2008/11/04

Literary practice

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.


4 comments:

Karla said...

Well, that's certainly an unexpected topic. (Has Dirk mentioned the Lithuanian historical tale he wrote a few years ago? I believe the time period was similar, and Baltic paganism came into it in some way.)

My novel is a bit more present-day, or at any rate closer to the present day. I'll have to consider whether to put a description up on the blog, where I have mostly been avoiding writing about my fiction.

I too miss the old exchange of letters. Not that we had to stop, but we did get caught up in the online world. I still have a box of the collage envelopes awaiting use, but they aren't here with me so I'd have to make new ones.

Dirk said...

That’s true, my novel is set in Lithuanian pagan times, which were not so long ago – Lithuania was the last European country to fall to Christianity when a Lithuanian grand Duke wanted to marry a Catholic Polish princess in the 15th century. You can find excerpts on my webpage.
I think I’ve mentioned Lithuanian paganism on this blog before in connection with the relation between church and state. Briefly a newly elected social democratic government it Lithuanian did not want to hold a Catholic ritual at its inauguration because the opposing party was Catholic. It did not want to omit religious ritual because that suggested atheism, which suggested Russia, which was bad. So they dug into their folklore books and held a Lithuanian pagan ritual.

Karla said...

I think I recall reading (or hearing) about the recent Lithuanian pagan ritual. Via Dirk, of course, who is my main source of Lithuanian trivia although when I was ten I did read a children's historical novel about the uniting of Poland and Lithuania.

I'm still vacillating whether to discuss the novel on my blog. It might not be the smartest move just before I go on the job market. On the other hand, last night I wrote up a general plan for a new novel... to be written we know not when. With surrealism and the occult in it. The one under revision is more about music and theater.

gef said...

Good, and now that I've found Dirk's web page, I'll get to read what excerpts he has put up there. Not today (I'm behind schedule on my own writing) but soon. Good luck, fellow scribblers!