Monthly Archives: August 2014

Just Write & More Vivian Maier

Harold Washington Library Atrium

I’ve done more write-ins this week than I ever usually do outside of November. There’s a Meetup group called Just Write Chicago with many opportunities to hang out and just write, then check in with other writers to discuss everyone’s struggles and triumphs. I tried the Tuesday night and the Friday afternoon groups this week and liked both. The Friday one is usually going to be better for my schedule, but a couple of new friends go to the Tuesday group, so I’ll catch that one when I can.

On another topic…I liked her so much at the Chicago History Museum that when I went into Chicago on Friday to write, I stopped to see the Vivian Maier exhibit at the Harold Washington Library. Even though the library show felt like a smaller exhibit, there was more of an attempt to talk about Maier’s life and interpret her work. In addition to the Chicago area photography, they showed some photos from New York and Los Angeles, as well as more self portraits. There were also artifacts like film, cameras and other photography items.

Also unlike the Vivian Maier exhibit at the Chicago History Museum, the library will only have her photos and artifacts on display until September 28, so if your interest is whetted, try to get there before it’s gone. If you aren’t able to get there, you can still participate in a little experiment the library is hosting via Flickr. The library encourages you to try your own hand at some street photography and post it on Flickr at #VivianatCPL.

Visiting Vivian Maier at the Chicago History Museum


It was free day at the Chicago History Museum last Wednesday. I took nearly full advantage; didn’t arrive as soon as they opened, since it’s kind of a schlep for me, but I still arrived early enough to spend as much time at the museum as I wanted.

It helped that I’d already been through the Chicago: Crossroads of America guided tour, and thoroughly examined the Railroaders exhibit. While I enjoyed several new-to-me sections during this visit, taking copious notes in the Lincoln’s Chicago and Facing Freedom exhibits, and stopping briefly to revisit other rooms, the highlight of this trip was Vivian Maier’s Chicago

Vivian Maier (1926-2009), also known as the nanny photographer, lived in Chicago from 1956 until her death in 2009. She worked as a North Shore nanny for roughly 40 years, but spent her days off pursuing a vocation in street photography. Her work was discovered 2 years before her death, when she couldn’t pay the rent on her storage unit and her possessions (including scads of undeveloped film) were auctioned off. Shortly after her death, John Maloof (Chicago historian and collector) began posting her work on the internet to critical acclaim.

I spent at least an hour at Vivian Maier exhibit. At first I concentrated on the small strips of pictures, reminiscent of developed (and printed) film rolls that ringed the room, each of a particular event or neighborhood.

Strips I found especially resonant:

  • Grant Park – Democratic National Convention (1968), especially the shot of the earnest nun in conversation with a small group of people, all standing under a tree
  • A Day as a Nanny (1968), which mostly showed a young boy in striped shirt and small-brimmed madras hat clowning around a low hanging, backlit tree branch but had one shot I found particularly humorous: a tiny fish lies on the front seat of a rowboat, perhaps the boy’s catch of the day
  • Nixon Resigns (1974) which shows stacks of Chicago Tribunes, Daily News, and Sun Times with the headline; the strip closes with several grainy shots of Nixon on television, addressing the nation

The filmstrips were affecting, but for my money, the kick-in-the-gut stunning pictures, all unlabeled and blown up to 4’x4′ or larger single photos, formed cubicles in the center of the room. There were a few images of buildings, like Marina Towers and the demolition of the old Chicago Federal Building, but most were portraits of diverse people.

A sample:

  • A thin, handsome young white man wearing a hooded sweatshirt and jeans under a wrinkled topcoat, his hair in a pompadour, leaning against a warehouse door
  • Three African Americans on a gray winter day – a small boy in a stocking cap and a heavyset man in an ivy cap flank the thin, worn man in the center. He wears a herringbone tweed coat but no hat; his hair is graying and his face unshaven, and he looks down, lost in what appear to be discouraging thoughts
  • A woman, probably in her 60s, who wears a dark boiled-wool coat and a small-brimmed cloche with a black patent leather band. Her direct, open gaze through cat-eye glasses seems happy and curious, though she shows barely a trace of a smile

If your interest is piqued , you can see some actual Vivian Maier images here

Love, love, love the Chicago History Museum. The exhibit I’m looking forward to next is The 1968 Exhibit, opening October 4, 2014. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Gigi Vernon

Happily, I’m still in touch with many of the great people I met at the Writing the Other Workshop and Retreat. Most of the attendees write speculative fiction, but Gigi Vernon doesn’t generally count herself in that group. Her focus is on historical thrillers and crime fiction; luckily she’s a historian by training, so she knows how to research eras and locations for her stories.

The book series she’s currently working on is set in medieval Russia, during the time Russia was ruled by the Tatars of the Golden Horde. One of the novels (working title: A Disobedient Death) is loosely based on an actual unsolved murder that occurred in 1357 A.D. I can’t wait until they come out!

In the meantime, I’m reading her short stories. She’s published many, several of them in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. In her first cover story, “Purse Strings”, there’s kidnapping and corruption, knights in rusty armor, dusty summer streets, and Sir Thibaut the cripple in service to Basilia, a lovely and savvy Jewish moneylender.

Published April 2014

Her story “Show Stopper”, in which high fashion meets espionage, appears in the recent anthology Ice Cold: Tales of Intrigue from the Cold War.


I just discovered a recent podcast of Gigi reading her story “One for the Road”. It’s set in Prohibition-era Detroit and features a gun moll who’s in a lot of trouble. When you have 32 minutes, you can listen to it here:

Click to listen

I enjoyed the heck out of this story, and it made me look forward to reading more of her work. I recommend that you take the opportunity to check her out soon!

Million Word Party — Recap

I wish I had pictures of the singing and ice cream, but I was too busy singing, eating, drinking, mingling, and accepting congratulations to snap pictures.  A couple of days later, I was able to take pictures of the gifts and cards I received, so I’m sharing those.* These mementos were an unexpected perk of giving the party. Featured below are a few closeups of the handmade items.

Tim, knowing of my recent fondness for gnomes (I blame the Writing the Other workshop), made me a congratulatory sculpture, which now lives in my writing area.

Isn’t it fantastic?

In addition to sharing much-needed freezer space, Beth put Al to work. Using his arcane computer knowledge, he was able to offer advice on how to generate the next million words.

I knew the responsible party immediately

Whitey used leather working skills I didn’t even know he had to create this gorgeous journal cover, which he filled with Moleskine soft cover note books. I carry a notebook with me most of the time to note observations and ideas; this will replace what I’ve been using. For all you Doctor Who fans, the cover symbol is in Gallifreyan, the script of the Time Lords. It means create.

Learn to write Gallifreyan here!

I got other lovely gifts and cards as well. There’s Bird by Bird (by Anne Lamott) and a fabulous multicolored set of disposable fountain pens from Jack and Carol. There’s the wall hanging from Dick and Jill that proclaims “The Book was so much Better”.  There were thoughtful congratulatory cards from Sue and Ed and Kim, too.

Sis gave the gift of a venue. With all the traveling this summer, my house was in no shape to receive guests, so she generously offered hers and it was swell, from the living room that was transformed into singalong space through the kitchen which became the ice cream bar to the backyard patio with fire pit.

Cookie and Cookie Junior brought brownies and beverages and gave me the gift of time to actually attend the party by taking over serving and cleanup work in the kitchen. Joanne brought yummy homemade peanut butter cookies.

We all loved the comic Hindi song Kishin and Rita performed for us and the song-leading and instrumental gifts that Jack, Bill, Al and BK provided.

I haven’t yet mentioned several people who gifted me with their presence and good spirits: Camille, Cheryl, Katherine, Barry, Sabrina, Len, Carole, Pam, Cathy, and Kim. I have to admit, though that the attendees who astonished me the most were Bro and his lovely Bride, who came all the way from Houston without letting their intentions slip in any way.

If I forgot to mention anyone or to connect the right person with the right card/gift, I’m sorry. Please blame it on the overwhelm factor.

For those interested in the ice cream, here are the flavors we made for the party: caramel pecan, chocolate, coconut, lemon-orange gelato, peppermint, pineapple sorbet, strawberry yogurt, triple chocolate, vanilla, and vanilla yogurt.

We also created frozen (and other) drinks that required plenty of ice cream, including root beer floats, coffee or chocolate stout floats, piña coladas and grasshoppers.

A lovely time was had by all, or at least by me! Thanks again to all involved.

*Disclaimer: In no way did we expect the party to be a gift-giving occasion. BK and I were just delighted that people were willing to show up and celebrate.

Tuesday with Nisi


Previously on the blog…

I said that Tuesday night of our Seattle/Anaheim trip needed a post all its own because it was so excellent. This is that post.

Here’s what happened: we got together with Nisi Shawl!  Nisi was one of the instructors for the Writing the Other Workshop and Retreat I took last June in Chattanooga. More than that, she (with Cynthia Ward) literally wrote the book—the one called Writing the Other, that is.

Nisi met BK, Lori and me in Seattle’s U District at Shalimar for dinner, which was delicious. After dinner, Nisi and I went to a reading at the UW bookstore.

I squeed when Nisi first suggested the reading for numerous reasons. First of all, it was sponsored by Clarion West. For those unfamiliar with Clarion West, it’s one of the premiere places for a serious science fiction and fantasy writer to move from “wannabe” to “is.” Instructors for the six-week intensive summer workshop have included Octavia Butler, Ursula K. LeGuin, George R. R. Martin and many others, equally as luminous.

The reading/Q&A/signing featured Charlie Jane Anders,  who was one of this session’s Clarion West instructors. I first became aware of Charlie Jane’s writing around Worldcon (Chicon) 2012, when she won the Hugo for her novelette, “Six Months, Three Days.”

Anyway I just happened to have a copy of the July/August issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction, mostly because a fellow Writing the Other workshopper, Annalee Flower Horne, has a story in it called “Seven Things Cadet Blanchard Learned from the Trade Summit Incident.” This is Annalee’s first professional fiction sale, so—exciting, right? Later I discovered that one of the other stories in the issue, “End of the World Community College” by Sandra McDonald has a character named Professor Nisi Shawl. This was another unexpected bonus to the July/August issue, which I highly recommend checking out.


However, another story in the issue is “Palm Strike’s Last Case” by Charlie Jane Anders. I hoped I could get her to sign my issue. (Annalee, you’re next! I just need to figure out when and how we can meet up to make it happen.)

Charlie Jane’s Tuesday night reading (a cutting from a story about a genie after the apocalypse) was great fun. The entire story is set to appear on this fall. The reading in itself would have been enough to cap off the evening, but I also got to gush at Charlie Jane and receive the longed-for autograph. Nisi introduced me to many Clarion West people, all of whom were gracious and welcoming. In all, it was a fabulous night.

I was momentarily sad when Nisi mentioned that she would be teaching a one-day workshop at Clarion West this October. Not sad that she’s teaching it—sad that I won’t be able to take it. My travel budget is seriously maxed out for the year, and I can’t plan another trip to Seattle so soon.

Do you write fiction? Can you get to Seattle October 5th? Then go and take the class! The topic—Voice and Voices—is something any fiction writer needs to work on, and Nisi is a great teacher. I asked her to let me know if she ever teaches it as an online class, and she promised me that she would. In turn, I promise to keep you all posted.