Posted tagged ‘novel’

Weird, and getting weirder

April 14, 2009

In my novel The Sleep of Reason, my character will have a similar outcome to his adventures as a certain historical (and probably mythical) figure. I had known this from the start and even gave a hint of it in about the third paragraph of the opening page of the story. It’s the kind of historical reference that most people will not get, at least not until it is all laid out, and it was a reference I knew about only in the most general way.

Recently I began doing a bit more research on the historical counterpart of my protagonist so that I could bring their stories into finer alignment as the end of the story approaches. This is where it began to get weird.

I’ve mentioned on this blog once or twice that I sometimes feel as though I am not the creator of this story but merely the typist. It is as though the story exists “out there” and I’ve been given the challenge of hearing it in my head and getting it all written down. This sense was reinforced a bit when I started looking in the historical figure’s own story.

I don’t want to give away too much, but the parallels abound. The characters in my story’s household have counterparts in the mythological story. I can see a sort of resolution for one of my characters who was giving me a bit of trouble not fitting in. I’ve even decided to change the name of of of my characters to match that one a similar character in the mythology. It’s not my intent to rewrite a bit of obscure mythology. I feel as though I have my own story to tell. And it’s only in the ending that the stories are similar, but the similarities are striking.

I don’t ascribe to any supernatural explanations to my situation. It may be that I’m drawing too many inferences from the few similarities I’ve discovered. Or it may be that there are certain archetypical stories in the Western mind and I’ve merely come up with my own variation on one. Whatever the reason, I’m charged up with the serendipity of it all.

Night Train to Lisbon

March 23, 2009

Can there be anything more absurd than this:
to be moved by a wish that has no conceivable object?

Amadeu de Prado
The Goldsmith of Words

I confess to picking up this novel because its title is similar to a short story of mine. I’ve certainly read books for less reason than that, but I’m glad of this bit of serendipity because I found Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier to be a worthwhile read.

This novel has two protagonists. There is the main character about whom the story is told, and there is the man who has become the main character’s obsession. Through a curious string of events rising from a moment of coincidence, a staid Swiss language teacher is introduced to the writings of deceased Portuguese doctor Amadeu de Prado through his book called The Goldsmith of Words. Transported by the thoughts in this work — exchanging his dead languages and thoroughly known texts for the living words of the memoir — the language teacher quite literally walks away from the school where he teaches and travels to Lisbon to learn all he can about the man whose words have so captivated him.

His quest is both fruitful and frustrating. Everyone who knew the man seemed to have kept some scrap of his writing. One of the priests at his school kept the valedictorian address de Prado wrote as a boy fifty years before. One person even has a recording of his voice. All of these scraps give the protagonist further insight into his quarry.

I began to wonder just how credible a character could be if everyone who knew him thought he was wonderful. As I read on, however, I learned that the man was also sometimes despised, and this, too, drove his character.

Most specifically, he is despised for two medical interventions he must take, doing exactly what he was trained and obligated to do, but for very different reasons shunned as a consequence. And while he saved the lives of these two people, one of whom deserved to die, he also refused to take the life of a person who knew too much to live.

This novel is built around the enduring, and perhaps fanciful, notion of “the book that changed your life forever.” In many ways it reminded me of The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, which is another fine novel about the consequence of a single book in a character’s life.

“Pascal Mercier” is the pseudonym of Swiss philosopher Peter Bieri. Night Train to Lisbon has sold more than two million copies, having enjoyed a huge success in Europe but suffering from little recognition in the U.S. If you enjoy novels about ideas and characters (rather than about “splosions”), you should consider picking up this one.

Chapter 13 is complete

February 8, 2009

I think. I finished Chapter 13 of The Sleep of Reason this morning, and it came in at about 4,800 words. That’s a little short for the standard I’ve established for this novel, but it does what it set out to do, and that’s the real standard I must follow.

I continue to marvel at how little “revelations” come to me as I write this novel. It seems that I am writing far more set up material than I consciously realize. There is the structure of the story, of course, and some creative developments call for rework in early chapters, but I still find how little moments of plot or characterization so perfectly — and unexpectedly — mesh with something I had written earlier. I think that I can have my protagonist do this or that, and I suddenly realize that whatever it is makes perfect sense in terms of something I had established earlier.

This is, I suspect, no more than a manifestation of my comprehensive (if subconscious) understanding of my characters and the story I am writing. I shouldn’t make so much of it since it really should be expected. I can’t help getting a charge out of it though when it happens.

I’ve noted here a number of times that I don’t want to understand my creative process too well. I fear I might slay it with too analytical an understanding of it. To me it is a qualitative mystery, and I don’t want to turn it into a quantitative¬† mechanism that no longer lives for me.

Chapter 14 is completed

April 27, 2008

The words did not come easily, but I managed to finish Chapter 14 of Finnegans Afoot. My problem was twofold. First, it’s a climax chapter, and I wanted to get it exactly right. I don’t know if I did, but given the perspective of time and a complete read through of what has come before it, I think I can get it there. Second, though, is that I’m writing about a subject well out of my experience and certainly out of my comfort zone.

I had written most of the chapter earlier in the week and simply needed about a thousand words to finish it. Instead, I got started on Chapters 15 and 16. I finished those before I got myself back to Chapter 14. That non-sequential writing is odd for me, but it did afford me an unexpected opportunity to set up a great deal of tension at the end of Chapter 16 by just a few words in Chapter 14. Knowing so well what was going to happen, the idea of doing that came to me like a particularly well time gift. I love it when just a few words can do so much work in a story.

Anyway, I’ve gotten a start on Chapter 17. It’s the last chapter of the novel and I wrap things up, but only by implication. I’ve really come to hate final chapters and epilogues in mystery stories that get everything settled and explained too neatly. Life is full of rough edges and unsatisfying resolutions, and I wanted this chapter to end the story in a similar way. Yes, the mystery is solved, and the reader will see that. It just won’t be done in black and white on the page. I don’t think readers have to have everything laid out before them and explained. They are clever enough to understand the meaning with the right amount of suggestion.

I’m not in any race to finish Chapter 17. I managed to get about 500 words down already, but my concluding chapters don’t generally swell to the 3,500 word count I try to achieve (and usually surpass) in the other chapters. I may finish it tomorrow or next week. I need to give a thorough read through of my notes for the novel so I can remember just what I need to get done in this chapter. And then I will do it. And then it will be done. And then onward.

Note: Somehow I failed to publish this post on time. It should have appeared on April 19. If it sounds out of sequence, that explains why.