Presence, the Play by William Jefferson
Presence, the Play by William Jefferson offers a meticulously crafted storyline evoking the imaginative prose of J.R.R. Tolkien, the spirited perception of C. S. Lewis and the dramatic flair of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
On the Isle of Estillyen lives a community of monks, renowned for storytelling. One of the monks, named Script, has written a stage play, titled Presence, the Play. On opening night, a packed crowd eagerly awaits the performance while Script hurries to claim his seat.
Amidst all the buzz, Script has a terrible fall just as the play begins. Medics rush Script to the sanatorium, where he lapses into a coma, in which the true story of Presence, the Play now unfolds. The novel plays out in Script’s comatose state.
In a penetrating interview, William Jefferson lets us into the thinking behind this unique, imaginative work, which is sure to intrigue.
Q: Where did you get the idea for Presence, A Play?
A: The motivation was not a spark, or an idea that suddenly pressed upon my mind. Over time, the idea maturated until, one day I began to view “presence” itself as an aspirational antidote to the distant mediated connectivity spurred on by social media platforms. It’s been said that “the greatest gift you can give someone is your presence.” I wholeheartedly agree.
Q: What’s the primary storyline?
A: On the Isle of Estillyen lives a community of monks, renowned for storytelling. One of the monks, named Script, has written a stage play, titled Presence, the Play. On opening night, a packed crowd eagerly awaits the performance while Script hurries along to claim his seat.
Amidst all the buzz, Script has a terrible fall just as the play begins. Medics rush Script to the sanatorium, where he lapses into a coma, in which the true story of Presence, the Play now unfolds. Script must venture into hell to decipher the mediated code of the netherworld to save his beloved Isle of Estillyen. His primary companion on the Inferno-esque journey is a mockingbird named Mock.
Q: What are the key themes you are trying to convey?
A: There are a number:
- Primacy of personal presence over mediated, digital connectivity
- Wonder of awe of our human senses to see, touch, and breathe the same air as one another…being present, real, rather than virtual and discarnate
- Personal image—the novel’s chief antagonist, Lucifer, claims, “Your image can do more for you than you can do for you.” Readers must wonder, Is it so? Who are we, offstage and off of social media?
- Reality of media ecology, and media effects on culture and one’s daily life
- Embracing the wonders of nature and the environment
- Importance of literature, the arts, and overarching narratives that inspire to guide one’s journey.
- Reality of cosmic forces, battle of good and evil
- Embracing imagination as a vital dimension of life
- Holding fast to faith and hope, twin essentials for navigating the winding roads and thickets of life
- There’s no going back to what has been
- Dreams — follow them
- Redemption, with deliverance the optimum outcome
Q: The characters in the book are well defined (and outlined in detail on your website). In each case, did something or someone drive their various personalities?
A: Yes! I chose characters who could speak for themselves — for example, Melehizedek, King of Salem, the mysterious biblical character, who was without linage and blessed Abraham. A character such as he transcends time and space, and would surely be able to sort out modern-day wows.
Who better than Melehizedek to guide Script through corridors of hell, and bless his efforts in deciphering Lucifer’s schemes? A character of this type cannot be concocted out of thin air.
Equally so Simon of Cyrene, who offers to help Script carry his heavy load.
Witty Script, of course, is the perfect character to inject lines from Canterbury Tales, Dante’s Inferno and the poetry of Poe and Frost.
Q: You have created a fictional “Isle of Estillyen” as the destination for your novels, with a detailed map and quick explanations of various venue points. How is Estillyen a “character” in itself for your work?
A: The Isle of Estillyen, located beyond the Storied Sea, is a microcosm of the world, the environment in which characters dwell. Characters need a home, a cherished place to protect, which is full adventure, drama and intrigue, yet keenly attuned to modern-day exploits and trends beyond Estillyen’s shores. One might say Estillyen has molded the characters that inhabit it.
Q: When it comes to your writing, what other authors have been your main inspirations?
A: In terms of style and storytelling, a classical few, such as Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Hugo. Shakespeare too, but on a different sort of stage: his own.
In terms of inspiring my devotion to matters of media and culture, authors of a very different sort come to the fore, such as Neil Postman, Marshall McLuhan, Walter Ong and Jacques Ellul. In the mix, I should also mention Aldous Huxley and George Orwell.
Q: You’ve created an audio book with an all-star cast. How did that come about?
A: After Presence, the Play was published, somehow I viewed the story incomplete, straitjacketed in lines pressed upon a page, without sound and voice. I thought, this isn’t fair to the story told.
So I began my own audio recording of the novel. In spirited form, I voiced my way along, chapter-by-chapter. But I became convinced a chorus of voices should take the place of mine. Sue Zizza of SueMedia Productions, who teaches sound production at NYU and has won numerous awards for her work, is responsible for assembling the 21 professional actors who take part in the audio adaptation.
Q: What do you hope readers will take away from reading Presence, the Play?
A: Appreciation for storytelling, and for words fashioned in a literary vein, telling a story that possess relevance for our day and time. If Presence, the Play were a bell, set in a steeple high, it would not ring, but toll.
Q: What is the next project on your plate?
A: I long for seclusion, in a bustling place. That I know.
On my plate, no project is set. In my mind, though, many rest.
William Jefferson is on the board of the Marshall McLuhan Initiative (MMI) in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He writes from a Civil War-era cottage in the rural Ozarks and is the owner of Storybook Barn, an all-occasion event venue. He holds an MTh in Theology and Media from the University of Edinburgh, and an MA in Communication from the Wheaton Graduate School. Visit www.estillyen.com.
Publish Date: May 1, 2021
Author: William Jefferson
Page Count: 262 pages
Publisher: Port Estillyen Production