The Coriolis Effect In My Writing

2 Feb

I’ve been looking forward to writing this post for over a month now, because I want to use it to sort my ideas on Munay out and achieve the clarity and sense of direction that I need in order to write the novel with the speed of a TGV.

I first had the idea for Munay in the spring of 2011, a few months after finishing work on my first novel Qayqa. The idea came from a friend who was considering translating Qayqa into German, and upon reading the entire manuscript, one of the things he said was: “I thought the flying people were going to play a more significant role. They are so interesting, it’s a shame they are only present in the first chapter. I kept waiting for them to return.”

I hadn’t expected that and his comment pleased me greatly. I have always enjoyed in creating interesting side characters who are three-dimensional enough to be believed, but who only hint at a world larger than the 180 degrees I am offering in the novel. I like doing that. In The Garden of Beautiful Lies it was the cracks of the wall, with their beady little eyes, who crawled off the wall and followed the main character around like a congress of spiders. In Qayqa, it was the flying people. They were never meant to be more than interesting side-characters, who fill the imaginary world with their colours. But then, I thought: why not. Why not add an additional chapter on the flying people… They would be three-dimensional enough for a short story… Or… how about… a NOVEL? But this time, not watching the flying people from the outside, as I did in Qayqa. This time, I’d write from the inside: about a person, a woman, who discovers that she is one of the flying people. And so Munay was born.

sitting on the railway tracks that go to Macchu Picchu, writing. "Seems like a silly place to work," my friends say

As with Qayqa, the word “munay” is Quechua and means: “the power of love and the power of will combined”. I sometimes doubt if this is the right name for it, but so far, it’s stuck.

In the wintery spring of 2011, I escaped for a few days to a convent in Bonlanden and wrote the first 20 pages of Munay. After that, she had to wait in line behind The Tailorettes of Ulm. It wasn’t easy making her wait, because – much like with fever – writing needs to be taken care of when it grips you. So I swore that I would dedicate all my energy in 2012 primarily to writing. And here I am now, in Cusco: writing.

Cusco seemed to me to be the perfect place to write Munay because it is home of the same magical energy that I imagine flowing in the book. In Cusco, everything seems possible and nothing seems like a coincidence. Additionally, my writing is rooted strongly in my Inca ancestry, so what better place to collect information and gain inspiration than the old capital of the Inca empire?

Then came the clouds. Those damn clouds and how they drove me mad. They were all I could talk about and all I could see.

Imagine planning a book on people who can fly, and suddenly discovering that you are at the same altitude they would be flying at – that you are suddenly driving through the very clouds they would be flying through! It bent my head.

And in the Andes, you are all the time so close to the clouds. Walking around the islands of Lake Titicaca, I commented to my friends: “Do you see that? We’re higher up than the cumulus clouds. We can look down at the clouds!”

I had the idea that if I was going to write about people who can fly, I’d need to know about how that affected them both physically and emotionally. I needed to know how that sort of air and light exposure affects the skin. In Qayqa I had written that they seemed constantly distracted, “as though they had just looked at mountains”, and faded into a blur as a collective. In order to fly, I thought, they must have no egos, for the ego is a heavy, materialistic thing of the earth.

But I also felt that in order to help them fly, I needed to know about the sky, about wind, about clouds. Coincidentally, my father has a pilot license and several interesting books on meteorology. Apart from informative conversations with him, he lent me this big orange book I have been dragging around Peru with me:

"Hang-gliding With the Weather"

Ask me about the Coriolis Effect. I dare you.

So while I am collecting information on the sky, comes the next issue: the Voice. In Munay, I wanted to expand on some of the things I had only hinted at in Qayqa. With a main character who is one of the flying people, I can explain what the caravans smell like, how they decide where to travel next, and the role the cook, Ti, really plays in this life.

But how do you write something like that? For a while, I was considering deleting the 20 pages I had written because I feared they sounded more like something out of the Twilight Saga. I considered starting the book after she has joined the caravans – the problem with that is, it would defy the purpose of now having the freedom to expand on what I had only hinted at in Qayqa. There’s no way around it: I have to set the mood, I have to explain how my main character gets there.

I once knew a group of flying men and women – I was one of them. I remember the day the caravans arrived at our village and I remember the evening when they opened to the public for the first time. As colourful as trees in autumn, the wooden caravans stood side by side in the dark. Like coquette ladies, they twinkled with candles and flirted with colours, images and words. O the caravans were beautiful! Decorated with colours that glowed long after the sun had set, attired with carpets, mirrors, ship figureheads and wind chimes. One caravan sold ice-cream and smoothies with exotic ingredients: rose petals, Moroccan mint, rhubarb or cashew. Another sold charms for good fortune, pleasure or money. Each caravan proved itself to be a unique library of the world, a safe harbor for the world’s cultures, with all its their delightful artifacts, knowledgeable books, music, spices, plants and drinks – all condensed into a travelling showcase: into knowledge on the road.

I have this worry about the voices because Munay won’t let me write her chronologically. Qayqa was different: she was like the spoiled girl next door who decided when she would let me play with her. Sometimes she’d let me into her world for one sentence, sometimes for a paragraph; and then she’d bang the door shut and keep me out for a month. Teasing brat, how we loved each other.

Munay, on the hand, is revealing herself to me in parts: “Here’s a piece for the third chapter, now a piece for the first chapter…” So I write them all down, transcribe into the word document, and then start cutting and pasting until I find its place in the novel. It’s all a bit… mad.

Now I have the idea of Two Voices: one which is the narrator’s slightly metaphorical but more down-to-earth tone; and another which is the metaphorical dreamlike language in which the flying people feel. I can use two voices to give the novel an added dimension and whisk the reader away, not only with the image of people who can really fly, but also with the emotions which fly within them.

I wanted to thank the people who sent me on this pilgrimage, but I have now understood that it was not people – but clouds – who sent me on this journey. Clouds whose scent of rain I chased. Clouds who drew me into their world with their uncompromising chiaroscuro, whose bodies called me like lovers, offering safe passage through the realms of their dark stomaches to the royalty of their white peaks.

Clouds whose evasiveness was the most honesty I ever received in life, telling me nothing is stable, nothing is sure. If you want to walk, walk with great care. If you want to fly, don’t use anybody’s wings but your own. Everything that is solid is only solid because it can collapse one day.

 

With two voices, I have the structural language for the narration and dreamlike language for the emotions.

I have a basic timeline; I have literary landmarks of what is going to happen. I need the two voices because, to be honest, I don’t feel as though I am writing Munay. I feel as though I am filling in the blanks of the story line. As though I am building a house not with structure, but with passion. Saying: “We have three bricks but we’re not going to build one wall with them. Put one brick down for the floor… put another brick up for the roof… and put the last brick out there for the driveway.” Running back and forth with ideas and words.

I am terribly excited to be working on Munay, especially in Cusco! The only difficulty is that this book feels like a head with a hundred knots and I never know which one to follow to the root first. I never know which chapter to work on; which story landmark to use as a narrative destination.

So I walk around and up the hills near our apartment, hoping for inspiration. Or I sit and look at Cusco and feel my heart get bigger with the love I feel for it.

Or I look at the clouds outside the window and say to them: Okay, tell me what to do next . . . What can I write now? 

a window full of clouds

The clouds are becoming a metaphor for so many things. It’s actually quite exciting to see for just how many metaphors I can use the clouds, the sky, the atmosphere. I was just hoping for a bit more of a direction, but I guess if you’re secretly writing about clouds, then direction is the last thing you can hope for!

Here’s a colourful metaphor I just thought of on what it’s like to be writing Munay: writing a book on flying is as though the Coriolis Effect were at work in the stratosphere of my writing. Nothing flies (writes) the way we expect; everything is getting deflected and lands elsewhere. I suppose that when you’re writing about the air, you have to keep your eye on the sky and watch where inspiration will land.

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2 Responses to “The Coriolis Effect In My Writing”

  1. Gerhard February 22, 2012 at 9:59 pm #

    It`s fascinating to read and “feel” the formation of your new novel Munay! Your inspiration landed definitely in Cusco where you soak it up with all your senses. I like your style in creating metaphors very much where you express your ideas and feelings. Even the Coriolis Effect I see now from a completely different prospective than in my lessons in geography. I just can encourage you to let it flow and find the right knots that leads you to the root. But I`m pretty sure that it will become a masterpiece of your writing. It`s seems like you`re writing from a place you feel like at home. The relationship that you created with your environment, Cusco, the Andes, the Inka heritage is so powerful that everybody can feel it even being not there. It`s very nice that you allow your blog readers to follow. Thank you!

    • rittisoncco February 26, 2012 at 5:51 am #

      Gerhard, I am very pleased to hear from you again! Thank you, as always, for your very kind and insightful words. I am especially proud that you could feel the Andes, Cusco, and the Inkas, despite not being here… I have heard from a few people now that they like “travelling” to Peru in my blog, which makes me, ofcourse, very happy. As for Munay, yes, I am very pleased with her. She is developing very differently to how I had originally thought, but in this last month I learnt the importance of letting things flow, of not trying to control everything, and also of travelling… I am happy I listened to my heart when it asked to go back to Cusco to write. I think it was the right decision, and I look forward to all the difficult and bizarre things my heart may ask for next! I am already itching to give a reading of Munay… I will see you soon, at the next reading hopefully! Always happy to hear from you. Ritti

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