Monday, September 3, 2012

Animal Cracker, the Novel - sneak preview

Here's a first look at my unpublished (copyrighted) novel, Animal Cracker. If you like it, I'd be thrilled with a comment here and/or a retweet. Thanks and enjoy! And if you're not already, please follow me on Twitter.

Chapter One

I was sitting in my new boss’s office at the Animal Protection Agency, a twelve-site animal shelter organization, for our weekly supervisory meeting, surrounded by the entire contents of the Critter World catalogue. Pens shaped like goldfish littered his desk; a collection of mugs featuring a zoo’s worth of animals awaited their morning coffee on his credenza.

“So tell me, Diane, what are your dreams? For your life I mean.”

Hal leaned back in his chair and folded his arms behind his head.

I was twenty-five years old. I had more dreams than Don Quixote – yes, I was an English major - including saving every sad-eyed pup, paying off my student loans without selling my soul, and cuddling with a man-shaped specimen of the human species. I wasn’t about to confess any of this to my new boss.

“Well, I…”

“Diane, my dream is for a world that has respect for every living creature, from the lowliest field mouse to the majestic elk on the plain.” He paused, knitting his eyebrows. “No, wait, not respect. Make that reverence. Yeah, reverence for all God’s creatures. What do you say to that, Diane?”

“Hal, that’s a dream I can really get behind.”

“I knew we shared a vision the minute I met you. You have a passion and intelligence that fits right in here.”

So far, I was killing it.

“Now, about this press release,” he said, pointing to the document I’d handed him. “You need to blump it up.”

Blump? I made a mental note to google it later. Conjectured definition - to expand upon. Origin: from the Latin blumpere, to swell.

As he smiled like Mr. Universe, the sound of dogs barked from Hal’s well-tailored pocket. He reached in and withdrew his phone. I could hear squawking, then Hal.

“Joyce, we already discussed this, and I told you….”

More squawking, Hal drumming his hands on the table. After some eye-rolling and sputtering, he hung up.

“My wife. She’s a Harvard professor, a biologist who’s written extensively about the role of animals in our ecosystems. You may have heard of her. Joyce Carter?”

Hal was married to Joyce Carter? The Spider Woman?

Joyce Carter had been an obscure zoology professor specializing in arachnids of the American Southwest when she’d been tapped to host a public television show called Creepy- Crawlies and Friends. Boston’s Saturday morning TV screens are slithering with spiders and Joyce Carter.

“She’s a very impressive woman,” I kissed up.

“Got that right.” He leaned towards me. “I respect women, Diane. And I like to see them reach their highest potential.”

He paused. “You know, I’m a writer too.” His chest blumped up.

“You mean like articles on animal rights?”

“No, something else entirely. I’m working on a screenplay. Lots of folks gonna be mighty uncomfortable when this baby gets out there.”

He was gonna blow the lid off the animal shelter world?

“What’s it about?”

Again, he leaned forward and in a mock stage whisper informed me, “It’s about some evil goings-on at that famous university in town. I can’t tell you any more than that, except that those hoity snot-noses over there ain’t gonna like it. Not one bit.”

Hal’s face was nearly flawless, piercing blue eyes, firm chin, all topped by wavy dark hair and arranged in perfect symmetry save for the lines etched up and down and across his forehead in a sort of plaid pattern. He wore his love of animals on his sleeve and around his neck. That day’s tie, setting off his Brad Pitt-handsome face, featured raccoons scampering under a cascading waterfall, frolicking on an umbrella-decked beach, and, I’m not making this up, lobbing tennis balls, dressed in the formal whites of Wimbledon.

“I studied film in college,” I told him. “I mean, not how to make them, but I took a course on contemporary European cinema, and I go to movies all the time.”

Hal stared over my head and I almost turned around to see what creature he might have spied behind me. When he resumed speaking, his voiced had shifted into a sonorous tone, as if he were narrating a PBS wildlife special.

“My personal favorite is “The 400 Blows.” That kid’s bleak childhood, well, um, let’s just say, the movie speaks to me in a very profound way.”

He wiped his eye, and I feared my new boss, whom I hardly knew, would erupt into full-fledged waterworks.

“Oh my God, that’s one of my absolute favorites too. Well, everything Truffaut actually.”

“I’m all for cinematic technique and what not, but y’know, there’s nothing like a good story. Sometimes it can even change your life.” His eyes misted.

“And I’m guessing there’s one that changed yours?”

“Got that right. Late 50’s, Saturday afternoon when the movies cost about a buck.”

“So what was the movie?”

“The movie was none other than” – pregnant pause - “’Old Yeller.’”

“For some reason, I missed that one.”

“Diane, it is just about the most pungent movie ever made.” Did he mean poignant? “It’s about a family and a dog that heals their hearts. You go out and rent it and, guaranteed, you’ll see what I mean. ‘Old Yeller’ is why I’m sitting in this chair today.”

“Well, Hal, I have a movie like that in my background, too. Did you ever see ‘Homeward Bound?’”

He nodded.

“Yeah, “Homeward Bound,” you’re right, that’s another great one.”

He looked at his watch, and, for emphasis, at the chimp clock over the door. I took the hint.

“See you later,” I said, and returned to my office.

Back at my desk to work on the blump-up, having ascertained that there was no such word. So what exactly did he want? Longer? Bouncier? More hyperbolic? I rested my head on my desk for five minutes in an effort to psych myself for the task of turning perfect prose into something possibly less perfect.

And finally, after blumping and plumping, time to go. It had been a tough afternoon. I'd given Hal four versions of the release, each one of them progressively worse, until he'd proclaimed the fifth semi-literate one perfect.