Friday, November 22, 2013

Portland Writers, The Ones to Watch

The high-fiving has to be hot and heavy this week as Portland poet Mary Szybist wins the National Book Award for poetry. The Lewis and Clark prof joins her predecessor William Stafford to claim the honor. I highly recommend reading this Q&A with Mary on the Oregonian's website. Her perspective is grand and angular.

Poets and writers make Portland a rich place to live. Between Powell's bookstore, scores of literary events and a thriving creative culture (not SUBculture), it's hard to go amiss here. I've been thinking that Portlanders are a practical people, but they also are seekers of the strange and thought-provoking. This place is their buffet. Need a person who knows how to write an elegy poem and speak Russian? Got ya covered. Want an expert on small presses who also writes books with pornography in the title (though not necessarily in the text)? Here's the guy.

This summer while trying to promote my book idea at a downtown event, I ran into an interesting fellow who'd decided to go to graduate school at Portland State, which has a well-respected program on publishing arts. He was a writer for a small magazine in New York, and he was remarkably candid about how New Yorkers and the NY literati felt about Portland. According to my acquaintance, there's a bit of jealousy brewing. As he put it, "Portland is the place New Yorkers want to go in the afterlife." Well, Big Apple types, don't wait until you're dead. Just get yourselves out here, find yourself a bicycle and snuggle in. Plenty of words to go 'round.

The Attic
Literary Arts
Late Night Library
Oregon Writers Colony
Willamette Writers
Independent Publishing Resource Center
Bitch Magazine

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

"The Call" Arrives As "The Email"

I've been having a blogging block about how to write this post.

The phenomenon writers know as "the call" arrived to me in the form of an email two months ago from London. A small press wanted to publish my book.

Granted, I dashed off an update on my book website and posted on my Facebook page for my small world to know, but I haven't blogged about that day or my feelings because nothing clever or creative seemed to float to the surface.

It just happened. It took one Yes. I crossed over from unpublished to published.

This blog has chronicled my journey, started months before I finished the book that should come out next year. I didn't know what I was doing when I started writing my book a month before my 42nd birthday, four years ago. I just had a feeling that I wanted to write down and a vague notion of a story to go with it.

Many writers are asked: "What's your process?" I'd have to say, "I just had a feeling." I write from my emotional center. I know how I feel and what I want to convey when I feel it. The story is the vehicle. Is this heady? Better described as gut-centered. Will it win me any readers? Well, I'm about to find out.

My book will be published by Thames River Press sometime next year. Each step now to publication is a new experience, just as every step up to "the email" had been new. I'd never written a lick of fiction prior to writing my first novel. I remind myself that I'm one of the fortunate few who'll see a first novel published. Or see any novel published. I know that persistence and luck played a part in this event. Skill is important, too, but unless a writer is a genius at writing (can't claim to be) then the next best tool is stubbornness. If you don't give up, you have a greater chance of succeeding.

But what happens is -- writers put the book in the drawer, they refuse to listen to criticism, they take everything personally, they blowup the negative, they nail their coffin with every rejection, they defeat themselves with writer jealousy, they complain the system is f'ing screwy, they stop writing.

Every miserable one of those things happened to me. Temporarily. Then I started back up again. And one day, in early fall, while I was having coffee with a writer friend and my daughter, I opened my email on my phone. I had an offer. I couldn't read the email. I made my friend read it out loud in Stumptown Coffee. I thought it was bogus. But then I didn't. I raced my daughter home by bike. Somewhere, pedalling down the center of 46th Street in Portland, I yelled: "Someone wants my book!"

That was my call.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Three Musketeers Inspires BBC TV Series, Play, Comic Theater Troupe

Adaptations keep popping up of The Three Musketeers. Good for me and my book. The timeless story of d'Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis appeals to new fans because it's a great escape. Few activities sound as fun as galloping around the French countryside with a sword and a bottle of wine. Hey, I might try it myself some day.

A Musketeers play is making the rounds in the U.S. It's showing this month near my former home of Asheville, NC, at the Flat Rock Playhouse, but I've seen it reviewed and advertised at other venues around the country. I hope to see it someday. Written by playwright Ken Ludwig, it premiered in 2006 in the UK to wonderful reviews. The Bristol Old Vic theatre in England commissioned him to write it.

The Brits (hug one if you know one) have also finished production of a 10-episode TV series called The Musketeers. It will be released next year by BBC One and BBC America. I'm more of a movie fan rather than a TV watcher, but this series has me thrilled. It's a drama (yeah!) versus a new comic barbershop opera making the rounds in the UK. A comedy troupe called Barbershopera teasingly sings through the Dumas story. There's plenty to joke about and Dumas would have enjoyed the troupe's sense of humour.

Alexandre Dumas's work is also inspiring a Canadian to adapt the novel into a play for young actors. She found me online recently and asked if I could answer some questions about the book, and I gladly opined. Her questions were very specific, so I had to think through them based on the novel's version of events and what I know of history. Below is our exchange.

Q: I've read the novel, another play adaptation, and the graphic novel (how great is that?!), but there are a few motivations that I don't understand. I'm hoping if you have the time you could share any insights that you might have with me. 1) Why does Richelieu want to expose the affair between the Queen and the Duke? Does he hope it will start a war?

A: While I don't profess to be an expert, I can give you my take on your questions. Why expose the affair? Political reasons, at least in terms of Dumas's rendition of history. Dumas doesn't get much more specific than that. Richelieu was a power-player and wanted to influence France's fortunes for personal gain. If he could gain the upper hand, he won. Plus, Queen Anne wasn't French. Probably in reality, this friction between them didn't exist. (I've looked into this last point more, and accounts of the relationship between Richeleau and the Queen are less dastardly than the plot Dumas wrote.)

Q: 2) Why does Richelieu want to start a war with England?

A: The English were Protestants and at the time, the French Catholics were struggling to define their relationship to the Huguenots, the French Protestants, a group which France tried to suppress (ie: the Seige at La Rochelle). In truth, Richelieu created peace with the Huguenots.

Q: 3) Why is Buckingham not safe in France when he sneaks over to visit the Queen?

A: Because Buckingham is English and Dumas portrays the French as disdainful of the English (probably not far from the truth). And as everyone rightly suspects, because Buckingham's having, or trying to have, an affair with Queen Anne. Ah, the struggle for love.

This was a fun exercise for me, but I'm far from being a historian. I'm simply a super Dumas fan. If a historian of European history or literature happens to know more, I'd love to hear from you.