Sunday, January 14, 2007

the empress

I’ve been pondering, ruminating and scratching my head as how to spend my passion lately. Passion for the page, that is. I have two novels in the works, and seem to have stalled out on both of them. And I’ve just now discovered the reason why I’ve lost momentum for my current projects. In a word: plot.

Though I have little problem diving into scene, character and dialogue, the idea of weaving a satisfying story out of these elements has always left me at a loss.

Conversely, when the story already exists, as in journalism or a creative nonfiction piece, I seem to be more successful teasing the strands into coherency. Ergo—dilemma du jour.

Years ago, on a month-long stay in Prague, I revisited my birth city, Vienna, and strode down a vague and foggy memory lane. The summer before last I followed it up with a more detailed and strategic visit. This visit included a tour of Hofburg which stimulated an interest in the life of Empress Elisabeth, a controversial figure in late 19th century and fin de si├Ęcle Vienna, when the Hapsburgs were going tits up.

While there, I outlined an historic novel based on the Empress's unhappy to marriage to Emperor Franz Joseph, which included one of the most tempestuous mother-daughter-in-law relationships ever. It’s the Princess Di story a hundred years earlier, back when monarchy were more than mere figureheads.

Empress Elisabeth (called Sisi by her family and beloved subjects) was known as “The People’s Princess” (sound familiar?) and was scorned by Viennese uppercrust and revered by peasants—particularly those in Hungary, a country she favored above Austria and its stifling court-prescribed routines. Her husband, the emperor, held her in high esteem, but that didn’t stop him from indulging openly in myriad infidelities. Meanwhile, Sisi became obsessive, anorexic and crippled by vanity, turning her back on most things “royal” in favor of unpopular charity events, rest cures in spa towns, and horseback riding. And, to give the only fitting ending to a story chock full of scandal, war and family dysfunction, Sisi was assassinated. (by a precursor to the paparazzi, perhaps?)

Anyway, this is, you must admit, a plot to die for. I’ve unearthed my notes and research materials, and the project is well underway. I’m channeling Elisabeth, and I’m telling this Bohemian Empress’s story through the lens of fiction, using all the goodies I’ve amassed lo these 15 years of studying the craft. I know that you all wish me luck!

1 comment:

  1. Yes! Break legs! Also, when it comes to plot: when in doubt, steal it. Shakespeare stole more than ninety percent of his.

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