Art first; context later.
Jack was Adam John First the Third,
As hale a lad as you’ve ever heard
Run over the brook on a rotting log
With an apple in his pocket and a loose-skinned dog;
And V was Valentine Eve Vereen,
As sharp a lady as you’ve ever seen
Sew pockets in the chimney of her old top hat
For pencils and books and apples for her cat.
Now Jack and V and Dog and Cat
Had something in common (did you guess at that?) —
For Cat and Dog and V and Jack
Were joined in their love of a red sweet snack.
Yes, Dog and Cat and Jack and V
Loved apples in every variety…
I wrote a story once. It was about stories, and how they can be dangerous, and about a father who is losing his son; and in it I name-checked a fictitious children’s book called JACK AND THE APPLES. The name-check itself is later, but the description comes first:
Kelly and Kieran, Madonna and child, that voice like coffee with cream poured into those words like tiny perfect cups. She always hated her writing, but for once she could forget it was hers, just giving him that voice, those words, that slight simple story built up from symbols so old and commonplace you wouldn’t think anyone could do anything with them any more. Apples, trees, a dog, a girl, a boy. But balanced, like calligraphy, flowing in this stately dance out of a spiral notebook that looked like an elephant’s bung-wipe. Light mother and dark boy, a book, a couch, a lap, the sun before naptime. All mine. Can you imagine that?
… I won’t quote the rest — I’m too proud of that story, even if no one would buy it, you can read it if you like what you saw.
The point is, more or less as soon as the story was done, I started thinking about JACK AND THE APPLES. Now, I’ve written a dissertation in neuroscience; I’ve written dozens of scientific articles and short stories; I’ve written a couple novels in the 50-60K range and a couple in the 160-170K range. Footprint-wise, in comparison, a kid’s book is like… well, a kid’s foot. But I tried a few times and it would never come out. I was trying to write it more or less like a comic, with a descriptive mise-en-scene for the artist and the words, and I just couldn’t get anything that would go where I wanted it to go (or even somewhere else interesting).
But tonight, after a weekend of furious editing on THE EIGHTH KING and somewhat less than furious recovery from a really awful cold, I was lying in bed with Rowan and the words just started coming.
I’m not saying the doggerel above will ever measure up to the impossible bar I set for this book in “Keynote Speech…” But I’m very interested that this is starting to take something approximating shape.