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:

1411905864

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

a stray sheep

It of course sounded unlikely, perhaps even impossible, yet the boys’ father had always lived under a stringent rule of integrity. They had never had cause to doubt him, and being they were so strictly forbidden to go beyond ‘the locked door,’ they had no way of testing his word. What choice did they have, but to have faith and fear the cellar? Hadn’t they, after all, heard on numerous past occasions the curious noises in the night? Wasn’t it likely the noises came from below? From Uncle Lu?

Regardless of the weak bits of rationale he devised in support of his father’s account, Jack suffered from something which could only be interpreted as a doubt—the very thing his father had warned him against—the weakness, the flaw which could someday land him in that terrible void beneath the house—the very thing he struggled to believe in.

***

The days that followed passed without incident. Approaching the middle of summer, the days became warm and dry. The boys rode their bicycles down the sidewalk to a small, city park, not far from their house. They sat in the grass under a shade tree watching a man throwing a Frisbee to his dog.

“Do you remember father talking about Uncle Lu when we were little?”

“Yeah, I think,” Judas said.

“I don’t.” Jack’s eyes drifted down to the clover near his feet. “Well, maybe. But I don’t remember what he said about him. Do you?”

“I remember him once saying that he was crazy, and mean … and he cooked one of his own kids alive.”

“You do not.”

“It was a long time ago, but I remember.”

“Well, why isn’t he in jail then? That’s murder. Or in the crazy hospital?”

“I don’t know. Maybe it was something else he said, but that’s what I remember.”

“And you believe it?”

“If that’s what father said, then yeah.”

“You don’t even know. You believe something you probably just imagined.”

“I don’t know. All I know is, we have a crazy uncle locked up in the cellar. I don’t plan on ever going down there. Do you?”

“But doesn’t it seem odd … I mean, the whole thing. Does father have him chained up or something? And how does he eat? You think father takes food down to him every day?”

“When we’re at school. And at night, when we’re asleep.”

“What about the time we went up north, that funeral? We were gone for—“

“It doesn’t matter! Father says he’s down there. I know he’s down there. Father would never lie.” Judas produced an impatient huff. “We shouldn’t even be talking about him.”

“What about Pucer? What’s that?”

Judas’s eyes jerked back over his shoulder for an instant, and then turned back to his brother. “I’d be very careful saying that if I was you.”

“Pucer Holflapper.” Jack said the name loud enough for the man with the dog to hear. The kids playing on a nearby set of swings might have heard, too, were they listening.

“Sheez, Jack,” Judas whispered, “you’re going to get us both killed. I’m serious.”

“All right, all right.” He looked at his brother and crossed his eyes. “What if I just whispered it? Pucer Dwain Holflapper.”

“Stop it.”

“Shit, Judas, you think he hears every little thing we say? Maybe we’d better not even think Pucer … Oops.” He slapped a hand over his mouth. “Sorry, I said the P word again. When we get home, I’ll gargle with Liquid Plumber. That should fix it, don’t you think?”

Judas pushed himself up from the ground.

“Where’re you going?”

“Home.” He hopped on his bike, and started peddling away. “I don’t want to end up in the cellar with you.”

“But he really can’t hear us here.”

His brother said nothing more, just kept on going.

A few moments later, Jack got to his feet, walked his bike over to the swings and let it fall to the ground. He plopped down in the one and only unoccupied swing, pushed off, then started pumping himself higher and higher.

“Hey.”

He turned toward the swing next to him and only then realized it was his neighbor, Lanny.

“You’re Jack, right?”

“Hi, yeah. I didn’t … I uh …”

“Wasn’t that your brother? Jim? Jake!”

“Judas.”

She began dragging her feet, bringing herself to a stop. “Yeah.” She glanced toward his bicycle lying in the grass, and then at Jack as he swung past. “Don’t you think it’s a bit weird that we live next to each other … and we never talk?”

Jack dug his heels into the sand beneath the swing, slowing down, bringing himself to a stop. Without looking at Lanny, he said, “It wasn’t me, you know? I don’t know why … well, I kinda do. My father didn’t like you guys.”

“You kinda do?”

“I don’t know.” He shook his head. “I guess it was all the cussing.”

“Well, fuck that shit.”

Jack turned. Lanny gave him a smile. “Yeah,” he said, “fuck that shit.”

“I remember your dad used to be kind of mean to you guys.”

He turned. “What?”

“I don’t mean, mean, but I guess … strict, you know?”

Jack swayed from side to side in his swing. “Really?”

“Stricter than most dads.”

He’d tried, in the past, comparing his father to others, but had never arrived at anything conclusive. His opinions kept shifting as his father seemed to shift. “He’s all right, as long as you aren’t bad.” He stopped swaying and kicked at the grass bordering the sand below him.

“Maybe that’s the same as any dad,” she said.

“I’ve met a few I’d gladly trade for.” His eyes became briefly entangled with hers before he managed to pull them away.

“Remember when Frank and I had to apologize for cussing … out on the front porch? Remember?”

“Ohhh … yeah.” He closed his eyes. “I’m sorry about that.”

“It doesn’t matter. That was a long time ago, and it wasn’t your fault.”

“It was stupid.”

She chuckled. “It was.”

“Yeah, well, that’s my father.”

“What’s he do?”

“What’s he do?

“Yeah. What’s he do for a living?”

“I’m not exactly sure.”

She gave him a curious look. “You don’t know what your dad does?”

“Well … he writes.”

“Writes?”

“Books.”

“Story books?”

“No, books, like … I don’t know what kind they are.”

“Oh.” She became quiet, thoughtful, then, “How come you don’t go to the same school as everyone else?”

He searched for a safe, acceptable answer. “I don’t know.” But he did know.

“A friend of mine told me you’re special. I told her I didn’t think so, though.”

“Huh?”

“You’re not, are you?”

“Special?”

“You don’t look like it … or talk like it.”

“What?”

“Well, where do you go to school?”

“Academy for the Past.”

“Oooo… that place is scary.”

“I don’t think it’s scary. My father always said that public schools are scary. This is my last year there, though. The Academy doesn’t take kids past the seventh grade. I’ll have to go to public school then.”

“Is it true, they spank you if you don’t do your homework?”

“Yeah, I guess. But everyone does their homework. They don’t do that in public school?”

“You can sue them for it.”

“Do you like it?”

She turned and gave Jack a twisted face. “Being spanked?”

“No! The school.”

She snorted—“Just kidding.”—then laughed. “It’s OK, I guess. I like some of it, but not all of it. I hate history. I hate Mr. Sadler. Ugh!”

“Well, if I go to public school, maybe I’ll see you there.”

“Maybe you’ll be in my class,” she said. “How old are you?”

“Twelve.”

“Oh, I’m thirteen.  Just had my birthday last week. That means you’ll probably be in the grade behind me.” She gave him a fake frown, followed by a quick, fake smile. “But I might still see you there, anyway. Will you say hi if you see me?”

“Do you want me to?”

“Yeah. I’ll say hi too.”

Jack looked at his watch. “Crap! I gotta go.”

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.