ABR presenter brings narrative to life through comedy

Gabriella Canales By Gabriella Canales

Dec. 1, 2016 at 10:48 p.m.
Updated Dec. 2, 2016 at 6 a.m.

Monika Drake

Monika Drake   Contributed Photo for The Victoria Advocate

Virginia Gilstrap, of Victoria, was able to meet the character behind "Clown Girl," the latest novel she is reading.

"I was fascinated by her humorous voice," Gilstrap said. "Hearing the author's voice brought the character to life because it is written in first person."

The 2007 novel is about "Clown Girl," who tries to earn a living in Baloneytown, a seedy neighborhood full of petty crime.

"People need to laugh," said the master's student and Victoria College employee.

Monika Drake was the 95th speaker in the American Book Review Reading Series at the University of Houston-Victoria Alcorn Auditorium.

Multiple topics ranging from Drake's previous novels, the role of comedy in narrative and teaching approaches were discussed with the audience.

She is an associate professor at the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Ore.

Drake is the final author to visit Victoria in the fall reading series.

"It is important to come with a warm heart and open spirit," Drake said. "That's how I come here now."

During her lecture, Drake read a story from her most recent book, "The Folly of Loving Life," called "Miss America Has a Plan."

The book is a collection of linked short stories that feature characters trying to find stability in life.

"I try to read my own writing without laughing," she said as the audience laughed along to her narrative.

Drake discussed the inspiration behind her 2013 novel "Stud Book."

After her daughter was born, she was concerned with the state of the world, she said.

"How do we make more humans when we know there's so many?" Drake said, explaining she found comedy in the frailty of newborn life.

In the audience question-and-answer period, she talked about balance and her writing style.

The Israeli shoes worn by the character were a detail in her short story reading.

This detail was inspired by her own shoes because she would get negative and positive comments about them.

When discussing her other novel, "Clown Girl," she said she used body humor as base interaction.

"Once a clown, always a clown," Drake said.

Recording physical comedy in words on the page was her goal.

In the novel, she explores different types of clowns, including her overall interest in the evangelical component.

"It was worth thinking about what it means to be in costume," Drake said.

She said she has been involved in a workshop since 1991 in Portland.

"Writing is about containing an audience," Drake said. "There are always some students who are afraid to read aloud, but you have to walk into it gentle."

Drake said she adopted a casual approach when working with students.

"Let students make mistakes," Drake said. "Clowning allows that energy, whether they know they are in it or not, where you can move in different directions to get to the heart of things and letting yourself be more vulnerable."


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