And it evidently lingered, because it came to mind when it was time to write a third book about Evan Michael Tanner; if there truly was a Lithuanian Army-in-Exile, Tanner would have to be a part of it. I’m not sure what prompted me to change the Lithuanians to Latvians. In time I would meet a Latvian painter in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Valdi Maris by name, and some years after that I would have a Latvian girlfriend, Zane Berzins by name, and now, years later, I am still able to say Happy New Year in Latvian, though I’ll admit I don’t get much call for it. But back then all I knew about Latvia was that it was sandwiched in between Lithuania and Estonia.
What I liked about the story was the notion of Tanner embarking on a harebrained mission to bring one person out from behind the Iron Curtain and accumulating an increasing menagerie along the way. It was, as you might imagine, fun to write – but what you might not imagine is the way my whole world changed while I was writing it.
Because I started out writing it in New Jersey, where I was living. And then I got involved in a mad affair, overflowing with drink and drama, and I wound up running away from everybody. I got on a plane at Idlewild and got off it in Dublin, and I entered the Republic of Ireland with an extra pair of underwear, an extra pair of socks, and the partial manuscript of Tanner #3. I had, as Oscar Wilde put it, nothing to declare but my genius, and I wasn’t so sure about that, either.
I took a room in a tatty bed-and-breakfast on the north side of Dublin, in Amiens Street, and I rented a typewriter in a shop around the corner in Talbot Street, and I bought some typing paper that was about an inch longer and a half-inch narrower than what I was used to, and within the month I’d finished the book.
I think I had about a third of it written when I was interrupted by life, but I can’t be sure, because when I go back and re-read it, I can’t find the break. My life before and after could hardly have changed more, but the book’s life was somehow uninterrupted. Tanner, it seemed, really didn’t care what I was going through. He had problems of his own.
I should add that there was a stationer in O’Connell Street called Eaton’s, and that it was there that I came upon a book called Teach Yourself Latvian. That sounded more like an inventive schoolboy’s curse than a book anyone would want to buy, but I bought it, by George, and that accounts for the Latvian phrases you’ll find in these pages. I can’t swear they’re accurate, but really, what do you care?
About the title: after the general enthusiasm for The Canceled Czech, I wanted a comparable title for the third book. I came up with a few, including The Lettish Tomatoes, which I rather liked, but the publisher chose Tanner’s Twelve Swingers. Which I flat hated. I’ve restored other titles, but I think I’ll leave this one alone. For the time being, anyway.