Nebraska Center for Writers

Chimney Rock What the Critics Say
About John McNally


After the Workshop
Copyright © 2010
by John McNally
Counterpoint Press

McNally ... clearly knows the world he admires yet takes down. His wacky literary archetypes, naked humor and sharp observations offer up an entertaining look at the writing life and the people who prop it up. — Publishers Weekly

Spiked with hilarious digs at the entire literary egofest, yet rooted in a great love for the necessary magic of stories, McNally’s irresistible novel of the search for authenticity and meaning offers high comedic catharsis. — Booklist
The Book of Ralph
Copyright © 2004
by John McNally
Free Press
How to Buy

[T]his enjoyable first novel is a nostalgic trip back to late 1970s suburban Chicago and the foibles of eighth-grader Hank and his twice left-back delinquent pal, Ralph.

A conceit worthy of a fine novelist. — Washington Post

McNally's talent for characterization and his lush sense of place make for funny and oddly compelling reading. — Booklist

Funny as hell ... McNally knows how to balance the hair-raising with the hysterical better than any young writer at work. — Virginia Quarterly Review

This book is charming, sensitive, and at times flat out hysterical. I knew kids like Ralph--and they scared me--but none of them had his heart, his humor, or ultimately his entertaining story. I hated to say goodbye at the end of the book." --Mitch Albom, author of The Five People You Meet In Heaven and Tuesdays With Morrie — The Inside Flap

Bottom of the Ninth
Copyright © 2010
by John McNally
U of Iowa P

Skillfully edited by John McNally, Bottom of the Ninth: Great Contemporary Baseball Short Stories collects nineteen contemporary baseball short stories from a successful mix of well-established writers, lesser knowns, and a few up-and-comers. These stories are characterized by the same dramatic elements that draw people to the sport itself — the mythologizing of players, the obsessions and romance of the game, the bonds between players and fans, parents and children. From a key play, a missed catch, a chance lost, these are tales of characters facing high stakes and calls to action, metaphorically and literally, in the bottom of the ninth. — from the publisher

[T]he gem of the [Writing Baseball] series so far, to be treasured by any reader who enjoys baseball fiction. — SportsFan Magazine
The Creative Writer's Survival Guide
Copyright © 2004
by John McNally
University of Iowa P

Beginning with “The Writer’s Wonderland — Or: A Warning” and ending with “You’ve Published a Book — Now What?” The Creative Writer’s Survival Guide is a must-read for creative-writing students and teachers, conference participants, and aspiring writers of every stamp. Directed primarily at fiction writers but suitable for writers of all genres, John McNally’s guide is a comprehensive, take-no-prisoners blunt, highly idiosyncratic, and delightfully subjective take on the writing life.
McNally has earned the right to dispense advice on this subject. He has published three novels, two collections of short fiction, and hundreds of individual stories and essays. He has edited six anthologies and worked with editors at university presses, commercial houses, and small presses. He has earned three degrees, including an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and taught writing to thousands of students at nine different universities. But he has received far more rejections than acceptances, has endured years of underpaid adjunct work, and is presently hard at work on a novel for which he has no guarantee of publication. In other words, he’s been at the writing game long enough to rack up plenty of the highs and lows that translate into an invaluable guide for anyone who wants to become a writer or anyone who is already a writer but doesn’t know how to take the next step toward the writing life.
In the sections The Decision to Become a Writer, Education and the Writer, Getting Published, Publicity, Employment for Writers, and The Writer’s Life, McNally wrestles with writing degrees and graduate programs, the nuts and bolts of agents and query letters and critics, book signings and other ways to promote your book, alcohol and other home remedies, and jobs for writers from adjunct to tenure-track. Chapters such as “What Have You Ever Done That’s Worth Writing About?” “Can Writing Be Taught?” “Rejection: Putting It in Perspective,” “Writing as a Competitive Sport,” “Seven Types of MLA Interview Committees,” “Money and the Writer,” and the all-important “Talking about Writing vs. Writing” cover a vast range of writerly topics from learning your craft to making a living at it. McNally acts as the writer’s friendly drill sergeant, relentlessly honest but bracingly cheerful as he issues his curmudgeonly marching orders. Alternately cranky and philosophical, full of to-the-point anecdotes and honest advice instead of wonkish facts and figures, The Creative Writer’s Survival Guide is a snarky, truthful, and immensely helpful map to being a writer in today’s complex world.

I write this blurb in distress because for years I’ve been stealing John McNally’s sharp insights into writing and publishing and passing them off as my own. Now this generous so-and-so is sharing his vast experience as a writer and editor with everyone. Worse yet, this book, despite its instructional value, is irresistibly, un-put-downably readable. — Timothy Schaffert, author, Devils in the Sugar Shop

This has got to be the most comprehensive nuts-and-bolts how-to that has ever been written about writing. McNally has answered every one—every one!—of the questions that always come up in a Q&A session when the writer’s impulse is to talk about Art and the audience wants to know: how do I get to be you? I look forward to having this book in hand. It’s a fine addition to the ever-growing literature of creative writing, and it covers everything. — Janet Burroway, author, Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft and Bridge of Sand
Ghosts of Chicago
Copyright © 2008
by John McNally
Jefferson Press

McNally follows two smart and rambunctious novels with a triumphant return to the short story. His second collection (his award-winning debut was Troublemakers, 2000) is set in a precisely drawn yet mythical Chicago, McNally’s hometown. Spooky and tender with McNally’s signature mix of compassion and irony, these complex stories feature characters haunted by their dead and missing, dazed by drugs and obsession, and living in strange isolation. We meet a boy who finds wisdom in monster movies, and two beleaguered children’s television show hosts, most poignantly the very proper Miss Betsy, who is dramatically undone by her lover’s death in Korea. Legendary Chicagoans, from Nelson Algren to John Belushi and Walter Payton, headline the book’s curious melding of realism and aberration as McNally’s finely crafted prose plays in evocative counterpoint to the odd predicaments, shadowy tragedies, and unforeseen redemptions achieved in these imaginative and mysterious stories. McNally has always been an embracing and funny writer. He now reaches deeper psychic levels in these edgy, knowing, and rough yet entrancing short stories. — Booklist Review

Chicago novelist McNally’s latest collection of stories resurrects Chicago icons such as Nelson Algren and Romper Room host Miss Betsy in fictional form. In one tale, Gene Siskel tires of the movie he’s watching and decides to taunt Roger Ebert instead. — TimeOut Chicago

The ghosts in these stories are indeed haunting, but in the most profound, heartbreaking, hilarious and human ways. Cumulatively McNally's stories have the pulse and swagger of the finest sociological novel, but individually they have a wholly different effect. Lives are laid bare with stunning clarity in tales in which one moment, one exquisitely crafted turn of phrase has the power to reveal the truths and lies, disappointments and wonders of a lifetime, an era and a city. — James P Othmer, author, The Futurist
High Infidelity
Copyright © 1994
by John McNally
Quill/William Morrow
How to Buy

For the first time, High Infidelity brings together top authors, including Margaret Atwood, John Updike, Ethan Canin, and Russell Banks, as well as new voices, in a collection about a tantalizing and titillating subject that fuels our collective fascination — adultery. Daring, hilarious, moving, sexy, outrageous, haunting and horrifying, this anthology presents storytelling at its best and boldest. — from the jacket

What with one complication after another, adultery generates complexity of emotion, thought, and circumstance, not to mention obsession. This collision of passions and abandonment of reason has inspired writers to create tragedies and comedies, melodrama and satire, cliches and wholly unexpected revelations, and the full range of these interpretations is found in this provocative anthology. — Booklist

Using adultery as a common thread, editor McNally gathers over twenty stories by both well-known and new writers. This literary collection reveals affairs which transform all involved, charting acts of love, lust, and revenge alike. Updike and others contribute to a unique coverage. — Midwest Book Review

Adultery has long shadowed marriage and has long fascinated writers and readers alike for obvious reasons. Forbidden love affairs are full of romance, lust, guilt, danger, and ecstasy. What with one complication after another, adultery generates complexity of emotion, thought, and circumstance, not to mention obsession. This collision of passions and abandonment of reason has inspired writers to create tragedies and comedies, melodrama and satire, cliches and wholly unexpected revelations, and the full range of these interpretations is found in this provocative anthology. Editor McNally has chosen stories that portray standard affairs between intelligent adults, an unsettling liaison between a 41-year-old man and a 14-year-old girl, true love between previously heterosexual women, and an imaginative take on two historical figures. — Booklist

These stories, like all good fiction, are about the human predicament, about love lost and love found, about people doing the best they can with what they've got. — San Francisco Chronicle

The Student Body
Copyright © 2001
by John McNally
U of Wisconsin P
How to Buy

Fiction, like life, has its lessons, and it's a wild ride on the learning curve when storytelling goes to school. The short stories in this collection negotiate the heights, the depths, and the unexpected angles of campus intrigue, sexual and intellectual awakenings and reckonings, and all the heartache and hilarity of a sentimental education. The work of such well-known authors as Stephen King, Marly Swick, and Ron Carlson appears here as well as stories by most promising new voices. The results are sometimes harrowing (in King's story, a serial killer roams a campus), sometimes droll (in Lucia Perillo's "The Wife of an Indian," an academic adjusts his ethnicity to get tenure), and often poignant (as in Dan Chaon's story of the aftermath of an accident that injures a fraternity president.) — from the jacket

This wonderfully eclectic group of smart tales about professors and students proves that on either side of the teacher's desk there are equal measures of yearning, trickery, passion, sorrow, and comedy. — Karen Stolz, author of World of Pies

The Student Body is a real education. These fine and often funny stories by Richard Russo, Ron Carlson, and other teachers/writers prove that academic writing can rank at the head of the class. — Rita Ciresi, author of Pink Slip and Blue Italian

A rich and varied anthology that will interest creative writing professors and students as well as the general public. Richard Russo's powerful story, The Whore's Child, is worth the price of admission alone; but there are other equally impressive and memorable stories. I will definitely put this on my list of required books in my fiction writing classes. — Judith Slater, author of The Baby Can Sing and Other Stories

Copyright © 2000
by John McNally
U of Iowa Press

Troublemakers is an often hilarious, sometimes frightening, occasionally off-the-wall collection of stories about men living on the edge. From the streets of Chicago's southwest side to the rural roads of Nebraska to the small towns of southern Illinois, these men tread a very fine line between right and wrong, love and hate, humor and horror. Each story is a Pandora's box waiting to be opened: a high school boy with a new driver's license picks his brother up from jail; a UPS driver suspects his wife of having an affair but cannot find any tangible evidence of her indiscretion; an unemployed man's life begins to unravel after he discovers a dead man in a tree in his own backyard; two boys spend Halloween with an older thug; a young college teacher's patience is tested by both his annoying colleagues and the criminals who haunt his neighborhood. In story after story, McNally's troublemakers lead readers to a place no less thrilling or dangerous than the human heart itself. — from the jacket

Winner of the 2000 John Simmons Short Fiction Award. John McNally is an electrifying writer whose stories burrow under the skin. His world becomes our world, his way of seeing, ours. Resistance is futile. — Richard Russo

I love Troublemakers. With a palpable reality breathing from every page, this book has tough people in tough spots. John McNally's writing is so good that the characters won't leave you alone, but will stay in your mind for days. Read these stories and you are entering the world of a brilliant writer. — Chris Offutt

John McNally has that rare gift of achieving both humor and poignancy, and his ability to evoke the personal past in all its delicious detail makes one think of an American Roddy Doyle. — T Coraghessan Boyle

Troublemakers is, on every page, in every sentence, simultaneously laugh-out-loud funny and absolutely heartbreaking. John McNally's work will remind you of the greatest stories you ever heard from your best friend, or your long-lost cousin, or the improbable barroom genius you end up next to at the end of the night, except they're even better: vivid and moving and eloquent and full of the kind of moral weight that reminds you what stories are for. He has things to tell, and he does so, beautifully. — Elizabeth McCracken

Troublemakers is a fantastic debut. The author has an exquisite feel for simple, everyday aches, the heartbreaking common cruelties that people swallow, dazed, barely missing a beat. As McNally's narrators — mostly uneasy sidekicks to the "troublemakers" of the title-bear witness to and absorb the shock of neighborhood events, readers are left a bit breathless and feel as though they are right there. — School Library Journal

It is refreshing to see writing like this receive its due in the world of contemporary short fiction. McNally is a master at capturing distinct, recognizable character types without ever falling into predictable clichi. — Chicago Tribune

Troublemakers consists of 11 incredibly rendered stories of boys and men who have been marginalized. While the stories are connected by McNally's searing, darkly comic style of storytelling, each one develops a fresh set of characters and demonstrates a new dimension to the author's fierce prose and controlled craft. — San Francisco Bay Guardian

Troublemakers confirms McNally's status as a major and exciting new talent. — The Capital Times

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