Liquid Ink

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

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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Taco trucks: the shocking truth

Back when I was a kid growing up in Cicero, at that time almost equally (at least in my immediate neighborhood) made up of Eastern European and Mexican families, there were ways of expanding your ethnic identity. Ok…expanding is the wrong word. You could become an “honorary” Mexican or Lithuanian by going through initiations.

To be baptized an honorary Lithuanian, you had to eat a jar of herring or a huge chunk of homemade headcheese. My friend Juozas and I came up with this initiation, an ironic one, at least in my friend’s case, as he had never eaten either herring or headcheese in his life. The child of displaced persons,  he still qualifies, despite his culinary tastes, for Lithuanian dual citizenship. The Mexican boys who gagged over pig nose jelly will never be able to claim this.

Becoming an honorary Mexican was much easier.  You had to lie down and let your Mexican (and honorary Mexican) friends kick your ass for three minutes. The only rule was no punching in the face or balls. In truth, the three minutes often stretched to four or five.

We did not do this because we valued multiculturalism or envied each other’s identities. We were just boys finding ways to fuck with each other in the packs we joined for protection and friendship.

These initiations, like other rites and customs of the street, depended on unspoken but clear codes. Everybody understood that if your friend had gone through the trouble of taking a three (or five) minute beating,  or if he had slurped down a quivering cube of pig ass—which, mind you, often resulted in real tears—you had to defend him in the event that bullshit came his way.

So, as an honorary Mexican who oversaw the baptisms of a few dozen honorary Lithuanians, let me say a few things about the prospect of taco trucks on every corner.

To America, this would represent a culinary revolution of a magnitude not seen since the invention of the Weber grill. If there were a taco truck on even one corner in most any random town of less than 50,000 people between Youngstown, Ohio and Limon, Colorado, the quality of the local cuisine would improve by a factor so large that I cannot find any tool to help me calculate it. If there were taco trucks at both ends of my block, I’d have hardly any need to go to a grocery store.

A taco truck is superior, both as a food delivery system and a purveyor of quality, than any McDick’s, Burger Thing, Undies, Taco Hell, Beef’n’Cream, Pulverz, Shitway, Jimmy Shlong’s or any other such dump. A taco truck is a civilized place to eat and sells a food item with a rich and fascinating history, linked to lifestyle changes among the working class, specifically to men mining silver. Its development is not unlike the arrival and evolution of the pasty in Michigan’s iron mines or the Vienna Beef dog on Chicago’s South Side, the latter during the Depression. So the taco has more in common with the story of class struggle than does any pumpkin latte or chocolate stout.

So, bring it on. A taco truck beside every school, across the street from every workplace, down the road from your town hall, public library, place of worship and watering hole. Especially the watering hole. Because the only thing better than a taco following a night of raucous frolic is the tamale guy.

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A visit to Tribune Tower

So…I got to talk to Rick Kogan on WGN Radio last night. It was an extraordinary experience, and I have more to say about it than I’ll be able to include in a short blog post.

Rick Kogan is a journalist and radio personality with almost six decades of experience covering Chicago. He has spoken to and written books about idols of mine, and when it comes to the subject of Chicago, is clearly among the most knowledgeable people alive. To have sat in a studio chair next to him equals one of the most fucking amazing experiences of my life. To hear him call my book Algren-esque, Dostoevsky-esque and Dybek-esque on the air left a strange, giddy tremble in my hands that has yet to go away.

It was also humbling and head-spinning to find myself in the Tribune Tower. While I had walked past the building countless times, I had never been inside. Yesterday, I rode my bike down Madison from Oak Park, past the former site of Fort Dearborn, over the Chicago River, then I walked up to the tower with a sense of awe and connectedness to the history of my city. So many great people (and, to be fair, some extraordinary and colorful assholes) had walked through those doors and worked in that building.

I’ll say it was equally exhilarating and intimidating to step up to the receptionist and let her know I was scheduled to talk on the radio. I thought only babble or drool might exit my mouth once someone gave me a microphone. But it all worked out. You can listen here, and please do share with the book lovers in your live.

Some photos:

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How I landed my book deal (in only 15 years)

I’m happy to announce that the pre-launch for my upcoming novel, The Fugue, is underway. You can find pre-order information here at the CCLaP website. I also encourage people to check out what kind words Jason Pettus, CCLaP’s owner, left on the novel’s Goodreads page. “This is the literary novel for those who love literary novels…”

The Fugue started out back in 2000 when I was a student in New York. One night I wrote a vignette titled “Juri’s Window”. Juri was a painter and sculptor living in Amsterdam, perhaps in the mid 90’s, where he collected unemployment benefits and sculpted from trash. The vignette was simple: a description of a window Juri put together out of glass bottles and the remains of a discarded fence. I looked at it as a writing exercise.

But this character pestered me, kept appearing in my work. Soon the name had changed to Yuri, and he had a family, a girlfriend. Later, I moved him from Amsterdam to my hometown of Cicero, and his family gained a complex history of flight and displacement. Eventually he’d been accused of arson and murder. I realized I had a novel.

I messed around with various drafts for years. But in the summer of 2006, at that time working in Bloomington, Indiana, I felt the book, clocking in at about 135,000 words, was finished, and I started trying to sell it, going about it in the traditional way, sending cold queries to strangers.

Mind you, obsessed with The Fugue, I had not published a single piece of short fiction at that point. I don’t know how many rejection letters I collected—for a while I had been assembling them in a scrapbook, but in time I had no place to put them, and far from motivating me, they were just trash mail, most of them the usual form rejections. What kept me writing queries were the nibbles. This Midtown agent asked for the first 50 pages; that Chelsea editor asked for the manuscript. Now another agent wanted the whole thing. After reading, she told me her colleague might be a better fit and forwarded the text along.

The people who read it in whole or part all said about the same thing: “You don’t have a platform, and this book’s too difficult to market.” I took to heart that they didn’t say, “Your writing is shit.” It left me enough to maintain the feeling that I could be a writer. But I hung up The Fugue as a failure and set it under the bed, so to speak.

In the summer of 2007, I started writing Finding the Moon in Sugar, a project that occupied the years leading up to my first child’s birth in 2009. And then I took on smaller writing assignments, including a stint with The Good Men Project.

Part of the reason I self-published Finding the Moon in Sugar was to get my name out there. I wanted to have something gripping but fun to read from during events, and I thought the best way to learn how to market a book—a work of literary fiction, to the point—was to get out there and try to do it.

Last autumn, 2014, I was reading from Finding the Moon at RUI, a reading series here in Chicago. I hoped, at best, to sell a couple of copies, maybe learn about some new writers. At the bar, Sheffield’s, I ended up sitting next to a man, Jason, who had a lot to say about selling books. Turned out he had a publishing house. After my reading—I read the scene when Andy hears opera music for the first time—Jason asked me if I had any short stories. Sure, I said. I have plenty. But when I checked out his website, I figured, what the hell. Maybe I’ll tell him about The Fugue.

This holiday season, the book that started out as a vignette will hit the shelves and e-readers. In anticipation, have a look at the cover. It’s gorgeous:

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Another blurb for The Fugue

The advanced reading copy of The Fugue is almost done. While anticipating how it will look, I received this humbling blurb from Alan Ziegler.

A character in The Fugue describes the eponymous musical form as having melodies “weave together like braids or plaits, then split up and come back together again.” One of Gint Aras’s many achievements in this constantly compelling novel is to propel the reader back and forth in time, encountering several generations of characters (mostly congregants and clergy at St. Anthony’s in Cicero) in various permutations with each other and in relationship to a house fire, the central act of violence (and many subsidiary affronts) that bind and break them. 
 
Set in the Lithuanian community during the decades following World War II, The Fugue is partly a “whodunit,” but is more concerned with the steps leading up to and fallout from what’s been done. Aras is a master with dialogue (especially when characters are inarticulate with each other) and details. We vicariously experience such acts as converting beer bottles “into a crude stained glass,” writing with an antique fountain pen, eating, playing and composing music, and sculpting from scrap metal, seemingly innocuous details Aras exploits to accentuate evil and surprise us with good. Aras doesn’t sugar-coat the agonies—great and small—endured and perpetuated by his cast; rather, he spices them in such a way that you feel the bite on your tongue and remain hungry for more. Amidst shattered lives, it is still possible for broken pieces to find each other and make something beautiful.
 
The Fugue is scheduled for release on December 7th, 2015.
A view of the Lithuanian wayside cross beside St. Anthony's Parish School, Cicero, Illinois.

A view of the Lithuanian wayside cross beside St. Anthony’s Parish School, Cicero, Illinois.


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First blurb for The Fugue

The first blurb for The Fugue, my forthcoming novel (December, CCLaP) is a kicker:

Gint Aras’ epic novel ‎is nothing less than a tour de force masterpiece. In a morality play that takes place against the bleak backdrop of Cicero, Illinois, we see the lives of an amazing set of characters (“displaced people”) haunted by nightmares and dark obsessions. Like a musical fugue, the complex recurring thematic materials of the story carry the reader on a nail-biting journey that sustains incredible suspense until the very end of the novel. The imagery is masterfully portrayed throughout, and the deep sadness of the story is also juxtaposed with the possibility for beauty and redemption. All I want to do now is read it again!

David Krakauer
Grammy nominated international performing and recording artist‎

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Accepting success and admitting failure

The most difficult question a student ever asked me is the topic of this week’s True Community, my weekly column about men and education.

The article deals with questions virtually any middle class father and husband will face. How can we improve ourselves and our capacity to provide and father when self-improvement requires sacrifices of time and money, the two things we need to be effective fathers and providers?

Please read and share. Cheers.

 

Success

 

Photo by MsSaraKelly