Afoot in HCC : Author Eric Lehman Visits

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Published on December 5, 2014

Historians record, memoirists remember, novelists create.”  As this slogan floated up on the wall in  a sprawling mess of handwritten letters, author Eric Lehman pumped a fist into the air and shouted “Rock on, we create man!”  Then he leaned over the projector and slashed a huge black X across the statement. “Now I’m going to talk about why that’s wrong.”

On Thursday November 6, Lehman, a Professor of Creative Writing and Literature at nearby University of Bridgeport, came to HCC to speak to students, faculty and members ofthe general public in Lafayette Hall’s Performing Arts Center.

The event was hosted by HCC’s Library as a part of the Writers in the Housatonic Classroom program. WITC is an event that’s been going on for close to ten years now. Local authors are featured speakers at these events which are held in the Fall and Spring semesters.

Peter Everett, HCC librarian and coordinator of the event, introduced Lehman by giving a brief overview of his personal relationship to one of Lehman’s books, titled  “Afoot in Connecticut.” “I was struck by my connection to it, It [had me] reflect on reality [and the] disconnect from nature we have in the modern world,”  Everett said of the memoir he’d received as a birthday gift.

Eric Lehman1

Photo by Jeremy Woodhouse, made available through Brittanica ImageQuest

Lehman’s topics ranged from discussing the books he’s written — two of which include: the aforementioned “Afoot in Connecticut” which he described as a “love story between me and Connecticut [and] nature”, and “Becoming Tom Thumb,” a work of historical nonfiction that  won the Victorian Society in America’s 2014 Henry Russell Hitchcock Award. He also detailed his writing experience, and explained the differences between fiction and nonfiction writing and the many misconceptions that surround the latter.

“Any kind of fiction or nonfiction is telling a story, whether it’s true or imagined, Many historians aren’t taught how to write . . .they forget the principles of fiction apply to nonfiction,” Lehman said.

Lehman popped slide after slide into the projector while detailing  what the craft of nonfiction and fiction meant to him as both an author and a reader. Both, he said, offer a rich experience that provides a reader with real details, strong scenes, and a thoughtfully arranged structure as the keys to writing.

He explained how balancing the relationship between character and plot as essential.

“When plot happens independently of characters, or when characters are dominated by plot, it makes for poor fiction whether it’s historical or not,” he said.

Lehman read small passages from both “Afoot” and “Tom Thumb” to the attentive audience. Afterwards he once again touched on his relationships with writing. Describing himself a voracious reader, Lehman said he taught himself how to write. He dabbled in poetry before finding his niche as novelist. By the time he was twenty he’d already penned four novels.

Towards the end of his presentation Lehman opened the floor for discussion and fielded questions about being an author.

He offered up advice to aspiring writers, even when he wasn’t prompted. “Being a writer is fun, Being an author is work. You have to find a balance between your writing and your social life,” he said.

When asked about the big P, (publication) Lehman said, “Take opportunities you can get!” He explained how he’d started off as a travel writer for websites and magazines.

“Don’t get attached to one form. As a writer push out into all directions!” he added.

Sid Yusmahniraak, a General Studies Major at HCC, attended the lecture with her Creative Writing class. She asked a question about what  she could expect when she submits her own writing for publication. Lehman said, “to expect rejection and to be persistent.”

“[Now I know] I have to have determination to continue with my own stuff,” she said.

Her general impression of the lecture was favourable,“[Lehman] was really entertaining, he knew how to keep the conversation going,” Yusmahniraak said

As his lecture came to a close, Lehman answered a final question about what qualities or abilities a successful author ought have. Lehman didn’t hesitate, “[You have to] be able to get your vision across to other people. Always think about the reader. It’s your vision has to translate.”