Today I have the pleasure to host Myron Night, who will share some words of wisdom and an excerpt from his book, Perfect Fingers.
Myron's Guest Blog
Authors, Characters and Relationships
It all starts when you, the author, decide on a viewpoint – are you inside the characters, riding around in their heads (first person), or outside the characters, looking down on them with god-like omniscience (third person)?
For example, in the novel Perfect Fingers, we are inside the head of the central character, Myron, and in the present tense: “The sun is shining on Wampum Corner. It is mid-morning and the day is yet cool. I walk out to get the mail from the mailbox by the road. The air is fresh, the birds sing, this is all very wonderful.”
There are great advantages and disadvantages to building a character this way. On the plus side, the immediacy of the first-person present tense draws the reader in, and it is easy to reveal the character’s innermost thoughts and reactions to the world outside, thus building a strongly defined character. On the negative side, everything has to be described from that character’s viewpoint so, as is true in life, we can’t really be sure what the other characters are feeling or thinking – we are limited by the observations of our central character, who may or may not be an acute or accurate observer. Once again, from Perfect Fingers: “Susie, sitting on the other side of the table, is curious. As she sips her coffee, she watches me. She watches me just a little bit, but not too much.” So we get a feeling for Susie’s inner being from Myron’s observations and how he describes what he sees.
Taking it one step further, how is it possible to build relationships between the characters if we only have access to the inner life of one of them? Once again, from Perfect Fingers, through the observation and reportage of our roving viewpoint, the “I” character: “The distance between us shortens quickly. ‘Hi,’ I try to smile. My throat is tight. ‘Hi,’ he says, his drawl more curt than usual. I attempt to read the expression on his face. It looks like a mixture of pride, disdain, anger and amusement. I can only speculate.” So we get a feel for the relationship between these two characters, especially in the larger context of the novel itself.
This could be juicy, filtering a fictional reality through the thoughts and feelings of a fictional narrator. But even better, what if our narrator is “unreliable”? What if, through the progress of the story, our faithless floating “I” reveals that when he told us about “A”, it was actually “B”; that the whole time she, in revealing her innermost feelings to us, the readers, claimed to be in love with him, she actually hated his guts? And so on.
I am using this “unreliable” approach in the novel-in-progress, Sparafucile or The Assassin – even though it is written in third person, with an all-knowing narrator describing the actions and relationships of a number of different characters, the “omniscient” narrator is either a bumbling fool or a liar, because in many aspects of the story – the characters and their relationships -- we are led to believe that things are one way when, as the narrative evolves, they actually turn out to be quite another. Delicious!-- Myron Night
What motivates twenty-something Myron and Susie, in 1971, to leave a Boston commune centered around a self-proclaimed messiah and travel aross the country in their refurbished school bus to a back-to-the-land commune in the Pacific Northwest?
Idealism? Rebellion? Apathy?
The war in Vietnam; Watergate and the Nixon scandal; open marriage and co-parenting; sex and drugs and the commune. Overflowing with sights, insights, sentiments and sensations of the early ‘70s, this twenty-first century novel emerges as a crystalline illumination of that critical cusp in the American evolution.
I’M ON MY WAY. MY OLD CHEVROLET rumbles on toward the
Farm. Port Manley is behind me. Like a seed sprouting, determination has taken the place of indecision.
The Chevy wagon, loaded with my meager possessions, carries
me along the pitted road out of the valley, past the lake and up the
The rough pastures, lush with the warm rains of spring, comfort
me; the thick alders and lofty cedars restoreth my soul.
This is it, then. I have decided. In the long escape from the
womb, every step has required this act of faith. Like the trees, I am
thrusting up into the sunlight. There is no point now in asking
questions, in trying to decide my fate. The weighing of the issue is a sham. There is only destiny, an ineluctable drawing onward. Is it the mystery of time, its unidirectional flow, which propels me up the mountain roadway?
Alone in my holy-of-holies, my inner sanctum, my old Chevrolet, sealed from the world by tight neoprene gaskets at the
doors and windows, I am motionless, a suspended point of
consciousness, the still center of the universe, wrapped in solitude
as space, time and the world streak by. Things pass at such speed
I will never remember them. Each leaf, each twig, each spill of sunlight—all will be lost in the onward rush. The infinite impeccable detail of life fades, forgotten, behind me.
How can I remember this, I wonder, and this, and that, and this
now? The movement of a cow’s head, the whisk of a cedar branch
rushing past the car? It is too much, the world is too much, endlessly approaching, then rushing by, then disappearing into time, forever lost behind me. And there is nowhere, no-when, to stand firm.
The scene widens, to a vast rippling continent, green and woolly,
with this slow mite of a car climbing the miniscule wrinkle of this one hill, and where am I? Lost in it all. My history, my being, disappears into the past as quickly as it arrives. This rushing oblivion is terrifying.
At last the eroded driveway bumps to rest under the old Chev,
arriving as expected, in the proper time and place in the flow of
events, with its cargo of dead and dying communal cars. How long
has it taken to get here? How far have I come?
I get out of the car. I see Steve and Pete in the upper terrace of
the garden, near the Common House, under the huge lone poplar
tree. They are pulling weeds. When they see me walking toward
them, they work faster, scrabbling at the weeds, like large furry
animals, with frizzy hair and fluffy beards.
I enter the garden and close the gate behind me, squatting to pull
weeds alongside them. I say nothing. Neither do they speak. There
are only furtive glances, their moist brown eyes darting at me from
behind all that fuzzy hair.
Finally, Sarah passes on the Common House path. I stand and
“Myron!” She seems glad to see me. “What are your plans?”
“I have no plans.”
But I need a place to stay. Sarah suggests I talk to Madelyn, who
owns property around the mountain from the Farm, not far from
Susie’s A-frame cabin.
I get back in the Chev and drive to Madelyn’s place. She agrees
to let me pitch my tent in her woods.
From the path which leads to her house, I climb onto the trunk
of a long fallen hemlock which extends out over the dense brush. As though balancing on a tightrope, I walk its length to where it crosses a fallen cedar. I step down onto the cedar and walk some more, weaving between upthrusting branches which radiate from the horizontal trunk. The long trunk ends in the midst of the thickundergrowth. I jump down to the ground. I look around. I have
disappeared in the forest.
I remove brush, gouge out a clearing, grubbing up roots and
smoothing the ground, until I have a level place, where I set up the
tent. It will do very well in lieu of a house or apartment or unit of
any other sort.
From the mouth of the tent, I survey my domain. Sword ferns
and salmonberries, vine maple and alder. Lush greenery everywhere, broken only by the brown of tree bark and the blue of sky. Yes, the bright blue nylon of the tent clashes, but I am certain that this is just the beginning of that long descent into the wilderness which I have always sought, and eventually I will no longer need the tent.
Already, the sickness of society has been left far behind. This is the frontier. Unseen birds sing their songs, and all around me
incomprehensible creatures, invisible, are living their lives. Isn’t this
it, then? Isn’t this the beginning?
Sweaty from all that exercise, I climb out of the tent and take off
my clothes. It feels strange to be naked out here, like falling into an
unknown world. Gentle movements of the air tickle me in unfamiliar
places. My body twitches like the snout of a dog.
With my bare feet, I feel the many things which make up the rough
forest floor—twigs, stones, leaves, clumps of moss and chunks of rotting wood. Before, they were undifferentiated crunch under my boots. But my naked feet are organs of perception, and now, as though through a microscope, I have an intimate view of these things of the earth.
Naked, I am less afraid of the oblivion of time. The forest soothes
the soles of my feet. The fear of falling endlessly into nothingness
In front of the tent, I clear the twigs and stones from a space the
size of my body. I drop to my knees and level the humus with bare
hands, shuffling like a bear, until I have smoothed a place large
enough for me to lie and stretch out.
Cautiously, I settle onto my back on the bare soil. The damp cold
earth chills me deliciously. The underside of my body is like an
earthworm, long, wet and cold, but very much at home. Above, the
trees nod, etching the far-away sky in wispy green.
Now is the time. It begins.
I stand and open my arms to the sun, moving effortlessly into
the first yoga posture, the Sun Salute.