Thursday, May 15, 2008

After mutual challenge, English professor and son each to publish a book

A couple of years ago, University of Florida English professor Sidney Homan was walking through Central Park with his son Danny, an aspiring novelist studying for his master's degree in creative writing at Texas State University.

With all the arrogance of youth, Danny was busy explaining that his father was a "dull academic," Homan said.

Danny jokingly accused Homan, who has published 10 books on Shakespeare and the modern playwrights, of simply feeding off the creativity of others and challenged him to write something original.

As for himself, Danny was at that point inexperienced and unpublished, yet convincingly unconcerned, Homan said. He would sit amid publishers' rejection letters and confidently tell his father that someday, someone would want to read his work.

Fast forward about two years. A son's good-natured challenge has materialized into his father's first book outside the scholarly realm, and Danny's self-assured perseverance has paid off in the form of a soon-to-be-published fantasy novel debut.

"A Fish in the Moonlight," a collection of stories from Homan's childhood as told to pediatric cancer patients during his participation in the Shands Arts in Medicine program, is due for release from the Purdue University Press in June.

Danny's "The Queen of Hearts," a fantasy novel rife with allegorical undertones of current events ranging from the war in Iraq to the Pinochet regime in Chile, will be released by Prime Books in November.

Ever since that day in Central Park, the father-son pair has profited from a symbiotic creative rivalry.

"I never would have tried ‘A Fish in the Moonlight' if it weren't for the kid saying I was a dull academic," Homan said. "When you're challenged by your kid, you respond."

But it wasn't all competition. Homan and his son have provided valuable perspective for each other as co-editors.

"You need someone else to be a critic of your own writing," Homan said. "We agreed from the beginning that we would be honest with each other."

The two spent many hours reading each other's work aloud, taking turns reading each new paragraph to stay focused.

"A Fish in the Moonlight" isn't fiction per se — the events Homan talks about did actually happen. For example, his beer-bellied, black-sheep Uncle Eddie really did show up drunk to Uncle Arthur's funeral and jump into the coffin with his dead brother while the family looked on in horror. But Homan isn't about to pledge that every detail and quotation is exactly accurate. There may be some embellishment. These are stories, after all.

Homan said writing a book like this required him to fundamentally change the way he thinks and writes compared to his scholarly approach to books on the theater.

"It demands a different kind of language, a different kind of vocabulary," he said. "When you are writing for yourself, the options are tremendous."

Homan's effort, however, has paid a handsome wage.

"'A Fish in the Moonlight' gives me more pleasure than anything I've ever done," he said. "As thrilling as it is to work in the theater, it's so pleasurable now to just sit in front of my computer and create my own worlds."

Where to go from here? Homan isn't sure, but he has a sequel in the works and no plans to retire.

"You go in one direction your whole life, and then you change," he said. "I have no idea where this book is going to take me."

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