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By Samantha White
“You have to show up for love” is one of the themes of Kathe Koja’s latest novel, “Under the Poppy.” The story centers around childhood friends and lovers Istvan, a puppeteer, and Rupert, the owner of the brothel in which the story is set. Throw in a bit of spice that includes a love-triangle between the two main characters and Rupert’s sister, Decca, who also happens to be in love with Istvan – along with an approaching war – and you have the perfect recipe for a sexy and delightful historical drama.
“The love of craft and profession are kin to their relationship,” Koja says. “Istvan and Rupert are to be reunited on and off stage, and the love they have for what they do and each other takes passion, humor and dedication.”
Passion and dedication both describe Koja’s relationship to her work. She speaks of her 14th novel with such adoration one can undoubtedly acknowledge her love for “Under the Poppy.”
Koja says, “It’s the most sustained effort I’ve ever had as a writer.”
It took the author two years to write the story, which is also her longest book. “So much love went into writing this,” she adds. “This one was from the heart, and I hope people respond it.”
From 7-9 p.m. Nov. 10 Koja will read and perform from “Under the Poppy,” an event sponsored by Common Language Bookstore, at Blackbird Theatre in Ann Arbor. Puppeteer Al Bogdan will on hand working with some of the puppets from the book’s trailer – yes, a trailer. Koja will also appear on Nov. 11 at Five15 Media, Mojo and More in Royal Oak.
“Under the Poppy” takes places in the 1870s in Brussels with a Victorian backdrop and characters like the muted piano player who expresses himself through miming. Koja’s vision is to bring the world of “Under the Poppy” to life for audiences.
“It’s going to be an immersive experience,” she says. The story is currently in the works to be a full onstage production.
“When you walk into the theater you aren’t just going to be watching a show,” Koja adds. “From the minute you step into the theater you will be experiencing the world around you.”
The “3D” project is ready to go once it finds the funding. Readers and supporters can visit the “Under the Poppy” website http://www.underthepoppy.com to donate to the author’s stage production of the story.
Koja’s love for her work is kin to her love for her city. Some artists leave and move East or West in pursuit of their creative endeavors – not Koja, a Detroit native, who still resides in the area and has no intention of leaving.
“I wouldn’t leave for anything. There is no American city like it,” she says. “You can compare it to New Orleans or Berlin. You stay and see what happens.”
In addition to being committed to her city and her art, the author is also an ally to the LGBT community. She is contributing the foreword to the young adult anthology “Awake,” which will be released by independent publishing house Cheyenne Publishing with all proceeds benefiting The Trevor Project.
Koja is the proud mother of a gay son, Aaron, who developed the motion graphics for the trailer to “Under the Poppy,” and an advocate for ending the intolerable suicide rates amongst youth in the LGBT community.
Who she is, and her Detroit roots and the essence of her city, finds its way into “Under the Poppy.” Koja says, “We take nothing for granted here, and Istvan and Rupert are the same way.”
‘Under the Poppy’}
7-9 p.m. Nov. 10
1600 Pauline Blvd., Ann Arbor
Nov. 11, Five 15 Media
515 S. Washington Ave., Royal Oak