Thursday, May 31, 2012

A young humboldt fog

At long last this blog is the first hit I get when I google "whatsdavineating"!

Two nights ago, I was fiddling around with a start of a novel, and I came up with some details that got me excited for the first time in a few weeks. Here are the draft paragraphs:

The fountains brimmed for the event. On the south side the water shot up from saucer bases and leaped above emerald lights before tumbling down again. On the north side a long rectangular pool displayed two parallel rows of arching water, each shooting to the opposite side and rippling the double helix depicted in mosaic tiles at the bottom. The auditorium itself glowed with orange and pink lights that showcased its white cylindrical form surrounded by a dozen thin pillars and topped with a shallow cone. It was named Beckman Auditorium, but most of the campus referred to it as the “Wedding Cake,” and that was the label that was the most helpful for new students trying to orient themselves with recognizable landmarks.
They were only a week into the fall quarter. The season in Pasadena was marked by a crisp wind that shook the waxy brown leaves from the magnolia trees and the pointed brown leaves of the liquid amber trees and dragged them rattling across the pebbled walks. The jacarandas were bare, their flood of purple flowers long since bloomed and fallen and swept away. Longtime residents were recognizable because they were the only ones wearing sweaters or jackets, their shoulders shrugged, their hands shoved into their pockets. The students from out of state still wore tank tops and shorts; they saw the season as a paradise compared to their hometowns of Ann Arbor or Boston or Princeton. It took most people a couple of years before the chill reached their bones and until they would complain that their bodies had finally adjusted to the weather.
For weeks the winds had rattled the oversized posters advertising the event. President Chameau had ordered them himself, and they had enjoyed a longer life than most of the other flyers on the cork boards around campus. Unlike the purple Xeroxes promoting the ballroom dance club or the white sheets with tear-off email addresses offering used furniture, the campus had shown some respect for the posters that must have come from their pride of the new recruits themselves.  
The night’s event was novel. President Chameau was celebrating the arrival of three new assistant professors who had been heavily recruited by top universities throughout the country over the past year. They were a diverse trio that would do nothing to provide a focal point for the small university, and yet the President saw them as part of the collective whole, three bright young minds buzzing with the potential to change the world.
Two lines had formed…

Here's what I like about the paragraphs.

First, although I don't necessarily love opening the way I did it, I like the fountains because they are subtly sexual and fertile sounding, like Aphrodite rising from the froth. I want these three new professors to come off as godlike in the beginning. I'm also playing with a real setting and accurate descriptions, something I rarely do.

I'm happy with the transitions between paragraphs too. Usually I am more willing to jump around, but for now, in this initial draft, I want to play with more smoothness. (I blame SGFB.)

Lastly, the thing that actually got me excited is a little part about the posters enjoying a longer life on the cork boards. That strikes me as magical somehow, that there is some untouchable essence hovering around the characters. That little bit is enough to get me to try a few more paragraphs to see where this goes.

I haven't decided who these three stars are yet, but I have plans for what will happen while they are on stage, and I'm excited about that. Next, I want to describe the people attending. There will be the rich and old, and the young and brilliant, mixing together in the auditorium.

What's Peanut eating? Nothing but kibble so far today.


  1. Hmmm. Feels much more like Fitzgerald or Michael Chabon (I writer I don't think you care for!) than your usual style. Interesting departure.

  2. TJN, A keyword for me right now with this draft is "flowery." I've spent so much time trying to write simply--whether you agree or not!--and now I want to experiment with the opposite to see what happens. My vision is to write a book that is 100K long and then trim it down to 70K. We'll see. It may be that I give up this approach after a few pages.

    As for Chabon...Gatsby is one of my favorite books.

    1. You should read more Chabon! He's good.

    2. Hey, you just grew a dog face! I'd be willing to try Wonder Boys, but Kavalier and Clay was just not for me.

  3. I like this a lot. You use a pile of specific images that are mostly unsettling and that really pushes the narrative forward for me. It's jangly the way Fitzgerald is, though it lacks his weird misuse of verbs and adjectives.

    I don't think this is flowery; it's more filigreed, maybe. Like the sentences are turning arabesques for the reader. I like it, though. There's a good sharp feel to the prose. It strikes me as very deliberate. Yes, I am reminded of a Victorian wrought-iron gate. Which is a compliment.

  4. Wonder Boys is my favorite. I give it 4 Spoons, my highest rating!

  5. Scott, Filigreed makes sense to me. That's sort of how I see it in my head. There still has to be that central story steering everything. In my head, I actually think of traditional Thai art, which is based on these very basic forms like the triangle, but the basic forms get subdivided at the borders until they look frilly.

    TJN, One can eat a lot of food with 4 spoons. :)

  6. Replies
    1. Scott,
      I was talking about Humboldt Fog cheese, which is this conceptually cool goat cheese that has a layer of salt ash running down the middle and surrounding it. When you first buy it, it's a pretty solid, mild, cheese, and as you keep it for a few days, the outside layer gets creamier and saltier and spicier, and that layer gets thicker and thicker until you have a pile of goo. So, depending on your preferences, you can have a different kind of cheese buy letting it sit for longer or shorter periods of time. And it's a beautiful cheese. Tastewise, I'm not in love with it as much as I am with other cheeses, but I like to think about it.

    2. Ah, I get it. We have local artisan farmers who make similar cheeses. In our neighborhood that would be called a Mount St. Helens, though usually we buy something called SeaStack which starts firm and gets softer. I like it when it's at the brie stage of soft. Served on rosemary crackers with Greek olives on the side and a cocktail.

      Lately we've been eating a lot of goat cheese. Goats are cool.

  7. Davin, this is lovely! So different from your usual style. I'm trying to decide where it all might go! Have you found that this takes longer for you to write this way?

    And I want some of that cheese. Badly. Where, oh, where can I get that???!!! *whimper*

    1. Thanks a lot, Michelle. I don't think it's taking me longer to write the same amount of words, but it would take me longer to finish a scene because the scene would be longer. I think.

      As for the cheese, it's getting easier and easier for me to find down here, maybe it will be more widely distributed soon!

    2. I am going to start looking for that cheese. It sounds amazing.