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Peek into process

Straight from my journal this morning, basically no editing. This is what the inside of my brain looks like.

There’s a liminal space between conceiving a novel and starting to plot it, the story is all smoke and moving air, seeming to take form but taunting and dissipating, over and over.

As I sit on the just-finished first-round edits on Citadel, the shape of the third book in the trilogy is starting to take place in my mind; the characters are talking to each other but not yet to me, and I’m coming back around to Cathedral and Citadel and thinking about how those books have changed since their first conception and what hasn’t. There were points in the writing of Citadel where the two novels didn’t seem to hang together very closely; they seemed to be part of a trilogy of convenience, just points on a timeline, but in starting to pull together my scattered thoughts on the new book, underlying structure and arc and a cohesive theme are emerging. I had it right at the beginning. This trilogy is about masculine self-conception, but even more, it’s about faith.

There’s a moment in Sanctuary when Goban is talking to Michael Walsh, and he says, “I believed I could build something different. An enclave. To some extent I think I have succeeded. But you don’t know how pervasive it is, how your little bigotries bleed into everything…” He’s talking about his daughters and granddaughters there, he’s talking about institutional sexism, but institutional and internalized sexism has hit his sons and grandsons too, in different ways. These books are about the fine, fine blurry line between duty and discipline and rightness of purpose and pride, and toxic masculinity.

And I’m sitting with that and I’m thinking about the opening setup of this book, which I’m tentatively handling Hermitage although that may change, I’m thinking about the temporal-cultural context. I have just read Undisciplining Knowledge, and read about the mid-century history of operations research, which Sam would be right in the middle of as an academic economist in the 50s, the golden age of quantifying and operationalizing everything under the sun. I’m thinking about the books I have on my TBR pile but haven’t gotten to yet: King of Spies, about intelligence work in wartime Korea; Fortress America, about the militarization of society; The Last Sheriff in Texas, about shifting norms around violence and professionalism and the public trust in midcentury rural American law enforcement; Imperial Brotherhood : Gender and the Making of Cold War Foreign Policy, which is about exactly what it sounds like.

And what the book is about is starting to take shape. It’s perceptions of gender performance and masculinity during the height of the Lavender Scare, it’s Cold War British and American imperialism, it’s the maintenance and transmission of moral purpose and values from one generation to the next, all in the context of a shifting landscape of secretkeeping and falsehood. It’s about the question of what is necessary and what is right and what happens to people who have a deeply invested self-image as moral people when those two things conflict. If Cathedral is about moral certainty in the face of change and challenge, and Citadel is about defending the faith, then this new book is about doctrine-making and stewardship and the long view – which circles right back around and sets up the Sanctuary/Refuge/Stakehold trilogy.

At the opening of Hermitage, Conrad is eighteen, trying to decide whether to follow family expectations or forge his own path; Henry and Pete are both twenty-two, both soldiers very far from home. And the uncles are getting older, and Goban/Henriks is looking at a century. It’s been a few years since they figured out that the family is different, but now they have to decide what they’re going to actually do about it.

“This isn’t working anymore, so I’m trying something different” is an ongoing thread that pervades all the books. And somewhere in there is the dramatic tension of the story. I don’t have a plot yet, but I have an overarching emotional tone.

Published in intersections writing


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