Biographical history, as taught in our public schools, is still largely a history of boneheads: ridiculous kings and queens, paranoid political leaders, compulsive voyagers, ignorant generals—the flotsam and jetsam of historical currents. The men who radically altered history, the great scientists and mathematicians, are seldom mentioned, if at all. -- Martin Gardner (December, 1994)
Yesterday I did not actually begin writing "The Maltese Unicorn." Well, unless you count typing the title page. And I don't. Instead, I spent hours doing something I virtually never do. I spent hours plotting and puzzling out background. No, it's not normally the sort of thing I do. But this is not the sort of story that I usually write. This is the sort of story that is resistant to my usual writing process— allowing the story to unfold as I write it. I see that, and so I'm putting a great deal of energy into getting it straight before I begin. Oh, it'll change as I write it. Of that I have little doubt. But I can't go in blind. Anyway, as I read and scribbled yesterday, I occasionally paused to post tidbits of what I was "discovering" on Facebook. They included:
And, being me, and this being a first-person narrative, I need a rationale for the narrative. Why is Natalie Beaumont telling this story, one she'd be better off not telling? I think I know. I think it involves a payoff to agents of the Vichy Regime.
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Okay, so now I know that the protagonist of "The Maltese Unicorn" is a half-demon lesbian named Natalie Beaumont.
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Turns out, the "Maltese Unicorn" of the title first appeared in Medina in the 5th Century, but was smuggled out during the seige of 627, and went to Malta, where it was found hundreds of years later by an Islamic alchemist, al-Jaldaki, who eventually carried it to Cairo. It was lost for centuries thereafter...
- and even -
Also, seems the "Maltese Unicorn" surfaced in Paris in 1897, at an infamous orgy-turned-mass murder, where it was spoken of as Le Godemiché mauvais.
I was pleased that one reader even got the nod to Dashiell Hammett's The Glass Key (1931). One of the most important things I figured out, is that the events of the story unfold in May 1935, though it's being told from 1940. Today, I'd love to get the first thousand words written, but I have a feeling I'll actually end up doing more research. Right now, I just wish I had a Sears Roebuck catalog for 1935. I found one on eBay, for only about $15 (before p&h), but the auction doesn't end until Wednesday, and there's no telling how long it would be before it actually reached me.
Later, I went with Spooky to College Hill, and we got a membership at Acme Video on Brook Street. Hulu and Netflix have made us lazy, and we've not been renting DVDs or VHS since moving to Providence. But I'd started missing Videodrome (in Atlanta), and there's stuff you just can't find through Netflix, and Netflix has it's limitations. Like, you need a specific Bollywood or Hal Hartley film right now. Those cinematic emergencies. Anyway, Acme Video has an amazing selection.
Back home, while Spooky fixed dinner, I watched a Sixty Minutes piece on the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Horrifying, stomach-turning stuff. It seems clear that BP, Transocean, and Halliburton are all at fault, to varying degrees, and that this nightmare could have been prevented, if there'd been more attention to safety protocols and less attention to profit margins. That this wouldn't have happened if a damaged blowout preventer had been repaired when a rubber valve failed back in March. Or if the BOP had been equipped with a dead man's switch. And so on. Of course, I might as well say that none of this would have happened if BP (or anyone else) had never been allowed to drill in the Gulf of Mexico. BP will pay its fines and continue business as usual, and the Gulf of Mexico will show the scars of this spill for decades, and maybe even centuries. And this being 2010, we can all watch as the ruptured well continues to hemorrhage oil, live and in real time (thanks to the same assholes who caused it).
After dinner, we watched Delmer Daves' Dark Passage (1947; Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall) and Anatole Litvak's Sorry, Wrong Number (1948; Barbara Stanwyck and Burt Lancaster). Oh, and I observed World Turtle Day by reading "Anatomy of Condorchelys antiqua Sterli, 2008, and the origin of the modern jaw closure mechanism in turtles" in the March Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
And now, I have a platypus to spank. Excuse me, please.