I promised myself I’d get back into my novel this month. Forest Avenue Press will still be my primary focus, but I want to make room in my life for Henri, my protagonist now languishing in Chapter Four, draft two, still waiting for his chance to board a ship to America.
Interesting things are happening in my book, though, and some of them have nothing to do with Henri. Maybe they’ll get cut in a later draft. Or maybe they’ll stay. I’m not really concerned. But for now, holding a glass eyeball inspired the town baker to find his artistic side. You’ll note “the village chorus,” in this case unidentified children and mothers speaking to each other. That’s a device I’ve been using pretty regularly in this draft, and I love the larger sense of community it brings to the page without getting bogged down in details and extraneous names.
Here’s a short passage from Lost Notes:
Fruit grew heavy in late July. Small children wandered around town with stained mouths, though they were supposed to bring their findings straight to their mothers. The berries were intended for drying or jamming—to brighten the taste of winter bread.
The baker had little use for worrying, though. He used what berries he could find to color his sugar spheres, which he displayed in the front window, attracting crowds in the street after church. Who would buy sugar that had been melted and cured into glassy circles and ribbons? It could not be fashioned into molasses. It could not be added by pinch to hot grains. It could not even be stored properly, for the mice and the dust claimed their shares when the baker went home for the night.
Like ice, the children thought, pressing their stained hands and mouths against the glass on the front of the boulangerie. The baker has taken ice and run it through our mothers’ spinning wheels, turned it into fat threads of crystal, and then he has woven baubles from those glassy threads.
“It is much simpler than that, children, to make boiled sweets.” The baker, when he had a crowd, often came out to say hello and offer tiny nibbles—always something from the back of his display, where the granular loss wouldn’t show. “May I demonstrate the melting process?”
“Come inside, then, children, and I will show you.”
“Please, Maman? May we go inside?”
“Move along, it is time we get home, come now, toi aussi, Bernard, allons-y,” the mothers said. They did not want their children talking to someone so wasteful. “You may not go inside today.”
“But we are thirsty!” the children complained. “We are tired! We want to go inside. It is cooler in there than out here in the hot sun.”
The mothers hastened their children away, fearing a trick. It was one thing to make lace—beautiful but practical. Their work would be used. The baker’s work was not even work at all—it was a waste of supplies.
Laura, thanks for sharing this wonderful snippet from your work. It gave me a sweet “taste” of the story. I do hope you keep this when you are in the final draft. Now … what on earth is going to happen to Henri? Have fun with this revision 🙂
Thanks for your encouragement, Florence! Henri is a lot of fun to write and I can’t wait to get him moving on his journey. My original plan was to have most of the book take place in America, but I keep adding to the parts set in France (like here with this baker showing up on the page). It’ll be interesting to see how the proportions of each section change once I get him to America. Perhaps less of the story is set there than I originally envisioned.
Laura, I do love the “chorus” device and voice. It is so expansive, evoking a bigger picture, a world in the past, lost grandeur. I love this:
“It could not be fashioned into molasses. It could not be added by pinch to hot grains. It could not even be stored properly.”
The repetition of “could not” lends a formal air, as if we are hearing this story at the knee of a revered and ancient storyteller, proper and wise. At the same time, we learn interesting details.
Hurrah for the foray into Chapter Four!
Oh, those ever-so-proper mothers. The thought that everything should have a useful purpose is rather sad to my mind. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this story!
I’m so glad you picked up on that theme, jm! Poor Henri is being treated like an invalid and he has no purpose, much like the lovely sweets. At some point he has to break out of that mentality and do his own thing. Become his own hero despite his weak constitution.
Orson Welles used the “village chorus” in The Magnificent Ambersons, for similar reasons. It may have started as a stage device (where it’s easier to have characters speak without giving them names), but it’s interesting to think about using it in prose fiction. It’s always good to consider different tools we can adapt and use.
This sounds wonderful, Laura.