Sunday, July 29, 2007

Journal of a "Novel"-Entry 35

Spring Forward

I am now at work on Chapter 4 of my novel. It comes as a bit of a surprise that it feels a little different than working on the Prologue or the first three chapters. There are a few reasons why this might be the case, as I think about it more. One is that for some reason I have always thought of the first three chapters as a kind of personal watershed and that if I got past them, I would be more or less on my way to completing the novel. I don’t know if I would say that I feel that way now that I am past Chapter 3 of the draft, but it does feel like a solid beginning. Which is definitely something to hold on to. But I have to admit I don’t feel quite as sure of myself as I thought I might after getting this far. For me, this is nothing new. Insecurity is a long-time companion, and my writing life is no exception. However, I try very hard to overcome it and will continue to do so with this novel.

Another reason why things feel different now that I am writing Chapter 4 is that the story has finally moved on in time. The first three chapters were set in 1924 between the summer and the fall; this chapter skips forward three years to September 1927. This is very significant. A lot has happened in between that is important to my story and my characters. For one thing, the Ku Klux Klan, which is at the absolute zenith of its power in Indiana when my third chapter ends, is all but finished when Chapter 4 picks up. The entire structure has imploded following the arrest, trial and conviction of its leader, D.C. Stephenson, for rape and murder in 1925. As for my characters, Peter Heinricks, Greta’s brother in law, has moved from Oklahoma to Texas with the oil man Pops Wheeler, who is prospecting for the one big dig that will make them all rich. He has wandered even further astray, one might be tempted to comment. Meanwhile, a young attorney named Myron Devreaux, who was a recent Valparaiso Law grad looking for a start in the world in Chapter 2, has moved back to his hometown of Bentonville in Chapter 4, and soon encounters his old flame, Greta Heinricks, in a grocery.

As for Walter Brogan, he is beginning to find out that having outlasted one threat to his happiness and security, i.e. the Klan, he only faces more difficulties. As we move into Chapter 4, we find out that Brogan is actually doing pretty well in his job running the gas station his father-in-law owns. He has hired a second man to work with him and he has formed good relationships with many men of the town and some important business contacts. He does not have a formal education nor is he a practied businessman, but he has charm and a natural gift that makes common folk like him. The problem is that his job takes a lot out of him, and his home life is a harder thing to maintain than he anticipated. He feels pressure to get his wife situated in a house of their own, instead of living at her father's; three years in he has still not been able to make this happen. At the same time Greta is naturally impatient to start a family, and Brogan feels pressure in this sense as well even though his wife tries to minimize it. This leads to difficulties in their relationship, and as well as he relates to other men, Brogan does not do well when it comes to communicating his true feelings to women, including his own wife.

This situation is leading me straight into a place I was not sure I wanted to go, but I feel like I must to make this story authentic: the Brogan's bedroom. I have no plans to be explicit or unnecessarily descriptive, but I feel like I have drawn up for myself the largest challenge of this novel so far. I have to demonstrate that the pressures of their situation and the inability to talk about it easily has made it difficult for them to conceive a child. Talk about painting oneself into a corner! I have absolutely no idea how the intimate relationship of my paternal grandparents must have looked, sounded like, or felt like. But it seems to me that the difficulties they have at this stage of their lives are essential to describe in some way in order to establish a pattern for the rest of the story. So I must, in the modern parlance, 'go there'.

That is the crux of this new chapter. It will in some way describe the demise of the Ku Klux Klan and perhaps briefly touch base with Peter Heinricks' life. Myron Devreaux will come back into play, not necessarily as a 'temptation' element but more of a standing reminder of an alternate life, a sort of 'what if' figure for Greta Heinricks. Time and the rest of the story will let us know if Greta made the right choice in ignoring one man's attentions in favor of another's.

Nonetheless, the main element of this part of the story is the Brogans, their relationship, and their desire to bring someone else into the world. This will eventually lead to their son, Luke Brogan, who ends up becoming a Jesuit priest.

The working title for Chapter 4 I can now say is "A Chance Encounter, Overdue". But this is subject to change, and probably will.

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