12 Winters Blog

Authoress progress, Weeping, and a little Tempest

Posted in July 2010 by Ted Morrissey on July 21, 2010

My working on the Authoress, my novel in progress, slowed down for a couple of weeks, in large part because I was tidying up the manuscript for Weeping with an Ancient God, a novella with collected stories.  Novellas have been a hard sale, unless your name is something like Stephanie Meyer, but I’m hoping by pairing the novella with already published short stories, it will be easier to place.  It took longer to edit and compile the various pieces into a single manuscript — and it took more of my creative energies than I’d anticipated — and as such my writing was affected. But with Weeping put to bed so to speak, I’ve been back at the Authoress this week. I’ve also been doing some home improvement stuff, and these projects, though they’re not that cerebral, have been a distracting influence as well. Along with writing, I’ve also begun some research on nineteenth-century printing processes. Having it right per se is not pivotal to my book, but I’ve been throwing around some terminology, almost since page one, and I want to make sure it’s accurate. So far I’m finding that I’ve been pretty much on the mark, but I’ll probably tweak some language here and there. A metaphor has also been suggested to me via the research; I may pursue inserting the metaphor — letting it just percolate for now.  Since it’s a work of fiction I don’t consider myself a slave to historical accuracy, but authenticity is crucial to historically based novels and being accurate with those sort of details (the printing processes of the period) can go a long way toward establishing that authenticity.

In addition to the research, I’m back to reading Ulysses, specifically the “Circe” section, which is the longest and quite possibly most challenging section of the novel, essentially book-length in itself. Taking the form of a dramatic script, it is a dreamlike narrative. I haven’t done any serious scholarly research on Joyce’s work, but this “Circe” section seems to anticipate the narrative technique of Finnegans Wake, which has been described as the journey from wakefulness through the catacombs of sleep then back toward being awake at the conclusion. I’ve been trying to alternate reading a section of Ulysses with reading a shorter (probably more contemporary) novel, as there are many that I’ve been chomping at the bit to get to; I’ve “fit in” works by Hawkes, Nabokov, Solares, and Süskind whle reading sections of Ulysses. Last week I read a sizable chunk of Tom Rachman’s very new novel The Imperfectionists, and it was very good (it strikes me as more of a conceptual novel, though I don’t mean to imply that makes it somehow not a novel and certainly not less than a novel). I found it laugh-out-loud funny at times, and touching at times — but I abandoned it nevertheless. I felt a bit guilty, as it deserves to be read in full, but I didn’t seem to be in the mood for it. Being contemporary, it talks of cell phones and computers and the Internet — things my real world is filled with, and for some reason I don’t want to read about such stuff, not in a novel anyway. As a writer, I don’t want to write about such stuff either.

I’ve been circulating the first chapter of my novella as a stand-alone piece titlted “Melvill in the Marquesas,” and I’ve just started sending around a 2,000-word short story titled “The Composure of Death” (it’s a knee-slapper). It’s difficult to find open markets in the depth of summer, but already in mid-July things have begun to reopen, meaning that more and more journals have started to read again, though the flood gates won’t open until late August, early September; in other words, with the start of the academic year.

Finally . . .  I’ve been meaning to say something about the Illinois Shakespeare Festival production of The Tempest, which I saw several weeks ago. In a word, it was good. The Festival productions are always professionally done and enjoyable to watch. I was a little taken aback by the presentation of Prospero; he seemed too kind-hearted, not edgy enough for my Prospero tastes. I was most intrigued by the set design and costuming. In addition to its being part of the backdrop, a brilliant blue sky with ponderous white clouds was also rendered on the floor of the stage — implying I think that all of the play’s action is taking place in a sort of ethereal space. This ethereal-space impression was added to by the costuming, especially Ariel’s, which consisted mainly of body paint: sky blue with white clouds added on back and chest; then as pants he wore sort of knee-length breeches made of puffy white material, rather cloud-like if you will. At the pinnacle of the backdrop was the shape of a long-winged bird, maybe dove shaped, but filled in with the same sky-blue sky with clouds design that was on the stage floor and on Ariel (and the other spirits, too, for that matter). In some regards, the ethereal space is perhaps suggestive of the play’s taking place as much in imagination as in theatrical reality — in the playwright’s imagination? Or the audience’s? Perhaps Prospero’s or Miranda’s? I’m not sure — but I’ve been pondering it at some level since seeing the production. The Festival is also doing The Merry Wives of Windsor this summer, and I hope to get to it (though it’s turned into a busy summer in its way).

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Ulysses, the Odyssey, and Suskind’s Perfume

Posted in July 2010 by Ted Morrissey on July 7, 2010

I’ve been meaning to add a blog post for a while, but I’ve discovered my summertime routine doesn’t lend itself to blogging. I’ve been writing quite a bit each morning on my novel in progress, and by the time I reach a point where I might blog, I’m about written out. I hear of creative writers who hammer away on a novel, etc., for hours and hours at a time, but I find that a couple of hours per day is plenty. Still, I’m making much steadier progress than I did during the academic year, where I was limited to writing twenty to thirty minutes a morning, Monday through Friday. I spent most of June editing and revising what I had written of the manuscript, so it’s only been the last couple of weeks that I’ve been moving steadily forward with the plot. There are faint traces of the end of the novel in the air, but I’m trying to resist the scent so that I don’t rush through the end of the book. I’ve resigned myself to not finishing until perhaps next summer in hopes that I’ll have the patience to fully develop the concluding sections.

On the reading front, I completed a couple sections of Ulysses, specifically the “Nausicaa” and “Oxen of the Sun” sections. I must confess that I’ve been reading some notes along with actually reading the novel (especially SparkNotes), and I’ve found them most useful. However, a reference in the “Nausicaa” analysis underscored for me what I’ve found to be a regular, well, shortcoming with many people’s approach to reading Joyce’s novel. I’ve noticed that some academics and/or just plain Ulysses enthusiasts have only a vague knowledge of Homer’s Odyssey — in fact, I’ve run into more than one Joycean who says he’s never read the Odyssey. To return to the case in point, the SparkNotes writer says that in the Odyssey, Nausicaa “discovers Odysseus asleep on the beach” (p. 63), which, strictly speaking, isn’t an accurate way to describe the action of the poem. In Book VI, Nausicaa and her servant girls, at Athena’s divine urging, have come to the river to do the washing, and their youthful frolicking awakens Odysseus, who has been asleep in the foliage. Hearing them, Odysseus reveals himself to the young women (well, not totally, thanks to a sprig of leaves he modestly holds in front of himself). Hence to say that the princess discovers Odysseus asleep on the beach is not quite right — it’s more that Odysseus discovers the young women on the beach. I know some may see it as a picayunish point — and the description of their meeting may be more the result of editorial compression than the SparkNotes writer’s lack of intimacy with Homer’s story — but it does seem to suggest someone is more familiar with Ulysses than with the Odyssey. I would think that if someone is going to devote him- or herself to developing a profound understanding of Ulysses, then one of the first orders of business would be to develop at least a solid understanding of the Odyssey.

Taking a breather from Joyce (ha — you’ll see), I’ve been reading Patrick Süskind’s novel Perfume (translated from the German by John E. Woods), and it’s very, very good. Besides the author’s virtuoso treatment of describing smells (something most creative writers don’t do very much of under normal narrative circumstances), I’ve also appreciated his representation of eighteenth-century France, especially Paris.

In addition to working on the Authoress, I’ve been continuing to circulate “Melvill in the Marquesas” (rejections are starting to trickle in), and I discovered my short story “The Composure of Death,” which, frankly, I had all but forgotten. However, I cleaned it up a bit and began sending it out as well.

tedmorrissey.com