Monthly Archives: February 2014

A Very Good ‘Crisis’

CBR_Logo2Good in a Crisis:
A Memoir of Divorce, Dating, and Other Near-Death Experiences
by Margaret Overton

In a day and age when publishing is obsessed with the glitz and glamor and shallow self-reflection from celebrities du jour, issuing memoir after memoir from eighteen-year-old pop stars, it is refreshing to read a truly moving memoir from a real person who has lived a real life.

Margaret Overton, an anesthesiologist working in Chicago, went through a grueling six years—six years marked by a bitter divorce, the deaths of friends and loved ones, a near-death experience of her own, a rape, and the quotidian ups and downs of middle age. She writes about these experiences in her funny, touching memoir Good in a Crisis, published in paperback earlier this year.GoodInACrisis_PB_Cvr_cat

A really good memoir is hard to find, especially at a time when so many titles in the genre are little more than celebrity voyeurism. One of the things that makes Good in a Crisis so powerful is that it is written by a real woman who faces real problems in a very real way, stumbling and fumbling through life, sometimes crying, sometimes laughing. Overton’s memoir feels honest and authentic as she shares with her readers the bitter, trying moments of her life that sent her into a deep depression as well as the lighter, ridiculous moments that kept her from completely losing it.

Overton, who earned an MFA in writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, has hit a home run with Good in a Crisis, her first book. Much more than a mere retrospective of a difficult time in her life, Good in a Crisis allows the reader to see how Overton transforms herself from a forty-something suburbanite trapped in a loveless marriage to an independent woman who realizes she is much more than a wife and a mother. As her marriage fails and her children move off to college and beyond, Overton is forced to build a life in a new reality, a reality that includes dating, taking care of her ill mother, and navigating a revived career.

It is in the telling of this transformation that Overton shines. She is able to find humor in darkness. She is able to expose the serious in the ridiculous. She is not afraid to examine herself or to reveal herself as she makes her way through rough patch after rough patch.

Margaret Overton by John Reilly

Author Margaret Overton (photo by John Reilly)

Overton’s experiences are at once unique and universal, and this is exactly what makes Good in a Crisis work so well. Divorce is not uncommon, and yet everyone’s experience with it is unique. Overton writes about her divorce in a way in which just about anyone could identify. She writes about the feelings of relief and failure, of anger and elation associated with her dissolving marriage. She writes about the death of friends and families in a way that makes readers ache not only for the deceased but for the author herself: How much pain does one woman have to go through?

This is a question that many have asked of themselves and of their friends. It can be painful to watch loved ones struggle through rough times. Overton muddles through more than her fair share of catastrophes, but she comes out on the other side stronger and more peaceful—not perfect, but better.

Good in a Crisis is rewarding and uplifting, provoking tears at times and laughter at times. It is perfectly balanced—introspective without being self-indulgent, inspiring without being condescending. Overton’s book should be required reading for anyone stumbling through middle life, if not to better understand themselves, then to acquire perspective on the real-world struggles of those around them.

Four-Star Review

January 2014, Bloomsbury USA
Memoir
$16, paperback, 240 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4088-3055-0

—Reviewed by Kelli Christiansen

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Local Author Spotlight: Robert K. Elder Loves Epiphany Moments

CBR_Logo2As we inch closer to Oscar night—otherwise known as the 86th Annual Academy Awards: this year to be aired March 2—it’s easy to shake our heads at the number of films we’ve missed during the past year. And the year before. Oh—and that great one from—what was it? 2012? We missed that one, too.

Local author Robert K. Elder could probably fill you in on a thing or two about all those great movies you’ve missed. In fact, his most recent title, The Best Film You’ve Never Seen: 35 Directors Champion the Forgotten or Critically Savaged Movies They Love (Chicago Review Press, 2013), uncovers some forgotten gems, from guilty pleasures to almost-masterpieces to “undeniable classics in need of revival.”

The book, something of a companion to Elder’s previous title, The Film That Changed My Life: 30 Directors on Their Epiphanies in the Dark, tackles what is really his first love: the movies. Elder, editor-in-chief for Chicago Sun-Times Media Local and founder of Odd Hours Media, LLC, notes two movies in particular that changed his life: Cinderella, the first film he saw in a theater, a treat from his grandmother, and—a far cry from an animated fairy tale—Reservoir Dogs.

Robert K. Elder

Author Robert K. Elder

Although the two movies couldn’t be more different, Elder sees in them the common thread of discovery. Both films struck him and have stayed with him over the years. “Disney always had that strong filmmaking stamp. They, better than any other film company, were able to capture that awe of film,” Elder says. “Tarantino is completely on the other side. The first time I saw Reservoir Dogs, it blew me away.”

Such is the power of a good story, and Elder is lucky enough to parlay storytelling and films into a career that includes not only authoring books about films but writing movie reviews and even working, for a time, in the film industry.

Elder spent a summer working as a production assistant for Warner Bros. on Without Limits, a biopic about international track star Steve Prefontaine starring Donald Sutherland and Billy Crudup. It was an educational, interesting experience—not least of which because Elder was nearly killed by the camera crane during filming. “It almost crushed me,” Elder remembers with a bit of an ironic chuckle. “Somebody grabbed me out of the way. I was oblivious.”

Shortly thereafter, Elder moved from Hollywood to work as an intern for the Chicago Tribune, home to one of the greatest film reviewers of our times. “Being able to review films at the same newspaper Gene Siskel worked at was an amazing kind of honor,” Elder says.

Best-Film-Never-Seen-thumbnail-BESTFrom the Tribune to the Sun-Times to a variety of other media, including The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and Salon.com, Elder’s work has appeared in a host of places. It seems he is rarely without a pen in hand or a project in mind. In fact, The Best Film You’ve Never Seen is his sixth book, and he’s already thinking about his next project.

Not that Elder restricts himself to writing about the movies. His interests are as varied as the publications in which his work has appeared, from romantic dead ends to the death penalty to sex. The key, he says, is to select topics that are really of interest and to avoid becoming pigeon-holed as “the film guy” or whatever, especially when writing a manuscript can take such a huge chunk out of your life. “You have to decide whether you’re in love with this topic enough” to live with it for a few years, Elder says.

So many writers adhere to the old adage that you should write what you know—and Elder’s varied interests allow him to strike out in a number of directions. But it’s also important to write about what you love, and Elder seems to have no shortage of fodder there, either. Regardless of the subject or genre, there’s something fascinating to discover just about anywhere. “I love capturing epiphany moments—the moment when your life changes direction,” he says. “That was where The Film That Changed My Life came from.”

Elder’s writing life may well be made of a series of epiphanies that continually take his life in new directions. Perhaps in the movie version of his own life, he could be played by Brad Pitt, who has said that, “I always liked those moments of epiphany, when you have the next destination.”

—Kelli Christiansen

Read more about The Best Film You’ve Never Seen
Listen to Robert Elder chat with Carson Daly

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Chicago Publishers = Book Love

CBR_Logo2The Society of Midland Authors this week hosted four local publishers—Victor David Giron of Curbside Splendor, Ian Morris of Fifth Star Press, Emily Clark Victorson of Allium Press, and Sharon Woodhouse of Everything Goes Media—to talk shop on a cold winter night, and it was heartwarming not only to hear about the positive state of publishing in Chicago but to witness the engaging conversation among publishers, writers, and other attendees who braved the brisk winter night to come up to the cozy Cliff Dwellers Club for the event.book love story

It’s no secret that Chicago is home to a number of great publishers (how many? Come on, say it with me: 125!) who are doing interesting and creative things—much of which is breaking with convention, publishing in formats and print runs that so many New York publishers wouldn’t dream of. And, despite the ongoing blather about the demise of books and publishing, these four local presses show no signs of letting up. Indeed, Giron notes that Curbside Splendor, which was founded in 2009, published twelve books last year and will publish twenty books this year—no small plans for the relatively nascent house.

curbside splendor logoGiron isn’t alone when it comes to big plans. Woodhouse is expanding her publishing reach with Everything Goes Media, which builds on the success of Lake Claremont Press and Woodhouse’s other imprints to publish in a variety of subjects, from local history to gifts, lifestyle, hobby, business, current events, etc., etc.

“This is a time when small publishers can thrive—and are thriving,” says Ian Morris of Fifth Star Press, which publishes nongenre fiction and nonfiction, with a particular eye toward work concerning Chicago and the region.

allium press logoThat Chicago focus is something that runs like a golden thread through many local publishers, and it underpins much of the philosophy at Allium Press. Victorson notes that part of the reason she started Allium Press was because she kept hearing—much to her dismay—that Chicago titles were “too regional” and wouldn’t play elsewhere. (Wha—? Seriously.) This year, Allium Press celebrates its fifth anniversary of “rescuing Chicago from Capone … one book at a time.”

Victorson is making it work, even though her “regional” house continues to focus on titles with a Chicago connection. The success of Allium Press proves that “you don’t have to have a big Manhattan office” to make a go of publishing, says the publisher, who is based in Forest Park. In fact, Chicago’s literary scene is just one benefit that makes publishing here worthwhile. “It’s a real community here,” says Victorson.

These publishers agree that small presses can boast a number of benefits for authors that big houses elsewhere can’t match, from more creative control to increased collaboration to the face-to-face contact that so many large publishers can’t provide. Add in a thriving local literary scene that offers numerous author events and book signings, and small presses can be the perfect home for just about any author.

fifth star logoMorris of Fifth Star Press also notes that small presses can be much more nurturing for young or new authors, and even for authors who are looking for a second chance. Small presses, he says, can look beyond the “one and done,” “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” mentality that precludes so many big publishers from taking a chance on unproven authors, authors without enormous platforms, or authors whose previous books may not have met sales expectations.

EGM-Logo-Wordpress-Small6Indeed, working closely with authors to make the most of their books is something local presses can do well—and maybe even better (at least in some ways) than big houses who can’t afford to focus marketing efforts on midlist titles. Woodhouse notes that partnering with authors is part of what they do best. “We help our authors make a cottage industry out of their books,” she says.

That said, the four publishers agree that they also understand the allure of publishing with “a big New York house,” and would encourage authors to go that route if they have the chance. But with these houses—and others throughout Chicagoland—expanding their reach, branching into new genres, and publishing more and more titles, authors local and otherwise would do well to consider publishing small, which could be just the big break they’re looking for.

—Kelli Christiansen

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