Throwback Not-Thursday: The Writer
The third and final blast from my college creative writing past:
“What the hell, Jackson?”
“You asked to see my short stories, Geena. You. Asked.”
The writer was so unaccustomed to having his work received so incredulously. He worked with the same publishing agency for the past two decades, but thanks to his unbelievably incompetent excuse for an agent, he had to seek out new work. Walking into the main foyer of Pritchett Meyers, Inc. just four months ago, Mike Jackson (he deliberately shortened his first name to avoid all the “ooh just like the singer” nonsense) knew two things. Firstly, he would not get the same kind of lenience with these people. And secondly, perhaps somewhat ironically, this new place was going to give him so much new creative inspiration. The trash bins were full of bubble gum wrappers and condoms. On his way to the bathroom, he overheard one of the senior staff members pleasuring himself in his office. Following his big meeting, he spotted two secretaries smoking weed in a conference room that was supposedly “closed for maintenance.”
And then, of course, there was Regina Payne. She handled all the new fiction writers, and Mike Jackson was eager to work with her. She was the sexiest woman he had ever laid eyes on outside of a jail cell. For the first week or two, he decided to mess with her by using clichés directly from John Hughes films. She always treated him with more respect than he probably deserved. She had rejected every story proposal that he brought to her so far, but she always treated him with a basic modicum of respect and gave him constructive notes.
But on this sunny July morning, she was looking at him as if he were the Marquis de Sade.
“But this is so incredibly messed up! And disgustingly morbid!”
“You said you laughed!”
“Once or twice! But this is incredibly dark humor! Who besides you and the National Society of Edgar Allen Poe Wannabees is going to enjoy this crap?”
“It’s very deep and insightful, Geena, and it has a lot to say about social morays in contemporary America! Also, there’s some very gratuitous titillation. People love it when characters randomly start having sex. Why do you think HBO is so popular?”
Geena cracked the knuckles on her right hand to relieve some frustration. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate your hard work. You clearly put a lot of effort into this. But I can’t help you if all you have for me is stuff that is, by the way, clearly unpublishable.”
“What are you talking about?” Jackson asked. “Stephen King writes all sorts of morbid shit, and he’s like the Richie Rich of authors.”
Geena twitched a little. Stephen King was her favorite writer, and she had to strongly resist the urge to breathe fire down Jackson’s neck for making the comparison. “Don’t compare this garbage to Stephen King. The first one you gave me, what was it, ‘9 to 5’ or something. It’s supposed to be a short story about a guy’s boring day at work. you’re writing here about unemployment, divorce, and people screwing in the office!”
“Because that’s what happens in real li.. oh, for shit’s sake!” Loud moans were emanating from the office next door. He walked right in. “Fuller, if you’re going to jack off in your office, please do the following things. One, close the door. Two, make the room soundproof! And three…”
A desk lamp flew across the room and shattered against the wall, several inches from his face.
“What the fuck, Fuller?”
“Get outta my office before I report you to HR, you nosy twit!”
Jackson walked out of the office, brushing the discomfort off his sleeves. “Do you believe this? Fuller’s jacking off to some teen magazine!”
“Do you really want to go down this road?” Geena asked. “Because I’m pretty sure you wrote something about pedophilia in that other story.”
“No I fucking did not!” Jackson started to look genuinely pissed off. “If you’re talking about that thing I think you’re talking about, the line was ‘He stared into her fifteen-year-old eyes, and she stared back.’ If you had bothered to read the whole thing, you would have noticed the line five paragraphs earlier reading, ‘Her eyes were, tragically not her own, for she lost her birth ones when she was six years old!’” He put a strong emphasis on those last three words.
Geena quickly grabbed the manuscript, and perused the page in question. She growled quietly to herself, realizing that Jackson was, in fact, correct, and she had missed the line completely.
“Problem?” The writer gave her his best troll face.
“Oh, up yours,” Geena shot back. “You’ve got worse in here. The third story you gave me was about some dude who’s convinced he’s God, and the second half of it is all about how your Christlike figure tries to throw a dead hooker in the garbage!”
“At least I didn’t have him chop her up!”
“Shut up. This is the most blasphemous crap I’ve ever seen. You do realize the vast majority of people on this planet are religious, right?”
“Oh, for shit’s sake. It’s a work of fiction, Geena. If a character in a short story was powerful enough to rock the foundations of one of the oldest institutions in the goddamned world, it must be a pretty unsteady foundation! God forbid I try to get people thinking!”
Geena tried to calm down and lay out some reasonable options for Jackson to pursue. “Why don’t you try writing stuff that’s not so… depressing?” she asked. “You know, expand your horizons, don’t be so cynical.”
“I could write about flowers or genies or true love. You know why I don’t?”
Geena rolled her eyes. “Why?”
“Because I don’t write about stupid shit! I like pushing the boundaries of imagination, but it’s also helpful to base your stories on real life, Geena! You know, things that people can connect to. And if there’s one thing people connect to, it’s moral failure!”
Geena sensed Jackson was being a little too aggressive. “But isn’t the point of entertainment to, I dunno, entertain people? You know what happens to books about flowers and true love? They get made into movies! They spawn unbelievable franchises! We could help you expand your horizons if you weren’t so dead-set on depressing your readers!”
“That’s the second time you’ve said expand your horizons,” Jackson pointed out, scribbling a few words down in his tiny notebook. “I love it when people repeat themselves, it just shows how limited the human vocabulary is.”
“Coming from the most profane moron I’ve ever met!” she retorted. “You use filthier language when you talk and write than anyone else I’ve ever worked with!”
“Well, what do you know, you stupid bitch?”
“What did you just call me?”
“It’s called irony, idiot!” Jackson shot back. “I don’t live in a sanitized world. I live in a world where people dump their shit all over each other and no one cares enough to wipe it off. We live in the world’s largest zoo. You think our confined spaces are any less of a cage than an actual freaking cage?”
“Yes, because anything that’s not a cage is not a cage.”
“Shut up and follow the metaphor. Our society is divided just like in a zoo. In that large brick building over there, you’ve got these big grunting primates who eat ticks off their bodies and scratch their armpits. Those are called construction workers. In the building adjacent, you’ve got your slithering reptiles who wait patiently for the flies to just come within reach of their tongues, and then WHACK! Those are the lawyers.
“I could go on and on, but the point is, what I do is no different than what thousands of scientists and writers have done before me. I observe my environment, take notes on the interesting stuff, and then write my findings down for the rest of society to enjoy.”
Geena was unsure of how to proceed here. It was clear Jackson was not going to give an inch, and she didn’t want to cede any ground to him.
“So, where do we go from here?” she asked. “I mean, there’s no way I’m approving any of this crap. Do you have less… freaky stuff you want to show me?”
Jackson was about to respond with a witty retort, until a lightbulb suddenly went off in his head. “Say that again.”
Geena looked a little confused. “I said do you have any freaky stuff you want to show me.”
Jackson started furiously writing on his notepad. He kept at it for two minutes straight, while Geena patiently waited for him to look up. She tried to glance at what he was scribbling, but it must have been the world’s most elaborate shorthand, because she couldn’t understand any of it.
“Um, hello? Earth to weirdo! Can I help you with something?”
“Shut up, I have something here.”
Jackson took another three minutes to write down notes, before finishing and looking back up at Geena. “Are you ready to have your mind blown?”
“Don’t be cute with the double-entendres, that’s my job.” Jackson referred back to his notes. “So you just got me thinking about what freaks out people these days, what makes people go, ‘Holy shit what the fuck just happened?’”
“Crude,” Geena observed.
“Yes, but wait a second,” Jackson said. “The hot word everyone’s using nowadays is ‘meta.’ Making your work self-referential. It’s been done on tons of movies and TV shows, but the literary world doesn’t really have that big of a meta market. So I’m thinking I keep with the short story anthology idea, but we use like bits and pieces of the conversation you and I just had to link them or something.”
Geena was lost. “Wait, what are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about putting a mirror up to society!” he enthused. “That’s some Plato-level philosophical shit right there. A collection of short stories, connected by a fictional construct of an author and his publisher discussing the very nature of the short story and what sells! It would get people thinking, it would get them talking with each other on what constitutes a great work of literature and what makes it good!
“It’s its own short story connecting the other short stories! Sort of like 1001 Arabian Nights, you see where I’m going with this? People are always complaining about the moral degradation of society. Well, we can use this book as a tool to question the influence of literature on a society’s morals! Sort of like ‘this is your guide on how to read this story’ or ‘you just read this story, how does your perception match up with society’s’ or something like that. You could seriously get some fucking attention if you guys published a book like that.
“So what do you think?”
Geena stared at Mike Jackson for a good minute before responding. “Please get out of my office so I can deal with this horrible migraine in peace.”