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Throughout, she was writing poems, prose poems, and eventually stories. "I found I would come up with characters and situations I didn't feel were suitable for poetry. They needed a different outlet," Hamill says, adding, "Fiction is such a leap from poetry, which is such condensed, economical writing. You have to consider character and narrative."
She gravitates toward exotic locations and tales with "some kind of twist. I wouldn't ever have started to write fiction if not for Borges. I love Italo Calvino, the fabulists. It's not science fiction, it's writing about the marvelous." Indeed, in her café tales, statues smile and grieve, monks dream of trees flowered with birds, and a knowledge-starved girl leaves her body to commune with her grandfather's ghost. Some are more earthbound, like the hilarious tale of a brazen publicist trying to con her Felliniesque uncle into casting her lox of a boyfriend. But by the book's end, the stories have transubstantiated, leaving the physical realm of the café to pursue its mysterious spirit.
Hamill left city life behind when her husband, musician and technical writer Joe Csida, inherited a townhouse in an "amorphous" corner of Orange County. "The life I lived in New York no longer exists," she says bluntly. "It's not possible to live the bohemian life anymore."
But you can still write about it. She plans to follow up Tales from the Eternal Café with another collection of poetry, and then to burrow back into more fiction. "I'll write till I drop," she says.
And about that memoir? Janet Hamill shrugs. "Maybe 20 years from now, if I'm still ticking. If someone should ask." Her ironic smile expands into a full-bodied laugh. "If I still have a memory."
Appearing 2/23 at 3pm with Donna Reis Seligmann Center, Sugar Loaf; 3/7 at 7pm, Inquiring Minds, New Paltz; 4/4 at 8pm, Howland Cultural Center, Beacon.