Liquid Ink

The official website of Gint Aras, Finalist 2016 CWA Book Award


The writer who doesn’t read books

I was at a book sale and signing event recently, sharing a table with another writer. The bookstore, located in a place with virtually no foot traffic, was near-empty, and the only people who came to our tables were interested in getting our signatures so that they could use them to enter a raffle the store had organized. My table partner and I spent the time talking about the usual things: book marketing strategies, the publishing industry and our current projects.

Eventually, I asked the guy, “What are you reading?”

He shrugged and said, in a tone so casual to be almost dismissive. “Eh, I don’t really read books. I’m just not really into them right now.”

I had no way of preparing myself for this. The guy was young, in his mid-20’s, right at the age when I had discovered writers who would remain favorites for the duration of my life, whose influence on my writing will never evaporate. He was at the age when I—no children or frightening responsibilities in my life—read between two and three hours each day, towers of books on my nightstand, desk and toilet tank. To this day, I don’t ever leave the house without a book in my bag, so I simply couldn’t hide my shock. “You don’t read?”

“I mean, I do research for projects. I like to study, mostly, so I get stuff from the internet. But I just don’t read books right now.”

I started stuttering. Perhaps I appeared offended. The experience was painful, stinging, unfathomable, inexplicable…I felt strain in my stomach and was overwhelmed by an urge to clench my teeth. “So, how do you work on craft without looking at stuff written by people who are better than you?”

“Eh, I get feedback. I’m in a writer’s group.”

“And…these writers. Do they also reject books? Do they ever tell you things like, ‘Your writing reminds me of such and such?’”

“Maybe they like books, but we don’t talk about it. The group is all about writing, so we focus on that.”

I sat with his answer for many minutes, feeling the silence stretching between us like a bungee cord about to kick back with the force of a falling elephant. I imagined the guitarist who did not listen to guitar, the painter who did not look at paintings, the doctor who rejected convalescence, the teacher who had nothing to learn. On any level, in any environment, the sculptor who had no use for sculpture would be considered a buffoon. If a singer came to a singing coach to reveal she had no interest in listening to song, the coach should send her packing. Yet this young man sat cocksure and certain of his intrinsic talent. Reading would be an admission of either weakness or incapacity.

I finally asked him, “How do you rationalize selling books to people when you don’t want to buy or consume books yourself?”

“Yeah, I get that point. I mean, it’s true, I guess, kinda. But I just got so many things on my plate. I don’t need to read someone else’s stuff to sell my own.”

I realized I was the only person to have ever asked this man that question. His education and culture must have reinforced his position as reasonable and rational. Still, I’d have a much easier time with the pharmacist who knows her wares are poisons just as I could get my head around the grocer who sold high fructose corn syrup without ever eating it himself. But…dude…these are books.

Books.

In America, in the 21st century, it’s not just the president and his followers who don’t read. Some writers have also joined their ranks.

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Photo of a contemporary book burning from Wikipedia.


Take my Prose Writing Workshop, 2018

Following the super-successful writing course that occurred last year, I’m teaching another prose writing workshop this spring. This time I’m changing a few things around, including the time of the week and venue. I’m excited about the details:

The Gint Aras Prose Writing Workshop
Wednesdays, April 4-May 23, 7:00-8:30
L!ive Cafe and Creative space
163 S Oak Park Ave, Oak Park, IL 60302
Cost: $440

Interested parties should register quickly. Last year’s workshop slots filled in after only a week. The way you register is by sending me the tuition via PayPal. The first eight people to send me tuition and their names will be registered. Because there are limited slots, and because I need to get organized, all registration purchases are final.

The prose workshop will also feature a reading and presentation of our works, held right at L!ve Cafe. The reading preparation will include coaching in public presentation skills, reading practice, pacing and contact with the audience.

If you’re stumbling on this blog for the first time,  you can learn more about me here.

My workshop is not based on any expectation I have of what writing “should be” or any aesthetic I favor. Instead, I use a method that asks writers to consider their goals and what methods or techniques best help achieve them. While I write literary fiction and essays myself, I’m a hungry reader and have plenty of experience with genre fiction, memoir, philosophy, etc. The only limitation is that participants write in prose. I will not offer commentary on poetry.

A word about L!ve cafe:

We’re renting the space after hours, which means the whole cafe is entirely ours! This includes the services of a barista who will serve amazing coffee, tea and food. L!ve Cafe is conveniently located steps from the Green Line (Oak Park Station) in beautiful Oak Park.

If you have any questions, please email me.

o

 

Sneak preview of my next book

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I’m currently working on a memoir about my upbringing in Cicero.

I have shared virtually nothing of the manuscript, neither with family nor friends, and I hardly talk about it with other writers. Earlier this month, on November 7th, I read an excerpt before an audience at Tuesday Funk.

Enormous thanks to Eden Robins and Andrew Huff, the brains and savvy behind the reading series, for having me again. Reading at Tuesday Funk is always a treat.

 


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Flooding damage

I had a clogged sewage pipe. The basement flooded, about five inches of water. All sorts of stuff needs to be discarded: rugs, mattresses, clothes. But there are two things that just ripped my heart to shreds.

This is a photo of the box that contains the only hard copy of the novel I wrote while living in Europe between 1996-1999. About a Lithuanian orphan who ends up influencing the life of an historian from Santa Barbara, it was never published. Yes…like The Fugue, this one was just sitting on the floor somewhere.

My wife fell in love with me while reading this book. I developed friendships while writing it, and I became myself as a writer, found my voice somewhere in the middle of it. It contains some of the worst sentences I’ve ever written, so pathetically, honestly unfortunate that they represent an organic beauty I’ll never know again.

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The text is ruined. Also in the box were critiques of my writing I had collected from classmates at Columbia, some of whom have gone on to become quite accomplished and acclaimed writers.

The other damage is a box of letters. Those letters date back to the late 80’s; many of them are in old air mail envelopes. The box contained post cards from ex-girlfriends, letters from men who had witnessed the Soviet crackdown in Lithuania; it’s just a box of treasures, memories, mementos, documents to make sense of my identity and past. Many of them will be saved, but some of them are just trashed.

My computer and cameras survived. So did my tax papers and all sorts of stuff money can replace.

Move your treasures to higher ground.


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Writing Workshop with Gint Aras

Gint Aras is leading a writing workshop this spring, 2017, in Oak Park’s famous Arts District. The workshop is open to writers of any level, aged 16 or older, and registration is on a first-come, first-served basis, maxing out at 8 students.

Classes begin on April 7th and meet weekly each Friday night thereafter, from 6:30-8:30 PM, at the Upstairs Apartment and Lounge (see photos below) above The Buzz Cafe in Oak Park, IL. The Buzz is only steps from the Austin Blue Line Station, easily accessible via the Eisenhower Expressway.

The course focuses on craft. However, Gint will lead students though strategies for pitching writing, identifying markets, maintaining an internet presence, and he’ll share knowledge of Chicago’s growing, exciting independent publishing and book-selling community. The final meeting on May 26th will feature a reading at a public venue in Chicago. Expect surprise guests!

To register for the course, click here and send him a message, including your name. You must have a PayPal account to register.

Details:

Prose Writing Workshop, with Gint Aras

Friday nights, 6:30-8:30, from April 7-May 26

Upstairs Apartment and Lounge, Buzz Cafe

905 S. Lombard, Oak Park, IL

Open to writers of any level, aged 16 or older

Registration ends after 8 students have registered 

Cost: $420

Gint Aras is the critically acclaimed author of The Fugue (Tortoise, 2016), finalist for the 2016 Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year Award. The novel was called “magisterial” by the Chicago Tribune and a “masterpiece of literary fiction” by Centered on Books. His other prose and translations have appeared in the St. Petersburg  Review, Quarterly West, Antique Children, Criminal Class Review, Curbside Splendor, ReImagine, STIR Journal, Heavy Feather Review, and he is a former contributing and section editor at The Good Men Project. Aras earned an MFA from Columbia University in the City of New York, and a BA in English and American Literature from the University of Illinois.

Portrait

Photo by Tauras Bublys Photography

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Discussions will take place in this wonderful room.

Buzz room 1

And also at this wonderful table

Buzz room 2


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Thanks to the Chicago Writers Association

I was thrilled to attend the award ceremony last Saturday night (January 14) at The Book Cellar to mark the Chicago Writers Association 2016 Book of the Year Awards. It was really a lovely evening, with one of the most amazing cakes I’ve ever seen, and wonderful conversation afterwards.

The complete list of winners is available here. The Fugue won an honorable mention. Here I am with Gerald Brennan, owner of my publisher, Tortoise Books.

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Photo courtesy of the Chicago Writers Association.


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Readers ask: Should a writer travel?

Most questions about writing are loaded, and they require reading between very many lines. They usually are versions of these two questions:

1.) Will such and such make me a better writer?

2.) Will such and such help me get published?

We should note that those questions are not about the same thing. If getting published required someone to improve their writing, a lot of currently published bestsellers would have never made it past the acquisition editor’s desk.

The only thing a writer should do is read and write. You really can’t do one without the other, not if you want to compose engaging texts. That’s the short answer.

The long answer is more interesting. Will travel make someone a better writer? Travel, when done outside all-inclusive resorts, builds empathy. It offers alternative points of view. Travel enough and you’ll learn that everybody considers themselves the center point. I’ve heard people from at least six other countries tell me they come from the greatest country in the world. (Russia, Canada, Australia, Germany, The UK, New Zealand)

Travel also disarms the traveler. It can, when done with the right purpose, displace mythologies. Travel raises questions that have no answers. It also displaces common explanations. Why was Rome built where it stands? Well…there’s the Tiber. Yes, but Rome stands elsewhere, not just on the banks of the Tiber. Fifth grade geography class has its limitations.

All of those things make someone a better thinker and citizen but not necessarily a better writer. We can work on our observations skills in our bedrooms. Their application on trips really does reveal things that are otherwise invisible.

Of course, some of the best writers never really went anywhere. One thing they all did, however, was read, and they read whatever they could get their hands on. Travel is fun and engaging, a much more rewarding way to pass the time than, say, watching NFL games. It’s not as expensive as people think, certainly not when compared to its benefits. One thing I always have in my bag when I’m traveling is a book. It’s usually written by someone very different from me.

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Photo from Wikipedia