The Mistress of Pennington's Tour

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

First my friend Vonnie and now her husband, Calvin - what a family affair!!

Rachel, thanks for having another Blue Ridge Literary author on your blog. My wife, Vonnie, came last week and now I get to mingle with you and your friends. Thanks for having me.

You're welcome, Calvin! It's great to meet you after knowing your wife for so long. I'd love to know how husband and wife writers work on a day to day basis. Do you write together in the same room? Separately? Different times of the day and night? Now I've asked questions that I wasn't supposed too, let's get on with the real interview, lol!

When and why did you decide you wanted to be a published author?

When? The first time I read passages from Shakespeare’s Macbeth and was blinded by the verbal bolts of lightning streaking from the page. When I perused The Scarlet Letter and my ears resounded with the sound of thunder. When? When Charles Dickens transported me to London, and I experienced the swirl and heartbeat of that busy metropolis. When? When I read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel and discovered he could put more poetry into one line of prose than many celebrated poets could cram into a tome of verse.

It was during these moments of revelation I heard a voice whisper, “This is beautiful. You can do this. Of course you can. Doing it is your assignment in life, so…do it. No excuses. Do it.” Having been given my life’s worksheet by Providence, I’ve pursued it ever since.

Who knows? Maybe one day something I write will cause some reader to see lightning in a phrase or hear the clap of thunder from a clause. If no reader sees or hears either, it won’t be because I didn’t try. And a life of trying is a life well lived.

Did I fully answer the query why did I start writing? Only in part. The other half of the answer is, I didn’t have a choice in the matter. Writing was in my DNA. It was either write, Calvin, or die. I’m a weakling, I chose to live. Wouldn’t you?

Did you plan this book (The Phantom Lady of Paris, An Unforgettable Love Story)? Or write it as it came?

The answer? Both. Without outlining, I had a general idea of what the novel would be about. With that vague concept as a start, I began writing. How the tale would end? I didn’t know. The complete list of characters? A mystery to me. Who would live? Who would die? All a blank.

Many, if not all of these questions would be answered not by the author, but by the characters. They would let the writer know what to do. In which direction the novel would go. After a while, the writer just goes along for the ride. He becomes an observer, not a director. He records what the characters tell him to record.

Having said that, I wish I were the kind of writer who outlined before he wrote, did all the detail work a novelist should do prior to penning the first sentence. If I did, I probably would never write a novel. My mind says, “That is not your method.” I need to take away the chains that straightjacket my imagination. I must allow my fancy to soar anywhere it chooses to go. Even beyond this universe if necessary, and always on wings lighter than a dream.

Share your blurb or short excerpt from you latest release with us.

Set up: This is a riot scene from The Phantom Lady of Paris. Time: 1968. Place: Paris, France; Latin Quarter; Boulevard Saint German. There Sorbonne students mass for a demonstration against “the educational establishment.” The protest leader is a communist-trained revolutionary, “François the Incendiary,” a human fireball of rhetoric and rabble rousing.

One of the leader’s aides handed him (François) a bullhorn, and he pressed its mouthpiece to his lips. Immediately, Boulevard Saint Germain transformed into a sepulcher: total silence. “Fellow revolutionaries,” the Incendiary bellowed, “Patriots of France”—he paused, the intermission accentuating silence like an exclamation point—“hear my words.”

Cheers exploded, followed by a chain of chants: “François…François…François!” The speaker once more signaled for silence.

“Comrades,” he continued, “comrades.” Again, an explosion of cheers.

“Quiet, let 'im speak,” a man yelled.

“The time,” François said, “has come, the day, the hour; the moment is at hand! Not tomorrow, as the bureaucracy would have you believe, nor some unnamed future date. Fellow revolutionaries, now is the time when we must end once and for all the university’s inequalities, dismantle its archaic bureaucracy and curricula and make known to the world our grievances.” With a raised fist, he shouted into the bullhorn, “Now! Now! Now!

The crowd responded: “Now! Now! Now!” Beneath the din of the throng edged another sound, the wail of police sirens, but the resonance of approaching sirens didn’t deter François. “We have not gathered here,” he extolled, “to capitulate!” His words were now fireballs of passion. “We shall not be moved!”

“Never!” demonstrators responded. “Never!”

“Nor shall we cower,” intoned the speaker.

“Never!” protestors replied.

“Or be intimidated by clubs.”


“Or tear gas!”

“No! No!” The crowd chanted louder and louder.

The screech of police vehicles slamming to a stop punctuated protesters’ chants as officers with shields, nightsticks, and gas masks, poured from vans. “Form ranks!” barked the commander. “Double time!” Like automatons, lawmen scurried.

“The presence of policemen will not weaken our resolve,” François the Incendiary orated.

“No!” responded a chorus of frenzied voices.

Officers formed lines on the sidewalk across the street from Gilbert’s. “This demonstration,” the commanding officer bellowed, “is unauthorized. You have sixty seconds to disperse.” No one moved. “Fifty-nine seconds…and counting!”

What surprised you the most when you became a published writer?

There were several things that surprised me. One, the sun rose the morning following the publication of my novel. Two, the earth remained in its orbit. Three, oceans did not drain dry. In a word –- and I found this so hard to grasp -- life went on as usual.

But these things were far less surprising than this. For over five years I carried the “phantom lady of Paris” in my head. On the day of the book’s publication, she was at last free. She told me she longed to be liberated. Finally she was. But not only was she free, so was I. Do you know what it’s like to carry a living human in your brain? Not easy. Don’t try it.

What’s next for you?

I have no idea. My mind works strangely. I may see something or hear something or smell something and suddenly what I see, hear or smell begins a chain reaction of thoughts that takes me back in time and place, or it might transport me to the future. And once transported, either forward or backward, I begin to envision new relationships between things and people. And this is the raw material a writer needs for a novel. What follows is the wearing out of about six pairs of trousers to translate the ideas into words.

What advice would I give a freshman writer?

Do something else with your life. Unless you are captivated by words. Love the music of language (see Shakespeare). Unless you belief that words are magic, more powerful than any wizard’s wand (see Harry Potter). Can unite a nation during a crisis (see Churchill). Can convince people to face brutality, police dogs, fire hoses and jail to acquire their civil rights (see Martin Luther King: “I have a dream.”). Unless you believe that words are wonder workers, please, please, do something else with your life.

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Great interview, Calvin...and some very thought-provoking answers! Comments and questions, anyone?

1 comment:

  1. Hi Honey! Great blogpost.

    Rachel, to answer your questions. We each have our own writing space. Calvin writes in the den. I stay in the living room, perched on my recliner with my laptop. Do we show each other what we write? Often, but not always. I must admit that being married to a writer is nice when the storyline wakes one of us in the middle of the night. The tormented person nudges the other to share that she or he has to go work on the story. There's great understanding and support for the other's work. In short, heaven. 'Course the hugs aren't bad either.