Former SBU professor, Tom Gatten, has just published his first book, The KojoHand. Gatten had this to say in an interview with the Statesman:
Q: What is the story about?
A: The book is about how Deanie Hollins, a nineteen-year-old white female, withher heart set on going to Italy at the end of the summer for a study-abroadprogram, gets through the summer-and also how her friend Kojo Dedu gets throughthe summer.
In June of 1972 she arrives in New York City to try out for a modeling job withRandall Burkhart, the advertising executive brother of one of her professors.After the psychologically trying tryout, she begins to learn of a strange connectionbetween him, his brother, his brother’#146;s wife, and one of her favorite maleprofessors, a West African, a Ghanaian, named Kojo Dedu.
Deanie, perplexed by questions raised about the relationships among the others,learns from her lover, Zerk Lewis, a Vietnam vet, returning college student,and manager of an illegal industrial waste dumping site, of real and imaginedsex triangles among them and one of her female friends, a local artist and barmaid.
As the summer moves on, Deanie, still vowing to do whatever is necessary toget to Italy at the end of the summer, begins to express a Quixotic longingto go to Palermo, Oklahoma (a place not on the map), a longing increased bypressures and stress over the summer.
As Deanie learns more about the love triangles she begins to learn of Kojo’#146;spossible association with an alleged coup attempt which has been complicatedby Prof. Burkhart’#146;s wife who, having discovered some notes related to thealleged coup attempt, tries to use the information to manipulate both her husbandand Kojo.
During one of the loud and lively parties of the summer, a teenage boy, whiletrying to save Deanie from drowning in the dumping site, is electrocuted asDeanie is saved by Kojo. Riding with Kojo and two other West Africans from Newark,along with crates of guns to be shipped to their homeland, Deanie takes actiondesigned to save them from being stopped by the New Jersey state police.
Q: When did you first start writing this novel?
A: I think I actually started writing the ‘she-said-he-said stuff’in the mid ‘#145;80’#146;s. At the time, I had a real job and a real familyand did most of my writing on the commuter bus in Connecticut to and from Hartford.
Q: Is this the first full-length novel you have published in any form?
Q: Do you have additional works that you would like to see published?
A: Yes. I have nearly finished a book of short stories, and I am working ona second book of poems. And I have an anthology-style writing textbook thatI would like to see published.
Q: Do you plan to pursue writing as a career now?
A: My best answer is that I am always planning to write more, and now I seemto have more time to write.
Q: What was the inspiration for this story?
A: I don’#146;t think anybody knows what inspiration is. But in the spirit ofthis interview I’#146;ll say that I was interested in the idea of betrayal asit figured forth in the relationships of college students, business people,and academics. The arrest, imprisonment, and torture in Ghana of the Englishdepartment’#146;s Professor Kofi Awoonor certainly provided a rich laboratory,if you will, in which to examine betrayal. I was also interested in the waymixed and unclear motives can lead to destruction. Stony Brook provided a laboratoryfor this.
Q: Are the characters in the novel based on people you knew and worked withat Stony Brook?
A: The characters grew out of all of my experience, ten years of which was atStony Brook. The characters are all fictional. The character of Kojo Dedu maylead to a recollection of Kofi Awoonor-but this fact does not constitute a ‘key,’does not make a roman ‘agrave; clef.
Q: How much of a role did your work at Stony Brook play in the developmentof this piece?
A: A great deal. My teaching creative writing perhaps allowed me to be a littlemore in touch than I might have been teaching something else-or not teaching.
Q: What advice do you have for first-time authors on writing and on the processof getting published?
A: Love your fictional characters for the humanity they represent. This willhelp them grow as characters, whether they are good or evil, in your work. Don’#146;tworry about publishing something until you have an absolutely finished product.Properties are published, not promises.
Q: Do you plan to promote the book on campus at all?
A: Yes, in the fall on a Thursday. Also, it can be ordered from any bookstoreor from Amazon.com or BN.com.