Thursday, May 3, 2012

Compost Cupcake, $3.75

Some ideas are better left untried. Cupcake Royale's "Compost cupcake," at left, is maybe one of those ideas. Mighty Reader declares it "interesting," which is of course damnation with faint praise. My own verdict might be "weird." Which lacks even faint praise. Oh for the old days when I could reliably find an Orange You Glad in Cupcake Royale's display case.

But before this turns into an episode of What's Davin Eating, I should move away from the subject of cupcakes and announce quite clearly that what I'm really thinking about is how I have more ideas for novels than I will ever have time to write.

That might sound like a good thing, no shortage of ideas. Someone who wants to be a novelist ought to be glad of it. I remember when I finished my very first (very bad) novel back in 1994 or whenever it was, I cast about for an idea for a second novel and came up empty-handed. A couple of lame ideas got pushed around for a few years but in the end, it took me until 2006 to find an idea that I could turn into a whole book (and that idea was stumbled upon rather than sought out). With each successive novel I've felt a huge relief just at coming up with an idea that would support a novel-length piece of fiction, and a dreadful dread that it was the last good idea I'd ever have.

Lately, however, I seem to be swimming in premises and characters and formal ideas. I've got something like six novels all clamoring to be written right now, while I'm in the weeds with Go Home, Miss America. It's starting to worry me, frankly.

Part of it is that I am torn between books that look like a lot of fun to write, that might be relatively easy, all things considered, and books that look like they'd be serious and worthy books. There are also books that are built around formal ideas I'd like to explore, where I'm not really all that concerned with theme or other literary values except of course marvelous prose. There must be marvelous prose whatever I do. Or, rather, a gesture in the direction of an attempt to write marvelous prose.

Anyway, the ideas I have right now are these:

The Factory: set in 1910 outside of Baltimore. A comic horror novel about a suspicious character who builds a munitions factory at the site of an abandoned mine (accessible only by his private railway, no less); meanwhile homeless people are disappearing from the poorest neighborhoods of Baltimore. The factory's new accountant and Baltimore's saucy lady reporter will get to the bottom of it all, or be driven mad and consumed by some eldrich horror in the attempt!

The Builder's Wife: set in Esterhaza, Hungary in 1790. Brilliant and famous composer Franz Josef Haydn is set to retire from royal service. Before he goes, he dreams of seducing his buxom cello student, who happens to be wife of Prince Esterhazy's master builder. The builder's wife has no interest in the aging Haydn, and is in fact having an affair with the second-chair first violinist of Haydn's orchestra. The violinist has recently broken off his dalliance with the wife of the principle violinist, a hot-tempered Italian soprano. When the second-chair first violinist runs off to Vienna with the builder's wife, the pair are pursued by the builder, the Italian soprano, the first violinist, and Josef Haydn. Some of them have murder on their minds. Comic action and pathos ensue! Walk-on parts for famous historical figures!

Nowhere But North: in 1915 a businessman from Manhattan raises funds, purchases a boat, hires a crew of adventurers and sets sail for Antarctica to bring America into the age of exploration and, ostensibly, to advertise his own firm's goods and services. The businessman's head clerk is, at the last minute, coerced into joining the expedition, which goes wrong wrong wrong and the crew find themselves locked into polar ice with diminishing supplies and a psychopath among their number. The narrative is told in reverse chronological order, thrice, with interruptions. The middle section is told in the voice of the expedition ship! Love, honor, adventure, betrayal, madness and penguins! Mighty Reader lobbies hard for me to write this one next.

Mona in the Desert: Arizona, 1959. Ramona has traveled to a small town north of Phoenix to meet the mother of her fiance, Robert. Ramona isn't sure she wants to marry into Robert's family. Robert's mother takes an instant dislike to Ramona. Ramona can see into the future, or maybe it's only a dream of a possible future, and she's not sure she likes what she sees. She thinks that maybe she'd like to go off and be a free spirit instead of a wife and mother. This is planned as a novella. There is very little in the way of plot.

There Once Was A Man From Nantucket: this idea totally rocks. It's another novella, retelling Melville's Moby-Dick in the form of Ahab's diary entries. His story is not what you read in Ishmael's account. Thick prose, Biblical references, madness and madness and more madness. Plus a whale. I love this one and I hope I write it. "Starbuck is not to be trusted."

A Field Guide to Melancholy: various European locations in 1962. An aging violin virtuoso is making his final concert tour, playing with the finest orchestras in Europe. He is meanwhile composing his memoirs, written in the form of a field guide to the great symphonic halls. His life story appears in flashbacks, and there's of course a love story in there. His present story revolves around the loss of his virtuoso instrumental technique, the loss of his memory (and if our life, our self, is primarily our mind, to lose one's memory is to bit by bit lose our life, yes?), etc. Comic interludes, too. Who am I? What am I? Where am I? The basic existential questions. Based exceedingly vaguely on lies I've told over the years about the great Henryk Szeryng.

There are a few other ideas as well, but my time and your patience are limited. Anyway, I'm not putting things up to a vote, and I'll write whatever calls to me most loudly at the appropriate time. Possibly a brand new idea will force itself upon me while I'm preparing to write one of these. That's happened twice already. I was going to write The Builder's Wife but the detective novel stepped in the way. Then I was going to write Nowhere But North when Go Home, Miss America shoved its way to the front of the queue. So who knows? There's also the as-yet-unworkingtitled fantasy novel (I toy with the title The Voice of the Earth but I'm not in love with it) that takes place 50,000 years or so ago (I'll have to look that up) in the Tigris valley, I think. Magic, oppression, rape, murder, sacrifice and all the usual stuff.


  1. A cupcake with potato chips? Gross, yet intriguing.

    I love the Haydn thing, as you know. Write it and end up in south of France.

    The desert one seems familiar somehow. Will she be a waitress? Will Sam Shepard come and save her from a life of drudgery in the film? (This shows how old I am, because Sam Shepard is now a great-grandfather.)

    Penguin one, very manly. You can drink scotch while you write it.

  2. I rarely have this same problem, but I'm facing it now. I want to try so many different things, and I don't think they all can necessarily fit into one story. But, like you, one idea tends to just come to the forefront. That makes it easy.

    I really like reading about your different ideas! I like the title A Field Guide to Melancholy a lot!

  3. And that cupcake sounds tasty based on the description, even though the name is yuck.

  4. Abigail: It was more like "intriguing, but gross" in my experience. There was an inch of very sugary frosting on top. I liked the chocolate chunks in the cake, though.

    I like the Haydn one, too. We'll see. The desert one plays with some cliches, yeah. But there's no Sam Shepard character. And Ramona is a stenographer, but she used to be a stewardess.

    Scotch might be just the fuel I need to write the Antarctica book. There's a great female lead character, and the businessman has all sorts of outmoded ideas about Antarctica and the earth being a hollow sphere.

    Davin: Yeah, actually writing it down forces you to winnow out the ideas that won't work. I'll be sad if you don't announce when all the characters die in the first chapter, but I'm sure the book will be great without that.

    "Melancholy" started out as "Unhappiness" until Mighty Reader suggested something better. Are you still calling your WIP "Everybody?" Because "Everybody" is a great title.

  5. I thought I had discarded the idea of the death announcements, but I really want to try and make it work if I can. There are too many ideas, Bailey!

  6. Frosting is the raison d'etre of cupcakes! Trophy Cupcakes has less sugary frosting. This ends the cupcake portion of my comment. (I clearly spend a lot of time with children.)

    I like this Ra/Mona. I would want to read a story with those characters, in that time frame, especially if it played with cliches/expectations. There is a little drive-through town in Eastern San Diego County named Ramona, which is why the Sam Shepard/waitress thing came to mind.

  7. Surely "Utopiass" is not set 50,000 years in the past? And it's a fact that I lobby for "Nowhere but North" because I've despaired of the Haydn book ever finding itself at the top of the heap.

  8. Abigail: Usually I like frosting, and lots of it, but this just didn't work for me.

    The Ramona book is loosely based on my parents' years of courting. Though they never came anywhere near Arizona. But I do sort of envision a Wim Wenders' type of thing. Tangentially.

    M: I'd forgotten all about An Atlas of Utopias! That's a modern-day story about a cartographer who's a fan of an obscure fantasy novel from the late 1950s. The book's long out of print and the cartographer contacts the author's heir to see if he's interested in getting someone to do a new edition. The cartographer has created a set of beautiful maps of the fantasy world that he wants to have included in the new edition. The author's heir is not so interested; he's a struggling literary novelist who has no respect for his late father's fantasy effort. There are comic scenes that take place at a SF/F convention.

    I might write the Haydn book soon. You don't know. Sal inadvertantly gave me a great idea for the third act.

  9. Hey, we should get together soon. Plot with TG when you have lunch.

    I like the map one, probably because I am surrounded by unappreciated paper ephemera. Though isn't "comic scenes at SF/F convention" a redundancy?

  10. TG will say he has to confer with you. But I'll begin plotting.

    Well-observed about SF/F cons. But the hero has a nemesis who he only sees at these conventions. They argue about the geography of the fantasy world*, and the pronunciation of the world itself**. Much beer is consumed. Ridiculous low-intensity fisticuffs ensue.

    *Hero: It says in Chapter Two that the Great Twain Cities are each thirty leagues from the Points, one to the north and one to the east. If you figure the hypoteneuse of that right triangle, it's clear that they're 120 miles apart.

    Nemesis: But in Chapter Five, genius, Chyorno says he's ridden a hundred leagues. It says so right there on the page, you idiot.

    Hero: You're confusing statements by a character with statements by the author, you dolt.

    Nemesis: Did you just call me a dolt? You dare?


    **Hero: It's pronounced "You-TOE-pee-ahs."

    Nemesis: Fool, it's pronounced "You-toe-pee-AHS." Everyone knows that.

    Hero: You're a utopi-

    (fisticuffs ensue)

  11. Dang, I like all those ideas. Can I steal one? Because I need more. I don't have nearly enough, and I'm being serious. I really don't. I sure am loving historical-anything right now. I'm having a lot of fun with my current novel. Good luck choosing!

  12. Michelle, take what you want; I'll make more! I forget about the post-plague thing I began writing online here. There's at least a novella in that if I ever find the time. So I've got, what? Ten books waiting for me to write them. Meanwhile, I started Chapter 12 of Go Home Miss America today, at last. I was trying for Mann in A Man and His Dog, but I think I've got something more like Tolstoy setting a scene, like the opening passages to Hadji Murad. Still, it gets the job done and that's all I ask in a first draft.