Thursday, October 26, 2017

Lingering echoes of a long-ago November

Greenfield Public Library Logo Square
Greenfield Public Library. Click to Visit.
As the observance of the Great War Centennial wheels around to another Veterans Day, I will be offering, with Chuck Muckle, a dramatized reading from my historical novel Flower of Iowa that also features WWI-era music at the Greenfield Public Library in Greenfield, Massachusetts, on Wednesday, November 1. Details are here; the event is free and open to all.

It is, as always, striking to look back at what happened 100 years ago, and discern how very much the First World War is still with us today. In this case, I would like to home in on three events that took place over the course of eight days a century ago.

On the 31st of October, 1917, the British began a surprise attack against Turkish defensive lines stretching between Gaza and Beersheba in southern Palestine, aided by a group of fighters led by one T. E. Lawrence — better known to us now as Lawrence of Arabia — who played a key role in the Arab uprising against the Ottoman Turks.

T. E. Lawrence
T. E. Lawrence — aka Lawrence of Arabia

Seven days later, the village of Passchendaele in Belgium was captured by Canadian troops, bringing to an end a months-long battle that had caused 500,000 casualties on both sides, with no significant gains for either.

On the other side of Europe, that same evening, the Bolsheviks overthrew the democratic Provisional Government that had been established in Russia after the fall of the Czar earlier in the year, and established a decidedly non-democratic Soviet government based on Marxism.

For the characters in Flower of Iowa, these three seemingly disparate events have profound effects. The British/Arab victories in the Middle East, and the decision of Soviet Russia to leave the war, mean that by the time the novel’s lead character, Tommy Flowers, arrives in France in 1918, Germany has been able to throw its full weight into a final offensive in an attempt to rout the Allies on the Western Front.  

Passchendaele 2
Tommy’s comrade, British soldier David Pearson, who has lost a brother at Passchendaele, is part of the stiff British resistance that has stalled that offensive, and Tommy is part of the American Army that helps to turn the tide in the Allies’ favor — exactly what the German High Command feared, and caused them to throw the dice on the aforementioned offensive in the first place.

By the same token, all three events continue to echo in our world today, where the unresolved aftershocks of the Arab drive for self-determination are still felt in Gaza and Palestine, and well beyond; where the horrific memory of Passchendaele continues to feed antiwar movements, especially in Europe; and where Vladimir Putin bases his every geopolitical move with the memory of both the Czar and the Bolsheviks ever fresh in his mind.


“Living history” may seem like a cliché, but we are indeed still living with the reverberations of the events of those fateful eight days a century ago.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A Teachable Moment in Dublin

Lance Ringel at the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival
The author, with Festival director Brian Merriman (background)
Lest you had any doubts, I can assure you the legendary hospitality of the Irish people is very real. The evidence starts with an invitation that was kindly extended to my spouse Chuck Muckle and me to help kick off the 14th annual International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival – the largest such gathering in the world – at a World War I seminar titled “Love in the Trenches.” Then The Irish Times, previewing the event, referenced “Lance Ringel’s cult novel Flower of Iowa” in the write-up. (I had no idea I’ve written a cult novel, but who am I to argue with The Irish Times?)

Finally, on April 30, we had the extraordinary privilege of giving our dramatized reading from the book to an extremely attentive full house at the venerable Teachers Club on Parnell Square. At the conclusion, we were greeted with two standing ovations. You can read more about this afternoon featuring the “esteemed American author” and his “beautifully told” story(!) by clicking here.

As the review notes, we shared billing with an erudite presentation by the Festival’s indefatigable Founder and Artistic Director, Brian Merriman.  Any look back at World War I in an Irish setting inevitably reflects the nation’s vexed relationship with a conflict that took place when the entire island, not just the northern part, was still officially a part of Great Britain. Somewhere between 30,000 to 50,000 Irish soldiers died in the Great War (the figure depends on whether or not you count those from the Irish Diaspora who fought and lost their lives in other armies), while the immediate death toll from the Easter Rising of 2016, which took place in the midst of WW1 and ultimately paved the way for an independent Ireland, was about 500. Yet it is the Rising that is looked back upon with reverence in Ireland, while the service of those Irish soldiers is regarded with profound ambivalence. Indeed, such is the deference given the Rising that according to Brian, at last year’s seminar, which observed the centennial of that event much as this year’s was timed for the centennial of the American entry into the First World War, a gay Irishman objected to his identifying notable figures Roger Casement and Padraig Pearse as gay men!

International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival Logo Banner

As for the Festival itself, Brian and his dedicated squad of volunteers create an annual miracle on the Liffey, producing two weeks of theatre that make a special trip to Ireland each May well worth the while.  Chuck and I caught three of this year’s plays, two Irish and one Scottish, and found much to admire in each of them.

Dutch's Spirits Logo
All in all, our Dublin adventure was a definite high point in the journey of Flower of Iowa, a book that continues to command attention three years after its publication. That journey will continue apace on Memorial Day, when Hudson Valley, New York residents and visitors can catch our presentation (including a WW1 sing-along), at Dutch’s Spirits at Harvest Homestead Farm, 98 Ryan Road in Pine Plains, New York. The action starts at 1 p.m. on Monday, May 29. Admission is free, and no advance reservations are required. You can register to attend via Facebook by clicking here.

One final note: You can easily download Flower of Iowa for your Kindle by clicking here. To download with iBooks on your Mac or iOS device, and with iTunes on your computer, click here. For Nook users, please click here.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

“Love in the Trenches” in Dublin

World War I Photo
This month marks the centenary of the entrance of the United States into World War One. I am disappointed – though not surprised – at the paucity of Stateside commemorations of this pivotal moment in our history. It appears 21st-century America is a nation of citizens whose collective memory, unfortunately, is as short as their attention spans.

By contrast, Europe continues to mark The Great War with a series of events that will continue through November 11, 2018, the 100-year anniversary of the final day of that bloody conflict.

International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival Logo
To cite one example, later this month, my spouse, actor-singer Chuck Muckle, will join me as we travel to Ireland to participate in the opening seminar of the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival. The two-week Festival, now in its 14th year, is the largest theatrical event of its kind in the world. Each year it opens with a seminar on a particular topic. This year’s theme is the First World War, and Chuck and I were deeply honored by the invitation to take part.

Here’s the program’s official description of the event, called “Love in the Trenches”:

“1917, the USA entered World War 1, bringing the European crisis to a global level. This war to end all wars wiped out a generation of young men, and thrust naive young women and men from their sheltered, innocent lives onto the battlefields of Europe. Poets such as Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen & Rupert Brooke left us vivid accounts of the horrors of war and the hope that endured. Featuring Flower of Iowa by Lance Ringel, a panel of international speakers will reflect on the impact of this ‘lost generation,’ and the few lesbian & gay love stories that blossomed in the horrors of the trenches that have survived one hundred years on.”
International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival Program

As part of the seminar, Chuck and I will offer a 45-minute dramatized reading from my WW1 novel Flower of Iowa. This presentation, which has been well-received by audiences across the United States and in London, features Chuck reading the role of American soldier Tommy Flowers, and myself narrating while also reading the part of his buddy, British soldier David Pearson. (You can read a short description of the novel here.) It also includes Chuck performing songs that gained international popularity during World War I, such as  “Over There” and “It’s A Long Way to Tipperary.”

Lance Ringel and Chuck Muckle

International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival Cover Photo
Our reading in the Dublin seminar coincides not only with the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into the Great War, but also with the third anniversary of Flower of Iowa’s release. I am delighted – and rather humbled – that the novel is still going so strong. It is available for download here.

“Love in the Trenches” will take place on Sunday, April 30, beginning at 2:30 p.m. Irish time, at The Teachers’ Club, located at 36 Parnell Square West, Dublin. Admission is free.