When he was sick-- and devastated--- he had sold his publishing company to Hearst, then tried to buy it back, and they locked him out of his offices-- he was in Mount Sinai, dying of cancer, and wouldn't let anybody see him-- I had lunch with Kurt Vonnegut, whom I also loved purely, in spite of the accusations of his mad and cruel wife, and Kurt said to me about Don: "Go see him. It'll do him good to see a pretty woman." It was a compliment that reverberated in my soul, as Kurt had never said anything flattering to me, besides that Touching, my controversial novel that brought us together, was "well-written," which, considering the source, sounded to me like a symphony with full orchestra.
So I'd gone to see Don, who was horrified when I showed up. He did not quite throw me out of his hospital room. But the wide-eyed glare that glowered at me was enough to show me what pain he was in, exacerbated by his being so vulnerable, actually embarrassed to be dying, as if there is something shameful about the end of life, especially when you are one who has exercised a lot of control. I did not stay long, but made a friend of his nurse, so she let me know how he was, as long as he was.
Don's favorite word was "ineffable." It meant "unspeakable," or something so powerful that you couldn't say it, as I learned when I looked it up, which I had to as I had never heard it before I met him. So much of my life since then has been garlanded with the ineffable, that I think of him all the time, which I hope is a fitting memorial. He was a very little man, but in his nutsy way, a giant. I wish that there were people like him in publishing today, which is more than a pipe dream. They would have to be on another planet, considering what publishing has become.
Don published two novels of mine, Marriage, which is probably my best, and Romance, which is fun but lightweight. He did not have much success with either, as he told me one of his outlets told him "There's a shadow around this author,"-- or a word like shadow that I can't call up right now, that existed because of the lawsuit brought to 'Touching,' which was noisier than ineffable. The big fat blowhard who conducted those nude encounters in LA that I had used as a setting for what I hoped would be a modern Madame Bovary, Paul Bindrim, a not-quite psychologist who was bald and clean-shaven and a florid egotist, whom I described in his fictional incarnation as "looking like Santa Claus," as far away from the reality as I could conceive, sued me for libel, saying I had ruined his nude-encounter business, because I looked at it with "a scathing eye.' The case took seven years to come to court, and by that time he had grown a gigantic beard, let the fringe of his hair grow long, time had turned it white, so he looked like Santa Claus. So he had become the character in the book. T
The jury was madder at me for having gone to a nude encounter than they were at him for giving one, and found against me, an argument that raged all the way to the Supremes. Off the record which we now can be completely, since he is dead, the man was a sadistic shit, having his cohorts spread-eagle people in the pool and beat on their innards. It was a frightening experience, and after he died, his obituary included the people he'd driven mad and/or to suicide. Too many years after the trial, and the subsequent review by the Court, to do me any good. Or Don Fine either.
But I am thinking of him so hard now, in the absence of any real heros in the publishing world, or even a few who are less than strong, as we watch what seems to be the death of books. The stores are gone, except for a few, and when a friend of mine who has leather-bound, signed first editions that she wanted to sell, and asked for an outlet, the smartest woman I know said "No one wants books anymore."
Oh it is so sad. Ineffable, really. Still, I have the last book I gave to Don Fine, discovered, uncovered, really, after the floods here, when I went down into my basement locker to see if there was any damage. And there it was, this little book that he would have been brave enough to publish because he really liked my writing, THE DAUGHTER OF GOD. At the last minute, all those minutes ago, I declined to give it to him, because he wanted my next novel included in the deal, and my lawyer didn't think that was a fair deal.
So here it is, or here it soon will be: "This time," it begins, "instead of a manger, he was born in Youngstown, Ohio. And this time he was a girl. Father always liked a good joke."
To make it clear: Christ comes back as a woman. Not a moment too soon.
I am self-publishing, an expression that sounds horrible to me, but what can you do? I would dedicate it to Don Fine, but he didn't believe in the Afterlife. So I am dedicating it to a friend who really believes in this one.
There is wonderful art, sketches that look to me like they could be by Rembrandt, by my gifted friend Joel, who, for purposes of this book is Joe L. I hope you will all seek it out, and be happily astonished. As it turns out, I believe we are all Holy. Well, maybe not Bindrim.