You mess with Harpo Marx, you get the horns.

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.

Earl's Novel - Prologue (Part I)

(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’m not exactly sure how it all started. One moment, you’re sitting around relaxed and comfortable, wondering what Arsenal’s going to do that Sunday against the Hammers and wishing you were in London to grab the Tube over to Upton Park and cram into the visitors section, before remembering that it’s all-seaters now and there’d be little hope of a ticket anyway and you’d be left standing outside, with the locals glaring at your nifty away strip the way a pit bull glares at a postman’s leg, and then the next moment you’re staring at the bloody computer screen and a blank page in Word, desperately trying to figure out how you’re going to churn out 2,000-plus words a night for the next fortnight and five days. Even though I regularly wrote, as co-editor of a humour blog my friends and I started, I was feeling a bit like a bloke who in the middle of his Sunday league game, gets a call from the gaffer for the national side saying, “Be at Wembley for Brasil on Saturday.”

I think the idea of writing a novel struck me as a fanciful way to spend a month. “Sorry mates, can’t play footy this weekend, as I’m badgering away at this novel of mine and it’s got to be done by the end of the month!” “Apologies for looking so shabby today, I’ve been wrestling with that bleeding novel of mine.” “I think I’ve decided to kill off Portia in chapter 13, the overbearing cow. I’ll have Heathcliff do it, the serenely arrogant bastard. No, no…sorry, I was just working out the plot of my novel.” It sounds good, just thinking about it, until you actually sit down to do it and suddenly realize that you don’t have J.K. Rowling’s sheer endurance or Stephen King’s ridiculous verbosity, or Herman Melville’s spectacular talent, which I expect Rowling and King, entertaining as they are, sit around fretting about as well.

Most people think of writing as some romantic exercise in explosive creation, as though writers were like improvisational modern dancers and could just express themselves by writhing around on the floor for awhile, usually to loud, dissonant, inaccessible music written by Central European composers who find anything written before the 1950’s to be as dead and ancient as hieroglyphics. I remember a friend mentioning how one writer set up a web cam so visitors to his site could watch him at work. Other than tracking the volume of coffee he consumed and taking bets on where he was when he wasn’t in the room (which boils down to A) teaching class, B) sleeping, C) eating, D) the loo, or E) at the local singles bar trying to pick up birds by telling them about this fabulous writer-cam he’d set up and getting drinks dumped on him after asking if they’d like to see his drafts) there really wouldn’t be much to see, would there? I can’t really imagine loads of people sitting around their PCs in suspense, waiting to see if he decided to go for a novella or chicken out and stuck with the short story.

It’s an undramatic business this writing, and here I was, stuck with a novel. “National Novel Writers’ Month” they called it. Only, it was for participants from around the world. I suppose they couldn’t call it “International Novel Writers’ Month” without permission from the United Nations, and who’s got the money to get that approved? The idea was to get people to write a novel, any novel, inside of a month, and a thirty day one at that. They picked November, when they should have chosen October. October has 31 days, plus Daylight Savings Time ends here in the States, and that’s an extra hour of writing, worth at least a thousand words to a really desperate writer at the end of their novel rope.

I was feeling pretty miserable at that point, like an overweight, over-aged runner at the start of a marathon they’d signed up for after one too many bitters. I was staring down the line at the first big hill, a mile in the distance, thinking to myself, “That’s a long way, and there are 25 just like it afterwards.” Only I was staring at a computer screen, wishing I had my nightly beer in hand, so I could at least work on the whole romantic imagery thing, were anyone watching. “What’s that he’s drinking tonight? Fat Tire? Oooh, it’s a nice one, but a bit trendy, don’t you think?” I suddenly realised that I hadn’t had my nightly imbibement at all and rushed right to the fridge for one. The bottle cap came off nice and smooth and as I passed my wife on the way back to the PC, I commented on how well the novel was going.

“Page one!” I announced brightly. She responded with a knowing chuckle, smiling at me the way she’d smile at our grade-school child had she just announced she were going to write a novel. I clutched the beer loosely, as it was a cold ale, and walked briskly back to the room. I sat down, took a sip of the cold, mildly sweet amber beverage and then turned back to the cold, very bitter computer screen.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Novel Begins (along with the cold sweats)

Well, I've gone and done it. I've signed up for National Novel Writing Month here in the States. Why? A cheap way to fill virtual pages here. A chance to increase my ever growing Carpal-Tunnel Syndrome. The opportunity to add "unpublished novelist" next to "unpublished author" on my resume. The right to daily lambaste Stew, Nuffy, Zimpter, Linus, and Jorge with tart barbs about their meagre output here. Money. Fame. Fortune.

As you can see, I'm already hallucinating.

I've already decided the plot of the novel will be the stream-of-conscious, paranoid delusions of a comedy blogger. So, it will be like a lot of my other entries, only longer, and with car chases and sex scenes (not me...heavens, what would the missus say?)

So, hang on. A novel is about to be borne forth on this site, and you will be able to witness that birth. I promise to make it as messy and painful as actual childbirth. I'd get the episiotomy, but it's not physically possible for males. Just assume that the pain is similar, rhetorically speaking.

And, should you be sufficiently driven, you can always go to the site and start a novel of your own... Heaven help you.

I just realized I'm wasting words here that could be considered part of the novel. Maybe I should retitle this post "Prologue?"

Monday, October 30, 2006


It's Halloween, tomorrow. Normally this would mean that Stew would be posting his annual compendum of crazy costumes. You know the sort of thing...The unfortunate male version of the Catwoman suit, a cavewoman outfit that makes Raquel Welch in 1,000,000 Years B.C. look like she's wearing a nun's habit, an Abe Lincoln suit with a leather jacket that says "Honest Abe's Angels," A Fruit Loop costume consisting of one really large, yellow tyre (the orange one is an Apple Jack costume)... that sort of thing.

Then Jorge would regale us with tales of the Mexican Day of the Dead, the holiday not some south-of-the-border George Romero knock off film. Of course, I'm pretty sure Jorge is not Mexican, so his tale would be suspect, but in an entertaining and completely non-offensive way, I'm certain. Almost. Good thing he's in jail then, eh? Porridge, as some of us say.

I am curious as to what kinds of Halloween tales Nuffy and Linus would come up with. Perhaps the Five Times Better costume awards and some kind of super genius tricks, respectively.

Zimpter? I'm not even sure he was some dream we had a year ago...

Blogger? I've been tricked enough not beig able to post pics. At least Stew is in their good graces.

Slow, agonizing times here at DOUI. Faithful readers, hang in there. After all, National Novel Writing Month is coming! That might just be entertaining... if I actually give in and do it.

Happy Halloween! Remember to check your candy before you eat it.