Welcome to HennessyExploits.com, the website devoted to my fiction and posts.
I invite you to dive into these pages and immerse yourself in some serious human folly.
Notes on my writing life...
My father Jack wrote a couple novels in the hot Los Angeles summers between his terms as a teaching assistant at Cal State Los Angeles.
A decade after his death I often recall the lean, balding Gary Cooper-esque man at his cherished hardwood desk, hunched over an Underwood manual that he pounded mercilessly with his 60 wpm precision (he prided himself on the touch-typing skills the Army had taught him) while a green oscillating fan hummed in a mesmerizing Doppler-nuanced chord nearby and blew tepid zephyrs through the living room. He wrote each novel in about six weeks
and spent a few days thereafter polishing the drafts and retyping them for publication and imminent fame.Back in the early 1960’s I was a weak, obnoxious kid coping with asthma, profuse allergies to everything, a neighborhood bully named Gerstel, and nighttime erections that seemed highly abnormal even after an awkward biology lecture from my parents. The five of us lived in Alhambra near the campus, in a bland pink stucco two-bedroom rental with an orange tree in back and a swing set for my little sister and brother that my father cursed
into existence from a kit he bought at Sears.
He sent the novels to a few publishers, got rejection slips sent back to
him, concealed his crushing disappointment from his family and put the manuscripts away in manila envelopes that he kept in a nightstand next to
his bed. Then he got a job teaching history at a college in northern California, far away from acrid Los Angeles, and my mother, a gorgeous Teutonic hausfrau, was ecstatic. The dreary forested town where we were headed stood at nearly the same northern latitude as her hometown in Germany.
We drove nearly 700 miles and moved into a dingy three-bedroom tract
home that my mom lovingly cleaned for three solid days, while us kids began elementary school right across the street. Meanwhile, my dad grudgingly settled into his new routine as a rookie professor and made sure his novels stayed handy in the bedroom for the summer hiatus when he could reanimate them with new chapters, ideas, characters, and most importantly, hope.
At school I made a friend, Kenny, a portly kid with greasy blonde hair, and we started to hang out, riding bikes, playing marathon Monopoly during weekend sleepovers, talking about girls and what a vagina might look like, the usual pre-adolescent boy stuff. Oh yeah—and getting into some trouble now and then.
For example: Kenny and I were kicking around my house one overcast Saturday with no one else home—I thought—and we ended up in my
parents' bedroom. I might have been looking for my dad’s Smith & Wesson .38 to show off, but instead I found the novels in the nightstand in those tattered manila envelopes. Jack had mentioned them to me only briefly in the months since their completion, though I knew vaguely what they were about.
The first, Homo Americanus, dealt with some Army guy on leave in Spain who gets into trouble, not unlike that Jake Barnes fellow in The Sun Also Rises. He considered it a solid first effort but the story arc had flaws that needed serious revision. The second opus had more potential, he believed,
a novella that could be lengthened into something really sardonic and meaningful, like Catch-22. It had to do with a captain he knew in the Army while stationed in Stuttgart, a sadistic taskmaster who verbally assaulted everyone on his staff and who had now morphed into the main character of the story.
With Kenny looking on I felt obligated to deliver something on par with a handgun, so I pulled out the envelope, noted the word Captot penned in my father’s precise cursive script, unwound the string clasp and withdrew the sheaf of flimsy onion paper filled with faded pica elite type. Kenny looked
on passively while something surged in my gut, a potent combination of mischievous terror and filial reverence. This was what my father had wrought from the sticky hot air in the pink stucco house in Alhambra—nearly 50,000 words of creative energy, passion and commitment.
I read the title to Kenny who asked me what it meant.
“Captain Death,” I told him.
“Wow,” Kenny said. “That’s pretty rad.”
I read the first paragraph aloud, and I’ll paraphrase those opening sentences here (forgive me, dad) because my memory is anything but photographic:
As he leaned back in his chair, the brutal image in his mind brought a smile to his thin, quivering lips. He could see it all again, the young man begging for mercy, pleading for his life to be spared, as the bayonet thrust deep into his thigh. A second later, blood spurted from the wound in a sanguine geyser as the German soldier screamed. Another thrust, this time to the boy’s throat…
I never heard him coming and when he opened the bedroom door my father took only a second to scope the situation.
“Goddamnit, Marcus, what in the hell are you doing?” he bellowed.
“You know you’re not supposed to be in here. Are you reading that…
my novel? Goddamnit! Get out! Both of you! Now!”
I felt horrible while Kenny just rode his bike home. I spent time in my room
and wondered if maybe I should cry or produce some other open display of remorse for Jack’s benefit. Yes, he’d made it clear in the past that he did not want me to read his novels, and it was painfully obvious that in violating that prohibition, I had done wrong.
I needed to apologize, so I mustered the fortitude to seek him out and say I was sorry. I loved my father, and respected him, and disdained getting on his bad side. But what I found, what I saw in the living room, gave me a visceral and permanent appreciation for the raw volatility that comes from striving so hard to forge a creative identity. There was my father kneeling at the fireplace, poking at the orange glowing shards of what remained of his novels. Original manuscripts. No copies. He never looked at me, never acknowledged my witnessing of this hasty sacrifice, and made no mention of it at the dinner table that night. Later, he asked me if I wanted to play some catch and we didn’t bring up the episode again for years.
He settled into a successful career as a college administrator, joined a
country club, played golf, and all but abandoned his novelist aspirations. Still, as I began to seek my own niche as a creative writer, armed with an English degree from UCLA and an insouciant outlook on life, my father revealed to
me more than once how he regretted such a rash immolation of his precious stories that gloomy spring day in 1967, and how in retrospect he’d totally overreacted to what was normal pre-adolescent curiosity on my part.
“Goddamnit…Captot had real potential,” he’d say over wine and steak at the restaurant of his choice, always on his dime. “I could’ve reworked it…made it better…publishable. And had it been published, well….” Here, his eyes would glaze over and he’d drink more wine.
Today, as a writer with no real traction (yet) in today’s literary world, I have a closet filled with manuscripts that probably should be burned. And a few that need to be reworked. And some, promoted on this web site, which will be
read by people seeking some fresh perspectives on the collective moral confusion of our selfish society.Sometimes I think I write to honor my father, to attain that level of acknow-ledgment and approbation that he never could. Certainly that’s not the only reason, but it’s there, along with a belief that even if I never make another dime from my fiction, that I’ve kept it alive, the desire, and that in turn, that desire has kept me hungry, and tenacious.