[To the many new followers: welcome. Instead the boilerplate introductory blog post, I’m going to have fun…]
The office door opens and she walks in, strong and determined, each step solidly planted. She wears running clothes over a runner’s body, and I make a silent bet her covered calves could crack beer cans. A natural brunette with a perky ponytail that, no doubt, bobs in time to the music playing in the white wires to her ears.
She takes the wooden chair in front of my desk. “I’m looking for a writer.” No preamble, no pretending to be friends, her voice more alto than baritone.
I close the Chromebook cover, drop my Marlboro into a half-full can of Coors, and tip my fedora backwards with a forefinger. “Looking for a recommendation?”
“Rumor is you’re a writer.”
Our conversation, such as it is, is interrupted by a spider dropping between on a thin thread, a daily occurrence in this part of the city. When you live and die by words, there’s little flexibility in living and working arrangements, and your roommates can have anywhere between two and eight legs. I pinch the thread and toss Charlotte out the window behind me. I don’t kill spiders. Adverbs and other dangling things are not so lucky.
“Sorry to disappoint, Miss…”
“Right,” I mumble, thinking to check my driver’s license later and make sure I wasn’t born yesterday. “Thing is, I’m a bad writer. I suck. Wrote three books that never saw the light of day. I tweet haiku when I’m bored, and I’m always bored. It doesn’t put ramen on the table.”
She scowls with a worry-line between her eyes. “Why not give up?”
Why not, indeed? I’ve been doing the author thing for years, and never a sniff of success. A tease here and there, yes, but nothing to turn me into a household name, not even in my own house.
I want to light up, but I suspect she’d object. “You ever write a book?”
“It’s like this. Writers are mice entering a long and complicated maze. Every intersection we meet gives us five choices, five directions to go. Sometimes we get lucky and pick the right one, and it feels good for a while, but we’ll hit a dead end, all sudden like. We backtrack and try out the second choice, then the third, fourth and fifth. We’ll do this for weeks on end, hitting every dead end in the maze, sometimes more than once. Eventually we end up on the other side of the maze and, boom, we have a book. Want to guess what happens next?”
I like monosyllabic ladies because like most writers, I love the sound of my voice. “We scurry around to the front part and do the maze again and again and again. We’re looking for the mistakes we made on our first attempt. If we’re good mice, we’ll find our screw-ups. If we’re smart, we’ll pay genius mice to go through the maze and find those mistakes for us.”
Her eyes drop to my cigarette pack and I get the hint, lighting hers with a pink Bic disposable. She breathes it in, and savors the poison in her lungs before exhaling through her nose. “My one a day.”
“Writing sounds like a fantastic waste of time.”
I shrug. “It’s a kind of heroin. There’s this cosmic energy, you see, that grips you and holds on tight when you learn to screw up twenty-six letters and make 50,000 words. You create a world with believable people and realistic problems and reasonable solutions. You mix passionate love with volcanic hate, cold sweat set to dance music, childbirth with the end of someone’s days. Keyboards can’t keep up with the cosmic energy when you have a great idea.”
She cocks her head to the side, her ponytail bobbing. “You’re God.”
I laugh and paraphrase Bill Murray. “A god, not the God, but yes.”
She contemplates my words as she snuffs out her cigarette in the ash tray between us. “I still need a writer.”
“Then go to my Twitter feed. Every writer out there is a New York Times and/or a USA Today bestselling author. Or so they say, anyway.”
“But not you?”
“At this rate, never.”
She stands, takes another cigarette from the pack between manicured nails, and exits through the door without looking back. I contemplate the air she occupied. What brought her to my doorstep? Why did she need a writer? Why did she take a second coffin-nail without asking?
No matter. She won’t be back. They never come back. They read, they laugh, and move on without paying for a ticket. I might as well give away my books for free.
I brush a spider off the Chromebook before I open the lid, thinking about the next twist in the plot as I put my fingers on the keyboard.
A shot rings out.