Wednesday, May 27, 2009


As one who spends a considerable amount of time behind the wheel, I have developeed close relationships with a few radio stations. One of them died last week.

Over the last several years, I've grown fond of the programming on a Chicago FM station, WNUA (95.5), which specialized in "smooth jazz," although some might say they broadened the definition. No matter. Over time, I got introduced--in some cases reintroduced--to such names as Etta James and Norah Jones, Luther Vandross and Kenny G, Paul Hardcastle and Dave Koz and Gladys Knight.

I particularly enjoyed the station's morning drive-time program, anchored by the great jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis, who has been a major factor in the jazz world for nearly a half century. Many will remember the PBS network "Legends of Jazz" series he hosted a few years ago.

I learned of WNUA's demise on its very last morning. A Chicago Tribune columnist wrote that the ownership was changing the station to Spanish-language format at 10 a.m., right after the ending of the program anchored by Lewis and co-host Karen Williams. I quickly switched on the radio and listened as the two played old favorites and gently reminisced--no rancor or bitterness here--about their years on the air.

One might well say to me, "What's the big deal? You can hear any kind of music any time in the car by popping in a CD, right?" Right, and I probably will. But that doesn't mean I won't miss WNUA, and particularly Ramsey Lewis, who ended that final show with these words:

"I'm just so glad I got the opportunity in my own home town to have a career making music---Sweet Home Chicago. I love this city. Thank you so much."

Pure class, as one would expect of Ramsey Lewis.

Robert Goldsborough

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


I have always loved trains, even--or so my parents told me--before I could walk or talk. They said when I was a one-year-old in an apartment on Chicago's South Side Kenwood neighborhood, I would bounce excitedly in my playpen each day when the Illinois Central Railroad's futuristic "Green Diamond" streamliner whizzed by beneath the window of our sun porch. I have to take their word for it.

They also said my early passion for the rails was one reason they bought their first house very close to the tracks of the Chicago & North Western Railway in West Suburban Elmhurst. Again, I'll take their word. Whatever the origins, I was a train-lover from the get-go. My first crayon drawings were of steam engines (I'm dating myself) pulling strings of freight cars. Then I graduated to pull-toy locomotives and finally honest-to-goodness electric trains from Lionel and American Flyer and Marx.

Many kids have an early interest in trains, but I never outgrew it. I rode the commuter trains into Chicago at every opportunity as a pre-teen and teen, and they were my daily mode of travel when I entered the working world. Also, when I took the occasional business trip, I tried to find ways to travel by rail rather than fly.

Even today, with U.S. passenger service a shadow of its former self, I look for excuses to ride trains. On each European trip my wife and I have taken, there has been at least one long-distance leg by rail. And when I write my Steve Malek mysteries, which are set in 1930s and '40s Chicago, I frequently get Malek onto trains--including that very same Green Diamond that I gurgled at from that sun porch in those long-ago Depression days.

Robert Goldsborough

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Remember when you hit the winning home run for the title? Remember when you made the Dean’s List and graduated?Remember when you dreamed a dream that became reality?

A reality you could hold in your hand—the trophy, the diploma, your first book in print!

My friend, Allan Ansorge is holding the first copy out of the box of “Crossing The Centerline” his first published novel.

Allan dreamed the dream but beyond that learned his craft, wrote thousands of pages, refined his craft and wrote thousands more pages.

He joined writers' groups, attended writers’ conferences, talked to book store owners, talked to librarians, gained information on the industry, queried agents and publishers and kept learning.

It’s fine to dream. I always say, “You may be insane to live in a dream, but it’s madness to live without one.”

A dream worth realizing demands hard, very hard work. And perseverance. When he speaks at libraries or conferences, J.A. Konrath quips, “What do you call a writer who doesn’t give up? Published!”

Congratulations to you, my friend. Dreams really do come true but not until you do the math—10% inspiration, 90% perspiration! Please join me in congratulating an wonderfully talented and genuinely nice guy!

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Today was the day. The day we drove to ISU to retrieve not our son but his stuff.
He has finals next week and we figured we’d drive down, go to church together, feed him, and haul back as much stuff as we could cram into our car.

The empty storage bins we used to cart his stuff to university last August had been stored haphazardly in the space above the garage. Most often I do not climb the disappearing ladder to retrieve Christmas decorations, luggage or storage bins. That's why we have a teen-ager!

This morning I did. The bins were waaaaay at the other end of the plywood panels. I’m smaller and weigh less, waaaaay less, than my husband so up the ladder I scrambled. On the way to one storage bin I detoured down memory lane.

I found the box label TODDLER TOYS and undid the folded corners before I thought of the consequences. I gently pulled item after memory filled item from the box while my husband shouted up encouragement like, “More over to your left. I see the plastic bin next to the box with the reindeer.”

I handed down 3 plastic bins and 1 cardboard box which I carried into the house and up to the spare room while my husband loaded the bins into the car. He’d made a wooden platform with wheels and a pull rope to transport the load. He was so proud of his cart. All I could see was the little cart with shapes popping up and down when my son pulled it behind. I remembered the clatter the toy made especially when he ran with it across the kitchen tiles.

I had to wait until we returned and carried in the paraphernalia critical to an almost 20 year old. His guitar hero, his poker chip case, his White Sox mugs and shot glass, his PS2 and enumerable games. All this and clothes and shoes piled in an already cluttered room.

When the room was bursting with his stuff I closed the door and carried the small box to the spare room where I found a place for the Toys in the Attic to set out again if only for a bit. If he smiles and his eyes widen in surprise then crinkle in memory they will be REAL.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Disappearing Newspaper Book Section

The long, sad slide of the American daily newspaper has myriad implications, one of which impacts book coverage. Just as public schools throughout the land tighten their fiscal belts by dropping arts programs, the newspapers are jettisoning their arts coverage, including book reviews.

To be sure, The New York Times retains its redoubtable Book Review section on Sundays, which clearly runs at a loss. (A recent 28-page section contained four pages of paid advertising, plus a full-page ad for the newspaper itself, hardly a recipe for profit.) With this staunch and admirable committment to books, The Times stands virtually alone.

For example, the Chicago Tribune, one of the nation's largest papers, has steadily whittled down its book coverage. Its tabloid Sunday book section was successively (1) morphed into the Sunday Arts section, (2) inexplicably moved into the low-readership Saturday edition, and (3) consigned to the back of Saturday's main news section, where it jockeys for position in a jumbled neighborhood that includes the comics, obituaries, and movie ads, and it rarely occupies more than two or three broadsheet pages--a space that also includes book events advertising.

The Tribune is not alone. In February, The Washington Post dropped its stand-alone book section , leaving The Times and the San Francisco Chronicle ( a newspaper that is itself on life support) as the only U.S. dailies with discrete sections devoted to books, as compared to about a dozen a decade ago.

A large part of the reason for this trend, of course, is a lack of book advertising. With fewer newspaper readers all the time, publishers choose to spend what limited publicity dollars they have in other ways. Some publishers pay for premium placement of their books in the chain bookstores. Others opt to spend on promotional trips for only their top-tier authors.

Whatever the reasons, we authors--unless we write best-sellers--need to realize that newspaper reviews of our books probably is history. All of us need to find new avenues for reviews, and I for one would be interested in your thoughts on this brave (?) new world of publishing.

Robert Goldsborough