Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Forward and backward: Writing in 2014

Writing in 2014: I have mostly worked on the new one, the work-in-progress called Antosha in Prague. It's a good novel, I think. A lot of fun to write and to read (hopefully). It's a collection of Chekhovesque stories about a fictional character named Antosha Chekhonte, who is loosely based on the Russian writer/playwright Anton Chekhov. You've heard of him. This is the list of story titles (with progress status) so far:

"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" (written)
"The Father of the Family" (in progress)
"To My Hands Alone" (written)
"Olivier Salad" (hypothetical)
"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 Sparrow" (outlined, half written)

I think I've got about 56,000 words of the first draft written now. If things continue to go the way they've been going (a vague statement, that), the completed first draft will be about 85,000 words long. So I'm a good way into the manuscript. A couple more months of work, to be sure, maybe as many as four or six months before the draft is written. I don't seem to be in a hurry.

Also this year I did some work on a novel called Go Home, Miss America. That novel is out on submission now to a couple of wee publishers. In the spring or summer of 2015 I will begin another revision to a novel called Mona in the Desert. I have a lot of notes for that revision. It will be a job of work, I think. There is a slender possibility that there will be time left at the end of 2015 for me to start in earnest on a new novel, which will probably be the one called Nowhere But North. That work may be delayed until 2016.

Last night I read Browning's poem "An Epistle," and now of course I want to write a long novel based on it. I won't, but still.

Monday, December 29, 2014

"O' the lazy sea her stream thrusts far amid" in the little city by the bay with Robert

Also, I am still reading a book of Robert Browning's shorter poems. "Caliban Upon Setebos" is very good. Browning reminds me that Caliban is one of Shakespeare's greatest inventions. Browning's Caliban is also quite fine: the poet got the tone and voice just right, and his primitive theology wholly believable. My favorite line comes right at the end, when a storm hits the island and Caliban fears that his musings have offended the god Setebos:
What, what? A curtain o'er the world at once!
Crickets stop hissing; not a bird—or, yes,
There scuds His raven, that hath told Him all!
It was fool's play, this prattling! Ha! The wind
Shoulders the pillared dust, death's house o' the move,
And fast invading fires begin! White blaze—
A tree's head snaps—and there, there, there, there, there,
His thunder follows!
"there, there, there, there, there" is wonderful, the rhythmic repetition of Caliban's sudden fear at the manifestation of the horrible deity. The poem is about what? superstition, maybe, explaining the divine in the lowly terms of humanity? filling the blank spots in our knowledge with the blind spots in our self knowledge? Great stuff.

Perhaps I'm attracted to this poem because it reflects similar ideas to the snippet from George Santayana that Umbagollah has posted over at Pykk:
from the describable qualities of things, we repeat the rationalistic fiction of turning the notions which we abstract from the observation of facts into the powers that give those facts character and being.
I've been thinking about these sorts of things a lot these days, of how we paint over the face of the universe with portraits of ourselves as a way of claiming to understand reality.