Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Beyond Beowulf
Captures Rhythm
of Ancient Text

Beowulf is often used as an introduction to epic poetry in high school English classes. Not being a fan of poetry, a groan was my first response. But Beowulf won me over because it was a good story.

Christopher Webber’s Beyond Beowulf works for the same reason. It’s a good story. I can appreciate the poetry now as well. One of the most fascinating parts of the book is Webber’s introduction in which he explains the technical aspects of the poetry and the framework in which he constructs the work.

Webber published the book through iUniverse and received the company’s Publisher’s Choice designation, endorsing the content and the cover design. The book has also earned the company’s Reader’s Choice designation which means it has sold at least 250 copies through retail channels.

His marketing efforts have included numerous book signings and appearances and an impressive blog at He even made an appearance on a cable access show in Connecticut, in which his friend, Sam Waterston, the actor who plays Jack McCoy on television’s Law & Order, read from the book.

Webber recently shared some thoughts on writing, publishing and promoting Beyond Beowulf.

What inspired you to write Beyond Beowulf?
I'm fascinated by the SOUND of the original, Beowulf, both in Old English and in translation and began by trying to do my own translation of Beowulf. I'm still not satisfied with that, but I became very aware of the unanswered question at the end: "What will become of us now that Beowulf is dead?" and thought someone after all these years should try to provide an answer.

Were you ever intimidated when you thought “I’m writing a sequel to one of the classics of ancient literature?”
I probably should have been! But I don't remember ever stopping to think about it. If I had, I might have stopped right there!

You’ve written the story as an epic poem, emulating the original. What lead you to that decision? Did you consider writing the story in a different form?
No. I had a correspondence once with a distinguished professor who believes the best translation of Beowulf is a prose translation. I simply don't understand that. Beowulf survived because of the sound of the poetry. A sequel that used some other format would not really be a sequel worth talking about.

Was writing it in that form challenging?
Actually, I think the form made it easier. The need to alliterate made it necessary to ponder word choice more deeply than I might otherwise have done and the alliteration often seemed to suggest the direction the story might take.

What kind of feedback have you received on the book so far? You’ve had a number of readings/signings so far. How have those gone?
I think most authors have had the same experience I have had: a range of audiences from very small to reasonably large. The smallest consisted of the bookstore owner and his parents! But even there, I enjoyed the opportunity to discuss the book with an intelligent audience. The largest audience was probably fifty to a hundred. Reading poetry is always enjoyable. If my book were a technical manual or "how to" type of book, I think I would get bored. But good poetry like good music can be often repeated and enjoyed.

You received the Publisher’s Choice designation from iUniverse. What was your impression of the iUniverse process?
My first impression of iUniverse was very favorable. The people I worked with were prompt to respond and always helpful and supportive. The Publisher's Choice project has been less satisfactory. I was told I was being given the designation in July or August and that it would take "2 or 3 weeks." In fact, it was November before it began to move and I have only today been able to send off the necessary forms to complete the application process.

How did you arrive at the cover design? Was that something you contributed or did iUniverse create that?
I had a picture of a warrior's helmet from a book I had read about archaeological exploration of burial mounds in East Anglia that seem to indicate links with Sweden. I sent them that picture (with other suggestions) and they did the rest. I didn't much like their original color scheme so they changed it. I liked the result a lot. When they wanted to redesign the cover for Publisher's Choice designation they changed the title type face and placement and I'm less satisfied than with the original.

You mention on your blog that Sam Waterston did a reading with you on a cable access show. How did that all come about? What kind of reaction did you get to the show?
I've heard from a lot of people in the area that saw it and were very interested. I’ve come to know Sam Waterston through my involvement over the last dozen years with an Episcopal congregation in Connecticut that he’s part of. It seemed to me that his name would get more attention than mine and he, always generous, was willing.

Are you working on additional writing projects?
People have asked me whether I intend to do a sequel to the sequel. In fact, what I've begun working on is what I call a "paraquel." What I thought it would be interesting to do is tell the same story again from the viewpoint of the hero's wife, Yrfa. Wiglaf is the hero of my story and the only character carried over from the original. Since Wiglaf dies at the end of my sequel, I thought it might be interesting to begin from that point and let her talk about her bereavement and then review their life and relationship. I've done about 500 lines so far toward a goal of 3000 plus (same as Beowulf and Beyond Beowulf). I find that Yrfa is more interesting than I had realized with very strong views about male/female relationships and the male proclivity for war. I've also begun to notice that their son, Weo, inherited just the wrong mix of his parent's best qualities and is potentially a rather nasty piece of work. But we shall see how that develops.

What I'm thinking of doing is completing this paraquel and then polishing my translation of Beowulf, the original, and then publishing "The Beowulf Trilogy" in one volume.

Meanwhile I have one proposal sitting on a publisher's desk. He's indicated interest but asked me to flesh it out some more - which will take time. I've got another project well along and several other ideas I hope to be able to work on before much longer. Having had three books published this year, I'm feeling as if there isn't as much happening right now. On the other hand, I have a pretty busy schedule of readings on my calendar.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Clinch's Finn Tackles
Literary Challenge

"The average man don't like trouble and danger."
–Mark Twain from Huckleberry Finn

Author Jon Clinch is not one to avoid trouble and danger. At least not on the printed page. He has taken on the equivalent of Mount Everest in terms of literary challenges. Finn, Clinch’s first novel, is an offshoot of one of the giants of American Literature, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.

The novel, set to be released by Random House on February 20, 2007, moves Huckleberry’s father from supporting role to spotlight. The official book description states, “It begins and ends with a lifeless body–flayed and stripped of all identifying marks–drifting down the Mississippi. The circumstances of the murder, and the secret of the victim’s identity, shape Finn’s story as they will shape his life and his death.”

Rather than being intimidated by working in the shadow of Twain’s classic, Clinch embraced it.

“The Twain context provided motivation and inspiration, but it was never a handicap or a source of fear,” he said. “Some people, including one or two famous authors who will remain unnamed, counseled me against writing Finn on account of the danger of working in Twain's shadow. I believe that they had no idea how seriously I was taking the idea, and how far I meant to push it.”

Clinch dove into all of Twain’s work as part of his research.

“I reread piles of Twain, since my goal was more to re-envision the world that he created than to recreate the actual world of the Mississippi Valley in the 1840s,” he said. “Certain external research did pay off, though. I discovered the history of the Illinois State Penitentiary at Alton, for example, which dovetailed nicely with Finn's history of criminality.”

In addition to Twain’s own work, Clinch drew some inspiration from others who had created new material within the framework of a classic piece of literature.

“I've only taken note of the biggest examples: Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, John Gardner's Grendel, Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea,” Clinch said. “I was delighted when Geraldine Brooks won the Pulitzer for March last year—not only because March is a fine book, but because her victory suggested that the culture is prepared to take this kind of fiction very seriously. And by "this kind of fiction" I mean fiction that starts with a known framework and a familiar set of elements, and then makes out of them something arresting and new.”

Jeff Kleinmann, an agent with Folio Literary Management, was onboard with Clinch early on. Clinch wrote the book over a five-month period, writing eight to ten hours at a stretch while working around his day job.

“The character, and his world, took over my life to an alarming degree—and I was frankly relieved when it was over,” Clinch said. ‘Folio's Jeff Kleinman and I found each other through another writer he represents. Based on the first 50 pages — all that existed at the time — I could see that he understood the book and was hugely enthusiastic about it; so we threw in our lots together. This was in August of 2005. Jeff spent the next four or five months cultivating editorial interest all over New York, while I finished the book.”

With the novel complete and the publication date set, Clinch now turns his attention to marketing the book. He already has the publicity wheels turning with a strong web presence at and a site exclusive to the book at

“The web is very important these days. Random House did a fantastic job on the site. It's loaded with interesting and useful information,” Clinch said “And there's more to come, including a full-blown Teachers' Guide. The team at Random House really believes in this book, and they've put their credibility and strength behind it.”

The ReadFinn site is interactive and even features some fiddle music in the background.

“The music on the site is a fiddle tune that I've loved for years and years,” Clinch said. “I tracked down the fiddler on the web, and he kindly authorized its use. You can find him at”

Clinch will begin an author tour on Feb. 26 at Olsson’s Books and Records in Washington, D.C. Midwest stops include a March 18 visit to the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop in Milwaukee, WI, and March 20 at Borders in Madison, WI.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Douglas' Quest
twists, turns
to iUniverse

In Diana Douglas’ new book, The Quest, Carolyn Reed is searching for answers and searching for her mother. Reed’s investigation leads her from her sheltered Los Angeles life, to a cabin in Maine and then on to France to unravel a cover-up dating back to World War II.

Douglas’ efforts to write and publish the book took almost as many twists and turns before ending up at iUniverse.

“I had started some time back. Quite a long time back,” Douglas said. “It was in the 80s when the search for Klaus Barbie was still going on. I had always been intrigued by the background of The French Resistance and did quite a lot of research on it. An agent accepted the first draft and was about to send it out to publishers, when Klaus Barbie was captured. The agent said to me 'That'll teach you not to base any fiction on a living character' and withdrew it.

“Over the years I would come back to the idea and it went through (more than one) metamorphosis, ending up close to 400 pages. My new agent, Claudia Menza, was very enthusiastic about the book and submitted it to top publishers who were complimentary about the writing, but unsure about what genre it belonged in. After almost three years of this, at my husband's urging, I said ‘the hell with it — I'll cut scenes and characters, speed it up and make it into a thriller.’ Hence, iUniverse.”

Her husband, Donald Webster, has two books with iUniverse, The Beckoning and Blood Son.

Douglas already had a publishing credit to her name before putting out The Quest. In 1999, Barricade Books published her memoir, In the Wings. Douglas tells how she met and married a young actor, Kirk Douglas, in New York City. While the marriage was short, it did produce two sons, Michael and Joel (Michael wrote the forward to the book). She later married the late actor-producer-novelist Bill Darrid. She enjoyed steady work as an actress herself. Her television credits alone cover a wide variety of productions including Flipper, Barnaby Jones, The Streets of San Francisco, Days of Our Lives, The Waltons, Knots Landing, Lou Grant, Remington Steele, Cagney & Lacey and The West Wing.

“(In the Wings) originated because my son, Michael, asked me for a memoir for his son, Cameron,” Douglas said. “It took four years. I wrote it with no thought of publishing until friends suggested that it should be, and Barricade Books took it immediately.”

Diana, Kirk, Michael and Cameron Douglas all starred in the 2003 theatrical release, It Runs in the Family.

Diana has some additional projects in the works.

“I'm working off and on on a sequel or addition to In The Wings, as so much has happened since. I'll call it The View from Here. I have a play I wrote called Valldemosa about the time that Frederic Chopin and George Sand spent with her children in Majorca. It will be performed at the theater in Woodland Hills at The Motion Picture & Televisions Fund for a charity benefit on Feb, 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th.”

Douglas had a positive experience with iUniverse.

“I was very impressed with the assistance from iUniverse. They designed a splendid cover without my help. (They) did a very good blurb piece on the back,” she said. “When the author copies arrived, I had the same reaction as when Wings came out - checking all the pages like counting my babies toes!”