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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

morning and afternoon

Morning notes: True Believer and Galilee: From Alexander the Great to Hadrian.

Sent Kimmie off to work in the bright sunshine. She was angry, even furious about how she looked (very nice I thought--cute white denim jacket and pants), especially her hair, which was recently cut and dyed.

"I don't want to have 'old lady' hair!" she said. "I don't want to look like some old lady who goes to the hairdresser once a week to have her little curls put in!"

"I think you look good," I said. "Very cute."

I have learned to be assertive and definite in my statements about Kimmie's appearance--no shilly-shallying. No sheepish "oh, now, honey"s--just flat-out contradict her, bulldoze over her self-opinions. I might catch some flak, but I'm fighting on the right side.

"No. I look hideous."

"That's incorrect."

She was mad, but not as mad as she has been sometimes as she bustles out the door late. She offered her cheek for a kiss on the porch, and was off. A quick, Nazi-salute wave from the sidewalk, and then she disappeared beyond the forsythia that fountains so greenly by our porch. I sighed contentedly, another morning's work done getting the wife off to her gainful employment. I returned to finish the Economist article I was reading, about the capital losses of central banks, over my empty cereal bowl on the coffeetable (I've never got out of the habit of eating in the living-room since I wore a cast 2 years ago), and got on with my own day.

Chapter 17. I opened my Notes document and plunged on, pasting in material from other documents: from my Character document on Sosigenes, from an Encyclopedia document on astronomy, from Alexander's Character document, and from a few Research documents (compressed books). What's this chapter about? What are the issues important to Alexander and Sosigenes, his long-sought hero?

It was one of those days where I feel myself barely keeping my head above water in a sea of ideas. I've brought so many ideas together--which ones belong? Which are important? Which ones are central to my story? Which provide images that work with what I'm doing? And what am I doing, anyway? What are the ideas that stir the souls of these characters, make them think and dream?

In the past this composting process has worked OK. I keep bringing ideas together on the same page, looking over things I haven't thought about for months, thinking about them in close succession to see how they live together. This type of thinking and selection forms the sub-basement of the eventual prose. For it to feel rich, it needs this kind of depth under it. You should sense that there's a lot going on underneath the explicit level of the story. The characters are intelligent, sophisticated individuals who have reasons for thinking and believing as they do.

I pushed on at this till about 11:30, as always feeling a bit guilty that I was not writing actual prose.

This afternoon I went for a run under a cloudless blue sky. The quiet and velleity of summer are setting in.


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