APPLAUSE - AUTHOR'S INSIGHTS
AT A GLANCE…
A story that will challenge your ideas about reality. Is the quantum tale of William Hathaway and Angela Star a metaphor for the rocky love story of the protagonists or a legitimate experience in its own right? I propose that herein lies the value of fiction – truth that shines through the most fantastical edges and speaks to the wavering heart.
So now Applause. Yes, there is a Tanzanian in the novel, but neither he nor any of the other characters is related to my other novels. No, wait! Melissa Wells’ mother, Barbara, was Miranda’s lawyer in Almost Paradise! And Melissa tells her friend Sela, the protagonist, a story about the schizophrenic her mother had to defend in a Nevada courtroom. (It surprised me too.)
This is probably the most personal, most real story for me. Some readers have suggested it is autobiographical. It takes place in Southern California where I was born, raised, educated, and worked. All of the place names are actual roads I’ve traveled, beaches I’ve ridden on, and canyons I’ve hiked. My grandparents had a small farm in La Puente; I broke down hauling horses on Conejo Grade; I had a close friend, actually a former student, Lee Henderson, from a school where I taught in Ventura; I rode my horses on the beach at Hope Ranch in Santa Barbara, enjoyed meals at the Opal Bar and Grill on State Street, and showed horses at the Earl Warren Showgrounds. But there the similarity ends.
This novel really began as a series of short stories titled William and Angela: A Quantum Crossing. The idea for those stories began with an odd dream I had about an actor missing his lines while on a shoot in the Arizona desert. He developed a blinding headache, and a minor character actress got him outside to an old couch on the porch of a saloon where she reached a hand out and wiped away tears from his face and spoke softly to him. The director said, “Cut! That works,” even though they had scrambled the script. The actress is very real to the actor who has had a stressful, debilitating time of it lately, but when the movie is finished, he can’t find the girl. And no one remembers an actress by the name she has given him – Angela Star.
That story, with more fleshing out, of course, led to eleven others (the known dimensions of the quantum theory!) and the Angela character to have lived for over one hundred years to be with her illusive love, William Hathaway, who for ten stories only lives in the present, in his actual age in each story. You can read these stories without looking at anything else in the entire novel.
Looking deeper, I’ve had many special people in my life named William – my mother’s father, William O. Massie; my much loved and admired university choir professor, J. William Jones; and an actor to whom I dedicated the “William and Angela” stories, William Shatner, because he is the epitome of a fine horseman, which my story protagonist, William Hathaway, is. I can’t name all the Williams, but the protagonist of Applause is William Langley, teacher of poetry and creative writing at U.C.L.A. I think you can see where I’m going with this.
Sela Hart, is mesmerized and half in love with Langley and has been since he visited her high school junior English class and read his poems to the wide-eyed teens. Sela is now almost thirty and a graduate student who has finally gotten in one of Langley’s classes. She begins turning in the short stories about “William and Angela” which cause lively class discussions, but the professor is still reeling from the death of his lesbian wife of twenty years in a car accident on Conejo Grade and resists at first the charm of this new student.
But after Sela’s third short story crosses his desk, Langley invites her to take a drive with him one Saturday and surprises her by going to the Santa Barbara Zoo, the setting of that story. They sit on the same bench and watch the same endangered white rhinos in their California enclosure. In Sela’s story, William Hathaway takes his two daughters, with whom he’s been estranged, to that exact spot where at the end he puts his arms around his girls and says, “Things that are so rare. . .need to be protected.” Of course, that line has layers of meaning for both William’s, Sela and Angela, all the students who hear the story, and you who read it. What’s endangered in the short story – the rhinos and the actor and his daughters – parallels what’s endangered in the novel – the professor’s well-being, his acceptance of having loved a gay woman without receiving the kind of love he needed and facing her tragic death which he feels responsible for because he let her drink and drive the night of the accident, Sela’s hope for a relationship with her teacher, Angela’s ability to keep fighting through the waters of the Chalice River after she drowns to be with William Hathaway. . .well, I don’t want to tell you the story! I want you to read it!
You might consider the metaphors: Sela’s grandmother raises the only blue rose in the world, called Applause; Sela’s eyes turn the blue of the blues she stands next to – the ocean in its various moods, the Mustang Langley buys her and ultimately wrecks on Conejo Grade, the sky under which they are wed. What can you find?
The novel has poetry too. Many works are by the students in Langley’s class with themes of gay love, horses, the ironies of history, lives that disintegrate, and lives that are saved. After the story is told and all the metaphors converge, I include two of my poems to two very special people: one to my own amazing poetry teacher and friend, Joan Raymund, and the other to my dear, dear friend, Lee Henderson, sadly both deceased.
A few years ago, Lee’s ninety-eight-year-old mother, Dorothy, died. We had remained close friends after Lee died in 1991. She had read Applause just a few weeks before her death and told me she loved that Sela’s best friend was modeled after her son. Hey, any of you Buena High students or faculty, remember the cheer leader, Butch Worden? None other than Lee Henderson. Now I’m hoping with the power of social media to reach out to Lee’s only child, Chloe. I would give anything to be able to speak to her and tell her what I know about her father. I think she might live in Chicago and be about thirty, maybe older.