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'South Side Trilogy' Takes Readers on 'Cinematic' Journey

By Casey Cora | April 30, 2013 7:00am

BRIDGEPORT — The "South Side Trilogy" isn’t full of happy stories.

These are tales of struggle and loss in a fictional neighborhood called Hardscrabble. There's an accidental death, a junkie in a cop shop bathroom and desperate contemplation from barstools and dirty hotel rooms.

The multimedia trilogy, which author John Hospodka calls a “literary picture show,” follows the lives of several characters and takes readers through the neighborhood via vignettes, poems, short stories and song lyrics.

Along the way, readers encounter a series of videos, monologues, music tracks and illustrations that help tell the story of hardbitten Hardscrabble.

“The different styles of writing, different techniques, different voices fit in and populate Hardscrabble. I felt the only way you could really describe the neighborhood was by examining it through every literary device just to get all the voices,” said Hospodka, 46, of Bridgeport. 

For Hospodka, founder of Bohemian Pupil Press, writing in various formats was both liberating and challenging.

The work began as far back as 1995, when Hospodka, then a writer in Wrigleyville, authored what would become the third book in the trilogy, "An Epitaph Grows Out of Hardscrabble," written by the book's heroin dealer from the North Side, mostly in the confines of Lakeview's infamous Chateau Hotel.

The first book, "Greetings from Hardscrabble, Chicago"  was published in a limited edition in 2004, and the second part, "Hardscrabble Troubadour," was authored later.

In 2010, he brought pieces of the trilogy together on a website, enlisting the help of friends to contribute original songs and illustrations, including artwork from Steve Badauskas, owner of Bridgeport's Bernice's Tavern.

That proved a disjointed experience, Hospodka said. Links sent readers to and from web pages and disrupted the storytelling flow.

Now that it's recently been made available on iPhones, iPads and iPod Touch devices, thumbing through the "South Side Trilogy" is a smoother experience.

Rather than overdoing it with multimedia, videos and music are more of a complement to the narratives, “another attempt to make it more cinematic,” he said. At one climactic point, a song serves as a break in the story, dropped like a gold coin along the path to let the reader contemplate, then continue, the narrative.

"With enhanced e-books ... people don't like it because the video experience distracts from the experience. I very consciously set out to find a way where everything would be part of the literary experience."

With some notable exceptions, most of the settings aren't real, but Hospodka said they were inspired by some infrastructure and architecture in Pilsen and Bridgeport.

In fact, Hospodka scrapped the original title, the Springsteen-esque "Greetings from Bridgeport, Chicago," but retained for his work the overall feel of characters toiling, loving, drinking and losing within a fictional realm of Hardscrabble, which takes its name from the 19th Century frontier outpost located in the area that would eventually become Bridgeport.

Although his characters may find themselves in desperate situations — they too aren't based on real people, only influenced by "a few unfortunate souls" that Hospodka once knew — they're not necessarily bad people.

"I think there is some light in it," he said. All of these people, there's something aching at them in that they appreciate expression, appreciate reading, even though they're stuck in this difficult place."

The "South Side Trilogy" is available using Apple's iBooks and can be bought for $6.99 through iTunes.