Interview with Gint Aras on Relief by Execution

“Education should be the antithesis to genocide. If you don’t agree with me, you’re an asshole.”

Chicago writer Gint Aras doesn’t sugar-coat things, and that’s exactly why I like him. Read more of our conversation about his latest release Relief by Execution for Third Coast Review here.

Relief Cover Full

“Harvesting Trauma” was the title of the workshop at Northwestern Summer Writers’ Conference where I met Gint. I was trepidatious about the content of this course, half-expecting someone to break down crying, half-expecting that person to be me. Imagine my surprise when the instructor turned out to be an enormous bald white man in his forties who looked more like a nightclub bouncer than a trauma counselor. But the force of Aras’ presence quickly transcended the physical into the psychosocial, as he guided us through exercises to reframe and validate our painful experiences while preserving the anonymity and privacy of fellow attendees. I walked out of the workshop feeling like my pain–everyone’s pain–was worth something, and Aras had put our feet on the path to wield it in the name of justice at best, catharsis at worst.

I’m vastly oversimplifying what Aras teaches–I recommend his workshops and blog to any and all writers–but that day I found the philosophical backbone I’d been searching high and low for, right here in my home city. I ran to pick up his novel The Fugue, and became an even bigger fan.

If you’ve ever been to Cicero, you know it’s a dystopia. In The Fugue, several generations of immigrants converge in this gloomy industrial corridor and wrestle with the emotional baggage they took with them over the border. The Fugue is Chicago’s Ulysses, but honestly way more exciting. Many characters are synesthetic, and wandering through my own city in their colorful, musical voices was truly magical. It was the first time I’d seen my native religion portrayed not as an Evil Empire bur rather as my people experience it in real life: a cornerstone of immigrant communities going through hell, inhabited by flawed but well-intended human beings, sometimes equipped for the challenges brought to their doorstep but very often not. It’s a comprehensive examination of the intersection of mental health, Catholicism, and the refugee experience–something everyone needs to read today.

I maintain that if The Fugue was set in Queens instead of Cicero, it’d be nominated for a Pulitzer. The workingclass, Catholic, immigrant Cicero Aras splashes onto the page in all its gritty glory–and its troubling underbelly of racism, addiction, and domestic abuse–is only a few stops away from the former sundown town where I grew up. His stark childhood observations of the city’s socioeconomic divisions, and adults’ terse, unsatisfying explanations of Why It Has To Be This Way, struck a chord in me, as I think they will with anyone trying desperately to be on the right side of history while reckoning with one’s own privilege and complicity in oppressive structures.

The Fugue (and/or Relief) ought to be required reading in Chicago area high schools, particularly in communities that take any pride in the “my grandfather came to America in 19xx and did y, and that’s why I’m proud of my family” narrative. Many of us don’t know how to reckon with our collective heritage of trauma, and instead of dealing with it productively we at times reinforce the very power structures that caused our families to flee their homelands.

Aras’ characters impressively walk the razor’s edge between oppressor and oppressed, abuser and abused, until you finally give up and realize that everyone is both at the same time.

Relief by Execution is the perfect pocket-sized, passive-aggressive gift for that one relative who doesn’t quite get why they’re racist; The Fugue for anyone who likes long books and Chicago, or has Weird Feelings About Catholicism. Check them out at your favorite local bookstore–Aras recommends The Book Table in Oak Park.

Thank-you to Third Coast Review for a prolific 2019

Year-end shout-out post dedicated to local Chicago arts publication, Third Coast Reviewfor supporting the Chicago arts community, and trusting me as a new contributor this year.

In January 2019, a friend referred me to literary editor Dan Kelly, and soon after I was pitching interviews with Chicago authors (or authors who write about Chicago). It became an excellent excuse to get coffee and talk nerdy with Chicago’s literary finest, including Brahm Stoker nominee Julia Fine, Hugo Finalist Alec Nevala-Lee, and accidentally-infamous TJ Martinson, not to mention my personal Chicago literary hero Gint Aras (interview forthcoming). Each author left me agape with more quoteable quotes than I could fit on a page, and each was exceptionally gracious and generous with their time and wisdom. Many thanks and happy writing to each of them in 2020.

This past fall I also began contributing book reviews as well, which you can check out here and here.

Writing about the city, and chatting with writers who share this cityscape has transformed the way I look at both my home and my work. Check out the Best of 2019 as curated by Dan Kelly here. 

I’m currently open to book review and interview requests. If you are a Chicago writer and interested in a review / interview for an upcoming release–or just for fun–please don’t hesitate to reach out to me via email terry dot galvan dot writer at gmail dot com, or Twitter @TerryGalvanChi.





Julia Fine on feminist philosophy, writing community, and fairy tales

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The talented and charismatic Julia Fine was kind enough to spend an afternoon with me discussing her debut What Should Be Wild. Julia’s an erudite champion of the Chicago literary community, and her novel entwines a profound femme coming-of-age story with wild magic. I’ll be following Julia’s career closely  as she blazes into genre-bending and empowering feminist philosophy.

Check out the transcript of our conversation here  and pick up What Should Be Wild at your favorite local bookstore or public library.

Interview: T.J. Martinson talks Chicago

T.J. Martinson, a PhD candidate at University of Indiana Bloomington, just released his debut novel The Reign of the Kingfisher (Flatiron Books) this spring, and was kind enough to interview with me at Third Coast.

Don’t let the PhD fool you–T.J.’s a lively, unpretentious Midwesterner. We discussed everything from Chicago’s “Gotham City” reputation to the problems the literary fiction/genre fiction divide presents to not just the literary community, but our culture at large.


Catch T.J. at Volumes Bookcafe this Saturday, May 4, in conversation with Michael Moreci.

Read the full interview at Third Coast Review. Many thanks to my transcriptionist Grace Hall and to T.J.

Know any Chicago-based or Chicago-themed writers who’d like to feature an interview in Third Coast Review? Contact me at terry dot galvan dot writer at gmail dot com.


Interview: Hugo-finalist Alec Nevala-Lee

I had the privilege of interviewing Chicago-area author Alec Nevala-Lee about his group biography Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction , just as he was named a 2019 Hugo finalist for Best Related Work.

Alec and I met at November 2018’s Deep Dish SFF reading series at Volumes Bookcafe . We got into a lively conversation over ramen with Speculative Literature Foundation founder and Deep Dish host Mary Anne Mohanraj about the nuances of nerd culture, and I was delighted to have the opportunity to continue the conversation after reading his work.

Read the full interview at Third Coast Review.  Many thanks to my professional, freakishly-on-time transcriptionist Grace Hall for saving me from premature arthritis, and best of luck to Alec at the Hugo’s, and on his next biography project.

Know any Chicago-based or Chicago-themed writers who’d like to feature an interview in Third Coast Review? Contact me at terry dot galvan dot writer at gmail dot com.



I’m interviewing for Third Coast Review!

Excited to start working as reviewer with Chicago arts review journal, Third Coast Review.

I’ve already lined up three of my favorite authors to discuss their careers and work and I hope to do many more. Chicago has a brilliant, supportive arts community and I’m honored to participate in it. Will post as they are completed and published.

Check out Third Coast’s Lit section to keep up with the Chicago lit community.

If you’re a Chicago-area author, or your writing has to do with Chicago or the Midwest and would like to request a review or interview of your work, feel free to contact me at terry dot galvan dot writer at gmail dot com.

Latin Mass & Mozart’s Requiem

Chicago’s Catholicism – some background, for the urban fantasy writer

When I was an angsty Catholic teenager (instead of an angsty Catholic adult) Evanescence’s “Lacrymosa” headlined many of my newfangled iTunes playlists from 2006. The Gothic choirs soaring around Amy Lee’s tortured vocals painted scenes of Angelic armies and desperate chases through fire and brimstone.

Only later did I find out that Amy Lee had cleverly transliterated a portion of Mozart’s Requiem, his musical interpretation of the High “Tridentine” or Latin Mass, into a form that could speak to the masses in the 21st century.

Original ecclesiastical Latin, translated to English:

Full of tears will be that day
When from the ashes shall arise
The guilty man to be judged;
Therefore spare him, O God,
Merciful Lord Jesus,
Grant them eternal rest. Amen.

Amy Lee’s Lacrymosa lyrics:

I can’t change who I am
Out on your own, cold and alone again
Can this be what you really wanted, baby?
Now that you’re gone, feel like myself again
Grieving the things I can’t repair and willing
And in this short life there’s no time to waste on giving up
My love wasn’t enough
And you can blame it on me and set your guilt free
And I don’t wanna hold you back now, love

While superficially, Lee’s breakup song seems far cry from the archaic psalm, both address themes of imminent & inevitable death, the cost of freedom from guilt, and a tortured but not hopeless relationship with mortality itself.

The words themselves are concise, but their power comes from the sonic legions Mozart, and then Lee, stage behind them.

I was lucky enough to attend my first Latin Mass with Mozart’s Requiem performed by a full choir & orchestra at Chicago’s historic St. John Cantius Church. Latin or “Tridentine” Mass, named for the Council of Trent that formalized Mass rituals as part of the Counter-Reformation, served as the worldwide Church’s primary form of worship from 1570 through Vatican II in the 1960s, which intended to make worship more accessible to people who, you know, don’t speak Latin.

While I’m all about making art accessible, Latin Mass is definitely more beautiful. With Mozart’s sweeping musical gesture pulsing tenebrious light into the 500-year-old ritual, the famed gilt artwork of St. Cantius seemed to peel off the walls and frolic on the magnificent stage of the packed church, thrumming with energy.

Chicago is a very Catholic city. Today, of the 9.5 million people in the Chicago Metro area, 5.4 of them are registered Catholics (source: Archidioscese of Chicago). Our predominant ethnicities–Polish, Irish, Ukrainian, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Italian, Lithuanian, Russian, Greek, Ethiopian–brought their own distinct flavors of Catholicism to the parishes that would form the center of Chicago’s neighborhoods. These original community organizations provided social services to new immigrants, such as education in English and their native language, healthcare, and even crude mental health services (we call it Confession). (source) Today you can see the mark of these diverse heritages all over Chicago’s historic churches. St. John Cantius, St. Mary of the Angels, and many famously decorated churches form the “Polish Corridor” extending north along Milwaukee for miles. Stroll around Ukrainian Village for a peek at pre-Soviet epic architecture, or poke your head into Old St. Pat’s if you want to see a St. Paddy’s Day Parade in church decor format.

Like Lee’s reinterpretation of Mozart’s reinterpretation of the Council of Trent’s reinterpretation of early Christian’s reinterpretation of Jesus’ reinterpretation of Jewish worship recommendations, these churches transform with their communities. As the city cuts back on social safety nets, it’s often Catholic Charities that foots the bill and steps in to help the homeless at the local level (cite). Many of these churches have seen a few demographic shifts within the century–Pilsen and Cicero’s Czech churches now hold Mass in Spanish, a similar trend to the old Polish Corridor.

This particular Requiem Mass was held for the Feast of All Souls, a day to remember and pray for those who have gone before us. Spread around the altar were thousands of relics of various saints set out for adoration. Feast of All Souls, apart from serving the deeply human need to remember one’s ancestors, is a delightful example of the Church’s ancient syncretic traditions of fusing pagan solemnities into Church rituals.  Mexico’s Día de los Muertos and Celtic Samhain are surviving inspirations for this Catholic ritual in the Northern hemisphere.

Catholicism saturates my writing like it does this city. Much of my work has to do with rectifying where you come from with where you’re going, with “confronting demons” of the past, present, and future. While the “magic” of Catholicism still glitters in the choirs and the gold and the art, the Chuch remains a complex beast with fingers in the politics of nations and the souls of human beings.

Needless to say, the Requiem Latin Mass of Feast of All Souls was a cathartic, and much-needed 2 hours in the sanctuary of St. John Cantius. I encourage any lover of classical music (or, heck, Evanescence) to see the Requiem in the context of the Latin High Mass.  Even my atheist SO, who had come for the music alone, walked out feeling soothed and replenished. I’m expecting some of those reliquaries to make a cameo in some future stories as I continue to work through the cultural and spiritual facets of this religion in the form of fantasy stories.