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Claudio Magris

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Internationally renowned Italian author Claudio Magris is headed to Chicago next week, but first he took time to discuss his much lauded new novel with Our Town.

Our Town What was your inspiration for Blindly?
Claudio Magris The gestation period of Blindly might seem long to the point of absurdity, given that I first thought of it in 1988. I was in Antwerp to launch a translation of the Danube. I had seen some ships’ figureheads. I was struck by their open, dilated gaze, directed at the beyond as if perceiving calamities invisible to others. At that moment, in that Flemish square, the idea came to me to write something about those figureheads, even though I was uncertain as to what I wanted from them. However, in drafting my book I did not long pursue this trial of the figureheads. Far more pervasive was my years-old interest in the incredible story of Goli Otok. Soon after the second World War, when the moment of revenge had arrived for what Fascist Italy had inflicted upon the Slav peoples, some three hundred thousand Italians, having lost everything, left Istria and Fiume, Rijeka- by then part of Yugoslavia- for Italy, the west. At the same time from Monfalcone, a small town near Trieste, two thousand Italian workers-militant communists, many of whom had experience the Fascist galls, the German lagers and the Spanish Civil War-voluntarily left Italy for Yugoslavia, there to contribute, inspired by their faith in it, to the construction of communism in the nearest communist country: two intersecting counter-exoduses. But in ’48 Tito broke with Stalin, whereby these revolutionaries became, in Tito’s eyes, potentially dangerous Stalinist agents, while they regarded him as a traitor. They were deported to the beautiful, terrible, islets of the Upper Adriatic, Goli Otok (Bald Island) and Sveti Grur (St. Gregory), where they were subjected, as in the gulags and the lagers, to every kind of persecution. This they heroically and foolishly resisted in the name of Stalin- that is to say, in the name of one who, had he been victor, would have turned the entire world into a gulag for the likes of them; when, years later, the survivors returned to Italy, they were harassed by the Italian police as dangerous communists arriving the East. The Italian Communist party also opposed them as embarrassing witness to the Stalinist politics it had embraced years earlier and now wished to forget.
I had more than once, in previous books, referred to this story. It moved me profoundly because its protagonists always found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. They fought for a cause- Stalin- that I myself consider mistaken, but did so with a magnificent capacity for sacrificing their own individual destiny for a universal cause, for the good of humanity.
However, the book is not simply the story of Salvatore Cippico, the protagonist, deported to Goli Otok. It is also the story of Jorgen Jorgensen, the king-convict, which whom Salvatore often identifies, indeed confuses himself, to the point where he raves (hopes, fears, denies) that he is the same person, his double, his clone. The life of Jorgensen coincided with the birth of Australia and Tasmania by way of the penitentiaries (those terrible prisons, which in my novel, merge with the lagers and gulags they so closely resemble). Jorgen undertakes the same odyssey as those convicts who, between the end of the 18th and the 19th century, were transported from England to Australia and Tasmania to become the first population, apart the Aboriginals. Jorgen is an incredible character: a Dane in the service of England, a sailor who had crossed the seven seas, the founder of the Capital of Tasmania, Hobart Town. Many years later he would there, in the same Hobart Town, be sentenced to hard labor for life, as if Romulus had ended up as a Roman slave.

OT You write that “history is a spyglass held up to a blindfolded eye.” How do you grapple with fictionalizing historical events? Or are they fiction to begin with?
CM The essential point in the writing of that book, concerns the relationship between the contemporary novel and History, between writing History and writing stories, between narrating reality and inventing it. The destruction of the linear concept of time, and the eclipse of a central meaning capable of bestowing unity and rationality upon events both individual and collective, have made a violent assault on the way story-telling relates to the meaning of History.
Writing Blindly, I was grappling, on the one hand, with that form of truth, which the novel (if it wishes) can search for only through distortion, and other forms of truth, which in the ethical-political context, for example, can be reached only by trusting that very reason upon which the surging brackets of the epic regime seem to have dissipated.

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October's Hot Writer: Michael McCauley

My genre: I write short stories, or long jokes. I try to be funny and occasionally succeed; I don’t try to be bleak but typically succeed.

My literary influences: Nikolai Gogol, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Evelyn Waugh, George Carlin, David Lynch, Diane Arbus

My favorite literary quote: "Literature should not disappear up its own asshole, so to speak.”—Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

My favorite book of all time: The Overcoat and Other Short Stories, by Nikolai Gogol. I’m referring to the Dover Thrift Editions publication that actually fits in your overcoat.

I’m currently reading: Revisiting Anton Chekhov’s Short Stories, Norton Critical Edition.

My guilty pleasure book:
Whatever the person I’m standing over is reading on the train to work.

I can’t write without:
Time, ear plugs, 40 mg of Vyvanse.

Worst line I ever wrote: My writing is usually terrible and sometimes good enough, so it’s not like I have to dig to find the worst line ever. Here is a line from the piece I’m revising now, highlighted for either revision or execution: “The chilly wind that breathed fire into the trees seemed to rekindle within Gary that terrible lust for the unknown he had successfully repressed over the summer.”
I feel awful now but I deserve it.

Brief Bio: Michael McCauley is a graduate of the University of Alabama's MFA Program in Creative Writing. His stories have appeared in Eleven Eleven, The Clackamas Literary Review, DIAGRAM, and Painted Bride Quarterly.

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 and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.


Anne Elizabeth Moore wants to you to see Cambodia through her eyes, or at least through her camera’s lens. A Fulbright scholar, UN Press Fellow and award winning author, Moore has “spent much of the last five years in and thinking about Cambodia.” Now she’s ready to tell an image-driven story that celebrates a country rife with contradictions.

OT Your book is called Hip Hop Apsara: Ghosts Past and Present. Can you talk a little bout the title?
AEM Well, Hip Hop Apsara was what I'd always called these public dances down on the riverside, because they really do combine blasting hip hop music (and other kinds, too) with intricate Apsara dance moves. The dance scenes I photographed—it's sort of becoming standard now, for films shot in or about Cambodia in any way, to show these big dance parties. They're very tourist-friendly, and they do make for some amazing images. But it is an extremely odd mix of very traditional Khmer ballet with a deliberately janky, clunky, hip-hop sound and fashion aesthetic, especially when, earlier in the evening, you see it's mostly survivors of mass killing and genocide out busting a move. The subtitle, Ghosts Past and Present, is equally important. Between 1.7 and 2.2 million people were killed in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, and before that American bombings killed hundreds of thousands of people and livestock, which some estimate eventually killed about as many as under the brutal regime. Then after that, there were 20 years of civil war and poverty. A lot of people died. Its important to remember why and how, even if you're getting over the loss.

OT How does one unite words and images? Were the photos and essay done independently? Did you write essays to compliment chosen photos? Did you snap pictures that related to already written pieces?
AEM After five years of traveling in Southeast Asia, I had all these images, experimental things I would do with my camera when we were out at these big aerobics gatherings—the young women I was living with, and who are still my friends, who took me there—they were not terribly impressed by my dancing ability. So I photographed. Almost every night I could, actually: I loved being out in public that way with Cambodians enjoying themselves, taking up space, being loud. I did end up with several thousands images, though. Once the images were edited down, I sat down and was like, OK, my publisher says I have to write something. I'd wanted to create an interesting and complex enough narrative from the images alone, but she kept saying, I think a little bit of explication would be nice. So when I sat down to write, I didn't let myself get caught up in, is this factual? Will I be able to get permission to quote this? Am I saying it in a way that will damage the people I know there?—These are all the dangers of journalism in Cambodia: that the people you write about will be prosecuted for saying the things you have written down. It's pretty nerve-wracking. A journalist, covering the illegal logging trade, was just discovered dead last week; another one was shot a few weeks before that. So loosening the stories from this journalistic directive and letting them stand as solitary narratives that maybe aren't hinged in traceable location—it let me tell a different kind of story. A deeper story, and one that's maybe more true than anything else I've been able to write about Cambodia before. But it's not journalism.

OT Cambodia seems in flux at this point. What have your experiences been like relative to the rapidly changing culture?
AEM That's actually the subject of my next book, which is a follow-up to Cambodian Grrrl: Self-Publishing in Phnom Penh—which just won a SATW Foundation Lowell Thomas Award for Travel Journalism! It's called New Girl Law, and it looks at the impact of neoliberalism and globalization—like the kind Nick Kristof espouses in Half the Sky—on the women I've worked with over the last five years. Although it's great that fewer people are in poverty, women are still paid about half of living wage to work in the garment factories there—70% of which export clothing to the US. Even if we pay attention to someone like Kristof and focus on education, we see loss: young people's traditional values are being replaced with a very Western set of desires, which directly benefits global media and disadvantages folks there who might have something to say. And that's really just the good side, still: Press freedom doesn't exist, corruption is still out of control, domestic violence common. This White Savior Industrial Complex business is, in even the medium run, going to be very, very damaging—I mean, I've already seen it. If we can foster critical thinking and support communities of resistance there—local folks, like the Messenger Band that show up toward the end of Hip Hop Apsara—who have a good idea of how to make international support useful—at least we can mitigate some of the negative effects of globalization.

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September's Hot Writer: Brendan Detzner

My genre: Kind of all over the place- I tend to submit stories to horror magazines and get told they're not horror enough. The novel I'm working on is set in a maximum security prison for teenage girls and is only a little speculative, while the novel I'm shopping around is a dark fantasy "Young John Constantine adventures" type deal.
My literary influences: Also kind of all over the place, and very dependent on what I'm working on. For the novel I'm working on right now, Andrew Vachss, Richard Price, George Pelecanos, Edward Limonov. For short stories, I always end up circling back around to Kafka, and as far as contemporaries are concerned I look up to Neil Gaiman and Caitlin R. Kiernan quite a bit.

My favorite literary quote: "Writing is like sex. It's only fun for the amateurs." --Hunter S. Thompson

My favorite book of all time: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
I’m currently reading: The Magician King by Lev Grossman

My guilty pleasure book: Not that guilty, but any Order of the Stick collection.

I can’t write without: A variety of low-key distractions.

Worst line I ever wrote: "Someone had to be the bitch." Not that it's that bad, but it was meant to be a lot less dirty in context, only to be made about ten times more dirty sounding by the very British actress who did the audio production of the story. Totally worth it, even if it wasn't the plan.

Brief Bio: Brendan Detzner is a Chicago horror-and-other-stuff writer whose work has been featured in Chizine, Pseudopod, Edge of Propinquity, Ruthless Peoples,, and the Twilight Tales anthology "Book of Dead Things". He has been a featured reader at Reading Under the Influence and Twilight Tales, and was a part of the late lamented Cult Fiction quarterly performance series. You can read and listen to his work at, where you can also purchase his short story collection "Scarce Resources" (a fantastic way to fill a stocking if you're so inclined). He also runs Bad Grammar Theater, a reading series that takes place every second Friday of the month. New stories start every hour and half hour, come in any time you want!

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 and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.


Chicago-based cookbook author Anupy Singla has cultivated a devoted following by showing readers how to master Indian spices and make great-tasting Indian food at home. In her second offering, Vegan Indian Cooking, she tackles the perhaps more difficult endeavor of demystifying vegan cuisine.
Our Town spoke with Singla about the benefits of eating vegan.

Our Town
What originally inspired you to write your first cookbook?
Anupy Singla I have always wanted to write an Indian cookbook for the slow cooker. I know. It sounds a little crazy, but my mother was one of the first in America to cook Indian food in a slow cooker. I always told her that I would write a cookbook filled with her and my recipes. She never thought people would buy it, but it's now been the No. 1 Indian cookbook on for essentially two years.

OT How did you go about compiling recipes this time?
AS The recipes in Vegan Indian result from years of being predominantly Vegan. I started eating like this in graduate school in 1994. Many recipes are also basic Indian recipes that I love to make and are inherently vegan to begin with. I also took many Indian recipes and made them with whole grain options like brown rice and quinoa - an ode to the way I love to eat and feed my family - also something I learned from my mother.

OT Why go Vegan?
AS I [compare] vegan eating to clean eating. It's just less taxing on your digestive system. But I advocate taking it day-by-day and meal-by-meal. Don't feel like you can never eat an egg again. Look for delicious recipes to fill the gaps for you and you may find that you don't even miss the meat. I grew up eating this way, and so home-style Indian just seems so intuitive to me. I was shocked to learn that it's not something many others know about. I'm so excited to share my way of eating now with the world.

OT What’s the most common misapprehension about Veganism?
AS That it's a 'kookie' way to eat - that somehow all of US want to convert YOU. That the folks telling you to do it are the ones that are looking to deprive you of the foods you know and love. That's why I approach it from a place of going vegan is not about what you can't eat. It's about what you can now eat. Add the flavor from spices and the beans and lentils and you'll just naturally need less and less meat to fulfill you. So many of my readers write that they are not vegan - but love my recipes because they are hearty vegan options that can serve as go-to recipes when they want to limit the meat in their meal or in their day.

OT What is a good replacement for ghee in vegan Indian cooking?
AS I never grew up cooking with or eating ghee so it's a myth that all Indian households must use ghee in their cooking. In South Indian households they rarely use ghee. I love any vegetable-based oil. My favorite these days is grape seed oil, because it's a clean tasting oil that pairs well when used with Indian ingredients, and it has a high smoke point. Other oils like canola and vegetable works fine as well.

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Jeff Kauck Photography

Photographer Jeff Kauck is a man of few words. Good thing his pictures are worth a thousand--or more. Perhaps most famous for his food photography, Kauck has garnered a multitude of accolades including a James Beard nomination for his work on The Spiaggia Cookbook, as well as a Clio Award, one of the advertising industry’s highest honors. Though Kauck began as a watercolor painter, he made a smooth transition to commercial photography, relocating to Chicago and opening a studio with his wife. Kauck spoke with Our Town. But only a little.

Our Town How has your training as a watercolor painter influenced your photography?
Jeff Kauck Painters have a tendency to know more about getting light to lift then photographers. They have to understand the color of the highlights versus the color of the shadows. In addition a watercolor painter typically does not use white paint. They need to leave the unpainted white paper to represent white. So they must be aware and protective of that area before they start painting.

OT What’s interesting to you about food photography? 
JK I love to eat great food. And the quality time that eating together represents. It's also the closest thing to painting for me.

OT You must have some favorite Chicago restaurants. 
JK My wife's kitchen. She is an amazing cook.

OT Any dishes that you love but don’t translate well to visual representation? 
JK It's more a personal thing. Some people don't like to look at a whole fish or dead game. But they love how they taste.

OT What have been some travel highlights from your work in food photography?
JK I've been very lucky to work with the light from many parts of the world. No two are alike. Southern France, Asia, Mexico, New England-- all have a unique color and feel


August's Hot Writer: Ben Tanzer

My genre: I think it's called, "Pop culture infused real time domestic dramas rife with confusion, coping and endless attempts to communicate, something, anything, and in any way the characters can think of doing so." Though some just call it fiction.

My literary influences: Endless and varying. And more about the look, taste and feel of the storytelling, than theme or language. Jim Carroll. The Ramones. Don DeGrazia. Dorothy Allison. Scott Haim. Junot Diaz. Andre Dubus. Raymond Carver. Ray Bradbury. The Beastie Boys. Chris Ware. Jay-Z. David Cronenberg. Joe Meno. Lynda Barry. Bruce Springsteen. And Patrick Ewing. 

My favorite literary quote: "Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted." --Martin Luther King, Jr.

My favorite book of all time: The Basketball Diaries. Isn't that everybody's favorite book?

I’m currently reading: The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem. And literally just finished a number of books including AYITI by Roxane Gay and Legs Get Led Astray by Chloe Caldwell

My guilty pleasure book: Flowers in the Attic. The greatest guilty pleasure book of all time. Hands down. Done. Outside of Hollywood Wives of course. 

I can’t write without: Time. And Cow Tales.

Worst line I ever wrote: "Dad explained that while our family would never accept help from anyone, especially the government, there were good people who needed it. I immediately felt sorry for Mrs. Olsen — sorry for anyone who needed to rely on others for that kind of help. And I was glad that we would never be in that position."  Oh wait, that's not me, that's from The Christmas Sweater by Glenn Beck. Sorry. Let me confirm with my publicist what I'm allowed to say here.

Brief Bio: Ben Tanzer is the author of the books 99 Problems, You Can Make Him Like You and My Father's House among others. Ben also oversees day to day operations of "This Zine Will Change Your Life" and can be found online at "This Blog Will Change Your Life" the center of his vast, albeit faux media empire.

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 and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.

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July's Hot Writer: Laura Goldstein

My genre: Experimental Poetry

My literary influences: Harryette Mullen, Richard Brautigan, Suzan-Lori Parks, Gertrude
Stein, Lyn Hejinian, Elizabeth Bishop, Andrew Marvell, William Shakespeare, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Maya Deren, Caroline Bergvall, H.D., bell hooks, Jena Osman, Susan Howe, Marisol Martinez.

My favorite literary quote(s): “You will write if you will write without thinking of the
result in terms of a result, but think of the writing in terms of discovery, which is to say that creation must take place between the pen and the paper, not before in a thought or afterwards in a recasting... It will come if it is there and if you will let it come.”- Gertrude Stein

“Poetry ought to be as easy as painting by numbers. It should turn us into those emotions and feelings we could not experience in our own body.” -Tan Lin

My favorite book(s) of all time: Muse and Drudge by Harryette Mullen, After You, Dearest Language by Marisol Martinez, In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan

I’m currently reading: made by Cara Benson, No, I Will Be In The Woods by Michelle Taransky, Applies to Oranges by Maureen Thorson, The West Wind Review, 6x6 (Ugly Duckling Presse), The Aeneid by Virgil

My guilty pleasure book: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

I can’t write without: a pencil, television, traveling.

Worst line I ever wrote: “but you say don’t even try”

Laura Goldstein's poetry and essays can be found in American Letters and Commentary, MAKE, jacket2, EAOGH, Requited, Little Red Leaves, and How2. She has a number of chapbooks including Ice in Intervals from Hex Presses, Facts of Light from Plumberries press and her chapbook Let Her was released from dancing girl press earlier this year. Her newest chapbook, Inventory, was just released by Sona Books at the beginning of June. She currently co-curates the Red Rover reading series with Jennifer Karmin and teaches Writing and Literature at Loyola University.

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 and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.

Photo by Patty Michels

The other night a friend and I went out for drinks (by which I mean he ordered something sophisticated sounding and I panicked because menus overwhelm me).

Waiting to be seated he said, “I’ve decided to make you my role model for publishing a first novel. What are you doing?!”

“This? This is my compliment crouch.”

From under one of the patio tables, a terrier released a low growl.

“You’re making that couple uncomfortable,” my friend pointed out.

“What do you mean I’m your role model?” I asked after we’d ordered.

“You’re acting just how I want to when it happens for me. Except for that crouching thing. And the way you made the server bring you three kinds of dressing when you didn’t order a salad. But other than that, you’re my debut author ideal.”

“But I wake each day from nightmares in which I’m late for my Book Cellar appearance because I’ve forgotten which ones are my feet. I’m afraid when it comes time to sign books the only thing I’ll remember how to spell will be ‘John Mayer.’ I keep forgetting to memorize my agency’s name and I can’t stop picturing Jodi Picoult coming up behind me in line at Starbucks and tapping me on the shoulder. When I turn, she punches me in the glasses.”

“That’s just it.” My friend sipped his beer. I dipped my pinkie in my ranch dressing.

“You’re not entitled or self-promotional. You seem ambivalent about the whole thing.”

“Ambivalence is a perfect cloaking device,” I told him. “It makes you seem less self-promotional than you are. For example, when my publicist asked for my contacts at major Chicago news outlets I realized that the only person I knew at The Sun Times is me.”

“I thought she wanted major news outlets.”

The Sun Times hasn’t declared bankruptcy in months. I think we just bought The Reader...or maybe just someone who was reading, like on Foster Beach or something and we just came up and bought them cause that’s how powerful we are. I hope they were reading something by Jodi Picoult.”

“Your point?”

“My publicist suggested I feature myself in my Hot Writer Blog.”

“Each time you say publicist, you become less ideal.”

“But I thought if I made myself my own Hot Writer I’d look like a John Mayer, so here’s what I did, I asked recent Windy City Story Slam winner and sensational blogger Samantha Irby to do it for me.”

“Why are you describing her as if you’re introducing her at an awards ceremony?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Heeeeeere’s Samantha!”


Samantha Irby: “I’m a pretty good goddamned judge of what’s hot and what ain’t. And I know that might at first seem confusing considering the number of elastic-waisted pants in my possession, but trust me on this one: I'm an expert in hot sh*t. Being a hot writer is probably one of the easiest “hot” things one could be, as no one blanches at your pallid complexion, bathed in the glow of a computer screen for hours on end or your gnarled carpal tunnel fingers. Forgiven is that incessant muttering of new ideas and constant need to “let me write that one thing you said down.” It also helps that most people are just willing to take our word for it, because watching television and being dumb is way easier than reading a book or skimming an article.
Sarah Terez Rosenblum is the hottest kind of writer, one who does it professionally and actually gets paid to do so. Her new book, Herself When She’s Missing, knocked my socks clean off, and I pretty much hate everything. That book is a good time. Sarah is tremendously talented, so smart, so funny, and she has a body hot enough to pose naked as a figure model in front of classrooms full of snooty art kids. And if that isn’t hot, I have no goddamned idea what is.”


I may not be the best person to interview Mike McPadden. He’s a Metallica expert, I grew up on Sondheim and Lilith Fair. He’s been happily employed by the likes of Hustler, and I majored in Womens Studies. But what can I say? McPadden gives great interview. He spoke with Our Town about everything from his new book, If You Like Metallica... (Backbeat Books) to why Playboy has all those pesky articles.

Our Town You seem to be a heavy metal aficionado. What originally drew you to the genre?
Mike McPadden From toddler-hood on, I was a horror movie fanatic; heavy metal is a natural musical transition. I loved KISS and was terrified by them. That commingling of love and terror has driven a lot of my life. I grew up in Brooklyn, New York in the ’70s, so I developed an interest in punk rock at a very early age. I went to see the Ramones when I was 11. But by the time I got to high school, wimpy European New Wave had supplanted punk. I’d see classmates wearing Sex Pistols and Dead Kennedys shirts, but they were actually listening to Depeche Mode and Spandau Ballet. As a result, I reactively embraced whatever a fan of, say, Echo and the Bunnymen would find most repulsive—and that drove me straight back to metal. As I got closer to college in 1986, I veered back toward punk because of the very metal-influenced stuff being done by bands like the Butthole Surfers, Black Flag, and Redd Kross. Then one sunny afternoon I saw a gorgeous punk girl with a Mohawk and some very shocking piercings—for the mid-’80s—bobbling underneath her Metallica “Ride the Lightning” shirt. I walked right up to Tower Records, bought Metallica’s Master of Puppets on cassette and fell in love with that album and that band.

OT So, I know nothing about Metallica. Give me a one paragraph crash course.
MM Metallica emerged from the San Francisco area in 1982 with a shocking sound that combined metal and punk—at a time when the two forms opposed one another—and thereby invented the genre known as thrash. Metallica’s first four albums are revered as masterpieces of extreme rock. In 1991, the same year that grunge broke, Metallica reinvented itself with a more radio-friendly sound. During the ’90s, Metallica soared in the mainstream, but drew scorn from their original supporters. When Metallica sued Napster in 2000, they became known as “the band most hated by its own fans.” The 2008 documentary Some Kind of Monster depicts the group members in deep crisis. In 2010, Metallica came back with a great album, Death Magnetic, and followed up with a bizarre Lou Reed experiment titled Lulu. This June, Metallica will headline its own weekend rock festival in Atlantic City. A new album is scheduled for next year.

OT Consider me schooled. The If You Like series invites experts to write about their field of expertise. What qualifies you?

MM My writing career began in 1991, when I started publishing a Xeroxed ’zine titled Happyland. The subject matter was sleazy living in the last days of New York as a dangerous place, and it included plenty of music coverage. For a hard rock fan, that was a really weird time, Underground heroes Metallica and Nirvana, to name two, were conquering MTV and the pop charts. It was also a golden age of hyper-aggressive music from the Amphetamine Reptile label and a lot of Chicago noise bands. So I wrote about all that. From there, I penned music reviews for a number of publications, including the New York Press, Black Book, and even Screw. I have also written chapter-length essays in books [including] Bubblegum Music Is the Naked Truth (Feral House, 2001) and The Official Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll Book of Lists (Soft Skull, 2012).Yes, I am also a bubblegum pop fanatic. I like any music that’s really up front about what it wants to do to you. Indie rock is a sham!

Photo by Patty Michels

In Madonna and Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop, bloggers, journalists, essayists and fiction writers share formative Madonna experiences and rhapsodize about or deride Madonna’s influence.

My first Madonna memory is of watching clips from Truth or Dare on Entertainment Tonight. Though not a Madonna fan, I’d recorded the snippets the first time the episode aired and felt somehow compelled to screen them now, with my father’s parents visiting.

I was uncomfortable, I remember that, but also proud to boast an interest in subject matter so worldly. Watching, my grandmother emitted a high-pitched clucking: chicken meets car alarm.
My dad shifted his gaze from the television to my grandmother to me. “I’ll take you to the movie if you want,” he said.

Madonna: intergenerational tool of rebellion.

Back to the anthology. Kate Harding, whose essay, "Conversations I Will Never Have with Madonna" appears in the collection, spoke with Our Town about her oddly neutral response to the polarizing pop star.

Our Town You write “my dirty little secret is, I just don’t have strong feelings about Madonna.” How is that possible?
Kate Harding Maybe that she's been there in the background of my life for so long, I learned to tune her out. 

OT Do you think feminists are obligated to have specific thoughts on influential female figures?
KH I don't think feminists are obligated to have specific thoughts on very many things. (Equal baseline respect for all human beings? Equal pay for equal work? Equal right to privacy and bodily autonomy? Done.) But those of us who publicly identify as feminist are called upon to express clearly defined opinions on powerful women all the time, so when you don't really have strong feelings, you can start to feel like you're doing something wrong.

OT Why do others react so strongly to Madonna?
KH Well, sure--sex, power, beauty, pop music, religion, reinvention, motherhood, money, and fame. For starters. There's a lot to react to! And as I say in the essay, she has a real knack for angering people on either side of a contentious issue: "she infuriated Christians with her blasphemy and atheists with her woo; conservatives with her out-of-wedlock firstborn and progressives with her sketchy transnational adoptions; homophobes with her embrace of the gay community and the gay community with her embrace of reportedly homophobic Guy Ritchie." (Yes, I just quoted myself.) That's a great way to make sure everyone's always thinking and talking about you.

OT You talk about how Lady Gaga is often seen as ripping off Madonna but then posit that perhaps it’s Madonna who is derivative.
KH I don't know enough about music to say Madonna is derivative of any specific artist or tradition, but between my age and her output, a lot of her songs sort of run together in my mind—she's derivative of herself, if you will. So I say that "Born This Way" sounds like a Madonna song, for sure—but I just don't think it sounds overwhelmingly like any specific Madonna song. It's more like the platonic ideal of one. 

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Years ago I had the pleasure of studying with Matthew Goulish at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. We met in a cramped, airless cranny illuminated by fluorescent lights, like so many university offices, seemingly antithetical to free-wheeling thought. But magic collects in the folds of Goulish’s clothing. A serene, intensely engaged presence, Goulish understood the shape of my work (though at the time I barely did). His guidance felt almost baptismal, the message: “I see you, and I will help you to become more of what you are.”

Goulish’s own work defies easy definition. A writer and performer, he creates lecture/essay hybrids. Though some reference outside sources, Goulish weaves influences both internal and external into something entirely new. His new book, The Brightest Thing in the Word: Three Essays from the Institute of Failure (Green Lantern Press) is a collection of essays that touch on seating strategies, Dick Cheney, cuckoo clocks, the Fibonacci series, butterflies and old friends.

Our Town spoke with Goulish about failure but not about Dick Cheney.

Our Town Describe the inception of The Institute of Failure.
Matthew Goulish For many years I taught a course at SAIC called The Ethics and Aesthetics of Failure. My friend Tim Etchells, the director of the UK theater company Forced Entertainment, visited one time and we met for lunch. I said, “I just finished teaching my course on failure.” He said, “Tell me about that.” By the end of the conversation he had proposed the IoF as a collaboration between us, to explore the ideas in writing and performance.

OT You write: “To understand a system, study its failure.” Can you talk a little about that?
MG It’s an idea from engineering. Why does your shoe come untied? Usually it is for one of two reasons: either the bow loosens, in a kind of gradual decay, or a lace snaps, which is sudden and catastrophic. But the snapped lace was also preceded by decay of a different sort, of the lace material rather than of the bow’s tightness. This system has two elements – the substance of the lace and the pattern of the bow. The failure illuminates the system. The idea is transferable. The more complex a system is, the more complex its potential failures.

OT You work in performance and on the page. How do you determine in which milieu a piece will most comfortably fit? 
MG Performance and writing are very different modes for me. The performance work is fundamentally collaborative, physical, and spatial, engaging the elements of theater, as they say. The writing I do for it is devised for the team of performers and circulates around the ideas we discover together through the process. The writing I do individually, while also public (as a lecture), tends to take more of a subjective direction – like I’m a tour guide taking readers on a particular journey that has a degree of privacy. In that case, the focus is on the words alone and what they can do.

OT Part of your process includes “treating the entire library as a rough draft,” a sort of literary sampling. How did you arrive at that method? 
MG I think it was a response to thinking of myself as more a reader than a writer, so when a question presented itself to me, I would remember fragments of language that persisted in my mind from my reading. At a certain point I decided to copy those fragments – analytical fragments, poetic fragments – and write in a way to connect them. My writing became an act of extending other people’s writing that I loved, into a language and shape with the task of addressing a question.

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Photo by Lisa Meehan Williams

As significant and iconic as deep dish pizza or The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, the Crush Blog has been a monthly Chicago staple since aught 2010.

But all good things must come to an end, my friends. All bad things must too, except for anytime Debra Messing’s drippy son whines his way through a monologue on Smash--that goes on forever.

But why? Why would you snatch away something so rich with tradition, so essential to our community? That’s what Rahm Emanuell asked me yesterday when I tried to squeeze by. His sleeping bag ran the width of my front steps though, which made it difficult. I definitely stepped on his finger.

I’ll tell you what I told him: It isn’t you, it’s me.

When I initiated this auspicious endeavor, I was just a crazy kid, buoyed by hope, my surefooted path lit by dreams and night vision goggles.

But friends, the bloom is off the rose, by which I mean I’ve lost my binoculars and run out of twine. The pressure to troll monthly for a new crush has broken my spirit the way I broke Rahm’s pinkie. My crushes, rather than breezy bursts of excitement are in danger of becoming mundane. So although Chicago is still full of deserving crush objects, this column will take a hiatus after this month.

And friends, you have Zoe Zolbrod to thank for all of this. It was Zoe’s answer to my last Crush Question that cemented my decision. (Run for the hills, Zoe, through the front window I see Rahm jotting down your address, though he’s forced to hold the pen in his left hand.)

Hip, funny, and totally crushable, Zoe came to my attention recently when she participated in the Essay Fiesta Reading Series. Not only is Zoe a novelist and senior editor for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, she’s a contributor to a forthcoming collection, The Beautiful Anthology, which comes out June 9th. All and all Zoe Zolbrod is the perfect end to a centuries long run.

As for the Crush Blog, it’s not goodbye, Rahm, but see you later. I’m sure a new crush will crop up now and then.

Hometown: Meadville, PA
Profession: Senior Editor for an educational publishing company
Hobbies: Yoga. Reading. Dreaming of places to go.  I wish I could say I had more hobbies. I would love to be taking lots of long hikes and interesting bike rides, but in reality my walking and biking are pretty utilitarian.

Our Town What inspired your 2010 novel, Currency?
Zoe Zolbrod I traveled around Southeast Asia by myself in the 90s, and I got into scrapes.

OT You’re also working on a memoir. In terms of process, how is memoir writing different than fiction?
ZZ Differences in my writing process are probably more greatly affected by my current time constraints than by my new genre. But the experience of working on the memoir is different because it's less escapist. I worked really hard on the novel—I did a lot of research, I slaved over the language—but I didn't have to excavate my own memories and emotions in the same way I'm doing now. With the novel I worried about whether I was representing my Thai character fairly. With the memoir I'm worried about how I'm representing real people in my life in relation to some complicated situations, and I have less leeway, because I'm trying to deal with truth—a complicated word in itself. I can get pretty sweaty over it.

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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 and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.

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Chicago-based author Alan Goldsher is a renaissance man. Author of a growing catalogue of “remix” novels, spoofs that mix classics and zombies or in Goldsher’s case, Von Trapps and Vampires, Goldsher also finds time to ghost write, play standup base and mock Lady Gaga. Tonight at 8:30 p.m. he’ll hit iO Theater to celebrate the release of two new novels, A Game of Groans: A Sonnet of Slush and Soot, and Give Death a Chance: The British Zombie Invasion 2 with an night of reading and improvisational comedy. He spoke with Our Town first.

Our Town To what do you attribute the growing popularity of the (usually) supernatural mashup/parody genre?
Alan Goldsher The simple fact that the books are out there.  Mashups -- or, as Team Alan calls mine, remixes -- likely would have been embraced several years ago, had they been in the marketplace, but few major publishers would take a chance on that sort of thing.  As is the case with new a musical sub-genre, it took an indie company to test the waters, then, once the big publishers realized readers would embrace that kind of goofiness, the floodgates opened.  And I mean floodgates in a (mostly) good way. [Also], young adult readers seem to have gravitated to the books, and Y.A. is arguably the smartest, coolest, and trend-making-est demographic in the industry.  Publishers know this, and will take a shot on a mashup in hopes that it could be the next, um, er, Paul Is Undead.

OT What initially attracted you?
AG I dig writing humor, I dig writing horror, and I dig writing about pop culture, and doing something like Paul Is Undead or Give Death a Chance gave me the opportunity to kill three birds with two books.

OT What about zombies? They’ve been off in the corner for decades, why have they recently come to the fore?
AG I could get all philosophical and discuss how zombies represent the id, and in today's America -- what with its wobbly economy and simmering class war -- people can't help but embrace the ugly part of themselves when it comes to entertainment, because they aren't allowed to get that ugly in their day-to-day lives.  Truth is, for me, zombies are a wonderful entity to play with because, unlike vampires, the undead don't have a set mythology, so a writer can do with them what they will.

OT Your new book pits Lady Gaga against the zombie Beatles. What parts were particularly fun to write?
AG Gaga takes herself too damn seriously, so it was a blast to mess with her, and, given the opportunity, I'd do it again, and I don't care if she knows it.  Truth is, Give Death a Chance is just a novella, so I didn't spend too many pages trashing her, because I had to give equal time to making fun of Madonna, Eminem, Justin Timberlake, Lil Wayne, Oasis, and obstructionist Republicans.

OT Fictionalizing public figures vs creating fictional characters, discuss.
AG When I fictionalize a public figure, I fictionalize the hell out of them.  I mean, if you want to see Paul McCartney being Paul McCartney, you can pop over to You Tube, so what's the point of making a fake McCartney act like the real McCartney?  When you do parody, you heighten and exaggerate -- e.g., the real McCartney spends a surprising amount of time talking about sales figures, so my Zombie McCartney is flat-out obsessed with them -- whereas when you create an original character, it's all about realism.  There's little real about my undead Beatles.

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Andy Selsberg thinks you are good at things, for example, “forcing people to acknowledge how adorable your baby’s foot is,” or maybe “Telling professional coaches what to do.” In fact, the former Onion staff writer is so convinced of your myriad abilities that he’s written a book enumerating these positive traits. Our Town spoke with Selsberg about the book's bathtub genesis, lists as literature and perhaps most significant, the contents of celebrity purses.

Our Town Here’s what I’m good at, accurately predicting the color of people's nipples. What about you? 
Andy Selsberg Nipple prediction? That's a rare one, like yelling original prompts at improv shows. Does anyone really possess that skill? If so, it would have to be a Chicagoan. I'm really good at not being able to read my own handwriting. And I'm a ringer when it comes to noting when it's good sleeping weather. I learned it from my parents, who are masters. I'm also good at passionately favoring one drugstore chain over the others. Growing up in Kenosha, I was obsessed with Walgreens. When I tried to write short stories in college, half of them took place in a Walgreens. In New York, Duane Reade is everywhere. It doesn't get a lot of true love, but it's earned a kind of affection via grudging acceptance. Walgreens acquired them in 2010, but Duane Reade stores kept their name. This is how Macy's should have dealt with Marshall Field's. Regional chains are important! Apparently, I am also good at retail tangents.  

OT What inspired your book?
AS I was in the bathtub, thinking about what I could do next. I thought, "What am I good at? Everybody's good at something... Yes--everybody is good at something! I'll do a list of everything people are good at!" That was the first working title: Everybody's Good at Something. It just felt right, like it could be funny and telling and expansive. Familiar and new. 

OT Was it a struggle to make it book length?
AS It just took time and focus. At least a year. I would go out almost every day with a notebook (Field Notes brand--another Chicago connection) and commit to coming up with a few dozen possible lines. It's a matter of training yourself to think in a particular way. I'd do it while riding the subway, on a park bench after work. Being in places with lots of people inspired lines (You are good at sharing headphones, conveying cultural standing through tote bags...). 

OT Are you a fan of lists in literature?
AS Yes--or maybe a fan of lists as literature. I like David Markson's novels--they're like scrolls of literary snippets. I Remember by Joe Brainard is genius. Though I might wish I didn't, I love magazine features where someone of note lists everything in their bag, or lists all their favorite products. It seems to add up to a perspective. Twitter is a slice of the world in list form, constantly updated. I loved Letterman's Top Ten collections. And I'm sad that one of my favorite list books, What's Right with America, is out of print. "Army surplus as a college wardrobe staple," "Bumper stickers that make fun of other bumper stickers." It's sincere and sarcastic at once--a tone close to my heart. You can make fun of something and still love it dearly. (If not, most contemporary parents are in trouble.) 

OT You quote Grace Paley’s “Wants” on your Dear Old Love Tumblr. First of all, love that story, second, did the line actually inspire DOL?
AS That is a cool story--more a presiding presence than an inspiration for DOL. I taught "Wants" for years before I actually read Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, which has a supporting role in it. Such a good novel! I have the Paley quote ("I attribute the dissolution of our marriage to the fact that you never invited the Bertrams to dinner") on the site to set some aspirational guidelines: the specificity, the humor and sadness of it all. And I hope it reminds people that the site aims to artfully condense experience, to tell stories in miniature, more than get actual notes to actual old loves. 

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Chicagoan Anne Laughlin came to writing later in life, but since the 2008 publication of her first novel, Sometimes Quickly, she’s barely paused to breathe. Today marks the release of her new mystery, Runaway. She spoke with Our Town about the mystery genre and why, even in 2012, lesbian niche publishing remains vibrant and important.

Our Town Was writing always an ambition?
Anne Laughlin I didn’t begin writing until I was fifty years old, so if it had always been an ambition, it lurked well in the background. However, I’ve always been a big reader and I believe most serious readers at some point wonder how good a writer they’d be. At fifty I somehow stopped worrying about how good a writer I’d be and just sat down and wrote. [But] With a little experience comes the depressing knowledge that it takes a lot of work to produce something worthwhile. Over the course of these few years I’ve tried to become more serious about editing, making my work better with each pass. I suppose you could say it’s evolved from what was initially almost a hobby approach to one that’s professional.

OT Who are your influences?
AL As a young lesbian in the seventies and eighties, I spent a fair amount of time hunting down books with lesbian protagonists, many of which were mysteries. Here were protagonists with whom I could identify, battling and defeating foes. Believe it or not, that was a big deal at the time. So I’d have to say that the pioneers of that era were a huge influence – Katherine Forrest, Claire McNab, Barbara Wilson, and a little later, Val McDermid and Ellen Hart.

OT What interests you about the mystery genre?
AL People say that one of the negatives about the commercial genres – mystery, suspense, romance, science fiction – is that they must adhere to constricts of their genre and are therefore predictable and formulaic. I think that’s a crock. There’s very little that can’t be written about within the confines of crime fiction. What makes it appealing to me is the emphasis on complex, compelling stories that can only be successfully told through complex, compelling protagonists. The suspense inherent in the genre is the bonus that makes a delicious read for me, and apparently for millions of other readers, given the popularity of the genre in both the mainstream and LGBTQ publishing worlds.

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March's Hot Writer: Rory Leahy

My genre: Plays, which are generally seen as comedies but I prefer to think of
them as dramas with lots of jokes in them, and sketch comedy, as well
as prose fiction, generally fantasy/and or comic, absurd.

My literary influences: Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman, Harper Lee, Margaret
Atwood, Mark Twain, Tom Stoppard, Keith Giffen, PG Wodehouse, to start
an incomplete list.

My favorite literary quote: "Hello babies, welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in
the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies,
you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule I know of
babies. God damn it, you've got to be kind." -God Bless You Mister Rosewater, by Kurt Vonnegut

My favorite book of all time: Changes frequently but I'll go with Catch 22 by Joseph Heller.

I’m currently reading: Scarce Resources, 18 Weird Stories by Brendan Detzner (local Chicago writer)

My guilty pleasure book: Walter the Farting Dog.

I can’t write without:
My laptop. It pretty much goes where I go, in a suitcase, which helps
me build the arm strength that is an indispensable aspect of my hotness. I have a mild learning disability that makes me absolutely hopeless at penmanship, I'd have been screwed in the pre-typewriting era.

Worst line I ever wrote: "Lead me, nymph, to the sweetest of all rest, as I absorb myself, into
your dark infinities."

Brief Bio:
I've been writing things pretty continuously since high school. Wrote a bunch of plays for student theatre company at the University of llinois Urbana-Champaign. I then founded my own theatre company, American Demigods, which produces original works by me and other people that I think are cool. Our next production is one of mine, it's called The Factory That Makes Devils. It's an evening of short plays with horror themes. Some are genuinely scary, others are more comedic. That's going to be in June of 2012. I've also got a short story being published in an anthology by Lonely Robot Comics and I'm writing a sci fi novel based on Aristophanes' Lysistrata.

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 and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.

Photo by John Reilly

I first encountered Carol Anshaw’s work at a Milwaukee library. Just out of college I’d moved to Wisconsin for a relationship, was peripherally trying to initiate an acting career, maybe for an audience of dairy cows. I’m forever moving to the wrong place for the wrong reason, case in point, a few years later I would relocate to LA for another relationship and fall into a job as a sales consultant. Next thing I’ll head to Sweden in January to beat depression. At loose ends in Milwaukee, I was compelled by Anshaw’s deftly crafted characters, drawn into their imperfect world. What truly enthralled me though, was Anshaw’s voice, this amalgamation of finger-on-the-pulse authority and hot chocolate hominess. I felt certain I knew exactly what Anshaw’s life would look like, her relationships, her home.

In 2006 I prepared to move cross-country to pursue an MFA rather than a girl. A few months before the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s semester began, I spoke to a counselor. Had I chosen an advisor? he wanted to know. Thirty floors above downtown Los Angeles, I swiveled in my office chair.

“Who are my options,” I asked.
“Well, we have Carol Anshaw.”
“Wait, I’m sorry who?” Though my heart accelerated, I couldn’t initially place the name. “She’s written, oh let’s see, Lucky in the Corner, Seven Moves, Aquamarine.”

“You’re scaring the clients,” my boss tapped me on the shoulder. “Stop shrieking, did someone die?”
“I’m sorry,” I mouthed. Then into the phone, “I’ll take her,” as if Carol was a purebred dog or a shiny Corvette.

Six years later, Carol and I live within walking distance, a coincidence, I swear. We go to yoga together (She’s the type who cracks jokes during class.) and she and her partner spoil my dog with steak dinners.

I probably shouldn’t say this, because authors get huffy when readers claim to know them based only on their work (as if what one writes is somehow separate from one’s truest self), but turn a couple dials a few notches and Carol’s what I imagined, more caustic, more generous but otherwise the same.

Her much lauded new book Carry the One comes out March 6th and it was my absolute pleasure to sit at her kitchen table and discuss it while she made fun of my tape recorder and a storm whipped up outside.

Carol Anshaw That thing looks forty years old.
Our Town I think it is.
CA Does it take a cassette? I just got rid of some old ones; I wish I’d known.
OT It’s okay. Walgreen’s should be getting a new shipment from 1982 any day now. So, writing was a lifelong ambition for you-
CA As soon as I could read I wanted to write books. Where did that come from? My parents were not educated people. They could take me to the library but they couldn’t point me in the right direction, so it was just innate.

OT When did writing begin to seem achievable?
CA I was blessed with my ignorance. I wasn’t like you; I didn’t have all this information going in. I was kind of groping around in a cave. It was a whole different process.

OT Your early work-
CA First I wrote a novel that never saw the light of day, but it taught me about scene structure and all that. Then I had a novel published in seventy-eight and I thought, well, I’m on my way! But I didn’t have anything published till Aquamarine fourteen years later.That’s why I tell students until you’ve been crawling through a tunnel over broken glass for fourteen years don’t come bitching to me. During that time I wrote a lot more, I wrote a second book that went right into a drawer. Then I wrote something under a pseudonym, but it was a long tunnel.

OT Whenever I interview a writer I ask about their writing process-
CA What writing process?

OT Do you have one? Do you sit down at 2:01 p.m. exactly with your cup of earl grey just to the left of your parchment and-
CA No! I think people think that. I was reading an interview with Alice Munro and she writes from nine to one every day and I thought wow, that must be so great. I just write when I can.

OT When Aquamarine was published I assume having a lesbian main character was still a potential stumbling block. Have things changed?
CA I think so. Nobody blinked at my new book. But also in ninety-two it was a good kind of exotic, a sort of curiosity. Maybe I got in through that gate.

OT In feminism and gay rights we always talk about benefiting from the work of those who came before, but with a long career like yours, is there a way in which the work your earlier books did pushing the envelope in terms of gay acceptance or at least a queer presence in literature is something you yourself have come to benefit from?
CA Maybe. I don’t know if my books had enough reach to influence anybody about anything.

OT Take credit.
CA When I started, there was more of a cultural assumption that many readers would find gay characters irrelevant or repugnant. I was only one of many queer writers out there trying to cut through all that antagonism. For whatever reason, I don’t think it’s that big a deal now. In the beginning you just had lesbian novels about women being lesbians—that was all they did. But now you have people who are queer, but living lives that are about a million other things.

OT Speaking of change, the literary world itself has changed significantly during your career. Are the changes positive?
CA There used to be only three routes: mainstream publishers, university/small presses and self-publishing. But self-publishing was on a really low rung. Now not so much, now you can instantly publish your book, you can get an ISBN number and be on Amazon and eventually get a publisher and wider distribution. I think publishing is going to be split into more little pieces. But this fragmenting of the market has really been helpful. More different kind of books are being published. I don’t know where everything is going but I’m pretty confident that people like books—the objects. So I’m going to go on that—they’re not going to disappear. For instance, we’re talking about your really tragic cassette player, the tape you’re making here, you can’t play on any other item in your house, probably. You can have all these old LPs but you might not have a player. But my books are right over there on the shelf; I can pull them down any time I want.


February's Hot Writer: Rachel Bertsche

My genre: Memoir

My literary influences: AJ Jacobs, Tim O'Brien, Gretchen Rubin, Sloane Crosley, Malcolm Gladwell, David Sedaris.

My favorite literary quote: “When someone you love dies, and you're not expecting it, you don't lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time -- the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes -- when there's a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she's gone, forever -- there comes another day, and another specifically missing part.” -- John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany

My favorite book of all time: The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

I’m currently reading: Earlier this evening I finished Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close. Tomorrow I'll start The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach.

My guilty pleasure book: The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney

I can’t write without: procrastinating for three hours first.

Worst line I ever wrote: "Like getting a 99 on a test. It's almost perfect, but not quite." This comes from a poem I wrote in fifth grade. I thought it was very profound.

Brief Bio:
Rachel Bertsche is a journalist in Chicago, where she lives with her husband. Her first book, MWF Seeking BFF, came out last month. Her work has appeared in Marie Claire, More, Teen Vogue, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Fitness, Women's Health,, and more. Before leaving New York (and all her friends) for the Midwest, Bertsche was an editor at O: The Oprah Magazine.

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 and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez

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