Monday, August 30, 2010

Chapter 18 Excerpt!

I have gone with anatomists to witness dissections of corpses. Some men gaze upon the inner organs and hidden places beneath our skin and see a beautiful puzzle, but the dead meat and jellied guts I saw on the dissection table were obscene and horrible in my eyes. Had I some magic, I would erase those bloody images from my memory and unlearn whatever lessons I learned from them. If a man seeks the truth, he must be prepared to discover that the cosmos is both beauty and ugliness, both birth and corruption.

It took me nearly an hour to light a fire in the room upstairs at Uraniborg. I used a few blank sheets of paper I had with me for tinder and carefully stewarded the flames, feeding the stove with sticks of kindling Voltemont and Cornelius had made until the fire lived on its own and took the chair legs and other wood piled by the stove. I had time to think, time to wonder what was true.

No great man is infallible. Ptolemy the Greek imagined a cosmos centered around the Earth, with heavenly wanderers swimming about us, all rotating beneath the glorious roof of Heaven. The entire universe traced a majestic course that encircled us with the glory of God. Ptolemy imagined a universe of great beauty and simplicity, and what he imagined was not true.

Copernicus the Pole saw that the Earth doth move, orbiting the sun with the five planets. This was heretical speech, and indeed remains a heresy. It is the truth no priest will hear, but it is true: the sun is the center of the universe.

The noble Dane Tycho Brahe imagined a cosmos of great complexity, with sun, moon and planets wheeling about the Earth in eccentric spiral orbits, an inelegant and drunken dance over the face of the sky. When I first encountered Tycho’s theory I grew dizzy trying to picture it. There was so much motion, so many worlds spinning in Tycho’s vision, and it was but so much fantasy.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Chapter 18 Finished! Chapter 19 Underway!

Just now! Just two minutes ago! And I think, even though it might have a few rough spots that will need some smoothing during revisions, it's pretty much what I wanted. It ends a bit sooner than I thought it would, which means that the bit I had planned to end this chapter has become the first page of Chapter 19, but that's fine. I think Chapter 18 ends at the right spot:

I ran.

Run, Horatio, run.

wordcountometer = 65,213 at end of Chapter 18! 66,480 total so far!

Act IV is done! On to Act V and all the killing! There will be eels! And a bear! And explosions! And the color blue! And a quote from King John! And the Big Finish! And so much else! It will be very cool indeed!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"Get A Life" by Nadine Gordimer

I am about a third of the way through this short novel, and I have the following observations:

1. It's all telling, with few dramatized scenes and almost no dialogue.
2. There is no "story question" where the reader wonders "will X happen to Y?"
3. It is unclear who the protagonist is, or if there is one at all.
4. Ms. Gordimer has clearly read Virginia Woolf.
5. Reading this book sort of feels like being pushed around, but I like it anyway.

To sum up, it's a pretty good read. The kind of book people who don't like literary fiction will point to as an example of what's wrong with literary fiction, showing how little they know about literary fiction and why we don't listen to their complaints.


Chapter 18 continues apace in my WIP! Things are going well, and I've made it through the internal-monologue portion of the chapter and am in the transitional scene leading to the battle of philosophies in an abandoned library, which will end with death threats! Excitement! And inside jokes:

Hamlet or not Hamlet? Was that the question?

Hopefully I'll post an excerpt towards the end of the week, maybe the bit about Ptolemy, Copernicus and Brahe, 'cause that's good stuff.

wordcountometer ~= 62,400!

It occurs to me today that possibly, if I don't slack off, I can finish this draft by the end of September. We'll see. I'd love it if that happened.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Chapter 18 Update, Chapter 17 Excerpt

Chapter 18 ("The Earth Doth Move") is under way. I've written the first 600+ words and the scene so far pleases me a lot. A whole lot. The narrator/protagonist is using the history of science as a metaphor for his own life, and the idea of scientific inquiry will lead him to question his own ethics. What larks! That's why we have literature! Ahem.

Chapter 17 excerpt (all the usual caveats about it being rough et cetera):

North of St. Ibb’s, the grounds were given over to the grave yard. Beyond this half moon of land was the cliff overlooking a drop of thirty yards down to sharp rocks at the edge of the water. Hamlet pulled Corambis through the snowy cemetery and let the old man fall to his knees at the edge of the overhang.

“Repent of these lies,” Hamlet said. “You ancient serpent! You devil! Repent of this tale!”

“My lord, you have misheard,” Corambis said. “Pray let us go back to the church, and I will explain all.”

Hamlet set the point of his rapier against Corambis' breast. The old man looked up at the prince, his lower lip quivering, more in anger than fear, I thought. I was a few yards from them.

“Stay back, Horatio,” Hamlet said. “This is not your affair. It is for the prince to make a reckoning of these slanders, is it not so, Corambis?”

“My lord, I beg you let me rise.”

“Then rise.”

Corambis stood, unfolding himself slowly upward. He had lost his cap and a cold wind stirred his hair. His head, with its fringe of white, was like a dead bloom atop a dry stem in some abandoned garden. Corambis coughed and spread his hands before the prince.

“My lord, I am an old man.”

“Would you like to go home, old man?”

“Aye, my lord.”

“Are you a Christian?”

“You know I am, my lord.”

“Then Heaven is your home. You have my leave to go there, though I suspect you will find yourself in the other place.”

With that, Hamlet thrust the sword into Corambis' chest. Half the blade’s length passed through the old man’s shuddering body. Corambis' legs buckled and he toppled, slipping over the edge of the cliff. Hamlet stood alone, the sword bloody in his hand.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Chapter 17 Finished!

Yay, me! I will have to type all of it up into the Word(tm) document this evening, if there's time. When I was finishing up the chapter I realized that I had one too many characters onstage, so I killed off that extra character. Seemed the easiest way to deal with him. You know my methods, Watson.

wordcountometer ~= 60,000!

One more chapter and I'm out of the dreaded middle section of this novel and it's forward into the breach once again, to enact the tragic consequences of everyone's actions thus far, kill a lot of folks and finish the book with some sort of iconic imagery. You know, the usual stuff.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Chapter 17, In Progress

I don't have a title for this chapter yet. I am thinking of calling it "There Were Two Hamlets." We'll see. Anyway, it's been much easier to write than Chapter 16 was, which is nice. I have a feeling that Chapter 18 will be very hard, as there will be a sort of philosophical war in it, and I have to make sure it remains interesting and forward-moving instead of bogging down into a Socratic dialogue or something similar. It's another one of those chapters containing a scene I imagined at the start of this project and now that I approach actually writing the scene, I become jumpy and worried. Anyway, today at lunch I killed a major character, and it's been some time since this narrative had a corpse, so that's good. I think it's a good death scene, and I think I've successfully given this character life so that his death will have meaning. Again, we'll see.

wordcountometer ~= 58,800!

My favorite line so far: "My lord, I am an old man."

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Literary Fiction Dead? Really?

I could link to a bunch of recent posts about the death throes of literary fiction, but they're easy to find and we've all likely seen most of them by now anyway. In perusing this wordcloud I have noticed some trends and assumptions on the part of posters and commenters, and I'd like to say a few words about those assumptions.

Most of the time the literary fiction death knell is being rung by people who don't even read literary fiction and wouldn't know it if it bit them on the ass. How do I know this? They tip their hand by trotting out all the usual cliches about literary fiction ("It has no story" "It's navel-gazing" "It's incomprehensible" "It's changed radically in the last X years/decades and has lost its way") that are not supported by the actual corpus of works. To all the people who make these false claims about literary fiction, I have one thing to say: You don't know what the fuck you're talking about. Sirs and ladies. But that's a different screed; I'll stick to today's rant, ta awfully.

What sparked this rant is something I just saw on another writer's blog. He claimed that literary fiction was no longer relevant, because people read mostly genre or nonfiction. This is--and I'm sorry I have to announce it--a stupid thing to say. It's akin to saying that blood is no longer relevant because most people use bubble wrap to ship breakables. They have nothing to do with each other. Literary fiction's value is not based on its market share, especially in today's godawful market. If your child was not as popular as your neighbor's child, would that mean your child is irrelevant, or has less intrinsic value? No, it would not. My child, literary fiction, is a beautiful, painfully honest, linguistically advanced, brilliant child that most people just don't "get." Most people like the cute, vapid child who tapdances and says things they want to hear. She's a nice enough kid, the tapdancer, but even the fact that there are 1,000,000 kids who all want to be just like her doesn't mean my child should've been drowned at birth. No, it does not. The tapdancer and her boyfriend will letter in sports and will never gain weight and will be prom king and queen. My child will be the valedictorian of her class and I will be proud of her even if she never learns to dance and puts on a few pounds and has bad skin.

Enough with this metaphor. My point is this: Literary fiction is an increasingly smaller part of the market, but only because the market is being flooded with more and more books that are more and more identical. Literary fiction is not dying off. Like it or not. Literary fiction may bore you. That's fine. But if it bores you and you never read it, you are not anything like an expert on literary fiction so keep your fat mouth shut when you talk about how it needs to change to become more in line with populist tastes. Literary fiction doesn't give a fig about populist tastes, which is one of its great strengths. In a hundred years, Stephanie Meyers will be forgotten, but people will still be reading Shakespeare. Why? Because Shakespeare is more important to us as a species. Even if you personally don't "get" it. Shakespeare isn't snooty or elitist. Literary fiction isn't snooty or elitist. But it may be too good for you. And that's fine.

So just remember, haters of literary fiction: when you talk about the death of literature, literature is not listening to your foolishness.

There are also those people who love literature and see the decreasing market share of literary fiction and demand that writers change what they are doing and "return to the values that made literary fiction meaningful to a great number of readers." This is all a bunch of cowardly wank, and a pack of lies to boot. Great literature has always been of absolutely no immediate interest to most people. And that's fine. You guys who are panicked about market share need to chill out and stop telling Michael Chabon or whomever to write like Tolstoy. That's a great idea, but it's beside the point. We don't need you running around mongering fear, either. It feeds the flames lit by the folks who don't like literary fiction. Knock it the fuck off.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Chapter 16, Finished!

Oh, I thought I'd never get out of that scene, but at around 5:45 PM the image I sought came to me and everything suddenly made sense and fell into place and other cliches and I was able, just now, to scribble down the final 500 or so words of the chapter. I am going to break my own rules and call this chapter "The Gospel According to Hamlet," because I can and so there, you.

Anyway, I am not sure how long this chapter is. I wrote about 4200 words, and I crossed hundreds of them out yesterday and today. Let's assume that this chapter is about 3500 words long, which gives us:

wordcountometer ~= 56,100! That's not bad.

It's late and I have no energy to type any of this mess up, so no excerpts. Maybe tomorrow. We'll see. Onward, however, to Chapter 17, in which there will be--finally and at long last--a murder. And an attempted cover-up. And some interesting confessions. Chapter 18 will contain threats, a philosophical argument that turns violent, and someone locked in a trunk. And then, oh then...things start to get messy and violent because it'll be Act V of the classic Elizabethan tragedy structure. That means, you know, lots of bodies. Stay tuned!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Chapter Sixteen, In Progress

Yesterday I wrote about 1000 words--the first couple of pages, that is--of Chapter Sixteen, which I'm dying to call "The Gospel According to Hamlet," but I won't for a variety of reasons having to do with Denmark's health and England's too. Anyway, this book is a very skewed sort of take on Shakespeare's "Hamlet," as you all know. Some of the scenes in the book (but only a few) are based on scenes from Shakespeare's play. I am working my way through a version of "the play within a play" episode, and if I can get this right, it will be the coolest thing I've ever written. Not just because it has all sorts of in-jokes about the scene in "Hamlet," but also because I am doing it without any of the actors present. Yeah, that's right. I've had the idea for this scene since before I began writing this draft, and I'm finally writing it, and it's very exciting. Stuff like this reminds me why I'm writing this book.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

"Killing Hamlet" Chapter Titles So Far

This is just one of those posts I throw up here so that I can find stuff later on. So feel free to ignore it, both of you.

Chapter Titles:
1 Jupiter Descending
2 Even The Heavens Change
3 In The Sublunary Sphere
4 The Hour Of Their Discovery
5 A More Dangerous Enemy
6 The Least Dog In Denmark
7 If Atlas Volunteers
8 A Trunk Full Of Adders
9 In The Echo Of His Thunder
10 A Fire In Tycho's Kitchen
11 The Mason's Son
12 A World Of Wonders
13 The Sinful Life At Copenhagen
14 Every Man Hath Business And Desire
15 The Gospel According To Horatio
16 The Gospel According To Hamlet
17 There Were Two Hamlets
18 The Earth Doth Move
19 Your Passage Is Arranged
20 Sing Him To Sleep
21 Francisco The Bear
22 A Viking Funeral
23 My Time Alone With Heaven

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Chapter 15, Finished!

wordcount = 52,655!

I call this chapter "The Gospel I Would Preach." An excerpt:

At some point my fancies turned to dreams and in my sleep I marched across Europe, my manuscript under my left arm, my right hand around the hilt of the dagger Bernardo had given me. I walked with my head high and all men stepped aside for me. When I reached Germany I strode boldly to each house, opened the doors and peered within.

"Was suchen sie?" the Germans asked, bowing before me.

"Ich suche die Teleskopen," I said. "Wohin soll' ich gehen?"

All pointed me north, and I followed their directions across the Rhine and the Elbe to find myself in Berlin.

"Nord," I was told, and I passed through thick forests and fields of grain and over villages and always the Germans pointed me north until I was following the coastline of Jutland, stepping across the Korsor Nor, stumbling in Rostok and then I was in Elsinore. I stood before the house of my youth. It was night, frigid and starless. I no longer held Bernardo's dagger.

When I put the palm of my hand to the door I felt heat pouring through the panel, as though the house were afire. I withdrew my hand and my glove smoked and I smelled the scorched leather. The seams between the wooden planks of the door glowed suddenly red and then burst into flames. I took a step back and threw my arm over my face. The door burned rapidly away, as a brittle tapestry or a sheet of parchment. I lowered my arm and looked into the house.

Within, all was flame and swirling sparks. Somehow lightning streaked along the rafters while thunder cracked and boomed beneath the floorboards. A forge, a hell or a volcano's mouth lie within the house and in the midst of this terrible furnace was a man, eight feet tall and wrapped in armor, his long cape aflame but not consumed, or perhaps his cape was made of flame. I could not see what this giant did in the burning house, but he held a chisel in one hand and a dead raven in the other. A bolt of lightning chased across the ceiling and I saw with horror that this figure had two heads upon his shoulders: the head of Tycho Brahe and that of my father.

Each head screamed at the other, such obscenities and filth as I had never before heard.

A New Hummingbird Feeder

Once this was a bottle of grappa. I hope the hummingbirds actually feed from it, else I shall be mightily disappointed. The copper wire wrap didn't quite turn out the way I wanted, but it's not bad so I'm calling it a success. Mostly, I have lived up to my bragging to Mighty Reader that, if she came up with a pretty glass bottle, I could make her a hummingbird feeder from it and we wouldn't have to pay an outrageous sum for one she didn't really like. So well done, me.