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It Was Friday 13th Two Years Ago And COVID Was In The Air

In my manuscript, There Was A Time, Oh Pilgrim, When The Stones Were Not So Smooth  I finished a chapter about the ‘elderly Dutchmen party with Alison Alexandra’ on Friday 13th. I took a trip and, on 19th March, began what turned out to be nearly a full year of Pandemic writing.The next chapter of the novel begins “In times of Pandemic, one of Alison Alexandra’s greatest worries is being bored.”

I started planning to write about the Pandemic the day after I heard that China was constructing hospitals solely devoted to COVID patients. I knew then the world was going to be in a lot of trouble. I was proved right.

 This is how that chapter began.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In times of Pandemic, one of Alison Alexandra’s greatest worries is being bored. And though she doesn’t want to test the theory, she believes she would rather be ill than bored.

“I’d step lightly there,” says R/Jane-the-Ghost.

“You would?”

“I would,” says R/Jane-the-Ghost. “And I know what I’m talking about. Yes – I do.”

Within the week of Wuhan City in China being shut down, and the building of emergency hospitals to house the sick, Alison Alexandra knew this would inevitably become the fate of the world. It might have intruded a bit more quickly than she has anticipated, but not by much.

Alison Alexandra of course thinks about the Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times”. But she also knows that this is a phrase in English that has no Chinese equivalent. The closest curse in Chinese is “Better to be a dog in peacetime than a human in time of war”.

“I won’t argue with that,” says R/Jane-the-Ghost.

And she doesn’t.

So, it was at the beginning of the Chinese curse that Alison Alexandra sets her plan into motion. It is simple, though dependent on circumstance.

Alison Alexandra arranges to get those with whom she’d like to share the End Times – if End Times they prove to be – to join her at her house and wait out the famine with a feast or two. Or three.

“I don’t think the End Times are supposed to be good times,” says R/Jane-the-Ghost/

“Not to put too fine a point on it,” says Alison Alexandra. “But aren’t you supposed to know?”

“Point taken,” says R/Jane-the-Ghost.

HM The Queen Graces My Humble Novel – Happy Birthday To Her

HM The Queen is ninety-six years of age, and this year she celebrates the 70th anniversary of her accession to the throne. In my novel, More Famous Than The Queen, I follow the life of ST, so famous he is only known by his initials. One of his friends is the Queen of England. They have the occasional meeting.

Here, written a number of years ago, is an abridged account of one of his meetings with Her Majesty, in the gardens of Buckingham Palace.

I wish her Gracious Majesty the best of the day, and for tomorrow, the top of the morning.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

ST walks half way along the lake without seeing anyone else. He assumes he will quickly be notified when the Monarch is ready to receive him. He knows his progress is being monitored by sensors and security devices.

He slows his pace. He is past the turn in the path, and nearly to the head of the lake. He can not be more obviously present as he stands beside the glistening body of water.

ST absently gazes at the ground in search of a skipping stone. The lake is so narrow, he will have to throw along its length. It seems he won’t get to practice his rusty skills, for the earth is totally absent of suitable stones.  Crushed, white pebbles border the lake. All of the strategically placed rocks are too hefty – some even large enough to sit upon. It is apparent the area is regularly raked.

He pushes his shoe through the pristine arrangement, hunting for an errant rock which might have missed a ground keeper’s eye. Not a particle of dust accumulates on his highly-shined toe.

****************************************

ST’s hunt is futile, and he begins to search in earnest around one of the large rocks. Instead of using his toe, he carefully reaches forward to push the polished pebbles out of the way. He even picks some up, hefting them in his palm.

“Is it your intent to stone our fish?”

ST is so startled he drops the pebbles. He has heard not the slightest sound behind him. He turns with much surprise and shock, prepared to rebuke whichever ground keeper or security person he confronts. His angered preparations are for naught.

“They will prove adept at avoidance.”

“Your Majesty.”

“They have survived many a grandchild.”

ST stares at the small woman, and actually feels a twinge of reverence. They have met before, and had conversations – not just two minutes of “chat” during some reception. Even though ST knows all about the smoke and mirrors employed by fame, there is always something at the core to be obscured and reflected.

A small woman in black, glancing at him while squinting into the sun. It is not who she is, but all the things people believe when they meet. For the first time, he realizes what others may be seeing when they come to look at him.

“Skipping stones, Ma’am.”

“A poor choice here.” She turns from the sun.

****************************

It seems to ST she would like to be alone, but for him to leave in any direction would be acutely apparent. Startled by royalty at the beginning, and offending royalty at the end, is not the way he wants to remember this encounter.

He stands his ground, keeps silent, and watches the small woman’s back, as if he were a faithful yeoman of the guard. Give him a halberd and pike, and he would be the most diligent defender the kingdom has ever seen.

She is staring into the water, which reflects the blue sky and the trailing white clouds. The surface is so calm their reflections sparkle. “Do you know they call this the Queen’s weather?”

“Yes.”

“That seems rather a lot of responsibility to us.” She takes an unhurried look into the sky, then points to a huge swath of blue. “As if we could command such a thing.”

“It’s just as easy to take the credit.”

“Then credit must be taken for the poor weather. To be accorded jurisdiction over fifty percent, demands a responsibility over the other fifty.” She turns and looks directly at ST. “And so much more, beyond our expertise.”

“I understand.”

And although ST does understand, he speaks because he is spoken to. And he does not speak the first words which spring into his head, which would be impertinent.

“You hesitate.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” He has forgotten how perceptive she is.

“Many do.” She is waiting.

“`Heavy is the head that wears the crown’.”

“Our Mr. Shakespeare knew his Royalty.” Her eyes definitely change, ST will swear to it. “Although we suspect he would prefer a correct rendition. `Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown’.”    “Henry IV, Part 2.”

“Are you playing catch-up?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“It is to be commended.”

********************

She glances toward the palace, and then looks into the sky. “In the country, we generally tell time by the sun.” She again walks toward the lake, and stands so close her toes seem to touch the water.

“This conversation must never have taken place.”

“Ma’am. My plan is to make my memoirs a tissue of lies.”

Never Say Never With A FINAL Novel Edit

What it is now:

THERE WAS A TIME, OH PILGRIM, WHEN THE STONES WERE NOT SO SMOOTH

                                   THE END

                                    26 03 2022


566pp     165,669 words

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

What is was earlier this year:

THERE WAS A TIME, OH PILGRIM, WHEN THE STONES WERE NOT SO SMOOTH

                                              THE END

                                                 07 01 2022

595 pp.     174,838 words

A Change of Lifestyle Thanks to a Computer Hack

As far as I know, I clicked on a link to a site about Optical Illusions.

That froze my computer with a screen-sized warning, telling me that I had been hacked, and infected with a Trojan Horse Virus. The warning purported to be from Microsoft, and gave a phone number to call. There was no other avenue to follow, nothing to click on. I was also warned not to turn off the computer. But, with nothing else to do, I turned off the computer.

Two or three minutes later I turned the computer back on and the frozen screen was still there. Since I was not clicking anything on the screen (being unable to do so anyway), I called the number. I have since found out that 805 phone numbers are a favorite of scams.

At any rate, the situation on the other end of the call sounded exactly like the call centers which phone me for the usual scams. A jumble of background noises and voices that sound as if the people are in a huge warehouse. I questioned the authenticity of the situation with the speaker immediately. The proof he offered was for me to hang up and he would call right back. Which, of course, proved nothing.

So, after a couple of minutes of this, I hung up and I turned off the computer. I phoned my computer shop. I was told I was hacked and to bring in the machine.

And thus, three days later, I have a cleansed machine, information about hacks I did not know, and the news that even my computer expert has been hacked (once by going to a story in The Guardian Newspaper). He also told me that had I waited a day, the screen would have unfrozen on its own, but I would not know if something had been downloaded into my computer.

So, here I am, with everything seemingly fine.

But, in those three days with no internet access, I started reading novels again. I picked out two (yes, this is true) from one of those small “Free Library” box/houses where folk can drop off books they have read, and exchange – all free. I took a JohnleCarré novel (one of my favorite writers) which I probably read twenty years ago [Absolute Friends] and a Joanna Trollope novel, an author I have wanted to read for twenty years [Other People’s Children].

I have read 15 pages a day, of each one, since. I will continue after I post this.

Gotta say, it feels good to be back reading novels. And I will restrict my roaming time in the internet.

Will The Future Be Different If You Turn Over A New Leaf?

Alison Alexandra sometimes thinks of turning over a new leaf. Sometimes at the most traditional of times, like at New Year or her birthday or under a full moon or when the tide is at its highest.

But then she remembers that well into her preteen years she thought the expression to turn over a new leaf meant reaching into the branches of a tree and flipping her wrist (somewhat like Amanda does when cutting cards) and when she found out the flip flip flipping concerned paper pages she was so bored she never did it.

 No, not once.

And anyway, why would she overturn anything in some sort of orderly fashion when she pell-mell turns things over at the very time they seem that they need to be overturned and not a minute or an hour or a full moon or one leaf later?

 That now is indeed now is, indeed, now and as she daily finds out from her windows or cliffs overlooking the ocean; tide and time await no Alison Alexandra. So she will not wait for them.

Franz Kafka Greets February, The Shortest Month Of The Year, With No Enthusiasm

I post this again because folk are looking it up again. Always try to keep your readers happy.

In Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the ‘missing’ diary entries from Kafka’s real diary. He either did not fill in these days himself, or he destroyed them. There are some estimates that Kafka destroyed 70% – 80% of everything he wrote.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

01 February 1917February,year,month,Kafka,Kafka In The Castle,novel,diary,writer,author.history,

A particularly tedious day at the office, which stretched like a bridge over an abyss.

Perhaps to mock yesterday’s comments – the month so short and the day so long.

I am sometimes afraid of the white, and sometimes of the black, but my deepest horror is for the destroying grey of life.

When it is grey and senseless, it starves your feelings of oxygen, and then you really and truly die.

It is said that Jesus raised the dead (though I never understood why), and our own Prague rabbi created the Golem to help out in this world.

All I can do is scratch ink upon the page.

The Marvel And Surprise Of A Severe Edit On A Novel Manuscript

I am about two thirds through editing my ‘five-years-to-write’ novel. It is called “There Was A Time, Oh Pilgrim, When The Stones Were Not So Smooth. I doubt I will get to keep my title.

I follow my characters, so I had no detailed plot. Thus, I can forget some of the details of something written two years ago.


Though editing brings most of it back.


And I might have known it at the time, but I am surprised that this particular chapter is a juncture to three major threads in the novel.

,
First, there are a number of different levels of the supernatural in the novel. They are distinct, and do not blend. In this chapter, three of these levels make an appearance.


Second, a major event from my main character’s childhood is revealed, explaining much of how she got to be the person she is.


And third, a decidedly unpleasant and mean character actually performs a positive deed.


That’s a lot of work for one chapter. I realized I had to make each of these threads stand out on their own. I remembered that I had worked and worked on it at the time, but not as successfully as I desired.


But this time.


My solution is to use number of three line paragraphs. Everything stands out. Nothing is cluttered

No confusion at all.

Onions And Eggs Feed A Crew On A Sailing Ship To China

Excerpt from the novel “China Lily”

In 1293,  Cepa  and Matzerath  were part of the crew of The Pegasus, a ship that had sailed from Italy to China on a trading mission. After a couple of months, they arrived in the port of Zaitun,  where they encountered a local trader, Lu-Hsing.

Lu-Hsing takes the two men to a communal dining hall. This is part of their meal.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Compared to others of his experience, the crew of The Pegasus appears content with their lot. They are certainly fitting in well in the dining hall, and even mingling with other diners. Thanks to the Captain’s instructions, they are willing to try any of the dishes they encounter, though it helps that they are ignorant of many of the ingredients.

“You want something other than onions?” Lu-Hsing jabs Cepa in the ribs with his shoulder.

“I want something with my onions.”

“You’ve been looking intently at everything.” Lu-Hsing opens his arms expansively. “What do you wish?”

“What do you suggest?”

“Look at me.” Lu-Hsing rubs his belly with a roar. “I am not a picky eater. I’ll suggest anything.”

“You’ve already warned me away from soup.”

“Not warned.” Lu Hsing points back to the bubbling soup they had been looking at. “You can add a lot to soup and make a stew.” He grimaces. “But you still slurp more than you chew. Lu-Hsing wants to use his teeth when he eats.”

“We can stay away from soup.” Cepa smiles. “And I’d just as soon avoid fish.”

“Me, too.” Matzerath puts his hands up in surrender. “We eat enough salted fish to swim.”

“You boys are in the Port of Zaitun.” Lu-Hsing speaks in an authoritative tone. “Fish a specialty.”

“There must be something else.” Matzerath points. “Look at all the cooks.”

“No soup?”

“Pah!”

“Trouble-making Round Eyes.” Lu-Hsing points to a wok near the end of the aisle and starts to walk. “We’ll try there.”

“What does he have?” Cepa falls into step behind Lu-Hsing, followed by Matzerath.

“Oyster omelette.”

“Eggs?” asks Matzerath.

“As many as you want.”

“That will take a big pan.”

“He can use a high-sided wok.” Lu-Hsing pretends to whisk something in a wok. “Plop it right onto a plate.”

“We don’t have dishes.” Cepa suddenly realizes the fact. “We haven’t been back to The Pegasus all day.”

“Lu-Hsing share you his.” He barks an order at the cook, and then turns back to Cepa. “Stay right here. I’ll get them from my table.”

Cepa and Matzerath stand and watch the cook. Cepa notes he is using wood and not the black rocks for his fire. Some oil is dropped onto the metal and immediately sizzles. The cook holds up his hand and extends his fingers; one, two, three, four, five.

“Will you want some?”

“God – yes.” Matzerath nods.

Cepa holds up five fingers and the cook grins. He takes an egg in each hand and hits them together. The upper shell is flipped off and they pour into the wok. He repeats the gesture and the eggs land on top of the others. The last egg is dispatched on the metal rim of the wok and added to the rest before a hint of cooking has begun. The cook then begins to whisk and slide the eggs along the side of the wok before Matzerath has time to make a comment.

“I’d like to see you do that on The Pegasus,” says Cepa.

“I break eggs all the time.”

“I know.” Cepa laughs. And we eat the shells to prove it.”

The cook now twists and shakes the wok by its two handles over the fire. The eggs slide up and along the sides, and then settle more thickly near the bottom. With a grin and a twist of his hands, the cook turns the wok right over. The eggs start to slide out with a couple of drops hissing into the fire. Matzerath’s mouth falls open as the cook rights the wok so quickly that the eggs drop right back into it, now cooking on the other side. The cook puts the wok back on the fire.

“Bet you can’t do that,” says Cepa.

“Just once.” Matzerath laughs. “But the whole ship was heaving at the time.”

The cook begins to nudge the eggs together with a spatula. With his other hand he sprinkles a few drops of brown liquid. Then he adds some coarsely chopped shoots of a green onion.

“Hah!” Matzerath slaps Cepa on the shoulder.

After a quick swirl of these ingredients the cook plops in a bowl of small oysters. He takes his time with these, spacing them with deliberation over the quickly cooking eggs. Then – with a flourish – he scoops up a handful of flower blossoms and sprinkles them over the whole bubbling mixture.

“What are those?” Matzerath peers into the wok.

“Chrysanthemums.”

“We’re eating flowers?’

“When in Rome …”

The cook adds a further dash of the brown liquid and then folds the eggs neatly in half. He flips the whole omelette to the center of the wok and sprinkles a palm full of spring onion – this time finely chopped – over of the still-bubbling omelette. He presses the onion in place with his spatula then removes the wok from the fire.

“Timing is everything.”

The voice startles them both. They turn to see Lu-Hsing standing behind them, holding a large platter. He barks instructions to the cook, speaking too quickly for the two men to understand.

“Stick to ribs – make you happy.”

The cook divides the omelette in half and slides it onto the platter. He then takes the wicker top off a steamer and starts to add heaping ladles of red rice along the sides of the platter.

“What’s that?” Matzerath sounds suspicious.

Hong qu mi.”

“You can see its rice,” hisses Cepa.

“But it’s red.”

“Fermented with yeast.” Lu-Hsing scoops some into his palm and eats it. “Looks good. Tastes great.”

“Aren’t you having a meal?”

“Lu-Hsing eats later – with family.” He moves his hand over the top of the platter and inhales the aroma. “We eat at home – wife is a great cook.”

“I thought you’d be joining us.” Matzerath is clearly disappointed.

“Too crowded. Too smoky.” Lu-Hsing laughs. “Just the place for Round-eyes who want to make contacts. I already know people.”

Lu-Hsing abruptly steps behind the counter and stands beside the cook. He takes a look into the bubbling pots and lifts the tops off of steamers. He finally points with a barrage of Chinese. The cook gets two porcelain bowls and ladles a heaping amount of food into each.

“Got your spoon?” asks Cepa.

Matzerath takes a spoon from his pant’s pocket and holds it up.

“You?”

“Yes.” Cepa has his spoon on a chain around his neck. He takes it out from underneath his shirt and lets it dangle against his chest.

“You boys prepared – good.” Lu-Hsing takes the platter with the omelette and rice. He then points with his chin. “Take your bowls and follow me.”

Matzerath anxiously sees the platter of steaming food being taken away. He nudges Cepa and they again get into step behind Lu-Hsing, who again clears a path through the crowded eating hall. They approach a raised platform under a row of windows, much like the noble’s section in the Cannara’s own tavern. It is still a crowded space, with ten tables set not far apart from each other. Half are vacant, so Cepa can’t tell if Lu-Hsing heads for his ‘own’ table, or has the use of any that is available. He places the platter crosswise near one end of the table.

“You need drink.” Lu-Hsing unrolls a half dozen chopsticks from a cotton napkin, so they lay beside the platter. “Tea or rice wine?”

“Dear God – wine!” Matzerath plunks his bowl on the table. “It’s been a day.”

“Bring both, please.” Cepa sits across the table from Matzerath. “For both of us.”

“Tea is for thirst.” Matzerath takes his spoon from his pocket. “I want drink for more than that.”

“We can’t have you getting drunk.” Cepa lifts his own spoon from around his neck. “Even the crew has orders not to get drunk.”

You are sticking to tea?” Matzerath begins to wield his chopsticks over the rice.

“No.” Cepa laughs. “Although I am also thirsty, I have no objection to feeling ‘mellow’ as I eat.”

“And it will help you sleep.” Lu-Hsing slaps Cepa on the back. “Like mother’s milk.”

“I wish my mother had had tits of wine.” Matzerath wipes some rice from his chin and sucks his fingers. “I would have been a better child.”

Kafka And The Flowers Of Hope – Suitable For The Summer

From my novel Kafka In The Kastle, where I fill in his missing diary entries.

08 April 1917

I seem to end in the most absurd situations. This afternoon, before Sunday dinner, Ottla took me away for some gardening. Rooting around in the earth, with the frost barely gone. Only Ottla could find such a plot of ground in Prague, or expect me to grub about in it like some hungry animal. I was tempted to ask why she was not at the tiny house, or ask her where David Joseph was – certainly not digging around in the soil. But, I’m not to know of him – and certainly not his name. His absence might explain her energy. She said she wanted to prepare for the work on the farm, and this was a sample of what awaited her. It turned out we were not alone.

It was obviously some sort of communal land – such places are popular during this war. There were even families at work. Children also. One small boy was caught between his interest in the garden, and his desire to be a small boy. And what a dilemma it was. He’d work in the ground for awhile, following the example of his mother, then suddenly race around, exploring like a small boy. He came over to Ottla and me, and hunkered down beside us. He shook his head with a sigh of exasperation, and reached over to put his hands on mine. “Mummy says that’s wrong,” and with great patience and determination, began to show me how to prepare the earth. I thought there could be no better proof to Ottla of how inept I was.

I followed the movements of his hands, and between us, we dug quite a hole. At last the little fellow stood, obviously satisfied. “I go now,” he said, and ran away to see some other entertaining oddity. Ottla hadn’t laughed for fear of offending the boy, but she didn’t show such restraint when we were finally alone. It fell to me to find the flowers. Such things prove God’s sense of humour, for I have no interest or understanding for flowers. There was a fellow at university who could talk about flowers for hours. Otherwise, he was quite pleasant to be with. So it seems a joke that I would find them, between a pile of rubble and the wall of a house.

I had been exploring, much as the little fellow had done. In fact, he was running past when I found them, so I showed him also. They were white, with frail leaves close to the ground. Quite nondescript. But the boy was fascinated. He put his face close, although he didn’t touch them. “Can I tell Mummy?” He obviously thought they were my flowers. “Yes,” I said, and he ran to get her. She followed him as he chattered all the way, and then she too hesitated, looking at me cautiously. “Perhaps your wife would like to see them,” she suggested. It took a moment to realize she was referring to Ottla. The flowers had become my possession. “Yes,” I said, “And tell anyone you like.” “The first flowers of Spring,” she said, and she went to tell the others, taking care to stop at Ottla first.

Tiny white flowers.

I can still not believe the looks upon their faces, as they crowded around. Even the children were silent.

The relief they showed.

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