Thursday, August 31, 2006

Journal of a "Novel"-Entry 23

Chapter 2 Preview!....(sort of)

I'd like to give a shout-out to my wife on our 4th wedding anniversary.....God bless her!

Well, as of today Chapter 2 of the novel is underway, a whopping one page has been written. Give it up. This chapter travels with the newly married Brogans to the French Lick Springs Hotel & Resort in southern Indiana. This hotel, which actually exists, was a mainstay for the very rich and famous in the early part of the 20th century. Movie stars, gangsters and presidents stayed there. Brogan and his new wife get there on account of some wheeling and dealing by P.G. Heinricks, Greta's father. The resort is a very decadent place where the upper crust would go to play, relax, go to the spa and "take the cure". This obscure phrase refers to the water from the hot springs that the hotel sprung up around, which exist in southern Indiana and were first discovered by French traders. It was believed by many at the time that if you drank the mineral water from the springs you would be healed of your aches & pains. People thought the water had a healing effect. Hence the term "take the cure". The tentative title for Chapter 2 is "Taking the Cure", in fact.

I am still formulating what I want to do with this chapter, but the general idea is to explore the early days of Walter and Greta's marriage while also backtracking in time to provide some of the backstory for these two characters. Why did Walter Brogan attend Notre Dame, only to quit after a year? What happened to his father, Julius? What was it like to grow up in the house of P.G. Heinricks with his fly-by-night business schemes and his frequently tyrannical ways? How did Greta develop her strong faith and her fiercely intelligent mind? These are questions I hope we will begin to answer in this chapter. At the same time, we will witness the discomfort they both feel in being in close proximity with the privleged members of society, and the foundation will be laid, we hope, for a lifelong battle between Walter Brogan and the temptation/oppression of money.

All of this presents me with a truckload of challenges and I am not sure I can meet them all. But it gives me plenty to shoot for, and it's good to be writing again as opposed to revising and editing.

What's in a Name?

The working title of my novel is "Obeisance to Mammon". So far, aside from this blog, this title has been floated by three people. Two have rung in and expressed opinions that the title was too grandiose and "trite". One hasn't commented yet. I'd like to take a moment to try to defend this title, while keeping the door open to pick any other and better title I can come up with later on. I guess that's what the term "working title" is all about.

Defense #1: The title IS grandiose. It's one of the things that I like about it. It might be trite, but that's only if the book sucks. In other words, it will not be trite if the book I plan to write is up to snuff. If this book tells a linear story about a man trying to raise a family and live a good life in the face of the negative forces of the first half of the 20th century (decadence, Depression, oppression by wealthy corporations, the scourge of a world war), but also touches on the larger philosophical/metaphysical/spiritual aspects of that 3-decade struggle in any meaningful way, then the use of this phrase will not be trite. It might even be apt. It all depends on the execution. But I am not necessarily afraid to use a title that in my opinion aims high. If I do not have high aspirations for the book, there can hardly be anyone else who might. Using a phrase that comes from the words of Jesus in the Gospel might seem foolhardy for one so inexperienced, but it also marks the novel as one that could have a broad (universal) appeal in our time if it was executed well.

Defense #2: The phrase was used by the most prominent politician of that entire age - Franklin Roosevelt - at his own most ambitious moment to describe the state of things in the country at the beginning of the Great Depression. He employed this Biblical phrase in his acceptance of the Democratic nomination for the presidency in March of 1932. I could look up the exact quote (it's in my notes), but i'll just paraphrase: in effect, he said to Americans, "This depression that has fallen on us is not entirely the fault of external forces or the failure of our government alone. Let's all be honest with ourselves and admit that we have to some extent exhibited obeisance to mammon, and now we are paying the price." He was making reference to the extravagance of the previous decade, and the excesses that accompanied it. It was a candid statement that was meant to jolt people into facing the problems of the nation head-on. It was the sort of thing that got him elected. And it also happened to be the truth, as far as I can see it. On top of that, it was uttered right at the heart of the time period that will be covered in my novel, so that the first section of the book reflects the obeisance he was talking about, the second portion of the book is the fallout, and the third portion is the end game, or the huge global cataclysm that brought the whole age to an end and ushered in a new one. It pins down the time period I want to pin down.

Defense #3: At the same time, it's timeless. It's always been the case with mankind and always will be the case. It certainly still applies today just as much as it did then and it did, as well, in the time when Jesus Christ was walking among us, Incarnate. It's part of the whole fallen nature of man and therefore the phrase, in my view, will always be somewhat applicable and relevant. It's something that I fight against today and the temptations associated with it are my temptations in some ways. It could be thought of as a link between my time and the time of my grandfather's time and of my own father's in between.

Defense #4: It's not regional. I frequently think about using a title that contains the word "Hoosier" in it. "Hoosiers" has already been done. "The Hoosier" sounds boring. "Hoosier Blood", "Hoosier Man", "Hoosier Wind", "Hoosierland", "Hoosier Dreams", "A Hoosier Tale", "Hoosier Daddy", etc. The problem with this concept is that it works great for someone from Indiana, maybe someone from Illinois or Kentucky or Ohio. But if I'm from New Jersey, I probably won't pick it up. If I'm from LA, I definitely won't pick it up. At least the title I am working with has unlimited range in terms of where in the world it could be set. It's not that the word Hoosier or some take on it is the only other possibility for titling this book, but the thought of working that in has struck me many times, and i can't seem to get around the idea that it would seriously limit the story's appeal.

So anyway, there you go. I'll forego the list of strikes against the title, although I think the main problem is #1 on this list, which I am also listing as a defense, so where does that leave me?

It leaves me to get cracking on the rest of the book and stop worrying about it; this sort of thing will eventually take care of itself. But the book won't write itself. Unfortunately.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Duke Altum's Poem of the Week #38

What's amazing about this very famous poem is its articulation of the ineffable. Somehow Johann Wolfgang von Goethe found it in himself to express that yearning, part of every soul no matter how much clutter has been built up around it, for transcendence and communion with Something higher than oneself. It's the same thing Pascal was shooting for with his description of the "God-shaped vacuum" inside every human heart, and C. S. Lewis as well with his descriptions of sehnsucht in Surprised by Joy. And of course, Saint Augustine before either of them with his immortal words, "our hearts are ever restless until they find themselves in You."

I love the practical wisdom of the first two lines, especially for anyone who possesses the artistic temperament, or at least, impulse... Tell a wise person, or else keep silent/because the mass man will mock it right away. Ever feel this way when thinking about telling a work colleague or someone about your writing project, Mutt? :)

The best literature always, in one way or another, taps into this "holy longing," this "silent candle burning" in the soul... this is The Secret Thread.

(P.S. TST old-timers and veterans might recall that this is the poem I referenced in my posting on Breece Pancake's fiction a year or so ago...)


The Holy Longing

Tell a wise person, or else keep silent,
because the mass man will mock it right away.
I praise what is truly alive,
what longs to be burned to death.

In the calm water of the love-nights,
where you were begotten, where you have begotten,
a strange feeling comes over you,
when you see the silent candle burning.

Now you are no longer caught in the obsession with darkness,
and a desire for higher love-making sweeps you upward.

Distance does not make you falter.
Now, arriving in magic, flying,
and finally, insane for the light,
you are the butterfly and you are gone.
And so long as you haven't experienced this:
to die and so to grow,
you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.

Plow, man

Duke Altum here... recently returned from my first "true" vacation in a long long time, which is why I haven't been posting lately. But I wanted to just throw up a brief word of thanks here to my partner in crime, Mr. Ploughman, for rising to the occasion and not only keeping the blog going, but providing some damned interesting material to read while I was gone. This of course is no surprise, to me or to anyone who might read this blog I imagine... Mutt's been populating this blog with interesting stuff ever since its inception. Nevertheless, I was glad to see him take the bull by the horns (or should I say the ox, keeping with the agricultural theme?) and post not one but two interesting articles on writers worth reading -- Haruki Murakami and Sinclair Lewis. I encourage you to check them out if you have not already done so. In particular, Mutt's insights on the work of the popular and critically lauded Japanese novelist were illuminating to me, as someone who has read and puzzled over some of his work as well...

Also, if you're not paying attention to the "novel in progress" he has going on this site, you may want to start... it's a fascinating and ambitious project, and I think it has a ton of potential. Plus, how often do you get to read a novel as it's being written, with a commentary track from the author running simultaneously in the background? I know it's been helpful for him to work through it in this way, but it also makes for good reading on the whole process of creative writing. Do check it out if you haven't.

One last word: I know I have been lax on my Poem of the Week feature, but it's been nothing more than life getting in the way. I do plan to continue the series since there are so many more rich and insightful poems to share. So be on the lookout for the next installment soon.

Thanks again to Mutt for continuing to "plow the fields" and produce rich fruit! Plow on, man... plow on...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Journal of a "Novel"-Entry 22

Give it Up for Sinclair Lewis

As my thoughts and ideas concerning Chapter 2 of the novel begin to percolate (more on this below), I have to give a shout out to the work of novelist Sinclair Lewis, whose novel "Main Street" I am about 3/4 through and whose "Babbitt" is next up on my list. (Unless I get a copy of Murakami's "Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman" in from the library, which I will jam in there so I can write a book review.) I can't say I'm totally riveted by the novel "Main Street", and I admit I was not very enthusiastic to begin reading it and Babbitt straight through as they amount to over 800 pages of reading and I have so much else I want to get to. But reading this novel has proven to be a good move for my purposes, and I am glad I made the choice.

I know almost nothing about Sinclair Lewis - the back of the Library of America version of the two novels that I took out from the library gives a chronology of his lifetime which I have only glanced through. Although one very interesting item caught my eye: that while he was composing "Main Street" he was renting an office in New York City and he worked on the novel 10-12 hours A DAY. I don't know how he was earning a living at that time, it would be interesting to find out, but man, that was dedication! I don't think I could do that even if I was independently wealthy. 90 minutes for me is a very long time to work on writing fiction.....! I do know this, that Lewis was the first American writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, I think in 1930. What a distinction!

Thus I can't really comment a lot on Lewis, but I can talk about "Main Street" a bit, which was first published in 1920. This novel is not a brisk read, but it is proving very valuable. It's about a woman from the city who has dreams of catching some rich man from a small prairie town in the midwest and single-handedly "reforming" the town to bring it up to the times. So she sets out to do just that and snags herself a doctor from a town called Gopher Prairie, MN. They are married, but she finds it difficult to change an old dog new tricks, so to speak, and runs into resistance from the small-town folk who think she is too arrogant and too "modern" for their tastes. The novel chronicles her repeated attempts and various schemes that, at least to this point, have more or less failed to reform the town. Instead she fears that it's she herself who is being reformed.

This novel is really helping me because 1) it describes what small town folk are like around the 19-teens (it's set around the time of World War I), which is a little earlier than the time frame I am writing about, but still gives what I perceive to be a good flavor of American small towns at that time. They talk about dance parties, playing cribbage and pinochle, the oil craze, automobiles and "motoring" on Sunday afternoons, and that sort of stuff. The gossip in the town and social positioning are vividly described, who is calling on who, who is seen in town with who, etc. 2) This novel is very helpful in describing marital dynamics and gender-differences during this time also. Since it is told from the vantage point of a female main character, although not in the first person, it gets into how she fills her day, her feelings about being domesticated and having to be subservient to the man of the house, etc. Again, this was all in the process of changing little by little as we got into the 20s, 30s, and 40s, but it is a good source of information nonetheless because when my novel opens, in 1924, it couldn't have been that much different from the way things were in the previous decade. And since Walter and Greta Brogan are newly married in the beginning of my story, this novel has been helpful in visualizing and imagining those dynamics.

I am also looking forward to the novel "Babbitt" because it is from a male point of view and is probably Sinclair Lewis' most famous work. I think that it will get more into the mind of a businessman from that time and what men were doing in society, and that will help when it comes to portaying people like P.G. Heinricks and his son Peter in my story. Without having read the novel yet I anticipate that my character Peter Heinricks will have the most similarities to a guy like George Babbitt in Lewis' novel. But we shall see. So I think it was a good idea to take on these books in spite of my impatience to try new things: the guy didn't win a Nobel Prize for nothing, and his impressions and descriptions of small-town life are invaluable to a writer who is so far detached from that era.

Chapter 2: Brogan Harbors a Secret; Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

Well, my second chapter looms. I am almost done with the revisions of my first chapter which means I have to start on #2 very soon. Lately I have been thinking of what I want to do in this chapter and although I don't want to say much here, it seems like it might be best to focus this chapter on Walter and Greta's brief honeymoon and also to get a little bit into some of the backstories - the histories - of the two main characters. I am not sure if the second chapter will follow any of the threads that were introduced to this story in Chapter 1 that concern P.G. Heinricks, his son Peter, or another character, Myron Devreaux. But if they are not followed in Chapter 2, they will re-appear in Chapter 3. Their stories are also integral to this novel, although their lives are not the primary focus.

My main character is Walter Brogan, and it is my job to follow his lead. I want his story to be the one we are most interested in as readers, and so I will try in Chapter 2 to flesh him out more than I did in Chapter 1 and present the world that is opening up for him in the mid-1920s. Unfortunately, something has happened in Chapter 1 that has colored his vision somewhat, so to speak. I don't know a lot of particulars yet about how he will handle this exactly, but I do know that he will attempt to handle it in his own way, and without including his wife. He will keep it from her. He will do this out of good-natured motives - he will not want to see her angry or nervous - but the result will still be a certain reticence to communicate, which may not result in the best conditions for the early marriage. Nonetheless Brogan will resolve to outlast his enemies, and show determination to rise above negative forces on his own resolve, because he has grown to believe from a younger age that he does not have much help in the world, and that not everything can be relied upon.

While this is broiling nicely inside of Brogan, on the outside he and his new wife will be taking their honeymoon at the famous French Lick Springs Hotel in southern Indiana in what is now Hoosier National Forest. This is a place where rich and famous people came to play golf, relax, gamble (although it was illegal) and "take the cure" - indulge in the mineral water that came from the natural hot springs located in that part of the state. People believed that the water could cure many ailments. Presidents and movie stars stayed there. Brogan and his wife, who normally would have no place in such an establishment, will have the oppportunity to stay there briefly thanks to the generosity of P.G. Heinricks, who has cashed in a favor to get them a room. Walter and Greta will spend some time cavorting alongside the wealthy patrons while and will have the chance to observe the lifestyles of those who, in that decadent decade, really did show "obeisance to mammon".

Of course, none of this is put down yet, so we will have to see how the writing goes. But there you have it, the very latest. Looking forward to taking on my second chapter.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Place That Is No Place

Scattered, inconclusive thoughts on the novels of Haruki Murakami

"Sometimes I wonder what I'm looking for. I have my own mysterious space in myself. It's a dark space. It's a basement and I enter it when I'm writing. It's a very special door for me. The things in that space might be the things I lost along the way. I don't know. It must be a kind of sorrow."
Haruki Murakami

Towards the end of the Japanese contemporary novelist Haruki Murakami’s seminal work from the late 80s’, Norwegian Wood, the embattled protagonist, a young man referred to as Watanabe, calls a girlfriend from a pay phone. He’s reconnecting with her again after a long period of aimless wandering. This young man has been through a lot: several of the people he had been closest with in his short life are now dead, by their own hands. But now she has answered his call and the possibility exists that they will see each other soon. Yet even though he is talking to her in a public location, the young man reflects that, in fact, he has arrived at “no place”. And that “no place” is where his journey – or at least, what we know of it – ends.

I was reading this novel recently and the bleakness of that scene resonated with me for several days. There was something about how when the story ended, the young man obviously still had something to turn to – the young woman he had called – but there was a sense that whatever she had to give him was not going to be what he needed. Even though she was within reach, he would still be lost, and he seemed to know it.

As I was thinking about this, I also happened to be listening a lot to a song by the great folk artist John Gorka from his new record, called Writing in the Margins. The song is called “Broken Place”, and it’s one of the most interesting if quite poignant and pithy examinations of wherever it is that artists – musicians, writers, visual artists – really draw their best work from that I’ve heard in a long time. As Gorka suggests, it may well be from the bleakest empty space inside of them:

“That beautiful broken place
That well of endless sorrow
Forever and a day
Sing like there’s no tomorrow…”

I think whatever this “no place” or “broken place” is, the work – actually, the characters – of Haruki Murakami are haunted by it. And of course, that means that Murakami himself must be haunted by it too – an emptiness inside of him, a void, a “well of endless sorrow”. Look at the above quote from The Guardian newspaper in England in 2003, and you’ll find that he seems to agree.

Is this place the “God-shaped hole” that Christians sometimes refer to as that eternal question lingering inside of every soul that God is the only answer to? It might be. But it would be presumptuous of me to say that what Murakami is looking for is God. He could be, but I cannot say that he is. However, the vacuity of his stories and novels and the characters that embody them bring to mind, for me, the emptiness of life without the possibility of God and without experiencing any kind of connection or relationship to the Almighty.

It’s for this reason that I seem to be flustered with the work of this fascinating figure in world literature, and have had a lot of difficulty fully enjoying the work of his that I have read. I keep thinking that I must be missing something, because Murakami – a very popular novelist throughout the world with an enviable following in Europe, the Far East, and the United States – consistently gets good reviews in major newspapers and is widely considered to be one of the great literary figures of our time. In fact, some articles I have turned up on him have described him as “Japan’s Nobel-laureate in waiting”. If he did win the Nobel Prize in literature some day, he’d be only the third Japanese writer to do so, behind Yasunari Kawabata (1968) and Kenzaburo Oe (1994).

Personally I think it’s a little nuts to put Murakami in this company, at least at this stage of his career, although he has produced numerous books since the early 1980s. I’m not an expert on his work and have only read four of his books, but what I have read doesn’t seem to rise to that level. Although Murakami possesses an extremely fluid and colorful imagination and obviously has the drive and passion to be a great storyteller, producing short stories and novels at an alarming rate, he also has a limited view of the human spirit, and a somewhat pessimistic one. Furthermore he frequently repeats themes and motifs; although the subject matter of his stories differ from one to the next, the tone of them rarely shifts, and certain Murakami hallmarks frequently repeat themselves – everything from cats and cooking pasta to the collision of Western and Eastern culture and an endless, heavy, deadening listlessness that seems to afflict most of his protagonists. Why are his characters so uninspired?

Murakami’s fiction, from what I have seen, is that “no place” – when you enter his world, there are no answers and no explanations, things rarely make sense, and it is even more rare when you will find someone who expects them to. No book demonstrated this to me more clearly than Murakami’s epic novel “The Wind-up Bird Chronicle” (1997) which for me was one of the most disappointing long novels I may have ever read. Although many consider this to be his finest and most impressive work – the writer Jonathan Lethem once gushed in an appearance with Murakami at my alma mater, The New School that it was “breathtaking” – I found it to be rambling, nonsensical and frustrating. It was supposed to be this epic and fantastical journey that delved deeply into Japan’s history with neighboring China while also addressing the complexities of the modern Japanese psyche – but to me, the journey led nowhere, literally stranding the reader over and over again at the bottom of a well with an unlikable, hapless character who hardly knew what he was doing there.

I am astonished that no reviewer of a Murakami novel or story that I have ever seen – and I tried to find as many as I could – has ever touched on the frustrating quality of the aimlessness and the bored indifference of his characters and the diffident way in which they always seem to approach every situation. In one recent short story that appeared in The New Yorker (that is appearing in his new short story collection, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman), a strange, talking monkey – not an unusual sight at all in a Murakami short story – asks a young woman if she has ever been jealous before. And she says, after thinking about it for about a minute, that she never has. Ever. Not once. She simply cannot think of any time in her life when she felt jealous of anyone. Nothing anyone else has ever owned, done or said has ever made her feel envious. To me this seemed to seriously strain credibility, but no one else seems to have that reaction.

Again in Norwegian Wood, the young Watanabe has sex with many women for no reason, and towards the end of the book decides to take refuge in sexual congress with a much older woman whose only connection to him is a dead young woman with whom he has also slept. It’s no news that people sleep around, I’m not saying this is a great shock; but the action didn’t make a whole lot of sense, and it seemed to have been prompted by nothing but a lack of something else to do, which is a continuing theme in Murakami’s books. People do things for “no special reason” and make little attempt to understand their actions or their consequence.

About one third of the way through The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, out of frustration, I began marking down in the margins every time I came across some variation of the phrase “I had no idea”, and lost count somewhere around the end of the middle third. The catch-all phrase appeared so many times there didn’t even seem to be any point to continuing to track it – which truly made me feel caught up in Murakami’s “no place”, unpleasantly. I don’t want to be nowhere, and don’t want to be with people necessarily who don’t want to be anywhere either. As I continued to delve into Murakami’s fiction, both older materials and newer stories, I still find the phrase “no idea” recurs incessantly in his work. We all know there are few answers to many of life’s most troubling questions, but this doesn’t mean there are no answers to any questions. Does it?

As a Catholic Christian who believes that life has a purpose and there is a great design to it as well as a Designer, it is frustrating and sometimes even irritating to discover the work of a major writer whose novels and stories are internationally well-regarded only to find that there is such a tone of overall listlessness and something close to despair over the artist’s entire oeuvre. I fear that I may be very ignorant of the Japanese psyche, and am missing a large piece of the puzzle of Haruki Murakami’s work because of it. From what I can glean, modern Japan is very secular and materialistic. This does not mean everyone in Japan is this way, but the overall impression one gets of the country is that this is the case on the whole. I am not making a judgment about Japan, I know nothing about it and have never been there. All I’m saying is that the “place” from which Murakami springs may give clues as to why his art is so spiritually unfulfilling to a Christian reader from the United States.

All I know is that when I read novels I usually hold out some hope that there is an overall purpose to the life being illuminated in their pages, and that the story contained therein will have some kind of resolution that is satisfying in some way, even if it is a frightening or troubling one. One wants to be engaged mentally, and one also hopes to be entertained. Haruki Murakami is a gifted writer in the technical sense and his imagination is truly powerful and impressive. If I got to meet him some day, it would be a happy event for me because he seems humble and friendly enough as a person, and he is a talented artist who has contributed largely to the literature of his time. I respect his accomplishments as an artist and envy his productivity and passion for his work.

But his fiction has been, for me, ultimately unsatisfying. Rarely have I read a writer whose fiction takes so many odd twists and turns and whose characters traverse so many long distances, literally and figuratively, only to reach so few real destinations and make so few discoveries. In Murakami’s strange, somewhat intoxicating mystery tale, A Wild Sheep Chase, a man spends an entire novel in search of a sheep with a star-shaped marking on its coat – we never find the sheep and never learn what caused the marking to be there in the first place. In The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle a man goes searching for his wife but never finds her and instead becomes obsessed with a flighty young girl and a dark, deep hole in the property near her house. He likes to just climb down it and stay there, staring at nothing and doing nothing. Why? I have no idea.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Journal of a "Novel"-Entry 21

Chapter 1 of Mutt's Novel is Complete in Draft

My first chapter, titled "Sweet Music, Pretty Flowers" is now in the books! Or in the book, singular, perhaps. Of course, it's only the first draft of the chapter, I need to do some editing and rewriting to get it into some kind of shape. But I just felt it was worth nothing. Now that I have a Prologue and a Chapter 1 written, this novel is officially on its way. Of course, I do have the minor problem of Chapter 2 looming before me, and every subsequent chapter after that. Furthermore, since this one took weeks to write, you can see how painstaking this process is going to be.

Chapter 1 will not be posted on this blog, nor will any of the other chapters. Although I may succumb to the temptation to post a brief excerpt or two as the writing continues. For the three consistent readers of this blog, of which I am 1/3, I am sure this will come as heartbreaking news, but since those will be the three people that possibly will purchase the novel when it hits bookstores (and maybe my parents would pick up a copy) they'll just have to suck it up and wait for the big release.

No other news to report on the novel front, but I just felt like this milestone ought to be marked.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Journal of a "Novel"-Entry 20

Celebrating 20 Entries of Complete Drivel

Congratulations, you have reached the 20th entry in this, what is possibly the most laughable "journal" in the history of literature. That's TWENTY entries' worth of complete rambling over a period of about 8 months, and what do I have to show for it? One Prologue in draft and 5/6 of a first chapter of my attempt at a novel. Still, it could be worse: I could have nothing. I could have been totally blocked up for the last 8 months trying to find a "way in" to my story, so since I have written a Prologue and most of the first chapter, no matter how lame they might or might not be, at least I have come up with something. And let's remember, I get at the very most 90 minutes a day to work on this, and usually it's closer to something like 50 minutes......some days, of course, fly past me without me getting to work on it at all. So given all of that, I can say that I am glad I at least have something on paper to work with.

Chapter 1, First Draft, Draws to a Close

Just about there with Chapter 1 of my story, which takes place in one day, June 24, 1924, the day Walter and Greta Brogan are getting married in a small church in Bentonville, Indiana. From the traditional Tridentine High Mass in the small church where the nuptials actually take place, they proceed with their guests to The Golden Room, a banquet/dance hall owned by Greta Heinricks' (make that Greta Brogan's) father, the triumphant P.G. Heinricks, who has thrown a party that he hopes will be memorable for all of the guests and down through the generations. The guests and newly married couple arrive at the reception which is full of the music and the art-deco touches of the roaring 20s (if I've done my job right) and pretty much dance the night away. Before the night ends, we get some insight into the major characters, it is hoped: not just Walter and Greta, who are excited and happy and looking forward to their lives together. But also Greta's father, whose pride in his daughter and insistence on putting his best foot forward both seem to have no limits; Greta's younger brother, Peter, who is a law student looking for a means of escaping his father's long shadow and the dullness of life in the corn belt; Myron Devreaux, Greta's lifelong acquiantance and former classmate who once (?) carried a torch for her and is looking to establish his own career in local politics; and a little more on some others. Hopefully the chapter succeeds in setting the stage for the rest of the story, but we will have to see because I don't even know what the rest of the story is as I have said many times.

I hope that sounds interesting in some ways. For me it has been very interesting to write so far. The characters mentioned above, for one thing, have taken on exponentially more "life" in my mind, which is a fabulous thing and part of the reason why writers insist on the importance of just sitting your *ss down and letting it fly as best you can. It makes things happen. The juices flow and the creativity begins to do what it does. I am not saying what I have written is good, i have not even attempted to read over much less revise Chapter 1. In fact, I am not done with it yet. Just this morning I began writing what to me is the critical 'scene', for lack of a better word, in the chapter. It is the sort of scene I have never written before and I'm really looking forward to seeing how it goes. And if it doesn't go well, I will know it, and I'll have to try again, because this scene has to be as close to 'right' as I can get it. It has to work, or the whole chapter doesn't work, so it will be interesting indeed. After this scene there will be one or two brief ones and I believe that will be one chapter in the books. But of course I will spend some time rewriting and editing it before I take on Chapter 2.

Nothing But Fog Ahead, But the Writer Remains Undaunted

This is especially the case if I can get my first chapter done and into some kind of shape. If I think I have a pretty decent first chapter down, there doesn't seem to be much reason why I can't write a second, and the book goes from there. One thing that is sort of hard to accept is how long writing the entire book is clearly going to take. I try to fit in as much as I can - sometimes jettisoning off on my lunch break from my "day job" to write some of this story - but here it is, about 7 months or so into the project, and I have about 50 pages in draft form going, one Prologue and one chapter. Boy, is this sucker going to take forever. If my book has even 12 chapters, how long will that take - roughly six years?? Which means I'll be, oh, around 42 when it's done? Good gracious. I hope not. But it is no quick job. This is a lifetime accomplishment - it is my life's work, at least in my head.

I've got to just press on with it and take it a little bit at a time and work on it as if my life literally depends on it. There is just no other way to get this novel written, and I want it written. If nothing else to get the damn subject matter off my chest. It's been terrorizing my brain for long enough. Begone, Floyd Lovell! I am only joking about that, for the man WAS gone before I could ever meet him (in this life). But his story has haunted me for a long time and my writing this book is an attempt to do him some kind of tribute. That's how I look at it. My grandmother too, really, whom I did have the good fortune and the honor to know personally, before she died when I was around 14.

There it is then: Chapter 1 is almost done, Chapter 2 looms, the writer is ready to take this story forward. He pledges here and now to do exactly that.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

"City of the Big Shoulders" (or, Duke Altum's POTW #37)

YOU KNOW, for the past week or so now I've been thinking to myself that I wanted to post some thoughts about my home city: Chicago. I only lived there for the first five years of my life, so people tend to scoff or laugh when I refer to it as my "home city;" however, it is where things began for me, and not only that, but is the place that at least half of my extended family comes from, where my Dad worked for years and my parents first established our household, and where so many of the roots that anchor the tree from which I am but a small fruit have long since taken hold in this great land...

Anyway, the occasion for such thoughts is just the reading I have been doing lately, having just finished a massive history of Chicago (Donald Miller's fascinating and entertaining City of the Century) and being currently immersed in one of the great novels to come out of the Windy City, Saul Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March (perhaps Theodore Dreiser's classic Sister Carrie is the only tale that would beat it in the race to be named the "great Chicago novel"). Inspired by these books and the thoughts that have been swirling around in my head for weeks now about this great, teeming, historic, quintessentially American city, I thought I would just write some rambling reflections about the place, and my interest in it...

But then, as it was getting to be time to select another Poem of the Week anyway, I was thumbing through a book I recently received from Mutt as a gift, a small collection of poems from the great American Bard of the Midwest, Carl Sandburg... and I came across his famous poem about the city, simply called "Chicago." And I realized that it captured perfectly the impressions that have been swirling around in my head, and is a wonderful portrait of the hardscrabble, vivacious spirit and history of this city that many have a called a "metaphor for America." It almost serves as a Cliff Notes version of the history I just read! So rather than attempt to re-invent the wheel... I give you his vivid snapshot of this great city, "my city," the City of the Big Shoulders... long may you prosper there by the shores of Lake Michigan, "alive and course and strong and cunning," with "lifted head singing for all to hear"!



HOG Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I
have seen your painted women under the gas lamps
luring the farm boys.

And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it
is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to
kill again.

And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the
faces of women and children I have seen the marks
of wanton hunger.

And having answered so I turn once more to those who
sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer
and say to them:

Come and show me another city with lifted head singing
so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.

Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on
job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the
little soft cities;

Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning
as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
Building, breaking, rebuilding,

Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with
white teeth,

Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young
man laughs,

Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has
never lost a battle,

Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse.
and under his ribs the heart of the people,

Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of
Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog
Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with
Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

Monday, August 07, 2006


Having checked out the blog recently to see the gauntlet had been duly chuck'd, here now are my responses, for anyone who cares.....-Mutt Ploughman

Realizing this is impossible, let’s ask it anyway: if you had to name only one, what has been the most memorable book you read/blogged about during Year One?

Very tough to decide, but if I had to choose one I would probably say Toni Morrison’s Beloved. I didn’t blog a whole lot on it, but my reading it was prompted by the article/survey that appeared in The New York Times which asked the question “What Is The Best Work of American Fiction of the Last 25 Years?” Among the hundreds of critics and writers that responded this novel was the clear winner, so I figured I’d better read it. It was a brutal, effortless, unforgettable novel and since it was written from the perspective of the black female experience in America in the post-Civil War era, it is easy for me to remember both for its contrast with my life and its remarkable narrative structure and elegant prose.

OK, fine… but we said we were going to look FORWARD. So, what’s coming up on your reading list? What might we read you blogging about in the near future?

Right now I am kind of jostling between contemporary literature – which Duke rightly said I attempt to stay on top of – and ‘period’ reading as research for the writing project I am working on (more below). I just finished Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and will soon be reading Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood. Both happen to be be Japanese writers, but they are very different because Ishiguro – most famous for The Remains of the Day – was raised in England, and Murakami is Japan’s most well-known fiction writer internationally. I will probably be blogging on Murakami’s work because I plan to review his new short story collection, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, and reading Wood is just prep work for that review. I am also going to be reading two Sinclair Lewis novels soon, Main Street and Babbitt, which is primarily for the research I mentioned before. Although Sinclair Lewis was America’s first Nobel Prize winner and I am always interested in reading Nobel Prize winners in Literature.

Is there any one “classic” work you would like to take on in the upcoming year?

There are probably several, but I have thought a lot about re-reading Moby Dick, so I would say that is the best candidate. A dark horse would be CervantesDon Quixote. I also read a Dickens novel every year and will be reading another shortly, but haven’t decided which.

What about contemporary writers/works? Anything from that category you would like to pursue in Year Two?

See above, I plan to read some more Haruki Murakami, although I must say I’m not a big fan of his stuff, so part of the reason I want to read and review him is to give him ‘another chance’ or to discover why I don’t like his stuff much. I plan to read one or two more books by T.C. Boyle, who is one of the major writers working today, whose work to me is touch and go. I have his collected stories and will most likely read The Road to Welville in the coming year. In general, I try to populate my reading list with contemporary work here and there throughout the year so there will probably be numerous others. People who want to write fiction themselves should stay on top of what’s out there.

Going to be doing any writing of your own this year?

If you’re familiar with this blog you don’t have to ask that question of me, but just for the record, yes, without a doubt. I am trying to start a historical novel set in Indiana between 1924 and roughly 1944, loosely based on the life of my grandfather. Though I’ve never publicly stated it on this blog or anywhere else before, since this is the one year anniversary of The Secret Thread, I’ll reveal that the working title of my novel is Obeisance to Mammon. I have a long way to go on this but so far I am enjoying both the research, which occupied at least ¼ of my reading this year, and the early writing of the Prologue and first chapter.

In addition, I plan to write more book reviews, starting with Haruki Murakami and will hopefully write others. I guess it’s remotely possible that I may also take a break from writing the novel and try to write a story here or there too.

OK, wide open question now. List three major works you think you may take on this year. Could be any genre, any length – or, if you’re so inclined, it could even be a re-read. Go. (NOTE: You can define “major” in any way that makes sense to you. I’m trying to get at three books that are “on your radar,” i.e., important enough in your eyes that you would think about reading them weeks or even months in advance.)

Wide open is right. For me the answer is probably – in addition to hopefully re-reading Moby DickWilliam Faulkner's Light in August, which Duke has read and highly recommended, The Collected Stories of William Trevor and Raymond Carver’s Where I’m Calling From. Among several others, I hope.

What about spiritual reading? Have any specific plans in that category for Year Two?

Yes. I hope to read some more of the Bible first of all. A study group I am in started re-reading Job, but we sort of fizzled out on it. Hopefully we can get that back in gear. I also plan to read a lot of Thomas Merton in the coming year or even the next two years. The Seven Storey Mountain is another possible re-read candidate for this year, and I’d like to read many more of his works including his published journals and letters. This is pre-research for a writing project I may attempt on Merton some day.

You guys in the Book XChange are well-known for your “reading projects” – themed trilogies, ongoing reading series, the famous XChange XChange program, etc. Anything along these lines on the horizon for Year Two?

As Duke mentioned, I hope that my Annual Dickens Read will be a fixture from here on out, until I pass along….that will continue this year without question. I usually take that on in the late summer or fall, so it’s coming up.

The Xchange Xchange is a new fixture that we’ve only done a couple of but I definitely plan to continue that one this year at some point. So far I’ve initiated the ones we’ve done, but maybe Duke will throw a curve and break one out this year at the least expected time.

Other than that, the only ‘planned’ project for me would be additional research reading for the novel already mentioned on the 1920s, 30s, or 40s.

Friday, August 04, 2006

FOLLOWING THE THREAD: TST celebrates its first birthday – Part I

-HAPPY BIRTHDAY R.A.L. -- 8/4/30 -- TST raises a pint to you!!!-

Well I guess the title of this post pretty much sets the tone: this month marks the first anniversary of the debut of The Secret Thread in the blogosphere. And while we know there are celebrations, tributes and appreciations popping up all over the web, we thought we had better mark the occasion in some way ourselves, just for the purposes of posterity…

So rather than put you through some long and boring tale about how this blog came to be, or revisit the reasons why we called this little venture “The Secret Thread” in the first place (if you to learn that, go to the Archives, click on August 2005, and read the inaugural post), how about we do something a little more interesting… and look into the crystal ball. No point in looking back at the year that’s just gone past us – why not look forward, to all the great reading and discussion that’s going to be happening on this here blog in the coming year? This way, we give our thousands of thousands of readers something to look forward to…

So what I’ve done is devised a kind of questionnaire for myself, and my partner in crime Mutt Ploughman, that will help to “follow the thread” and see where it might lead in the next year of this blog’s existence… Mutt, the gauntlet has been thrown down… will you deliver on Part II of this post, gracing our readers with your own responses???


Realizing this is impossible, let’s ask it anyway: if you had to name only one, what has been the most memorable book you read/blogged about during Year One?

Yes. That is impossible. But if I had to pick just one… it would probably be Breece D’J Pancake’s posthumously-published book of short stories, simply titled The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake. Perhaps that is a surprising choice, but the word used was “memorable”… and I have not been able to get that book out of my head since I read it back in October. Here’s what I wrote about it back then: “Reading The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake was, for me anyway, one of those incredibly rare experiences in which your mind is re-calibrated, your understanding of what fiction is capable of doing forever expanded.” I still think that today.

OK, fine… but we said we were going to look FORWARD. So, what’s coming up on your reading list? What might we read you blogging about in the near future?

Funny you should ask. Mutt and I are asking each other this exact question all the time. When I have finished my current book, Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March, I plan on jumping right into CamusThe Fall, which is a less-famous work of his I’ve always been interested in. Been a while since I read Camus, so I’m looking forward to getting back into his stuff. After that, I plan on switching back to non-fiction. Right now it’s not decided, but I am thinking about Hilaire Belloc’s classic account of his pilgrimage to Rome on foot, entitled The Path to Rome… or, I may read a book length interview with (then) Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now of course Pope Benedict XVI (God and The World). But then again, no one should be too surprised if Bob Dylan’s Chronicles ends up on the blog somewhere…

Is there any one “classic” work you would like to take on in the upcoming year?

Oh yeah, there are lots of them actually! But again, if I had to choose one… gosh, that’s tough… let’s make it Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, a book that is a major source of embarrassment and shame for me by virtue of the fact that I keep having to admit that I have not, in fact, ever read it. Man would I love to get that literary monkey off my back!!! But I genuinely want to read it too, and have for a long time… not only is it obviously one of the great works of world literature, but it is also abundant in spiritual truth from all I’ve heard.

What about contemporary writers/works? Anything from that category you would like to pursue in Year Two?

Definitely. The first choice that comes immediately to mind is Edward P. Jones, whose much-lauded novel The Known World was given to me by Mutt as a gift this past year… and he loved it so much he blogged about it here, I believe. Another “contemporary” writer that comes to mind, someone whose work I very much want to get into (not that there’s a lot of it!), is Marilynne Robinson. Her novel Gilead won the Pulitzer Prize last year (again, also read by Mutt… he keeps up with the contemporary writing “scene” much more than I do), but I’d really like to start with her debut, the book that hung her star in the literary firmament… Housekeeping. (Mutt says you always sound more impressive if you use the word “firmament,” BTW.) Another writer that I guess you could call “contemporary,” at least in the broad sense of the term, whose work I really feel drawn towards is the Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk. I could easily see either Mutt or myself getting into one of his books before Year Two comes to a close.

Going to be doing any writing of your own this year?

Oh, I’ll keep dabbling in poetry, when the impulse becomes too much to resist, or if/when the lightning of inspiration strikes me… I hasten to add that I consider myself a person who attempts to write poetry from time to time, not necessarily a poet. The mantle of “poet,” as Seamus Heaney observed recently, is a heavy one, and one ought not take it up lightly. I think it’s a title one needs to earn, really. I wish I could say I would be writing a short story or novel, but that kind of writing’s not in me. Anyway, at this point in my life, poetry presents a challenge that is both interesting and, in the rare moments when I feel I have met it with some success, rewarding.

OK, wide open question now. List three major works you think you may take on this year. Could be any genre, any length – or, if you’re so inclined, it could even be a re-read. Go. (NOTE: You can define “major” in any way that makes sense to you. I’m trying to get at three books that are “on your radar,” i.e., important enough in your eyes that you would think about reading them weeks or even months in advance.)

No problem, buttlick! (That’s from Sixteen Candles… never mind.) That is truly a question only a hopeless book nerd would be ready to answer almost immediately. Well, you’ve come to the right place for one of those. Anyway… let’s see… there’s no question that in the next year I will be reading at least one novel by the Portugese Nobel laureate Jose Saramago. If you’re at all familiar with this blog, I won’t have to say much about him – Mutt’s blogged him nearly to death here (along with T.C. Boyle, maybe the most blogged-up writer on this whole site). Though not without good reason… read his posts and you’ll see what I mean. He’s a damned fine writer… and so is Saramago, actually... still going well into his 80’s too, I might add, and writing quality stuff too. I’ve been meaning to get back to his work for a long time. I think it will be The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, which Mutt has raved about to me often. Another foreign-born Nobel laureate whose work intrigues me is the Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz, and since I don’t read writing from that part of the world very often, I am hoping to read one of his works soon. Probably The Harafish, which sounds fascinating to me. And Toni Morrison – to my shame, I’m almost totally unfamiliar with her work, and with Beloved being recently named by a broad-based panel of literary critics as “the best work of American fiction in the last 25 years,” I can’t help but see this as my chance to get to know her writing.

What about spiritual reading? Have any specific plans in that category for Year Two?

Glad you asked that question, seeing as the relationship between reading/literature and the spiritual life is really the central theme of this blog. I do tend to treat it as sort of a different category of reading altogether, following the whole tradition of lectio divina -- "divine reading." I've already mentioned the interview-in-book-form with now-Pope Benedict XVI. There is a powerful-looking book on Divine Providence written by Francis Cardinal Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship at the Vatican, that I am looking forward to getting into. I have two memoirs from the late, great Pope John Paul II ("the Great") -- Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way and Memory and Identity -- at least one of which I hope to tackle in the next year. I've mentioned Saint Augustine too -- I'd definitely like to get a little bit farther into his oeuvre at some point. Then there's Thomas Merton, John Henry Newman, Saint Francis de Sales, Christopher Dawson... certainly there's no shortage of riches yet to be plundered in this department! And the Bible itself, of course: I've been re-reading the Gospel of Matthew lately, and it's been a great boon to my spirit. Finally, to go back to our previous Pope for a second, there's John Paul II's Letter to Families -- this is a document I feel I need to be going back to and studying and pondering almost on an annual basis. It has everything to do with my highest vocation, which is that of husband and father, and its wisdom has become invaluable to me. I definitely plan on reading it again, and soon.

You guys in the Book XChange are well-known for your “reading projects” – themed trilogies, ongoing reading series, the famous XChange XChange program, etc. Anything along these lines on the horizon for Year Two?

Man, this question could go in a lot of different directions. For example, Mutt reads at least one Dickens novel each year, does something like that count? (Interviewer nods “yes.”) Fine. I have a number of ongoing reading series going that I like to get back to every now and then, and I’m sure I’ll be doing that during Year Two. One is my American Masters series, in which I am doing my best to become as well-read as possible in the literature of my own country. In the next year I hope to read a bit more Twain and Faulkner, and get back to Steinbeck with either The Red Pony or Tortilla Flat. I definitely want to get to know the work of Sinclair Lewis a bit, being our first Nobel prize winner – either Main Street or Babbitt is definitely on my list for this year. And, O.E. Rolvaag’s Giants in the Earth, a lesser known novel about frontier life in the Midwest, written by a Norwegian immigrant.

I also try to read a few works from the so-called “Western canon” each year, and I hope to do that again as well. Possibilities there include Goethe’s Faust, CervantesDon Quixote de la Mancha and, if I’m feeling REALLY ambitious, Saint Augustine’s City of God. Oh, and Joseph Conrad – I really want to read more of him sooner rather than later. And I'd like to take on some Thomas Mann as well.

I’m sure Mutt and I will be doing a few more XChange XChanges during this coming year, but I'll be damned if I'm gonna reveal my possible choices for that here!

As for my patented trilogies, I still have the idea in the back of my mind to read an “Indian trilogy,” consisting of E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India, Rabindranath Tagore’s only novel The Home and the World, and finally Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. The idea behind my trilogy is that it's supposed to loosely follow India’s recent history -- from colonization, to the struggle for independence, to independence (and beyond).

Finally, foreign authors I want to read that I haven’t tasted yet, or have but only briefly: Mikhail Bulgakov, Mahfouz, Halldor Laxness, Tarjei Vesaas, Ismail Kadare, Pamuk, Isaac Singer, Kafka, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Machado de Assis, Gao Xingjian, Juan Ramon Jimenez, and Par Lagerkvist… just to name a few!


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Journal of a "Novel"-Entry 19

I am keeping the quotes in my journal title, even though Duke has implored me not to use quotes, because I used them for the first 17 entries, so no reason to change them now. However, I appreciated Duke's comment because he was trying to say that I should believe in the legitmacy of my enterprise, which is a point well taken. I also appreciated the other comments made to my recent teaser post of the first brief segments of Chapter 1 of the novel in progress.

By way of compromise, I will call this novel a novel in the entries themselves, and in other notes from here on. No matter how much I may feel like an impostor, it is a fact that a novel is indeed what I am trying to write, so let's just call it what it is: a novel, a novel in progress, a part of a novel, whatever.

An End is in Sight, and a Huge Mountain Looms After That

Thank God for small milestones. I think I can see the end of my first chapter just around the bend as I continue to work on the opening to this story. I have been putting in time most days, dreadfully small amounts of it, but I'm doing what I can. On certain occasions I have been trying to put in what I call 'two-a-days', working on the story both in the morning and on my lunch break at work. Fortunately there is a local library near where I work. As long as I brownbag my lunch and eat it while working at my desk, and my workload is not too heavy, and I don't dawdle around, theoretically I can escape my desk, rush to my car, drive to the library, and get in about 30-35 minutes of effort. It's NOT AT ALL ideal to work in 30 minute blocks, because frequently I am just beginning to figure what I want to write just as I have to return to work, but anything helps.

As I work on this story, I realize I am living out my own story of becoming a writer, and that story is being written as I live it. I have had the opportunity to think about this idea from a recent novel I have read, in which an autobiographical story was told as the author lived it. I am not working on an autobiographical story, but as I work on this I am also "writing" the story of my own success or lack of success as a novelist. If I succeed it will become my own lore, and I will be proud to remember how I sometimes put in work on the book in the middle of my other work, fitting it in whenever I could, just to get it done. If I complete the novel but it never gets published, I can find some consolation in the fact that I gave it as much as I possibly could while trying to live up to my responsibilities. If I never finish the novel, well, that's on me.

The literary world is replete with similar tales of the struggles well-known writers went through to produce that first book, the one that allowed them to go on and write other books. That may never happen for me, but in my better moments it is exciting to think that some day I might be able to look back and say, "Man, for that first book, I poured everything I had into it. I did everything I could do to get that book written." In fact, I can see the day, which may or may not exist in my future, when I might say to myself, "In a way, you can never get back to the way it was when you were writing your first book. The wild abandonment, the extreme sense of having nothing to worry about because you have nothing to lose, the concept of chucking in everything you have as if you only have one shot and you're going to take it." I can see how one who writes a successful book and then goes on to do the whole literary career thing might become nostalgic for the time when they were nobody, no one knew what they were or expected anything out of them, and they could just write purely from the impulse to get whatever the story was inside of them out.

This is where I am these days. The first chapter is in fair progress, and there is at least some momentum beginning to develop, and I am very grateful for that. The material for this novel has the seeds within it to grow organically, almost on its own, and I am hoping that by forcing myself to sit down and pay it attention as regularly as possible, the seed will begin to flourish. Others have done it, it is unquesionably possible.

Where am I in the story? The primary characters are being introduced, most of them being present at the central event with which the first chapter concerns itself: the wedding of Walter and Greta Brogan. They attend the wedding, and head to the reception where good times are had by all in the height of the decadent 1920s era, when Art Deco was in vogue, the music was hopping, the Charleston was huge, the women were flappers, every man wore a hat, alcohol was illegal, bootlegged whiskey was everywhere, and the desire to have a good time and not worry about the rest of the world was at a premium. It is interesting to attempt to describe the scene in the fictional dance hall I created for the reception, but in real life my great-grandfather owned a dance hall in the 20s, called the Nu-Joy, and some documents exist in which he describes some of what it was like, so I have had some help in trying to bring it to life.

I know how I want Chapter 1 to end, but after that, I really have no idea where I want to go with the story except in the most broad terms. I think that Chapter 2 will find Walter and Greta taking a journey to French Lick, Indiana, where they will spend their honeymoon in an expensive hotel and spa that is still located there, far south in the State of Indiana. We will also have to get a little bit about their upbringing and their personal pasts, but I don't know how I am going to work that in. Walter and Greta will be briefly exposed to the sort of life that they will never really get to lead, one of wealth and indulgence. It will contain some of the first seeds of the struggle that will grip Walter for the rest of his life, the quest to earn a good living and the balance to strike between making enough money to protect your family and not getting caught up in the jaws of temptation and greed.

The first portion of this novel, the 1920s years, will hopefully expand on that theme, as Walter will see what effects the pursuit of money/wealth/power has on the people he knows, his father in law, his brother in law, his wife's classmate and former suitor, and himself. Then, if all goes according to plan, the second portion of the novel will hit: the Depression. But by then, I think, Walter will already have drawn some conclusions, which the Depression, such as it was, will only reinforce.

More to come.