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Writer Focuses on Changing Landscape

Author John Rolfe Gardiner, who lives in Unison in western Loudoun, is awaiting the release of his latest book, "The Magellan House: Stories." Due out Aug. 20, the book is a collection of nine short stories, varying in theme and geography, that have been gathered over 10 years.

"These are ones that I feel are worthy," said Gardiner. He said he is known around this region for writing about the changing landscape Ñ not only the physical one, but also the social and ideological aspects.

When John Gardiner and his wife, Joan, first met 30 years ago his first book, "Great Dream from Heaven," had been published and he was also doing part-time carpentry work. At that point, Joan Gardiner could count the number of books she had read on one hand she said. These days she said that her husband alerts her to authors he is impressed with, although she is still not a big reader.

DESPITE THIS, Joan Gardiner said that one of her husband's short stories was the inspiration for her becoming a tilemaker. She said that people in the publishing world show her husband a lot of reverence Ñ not for being a big mainstream money-maker but for being artistic and timeless.

Assistant editor for "The Magellan House: Stories," Phil Ehrenkranz said that in editing John Gardiner's work he finds that there is not much to do. His writing is spare and he deals with unpleasant subjects in a sensitive way, Ehrenkranz said.

"Quite often I'm amazed at what he has been thinking after reading his books," said Joan Gardiner. "I think he is too."

Tia Maggio, a friend of John Gardiner's and a librarian at Middleburg Library, said that she sees the author as cerebral and unique Ñ a male version of Anne Tyler without the humor. Maggio said that John Gardiner's stories always have a dark side, a twist with interesting characters.

John Gardiner has performed readings at the library, taking part in an Appalachian rendition of "Cinderella" for a mother/daughter book discussion. Maggio said she hopes that he will appear in the fall to read from "The Magellan House: Stories."

JOHN GARDINER, a recipient of a Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Writer's Award, said he has high hopes for this book. The New Yorker has featured several of Gardiner's stories including "Voyage Out," which opens "The Magellan House: Stories" collection. While he spends the majority of his time in Northern Virginia, his stories use international settings. "The Voyage Out" features a young boy traveling to his new school in Canada after his headmaster was killed by a German bomb. Throughout years of correspondence, the reader witnesses Tony Haskins' struggle to find an identity among a fickle dean, stifling classmates, and suspicion that the mysterious loss of a friend during the journey overseas was his fault.

"The Magellan House," opening with the customary illustration by Joan Gardiner, closes the collection. Amid the revolution in Portugal, a poor family tries to mask their jealousy and lust for the life of their landlord and his family. Their ticket in is their daughter's relationships with the landlord's daughter and eldest son. As the story progresses, social settings change and feelings adjust.