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Spring (if only for a moment)

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I know it won't last, but at this very moment there is sunshine and warm weather in Chicago! It's Spring!

I wrote until way too early in the morning, but I'm happy for the progress. Then I met a friend for lunch, who put up with my slightly slap-happy and sleep-deprived state.

I am feeling so grateful for this beautiful day.

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I had a wonderful time at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts in Florida, and I'll write about it soon. I have a few blog posts to finish, comic book pages to revise, and stories to send off.

Soon.

But right now, I'm enjoying the sun and warm wind on my face, and the appearance of catkins on the branches outside the house (pussy willows are always the first sign of Spring around here).


Spring stirs my heart and my imagination. It makes me feel like anything is possible, like all the ideas and emotions and stories that have been growing will be rewarded with a most beautiful blossoming.

Whatever may happen tomorrow, right at this moment, it is enough to make me happy.

Crossroads and Connections

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Chicago has such a great theater scene, with more than 200 small, critically acclaimed theatre companies. I've seen Shakespeare in a former church, sketch comedy in a grungy basement, a puppet show in a smoky pub. I love all the opportunities to see provocative theater, emerging playwrights, and innovative ensembles.

When a friend called my attention to Cameron McNary's "Of Dice and Men" being performed by Otherworld Theatre, there was no question. The play appeals to my love of theatre and my love of things geeky—I wanted to see it right away.

I met my friend Sean at The Public House Theatre for the 7:30pm show, and we settled onto the couch that forms the first row. The Pub House has two theatrical spaces, and the other play, "Bye Bye Liver," had a later start time in the adjoining space. The stage was part castle, part basement bedroom dressed with beloved science fiction and fantasy books and D&D accoutrements.

Broken down simply, "Of Dice and Men" is about a group of six friends on the edge of dramatic changes in their lives. They are Dungeons & Dragons players, and many of them have been playing together since high school, sharing life's ups and downs while throwing the polyhedral dice. These are not caricatures of gamers/geeks, they are authentic, well-rounded characters, clearly envisioned by a writer who knows and loves that world so well.

"Of Dice and Men" opens with a familiar scene, narrator (and Dungeon Master) John Francis is taking books off his shelves and dividing them into two boxes: To Keep or To Give Away. The play follows John Francis as he prepares to move to another city and say goodbye to his friends and their weekly D&D game. Before John Francis can make his announcement, however, another of his friends reveals that he has enlisted in the Marines to go to Iraq.

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The play begins at that moment on the crossroads—one of my favorite ideas to explore because it is both familiar and powerful. At certain points in our lives, each of us comes to a crossroads; and we have to make choices about the things, ideas, and people we hold onto, and those we choose to let go.

It may be Dungeons & Dragons, it may be comic books, it may be old movies or cds. We get to that place and take stock of what we'll bring and with whom we want to move forward. It's what you do in games, and it's what you do in life. "Of Dice and Men" explores this beautifully, with humor, intelligence, and emotion.

I loved it.

The writing is smart, the play is well-crafted, the cast is wonderful. "Of Dice and Men" was the kind of play that had me smiling through about 80% of it, tearing up for at leat 10%, and fully engaged the entire time.

The cast has terrific on-stage chemistry and sold me on their characters' friendship. I loved the brash John Alex, the noble Jason, and all the rest. They are authentic, endearing, and playful when they need to be (for example, when a piece of the set wall came crashing down onto John Francis and Brandon).

At one point in the play, the character of John Francis questions the stereotype of the gamer and the inherent value of gaming. It's a question that can be applied to many of the seemingly "pointless" things we do to fill our time. "Of Dice and Men" doesn't just ask the question, it attempts to answer it by showing us these friends inside and outside of their D&D game.

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The things we love to do with friends form the backdrop for our friendship. Yes, these activities are fun and allow us to step out of our mundane lives for a few hours. More importantly, things like gaming or watching football set aside time and space for us to connect—to talk about our lives while rolling dice or watching the screen or playing cards. Their value is in the connection.

The Otherworld Theatre Company was founded by Tiffany Keane in June 2012 "to bring a theatrical experience to the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre." You can read about her choice to stage "Of Dice and Men" here. I wish I had known about their adaptation of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 last summer, but I will definitely be attending future performances.

"Of Dice and Men" is a play about friendship and the things that bring us together—whether that's a love of D&D, golf, Doctor Who, or college sports. I urge geek and non-geek friends alike to check out the play as it runs on the weekends through the end of March. Tickets are $15.

There's also an independent feature film version of "Of Dice and Men" set to be released later this year. I look forward to seeing that too:




OF DICE AND MEN - Official Main Trailer from Kelley Slagle on Vimeo.

Things Literary and Fantastic

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This past weekend I returned to New York City to spend time with the wonderful Nancy Hightower (who just signed her poetry collection, The Acolyte, with Port Yonder Press).

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I also met with my new literary agent, Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, Inc.

Sara represents children's fiction and adult fiction and non fiction. Her clients include NYT Bestselling author Jonathan Maberry and USA Today Bestselling author Jeff Hirsch; her authors have been nominated for Edgars and the Morris Award, and have been on the ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults list and in the Top Ten. She is consistently ranked among the top three YA and MG agents in Publishers Marketplace.

We had a lovely chat, and I know that my next book, The Supper Club, is in good hands.

Following our meeting, I headed to WORD Bookstore in Brooklyn with Nancy and Brook Bolander to attend Jeff VanderMeer’s reading from his new book, Annihilation.

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Jeff is a terrific reader—clever, witty, and well-spoken, and it was a fun event (so be sure to attend a reading and get your book signed if he comes to a town near you). I love stories where the setting is a character, so I’m especially excited to read Jeff’s newest novel, set in an eerie version of southern Florida’s wild coastline.

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Friday was all about Electric Velocipede. Run by John Klima for 12 years, the beloved magazine published quality genre fiction by more than 250 writers, including Catherynne M. Valente, Jeffrey Ford, Rachel Swirsky, Jeff VanderMeer, and Jay Lake.

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A release party/memorial service at Bluestockings Bookstore celebrated the 27th and final issue of Electric Velocipede and featured readings by ten writers who have been published in Electric Velocipede over the years:

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After Bluestockings, people were invited to an after-party at David Edison’s place in the East Village. Earlier in the day, with the help of Stephen Segal, Nancy, Bo, and I had gotten to work transforming David’s apartment with red lights, blue lights, and hanging skeletons.

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The space invites that kind of playful decoration, so we turned the three floors into a "Danse Macabre" backdrop for writers, editors, and other creatives to gather and celebrate John’s magazine and the excellent writing he published over the years. It was a full house and a joyful last hurrah.

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The following day, we were lucky enough to enjoy a lazy afternoon with friends, the perfect way to wind down and end my visit.

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I caught the plane back to Chicago early the next morning (narrowly avoiding the next snowpocalypse-vortex), to come home to the family and a visit from the lovely Maura Henn, who was traveling through Chicago on her way to Minnesota.

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I think back to 2008 when I was living in Germany and feeling such a lack of creative community. Just over five years later, and I am grateful to be surrounded by talented, innovative, imaginative writers, editors, agents, and artists. Some are in different cities and others are in the same neighborhood, but we are a community.

It is certainly possible to navigate these waters alone, but for me, it's so much more enjoyable to have a cherished circle. We do the work, we make our art, we tell our stories, we support one another when we can, and when we come together, sometimes we make magic. Together, the journey becomes as meaningful as the destination.

Love & Words

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Back when Turntable.fm just started getting popular, a few of us joined Neil Gaiman on the site to share recordings of poetry in "Neilhimself's House of Poetry." The site had a small selection of recorded poems, but many of us scoured the internet and personal collections to find our favorites to share: Poe, Glück, Yeats, Levertov, Cummings, etc. It was a nice way to spend an hour at midnight while taking a break from writing.

It's been over a year since the last poetry sharing night, so when I saw that the Poetry Foundation was celebrating with recorded love poetry for Valentine's Day, I was excited to listen. The Poetry Foundation page is here and will lead you to a selection of recorded love poems. This is from their website:



Send your beloved one of these love poems submitted to our Record-a-Poem group on SoundCloud. Or go to our SoundCloud and record your own love poem.


I was tempted. I know many people protest, but I love the holiday (you can read why here).

So here's my poem for you, a gift for Valentine's Day. It's a little cheeky, a little sexy, and I was more than a little nervous recording it. But Valentine's Day seems as good a day as any to take risks for things we love, so here goes...

Click here to listen to Sediction by Valya Dudycz Lupescu


Sediction

I want to seduce you with my words—wistful and wanton.  I want you

to feel me behind each one. Not brief like breath,

not

quick

like

Cummings,

my lines are long, stretching like lavish strokes to reach you, sliding along the page

to create a scene where you can dwell. Words to slip you inside,

surround you with sounds, and hold you at the threshold between desire and pleasure.

When I enjamb, it’s to create tension that can only be released when you move down

to the next line, and if I drop a line, like layers cast away, I do it by design to create

anticipation.

So much is rush and flash and burst in frantic fleeting glances, but iambs

keep the rhythm steady, help me straddle the canon, holding onto Williams’s foot

while riding Whitman’s whimsical waves. Then there’s the break

to make you wait, to leave you wondering why and when it will all start again.

Hanging off the end of a dash like Dickinson, I want you—

to imagine. Desire requires space,

the white around words,

the uncertainty of ellipses . . .

by Valya Dudycz Lupescu

© 2014 Valya Dudycz Lupescu

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Good things to read, watch, and use

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I was invited to share three things that I like to read, watch, and use on this website: 27goodthings.com.

I invite you to take a look at my good things and peruse the answers of other writers, artists, and creative people who have participated.

Because we all need good things on a Monday.

http://27goodthings.com/2014/02/03/valya-dudycz-lupescu-author/

Two Sides of the Slush Pile

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While I was revising my second book, The Supper Club (update on that soon), I spent a lot of time last year reading and writing short stories and poetry. I wasn't quite ready to delve into the next novel, and I wanted to sharpen some skills and exercise writerly muscles I hadn't used in a while, so I wrote poems and short stories, flash fiction and prose poems.

In the second half of 2013, I began to submit work to literary magazines, something I haven't really done since graduate school. My recent experience with literary journals was from the opposite side of the slush pile--with Conclave: A Journal of Character, the literary magazine I founded back in 2008.

You can read the Foreword from the first issue of Conclave on my tumblr account. But I wanted to quote one part of it here:



"When we decided to create Conclave: A Journal of Character, we knew that our focus would be on character-driven writing and photography, so we sought out a name for our literary magazine that would reflect the assembly of all those characters, as well as the artists and writers who dream them up. We chose conclave because it means a gathering, a private chamber, a room that may be locked. It has the Latin roots of com(meaning “with” or “together”) and clavis (meaning “key”)."


With a really wonderful volunteer staff of more than 20 people, we put out two issue before I came to the decision to sell the magazine. I was spending more time editing than writing, and I wanted to be writing. While I loved having a place to publish these great character-driven works, I didn't really have the time to keep it going. Fortunately I sold the magazine to a brilliant writer who had been published in our first issue, Savannah Thorne.

I've been thinking a lot about Conclave recently because Electric Velocipede published its final issue this month. Founding editor John Klima published 27 issues of the award-winning journal for more than 12 years before he decided that it was time to cease publication. You can read John's final editorial note here.

Magazines like Electric Velocipede and Sybil's Garage inspired me to start Conclave in the first place. I understand the kind of sacrifice and dedication Matthew Kressel and John put into their issue, the same kind of energy that Savannah devotes to Conclave today. When it boils down to it, most of these journal and magazines, online and in print are labors of literary love.

Savannah has done an amazing job with Conclave, better than I could have done. With the help of many of the editors from our first issue (Tom Gill, Michael von Glahn, Rebecca Kyle, and others), she has built upon the idea of a literary magazine with a character focus, and Conclave continues to feature new and seasoned writers and terrific photographers. Their work is full of provocative, powerful, unforgettable characters. I'm so proud to be a part of its history, and I'm really excited to see where she takes Conclave into the future.

You can buy the current issue in electronic and print format on Amazon, and I encourage my writer-friends to check out their guidelines.

After submitting, I've finally started to receive notices of acceptance. This year, I'll have work forthcoming in Abyss & Apex, Fickle Muses, Mythic Delirium, Scheherezade’s Bequest, and hopefully more to be announced soon!

This month, I have one poem, "Daughters of Melisseus" in Abyss & Apex, and two poems, "For collectors not children" and "Singing the Dirge" in Fickle Muses.

I'm excited to publish shorter writing as I get to work on book #3, and it's nice to be able to point people to my work online. Plus poetry is a passion of mine--the evocative imagery, the music of the words, the rhythm of the lines. Reading poetry is such a joy; and writing it...is like being engulfed in a sensuous maelstrom of language.

Midwinter Masque

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“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” ― Anaïs Nin

Many of the things I write in this journal, I write to remember. Not just as a place to preserve moments and photographs for the future (although there is that), but the very act of writing it down is a way to relive the experience, transferring it onto the page.

Earlier this month I went to New York to visit my friend, Nancy Hightower. Part of that visit was a party we had been planning together over the last few months: A 12th Night Midwinter Masque at the fabulous East Village townhome she rents from fellow writer, David Edison.

On our invitation, here's how we described the evening:



At All Hallow's Eve, the doorway in between the worlds is opened, beginning a season of magic, of faerie revelry, of dreams and inspiration. With the winter solstice and the lengthening of days, that season of liminal spaces begins to close, marked by Twelfth Night, an end to the holiday season and a final faerie celebration. We invite you to dress in your favorite holiday finery, don a mask (or you can choose one at the door), and enter the liminal space for one final magical celebration.

An air of anticipation swept across the facebook pages of friends. As the date approached, people posted photos of their masks--some elaborate, some whimsical. In the dark, gray space after the holidays, people seemed to be looking for a little magic. I was.

An article by eco-journalist Russel McLendon circulated earlier this winter introduced many Americans to the Danish tradition of "hygge":



Denmark endures dreary winters with the help of an arcane cultural concept known as "hygge." It's not an easy word for outsiders to pronounce — it sounds sort of like HYU-gah — and it's even harder to translate. Hygge apparently has no direct analogue in English, and related words like "coziness," "togetherness" and "well-being" only cover a fraction of its nebulous definition.

I love this concept. I love the opportunity to create an inviting space where people can celebrate togetherness and coziness. I like to think that our Masque was a hygge, something many of us need in the cold of winter. Nancy and I had frequent online chats to discuss decorations, ways to transform the apartment into a winter fairyland.

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The Forest Room (photo by Nancy Hightower)

Friends made plans to come in from out of town: Philadelphia, Boston, Washington D.C., Dallas. David Edison decided to attend at the last minute, flying in from San Francisco. Everything was coming together.

Then snowstorms and freezing temperatures hit the Midwest and East Coast.

After a few hours of delay, I thankfully managed to fly out of O'Hare before the storm hit NYC. That night Nancy and I stayed up until the wee hours hanging snowflakes and stringing white lights, creativity punctuated with much needed laughter (and delirium).

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Snowflakes & sparkles (photo by Nancy Hightower)

Other friends had to adjust their travel plans because of the weather, but everyone made it! Theodora Goss came in from Boston and Brooke Bolander made it from Texas.

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Prepping in the kitchen with Brooke Bolander (photo by Theodora Goss)

The four us put the final touches on the party, preparing food, setting out drinks, lighting candles.

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Nancy Hightower, Valya Lupescu, Brooke Bolander, Theodora Goss (photo by Marco Palmieri)

A few more friends arrived early to lend a hand, and the magic took over.

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Ardi Alspach, Shveta Thakrar, Marco Palmieri and D. T. Friedman (photo by Nancy Hightower)

With the snow and the cold, we weren't sure just how many people would venture out, let alone dress up and wear masks. We hoped that they would all find places to sit and gather, taking advantage of all three floors.

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Stephen Segal enthralls his audience with a dramatic reading from Tyra Banks' Modelland. ;) (Photo by Marco Palmieri)

Trudging through the snow, on buses and trains, our guests arrived.

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Kristen Mangione, Devin Poore, Rajan Khanna, Veronica Schanoes (photo by Marco Palmieri)

Nearly all were bemasked. Many arrived already in costume, while others came bundled up with clothes to change into.

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Mikolaj Habryn, Brooke Bolander, and Liz Gorinsky (photo by Nancy Hightower)

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Rajan Khanna, Theresa DeLucci, and Pritpaul Bains (photo by Nancy Hightower)

The doorbell kept ringing and groups kept appeared at the door. Like the TARDIS, David's apartment seemed to swell inside to accommodate everyone.

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Marco Palmieri, Cam Rob, and Myke Cole.

After most people arrived and settled in, Nancy and I could finally relax and enjoy the company assembled, and what a fabulous, motley group it was!

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Shahriar Shadab and Katelan Foisy (photo by Nancy Hightower)

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Ellen Datlow, David Edison, Christopher Michaud (photo by Nancy Hightower)

Hours flew by in a glittery haze of masks and laughter, eating and drinking, talking and sparkling.

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As our guests left, we invited them to take a key and write upon the attached wooden tag what they would like to unlock in 2014--a small way of bringing home a little of the magic of the Masque, a talisman for the year ahead.

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Then, in the early hours of the morning, those who remained sat on the softest of rugs and finished off muskat and marshmallows, chocolates and vodka.

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The Masque was a wonderful gathering of writers, editors, artists, musicians, witches, and wanderers; and together I think we succeeded in transforming the apartment into an otherworldly realm.

For those of us who so often dwell in the fantastic landscapes of our own imaginations, it was nice to have a cozy space where we could gather together with our creative tribe to escape the winter.

In Charlotte's Web, E.B. White writes, "It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.” Such true words in that children's book. At the Masque, I had the good fortune of being in the company of several people who are both of those things. For that I am so grateful, and I look forward to the next time we are together.

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Letting Go

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Louise Glück is my favorite living poet. Snippets of her poetry appear throughout this blog and on my tumblr. I love the music of her language, her mythic sensibility, the beauty and raw emotion contained in each collection of words.

I woke up thinking about this one, her poem "Twilight." It seemed perfect for the end of the year:



“I open my fingers— I let everything go.
Visual world, language,
rustling of leaves in the night,
smell of high grass, of woodsmoke.

I let it go, then I light the candle.”


As someone who is nostalgic by nature, I reflect on the past quite a lot, from the ancient history to ancestral stories, from childhood memories to pivotal moments in adulthood.

Something that they all have in common is their fleeting nature. Time passes, and we are left with stones and echoes. Children grow up, relationships change, celebrations end, mentors die, buildings are constructed and torn down, books are written, read, and shelved, the seasons change, the wheel of life turns.

We have these shining, glorious moments in our lives. Big ones like anniversaries and life-changing introductions; and small ones like sunrises with friends and wine enjoyed in the Spanish sun. Then the moments pass, and we are left with memories and sometimes a relic or two.

But what treasures are those memories! I think about the ones shared by my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, my friends. We learn about a past we did not know, we recall share experiences, we remember those who are no longer with us. Memories are some of the most magical stories, because they bring the past back to life.

We live in such a time of technological abundance, and I wonder about the future of memories. It seems a contradiction, because if so much is recorded, surely the memories will be too.

When I was a child, my grandparents had just a few photographs, a family album, with delicate photos of great-grandparents or relatives, yellowing photographs of a distant ancestral home. They were treasures, but they told us  little. The gaps were filled in with their stories. The stories were even more precious to me than the photos. The stories are what I take with me no matter where I am.

Earlier this year, I was sitting with friends in the hotel bar at the 2013 World Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention (LoneStarCon 3) in San Antonio. Gary Wolfe was sharing a story about a writing workshop in Chicago that he visited a few times whose members included Gene Wolfe and George R. R. Martin.

As if on cue, George R. R. Martin walked over, and we asked him if there were any photos from those workshop days in his Chicago apartment. In typical dry, Martin-style, he said something like this (this isn't a quote exactly; I'm piecing it together from memory):



You know, back in my day, we had these machines that were large and boxy and took some effort to carry around. They were called cameras. They were carried by these people called photographers, who would use them to take photographs of notable events and people. The rest of us, we did other things, like writing.


Today we have so many lenses by which we view the world: photos on phones, videos, texts and tweets. Will technology leave us with enough gaps to be filled in with stories? What will we remember looking back on those photographs and relics 25 years from now? Were we taking pictures and videos? Or were we doing other things, like writing?

Were we paying attention--to the smell of the air, the touch against our skin, the taste of the cheese and the wine? Or were we so preoccupied with the documentation, that all we have are the photographs?

I'm an optimist, so I'd like to believe that there are ways to use the gifts technology offers, while still being present. I like to believe that the real memories will endure, but I still worry.

So on the last day of 2013, I think about the year that is ending, so many moments that gave the year shape. I think about the relics that will remain, the photographs of our journey, the stories I hope I'll remember.

We stand on the edge of 2014, and we can't take everything with us as we make the leap into the new year. We need room for the new things to come in. So what do we hold onto? What do we let go of as we move into the next unknown?

In 2014, I hope that you find yourself in circles sharing memories and making new ones. I hope that you meet someone whom you admire, and I hope you find someone who believes in you. I hope that you have moments of glorious laughter and reverence. I hope that you sleep well and dream big. And when we circle round again to the end of 2014, I hope that you feel a part of something and have had a year filled with the best stories.

Blessings to you and yours in 2014.

2013-12-29 18.02.17

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CLHF logo

Tonight is the 4th Annual Chicago Literary Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at Roosevelt University. We will be inducting six important historical Chicago writers: L. Frank Baum, Leon Forrest, Edna Ferber, Ben Hecht, John H. Johnson, and Thornton Wilder.

The ever-charming Elysabeth Alfano, host of The Dinner Party and Fear No Art, will be the emcee, and friends and family of the inductees will be there to celebrate, with an after-party to follow the event.

Tickets are free but must be reserved online.

Over the last four years, the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame has assembled an amazing group of inductees, and I love this opportunity to celebrate their work: the unforgettable characters and worlds they created, the ideas they challenged, the books and plays that inspired generations, and the multitude of ways they have left their mark on Chicago's literary landscape.

I hope you can join us this evening!

Lights and Dreaming

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It's 2am, and I'm putting lights and garland on the tree.

Earlier this evening, it was a mostly joyful and noisy team effort of uncovering boxes and assembling, and tomorrow, after breakfast, we'll put on the bulk of the ornaments.

But right now, it's blissfully quiet.

Everyone else is in bed. Loreena McKennitt is softly playing, I'm drinking eggnog, and I'm reminded of decorating the tree in my first Chicago apartment on Janssen Street in 1995.

That was the year I started my tradition of putting up the tree the weekend after Thanksgiving.  I usually did it alone, with a glass of wine and Loreena's To Drive the Cold Winter Away. My parents had given me their old Christmas tree, and I bought white lights and a few ornaments (most of which I still have and will put on the tree tonight). I decorated with red apples and cherries, pine cones, and faux crystal snowflakes and icicles.

I loved that tree.

I loved the moment of sitting on the couch in the dark when it was done, the room transformed. I dreamed big by the light of that tree.

It's hard to believe that was almost 20 years ago.

I still love the ritual of decorating the house for the holidays, of creating a space for celebration. Including the kids has its own delight, and I especially enjoy having the house full of family and friends on the holidays.

But I cherish moments like this one--quiet, solitary times that allow me to reflect and remember. It's good to be reminded of the young woman I was back then, to be reconnected with that romantic dreamer.

In the morning, I'll put on my other hats; but for now, it's just me and Loreena and the tree, a meditation on nostalgia and dreams.