Welcome to the four hundred and eighth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with poet, spotlightee, essayist, short story author and novelist Garden Urthark. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Garden. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Garden: I’m based in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, specifically, in Kensington, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC. I have wanted to be a writer from at least high school age onward.
Morgen: You’re lucky, it took me twice that long to think it could be a profession. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Garden: Although I have described my novel Other World as an epic mystery, it really does not fit well into any particular genre. Other World is a literary novel that contains both mystery and science fiction within an epic scope. In addition, the novel includes a sonnet sequence and a formal ode, and the first part of the novel is in epistolary form. So if you like variety, you will like my novel. Other World unites some of the same basic building blocks of various genres, hopefully to create a new and original life experience for the reader rather than simply exercise the mind around some very common themes and staple situations as happens in much genre fiction.
I devoted 18 years to Other World. That doesn’t mean I was always writing. There were periods when I didn’t write at all, but like Hemingway—with all proportion kept between him and myself—waited for the right words to come.
Norman Mailer used to say that a book was a record of the kind of man (or woman, for that matter) a writer had been. As I was working on my book, I tried to live a life that complemented the kind of ideals I advocate for in my novel. For example, Milton said that an epic poet must drink water from a wooden bowl. I am not an epic poet per se, but I get the sense that what Milton said is something like what Mailer said. To go unpublished or unrecognized for so long presents a major challenge to a writer and involves a great self-sacrifice as well as great self-discipline.
Morgen: It’s happening to a lot of writers but as the saying goes, “A successful writer is one who didn’t give up.” Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully formed?
Garden: I did write and rewrite parts of my novel several times. Other parts went more like Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, which he said he wrote “without blotting a line.” I can’t say I wrote anything, however, that I could say I didn’t do any editing on. My book seemed to write itself, and have a mind of its own. The book itself seemed to demand that certain parts be rewritten while other parts remained untouched.
Morgen: I think every writer needs editing, even household names. Did you have any say in the cover and illustrations of your book?
Garden: I wanted to say that I include as part of the writing of my novel the time I spent in self-publishing it, both as a paperback and as an eBook. And part of that involved preparing and selecting the illustrations, one of which was also used for the cover. My wife, Sung, illustrated the novel. I did have a hand in designing some of these illustrations, including the cover. Some of the illustrations are original artworks of hers that I selected for my book, however.
My wife is deaf. Although she cannot talk, like most deaf people, she does not like to also see herself as mute. However, we have together agreed to call our mutual efforts in literature and art as Mute Art, that is, art that cannot speak for itself or articulate a place for itself within any particular artistic movement or tradition.
Like me, Sung was not always painting, but would come back to a painting and revise it, spending time with each painting. Her paintings for Other World include oil on canvas, acrylics on canvas, and watercolors. And these paintings are a record of the kind of person she’s been. I think it should be said that her illustrations for Other World can stand alone as works of art in and of themselves. I believe she is a very great artist. Unfortunately, unless you have an eReader that can read in color, you will miss out on the beauty of her use of color. There are seven full-color illustrations for Other World, each an original artwork.
Morgen: I love drawing cartoons but like to think I’m a better writer than painter. With art, I have to have something to replicate but can pull stories out of nowhere… but then I’ve not drawn since I started writing so maybe I’d surprise myself. What are you working on at the moment?
Garden: As a writer, I have followed what I have taken to calling Mario Puzo’s law. Mario Puzo, the author of The Godfather, once said: read, go to the movies, and never talk about your work with anyone. This last part of the law—never talk about your work with anyone—has been very difficult to follow. It certainly doesn’t help in making friends and has the ability to alienate a good number of people. It seemed that when I was younger, some people absolutely demanded to know what I was working on and would actually become very angry when I wouldn’t tell them. With age, however, I think the pressure to have to answer this question has lessened. I think not talking about your work with just anyone is a sign of reverence for the work and can only really be understood in the context of writing as a way of life rather than any particular end result that one might be able to achieve in a novel, play, poem, or what have you. I guess what I mean to say is that the best answer I can give to the question, what am I working on now is: I’m working on being the best person I can be, and that includes being the best husband, father, and individual I can be within the time I have been given to live my life here on Earth and anywhere else I have the opportunity to travel to and experience. (The universe is a big place, so I don’t like to limit myself!)
Morgen: Many authors don’t talk about their latest projects, perhaps through the fear that someone will ‘pinch’ the idea but I think many don’t want to jinx their muse. What can we find out about you and your wife’s work?
Garden: A good place would be on the page devoted to Other World on Smashwords at http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/51153. On that page, we have a short and long description of my novel. You can also download a copy of the novel from that page. Also, our website at http://gardenurthark.com: I wrote a short piece on our website at http://gardenurthark.com/page7.html entitled “Other World: Conversations” designed to encourage readers to download Other World. I have also made a few YouTube videos to encourage interest in Other World, and these are accessible from our website.
Morgen: Thank you very much for chatting with me today.
Garden: Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity, and my wife, Sung, would like to thank you also.
Morgen: You’re both very welcome, and thank you for reviewing (and liking) my Story a Day May collection.
I then invited Garden to include an extract of his writing and this is from Moody Santo’s (the main character’s) introduction to Other World:
I do not know of any writer who has faced the opposition I’ve faced. Henry Miller perhaps. I’m talking about an opposition unlike anything faced by Miller. Society has tried to extinguish me as a person, first by arresting and incarcerating me, second by labeling me a schizophrenic. I’ve received a death sentence of a kind, for from that moment on, everything I might write, everything I might do, would be called into question, would be suspect, would be considered unreliable. My entire view of reality had been extinguished with a single stroke. It was only one step further to extinguishing me completely as a person, first by medicating me, next, by requiring me to conform in ways that completely negated my entire sense of self. For once so branded, I could no longer find employment, could no longer make a friend. And as a strategy for ridding itself of me as an opponent, an enemy, the State did the next best thing short of actually executing me or imprisoning me for life. And I was an opponent to the State—to any State. I was not an anarchist, but I have a clear idea about the injustices and inequalities perpetrated by the capitalist system or State. And I showed that opposition down to the finest details of interpersonal communication and family and social life. No, I was not a member of the Communist Party or any party. I did not want to see the violent overthrow of this or any State. But I did want to see a redistribution of wealth. I did want to see values change.
Garden Urthark (Writer): A native of Washington, DC, and its suburbs, Garden Urthark wrote the Life Trilogy over a period of over thirty years, devoting over 18 years to Other World. While a Visiting Student at Gallaudet University, where he worked part-time as an English tutor, he met his wife, Sung, who was one of the students he tutored. Garden and Sung almost immediately began their collaboration on projects that would combine her art with his literary work.
Sung Kim (Artist): Born and raised in Seoul, Korea, Sung is deaf. She came to the United States to study art. A graduate in Studio Art at Gallaudet University, the only liberal arts university in the world for deaf people, she married Garden Urthark and together they have a hearing son. Sung’s artwork for the Life Trilogy includes reproductions of her oil on canvas paintings, paintings in acrylics, watercolors, and pencil drawings.
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