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.

1 comment:

Duke Altum said...

Mutt, I definitely vote for "Hoosier Daddy," especially seeing as this is essentially a father story... that is hilarious!!!

Eloquent, and passionate, "defense" of your title idea there, I must say... it would be tough to find substantial counter-arguments that would stand up to all of the points you made. As you indicated, point #1 is probably the one flaw in your case, the Achilles Heel, if there is to be one... but I think you're wise in saying basically, let's just live with it for now, keep writing the book, and see how you feel about 6, 9, 12 months from now and beyond. If it is the "right" title, somehow it will identify itself definitively to you, the author, as such... I believe that.

You have many challenges laid before you now in writing Chapter 2, but you have gotten off to an incredible start with Chapter 1. I'm not going to go into an extended discussion of it here because I don't want to give anything away to our many readers... but suffice it to say that if you've been following this at all, and you have even a sliver of interest inMutt's project, keep tracking with this ongoing, online Journal. Hop onto the bandwagon now. Who knows, you may be participating in literary history in the making...