Category: Writing

24-Hour Walk for 826CHI

“I wonder how many steps I could take in one day?”

The first time that tangent popped into my head while walking around New Zealand, I didn’t think much of it. But it kept nagging me. So I asked, “Why not?” and decided to actually do it.

Then, I had another idea–what if I wasn’t doing it just for the heck of it, but for charity? People do that all the time, right?

So that’s my plan. On September 24th (or the a backup date, if weather isn’t cooperating), I’ll walk out of my house at 5:00 a.m. and won’t stop until 5:00 a.m. the following morning. I’ll hike the Des Plaines River Trail, which starts and finishes right here where we live in Des Plaines, Illinois.

826CHIWhat am I walking for?
I’ll donate money and raise awareness for 826CHI, a Chicagoland organization dedicated to supporting students age 6 through 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, plus helping teachers inspire their students to write. They do workshops, tutoring, field trips, and publish books filled with the work of their students. At the end of a lot of their programs, a professionally designed and edited book is created, so these kids can call themselves published authors.

Midwestern Gothic worked with 826michigan to co-publish a book a year ago, and it was such a fantastic experience. Reading their work, seeing it take shape into Tell Me How It Was: Imagined Michigan Histories, and then hosting the launch party / reading was truly an honor to be a part of.

Why is this important? 826 is a national organization with many local chapters that teaches kids they don’t have to wait to have a voice.

Many of them will never call writing their profession. Some may not even like it. But the process of drafting a story, editing and polishing it, then crafting it into a physical object that exists in the real world teaches them what it means to make something out of nothing. It introduces them to storytelling–a skill that’s a huge advantage, especially in business.

The best thing about 826 programs is that it helps kids build confidence. Yes, they have something to say. They’ll have to fight and work to get it out into the world. But it’s worth it.

I’ll donate $5 per mile of my own money. If I manage to hit my goal of 80 miles, I’ll donate another dollar per mile on top of that.

Why am I posting this? If you’d like to help donate to this organization as well, I’ve set up a CrowdRise page that makes it easy to give any amount you’d like. They take a smaller portion of the proceeds than any other site, which keeps the focus on the cause. If anyone wants to walk with me for part of the route, I’d love to have company. Shoot me a message and we can figure out a way to coordinate.

Donate to 24-Hour Walk for 826CHI

Rapid Fire Book Reviews

Out of Translation by Aubrie CoxOut of Translation by Aubrie Cox: 5 of 5 Stars
Aubrie Cox’s collection of poetry evokes a very clear comparison to Ernest Hemingway’s infamous (and probably misattributed) “Baby shoes, never worn” short story. Her haikus pack a heck of an evocative wallop, and many deftly introduce an unexpected turn or contrast to an initial emotion or image with the latter part of the limited syllables. Quite a feat for working with such a limited economy of words.

Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 1 (Star Wars (Marvel)): 4 of 5 Stars
My daughter and I’s first foray into the new official canon Star Wars Expanded universe. I’m really playing the long game with preventing unwanted teen pregnancy here folks. Both of us dug it – the story arc covers after Episode IV, when the Emporer loses faith in Vader and entertains supplanting the Sith lord and putting him on the B team.

Naturally, Vader finds a way to not only overpower, but outwit everyone. I thought was a nice unexpected turn for the character. The arc ends with the moment Vader realizes that the presence he felt in the trench run is Luke, his son. Nice.

Blood Song by Michael SchmeltzerBlood Song by Michael Schmeltzer: 4 of 5 Stars
Schmeltzers debut collection of poetry is threaded together with not only the titular themes of blood and song (both literal and lyrical), but also with an undercurrent of the longing for the past. In his unflinching way, he dredges up moments of trauma and stress. Yet he also finds a way to make peace in the lines of Blood Song, but also with the reader’s own past traumas that Schmeltzer’s poems evoke.

Star Wars: Kanan: The Last Padawan Vol. 1 (Star Wars (Marvel)): 3 of 5 Stars
Our second expanded universe trade paperback takes us back to the aftermath of Order 66, one of the few moments in the “new” trilogy that actually managed to make me feel something other than loathing.

It’s an origin story of sorts, with a new (to us, anyway) character. The verdict from my daughter and I – we liked it. Rather than continuing with the comic, I want to delve into the Star Wars Rebels TV series. Though, not because of anything I read in the comic. Maybe it didn’t do it’s job? Or maybe it did, and I’m just not realizing it.

Voices of the Middle West Lit Fest

It’s almost here!

This weekend Midwestern Gothic will be co-hosting an incredible free event with University of Michigan’s Residential College, the 3rd annual Voices of the Middle West Literary Festival.

There’s plenty to see and do all day, between panels featuring a diverse selection of acclaimed writers, poets, editors, and publishers talking about everything from publishing unheard voices, exploring Midwestern character, storytelling and community, and blurring the lines between memoir and fiction.

Pick your favorite panels and spend the rest of the day wandering around the bookfair. Unlike other conferences, Voices Lit Fest is a place to spend one-on-one time talking directly with some of the Midwest’s finest publications. It’s much more intimate and conducive to building the lasting relationships that matter to those who make things.

The whole day ends with a keynote by National Book Award Finalist Ross Gay, who is a force to experience live. If you’re free, come out to Literati bookstore for our Friday kick-off reading and hear him read his work – it’s an opportunity not to be missed.

Hope to see you there!

Midwestern Gothic Issue 20 – Editor’s Commentary

This issue marks the 5th year of Midwestern Gothic – it’s kind of unbelievable that we’re around 20 issues after Rob and I first announced a literary magazine focused on celebrating Midwestern writers.

When we started, we had little knowledge of what we were doing (what we did know had been gleaned from a failed comic book publishing company). We had no idea whether or not people would even like the concept of fiction and poetry inspired by the Midwest.

Luckily, we were wrong about the latter, and learned about the former. We started out with an issue every three months. Now we’ve published four books, with four more on the way. We’ve put out three themed issues, one on nostalgia, and two on non-fiction. We partnered with the Residential College at University of Michigan to put on a literary festival keynoted by writers of Stuart Dybek, Curtis Sittenfeld, and Ross Gay’s ilk. And the latest issue features the 2nd annual finalists of the the Lake Prize, a our own literary contest.

It’s absolutely crazy, when you list it out like that.

I couldn’t feel more grateful that I’ve got such an incredible partner in Robert James Russell to bring all these things to life with. And when I think of all the new friends I wouldn’t have met otherwise at readings, conferences, and digitally…I couldn’t be more thankful for all our contributors.

Thank you for allowing us to share your work with the world.

Check out Midwestern Gothic Issue 20 (Winter 2016)

Midwestern Gothic Issue 20 Winter 2016

“The Quantum Treatment” featured in James Gunn’s Ad Astra

Super geeked that the fine folks at James Gunn’s Ad Astra published my short story, “The Quantum Treatment,” about kids and quantum mechanics in their latest issue.

And bonus – it’s online and free so anyone and everyone can read it! Go check it out! Here’s an excerpt.

“Crystallized salvia,” Lee beamed, giving the bag a shake. “Tim gave it to me.” Lee took any opportunity he could to point out that his brother’s sixteen-year-old friends included him in their gang. But all they’d really done was make Lee their errand boy and punching bag. Whenever Dane saw them at school, Lee was always red-faced and sweaty, the other boys laughing at his expense.

“What’s it do?” Riley gave the bag a sidelong look, recoiling as if it might bite.

“Dunno. Let’s find out,” Lee grinned.

“Have you done your pre-work?” Riley rattled papers at him. Lee ignored her and offered Dane the bag, nodding as his friend took it.

“Smells funny,” Dane wrinkled his nose.

“You first,” Lee stared, transfixed by the earthy mixture tumbling inside the plastic. Dane licked a finger and dipped it in, coating his pinky like a powdered donut. Riley watched, pen paused mid-sentence. Dane smiled weakly and licked his hand, cleaning every crystalized grain off his skin.

“Give me some,” Lee snatched the bag and poured a bit into his palm. He licked it like a thirsty dog, not caring if some spilled into the dirty sewer pipe. Riley rolled her eyes and returned to her pre-work. She kept one eye warily trained on her two friends.

It didn’t take long for Dane to feel it. It started at his fingertips and toes — an electricity separating his body from his being. It spread to his legs, arms, and finally his chest. Everything below his neck belonged to somebody else, but he could still control that fleshy apparatus with his mind. He was invincible.

“Dude…” Lee drawled out the ooo sound, chuckling at the end. Dane poked his friend’s shoulder, enjoying how it took a few seconds before Lee realized he’d done it. Then Dane felt his own body twist, and was shocked to realize Lee had punched him back a few seconds ago. Lee laughed, and Dane joined in. They shoved each other, harder and harder, until Lee fell over, shaking with laughter.

“Stop…stop…” Lee choked, crawling through a broken section of viaduct. He disappeared for a moment. Dane tried to stop laughing, but it was just too hard. And why should he stop laughing anyway? “Dane!” Lee called, his voice distant and echoing. “Dane, come here!”

Dane waded to the man-sized hole in the cement pipe, leading past dead space and into a dilapidated storehouse. Lee stood over a bunch of white tubes, most stacked in an orderly pyramid, some cast askew.

Picking one up, Lee tested its weight. Lee placed both hands at the base, taking a few tentative swings before growing bolder with his strokes. With one final grin, he raised it high up above his head and smashed it onto the ground.

The fluorescent light bulb shattered to dust instantly. A coarse line of powder remained, a specter of what existed before. Even Lee’s hands still cupped in an “O” around the bulb’s ghost.

“Let me try,” Dane pushed him aside and picked one up. Raising it above his head with both hands, he slammed it as hard as he could, heart racing at the bright shatter of glass.

They both picked another, and squared off like two samurais ready to do battle. Both winced away when their swords crossed, afraid of glass shards in their eyes, but still desperate to see.

After all the bulbs had shattered, the boys were breathless. Standing above the chalky stains on the ground, neither of their appetites for destruction had been satisfied. Their eyes fell on a wheeled cart. The boys grinned with the same burst of inspiration.

Read “The Quantum Treatment” at James Gunn’s Ad Astra

Honorable Mention in L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest!

L. Ron Hubbard's Writers of the Future
Incredibly honored and excited to share that one of my short stories, “The Cellar Door,” was awarded an Honorable Mention by L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t earn publication with that honor, but it is an international contest that attracts thousands of entries every quarter. I couldn’t be happier to receive recognition from such a contest.

See all the winners

Poets and Writer’s Live Chicago: Editor’s Panel – Highlights

Back in June the folks at Poets and Writers were kind enough to have me be part of their “Poets and Writers Live” event here in Chicago to talk about the work we publish at Midwestern Gothic and give practical advice for writers who want to submit to our magazines.

It was absolutely an honor to share the stage with Adrienne Gunn of TriQuarterly, Don Share of Poetry magazine, Ben Tanzer of Curbside Splendor Publishing, and moderator Melissa Faliveno. Holy cow was I in incredible company.

The hour long discussion has been condensed into 15 minutes, and is jam packed with great tips and sound bytes for anyone who is looking to get published.

Watch on YouTube
Check out the other panels from PW Live: Chicago

Upcoming Events and Appearances

June is going to be a busy month for me, as I’m speaking on several panels and attending some great literary events. I’d love to see you if you can make it to any of these!

Printer’s Row Lit Fest 2015
When: Saturday-Sunday, June 6-7
Where: Book Fort: Tent D, Quadrant 1
Additional details

Printer’s Row Lit Fest – After Party
When: Saturday, June 6 @ 7 PM
Where: Beauty Bar Chicago
Additional details

North American Review‘s Bicentennial Conference
When: Friday, June 12 @ 4:15 PM
Where: Bartlett Hall 2055, University of Northern Iowa, W 23rd St, Cedar Falls, IA 50614
Panel name: Many Americas: Discussions on Regional Writing’s Universal Importance
Who’s involved: Eric Boyd, Jared Yates Sexton, Sarah Shotland, and me, of course!
Additional details

Poets & Writers Panel: Chicago Agents and Editors
When: Saturday, June 20 @ 11 AM
Where: Instituto Cervantes, 31 W. Ohio Street, Chicago, IL
Who’s involved: Curbside Splendor, TriQuarterly, Poetry Magazine, and I’ll be repping Midwestern Gothic.
Additional details

Writing Process? Is There Such a Thing?

So a long time ago in a galaxy far away I was nominated by Midwestern Gothic contributor and all-around good guy, Lee Krecklow, for the Writing Process Blog Tour. The actual tour was probably over a long time ago and I am venturing into irrelevancy, which should give you a clue as to my answer to his call – what’s your writing process? How do you work? And away we go!

What are you working on?
What am I not working on? That may be a better question. Recently I quit my high-powered (middle management) advertising executive (middle management) job in lieu of striking out on my own as a consultant. This is also a busy time of year for Midwestern Gothic, with the Voices of the Middlewest Festival, AWP, a new book, new issues, and a few other surprises all in full gear. Plus I’ve got a family, plus I’m finding time to edit and work on a few short stories. Needless to say, my dance card is pretty full.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?
When it comes to writing and reading for pleasure, my genres are fantasy and sci-fi. I love being transported and experiencing metaphors and imagery that I’m not familiar with. Plus, I’ve always had a soft spot for space exploration and swords and sorcery. Usually, in my work, I try to make the story approachable – in that it’s not about the science or the world building, but the people and relationships within it. I tend to like to tell stories that are small as opposed to the big, sweeping epics as well. If I went back in time and created Middle Earth, my version would be more like The Children of Hurin as opposed to The Fellowship of the Ring.

Why do you write what you do?
Again, I’m going to go hard fantasy here and quote George R.R. Martin. “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” That same logic applies to writing, for me. It gives me a chance to experience and live something that I never would have otherwise.

How does your writing process work?
I’m typically a planner, in that once I get the seed of an idea, I like to rough a few things in before I draft. It’s helpful for me to write a one-sentence pitch for the story, something that gets my juices flowing, and, as a reader, would make me interested in reading. Then I rough in the characters, who they are, what they desire, and how they might conflict with those around them. Then I rough out the plot in scenes as a way to keep me focused on what’s next. If I’m writing a short story, I’ll usually plot the whole thing. If it’s a novel, I’ll usually work a chapter ahead. I find that way helps me discover the book as I draft vs. feeling boxed in to a predetermined plan that might not work. After that, I’ll typically edit in 4-5 passes, starting with broad, content issues and narrowing into things like dialog tags, filler words, etc.

And there you go! In the spirit of keeping this going, I’m nominating another person I’d like to hear from.

Michelle Webster-Hein has published work in River Teeth, Midwestern Gothic and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, among other places. She holds an MFA in Fiction and Creative Nonfiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and has been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize. She also works as a co-editor of River Teeth’s “Beautiful Things” series, which grew from an essay of hers by the same title. Her essay “Counting Apples” was listed as “notable” in Best American Essays of 2014. She lives in Ypsilanti, Michigan with her husband and children.

“Nobel Worthy” in Jupiter (Kallichore, #44)

"Nobel Worthy" in Jupiter by Jeff Pfaller A short story of mine, “Nobel Worthy,” is in the latest issue of Jupiter, a stellar sci-fi mag based out of the U.K. I’m appearing alongside Sam Kepfield, Nicholas Mark Harding, and Roderick Gladwish, who are all more talented than I, which is always an honor. Here’s a brief snippet:

Ian was never interested in time travel until the night his wife died.

They had been at a fundraiser for Northwestern’s physics department – Stephen Hawking agreed to make an appearance and deliver a few inspirational quips through his voice modulator. (He had a book to push, after all.) Ian and his colleagues were giants on campus in the months following the acceptance from his publicist. They charged $250 a plate and rented out the Aragon Ballroom. Their faculty got a group rate on tuxedos.

But Hawking cancelled without warning the day before. Ian tried to call everyone he knew. Offered to fly in Neil DeGrasse Tyson out of his own pocketbook. But there was no skirting it – there was nobody to take his place. Cancelling wasn’t an option – without the annual benefit the department would flounder. Never mind needing to cover the extra cost of the caterer, the Aragon and the thousand programs they’d printed with Hawking on the cover (all non-refundable). No, failure had been predetermined.

You can order a copy and get international mail, or you can read it right now on Kindle.