Sunday, July 25, 2010


My wife said the other night that she thought that my metier for writing would be more historical than fantasy, probably because I like to tell everyone in great detail about obscure historical events. For instance, the "years without summer" (535-536) and the Plague of Justinian a few years later. I don't know much about these things, but just the ideas fascinate me and make me want to know more about the Vandals and the decimation of Byzantium. This was part of what prompted me to look again at The Salt Road, one of the ancient and rustic roads from north to south: you can still walk down them. I discovered that there was one from near Warsaw to Budapest, which accounts for the Saint Kinga from Esztergom in Hungary. In fact, not that I think about it, making Esztergom, or even Budapest one of the focal points of the story. Naturally, I would have to make this a Slavic Budapest ...

But returning to historical roots for a novel of the future, with fantasy elements, is helping me simplify the premises and structure of the story. Suddenly I had the structure for a full three self-sufficent parts -- each targeted at around 100,000 (or more) words -- with two primary protagonists, one male and one female, whose individual development and relationship can be sustained for the length of the trilogy. Also, the structure resonates with a variety of religious and traditional stories: quests, Purgatory to Paradise, for example. It's important in this genre to be able to address large issues. But anyway, my lesson for today is paring the story down to its essential elements and then maybe building up some interesting, supporting detail around that elemental structure. The current literature about post-petroleum is mostly pessimistic, framed as The Fall: I'm much more interested in a story that could be about The Rise, which could be read as a history of the future, but also as an alternate history of the past or the present. If my focal question is what it means to build a road from point a to point b? with the question of when it might be best to leave the journey unfinished, which is to say, to leave the interior uncharted, uncrossed, then I am asking a very BIG question which can be addressed in a narrative about whether a boy builds the next relay station or not, whether he tells what he finds in-between, or keeps the secret, as well as in some abstract philosophical way.

The point of writing a novel is not to escape the questions that concern philosophers, but (at some level) to escape the professional philosophers and their methods of asking and answering the questions.

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