Sloan selected a soon-to-be published short story to read at this event. Sloan last participated in Sunday Salon Chicago in September, 2022, when she read from her recently published novel, Midstream, which Third Coast Review calls a “cinematic tour de force.”
Sunday Salon Chicago has hosted this popular, free reading series in different venes around the city for seventeen years.
For ABOUT WRITE, the Off Campus Writers’ online column, Lynn Sloan interviewed three writers who led the summer workshops on the craft of writing.
For six years, Off Campus Writers’ Workshop has offered member-only summer workshops where writers read, discuss, and delve into a short story or essay. The purpose: to enjoy the piece’s impact and learn how it achieved its power. Each session is led by a member-writer who selects the piece and prepares materials to deepen the discussion. This summer I interviewed Peter Hoppock, who chose Lauren Groff’s story, “Delicate Edible Birds,” Tonya Coats, who chose Maya Angelou’s essay “A House Can Hurt, A Home Can Heal” and Paula Mikrut who chose Medhi M. Kashani’s story “Stray Dandelions.”
I began with:
For writers in particular, what are the advantages of reading an excellent story or essay?
Peter: There are so many! I am drawn, personally, to well-crafted prose that paints pictures of both the exterior and interior worlds we inhabit in everyday life. I say to myself: “I want to do that!”
Tonya: Reading an excellent essay is education as well as entertainment. I get so excited reading an excellent essay. Once the emotional part of the experience subsides, I want to know what I will take to use in my own writing. A great essay can help all writing, poetry, essay, memoir, fiction, and non-fiction.
Paula: I wouldn’t say that there’s a great advantage to reading an excellent story or essay. There’s an advantage to reading many excellent stories. In anything we want to get good at, there’s an advantage to studying those who are good at that craft. If we read enough excellent stories, if we study them deeply, we can start to learn what those writers are doing that makes them excellent. We can also start to learn about the difference, craft wise, between stories we personally like and those we don’t connect with. That can help steer us toward writing the kinds of stories we care most about.
Lynn Sloan talked with author Jan English Leary about her new novel Town and Gownon its publication day, May 30. (Fomite Press.) Before a full house at Women & Children First Bookstore in Chicago, Lynn and Jan read sections of the novel, the entwined story of two young women in a small college town as they embark on adult life.
The phrase “town and gown” refers to the often contentious social landscape in college towns. Town and “townies” are people who have no relationship to the college. Gown are people connected to the college or university. Wanda, raised on a farm, represents Town and Callie, a professor’s daughter, is Gown.
Both young women chaff at the paths they are supposed to follow and make disastrous choices. Lynn and Jan read short sections from Wanda’s point of view and from Callie’s. After the reading, Lynn asked Jan a few questions, then opened the discussion to include the audience.
What was the inspiration for Town and Gown?
Some of the elements sprang from Jan’s own past. Shelton, PA, the fictional town where much of the novel is set, is based on the college town where Jan lived briefly when she was a girl. Growing up Jan saw how girls from different backgrounds had different life paths open and closed to them.
Preference: writing short stories or novels?
Jan said she’s a committed short story writer. Short stories are her first love. But writing novels with chapters with alternating points of view has some the same qualitie. Town and Gown is written chapters that alternate between Wanda and Callie. While Wanda and Callie know each other slightly at the beginning of the novel, it is only later that their stories entwine.
Biggest surprise in writing Town and Gown?
When Jan started writing, she’s assumed that she would find Callie an easier character to write. Jan has two master degrees, and taught at a private school in Chicago. Jan was surprise to find she shared much with Wanda, the farm girl who works in a bakery after high school, especially her feelings about motherhood.
Sarah Hollenbeck, the owner of Women & Children First, said that Town and Gown was a page turner she couldn’t put down, a perfect summer read.
Patty begins with how we met: “It was through her photography that I first became acquainted with Lynn Sloan, but it is through her prose that I feel I have come to know her better. Lynn’s latest book, the novel Midstream, is one young woman’s story of a creative life at first abandoned and then—fortunately for us readers—revisited and revised. Polly, the novel’s protagonist, finds herself at the brink of middle age in 1970s Chicago, doing a job that pays the bills, fumbling with a relationship that seems painfully unbalanced, watching (from afar) a dear friend struggle with a serious illness. This is not how she imagined her life would be. The novel retraces her steps to this place and time, and allows Polly a go at another chance.”
I am intrigued with what starts things off for writers when they are working on a project. What was the first impulse of Midstream for you? A character’s voice or an image (or images) maybe? Or perhaps a situation?
My first thought was that I wanted to write a novel, not a story. I’d just published my story collection, This Far Isn’t Far Enough. Wanting to write a novel meant I wanted to spend a long time on a project, which meant I wanted it to be something important to me, but I didn’t have a topic or a situation in mind. I find work life to be extremely interesting and important, but in fiction it usually takes a backseat to relationships. And in real life, a woman’s desire to have a creative work life is often limited or thwarted. I would write about a woman whose primary desire was to have an inventive, purposeful career. Love, family, relationship, these elements could, no, would, be important to my character, but creative work would be key to her identity. Now I needed to find a time or place where this would be a problem. Many options here—almost endless—but I chose the early seventies. My character would not be a feminist, but a woman simply trying to make her way. Then I chose Chicago, because I know Chicago well, and I like the Midwest.
In 2022, long-time OCWW member Patricia Skalka published Death Casts a Shadow (University of Wisconsin Press), the last of her Dave Cubiak Door County Mysteries, a seven-book series that William Kent Krueger says, “is sure to satisfy even the most demanding reader.” With Death Casts a Shadow she has completed the series after garnering great reviews and a wide readership.
When you wrote your first book, Death Comes to Door County (UWP, 2014). did you envision writing a literary crime series involving an ex-Chicago cop?
“Series, no, not at all. … The thought of writing a series never occured to me; in fact, it was totally intimidating. However, as I worked on my manuscript, two things happened…” To read more:
In her Small Press Picks review, Beth Castrodale writes that MIDSTREAM,by Lynn Sloan, is a “reflective, thought-provoking novel” and an “engaging story”
“As we approach middle age, it’s not uncommon for us to take stock of our lives and feel disappointment–with the choices we’ve made (or haven’t been able to make) or with where we find ourselves in terms of our relationships, our careers, or our mental, physical, spiritual, or material well-being.
“In this reflective, thought-provoking novel, the main character, Polly Wainwright, finds herself in just such a place. Yet in a refreshing turn, her dissatisfaction with her life becomes a sort of engine, driving her to discover new possibilities for herself. In the process, she ends up unraveling a mystery: about a man and a place she’d encountered, and been deeply affected by, years before. All of these elements make for an engaging, richly rewarding read.”
To read more of this Small Press Picks review, click:
Dreams That Won’t Die: A Review of Lynn Sloan’s Midstream
In Lynn Sloan’s compelling novel Midstream, we follow Chicago-based protagonist Polly Wainwright through a midlife crisis that involves her unfulfilled dream of becoming a documentary film director, the breakup of a relationship, and the serious illness of her closest friend Eugenia. Structured by chapters that take us back and forth between life-changing events of 1962 and 1974, at “Midstream”’s opening in 1974 Wainwright is tired of her job as a picture editor and a boyfriend who won’t commit. Wainwright’s frustration is made understandable because we live her shattered dream of becoming a documentarian; Sloan moves the narrative into 1962 when Wainwright is just out of college and working for the film production company Kino, Inc. run by the self-centered Shelley Shapiro. Wainwright is thrilled when Shapiro gives her a job in a film crew documenting the life of major photographer Cole Watkins at his Wisconsin home known as Starlight Lodge. But her dream of eventual success as a documentarian is shattered when she’s accused of ruining the production before its completion by the team leaders and fired.
As Wainwright’s job, love and friendship crises combine (1974), she receives letters that have been put aside for her by Watkins to be given to Wainwright after his death. These letters raise questions about the shoot and Wainwright decides to discover whether she deserved the blame for the documentary falling apart. On returning to Wisconsin, she discovers that a bartender named Wiley Reed has inherited Watkins’ lodge and has no idea why. While Wainwright is investigating this mystery, her dream of becoming a documentarian is renewed and she sees a way into a more fulfilling life. Sloan in “Midstream” treats us to believable characters and a high-stakes plot that involves work, love and friendship. I had a hard time putting this novel down. August 23, 2022
LargeHearted Boy invited me to write a playlist for MIDSTREAM for Book Notes. I chose to write about how Polly Wainwright, my character, connected to music. The era is 1974.
Between the summer of 1974, when Midstream opens and Polly Wainwright enters a crowded corporate elevator and the year 1962 when her story begins, a revolution invaded pop music. The Beatles burst onto the world stage, became a phenom, and imploded, but in those years, little changed on the radio in Chicago. Top Forty dominated the AM air waves and provided the background musical score for people like Polly, twenty-somethings striving to find their place in the ground-shifting culture.
“Mash Potato Time,” Dee Dee Sharp “Roses are Red (My Love),” Bobby Vinton
In 1962 the top of the Top Forty included Dee Dee Sharp’s “Mash Potato Time” and Bobby Vinton’s “Roses are Red (My Love),” which Polly loathed.
“It’s Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It)” the Rolling Stones. “Sweet Home Alabama” Lynyrd Skynyrd
In 1974, the biggest hits included the Rolling Stones, “It’s Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It),” which Polly likes, and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” which she doesn’t. This is the music Polly hears on the static-y plastic radio on her kitchen shelf as she waits for the weather forecast, or drifting from the open windows of passing cars, or throbbing from the portable radio someone can be counted on to bring to parties at North Avenue Beach. It’s not music to listen to. It’s elevator music before it became actual elevator music.
“City of New Orleans” Steve Goodman “Far from Me” John Prine “Angel from Montgomery” John Prine
Polly listens, really listens, to music late at night, in her apartment or when she hits the Northside Chicago bars with her friends to hear great musicians like Steve Goodman, Jim Croce, and John Prine who perform at places like The Earl of Old Town and The Quiet Knight. Sometimes, not always, a two-dollar cover and a two-drink minimum, but always an overturned hat for tips. Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans” makes Polly feel nostalgic for places she’s never been and doesn’t want to go to. That’s the only song of his that sticks with her. John Prine, a mailman from Maywood, is another regular at The Earl. Just about everything he sings makes her feel for two minutes or four or maybe forever that she has lived an existence in an alternate America. “Far from Me” is one of many, but her favorite, entirely different, is “Angel from Montgomery.”
“Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” Jim Croce “Operator” Jim Croce
Less frequently, she and her friends catch Jim Croce. His “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” will have them pounding their beer mugs on the table, and, if there’s room enough between those tables, dancing. What Polly really loves is his ballad “Operator” that never not-makes her cry.
Your cocktail-party description ofMidstream: It’s the summer of ’74, Chicago. Polly Wainwright thinks she’s finally landed on a safe perch in a turbulent world – anti-war protests, noisy feminists, the old ways fraying when she finds that every decision she’s made is based on a lie.
When you realized you wanted to be an author: In my first career, I was a fine art photographer. While I continue to love photographs, I wanted to go below the surface of events. I wanted to explore what’s inside characters and relationships. For this, nothing beats fiction.
Your first published work: When I was a professor at Columbia, I contributed essays and art reviews to Afterimage, Art Week and Exposure. At the same time, around 1990, I began to write stories. My first was published in Roanoke Review, a small literary journal connected to Roanoke College. Since then my stories have appeared in many fine journals and included in NPR’s Selected Shorts. My story collection This Far Isn’t Far Enough appeared in 2018.