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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, Gothic.net, 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 brendandetzner.com, 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 facebook.com/OurTownBlog.ChicagoSunTimes and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.

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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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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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“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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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.

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Recently Salon.Huffington/Slate-Gawker.Jezebel ran a piece claiming that the average Valentine’s day celebration costs upwards of $400 dollars. (XoJane was too busy live blogging a pill-popper’s death rattle, out fat-accepting Nomi Lamm and posting dispatches from asexuals who promote egregious footnote abuse to weigh in.)

To me such extravagance feels smarmy and overwhelming although I did just start Netflixing Gossip Girl for the first time and watching Blake Lively flit around the upper east side being hoarse and vaguely Grecian is enough to make Gandhi sneak out to buy a pair of Tori Burch flats. And I’m no Gandhi. (God, I say that all the time!)

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Really though, the point of Valentines Day is not profligacy, the holiday’s purpose is much more exceptional, far more significant: Valentine’s Day’s sacred function is to allow me to buy as much glittery pink heart adorned clothing and jewelry as possible. Also to provide me with a blog topic and here we go.

Sure it’s Valentine’s Day but that doesn’t mean you have to go the expected route, reserving a table at Blackbird and burying your significant other under mounds of Margie’s Candies. Instead I’ve made you a list of personalized alternatives.

Valentine’s Day Roundup (Off the Beaten Path Edition)

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1. If you grew up wanting to star in (insert one) The Red Shoes/Save the Last Dance/Saturday Night Fever: This weekend River North Dance Chicago’s Harris Theater engagement offers two world premieres, "The Good Goodbyes" featuring choreography by RNDC Artistic Director Frank Chaves as well as the first U.S. commission by Italian choreographer and Artistic Director for Spellbound Dance Company, Mauro Astolfi, entitled "Contact-Me."

River North Dance Company member Lauren Kias says this weekend’s premieres are “based around love and passion.” Specifically, “Good Goodbyes” she says “is a warm and cheerful piece celebrating relationships we have with very special people in our lives. Sultry and romantic pieces by Sidra Bell and Frank Chaves, a comedic scat driven solo by Robert Battle and a intense suite of tangos choreographed by Ruben and Sabrina Veliz round out the six piece Valentines day performance.”
Visit rivernorthchicago.com to learn more.

Holiday Tips

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Photo by Patty Michels

We’re on the last leg of the holiday marathon, people. So close we can almost see the depressing, grey, Christmas light-less tip of January. At a time of year when our checking account balances are low and our stress level is high, I’ve polled a diverse group to offer some holiday tips. Enjoy.

I’ll start things off:

Sarah Terez Rosenblum (werewolf owner) Although many are lukewarm about the concept of zoos, I had a pretty awesome time at Lincoln Park Zoo Lights. Sure, the hot pretzels cost twenty dollars, but I’m a sucker for anything dazzling. Unchecked, I'll stare at a chandelier for an hour. If you’re looking for ice sculptures, passed out lions and Christmas trees choreographed to blink on and off in time with music, Zoo Lights will overflow your holiday cup.

Lisa Jenn Bigelow (librarian and author of “Starting From Here”): One of my biggest de-stressing achievements was agreeing with my family to make charitable donations rather than give material gifts. Of course, now I stress over that, but at least it greatly reduces the amount of time I spend in stores, worrying over whether I'm wasting my money on a gift that won't be used.

Lane West (voice over actor): Booze, prescription meds, having friends over for holiday feasts; sometimes mixing the three.

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Lane West demonstrates.

Amy Sutton (retail manager): If you still need to shop, do it early in the morning or late at night. You will miss the crowds. Also, the retail workers are pretty beat up right about now, so the teensiest bit of kindness will get you everything you need!

Susan Stachowicz (teacher): I bought Christmas presents this summer when I was traveling. So [the gifts are] unique and unavailable locally.

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This is an example of a vacation. Because of the palm tree.

Marie Macula (archivist): Construct an elaborate lie about your current life and bring it up whenever relatives ask you inappropriate questions.

Jamie Lauren Keiles (college student and December's Crush): Bulk food bins at the supermarket and a script for Xanax

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One day I hope to live in a bulk bin.

Janelle Galvin: (retail worker) Though I only have five other family members in the state, there's a lot of activity on Christmas eve. My mother is the organist at her church and my father is in the choir, my aunt is in the choir at a different church, and they never quite match up. A while ago, we decided that instead of doing a big sit-down dinner we would make a dozen or so appetizers and Christmas cookies that could sit out all night and people could just come and go as necessary without feeling like they were ditching the fam. Also, if one of the appetizers doesn't come out well, there are so many others that it makes no difference - zero holiday meal stress!

Corin Sailor (mother): Speaking as a new mother, set the bar low. They have nothing to compare it to.

Linda Michels (nuclear medicine technologist): If you like crafts, make the gift! More fun and meaningful than shopping. Soaps, candles, ornaments, and cookies, all good ideas.

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My SO seriously made this.

Chai Wolfman (artist) White Elephant gift exchange and Old Fashioneds.

Cristina Chopalli (writer) Brazilian Wax.

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

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Composer Miguel Kertsman is nothing if not prolific. With an eclectic oeuvre and a genre-defying take on the music world, Kertsman has turned his talents to everything from composing to producing, creating work across the music spectrum from Orchestral, Operatic, and Chamber Music, to Experimental, and Jazz. This week, O Saci, His children’s show about the power of friendship has its US premiere right here in Chicago. Our Town spoke with Kertsman about his methods and what to expect from the family friendly show.

Our Town How does music come to you?
Miguel Kertsman Music is out there, in here and everywhere in our environment, our lives, our routines, in our world, in the universe and the cosmos. I feel composers are very fortunate to have the urge, desire, and ability to tap into all those sources and channel some of that fantastic energy -- sharing it with others, telling stories, conveying feelings and emotions through sound. Music can come in a dream, in the shower, during a walk, while implementing a totally unrelated task, in the city or in the country. Sometimes there may be a "reason" to write a piece: A person, an event, a commission, a theme. Sometimes the music simply comes to be because it needs to.

OT What’s your method for composing?
MK I write what I hear internally at any given moment and what I feel -- it could be a rather tender, tonal melody today, or a very textural, experimental, chaotic work tomorrow. Sometimes I allow myself to get more cerebral about the writing process; however, most of the time I write what I hear and what I feel -- genres or styles are irrelevant. Concerning methodologies, I still prefer to write by hand, with pencil and paper. Naturally, computer programs can be helpful, especially for mechanical work such as generating engraved, publishing-quality printed scores and parts for the musicians. However, I personally am not a fan of having a computer between the music and me during the creative process, unless the computer's resources would in fact support the aesthetics of the work at hand. I feel we spend far much too much time in front of a computer or other electronic device as it is.

OT Do you write or hear a single line at a time or multiple lines?
MK Either, depending on the piece. When writing orchestral music I write multiple parts on the fly and as I go along since the final product is often already playing internally in full sound -- as if you would be listening to your own internal radio station. It often becomes a matter of writing down and transcribing what you hear. If the orchestral score has, let's say, 32 individual parts (various winds, brass, percussion, strings, choir, special instruments, etc.) I will often write down the most important parts, and make decisions on other lines later -- for example, I may decide to have the third trumpet doubling the first violins at a certain passage, or add another percussion part or effect -- those are often important details, the icing on the cake. When writing pieces with lyrics or Jazz pieces, one can often hear / write a melodic line, and subsequently harmonize it. In such an instance, that represents a more vertical way of composing music.

OT How does improvising impact your compositions or are you more formal about your work?
MK J.S. Bach was an incredible improviser, as were many of the other great Masters -- would that make their music less formal? Improvisation can be a fantastic tool for composition.

OT What would a non-musician be most surprised to find out about a composer’s creative process?
MK I often notice expressions of amazement from people when talking about hearing full or finished symphonic pieces internally that yet do not physically exist. Well, I am just as much in awe when an architect, painter or graphic artist sees a finished work in her /his mind's eye which also does not yet physically exist.

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Photo by Traci Griffin

Peter Orner may no longer live in Chicago but his romance with the city rivals that of any resident. A graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop and faculty member at San Francisco State University, Orner counts William Faulkner, Grace Paley and Chicagoan, Stuart Dybek as influences. Like Dybeck, Orner uses concrete imagery and issues of object permanence to ground his new novel, Love And Shame And Love. A rumination on memory, loss and renewal, the novel tells the story of the Popper family, but throughout Chicago exists as both supporting player and touchstone.

Our Town You went from law school to an MFA program. What provoked the switch?
Peter Orner It was actually in law school that I started to write seriously. I'd sit in a class like trusts and estates and think how sad it was that a law text book could make people fighting over a will so dull. Families arguing over money! What could be better? So, while the professors droned on, I'd be writing short stories about the people in the cases.

OT Thinking back to when you published your first novel, what surprised you most?
PO That anybody in their right mind would want to a read a novel about a remote place in a remote country, rural Namibia. To my surprise, a few people did read The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo. Not that many, but I'm still surprised when I meet people who have read it, and who might have no relationship to Namibia. You sit there alone, in my case in my garage, and you imagine things, and then, after a few years, these things you imagine, other people are sometimes interested in. I guess this is what I'm most surprised about with anything I write.

OT What was the inspiration for Love and Shame and Love?
PO A desire to write about home. Namibia was tough, and though I lived there, it will never be where I am from. But I found that writing about where you think you are from can be just as hard as writing about places you aren't from.

OT The city of Chicago seems almost a character in the book. Why?
PO Because I love the city, and though I now live in San Francisco, a part of me will always be standing on the beach by the lake. But Chicago, in my imagination, is as much a myth as a real place. Our imaginations warp real places. They become like our personal Oz. For a time I was student at Northwestern, and [I remember] looking at the city and thinking, there, there's where want to be. Now I could have just gotten on the train. And of course I often did. But in some ways, and this may be because I'm just a kid from the suburbs, Chicago is always just a little out of reach.

OT San Francisco vs. Chicago, go.
PO San Francisco is beautiful; Chicago though, fires up my imagination in ways that San Francisco, for all its splendor, never will. There's a scene in the novel that I think dramatizes this. Popper is heading east on Irving Park Road, and he takes a right and begins to drive south on a side street. It's late at night, and yet in the apartment buildings are some lighted windows. He thinks about the people and their lives, all the stories that are behind those lighted windows. It's the most autobiographical scene in the book. I've done this many times, driven around Chicago and thought about all the countless stories beyond late night lighted windows. Could I do this in San Francisco? Sure. But I never have. And this, I think, is the difference for me. It's just me.

OT What are you looking forward to doing while you’re here?
PO Taking my daughter to Oak Street Beach and then, if she doesn't trash the place, to the lobby of the Drake Hotel where I once went with my own dad when I was real little. I remember crawling up those white marble steps. But maybe I miss-remember this too.

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By age fifteen, Alexander Maksik hoped to be a writer, but, he admits, “it wasn’t until my late twenties that I realized I wanted to do the work. For a long time I was more concerned with being a writer than writing.” Recently, Maksik’s evolving commitment to his work produced You Deserve Nothing, a much-lauded rumination on power, idealism and morality. Maksik, based in Paris and Iowa City, will visit Chicago’s Seminary COOP Tuesday, September 13th, to discuss his debut novel with Adam Levin. But first he spoke with Our Town about inspiration, practice and Paris.

Our Town What was the original kernel of inspiration for You Deserve Nothing?
Alexander Maksik Both my parents were teachers and school administrators and from an early age I was acutely aware of the distinction between their public and private lives. Who they were at the dinner table was different from who they were in the classroom. As a result, I was never entirely capable of seeing any of my teachers only as teachers. That subject - the divide between the public and private self - has always fascinated me. In many ways, I feel as if I've been writing You Deserve Nothing since I was a teenager.

OT What are the pros and cons of setting a first novel in a place as symbolically loaded as Paris?
AM The advantage, of course, is that the city means a great deal to so many people and so perhaps I didn't have to do quite as much work as I might have if I were writing about a lesser-known place. On the other hand, a certain version of Paris has been filmed and written about over and over and over so the real challenge then was to do something original with the city. I tried my best to reveal it in ways inconsistent with the postcards.

OT Why utilize multiple points of view in your book?
AM It seemed the best way to deal with the novel's primary questions. In large part "You Deserve Nothing" is a book about the difference between the way we imagine ourselves and the way we are, the way we imagine others and the way they are. Those varying versions of "the truth" are also consistent with much of what is discussed in Will's classroom and I liked the idea of mirroring those seminars structurally.

OT What was it like to work with Alice Sebold as your editor?
AM A pleasure. She's an excellent editor. She has such respect for language and she misses nothing. Above all, it was her dedication to the novel as a whole that mattered most. She saw what I wanted to do, and refused to allow me to stray too far from that intention.

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This is my housewife dress.

I’m not a fan of summer. I know, blasphemy, especially in Chicago, where restaurant patios are like exhaust-scented seasonal churches, clusters of Zinfandel drinking caprese salad eaters the congregation. When the temperature can’t be bothered to come down out of the rafters, the last thing in the world I want to do is sit halfway into Randolph Street traffic and eat. Even with my tongue pressed to my apartment’s twenty-year-old air conditioner, the last thing I want to do is eat. I can’t be the only one. Well, I might be the only one in flagrante delicto with an appliance, but I’m sure other Chicagoans wonder what to eat to beat the heat.
Personally, I like a good gazpacho. Regrettably, the fanciest food preparation tool I own is a slotted spoon and even that confuses me. It’s stored inches from the stove so I’m always grabbing it to stir soup and then feeling shocked when I can’t use it to taste the soup. I don’t own a vegetable mill (which sounds like something James Taylor would write a song about). I do have a blender with no top, but I’ve been banned from using it as a result of a terrible margarita/ceiling fan mishap. But yesterday, I found myself craving gazpacho, so I improvised.

Spontaneous Gazpacho Recipe:
One cucumber, chopped as small as your dull knife will allow.
Two medium size tomatoes also chopped.
One can Campbell’s Tomato Juice
One tub Pico De Gallo from Edgewater Produce (No other will suffice so if you’re reading this from Toronto, you’ll have to make a road trip.)
Dump into Tupperware because you don’t own a bowl
Eat

As is often the case with my concoctions, I ate the improvised Gazpacho with gusto, while my significant other looked queasy. Which is totally ridiculous because when SO and I were in New York and the heat index was 115 degrees I had to watch her consume a Philly cheese steak and fries and also one of those pizza slices the size of an occasional table. All outside.

Inspired by my recipe’s success, I asked Our Town readers to contribute their favorite summer dishes.

Micki LeSueur (who sounds like a made up French mouse but is actually a local writer you’ll be hearing more about in my next blog) was super helpful, even supplying a role for my dog in the food making process. She wrote: “Get peaches from the farmer's market. Have the dog remove the pits and place the peaches flesh side down on the grill. Grill until the peaches soften and impressive-looking grill lines appear. Turn skin side down. Add a little butter, some brown sugar and cinnamon to the cavities from the pits. Serve with vanilla ice cream. Invite me for dinner.”

Reader Freddie Levin contributed the following: “Buy canned kidney and/or white beans. Drain the liquid from the can. Cut up celery and avocado into small pieces. Dress with olive oil and lime juice. Add salt and pepper to taste. Look smug because it's Vegan and that makes you better than everyone else.”

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I worry about Slut Walk. You’ve heard about it, of course. Back in April (which in our age of social networking is like saying back in 1903), a group of Toronto protesters spearheaded by Heather Jarvis and Sonya Barnett, began rallying to protest a Toronto policeman’s thoughtless words. Speaking at a York University safety forum in January, Michael Sanguinetti advised women to “avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” While he later apologized, the victim-blaming tenor of his statement may be a mixed blessing; it has spurred women across the country to action.

I’m more than familiar with taking back epithets. Just this week I took back neurotic and hirsute. I’m also aware of the peculiar wallop the word “slut” packs, having had it used against me in seventh grade by a girl I’d hoped would become my best friend. This was in the good old days, before sexting and vlogs when you could ruin a girl’s reputation without getting carpel tunnel syndrome. At the time, my sex life consisted of picturing Scott Bakula’s chest, so perhaps what set the girl off was my proclivity for wearing fishnet stockings while my classmates stuck with identical aqua Gap T’s and rolled cuffed jeans. Whatever her motive, the word kept me in modest attire for the next decade.

Letting the air out of the word “Slut” is one minor aspect of Slut Walk’s purpose. Chicago co-organizer Jessica Skolnik hopes the event, set for Saturday June 4th, will contribute to “a revised cultural attitude toward rape, [and change] the culture around victim-blaming, [allowing women to] exist in the world without fear of harassment and to engage in consensual sexual behavior without judgment.”

Writer Randi Black, who plans to attend, agrees. “Some people still don’t realize that rape is about power, and not sex,” she says. “Rape happens because people have a sense of entitlement. I hope spectators will realize those who commit sexual assault are ultimately responsible. Just because we might be dressed provocatively and calling ourselves sluts doesn’t give anyone an excuse to do whatever they want to us.”

Others, like Division|Collective curator Cortney Philip take a lighter tone. “Slut Walk,” she says, “is about having choices. When I stand in front of my closet in the morning, the last thing I want to hear is someone else's voice in my head telling me that I should dress to look attractive, but not so attractive as to invite assault. Or I could just be going because it looks like a good party.”

While organizer Jamie Lauren Keiles has no problem with any of these viewpoints, she believes “awareness-raising is important, but one event isn’t going to solve everything.” Known for “The Seventeen Magazine Project,” a blog she created in 2010 to document the month she spent living according to the gospel of Seventeen Magazine, Keiles credits the internet for “shaping [her] understanding of feminism. I was raised in a house with two working parents and a mom that kicked major ass, [but] I don’t think I started identifying as a feminist until I started reading blogs. I realized feminism was more than 70s-style bra-burning, [rather] feminists were a diverse group.”

And uniting that group is one of Skolnik’s chief goals for Slut Walk. Excited to gather “the broad coalition of people doing work for survivors' rights, sex workers' rights, and other progressive/feminist causes,” she believes “in order for culture to change, it's important that activist groups join forces. Right now, many groups are focused on direct provision of services (which is really important!) and don't often get the chance to join together like this.”

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I can’t be the only one. I can’t, because it happens to all of us. No, not getting Katy Perry’s "Teenage Dream" stuck in our heads. Death. I don’t remember how I found out about death, but from the age of four on, I feared it. Not a quiet terror, but a sobbing, sleepless, wake up the neighbors who call the police because they suspect I’m being hacked to death by my parents kind of panic. Now I knew that each person, each animal and tree and--God help me-- the planet itself held within it an expiration date, I couldn’t comprehend how my friends went on playing foursquare and eating glue.

Though my death fixation lasted a decade, ultimately, through some peculiar combination of imagination and denial I managed to force my dread to the periphery of my consciousness, where it reached up to bop me over the head only every few months. Recently however, the apprehension has sidled center stage again, upstaging my usual obsessions. While it’s a relief to no longer worry that the eunuch vampire from "Let the Right One" In lives between my washer and dryer, this mortality anxiety sure is taking up a lot of my time.

While very few people join me when I run nightly down Foster street screaming, “We’re all gonna die,” I know others like me exist and it’s for you I’ve compiled this list.

Things to do in Chicago When You’re Terrified to Die

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1. Attend A.J. Durand’s Queer Yoga Workshop at Yogaview.
Running every Saturday July 2-July 30 from 2:00-3:15p.m., this class is specifically geared to provide queer folks curious about yoga with a safe, supportive, and fun environment. If you’re lucky, the practice will lend you peace and clarity. If you’re like me, you’ll have to flee the room because shavasana means corpse pose.
(Note: Heterosexuals can achieve a similar state of serenity by drinking twenty beers at a Cubs game and then preventing the Clark bus from moving more than two feet at a time.)

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2. Visit XOJane, the new website launched this week by 90’s alternative women’s magazine darling, Jane Pratt. If you had a subscription to "Sassy" as a teenager, the familiar names of her contributors and editors will induce a form of nostalgia, which, if you are lucky, will fill you with awe as to how far you’ve come. If you’re like me, you’ll drop to the floor moaning as if trampled by time’s grime march.

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3. Come to A Taste of StoryStudio, an evening of wine, cheese, and StoryStudio classes designed to help students interested in honing their writing skills at this Chicago mainstay. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. sharp May 20. If you’re lucky, you’ll come away pleasantly buzzed and brimming with inspiration. If you’re like me, you’ll spend the night certain the end of the world is mere hours away.

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4. Sample free frozen yogurt at the opening of Red Mango’s new Loyola location. The giveaway runs 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., also May 20. If you’re lucky, you’ll enjoy a delicious, low fat desert in the vicinity of an institution of higher learning. If you’re like me you’ll convince yourself it’s possible to choke to on yogurt. Or maybe freeze to death from the inside.

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5. Adhere to out-of-touch-rich-celebrity Gwyneth Paltrow’s list of places to visit while in Chicago. (This item is kind of like if a genie granted you three wishes and you used one to wish for a bunch of extra wishes, because it allows me to refer readers to a slew of other Chicago options while technically not exceeding five selections. I’m very clever.) If you’re lucky, you’ll have a number of lovely dining experiences and learn how it feels to sleep on 100,000 thread count sheets. If you’re me, you won’t be able to afford any of Paltrow’s suggestions, but the smoldering envy you’ll experience just might distract you from your mortality.

A freelance writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum, when not writing, supports herself as a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago's Story Studio. 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 followingOur Town on Facebook and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez

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Photo by Honey Lee Cottrell

For almost three decades, feminist sex writer Susie Bright has taken America on a guided tour of her sex life, offering political ruminations, writing advice and titillating anecdotes. But what do we really know about her life outside of the bedroom? Her new memoir, “Big Sex, Little Death” addresses this omission, offering characteristically frank, often startling accounts of topics as varied as Bright’s early work as a founding member of Teamsters for a Democratic Union, her fraught family life, and the truth behind her ongoing feud with anti-sex crusaders.

Our Town Why write a memoir now?
Susie Bright When the publisher approached me, my parents had died recently and I was learning things I never would have discovered if they were alive. I thought I knew everything about my family, but there are people who come out of the woodwork, there’s a box of letters that falls in your lap. I also had a twenty-year perspective on the highlights of the feminist sex wars, things I didn’t discuss when we were in the thick of it. It’s funny how some of the biggest things in your life, you realize you’ve never told anyone.

OT You write that women’s memoirs are often diet books or tell-alls. Why?
SB It’s the snake biting its own tale. Mainstream media and publishers say no to anything truly original. I once proposed a book about my experience as a sex positive feminist and parent to one of my former publishers who said, ‘You can’t be a mom and a sex goddess at the same time.’ I laughed my ass off, although I could only laugh so much because it was a rejection. The professional climate is rife with male chauvinism. A friend of mine’s daughter recently got an editing post at a digital media company, but she wants to do international reporting. She’ll hafta buy her own ticket and airdrop herself into the gnarliest situation she can, because of the gender rigidity in mainstream media publishing. There’s a tracking regime, like, ‘Would you like to write about diapers? How about edit these very important men’s work? You don’t want to do news and hard Op-ed, are you kidding? Wouldn’t you feel better working in PR and marketing and all these other areas where strangely, there are lots of other women?’ We’re faced with those obstacles, which you can get really mad about, and stamp your feet, but you might also find you’re participating. It’s not enough for me to worry about where I get to publish or what I get to say. What am I doing in terms of publishing other women’s real life adventure stories? If I’m not doing that then I can just shut up.

OT Reading your book, I was struck by your bravery. You talked your way out of many explosive situations. Do you look back in amazement?
SB In the moment I didn’t have any doubts. Like, I have to hitchhike to San Francisco, what the hell are you doing obstructing my path with your gun and your psychosis? Afterward is when you open your eyes in the middle of the night. In a narrative, of course, those elements are dramatic highlights. Most of the time my life could be called ‘the kindness of strangers.’ I’m talking to you from Baltimore, where I’ve just been kissed and fed and treated like a queen by people I’d never met. Being plugged in and open to new experiences is definitely worth it.

OT You write about anti-sex advocate Kittie Mackinnon publicly decrying porn and rough sex, but privately sleeping with a woman who in your mind embodied kinky sex. Why do people like her condemn what they enjoy?
SB Look at the GOP Christian zealots who get caught with their pants down in the public square. Same reason, they believe they’re special. If they have a kinky sex life, if they like naughty pictures, if they entertain themselves with taboos, if they have secret prostitute friends, they can handle it because they’re different, they’re entitled. You see this all the time among the uber elite. It’s an aristocratic point of view, which is why sexual freedoms and sexual speech is the foundation of democracy, the litmus test. If people can’t make their own decisions about their sex life and speak freely about it--we’re talking everything from reproductive rights to what you like to fantasize about-- it means there’s a group of people setting up and enforcing public policy in vindictive and prejudiced ways.

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Interviewing someone you’ve never heard of is easy. Sure you gotta research, but becoming informed on a deadline is cake compared to fielding a phone call from an icon. Amber Benson may be a minor mainstream star, but for fans of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” she’s a major deity. Thankfully, she’s also one of the most genuine, forthcoming celebrities I’ve had the privilege of interviewing. On the final leg of her book tour, Benson hits Challengers Comics Saturday April 9th, and she’s looking forward to it, but maybe not as much as she’s looking forward to grabbing a burger while she’s in town.

Our Town How’s the tour?
Amber Benson A little crazy. I feel like I haven’t been home in months. We had a really amazing turn out in New York and Houston, people waiting in the rain, crazy stuff.

OT You knew early you wanted to act. When did that goal crystallize?
AB I was a hyperactive child. My mom put me in ballet and lots of after school programs to wear me out so I would sleep. I remember being onstage in “The Nutcracker,” this little marshmallow rolling out of some guys skirt and realizing I did not like ballet. It’s beautiful and I appreciate it, but the rigor was not very appealing as a child. But being onstage and having people clap? That was like catnip, so I sort of matriculated over to the drama world.

OT Acting led you to everything from producing to writing for TV to novels; surprising or part of the plan?
AB If you have a brain and you’re a woman, being one thing isn’t enough. As a creative individual, you have to diversify. Plus you can’t really make a living as an actor. A small percentage does, but then there’s everybody else who’s struggling. As an actor, you’re regurgitating somebody else’s dialogue invented in their world rather than yours. I knew I would go crazy just being an actor. I had always written short stories, bad poetry, plays, that sort of thing. When I was approached about doing the Willow/Tara comics for Dark Horse, I was excited to try something new and writing-centric. After the BBC read the comics, Chris Golden and I were asked to do the “Ghosts of Albion,” an animated program. Then Random House asked us to novelize that universe, so that was my entré into writing long form prose.

OT "Death’s Daughter" was your first solo novel. Since then you’ve written two more. Is it getting easier?
AB I’m at work on the fourth as we speak. You have to treat writing like a business. I like to go places to write. Like, ok, I’m leaving to go to my office. I try to do 1500 to 3000 words every time I sit down. It’s daunting to see a blank computer screen and know you have to fill it with 90 to 100,000 words. But the process gets easier—maybe easier is the wrong word. I get better at the process because I’m doing it more. Especially revisio where the book comes together. You vomit it up as a first draft, then go back and rewrite until you get it to a place where it’s not vomit anymore, it’s cotton candy.

OT You blog, tweet and are active on facebook. Social media, boon for artists or distraction?
AB Traditional ways of reaching people don’t work anymore. Magazines and newspapers are going under, everything is becoming internet based. You have to use what you got and what we have is social media. It puts you in connection with fans in a very intimate way. It’s awesome but frightening because all the walls separating the creative from the real world are knocked down.

OT Any social media regrets?
AB I did something just stupid. I was trying to direct message a friend to give them my new e-mail address and whoops, it popped up on Twitter for everybody to see. But I work hard not to talk about where I am while I’m there. I was at the New York comic-con a couple years ago and another writer, a friend, Anton Struass was at the booth and I tweeted, “I’m at such and such booth,” and then I went to do my signing and he’s like, “dude you left and a bunch of people came over, going ‘where’s Amber, she says she’s here.’” I’m learning you have to be protective of your personal space. I’m not on Foursquare. If I get checked in it’s somebody else doing it and I have to beat them up later.

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Illinois judge and writer Michele Lowrance didn’t choose to become an expert in divorce. However, years spent on the frontlines first as a divorce lawyer and then as a family court judge gave her unique insight into the personal ramifications of the divorce process. Determined to offer guidance to hapless couples, Lowrance harnessed her background in Easter philosophy to write “The Good Karma Divorce,” a sort of psychological how-to on navigating divorce’s uncharted emotional territory.

Our Town To what do you attribute divorce's increasing prevalence?
Michele Lowrance Poor communication, lack of problem resolution skills, increased geographic mobility and the ability to have emotional needs met outside marriage. Studies also show divorce is contagious; you’re more likely to view divorce as a [solution] when you are surrounded by others going through the divorce process.

OT What compelled your book?
ML I was a divorce lawyer for twenty years and have handled over 15,000 divorces during my sixteen years as a judge. I have seen firsthand the devastation divorce leaves in its wake and I have become increasingly alarmed by its long-term effects. I developed the principles on which the “The Good Karma Divorce” is based to try to reduce the cycle of anger and resentment that are so damaging to all parties to a divorce.

OT You write about your history with divorce. Why get personal?
ML I am a child of divorce and have been divorced myself. I had to reveal these things because I didn't want readers to think I was speaking from an ivory tower. I felt they could only trust me if they knew I understood what they were going through.

OT What made you connect the concept of karma to divorce?
ML It began to dawn on me that divorcing people were often missing two things: a game plan and a Sherpa guide to direct them from beginning to end, while keeping them from falling into the crevasse on the treacherous journey. My professional and personal experience with divorce, combined with my studies in Eastern philosophy, led me to consider the law of karma and how to effectively apply it to the breakup and divorce process.

OT How does karma relate to surviving divorce unscathed?
ML I believe it is not our job to enforce emotional justice to those who have wronged us. It is the job of karma, life or a higher power. When we think it is ours, we imagine the courts will help us [receive] emotional satisfaction or vindication, or we stay attached to the wrongdoer waiting for them to get what’s coming. In Buddhism, good karma, or good action, comes back to you in countless ways. If you act graciously with compassion, you may receive compassion [and] your act of compassion changes you for the better [independent of] someone else’s reciprocal behavior.

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Contributor, Kevin Fink

A website dedicated to quick reads and a reading series called Quickies, sounds like a perfect match, right?

Quickies creators Mary Hamilton and Lindsay Hunter seem to think so. This Tuesday, March eighth, they’ll use their monthly literary event to showcase “The Fiction At Work Biannual Report,” a collection of flash fiction culled from website, fictionatwork.com. Published through Caroline Picard’s Green Lantern Press, the book, says Picard, represents “a great opportunity to showcase a wide number of authors working within specific word count constraints. This work is intended to be read in those liminal spaces, a companion for those instances when you're on your way [somewhere] but haven't yet arrived.”

The book’s antecedent, Fictionatwork.com was created by writer Tobias Bengelsdorf. “Work is what inspired the website,” says Bengelsdorf. “Offices. Timesheets. Meetings. Memos. Dress Codes. I never want to read fiction more than when I'm not supposed to be reading fiction. But sometimes a full-length story is too long to read at work, so we publish very short stories. That you can read at work.”

“The Biannual Report” too, can be read at work. Compact, almost postcard-size, the collection is perfect for hiding in a desk drawer, even a back pocket. According to Bengelsdorf, contributors like Jac Jemc and Ira S. Murfin were chosen by submitting work published on the website to a panel of judges, at which point, “a group of stories very quickly rose to the top of the pile.”

One of those stories, Kevin Fink’s “Waiting,” though perhaps shorter than other pieces, is nonetheless striking. Fink describes his micro-fiction as “dramatic and almost stream-of-consciousness, a moment in the mind of someone desperate.” A contributor to both fictionatwork.com and Quickies, Fink believes both encourage the same “exciting challenge,” to create work like “Polaroid snapshots.” He credits fictionatwork specifically with focusing his writing. “I like working within constraints. It can be a challenge to fill a three hundred-word story with emotional resonance, but it's such an exciting challenge.” As for Quickies, Fink calls it “a casual, totally non-pretentious environment. Plus, some guy always sells cheese tamales at the bar where Quickies is held, and who doesn't like cheese tamales?”

Come taste the tamales, listen to select contributors read and maybe buy a copy of Green Lantern’s latest release this Tuesday, March 8th, 7:30 p.m. at the Innertown Pub. You can also purchase “The Fiction At Work Biannual Report online.

A freelance writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum, when not writing, supports herself as a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago's Story Studio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She’s kind of looking forward to it actually. Follow Our Town on Facebook and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez

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Snowbound? I got your soundtrack right here. Chicago indie band Glittermouse, an assortment of hip, kooky musicians, have just released a new limited edition EP, “Signs of Life,” available on their website. By the time the snow clears, you’ll have the thing memorized, just in time to venture out to their February third show.

Our Town Why ‘Glittermouse?’
Glittermouse It's a combination of Betrand Russell's teapot theory, Lewis Carol's imagination, and Michael Jackson's star power.

OT Describe your music.
GM Delightfully intriguing, partially disturbing, and generally exciting. Something akin to the feeling of mild rebellion after a long week at work. An indie, progressive, glam rock cocktail.

OT Seems like you’ve got about five hundred people in the band, what does everyone do?
GM Whatever they can! Michael tells the story and hits some wires, Rob frets with magic and dirty talk, Jeremy is the earthquake, Emily blows power kisses, Jon cooks the meat, Dave does the dishes, Per is the locksmith, and the other 493 members are impromptu backup vocalists in the audience that never make it to practice. Though, the door is open.

OT You guys are unsigned. Choice or necessity?
GM Technically, by choice. We're kind of picky about the level of control we have with our music and our media relations and outputs. That said, we're completely open to working in a more collaborative setting with anyone, labels included, as long as we feel like it's an equally beneficial situation.

OT What are some memorable onstage experiences?
GM The best would be any show where we can get the crowd up and rocking and rolling with us. Worst? Any and every time Emily has been hit with an instrument, or the time she fell off the stage. Though, that might be one of the best times too, she just ran back on and kept rolling with it. What a champ!

OT What was the inspiration behind your new limited release EP?
GM “Signs of Life” [is part of] a project to release four EPs over the early half of 2011. The project was aimed at allowing the band to consistently release new music at the same rate it's written and recorded.

OT Tell us more.
GM Signs of Life came out in two versions: One is free, downloadable, and available to anyone who wants it. The other is a special limited edition version, a physical copy. This version contains a full-color printed booklet with artwork and a sci-fi story that analogues the four tracks on the disc. The story details the flight of a disenchanted space captain on his mission to do something worthwhile with his life. Each chapter is marked by a track on the EP. Only fifty copies were pressed and available to the public.

OT What’s Chicago like for musicians?
GM There are so many venues and so many bands that it's really a breeze to book shows, especially with venues like Elbo Room, where Brian Bender will book you even if you have no real live experience. If it weren't for Elbo Room, we certainly wouldn’t have been able to get where we are.

OT Favorite Chicago venue?
GM It’s easy to say Cabaret Metro, but I think our hearts really lie [with] Schubas or Beat Kitchen. Although we've never played Lincoln Hall, so I guess we'll see come Thursday!

Glittermouse plays a free show at Lincoln Hall along with Color Radio and Pet Peeve, Thursday, Feb. 3rd at 9 p.m.

A freelance writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum, when not writing, supports herself as a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago's Story Studio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She’s kind of looking forward to it actually. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez

Home Alone

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Mostly, I work from home. Enviable, sure, but my motto is, why dwell on the positive?
Telecommuting, from the old Latin meaning ‘three days, same clothes,’ has a whole slew of pitfalls. Just off the top of my head, I count five:

1. Listening to the dog bite her nails all day. Sounds like she’s part woodpecker.

2. Proximity to peanut butter. I’ve reformed, but not too long ago I couldn’t keep a jar in the house without eating the whole thing and having to call in sick to work the next day. Office job work, not telecommuting which is Greek for only makes contact via facebook. I limit myself to a few spoonfuls now, but I never forget that spreadable temptress is waiting.

3. Distraction via housework. Even a year ago I might have pooh-poohed this very serious issue. But when my biological clock ticks, it sounds like laundry being folded. (You have to listen carefully to hear it). I still don’t want kids, but man do I love to iron.

4. The compulsion to break for yoga. What’s ninety minutes, I think. Besides, the dog gets so caught up watching me she forgets to bite her nails.

5. Reality television. I don’t have cable, so it took me longer than most to rope this bucking bronco, but a few months back I hit some sort of tipping point. I’d been hearing the name Rachel Zoe for years, and suddenly I had to know more. Although it meant watching the show in eight-minute increments on Youtube, I made it through four seasons. Turns out, Rachel Zoe was my gateway drug. Next came the Kardashians, available on Netflix instant. (Khloe is my favorite. I’m happy to discuss.) Then, just because I could…"The Real Housewives of New York City." Before I continue, a clarification: I don’t watch TV rather than work. I do both at once. Don’t judge. I still spend a fair amount of time waltzing with my muse, but some of my writing jobs involve entering data, editing press releases, all activities that have been scientifically proven to benefit from having skinny women with New York accents shouting in the background. Cheaper to hang out with the housewives than move to New York.

It was in this way I came to learn about a Ms. Bethenny Frankel.

Words That Kill

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I’m a fan of combining the contrasting: Cottage cheese and French dressing, unexpected, yet delicious; plaid and floral-print, if they share a palette, why not? Sarah Palin and erudite discourse … well, some things just don’t mix. Others, however, beg to unite. For example, comedy and poetry, a union masterminded by Fyodor Sakhnovski and Mojdeh Stoakley (pictured), the brains behind Words That Kill, a monthly poetry/comedy/performance mash-up. The event is just one of the many exhibitions produced by Sakhnovski and Stoakley’s collective/company, Lethal Poetry. With WTK’s third season launch party set for Thursday, Jan 20th, Sakhnovski spoke to Our Town about his event’s aim and inception.

Our Town What inspired you to combine comedy and poetry?
Fyodor Sakhnovski Bringing more than one creative community together always seems to enhance and excite the experience. Comedians and poets live in separate worlds, and people who may be really into comedy might not even experience [Chicago’s] rich poetry community. Many may have prejudice against the other form of expression, so it's a chance to expose artists to one another.

OT Any memorable past performances?
FS Comedian Scott Derenger performed with us several times, but during the first was blown away by performance poetry, so much so that he forgot his own set. It was really funny and kinda precious. I guess he hadn't been to a performance poetry show before, and thought he was booked to perform at some boring monotone reading. We were also one of the last stages where the late Kent Foreman performed after a long hiatus from the Chicago scene.

OT Why make Words That Kill an all ages event?
FS Historically Chicago is a 21+ city. There are a lot of talented youth who need a place to express themselves and learn, but the best is when some 17 year old can teach a 50-year-old how it's done! Age doesn't define talent - but if you nurture it when it's beginning it will only get better.

OT Tell us about your new space.
FS creative lounge CHICAGO is a particularly beautiful gallery. We’re most excited [that] it's in the heart of Wicker Park, a neighborhood which has an history of nurturing the spoken word community.

OT What can we expect from your next shows?
FS This month is a rapid fire retrospective of several of the best performers from our previous seasons, [including] Marty McConnell, HBO Def Poet, Emily Lake and others. Then we'll dive into our main showcase section with our "super feature" Amy David, who has represented Green Mill in 3 National Poetry Slams! Also, Keith Ecker, co-host of Essay Fiesta - another charitable literary event. There will be refreshments for the guests, free wine (for those 21+), and DJ Limbs will be spinning all night! In February [look forward to] poets and comedians lamenting strange, or entangled relationships! This is not a Valentine's love celebration.

Catch Words that Kill Thursday, Jan 20th and every third Thursday of the month at creative lounge CHICAGO. Doors open at 7 p.m. Admission is $5 or free with canned goods donation.


A freelance writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum, when not writing, supports herself as a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago's Story Studio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She’s kind of looking forward to it actually. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez

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