Saturday, April 5, 2014

A world of one's own

Game of Thrones' new season starts tomorrow. I can't say that specifically gave me the idea for today's post, but it's in keeping. I've been watching more television than I usually have for the past few years. I tell myself it's so I can study how television screenwriters do story but really it's so I can have some together time with my husband. We tend to watch shows that we can both live with. Lately it's Justified, the story about a federal marshall who sometimes steps over the line in trying to bring justice to a wild part of Kentucky (terrific writing, amazing characters) and Vikings. I'm not sure how we got into Vikings. It's visually striking--the landscapes, the costumes and architecture--but not as rich a story and, of course, pretty gory. We just started watching Deadwood, the old HBO Western that starred Timothy Oliphant (of Justified), though it's too soon to tell if it will become a favorite.

Which brings us to the point of the post today. I was thinking of Justified and how it's about to wrap up this season and as we type, the show's producers are working on next season (which will also be the last season). Which is the real world of the show: the world of the viewers or the producers? Are they living in the future or are we living in the past? The producers and directors, actors and set designers, all working away in secrecy for others to enjoy a year later. By the time the audience gets to see it, it's a memory for all the people who worked on the show. It's almost impossible for them to have the same experience of the show.

This came to me because I'm working on a new book. A new book is a really personal thing: it's really just you, the author. You may tell some of your friends about it or share chapters with other writers for their opinion of a passage. But mostly it's just you moving through that world all alone. Like paddling a boat down a river while the river world unfurls around you. You try to capture the unfurling and to bring it back to tell others, but mostly you're alone in this lush, rich new world. 

The new world is Georgian England, around 1780. The country is highly divided between rich and poor. Although the war with the colonies is stretching the country pretty think both economically and politically, England has for years been steadily growing richer; more people have more money, although there are still a lot of poor. On top of that, there is are not many instruments of authority. Crime is rampant with no organized police forces yet, except in London and it is still experimental. Many men try their hand at highway banditry: robbing travelers but at the peril of their life if caught. Two of the main characters of the new book are brothers, twins, who have decided to seek their fortune as highwaymen. Into their lives stumbles a young woman, a servant just turned out by the family that employed her, left to make her own way. The three strike up a very unusual arrangement and set out to see if they can define their own place in the world.

Only time will tell if the book ends up bring published, which seems to me analogous to the moment when a television series goes on the air, the time when the vision of its creators is shared with the rest of the world. In the meantime, it's just me whittling and polishing my private world, hoping to make it luminous enough to draw other people to its light.