“Wait for the Empire to Come Home” – Interview with Michael Zapata

When I picked up The Lost Book of Adana Moreau, I was not expecting a book featuring Hurricane Katrina and various Latin American dictatorships to be so optimistic and uplifting.

Chicago literary fixture Michael Zapata‘s debut novel had me enraptured in the first sentence. Instead of the “poverty porn” lens popular in U.S. historical storytelling, Zapata’s characters balance righteous anger with pragmatic optimism and informed action, spilling from their mouths in poetic, oral-storytelling style that make the prose sing. Zapata builds entire scenes, characters, and conflicts in single sentences; he weaves together multiple immigrant literary traditions to grapple with diaspora and survivor’s guilt in an empowering, forward-looking way. Grounding the philosophical and spiritual meanderings are very concrete journeys across Chicago on the 72 bus to the Golden Nugget on Western and Diversey, to the streets of Buenos Aires and Quito, to the trenches of Palestine, to surreal flights across the Atlantic, to natural landscapes that seem to have a voice of their own. I was so immersed that I’d lose track of time while reading, and by the time I got to interview Zapata, I was starstruck.

Check out this must-read Chicago contemporary classic from your favorite indie bookstore, and Zapata’s own words on our current political reckoning at Third Coast Review.

Terry takes on Dresden Files and lives to tell the tale

I’ve been meaning to read the Dresden Files for some time–after all, author Jim Butcher practically founded the genre of Chicago urban fantasy–but I’d been putting it off. Intimidated by playing catch-up with seventeen books and a far-flung fanbase, I was also put off by a couple of unflattering comments folks in the industry had made about the books.

Nevertheless a classic is a classic, and you don’t run into a commercially successful contemporary one in your own genre every day. I knew I had to read them and, perhaps use Dresden as a comp title.

So, like a moron, I decided to rip all of these bandaids off at once, in public no less, by volunteering to review the latest Dresden release at Third Coast Review. You can read my numbskull opinions and the story of how they came to be here.

While I probably won’t be using Dresden as a comp title–my work errs on the side of Jungian, philosophical, and atmospheric, and Butcher is an unapologetic action-adventure-heist magician–I appreciate Butcher’s ability to deliver exactly what he sells. We’re all in fantasy because we want to delight our readers, and it’s clear that Butcher accomplishes this in an accessible and unpretentious manner.

I’ll continue my meandering way through Chicago-themed books, from the literary to the magical and back–preferably both! Stay tuned for a review of a notorious, biopic-worthy Chicago madame’s autobiography and an interview with Michael Zapata up next.

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.


Sorcery, without the ketchup.

Selkies infest Lake Michigan.

The Lady of Shallott takes up residence in Trump Tower.

A pale man stalks the city’s vulnerable souls.

Hades and Persephone reunite at their condo on the Gold Coast.

The heir to the Irish Throne works a dull desk job.

A necromancer finds the love of his life in the morgue of Northwestern Hospital.

A Cubs fans sells his soul—and more—for his team.

Fantasy’s never tasted like this before.


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