I did have a good time yesterday evening. Tom and Roshani took me for Ethiopian food, which was yummy, and then somehow we got embroiled in a heavy political discussion. I knew Tom was some kind of socialist, but I wasn't sure of this specifics -- I know a lot more now. :-) It was a bit tough keeping up with him; he's really studied political theory, and while I have a passing acquaintance with Marx and Engels, it was about ten years ago that we last met. So I had to frequently ask Tom to stop, slow down, explain something, let me think for a minute, etc. I think I got most of it eventually, but I'm not even going to try to explain it to you, because a) I'm not sure I got it right, b) I wouldn't want to misrepresent Tom, c) I'm too tired.
The discussion went 'til bedtime (and a bit beyond), with no one really convinced but much understanding of each other's positions all around by the end, and then it was up at 6:00 to go catch my plane. Really not feeling so good now. Don't think I'm tired enough to sleep. Meep.
I worked for a little; wrote about a thousand words of a new story in the Sri Lankan cycle. It's a bit different in tone; told in reportorial narrator for one (that's where your narrator is like a little spy-eye flitting about the place -- just tells you what's happening, without letting you know anything about the internal workings of anybody). It's not a style I've worked much in before, and I'm finding it a little difficult keeping it engaging. I think more dialogue will help.
My real problem, though, is that while I know what the over-arching arc of the story will be, I don't really know what's going to provide tension within the story, from moment to moment. There's a big problem that the protagonist is dealing with, but it's not one that's going to get really addressed 'til the end (for good reasons). So how do I maintain tension through the middle of the story? I think through smaller crises, but they shouldn't be just random, right? So I need to think about what appropriate and story-enhancing smaller crises would and should occur in the situation she's in.
And of course, there's the added problem that this is one of the stories set pretty far back (in 1938 Sri Lanka or so), and I really just don't know much about that time period. It takes place entirely in a convent, and that helps because I'm pretty sure convents didn't change much for a few hundred years there. But I still need to know other things (like when were cars invented anyhow? When did trains come to Sri Lanka? What's the name of a convent on the outskirts of Colombo? What did someone in such a convent eat? How limited were resources in the capitol?) and I'm not sure where to find the answers. I assume some stuff will be available in a general history book, but other things...ugh.
I need a) a good book which has things like the dates of major inventions and such that I can reference, b) a good history of Sri Lanka (not boring!) that I can read through, and c) diaries or other accounts from the periods of time that I'm writing about. I think I can find a, and I'm hoping David (or some of you) can help me find b, but I'm not sure c exists, especially in English. I could ask my parents for some of this, but I'm not sure I want to involve them in this book. And my sisters aren't likely to know much more than I do... what I could really use is a Sri Lankan reader, living in Sri Lanka, who's willing to work with me on this material. Hmm...I guess I know where to look for such people -- I should probably try to find one.
Still, I do like the story so far. Here's the first paragraph -- tell me what you think! :-)
"She came in the dry season, with the babe in her arms, clothed in widow's white. The thin chiffon sari that wrapped around her slender bones was clearly of good quality, but it was sadly torn and dark with dust, dark like her smooth skin. She was too thin -- the nuns all agreed on that. When they found her wandering mute in the road near St. Bridget's, the bones stood out sharp under the skin of her face, her back, her ribs. She might have been beautiful if she hadn't been so thin, and so very dark. The baby was thin too, and when they found her, Sister Teresa reached for the boy while Sister Joan started to put a supporting hand on the woman's arm, since she seemed dazed and close to fainting. But the woman screamed and hunched down in the dirt road, her entire body huddled around the child; Joan pulled back sharply."
I'm not sure it's a strict reportorial narrator, btw -- some bits of omniscient commentary seem to be creeping in. But it is going to be staying strictly out of people's heads, I think. Not typical for me!
You know -- I'm looking forward to getting home in part because Kevin is going to be picking me up at the airport. He moves to Chicago in July (and will be gone at a conference in Israel for three weeks of June :-( ). I wonder what it'll be like coming home once he's no longer there.
I foresee high phone bills in our future.