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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Earth Remains Forever: The Idea

"Then as I was getting up to the Closerie des Lilas with the light on my old friend, the statue of Marshal Ney with his sword out and the shadows of the trees on the bronze, and he alone there and nobody behind him and what a fiasco he'd made of Waterloo, I thought that all generations were lost by something and always had been and always would be."
I posted the first few pages of my novel manuscript the other day. I've actually written the entire manuscript once, heavily edited/rewrote it a second time, and then sent out a round of queries to agents. I got some great feedback and I realized that, while it might have found a home if I kept querying, it wasn't quite to the level I wanted it to be yet. These things take time to develop. So, I busied myself with my life after the Corps and let it rest for a little while. I kept coming back to it to jot down ideas and read things, but only recently did I get back into gear on finishing up the revisions.

For now, it is entitled “The Earth Remains Forever,” which comes directly from Ecclesiastes. “Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.” Of course, this is in a way an homage to Hemingway, one of my favorite writers. The next line in Ecclesiastes is, "The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to his place where he arose." I'm mixing Bible versions here, cherry-picking my favorite words, but you get the point. I did not choose the title as a paean to Hemingway. I was reading all of Ecclesiastes due to the incredible volume of references to it in literature and culture and that line struck a chord with me, much for the same reason the whole passage stuck with Hemingway after he had the argument with Gertrude Stein about the mechanic who she felt treated her rudely and how they were "all a génération perdue."


In the end, if that title sticks, the easy, dirty label that could be put on it would be a copy of Hemingway, but I feel that it is something quite different, so I'm willing to chance it. Hemingway focused on his Lost Generation and on the individual very specifically. I aim to do something more, here, in looking at generations. This isn't a book about the Afghanistan War, at least not solely. It is a book about family. It is a book about wars. And it is a book that looks at the effect of wars on family and on individual lives. More than that, it is a book that looks at all the grand distractions that ultimately mean very little when we look back on our lives and how we spent them.

I begin with an explicit reference to Hemingway in the title, then in the first pages shift to a tone borrowed from the epics. This book doesn't seek to be an epic, nor will it be epic in length, but I couldn't think of a better way to signify that this is not meant to be a story only of one character, one family, or one war. The themes here go well beyond all of those categorizations. Generations do come and go and there really is nothing new under the sun, as Ecclesiastes - and Mattis - say, which is why the epics still speak to us and reference to them can help to provide provide another layer of reference for the characters for readers who wish to go levels deeper. One could read it without parsing those references, though, and not miss much.
Hemingway on crutches after being wounded in World War I.

But, what is it all about? It is about a Marine officer - James - who is returning from Afghanistan. On a stop in Rota, Spain, he goes out in town, misses his plane home, and embarks on a trek across Spain and France. On this trip, he tries to make sense of the wreck of his life and the choices he has made. He cannot understand it all, however, without also trying to unravel the mysteries of his parents, grandparents, and in-laws, how they lived, and how their lives shaped parts of his.

Maybe it isn't much of a jacket blurb written that way, but that's the unpolished essence. As I work my way through this rewrite, I'll try to take things I'm thinking and writing about and post them here. I hope you'll follow along.
Hemingway with a shotgun in the 1950s, roughly a decade before he killed himself.

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