Art Dunham is a young man who does tech work in a New England amateur theater. From his place backstage he sees behind the magic of the stage -- until a traveling company calling themselves the Bringers of Wonder show up, mounting a production unlike anything Art's encountered before...
The Rebirth of Wonder is a short novel -- 42,000 words.
- Copyright 1992 by Lawrence Watt-Evans
- Limited signed and numbered hardcover: Wildside Press, 1992, ISBN 1-880448-05-X: 300 copies
- Limited signed and lettered hardcover: Wildside Press, 1992, ISBN 1-880448-06-8: 26 copies
- Paperback publication: Tor Books, October 1992, ISBN 0-812-51406-8
- Trade paperback: Misenchanted Press, November 2012, ISBN 978-1619910034
- Ebook: Misenchanted Press, November 2013
An excerpt from the opening chapter...
The Rebirth of Wonder
by Lawrence Watt-Evans
Cue 84: Grandmaster slow fade, count of ten, to black. Count five, and wait for the curtains to close completely; then bring up the curtain-warmer on Dimmer #3 for curtain calls.
No problem. Art Dunham took a final glance at the cue-sheet clipped to the cord of his work-light, just to be sure he wasn't missing anything. Reassured, he turned his attention back to the stage, keeping his right hand closed firmly on the black knob of the largest lever.
Jamie was alone on the stage, giving the closing speech, and he'd gotten himself off-center, off his mark, so the pink light was all on the near side, and his other side was washed in blue. That was something to mention, last performance or not; Jamie meant well, and he could act, but he was so damn sloppy about the details sometimes!
"...If we be friends..."
That was the cue. Still watching the stage, Art gripped the big lever more tightly and began pulling it down, slowly and steadily. It took some muscle; the controls were old and stiff, and there were half a dozen dimmers mastered on -- not with electronics, like some modern boards, but with old-fashioned mechanical linkages.
"...and Robin," Jamie said with an appropriate bow and flourish, "Shall restore amends."
That was the last line; Art continued the fade. Either his count was off tonight or Jamie, eager to be done with the show, had rushed his delivery; there was an awkward half-second before the lights were completely down when Jamie was standing alone on the stage, silent and motionless. That hadn't happened in any of the previous performances or rehearsals.
Please, Art thought, don't move, Jamie. Don't look over here to see what's taking so long. Don't run offstage. It would ruin the effect.
Then the lights were out, and as he reached up with his left hand for the #3 dimmer he heard Jamie scampering off the far side of the stage.
Generally, when I write about how a story came to be written, I can point to one or two major inspirations -- maybe as many as three, sometimes.
For The Rebirth of Wonder, though, there are almost half a dozen. I hardly know where to start.
As the Author's Note below says, a lot of the story elements are loosely autobiographical, but that hardly explains how or why they became this particular story at the particular time they did.
Let us begin with the basic concept of the ending -- which I can't describe in detail without spoilers, but I don't think I need to, even though it's the start of the whole thing. It came from a two- or three-page story in an underground comic back in the 1970s. I read that, and said, "That's a cool idea largely wasted. Maybe I could do something with that."
In fact, in 1984 (I think; might've been a year either way) I contacted the writer of that story to let him know I thought it was cool, and that I was thinking of using two panels as the launching point for a novel, to be called The Rebirth of Wonder.
Bad idea. He turned out to be a complete loon who wanted half the money and a shared byline, and who had other schemes for exploiting our relationship, at least one of them amounting to fraud. I therefore shelved the project until I was sure I had totally and completely fallen off his radar. I'm not mentioning his name here because I don't want to risk ever dealing with him again.
Anyway, so I had this very basic story idea kicking around in my head, but a very clear reason to not do anything with it for a few years. That was Inspiration No. 1. And the longer it lay fallow, the more story accreted around the central concept, though I did no conscious work on it at all, thanks to the loon.
Inspirations No. 2 and No. 3 came along when I re-read The Circus of Dr. Lao and Other Stories, edited by Ray Bradbury -- the title story is by Charles G. Finney, of course, and takes up half the book, but the other five stories contributed, as well.
I wanted to write something like Finney. I didn't know anything about circuses, but I knew theater work. The Circus of Dr. Lao was part of the inspiration for the Bringers of Wonder.
I wanted to write something like Bradbury. I didn't know anything about growing up in a small Midwestern town, but I knew about growing up in a small New England town. Green Town, Illinois was part of the inspiration for Bampton, Massachusetts.
Both of those involved working autobiographical elements into the story, which was fine, and they fit together nicely with each other and with Inspiration No. 1, giving me the basic story.
Except I knew it was going to be short, for a novel, which meant it would be almost impossible to sell in the market of the time, and I was still avoiding the loon, so there was no hurry about writing it.
But then there was, because of what happened to "The Final Folly of Captain Dancy" and the Tor Doubles series -- see this explanation of why I co-wrote Split Heirs for the details. Tor wanted a short novel or long novella from me. One that wasn't part of a series or anything. One like The Rebirth of Wonder.
Inspiration No. 4 -- I actually needed a fantasy story of that hopelessly uncommercial length. But it wasn't urgent. Tor could wait.
But then in June of 1991 I heard from Jack Wells.
I first met Jack Wells in August, 1958, when I was four. He lived across the street from the house my family had just bought, and was just two months younger than me. Naturally, we became best friends.
We stayed best friends for years. Jack's family was not a particularly happy one, so he would take refuge with mine; I think from age four through about twelve he spent more of his waking hours in our house than in his own. His family moved around; I'm not entirely sure why, but he lived at at least three different places, though all in the same town, and two of them within easy walking distance of the house I lived in all this time.
But once puberty hit, we drifted apart some. That was partly socio-economics -- my family had more money and was far more stable than his. It was partly academics -- I was in the honors program at our school, while he struggled academically, falling further and further back. We'd started out classmates, but never shared a classroom after seventh grade, and he graduated a year behind me.
And it was partly puberty. I was a very boring straight guy; Jack was an adventurous bisexual.
But we stayed friends, even when we didn't see much of each other for long periods. There were times Jack was considered hopelessly obnoxious by most of the people I knew, but I always liked him. For awhile, most of our contacts were through the theater -- I liked working tech (sound or lights), and Jack liked performing, and we wound up working on some of the same productions.
Finally, though, we both moved away from our old home town, and we lost touch completely. I hadn't heard from Jack for several years when he finally turned up again in June 1991, to tell me he had AIDS.
He wanted me to co-author or ghost-write his autobiography, which he wanted to write to raise money to sue Continental Airlines, which had denied him health benefits he thought he was entitled to -- he'd been a flight attendant, and they were refusing to pay for his AIDS treatment. I don't know the details; we never got that far.
I'm not sure why he thought anyone would want his autobiography; yeah, he'd led a relatively adventurous life, but so have lots of people. But then, Jack was always given to unrealistic money-making schemes that went nowhere. Or maybe he really had done sufficiently entertaining stuff during the years we were out of touch; I don't know. Last I'd heard he'd been working for a newspaper in Provincetown, Mass.; how he wound up a flight attendant I have no idea.
At any rate, I agreed to co-write the book, and he said he'd get back to me with details.
Meanwhile, I decided that this was the time to write The Rebirth of Wonder, because it was so heavily based on parts of my life that had involved Jack. Inspiration No. 5 -- now it was urgent. I started to work immediately, and told Tor what was happening.
For one thing, in 1991 AIDS was still pretty much untreatable, and Jack was already pretty ill. I wanted to get the book written and published in time for him to read it. I knew he'd recognize the settings and characters, that he was probably the one person in the world who would get all the personal references.
I didn't make it. Two weeks after I started, Jack was in the hospital. He never came out. Eight weeks after we spoke, Jack was dead.
Two weeks later I finished the story and sent it off to Tor.
When it was published I sent an inscribed copy of the book to Jack's mother. She apparently didn't bother to look at it for quite some time; about two years later I got a phone call from her. She had finally read it and recognized many of the elements. We reminisced about Jack for awhile.
I haven't heard from any of his family since.
The Rebirth of Wonder is pure fiction, of course, and Bampton, Massachusetts is my own invention -- but Bampton Summer Theatre is an amalgamation of some real experiences of my own. In fact, this novel is about the most autobiographical work I've done yet.
In Concord, Massachusetts, there's a small theater on either Thoreau or Walden Street -- it's been a long time, and while I could go straight to it from any point in town I don't remember the street names. It was never a church, so far as I know, nor is it obviously magical, but still, it served as the inspiration for the Dunhams' theater building. I was on the lighting crew for an amateur production of "A Midsumer Night's Dream" there, back around 1972 or '73 -- a very good production, I thought.
I and two of my sisters were, at various times, members of a group called Bedford Summer Drama, in Bedford, Massachusetts, also in the early '70s; several minor characters are very loosely based on members of BSD.
The Bringers of Wonder, while drawn from various historical sources, also owe something to the cast and crew of a not-very-successful production of the Berlioz opera "Beatrice and Benedick," put on by Princeton University's Theatre Intime, that I worked on as master electrician.
Virtually every name in the story is drawn from either a real, historical person or place, or a legendary one, or from something in my own past, though often there's no connection beyond the name -- as examples, Bampton is named for Bampton-in-the-Bush, England; I knew a horse named Span, though not Spanner, once; there was a Mr. Christie who kept chickens and provided eggs for most of the families in Bedford; Mr. and Mrs. Dunham ran a bookstore where I bought comic books when I was a kid. The name Dunham means "dark village."
There are other connections to real life, as well, but I won't detail them all here. Suffice it to say that I've been planning this story for a very long time, and I'm quite pleased to finally send it on its way to publication.
-- Lawrence Watt-Evans
- I liked the Tor cover art enough that I bought the original from the artist; it's hanging in my dining room. I wasn't able to get the rights to use it for the Misenchanted Press edition, alas.
- My fictional Bampton, Massachusetts is named after Bampton-in-the-Bush, a town in Oxfordshire, England my late sister Jody told me about that was remarkable for preserving traditional Morris dances. My fictional town's geography, however, is taken directly from Concord, MA.
The book is available in either trade paperback or ebook in the current Misenchanted Press edition, and even though it's long out of print, I still have several extra copies of the Tor paperback edition of The Rebirth of Wonder in my basement storeroom. See the column to the right for links to various booksellers (including the author).
That's it; here's your list of handy exits: