Archive for October, 2006

Do You NaNoWriMo?

Posted: October 27, 2006 in Writing Projects

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For those up for the challenge November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, for those who’ve signed up at http://www.nanowrimo.org

The aim of the project is for participating members to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November, breaking that up into whatever workable segments you decide upon. For the purist, that translates to 1,666ish words per day for the 30 days of November, adding up to the 50,000 word requirement. And how long, exactly is a 1,666-word document? Well, for reference, it’s roughly three times the finished length of this blog post. Not THAT long, now, is it.

So, what’s the point of all this?

Well, for anyone who’s always meant to write a novel but has been cowed by the sheer immensity of the prospect it’s a way to produce a finished work within a very short span of time.

Will it be a work of any value?

Maybe so, or maybe not, but the point is you’ll have completed a novel, and, as the folks at NaNoWriMo suggest, you’ll also be able to reference obscure chapters in “your novel” at dinner parties, thus sounding immensely worldly-wise and literary. You may also choose to adopt a far-away look, grow a goatee (optional, if you’re female) and wear all black clothing. Regular wailing and gnashing of teeth could be considered optional, but ink stains on the fingers wouldn’t be amiss. They’d be strange, but not amiss.

I’m going to participate this year, for the first time ever. Feel free to drop me a line and ask me “Hey, what’s your count?” as frequently as you’d like. The more prodding I get the better. Remembering I’m supposed to be writing a novel will be half the battle for me.

If it seems what I’m producing won’t be either: a). so entirely embarrassingly bad I won’t admit to it, or b). so inflammatory as to risk getting me fired, I’ll most likely relent and let you know what name I’m under there, so you can read along.

So, what sort of novel am I going to write?

That’s the big question I’m grappling with now. I’m leaning slightly toward a mystery right now, though a gothic-inspired work isn’t far behind in the running. Then again, I could also opt for an obscure stream-of-conscious/post-modern style no one could understand much less criticize.

Hmm. That last has potential.

Whatever I decide upon it will be a rushed affair, and let’s hope not a true representative sampling of MY BEST WORK. But what I do anticipate is that it will be a lot of fun.

The sign-up deadline is November 1, so there there’s still a little time left to join the party. Come find out what it’s all about by CLICKING THIS LINK. The more the merrier!

As a wise man once said, “If not, why? If not now, when?”

Happy Birthday, Pablo!

Posted: October 25, 2006 in Art & Artists

picassoselfportrait.jpgPablo Picasso was born October 25, 1881 in Malaga, Spain, a city with ancient origins located on the southeast part of that country, bordering the Mediterranean Sea. You can still find his birth house in Malaga, located at the Plaza de la Merced 15. The building is now home to the Foundation Picasso. picassobirthplace.jpg

Picasso was a night owl, lying in bed most of the day and working on his paintings at night, spotlights shining on the canvases so he could see what he was doing. He never used a pallette. Instead, he put the cans of paint on the floor next to him and dipped his brushes directly into them, wiping off the excess on newspapers as he worked into the night.

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The style Picasso is most often associated with is cubism, an early 20th-century art movement in which objects are broken up, analyzed, and re-assembled in abstract form. Picasso is one of the artists given credit for developing cubism, and he was also hugely influential on all forms of art in the 20th century, including things we wouldn’t think of immediately, like music and literature. In a world increasingly fragmented by world wars, the early 20th century was a time of great strife and disillusion. Picasso and other artists began expressing their angst about an increasingly violent and unsafe world by presenting their art in a less realistic, more fractured style.

Virginia.jpgWriters such as James Joyce and Virginia Woolf began writing in stream-of-consciousness style around this same time, further turning the idea of what art was on its head. No longer restricted by traditional prose styles, literature was opened up to entirely new styles of writing, owing some of their newfound freedom to the ideas begun by Pablo Picasso and artists like him.

Picasso moved to Paris as a young struggling artist, making friends with all sorts of artistic types from Andre Breton to Gertrude Stein. He kept a number of mistresses throughout his life, while also maintaining relationships with either a wife or primary lover. In his lifetime Picasso was married twice and had four children by three different women.

Here in Chicago we boast “The Picasso Structure,” Picasso’s famous 50-foot sculpture, which was commissioned by the City of Chicago and unveiled in 1967. Though the city had earmarked $ 100,000 to pay for the sculpture, Picasso refused to accept it. Instead, he gave it to the city as his gift.

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But what IS this sculpture? No one knows for sure, and Picasso himself didn’t say. Is it a woman? A horse? A bird? That’s up to personal interpretation, and we’ll more than likely never know for sure what the artist intended.

Personally, I say it’s a horse.

Happy 125th Birthday, Pablo Picasso, father of cubism and an iconic pioneer of 20th century art.

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Books about Picasso:

Life with Picasso by Francoise Gilot

Picasso by Gertrude Stein

Loving Picasso: The Private Journal of Fernande Olivier by Fernande Olivier

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that an author in possession of a published book must be in want of a venue in which to promote it.

Being an author is truly hard work. Not only must a writer produce an actual written, published product, but once that’s done (which is no small feat), the real work starts. Unless a writer’s name happens to be truly big, like Stephen King, or JK Rowling, promotion and marketing are largely the work of the author. The publishers may subsidize a bit, and set up a few events if you’re lucky, but that leaves an awful lot of work that must be done by the actual writer him or herself.

One of my own personal missions, in case that hasn’t become really obvious, is the promoting of authors whose names you haven’t heard of but should have. Why haven’t you heard of them? It has nothing to do with quality or how much they deserve to be read, but it does have a lot to do with economics. Publishing’s a dog-eat-dog business, and there’s always another book out there waiting to hop in the front of the queue, pushing everyone else back a few spaces. If you’ve written a book you have to get out there and promote, promote, promote, then hope to break through the general apathy of the average reader long enough to claim a smidgen of attention.

And attention, there’s another thing that sticks in my proverbial craw. Don’t get me started on the attention span of the average American, and unless you want to see me turn bright red and risk apoplexy, please avoid two words: REALITY TV.

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What IS this addiction, anyway? I don’t understand it. I’ve watched probably a grand total of two episodes of “Survivor,” and maybe four episodes of “American Idol.” And, okay, it’s funny seeing those really bad singers fail miserably. That appeals to the evil, masochistic side of a lot of us, but to watch these things regularly I can’t even fathom. Now, if you watch these regularly but also slot in time for reading and other pursuits more power to you. That’s achieving balance, and that’s a good thing. But what scares me is I know the majority of Americans don’t even consider that. This is what disturbs me. There’s no intellectual achievement in reality TV, and no work of any kind required. RANT OVER.

Despite what you may be thinking of me at this point, I do own a TV. Actually, I think our count is up to four, including the tiny travel TV we don’t ever actually use for travel. One of our TVs is pretty sizeable, too, but that’s because movies look better on a bigger screen and we do love our movies. And, yes, we even have surround sound, so I’m not a purist. Far from it!

However, if you walk into my house on any given evening (knock first, please!), you’re about 80% likely to find the TV off. We sometimes go for days without ever turning on a television, mostly because we’re: a). not at home in the first place, or b). just too busy with other things like homework, the practicing of musical instruments (I now have two children who play the violin, and one who in addition plays the piano, the guitar, and as of last evening – it’s a long story, don’t ask – , the flute), working on the computer (okay, largely consisting of Googling things), and, what do you know, READING. If you walk into my house on any given evening you’re about 90% likely to find at least one or two members of my family engaged in this occupation, and about 95% likely that one of these family members will be yours truly…

These are only a few things authors have to compete against. Even after their book is published the deck’s already stacked against them. First, they have to target readers. Then, if they’re not a household name, they have to hit upon a way to stick in the minds of the readers who are likely to go out and purchase their books. They accomplish this through reviews, interviews and author appearances (signings, readings, etc.), and all this while competing against quick, ready-made entertainment in the form of TV, much of which is the reality variety.

How it pains me!

Self-promotion doesn’t generally come very easily to writing types, either. Those who think it sounds like a lark to sit home at the computer, more than likely alone, and type away all day aren’t always the most socially inclined types. That’s not to say they’re hermits, but there’s a push required to really get yourself out there, and not everyone has that naturally.

This is why I spend a lot of my time promoting wonderful authors and their wonderful books. And, what’s perhaps even more shocking, a whole lot of that time is gratis. Not all of it, as I do freelance and get paid for some of my work, but often I’m handing it out like Halloween candy.

Sometimes I know the author, or I’m a friend of a friend, but often I don’t know the author from Adam, but he or she has written a book that’s impressed me so much I feel the urge to give something back. It does come back to me, too, either in referrals from one author to another, or just a new connection that sometimes turns into a friendship. I consider these deposits into my good karma account, and I could certainly use all of that I can get. Can’t we all?!

All of this is a good preface for another one of these really good up and coming authors, and his name is Jon Clinch. Random House sent me Clinch’s book Finn: A Novel, due to be released in February 2007. Because there’s so much lead time here, I can’t yet publish a review of the book, but I can say I think this one’s going to be a great one. Finn takes a thread from Mark Twain’s classic Huckleberry Finn, specifically the reference to Huck’s father being found dead in a floating house, and expands on it. Though I haven’t yet finished the book, what I have read is gorgeously written. I can tell this one’s a keeper. Keep an eye out for it.

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And, keep an eye out for Jon Clinch, as I’m doing my best to convince him that coming to Chicago is a very good idea. Keep your fingers crossed! Oh, and pass the remote. I think Oprah’s on…

From ShelfAwareness:

Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, co-founder of City Lights Books, San Francisco, announced the finalists of the National Book Awards yesterday at his store; the winners will be named and honored in New York City on November 15. Each winner receives $10,000 and a statue; each finalist receives $1,000 and a medal.

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The NBA finalists:

Fiction

Mark Z. Danielewski for Only Revolutions (Pantheon)
Ken Kalfus for A Disorder Peculiar to the Country (Ecco/HarperCollins)
Richard Powers for The Echo Maker (FSG)
Dana Spiotta for Eat the Document (Scribner/S&S)
Jess Walter for The Zero (Judith Regan Books/HarperCollins)

Nonfiction

Taylor Branch for At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68 (S&S)
Rajiv Chandrasekaran for Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone (Knopf)
Timothy Egan for The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl (Houghton Mifflin)
Peter Hessler for Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China’s Past and Present (HarperCollins)
Lawrence Wright for The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (Knopf)

Poetry

Louise Glück for Averno (FSG)
H.L. Hix for Chromatic (Etruscan Press)
Ben Lerner for Angle of Yaw (Copper Canyon Press)
Nathaniel Mackey for Splay Anthem (New Directions)
James McMichael for Capacity (FSG)

Young People’s Literature

M.T. Anderson for The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party (Candlewick Press)
Martine Leavitt for Keturah and Lord Death (Front Street Books/Boyds Mills Press)
Patricia McCormick for Sold (Hyperion Books for Children)
Nancy Werlin for The Rules of Survival (Dial/Penguin)
Gene Luen Yang for American Born Chinese (First Second/Roaring Brook Press/Holtzbrinck)

Hot Books for the Cold Months

Posted: October 10, 2006 in Current Reading

This time of year is positively deadly for me…

It’s the fall, and that means the hot books are coming out like mad, in anticipation of the holiday rush. I can’t NOT know about them, thanks to the many nefarious email and postal mail newsletters being sent to me by the publishers themselves (foul enablers!), and unfortunately for my bank account, I can’t NOT buy at least some of them, either. Well, I CAN, but I frankly don’t like listening to that little voice of reason.

That being said, I have a husband at home who asks, in continual exasperation, “If you work at a library why do you need to BUY BOOKS?!”

The question may be bigger than the both of us.

Here are a few new books that have caught my eye so far (don’t worry, I actually haven’t bought any of them!)(yet):

americanbloomsbury.jpgAmerican Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work by Susan Cheever

I’m not sure Cheever could have packed anything else into this title to make me find the dratted thing more irresistable. All of these people fascinate me, even the lesser-known Margaret Fuller. She used to hang out with The Transcendentalist Bunch, and spent some time carrying their message to Europe. Unfortunately, she was killed in a boat wreck on the way back so we’ll never know what she could have accomplished had she lived.

leonard Woolf a biography glendinning.jpgLeonard Woolf: a Biography by Victoria Glendinning

Okay, I did actually pre-order this one, but I’m such a fan of all things Woolf. Plus, it may wind up coming out around the holidays, in which case Santa can wrap it up and put it ‘neath the tree. He truly is a jolly old elf and I firmly believe in saving him a little shopping time.

thirteen moons.jpgThirteen Moons: a Novel by Charles Frazier

I read and loved Cold Mountain, so I was glad to hear Frazier had finally published another book. Reviews on this one have been a little mixed, though, so it’s looking doubtful this effort will be as stellar as his last. What that translates to for me is interlibrary loan, the two words my credit card company most loathes…

thunderboltkid.jpgThe Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir by Bill Bryson

If you haven’t read any of Bryson’s books I recommend you rectify that oversight, starting with Notes From a Small Island and proceeding through A Walk in the Woods. His memoir is all but guaranteed to be just as fantastically funny and entertaining as the rest of his books, maybe even more so as it will be all about him (one of his favorite topics).

humantraces.jpgHuman Traces by Sebastian Faulks

I wasn’t really crazy about Birdsong, and didn’t even get near Charlotte Gray, but this latest effort by Faulks sounds pretty interesting, at least enough to interlibrary loan. It involves psychiatry in the 19th century, which in itself is enough to perk up my ears. Anything that promises to be about madness, especially set in the Victorian era, is generally something I enjoy reading. I should probably be disturbed by that, but who has the time?

fragilethings.jpgFragile Things by Neil Gaiman

I haven’t read an awful lot by Gaiman, but what I have read has been impressive. This one also satisfies my reading needs for the short segments of time everyone needs to fill, either while waiting for children or doctors or what not. I can’t imagine this one won’t be good reading, judging by his reputation.

thunderstruck.jpgThunderstruck by Erik Larson

Here’s another historical narrative from Larson, to follow up his first two titles (that sold in the bazillions, by last count). This time his subject is Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen, the first murderer to be caught with the aid of wireless communication, set against the backdrop of Marconi and the invention of the electronic telegraph. I sense another bestseller in the making here.

Well, that’s enough to keep me going a while. Hope I’ve added to a lot of other people’s reading lists, as well, and if so I’ll consider that a job well done.

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Fern Schumer Chapman workshop

Lake Bluff author Fern Schumer Chapman (“Motherland: Beyond the Holocaust; A Daughter’s Journey to Reclaim the Past”) will lead an inter-generational workshop, “Finding Story in Your Life,” at the Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Senior Center on Monday, October 9 at 10:30 a.m. Students (gr. 7-up) and adults are invited to participate in this free program, sponsored by Friends of Lake Forest Library. The Senior Center is in Dickinson Hall, 100 E. Old Mill Rd., Lake Forest. Attendance is limited; please pre-register with Cindy Serikaku, Lake Forest Library (LFL@att.net or 847-615-4583).

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Ray Bradbury Storytelling Festival

October 20, 2006

The inaugural Ray Bradbury Storytelling Festival “Something Wicked This Way Comes” will be held on October 20, 2006 at 7 p.m. The festival, featuring storytellers well known throughout the Midwest and the nation, will be held in the historic Genesee Theatre in downtown Waukegan. Tickets can be purchased starting September 8 at 10 a.m. at the Genesee Theatre Box Office, all Ticketmaster outlets, charge-by-phone at 312-559-1212 or online at http://www.ticketmaster.com. Tickets are $17.

Storytellers will be weaving their magic with stories of the Halloween season including some by author, and native son, Ray Bradbury. His works, being brought to life in the heart of Waukegan by some of the most talented storytellers around, is sure to make this an event the whole family will want to attend.

This festival is sponsored by the Waukegan Public Library Foundation with Bradbury’s permission. “It only seemed right to honor Mr. Bradbury by using storytellers to bring his stories to life,” explains Richard Lee, executive director of the Waukegan Public Library. “His only request was that it was scheduled during his favorite time of year in Waukegan, the Halloween season. It is also a fitting tribute to host the event at the Genesee Theatre as one of Bradbury’s most powerful childhood memories was created at the Genesee Theatre when he saw a magic show that changed his life.”

Tickets are also available for a special “Prequel” at 5:30 p.m. in the lounge of the Genesee Theatre. Wine, cheese and hors d’oeuvres along with silent auction items will be included at this gathering, as well as the opportunity to meet the storytellers themselves. Prequel ticket holders will be guaranteed the best seats in theater. Prequel tickets are available online at http://www.bradburystorytellingfestival.org or at the library. Prequel tickets are $40 and do not include event tickets.

Festival storytellers include Jim May, a storyteller who speaks in the natural, matter-of-fact style of the fathers, horse traders, and small-town raconteurs who populated rural northern Illinois where his family has lived since the 1840’s. For adult audiences, he tells original stories of growing up in the tiny Catholic farming community of Spring Grove. These stories that are at once hilarious and touching range from, “How to Become ‘Most Valuable Altar Boy’ (MVAB)”, to horse trading tales and heart-warming memories of family life.

For children he offers stories from traditional sources. These folk tales, myths, legends and ghost stories from various cultures worldwide have the humor and wisdom of the great tales that have been preserved in every culture and handed down orally from one generation to the next.

Megan Wells “Megan’s storytelling has a radiance, which only comes from that rare combination of raw talent, deep intelligence and blistering honesty. Soul speaks through Megan’s mouth.” – Rebecca Armstrong, Joseph Campbell Foundation.

Megan Wells combines the worlds of theater, writing and storytelling. With a BFA and MFA in theater, Megan began her artistic career in Chicago directing: A Ruffian on the Stair, The Assignment, In the Wake of the Welded, Seventy Scenes from Halloween, and Good for which she was honored with a Joseph Jefferson award for excellence as a director. In 1990, Megan attended the National Storytelling Festival and encountered the art of Storytelling. Megan began “telling” her own words, thriving on the immediacy and intimacy of the teller/audience relationship. Sample venues include the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago Symphony, Chicago Historical Society, as well as festivals, libraries, schools and museums.

Megan will be a Featured New Voice at the National Storytelling Festival this year and currently is the Board President for the Illinois Storytelling Festival.

Mark Kater is the resident storyteller at the North Park Village Nature Center in Chicago. He leads storytelling walk-abouts through the 46 acre preserve and coordinates other storytelling activities, including an after-school storytelling program for children, festival and the annual Tellabration event.

Mark tells stories exploring his Cherokee Indian heritage. He has programs for children and adults. His programs cover a wide range of topics and include original stories and retellings of myths, animal, nature and folk tales from around the world.

He studied storytelling at Emerson College Sussex, England. Mark holds a BFA in dance from the University of Illinois. Before beginning his professional storytelling career in 1996, Mark taught and performed dance in the schools with Creative Learning, Math On The Move, and GAIA Environmental Theater.

Daniel LeMonnier has been caught telling stories all his life, but began professionally in 1983 when asked by Encyclopedia Britannica to develop an educational show that would be of interest to children. He created Spinnin’ Yarns as an introduction to the American Oral Tradition and Music.

As a singer, actor, storyteller and writer, Dan performs world wide, delighting audiences of all ages with his renditions of American folklore, literature, tall tales and music. The continued popularity of Dan’s varied talents led him to found Folk Songs & Foolery Entertainment in 1987.

Dan holds a BFA in Theatre Arts from Marquette University and an MFA in Acting from the Goodman School of Drama at DePaul University. He is also well known in the Chicago area as “Benny the Bull,” mascot for the six time champion NBA Chicago Bulls. He is the co-director of the Chicago Children’s Museum’s Annual Storyfest each June, and has taught workshops at the NAPPS (National Association for the Preservation & Perpetuation of Storytelling) National Conference in Seattle, WA.

Elysabeth Ashe From living in the rainforest of Belize to years on theatre stages, Elysabeth recounts nature and life adventure stories. Personal experiences and adaptations of stories of life lived by “coloring outside the lines” are often enhanced with song, music and audience participation.

City slicker as well as outdoors woman, Elysabeth tells tales from her life as nature educator, team building facilitator, solo traveler, wildlife rehabilitator, dog walker, corporate career woman, poet and theatre performer. Her performances are often called “mesmerizing.”

Folk tales, family fables and ghost stories that tantalize the imagination and stimulate the senses round out a repertoire that takes listeners into the heart of the moment … and back home again!

The library is also working with local school district’s to provide two shows for school children in the morning and afternoon of October 20th through field trips. Schools signing up for a field trip will also be provided with storytelling workshops prior to the event for children and teachers. “We want to make sure that all children in Waukegan get a chance to hear the art of true storytelling and to be exposed to Bradbury’s stories in particular” adds Lee, “it is an art form that is too often neglected, one that is the basis of verbal literacy.”

Funds raised from the festival will be used to provide furniture, fixture and equipment for the library’s new branch located in the Waukegan Park District’s Hinkston Park Fieldhouse. This branch will be the first one since the 1930s. All funds used to open the branch were raised through private donations and special events.

The Waukegan Public Library has served the community of Waukegan for 108 years providing opportunities to learn, gather, be informed and entertained. The main library is located in downtown Waukegan at 128 N. County St. just north of the County Building, the Hinkston Park Branch is located at 800 N. Baldwin in the Waukegan Park District’s Fieldhouse. The library houses one of the largest collection of materials in Lake County. Free parking is provided at the downtown branch in the City of Waukegan’s parking garage located at the corner of County and Clayton. Further information is available by calling 847-623-2041 or online at http://www.waukeganpl.org.

Posted on behalf of Elizabeth Stearns, Public Relations/Marketing Manager, Waukegan Public Library