Sunday, April 3, 2011

Joel Clark

Improv Novel
Fiction by Joel Clark

“Joe, look at this book, Improv Novel. It really makes sense. You pretend you are the characters and act out the story. We have this tape recorder to capture everything. It flows like water! Let’s give it a try. We’ll write a novel of the sea, for example!”

Joe and Sam both suffer from writer’s block. They agree to try it right away.

Sam: “Listen, we’ll run down to my uncle’s costume shop, it’s closed, of course, but I’ve got a key ‘cause I help him there sometimes. He won’t mind if we borrow a few period clothes.”

An hour later, the two friends are back in their fourth-floor walk-up and after a refreshing beer, the literary experiment begins.

Sam is dressed like a banker’s son who has wandered onto the gangplank and up to the ship’s deck. Joe wears a rough cotton shirt and flaxen vest, red scarf, headband and scuffed brown shoes with buckles.

Sam: “I’ll start it off. I’m a greenhorn, see, I want to go to sea, Reginald Danderspoon. You be the person on the ship.”

Joe: “Okay, I’ll be...Wait, wait, Reginald Danderspoon? We’re not doing a comedy here, Sam.”

Sam: “Well, it doesn’t matter. Okay, Reggie Sandsprinkle, then.”

Joe: “What? I don’t think anybody was ever, ever, named—”

Sam: “Okay, let’s not get hung up on a silly thing, Reggie...I know, Reggie Blank. Blank means we’ll fill it in later.”

Joe: “I’ll be the guy on the ship. Bosun’s Mate, Billy Budd.”

Sam: “Wait, Joe, Billy Budd’s a famous character, we can’t—”

Joe: “I suppose you’re right. Good name, though. How about Goose Benderbeak?”

Sam: “Goose Benderbeak? Are you trying to get back at me, or something?”

Joe: “No, no, I thought it’d be good. We should have some flavor to the names, just not like Danderspoon...Well, look, make it Goose Blank. Let’s get on with the good parts. Like the book said, the dialog is paramount. We get right into the characters and the book writes itself!”

Sam: “All right, we’re off. Reggie goes up the gangplank, tromp, tromp, carrying a sack with his stuff...Hi, Friend. I want to sign aboard.”

Joe: “Whar you goin’ Pansy? Gat otter har!”

Sam: “Sir, I wish to speak to the captain.”

Joe: “Git yer skinny bones dan back the plank, or I’ll bust ya wid me marlinspike!”

Sam: “Wait, we’re not getting anywhere.”

Joe: “I tole ya’—”

Sam: “No, I’m me now, not Reggie. We’re stuck. How am I going to get the job if you keep kicking me off the ship?”

Joe: “Well, it’s realistic. You go in 1850, try to get a &^^$% job on a ship, we gotta establish these are rough seadogs, ya’know?”

Sam: “All I’m sayin’ is how the &%$%^% is Reggie gonna get on the &^%%$ ship!?”

Joe: “Okay, okay, let’s keep going. The captain comes along, now. Goose says, Skipper, I was jest about t’throw this runt over the side...Wait, we need a captain here.”

Sam: “Hold on, Joe. Why does Goose say we need a captain here? He’s already there.”

Joe: “No, no, I said that part! We need a player to play the part.”

Sam: “I’ll be the captain.”

Joe: “How can you be the captain? You’d be talking to yourself!”

Sam: “Hold one moment. I’ll see if Silvia’s home.”

Unfortunately, Silvia is good-looking, has lots of admirers and doesn’t wish to associate with her nerdy neighbors, Sam and Joe. She doesn’t answer the phone because she has caller ID.

Sam: “No answer, let’s just stop by and knock. We have to keep our momentum, Joe.”

Knock, knock. Silvia sees who it is by looking through the peephole.

“Sam, I don’t have time to play dress-up. I’m sorry your girlfriend left you. It’s because you’re a dork.”

Sam: “It’s not about my girlfriend this time. Joe’s with me.”

Silvia: “Dork one and Dork two. Did you lose your busboy jobs already?”

Joe: “See, we‘re writing a novel. It’s a sea epic.”

Silvia: “I can’t read your &^%$% novel. There are 10 million people in New York who could have been my neighbors. Why did I get you?”

Joe: “It’s to help with the novel. It won’t take long.”

Silvia opens the door.

Sam: “Thanks, Silvia. I thought you weren’t going to let us in.”

Silvia: “I wasn’t, but I just remembered my computer’s locked up. Maybe you can take a look at it.”

Sam: “Listen this won’t take long. We’re doing a very important bit of play-acting, and it’s a new method, a proven method.”

Sam and Joe explain the characters and where their historical action thriller novel has progressed to so far.

Silvia: “Okay, as long as I get my computer fixed. I’ll be Captain Monica Roundstern.”

Joe: “Pretend you’re a man for this part, okay?”

Silvia: “Why can’t it be a woman captain, Mr. Chauvinist?”

Joe: “Not historically accurate.”

Silvia: “I’m not doing it unless it’s a woman.”

Sam: “Okay, okay. Silvia, let’s just keep going. See, you, as the skipper, come walking along the deck, then I get to speak to you. But first we have here a costume. See if this coat will fit.”

Silvia is quickly at home with the brass-buttoned coat and tricorn hat, which she wears with aplomb.

Sylvia: “I need a sash and sword, you know.”

They decide to plunge ahead without that particular.

Sam: “Captain Roundstern, I’m Reggie Blank and I’m looking to sign aboard your ship.”

Silvia: “You’re a mite skinny and too young, boy. Better grow up some before ya think to sail the High Seas!”

Sam: “But Sir—”

Silvia: “Don’t call me sir, you puppy!”

Sam: “Ma’am, I’m sorry. Wait, we don’t want that part.”

Silvia: “Don’t want what part, Laddie?  Air you daft?”

Sam: “No, no, I’m me now. It was my mistake, calling you Sir. Just leave that out, okay? Here, I’ll start again. But Ma’am, I have a letter of introduction from Sir Manfred Cupcake.”

Silvia: “Why didn’t you say so!? We were secret lovers you know, just last year. He called me Gumdrop and I called him Cupcake.”

Joe: “Wait, wouldn’t you keep that quiet?”

Silvia: “Goose, Matey, don’t mention it around the ship, okay? It just slipped out!”

Joe: “No, I’m me now. I mean it’s—the Captain wouldn’t just blab stuff like that.”

Silvia: “Oh, let’s keep going. Young man, climb to the crow’s nest and bring back the spyglass before this minute-glass runs out and you’ve got the job!”

Knock, knock. Silvia lets in her friend, Lizzy.

Silvia: “Hey, Lizzy, come join us. This is fun. You know my nerdy neighbors, right? Listen, we need you to play a part. It’s a new way to write a novel!”

Silvia quickly fills in the details of the novel’s progress and Liz is game to participate.

Silvia: “Lizzy, you play the part of the wife of Sir Manfred Cupcake, Okay? A fine lady. dignified and a powerful figure in London Society.”

Liz: “Sure, I get it. By speaking the parts, the thing takes on a life of its own.”

Silvia puts her hand on Sam’s shoulder.

Silvia: “You’ve got the job, Pip! I’ll call you ‘Pip’, methinks! Stow yer gear and make haste. I want you to go ashore to the livery and get us a cabriolet. I must attend a small function before we sail for the South Seas!”

Silvia outlines the next part: there’s a small social gathering that evening but Lady Cupcake has gotten word of last year’s indiscretion regarding Sir Cupcake and Monica.

Silvia: “Pip, you watch the carriage while I’m at the dinner party. There’s a good lad.”

Silvia sets the scene: a grandiloquent interior, a sumptuous table, a gracious Lady Cupcake (Liz) will greet the captain.

Liz: “Why, it’s Captain Roundstern! How nice to meet you again. I believe you have met my husband—”

Silvia: “Why, it’s a pleasure Lady Cupcake. Hmmm, the name is a little familiar-sounding.”

Liz: “So nice of you to drop by, I hope you have had time to put your affair, I mean your affairs, in order before you set sail. I do hope you don’t sail off the edge of the world and plunge to your death!”

Silvia says they really need to get into high gear. They need a man to be Sir Cupcake, so they all head for a small cafĂ© where she knows the bartender, Jake, who has a British accent and would be perfect for the part. Jake isn’t busy at the bar so he says, “Sure.”

They continue. Before long, Liz has some good ideas involving three beautiful sisters, favorites at the court of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and the dashing young Crimean War hero, Henry Cartier, and some other characters. They have no trouble enlisting the help of several tipsy bar patrons to speak these parts.

Hours later:

Sam: “But, Silvia, Liz, when do we get back to the whaling ship and my character, young Reggie? This was going to be a seafaring novel, you know?”

Silvia: “That’ll be the perfect ending, Sam. Reggie returns two years later and the palace intrigue and the three love triangles will be resolved. That would wrap things up. There’s no room to have him in there any more than that or it’ll be too long. It’s War and Peace length already!”

Sam: “But, Silvia, we never even put out to sea.”

Silvia: “Hey! Gather ‘round everybody, let’s play back the tape. I want to hear this! We’ll just transcribe it and we’ve got a winner!  Play it, Sam!”

Sam: “Well, Okay. I’ll rewind and….”

There is a long pause. Silvia, Lizzy, Joe, Jake, Erma, Nate, Bullnose, Muffin, and a yellow dog lean closer to observe Sam fumbling with the tape player.

Sam: “I…I forgot to start the tape. We didn‘t record anything.”

Sam and Joe hastily leave the bar though it isn’t quite closing time. 

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