The Hood College Community Reading Series runs from Tuesday to Aug. 12 and is free and open to the public. Visiting writers include Ellen Bryson, Keith Donohue, Dan Elish, Robert Eversz, Ann Hood and Michele Wolf.
Frederick author and Johns Hopkins and Hood College professor Elly Williams organized the series, which will be held in conjunction with the Hood College Young Writers Conference for high school students.
Each reading will feature one author and will be followed by a question-and-answer session, book signing and reception. Readings run from 7 to 9 p.m. and are held on the Hood campus located at 401 Rosemont Ave., Frederick. They feature an array of genres including childrens literature, poetry, the memoir and the novel.
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Whitaker Campus Commons
Q: Which of your stories won the Best American Spiritual Writing award?
A: An essay called "My Search For Miracles," which appeared in the (now defunct) literary journal Doubletake.
Q: What is your favorite part of the writing process?
A: I love all of it -- the ideas, the planning, the craft.
Q: What was the greatest challenge in writing "Comfort: A Journey Through Grief"?
A: The challenge in everything I write is finding the connectivity in the story, the universal idea and the metaphorical.
Q: In "The Red Thread," were the couples based on people you've met?
A: Absolutely not. That would be a breach of confidentiality.
Q: "The Red Thread" sounds like it delves into the emotional story behind the adoption process. Was it difficult to find the balance between telling the facts (to make readers aware of what's going on in China, as well as the adoption process) and the emotional story of adoption and being adopted?
A: The book does not deal with being adopted. In all storytelling you strive for balance, no matter what the topics.
Q: You write memoirs, essays and novels. Does this take much mental shifting of gears (moving from fiction to nonfiction, for example, or from a short to long ms)?
A: Not really. The process is the same, except in fiction, I can make up things!
Q: Are there any literary genres that attract you but you've found you're not suited to write yourself? Or other artistic mediums?
Q: What's the best advice someone gave you (or you gave yourself) to keep you plugging away at your craft?
A: I don't need advice to keep writing. Most writers write no matter what.
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Whitaker Campus Commons
Q: Why poetry?
A: I was quite contented writing nonfiction and some fiction, but I had a transformative experience in my early 20s when I attended the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. I was there on a scholarship in nonfiction, but it was the first time I was exposed to contemporary poetry, saw it valued, heard it read aloud by living authors. I was deeply moved and knew this was the kind of writing I wanted to create.
Q: Who are some of your favorite contemporary poets?
A: W.S. Merwin, Jack Gilbert, Dorianne Laux, Marie Howe, Denise Duhamel, and, although he's passed on, Stanley Kunitz.
Q: What is the theme of "Immersion"?
A: "Immersion" ... has several themes, but one predominant one is about the essential fulfillment we have when we dedicate ourselves with passion and commitment to our loved ones, our values, the pursuits we find meaningful. Once years ago, a friend asked me what my poems were about, and when I paused, he said, "The human condition -- would that cover it?" I laughed, but he got it just right. My poems are about love and losses and recovery from losses. They're about work, the culture we live in, current events, the global family we belong to, the passage of time.
Q: What was it about dreaming that interested you enough to delve into a series of poems exploring that theme in "Conversations During Sleep"?
A: Dreaming is, both as a fact and a metaphor, what is mysterious about us, what is out of our control, and what we cannot know. I find this intriguing.
Q: Why is it important in poetry to ground the reader in tangible things?
A: I can only speak for what I enjoy in poems, but anchoring poems in tangible things -- a scene, a situation, elements of the senses -- tends to bring poems into the realm of the universal, to create a world the reader can identify with.
Q: Do you find yourself habitually looking for images that tell stories of love, loss, birth, friendship, etc., or are you surprised when you recognize that you've stumbled upon a poem, so to speak, and you're then inspired to write it?
A: Poems come over me -- I don't plan the subjects of my poems. And whenever they come, and whatever they're about, I'm grateful for them. Some years back I had a workshop with our new poet laureate, William Merwin, and he said something very wise to our small group: "We don't write poems. We listen for them."
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Whitaker Campus Commons
It wasn't having kids that inspired Dan Elish to write children's literature (that came later) but, rather, the work of Dr. Seuss, Roald Dahl and the like.
"It's the kind of thing that fit my imagination," he said during a phone interview from his home in New York.
Wacky fantasy and talking animals are among his inspirations.
Elish's work includes eight novels, one of which is for adults, TV scripts and a Broadway musical.
He tried his hand at a young adult novel, too, with teenage narration, in "Born Too Short, Confessions of an 8th Grade Basket Case," which won an International Reading Association Students' Choice Award in 2004.
Naturally, he figured he could graduate to adult fiction. And, coincidentally, two friends mentioned a similar idea to him at the same time: He should write a novel about dating in New York and the life of the bachelor (this, before he was happily married).
What followed was "Nine Wives," published in 2005 as Elish's first novel for adults.
"In a way, it was like a release," he said. "In a weird way, it was easier (to write), but it had its challenges."
He's turning "Nine Wives" into a musical, with music by composer and friend Doug Cohen, and lyrics and script by Elish.
"It's kind of fun to work through the book" when creating the musical, he said. "Obviously there's more to the book. You get to the plot more quickly. A lot of the hard work is done."
He's written six musicals to date, the most notable of which is "13," which ran on Broadway ("13" was not based on a story by Elish but rather by the composer Jason Robert Brown).
"I got into music first," he said. "I started playing piano in high school."
He grew up in New York and attended Middlebury College in Vermont. In college, he wrote two musicals and majored in composition, focusing mainly on theatrical work.
He found himself reading "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" after college, when he was about 25, and then got obsessively into writing his own book, "The Worldwide Dessert Contest."
It was well-received, and writing, as opposed to music, "kind of became my career," he said. "I also really enjoy it."
He recently finished another children's novel, "The School for the Insanely Gifted," scheduled for release in summer 2011.
While at Hood, he'll read from his children's books, as well as from "Nine Wives." And he'll probably play (on his iPod) some of the music from the work-in-progress, "Nine Wives" the musical.
"I can play piano. I can't sing," he said. "That would be painful for everyone. Especially me."
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Hodson Science Center, Room 131
Q: Did you go to Prague specifically to write "Gypsy Hearts"? If not, why Prague?
A: I got the idea for "Gypsy Hearts" while taking the Grand Tour of Central Europe the year after the collapse of the Soviet Union. I was living in L.A. at the time, being paid to write screenplays that nobody ended up making. I decided to take a year off, moving to Prague to gather the experiences I'd need to write the book. While researching "Gypsy Hearts" -- much of the research taking place in bars and clubs -- I wrote a little book that had been on my mind for a while: "Shooting Elvis." Later, I was surprised to see "Shooting Elvis" attract so much publishing interest, because I hadn't thought of it as a "big" book. Instead of taking a year off, I spent the next 14 years in Europe.
Q: What do you enjoy most about teaching the Prague Summer Program?
A: Prague is a city for writers, stunningly beautiful, still affordable and supporting a thriving, international literary culture. The Prague Summer Program is the largest study abroad series of workshops for writers in the English language. Every year, 100 or more students of writing come to Prague to learn not just from the writers on faculty, but from the city itself. I love teaching in this program because the experience so profoundly impacts those who attend.
Q: I heard your Nina Zero novels may be turned into a screenplay. Is that true?
A: The books are being developed for television. I can't mention any names, but the creative force behind the adaptation works on a series everyone knows.
Q: Do you have any other fiction in the pipeline?
A: One novel and a screenplay I'm writing for producers in Europe.
Q: Any idea what you'll read at Hood?
A: I'll read from "Shooting Elvis."
Q: How's the baby?
A: He's great. At 6 months old, he can't decide whether he wants to read books or eat them.
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Whitaker Campus Commons
Keith Donohue begins writing a novel after he's discovered a question worth exploring.
"Once you have that question in mind, then you have yourself a book," he said during a recent interview.
When his first novel, "The Stolen Child," published in 2006, became a national best-seller (producer Marc Platt recently purchased the film option), it was obvious a lot of people liked it.
As for its interpretation, feedback was mixed. Donohue was surprised, despite the book containing an element of magic, by some of the responses he received.
"You're telling me you believe in fairy changelings -- and that amazes me," he said.
His considerations into the nature of belief spawned his next book, "Angels of Destruction" (2009).
And, similarly, people who believe in angels and read "Angels of Destruction" gave "fascinating takes" on the novel, Donohue said.
"I think a lot of people believe in things they can't see ... and things they can't prove. I was interested in the question of why people believe in things unseen. I wasn't trying to settle the issue, by the way. I was asking a question."
In the book, Margaret is a deep believer.
"I thought she'd be an interesting character to write about," he said. "And she was."
"Angels of Destruction," from which he'll read during his appearance at Hood College, tells the story of Margaret, who lives alone after her teenage daughter runs away. Ten years pass, when a young girl appears at Margaret's front door on a classic cold winter's night.
"She lets the girl in, and that's where the magic starts," Donohue said.
In the book, Angels of Destruction is a radical group, loosely based on the Symbionese Liberation Army, the anarchist group of the early '70s that kidnapped Patty Hearst.
But Donohue's story alludes to angels of other sorts, through Classical literature, mythology and the Bible.
So what might modern-day angels look like? The girl who shows up at the door, for instance, claims to be one; but her role in the story is left up to the reader.
The story, Donohue said, is always up to the reader.
"The reader brings his or her own thoughts to the process ... and together, you make the book. You bring everything you've got to the reading, the same way I've brought everything I've got to the writing. All that's there, really, are words on the page."
People often ask him what happens after "The Stolen Child."
"Does Scarlett get back together with Rhett Butler? I don't know," he said.
Donohue's third novel, "Centuries of June," comes out next year. A murder mystery -- and somewhat of a ghost story -- it takes place in a bathroom.
While both his former novels have a magical quality, "I'm mostly interested in human beings, and the part imagination plays in emotional life," he said.
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Hodson Auditorium in Rosenstock Hall
After finding an agent, and determined to finish the manuscript once and for all, Ellen Bryson stuck herself in a room with a hard copy of "The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno" and manually moved through the novel with scissors and glue -- editing, reconstructing, completing.
It took her three weeks.
She came out of the room "a little crazy," she said, during a recent interview, but knew the process was necessary.
"I'm not an easy writer," she said, adding that a writer friend of hers can sit down and churn out a book relatively smoothly. "It's really hard for me."
This was the grand finale, though. Prior to her shut-in, Bryson persevered for nearly a decade on the book, published earlier this year.
"I think most people write drawer novels," she said. "Write one, put it away in a drawer, write another, put it away. I just kept rewriting the same one ... because I really liked my characters."
The book tells the story of the thinnest man in the world and the largest woman, who live together in P.T. Barnum's American Museum in New York City (the museum came before his circus), along with a mysterious newcomer to town.
The novel takes place in 1865, the year P.T. Barnum's museum burned down.
"I spent probably two years just adding historical details," Bryson said.
This came after her first draft was presented to an agent, who suggested she bulk up what was then more of a fable. The manuscript at least doubled in size.
The genesis of the novel came from a dream image of a big circus tent with six sisters inside.
"Each one had this huge beard, and they were so beautiful," Bryson said.
The story started with the question, how can a bearded woman be beautiful? Because in normal, waking consciousness, this would not be the case.
She went into the Masters in Writing program at Johns Hopkins with a full draft, ready to edit.
"I needed to finish," she said. "I needed outside input."
Prior to "The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno," she had written mostly short stories and bad plays, she said, and spent most of her time working as a modern dancer (taking the occasional odd job to stay afloat).
"I kind of poked away at writing," she said. "Somewhere in those years, I started it ('The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno') ... but I had no concept of a larger work."
Hood College Community Reading Series
Tuesday, Aug. 3: Ann Hood Whitaker Campus Commons
Thursday, Aug. 5: Michele Wolf Whitaker Campus Commons
Friday, Aug. 6: Dan Elish Whitaker Campus Commons
Monday, Aug. 9: Robert Eversz Hodson Science Center, Room 131
Wednesday, Aug. 11: Keith Donohue Whitaker Campus Commons
Thursday, Aug. 12: Ellen Bryson Hodson Auditorium in Rosenstock Hall