Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Posts Tagged ‘Oak Park

Writing the future in Oak Park

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I just wanted to mention that there are still a few slots available for a workshop that I’m teaching tomorrow—modestly titled “Writing Science Fiction that Sells”—at the house of my friend Mary Anne Mohanraj in Oak Park, Illinois. Here’s the full description:

Saturday January 26
332 Wisconsin Avenue, Oak Park, IL
9:00-10:30am: Writing Science Fiction that Sells

Science fiction offers a thriving audience for short stories, but it can be hard for beginners to break into professional markets, and even established writers can have trouble making consistent sales. We’ll discuss strategies for writing stories that are compelling from the very first page, based on the principles of effective characterization, plot structure, and worldbuilding, with examples drawn from a wide range of authors and publications. During the class, Alec will plot out the opening of an original SF story, based on ideas generated by participants. Members will also have the option of submitting a short story for critique.

Cost: $50. Registration Max: 15

You can register for the event here. If you use the coupon code “12345,” you can get twenty percent off the registration fee. Hope to see some of you there!

Written by nevalalee

January 25, 2019 at 10:57 am

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A word from your author

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Author video for City of Exiles

With only four days remaining until the release of City of Exiles, my vast promotional machine is kicking into something resembling high gear. If you’re in the Chicago area today, I’ll be appearing at a local authors event at the Oak Park Public Library at 2pm, where advance copies of the new novel will be on sale. And if you can’t make it, you can at least enjoy this promotional video, which I recorded last summer and is finally available online. Looking at it now, I’m more amused by it than anything else, both by the fact that they cut half an hour of material down to just over a minute—probably wisely—and by the enormous microphone clipped to my shirt. But if you’ve been dying to see me in action, here’s your chance.

Written by nevalalee

December 1, 2012 at 7:30 am

Chris Ware’s book of dreams

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“Can you describe how drawing feels?”
“It feels horrible.”

This exchange occurred last weekend at the Unity Temple in Oak Park between an audience member and the cartoonist Chris Ware, our most gifted visual storyteller. The sentiment it expresses will be familiar to anyone who knows Ware’s work, which lavishes incredible ingenuity, craft, and technical skill on stories of everyday tragedy—and not violent or melodramatic tragedy, either, but carefully observed vignettes of mediocrity and quiet desperation, all of which lead to the inevitable conclusion that we’re all going to die alone. If this makes Ware sound like an introverted depressive, well, maybe he is. But in person, he’s a funny, engaging, self-deprecating guy whose air of discomfort in public is partially offset by what seems to be a contented personal life, as well as the fact that he’s arguably the most acclaimed graphic artist of his generation. As long as Chris Ware lives in my neighborhood, I know I’m never going to be the greatest living writer in Oak Park—but this is one instance in which I’d be happy to come in second.

Ware, in short, is a genius, at a time when the word threatens to become meaningless from overuse. (The fact that he’s never received a MacArthur genius grant is truly startling.) His work is characterized by an obsessive attention to detail, with stories told through elaborate flowcharts, diagrams, and microscopically executed individual panels, all of it rendered by hand. Ware says that it takes him about forty hours of work to finish a single page, and notes elsewhere that the ratio of the time spent creating one of his comics to the time it takes to actually read it is something like 4000:1. Yet he’s incredibly prolific—or, as he puts it, he seems prolific—and he never stops working. Looking at one of his books, the first impression one gets is one of overwhelming density and detail, and this isn’t a superficial reaction: you can zoom in on the tiniest details (like “the world’s smallest comic strip” printed on the edges of one of his book covers) without any loss of resolution.

In other words, his work resembles the impossibly detailed and seductive books one sees in a dream, which Ware has acknowledged is the effect he’s trying to achieve. His magnum opus is the extraordinary graphic novel Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, which has sometimes been dismissed as unreadable. It is dauntingly bleak and dense, but it’s also my favorite novel of any kind published in the last couple of decades. More recently, I’ve been browsing in his large-format Acme Novelty Library collection, which collects Ware’s massive one-page strips. These lack the cumulative power of Jimmy Corrigan, but they offer the best showcase for his talents: these stories engage the whole history of comics, from Little Nemo onward, and they’re both visually staggering and endlessly rereadable, even as they pursue Ware’s characteristic themes of loneliness and disappointment. (My favorite is the strip that follows Quimby the Mouse over the course of an excruciatingly uneventful day, then flashes forward to him in a nursing home fifty years later, crying “Nurse!…Nurse!”)

Ware’s latest work is the collection Building Stories, which I picked up before the reading and lugged home afterward, a little overwhelmed by the prospect of diving into it. It’s actually a large box filled with fourteen different books and leaflets, ranging from a tiny stapled pamphlet to panoramic spreads the size of a large newspaper. The components can be read in any order, and given their inherent density, I suspect that this will be one of those books, like Dictionary of the Khazars, that I’ll own for years without ever really getting to the bottom of it. But just browsing through the materials is an emotionally charged experience: the stories center on the figure of a young mother living in an Oak Park neighborhood not unlike my own, and since my wife and I are currently expecting our first child, it’s hard not to map my own feelings onto the page. Knowing Ware, I suspect that this may turn out to be a mistake—and yet part of me still feels privileged to have been given this strange, indescribable handbook at this point in my life, as if it had been made just for me, like a book in a dream.

Written by nevalalee

October 9, 2012 at 9:54 am

The story of a library

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Over the years, my life has evolved in surprising ways, but one constant has always been the lack of shelf space. Even when I was growing up, books tended to accumulate in strange places, and nearly all of my shelves were stacked two books deep. (I inherited this tendency from my parents, who I’m convinced moved countless boxes of books from one house to another without unpacking them for at least twenty years.) College was even worse, with the single bookcase allotted to each dorm room barely covering my required reading, much less the countless other volumes I picked up at used bookshops and thrift stores along the way. And the ensuing series of fairly small New York apartments didn’t leave me a lot of space, either. As a result, I’ve spent most of the last fifteen years fighting a losing war between the physical amount of shelving available and my own acquisitive nature.

Things took a turn for the better last fall, when my wife and I moved to Oak Park. After years of renting, we finally owned a house of our own, which meant I could start to think seriously about building a permanent home library—and I’d have an entire room for my office and study. Almost from the day we moved in, then, I was dreaming of a workspace filled, gloriously, with bookshelves. This had to wait for almost six months, however, as other home improvement projects took priority—sanding floors, replastering walls, repainting the dining room and kitchen—and as travel and other obligations ate up much of our time. As a result, the library remained a gleam in the eye, even as my books ended up stacked in toppling ziggurats, swallowing up much of the floor and making it all but impossible to find any particular title when I needed it.

At last, however, the moment came. And I’m proud to say that as of this Friday, for the first time ever, I don’t just have a bunch of books: I have a library. The shelves, installed by Crooked Oak of Chicago, are gorgeous, and they perfectly match what I wanted: shelves on all four walls, reaching nearly to the ceiling, with just enough room for a desk, chair, and window seat. The shelves are a nice, dense cherrywood laminate that goes beautifully with the room’s vintage details—the house dates from 1907—and they’ve been painstakingly installed to account for the uneven floors. The result gives me plenty of room for the thousand or so books that I’ve retained over the years, along with such miscellaneous items as my recently acquired Replogle Globe. In fact, I now have more shelf space than I have books to fill it, which is decidedly strange—I’m not used to feeling that I don’t have enough books.

The really novel luxury is being able to look around at my personal library at a glance, without any books hiding in stacks or second layers. It gives me a snapshot of what I know and don’t know and, indirectly, of who I am—because a library, more than anything else, is a self-portrait, and casting my eyes around this room is like taking a tour of my own life, from the shelf of classics in Latin and Greek to the books on Duchamp to the long row of Peanuts collections. I’ve even begun doing something I’ve never done before, which is to arrange the books roughly by subject, while still keeping a healthy amount of disorder. And I’ve been left what feels, above all else, like a place where a writer can really get some work done. In short, I think I’m going to be spending a lot of time here. And it will never be nearly enough.

Written by nevalalee

April 9, 2012 at 9:59 am

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A writer’s house in Oak Park

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So it’s been a hectic couple of days, but the move went fine, and now my wife and I are slowly settling into our new home. It’s a strange feeling, walking around a house that you know only slightly, but where you expect to spend much of your life for many years to come. And while I’m still adjusting to the new space, and trying to recover the comfortable habits that were lost in the transition—I’m not someone who adapts well to a change in routine—I’m very happy with where things stand.

Since this is primarily a blog about writing, among other things, I don’t expect to be talking much about the house, although I may try to chronicle the slow evolution of my home office, which currently consists of little more than a laptop and a mountain of boxes. (I’m posting these pictures today mostly to break up my streak of quotes from bearded writers, with a third on its way tomorrow.) If you’re curious, though, my wife intends to post periodic updates on her own blog, endearingly titled Oak Perk. (I came up with the name.) And if you stop by to say hello, please let her know that I sent you.

Written by nevalalee

October 1, 2011 at 2:04 pm

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Hello house, goodbye novel

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Yesterday, exactly nine months after I began work on my second novel, I delivered the final draft of City of Exiles to my publisher. If my experience on The Icon Thief is any indication, I expect that I’ll need to do at least one more round of rewrites, along with the inevitable copyediting and proofreading, but for now, the novel is finally done. I’d love to stop and celebrate, but as it turns out, we’re also moving to our new house today. No rest for the weary, it seems, but I’m looking forward to relocating to Oak Park, as well as finding a place to put my thirty boxes of books. Hopefully I’ll be checking in tomorrow around the usual time, but if not, you’ll know why.

Written by nevalalee

September 29, 2011 at 5:39 am

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A novelist moves to Oak Park

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Today my wife and I closed on our first house, a beautiful single-family home in historic Oak Park, Illinois. My original goal, after realizing that we were really going to move, was to become the greatest novelist Oak Park ever produced, which I soon discovered might be difficult, if only on account of this guy. The greatest living novelist, perhaps? Unfortunately, that requires catching up to the extraordinary Chris Ware, perhaps our best living novelist, period, which I’m not sure even I can do. So I might need to settle for being the best novelist on my side of the block. If that. Still, I’m pretty excited.

Written by nevalalee

August 31, 2011 at 9:23 pm

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