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The Great American Novel

October 5th, 2009 Comments off

[Note from Admin: We have filled (I think) all of the open slots as of November, but here is one last blast from our past. Dick Hill is an award winning voice talent - I met him because of his narration of the books of another Storytellers alumnus, Richard Steinberg. I thought his farewell piece was particularly memorable...so here it is again.]

THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL is a term often applied to Mark Twain’s book chronicling THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN. The work deserves that name. I can’t remember how many times I’ve read it, but I just finished recording it for the third different publisher. None of these publishers know, of course, that I would have done it for free.

I enjoy and admire all of Twain’s work, with Letters From The Earth a particular favorite, but the story of Huck and Jim and company is the one I value most. In it, Twain taught me more about hatred and humor , ignorance and innocence, downright nastiness and upright nobility than I could have the insight to so accurately perceive on my own in a lifetime. It’s been almost half a century that the book has been a part of my life, revisited often, an unfailing source of wonder and joy and rueful recognition. Not to mention the fact that recording it, bringing to life Huck and Jim and the Duke and the King et al present the greatest and most rewarding challenge I could ever hope for. I imagine it’s somewhat akin to what it must be like for a professional golfer to play St. Andrews, or a violinist to get their hands on a Stradivarius or Amati.

From Twain, I head immediately into a piece of non-fiction, GUT FEELINGS:The Intelligence of the Unconscious, by Gerd Gigerenzer, which promises to be quite fascinating, with a pair of mystery/cop novels after that, then ROBINSON CRUSOE, a memoir by two members of the original Band of Brothers made famous by Tom Hanks’ film, and after that FOLLOW THE MONEY: How George W. Bush and the Texas Republicans Hog-Tied America, by John Anderson. I had originally been offered a biography of Dick Cheney, but demurred. I gladly accepted the replacement for that time. And time is the issue at hand.

I count myself blessed to have gotten to a point where I am offered much more work than I have time to handle. I love the work itself, and I now can pick and choose projects, which are now recorded from my home studio with my wife Susie directing and engineering and keeping me honest. We thank whatever powers that be daily for our situation, and given the fact that it’s only the last few years we’ve been able to put money aside for our old age (at 60, I’m not sure just when I’ll decide that has arrived, but I do believe it’s not all that far off) we feel we need to take advantage of our position and work just as much as we can. We also cherish the opportunity to spend time with grandkids, and to do a little to help the kids out. All of which, in my own graceless and long-winded way, has led me to the realization that I must withdraw from being a SU contributor. Sara’s examination of deadlines provided a well-thought, well-written, and at this moment, highly ironic read for me. I look forward to her future offerings, and to continuing to visit and see what the rest of the regulars gift us with, but given the amount of time it takes this reader to write, and the fact that time is a disappearing commodity, I’m going to have to sign off with this last offering. Thanks to you all for the chance to participate and learn, especially to Dave and of course to Rick.

Categories: books Tags: ,

Writing Is Difficult For Me

January 29th, 2007 21 comments

by Dick Hill

Writing is difficult for me. I don’t exercise the muscles enough. Oh sure, I shoot off a fair number of emails to friends and business acquaintances, and I endeavor to make those entertaining (and for the business contacts, endearing), but that’s easy stuff. The expectations of most of these folks when they open their typical message are, I hope and expect, low enough to ensure that my offerings are a touch above the norm. Often a response in vein is prompted, so I can feel good about tickling somebody’s fancy and prompting a bit of writerly whimsy on their part, but this is all very light stuff. Bold plays in a penny ante poker game. To attempt to write something meant to stand up to a taller measure is daunting, which is why I so admire anyone who does so. And those who succeed, well…….they really earn my respect. That’s why, I suppose, I have developed a friendship with our contributor Rick Steinberg, who by most other measures is a miserable, irascible human being with few discernible redeeming graces.

For me then, writing something that I offer as more than something tossed off, has mostly been an unpleasant exercise. Kinda’ like cranking up the speed and grade on my treadmill so that I’m truly working hard up in the red light endurance level, it’s not something I often push myself to do. The two times I really managed to do the hard work were when I wrote for the stage, and those two efforts were both moderately successful. GUS AND ANGIE was a dramedy dealing with the relationship between a father facing death from an astrocytoma (brain tumor) and his daughter. It was named new play by a Michigan writer, and worked well in a couple staged readings and one full production. BOOMERS, a musical made up of monologues and songs, written to be performed by four actors playing some 20 different characters, has had a professional production that sold out and earned an extended run, as well as some community productions. Excellent reviews and audience response were gratifying, but the show has never really gone anywhere. This month however, I struck a deal with a small professional company to dust it off for a fall production. Not a lot of money involved, but then I’ve never been starry-eyed enough to consider my forays into writing as a source of income.

Talking with producer/director of the company, he mentioned one piece in particular, a monologue and song delivered by a woman dealing with her mother’s alzheimers. His own mother had suffered with that disease, and he said he wasn’t sure how he’d be able to direct it without breaking down. The piece never failed to be a powerful one in previous productions. Nested between a pair of ribald, comic offerings, you could look out into the audience and see just how many middle aged folks were moved to tears. I’m as proud of that little piece as I am of anything I’ve ever written, and the interesting thing is that it came so easily. My music writing partner and I spent a good deal of time fine-tuning the song, but my lyric had come very easily, and the monologue came even more easily. Different from most of my efforts. I’ve included them here. I wish I knew how to stick in a music file so you could hear the simple, beautiful melody Jeff English wrote, and the wonderful job my wife Susie Breck did delivering it on the demo we cut. A voice over introduced her as Anna Mae, a boomer born in 1947, from Charleston, South Carolina. Susie used a soft Southern accent, which I always find a lovely sound, and one that lends itself incredibly well to storytelling. Her delivery was quiet and measured, searching out the images and memories as if for the first time, slow, and secret, and sacred. A sharing that made each audience member feel as if they were the only one hearing these private thoughts. Read it slowly, see the pictures in your mind, and you’ll have some idea of what she gave us.<!–[if supportFields]> ADVANCE \d 5<![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>

Alto

(From stool, perhaps a scarf added, Junior League)

My mother has alzheimer’s, and I sometimes wonder if that isn’t going to be the defining issue for us, being the first generation blessed with parents who lived long enough to face this ugly thing that eats your soul before your body. Momma was always my rock. My daddy died when I was in second grade, and Momma and I went to live with Mamaw. She had a big old house with a sunny backyard and lots of flowers, and Momma and I would sit out there in the sun, and she’d braid my hair, and then open up her copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses, because he was a genius, and she’d read the same page she always read, the first one, and then she’d put it down and pick up something else. And on the best days it would be Zane Grey, and she’d read it out loud, and I would picture myself as one of the Zane girls, running to the stockade under a hail of withering fire, my apron full of much needed powder, or bullets, or…bandages? I forget. She would read just one chapter, no more, and tell me if I wanted to hear what happened next I’d have to read it myself. And then she’d close the book and stare off over the yard with this lovely peaceful smile, and then we’d do what she called high tea. She has a nice room now, as nice as you could hope for, I guess. She has a few of her things, and I try to keep some plants alive. I see her Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and Sunday mornings, but I don’t know if she sees me anymore. She spends a lot of time in her Kennedy rocker, looking out the window at the tiny garden they have with that same smile she used to have at Mamaw’s. I know she was happy then. Maybe she’s happy now. I don’t know…..I hope she is.

MAMA

A: Are the words still there inside you?
Is it lovely what you see?
Do you know I’m here beside you?
When you dream, is it of me?

I wish you buzzin’ bees and lots of flowers.
Red Rose tea and an old straw hat.
You and me and magic hours with Zane Grey,
and a big ol’ cat.

Sun bright, sky blue,
a plate of ginger snaps.
James Joyce feels ignored,
so he takes a nap.

Tell me Mom is Dad there with you?
Does he hold you even now?
Take you in his arms and kiss you?
Are you fine and young and proud?

Or are you the little girl now?
And does Mamaw hold the book?
We’d be friends if I could join you.
Tell me when and where to look.

I wish you buzzin’ bees and lots of flowers.
Red Rose tea and an old straw hat.
You and me and magic hours with Zane Grey,
and a big ol’ cat.

Sun bright, sky blue,
a plate of ginger snaps.
James Joyce feels ignored,
so he takes a nap.

Mama, tell me where you’ve gone.
Is there a girl with hair to braid?
I hope it’s somewhere nice and warm.
I hope that you are not afraid.

Once you said I was your mirror.
In my face your youth shone through.
Is the mirror working both ways?
Where you’ve gone, will I go too?

I wish you buzzin’ bees and lots of flowers.
Red Rose tea and an old straw hat.
You and me and magic hours with Zane Grey,
and a big ol’ cat.

Sun bright, sky blue,
a plate of ginger snaps.
James Joyce feels ignored,
so he takes a nap.

(BLACKOUT)

 

—Dick Hill