It is with a great sense of loss that I close the covers of the last of Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles.
It has been more than a month since I read the first of the House of Niccolò books; I have been living in the world of these novels, I do not want to come back to real life!
(Jo Walton happened to post something earlier today about the joy of reading an unfinished series.)
In less emotionally equivocal literary news, I started writing the little book on style this past Monday, in the grip of a feverishly strong delusion that it could be done in three weeks. Now that I've taken the weekend off, and now that I think about the fact that the week of May 14-21 is designated for private life rather than for work, I have scaled up the likely production time to six weeks, but it still seems to me genuinely possible that I might have a whole draft of the thing by the end of March!
(Can it be?!? It might indeed not be - but it is at least possible that the outcome of a lifetime of obsessive reading and writing has led me to a place where an entire book - a little book! - can be written in six weeks. It's based on the lectures I gave this fall, so really it's a question of making something out of things that are already there...)
The little book on style still doesn't have a real name, but in a productive sleepless couple of hours a few nights ago I had some (to me) thrilling insights into the bread-and-butter-of-the-novel book. It has a new title and a clear organizational scheme, both of which I find so secretly delightful that I think I must cherish the details to myself in private for a little while longer before announcing them to the world via Light Reading - but I won't start working on this until I have sent the little book on style to my agent (and there is an essay on Austen and Flaubert and aphorisms, with which the book begins, that I will send out separately).
Bonus link: the song I couldn't get out of my head while reading the last installment of Lymond; we used to sing it in my high school choir.
These books have also reminded me of how much I loved the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries between the ages of 10 and 14 or so - it was a feature of the school I went to that younger children especially were asked to enter into historical periods with an intellect infused with imagination, and I vividly remember the account of the death of Savonarola from the point of view of a young Italian nobleman I wrote the year I was in fifth grade.
A favorite book at the time was Elizabeth Marie Pope's The Perilous Gard, which I still think is pretty much a perfect novel for children, but I was also already at that stage beginning to read T.S. Eliot and Dorothy L. Sayers and Nicholas Blake and through them to discover the beauties of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama. In sixth grade I wrote a half-hour adaptation of Twelfth Night for our class to perform; I was steeped in the language and mythos of Shakespeare...
I said to Brent the other day, regretfully, that much as I still somewhat aspire to write airport thrillers in the vein of Dick Francis, my gifts as a writer are not really in the direction of that minimalist leave-everything-out-but-the-essentials intelligent storytelling that you see in the best of Francis or of Lee Child. I do not know, either, that I could possibly write a series of the scope of Dunnett's or of those of Susan Howatch, which I also love, partly because I am keeping a lot of my imagination in reserve for intellectual writing, but I would think that a very fully imagined historical series would be a better fit with my actual strengths and preferences than a series of stripped-down thrillers about men and women of action...
I have had several conversations recently (it has partly been prompted by walking the ramps at the Guggenheim) about a very happy insight that has struck me in the last year or so, and that seems to me in great part a function of being age 38.
Options close down - the infinite range of possibilities that seemed open to me at age twenty (at least if I was in an argumentative mood) is now significantly narrower - but unlike what I would have thought if you had been able to persuade me of it at that age (which you would not), this is a good thing.
We are constrained by our individual temperaments in ways that are very difficult to understand when we are eighteen or twenty or indeed thirty - it comes upon us gradually, though, at least if we are lucky, that we were right not to go in the direction of being (implausibly) fighter pilots or investment bankers or (more plausibly) epidemiologists or chemists - that our lives have to be governed by what will suit us best as well as by what we think we should be able to do...