By Michael Seese
When I last wrote about The Secret World Of Gustave Eiffel, I was on the verge of 20,000 words. I said in that post that I hoped to "ramp it up" this past week. Well...
I'm especially proud of the days on which I "skipped a 4th digit," if you will. For example, on February 4, I went from 19K to 21K.
February 6 also was a good day. I had prepared to shut down for the night. But when I saw that my word count was 24,768 -- or 1,979 for the day -- I just had to press on to reach 2,000. (2,026 to be exact.)
My ultimate goal is 80,000 words. But my plan is to get from where I am now to the end, and total perhaps 60,000. Then, I can go back and fill in the blanks, especially at the beginning, which is very sparse. So while I still can't claim (even to myself) that I'm "there," I am "getting there."
I'd like to offer another snippet.
Let me state, probably again, that I like writing
dialogue. I really enjoy writing it. On the days I'm writing a lot
of dialogue, I have humongous word counts. It just flows. Whether it's
any good... I suppose that is for you, the readers (and ultimately the
New York Times reviewer) to decide.
Here is the set up. An important plot element centers around the decision to choose Eiffel's design as the centerpiece of the 1889 World's Fair. The chapters which lead up to this section explain that it was a rigged contest; Eiffel was going to be selected. Per Wikipedia, it was contrived in reality, too. But Eiffel was a bridge builder. Therefore, the architectural community launched a subtle (and not-so-subtle) campaign against him.
Simply pondering the scope and scale of the work which lay ahead caused his head to hurt. Eiffel rubbed his temples in an effort to silence the throbbing. When it grew in intensity and frequency, he realized that the pounding came from without, rather than within. Someone was at the door.
As soon as he opened it, he wished he had not.
“Gustave! How good to see you,” Jules Bourdais said through his sneer. Bourdais always addressed people by their first names as a form of condescension.
“Monsieur Bourdais, to what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?”
“Gustave, does one need a reason to visit an old friend?”
Bourdais emphasized the word “old.” Eiffel certainly did not consider him to be a friend. He nonetheless maintained his cordiality.
“Of course not, Monsieur Bourdais. Please do come in. Allow me a moment to straighten up."
Eiffel hurried back to his table, and hid the drafts of the Tower beneath another sheet of paper which featured several half-finished doodles, and served expressly as a decoy. When Eiffel looked up, he saw that Bourdais had shown himself in.
“What are you working on, Gustave?” he asked, coming around to Eiffel’s side.
“Nothing out of the ordinary. As you can see, just a bridge. Bridges are what I do best, after all.”
“Would this be the bridge for Breslau?” Bourdais asked, raising an eyebrow.
Eiffel tried to hide his astonishment.
“Breslau? What do you mean?”
“Nothing. So you are not preparing an entry for the Exposition?”
“Why do you ask?” Eiffel couched the question in faux-sincere innocence. In reality, he desperately wished to know the real purpose behind Bourdais’s visit.
“Even though you are an engineer, Gustave, perhaps you have had conversations with some of my colleagues in the Société Française des Architectes. Securing the commission for the the gateway of the Exposition would be a great honor for any of us. For you, I would imagine, the crowning achievement of a lifetime. So I just assumed that you would be preparing a proposal. Even though you build bridges.”
Eiffel noted that Bourdais overemphasized the last word, even more so the second time than the first.
“Oh, I am,” Eiffel said, casually. He knew that Bourdais was baiting him. But he could not resist playing the game a little.
“Oh?” said Bourdais as he scanned the table.
“Oui. As of now, I have just a few rough sketches. Nothing even remotely worth mentioning. The competition is not to be formally announced until 1 October, is it not?” Eiffel, it goes without saying, knew by heart the correct date.
“No, Gustave, it is 3 October.”
“But of course.”
“So you have not committed much to paper?”
“I am nearly complete,” he boasted.
Eiffel knew Bourdais, or at least his reputation for vanity, very well. He knew that the proper mixture of prodding and ego-stroking would loosen his tongue.
“I am certain that yours will prove a magnificent fabrication. I must confess, Monsieur Bourdais, that whenever I stroll down the Pont d' Iéna, and pass the Palais du Trocadéro, I am compelled to linger for several minutes so that I may drink it in, and admire its bold Byzantine flavor."
Eiffel knew full well that “byzantine” could also be interpreted as “devious” or “surreptitious.”
“You, then, are in concordance with most of Paris. And whenever I travel by train and cross one of your bridges, I think, ‘This bridge was built by Monsieur Eiffel. I can rest secure in the knowledge that, most likely, it will not collapse.’ ”
“You are too kind, Monsieur Bourdais. So your proposal for the Exposition...will it be modern, or adhere to the classical schools of thought?”
If I have not said so lately, I learned of Jules Bourdais through my "encyclopedia," also known as Eiffel's Tower, by Jill Jonnes. For that matter, many of the characters which I am building worlds around are those real-world personalities who populated Paris at the time, and who come to life on her pages.
I am so going to have to send her a copy when it's done. (Positive thinking.)