DM: In my review of your novel, Trout And Other Mythical Beings, I mentioned that Harry was on a mythic quest, that he was a sort of mythic hero. What made you use the mythic quest structure for Trout And Other Mythical Beings?
AWG: I have been interested in myth in general and the heroic quest in particular since I was a child. I have been interested in the heroic quest and medieval storytelling ever since a nun handed me a big book on King Arthur in the third grade. In the ninth grade, I read Edith Hamilton’s Mythology with a great deal of fascination, and I assigned it in world literature classes I taught until I found a more detailed book for my classes.
I generally use the word “myth” as a story that explains the nature of the world we live in —or wished we lived in. As Harry Mature knows, myths are often not realistic accounts of every day experience. Myths entertain us with imaginative but unrealistic objects or creatures like a bird reborn in fire or a sword that confers superpowers on the rightful bearer. When I hear people condemn a story or a belief as a “myth,” I chuckle to myself. We all “believe” in myths of one kind of another. Myths can scare us; myths can help us understand things. Ultimately, we think we understand very little outside of our favorite myths. I could easily go on about all of my favorite mythical heroic quests in world literature, but let me focus instead on Harry Mature.
Harry goes on a heroic quest to experience things that have been part of his fantasy world. And he discovers that actual experiences with these things have uncomfortable physical and emotional consequences. Alcohol and tobacco can make you sick. Hunting by yourself can be dangerous and is not like hunting on a television show. Fishing is nothing like reading a book about fishing. Serial online dating comes with consequences and experiences not detailed in the old Penthouse letters or the erotic tales of Anaïs Nin. Grief can be sadness, but more likely it is anger, frustration, and fear. The refuge in being “comfortably numb” is ephemeral and ultimately just a trick of the psyche. You can’t hide from your feelings; they will sneak up on you and bite you in the ass.
Harry wants a number of things, but he needs a friend and sense of who he really is. For far too long, his wife, his child, and his job told him who he was supposed to be. At the end, he still doesn’t know who he is, but he has learned who he isn’t. Along the way, there is a string of mythical beings to consider and abandon: the Hemingway hero who drinks without hangovers, the macho tobacco smoker with no health concerns, the mighty stag memorialized on a wall, the lunker trout (and the naiads who put them on hooks), the hot hook-up (Erica Jong’s “zipless fuck” in Fear of Flying), the Valkyries, and Odin. Defying death, Harry finds escape on his motorcycle, but as we all know, a motorcycle can lead to a very gruesome death on a lonesome highway.
DM: Interesting last name you chose for Harry—Harry Mature. Is it because he’s had to act mature, too mature, and almost dead, all his life or he because rejects maturity for the first time in his life? Will you talk about the name choice?
AWG: When I was a kid, the actor Victor Mature was a popular leading man in the movies—like Samson and Delilah. So, the last name, “Mature,” has heroic (and erotic) connotations for me. Ultimately, I chose “Harry Mature” because, as the character Karen humorously notes, it sounds like the name of a porn star. Otherwise, I was searching for a name that would make the main character a “type,” in the 17th-century sense. Harry is a type of old man. He is not every old man, but an old man you might meet somewhere. “Mature” is one of the euphemisms marketers use for “old.” Working with the handicaps posed by aging, Harry tests his limits, trying to see what is still left of himself. I once asked a male friend about when male children reach adulthood and start to make sense. He said, “Around age 31.” I asked a female friend the same question, and she said, “Some of them don’t make sense till age 65.”
DM: Talk to me about the cover and how it came to be.
AWG: Intending to order a proof copy early one morning in March, I published the book by accident with a trial cover that was, frankly, pretty stupid. It featured a yellow caution sign warning of a curvy road. A helmeted man on a motorcycle was flying up the curvy road on the sign, and a trout was leaping out of the sign into the clouds. My friend, with marketing advice, hastily made another cover for me with a helmeted man on a motorcycle riding up a stream out of which a trout was leaping. I republished with that cover, but I did not like it. Then I made a black-and-white cover with a muscle-bound woman dressed up like an opera Viking. Someone I know bought a copy with this version of the cover. It occurred to me on a walk that I needed a photo of a woman with a trout. My search on iStock turned up the startling picture of the young woman emerging from the stream with a fish in her mouth. The iconography was perfect. In the novel, Karen says that the trout resort has kids in the river putting fish on hooks for seminar participants. So, the fish and the young woman are mythical beings referred to by the mythical Karen.
DM: I think some of the Harry’s thoughts about Kat and his grandkids are hilarious, but I could imagine some readers taking issue if some of those inner thoughts were taken out of context. Have you had any comments from your readers?
AWG: People who take things out of context and blow them up on social media or news broadcasts are going to do what they are going to do. In every age, Puritans of one kind or another ban works of art and inadvertently make those works more appealing to curious consumers of art. Some of my favorite books have been banned at one time or another.
Harry Mature and his granddaughters illustrate what people in the 1960s called “the generation gap.” Young boomers grew out their hair, experimented with drugs and sex, tried living in communes, protested a war, and had fantasies of changing the world by putting LSD in the water supply (see the movie Wild in the Streets). The intentions of the young boomers were good, but their assumptions about the nature of the world were naive and adolescent. The boomers grew up and became the parents they hated. They worked, they invested, they voted for corrupt politicians, they tried to stop the sale of music celebrating violence and sex, and they fought their own wars. Now the boomers have grandchildren who, to the boomers, look and sound like creatures from outer space, and the grandchildren think their boomer grandparents are ignorant, immoral, capitalist racists. My grandparents regarded me with horror when I was a teenager; I also regarded them with horror. But we all eventually grew out of this phase. Before they died, we ended up being great friends honoring one another.
Harry Mature sees his grandchildren through the lenses of what he reads in the news about college campuses. The granddaughters see him through the lenses of woke-ism, which they have picked up in over-simplified terms from older adolescents. However, when Harry shows up on a motorcycle, they welcome him, because they want to ride on his motorcycle and because they like rebelling against their mother, who thinks her father has lost his mind. Harry and his granddaughters are allies in their efforts to move past Mary’s death.
One of my neighbors, who is retired and has grandchildren, found Harry’s thoughts about his grandchildren and their thoughts about him as the funniest passages in the book. However, I am sure that some young people will find the book disturbing for any number of reasons besides Harry’s inner thoughts. When I was in my early teens, an older friend of our family lost her husband of nearly forty years and started dating shortly thereafter. My parents would twitter with her about her dating adventures with men at the Arthur Murray Dance Studio, and I was viscerally repulsed upon learning that old people might actually be having sex. I did not understand at the time how geriatric sex could be possible, much less desirable for anyone, even the participants. But I was a teenager who wanted some green-and-white striped bellbottom pants, a psychedelic VW bug, and a Summer of Love.
DM: What was the inspiration for writing Trout and Other Mythical Beings?
AWG: I can blame neither a muse or any kind of spirit for the book, but one day after a lot of musing about retirement, the indignities of growing old, and the increasing number of deaths among my contemporaries, I hit upon the name “Harry Mature” for the main character and wrote a version of the first paragraph. I sent it to close friends. One wrote back immediately and said he wanted to read that book. Around the same time, he also confessed about how much he wanted to buy an Indian motorcycle. So, buying a motorcycle was added to Harry’s bucket list of “things he needed to do.” The other friend urged me to write the novel in my upcoming retirement.
And that is what I did. I retired on July 1, 2021, and wrote 12-15 pages every week for the next six months. Before starting, I thought about the fantasies that led me to various kinds of dead ends: thinking a motorcycle would be a chick magnet and glamorizing smoking and drinking as a young teenager; extensive reading about and sizeable investments in trout fishing in my early twenties and late fifties; obsessing about deer hunting in my fifties; imagining I could be a kind of Don Juan or Fabio with online dating profiles after divorces. In reality, I saw my friends get injured on motorcycles. I discovered that trout prefer canned corn to artistically tied flies. Deer hunting resulted in a freezer full of sausage that no one but me would eat–and in a messy divorce. Online dating eventually led to a wonderful marriage, but as my wife is fond of saying, she had to “kiss a number of frogs” to find me. (I’ll take the fifth on that claim for myself.) In short, I structured the novel as a series of attempts to realize fantasies. In each case, the reality is a comic version of the fantasy. With that plan, I knew pretty much where I was going with the book on the first day I sat down to write.
DM: What did you enjoy the most about authoring this novel? What were the challenges?
AWG: I have written a number of plays, and I have always enjoyed writing dialogue. Once I have a sense of who characters are, it is easy for me to get them to talk. I had the most fun writing about Harry’s encounter with Karen on the fishing trip. She’s annoying, sexy, crude, and energetic. She is attractive and repulsive at the same time. Harry is like one of those reluctant men in the stories of D. H. Lawrence. Forces beyond his control take over
The sections on hunting and fishing were the hardest parts to write. I once taught a course on writing concerned with hunting and fishing, so the bar I set for myself in regard to technical details presented me with challenges. However, the two sections that caused me the most anxiety were the Christmas dinner at Kat’s house and the New Year’s Eve party at Harry’s house. It took me months to figure out what would happen when Harry showed up at Kat’s. Finally, it occurred to me that the granddaughters would soften their attitudes in regard to Harry if he had a motorcycle that their mother hated. The motorcycle would be useful to their teen rebellion against their mother. The problem with the New Year’s Eve party was sustaining the celebratory activities beyond a paragraph. Drunk people are funny and interesting when you yourself are drunk, but they are not all that interesting to write about while you are sober. However, I feel that I succeeded in creating enough intensity in the partying to make Kat’s screeching a very significant moment.
DM: You did a lovely job of balancing comedy and tragedy. Most readers will be laughing throughout Trout And Other Mythical Beings. But there were some moments–the Georgia National Cemetery scene got to me–that hit you in the gut. Did you find it hard to balance those two extremes?
AWG: Not at all. Until that scene, Harry has been so focused on his bucket list that he has avoided dealing with his feelings about his wife’s death. The narration did not detail his experience at the visitation and funeral. He had no experience there that I wanted to report. He was focused on that glass of whiskey waiting for him at home. Harry would not have been able to pay attention to the proceedings. He just wanted a glass of whiskey.
However, Harry can finally face death at The Georgia National Cemetery, a place that can have a powerful effect on visitors. The marble headstones in their neat rows are too numerous to count. Each columbarium holds a staggering number of drawers. Heavy reminders of death surround you there. If you try to read the names and dates of each memorial you pass, you soon feel exhausted. The sameness of the headstones and the niches emphasizes the commonality of everyone: we will all die. All things will pass. The marble will melt in the acidic rain. The woods will someday return to those fields. The mountains will be washed to the sea. In that place, at that time, Harry can cry when his new friend cries. A cleansing occurs. Harry allows a friend into his life. He is ready to face his daughter and his granddaughters as a new person with a new costume and motorcycle, a symbol of his freedom and his acceptance of his own inevitable death.
One way or another, he will have to die. Like the two anti-heroes at the end of Easy Rider, he might fly through the air in a fiery blaze of glory—or just ride off into a landscape rife with bluebonnets as he goes off into oblivion.
It is fitting that Harry presides as Odin–the one-eyed Norse god who was hanged on the gallows for nine days—at a party called “Valhalla”—”hall of the slaughtered”—while Shield Maidens dance to “The Flight of the Valkyries”—the winged “selectors of the slaughtered.” The dead warriors in Valhalla fight every day and drink every night until the time when the great wolves will eat the sun and the moon and the Frost Giants will come in a boat made of dead men’s fingernails to destroy the gods and men before a new world arises to replace the old.
DM: What are you working on currently? What’s after Trout And Other Mythical Beings?
AWG: My most immediate concern is cleaning up a paper on the children’s mother in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” I am scheduled to read it at a conference later this month.
One reader of Trout has asked for another encounter between Karen and Harry. For the last week or so, I have been thinking of sending Harry to New Mexico to visit with a much older friend whose partner and wife of fifty years has died and left him enough curiosities to fill a museum—and an urn full of her ashes. The last wish of the deceased was to have her ashes cast to the wind from the top of the hill in Los Angeles with the big HOLLYWOOD sign. With Debbie tied up at work with her new job, Harry is free to offer to take his friend to California with the ashes. Along the way, they could visit with old friends whose once starving commune has become a large profitable marijuana farm tended by old hippies. Harry and his friend could stand on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, and have fear and loathing in Las Vegas and Tijuana before they get to Los Angeles just when the sun comes up on the Santa Monica Boulevard. They’ll discover that the Hollywood hill is protected by fencing and then make a mess of themselves and the ashes by miscalculating the timing of waves along Venice Beach. I think I could start writing in July when I normally hide indoors to avoid the heat.
Beyond that project, I would like to make a collection of my plays. I often think of doing something with my boxes of lyric poetry, but they will probably stay in the attic as a problem for my heirs and assigns.
DM: Thanks so much for spending the time answering my questions and I wish you much success with Trout And Other Mythical Beings as well as your other adventures—I know you have many!
TO PURCHASE TROUT AND OTHER MYTHICAL BEINGS:
Want to meet the author, attend a reading, and hear some banjo playing? You do. You sure do! Here’s your opportunity: Etowah Valley MFA Program Summer Residency Reinhardt University Waleska, GA July 10, 2021, 8:00 pm: Trout and Other Mythical Beings: A Reading from the Arthur Wayne Glowka. Directions
More about Arthur Wayne Glowka:
Arthur Wayne Glowka (born in Weimar, Texas, in 1952) grew up in San Antonio, Texas, in the shadow of the Alamo, and heard heroic tales about its fall from an early age. The Irish nuns who ran his elementary school directed him to books about King Arthur and Robin Hood, and his study of Spanish in high school has led to a lifelong fascination with Latin America and Spain. He studied English at the University of Texas at Austin (B.A., 1973; M.A., 1975), where he fell in love with medieval tales told in their original languages. Before pursuing his doctorate in English at the University of Delaware (English, 1980), he spent two years away from formal study to fish and to plunder libraries and used bookstores for books on fishing and a wide variety of other subjects. His scholarly publications have treated metrics, the legendary history of Britain, Geoffrey Chaucer, dialectology, lexicography, and Flannery O’Connor. He has served as an editor for academic journals, most recently James Dickey Review. His creative publications include an epic about the Texas Revolution (The Texiad), a series of medieval romances retold for contemporary readers, plays, and a novel (Trout and Other Mythical Beings). He was Professor of English at Georgia College (1980-2007) and the Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities at Reinhardt University (2007-2020). He retired from teaching and administration in July of 2020—but not from writing, woodworking, music, and hiking.