It’s in all the books; you hear it at clinics and in class: Who are you writing for? I usually fall back on claiming that I write for myself, sales be damned! However, a funny thing happened on the way back from Atlanta. I was listening to a lecture on Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, as one does on such expeditions, when Professor Greenberg noted that the trumpet part was written with a single performer in mind, a virtuoso player by the name of Johann Ludwig Schreiber. The trumpet part is still considered one of the most difficult in the entire repertoire even with the change from valveless to valved instruments.
This gave rise to a question: What would a story or book look like if it was written for a virtuoso reader? Poetry might be one answer, a story that makes you think about the texture and construction of the language might be another. No matter. This was the genesis for my new answer to that ever recurring question I started with.
My writing is scored for the Virtuoso reader. I refuse to dumb-down my prose to make it accessible to the average reader. This isn’t snobbery; it’s that I like the baroque complexity and structure that I produce. Thus my excuse takes me back to the answer I have previously given–I write for myself. If a publisher pushes me to define my target audience, I now have a term I can give them: the virtuoso reader.
In his youth, their family doctor went by the name of Bud Willard. Their mother called him Doctor Willard, but Duncan recalled her once mumbling something under her breath to the effect, “Bud is an improper name for a grown man, and most especially for a professional, such as a doctor or a shoe designer.” His older brother made up new names every time they had appointments at his clinic.
“What do you think Bud is short for? Budinal, Budrew, Buddington, Budiddly, Budman, Budhead, Buddeliah, Buddlesworth?” and on he would go with his list. Duncan was too young to know if Steven was being serious, and he took terrible advantage, once telling him that Doctor Willard had been forced to marry Mrs. Willard after he got her pregnant. It did not occur to his naive mind that it was rather unlikely for a teenaged patient to be a party to the details woven into his lurid exposé. Duncan never thought to inquire how his older brother knew that Mrs. Willard, who he referred to as Esther although her initials were S.W., had seduced Bud when they were working on the catering staff at the Butlin’s Holiday camp in Cape Coed near Aberystwyth, in Wales. The youngster listened wide-mouthed and open-eyed, and sometimes vice-versa, as Steven explained how she had pushed her breasts against Bud in a provocative manner as they bustled about a hot kitchen, until he was lost to her womanly charms. The phrase meant nothing to Duncan, but he managed to connect the concepts of breasts and pregnancy with embarrassing consequences in a Biology class eight years later.
Steven’s story was somewhere between a joke strung-out over several tellings, and a full-blown psychiatric experiment. He went into ever more specific detail as he plumbed the depths of a five year-old’s gullibility, treating him as if he were some experimental bird or butterfly trapped under a laboratory glass.
As many of you (yes, you – the teeming mass of UFFblog readers) know already, I have no qualms about suspending a sentence, not that I’m a judge or magistrate of any kind, by the gratuitous insertion of pointless asides. And what other sort of asides are there? The dramatic effect of this style is rather overbalanced by the tendency for me to forget what on earth I was trying to say. I have now finished half my course on Building Great Sentences, and here I stand fully equipped with a new set of rules to bend and break. The Professor is an excellent reader, capable of exposing the intended beat of a piece of prose, to pick out the feet of the rhythm that marches across the page, to make each word ring true. I like listening to him. It gives me ideas.
His morse eyes, his dotted cheeks, his dashed mouth implored. There was a gentle fall of his words as of heavy mist or light rain, a sway to his broad shoulders and narrow waist as he spoke, but neither could disguise his silently flashed cry: Help, help, please!
He was sentenced to be front loaded, loaded in a way that was loose, almost structureless yet somehow compound, modified in gently folded layers, a worrying thought that came back to him regularly, regularly in a way that could only be called periodic, having a recurrence that made his life less boring, more suspenseful.
Okay, jokes that can be hidden in serious sounding writing are my speciality. The first three sentences are in the form dot dot dot dash dash dash dot dot dot. That is Morse code for the emergency signal: S.O.S. The second sentence is a paradox. It is both front loaded and periodic. Or at least it is if I have been listening carefully enough in class.
Okay, in my version of the world, the tilde is a punctuation device similar to quote marks, except that it quotes thoughts. If you are a comic book reader, or have been, you’ll recognize it as analogous to the thought bubbles from Batman, ~Must resist! The Joker’s laughing gas is too strong!~
So, here is the scene, set in 2005, where Duncan musters the courage to tell a former girlfriend that he has been seeing the ghost of a dead mutual friend from high school.
~Start somewhere, the words will follow. The middle is a good place to jump in,~ Duncan wondered where to begin a story that might better be told to a psychiatrist.
“A specter is haunting me in America–the specter of Habib. There don’t seem to be any powers to exorcise this specter: Not Pope Pontifex nor Queen Elizabeth, not Bush nor Blair; no bells, books, candles, nor breathing in and out of a brown paper bag for a few minutes seems to work at all.” He looked over at Megan to see if she was taking this as a joke, or getting ready to call the men in white coats. Her face was a blank slate, so he went on.
“Where is the natural phenomena that hasn’t been called supernatural by some religious group or gang of UFO spotters? This world is more full of spooks and images of Jesus on toast and barn doors than at any time since the Dark Ages. That might mean I’m not imagining this, not going the way of all flesh. However, there are two things that are clear: lots of people believe in apparitions, in personal angels, in all sort of invisible cloud being things. Secondly, I think it is high time that whatever is appearing, or materializing, or I don’t know what-ing… well, it should openly tell us what are its aims, its views, and meet the nursery tales of spirits with a statement of its own position.”
Megan remained impassive and a sense of having said something immensely foolish started to rise in Duncan’s throat, that he had attempted some sort of assault or misjudged her morals. A parade of nasties roared into his head: prison, his mother disowning him, his health failing, ~Darn it. I should not have even tried. I’ll tell her I have an appointment with a shrink next week, and should be Okay in a month or two, and…~
“I saw him. I’ve seen him a lot,” Megan looked like she had seen a ghost.
I suppose it would be fair to say this portion was influenced by The Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels (1848), and that Pontifex is the lead character in Butler’s The Way of All Flesh. (1903), a story in which the protagonist goes to prison for a sexual assault on a woman after misjudging her morals, is disowned by his parents, and his health fails. There are probably several other unconsciously made allusions, or ones that I have forgotten. I’ll try to find them when I write the Mammoth Book of Footnotes to Ian’s weird works of literature.
A fragment to prove that I am still forming jig-saw puzzle pieces of the Work-in-Progress. well, at least it proves it to me. For those who haven’t seen it before, the punctuation ~Quote.~ is the prose equivalent of a comic book’s thought bubbles. It represents the precise internal monologue of a character.
To the cave they bent their steps, through silent caverns green-brown carpeted as if by grass and leaves, until they came by a route so tortious that Duncan could not easily unweave their path, to a solid wall in the palace tower. There was no key hole, no porthole, no knocker, no bell, no bugles, no drum; but for the Hindu-Arabic numerals, there was scarcely a door to be seen. It was if a mighty oak or ash (who can tell the difference when the wood has been made into fibre-glass?) had been split and set in the stone’s face. An eerie hum crept behind them, brushed their faces with its frigid breath, and moved on to do wickedness to others who were less well dressed against such cold-hearted behavior.
The witch pulled out a white leaf with a thread of bronze hair set along one edge. She passed it over the cryptic door with practiced hand.
~Her powers are failing with age.~
A third pass, and this time a muttered incantation, the prex of passage, “Come on, you stupid card.”
Almost imperceptible came a click and the tree trunk rolled aside at a fingertip touch. ~There is no safety yet.~
A dragon snorted its icy breath from where its muzzle had smashed through the palace wall.
“Oh God, room service always put these things on sixty degrees. I have no idea why,” the witch said, as Duncan inspected the thermostat.
~I have knowledge of these things because I have been in these demon-haunted worlds before, where science is the only candle in the dark,~ he thought as he pressed a magical fingertip to the box by the mirror, the mirror on the wall. The dragon fell asleep, and the fluttering curtains fell in shrouds over his nose. ~A kiss and she will be free; a witch or a princess, the name is a choice for the historian, not a thing spoken by the voice of the beholder.~
* Carl Sagan’s book – The Demon-haunted world; Science as a candle in the dark. Brilliant. well worth reading.