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November 21, 2004 - Talking emus, the Harry Stephen Keeler Society, and flocking penguins...

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Book Wrangler

Sunday, November 21, 2004

By Bob Patterson


The Nanowrimo.org website is a club house meeting place for writers who are encouraged to use the month of November to write a novel.  The Nanowrimo participants have message boards, and local meetings in the big cities, and use the dynamics of a group’s camaraderie to provide encouragement and support to inspire each member to continue with their own individual projects.  


For this and the previous two Novembers, I’ve been a stealth participant.  I lurk in the fringe and provide my own motivation for churning out my daily quota of keystrokes. 


As a columnist, who wants to use the Book Wrangler feature of Just Above Sunset online magazine to help attract a larger literary audience to our e-publication, the opportunity to get to a Nanowrimo group meeting in the Santa Monica Main Street area seemed like a chance to get some new and interesting topics and perhaps get a few more folks to add to the roster of regular readers. 


(Note: after a period of “dead heat” competition, the Brits seem to be pulling ahead of Oz in the circulation numbers.  So you Aussie regulars should send our home page URL to your literary mates because you don’t want to be out done by Londoners, do you?)


The Novel Café has been a combination coffee house/tea room/used bookstore for some time.  These days the cyber-beatniks all have portable notebook computers and the time-honored cliché about a smoke filled room is no longer applicable.  When I arrived, on Sunday afternoon, November 14, 2004, most of the tables were occupied by artistic looking people working on laptops. 


At the duly appointed hour, the Los Angeles coordinator Elizabeth showed up and began to plug one of those serge protector multiple electric outlet things into a wall socket.  For those with a penchant for metaphors, the surge protector made me think it was an e-writer’s version of “Excalibur.”  Use one to create dragons and then verbally slay them.  Her computer looked like a combination of a keyboard and a black rubber doormat.  It was very thin, flat, and flexible.  She had a cell phone type thingie that plugged in to the keyboard.  I’m not a computer genius so all this technological innovation overwhelmed me.  When I turn on the computer to start writing, I think of it as “sitting down at the typewriter.”  This e-beatnik phase is all new to me.


I was hoping for a lively discussion with thought provoking concepts that would pepper this column with items that could provide “Eureka!” time for some folks doing some specialized Google prospecting in the future. 


Brandon came along and there were some introductions and some infield chatter type banter.


I was born in Pennsylvania but had never stopped to wonder is the Keystone state’s Amish community the remnants of founder William Penn’s original group of Quakers - or is that two different groups?


Brandon said his November project was in the “crumbs in the butter” genre.  He explained that meant it was mostly devoted to highly literary discussions of trivial matters. 


Next a young lady called Curio came along.  Her novel includes talking emus and her current dilemma was finding out if penguins flock.  I informed her that most of the penguins I know were very enthusiastic about Christmas traditions and quite a few of them, whose homes I have visited, flock the tree at Christmas.  That brought up another question:  Why are polar bears only at the North Pole and penguins only at the South Pole?  Was there a coin toss like at the start of a football game?  Who won?  Who lost?  Are polar bears a more logical choice for defending Santa’s home and elf factory?


The three regulars talked about the postings on the site’s chat boards.  One of the aspects of the Nanowrimo site is that challenges will be put up, such as a dare to work ninja monkeys into your novel, and the various members try to incorporate the newest invitation to innovation into their narrative thread. 


I mentioned that NPR had recently done a story about a fellow who was well known for the various incongruous twists and turns his work contained.  I had to promise to track down his name and include it in this column, because it sounded like that cult author could easily become the patron saint for the Naniwrimo regulars who accept all the challenges with enthusiasm.


Harry Stephen Keeler was the culprit.  It took a while to find it among my old book marks, but the web site for The Harry Stephen Keeler Society is still active with several interesting pages, including a “write like Keeler” contest and a random Keeler plot generator(If you go to that particular page, hit the reload button several times and read the various versions to see just how clever it is.)


The three intrepid keystrokers plunged into their task and I scribbled a few pertinent observations into my official Ampad 4 X 8 Reporters Notebook.  (It continues to work event during a power blackout!)  I flipped it shut, and put it into my back pocket and bid them farewell before disappearing (Lamont Cranston style) into the Los Angeles night.  (Who knows if my novel will be about a hard-boiled “tinsel town” detective in the Philip Marlowe manner?  The Shadow knows!)


Looking for stocking stuffers for a book type person?  How about these suggestions?


Radical Times by Maureen Slattery ($4.95 Barnes & Noble Books) - It’s about time someone did a collection of Sixties quotes.  It’s a groovy book.


Batman Knightfall, Part One: Broken Bat by Dennis O’Neil ($17.95 DC Comics) - The evolution of comic books into a serious bit of literature continues with this novel that is based on the famous comic book characters.


Lawyers: Jokes, Quotes, and Anecdotes by Patrick Regan ($9.95 Andrews McMeel Publishers) - Are you legal liable if you give this book to your favorite attorney and he or she doesn’t laugh or at least chuckle?  Don’t look at me.  I’m not going to dispense any opinions on that complicated question for free.


The Secret Societies Handbook by Michael Bradley ($7.98 Barnes & Nobel Books) -  We could tell you what this book is about but then we’d have to quote a line Tom Cruise delivered in the movie Top Gun.


Baseball and Philosophy Edited by Eric Bronson ($17.95 Open Court) - Okay, Boston beat the Yankees this year.  We admit that.  Is there some great cultural significance to that?  All this time, we though: “it’s just a game.”


The Case of the 16 Beans by Harry Stephen Keeler ($22.95 Kessinger Publishing) - Keeler lives again thanks to this re-publication. 


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

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