I’ve had Marcel Malone on my TBR list since the beginning of the year and finally read it this past week. In addition to reviewing below, you can read my Q&A with author Lew Watts and learn a little more about him.
Marcel Malone by Lew Watts
Blurb: Dr Vera Lewis has a difficult but intriguing patient, Marcel, whose symptoms result from multiple levels of rejection—from family, colleagues, relationships, and those journals that receive his poetry submissions. Desperate to achieve a breakthrough, Vera prescribes a very unusual treatment that begins to desensitize Marcel to rejection, albeit with unexpected side-effects. It is only when Vera brings poetry into their therapy sessions that Marcel begins to reveal his deeper problems, and is able to confront the demons of his past. As for Vera, she has her own problems…
Set mostly in Washington, DC, Marcel Malone is a story of how the love of poetry can lead to personal transformation.
- Paperback: 282 pages
- Publisher: Red Mountain Press (October 23, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0997310227
- ISBN-13: 978-0997310221
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I had no idea what to expect when I started reading this book. Marcel Malone is a first novel for Lew Watts and one that is definitely unique.
Vera and Raymond are a married couple living in DC. Vera is a psychiatrist who lacks attention from her husband as he places more importance on his job as a lobbyist. Raymond worries about his reputation more than anything and lacks the ability to pick up on Vera’s needs.
The focus in the story is mainly Vera and her life with her patients. A particular patient that she becomes almost dependent on is Marcel. Marcel enjoys reading and writing poetry which is something he and Vera have in common. They share their thoughts with each other and Vera looks forward to these conversations. The result of this relationship and Vera’s own curiosity results in a story with interlaced poetry which I thought was unique, and the poetry just might be what they both need to unleash the past.
“Near this rose, in this grove of sun-parched, wind-warped madronas,
Among the half-dead trees, I came upon the true ease of myself,
As if another man appeared out of the depths of my being,
And I stood outside myself,” – lines from The Rose by Theodore Roethke
As Vera learns more about Marcel, she learns that he’s had a hard time with rejection in the past and Vera prescribes a new experiment of paradoxical intervention and journal writing to see if it might help him as a sort of “rejection therapy.” This becomes comical at times, but the outcome she receives from this is unexpected and Vera finds that her own demons and life choices need to be addressed.
The story kept me interested enough to finish it and the ending was quite emotional for me. There were a few times where I became bored with the story as there wasn’t a lot of excitement, but then something would happen or a mystery would be introduced which would yank me right back in again. I’ve always enjoyed poetry, especially Haiku, and I think that anyone who has an appreciation for it will enjoy this book. Even those that don’t particularly care for poetry will more than likely enjoy it. I have a goodly amount of authors and books to add to my list now after reading it and I’d like to thank the author for sharing a complimentary copy of this book with me.
My Q&A with Lew Watts
Q: When did you first start writing and have you always wanted to be an author?
A: For much of my working life, I stole the odd hour to write poetry, often on flights or in hotel rooms. One day, I realized that “I worked to write,” and I decided to reverse this. The first time I thought of myself as an author was when I reconfigured my business website—it was like coming out…
Q: Is there anything you’re working on now?
A: A novel, currently on page 136.
Q: What’s the publishing process been like for you and how do you market your books?
A: Red Mountain Press is a recognized poetry publisher, but I noticed they had put out a novel 2 years ago. And so I approached the publisher, Susan Gardner (whom I knew), and she asked to see the manuscript for Marcel Malone. The publishing agreement was signed 2 weeks later, and they have been great to work with. The good news is I have no agent; the bad news (for marketing) is I have no agent.
Q: As an author, what do you consider success?
A: When someone is moved by something I’ve written.
Q: How do you begin writing a book? Do you use an outline, paper and pen, or computer?
A: I take a two-by-three-foot sheet of graphed paper and map out the (very) rough story line, dividing it into natural chapters. I then work for weeks on characters, often spending days inside each before going back to revise and deepen my ‘plan’. The rows of my graph paper are chapters, and the columns the main plot and the principal characters, with arrows and lines for links and hooks, As I write, I update the graphed plan—for Marcel Malone, I believe there were nine versions as the storyline shifted, often of its own accord.
Q: What would you say are the hardest tasks when it comes to writing?
A: Staying completely in character when writing dialogue.
Q: Do you write a lot of poetry and would you say you have a special interest in Haiku?
A: When I was young, in Wales, every school day began with a recited poem. I started writing poetry in my late teens, but only began publishing in my early 30s, both formal and free verse. Haiku (and haibun) came to me around 7 years ago. When I am writing prose, I find it impossible to shift to writing longer poems, but a haiku, which captures a ‘moment’, is a form that I can turn to at any time.
Q: What were your inspirations, goals, and intentions in writing Marcel Malone?
A: I wanted to show how poetry is able to help us confront and overcome the demons of our pasts…and that, sometimes, there can be a happy ending to an Orphic journey.
Q: Have you personally dealt with paradoxical intervention or general mental illness yourself or with someone else?
A: My mother was mentally ill before she ended her life in her early 50s. As for paradoxical intervention, a psychologist friend mentioned it to me. I thought initially the idea of telling a patient (who hates being rejected) to go on 30 dates in 2 months would be fun as a one-act play, but then things changed…
Q: Donald Hall is heavily quoted in Marcel Malone. Is he a favorite author of yours and what are some of your other favorite books, poetry, and authors?
A: I very much like his poetry, and I think his book “To Read a Poem” is one of the best introductions to poetry ever written. Because my lead character, Vera, writes about this book (and eventually writes to Donald Hall, in her journal), I sent the draft to him as a courtesy. We had a wonderful correspondence and, thankfully, he was fine with everything I had written. Favorites: poet – Dylan Thomas (of course); poem – “Warming Her Pearls,” by Carol Ann Duffy; novelist – Henry James; novel – “A History of the World in 10½ Chapters,” by Julian Barnes.
Q: What sort of research did you do for Marcel Malone and how long did it take you to write it?
A: Extensive research on psychology—the writing took two and a half years.
Q: Is Marcel Malone based on anything true?
A: Only one thing. In the second chapter, Vera describes accompanying her husband to a cocktail party and how, as the spouse, she is patronised and ignored. My wife and I were senior executives in separate companies, and when I accompanied her to an event I often received the same kind of treatment.
Q: What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A: Opening up Vera from a cynical, lost individual to her true person.
Q: Who designed the cover and did you have a part in it?
A: My publisher, Susan Gardner, presented it to me one day. I loved it, which was just as well because she was wasn’t going to back down!
Q: Who would you recommend read Marcel Malone?
A: I was deeply honored when one reviewer said it should appeal to readers interested in feminist writing. I’d like to think it would appeal to many people, but I would say that, wouldn’t I?
Q: For those interested in exploring the subjects in Marcel Malone, where would you suggest they start?
A: My publisher gently banned a list of cited books at the end of the novel, and so I posted a Reference List on my Goodreads author page. *See bottom of Q&A for the book list*
Q: How do you feel about ebooks vs. print books?
A: I read both, but I now realize how punitive the ebook margins are for Independent publishers.
Q: Do you have any favorite TV shows or movies?
A: I’m a sucker for British TV crime series, especially “Inspector Morse,” and his younger reincarnation in “Endeavour.” As for movies, I’ll re-watch anything by Hitchcock.
Q: Favorite music?
A: I used to play jazz guitar and revere Django Reinhardt. But my main love is nuevo tango music and anything by Astor Piazzolla—if I hear the tones of a “Bandoeon” while driving, I have to pull over.
Q: Favorite drink, food?
A: Gin martinis, ultra dry, up with a twist—stirred, not shaken. I desperately try to avoid desserts, but a green chile cheesecake…
Q: Hardest thing you’ve done?
A: Learning to dance tango. I published a poetry collection on this, “Lessons for Tangueros,” that hopefully captures the occasional moment of ecstasy, and the repeated periods of deep humiliation.
Q: Favorite place?
A: Any tango milonga in Buenos Aires.
Q: What else do you like to do outside of writing?
A: I’ve fly fished since I was seven, and I still make my annual pilgrimage to Norway to fish my beloved Ardal River. I’m also a proud board member of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (www.thebulletin.org), which is an organization that aims to warn the world about man-made existential threats, particularly nuclear weapons, climate change, and emerging technologies such as cyber and bio-engineering.
Q: Do you have any advice for those who want to write, but just aren’t sure of themselves?
A: Just write…oh, and seek (and accept) criticism.
Q: Where can readers find you? (Social media, web, etc.)
A: My website is www.lewwatts.com, and so just drop me a line.
I’m also on Goodreads:
and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/lewwattsauthor/).
I’d like to thank author Lew Watts for his time in completing this Q&A
From Lew Watt’s Goodread’s Page – Here is the complete list of books cited in the novel:
Bly, Robert. Leaping Poetry: An Idea With Poems and Translations, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1975.
Boland, Eavan and Edward Hirsch (Eds). The Making of a Sonnet: A Norton Anthology, New York: Norton & Company, 2008.
Cather, Willa. Death Comes for the Archbishop, London: Vintage Books, 1990.
Corn, Alfred. The Poem’s Heartbeat: A Manual of Prosody, Revised Edition, Ashland: Story Line Press, 2001.
Duffy, Carol Ann. The World’s Wife, London: Picador, 1999.
Hall, Donald. To Read a Poem, Fort Worth: Harcourt, Brace & Jovanovich, 1992.
Hall, Donald. White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems, 1946-2006, New York: First Mariner Books, 2006.
Hall, Donald. Essays After Eighty, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.
Higginson, William J. and Penny Harter. The Haiku Handbook -25th Anniversary Edition: How to Write, Teach, and Appreciate Haiku, Tokyo: Kodansha International, 2009.
Jordania, Joseph.Why do People Sing? Music in Human Evolution, Tbilisi: Logos, 2011.
Jung, Carl. Essay in: The Spirit in Man, Art and Literature, Princeton University Press, Fourth Edition, 1978.
Kinzer, Stephen. The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles & Their Secret World War, New York: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc., 2013.
Lehman, David (Ed). Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present, New York: Scribner Poetry, 2003.
Lisle, Laurie. Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O’Keeffe, New York: Washington Square Press, 1997.
Maclean, Norman. A River Runs Through It and Other Stories, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976.
MacLean, P. D. The Triune Brain in Evolution: Role in Paleocerebral Functions, New York: Springer, 1990.
Maurer, Christopher (Ed). Selected Verse: A Bilingual Edition, New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2004.
Maxwell, Glyn. On Poetry, London: Oberon Masters, 2012.
Ortiz, Simon. Woven Stone, University of Tucson Press, 1992.
Panache Partners, LLC.Spectacular Wineries of Oregon: A Captivating Tour of Established, Estate, and Boutique Wineries, Dallas: Spectacular Wineries Series, 2015.
Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged, New York: Signet Classic, 1999.
About the Author:
Lew Watts is the author of the novel Marcel Malone. His poetry has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, and his first collection, Lessons for Tangueros, appeared in 2011.
Beyond writing, Lew is Vice Chairman of the governing board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (www.thebulletin.org), an organization that aims to warn the world of man-made existential threats, including nuclear proliferation, climate change, and the risks of emerging technologies. He holds a PhD from the University of Reading, and an honorary doctorate from Bristol University, both in the UK. He maintains a long and deep passion for fly-fishing and lives in Chicago and Santa Fe with his wife, Roxanne Decyk.
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Thank you for reading and please feel free to comment with thoughts and suggestions!