• 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

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


Q and A with Karen Brown about her new novel, THE CLAIRVOYANTS 

1. Tell us a little about your new novel. 

On the family homestead by the sea where she grew up, Martha Mary saw ghosts. As a young woman, she hopes to distance herself from those spirits by escaping to an inland college town. There, she is absorbed by a budding romance, relieved by separation from an unstable sister, and disinterested in the flyers seeking information about a young woman who’s disappeared—until one Indian summer afternoon when the missing woman appears beneath Martha’s apartment window, wearing a down coat, her hair coated with ice.

2. This is such a skillful cross between a ghost story and a coming of age story, as I see it.  What inspired you to begin The Clairvoyants

The novel started with a short story I wrote after my mother called me from Connecticut one winter to tell me it was snowing. After my move to Florida, I’d become nostalgic for snow. I’d had one brief winter living outside of Ithaca, NY in an old farmhouse on Main Street, and the memory of that winter and Ithaca became the setting for my snow story. “Galatea” was about a young woman, away at school, who impulsively marries a man she meets at a park playground. Their brief, passionate marriage disintegrates during a long winter in which items of her furniture begin disappearing from the apartment, and then her husband, too, disappears.

When I began to write the novel, it became clear that the character was in many ways similar to another character in an older story, “Apparitions.” So, aspects of that story flowed over into the novel, too. It took many drafts to transform the pieces of these stories into the novel, but what remained from “Galatea” were the snow, the erotic tension, and the eeriness that was the husband’s unexplained disappearance, and from “Apparitions” a ghost sighting in a barn. The Spiritualists camp came late in the writing, but it fit in perfectly.

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Q and A with Kathy Fish, coauthor with Robert Vaughan of the story collection RIFT

1. Tell us a little about RIFT.

This is the publisher’s description of our book:

“A stunning collaboration from Robert Vaughan and Kathy Fish, two masters of flash fiction, whove blended their work together in a vibrant explosion that is all of these things: evocative, heart wrenching, rare in the wild. The stories in RIFT explore the gamut of human connection and conflict, where emotions run deep beneath the surface. Divided into four sections: Fault, Breach, Tremor, and Cataclysm, writers Fish and Vaughan thread together their tales of strange encounters, mishaps, accidents, and disrepair. The world of RIFT is riven, tumultuous, and haunting. In here, danger lurks and the fallible human heart lay exposed and vulnerable. Fish and Vaughan leave their readers spellbound, mystified, and eager for the next story.”

2. How did this collaborative book with Robert Vaughan come about?

Bud Smith runs the great small press, Unknown Press. He invited Robert and me to put a book of our flash fiction together in a two-author collection. Creatively, everything else was left up to us!

3. Whose idea was it to organize RIFT in sections that have to do with seismic events (e.g. Fault, Tremor, Breach, and Cataclysm)? 

That was my idea. In the end we had 72 stories for the book and we both felt like all that material needed some organizing principle. Looking at the work, we noticed differing levels of intensity around the theme of, yes, seismic events as metaphor for brokenness and upheaval, so I suggested organizing along those lines, building to the most intense, cataclysmic stories in the final section. It was Robert’s idea to “pair” our stories in the book according to shared elements and I really like how that turned out. 

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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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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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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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