Just a quick bit of news: I put together a standalone edition of one of the novelettes from Standing Figures. It is now available at amazon as an ebook:
Behold, the beauty of Spell Checker — it catches words and makes sometimes hilarious suggestions:
LOL!!! It would sure slow things down for Galton to stop in the middle of the fight to upholster his gun. “Hey, Julius! Hold on a minute, man. Can I borrow your stapler?”
Getting close to a clean copy of the ms of my upcoming novel, The Keys of Death!! Woo hoo! Note that there will be no arts & crafts projects in the published version of this novel.
Tonight (June 25, 2015) I read a chapter from Startling Figures, volume 1 at the No Shush Salon, the monthly open mic night at the Clarendon Hills Public Library.
For the past year and a half, the Clarendon Hills Public Library has been hosting an open mic night called the No Shush Salon on the last Thursday of the month. There it gives the microphone and the attention of the audience to anyone who wants to read from a published work or a work in progress — song, poem, short story, essay, novel — you get the idea. The speaker gets about 10 minutes and the chance to learn how others experience his or her work. (“Clarendon Hills No Shush Salon to showcase author,” June 11, 2015 by Sara Clarkson for the Chicago Tribune.)
The featured author tonight was local Chicago writer Brendan Detzner, author of the short story collection Scarce Resources whose other short fiction has appeared in the story anthologies Exigencies, Book of Dead Things, and One Buck Horror, volume 5, as well as various magazines.
I bartered with Brendan — a copy of Startling Figures for a copy of Book of Dead Things. Hopefully it won’t be too scary for me.
Brendan is also the founder of Bad Grammar Theater, a monthly open mic for authors of “Horror, Fantasy, Pulp Fiction, Science Fiction, and the Unexpected.”
Clarendon Hills librarian Jeanine Vaughn runs the No Shush Salon. She read from her novel-in-progress and was also handing out free notebooks: nice hardcover ones, the kind with a snappy elastic ribbon to keep it closed. No author in his or her right mind would say “no” to that!
So I got to hang out with some amazing writers, got two “freebies,” and before I left I checked out The Hobbit, part 3: The Battle of Five Armies.
Here’s a challenge: say “No Shush Salon” five times fast. I can barely say it one time slow! 🙂 Thanks, Jeanine, for putting together this chance for local authors to share their work!
Links & Info
Bad Grammar Theater meets every 3rd Friday at Powell’s Books (University Village location: 1218 S. Halsted, Chicago, on the campus of the University of Illinois Chicago) from 6 pm to 9 pm. Upcoming dates: July 17th, August 21st, September 18th.
Last night I went to the launch party of Prairie Light Review, the art and literature magazine of the College of DuPage. I have a piece of fiction / poetry? / something… in the Spring 2015 issue (the one on the right in the photo above.) The piece is called “This One, At Last, is Bone of my Bones and Flesh of my Flesh.”
I’ve been to several PLR launch parties, and this one was by far the most “chill.” In past years they’ve featured live bands, a silent auction fundraiser, an artist creating an original work of art during the party, award-winning short dramas, but this time they skipped all that and focused on the work. About a dozen people read at the microphone, and easels of featured artwork were on display.
Instead of reading the piece that appears in the issue, I read the first chapter from the third story in Startling Figures, vol. 1.
The visual appearance of this year’s Prairie Light Review is truly stunning. I applaud the production editor, Monica Dinh, who designed the two issues this year. The presentation of the visual and written art is beautiful. She used white pages with black text and black pages with white text — whichever showcased the visual art the best.
I also liked the way she sometimes turned the journal on its side and presented the text and artwork in landscape mode:
In a blind selection process, Monica’s oil painting “When the Sounds Stop” was also chosen as the cover of the Fall 2014 issue (the one on the left in the photo at the top of this post).
So, I’m very pleased and proud to have my work featured in this exceptional student-run journal of art and literature! I want to acknowledge the fine work of Editor-in-Chief German Sosa, Marketing Editors Charlie Burrows and Jake Barber, copy editor Julia Andersen (whose lovely poem “Tiny Hands” appears in the spring issue), associate editor Karen F. Forslin-Bojnansky, assistant editors Earnest Bickerstaff, Myra Brygette Lopez, and Angela Ferdinardo, and faculty advisor Trina Sotirakopulos.
2000 copies were printed, and if you’re in the western Chicago suburbs and you happen to be in Glen Ellyn, you can stop by the College of DuPage and pick up your free copy of PLR Spring 2015. They usually have stacks of them around about, especially outside the library, the bookstore, the MacAnnich and the various lounges.
Prairie Light Review page on the COD website
In honor of NBC Nightly News anchorman Brian Williams, it’s Delusions of Grandeur Week at Clare T. Walker.com!! Do you have an amazing or heroic deed you wish you’d done? Do you wish your life was more exciting than it is? Do you have a rather bland tale that you can embellish beyond all believability in order to draw attention to yourself? You’ll get your chance — read on!
Brian Williams’ credibility crisis reminds me of a fictional genre oft-neglected these days: the tall tale.
“A tall tale is a story with unbelievable elements, related as if it were true and factual…Tall tales are often told in a way that makes the narrator seem to have been a part of the story.”
Famous tall tales from American literature and folklore include Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, Pecos Bill, Johnny Appleseed, John Henry, and Casey Jones.
In Ireland and Scotland we have Finn MacCool, who, among other great feats, built the Giant’s Causeway. And who can forget Robert Service’s hero from the Great White North, Sam McGee?
Also known as “whoppers” and “fish stories,” the genre may also include urban legends, and more broadly myths, legends, and some hagiography. The Western seems to mix well with the tall tale: In Owen Wister’s 1902 classic Western The Virginian, the title character defuses tensions and forestalls a simmering mutiny among the cattlehands by telling a tall tale having to do with frogs’ legs. Annie Proulx’s 1999 collection of short stories (Close Range) features a tall tale called “The Blood-Bay.”
Tall tales are lots of fun to read, and even more fun to write, especially when you’re lampooning a public figure who’s made a doofus of himself on the national stage.
Just last week, I was shoveling my driveway after the record-setting snowfall here in the Midwest. It snowed for 28 days straight, and I had to shovel sideways from my porch for about one hundred yards before I could finally shovel up. It took me 7 days to reach the surface, and when I finally emerged, I realized I had miscalculated my shoveling angle and must have been heading east on a pretty steep diagonal, because I found myself standing right outside the windows of the Sky Deck of Willis Tower downtown. Oops! But it turned out to be a happy mistake, because the entire Sky Deck was engulfed in flame! I used my handy diamond glass cutter (which I just happened to have with me) to cut a neat, circular hole in the window. I then had everyone on the Sky Deck luge down the snow chute I had constructed. Within a few moments, everyone had reached the safety of my front porch. Fortunately, I had just made a monster batch of chili in my 4 dozen crockpots, so I was able to feed everyone while they waited for their loved ones to come get them.
Now here’s your chance: share your own tall tale in the comment box below. Let’s see how much fun we can have! 🙂
Did you enjoy this article? Fill in the box and I’ll send you updates automatically!
People seem to like it! Here’s a sampling of what people are saying on amazon.com
“These are indeed Startling Figures…. all very different with sympathetic characters who find themselves in precarious situations. The endings will surprise and satisfy the reader!”
“Dr. Walker offers a chilling psychological thrill ride through the dark passages of humanity with a redemptive twist … Finishing one tale leaves the reader hungry to start the next. This is a highly recommended, pleasurable read.”
“Chilling and provocative.”
” … if I am spending my time reading I am always looking for a deeper impression and I was not disappointed.”
“Once I started one of the stories, I had to finish because she grabs you on the first page and will not let you go until the end.”
I am so pleased that people are enjoying these stories! I had a blast writing them! If you haven’t read them yet, they are still available at amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle editions.
One more line from a review:
“Here in this trio of tales there be monsters … Oh, now that I have finished Volume 1, can Volume 2 be far behind? I hope not.”
Since you ask — I’ve rummaged through my heap of ideas, and chosen 3 stories for Volume 2. I am in the “plotting” stage now. In case you’re wondering, I sometimes plot with index cards, using 1 card per scene, like they do for movies and TV episodes. Sometimes I plot on an 8.5 x 11 inch sheet of paper divided into quadrants, one for each “act” of the story, with a line or two per scene. Sometimes I plot on the back of an envelope. (I’m not even kidding. That’s how I plotted “Tooth and Nail,” the first story in Startling Figures).
So, I will keep you informed. If you want to keep super up-to-date, fill in the box below with your email address and you’ll be among the first to know!
On January 7, 2015 the air temperature was a whopping 1 degree Fahrenheit, and that’s without the wind chill factor. Whatever. Here in Chicago we eat that kind of weather for breakfast, especially when compared to the weather almost exactly one year previously:
So instead of spending my day off wrapped in a warm, fleecy blanket sipping cups of steaming, hot herbal tea, I went with 3 students who are members of SPLANCHNICS, a young adult fiction-writing workshop I lead.
Where did we go? To see the wardrobe, of course. Not just any wardrobe, but The Wardrobe, as in the one built by C.S. Lewis’s grandfather, kept in the home Lewis grew up in, and later moved to his home near Oxford University and kept in the front hall. The one that inspired The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. And we also saw the very desk upon which J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, edited, typed and illustrated The Hobbit. These wonderful objects of literary memorabilia are in the permanent collection of the Marion E. Wade Center, on the campus of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.
The collection began in the 1950s, when Dr. Clyde S. Kilby, a professor of English at Wheaton College, began corresponding with C.S. Lewis. They wrote each other letters right up until Lewis’s death in 1963. By that time, Kilby was also friends with Tolkien, and actually assisted in the compilation and editing of The Silmarillion.
Kilby donated his Lewis letters to Wheaton College, and they were originally housed in the college library. In 1974, the family of the late Marion E. Wade (a Chicago-area businessman and fan of C.S. Lewis) donated the funds to create a dedicated center for the growing collection that by then included letters, manuscripts, books, and artifacts from seven authors the collectors considered of monumental importance to modern British literature and Christian thought: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers, Owen Barfield, and George Macdonald. At the Wade Center, they are affectionately called “the Seven,” (as in “the Seven have left Minas Morgul.” Just kidding.)
The Wade Center, nestled unobtrusively in the cozy campus of Wheaton College, contains one of the most complete collections of C.S. Lewis documents and memorabilia in the world, including hundreds of letters, over 2,000 volumes from his personal library, and many of his personal effects:
The Wardrobe is definitely a highlight of the visit…
The Center also has one of the largest collections of “Chestertonia,” (G.K. Chesterton stuff), and all sorts of things owned by Tolkien and Sayers and the other authors.
The Kilby Reading Room, however, is the real treasure of the Wade Center. They have at least one copy of every book written by the seven authors, vast scholarship by and about them, hundreds of letters, original manuscripts, inscribed and annotated books from the authors’ personal libraries—it’s a vast collection. I was so entranced by the authors’ handwritten letters that I bought myself a fountain pen. When I got home, I started reading The Silmarillion, and rewatched the special features documentaries about Tolkien in my Lord of the Rings DVDs.
The Seven are:
Owen Barfield, 1898-1997
Not well-known by the general public, but his writing and scholarship had an enormous influence on both Lewis and Tolkien. He was one of The Inklings, the informal literary society of which Lewis, Tolkien, and Charles Williams were also members. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is dedicated to Barfield’s daughter, Lucy.
G.K. Chesterton, 1874-1936
Prolific author of fiction, essays, political and social commentary, poetry, Christian apologetics, you name it. For many years, he gave very popular talks on BBC Radio. He’s famous for wittily turning common sayings on their heads. (“If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.”) His most well-known works include the Father Brown mysteries, The Man Who Was Thursday, and Orthodoxy. His book The Everlasting Man influenced C.S. Lewis profoundly.
C.S. Lewis, 1898-1963
The author whose works inspired Professor Kilby to start the collection at Wheaton College. He was a professor of English literature at Oxford University, and, like Chesterton, wrote Christian apologetics (Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letterx, others) and gave well-received talks and radio addresses. His fiction includes The Chronicles of Narnia, a trilogy of science fiction novels known as the Space Trilogy, and an excellent fantasy novel called Till We Have Faces.
George MacDonald, 1824-1905
MacDonald is the only one of the seven who was not a 20th century author. He wrote in the 19th century. He’s not a household name like a few of the others, but he had an enormous influence on Lewis and Chesterton especially. He’s sometimes called “the father of the Inklings.” His children’s books are At the Back of the North Wind, The Princess and the Goblin, and The Princess and Curdie, and his fantasy novels are Phantastes and Lilith. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Picking up a copy of Phantastes one day at a train-station bookstall, I began to read. A few hours later, I knew that I had crossed a great frontier.” G.K. Chesterton said that MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin “made a difference to my whole existence.”
Dorothy L. Sayers, 1893-1957
Dorothy L. Sayers is familiar to many mystery readers as the creator of amateur sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey. Her translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy is considered one of the best. As a woman in those days, she was not admitted to the exclusively male ranks of The Inklings, although she was friends with C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams. She, like Lewis, and Chesterton, was a “lay theologian” and wrote Christian non-fiction, The Mind of the Maker being the most notable example. Her essay “The Lost Tools of Learning” serves as a manifesto for the classical education and home-schooling movements.
J.R.R. Tolkien, 1892-1973
With the publication of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien might be single-handedly responsible for the entire genre of modern fantasy literature–or at least its 20th-century revival. He was a linguist, a philologist, and a professor at Oxford University. He worked on his magnum opus on and off for decades. The Silmarillion was published after his death (and we owe his youngest son Christopher a great debt for all the work he did compiling his father’s piles and piles of notes, fragments, and stories, some finished and some unfinished, into publishable form.) What I find interesting about Tolkien is that he did not set out to be a fiction author, but he created Elf languages just for fun and then constructed a fictional world to explain the development of the languages. As an exercise in world-building, Middle-Earth is an incredible achievement.
Charles Williams, 1886-1945
Williams made his living as an editor at Oxford University Press, but his real profession–his true vocation, perhaps–was scholar and author. He was a “lay academic:” he wrote, published and lectured on scholarly topics even though he lacked a university degree. He was also an accomplished poet and author of “supernatural thrillers” (The Place of the Lion, War in Heaven, Descent Into Hell, others). And, like Lewis, Chesterton, and Sayers, he was a “lay theologian:” Descent of the Dove: A History of the Holy Spirit in the Church and He Came Down From Heaven.
The Marion E. Wade Center An excellent and absorbing website. For each author, they have a “Where to Begin Reading” section, which is nice because some of the authors a bit obscure, and some are so prolific one hardly knows what to read first. The links I’ve provided below are not exhaustive, but they’ll get you started.
Into the Wardrobe: A C.S. Lewis Website C.S. Lewis’s stepson Douglas Gresham has written an introduction to this site.
“A Literary Pilgrimage” An article I wrote for the National Catholic Register.
“Things Altogether Unexpected” a video produced by the Wade Center in 2012 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of The Hobbit.
 SPLANCHNICS stands for Society for the Preservation of Literature, the Arts, Numinosity, Culture, Humor, Nerdiness, Innovation and Creativity in Storytelling. Sometimes I forget what all the letters stand for and substitute “Inspiration” for “Innovation.”
The use of the word “splanchnic” as an anagram name for a club is not original with me. It was the name chosen in the 1980s by a literary society under the sponsorship of Dr. U. Milo Kaufman, professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. They came across the word “splanchnic” during a game of Dictionary and it just snowballed from there. (“Splanchnic” is a real word — it refers to a major artery and vein in the body that bring blood to and from the intestines.) Yes, I was a member, but I joined the group after they had already chosen the name. I took two classes from Dr. Kaufman: Science Fiction and The Literature of Fantasy. They were two of my favorite college courses ever. I still have my notes.
Did you like this article? Would you like to receive a note when new articles are posted? All you have to do is enter your email address in the box below. I don’t post terribly often, so there’s no danger of your email inbox getting swamped. And I promise — no spam! 🙂
What’s that, you say? What’s a “writer-in-residence?
(The definition above was adapted from the entry at dictionary.com)
Does it mean I live at the parish, like a little church mouse? 🙂 No, I just write a weekly book review for the Sunday bulletin and a monthly article or review for the religious education newsletter. The articles and reviews are archived below:
Architects of the Culture of Death (a review of the book by Benjamin Wiker and Donald De Marco)
The Great Divorce (a review of a C.S. Lewis classic)
Learn Philosophy in Seconds! (a review of The One-Minute Philosopher by Montague Brown)
Prefer Nothing to the Love of Christ (a review of The Rule of St. Benedict, translated by Timothy Fry)
Answers to Burning Questions About the Catholic Faith (a review of Did Adam and Eve Have Belly Buttons by Matthew Pinto and Did Jesus Have a Last Name? by Matthew Pinto and Jason Evert)
Catholics In Space! (a review of Voyage to Alpha Centauri by Michael O’Brien). I also reviewed this book for the National Catholic Register, and that review is here: “Humanity At Stake in Space.”
Our Treasure in Heaven (a review of Interior Freedom by Fr. Jacques Phillipe)
The Most Important Appointment of the Day (a review of Appointment With God by Fr. Michael Scanlon, T.O.R.)
From Radical Hatred to Radical Love (a review of the autobiography of former white supremacist Joseph Pearce).
How to Get Along With (Almost) Anybody: Read This Book (a review of The Temperament God Gave You by Art and Laraine Bennett)
Everything’s Comin’ Up Catholic, Part 1: Catholic Media Resources for the Whole Family (Catholic radio, television, and books)
Everything’s Comin’ Up Catholic: Part 2: Catholic Media Resources for the Whole Family (Catholic resources on the Internet)
Everything’s Comin’ Up Catholic: Part 3: Catholic Media Resources for the Whole Family (video, audio, and smartphone apps)
Summer’s on the Way: What to Read on the Plane or on the Beach (reviews of Father Elijah by Michael O’Brien, The Secret Cardinal by Tom Grace, The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic by Matthew Kelly, and Rediscover Catholicism by Matthew Kelly)
How did I get to be Writer-in-Residence?
The longer answer: I’ve been writing the monthly article for the religious education newsletter since 2005, so a couple years ago I approached the new pastor, showed him a portfolio of those articles plus a few other things I’d written, a photo of my whiteboard…
…and ideas of what else I could do at the parish. He really liked the idea of writing a book review for the Sunday bulletin, so I’ve been doing that since the summer of 2013. Other ideas include a parish book club, writing classes, readings by visiting Catholic authors, classes and presentations on Catholic literature, and collaborating with the art teacher at the parish school to hold an art fair, and building and maintaining a parish library.
It’s really fun! I write 500 words, usually on a new or classic spiritual book or other book Catholics would enjoy reading. Printed, it’s a half page column in the Sunday bulletin. Sometimes I change it up by writing about other things, like media resources and local places of interest.
What I’m reading now: I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
This is an oldie-but-goodie. It’s a “novel-in-stories,” or, if you prefer, a volume of linked short stories. All were previously published (most in Astounding Science Fiction from 1941-1950, one in Super Science Stories in 1941.) The original hardcover edition came out in 1950. My paperback edition was printed in 1970.
The epigraph in the front of the book gives us the famous 3 Laws of Robotics:
A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Most of the stories show human beings solving technical glitches in robot behavior. The hinge upon which the solution turns is always a paradoxical and insoluble dilemma brought on by conflicts among the 3 Laws. The robot goes haywire, and it’s up to the human beings to reason out the answer.
The main character, Dr. Susan Calvin, is a robopsychologist: she knows how robots think. On more than one occasion, she outwits a robot and makes it self-destruct under a withering blast of circular, self-contradictory, inescapable logic. (No doubt she was the inspiration for Captain Kirk’s many similar head-to-head combats with computers and androids.)
Authors of linked stories construct a framing device to link the stories together. The framing device of I, Robot is a series of interviews conducted by an unnamed narrator. He interviews Dr. Susan Calvin and, offscreen presumably, two other characters, field technicians Powell and Donovan.
The stories span ten years in Asimov’s development as a writer and thinker, and they are presented chronologically in order of publication. They increase in complexity and sophistication, from a rather basic yet ground-breaking story of a robot babysitter to a vision of a future world run by “thinking machines.”
Examples of other excellent “linked stories:”
1001 Arabian Nights — A despotic prince marries a different woman every night and has her executed in the morning. His latest bride, Scheherazade, saves her life by captivating her new husband with a story. The story is so good that he puts off her execution until the next day just so he can hear another story. This goes on for 1000 more nights, and by the end of it, the prince realizes that he loves Scheherazade and decides not to execute her after all.
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer — Various medieval characters travel together on a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Thomas Becket. Along the way, each one tells his or her “tale.”
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury, Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson, and The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor — The framing device is time and place: all the stories take place one summer in the life of a 12-year old Midwestern boy in the 1920s (Dandelion Wine), in the fictional town of Winesburg, Ohio in 1919 (Winesburg, Ohio), and in the same decaying urban neighborhood (The Women of Brewster Place).
The Marian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. Stories and vignettes in this collection are linked by their setting and theme: Earth of the future and the planet Mars.
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien — The stories are linked by the same situation — the Vietnam War — and are told mostly from the point-of-view of a first person narrator named “Tim.”
The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson — Chronicles 30 years in the life of the same Iowa family. The stories are told from the points-of-view of the various members of the family.
The Jungle Book (1894) and The Second Jungle Book (1895) by Rudyard Kipling — Stories about animals and people in India. Many of them are about Mowgli: one of, if not the original, boy raised by wolves.
The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank — The framing device is the main character, Jane, who chronicles episodes in her life coming-of-age as a woman in the modern world.
The Watson Chronicles by Ann Margaret Lewis — This book contains a double framing device: a series of mysteries solved by Sherlock Holmes and his companions, and a blossoming romance between Dr. Watson and a young woman.
James Herriot’s autobiographical veterinary stories — All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Things Wise and Wonderful, The Lord God Made Them All. As novels, each of the books is thinly plotted, serving as a frame for the entertaining anecdotes of Herriot’s life as a country animal doctor in northern England of the 30s and 40s. Most of the chapters stand alone as stories. Indeed, special collections of Herriot’s stories have been released: Dog Stories, Cat Stories, and various children’s picture books, later compiled as James Herriot’s Treasury for Children.
 “Robbie.” First published as “Strange Playfellow” in Super Science Stories. 1940.
 “The Evitable Conflict.” Astounding Science Fiction. 1950.
Update 2021: My daughter and I discuss The Martian Chronicles and other linked stories in Season 2, Episodes 7 & 8 of our podcast, Splanchnics.