We had a happy visit this weekend from a friend who has now committed to being a permanent Road Warrior, and we three had an unruly blast. She showed us her four-wheeled compact little office/home, complete with a solar roof and a web-grabbing system that takes care of her energy and connectivity whether she’s in “civilization” or out in the desert. Have wheels, will deal. This, after having bought, renovated, and sold two spectacular homes in the recent decade. That was then, this is now. And I started thinking about our own history with the Travelers’ Itch.
Last week was our 57th anniversary, and I do think we’ve had at least as much variety as Heinz. After our wedding ceremony was accomplished, attended by mostly my parents’ executive-class older friends, we completely kicked the can of respectability. We jumped in the car and took off for Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes, two-thirds of the way up the Michigan coast toward Traverse City. There’s an official campground there now, but way back then it was just barefoot bride and groom, double sleeping bag, iron skillet and firewood, with bacon, eggs and coffee for the morning. No tent, no tarp, just waves and sky and stars. And, of course, sand, which is brilliant white, soft, and gets into everything. But it was a magical way to start our official life together.
The two of us, plus our two kids before they became independent, have logged hundreds of thousand of touring miles all over the country, but that ain’t all. We’ve each logged a lot of solo miles, and have the memories to prove it—not all of them socially respectable. I remember a night driving a string-straight rural highway under an intense full moon, dousing the headlights and driving by moonlight until I saw something coming in the distance. I remember coming home alone in the van after visiting Arches and Shiprock, looking for a place to park for the night. A woman alone in backroads country needs to think about safety, but this felt right: a very large rock, big enough to make me totally invisible from the road, with a central hole exactly right for me to see the full moon at midnight. And in the morning, I discovered that the base of the hole was an ideal “kitchen counter” for making coffee.
Not all of my vivid night-memories were from car trips. Once in Rennes, stranded by an Air France pilots’ strike, I got kicked out of the train station where I’d thought I could sit through the night, and found myself on the street at midnight with nowhere to go. After bumming a little on-line time from the night clerk at a pricey hotel, I took her suggestion to just walk uphill on the side street. There I found a cheap business travelers’ hostel, with one convenient cancellation, and I spent a safe night in my very own room before launching into the wilderness of Charles de Gaulle Airport.
On a more peaceful note, on my first of many visits to Belle Isle (in Brittany) I checked into the hostel but was too wired to sleep, so I walked out the massive stone arch of the gated city, out into the farm countryside, walking on moonlit blacktop through the little dark silent houses. I don’t think this is recommended by the tourist guides, but it was a deep experience of safety and blessedness.
So it’s no wonder that we make it a ritual to take a picnic to the ocean twice a month, and sit in the mighty presence of rocks and water. In the midst of gnarly national pathology, we need our wild friends.
The basic principle of improvisation: hold to the premise while accepting what life or your partner or the pigeon flying overhead gives you. That also applies to the so-called Creative Life.
Right now we’re in heated preparation for publishing our second novel GALAHAD’S FOOL, officially to hit the world on May 1, 2018. A ways away, but we have to finalize text and layout, cover design, and publicity strategy within the next month. We’re bringing it out ourselves through our own WordWorkers Press; while we had a contract with a small Philadelphia publisher, after about six months of editing, it fell through.
Why? Well, such things happen. With an editor, you’re inviting a stranger into bed with you, and even though there’s lots of enthusiasm at the outset, you may have a mismatched set of kinks. In this case, we had asked, “How much editing do you feel will be needed?” and heard, “Maybe just some tightening, maybe ten percent.” Fine. From writing about 60 produced shows over the years, the mantra of Less is more is tattooed all over ourselves. And in fact, over the course of time, the novel went from 80,000 words to 70,000 and gained in the process.
Initially, it started to hit glitches on minor things: a dialogue passage intended to be ironical would be taken literally. Simple: rewrite to make it unmistakable. Or cuts proposed that eliminated a crucial bit of backstory. So try this: explain why it has to be there, and offer another solution to the story seeming to drag at that point: tighten the prose to get us through it faster.
Some comments required more juggling, but they seemed valid. It wasn’t until the second round of edits that things began to go awry.
* A court fool is traditionally the one who tells his master the raw truth. Well, yes, that’s a cliché and it’s Lear’s Fool, but it’s not Sammy Shit-pants.
* The relationship between Albert and his dead wife is co-dependent. You need to strengthen the co-dependency theme. Well, it’s based on our own relationship: if that’s co-dependent it’s kinda late to change it. That would be an interesting novel, but not ours.
* When it says, ‘Sammy told her what to do” you need to tell us what he said. But we find out two chapters later: that’s called suspense.
And so on. And in fact those comments were useful in a bass-ackward way. Over the years we’ve learned never to ignore a comment, no matter how off-the-wall it seems. (Not to mention that a publisher is gambling her money and her reputation on this thing.) But while your doctor needs to listen carefully to every symptom you describe, she may not agree with your proposed diagnosis or prescription.
So for us the issue is always: what’s producing that impression? Why’s our intent being misunderstood? What can we do to remedy the underlying symptom without making the patient break out in spots? If one intelligent reader took the wrong turn, others will, so how can we make the roadsigns clearer?
In fact, responding to those weird misreadings—and one way or another we responded to them all—produced a much better novel. Though not to the publisher’s taste. No responses from her to any particulars, just, “No, it’s not ready.” We had the choice of delaying publication to an unknown date and writing the book she wanted or canceling the contract. So we returned the modest advance and washed our hands.
And indeed there’s a bitter aftertaste. We’ve had a few theatrical collaborations—among many that were joyous—where we were left with Wha’ hoppen? Did she read the book more than once? Did her life or her politics change? Did she peg us as ignorant geezers? Are we out of step with the times?
In any case, we move ahead. Out-of-step gets your heels stepped on, but you still get there.