Interview with H.D. Greaves

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I was born in and raised in Woodbrook, a suburb of Port of Spain, Trinidad, in the West Indies, when it was still a British Colony. Trinidad is now part of the independent Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. In 1938, the year of my birth, Trinidad was already a major player in World War II because of its deep harbour at Chaguaramas, North of Port of Spain, which became an important U.S. submarine base during the war. Because I was a child, I was not aware of these important events at the time, but my godfather, who helped raise me along with my maternal grandmother, made me aware of change and changing times as much as he could. He also instilled in me that all peoples must be treated with equal respect, no matter their skin colour, religious beliefs, political views, and other differences, because blood is the same in all of us: red. I was a minority in Trinidad - white and British - and I am still a minority here, with black, brown, and yellow in the majority. Trinidad is the home of thousands of East Indians and Chinese, as well as blacks. It is a diverse culture, of religions, foods, dances, celebrations, and, of course, Carnival, all of which influenced me as a man and as a writer.
When did you first start writing?
I began writing when I was in my early teens, and what I wrote then was pretty awful. However, I was encouraged to continue writing by my teachers. I also read a lot of books, considered advanced for my age. For example, I read, enjoyed, and understood John Steinbeck's East of Eden when I was fifteen, and became a fan of Steinbeck's work. My favourite Steinbeck novel, which I've read countless times, is Cannery Row. Reading good literature helped me to become a better writer. Now, in my seventies, I'm still learning from the masters.
What's the story behind your latest book?
My latest book, Of Bliss and Granted Wishes, was written in homage to dear friends whose lives deserve remembrance. They had a life-long romance throughout their marriage, and when Sam (the husband) lost his memory at the tender age of 92, though forgetting everything and everyone else, he never forgot who his wife was, even to the morning he died at the age of 98. His wife, Sophie, died at 99, with her wit intact and still reading fine literature. I used the device of diary entries to showcase their marriage, and Sophie's thoughts, especially how Sam's loss of memory affected her and their lives. Like the two real individuals, the book, in spite of its serious subject, is in no way depressing, but celebrates life, love, romance, and aging in all its glorious ups and downs.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I have a fine literary agent who, in spite of her great zeal for my work, was having considerable difficulty in finding a publisher for my novel, Mandragora - A Ribald and Irreverent Tale from the Italian Renaissance. It was she who suggested that I try publishing it as an ebook, as well as my other work, and see what happens. So far, Mandragora has received one five star review on the Smashwords website and three reviews on the Amazon website, all five star! So it would seem that, though so-called "legitimate" publishing houses have not been interested in my work, readers have found it and given it high marks. I would still like to see my work actually "in print," as would many authors, but having the public approve so highly of my work when so many publishers were not interested in it gives me great pleasure and, hopefully, profit.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
I enjoy making people laugh. Consequently, most of my work is comedic, satiric, or both. Even when it has a serious side, or even tragic, I strive to instill in it a vein of comedy.
What are you working on next?
Currently, I am working on Clizia - A Tale of Scandalous Surprises from the Italian Renaissance. It is based, as is my novel Mandragora, on a play by Niccolo Machiavelli, and, much like Mandragora, involves a presumably respectable family in turmoil, due (naturally?) to the husband's lust for the wrong person. Written in the early Sixteenth Century, it remains shocking even in our early Twenty-First Century. It also manages to be outrageously funny. Unlike Mandragora, Clizia is proving not an easy play to turn into a novel, but the challenge is stimulating.
Who are your favorite authors?
So many, so many! Let's see, for thought provoking fiction I'll say Thornton Wilder (his novels and his plays), closely followed by John Steinbeck (notably Cannery Row, East of Eden, and Of Mice and Men), Hemingway's short stories, which I prefer to his novels, with the exception of The Sun Also Rises (I've read that one many times). Mark Twain, it almost goes without saying, and Voltaire's Candide. I also appreciate the stories of Tennessee Williams. More recently, I enjoy Jann Martel's The Life of Pi, a book I've read now many times, and Lawrence Hill's remarkable The Book of Negroes. Amy Tan's novels are also delightful. I read almost all of Henry David Thoreau's work when I was in my twenties and thirties, rereading much of Walden over the years, and he stays with me as I age.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes, unfortunately. It was called Adeline and the Soucouyant, and was about a young girl on the island of Trinidad who sees a soucouyant, a ball of fire representing an evil spirit The soucouyant is a Trinidad legend. It really was dreadfully written. I've no idea now what I did with the manuscript, gone forever and thank all the gods for that.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I began reading at an early age, about five, and my godfather gave me a copy of Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories. I fell in love with them, and with reading. I'm still a big fan of Kipling's stories and novels, notably Kim, and one short story in particular called Without Benefit of Clergy.
I knew a fine second grade teacher in the States who told me an extraordinary story. She said that when she first began teaching reading, a little girl came to her with the book and said, "Miss, what parts do I read? The white parts or the black parts?"
Just think of that! For someone who doesn't know how to read, or how to distinguish the letters of the alphabet, a page of print is nothing but abstractions of black on white or, for that matter, white on black. White shapes or black shapes without any meaning at all!
Learning how to read and loving reading are precious gifts.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Reading, reading, reading, fiction, non-fiction, anything interesting and well written. I also enjoy movies, ever have since I was a boy. Unfortunately, I've found that the current crop of films tend to be made and marketed to a much younger generation, with a lot of movies based on comic books, and with completely forgettable plots, characters, and outcome. Consequently, I collect DVDs of classic films, which I enjoy watching on my laptop computer. I do, however, enjoy some of the more recent films. For instance, I very much enjoy the original quartet of Alien movies with Sigourney Weaver, as well as the original trio of Indiana Jones films. But for depth of characterization and action you'll have to go a long way to beat Kurosawa's Seven Samurai.
In what genre do you write?
I have no specific genre. Indeed, my work is filled with variety.
My major novel, Mandragora - A Ribald and Irreverent Tale from the Italian Renaissance, is a satirical comedy based on Niccolo Machiavelli's play The Mandrake. Mandragora is the only novel, even after five centuries, ever adapted from Machiavelli's famous play. It has garnered excellent 5 star reviews on Smashwords and on Amazon.
My second novel, Of Bliss and Granted Wishes - A True Story Told as a Novel, is what some might call a love letter to dear friends. Sam and Sophie Foster lived to 98 and 99 respectively, and had a lifelong romance throughout their marriage. Even after Sam lost his memory (at age 92!), forgetting everything and everyone, he never forgot who Sophie, his wife, was, even to the morning he died at the age of 98. These were extraordinary people and richly deserved to have their story told. This novel has also gained a five star review.
My short stories range from the whimsical (A Cuckoo's Lament) to the serious (Going Barefoot Into Paradise), to the ironic-comedic-satiric (Cleopatrus Excaptivus), all of which are in the collection called The Narrative Voice - Nine Intriguing Stories and a Novella: The Witch of Tabaquite (about voodoo).
My plays are almost all for youngsters, with the notable exception of Disagreement In Eden, which is a satire for liberal minded adults.
My poems, published in a volume called Dramatis Personae - Poems of Comedy and Tragedy, are my attempts to write about my feelings and the feelings of friends and lovers. My poetry has been admired by some and disliked by others. I am curious to see what the reaction will be from readers.
Currently, I'm working on another novel, also based on a play by Machiavelli: Clizia - A Tale of Scandalous Surprises from the Italian Renaissance, as well as a novel about a family's life in Trinidad during the Second World War.
I suppose I could say that my genre is to entertain and, through entertaining, to teach.
Published 2013-08-28.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

The Marsh King's Daughter
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 9,750. Language: English. Published: August 28, 2013. Categories: Plays » European / English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Plays » Medieval
Vikings, Ancient Egyptians, Goblins, Magical Transformations, terror, murder and mayhem, along with comedy and music, all come together in this exotic play adapted from Hans Christian Andersen’s story about a bewitched maiden, rescued and redeemed by a most unlikely character, a kindly old bird, none other than Father Stork—yes, the same stork famous for bringing babies! He is our storyteller.
Disagreement in Eden
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 4,460. Language: English. Published: June 10, 2013. Categories: Plays » Ancient & Classical
Disagreement in Eden, A Comedy in One-Act, is an irreverent satire about Adam and Eve and their conflict about the Forbidden Fruit. While the Lord and Satan, awaiting the outcome, play chess, Gabriel, a cynical cornet-player, asks, “And what, my Lord, is ‘Sin’? It sounds like an inspired name for a perfume.” The answer he receives is alarming. This little play will alarm you into laughter.
Rumplestilzkin
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 12,180. Language: English. Published: June 10, 2013. Categories: Plays » Ancient & Classical
The ages-old tale of the dwarf who changes straw into gold in exchange for the heroine’s first-born is created anew in this highly entertaining epic melodrama. Successfully and elaborately produced in the U.S. by a small theatre group, this play, which features intelligent dialogue and characters, is also a delight to read aloud. For Theatrical Production, Performance Information is included.
Gnatwing!
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 8,880. Language: English. Published: June 10, 2013. Categories: Plays » European / English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh
Gnatwing! A Farce for Clowns is Theatre-of-the-Absurd for youngsters. Featuring direct audience involvement in a frantic game of hide-and-seek, and a chase that mirrors animated cartoons, Gnatwing!—in clown face and exaggerated movement—is incredibly zany. This simple play when read is, in performance, transformed into a wonderfully inspired madness. Important Performance Information is included.
The Firebird
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 6,820. Language: English. Published: June 10, 2013. Categories: Plays » Russian & Former Soviet Union, Fiction » Adventure » Action
This One-Act Play tells of the Firebird and her quest to destroy Kastchei, a sorcerer who has hidden his death. A centuries-old Russian folk tale of magic and magical creatures and of how friendship and courage triumph over evil, this play condenses the action for contemporary audiences, yet retains all the wit, humour, and suspense. Important Performance Information is included.
Incident in a Duckyard
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 2,590. Language: Commonwealth English. Published: May 15, 2013. Categories: Plays » European / English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Fiction » Cultural & ethnic themes » Cultural interest, general
This radio play, adapted from a Hans Christian Andersen story, illustrates how easily racism, bigotry, hypocrisy, stupidity, and apathy can escalate into violence and destroy an innocent and gifted creature. Andersen’s folk tales always have a dark side and involve moral and ethical issues. Using poultry and droll humour to show us ourselves, this one is, indeed, a cautionary tale.
Atascadero!
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 8,710. Language: English. Published: May 13, 2013. Categories: Plays » Caribbean & Latin American, Fiction » Plays & Screenplays » American
Atascadero! is a One-Act Farce adapted by H.D. Greaves from Hans Christian Andersen’s folktale The Swineherd. A prince falls in love with a beautiful princess. Unfortunately, her beauty is only skin-deep. Rudely refusing his gifts, the prince, to teach her manners, becomes a swineherd, taking with him magical toys to entice her. O, the mischiefs that take place in the pigpen!