No need to jump, part two

I have found a way to work my latest story idea into a long-standing unfinished novel that has been brewing for roughly thirty years. The main character, Roger Sorenson, will be the poisoning victim I mentioned in my last post. The story begins with his death and the beginning of the police investigation. It then jumps backward in time to the beginning of his relationship with Rose Gardner, his ex-wife who is a suspect in his murder.

Ernest Gardner had nothing in his life but his business and his family, and long ago he combined the two into one. His wife is long-gone, but all three of his daughters—Rose, Lily, and Violet—work at his florist shop. (Those names may be too cute, but for the time being they will work as place-holders.) Ernest’s florist shop is no small business at one end of a strip mall, ordering produce from chain suppliers. The shop occupies most of a city block, complete with greenhouses, showrooms, and office space. Ernest inherited the business before he was married, and his daughters have grown up with the business. Violet is still in school, but she works in the shop evenings and weekends. Lily is a full-time worker in the greenhouses. Rose, the eldest, has taken business classes and earned a degree; she is the company bookkeeper for Ernest’s shop.

For several years, Ernest has hired a student or two from the university across town to assist in the office with clerical work. He has never hinted this thought to any of his clerks or to any of his daughters, but at the back of his mind Ernest is always hoping to create a match. He would like to find a husband for his daughters, an educated man, but a man willing to take an interest in the family business. Rose is old enough and set in her ways; Ernest doubts at this point that any romantic match will come her way. Lily and Violet seem more eligible matches for the young men Ernest hires. Rose is strong-willed, firm in her opinions, and confident in her abilities. (Shakespeare may have helped a tiny bit to invent this character and her situation.)

Roger Sorenson is this year’s clerk. He is finishing his classwork to earn a doctorate in Philosophy. He has already begun contemplating the topic of his thesis. Most of his mind is focused on his schoolwork, but he appreciates the extra income from the clerk’s position. Moreover, Roger is a quick learner. In a few weeks he learned the basic tasks in the florist business; not only can he handle office paperwork, but he is also capable of serving in the shop, waiting on customers.

One day, when Roger and Rose are in the shop, a man enters and attempts an armed robbery. Roger heroically protects Rose from harm and disarms the robber, but not before Roger is injured. (I have fantasized this event in many ways over the years; the details will not be hard to write.) Because all his family is out of town, Roger is welcomed into the Gardner household to continue his recovery once he is released from the hospital. Rose is at his side as often as her schedule allows. Romance and marriage will follow.

Since Roger is studying philosophy, he will have many opportunities during his convalescence to explain the workings of philosophy to a skeptical Rose. To show the value of his discipline, Roger will begin with aesthetics—the question of what things are beautiful, and why. Rose must analyze flowers and flower arrangements according to structured thought rather than intuitive design. From that beginning, Rose will also learn about ethics and finally about the eternal questions regarding the universe—what is real, and how do we know? These questions become increasingly important as the accused robber and his friends present a version of what happened that fateful day in the shop which is dramatically different from the event as Roger and Rose remember it.

A jury hears the evidence, including the conflicting testimony, and it convicts the robber of attempted murder. He spends the next several years in prison, learning from his fellow prisoners about crime, making connections with other members of the local criminal community. His release from prison happens only a few weeks before Roger receives the package of poisoned candy. By this time, Roger and Rose have been married and divorced. Did she send him the candy, or was she framed by the man who once threatened her with a gun? Will the truth ever be found?

This story permits the insertion of various explanations of philosophy and its applications to contemporary life. One version or another of this book has been in my mind for many years. Like me, Roger Sorenson is a Christian, a fan of Kierkegaard, and an avid reader of western civilization’s classic works. Can he share this passion with Rose, or will the Great Thoughts be the nemesis of their relationship? J.

Advice followed

I mentioned a few days ago that the characters in the story I’m writing were trying to change their names. I can now report that Frank has indeed become Larry, although Charlie has remained Charlie. Laura has been the most active in shaping the story. Although she toyed with Carol for a while, she eventually settled upon Crystal. That itself created a new element in the plot that I had not expected. I think the three of them are going to keep the names they now have.

Once she clarified her name, Crystal did what I thought Carol would do: she told me that her hair is long, straight, and dark brown, not short and auburn as I had first envisioned. She also changed her eye color from bluish gray to dark brown—sometimes melancholy, sometimes gentle, and sometimes twinkling with humor.

Crystal also made me borrow a conversation from a novel I had imagined and outlined but never got around to writing. By bringing this conversation into the story, Crystal has forced a certain ending upon me. I had no idea when I started writing how the story would end, but now I know.

The story of Crystal, Charlie, and Larry has grown beyond a short story. The first draft has surpassed 12,000 words and will probably reach about 15,000 words. I thought this might make it a novella, but it is still too short to be a novella. (Two of the most famous novellas in the English language are Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea and John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Both are more than 25,000 words but fewer than 30,000 words.) Instead, my work is going to fall into the category of novelette. Many novelettes have been written—awards are even given for “best novelette of the year”—but none of them is as famous as many short stories or many novellas.

Of course my still-untitled novelette will require several stages of rewriting, including one after having been set aside for a few weeks. When and where and how I publish it is undetermined. Since the story has a Christian theme, perhaps I should see if anyone offers a prize for Best Christian Novelette. WE shall wait and see what happens. J.

Seeking advice

I need advice from those of you who are writers (maybe from those of you who are readers too). I’m five thousand words into a story that’s been dwelling in my mind for months if not years. I very carefully chose names for the main characters: Frank, Laura, and Charlie. Yet as I’m pausing to think of the next line before I type it, I frequently think of Frank as Larry, and I frequently think of Laura as Carol. Should I stay with the names I chose, or should I change Frank to Larry, change Laura to Carol, and maybe change Charlie to Wally or something like that?

Your opinion matters. J.