From The Writer’s Almanac (Garrison Kellior) August 21, 2014: “It’s the birthday of novelist Robert Stone born in Brooklyn (1937). He was raised by his mother, who was schizophrenic, and when she was institutionalized, he spent several years in a Catholic orphanage. Sometimes he and his mother would drive across the country and end up in a Salvation Army somewhere, or a random hotel. He said: ‘My early life was very strange. I was a solitary; radio fashioned my imagination. Radio narrative always has to embody a full account of both action and scene. I began to do that myself. When I was seven or eight, I’d walk through Central Park like Sam Spade, describing aloud what I was doing, becoming both the actor and the writer setting him into the scene. That was where I developed an inner ear.”
Stone dropped out of high school to join the Navy, then moved back to New York City. He worked as a copy boy at the Daily News, and during his brief stint at NYU, he met Janice Burr, the woman he eventually married. They moved to New Orleans, and Stone found work as a census-taker. He walked every neighborhood of New Orleans, asking questions. He wrote: “The closer to street level you live, the more you have lessons thrust upon you.”
His time in New Orleans inspired his first novel, A Hall of Mirrors (1967). It begins: “The day before, Rheinhardt had bought a pint of whiskey in Opelika and saved it all afternoon while the bus coursed down through red clay and pine hills to the Gulf. Then, after sundown, he had opened the bottle and shared it with the boy who sold bibles, the blond gangling country boy in the next seat. Most of the night, as the black cypress shot by outside, Rheinhardt had listened to the boy talk about money — commissions and good territories and profits — the boy had gone on for hours with an awed and innocent greed. Rheinhardt had sat silently, passing the bottle and listening.”
Stone served as a correspondent in Vietnam for a British magazine, which quickly folded, but he got enough material to return home and write the novel Dog Soldiers (1974). Dog Soldiers is the story of a burnt-out playwright named John Converse who leaves the fading counterculture of California to work as a correspondent in Vietnam and ends up smuggling heroin out of the country. Dog Soldiers won the National Book Award.
Stone’s other books include Children of Light (1986); Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties (2007), a memoir; and Fun With Problems (2010), a book of short stories.
He said: ‘Writing is lonely. […] But most of the time you are in a room by yourself, you know. Writers spend more time in rooms, staying awake in quiet rooms, than they do hunting lions in Africa. So, it’s a bad life for a person because it’s so lonely and because it consists of such highs and lows, and there’s not always anywhere to take these emotional states. […] It’s a life that’s tough to sustain without falling prey to some kind of beguiling diversion that’s not good for you.’”
Don’t I know that? Don’t we all know that?
Though I don’t know Robert Stone’s work, I do know his life, and his mother: I am also a solitary; but instead of schizophrenia it was manic depression, and instead of radio it was books. When I was five my parents took me to visit my paternal grandfather and his wife in Florida. I recall so clearly, in my boredom, walking around the yard, the house, standing in the exotic palm-lined winter driveway. Squatting beside the 1950s car and seeing my reflection in the shiny hubcap, I remember telling myself a story, complete with, “and then he said…and then she said…” “describing aloud what I was doing, becoming both the…writer” and the written about “…setting myself in the scene.” I also remember doing this until I was 10 or so, walking around talking aloud, telling myself my story, until a neighborhood boy passed me on his bike and, turning circles around me, derided me, chiding, “WHO are you talking to?!” I was silenced.
Been writing, but not much here. Mostly because I hate struggling with blog technology and adhering to appointed rounds. And wherefore the time? But I intend to change that, again.
Want to finish my Rockfall Series, but getting to that is stopping me from posting anything else, so things will get posted, but in a random, sort of, rockfall pattern! Much to tell.