Greek myths and urban legends

Today I get to welcome author Michael Williams to my blog. He's written a fascinating mix of Greek tragedy and urban legend in his novel, Vine: an Urban Legend. Given my interest in history, mythology, faith and science, you can tell that's one story I'm definitely eager to read, and Michael gives a fascinating introduction to how and why he wrote the novel in his guest post here. Click on to find more stops on the tour, and read on to find out more about Michael Williams and Vine.

Over to you Michael...

Introducing Vine

The challenge I set for myself in Vine was pretty much as follows:  for a long time I wanted to write something that drew from Greek mythology, that revived the old stories, the old gods, the old forces that might just already be there if you’re prepared to look for them.  For me, myth is still the best way to embrace meaning, or to create it if there isn’t really any meaning on its own.  Myths are the stories about large things, about the big, unmanageable forces that shape our lives and sweep through our experience.  I think meaning always emerges in story, but in myth particularly.  Myth doesn’t hold with consensus, empirical reality: it finds its way through other truths. It is extended metaphor, and calls attention to itself as extended metaphor, as not literal. 
The Greek poets made up Greek religion, and there is a kind of hope in that. Ours is too often a literalist time:  we are a culture of fundamentalisms.  We don’t listen to each other politically, culturally, spiritually, because there’s only one way of looking at things, and by god, it’s ours.
Myth may well be good medicine for such ailments.  Knowing that what you believe is a kind of poetry you live by, neither more nor less than what a poem is, and what it means.
Sometimes I’ve regretted not being a Greek of 2500 years ago, because I would have liked to write a Greek tragedy—a work that dances between myth and more contemporary story.  That recalls a sense of mythic wonder at the same time as it calls us to attend to the here and now, to take stock of ourselves.
I finally decided to stop regretting and to write that tragedy anyway.
Hence Vine.  Its plot borrowed from Euripides’ Bacchae (stolen in some ways, I hope, because stealing would mean I’d made it my own somehow).  A plot revisioned for a small city, early in the 21st century.  The story is a familiar one, but in case you don’t know it, here’s how Polymnia, one of the Muses, tells it in Vine:

The story, after all, is hard. King Pentheus of Thebes tries to put down the new worship of Dionysus, a cult that is turning the heads of his female subjects. Pentheus imprisons the Great God, dismisses him.  For such disrespect, of course the divinity exacts revenge.  Dionysus persuades the poor king to dress himself in the garb of the Maenads—the female devotees of the god.  Dressed in regal drag, he may witness the sacred mysteries. or so the god tells him as he leads the tressed and fabulous king into the mountains, handing him over to the Maenads, who tear him limb from limb.

The moral is this:  Imprison the god, and he returns on you with heavy duty.  Push him down and press him back, stand up for “wholesomeness and family values” until you can’t help it and the photos emerge of your meth-sotted overtures to a twelve-year-old boy in an airport restroom.  So it goes, sisters, when you can’t match what you want to be with what you are.

If I stopped there, the book would be a retelling.  Not that I don’t like retellings.  What you leave out and what you put in reshapes the myth.  I think of Vine more as re-visioning.  And so in the telling, I tried to leave spaces for mystery to intrude.  At the tragic performances in Athens, after all, the statue of the god Dionysus was reserved a seat in the theatre. 
If the god is coming, best make him room.
So I made room by experiment.  By telling the story in ways I hadn’t told a story before.  The most basic elements of fiction are traditionally plot, point of view, and character.  So I decided to open them all up a little.
Plot: Index cards that contained particular scenes, plot points arranged in patterns, not only in lines but spatially in the hopes that one scene, positioned out of sequence in traditional cause-and-effect plotting, might speak to another in a new way.
Point of View: As the book followed the plot of the Bacchae, I found it adopting the form as well.  Episodes and choruses—one a chorus of Muses led by Polymnia, the Muse of Sacred Poetry, and the other a chorus of vagrants led by T. Tommy Briscoe, a homeless alcoholic Elvis impersonator.  The same event through a number of eyes.  Spaces for the god.
Character: And when space is given, the characters begin to take on properties.  T. Tommy is T. Tommy and not T. Tommy, just as all of us are ourselves and not ourselves, responding to a part of ourselves that approaches mysteries—deep within us or somewhere beyond us, but worth searching for because it takes us closer to meaning, purpose, and perhaps some wisdom on the way.

Intrigued? Here's some more information:

Vine: An Urban Legend by Michael Williams
Genre: Mythic Fiction
192 pages
Amateur theatre director Stephen Thorne plots a sensational production of a Greek tragedy in order to ruffle feathers in the small city where he lives. Accompanied by an eccentric and fly-by-night cast and crew, he prepares for opening night, unaware that as he unleashes the play, he has drawn the attention of ancient and powerful forces.
Michael Williams’ Vine weds Greek Tragedy and urban legend with dangerous intoxication, as the drama rushes to its dark and inevitable conclusion.

Michael Williams was born in Louisville, Kentucky. Much of his childhood was spent in the south central part of the state, amid red dirt, tobacco farms, and murky legends of Confederate guerillas. He has spent a dozen years in various parts of the world, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Wisconsin, with stopovers in Ireland and England, and emerged from the experience surprisingly unscathed.

Upon returning to the Ohio River Valley, he has published a series of novels of increasing oddness,combinations of what he characterizes as “gothic/historical fiction/fantasy/sf/redneck magical realism” beginning with Weasel’s Luck (1988) and Galen Beknighted (1990), the critically acclaimed Arcady (1996) and Allamanda (1997), and, most recently, Trajan’s Arch (2010)... plus, of course, Vine (2012).

He lives in Corydon, Indiana with his wife, Rhonda, and a clowder of cats.

·         Michael Williams Facebook Page:
·         Michael Williams Blog:



sgzimmer said…
Thanks for having Michael on the tour! :)

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