The Squatters’ Speakeasy is the working title of what was going to be my second novel. A regular blues jam in the caretaker’s cottage slowly slithers into the trophy house just up the drive. No one really notices when artists start hanging their work on the walls, or when one woman commandeers the restaurant-sized kitchen and starts making cookies for the concertgoers. When do the jams turn into concerts? No one notices that either.
But the manuscript sprawled and sprawled and didn’t coalesce. Eventually I diagnosed the problem as “A Surfeit of Subplots.” By then, however, one of the subplots had taken on a life of its own and grown into what almost certainly will become my second novel: Wolfie. After four years of steady work (steadily interrupted, of course, by paid work, political organizing, and other distractions), I’m closing in on the end of draft #3, which is the first draft that goes all the way through to The End. It features several Mud of the Place characters, about 12 years later, and the title character is based on Travvy, the resident Alaskan malamute.
Squatters’ Speakeasy is still bubbling away on the back burner. One of its characters is playing a significant role in Wolfie. But the scenario has morphed: No longer does the speakeasy happen in a trophy house. Now it happens at the Tashmoo overlook, where a bunch of seasonal renters who can’t find summer housing have set up a homeless camp.
For quite a few years, roughly 1986 to 1994, I was a regular volunteer and occasional performer (spoken-word division) at Wintertide Coffeehouse. I still miss it. Wintertide was so much more than a performance space. Wintertide drew in musicians, writers, poets, techies, visual artists, actors, cooks, and organizers, yes, but even more important it turned “ordinary” people — US — into musicians, writers, poets, techies, etc., etc. It fostered connections and collaborations that changed lives. It’s the inspiration for the speakeasy.
I’m trying to imagine my way to the Squatters’ Speakeasy because I need it for my own creative survival. I hijacked the Squatters’ domain name for From the Seasonally Occupied Territories. For quite a few years now, a virtual speakeasy has been emerging on Martha’s Vineyard, in blogs and websites and inspired Facebook organizing. More recently, like in the wake of the disastrous 2016 election, it’s added a grassroots political connection. It’s as though The Squatters’ Speakeasy was waiting for these things to happen. Now I’m looking forward to getting back to it.