What book do you read over and over again?
"The Shining" by Stephen King.
What do you think of when you think of Chicago?
I have lived here for almost 30 years now so it seems like a second hometown to me. I think the architecture has a physical presence that defines the city, the skyline almost seems alive to me, with each building in it having an almost anthropomorphic personality. And how Chicago functions as a place where people from around the world can come and reinvent themselves. A place where you can live the life you choose rather than the one to which you are born.
Who is an author you'd like to meet, dead or alive?
Dead: Voltaire, Aldous Huxley, James T. Farrell
Alive: Margaret Atwood, Michael Connelly, Neal Stephenson
That would be a fascinating cocktail party!
What's the worst question you've ever been asked in an interview?
During the Q&A after I gave a Columbian Exposition Lecture presentation for an unnamed suburban Friends of the Library meeting, there was an elderly lady up front who, whenever a question occurred to her, would suddenly snap her fingers at me and exclaim "Hey Sparky!!!" — often while I was in mid-sentence with another person. I can't even remember the questions themselves anymore, just the weirdly imperious way they were delivered.
Can you describe a random or unexpected experience you've had while promoting a book?
This is my first book, so I am looking forward to a great many random and unexpected experiences. I used to do stand-up comedy shows in biker bars during my 20s, so my threshold for "random and unexpected" is rather high.
What's your favorite font to write in?
I suppose I would have to go with Default (named for Pierre De Fault, the patron saint of lazy writers).
Do you listen to music while you write? What music?
I always listen to music when I am writing, usually instrumental stuff because lyrics get a little intrusive. When I really want to crank out a multi-hour typing session I put my player on random Thelonious Monk and try to imbue my writing with his playful spirit and unique rhythms — not that I have ever written anything that even remotely approaches Monk's playing.
How do you celebrate after you've finished a book?
My mother was going into hospice care right when I first completed the updated manuscript for "Hollywood On Lake Michigan" back in 2009, so my mind was not in a celebratory place. It was more a sense of relief that I could now spend more time with her as she went on to the next phase of her journey. I gave her an inkjet printed copy of the manuscript just before she passed away and she broke down and started crying when she read my dedication to her and my late father. When she regained composure she told all the assembled family members that her and my dad's fondest dream had been that one of their children would write a book and dedicate it to them. When the book's publishing later went into limbo and it briefly seemed as if it might never see the light of day, I consoled myself with the thought that my mom had passed on with a dream fulfilled. That knowledge and all the wonderful people I met while working on the update project had made it a worthwhile experience in itself.
What's your favorite first line of a book? Last line?