Monday, March 25, 2013


Bad me yet again, another couple of weeks between blogs.  Why can't I wriggle more deeply into the culture of narcissism? From whence this instinct for quietude, withdrawal, obscurity?  How much do I now get the Pynchons and Salingers of the world!  Enough of that.

I have finished chapter 12 and scholars of the literary arts will intuit that I am probably hard at work on chapter 13, or  would be we're I not writing this here that I am now writing.  I suppose it is not really triskedekaphobia  but chapter 13s have always given me trouble.  If any chapter in a book is going to be the chapter from hell, the odds are that it's going to be this one.  It will drag out for weeks and not get written, and be wrong in any number of ways. If I had to pick a reason for this it would be because I am a Big Chapter guy and so my chapters usually run about 20 pages or 5000 words and my novels last from maybe 20 through 25 chapters.  Therefore chapter 13 is on the downslope. All the major characters have been introduced, the plot is thickened, the subplots are in place, and all that remains is to weave them all together in a terrifically artful way, paying off all the set-ups placed in earlier chapters, increasing the tension, resolving all the dilemmas, refining any uplifting messages, and getting the hell out of the goddam thing so you can get paid.

This one may be a little different, since I have, as I've said before, no idea of where it's going.  The core of the book, I suppose, is the exploration of a change in consciousness within one family, a grandfather telling a story to his grandson.  This is part of a long time interest of mine: how the stuff in our heads gets there, how the ideas that we identify with our very selves--our sense of the good, the delightful, the disgusting, the precious, and so on--are formed by other people and made a part of what we imagine the world to actually be.  The story the grandfather tells the grandson in 1848 is a story of a lost world, when people had quite different stuff in their heads, and there are parallels in the two stories, for example, an assassination plot appears in both, but in the earlier 1786 version it is a comic opera farce (involving Mozart himself) while in the 1848 version it's in deadly earnest.  I'm playing here with the often observed phenomenon that grandparents sometimes have more to say to their grandchildren than parents do; and sometimes not, and why the difference?   The 1848 man is fascinated by his grandfather's tales of aristocratic √©lan and deplores the bourgeois money-grubbing of his banker step-father.

The question here is can I write an actual novel that's not a thriller, that will move and engage and say something interesting about our own times.  Historical novels are a way of shining light from an imagined past onto present society, which is what interests me, but it's a lot more difficult than I thought it would be.  That thriller plot is a wonderful crutch.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

The extraordinary "crime" writer George Pelecanos (who kills off characters that could make him a fortune if he would serialize them! or maybe he "watches them get killed?) says that he doesn't like to be thought of as a detective story writer or even really a crime writer--it is just that all stories involve conflict and the conflict can often be a crime. I think this is why Hamlet, for all its worth as a literary artifcat, is a revenge story like The Spanish Tragedy and countless others. My sense is that your writing could not be other that literary and could not be other than the thriller--in you they are the same.