Monday, February 25, 2013

Interview with Author Gary Beck

3 Links:
Give us a quick introduction on yourself and your book.
I was a theater director most of my life and worked as an art dealer when I couldn't make a living in theater. I ran an arts and social services program for homeless families with children, as well as arts programs for other disadvantaged youth. I started writing poetry in my teens, then was totally absorbed in theater playwriting and translations of the classics, Moliere, Aristophanes, Sophocles. My book, “Extreme Change” is about a young family that flees crime and poverty in Detroit, for a fresh start in New York City. After a landlord dispute, an arson fire forces them into the nightmare of the homeless system. A determined woman keeps her family together, makes interracial friends who unite to survive the system. They end up in a midtown Manhattan welfare hotel ruled by a violent gang. They are menaced, then two of the women are abducted by the gang, then daringly escape being raped and murdered. With nerve and willpower they force the former landlord to give them apartments in the East Village, where they excitedly start a new life.
What inspired you to write your first book?
The first novel I wrote is the actually the fifth book to be published. “Acts of Defiance”, to be published by Artema Press, came out of my personal experiences growing up in the 40’s and 50’s, then living through the turmoil of the 60’s. The book poured out in a passionate rush recollecting what I went through.
Do you have a specific writing style?
The basis is story and character driven realism, with a step by step process of enrichment and revision.
How did you come up with the title?
It seemed to characterize the extremes that the characters experienced from early romance through personal disaster and homelessness.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
“Extreme Change” is first and foremost a story to involve the reader with people whose hopes are suddenly shattered, who then have to fight for survival. I hope readers experience the emotional life of the characters, who reflect the need never to give in to oppression.
How much of the book is realistic?
Much of it. Some elements may be conjectural, but the events either could happen, or have occurred, with fictional reconstruction. The homeless sequence may be dramatic, but the reality is much grimmer, not very uplifting.
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
I've lived and worked in diverse worlds, including theater, the art world, homeless families, many more, so I have a store of material that I draw on. Some of the homeless mothers I worked with showed incredible courage in a system that crushed the spirits of the vulnerable.
What books have most influenced your life most?
“Look Homeward Angel”, a fictional concerto that I read when I was a young teen desperately hungering a better world and was swept away by the rapturous prose. “In Dubious Battle”. an heroic, losing struggle against wealthy oppressors reinforcing the knowledge that resistance must always be doomed, but the fight to the end is man's noblest quality.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
John Steinbeck - He looked into the heart of American life, with profound emotional depth, created on a canvas that portrayed a fight for survival by humble people, who would not quit.
What book are you reading now?
Don Quixote
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Jonathan Franzen, if he is still considered a new writer, a brilliant wordsmith, who extends the nature of American fiction to dazzling verbal pyrotechnics.
What are your current projects?
I’m editing my novel, “Acts of Defiance”, a story about two boys who meet when they are 7, one wealthy, the other from the other side of the tracks. They become best friends, tennis players, and have many adventures together and have many adventures together as they develop social consciousness and work to change their society, that will be published by Artema Press. I’m finishing a poetry book, “Redemption Value”, that explores different elements of society and the vast gaps between the haves and have nots. I’m working on a new novel, “Enhanced Life”, about Vampires working on behalf of humanity to preserve the blood supply.
Do you see writing as a career?
It's certainly a constant preoccupation. It will be a career if I become well known.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I would certainly correct any typos, other offenses, try not to refight the battle of the commas.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I read at an early age to escape from some negative elements in my life, Dickens, O Henry, De Maupassant, Shakespeare, devouring these wonderful books.  I started writing poetry in my early teens, imitating the British romantics, Byron, Keats, Shelley - it grew from that.
Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Here are two small excerpts from “Extreme Change”, recently published by Cogwheel Press:
Jaime Perez crept up the fire escape as quietly as he could and stopped at the third floor. He leaned over the guard rail to the kitchen window that he had been told didn’t have a gate. He waited patiently to be sure that no one on the street had noticed him, while vapor from the cold steamed out of his mouth. He pressed his short, skinny, drug-ravaged body against the wall until he felt ready, then he took a metal tool from his pocket and stealthily pried the window open. He couldn’t hear any sounds from the dark apartment, so he carefully slipped over the rail and climbed inside. The landlord had assured him that they didn’t own a dog, so although still alert, he began to relax. The landlord had also carefully instructed him how to place paper next to the pilot light of the stove, run a paper strip to the nearest inflammable material and ignite it so it would appear to be an accident. There was a cardboard cake box on a table next to the stove and he ran the strip of paper to the box. He paused and listened intently, his body a menacing hulk in the darkness, then greedily opened the box. It was some kind of pound cake, not his favorite, like chocolate or pineapple, but better than nothing. He broke off a chunk with a gloved hand and stuffed it in his mouth, crumbs dribbling on the floor.
The landlord had insisted that he not take anything, but a piece of cake didn’t count. Besides, the greedy pig would never know. Jaime needed a hit on the crack pipe and the sugar from the cake would settle his jangling nerves. He silently cursed the landlord for a moment. He knew why the landlord wanted this family out. Then he could renovate the apartment cheaply and triple the rent. When the tenants rejected what must have been a low offer and other pressures failed, the landlord sent for him. Jaime was known as ‘the torch’ to a few pitiless landlords on the lower east side, whose lust for profit at the expense of decency was aroused by gentrification. He could smell the paper by the pilot light smoldering, so he lit a match, put it to the middle of the paper strip and made sure it was burning both ways. Then he slid out the window to the fire escape and closed it behind him.
Peter and Beth saw the cop get out of the patrol car and beckon to them. They were already getting used to bad news and they could tell from his expression that more was coming.
They herded the children in front of them and as they approached, Peter asked the cop
apprehensively, "Did you find out how to help us?"
Coro was a little embarrassed, "Officer Warren and I’ll take you to an Emergency Assistance Unit."
Peter was confused. "What’s that?"
"It’s a temporary shelter and they’ll take care of you until you make other arrangements."
"Where is it?" Beth asked.
"The Bronx."
"The Bronx? I don’t want to go there," Peter blurted. "I’ve heard that it’s full of drug dealers and gangs. That’s why we left Detroit, to get away from that element."
"There are a lot of nice places in the Bronx. You’ll be all right," Coro said.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
The need for more art in the work process. I tend to be involved with several projects at once. I have to make sure I am giving each project my best and thorough attention. In “Extreme Change” I explore that juncture where humanity meets the inhumane, which we know happens to other people, but could happen to any of us. The challenge is writing on the hard edge of realism, without sinking into overwhelming graphic depiction that distracts from the character life.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
John Steinbeck has a great sense of the evil men do to others, and the struggle that good people go through to maintain the decency in life. He writes with a powerful awareness of the nature of  American life, especially the oppression the wealthy inflict on the needy, the vulnerable. He also has a wonderful grasp of the comic, a nice supplement to his life and death like novels.
Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Do you have any advice for other writers?
If you must be a writer, decide what kind, and go for it. Different genres require different skills. Learn what you do best and start with that. Then make sure to grow in your craft.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I write my novels, poetry, plays and essays for my readers, not for fame or fortune. My fulfillment will come when I have a wide readership who enjoy my work.