John Smith Writes a Book

The incessant beep resounded through his brain, rattling his sanity.

“Hello, this is John, how may I facilitate your needs,” he droned.  He couldn’t even begin to guess how many times he had given that salutation, robotic and stiff.  His headset was beginning to feel like it was glued to his head, sending feelers down through his scalp, gnawing through bone, then burrowing deep into this shriveling gray matter.  He listened half-heartedly as the person on the other end of the line grumbled about the fee he was charged on his account for an overdraft.  “I’m sorry sir, but we can only refund fees if they result because of a Credit Union error.”  After listening to the tirade of expletives and comments about his mother, John politely said Thank you for calling, and waited in dim silence for the next beep in his ear.

He had worked for the Credit Union for nearly two years.  It certainly was not his idea of a prime vocation, but the pay was decent, and he had benefits.  Unfortunately, it took time away from his real endeavor:  writing.  John’s true ambition was to be a writer.  Granted, he had not completed any stories, but he certainly had tons of ideas, and plenty of unfinished stories to work with, if only he had more time.  Time was his constant enemy.  By the time he got home, made himself dinner, did the dishes, cleaned the living room, and did his laundry, it was time for bed.  It took him an hour to commute to work, so this drastically shortened his available down time.

John had read a book on writing, several actually, but one in particular stood out in his memory.  It told him the best formula to become a writer is to read and write for at least six hours per day.  This, of course, was problematic given his schedule.  He did, however, manage to carve out a little time in his day to read.  In between calls, he would hide a book under his desk, on his lap, and read two pages at a time, take a call, then read two more.  Every time he went to the bathroom for good ‘ol number two, he would hide a book under his shirt.  There were times where he was able to get in at least five or six pages.  The only problem was that he still couldn’t find the time to actually write anything of his own.  He decided to be proactive.   He began writing at work.

Being savvy with computers was a talent John seemed to be born with.  He would be able to work on the word processing program, and if anyone came by his cubicle, he could make it disappear with the touch of a button, and no one would know the difference.  The thrill of writing became his sole focus.  He began neglecting his work in favor of writing.  When he received calls, he was so engrossed in his story that he gave the person the wrong information.

His boss called him into his office.  His name was Salazar Bennett.  Sal, as he liked to be called, sat behind his mahogany desk, and looked over John’s file.

“Look, John, you need to tell me what’s goin on.  Your work is in the shitter, you know that?”

“Yeah, I…I know,” John stammered.

“This is the second time I’ve had to call you into my office, and I don’t need to reiterate how important these reviews are,” said Sal, but he pronounced reiterate as “reinerate.”  “I mean hell John; you know this is going to get you in trouble on down the pike.  You can’t keep doing this.”

“I know.  You’re right.  Of course.”

That night when he got home, he went straight to his Mac and began writing.  He wrote for three hours without stopping.  Sleep had become a distant memory.  He was on a roll; couldn’t stop now that he had built up some momentum.  He woke up with his face on his keyboard, and  two pages of fdfdfdfggggdddggddgggddggddgddddgdgdgdgdgdgdgdgdg.  By the time he’d gotten a shower and dressed for work, he was already and hour late.  As he walked into the door, Sal was waiting for him.

“In my office, now,” he said, and turned and went into his office.  John didn’t bother going to his desk first.  He knew what was coming.  “Close the door, and have a seat.”  John did so.  “Look, John.  You’ve been here for almost two years now.  Up until recently, you’ve been a good employee, but now, your performance has been shit.  You know?  And today you are an hour late.  We talked about this right?  I mean, I shouldn’t have to reinerate every time you make a mistake.  I’m sorry, John, but I’m afraid I’m gonna have to let you go.”

Surprisingly, John felt…elated.  He felt free, as if the whole horizon stood open before him.  The air smelled sweet, the birds sang with zeal, and his steps were light and sure.  John was a new man.  Sure, there was the problem of rent, and how he was going to feed himself, but he knew he would be just fine.

John went directly home and began writing.  He figured that now there was no other option.  He would have to write something worth buying.  He began working immediately.  Words began to flow across the screen, forming sentences, then paragraphs, then pages.  The only time he was not writing was for bathroom breaks, and to eat what remaining food was in his pantry.  Slowly the pages came together, and by the end of the week, he had completed the rough-draft of his novel.  There were 82,652 words, not including the title.  He sat back in his chair and looked at the screen of his old Mac and marveled at his accomplishment.  Never before had he been so focused on anything.  It felt as if the world had opened the doors to all of its secrets, and he alone was privy to their bounty.

After another three days, he had finished the final draft and began looking for a suitable publisher.  After much research, he settled on The Devil Made Me Do It Publishing.  He sent the manuscript out the same day.

John waited patiently for a response, but he was getting very anxious.  The money in his savings was quickly being depleted.

“Great.  Now what am I going to do?” he pined.  He sat, morose and grumpy, trying desperately to think of ways to make money until he was able to sell his book.

After three weeks, he still had not heard anything from the three other publishers he sent the manuscript to, but he did manage to get a part-time job in a coffee shop that also had a small bookstore.  They were only able to give him twenty hours a week, but he was grateful, and was even able to read on his lunch break, so all in all, it wasn’t a bad situation.  He made just enough to cover his rent, and a little bit of food.  He donated plasma four times a month for some extra spending money.

Four months after sending his manuscript out to over seven publishers, he finally got a response.  Stag Publishing said they were interested in his book, and wanted to set up an appointment with him.  John was ecstatic.  He bought himself a bottle of wine to celebrate, and drank the whole thing in one sitting.

He woke up with a hangover.  The editor of Stag Publishing wanted to meet with him in less than an hour.  He’d overslept, and smelled strongly of body odor and cheap wine.  John dashed into the shower, washing only the most vital areas: head, pits crotch, and feet.  He threw on the cleanest pair of clothes he could find, shaved without cream, and brushed his teeth with his finger.

Stag Publishing specialized in avante-guard novels by up and coming authors.  John was just this.  He believed his book could possibly be the most original piece of writing of the twenty-first century.  He arrived at the editor’s desk fifteen minutes late.  He was told to wait in the waiting room.  The pretty young secretary was glancing over at him, and he felt he was on top of the world.  Maybe he would even ask the secretary on a date when he came out.

“You can go in now Mr. Smith,” she said with a twinkle.

“Thank you.”  He nodded his head like a cowboy tipping his hat, then immediately felt stupid for doing so.  He walked through the oak double doors into an office bigger than his apartment.

“Hello Mr. Smith.  Please, have a seat, won’t you.”  Clemens White, the editor, was a tall man with a white beard and a receding hairline.  He was much older than John had expected, but Clemens certainly exuded an air of confidence and self-assurance.

“Thank you very much for seeing me today sir.  Sorry about being late.”

“No, no.  Not at all.  I was stuck in a meeting as it was.  Now, let’s get down to business, shall we?”

“Sure,” he said.

“Your book.  It’s very…what’s the word I’m looking for…ah….yes.  Terrible.  It is absolutely horrible.  I mean, I haven’t read anything this bad since my ex-wife forced me to proof-read her sappy, absolutely droll bodice ripper.  That was the main reason why we divorced.  I mean, that was ghastly, but this?  All I can say is, wow.”  Mr. White stood looking at John.  He had the manuscript in his hand, but was holding it like it was infectious.

“Wha-what?  I thought you….Why did you…?”  Mr. White looked at him as if her were speaking Chinese.  His eyes widened in recognition.

“Oh.  You’re wondering why I had you come all the way over here just to tell you I hated your book?”  John nodded, stupefied.  “Because, my boy, what you have here is absolute garbage.  I called you here to do you a favor.  You are not cut out to be a writer.  Some are born with talent, some acquire it through hard work, and others will never be good writers even if Shakespeare himself were to tutor you.  You, John Smith, are not a writer.”

John could not believe his ears.  Here was a man, an editor, who had told him they were interested in his book, but then told him it was garbage.  Something wasn’t adding up.

“But, you told me you liked my book, that you were interested.  What changed?”

“Nothing.  I am still interested in buying your book.  I’m writing a book on the craft of writing, and I want to use excerpts from your book as examples of what not to do, under any circumstances.  I think you’ve actually managed to use every cliché and plot device possible.  Your ending makes absolutely no sense, and the characters are cookie-cutter stereo-types that no one in their right mind would ever think to put in a respectable novel.  You are definitively the worst writer I have ever met.  But, don’t let that get you down.”

John lost what little bit of control he had.

“Don’t let it get me down?  What the FUCK?  Of course it’s going to get me down.  I lost my job, and I’ve been eating bologna for the past four months, with the dim hope that someone would buy my book, an you now tell me it’s the worst piece of shit you’ve ever seen??  How am I not supposed to be pissed about this?”  The veins were sticking out of John’s neck, and his fists were clenched so hard he could feel his fingernails cutting into his palms.

“Because, dear friend, I will pay you $100,000 for your book, and the rights to use it as I see fit.”  John’s demeanor quickly changed.

“Why so much?”

“That’s simple.  Once I publish my book, you will be the laughing stock of the writing world.  You will be completely black listed from every publisher in the world.  You may even get some publicity out of it if my book does well.  So, what do you say?”

That night, at dinner, John asked Sara, the cute secretary he had asked out right after signing the check for $100,000, if she would like to go to Hawaii with him.  She said yes, and John began his plans to invest his newfound windfall into as many certificates and stock options as he could find.   In his twilight years, long after his children were grown, and Sara had passed away silently in the night, he began to write his memoirs of the life he lived, and of the day that changed his life irrevocably for the better.  He passed away three months after it was finished.  The book was picked up by Stag Publishing, which was now run by Clemens’s great grandson William.  The book topped the best-seller list for six weeks.


3 thoughts on “John Smith Writes a Book

  1. This story was written some time after Sentinel. Unfortunately, when I got my new Mac and transferred all of my files, the original dates were wiped out, so I’m unsure of the time span. I believe it was anywhere from 5 to 7 years later.

    I resisted the urge to do a current edit, as that would void the entire purpose of trying to create a timeline of works to compare to one another.

    While this piece is a bit more accomplished than Sentinel, I am far from being proud of it. The majority of the story is the narrator, well, narrating. I suppose there is nothing inherently wrong with that, but it feels a bit dislocated, and should have been told more from John’s point of view. I can’t remember for sure, but I may have been trying to achieve a more old world style of story, thus the very abrupt and hackneyed happy ending.


  2. Ha! Oh, the irony. That was pretty funny. It makes you think–would I do the same? Selling your soul for the $$. Yeah, maybe the ending could be cut, it felt a little tacked on. Overall, good story, though. I liked it. Many a writer will appreciate it.

    • Hey Dan, thanks for reading. I was going to try a rewrite, but then I realized the premise is too weak. And, essentially, I’m pulling a twist, and that is the whole point of the story. Sort of a M. Night Shamalamalama, whatever his name is, kind of thing, so it doesn’t have a lot of mileage on it.

      Thanks for the response!

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