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How To Write The Great American Novel

A venue-centric approach to becoming the next Steinbeck.
Sunday Sep 18, 2005.     By Kate Schwartz
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Find literary inspiration at Red Lion Pub
Forget finding it in the bottom of a pint glass. Aim a bit higher, literally, and head to the second floor of the Brit-centric Red Lion Pub. This unlikely nexus of the written word invites you to get cozy and take in "Twilight Tales" each Monday night at 7:30 p.m. Though a chunk of the readings lean toward the horror and fantasy genres, fiction is the only real requirement. You'll catch the musings of locally known artists, as well as big wigs like mystery writer Barbara D'Amato and Max Allan Collins of "Road to Perdition" fame.

Don't worry about getting uncomfortable, a la readings at Borders in a metal chair. Housed in a former 1930s gambling hall, you can channel your Jane Austen before or after: Grab a barstool, order some fish & chips or bangers & mash, throw back a pint, and bunker down for the evening, as individual readings can last up to an hour.

Load up on good reading material at Bookman's Corner
Though it may be a tad bit difficult to justify spending a mere $2 on that great new novel when you're hoping others will shell out $15 for yours, let's be realistic: Books are expensive, and generally too good to pass up. Enter Bookman's Corner, a shop that should resonate loudly on the radar of every literary hopeful. With bookshelves that stretch to the sky (burdened with the weight of two-row deep spans of books), you'll be forced to maneuver around piles of books on the floor that teeter to your knee. Chances are, you'll love every minute of it.

You'll stay up on the competition thanks to an endless array of fresh fiction, with names like Bret Easton Ellis, Joyce Carol Oates and Brian Moore covering the shelves. A novel will rarely set you back more than $5; on an average, you'll pay $3.

Drink away your frustrations at darkroom
Hemingway had his habit down pat: wake at 5 a.m., put in a solid five hours with the pen, then start drinking. And while a breakfast of tea and gin may not be the ideal way to start the day, having a no-fail watering hole is a must. When writer's block hits, head to this Ukrainian Village spot, located far enough from the L that its dedicated (and rather artsy) patrons make the choice to stop by.

The bar itself, best described as some sort of trapezoid, allows for blatant staring (after all, you're forced to look straight at someone), and the array of booths along the perimeter provide a great corner to write, should inspiration hit. It's a bit more hipster than hole-in-the-wall, but its rep as an urban community center of sorts makes it more than worth a mention in your decades-later autobiography.

Discuss your novel with an editor-friend at Nick's Fishmarket
You've reached the serious point: Consulting someone who can give you a thumbs up or down that matters. Dress the afternoon in a bit of classy professionalism with a reservation at Nick's Fishmarket. Request a table next to the wall of windows that look on to Bank One Plaza, providing a can't-miss view of Marc Chagall's breathtaking mosaic.

Your I-am-a-serious-novelist aura will be helped along by the restaurant's ambiance. A Chicago classic of recent days (it opened in 1977), expect fine dining and the service that should accompany it via tuxedoed waiters who pick up your fallen napkin before you've noticed it slid off your lap. It's a bit pricey (we're projecting seriousness, remember?) but worth every penny. You'll be lucky if your book is half as rich as the citrus ginger salmon in orange ginger cream sauce. If the novel-related conversation has left you in a celebratory mood, order the heavenly individual-size key lime pie with Chambourd-esque raspberry sauce.

Celebrate its completion at Kamehachi (Old Town)
Reservations at Spring are a bit presumptuous at this point in the game. You may be finished, but it's a long road to getting published. Go casual-celebratory at Kamehachi, where you don't have to break out the Benjamins for a little private party fun. The Old Town location features a Tatami setting that fits the bill for up to eight adults, with a shoji screen door to keep word of your novel a secret, along with a private music system and television set to provide a little background. The $30 room charge covers three hours.

Having served sushi for more than 35 years in Chicago, this "It's an art not a trend" restaurant seems an appropriate metaphor for the enduring greatness of your novel. You'll find classic and inventive takes on maki; the summer roll, a combination of tuna, yellowtail, green pepper, avocado, masago, cilantro, lime spicy mayo and chili oil, will have you dreaming of the warmer locations you'll be gallivanting to on your royalties. Optimistic enough to bank on an advance? Take the Christopher Columbus route and order up a sushi boat or two; serving three to five, the chef's sushi and sashimi picks will run you $125-$150 per vessel.


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