Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Mystery Novel, the Alternate Universe Novel, Corpses, and the Pathetic Fallacy

Earlier this evening, quite by accident, you clicked on a folder above the one you'd intended.  The consequence was an abrupt shift to another time and place, an actual alternate universe based on one you'd entered and left on a regular basis for slightly under thirty-five years.

The provocative material was the first chapter of a novel you'd begun for the best of reasons, a flurry of emotions directed at a specific venue, specific persons, and abstract persons you were on your way to inventing because of the flurry of emotions.

Beyond the flurry of emotions were two more cerebral aspects, beginning with your thoughts prior to writing this chapter about the fact of the mystery novel not being the only paradigmatic format for a novel; alternate universe novels fit the bill because, so your reasoning went, all novels, regardless of their setting, are alternate universe because they represent the author's take on a time, setting, and zeitgeist.

Reading the opening chapter today reminded you of your thought to make this alternate universe setting a mystery as well.  However simplistic it may seem to conflate these two genera, you are still impressed by the sense of it because of the conclusion you draw about any novel:  It is in fact a thematic mystery to be solved, and your take on the setting belongs to you.  The setting for this alternate universe novel is the University of Southern California, where you taught in the Professional Writing Program.  

Some of your friends were faculty there or at the film school.  To the extent that you are on a cordial, first-name basis with Tom Boyle, you could also include the English department.  There is the additional rise of a former student of yours through the ranks of administrators to the status of assistant dean, and the flattering appearance of an individual you considered to be the most remarkable dean in your experience at a reading/book signing for one of your titles at Vroman's in Pasadena.

There is the pleasing panorama of hundreds of students, most of whom you quite liked and many of whom returned the favor.  In addition, there is the fact of you still being in touch with many of them, these eight years since you have been on that campus.  This panorama mixes in fine dramatic irony with the flurry of emotions involved in the choice of conceiving this novel.  

Throughout your undergraduate career, USC was the symbol of everything you found antithetical to your tastes, beginning with architecture, but extending to administration, faculty, and student types.  So here you were, drawn into the world of teaching at this university, across the wide Sargasso Sea of Los Angeles separating your alma mater from your teaching venue.

You can't go into too much detail about the way adjunct faculty were treated at USC, nor was your recent tenure as a visiting professor at UCSB, with which you also have related issues, even though it has many areas of similarity to the place you'd rather have taught, your own alma mater.

The thrust of your focus here is the focus of the mystery novel and the alternate universe novel, each of which, in your belief, forces the author to consider certain genre-related mandates, then find ways to bring these aspects into the text with the deliberation of a craftsperson honing a projected work to the extreme of its artistic and functional potential.

Your alternate universe got off to a proper start by setting the appropriate fictional department in an area in the Doheney Library, rather than in the other locales of its real-time existence.  You'd pretty much constructed an individual to provide the obligatory corpse of the mystery novel.  In your time at USC, you'd served under five department chairs, one of whom, in later years had done everything possible to cause you to become the editor in chief of a massmarket book publisher,  Your intent was to have a character based on another department chair, combined with a department chair you suffered as a student and the publisher of a book publisher with whom you engaged in a mutual test of enduring for nearly seven years.

Mystery means finding out who the killer was as top priority, finding out what happened to the missing grad and post doc students from the alternate universe.  Two tidy plot lines, inhabited by an array of quirky, notional characters, traits of equal use in describing faculty and students.

This discovery makes you realize you still have edgy energy in reserve to write this novel.  You also appear to have the prospect of the longevity you will have to experience in order to write it because of the at least two and a half nonfiction books waiting in line ahead of it, and a novel you were thinking about even today, regarding you with some reproof for not working on it.

Yes, you know; such a metaphor can be called the pathetic fallacy.  One does not anthropomorphize inanimate things.  But this novel you wish to write before the one set at USC is alive, and there is nothing pathetic about that.

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