Judith Beheading Holofernes

Today I have a day off from work, and I'm forcing myself to be productive and put this time toward my writing. (And reading. And catching up on my DVR list and finally watching more of Stranger Things). It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be to start writing again. I sunk back into my old routine of turning on the soundtrack to my WIP, which for this particular work in progress is the score to Kill Your Darlings -- nice and dark and moody -- lighting a candle, and setting everything else on silent and do not disturb.

I find I'm writing less with each session, but the content I'm producing is better. The quantity is decreasing, but the quality is more than making up for it. It's weird to not be writing as much, as fast, as I used to. I'm adjusting to the new pace of my voice, and I think the reason I'm going slower with this one is because I'm putting more consideration into the first draft. Not that I haven't put a lot of time and effort into my other drafts; I guess it's just that this one demands more of my thought and attention. It's pickier than other stories I've written. That's half the fun, this newness of relearning how I write. The challenge of sussing out the proper mood of the story.

Anyway, this afternoon, I finally begun Chapter 4. And because I'm big on accountability, I want to share another, longer excerpt with you. This one really demonstrates the role art will have in the novel. I mentioned before how much I loved studying art history when I was in college, and now I get to put all that knowledge to work! And who knows, maybe someone will find all this art history stuff as exciting as I do and do some research of their own. Or not. Whatever floats your boat. (But I think it's cool, so, you know, do whatever I'm just saaaaayyyyyiiiinnnng it could be fun. I think it is, at least.)

TMoD -- which has a full title and is not just some vague and meaningless acronym I'm using, I promise -- is going to be about many things: murder, love, art, crime. Here's a slice of it, in the early stages of setting the scene for the Big Events that will happen throughout the story.

The painting the two characters discuss, for reference, is "Judith Beheading Holofernes," and it's a favorite of mine from the Baroque movement. Take a look at it while you read the excerpt.

Chapter 4

They shoved their way through the heavy doors of South Dorms, ditching their snow-encrusted boots in the hall to melt and shucking their jackets onto the banister before taking the four flights up to the attic rooms in their woolen socks, silent as the night. 

James paused at the third floor landing, eyeing the Caravaggio that hung in the shadows. Lewis brushed past him, tired and cranky. Scottie hurried behind him quickly, worried he’d lock them out of the room. Theo stayed. 

Even without much light filtering down the stairwell, the painting was vibrant. It was beautiful and grotesque. A snapshot of terror as a man had a longsword buried deep in his neck, a young woman holding a fistfull of his hair. “Judith Beheading Holofernes,” the engraved plate said beneath the frame. 1598-1599. 

“My mother’s name is Judith,” James said, leaning forward to brush his fingers across the thick paint on the canvas before turning away and taking the steps two at a time, leaving Theo alone in the gloom. 

Theo hadn’t looked at this painting carefully in a while. He passed it every day, and after a while he began to forget about it. It sat, unnoticed, as people rushed by, unconcerned with the beheading before them. 

Passion, he remembered them speaking about before. He could see it, in the determined look on the faces of the women in the painting. Anger and violence and passion. 

“‘Approaching his bed, she took hold of the hair of his head.’” Scottie’s voice echoed strangely. He was sitting on the top step, watching Theo. 

“A rather rudimentary rhyme.” 

“I didn’t write it,” he said. With a soft sigh, he pushed himself to his feet and came to stand at Theo’s shoulder. “Judith,” he said, pointing to the woman with the sword at the man’s throat, “was a Jewish widow living in a world being dominated by foreign conquerors, the Assyrians.” 

Theo leaned against the wall. 

“Her fellow countrymen despaired that God would not deliver them from evil, but she had faith--and anger. Hard to say which one was the more powerful of the two when she entered her enemy’s camp and seduced their general, Holofernes.” Scottie tipped his head, considering. “She promised him secrets about the Israelites and he drank it up as easily as he did his wine. One night, drunk, he permitted her into his tent and she took his head so he wouldn’t take her land, her people. Her God.”

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