Tonight, I read from my work-in-progress, a novel, as part of the University of Delaware English Department Reader’s Series, which is a bit of a cheat, since I’ve taught at the University of Delaware for nearly four years now.  It’s a cheat that goes both ways, however, since this reading counts as my requirement for a “public exhibition” of my work for my Delaware Division of the Arts Grant, on top of a modest honorarium.  A cross-promotional free-for-all.

None of my students showed up, not even the students in my fiction workshop, which was somewhat of a letdown.  I remember, as an undergrad at Johns Hopkins, attending at least one or two graduate student readings, and Johns  Hopkins was pretty well known for its Writing Seminar graduate program.  One male grad student read a story about surfing, with intimate details of board care with accompanying hand gestures, like Mr. Miyagi, if he had lived in Venice Beach.  The grad student looked like a surfer too:  sandy-blond hair, walnut-brown tan, even if his body shape struck me as slightly more plump than a surfer should be.  But I still have yet to read (or hear) a surfing-related story that has made me want to take up the sport, or even to take an interest in it beyond looking at trim boys in wetsuits.

Actually, that’s probably sufficient.

In any case, The Lady Vanishes proves to be relevant to my reading.  The main character of the section I read was British; and the characters in the film are quintessential British types.  My main character is gay; and if the two cricket-obsessed, comic relief bachelors, Caldicott and Charters, are not gay, then they’re at least proto-gay.  Or ultra-British, which is essentially equivalent to gay.  For heaven’s sake, they slept in the same bed together, Charters wearing only a pajama top, Caldicott wearing only pajama bottoms.

Hitchcock finds the good balance in The Lady Vanishes, with the first third of the film playing It Happened One Night-style slapstick (but with a strangling), and the rest of the film bringing the suspense (where is that little old lady?) and the thrills (shoot-out!).  After my reading, one attendee mentioned my (brief) use of humor in my piece.  Sure, I told her, I had to.   Otherwise things would get too dire and readers would slash their wrists.

But, overall, finding this balance still befuddles me.  Mass death and destruction don’t really lend themselves to the lulz.  But I think I may have discovered my solution.  I introduce a surfing scene.  Never mind that the novel takes place in northwestern India in a salt marsh.  They get typhoons, they get waves.  Someone lovingly strokes and waxes his board.  Salt water imagery, seagulls, kelp, the end.

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