Tale author quizzed by curious readers at luncheon

Posted: Saturday, March 9, 2013 
By Ben Beagle Special to The Daily News |

Author Peter Troy passed some tough, but good-natured questioning from retired English teachers about his limited use of quotations and other rule-breaking grammar decisions during a lunch-time discussion of his novel “May the Road Rise Up to Meet You” on Friday.

The gathering was part of the “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project and featured six winners of annual The Daily News-sponsored writing contest. Winners were Sue Briggs of Stafford, Marcia Riley of Batavia, Elizabeth Saleh of Corfu, Ruth Andes of Elba, and Ann Burlingham and Eleanor Jacobs of Perry. Andes is a first-time winner of the contest which is in its 10th year.

Troy’s novel — the first of a planned trilogy — tells the story of Ethan, an Irish immigrant who becomes a successful photographer; Marcella, a refined and education Spanish immigrant; and the slaves Micah and Mary. Their lives are brought together as the Civil War unfolds around them.

Jacobs, a former English teacher, was the first to ask about his use — or lack of — quotation marks on certain characters in his debut novel, “May the Road Rise Up to Meet You,” which is featured in this year’s Tale program.

“I wanted to give the characters their own voice, not just in the words but in the presentation of the words,” explained Troy, who used quotation marks whenever Marcella was talking because she was an educated character. For others, such as the slave Micah who often said nothing, but thought much, those ideas were expressed in italics.

The contest winners were unfazed by Troy’s literary technique.

Jacobs said it created a “wonderful experience.” And Briggs, another retired educator, “was into it from the first page.”

“I ignored all the italics and just got into the story,” Briggs said. “Then I read it again to appreciate the craftsmanship of the book. If the italics had intruded on the first read, then the book would not have had good craftsmanship.”

The Tale project, organized by libraries in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties, has had a writing element since 2004. Entrants answered one of two questions and the winners chosen by Tale organizers. About a dozen entries were submitted this year.

The winners’ lunch provides a more personal setting for authors to discuss their books, writing and often share personal stories.

From Troy, the winners also learned:

— That Ethan’s voice was inspired by Irish immigrant Frank McCourt’s writings.

“Reading ‘ ’Tis,’ I could hear Ethan,” Troy said of McCourt’s memoir. “I thought I was done, but it was so powerful to me that I went back to explore the language with Ethan and found his Irish brogue. And if I did that with Ethan, I had to do it with the others.”

— Lessons learned in high school, which included a rigorous writing program with peer reviews, taught Troy “the preciousness of words and descriptions.” One student, Troy recalled, would have “10 adjectives for every noun.”

“How many ways can you describe an apple?” Troy asked.

— He was always reading in school, “but not necessary the books I was supposed to,” he said, in relating a story about how he hid the voluminous “History of the Third Reich” in a notebook during a period of assigned reading. When the teacher stopped at his desk and moved the notebook to see the book, the teacher simply cocked his head, raised an eyebrow and said “OK.”

— As a teacher, Troy said he “tried to get across to kids to have a love of learning, not a love of grades.”

Troy has one more Tale talk and booksigning at 2 p.m. today in the auditorium at Perry Elementary/Middle School, 50 Olin Ave., Perry.

“This has been a wonderful experience for me,” said Troy, who presented a talk Friday night at Hoag Library, Albion, on Friday night, and programs Thursday at Richmond Memorial Library and Genesee Community College, both in Batavia.

Next week, he will return to writing the second book in hopes of finishing this summer.

“This has drawn me back in to the story and the characters,” Troy said. “I can hear the voices of the characters saying, hey, get back to the story.”

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

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