Q&A with Sean Patrick Doles
How did you get the idea for All Saints Day?
Growing up in New Orleans, you have to be a Saints fan in spite of all their ups and downs over the years. They may not have any Super Bowls to their name or many playoff wins, but they win the title hands-down for having the craziest stories. I just wanted to collect all of them and tie them together into one fictional story. So that’s what I’ve done.
But the premise of All Saints Day seems a bit far-fetched…
Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. You can’t make some of this stuff up. I mean, you start with a team named the Saints, then you have the Pope come to visit, and after that they go on a winning streak and make the playoffs for the first time in team history. That actually happened…in 1987. That’s the opening premise of the book, and it just gets wilder from there.
In light of Hurricane Katrina, some of the events in the story seem prophetic. It’s a little uncanny.
I’m no psychic. There’s nothing in here that hasn’t been talked about in New Orleans on a regular basis every day for the last 20 years. Whether it’s the owner threatening to move the team if he doesn’t get a new stadium deal, or a killer hurricane threatening the city and people taking shelter in the Superdome. It’s all been said and done before. All I did was pull it together in one place.
When did you first start working on All Saints Day?
I’ve had the outline for the story for about five years, but I really started working on it in earnest last fall when I was spending a lot of time in New Orleans promoting my last book, Saving Mr. Bingle. The Saints were on a winning streak, the team owner was making noise again about moving the team, and I saw so much passion in the fans that I knew I needed to somehow get all that emotion into a story. Actually, I wanted to get the story done by the beginning of this season, because I felt like if I waited any longer it might be too late. Now, in light of Katrina, I’m glad I did.
With Saving Mr. Bingle, you raised money to purchase a tombstone for the unmarked grave of Mr. Bingle’s original puppeteer, Oscar Isentrout. What are you doing with the money from All Saints Day?
All profits realized from the sale of All Saints Day are going to the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund to provide assistance to the victims of this disaster. Also, I’m finding that in the wake of the hurricane, people are clamoring for a taste of home. They want to hold on to something. Hopefully, this story will offer a little comfort. Like I said, the story was written well before Hurricane Katrina and is, in no way, intended to disrespect the victims of this disaster. Everybody in New Orleans and surrounding communities has been affected. My parents and my grandmother both lost their houses. They’ll have to be bulldozed. It’s a pathetic, miserable, heartbreaking scene. So much suffering. So much loss. But it reminds you of what truly has value in this world. It’s not a cliche. And one of the things that people cherish are their memories. This book is one little way to bring some of those memories back to life.
But what about people who aren’t from New Orleans and aren’t familiar with the Saints history. Will they understand the story?
First off, any football fan is going to know the basics of Saints history – the wacky losses, the Bagheads, Ricky Williams, Mike Ditka, even Bobby Hebert, “The Cajun Cannon,” who was quarterback during their first run to the playoffs. Second, I wrote the book with my mom in mind, so that even somebody with a minimal knowledge of the game could understand it. Finally, it’s actually a universal story with themes that are common to the human experience – that we all have the same fundamental needs regardless of race or religion; that sport is a way to bring people together; and that it’s really not whether you win or lose…in my mind, the important thing is that you’re on the field competing, that you have a chance at success, and that means you have hope for the future.
How did you get the idea for Saving Mr. Bingle?
It was the day after Thanksgiving, 2003, and I had just finished revising a manuscript for another book, which I was preparing to send out to agents and publishers. My wife asked me, “So what’s your next story going to be?” And I blurted out, “Saving Mr. Bingle,” even though I didn’t really have any clear idea what it would be about. I said, “Well, I think it’ll be about some kind of corporate takeover where the new company threatens to eliminate Mr. Bingle, and then something magical will happen, and everyone will rally to save him.” That’s about all I had in mind. I just wanted to write a nice, little Christmas story. But then I started doing research and discovered Oscar Isentrout’s story, and I knew right away that I had stumbled onto something remarkable. From that point, the story basically wrote itself, and I also knew that I had to do something to help create a memorial for this man, who contributed so much to New Orleans history and culture.
How did you discover that Oscar Isentrout was buried in an unmarked grave?
I started by reading everything I could find on the internet about Mr. Bingle. Fortunately, there are some great sites out there such as www.mrbinglefans.com and www.mrbingle.com. My father also helped me by going down to the Louisiana History section of the Central New Orleans Public Library, and he sent me a number of stories that he found on microfilm. I also enlisted the Louisiana History section’s research service, and they dug up a few more old newspaper stories for me.
But the kicker was this obscure essay written by a man named Paul Yacich (a former director at WDSU) and posted on a website called “Bob Walker’s Original New Orleans Radio Shrine.” In one little sentence at the end of this essay on New Orleans remembrances, Mr. Yacich lamented the sad fate of Oscar “Eisentraut” and how he had no grave marker. I couldn’t believe it. I went back and re-read all the other stories I’d found about Mr. Bingle, and none of them mentioned this. So I called my father (who lives in N.O.), and he called the man who runs Hebrew’s Rest #3, a man named Herbert Barton. Mr. Barton confirmed the situation and told my father where the grave was, so my father went out and took photos of the site. Mr. Barton said he thought it was a shame that Isentrout had been forgotten, and he said that since Isentrout had no family, there would be no objection if someone were to offer to purchase a tombstone or headstone for the site.
What is the Oscar Isentrout Memorial Fund?
It is a simple bank account that my wife and I have set up in order to collect money to purchase a tombstone. After the project is complete, we will close the account. There will not be any kind of ongoing scholarship or grant program in the way that many other memorial funds operate.
Is this a Christian book?
I wrote the book at a time when I was feeling a tremendous amount of self-doubt and even regret over things that had (or had not) happened in my life. I relied heavily on my faith to carry me through and keep persevering. As a writer, you spend a lot of time in a solitary pursuit without any positive feedback and with no promise of financial reward. Most of the time it’s thankless and often tedious work.
Saving Mr. Bingle is a Christian book in the sense that it illustrates the importance of holding onto your faith regardless of the obstacles that fall in your path. But I think that lesson is universal whether you are Catholic, Presbyterian, Jewish, Buddhist, or even agnostic.
How can you write authoritatively about New Orleans when you don’t even live there?
Mark Twain wrote about Missouri while he lived in Connecticut. James Joyce wrote about Dublin while he lived in Vienna. William Faulkner wrote about Mississippi while he lived in Hollywood. There’s actually a sense that develops when you live away from the place you’re writing about that you don’t develop if you’re immersed in your subject on a daily basis. For example, when I go back home, I’m reminded of all the unique elements that make the city special, even things as simple as the powerful fragrance of a magnolia tree, or what it feels like when the steam rises off the cement after a summer rain, or the sight of a saxophone player in Jackson Square who rests his dentures on the bench beside him when he plays. I think you take certain things for granted or else you don’t realize how unique they are because they’re around you all the time. New Orleans is still home for me and I come back every couple of months, and all my family’s still there, so in some ways I feel like I never left. Austin is actually almost the perfect distance, because I’m close enough to get there in a few hours by car, but far enough away to maintain an objective detachment.
Can you tell us something about your background? Any interesting jobs?
- Tennis Pro to the stars at the Los Angeles Country Club
- Rock music journalist in Hollywood
- Failed magazine impresario
- Researcher/writer for Gambit‘s Blake Pontchartrain column
- Emcee at Cat’s Meow on Bourbon Street
- Right-hand man to a populist political commentator