Thursday, June 14, 2012

unwinding down

The final three chapters of Go Home, Miss America are unspooling onto the page at a pretty good clip; yesterday I managed the first third of chapter 14 and it’s hanging together and moving in the desired direction, which will be as big a relief to readers as it is to me, I’m sure. I am trying very hard to push all thoughts of meaning or theme or interpretation out of my head during this final stretch, because one thing I hate is an author who sums things up or moralizes in the end. So I’m concentrating on images and actions and emotions and ignoring the very idea that it might all add up to anything. Which is liberating, in a way, but alarming in others. Anyway, this first draft should be finished soon, and I really mean it this time. This will be my sixth novel. Huh.

While that book is falling at long last into place, I begin to think about my next book, which has the working title of “the Haydn book” because nobody likes the title The Builder’s Wife, which was the working title for the last couple of years while I was writing other books. So I’ll have to find a real, proper title, but that can wait. I’ll just write the book and see what comes out of it.

The Haydn book will be great fun, I think. Franz Joseph Haydn, innovative and famous-during-his-lifetime composer of symphonies, operas, concertos and chamber music (inventor of the string quartet, no less) is reaching the end of his long tenure as the Kappelmeister for Prince Esterhazy. The prince is about to die, but nobody knows that. Haydn is getting on in years. He is attempting to have an affair with a much younger woman (the builder’s wife of the rejected title), but the woman is oblivious to the uncertain charms of Herr Haydn (a decidedly unhandsome man who most women think of as a talented but eccentric sort of uncle or grandfather). She is already having an affair, with the assistant principal violinist of Haydn’s orchestra. When the builder’s wife and the assistant principal violinist run off together to Vienna, they are pursued by the angry builder, the angry Haydn, and the angry wife of the principal violinist (who has a mad passionate unrequited love for the assistant principal violinist). In Vienna, folks get involved on the fringes of a plot to assassinate the Emperor at the Vienna Opera during a performance of a Mozart opera. Mozart, being dead by 1790, is not officially in attendance but his ghost is there and narrates some of the action. Yes, that’s right: Mozart’s ghost will narrate a few chapters.

That’s the formal game I’m playing with this book: it will be a series of first-person narratives wherein the active characters will narrate the events of the other characters. The builder will tell us what happens to the assistant principal violinist. Haydn’s wife will tell us what happens to the builder, maybe. Haydn will tell us what happens to the builder’s wife. And like that, around and around in a widening gyre. It will be a high degree of difficulty, will be a lot of fun for me, and if I pull it off I’ll be a total rock star. So I’ve got that to play with next year, and I look forward to it. In the meanwhile, I’ll prepare for this activity by playing a lot of Haydn’s music on my violin, reading Jane Austen and Voltaire, studying up on the Austro-Hungarian empire and maybe having a look at Fux’s Gradus ad Parnassum again. It’s been years.


  1. I can't believe you're on your sixth, Scott. I need to work harder! It occurs to me that books could be scored like high dives, so that the more challenging books qualify for higher scores! The Builder's Wife sounds cool. Have you always had a title in mind when you started a book in the past?

  2. The high dive analogy is exactly what I have in mind. Though this sort of formal experimentation is pointless if it's an end in itself, don't you think? If it doesn't help to reveal the characters, then it's just showing off or misdirection. For me, anyway, I'm just trying to find a different way to tell a story and seeing what's possible with the tools I have. Maybe I won't write it this way at all. Maybe I'll just write it straight and see how it lays. I don't know.

    Maybe if I put more time into each book, I'd only have a couple of them but they'd be better books?

    By the time I get around to writing prose, I usually have a title. It helps me focus. Hopefully I'll find a real title for the Builder's Wife during my research this fall.

  3. Are you kidding about Mozart's Ghost narrating some tales? I hope you're not kidding.

  4. I'm not kidding. And I think Leopold, the Holy Roman Emperor, will also get to narrate a chapter or two. As will Ludwig van Beethoven and, possibly, Marie Antoinette. 1790 was a fascinating year. But most of the space will of course be given over to the main characters in the story, which is a comic romance. Or something. I'm going to read the libretto to Cosi Fan Tutti again and look for ideas.

    The more I think about this book, the more I want to write it. The problem of narrative unity will be very great. It sounds like more fun than I deserve to have.

  5. The more I think about this book, the more you seem perfect to write it, just as you've described it. And I don't even "know" you that well.

    I am struck by your comment about endings, trying to think how mine matches up, and, again, anxious to see your reaction to the ending of Mudbound.

  6. Mudbound is advertised as a tragedy, so I won't be surprised if things are tragic! I don't really read for endings so much as I read for middles, anyway. But I do think an ending has to make sense given what happened beforehand. I don't care about happy or sad or indifferent or if beloved characters end up dead (I've read plenty enough Shakespeare and O'Connor and Faulkner where that happens), as long as it flows from the narrative up to that point. Unless you're not talking about the tragic quality of the ending, but something else, in which case I'll just have to see when I read the book!

  7. Well, congrats on being almost finished. I like the sound of The Builders Wife though. I like your concept for the finish.