Tracked down to my own apartment, I give a sample reading from my book of short stories, “The Elephant Talks To God”. And I explain the genesis of the book. Gotta say, it might have been more entertaining to emote some of the Elephant’s poetry.
From The Elephant Talks To God:
The elephant was a curious pachyderm, and followed his persistent quest with a guileless intensity.
“More lucky than smart,” said some of the other elephants, as he blundered his way toward another piece of knowledge. They nodded their heads in his direction with the heavy weight of caution, and warned their small ones that too much thought would make them strange.
“An elephant wades in water,” they would sagely say, “only if the mud hole is wide enough.”
And the little ones would watch him, as they stood between the legs of their parents, and wish that they could follow.
Over The Transom
My friend Google tells me that “over the transom” is still a viable term. In this case it refers to a manuscript accepted by an editor submitted cold – perhaps even from the dreaded slush pile.
At any rate, my manuscript for A LOST TALE was accepted “over the transom”, and I was asked to New York to meet the editor. Although I had experienced and appreciated Montréal, Toronto, London, Berlin and other large cities by that time, I had not been to New York. Many events of that trip are memorable, but none more than my “lunch” with the editor.
The editor took me to a dark and trendy place for a late lunch. There were not many people there and, restaurant fiend though I am, the food was not my top priority. Discussion of “the work” and proposed changes was more on the menu for me.
As I sit across the table from my editor, I can not help but notice a man seated by himself beside the wall. He is tieless and shirtless and, though the lighting is dim, what there is reflects from his naked skin. He sits with a beverage and seems to hum to himself.
My editor is discussing both the menu and some confusion he perceives at the beginning of my novel. I note items on the menu unknown to me and am doubly confused.
The shirtless man at the other table increases the volume of his humming and eventually a waiter goes to him and has words. The shirtless man has words back, but they sound like gibberish. At my table the editor suggests something from the menu and I happily comply. There is wine.
Whilst I eat and listen to suggestions, the shirtless man is spoken to by two other waiters. As I (wisely) restrict myself to a second glass of wine, two uniformed policemen enter the restaurant and approach the shirtless man, whose gibberish had increased even more in volume. In the course of a few minutes three other uniformed police officers – one of them female – arrive on the scene. They are now ranged around the shirtless man and his table. I finally tell my editor what is happening behind him and why I am not concentrating fully upon his suggestions. He turns around.
Two of the officers remove the table from in front of the shirtless man. Two others, one on each side of him, haul him to his feet. It is then that we see his shirtless state continues all the way to his naked feet. The female officer takes the tablecloth from the table and drapes it around him. The four male officers form a circle around the naked, shrouded man uttering his gibberish, and hustle him from the restaurant. The female officer picks up what appears to be a pile of clothes from beneath the table, and a pair of roller skates, and follows them.
I say to my editor that I have never seen anything like that.
My editor concurs.
Of course, when I give readings or lectures or talks, it is to be expected that I’m a writer. That’s why I’m there. Even if I don’t wear a name tag (which I dislike with passion). I believe I’ve learned not to read too long (regardless of the great material), but I can chat and answer questions about writing until the cows come home to roost. Clichés with a twist a speciality.
In addition to being narrowed-in on as a writer, I have been mistaken for dead authors. In this situation I do believe I must make some comment. For the sake of the dead as well as myself. Although I believe I can still make a good impression as a person who is alive, even here I have run into trouble. A taxi driver did not want to believe that the writer he mistook me for was dead.
“I never heard that,” said he.
“Are you sure?”
“He’s been dead for years.”
“You look just like him.”
“Not in his present state,” said I.
The taxi driver did not find me humorous.
A few days ago, however, a new wrinkle was added to my apparent Zombie life.
I was sitting on a park bench,waiting for a bus and watching the bustle of the city pass by. A man of middle years, puffing on a Vapour, settled on a bench across from me. After a few additional puffs, he stated – not asked –
“You’re a writer.”
“Because I’m using a pen?” (which I was, though I was fiddling with sums)
However, the place where he was employed and toiled for so many years, The Workers’ Accident Insurance Institute for the Kingdom of Bohemia in Prague, I only saw at a distance across a Square. It was not a happy place for Kafka, though he was very successful at his employ, and rose to an administrative position of importance. It was not really much of a setting for my novel.
That building is now a fancy hotel, and Kafka’s office is a room for rent. It is even designated The Franz Kafka room, and contains mementos. It is where I plan to stay when next I visit. I hope there is not a long list of folk wishing to spend the night there, too.
In addition, is one of the few diary entries I wrote, set in his office building, for Kafka In The Castle.
16 February 1917
There was a commotion at the office today. It was late morning, and from far below, coming up the stairwell, I could hear a voice bellowing: “Doktor Kafka. Doktor Kafka.” It was a terrible voice, full of blood and darkness. I got from my desk and went to the door. There were other voices, trying to calm, saying: “He can’t be disturbed.” But the voice was louder, more horrible, close in the corridor. “Doktor Kafka – for the love of God.” My secretary wanted me to stay inside, hoped the man would just move along the corridor until the police were summoned. But – I was curious; the man had my name, and his voice was … terrified.
I opened the door and stood in front of it. “I’m Kafka,” I said. The man lunged at me, and went to his knees. “Doktor Kafka?” he said. “Yes, I’m Kafka.” He reached out, grabbing for my hand. “Jesus, Jesus, for the love of Jesus – they say that you’ll help me.” He was a heavy man, and looked as if he had the strength to pull off doors, yet the tears burst from his eyes. “I can get no work. I fell from a bridge, and my back is twisted and in pain.” He slumped against the wall, looking at my eyes. “I have a family, Doktor Kafka. A baby not a year old.” “You were working on this bridge?” I asked. “Yes.” His voice slid down his throat. “I was helping repair the surface.” “Then you deserve your insurance. Why can’t you get it?” He straightened up, and tried to stand. “I have to fill in papers; the doctor can see no wounds; the foreman said I drank; because my brother is a thief, I am not to be trusted.” I held out my hand, and he slowly stood. “I’m telling you the truth, Doktor Kafka.” “If that is so,” I said, “you’ll get the money due you.” “I’m so tired,” he said.
I gave instructions to those standing around – no other work was to be done until this man’s case was decided. I took him to my office, where he sat. He sat – practically without a word – for five hours. I summoned a prominent doctor to look at him. The doctor prodded, and the man screamed. Officials from his village were telephoned. I helped him with the details on the forms. His truth was in his pain. He left our stony building with money in his hand, and his worth restored. The people who assisted me had smiles on their faces. A man had needed their help.
My Present / Your Future
Still in this World
A Life Away
You would find it perverse to be wished a “Happy” birthday, but your response would be gracious. Such is the reality you understand, and how you deal with it. I have found that your reality is actually real.
Although it will give you no pleasure – well, ‘little’ pleasure – you are correct in all your observations.
Governments become the tools of the bureaucracies which run them. It doesn’t matter what type of Government, from the monarchy under which you lived, to the right wing horror of fascists that called themselves socialists, to the inept socialism pretending to be ‘for the people’. All three governments held their sway over the city where you spent your life. All three oppressed the people they ruled. All three looked after themselves first.
Writers are either writers or they aren’t. The urge to write encircles one like a snake around its prey. Feed it and it won’t quite squeeze you to death. You can not ignore it – even at your peril. It is with you every hour of every day, ever inquisitive and (sadly) always looking for something better.
Love is a see-saw of extremes. Every high guarantees a low. Every low reaches for a high. Every high reaches for a high. When these hills and valleys are eventually levelled, they are still desired.
Sex is highly over rated. The thing of it is, even rated fairly, ’tis a consummation devoutly to be had. Yes – I know – you appreciate Shakespeare. On a par with Goethe, even if you can’t bring yourself to say the words.
People are just one damned thing after another. Of course, so many people have brought you blessings, you throw up you hands to ward off the snake. And sometimes – some few times – it loosens its grip.
There is no castle with walls thick enough to hide against the perils of being human. Which is why you never tried.
Except the grave, of course.
Except the grave.
Fame and suicide.
Suicide and fame.
The two flirt, and consummate their relationship often enough to make others take note.
If someone gets everything they hope for,
there is not much left to live for.
Boredom ties the rope.
There are other factors, of course. We can never know another person well enough to tell how they think or feel. The majority of famous people do not remove themselves from this earth. Indeed, a large number of them relish the attention. More than mere success sent Virginia Woolf walking into the River Ouse. Ernest Hemingway had personal demons aplenty.
These days, Fame stalks those who are famous.
Although a famous author does not attract the attention of a famous entertainer, or sports figure, or politician, an author’s fame spreads beyond the usual world of books and readings and tours.
Fame guarantees attention must be paid. The media makes Fame supersede the reason for the fame. Fame is the elephant in the room, always poised to turn rogue.
Creating is difficult enough.
Creating is time-consuming enough.
Creating is isolating enough.
Fame magnifies all these things, and sometimes ignites an unrelenting blaze.
Dale Estey reads from his story collection, The Elephant Talks to God
Published by: Goose Lane Editions
“Dale Estey’s The Elephant Talks to God is, first and foremost, a witty, satirical book about the relationship between mortals and an immortal creator.”
—Orson Scott Card
I came across a transcript of this at the end of last year. It’s not that I forgot it, but it took me some time to remember it.
1. What unique challenges do you face when writing about serious
non-fiction issues such as religion?
I WRITE about spiritual matters and leave religion to others. The spirit and its quests drive religion – religion just interprets. The biggest challenge I faced in THE ELEPHANT TALKS TO GOD is that the Elephant started asking questions I could not answer. Thus endeth the book.
2. You wrote The Elephant Talks to God in 1989. Why did you decide to
re-release it with the added stories rather than write a sequel?
THIS WAS the decision of the publisher, Goose Lane. When they approached me for a re-issue they were unaware of the additional stories. It was decided the marketplace would prefer one longer book over two shorter ones. Having just one book also reduced production costs, which in turn reduced consumer cost.
3. Why did you decide to become a writer?
“I WAS born like this, I had no choice, I was born with the gift of a golden voice.” This quote from Leonard Cohen sums it up. Not “born” this way exactly, but within one month in grade eleven I went from ‘no writing’ to ‘continually writing’. I have no explanation. I had no previous interest nor inclination toward the arts, or writing. I was not a reader, and only after university deliberately read such children’s classics as Black Beauty and Alice in Wonderland.
4. What books or authors have most influenced your life?
POSSIBLY P.G. WODEHOUSE was the most influential author in my formative period. I even sent him a fan letter and received a response. In university I experienced Franz Kafka, and I believe I have read everything of his in print. Much later I visited Prague to research a novel I have since written about him. There are reports of ‘missing’ stories and diaries of Kafka still in Berlin, which I would dearly love to find.
5. What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good
SURPRIZE, HUMOUR and reality. ‘In context’ (it doesn’t matter what the genre) I want to be surprized by what is happening, yet fully believe in the reality created in the book. And somewhere, at least once, every character in every novel should make me laugh at least once.
6. What are you reading right now?
“WICKED” BY Gregory Maguire. His abilities as a writer astound me. I am a slow reader, and seemingly getting slower. Soon (?) to be read will be Alice Munro’s “The View from Castle Rock ” and John LeCarre’s “The Mission Song”, both requested Christmas presents. I also do a lot of research for my novels, and will embark upon histories of China in the near future.
7. What advice would you give to writers starting out?
I HAVE two steadfast rules, one put into rhyme. “When in doubt/take it out.” Regardless of the wonder of the poetic line, or the awe of the slice of dialogue, if you have any questions about its effectiveness, that is reason enough to remove it.
The other concerns the physical writing itself. At the end of your writing day, and you know what the next line of dialogue is, or the description you are going to write, or the next line of the poem – DON”T write them down. Start with them the next day, and you will quickly get back into the writing. I find this works 90% of the time.
8. Describe your writing process.
I’M A morning writer, roughly from 9:00 until 15:00. There’s a meal in there, and research and email and such, but I will generally complete two pages a day. I generally write seven or eight days straight and then take one off. At the start of a novel I have a well developed outline and characters, though I rarely write such things down. I find that at the end of a novel I spend an additional third of the writing time editing what is done. I usually complete a novel in two years.
9. Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome
THREE MONTHS of writer’s block during my second novel has (so far) been my experience with this curse (knock knock knock on wood). I sat at the desk literally for hours per day attempting to continue. I think I wrote five paragraphs in that time. I know of no way to overcome it other than attempting to write each day. My number two tip in question #7 will help in avoiding writer’s block.
10. Naturally, most writer want as many people as possible to read
their work. Who did you have in mind when you were writing this book,
the “believers” or the “non-believers”?
BRITISH PUBLISHER Joseph Dent introduced “Everyman’s Library” in the early 1900’s (which is now published by Penguin Random House UK). As my mother was from England and my father was a proud UEL, there were many of these books when I was growing up. Everyman’s Library had a motto at the beginning of each book: “Everyman, I will go with thee/and be thy guide,/ in thy most need/ to go by thy side.” This is what came to mind when thinking of who I write for. I did not write for either believers or non-believers. I wrote for everyone, and my job is to make them accept that the The Elephant believes.