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An Interview with Writer Alice Boatwright

Alice_K_Boatwright_short_story_writerSEACOAST BOOKS

We remember Alice Boatwright as co-editor (with Chip Noon) of the Seacoast literary magazine called PENUMBRA back in the 80s, and later as marketing manager for the Children’s Museum before it moved to Dover. An unstoppable author of short stories, Alice has released her first book COLLATERAL DAMAGE, three connected novellas about the Vietnam War. (Full interview below)

 

We asked Alice five questions and got back five wonderful mini-essays. You can read about her book Collateral Damage here.

 

Five Questions for Alice K. Boatwright from SeacoastNH.com

1. What have you been doing all these years?

My husband Jim Mullins and I left Portsmouth in 1987 and moved to San Francisco, where he’d gotten a job as a medical writer for the University of California, San Francisco. We thought we’d enjoy a couple of years living in a place with palm trees and then come back.  We left all our gardening and canning supplies, winter boots and sweaters, in a storage unit in Eliot. However, we ended up being in California for 17 years.

The transition to life on the other coast was not easy. I landed a job as an editor at UC Berkeley, which sounded much more glamorous than it turned out to be. I learned a lot of arcane things like the difference between an n-dash and an m-dash and how to slug down a proof, but I missed my days of potato printing and holding watermelon seed-spitting contests at CMOP. I went from living in a town of 25,000 to working at a place with 25,000 students and employees.  In the end, though, Berkeley turned out to be an excellent place for me, and I had many wonderful mentors as a woman, as a writer, and as a working person. I also belonged to a writers’ group that met monthly, and that built-in enthusiastic audience really helped me to become not only more productive, but also more aggressive about  – and more successful at  – getting my work published.

When Jim became the communications director for the Asia Foundation, we began traveling to Asia a lot.  We first went to Vietnam in 1993 and we both fell in love with the place. I kept an extensive journal when I was there, but I didn’t know yet that I would write a novella about it. That came later, and by the time we made our second visit there in 1997, I had conceived the idea of a triptych of novellas about the Vietnam War era that eventually became my book.

In 1999, Jim had an assignment from the World Health Organization to write about the revamped tuberculosis control program in India, and I went along to assist with the interviews, etc. There we met the man who would eventually hire us as consultants to an international lung health organization based in Paris, which led to our shifting our base to Europe in 2004.

Writing as a consultant is harder in some ways than having a regular job.  The lines between my time and their time are much blurrier, but I am still a morning writer.  And living abroad has been a very rich experience.  Everyone native US citizen should experience being an immigrant – especially in a country where you don’t speak the language very well.  It makes you very respectful of the dislocation and challenges those who come to the US face.

Alice K. Boatwright back int he day / SeacoastNH.com courtesy photo

2. Who reads short stories these days and where?

When it comes to short stories today, it seems a bit like everyone’s talking and no one is listening.  I don’t know who reads what, but the volume of journals online and in print is amazing.  Some of them, like Narrative, are remarkably sophisticated and make use of the new technology in very innovative ways.  Others are very simple sites – just giving you the stories with no frills.

For a quick overview of what’s going on, I usually pick up the annual anthologies – Best American Short Stories, etc. – but it is disheartening to see that the same four or five publications that were sources 20 years ago still dominate those collections. (Often it is the same writers too. . . ) I mean, are these really the only places where outstanding work is being published?  The only good writers?  I don’t think so.

For my own reading, I graze. . . reading here and there amongst the new stories online. A recent favorite book is Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Française, which is not a new work, but has been re-released.  Her writing is devastatingly clear, simple, and specific with a story you won’t soon forget.  In other words, a great model.

ALICE K. BOATWRIGHT INTERVIEW continued

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