Long before the Internet, my friend Karla and I used to exchange quirky and silly letters, she from San Francisco and I from New York. She always made her envelopes from colorful magazine pages, careful to find an appropriately allusive or absurd, image. We also went to a lot of trouble crafting our prose, each glad to have the other as audience for our literary practice.
I miss those weird images. But nobody fabricates paper envelopes for snailmail anymore, so I now have to look for her strange humor, her insights beamed intensely at some unexpected corner of experience, in her web page, Rabbits, Toyen, and so forth. And instead of typing up a letter and stamping it, I'll answer her comment on my blog (on re-entry to New York, below) here.
Yes, it's true, I'm back at work on a novel I worked on for a couple of years and then put aside for a couple more, after trying and failing to get an agent to represent it. It's now much better -- story easier to follow, the conclusion more satisfying -- and this time, if I don't engage an agent, I intend to publish it myself. My aim is to finish the revision before we leave New York (mid-December), because as soon as we get back to Spain I have to focus on finishing an entirely different book, one that's under contract, on a history of the built environment (architecture and urbanism) in Latin America.
The novel's working title is A GIFT FOR THE SULTAN. Here's the premise: In the summer of 1402, the stand-in emperor of besieged Constantinople, the nephew of Emperor Manuel II (who is off in Western Europe seeking aid), secretly sends a delegation to the Ottoman sultan with the keys to the city, a rich tribute of silks and gold, and a 13-year old princess -- Manuel's bastard -- for the sultan's son's harem, and this surrender package is entrusted to a dashing and violent Ottoman gazi (part bandit, part holy warrior) to deliver to the sultan. But before the gazi and his gang can complete delivery, the sultan and his horde are destroyed by Timur-i-Link ("Tamerlane") -- so the caravan of Greek-speaking, Christian urbanites and their treasure, including the young princess, and the rough Turkish horse archers led by the gazi are suddenly missionless in the mountains of central Anatolia, which has suddenly become infested by panicked deserters and survivors of the sultan's military disaster. And then... Well, that's what I'm working on.
It's all true, except the princess -- I made her and the gazi up, though both are plausible. Manuel II did in fact have bastard children (we even know the name of one of them, Zenobia), his nephew Ioannis did attempt to surrender in Manuel's absence, and the plot did in fact fail because of Timur's victory. (Christopher Marlowe's most famous tragedy is about some of these same events, but his version is much more fanciful.) Marriage of Christian princesses to Turkish chieftains had in fact become frequent in Constantinopolitan diplomacy, and gazis as wild as my guy were also real. What I'm trying to imagine is the relationships between frontier Muslim Turks and sophisticated Christian urbanites in this tumultuous period of confused and diffuse alliances.