A companion blog to my memoir, "Sting of the Heat Bug"
Bettie Snyder, aka B. L. Walker, of Sharon, has written professionally for 30 years. Her work is published in papers and magazines across the country. Bettie, welcome to my blog!
Thanks for asking. You flatter me, Jack.
Here you are at Torrington’s Main Street Marketplace in the summer of 2014, signing some books.
Bettie, a few years ago we both took the same playwriting course at UConn. As a result of that course, you were able to complete a number of plays, including one about Ernest Hemingway’s last moments of life. Tell us a little about that play – and about other plays you have written.
Thirty years ago I read The Sun Also Rises and wondered, “What’s the big deal?”
Twelve years ago someone loaned me A Moveable Feast. I was smitten, and consumed with this question, “If Hadley (first wife) had been with Ernest during his last year, could she have prevented his suicide?” I read several biographies, thought I knew all I needed to know, and wrote a ten-minute, two-character play starring Ernest and Hadley.
Surprise! Producers and directors of small theatres took time to write, encouraging me to develop the play.
An early draft won a Pen & Brush (NYC) award, then a producers’ showcase at The American Theatre of Actors (NYC), followed by continual rewrites and expansion.
The Hemingway Society invited me to speak at their biennial conference in Lausanne, Switzerland, several summers ago. A half dozen producers said, “Yes, I will produce this play,” then dropped out of my life!
Fast forward to 2015. Hemingway’s Promise is now a gritty 90-minute play of eight characters: Ernest, his mother, first three wives, youngest son (Gregory), Ezra Pound, and Gary Cooper. It’s set in Ketchum, Idaho, July 2, 1961.
Audience members give the work standing ovations at readings. Now I’m casting my net far and wide for a producer to bring the play to the public before I croak! A table reading is a possibility for Sheffield (Mass.) Library in the Spring. I want the average person to have a better idea of who this enormously interesting and complex man was, sans the hype that engulfed him. Ironically, after a decade of research, I now understand that he’s been telling us his story all along, page after page.
Another play I hope to eventually return to is titled Observations of a Piano Player based on private conversations I overheard while tickling the ivories at various inns and parties through the years. It’s on the back burner though, as I have three screen plays in various draft forms that have priority. But I loved being a fly on the wall while listening in.
How did you get interested in Ernest Hemingway?
Mr. Hemingway grabbed me by the nose and hasn’t let go since I read A Moveable Feast. It’s been a deeply compelling experience that led me to answer my own question: No one, including Hadley, could have stopped him from pulling the trigger. He was too sick; too tired.
Veedor is the only captive, yet free-flying Andean condor in the world. He lived in Sharon for most of his life with owner, John McNeely. I fell in love the moment I looked into his ancient face, then had the privilege of following him around on the performance circle, watching him interact with crowds. He’s a real ham, loves to tease, play, show off. But his serious message to the world is that we need to pay close attention to the way we treat Mother Earth. And he’s not kidding! Today Veedor makes his home in California. He’ll be 28 years old on May 23, 2015, and will probably live another 50 or so years.
I had the rare privilege of observing Veedor fly over my head on a Sharon hillside several years ago. It brought chills.
A fun book, with an intriguing title, is Quickies from Romeos & Other Lovers. Who could resist picking up a book with such a title! Tell us what the book is really about.
A friend and I were having dinner one evening and I commented that there were four or five tables of single men, all eating alone. I wondered, If they had a simple cookbook, would they cook at home? My friend challenged: “Why don’t you write it?”
So next day, I attended the class you mentioned in your opening remarks and asked four fellows for an easy recipe. Each responded. Interestingly, each had a different vocation. So that became the hook: 101 men from across the U.S. with different occupations… old friends, husbands of friends, people I’d worked with, etc. Noted artist Eric Forstmann provided sensuous illustrations.
As I spread out their replies on my living room floor, I realized that these fellows were allowing me to see a part of them I’d never seen before. Thus, the subtitle: In Celebration of Men. Romeos are Retired Older Men Eating Out, gentlemen who gather to eat, josh, and enjoy that they’re still around.
Your latest is a children’s bedtime book, The Kingdom of Ning, meant to be read aloud to children 4 to 8 years old. I love how you create an invisible world high above the ceiling over a child’s bed and then invite the child to enter that world through the spoken word of a parent or grandparent or babysitter. Tell us what this book is about.
NING began as a read-to and coloring book for children ages 4 – 8. I also wanted it be fun for the reader through rhyming and alliterations. I’m honestly surprised at the 5* reviews that say it’s much more, in that there are lessons therein for all of us, regardless of age. I have several couples without children who read it to each other! So when I read it now I have to wonder “Where did this come from???” It’s a kind of mystery to me.
Lessons, you say? Are there lessons to be learned from this book, or is it just for fun?
Reviewers write that we can all learn a thing or two while having fun in NING. Plus, Robin Roraback’s whimsical illustrations are wonderful to color. They stand alone, actually, and tell the stories without any words.
Years ago, you managed Sharon Playhouse. How did that position come about for you? Were you already interested in playwriting then, or perhaps as a result of your work in the theater?
Sharon Playhouse was in serious financial trouble in 1988. Part of the Board was interested in selling the property. But the other half refused to allow the structures to be demolished, and asked me to take the reins. I hired tri-state troupes within a 50-mile radius to produce their shows and split the profits. The company from Pine Plains eventually became Tri Arts.
We ended the 1989 season with money in the bank because locals were generous with time, talent, and money. And further, the 2015 season will open soon.
You must have met a number of famous actors in summer stock at Sharon Playhouse. Any stories to share?
Back in the 60s, Rene Auberjonais, Robert Foxworth, and Brad Dillmam apprenticed at The Sharon Playhouse, and I remember seeing Olympia Dukakis star in The Gingerbread Lady. All were happy to be working in our beautiful part of the world, and easy to be around. But also serious about their careers. They’ve each done well, wouldn’t you say?
Yes, I would. And I remember that production of The Gingerbread Lady. I think it was in the 1970’s. I attended a final dress rehearsal, which went flawlessly until a light cue was missed. Evy Meara’s (Dukakis) daughter Polly was supposed to walk into a dark room, turn on the light and ask her mother, “Why are you sitting here in the dark?” But the light was already on, so she said, “Why are you sitting here all alone?” Anyway, I got to see Olympia Dukakis before she got to be Olympia Dukakis, so that was cool. What do you like best about writing? What do you dislike?
Like – I enjoy the research and don’t mind rewriting. And I love the surprises/twists it gives back.
Dislike – marketing!! Ugh!!!
What is the writing process like for you? Do you have a schedule?
No schedule, but mostly I write at night. I think about a subject for a long time before I put pen to paper. Then usually, it comes quickly.
How do you promote your books?
Word of mouth. Book signings. What interviews I can set up. The kindness of friends like you.
Is there a question I forgot to ask?
Yes. “Why do you use a pen name?”
Thank you! So, why do you use a pen name?
Very early on, I submitted under my real name. Material was returned with flowery notes from editors and publishers that always ended, “But not for us….”
So I wondered what would happen if I used a neuter name – my initials and my mother’s maiden name, and B L Walker was born.
Voila! the same material sold with no edits. Go figure.
Where can people buy your books?
From me (860-364-5135 or email@example.com)
Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Balboa Press Bookstore.
Thanks, Bettie! Best of luck in your writing.
Thank you, Jack!
There will be a reading of “Hemingway’s Promise” at the Sheffield (Mass.) Library, 48 S. Main St., Sheffield, MA, on April 18, 2015, at 7 p.m. Call (413) 229-7004 for directions.