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Wednesday, March 28, 2007 07:33 pm

The Great American Novel

Sometimes the best editor is the delete key

Untitled Document THE$5 MAN

Chapter 1, page 1. The Spinster Goode Hatbrow raised pigs instead of children. She . . .
Page 102. The man with all his parts replaced is tethered to Harry Wonder III by feeding tubes. They’ve just escaped Bob Walnut Hospital No. 6, and they’re heading south down Route 55 in a 1992 Dodge Dakota pickup truck that Harry Wonder III had purchased the previous day — from a green fire hydrant he mistook for a leprechaun priest. The escapees are heading to the Orphanage of the Ozarks, run by Books Milan, a defrocked bookie who sells marginal dope and marginal people. The FBI is always not far behind because orphanage bookkeeper Maude Kummer, years ago, confused by the new indoor plumbing, flushed the last of her stamps down the toilet, and so she drew a poor likeness of Abe Lincoln on rough paper, stuck it to the envelope containing Harry’s birth certificate, hoped that it would pass for a stamp, and sent the papers to the county clerk. The postal authorities intercepted the envelope with a picture of something that looked like a frog wearing a stovepipe hat and sent it to the FBI, where J. Edgar Hoover put it in his Communist Frog Conspiracy File. Back at the orphanage, Frankie “Hardscrabble” Ipplemate, the maintenance man, is sharing a joint with his trained chicken. And in the background, always in the background, is the swayback man on the swayback horse.
The $5 Man, the book I’m writing, again is caught in its middle with nowhere to go. I cannot control the characters. I do not know the swayback man. The story will never break free from its middle — unless I swallow some pride and buy editing support. I have enough money in my small bucket of stocks and my savings account and in pension buckets to buy an editor — but that won’t do. I suffer a self-inflicted canon that restricts me to “extra money buckets” for this type of adventure. I have three extra buckets: the gambling-money bucket, the writing-money bucket, and the computer-consulting money bucket. The gambling bucket is at $2,016 — good but not enough. The consulting bucket is dead forever: I am a DOS man in a Vista world. I am trailing-edge man, outdone by 12-year-old nerds with keyboard hands. My own PC endures five minutes of flashing black screens spitting out ominous warnings before starting on its ever-slow way — I suspect it’s because I went around back to “ipconfig” and injected rogue numbers in “alternate IP address.”
The writing-money bucket stands at $2.16, last year’s total royalties, thanks to some befuddled soul who bought one of my incoherent books that mistakenly made it to the Internet. The Five Dollar Man was doomed — but then Google gave me hope. Whatever Google’s secret algorithm is, it seems kind to Illinois Times and to me. We both, sometimes, are included in search results.
It’s a Wednesday, and I’m in a St. Louis restaurant with a man willing to pay for words. One of us is dressed inappropriately: He is a well-coiffed fellow in suit and tie and probably wearing socks. My wardrobe has refined itself into two seasonal piles. The warm-season pile is T-shirts and baggy shorts to the knee; the cold-season pile is sweatshirts and baggy jeans to the floor. It’s still winter, and I am “bagged” to the floor. He is about my age, he owns a company, and he has company rules: He wants me on-site for the work; there’s a dress code on-site; there are specific work hours that will not be violated; there’s a    storyboard — it will be followed. The words I give him will be funny but not as strange as this stuff I wrote and that his son found on the Internet and gave to him. “And another thing . . . ” he started, and then he hesitated and said, “There’s really no reason for another thing is there?”
“Not really,” I answered. “I know people,” he said, “I didn’t get rich not knowing people.”
“You do know people,” I said. And then we talked about baseball, and I left with no new writing-bucket money. I drove back to Springfield, on the same I-55, traveled the other way by the man with all his parts replaced and Harry Wonder III. The swayback man on the swayback horse was is in my rearview mirror — he’s always there, always in the mirror. It is not easy on this Thursday to kill 102 pages it took me an hour here, an hour there over two years to write. But I know that I must delete it all — completely, no backups, no paper, no pieces — lest it leak into my next book and again leave me stranded in the middle and . . . and . . . it’s done! Gone! All deleted! Time to start anew, fresh, unmarked by old thoughts.

Chapter 1. Page 1. The Widow Gertie Capbrow raised hogs instead of children. She . . .  

Contact Doug Bybee Sr. at dougbybee@sbcglobal.net.
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