"It was imprudent of us, in the first place, to become authors. We could have become something regular, but we managed not to.
We were lucky, but we were also determined." Roy Blount Jr

"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Friday, October 19, 2007

Utter Peace (Quiet Included)

morning view of our little lake

The first day after departing my temporary, part-time, accidental office job is atmospherically grey and foggy with bright orange and yellow and red leaves colouring the landscape, and utterly quiet. Ideal for thinking about writing. And doing some writing.

This morning at the breakfast table, my off-duty brain was in a receptive state. My Muse--I use that term for want of a better one--was paying attention and sent forth a message that is crucial to this or any novel. She gave me the theme. Dropped it right into my head, just like that.

Are you surprised that I've been working on this book for so long without a theme? Don't be. It happens.

Allow me to chart the gestation of this project:

About a decade ago, when I was under contract for multiple books, I became increasingly obsessed with a pair of historical characters who lived in fascinating, changeable times and were connected to the kings and queens, the controversies, battles, and high society of their day. Conveniently, it's the historical period
I'd studied intensively at British universities. Not only did this couple happen to be physically gorgeous and frequently painted and occasionally referenced in diaries and memoirs and documents--quite possibly I can claim a blood relationship with both individuals. In fact, my interest initiated through genealogical research. And I've actually met their descendent and heir to the dukedom.

Being me, I started thinking about a novel. But it wasn't the sort of novel my various publishers seemed to want from me, so it became my sideline. The legendary "book of my heart." All novelists seem to have one, or more. I have several, but this has long been The Big One.

Fast forward to a few years ago. The market for historical fiction had (potentially) become highly favourable for a project of this sort. I went into research overdrive, and when we hopped over to the UK a couple of times a year I haunted libraries, delved into the primary (mostly unpublished) sources for every factual nugget I could find about my protagonists. I started plotting out the novel, developing my historical timelines, writing scenes and chapters.

And yes, I was able to do all this without having precisely nailed down the theme. Usually the theme develops--or presents itself--fairly early in the process, out of the mishmash of outline, character, conflicts, and so on. Sometimes I try to tease it out, other times I just wait. It's not that I didn't have the theme. I sort of did, but it was amorphous and ungainly and fuzzy at the edges and soft in the middle. I wasn't fussed about it, wasn't far enough along in the writing for the lack of one to be a problem.

All of which is a long way of saying that what happened this morning is momentous and most timely, and my heart goes pitter-patter just thinking about it. Best of all, it came to me with perfect clarity, in a single sentence, to be inserted the very first chapter. First chapters are terribly, wonderfully important, and like a lot of my writing they inevitably contain secret codes.

Included in my first chapter, initially obvious only to me, is the entire theme of the book, along with a foreshadowing of the journey that is about to unfold. It's very subtle--at least I hope so. I suppose an astute reader might spot the sentence or phrase, but I'm never sure. For me, the words jump out as if blasted on a giant stadium billboard, in flashing red letters surrounded by bursting firecrackers.

I've taped my sentence, slightly tweaked and refined, to my computer screen. At the moment I can't do anything more... Still haven't finished that chapter dealing with the Duke of Monmouth's execution. Probably it's emerging so slowly because I'm so impatient to be done with it. The Muse can be contrary that way.

Oh, other novel-related developments: in the past fortnight, three incredibly positive and useful discoveries occurred, one after another. Timing is everything, and perfect timing seems like a good omen to me. I was able to purchase two research books, each containing solid information about my protagonists. More exciting still was what I can't help referring to as "the miraculous eBay auction"--a story that must wait for another day.

So, that's my update from the creative side of life. As for the rest...

My last day at the office was uneventful, other than receiving a very nice card from the Program Director and making a lunch date with her and my other colleague for next week. I also met their new hire, who came in to fill out all the voluminous and requisite University System paperwork. I can't call her my "replacement" because her duties will be similar yet far more extensive and important than mine. And she doesn't even get my office--the Program Director is taking it. That's how nice it is!

I'll miss the camaraderie that developed with the two women with whom I worked so closely, and our class members and committee people and other supporters and the college staffers. But I'm oh, so thankful to get my life back! I've been so impatient to return to fulltime work on this novel! I expected to the office job to last no longer than September, but ended up continuing till now because of the organisation's period of greatest need. In future, I'll be available for paid consulting--editorial, organisational, whatever--on a project-by-project basis. When I'm able. And I'll do it from home--no more commuting.

It might take a while before I stop trying to dial "9" for an outside line whenever I pick up my telephone here at the Lodge!

No comments: