Off to the east of the pond I’m looking at, in the direction of the ocean, is the town of Athens, Georgia, about 45 minutes away. I’m going over there later today to an alternative art gallery. Athens is also the home of the University of Georgia (hence the name Athens, you know, ancient Greeks, you know, knowledge and stuff). The mascot for the school is a bulldog, and sometimes around here you’d think that was the only animal on earth. Athens has also been the site of some very innovative music, giving rise to the bands REM, Widespread Panic, and the B-52s.
Last night near here I went with my brother to an outdoor concert to hear another Athens band, not quite so innovative, but fun, a cover band who play only Beatles music. There was a crowd there, next to the courthouse in Lawrenceville (where Larry Flynt, of Hustler Magazine, was put on trial and where someone tried to assassinate him in 1978). Fake Bealtes, attempted killing—it’s an active spot.
When a lot of people are around, I like to observe them, partly to gain a deeper understanding of human behavior, and partly thinking about how I might use what I see in my writing. At times I also listen to conversations and even repeat them in my head, to get a stronger sense of how people speak, which I then use as I write.
One of the loveliest things I saw last night was a mother and daughter. The mother was possibly in her mid to late 40s, and the daughter was around 19 or 20. They were both a bit plump, as though they had stepped from a Peter Paul Rubens painting. At one point during the concert they stopped on the sidewalk and both began to sing along with the song and dance, even making hand gestures, such as touching the heart. It was remarkable to see this mother and daughter doing this, completely impromptu, and at this moment I feel sure I’ll use that scene in my writing later.
I wish I were doing more writing now than I am, and I wonder whether I might just be lazy, but I’m also going to work every day for my brother’s environmental assessment company, so it’s harder to find time to write. Still, I try to do a little every evening, and I push the new novel along. Currently I’m pondering some basic questions about the nature of the book. I’ve probably mentioned on here that I have three main characters (Leola, Carmen [formerly Olivia], and Jethro), and by now I’ve thought about them enough that they’ve become real to me, even though not much of the book is written.
But is there a problem with the number three? I mean everybody loves the three little pigs and the three bears in Goldilocks, but can a novel sustain three protagonists? Do I need to refocus? I would hate to completely lose a character, although I’ve done that with other books. I was thinking about a few novels and how many major protagonists they have: Anna Karenina (2) Ulysses (really 1, though with other characters), Don Quixote (1), Alice in Wonderland (1). But then there are books with no clear set of protagonists: Grapes of Wrath, Catch-22, Lord of the Rings, though each of those three books is more about an idea than specific characters.
Or why don’t I just be smart enough to write my own book? Good question. I’ll figure it out with time, at least well enough to finish the book so that literary agents can reject it. I believe the solution is going to wind up as keeping all three characters, but with a stronger focus on two of them. Leola, the lonely, angry 16-year-old, is a definite focus, and I have a strong story line for her. The question, I guess, is which of the two adults will get emphasized. Unless I do something else altogether.
I’m on the fifth chapter, which I’ll try to finish this weekend, except instead of sitting here this afternoon to write, like a proper diligent writer, I’m going down the road to the home of famous bands and imitators of famous bands, to look at an art gallery. No wonder I write slow. I might even stop and have a beer while I’m out. I’m a complete profligate.