Why the short sentences, phrases, and odd punctuation?
Rhyme and Reason. Feeling. Season.
To paraphrase my writing teacher and author, Tom Spanbauer: It’s all about the destruction of the sentence. It’s about getting everything we traditionally understand about language but making it wrong, right; making it “correctly incorrect.”
The key to appreciating Reaching Montaup is to accept it’s about gut reactions to the world, not about rules and regulations.
The punctuation keeps the reader keenly aware that Jate is piecing together his worldview. Thoughts don’t “flow” in a normal way; Jate puzzles through everything.
Does it have a logic?
Yes. Not only does it reflect the way Jate constructs logic, but the style is also indicative of rocky beaches, stretches of sand, and acres of marsh.
Is the application of the logic consistent?
Yes. Only in the sense that one understands the prime directive: be consistently inconsistent.
And so we begin.
Some places the prose is about very informal internal and external rhythms.
In other places, it’s all about the visuals. How the word appears on the page. I’m particularly fond of density suddenly becoming
And then going straight back into the flow of the great swirling maelstrom and wondering about a tempest in a teapot and how we are sometimes part of a great big piece of something and even though we can’t see it we feel both its regular and irregular heartbeats: thump. thump. thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump, thumpthumpthumpthump.
We just know.
In our guts. Subjective? Yes. Very.
What’s the significance of the compound words and compound phrases?
Sometimes words represent things.
Sometimes we eat bacon and eggs.
Sometimes we eat bacon.
Sometimes we shove baconandeggs down our throats.
Sometimes words represent multiple things.
When we attend school our teacher introduces herself: “Class. My name is Miss Collins.”
But at the end of the school day, when I go home
spring . . .
and breathlessly-catch-my-breath-jumble to Mom, MissCollins is my teacher and MissCollins is fun and MissCollins is beautiful and today MissCollins took us out into the
Far and wee he whistles.
“in just” was originally published in The Dial Volume LXVIII, Number 5 (May 1920).
New York: The Dial Publishing Company, Inc.
The first unit, or book, is titled STORIES and it is comprised of thirteen chapters revealing seemingly unrelated stories; why is this significant?
Tom Spanbauer always said, “Create the world you want to live in, then mess it up!” This is another way of saying, destroy innocence. Create Eden; then watch it unravel.
It was important for me to create an idyllic setting, so the presence of evil would have a maximum impact.
Also, it may seem as though the stories are unrelated, but by book’s end, an astute reader will see the commonality of the tales — their mythological fabric, the interwoven nature of the fabric, the proscenium curtain so to speak.
In my theatre/stage/drama experiences, it is always important to ‘set the stage.’ A good drama will resonate, but if a writer takes the time to incorporate personal mythos into the exposition, the drama of both the stage and page will reverberate mightily.
My childhood involved deceptive coves that lulled unaware boaters into swift currents; there were also cemeteries, the omnipresence of Melville, and the living museums of Sturbridge Village, Plymouth Plantations, and Mystic Seaport.
I will always cherish the fact that my parents, particularly my Dad, made sure we visited these museums. We had luxurious Sunday outings. And by luxurious I mean we packed up the car — Kool-Aid jug, peanut butter sandwiches, Italian cold cut grinders; those were our frills — and off we went.
After I graduated from college, I lived in a Providence apartment on India Point, named for the colonial India Trading Company. The mythos of colonial faraway places was very present. And of course, the very rich and vibrant mythos of Catholicism in all its varied forms. Diagonally across the street, from my India Point apartment, stands the twin-steepled Portuguese Catholic Church. And then of course, there’s also the huge Saint Anne’s in Fall River!
Why do each of the 5 units, or books, become shorter?
For the same reason a pyramid’s pinnacle is not as wide as its base.
Which authors influenced your prose and overall style?
Really big influences: ee cummings. Cormac McCarthy: Blood Meridian. Shakespeare, Bob Dylan, Tom Spanbauer: The Man Who Fell in Love With the Moon. Brian Hall: I Should Be Extremely Happy in Your Company; this last book I read after completing RM. Hall’s novel, I Should Be Extremely… was given to me by my dear friend and college mentor, Lou Florimonte. The thing about Hall’s book is Hall’s creative account of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Hall’s writing style firmly validated many of my creative choices, and Hall’s books ( I Should Be… and Hall’s Fall of Frost … both post RM reads) gave me the gumption I needed during editing and publishing phases to stick with much of my non-standard vision.
What are some of the literary and cinematic allusions?
Lawrence of Arabia, To Kill a Mockingbird, Moby Dick, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Snow Queen, “Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Eve”, The Wizard of Oz, Shakespeare, The Bible, and of course, The Three Stooges.
Epic poetry. Melville rant?
In no way am I a literary authority. But “cinematic” literary authority resonated through my younger days. John Houston’s Moby Dick with Gregory Peck’s impeccable performance has always haunted me. When I first saw that movie as a kid, I was ensconced in both wonder and pride that I grew up in a town that had its own whaling legacy, although, for the most part, it was unknown. Again, I wanted very much for Reaching Montaup to have a resurrected mythos.
For whatever reason — and there are many — the final pages of Moby Dick and the idea of Rachel searching for an orphan is an allusion to Pruney and Ross. In a very real sense, by the end of Reaching Montaup, these two boys are metaphoric orphans.
How does the prose on the page relate to the title?
The idea to write in this style came to me from many sources: first of all, the geography or landscape.
“Montaup” in the Indian, native language, means, “rock shore.” These rocks on a beach are like the words on my pages, not always smooth and sandy. But. Individual. Together. Telling. A. Story.
Second: in true life, language does not register for most people in “formal style.” In my brain, language is a “jumble,” a tangle of ideas. Writing and grammar help us — me — formalize these thoughts.
Third: impressionistic art. Paintings of Monet & Manet, Cubism: Picasso. I find the impression of ideas to be more interesting than an exact reproduction of them (which is probably impossible). For me, Van Gough’s “impression” of a Starry Night, is more exciting than a photograph of that same night, from that same location. His point of view — Point Of View, POV — his “perspective,” often misspelled and mispronounced as “praspective” in Reaching Montaup.
Did you create a geographical map for your composite setting?
Does Sowams have prototypes?
Mount Desert Isle and Camden, Maine; San Francisco/Mill Valley (Mount Tamalpais/Mt Tam), California; and of course, Bristol County, and specifically Warren, Rhode Island.
Plate-in-the-head? Who? Why?
The choice to use this condition came with the appreciation of the music of the phrase: ”plate-in-the-head.” It offered the originality I sought. And it serves the character and the plot on multiple levels.
Have you ever sailed a modified quahog skiff that is similar to the one owned by the Tavinos?
No. But my buddies and I sure messed around in some questionable hulls.
What is the “Huck-Finn-narrative-problem” ?
My love of Twain’s masterpiece frames Reaching Montaup. The ‘MuckelberryFen’ of the prologue, and two boys on a raft at the story’s end, sure ain’t no co-ink-a-dink.
But, we must remember, Huck Finn is an illiterate country bumpkin who just happens to be able to write a half-dozen dialects magnificently . . . and superb standard English as well.
Actually, Twain deftly pulls off the sleight of hand.
In a mere few words, he establishes — or misdirects — the reader to accept that Huck’s testimony is filtered through “Mister Mark Twain.” It’s truly a wonderful trope. However, I always wondered, What would Huck’s unfiltered draft look like? And consequently, my second full draft of Reaching Montaup was such a thing. My third and fourth drafts were more extreme and I went to bed many, many a night with blood on my hands, and mush for my brain.
Unlearning language is every bit as challenging as learning it.
How did you craft the diction?
First: wrote the story in standard English.
Second: rewrote the entire story phonetically.
Third: wrote with only select words in dialect/phonetically. These were markers.
Fourth: rewrote with an attempt to standardize Jate’s narrative voice and maintain dialect throughout the dialogue. Maintaining an appropriate balance and a genuine “defective boy” was the most difficult step. As David Cole, The Bay Tree publisher, said, “The reader thinks about the writing. But the writer must think about the reader.”
What is the ultimate tragedy of Reaching Montaup?
Ross has such a jaded, misguided perception of his homosexuality. Jate sails past rocky shores; but, unfortunately, Ross is headed straight for the rocks.
Is Ross, Ahab?
A younger version. Quite possibly.
Did The Godfather or The Sopranos influence the book?
Yes. But the stronger influence was The Simpsons. The truth of the matter is many of the characters are stereotypes, and the challenge was to give them originality, to give each one believability. I am quite bothered by the fact that Reaching Montaup is a revenge story. Justice is served in such a savage manner. But my inspiration is Jesus’ extreme warning to anyone who harms a child. A careful reader will find this specific warning embedded in my prose.
Also, I am simultaneously bothered & amused by the presence of such strong stereotypes, especially the Italians. For me, the challenge was to make these stock characters transcend their stereotype and that, I hope, was accomplished by their quirky, truthful humanity.
The novel is filled with many contrasting images and phrases like ‘hard soft shell clams,’ a ‘blizzard’ filled with references to ‘Arabian sand’. Would you comment on this frequent occurrence of contrasts, or oxymoronic elements?
The balance of opposing forces is the way life works. Positive/Negative. Yin/Yang. Poor/Wealthy. Wet/Dry. Black/White. All or Nothing. Indeed gradation is the way of life and the extremes are often bookends. But the extremes do exist and the balance of those extremes excites me.
Variations of the word “reach” occur throughout the narrative. Care to comment?
For the most part, “reaching” is not about “arriving,” but rather it is the sailing concept; it is a present action, “moving forward.” It is continuous, active, and never passive. If the reader “gets” — understands — that, especially at the novel’s final page, then the title succeeds. A quote from a NYT Friday, August 8, 2014, David Brooks essay, sums it best:
“Maturity is moving from the close-up to the landscape, focusing less on your own supposed strengths and weaknesses and more on the sea of empathy in which you swim, which is the medium necessary for understanding others, one’s self, and survival.”
— New York Times
Friday, August 8, 2014