Monday, May 6, 2013

The Ark in Modern Ark

Hopefully I've been babbling about my writing projects long enough that you get a sense that I've got a number of projects in the air.  One of them is the first book I deliberately wrote, which is currently known as Modern Ark but was historically entitled Finnegan (the switch is recent enough that I have a label for both on this blog, which only traces back to last summer).

I wrote Modern Ark in 2009.  I feverishly attempted to sell it to publishers or agents throughout 2010, with absolutely no luck at all.  I've periodically tried to sell it again since.  Now I'm wondering if the problem all along was that I'd never myself understood the story I'd written.

It began as a simple concept, my very own vampire story.  Twilight was still becoming a thing at the time.  I was working at a bookstore at the time, so I got to follow much of that develop (and then later tried to convince customers that The Hunger Games was a thing, which of course it later became in earnest).  Except when I told myself that I was writing a vampire story, I really had no idea what that meant.  I really set out with the intent to write a story about dragons, because I'd had the idea and phrase "The Dragon Scribes" for a while (which became the title of the second act in Modern Ark), but had no idea what to do with that, either.

So I sketched out the story and thought that was just as well.  When I sat down to write it as an actual book, I discovered how ill-prepared I was to write a simple vampire story.  Apparently I really don't do simple easily.  I incorporated the dragon thing as an incredibly metaphysical element.  I wrote chapters dealing with biblical parallels.  I wrote about Japan post-WWII.  I basically did everything in my power to do anything but write a simple vampire story.

This was something I never intended, but that's just what happened while I was writing it.  And yet by the end, I was still trying to conceive of it in terms of a simple vampire story, with unwieldy aspects.  It's no wonder that no one took it seriously.  It probably screamed incoherence.

"Modern Ark" is another phrase that I kicked around for a while, and originally it had nothing to do with the vampire story.  And yet at some point it just seemed completely natural.  Finnegan became Modern Ark.

Now I start a different kind of narrative.  When I was in college I took a course in Canadian literature.  It was probably one of several such classes I really didn't have to take, and part of the reason why I had to go back for another half a year to get the credits I needed to graduate.  Anyway, among the things I read (besides the poetry of Leonard Cohen, whom the professor was obsessed with and you might know from the song "Hallelujah," which was later affirmed as a great song by the late Jeff Buckley) was Not Wanted On the Voyage by Timothy Findley.  The voyage of the title was basically the story of Noah's Ark.

(And before I go much further, let me just confess that the phrase "Modern Ark" was obviously my version of the more famous phrase "modern art," just something that sounded clever.)

Anyway, Findley's take on Noah was a revelation.  It wasn't particularly reverent.  It didn't need to be. But it resonated.  We all know that the flood in the story was something that was based on a thing that went around the Mesopotamian world, and can also be found in the tale of Gilgamesh.  Finding Noah's ark was something the tabloids were pretty obsessive about in the '90s.  Findley's ark was the start of my own personal journey.

Another book was released early in the new millennium, The Preservationist.  This was also about Noah's Ark.  I kept it in mind for years.  The author was David Maine.  Eventually I read pretty much everything Maine has published, and his ark was also notably irreverent, and that was fine, too (though Fallen is a better book, and it's about Adam & Eve, who are also the stars of a book I've written and is floating around).

There's a boat in Modern Ark.  It was always there.  Originally it was just Quincy's boat.  Quincy is a modern pirate, and the substitute love interest for Fiona, who has become entangled with the nefarious vampire Eolake.  Fiona's brother is the formerly eponymous Finnegan, the man with the dragon complex everyone but him seems to identify.  My Van Helsing, Oliver Row, would be the one to put all the pieces together, if he weren't basically a fraud.

The whole thing is about faith.  By the time the good guys gather on the boat, I'm the one who distracted myself from seeing what the story was really about.  By this point, Fiona is immersed in a dream narrative induced by the vampire.  It stole my whole focus.  The boat is the ark in Modern Ark. It's where the characters gather in their peculiar two-by-twos, their dual roles finally coming into focus.

I realized this after I read Andrew Morgan's Noah's Ark.  Morgan's book isn't about the ark at all.  It's completely metaphorical.  That's how I realized what I'd done.  I'd told a completely metaphorical version of the ark.  Noah's story is all about faith.  Yes, it's about God becoming so angry with the ridiculousness of mankind that it seems like a good idea to do a soft reboot of creation (although "soft" would be a term only the survivors could really appreciate).  My book, I already knew it was about faith. But I'd never really known how it was about faith.  Like Noah, like Jonah, like Job, the characters in Modern Ark undergo an extreme test of faith.  They're not being tested by God so much as themselves.  They're all on personal journeys, and these journeys come together, much like what happens on the ark, and they have to figure out what it all means.

That's what Findley explored, that's what Maine did, and I guess I finally figured out that this is what I wrote, too.  Maybe next time I attempt to sell this book, that's what I'll try to explain.  Is there a market for that?  I certainly hope so...
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