We have reached the Inn at Upton
Still editing Two to Tango. I think, perhaps, it’s going well, though I hesitate to damn myself by positive thinking or tempt the fates. I’ll do my best to diffuse things by saying I am well aware I could still fall down hard on my ass.
People often ask me what my writing influences are. The very largest is simply that I have read since before I can remember and have written things down since I was twelve. After awhile you start to get the hang of it. But there are two very important influences in my prose coming in the package of people. One of them is Jennifer Crusie, a longtime friend and writing mentor. The older, and because of the timing more significant, is Dr. Greg Scholtz, my undergraduate advisor and professor of British Literature. And through him I met my great personal hero, my lifelong influence of fiction and character: Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones. And because of Scholtz and Fielding and Jones, I always know a novel is coming together when I get to the Inn at Upton.
Tom Jones is a perfect goalpost for me; in its day it was a scandal and roundly rejeted by Samuel Johnson, who happened to be the subject of Scholtz’s dissertation. (If you’re into this era’s lit: Oh yes, I read Pamela and Shamela.) Tom Jones the character is pretty much always present in my heroes, I think. You have to love a loveable scoundrel. To be honest, Charles Perry is proabably unconscious Tom Jones fanfic. But even in a story where the charcter links to Tom are weak, I always feel good when I can find the inn.
I read Tom Jones first as part of a British novel survey course, and when we discussed the work, we spent a full class period talking about the scenes which take place at the inn at the village at Upton. Tom is a foundling, raised by the noble Squire Allworthy in his country estate; he’s the menace of Allworthy’s nephew, Blifil, and the object of virginial desire from Sophia Weston, a beautiful neighbor girl. Tom, however loveable and charming, is a conssumate scoundrel, especially with women. Eventually he gets sent from home and makes his way in the world, on the way having many adventures. His journey ends in London, where the adventures come to a climax and he has his revelation, resolution, and happily ever after, where we the audience are gratified to discover that yes, the people we like best ARE the good people, that we were even mistaken as to their social standing, and yes, the bad people really are scoundrels. The guy gets the girl, families are reunited, and everyone gets exactly what they deserve.
But all this is set up at the center of the book, at the inn at Upton. It’s a nexus point for all points of plot and character, and very nearly every major player in the book is present (comically so in most cases) at the inn. They come together, they run into each other, they escape each other. All desires and resolutions are firmed up or discarded here; all masks are torn down. Those who pursue Tom no longer pretend they are doing so for any reason but that they hate him; Sophie, even after finding ANOTHER of Tom’s indiscretions (this time possibly with his mother, though that works out in the end too), still wants to chase him down. Even Tom comes to some sort of understanding of his own nature. All enter Upton with a bit of rough, but all exit fully gilded to see their way to the end.
Best part? You only notice this if you pick the thing apart in a British survey course.
The Inn at Upton in Special Delivery is the crossing of Wolf Creek Pass. Sam is anxious about going over, but once he does so, there’s no turning back. It’s tidy that the mountain range is also a physical divide, but I loved that this was there to give him the jostling only a narrow squeeze can do. I think in Double Blind it’s the limo confession, though it’s less tidy there. In Hero it’s the Bollywood movie, maybe, though I’m really strecthing it now. For Miles I think I didn’t quite get one, which is sad. Sweet Son, obviously, is the night in the woods. I don’t plan to have these centers where transformation happens, but I do love them when they happen, and I absolutely love it when I know it’s coming. It feels like touching hands with my most ultimate mentor.
In Two To Tango the inn at upton is the Nutcracker performance. Plotwise it marks a growth point for both heroes; emotionally, it’s where they both commit and where everything which happens after becomes cemented. Once again, all players come to the inn; in fact, I think I’m going to edit it a little to make them all literally there, if it works. It’s tidier and might lend something I’m missing. For me as an author trying to revise a story that went flat after the center, this is my point to see where and what I lost. To note themes and plot lines–and to begin ruthlessly organizing and even culling them. They’ve had ten chapters to get themselves in order. If they haven’t laid down veins now, they were ideas that didn’t pan out. This isn’t the climax, but for me from a story point, it’s downhill to London from here, and I will be proceeding with a sharp eye and a mind for order. 120k is no length to be mucking about.
So that is where I am today: the Inn at Upton, shaking hands with my personal hero again. I can’t say that Henry Fielding would necessrily like what I do with my novels. But I can hope. At any rate, he’s certainly in no position to object or tear me down with satire.
On to the inn.