Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I could pitch better than that

A stray breeze brought the metallic sound of a music box to them and Catherine glanced up to see Toby in the distance, surrounded by children and their parents. Catherine and Joanne walked along beneath the limbs of tall sycamores. The mottled gray, green and brown skins of the trees looked cool to the touch and a blue and orange nuthatch made its way down one thick trunk, spiraling around the tree to disappear from sight. Warblers and goldfinches fluttered about overhead, white wing and tail feathers flashing between dark branches that spread like long fingers among the glowing green leaves. Here and there the sun broke through the canopy, bright and startling and hot. Catherine smiled and Joanne talked about digging ditches in Dominican mud and the air was soft on Catherine’s face, gently tugging at her sun-bleached hair and stirring the rushes and long grass along the lake shore. The rolling park lawn was soft and green and Catherine thought that every living thing around her was safe and clean and that this was home and she thought I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine.

They got back to the ball field and sat on the bleachers with the other young women of the parish of Saint Catherine of Siena and Joanne talked about how Toby Robertson had grown a beard and was a biologist and had gone to Russia and had asked Catherine out to dinner. Sally Burns couldn’t believe that Catherine had accepted the invitation. I hear he’s an atheist now, she said. Amina Kwatye said that not everyone who goes to Mass was a believer and there was no way to tell. Catherine said that not everyone who leaves the Church is an atheist and Joanna Rheims said let’s talk about something else.

The Catholics were behind by two runs at the bottom of the sixth inning. Father Murphy has walked a lot of batters, Amina said. I could pitch better than that. I didn’t think you liked sports, Sally said. I don’t, not really, but I don’t want us to lose the game.

The sun had crept around and now shone in the eyes of the young women of the parish of Saint Catherine of Siena. Catherine found her sunglasses and put them on. Through the tinted lenses the grass was more yellow and the bright halos of the sunlit trees glowed brown and gold and beautiful. Her mouth tasted like vanilla ice cream and she licked her lips and smiled and wondered if she should change into something nicer for her dinner with Toby Robertson and she thought yes, I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine.

I'm about 67,000 words into Go Home, Miss America. If I try really hard and stay focused, I might actually finish the first draft by the end of July. I predict it will be the end of August, though.

Somehow I've begun planning my next book, the one about Haydn in 1790. I just realized that I'm going to do something weird and different with this book. I don't know what that will be; I just know that it will happen. Possibly I'll have Ludwig Van Beethoven narrate the story. No, I'm kidding about that one. Ghost of Mozart, though? No, again I kid you. But something weird and different and, mostly, fun for me will be going on here. I don't know what that will be. Possibly time travel. I'll let you know. Or not.


  1. This makes me feel a sort of hangover pain, which is a compliment. I also like how the prose takes on different voices, not just in the dialog. Beautiful!

  2. There are no quotation marks setting off dialogue in this novel. Which means, I've found, that you can place speech anywhere at all within the narrative, and you can group it into paragraphs regardless of how many speakers there are.

    "Hangover" is interesting; the Catherine character is suffering through a sort of emotional hangover in that scene.

  3. I also feel like the prose that's not directly people speaking is taking on different voices, like "Sally Burns couldn't believe that Catherine had accepted the invitation." You can hear a voice there that's different from the first sentence of the excerpt. I've always wanted to play with that sort of thing.

  4. Yeah, I'm trying to do something with using a lot of speakers and a lot of voices in this one, but the speech is at the same level as the action and description in the narrative. That might be a mistake; it might make the whole thing too solid, too dense and kind of opaque. Or it might mean the opposite: that the overall voice of the novel is too fractured, that there's too much deliberate misunity. I guess we'll see when I'm done. At the chapter level, anyway, it all seems to hold together.

  5. This is really great, Scott. I didn't even notice the no quotation marks. It works for a more subconscious feel, a more realistic feel, even.

    You talk about in your last comment that the book might be to solid and opaque, but I don't see that here, at least. I think we often worry about how a book might feel overall compared to other things we've written and read, but just let it stand on its own and be what it is. I have a feeling the beautiful things you've done with it are things you wouldn't want to rewrite because that would mean rewriting the entire thing, and who wants to do that? Especially if it's all as lovely as what you've shared here.

  6. Michelle, thanks! I hope readers don't notice that I've abandoned quotation marks. I want to slip it past them. It's one of a couple of challenges I've set for myself with this one.

    I don't plan to rewrite this book to change the style certainly. It does have a different feel than anything else I've written, and I can't decide if that's a weakness or, as you say, just what this book happens to be. I can't say. I'm too close to it right now. All I have time to worry about is truth and beauty, and those are large enough problems without the worry of narrative opacity, which is just an esoteric quibble I have when comparing my work with that of some dead authors I sometimes admire, right?