It's Oscars time. Somebody wake the Grouch.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Earl's Novel - Chapter II (Part I)

(Editor's note: Earl Fando is currently writing a novel as part of the insane National Novel Writers' Month Contest. As of this post, he has managed 8,000 words and at least two nervous breakdowns.)

Chapter 2
Wind Chimes and Basil Scented Candles

I didn’t get back to the novel for almost two days. I woke up the next day not even thinking about it. Work was the usual drudgery, which is to say it wasn’t bad, but nothing spectacularly cheerful happened either. People sent me e-mails. I responded politely. Papers were moved. I took a shot at a few pieces, but I was feeling strangely unfunny. It’s all very personal, really. Being a professional writer and maintaining a busy humour blog is a nice gig, but it’s not all prank writing the Friends of the National Zoo or making fun of Tom Cruise’s propensity for behaving like a rabid baboon. Mostly, I was contemplating whether Oprah would sue us if I implied in a piece that Steadman Campbell was a hermaphrodite. He’s not, but humour is whimsical in that way.

Stew trudged in at about 8 a.m. just after I arrived, wondering aloud whether or not he should write something that morning or should go out and hit the links. He made several references to his new driver, a Callaway model made out of the same material as the new F-22 fighter jet. I’d seen Stew use this model on the course in person, including smashing one drive a full 320 yards over water. As Stew is taller and has arms a full six inches longer than me, my only chance in any match was the unlikely strategy of hitting a ridiculous amount of putts from outside 30 feet, which explains my extensive losing streak and my lack of a spiffy nickname on the course, like “Crenshaw.”

After about twenty minutes of rhapsodising about his club and going through 3 frappucinos, Stew settled in to begin researching a comedy piece on why pirate and ninja costumes had fallen out of favour this year, giving him a reason to visit several “pirates vs. ninjas” sites on the web, at least three of which were quite nice.

Stew was downloading a picture of Vice President Dick Cheney, dressed as a ninja, and fighting Senator Patrick Leahy, who was dressed as a pirate, when Nuffy phoned in at about 9 a.m. He explained that he was working from home that day and not on the actual blog but another writing assignment that he felt had plenty of possibilities, if not actual paying sponsors. Nuffy remained rather mysterious to Stew and I, not least because he was absent for vast periods of time. By absent, I don’t mean that he would disappear completely to the point were the police and search teams would need to be called in. Rather, he would always call in purporting to be working from home, but we would always hear aeroplanes or large waterfalls in the background. Often, we would hear people conversing in other languages as well. At least once, I could have sworn I heard someone refer to a section of the International Space Station, as in, “Mr. Noe, we need to meet in the aft section of the ISS now, before NASA sends us the reentry data for the shuttle.” As it was spoken with a heavy Russian accent, I could be mistaken about the whole thing.

In fact, today’s conversation was as mysterious as ever. The phone rang and I hit speaker phone, so Stew could listen in and make the usual static noises if it were a bill collector.

“Is this Earl?” intoned Nuffy’s familiar baritone voice.

“Speaking,” I replied.

“I won’t be there today, as usual. I’ve got an article I need to tend to here at home,” Nuffy replied.

In the background, I could hear what sounded like an elephant trumpeting.

“Is it something we can expect to see on the site later?” I asked, hopefully.

“Afraid not,” Nuffy replied quickly, “but if this works out, I should be able to give the blog about a month’s attention with the time this paycheck will bring.” In the background someone said something in what sounded like a Swahili dialect.

“Sounds like a good opportunity then,” I replied. “Who’s commissioned the article?”

“What’s that?” Nuffy replied, as what sounded like a large propeller plane flew past in the background. “Gotta go! I’ll get back to you on this when I know more.” A loud blast of what seemed like cannon fire and then the click of the phone followed.

And that was the last we heard of him for the day.

At about noon, during lunch, I briefly considered going back to the National Novel Writing Month web site that had spawned this torturous dilemma I found myself in. The slowness of Internet service at my office put a quick stop to that. After about 2 minutes of slowly gnawing on my microwaved savoury pastry pocket pie and watching the status bar on the web browser turn various shades of green, I decided to concentrate on answering e-mail, including the dozen or so messages a colleague from the West Coast had forwarded about a political issue, having found out I had an opinion about the subject and wouldn’t respond to his own mail with sustained curse words and suggestions that the official documentation of his ancestry was in any way specious. I felt proud in doing my part for a sensitive and healthy political discourse, even if for all practical purposes we were two people in a small, inflatable lifeboat riding the Johnstown flood of political incivility.

My own approach to e-mail is a specific one. I believe in answering all mail sent to me, unless it is automated spam or viruses. Therefore, if someone should be so unwise as to send me spam from a working address, they would almost certainly get a response almost completely opposite from the polite discourse described above. I would scrupulously avoid swear words, but I would take great pains in building a logical arguement that they and their family were descended from large, ill-tempered slugs. Usually, these appear on the blog.

Also, I never throw e-mail away unless I’m absolutely certain I’ll need it. This means that I have massive amounts of e-mail, including meeting notes from over three years ago, in the off chance that one of my previous employers my phone or e-mail me and insist that I tell them exactly what the Senior Vice President of Marketing said to the Associate Vice Chairman of Research on or about the morning of October 13th, 2003, or severe legal consequences might be involved. In all honesty, I’ve only ever gotten one of these calls, and strangely enough, that turned out to be a wrong number.

I got home that evening, having decided that Oprah could bloody well sue anyone she had a mind to, and was unlikely to leave Steadman hanging in the wind on such a crucial thing as the nature of his DNA and wobblies, leaving me contributing nothing to the blog that day except for a tepid 500 word treatise on how my child received a Sonic peppermint in her Halloween candy. I couldn’t muster up much that was amusing about this other than to suggest that some local cheapskate had been saving mints from their visits to Sonic drive-in restaurants for a year, just to avoid buying a few bags of peanut butter cups in October. I did speculate that it was one of the guys from the completely wretched Sonic television commercials, who was saving money in the obvious awareness that, after those commercials, an acting career was all but dead.

As we had plans to eat dinner that evening at a local Chinese buffet, any additional writing would have to wait. This was a particularly nice one for our area, with a Mongolian grill and passable sushi. The California Rolls were particularly scrummy, with the bitter cucumber left out altogether and only tasty crab and avocado to savour. The bit with the deep fried coating and the cream cheese center was passable as well. Unfortunately, I over did the buffet and arrived home with an insatiable desire to sleep. As it was Friday, I felt that I could easily churn out 4,000+ words the following day, even if I had absolutely no idea what I was writing about. My head hit the couch and I languished there until late into the evening. When I woke up, my wife and child were sound asleep, so I staggered to bed too, without so much as glimmer of a thought about novels, Hemingway, or three part structure.

The next day, I woke up rather early. My first thought was immediately of the impending novel and the fact that for everyday I missed writing on the thing, I had 2,000 extra words to jam into the rest of the month. This was so overwhelming I immediately went back to sleep for another hour. When I woke up again, I cleaned up, ran out for a take away breakfast consisting mostly of crumpet or “muffin” related products, and then finally made my way back to the computer room.

I opened the file with the “novel” as it was and realised to my surprise that I had actually hammered out a prologue two nights before. I concluded that I must have managed a few thousand words between theorizing about Western plots and the buzzing in my brain from fashion details in detective stories. I wondered for a moment whether this kind of automatic writing could carry me through a whole novel and decided that yes it could. This was followed by the realisation that of my 2,243 words in the prologue, one hundred and eighty-four of them were misspelled and at least four paragraphs were given to the sincere conviction that my neighbor was Fidel Castro in disguise, which was hard to justify as her name was Sheila.

“No,” I said to myself in disappointment, as I repeatedly tapped the “Change” button on the spell-check, “this kind of automatic writing will not do the trick.”

The despair of two nights ago began to take over, so to quell it, I immediately wrote 1,500 words explaining why, although my neighbor wasn’t Castro, they could be distantly related, and that was as good a reason as any to avoid lending her our garden shears.

About that time my wife entered the room to see how I was doing. She looked at my florid prose for about 30 seconds and then calmly announced that Sheila was Dutch and that she loaned her the garden shears a fortnight ago. She left the room gently humming a Coldplay tune as I held down the backspace key, whilst slowly banging my head against the sharpest corner of our computer desk.

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