These may not technically be frequently asked questions, since I haven’t actually been pelted with them to date, so consider them to be factually answered queries.
Who are your literary influences?
There are many authors who have inspired me greatly, but I would never claim that I had absorbed their artistry and imagination sufficiently so as to influence my own writing style, such as it is (although I will happily admit that Ellen Kushner’s Thomas the Rhymer provided a model for approaching the narrative style of my novel, The Grave and the Gay).
But if you want to know which fiction and nonfiction writers have inspired me the most, that list would include (in alphabetical order, each with a representative title): James Agee (Let Us Now Praise Famous Men), William Faulkner (The Sound and the Fury), Ursula Hegi (Stones From the River), Toni Morrison (Beloved), Stephen B. Oates (With Malice Towards None: The Life of Abraham Lincoln), James Thurber (A Thurber Carnival), Walt Whitman (Leaves of Grass), and Tom Wolfe (The Right Stuff).
Whence comes your interest in nonfiction?
I was born on Lincoln’s birthday and so gravitated to books about him and the Civil War from the time I learned to read. In college I had the great honor of taking two classes with Lincoln biographer Stephen B. Oates, and I maintain a correspondence with him to this day. Furthermore, with my college degree in Journalism and a career as a copywriter, I have been writing about actual people and things all my adult life. That is why I am so in awe of novelists like Toni Morrison who know their imagined characters so well, their full histories and the many sides to their personalities, which make them so authentic and complete. Writing fiction has been an exciting challenge and I have tried to make the setting of my novel historically accurate.
Why should a copywriter have literary aspirations? Do you hate your job?
Not at all. I was never meant to be a starving artist and my B.A. in Journalism gave me good training to be a business writer. I actually started out in public relations and then moved into copywriting after a couple of years. I have found that my career as a copywriter – which requires learning about a wide range of subjects, creating diverse deliverables in a vast array of forms and formats, in various voices for multiple audiences – has only strengthened my overall skills as a writer.
But writing for others is not the same as writing for oneself. Though it takes longer because of devotion to the day job, creative writing after hours and on weekends has been an essential part of my life; whether or not anyone reads or enjoys my creative work, my quality of life would be much less if I couldn’t consider myself a Writer, and not “just” a copywriter (see cartoon at right).
It’s worth noting that one-time advertising copywriter Tony Asher was the principal lyricist on the Beach Boys album, Pet Sounds, considered to be among the greatest works in the history of popular music. So one never knows where copywriting might lead.
What’s with the title of your novel, The Grave and the Gay?
The words “grave” and “gay” are imbued with multiple meanings, throughout time and still today, and the book touches on them all in one way or another. “Grave” also plays on the main character’s name – Matty Musgrave – while “Lady Gay” is a character in a play performed in the book. Additionally, the pleasingly alliterative phrase comes from an address by Abraham Lincoln to the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois, on January 27, 1838. In his remarks, Lincoln advised that the preservation of the government required faithful allegiance to the laws of the land (emphasis mine):
Let reverence for the laws be breathed by every American mother to the lisping babe that prattles on her lap; let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in primers, spelling-books, and in almanacs; let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay of all sexes and tongues and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.
Tell me about the autumnal image on your website.
This is a photo taken in the woods surrounding the neighborhood in which I grew up, which borders the few remains of Brook Farm, the Transcendentalist community founded by George Ripley in the 1840s. As a kid, I spent many hours exploring these woods, making up adventures as I immersed myself in a forest-floored world. I knew nothing about the Transcendentalists at the time, but as an adult I recalled happening upon the area and seeing Pulpit Rock, where the community held Sunday services. I did some research and was fascinated to learn of the ghosts I had unknowingly played with as a child. Those woods were an important part of my youth and today represent for me a door to the past and to my own imagination. I felt that including this on my website would be appropriate.