Friday, July 15, 2011

An Hour with Alan Heathcock

I recently attended a reading of Volt, with Alan Heathcock, at the Boise library.

It may seem to most of you that I’m quite cultured and jet-set, experienced to the point of boredom with all the finer aspects of the literary culture, but that ain’t necessarily so. This event was the first of its kind that I have ever experienced, and it was enjoyably unique. I’ve played trumpet recitals and been a drummer (on more than one occasion), but this was completely different.

Though it wasn’t quite the same as the poetry reading scene from So I Married an Axe Murderer, it was satisfyingly highbrow. Mr. Heathcock’s reading was a little like the above scene, but also a lot like listening to an old-time Midwestern preacher wax eloquent for a while on some illustrative anecdote. It’s really indescribable, how Heathcock sounds when he reads, but it’s good. More of a performance than a reading, per se. He’s from Chicago, after all, a place from which both sides of my family hail, and for at least a few generations, and Chicago ain’t for sissy la la types.

On to the material: Mr. Heathcock is one of us: he has struggled under the whip of the muse. She can be a harsh mistress, and Alan fully understands this, having written two attempted novels only to watch them fall “like a house of cards” toward the final stages. Therefore his methods have changed over the years, and he has been known to sit for hours before the keyboard imagining the details of the world he’s committing to paper, before a single keystroke is exercised. He calls this “imaginative preparation.”

Maybe that’s why, according to him, it took 12 years to write his latest short story, Volt. What little I was able to co-imagine at the reading certainly seems to be high grade, and worth the wait. Alan says that he’s “never not a writer.” I can relate to that. It is a conscious act for me to walk away from my storytelling; I get brainwaves at all hours about that one last niggling thing that needs my attention in the story I’m crafting, and it will send me no matter what to my notebook so that I can write it down. But why do we writers work so hard all the time? It can be summed up in another Heathcock nugget: “I think writing is an act of hope.” So that’s why.

I can’t recommend more heartily the work and the man, who, though we met only briefly, certainly seems to be one of the good guys, a quality individual who is a genuine part of the community of writers, of people here in Boise. As Vincent Zandri has said, “Boise is the new Paris.” That very well may just be so, but time will tell. With the talent cropping up around here, I think our chances are good.

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