• Little Known Facts: A Novel
    Little Known Facts: A Novel
    by Christine Sneed
  • Portraits of a Few of the People I've Made Cry: Stories
    Portraits of a Few of the People I've Made Cry: Stories
    by Christine Sneed
  • Paris, He Said: A Novel
    Paris, He Said: A Novel
    by Christine Sneed
  • The Virginity of Famous Men: Stories
    The Virginity of Famous Men: Stories
    by Christine Sneed
Goodreads

BLOG-O-RAMA (not to be confused with Illinois's disgraced governor)

Friday
Jan202017

Stories: Inauguration Day Post

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about ambition, happiness, fear, disappointment, and how they figure into the lives of writers.  When things are going well, all seems charmed and bright; when nothing is happening or else you’re being buffeted by disappointments big and small, the outlook feels a lot more bleak—fraught with thunderheads, traffic jams, and internal magpies hurling insults about your creativity and work ethic.  
In view of the new administration taking over the White House and all other branches of the U.S. government today, I think millions of people feel debilitating uncertainty about the future.  I certainly do.  More than ever, I wish our leaders would take to heart this Buddhist precept: Think 9 times before you speak. 
2016 was a busy year--a lot of teaaching and writing, and my fourth book, The Virginity of Famous Men, was published in September 2016 in the US, November 2016 in the UK (both by Bloomsbury). It’s a short story collection and was sold in a two-book deal with my third book, the novel Paris, He Said, back in what look to me now to be the relatively carefree times of July 2013.  
You hear often that story collections are the unwanted children of the publishing world, and there are plenty of readers who aren’t too interested in them either.  But they’re a terrific literary form, and probably my favorite of all prose forms, as both writer and reader.  

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Sunday
Dec252016

Q & A with Mark Caro about his and Steve Dawson's songwriting book, TAKE IT TO THE BRIDGE 

1. Tell us a little about Take It to the Bridge: Unlocking the Great Songs Inside You.

It’s a songwriting book for people who love music and being creative and aren’t necessarily looking to monetize (I hate that word) this passion. So much public discussion of songwriting revolves around hit-making, but my experience — and that of Steve Dawson, my co-author — is that many people enjoy making up songs for the sheer joy of making up songs. They’re not aiming first and foremost to be rock stars, but they might perform these songs at an open mic or for friends in a living room or on a recording, or they’ll simply feel good about having added music to the world.

That’s how I feel at any rate. Our hope is this book will encourage creative expression —everyone, after all, needs to express her or himself creatively, especially in times of stress — and jump-start people’s songwriting while offering inspiration that extends beyond music.

2. How did you and musician Steve Dawson (frontman of the folk/rock band Dolly Varden) end up collaborating on this book?

I’ve loved Steve’s songwriting and performing ever since I first saw his and his wife Diane Christiansen’s band Stump the Host around 1990 when I had a local music column, Home Front/Local Heroes, for the Chicago Tribune. They disbanded Stump, formed their current, wonderful band, Dolly Varden, more than 20 years ago, and I’ve continued to enjoy them as musicians and friends over the years.

Eventually I took Steve’s songwriting class at the Old Town School of Folk Music a few times, and it was fantastic. I’ve written songs on the side for years, but many went unfinished. Steve would offer a creative, fun assignment each week — write, say, a Monkees song or something that involves a certain approach to chords, words, rhythm or melodies — and we’d return the following week with a new song. Boom. You’d write a song a week for eight weeks, and I really liked how they turned out, and I also enjoyed the wide range and surprising quality of my classmates’ work.

One day Steve said to me, “People keep telling me I should make a book of my songwriting assignments. You’ve taken my class, and you’ve written a book. Would you like to work on it together?” Collaborating with such a generous, talented guy on such a labor-of-love subject was a no-brainer. So we got to work.

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Tuesday
Dec062016

Q & A with Shawn Shiflett about his new novel HEY LIBERAL! 

1. Tell us a little about your new novel:

Thirteen-year-old Simon Fleming, the white son of a Civil Rights activist minister, is sent to a predominately African American high school in 1968 feeling charged by his parents to carry out the family’s commitment to the “community” and school integration.  Here, he is dropped into a world where gang warfare, drug abuse, and violence are rampant. Simon’s journey for survival brings him into conflict with a Cobra Stone gangbanger, takes him through a failed student boycott organized by community leaders, and also through numerous race riots. 

Along the way, he meets friends and mentors: Clyde, a former gangbanger turned black political militant; Louis, a brilliant, self-destructive boy; Juan, who perilously chooses to belong to a white gang, Corps, instead of the more powerful Latin Kings; Clark, an intimidating racist police officer who vies for Simon’s allegiance in return for protection at school; and John, a communist biology teacher who educates Simon as much about politics as about science. Throughout the story, Simon’s love for Dia goes from an awkward crush to maturity.  Hey, Liberal! exposes an out-of-touch education system and the universality of racial violence amidst a nation moving, inch by hard-fought inch, toward a more culturally diverse and inclusive future.

2. Hey Liberal! is a book that you worked for many years - how did you begin?

I was an eighteen or nineteen years-old creative writing student at Columbia College Chicago.  I was behind in my assignments for the semester and desperate to find new material to write about, so I thought why not write about my experiences during high school?  I think I turned in twenty or thirty pages of typed writing, all very rough draft.  Within those pages was what would eventually become the chapter “Drivers’ Education” and a few other story moments that survived to the final manuscript years later.  Anyway, after “Drivers’ Education was read out loud to the class, the teacher, John Schultz, asked everyone, “So who wrote that?” First, students guessed all of the black men present. Then they guessed all of the black women, and finally (I still don’t fully understand why) they guessed all of the white women.

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Friday
Dec022016

Q & A with Alex Higley about his new story collection CARDINAL

In Cardinal and Other Stories, Alex Higley’s debut, a man returning a tuxedo suddenly follows a parking lot attendant home; a volunteer recovery worker finds himself re-enacting a deadly fire; a husband parses the meaning of his wife's online banking password; a hack musician travels to a German math institute. Post-Facebook, post-subprime crisis, the fearlessly deadpan characters in Higley’s stories navigate the bleak and surreal suburbs from Phoenix to Chicago with minimal instincts for self-preservation­—and with quietly explosive results. 

Stylish, perfectly controlled, and pleasurably shocking, Higley’s brilliantly subversive portraits of a lost generation reconfigure and reinvent the increasingly complex relationships between art, life, and the people we love. 

1. There's a sort of half-menacing, half-comic David Lynchian quality to stories such as "Tom's Wrong," "Surfers," and "Cardinal”—would you say that even when you're writing about characters on the verge of a serious emotional reckoning, you're most interested in the strange, the ironic, the humorous?

I would say that’s probably true. That’s how I experience the world in my day-to-day life. Always wanting to turn to a friend, co-worker, my wife, and say “Did you see that?” or “Did you hear that?” Strange, oddly funny moments or bits of phrasing are often what I enjoy most in the books and movies I return to. You mentioned Lynch. It’s certainly there in his work, even in the quiet moments. Like in The Straight Story when Alvin Straight says, “What’s a Miller’s Lite taste like?” Hard to explain why a slightly misspoken corporate brand name can be beautiful other than specificity shows attention and dignifies the characters in their particularity. Great concern for the specific in fiction, or any art, matters to me and I think has much larger ramifications in our daily lives than is immediately obvious.

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Friday
Nov182016

Q and A with Hal Ackerman about his new story collection The Boy Who Had a Peach Tree Growing Out of His Head

Tell us a little about your new book.

The stories follow characters approaching the end of a relationship or enduring its immediate aftermath: relationships between lovers, between parent and child, among a family of rabbits.

You've written novels, a popular guide to screenwriting, and this new story collection too.  Do prefer one form over the other?   

I love writing fiction.  Theater, too.  The immediacy is a exciting.   I recently wrote and performed a one-person play called Testosterone: How Prostate Cancer Made a Man of Me.  I describe it as Tootsie, but with prostate cancer instead of a dress. 

You taught for years in the prestigious film school at UCLA - how has a lifelong fascination with film informed your fiction-writing?    

Screenwriting imbued me with an inherent sense of structure.  When I finished my first 'soft-boiled' murder mystery, Stein, Stoned, I was surprised to discover it had a perfectly proportioned three-act structure.

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