KAREN ENGELMANN

Doesn’t everyone have a lucky number? Mine is 8. It’s a number that gets short shrift —most people prefer 7, or 3, or even 9. But 8 has its own power, from the eight virtues of the Knights Templar to the Chinese notion that 8 is the number of prosperity. That the number would become the foundation of my first novel had to be fate. I was born on the 8th, and was one of 8 children. I carry to this day a brass key ring stamped with an 8, bought while a design student — there isn’t a more beautiful numeral. I was told that my numerological “soul urge” was an 8. The horizontal ∞ — the infinity sign and certain versions of the ouroboros snake symbol— hinted at larger mysteries begging to be explored.

 

Living and working in Sweden in the 80s, I was introduced to the history of the late 18th century. (Eights again!) Dramatic, beautiful, violent, and a time of enormous social change, the period took hold of my imagination. Years later, this fascination became a serious pursuit when I entered an MFA program with the goal of writing historical fiction. In the beginning, the focus of the novel was the assassination of Gustav III in Stockholm of 1792 and an exploration of folding fans, but the number 8 insisted on a central role. In the early stages of my research I found THE FAN, a book by Octave Uzanne. Published in 1884, Octave’s book inspired the character, passion, and surname of my villain, but his given name got me thinking about 8: music (octaves), poetry (the octave — eight lines of iambic pentameter), paper and books (octavos), and especially geometry (octagons.)

 

I discovered that the octagonal form represents both ends of life’s journey, from Christian baptismal fonts to mausoleums of Islam, and was part of an esoteric theory of architecture ascribed to the Freemasons. The eight-sided shape inspired the notion of eight characters surrounding a narrator, and served as a template for my first draft structure. It also inspired pages of diagrams that I worked on for hours, drawing my way to meaning alongside the writing. The octagon eventually inspired a form of cartomancy —the Octavo — that reveals the eight people crucial to a significant event in the life of a Seeker, and the larger connection they have with the world. I am not sure that I found the 8 as much as 8 found me. It is a very special, very lucky number, and I hope the 8 finds a way to you through this book.

ABOUT THE 8

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