Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Journal of a "Novel"-Entry 14

Septuagenarian on Campus

For the last couple of weeks I have been working, very slowly, on the Prologue to my story, in which Father Luke Brogan, son of Walter Brogan, wanders about the campus of the university he is retiring from, receives one more assignment from the university president, and enters into a dialogue with a former student. The setting is a fictional college in northeast Pennsylvania called JUNEP (Jesuit University of Northeast Pennsylvania), VAGUELY modeled after the University of Scranton, although I have only visited that university twice and very briefly at that. Father Brogan will be drawn into a lengthy reflection on his past, specifically his father's life and legacy, prompted by the insightful questions of the ambitious young journalism student (previously mentioned) who has been assigned to profile him for the campus newspaper.

So far, it's been a struggle to do this early writing, but that's not so bad. First of all, it is just very difficult to find time to commit to it, with my busy work schedule, two children, etc. If I actually do write an entire novel manuscript, it is going to take me a very long time. Especially since I am planning to rewrite sections of it as I go, instead of trying to rewrite and edit the entire thing once a draft is done. This is a method I have never used before, so it will be interesting. I am looking forward to having sections finished that have already been rewritten and worked on with some degree of seriousness and intensity. It will take much longer to progress through the story, but in theory, when a draft finally does emerge it will be that much closer to where I want the book to be ultimately in terms of quality.

Secondly, it is not easy for me, for obvious reasons, to write from the point of view of a retiring priest in his 70s who also happens to be a university professor. I don't know anything about what it's like to be a priest, don't have a clue of what a person in their 70s feels, thinks, and likes to do, and I certainly don't know anything about being a theologian on top of all of that. I'm a 35 year old Dad with an office job. What can I do to make Father Brogan even remotely believable? I can get a little assistance in this matter from watching/listening to/talking to my own father, who happens to be the same age as Father Brogan (75) and is somewhat similar in temperament. In a way, as I've said, Brogan is based on my father, but he's not the same. Yet, my own father has an interest in theology, if not actually being a theologian, and he's a septuagenarian himself of course, so I can take some of my character's actions and thoughts from my observations of my old man. This helps, but it doesn't get me there. I mean, there is also Brogan's whole identity as a Jesuit, and I am totally winging it there, as is pretty obvious when I review what I have written so far.

It is an interesting spiritual exercise, in a way, to attempt to create a character that is a member of the clergy and fill their brain with thoughts that the writer thinks a religious person would think. And have them say things I think a religious person would say. This part of it is frought with peril, because what one thinks a person in the clergy is apt to do and say may not be, of course, the reality. You don't know what it's like unless you've been there, I am sure. I alternate between giving Father Brogan words and thoughts that I think sound overly pious and cliche, to having him think and do things that any clergy member worth their salt wouldn't think or do. It's a fine line and I'm not at all qualified to negotiate it, really.

So how to deal with this problem? How do I write from the point of view of a 75-year-old priest? I think the answer is not to worry about it. Easier said than done in my case! But the same thing is going to apply when I switch gears and attempt to write about what a young man in the 1920s and 30s thinks and feels. If I worry too much about it, I will not get anywhere. Nothing is going to sound or feel authentic. And the operative word is 'feel' there. What i want to do is not so much create an historically detail-perfect character or setting, but get into what it FELT like to live and work in that time. If I can focus on that, I will be able to make either Brogan credible. It's a huge challenge, since after all I don't have any idea what it felt like to live then, but I think I will just have to continue to read things and work on it until I have something that sounds and feels authentic. Other novelists have done this before me, so I know it is possible.

The book is ultimately about Water Brogan, not Father Luke, but it is through Father Luke that we are going to be taken back in time. For now, my job is to attempt to write from his point of view, and to attempt to relate how a man like him would react to questions from a young and curious journalist that force him to think back on his past - to a time long gone, to a father long dead, whose long shadow nonetheless continues to cast itself over him no matter how much time goes by and no matter how old he gets. Young man, old man, you can't escape the influence and memory of your father. He is always going to be there for you to measure yourself against and attempt to understand. Perhaps somewhat reluctantly, Father Luke Brogran is going to be coerced into going down this road one more time, and the story he tells the journalist is the one I want to write for anyone who cares to read it.

It's great to be writing again, no matter how slow it goes.

5 comments:

Aura McKnightly said...

Wait....when does it go back in time?

Duke Altum said...

Sounds like either directly after the prologue, or soon after that, Aura...

As I've been saying for a long time now Mutt, you've got the skeleton of an interesting, workable novel here. But as YOU'VE been saying for a long time now on this blog, in your various journal entries, it's all going to come down to execution. I was wondering if you might be able to, following Wright (and many others of course), get a hold of any letters from the period? But then some of these oral histories you've been reading may serve the same function as the letters did for Wright when writing The Amalgamation Polka. I don't think many people were writing oral histories back then.

I'm intrigued by a little detail -- a hint maybe? -- in your last post: you said that Fr. Brogan will be led one more time down the road of his past, "perhaps somewhat reluctantly"... that caught my attention a bit. Why reluctant? Is it just simple honest humility, or is there more to it? I suspect the latter, and I imagine part of the interest of the novel is going to be to find out why Fr. Brogan is hesitant to revisit some aspects of his own past. Not sure if you said that consciously or sub-consciously, but it was an interesting little aside and I hope that, if there is an idea forming there, you'll be able to flesh it out.

Sounds like we might be getting close to a "first look" at the story... that is, if you choose to post any of it as an exclusive for TST readers only! No pressure, of course... ;)

Aura McKnightly said...

But, how's it going to happen? Is there gonna be a capsule of some sort like Mork would use or maybe a space pod, well, I guess that's the same thing as a capsule. Whatever it is, make it cool. It's gotta be something cool. That's what I want to know, is how these characters are gonna breach that space-time continuum. Absolutely fascinating! When's the next digest gonna be?

Mutt Ploughman said...

Gentlemen, let me address a few things here to set the record straight:

Aura:
The plan is, after the Prologue, the book will go back in time and begin to tell the story of Walter Brogan from a point of view I have yet to determine. It may be from Walter Brogan's point of view, or it may be a more objective, third party's point of view. Further, as much as this may disappoint you, I am not talking about literally going back in time. I am talking about the STORY going back in time, not the people in the story. The idea is to begin the novel with an old Father Luke Brogan, then go back and tell a more or less linear story of Walter Brogan's adult life from around 1922-1960 or so, then possibly return to 2006 for an Epilogue. Remains to be seen. But none of the actual characters are going to time travel. Just the reader will, or at least, that's the idea.

Duke: the 'reluctance' I was talking about wasn't really a hint, it was because of the fact that Father Brogan will be talking about his father only because he is the subject of a profile for a newspaper, and that he will be a reluctant participant in more or less because of the humility you suggest, or maybe cynicism. He probably wouldn't see the point of profiling him for a newspaper and wouldn't be overly enthusiastic about that idea. The fact that he is going to end up talking will be a surprise to him. Hopefully, the 'interest' in the novel will come from the character and circumstances surrounding the life of Walter Brogan, not his son so much, and that is, as you say, the major challenge.

If I lost both of these potential readers with these disappointing clarfications, press on - the next journal will probably show up next week some time. I haven't had the chance to work on the story for the last couple of days.

Aura McKnightly said...

no breach?