Guest Blogger: David Pratt – Writing, Romance and The Romance of Writing.
Thank you, Kazza, for this opportunity to write on one of your and my favorite topics: writing itself. And on another favorite topic: romance! But first, congratulations on the huge success of On Top Down Under. I owe OTDU so much. I remember that gray Sunday when I, anxious that my new book might not be impressing anyone, Googled and found Kazza’s five-star review. The only part I disagreed with was where she said, “Oh, to have David Pratt’s mind!” I was like, “Be careful what you wish for…!” So, what’s on David Pratt’s mind? Well, on the occasion of OTDU’s second blogversary, let me say…
I am a hopeless romantic. I must be. I write.
Years ago I sat in Timothy’s Coffee on Seventh Avenue reading the New York Times. An article about a satellite caught my attention, a sentence reminded me of a Patti Smith song, and soon I was home, banging out a story about a satellite in love with an earthling. The plot sounds romantic, in a preposterous way, but it’s the preposterousness, not the physical or emotional attraction, that I am talking about when I call myself romantic. Around me, others were reading the Times: reading about markets, movie times and international affairs. I was the only one moonstruck enough to connect an obscure article to an obscure song and have to – and I do mean have to – run home and write about it. Not just write about it. Cook up a plot and a set of characters who would furiously disassemble the article and the song and juggle the pieces and stick them back together in wildly perplexing, irresponsible ways. Who thinks this is a good way to spend time, but day after day? Who worries not about job listings and grouting, but about where they’re going to find the next satellite?
A friend writes how, after an operation on her carotid artery, she walks everywhere (she can’t turn her head, so she can’t drive). “My feet don’t know what’s happened,” she says. “They’re not used to walking all over town this way.” I am so possessed by this idea of surprised feet, such a world opens up when I think about it, that I must immediately write a story about a woman who goes out walking—and ends up in the fictional land her son and his boyhood friend created for home movies they made. So I had a fling with a sentence. What could be more romantic? I brought that sentence gifts in the form of literary ideas and images: the fictional land, a garden of broken china, accounts of the boys’ films. And that sentence and I consummated our relationship. (Sometimes you don’t get past the first date. Some years ago I saw two beautiful, seemingly straight male friends jogging through my neighborhood at dawn. I wrote about them, but the story never jelled.
Readers know these mad experiences, too. The moment when you take in what an author wrote and uniquely transform it in the most private furnace of your heart. The writer and the reader are just flip sides of one another.
The satellite story is unpublished, so I can’t share it with you. Happily, I can share “Another Country,” where the woman enters her son’s adolescent invention. It is in my story collection My Movie, from Chelsea Station Editions. My thanks to Jameson Currier for including it. I might not have bet on it, but he did. Editors are great that way. He also bet on a story about a writer journeying through a perpetual dusk, who finds his one-time love has transformed into an antique desk. He bet on a number of my other flings, crazy visions, portentous bulletins sent from that dusk.
Then there was Bob the Book. I did not think of myself as a romantic when I wrote it, nor did I think of it as a romance. But the story of a gay book and his life and times is romantic in two ways. Bob falls in love with another book, Moishe, and then the two are separated and must find one another again. And there are other book and human couples. But the ultimate romantic scenario is how the book was made: A hoary joke (“What’s a gay book?” “A book attracted to other books of the same gender”) became 190 pages of thrills, heartbreak and adventure. Who did I imagine would read it? Fortunately, a few people have. That’s been a pleasing result. But I appreciate even more the moment when I thought of that joke and, for no good reason, began turning it into a novel for…what…? For its own sake.
Lately my partner and I have discussed whether or not we would ever leave New York City. That makes me (re)examine my 40-year romance with the City itself. Sure, I know everything’s run my mobsters and foreign billionaires (and foreign mobster billionaires), but what about Spuyten Duyvil at sunrise; the theaters on West 45th Street in the half-hour before curtain; that lush, almost European neighborhood along Convent Avenue, north of City University; walking across the Brooklyn Bridge as the lights come on in lower Manhattan; two beautiful men jogging at dawn and who you imagine they are; the houses on stilts in Far Rockaway; your airplane banking over JFK, the lights of a thousand homes rising to meet you? Like a story based on a chance remark in a letter, like a novel based on an old joke, the show that is New York may rest on crooked real estate deals cooked up by the one percent, but what a show it is! We make it one. Our imaginations take flight, and the tilt of the plane and the glow of the marquee take on meanings we extravagantly assign them. It is we who are romantic, not the city. We are all romance writers.
Out of my romance with New York sprang Looking After Joey, my second novel. Specifically, it sprang out of a romance with gay New York: the gossip, the musicals, the drinks-before-dinner, the drinks-after-the-show, the boycrushes and mancrushes, the bars at 3:00 a.m., the obscure arts festivals. All are lovingly portrayed and lovingly made fun of. Sadly, even they are disappearing. The Oscar Wilde Bookshop is gone, as are other gay businesses. Boots and Saddle, one of the venerable bars of the West Village, is closing. You can walk down Christopher Street today and miss completely that it was the hub of New York’s gay universe. The funny, sexy all-male microcosm of Looking After Joey is a tribute to that world. Significantly, at the end, the local video den, where our hero rented porn, is replaced by a big box store. Joey, the boy who improbably stepped out of one of those videos and got stuck in this crazy, impossible, romantic world, has learned what he needs to survive and is moving on.
Well, I do have a big novel, in manuscript, that takes place more than thirty years ago. It is about young people on the verge of graduating college. It has a few New York scenes: Times Square in the rain; an impromptu late night party of smart young culture vultures; the hero falling asleep to the sound of cars on Central Park West…
But it’s not a romance.
Not really. But that manuscript is the longest relationship of my life. And I am not too worried about who will ever read it.
Congrats again to OTDU. These two years will become three and five and ten and twenty. I look forward to watching those years unfold.
David Pratt is the author of the Lambda Award-winning novel Bob the Book (Chelsea Station Editions) and a new novel, Looking After Joey, from Wilde City Press. His short stories have been collected in My Movie, also from Chelsea Station. He has published in several periodicals and anthologies. He has presented work for the theater in New York at HERE, Dixon Place, the Cornelia Street Cafe, the Flea Theater and the NY International Fringe Festival.
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