people. However, I reject the notion that the farther you are down an emotional pathway, the farther away you are from anything to do with the intellect. In fact the best romances are not only emotionally satisfying, they also have to be psychologically satisfying, and the psychological profile of the relationship is created through dialogue between the hero and heroine and in the description of their interior reactions to one another.


November's Honest Parent: John Arendshort
Occupation: Lawyer

My great parenting strength is: I truly love interacting with my kids. 

My greatest parenting weakness is: Sometimes it’s easier just to placate my kids if they’re struggling with something rather than really use that time as a learning experience.

What have you learned about yourself specifically because you became a parent? 
That I can do more than I ever thought.  Parenting is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and also the most enjoyable.  In being a parent, I have pushed my limits for patience and energy far beyond what I thought they were.

How often do you compare yourself to what you think other parents are doing--or what you "should" be doing?  I think that any parent is lying if they say they never compare themselves to other parents.  But I don’t think there is any particular path of parenting I “should” be following – there are a million different positive ways to raise children.  So any time I catch myself comparing my parenting to others, I remind myself that my kids are awesome and that I’m doing the best that I can.

Describe your worst moment as a parent.  I was taking a shower one night when my oldest daughter was about three months old.  [My wife] Liz held Hadley just inside the shower to say hi, but I didn’t see or hear her immediately.  I washed some soap out of my eyes and turned around to see Hadley right in front of me, and I screamed.  Hadley was inconsolable for about half an hour. I still vividly remember the look of horror on her tiny little face.

How has having kid/s affected your sex life?  I would say that our passion hasn’t diminished, but obviously our opportunities are less frequent.  So we’ve definitely become more cognizant of those opportunities when they arise.

How have you grown as a person since becoming a parent?  For one, I think more about how I can impact the world in a beneficial way (although finding the time to actually do so is a challenge).  But more generally, I’ve found that I can work harder, be more compassionate, have more patience, survive on much less sleep, and have more fun than I ever before dreamed possible.

JESS Headshot.jpg

Singer/songwriter Jess Godwin’s career so far has been a journey. When constructed images, genre-jumping and people-pleasing failed to fulfill her, she turned her focus inward, writing from the heart, opening up about fighting her own demons, and working with kids to combat bullying. Now the singer/songwriter who cites both Erykah Badu and Stephen Sondheim as influences spoke with Our Town about self-acceptance, labels and role models.

Our Town How would you describe your current sound?
Jess Godwin I'm in transition. The last year pushed me in the pop/rock direction.  I'm currently working on bringing my two great loves, jazz and R&B, back into the mix.

OT What's your writing process like?
JG I get stuck in a strong emotion or lyrical idea (with Be a Light, I was fixated on the Eleanor Roosevelt quote about lighting a candle to pierce the dark). For the most part, I go through a dozen revisions or so until I am finally able to let go and move on to the next song.  Every once in a while, usually on a particularly emotional day, an entire song will appear out of thin air.  Those gems make the more difficult writing days worth it!

OT What's your favorite Chicago venue?
JG Definitely the Mayne Stage. If you haven't seen a show there, I highly recommend it. I keep going back because the staff is wonderful, the sound is great, and there is a beautiful grand piano on stage. I'm actually playing a (insert shameless plug here) show there December 13th!

OT What are the best/worst parts of the Chicago music scene?
JG Best: There is so much talent out there. Worst: Chicago is not as supportive of local music as it could be. Go see live music! (insert shameless plug here)

OT You’ve spent some of your career trying to please others rather than staying true to yourself. Do you think this journey is specific to being a woman in the music industry?
JG No. I have many male musician friends who have gone through the same struggles.  The majority of songwriters I meet are not in it for approval.  As artists, we feel, create, and share.  We get in trouble when we realize the mere act of creating does not necessarily put food on the table.  I'm learning that it's ok to try to write the hooky hit, do a radio jingle, be in a commercial, etc. to support yourself. Just make sure you still have that grounded connection to your own art underneath.


It's time once again for a Crush of the Month double hitter, as it were. Did I use the term 'double hitter' correctly? Sports confuse me. Did I use the phrase 'as it were' correctly? Pretentious phrases confuse me. Either way, this November I bring you my couple crush: Husband and wife Abraham and Lara Levitan.

Hometown: Chicago, IL

Lara: Freelance Writer, StoryBooth Facilitator at StoryCorps, Wannabe Novelist

Abraham: Musician, and owner of Piano Power (a music-lesson provider)
Lara: Yoga, cooking, laying on the floor. Is meditation a hobby? Seems weird. 

Abraham: Tennis, basketball, eating meals, listening to sports on the radio, snacking between meals

Our Town How did you two meet? 

Abraham I was playing a poorly-attended solo show at the Hideout in 2004.  Lara and her roommate came to the show, and during a very melodramatic ballad called "Kill You," I noticed that, while the rest of the attendees were seated, this really hot girl in the back was dancing and swaying around.  I thought to myself, this is a unique person with a good grasp of situational irony.... and also, a hot person.  As I was singing, I walked out into the audience and began wrapping the mic cord around her neck, simulating the subject matter of the song.  So, I mock-strangled her before we actually spoke.  Afterwards I made sure she signed the mailing list, so I could harass her about going out with me.  (Beware, mailing-list signers!!)

OT Describe your wedding day.
Lara I scored a dress for $99.99, so it didn't matter that I danced so hard I ruined it beyond repair (seriously). I passed out roses to all my girlfriends, Abraham sang me a Bob Dylan song, people sweat their asses off because it was a hot June day with no air conditioning.
Abraham Rain was in the forecast, but it held off, at least for the ceremony.  One thing I remember is that I didn't urinate for the 8 hours of our wedding and reception -- rare because I have a pretty small bladder. I thought I was going to cry during the ceremony, but instead Lara and I were both pretty giggly.  We had Lou Malnati's pizza, and then an order of White Castles came through the room at about 11:00pm, so you can tell we have very refined palates. Also, we got married!!
Lara It was one of my favorite days ever. Michael Jackson died a few days before, so the dancing to "Wanna Be Startin' Something" was especially impassioned.

OT Abraham, you make up on-the-spot tunes for your game show Shame That Tune. Were you always able to write under pressure or is it a skill you’ve honed?

Abraham  I've always wanted the writing process to be over as soon as possible, since I find it pretty agonizing.  So, Shame That Tune, for which I do more or less improv songwriting, takes that idea to its logical extreme. I still don't think I can write well under pressure, but as long as we're taking a quantity-over-quality approach, then I guess it's a skill.

Lara, you’re a writer. Where do you find inspiration? 
Lara People watching, people's faces, strange glimpse of life seen from a car or train window, advice columns, other novels and short stories, my problems, my friend's problems, music, movies, my talented writer friends and writers who I wish were my friends.

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