Posts Tagged ‘sequel’

“Moby-Dick” is actually good! Who knew?!

January 8th, 2012

I’ve been reading Moby-Dick by Herman Melville the last few weeks because I’m going to use the novel as a turning point for my  star-crossed characters in the sequel to my first novel, The Outer Banks House. In my first novel, I used Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe as a turning point for the same characters. I also began each chapter with a relevant quote from Robinson Crusoe, and I plan to start each chapter in the sequel with quotes from Moby-Dick. Such grand ideas!

But first, I have to read the darned book.

Moby-Dick is a large book, as far as books go (655 pages), and as alien to me as a T.S. Eliot poem. And yet, I was an English major at UVA. How did I manage to dodge what some believe is the greatest American novel ever written? I mean, it’s so large! Hard to miss on a syllabus, and even harder to dodge when thrown at you. I have considered the fact that I might have been assigned the book at some point in my college career, but just squeaked by on the Cliff Notes so that I could keep up with all the keg parties. I mean, I had my priorities, and the classics were kind of low on the list.

Moby-Dick’s important reputation precedes it , but that wasn’t the case when it was first published. In fact, the book was mostly panned by British and American critics, and Melville, who at the time was a rather popular author, never quite recovered from the blow.

But throughout my lifetime, I’ve been intimidated by even the tiniest mention of the book Moby-Dick. Its title alone suggests monstrosity and a dark abyss of confusion. I’d have been perfectly happy to while my days away reading Diana Gabaldon’s novels over and over, but something in my subconscious told me to consider it for my sequel. See, Ben finds a byproduct (can’t reveal what it is, it would spoil it!) of a sperm whale, but eventually finds that the booty isn’t necessarily his for the taking. He gets rather obsessed about his secret find, thinking things will now get better between him and Abby when he trades it in for cash. In the name of his treasure, he makes decisions that compromise his character.

Moby-Dick is himself a sperm whale, at first hunted for his byproducts of oil and spermaceti as all whales were, but as the novel progresses, we find that the particular white-headed whale is being hunted by Captain Ahab for revenge purposes only. Ahab took it quite personally when Moby-Dick bit off one of his legs, and he is obsessed with his killing quest, much as Ben is obsessed with his treasure. I can see the light in your eyes; you’re getting it! I’m happy with the choice of Moby-Dick as well.

But I’m also happy to be reading it. Melville writes with a sense of humor that I find rare in a mid-19th century author. It’s not even that hard to understand the high-blown style of language. It’s easier than reading Shakespeare, if that helps. Mind, it won’t do to read the book while drinking wine. You need all of your mental faculties about you when pick up the book. And a Cliffs Notes wouldn’t hurt either. (After every chapter, I read the Cliffs Notes to see what the hell the chapter was really about.) Here is a funny bit about narrator/sailor Ishmael’s observations about a dark-skinned harpooner Queequeg that he is forced to share a bed in a crowded in with:

Upon waking next morning about daylight, I found Queequeg’s arm thrown over me in the most loving and affectionate manner. You had almost thought I had been his wife…I lay only alive to the comical predicament. For though I tried to move his arm–unlock his bridegroom grasp–yet, sleeping as he was, he still hugged me tightly, as though naught but death should part us twain. I now strove to rouse him–“Queequeg!”–but his only answer was a snore. I then rolled over, my neck feeling as if it were in a horse-collar; and suddenly felt a slight scratch. Throwing aside the counterpane, there lay the tomahawk sleeping by the savage’s side, as if it were a hatchet-faced baby. A pretty pickle, truly, thought I; abed here in a strange house in the broad day, with a cannibal and a tomahawk! “Queequeg!–in the name of goodness, Queequeg, wake!” At length, by dint of much wriggling, and loud and incessant expostulations upon the unbecomingness of his hugging a fellow male in that matrimonial sort of style, I succeeded in extracting a grunt; and presently he drew back his arm, shook himself all over like a Newfoundland dog just from the water, and sat up in bed, stiff as a pike-staff, looking at me, and rubbing his eyes as if he did not altogether remember how I came to be there…”  p. 54.

I could go on and on with quote after quote; Moby-Dick is filled with gems of comic genius! I wouldn’t lie to you, it’s worth a read. I’m not even half-way done, but I actually look forward to reading it at night. Those long-ago critics had no idea what they were dealing with.

 


Wacky Weather Inspires the Writer

November 7th, 2011

My friend Eliza and I went down to the Outer Banks this past weekend and stayed in my family beach house in Kill Devil Hills. We do this about twice a year, just to relax and have fun. Our lives are so crazy now that we can’t even catch up properly over a lunch, so it’s nice to spend a good two days with each other, eating more food than we should and drinking more red wine than we should and just catching up on what has been going on in our lives.

But I am having a hard time understanding why we always pick the worst weather weekends to do this. We don’t go down in the summers for whatever reason, so we always choose an October or November weekend to go down. This seems to suit us because those autumn months are so busy, full of children’s activities and school and work–we need a break to rejuvenate and refresh ourselves, perhaps to better face the holiday onslaught. Then we often pick a March weekend after the cold and boring months of January and February, but before the packed months of April and May. But I kid you not, every time we go down, it either snows, storms or is so frigidly cold, we can’t even go for a walk on the beach.

Eliza took the photographs of me for my book jacket, and I will never forget how cold it was that 2008 November day. She took photos of me on a bench outside my beach house, on the beach, on Jockey’s Ridge and then on the beach again. It was like torture, but I just tried to tell myself that that was what the super-models had to do all the time,  and it was a price we had to pay for our work, our art. The photos did turn out beautifully. It was something to do with that ocean breeze and cold sunshine. (You can check out the website for the author photo.)

This weekend brought the Outer Banks something like a nor’easter. It was windy and cloudy and cold the entire weekend. Thankfully, it didn’t rain or snow. But poor, poor Eliza and I, we can’t help but get down about the crappy weather. We can’t seem to catch a break. Is the wish for a little sunshine asking too much of the weather gods? A little sun on our pallid faces, a little warmth on our overworked bodies? Perhaps so. The weather gods have been working overtime up there lately. Maybe the effects of global warming have gone to their heads, making them all hot, crabby and unstable of mood. Is it time for an earthquake or a flood? What about a hurricane or a nor’easter? Or a drought? A tornado? A tsunami or a volcanic eruption? A freaky snow storm at Halloween, right after an Indian summer? Or how about all of the weather phenomena at once? Yeah! That might get their attention! Lately it seems we are just sitting ducks, bobbing about waiting to see what the weather will bring us next. I’m so tired of weather, of hoping for greatness but getting nastiness and even fatal destruction instead.

But weather’s many mood shifts do inspire the muse in me. There is something about a stormy sea that pleases my eye–the endless white caps, the crazy, frothing waves, the fast-moving clouds, the gulls that fly in once place  in the wind. And since I don’t live on the Outer Banks, it helps me to experience such things on my brief visits down. I got an eyeful of the ocean this weekend, when we forced ourselves to go for our walk (more like a tug-of-war with the wind) on the beach. Even for me, a writer, it’s hard to describe the awesome power of a stormy sea. There are no words–a dictionary and a thesaurus are useless, your brain can’t comprehend what it’s seeing. It’s actually scary to watch it, to imagine my helplessness in the face of it. And in the sequel to The Outer Banks House, I must describe such a sea in the first chapters. I must describe how Ben sees such an ocean, knowing that he might have to venture into it in order to save people stranded at sea. I must describe how Abby sees it, knowing she is alone in the house, that she is the one who must help herself for once. I am actually glad that I saw the sea in its ferocious state this past weekend, so that I can better describe what it looks like to my characters.

I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have preferred  blue sky and sunshine and 70-degree temperatures. Eliza and I deserved all of that and more! Girls’ weekends are harder and harder to come by these days. But I’m trying to look on the positive side. Bad weather makes for great writing.


Steamboats and boatsickness,
flies and neck wounds: Introductions

October 23rd, 2011

I think this will be a perfect post for a cool Sunday morning in October: my favorite sentences/sections from chapter one of the historical fiction novel Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier. The language is soothing, rich with (not too much) description. And the first two sentences are doozies, of course. All writers are encouraged to jazz up their first sentences, as well as their first paragraphs, to grab the interest of readers and hook them into turning the page. A writer must also orient the reader to time, place, and even character in these introductory sentences. A tough job with just a few words! Here are my first sentences from The Outer Banks House:

I was the first passenger off the steamboat. My fellow travelers had insisted, for I had spent the duration of the journey in the throes of boatsickness. Everyone, including mama and daddy, had watched me from afar, afraid to get their Sunday best too close to me.

Hopefully the reader was oriented to time (era of steamboats, language: “boatsickness” instead of the more modern term of seasickness, “Sunday best”) and place (the character just took a journey by water and is now disembarking) and character (likely a person not used to traveling by water–a landlubber. Also a person who doesn’t have a good relationship with his/her parents, people who seemed more concerned with appearances than in assisting an ill child). Would you want to read more, based on the first sentences of my book? I hope so! Here are the first sentences from Cold Mountain:

At the first gesture of morning, flies began stirring. Inman’s eyes and the long wound at his neck drew them, and the sound of their wings and the touch of their feet were soon more potent than a yardful of roosters in rousing a man to wake. So he came to yet one more day in the hospital ward.

The reader is oriented to place (morning in a hospital) and character (a man named Inman who is suffering from a wound at his neck, he is perhaps familiar with farming due to the reference to roosters).  Neck wounds and flies are intriguing enough to most people to want to keep reading, not to mention the perfectly worded metaphor comparing the flies to a yardful of roosters in their ability to wake someone up.

Here are some more particularly juicy sentences just from the first two pages: The window was as tall as a door, and he imagined many times that it would open onto some other place and let him walk through and be there. During his first weeks in the hospital, he had been hardly able to move his head, and all that kept his mind occupied had been watching out the window and picturing the old green places he recollected from home. Childhood places…The window apparently only wanted to take his thoughts back. Which was fine with him, for he had seen the metal face of the age and had been so stunned by it that when he thought into the future, all he could vision was a world from which everything he counted important had been banished or had willingly fled.

Right away we realize that Inman is away from his home, for he is feeling nostalgic. We could even infer, from his reference to the stunning “metal face of the age,” that he has been fighting in a war and has gotten the neck wound in battle.

I wonder how many times Frazier wrote and rewrote those first few lines. As an author, I know that it was likely a few, for our job is to make it all look easy. Those first lines of The Outer Banks House weren’t even the first lines until I had begun editing it for Crown. Here are the first lines that got the book picked up by my agent and then my editor:

Picture this, if you will: A trigger is squeezed in earnest by a crooked Fed’ral forefinger, and a minie ball tears out the rifle’s slender barrel. It screams through the smoky air and slams into my skull bone like an iron stake pushed through wet, rocky dirt. My head explodes so quick I don’t even feel a thing. I just fall down in the brain-splattered thicket, dead forever.

Only, it didn’t happen that way a-tall. While my unit camped in the slushy Virginia pastures, I acquired a bowel affliction that’s slowly roasting the tender insides on the hot embers of its cookfire.

I’d take a minie ball to the brain over this rusty creak toward death’s depot any day.

Kind of different from the first sentence that ended up getting published, right? It’s even from a different character’s point of view–Abby’s Uncle Jack, a Confederate soldier. In fact, the entire chapter ended up getting cut, a fact that disturbed my agent, who loved that first chapter probably more than the rest of the book’s chapters combined. Am I right, Byrd? My editor wanted me to blend the information that I provived in Uncle Jack’s chapter into the new first chapter, written in Abby’s point of view. I used a letter from Uncle Jack to Abby, written in the hospital while he’s dying, to convey some of the love the two have for one another, the history between them. So Uncle Jack died, in more ways than one. You can still read this lost chapter on my website though!!

I am still working on the first sentences of the sequel, but here is a sneak peek for you lucky blog readers:

Mr. Parrish’s case was so heavy, I had a notion to just let fly with it, watch it thud its way on down the staircase. My right arm burned like I’d dragged it through flames. “Shitfire,” I said, and not under breath neither. What on earth was in the damned case anyway, bricks of gold? Just a glance at Mr. Langston Parrish, and I knew he was the richest man I’d ever laid eyes on. Out here in Whaleshead, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I was hard pressed to find a man that even owned a pair of shoes.

I won’t tell you whose point of view this is…I have to keep some surprises, you know. Maybe you can figure it out! Leave me a comment if you feel like guessing, and if you guess correctly, I’ll let you in on some secrets to the sequel!