Chicago Literary Hall of Fame Inducts Ring Lardner

May 5, 2017 — It was quite an honor to be asked to participate in the induction ceremony for Ring Lardner last night. Lardner was born in Niles, Michigan, and spent a good deal of his professional life in NYC, but his formative years were spent as a sportswriter at various papers around town, including the Chicago Tribune.

I spoke on and read from Lardner’s short stories (if you haven’t read any of these yet, grab yourself a copy of “Alibi Ike” or “Liberty Hall” pronto). Other speakers included journalist Ron Rappaport (whose new book is “The Lost Journalism of Ring Lardner”), author Don DeGrazia (“What Lardner Means to Me as a Writer”), ESPN’s and GLAAD’s Christina Kahrl (“How Lardner Changed Journalism”), Cubs historian Brian Bernardoni (“The Chicago Lardner Knew”) and Lardner’s grandson James Lardner, a fine writer himself, who accepted the award for the family.

There is something so satisfying about rereading favorite writers and discovering how much they speak to my life. I love Lardner almost as much as I love Damon Runyan.

The Lardner induction ceremony, with Brian Bernardoni, two Lardner relatives, James Lardner, and Ron Rappaport.

Hear Me Babble on the Wireless Box

6a00d83452285d69e20111689fe0cb970c-piJustin Kaufman has risen from improv comedian to radio producer to full-time evening host on WGN-AM radio, and still carries that boyish charm with him. He was nice enough to let me on his show last night to promote Thursday’s reading at the Frunchroom, and also to talk about Rex Koko and “Clown noir.” Click on the link below, I should come in at around the 90 minute mark.

http://tinmoi.news/wgnradio.com/2016/01/18/the-download-with-justin-kaufmann-full-show-1-18-16/

I fear that the only lame answer I gave in the interview is the one that will stick with me for months or years. (Some of us are cursed with a brain that will focus completely on tiny missteps.) Justin asked me point blank a question I thought I was prepared for: “Who is the ideal reader for the Rex Koko mysteries?”

I sputtered some generic answer, yet years ago, I had formulated the right response to this (hope I get to use it someday):

“Rex Koko is written for anyone who has been called out by their boss at a meeting, asked to explain him/herself, and knew the only acceptable answer to the question was to drop trou and honk.”

Thanks again to Justin for having me on.

Book Release Party for WET NOSE OF DANGER!

After a spring and summer of scrivening in the salt mines — how’s that for alliteration? — it was more than high time for a book release event. What good is writing a couple of books of clown noir if I can’t bring a little bit of circus excitement to my fans and readers? Is the writing life all practice and no spectacle? Emphatically NO!

Last July, I had just published Double Indignity and was busy working to finish The Wet Nose of Danger. I went to talk with Suzy Takacz, who owns my neighborhood store, the Book Cellar, about doing an event in the fall. She was interested.

“What do you think about having a couple of fire-eaters in the store?” I asked, just trying to get her attention.

Suzy thought about it. And thought and thought and thought, with the usual sparkle in her eye. (I think she had seen one too many boring, unattended signings where the writer droned on and on about his/her process.) Finally, she had to say no. Not because she was worried about torching her store, or filling it with chemical smells, or disrupting business. She said no because there are tenants living above the store, and she wouldn’t want to displace them if anything happened.

Lucky for me, The Book Cellar is across a quiet street from a city plaza, big enough to be useful for whatever I was thinking. I went through the city and the alderman’s office, as well as the chamber of commerce, to make sure everything would be ducky. The only warning I got came from the alderman’s office. “I’m going to have some music and circus acts,” I said. “Terrific,” spokesperson pol said, “just don’t do anything like fire-eaters or something.” “No worries,” I assured him.

With gypsy music from the fabulous Paprikash Brothers!

It was a beautiful night, and a good-sized crowd gathered for the ballyhoo.

Then we all marched across Lincoln Avenue, into the store for the reading. After being introduced by Suzy T, I read a passage from Double Indignity, the teeny car chase scene from Chapter 22.

Next it was time for a little vocabulary quiz, to see who was up on their circus “parlari”. I was frankly surprised that no one got the first question (a woman with an unnatural lust for clowns is, of course, a “joey jumper”), but most of the audience was fairly literate. I tossed out popcorn balls for prizes to the winners.

Then the audience asked me some questions about my writing process. A friend asked, “Where do you think these insane characters come from?” I gave her some long-winded answer — that some come to mind from a story of circus lore, some are inspired by an old photo, some are born of plot necessity — when really the only true response is, “If I knew, don’t you think I’d have taken care of it by now?”

Next, I read a rather lurid section from The Wet Nose of Danger, involving a “joey jumper” and Rex at a high-society fundraiser. “She had more arms than a spider-woman, and the sex drive of a hippo after Happy Hour.” Then, it was time for the signing, and the crowd didn’t disappoint. I also gave away a lot of free posters.

One of the best surprises of the evening was an old geezer sitting in the front row. During the signing, he came up balanced on his cane and introduced himself. He could’ve been 60 and he could’ve been 80, but he told me that since the age of 18, he had worked backstage with the big cats for the Cole Brothers Circus! He had retired about 10 years ago, but he said he had all the scars he needed to prove he’d been with the show.

“It was all I ever wanted to do,” he said. “The cats were just like housecats, with their routines and their need for attention, and their litter box. I’d never train monkeys. Monkeys were vicious, unpredictable. Big cats were always marvelous.”

I’m pretty certain he lives in my neighborhood, because he was pulling around a shopping cart from the local sausage shop. I apologized to him in advance for anything I might have gotten wrong in my story, but said all I was going for was entertainment. I’ve met a few other kinkers like this before. Circus people and veterans are out there among us. You never know when you’re going to meet one!

All in all, it was a spectacular night! One for the record books! A fitting launch for the latest and strangest “Rex Koko, Private Clown” caper!

(For more pictures of the evening, please check out the photo album I’ve created on Facebook.)

Talking Political Correctness at Grand Valley State

Think political correctness is dead? Think again, pally. There’s been lots of news to take apart and make fun of, both on the left and the right. (Remember, extremism and identity politics is an equal opportunity befuddler now.)

So last week, I traveled up to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to talk to the nice people at Grand Forum, which is a speakers series run throughout the year at the GR campus of Grand Valley State University. More than a hundred folks spent part of their morning, listening to me carp and mock and jape and chaff. It was a great time, with both the speech and the Q&A afterward. AND folks bought a lot of books, both PCBS and Honk Honk, My Darling, which is a great way to win the heart of a writer, in case you had any question about that.

This appearance was especially enjoyable because I have a lot of family up in the area. So, my in-laws, my aunt, cousins, my niece and nephew and his girlfriend were all there, as well as an old college friend that I’ve reconnected with (and who has been a huge promoter and beta reader of Rex Koko). They remarked that it was interesting to see me up their in my “public” persona. In other words, shaved and wearing pants.

The funniest part of the morning was all the self-effacing West Michiganders who kept asking me, incredulously, “And you drove all the way up from Chicago for us?” Yes, I really did. Lake Wobegon has got nothing on these folks. Thanks again for having me up there, Grand Forum.

Writing Workshop — Culver Academy

Last month, I had the distinct pleasure to head down to Indiana to visit Culver Academy. The writing center at this private secondary school was having its annual Excellence in Writing Awards, and they asked me to come down and give a few words for the occasion. Don’t think I wasn’t a little intimidated at the prospect — they gave out awards for, among others, best original composition in Chinese and Latin and best mathematical writing. The students, like all teenagers, tried to be flip about the significance of the event, like “I write in Latin every day, but usually not in verse like this.” But somewhere down inside they were proud, and they had every reason to be.

The next day, I conducted writing workshops with the Freshmen, Sophomores and Juniors — around 175 all told. I was a little nervous to start, but each class ended up being a rousing time. In our short periods together, I wanted to give the students some pointers on making their writing more vivid and precise. We started out talking about warm-up exercises, then did some “quick writing” to show the importance of lively, precise verbs and vivid sensory information. I also included a few lessons from improvisational acting to give them hints to goose their writing along when things get bogged down. By the end of each class, I had the enviable problem of getting them to leave off their editing and let me give some closing remarks and helpful resources. Other teachers out there might doubt this, but my hand to Strunk & White, I swear it’s true.

And these weren’t just students interested in writing, mind you. There were all the kids from the Humanities classes, so a lot of them were probably expecting a blow-off class. It was very gratifying to deprive them of that.

I met students from all over the country and around the world, and they were attentive, articulate and just downright cool. They were all a pleasure to be around. A couple even gave me some of their personal writing to look over when I got back. I hope they enjoyed their time with me as much as I did with them.

Below are some pictures of their beautiful campus. Also, here’s a write-up of the workshop from the Culver Newsletter.




Speaking Before the Lawyers Club of Chicago

And it wasn’t even a deposition!

Last night my wife and I had a grand old time at the Union League Club down in the Loop, as guests of the Lawyers Club of Chicago. A little cocktail, a little dinner with some fascinating people (including a lawyer I was on staff with 25 years ago, when I worked for the American Institute of Real Estate Appraisers), and then it came time to earn my meal, with my speech on the current state of political correctness.

Lucky for me, that current state is always ripe for skewering, basting and ribbing, even if food isn’t involved.

My audience was very receptive and laughed a lot as I talked about various forms of extremism and ideological purity on both the right and the left. Among the topics we explored were the Washington Redskins and culturally sensitive team names, whether there is coded language in the word “thug”, and how Sweden is working to eliminate pronouns that indicate gender. Afterward we had a little Q&A. It was all a very fun time, and I thank the club for being so cordial and asking me to speak with them. (I had been pretty intimidated when they first asked me, considering they usually have a Supreme Court justice come and speak, and had recently had the Chairman of the Chicago Black Hawks and Peter Sagal talking about the US Constitution. Not together, of course.)

But wait, did I mention hardware? Yes, hardware!

The folks there were so nice that they even gave me a memento of the evening, to decorate the office bookshelf. I might be a sap, but I love these kinds of things. It shows thoughtfulness and planning. It also shows that they didn’t chase me off the podium by throwing dinner rolls. Win Win! Thanks again, Lawyers Club! You’ll always have an amicus in my curiae.

“John McAfee” Testifies Before Congress for THE PAPER MACHETE

Last week I had the distinct honor and pleasure to perform again at THE PAPER MACHETE, which has become my favorite reading series/cabaret in Chicago. It takes place every Saturday afternoon at 3 at the legendary Green Mill Cocktail Lounge in Uptown. Christopher Piatt has been setting up some amazing shows this year — with Marc Maron, Janeane Garofalo, Al Madrigal, and Nora Dunn, to name a few of the bigwigs — but every week, he presents wonderful music and hilarious/scintillating readings from performers all over Chicago. You owe it to yourself to check it out.

In his “Salon in a saloon”, Christopher is interested in exploring the events of the week. You pitch him some ideas by Wednesday, he expects something killer on Saturday. The week of my appearance, the inadequacies of the ACA website was big in the news, and word had leaked that House GOP leaders had wanted to meet with software pioneer and not-at-all-a-fugitive-from-Belize John McAfee. That meeting never took place, in part because Congress wouldn’t spring for the guy’s airfare, but I decided to write what I thought would be his public testimony before the committee. I have an audio file from it, but can’t figure out how to change its format.

So, to clarify, here’s me acting like him. Enjoy.

The following is a transcript of the remarks made by John McAfee to the House Committee, if they had paid his airfare to go to DC.

Hi There. I’d like to thank the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee for inviting me to speak here today. Thank you, Congressman Upton, and the other people on the committee, their security detail, their staff members, and that cute little intern hiding back there next to the flagpole. Yes, you. How old are you, dear? What? 21?

I’m tech guru John McAfee, founder of McAfee Anti-Virus software, thrill seeker, life liver. I’ve been asked for my opinion on the Obamacare website because of my name recognition. Congressman Upton tells me he sees my name every time he switches on his computer. I’ll keep my comments brief to make way for his other invited speakers, Mr. Java, Mr. Adobe, and from France, Mr. Google.

In my life I’ve started and then sold 15 different companies. It’s not easy being a tech visionary, though the drugs do help. The Obamacare website is Without a doubt the worst designed project I’ve seen since my failed online venture, Lunchmeat.com.

I won’t bullshit you, congressman. That’s not what I do. I’m a straight shooter and a maverick. You know I’m a maverick because I’ll say bullshit in a committee hearing, especially in front of reporters. I’m also a trickster. A Gazillionaire. A voodoo priest. A joker, a smoker….Did I say Maverick yet?

People always ask me, Did you really sleep with 10 17-year-old girls? At 67 years old? And I have to say, Yep, Yep I did.

A child can can see the Obamacare website is an unuseable mess. I know how government contracts work. I realize most of the programming was subscontracted to Canada. I have two big problems with Canada: A small tech community, and very sticky extradition laws. Believe me.

Continue reading ““John McAfee” Testifies Before Congress for THE PAPER MACHETE”

To The Victor Goes the Loving Cup of Deathless F*cking Glory

Last night saw a literary showdown of epic proportions.

At Write Club, no one is under the delusion that all the speakers are equally worthy. It’s a literary competition with winners and losers, just like life, dammit. Two writer/performers go head-to-head on opposing topics, and one combatant is declared the winner by audience applause. The winner gets to take home the Loving Cup of Deathless Fucking Glory, as well as designate a portion of the proceeds to his/her favorite charity, while the loser must dwell in the Cathedral of Eternal Shame. This is Literature as Blood Sport.

It’s always a helluva fun time, and for those of you living in LA, Atlanta, Athens, Toronto or San Francisco, I urge you to go out and see it. Have a drink and wear a cup. It ain’t the Kiddie Pool.

Last night I competed at the birthplace of Write Club, The Hideout in Chicago. My opponent was none other than the daddy of Write Club itself, the charismatic yet loathable Ian Belknap. We argued our sides of the eternal debate of “Solid vs. Liquid”. After having won the rock-paper-scissors preliminary, I chose to go second. In arguing for “Solid”, Ian spent much of his time deriding Aquaman as the most pathetic of all superheroes. A classic gambit, to belittle the opposing side before bringing out your unassailable persuasive arguments. Only problem: his arguments were very assailable.

Which I did — assail them, that is — and walked home with bloody knuckles and the impressive piece of hardware above, as well as a small piece of the world’s adulation. Below is a quick recording of my victorious defense of the notion of “Liquid”, as well as the text of the argument. I hope you’ll agree with the audience that this is what you would necessarily call an irrefutable argument.

“IN DEFENSE OF LIQUID” Audio

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IN DEFENSE OF LIQUID

Think back, to the beginning of our planet. The Big Bang is old news, and our little ball of gas has cooled and condensed. For hundreds of millions of years there’s nothing to see but churning waves of a chemical sea, methane and hydrogen raining and evaporating, over and over. A primordial soup. A liquid planet. And from that funky primordial pho, shaken and stirred and shot through with lightning, emerges life.

Amino acids are cooked up first, then proteins and single-cell organisms. Then worms, jellyfish, snails as big as your head, ravaging massive sea beasties sleek as balloon animals with razor sharp teeth. Armored fish, bi-curious amphibians, blah blah animals, and ultimately Kurt Vonnegut.

For this alone, let honest rational people agree: liquids rule it over solids, for without liquids there would be no proteins, no milkshakes, no protein milkshakes. And no Kurt Vonnegut.

Like Capital-L “Life”, every one of our own biographies is written in liquid. First, two parents had to get together which, depending on the circumstances and no offense, might have needed some liquid to get started. A couple Long Island ice teas, a hot tub, the liquid sounds of the Reverend Al Green. Then, after some friction and energy spent, half a little you erupts from your father, swimming like a maniac, seeking in its damp new world the other half of you. Then a lucky zygote luxuriates for nine wet months of squishy cell division.

In liquid we form a spinal column, lose our gills and vestigial tails – (some of us) – sprout arms and legs, gain wiggly fingers, maybe endure some Mozart if the parents are trying to bake a perfect child.

What are humans anyway, but ambulatory punchbowls? In the final tally, we are 98% liquid. Plasma, bile, blood, sweat and, tears, spit and polish, piss and vinegar, the milk of human kindness.

Solids in the human body? Tumors. Kidney stones. Blood clots. Constipation. Nothing but trouble.

Continue reading “To The Victor Goes the Loving Cup of Deathless F*cking Glory”

Was Jesus Married?

My contribution to the latest installment of The Paper Machete, Chicago’s live newsmagazine/reading series, which happened last Saturday:

Big news this week in the field of papyrology, that is, the study of ancient papyrus scrolls. (and when you ponder whether YOUR degree has gotten you very far, think of that.) A small piece of ancient papyrus, much smaller than a placemat from Pier One, was discovered to contain writing that could or could not shake the foundations of the Christian religion.

First, a little background. At the end of last year, a papyrus collector (and I should warn you, never get cornered at a party by a papyrus collector) brought the scrap to the Harvard Divinity school. Dr. Karen King, noted papyrologist, examined the scrap, showed it to colleagues at the secretive and exclusive Papyrus League Club, and determined that it was not a forgery. This week, Dr. King announced her findings would be published soon in US Weekly (really, the Harvard Theological Review).

The scrap, cut from a larger scroll, contained seven lines of sentence fragments. Among these were the words: “Jesus said, My wife.”

Now, I’d like to get address the elephant in the room and head straight for the Borscht Belt treatment: Jesus said, “My wife wants to take a vacation, spark up our LOVE life. Wants to go to the Dead Sea. I say, Why the Dead Sea? She says, it reminds me of our love life.”

And also: How can you tell that Jesus was married? He brings 5000 people over and then asks, “Hey, have we got any food?”

The headlines screamed the predictably sensational question, “Was Jesus married?” The expert from Harvard answered strongly that she had no idea. The sentence wasn’t complete, it had no context, the scrap had been cut from a larger papyrus we don’t have. It was written 150 years after the death of Jesus, who as you remember, was someone prone to speak a little cryptically. It could have been the start of a parable, analogy, mystical figurative allusion, or something else.

But I ask you, what’s more fun, scholarship or baseless conjecture? Then let’s get to it.

There is no clue as to the identity of the woman mentioned. Some traditions in the early Common Era have held that Jesus had a more-than-platonic relationship with Mary Magdalene, the prostitute turned disciple. This was exploited for Biblical Broadway hotness in “Jesus Christ Superstar” and for the members of the Wal-Mart Book Society in The DaVinci Code. If Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ wife, at least she’d be travelling with him and not stuck back in Podunk-areth.

The idea that Jesus was married does more than make the New Testament more saleable as a Lifetime mini-series. (You know somewhere the concept has been pitched, and a producer has said, “I like the story, but this guy Jesus, he needs to be sexed up.”) If the scrap proves to be accurate, it might shake the foundations of the Christian church as we know it, at least until the church as we know it squelches it.

(The collector who owns the scrap, by the way, has chosen to remain anonymous. He says it’s because he doesn’t want to be flooded with requests to sell it. But we all know what he’s really afraid of: Vatican ninjas!)

Continue reading “Was Jesus Married?”

As Bozo Might Say, We Now Have 3 Pulitzer “Almost Winners”

Those who follow the publishing world intently (which means basically, the people in publishing and journalism, and maybe a bookseller or two) already know that the Pulitzer prize for fiction was not awarded this year. The three-person jury passed their three nominated books to the Pulitzer board, who then failed to rally behind a single winner and opted not to give the award this year.

I like to imagine that the reason for their decision was really the fact that the whole committee had stayed up late reading Honk Honk, My Darling, and didn’t have time to plow through David Foster Wallace’s salute to the boredom in an IRS office. Such delusions keep me alive like Nick Fury and his Infinity Formula. Please don’t deny me my lifeblood!

So I spoke on the subject at the Paper Machete, my newest fave reading series in Chicago that tries to attack the big stories in the news every week. The MP3 for the performance is below. If you’d like to hear the entire show each week, you can subscribe to it at iTunes or catch individual performances at WBEZ.org.

Would You Read a Book that Was Almost a Pulitzer Winner?

Me, on “The Sunday Papers” with Rick Kogan

Those of you who don’t live in Chicago miss out on many local treasures. Chicago-style hot dogs, with the salad right on top. Italian beef sandwiches. Sailing on Lake Michigan, watching the most beautiful skyline in North America. And local journalists like Rick Kogan. Rick has been writing for the Chicago Tribune for years, following in the footsteps of his father Herman, and is perhaps a living embodiment of the old-school type of Chicago humanist and reporter. He BREATHES this city. Heck, he was named after Riccardo’s, a former hangout for journalists near Michigan Avenue.

I’m glad to call Rick my friend, because he has an eye and an impatience for frauds and bozos. So I was as pleased as a sport pepper to go on his WGN radio show yesterday morning and talk over Honk Honk, My Darling, as well as Bardball and the state of American culture in general. Rick is the only person I know on commercial radio who not only acknowledges that books are an important part to life, but actually gives over the majority of his show to talking with authors, some well-known, some a little less so. And talking to him is like getting a quick intravenous shot of every nightclub and newsmaker in the Second City. Thanks for a great time, Rick.

If you’d like to hear the interview (trust me, the banjo-and-fiddle music in the beginning fades quickly), click here.

Santorum’s Right: We Must Stop Our Love Affair with Snobs

The Paper Machete is a great reading series that happens every Saturday afternoon, 3 pm, at the Horseshoe in Chicago’s North Center neighborhood. Last week, I was lucky enough to read a little current events piece, about what a socio-economic genius Rick Santorum is. (Spoiler alert: I wasn’t really serious.) In my usual way, I take a premise and completely squeeze the life out of it, then play monkey-in-the-middle with its carcass.

Luckily, in this wired age, host Christopher Piatt took the time to record it, and now you can hear it by going to WBEZ-FM at the link below. Hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed all the rest of the show. If you live in Chicago, go check out The Paper Machete. Quality stuff from beginning to end, and it’s free.

Keep Your Kid Out of College, Stop a Snob in the Making!

I’ve Got No “Woody Allen Problem” About Creative Awards

The setting last Saturday was my favorite bookstore in town, the Book Cellar. The event, the Book of the Year Awards for the Chicago Writers Association. When I got there, maybe six people were scattered around on folding chairs. I went to say hello to Randy Richardson, president of CWA, and his wife. I introduced myself to the other winners in the competition.

Before too long, I turned around and was shocked to see the bookstore completely packed. More than 100 people sat and stood, waiting for us to get the show on the road.

A face or two was familiar, but none were more important than those of my ever-lovin’ wife and two kids. My kids have never seen me read at a big event, because during the past decade, almost all of my readings have been in taverns. There were times 15 years ago when I could occasionally pull a crowd this big. I wanted to show them that their dad wasn’t just the creep who prowls the mezzanine, stocking his mancave with stage props and comic books.

Earlier in the afternoon, I had faced the panicky decision of what to read for the evening. Most of my books have lent themselves to easy excerpts for events like this, but Honk Honk, My Darling was fiction of a weird, rambling, immersive sort. Could I come up with 8-9 minutes that were exciting and coherent and gave a good taste of the book’s contents? I decided against reading the passage of the brawl at the clown bar (want to avoid HHMD being pigeonholed as a clown book) and chose a two-person scene that had a smattering of circus parlari but not too much. Oh, and one that ended in a theatrical killing.

I don’t think I’ve ever been more nervous before a reading, certainly not recently. It’s been a long while, and the relaxed stage demeanor is only easy to fake when I’m in shape. And all false modesty aside, while HHMD was being given an award, it’s a very strange book, not suited to everyone’s taste. This would be an acting exercise, because the two characters in the passage were very different. In reality, this was going to be a short audition, in front of a packed house, in a familiar place (a fact that actually made things harder).

Randy introduced the program and the mission of the Chicago Writers Association. Then, first up to read was Krista August, who won the Nontraditional Nonfiction award for her catalog of the statues in Chicago’s Grant Park, Giants in the Park. She had also illustrated the book with her own watercolors, which I hadn’t realized. She brought along the whole box of them. She told the story of General William Sheridan, both his personal history and that of his statue. (She omitted the tale of what happens to the horse’s genitals on the statue whenever the Pittsburgh Pirates come to town, and she asked me to keep it to myself. Being a classy guy, I acquiesced.)

Next came Pamela Ferdinand reading from her memoir about three friends, late romance, and donor sperm, Three Wishes. Her passages were very funny and touching. Transplanted from the East Coast, she’ll be a good addition to the Chicago scene.

Then Randy introduced me, with way too much praise to make me comfortable. (He’s a huge fan of the HHMD podcast, and makes me feel guilty when I fall behind in production.) He handed me the lucite award, plus the gift card that came with winning. It felt dense yet incredibly delicate. I became afraid of dropping it, so I set it on a table quickly.

This was the first physical trophy I had won since high school, when I got a statue for staying in the Gabriel Richard Club for grade point average for four years. That one sits in my office, not ironically, but with pride and affection, because my father made sure the panel on the statue was engraved with all four years.

My intro describing the genesis of Rex Koko and this self-pubbed book seemed long and rambling, but my wife told me later it was spot-on. I then read a passage from Chapter 8, in which Rex confronts the daredevil Flying Fleming to find the woman he’s looking for. The most frightening part was how easily I slipped into those two characters. Recording the podcast had forced me to create their vocal profiles, but upon reading it started to become my own one-man show. Laughs were not numerous, but somehow the audience grew stone silent and hung on every word. A reflection on the writing? I guess, but it was the comfort with acting that was the most disconcerting. It all felt too natural. Does this mean I have to get out of my mezzanine command center and actually perform in front of people again? St. Genesius, please spare me that fate. I’m insufferable enough as it is.

The final reader of the night was the lovely Christine Sneed, who read from her book of short stories, Portraits of a Few of the People I’ve Made Cry. She read a funny and perceptive passage about a creative writing teacher reacting to having a famous young actor in her class. Christine’s writing is strong and clear, and you’d do yourself a favor to check it out. (For profiles of all these winners, go to the Chicago Writers Association blog.)

Do I have any kind of problem with books being chosen for awards? Hell no. The word “appreciation” doesn’t begin to describe how I feel. After working on the Rex novels for more than 10 years, operating solely on faith and stubbornness, it’s almost unreal that other people believe in the book as much as I did. It’s like everyone recognizing your invisible, imaginary friend at a dinner party. I’m grateful but disoriented.

But now I can tout “Rex Koko, Private Clown” as an “award-winning” mystery series and not be lying (except for the idea that a book and a half constitute a “series”). Frankly, that’s going to help on those slow mornings when what I do seems like a ridiculous way to spend one’s life.

Woody Allen’s whole “don’t show up at the Oscars” schtick is a little rarefied and elitist for me. Furthermore, I think it’s a calculated move to cement his image, what with his clarinet gig that he simply won’t interrupt to schmooze in Hollywood. He won the statue for “Annie Hall”, and he can rest on that while avoiding the awkwardness of being nominated and not winning.

The arts are in no way a competition (except maybe for movies on Memorial Day, but even then, it’s not like a movie ultimately “loses”), even if the presenting of awards makes it seem like there are winners and losers. It’s human nature to want to find distinction among a group of peers. And because they are popular, awards are a good way for people to expand their reading rosters beyond their comfort zones. Anything that promotes more reading is good for writers earning a living, so I’m behind that.

But I’ll say it now: If I’d lost out on this award, I’d’ve been a pretty miserable prick to be around for a weekend or two.

UPDATE: Here are a few pictures from the event. The first two were taken by photographer Mark Thomas.

And here is me with Christine Sneed, who won the Traditional Fiction award for her book of stories, Portraits of a Few of the People I’ve Made Cry. Photo by Mitsuko Richardson.

New Year, New Plans, New Paperback

Hello, all you bips and kinkers. Hope your New Year is still smooth and shiny, still sporting that New Year smell. Things are finally quiet here on the Mezzanine Level, as both my Ever-Lovin’ Wife, Number One Son and The Urchin have all returned to their respective schools. Me? I just return to the four corners of my battered yet resilient psyche.

(I sure hope the WordPress Self-Aggrandizing Filter is still activated.)

I can’t find an overarching theme or topic to string all my thoughts together, so I’ll just toss ’em out here and let them fall where they may.

1. Thank you very much to all my readers and fans out there who scooped up e-copies of all my books. December was my biggest month yet, and I hope that you all enjoyed the various PC stories and the sawdust-and-tinsel epic of Honk Honk My Darling.

2. Thanks also to those of you who downloaded the special Rex podcast, “Have Yourself a Monkey Little Christmas.” I’ve taken that audio file down now, but it will come back later in 2012 as a Christmas treat. I hope the next audio chapter of Honk Honk My Darling will be ready to go by the end of next week. (If you haven’t been listening, it couldn’t be easier to catch up on old episodes. You can subscribe at iTunes or go straight to LibSyn to grab them: http://rexkoko.libsyn.com.)

3. My incredibly slow but unstoppable conquest of all media continues, with the release of the paperback edition of Honk Honk, My Darling! Yes! A physical book you can hold in your physical hands! It would’ve been great to have had it ready in December, but we had some snafus uploading it to Amazon’s CreateSpace. But after some tweaks and another round of proofs, it is here, and looking very professional. I didn’t know the art would look so sumptuous when expanded to a paperback format, but I am very very pleased with the result.


Here we see Zippo’s appropriate reaction to the beautifulness of the paperback. (Zippo appears courtesy of Germany’s renowned Circus Roncalli.)

The paperbacks are printed on demand by CreateSpace and are for sale at Amazon for $9.99. They will also be available this Saturday, as the Chicago Writers Association honors the 2011 Book of the Year Winners! At 7 p.m. at Lincoln Square’s wonderful Book Cellar, we’ll be having readings and snacks for everyone, so everyone in Chicagoland, come out and support your local writers! This year’s winners are Christine Sneed, Pamela Ferdinand, Krista August, and yours truly. For more on them and on the awards in general, head to the CWA blog.

4. For those who want the whole five-cent background on me and the evolution of Rex Koko, check out the interview on the CWA Blog.