My mother is writing a novel.
For many years she talked about writing it, but now she’s actually doing it. She’s workshopping chapters, attending writing groups (one of which she started herself because that’s what you do when you’re Marianne Fons), and she’s a sponge for information on how to go from idea to page, from page to accepted manuscript, from publication to the paperback rack in every airport Hudson News from here to Bejing. If anyone can write a novel (and not many can) my mother can.
I also have an idea for a novel — but I have almost zero desire to write it. Though I applaud my mother’s efforts and support this particular flavor of The American Dream, I have reason to believe writing a novel is not fun. I wrote a one-woman show and it nearly killed me. Hemingway shot himself in the head. One of my favorite essayists, Joseph Epstein wrote in the New York Times in 2002:
“Without attempting to overdo the drama of the difficulty of writing, to be in the middle of composing a book is almost always to feel oneself in a state of confusion, doubt and mental imprisonment, with an accompanying intense wish that one worked instead at bricklaying.”
Still, the dream to write a novel has its pull. There have been three occasions in my life when I shared my storyline with someone (we all have to listen to our friends’ novel ideas, sometimes) and each time that happened, the concept of actually writing the dang thing got goosed.
Here’s the idea:
The book opens at the height of the Chinese Opium War. It’s the 1830s. Chaos. Death. Opium dens. Dirty deals. Murder. Money. It’s quite the moment in human history. The story is set in Brittain, China, points far flung; this is a global adventure. Ship voyages, train voyages. The book is written in the third person and we get POVs for anyone and everyone, but the meat of the story follows Josephine Ella (not settled on that name, yet) as she rises to become the most powerful madam on two continents! Two really big continents!
She’s this brilliant businesswoman whose whole goal is to help her fellow countrywoman rise out of poverty. Is she going about it all wrong with the whole brothel thing? Yes, except that all her “girls” are healthy and have their own money and she encourages them to leave as soon as they can and make a life for themselves. Anyway, she’s got a heart of gold, naturally, and everyone loves her.
There’s a love triangle! There’s a super high-up executive in the East India Company who falls in love with her and promises her riches beyond her wildest dreams, but he has to compete with the general in the British Army who is also in love with her. And then there’s an opium trader who is also in love with her. But Josephine actually pines for her childhood sweetheart, the boy who saved her from certain death when she was abandoned by her mother and we find out Josephine is adopted! And then she gets addicted to opium!! But then she gets better!
And that’s like, the first book. Then there’s the second book, which is the prequel. The third book is the continuation of the first book, and then you’ve got all the spin-offs.
The movie will be amazing. The costumes? I mean can you imagine? Fughettaboudit.