CCLaP Virtual Book Tour: Mark R. Brand Edition

ACM's love-affair with CCLaP continues today with tour stop #3 of Mark R. Brand's Life After Sleep virtual book tour. 

Today we get an all-access inside peek at Mark R. Brand's personal work space, a true delight. Brand has just recently been named [along with ACM publisher Curbside Splendor] one of the top 5 Chicago indie authors & publishers to look out for, so this is your last chance to see Mark's space before he ends up on MTV Cribs.

Ever wonder what inspires this amazing Chicago writer to write (I'll give you a hint, it rhymes with "cheese")? Ever wonder how long it takes Mark to solve a rubik's cube (I'll give you a hint, 2:26 flat, HAPPY NEW YEAR!)? Check it out:

I acquired the monolithic slab of mahogany that is my writing desk in 2004 when my wife's parents moved from their large house on Lawndale in Evanston to a smaller home in Wilmette. This desk belonged to my father-in-law (the artist, Dennis B. O'Malley) when he was a vice-president of a now-defunct Evanston bank several years ago. Their new home had no space for such an admittedly massive desk so, being the opportunist I am, I snatched it up, and with me it has remained ever since. I took some photos when we moved it into our former home and I went through about two bottles of Liquid Gold making every surface of it glow.

(FUN FACT: ACM Editor-in-Chief Jacob S. Knabb also owns an old, massive, wooden desk inherited from his father, who used it as a work desk when he employed by a now-defunct coal company. Old, inherited wooden desks are the way to go it would seem.) 

The desk is 3 feet deep and 5.5 feet wide, made of solid mahogany with brass drawer pulls. It has nine full-width drawers that pull 3 feet out to reveal several large interior storage spaces. The top, as you can see from the photos below, is removable, which is good because by itself that piece probably weighs around 100 lbs. I use a regular protective office blotter pad over the top of it because it's of the variety that will instantly show marks if anything cold or hot or wet is left on it, let alone scratches from my metal-bottomed keyboard.

My computer is a  2010 MacBook Pro i7 that I use with an external Apple keyboard and mouse and a 

23" Samsung HDTV as a monitor that also handles the XBOX 360 nestled behind it. I have a Brother wireless laser printer that I got when I enrolled at DePaul, and KOSS headphones so I can listen to music at suitably high volume and not disturb my wife or son when they're sleeping, which is when I mostly work. 
Can I solve that Rubik's Cube? Yes I can.
When we recently moved into our new home, I picked up a set of bookshelves at IKEA that hold roughly half of my book collection if double-stacked. The rest are, regrettably, in storage, but God-willing someday I'll have an entire wall-sized bookcase to get them all out. Our space is limited at the moment since we live in a relatively small two-bedroom apartment, but I like to keep a few things out that inspire or amuse me. If you happen to have been around in the 80's, and you look closely, I'm sure you'll recognize a few friends from that era, plus pictures, a couple of sculptures, a first-edition printing of Jack London's The Iron Heel (My personal all-time favorite book), and my grand-uncle's binoculars brought back from the European campaign of WWII. Those babies are incredibly rare and interesting because while the binoculars themselves were made in Japan, they were carried by a sailor or officer of the German Navy, and an identical sea-case can be viewed in the U-505 exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry.
One of my most treasured workspace ornaments is a hand-written letter from Mrs. Joan 

Thomas, widow of the early 20th century Catholic anarchist Ammon Hennacy who was quoted in the epigraph of my first novel, Red Ivy Afternoon. Mrs. Thomas, who was in her early 90's at the time, is a delightfully friendly and kind woman who corresponded with me a number of times about the book and who followed it with some interest after giving me permission to use his work in my own. 
(From left to right, postcard print by Dennis B. O'Malley, mid-80's vintage Star Wars Gonk Droid, postcard from Joan Thomas, pewter castle, and wind-up Robby the Robot from "Lost in Space")
One fun fact about my workspace that doesn't have much to do with writing (or maybe everything, depending on how you look at it) is that I like to eat when I write. Typical combinations include Shiraz and almonds, Corona Light with chicken wings, or--and my fellow writer Amy Guth loves to tease me about this--white cheddar cheese and orange juice. I have no idea why these particular combinations seem to be inspirational or helpful, but they are.
by R. Kelly Pearce, web-editor

CCLaP's Online Book Tour Stops in at ACM w/ Ben Tanzer Interviewing Laura Szumowski on Illustrating The New York Stories

Ben Tanzer wrote The New York Stories. Laura Szumowski illustrated it. Jason Pettus published it. And then the 3 of them got together at Lincoln Park's famous caffeination station The Borgeois Pig to talk about it. In a 30-minute conversation between the aforemention three, topics range from Szumowski's gorgeous illustrations, how she finds images in stories to inspire each piece, her influences as an illustrator, and some of her own work (including the forthcoming new and expanded version of her book on the clitoris, Tip of the Iceberg). Laura recalls a class on "The Wandering Uterus" she took at SAIC and dismisses the reknowned Chicago-Style Hot Dog as overcooked. The woman loves bánh mỳ! Meanwhile Ben remembers a quote by James Cameron on why post-apocalyptic work is great because you can just make up shit about pop culture and people can't challenge it since your work is in the future. He also fondly recalls a scintillating episode of The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams where a blind sculptor tells Grizzly that there is something inside of every log that needs to be birthed and Ben articulates a wistful void in himself due to his lack of ability to birth what's inside of each log. Jason jumps in with a few well-timed quips and poses a few questions in his salt-and-pepper baritone for Laura and Ben. The whole interview clocks in at a touch over 30-minutes and is perfect for the headphones or the car.


Click right here so you can listen in!

Voices From Outer Space


By Michael Zapata

I first found Ray Bradbury in a labyrinth, a place for wanderers, ghosts and parallel universes, a place for those facing detention (which is, itself, a form of exile for adolescents…I was often exiled); I first found him in my junior high library.

            It was a place that smelled like dust – the best smell in the world according to Mr. Bradbury, as if there are no other smells, as if in a billion years there will be no other smells. It was in that library, in exile, that Ray Bradbury first introduced me to literature. Once that happens to an adolescent, it is the beginning of the end, which is to say there’s no going back.

            By way of The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, andSomething Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury introduced me to H.G. Wells, Melville, and Poe. Even Kafka. He prepared me to daydream – about literature – for the rest of my life. He prepared me for the horrors of Stephen King, the unreality of Borges, and the insanely perfect science fiction novel The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares, published in Buenos Aires in 1940, two years after Ray Bradbury published his first short story, but not translated into English until 1964. In fact, Ray Bradbury was our greatest champion and defender of literature. In his hands, literature was imagination without boundaries. His short story, “The Veldt,” in which two children use a type of virtual-reality machine to murder their parents, still haunts me twenty years later. “The Veldt” is Poe and H.G. Wells and Rousseau in a knife fight. Or take this first paragraph, from “The City,” in which a city takes revenge upon humanity for destroying its civilization ages ago:


The city waited twenty thousand years.

            The planet moved through space and the flowers of the fields grew up and fell away, and still the city waited; and the rivers of the planet rose and waned and turned to dust. Still the city waited. The winds that had been young and wild grew old and serene, and the clouds of the sky that had been ripped and torn were left alone to drift in idle whitenesses. Still the city waited.


If John Steinbeck had been a visiting alien, he might have written like this. These are voices from outer space. Voices acting as echoes of vengeful, alien ghosts.

            Ray Bradbury also warned me to never grow up. He knew that adults burn books, turn politics into perpetual war, and give up their dreams for flat screen TVs. He knew that adults, faced with the instability and fear of the world, suffocate their own childhood. They force their younger selves underwater, great stretches of Prussian-blue water, until they drown. He knew that the only adults who make it out intact are those who face their nightmares head on and then pursue their childhood dreams. When I read (Bradbury, Asimov, Eco, Bolaño, any writer who makes me daydream), I am not only re-entering the labyrinth of my junior high library, but the entire labyrinth of my childhood. How do you thank a writer for that?

            By reading more. That’s how. And by listening to Bradbury’s advice to do what you love and love what you do.

            Ray Bradbury died on June 5th, 2012, the same day there was a transit of Venus. The next transit of Venus will occur in 2117, a year Bradbury is more familiar with than the rest of us. I re-read his story “The Long Rain,” which takes place on Venus and which is unforgiving. I can’t help but think of coincidences, although, I don’t believe in fated coincidences. Let’s just say then that I believe in literature, which desperately tries to make sense out of coincidences.

            Ray Bradbury was extraordinarily prolific and, as only the masters can do, he wrote about the greatest themes in life, what Dostoevsky called the Abyss of Heaven and the Abyss of Hell. Bradbury understood that the abyss, whether found in the poetic vastness of outer space or in the scientific formulas of the atomic bomb, would inevitably and lovingly destroy mankind. Yes, lovingly! His writing encompassed crystalized landscapes, Martian cities, and the curious child who lives or dies in us all. He knew that nothing of mankind would remain but books, or rather, the written memory of fear and love. He faced the abyss smiling and he wrote down what he saw, which is to say Ray Bradbury was prepared to live forever, or the next thing to it. That is the only way to understand his work.


Michael Zapata is an educator and writer living in Chicago. He is a founding editor of MAKE: A Literary Magazine. He is also a 2008 Illinois Arts Council Fellowship recipient for prose. Currently, he has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and works as managing editor at ANTIBOOKCLUB

Balanced Realities: On Jacob Russell’s Chronic, Chronos, Kairos

by Emily Barton

Chronic, Chronos, Kairos. by Jacob Russell. Brooklyn, Chicago: Damask Press, 2012. 6 pages. $12.

The first thing that struck me about Philadelphia poet Jacob Russell’s chapbook, Chronic, Chronos, Kairos (Damask Press, 2012), was its personal aesthetic. Only five poems in length, this handmade letterpress chapbook features one poem per page, with line drawings by Becket Flannery on the pages opposite. This minimal and elegant design provides balance to the subjects that Russell tackles, and it invites the reader to interact with the text — I found myself running my fingers over the drawings and then the words as I read.

This chapbook is the first book in a longer project entitled Poem to the End of My Days. In an interview with Damask Press in September 2011, Russell describes the project as a way to organize his life’s work — all of his poems are written as a part of one long poem, beginning with Chronic, Chronos, Kairos.

It’s an ambitious project — it holds the writer accountable for each stage of the process, without a clear conclusion or end. This chapbook acknowledges that, and grapples with its own temporality. Each poem, or rondo, as Russell would have us think of them, begins with a date, and though the dates are organized chronologically, Russell asks the reader not to adhere to this organization as a reading guide.  “…the date of origin of any of these pieces is of no matter / in determining the sequential order” he begins the second poem, entitled “December, 2010, As all time past is present.”

The poem goes on to strip away the significance paid to the cycle of years used to measure time by erasing a calendar, “the numbers assigned to these being entirely beside the point & without meaning.”  This poem is the crux of Russell’s project, because it both deconstructs it and outlines its purpose by calling attention to the way humans seek significance in the world — through adherence to ritual, religion, love, and even death — and asking the reader to think of them all as the same entity, while considering them as parts of a whole.

The poems tackle time as a subject in a number of ways — they address the acts of celebration and mourning and the concepts of love and death as they move through the space of two months. Russell’s characters include Santa, winter, death, Chronos, Urizon, which, though they are mentioned separately, all seem to function as one shifting identity, searching for the balance between sequential time and opportune time.

What this identity ultimately provides these poems is a thread that allows this balance. Santa is found smoking a cigarette and watching the rain, winter lurks with sparrows for eyes, the “I” confronts Chronos and death. These images and circumstances provide a bridge of realities that Russell is seeking, but also distort any sense of clarity that either of these realities might provide. It is in this that the poems are most successful — inhabiting both realities.  Russell is able to call the reader’s attention to the impossibility of inhabiting one singular reality without at least indulging in the other.

Jacob Russell was born in Chicago a long time ago. He arrived in Philly on a Vespa motor scooter in 1964 and never found the exit. He’s been wandering the streets of Philly every since searching for Found Things. Spirit Stick says: “Found Things may be given shelter, but lose all their powers if possessed.” Spirit Stick says: “Found Things can never be lost–were you to discard all Things you claim to own–that they be Found & granted their freedom, we might yet save ourselves from self-destruction.” For links to Jacob’s published writing, check out his blog, Jacob Russell’s Barking Dog.

Emily Barton is a graduate of the University of Michigan and an MFA candidate at New York University.

Hear Tadd Adcox's Beautiful Voice

James Tadd Adcox has a new book coming out, It's called The Map of the System of Human Knowledge and he wants to read it to you. Literally. You. Personally. I would take him up on this offer. I have heard him read pieces from it. Not only is his North Carolina accent subtly pleasing, but the stories are good. (Tadd, do people really call toilets "commodes" in NC?)

Below are the details, stolen here from his blog. You can find out more about the book/buy the damn thing here.

<3 Mason

Tadd's spiel:

Monday through Friday next week, I will read you a story if you contact me through Gmail or Skype. The story will be from my first book, The Map of the System of Human Knowledge, which came out this week from Tiny Hardcore Press. I will be at my computer working from 10 am to 6 pm, Chicago time, so that’s the best time to contact me, if you want me to read to you.

All of the stories are fairly short, between 1 and 5 minutes maybe.

This is a good thing to do if you are wondering whether you would like the stories in this book, or also if you just want someone to read to you for 1 to 5 minutes.

My Gmail address is jamestaddadcox AT gmail DOT com. My Skype name is jamestaddadcox.

I am excited about this.

TONIGHT Ear Eater #15: Paratext Edition

Tonight! Ear Eater has a reading at Paratext books. Hear stories by Diego Arispe-Bazan, Megan Milks and Rebecca Elliott!

Facebook Event.

TONIGHT: Write Club Chapter 26

Tonight! One night only (until next month, at least)! Ian Belknap's devil child, Write Club, is at The Hideout (1354 West Wabansia Avenue, Chicago)!

Facebook event. Write Club's website. A photo of Ian and I hugging sensually.

Write Club is Fight Club for the literary cowards among us. Watch six writers go head to head to see who truly is the best wordsmith (and, occasionally, the worst human being).

Tonight's contenders:

Ian Belknap VS Jeff Miller

Lindsay Muscato VS Noelle Krimm

Jim DeWan VS Chris Schoen

- Mason

CCLaP's Online Book Tour Stops in at ACM w/ a Novel Excerpt from Katherine Scott Nelson's HAVE YOU SEEN ME

The cops came to my front door at about eight in the morning. I didn’t recognize either of them. The older one had a full belly that he practically used to wedge the door open, and the younger one, who stood behind him, had a jarhead haircut that made his whole face look pudgy and prepubescent. I’d been sitting at the kitchen table with one of my library books, and I jumped when the front porch stairs creaked. The older cop knocked on the screen door and said, “We’re here about your friend, Amanda Mayward. May we come in?”

Like everyone else, the cops refused to use Vyv’s real name. Vyv and I were used to this. I glanced toward the living room, where my mom was still asleep on the couch, and toward the hallway to my parents’ bedroom, where my dad would be pacing and muttering to himself. I put on my hoodie and stepped outside to talk to the cops.

I leaned up against the wall while the older one flipped through his notes, loudly and slowly. I crossed my arms and ran my fingers across the leaves of my mom’s potted ferns. I knew their game was intimidation and I knew that you could win by coming prepared.

I had spent the last few days perfecting my lines. “I haven’t seen her since the end of the school year,” I had whispered to myself, as I ran hot water in the kitchen and worked on the stack of crusted pots and pans. I practiced a concerned expression in the bathroom mirror while brushing my teeth. “If I had to guess, I’d say she ran away,” I’d think, as I wrote a draft of a letter to the food stamp office for my mom.

He asked me, “When was the last time you saw Miss Mayward?”

Around the end of the school year,” I said. “Why?” It flew out of my mouth like a tape-recorded message. I stuffed my hands into my pants pockets. I knew I couldn’t do this.

But the cops didn’t flinch. They went on to tell me what I already knew: not home since Sunday, missing persons report filed, foul play not currently suspected, and so on. I confirmed their physical description of Vyv: five-foot-five, about 150 pounds, just enough weight for inconvenient curves that she hid under long jackets and baggy sweaters. Hair: red. Not natural red, but the kind of purple-red that comes from two boxes of L’Oreal Feria that she’d bring home from Grand Island every month. A thick sheet of semi-curls that reached to dye-scorched ends at her waist. Wrist-Cutter Red. Blowjob Red. Girl With Problems Red.

Did she ever talk about running away?” the younger cop asked.

She talked about it all the time,” I said. “But I always figured it was just talk.”

Anyplace in particular?”

Everywhere, I thought. Vyv and I were walking barefoot down our town’s main street, and she was telling me about the beaches in Tangier, where writers arranged their future classics and the best weed on the planet got passed around. We were picking clover out of the grass on the school playground, and I was listening to her go on and on about Siberia, where the trees exploded in the sub-zero winter and the trains hurtled on through the darkness for weeks. We were at the mall, and she was trying on black clothes, like suits of armor, to prepare herself for New York City.

She’d been talking about Seattle a lot,” I said.

One of the cops whipped out a pen and wrote SEATTLE? in block letters. “Does she know anybody out there?”

I shook my head.

The younger one cleared his throat and said, “What do you know about her friends in Lincoln?”

I never really met them.” I crossed my arms. “Besides, she hasn’t talked to them since this winter.” I considered adding more, but held my breath. It wouldn’t do any good to bring up that whole mess with Sonia and Grant. I thought of that morning in homeroom, when Vyv had lifted her head from her desk and moaned, “This weekend was so fucked.” She never went into specifics. Something about heroin and screaming at the driver of a car as he blew through red light after red light.

The cops nodded and took it down. One of them asked, “Was she having problems at home?”

I swallowed. “She doesn’t get along with her stepdad. They’re always fighting about something.”

Why were all of my words so inadequate? “Doesn’t get along with” to illustrate the cloud of rage that followed Vyv around on some days? The weight that seemed to settle on her whenever she bit back tears from another long row? “Always fighting about something” to imply that she often spent afternoons staring at the shotgun mounted above her parents’ couch, loaded with potential vengeance?

What exactly happened at the end of the school year?” they asked.

We had a falling out,” I said.

The older one flipped through his notes. “Uh-huh. Did you and Amanda fight often?”

Oh shit, I realized. They think I’m Vyv’s boyfriend. Or at least one of those guys who hung around her for sex. It explained why I, the former Eagle Scout, would associate with Vyv, with her antique boots and top hat and alleged Satanism.

I tried hard not to squirm. If Vyv were here she’d be collapsing in laughter, right on my front porch. “No, we were pretty good friends,” I insisted. “I was gonna call her and apologize soon.” I thought I could see it in their faces. I wondered if they knew.

But they didn’t say anything. The older one handed me a business card and said, “Most of the time they come back on their own, once they see what it’s really like out there. Give us a call if you hear from her.”

I put the card in my pocket and promised I would.

Hey, I grew up on this block,” said the younger one. “In that yellow house.”

Oh,” I said.

Was a great place to grow up. Different then, of course.”

I said nothing. I’d always rather liked the shuttered houses, the distressed yards, the sinking pines, and I hated it when people shook their heads over the state of my street.

The cops turned and loped across my front yard, back to the cruiser. I went back inside. My mom was curled up on the couch under the heavy wool throw blanket, where she’d fallen asleep in front of the TV last night. I pressed her shoulder. “Hey Ma. I’m making breakfast. You want anything?”

Just coffee,” she yawned.

I put on the coffeemaker and set up two mugs with milk and sugar waiting in the bottom. I cracked two eggs into a clean skillet and sliced chunks of potato into sizzling fat. Hey Vyv, I thought as I stirred the potatoes. Did you see that? I sent the trail out to Seattle for you. I pictured her on the Greyhound, riding east into the hills. She’d be looking out the window and listening to The Gits in her headphones, or reading the copy of Jane Eyre she’d swiped from Goodwill. I was happy for her.


Katherine Scott Nelson is the author of the novella Have You Seen Me, a current nominee for the Lambda Literary Awards. Hir work has either appeared or is forthcoming in Confrontation, make/shift, and Fiction at Work. Ze lives in Chicago, blogs over here, and is currently on a 'Virtual Book Tour' online as a lead-up to an actual physical tour, along with other CCLaP authors, in New York City!




Save Our Fullmers

Book Celler employee and Knee-Jerk Magazine editor Jon Fullmer and his wife Amelia lost their home to a fire last week, and are expecting their first child any day now. To help them get back on their feet, the Book Celler is hosting a benefit on Thursday, May 31 featuring readings by many talented Chicago writers. Check out the event page, and consider donating to support a part of Chicago's lit community!

Chris Bower & Matt Test's 'Birthday Boy'

I saw Birthday Boy last night. You should too. Here's the facebook event, here's the website.

A play about a boy who's forgotten and ignored and generally treated like shit on his birthday, it's pretty hilarious. Even if you're not a miserable person like me. Even if you're, say, a happy person. Basically, you'll enjoy this miserable play regardless of what kind of person you are.

The play's written by Chris Bower and Matt test, who are also in the goddamn thing, along with Cat Jarboe, Kevlyn Hayes, and Troy Martin. It is playing for the next two Fridays (June 1st & 8th).

Here's a picture of me and Bower inside of a heart. It is not a real heart, I put it there with photoshop.

<3 Mason