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From Farm to Fiction: An Interview with Cecil Homer, author of Tangled Iron Cages on the Prairie

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Cecil Homer grew up on an Illinois farm and survived the shock of applied science studies at the University of Illinois. From milking a cow in the early winter morning to sleeping through a lecture on Taylor series expansions, it was a long journey in ever-evolving iron cages. CH revels in the midwestern humor but only observes the real tragedies of life—his good luck.

Later, CH was a university professor in business studies and social science. Now retired, he has the freedom to explore the world of fiction which is a magical combination of what was and what might have been, filled with tragedy, disappointment, and humor.

You can buy Tangled Iron Cages on the Prairie here.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

The title went through many iterations, together with writing the book itself. What is a good title? I tried to imagine a reader who looked at the title and asked whether to go further. What would I want? Here goes: intrigue, ambiguity, perhaps a metaphor, does it seem interesting, some notion of what the book is about.

“Prairie” puts the story in place and an older time. The “iron cages” are a metaphor of life which is restricted, not the free life that the open prairie might suggest. The “tangled” suggests that life is complicated, not easy, and filled with twists and turns. Hopefully, a reader would give it another minute—read the back cover or a couple of pages inside. With luck, they might read further. Does it work? I leave that to others to judge.

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

When I opened the box and found the printed book, I was relieved and opened a bottle of wine. I was also pleased with what I saw and how it felt in book form. The wine was good.

What is a good cover? Does the cover say something about the book and the story? Again, I was pleased. I thought I could see the book title in the picture: the prairie, the barbed wire or cage, and the contrasting red heart of love stuck to the fence. Again, did anyone else see the picture and title as one? Others must judge.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

I have been writing non-fiction all of my life—at least, I thought it was non-fiction. It is restricted and a different iron cage, if you will. I wanted to experiment with something else, and fiction gave me that freedom to have fun in relating a story with humor in a veneer of life’s tragedy and tangled loves. Or is the humor the veneer to real life that permits us to laugh at ourselves and stay healthy? It is an ode to the mid-western folks that I grew up with and who are part of my being.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I was a university professor. This is my first book of fiction as an experiment in writing, exploring what might be, and having fun.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

I incorporated Cole Porter’s song titles: Begin the Beguine, Let’s Misbehave, Let’s Fall in Love, Can it be Love, Anything Goes. They capture humor cleverly.

Ella Fitzgerald sings them beautifully. Allegedly, Cole Porter said he did not know how good his songs were until he heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

This is a difficult question. The Atmosphere editors asked this question many times. I never developed a good response to them—or to me. I might say the reader would be a person who likes a good story. That seems too easy. I might say the coastal folks—East Coast and West Coast who might be intrigued by a story that takes place in the great fly-over plain that we call the Midwest. The humor is different, a reserved smile in the face of tragedy, betrayal and disappointment rather a belly laugh.

Yet today, I don’t have a good response. I imagine we write for ourselves—it is too much multitasking to write for ours at the same time.

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

I am working on a second novel that extends Tangled Iron Cages in a different way.

How was working with Atmosphere Press? What would you tell other writers who want to publish?

This is my first novel, so I needed guidance throughout a process that I knew little about. Everyone at Atmosphere Press was most supportive and helpful. They were straightforward in what needed to be done and how to move the book along.

Attitude is important and sets the frame for everything. I felt the editors were on my side in their guidance: they were helping me write my book—not telling me what to do. This is encouraging, motivating, and a bit frightening—as it should be. In the end, it is the author’s book to take pride in.

You can buy Tangled Iron Cages on the Prairie here.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

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