Monday, July 12, 2010

Interview with G.F. Skipworth: 'Being published the first time stirs you to write even more'

G.F. Skipworth has toured much of the world as a concert pianist, symphonic/operatic conductor, composer and vocalist, but also worked in speech, comedy and academic writing. Educated at Whitman College, Johns Hopkins, Harvard and UCLA, he sat down recently to compose, and a four-volume fiction series came out instead. Moving to historical fiction, he has recently released The Simpering, North Dakota Literary Society, based on the suffrage movement in 1919. Upcoming works include The Madonna of Dunkirk and The World-Weary String Quartet of Alliance, Nebraska. You can find out more about his book at www.rosslarebooks.com.

Thank you for this interview, George. Do you remember writing stories as a child or did the writing bug come later? Do you remember your first published piece?
Thank you. I appreciate speaking with you today. I do remember writing as a child, but it was in an odd situation. A fourth grade teacher who thought I was daydreaming too much sent me to the elementary school counselor, who showed me half-real pictures (animals living in human situations) and said – “Tell me a story – go!” I took a breath and didn’t take another one until he had a brief case full of them. A week later, he called to say that “The kid is fine, and tell him my children loved the stories.” The problem was that he kept them, and I never saw them again. Since I was in music at the time, all the effort went into practicing, and I forgot about it.

What do you consider as the most frustrating side of becoming a published author and what has been the most rewarding?
Being published the first time stirs you to write even more, and fighting for the time is difficult. Unlike errands, you can’t just say “OK, now I’m going to write for forty five minutes.” One of the things I’ve enjoyed most is the time in libraries. We’ve met people from every walk of life, and often spend just as much time listening to their life stories, and talking about their writing (Here’s a shout-out to the Vietnam Vets of Baker City, Oregon!) More than anything, it’s the contact outside of my usual circles.

Are you married or single and how do you combine the writing life with home life? Do you have support?
I am married to a professional editor (as well as professional concert singer) with numerous works of fiction/non-fiction and academic textbooks to her credit. I never have to prove my case for writing – just enjoy it. As people in the arts, we are never afraid to try what seems odd to most people, and we’re not afraid of being surprised.

Can you tell us about your latest book and why you wrote it?
The Simpering Literary Society is set in the American Midwest during the year of 1919, at which time the suffrage movement was nearing its height, World War I had ended and fascism was rising in Italy. A sixteen year old nun and card shark wins the town of Simpering in a card game played at the Huffy Hussy Billiards & Poker Parlor, gathers five female geniuses to her side and establishes a prairie empire that can hold off the world. The improbable, tongue-in-cheek story is an island of humor between the events of a grim year.

Can you share an excerpt?
(Edielou Zingarella, leader of the “Mighty Five”) – Edielou chose not to marry, citing neither lack of time nor interest. She sat up nights adding and subtracting the numbers, figuring the capital lost to the bartenders and local pool sharks, clothing for the mistress and flowers for the funeral following the discovery of his infidelity…and it all just didn’t add up. Reopening a gold mine in Manitoba was preferable to striking out on the maddening sea of matrimony. She put the calculations in the wall safe with the rejected loan applications for that year, and declined to visit those numbers again. No suitor ever made it down the garden path…well…Hank Wiessenschtanker almost made it, but Henrietta, Edielou’s Great Dane, headed him off at the swinging gate, just short of the weeping willow. If this whining, poetry-spewing flower bearer thought for a moment that he would gain the secrets to the wall safe, or that anyone would be paraded about as Edielou Wiessenschtanker, he was in immediate need of correcting. Her resolve buttressed the flagging matriarchal creed of Simpering, and not a solitary woman from town changed her name out of matrimonial necessity for another thirty years…and even the one instance happened for the sake of a departing soldier. Why, no sooner had he set foot on French soil than she went to the courthouse and changed it right back…Edielou Wiessenschtanker, indeed!”

Where’s your favorite place to write at home?
I may be bound to the computer by day, but I write by hand each night, which deepens the content a bit, and primes the pump for the next day. Living between the mountains and the ocean in Oregon, I often visit whichever setting is best for the chapter of the day. The Nordic-style sagas came from the Mount Hood Lodge (The one in The Shining) while the travels of the Simpering characters always came out better at the coast.

What is one thing about your book that makes it different from other books on the market?
I have tried to bring a little of the nineteenth century’s linguistic atmosphere into the setting. Also, this is not another “oppressed women make good against impossible male odds” book. Many of the men and women like each other quite a lot, or work at it very hard. Everyone has to face himself or herself, and life gets everybody (hardly makes it fiction, does it?) Simpering isn’t trying to make you fall on the floor guffawing. It’s built on turns of phrase, personality quirks, tangents of logic and colorful interactions between people who don’t understand each other at all. Shock isn’t the engine for movement in the plot, and if you’re fond of the sailor speech, you’ll be disappointed. These people may not know what they’re doing, but they’re oh so refined doing it.

Tables are turned…what is one thing you’d like to say to your audience who might buy your book one day?
I hope that you won’t approach Simpering with expectations of modern-day normalcy. I grew up in a warm, humorous but linguistically formal atmosphere (Trust me, you don’t want to be a first grader saying “shan’t” and “daren’t.”) My roots are in the works of the nineteenth century, from Twain, Barrie and Austen. I want to bring just a little of that antique touch into writing of the present day and, to some, it may sound a bit flowery or stilted (especially young readers living in a literal age.) Don’t make the book come forward, but go back in time to meet it. I hope you have a wonderful time there, and if you do, the prequel, The Simpering, North Dakota Sharpshooters is on its way.

Thank you for this interview, George. Good luck on your virtual book tour!
Thanks so much for the time. Best wishes to all authors and readers.

G.F. Skipworth will be on tour with Pump Up Your Book Promotion to promote his new book, The Simpering, North Dakota Literary Society, in July '10. Visit his official tour page here.

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