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Archive for July, 2010

CATAMOUNT ALERT!

The Times Argus ran a story yesterday about a possible catamount sighting. Linda Reeves saw the big cat and took a pretty good picture of it outside her home in Wallingford, Vermont. Doug Blodgett, UVM Class of 1977, is a state wildlife biologist and was quoted in the newspaper article: “I have to say it’s intriguing. She gave a very good description, but I can’t confirm from the photo. There’s just not enough evidence to confirm it.”

For his part, Blodgett is skeptical that there is a viable population of catamounts (the furry kind, not the ones in green-and-gold uniforms) living out there in the Green Mountains. More likely the sightings, when they are truly big cats, are escaped exotic species kept as pets, he suggests.

Read the story and see the photo:

http://www.timesargus.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100726/NEWS02/707269963/

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It staggers me a little to think that it has been more than sixteen years since I had the good fortune to sit down with alumna Annie Proulx, class of 1969, for a talk about her writing. In 1994, Proulx’s career as a novelist and short story writer was beginning to soar as she won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for The Shipping News.

I recently dug the interview out when my older daughter, Grace, (four years old at the time of the interview, now 21 and a UVM senior) read Accordion Crimes and asked about my experience interviewing the author. I’ve long thought Accordion Crimes is an amazing book, deserving of more recognition. And Grace agreed; apparently it’s a family thing.

So, back to the interview. We talked on April 29, 1994, meeting for lunch at a restaurant on Burlington’s Battery Street when the writer was in town to speak at UVM’s induction ceremony for an honorary society for history students. I’m glad that I’ve held onto the transcript for all these years and wanted to share verbatim (excuse the loose punctuation) some of Annie Proulx’s answers.

ON WALKING:

Walking is one of the great things for a writer, because if you do get out and walk, things sort out in your mind, you sort of get, you can sidestep away from things that have been pressing immediately and you really come back and many things have fallen into place. Not only that — it refreshes the eyes and the body, tremendously useful. This is a given. Many, many writers know this, that walking is a way to sort out plot tangles or character development or many other things, make connections. The mind is thrown into idle as you walk and things happen, it doesn’t just reef off.

ON THE CREATIVE PROCESS:

It is great fun. Things come all together, ideas and entire novels are there. They coalesce and form in mind. To me it is just the greatest pleasure. There is nothing that can equal it. It is exhilirating. Creative intellectual work can be just wildly exciting. That is not to say that there isn’t drudgery. There is plenty of it. Plenty.

ON WORK HABITS:

I don’t sit down at the desk and write. I just write in odd places. Sometimes in bed. Sometimes at the table. Sometimes by the fire on the sofa. Sometimes in the truck. I literally write all over the place. You’re never in the same static “writing place” (she speaks the phrase with comic gravity). Which, I think, is a mistake, too. What I use my desk for is transferring what I’ve written onto the computer or doing phone work or faxes, that kind of dull stuff.

ON CREATING CHARACTERS:

I almost never, never, never base characters on real people. At the same time, every character is, of course, based on the real people one has met. But I do often use photographs. I will see a photograph sometime and I’ll know that there is something about the light in the ye or the twist of the lip and I’ll keep that image for a character. That happens fairly frequently. Or someone seen from afar. Someone I don’t know, a stranger. A certain walk or posture, a cant of the elbows, a way of looking or odd shoes or something or other and that will fix a character in mind, a minor character, and just take it from there. I know enough people so I know how to construct a believable person on the page, I think. (laughs)

ON AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL FICTION:

I think the reason we have that kind of situation in first novels is because of the filthy advice often given to aspiring writers to write about what you know. And most people who start writing too young don’t know about anything except themselves, and so this interior novel from people who have really done nothing and lived little and don’t know a whole lot comes forth. I fly under the flag that one should write about what one is interested in. It helps if your don’t know anything about it, then you have the pleasure of finding out, talking to people who do, and traveling and doing the research.

ON HER MOTHER’S INFLUENCE:

She is something of an amateur naturalist and a painter, so her own eye was quite wonderful. She and all of her sisters shared the same interest in the natural world. They are all very, very knowledgeable on birds and topography and light. And most of them were artists. From early on I had this wonderful training in seeing. It was directly due to her. We’d be out walking and see something and she’d say, “Look, loot at that… it could be a cloud shaped like a crocodile or the stub of a branch that looked very peculiar. I can remember when I was five years old, at twilight looking out of a little window. We were living in a log cabin that she and her brothers built. And looking up at that strange, greenish sky, twilight, just before dark, and there had been a fire on the hillside some years before and all of these dead stubs were sticking up. And to my five-year-old eye they looked like advancing giraffes, but with a very sinister quality and I really couldn’t take my eye off of them. I saw them moving. I saw these stubs slowly shifting down the hill. It was really terrifying. I was glad when darkness fell. To look at the outside world was a major source of entertainment in my family when we were kids.

ON STUDYING HISTORY:

I’ve always been a reader. I’ve read my way through literature, literatures. And because of the history, I’ve been able to read in other languages as well — probably got better training for an examination of literature by studying history than I would have by studying literature or English. History you had to have languages; you had to have some Latin; you had to have French; you had to have German. And, in my case, I also had to have Italian. I was able to start reading in these other languages simply because of the history. I never would have gotten that if I’d done English lit or whatever. Never. Or if I’d done creative writing. So, for me, that kind of thing would have been crippling. Whereas history was freeing and opened many, many intellectual doors.

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BEWARE OF CAT

Catamount sightings, as every Vermonter knows, have been rare for a long, long time. Which is probably what got this border collie a little spooked as he passed the statue by Royall Tyler Theatre this morning. Thanks to Bill Mares of Burlington for sharing this shot. We’ll assume Bill’s dog, Augie, is recovered from the scare and resting comfortably.

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Not only did Garret Keizer survive, but he did quite well on the Colbert Report. Looking relaxed, as if he was home in the Northeast Kingdom instead of in a Manhattan television studio, the UVM graduate alumnus fielded Colbert’s mock right wing questioning with just the right blend of humor and assertiveness.

Take a look:

http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/340897/july-06-2010/garret-keizer

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Within the span of a month, two UVM alumni and contributing writers to Vermont Quarterly have sat down across the desk from John Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Scroll down a bit and you’ll find a posting about Jim Tabor’s appearance on The Daily Show as he promoted his new book, Blind Descent. And now, on July 6, Garret Keizer will bravely take questions from Stephen Colbert on his latest book, The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want: A Book About Noise.” (It’s easy to imagine Colbert: “Sir, why do you have a problem with the things that I want?”)

We were honored to share an excerpt from Garret’s book in the print edition of the summer issue Vermont Quarterly, which just went in the mail. It’s an interesting piece, focusing on John Coltrane as his jazz exploration took him into territory that some would map as noise. Any readers out there who don’t receive the print edition are welcome to contact me and I’ll send one along.

And be sure to check out The Colbert Report on July 6 to see if Garret manages to wedge in a sentence on Stephen.

More on Garret: http://garretkeizer.com/

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