Category Archives: Event Write-Up

Story Stew Served Hot in the Chicago Cold
by Corey Klinzing

Gumbo Gater 2This past week was so cold and inhospitable that the Gumbo Fiction Salon felt the need to knock down their already low cover by half, hoping to get people to brave the weather and come out to the cozy Galway Arms for their usual once-monthly reading. They needn’t have bothered—the crowd may have been small, but they were dedicated and welcoming, and as warm and enthusiastic a crowd as I have ever seen in an open mic. Watching them react was almost as entertaining as listening to the readers.

As a veteran of coffee-shop open-mics, where half the patrons are simply trying to get through their own work, and ignoring the writer on stage, the Salon was almost refreshing. Here there was nothing but interest, and even before the readings the regulars were more than willing to strike up a conversation and welcome you into their set. I’d made sure to wear a Doctor Who shirt to grease the wheels, since I’m not an effortless extrovert, and I was almost immediately drawn into conversation. Between the generous air of the Salon’s usual crowd and the comfortable atmosphere of the Galway Arms’ second floor, all warm colors and wood panels, I hardly felt my awkward self at all.

The bent of the Gumbo Fiction Salon, which calls itself a “Chicago’s Multi-Genre Story Stew” is crooked decidedly towards the fantastic genres (fantasy, science fiction, horror); Isaac Asimov was a guest of honor on the book table towards the back, and most of the readers listed that way. But the Salon doesn’t limit itself merely to what we call genre fiction. The featured reader, or readers I should say, were Polarity Ensemble Theater actors Rian Jairell, Allison McCorkle, and Margo Chervony, and Richard Engling, preforming from Engling’s novel, Visions of Anna, which deals with the death of a loved one and the presumed hereafter. From those who braved the ten-minute slots of the open mic, I heard bits of novels and grand adventures in foreign climes, and short stories: a young boy witnessed his brother’s sacrifice for their village, a bartender sent his patrons out to kill complete strangers made to look like their ex-lovers, a vegetable expedition was lost to the briny deep. Anything and everything was represented in some fashion or another, even in the writers themselves: experienced short story writers, playwrights, and novelists shared the stage with those still learning the craft.

One thing that the Salon founder and host, Tina Jens, made a point of doing was getting each reader’s autograph after they finished their turn at the mic. It’s a vote of confidence, as if she knows they’ll all go on to do great things and wants to get in there early. And from what I heard that night, I’m sure quite a few of them will.

I definitely recommend the Salon for new and upcoming writers, from those who want a little publicity for their latest published piece, to those who just need a few friendly ears for what they’re working on now. The regulars of this Galway Arms staple will be more than happy to provide. Just remember to bring a little cash if you want to get past the first floor.

The Gumbo Fiction Salon is held at Galway Arms, 2442 N Clark St, on the third Wednesday of each month, starting at 7 pm, and will feature Rhysling winner and author of The Breaker Queen, C.S.E. Cooney on  March 11, and the authors of Exigencies: A Neo-Noir Anthology from Dark House Press on April 15. The cover is $4 per person, $2 for students of every stripe.


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Scott Turow Champions the Rights of Authors in the Digital Age
by Alba Machado



What merits a rally? What calls for bullhorns and protest signs instead of just an angry letter to the editor? In this world of government sanctioned torture and fatal racial profiling, it’s sometimes hard to tell. Yesterday evening, for example, when Scott Turow spoke to a polite audience of writers at the Harold Washington Library on the “Rights of Authors in the Digital Age,” I wanted us outside, in the cold, warmed by the heat of our shared outrage. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a pithy, musical chant for Turow’s overall exhortation, that “the doctrine of fair use needs to be reexamined with an eye towards the digital world,” but I believe it’s worth chanting about. After all, what’s at stake is the future of reading and writing, or, as Turow puts it, “the transmission of culture.”

“Authors’ income streams are being rapidly depleted by the digital revolution,” says Turow. Basically, it’s getting harder and harder for writers to make a living—when maybe it should be getting easier. E-books are significantly cheaper to produce and distribute, and yet big book publishing companies are sharing less of the profits with their authors, not more, even as they have been drastically cutting back on the editing and marketing support they provide. Turow cites Harper Collins as an example, saying that it bragged to its stockholders about cutting author profits nearly in half with digital technology. A quick Google search turns up the exact numbers in an Amazing Stories article: after costs, authors get 42.5% of the profit from print books and only 25% from e-books.

And speaking of Google, it, too, poses a threat to the livelihood of writers, as do all search engines—by supporting pirate sites funded by advertisers, mostly pornographers. Do a search for “free Scott Turow book” and Google will lead you right to the pirates. Turow likens it to going up to some guy on a street corner to find out where you can score heroin nearby. Eventually, this guy, if he keeps directing customers to drug dealers, and he gets caught, he’ll get into some big legal trouble. But thanks to the “safe harbor” provision in digital copyright laws, search engines need not fear any such repercussions. Even worse, Google itself scanned and digitized 20 million books in 2004—and seven million of them are still in copyright. Sure, it only provides 250-word snippets of the copyrighted material, but that’s allowing it to make money that it does not share with either authors or publishers. Also, it’s taking it upon itself to put these works at risk. “If someone can hack the department of defense library, how hard is it to hack into these seven million books and release them into the world, eliminating that income stream for writers?”

Not surprisingly, Amazon is also high up on Turow’s list of culprits. By selling e-books at a loss and enlisting Wall Street patronage, it has been using the principles of the creative destruction school of capitalism to effectively, as Turow puts it, “club competitors into extinction”—including brick-and-mortar bookstores, which were “already limping.” At this point, Amazon sells 67% of all e-books and 64% of all print books sold online. It owns, the world’s largest producer of downloadable audiobooks; AbeBooks, the largest online marketplace for used, rare, and out-of-print books; and BookSurge and CreateSpace, two of the largest print-on-demand companies. And it’s continuing to grow. “Just imagine if we had just one movie studio or one television network,” says Turow. “I freely admit that I’m a Prime member. But I don’t buy books from Amazon. They have competitors for underpants, but not books.”

This lecture, it wasn’t the collection of cautionary tales I imagined it would be—a list of common pitfalls to watch out for in publishing. We’re not talking about a few shady characters taking advantages of loopholes in the system; we’re talking about the whole system being abhorrently corrupt, rigged to sweeten the already-too-syrupy pots of corporations while starving writers. That warrants a rally, doesn’t it? Or, at the very least, a call to become more informed about intellectual property laws and to add our voices to the strength-in-numbers of the Authors Guild, the nation’s leading advocate for writers’ interests in effective copyright protection, fair contracts, and free expression. And if, like me, you’re up for chanting, how about: Corporations must be taught! Fair use here cannot be bought!


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Please Don’t Move This Chair: Nina Sankovitch at The Book Cellar
by Jess Millman

Letter Writing


Banana bread, root beer, and weekday night readings – you’re probably at The Book Cellar. If you were there last Wednesday night, you’d have been sitting with me in the tight, country kitchen geometry of their café, listening to Nina Sankovitch (author of Tolstoy and the Purple Chair) read us bits and bobs from her newest book, Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Celebrating the Joys of Letter Writing.

Sleeve the cheese off the title; the veal inside is good. Signed, Sealed, Delivered is not a simple letter collection reprint or a preachy lament about the lost art of honest-to-God handwriting. Sankovitch has written a memoir interlocked with a historian’s desire to discover people by reassembling – piecemeal – their words, memories, ink blots, and willowy penmanship. The book (and Wednesday’s talk) began with the story that in turn began the book: a steamer trunk of old college letters found inside a writer’s new home. She read us passages from inside that trunk, mostly consisting of a homesick freshman’s thoughts to his mother in the early 1900s. They are the peacefully mundane stuff of daily life: someone is cavorting, someone will study tomorrow, someone is about to receive a tuition bill. But one of those keepsakes, not more than a scribble on a loose page, stands out: “PLEASE DO NOT MOVE THIS CHAIR.”

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