When a sixteen year old goes off on his first road trip with another sixteen year old (even when chaperoned by the minister and his wife), there's bound to be new impetus, especially if the friend is cute. Into my quiet world of opera libretti and delivering perscriptions for the local pharmacy came this trip—to Atlanta, GA, with a wide looping return through Cincinnatti, OH. It was an adventure obstensibly to meet Martin Luther King at Ebenezzar Baptist Church, but there was scant religion about the trip — as far as us teens were concerned. There was a little tipple on the highway, a midnight hitchhike to a porn show. (Porn? Ha! Well, the porn of 1963 at least). It was also when I was first willing to face my own sexuality, but that's a different journal entry altogether.
It should come as no surprise that this trip broke the libretto pattern. No more unproduced operas. The world was a real place and it intruded. Suddenly, I wanted to document every inch of travel — every town, street, population stat and Civil War battlefield, of which I saw too many. The people I met, became characters — from my traveling companions to Reverand Abernathy (Reverand King, alas was in Los Angeles quelling riots). But when I touched pen to paper, I probably should have use Charmin. Nothing worked. Crisis. Disillusion. I couldn't capture it all, so I captured nothing. I needed those lunetic birds and their silly quartets. I became more a reader than a writer — Dickens with a capital D. Melville with a capital M for Moby. The dark writers, Hardy, Conrad and Dostoevsky. The father of the modern Novel, Jane Austen. And then the magical books — Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. In fact, 1963 was the first of forty or more reads of The Lord of the Rings. I must say, I have never stopped reading it. The Road Goes Forever On.
Dickens, however lit my writing fire. He showed me how characters could pop up like asparagus and be recycled like mulch. His stories were compelling, towering over me like Marley's ghost. I jotted notes for a Dickensian style Road Trip Novel, something involving a trip to the Southern US and 'cross country (go figure), but set in 19th Century America. A competition, perhaps, but with an orphan — definitely an orphan (Please sir, I want some more). Soon there was a character, Denny Danville. (There was this cute guy in Home Room named Denny). Denny was the long lost son of some Rockefeller look-alike, but doesn't know it, needs cash to marry sweet Mary Wimper, daughter of a Hearstian newspaper mogul, so he joins the flocks of the challenged in a cross country bicycle race. He falls on hard times (and his ass). He meets a group of Twainian rogues, who force him to rob a bank. He races over the Rockies barefooted on a bike of dubious authenticity and, of course, wins the race, the hand of Ms. Wimper and, because an old Indian woman recognizes a silver broach that she gave a wealthy debutante she once nursed back to health, Denny Danville becomes Denny Bartholemew, son of banker Rance Bartholemew of the Brooklyn Bartholomews.
I drafted, outlined and even systematized Denny Danville for a good part of a year. It was a bumpy year for my old upright typewriter. The more I stretched the plot, the less the story held. I had a great opening, a sympethetic central scene and here and there an ending, but (no surprise) Denny Danville never materialized, except in bits and chapters and outlines. I even considered updating the tale to the 20th Century and give Denny some civil rights work. Unfortunately, I am a creature of the 19th Century and have never felt at home in the 20th. I'm doing better in the 21st, but my next turn of creativity brought me out of all centuries. Next up, I meet Voltaire and his incredibly optomistic creation, Candide. Still with me folks? I hope so.