The Writer’s Handful with Ken Rodgers
Harrumph. Mondays. What’s to look forward to? Hey, how about a new series dedicated to brief conversations with writers of all genres, at all stages of their careers? Yes! How cool would that be? Very cool.
So welcome to THE WRITER’S HANDFUL. In this new series, a writer will answer five questions anyway they want to. The questions will stay the same each time. The writers will be different. And I will post the interviews on Mondays.
Mondays + Writers = finally something to look forward to.
Week five of The Writer’s Handful welcomes Ken Rodgers, a marvelous poet and prose writer, as well as a filmmaker and teacher. I don’t know Ken personally–he’s in Idaho, I am in Illinois, two states only close to one another in the alphabet–but I think I know that he is one damn fine guy. The writing I have read of his is wonderful, and he is a huge supporter of writers and the arts…the kind of man who creates good literary karma. It seems appropriate, too, that on Memorial Day, we spend some time with Ken. Visit his websites and read his books (The Gods of Angkor Wat available here) and you will see why, I think.
Did you write today? If yes, what? If no, why not?
Today I wrote on upcoming entries for the two blogs I manage at www.kennethrodgers.com and www.bravotheproject.com. I also edited one of the stories in my next e-book provisionally titled Ojo de Dios. I look at a moment like this as an opportunity to ponder my writing habits. I don’t write on a regular schedule. I generally write every day, but not in any given piece or genre unless pressed by deadline. I am guilty of being interested in multiple art forms. Besides writing fiction, non-fiction, poetry and blogs, I take a lot of photographs and produce and direct documentary films. I whore around a bit with art.
What’s the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?
The first thing I recall writing was a story about an alien visitor to earth and I think the story was titled “Gurgle.” I was eleven or twelve. I wrote earlier, but don’t remember what. My mother told me I used to write letters to a man she presumed were addressed to my father’s good friend named, “Ted.” In honor of those letters, I named my stuffed dog, “Ted Letter.” I couldn’t really write since I was about three when I composed these, but I was writing them nevertheless.
What are you reading right now?
I read a lot. Right now I am reading, for the second time, Shelby Foote’s monumental The Civil War. I am reading two books of poetry: Robert Wrigley’s Earthly Meditations and the western poet John Dofflemyer’s Gate Left Open. Both works are contemplative in nature, yet enlivened by the tools of the poet; sound and repetition, concrete imagery. I am also reading Harold Bloom’s Shakespeare, the Invention of the Human and The Portable Jung edited by Joseph Campbell. I am very interested in Jung’s notion of archetypes and the collective unconscious. As far as fiction, I am reading David Abrams‘ novel Fobbit, a satirical look at the Iraq War. I also read blogs, news, magazines and lots of posts in the internet, some of which fascinate me with their bilious nature.
What’s the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)
The most important advice I ever received was from one of my drill instructors in 1966 at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, California . He said, “Keep your head down.” And I did when I fought in Vietnam even though now I usually keep it up so I can see what the hell is happening.
If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be? Because…
If my writing was an animal, what would it be? That’s forcing me to think in terms of metaphor and even though I am a creative writer and need to think in metaphor and simile and metonymy and synecdoche, I rarely do unless forced. Let’s see…a sidewinder, a bison, a wolverine? Yes, a wolverine: sneaky and solitary and confrontational and vicious if needs be.
From Ken’s website: “Ken Rodgers teaches and writes in Boise, ID. He has chased sheep across the desert, chased the enemy through the jungles of southeast Asia, run the head gate to capture cattle, pounded the keys of a calculator, pounded the keys of a typewriter, peddled mountain real estate, and tailed off recycled redwood at a finishing mill.
An award-winning author, Ken explores the region where poetry and prose meet.
His poems, short stories and essays have appeared in Idaho Arts Quarterly, Eagle Magazine, The Farallon Review, 34th Parallel, Ascent Aspirations, Switchback,VerbSap, Absomaly, Tiny Lights, Fiction Attic, Roman Candles, and other publications. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of San Francisco. Ken was a Pushcart Prize Nominee, and was nominated for Poet Laureate of Sonoma County, California, as well as for inclusion in Best New American Voices. His first book of poetry, Trench Dining (Running Wolf Press), was published in 2003. Barstow and Other Poems, was released in 2008. His latest collection, Passenger Pigeons, is scheduled for release in 2010.
He has performed his work in libraries, hair salons, coffee shops, book fairs, wineries, movie theaters, colleges, pubs, book stores, and on public radio and television. He has also juried several writing contests.
Ken is a founding member of the Idaho Writer’s Guild which is an affiliate of The Cabin literary center in Boise. He recently served on the board of both Big Tree Arts and True North Creative Learning Center. Along with his wife, Betty, he was a founding member of the Literary Arts Council of the Sebastopol Center for the Arts in Sebastopol, CA, and together they have hosted many classes, workshops, and readings. They have a married son and daughter, as well as two granddaughters.”
→Thanks, Ken. Not just for this brief conversation, but for all you (and Betty) do. And thanks to everyone for reading! -PMc←
The Next Big Thing ~ Tag, I’m It
The very wonderful Michael Downs (have you read his collection The Greatest Show? You must.) tagged me in the crazy literary game called The Next Big Thing. So it’s this thing that a bunch of us are doing to talk about our work-in-progress, and to join in a world-wide conversation about writing and the writing process. I know many of you have heard of this, and nearly as many have been tagged. In fact, trying to find writing folks with blogs who haven’t yet been tagged has been a bit of a challenge. For instance, I wanted to tag Samantha Hoffman, whose new book is What More Could You Wish For. She, however, had already been tagged by Randy Richardson, whose new book is Cheeseland. (And by the way, Samantha tagged me, too, in a bending of the official rules…but that is another story. I love her rebellious ways.)
I have been contacting a number of writers whose work I admire to see if they are willing to play. I should also say that there are a multitude of writers I would love to tag, but who don’t keep regular blogs, and so don’t quite fit the game’s profile (I’m talking about you, Dennis McFadden; and you, Eugene Cross; and you, Stacy Bierlein; and you, Anne-Marie Oomen; and you, Aaron Stander—just to name a few.) I tried to tag a few people who graciously declined because they are too busy right now: (Katey Schultz, Ben Tanzer.) I also tagged a couple of folks I haven’t heard back from yet, and so perhaps they will join in on the game when they get a chance to consider the invitation: Vanessa Gebbie, Carrie Etter (no pressure, folks. Join in if you like.)
The four writers who have agreed to let me tag them and to follow up with their own posts and invitations are Mark Beyer, Fleda Brown, Tony Romano, and Ken Rodgers. Mark Beyer (past contributor to View From the Keyboard) is a writer now living a glorious ex-pat life in Prague, lucky devil, and his last book is called What Beauty. Fleda Brown (I quoted her work in a Beautiful Sentence post) is a fabulous poet and nonfiction writer who lives in Michigan and whose latest poetry collection is Loon Cry and whose latest nonfiction is Driving With Dvořák. Tony Romano, real Chicago son, writes very fine novels about Chicago and Italian American families (check out When the World Was Young and If You Eat, You Never Die……) Some of you may have seen Tony’s short fiction–“Because the Sky is Blue” recently published by the Chicago Tribune for their Printers Row original fiction series. Ken Rodgers, an Idaho writer and past contributor to VFtK, is a fine poetry (Passenger Pigeons) and prose writer, as well as a filmmaker. You really should visit his Bravo! The Project page; it chronicles his collaborative documentary project about the Bravo Company, First Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment in the Vietnam War.
So, there you go. Tag, you guys are it(s). And in fulfillment of my obligation to the game, my answers to the required questions.
What is the working title of your novel?
Climbing the House of God Hill. It is a bit cumbersome, and also a little close to the title of the wonderful book by Jaimee Wriston Colbert: Climbing the God Tree. Still, I keep feeling myself drawn to this name. The House of God Hill is a topographical place in the novel, set in the town of New Hope (perhaps some of you remember this town from my collection The Temple of Air,) and it is here where one of the defining actions takes place in the book.
Where did the idea come from for the novel?
There are a couple of characters in my story collection with whom I would like to spend some more time; and also the place, New Hope, is one that won’t quite let go of me. So these are two things I bring to the novel. The rest of it, the actual events, come from a scandal that happened in a small town I know rather well in Northwestern Illinois. Something happened between a teenaged girl and a man, and in the “true” story, that man happens to be an immigrant—one of a very few in this primarily white town. (This is the kind of place where folks claim their identity by the number of their family generations buried in the local cemetery.) In the “true” story, a confession and arrest were made. In my story, nothing is quite that clear cut. I intend for it to not be entirely evident who is guilty in what happens, and who is complicit. There are issues of faith and mortality (I keep coming back to these things!) and family and community. The point of view is a community one for the most part, with the emphasis on the voices of a few main characters, among them the teenaged girl, Allison.
What genre does your manuscript fall under?
Mainstream/literary fiction. (Can it be mainstream and literary??? I hope so.)
Which actor would you choose to play your character in a movie rendition?
In trying to answer this question, I have spent far too much time on the internet looking up young women (teenage) actors (who might be an Allison), as well as actors from Latin America (who might be a Guillermo.) Here’s what I came up with: Allison—Odeya Rush. Guillermo—Wilmer Valderrama. But let’s face it, if this book were to be made into a movie it would happen in at least a decade, probably, and Odeya would be too old to play fifteen. Wilmer, however, will be just about old enough to play Guillermo, the accused neighbor.
What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?
In this story of allegation and guilt, scandal and appearance, faith and intolerance, the town of New Hope is stunned when Guillermo Perez is arrested for the statutory rape of Allison Nelson, the home-schooled daughter of his coworker and neighbor; how can our children be protected and what must they be protected from? (Ahhh, the semicolon. A cheater’s way to write one sentence.)
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Good question. How long will it take? I am about 140 pages into it, and that has taken a couple of years. My work starts slow, and then eventually finds its real momentum. I am hoping that I am entering the momentum stage.
What other books would you compare your story to within this genre?
I keep thinking of Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides as I hear the voices in this story. The first person plural, the community trying to figure out the truth of what has occurred. Elizabeth Strout’s Amy and Isabelle also comes to mind. And just recently I discovered the work of Scott Blackwood (we were on a panel together at the Devil’s Kitchen Lit Fest at Southern Illinois University) and what he can do with a story (situation, language, structure) is something I aspire to.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I sorta talked about this in an earlier question, but what drove me to it was spending time in this particular small Midwestern town while the real story—the one I very loosely am basing my novel on—was unfolding. I found myself asking the same questions that the rest of the community did: What really happened? Who was to blame? What isn’t being said or told? And as a writer, I got to ask the other questions, too: What if this was what happened? How would the story go then?
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
How about a bit from the chapter “At the Pool”?
“Five months before Guillermo was arrested, Allison stepped out of the locker room at the public pool. And under the high, hot sun of June, we could see what she didn’t yet know. We could see it in the shift of the faces of the teenage boys who leaned against the snack counter with towels held at their waists and who watched the older girls in bikinis and young mothers in two-piece suits climb the aluminum ladder out of the pool, water streaming from their bodies and hair. We could see it in the way girls Allison’s age tilted their heads together and whispered to one another furiously when they spotted her. We could see it in the way fathers with their own daughters—little ones still in water wings or on their daddies’ backs near the pool’s drop off—averted their eyes from Allison, held the wrists of these daughters and gently floated them away from the deep end.”
→I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: thanks for reading! -PMc←
Democritus and Rough-Cut Women ~ A View From the Keyboard of Ken Rodgers
I can’t quite recall how this gentleman from Boise came to my attention over the world wide web, but I am glad he did. Ken Rodgers is one of those writers who lives a fascinating life and then tells us about it in poems, stories, and film. He also tells the stories of others–one of his most recent projects is a documentary film about the Bravo Company of US Marines during the Vietnam war (co-produced with his wife Betty.) Rodgers has “…chased sheep across the desert, chased the enemy through the jungles of southeast Asia, run the head gate to capture cattle, pounded the keys of a calculator, pounded the keys of a typewriter, peddled mountain real estate, and tailed off recycled redwood at a finishing mill,” we learn from his website. How can you not be intrigued? And he is deeply committed to writers and celebrating words, working in various capacities as a teacher and artist. Lucky for me–and for you, too–Ken Rodgers is willing to open up his writing space to us with his View From the Keyboard.
Rodgers: Space to nap, ponder, and write. A bookshelf bulging with poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. A corkboard with postcard-sized renditions of art that fetch my fancy or churn my memory. Copies of ancient mosaics, also Cezanne, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Velasquez, Chagall, Picasso, De Kooning, Degas, Manet, Magritte, have spurred chunks of my written musings.
I am particularly fond of a postcard copy of a Diego Velasquez titled “Democritus.” Democritus was an ancient Greek philosopher interested in answers that rely on material data in response to philosophical questions regarding existence. Not much of the spiritual, just atoms and material things.
Although philosophy is one of my interests, it’s Democritus’ face that captures me. The same face a longtime friend owned, and I wonder if Velasquez’ model isn’t my friend’s ancestor. The Democritus in the painting wears a quixotic grin that when rendered by my friend, meant mischief was afoot. Life was like a bronco that needed to be broken. Rollicking, hoof stomping. We drank whiskey and fought. We got drunk and he fought cops. He pulled guns on cops, and mostly got away with it. I watched. Busted Metaxa bottles on the backs of bars. Gambel’s quail gunned down out of season. The one-night flings with rough-cut women.
Democritus would have recognized our shenanigans as evidence of the material. Not much of the spiritual in our behavior.
My friend has been dead many years but I still write poems, stories and lyric essays based on our common monkeyshines. Often prodded by Velasquez’ grinning—or is it sneering—“Democritus.”
Stalled on the Runway in a Boeing 707, waiting for the B-52s to take off
A sudden blow, the great wings beating still…
William Butler Yeats, from “Leda and the Swan”
We wait for them
to leave on their missions
Await our turn to leave the wounds of war
On the Kadena tarmac
Lined up they wait
to fly southwest
to carpet bomb the ridges
and tree-lined draws
the amber flats
the creeks that meander to the South China Sea
to loose their bombs
with red frown faces painted on
Bombs nestled in their bomb bay breasts
their too-long wings bobbing up and down
as they rumble and creep
forward for their time
We wait for them
Await our turn to leave the wounds of war
→Ken Rodgers, thank you. -PMc←