I have to know where a book starts before I can write. Writer friends say quit worrying about it, write it in any order and move the pieces around later. My head agrees, but it never works. I need something firm to push off from: This is the first thing I tell the reader, then this, then this. I know I can cut and paste when the draft is done, but I can't do a draft until I commit to an order and see it through. This book's been especially hard for me to figure out, I think because the story has so many movements.
In my wild stabs at drafts so far I've tried a few starting points:
Barney McFadden as a beaten little boy in rural Missouri, in church seething about the hollowness of Christianity, breaking away from the farmer who makes him labor him, running across the fields and into the bog where he feels an upwelling of the earth's "magnetic power," finding his new religion in his own body.
Bernard McFadden on the midway of the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, a small-time professional wrestler and fitness instructor, unemployed gym teacher looking for a way to make it big—when he sees the Great Sandow, the father of modern bodybuilding, perfectshowman of the naked body, and is reborn as the seraph of Physical Culture.
Anthony Comstock, head of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice and special inspector for the Postal Service, grand high censor of America, on the day in 1906 he made enemies of both George Bernard Shaw and Bernarr Macfadden, kicking off a climactic battle in the Victorian war against truth.
Macfadden's flight from New York to Chicago, across the border to Toronto and then to London, with the postal authorities coming after his publishing company, his shot at wealth and influence seemingly gone.
All good hooks. And I couldn't figure out why none of them were working, until I realized that all of them forced Bernarr Macfadden to be the eyes through which we see the story. The poor reader would be asked to inhabit that strange, impenetrable, narcissistic man. Forget the reader—the writer would have to inhabit him. I needed someone I could live with like a conjoined twin. So the book starts with Mary Williamson, the 19-year-old Yorkshire lass who rode the train from to London to compete in Macfadden's "Britain's Perfect Woman" pageant and never went home to the life she thought she was going to lead. Then Bernarr is viewed from the outside, as an enigma, as nearly a force of nature or history, changing people but never really connecting with them. The story I write, and people read, is a human one.
We open as Mary. The nervous train ride from Halifax is fresh in our memories. We're at Kings Cross. We see Macfadden in his "long rabbical overcoat." We step out. We greet him. And he takes our wrist.
(Forgive this repost—someone told me there were some weird code things going on in my previous attempt.)