Elizabeth Hand, an award-winning suspense writer and literary critic, often writes stories set in the real world but mixed with a historical element.
While she likes to write in current times, she finds a way to draw inspiration from cultural issues, historical eras, people, characters or events. She also is influenced by artists who didn’t come from mainstream arts backgrounds, such as folk, visionary, religious and mentally ill artists.
Hand will be the first author featured in the Fall 2013 University of Houston-Victoria/American Book Review Reading Series. Jeffrey Di Leo, ABR editor and publisher, and dean of the UHV School of Arts & Sciences, said Hand’s wide variety of writing styles caught his eye.
|Jeffrey Di Leo|
“She has written so much since she was first published in 1988,” he said. “It’s interesting the different styles of fiction she has encompassed in that time. I know her reading will be a great kick off to our fall reading series.”
Hand will read her novella, “The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon,” at noon Sept. 5 in the Alcorn Auditorium of UHV University West, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St. The public is invited to attend the free event, and light refreshments will be served.
In 2011, “The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon” won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novella and was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Novella. The story follows a group of museum colleagues who set out to recreate a mysterious aircraft flight that might have predated the Wright Brothers’ first flight. It is inspired by friends who worked with her at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in the 1980s.
“It was a fun story to write,” Hand said. “Sometimes you write something, and you just think, ‘I nailed it!’ and that’s how I felt about this story.”
Hand’s personal story began like many before her who want to write from a young age. Even before she was able to read, she played with a toy typewriter. When the toy broke from overuse, her mother gave her a real typewriter.
She grew up reading fantasy books thanks to a babysitter who gave her a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.” Around that time in the 1960s, Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” had become a cultural phenomenon after a bootleg copy became available in the U.S.
“This was a life-changing event for fantasy and science fiction,” she said of the success of the books. “It created this whole publishing nation of classic fantasy novels being brought back into print and new writers getting published.”
That rise in popularity inspired her future writing. While most of the fantasy stories at that time were for younger generations, she wanted to write stories that were more cutting edge and darker.
“The fantasy and science fiction marketplace and genres have become more sophisticated and broader in their impact and interests,” Hand said. “After all these years of being pushed aside into a literary ghetto, people in this writing community like to say that we won the war. There is an amazing range of stories now that have taken over pop culture and affected movies, music and fashion.”
As a teenager, Hand wrote one-act plays produced by a local children’s theater troupe in Yonkers, N.Y. She attended The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and worked at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum while finishing her bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology.
She wrote in her spare time but never had anything published. In 1986, Hand’s mother gave her a birthday gift of paying for her to attend a writer’s workshop in Washington, D.C.
“That workshop was the line-in-the-sand moment for me,” she said. “After it was through, I committed myself more to writing. A year or so later, I quit my job, moved to Maine and have been supporting myself from my writing ever since.”
Since then, Hand has written 17 novels, four collections, six novelizations of movies and TV shows, various short stories, the comic book “Anima,” four Star Wars juvenile books and critiques of other works.
With so many different types of stories written, it is hard for Hand to choose a favorite.
“It’s like having to pick a favorite child,” she said. “I do like different things about various stories. I might like one because it was fun to write, while another was interesting to research or I was able to write it quickly.”
She admits that her 2006 novel, “Illyria,” was special to her because the two young characters are not only in love with each other, but also with theater, which is close to her heart.
And while it may be hard for her to pick a favorite story, she said that the Star Wars juvenile book series receives the most fan mail. Targeted to third- through fifth-graders, the books are about Star Wars bounty hunter Boba Fett.
“I did that project with my son in mind, who was about that age when I wrote them,” she said. “I still get fan mail from third-grade boys, but no girls yet. There must be a national book month or something in the U.S. where teachers assign students to write to their favorite author because I always get fan mail around that time. It’s so cute.”
Hand is excited to visit Victoria, a place she knows well. She spent her childhood summers in Victoria, visiting her mother’s family farm. The first novel Hand tried to write was set in a fictional version of Victoria.
“I never finished writing or published that novel, but I had about 100 pages finished,” she said. “One of these days, I’d love to go back and complete it.”
Other writers scheduled for the Fall 2013 UHV/ABR Reading Series are:
Rosemary Catacalos, Sept. 19 – Catacalos is the author of two volumes of poetry, “Again for the First Time” and “As Long as It Takes.” Her award-winning works regularly focus on her mixed Mexican and Greek heritage, where she looks to history, culture and mythology in her explorations of human emotions. Her many honors and prizes include the Annual Poetry Award from the Texas Institute of Letters and the 2013 Poet Laureate of Texas.
Brian Evenson, Oct. 17 – Evenson has authored 10 books of short stories, seven novels, a book of nonfiction and five translated volumes. His work often focuses on brutality, violence and hypocrisy, using fiction to critique contemporary values. He has won numerous awards including the O. Henry Award, the American Library Association/Reference and User Services Association Prize for Best Horror Novel and more. He is a professor at Brown University in Providence, R.I.
Christopher Howell, Nov. 7 – Howell has authored 10 volumes of poetry, a collection of essays and is the editor of an anthology. Originally a military journalist during the Vietnam War, he later founded Lynx House Press and is now a professor of creative writing at Eastern Washington University in Cheney. He has won numerous awards including the Washington State Governor’s Award, the Washington State Book Award and three Pushcart Prizes.
Paul Ruffin, Nov. 21 – Best known as a short story author, Ruffin also writes novels and poetry that often focus on the South’s people, landscape and attitudes. He is the author of “Circling,” which won the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award, and is a member of the Texas Institute of Letters. He is a Regents Distinguished Professor at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, where he directs the Texas Review Press.
ABR is a nonprofit, internationally distributed literary journal that is published six times a year. It began in 1977, moved to UHV in 2007 and has a circulation of about 8,000. The journal specializes in reviews of works published by small presses.
For more information about the UHV/ABR Reading Series, call the ABR office at 361-570-4101 or go to www.americanbookreview.org.