ED- Recently the Publisher of The Eerie Digest magazine joined the Virginia Writer’s Club and featured an article about it in our Eerie News section. The club is very prestigious and features some of the finest writers in the Commonwealth of Virginia. One of its guiding hands is the Author/ Poet Jim Gaines. Jim tell us something about the club and your part in it.
JG- Virginia Writers Club was founded in 1918, so we will soon be looking forward to our centennial. It has always had chapters in various parts of the state. Recently, several more have been added, including your own Northern Virginia chapter and an even newer group in the Norton area of the southwest, so we are close to covering the entire state, though we have especially important local focus in the areas of Richmond, Tidewater, Fredericksburg, Charlottesville, and Roanoke.
ED- How long have you been a part of this organization and what are some of its goals?
JG- I joined the Riverside Writers chapter in Fredericksburg shortly after moving to the state in 1998 and eventually served as president of that group before holding office on the state level. My term as state president finished in November, 2010, but I still serve on the Board of Governors. We have always fostered a wide array of services to the community of Virginia writers, including critiquing groups, conferences, lectures, collective merchandising and advertising, scholarships for young writers, anthologies, contests, awards, and speaker services. That list has expanded recently with the adoption of our new Strategic Plan. One of our branches is the Young Virginia Writers Club, which works with school-age writers all over the state. Everyone should visit our website and get access to all our activities.
ED- How many chapters does the club presently have, and how can interested writers contact their local chapters?
JG- With the addition of the Appalachian Chapter I mentioned just now, we have ten local chapters. In addition, we are currently working with people in the mid and lower Shenandoah Valley area about possibly adding another. All can be contacted most conveniently through links on the Virginia Writers Club website.
ED- Do the club members specialize in one type of writing? If not, what genres do your members follow?
JG-The club covers virtually all genres and styles of writing, including prose (fiction and non-fiction), poetry, memoir, drama, and screenwriting. We have a lot of people involved in various kinds of crime fiction, science fiction and fantasy, historical and romance fiction, young people’s literature, spiritual literature, journalism, poetry, virtually anything you can imagine.
ED- Is the club open to membership and what are the guidelines for acceptance into it?
JG- Membership is open to absolutely everyone. Authors who have already published a minimal amount are eligible for active membership and prospective authors can be associate members until they succeed in their publications. In terms of club participation, there is little difference between these two levels for most practical purposes, for example, entering our contests, holding most offices, or attending our events.
ED- You, yourself, are a poet. What style of poetry do you write?
JG- As a poet I have been influenced by quite a few writers, mainly French and American. In high school, I grew up in the midst of Massachusetts Transcendentalist country and could ride my bike to Thoreau’s Walden Pond or Hawthorne’s old customs office on Derby Wharf in Salem. At Michigan State, my teacher William Pitt Root introduced me to the traditions of Ted Roethke and Gary Snyder. Along with the usual poets in my French training, I was particularly attracted by the Surrealists, such as Desnos and Eluard, whom I studied with Jerry Prince at Penn and Max Milner at Dijon. So while I most often write about the consciousness of place and spirit, I tend to use language in a deliberately highly-charged way.
ED- You also submitted a short story for our last issue titled ‘The Three Low Masses’. This is the type of ‘stuff’ many of our readers are interested in. What inspired you to write this captivating story?
JG- I translated this story from the French of Alphonse Daudet, who included it in his Letters From My Mill, stories centered on old Provence that he wrote while living in a windmill near Arles. When I visited that part of France, it all came alive for me, and I was struck by the brooding presence of Mont Ventoux, where this story takes place. It looms out apart from the other Alps, a bit like Pike’s Peak in Colorado and its gleaming peak can be seen on a good day from most of the villages in Daudet’s stories. While we all have our favorite Halloween and Christmas stories, it struck me that this one needs to be better known, since it has a bit of both the supernatural and the moralistic. Scrooge could be tempted by gold, but only a Frenchman like the priest in this story could know what it is like to be tempted by a delectable French Christmas banquet. Did you know that in Provence they finish such a meal by devouring thirteen desserts?
ED- Do you have a collection of short stories that complement your poetry?
JG- I haven’t yet published a collection of my stories, but I am working on it. Several have appeared in print in Riverside Currents, Riverside Reflections, and other anthologies published by the Riverside Writers chapter of VWC. “For More Than Their Souls,” a story about priests, slaves and pirates in the early Caribbean, has been catalogued in some literary bibliographies because it is based partly on a true colonial account. I am particularly proud of “Beyond the Covenant,” a story of war at sea that is coming out in Riverside Review in the spring of 2011.
ED- Where can our readers find your poetry and other works?
JG- My first collection of poems, based mainly on my years in Louisiana from 1975 to 1998, is coming out as “Downriver Waltz” to be done here in Virginia by Poetica Publishing later this year. A series of French poetic translations I have done in the past few years is available online at languageandculture.net. A couple of my poems on women are online in the Women’s Year of Poetry project organized by Pete Freas in the Tidewater area.
ED- Where can our readers find the info for The Virginia Writer’s Club, and what about similar organizations around the country?
JG- The VWC website has a lot of links that writers will find useful. I also urge local writers to try to attend our own events whenever possible. They are always listed in advance on the site and they rotate around the state, so they are never too far away. We are affiliated with the James River Writers Conference and people should familiarize themselves with their site and their activities in the Richmond area.
ED- Jim, this interview has been inspiring and we hope that many of our local writers join your organization. We also hope that aspiring writer’s and poets from across the country seek similar organizations to join and swell the ranks of future writers for some time to come. Clubs like these are much needed so that our children’s children can add to our writing culture.