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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Monday, March 21, 2005

Pushing on with chapter 13...

Back to the writing routine. Slept not badly and did, as planned, key chapter 8 of The Message of the Sphinx, highlight a half-chapter of Ancient Rome in the Light of Recent Discoveries (about the Roman police and fire services), and also key a the last part of subsection 27 of A History of the Jewish People.

The weather had turned cold overnight; snow in Lynn Valley. Kimmie bundled up to walk to work down at ICBC. I finished reading an article in Scientific American Mind on thought-controlled machines, did my morning exercises (stretching, pushups, and various crunches on my wife's Ab Master, nicknamed Ab Bastard in our house), and settled here in the office with a glass of grapefruit juice--what I drink instead of the cliched coffee (which I have earlier) or scotch (which I have later).

I opened up my own chapter 13 in Word, which I've given the title "Marcus and Alexander" so I can be reminded of its content when I see a list of chapters--I plan not to title my chapters in the finished work. Marcus, the old Roman soldier, has made it to Alexandria to deliver a message to Alexander, a young Jewish copyist at the great Library. Problem: Julius Caesar is holed up in the palace district--where the Library is--with 4,000 troops, and now, today, the Egyptian army has turned up to root him out of there. Caesar sets the whole Egyptian fleet on fire in the harbor--72 ships. Meanwhile, Marcus has picked up a traveling companion in the person of a certain Gaia, a small 40ish woman who was expelled from a mystic community called the Healers on the shore of Lake Mareotis while he was passing by.

Not bad. I like this situation. And it is historical. Marcus is a historical character--the old Roman soldier who appeared on the beach of Pelusium on 28 July 48 BC when Pompey's headless corpse was being cremated by a freedman named Philip. It's a fertile and, to me, real-feeling situation.

So I picked up the story at page 11 of the chapter, where I'd left off, and started typing, feeling, as usual, that sense of trepidation and uncertainty--the "what the hell am I doing?" feeling. That's right: Marcus and Gaia had just made it to the Library, talking their way past the guards, and arrived at the Mathematics Hall where Marcus had been told by Philip (Alexander's father) that Alexander worked. It seems deserted, however, when they get there...

I pick up the threads from my "13 - Notes" document: "oh yeah--that's what I was going to do..." I typed, I sipped. I checked the price of gold at kitco.com. I typed some more. Outside, I could see the top of the green recycling truck arrive and dump our newspaper box into itself. Hail dropped on the wooden stairs and red patio bricks as though sprinkled by a god oversalting his food: handfuls rather than a downpour.

The goal was 5 pages of double-spaced Courier text, and I just made it by noon, as I felt my attention dissipate. I'd got Marcus and Gaia down to the warehouse on the docks where Alexander is supposed to be, rescuing books from the approaching flames...

So that's it. I inched forward to chapter 13, page 16. It was humdrum and workmanlike. As writing days go, they don't get much better.


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