I got to meet one of my writing heroes, Susan Orlean, on Saturday at Cleveland Public Library. She did a Q&A with a group of Lit Cleveland members and other writers who had attended a morning workshop on How to Create Creative Nonfiction. One of the things she talked about was how to organize your writing: "You can be the most beautiful writer in the world, but if you can't organize well, it won't work," she said. Orlean writes ideas down on note cards and then moves them around in order to visualize how they'll be presented within the book. While writing The Library Book, which has four separate story lines, she began telling people about the book and listening to herself as she did it. "I talked about the stories out loud a lot to begin feeling out the organization," she told us. She also suggested studying other books you admire and love: "Look at other books as structural models. Learn from them."
When I was editor of Fresh Water Cleveland from 2014-2015, I worked closely with Nikki Delamotte on several stories. She was a rising talent then, of course, and everyone knew it. She readily agreed to serve on Literary Cleveland's board in 2016, and then jumped off when she landed her job at Cleveland.com later that year. A lot of us at Fresh Water cheered because we knew she'd bring a smart, youthful energy to the job and that she'd write about cool stuff happening in the city, which is sorely needed.
Nikki's tragic death earlier this week, which left many of us stunned and sad, made me want to pay small tribute by reading my favorite Fresh Water stories by her. I love these pieces on historic buildings being renovated in Cleveland, young hispanic business owners breaking out of the box, and people changing the conversation about Cleveland. (And man, it reinforces how kind she was that she took on these lengthy, sprawling stories at all -- any one of these business owners or individuals being profiled could have been a great story on its own.)
To donate to Nikki Delamotte's memorial fund to help her grieving partner and mother, check out the GoFundMe site.
Story Club Cleveland asked me to be a featured performer on Wednesday night at their west side show at Forest City Brewery. I'm glad I said yes (and hopefully they are too). I told a story about raising my daughter in the era of Trump, while others told stories about moving to Cleveland, traveling and running marathons. The other featured storyteller was Liz Ferro, who told her own powerful story of surviving foster care and sexual abuse and how it led to her amazing work with girls through her nonprofit organization Girls with Sole.
One of the things that struck me about the evening was how well-versed the crowd clearly was in the form, and how kind they were to each performer. The individuals who took the open mic slots had some ideas of what they wanted to talk about, but they were not reading from a script or their notes, and that made it all the more fun and interesting. I guess in our digital age, people feel the desire to gather over a glass of beer and tell stories to each other. Aw. Plus the beer is good and the venue is fantastic.
OCFB: When did you begin writing poetry?
LC: I started writing poetry in high school. Although I was writing short stories in middle school, in high school I discovered poetry through my English teacher at University School, Kevin Kay. We completed a poetry unit in which I read poems like “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hadyn (a Detroit poet), “Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio” by James Wright (an Ohio poet) and others. I fell in love with their lyrical voices and that was it for me.
As time progressed, I became interested in other genres of writing – songwriting, journalism and creative nonfiction. But I have always come back to poetry.
OCFB: Congratulations on the publication of How to Live in Ruins . Last year you published your first poetry collection, The Shape of Home and now your second collection will be released in November. Does the new collection expand upon the ideas present in the first?
LC: My first collection braids together poems about growing up in Northeast Ohio with pieces about urban parenting, and the whole endeavor in set in a recessionary environment. I’m exploring themes of creating your own identity amidst the echoes and influences of the past. How to Live in Ruins tells the next chapter of the story – one couple moving into and raising kids in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood of Cleveland, a place that might appear “ruins” when viewed from the outside. The poems grapple with challenges facing urban neighborhoods like crumbling schools, homelessness, people losing their homes to foreclosure. They’re personal but also political.
Click here to read the whole interview and check out the work of OCFB.
Last night, Jen O'Leary and I performed original and favorite songs to a good crowd at Visible Voice Books, an excellent bookstore in Tremont. After schlepping several loads of gear up two flights of stairs to this upstairs book nook, it was good to perform in this lovely (and cool) space. Some of the highlights included performing new original songs like "Sympathy for the Brute" and "Red House," older ones like "When I Was a Train" and "Lucky," and showcasing Jen's harmonies on "Don't Go Back to Rockville" and "Long Black Veil" and her lead on "Hey Jack Kerouac." We took a break midway through the performance and sang happy birthday to the fabulous Katherine Readey. At the end of the night, many glasses of wine and beer had been drunk, we'd nearly destroyed The Destroyer, Crust Pizza's epic-sized pizza, and the birthday cake was mostly gone (especially the flower, which 4.5 year old Jonathan was insistent about eating because it contained the most frosting). More friends joined the birthday bandwagon at Bourbon Barrel Room down the street for drinks and appetizers, and the night ended with so-bad-it's-good karaoke at Tina's Niteclub, aka Cinderblock Heaven. Katherine can thank me later that when a friend handed her a shot of whiskey, I took it away and told her to go back to drinking beer. We had such a great time hanging with friends, and are grateful for our community in CLE as well as epic babysitters Tuni and Lee Chilcote.
This week, I had the pleasure of having lunch with Scott Lax, the author of The Year That Trembled, Vengeance Follows and other works, in Chagrin Falls. Scott is teaching some awesome workshops focused on the art of fiction and essay writign in collaboration with Fireside Bookshop. This is another local gem that has been reinvigorated by new owner Lori Muller-Zaim and her business partner Jean Butler. Info about Scott's workshops, which have been selling out, are on his website at www.scottlax.com.
Stop by and check out Fireside Bookshop at 29 North Franklin St. in Chagrin Falls. Their website is www.firesidebookshop.com.
"Good doesn't always look like how you imagine it," Benjamin Percy writes in The Dark Net. "Sometimes it cusses and wears a leather jacket and motorcycle boots and chain smokes. Sometimes it deals a little on the side. Sometimes it kills."
Percy's book, a vampire novel that is simultaneously about the dangers of the Internet, tells the story of demons who flow into the world through a virus propagated on the Dark Net (where dangerous and illegal stuff takes place on the Internet).
Somehow this gravel-voiced writer (have a listen here) manages to take a genre novel and imbue it with cheeky literary significance -- in the book there are debates about God, good and evil, as well as a frightening sense that our society is headed towards calamity by our over-reliance on insecure Internet connections. Holy public policy, Batman!
Percy is coming to Cleveland Public Library as part of its Writers and Readers series in collaboration with Literary Cleveland on Fri.-Sat. Aug. 3rd-4th.
Don't you just love the holidays? It's a season where we get to use otherwise quaint, defunct words like "merriment." Depending on what you're into, that could mean candy canes or spiced alcoholic beverages.
Anyway, this Saturday, Dec. 9th from 3-5 pm, I'll be signing copies of my poetry chapbook The Shape of Home at Gypsy Beans. I'll be there with neighborhood authors John G., Justin Glanville and others. Come by and say hi!
But wait, there's more: across the street the Gordon Square Art Space will be selling signed copies of The Shape of Home along with other artists' work. Go read "Tales to Demystify" by John G., his comic about navigating Gordon Square in a wheelchair. It's wrenching, funny and artful.
Finishing Line Press nominated a poem from my 2017 poetry chapbook The Shape of Home for a Pushcart Prize. Here's the full list of works nominated by FLP:
The Shape of Home by Lee Chilcote: “Catching Sunfish”
Becoming Trans-Parent, One Family’s Journey of Gender Transition by Annette Langlois Grunseth: “Becoming Trans-Parent”
Gas & Food, No Lodging by Devi S. Laskar: “The All-Saints, GA, Overeaters Support Group”
Landscape of The Wait by Jami Macarty: “Aground”
Dipped in Black Water by Kate Peper: “Saved”
Brief Immensity by Jeanine Stevens: “V Shapes against Blue”
They also nominated my book for the Society of Midland Authors Award in Poetry. The winners will be announced in 2018.
According to the website, "Since 1957, the Society has presented annual awards for the best books written by Midwestern authors. Notable winners of the juried competition have included Saul Bellow, Kurt Vonnegut, Studs Terkel, Gwendolyn Brooks, Mike Royko, Jane Smiley, Dempsey Travis, Leon Forrest, William Maxwell, Louise Erdrich, Scott Turow, Alex Kotlowitz, Aleksandar Hemon, Stuart Dybek, Roger Ebert and many more."
For more information visit their website: http://midlandauthors.com.
Last month, I was invited to the Eastside Reading Series at Coffee and ( ) by Detroit writer Aubri Adkins. The coffee shop, which is totally worth a visit, is in the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood where every other brick house is vacant. Aubri and her husband moved to Detroit from Chicago and bought one that had been vacant six years and now they're fixing it up. She has a great story about the homeless guy she found living there when they were days away from closing.
While we in the neighborhood, Katherine and I had lunch at Rose's Fine Foods on Jefferson and took a stroll through the neighborhood park, which is in disrepair but pretty. We took these pics at the spot where the Detroit River empties out into Lake St. Clair. We never made it to Belle Isle because we ran out of time.
Good crowd, the other readers were fun to listen to, and I sold a couple books. Afterwards, Detroit writer Kelly Fordon put us up at her house and entertained us by showing us Hamtramck and bringing us to the Public Pool art space. If you brought a potluck dish, you can read for two minutes. Since we came with Kelly and she brought some awesome Middle Eastern food, I got to read my poem "In Medias Res."
The next morning, I got up early and walked along Lake St. Clair. After coffee and breakfast with Kelly, we checked out the Diego Rivera murals at the DIA before having brunch with Uncle Mike and his wife Amy at the Grey Ghost. We wanted to stay longer, but were grateful for our quick 24 hours in Detroit. After brunch, we headed home to pick up the kids at my parents' house.