John McNally
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Main Entry: 2buzz
Function: noun
1 : a persistent vibratory sound
2 a : rumor, gossip
   b : a confused murmur
   c : a flurry of activity
   d : fad, craze
3 : a signal conveyed by buzzer; specifically : a telephone call
4 : high

--Merriam-Webster OnLine

Do any of the above definitions apply to John? Uh?.no, not really. What we're talking about here is "buzz" in the publishing sense, as in, what people are saying about John and his book. That said, you may still on occasion want to hold your copy of The Book of Ralph close to your ear and listen for a persistent vibratory sound.

John in 1979
John, 13 years old,
Summer of '79

Charlotte Observer, May 8, 2010

"AFTER THE WORKSHOP is the funniest, most honest work of fiction I've ever read about writing. McNally successfully revivifies every cliché, from the literary agent to reading events, with his incomparable imagination."

San Francisco Chronicle, March 26, 2010


"This book is funny. Funny, funny, funny. It's snide, but mostly in a good way. It's smart snark on a stick. The cover is funny. The premise is funny. The protagonist is funny."

Whatzup: Heartland Art, Recreation, and Entertainment, 2/18/10

What Evan Gillespie says about AFTER THE WORKSHOP:

"McNally’s book is brimming with thoughtful, usually hilarious considerations of every foible of contemporary literature and publishing."

Chicago Reader, March 4, 1010


"McNally...skewers pompous authors, overenthusiastic publicists, arrogant agents, phony memoirists, workshop students, even author photographers--and, yes, it's all very, very funny."

Time Out Chicago, March 4-10, 2010


"In the grand tradition of literary farces, Jack [the novel's narrator] is tugged along on a minor adventure by characters whose ridiculous traits only escalate and intensify...It's like Fawlty Towers for writers. Finally." Time Out

Newcity (Chicago), March 3, 2010

What Tom Lynch says about AFTER THE WORKSHOP:

"After the Workshop develops much like McNally's other work; striking, witty observations, satirical comedy, moments of abundant heart. While his narrator is surrounded by writers practically at all times, the misadventures are endless, and McNally’s casual style lends the book a quick, fun-loving pace."

Library Journal, March 1, 2010


"This satirical work will appeal to anyone who can empathize with the struggle to reroute a dead-end situation and those who like pseudomemoirs."

Booklist, March 1, 2010

Excerpt of review for AFTER THE WORKSHOP:

"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."

Vanity Fair, March 2010

A nod from Vanity Fair in Elissa Schappell's "Hot Type" column: "A once promising novelist tortures himself by working as a media escort for touring authors in John McNally's After the Workshop."

Jill McCorkle, author of GOING AWAY SHOES

"AFTER THE WORKSHOP is a rollicking, hilarious lampooning of the book business...John McNally is a master of satire and wit, but what makes this novel most satisfying is that he is also a superb storyteller and the story of Jack Hercules Sheahan, a classic underdog with whom the reader feels an immediate kinship, is one not to be missed."

Kirkus, Dec. 15 2009


"A media escort in the Midwest’s most literary town spills the beans on the book business. McNally enthusiastically rakes the literary profession over the coals in his cutting fictional biography of Jack Hercules Sheahan, once a wunderkind of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a New Yorker–published writer with great potential and even greater opportunities. The novel smartly picks up Jack’s story a decade after his well has run dry, as he subsists by ushering famous and not-so-famous writers to their hotels, bookstore readings and many, many bars… A ribald deconstruction, packed with literary in-jokes, of an industry in love with its own absurdities."

Publishers Weekly, Nov. 2009

Excerpt from review for AFTER THE WORKSHOP:

“McNally, an Iowa graduate and former media escort, 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


“A swift, wicked, and very funny book about what writers do when they’re not writing. They’re gossiping, scheming, pining, teaching, going on book tours, and—in the case of McNally’s blocked and shopworn hero, Jack—babysitting more famous writers on tour and trying to think of a reason to live. The pace is brisk, the prose is buoyant, the vision clear and sharp, and the outcome unexpectedly moving. A fine novel.” —Kevin Canty, author of Where the Money Went

“John McNally skewers so many sacred cows of the writing and publishing world in After the Workshop that he may need to hire a bodyguard. But beyond the biting humor and literary Schadenfreude is a novel about how hard it is to meet your own great expectations, which McNally renders with humanity and charm and his own trademark dark wit.”—Tod Goldberg, author of Other Resort Cities

“John McNally is a ridiculously funny writer and this is satirical fiction at its very finest—not only does After the Workshop shred the eye-rolling vanities of our day, but it takes care, in the meantime, to smile kindly on what’s good in the world, too.” —Patrick Somerville, author of The Cradle

NPR , Books We Like


The ghosts of these stories aren't just consumed by loss, they're imprisoned by it — choosing, each time, to make their lives shrines to the past rather than taking a stab at the unknown future. In a lesser writer's hands, such stories would be predictable retreads. But McNally makes us see the real tragedy: in the absence of love, embracing grief can be the next best thing.

Rain Taxi


McNally’s seemingly mild-mannered yet unreliable protagonists prove intriguing as each deals with his or her own metaphorical monsters. Far more universal than its title might suggest, Ghosts of Chicago is a rollicking tour through the psyches of our modern world.

Blogcritics Magazine


John McNally’s new story collection Ghosts of Chicago is full of portents, mysterious circumstances, and haunted people. McNally has the ability to get to the essence of his characters and allow them to live their stories and just like real life, they are full of unexpected events and comic turns. There is ravaged beauty, bits of magic and hopefulness in these stories.

Chicago Sun-Times, October 28, 2008


"There really are no actual 'ghost stories' in GHOSTS OF CHICAGO, McNally's second collection of short stories. Rather there are stories of loss, loneliness and despair, with a couple of sweet and poignant imaginings thrown in for good measure.... McNally may have physically left Chicago, but the city has never left him, and so, in a sense, he himself has become a ghost of Chicago."

WhatzUp: Leisure Time Weekly for Northeast Indiana, October 2008


"A city that loves its strong personalities perhaps more than any other, Chicago is most easily defined by its famous men, colossal figures whom McNally [in GHOSTS OF CHICAGO] has stalked through dream-like vignettes that reduce their mythical reputations to moments of poignant humanity...McNally’s ghosts don’t rattle chains or materialize in gloomy graveyards, but they are just as eerie as their traditional counterparts. They are, in fact, sometimes most affecting when we meet them before they’ve even become ghosts. In 'Sweetness and the Fridge,' we see Walter Payton near the height of his vitality, a snapshot that evokes our memory of his passing with heartbreaking clarity."

Chicago Reader, October 2008


"Among the stories in his new collection, GHOSTS OF CHICAGO, dedicated to the fiction writing department at Columbia College, are some finely crafted homages to Chicago icons: Frazier Thomas considers his deep and dependent relationship with Garfield Goose, Siskel and Ebert get into a nasty wrestling match in the snow after a movie, Walter Payton and the Fridge bond on a road trip...The piece that closes the collection, 'Contributor’s Notes,' is alone worth the price of the book; it’s the flat-out funniest story I’ve ever read about writers."

Booklist, October 2008


"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...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." -- Donna Seaman

New City (Chicago), September 2008


"These [stories] are more than just the travails of the dead — the nature of love, family bonds and loss all haunt these streets as well. McNally’s wit always comes at you unexpectedly...but the subtle sadness of each story’s texture, the ache of emptiness, makes the final impression. GHOSTS OF CHICAGO, a fine assemblage, reminds us of what we’re missing." -- Tom Lynch

CHICAGO TRIBUNE, March 11, 2007


Chicago Tribune Editor's Choice

"Reunion season is around the corner and instead of standing in one, stay home, read this book and feel like you're in the great company of wonderful writers like Elizabeth Crane, Maud Newton, and John McNally, editor of the book. This collection of more than 20 essays captures those gawky, self-conscious, angst-filled years in all their glory."



"[T]he 25 'true stories' submitted by up-and-coming fiction writers (Owen King, Lisa Gabriele, Sean Doolittle and others) lift the fog of nostalgia that has enshrouded the high-school experience in pop culture and actually shine some new light on those trying times... High school wasn't the 'best times' of these writers' lives -- but it surely has made for the best kind of reading material: In this collection, high school never sucks the same way twice." -Joey Rubin



"When I Was a Loser, edited by novelist John McNally (America’s Report Card), gathers some two dozen winning recollections by Julianna Baggott, Will Clarke, Brad Land and others who look back with humor, embarrassment, and even grudging affection on how they survived their high school years packed with bad hairdos, boring family vacations, backstabbing best friends, and other painful rites and rituals of adolescence."

Punk Planet, Nov. and Dec. 2006


"[It] is his mastery of the marginalized, the odd, the simultaneously sad and funny characters who populate his world, that makes his fiction so darn magisterial."

Writers on the Rise, September 2006

"John McNally's newly published novel, AMERICA'S REPORT CARD, is creating a buzz for its satirical examination of standardized testing and politics. Told from two viewpoints – that of a troubled teen who answers the test's essay question in a flippant, yet honest way – and a test reader who reads her response and seeks her out to help her. Insightful and funny, America's Report Card is the perfect back-to-school read."

Writers on the Rise Newsletter.

Whatzup, 8/17/06


"McNally’s vision of the 2004-and-beyond American landscape sets up a little internal culture war of its own; the novel is sad and funny, hopeful and cynical, jaded and naive. Just like America."

WhatzUp Review

Las Vegas City Life, August 17, 2006


"Plenty of novels have used 9/11 as an image or a plot point and, by and large, they've failed on a grand scale (none worse that Jay McInerney's The Good Life), but it's to McNally's credit that he never allows for sentimentality to creep into his satire...[It] is the blunt force of McNally's clear dismay with the state of world affairs that allows for the gallows humor he specializes in to shine through."

Read the entire review: Las Vegas City Life

Motif Magazine


"...McNally's snapshot style captures the excess energy, insouciance and polar mood swings of adolescence with marvelous accuracy...Even more precisely than Jainey's teen angst, McNally gets the ennui, rootlessness, complacency and subconscious nagging doubt that plague so many grad students."

San Francisco Chronicle, August 7, 2005


"...a funny, familiar and fantastical tale of post-Sept. 11 America....McNally provides satisfying resolutions in a way rarely found in this type of hybrid, modern meta-fiction. He offers an entertaining political novel steeped in thought, one both funny and true."

S.F. Chronicle Review of AMERICA'S REPORT CARD

Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 4, 2004


"Say this for John McNally: He ventures where other writers might fear to tread. AMERICA'S REPORT CARD is a gutsy, highly entertaining and thought-provoking satire for these troubled times."

Seattle P.I.

Washington Post, July 23, 2006

"AMERICA'S REPORT CARD is a gangly comic novel that starts by making fun of conservative education reform ("No Child's Behind Left Untouched") and ends by accusing President Bush of genocide. McNally is a clown wearing brass knuckles, and with this sometimes clever, sometimes goofy story, he may finally incite on the fiction bestseller list the kind of brawl that's been raging away between liberals and conservatives on the nonfiction side...The adventure that follows is wildly energetic, often chaotic and never resists a diversion as it careens toward a conclusion that's oddly terrifying and sweet. What America's Report Card really hopes to assess are the psychotic symptoms that ordinary people have begun to display as a result of our government's surveillance and brutality:

a) disillusionment
b) paranoia
c) rage
d) all of the above.

When you're finished, put your #2 pencil down and enjoy a government-sanctioned moment of silence."

Read the full review: Washington Post "Book World"

Chicago Reader, Critic's Choice


"As in McNally's previous novel, The Book of Ralph, there's a lot of humor here [in AMERICA'S REPORT CARD]--but it's shot through with a decidedly sinister undercurrent. Remember when your grade-school teacher threatened, 'This can go down on your permanent record'? In McNally's world, it probably did."

Chicago Reader

TimeOut Chicago, July 20, 2006


"It’s rare to find such a thought-provoking novel that is also so effortlessly entertaining. [AMERICA'S REPORT CARD] is a book you can take to the beach, and use as a catalyst for beach-blanket political discussion."

TimeOut Chicago

Chicago Tribune, July 16, 2006


"McNally scores high for (mostly) not confusing earnestness with drama; for an inventive, engaging story; for accurately reading distrust and despair as the mood of (some of) the American electorate; for trenchant observation; and for writing that endows its disaffected characters with dimension and some genuine pathos...McNally weaves together dozens of plot elements with glee and assurance, taking full advantage of most of the opportunities to score one for his side."

Read the full review: Chicago Tribune



"McNally parlays the humorous, off-kilter vision in The Book of Ralph…into an even more high-voltage, culturally discerning, agilely comedic novel of Midwest angst and national paranoia… McNally’s flair for the absurd, poker-faced humor, and dead-on critique of post-9/11 fearmongering are matched by crisp dialogue, superb pacing, and compassionate regard for humankind."

Publishers Weekly, May 29, 2006


"McNally takes a satiric, paranoid look at the dastardly machinations behind standardized testing...The bizarre plot and colorful characters make for an engrossing read."

Kirkus Reviews, June 2006


"Two likable misfits are brought together by the Bush administration's dastardly use of national education tests...Totally charming whacked-out politics."

National Education Association, May 2006


"To ease the transition from test time, why not start off with John McNally’s AMERICA'S REPORT CARD, a novel offering a look at what happens when Scan-Tron sheets, war, and elections collide...Government and education conspiracy enthusiasts will find some great riffs, and those looking for a steamy beach read where everybody knows NCLB’s name will not be disappointed."

FYI: NCLB = No Child Left Behind.

Bookslut, October 2005

What does Bookslut say about "The Book of Ralph"? "It is filled to the brim with nostalgia for the seventies (CB radios, the Gong show, Styx), pre-teen hilarity, and the family melodrama that is infused with the universal experience."

Dallas Morning News, July 9, 2005

"Wouldn't it be fun if at least one book of the BIBLE was named for an ordinary guy? It probably was, come to think of it. In this case, BOOK OF RALPH is a parable of sorts about a teenager. He's an odd duck who teaches his friend a thing or two about America in the 1970s."

Chicagoist, May 2005

The Chicagoist -- a Chicago-area blog -- weighs in on THE BOOK OF RALPH: Straight Outta Ford City

Daily Southtown, May 29, 2005

Read about John's signing at Duke's Italian Beef Drive-in: 'RALPH' AUTHOR HAS HOMECOMING AT DUKE'S DRIVE-IN

Time Out (Chicago), May 26-June 2, 2005

Thomas Haley calls THE BOOK OF RALPH "a smart and gritty coming-of-age story mostly set in 1978 and told through the eyes of Hank's earnest, innocent, but far from naive perspective."

Chicago Reader, May 27, 2005

In an article about John McNally's book-signing at Dukes Italian Beef Drive-In on Chicago's southwest-side, Bill Humphrey, manager of Dukes, says, "Growing up around here, it's impossible not to like [THE BOOK OF RALPH] almost feel like you know the kids in the book."

Chicago Reader, May 20, 2005


Jerome Ludwig writes: "The south side gets no respect. The White Sox have the best record in the major leagues and can't fill the Cell; the Cubs are sub-.500 and still pack Wrigley Field. Maybe it's the same with novels: Adam Langer's recent CROSSING CALIFORNIA, set in Rogers Park, got loads of press, while John McNally's 2004 chronicle of a southwest-side childhood, THE BOOK OF RALPH, didn't get nearly as much -- a shame, because it's a terrific book...McNally depicts the embarrassments and cruelties of teenagers with empathy, and he nails adolescent boys' rising interest in girls...And Ralph is one of my all-time favorite comic characters; a guy just like him went to my school, probably yours too."

Chicago Sun-Times, May 1, 2005

NEW PAPERBACKS. THE BOOK OF RALPH. A much-praised comic novel of growing up on the 8th grade streets of Chicago in 1978, by one of the city's most talented native sons.

Chicago Tribune, December 19, 2004

"The Book of Ralph" made Chicago Tribune's "More Favorite Books From This Year" list:

They write, "Set mostly in 1978 Chicago, this sweet novel is a funny ode to juvenile delinquency and pop culture."

Third Coast (Western Michigan University's Literary Magazine)

Read Orman Day's interview about working-class literature with John McNally, Dan Chaon, Susan Straight, and the late Larry Brown.

Third Coast

The Pilot (N.C.), December 2004

Author Ruth Moose writes, "In 'The Book of Ralph' the reader gets this wild and crazy, skewed version of growing up. It’s the 1970s with Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn and they’re adventuring in the environs of the city. This is a city where the ghosts of Al Capone and gangsters hover in a benign way over Hank and Ralph, our heroes who make us laugh and sigh. They are absolutely irresistible!"

Christopher Isherwood Foundation, Decenber 2004

John had just been awarded the Thomas Williams Fellowship in Fiction from the Christopher Isherwood Foundation.

The other Isherwood Foundation winners for this year are Kate Braverman, Daniel Coshnear, Alyson Hagy, Bret Anthony Johnston, and Nance Van Winkel.

Mitch Albom, author of The Five People You Meet In Heaven

"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."

WhatzUp: Leisure Time Weekly for Northeast Indiana

Evan Gillespie writes, "On the surface, McNally's book is top-drawer entertainment; it is funny and human and endearing. I would argue, however, that the book should enjoy a more significant position in the history of American fiction. A clear-eyed vision of childhood in the waning years of the twentieth century, the story of Ralph and Hank can be seen as an intermediate step, a sobering answer to the question of how we've managed to travel from Tom Sawyer to Columbine."

WhatzUp: Leisure Time Weekly for Northeast Indiana

Pulp (Pittsburgh), June 3-10, 2004

"Remember the CB radio craze? Cheap Trick? Pink Floyd? Organ stores at the mall? Head shops? Well, if you don't, you're not my age. Meet Hank, all-around nice kid. Meet Ralph, the eighth-grade troublemaker who befriends him. In the opening pages of John McNally's The Book of Ralph, it's 1978 and Ralph has found the 1974 Sears catalogue in which Patty O'Dell modeled Sears panties. Ten-four. Over-and-out. You will laugh so hard you'll forget you don't have air conditioning."

Pulp: Pittsburgh's Source for News, Arts, and Entertainment

January Magazine, May 2004

"McNally captures the true essence of an eighth grade boy...'The Book of Ralph' is a highly readable and thoroughly enjoyable book."

January Magazine

News & Observer (Raleigh, NC), May 2, 2004

From Sarah Dessen's review: "McNally's writing is so compelling, not to mention funny, that you're often surprised by sudden, more tender moments...His book has a depth that sneaks up on you...It is McNally's ability to keep us interested in these characters beyond what they were to what they are that is the book's greatest strength."

News and Observer (Raleigh, NC)

The Lantern (Ohio State University), April 29, 2004

"There is not a single hazy recollection in this book, as McNally skillfully voices Hank's innocent, wandering and naïve thoughts with touching clarity: the type of depth not often seen in similar coming-of-age tales."

The Lantern (Ohio State University)

NBC's Today Show, April 21, 2004

Mitch "Tuesdays With Morrie" Albom, while selecting the new Today Show book club selection, cited "The Book of Ralph" as "very funny" and an "excellent book," and lamented that it was heartbreaking having to select just one book. "The Book of Ralph" came in a close second for Albom. (He selected Andrew Sean Greer's "The Confessions of Max Tivoli.")

Watch the clip! (Warning: You'll have to watch a commercial first.)

NBC's "Today Show"

Washington Post, April 18, 2004

"Out of this Huck-and-Tom setup...comes a comic series of connected episodes -- 'The Book of Ralph' is subtitled 'a fiction,' although its pacing and depth qualify it as a novel -- that careen around three decades. Sometimes hazy, occasionally wistful, often picaresque chapters are delivered with a satirist's perfect understated pitch and announce John McNally -- also the author of 'Troublemakers,' a collection of stories -- as a gifted meta-memoirist."

After appearing in the Washington Post, this review was syndicated in several papers, including the Detroit News. See link below:

"Washington Post" review of "The Book of Ralph"

Los Angeles Times, April 18, 2004

"Wading into 'The Book of Ralph,' John McNally's good-natured comic novel, is like entering a Sears catalog from the fall of 1978...It hits all the stops on its tour of '70s cultural detritus: CB radios, the music of Styx, 'The Gong Show.'"


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

Virginia Quarterly Review, Spring 2004

"The Book of Ralph" is chosen as VQR's "Editor's Choice": "McNally knows how to balance the hair-raising with the hysterical better than any other young writer working today."

The Journal News, March 28, 2004

Ashley Warlick says, "'The Book of Ralph' by John McNally is very funny. Ralph, the nutcase that holds these pieces together, is fabulously crazy."

Chicago Tribune, March 28, 2004

"Turn to nearly any page in 'The Book of Ralph' and you will find a funny, moving or outrageous set piece, usually with the hapless narrator, Hank, participating in some juvenile rite.... 'The Book of Ralph' itself is much like Hank's father's project, a collection of strange and wonderful objects set out on the lawn, a carnival of vivid memories. ...'The Book of Ralph' should earn John McNally the wider audience that his talent and wit deserve. Chicago-area readers, in particular, will have good reason to look forward to future work by this native son."

Newcity (Chicago), March 18, 2004

"McNally," according to Larry Lamovec, "is kind of like deep-dish pizza. He's one of the best things Chicago has to offer -- at least when it comes to local authors."

Newcity (Chicago), "McNally's Map: The Chicago-Bred Author Talks about 'Book of Ralph'"

Red Streak (Chicago Sun-Times), March 18, 2004

Mike Danahey writes, “…I think you should read [McNally’s] humorous book; a touch smart-ass, essentially meat-and-potatoes Chicago kind of story.”

Chicago Public Radio, March 18, 2004

Listen to an interview with John on Chicago Public Radio, WBEZ's Eight Forty-Eight show.

WBEZ "Eight Forty-Eight"

Chicago Tribune, March 14, 2004

In a feature article for the Chicago Tribune, John McNally takes a Trib reporter to his old haunts.

Chicago Tribune, "On the Trailer Park Trail: Author John McNally Remembers the Fires, Break-ins and Grade-school Hustles that Inspired his First Novel"

Chicago Sun-Times, Febuary 29, 2004

In a very positive review in the Chicago Sun-Times, Stephen J. Lyons writes, "There are times in 'The Book of Ralph,' especially when McNally describes Hank's grade school periods of restless angst and unrequited schoolyard crushes, when one is reminded of satirist David Sedaris."

Chicago Sun-Times, "Running with the Toughs: A Chicagoan's Fine First Novel about Hanging out With All the Wrong People"

Publishers Weekly, January 2004

PW writes, "[T]his enjoyable first novel [The Book of Ralph] 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," and concludes, "This lively novel will appeal to fans of Rich Cohen's Lake Effect or even Jean Shepherd's wistful fiction."

Kirkus Reviews, December 2003

Kirkus writes of "The Book of Ralph," "The always reliable fascination of the good kid with the possibilities of the hood life knit together anecdotal memoirs set in the seedy southwest corner of Chicago in the late '70s and early '80s....Harmless fun for the lads, courtesy of second-timer McNally."

Wall Street Journal, December 18, 2003

In an article about the power and influence of Barnes and Noble's head fiction book buyer Sessalee Hensley, she is asked to name forthcoming books that she's excited about, and one of the three titles she cites is John's "The Book of Ralph."

Wall Street Journal, "This Buyer of Fiction has Real Clout"