Tuesday, August 14, 2018

A Poet and his Poetry

            Experts on media publicity recommend that when a new novel is released, you should write in your blog about something “cool” concerning the novel, something that makes it different or special. 

            Mykol Ranglen, the protagonist of my novel In a Suspect Universe, is a writer, explorer, space adventurer, loner, and . . . a poet.  Some very brief poems of his appeared in the first book, TheMan Who Loved Alien Landscapes.  But for this second book, I wanted to use several more parts of his poems, not to “add” to the book, and certainly not to “prettify” or “decorate” it (like some poems or songs do), but to make them significant aspects of the plot and character development. They wouldn’t be quoted at the starts of chapters to act as epigraphs or headings—and thus be easily skipped.  Instead, they’d function as integral parts of the narrative, “secrets revealed.” Reading them would be like sneaking a look over someone’s shoulder, digging into an unknown past, or, as one character says, getting the lowdown and “dirt” on someone. 

            They’re used sparingly (they fall mostly in just two chapters), and when they do appear they represent important plot points. Indeed, some poems even created certain aspects of the plot.  None of them are given entirely—only fragments—but they reveal parts of Ranglen’s character that people in the story get to see only through the poems.  Ranglen, as in the previous book, is still not too talkative or revealing of his past.  So the poems act as revelations of character, and a means of weaving even more mystery into the story.

            They also set up a tie to the next book in the series, which will be a collection of poems supposedly written by Ranglen himself (with an “editor’s introduction” by an alleged publisher in Ranglen’s future world). The full versions of all the poems quoted only briefly in the current book will be included there. The “notebook” referred to in this novel will purportedly become the collection that’s published.  I’m working on the volume now and it’s progressing very well—indeed, I’m in that ideal writer’s state where I prefer writing to pleasure reading—a wonderful “zone” to be in.

            I won’t say much about how the pieces-of-poems used in the book contribute to the plot. That would be giving things away—which shows how much the poems are not simple “window-dressing.” The only quote that is used as a traditional epigraph is the one that appears at the start of the book, and its slightly ominous tone, leading up to the book’s title, is very intentional:

It’s annoying, alarming,
Sad, and perverse,
To learn one lives
In a suspect universe.
            --Mykol Ranglen, Temporary Planets for Transitory Days

(Yes, that’s the title of the poetry collection being writing now.)

            Including these poems and using them to advantage in the book was exciting. Though brief, they allowed for levels of plot development, subtle openings into the main character, hints of explanations and unknown events that could not be introduced in any other way, and even tiny “info-dumps” of necessary information to provide foreshadowing, suspense, possible threats, and privileged knowledge for the reader.

            And I enjoyed writing brief reactions to them by one of my characters, which included exasperation, bemusement, impatience, when she didn’t understand what really was being revealed.

            So I invite you all to share in them,to see the practical benefits of using this device in writing a novel.  It allows for aspects of story-telling generally out-of-bounds to a narrator, and it supplied pleasure, entertainment, and a new tool for a writer’s box of tricks. 

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