Sunday, November 8, 2009

Interview with Author & Playwrite Charles Lovett

Join us as we chat with Charles Lovett, author of the program and one of the most interesting interviews we have had to date. Take a minute a learn more about Charles Lovett and his literary career. And please feel free to leave a comment on this interview for a chance to win a copy of The Program. Thank you Charles Lovett for generously offering a copy of your book for the contest. Contest ends December 12, 2009.

1) Tell us about yourself. (Bio can be found at the end of interview don't skip it it really gives you a feel for Charles Lovett the man, the writer, the husband, the father. I have never been this entertained by just reading someone's bio.)

2) How long have you been writing? What drove you to pick up that pen for the first time? I began writing seriously in the early 1990s, but as early as I can remember I’ve been intrigued by the idea of being a writer. In college I did some creative writing—in our Modern Drama class we had the option of writing a term paper or a play: I chose a play. I wrote a few short stories during and after college and then began to write academic nonfiction as I became interested in Lewis Carroll in my twenties. My first two books were Carroll studies. Then, in the early 1990s, I was going through a major change in my life—divorce, moving to a new state, closing down my antiquarian book business—and I decided to pursue writing more seriously. I began taking classes and eventually enrolled at the MFA program at Vermont College (now Vermont College of Fine Arts). While there I wrote lots of short stories, and a book length memoir.

3) Tell us a little about your novel The Program and the plus size heroine featured in this novel. When I had been out of graduate school for a couple of years, I decided I wanted to write a novel, and also that I wanted it to be accessible—not highbrow literary fiction, but a good rip-roaring read that would keep people guessing and make them want to turn the page. I hit on the idea behind The Program (an evil weight loss clinic and a small band of friends who try to bring it down) and began to write. The novel that was published several years later is the result of many re-writes, and changes, but I still think it fits my original vision. After several drafts, I tried to decide what the novel was about (on a deeper level than just plot) and decided it was about the facades we all put on at times. This focus helped me with subsequent drafts and, I think, gives coherence to the story.

The heroine of The Program, Karen Sumner, is a “plus sized” woman whose weight has a major effect on her self-esteem. She has a hard time believing that other people could love her and, at the beginning of the book, she dreams of being thin. Part of the arc of The Program is Karen giving up those dreams and accepting herself for who she is.
(Click on here to read the first chapter of The Program: ">Book Buzzer Link)

4) Why did you chose to feature plus size heroines in your novels? The original impetus for The Program goes all the way back to when my older daughter (now out of college) was in grade school. The school had an education program about drugs and alcohol, which is perfectly noble, but as I looked around at the young girls in our neighborhood, I realized that eating disorders seems to be at least as big a threat to this demographic as drugs, yet nothing was said about body image in the school. So, The Program began as a way to help people accept their bodies and realize they can be both healthy and beautiful in a variety of shapes and sizes.

5) Your body of work is vast and very diverse. Tell us a little about your literary journey leading to writing and then the publishing of The Program. Is The Program your only fiction novel? I began my writing career writing mostly non-fiction, but I always wanted to write fiction. I wrote my first novel as part of a creative writing class, and it will, I hope, remain unpublished forever. It wasn’t much of a book, but it did help me believe that I could write a book length piece of fiction, so it was a worthwhile exercise. I wrote a lot of short stories during graduate school, but also began to explore memoir writing. I’ve written two books of creative no-fiction: a memoir about my mother who died of breast cancer when I was two years old (Love, Ruth) and a book about a pilgrimage I took through early Christian sites in Britain (Sparrow through the Hall). Since The Program, I have written another full-length novel (Marginalia) for which I am currently seeking a publisher. I’ve also written a dozen plays for children which have been published and performed in over 2000 productions around the world. I really enjoy different types of writing—the personal emotional journey of a memoir, the act of discovery in a work of academic non-fiction, the complexity of the narrative novel, and the fun of children’s plays. I don’t think I’d be as happy as a writer if I just wrote one type of work.

5) Do you plan to write more books featuring plus size characters? I am actually just finishing the first draft of a young adult novel featuring a plus-sized heroine (The Fat Lady Sings). I had the idea for this novel a few years ago and wrote out some notes but never pursued it. Then, this past summer, I was part of a panel discussing “Fat Friendly Fiction” moderated by my publisher Peggy Elam (Pearlsong Press). One of the issues that came up was the dearth of good young adult novels with plus sized heroes and heroines. I thought about those notes in the drawer and realized that that was what was missing from my idea. As soon as I made the heroine plus-sized, the book just fell into place. I’ve spent the last two months working on the first draft and hope to have it polished enough to show Peggy by the end of the year.

6) When exploring your website I came across The Lovett Foundation. Please tell readers about the Lovett Foundation and the great work you are doing. The Lovett Foundation is a small family foundation that makes grants to non-profit organizations in areas as diverse as homelessness, AIDS support, the environment, education, the arts, and women’s and family issues. Next year, we hope to establish the Lovett Fund for Elementary Theatre, which will make small grants to schools to support the production of plays at the elementary school level. So much research these days is telling us of the importance of arts experiences in education, and I feel that most of schools’ limited theatre budgets tend to go to middle and high school productions; we’d like to encourage doing plays at the elementary level as well.

7) What are you reading now? What types of books (genres) do you read in general? I read pretty widely. This summer I went on a classic English novel kick and read Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, and Pride and Prejudice. At the same time, I was reading Edwardian boarding school novels for fun. Last night I read Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which I had heard a lot about. I’m also currently reading a long experimental novel called 2666. I like literary mysteries like the Book of Air and Shadows or The Thirteenth Tale and quirky non-fiction (I’m also currently reading a book by a friend of mine about Sasquatch encounters). I like classic English novels, anything funny (P.G. Wodhouse, for instance). I like good children’s books like Harry Potter (I’m less enamored of the Twilight Books, I’m afraid. Just not as well written as Rowling). In general my favorite books tend to be well written and tell great stories. Beyond that, I’m not too concerned if they’re fiction or non-fiction, contemporary or classic. I do have a soft spot for books set in England.

8) Who are your favorite authors? Some of my favorites are Tom Sharpe, Robertson Davies, David Lodge, Eric Kraft, Charles Dickens, J. K. Rowling, P. D. James, and John Irving.

9) Tell us about the online and offline personal appearances you have planned over the next couple of months. Where can readers connect with you up close and personal? The best way for readers to connect with me is through my website or on Facebook. Anyone who is in the Winston-Salem area is welcome to come to the world premiere of my new play, Rude Mechanicals, at Summit School on November 19.

10) How can readers get in contact with you? Do you have a website? My website,, includes a book club guide for The Program, as well as a long article about the path The Program took between the first idea and publication. You can also find out about my other publications, including my plays. I love it when readers contact me through my website, and I try to respond to all my e-mails.

11) What is the one thing you would like all of your readers to know about you? I am a regular guy. There is nothing mysterious about being a writer. Like anything else, it takes a little innate skill and a lot of hard work.

About Charles Lovett:

Charlie Lovett was born in 1962, shortly before the Cuban Missile Crisis, an event for which he disavows all responsibility. He suffered in early childhood from an older brother and sister who enjoyed subjecting him to what they appropriately called “tickle torture.” Charlie has nearly recovered from the emotional damage and is thinking about forgiving his siblings in the next few years.

Charlie entered Summit School in 1966, and hasn’t been able to find his way out since. He is currently Writer-in-Residence at Summit and has recently published Onward and Upward, a 75th anniversary history of the school. This was his first coffee table book, which he actually has a copy of sitting on his coffee table. Charlie’s love of drama began in the first grade when he played the role of the Gingerbread Boy. The New York Times said, on the occasion of the premiere, “Cloudy tomorrow with a 40% chance of rain.” Charlie has ignored the critics ever since.

Charlie went on to play the title role in Tom Sawyer in fourth grade, a part his father said he had been rehearsing for all his life. Other roles at Summit included the lead in Rumplestiltskin, the Badger in Toad of Toad Hall, and his unforgettable turn as Bad Bart Banana Peel in his second grade play (though his part was unforgettable, he has completely forgotten the name of the play.)

In 1977 Charlie entered Woodberry Forest School and began a serious career as a long distance runner. After three years of high school he had been unable to outrun his passion for the theatre, so he spent four years at Davidson College studying theatre. He acted in dramas, comedies, musicals and children’s plays. During college Charlie also wrote two plays, which have thankfully remained hidden at the bottom of a box of old papers ever since. He directed three plays and graduated with a degree in theatre and absolutely no prospects of gameful employment.

After a careful study of career options, Charlie chose antiquarian book selling (a narrow victor over air traffic controller and toll booth attendant). With his first wife, Stephanie, Charlie operated Lovett & Lovett Booksellers (which he foolishly forgot to declare a non-profit entity) in Winston-Salem. Soon he was volunteering on the stage of Summit School once again. In the late 1980s, Charlie began to publish scholarship on Lewis Carroll, drawn partly from his massive collection of Carroll items, which he continues to assemble. He has since published five books on Lewis Carroll yet Carroll refuses to return the favor—he has published NO books about Charlie Lovett.

After a move to Kansas in the early 1990s, Charlie rediscovered his passion for the theatre, playing such roles as Feste in Twelfth Night, Brabantio in Othello, and the lead role of the Duke in Measure for Measure. Charlie later discovered that these plays were all written by the same person, a William Shakespeare who somehow managed to become a playwright without ever having played the role of Bad Bart Banana Peel.

In January of 1997, Charlie received his M.F.A. in Writing from Vermont College in Montpelier Vermont. Unfortunately, it was so cold at the time that the diploma was presented to Charlie’s cryogenically frozen body. After thawing out in England for six months with his wife, Janice, and stepdaughter, Jordan, Charlie returned to America and prepared for a move back to Winston-Salem. Jordan entered Summit School as a sixth grader the year that Charlie’s daughter Lucy began the first grade there. Within days Charlie and Janice were helping out with the sixth grade play.

In 2001, Janice was offered the job of third grade drama specialist at Summit. She had all the talents necessary to wrangle 60+ third graders and train them to perform a Broadway-quality masterpiece. All she lacked was a Broadway-quality masterpiece. To fill this need, Charlie shamelessly stole several of Janice’s ideas and wrote the script for Twinderella—his first children’s play. He has since written twelve other plays for performance at Summit in both the third grade and the junior high. twelve of his plays have been published and more are on the way. His plays have been performed across the country and around the world.

For those publishers out there who happen to be reading this, in addition to his twelve published books, Charlie has written two other novels: one will rightly remained buried in the same box with his college plays, the other is a bestseller waiting for a publisher to realize its potential. His published works are detailed elsewhere, but his yet-to-be-published works also include a brilliant sequel to A Christmas Carol written in the style of Charles Dickens (who, Charlie later discovered, actually wrote the original story as well).

Charlie continues to write and act. He has recently played roles such as the Duke in Big River and Marcellus in The Music Man. He is puzzled by this, since both these characters are tenors and he is a bass, but hey, that’s acting. His rendition of “Shipoopi” in The Music Man will be remembered by all who saw it—many of them are still in therapy because of the nightmares.

Charlie’s novel The Program, published in May 2008, will no doubt take the country by storm. Or maybe that’s just another hurricane . . .

With Jordan in college, Lucy in high school, Janice continuing to act and direct, and his dog Sophie asleep on the couch, Charlie believes the best parts of this biography are yet to come!


Unknown said...

Playwriting is done by playwrights--not playwrites.

Lynne Murray said...

Great interview! I enjoyed The Program and am so happy to hear that Charlie has turned his pen (okay probably his keyboard) to a young adult book with a plus-sized heroine! I'm looking forward to reading The Fat Lady Sings!

Bill Fabrey said...

After reading Charlie's bio, I am inspired to go back and rewrite my own...

Bill Fabrey
MAD magazine writer (retired)

Bill Fabrey said...

Oh, fine. I was never a MAD magazine writer, just a reader, is all!

Bill Fabrey

Golda Poretsky, H.H.C. said...

This sounds so great. I can't wait to read it!

petersteel said...

that was nice to read that... that was great reading this story.. for more information regarding Pittsburgh memoir writing, Pittsburgh storytelling, Pittsburgh corporate communication u visit