Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Excerpt

“You must hurry,” the boy said. His voice was high and pure.

We climbed into the carriage, wedging our bodies into what little space there was between our large trunks. Cornelius handed me a small jar of wine and I took a drink, grateful to him. The boy cracked his whip over the oxen’s backs and the cart lurched forward. The snow fell heavier now and I could not see anything of our destination. The world had disappeared behind a shifting, sparkling veil.

“Can you find the observatory?” I said.

“Do not worry. I can find Brahe’s house in any weather. But pray do not distract me.”

I fell silent, hunched under my cloak and I looked past the oxen at the snow falling onto the barely visible road. Somewhere within the worsening weather sat Uraniborg, or what was left of it. Tycho had designed the observatory himself and it had been built to last a dozen lifetimes, yet after only four years of disuse people called it a ruin. It was inconceivable that the palace no longer stood. The walls of the keep were four feet thick, the towers rose fifty feet and the roof was of heavy copper tiles. The huge timbers beneath the floorboards had been sawn from great fir trees felled in Sweden and ferried over the Sound at some expense. Uraniborg was no barn, no shepherd’s hut to collapse upon itself after a few neglected years. Uraniborg was a noble house of many floors, with seven towers and terraces to hold the great brass instruments. Uraniborg was a glittering villa standing on the highest point of the island. Every angle and measurement that had gone into the construction, from the subcellar laboratories to the Pegasus weather vane on the tall center tower, had been computed to result in a structure perfect to eye and soul, a place where all was in harmony within and without, a microcosm of the macrocosm. Uraniborg was beautiful and solid, a shining fortress on the frontier of the future.

“Here is Brahe’s ruin,” the boy said.

11 comments:

  1. I like the tension between the protagonist's loving explanation of the solidity and importance of Tycho's observatory and the boy's dismissive announcement, “Here is Brahe’s ruin.”

    I'm curious to know how much historical research you've done /are doing for this book. Is this a real place?

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  2. Tara, it's nice to have you back on the internets! I keep forgetting to comment on your recent posts.

    One of the big structural devices I'm using in this novel is to contrast ideas about what is real. So there's a constant clash between worldviews, both within the protagonist and between all the characters.

    I've read so much material on 16th-century Denmark and astronomy and astrology and Tycho Brahe's observatory on the island of Hven (a real place that I'm trying to describe as accurately as I can) and Johannes Kepler and whatnot that sometimes I close my eyes to sleep and all I see are maps and floorplans and star charts. I am exhausted by it, and I am constantly surprised by how much research I need in order to say a single word.

    But my dark secret is that I love the research, love gathering up books, love trolling through JSTOR, love making notes and lists and charts.

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  3. Mr. Bailey, you've made this place sound so magical, I want to go there post haste. Thank you for all your diligent research, as always it has made the story come alive.

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  4. Anne: I want to go there, too. Alas, after 400 years nothing is left but a patch of bare ground. Some people are replanting a section of the old garden, but the main building is long gone. South of the villa, the subterranean observatory is being restored. Some day I may visit. After the book becomes a best seller, of course!

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  5. Your excerpt is beautiful Scott ~thanks so much for sharing!

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  6. This is beautiful! I love "microcosm of the macrocosm." Brilliant.

    You have such a flair for crafting your sentences so that they flow seamlessly.

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  7. Michelle: Thanks! I stole "microcosm of the macrocosm" from a letter Brahe wrote to a friend. And flow? It's all about the vowel sounds.

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  8. I had a feeling you had researched it. :) The bits of your book that I've read, though just glimpses, are always so rich and convincing. I'm a sucker for well done historical fiction.

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  9. We talked about historical fiction over a year ago, and I'll say again that what's important to me isn't so much the actual history as the time period and the world of the story. Real history is complex and messy and doesn't--in my opinion--make great fiction if you show absolute fidelity to the facts. Which means that the story I'm telling always has to come first. Especially in a work like my WIP, which is predicated on an untruth (that there was a king of Denmark named Hamlet in 1601, with a son named Hamlet who had a friend named Horatio, and all of these people knew astronomer/genius Tycho Brahe).

    Although the book I wrote earlier this year, which I'll be revising after I finish The Stars Are Fire, is set in Maryland and Virginia in 1749 and I have shown as much fidelity to actual facts as I possibly can. Doing the historical research led me to the Great Hurricane of October 1749, which event is the climax of the second act of the book. I love my research; it always makes the story more broad and deep. But I also feel that history is mine to use, not the other way around.

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  10. Agreed.

    If an author changes something and knows it, that's ok with me. (Better still if the author lets me, the reader know it in a Forward or Afterward of the book.) It's authors who blunder about in some historical period with no respect for it who annoy me.

    My Secret Novel is inspired by real people and real events, but I do not pretend it is actually about real people. I'm not writing biography or history, but fiction. That means the characters come first.

    The main advantage of researching real events is to mine for world-building details that convince the reader that these bizarre circumstances could indeed happen. The point of my story, however, is to explore what happens when these events involve these characters, not whoever may have "actually" been involved.

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