Why Write A Trilogy?
Well, here's one reason…
Writing a novel is a threatening process…to your self-esteem, even in some cases to your emotional health. First, you have to deal with the task itself, which can take years and may be filled with false starts, page-wasting erasures of poor prose, and long periods of authorial silence spent in self-censure. There are moments when writing a novel is fun, but self-doubt is the usual, no matter how much you’re enjoying yourself.
So, you’ve finished one, and think, “But wait, there’s another story here.” You ponder the problem, sometimes for years, and then begin another novel. You struggle. You fuss. But then that second one is done. Sometimes, though…nonetheless…even that one doesn’t tell the whole tale.
So, fatefully, you start a third.
In my own case, that was not part of the plan. I wrote a novel titled My Father In The Night, which was published by Mercury House (hardcover) and Ballantine Books (soft cover) in the early 1990s, and was re-published this year in a new edition. The main character is a twelve year old boy named Pearse, who lives in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco in the mid 1950s. He becomes enamored of the Beatniks who populated upper Grant Avenue at the time, a major no-no for Pearse’s Catholic conservative parents. A subplot involves Pearse’s grandfather M.J., who escaped to the United States during the Irish Rising in World War I. The guilt for his involvement in the murder of an Irish policeman has plagued the rest of his life. Therein lies the story.
In 1992, I finished the first draft of a novel titled When Clara Was Twelve. It tells of young Clara Foy, an American girl on vacation with her parents in Paris in the 1950s. She learns that her mother, while a girl herself in the 1930s, had a baby out of wedlock who was given up immediately for adoption. Another Catholic conservative family, for whom such an event is a major scandal. While they are in Paris, that baby, now a young woman named Emma, shows up again. Clara, thrilled, has to become the go-between in the troubles between Emma and their mother, and therein lies that story. (Setting the novel in Paris, of course, provided me with the thrill of writing about that city, where I had lived for two years in the early 1970s.)
The initial draft of When Clara Was Twelve had taken me seven years to write, and I did not like it. It then sat in a drawer for twenty-five additional years, until I brought it out and read it again. It wasn’t bad! But it was way too scattered and overlong, with too many characters. (I am by profession a developmental editor of fiction and non-academic nonfiction, and concluded that, if a manuscript like this came to me, I would charge extra for helping this poor sot out of the hole he had dug for himself.)
I edited it three times, with little kindness toward the author and real help from some fine editors with whom I was friends. It finally became publishable, and When Clara Was Twelve came out in 2020.
These two novels share no characters. They are completely separate. Each stands on its own.
During that final edit, I was thinking about the two books and thought that maybe there was another story here. My emotions did sink with the prospect. But the idea fascinated me because I had never attempted such a thing before. I took a few characters each from the first novel and the second, and involved them with each other in…yes, a third.
I have an adult son who is a lifelong epileptic, and my father was an epileptic who died during his last seizure. I’ve written about them, an essay titled ”Fathers, Sons, and Seizures.” Epilepsy provides a kind of literary metaphor that fascinates me (Dostoevsky, et. al.), and I decided to write a novel that uses a certain aspect of the affliction as a metaphorical tool to understanding how one particular creative mind operates.
The particular mind in this novel is that of Yvette Roman, a Parisian artist who is the daughter of the lost Emma who showed up in When Clara Was Twelve. It is now the year 2000, and Yvette is a renowned painter and printmaker who has come to New York City for a grand exhibition of her work in the Guggenheim Museum. Her mother Emma accompanies her, and they are visited in Manhattan by Pearse and Clara, who are now married to each other and are successful actors. Pearse himself has directed several plays and films, and they are both appearing in New York in a Pearse-directed version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
The plot revolves around a mysterious self-portrait that arrives in Yvette’s New York gallery, which everyone thinks must be by Yvette, although she herself has no recollection of having done it. Was it her epilepsy that intruded on her creativity and blotted out her memory of the painting? Or, is it a masterful forgery? That’s that story, and the novel is titled The Moment Before.
It will come out on September 15 this year, available everywhere, as are the other two books. Part of the task was to present the previously appearing characters in fresh ways, so that the person reading just this novel will not be left wondering where these people came from. It’s reasonably straight-forward, this novel, except when it comes to the idea of epilepsy as an artistic metaphor. I myself am not an epileptic although, as you can imagine, I know a great deal about it. (My son, by the way, is now forty-nine years old and remains thoroughly afflicted.) I have to write about Yvette’s seizures and how they strike her down, and I have to write about making a fine painting. Of both these experiences, I have no direct experience myself.
But that’s where being a novelist comes in handy. Read up on what you need to know for verisimilitude’s sake. (In this case, painting, acting, being a New York City police detective, being attacked by your brain’s disastrous disfunction, and a few other things). Then…make it up! I’m not being facile here. Making it up is the most difficult thing to do for a novelist and, so, is the very playing-field itself. It is where the story resides, and therein is a story of its own.
© Copyright 2021. Terence Clarke. All rights reserved.
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