I don’t believe in the paranormal, but we live in it. One needn’t swear to belief in astrology, ghosts, gods or psychic double-shuffles to behave as if we do. Too much is unpredictable, defying logic, incapable of proof. We’ve adapted two Greek myths to the stage as well as the Sumerian Inanna myths, the Norse myth of the Ragnarok, not to mention Frankenstein, Lewis Carroll’s Alice, and other frail human attempts to control the inexplicable. We’ve written several historical plays whose characters—Marie Antoinette, Sir Francis Drake—have attained mythic status, at least insofar as their capacity to generate fabulous stories.
The enticing “legend of Winchester House,” which brought us to write the play that led to our new novel BLIND WALLS, was largely a potpourri of speculation by journalists who quoted one another until the “legend” was born. Indeed, one looks for motive in the construction of a mansion of over three hundred rooms (until the 1906 earthquake honed it down to 160). No different from the myths that tried to explain the rising and setting of the sun. You can’t do a guided tour of the sun, but it’s always there.
A lot of our work, both in theatre and in fiction, involves stories within stories. What’s our motive for the stories that we tell? How does that motive shape the story? That was the genesis of the Tour Guide in BLIND WALLS: a man making his living, his whole life, telling a story that he knows is false, though it’s such a damned good story.
As with many of our projects, BLIND WALLS came about through cross-pollination—two stories that intersect—not a whole lot different than our temperaments as collaborators. When we read that one workman stayed on the project for 38 years, until the wealthy widow’s death, we started to piece out the story of someone in the grips of service to another’s vision, and found personal experience of people caught in the pressure of advancement, like the gifted teacher who becomes the feckless principal because that’s the only way he can get a raise.
Those multiple layers of story create a potential dog’s breakfast, and it’s taken many drafts to let it flow. Like most of our work, it defies fitting readily into a genre. The only terrified person is herself a ghost, haunted by the fleshly tourists swarming about her, and a villain desperate to deny her villainy.
Myth is just reality distilled to a very sharp liquor. That’s what’s so tasty.