In 2007, I ordered several writing books and in the box was “The Big Book of Women Saints.” I was irritated, because the book was obviously a mistake and I had no idea what I was going to do with this book. Before calling to find out how to exchange it, I started flipping through it. From that day forward, my life’s work was forever changed. I knew what I wanted, no needed to do. The story unpacked on a stage in my mind, and while it remained a novel for some time in 2007, by the beginning of 2008, I accepted that I was back to writing plays.
I had been working with variations of the characters of Jovi and Adrian for a year at that point, and I’d added Malcolm in 2006. Brock, the medical cheese sculptor, has been creating cheese anatomy around my stories since 1991.
As a novel, the story of Jovi and Adrian struggled to fit a formula and a genre. As characters in a play, the stories lit up the night, supporting characters moved in, and I found the part of my writing soul that was more than I thought it could be.
How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in the book?
A playwright I know said that a play requires far more courage and far more ability to withstand potential judgment, most notably from family and others who know who you are and were, because “it’s basically your life puked out onto the stage for everyone to see, to hear, and ultimately to know.”
Does Jovi Bono have elements of my personality? Sure. Is her relationship with Adrian a parallel of mine with my teenage daughter, Caitlyn? I do think Adrian has a lot of Caitlyn in her – she goes along sunny and brilliant and fine for so much of her life, it’s easy to forget that there’s anger and darkness in her too, because there’s anger and darkness in each of us, just from experiencing life, I think. It’s a shock when the brutality of her truth comes out, but it makes me love Caitlyn more, and it makes Jovi and Christopher love Adrian more, too.
What is your TFOJB about?
“The Feast of Jovi Bono,” is a modernization of the story of Maria Giovanna Bonomo, an Italian saint from the 17th century who, as far as I can tell, is little known outside Italy. What I liked about MGB’s story is that she asked the question, “Does it seem right that we should give the worst to the poor?” The obstacle to creating this story at first glance was this: stories about saints are probably not very interesting or exciting. There are notable exceptions, but it seemed crucial that I seek to explore this question in this time, in this moment, on this precipice of our society, and the edge of the cliff on which my own family’s financial stability has wavered.
What challenges did you face as you wrote this play?
It was the slam poetry/spoken word art. In the first version, characters would break into slam poetry at moments that to a reader seemed rather random. Early readers asked, “Why are these people standing around on stage reciting poetry, and more importantly, why do I care?”
No one stands around in a play of mine! I was strongly influenced by Def Poetry Jam, by my writing friend Myfanwy Collins, a star of Literary Death Match, by the poet and activist Leo Briones, and by some unsung slam poets I discovered on YouTube. What spoke to me, particularly from Myfanwy and Leo was that their creation and their delivery was so strong, so edifying. I wondered if slam poetry could build creation from the destruction of most of the things that matter in someone’s life.
Where, I wondered, would I find people who ache to rise up from destruction that’s happened in their lives? I started seeing news stories of tent cities – cities that had become communities in various locations, in which some local governments came in and shut them down, evicting the homeless from their homelessness, while other governments accepted them, organized them, and naturally, taxed them. Who are the people in this tent city? How can they tell their stories, and how can the people in the house – Jovi, her mother, her daughter, her ex, and her best friend – help their stories make a difference?
The other thing that concerned me early on was a worry that it wasn’t funny. Not every play has to be funny, but I couldn’t go on if my stories were not funny. Enter the snarky chef-narrator to tie the stories together. In further development, the slam poetry was confined to nightly dinner performances, and the conflict, the drama, the will they or won’t they questions have a dance around the performances.
How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?
Here’s what I remember growing up that influenced my writing: my mother in a paint-covered shirt and the smell of oil paint in our basement. She did tole painting and was very prolific. She taught painting classes, also in our basement. I saw her as always creating something new, and from an early age I was aware of her terminal heart condition, so I took on the idea that her creation was the gift she was leaving behind – that the effort and the color and light she put on pieces of wood or other objects were the pieces of her soul she’d leave with me. As it turned out – she passed away when I was about to be seventeen – I did not end up with many of those pieces. My mother was my first champion, my first publisher, typing and mailing my very early work to unsuspecting friends and relatives.
My father, too, before drinking took him, was always working on something, always using his mind to figure something out. He always learned. He took a class in solar paneling in, oh, the late ‘70s or early ‘80s, just finding out if it was something he could add to our house. He overcame a lot in his own background. He was dyslexic but earned his Master’s degree and learned to love reading.
Being the only child at home of both of them meant I believed I could do anything, whether or not that’s true.
My environment now? I live with my husband, three children, and black Labrador in a building that used to be a whip factory, our home space finished similar to an urban loft. How does that influence my writing? A lot of my protagonists live with a lot of noise that they were not expecting or looking for, and with chaos and crowds and the amazing announcements that come from the surface of life that ultimately keep them from reaching their deeper selves.
What are you working on now?
I’m promoting TFOJB and crowdfunding its world premiere locally in our Okoboji, Iowa area. I’ve created promotional videos and attempted when I could to create business relationships with some theater movers and shakers from this area and New York. TFOJB is not just a theatrical production, but a revolution of community. If I get my way, no one will leave a performance without having made a commitment to change a little part of the world.
I’m also working on another play in this sainthood series called Brigid Kildare’s Steelworks. BKS is about the legendary friendship between Brigid and Patrick, as well as setting fire to things on stage, bikers, an accusation, arrest and trial, and asks the question, “How do you prove what you believe. The astonishing thing about BKS is that I was writing the first act in 2009, ripping a case from the headlines about some bikers accused of attempted murder who were, in fact, put on trial to prove their beliefs. In 2010 I discovered someone I knew in high school had been in prison for years for an impulsive act that was attempted murder. His mother had died and the word was that he was depressed because he received little mail or communication from the outside world. I thought surely as a professional writer I could cheer him up through the mail. My soul’s twin wrote back, and a legendary friendship has developed. We’re working on a crazy number of projects together, not the least of which is a story about his extraordinary life. You can’t make this stuff up!
Where can people learn more about your play?
On my Facebook page: http://facebook.com/ashsanborn/
On the Rockethub page: http://www.rockethub.com/projects/5596-the-feast-of-jovi-bono-an-innovative-play