In Light's Delay

Q & A

Tell us a bit about the genesis of this novel?

In Light's Delay was the first novel I wrote. I started it when I was an undergraduate at the University of Oregon just after returning from a study abroad year at the University of Pavia in Italy. I had intended to graduate one quarter into my senior year, at which point the Department of Romance Languages had offered me a position as a teaching assistant.

Teaching what?

Italian. My degree would have been in Romance Languages, since I started out in Spanish, which was the language I began in high school. Anyway, I dropped out of the university just before finishing in order to follow my girlfriend to Mexico City. And that's where I really began the writing. I still have the spiral-bound notebooks that I used. But the first novel I wrote is quite a bit different from what was eventually published.

Did you complete the novel in Mexico?

No, I was only in Mexico for six months. I was very poor, living off one meal a day—a lunch that cost about a quarter—and I was paying $24 a month to sleep in the living room of a widow. She'd curtained off an area for me with a bed and a small desk. My girlfriend was living with a wealthy family, the father was a banker, while attending the University of the Americas. I'd go out to their campus and use the library, although most of my writing was done in my room. I was also writing poetry and sending it out to magazines in the U.S. I managed to get one poem published! [laughs]

So where did you finish the novel?

I came back to Eugene, where I finished up my degree and I was writing during that year. It took me just over a year for the first draft, from December 1967 to February 1969. That was 615 pages in typescript. So quite a bit longer. It had a longer title, too—In Yet Longer Light's Delay, from the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem that I cite as an epigraph.

Anything to say about that draft?

Well, only that I'd structured the novel to take place over the course of an imaginary night, with each chapter, of twelve, starting an hour later than the prior chapter, but at a different place and a different chronological period in the protagonist's life. I was heavily influenced by the Italian poets I had been reading ever since studying in Italy.

Who in particular?

Well, I wrote my B.A. Honor's thesis on Dino Campana, so he was one of my favorites. I got married not long after returning from Mexico and gave up drugs at that point, but before that I'd done a little LSD—we were all experimenting in those days, trying to find enlightenment, and going about it very seriously, reading books and trying to be prepared, not just taking something for kicks. At least, that's the way some of the guys I hung around with were. And me, too. But the reason I mentioned that is, Dino Campana walked around in a mental state experiencing things that seemed very similar to some of what one goes through or can go through on an acid trip. You might see the light streaming from a lightbulb fracture up into a kaleidoscopic prism of colors raining down on you, and I think he saw things like that naturally. So, searching for peace, he was a creature of the night. And the dark night of the soul that Fitzgerald talks so much about in The Crackup and the Note-Books—you know, it's always 3 a.m., and it seems morning is never going to come—is a motif that attracted me at the time. I had a quote from an Italian poet at the start of each chapter. But I was reading a lot of modern poets—from the Twilight Poets through the Hermetic.

Back to the novel. It didn't make it into print until what? Twenty years later?

It's had a long, rigorous history. So rigorous that I almost hate to even think about it. I've rewritten the book quite a few times; it's been cut extensively. Gone through quite a few hands. I even sent if off to A. L. Fierst at a certain point, a guy anyone who was writing and struggling in the sixties probably knows from his ads in Writers Digest. He clearly had some graduate student take a hack at it—they knew less about language than I did, trying to correct my Hopkins quote for one thing. Whoever it was that line-edited the book couldn't understand his "I feel the fell of dark, not day." They corrected "fell" to "feel." So the quote read: "I feel the feel . . ." I don't know why they were bothering with the epigraph anyway. But the edit was a waste of money, a slaughter-job. I got one or two useful things out of it and that was it. But I cut the novel from 615 down to 384 and eventually to 204 typescript pages. In those days, without computers, every time I rewrote a book it meant retyping as many as 600 pages. I remember trying to get 30 a day if I could. But it wasn't easy.

Any way, I set the book aside when I went to graduate school in Berkeley. I started a sequel of sorts, a novel called THE ECHOES OF OUR TWO HEARTS, and that got drug out through most of the seven years it took to get my masters and Ph.D., what with me dropping out once with health problems from the stress.

To make a long, painful story short (or shorter, I should say), the book was finally accepted by a small press, and that was just the beginnings of its troubles—problems that lasted six years, until Desert Bloom Press in Cortaro, Arizona, brought it out in a trade paperback edition.

Any concluding thoughts on the book?

It's probably not wise to say this, but as is true for all things I write I find that on one reading I enjoy the work and on the next I hate it. And that's almost invariably the case for every novel I write. So there have been times when I think why in the world did I even try to publish this! It was best left in the drawer! But then, the next time, I think, hey, it's got its interesting points. I've had readers tell me they like the way flashbacks are used in telling the story. The time sequences are quite often shifting, but never in a way that's confusing, I hope. And others have told me, colleagues, in particular, that they appreciate seeing what a study-abroad experience can be like. For me it was a life-changing experience. But, of course, that's only part of the novel. There's much more there. In the end, for me, it's a slice of life from the sixties, as lived by one character and his friends.

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