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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Saturday, April 16, 2005

the writer's surroundings--and his word-count

Wine time. Our house wine is Frontera, a Chilean Cabernet-Sauvignon-Merlot blend. Kimmie, to cut caloric intake, has restricted herself to drinking wine only on Friday and Saturday nights. It's Saturday, so I've poured us each a glass (frosted green goblets from Mexico) and delivered hers to her sewing-room on the top floor--Robin's former bedroom. She was cutting out a shirt for Trevor while the Moody Blues sang "In Your Wildest Dreams" from her boom-box. I've brought mine down to my office in the basement (fully finished) to write this post.

It's not really a basement, since my office--a full bedroom complete with closet and window--looks out on the brick patio that I helped my brother-in-law Mike build in 1989, just before Kimmie and I got married here in our house. The bricks have settled; moss grows between them; and Kimmie's garden spills over the wooden edges: white-blooming rock cress, erect bluebells, pink bleeding hearts amid a crowd of tender green. The flower bed backs onto the high windowless wall of a townhouse building next door, sided with tan-colored clapboard. A second tan townhouse building stands farther away, and beyond it, across the lane running behind our buildings, another large townhouse building, of which I can see mostly just the dark-gray slope of the roof. Above that, past the silhouette of the landing of my own wooden balcony steps, I see a little square of shining pale-blue sky.

My office, about 15 feet by 10, has become unpleasantly cluttered. My desk, pine-veneered particleboard from Ikea, is covered: mostly with books, but also papers, CD-ROMs, sales slips, file folders. I've run out of shelf space. The floor-to-ceiling bookshelves I had built into one long wall in 1993 are full. The three 5-foot-long pine shelves I had built (also by Mike), which stand as a kind of half-wall enclosing my computer table, are full. The bookshelves in the living-room and master bedroom are also full. There's a stack on the floor by my wicker wastebasket (culls that I intend to get rid of), and now, unhappily, stacks growing on the desk itself. I'm distressed to note there is also a small stack on top of the white Ikea filing cabinet next to my desk. In management theory, a problem is defined as "a discrepancy between an actual and a desired state of affairs". I have a book problem.

I forgot: there is also a growing stack on the coffeetable in the living-room--supposedly the books I am currently reading. There are probably 15 books there.

Today, while Kimmie prowled Fabricland at Park Royal for fabric bargains, I checked out Coles Books farther down the mall. Since there was no particular book I was looking for, I took out my Palm and started calculating and recording estimated word-counts for some of the novels there, to compare with my own opus. I picked some books that I thought might be comparable in size to The Mission. I would find a page, count the number of printed lines on it, multiply this by 10 to get words per page, find out how many pages there were, subtract 10 or 15 for partial pages, and multiply words per page by total pages. Here's what I came up with:

Outlander: 315,000
A Suitable Boy: 632,000
Vancouver: 300,000
Atlas Shrugged: 525,000
Sarum: 474,000
Kingdom of the Grail: 201,000

My current estimated word-count is 338,000--just a bit longer than Diana Gabaldon's Outlander. I'm sure I can cut it down to that length, maybe more.

I feel better about the length. I'm not trying to be long. I'm just trying to tell my story. The content is dictating the length--not the author.


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