Event Spotlight: Visiting Writers Kathleen Rooney, Martin Seay

lillianmirror-thief

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.

Much Ado About an English Major Career

by Robert M. Keding
contributor to the Underground

It’s a dreary Tuesday evening on DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus when Annette Hobbs Magier, Abby Saul, and Naomi Hoffman take the stage for a panel discussion on finding careers in publishing. Before them, in the small lecture hall, sit approximately fifty English majors, each with the same question on their minds: What in the world am I going to do when I graduate?

“I became the world’s best folder of children’s polos.”

For Magier, the answer was simple: “I’d always wanted to be [a magazine] editor, no doubt in my mind.” So how, then, did she go from that near-certain future to working in the boiler room of a Staten Island Ferry, then the children’s clothing section of Marshall Field’s, and now to the top of the marketing department for the publishing house Albert Whitman & Company? Well, to be frank, she doesn’t quite know herself.

Magier’s first inkling that editing was not in the cards came during a post-undergraduate NYU summer publishing program. “Have you all seen The Devil Wears Prada?” she asks the crowd. “Well the magazine [editing] world is exactly like that, not even kidding—absolutely cutthroat.” So Magier changed her plans and began to think creatively. She set her sights on New York City, home to the ‘Big Five’ publishing houses. But she couldn’t just get up and settle down halfway across the country overnight. “My father was a ship captain, so he was able to get me a job working below deck on a boat they were moving from the Great Lake to use in New York as a ferry… I told him how great of a story this was gonna make, and how it’d get my foot in the door… I was totally gonna make it—I didn’t make it.”

She did find herself in job interviews, however, with employers intrigued by her atypical resume. And it was in one such interview, at HarperCollins, where she learned the most useful lesson of her entire career—never limit yourself. She accepted a position in rights management, the kind of place where “nobody wants to be,” clearing the use of book excerpts for school textbooks. She eventually rolled on up into the Marketing Department, finding herself working with children’s books, no less, the very sort of thing she’d taken a liking to at her part-time job in the youth clothing section of Marshall Field’s. “It wasn’t a likely path, and it wasn’t what I planned, but I love what I do now,” she tells the room, a large smile spreading across her face. It seems that in life, just like in our favorite novels, the best endings are often the most unpredictable ones.

“I spent my senior year of college freaking out.”

Abby Saul had an unusual entry into the publishing world. Also wanting to be an editor, Saul enrolled in the same NYU program as Magier, with equally uncertain results. She recalls that by the final event of the summer, a job fair, she didn’t even bother attending. “I decided to just start being an online pest… I emailed literally everyone I could, looking for an opening.” An opening which she got when offered a small role working production: “It was my job to take the book from its finalized manuscript form, and to turn it into an actual finished product—something you could hold in your hands.” Saul had never before considered this part of the publishing process, let alone conceived it as something she might be interested in. “The first thing I worked on was doing touchup and Photoshop for a textbook entitled Structural Concrete,” she recounts, chuckling to herself along with the rest of the audience. “Not very interesting, I know.”

Fortunately, Saul soon moved her way up from Structural Concrete to such work as the Betty Crocker cookbooks. She found doing color correction on chocolate chip cookies much more enthralling than highway overpasses, but there was still more ladder-climbing to do: “Sometimes, in order to progress, you have to leave the place you’re at, jump over into some other publishing house or capacity, and then start working your way up again there.”

Eventually, Saul decided the next best move was to strike out on her own path. Just this past year she has become a freelance agent, a liaison between authors and publishing houses. “The slush pile is a real thing,” she tells the crowd. “Agented manuscripts get seen first in the business… Even as just a new agent I receive around 200 queries a week to sort through.” Although her path forward is not grounded, Saul is optimistic, quite liking the freedom that being her own boss affords her. Unlike other career paths which are clear and predetermined, publishing seems more about doing your own thing. Perhaps it is quite fitting that in such a creative industry, it is so often up to authors to write their own chapters in life.

“I ate peanut butter sandwiches for an entire summer.”

Naomi Hoffman starts off her tale by reminiscing about the time not so long ago when she would have been one of the students listening in the audience. As her senior year drew to a close, her parents kept asking what the plan was for life after graduation, a question all of us English majors have undoubtedly heard a few dozen too many times. Her response? “I’m not sure yet… I’m an artist, Mom.”

Her first summer after graduation was rough. She was strapped for cash and “just sort of listed about.” But, much like Magier and Saul, it was only because of this struggle that opportunities developed. Among other odd jobs, Hoffman found herself babysitting. And even though such work seems far from applicable on an English major’s resume (much like working the boilers on a ferry), she found it one of the most relevant experiences of her career: “Taking care of three kids at one time told me more about publishing than anything else in the world.”

One of Hoffman’s first industry jobs was redeveloping the literary section of Newcity magazine, then in its infancy. The path wasn’t easy, however. The magazine had few resources, and Hoffman found herself working very part time for little, sometimes no money. The hope was that if her new literary section was successful enough, the company would grow as a result, opening up space for her. In the meantime she worked more odd jobs, including “mindless” office work, but eventually she was brought onboard. She is also currently the Editor in Chief of Curbside Splendor, a small indie publishing house in Chicago which recently opened its own bookstore in the South Loop. In these capacities, Hoffman is able to spread her love for literature. It seems that ‘off-the-beaten-track’ is right up her alley.

But it was the final piece of advice that night which was perhaps the most poignant, echoed by all three members of the panel. That is—once you find a job, once you find a position which pays the bills and gets your foot in the door, ask yourself, “Is this where I really want to be?” As all three publishers proved, it is oh so easy to get stuck within your own headspace when it comes to what the future holds. But the most important thing we can do is to trust our gut, pursuing not necessarily what pays the most in money but what lends the most in love. Because even though publishing is an industry and writing novels is a business, we can’t lose sight of what drew us to literature in the first place—our hearts.

A Celebration of the Short Story

by Albora Memushi
contributor to the Underground

On Thursday, October 13th, in Room 115 of the Richardson Library, students and professors prepared to begin A Celebration of the Short Story. Cupcakes, fruits, and sodas were displayed to the right of the room. As some ate a quick bite, others mingled with writers Christine Sneed and Kristin FitzPatrick or discussed the events of their day. The seats filled quickly, and some individuals had to stand up along the wall. The writers took their seats and the event began promptly at six in the evening.

The moderator gave a quick welcome and introduced both authors.

Christine Sneed teaches creative writing for the MFA programs at Northwestern University and the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign. The Virginity of Famous Men is her fourth book. Other books include Little Known Facts, Portraits of a Few of the People I’ve Made Cry, and Paris, He Said.

Kristin FitzPatrick is a DePaul alum and teaches at DePaul’s School for New Learning. Her debut book, My Pulse Is An Earthquake, is a collection of short stories that was published in 2015. Kristin was primarily a film student at DePaul, prior to switching her major to English.

FitzPatrick read “A New Kukla” from My Pulse Is An Earthquake. After a round of applause, Sneed introduced her new story collection The Virginity of Famous Men and read “Roger Weber Would Like To Stay.”

Another round of applause followed and the moderator invited the audience to ask their questions.

When asked about the ways teaching informs their writing, Sneed jumped in with a smile: “Teaching has made me a better writer.” FitzPatrick said, “Teaching and writing complement each other for me. I see myself as a student in my own class.”

Among other things, Sneed and FitzPatrick discussed the different ways their writing is influenced by film and Hollywood. Said Sneed, “Having unmediated experiences is often hard to come by. Having a chance to write fiction, or nonfiction or a poem, you enter a part of your brain that is informed by fantasies.”

Being an English major, I adored this event. I always look forward to such events to learn and explore the different possibilities that are available for English majors. Within an hour we were introduced to two new wonderful books and we learned some of the ins and outs of being a writer.

Kristin FitzPatrick and Christine Sneed were most kind as they shared their own experiences in the publishing world with the audience and joyfully gave us advice on how to be persistent in creating our paths as writers.

Do More Things: Navigating Post-grad Opportunities for English Majors

by Valerie Walker
contributor to the Underground

“Do more things. Do different things,” Gabrielle Zenoni, the Canine Manager at the Animal Care League and one of the speakers at Tuesday’s career workshop “From Major to Minor,” reflected on what she’d tell her undergraduate self if she could go back in time.

Sitting in a lecture room with a couple dozen people, all fellow English majors, makes a person immediately introspective. Everyone in the room had heard the canned, “So you want to be a teacher?” question from puzzled friends and family, those trying to understand why we’d pick such an “unspecialized” field for our Future. The reigning feeling in the room was that even though English appeals to different personalities, it draws similar spirits.

Tuesday’s panel of professionals all had done something decidedly non-English with their degrees. It’s usually intimidating and weighty, other people’s success. However, throughout the first half hour, the panel detailed their unconventional career paths: Dean of Culture, Legislative Director, Public Relations Specialist, Research Associate, Canine Manager—not exactly typical English-major jobs. Finally, they started unraveling those “endless possibilities” we hear about but rarely see.

Each panel member revealed the key skills they gained from their English undergraduate that they regularly use in their current jobs, skills they think many English majors don’t even recognize they have. There were two major themes that cohesively ran through each person’s identified skills: communication and empathy. These skills were chiefly responsible for setting them apart from other job applicants in non-traditional career fields. For example, a market analyst from here at DePaul, Coleen Dickman, described her experience interviewing for her current position by explaining that the other candidates were techy, scientific, market-savvy, etc. What set her apart was her ability to construct coherent marketing materials, something she was prepared for through her English education.

Other candidates had similar stories, some even saying that employers are going to train their new employees regardless of their degree specialty, but they can’t train them in critical, empathetic, and basic grammatical skills. Gabrielle Zenoni said that her reading countless novels, writing from different perspectives, and critically working to understand other characters’ emotions through English study fostered her ability to empathize with people—and with animals. Even though she doesn’t do a lot of writing or “reading Dickens” in her current job as Canine Manager, she feels her background in English has given her skills pertinent to her job.

In a different reflection on the past, Annie Davis, a former teacher and current Director at the Education Pioneers in Chicago, expressed her regret over choosing to teach after college. She chose it because she loved literature, not because she loved teaching children. This example is pertinent even beyond those considering a career in education, and speaks to our desire to pursue something because it’s easy, expected, or conventional. The vein of this panel was to dispel the fear of pursuing niche jobs, the ones we don’t hear about at career fairs or on a Google search of “Top 10 Careers for English Majors.”

The last consensus among the panelists was on the subject of internships. They all agreed that they should have pursued internships that diverged from writing, publishing, education, etc. They encouraged the attendees to apply for internships (and jobs) that explicitly express interest in students with different majors: economics, marketing, biology. These positions will push English majors to sell themselves and the skills they’ve developed that wouldn’t be listed in a job posting. On the subject of internships, Professor Chris Green, who emails internship opportunities to English majors, shared that only around half of the posts get filled because students are afraid to apply, thinking they’re unqualified. He encouraged students, saying, “You shouldn’t feel bad if you don’t know what you want to do.”

That thought brought us full circle back to Gabrielle Zenoni’s “Do more things. Do different things.” Try an internship in an unconventional field, market your invaluable communication skills, and never forget the skills learned in an English major are preparation for niche careers with thousands of job titles never heard of that may be the perfect fit!

Making a Case for the Multi-Major

by Austin Shepard Woodruff
contributor to the Underground

Pick a major, follow the path set out ahead, and slowly tick off the requirements class by class. For most students, one major is more than enough to fill up the weeks of the quarter, and especially for programs that demand a student’s presence, attention, energy, and time outside the classroom, this single-major style of learning becomes a central focus in a student’s life. This style is often layered with repetition of a certain skill set. Upon graduation, students may have tendencies to categorize knowledge in particular ways rooted in place for the rest of their learning processes. ‘One major, one minor’ becomes a degree whose specificity marks its limitations. But this is only one way to approach an education. I believe that learning in formal educational settings is altogether more effective, more productive, and more powerful when students pursue more than one field of study.

I study literature and philosophy here at DePaul University and can vouch for the success of applying skills learned in literature classes to demands in philosophy classes. In the Humanities, especially, the skills one develops in a certain field are applicable to other fields. As a literature major, I learn to critically analyze literary texts and the construction of cultural identities; as a philosophy major I learn to engage with philosophical texts to grasp the frameworks of cultural foundations. Language and truth are as intertwined as literature and philosophy. One is the organ that functions; the other is the expression, the representation, of that function. Philosophy and literature affect one another—indeed they perpetuate one another, and frequently their respective grammars overlap.

The literature major develops a skill set that prepares a student for critical analysis; applying this faculty to other areas of learning becomes immediate and instinctual. The literature program, and other programs in the English Department, offers space for students to navigate their thought processes and explain themselves clearly in relation to specific cultural contexts. These are necessary talents for further studies and for success beyond the undergraduate degree. To study “literature” without “philosophy” may thwart the realization of potentially harmonious paths to knowledge. This is true of not only the pairing of philosophy and literature, but of all multi-majors. The multi-major shapes meaning and understanding in ways that create opportunity for further learning. Intersecting majors create a dynamic learning experience that goes beyond the usual narrow vision for opportunity in education.

Real learning happens in surpassing boundaries and overcoming limits, be they at the edge of epistemological frameworks or embedded in the very structure of belief. Ask of your discipline: what holds you? What do you hold? Ask yourself: how should we learn? How should I learn? While it is valuable to appreciate institutional strategies for organization of knowledge, so too is the questioning and reinvention of those strategies for every student.  Does ‘one major, one minor’ leave room for growth? Does it instill a sense of wonder for the multiplicity of the world? Does it inspire a thirst for meaning that defies enclosure? Readers should meditate on their choice of study carefully, especially at the beginning of every quarter and every school year. We should make a point to consider how we are learning and what we can do differently to appreciate the many changing modes of discovery in our world. Pursuing more than one major may be the first step.

Write for the Underground!

hands-coffee-cup-appleCalling all DePaul English majors! Are you looking for more ways to get your writing out there? Do you enjoy attending literary events?

The Underground is looking for student contributors to write short, informal articles for the website. Gain writing experience, build your resume, and get involved in the literary community at DePaul and beyond.

The pieces would be 1,200 words or less. We are open to interviews, event recaps, and any noteworthy topics in keeping with the Underground’s mission statement.

If you are interested in writing for the Underground, email Underground editor Anne Terashima at aterashi@depaul.edu. Anne will then email you each Monday with a list of possible article topics. If you see one that interests you, let her know by 10 a.m. Tuesday. Turnaround time is 1-3 days, depending on the topic.

Here is a sample of what next Monday’s topics email will include:

If you have an idea that is not listed, please pitch it to aterashi@depaul.edu.

We look forward to working with you!