HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Who has watched Murder, She Wrote? Hands up. Okay, hands down. That's everyone, right? And read the books? Again, everyone, right? Well now, the author of the Murder She Wrote series of novels along with his wife and collaborator have started a--well, Murder, they Published.
Donald Bain and Renee Paley-Bain (note the hyphen) are now immersed in the publishing biz! The new company is Hyphenates Books And we're so thrilled they're debuting a new book here on Jungle Red. So--Hyphenates Books?
DONALD AND RENEE: Well, it was originally conceived to bring out digital editions of some of Don's previously published works. But now, Hyphenates Books has published this wonderful novel by Joe Stockdale.
HANK: How'd Joe and Don get connected?
RENEE: Joe was Don's theater professor at Purdue and they have remained in touch all these years. Several years ago, Joe sent Don the manuscript and asked his opinion. Don loved it (and so did I) and tried in vain to interest his agent in taking it on. The book is difficult to characterize. It doesn't fit neatly into a genre. There's no murder, although a death is helped along. It's more of a crime caper, kind of like Donald Westlake with literary overtones.
HANK: My intrepid investigative reporting reveals Joe Stockdale is dean emeritus of the School of Theatre and Film at SUNY Purchase where he helped launch the theater and film careers of many young people, including Stanley Tucci and Edie Falco, prior to which he’d taught theater for 25 years at Purdue University. His long and distinguished career in theater has involved a lifelong immersion into the life and works of Tennessee Williams.
And today at Jungle Red--we welcome Joe Stockdale!
JOE STOCKDALE: Now that I’ve had my first novel, Taking Tennessee to Hart, published at the age of 86, I feel a kinship with the eight Jungle Red Writers, although our differences are obvious, not just physically, but in the great success you’ve achieved. One thing we do have in common is the slug-a-beds who always ask the question: “How did you come up with the idea for your novel?”
Here’s my shorthand answer.
Fact: The esteemed playwright Tennessee Williams added a codicil to his will instructing that he be buried in a clean, white sack at a spot in the Atlantic Ocean where his idol, the poet Hart Crane, had leapt to his death years earlier.
Fiction: What if a friend, a retired theater professor (write about what you know) enlists two young helpers, a soap opera actress and a former flower child rock musician, to dig up Tennessee’s body and deliver him to his preferred resting place?
But as each of you know it’s hardly ever that simple. It’s myriad things in confluence, and the various rivulets flow into and enlarge the river that becomes the story.
I remember driving to work at SUNY Purchase one morning, my car radio tuned to a country music station, its music relaxing before hitting the Halls of Academe. Don Williams was singing Bob McDill’s "Good Ole Boys" and I glommed onto the lyrics: "I can still hear the soft Southern wind in the live oak trees/ And those Williams boys, they still mean a lot to me/ Hank and Tennessee/ I guess we’re all gonna be what we’re gonna be.” I was directing Tennessee Williams’ "The Night of the Iguana" at the time and laughed aloud thinking how Tennessee would have giggled at being considered a good ole southern boy of song.
Or maybe the germinal idea was when I was on the same stretch of highway in cold, blustery March. I swear I saw a flock, swarm, whatever you call it, of yellow butterflies flying in a wintery field. What were they doing out there in the cold? Didn’t they migrate like birds? And then the idea of being free and doing what you want to do struck me.
Or maybe the germinal idea was when I read in Margaret Brenman-Gibson’s book on Clifford Odets (p. 549) about when Odets and a friend traveled to Cuba on the same boat as Hart Crane, and Crane pronounced, "This is no time for poets," and jumped to his death.
Or perhaps the idea started when I was directing Iguana, and Hanna says to the defrocked minister, Shannon. "When the Mexican painter, Siqueiros did his portrait of the American poet Hart Crane, he had to paint him with closed eyes because he couldn’t paint his eyes open—there was too much suffering in them." Did Hart Crane become Tennessee’s role model, freeing him artistically and sexually?
Then again, it might have struck me when of my Purchase students, Melissa Leo with her red hair and worn leather jacket, was down in the dumps because she couldn’t get work. Or maybe it was because of a guy I knew who needed a father-figure.
In actuality, I got the idea from of all the above in a play that I wrote, Taking Tennessee to Hart. On March 25, 1986, after rehearsals of all the scheduled shows finished, the Theatre and Film kids and I gathered in what was called The Spotlight for the first reading of the play." We finished just minutes after midnight. And following the generous and supportive applause, I told them that "Today is Tennessee’s birthday."
That first try-out of the "idea" morphed into a full-fledged novel. The process was easy since I started out as an actor and always created a back-story for the character I was playing. Same with this novel. I loved discovering the iceberg below the surface that supports that tiny triangle of ice above which becomes the story.
Find the full story of Joe’s detective work linking Tennessee Williams and Hart Crane at Hyphenates Books. Taking Tennessee to Hart is available as a trade paperback and e-book through the Hyphenates website, as well as through amazon.com, and Barnes & Noble online.
HANK: Ah, this is no time for poets. That is--so compelling.And it's amazing to think about the fabulous Melissa Leo being forlorn and despondent. SO! Jungle Red is giving a copy of Taking Tennessee to Hart to one lucky commenter...let's talk about the theater! What's your favorite play? Anything you saw on stage change your life? How?