The Printer's Row Literary Festival happens every year in Chicago's South Loop, and two blocks of Dearborn street are closed to traffic so that authors, publishers, and booksellers can find new readers and customers. This year, a Chicago native of Irish descent returned to promote his debut novel. John F. Duffy, who was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, took the north stage and read to a crowd of fifty people from his novel, A Ballroom for Ghost Dancing.
"I went to Columbia College and lived in the South Loop, which was one of the reasons I was so excited to participate in the literary fest," Duffy says. Though he currently lives in Bloomington Indiana with his wife and daughter, Duffy will always consider Chicago home and is happy to find reasons to return. He produces and edits podcasts as an occupation, but has ambitions to be a full time writer. His short fiction has been published in a variety of magazines and journals, and his novel won a gold medal for best midwest fiction from the Independent Publishers Book Awards this year. It was also a finalist for a National Indie Excellence award.
A Ballroom for Ghost Dancing, was based on real events and people from his life. The main character in the book, Adam, is suffering greatly a year after watching his older brother, Tommy, slowly die from ALS. Duffy says that Tommy was based on his real life friend from high school, Tim, who died from ALS several years ago. In the book, Adam and his best friend, Mark, take a road trip to South Dakota so Mark can write a story about the decommissioned nuclear missiles that used to be hidden by the hundreds under the western landscape. As the men travel, secrets between them are slowly revealed, and as they navigate rising tensions, questions about living after loss and confronting our regrets come to the fore.
"It's a story about ghosts in a sense," Duffy says, "about the moments and events that haunt us, even those that haven't happened yet." He goes on, "I hope it's a book that can help people who have gone through something really trying, but I also hope it's a book that can just make people laugh. My goal was to create something that was crisp in a literary sense, well written, but approachable. Something that would resonate with readers even after they put it down." In researching the novel, Duffy and a friend took the same road trip to Rapid City, SD that the characters in the book make. One thing he discovered on that journey was the Hotel Alex Johnson, where his main characters stay. "It's a beautiful old hotel that is supposedly haunted," Duffy says, adding, "but we didn't see any ghosts."
A Ballroom for Ghost Dancing
is available at Quimby's Bookstore and Sandmeyer's Bookstore in Chicago, and can also be ordered at any bookseller online or in person. Duffy's short fiction can be found on his personal website