Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tour the fifties with Clark Zlotchew

Clark Zlotchew

Today Clark Zlotchew is going to take us on a  trip back in time through his collection of stories in Once Upon a Decade: Tales of the Fifties.

Will you share a little about the stories in Once Upon a Decade: Tales of the Fifties with us?
A waitress in New Jersey puts a curse on a sailor; his behavior becomes increasingly irrational.  A high official in a banana republic uses a military man to help overthrow the President, but his plan takes an unexpected turn.  Two shipmates --one white, the other black-- learn first hand about segregation in 1950s Savannah.  A man with a tortured psyche keeps a pink teddy bear on his food tray as he watches the Olympics on television. A timid adolescent boy suffers the pangs of unrequited love.   A sailor who wants no more complications in his life falls in love with a young prostitute in Cuba on the eve of the Castro Revolution. A young high school teacher attempts to withstand a female student’s powers of seduction. An academic meets Jorge  Luis Borges and uncovers the mystery of an American writer with three different names.  These are just some of the premises of the seventeen narratives contained in this collection of short stories.

All but two of the narratives in this collection paint a picture of the 195Os. Many of the elements of this culture will repel:  racism, sexism and homophobia, for example.  Yet this was an era in which neither the threat of terrorism nor the scourge of AIDS existed for the average American.  These stories deal with love and death, triumphs and defeats, adolescent angst and the tension between ethnicity and assimilation.  Some present adventure on the high seas as well as a glimpse of Havana night life on the eve of the Castro Revolution.

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How did the stories from Once Upon a Decade: Tales of the Fifties evolve? 
The stories in Once Upon a Decade: Tales of the Fifties were written separately, one by one, over the years, and were published in literary magazines individually, some in Latin America in my Spanish versions, others in my English versions in the U.S.  I came to the realization that some of the reactions, events , descriptions and attitudes could only happen before the late 1960s, most typically in the 1950s, which is why this collection has the title you see.  Some of the reactions and statements might seem incomprehensible, even ridiculous, unless you realize that it doesn't refer to the 21st Century, but to the middle of the 20th.   Many of the elements of this culture will repel:  racism, sexism and homophobia, for example.  It was a world in some ways more cruel, more demanding, less forgiving.  In other ways it was safer, more secure, more comfortable.  It certainly was different from the present.  Yet, our basic nature has remained unchanged since humans became humans.  The deepest of needs, beyond basic sustenance –love, sex, respect, self-esteem, power— always lie just below the surface as motivating forces.  It is only the physical, political, social and moral strictures --fleeting conditions that channel those primary drives-- that change.

What are your current projects?
Two of my thrillers have been published: The Caucasian Menace (2010) and TALON Force: Dire Straits (under pseudonym) 2001.  I'm thinking about writing another thriller, or perhaps a different kind of novel about high school kids growing up, affected by various influences in society.  Most of my activity centers around my teaching Spanish and Latin-American literature and creative writing in Spanish at SUNY Fredonia.

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What do you consider to be your best accomplishment in writing?
What I accomplish in writing fiction is the pleasure of exploring the world I create, because once I really get into the swing of actually writing the novel or short story, the story or the characters seem to create themselves and drag me along to record their deeds, so to speak.  I never have the middle or the end planned in advance; the characters seem to take over and move the plot according to their personalities and the obstacles they encounter.  But it's mainly the doing of the writing, especially if it's fiction, that satisfies me.  Once it's written, I feel I'd like to share the adventure with others and see their reactions to the work.

Who are your characters based on?
In the stories of Once Upon a Decade..., some of them are loosely based on people I have known, or a composite of several people I've known.  But some, as the main character in "Going for the Gold," are entirely drawn from imagination.  Well, not entirely...  In that story, I started with the idea of a couch potato watching an athletic event and imagining himself as one of the athletes, while drinking beer and eating fast food.  One that story started, the protagonist simply carried me along a strange path, revealing things I had never thought about until half way through the story, and coming to an ending that surprised me, but that shouldn't have.  It should have been obvious from the way his character developed, and the hints about events in his recent past.

Do you have any advice for other writers?
Perhaps I could say, don't write if you don't love the process.  After you've written and polished to what you think is the final version, try to find an agent or publisher who is interested in that particular kind of writing.

Thank you for sharing your unique perspective Clark. To find out more about Clark Zlotchew and his books click the links below.

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