Liquid Ink

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


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Reading in NYC, Why There Are Words

I’ll be reading from The Fugue at Why There are Words this Sunday evening, March 5th. Event details are included at this link. Yes, I’ll have books for sale, discounted at $16, and I’ll be available to sign them.

Please note that this reading requires tickets. You can purchase advance discounted tickets here at Brown Bag.

I haven’t read in New York since last spring, so I’m excited to romp around again. I’m sure there will be drinks afterwards. I hope to see you.

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A very difficult question

Just a few weeks ago, I was in New York (to read at the Guerrilla Lit Reading Series at Dixon Place). While it was a mini-vacation for me, I ended up taking a phone call from a reporter who wanted to write me up for the Suburban Life. You can read that story here.

I took the interview while wandering around Central Park at dusk. Save for occasional brisk gusts, the evening was ideal, with the lights of the buildings along Central Park West and then 5th Avenue shining through leafless trees, the moisture in the air anticipating spring. For a part of the interview, I sat on an outcrop and, as night had fallen, did not encounter a single soul.

The reporter asked me some very difficult questions, perhaps more difficult than the ones Amy Danzer asked in this live interview of me. As these things go, obviously, some of the answers were cast aside in the drafting process. But one question stayed with me ever since that private moment on a Central Park boulder, perhaps because I had such a hard time answering it.

What does writing mean to you?

I had no idea how to answer this. I remember sighing and looking at the grass. What does it mean? I said something but can’t remember what.

I love writing fiction because it’s enough to ask a big question, poor form to try to answer it. But shouldn’t I know the answer to this?

I think, to answer it, I should compare writing to something I care very little about, like my shoes. My shoes mean almost nothing. They keep my feet from pain and offer me some capacity to look decent in public. Writing means much more than this.

But what?

I could get Zen about it. Meaning is a construct. But that’s a cop-out, especially when a reporter intuits that writing means some very important thing. After all, I wrote a 480 page book.

Since that time, I’ve found myself wondering if I would go on living were I to lose the ability to write. Let’s say I ended up suffering brain damage and could only know I’m unable to write stories burning themselves out in my mind. If I could see those stories and know them, feel their narratives like rivers or currents in my body, but never release them, would I keep living?

Surely, this bombastic question points to some meaning. I can’t answer it because my imagination can’t take me to the necessary place.

Central Park

 

 

 

 

 


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Thoughts on switching publishers

My publisher, Jerry Brennan of Tortoise Books, recently wrote a blog post to share his thoughts about taking over publishing and production duties for The Fugue. Writers aspiring to publish novels should read it. Today I want to expand a bit on Jerry’s thoughts.

It turns out that, unbeknownst to either of us, Jerry and I were students at Columbia University at exactly the same time. He was at the J-school while I attended classes one building to the north at the School of the Arts.

I often used to peer at the J-school and feel pangs of jealousy. Journalism students, I was sure, didn’t struggle with feelings of illegitimacy the way I did as a mere writing student. They were all sure of themselves and would one day offer society valuable skill. How could I know one of them would be publishing my book?

It’s possible that Jerry and I ate in the cafeteria at the same time or stood queued up in the bookstore at the very same hour. I would pass the J-school every single day, no matter if I was going to class or to the library. Al Gore was teaching there, and I once tried to pry in to a lecture only to get paranoid at the last minute and hide away. Jerry attended those classes.

I’ve known Jerry on Facebook and Twitter ever since the publication of Finding the Moon in Sugar in 2009. He and I caught wind of one another through Chicago’s indie writing community. Of course, I had no idea we had been classmates, trading places in rather classic ships-in-the-night fashion. I was quite literally working on the earliest version of The Fugue while Jerry was studying under Al Gore.

I experienced a roller coaster of a day this past February when CCLaP and I parted ways. In less than twelve hours, I went from being suddenly unpublished to published again, with a new marketing plan and a ton of support.

As with virtually anything in life, luck and diligence conspired to see me find a second deal. And I see no small bit of weirdness in the story, that a book I had essentially put under my bed, hung up as a failure, ended up published not once but twice, and in the span of less than a day, the second time by a guy from essentially the same graduating class.

I got good advice from wise people when I published Finding the Moon in Sugar. Here it is: reach out to everyone you can and take an active interest in other people’s businesses and stories; look at others in the publishing world as collaborators, not competitors, and understand that a team effort is necessary for a book to do well. Of course, many things are just beyond your control. You go to graduate school, at least partially, to “develop a network”. How fitting that a guy in my network was someone who shared my college experience when neither of us had any idea until the ink had dried on the contract.

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My new publisher

I’m thrilled to announce that my novel, The Fugue, has been picked up by Tortoise Books, a very specialized publisher with keen attention to detail. They’re here in Chicago, and I couldn’t be happier with how I’ve been treated by them.

In terms of content, the new book is, barring a few minor typographical adjustments, identical and tells the exact same story as the version originally published by CCLaP. Tortoise decided to redesign the cover and layout, and the result is a more classic feel. I love the paper its printed on. It smells the way old libraries used to.

Now…there are still first editions floating around out there. If you were totally in love with the old cover—it was a photograph I took in The Netherlands, in an old church converted to a bookstore—you might contact The Book Table or City Lit Books in Chicago. Those copies stand to become the rare versions.

If you immediately want this, the 2nd edition, your independent bookstore can order it for you. You can also get it at Amazon, and it’s available on the Kindle (or, with an app, on any device). I’ll be reading from and selling copies of this new version in New York on March 30th and in Seattle in April.

Fugue Full

The front

Cover Fugue 2 single


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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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Demise of Chicago’s insomniac culture

I got interviewed for this article about a Chicago Starfucks that changed its hours recently. It’s the only Starfucks worth going to, primarily because it has a serious late-night culture of bohemians. I had no idea the hours were going to be changed until the reporter told me about it, and my reaction to the news is featured in the article.

Among the many things that New York has over Chicago is a bonafide insomniac culture, one that exists throughout virtually the entire city. For a writer like me, a guy who really likes to work at night, and who gets bothered when he’s on a roll and ends up interrupted by some librarian who says, “I’m sorry. We’re closing in ten minutes,” all-night cafes and diners are essential. It does not have to be a clean well-lighted place. It just has to stay open and serve tea or coffee.

You know the refrain: “It didn’t used to be this way.” Chicago was an insomniac’s paradise in the 90’s, back when places like Red Caff, Green Street Cafe and Zorba’s never closed (there’s a nostalgic list, eh?), and when The 3rd Coast, still my favorite Chicago cafe, allowed all night smoking and bottomless coffee for less than $2. All of those places were a short el or bus ride from the Loop, which meant they were full of UIC, Columbia, IIT and Art Institute students, wired and looned and sharing cigarettes. There are still places that don’t close, including the White Palace and Mitchell’s (or whatever it’s called now), as well as various Frumpin Frunkin locations. There are also the all-night cabbie restaurants that sell greasy Indian food. For some reason, I just can’t write in those places. Writing in a Frumpin Frunkin is especially humliating, and reminds me of being trapped in hellholes like Akron, Dayton or Katowice, Poland where, back in the mid-90’s at least, the only place to hang out at any time of day was a Burger Ass. 

It’s easy to blame rising rents, or the fact that Chicago’s latest hours are hoodlum infested. I think the problem is more complicated, and that it has to do with what Robert Putnam argues in Bowling Alone. We just don’t care about community anymore. I doubt that the owners of Green Street made any serious amount of money between 3-5:00 am. It wasn’t worth it, not from a financial standpoint. But dammit, that multi-ethnic community of West Side smokers, readers and potheads, students and artists, bohemians down to their last dime…it was cool. And the owners knew it was cool. They were one of us, and we were one of them, even if we went there just to put our feet up and nap for a few hours, buying only a banana.

If it’s any consolation, The Hungarian Pastry Shop in New York recently also adjusted its hours, closing now before midnight, and Cafe Esperanto in Greenwich Village is long since defunct.  I spent many a late night in both places while at Columbia. So insomnia just ain’t what it used to be, not even in New York. Chicago, however, is killing faster than a major city should.

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My 9/11 Memoir

I was living in New York on 9/11/2001. I composed this brief memoir for today’s edition of The Good Men Project.

Sept 11 Fireman