Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"There's a Wind in the Sky and It Rakes at My Heart"

I’ve more or less finished with chapters 5, 6, 7, 8, and 15. Chapters 7 and 8 need some substantial revisions, but the fifth and sixth are probably my finest work to date.

I was worried about the fifth at first. It would be hard to write, no matter how I chose to tackle it: The scene of the vision during second lunch has always posed special problems, for the same reasons why in the past I’ve always found Chapter 3 to be nearly impossible to write. You have to get the sequence of events exactly right; you have to explain why I was so disturbed; you have to keep it from being a dry recitation of numbers and symbols by lending it suspense and emotion; and you have to find some way of making it relatable to others. This I was able to accomplish by shortening the scene, simplifying the language until it was perfectly clear what was going on (and why I found it odd), and couching the vision in the context of a gripping Quizbowl tournament.

This chapter was, in many ways, a reversal of the previous. Where in the fourth I had plunged at the outset straight into the pith and marrow of the unseen realm, and only in the latter half returned to the serenely eerie circumstances of the story, in the fifth I didn’t put my Melville hat on till the end. (In the sixth I put it on but once, when we were on the bus). Yet the exposition in the fifth chapter was much better integrated than that of the previous. The subject wasn’t some exalted thing, but a psychological analysis of Corey’s character which kept my ponderous investigation in the framework of the story, and indeed ended with it. The level of anger and hatred which was developing between us, even then, is easily as scary as any of the supernatural events of the previous chapter, the more so perhaps for being universally relatable. “But, from that day forward, we were only friends in name,” is as ominous an ending as the bizarre combination of angels, prophecy, telepathy, and shared dreams which burst into malignant flower at the end of Chapter 4.

And the sixth chapter is my favorite. It’s much more Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell than it is anything else, but that’s hardly a problem given the nature of the story I’m writing. Just a few days ago I went through my table of contents and wrote out a plot summary for each of the first fifteen chapters. My first realization was that there’s a remarkably linear plot. I mean in life, my senior year of high school and my first year of college. They were both very well-plotted (the “Shakespearean drama,” in particular, of freshman year, was structured like a five-act play. How odd). The supernatural is introduced at the very beginning and there are always three or four strands of narrative at play at any given time. Then, as I discerned even then, each character has mysteries that he or she is hiding. You’re never fully in possession of all the secrets, till the very end. All of which is to say, it was a REAL novel. And far better structured, far better paced, I feel, than many.

My second realization was that the best way to tell it is also probably the simplest. I’m rethinking it in terms of the Great American Novel and deliberating whether it wouldn’t perhaps be more effective as a tense, fast-paced, Harry Potter- or Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell-style fantasy, since this is after all what it ended up being in the living. That doesn’t mean that the profound and the Sublime won’t still come into it at times, as they do in a Charles Williams novel, but they’ll be more carefully managed in the future, and they won’t evade the framework of the story. The more I consider the matter, at any rate, the more it appears that this is the kind of novel I’m designed to write. My foremost literary strengths are as a storyteller. Given that I have a nearly-perfect story sitting here in front of me, and given the incredible ease with which I spin out narration, when freed of its more self-conscious trappings, I’m beginning to wonder if I haven’t made this slightly harder than it needs to be.

Monday, June 14, 2010

God's Piano

[[ or, "You Really Want Adventures, Taylor?" ]]

[ Sunday, January 9, 2005. Southwestern ]

“How was your break?” he asked me.

“It was decent,” I lied. “We had a record snow on Christmas morning. It was the first time there had been snow in the area since 1994. The whole yard was covered in two feet of snow. But I’m glad to be back. I really missed the place while I was gone.”

“Me, too,” said Taylor. “I was ready to come back.”

“Did you have a good break?”

“Yeah, it was mostly really good.” He stood up from his desk and a light came into his eyes, as if a switch had just been flipped at the back of his mind. Taylor had eyes like the sea; they were sometimes tranquil, sometimes turbulent, but gazing into them you had a sense of deeper mysteries at work beneath the surface of which even he himself was unaware.

“Mostly?” I asked him. “What did you do?”

“Oh, I went on meditative walks alone,” he said, “in solitude through empty fields blown by the sleeping wind; lying on my back in the grass on a hillside above a small lake, reciting poetry under a lonely pine and hiking through dense woods and wading in rushing spring streams. It was like being a kid again. I missed my sleepy little train-stop town. God! I’m such a dreamer, Boze,” he admitted sadly, tossing a pillow to the floor so he could sit beside me on the couch. “I just… I want to do something! I want to throw it all away and just do something! I have these irresistible urges where I want to skip school and just wander around, experiencing LIFE! I want to make the memories I’ll look back on when I’m older and tell stories!”

He stood up from the couch and started pacing through the room. When Taylor and I were restless, we would often pace together, though, as he was vastly taller than I was, this inevitably suggested some maniacal and charismatic villain from a movie plotting mischief with his ugly, lesser henchman.

Anyone who has lived long enough has had the experience of seeing one specific face which utterly surpassed all others. It is an experience one is unlikely ever to forget. Yet such a face was Taylor’s. There was something regal in it: teeth of an unspotted whiteness, shaggy, mane-like hair, a gently-sloping nose, a neatly-trimmed brown beard, and moody, ever-shifting, rain-blue eyes. He had more than once been likened to the Count of Monte Cristo in the Jim Caviezel film, and in fact there was something a little uncanny in the resemblance, as if all my sentimental and elusive dreams of manhood had arrayed themselves in flesh. What I could only ever hope to be, he WAS. I had never in my life met anyone as fully, unashamedly alive as he. He had a heart full of thunder and glory. Alex and I were but the moons which orbited around him. When he strode into a room, people stared. When he spoke, they listened. When he translated the substance of his moody meditativeness into music, and for hours in the Bishop’s lounge outside the Commons rendered the vivid landscape of his deepest feelings on the canvas of night, until a melancholy trance seemed to seize him and he left the muddy confines of the earth to wander in the pure white radiance of ivory dreams, a spell would fall on anyone who listened and in silence we became aware of a second, still subtler music underlying Taylor’s and yet interwoven with it in a song of perfect consonance. It was God’s piano; it was God’s emotions. It was the violently tender exclamation of His passions on the instruments of time.

“I want to do things people don’t think about!” he shouted, stroking his beard with one hand even as he flung the other high into the air. “I want to travel, to walk about aimlessly… no destination! I want to be an explorer in the uncharted territory of my own life! I want drama, Boze. Where there is no drama, there is no story to be told. My life is filled with empty pages, emotionless, cold, empty, devoid of activity. I wish… for once I just wish we knew a single good woman! Think of the stories we could tell, the adventures we could have…”