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Columbia College teacher releasing debut novel

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(U-WIRE) CHICAGO -- Orlando, Fla., is a difficult place to visit, much less live. The bright colors, the rich people -- it's all barely tolerable, especially when you're a kid growing up in the midst of it all. At least that's how Brian Costello, author of "The Enchanters vs. Sprawlburg Springs," felt living in the Disney-fied area of Florida. While Costello, a fiction-writing teacher at Columbia College, may have hated it, he used it to his advantage for the book.

"Part of [my inspiration] was where I grew up in Orlando," Costello said. "It was just a very sprawled-out nightmare of a place -- an air-conditioned nightmare of strip malls and mansions. And f--king idiots."

Costello said that he's been working on "Springs" on and off for about 10 years, eight in Chicago, with two to three years spent attending Columbia learning the art of developing his story.

"Springs" follows the tale of a boy who works as a squid cutter in a restaurant, joins a band and then inspires other neighborhood kids to start bands, eventually creating a "minor surrealist revolution in this God-awful city," Costello said.

Aside from his hometown inspiration, Costello credits the fact that he has been in bands himself for about half his life. Because of this, Costello knows about the band lifestyle and the trends that follow with it. He compares the band's revolution in the book to real-life fads in music, using the Ramones as an example. He said that years after the Ramones broke up and three members died, people are still wearing their shirts. Originally, though, Costello said the band was ignored and considered weird by most listeners.

"That's a continuing theme in art," Costello said. "These new ideas happen, and at first they're rejected and then they're just accepted as a matter of course. [The book shows] a surrealist kind of ridiculous next step in youth culture. [The characters] try to create something entirely organic and new and bizarre."

Costello joined up with Messinger and Zach Dodson, the other co-founder of independent Featherproof Books, after they asked to have "Springs" be the first book under their new publishing group. Costello said it was a perfect match since they were friends of his and the book "matches the spirit" of Featherproof. He also said publishing under Featherproof allows him more creative freedom with the book, like including drawings by a bandmate, which he said wouldn't fly at a major press company.

That same spirit carries over to the slightly unconventional release party for Springs, which is how Costello and Featherproof intended it.

"We don't want it to be an uptight, stuffy thing," Costello said. "We're not about being stuffy critics with glasses halfway down our noses and 'pontificating' in our best Truman Capote voices or something. We're just telling a good story and making it as fun as possible for the audience."

Since the release is at the Empty Bottle in Chicago, Costello hopes to have an audience outside of just book lovers and English majors; he wants to reach the people who are there to see bands as well, since they may be able to relate to Springs' characters.

Eric Westra, chief officer of promotions at the Empty Bottle, thinks it's important for the literary audience to reach out to the musical audience and vice versa, so the venue holds release parties whenever they come its way.

"We've worked with Brian before, with a lot of his friends and bands," Westra said. "It's just kind of natural that we do the release party here. I imagine that we're going to have a crowd that has been here before, but at the same time it probably brings in a new audience as well."

(C) 2005 The Columbia Chronicle via U-WIRE

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