Sunday, November 20, 2011

Living in a World without Borders: An Interview with author MICHAEL HOGAN

KIRPAL GORDON:  For Giant Steps Press readers new to your work, let me take it back to 1978 in Arizona. You had just hit a monster home run with “A Lion at a Cocktail Party” and were the talk of the lit circles, most especially because you had your own voice and weren’t an imitation of any MFA style-du-jour. Brother, you gave all of us struggling writers out there hope!

MICHAEL HOGAN: Thanks, Kirpal. Yes, that book did very well. A lot of the material was originally published by George Hitchcock in his magazine, “kayak.” It was a magazine that favored the unusual, the unique and surreal. The press that originally published my book went out of business, though, and it languished in limbo until Kindle came along. I continued to publish in small lit mags over the years and in chapbooks but since after moving to Mexico I was not active in the U.S. poetry scene. At least not like I was in the glory days of the Seventies. Then I did readings with Allen Ginsberg, William Stafford, Charles Bukowski, Richard Shelton, Sam Hamill and many others as you know.

KIRPAL GORDON: I see that Sam Hamill has written the introduction to your “Winter Solstice: Collected Poems, 1975-2012.”  How long has this been out and how has it been received?

MICHAEL HOGAN: The book is not out yet. We expect to see in print sometime in early 2012. Sam is still writing the introduction. His wife passed away recently and he has understandably been stalled. I first met Sam many years ago in San Francisco when we both read together at A Clean Well Lighted Place. After he started Poets Against the War I connected up with him again and contributed to that project. I admire him a great deal as a poet, translator and an anti-war activist and I am honored that he has agreed to write the introduction to my life’s work of poetry.

KIRPAL GORDON: Life’s work? But it’s called “Selected Poems,” not “Collected.”

MICHAEL HOGAN: That was the editor’s decision. Jim Hepworth of Confluence Press in Oregon. I wrote over 2,000 poems and many of them (he felt) were best left on the editorial floor, so to speak. However it is what I would call a “highly selective Collected Poems”…. about 300 poems.

KIRPAL GORDON: How did you find your way from poetry into writing non-fiction and fiction? 

MICHAEL HOGAN: Well, I always wrote short stories and articles. However, I had not begun any large projects in this area until the 90s. I started to write a novel about the Irish in the Mexican War because I had an ancestor who fought in it. After I had written a couple of chapters, I realized how little I knew about that period of history. So, when I had an opportunity to teach in Mexico, I went ahead and studied advanced Spanish at the University of Guadalajara, and then went for the doctorate in history while doing research extensive on the period of the Mexican-American War. My book, “The Irish Soldiers of Mexico” received the gold medal of the National Geographic Society in Mexico and went through five editions in English and four in Spanish. The novel “Molly Malone and the San Patricios” followed from that.

KIRPAL GORDON: So that explains your Ph.D. in Latin American studies. How about your role in education? And your consultancies with the State Department?

MICHAEL HOGAN: Well, I went to Mexico on a two-year contract to teach at a private school there. I was invited because in San Francisco I did work in the Mission District (which is mostly Latino) with at-risk kids and was quite successful. I established a literary magazine for three schools and also introduced some advanced courses. So in Mexico I founded “Sin Fronteras” which is the longest running and most talked-out bilingual student magazine in the Americas. It also has received 20 consecutive awards from the National Council of Teachers of English.  I also started the Advanced Placement Program in Guadalajara. For my work there I received a citation from the Office of Overseas Schools. This sounds an awful lot like bragging but I don’t mean it to be. I felt like I was on a mission in those days and that education was the answer. I also had a lot of help as you can imagine. In my own life I had some pretty heavy setbacks and I knew that education was a way out for many kids who might otherwise end up in dead end jobs or worse.

KIRPAL GORDON: So that led to your consultancies?

MICHAEL HOGAN: Yes, the State Department asked me to go to other countries in Latin America and work with the schools there to help improve their academic offerings. These are essentially American schools abroad which children of ambassadors attend as well as the children of local leaders of government and business. So academic rigor is important.

KIRPAL GORDON: In your latest book, “A Death in Newport,” which I just finished, you manage to deliver a multiple murder mystery in your old Rhode Island hometown with a plot that revolves around multi-national corporations, Latin America, deforestation, peonage, greed and propaganda to deliver a climax that changes the lives of the tale’s main characters while rendering to readers an intensely sober appreciation of the actual global mess we’re in deep denial over. Talk about compelling reading---that’s quite a gauntlet you’ve thrown down.

MICHAEL HOGAN: Well, a lot of things came together at the same time to help me with that book. I had written a non-fiction work, “Savage Capitalism and the Myth of Democracy,” two years ago. That led to several discussions with Noam Chomsky who wrote a blurb for the book. We were both deeply concerned with what was going on globally and shared many of the same values. Also, I had gone to Bolivia as a consultant and saw what was happening there and was invited to a globalization conference at Boston University. Finally, I had an opportunity to spend three consecutive summer writing at the beautiful campus of Salve Regina University in Newport, RI, which is the setting and also as you say, my old hometown which I had not spent any time in for over forty years.

KIRPAL GORDON: What’s next and how do Giant Steps readers stay in better touch with you and your projects?

MICHAEL HOGAN: My next project is a more light-hearted book called “Growing Up Catholic.” I think it will amuse my readers. I am also continuing to write articles on globalization, the Church, gangs in Latin America, the failure of global economic systems, and the future education. Many of my articles appear on line in Alterinfos and Z Net. All of my books and some articles can be accessed on my home page There is also audio so you can hear some of my most anthologized poems. I also have a Facebook page for the “Irish Soldiers of Mexico” where one can hear Irish music, visit Mexican museums, study the history of the Mexican War and the Irish participation. It is

Friday, November 18, 2011

Living History: An Interview with JAMES DRISCOLL, author of FLUSHING: 1880---1935

KIRPAL GORDON: I first saw your book, “Flushing: 1880---1935,” at the Voekler Orth Museum, Bird Sanctuary and Victorian Garden when George Wallace spoke there last month on Walt Whitman.  As you may know, Jim, Giant Steps Press has many connections to Flushing, so please tell our readers about you, your involvement with the museum as well as the Queens Historical Society and how the book, published by Arcadia Press, came to be.

JAMES DRISCOLL: I taught social studies in the New York Public Schools for over twenty years and have lived in Flushing all my life. I started doing research at the Queens Historical Society about twenty years ago. I am also on the board of the Voelker Orth Museum. About seven years ago their executive director, Catherine Abrams, asked me to do a book about Flushing for Arcadia.
KIRPAL GORDON: I was knocked out to read of the Flushing Remonstrance and the part Flushing played in the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. 

JAMES DRISCOLL: Flushing has a wonderful history. Way back in December of 1657 the people of Flushing defied the Governor of New Amsterdam, Peter Stuyvesant, and allowed all men and women to worship God as they saw fit. The incident that brought this about was Stuyvesant's persecution of the Quakers. Although they were not Quakers, the people of Flushing issued a statement called the Flushing Remonstrance which may have been the first statement in America defending this basic right. Stuyvesant did not give in. He continued to persecute the Quakers and the people who wrote the document. About two years later he heard that John Bowne allowed his wife who was a converted Quaker to use the Bowne House as a place to hold their meetings. Stuyvesant found out about it and ordered Bowne to leave the colony. Bowne went to Holland and complained about Stuyvesant. The directors of the Dutch West India Company agree with Bowne and ordered Stuyvesant to change his policies. Almost two hundred years later the Quakers in Flushing, we believe, supported the Underground Railroad and helped slaves flee to Canada.

KIRPAL GORDON: I found Chapter Two, “Flushing’s Horticultural Heritage,” particularly interesting, especially your remark that many of the trees in Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn originally came from nurseries here. 

JAMES DRISCOLL: The first commercial nursery was started in North America was started in 1737 by members of the Prince Family. According to the Journals of Frederick Olmstead, Olmstead picked out trees in Europe for Central Park. His buying partner was Samuel Bowne Parsons, one of the owners of the Parsons Nursery in Flushing. That was in the 1850s.

KIRPAL GORDON: Both the historical chapters and the geographical chapters on Broadway, Main Street, Murray Hill, Waldheim and Kissena Park really come to life thanks to the paintings, sketches, maps, photos and postcards you have managed to collect and comment upon.  What was it like researching this project?

JAMES DRISCOLL:  I used Vincent Seyfried's  postcards for about 80 percent of the images. The maps I Used came from the Queens Historical 
Society collection. The Queens Historical Society now owns many of his cards.

KIRPAL GORDON: In your last chapter, “Changes in the 1920s,” you really sent me down Memory Lane with that postcard of the magnificent interior of the old RKO on Main Street and Northern Boulevard.  Will that ever be restored?  

JAMES DRISCOLL: The RKO Keiths was landmarked in its entirety but the late Donald Manes had landmark status withdrawn from the auditorium. The best we can hope for is that the building is restored preserving the sections that are still landmarked: the ticket lobby and the grand foyer.

KIRPAL GORDON: In an earlier blog post, I asked Jason Antos, author of Whitestone, about curbing overdevelopment, and he said, “That is up to the people, our local politicians and zoning laws. The laws have to be enforced and perhaps changed so that Whitestone can retain some of its small town feel.”  Do you think this is also true for Flushing?  What would you recommend that citizens do to help preserve Flushing’s unique history?

JAMES DRISCOLL: Whitestone and Bayside are more residential so they have a different set of problems than Flushing. What has helped in Flushing has
been the landmark law. Some of the buildings we wanted to save, such as the 
Quaker Meeting House and the Kingsland Home, have been declared 
landmarks. Unfortunately the Landmarks law only dates from the late 1960s 
and many of the buildings we wanted to save, such as the Prince Homestead, 
have been torn down.   

KIRPAL GORDON: How can folks purchase your book and stay in touch 
with what you are doing?

JAMES DRISCOLL: Currently I am working on the Underground Railroad on Duffield Street in Brooklyn. To buy a copy of “Flushing,” call the Voelker Orth House at 718-359-6227 or visit online at or in person at 149-19 38 Avenue, Flushing, NY, 11354.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Painting the Texas Hill Country: An Interview with DUSTY PENDLETON

KIRPAL GORDON:  As you enter your 41st year of working as a painter, do you have any thoughts on your career so far?

DUSTY PENDLETON:  First of all, I’ve never considered what I do or have as being a ‘career.’ This is in direct opposition to the idea of ‘careerism’ in the arts wherein a certain amount of time and energy is spent on self-promotion and hype in order to get the works sold. My feelings have always run to the idea that if what I’m doing is legitimate, then it will be allowed to continue being done. If the work resonates, then someone will find it to be something that they'd wish to keep.  For many, that’s not possible but for some, it is and they buy it. Like Stieglitz said of the works in his gallery, “These works are for sale, but no, we do not sell art.”

KIRPAL GORDON:  How did you come to this way of thinking?

DUSTY PENDLETON: I’d read of Stieglitz while studying art history, but it wasn’t until arriving in NYC that I encountered how the system works there. That Grand Dame of the Artists Information Registry, that sort of clearing house for artists and gallery connections, put it to me as, “Who do you think you are? You've got to find a gallery, go to openings, attend the parties and maybe get your own solo show and then another gallery will notice how your works are doing and they will steal you away from the first gallery and so forth.” That's when I became aware of the dictum, ‘It’s not about the art, it’s about the artist.’ Plus, I found that no gallery would consider showing the 
figure, certainly not the nude. So, to get noticed, I’d have to be working within the parameters of what I called the style du jour. None of that made me want to be a part of the scene, so I didn’t.  It’s that simple.

KIRPAL GORDON: Has it been difficult to be outside the mainstream?

DUSTY PENDLETON: There have been times, certainly, when I could have been better  funded. However, Martha, my wife of 41 years, has always been supportive and kept the wolves at bay when needed. When times have been better, we’ve been able to move about to more interesting locales with lower overheads.  We’re in this together, you see.  Also, we both really enjoyed the foreign experiences, which seem quite exotic but were actually more a case of lower overhead expenses. To live for a year in Paris was less expensive than a year in NYC during the 70s and a year in England was less expensive than Paris in the 80s and so on. Plus, there was the added bonus of the respect that Europeans or Mexicans have for anyone in the arts and they aren’t so hide bound about accepting them into their community.

KIRPAL GORDON:  I notice that, since returning to Texas, you’ve become more of a landscape painter. Is that because Texas is more open to your landscapes than your figure work? I can’t imagine Texas as being a place where the nude is all right as subject matter.

DUSTY PENDLETON:  Texas, or ‘Takes-us’ as I call it, is still a mish mash of uptight and liberal but I did find that Austin was a great venue and nudes aren’t an issue there. However, the galleries suffered in this recession and all that carried my work are now defunct. The landscape here is beautiful but rapidly vanishing due to the booming population so what I’m doing is essentially fiction---painting what I remember it to have been. It’s also a place where the sun is merciless so the landscapes are best seen in the crepuscular light of twilight or early morning.  Everything that I do is accomplished in the studio and is of things remembered. This studio is also a reason to be here. The space is twice the size of any apartment that we ever had in Paris or 
anywhere else in Europe or Mexico and far and away less expensive. It may be that affordable space combined with on line communication will make artists aware that living and working NYC isn’t all that necessary and there are thousands of us out here in the hinterlands who are doing just fine.

KIRPAL GORDON:  How can interested viewers see your work?

DUSTY PENDLETON: If what they’ve seen on this blog piques an interest, they can go to to see more works and my contact information.  We’ll work from there to see what can be arranged.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Ultimate Scribe to His Tribe: An Interview with JUSTIN LUKE

KIRPAL GORDON: First off, I congratulate you on writing an extraordinary first novel, Gulliver Travels. It’s also gotten great press, and you have had incredible success selling the book via Amazon, Kindle and other new technologies as well as through your day and night jobs. What’s the adventure been like for you?

JUSTIN LUKE: Thank you, KP! And I thought that my novel's namesake had an adventure… little did I know what was in store for me! Gulliver Travels actually began almost 3 years ago, as a National Novel Writing Month challenge (I got the 50k words in 30 days, score). From there I re-published the "novella" to a blog while I spent a year revising it… people then began assuming that Gulliver was real and he became a celebrity in
New York City! He was asked out on hundreds of dates, offered jobs, propositioned for sex… needless to say, when I had to "come out" as the Guy behind Gully, it was a bit of a trip.

From there, I self-published the book using Amazon's CreateSpace, as well as Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing. And I then discovered that the gay 20-something demographic, who are well known to spend lots of money on things, weren't AVERSE to reading… it was just that no one had ever bothered writing anything for them before. This led to my book becoming the #1 highest rated gay book on the Amazon Kindle within three weeks. If this wasn't exciting enough, one day I was walking home from my day job when I got a Facebook email from the Senior Book Buyer at Amazon Encore, Amazon's publishing imprint. He had grabbed Gully, and enjoyed it immensely… and offered me a 3-book deal!

The first thing I did was read the email ten times. I had given up on being traditionally published years earlier! That's why I self-published! After that I called my Mom and Boyfriend and Dad and Best Friend, and through jagged sobs of happiness, told them. From there it's been a stress-filled dream come true. New revisions, new writing, meeting with marketing teams and design teams and experiencing what I've been dreaming of since my parents bought me a typewriter when I was 12. And all of this has happened BEFORE my book Gulliver Takes Manhattan goes on sale internationally in May of 2012! I can't wait to see what else is in store. As Gulliver says at the end of the novel: "I should be terrified. I am so fucking excited."

KIRPAL GORDON: Not only do you express yourself very well online, but taken together, the video and print interviews you’ve done make it clear that for gay members of the generation under thirty years old trying to make New York City their home, “Gulliver Travels” is the ideal handbook. What’s it like to be so well received by the gay community?

JUSTIN LUKE: Being received so well by the gay community, frankly, is something that HAD to happen. If it didn't I would have considered myself a failure, hung up my hat, and moved to some suburb in Illinois, never to be heard of again. I've been working as a gay nightlife promoter and producer for over two years now. I have been keeping the illustrious metropolitan gay twenty-something male in my sights for even longer than that. I study them. I observe them. I meet hundreds of them a week. If, after all that, I WASN'T received by the community, I would have seriously had to reconsider my talents.

Also, it's all I've ever wanted. I began my life as a wallflower in elementary, junior, and high school. It wasn't until I detonated the closet in college that I began to discover myself. Now I'm living my dream: I'm having fun, I'm meeting younger gay guys and able to teach them and prepare them for the world ahead of them and give them learnings from my life

And, finally, it's fun because they care about what I care about. When I write something, I'm writing it for me. Luckily, it's perfectly in line with what this community wants as well!

KIRPAL GORDON: The only thing I found a bit odd was all too little mention of the book’s literary merit. Granted, most of your interviewers were dealing with its gay, youth or
New York themes, but it is an extremely well written, page-turning tale. It built a powerful momentum chapter after chapter, and like all great literature, it riveted me by pity and fear, Aristotle’s famous remark in his Poetics on the cathartic quality of storytelling.

JUSTIN LUKE: Thank you, Kirpal, it means a lot to me to hear that.

I'll be honest, KP. I wasn't going to call Gulliver Travels (or Gulliver Takes Manhattan) literature because I am used to the negative, flame-friendly world of the Internet. My mother taught me modesty early on, which I use because 1) I am modest and 2) No one attacks someone for being modest. I didn't want people coming out of the woodwork to set me straight and tell me what I had written was trash.

I look at OTHER works as literary, sure. The Chabons and the Franzens and the Rushdies. I guess I didn't give my book enough credit; I just assumed that a book about a gay boy drinking and sexing his way to self-discovery through modern day
Manhattan couldn't possibly be literary!

And, finally, I know what sells to my target audience. I say "great literature" and they're already fleeing the scene, their iPhones out as they try to distract themselves. They want excitement! Sex! A character dealing with problems similar to their own, but ratcheted up for ultimate schadenfreude.

KIRPAL GORDON: It’s this unique combination---mastery of the new marketing technologies and mastery of your material from a literary point of view---that gives me hope in the aftermath of an industry destroyed by greed. In other words, you don’t need to be a midlist author waiting for someone to give you the big break. I understand Amazon has invited you into its free publicity program.

JUSTIN LUKE: Technically, Amazon gave me a 3-book deal! It's the whole hog: ePublishing, print publishing, brick and mortar bookstore distribution, and a full PR, marketing and everything else blitz. Essentially, it's like the old fashioned way of publishing, but pimped out to the extreme with the world's largest and most successful company behind me all the way. Again, a dream come true. If I'm going to have a publishing house behind me, having that house live within Amazon makes it that much better.

KIRPAL GORDON: What’s next? Tell us about the short stories you are writing and marketing uniquely.

JUSTIN LUKE: Oh there is always something next! Right now I'm wrapping up the fifth and final short story in my "Gulliver's Travelers" series. It's an eBook-only series that features the secondary characters of my original novel. Each story is told in first person, from one of these characters, and they are all tied in to each other because they take place on the same day. I take it one step further still because the day when all of these stories takes place actually occurs IN THE TIMELINE of my original novel. Basically I answer the question: where was every one else on the day when Gulliver did X?

I did this because, when I first self-published my novel, I figured I'd need to stack the odds in my favor to get attention. And so I committed to write 5 short stories, as eBooks only, all based on the original novel. What I wanted to do was flood the Amazon Kindle's gay store with my name and writing. And, because they were eBooks only, I could charge very little to sell them (each is $2.99… you can't even get a slice of pizza for that any longer). And what it seems to be doing, based on sales, is creating a funnel. For readers of Gulliver, they now have more to read. For those who don't know Gulliver, there's the chance I can reel them in to me by enticing them with a cheap and exciting mini-book that is tied into 4 others, and all of which are related to my original novel. And, to my fortune, it seems to be working!

KIRPAL GORDON: Your grandmother, Edith Zirilli, may she rest in peace, was my neighbor. A daily meditator and a woman with literary talent but little access to the lit world, she would be so proud of what you have accomplished. Do you think of her when you are out giving readings and shows?

JUSTIN LUKE: I always think of my Grandmother, actually. I was lucky, as the oldest child in my extended family, to have the most time with her. She is actually the first acknowledgment in the back of my novel. I am convinced that the writing bones in my body stem genetically back all the way to her. And, judging from how much my mom smiles when she sees my growing success, I imagine Grandma is doing the same.

It's a shame that she was born in a time where a woman writing was frowned upon. I wish she had been given the chance. I like to think that she's watching me, and she's happy that she's getting a shot vicariously through me.

KIRPAL GORDON: How can friends at Giant Steps Press stay in touch with all of what you are doing?

JUSTIN LUKE: Super easy! I'm a bit of a web nerd, so I make sure to be strongly represented online. You can find links to everything I do and sell and offer at my official web site,
From there you can find hundreds of ways to get in contact with me and keep tabs, I'm on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Vimeo, YouTube, etc. etc. etc.

If you'd like to find out more about my book, there's always

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Veterans Day Blues

As much as I respect the need to pay homage to the men, women and children who served in the military to safeguard our rapidly disappearing freedoms, I am terribly distressed over the non-evolving state of man’s consciousness level and the sad fact that we still require maintaining strong defense systems to protect ourselves from each other! Even though we profess to all be created equal, we seem to have no qualms about killing one another.

Although it is comprised of only two letters, the word “if” is the largest word in the English language. So much rests upon “if.” The majority of people on Planet Earth, regardless of denomination, claim they believe in a higher power or a Divine Entity. For argument’s sake, allow me to call this entity, God. IF people really and truly believe in this God and his ever-watchful eye, would they behave the way they do? IF humanity really and truly believes in equality, would there be hunger, famine, prejudice and hate? IF we really and truly believe that God created the world and all that’s upon it, would we pollute and ravish the very land that sustains us? IF we really and truly believe that God is synonymous with love, how is it we’ve become divided to the point where we kill in his name? Some folks would answer these questions by giving credence to the existence of a devil or evil spirit. IF God is love and love conquers all, what’s the problem? No matter how one chooses to slice it, for me, it just doesn’t add up! Anything we desire, including peace, is possible. The sad truth is we probably don’t want it bad enough!

IF we all conducted our lives according to the two greatest commandments, love God and love each other as oneself, there would be no need for armies, police, prisons, locks, bolts, security alarms, watch dogs and weapons. From the way humans conduct their lives, I would venture to say that most of our prayers, worship services, religious rituals and holy books have been a complete waste of time. The only way to prove the existence of God in our lives is through the ability of each of us to TRULY love one another. For whatever reason, man has unconsciously reversed reality with illusion. We have put so much stock into the bullshit we created for our corporal lives, such as money and the acquisition of land, power and material things, we seemed to have forgotten the certainty that one day we will die a physical death and all the wealth we have accumulated will amount to less than zero.

I never quite understood man’s inhumanity towards other men. I never understood war and I especially don’t understand the role God plays in the lives of people when hurt, suffering and unfairness seem to be abundant. Somehow people tend to treat God as a life insurance policy. In other words, just in case a place of eternal damnation does exist, better to be on the safe side and get to church every now and then. Somehow it’s a whole lot easier looking for God in a building with stained glass windows rather than to search the depths of one’s soul.

I am grateful to every soldier, sailor, marine and fighter pilot who risked his life so that I have the freedom to speak my mind and worship or not worship as I choose. My heart goes out to every service man and woman who had to waste precious years of his or her life away from the comforts of home, exposed to the horrors of killing or the fear of trying to remain alive. My hope is that one day what we perceive as illusion or reality will shift. I long to see the presence of God, Love, Divinity, Positive Energy or whatever we choose to name the beautiful power controlling the Universe in the eyes of every man, woman, child and creature roaming the Earth. I yearn for the day when armed forces become completely unnecessary and obsolete. I’m a simple human being. If I can believe in this vision with my heart, mind and soul, then it is absolutely possible for all men to do the same. What’s the problem?       

Thursday, November 10, 2011

GETTING LUCKY: An Interview with novelist DENIS GRAY

KIRPAL GORDON: I’ve been a longtime fan of your drama and fiction, but “Lucky” is a new direction for me in reading your work because it’s not just a captivating love story but a novel chock-full of historical and evocative details about New Orleans and the riverboats and the jazz bands that went up and down the Mississippi River during the Roaring Twenties. What was it like researching this novel?

 DENIS GRAY: Well, the first thing I should tell you, is after reading  a review in the New York Times of “Jazz on the River” authored by William Howland Kenney, I knew I was hooked. That I had to write a story set in Louisiana during the ‘20s. This book gave me a historical reference for “Lucky.” The next thing it meant was, I had to come up with a story to match the great state of Louisiana, and, specifically, New Orleans. Now that meant I had to do a lot of research to understand a place that’s been romanticized since forever. And so I tried to figure out what approach to take and what books to read that would best serve my needs. Once I was able to do that, I, as they say, was off and running! The books I read to prepare me for the story were really great. Information. Information. Information. I’m the kind of writer though, who uses maybe 2 percent (if that much) of the information I glean from my research in a novel. What I’m really after, is the spirit of the subject, since I’m not a nonfiction writer. I try to structure my stories real tight, but if I develop the characters correctly, they’ll make the story work for me; and make the writing easy. Yes, it was a lot of fun researching Lucky. I enjoyed every waking minute of it.

KIRPAL GORDON: I am particularly taken by your insights into the jazz life, especially how musicians related to one another as well as a hostile Jim Crow situation that at times misunderstood the music. The way, for example, that Noble Prince’s Red Hot Rhythm Band welcomes youngbuck trumpet-playing Victor Malreaux onto the riverboat struck me so powerfully.

DENIS GRAY: Yeah, Jim Crow, blacks and whites, separate but equal. You know I don’t really get into any real politics regarding Jim Crow in the book, but it does loom over some portions of it. So there’s atmosphere, and you the reader know you’re in the midst of an unjust system. Walter Von Bulow, the owner of the riverboat the “Morning Queen” and the Von Bulow steamship company, tries to create a comfortable but unrealistic setting for his black employees on the ship, but the situation is still unequal no matter, since it is a system he alone cannot buck. But Von Bulow’s the one who hears Victor Malreaux, this young, “hot trumpet player, “youngbuck” as you so aptly described him, and invites him to audition for Noble Prince on the Morning Queen. I think what I was after with Victor in that situation, was to see how an old, seasoned veteran band would take to a youngbuck, since they could be defined as the practitioners of this music. I mean how is tradition preserved if not through one generation passing it down to another: Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Satchmo, Bix Beiderbecke, Fats Navarro –so on and so forth. So Victor Malreaux allowed me to scope out that situation in a clear, accessible way.

KIRPAL GORDON: In jazz guitarist Pat Martino’s new memoir with Bill Milkowski, “Here and Now!,” he notes that when he moved to Harlem the jazz music he was studying & the culture of Harlem were one thing, not two, and he laments that kids who just learn the notes miss the larger context. Would you agree?

DENIS GRAY: Honestly, I don’t keep up with the new jazz cats on today’s jazz scene. I’m still pretty much tuned to the past with my jazz listening. But who thought I’d be quoting P. Diddy, but he once said about hip hop, that it was a lifestyle, clothes, attitude, etcetera. So Pat Martino might have something there. I know the old players, music was in the air they breathed; the music was all around them. They dressed it and ate it and lived it excessively, thus, embedded it deeply into the culture’s psyche. So I’ll let Pat Martino debate that one out, but, like I said, he might be on to something that’s relevant.

KIRPAL GORDON: The novel seems a huge undertaking, especially when Lucky enters the tale. She puts her life at risk as she leaves Harlem and arrives in New Orleans in an attempt to reconcile her past. Did you map it all out first or did you just start writing?

DENIS GRAY: No, I don’t do outlines, but I do “map” it all out in my head. Man, there’s a lot of mapping out too! I take the story here, test it there, hope this is plausible, delete that, and so on and so forth during the process. But once the story crystallizes itself, and I feel I can think of some situations that will give the story interest and impetus, and that I have an ending that makes sense and is logical, natural, and unvarnished, I’m ready to sit down and write. Then when writing, it’s when everything opens up, the middle part of the story where all the juicy stuff and surprises lie for a writer; when they know they’re onto something, and it takes you places you thought you’d never go. For me, because my imagining a story is just a germ, a speck of something, when I’m finished with the book, I think it’s ten times better than what I could ever imagined it before writing it. And if I don’t remember three quarters of what I wrote during the first draft, that excites me even more! Just a quick anecdote. I remember I did a sequel for a novella, “Benny’s Last Blast,” and I had the plotlines for the new book, “Benny, God, and the Blues,” down pat except for one vital transition I needed. I actually waited eight years for that one transition to finally come to me! But I knew it would be worth the wait, since it did provide a great subtext for the story. I think my patience was based on my instincts as a writer—at least I’d like to think that it was.

KIRPAL GORDON: If you’ll pardon the pun, how can readers get “Lucky?” Are there any plans to do readings or concerts with this book?

DENIS GRAY: Thanks for asking. “Lucky” is online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It’s also an e-Book, so Kindle and Nook make it available for purchase. (In fact, I’ve read “Lucky” off my wife’s iPad.) Readings, I’ve done a lot of them. I vendor also. Concerts, no. My web site is I’d love to hear from readers. And I’m on Facebook—so you can ‘friend’ me.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Taking Giant Steps in Paint: An Interview with ANATOLE IWANCZUK

KIRPAL GORDON:  I was wandering through a recent show at Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition and stopped dead in my tracks, Tony, when I saw your large and incredible paintings, especially the one with the red dot on it that the staff told me was the largest sale BWAC had made at that exhibit.  Besides being one of the best students I've had at Fordham/Lincoln Center, I knew you were a great food and wine guy with a long-running restaurant on the Upper East Side, but how did you come to painting, and how did you arrive at this air brush technique?  Your compositions may be based on Kandinsky and other modernists, but you take me to new places. 

ANATOLE IWANCZUK:  A very close friend of mine, Gunilla Feigenbaum, who is truly a wonderful artist, had been urging me for several years to try painting. At one point, she suggested I try airbrush, and generously loaned me her airbrush and compressor to encourage me to venture into painting. To my surprise I enjoyed the process and was happy to discover that I had some ability. 

KIRPAL GORDON: So what happened next?

    ANATOLE IWANCZUK: I set out to teach myself about color and the process of painting. I chose for this task to try to emulate some of the modern masters, like Kandinsky, de Lempicka and Tanning, because I loved their work. As I gained confidence in my techniques and proficiency, I sought to explore the boundaries between invention and reproduction. The images I choose are well known paintings from the period of industrialization – Leger and de Chirico are particular favorites because they incorporate the joining of man and machine. 
KIRPAL GORDON:  Do you set any limits on how you work or what you use?

ANATOLE IWANCZUK:The limitations I create for myself are that every part of the painting must be executed with air brush and acrylics, tools unavailable to those artists. I try to stay as close to the original as possible, and by the time the painting has finished its journey it has become an entirely new object. In addition to this approach, I am more recently trying to create paintings that reflect my own ideas. Like Tang Horse.

KIRPAL GORDON:   I noticed you do commissions.  Does your approach differ when the project is a commission?

ANATOLE IWANCZUK:  When I am commissioned to duplicate a specific existing work, like that poster, the part of me that is concerned with execution completely takes over. However, when I am commissioned to do any work I desire, I am free to paint as if not on commission, therefore not affected by it.

KIRPAL GORDON:  How can viewers at Giant Steps see more of your work?

ANATOLE IWANCZUK:  I welcome them to friend me at Facebook, go to the photos and click on the artwork. I'm also with Behance Network and look forward to opening my own new website in a few weeks:

KIRPAL GORDON:  And for those of us who want to see the work up close and personal, where and when is the next show?
ANATOLE IWANCZUK:  The next show is called “Wide Open” at BWAC (Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition, in Red Hook, March 18 through April 1, 2012