We had the good fortune of connecting with G. M. Lupo and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi G. M., how do you think about risk?
As has been said by others, with great risk can come great rewards. No one benefits by remaining in the comfort zone, always sticking to the tried and true. Sometimes one must jump in with both feet and see where the course leads. In my own life, I’ve never shied away from trying something new and different, despite the risk. Perhaps the best example of this was when I decided to move away from my hometown for the first time to pursue a Masters degree at New York University in 1989. I had no friends or contacts in town beyond the professors and administrators with whom I interacted and no idea where I’d live and no job prospects. NYU is an expensive private university that was well beyond my means at the time, and New York can be a very unforgiving city for someone just getting started there. Through a combination of student loans and working for the school, I made it work, though, and was rewarded with an advanced degree from a prestigious school. Beyond this, I had the opportunity to interact with lots of creative people, and work with published writers such as Joseph Olshan, author of Clara’s Heart, who was my thesis advisor. The rewards far outweighed the risk. It was a risk for me to pursue a career in Computing in the 1990s, despite having only a Liberal Arts education and a background as an administrative assistant. I’ve had to learn as I went along, gaining more knowledge with each assignment. The risk rewarded me with a twenty plus year career in computer support and technical writing. Being an independent author is another risk. There’s no formal structure upon which I can rely for support, and I really didn’t know much about the publishing industry before I started. Ironically, the writing is the easy part for once. I’m having to learn on the job, how to market my work and establish my brand. There’s a lot of information and advice on how to be successful, and it’s a challenge sorting though the various sources to find the right course for me. But, once again, I jumped in with both feet and am navigating the current as best as I can. The rewards include having total control over each project, with little oversight on content, and being able to rapidly get my work before the public as I want it.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I’ve known I wanted to be a writer since I was very young. In elementary school, I drew cartoons and wrote silly stories to entertain my friends, and even tried my hand at writing a novel when I was in high school. I have since misplaced the draft I wrote, and that’s probably for the best. I started at Georgia State University before they established the undergraduate Creative Writing program, so I went through as a Composition and Rhetoric major. At NYU, I enrolled in the Graduate Creative Writing program and pursued a Masters with them. I would not say that my education inspired much of my writing, and when I left NYU, I experienced a slump where I wasn’t writing very much at all. That changed when I discovered the Internet, especially the Usenet newsgroups. I found a worldwide audience with very little editorial oversight, and this reignited my desire to write. Still, it took me until 2006 to sit down and attempt to finish something. I’ve started and shelved many projects over time, so when I sat down to begin writing in 2006, I wanted to try to recreate the process I established while posting material to the Internet, write something up quickly, give it a quick read through, and post. Doing this, I was able to finish a huge book entitled The Longtimers, which is a science fiction/fantasy story about people who live very long lives. I wasn’t happy with the publisher I used, so when they gave me the opportunity to buy back the publishing rights, I did so and started breaking the work up into smaller works. This project stalled around the time I started working on a play, and I’m planning on reevaluating the work again at some point in the future. My current work is informed by my sometimes dysfunctional relationship with my hometown of Atlanta. Over the course of my life, I’ve seen the city reinvent itself more times than I can count. I came to realize, early on, not to become too attached to a location because it might not be there long. In my life they built, then demolished Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, the Omni, and the Georgia Dome, and when I was born, Atlanta didn’t have the Braves, Falcons, or Hawks. Most of the city landmarks I recall from high school are gone. In my work, I try to recreate what I recall of the experience of growing up in such a transitional hometown. All my most recent writing is set in what I call The Expanded Universe of Fictional Atlanta and features characters either born here, or who’ve chosen to come here to establish new lives and, in some cases, new identities. I enjoy complex stories with many layers and try to provide readers with a similar experience. Currently, the story I’m telling spans a novel, two story collections, and at least two full-length plays. People have questioned whether folks out of town will be interested in reading stories about Atlanta, and my response is that I’ve read and seen more than my share of stories set in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, and elsewhere, so I feel people can accept Atlanta as a setting. My writing process often starts with a series of “what if” questions. One character in particular, Claire Belmonte, came about in just this manner. She initially appeared in the draft of a play I was writing, but I never had a firm handle on how to develop her. When I began writing Mockingbird, the first story in my collection Fables of the New South, I asked myself if Claire knew another of the main characters, and decided that she did. From there, she grew as a character, and I concluded the book with Phoenix, Claire’s origin story, which I conceived one morning while walking at Stone Mountain. She’s now one of the most important figures in the Expanded Universe and I’m working on a series of plays about her called Phoenix Rising. She’s a major figure in my follow up to Fables, entitled Reconstruction. The most important lesson I’ve learned is to keep writing. More than a few times, I’ve had a story idea with no idea how to get it “on paper”. Having my blog (gmlupo.com) is helpful, because I’m able to post snippets of stories in progress and this gives me some incentive to put something in writing. Once I get going, I don’t always know where the story will lead, but I’ve found if I just keep writing, the words eventually come together in a satisfying manner. I regard my latest story collection, Reconstruction, as my best work to date. It’s taken me the longest to put together, nearly two years, and expands on the stories I started in Fables of the New South. It touches on the themes of identity and how we define ourselves to ourselves and others. It features characters who are living with the consequences of decisions they’ve made and reevaluating those decisions when they find themselves in different circumstances than they anticipated. It shines a light on the so-called “American Dream” and how the promise of it can often be very different than the fulfillment.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
At least one morning would be devoted to a walk in the woods at Stone Mountain. Some of the most beautiful woodland trails are there, but one is never far from civilization, so it’s a nice place to relax. For evening entertainment, we’d definitely take advantage of the wealth of live theater throughout the city. My favorite haunt is the Shakespeare Tavern downtown, which alway puts on a great show and has an excellent menu and a great selection of beer and wine. Other venues we’d hit would include Theatrical Outfit, also downtown, as well as Actor’s Express, and we’d undoubtedly move a bit uptown to see a show at the Alliance. There’s something to do throughout town, though, Live Arts in Norcross always puts on a good show, and Aurora in Lawrenceville rivals the big theaters downtown in production values. I’d insist on at least one show at Eddie’s Attic, and maybe even head out to the Red Clay Theatre in Duluth, especially if it’s Open Mic Night. If Michelle Malone is playing anywhere, we’ll be there, or we might head downtown if Deb Bowman is performing at one of her venues, or if the Bonaventure Quartet is playing in town. For lunch, we’d probably hit Buford Highway, which features the most diverse selection of restaurants in town, from Dim Sum to Indian, to Middle Eastern. A favorite of mine is Kang Nam, a sushi place just outside the perimeter in Doraville. We’d also stop in at Mo’s Pizza on Briarcliff at least one afternoon, where I always enjoy Mo’s Special pizza with a salad and a beer. Another lunchtime destination is Monterey Mexican restaurant on Lavista, where I usually get a margarita and some great Mexican cuisine. A great place to hang out in the late afternoon is Regal 24 Theater on the 85 access road in Chamblee. They have all the latest Hollywood releases, plus movies from India and Hong Kong, so there’s always something fun to see. Dinner would depend on where in town we are. Downtown, I always eat at Landmark Diner, which is open 24/7 and is within easy walking distance of the Rialto and Theatrical Outfit. If we’re at the Shakespeare Tavern, we’ll dine there. If we should happen to venture out to Lawrenceville to Aurora Theatre, I always stop in at McCray’s Tavern (I tend to be a tavern/pub patron). If we’re in or near Little Five Points, we might stop in at Fox Brothers, if it’s not too crowded, or The Porter. Favorite places to eat in Decatur include The Brick Store, Raging Taco, and Eddie’s Attic.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I’d like to recognize The Essential Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia. Each year, they sponsor a competition for playwrights exclusively from Georgia and the winner has his or her work performed at their Festival in July and August. In 2017, they awarded my play, Another Mother with their play writing award and staged the world premiere in my home neighborhood of West End in Atlanta. My play was directed by artistic director, Peter Hardy, and he shepherded me through the entire process, giving me the opportunity to experience every moment of staging the work, from giving me advice and critique on revisions, to observing the audition and rehearsal process, to meeting with the technical crew to work out staging and lighting. I had the opportunity to attend every performance to see what worked and didn’t onstage and to see how the audience responded. The whole experience was enhanced by the fact that the venue where they staged the play was once the library where I learned to read as a child. It was a great honor to have my work produced by an organization I respect, and I learned a great deal about how a play goes up. I won’t forget the experience.
Headshot: Cathy VanSchwartz Seith