introducing readers to writers since 1995

May 02, 2005

Guest Author: Tommy Hays

by Ron Hogan

tommyhays.jpg[Tommy Hays explains the origins of his latest novel, The Pleasure Was Mine. (You might also have seen Hays recently recommending a book on, or just heard about him through the blog created by one of his writing students, Tingle Alley.)]

My wife left me for Alzheimerís. This was the first sentence to my new novel until my editor asked that I change it, fearing that if the reader learned in the first sentence that the book was about Alzheimer's they would be turned off. The first sentence now is: My wife is gone. I like it better. It feels more open, more inclusive and suggests more. And, unlike the original sentence, it does not rely on cleverness.

Still, my editor's cautiousness reflects a fear that I encountered again and again on my long journey to publishing this novel. The manuscript had been rejected by my previous editor at another publisher because she felt people didnít want to read about Alzheimerís. She said people were afraid of getting it. And as my agent sent the manuscript around to other houses and other editors, many of them passed on it, because it was about Alzheimer's. Finally we found an editor willing to risk the subject matter.

The great irony is that now that The Pleasure Was Mine is out, what many reviewers and readers seem attracted to and comment on as a strength is that it is an accurate yet not depressing treatment of a character who has Alzheimer's and her familyís attempt to cope with her. And whenever I give a reading, the people who come up and have me sign books almost always have their own stories about someone in their family or a close friend who has had the disease.

The novel was inspired by my own family's struggle with my father who died of Alzheimer's four years ago. I actually started out writing a memoir about my father's decline, but after about a year and almost three hundred self-indulgent pages, I found myself so weighed down and depressed by the tedium of the truth, that I dropped the memoir and began to write a novel. I invented Prate, a house painter who hadn't finished high school, made him the narrator and gave Alzheimerís to Irene, his retired high school English teacher wife. I used what I had learned about Alzheimerís through my family's experience with my father but made up everything else. And what surprises me now, as the novel makes its way into the world, is that the story I made up feels somehow truer than the facts of my fatherís demise that I so faithfully recorded.

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