I should warn the reader that I only wrote a teeny, tiny bit of actual prose for this book -- and this post won't present any of that! The inch-thick folder that I've been looking through contains outlines, bits of plot and character, and even some poetry.
So... gulp... here it is:
That title is meant to be an ancient Greek neologism, the flip side of Hesiod's Theogony, which dealt with the birth of the gods. My term deals with their demise (theos + thanatos), and thus is a closer cousin to the Norse Gotterdämmerung.
There was a Greek myth component to this novel, but that was just one part of it. The main action was supposed to take place in the present day, with a protagonist who was a thinly veiled surrogate for myself. (I was entranced by Joyce's fiercely independent alter ego at the time...) But the "twist" is that the action takes place in a slightly alternate world than our own. In the late 1970s, archaeologists in that world discovered the manuscript of an ancient Greek epic poem -- also called the Theothany and reported to be a lost work of Aeschylus -- in which the death of the gods is starkly portrayed as something that happened literally.
The discovery of these ancient words changes history, but only subtly. The first chapter of the book was going to be a "show don't tell" example of that divergence: After reading a published translation of the ancient Theothany, an infamous individual goes further off the beam and kills himself before, in our world, he would have killed John Lennon in 1980. I researched Chapman's mental illness quite a bit and attempted to weave some of it into this chapter, with his own final thoughts interleaved with the lyrics of Lennon's Starting Over.
(I think Zack Snyder did something eerily similar in his 2009 movie of Alan Moore's Watchmen. The introductory montage showed the introduction of "real" superheroes into that alternate world with Bob Dylan's The Times They Are A Changin playing in the background...)
But most of my book was going to be about the protagonist, who in my Joycean fog I gave the provisional name "Finn." We see a bit of his time in college in Philadelphia, but then something happens in his life that makes him reevaluate his path. Inspired by Lennon's further alt-history activism in the 1980s, Finn joins the Peace Corps and begins an international journey that forms the backbone of the novel.
There's love, there's loss, and there's an ending in which, naturally, our hero finds himself among the ruins of Greece. Through it all, there are parallels between Finn's present-day travails and the events of that ancient manuscript. (If I ever would have started writing this thing, I feel I would've gone overkill on those parallels! Learning the finesse of "less is more" is something it took me much longer to do... in many aspects of life.)
I think I'll save the scary/fairy-tale details of the ancient manuscript for next week's False Start Friday. Despite my desire for parallels, it really is a Different Thing than Finn's journey. For now, I'll just reminisce about some of the other characters that continue to call to me for attention...
- In Philadelphia, Finn is dragged to see an avant-garde play at a dingy little theater. On stage, he first spies Tamara Albayeff, free-spirited girl of Kalmyk Mongolian descent, who is to be the love of his life. Yes, I think she was a "manic pixie dream girl" long before they were a thing. "Tara" initiates Finn into the wonders of life, shares her quirky spirituality with him, and dies an untimely death later on in the novel, after Finn meets up with her again in a foreign land.
- Finn is initially good friends with his slightly older cousin, Shandon Corrigan. (Actually, neither of those Irish names are Joyce-inspired... so there!) Shandon starts out as somewhat puckish comic relief. He's the one who introduced Finn to things like Monty Python, SNL in its early days, and prog rock. But, much like Loki in the Norse myths, his trickster side gradually grows darker. When Finn runs into trouble and turns to his cousin, he is disappointed at the nihilistic way Shandon retreats from challenges. (Shandon is partly inspired by Svidrigailov, the disturbing "shadow" of the protagonist in Crime and Punishment.)
- I'm not sure at what point Finn meets South African Betty Botha, but it's lust at first sight. Outwardly she's blonde and bubbly, with many other personality traits that make her endearing. However, eventually conversations turn to certain topics, and the bigoted opinions she shares with a fraction of her 1980s countrypeople make themselves known. Actually, Betty is the result of my trying to understand the lyrics of a song by the Housemartins called Johannesburg.
- I was toying with the idea of Finn's uncle (his father's brother) being an Apollo astronaut. The old family story was that the uncle hated the idea that the only non-astronaut's name to be left on the Moon for posterity was that of the despised Tricky One. So he smuggled up something else -- maybe some immortal words of Hunter Thompson or Ken Kesey? I never decided. However, Finn's experience of the uncle was always filtered through the bitter lens of his father, who was the brother who always worked harder and never got the rewards.
I admit that I never worked out Finn's final scenes in Greece. After all the adventures and heartbreak, I imagined a "rock bottom" which at some point would drift into the surreal and hallucinogenic. A temptation in the desert, complete with a dragon or lion (like St. Jerome -- or Eustace Scrubb)? Maybe the astronaut makes an appearance? Some unfinished part of Tara's philosophy gets cleared up, surely. There's definitely a deep connection to the distant past, via the ancient Greek text that I probably spent 80% of my time thinking about, despite it being a small part of this whole story.
Which probably sets things up for the next False Start Friday. In a week, I hope to talk about this putative lost work of Aeschylus, and just maybe post the epic-poem verse that I toyed with that started it off... :-)
My Theothany notes are dated between 1987 and 1991. In 1992, I started graduate school in earnest and also realized that if I ever wanted to really write a novel, I'd have to put in thousands of more hours honing that very specific craft. Many other aspects of life got in the way of that, but I'm happy to have spent the time thinking and dreaming about this particular little world and its denizens.