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Allen Mendenhall Interviews Joyce Corrington

In American History, American Literature, Arts & Letters, Books, Creative Writing, Fiction, Film, History, Humanities, John William Corrington, Joyce Corrington, Literature, Novels, Screenwriting, Southern History, Southern Literature, Television, Television Writing, Writing on October 28, 2015 at 8:45 am
Photo by Robert Corrington

Photo by Robert Corrington

APM: Joyce, thanks for doing this interview. The last time we did one of these, I suggested that we might do another one day. I’m glad that day is here. I guess if there’s a particular occasion for the interview, it’s that you and your son Robert have recently finished your project of making the literary works of your late husband, John William “Bill” Corrington, available to the public. How did you do that?

JC: Bill began his literary career as a poet in the 1960s, publishing in the “little magazines” that were prevalent at that time and also publishing five collections of his poems. Then he largely switched to fiction and published pieces of short fiction in literary magazines and in three collections, which were themselves collected into a publication by the University of Missouri Press after Bill’s untimely death.  Finally he published four novels, the last of which, Shad Sentell, was published in 1984.  Since almost thirty years have passed since then, all of Bill’s works were out of print and available to the public only as rather expensive used books.  Our son Robert, who works for Microsoft and is very informed about IT matters, told me that Amazon and its subsidiary Create Space would accept digital manuscripts and publish them at no charge as eBooks or print on demand books that would be offered to the public on the Amazon.com/books website.  So we began a many years long project to make all of Bill’s literary work again available to the public in inexpensive editions.  The “many years” was due to the fact that we had no digital manuscripts.  I had to retype the poems, short stories and novels on my computer and then Robert edited the digital files and created original covers for the books in Photoshop.  Finally, with the recent publication of Shad Sentell, we are done!

APM: Having recently reread the entirety of Bill’s published works, what is your overall impression?

JC: It was interesting to read a lifetime of work in a relatively short period of time. I found that a sense of history permeates Bill’s work. Even many of his poems have historical themes and his first novel, And Wait for the Night, was concerned with the consequences of the Civil War, as were many of his short stories.  Also infusing the work is a strong sense of morality and religion.  This might surprise someone who casually reads The Upper Hand, which is about a priest who loses his faith and descends into the “hell” of the French Quarter.  Much of it seems sacrilegious and offensive to a person of religious sensibilities, but the first words of the novel are “God Almighty…” and the last are “the living the dead,” both phrases which appear in the Apostle’s Creed.  Bill’s novella The Rise’s Wife resulted from a deep study of Hinduism.  Of course, as many have noted, Bill’s taking a J.D. midway in his life resulted in many lawyers and judges becoming characters in his fiction.  This allowed Bill to explore the logos of a moral life.  Finally, and almost in contrast to all these other serious themes, Bill displayed an ironic and even black sense of humor in many of his poems, such as “Prayers for a Mass in the Vernacular,” in his short story “The Great Pumpkin,” and especially in his novel The Upper Hand.

APM: You’ve said that Shad Sentell is your favorite of Bill’s books. Why is that? 

JC: Mostly because the humor in Shad Sentell is farcical and not black.  It is a really fun read, if you are not prudish.  Shad, who is a “redneck” Don Giovanni, is likely one of the most carnal characters in literature and this, thirty years ago, was perhaps shocking to many readers.  I hope that today readers can see that this novel is (excuse my partiality) a work of genius that records for all time the character and language of the Southern redneck.  Bill shows he has a surprising depth of intelligence and sensibility that one would not suspect from his bluff and crass surface.

APM: Do you remember the circumstances under which Bill authored the book? In other words, do you have any memories of him writing it?

JC: Bill had been disappointed that his first three “serious” novels had received little critical acclaim.  He decided to write one aimed at what he thought was more to the taste of the general public.  In this I think he was far ahead of his time, but I hope Shad Sentell will eventually find its audience.

APM: I once read something that Lloyd Halliburton wrote about how you critiqued parts of Shad Sentell and caused Bill to rethink some passages. I can’t recall the details. Do you know what I’m referring to?

JC: I always acted as Bill’s sounding board and editor as he was writing a novel. We would sit over coffee in the morning or maybe a gin a tonic in the afternoon and discuss his ideas on what was to come next.  I thought he got carried away with the farcical fun of the Mardi Gras scenes and, when his agent agreed with me, he let me cut much of that material from the manuscript.  But likely the biggest change I suggested was the ending.  Bill’s first idea was to have Shad die in the climactic oil well explosion, but I told him I thought that was a wrong decision.  Despite his seeing Shad as a modern day Don Giovanni, Shad Sentell was a comedy, not a tragedy, and the hero survives in a comedy.  Bill went along with my suggestion.

APM: Where did the character Shad Sentell come from? Was he based on any one person?

JC: Bill had a very good friend, Sam Lachle, who shared many of Shad’s characteristics. During high school and college Bill played trumpet with local bands in the bars of Bossier City.  He had a very smart mouth and it would likely have gotten him into more trouble than it did if he had not hung out with two very large friends, Sam and Don Radcliff, who protected him.  Sam died of a stroke at an early age and Shad Sentell, which is dedicated to him, is to some degree a loving memorial.

APM: I assume the newly released version of the book that you and Robert have put together will be available on Amazon, right? What about your website?  Can readers find and purchase it there?

JC: My son Robert not only formatted the books but created a website, www.jcorrington.com, which lists all the books that are available on Amazon. There are also biographies and a menu of critical works.

APM: This changes the subject a bit, but you once mentioned, I think when I was visiting you in New Orleans a few years ago, that there was a graduate student writing a dissertation on Battle for the Planet of the Apes and that he was trying to read into the screenplay something that wasn’t there. Does this ring a bell? Am I remembering this correctly?

JC: Bill and I wrote six films, one of which was the last in the original Planet of the Apes series. Bill never took film writing seriously, which was probably for the best since as writers we never had any control over what was done with our scripts after turning them over to the producer who hired us to write them.  We were actually quite dismayed when the film Battle for the Planet of the Apes was released to find some elements had been dropped and others added (a crying statue, for heaven’s sake), but we wrote it off as “just an entertainment.”  Imagine my surprise when years later I received a phone call from a young man who was doing his Ph.D. dissertation on the Planet of the Apes series!  He asked for an interview which I was happy to grant.  I soon discovered that his thesis was that the films were really about racism in America in the 1960s.  I told him that I would not try to speak for the other films, but ours was actually a Cain and Abel story (the apes had previously been presented as innocent pacifists compared to warmongering humans and our story was of the first ape killing another ape).  The graduate student chose to ignore this and stick to his thesis.  He won his Ph.D. and even later published his dissertation work.

APM: I ask in part because the latest installment of the Battle for the Planet of the Apes series came out last year. That was Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which followed the 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes. What do you think about these latest films?

JC: I am afraid I did not bother to see it.

APM: Giuliana and I saw Rise of the Planet of the Apes in the theater, and we waited around after the film to see if you or Bill received any mention in the credits. I can’t remember if you did, but I’m inclined to say that you did not. Do you have any comment about that?

JC: I don’t think we did receive any credit because the Writer Guild of America would have sent me a notice to see if I wanted to dispute the credit.  They did this with the remake of our film Omega Man, which was titled I Am Legend.  I asked if there was any money involved and when the Guild said no, I replied that I did not really care what credit we received.  Subsequently a lot of friends were surprised to see a credit for us at the end of the new film and sent me emails about it.

APM: I’m now thinking these interviews should be an ongoing thing. I’d like to continue the conversation. What do you think? We could do one every now and then for the historical record.

JC: I would like that very much. I especially would like to have an opportunity to talk to you about the Collected Poems of John William Corrington and the Collected Short Fiction of John William Corrington.  These are also recently published and available on Amazon.com or through my website www.jcorrington.com.

APM: Thanks, Joyce, let’s do it again soon.

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