Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Thanks for coming. You find it all right? I hope the directions were O.K. Some people get lost at the Maple Path part, but you just keep going, past the forest and over the hill until you hear the heartbeat of history—in the bustle of the trees and the pulsing of the streams. Then a sharp left. It’s still the best way to go. Route 89 has too many lights. Anyway, you’re really in for a treat today.

Welcome to Hannigan’s Cove. A town rich with characters and history, built upon the sacred institutions of honest work and cyclical irony. Settled three hundred years ago by the Scots on the backs of the French, and mined by the Iroquois alongside the mighty Susquehanna. The river once flowed brave and proud, conceiving a factory along its bank. They say it was the factory that brought the people whose labor gave birth to an industry. I think it was textiles. Or maybe boat parts? That’s not really so important. But it does tend to burn down quite dramatically. Twice, already. Once by some faulty wiring. But another time the place went up in a beautiful lightning storm forged by barometric pressure and the inevitable forces of dramatic structure. Whoo, Lordy, that was just stunning. Would take at least a good five pages to do justice. And I don’t mind telling you, the Susquehanna’s been known to flood too. A kind of nature-agains-man thing. Wiping the slate clean. But, hey, no promises.

Now when it comes to the people, well, you just can’t beat Hannigan’s Cove townsfolk for hospitality, family values, and dark secrets that generate plot. We have our rich and heartless ruling family: the Vandermeullins. That’s their estate over to your right. We’ve installed a lightning rod in the tower. Can’t be too subtle with these things. And, of course, we have several poor, earnest families: the Meekins and Trumans and Beaumonts. We’ve got other folks too. Y’know, to fill out the town-fair scenes. Some great names. And a few folks adding color with heartwarming disabilities.

For all this variety, though, we are not a disparate lot. Actually, that’s really the best part. You can have a lot of fun with the way we’re all tied together by forbidden marriages, violent acts, and children of uncertain lineage. Not that anyone really talks about DNA testing around here. Don’t need it. You see, just about every family line has a very dominant physical trait. The Vandermeulins feature an overlong, left canine tooth. Dead giveaway, lineage-wise, don’t you think? But the thing is, it skips a generation. Isn’t that great? Adds to the suspense. Think of it. A baby born amid scandalous rumors of indiscretion, but everything’s O.K. Maybe it has the Meekins bright blue eyes. But then the teething starts and there’s a dramatic first-tooth scene. Oh, what am I saying? You’re the writer. Go nuts.

Over there to your left, you’ll see the high school. All the kids go there. A little mix and mingle. Know what I mean? Johnny Truman will be a senior this year. He’s got a thing with Veronica Vandermeullin. Don’t be fooled by the name. She’s sweet as pie. Johnny’s the big man on campus even though Jimmy Vandermeulin always harasses him. You see, Johnny’s dad left town when he was three. Some say he was driven mad after Johnny’s little sister was lost in the factory fire. (The faulty wiring one. The act-of-God fire only killed folks who had it coming. Two Vandermeullins.) Others say he never really left. That he’s been hiding in the woods, living off of squirrel and the bounty from Old Sus. They say he’s waiting for just the right moment to return. But I wouldn’t know about that. Would you? O.K., just kidding. I’ll let you think about that one.

Now I’m not going to lie to you. The property taxes are high. But its an investment. It costs a pretty penny to insure rain during a protagonist’s darkest hour, not to mention the salary we pay to Malcolm McGinnity, the town historian/librarian. He’s ninth-generation McGinnity, and he maintains the town’s family tree like his fathers before him. It was actually his father, Macolm Sr. who discovered that our town’s founder, Criolus Hannigan, had an entire second set of children with a Squaw named Plots With Twist. Good stuff. He’s invaluable really.

So? Whaddya think? Could really be something, huh? Even if your book stinks you’ll probably still get compared to Faulkner or García Márquez. Maybe HBO will do a two-part adaptation. But if you want to make a bid, I’d do it today. There’s a guy from Long Island who offered to buy just this morning. Turns out Scribner nixed his last book on suburban mall life. They’re looking for a prestige piece. So, O.K. I’ll wait for your call.

Now as far as directions back, you might want to leave exactly the way you came in. That always seems to work. Nice symmetry. Or you might want to stop and just linger on some obscure, random object that somehow represents greater implications: a return to normal or place forever changed. Either one really. I’ll leave it to you.

Book Club
J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince In which Y.P.R. milks more mirth from muggles and mudbloods.
Rowling’s Spawn* At Hogwarts School did Rowling’s spawn A stately treasure-dome decree: Where Cash, the sacred stream rushed on, Through vaulted caves with sunlight gone     Down to a deep green sea. So twice five miles of well-worn ground With walls and towers...
The New Harry Potter Book, as Dictated by My Boss, Brian Schmutto O.K., so we got Voldemort, right, the Death Eaters, you got that part already, right? What do you mean? Haven't you been listening? O.K., fine, so Voldemort and the death eaters and the Dementors, terrorizing London, yada yada. Make it sound really good, really creepy.

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