The Novelist by L. L. Barkat

tea2Concise? Even the word concise is too long to describe this novella –but only at first glance. Coming in at a mere one hundred pages a reader can handle this during an afternoon tea. And some might do just that. Read it. Drink tea. Move on. The English teacher in me couldn’t do that.

At first read I kept growling because the main character just wasn’t delivering for me. She wasn’t writing the novel a fellow Twitter acquaintance had challenged her to write. All she managed to type was “The End” and then freaked out. She dances around it so many ways that for a bit you get nauseous. She infuriates you with her choice of men to the point of wanting to reach into the fibers of the paper and thrash her into some semblance of self-respect. Then there is the on-going search for the elusive tea basket which only serves to remind you of things you have misplaced and yet to find. And let’s not forget the influx of family and their stories. Or the poetry and I am an English teacher but some of this poetry is far beyond my synapses to process. To top it off she tosses in a bunch of well-known authors, some of which you have read and some of which you know you should have read but haven’t, all sharing tidbits of advice. All of which only serves to feed her doubts about being able to write the damn novel in the first place.

When I finished the first read I simply put the book down and was ready to move on. I had three more books ready for my attention. But the cover stayed open. I had bent it around the book as I read and now it just didn’t want to close. My mind couldn’t close it off either. I was just so unsatisfied and I knew I was missing something. So I dove back in. This time with my colored pens. It’s what we English teachers do, color coordinate things. One color for all the authors mentioned and their advice; one for Geoffrey the pompous “boyfriend”; one for anything tea related; one for family; one for poetry; and one for her doubts. There were less than five pages unmarked and that was because they were end of chapter pages with next to nothing on them.

Finishing the subsequent reads I was mesmerized. How the hell did she fit all that into one hundred pages. Not only that but the weaving and intricacies of meshing those stories together to YES end up with a novella that could very well turn into many novels. I don’t want to read the one about Geoffery. First I just had to call him Jeff all the way through because he pissed me off so. Second, she deserved so much better in the way of a relationship. Really, 28 motel rooms? In two years? Bite me! As for the tea and poetry my tastes are not refined enough. I love tea and know what I like and don’t and imagine having no trouble experimenting with more flavors but that would be a learning process I wouldn’t mind. The poetry was just like the tea. Some of it was right up my alley and some was way beyond where my passport credentials could take me. A sestina? I can’t back down from that and I wasn’t even the one challenged with it but I can see it being on the to do list for summer. And the family stories were delightful and terrifying but real as they come.

But the part I really want to share with you (in case you aren’t compelled to read this novella multiple times for yourself) is some of the interplay of author advice and writer doubt. See if you can find anything useful in the author advice or yourself in the writer doubts.

Writer Doubt: A novelist would remember these things.

Author Advice: “Being a writer is like having an insatiable parasite inside you.” Thomas Wolfe

Writer Doubt: Her laptop was plugged in, though, and the Word file was still open on the desktop—a single page of a novel she had never started, with the words “The End” typed smack in its center. As she sank to the floor, she managed a laugh. “The End”. They‘d think it was a suicide note, wouldn’t they?

Author Advice: “Pull your chair to the edge of the precipice and I will tell you a story.” F. Scott Fitzgerald

Writer Doubt: Laura did not like heights, or precipices, or conflicts. This felt ridiculously problematic.

Author Advice: Writing stories is an exercise in freedom and quarreling. Mario Vargas Llosa

Writer Doubt: Writing like Pynchon was an option. (Not trusting her own voice)

Author Advice: The main character must be booted through the doorway, into “the great unknown “ or the novel would get boring. James Scott Bell

Writer Doubt: It had probably been a mistake to start her relationship with Geoffrey via a sestina. Yeah that was the problem in that relationship; a sestina!

Author Advice: Stories have the power to make things present; make it possible for a person to look at things never looked at. Tim O’Brien

Writer Doubt: If she was going to write a novel, she felt defeated before she began, because someone might be coming along to pick it apart, looking for symbols.

tea

There are many more for you to discover as you read this magnificent novella that will exercise your brain as if it were a series of interlinking novels. Don’t let it sneak up on you like it did me. You have been warned, there is a lot of material packed like loose tea leaves for a long journey; physical sustenance and good for the soul.

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Prompt 2: 9/2/12 Canopy

It isn’t too much. If you look closely you can see it plain as the back of your eyelids. Standing in the heart of the house, large rooms to the north, south, east, and west of her she could see through the screen door to heaven. It had taken a long time to get here and she often took stock in the price and loss it took to acquire this smidge of nirvana.

Presently she was stinted in the heart of her house glancing to the left at the library and all the books, the over-stuffed chairs and worn leather couches with their nail head trim.  On the walls, photos of her hometown in earlier days when it was calm and peaceful and undisturbed. The fireplace was unlit and had been for months, yet the logs emitted a southern pine scent that welcomed you to come in and lose yourself in the comfort of the room and the sanctity of the words found in the bindings on the shelves. Had she read them all? No. Did she want to? At one time, yes. If only she could find someone to pay her to read; that’s the ticket.

One small turn to the right and there was the dining room, large and warm, where family met often for food and fellowship of exchanging and updating information about their daily lives. It was here that she enjoyed watching babies grow and grapple with who they were going to become–unhindered by the dark history that was her past. The table large and solid always had room for more; many adoptees brought in to the fold, drawn in by the comfort of the circle ensconcing the related ones. The pictures on these walls were of churches; German churches, southern churches, mountain one room chapels. She wasn’t a church goer anymore. That part of her life was over long ago. But God remained with her and in everything she did. It was man that ruined religion for her. She knew better than to let man ruin God.

Simmering in the kitchen was raspberry tea. Beckoning her from her morning ritual of thanks for what she had. The kitchen was filled with mismatched dishes, glassware, and coffee mugs though she drank no coffee. The cookie jar was always full of soft frosted molasses cookies. Fresh fruit and fresh vegetables could be found daily for she grew proficiently and traded neighborly. There was always something baking and new recipes to try and willing guinea pigs for taste testing. There was a small table off the back porch that she often had her morning breakfast or noonday meal.

In the back corner of the first floor was her bedroom and bathroom;  large and comfortable to suit her needs. Windows on both sides and shuttered under the canopy of aged water and live oaks with their dangling moss tendrils. The house seemed to have been snuck in under these trees and they belonged together. A large farmhouse door was put in by her son so she could enjoy the porch outside her room and her favorite rocking chair was out there. Often at night you could hear the creak of either the chair or the porch boards. You had to really listen to know the difference.

The front room was used for sewing, knitting, jewelry making, writing, tv watching, or visiting. The window seat was her favorite place; she could snoop on the approachers before they saw her. Sometimes she had time to hide from the encroachers before they got over the small bridge and through the front gate. A week didn’t go by that she didn’t catch herself dreaming about switching out the bridge for a cattle crossing with a remote control allowing her to draw the pipes back into the left and right side of the land when the encroachers arrived at the creek crossing that ran in front of her home. Such a simple joy that would be. The encroachers were always car riders; never truck people. Truck people never bothered or pestered her; they just were not the type.

The stairs behind her were not wimpy stairs; they were stocky stairs built for real people. Under the stairs was the communal bathroom. At the top of the stairs was a large landing with even more books and a second window seat where the granddivas and granddukes loved to cuddle up with books and crayons and trucks and dolls. Lining the walls up the stairs were photos after photos of the her son and his wife and their children. Four more bedrooms and two more bathrooms could be found on the second floor and it was usually here that a grandchild would ‘run away’ too.

But as she carried her raspberry tea and ambled toward the front screen door it was that front porch that finished the dream she had always had of her home. It was wide and long, wrapping around both sides to take full advantage of the seasons or mood of the owner as it were. And as she sat with her tea, the dog at her feet, she looked down the canopy treed road and counted her blessings for her home and the land that had been hers for so long she couldn’t begin to imagine who she would be without it.