These days, Illinois gets a bad rap. Of course, depending on who’s doing the bad-rapping, that could be ascribed as a honor. (Lookin’ at you, current occupant of the White House.) You name it, we are insulted for it. Underfunded pension funds. High tax rates. Crooked politicians. (Okay, maybe we deserve that—given the historical rate at which our governors wind up as convicted felons.) But I figure if you don’t live in Illinois, you really don’t have the right to cast aspersions. (Glass houses and all that). The fact of the matter is that Illinois is one of the states that is least dependent on the federal government—#46—and a state that sends a ton of money to D.C.—money which then gets sent along to other states who are far more dependent on the federal teat. States like—oh, let me not get started dissing other states. I love ‘em all. As I should. We are the United States of America, after all. Anyway, why should you believe me? I’m not an economist. You can check it out here. And this isn’t meant to be Boosterism Central. I just want to celebrate Illinois, my home sweet home, in a literary fashion.
And what better way to start but with the weird stuff… as lovingly compiled by Troy Taylor in a fabulous tome entitled—what else?—Weird Illinois. Every state has its oddities, oddballs, and outlandish occurrences (the world’s largest ball of twine in Cawker City, Kansas comes to mind), but Illinois can definitely claim some bragging rights in all three categories and Taylor puts them on display. For example, whereas Kansas may have its twine, Illinois has the world’s largest catsup bottle (or do you spell it ketchup?) Whatever—there it is on page 42 in all its 170-foot-tall glory. In real life, you can find it just outside of Collinsville, along Route 159. And while we generally don’t put catsup on our Chicago-style hotdogs, you can find a couple of weenies on the next page of the book, in a splendid photo of the two giant weiners perched atop the Superdawg Drive-in.
From roadside attractions to haunted houses to a cemetery “safari,” from strange beasts (Olney’s albino squirrels) to local heroes and villains to legends, lore and “unexplained phenomena,” Weird Illinois will definitely keep you infotained. Whereas will you learn about the Demon Butcher of Palos Park and the Murphysboro Mud Monster? But there’s also a fair bit of history here as well—admittedly tending toward the unsavory kind, mass murderers, serial killers and the like—and a charming chapter on some exceedingly unique dwellings, including a house with no square corners located in Bull Valley, and Villa Kathrine, a small Moorish castle overlooking the Mississippi in Quincy.
Spritely writing, clever illustrations, and colorful photos enhance this chronicle of weird AND wonderful Illinois!
Weird Illinois by Troy Taylor, Sterling Publishing, 2005.
Apparently, it has. Well, that's what happens when you are working on a new book. The blog takes a back seat... waaaaayyyy in the back. But hey, it's reborn with a new name and a new focus, as of today. Actually, the previous one didn't really have a focus, so I guess I should cross out the word "new." We'll be celebrating the rich literary tradition of Illinois, and yes, much of that will focus on Chicago, but we will give downstate and central Illinois its due as well.
I'm blessed to appear at two events this Saturday, June 24th. The first is a private event connected to the ALA Conference in Chicago. THRIVE is a celebration of indie books and community reading sponsored by Biblioboard, the Soon to Be Famous Illinois Authors Project and RAILS Library System, among others. The second is a public event at the Tamale Hut Cafe in North Riverside. Good times! Here's a link to the Tamale Hut Cafe's Reader's Series Blog for more info.
The Things We Save was recently named a semi-finalist in the BookLife Prize for Fiction sponsored by Publishers Weekly!
It's a busy weekend... Saturday, September 17th, I'll be visiting with the Barrington Writers Workshop. Then on Sunday, I'll be joining a group of diverse writers for a season opening reading event at Waterline Writers in Batavia. In between, I'll be watching a lot of football. Yes, I am hopelessly addicted since I started doing research on the game. Fun, fun, fun!!
"You never get a second chance to make a first impression." Someone said this first, but there seems to be some disagreement as to whether it was the poet, playwright and novelist Oscar Wilde or the American humorist Will Rogers. The saying IS engraved on a plaque at his memorial, so even if he didn't originate the line, he must have said it enough times to make, yes, an impression.
But it's true, especially when you're writing, well, just about anything. You have to grab your audience by the eyeballs and the mind so that they make the decision to follow where you want to lead.
The proofreading service Scribendi has created a wonderful infographic of 34 fabulous opening lines. Are any of your favorites here?
I have the pleasure of chatting about my novel with the Bookies of the Crystal Lake Public Library on Wednesday morning, June 15th at 9:30 AM. Looking forward to another lively discussion!
I love books. Everyone who knows me knows that.
I also love dessert, being an infamous chocoholic and ice cream addict.
Put them together and obviously, I'm in heaven.
So, when I discovered this infographic about desserts inspired by books, well, you know I had to share it with you! And you can find many more luscious items at Shari's Berries! So if you are craving delicious, check them out.
... Hockey season begins!
The NHL just released the 2015-16 schedule which fittingly begins on Wednesday, October 7, when the Chicago Blackhawks will raise their latest Stanley Cup banner to the ceiling of the United Center. But how, oh how, to occupy your time between now and then and get your hockey fix (particularly since this summer in Chicago seems to be trending wet and gloomy, making us think more of dreary November than sunny June)? And since most of the other teams in Chicago are... as usual. Okay, so maybe it's not been THAT cold... but we've definitely been lacking in sunshine. And the Cubs actually are contending this year... for now. But if it rains, well, how better to while away a rainy summer afternoon than with a good book... a good HOCKEY book. So presented for your consideration, an eclectic mix of titles all about "the Fastest Game on Earth."
Behind the Net: 101 Incredible Hockey Stories
Stan Fischler, Sports Publishing, 2013
Who doesn't love an incredible factoid told with style and verve? A well-known sports broadcaster presents photos and recollections of amazing, hilarious and absurd events that took place during hockey games over the past half-century, including Bill Mosienko scoring three goals in 21 seconds,Rene Fernand Gauthier accepting a challenge to shoot the puck in the ocean and Sam LoPresti facing 83 shots on goal in one game.
Crossing the Line: the Outrageous Story of a Hockey Original
Derek Sanderson, Harper Collins 2012
Because everyone enjoys a rise, fall and rise again story... set against a fresh backdrop -- HOCKEY! Here's an eye-opening story of the life of one of hockey's greatest players of the 1970s era. At the high point of his life, Derek was playing for the Boston Bruins, he was the highest paid athlete in the world and he was a winger for Bobby Orr. His rough and ready-for-anything style helped lead his team to two Stanley Cups. But the high was not to last (it rarely does) as he plummeted so low he ended up sleeping on a park bench. This is a story about Derek's rise to fame, his fall into blackness and his struggle to pull himself back onto his feet. That may sound familiar, but the candid, engaging writing style breathes fresh life into this "fall down twice, get up three times" tale. Today, Derek is a financial adviser for young athletes to help keep them from making the same mistakes that he did.
Bob McKenzie, Harper Collins 2014
You can't miss with a book with the word "confidential" in the title! McKenzie has over 350,000 hockey fans following him on Twitter and millions more on The Sports Network TSN. He's the quintessential hockey insider with over 35 years of experience in analyzing the game. He definitely has the access and the experience to bring some juicy stories to light. In this book, he goes behind the scenes, covering the inside stories, some lesser-known personalities and the events that shape the game.
Don't Call Me Goon: Hockey's Greatest Enforcers, Gunslingers and Bad Boys
Greg Oliver, ECW Press 2013
Because I never could resist a bad boy... In professional hockey, enforcers are often as popular with fans as the stars. Called upon to duke it out with a fellow troublemaker, or to shadow an opponent’s top scorer, these men get the crowds out of their seats, the sports-radio talking heads buzzing, and the TV audience spilling their beer in excitement. This book highlights a rogue's list of mayhem-makers from old timers like Joe Hall and Red Horner; to legendary bruisers like Tiger Williams, Stu Grimson, and Bob Probert; to fan favorites Tie Domi and Georges Laraque; and contemporaries such as Arron Asham and Brian McGrattan. It also explores the issues that plague the NHL’s bad boys — suspensions, concussions, controversy — and looks ahead to the future of tough guys in a changing era.
The Boys of Winter: the Untold Story of a Coach, a Dream, and the 1980s U.S. Olympic Hockey team
Wayne Coffey, Crown 2005
Yeah, so you know how it ends, so what? Some things are definitely worth revisiting. The author digs deep to depict the personalities and the breathtaking action on the ice. This saga of how coach Herb Brooks motivated a roster of 20 amateur, mostly college-age young men to orchestrate victory over an established Soviet team of seasoned, professionally trained skaters may be familiar, but believe it or not, it still offers suspense and heroism. Brooks emerges as an obstinate, aloof, but savvy coaching genius who elicited perseverance, grit, and a strong ethic of teamwork. This was a team full of dreamers, rather than a Dream Team.
So there you have it, five books to enrich your hockey dreams until the boys of winter make their return...
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