Tag Archives: Wicker Park

Five Days in Wicker Park (The Conclusion)

So, where was I?

Yes. Thursday Evening.

Thursday (con’t)

After the afternoon critique sessions, we had another amazing dinner–this time at Piece, a Chicago high-end pizza joint.

At this point, once fed and watered (and by “water” I mean “Jack Daniels”), it was time for us to take a tour of locales used in Richard’s novel Disintegration. While warm in Chicago for October, rains occasionally dampened the mood (so to speak).

However, the rain gods hit the pause button long enough for our tour. It was fantastic seeing the places from the book–the changes in the neighborhood as well.

Let’s go to THAT bar…

The evening wasn’t done yet.

There is a little pub featured in a pivotal (and by “pivotal” I’m mean a “sex in the bathroom”) scene in Disintegration. It was based on a real bar called the Inner Town Pub. This is where the tour ended–because Richard was going to read from a bit of the novel tonight.

Awesome.

Let me set the stage. The ITP is a hole-in-the-wall bar, it has a dozen or so stools, a pool table, some neat stained glass and a couple of tables.

It also has a small stage in the back.

I’ve been in so many places like this in so many different countries, that I think these types of places are a universal constant.

These places all smell the same, by the way. Ireland, Germany, Korea, South Africa, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Morocco, Turkey, Russia, Brazil, and Uruguay.

They smell of desperation, beer, and decades-old cigarette smoke.

Anyway, we settled into a couple of tables. There were a few regulars (and by “regulars” I mean “30-something drunk boys and girls”) playing pool and we asked if they would mind if there was a reading.

It’s at this point in the story that I need to pause and tell you how drunk and “uninterested in the arts” I expected these folks were. I was right about the first bit–they were amazingly wasted. But when Richard began to read…the bar fell silent.

Even with a Chicago Cubs play-off game in the background.

It was one of those unexpected moments that you figure would probably suck, but didn’t.

I’d missed the part of the sign that said “Home to the Arts.”

And then, on the way back to the inn, the rain gods opened up the taps and pissed on us…

Trains and rains in Wicker Park

Friday

Poetry day.

I’m about a lyrical as the Donald while he is 3AM tweeting-on-the-toilet. #Covfefe

But we were going to meet Jan Bottiglieri and the topic was connecting cross-genre writing, so I was intrigued.

Poetry, I discovered, is more like computer coding–at least coding back when I was trained for it. It is, according to Jan, “a story told with an efficiency of space.” I never thought about it that way before.

Word count is pretty far down on the worry  list for us prose authors. In Poetry, space concerns are near the top. Since this session I’ve gone back to some of my old poetry books and have looked at them anew. Tennyson, Frost, Eliot, Longfellow.

There is an elegance in the pages I never noticed before.

I read a poem a day now. Because I have some make-up work to do.

That afternoon, we reviewed another two stories, then off for a third brilliant dinner at Lillie’s Q. I’m not usually a BBQ fan, but this place was AMAZING.

It’s the “almost all of us” group shot time:

We did look in on a few bookstores after dinner and, with our wallets significantly lighter, made our way through the rain back to the inn.

All us introverts are beginning to tire out from the amount of social interactions in the last few days…so I’ll wrap up the weekend fairly quickly.

Saturday

The rather fantastic Joe Meno discussed and workshopped with us on the craft and creative processes around speculative fiction. The reason I’m not going into further detail on this session is what I wrote here was the genesis of something…that could be interesting.

Let’s just say I revised and added another 20,000 words to that workshopped piece since that session.

We had one last story to critiques for the week, and people began to go their own ways soon after. Dinner (and Richard was four for four with his foodie-place selections) was at the Publican Anker and was, in many was, the epilogue to a story that started only a few days earlier. I had to leave for the airport very early the next day, and needed to pack and finish up school work. We broke early–none of us that comfortable with the goodbyes that would ensue.

*Sigh* Goodbyes are hard after spending a week in basic isolation pouring your heart out via the written word.

It was an amazing experience. I learned a lot. Made new friends.

And I miss them, to be honest.

Every day, when I head down to the Lair to write and work on my MFA assignments, see a few pictures from this trip.

 

 

 

I smile, then get to work.

This whole thing is about making my writing better. I had no idea that the journey would introduce me to some warm, genuine, talented, and brilliant people. Lucky me.

Yeah. Good times.

Peace

Read Part One Here

Read Part Two Here

Five Days in Wicker Park (Part Two)

It’s really interesting what happens when a group of introverts get together. Through out the week, whenever a break occurred, we all scattered like rabbits to our perspective safe spaces.

It’s interesting and strange for two reasons. The first is that I was always an extrovert, pre-strokes. Post-stroke Rich’s personality is entirely different. The second reason is how close introverts with common interests can become in such a short amount of time.

Speaking for my own thoughts here–I was terrified at the though of traveling and meeting a bunch of people I’d never met. Yes, the “want” to meet Richard and Mercedes over-road that terror, but I felt it none-the-less.

My wife had said “you’ll be fine.”

She was right.

So before we get to Wednesday’s notes, allow me to introduce you to my fellow inmates:

Pamela Durgin  is a new writer from the west coast. Her story we workshopped —Fires 1976–was a real dark fantasy coming of age story. Obviously I don’t want to say more about these as I hope this 9and all the stories) get published some day. She is a delightful person, smart and talented. It’s interesting that Pam and I are the more…”age-seasoned”… of the writers in attendance, yet we are the newest to the craft.

Alec Ivan Fugate is a “new weird,” bizarro, dark writer with an amazing amount of talent. his story The Egg did something I’ve been trying to do for a while now–made the premise of an old (really good) episode of The Twilight Zone fresh and new. I don’t think he set out to do that–which speaks to the talent of the piece. He attended with his delightful partner and both of them made an amazing couple!

Ashleigh “Allie” Gauch is a brilliant human being. I know I’ve been (and will continue) typing that phrase, but part of the magic of this workshop is the intelligence and passion of it’s peeps. Her story, Camasado is a different perspective on a popular fairy tale/novel that I won’t divulge hear–especially since the story will be expanding to a much larger work. I don’t have an Allie pic, so here is a picture of Lair Kitty.

Rena Mason is a writer, screen writer, fellow member of the HWA, certified RN, brilliant, and funny as hell. That first night in the “Dirty, sexy Taco Place,” she made margarita’s come out of my nose. Her story, Macular Degeneration was a delightful ghost story with chills and murders galore. I don’t have a Rena picture either (photography fail, apparently), but since she adores pugs, here is a picture of a pug in a cat costume.

Sarah Read is a writer and editor-in-chief for Pantheon Magazine. A brilliant (there is that word again) storyteller, her piece, Crosswind, was a storm chaser story with a brilliant twisty plot. No more shall be said! Accept…I don’t have a picture of Sarah either, so here is a wind-swept cat…

Now that you know the players along with our Gamut hosts, let’s talk about day two.

Thursday

Right then. Spent the early morning working on MFA stuff and finishing Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (no wonder he took the 2017 Nobel prize in literature). I’m nervous–and not just because I’m staying in “murder central.” Today, we are workshopping Sex in Literature with Lindsay Hunter. And then my piece for the workshop get’s decimated in group critique.

First, the sex.

Lindsay is delightful. Go read her stuff. All of it. Then follow her on twitter. Stop short of stalking, m’kay?

I’d honestly never really wrote a sex scene I’ve been happy with–they all feel like Penthouse forum letters that are trying to be clever.

Fifteen minutes into the lecture on Sex in Literature….I understood why. I was looking at sex scenes as scenes about sex.

Real literature-sex isn’t about sex at all. It’s about character and story. It’s not 50 Shades of Porn Grey. It’s about being intimate with your characters and showing that intimacy  on the page.

Now I will do all you budding writers a favor. I received a piece of advice that changed everything I thought I knew about “sex on the page.”

Ready?

Even if you don’t use it, write a sex scene with your main character. Want to understand them on an intimate level (the answer, BTW is YES. YES YOU DO)–then write that scene.

It will change your relationship with your character(s).

Lindsay had us write a sex scene in fifteen minutes. During that time, she  threw in three curveballs (a phone keeps ringing, a loud noise is heard, and someone interrupts) to be incorporated into the story.

The FOURTH curve ball was thrown when we had to read our scenes out loud.

It was an amazing learning experience.

We were all spent (pun intended) at the end of the morning session, but they day had so much more planed. Next up would be the evisceration of a very personal short piece I wrote called Dear Dad.

How to make authors cry in three easy steps.

Dear Dad was a short story I wrote originally for one of Richard’s classes. I had two other dark fantasy stories that would have fit the Gamut mold a bit better–so why did I pick this piece? Especially knowing how difficult an epistolary piece is to pull off by experienced writers?

Because 90% of the story was true.

When my dad had a kidney removed due to cancer back in 2013, I started writing him letters. As I was in Boston and he in New York, I couldn’t get to see him as much as I would have liked–work and family.–“life stuff” got in the way. I wrote hundreds of letters over the years…they were every day musings with a bit of humor tossed in. He enjoyed them, and that made me happy.

When he passed away from cancer in 2016, it was on the same day my own cancer diagnosis was confirmed.

How about that for a kick in the goolies?

Part of my personal grieving process included sifting through the letters I wrote to him. I don’t remember when i decided to use a few of them to wrap a story around, but picked a handful of the letters, and began to write.

This is what became Dear Dad.

The problem with the story is that it’s not clicking as an actual story, and I was too close to it to see why.

So I swallowed my pride as well as my loathing of sharing deeply personal details with strangers, and submitted Dear Dad to be scrutinized and picked apart by my new colleagues and my mentors at Gamut.

The group got me past why I was stuck with the story. They made some amazing suggestions. That was what I was hoping for.

What I didn’t expect was how my story–as rough and crappy as it was–impacted a lot of people in that room. There were tears. There were moments of silence because people became too choked up to continue. Even in its current form, that’s the flood of emotions  Dear Dad brought to the surface.

Hell, my story even became the reason that Casey Frechette and I got to know each other. He and I spent until the wee hours of Friday morning talking about our fathers.

Now I know how to fix the story itself. Will it work? Will it pull the same amount of emotion while becoming a cohesive story? I’ll let you know if it is ever published.

Thursday dinner and the Disintegration walking tour, however, would happen before Casey and I bonded as brothers. More on that in tomorrow’s conclusion.

Read Part One

Read Part 3 (The Conclusion) Here

 

Five Days in Wicker Park (Part One)

Earlier in October, I had an…experience.

Many of you know the significant health impacts that air travel has on me. There is a different cocktail of meds I have to take to fly that make me rather sick—so why go to a writer’s workshop in Chicago when I’m doing something similar with my online MFA?

Why? Because it mattered.

My wife, God bless her, understood my desire to go, and fully supported my decision.

And the trip was far more impactful and meaningful than even I imagined it would be. Totally worth it.

I know…I see you rolling your eyes. Follow me a little longer here.

I’ve been struggling with how to quantify and document my time with the wonderful folks of Gamut Magazine spent in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. I think the best way to start is to set the “Wayback Machine” to February, 2016.

When I was recovering from surgery, I had a Skype call (post successful Kickstarter) with two of the people behind the newly funded Gamut Magazine:

Mercedes M. Yardley, who wrote one of the first reviews of The Prodigal’s Foole back in 2011 when she was with Shock Totem, was on the call. She has been an “online friend” for nearly a decade, and is one of the fiction editors over at Gamut (oh and a Bram Stoker award-winning writer of beautiful, whimsical, horror).

Mercedes is also an inspiration to me to for her strength. She will laugh at this, of course. But it’s true.

The second person on the call was Richard Thomas, Editor-In-Chief of Gamut and someone I’d never interacted with before.

We spoke about the craft, and we spoke about a direction for me as a writer in a post-stroke world.

Richard suggested, “maybe taking an online course.” But stopped short of recommending any other sort of education.

I liked what he and Mercedes (who I hadn’t spoken with since I interviewed her) had to say throughout the call. I was recovering, but determined. I read Richard’s Disintegration novel. Then a few of the collections he edited. And more of his short stories.

Now I liked what he wrote too.

After that, I ended up taking one of Richard’s courses through LitReactor. Then a second. Then his 16-week Contemporary Dark Fiction course.

I could do this. I couldn’t be who I was before the “series of unfortunate events,” but I was beginning to see a possible new direction for my life.

I threw caution to the wind and applied to the creative writing online MFA program at Emerson College. Richard provided one of my references.

I was told it was a long shot. I was also told it would take a month or two to process my application and read over my materials (all of which were writings I had done for Richard’s classes).

Four days after submitting my full application and required writings, I was accepted to Emerson.

The point of this preamble is to explain to you how important it was to me to meet this man.

And to meet, finally, Miss Murder herself.

I hope you have a sense now as to how important this trip was. It was a personal pilgrimage, an educational field trip. Even a bit of an American Walkabout.

My five days in Wicker Park were all of these things and so much more. I’ll share some of my journal entries.

Wednesday

Fuck, fuck, fuckity fuck.

My favorite start to a movie, and the perfect summation for the start of this trip. Sick, cranky, and damp from a torrential downpour, I dump my bags in the room (which is completely separate from the rest of the Wicker Park Inn, down a dark foreboding alley and where Miss Murder would declare, with glee, “Ha! This is where you’re gonna die!”) after checking in and go in search of food.

Umami Burgers aren’t, but they are tasty.

I stop into a fancy burger joint with a promising name. It isn’t long before I’m chatting to a bunch of younger people—all actors—for a local company. I dry off, the burger settles my nausea, and I teach them how to make proper espresso martinis.

Laughing and with renewed excitement for this workshop, I head back to the Wicker Park Inn and spend the evening working on my MFA (reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go) and rereading workshop submissions.

Wednesday

Delight and Despair

I met Mercedes and Richard today. Mercedes eyes light up when she sees me and she gives me a huge hug of welcome—it’s obvious we both were looking forward to our “in real life” friendship encounter. This woman, by the way, is a saint (and she proves that over and over through-out the trip, as you will come to see). Why is it all the sweetest writers I met are dark fiction writers? It must be because they get the darkness out on the page, right?

Then Richard walked in. With a big smile, I stuck out my hand to finally shake his.

I got a bear hug instead.

Yeah. That was fucking cool. It was genuine, and heart-felt.

 

 

 

I’d met two people I’d been looking forward to meeting for a while now and that was pretty sweet.

What I didn’t expect was to meet new people that, by the end of this gig, I would feel just as strongly about.

We start off with some introductions and a lecture on the “horror of the unreliable narrator” by the amazing Jac Jemc which was followed by a panel discussion and talk with the team from Gamut (Richard, and Mercedes, of course, and Casey Frechette—a fiction editor at the magazine and someone I connected with on quite a few levels after we workshopped my “Dear Dad” story.

This is where the despair part of the section title comes in. One of the attendees took a dixie on the last step leading down from the Inn’s meeting place. She ended up with one sprained angle, and one that was fractured. An ambulance was called and Mercedes went with her to the hospital.

And no, I’m not telling you who fell. That’s up to her to tell.

As you can imagine, that episode put a damper on things for the rest of the day (and, indeed, tempered our activities for the rest of the retreat).

We reviewed one of the short stories for the workshop, then had dinner and drinks at Takito Kitchen–hereafter known as the “dirty-sexy taco place.” The Margarita’s were awesome, by the way…as was the tapas-style food.

 

 

 

 

Read Part 2 Here

Read Part 3 (The Conclusion) Here