Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Not saying what you mean . . .

Meet Atticus Aurelius, the Roman centurion who's a major secondary character in Magdalene.

I haven't been blogging much because I now have four work days left and I've been writing like a loon. Act three needs much work, so the old nose has been put to the computer without much time for anything else.

I'll share one bit, though, and maybe you can tell me if this works. You see Atticus finds a Jewish baby early in the story, and obviously, the baby would have been circumcised, because it's almost 11 months old. So to save this baby from death, Atticus places it in the care of a woman who works in Pilate's household. And through the years he acts as a father figure to this child, whom he names Quintus.

Now--as I worked through the third draft, it became apparent to me (being the mother of a son) that Quintus was bound to notice certain things at certain points--especially if he hung out in the baths with the Romans, who did NOT circumcise at any time.

So--how to handle this delicate topic? I came up with this scene, which takes place on board a ship. Pilate has been recalled to Rome, and his wife has taken Cyrilla and Quinn with her--and Atticus and all his soldiers are along, too.

Sometimes the art of writing lies in not saying what you mean, but you still have to be obvious enough that it's clear . . .

They had been on board the transport ship for little more than a week when Cyrilla pulled Atticus aside and motioned to Quinn. “You need to speak to him.”

“About what?”

The tip of her nose went pink. “He has just realized that he . . . is not like you. Because you’ve been with him, you know, more often, since we’ve been aboard the ship.”

Atticus blinked, then drew in a deep breath. He had known this moment would come sooner or later. He hadn’t expected it to come when Quintus was only seven years old.

He walked forward, took the boy’s hand, and led him toward the bow of the ship. Smiling, he lifted his son onto a block, then braced the boy’s hands on the rail as a sudden gust struck the boat, sending the vessel over enough to bring the rain within a foot of the shining sea.

To his credit, Quinn laughed. Atticus laughed, too, glad the child wasn’t afraid, and nestled the boy against his chest as they rode the laboring ship.

“Your mother,” Atticus said, glancing down at his son’s face, “tells me that you had a question.”

Quinn looked up, his eyes wide, then he scrunched his nose and nodded.

“You want to know why we look different . . . in a way that has nothing to do with why I’m tall and you’re small.”

Again, the boy nodded.

“Well.” Atticus braced himself against the rail. “When you’re old enough to go to the baths in Rome, you’ll soon see that many men look different. Some people, you see, have rituals they perform on babies. Some people perform these rituals when boys become men. And some people never perform these rituals at all.”

Quinn looked up at him again. “And me?”

“You had the ritual performed when you were a baby. I’m sure you don’t remember it, but that’s okay. It just means you came from people who believe that way.”

Quinn remained silent for a long moment, and he didn’t look up when he asked, “Didn’t I come from your people?”

Atticus squeezed the boy’s arm. “You came from special people, Quintus, but the gods brought you to me and your mother. Are you glad they did?”

Again, the small face tilted, the nose squinched, and the mouth curled into a boyish smile. “I am.”

“Me, too.” Atticus dropped a kiss on the top of the boy’s head. “Very glad.”

So--does it work for you?

9 comments:

Ruth said...

You know, Angie, I really like this! Great job!

Anna said...

The explanation sounds like the right amount of information for a child that age. I did find myself pulled a bit out of the era with the use of the word "okay," though. Other than that, very well done.

Angela said...

Good catch on the "okay," Anna! (This is why my first drafts should never leave the house.) :-) Thanks a bunch!

Angie

Accidental Poet said...

Yup, works for me.

Dianne said...

Oh yeah! Definitely.

Anonymous said...

I agree with all of the earlier comments, but have one thought:
To me, the word "people" is a little confusing. In the explanation to the boy, "people" could be interpreted as individuals or families/clans/nations. If I were a child hearing that explanation, my understanding would be individuals. Yet, the conclusion reached by the child is the other interpretation. How did he get to that interpretation? Could you use a more defining word? I hope this makes sense; I hope it helps.
Barbara Thompson

Carrie said...

Great way to handle a "delicate subject". I personally wouldn't be offended by a more direct approach, but I know some readers would. And I love the picture -- the eyes alone could inspire volumes! Can't wait to read the whole thing.

Carrie said...

I went back and read it again, and have one more comment. I know you are trying not to offend any sensibilities. It reminded me of a conversation I recently had with my seven-year-old. I was babysitting my nephew, who is not circumcised, and my 7yo son (who is) was there while I changed his diaper. He asked about the difference in very matter-of-fact terms. I explained just as matter-of-factly. I'm not sure that he would have been satisfied with a vague explanation about rituals. Of course, your characters come from a different time, and the word "ritual" has a deeper meaning to them. So maybe this doesn't matter. Hard to cover such a potentially sensitive topic without making anyone uncomfortable.

Anonymous said...

I think it works really well. (I didn't catch the 'okay' the first time, but I haven't been immersed in my copyediting class quite enough I guess! But I definitely agree with that statement.) I can't wait to read this new book! Finally another historical book from Angie!
Kristine den Boon