Kent and I have been hitting the “issues facing Mormon publishing and book/film selling” pretty hard over the past few weeks. And there is more to come — I recently finished reading Rapture Ready! and have a few things to say about it in relation to the Mormon market. But I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that I really enjoy reading and writing Mormon literature. I was going to write up some liner notes for my Irreantum Fiction Contest entry, but then I realized that the judge(s) might read this blog.
So instead I have decided to offer a glimpse of a work in progress. It was originally called “The Courtship of Elder Cannon.” Apparently I retitled it “Elder Cannon Remarries” at some point. It’s been almost a year since I last worked on it so I’m a bit rusty on where I was going with it, but I think it’s the next piece of creative writing I want to focus on. I originally envisioned it as a longish short story, but now I’m thinking of putting my money where my mouth is and try to write a novella.
I suppose this is rather self-indulgent on my part. And I know writers are supposed to be superstitious about not letting this stuff see the light of day until a full draft is complete (and even then only to a few readers). But I thought that I’d take a cue from the non-fiction author-bloggers and forward-thinking speculative fiction writers and go public with the project and provide a teaser of what’s been written so far.
So without further ado, here are the first 2,000 words of the first draft of “Elder Cannon Remarries.”
Elder Cannon Remarries (alternate title: The Courtship of Elder Cannon)
So this is what it has come to, he wrote in his journal, a glass of chocolate milk at his elbow, jazz playing loudly in the background. 14 months, one week, and four days after burying Rachel, a member of the Twelve has set me up on a blind date.
He stopped typing for a moment and relived the events of the day in his mind. He wasn’t sure how much to put down. This journal was strictly his. There was no need to edit. His posterity would read a different history, one that was true, but was weekly compiled from his daily ramblings, one that was edited, not heavily, but edited nonetheless. Still, if writing was his therapy, then forming the sentences, telling the story of the day in a way that made sense to him was how he did it. He didn’t believe in streaming down words, simply regurgitating the day. Everything had to be contextualized and encoded.
On the one hand, I find the proposition so completely ludicrous that it doesn’t even deserve mentioning. On the other hand, I agreed to go on the date. Yes, I did not want to say no to Elder M. I mean, how does one say no to an Apostle? But more to the point, well, my hope is that this date thing will take the heat off a bit. When he first mentioned”¦
He stopped again. Charles had brought up the idea over the lunch. The moment it registered, he experienced a small, slightly thrilling shock. Were they preparing him to become an Apostle? Why else would they need for him to remarry? He pushed those thoughts quickly out of his mind. That’s not how things are done. Charles would have no way of knowing who was in line. And only the Lord knew when. He wrote on a typewriter so instead of erasing the halted sentence, he simply pressed the tab key twice. He knew what the blank space meant. This journal entry would be one he would return to, no doubt, probably as early as late Thursday evening of next week:
It’s strange that I would feel the pressure. I have had the luxury of being afforded a certain latitude as a general authority. But hints have been dropped. The topic has come up, obliquely, often in the context of discussion about other widowers. Elder R. seems so happy doesn’t he? I’m sure he misses his Edith, but with the burden he carries, he sure is blessed to have found Judy. What does one say in response? That: I know that Rachel is waiting for me on the other side, but I miss her in this existence. I wanted more time with her in mortality. I have no doubts about the glory of the resurrection, but it was her imperfect body and unrefined spirit that I fell in love with. That is the Rachel I know, and the promise of the coming day, while comforting, is also foreign, just like she, though she will be the same, will be foreign, with a foreign body. No, of course I can’t say that. I don’t want to say that. I smile and nod, not because I’m afraid to make waves, heaven knows, I’ve tossed my share of rocks into the pool, but because I will carry my burden alone. It is only in being alone that I can keep her presence, her absence near. Close enough to feel.
The CD stopped playing. He finished his chocolate milk and went to bed.
The next day, Elder R. filled him in on the date: “Okay, so she is a RN who went back to school when she was in her 40’s and earned a doctoral degree in literature. She teaches at the Y. Her fiancÃ© died in Vietnam. Ten years later her second fiancÃ© didn’t show up for his interview with the Stake President.”
“Why are you telling me all this, Charles?” he asked. He knew the answer, but he asked the question anyway.
“I just thought that these are things you’d like to know because”¦”
“You don’t need to explain to me why she has never been married. Her history is of no concern to me.”
“I get it. I know you need to establish her credentials, to show why she has never been married but still is eminently marriageable. But let’s let the lady maintain some privacy. Our culture has, I’m sure, questioned her her whole life. Her dignity lies in what she has done with her life, not in that her missed chances weren’t her fault.”
He knew that Charles meant well, but he also knew that the only way to dull the pain of the entire discussion was to keep the personal out of the equation. Righteous indignation was always a convenient fallback. He believed what he had said, but he also knew that he was using his belief as a defensive move and that kept the pain away, but it also left him vulnerable. He felt his shoulders tighten.
Elder R. unbuttoned and then buttoned his suit coat. He looked up straight into Bruce’s face and his eyes flared with honesty and humor. “Bruce, I know you miss Rachel. I know that this all seems very strange, especially since I’ve become the poster-boy for aged romance, and you know you don’t have to do this.”
Bruce kept his gaze steady. He wanted more. Elder R. matched his gaze for a moment then calmly said:
“You have to believe me when I say that the idea didn’t come first. Judy and I haven’t been sitting around plotting. She met Miriam a few months ago. They hit it off. And once I met her, it became quite clear that she is someone you should meet. That’s all. That’s all there is.”
Bruce creased his lips into a tight smile. He was touched, amused, angry and sad. The combination of emotions was unsettling, but it felt good to be a little riled up. He nodded his head slowly. “I trust your judgment. I will be there next Thursday. But don’t be disappointed if things don’t work out.”
“I’ll leave it up to you two to discover that promise you made to each other in the preexistence,” said Elder R.
Bruce laughed, and the tension drained from his body. He couldn’t wait to get home and put on some Dave Brubeck.
That night when he sat down at the typewriter, he wasn’t in the mood to write so he picked up his journal and began reading from the entry of the day before, moving backwards through the binder with a slow, steady rhythm. His eyes glazed each page with the soothing ease of familiarity. He read not to relive but to experience time as un-immediate. Time removed from the onward march of things done and yet to do. This was his history and unlike his memory, the book written in heaven, it will not stand in judgment against him for once the words become frozen in type they cease to be part of his corruptible, mortal being.
16 thoughts on “Work in Progress: Elder Cannon Remarries”
Fun! I’m excited to see it work out as a novella. I love the subject matter too. My roommate and I were speculating once on the curious romantic life of Kristen Oaks. How is it to date an apostle? What do you say when he asks where you’d like to go to dinner? “Um… you can pick. You’re the prophet, seer and revelator.”
I like the title “The Courtship of Elder Cannon” best. I’m anxious to see more. 🙂
I have no idea who Kristen Oaks is (I assume that she’s the second wife of Elder Dallin Oaks) or when that all occurred. I suppose I better find out a little bit about it so this doesn’t come across as a thinly veiled version of that.
I believe that I first got the ideas for this story 4 years ago. Or was it 5? I don’t remember and for some reason I don’t have documentation on it like I usually do. When did Elder Oaks get married?
Anyway. I’m glad you like the story start. I like it to and am a bit ashamed that I’ve been avoiding it for so long.
This line has been haunting me every since I wrote it: “I have no doubts about the glory of the resurrection, but it was her imperfect body and unrefined spirit that I fell in love with.”
Kristen Oaks is indeed Elder Oaks’s second wife – it’s been maybe 4 years since they got married? He’s had her speak with him on a couple occasions – once when they spoke at the MTC and once for a CES broadcast for young adults. He just gave her the floor for half of his talk. She served a mission in Japan, which is probably part of why I like her so much.
Elder Nelson recently remarried too – Sherri Dew talked about his new wife; apparently they’re best friends.
What haunts you about that line? When I first read it, I mused for a bit on how ardently we hold to notions that we know don’t actually matter. On how childlike and naive we must appear to God, who is ready to bless us with something infinitely better than the ratty little rag we’re clutching onto. The bittersweetness of a child losing his worn-out blankie…
!!Chocolate Milk!! Really??!?
I think Diet Coke goes much better with Dave Brubeck! But then, I’m probably biased.
William, your writing is pregnant with ideas. I want to find out what is born in the end.
I like the situation and the approach you’ve taken to unfolding it. I think “Remarries” is important to have in the title, otherwise it sounds like a post-mission courtship story, which isn’t nearly as interesting.
I now realize that the spacing I had used to show the text of the entry didn’t translate to the Web. A blockquote doesn’t quite work, but I don’t like to put too much text in italics. Italics is hard to read on a screen.
Two very Jewish names: Rachel and Miriam.
Excellent observation, Ann. I don’t remember if that was intentional or not.
I have a free hour or two right now — wife is at a baby shower, daughter at the in-laws. Here’s what I’ve discovered: the problem with dealing with Mormons in their sixties is that there are so many siblings, children, grandchildren, nieces/nephews, etc. to account for. Granted, many of them won’t make it into the story, but I have to at least think about them. But also thinking about Miriam and Bruce’s separate families is creating glimmers of scenes. So it’s good.
Also: I usually don’t plot out a short story beyond some very basic strokes. Obviously, you don’t want to overstructure yourself into some rigid form, but thinking about the basic plotlines and scenes of a novella is kind of fun. It doesn’t feel as daunting as a novel. More like a play or screenplay, actually. [which is what I say in the novella AMV post I link to above].
Oh, wow. I really messed up on the character names above. Switched who Charles was halfway through. It’s fixed now. To be clear: Bruce Cannon is the main character. Charles R. is his friend (who also happens to be one of the Twelve).
Also: Just wrote another 625 words. Only 30k or so left to go. ;-P
Are you going to post some more?
Probably not for awhile. I’ve been working on other stuff, and if I do post more on this work, it’ll probably be a scene from further along.
I have outlined the rest of the novella (which is an unusual move for me) and come up with several more characters. I don’t know that it’s a standard three act format, but it has three definite movements to it.
Another 685 words. Act I, 1-3 are complete. Just I:4-10 and Acts II and III left to go.
But I’m on pace for 20-30k words so I do think that this is definitely a novella.
How about “The Second Courtship of Elder Cannon”? You could include flashbacks to his first courtship, constrasting/comparing the two experiences and emotions that accompanied each. Of course, that may not flow so well with what you’ve already got going…
Just a thought.
And not a bad one at that. Although now we’re getting into novel length territory and I’m not sure I’m equipped to do that just yet.
I think my favorite line was the one at the end of the story: “This was his history and unlike his memory, the book written in heaven, it will not stand in judgment against him for once the words become frozen in type they cease to be part of his corruptible, mortal being.”
I admit that I find someone listening to a CD while keeping a journal using a typewriter somewhat incongruous, even if he is in his sixties. I suppose the imagery wouldn’t work as well for a computer.
I also found the back-and-forth between journal and thought and memory somewhat disconcerting, but that was doubtless in part because the posting here didn’t clearly indicate the journal entries, at least as it came through on my web browser.
The other thing that’s not clear to me is what the basic movement of the story will be. Evidently he’ll marry, and since you’re willing to reveal that in the title, that’s obviously not, in itself, the main development. So what kind of growth or change within himself is going to be the main thing that happens over the course of the story? So far we don’t know. Which is okay–I’m just telling you that this is the question I’m wondering, at this point in my reading.