Tuesday, August 21, 2012

you're not Falstaff at all

An excerpt from the first draft of Mona in the Desert, Chapter 3:

Roberto watched Mona and Olive O'Hurleighy hurry obliquely into the rays of the setting sun. It was spring and the days still cut themselves short as they'd become accustomed to do during the frigid mid-Atlantic winters. It had been a warm day but there was a growing coldness in the air and Roberto clutched unconsciously at the collar of his uniform blouse. He could still feel the pale woman's bony hip against his leg. He could see the pupils of her eyes, like thick drops of India ink spilled onto precious stones, or like punctures in the fabric of the future, daring Roberto to draw his face close enough to peer into them for a view at whatever secrets the other side held. Ernesto meanwhile had pried the hubcap from the Chevrolet's tire. Let's get the last one and go, Ernesto said. Hey Roberto, come on. Someone might come along and see us. Like those girls, Roberto asked. I don't think they'll be any trouble. Ernesto shook his head. The redhead (by which he meant my mother with her auburn hair) was pretty pushy, he said. You know what Shakespeare said about strong-willed women. Which play do you mean, Roberto asked. If you mean Katherine in "The Taming of--" No, Ernesto said. I mean like in "The Merry Wives of Windsor" or "Lysistrata." That's not Shakespeare, Roberto said. That's Euripides, I think. Ernesto got to his feet and walked around to the rear wheel on the passenger side of the car. I meant willful women in plays generally, he said. Women who make chumps out of fellows like us. And it's Aristophanes, not Euripides. Are you saying I'm Falstaff, Roberto asked. Don't be so literal, Ernesto said. But if you like, all men are Falstaff, which was Shakespeare's meaning. Don't let's get thrown into the river with the dirty laundry. Keep an eye out while I finish up. I didn't like that redhead. Roberto squinted handsomely into the ruddy west but he'd lost sight of my aunt. I liked the other one, he said. Ernesto laughed, the hubcap pulling free of the tire. Then you're not Falstaff at all, he said. You're one of those minor characters, the rustic or the secondary fool who falls in love with the homely and cold-hearted sister for no dramatic purpose except a few jokes to lighten the mood. My friend, Roberto said, you read too much. Let's take our booty and buy some beer to befuddle your misguided intellect. Besides, I'm the hero of my own story. Even your pastoral support characters are at the center of a drama if you look past the archetype the play's named for. Beatrice is as real as Katherine. The men walked along the fence at the edge of the parking lot, each carrying a pair of hubcaps. Beatrice, Ernesto said. You mean Dante's girlfriend? You're just being disingenuous, Roberto said. Of course I mean Hortensio's girl. Roberto and Ernesto continued in this vein all night and managed to drink away all the cash they'd gotten for their stolen goods.

Not very likely, I know. You see how it is when I'm left on my own to fill the historical gaps of this tale. I warn you in advance that an upcoming scene will include a debate about the philosophies of Wittgenstein and Pascal.

All the usual caveats, etc.


  1. This made me smile as I read along. And lovely to see some well-read thieves! Although, I admit, I want to see another excerpt with Mona.

    "Let's take our booty and buy some beer to befuddle your misguided intellect" is my favorite line.

  2. Thanks! The Shakespeare references just sort of came out of nowhere. I worry that the line you quote has too much alliteration and a sing-song rhythm. I might change "buy some beer" to "buy something." But Ernesto and Roberto (who are only amateur thieves) are both interested in self-improvement.

    More Mona soon, I promise! I'm about 1/3 of the way through this thing already, about 17K words so far in a bit less than 3 weeks.

  3. Heh, it does have a lot of alliteration! It's fun, anyway, which is why I like it. 17,000 words in three weeks! Is that a record for you? That's great! I just hit 45k on Pieces in 5 1/2 weeks. I don't know if this books sucks or not, but I'm charging through anyway.

  4. Yes, it's a new record for Bailey Productivity(tm)! I blame Malasarn: I'm writing without an outline, with no idea at all what I'm doing except that at some point, I'll tell about Mona in the desert but I'm going to put that moment off with digressions about my family history for as long as I can reasonably manage it. That's the formal structure of this book! I'm about to start Chapter 4, and I think it'll begin with a phone call from the narrator's mother, a woman whom the narrator has implied is dead. Turns out, maybe, that he was lying. Or he's relating a conversation that happened years ago. I'm not sure, so neither is he! And that uncertainty is what's fuelling the writing, in part. But yes, just charge ahead with the writing! I've decided for this book that I'm not doing a lick of research; anything I don't know I'm going to just make up and I'm going to let the reader know that I'm making it up. I think. Though I don't want to go too far in that direction because I think that joke gets old quickly. So we'll see what we'll see.

    45K on Pieces? You could be done any day now, if you let yourself! Is this novella stretching out to novel length? I have given myself permission to make Mona whatever length it wants to be. 20K is fine, so is 200K, as long as the writing continues to amuse me. Possibly, like Sterne did in Tristram Shandy, I'll just abandon the thing in the middle of a dirty joke and call it finished.

    Doesn't Bonded pub in November? November is actually pretty close.

  5. I like this very much. The narrator is really intriguing. And good literary banter is always fun.

    Did you name a character after our dog?

  6. I named a character after my grandmother. Your dog is named after my grandmother, too.