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Friday, September 14, 2012

Well-traveled author to speak at library

Writers draw on their experiences when crafting fiction. Bits and pieces of their lives are in each story, each character and each situation. When you have a writer with a history as complex as Clifford Garstang's, you never know where he will take you.

Garstang will talk about his writing and sign copies of his latest book, "In an Uncharted Country," at the Westlake Library at Westlake Center on Sept. 20, at 5:30 p.m.

A Midwesterner, Garstang earned his B.A. from Northwestern University; an M.A. in English and a J.D., both from Indiana University; an M.P.A. in International Development from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government; and an M.F.A. from Queens University of Charlotte.

From working with the Peace Corps in South Korea to practicing international law in Singapore, Chicago and Los Angeles to being a legal-reform consultant in Kazakhstan, Garstang concluded his corporate career as senior counsel for East Asia at the World Bank in Washington, D.C., with a concentration in China, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Garstang draws on his love of farmers in the Shenandoah Valley, where he now lives, in a short story collection "In an Uncharted Country," and on his worldwide experience in "What the Zhang Boys Know." Stories from both books appeared in such literary magazines as Bellevue Literary Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Blackbird, Shenandoah, Tampa Review and Los Angeles Review.

"In an Uncharted Country" came from Garstang's move to the Shenandoah Valley. Not bred and born in Virginia, he felt like an outsider until he looked at everyone he met. All were outsiders struggling to fit in.

Their political views weren't mainstream for their new environment. Many enjoyed untraditional lifestyles. Garstang imagined what it was like for a group of characters, a community, a family or a culture to absorb outsiders. These stories in this collection share characters, a setting and recurring themes, but they are not tightly linked.

Garstang drew on his experience living in a small condominium in Washington, D.C., for "What the Zhang Boys Know," which is set in the fictional Nanking Mansion in a slow-to-be-gentrified neighborhood adjacent to a run-down area near Chinatown.

Loss of a mother and the search for a new mother dominate a series of character sketches in a single story arc. Much like some classic movies where all the action occurs in a narrow setting, all the action takes place in the condominium complex, the alley behind it and the street in front.

As much as fiction was an early draw, international law was a stronger lure for Garstang. Foreign travel led him all over the world, but a primary draw remains South Korea. He worked there with the Peace Corps and returns frequently to visit friends and gather material for future fictional works. When the old millennium ended, he gave up his law career to focus on writing.

Not content with writing a story or two for literary magazines, Garstang edits a leading-edge magazine, Prime Number Magazine, which solicits short fiction, short nonfiction and poetry. He also teaches online classes in creative writing.