Sunday 1 December 2019

Guest G M Lupo of Atlanta, Georgia

An award-winning playwright, actor, photographer and author, G M Lupo, is our special guest this week. Thanks to our mutual author friend Bobby Nash for bringing us together. Lupo’s website is titled Raised by Wolves – Musings of a Georgia writer. Going to be interesting. He has kindly agreed to a 4Q Interview and is sharing an excerpt from Atlanta Stories: Fables of the New South.

G. M. Lupo is an author and award-winning playwright, originally from Atlanta and currently living in Central Georgia. His play, Opposites Detract, premiered at AmpliFest, Merely Players Present, Doraville, GA in May 2019, and A Debt to Pay premiered at Tapas III, Academy Theatre, Hapeville, GA in June 2018. His most recent published work is a novel, Rebecca, Too (2018). Another Mother, his first full-length play, won the 2017 Essential Theatre Play Writing award and received its world premiere in Atlanta in 2017. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild and Merely Writers.

4Q: It’s a real treat having you as a guest this week GM. Let’s chat about your award-winning work as a playwright. I can’t imagine anything more difficult to write and you seem to be quite successful at it. Tell us about this experience.

GML: It was a true honor to have my first full-length play, Another Mother, produced by The Essential Theatre not just in my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, but in West End, the neighborhood where I was born and lived until I was twelve. In fact, the theater where the play premiered was once the home of the public library where I learned to read as a child, so it was a place that already held a lot of good memories for me. The Essential Theatre award is the only one given exclusively to new work by playwrights who reside in Georgia. The very first recipient of the award in 2001 was Lauren Gunderson who’s gone on to become the most produced playwright in the country, so it’s a great honor to be among the distinguished writers who’ve been recognized as such. Another Mother explores the question of what makes a mother, nature or nurture, and was based on an earlier, unproduced work that eventually became my novel Rebecca, Too. I took full advantage of the experience, attending every audition, rehearsal, and performance and I learned a lot, not just about writing, but what goes into producing a show. Since the premiere, I’ve made many revisions based on what came out of the process, so it was a rewarding experience for me on every front. Working with director Peter Hardy and the excellent cast was incredible, and I have a lot of great memories from the endeavor. I’ve sent it around to some other places and hopefully, it will get more performances in the not-too-distant future.

4Q: Please tell us about Atlanta Stories – Fables of the New South.

GML: Fables of the New South, which takes its title from Henry Grady’s “New South” speech from 1886, was the first entry in what I refer to as the Expanded Universe of Fictional Atlanta. Many of these stories have been floating around in my head in some form for years, and in college, I conceived a series of stories set in a fictional town which eventually became a fictionalized version of my hometown.

The stories are tied together by the central theme of characters coming to Atlanta to reinvent themselves. Early versions of some of them appeared on my blog, Raised by Wolves, and some of the characters originated with the play that became the novel Rebecca, Too. Most of the stories are set in the 1990s through approximately 2006, and feature references to events and places such as the 1996 Olympics, and the Braves. The excerpt I’ve submitted, Dead Man’s Hat, is set in 1966, the first year the Braves played in Atlanta, and features a kid from my home neighborhood of West End who may show up in future works.

In my writing, I’ve chosen to concentrate on telling stories, without worrying so much about medium, so a short story could inform a chapter in a novel or become a play. In fact, A Debt to Pay, one of the stories in Fables, became a ten-minute play that was produced at Academy Theatre in Hapeville, Georgia in 2018. I’m currently working on a follow up to Fables of the New South that will be titled Reconstruction and will expand on the characters and stories in Fables. My play, Rebecca, Too, became a novel that’s since been turned back into a play. The conventions of a play are very different from that of a novel, so quite a bit of juggling went into recreating the play, such as combining two characters into one and condensing the story quite a bit.

The Expanded Universe was born when I realized that there was a tie-in between my current work and a story I was writing in the late-90s or early-00s. It was about the tech boom in Atlanta around that time and featured a web developer who started a company and took it public, becoming a billionaire. In the story, he insults a real estate developer in town, and when I created the characters in Rebecca, Too, I made them the daughters of a real estate developer. I realized their father was the same person insulted by the main character of my earlier story. Nearly twenty years after creating him, that character finally made it into print in Fables of the New South.

4Q: Please share a childhood memory or anecdote.

GML: Most of my memories from childhood are tied to my grandmother, that is my mother’s mother, who lived down the street from us when we were in West End, so I spent a lot of time at her place. She’s the only one of my grandparents I really knew well. My mother’s father and my father’s mother died before I was born, and, though my father’s father lived with us when I was a child, he left around the time I was five or six, so I have very vague memories of him. My grandmother was a presence in my life from a very early age until I went to grad school, and when I was a child, we’d occasionally hop on a bus and head downtown to Rich’s and spend the afternoon roaming around downtown, usually having lunch at the S&S Cafeteria. She had this large steamer trunk full of clothes and games, and whenever I’d visit, she’d open it up. I have the trunk in my living room now only with my stuff in it.

4Q: Where is that favorite spot we might find G M Lupo, the author, when he’s writing a novel, story or a play. What writing habits make you productive?

GML: My main computer for writing is my MacBook that sits on a table in my bedroom. That’s where I type everything into Word to edit it. I’m always writing, though, composing stories using Notes on my iPhone, making notes, or using the voice recorder when I’m walking, and ideas occur to me. I have a lot of helpful tools, such as Acrobat, which allows me to edit PDF files on my phone, and I have several Cloud accounts, which allows me to work on my writing from just about anywhere. When I’m ready to put a book together for publishing, I move over to a Dell laptop I have in my office, which has Photoshop and InDesign that let me typeset and create covers for my books. I do most of the graphics for my books, usually using photos I’ve taken in Atlanta or elsewhere.

I’ve developed a method of composing snippets of stories on my iPhone that I can then publish onto my blog in early drafts, and often I edit the text on my blog before I publish there. I then transfer the snippet to Word for expansion and editing, so what’s on my blog changes significantly once I start putting it into a publishable form. As I develop the stories, I save them as PDFs that I can markup with changes and corrections, which I make on the Mac. Basically, I write or edit anyplace I have a decent Internet connection.

I have no definitive style, just whatever works best for getting the story told. Sometimes I’ll have a beginning and will develop the story as I go along. For others, such as Phoenix in Fables, I develop the entire story in my head and flesh it out on paper. I may start with a title, a phrase, a snippet of dialogue, or a description of a character or event and build the story around it.

4Q: What do you do when you’re not writing?

GML: One of my favorite activities is taking long walks, particularly in the woods. It’s not only good for my health, but I also find getting out and walking helps with the creative process. I can’t count the number of stories that have come to me in the woods at Stone Mountain, and I pay homage to this in the first chapter of Rebecca, Too. I also like to read, though I can sometimes be sporadic about reading, especially when I’m writing. I enjoy research and have been working on my family’s genealogy for more than twenty years. If a subject catches my attention, I’ll spend time researching it, sometimes obsessively.

4Q: Anything else you’d like to add? Raised by Wolves?

GML: I’ve decided, if I ever write an autobiography, I’ll entitle it Raised by Wolves. My name is the Italian word for “wolf” and my ancestors were Sephardic Jews of Spanish or Portuguese origin, who traveled to Milan, then Venice, and were recruited as viol and violin players to the court of Henry VIII in 1540. I’ve learned many Sephardic Jews identified with the Tribe of Benjamin, who’s identified in Genesis 49, verse 27 as a “ravenous wolf” so the origin of my family name appears in the Bible.

I’ve also run across references in Shakespeare that sound suspiciously close to details about my ancestors. For instance, in the New Year’s gifts of 1585, where courtiers exchanged gifts with the monarch, my ancestor, Peter Lupo is identified as “Petruchio Lupo” and, at the time, his wife’s name was Katherine. Petruchio and Katerina (or Katherine) are the main characters of The Taming of the Shrew. In Elizabethan England, the Lupos, who played violin and viols, were closely allied to the Bassano family of recorder players, which included Amelia, who’s been identified by some scholars as the Dark Woman in Shakespeare’s sonnets (some have even identified her as a credible candidate in the authorship debates).

I’ve noted several interesting references to “wolves” in Shakespeare’s work, and the plays are peppered with musical references, especially to the fiddles and recorders. My ancestors would have provided the music whenever Shakespeare’s work was performed at court and later members of the Lupo family were part of the musicians who played with the King’s Men, as Shakespeare’s company was known under James I. 

An Excerpt from “Dead Man’s Hat” from Atlanta Stories: Fables of the New South.

(Copyright held by the author. Used with permission)

Inspired by “Small Change” by Tom Waits

Lenny heard the shots. Hell, everybody on the block heard the shots, but nobody saw anything. Nobody ever saw anything, not even those who were there, looking right at whatever was happening. They were the ones who especially didn’t see anything because they knew what would happen to them if they did. Lenny knew, so he made an extra effort to not see anything. Like when he saw Artie go by and enter the arcade. Lenny knew it was only a matter of time before he’d need to look away. So, he did.

Arthur Desanto had been in town for about a week, from Chicago, he claimed. Lenny hadn’t met many people from Chicago. He’d get a lot of New Yorkers asking him if he knew where they could find the Times, but Artie was the first one from Chicago, or at least the first to say so. Artie got really quiet when Lenny asked why he was in Atlanta, and Lenny knew not to press him. Other than that, Artie had been pretty talkative, asking about the night life, such as it was. Lenny told him about the San Souci and the Domino, but Artie had already found them and didn’t seem too impressed. There was also the Clermont over on Ponce, which Lenny mentioned to Artie.

Artie was staying in the Grady Hotel, which was why Lenny had the opportunity to get to know him a bit. Artie never seemed to have anything to do from two to four, so he hung out near the diner, chewing an enormous wad of gum and quizzing Lenny about baseball players on cards he had in his pocket. Artie was a collector, he said, though Lenny couldn’t figure out why anybody would want to hang on to those things once the gum was gone. As a kid, Lenny had been a fan of the Crackers and went to games with his father when they played on Ponce but didn’t follow the sport on a national level. He didn’t know much about this new team they brought in from Milwaukee and hadn’t yet been out to the stadium they built for them south of town last year. Artie was fairly knowledgeable, but Lenny got the strong sense Artie was just showing off, which didn’t really impress Lenny all that much, but he didn’t want to seem rude. Lenny figured Artie just needed someone to talk to and Lenny didn’t have a whole lot to do until the afternoon edition came out anyway.

Lenny was a news boy, hawking the Journal in the afternoons on Peachtree between Ellis and Cain Streets downtown. He’d been doing it for about a year, among other odd jobs, after dropping out of Brown High School to help his Mom make ends meet following his father’s death. Lenny was the oldest of two boys and two girls, so he saw it as his responsibility to step up once his father was gone. He liked working for the Journal, even if he was just selling papers, because his dream was to be a writer, covering the mean streets of his hometown of Atlanta. Because of this, he always kept his eyes and ears open, and only turned away when he knew it was in his best interest to do so. He liked to study people, how they dressed, how they carried themselves. He could usually guess someone’s profession by what that person was wearing and working outside a hotel he encountered a fine mix of people from all over.

What caught Lenny’s eye when he first saw Artie was the hat. A porkpie, they were called, dark brown and made of felt — not the sort of hat one usually saw around Atlanta, which is why it made such an impression on Lenny. He never saw Artie without it, not even when Artie was in the diner, eating. He didn’t take the hat off or hang it up like other guys would do. It was always perched atop his head, like Artie expected to run out at any minute and didn’t want to risk leaving it behind. 

Artie was a nervous sort, small and wiry, and not much taller than Lenny, who, at sixteen, was just a hair over five nine. During one of their discussions, Artie let it slip that in Chicago, he was known as “Small Change” and Lenny felt the nickname suited Artie, who seemed small and unimportant, the sort most would pass by unless he gave them a reason to stop. Beyond that, Lenny had no idea what Artie did for a living, if anything, and Artie wasn’t the sort to volunteer the information.

In the aftermath, people would say Artie was an idiot, thinking he could run to Atlanta and be safe. Nobody was safe in Atlanta, but most of them didn’t know it. Artie knew it. He wasn’t safe anywhere. There are just some folks you don’t mess with and the consensus was that Artie should have known that. Lenny was never a hundred percent sure exactly what Artie had done to or to whom, but whoever it was wasn’t the sort to forgive and forget.

Artie seemed to sense the end was coming. Each day when he’d stop and talk, he’d seem more nervous: looking over his shoulder, asking if anyone had been inquiring after him. Once, when a car backfired, he practically jumped out of his skin. 

Whatever it was, he wasn’t telling Lenny. “The less you know, my friend, the less you know,” Artie would repeat, often without prompting from Lenny.

Both the Constitution and Journal fudged the details of the crime, stating only that Artie had been shot multiple times by an unknown assailant, most likely a robbery gone wrong. Lenny had seen him, though, sprawled on the ground, his head resting against the base of a gum ball machine. Lenny knew the real story — five shots, one in each shoulder, one in each knee, then the final one between the eyes, with a single, unspent cartridge beside his head. Everybody on the streets knew whose signature that was, even the cops. Nobody could prove it, though, and that was the show stopper. 

The kicker was, whoever did the deed used Artie’s own gun, the .38 snub nosed revolver he kept in his coat pocket, which was found, empty, a few feet from the body. Lenny imagined Artie going for it but being a couple of seconds too late. The type of men he was facing needed to be surprised to get the drop on them. It takes a special kind of man to look someone in the eye then shoot him multiple times and Artie just wasn’t the type. The guy who killed Artie probably went home, had a nice dinner with the wife and kids, and never gave it a second thought.

Lenny was halfway down the block, just a few yards away from the entrance to the arcade when it all went down. He’d seen Artie nervously head inside, after ignoring Lenny’s usual greeting, “Hi ya, Artie,” as he passed. Lenny had also seen the man in the black suit and the grey fedora pass by with two other fellows dressed less formally, who entered the arcade behind Artie. He’d seen the flow of teenagers leaving quickly and that’s when he knew it was time to turn away, to focus on something else for a few minutes, until he knew all was clear.

It took maybe five minutes, but then the shots came and the three men who’d followed Artie exited, not in any hurry, and passed Lenny as they headed to the end of the street. One of them even stopped to buy Lenny’s last paper, and waved off the change Lenny offered him, with a cool, “Keep it, kid,” before they disappeared around a corner.

Then the buzzards descended, Wally from the shoe shine stand, Hazel from the coffee shop next door, Frankie from the clothing store across the street. They grabbed what they could easily remove from the body and beat it quickly. By the time Lenny got there the corpse had been picked clean, no watch, no wallet, no cufflinks or ring. But there was one thing left, and, for Lenny it was the prize. Lying just to the right of the body, away from the quickly spreading pool of blood was the hat, where it must have fallen when Artie reacted to the first shots, or maybe while the men were “talking” with Artie beforehand. Lenny stepped over and picked it up, examined it to be sure there was no trace of blood, then walked to the mirror and tried it on. He’d need to grow into it, but he had to admit, it looked pretty good on him.

Lenny straightened his jacket and walked out of the arcade wearing the hat. He breathed in the early evening air, then turned right and headed south, just as the first of the police cruisers rounded the corner with sirens blaring and lights flashing. Lenny didn’t stop. Nobody had seen him going in or coming out. Nobody ever saw anything. 

He had no idea how the situation would eventually be resolved, but he knew he was going to write about it. In two years, after all the commotion had died down, he’d turn it into a human-interest piece about life and death in the city, which would become the first byline in the Journal for Leonard Stringer. As he strolled away from the scene, words began to form in his head.

“Small Change — rained upon with his own .38,” he thought and nodded with satisfaction. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his jacket and headed off to the Journal to collect his day’s pay, with a slight bounce in his step.

Thank you, GM, for being our guest. All the best in your future writing.

For all you readers wishing to discover more about GM Lupo and his stories, please follow these links.


Author page at Amazon:

Rebecca, Too at Draft2Digital:

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