Ever so often I get the urge to tell a story, write a novel. When sorting through my journal entries I often find themes popping up and then suddenly disappearing, only re-emerging later. I recall that when I wrote my second novel, Captain Brushfire, it came about by combining many other things I’d written, mainly poems, and wrapping them all around one or two incredible characters. The novel I found easy to write because much had already been written and the main character was me, talking about Captain Brushfire. The persona for Brushfire, once I figured him out, just carried the story.
I wonder if I might be able to do the same with my journal entries. Keep them in first person, but at the same time shape them around another character, a friend of mine. The first-person character, me, could also be somewhat fictionalized, but keep some of the depth and observational power I try to develop in some of these journal entries. The “me”, for example, could be a retired surfboard builder, or an artist, or technical writer, or burned out business executive. I could be somewhat dizzy and messed up like Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment. My friend that I would be writing about would also have a strong persona. Maybe I would first meet him while fishing on the cement ship. It turns out that he is a laser engineer, for example, and is going through a divorce, and wants to talk about his life. I give him ear, try to advise him, but also know that my advice is not the greatest.
During this friendship I am keeping a journal, or remodeling my house, or traveling and windsurfing up and down the coast. Many of the little themes I see appear in my journal would just be taken on by this persona.
I was thinking this morning of Hemingway’s “Islands in the Stream”. The artist turned fisherman, running away to live in gulf, visited by sons who die, an estranged wife comes back to tell him their son has died. A simple plot, with just enough dramatic movement, evolving characters, or what have you, to give it a sense of flow and direction. I think I will reread Hemingway’s novel.
My character lives in the redwoods, is descended from an oldtime California family. He recalls how life used to be and is disgruntled with the rapid changes going on in the world. He doesn’t feel like he can adapt because he will then be losing his sense of identity. His belief system is in chaos because he sees the disparity between faith and reason. He has done a lot of surfing and windsurfing as a way of coping with changes. His daughters have moved away and his wife who left him has returned. His friend is divorced and likes to come sit and go fishing on the old ship and discuss the pain he feels, but the excitement he feels working in technology.
Here’s the plot of Islands in the Stream, per Wikipedia:
The first act, “Bimini”, begins with an introduction to the character of Thomas Hudson, a classic Hemingway stoic male figure. Hudson is a renowned American painter who finds tranquility on the island of Bimini, in the Bahamas, a far cry from his usual adventurous lifestyle. Hudsonâ€™s strict routine of work is interrupted when his three sons arrive for the summer and is the setting for most of the act. Also introduced in this act is the character of Roger Davis, a writer, one of Hudsonâ€™s oldest friends. Though similar to Hudson, by struggling with an unmentioned internal conflict, Davis seems to act as a more dynamic and outgoing image of Hudsonâ€™s character. The act ends with Hudson receiving news of the death of his two youngest children soon after they leave the island.
“Cuba” takes place soon thereafter during the second World War in Havana, Cuba where we are introduced to an older and more distant Hudson who has just received news of his oldest (and last) sonâ€™s death in the war. This second act introduces us to a more cynical and introverted Hudson who spends his days on the island drinking heavily and doing naval reconnaissance for the US military aboard Hudson’s yacht, converted to an auxiliary patrol boat.
“At Sea”, the final act, follows Hudson and a team of irregulars aboard their boat as they track and pursue survivors of a sunken German U-boat along the Jardines del Rey archipelago on the northern coast of Cuba. Hudson becomes intent on finding the fleeing Germans after he finds they massacred an entire village to cover their escape. The novel ends with a shoot-out and the destruction of the Germans in one of the tidal channels surrounding Cayo Guillermo. Hudson is presumably mortally wounded in the gun battle, although the ending is slightly ambiguous. During the chase, Hudson stops questioning the death of his children. This chapter rings heavily with influences of Hemingwayâ€™s earlier work For Whom the Bell Tolls.