Last October 1st, Jane and I ate cake and drank Prosecco to celebrate the release of Tell Everyone I Said Hi. The last couple weeks, I've been wondering what it means for a book to turn one year old. Specifically, I've been wondering what that number might amount to in human years. It might be argued that literature lasts forever, that this book of mine is but an hour or half a day old, but I think we all know that's not really true. Still, it's been a fun year. I kept my expectations low, and they were exceeded times roughly a million.
Since I last updated this blog, a few things have happened. But first, a little story: Before I went to graduate school, I was working as a juvenile probation officer. It was a tough gig, and I was pretty good at it. Most of the hours I spent away from juvie, I was reading and writing, trying to get better at this thing I loved. This was a while ago, 2000-2002. Jane and I were living in Champaign-Urbana. During that time, I found Dan Chaon's book Among the Missing at the local bookstore. I'd never heard of Dan Chaon, but I saw that it was a collection of stories, and I checked out the blurbs. The blurbs, and this was when the book was in hardcover, were amazing. I think Lorrie Moore wrote one, and Michael Chabon, and Jean Thompson. All of these writers I loved and admired. I bought the book and started reading it that night when I was on break at the detention center. It blew me away. I mean, it filled me with envy. I wished I'd written each and every one of that book's stories.
Later that week, my friend Aggie Zivaljevic told me about a book she'd just read called The Esther Stories by Peter Orner. Aggie had read a few of my early attempts at writing, and she saw something in Orner's work that she thought I might appreciate. I made another trip to the bookstore, grabbed a copy, and began reading, again, that night on break at the detention center. And again, I was just blown away, filled with envy and awe. I don't think I've ever again read two books back-to-back that impacted me so deeply.
Fast forward a dozen or so years, and I'm working as a professor. One of my colleagues just so happens to be pretty good friends with Peter Orner, and Peter, well, he has a new book out, a collection of stories, Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge, so this colleague of mine was bringing him to campus. This was a couple weeks ago. Here's a picture of Peter. Peter was coming down to Galesburg from Ann Arbor, and he was running a little late. The crowd had gathered, and one of my colleagues asked me to read something of Peter's to fill the handful of minutes between when people might start to get restless and Peter would arrive. I picked up a copy of The Esther Stories and read the first piece. Halfway through it, I was feeling the pull of the past, the duplex Jane and I had once inhabited in Urbana, the raw desire I had back then to string sentences together into story. I couldn't believe that I was standing before a room filled with people and doing this simple thing, reading a beautiful story out loud to them. The moment was powerful, somewhat crushing.
Fast forward a couple of weeks from that, and Jane and I were headed back to Champaign-Urbana for the Pygmalion Music Festival & the Pygmalion Lit Fest. This was just this past weekend. We arrived on Thursday, had drinks, saw some music. On Friday, Jane had to travel to Springfield for work, and I stayed at the hotel to work on the novel she and I have been writing together. That night, I read from that novel in a space just one block away from the coffee shop I used to write at in Urbana on my days off from the detention center. Later that night, I saw some more music, listened to other great writers read their stuff. Then, the next day, I was sitting in a beer garden in Champaign, and who was taking the stage? Dan Chaon. He read from his novel-in-progress, and that moment was not unlike the one I experienced when I was holding Peter Orner's book in my hands and reading from it to my colleagues, to strangers and my students.
All of which is to say, this life I've been living has felt somewhat charmed lately. In certain ways, it's felt unbelievable. And now this book of mine, it's turned one. This last trip we made to C-U, Jane and I didn't even drive by the detention center. We probably should have.
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In other news: I really dig Story Swaps, and earlier this summer, I contacted Scott Garson to see if he'd want to swap stories. He was up for it, so we got in touch with Faith Gardner, and she was game, too. I love the story of Scott's I read, but I'm not sure I did it justice. Scott, however, knocked my story out of the ballpark. I might never be able to read that thing again.
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A couple weeks before the Pygmalion Lit Fest, I traveled down to Macomb to give a talk and read some fiction at Western Illinois University. Barb Harroun was an amazing host, and I loved getting to meet and talk with some of her students. The talk I gave was on the impact place has had on my writing. I'm thinking I might post it here on this blog sometime.
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The week before I traveled down to Macomb, Jason Braun came up to Monmouth to interview me for his radio show, Literature for the Halibut, which airs on KDHX, out of St. Louis, about my upcoming talk. You can listen to the first part of the interview here.
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Lastly: I have a new story coming out in Winter Tangerine Review. It's called "Resources." I like this one, though it's encountered some resistance in the world. I'm glad it's finally found a home at WTR, and that they've given it some editorial attention, some care and love. I'll let you know when the issue has made its way into the world.