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1/ Evolution of a first novel


Shu Wei, the protagonist of my first novel, has been around so long I think of him as a member of the family. In fact, I expect him to walk in the door at any moment, accusing me of faulty character development (his) or admonishing "More active verbs! Watch your transitions! Sorry Shu Wei, but you're part of the page now and have to live within yourself.

They say that everyone has a novel tucked away somewhere. Mine emerged slowly--and tentatively--as a result of my work in East Asia. In the 1990's I was with the architectural group of the Bechtel Companies in San Francisco and worked on large projects in Hong Kong, Taipei, and Hanoi. These were my new favorite cities. I became fascinated by these exotic cultures (speaking as a white male having grown up in Peoria, Illinois). While I was heading up an urban design group for a master plan for the expansion of Hanoi I had a few moments here and there to explore. One day I had one of those serendipitous experiences.

Just outside of central Hanoi I was sketching the countryside when several curious boys showed up. At first I felt some unease but as they settled in near me to watch I was as fascinated by them as they were of me. At another point I sketched a scene with water buffalo that later became an etching (below).

When I retired in the early 2000's the genie was slowly easing its way from the bottle. I spent the first two years researching and working on two walking tours for the Financial District in San Francisco which ended up on iTunes. When I finally realized that these were fun but very labor intensive (and financially unrewarding) I decided instead to redirect my energies toward a novel. What does one do when one begins an historical novel? Research of course--ad nauseum in my case. I love to research. So many fascinating side streets to go down. Besides, when I researched I could procrastinate--not enough fuel in the tank yet to actually begin writing. I started with on line courses and exercises which, in their own right were useful, but I had a feeling I had regressed to writing exercises on "How should I spend the rest of my life?" or how to do a "Bad Writing" piece. The latter I found intoxicating and thought for a while that that was my true niche.

For some curious reason I forged ahead in a semi-blind state putting together characters, places, and sketching out scenes. I say curious because one doesn't always know what obscure forces brings one to start a novel. To use Alice's phrase, things only got 'curiouser and curiouser.' In my next post we'll look at my diversion into art on my way to finally returning to the elusive novel.

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