Author answers ‘The Call’ in Batavia

Thursday, March 22, 2012
By Ben Beagle 

BATAVIA — Author Yannick Murphy opened her talk at Genesee Community College Thursday afternoon by explaining the title of her novel, “The Call.”

The title, she said, represents the next call that her husband — a large-animal veterinarian in rural Vermont — will get.

“That call could take my husband an hour drive from home over unplowed, rutted roads trying to swallow up the truck,” Murphy said in the first of her four public appearances for the “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project.

Her novel, “The Call,” is the story of a large-animal vet in rural New England who finds the daily rhythms of his family life shaken after a hunting accident seriously injures his oldest son.

About 150 people attended the afternoon talk, which followed a private reception for Murphy and winners of a GCC writing contest that is part of Tale’s 10th year. The afternoon presentation in the Conable Technology Building was also viewed via live streaming on the Internet at GCC Campus Centers in Albion, Dansville, Lima and Warsaw.

Murphy is scheduled to speak at Richmond Memorial Library, 19 Ross St., at 7 tonight.

On Friday, Murphy will meet for lunch with winners of The Daily News-sponsored Tale writing contest and deliver another presentation at 7 p.m. in Lee-Whedon Memorial Library, 620 West Ave., Medina.

This year’s Tale program concludes with Murphy’s final presentation at 11 a.m. Saturday in the auditorium at Perry Elementary/Middle School, 50 Olin Ave., Perry.

Each of the talks will be followed by a booksigning.

Murphy, in her afternoon presentation, related moving to Vermont four years ago and the changes it brought to her husband’s career. He had previously been a racetrack veterinarian in California, but in Vermont his practice had a different tone.

“It turned in to one where he was treating, not the young athletic race horse, but the 27-year-old draft mare named Molly that has never been pampered like a race horse,” Murphy said. “But who lives year round outdoors without a blanket on a wooly back in winter and is never given water in the spring but simply walks to the stream in her pasture and drinks from the icy pools that have melted down from the icy ridge tops.”

Her husband also displayed “an uncanny ability to get the life story out of the most laconic of New Englanders,” Murphy said.

It was the stories that Murphy’s husband shared that helped inspire “The Call.”

“He seemed very happy not to be at track, and being able to talk with people who loved their horses whether it had four legs or three,” Murphy said. “He was really happy to come home and talk about the people he’d meet each day.”

But it wasn’t in her husband’s nature to keep a log.

“My husband doesn’t keep notes,” she said. “Even if you convince him and say here’s a book, here’s a pen, he wouldn’t.

“What he loves is to talk,” she said. “That is what he does best. He loves getting people to talk.”

Murphy talked about how she had to learn how to unlearn traditional ideas of fiction writing, and how she writes to “drive out the mush” to keep readers from falling into a daze. That writing should be truthful, without manipulating the readers and using ordinary — but distinctive — language.

“Report on what the characters saw, experienced, and write to move the human heart,” she said.

Murphy showed several versions of “The Call” cover and concluded her presentation by showing photos of her family — including one in which her husband stitched up the forehead of their daughter on the kitchen table while her son took the photos.

During the talk, Murphy paused three times to ask the audience questions about “The Call,” and gave away copies of her first book, “The Sea of Trees,” to the first person with the correct answer.

Murphy began her Tale visits with a late-morning luncheon at GCC that incorporated a recipe for Gypsy Soup, a dish featured in “The Call.”

Murphy met several instructors from the college who incorporated “The Call” into their curriculum. A record number of classes used the book this semester.

“I love for the students to make a connection between the book and the author who wrote it,” GCC English professor Nancy Rademacker said.

Murphy talked about studying in high school with Frank McCourt, the author of the acclaimed memoir “Angela’s Ashes,” and how “The Call” developed from her husband’s story.

“The more I got into the piece, I realized it had to go somewhere,” she said of the novel, which was first a short story. “I had a need for conflict. … I thought, what could happen to make him question, to test him.”

She looked to her own family, she said, and what could happen that would make her think about life’s meanings.

“It was the hardest part to write,” she said. “I didn’t want to experience it, and here I was writing it.”

About 20 people attended the luncheon, including two winners of the college’s writing contest.

Both Morgan Buonanno, the first-place winner, and Tim Vellekoop, the second-place winner, modeled their winning essays on the log format Murphy employed in “The Call.”

Buonanno said it took her a few tries to figure out the format and she related two separate events for her essay. She tried the format because of its artistic merits.

“When I write for English class, I’m not a writer,” she said. “But when I can express myself through poetry or something like that I enjoy it. I like putting a little bit of myself in what I write.”

Vellekoop started with a call from his father and told the story of an encounter he had with a deer.

“It was a true story. I thought people would get a kick out of it,” said Vellekoop, a general studies student who hopes to move into GCC’s new veterinary technician program.

The essays were written as part of assignments for English classes.

Tables at the luncheon were decorated with a four seasons theme — one table for each season, with two tables featuring large woolen mittens and hats in a nod to Western New York’s typically lengthy winter months.

Murphy, who arrived Wednesday, noted the weather upon her arrival at GCC wondering if any college students would be willing to forego time outside to come and listen to an author speak.

A large number of college students were joined by number of community members for the presentation.

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

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