TODD WALTON: Ida Four

 
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 From TODD WALTON
Under The Table Books
Mendocino

Two hours into tonight’s Open Mike at Club Muse, a dumpy old pub on San Pablo Avenue in Richmond California, most of the eighty-seven patrons have ceased to pay attention to the performers—the music awful, the comedians worse, hope of anything good fading fast.

Now the master of ceremonies, Tony Glick, a sweaty guy with scraggly gray hair and a huge beer belly, his yellow T-shirt sodden, his skinny blue belt barely holding up his saggy gray pants, steps to the microphone on the treacherous little stage and says, “Okay, yeah, thanks for that, Fred. Tell it like it is. Okay. Now we got a special treat, chick came all the way from Fort Orford to sing for you. Please welcome Nai O’Reilly.”

“Don’t call her chick,” says a bleary-eyed woman in a wheelchair near the stage. “Sexist pig. You want us to call you cock?”

“Whatever,” says Tony, rolling his eyes. “Here she is. Nai.”

The low roar of drunken blabber dies down a bit as a tall young woman sporting a ruby red guitar steps onto the stage. Wearing a creamy white long-sleeved shirt tucked into black jeans, her long brown hair in a ponytail, Nai scans the crowd to get a sense of her audience—the blabber falling to murmurs as the truth sinks in: this pretty gal is way too young to be here legally, yet here she is, standing at the microphone as if she’s been doing this since she was a baby, relaxed and unafraid.

Now she plays a slow progression of minor chords and sings a funny sad country lament, her voice strong and tender and perfectly pitched—even the most jaded of the patrons falling silent to listen.

Six-foot-one in my stocking feet,

still only fourteen years,

I tried to stop my growing

with an avalanche of tears.

Five-foot-seven ‘fore I made it to ten,

I was five-foot-ten at eleven.

Six-foot-even when I turned thirteen;

Cousin Day stopped at five-foot-seven.

Yes, I’m six-foot-one in my stocking feet,

still only fourteen years,

I tried to stop my growing

with an avalanche of tears.

***

That is how the just-published coil-bound photocopy edition of Ida’s Place Book Four—Renegade begins. Naomi, nicknamed Nai, is conceived in Book One, is five-years-old in Book Two, nine-years-old in Book Three, and fourteen-years-old in Book Four. For forty years I wrote single-volume novels focused on less than a year in the lives of their characters, and now I am writing the fifth volume in a series of novels collectively spanning, so far, twenty years.

One reviewer of my published novels described them as contemporary explorations of the lives and interactions of complicated people in various stages of overcoming or not overcoming emotional obstacles to their happiness. The Ida’s Place books certainly fit that description, but because the lives of the many characters unfold over decades, the explorations are of a different nature than those in my single-volume novels.

Had I introduced fourteen-year-old Nai in a single-volume novel as she appears in Book Four, the reader would not have experienced her childhood and be privy to many formative moments in her life. I would attempt to fill in her back story in the course of that single-volume work, but there would be no way to duplicate the depth and complexity of her character as it evolves over four volumes unless I made her the primary character for most or all of a single volume.

I do endeavor to write each volume of the Ida series so it may be read with satisfaction as a single-volume work. Indeed, a few avid followers of the Ida series encountered the second volume first.

Shortly after I brought out Book One, readers suggested I append a Character Glossary at the back of the book so they might refresh their memories of the many characters before, during, and after reading each volume. I have done so, and the glossaries are now a big help to me as I write each subsequent volume.

For Book Four, we enlarged and bolded the frontispiece announcement of the Character Glossary after two readers reported that while reading Book Three they longed for a character glossary, only to finish the book and find the Character Glossary awaiting them.

Please don’t imagine thousands of people are reading the Ida series. Nor are hundreds of people reading this series. Indeed, with each subsequent volume, readership has fallen precipitously. As of this writing, Book One has sold 120 copies, Book Two 66 copies, Book Three 35 copies, and Book 4, just printed at Zo, the best and only copy shop in Mendocino, 22 copies—those twenty-two stalwarts already pounding the drums for Book Five. Most amazing to me is how my enthusiasm for the saga has never waned, and I’m sure the ongoing encouragement of those twenty-two devotees is the main reason I continue.

The satisfactory completion of a single-volume novel requires the author to wrap everything up at the end, everything important, and I often found such labor exhausting and somewhat artificial. In writing the multi-volume Ida’s Place, I feel no compulsion to concoct a grand denouement for each volume, but rather allow the various story threads to reach satisfying and enticing and natural-seeming preludes to what might come next.

Here is a one-paragraph snapshot of the café from Book Three.

Ida’s Place, a splendiferous bakery café housed in a gigantic old building made of purplish-red bricks and massive redwood beams, has been likened to a cathedral by many a restaurant reviewer and postcard writer—the great room endowed with eight large skylights and fourteen gigantic windows through which the ever-changing light comes numinously streaming.

You may read the first three chapters of Ida’s Place Book One—Return on my web site, which is the only place Idabooks are sold, each copy signed and lavishly numbered by the author. Who knows? Perchance you are someone for whom the Ida saga will be elixir.
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