Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dark Genius (Novel)

Okay, so this is an excerpt from my novel, Dark Genius. I wanted to post this because I am editing it now and soon will try to get it published.

Chapter One

John Harper had been coming to Maynards Island since he was about 10 years old. A tiny spec in Casco Bay, Maine, about a mile long and a half mile wide, the island imbued a sense of self reliance, and a closeness to nature, since it had no electricity, running water, except for a gravity fed rain barrel on the roof, and no paved roads or cars. The cottage sat on a small sloping hill that afforded some of the best views of the bay on the island. Built in 1908, beyond a spectacular fireplace and warm cozy furniture, it held little in the way of creature comforts. The gas stove and refrigerator hadn’t been replaced since the mid-nineteen sixties. Most of the furniture came with the place when his parents bought it. It was all original from the last owners and held up well. Since the cottage, with three bedrooms, a living room and dinning room, was not winterized, it was unusual for Harper to stay much past Labor Day. But those late days of autumn were the most splendid. Something about the shorter days, the sun lower in the sky, a wisp of chill in the afternoon air and beginnings of autumn color on the trees always invigorated him.
Now Harper stood in his kitchen holding a very special envelope. It contained, he assumed, the last known letter written by his very famous, most successful and now deceased brother, Jimmy. Jimmy Harper had been famous for his art. The world had known such painters before; Willem De Kooning, Jackson Pollack, Gerhard Richter, to name a few, that had made names for themselves and had been declared masters by contemporary critics and the art buying connoisseurs as well. Jimmy was now a dead master. A lifetime of emotional ups and downs, exacerbated by booze and drugs, had finally pushed him to an edge he willing slipped over.
Ferryboat captain Craig Morton, a small, gruff looking man, having just delivered the letter to Harper, seemed most proud of himself for being so helpful. He stood in Harper’s kitchen doorway and waited, no doubt, for confirmation of his good deed.
“How can I thank you, Cap?”
“It is from Jimmy, then?”
“Oh, yes. There is no doubt.”
“Kind of strange, don’t you think?” Morton shifted on his bare feet. “To get this so long after he’s gone?”
“Of that I am not so surprised, Cap. My guess is the mail in New York City got a tangle in it.”
“But a month after?”
“Six weeks after, actually,” he lied.
Harper examined the envelope one more time. The post marked was blurred but seemed to confirm the letter was in fact mailed not but a week ago.
“Well, whatever happened, I got it now, Captain. Thanks to you.”
“Well Harp, I thought you might like to see it right away. Letter delivery’s not my regular routine, you know.”
“I am grateful, Cap. I truly am. Now if you don’t mind, I’d like to read it in private.”
The Captain grumbled under his breath before forming it into words. “Off to the next run, then. Regular service to the mainland will stop this week.” Morton started walking away. “Just a reminder!”
“I’ll keep that in mind. Thanks again, Cap.”
Morton trudged off.
Harper rested his back against the door and looked at the envelope. He took his pocket knife from his pocket and sliced it open.
It was probably just another in a series of odd little notes. Most of the notes had something to do with shadows moving, walls waving and demons living in the upstairs apartment. He'd seen many of these letters. Jimmy had been sending them for years, and each one had been more bizarre than the last; rambling, cryptic notes on paper bordered with hand drawn doodles and cartoons: Strange sea creatures, a snowman with black laced boots smoking a dope pipe in billowing clouds. Some of the letters were sent special delivery, others through regular mail. They never said much, chitchat about the New York art scene, ruminations on life, death, loneliness, and sometimes detailing dreams before going off into unintelligible blather. Harper knew them for what they were; the ramblings of a deranged man, hopped up on drugs, wallowing in hopelessness. And now Jimmy, his once beloved brother, internationally successful abstract artist, was dead. What was unusual was that it had been mailed weeks after Jimmy’s death by suicide. Unsettling as it was, Harper could not let himself get distracted.
Outside his back porch, tall brown grasses swayed gently in the field beyond his backyard. The late morning sun was drying foliage. Warm moisture from the grasses caressed Harper's face like hot breath as it coalesced above. He took a deep drag of his cigarette, put the tip onto a strand of grass and watched it bend from the heat. Then he opened the letter and read.

“Dear Bro,
I am drowning here in this filth hole. Why am I always complaining? Alright, I’m not complaining anymore. Where are you? I haven’t seen you in the city for a while. Still hiding on the island? Maybe I’ll come find you.
That last sentence sent a chill down his spine. “Maybe I’ll come find you.” Harper folded up the letter and stuck it in his back pocket.
In his studio, Harper pulled on his heavy, paint splattered work boots and stared at his new canvas. The painting had come to him in a dream; an angry ocean ripped by wind and rain, and struggling on it, a small boat atop a giant whitecap in the middle of the vast sea. He’d hoped to show two things: The vastness and violence of the sea and the intimacy of the boat, a sailor alone, a mere spec of paint, at the tiller in that vastness. The painting was at the beginning stages. Harper hoped he would know when it was fully formed, his idea and concept realized, and not over paint the way he tended to do. Too much detail, he’d found confounds and destroys the illusion.
He also needed a rest from his brother’s spirit. It still lived within him, and all around the island, in the studio, the kitchen, and in his dreams. Death can never end a life so vivid, so complete in another persons mind. He knew Jimmy as he knew himself. He knew his heartache, his weaknesses and his vices. He knew of his spirit, his love, his gentleness. He knew his body and his eyes, his face. Even looking at his own hands, he could see the resemblance to Jimmy and it unnerved him. His hand alone could give him anxiety. He knew Jimmy needed to get out of his head. That he needed salvation from his brother’s spirit.
And salvation came in small rays of hope, and that hope was work. The glassy surface of a newly stretched canvas, stiff bristle brushes, the smell of gum turpentine and linseed oil, applying the paint; these things Harper loved. These things grounded him, healed him and would get him through his grief. Take him away from the guilt of Jimmy's death.
Taking a last drag of another cigarette, he looked up from his painting. The bay sparkled in silver slivers of reflected light. The nearby islands stood as blocks of green and dark brown in floating reflections of the sky. He put the canvas aside and headed down to the public dock for a look out at the bay.
Walking down the gangplank to the dock, Harper loved the feeling of being above the water, suspended over the secret world of sea creatures and grasses that he could see glimpses of gently swaying with the tide. The laughter of small children filled the air as Harper sat down on the dock. The autumn sun was just strong enough to warm his face and shoulders. A couple of kids with baited drop-lines, their faces hanging over the dock, waited for crabs to bite. Harper peered down at the sandy bottom, a patchwork of speckled light and sea grasses. Crabs appeared like black-brown spots, lingering by the children's baited hook. They moved mysteriously in and out of the murky shadows until succumbing to temptation.
"Got one!" The girl yelled as she leaped to her feet.
"Pull it up, pull it up!" The boy chimed, "No! This way!" The boy shouted again, taking the fishing line from her.
"It fell off!" "Let's do it again! Drop it!"
Harper chuckled as he watched the crab’s slow descent. Once landed, it again showed again interest in the baited hook, the harsh lesson not yet learned.
A canoe hit the dock as it came up along side. Harper got to his feet and grabbed the line offered him by a handsome young woman. He held out his hand to help her out of the canoe. She stepped awkwardly onto the dock, squared herself, and flashed a bright smile. She had to be about twenty-five, with thick, dark shoulder-length hair and dimples that framed her smile and accented both sides of her cheeks. She wore blue jeans, a white pullover jersey and nothing on her small white feet.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" She asked as she dropped her backpack onto the dock.
That line was too perfect for him to imagine anything but that she’d said it purposely to test him.
“Yes, it’s a beautiful day, isn’t it? I love the fall weather.”
She turned and scratched her head, fluffing her thick hair.
"Does that little store up there carry flashlight batteries?" She asked, pointing in the direction of the island store.
"I think they do," he said, half chuckling to himself. It took getting used to, not having electric lights. "You stay on the island long enough, you get used to walking around in the dark.” He looked at her beautifully formed, square feet. The small toes looked a bit worse for wear with nicks and cuts. “And your feet will toughen up, too."
She looked down at her feet, then at his heavy work boots. She let out a little laugh. “Those are some big band-aides you got.”
Harper chuckled at her little joke. So she could hold her own. "Where are you staying?" He asked, half expecting her to name a friend from the island. Perhaps he knew her family?
"The Nubble," she said, "Right out there." She gestured to her left.
Harper turned to look at the Nubble. He hadn’t wanted to look at it. He knew that place so very well inside and out. The small cottage sat atop a natural foundation of large rocks. The round, two story, cottage just fifty yards off shore was Jimmy’s summer home, his art studio, his passion, and once upon a time, the only place he’d been happy. It was called, “The Nubble” by everyone on the island and nobody really seemed to know why, except that it was a small little thing, out of the way, perched upon a small knob of rocks.
The Nubble was ablaze with reflected sun off the bright white surface he’d painted just a few short years ago. It had been boarded-up since well before Jimmy’s suicide. No one had been out there for several months.
"The Nubble?” He said incredulously. “That’s Jimmy's place."
"That's right," she said, securing the straps on the backpack.
Daggers cut his chest. He was about to inquire further when she said,
"He was my fiancé."
The word hit him like a cold wave. The possibility that Jimmy could have been engaged stunned him, threw him into his head searching for answers, clues. Had he ever mentioned a woman in his life? Did Jimmy ever give any indication that he’d even been attracted to a woman? Had he not read all of the letters and emails carefully enough? Suddenly, this man that he’d know so well, this brother through thick and thin whom he held so close in memory, for a split second, his brother seemed like a complete stranger.
"Did you know, Jimmy?" She asked.
His startled glare seemed to catch her off guard.
"Well I guess you would, famous artist and all."
She pulled the backpack onto her shoulders and started to walk up the gangplank toward shore. Harper stepped forward, taking her arm. She turned to him and they locked eyes.
"What?" She asked defensively.
"The Nubble is empty, boarded up," he said.
"It was."
She smiled slightly, pulled her arm gently from his grasp and headed up the ramp toward shore. He watched her until she disappeared behind the pines at the top of the hill.
Harper couldn’t focus. He was confused. He was instantly attracted to her, couldn’t keep his eyes off of her and yet he was stunned even further by the fact that she claimed to be his brother’s fiancé. And she dared to claim permission to stay at the Nubble! Was he so sad and lonely that all these emotions could crawl into his heart at once and could not be pulled apart and examined?
He turned to the gleaming monster off shore. It was radiant, alive in the warm sun. A couple shuttered windows lay open, exposed to the light and sea. Stabbing glints of sunlight reflected off the glass and were a violation, as was the thought of someone living in his beloved brother's studio. When was the last time he'd seen the place like that; open, vulnerable to the world, alive? Jimmy had lived and worked there for fifteen summers. Harper helped him paint the damn thing the year he'd bought it and several times since. And Jimmy had painted his masterpieces, grown ill, wrote many of those crazy letters there while slowly slipping away, into that dark place he’d gone.
He pictured Jimmy on the wrap around deck, alive, vibrant, making love to a canvas, spreading paint with bare hands, smoothing it like mud on a nude body. Young, smiling, handsome, shirtless, splattered in paint, breathing irregularly, a cigarette dangling from his lips as he worked. This is how he remembered Jimmy now. The genius lost in his world.
Inside the Nubble it would be a raging mess; beer bottles, melted candles, clothing scattered, canvases in various stages of completion, desecrated, coffee stained, urine soaked, Jimmy’s unholy world.
The confusion surrounding Jimmy's death, with no real “last will in testament” found, with agents and gallery owners laying claim to most of Jimmy’s artwork, how could there not be even more confusion? More hurtles to jump. Perhaps it was inevitable. Maybe he shouldn’t be at all surprised to find someone snooping around the island. But he never, ever could have imagined a scheme like this one: A "fiancé?” A thrill of emotion ran through Harper’s stomach. So, the game was on. A beautiful woman was involved. Okay, I’ll play. I’ll play for a little while. He turned and walked up the ramp to shore. Outside the island store, he peered inside the window, but she wasn’t there. And he wondered, just for a split second, if he’d just imagined this beautiful creature, this young goddess he’d given a hand to, arisen from the sea.


  1. I found this story very interesting. I especially love the detail about painting. I think that is really good, and I am wanting to know what happens next. Editing is a good idea. I find when I am editing anything just going over and over it is about the only way to smooth out all the rough spots, get the manuscript as clean of errors as you possibly can before submitting any place. Do you plan to try to find an agent? My family is always talking about what to do with books they write. My son Dan has written fantasy novels.
    Anyway I think the characters in this chapter so far ring true. I have been reading a lot of novels lately. Just checking them out for technique even though I am not planning one. I have written quite a few novels but they were so based on real characters I had known that I hesitated to try to sell them until all their people were dead! I wrote about real characters I knew because I could not have invented these people. They were originals. And I thought they ought to be preserved in a novel!

  2. Gerry, thanks for the read and comment. Writing can be a lonely craft. I do hope to find an agent. Online submission has made that pursuit so much simpler, not any easier to get one, though. I am having fun going over this story and trying to polish and edit at the same time. I find that sufficient time has passed that I am able to more objective. The people and ideas in this novel are all composite of real people, ideas and things that may have actually happened at some point in my life. I had originally did myself a disservice by purposefully trying NOT to elaborate on what the main character was thinking so much as trying to pull it together by showing more, but then I found that not to be as successful as I'd hoped. So I am elaborating and clarifying as I go. Interestingly, the photo is of the real "Nubble" I was thinking of in my story. The island is real, only the names have been changed. We used to summer there for years until my early adulthood when we sold the place.