Monday, June 24, 2013

Over the pond and keep going


While I continue with my summer fiction writing course at UCA, and while I'm getting close to the bottom of the stack of novels from my spring Novel Writing Workshop class, I am also furiously working out last minute preparations for our trip across the ocean to UK's Great Writing Conference, which will be held this coming Saturday and Sunday at Imperial College, London.  My wife's cousin, Brendan Pettei, is kindly hosting us for the weekend at his flat in Chelsea.  (Brendan is on semi-temporary assignment in London for a New York-based financial services company.)  It will be great to be met by family so far from home.  Meanwhile, the conference is shaping up to be a stunner.  America's AWP Conference prides itself on being the largest creative writing conference in the world--and it sure is that--but AWP cannot match Great Writing for its international flavor.  As many as fifteen different countries will be represented at next weekend's gathering, including Japan, Finland, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, Portugal, South Africa, South Korea, and Jordan.  As one might expect, there will be numerous speakers from England, Scotland, Canada, and the United States, along with several from Australia and New Zealand.  It won't be an AWP-sized event (thank goodness), but it appears to be the biggest Great Writing ever, and perhaps one of the best.

Like many of the presenters, I will wear dual hats: moderating a session on Saturday morning and then presenting in a session Sunday afternoon (the final slot of the conference).  The theme of the Saturday session will be "Gothic Surrealism."  The readers in that one are all creative writers (and academics) from England: Tim Rhys, Paul Houghton, and Lisa Mansell.  They are, respectively, two novelists and an avant-garde poet.  I'm very much looking forward to the session.  Not only does their individual work sound fascinating, but it's a special pleasure of the Great Writing Conference to meet and hear writers one would otherwise never have the opportunity to encounter--or even know about.  

My session on Sunday is an intriguing mixed-bag with each speaker embracing places, people, or writers from the past.  I will read from a historical fiction set on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, part of a collection I have developed called Island Fog.   The second presenter, Sarah Penny, a native of South Africa and a lecturer in creative writing at London's Brunel University, is the author of a series for children called The Bundu Bashers.   (That's her in the photo below.)  In her presentation Penny will recount her experience interviewing Ouma Una.  Ouma Una was part of a community of Khomani San (bushmen) who once lived in a section of the Kalahari Desert before the South African government forced them off the land in 1931 and turned it into a national park.  The South African government then required the Khomani San to work for white farmers in the region and forbade them from speaking their native language, N/uu.  Penny interviewed Ouma Una as background for one of her books and based one of her characters on the woman.   At the time of the interview, Ouma Una was the last person alive to have lived in the park before the explusion and one of only two remaining speakers of N/uu.  Sounds fascinating.  The final presenter, Tatheer Faiq (pictured above), is an academic from Griffith University in Brisbane.  She will discuss the work of the nineteenth century Arab writer Mohammad al-Muwaylihi.  According to Faiq, al-Muwaylihi, "promoted a culture of resistance to a prescribed ideological standpoint."  (Always a good thing.)  Faiq will go on to explain that al-Muwaylihi's notion of nationhood was one in which "an idealized Occident met the Orient in a global context."  Sounds like Great Writing in a nutshell!  And thus a perfect last paper for the conference.

When we're done at Great Writing it's off for a little R and R in France, where we will be joined by my brother Jerry and his family.   Well, semi-R and R, I should say, because I will at the same time be reviewing the final projects of my summer fiction writing students--who will email them to me--and then figuring and posting their semester grades.  Sometimes you just have to be very thankful for the internet.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The bard in Arkansas


It's not always appreciated but certainly true that writing--like other artistic endeavors--doesn't usually occur in a cultural vacuum.  The fine arts tend to flourish together--with a singular, unstoppable energy--in certain places and certain eras; feeding each other, challenging each other, and even collaborating with each other.  I feel like I am living through such a time right now in the place where I live and the university where I work.  When I first started teaching at UCA, the creative writers were a small band of spirited artists, eager to try out new courses, engage our students, and see how far this writing thing could go.  Several years later we had in place an undegraduate degree in creative writing--with an unprecedented variety of classes, I might add--and now we've added a masters degree.  Over the same period of time, our university's film program codified an undergraduate degree in digital film and then a MFA degree of the same.  Our music department, already exemplary when I arrived in central Arkansas, has only gotten bettter, regularly attracting world-class faculty and students from around the globe.  (Yes, to Arkansas!)  And the students in our studio art program have never failed to stun me with their semester end shows in the Baum Gallery, as fine a museum space as I have seen at any of the universities at which I've taught or been in a student.  Meanwhile, seven years ago, our theatre department presented an inspired idea to UCA's College of Fine Arts and Communication: to create a professional summer theater company dedicated to performing the works of Shakespeare.  Following the model of other summer Shakespeare companies, Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre would recruit from everywhere, combining actors with national stage and screen experience with experienced local performers.

Well, it worked.  The support was there; the enthusiasm was there; the artistic energy of this place and time was palpable.   Seven years later, AST--the only professional Shakespeare company in Arkansas-- has been an amazing success.  And by that I simply mean that they put on great performances.  I'll never forget their rendition of A Comedy of Errors from a few summers ago.  An early Shakespeare work, the play is considered one of the rougher and simpler in his oeuvre.  But the AST actors took on their roles with such energy, and the show was directed with such smarts and such whimsy, that it ranks as the best production of a Shakespeare comedy I have ever seen.  Anywhere.  No kidding, I was howling.  Last summer, AST did a haunting rendition of Richard III that surpassed a rendition I saw some years ago put on by the eminent Folger Shakespeare company of Washington, DC (and starring Stacy Keach, no less).  AST's show was better.   And it's not just Shakespeare they do.  Each years they take on one non-Shakespeare play and a children's play.  A couple years ago they did Dracula--the original Dracula--a production that featured an incredibly inventive, almost illusory, set; really smart staging; and some inspired performances.  The play was literally chilling.  I took my younger son to the show, and he decided to dress up as a vampire.  These days, post-Twilight, it's hard to see vampires as anything but foolish fun and games.  That's what my son expected.  But he spent most of the show with his head hidden behind his cape.  It was reminder to me how even in this era of Hollywood blockbuster special effects, live theatre can still be incredibly affecting.  (More affecting than Hollywood if you ask me.)

This season is off to a roaring start with Much Ado About Nothing and Oliver both currently running.  King Lear opens on Thursday, and I have my ticket.  Two years ago, AST tried a new innovation by taking one of their shows on the road and into the open air.  Thus, since 2011 Love's Labours Lost, Twelfth Night, and, this season, Much Ado have been performed on the lawn at Hendrix Village, next to Hendrix College in Conway.  Outdoors in summer is just such a natural setting for the bard.  Few people know it, but I grew up in the southern Maryland woods, part of a community of eccentric refugees who in the 1960s and 70s decided to escape Washington, DC and its suburbs and hole up in the country.  Back in the 1930s, the original eccentric, a woman named Alice Ferguson, built a small concrete stage in the woods on her property so that she and her Washingtonian friends who visited on the weekends could have a proper space to recite Shakespeare and perform skits.   By the time I lived in the area, Alice Ferguson had died, but a longer, deeper wooden stage had been built beside the original one.  And other members of the community had decided to carry on Alice Ferguson's ambition to perform works of the bard.  So it was on that wooden stage, in the heart of the humid, summer-heavy southern Maryland woods that I first experienced Shakespeare, both as a participant (they always needed kids to fill out the cast) and as an observer.  Thus, the smell of bug spray, the feeling of wooden benches and lawn chairs, the odor of relaxing evening heat, and the sounds of insects and light animals in the woods have always seemed to me like perfect accompaniment to Shakespeare.  (Midsummer Night's Dream was the perfect show for that space.)  When later I confronted Shakespeare in my high school English class it was okay--it's impossible not to like Shakespeare--but studying the plays felt entirely inorganic.  Something was missing.  How great that AST has brought back the excitement and enthusiasm and energy of seeing the bard performed outdoors.  Unfortunately, the reality of outdoor performances is that sometimes you get weather.  The other night, we caught exactly one half of Much Ado before lightning began to flash and rain to fall.   Such a shame for both the actors and the audience, both of which were just starting to really warm up and appreciate each other.

No rain, though, inside Reynolds Performance Hall at UCA for King Lear and for Oliver.  We hope to see both before our trip across the pond for the UK's Great Writing Conference.  (More thoughts on that next week.)  Meanwhile, Much Ado heads this weekend to the Argenta Arts District in North Little Rock, Arkansas.   If you are within earshot of this blog, or central Arkansas, come out and see AST.  You won't be disappointed!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Me and my writing machines, Part 2


(This is the continuation of a post about my history with writing machines.  Fiction writer and blogger Cathy Day has issued a challenge for any and all bloggers to document how the technology they use, and how they use the technology, has evolved.  You can check out her story here.  Meanwhile, you can check out the beginning of my story in my previous post.  After you finish this here Part 2, dear reader, why don't you write up your own history with writing machines?  But please do link to mine, if you don't mind.)

By the time I entered graduate school I was a proficient typist but hardly a fast one.  Suddenly, with my Mac's keyboard, I felt like I was zooming.   The idea that I could write faster than I could type was long gone.  It seemed crazy that I ever believed that.  Thing is, though, at George Mason I only used the computer for document creation.  There was no online culture in the late 80s/early 90s-- because there wasn't a world wide web yet.  It took me five years to earn my MFA; then I taught as an adjunct for two years.  Then, in 1993, newly married, I began a second graduate program, this one a Ph.D. program at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette.   Of course I brought my Mac with me.  It was still going strong.  Before I left the DC area for Lafayette I ponied up for a personal laser printer.  A computer literate friend of mine sold me on the idea, saying they were the wave of the future.  It sounded like--and was--a much more elegant, even beautiful machine than the terrible dot matrix printers I was used to.  I was so ready to give them up that I essentially succumbed to an indulgence.  The printer looked something like the picture on the left.  I loved having the personal laser printer, but I eventually decided it was a mistake.  The machine was heavy for one; worse, the replacement cartridges were ridiculously expensive, equal to about 1/4 of the cost of the machine itself.

In our first semester at ULL, my wife, in a Research Methods class, learned about something called
e-mail, and her professor insisted the whole class sign up for it.  So I did too.  I sent a few experimental e-mails but didn't really use it much, not until later in our Louisiana stay.  Even then it wasn't something I felt compelled to check regularly.  While we were at ULL the internet started taking babysteps.  America Online and Prodigy got big, and the chat room culture started to develop.  I pretty much ignored all that.  I had classes to complete and stories to write.  (It was a Ph.D. in English, but one that included a large creative writing component.)  In my last year there, I also had an infant son.  If I ever went "online" (and I can't remember the mechanism exactly because when we first started at ULL not only did Google not exist but neither did its immediate predecessors, like Alta Vista) it was to look at the holdings of the LSU library and other libraries.  Meanwhile, I did eventually need to replace my original Mac with the newer, somewhat prettier Mac Classic.  I remember it looking like the one in the picture.  This was during Apple's dark years without Steve Jobs.  Rumors started that their products weren't as pristine as they used to be--and I knew people at ULL that wouldn't think of even going near a Mac--but I remained loyal, if only because all my word processing files were in a program that only worked on Macs.  If I switched to a PC, I could never again open up my files.  All those stories and papers would be lost!  Speaking of lost, I nearly lost my dissertation in 1997 shortly before I was supposed to turn it in.  The file I was using got corrupted and wouldn't open--a common problem back when everything we wrote was stored on 3.5 inch discs.  (A feature of both Macs and PCs back in the 80s and 90s.)  I held my breath and tried to open a backup file I had made (and which was probably stored on the same disc).  Yes!  It worked!  Now I could graduate!

We moved to Arkansas in 1997.  Within a couple years of our coming here, the internet was going gangbusters.  It's all you heard about.  And while I'd started using it for a lot more than checking library holdings, I still wasn't somebody who wanted to be on the computer all day.  If anything, this technological revolution was throwing me a nasty personal challenge.  I'd begun graduate school in a time when most people still didn't own a personal computer; I'd finished it in a time when the internet still didn't rule the world.  I was trying to jumpstart both my career as a teacher and my career as a writer, to say nothing of trying to be an active father--in other words, I had no free time--and suddenly technology I had no experience with was being used regularly in the classroom by several of my colleagues.  Despite the fact that I used a computer everyday, I felt like a Luddite.  I was done with my formal education, and now I had so much more to learn.  I did try; I really did.  I remember one long ago student complimenting me on how capable and willing I was with email.  Hah!  I was stupidly proud of the comment, but of course it seems like not too many years later when we started hearing that "email is for old people."

When I went from being a part time instructor to a full-time one at UCA, I received my own office and my own PC.  So now I worked on both kinds of personal computers, but sharing files was impossible.  Some things were Mac files--mostly my creative output--and some things were PC files: mostly work stuff.  Given how clearly dominant PCs were in both the business and publishing worlds, I realized I might be limiting myself by continuing to only generate short stories on my Mac, but that's what I did.  Meanwhile, about a year or so after they were introduced in 1998 I upgraded to one of the first generation iMacs.  As silly as they look now, those bright boxes with their handles on top were considered revolutionary at the time, and I loved mine.  Not only was it cute--an indigo colored computer!--but it was a workhouse.  The thing never died.  It barely hiccupped.  I wrote my first (never to be published, thank god) novel on it, and my followup (Burnt Norway),  along with an ungodly number of short stories and teacher material of all sorts.  Realizing 3.5 inch discs were both unreliable and on their way out, I started using an external CD-ROM drive and CD-RWs to store backup files of everything.  (My budget version iMac opened most CD-ROMS but not CD-RWs.)  I still have the CD-RWs around, although I never have need for them anymore.  The CD-ROM, you'll recall, was quickly outpaced by the jump drive and then, about two seconds later, by the emminently practical, and more powerful, portable hard drive.

After a while, though, I just could no longer get software to work on my beloved indigo blue iMac.  So about six years ago I upgraded once more to the latest iMac line: those with wide flat screens that sit atop a stem.  (An idea that supposedly came to Steve Jobs as he stared at sunflowers.)  It's a great machine.   I wrote my Van Gogh novel on it, along with the three (mostly top secret) other novels.  It works fantastically well, like Macs usually do; but the best part of all is that when I bought it I could also purchase Word for Mac.  Now I could work in Word regardless of what computer I was using.  This literally changed my life.  No more worries about how to convert when a journal insisted on Word documents (as most did).  No more emailing myself large blocks of text and then playing with them on my work computer.  No, everything was in Word from the get-go.  Things got even better when I signed up for Dropbox two years ago.  Now, I didn't even need a jump drive or portable hard drive to carry my files from computer to computer.  I could just store it to Dropbox and access it anywhere.  What an impossible luxury.  (By the way, the picture on the right shows my actual, lovely, dear current computer--my favorite writing machine of all time!)

My entry into social media and blogging are relatively new developments.  For years I'd heard that "you have to be on Facebook."   I resisted for the longest time but finally signed up a few years ago.  For the first year or so I was barely active at all on it.  Even now, I don't check it everyday.  I'm just not someone who thinks to run to Facebook as soon as something happens to me, even less so as it's happening to me.  Meanwhile, I started on Twitter only last March.  As someone who tends to write too long (sorry!) it's probably good for me that on Twitter you're limited to 140 characters.  I find Twitter interesting, but truth is I don't check it nearly as much as I should.  And I barely ever post.  It's like texting.  I can do it.  I just don't do it very much.  That will probably change, just like everything that's ever gone on between me and writing technology.  One exception to my late adaptor habits: For some reason when the iPads began appearing in 2010 I became very interested very quickly, despite the fact that owning an iPhone has never interested me.   The e-reader component interested me more than anything, along with being able to do things like watch Netflix.  So I eventually bought one.  It's a handy device.  I use it in a variety of ways--checking email, surfing the web, reading iBook files--and it's how I signed on to Twitter.  When I'm on the road, it's how I check on and post to Facebook.  But I don't really write with it.  Some people--some of my students I mean--can type using that tiny little iPad virtual keyboard.  I can't, even though otherwise I can and do type like a demon nowadays.  I've had so much practice.

My biggest online writing presence, something I started with my current iMac, is this blog.  I began it in 2009 during my sabbatical.  At the time I thought it might be interesting to share with the world what I was learning about Van Gogh and how I was using what I was learning in the novel about him I was writing.  Even from the start, however, I did not want the blog to be just about me or  my novel or Van Gogh.  I wanted to discuss historical fiction generally.  And I have, although I've wandered into other subjects from time to time: like what happens in my classes, and what's happening at my university, and what is my history with writing machines!  Finally, the real subject of my blog is writing.  Period.  And that makes sense.  It's what I know the most about.  I love blogging, but typical of me, by the time I started doing it some people began saying that blogs were passé.   Maybe they are.  Maybe Twitter is doing them in.  But as a long form writer, I can't stay away.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Me and my writing machines, Part 1


Cathy Day, through her Big Thing blog, has issued another challenge to the creative writing blogosphere: Give an account of your personal history with writing machines.  Click here to check out Cathy's very thorough, and thoroughly entertaining, history.  Here's mine.  The only writing machines I touched prior to high school were pencils and pens, which must mean that my teachers never required anything that wasn't handwritten, though I can barely recall.  It wasn't until my tenth grade year that I even took a keyboarding class, this at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland.  Except we didn't call it keyboarding then.  We called it typing.  Because that's what we did: on a collection of clunky old metal machines that were probably donated to the school by their previous users.  The course was "taught" by a chubby, prematurely balding Trinitarian brother with short, fading blonde hair and a rubicund face.   I say "taught" because what his teaching amounted to was mostly calling out sequences for us to pound out on those archaic devices.  (No he didn't blindfold us, but that probably would have been a good idea.)  Sometimes you really did have to pound, because the keys on old, non-electric typewriters got stuck pretty easily.  I suppose the teacher must have graded our work--since I did get a grade--but I can't remember that either.  As fusty and antiquated as a typing class sounds today, I was quite happy to take it, glad for the opportunity, and I can tell you my typing skills improved.  Or, rather, they came into existence for the first time.  This despite an accident that happened that semester as I tried to cut through a piece of frozen hamburger meat with an extremely sharp knife.  (It was such a stupid thing to do I'm not going to say anything more about it except the following.) Yes, I severed myself, nearly slicing my left pinkie to the bone.  (I still bear the scar.)  For weeks I had to keep the finger heavily bandaged and as a result, in typing class, I developed the habit of moving my left hand ring finger over to type As and Qs and Zs.  It's a habit I still have today and can't break.  Part of my permanent muscle memory.

As a result of this class I could begin typing my high school term papers, such as they were, and indeed I did whenever required to during my junior and senior years.  I can't remember much about the typewriter we kept around our house except that it was heavy, black, functional, and decidedly non-electric.  The summer before I left home for college--that is, the University of Virginia in 1979--I bought an electric portable typewriter.  I recall searching the classified ads in the Washington Post and seeing a notice placed by a woman in northern Virginia.  She turned out to be a friendly, cheerful, middle-aged lady with a trim helmet of short gray hair, a kind face, and small, smart glasses.  When I asked why she was getting rid of it, she explained that she was a freelance writer and needed to upgrade.  To what I can't recall, certainly not to a word processor since no one used them then.  So it must have been to a fancier, bigger electric model such as IBM was pumping out.  The machine she sold me--for something like twenty dollars--was a handsome sky blue thing, smart looking and quite compact, fitting easily into what I like to think of as a sleek, contemporary case, although to use that vocabulary today on something as clumsy as a typwriter sure sounds ludicrous.  (In my memory at least it looks a lot like the machine in the picture above.)  That typewriter saw me through all four years of college and several more after as I carried it from address to address to address to address through Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia.  I typed dozens of short stories and poems on it as well as academic papers of all kinds.  I was thrilled that it could handle erasable ribbon, given the quantity of my mistakes; but I have to admit that it also frustrated me sometimes.  I remember one time having to manually yank the ribbon through the machine word by word as I typed because something was wrong with the mechanism.  (Black fingers, black fingers.)  I also remember one time during my last semester at UVA when I decided to just write my damn politcal theory term paper--in my small, cramped block print--because, although I was a semi-experienced typist by then, I still thought I could write faster than I could type.  (The TA who read my paper thoroughly enjoyed it except that about 2/3 of the way through he could no longer follow what I was saying, because my handwriting had degenerated so badly.  He apologetically gave me an A-, which was probably a lot better grade than I deserved.)

A few years after I graduated from UVA I started in the MFA program at George Mason University.  I still was working on that typewriter.  In the interim years, I had typed a variety of essays and stories and a lot of really bad poetry on that machine.  Also, of course, job applications, and, for a year and a half or so, a series of feature articles that I wrote on an occasional basis for a newspaper in southern Maryland.  When I started at George Mason most of the other students in my workshop courses were using typewriters too, but the few who typed their poems into computers produced work that looked awfully pretty on the printout.  I remember my poetry professor, Peter Klappert, warning one student not to let the stylish look of the computerized page fool her.  In other words, You're writing the same crap everyone else is, honey, and don't forget it.  (Actually, Peter would never say "honey" to anybody.  He probably wouldn't say "crap" either.  Maybe "garbage.")  I began to notice that the secretaries in the English Department office were typing into word processors instead of typewriters--this was brand new.  Meanwhile, my father, a chemist who had recently started working at a USDA lab in Beltsville, Maryland found himself surrounded by a gang of first generation Mac cultists.  They talked him into buying a Mac for his home office and then Dad, with the righteous dedication of a convert, started pressuring me to buy one.  Any other kind of computer besides a Mac was unthinkable!   In the winter of my third year at George Mason (academic year 1988-89), I gave in--rather willingly, I must say.  At that point the writing was on the wall, so to speak, for the old technology, and truth be told I was sick to death of typewriters.  With student loan money I bought myself a Mac (it pretty much looked liked the one in the picture) and never turned back.

Next post: The rest of the story: a life of both PCs and Apples as the latter gets simultaneously bigger and smaller.  I discover email (gasp), then the internet, then (much later) Facebook, then (only recently) Twitter.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Summer business


A draft schedule of the upcoming Great Writing conference appeared in my email inbox this past week, making the conference--which is not very far in the future--finally more real to me.   While none of the scheduled sessions have been assigned titles or rooms yet, I do know when my session will run (not the best slot, actually: last session of the conference, 2:30-4:00 on Sunday afternoon); and I'm assuming all the presenters in my session will read from their own creative writing, because that's what I'll be doing.  But with Great Writing it's hard to say.  Like the International Conference on the Short Story in English, Great Writing is unique in that it blends both academic papers and creative presentations on the same program.  Personally, I love that.  I think it not only makes the conference attractive to a wider spectrum of authors; but it lends balance, credibility, and a renewed vitality to both creative and academic pursuits.  Great Writing goes one step further by sometimes blending creative and academic presentations in the same session!  So hold on for further details about the conference as soon as I receive them.  As I've mentioned before, it will be held June 29 and 30 at Imperial College, London.

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Speaking of the International Conference on the Short Story in English, one aspect of my current early summer busyness is trying to imagine and codify a Study Abroad course for next summer.  The idea is to get UCA students over the pond to Europe so that they can participate at the end of their stay in the Short Story Conference, which in 2014 will be held in Vienna.  Due to various institutional delays at UCA, the whole process for submitting and reviewing Study Abroad proposals is seriously behind schedule, but I expect to be informed any day now that I need to get my proposal in ASAP.  So I am furiously researching things to do and places to stay in Vienna, Salzburg, and Prague.  It's exciting work actually, inventing a course--and student experiences--out of whole cloth.  What I will likely propose is a Topics in Creative Writing course called "Writing Europe in Fiction."  The students will read some European short story writers before we leave--mainly writers from west-central Europe (because that's where we will be headed)--and then spend three weeks actually abroad.  When we return the students will workshop fiction they wrote as a result of their trip abroad.  Our base in Europe will be Vienna, but I'm hoping for side trips to Melk, Salzburg, and Prague.  According to UCA Study Abroad guidelines, the person who proposes the course is supposed to come prepared with clear and specific information on airfares, train tickets, accomodations, museum fees, plans for the student's meals, etc., as well as lay out an academic schedule for the course.   So lately I've been tossing around different ideas for places to visit, juggling potential student nourishment and potential student interest with the realities of cost and the possibility of student exhaustion.  (Should we go see an opera in Vienna's reknowned and beautiful State Opera House?  Great idea!  Wait, it costs 164 euros for a single ticket?  How about the Vienna Mozart concert instead--only 89 euros.)  It's certainly a work-in-progress, with a lot of hard decisions left to be made.  In Salzburg there will be an opporutnity to take a Sound of Music tour or a trip to Hitler's Eagle's Nest in Bavaria.  We won't have time to do both, and the cost is similar.   While the Eagle's Nest has actual historical significance, I have a feeling the students would be more interested in a Sound of Music tour; plus it would let us explore more sites in Salzburg proper.  Of course, since the schedule is a work-in-progress, we might not end up doing either!

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Little followup to a news item from some weeks ago.  Versal magazine, based in Amsterdam, has just released its issue 11, and it's ready to order.  The issue features a chaper from my Van Gogh novel.  For the sake of the magazine, I called the chapter "The Dealer's Brother."  It depicts a Paris party that Van Gogh and various other eminences and wannabes attend.  It's told from the point of view of Suzanne Valadon, a postimpressionist painter who did a lot of modeling for other painters during her early days in Paris and who did in fact write about once seeing Van Gogh at a party.  I had great fun writing it, and I'm so happy Versal accepted it.   On Friday, they emailed me a list of interview questions.  The magazine runs a blog that features short interviews with some of its contributing writers.  My interview should be posted to the blog at some point in the next several weeks.  I must say, they sent a rather eclectic batch of questions.  Some were more typical ("What's your writing process?" "What are you working on now?") while others tried to put you on the spot ("What vegetable best represents you?" "What dirty little secret are you hiding?" "What's on your playlist?")  I answered as best I could, but I can only hope that I came across as interesting enough to make it worth their time.  You can read the interview when it's posted and let me know!