I find that while I am officially not writing, I am very busy indeed with writing projects. This is why I will not live to be a very old man. I crave time in which to relax and then I fill that time with work. And then I get cranky because I’m always tired. Someone, I’m sure, working at a pharmaceuticals company, has a solution for all of this. But I resist leisure and luxuriate instead in the hum of ideas. And, apparently, I luxuriate in this long and clearly pointless introductory paragraph, which I will abandon now.
Salman Rushdie continues to amuse and entertain with his novel Midnight’s Children. I only wish that he was dazzling me more. There was a passage I read a couple of days ago, on page 140 of the Everyman edition, that I might quote here if I remember it tonight. It was a wonderful bit about the birth of the Indian state, possibly the best prose so far in the novel (I’m about 200 pages in, so not quite at the halfway point yet). There are great things in this book, and of course Rushdie has quite the imagination and is admirably brave in the way he grafts absurdities and improbabilities into his narrative, but he has mannerisms that wear on me and I do wish he’d just fucking settle down some. I know this novel is almost 20 years old at this point, and The Satanic Verses was less frenzied and possibly his recent books are still less overcome with desperate postmodernist energy, and maybe I’ll have a look and find out. But my reading of Midnight’s Children is going along about the way my reading of The Satanic Verses went: I admire the book, I really like parts of it, but I am not becoming a fan of Mr Rushdie nor does this book make me want to read all his other books. Madame Bovary made me want to read more Flaubert. Hadji Murad made me want to read Anna Karenina. Anything by Chekhov makes me want to read anything else by Chekhov. You see what I mean, I hope. Books by Rushdie are interesting but they don’t give me an appetite for more Rushdie.
Though perhaps Rushdie’s modernist/postmodernist games in Midnight’s Children are making me want to be more experimental in my own next book, currently working-titled Devotion but likely that’s just a placeholder. Some of you might know it as “the Haydn book.” Anyway, I’ve written out a five-movement one-page outline of the plot, and I’ve begun to break down each movement (here I am borrowing terminology and ideas from symphonic writing, but for “movement” you can read “act”) into chapters. The first movement, Allegro ma non troppo, is to be in 18 chapters, each about 1,000 words long, I think. I’ve figured out who the multiple narrators will be, more or less, and which characters they’ll be presenting in their chapters. Two of the narrators are deceased at the time of the story and will speak from beyond the grave.
When starting a novel, I always am confronted by the technical element of voice. What’s the tone of the piece going to be? What’s the vocabulary going to be like? What are the literary influences on the narrative voice? That sort of thing. I don’t have (nor do I care about) what I’d consider to be my own “individual voice as a writer.” I think that idea of voice is pointless, limiting, and egotistical. What I’m interested in is the “voice of the piece,” which is to say, the best way of narrating the material, or a good way that I can manage successfully which contains hidden possibilities to be discovered as I wade through the end of the second act. So I’m making sort of sketches of the opening chapters, trying to decide what sorts of things people will talk about and how they’ll talk about those things. I will be doing a lot of reading of 18th-century letters, I believe. Which will be fun and informative even if I don’t use a lot of that material in the novel. Research is always edifying.
What else, what else? I’m reading more colonial American history right now and assembling material to put into Cocke & Bull. I’m excited by this revision, and I’m making a list of new scenes. I think the book will take on added dimensions and whatever themes are buried in the narrative (I try hard not to think about theme; it’s not my job, kids) will become richer, maybe, or at least more complex which is good. In any case, the narrative will have more facets and will possibly become more impenetrable and I like that. So I’ll be messing about with that project this summer.
The first draft of Go Home, Miss America is on its way to me from a printer, because I like to read the drafts as bound books. Next week, I think, Mighty Reader will read a copy. A week or three after that, I’ll read a copy, and then I’ll see about revisions. At some point this summer, maybe in August, The Astrologer will finally go to the publisher for editorial. No doubt I’ll have some work to do on that MS in the fall.
So lots to do, and not as much time to do it as one might like. Also, I’m still working on tango music. Last night I practiced about four tunes and I must say, they seem to be coming along nicely. I wish I was a better player, to really do the pieces justice. I’m listening to a lot of tango music these days, too. It’s all good stuff. Merely having a narrowed focus (“let’s learn a dozen tangos!”) has been good for my technique. My advice about the bow arm is that you should think only about your elbow and index finger. You should just relax the rest of your arm/hand and forget it exists.