A Contemporary Fairy Tale
Once upon a time, a writer was showering when inspiration struck – an idea for a new book! The Writer was breathless, excited, awed. He’d already written a couple of books — one about a blind, idiot savant serial killer who worked in a prison as a janitor, killing the prisoners one by one; the other about feral bunnies who rebelled and enslaved the human populace. Shockingly, neither book sold. Each did the rounds of the slush piles but elicited only rejection after rejection.
This new idea, though, was The One.
The Writer was sure of it.
He wrote to the detriment of everything else in his life. He neglected his wife, barely seeing or speaking to her. The Wife was not surprised, as she was used to her husband’s idiosyncrasies — although by no means did she approve of them. She not only considered her husband’s writing aspirations foolish, but thought him foolish, too. The Writer also became unreliable in his job as produce manager at the local Safeway. His boss was particularly displeased as The Writer would often show up late to work, and sometimes not at all. But The Writer fawned and thanked his boss so much for his continued support that The Boss didn’t have the heart to fire him. The Writer’s already-anorexic social life deteriorated, and his physical and mental wellbeing declined. His few friends hardly saw him, and he scarcely ate or washed or slept.
How could he? There was something much more important to be done. He had to write! Nothing else mattered. He needed to finish his book. Needed to! Everybody and everything else could be damned. The people in his life would understand once his book became a bestseller. Maybe he’d even buy each of them a nice present.
When The Writer finished his book — a manuscript, he thought, of awesome scope, stunning complexity and masterful storytelling — he grimaced at the thought of all the paper and ink he would have to waste to print out a rough draft. Reams of paper were cheap enough at about six bucks a ream, but ink…? Toners for printers weren't cheap. Like a salesman once told him, manufacturers didn’t make their money on the printers themselves.
The Writer printed out one hardcopy, and gave it to his wife to read. Actually, The Wife had to be pushed to read it. Her ongoing comments were neither helpful nor encouraging. Moreover, her noncommittal grunts, mordant half-smirks, and occasional rolling of the eyes, as she read the book in bed, offended The Writer.
It was worse than having sex with her.
It took a week for The Wife to read the book, and she was indifferent when she was done, conceding as if she was no more doing no more than comment on the weather, ‘Yeah, it’s good.’ This prompted The Writer to consider taking his old Olivetti clunker out of the attic and burying it in his wife’s head. It’d be the best work it had ever done.
Never mind, he told himself. His friends would offer better insights, and he passed the same draft around to them to read. They were used to looking at his work and had tried to be encouraging over the years. Once they were done, they decided to take The Writer out for a meal and make a night of it.
They had pizzas and beers and talked about the stress of their relationships and the tedium of their jobs and how the coming Christmas was bankrupting them. Throughout, the anticipation built for The Writer. What would his friends say? Come their sixth round of beers, they finally hit The Writer with the wisdom of their collective feedback.
’Yeah, it’s good,’ they told him.
Annoyed, The Writer decided that a book as good as the one he’d written needed a lover, not a series of prostitutes. Why the hell was he relying on his wife (who had the intellect and usefulness of an empty spare-tyre compartment) or his friends (whose idea of reading was looking at porn on the net)? He needed professional help, and sought a manuscript assessment service.
Unfortunately, this path never eventuated, as The Wife told The Writer in no uncertain terms that they didn’t have the money to spend on getting his book assessed. The Writer was resentful, and The Wife’s rejoinder that this wouldn’t have happened if he had a more practical job — like lawyer, doctor, garbage man, crash test dummy, or medical cadaver — was no help at all.
The Writer, ever the paragon of self-reliance, recomposed himself and spent the next two months proofing, revising and editing. Again, he obsessed; again, his marital and social relationships, his job, and his physical and mental health suffered. Christmas went by unnoticed and New Year uncelebrated. This didn’t bother The Writer. He told himself it’d all be worth it in the end.
The greater the suffering, the greater the rewards.
Becoming sicklier and more impoverished each passing day, The Writer put the finishing touches to his book. He realised, with microscopic humility, that his previous works were acquired tastes. Obviously, that had contributed to their failure in the world of publishing, but, no doubt, they’d be published retrospectively on the back of his fame after this book became, as they say, ONE BIG FUCKING HIT.
The Writer began printing a final draft of his book. Midway through the job, a paper jam cost seventeen pages of paper. Usually, such an incident would have enraged The Writer. This time, as he was dealing with a work of brilliance, his tolerance and good manner were commensurate.
These things happen, he told himself.
The Writer cleared the paper-jam and resumed printing. Unfortunately, with just sixteen pages of printing remaining, the toner ran out of ink. The Writer stared at the printer in disbelief. The printer stoically looked back at The Writer (if it could be said that printers had expressions). The Writer’s anger rose.
If not for that damn paper jam …!
The Writer pleaded with God, demanding to know why these things always happened to him. God chose not to answer. This could’ve been for a variety of reasons. Perhaps there was no God who could answer. Perhaps there was a God but He was busy. Perhaps God found The Writer’s request trivial. Or perhaps, just perhaps, God had run out of toner Himself.
The Writer begged his wife for the $106.00 to buy some new toner. This did not go over well because The Wife had just bought a new pair of shoes. She told The Writer there was no money in the monthly budget for a toner cartridge. Maybe next month. Or the one after. And if not then, definitely the one after that. If they saved. Well, probably, but he shouldn’t bank on it, because she had her eye on a dress.
Exasperation skyrocketing, The Writer considered his options. He could sell blood, or semen, or maybe even strangle his wife, gut her with a dull butter-knife and sell one of her kidneys on the black-market. These all seemed good, logical options, and only one of them was not at all realistic — giving blood always left him feeling dizzy.
Instead, The Writer pulled the toner cartridge out of the printer, shook it, threatened it, and then reinserted it. It printed a couple of pages, but he had to repeat the process several times before the printing of his book was completed.
The Writer then took his newly-printed book — his masterpiece — to the post office and mailed it to a publisher, being careful to enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope so they could mail it back to him (if required). He did this to observe etiquette. There’d be no need for it, as the publisher was going to love his book and get on the phone to him the moment they’d read it.
When, five-and-a-half months later, the publisher responded, using The Writer’s stamped self-addressed envelope, excitement brimmed through his limbs. With trembling hands he tore open the envelope and pulled out the publisher’s letter, which thanked him for his submission but lamented that it was not quite right for them. But, happily, they did wish him all the best in the future! The Writer was dejected but not defeated. He scrounged the money together to submit the book to another publisher.
Three months later, he received a rejection from them, also. The Writer’s frustration blazed into infuriation. He forced himself to look at the bright side: at least this rejection had been quick – well, sort of quick compared to the time it took to receive the first rejection. Again, he scraped together the money to submit his book to another publisher. And another after that. And another. In the space of eighteen months he went through five publishers.
Or perhaps it can be said that five publishers went through him.
But the sixth publisher thought they saw something in the manuscript and held a production meeting in regard to The Writer’s book. The Editors loved it. They thought it could be THE NEXT BIG THING. The Finance Department asserted that the book was doable in terms of expense, but they were concerned about whether it’d make a profit. The Marketing Department suggested that the book might have limited appeal. What if it came down to selling The Writer to sell the book? How would he hold up in appearances at readings and in interviews? Would people buy the book on the basis of being charmed by the author? At the end of much discussion and debate, the meeting yielded the result that The Noble Publisher would go ahead with The Writer’s book.
When they contacted The Writer to tell him the good news, The Writer was ecstatic, and his wife thought that maybe her husband wasn’t such a screw-up after all. This was a notion The Wife entertained then dismissed on the basis that it had no right to exist in a marriage.
The Writer did not care. He signed a contract with The Noble Publisher, receiving a pittance up-front and a percentage in royalties with which he would be lucky to buy a new toner cartridge. The Wife was irate, asking The Writer if this was what all his work and time had amounted to. The Writer wasn’t bothered; his book would become a bestseller and he’d soon be rich. Then, maybe, he’d take a contract out on his wife.
Of course, he was being facetious. Why let somebody else have all the fun?
The Noble Publisher was aware of none of The Writer’s domestic issues, as they concentrated on making the book a reality. They retained a designer, and had the manuscript edited and their style applied, oblivious to what The Writer — or, Inconsequential Minion, as they called him — was going through.
The Writer recoiled at the amount of edits. Surely The Noble Publisher hadn’t recognised the work of genius they had in their hands; how could they tamper with such a masterpiece? The Wife told The Writer not to be such an idiot (she already thought he was an idiot, so he was just being more of an idiot). He should be happy they’d taken his book at all. The Writer obliged, knowing that when the money started pouring in, The Wife would have to be more gracious, and The Noble Publisher would have to give him more leeway on his next work.
While the designer chose the style, size and leading of the text and the headings, breathing life into the words on the page, The Writer got extensions on his credit card. The Wife bought up big on shoes. She wasn’t convinced that the book would make a fortune, and she didn’t need all those shoes; she just knew that, whatever happened, her husband would be paying.
Just as he’d done their entire married life.
The Noble Publisher continued work on the book. The first page proofs for the manuscript were corrected and the artwork scanned. The Writer, indifferent to the technicalities of his book’s production, thought his life was finally gaining momentum — positive momentum — and his books would fuel a long and prosperous career. As a reward to himself, he put a deposit on a new car — a sporty red Mazda he’d had his eye on for several years.
The second page proofs of the book went to The Writer and The Editor. The Writer grinned and accommodated The Noble Publisher. Things would be different for his second book! He’d have the power, and then they’d be falling over themselves to accommodate him.
The artwork was prepared. The Writer disagreed with The Noble Publisher’s selections. The Noble Publisher tried to appease him by telling him they knew the market. The Writer baulked, saying he knew his book. The Noble Publisher told The Writer that he had signed a contract and this was their choice. The Writer said they didn’t understand his work. The Wife interceded and told The Writer to shut up and stop rocking the boat. The Noble Publisher sent The Wife a bouquet of flowers. The Wife had a fling with The Noble Publisher’s designer.
The revised page proofs were checked and finalised, the plates were set, and The Writer’s book was printed and bound. Convinced he was going to be a huge success, The Writer waltzed into work at Safeway, got onto the intercom and quit his job, telling his boss, ‘Stick it!’
Then The Writer celebrated — truly celebrated — his first Christmas in three years. He lavished gifts on his wife (who was touched by the gesture and mellowed, then decided that mellowing had no place in their marriage), and his friends, much to the chagrin of his credit card, which grimaced (if it could be said that credit cards could do such a thing).
New Year brought not resolutions from The Writer, but plans. He mapped out his entire life: which novels he’d write and in what order; what he’d say in interviews with Ellen and Oprah; and how exactly he’d use his towering success to tame, break and reinvent his marriage.
Advance copies of The Writer’s book were handed out. The Writer took his share, showering them on his wife’s family (who had always thought he was no good), his friends (who thought he was good, but would never amount to anything) and his ex-workmates (who were largely indifferent to whether he was good or not). The bulk stock of The Writer’s book hit the warehouse, and then filled the shelves of retailers’ stores.
Sadly, very few copies of The Writer’s book sold.
The Wife, disgusted by The Writer’s continuing failure, not to mention his accumulating debts, left him for the Noble Publisher’s designer. The Writer returned to Safeway and begged his boss to take him back.
His boss said, ‘Stick it!!’
So alone and destitute, health failing, and indebted, The Writer succumbed to the hopelessness of his life and threw himself from a bridge. While this was a horrible life-choice, it was the best career move The Writer had ever made.
Popularised by his death (and the glorious calamity of his life story as it emerged in the newspapers and, even more spectacularly, in the glossy magazines), The Writer’s book became a bestseller. The Noble Publisher went into second, third and fourth print runs. The book won awards.
The Wife — now The Merry Widow — told the media that she had always thought her husband would make it, and that she had always believed in him and that his book was good, regardless of what everybody else had said. She became rich on the success from her dead husband’s novel. His previous two manuscripts were published, and they also became bestsellers, and his short stories were released in anthologies.
And they all – well, all but The Writer – lived happily ever after.