The Natural Man
by Ed McClanahan
Chat with Author Ed McClanahan
Log file opened at: 6/3/99 8:00:14 PM
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<chelak> Welcome J, sunni, and Dances
<chelak> Ed is here with us and will be online shortly
<chelak> Tonight we're glad to have as our guest author Ed
McClanahan. Ed is a Kentucky Native and author of several books including
the May bookclub feature "The Natural Man."
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<chelak> His latest book is a collection of memoirs called
"My Vita... If You Will."
<chelak> Welcome momcat.. we're just getting started. Does
anyone want to ask the first question for Ed?
<ewey> Do people from your hometown recognize any real
people in the Natural Man characters?
<chelak> Hello Ed!
<EdMcClanah:> Yes they do. Sometimes they recognize
them even when they are not there. I think everybody in Brooksville who is
old enough to remember -- knows who Monk McHorning was.
<EdMcClanah:> I think some people in both Brooksville
and in Maysville....which are my two hometowns, mistake Coach Knobby Stickler
for a couple of high school coaches who where there in the days of my youth.
But Knobby is actually modeled on Adolf Rupp. Most people never think of that.
Little short bald-headed guy who says things like "If winning doesn't count,
who keeps score."
<chelak> Another Bookclub fan, left a question for you.
Toby says, "I enjoyed reading this novel and then hear you all talk about
it. My question: is it good to be natural or bad to be natural? If the main
character is instinctual, passionate, impulsive, and often downright rude -
is this supposed to be a good thing?"
<EdMcClanah:> Toby -- It's neither one -- it's
just necessary to be natural -- If you are not natural then you're unnatural
-- and who wants to be that. But the fact is Monk does bring a new kind of
reality to Harry's life...
<EdMcClanah:> And Harry's inclination is toward
his imagination and his fantasy life and Monk just blows that off the porch..
Monk says... Here's the real world -- Look at it! So it's a great awakening
for Harry, I think.
<ewey> Who IS Monk and what is he doing now? Is Monk the
hero of the novel?
<EdMcClanah:> ewey -- Monk has heroic proportions
-- I think that as the panelists more or less suggested there really isn't a
hero -- Unless it's Mr. Ockerman who reaches down to find inside himself to
find a kind of manhood that he never suspected could be his.
<sunni> Ed, I understand you just returned from a reunion in
California. Could you tell us a bit about that?
<EdMcClanah:> sunni -- Yeah, It was great!...
<EdMcClanah:> I had been a party to a big peace
demonstration that turned into a riot in 1969 and I have written an essay about
it -- which is in my latest book. And I went out to California to a reunion
of the people who participated in the peace riot (30th reunion).
<EdMcClanah:> And I did a reading of the essay
I had written about this. I was worried about it. I'm not too easy on anybody
in this essay. It's pretty satirical. I was concerned that I might get egged or
rotten tomato treatment or something. I began my reading that I'm just crossing
my fingers that you haven't lost your sense of humor and that fortunately they
hadn't lost their sense of humor. They liked it and responded very positively.
So I came home happy.
<ewey> What was your fascination with Boots Bar and Little Ennis
<EdMcClanah:> ewey -- Well I like eccentric people
-- they really interest me. People with peculiarities and idiosyncrasies.
<EdMcClanah:> And Little Ennis certainly had plenty of
those... He was one rude, crude, lewd, little dude! And Boots Bar was the perfect
setting for a guy like him. He was down and out at that time. And Boots was
definitely a down and outer bar.
sunni remembers the Playboy article with the Little Ennis story and
Guy Mendes' photo illustration of Ennis and the dancers in front of the bar.
<sunni> When was that?
<EdMcClanah:> sunni -- 1972, I believe. The piece was
published in 1974. 1972 when the picture was taken.
<ewey> What did the UK English professors think about your work
on Little Ennis -- did it count as scholarly research?
<EdMcClanah:> ewey -- Good question!...
<EdMcClanah:> The funny thing was -- I actually in the
1950's as a graduate student at UK I attempted to write a MA thesis about the Young
Little Ennis who was local Rock in Roll hero at the time... My professors didn't think
much about that idea -- at that time it got dropped.
<sunni> How would you describe your new book... "My Vita... If
<EdMcClanah:> sunni -- Well, it's almost indescribable.
It has short stories dated back as far as my undergraduate years. There's connective
writing that goes between the individual pieces that describe my life and what I was
doing in my work. It has great big Playboy magazine piece about the Grateful Dead.
<EdMcClanah:> It has a long piece about a ride I took
Kusey's bus in 1990. It has couple of brand new pieces of writing -- essays. So it
is really a melange. But you can call it a "pudding" if you want to...
<DancesWith> You're sort of known for taking a long time about writing,
and yet your language has a wonderful flow that seems effortless. Can you tell us
something about your writing process?
<EdMcClanah:> Dances -- Well that effortless-- it ain't.
But that's a trick -- don't know how it works. The whole idea is to make it seem
spontaneous -- but it's nothing like spontaneous.
<EdMcClanah:> But I'm the kind of writer who falls in
love with the language, and so my writing tends to be perfection -- tend to polish
and revise almost to the point that the fussiness of my method tends to show up in
it. When it does I try to let the air out of it by dropping into really earthy,
raw, natural speech....Vulgarities... Just anything to relieve the persnickiness of
<EdMcClanah:> Any other questions??
<ewey> Do you write every day at a certain time? Use a computer?
<EdMcClanah:> ewey -- I do use a computer but only
within the last 3 months. But I don't write everyday or a certain time -- unless
the cocktail hour.. My habits are very irregular and I don't recommend them to
anybody else. I think about my writing all the time -- even though I'm not applying
it to the keyboard -- I'm writing in my head all day and all night.
<J> Ed, if you had to, would you ever be able to pick a favorite moment
in your life?
<EdMcClanah:> J -- Oh, Yeah, that's easy -- When I met
my wife, Hilda!
<EdMcClanah:> The very moment I met her, I remember it
vividly! I was at a Derby Party... And I was in the throes of a divorce... And very
unhappy and in walked this absolutely gorgeous woman... We were on the front porch
of a pretty house in the country... And 3 months later almost to the day, we got
married on almost the very spot!
<J> so, you are sentimental in your writing and your life?
<EdMcClanah:> J -- no doubt about it! I guess in the
interview I said I think that all good writing flirts with sentimentality. I didn't
say it but I think it's true.
<EdMcClanah:> But I think that The Natural Man would be
lacking a really necessary ingredient if I hadn't allowed myself to be emotional
about the place I love best in the world -- which is the town I came from.
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<ewey> Who are some of the new Kentucky authors you are reading and
<EdMcClanah:> ewey -- Chris Offutt, of course, is a
very fine writer -- has really made his mark as a Kentucky writer -- he's leaving
the state, but I'll bet he'll be back. Chris Holbrook has written a marvelous book
called Hell and Ohio.
<EdMcClanah:> I've just recently read Bobbie Ann Mason's
new book which is wonderful memoir of her mother. And of course, My old friends Wendell
Berry and Guerney Norman have continued to be my favorites.
<momcat> I understand it took you many years to complete the Natural
Man-I wondered if you could share how writing over that period of time influenced
<EdMcClanah:> momcat -- Yes, the story in it's original
draft in 1961 was a story about how terrible my hometown was and how everybody had
mistreated poor me and how isolated I felt there and soforth. And over the years, my
attitude toward the town underwent a major change and I kept feeling myself more and
more drawn back to Kentucky.
<momcat> I know the feeling!
<EdMcClanah:> And eventually back living in Kentucky --
It would have been an act of treason to have published such a book living in the state.
They would have ridden me out of town on a rail. And they would have been right to do
<chelak> Ed, has the change from a old word processor to a new iMac
changed the manner in which you write?
<EdMcClanah:> chelak -- No! It's actually more trouble.
I was doing great on my little wordprocessor -- but I see it will work better -- I
still don't trust these machines -- they almost make the process too easy. When I
worked on a typewriter -- I didn't write a sentence unless I was sure I liked it for
the time being.
And now, it's all so flexible -- I worry that my prose itself will get rubbery.
<ewey> What is it about Kentucky or the Kentucky experience that
seems to produce some many excellent writers?
chelak laughs at "rubbery"
<EdMcClanah:> ewey -- I think it's because of the oral
tradition in this state. Everybody likes to tell stories, jokes.. I think in KY our
sense of community to some extinct grow out of our common story -- will tell each
other all the time -- all those jokes are just dialogue for the great story! And
all this good writing springs from that tradition.
<sunni> What is your next project?
<EdMcClanah:> sunni -- I know what it's going to be --
A novel about a double murder and suicide... and this will be a courtroom drama and
it will happen in the Burdock County courthouse in Needmore... And until just the
last few days - I thought that Harry Estep would be the main character. It thought
he would retire teaching on the West Coast, come home to Needmore, and eventually be
on the jury in this murder trial....
<EdMcClanah:> But I've decided recently, very recently
-- last couple of days that that's too complicated and that I think I'm going to
leave Harry out of the novel all together and choose a different point of view
character -- I think I know who he is but I'M NOT TELLING!!
<DancesWith> What if we guess? Monk Jr.? ;-)
<EdMcClanah:> Dances -- Well, I don't know -- He's
going to be in it somehow or another .. But I do know the two murders are
committed by Oodles Ockerman. And the suicide of course too!
<ewey> Can you tell us a little about the end of The Natural
Man? Why did you introduce Monk Jr?
<EdMcClanah:> ewey -- Oh, I just liked the irony him
showing up when you knew his real father was out of the picture -- was gone and
suddenly there he is again in miniature. And I also liked the Natural Man got
killed in Vietnam but the real Natural Man lives on...
<sunni> Did you have any close friends who were killed in VN?
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<EdMcClanah:> sunni -- No, I had friends who went to
VN and I thought about them - one of the guys is to whom the book is dedicated --
a HS pal of mine and he went and told me stories of it.
<chelak> any more questions?
<J> no, thanks for your time and stories tonight!
<chelak> welcome Scooter, do you have a question for Ed?
<chelak> Ed, I have a question... could you ever go back to living
in a rural town?
<Scooter> Sorry, I just got on and I don't have a clue where the
discussion has been...but I LOVED Natural Man!
<EdMcClanah:> chelak -- No!
<EdMcClanah:> I mean I could but... I wouldn't really
want to -- I like being in the city. I really like Lexington. My wife would like
too, though. I liked my rural time -- I did 15 years in Port Royal and I believe
I have earned the right to be a City Mouse.
<EdMcClanah:> Scooter -- Good!
<chelak> So, do you think people "can't go home again?"
<Scooter> When you changed the point of view from first to third...
is that why the prose is so evocative, descriptive...like Harry would've been
thinking himself? Sorry if this has been asked.
<EdMcClanah:> chelak -- No, I think they can. In my
case, they just don't want to! But No, I think I'm a living example of the wrongness
of that assertion. I think I would have had a hard time surviving the last 30 years
-- not to say I didn't have a hard time surviving them anyhow.
<EdMcClanah:> Scooter -- I think what that change did
was provide me with authorial distance from that character. That distance liberated
the voice of the novel... And let a little light and air into the narrative.
<chelak> any more questions for Ed?
<chelak> If not... I want to thank Ed so much for joining us tonight.
<EdMcClanah:> Very nice to be here!
<momcat> Great discussion-thanks, Ed!
<ewey> Thanks so much Ed. This was fun.
<chelak> This has been great fun and I certainly enjoyed talking with you.
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Log file closed at: 6/3/99 9:08:19 PM