The Island of Two Tales — Part Two

TWO: Twists & Gimmicks, but No Nude Beaches
Molly, Chuck & Kiki, circa 1977

When I landed on Nantucket in the fall of 1976, I had a head full of the [American] Revolution, enough cash for a cramped bedroom in an unfashionable boardinghouse, but no nanny. So my two daughters, Annika (self-nicknamed “Kiki,”) age 7 and Molly, a precocious 4, were back in San Francisco with their mother, from whom I was quietly getting divorced.

The Bay Guardian, one of the best “alternative” weeklies. They did a big Nude Beach issue every year, but for some reason never asked me to write the main feature for it . . .

I expected to be away for a couple months, as long as the cash held out. Then it would be back to the Bay Area, the girls, and my fledgling but in-sight-of-the-cusp-of thriving freelance career, writing for various papers, particularly its main weekly, the Bay Guardian.

But how, in the meantime, to stay in touch? I could call the girls occasionally; but in those days transcontinental long-distance rates were steep.

Plus, they weren’t interested in my Quaker novel, and there wasn’t much else for me to talk about with them: by day I squinted at old documents, and at night pecked at my compact portable typewriter.

Completely boring for just about everyone else of any age. (Fortunately, I didn’t drink.)

But if the novels wouldn’t serve for connection, what about stories? I often read and improvised stories for the girls. So what if—
— What if I told them a story? In segments, short chapters?
Or maybe wrote it, for their mother to read? That would save money, since the episodes could be mailed cheap.

(Though the Post Office had recently stuck us with an onerous price increase to an outrageous 13 cents for first class stamps!) But at six or so pages per ounce, I could handle that.

And I knew, I thought, the kind of stories they liked:
Tales with talking animals.
Okay then: a story in mini-chapters with talking animals. But it had to have some excitement, some cliffhanging suspense: how about magic? And an evil wizard?

Yeah, that could work.

Also, hope. Danger and wickedness, sure; but no dystopia. Save that for later. (Hopefully much later.)

A few days before I squeezed them goodbye and climbed on the Greyhound bus for a marathon, mind- and butt-numbing ride from San Francisco to Boston, I began making notes for the story.

Oz, the pre-Hollywood version

For research, I plundered my memory: Oz, Narnia, Middle Earth, Brer Rabbit, Bambi, Dumbo, many old pre-TV cartoons, and more. (But not Harry Potter; he was still two-plus decades away)

Brer Rabbit & Friends, early edition

But soon I realized I’d need a few special plot twists to keep it going, especially multiple episodes a week for a few months.

“Plot twists”? More plainly, gimmicks. Three of them popped into my heads:
First, Kiki and Molly: they had to be in it, to hold their childish attention. That was two.
And the third — it came to me with a jolt — was quilts.
Why quilts?
Yes, of course! The quilts — at the center of the whole thing: the quilts!

Again: why quilts?
Teaser-cliffhanger time: For the answer to that,  tune in tomorrow . . .

Part Three is here.


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