Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Near-Death Experience! Fictional!

So there I was at lunch today, writing away feverishly at Chapter Two of the new novel. This chapter has been, so far, one long conversation between two men standing on the deck of a ship at sea. It was beginning to feel static to me (even though there's some excellent dialogue and the tension and conflict are kept high and the reader learns about the characters), so I decided that what I needed was some Action! In my last book, that always meant producing another corpse, but I don't so much want to kill off my two main characters in the second chapter, so rather than death, I opted for narrow escape from death! Action, character building, foreshadowing and symbolic irony all in one go! I know: genius! Anyway, there was some excitement on deck and now my main characters have gone below. I have only a vague idea what will happen there, but it likely involves a man named Corambus Polonius, who has strong opinions about a book called Nunc Scio Mysterium. This story, I think, gets cooler all the time.

Anyway, wordcountometer = 5816. Body count so far = 1.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Chapter Two, Now With Excerpt

I am about 1000 words into Chapter Two ("Elsinore"); I managed to write on the bus ride home last night and again at lunch today. Horatio and Hamlet are discussing Nunc Scio Mysterium, the book Horatio has written, and whether it is treasonously heretical or merely hypothetical. In a moment they'll talk about horoscopes. And then, I think, they'll talk about women. I haven't really decided but it seems like a good time.

wordcountometer = 4,457

I have decided to give my chapters titles taken from lines in the chapters themselves. So I'll be discovering the titles as I write the book. Excitement! Chapter One is called "Jupiter Descending" and Chapter Two is called "Even the Heavens Change." I roolz.

Also, excerpt from Chapter Two:

“I am always happy to please the king,” I said.

“Your book will not please my father.”

I had written a short volume called
Nunc Scio Mysterium, in which I contrasted the weaknesses of received wisdom with the strengths of observable data, and predicted a time to come where inquiry would trump folklore and tradition. I displayed the future as a bold vista and revealed the past for the storeroom of broken ideas that it is. Though I could not mention his name in my book, it had been my old master Tycho who had demonstrated that this philosophy did better service to God and man than did blindly following Aristotle and Ptolemy. The book had not been published yet but I had circulated the manuscript among some of my educated friends, including Prince Hamlet.

“There is nothing in my work to distemper the king,” I said.

“In some readings, it challenges everything that stands.” Hamlet leaned forward to whisper. “Lord Polonius hath seen it, you know. He intimates that he wishes a word in your ear about it.”

“Against it?”

“Very like. Polonius says you condemn the rights of kings.”

“Polonius misreads me.”

“Then so do I.”

I looked out over the water, at the northern coast of Zealand. Our ship was bound for the easternmost point of the island, for the town of Elsinore where I had been born, to the region where I had been a boy. Elsinore was but thirty miles from Copenhagen, a city of sophistication and culture, but it had always seemed to lie in some remote century, in a time of primitive ignorance. Elsinore was the king’s favorite place in Denmark.

“My lord,” I said. “My book only observes that what we see is to be more trusted than what we are told without evidence.”

“That is a dangerous statement. And heretical in some eyes. I know that you write merely of astronomy and the natural philosophies, but men will read it as a political commentary. The Devil is the prince of lies, Horatio. We must put our faith in our kings and our church, for we know truth lies therein.”

“Truth lies all around us! The Wise Men followed the stars to find the Redeemer, my lord. I also follow the stars, for careful and accurate observation of the universe will lead us to prosperity and happiness. I am an astronomer because by looking at heaven, I see the earth.”

“Brahe used to say that. I remember. You ought not quote him on my father’s ship. This book of yours may be read by men such as Fortinbras, who will see it as an excuse for change. Is that what you intend?”

“My lord, it is in the nature of nature to change.”

“It is in the nature of nature to remain as God hath made it.”

“Even the heavens change, my lord.”

And stuff.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Stars Are Fire, Chapter 1 finished

So it's very late, but I have finished Chapter One of the new novel, or the rewritten second novel. Personally, since almost every sentence of it will be brand new, I'm thinking of it as my fourth novel. But that's just me. Anyway, I've finished the first chapter and I think it does what I want it to do. We'll see how I feel about it in a couple of months.

wordcountometer = 3,261!

Next up, Chapter Two! Because it worked so well in my last first draft, I'm giving titles to the chapters in this book. Chapter One is called "Jutland," and Chapter Two will be called "Elsinore." People will ask Horatio when he's going to go visit his father. "Later," he'll answer.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Stars Are Fire, Chapter 1, excerpt

This is the first page or so:

The ice on the lake was spattered with blood. I stood to one side and shivered in the winter cold as my breath came in clouds of white steam. The sounds of steel against steel, sword against sword, sword against armor and the grunting of the two warriors echoed, rebounded and filled the air around me. I looked up and the sky was solid white, the snowy plain all around an equal white and I could not tell where the earth ended and the sky began. The sun had remained behind the whitewash of cloud but it was a bright day and the sky, the snow and the ice all reflected blinding patches of white wherever I turned, the air crystalline like the celestial spheres. The light washed the color from everything on the frozen lake except the blood sprayed over the ice where the duel was being fought within a ring of two score witnesses.

I was wrapped in dark wool and weighed down by a heavy black fur, and except for the priests I was the only man there who was not armed. I am no soldier, and I was only too happy not to be clad in steel plate and mail on that frigid December day. My companions were colder than I but we all longed for our camps and our warm fires.

It would not be a long wait; the duel was coming to an end. Fortinbras, Earl of Jutland, had lost a great deal of blood. The spots and trails of crimson that stained the ice had all come from his wounds and he was now sluggish and dragged his left foot. Even I, a scientist and civilian, could see that he would not survive the contest, that his heart would soon beat its last. Fortinbras’ opponent was Hamlet son of Rorik, King of Denmark, Schleswig and Holstein. King Hamlet was unharmed after half an hour of bashing and being bashed, and he grinned and swung his great sword as if it weighed no more than a glove or the leg of a baked goose. This was most vexing. I had cast the king’s horoscope the night before and the heavens had all agreed that some great loss was his fate this day. I pushed defeat from my heart and expected a lucky turn for Fortinbras. It was not too late for him to strike a fatal blow against the king.

To watch the combat was painful for me; I wanted to shrink from the primitive ritual, to stop my ears against the noise or run away from the lake, but I was present at the king’s command and so I stood there in the frozen air and let my eyes be drawn down to the patterns formed by the blood on the ice. It is a star chart, I thought. The king stands in Orion while Fortinbras drags his wounded foot through Cassiopeia and spits a mouthful of bloody sputum onto the Pleiades. I wondered if Fortinbras had any regrets. If he did, he did not have long to live with them. He swung wildly at the king, missed and fell to one knee as his lame foot slipped on the ice. He knelt in Perseus. There was frost and blood on the face of his helmet. King Hamlet stood in Taurus and brought his sword down in a mighty blow, cutting Fortinbras’ left arm apart at the elbow. Fortinbras bellowed like a wounded bear and dropped his sword and then the king rained death down upon him, hacking him to pieces. Bright blood spread onto the ice, flooding over my imagined constellations. King Hamlet, still ruler of Denmark, stood over his dead cousin. He pushed up the beaver of his helmet to lick some of Fortinbras’ blood from his blade. One barbarian had killed another, and the rebellion was over.

The king’s son, Prince Hamlet, had been standing to my left. He took my arm and whispered in my ear, his voice shaking with excitement. “My father hath killed his enemy,” he said. “Was it not a glorious fine thing?”

A bit rough, but you get the idea.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Hugo Wolf Quartet, 10 March 2010

Last night Mighty Reader and I went to hear the Hugo Wolf Quartet in concert. The program was:

Haydn: String Quartet No. 26 in G Minor, Op. 20, No. 3
Janacek: String Quartet No. 2 ("Intimate Letters")
Brahms: String Quartet No. 3 in B-flat Major, Op. 67

second movement of Mozart's Qtet No. 21 in D major ('Prussian 1'), K. 575

I love a good string quartet and these nice folks from Vienna easily exceeded my expectations. The players are all pretty young (early to mid-30s, I'd say) and I have no idea how long they've been together (the quartet itself began in 1993 and these are not the founding members), but their ensemble was wonderful, the balance of instruments just right (though I might have liked a little more force from the first violinist, Sebastian Gürtler) and the program, as you can see, was fabu. I'm happy that Papa Haydn's music is getting out more, and it always gladdens my old heart to see 20th-century music on the bill. The Janacek is one of my favorite pieces, especially the rollicking 4th movement, and I was pleased when Mighty Reader gave it her approval. She turns out to be a fan of 20th-century chamber music. Who knew? I did suspect that she'd like the Janacek because she loved the Emerson's performance last year of a Webern quartet, but it's nice when I get these things right.

The Brahms was good, naturally, being Brahms. I like his chamber music (there's a video around the internet somewhere of Henryk Szeryng playing the Hungarian Dance No. 17 that you should watch if you can find it) and this is a nice piece. It's Brahms, so it's long and it was beastly hot in the hall after the intermission (what's up with that, Meany Hall management?) so I was sort of drifty and sleepy during the first two movements, but it was still lovely and amazing. The third movement has all the strings but the viola muted, and there was an amusing-if-clumsy moment while Mr. Gürtler dug his mute from his pants pocket. I wonder if they hired him for comic relief as well as playing ability, because now that I remember it, he forgot his music for the Haydn and had to run back stage to fetch it before the show could even start. Kids these days.

The encore was swell, and everyone got swoony over Florian's cello solo and if anyone tells me again that Mozart's music is light and frivolous, I'm going to hit them with something heavy.

I bought their new CD and had them autograph it after the show. They seem like nice kids and I hope they record the Janacek soon. "Maybe in two years," they told me. I guess I'll wait.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Writers and Cheap Drinks!

Thursday (that's tommorrow) Seattle-area readers can drink $1 PBRs and hear several groovy writers reading in public at the Richard Hugo House! Award-winning authors! Cheap beer! What's not to love? Will I be there? I don't know yet; I continue feeling a bit coming-down-with-something today, so we'll just see.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Stars Are Fire, Act 1, Chapter 1

So I have finally actually begun my rewrite of the "Horatio" book that I'm currently calling The Stars Are Fire. Is that clear enough? No? Well, it doesn't matter. I'm writing again, is the thing. I moved pretty well forward through the opening passages during lunch, but I think I need to move the killing (of course there's a killing in the first chapter; this is my book we're talking about and once again, I predict a fairly high body count) to a point much earlier in the chapter. Just because blood, you know, is compulsory. It's all blood, you see. No excerpt to post just yet, as it's all still in longhand. Maybe tonight, if I'm ambitious and figure out at which precise point in the narrative the to-be-dead guy gets corpsified. I have a feeling it comes right after the line "I wondered if Fortinbras would have any regrets when he died."

I also have vague plans for drawing a parallel between the field of battle spattered with blood and a map of the cosmos, and talking about how one combatant is in Cassiopeia while the other is in Orion or whatever. I might not, though. It sounds complex and inelegant and likely distracts from the bashing with swords and all. Still, I sort of like it and it works with one of the major themes of the book. We'll see. Also, and this is even better, I think I'm going to be able to reuse some of the text from the previous version of the book in this chapter, so that's a win.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Action Author

This is me, outrunning terrorists this weekend. I especially like the way the blurriness makes me look slim, even if it doesn't so much make me look like Agent Bourne.

That's all, folks. Move along. Tomorrow I plan to mumble about things I may have learned while writing my most recent first draft. Most important thing I kept in mind while writing: every word is provisional, so don't fall in love with it.