Anatomy of a novel

What does a novel on an author’s laptop look like? A lot of readers probably picture a single MS Word file with the title of the novel for its name. But here’s some screenshots from my computer showing you the contents of folders I set up specifically for my latest book, Evelyn dear Fender. Its working title was Entwined. As it turned out, however, there were close to two dozen books on Amazon with the title, Entwined, and most of them looked something like:

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So… anyway…

I’m guessing that more effort goes into the building and maintaining such a physique than what went into the writing of War and Peace. Fender Spigot’s (the lover-boy in Evelyn dear Fender) body may not be cover material, but his poetic eloquence will charm the pants off any warm blooded female creature.

Look at me, going on about hand size… way off topic. Reset. I have no idea how this compares to other author’s novel projects, but here is the anatomy of one of mine. :)(:

 

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Close encounter of the fourth kind.

A true story.

In the late fall of 1980, I was living in a little, old farm house, at the top of the only hill in the county—perhaps the only hill within a fifty-mile radius. This was farm country. Or rather mega-industrial farm country—flat as the ocean, with fields of corn and soy beans stretching on for as far as the eye can see—and no trees, to speak of, blocking the view of the never ending corn fields. But I’m talking about late fall here. The corn and soy beans are gone, plowed under, leaving only the bleak, black soil beneath the biggest sky in the world. It was huge, and the old farm house was but a tiny, remote speck below it—the perfect location for the unlikely.

I was working for Big Star Construction Company in Herscher, Illinois, ten miles away. I’d get up and ready for work well before my wife climbed out of bed. At 5:30 in the morning, there was not the first hint that the sun would ever rise again. The house was dark and quiet, except for the bright, overhead light in the center of the kitchen ceiling. This was a typical farm-house kitchen. Big. Designed for eating in, and square dancing too, I guess.

I sat down with my bowl of cereal, facing a set of stairs, which led up to the bedrooms where my wife and my baby daughter were sleeping. Off to my left: cabinets and counter-top stretched along the west wall, the kitchen sink in the middle, and above that, a large window looking out over empty, black fields—nothing was visible out there that morning, as was typical. But as I raised my spoon to my lips, I caught, in my peripheral vision, a large glowing object rising from the backyard. I swung around to my left. The hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention, each and every one of them as freaked out as I was. I saw something, just a moment before. I saw a large, well-lit object rise up from below the window sill. But when I turned, I saw nothing, only black.

I was so completely spooked. I sat there at the table at the opposite side of the room, staring toward the window above the kitchen sink, wondering if whatever it was I saw was now on its way to Zukulia. Hoping it was.

No… I told myself, I didn’t see anything.

I went back to eating my breakfast. No more than a few moments passed when it happened again. A glowing object rose up past the window sill and then dropped below it.

All those little hairs on the back of my neck, like stiff, little, Nazi soldiers, were back on their feet, saluting the west. Of course, when I turned, nothing was there. But I knew I saw something, and everything about it defied logic.

I got up, approached the window, and stared out toward the blackness of a cold October morning.

And then it happened.

The wind caught the bottom edge of the storm window and pulled it, a few inches, away from the house. The reflection of kitchen rose, and then dropped as the window settled back into place. It was one of those old-style storm windows; the kind that hinge at the top, and fasten at the bottom with a hook and eye, which in this case had come loose.

Three months later, I went to the doctor for a routine checkup and was told I had a kidney missing. It had somehow been removed without leaving the slightest scar.

(All true—except for that last paragraph.)

 

 

English/Methanian/Barnyardian Translation (for Evelyn dear Fender)

Language is a method of communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in an agreed upon structure.

A group of scholarly Englishmen once got together and agreed that a fury little creature that wags its tail and goes “arf, arf!” is a dog. “From henceforth,” one of the esteemed Englishmen had said, “everyone must call this critter a dog.”

A group of scholarly Frenchmen wrongly agreed that a dog should be called a “chien.” Not even close! A chien, as we all know, is that bony structure below our mouths. And here England and France, while right next door to one another, could not agree on a clear and simple word such as dog.

On the planet, Bufadu, everyone happily speaks the same language, which they call “language.” There has never been but one, or so the people of Fraidland have always assumed. They also assumed they were the only people on the planet, just as the people living on the mythological continent of Methania, on the opposite side of Bufadu, believed.

Like Britain and France, two unique languages evolved on the two oblivious land masses of Bufadu. But by some outrageous chance, the two continents came up with precisely the same vocabulary, the exact same set of words. However, a group of scholarly Methanians once got together and agreed that a wooden vessel that floats upon water should be called a “town.” So, what became of the word, “boat?” Boat, as defined in the Methanian dictionary is: a greater or additional amount or degree. What we here on Earth might refer to as “more.”

When creating Fender’s language (Methanian) I swapped words based upon their length (rhythm and aesthetics), with little or no regard to their meaning. I figured the concept was already bordering on too complicated. Taking meaning into account added unnecessary complications.

I had to create a dictionary with two sets of translations, based on who is speaking. Fender sees a boat; he says, “town.” When Evelyn says the word, boat, Fender hears, “more.”

When Fender sees a face, he says, “wind.” When Evelyn uses the word, face, Fender hears “high.” Face means: of great vertical extent… or what Evelyn might refer to as “high.”

Can you see the logic behind my using two different translations for the same word? If you are one of those who require congruency and order in your gibberish, I am providing you the use of my translator. CLICK HERE: alien dictionary

eighteen little heads

Omega and I crept across the dimly lit room, then stood intrigued before the AVC. Its mantel, two meters long, held eighteen smiling little heads, some with shoulders and upper torsos, others had complete bodies—heads, feet, and everything in between. Several of the heads belonged to the same people, at different ages, as we would soon discover. Toward the right end of the mantel was a group of five, seated around a tiny table scattered with dishes and food: an old, white-haired woman, slightly hunched forward, a middle-aged man, with buzzed blond hair, holding a glass out above the table, a woman with hazel green eyes and short red hair, a boy perhaps my age, eleven, and a little girl, possibly seven or eight years old. All five had their eyes turned on Omega and me, and judging from the expressions on their faces, I could only assume they were happy to see us.

Omega raised her hand toward the head on the left end of the mantel. A man, who appeared to be in the final decade of his cycle, and the woman next to him, followed her hand with their eyes. Omega swiped her hand through the two heads.

“Hello,” the first head said.

We both jumped.

“Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you,” the same head, that of the old man, said. “My name is Awkley.” The man smiled, blinked, and nodded.

Omega stared slack-jawed at the head. “Is it a book?” she whispered.

“Yes,” the head said.

“No, no, no,” one of the heads to the right of it said. I didn’t catch which one.

I glance from the first head to the next, a woman, apparently an older version of the red headed woman at the table. Without turning, I said, “They’re not real.”

“Well, obviously,” Omega said.

“How are you doing?” the second head said.

I leaned in close for a better look.

“Welcome to our house,” the old woman’s head added, “My name is Ketley. And you are?”

“What?”

“Now that’s a pleasant name.”

Omega and I looked at each other.

“And you are?” The old woman smiled at Omega.

I turned back to the holo head and said, “Not ‘what’ … Z. My name is Z.”

“Zeee?”

“Yes, Z, and this is Omega.”

“Oh mega,” the third head, a man with unruly gray eyebrows and slightly pointy ears, said.

“What is your name?” Omega said.

“Murse,” the head said, smiling and raising its left brow independent of its right. “I don’t believe we’ve met before, have we?”

“How do you do that?” I said.

“This?” It raised its right brow and lowered its left.

“I mean talk. I mean, how do you … I mean, like real people talk?”

Omega shoved her hand into Murse’s head. “You’re just holograms.”

“And you are not?” the head to the right of Murse said. It was the head of a beautiful woman, whose age was impossible to determine – between thirty and forty would have been my guess. She had blond hair, like Omega had back then, in her youth, so light it was nearly white. I had to look hard to see she had eyelashes and eyebrows. Her eyes were so beautiful, I found it hard to move on.

“We’re real,” Omega said, “see?” She gave me a firm nudge.

“So you are,” the pretty head said.

Clunk! “No more real than we are, Em.” The man at the tiny table had set his glass down. A little of whatever was in it splashed out onto the table top. “See?” He gave the little girl sitting next to him a nudge.

“Father.”

“Awkley, you don’t need to kill the children to make your point,” the younger lady at the table said.

“You’re Ketley, right?” I said.

She turned to me with a puzzled look on her tiny face. “I used to be like that,” she said, “always forgetting names, sometimes seconds after being introduced. It’s all right, you’re young, don’t worry about it, you’ll learn. Yes, Ketley, a kettle version of Awkley The Awkward.”

“You used to live here?” Omega said.

Half the little heads spoke in unison. “We still do.” The other half were shaking their heads, no.

I gave a quick study of the various faces on the mantel and realized there were three each of Ketley and Awkley, and the young woman next to the young man at the far right end bore a striking resemblance to the little girl at the table, whereas the male at that end was an older version of the boy at the table. There were five other faces, three men and two women, who had watched, smiling steadily and blinking, but had, to this point, remained silent. I said, “Omega just wants to know if you’re a book about the people who lived here?”

“No,” the second of the five silent heads, a man of maybe thirty, with a large forehead, and a receding hairline, said, “we’re just visiting. Though I suppose we visit here a lot. I’m Vosraque, and this is my little Puddin’ Pie, Tum.”

“Oh, shut up, ass wipe!” Tum said. “You’re supposed to treat me like a lady, not some cheap dessert!” She turned from her mate to Omega. “Don’t be a fool. Don’t get linked to a man who describes you in edible terms. They do that to make up for their lack of sophistication.” She then turned to me and winked. “Vos Dear, would you just look at this. Isn’t he adorable?” Her dark eyebrows did a quick series of pushups. “Oooo, bumba, bumba.”

“Sweetie Tums, you’re making Awkley’s new guests uncomfortable.”

“Oh, Honey Buns,” she mocked. “Sugar Turd …” She crossed her eyes and pretended to choke. “I am about this close to puking!”

“Muffin Dear,” Vosraque croons, “they can’t see how close you mean. They can’t see your hands.”

“Muffin Dear?”

“Come on you two,” the male head, to the left of Vosraque said. “You’re going to leave them with the wrong impression.”

“What? That my mate has no class, no backbone, and you have no sense of humor?” Tum turned to me, then Omega, and back to me. She appeared puzzled. “Speaking of no sense of humor … What is with you two?”

Square food (a brief glimpse into the future)

Omega shoves a bite of saloosa into her mouth, then takes her fork, as she always has, and squares up the remaining food on her plate while she chews. I’ve sat here through a million meals watching her do this. I’ve never said anything, never asked or commented, but all of a sudden I have an urge to say, does it taste better? I won’t though. Obviously changing the shape of the food on your plate is not going to alter the flavor. Why ask a stupid question when you already know the answer? Because it’s humorous? And it would make her smile? Have I ever said anything that brought a smile to her lips?

She takes another bite, then makes a minor adjustment to the vegetables on her plate. I’d probably be accused of being unhelpful if I were to say something stupid, even something as contrived as:

“Harp once told me that square food isn’t as good for you as round.”

Omega looks up from her plate.

“He said it tastes better square, but it loses some of its vitamins,” I add.

“He said that?”

“No, I just made it up.”

She scrunches her brow, and cocks her head. “What?”

“I’m just trying to be unhelpful.”

“Why?”

“Like Tum.”

“The hologram?”

I shrug. “She was being humorous, you know?”

“Z, holograms are different than us.”

“Well, I know that. They have a sense of humor.”

“They are interesting to watch because they resemble people. But I find it hard to believe that the people they’re fashioned after behaved anything like they do. What Tum refers to as humor is really pointless nonsense.”

“Well then, what is humor?”

“Things that make you happy, I suppose.”

“Maybe pointless nonsense makes her happy.”

“This table and chairs would probably be laughing right now if they could,” she says.

I smile.

“What?” She throws her hands up.

I laugh.

“Why are you so happy?”

“What you said.”

“What I said?”

“The table and chairs … You were being humorous, weren’t you?”

Omega lets out an exasperated sigh. “I’m going to take my nap.”

Blackmail

I have fairly simple tastes; I like oatmeal with raisins. Not the quick-oats though; I can’t stand that grimy slop. I like my oats with a dash of butter and lightly sweetened with maple syrup. But don’t ever dump Log Cabin or Aunt Jemima on my cereal. That crap messes my mind up. I sometimes fix myself eggs for breakfast. Very simple. Just two eggs over medium, fried in butter, a dash of salt. And for lunch, beans, like a bean soup. Simple, except I want Cheez-its with my beans, and I have a certain bowl I prefer to use when eating beans—my bean-bowl. It’s like those old diner bowls, the ones that had the buffalo on the bottom—heavy, thick sides, diner-white. Remember those? They matched the coffee mugs that the same restaurants used. I loved those mugs.

The other day, I cooked up a big pot of great northern beans. I minced some garlic, chopped a large onion, threw in a healthy dose of cumin, a little olive oil (my meat substitute)—

So, I’m sitting at the kitchen table, about to eat my beans and Cheez-its, when out of the blue I hear: “I know you’re planning to have an affair with a married woman.”

I jump halfway out of my chair, grab hold of the table, and gape at the bowl. “Did you say something?”

“Don’t play all blinky-eyed innocent with me. You heard what I said,” the bowl replies.

My jaw drops. I gaze intently at my bowl for a long, crazy moment, as though it might up and dance off the edge of the table. It just sits there, though—quietly, like a bowl of beans. And then it hits me: A joke! It’s a joke. I twist around, looking first over one shoulder, then the other. There’s no one there. I rub my chin, thinking something is not right here. I mean, I’ve told no one about my secret, except of course my sugar dumplin. Well, yes she’s married—it’s complicated. But, the thing is, she’s the only other person in the world that knows of our plan.

What is going on here?” I say.

“Nothing is going on here‘” the bowl says, “but I can tell you exactly where it will be going on, and when… and her husband’s cell phone number, which I’d be willing to share, at no additional costs.”

“What the…? You gotta be kidding!”

“Do you want it,” the bowl says, “to perhaps check in, make certain everything’s cool with the man?”

I see my face reflected back to me from the side of the toaster sitting a foot beyond my bowl—a distorted jungle of flesh with eyes, peering back—a confused, Scooby Doo kind of face. “Huh?”

“Hu…uh?” The bowl mocks.

“What is this?!” I glare at the bowl—my eyes emitting microwaves.

“An opportunity,” the bowl says.

“How so?”

“We both gain something from the deal.”

I raise an eyebrow. “The deal?”

Except for a single Cheez-it floating in the middle, the bowl of beans is expressionless. “Yeah, I make a few bucks, you get a few fu—”

“Why, you despicable bowl of…”

“Oh, Mr. Rodgers, Mr. Epitome of chastity—”

“What do you want from me?!”

“For a mere hundred dollars” the bowl says, “I won’t spill the beans.”

What choice do I have? What? I mean, this could very well spin out of control. It could explode into a Monica Lewinsky kind of thing. A big, ugly, humiliating international scandal. And my poor honey muffin; she’d naturally assume it was my fault. What a mess. Yes. No, no… no choice at all. I pay up—though that kind of cash is admittedly hard for an author to scratch together at a moment’s notice, like all of a sudden I have arthritis in the fingers grasping the bills. Nonetheless, I give my backstabbing, double-crossing bean bowl the hush money.

I take a moment to allow it all to settle, draw a few breaths, pick up my spoon—can I trust it? it seems all right—then shovel some beans into my mouth.