Wednesday, July 26, 2006

TEASER: Excerpt from Chapter 1 of Mutt's novel - no quotes, for Duke's benefit

Note: the following is an unedited, unrevised version of the opening scenes of Chapter 1 of my novel in progress. Hope anyone who sees this digs it. I'm just posting it as a teaser, to give some idea of what it's like. -Mutt Ploughman

Early in the afternoon on his wedding day, June 25, 1924, Walter Brogan stood before the looking glass in the stifling heat in full groom’s regalia, and reflected for the first time that day on his father’s absence. His death in 1920 had deprived Walter of so many things, but nothing had brought with it a sting more acute to the young man than him not being present at the nuptial ceremonies of his only son.
As he would so many other times throughout the rest of his life, staring at his own tall, athletic posture in the mirror, reflecting a strong, confident image, he experienced a nearly overwhelming sensation of self-doubt, a wavering of spirit. It was something he had felt coming, and he recognized it when it was on its way. He knew that despite his harshness, his extreme impatience with weakness and his inadequacy when it came to emotional grounding, Julius Brogan’s presence in the room, or even somewhere nearby the house, would have been a help to him. His great desire to please his father, to assure him that his firstborn was ready for the challenges of the life before him, would have driven such doubts into dormancy somewhere inside of him, so that they would not have risen in the first place.
But Julius Brogan had been gone these four years, and Walter Brogan stood alone. Examining his appearance once again, Brogan had to acknowledge that he was ready. He wore a slender, black single-breasted tuxedo, with a starched white shirt stiff as plywood, a long black cravat pinching at his neck, and a gold watch chain dangling from the pocket of his vest. The pocket watch inside had belonged to Julius; it was the only thing Brogan possessed that had once been his father’s. He couldn’t look at it just now. Brogan’s dark brown hair was oiled for the occasion, a rarity for him, and swept back from the crown of his head like Rudolph Valentino. He wore no moustache or sideburns. A black hat with a 1½ -inch brim was propped on the post of the looking-glass before him.
His skin was prickling in the stuffy air of the room in a manner which told him he was on the verge of breaking into a profuse sweat. Below him, and throughout the house, a cacophony of noises assaulted his ears, mostly women’s voices, chirping here and there along with the clicking of their heels on the hardwood floors. Brogan knew his mother, whose own hyper-emotional state did little to assuage his own nerves, and his two younger sisters were in the house, helping to attend to Greta. Greta’s brother, Peter Heinricks, was also below, no doubt keeping a distance from the women, who were indisputably in command of all events. In fact, Brogan guessed that Peter would be waiting outside of the house on the front steps, possibly with his and Greta’s father, Brogan’s soon-to-be father-in-law, P.G. Heinricks, the owner of the house, the financier of all the events of the day, the watchful eye presiding.
Brogan was standing in one of the two rooms that would belong to himself and his new bride upon their return from French Lick and their brief honeymoon. The room contained a canopied bed, a bureau, two small tables on either side of the of the bed and lace curtains. It connected to a washroom with running water and even a bathtub that the elder Heinricks had had installed for the young couple. The bedroom opened into a narrow hallway that led to a second and even tinier chamber that Brogan and Greta planned to use as a sitting room and living area. It contained two small Louis XIV-style chairs, a cherry-wood table with an electric lamp, and a small bookcase for Greta’s books. They hoped to furnish the room with a radio some time after the wedding if they could afford one.
The young man before the mirror straightened himself one last time, and looked squarely into his own eyes. He could not have known how closely he resembled the younger Julius Brogan at that moment. The wave of doubt passed through as he knew it would. He could almost feel his father’s approval as he firmly settled his mind. He knew his father-in-law was being generous in setting them up in the third floor of his own house, so that they had a place to live while starting out. But staying there long term was not acceptable, to either of them, and Brogan would see to it that they did not stay there long enough to wear out their welcome in P.G. Heinricks’ house. He would prove his abilities, build a house for his wife to call her own, and carry her into it. His father-in-law would approve. Julius Brogan would approve.
Walter Brogan removed the pocket watch with his left hand, released the catch with his thumb, and peered down at the Roman Numerals. 12:05 p.m. In less than one hour, he would marry that young woman below, and lead her on towards a new life. It was both a duty and an honor.

At one o’clock precisely the bells in the tower at St. Joseph the Worker’s Roman Catholic Church in Bentonville, Indiana began to toll, and their august tones wafted on the waves of heat and the occasional lugubrious breezes throughout the serene streets of the township. On 3rd Street, the church’s front doors opened ceremoniously as a shining silver-colored automobile, a new Cadillac model, glided to rest in front of them alongside the sidewalk. The driver’s side door opened and a short, sturdy figure emerged, dressed in a black suit and a rounded, bowler-style hat. The man bounded energetically around the front of the car and opened the back door to allow the bride, his daughter, to embark.
Peter Gerhardt Heinricks, 57 years old and brimming with vitality and pride in equal measure, held up his right arm to accept the hand of his daughter one final time before giving it away to the young man inside the church. Greta Heinricks, stepping out of car gingerly to avoid trampling on her veil, granted her father an appreciative smile, fully composed in spite of her nerves. Inside her crepe white wedding dress she was shaking, but her father did not need to see that side of her today. For him this day was a matter of familial honor, and she would endeavor not to disappoint him, but her true motives were not his pleasure or peace of mind, but those of the groom awaiting her there before the altar. It was to him that her honor would be handed on this day, and for him that she had undertaken to preserve it, as she always had before now.
As she stood, a second car – less grandiose, a black 1920 Chevrolet – pulled in behind Heinricks’ Cadillac, from which spilled out three other young women. Greta’s bridesmaids – her two sisters, Ella and Gertie, and her best friend, Beatrice Owens. They swooped in behind the bride as she emerged from the Cadillac to join her father, scooping up the long train of silk tulle so that it did not strike the ground behind her. The Chevrolet’s engine sputtered momentarily, threatening to stall, but somehow Peter, the bride’s brother, managed to keep it from doing so. He drove the vehicle slowly away to park it along the side of the church.
For Greta Heinricks, 21 years old and her father’s firstborn, clutching his powerful arm in the blazing heat outside of the same church in which she had been baptized and taken the Sacraments, it was a day of wildly conflicting emotions. She felt anticipation, excitement, wonder and intense fear all at once. But more than anything else she felt a tremendous sense of personal independence, and she wanted this more than anything else to be evident to all of those who looked upon her as she crossed through the open doors in front of her. She knew how her parents would appear. Her father would beam and boast with his expression to the townspeople about his beautiful daughter, his jewel and his pride. Her mother would weep and smile gratefully, in her quiet and docile manner, at the appreciative looks and supportive gestures of all of their friends and relatives as they made their procession. It would be all she could do to make it the length of the aisle before collapsing into a pew, spilling over with tears and lamentations related to her little girl’s quiet beauty and rapid growth and the effects of these things on the fragile nature of her maternal heart.
Greta understood her parents well enough to know that these would be their general states as they guided her forward, but coming in between the two of them to the altar on her wedding day was something she was doing strictly out of tradition and honor to their sacrifices for her, and not for any other reason. In her mind, though she came with her parents, she would be walking down this aisle independently, for this was a decision she had made, and the young man at the altar now was her husband of choice. Though she had gained the approval of her mother and father, and was about to receive the benevolent and laudatory reception of the community she had grown up in, none of these things were required. It was a matter of simple dignity. She knew her heart and she knew her mind. She needed the priest at the altar to confer the graces that accompany this Sacrament, and she needed the willful acceptance and commitment of the man she would be marrying, and that was all. Let those who could perceive from observing her expression that this was her conviction know it and believe it well: she was here on her own strength of purpose, and she knew that what she was doing on this day was right.
Before going through the doors of the church, her father held her back momentarily, and she turned to look at him. The three women behind lingered at a respectful distance, still grasping Greta’s train. At five feet, seven inches, she was nearly as tall as he was, and her hazel eyes needed to rise only slightly to reach his own, which matched hers almost exactly. Her father looked at her freely, intensely, the way he regarded everyone; his eyes reflected his personal pride but not the deeper emotion he would not show to her, let alone to the other people inside of the church. Nonetheless she knew what he felt, because she understood him, she could read him now as easily as she had always been able to. What he concealed from everyone at every possible moment, he could not keep from his daughter.
‘Greta,’ her father said, and now he grasped her two slender hands in the coarse palms of his own. ‘You make me very proud today. It is a joy for me to see you here in front of all of our family and this community.’
Greta smiled at him warmly. She loved him, in spite of all of his overpowering qualities, his hard-headedness, his absolute insistence on asserting his own authority within their household, his terrible temper. She loved him because she knew he was a proud man and that he saw her as a part of what made him so.
‘Father, it pleases me to me please you. If you can give me away now and do so with happiness, then this occasion is a blessed one indeed. I only hope my new husband is as pleased with me as you are.’
He brought her hands together now and patted the top of them gently. ‘If he is not, my dear, then his taste will have suffered since we saw him last. Unlikely. No, I believe Mr. Brogan is aware of his good fortune.’


Aura McKnightly said...

Like the homage to the vastly underrated Indy band Roadmaster.

"What do you wanna hear?"

"Sweet music!!"

Bad would be proud...

Seriously Jude, good work, keep it up!

Mutt Ploughman said...

Aura, it sounds like a lame title but it is actually the headline from the local IN newspaper from my great-grandfather's wedding. There was a little article in the newspaper that my Dad looked up one year about their wedding and the headline just said, "Sweet Music, Pretty Flowers". I kind of stole it for this as I am going to have a clip from the fictional Brogan wedding run in the paper of my fictional town of Bentonville, IN.

Aura McKnightly said...

Well, that's hard to believe, but if you say so. Actually, that's very cool.

Hard to believe there's not a Bentonville somewhere in Indiana.

Whatever you do, just don't call it Springfield.

Duke Altum said...

Yeah, exactly Aura... anything but that.

This is a real interesting teaser, Mutt. Good work. And it is WORK! Reading through this makes me realize again just what a painstaking and (probably) agonizing process it is to write a novel. Think about it: on one level, you're worried about the prose -- the quality of it, the sound of it, the tone. On another, you're concerned with flow -- is the narrative pace right? Does the story move along in the current of its own momentum? On yet another, there are the nuts and bolts, the historical details of the story that are so crucial to the overall effect. You can't just say Walter's standing there in his wedding suit. What did such suits look like back then? The car that pulls up in front of the church, the Cadillac... how do you describe it? Well, you have to know what a 1920's Caddy would look like. It goes on and on and on. And these are only a few paragraphs!!!

All of this points to what I had said in my previous post... you need to have some serious chutzpah and creative drive to do this. You need to somehow find not only the initial motivation, but infinitely more crucial than that, the ongoing motivation to see it through to its conclusion. Where does that come from? Well, Mutt's been examining such questions for a while now on this blog. I'm not going to go back over covered terrain. But it's very interesting to see some early fruit from the hours and hours of tilling you've been doing in the field...

On my first read of this, I have to say that nothing really sounded out of whack, or implausible, given the time and place. Now of course I'm no expert on 1920's Indiana, so that comment carries limited weight... but when reading something like this, it's key that you don't trip up immediately because you feel like the historical details aren't right, or that the writer just isn't up to the task of re-creating the period. I didn't get that feeling here at all, at least, not yet...

Thanks for sharing these early glimpses. It sure seems to me that the novel is off and running. Real easy for us to say, sure... but then would you want your readers to be saying, "This thing seems stalled," right out of the gate? I don't think so...

Oh and BTW, thanks for ditching the quotes, and calling a spade a spade. Good of you to finally liberate this novel from the millstone-like quotes shackling its neck!!!