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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Monday, October 17, 2005

producing fiction, consuming fiction

A day of steady rainfall.

Since Kimmie is on vacation I'm ditching the morning-notes routine in favor of using my coffee-drinking time to work right on the story. Yesterday I had a mini-breakthrough (so I felt), feeling my way through the main beats of chapter 19. I think I know what's going to happen. But that's not enough. I still need to have a strong enough sense of my characters and my place--the location.

My story has moved to Rome, so for the last two days I've had BiblePlaces.com's Pictorial Library of Bible Lands: Greece & Rome picture CD out, looking at images of the city and making prose sketches for possible use. Here's one:

From Arch of Titus, 18 Jan 2001 (8/20): Glum gray day, flare of bright light behind the white screen of the sky, wreathed in pearl-gray masses of low soft cloud. Only a suggestion of shadows: dusty-gray olive-trees, splayed wider than they are tall. Tall sober cypresses, soldierly, or like poor people standing silent in queue for food: all different heights. Lush wet-looking grass. Stone structures of different colors: the Colosseum faced with white, but buff inside. Nearby building all buff, darker at the top as though wet-stained. Nearby: dark matrix filled with white stone.

I had a separate session of my picture-viewer, Irfanview, open at an image of a model of Rome in the 2nd century BC. This gives me a sense of the topography that I need. I'm writing of a time 100 years or so later, when Rome was much more developed, so I will have to furnish those improvements in my mind.

My main concern in the Notes document today was point of attack: where exactly do I start the action of this chapter, and what exactly is going through my character's mind?

Kimmie and I just came in from an afternoon of shopping. We wound up at Chapters-Indigo, looking for a Laurell Hamilton book for Kimmie (found it). I also decided to take the plunge and picked up a copy of Kim Stanley Robinson's Forty Signs of Rain, a science-fiction novel about the effects of global warming, set in the near future. I felt drawn to Robinson back when I saw his Green Mars trilogy about the conquest and terraforming of Mars. I borrowed Red Mars from the library and read pretty much the whole thing, as I recall. I was disappointed with it as a novel--Robinson is not a storyteller--but was impressed with his command of the subject-matter and his attention to verisimilitude.

I first saw this novel, Forty Signs, in the bookstore as a hardback last year. I was actually kind of excited by it: glad to see that someone had taken on this topic--climatic effects of global warming--and woven it into an epic. But I'm not a buyer of hardbacks generally (expensive, bulky), and am not enough of a fan of Robinson to spring for it. The mass-market paperback, though: yes. In a big-box bookstore with a large fiction section full of books that mainly made me feel tired, bored, and heavy, I was intrigued enough by this one to shell out Cdn $11.99 (+ GST) for it.

Perhaps I'll report back on my rare fiction foray.

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