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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Earl's Novel - Chapter I (Part II)

(Editor's note: Earl Fando is currently writing a novel as part of the insane National Novel Writers' Month Contest. He will be publishing the novel in serial format as it is written, rather than writing goofy posts, which is his actual job here.)

I walked back to the door and picked up the package. The return address was smudged a bit but I could just make out “Phoenix Corporation,” my former workplace.

“It’s from Phoenix Corp.,” I announced. My wife rolled up her eyes a bit, remembering the difficulties I had fitting in there and the rancor surrounding my resignation.

“Why on earth would they be sending you anything? It’s been two years,” she wondered.

“No idea,” I replied. “Maybe it’s some sort of delayed, severance package, notice thingy?”

She shrugged her shoulders in a perplexed, yet alluring way.

I carried the package back with me to the computer room. I was remembering about that time that I had a 50,000 word book to be getting on with and here I was burning time worried about a silly package. The lateness of it was still strange but so was anything to do with the Phoenix Corporation. I sat the package down besides the PC and turned back to the glowing, still relatively empty virtual pages of my novel.

I began to think about writing a mystery novel but mysteries always involved a lot of plotting. I had a month, really less than a month as I’d started a day late. Strangely though there was no sense of panic. After the odd business at the door, I was feeling more relieved than anything else.

Perhaps a romance novel, then? If Nora Roberts can churn out a book each month, certainly I could muster up one just once. I began to imagine a young, beautiful, English lass, rushing up the heathery meadow, her long and full dress bundled up in her hands so she could run through the tall grass. She runs in the sunlight of a spring morning, her dashing lover waiting at the top of a hill. He is sharply dressed, with a bow tie, ruffles, a waistcoat, and riding boots. She reaches the top and throws herself into his arms. Their torrid lips meet and they slowly spin, locked in a passion that neither had ever felt before. Below the hill, the old mansion that her lover owned was ablaze, just as they were in their hearts on the hill…Really, really ablaze.

I realized two things at that moment. The first was that there was really nowhere to go from here except a really questionable sex scene in the itchy, tall grass, whilst their dream home burned down in the background. That might make for interesting cinema, but as a novel it lacked realism and a fire brigade. Secondly, I suddenly realized how often romance novels and films contained a really scorching blaze. Think about it for a second: Jane Eyre, Rebecca, Body Heat, The Towering Inferno… the only one I could remember off of the top of my head that didn’t contain some sort of conflagration was Emma, and even then, we all wished that the Elton’s house would burn down at the end, with Mrs. Elton in it.

A third thing came to mind as I wondered just how I could get to the saucy sex scene with the heroine wearing one of those big, Victorian dresses. Those things were made for self defense, not unbridled, spontaneous passion. Finally, I gave up the idea of a romance novel, remembering that for every passionate embrace in the Austen/pick-a-Bronte mode there were at least four formal dances and twelve dinner parties. I didn’t fancy my chances of writing one dinner party scene, much less the 480 I thought it would take to get a really scorchingly sexy romance novel. I briefly contemplated just making the hero and heroine members of a fraternity and sorority, respectively. I finally discarded that idea, deciding that, as a religious person, I couldn’t bring myself to write porn.

It was getting late and I was still self-negotiating plots. I was fast realizing that there’s a tremendous amount of sex and violence in today’s literature, usually both in enormous quantities. I decided to steer away from much of this, after all. I was writing for speed, and I didn’t want anything that would slow me up from working out all the mechanics. What to do then?

I began to try and think outside the box. Perhaps a western would work? Most people these days didn’t know the first thing about a western. The average fiction reader in this day and age thought that Louis L’Amour was one of Nora Roberts’ alternate pen names. Could I write a good old fashioned horse opera? There would be violence, but it would be straightforward and relatively simple to plot. Cowboy comes into town, meets other cowboy, saloon girl gets between cowboys, cowboys meet to gun it out in the street, saloon girl starts to get between cowboys but thinks better of it when she realises they are both armed with large, grapefruit-sized hole-making revolvers, cowboys gun it out in the street anyway, one cowboy dies a slow agonizing death in the street, the other cowboy confesses his admiration and respect for his opponent, saloon girl runs off with the saloon pianist.

I all felt wrong for me, except the part about the saloon girl and the pianist. Let’s face it, it would be pointless for her to ride off with one of the cowboys, because he’d only run into another heavily armed bloke who fancied his girlfriend and the whole thing would start up again. Plus, as a long-time guitar player, I always rooted for the musician in any story anyway.

Could one do a musical as a novel? Writing the dance scenes would be interesting. Johnny slid across the floor to the beat of a ferocious big band number. Susie shimmied over to him, gyrating her hips like the beaters in a fancy mixer. As she jiggled around Johnny, he did a dazzling tap step in a slow circle and then leapt up over Susie in a back layout. The music sizzled like bacon in a microwave, whilst Susie and Johnny danced about in circles. The clarinetist warbled a high, darting solo, and Susie slid through Johnny’s legs, coming up on the other side with a spin. The trombonist did an impressive glissando to a low note and then the band came together in full tutti as Susie leapt into Johnny’s arms for a passionate embrace. In the distance, the piano was ablaze.

I mean, that’s how you’d have to end the thing. The dancing just doesn’t have the same life a film does, where you can actually see the movement and hear the music. Without all that visceral sound and motion, at some point you’ve got to melodramatic, and if a fire is good enough for one of the Bronte sisters, it should be good enough for a cheap pulp knockoff of a Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen film.

So, a musical was out. I suppose I could add a page of songs at the end, but then I’d have to compose them, and that would cut into my precious 2,000 words a day schedule.

I was starting to run out of genres. A horror novel was a possibility. Vampires seemed pretty easy to write about. It occurred to me that they have very orderly lives. Rest each day in the coffin filled with dirt from your grave, rise up and sundown, stretch, brush the fangs, slick back the hair into a greasy do, stalk a virtuous young woman who just happens to be out on the streets after dark in the worst parts of town, bury your fangs in her neck, drain every last drop of blood from her body, enslave her as your vampire concubine, beat a hasty retreat back to the coffin, spend the last few minutes before sunrise despairing over your wicked, undead life and brushing the fangs again, and then back to sleep in the coffin. It all seems neat, in a gruesome, sociopathic way.

The fact that vampires lived for hundreds of years made me realise that they were all in an awful rut. This was obviously the reason that they were so surly all the time. Also, vampires had to deal with some pretty unique problems. For example, during daylight savings time in the summer, they were bound to not get out of the coffin until well after 9 p.m., and this had to really cut down on the number of virtuous women who foolishly get stuck out on the streets. Also, what happened to vampires who got stuck above the Arctic Circle in summer? 24 hours of sun a day would be horrible on a vampire’s feeding routine. You’d have to lure young women into your lair and that wouldn’t be easy with all the ice breaking up around you.

I’ve never really gotten the whole mirror thing down either. Supposedly, a vampire cannot be seen in a mirror, but why would this be so? Light refracts off a mirror in pretty much a uniform way and this reflected light is no different than the regular old light that hits our retinas. So, are the writers of the old vampire tales trying to convince us that the light that bounces off a vampire has been changed in some weird way that we can see, but the mirror can’t refract? Clearly Bram Stoker was no physicist.

I thought about the hair for a moment and wondered if Miami Heat coach Pat Riley was a vampire. I didn’t think so, but if he was, the hair was a dead give away.

Vampires seemed too gruesome though to deal with for too long. Plus, the plot of a vampire story is all too predictable. We all know that three things will happen in such a tale. The vampire will terrorise a borough of London or some other major city for a time, including an assault on the hero’s wife or girlfriend. Then, an eccentric vampire hunter will come along and convince the hero that the vampire is cuckolding him, the poor boring, live bastard. Finally, the hero and the eccentric vampire hunter will track the vampire to his lair and find the hero’s significant other with the vampire. The vampire hunter will dispatch the vampire to the fiery bowels of Hell, and the hero and his gal pal will enter counseling.

The beer was empty by now. My wife had gone to bed, leaving me the only one awake in the house. I could hear occasional noises from my child’s room as she rolled over in bed, sending one or more of her stuffed dolls unto the floor. The dog was nowhere to be found, but this was normal, as she hated and feared me as though I were a vampire and wanted to drain the blood from her body. What she was too stupid to know is that I was allergic to her and would easily flee her presence if she ever had the courage to so much as walk up to me.

I’d eliminated the romance, the sci-fi, the mystery, the horror story, the western, and one 12 ounce bottle of amber ale. Other than that, the results of the night’s work were thinner than Ted Koppel’s protestations that he did not wear a toupee.

I got up and stretched my back. The chair in the computer room was one of those “specialised” computer chairs that came on casters so you could wheel it about the room. The only problem with the casters is that they were so small that they wouldn’t effectively roll on any carpet thinker than about two millimeters, which our carpet had beat by nearly twice that much. The chair swiveled as well, which was pointless as it was supposedly designed for use at a computer. The only reason to swivel that I could think of was if you were really in a happy typing mood. Then, I suppose you could flip on some music, type away and every so often spin around completely in the chair, coming back to meet the keyboard and churn out another happy few sentences.

The excitement of earlier in the evening had now worn away, replaced with a sense of foreboding and despair. How was I supposed to finish this bloody thing? How can I get 50,000 words if the opening page left me dumbstruck looking for just a hint of a story?

Maybe I could dazzle with detail? Many authors use this technique. They take a relatively small plot point, such as “the detective stops by the client’s home with the news that they are taking the case” and spend ninety percent of the time describing things.

“The detective wore a dark suit, the lapels wrinkled as though he’d been roughed up by too many husbands caught on film in dalliances they’d later thought better of. The dandruff flakes on his shoulders were like flurries on a black sand beach. His shoes were old leather, polished more times than one could easily count, with laces that were worn and thin, like their owner. His client stood in a corner of the old ranch house, between a threadbare ottoman and an overly ornate sofa. She was wearing a short black dress with a “V” cut down to just above her navel and matching black “V” earrings. Her shoes were Italian, stilettos delicately fashioned in black leather as well, but classically constructed, in sharp contrast to the harlot’s dress she looked very comfortable in. She shifted back and forth on her toes, looking precariously balanced. The detective moved steadily towards her, his steely blue eyes locked in on her soft hazels. Her chestnut hair bobbed at her shoulders as she nervously returned the hard, cold stare. He cocked his head at her ever so slightly, revealing the edge of the faded white collar of his shirt. She could count the bits of stubble on his rough face as he quietly said, ‘I’ll take the case.’”

It seemed so exhausting. Plus, I knew less about clothing styles than I did about imaginary number theory, so I was in for a lot of research, which I simply didn’t have the time for. I also had no desire to peruse the web pages of clothing boutiques, all of whom whose ideas for online marketing bordered between soft core porn, Andy Warhol films, and romance novel covers, at the same time.

I closed my eyes. I was tired and my brain was buzzing. I decided that the story would have to wait until tomorrow. The sweet softness of my pillow beckoned. The night was deep and heavy. That and the beer had gone through me like a Brasilian forward through a San Marino defence, so I needed plenty of time in the loo before bed.

I was also seriously hoping that I would have a doozy of a dream that night, and could then write about it the next day.

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