Investigative Journalism: WAIW Drinks a Lot of Beer With Authors (Part 1)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Investigative Journalism: WAIW Drinks a Lot of Beer With Authors (Part 1)

. Thursday, July 2, 2009

The best part about writing WAIW week in and week out is getting good baseball and/or drinking stories from other Cubs fans. We've been pimping that idea pretty hard this year, running the WAIW Roundtable on Fridays and sticking to a horrifyingly irregular schedule of in-depth interviews with those we term Interesting People. This article is the continuation of the latter. But lordy, is it so much more.

Last week, Steve and I had one hell of an interview with Chicago authors/Cubs fans Donald G. Evans and Don DeGrazia. At this point, I'm going to have to switch to last names here. Evans put together last year's Lovable Losers Literary Revue, in which Cubs fans of all stripes got together at El Jardin in Wrigleyville to share stories, drink beer, and most importantly, enjoy free nachos. It was sweet as hell, and yea did it beget one hell of a book. Here's Evans' profile, stolen directly from the Revue's blog:

Donald G. Evans spent his formative years on Chicago’s Northwest Side, where Opening Day was an undeclared civic holiday. He flipped wooden grandstand seats in exchange for free passes, essentially giving him a season ticket for the price of a single admission. Don’s Cubs hat was such a permanent fixture, adults would joke he would go bald; they were right. He is the author of the novel, Good Money After Bad, which is set in Wrigleyville during the 1995 baseball season.

Don DeGrazia, who shares a publicist with Evans (this comes up later), participated in the Revue, and was actually the first person that I heard read at my first visit. He teaches writing at Columbia, wrote the lauded American Skin, and has his own Wikipedia entry - truly the American dream. He watches the Cubs at Southport Lanes, which is where we met him to drink beer and watch Braves/Cubs. Fittingly enough for an evening with a couple of guys who made a go of it chronicling the frustrations of Cubs fandom, the Cubs lost in staggeringly pathetic fashion.

What follows is a mere portion of a thoroughly satisfying evening of drinking High Life and shooting the shit. Steve and I were careful enough to not begin the official interview portion of the evening until a few innings and a few beers into the night. For my money, it was a good strategy.

We hope you enjoy it, because we'll be be sharing the rest of it with you over the next few days. A note for readers: If something could be perceived as hilariously sarcastic, read it as such. It was a humorous discussion indeed. See the glorious beginning after the jump.

John: So let's start this thing - tell us a little about how the Lovable Losers Literary Revue started.

Don DeGrazia: Basically, it was all my idea. I was like, “Don, I got this idea. I’d like you to take it and run with it.”

J: I bet he said no, didn’t he? I bet he tried to kill your dream.

DDG: No, he was sort of like “this is stupid.”

Donald Evans: The lovable losers thing, to be honest, I had this novel out, in 07 I guess. It wasn’t really about sports, but it was about sports gambling. It was set in Wrigleyville. I was trying to think of interesting ways to do the book promotion thing.
And at some point, I thought, “Let’s have a pub crawl. Let’s get a bunch of authors who have written books about the Cubs and Wrigleyville, and let’s go on a pub crawl. But you get to a certain point in your book promotion where it becomes … you really get kind of burned out.
At first, it’s kind of exciting. At first, you’re excited, you’re on a book tour, but eventually you don’t want to do any of these fucking things any more.

DDG: Oh, believe me.

DE: So I was already at that point, and I started thinking, “how is this going to work?” I’d contacted Sara Paretsky and Randy Richardson and some other people that had some connection with the Cubs, and I was wondering how it was going to work. We’re going to go from bar to bar and, what, read? During a Cubs game? If it’s a Cubs game, then there’s lots of people, but we can’t really read. If there’s no Cubs game, then there’s nobody there, right?
So I kind of canceled the idea, but I’d made contact with some people, and then the 100 years thing was coming up, and I thought, you know, I hate to waste all that effort. So I was like “well, let’s do this monthly thing.” And it’s kind of like a variety show more than anything. And it’s not really a literary event ...

J: Well, you had the Cleaning Ladys playing music on an ironing board.

DE: Nobody knew quite how to take them, did they?

J: I enjoyed it.

DDG: Everybody thought they were great.

J: I thought it was a hit.

DE: They were a hit, but at some point, it was like, uncomfortable, didn’t you think?

J: Enh, I thought it was all right.

DDG: I thought it was a great show, man. There was also, like, an improv group, and I was like “ohhhh fuck.” But they were good. They were like singing “Don’t Start Believin’”

DE: So that was the impetus, and then there was Randy Richardson, who was sort of like my right-hand man on the book. I got him involved, and we started to get good guests, and as we got some good guests, we got some good material for the blog and the show.
And I was like “well, I wonder if we could get enough to make a book that would be worthwhile. And we got to that point where I thought we got quite a bit. And then I started to contact people like Don. I know he’s a really good writer, I know he’s a Cubs fan. I don’t know if he’s got any Cubs stuff. But I know we can get him to come to the Lovable Losers Literary Revue and submit something to the book we’ll have at the end of the summer.
And that’s really more or less what happened. First couple of shows went a lot better than we thought, and then we started to get more people. And you know, we even had people contacting us. And the crowds weren’t tremendous, but they were vibrant.

DDG: Free nachos.

J: Free chips and queso was pretty sweet.

DE: So that’s pretty much it, you know. It was like a failed book promotion idea that turned into the literary review, that turned into the book.

J: Any plans for a new project?

DDG: 101 years of losing.

J: I mean, I think you could really do this every year, if you wanted to.

DE: George Rawlson, who is the publisher of the book, I met him through my novel, Cheryl Johnson was both our pubclist, which is actually how Don and I met, through Cheryl. She said “Well, I’ve got this guy Mike, he works for an Elgin paper, and he’ll do a profile on you.

Waitress: More beer? (Ed. Note: Just presenting things as they happened. This won't happen the whole interview. Mostly, it just took a silent nod. Chicago's a good drinking town like that)

WAIW: Vigorous nodding

DE: But you’ve got to do a reading in Elgin. And she’s like “there’s this book fair our there, call up George Rawlinson and do the book fair, and then Mike will write about you,” which is obviously good publicity. So I called George and it turned out I can’t do the book fair because I’m out of town, but George is a former journalist, a former gambler, he’s a writer, and the book is right up his alley. He liked the book a lot, and he showed up to a couple of my events, and we became friends.

DDG: Good guy

DE: He’s a great guy, he’s a smart guy, a Chicago guy, and we start talking about maybe doing a book, you know? So I talked to him about the Cubs book, and his press, State Street Publishing, he’s gotta make money. He’s done some good books, he’s done some really shitty books, if he thinks it’ll make money, he’ll put it into print and sell it.
And I was like “George, if we do this book, I’ll do it for free, but I want you to do an imprint of your publishing thins so we can get some distance from all your shitty books. And then also, I’ll be a partner, and if it makes any money we’ll get a cut of that. But basically, I want to have my own press, I’ve always wanted to have my own press, but I don’t want to be a businessman, you know? I don’t want to do any of that work."
So that started Can't Miss Press, and we just finished up Dave Hoekstra’s book about the minor leagues. 101 Years of Waiting for Next Year is a possibility, you know, we’ve met a lot more people. Gary Moore did the Printer’s Row thing with us. Gary Moore did a book called Playing With the Enemy about his father, who was this minor league legend. And Brian Bernardoni, who is a Cubs historian and came out to the Cremating the Curse event in Schaumburg. We’ve gotten more material that we could add.

JC: How did Printer’s Row go?

DE: Printer’s Row went really well, except for book sales.

JC: Were you one of the pavilions with tickets? I thought I saw you listed there.

DE: Yeah, we were actually sold out. There were a lot of people there. Sarah Paretsky was on the panel, James Finn Garner, Stuart Shea, Jim McArdle, and me. And everybody was great. They’re all really all kind of interesting people, they’re Cub fans, they all have their own books out.
The thing was great. Sarah Paretsky was really funny and interesting, and so was everyone on the panel. Everybody’s got a bunch of books out, but the company that did the sales said that it was a really bad year for book sales. Just the economy. There were enough people there, but people weren’t spending enough money. We were a little disappointed with book sales, but everything else was great.

Coming Up Next: WAIW orders more beer, Jeppson's Malort makes an appearance, and it becomes apparent I will probably never be paid to interview world leaders and dignitaries. Stay tuned - it's some good shit.