Monday, November 28, 2011

Writing About Gloucester While In Gloucester

Hemingway always said that he could not write about a place while he was in that place. He had to go to Paris to write about Michigan and he had to go to Cuba to write about Paris. Yesterday I finished what I hope is the final draft of Depraved Heart and, since much of it is set in Gloucester, I am now wondering how that will hold up as the story is read by people who know Gloucester. Editing is on-going and, once the book goes out to the beta-readers, there will no-doubt be revisions and edits that will need to be made but I am very happy with it at the moment.
Hammond Castle

The background of the story involves a fabulous art collection compiled by a rich old guy in the early part of the 20th century. He built an estate that rivals the Hammond estates here in Gloucester on a mythical island between Gloucester and Salem which is populated only by fishing families. Consequently much of the story involves the arts culture here in Gloucester as well as the fishing culture. The story itself is a complete fiction and the characters bear no resemblance to anyone I know but, of course, people will see characters they think are based on individuals.

This has been a long, hard haul on this story because it deals with some tough subject matter and yet creating the world of Hathor, the grand estate, has been delicious. I love most of the characters. I always fall in love with my male protagonist and this one is no different. Syd Jupiter is a 6'6” former NFL fullback who grew up in New Orleans (when he was with his mother) and Galveston (when he was with his father). When the story opens he has just been paroled after fifteen years in prison where he was serving a twenty-five year sentence for the “depraved heart” murder of his brother-in-law. He is returning to Hathor to administer the sale of the estate and much of the art collection which his 15 year old daughter inherited upon the death of her great-grandfather a few months earlier. I loved creating Syd. He is a very mysterious and impenetrable character with lots of secrets and lots of fire.

The female protagonist, Tempest Hobbs, is an art curator from Salem, Massachusetts who is also a “sensitive”. She has the dubious “gift” of being empathic toward the people around her and, in the past, this has caused her such psychological trauma that she needed to be confined to a psychiatric hospital in order to deal with the emotions assailing her. Syd hires her to evaluate and curate the Ravenscroft art collection as they determine what to do with all that art. She will be living at Hathor with Syd and his daughter Anjelica for the summer as they do this.

Three of the most interesting characters in the story are already dead when the story begins. Wyatt Ravenscroft, the grandfather of Syd's wife, has just died at the age of 94 leaving the estate to Anjelica and appointing Syd, the man who killed his grandson, as executor. Something no one can believe. Rachel, Syd's wife, was a beautiful but mysterious ballerina who died shortly after the birth of their daughter and the incarceration of her husband. And then there is Raven, the passionate, wild, dionysian twin brother, a distinguished dancer and infamous Lothario, who was hot to death in his grandfather's garden during a drunken party.

Other characters include Marie-Isobel, Syd's beautiful mother who runs a Santeria shop in New Orleans; Miles Wainwright, a local fisherman and Syd's devoted friend; and Anjelica Jupiter, the sweet, poor-little-rich girl whose only desire in life is to have a family.

It always happens, whenever I complete the main body of work in a book, that I get sad because it means my characters have gone as far as they can go and I miss spending time with them. Once the story is written those characters are like friends that have died and, no matter how much I rewrite, it is rather like looking for photographs that I have never seen of them but nothing can bring them back.

And then there is Gloucester. It is, of course, still here for me. I wrote about Rocky Neck Art Colony and the sculptors' quarries in Lanesville and Fiesta and The Crow's Nest. Those places will stay alive for me and I hope that they will come alive for readers. That remains to be seen.

Thanks for reading.  

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