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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Earl's Novel - Chapter II (Part II)

(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 10,000 words and one writing-related hernia.)

30 minutes and one ice pack later, I returned to the computer desk and slowly sunk into the awkward chair. I gingerly laid my head down on the table, taking care to keep the side with the bruised dent in it turned upwards. From this uncomfortable angle, something familiar and slightly alarming popped into view.

It was the package from two nights ago. There appeared to be two of them at first until my vision settled down.

I raised my head up and picked up the parcel. I hadn’t noticed how light it was when I carried it in the other evening, but then again, I was holding in gingerly, just in case some alarm went off inside and I had to throw it through a window.

I looked it over carefully. It still had the blurred address from The Phoenix Corporation. The strange thing was that it was handwritten, not at all like their typical laser-printed fancy logo return address with the fiery bird betwixt two hourglasses, one freshly turned over and the other completely spent. What was strange was that our own address was nowhere to be found in the delivery address portion of the front label. Instead, there was just the word “FANDO” written in large, thick permanent marker.

It also had an inordinate amount of sellotape on it, like the kind of wrapping job my mum would do for any package that couldn’t be stuffed into an envelope. Mum was spectacularly inconsistent in this, in that she seemed to consider envelope glue to be sufficient for anything, no matter how distended the envelope holding it was. However, should anything go into any kind of box, mum usually wouldn’t stop the taping until she’d spent a complete roll or air could no longer enter the box. Usually, the easiest way to open one of mum’s packages was with a skill saw, which explains why a few of my daughter’s stuffed animals have some really nasty stitches.

The parcel looked far less threatening in the light of day, even when surveyed by the bloodshot eyes on my still throbbing head. I went into the kitchen and got an old box knife. It took several careful slices to cut through the layers of tape, but finally I was able to get the box open.

Inside was another box. This one was unmarked and relatively light in tape. The plain anonymity of this box brought my paranoia back up again, but the blow to my head kept things fuzzy enough to where I opened it straightaway anyway. It was a rather thin box and came open easily, despite the tape. It was filled with tissue paper, presumably to protect what was inside. I dug a bit out and my fingers came up against something hard and plastic. I groped around a bit, with all the ineffectiveness of an oversexed teenager in mixed chapel and managed to get my fingers around the plastic thingy and wrench it out.

It was a DVD-ROM. I knew it was a DVD-ROM instead of a CD-ROM because it had DVD written in black marker, much like my name outside the parcel. It also had one other word written on it: “Yangtze.”

This was perplexing because the only Yangtze I knew of was the Chinese river, the Yangtze Kiang, and I was only familiar with it from an old Monty Python bit on one of their record albums. The bit was all about how English soccer goalkeepers of a certain era (Peter Shilton, Ray Clemence, Pat Jennings, etc… all right, Pat Jennings was from Northern Ireland, but he was pretty good at that) and their obsession with writing poetry about the Yangtze River. There was also a rather rollicking football song included. I always though that if I ever founded a football club, I would call it Yangtze Kiang FC, just so we could sing that song. Other than that, I knew precious little about the Yangtze and certainly not enough to diving why it would appear on a package that also bore my name.

It all started to feel like some practical joke again, except that this was a fairly lame one, if it was. Of course, I had no idea what was on the disk, but even if it were video of Stew and Nuffy dancing around in full Peking Opera House attire and singing the Yangtze song in question, the payoff was hardly worth it, especially since they’d done a similar bit just two months ago, when they suddenly appeared on the local square where I sometimes play guitar, singing “Good Mornin’” from Singing in the Rain and dressed as Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds.

You may ask me how they pulled that off, and I will just reveal that “Debbie’s” head and at least one half of her bosom fell off repeatedly during the performance. It got so bad that Stew and Nuffy had to hold them on with both hands as they danced, and were finally interrupted by a police officer who wanted to know why they were groping their dance partner so openly in a public place. He let them off with a warning after realizing that the lady in question was 60 percent packing foam and only 5 percent Debbie Reynolds in the form of an ink-jet printed picture from her appearance in Will and Grace. My mum would have been horrified at the lack of good taping procedure, which explained why poor faux Debbie looked as though she had a makeover supervised by Cujo.

I finished my set a few moments later with an impromptu cover of Radiohead’s How to Disappear Completely.

Anyway, the idea that someone would send me such a mystifyingly strange package left me so dizzyingly perplexed that I sat it on top of the computer desk and turned my attention back to my novel. This was dismaying enough on its own, given that my plot so far consisted of a detailed explanation of why my neighbor was a Cuban agent, and a short addendum explaining how it was all a horrible mistake and promises of a riveting story explaining why it was all a mistake. I quickly added a subtle hint that part of the answer to this mystery would consist of a very hot scene with a Swedish flight attendant.

Now, I was faced with a dilemma. I had already made at least one half-dozen references to the potential appearance of sex in my quirky little book. However, my conscience was beginning to gnaw at me. Here I was a committed church-going Christian, casually dropping hints that my first novel was going to frequently go in the direction of a Zalman King straight-to-video film. I was even embarrassed that I knew who Zalman King was to begin with. Of course, after thinking about it for a moment, I realised that there are probably people in the pornography business who are embarrassed to know who Zalman King is, so while it wasn’t company I had much in common with, my guilt lessened a great deal at the thought.

Sex and violence are the two things that writers must struggle with most of all, as far as content goes. I say as far as content goes, because the real things that writers must struggle with are character, plot, structure, and in Dan Brown’s case plausibility that makes Anne Rice look like a documentarian. What I mean to say is that whenever people consider the content of a book or a film, they often ask themselves if any of the content was gratuitous to the overall aims of the story. In the case of sex and violence, the answer in 98 percent of all cases is “Hell, yes,” which is especially impressive, as that wording is almost never on the surveys.
I was just beginning to get a feel then for why so many writers were tempted to add a splash of sex to their books. Actually, you can generally replace the word “splash” with “Gatorade bath at the end of the Super Bowl.” The answer to this little question of the human psyche is simply that sex sells the way hotcakes could only dream of even with a multi-million pound marketing contract. So, the irony is that although the vast majority of human beings are fascinated with sex, White House correspondent Helen Thomas excluded, most writers add the stuff for the money that this instant appeal brings. Which is why if you ask a writer whether a controversial sex scene in a novel they wrote was valid, they would first look at their six-figure advance before fervently nodding yes.

Violence is another thing entirely. I’ve never gotten it quite frankly, besides barely comprehending the “ick” factor of some films, where some people attend just to be grossed out. This is of course the same reason sideshow “carnies” do such regular work. Still, violence is everywhere in books and films and even music, as Ashley Simpson’s lacerating vocals will demonstrate on the average human eardrum. The thing is though that we are equally bombarded with the admonition that violence is harmful, destructive, kills people, etc. So, we’re really a society that seems to think that blowing someone’s brains out accidentally with a large revolver is terrible, unless it happens in a Quentin Tarantino film, in which case it’s hilarious.

This wasn’t helping me write the book though. It didn’t help that I couldn’t think of a way to work any sex and violence into a specious mystery regarding my neighbor’s fascination with obtaining our clipping shears for socialist revolution. Also, I became very aware that there were legal implications to this kind of plotting, even if our neighbor didn’t have access to a tenth of Oprah’s phalanxes of lawyers. So, for these purposes, our neighbor’s name is actually Marigold.

The phone rang right around that time. It was Zimpter Fiforg, another writer for the blog. He was calling to apologise for not having written anything for over a year. Zimpter was gainfully employed elsewhere and only maintained his membership on the blog in the off chance that he would have a spare moment to quickly type out one of the 1,500 or so bits that he kept in mind, in-between his daily work. We knew he worked in Hollywood, doing something or other, and that he regularly encounter celebrities. We had a little office pool going on about Zimpter’s profession. I had television writer and/or agent. Stew had actor or caterer for film sets. Nuffy, during the one call we could get him to commit to the pool suggested celebrity stalker or paparazzi, which we all agreed was more or less the same thing.

I exchanged a few pleasantries with Zimpter and helpfully suggested ways in which he could go without sleep for extended periods of time, if that would help him get a post or two in every six months. I also tried to get vital information for the office pool.

“So, how’s work, Zim?” I cleverly asked.

“Oh, it’s the usual hectic madhouse,” he cheerfully replied.

“So, sign any big contracts lately?” I cheerfully inquired.

Zimpter laughed deep and long and then skillfully changed the subject to the new Borat film. This left me convinced more than ever that he was an agent or an entertainment lawyer, which unfortunately for me was far closer to Nuffy’s guess. After a highly detailed analysis of the mise-en-scene in Borat and how it differed from that of The Legend of Ricky Bobby, Zimpter had to go, as a Survivor repeat was on.

The day was starting to wind to an end for all practical purposes. My child had a football match and was itching to try out the new indoor soccer arena, and I had plans to play myself. A busy morning at church lay ahead the next day. Precious time was burning away faster than Jacque Chirac’s credibility.

In the twenty five minutes before we left for the match I managed to write 2,500 words introducing a story about two reporters who discover that the government is covering up the takeover of all the world’s banks by giant mutated squid. I erased the whole thing that evening under the logic that my earlier head injury was the primary inspiration for such a crappy plot. I was back to naught.

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