Michael Williams - Vine: An Urban Legend
• Pub Date: March 28, 2012
• Publisher: BlackWyrm
• Format: Paperback/Ebook, 192 pages
• Age Range: Adult
Amateur theatre director Stephen Thorne plots a sensational production of a Greek tragedy in order to ruffle feathers in the small city where he lives. Accompanied by an eccentric and fly-by-night cast and crew, he prepares for opening night, unaware that as he unleashes the play, he has drawn the attention of ancient and powerful forces.
Michael Williams' Vine weds Greek Tragedy and urban legend with dangerous intoxication, as the drama rushes to its dark and inevitable conclusion.
See Rock City
by Michael Williams
Most people would have seen the signs atop barn roofs throughout Kentucky and Tennessee, and most may be too young to know what it meant. They used to be everywhere, along with slogans for reptile farms and, like some relic from a slower, more literate time, the serial signs for Burma Shave, designed so the driver could read them in sequence:
A shave / That's real / No cuts to heal / A soothing / Velvet after-feel / Burma-Shave…
In later years, the signs became more meta, breaking the narrative frame at the side of the road:
If you dislike / Big traffic fines / Slow down / Till you / Can read these signs / Burma-Shave
But it’s Rock City that interests me for now. Because I saw Rock City, years and years ago.
I was about six, and to me, the reptile farms with genuine rattlesnakes loomed more attractive. My dad wanted to go to Rock City, though, and he was doing the driving. So we ended up there, wandered through geological formations which I am sure I would find interesting now.
But then, not so much. I yearned for the road and the Burma Shave signs and the next thumb-amputating snapping turtle, having heard from a six-year-old reliable source that there was a guy down here who had had a finger tooked clean off.
All of this impatience faded when we stepped underground, into what was billed as Fairyland. I followed my dad into that uncomfortable darkness where your eyes have not adjusted, not yet, and being six years old and, as you can already see, a fan of monsters, I was ready to expect most anything. It would not be long until I read Gerald Gottlieb’s Adventures of Ulysses and, at some six-year-old level, recognized my own downward journey in that story. Like Odysseus, headed for the underworld.
Because what happened in the shadow was illumination. Suddenly, out of the darkness, hundreds of spangling lights and small figures afloat in the shadows, winged and in all the sixty-four authorized and imagined colors of the big Crayola box. I suppose it was something like a bizarre kid’s version of Plato’s Cave: you descend, see lights, come back up, think about what you saw for years. Then sooner or later you go back down there.
The next 50 years have been about that moment, or moments like it. The latest version being Vine, the novel I’m telling you about today.
One of the things I try to do as a novelist and as a teacher is to foster a sense of wonder. All around us or within us—I’m not sure which—there are these larger things. Things that are not always pleasant to behold, but things that give the state of being here a kind of meaning, that make us a presence in a greater story. Back in the day, we would call that the work of the gods. Today it goes by other names, but it is our task to pay it attention.
And to pay attention, you have to slow down.
Slow down / Till you / Can read these signs / Burma-Shave.
Reading should be slow and inveigling. It should ask things of you. Being passive is all right, too—that’s for the couch in front of the television, where the experience sweeps over you and you don’t have to do much about it or with it. But some reading asks you to take part.
Difficulty is not a bad thing. Some readers don’t want to do it, and when they don’t, I understand. But when you take part, the experience is better for your involvement.
You can hear about that underworld, or you can go down there. It’s pretty much the same to me now that Vine is written, but while I was writing it, I was really hoping that I was making a world that you, as an able reader, would enter and help in creating. With that hope, I tried new ways of telling the story: I worked from index cards that contained particular scenes, plot points arranged in patterns, not only in lines (like Burma Shave signs) but spatially, like tiles in a mosaic, hoping that one scene, positioned out of sequence in traditional cause-and-effect plotting, might speak to another in a new way.
And the characters, too. God and human in the same flesh. Idea and concept wed to what I hope come across as real people. You should see folks you know, with a cloud of witnesses behind them.
It’s how the book took shape, out of a long romance with ancient myth and a belief that it’s still around us and above us and most of all beneath us. What resulted may not be an easy book, but I sure hope it’s a rewarding one for those of you who like to stretch as readers, who are up to a trip into shadows and light.
Michael Williams was born in Louisville, Kentucky, and through good luck and a roundabout journey through New England, New York, Wisconsin, Britain and Ireland, has ended up less than thirty miles from where he began. Over the past 20 years, he has written a number of strange novels, from the early WEASEL'S LUCK and GALEN BEKNIGHTED in the best-selling DRAGONLANCE series to the more recent lyrical and experimental ARCADY, singled out for praise by Locus and Asimov’s magazines. TRAJAN'S ARCH and VINE (Blackwyrm, 2010 and 2012) are his two most recent novels.
Williams has a Ph.D. in Humanities, and teaches at the University of Louisville, where he focuses on European Romanticism and the 19th century, the Modern Fantastic, and 20th century film. He is married, and has two grown sons.