Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Murder, They Published

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.

Thanks Jungle Red Writers for letting me join your ranks. Keep inspiring!

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, 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?


  1. Thanks for an age-old tale (no pun intended). Sudden success is an oxymoron. Your book sounds like a fun read, Joe. Congratulations.

  2. So nice to have you here Joe! (and big hello to Renee and Donald!) Have to ask, what was Edie Falco like in her early days? Loved loved loved her in the Sopranos!

  3. Hi Joe,

    I have a copy of your book which I plan to read over the holidays.

    I'm not into plays, but my favorite theater production is The Lion King, followed by Cats.

  4. ANGELS IN AMERICA really took me to another level of appreciation. That and more recently, WAR HORSE involved me in the play. I felt that I was on stage and a part of the play. I look forward to reading TAKING TENNESSEE TO HART.

  5. OH, Angels in America--yes, terrific. Breathtaking.

    But I'm a Tom Stoppard girl.

    But it was ARCADIA that blew me away. I bet I think about that..well, maybe not every day, but certainly every week.

    On the other end of the spectrum, WICKED. Oh, and LES MIS. Yes, I know they're both almost cliches, but what can I say. And WONDERFUL TOWN.

    Well, now I'm really thinking about plays. URINETOWN, did you ever see that? And SLEEP NO MORE?
    There are so many great ones...

    And yes, Joe, more stories!

  6. And sorry, gang, for the fiesta of fonts.

    (I know I should put it all in rtf (thanks, whichever Red suggested it) but I couldn't figure that out and as a result..well, you see...)

  7. Welcome, Joe, and what an inspiration! Not to mention I love the premise of the plot. many to chose from but I'm going to pull out an ancient one originally produced at Actor's Theater of Louisville, "Talking With...", a play of monologues all delivered by women. I was lucky enough to play Big Eight in the production at the Fort Knox Music Dinner Theater WAAAAAY back in the day. I also have to mention another chestnut, "Arsenic and Old Lace."

    Best of luck with this next phase of your career! And thank you, Jungle Reds, for introducing us to such a lovely man.

  8. Joe, your book sounds wonderful and is going on my list.

    And I LOVE your shaggy dog of "how I got my idea for the book." Because it's never simple, and I'm never very good at picking out a soundbite when I'm asked the same question.

    But that's the charm of it, isn't it? All those little bits and pieces that are unique to a writer, things that no one else would put together in quite the same way...

    Oh, and I love your title. Irresistible! Best of luck with the book!

    PS: My captcha was "phable." Nice.

  9. . . . omg, omg . . . this is great . . . brilliant way to start the day! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I cannot wait to read TAKING TENNESSEE TO HART.

    Theatre that changed my life . . . corner of Tremont and Boylston 1996(?). Theatre Company of Boston. Harold Pinter's BIRTHDAY PARTY. David Wheeler directing. Changed my life by experiencing it and knowing, learning, that theater does not have to be mindless singing and dancing numbers that all sound and look alike. Introduced me to thought as art. Now saving my crip-art behind.

  10. Not vying for the book, of course, which I think you're all going to love, but I did want to ring in on the subject of plays. The first Broadway production I ever saw was "Peter Pan" with the fabulous Mary Martin in the title role (showing my age here). I'm not sure my parents were pleased with their choice, however, as I spent many days afterward jumping from one piece of furniture to another trying to fly. But alas, I didn't have any pixie dust.

  11. Your book sounds like fun and I'm glad it's fiction because I hate the thought of moving Tennessee Williams from Calvary Cemetery in my hometown of St. Louis.

  12. Thanks for this post, Joe. My first Broadway play (when I was maybe 11 or 12) was "Funny Girl" with Barbra Streisand. That's because we moved from New Orleans to Long Island for a few years, due to my dad's job, in the bldg. now called 30 Rock, in NYC!

    I'd previously written little plays and coercered my brothers and neighborhood kids to act them out--we actually charged money sometimes (a nickel or a quarter) for our "audience" to attend.

    Then I worked in a Community Theater in Midland, TX, of all places, where I discovered I love the behind-the-scenes action---I could do props, make-up, costumes,painting and tearing down sets, etc. Anything but ACT, which I'm not good at! (DH disagrees, and calls me Tallulah, when I get dramatic, lol.)

    But one of the most memorable of several plays for me, was seeing "The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail", at the Dallas Theater Center. My in-laws treated us, and it was very moving.

    Have had lots of other enjoyable experiences with those on the stage.

    Thanks for the post!
    Your book sounds very interesting!

  13. Mary Martin in Peter Pan!
    Barbra is Funny Girl! Whoa. I must say, that's some iconic theater.

    I'll add--I did see the original Camelot, with ...Julie Andrews, Richard Burton and Roddy McDowall, and Robert Goulet. I think i was-0--13? And I cried for THREE WEEKS afterward.

  14. Oops . . . I didn't mean to diss all musical theatre-- just all the ones that look and sound the same! I actually did a lot of summer stock when I was a kid. Fun times, they were.

  15. I've seen a number of plays but my favorite will probably always be the first Broadway play I saw - The Music Man. Bert Parks played the lead. It was summer vacation, and I was eleven years old. I was supposed to have gone to Girl Scout camp that summer; however, I had a nasty case of whooping cough at the very end of the school year, and the family doctor advised my parents not to send me to camp. I was devastated,and moped around the house for DAYS. I was thrilled when my parents told me that they would use the summer camp money to pay for me to go on the train to NYC for dinner and a play with my mom and some of my aunts! We owned the album - my parents bought a lot of albums from Broadway musicals - and I sang the music for the rest of the summer whenever I was alone! I was too shy to sing in front of anyone,even family, so I would ask my mom if I could stay home whenever she took the younger kids out to go shopping. Then I put the album on the record player (remember those?), turned up the volume and SANG.

    Joe - one of my uncles was a psychology professor at Purdue. He retired back in the early seventies.

  16. Deb Romano, that is SUCH a great memory!

    And I remember how fascinated I was when someone revealed that Seventy-Six Trombones and Goodnight My Someone were the same melody.

    Reine, did you act?

  17. Deb Romano, that is SUCH a great memory!

    And I remember how fascinated I was when someone revealed that Seventy-Six Trombones and Goodnight My Someone were the same melody.

    Reine, did you act?

    And Rhys is hosting a whole house full of guests..she says hello and xox. Too bad she's not here..she's such a performer and a wonderful singer!

  18. Deb Romano, that is SUCH a great memory!

    And I remember how fascinated I was when someone revealed that Seventy-Six Trombones and Goodnight My Someone were the same melody.

    Reine, did you act?

    And Rhys is hosting a whole house full of guests..she says hello and xox. Too bad she's not here..she's such a performer and a wonderful singer!

  19. Hi Hank,

    I did act. I started in summer stock and then repertory theater in Boston and a couple of bit parts in movies. When Sidney Sheldon told me that the the lead in
    Me Natalie was mine -- if Patty Duke or Patty McCormack didn't want it -- and Patty Duke did, of course, want it (and did a fantastic job). I thought, well I'm not spending the rest of my life picking up roles the Patties don't want, so I hitched a ride down Santa Monica Boulevard and enrolled in a few classes at LA City College until my grades were good enough to transfer to a four-year.

  20. Hank, now you have me singing those two songs in my head! I don't remember enough of them to be able to "hear" the melody!

    The original child "lead" in The Music Man was child actor Eddie Hodges. I had the HUGEST crush on him!! I was so disappointed that he was no longer in the play by the time I saw it. I fell in love with his photos from the album cover, saw as many movies as I could that he was in, and I read everything I could find about him - and I never, ever told anyone how wonderful I thought he was, because this was my special secret; I was afraid people might laugh at me! Eleven years old was a LONG time ago!

    (It makes me feel so good to see other people from TLC here. I keep worrying that I will be the only TLC person hanging around here!)

  21. Deb, never alone here, no never. No, no, no. We are in a committed apr├Ęs TLC relationship. Aren't we?

  22. Reine, you are a wonder of hidden secrets!

    ANd Deb..aww.. Yes, 11 was a long time ago. and aren't we happy to be ourselves, now?

  23. Reine,TLC is a family, and a family is Forever. I WILL believe that! We are a Committed Family!

    Hank, I would much rather be who and what I am now, rather than the eleven year old me! (Although I must say that I often think that I'm 25...)

  24. Hank, it's not so much that I hide stuff. Well I sort of do a few things. It's more that I am not one to hang around once I see the writing on the wall. And I'm so old I've had a ton of time to to avoid many wall messages and do a lot of different things that I forget a lot!

  25. Thanks Jungle Red Writers for the warm reception. Regarding Lucy Burdette’s question about Edie Falco--I really can't take credit for the success of any student who has paid tuition to be taught and who ends up teaching the teacher. I was lucky enough for 42 years to share a classroom or rehearsal hall with hundreds of talented young men and women, including Edie, many of whom went on to successful careers in theater and motion pictures.

    You Jungle Red writers have been around long enough to know that "success" is equal parts talent, sweat, persistence and luck of the draw, being in the right place at the right time. That’s true of me with Taking Tennessee to Hart. It was luck of the draw that Don Bain was a Purdue student and I was directing one of the first college productions of A Streetcar Named Desire. He was a perfect Mitch. Sometimes people say, "It’s amazing the way you keep up with former students." But there is no action that I can think of other than falling in love that is more conducive to bonding than doing a show with someone.Lynn, you mentioned your experience in Midland, Texas which has one of the top community theatres in this country. You know what I’m talking about.

    Deb, I’m glad you like the title but in truth it wasn’t mine. Mine was Cry, Baby after the Janice Joplin song until Johnny Depp did a film by that name. Then Stuart Howard, who I learned a lot from when he took his MA degree at Purdue University, suggested Taking Tennessee To Hart – which I love, too, because it succinctly sums up the story. And Hank, you mentioned that the play Arcadia "blew you away." Yeah, me too. I’ve always loved Haviland Morris who played Chleo, one of the talented kids I worked with at SUNY Purchase.

    Thanks again for your well wishes and support for my novel. Oh yes, Irishoma, you will recognize the name of every street in Calvary Cemetery and its overall description. My wife Robin took notes for me on the research trip, and Calvary was a major part of that trip. Thanks for listening Jungle Red Writers, and wishing you all a splendid, successful new year of good writing.
    Best, Joe

  26. Hello,

    I'd like to get in touch with mister Joe Stockdale who was a director at Loeb Playhouse, regarding a book about actress Frances Farmer that he personnaly knew and directed.

    Please, in case someone knows how to get in touch with him, my email is


  27. Joe Stockdale's e-mail address is

    Donald Bain