Vine: An Urban Legend by Michael Williams – Mythic Fiction
Publication date: 28th March 2012
Amateur theatre director Stephen Thorne plots a sensational production of a Greek tragedy in order to ruffle feathers in the small city where he lives. Accompanied by an eccentric and fly-by-night cast and crew, he prepares for opening night, unaware that as he unleashes the play, he has drawn the attention of ancient and powerful forces.
Michael Williams’ Vine weds Greek Tragedy and urban legend with dangerous intoxication, as the drama rushes to its dark and inevitable conclusion.
Michael Williams was born in Louisville, Kentucky. Much of his childhood was spent in the south central part of the state, amid red dirt, tobacco farms, and murky legends of Confederate guerillas. He has spent a dozen years in various parts of the world, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Wisconsin, with stopovers in Ireland and England, and emerged from the experience surprisingly unscathed.
Upon returning to the Ohio River Valley, he has published a series of novels of increasing oddness,combinations of what he characterizes as “gothic/historical fiction/fantasy/sf/redneck magical realism” beginning with Weasel’s Luck (1988) and Galen Beknighted (1990), the critically acclaimed Arcady (1996) and Allamanda (1997), and, most recently, Trajan’s Arch (2010). His new novel Vine will be released this summer.
He lives in Corydon, Indiana with his wife, Rhonda, and a clowder of cats.
Hello Michael! Welcome to Once Upon A Time.
Thank you! It’s a pleasure to join you!
So, mythic fiction. What initiated your interest in this genre?
Tolkien, who initiated my interest in pretty much everything (I’d probably be inanimate were it not for Lord of the Rings). I first opened the book at 14, while bedfast in a summer of a sports back injury. The book was perfect: I loved myth and fairy tale to begin with, and was swept away by how you make that stuff into a novel. It was a wedding of my favorite worlds.
It occurred to me (much later, mind you: I wasn’t sophisticated at 14, but forty years later, I’m marginally more hip) that we were like the Greeks in this—that our poets and novelists made the myths we might live by. You see it all the time in popular cinema, don’t you? How people shape their dialogue, their posture, sometimes their lives, by what they see on screen? It’s disastrous sometimes: Americans elected Reagan (which I think was pretty much a disaster) because they’d seen him in movies. But that was a yearning for myth as well, I think, and that yearning is very human, very understandable. We like those people, those stories, that connect us to the large currents in life, and that’s what myth did for the ancients, largely. It’s what our fictions do for us.
Sometimes they do it more directly than other times. After Tolkien, I went on to read Robert Graves, who ”novelized” many of the Greek myths that I loved. Then more indirect, but still mythic fiction, like Robertson Davies or Robert Holdstock. I think that the intersection of myth and modern fiction is that place where story resonates the most richly.
Do you have any (other?) notable influences, whether other authors or something else entirely?
When I’m working, I’m generally in conversation with ancient writers. Pulling a seat up to the table, hoping to learn something from them. So although Tolkien remains my major influence (even when my work no longer looks like his) I draw on other reading as well. My world is largely a world of books.
For Vine, I wanted to try my hand at a Greek tragedy. Had the disadvantage of not being (or writing) Greek, not to mention being born a couple of millennia too late. Instead of lamenting the impossibilities, I finally decided to write a tragedy anyway. As you might imagine, my “notable influences” in this undertaking were Sophocles and Euripides. Now, nobody plots a story with the power and leanness that these guys did, so when I was crafting my own plot, I decided it would be far more effective to steal one of theirs.
I see you’ve travelled a lot! How has this impressed upon your writing?
You know, I’ve done a bunch of interviews, and you’re the first to ask me that! Which is strange, because travel is such a powerful shaping of a writer’s perspective and vision. I think Americans especially need to travel more: we tend to think of the rest of the world as simply a place where people haven’t yet learned to behave and talk like us, and it’s to our discredit, to our impoverishment, that we cop that attitude. Passing through a place where the assumptions are different is a great schooling for a writer. Especially a novelist, who is asked to adopt (and to sympathize with) many perspectives, many points of view. You can get that from simply moving or traveling in another region of your home country, but I think it’s most striking when you venture abroad.
I also think that feeling itinerant is important. That when you get a sense that you’re only in a place for a while, you tend to take it less for granted, your attention sharpens and expands. So the places I’ve lived and visited factor into my work, yes, but mostly it’s an attitude, a way of being, that you learn from being elsewhere.
What would you do if you attracted the attention of ancient and powerful forces?
Faced with a similar situation, what the Greeks basically did was sacrifice something and duck for cover. It sounds like a plan, doesn’t it? As a matter of fact, that whole grisly possibility rears its head in Vine, but I’ll slide around the spoilers and put you through 200 pages of fiction.
Nevertheless, ducking and sacrificing might still work. Not goats—there’s something sardonic about them that I rather like. Our back yard in Indiana has suffered an intrusion of squirrels. Rats with pretty tails and good publicity, and I hate false respectability. Perhaps…
And finally, how about an anecdote?
Here’s the one I usually tell. I’ve dined on it a couple of times, so why not again?
I was at a book signing once, back in my Dragonlance days, and a young man came up to me with the announcement that he didn’t like a short story I had written in one of the numerous Dragonlance anthologies. I asked him why he felt that way, and his reply was, “Gnomes wouldn’t behave that way in real life.”
You’ve got to love that. Got to love that kid.