Sunday, September 14, 2008

I didn't want to be in this play in the first place.

I have taken a chapter or two of my novella, the Fire in Bradford to a local theatre director to assuage my ego, after having this chapter and another rejected.

I expected sympathy, but the verdict was, "It needs work. We all do."

Oh-oh. You mean the publishing house was right?

A phrase from Newfoundland. "Buck up, f*ck-up!"

I now have a play version for out director, something I've been working on for some time, and have maybe tired out the "quarks", our club from a constant tinkering with, and displaying of this story.

But I'll reprint the novel chapter here, since it looks like nobody else is going to print it just now

My concern is that this chapter is too wordy. Any comments on this would be appreciated.

So here goes:

Lana appears before you while you are rolling your own cigarettes, the 1920's Vogue face, the bobbed hair, a Drew Barrymore fallen into the rye on one September day, though I knew in future September days it was not a field of rye that Lana would fall into, but a baroque field of dreams, of opium, and then the rush of cocaine that would make her thoroughly modern, thoroughly Chicago out of 1930.
Yet it was l986.
I was a newspaperman with a predilection for French authors, because they were so maddeningly thorough, the linchpin of real writers and so well did I get to know twentieth century authors in French that I soon got to teach a night course in it. Ah, the French penchant for the absurd, the splayed-out mysticism of an Andre Malraux and the incredible clarity of image and idea that only Frenchmen possess, and they'd be the first to tell you. Despite the utter incomprehensiveness of their humour (Fat man wears mop-wig--ha- ha) the French are somewhat superior and they know it. Celine, for instance, or, for that matter, Celine Dion.

Enough that I was a teacher of French authors and she walked in one day with no hint of the Vogue beauty that I would later know, no inkling as to the heaviness of spirit that would later come to oppress me, no clue at all as to the beautiful woman who resided in the suburban Mam's overalls, the little white tee shirt with the red apple monogram, the closely cropped hair like Celine Dion in Las Vegas.

Thoroughly modern.
But not me.
I was an old hot-lead linotype newspaperman just getting over a divorce, getting my love out of imagination, tossing the I-Ching, seeing my love in the allure of print until she walked in.

We had actually met the very first time on the stairs of Sacred Heart School where Seneca had a night class. She was on the way up and I was on my way down. She had looked different then, walking right up to what seemed the middle of a Goethe fantasy of mine. How these screwball women with their multiple personalities and costumes do attract one: She was the very image of Kathschen Shonkopf, Goethe's firs love, the nice high forehead so many girls from Ontario possess, the hair severely back in a bun with the neatest little bonnet atop, large haunting eyes like your mother's, straight nose somewhat probing, delightful little crooked lips and the cutest overbite.
She did encourage my Goethe fantasy. I saw another image of Lana, but this time with a pre-Victorian dress exquisitely corseted, nice breasts, waist hardly existent at all. And Granny boots!
So there were at least two Lanas that I already knew about, and after the years, many, many more.
But on this particular autumn evening, she was in to study French authors, a fascination for the Bastille, I guess, the French Revolution, socking it to the Bourbons (who would return a generation later to have learned nothing and forgotten nothing)--all that stuff of high drama for a fairly active imagination, constrained somewhat by a husband she imagined as pesky. She did seem to know her French authors, but largely of the Victor Hugo mold and a lot of Dumas, the adventure, misery, suffering, cell-to-cell signaling. Was there a dungeon in her life?...Lord knows what the suburbanites in Bradford were up to these days.
I always found myself charmed to find that in spite of possibly rococo lifestyles up there in Riveredge Park, hardly anybody in my class, largely women, had ever read real novels like Madame Bovary or Anna Karenina, the substance of all those adventurous, adulterous wives who think their problems will end by leaving old hubber, only to find with Chekhov, that their problems were just beginning. Or was old Mr. Chekhov just a prig and a spoilsport who knew nothing about real swingers, a Wayne Newton who didn't know the first thing about Shania Twain. I don't know how I'd ended up at Lana's house.
A somewhat raffish untenured professor who enjoyed drinking with his students after class, I had no objections at all when she asked through a third person if she could come to one of the pub nights, and could she bring her husband. Hubby was handsome as the night is long, like a European Wayne Gretzky, his manners continental, but no accent at all. Dracula in a hockey jersey, liked by all immediately, sweet as a pimp.

I could not help but marvel at the Vogue beauty of Lana now before me. What had happened to the closely-cropped hair? How did it reach lovely 1920's back-cut modishness in the scant three weeks that I'd seen her last, before she'd begged to get a little time off from her classes to go on a "camping trip"? A wig, of course, but it made her look more like Drew Barrymore, though Lana had a deeper beauty, more English, the inner glow, the hint of Viking.

I was lighting my cigarettes backwards. I had no idea how this present-day Julie Christie out of the Twenties had even broached the threshold of my life and wondered why she seemed so interested in me. I also wondered, as a veteran of not a few affairs, how many others had been pole-axed in the same way. She'd obviously been charming men for a long, long time, the blue eye shadow, the absolute blondness, pint size and everything about her fashioned, turned, just so. Sheer elegant femininity, and you could bet your granny boots there were at least three other guys playing here besides old hubber. Unnatural elfin beauty. A setup for loners and stoners. The husband's name was Leif. Leif the Lucky. Or was he?

I balked at first when they poured me into their red SUV, to be carted home with them. Drunk, I was babbling, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his goods, nor his ass. Leif seemed somehow intrigued by this last reference to Immanuel Kant.

Enough that we somehow got to a neat white cottage in Holland Landing, the husband unexpectedly retired rather suddenly, passed out in the bedroom and Lana and I were left to ourselves in a shag-rugged and Danish-style living room with its U-shaped chesterfield facing an immense picture window with the drapes not yet drawn. And the chess table in the corner. And suddenly I became aware of how lonely I was, me the divorcee and frequent near-separado from my subsequent live-ins, the man of many wives and master of none. It seemed I was suddenly curved up in a ball of loneliness, vulnerability, want. I just wanted her, anybody, anybody like her, to hold me. "Just hold me," I was beginning to keen. Very deliberately, she put an open palm and extended, graceful fingers to the seat of where she saw the trouble to be. Maybe just a lonesome woman not sure of herself , or someone used to certain kinds of men, or maybe this had to a a wham-bam-thank-you ma'am, and that would be my fifteen minutes. Earlier, she had gone to the hi-fi to put on an LP and I noted she kept bending over to reveal a beautiful pear-shaped derriere that she seemed rather anxious to display. Was she a virgin, the wife of some Ruskin, who was found years later to still possess her hymen after a lifetime of marriage? A lesbian? A lady of the night? Or maybe a lonesome woman. A lonesome woman suddenly not sure of herself because of a husband's imbroglios, or homosexuality, or extramarital affairs, or all of the above. In any event, we settled down. She had put on, of all things, my favourite Bob Dylan LP, the "Bringing It All Back Home" one. Pop nihilism , but what an articulate and haunting nothingness. "It's all right ma, I'm only crying," the great American genius rasping it all out, sharp trick-of-the-trade F-chord penetrating the D tonic, then quickly to a G and then back to the D, doom-da-da-dadda dum. Holy mackerel! She was right on my frequency.

...end chaper.

And here, just for fun, is my play version of Act Two, Scene One. The heroine's name is now changed to Celia.

ACT II Scene One............................
Setting: Main Street, with Lief's red Toyota SUV in front of parking meter.Celia and Lief have the professor between them. He is very drunk.They are walking towards the vehicle
.PROFESSOR( who is babbling): Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his goods, nor his ass.
LIEF (gigggling as he tries to hold up the professor'sright shoulder) "Nor his ass?"
PROFESSOR: I know your're a fart smastard, Lief. I know you've read Kant.'A Posteriori. One of Kant's propositions.
CELIA ( who has the professor's left arm, begins to giggle as well) David, what did you just say?
PROFESSOR: Kant. Immanuel Kant. What did you think I said?...And if your pronoune Goethe like Goth again I'll lay a Johnny Rotten on you.
CELIA: You're lucky I like the things you say. Even the rude things.Celia's head is now almost underneath the professor's arm. Lief fumbles in his right-hand pocket for the keys.They steer the professor around the front of the car to the sidewalk, so they can dump him in the back seat.Lief starts the SUV. There is a pause.Lief turn back towards the prof, who is screwing up lighting a cigarette.
LIEF: Threre is an ashtray in front of you. Pull it back.PROFESSOR: Fuck you, good friend Lief. The world is my ashtray!
LIEF, (to Celia, almost whispering): This guy's a professor? He's not even middleclass. Listen to him! Boy, you really pick them!
CELIA: He's a brilliant writer.
LIEF: Well, I don't care if he's a brilliant writer. I'm from the west. I know we laugh at Newfies here in Ontario, but over in Alberta, we used to call them Ukies. The guy's a boor, a horse's ass!
PROFESSOR: I heard that.I may be a horse's ass, but I noticed, when I said something to you back in the bar and grabbed your knee for emphasis, your moved right into it.(This brings a laugh from Lief). He turns back to the professor.
LIEF: Fast reflexes.
Professor: I don't know what you guys have in mind, but I've got no other place to go right now. And they are off.

...end Scene One


Ah well. Typing away some time.



Anonymous said...

Fuck the critics.

The tension between Lana and the professor is eaaly set up.

The play has life.

My opinion anyway.

Charles Gramlich said...

I like this. Good use of language. I'm generally of the opinion that almost everything could use a good cutting. I think it probably is a bit wordy. Also, there are a lot of little internal references, like those to Celine Dion, that, while fun for those who get them, may not be necessary to the overall story. Because of the fiction i read, which is primarily genre, a little bit of this kind of thing tends to go a long way for me. Literary readers might be much more enthralled. just my 2 cents.

benjibopper said...

It does have life, and I like the dialogue. Didn't find it too wordy either. But, couple of the comments by Lief threw me a bit, like "This guy's a professor? He's not even middleclass." I don't really get it. Can Lief really be that naive and think that a professor can't be crass?

And" I know we laugh at Newfies here in Ontario, but over in Alberta, we used to call them Ukies. The guy's a boor, a horse's ass!" Just not getting the reference, need more context somehow. What's a Ukie? What's that got to do with the professor?

But the writing is strong, the language is fun and it is a lively little scene. My two cents - probably worth even less in Ontario.

Lana Gramlich said...

Bwah! I never see my name "out there." It's kind of weird reading this, however...
"I could not help but marvel at the Vogue beauty of Lana now before me." I couldn't agree more. *preening*
Screw 'em, Ivan. Unfortunately it's not about talent, anyway. It's about who you blow. So how low do you want to go? <:\ said...

Oh Lana.

That is so right-on.

Said one fellow prof to me one day at Seneca College, where I had to teach after getting a novel rejected.
"You didn' write a book. You wrote two books....But you didn't suck."

Whee. Did you hear that? The man actually screws women. Real women! said...

p.s. to Lana.

I know you have a critical mind, you are accomplished in your own field and that you are very sharp.

I am flattered that you may think I have some ability. said...


Yeah. Wordiness.

But so many authors we like are so wordy.

When much younger, I was going to do a novel in Cobol or Fortran, gut those protocols have been pared down too. :) said...


In Alberta what were once Newfie jokes are now Ukrainian jokes.

...And my fellow Ukies will hate me for saying that.

Oh well. I am not Gogol,but he was sort of a Benedict Arnold too (while putting us on the map).

the walking man said...

Ivan...I caught all of the references to vogue and Lana's appeal through them in the professors' eye. I caught the backscene of the professor. his womanizing and his true love of attitude Francais. And the why. I was able to be in the professors head while he was viewing his world but then I read Dickens and the KJV bible along with Petrov for shits and grins.

Language I have no problem with, you have no problem with, but the sad state of the world certainly allows one to assume most people in general have a problem with language.

I liked the novella chapter much more than the play scene. Wordy yes, but coherent to the point of drawing me in but..

The inevitable but, the prose by today's standards of "literature" is dated. I kept thinking to myself...wonder what would happen if Ivan anonymously went to a community college and sat through their advanced comp class with a gaggle of 20 year olds? Would he be able to put up with the verbiage let out there? Would they be able to understand his language? Or would it spiral into a free for all between what was and what is coming in the (de)evolvement of the language? said...


Worthy here of an Alexander Pope, though he was early too.

You can use language!