Monday, August 1, 2011

Author Interview: Calvin Davis

Welcome, Calvin Davis, author of the newly released novel, The Phantom Lady of Paris!

Who is the Phantom Lady, and why do readers want to get to know her?

The Phantom Lady, who is she? I made her the personification of what we all are or want to be, and that is…FREE. There is something in our nature, especially in the nature of Americans, something that detests confinement and chains, restrictions that clamp the body as well as the mind and spirit. In that sense, The Phantom Lady of Paris is a portrait of ourselves.

We, like her, strongly believe we were born to be free, or, to use The Lady’s own words, born “to fly like an eagle mountain-high,” up among clouds, where inhibiting laws of society and earthly gravity don’t exist, where we are free.

I trust that in examining The Phantom Lady of Paris the reader sees not some meaningless fictional character, but a portrait of his inner self. For after all, that’s what a good novel is about. It’s about us. We with our flaws, virtues, struggles, hopes and dreams. All of which The Phantom Lady had. With special emphasis on the latter – dreams. For she had a dream. Don’t we all?

What genre is this book?

I don’t have the faintest idea. When I penned The Lady I didn’t worry about genre, didn’t’ even think about it. There was only one thing on my mind: Can I write a good story? Nothing else was important. When you have told a good story someone smarter than you will decide what genre it is. If I had thought about genre when scribing The Phantom Lady, I probably wouldn’t/couldn’t have written it.

There’s an interesting tale of an insect asking a centipede how he was able to walk with so many legs.

“Um,” replied the centipede, “I never thought about it.”

“You should.”

“OK, I’ll give it some thought.” The multi-legged insect then started walking, tripped and killed himself.

Not wanting to end up like the centipede, I didn’t think about genre when penning The Lady. If I had, she probably would never have been born, and I’m happy I gave birth to her. She’s a good looking kid. But then again, all parents say that about their children, don’t they?

When you held your book in your hands for the very first time, how did you feel?

I felt the same way The Phantom Lady of Paris does at the end of my novel: as if I’d escaped the confines of earth’s gravity. In a word, I felt Free, and that’s with a capital “F.” Novel in hand, I suddenly glimpsed a rush of mental reruns, a few going back five and a half years, the time it took to pen The Lady.

In many of these scenes I was sitting at a sidewalk cafe in Paris, filling blank sheets of paper with word sketches of a woman I was determined to breathe life into. Then more reruns. In these I was in America, slouching in a McDonald’s booth with my legal pad before me and a cup of black coffee beside it. Writing. Writing. Ever writing.

And in every one of these scenes, I heard a voice ask, “Why are you doing all this work?”

“Work? Not work. Putting words on paper may be as close to heaven I’ll get here on earth.”

“Oh. But anyway…why?”

“Because God has declared that finishing The Lady is my mission on this planet. And I must do what The Omnipotent dictates.”

“But if you finish your novel, the book may not be printed.”

“I know.”

“And if it is printed, critics may rip it to shreds.”

“Look, many critics panned Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in the press the day after he delivered it. So, let critics do what critics have always done. I must do what I must do.”

“Oh, I see…ah…sorry I disturbed you. Meanwhile, keep writing.”

“That’s for sure.”

What's it like being a published author who's married to another published author?
Delightful. It’s wonderful to be around someone who is interested in the same thing you’re interested in. When we met, I was the one who was writing. Vonnie wasn’t. But she, like The Phantom Lady in my novel, had a secret dream: she longed to put to paper not one novel, but many. However, she didn’t even dare think of turning that desire into reality. She found it impossible to envision that she could.

That’s where I came in. I convinced her that novelists were not super human beings. What they did – as she could do – was sit in front of a blank computer screen and write just one good and true sentence, and make that the first sentence of a novel. Then write another and another until the writer, without giving up, finishes a novel. And once she accepted this premise, soon afterwards, voila, Vonnie Davis, the woman who “knew” she couldn’t write a novel, was writing a novel.

Writing a novel? Wrong. Writing several novels. My God, she writes them faster than I can. It’s incredible. Things it took me years through trial and error to learn about the novelist’s craft, she picked up in months. She now mentors other novelists. Editing their material. Giving internet courses in points of view, etc., etc. And all this from someone who knew she couldn’t pen a work of fiction. Not bad. All she needed in the past was to adopt this credo: “I will write a novel and nothing on this planet can stop me – period. NO, EXCLAMATION POINT!”

Vonnie finally made that her credo her own, and now she’s on her way. Me? I’m smart enough to see that the pilot gets ample flying space. To her I say the same thing the narrator said to The Phantom Lady of Paris in my novel when The Lady was emancipated, “Go! Beyond the speed of sound. Go! And, like an eagle on outstretched wings soaring mountain-high, fly on…fly on…fly on.”

Will you share an excerpt of The Phantom Lady of Paris?

Certainly, here’s the beginning --

The Phantom Lady of Paris? I knew her well. On the other hand—as I later discovered—I didn’t know her at all. The woman did everything wrong. She did nothing wrong. She was a Jezebel, deceptive in every way. I’ve never known a more honest and straightforward person. During our relationship, she kept me constantly jittery and perturbed. The happiest days of my life were those I shared with the Phantom Lady of Paris. They were the golden days, the good times, good, that is, until…

Don’t let her name mislead. She was not an apparition, nor a creation of some writer’s fantasy, a fiend-like character in, say, an Edgar Allen Poe tale or one by Stephen King or Franz Kafka. No, she was real all right and, above all, she was human, more human than anyone I’d known and, I’m sure, will ever know again. And in spite of my blundering ways, she taught me what it really means to be a human being.

The Phantom Lady was a down-to-earth mortal possessing a unique dream, one fabricated from her passion for living, some of which passion she shared with me and with others fortunate enough to have known her.

As her name suggests, she lived in Paris, lived there during the most turbulent times the city has known since the bloodletting and mayhem of the French Revolution. She resided in The City of Light during the Vietnam War and peace protests in the United States and Europe, Sorbonne student riots on the Left Bank and worldwide clashes between “The Establishment” and “The Flower Generation.” It was an era of cataclysmic social eruption and revolutionary clashes of ideas and age groups.

I was a grown man when I met the Phantom Lady. All was going well with me. My life was in balance, and I knew how to live it. In spite of that, the moment the Phantom Lady and I met marked the real beginning of my life. Everything preceding that instant was meaningless prologue. During our initial chat, which lasted about three hours—though it seemed a fleeting moment, I learned for the first time what life is all about and how I should live mine.

On the morning we met, she taught me many things about myself that were, until then, mysteries. And what did I learn about her? Very little. Basically, I learned that she was more question marks than periods, and that something mysterious lurked behind each question mark.

I wasn’t prepared for what the hidden thing turned out to be. But looking back at what happened the morning I met her and everything that ensued, I wonder, what human being could have possibly prepared for the startling revelation that developed and how it would change not only my life, but hers…and change both forever?

Who could have been prepared?

No one.

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1 comment:

  1. Lovely Rhiannon, a lady who's as pretty on the inside as she is on the outside, thank you for having me here to talk about "The Phantom Lady." You are a very generous person, always eager to help other writers...even old guys like me. Great being here.