Letters, A New Project

 So, a funny thing happens when you "finish" a novel and you're trolling for an agent (a long, lugubrious process). You start, rather I start, organizing. What I've discovered is a trove of good old letters and postcards. Remember those? Maybe you don't. But back in the olden days people used  to write things on paper, on postcards, on stationery. So I've been bundling them up, and I have a plan. I'm going to find these people who wrote me and get their home addresses. I'm friends with most of them on Facebook, so this shouldn't be difficult. I want to write them back--letters or poems, I'm not sure what.

I want to tell them about their old selves, about my new self, and I will cross my fingers that I'll wind up eventually with another bunch of letters to bundle in ribbons and keep in boxes.  I've already discovered some long-forgotten not-so-impressive moments from my past, but also lots of love and silliness, too. And yes, ironic Reagan postcards, and postcards of Woody Allen before he was scandalous, and a card from the former USSR that says, "Cheers, Eileen, Now the KGB has your address. Love, Jim." 

Stay tuned!



Latest Activities on the Writing Biz Front

I had a wonderful time on September 24 at the Chicago Writers Conference listening to writers' practice pitches for agents. This was a super fun activity for me, one for which I may be a natural (a surprise to me). Nervous/confident writers told me their plots, their angles, and their target markets, and I helped them to narrow the scope of their three-line pitch. Maybe this is new career possibility! I had some sweet follow-ups, as well:

  • "Your help on how to prepare a pitch was very beneficial, and you gave me plenty of wonderful recommendations on how to improve it so that I felt well prepared for my pitch to an agent."
  • "I want you to know that your advice on framing/telling the story of my dark comedy was invaluable. I boiled it down, told it clearly and concisely.  . . . Four of four agents asked for manuscript.

My review of Harley and Me, by Bernadette Murphy, for The Rumpus

Check out my review of this memoir by Bernadette Murphy, who, at 48, decided to buy a Hog, leave her husband, and begin living a more "authentic" life. She looks at risk-taking behavior, the influence of hormones on decision making, and briefly discusses how her difficult childhood contributed to the woman she became. Her vivid descriptions of the rush, brutality, and exhilaration of the ride might make you tempted to take a wild ride yourself. 

Must Read: Swarm Theory by Christine Rice.

I loved this novel-in-stories, Swarm Theory, by Chicago writer Chris Rice. This is a fierce and brave collection about a Michigan town peopled by GM execs, farmers, and outlandish transplants. The adolescent characters--whether drag racing, tossing footballs, or being led astray by their junkie moms, are sometimes resilient survivors, sometimes tragic losers. An intense, must-read. And you have to dig the publisher's name: University of Hell Press.

"On Fertility" published in The Butter, Roxanne Gay, editor

Thanks to Roxanne Gay for publishing this essay in The Butter. It was accepted on Sunday, and published a week later. That's the kind of speedy production process that sends my head a-reeling.  I so appreciate the chance to share my experiences with other people.  This is a picture of me in the graveyard in Milford, Ireland, where my great-grandparents were buried (though this isn't their plot). I miscarried about a week later.  1998.

"All the years you took from her..."

 I keep listening to the gorgeous song, "Children of Children" by Jason Isbell. This lyric gets me every time:

You were riding on your mother's hip,

she was shorter than the corn.

All the years you took from her,

Just by being born.

I heard that he and his wife, Amanda Shires, are expecting their first child.  What strikes me about that line, which weds lyric and music so perfectly, is that I love it and disagree with it. In my head I'm thinking, "All the years you gave to her, just by being born." Because to be a mother is to have this gift, this entree into so many experiences that I would have hated to have missed. At the same time, yes, there's so much I haven't been able to do since my first daughter was born 8.5 years ago.  But during the years that I thought I might never be a mother, I longed to be part of all the child-rearing challenges. Even when I've been frustrated, struggling to balance a creative life with the domestic life of motherhood, I'm so glad not to have missed this experience. I read a piece about why millenials don't want to have children. Parenthood isn't for everyone. It definitely isn't for someone who's only going to emphasize what they're losing by having children (all the years you took from her). Rock on, Jason!  I hope fatherhood expands your already sensitive worldview. And Amanda, here's to an excellent birth experience. I hope it's amazing.



Mother's Day 2015

I woke this morning, smiling at all the happy pictures of Facebook friends with their mothers:  mothers holding them as babies; black-and-white photos of their glamorous mothers of yesteryear; wizened crones holding infants. Friends wished me well, wished that spa certificates were coming my way--all that.  Then I saw a post that really gave me pause. It was a shout-out not to all the accomplished moms of the world, but rather to all the people who lost a mother, who lost a child, who longed to be a mother. I thought of my friends who lost children to cancer, to bad custody battles.  I thought of all the motherless children I know, who even as adults still longed for their mothers.  And I remembered myself, for ten long years waiting to have a child, and how every Mother's Day during that decade, I felt so left out. I felt like a failure. Two of my miscarriages occurred within a week or two of Mother's Day, and I remember my mother telling me, and my aunt Betty telling me, and even the nurse in the hospital in Limerick, Ireland telling me, "You're a mother too!  Your babies are up in heaven praying for you right now."

I got lucky somehow, because I woke up this morning to catch my 8-year-old daughter in the act of making me a smoothie. She handed me a beautiful book of illustrated poems,and she gave me a big hug. I know that it all worked on in the end for me (so far, so good), and I also know that it doesn't always work out for others, and I wish to honor the longing and the loneliness this day can create for people. And if they feel like celebrating when Monday comes, I don't blame them a bit.

Artist Statement

When applying for grants or positions, one must write one of these, so here's mine:

My current work in both fiction (The Worship of Storms: A Novel) and nonfiction (“The Best Revenge” a personal essay) addresses the concerns of women coming of age, specifically, self-discovery through sexual encounters and friendships with men and women. Sometimes fraught with conflict and misunderstanding, these interactions have the power to destroy or to heal. Tidy redemption does not interest me, yet I also reject an easy cynicism. Depicting alienation without moments of connection strikes me as a biased, false-serious approach, which bears no resemblance to my own experience of life.


When I write, I strive for elegance and beauty, but lyricism can be as deceptive as cynicism. Writing beautiful sentences about traumatic experiences creates a powerful and haunting dissonance. I do not wish to romanticize trauma, but to convey honestly difficult experiences that influence a character (or myself) and that crystallize identity. By writing visually and with sensorial clarity, I hope to make the reader feel empathy and connection with my characters and with myself. This specificity leads to catharsis and recognition of basic universal truths that transcend my own experience to reach a broad range of readers.  


When writing nonfiction, the principles laid out by Philip Lopate in his introduction to The Art of the Personal Essay are always foremost in my mind. The essay, according to Lopate, is a way to show the mind at work. To essay is to make a run at something without knowing whether you will succeed. This notion appeals to me, as experience is thorny and puzzling, and the essay form celebrates ambivalence. I also study closely the work of Ariel Levy for visual language; James Baldwin for wrestling with complex thinking; and George Orwell for a model in studying the self within historical contexts. 


As a novelist, my influences are wide-ranging, and as I’m currently writing a first-person narrative, I study writers who practice in both prose forms.  Margaret Atwood is a model for writing about women’s issues, specifically her novels Cat’s Eye and The Blind Assassin.  To capture the lyric and the comic, I look to Vladimir Nabokov’s novels and as well as his memoir, Speak Memory.  For inspiration in writing about Ireland, I look to James Joyce for a critical eye on Catholicism; Rosemary Mahoney, for magnificent descriptions of setting; and to contemporary Irish writer, Kevin Barry, for spot-on dialogue.  


In a culture where snark and sharp-tongued retorts are the dominant discourse, I strive in my writing to capture less aggressive craft: I want to write beautiful sentences; I want to show how love connects people in miraculous ways, despite death, destruction, and pain.

Spotted: Mayor of Chicago Gets Coffee

Rahm Emmanuel, Eileen Favorite, fameI was recently in the Corner Bakery (Wabash and Monroe), and who should I see?

"Look," I whispered to the woman waiting for coffee next to me. "It's Rahm Emmanuel."

"I don't know who that is. I'm from Wisconsin," said she.

"The mayor of Chicago? Former Chief of Staff for President Barack Obama?" Ring any bells?  She shook her head.

I resisted the urge to say hello to him, because a gal's gotta let a man get his coffee.  When I told a friend about the event, she said, "Did you talk to him?" I answered in the negative. I felt odd enough snapping a picture (thus the mediocre shot at left). Oh that I were a bold Hibernian who would demand a selfie with the mayor!

The event reminded me of a story my brother Phil Favorite told me about.  He lives in Portland, Oregon, and one night he was at a show for a local band. Standing in the crowd with him was Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. Phil's mouth dropped as they locked eyes, then Eddie Vedder slowly raised his finger to his lips and said, "Shhh."  Phil nodded.  Let the man listen to some music. Ever since Phil told me that, I've always given "celebrities" wide berth when I've spotted them out in the world. 

Day of Mourning

I found this picture while paging through a photo album a few weeks ago, and it stopped me cold. I had forgotten it.  At the time, I was probably more interested in capturing an image of the Brooklyn Bridge, which always had the air of cathedral to me.  The shot was taken in September 1991, a full 10 years before the attacks.  I hesitated to post it.  I worried, "Is it show-offy?"  Don't the survivors of the people killed in the attacks get traumatized every time they see a photo of the World Trade Center towers?  I would. Yet even as it worries me, the image proves something about how life is ephemeral, how these things we take for granted, that we might see simply as background, are actually full of power and life. 


A few years earlier, when I lived in Brooklyn, I often stood on the corner of Flatbush and Nostrand Avenues, and from miles away, the towers were the size of two cigarettes. They symbolized to my grad-school self unattainable Manhattan:  Wall Street, power, money, a Shangri-la for an aspiring writer.  To the attackers, they symbolized something similar, but for them money and power were also about something utterly American, something oppressive, something to destroy.  There’s absolutely nothing redemptive I can say about that.  Things have only gotten worse since then—domestically and internationally.  What should we be commemorating?  I have no idea.  The only people who truly know the devastation of September 11, 2001, are those that died, and those who loved them.