Event Review: Kathleen Rooney at American Writers Museum

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By Paige Gilberg
Contributor to The Underground

On April 11, 2018, author Kathleen Rooney visited the American Writers Museum to celebrate the paperback launch of her newest novel, Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk. On December 31, 1984, Lillian Boxfish strolls through Manhattan, recalling events from her past and confronting the realities of a changing America.

Rooney, an English and Creative Writing professor at DePaul, has published a variety of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction works. Her most recent book, Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk, is a national bestseller. Published in 2017 by St. Martin’s Press, the novel has also received glowing reviews from the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, Booklist, and other notable publications.

Wednesday’s event began with Rooney reading from the first chapter of Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, titled “The Road of Anthracite.” The reading was followed by a Q&A session, facilitated by AWM program director Allison Sansone. The night closed with a book signing.

Rooney drew an impressive crowd and provided great insights on her writing process for Lillian Boxfish and beyond. She discussed Margaret Fishback, the highest-paid female copywriter of the 1930s and the inspiration for the novel’s protagonist. Other topics discussed included her interactions with Fishback’s son during the editing process and her publishing work with Rose Metal Press.

When asked where Lillian would fit in at present day, Rooney took some time to think. She determined that she would be an excellent cultural critic, maybe even a writer for VICE.

As for what’s next, Rooney shared that she has completed a collections of stories titled The Listening Room. She also shared that she is currently working on a WWI story about US Army officer Charles Whittlesey.

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Reporting from London: Student Column

Caitlyn Ward is a DePaul English major, currently studying abroad. Here, she shares her experiences as an intern at Simon & Schuster in London.

Stepping into a brand-new country and culture wasn’t easy. Nor was thinking about the fact that I had gotten an internship at one of the “Big Five” publishing companies, my first internship ever, in the United Kingdom. I was terrified.

The transition, however, was easy. Going through DePaul into this program surrounded me with DePaul students, along with a support system through the company that operates this program, CEA. My first week in London was nothing but orientations, explorations, and most importantly, sleep – giving me enough time to get comfortable with my surroundings before throwing me into classes at London South Bank University and the responsibilities of my internship. Mostly, I had to adjust to the feeling of actually being in London. I always had wanted to study abroad, but now it was really happening. I couldn’t believe it.

Flashback to October, when I decided that I wanted to be a part of this study abroad program as not only a student, but an intern. When I was being placed for an internship, I was told it was a long shot to get into a publishing company in the UK. It was competitive, cut-throat, and I should have a backup. So, let’s just say that I wasn’t expecting some flashy internship—more like a mom-and-pop publisher that would take me under their wing so I could gain some much-needed experience. I was floored when I heard that I would be interviewing with Simon & Schuster and I was even more in shock when I got the position. My biggest dream was coming true within a few short months.

This being my first internship, I was a wreck. I wanted to live up to their expectations and perform at the level that they needed me to and beyond. This was my dream job, heck, this was more than my dream job, this was Simon & Schuster, the publishing company that most everyone has heard of. I was excited, but also scared – what would I do if I didn’t like it? Would I have to go back to square one? Those thoughts were in the back of my mind as I walked through the door on my first day, palms sweaty with anticipation.

Now I’m two months into my four-month internship. The first day was overwhelming and scary, but everyone proved to be welcoming and understanding that I’m the American among a sea of Brits. I read manuscripts, fan mail, search for the rights to photos, and find quotes for the reprinted paperback copies. Every day something new comes my way. I get to walk around the office and see the art for book sleeves, the new children’s book illustrations, and the bound proofs that aren’t even edited yet. The life of the book unfolds before my eyes and I get to be a part of the process.

The best part about this internship so far is that every single person in that office is excited when a novel comes to life. As my supervisor said: the feeling never goes away—you could work on one page of a story and when you see the book, bound with a shiny cover sleeve on it, you feel the same excitement as when you held your first published project in hand. I walked into this program and into this internship worried that I wouldn’t be able to make it or that I wouldn’t enjoy it enough to make it a career. But when I feel that heartwarming, adrenaline-filled rush that comes with adding to this world’s culture, I know I want to pursue a career in the book-publishing industry.

Book Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

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By Caitlyn Ward, contributor to the Underground

Clay Jannon, hit with the hard times of the recession, has been shuffled away from his life as a San Francisco corporate drone and has been plopped right down into the tall and daunting aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Working the night shift, Clay soon discovers that this strange and dusty store is more curious than he could ever have imagined. The customers are few and far between, and while there are some random passers-by, there is also a small community that frequents the store often. These eccentric customers borrow from a mysterious, and quite tall, section of the store, habitually checking out large and strange volumes that Clay has been warned not to read. As it becomes more evident that these regulars belong to some strange kind of book club, Clay’s interest in these bizarre volumes grows. Succumbing to his suspicions, Clay engineers an analysis of the bookstore and the behavior of its clientele. With the help of his romantic interest, a data analyst for Google, his roommate, a special effects artist, and his best friend, a successful designer of a “boob-simulation software,” Clay sets out on a quest to discover the secrets that lie far beyond this bookstore’s walls.

In a world where the book is threatened by advancements in technology, the author, Robin Sloan, takes on the intersection between old and new media. Sloan crafts a warm and enjoyable novel, while also raising questions about the power that books and technology contain in today’s society. He does this by bringing these issues to attention, but never pushes these thoughts rudely to the head at the expense of the story. Sloan creates a quirky constellation of characters, such as Clay Jannon and Mr. Penumbra himself, as they work together to solve the 500-year-old puzzle that lies within these peculiar texts. The many references to technology places the novel firmly in the present day. Although Clay and his friends encounter setbacks, they live in a world that provides the answers in one simple Google search. Sloan seamlessly marries these new ideas of technology with old-school paper and ink and the cleverness of it all makes the story hard to put down. By creating a novel that is simultaneously a love letter to books, a meditation on technology and its limits, a mysterious adventure, and a requiem, Sloan is able to tackle the cohabitation of old and new media in today’s world. Rendered with irresistible language, interesting characters, and dazzling wit, Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore creates an intriguing world in which you have to enter, and will not want to leave.

Event Review: Career Panel on Editing

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By Caitlyn Ward, contributor to the Underground

On Wednesday, October 18 in Arts and Letters Hall, the English department held a career night featuring a panel of editors. Wendy McClure, senior editor at Albert Whitman and Company, Kate DeVivo, VP at Agate Publishing, and Donna Seaman, editor for Booklist and the recipient of the James Friend Memorial Award for Literary Criticism, shared what it takes to make it in the world of editing and publishing.

Wendy works in children’s publishing, Kate in developmental publishing, and Donna in the world of book reviews; each career requires passion and creativity. Seeing these women talk about the love they have for their jobs reassured me that this was a field in which I want to work, and hearing about their different backgrounds inspired me to think about all the different career paths an English major can take. Each woman spoke highly of the challenges that come with editing and how each day was a small puzzle in making sure that this book, magazine, or textbook goes out into the world to positively impact readers.

Donna spoke about the need to be inventive, critical, and curious when evaluating any piece of literature. The panel also touched upon the importance of dabbling in different areas of publishing. For instance, you might go from working on cookbooks to working on children’s books, and each experience will add to your understanding of the publishing process. After listening to this panel of women, I took away a valuable lesson: have passion. Whether it’s love for an author, a genre of literature, or a project you hope to work on, a love of English is a must. Seeing three publishing professionals so enthusiastic about their work was inspiring and has made my love of literature, as well as my respect for those who work to bring new books and ideas to readers, grow.

Crook & Folly Open Mic Night, Submission Deadline Extended

By Robert M. Keding
contributor to the Underground

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On a rainy Thursday night in the University Center for Writing-Based Learning, over twenty-five DePaul students and alumni gathered to share their work—poetry, fiction, flash fiction, and dramatic literature. Almost everybody who attended ended up sharing a piece for the group, with many of the readers being members of Crook & Folly or the Writing Center, the two organizations which collaborate to host such open mic nights every year. Many of the attendees, in fact, are repeats from previous open mics, finding past events so beneficial that they can’t help but come back.

Crook & Folly, DePaul’s own award-winning literary magazine, is accepting submissions for their 2017 issue through March 8th. They accept poetry, fiction, and flash fiction, and are seeking dramatic lit and creative nonfiction submissions in particular. This is a great way for aspiring or accomplished writers to get their work published and read within DePaul and the broader Chicago literary community.

To submit your work and learn more about Crook & Folly, visit their Facebook page.

Event Spotlight: Visiting Writers Kathleen Rooney, Martin Seay

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by Robert M. Keding
contributor to the Underground

Packed in to a small meeting room in DePaul’s Richardson Library, a large audience gathered to hear authors Kathleen Rooney and Martin Seay read selections from their newest novels, and then answer questions on their creative processes and experiences within the literary world.

Martin Seay’s book is entitled The Mirror Thief, and follows three different con artists working in sixteenth-century Venice, 1950s Venice Beach, California, and modern-day Las Vegas in the Venice Casino. This bold debut novel, weaving together these three seemingly separate but mysteriously linked narratives, is a masterfully written tale, evoking comparisons to such work as Cloud Atlas.

Seay’s advice to aspiring writers is to do a lot of background research, especially for period pieces like The Mirror Thief. “Even if you have the facts and details right, you still have to make sure the dialogue flows correctly too. Otherwise you might just end up with characters that sound like the people faking British accents on the subway,” he told the crowd. To get the sixteenth-century portions of the story sounding right, he found himself reading a lot of literature of that time—especially Shakespeare.

Kathleen Rooney spoke about her recent novel, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk. This is her second novel, and was just published by St. Martin’s Press in the first weeks of 2017. The story chronicles an aging Lillian, going for a stroll around New York City and recounting various moments during her life, from humble beginnings to a career as the highest-paid woman in American advertising.

Rooney’s advice touched on the differences between writing prose and poetry, another realm of literature which she is invested in. “It’s possible to accidentally sit down and write a great poem. It’s a task so durationally shorter and full of so many chances for happy mistakes… It is, however, much more difficult to sit down for an hour or two and come up saying, ‘Whoops, I just accidentally wrote a really well-crafted novel!’” The room, undoubtedly filled with aspiring writers, could certainly relate.

Be sure to look for The Mirror Thief and Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, in bookstores now.

Event Spotlight: Curbside Splendor’s Book Fort Fair

by Robert M. Keding
contributor to the Underground

Upon entering the Revival Food Hall, visitors feel the cold and snowy outside world fade away. Long aisles filled with people spread as far as the eye can see, encompassed by a warm glow of laughter and conversation. The Food Hall is filled with over a dozen different stations run by some of Chicagoland’s best restaurants, serving up their most popular dishes in all tastes and styles. The Food Hall is packed even on their slowest days, but things are especially hopping today. And that is because Curbside Splendor’s pop-up Book Fort Fair is currently underway.

Curbside Splendor is a Chicago-based independent book press, based out of Humboldt Park. In 2014 they were named the “Best Chicago Indie Publisher” by CHICAGO magazine. Curbside is the home of such fantastic work as Steve Himmer’s Scratch and Toni Nealie’s The Miles Between Me. Recently, they opened a book and record store in the Revival Food Hall, where they sell their work, the work of other independent presses, and hold events such as novella contests, literary readings, and book fairs like this one, to engage the public with Chicago’s ever-growing and prospering literary scene.

The Book Fort Fair, at first glance, seems to be their biggest event yet. Many tables line the already-crowded aisles towards the hall’s center, their surfaces packed with an unimaginable array of overlooked and underappreciated novels from Midwest authors. Representatives from Curbside stand beside their tables, speaking enthusiastically about the work, making connections and recommendations with the Hall’s visitors. The air is electric, as diners not only share the food on their plates, but also stories.

As the weather gets colder, and the days grow shorter, consider visiting the Revival Food Hall, located at 125 S. Clark Street in downtown Chicago’s Loop. Grab some friends, grab some food, and stop by Curbside Splendor’s shop to grab a good book to top the day off.

The shop is open from 11:00 AM to 7:00 PM on weekdays. They are closed on weekends, except during special events such as the book fairs. Visit their website for more information.