We’re in the final stage of our novel DESSIE, reading aloud a chapter a day, and sometimes changing a comma, sometimes a paragraph. The intention is to finish before I go to Europe on Mar. 15.
Why? It’s unpublishable—grim, funny, fits no genre, and if it were actually accepted by an agent, it’d be two years before it’s published, by which time we may be dead—not the best career move. Or if we self-publish, it’ll have a dozen sales and then lie there. But so be it. I think when it’s finished, we’ll offer free PDF’s to anyone who wants to read it. And then probably self-publish, which is cheap.
I firmly resolved that this would be the last novel. Actually, I resolved that the previous one. And so, in the tradition of chronic derangement, I’m six chapters into the next.
The new project harks back to an earlier play. Why, I’ve wondered, have we in recent years done novels of plays we’ve written— DESSIE, AKEDAH, BLIND WALLS, LONG SHADOW, TAPDANCER, MASKS, REALISTS? Perhaps it’s that we lack ideas, perhaps we don’t want those stories to die. But I think it’s more than that.
If you go back to a memory, perhaps you look on it in a different way. Same with a story. I see Kenneth from the perspective of 2023, not of 1976, and it’s the same bent character but a different person seeing him. Now he’s informed by what I see as magical thinking of the worst sort, a Don Quixote delusion born from a desperate need. Then, he was sad, lovable Kenneth. Now, we’ll see.
We’re blest with having money enough, so that imperative is off the table, assuming we don’t live to 100. There’s a freedom in being 81 and unknown. Whatever I do, it’s not for career, it’s solely for the fact of doing it. Of course I’d like readers, and of course I’d like praise; this stuff gets reworked, goes through many drafts, and edited within an inch of its life. But it’s entirely what the story wants to do.
I wonder how STORY has become so important to me. A lifetime in theatre, of course, but how did that evolve beyond a way, in high school, to meet girls? Yet after I met some, it continued. Comedy, tragedy, musical, realism, melodrama, farce, the multiplicity of forms—yet lurking behind all was a story of human yearning and choice. I’ve created some despicable characters, and played some that Shakespeare brought forth, but I’ve always tried to empathize with the worst of them, to see the action from many points of view, to tease out what calls me to it. If I know at the start, there’s no point in pursuing it.
Which I guess is the key. It’s the only way I have of knowing myself. I’ve always felt closest to Ibsen, Brecht, and Beckett, I suppose because their work embodies its own contradictions. As do I. As does every human being. Chekhov is the same, though with the edges smoothed off. On occasion, I’ve been accused in reviews of doing a show more for myself than for the audience, and there’s an element of truth in that. Of course I want people to like it, and I’m never done with the tinkering, but I have to follow what the story, taken into my heart, wants itself to be.