What follows is from an interview with Arthur Powers:
In one sense, I have been interested in
writing ever since I was in junior high school and became intensely interested
in reading. There was a “classics” section in our school library, and I gobbled
the books up one after another: Dumas, Jules Verne, Sir Walter Scott. I did
some writing then, and in high school took a creative writing class.
But in another sense, I did not see
myself primarily as a “writer.” I loved
(and still love) history – I wanted (and still want) to be an active
participant in society – in the history of our times. I believe that living
life – being involved – comes first. If someone asks me, I am a husband, a
father, a grandfather, a Catholic, a lawyer, vice-president of a public safety
communications company, member of the pastoral council, former lay missioner in
Brazil, a poet & writer.
As a young person – as with most young
people – I wanted to express myself. As I matured (I’m sixty five), I became
much more interested in other people. My grandfather told me that one can never
be bored if there are people to watch. I find people fascinating – I love to
observe them, to hear their stories, to listen to the way they say things, to
enter their world.
I also love words. I grew up in a family
that loved words. My father was a wonderful punster, and my mother was always
finding and introducing to us new vocabulary. My early writing is poetry – I
started publishing poetry in the late 1960s, and by the 1990s (when I began
publishing fiction) my word skills were well honed. I had the privilege of not
having to earn my living through writing, so that I could focus on writing
things I really wanted to write, and could take the time to craft my work. Some
of my writing is better than others, but – on the whole – I am very satisfied
with the craftsmanship of the work I have published.
I always have more ideas than I have time
to write. Ideas come in many ways. I’ve woken in the morning with a complete
story in my head (for example, the short stories “Thorn” and “Sonata on a
Michigan Night”). Others grow out of a single line, or – more commonly – seeing
a person in a particular situation (“The Moving” and “Switzerland”). They can
be developed from a story someone tells me (“The Healer”), or from an experiences
I’ve witnessed (“A Hero for the People” and “Two Foxes”), or from an almost
geometrical idea (“Commedia Dell’Arte” and “Four Litres of Honey”).
In terms of what makes a good story, characters
are the most important element in fiction, and next in importance is atmosphere.
How characters confront situations and one another in that atmosphere is the
essence of the story. (I know this because I read and write stories.) I want my
readers to be drawn into the world of my characters – to understand, even
empathize with, the characters’ situation and world view. Much like a “method”
actor, I essentially become my characters as I write about them. I see them –
but also see the world through their eyes.
I firmly believe that good writing is
inspired – inspirited – by something greater than the writer. Often a reader
will point out some meaning or nuance in my story that I never thought of, and
I will immediately recognize that the comment is valid. Of course, at times I
am completely bemused by a reader's interpretation of a story and his
misunderstanding of what I had in mind. But that happens to all artists.
Most of what I write is either realistic
or what is called in the United States “magical realism.” I spent most my adult life in Latin America,
so I tend not to distinguish between the two. Latin Americans do not draw a
line between the “natural” and the “supernatural” in the same way that North
Americans do. Natural and supernatural are two interrelated aspects of life. A
faith healing (“The Healer”) or an angel (“Padre Raimundo’s Army”) is as real
as a stone or a chair.
Everything in life is an act of
self-discovery. More importantly, there is a discovery of ourselves in relation
to others and with God. Writing and reading are part of life. Of course we grow
through them. Good writing makes us grow in good ways (which doesn’t mean that
it only deals with good things happening to good people). I heard recently that
there are studies showing that fiction readers tend to be more empathetic than
other people – I haven’t seen the studies, but it doesn’t surprise me. Reading
fiction is a way of getting into the experiences of people whose world is different
from our own.
Stories are like children. You love them
all. All of those that have reached publication I feel to be well crafted. Some
are light (“Grace & The Chickens”), some more profound. It is interesting
to see how different stories touch different readers. A story I am very fond is
the title story in “A Hero for the People.”
Yet only one very discerning reader – Debra Murphy – has remarked to me
on the story’s underlying architecture, social message, and gentle humor –
noting that it is her favorite in the collection. Most people focus on other
stories in the collection – which is fine. They are all good stories.
Concerning my work schedule, I have a
demanding job, a family, and an active life. I write when I can. Usually I will
conceive a story in my head, ponder it, work out details – then write it down
when it is ready. I’ll put it away and pull it out a few weeks (or months)
later, make some revisions, and send it out. I try never to talk about the
stories before I write them – I find that, if I talk, the stories are diffused
and lose their immediacy.
I don’t think much about genres. Generally
I suppose, for that reason, my stories would be labeled “literary.” I’ve written some science fiction, some
fables, and have a pretty good mystery in the works. I enjoy reading mysteries
but, except for the very best writers (Marjorie Allingham, Ellis Peters), most
writers end up twisting their characters and situations to fit the mystery plot
and, in the end, that is not very satisfying.
In addition to my professional work and own
writing, I’m also the “contemporary” editor for CatholicFiction.net – a site
that reviews books of interest to Catholics (which is a broad category). So I
read quite a lot of contemporary (roughly anything written since 2000) Catholic
fiction. I also mentor a number of other writers, and read their work. In my
spare time, I read history, biographies, some philosophy, some classics, short
stories, poetry, and a few of the better mystery writers. A great number of
writers have influenced me over the years. Notable among them are Willa Cather,
Joseph Conrad, Graham Greene, and Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis.
Until recently, I have not belonged to
writing groups. This was partly due to circumstances – I was living in Brazil
(much of the time in remote locations), so there were no writing groups. But it
is also due to my nature. I’m a very social person, but I find that writing is,
for me, an individual endeavor, not a social one. I find that talking about
what I write (before it is written) draws away from the actual writing. That
being said, I truly believe writers can reach out and help each other through
encouragement. I am a founding member of the Catholic Writers Guild: I
regularly lead workshops and I mentor a number of writers.
Some have asked how technology (since
most people over the age of forty have lived through dramatic changes) has
affected my work habits. I used to carry around notebooks and writing pads, and
write everywhere. I now find that I need a laptop to write. It has made it
easier not only to write, but to revise. Currently I am working on a number of
short stories. I am also seeking to publish my novel, Shadow Companion, set in Brazil during the military dictatorship. Portions
of the novel have appeared in the journal Dappled
Things. It is very good, but it crosses genre bounders (literary, political
thriller), which makes it hard for publishers to classify.
Copyright 2013 by Arthur Powers - All Rights Reserved