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We don’t believe in the paranormal, but we live in it. One needn’t swear to belief in astrology, ghosts, gods or psychic double-shuffles to behave as if we do. Too much in the span of a day is unpredictable, defying logic, incapable of proof—whether it's on the news or a rumble of the gut or the frisking of the cats. We’ve adapted two Greek myths to the stage as well as the Sumerian Inanna cycle, the Norse myth of the Ragnarok, not to mention FRANKENSTEIN, Lewis Carroll’s ALICE, and other frail human attempts to control the inexplicable. We’ve done several historical plays whose characters—Marie Antoinette, Sir Francis Drake—have attained mythic status, at least insofar as their capacity to generate fabulous stories.
The enticing “legend of Winchester House,” which brought us to write the play that led to this novel, was largely a potpourri of speculation by journalists who quoted one another until the “legend” was born. Indeed, one looks for motive in the construction of a mansion of over three hundred rooms (until the 1906 earthquake honed it down to 160). No different, really, from the myths that tried to explain the rising and setting of the sun or the winter/spring cycle. Only difference is that no one hosts guided tours of the sun.
A lot of our work, both in theatre and in fiction, involves stories within stories. What’s our motive for the stories that we tell? How does that motive shape the story? That was the genesis of the Tour Guide in BLIND WALLS: a man making his living, his whole life, telling the same highly-embroidered story for thirty years. It's such a damned good story, and on his last tour he sees the truth.
As with many of our projects, BLIND WALLS came about through cross-pollination—two stories that intersect—not a lot different than our temperaments as collaborators. When we read that one workman stayed on the project for 38 years, until the wealthy widow’s death, we started to piece out the story of someone in the grips of service to another’s vision, and found a rich deposit of personal experience with people caught in the pressure of advancement—like the gifted teacher who becomes the feckless principal because that’s the only way he can get a raise.
Those multiple layers of story create a potential dog’s breakfast, and it’s taken many drafts to let it flow. Like most of our work, it defies fitting readily into a genre. The only terrified person is herself a ghost, haunted by the fleshly tourists swarming about her—a villain desperate to deny her villainy.
Myth is just reality distilled to a very sharp liquor. That’s what’s so tasty about it.
—Conrad Bishop & Elizabeth Fuller
He sees the ghosts he's always felt were there: the bedeviled heiress, her servants, and a young carpenter who lands his dream job only to become a lifelong slave to her obsession. The workman's wife makes it to shore, but he's cast adrift.
And the tour guide comes home to his cat.
The pairing of Bishop and Fuller is a magical one. . . . It’s a brilliant opus, melding the past, present, and future with intimate, individual viewpoints from a tightly arrayed cast of believable characters in as eerie a setting as might be dredged out of everyman’s subconscious searching. . . . Blind Walls offers a weird alternative world, featuring a blind man with second sight and an acerbic wit as its charming, empathic hero.
These characters are so well developed that one has to think of them as live people – laughing with them and crying with them, even getting old with them. This is an amazing story based on the Winchester Mansion and told with such quiet, compelling, raw humanity that the reader simply can’t stop until the entire tale is told. A wonderful, spooky look into others lives and what may or may not happen on any given day.
Bishop and Fuller have constructed a story rich with imagined detail and visionary ideas about life’s possibilities. The cast of ghostly characters, servants, workman, and family light up the story with dramatic effect as their actions and choices are observed. . . . The authors’ prose is effortless and moves easily from humorous to weighted seriousness. The dialogue is perceptive, giving voice to compelling characters and particularly to the tour guide whose second sight he confers on the readers. The latter will not want to look away from the myriad rooms of Weatherlee House.
—US Review of Books
She gave a querulous wave. “Well, it’s not working out. I seem to be building these corners. Corners by the dozens.”
“Well,” he ventured, “a room’s got corners. You build a room you build four corners.”
“As a small child I was terrified of corners,” she said, again with quiet glee. “The things that accumulate there . . .” She took a folded sheet of watercolor paper from beneath the book and held it out to him. He crossed the floor as if treading on fragile skin, took it from her and studied the new plans.
“And my baby’s bedroom, eclipsed, like gazing into the maw of a ravenous orchid.” She brushed at the strand of hair. “Because it came clear to me that my father— Not my father, my father-in-law, lovely man, he was like a father to me, but all the fathers, whoever— It became clear that they were guilty of so much. All the young boys. The wars that made us our fortune, that built us this lovely ballroom.” Marty scanned it. “How easy was it, do you think, for a young woman to reconcile that? To justify her own comforts, her privilege, her futility? How easy, Marty?”
“How easy was it?”
“Very. No trouble at all.” She smiled. She likely enjoyed this sort of banter. “But no, my father-in-law was strongly opposed to war, spoke on the subject, spoke out against it despite his reliance on it. He might not have done so, I suppose, if men had actually been listening.”
They host a weekly blog on writing, theatre, and life at www.DamnedFool.com. Their theatre work is chronicled at www.IndependentEye.org. Short videos of their theatre and puppetry work are at www.YouTube.com/indepeye. Bishop has a Stanford Ph.D., Fuller is a college drop-out, but somehow they see eye to eye. They have been working partners and bedmates for 57 years.
Conrad Bishop Amazon Page: https://www.amazon.com/s?i=stripbooks&rh=p_27%3AConrad+Bishop&s=relevancerank&text=Conrad+Bishop&ref=dp_byline_sr_book_1
Elizabeth Fuller Amazon Page: https://www.amazon.com/s?i=stripbooks&rh=p_27%3AElizabeth+Fuller&s=relevancerank&text=Elizabeth+Fuller&ref=dp_byline_sr_book_2
Conrad Bishop Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4352.Conrad_Bishop
Elizabeth Fuller Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4350.Elizabeth_Fuller
Conrad Bishop Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/conrad.bishop
Elizabeth Fuller Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lizful
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