Award-winning story set in Oak Harbor

"The recollections of a boy growing up in Vietnam-era Oak Harbor has already become a successful novel, and next week the screenplay version of the story will receive the top award from among thousands of entries in the Washington State Film Office Competition 2000.Los Angeles-based writer Robert Morgan Fisher used memories of life in and around Capehart housing in the late 1960s and early '70s as a backdrop for his novel Set the Poem Free. Though the book and screenplay are fictional, the underlying story and locations are real, Fisher said by phone this week.There are many things from my childhood in the novel, he said. Oak Harbor is almost a character itself in the book. It was a different town in many ways back then - a whole different world.Fisher, who was in the class of 1977 at Oak Harbor High School, said the novel's inspiration came from a request his father made while on one of many tours of duty in Vietnam.He wrote and asked me to send him the poem 'If' by Rudyard Kipling to post in the ready room of the carrier, said Fisher. He recalled the emotional difficulty he had fulfilling his dad's request and his initial resistance. I had big resentments about him being away and the war itself. But then I thought, what if he was shot down?Though his own father never met that fate, the father in the novel becomes missing in action, leaving the boy hounded by guilt and the family dealing with an uncertain future.Fisher completed the novel almost a year ago after three years of work. He entered it in a fiction writing competition put on by the Internet publishing firm The novel claimed a second-place award, a $5,000 cash prize and an Internet-distribution deal. Next came the award-winning screenplay. On June 26, Fisher will be in Seattle for a presentation of the Washington Film Office award and a special reading of the screenplay by some of Seattle's finest actors. The Washington competition is sponsored by Clear Blue Sky Productions, an independent film company founded by billionaire Paul Allen. It has built a strong reputation within the Hollywood film industry. Accompanying Fisher at the ceremony will be former Oak Harbor High School drama teacher Pat Hawley. Fisher credits Hawley with sparking his career in the arts.She was very influential on me, he said. She ran a very supportive and nurturing drama class. People were encouraged to explore their talents. The plays we did then are still held up as standards.Hawley retired in 1998 after 25 years at the high school, teaching not only drama but English, speech and creative writing as well. She remembered Fisher as a shy student who impressed her with his writing, particularly his music writing.I did think he was very special and had a real gift, she said. She said the 1970s were a glorious time for high school drama in Oak Harbor and that many of her students from that time have gone on to careers in the arts.As for Fisher, he's hoping his screenplay will now catch the eye of a movie producer. In the meantime he's writing comedy for the Premiere Radio Network.By the way, Fisher's younger sister Laura has also become a writer of note. She was senior editor of This Old House magazine and is currently editor of the new eShopper magazine. Her books include The Official eBay Guide to Buying, Selling and Collecting Just About Anything and Weddings For Dummies which she co-wrote with wedding planner Marcy Blum. Laura Fisher Kaiser's writing has appeared in Town & Country, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, New York Woman, Texas Monthly and Harper's Bazaar. She attended grade school and began middle school in Oak Harbor.----------------------------* For more information on Robert Morgan Fisher, visit his Web site at * Set the Poem Free is available via the Internet at* For information on the Washington State Film Office Competition 2000 call (206) 956-3200 or e-mail * Pat Hawley will be performing in Gentle Readers, at the Anacortes Community Theatre June 30, and July 1, 7 and 8. The reader's theater production features the works from a variety of authors, from Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams to Ogden Nash and Bob and Ray."

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