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Friday, June 30, 2017

"Dark Side of the Museum" Found an Ending

I think Dark Side of the Museum is finished. I need to have the patience now to let it sit and then reread it. I started this novel over a year ago, although the idea had been percolating longer than that. I don't know how to categorize it other than a good read (I hope). It has a pinch of paranormal and a dash of time travel. The result seems to me deliciously outrageous. The set up is pretty simple and engaging. Engaging, well that's for you to judge. Here's the first chapter. I'm looking for beta readers if anyone is interested.

Edgar Makes a Discovery and Gets Fired.

I was on my way to report the extraordinary X-ray finding to the chief conservator when I encountered her in the hallway waddling like a penguin toward me in her daily dress of black pants, white blouse, black vest. Stella said, "Ah, Edgar, we need to talk."

I could have told her about the discovery as we walked back to the windowless bowels of the art museum where 93 percent of the collection was stored, a vast majority of which would never been seen by any visitor. I wondered what we NEEDED to talk about. I haven't done anything wrong. I'm polite to the curators. I get on well with them, even Beatrice. Just saying her name is like pulling a pin from a grenade and looking at the thing in your hand. And I get along well with my fellow conservators, except for Nina, that little bitch in the painting department. I glanced sideways at my boss, but her face showed only the slight smile she always wore that kept you guessing. Is she pleased or deeply upset? Her hair, probably dyed black, hung straight to the top of her shoulders and always looked as if grease needed to be shampooed vigorously from its sticky strands.

I kept quiet, sitting in front of her desk as she settled into her own chair adjusting the multiple knobs it offered to ergonomically match her short, dough-girl frame.

"We're going to have to let you go," Stella said, the slight smile showing no uneasiness with having to impart this piece of news. "The cutbacks, you know. Layoffs affecting all departments even, I hear, one of the curators. Full month's notice. Irma in HR will give you the details on your severance package, how to file for unemployment, COBRA insurance and all that. With your credentials, I'm sure you'll find something else soon. You're young. How's the Gould coming along?"

"Fine, fine. X-rays almost all done. Well, thanks."

And I left asking myself: Why me? I'm the only furniture conservator they have. And having just turned thirty-five I didn't feel young. Dejection started to slump my shoulders, but remembering what waited for me back in the lab made my step more brisk. I retrieved the one X-ray that had so excited me, putting it in my briefcase before anyone else could see it.

At 5 o'clock I walked to security where I opened the briefcase for the guard to peer inside. The X-ray elicited no interest. Work being taken home. At my apartment in the old brownstone near the museum, I stuck the film under the light table to examine the anomaly again.

A year ago, the Museum had acquired a Nathaniel Gould chest-on-chest. The massive, though elegant, wooden thing now sat in the lab for examination, cleaning, and, if needed, restoration. The 91-inch tall piece—when the top part was put on the bottom part—now sat in its two separate sections. I had started my work by X-raying the piece so I might see any hidden cracks, inspect joints, and espy the presence of nails.

Its top featured three finials—knob-like extension spires that began as rectangles of wood sitting on which was a round piece that became a kind of upside down toy top. The X-ray of the right finial seemed to show a box-like object within its rectangular base. Some kind of metal was blocking the view so I had headed to tell the news to Stella.

Now, I'll find out for myself—and alone—what's inside that cube of wood.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

My Love/Hate Affair with Ernest Hemingway.

Well, hate is a bit strong. More like disappointment. I first read Hemingway as many young folks do in college. Not for assignment. And here was prose that was direct, fresh, sincere, and connected with me. So you want to write you start to imitate. Not a bad thing to do. You learn how sentence rhythms can be created. The Southern writer Reynolds Price (A Long and Happy Life; The Names and Faces of Heroes) was a visiting lecturer and as part of being in the creative writing course we were given a one-on-one with him. I didn't have much to show, just some prose poems, which he pronounced were "lovely."

One began: "The snows came in March and it was unfair because that same morning there had been the smell of spring in the air." Yep, that's pretty Hemingwayesque. But it's not a bad way to begin to find one's own writing voice. I digress.

Hemingway became a caricature of himself. And then his later prose became a caricature of his early prose. His late work Across the River and Into the Trees, deserved the ridicule it received through E.B. White's satire "Across the Street and Into the Grill" in The New Yorker.

You read Across the River today and groan: "I could learn it really well, he thought, and then I'd have that." Oh, Lord, please. And "Keep it clean, he said to himself. And love your girl." Jezz, really?

And yet. And yet. On one of the most emotional evenings of my life I turned to that book for a kind of solace. I had learned my father had died of a heart attack and the next day I would drive to Hutchinson. I reread Across the River and underlined passages. Today, almost 50 years later, I still have that book in my library.

Until the other day, the last Hemingway novel I had read was Islands in the Stream, published posthumously. I thought it pretty awful. Didn't connect at all. So when I read about another novel to be published posthumously I didn't bother, which was quite some time ago: 1986.

Wandering through an estate sale I came across The Garden of Eden, by Ernest Hemingway and it caught my eye because I was unfamiliar with that title. Looking through it, I realized it was the posthumous publication, so I bought it.

I'm just one chapter into it, but it was like meeting up again with an old friend. Here was early Hemingway prose: fresh, sincere, and it connected with me. I don't know how the rest of the book will go, but it's been a great joy so far to reconnect with my younger self and Ernest Hemingway in this odd way.