I’ve been writing a new novel, but very slowly. I haven’t published a novel for years. Considering the slowness with which I am writing this new novel, it won’t be published for years, either. Most likely, I'll publish more non-fiction first.
My working title for the new novel is The Pirate Book.
The protagonist of The Pirate Book is a present-day archivist who works at a 200-year-old seminary in Connecticut. The novel is structured as a story-within-a-story. Much of the action occurs among pirates in the late 17th century.
The story is kicked into action when the archivist finds an uncatalogued document hidden inside the binding of an antique, family memoir. The family memoir is an item stored in the seminary’s archives. The reason the memoir is stored in the seminary’s archives is that it recounts the history of a clan of 18th and 19th century missionaries, some of whom were graduates of the seminary many, many years before the present day.
The hidden document which the archivist finds is electrifying. It is electrifying because it casts a different light—and an unwelcome light—on the history of the missionary clan. It fundamentally re-characterizes the clan’s founding father.
As I said, I have not published a novel for years. On the other hand, a non-fiction book of mine—which is a memoir—was published recently.
In this new book of mine, obviously I am looking backward in time, it being a memoir. The book explores what happened during the first sixty years of my life, in order to establish a context for my introspection about how to anticipate my life’s remaining years.
My memoir is about how I got this way.
That being so, it does not surprise me that I began to write The Pirate Book at approximately the same time as I set down the first sentences of my memoir.
The two books—one fiction, one memoir—are powered by the same urgencies. The urgencies are, first, to uncover the truth of the past, and, second, to testify to the shadow which past truth casts upon the future.
My slowness at finishing The Pirate Book is due to the fact that, while I wrote both books concurrently for a short period of time, I needed to move back-and-forth between a fictional voice and my personal voice, at least to the extent that I allowed my personal voice to appear in my memoir.
Going back-and-forth was hard. In the end, I shelved The Pirate Book and finished my memoir.
Some pirates buried their treasure. One reason they sustain our interest, today, three hundred fifty years after their heyday, is their buried treasure.
It’s out there, even now, their treasure. What Caribbean beachcomber kicking up sand has not imagined the sudden glint of a doubloon, exposed after all these years by the flipping action of his toe?
In another iteration of the same wonder, what archivist has not imagined the corner of a lost, uncatalogued letter appearing from behind the illustrated plate in an old book, rarely taken from the shelf?
In me, regarding that last fantasy, the novelist’s imagination leaps into play—what does that letter say? Why was it hidden away? Who hid it? It must have been precious, that letter. Was it alarming as well? How does it affect the archivist—now, who reads it in our later day?
An archivist is a person who likes to read other people’s mail…but only at a comfortable distance in time.
Has the discovery of this letter compressed the 19th and the 21st centuries in some way, and how? What change of present historical understanding comes from that compression? Who among the characters of the novel, today, is hurt by the compression, and who is relieved? Which new walls are built up, and which old walls are torn down? Is there a revelation at hand?
Letters from the past affect people, down to the bone. The Pirate Book is about how the discovered letter affects both the missionary family and the archivist—and, this being fiction, about what happened next.
What of my memoir? Is there a parallel? Is there a blessing? Partially to quote an earlier post under the GOD heading, "Is there Someone on the other shore who will leap to fill me in?"
Learn more in Part Two.
By the way, just who are the people in the photographs?
I'll give you a hint.
They're not pirates!