At nearly every stop of the Fobbit book tour, I was asked that question which most writers dread (because they're superstitious? because they don't want to commit?): "What's your next book about?"
I've been dropping enough hints in person and in interviews, I thought it was time I talked about it here on the blog. This also coincides with the fact that, precisely two hours ago, I dove back into revisions on the manuscript in full force.
That's right: revisions. Most of those same interrogators gave me a double-take, arched-eyebrows look when I told them that my "next" novel has already been written. In fact, it was completed long before the first word of Fobbit was ever typed. (I put "next" in quotation marks because I have no guarantee this will be my second published book. It still needs some work and there's no telling if anyone will be interested in bringing it to print. All I can say is, it's my passion and my obsession right now and I'm putting all my energy into its polished completion.)
I just went back into my journal and found this one-line entry:
May 18, 1993: Started Dubble today.
I spent the next six years writing the novel, then put it in the proverbial desk drawer, intending to go back and revise it after taking a couple months off. However, I went to war instead and subsequently was consumed by writing, revising and (miracle of miracles) publishing Fobbit.
Now it's time for Dubble to have its day.
Set in the 1940s, it's narrated by David Dubble, a little person (as he's quick to tell you, he's not a midget, he's not a dwarf--he's hypopituitary) who at age 18 leaves his home in Idaho and heads to Hollywood where he gets his lucky break working as a stuntman/bodyguard for child actor Eddie Danger, the reigning box-office champ. That's as much as I'll tell you for now. This opening passage from Dubble will give you a good idea of the novel's tone and direction:
Some people say certain smells bring back their childhood: gingerbread, wet pavement, a mother's hand lotion. For me, the dogs of memory are unleashed at the mere mention of an Eddie Danger movie. Every title brings a wince, a jolt, a chemical memory of pain.
The Littlest Caesar. Ramada, Bayou Avenger. Highball Heaven. Miss Petticoat’s Peril.
Say the word and I’m back there on the set, remembering how I loved every minute of it…but suffered every lousy, goddamned minute of it, too.
I was eighteen when I arrived in Hollywood; Eddie was eleven. We were separated by seven years and three inches. I wasn't what you'd call a dwarf—normal-sized hands and head, no rolling waddle when I walked. I was, technically-speaking, hypopituitary. My bones had stopped growing when I was in grade school. Sure, it gave me a low-to-the-ground perspective on life, but I didn't mind, especially when it got me a job working for Eddie Danger.
For nearly three years in the 1940s, during Hollywood's so-called Golden Age, I was Eddie's stuntman—the one to take the falls, duck the punches, swim the rapids. I was the one to grit my teeth when my ankle twisted after a bad two-story gag, to choke on a lungful of river water, to steer the car into the brick wall at forty miles per hour then fly through the windshield like a cannon-shot rag doll. I did all that while Eddie Danger sat in a silk bathrobe in his dressing room, his soft, fourteen-year-old rump nestled gently on a velveteen throw pillow while a buxom make-up girl fed him unpeeled grapes.
So who can blame me if I'm wracked by a bitter blast of pain when you mention how much you loved The Adventures of Timmy Swain and how you just adored Eddie, especially when he swung across the ballroom on the chandelier, scooped up the princess with one arm, then landed on the opposite balcony, stealing a kiss along the way. Excuse me while I cough up an ounce of bile, okay? That was me on the chandelier and the "girl" never gave me a kiss. In fact, the girl was a mannequin dressed to look like Judy Garland. And Judy never had the time of day for me, let alone a peck on the cheek—that was all reserved for adorable little Eddie.
It's not that I hated my years at Paradiso Studios or resented Eddie for being America's Number-One Spoiled Brat. No, "hate" and "resentment" are the wrong words for what coursed through my veins. Call it weary resignation which gradually led to antipathy. I was good friends with Gabby Hayes back then and though he was paid well for being John Wayne's sidekick, he'd often turn to me, usually after the third or fourth beer, and grumble: "If I have to say 'Yer durn tootin'' one more time, I'm gonna fuckin' vomit!"
Gabby and I both loved Hollywood and cherished our small roles in America's Dream Factory, but some days the business, and the pint-sized tyrants who dictated our days, just wore us down to a bloody nub.
On the other hand, there was always that shameless joy of seeing yourself up on the screen—even if you were only the shadowy half of a fourteen-year-old wunderkind, the Top Box Office Star for 1939, 1940 and 1942.
In the early films, my screen time was minimal, fleeting shots where I tumbled off horses, broke through windows, writhed on sawmill conveyor belts, sledded down bars while beer drinkers grabbed their mugs out of the way. Then, as time went on, I got more scenes, some without any significant rough action. There were numerous shots of my shoulders, my back, the rims of my ears. All this time, Eddie would be in his dressing room, petulantly learning his next lines while I handled the from-the-rear reaction shots. I’d wear lots of hats and hold a hand over my face as if Eddie was deep in thought.
But Eddie was about as introspective as a tick bug. He lived for the moment, the playroom, the fizzing high life poured to overflowing. Eddie never gave a second thought to anything or anyone.…including—especially—me.
I remember one time in particular. We were near the end of shooting Eddie's next-to-last film (though none of us knew it at the time). Mention the words Little Dixie and it all comes back to me like wet pavement: the sharp smell of gunpowder, the rattle of bayonets, the taste of blood.