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Blog relay: Talking Jerry Darn for “About a Character”

Courtesy of Davey Sommers of the Post Family

Courtesy of Davey Sommers of the Post Family

This is part of a blog relay to which the Great Lakes Review editor Rob Jackson invited me to participate in. Rob was invited by Don DeGrazia, author of “American Skin” and my thesis advisor when I earned an MFA at Columbia College Chicago. Basically, it’s a chain of writers all answering the same questions about a character. Read Don’s responses here. Read Rob’s responses here

What is the name of your fictional (or historical) character? Where is the book set?

Jerry Darn is drunkenly marauding around Chicago in February of 2007.

What should we know about him?

Jerry was the frontman for the band, Strange Days, and quit right before they were about to make it big in the 1990s because of authenticity issues. He is bearded, has a giant gut and drinks recklessly. He also has a huge appetite for sex and opinions. He basically tries to live like a rock star but doesn’t have any of the money or fame. He’s about to turn 30 but has only left Chicago city limits once.

What is the main conflict? What messes up his life?

His boyhood friend, Joe, is killed serving in Iraq. Jerry has to get their buddy, Mick, to the funeral. Mick was the second guitarist in Strange Days and went on to worldwide rock and roll success with his band The Cutlery, which he formed after Jerry flaked out and quit music. He now calls himself Mick Dagger.

What is the personal goal of the character?

Jerry wants to be true in life, art and love. More tangibly, he wants to make sure rock star Mick isn’t too cool to show up to the funeral. On the day-to-day, though, Jerry is happy with mugs of Old Style and trying to makeout with girls at his hangout bar, the Mutiny.

What is the title of this book, and can we read more about it?

Jerry Darn Nation. A short story of the same name was published in the Pure Fiction edition of the Chicago Reader in 2010. I’m wrapping up a draft of the novel now. Read the story here. 

The Skull House in Midwestern Gothic

Very excited to be in the summer 2014 issue of Midwestern Gothic, a great journal based out of Ann Arbor.

First paragraphs:

Lillie Korpela collected skulls. She disappeared deep into the federal forest behind her family’s old dairy farm in northern Michigan’s Bear County during all seasons for sixty years, trudging through knee-high snow in the winter to find the remains of animals that had starved to death. In the summer, the waxy green woods were a hot riot of mos- quitoes and flies. She would brave the heat and bugs to find deer, raccoon, and porcupine carcasses decomposing and rank in the steamy swamps and drag them back to the farmhouse to clean, a process Lillie had learned when she was 18 and checked out a book on osteology from the Sampo branch of the library. 

Cover image copyright (c) Tara Reeves.

Cover image copyright (c) Tara Reeves.


Here is the Midwestern Gothic to buy and cherish

Greektown 1983 in A Detroit Anthology

My contribution to “A Detroit Anthology” is the short essay “Greektown 1983.”


First paragraphs:

Stella waited for me in Greektown. She scurried down Monroe Street in her army coat covered in patches, a dozen bright-colored barrettes in her matted grey hair, crooked face leading the way. She carried dozens of shopping bags filled with what any schizophrenic needs for life on the streets. I couldn’t imagine what they were. Cans of sardines? A thousand more hair barrettes still in their packages? Plastic bags filled with more plastic bags? 

Buy this. For real. It’s all badass. 

The Final Voyage in The Great Lakes Review

My contributions to the Great Lakes Review aren’t limited to this Bear County story, I also coordinate the online Narrative Map for the journal.


First paragraphs:

Captain Frank Bjorklund stared at the silver Samsonite emblem swimming on the black suitcase like a beacon in the dark and knew it was time to flee. Age and disease had taken his vigor. He refused to look at his naked body in the mirror anymore. The sag of his underarms and the mushy lumps his muscles had become didn’t make any sense. When his wife fell asleep at night, he would do push-ups in the dark. They were weak and feeble— nothing like what he performed in the Navy years before—but they built his strength up, something he didn’t want his wife to know. It was like he was a convict planning an escape, which in many ways he was.

Check us out at 


Excerpts from L-Town Elegy in Wayne Literary Review

I contributed to the Wayne Literary Review from the memoir L-Town Elegy:


First paragraphs:

I offer this as memoir but with necessary adjustments and embellishments as memory is fluid, a living thing, until we die and take it with us. Mostly, however, it’s an elegy, which implies the author learns something about the mysteries of life and its dim conclusion through the death of another. I didn’t learn much more about the truth of death when my childhood friend Jay Buck was killed fighting in an Atlanta parking lot at a 2000 Halloween party by a squatter punk named Jimmy Skaggs (foot goes up, boot hits face, Jay goes down), but life certainly did change shape. Death is an inscrutable study and conclusions about it are as fleeting as the raw materials of life: a full belly, a good sleep, an orgasm.

The elegy is an ancient form dating back to my blood ancestors, the Greeks, and continued on through time by my English-language ancestors, guys like John Milton, in Lycidas, and Shelley, who wrote Adonais as an elegy to John Keats who died at 26, not much older than Jay when he was snuffed out. Those two mourned the lives of other poets, and while Jay Buck could barely spell, he lived life like a manic poem he was authoring on the fly, skateboard beneath him, coasting down the street like a mad prophet. My aim is to give chase, try to toss the lasso of language around a life of blurry action. Just as it was when we were kids, I am always trying to catch up

Here’s a link to the read the whole journal online. 

Jerry Darn Nation in the Chicago Reader

Here’s my contribution to the 2010 Chicago Reader Pure Fiction issue:

Courtesy of Davey Sommers of the Post Family

Courtesy of Davey Sommers of the Post Family

First paragraphs:

This is how my drinking binge begins. Not with booze—not yet—but in my girlfriend’s bed with another girl ten years younger than me. My tortured, pussy-juice-glazed face pops up above her muff and I look up the length of her body, past her flattened titties to her upturned chin, thinking about how my entire life—the entire world, maybe—is clamped inside a vice just like her legs. A hungry blackness is gnawing at my insides, taking over. Before I allow myself liquor, I’ll lap her up, drink her dry.

Read the whole story in the Chicago Reader. 

The Bonecutters of Bear County in Kneejerk

The Bonecutters of Bear County in Knee-jerk

First paragraphs:

Todd Bonecutter began acting out his dreams, making them true. Last night, he dreamed about a video game machine filled with oil, the kind that lubes cars, makes them slick inside. Todd was nineteen and loved video games and hated to do it, but he took his X-Box, went out to the garage and grabbed a can of Pennzoil from a dusty shelf. He knew his grandmother was watching him from the window, the nag. She could see him across the yard, strewn with shit from Terminator, their German shepherd, solid brown deposits sunk heatedly in the snow.

Read the whole story at kneejerkmag. 


Monkey Boy in Monkeybicycle

Here is a shorty short: Monkey Boy in Monkeybicycle:

First paragraphs:

They ride and ride through the woods, Monkey-Boy in the backseat investigating and comparing the downy hair on his arms with the plush brown seat cushions, believing he may really be an authentic monkey boy instead of a regular boy pretending to be monkey. He is trying to distinguish the differences in textures and asks his mother why skin is different from other surfaces. He begins with the car seat upholstery but moves on to ask her about cement, metals, water and air. To each one, his mother just says, “They’re just different, that’s all, Monkey.” 

The rest of the story.