LUCKY FRANK YORT is an entertaining, quirky novel with deep roots in Fielding and Twain—and yet it's a "Western" (Ye gods!)—with eventual movie prospects (below). But first, a story:
I had read only three novels by high school graduation. And that was despite my mother pressing countless books into my hands from the time I could read. When I went off to college, she had nearly given up hope of my ever developing some form of intellectual and artistic curiosity. I enjoyed those novels well enough, especially Mister Roberts, but not enough to finish another until I was at Northwestern.
I had been a jock—all sports, but I excelled at football (started on the #1 1951 team in Michigan) and track—as well as politician (class president).
But then I was hurt and couldn’t continue football and, for a while, this broke my heart. I had run track because my coaches insisted, not because I loved throwing up after sprinting a quarter mile. So when football, which I loved, was over, I gave up track as well. Therefore, when I went to NU as a pure student, I became an intellectual. I started smoking and drinking coffee and hanging out at The Great Expectations Book Shop. Then a guy in my fraternity told me that The Great Gatsby was the best novel ever written. I read it and readily agreed, talking it up to others (although, as I recall, it was only the 4th non-textbook I’d ever actually finished). Anyway, we are now about half-way there.
Searching for a gut course in my sophomore year, someone else in the fraternity said, “You’re a bullshitter, Hare, so how about Sophomore Comp?” It didn’t seem like a very promising idea, however, since I had never been able to complete an English “theme” without the utmost agony, counting every single word until I had scratched out the quota (300 as I recall). But I checked around and discovered that, sure enough, there was no textbook in Sophomore Composition and all you did was turn in a few pages of bullshit every two weeks in order to pass. So the first thing I wrote about was an experience during a high school summer near Yellowstone. I had nearly been killed by a mother bear for stupidly playing with her cubs when she was out of sight. Our instructor told me to see him after class and I was certain the jig was up; he was going to throw me out because of that story I’d recently turned in (it couldn’t be any good, I reasoned, because I had actually enjoyed writing it). In his little office, he showed me my paper—the first page predictably covered with so much red ink that I failed to note the letter grade at the top. He said, “Mr. Hare, let’s work together for the rest of the quarter and I’m sure we can make some headway against your spelling and grammatical troubles.” His hand swept across my red-ink-corrected catastrophe. “Because,” he continued with a smile, “I can’t tell you how grateful I was to read your piece. I seldom read anything half as interesting from my students.”
I looked up and saw that the grade was A-minus.
You can Google information about a play and a narrative nonfiction book that were traditionally published. You might also see that I once made a theatrical movie that was distributed as well as had plays produced Off Broadway and regionally. Below are other personal history notes, but first something about three books:
There is a lot more than plot to LUCKY FRANK YORT (24 chapters, IV parts in 91,000 words-that-count) but it sure has a good one. And, reading this book, you can SEE the movie that, despite seemingly expensive production values (below), can actually be made very economically (so agreed a studio production VP with top bona fides). Yes, it has “dust,” but Hollywood fads don’t last forever. SO, with roots in Fielding and Twain, this is unusual historical (1873) fiction with wry, quirky, often quite amusing writing that addresses the Reader from time to time. The story centers on bright vagabond sheriff Frank Yort and hardscrabble entrepreneur Faith O'Herlihy in miserable Mine City, Caifornia—while—down the tracks in booming railhead Delta City, Samuel X Barkley brilliantly plots to rule the Western rails. All three principals enter the main story from colorful backgrounds. Yort was a runaway youth surviving on brains and nerve who was educated by a drunken traveling ham actor with a prodigious memory. O’Herlihy was abandoned by her “beautiful dreamer” of a father after having invested her savings in railroad stock instead of his latest cockamamie scheme. And Barkley was a dangerous orphan with an elevated IQ who finally drives the story with his stock manipulation conspiracy—into the midst of which (where they have no business to be) Frank and Faith become believable secret players. There are two set-piece action/character sequences. The Great Train Robbery is overseen by “Invisible Bob Chase” but Yort is the mastermind. They succeed in capturing a famous painting that, in turn, causes Barkley’s stock to plummet (he had guaranteed the painting’s safety to President Ulysses S. Grant) so that he can buy it back on the cheap. Yort—smart but unsophisticated—had been duped by Chase, Barkley’s agent. Faith’s life savings (in those stock shares) are wiped out. And, minutes after seeing visual evidence of the tycoon’s complicity, Yort is “killed”—his believable survival the result of a key prop and very careful structuring and foreshadowing. Now invisible himself with powerful information, he cleverly (and barely) manages to inveigle O’Herlihy into joining him to seek a fortune far greater than what she lost. This leads to: The Great Delta City Shootout involving Grant-dispatched crack troops, Barkley, Chase, Yort and O’Herlihy along with secondary players. Chase is killed in an interior skirmish, and then at the height of irony Barkley (also suffering a coronary) manages to stagger free and is mistakenly cut to ribbons outside by the soldiers—actually dying twice as befits a larger-than-life character. Our heroes make their getaway with the painting as hostage (typically both funny and gripping)—taking along a carpetbag full of cash (the “ransom” money). More surprises lead to a poignant/witty last page reveal of their tombstone inscription. And, yes, “action is character.” But on this journey there is substance to the action, making YORT a book to be read more than once. (Again, that’s just plot. Reading is believing.)
THE STALINGRAD CONSPIRACY (100,000 words when finished—? Presently about two thirds completed, including the ending) – Another book project that began with a script (an epic play written over several years* that at various times had a "guaranteed" Kennedy Center premiere and a world-famous actor "attached") as well as some prose development over time.* Now, I will be going full-time on this just as I did with LFY (finishing STALINGRAD about 9/2017–?). And the story? About as different from LFY as can be imagined. Six fateful days are recalled by narrator Konrad (below) from a Siberian prison camp and postwar West Germany (1943-1950). Beginning on New Year’s Day, 1943, an older German "General," while bitterly estranged from his Nazi minister son (Konrad), is still inveigled into the son’s complex conspiracy to kill Hitler and save Germany. The spine of the plot involves (A) the conspiracy—which is to be activated by a nationwide radio broadcast originating from Stalingrad on the Volga River where the once mighty German 6th Army is surrounded and supposedly doomed—and (B) the General's change of plans on the scene. Protagonists are key conspirators Konrad and Gerhardt, the 6th Army’s Field Commander. But the play/novel/miniseries centers on the antagonists: the General, an eccentric and brilliant field marshal and the 6th Army's new 11th hour commander (arranged as part of the conspiracy), and sergeant-major Schmidt, a highly decorated half-Jewish line soldier who finds himself pulled out of combat and named the General's adjutant. Both are Hitler-haters and become surrogate father and son, the dazzling General convincing Schmidt that the salvation of Germany lies not with the conspiracy (would lead to anarchy) but in the General's own audacious break-out plan. But as the General euchres Hitler, dodges the conspirators, and builds a convincing break-out case (and potential war college immortality), he becomes seductively megalomaniacal—and the seeds of a madly narrow focus are sown—while Schmidt, holding to the old man's credo, is terribly compromised. Finally, in a surprising confrontation involving the four principals, the General betrays both Schmidt and his own espoused principles. The climatic scene ends with the shattered adjutant's suicide. Days later, as the Reds close in and the General prepares for his own ceremonial (and unexpected) suicide, he and Konrad reckon with the technical "success" of the breakout battle along with their own battle over Schmidt's soul. And do note that there is a LOT of necessary humor in this story—it is very intense WITH the humor; impossible to sit or read through without it. A deep thriller with universal and timeless themes that could be an actor-magnet for the West End or Broadway a n d a miniseries (augmented or keyed by the novel publication).
THE JFK ANNIVERSARY TRIP is both a novella and (now) a stage play that I am particularly proud of (and I'm experienced as you've seen or will see). The novella begins and ends in Dallas during the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination (2013). The principals are now aged and still adore each other—if not Big D. Most of the story is a flashback, beginning during the 1963 assassination week with subsequent scenes spanning the half-century. The subject isn’t Kennedy, with most of the players not even liking the president before 11/22/1963. It isn’t an “assassination book” either (although an opinion is expressed), since the event, though profound to our subjects, affected them only indirectly. It is a love story about total opposites: he’s a womanizing Dallas Bircher; she’s a married, pregnant, outspoken Liberal from Chicago; he’s a top physician; she’s a dedicated 3rd grade teacher who hates his guts. They fall in love. Chicago figures in, particularly in the latter scenes. And there is an influential Judge who's both a wise and funny mentor and through-and-through Texan who—as Kennedy’s murder becomes the tragic catalyst for a 50-year love story—will finally speak to the lovers from his grave (and this is not a fantasy). The play covers the same material dramatically but is only "in" Dallas indirectly at the magical end when the couple "visit" the Judge at his monument. A moment that any playgoer will carry with them for a long time.
*See below about how time spent transforms into quality.
I also have the first 100 pages of MURDER IN U-TOWN, a coming-of-age story centered on fixing an inter-state high school football game (1951) and the resultant murder occurring in an Ann Arbor-ish setting. And there is a good start on SHAME about the destruction of an advertising innocent told from a woman’s point of view (1965-2000)—but on those only time* will tell
*Of course there is no correlation between the time it takes to write something and the quality of the work. Steinbeck wrote THE GRAPES OF WRATH in two months (I wish he’d taken three); and allegedly Edward Albee wrote WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? on a cruise (but I never believed it—maybe pages of encouraging dialogue). My own time problems have been three-fold: I was a working writer for over 50 years (aside from making that movie and looking after play productions: advertising, scripts, corporate communications and speechwriting) and I often didn’t have enough juice left for more personal work. I also drank too much. And, while better men than me have themselves lashed to the mast to resist the sweet seduction of movies and plays, to this day I work on Tony and Oscar candidates.
In terms of subjects, you can see that it's tough to categorize my work. Hence, "brand," "platform," "genre" and "social media" cut no ice here—so far. And this begs a question. The Authors Guild advises to check Twitter about "what agents and publishers are looking for." But if a book is an original, how can anybody be looking for it?