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Fifth grade was quite a memorable year for Rudolph Delson. The San Francisco Bay Area native wrote a letter to his then-favorite author, Stephen King, proclaiming his literary ambitions and requesting a meeting (two months later, King wrote back: “Dear Rudy, Thanks for your letter, but no I can’t meet with you….Good luck”).
Perusing his debut novel, “Maynard & Jennica,” out next month from Houghton Mifflin, it’s safe to say Delson’s level of reading material has since moved onward and upward. A simple plot summary would describe the story as a love affair, set in New York, between the misanthropic Maynard, a musician and filmmaker, and the romantic Jennica. But open the book and you’ll find a rotating kaleidoscope of upward of 30 characters — including Jennica’s parents, who speak only as a pair in Q&A format; Ana, a German con artist, and Maynard’s dead ancestors — all of whom provide running commentary on and insight into the two main protagonists.
“If I was going to write it in first person, it was going to have to be at least two voices. And if two, why not three? And if three, why not 15?” offers Delson, 32, of his Russian novel-worthy collective (there’s even a helpful guide to who’s who at the end). “Once I had learned to channel Maynard and Jennica, it was just so much fun to chastise them with the voices of the people around them. This device became really addictive.”
The character of Maynard emerged, in part, from Delson’s own experience of moving to New York City as a onetime, 25-year-old NYU law student.
“I imagine, for people who come to New York with particular ambitions in the arts, there’s a kind of anger that you begin to feel when you see the frivolousness and stupidity of all the people around you. You’re in this tiny, miserable apartment; you don’t have any money, and you’re just trying to make ends meet,” says Delson, his voice becoming comically higher with mock rage. “Maynard is just an embodiment of the ridiculousness of that feeling of distaste for what goes on around you.”
Maynard, who wears dapper, vintage duds and films clandestine reels of less-fashionable lemmings on the subway, is counterbalanced by Jennica, the embodiment of that twentysomething optimism of finding the perfect apartment, the perfect job and, of course, the perfect mate.
Delson begs off identifying too strongly with either side — “If there were a short answer to that, then I wouldn’t need to write the book” — but his own path toward “Maynard & Jennica” suggests equal parts of both (with a hearty dash of eccentricity).
Born and raised in San Jose, Calif., the son of a German potter-sculptor mother and physicist father, he studied math and linguistics at Stanford University, worked for a year and a half as a paralegal in San Francisco and then moved to Berlin. To help pay his way there, he sold $200 subscriptions (25 in total) to a year’s worth of his personal letters: every other week Delson would draft a letter to his best friend and then send out photocopies. He attended the NYU School of Law while writing a novel about “a criminal conspiracy in the agricultural chemicals industry and the government lawyer who’s going to bust it up,” with the hopes of having it published before graduation to avoid actually becoming a lawyer.
“At 25, I was really deluded,” admits Delson.
In 2005, he quit his law job and wrote “Maynard & Jennica,” the film rights to which have been optioned by producer Scott Rudin.
If the Greek chorus of characters at times proves unwieldy to unsuspecting readers, hopefully Delson’s deft ear for evoking their believable voices will spare him the critical fate of first-time authors whose novels jump with such speed to the silver screen.
“Occasionally when you’re reading book reviews, there’s this particular thing that is leveled at people of ‘Oh, this book was really just a first draft of a screenplay,'” says Delson, who firmly believes novels and films are not mutually exclusive art forms. “If someone were to ask, ‘Who are your major influences?’ and I weren’t to name Woody Allen among them, that would be misrepresenting myself in some way.” Or, for that matter, Stephen King.