It's Oscars time. Somebody wake the Grouch.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Earl's Novel - Prologue (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.)

It had been a cold day as well. Autumn was creeping in like a clumsy burglar, tripping over the windowsill and landing in the dog’s water dish. It had been 60 degrees Fahrenheit over the weekend and now it was dipping well into the 40’s. The weathermen were at their worst part of the year, cheerfully letting everyone know just how cold and miserable it was getting, in betwixt mildly flirtatious banter with the female newscasters, and the occasional reference to some pensioner’s 107th birthday.

I’ve never understood the profession of weatherman. It’s a weak science, climate prediction and meteorology. I know some people think that it’s a colossal struggle with the capricious whims of nature, only with a bit of shtick and homespun wit thrown in, but quite frankly I’ve always thought of weathermen as God’s most treasured clowns. They state with mathematical certainly the probability of a certain meteorological condition and with alarming regularity they are proven not only wrong, but embarrassingly out of tune with the prevailing breath of nature. My favourite examples of this are when they state that there’s a 100% chance of a certain kind of weather, usually rain, and the next day the sky is clear and dry as teetotaler’s cupboard. Once, when I was a teenager, the forecast was for an inch and a half of snow. As the following day was a bank and school holiday in the U.S., my brothers and I looked forward to a bit of tramping about in the light snow. We woke up to 24 inches of the stuff, piled high and even around every house. I was so entranced by this phenomenon, an amount of snow I’d ever seen before and haven’t seen since, that I can’t remember what the response of the local weathermen was, other than to suspect it involved rope, a chair, and a long, cheerful suicide note full of pretense that deep down they knew heavy snow was coming but wanted people to be surprised.

So, the cold, dank days of autumn were upon us. My cold beer was still welcome though, because even though it was cold going down, it leant a touch of warmth to my insides. The sky had actually been fairly clear that day, but the frost in the morning was unpleasantly thick and bitter. I remembered scraping the windscreen of my car that morning, something I absolutely hate having to do. The garage is full of things that won’t fit in the house though, along with an alarming variety of spiders, and so it was the ritual of winter. I decided, sitting right there, that I really hated the first cold days of autumn worse than the deep of winter. When it’s really cold, the frost doesn’t ever build up on a windscreen. It’s only when there’s a bit of warmth in the air that turns cold overnight that things get really frosty. Plus, I’ve noticed that one gets accustomed to the extremes of cold and heat that you find in the U.S. By late November, I’m usually content to throw on by double layered coat, wrap my neck in my navy and gold Arsenal away scarf - purchased at the Highbury gift shop a few years before they built the new stadium at Ashburton Grove, and trundle out into the stiff breezes that buffet this part of the country. Turning out in the early cold though meant sticking a damp finger in the air, trying to figure out whether bundling was worth it, and it could very easily rocket into the 60’s in the afternoon, leaving me wrapped in increasingly sweaty layers of cotton and polyester blends, bordering on the kinds of hallucinations one has in the early morning after a sudden fever, cold sweats and the sense that strange things are happening around you, but without the wherewithal to fully fathom what they meant.

The computer screen was starting to fill up a bit now, but in my heart it was blank. What was I thinking going into this without any plan for a plot. Most novelists sketch things out and do massive amounts of research on their subject matter. I was vaguely wandering in the direction of a novel, relying on an undersized cane with the blurred inscription “write what you know” on it.

Oh, it wasn’t like I didn’t have some ideas for plots. I briefly considered a science-fiction story where a young aficionado of samurai films gets thrown back into ancient Japan with nuclear powers and changes the course of history. I know it sounds awful, but when you’re looking at filling out over 175 pages in the time it takes Congress to agree to debate on a bill, the quality of the content becomes strangely unimportant. Plus, I couldn’t decide whether or not to stick with the tried and true sci-fi tradition of having the natural course of history restored by the protagonist, or to end with my hero sitting at Coney Island trying to figure out how to eat a frankfurter that’s been cut up and rolled into sushi rice with avocado and mustard.

Another plot that came to mind was that of a blogger, desperately trying to finish his first novel, but being constantly interrupted by bizarre goings on, including an encounter with Chinese Communist spies, alien beings trying to understand the human fascination with slapstick, and his daughter, who has just discovered the amazing addictiveness of the game Monopoly. He is buoyed through this ordeal by his devoted wife, the legions of fans of his blog, Bono, the lead singer of U2, who is a smashing chap but seems to be everywhere these days, and the realisation by his daughter that Clue is a perfectly adequate substitute on family game night and doesn’t take 27 hours to play.

So, I wasn’t expecting the Nobel Committee to call afterwards, or for that matter Random House or Marine Techniques Publishing Inc. of Augusta, Maine if indeed they were still in business after the disastrous release of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zizzou Pop-Up Book, which I thoroughly enjoyed myself, having loved the film. I would have been happy if someone had just taken a look at a few pages of the finished product, held back the urge to throw-up, and said something along the lines of, “You know, although it needs polishing, it really does flow a bit there on pages 27 and 85.”

So, I sat there staring at the screen, wondering which direction to go in. My eyeballs began to feel dry in the eerie light of the flat-screen monitor. The clock steadily closed in on 11 p.m. In the distance, a wolf howled. It didn’t actually, but I’d always wanted to write that, so I decided there and then it would be in the book.

It suddenly hit me… a book… a novel… Here I was about to sally forth on that most grand of all fiction’s enterprises. I was about to join a club whose membership included Hawthorne, Conrad, Dickens, Orwell, Hemingway, Faulkner, Amis, Tolstoy, Proust, and Cervantes. Yes, Jacqueline Susann was in the club too, but I was trying not to think about the likelihood that my work would turn out to be far more like hers than Tolstoy, and not simply because it would be in English and would have copious sex scenes.

I stood on the threshold…me, Earl, the part-time comedy blogger, the guitar-playing, carne asada munching, football/soccer nut who spend years dreaming of being a poet or songwriter. Here I was, about to step off the cliff into Novel Land. I suddenly realized that it was actually quite thrilling to be here, like Armstrong on the moon, about to discover whether I would take a mighty step for humanity or sink into the lunar surface like soda bread through cheese fondue.

I had barely a moment to let it soak in. The knock on the front door was about to change everything.

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