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The cover the novel, The Swill. A man, facing away from the viewer, wears a cap and smokes a cigarette as he looks out over a bustling 1920s city.

Creative Writing Professor Michael Gutierrez released his most recent novel, The Swill, in late September of this year.

Gutierrez’s second novel follows Joshua Rivers, his pregnant wife, and his criminal sister as they “eke out life” in their speakeasy, The Swill. This bar has been a consistent shelter for the Rivers family from the strife occurring outside in the surrounding, rough Irish neighborhood, The Bonny. When Joshua allies with his criminal sister, Olive, in a job that reaches back into the history of the Rivers family, the ability of The Swill to protect this family is put to the test.

When Gutierrez started this novel in 2011, it was very different than he had anticipated. It was not meant to be a crime novel and the first full draft was 500 pages long. The Trench Angel, Gutierrez’s first novel, was about a photographer during the First World War. In speaking to the shift in genres and approaches to this project, Gutierrez notes, “I think crime fiction is one of the overlooked genres, but it talks about socio-political issues in a way that other forms of fiction may not get to because of the tastes of ‘polite society.’ It has a way of bringing you into a world that you may have never entered.”

Moreover, Gutierrez explains that historical fiction talks about the present just as much as it does the past: “We often try to forget our negatives in history, but this novel largely works with revealing what happens when we ignore those negatives.”

For research for this novel, Gutierrez visited ten bars in New York City and heard the stories of those who had worked in and frequented them. “For many people there is a ‘third place,’ which I talk about a lot with my students. The third place is where you spend a substantial amount of time that isn’t home or work, and for many people, that is a bar—this where people find community and stories and networks develop over time.”

Daniel Wallace, author of the Big Fish and This Isn’t Going Well (and ECL Creative Writing Professor) offers praise for The Swill: “I can’t resist: The Swill is swell. It reads like the princely offspring of Chandler and Lehane. It’s sharp, witty, violent. It’s a sort of political/historical thriller, but what made it important to me is that it’s really about family, all kinds of family.”

Congratulations Professor Gutierrez!

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