Tuesday, October 23, 2012

On Writing The Fifth Interval

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Through another writer, I have become acquainted with Rafael de Cameron, author of The Fifth Interval, the story of the unassuming Brother Samuel of the abbey Montserrat, high in the peaceful and serene mountains of Catalonia. There Brother Samuel produces a miracle that ignites the fiery wrath of the Holy Inquisition.

Here is a short essay from de Cameron about his novel and its origins. 

The Fifth Interval – The Perfect Fifth

Music and memories
Ever listen to a song you haven’t heard in awhile? And suddenly the melody produces a flush of memories long forgotten? It comes unexpectedly; your mind is churning some mundane thought, and Bam! 

I was in the midst of a Master’s thesis, my head filled to the brim with theories, hypotheses, premises and postulations.  So much information, stacks of literature on the application of location theory and time.  Who the hell reads this stuff!  I was stressed to a point of information overload and needed a release.  And it was there in the gym when a song came over the sound system that I had not heard in awhile.  Memories flowed, memories of my childhood, growing up in a place called Little Italy and the church, Our Lady of Assumption, hiking through campus at the Jesuit College.  But it took me to another place, and there it was, a story in the making. 

If you ever have a conversation with a writer, you’re bound to hear them talk about streams of consciousness.  This is what happened in that moment of that particular song. But it kept streaming—a blissful time at the age of five playing with my Toy Australian Shepherd, an engaging ride with siblings through the Colorado Rockies, a lonely moment on a train from Frankfurt to Paris—all intertwined with struggles of my present, streams of thoughts about the future. I have this quirk about questioning everything, and I thought: how could one song create a long narration, an interior monologue of such detail?  There’s something about music.

Music unlocks the past, begins the journey
The song was Enigma’s Mea Culpa.  I was young the first time I heard it, thought it was cool, but it did not mean anything more at the time. Or did it?  And so began a new hypothesis about music, a far more interesting subject than location theory (for me, at least), and it became the overarching theme for a story that eventually grew into a trilogy.  The research took me to a time long ago, and to a place in Spain called Montserrat, a monastery where they teach music to a school of boys called L’Escolania. 

I began to dig deeper into the subject and that same year, my thesis was published and attracted the attention of both national and international associations, which came as a surprise. I was invited to present the paper in Manchester England, and decided combine the travel with a trip to Spain after the presentation, to visit the monastery, Montserrat.   I arrived with one single purpose: to present my paper at the conference, and then go to Spain.  But the event had much more in store for me.  It was there that I met the characters of my novel, and I was surprisingly chosen for that year’s award for “Best Paper.” I was elated, even though I had to completely change my itinerary, but they re-booked my flight so that I could attend the banquet. 

I don’t make it a point to attend such gatherings, but the experience was well worth it; it provided me with a wealth of characters .  The English are excellent hosts and they put me at ease, though I still felt like an outsider (my own insecurities), and distinctly recall the evening after the banquet (at the Thirsty Scholar) that gave me the character of Adrie, the female protagonist who finds a second glyph, and who further deepens Samuel’s understanding and appreciation of music.  And I found Charles, the French aristocrat who has a love interest in Adrie.  The chapter at La Sorbonne came from this experience.

The McGuffin, the glyphs
It was a story that had to have a McGuffin, the Holy Grail of everyone’s desire.  And this McGuffin happened to be a series of glyphs, and it had to connect the characters in some way, not only through space, but through time.  The glyphs are also a symbol of what the characters believed.  I won’t spoil it but I will tell you that the reform movement, Spirituali, and the Jesuits played an important role, particularly Michelangelo, a member of the movement, and his connection with Ficino’s Platonic Academy, supported by the Medicis. 

The story initially began in a current day setting but it had a history, a long history.  During my research (which was intense, but fun for me), putting the pieces together took me to the Renaissance, a period with a sudden infusion of information—Magellan’s voyage, the Platonic Academy, Gutenburg’s printing machine, Mercator’s maps, Copernicus’ and Kepler’s scientific revolution, and as the Holy Roman Empire was on the brink of bankruptcy. Like today’s “digital revolution,” through the “great recession,” there is a similar connection, all to be tidied up in one book.  But my writing professor urged me to write it in two books.  It evolved to a trilogy.

The Protagonist, the Antagonist
The setting allowed me to explore the characters through a larger-than-life situation.  Initially written in third person omniscient, it wasn’t doing justice to the main character whose life was taken away from him through amnesia.  And as painful as it was, editing it to first person allowed me to explore both the internal and worldly journey of Samuel.  Although, I had to sacrifice much of the fun details about Brunillo’s struggle, particularly in the grip of Cano’s control.

Samuel had much help, because he was pushed into a mission that began long before he came along.  His covenant connected him to the glyphs, which connected him to all the stakeholders—Carranza, Michelangelo, Princess Juana, Giulia de Medici, and so the antagonist had to be powerful enough to thwart all of Samuel’s resources. Cano made sense.  His was a long forgotten story between himself and Carranza, a clash between two bishops that served as a seed of ultimate conflict. Both started at the University of Salamanca, but the gentle Carranza moved effortlessly up in rank, making Cano all the more jealous.  Their story fit perfectly into the plot.

The Tritone Paradox
Having music as the overarching theme worked well in developing the story through its seven-year inception (researching, writing, working).  It helps in keeping the trilogy in perspective through the timeframe that the story stretches, which is set in the present for the next book, and into the future for the third book.  The characters, some, but not all, will follow through time in a kind of fantastical realism (not to spoil the plot).  Readers will continue following Samuel and Adrie, as well as some of the other key characters.  Moving to the present day for the next book allows me to explore more concepts that would have been difficult to accomplish as a historical fiction.  In the Tritone Paradox, I also answer some questions about the magical event in the Temple of the Sun, and much of Samuel’s dreams, his memory palace, which evolves throughout the trilogy.

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