ON WRITING THE DICE MAN

THE DICE MAN is a novel that in most all possible universes would never have been finished and never published.‭ ‬But Chance,‭ ‬ever busy,‭ ‬created a series of accidents in‭ ‬1969-70‭ ‬in Deia,‭ ‬Mallorca,‭ ‬that allowed a‭ ‬222‭ ‬page manuscript written over four years by an un-ambitious,‭ ‬unpublished‭ ‬37-year-old college professor to be discovered and finished.‭

A young Englishman‭ ‬starting a new publishing house‭ ‬discovered the book in a Deia café and signed me up to publish it.‭ ‬I was‭  ‬thus encouraged to complete the final‭ ‬500‭ ‬manuscript pages in less than six months–after averaging only‭ ‬50‭ ‬pages a year over the previous four years.‭

As a result,‭ ‬Deia in that year has always been for me the most special place in the world.‭ ‬Its beauty,‭ ‬ambiance,‭ ‬and gathering of interesting artists and writers made it special in the summer and fall of‭ ‬1969‭ ‬even before my barely begun manuscript‭  ‬was unexpectedly discovered.‭  ‬The‭ ‬events that brought me and my family to Deia and then led to my life being transformed from college professor to novelist are worth describing.‭ Deya poster (69)

It began when a friend at the college I was teaching at in‭ ‬1969‭ ‬decided to create a study abroad program in Deia,‭ ‬He asked me to be his‭ ‬Associate Director‭ ‬(after another friend had decided he couldn’t do it‭)‬.‭ ‬The Mediterranean Institute enrolled twenty-five students from all over the‭ ‬U.S.‭ ‬to study art and literature.‭ ‬We invited some fine guest writers to‭ ‬stay and‭  ‬give lectures,‭ ‬including the English novelists Colin Wilson and Anthony Burgess and the American poet Galway Kinnell.‭ ‬And Robert Graves,‭ ‬then still‭  ‬living,‭ ‬was also to grace us with a brief talk.‭

‬In the summer of‭ ‬1969‭ ‬I and my wife and three sons arrived two months before the Institute was to open.‭ ‬I became friends with Jay Linthicum,‭ ‬a young poet and novelist‭ (‬then‭ ‬23‭) ‬who was fiercely ambitious.‭ ‬He and I‭ ‬soon‭ ‬began collaborating on a potboiler novel‭ ‬about sex and drugs in Deia.‭ ‬ Jay persuaded me to let him read the manuscript pages of THE DICE MAN.‭  ‬He was the first person to see the novel other than my wife.‭ ‬How Jay felt about the book I no longer recall,‭ ‬but clearly he neither panned it nor raved about it or I would remember.‭

In any case,‭ ‬in early November‭ ‬1969,‭ ‬when Jay was sitting in the‭ ‬Sa Fonda Cafe,‭ ‬an Englishman,‭ ‬Mike Franklin,‭ ‬who had just created a publishing company with a rock impresario named Talmy,‭ ‬happened to be passing through the village.‭ ‬Jay and he met‭ ‬at the‭ ‬café‭ ‬and began talking.‭ ‬Jay eagerly mentioned the fact that he had a finished novel and that he and I were collaborating on a potboiler that would make us all a lot of money.‭ ‬As an aside he mentioned that I was also working on a novel.‭ ‬Mike Franklin asked us to give him the manuscripts of all three books.‭

Weeks later Mike wired us‭ (‬ah,‭ ‬the quaint old days of‭ ‬Western Union‭) ‬that he’d like to publish both the potboiler and THE DICE MAN.‭ ‬He suggested modest advances for each of the two books.‭ ‬To our surprise,‭ ‬he‭ ‬offered more for THE DICE MAN,‭ ‬an intellectual book that had no commercial potential‭ (‬in our eyes‭) ‬than for our potboiler,‭ ‬which was so‭ ‬au currant we were convinced it would become a bestseller.‭

So Chance had intervened to get my book first a reader,‭ ‬and then a‭
‬publisher.‭ ‬Next it intervened to give me the time actually to write the book.‭

‬In‭ ‬1969‭ ‬the hippie revolution was at full tilt.‭ ‬Bob De Maria found that‭
‬smoking pot made him feel he was about to have a heart attack.‭ ‬He much‭
‬preferred alcohol.‭ ‬As Director of the Institute he felt he had to be‭
‬strongly anti-dope.‭ ‬I would sometimes smoke dope with a few of the students.‭ ‬As a result,‭  ‬he‭ ‬asked me to take an early sabbatical—in the spring of‭ ‬1970‭ ‬rather than later that fall as I had planned.‭ ‬He would find someone else to teach my courses. ‭ ‬I happily agreed.‭

‬So in the winter-spring of‭ ‬1970‭ ‬I and my family continued living
in Deia and I began finishing THE DICE MAN.‭ ‬At the same time I continued work with Jay on the potboiler.‭ ‬Each morning ‭ ‬I would go merrily up to my study in Ses Figueres,‭ (‬the name of the house in Deia‭  ‬we were renting‭)‬,‭ ‬work for three or four hours on THE DICE MAN,‭ ‬take a break,‭ ‬and then work for a couple of hours on my sections of the potboiler.‭ ‬Sometimes I would let the dice decide which book I should work on or which new scene I should write.‭ ‬By late May I had finished THE DICE MAN and my half of the potboiler,‭ ‬and both completed books were sent off to Mike Franklin in‭ ‬London.‭

To my surprise Mike announced that he found that THE DICE MAN,‭ ‬although needing a bit of work,‭ ‬pretty good.‭ (‬Later he would refer to it as a‭ “‬near‭ ‬masterpiece‭”)‬,‭ ‬but about the potboiler he had some concerns.‭ ‬My style was simple and direct and I took a comic look at everything.‭ ‬Jay’s style was convoluted and poetic and he took a serious look at everything.‭ ‬Our collaboration was probably doomed from the beginning,‭ ‬but we were too inexperienced to know it.‭

‬Then Chance intervened again.‭ ‬I had decided to invest my lifetime savings‭
(‬$11,000‭) ‬in a sailboat to cruise the‭ ‬Mediterranean.‭ ‬I bought a‭ ‬30-ft.‭
‬Catalac catamaran lurking in‭ ‬Antibes and I and my family boarded in June to‭
‬begin cruising a bit before sailing onto‭ ‬Mallorca in time to meet Mike‭
‬Franklin in late July to discuss possible revisions of‭  ‬THE DICE MAN.‭ ‬The day before we left to go to the boat Lloyds of London wrote me a note to ask if I wanted to continue the insurance on the boat of the previous owner.‭ ‬Being the author of a new novel that celebrated chance,‭  ‬I felt it was my duty never to insure anything..‭ ‬At the last second,‭ ‬however,‭ ‬I decided that perhaps just this once,‭ ‬being the first time I would have sailed a boat in the open sea,‭ ‬I would go against all my principles and get a little insurance.‭ ‬So I dashed off a note‭ ‬to Lloyds‭ ‬simply saying‭ “‬yes.‭”

We cruised from‭ ‬Antibes along the French Riviera to‭ ‬Genoa and then south‭
‬down to‭ ‬Pisa and then across to‭ ‬Corsica and Sardenia.‭ ‬On the day we were to set sail in clear calm weather for‭ ‬Mallorca,‭ ‬my wife had an overwhelming premonition of disaster.‭ ‬She first tried to see if she and our two youngest boys could get a boat or plane to Mallorca,‭ ‬but when that proved impossible she‭ (‬who hadn’t been inside a church in several years‭) ‬went into a little seaside chapel to pray.‭

Eight hours out from Sardenia,‭ ‬motoring all the time in the dead calm waters,‭ ‬our engine broke down.‭ ‬I couldn’t fix it.‭

But then the wind arrived‭! ‬How wonderful‭! ‬We began sailing.‭ ‬The wind‭
‬became fresh.‭ ‬We sailed faster‭! ‬The wind became stronger.‭ ‬We reduced sail.‭ ‬The wind became a gale.‭ ‬We lowered all sails.‭ ‬The wind became a huge gale,‭ ‬a mistral blowing down off the‭ ‬Alps in fine sunny weather,‭ ‬waves ten feet high and breaking on top.‭

The morning after the storm had first hit us‭ ‬we awoke‭ ‬to find one of our two rudders sheered off.‭ ‬Later that second day,‭ ‬we lost our rubber dinghy,‭ ‬our only life raft,‭ ‬which I had rigged as a sea anchor to hold the catamaran’s bow into the wind and seas.‭ ‬We lost our main halyard up to the top of the mast.‭ ‬We were thus without power,‭ ‬without steering ability,‭ ‬without a life raft and no way to raise a sail unless someone climbed to the top of the mast in a gale.‭

The storm increased.‭ ‬We knew that if our catamaran capsized that‭ ‬we would all die.‭ ‬For three nights I and the boys lay in our bunks and heard the huge rollers hissing towards us and then crashing into the side of the boat,‭ ‬the boat tipping,‭ ‬tipping‭ ‬.‭ ‬.‭ ‬.‭ ‬.‭ ‬ All three nights,‭ ‬although there was nothing she could actually do,‭ ‬my wife stayed on deck,‭ ‬willing the waves not capsize us.‭

At some point I apologized to her for killing her and the boys,‭ ‬and said I would never make the same mistake again.‭

‬On the fourth day,‭ ‬we saw a freighter in the distance and shot off flares to attract its attention.‭ ‬We were rescued.‭ ‬The Scottish freighter had been blown‭ ‬200‭ ‬miles off course by the gale and thus appeared to rescue us.‭ ‬We were less than forty miles from a deserted section of the African coast where within ten hours our little boat would have been dashed to pieces on the rocks‭ ‬.‭

I wanted to stay and try to save the ship,‭ ‬but the Scottish Captain knew a fool when he saw one and pretty much ordered me to stay aboard his freighter while he tried to tow our boat to his next port of call.‭ ‬I asked him where his next port of call was,‭ ‬and he said‭ ‬Hong Kong.‭

‬Actually it was O Porto,‭ ‬Portugal.‭ ‬He tried to get a message to Deia to tell people that we were alive and well but no one in Deia ever got the message‭ (‬primitive times back then,‭ ‬no cell phones,‭ ‬etc.‭)‬.‭

Mike Franklin arrived in Deia to meet the author of the novel that he thought was quite promising‭ ‬and found I hadn’t arrived as expected.‭ ‬Nothing but the huge waves crashing all along the coast.‭ ‬My brother and his family arrived to vacation with us and found we were nowhere to be found,‭ ‬only huge waves crashing along the coast.‭ ‬Mike began to wonder if THE DICE MAN would sell better if he could promote the story of the author’s tragic death.‭

‬Eventually we arrived back in Deia,‭ ‬our progress slowed by our having lost our money and passports when the catamaran sank within a half hour of‭ ‬ being towed by the freighter.‭ ‬Mike had long since gone back to‭ ‬London.‭ ‬And with him any chance of our working together to make the novel better.‭ ‬(I did revise it a tiny bit in August but without much input from the publisher‭)‬.

With the loss of our catamaran,‭ ‬we were essentially penniless.‭ ‬I checked the piles of mail awaiting us and found nothing from Lloyds.‭ ‬Penniless.‭ ‬The next day I checked the mail again.‭ ‬A letter from Lloyds.‭     ‬They wrote that they would be happy to insure the boat and would I please send the first year’s premium of one hundred and ninety pounds.‭ ‬I sent off a check for one hundred and ninety pounds.‭ ‬Ten days later I wrote them to sadly report that the boat had been lost in the‭ ‬Mediterranean and would they please send me a check for seven thousand pounds.

‬Within a couple of months Mike sold American rights for a large advance and I was able to retire from teaching,‭ ‬and,‭ ‬after a year back in the States,‭ ‬Mike sold film rights to‭ ‬Paramount,‭ ‬who had signed up Academy Award winning director John Schlesinger to direct.‭ (‬Forty years later and a dozen screenplays later,‭ ‬still no film‭)‬.‭ ‬In any case,‭ ‬such temporary wealth let us return to Deia in‭ ‬1972-1973.‭

‬There is one footnote to this long story.‭ ‬What happened to the pot boiler‭? ‬When THE DICE MAN‭ ‬turned out to make me some money and Mike Franklyn said he really didn’t want to publish the potboiler,‭ ‬I decided to share some of my success with the man who Chance had used to get me to finish the book.‭ ‬I bought all of Jay’s rights to the potboiler so I could make a novel of my own out of it.

Once in the seventies and once in the eighties I took it up and tried to create a coherent and amusing story out of the disparate stuff Jay and I had wrought,‭ ‬eventually throwing out ninety-nine per cent of what Jay had written,‭ ‬not because it was bad but because his sensibility was so different from mine.‭ ‬However,‭ ‬I was still not creating a novel I was happy with.‭ ‬Then in‭ ‬2004‭ ‬my wife urged me to try again:‭ ‬the book contained so many delightful comic scenes written literally at the same time as and in the same manner as scenes in THE DICE MAN.‭ ‬So I revised it yet again and this time was pleased with the result:‭ ‬NAKED BEFORE THE WORLD:‭ ‬A LOVELY PORNOGRAPHIC LOVE STORY.

And that comic novel,‭ ‬set entirely on‭ ‬Mallorca and mostly Deia,‭ ‬about an Institute and its students and professors and hippies,‭ ‬is now being made into a film,‭ ‬based on my screenplay.‭ ‬So we hope again,‭ ‬within the next six months,‭ ‬to return for the filming‭ ‬to our lovely Deia.‭

But as the novelist Thomas Wolfe so famously said:‭ “‬You can’t go home again.‭” ‬Deia will never again be what it was for me in that one year of‭ ‬1969-70:‭ ‬the place where a writer,‭ ‬thanks to many accidents,‭ ‬was born.

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