A Few Firsts

Thu 09/29/05 at 2:30 pm

My initial attempt at writing this novel occurred in the spring of 1999. By then, the only major modification to the plot or characters mentioned in these entries to date was that John had become Johanna for reasons that will be explained in a forthcoming post. All I needed was the right apocalyptic event and I felt as though I would have enough material to begin the book. So one fine morning in March I put a new cartridge in my sweet little Bordeaux Mont Blanc fountain pen (medium point), pulled a brand-new yellow ruled 8 ½ x 11 legal pad from the file drawer, and opened my copy of The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha (NRSV) to read, for the first time ever from beginning to end, The Revelation to Joh[anna] (hereinafter “Revelation”). [I’m sure it has escaped none of you that I have just used a technique called “foreshadowing.”]

I trust even the most Bible-shy of you have at least heard of Revelation, the last book of the Bible. Even though I took copious notes of both the text and accompanying commentary, and I had to get up a few times to pace around the room to calm my growing excitement, I finished the task in a matter of hours. But what productive hours! In addition to the apocalyptic event, I settled on the novel’s working title, its setting, and glimpsed, for the first time, its structure. I was overwhelmed with the realization that I just might pull this off.

The first verse of Chapter 4 gave me my working title. It reads, “After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’” The commentary identified “the first voice” as Jesus Christ and brought to mind the opening verse of The Gospel According to John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” I already had in mind that the novel would in some respect address my life-long struggle with the middle personage of the Holy Trinity which is comprised of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost/Spirit (I prefer “Ghost,” so does Don McClean, American Pie).

I’ve never really had trouble with the idea of a life force. After all, I predicated what cell phone provider I would choose on whether the vendor could procure a phone number with 5334 as the last four digits; i.e., JEDI. Calling or thinking of such a force as “God” or even “The Holy Ghost” has never been terribly problematic either. As for The Son, however, it has been difficult, having read other myths and religions, to ignore the many common threads they share in this regard. Since emerging from the primeval soup, we humans have encountered or invented any number of beings who would qualify as a first voice. See, e.g., Campbell, Joseph, The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology.

A number of creation myths recount how a divine being spoke the world into existence. I knew of a few at the time I first read the above-cited verse in Revelation and my research for this novel has yielded several others; e.g., Yahweh. Jesus (in his capacity as The Word). Thoth. Hasch’ethi (Navajo for “Talking God”). I started to think about what role such a concept might play in an apocryphal thriller, and came up with the idea of a heavenly Council of The First Voice that would be comprised of all the various candidates who had held the position through the ages. From there, The First Voice rang true as a working title. [As I was editing this post, I took a lunch break and stumbled upon a Discovery Channel show hosted by Carl Sagan entitled, One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue. All together now, “plate-of-shrimp.” See August 12, 2005 Post]

I continued to read and take notes until I reached Chapter 7 and the marking of the 144,000 with the “seal of the living God.” Given my affinity for the mark of Cain, it is understandable why that particular passage engendered one of those instances of deep breathing and circling the room. See September 22, 2005 Post. I barely had time to catch my breath before reading, for the first time in context, the opening verse to Chapter 8, “When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” About half an hour. Can this person write or what? Or maybe, something actually got found in translation for a change. [At this juncture I would encourage each of you who has not already seen the film to take a break from reading this post and either migrate to Netflix and add The Seventh Seal to your queue, or head to your favorite video store and rent it. Fabulous movie — as is the short film parody of said same, Le Dove. Imagine playing badminton for keeps with Death.]

And then came Chapter 18 and Babylon. A city of kings and merchants; shipmasters, seafarers, and sailors; minstrels and artisans; and “the blood of prophets and of saints.” I hadn’t really been all that keen on having Israel as the setting for my novel, and as I read this chapter it occurred to me it could just as easily take place in my beloved Manhattan and the surrounding Burroughs. If Elfredge succeeded, New York City would be transformed from Babylon into the New Jerusalem. Listen, e.g., Let the River Run, Carly Simon, Working Girl Soundtrack.)

Things were indeed coming together, but I had yet to come across what I had hoped to find when I first sat down to read — the reason to write this book. And suddenly, there it was, the opening verse of Chapter 20:

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and locked and sealed it over him, so that he would deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years are ended. After that he must be let out for a little while.

The Phantom Zone leapt into the memory section of my brain. For those of you unfamiliar with Superman, the Phantom Zone is the planet Krypton’s equivalent to a maximum security prison where super villains, after due process of course, are, if convicted, banished. Essentially, they are flattened into what was visually portrayed in the comics as a two-dimensional entity and sent into orbit around the planet. And so I had it. The book would recount the means by which Satan, if all went well, would be consigned to the equivalent of The Phantom Zone.

In half a day, I had a title, a setting, and a plot. Best of all, I definitely needed to take an extended trip to Gotham.

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