About This Novel; Chapter 1Chapter 2; Chapter 3Chapter 4; Chapter 5Chapter 6Chapter 7; Chapter 8Chapter 9
The file dropped onto the desk with a heavy thud. By Louella’s calculation, it was at least three inches thick. Her hand slid across the desk to pull it toward her, but Melvin kept it covered with his hand.
“Ms. Harper, I hope you don’t mind my asking this, but have you, by chance, decided how you’re going to write this story.”
“The usual way, I suppose,” Louella said. “With my trusty Olivetti.”
“I meant,” said Melvin, “have you decided on a hero?”
Louella’s hand slid back toward her lap. Her eyes traveled around the wood-paneled walls where pictures of various democratic leaders hung alongside those of Melvin’s family. Sitting beside his desk on a wooden pedestal was a bronze bust of John F. Kennedy.
“Well, I’m only just beginning the research phase,” she said.
Melvin’s fingers drummed on the file. “But every story has to have a hero, isn’t that right?” he asked the famous author.
“Most do. Traditionally, novels have a single protagonist, but not always.”
“Yes, yes,” Melvin said, churning up some excitement. “You’ll need a protagonist.”
Louella smiled sweetly. “Do you have one in mind?” she asked.
“May I suggest a genial southern lawyer, one that heroically battles racial prejudice on his quest for…? “
Louella interrupted. “I was thinking I might use a washed-up old woman writer.”
Melvin just stared.
“Mr. Little,” Louella continued. “I am aware of your importance to this story. You are a major link that binds all the other characters.”
“That’s right,” Melvin said, sitting up straight and grabbing his lapels. “I’m a major link. I’m like the character in that book you wrote, or Gregory Peck in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’”
Louella studied the pudgy little moon face beaming at her from across the table. “Well, there is a certain aggressive charm about you.”
Melvin’s face beamed harder.
“And it’s very generous of you to share your files.” Louella’s eyes pointed like arrows to the stack of papers pinned beneath the lawyer’s hand.
“Yes, yes, of course, the files,” Melvin said. His hand released the imprisoned folder. He pushed it across the desk to Louella.
“I was just thinking,” he said, “about this idea I had. Don’t feel pressured to use it or anything. I’m willing to defer to your authorial instincts on the matter, but I thought of a good way to begin the story.”
Louella wasn’t already thumbing through the contents of the file. “Do tell,” she said.
“Picture this. We open on the bedroom of a mild-mannered attorney and his wife…”
“Mild-mannered, you say?”
“Suddenly, a telephone rings…”
“That is exciting,” Louella said. Her eyes continued to scan documents.
“On the other end of the phone is the Reverend. He’s been accused of killing his first wife. I’m half-asleep. I mean, the lawyer is half asleep, but he swiftly negotiates an agreement that is fair to both parties. After that, I thought you might delve into my Scottish heritage. You know, show the reader some insight into what made me—my character, I mean—into the person I am today.”
Louella closed the file. “That would certainly be an interesting way to begin the story.”
“I confess I got the idea from reading the opening section of your book. I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but I was struck by how you started with a compelling action—a childhood injury—and then somehow drifted into the history of the town.”
“I thought I recognized your opening gambit. Now, I realize it was my own. Well, Mr. Little…” Louella stood. She tucked the file under her arm and stretched out her hand. “I thank for your ideas and for your generosity in sharing your files, but if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to my hotel and start reading through all this material you’ve given me.”
Melvin took her hand as he would a princess. He offered a slight bow. “The honor is all mine,” he said.
Louella's face tightened. "Let's not go crazy," she said.
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