Inhuman Swill : Chicago : Page 2

Back in September, I took advantage of the chance to support a very worthy-seeming Kickstarter project—helping to fund the completion of a documentary called Mormon Movie.

The director, Xan Aranda, also made festival favorite Andrew Bird: Fever Year, but this new project is something more personal. Check out this preview reel to see what I mean:

The Kickstarter campaign is long done, but you can still help support Mormon Movie at The Hideout this weekend in Chicago. Just buy a ticket to their third "They Shoot Indies, Don't They? Dance Derby Fundraiser Spectacular" and show up to dance and win prizes. It all gets started Saturday, February 2, at 7:00 pm at The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia. Tickets are just $10 in advance, $12 at the door.

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I'd be there myself, except it's bowling night.


Some time ago, Halsted M. Bernard tagged me in the Next Big Thing meme that's been going around. The intent is to share details about one's current writing project by answering a canned set of questions, so here goes.

  1. What's the title of your latest story?
  2. I've actually been working on various non-fiction projects lately, big and small, including a new epilogue for my memoir The Accidental Terrorist (which, yes, is still being shopped around). I'll soon be diving into a new short story for the Glitter & Madness anthology project, but that one doesn't have a title yet. So instead I'll talk about the novel I finally finished in November, which is called Waking Vishnu.

  3. Where did the idea for the story come from?
  4. For more than a decade I've been envisioning a fictional universe where physical items can be "magically" manipulated via hand gestures, as if they were blobs in an object-oriented programming system. I'd tried again and again to work out the story of the person who stumbles onto this magic system, but when I finally pictured the protagonist as a teenage girl the whole thing started clicking into place.

  5. What genre does your story fall under?
  6. Young adult science fiction, though it's designed to look a whole lot like urban fantasy at first.

  7. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie?
  8. This one is difficult for me to answer since most of the huge cast of characters are teenagers, and I'm not so familiar these days with what teen actors are out there. I guess my dream cast would include a bunch of young unknowns who all become stars as a result of Waking Vishnu. But I'd love to see the main villain of the novel, Ken "A.A." Sunshine, played by Christoph Waltz, who has the right combination of charm, smarm, and lunacy. I could see Danny DeVito and John Goodman as Lamm and Kray, two of the other important antagonists, and Emma Thompson as Principal Armisted.

  9. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your story?
  10. When an Indian-American girl named Hasta Veeramachaneni discovers she can control objects and people with hand gestures, she and her friends must race to discover the origin of the power while saving the world from destruction.

  11. Will your story be self-published or represented by an agency?
  12. The novel is represented by Joe Monti at Barry Goldblatt Literary.

  13. How long did it take you to write the first draft?
  14. The first draft took me about 18 months and tipped the scales at 175,000 words—way too long for what it was. I've done two more drafts since then and trimmed it down to 120,000 words.

  15. What other stories would you compare it to within your genre?
  16. It's hard to make the most apt comparisons without giving a lot away about the story. If you compared it to something like Fair Coin by E.C. Myers, though, you'd be in the general neighborhood though not quite the same ballpark.

  17. Who or what inspired you to write this story?
  18. Two main factors conspired to inspire me to get started on Waking Vishnu. First and foremost is my wife Laura Chavoen, who works tirelessly to support my writing career. Second is the city of Chicago, which we moved to in 2007. Most of the novel is set in the same Chicago neighborhood where we live. Exploring the streets and alleyways while walking our dog helped me picture and block out a whole lot of the action of the book.

  19. What else about your story might pique a reader's interest?
  20. Again, I don't want to give too much away, but the book dabbles in Hinduism, hacking, and theories of consciousness. There are some awesome fight scenes (if I do say so myself), a helpful dog, an interlude at White Castle, a road trip to Mount Rushmore, killer demons (or are they angels?), a rebuke to God, various possessions, enemies becoming friends (and vice versa), a red Barchetta, and an implicit critique of a certain blockbuster sci-fi flick that I should not mention here (though its makers have a small, secret production facility in my neighborhood). Is that enough?
I'm not going to tag anyone else here, since all the people I was going to tag were tagged by Holly McDowell as I was about to tag them. (Don't worry, Holly. I'll get you back.) But if you want to be tagged, drop me a comment and I'll be happy to oblige you.


oubliette.jpg Happy New Year! I mostly try to keep all the news about Tuesday Funk, the Chicago reading series I help run, over on its own blog, but today I can't help trumpeting our mention in this morning's Chicago Sun-Times:

Article: Drink it in: Beers paired with the wisdom of Chicago authors

The feature by David Hoekstra in today's Entertainment section introduces four of tonight's five participants, who each discuss the pieces they'll read and suggest the perfect beer from Hopleaf's vast menu to drink as accompaniment.

Check out the accompanying slideshow as well, and if you're in town I hope to see you tonight upstairs at Hopleaf. The free reading starts at 7:30 pm, but you should arrive at 7:00, when the doors open, if you want a seat. You can find all the relevant information here.

Curling with opossums

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Last Friday night, Laura and I went out for pizza with a couple of good friends. We were driving back home afterwards, north on Damen Avenue, when I thought I saw the silhouette of a small critter amble through the headlights of an oncoming car.

"I think there's a possum in the street up ahead," I said.

I slowed down, and as we got closer we saw that there was indeed an opossum in the middle of the street, just our side of a stop sign and crosswalk. It was walking in a slow circle, while cars alternately stopped and drove carefully around it.

"That poor possum," Laura said as we in turn drove past. "It looks scared. It's stuck in the middle of the street and doesn't know which way to go."

"Should we go back and help it?" I asked.

"I don't know. Yes."

So I swung us around the block, through an alley, and back onto Damen going south. As we approached the intersection again, we could see the opossum still waddling in a circle in the middle of the street. I pulled over and put on the flashers. Laura went to the trunk and retrieved our new snow shovel and windshield brush. Her parents had recently given them to us, and we'd had no opportunity yet to use them for their intended purpose.

Laura gave me the shovel and we headed toward the opossum. She held up a hand to stop traffic. On the west side of the street was a CVS with a big parking lot. On the east was a row of houses and small businesses. When the opossum came to a point in its circle where it was facing east, I put the shovel down beside it to force it to keep going in that direction. Laura kept the brush against its other side, and in that configuration we minced our way across the street. We must have looked like we were curling, with the opossum as our stone.

When we reached the curb, the opossum tried to turn again, but I kept the shovel firmly in place until it climbed up onto the sidewalk. We guided it across the sidewalk and through a wrought-iron fence into someone's yard, where it waddled off into the bushes.

Duty done, we dashed back to the car and stowed our gear. As we drove down the street, I could see that the opossum had left the yard and was now in the entry way of a business a couple of doors down. A pedestrian stopped to take a picture of it.

I sure hope that was the side of the street it wanted to be on.


Whether you'd like to join today's Unofficial Worldcon Pub Crawl in Chicago from the start, or want to meet up with us somewhere along the route, here's the revised itinerary I've come up. It involves three train rides and only two cab rides, and gets us all over the North Side to some great brewpubs and beer bars:

11:00 am: Group meets at front entrance of Hyatt Regency Chicago, 151 E. Wacker Dr.

Transit: Walk to CTA Blue Line at Clark/Lake, ride (in direction of O'Hare) to California stop

11:30 am: Revolution Brewing, 2323 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Transit: Cabs to 4300 N. Lincoln Ave. (Lincoln & Cullom)

1:00 pm (approx): The Bad Apple, 4300 N. Lincoln Ave. (main lunch destination, excellent burgers and beer)

Transit: Cabs to 5148 N. Clark St. (Clark & Foster)

2:30 pm (approx): Andersonville beer bars (all of which have very good food)
        Hopleaf, 5148 N. Clark St.
        Lady Gregory's, 5260 N. Clark St.
        Acre, 5308 N. Clark St.

Transit: Walk to CTA Red Line at Berwyn/Broadway, ride (in the direction of 95th/Dan Ryan) to Belmont stop, transfer to Brown Line, ride (in the direction of the Loop) to Diversey stop

5:30 pm (approx): Atlas Brewing Company, 2747 N. Lincoln Ave.

Transit: Walk to CTA Brown Line at Diversey/Sheffield, ride (in the direction of the Loop) to State/Lake stop, walk back to Hyatt

7:00 pm (approx): Arrive back at the Hyatt Regency Chicago

CAVEAT: This itinerary is subject to change, so watch the hashtag #ChiconPubCrawl on Twitter if you want to meet up with us along the route. I'll be posting our locations all day.


Chicon 7, the 70th World Science Fiction Convention, gets underway tomorrow at the Hyatt Regency Chicago! In case you're interested, I'm so far scheduled to appear on two panels:

Sunday, September 2, 4:30 - 6:00 pm, Columbus CD

Incorporating the Personal into Speculative Fiction

If the sampling of short fiction presented and discussed in the New Yorker Fiction Podcast is any indication, mainstream literary writers draw heavily on events from their own lives, sometimes barely veiled, as inspiration for their work. Since science fiction is generally regarded as writing of ideas, is there any room for this same mining of one's personal experiences? Our panel will discuss to what extent when writing the fantastic they are writing about themselves.

Moderator: Cat Rambo
Panelists: Inanna Arthen/Vyrdolak, Gwynne Garfinkle, Nick Mamatas, William Shunn
Monday, September 3, 10:30 am - 12:00 pm, Columbus EF

Getting the Most out of Writing Groups

There are all kinds of writing groups for all kinds of writers. What should you look for and what rules should you follow to get the most out of the experience? How do you handle conflicting suggestions and how do you comment on others' writing effectively?

Moderator: William Shunn
Panelists: Derek Kunsken, David McDonald, Sarah Stegall, Tim Susman
That first panel was a programming suggestion of mine, so I guess it's only fair that I should be part of it.

I've been told there may be an opportunity to get slotted in for a reading sometime this weekend as well. I'll be sure to post an update if that happens.

Also, and most importantly, on Thursday, August 30th (tomorrow!), I'll be leading a small group on an unofficial daytime pub crawl to various breweries and beer bars around the North Side. We'll meet in the front lobby of the Hyatt at a little before 11:00 am, then take cabs and trains to Haymarket Brewery, The Bad Apple, Revolution Brewing, and more. We should be back no later than 7:00 pm, probably earlier.

The route is subject to change at a whim, so if you can't meet us at the start, watch the hashtag #ChiconPubCrawl on Twitter and come join us along the way!


It was not without some trepidation that Laura and I embarked on the Active Transportation Alliance's Four Star Bike Tour yesterday. After all, we had to get out of the RAGBRAI kitchen last month because we couldn't stand the heat. Who know how we would fare on this route?

Actually, I was fairly certain we'd do fine. The Four Star Bike Tour, which takes its name from the four stars on the Chicago city flag, offers a 62-mile tour of various Chicago neighborhoods and western suburbs, none of which are particularly hilly. And since we wouldn't be likely to encounter any triple-digit temperatures, we figured this ride would be a good way to restore our cycling confidence in ourselves.

What we didn't count on, about 26 miles into the ride at not yet 10 a.m., was the early arrival of the torrential rains that were predicted for the afternoon. The rain did ease up or stop from time to time, but there were also stretched where it rained so hard we could barely see. We were navigating by a combination of route map and green stars painted on the street. With the rain so heavy it became almost impossible to use the map, and it was very easy to miss the street markers.

There was also another dropped-chain incident with Laura's bike that required the application of an Allen wrench to fix, and the occasion bit of backtracking, but we persevered and made it through in about six and a half hours. Along the way we saw some of the toniest neighborhoods around, and some of the poorest too. As a study in contrasts without borders, it was instructive.

We arrived home waterlogged and mud-spattered, having learned that it's still possible to push on when you're carrying an extra twenty pounds of water weight—in your shoes alone.

Laura quipped that she was docking the Four Star Bike Tour half a star because of the rain. All in all, though, not a bad day in the saddle.

Wet, dirty feet


milepost 0

a bike towing a dog with its hindquarters on a cart

a totem pole

a line of hand-holding kindergartners being urged by their teacher in French to move quickly across the path

statues of chesspieces

volleyball players ripening like wheat in the sun

a golden retriever running full-tilt to the edge of the lakewall and leaping far out over the water

so many drinking fountains, but never when I want one

a red-winged blackbird blocking my access to its drinking fountain until I'm standing right there

a cellphone-talking hipster's Smart Water bottle and Starbucks coffee cup blocking my access to a drinking fountain until I'm standing right there

a sexy blonde runner next to me at the multi-spigot fountain moaning so loudly between slurps that I have to put it out of my mind and ride away thirsty

Navy Pier

an gray-haired man on a bike who knocks a younger cyclist into some tourists on that crowded bridge over the Chicago River and doesn't stop to apologize

the Field Museum

the Shedd Aquarium

the Adler Planetarium

a flying saucer parked atop Roman ruins, or rather Soldier Field

a guy who looks just like Starburns from "Community," down to the top hat, but with normal sideburns

an Orthodox woman walking with conviction in the 90-degree heat

geese that never flinch no matter how closely I pass them

a beached yacht rocking on the shore, emergency trucks all around

a Chicago Police boat searching the water

a man walking backward up a hill

a hundred feet of the pathway ahead covered in drifted sand

the Museum of Science and Industry

a broken fountain spraying water thirty feet

the turnaround at milepost 18

the same man an hour later, still walking backward

the Chicago skyline like a tiny sapphire city

my wife, her mouth stained orange from an impulsive snow cone


A few weeks ago, Andrew Huff of Gapers Block issued me a fascinating challenge: to take a piece of original poster art by Chad Kouri and produce a piece of writing of between 1,500 and 2,500 words to accompany it.

The resulting art/writing combo, along with seven other collaborations between artists and writers, will be on display and on sale at The Coop on May 18th. All the info is below. Hope to see you there.

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8 x 8
Friday, May 18, 2012
6:00 pm until 10:00 pm

The COOP | A co-working space in River North
230 W Superior, 2F, Chicago, IL 60654

In the spirit of artistic collaboration, The Coop and Gapers Block teamed up to produce 8x8, an experiment in writing and design. Eight Chicagoland designers were paired with eight local writers to create collaborative works, with text informing and influencing art and vice versa. The results of this experiment are presented in limited edition poster form, with writing and design back to back.

Writers:
Patrick Somerville, Claire Zulkey, Ramsin Canon, Kevin Guilfoile, William Shunn, Veronica Bond, Wendy McClure, Scott Smith

Designers:
Jesse Hora, Andy Luce, Chad Kouri, Ina Weise, Letterform, Ryan Sievert, Paul Octavious, Kyle Fletcher

Proceeds benefit Open Books.

More info: http://blog.coworkchicago.com/post/22148593743/the-coop-presents-8x8
RSVP on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/events/375591619149230/


The Chicago Writers Conference is Chicago's only homegrown mainstream literary conference focusing on practical business advice for fiction and non-fiction writers alike. The brainchild of Mare Swallow, it will feature such editors, agents, and authors as Chuck Sambuchino, Christine Sneed, Robert K. Elder, and Jennifer Mattson.

But it can only happen with support! The CWC is in the final eight days of its Kickstarter campaign and still needs to raise over $4000 for equipment rental, web development, speakers' travel expenses. There are lots of great incentives remaining for various donation levels, including art, signed books, and query letter or story manuscript critiques from Chuck Sambuchino and, ahem, yours truly.

But here, let Mare tell you more about the conference, and why you should support it:

So please help, and support Chicago's long tradition of literary excellence!

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