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.
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
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
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
"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
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
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.