Tuesday, November 18, 2014

We are well past the halfway point now, you boys. (a writing update)

This is what I have so far in the way of structure (that is to say, in the way of a table of contents and the status of those contents) for my current project, a novel-in-stories called Antosha in Prague:

"The Connoisseur" (written)
"Defending His Dissertation" (written)
"Under the Limbs of the Silver Birches" (written)
"Setting a Broken Bone" (written)
"The Suitor" (written)
"Ivan Ivanovna" (in progress)
"Kolya Must Rest Now" (hypothetical)
"In Sakhalin I Have No Family" (outlined)
"The Father of the Room" (outlined)
"Dressing for the Opera" (written)
"Bela" (hypothetical)
"The Storm" (outlined)
"Antosha in Prague" (written)
"Caspian Terns" (hypothetical)
"It's a long time since I drank champagne" (outlined)
"A White-Crowned Sparrow" (outlined, half written)

This book pleases me immensely, so far. I am toying with the idea of subplots that continue across the otherwise unconnected short stories. I know, not wholly original, but I've never done it before and anything that raises the degree of difficulty is a temptation. Usually I don't even think about subplots when I write a novel. I'm not sure any of my books has a subplot; that's probably why they tend to be short.

The story "The Storm" is going to be pretty long. It will be, if I can pull it off, something of a virtuoso performance (is one allowed to make that claim about one's own work?) involving interwoven allusions to plays and romances. I'm hoping it has a sort of late Dickensian atmosphere, too. As if Dickens had written both...well, never mind that for now. Anyway, the following is from the story "Setting a Broken Bone."
Doctor Chekhonte stepped forward and bowed, offering Dmitry his hand. Dmitry stared at the hand for a moment, and then shook his head and flapped his pale arms.

"Ah-hah, you would pluck one of my feathers for luck, Doctor, but ah-hah I’ll need them all soon. I am pleased to make your acquaintance."

"The honor is mine, Dmitry Nikiforovich," Doctor Chekhonte said. "I do not wish to take your feathers. I wish to shake your hand."

"Ah-hah." The patient drew himself up with dignity. "Men do that."

"I am a man, Dmitry Nikiforovich."

"And do I," the patient said, holding his arms out higher, turning his head to display his crested hair and peaked nose and chin, "look like a man to you?"

Doctor Lintvaryova stepped forward and put a hand gently on Dmitry’s left elbow. "You are a magnificent bird," she said. "Truly."

"Hence my nesting, Doctor. Did you learn nothing at your school?"

"I primarily studied humans," the doctor admitted. She took the patient’s pulse, which he allowed, apparently not seeing what she was doing. "My colleague Doctor Chekhonte, however, knows a great deal about birds."

"You are a zoologist? Ah-hah, that is quite flattering." Dmitry pursed his lips, kissing the cold air.

"I am not a zoologist," Chekhonte said.

"Surely not ah-hah a veterinarian?"

"I am a medical doctor, just like Doctor Lintvaryova. But I am familiar with the ways of birds."

"If you say you are a sportsman, I’ll peck out your eyes, Doctor."


  1. I have no idea how you juggle so many balls in the air at the same time. That must be why some people are writers but others are readers. For example, as a metaphor, some people play chess but others play checkers. At my advancing age, I am envious of you skills because I am fortunate if I can sustain thoughts and strategies long enough to write a sensible haiku. As for your well-juggled literary efforts, Bravo!

    1. Well thanks, but I'm only writing one story at a time, so it's pretty easy as far as that goes. One thing Marly Youmans says a lot during interviews that I think is important to remember is that it's hard to do more than one thing well, because doing just one thing well requires a large investment in time and effort. For me that means that I devote a lot of time to writing and don't have much time for any other activities, so there are a great many things I can't do well at all. You should see how badly I play chess, for example. I lose in about seven moves, usually. I'm not much better than that at checkers.

    2. Huh. I should be more careful what I say! I never really thought anyone was listening...

  2. I finished the first draft of "Ivan Ivanovna" at lunch today. It seems pretty good. Probably I'll work on "In Sakhalin I Have No Family" next. I've got a lot of ideas for that story. We'll see. These latest stories are all pretty long; "Ivan" is about 6K words, a real surprise. I think "Sakhalin" will be about the same length.

  3. That's some crazy excerpt, Mr. B! I like it! This is a cool project.

    1. Wait till you read the scene where they set the farm boy's broken arm. Some fine 19th-century doctoring going on there. I am doing my best work ever in this book. There are about 100 characters and the point of view is different in each story, and in some of the stories the book's protagonist only appears in the thoughts of another character. I need to have a chapter where Tolstoy is on stage. Maybe the dinner where Tolstoy told Gorky that Chekhov was "an angel," or whatever it was. That could be fun. Tolstoy will secretly look down upon Chekhov, who has Ukranian serf blood in his veins.