Dear Joe: Tell Me About Pineapple
"I am a child of meta-fiction..."
An epistolary interaction between Alina Stefanescu and Joe Taylor, author of Pineapple: A Comic Novel in Verse.
Dear Joe, you have altered my relationship to pineapples. What is it about pineapples that makes them fair game?
Pineapples have lots of vitamins and minerals, so the fact that your relationship has been altered is good —unless of course, you are wearing them on your head as Carmen Miranda did. The historical reason I used pineapples comes from Los Alamos: after the Pacific theater war ended, the kids of Los Alamos—and there were many—were served pineapples in honor of Hawaii and Pearl Harbor. The Los Alamos scientists, however, came to regret this frivolity after the devastation caused by the two atomic bombs surfaced. Once committed to that fruitful title, I figured I needed to scatter it throughout: hence Dave’s unlikely reference to Lorrie’s breasts as such, the DC Doc’s saying, “We need to open the old pineapple” at the autopsy, and varied comments about the low-lying bush and American hand grenades. Inserting pineapples became a challenge, but by golly, I stuck with that title. And am glad I did.
Dear Joe, I wonder what inspired you to write such a formally-demanding novel with respect to rhythm and rhyme. Is this related to an underlying fascination with math or metrics? Please provide relevant data.
Agh! You have uncovered my secrets: I am a thwarted mathematician and a closet musician. Mathematics is the queen of science, music is the queen of emotion. Combining both by composing a novel with set meter and rhyme was the closest I could get. That, as Thomas Aquinas might say, is the formal cause for the novel’s layout. The material cause came from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Byron’s Don Juan, such bawdy and happy songs. The immediate or efficient cause was a bet with a wonderful author named Josie Sigler concerning which of us could first finish a novel in verse. Josie wisely dropped out of the bet . . .
Dear Joe, two pages into Pineapple, I felt a compelling need to hear this novel read aloud. So I locked myself in the bathroom and admired the acoustics. Given its orality, I wonder if your writing method differed in comparison to other projects. I also wonder if you sung it.
How could you possibly have known? I composed this entire novel in my bathtub, burbling out the lines underwater in various keys, though G major remains my favorite, for Gravity, not G-string. Actually, I “hear” all the prose I write in my faux-Southern, faux-Kentucky-hill accent. Certainly there was more emphasis than usual on sound considering the meter and rhyme involved with this novel. Hearing those work out became enjoyable, like completing a crossword puzzle’s clues and patting myself on the noggin with each success. By the way, I’m thinking of writing another comic novel in verse, likely combining the suffragette and Presidential candidate Victoria Woodhull with J. Edgar Hoover, Mr. FBI himself. Both were driven, both were confused, both were charlatans and hypocrites, both could have been saviors of sorts.
Dear Joe, are you planning any readings where for those of us who have an urge to hear it straight from the bard’s mouth?
I do hope to read on the lovely campus of UWA and I will announce the date of the same.
Until then, you may visit You-Tube and find two partial recordings—completed outdoors, not in a bathtub! I plan on recording the entire novel on audio soonly.
"I am a thwarted mathematician and a closet musician."
Dear Joe, why did you bring yourself into the story? On a vaguely-related note, what’s the relationship between your everyday self and your persona? Which one feels more authentic and why?
I guess I am a child of meta-fiction. I love Jane Austen’s sly use of the same, and of course Tristram Shandy, Tom Jones, and Kurt Vonnegut. (Also note Chaucer and Byron above.) I do think that adopting my persona as a character in this novel was particularly, even peculiarly, effective, especially as the author’s ever-insightful lover Trixie/Dixie/Pixie pulled that person from “writer’s blockhead,” then corrected and guided him along both in plotting the novel and in recognizing the truth about his secret daughter Lorrie. “The relationship between . . .”? Lord, my everyday self is a mess. I much prefer my persona, who is clever, upbeat, and takes a Zen stance toward the world and its worrisome woes, including atomic bombs and their big brother the hydrogen bomb.
Dear Joe, science is cool. Tell me about the Higgs boson as a muse.
The Higgs boson, “the God-Particle of Gravity,” was much in the news when I was writing Pineapple. I figured “Oh hell, if there’s a way we can turn this into a weapon, we will.” Instead, that is, of using it to make all of us walk more lightly on the planet or gleefully float over the Potomac and the Grand Canyon, or even propelling humanity toward the stars. Maybe it was an anti-muse?
Dear Joe, given the genre-bending, hybrid nature of this book, how did you find the wonderful Sagging Meniscus Press as a publisher? What advice would you give writers currently seeking to publish formally-innovative work?
Several years ago I was at a huge writer’s conference in Minneapolis. I knew the guy sitting behind me, George Peabody of Gargoyle Magazine, and I turned to ask him if he knew of anyone who might publish a comic novel in rhyming quatrains. Being the polite guy he is, George tried not to roll his eyes and chortle too offensively, so he just shook his head. So what I did after I finished Pineapple was to go to www.spdbooks.org and browse their small press publishers, using their excerpts, to find publishers compatible with this weird novel. Sagging Meniscus fit right in, and the publisher, Jacob Smullyan, replied within an hour or so of my query, writing, “Say what you will about comedy, this is going to distract me from work I had to do.” What I said about comedy lies in the prologue:
“The trouble with comedy, people think,/
is that it’s funny. It’s not. To prove this/
impels my high intent. A cat at nine lives’ brink,/
I swear to die if you derive the smallest bliss//
from these sad lines that follow. . .”
So, for literary authors, especially anyone working outside the expected, my advice is to do a bit of research and send out queries with a small excerpt and be both persistent and patient. For writers of the genre, such as mystery, romance, fantasy, I advise getting an agent. A warning, agents can be unbelievably terse and rude: I rec’d several returned query letters with the word “No” hen-scratched across them.
Dear Joe, what is “mini-destruction” and why does it matter in the Super-Size-Me era?
Even though the character Strickland, a.k.a Strictdick, promises the Mexican drug czar Boss Mo that he will use the Higgs boson weapon to wipe out an “entire section” of opera lovers in Santa Fe’s production of Otello, that destruction is small potatoes compared to atomic weaponry, biological warfare, and crashing jet planes into skyscrapers. Still, the weapon fits perfectly into the drug czar’s needs, for it effectively leaves no trace of the victim. And in this Super-Size-Me era, unimpeachable guilt stands of utmost importance. Who? What? Me? Must be fake news.
Dear Joe, have you ever written a Dear Joe letter? If so, why would you go and do a thing like that? If not, why don’t you do things like that more often?
In a previous incarnation, were you Postmaster General of the United States? Perhaps even Ben Franklin?
Dear Joe, did I mention that in high school people called me "Aliner?" And I doubt if I could be US Postmaster General since I was born in Romania. Dear Joe, did you know that I can't even be President of the United States? Dear Joe, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. I'm going to tuck them inside a traditional time capsule and hope for the best.
More about Joe Taylor
Helling—not hailing!—from various parts of Kentucky, Joe Taylor graduated with a B. A. in philosophy from U of Kentucky, his capstone course there being a correspondence course in microbiology, in which he drew endless cilia, protozoa, cells in mitosis and meiosis. Leaving Kentucky to pursue an unrequited love, he worked in West Palm Beach as a waiter and pizza chef. Leaving West Palm he moved to Tallahassee, where he received a Ph.D. in creative writing. He then taught at Kennesaw and Georgia State Universities in Atlanta. He then taught at St. Leo College in Florida for several years before moving to Livingston, Alabama, to teach at The University of West Alabama and direct Livingston Press, which he has done for nearly thirty years. He has three published story collections and three published novels, the latest of which is a comic novel in rhyming quatrains entitled Pineapple. He has a fourth novel forthcoming from NewSouth Books, entitled The Theoretics of Love. With his wife Tricia, he lives as an ungentlemanly farmer. Their main crop seems to be stray dogs. www.saggingmeniscus.com ; www.livingstonpress.uwa.edu