Writers: Beware of Angels
“Fiction is about stuff that’s screwed up.”
Many years ago, in a strange and barren world before our novel, Wanting Rita, laptops, iPads, cell phones and DVDs, where pop hits included Muskrat Love, I Can’t Smile Without You, and Beat It!, I stood on the cusp of a new life, on the edge of a swimming pool, at a Milwaukee Holiday Inn. I stared into the emerald water, sniffing chlorine and watching bikinied girls, bouncing kids and a silly yellow butterfly navigate the currents of an erratic wind. I was shirtless, wearing gold running shorts and sucking on a Certs.
My father’s recent words of advice, imparted during my last visit to
reverberated back on me like body odor in a locker room. Cincinnati
“Son, you can’t play the Guitorgan the rest of your life. You need a profession. And anyway, what the hell is a Guitorgan?”
I explained it again, with renewed enthusiasm, defending my ridiculous life with verve and a fine choice of words. “It’s a guitar that, when you flip a switch, it sounds like a Hammond B-3 organ and a guitar.” http://bit.ly/LDBlpW
Unimpressed, without blinking, he repeated. “Doug, you need a profession, for crying out loud.”
King Arthur yanked a sword from a big rock and voila! he was on his way to big and better things. Don Quixote charged after windmills and wound up with beautiful Dulcinea and a loyal friend, Sancho. Luke Skywalker had a really lousy father, but as a result, he became a great Jedi Knight and a hero who broke box office records.
At the Holiday Inn pool on that hot August day, I contemplated what action I could take—like the heroes of old—that would propel me onto my own life’s path of satisfying, lucrative work. And, I was running out of time: I had to play my Guitorgan in the Safari Lounge in less than two hours.
So, I looked for a sign, just like some of those Biblical people had done—and they always seemed to find them! I searched heaven and earth. I saw a fat kid eating an ice cream cone that was rapidly melting and streaming down his stubby fingers. A yapping dog leaped and danced.
A light bulb went on. Ice cream: something in the fast food profession? Dog: a veterinarian? Dog trainer? Dancer? What kind of dancer? Broadway? Disco? Modern? Or was the dancing dog just a Zen thing? Like, life is a dance, be happy with whatever you’re doing?
A tall, exotic blond passed—her red one-piece swimming suit oh so tight and stingy. She gave me a cold, quizzical glance. I got the message: don’t get distracted by frivolity or loose living: Be serious. I knotted my brow, found a soda and candy machine and wandered about, with a can of Coke in one hand and a delicious Snickers in the other.
Not feeling that gut-wrenching certainty—that intuitive spark of bliss—that dramatic tug-that-big-sword-from-the-rock kind of hit, I looked skyward—to the heavens for a sign.
There it was! The sign I’d been searching for. A little orange biplane was sputtering across the endless blue sky—its tail writing out words in big smoky white letters, surely a sign from the heavens that all the angels had taken some time off from their busy schedules to bring me a personal message in my time of need:
I stared at the foaming words, expanding and quivering across the heavens. I gazed with a solemn intensity and did not see
AT HARDY’S— . I saw the words: BE A WRITER… BE A WRITER SALE AND NOTHING BUT A WRITER!
Suddenly, the world lost its dissonance and became melodic! I sucked down the rest of my Coke and shoved in the last quarter piece of the Snickers. I chewed victoriously.
At that moment, I knew—without a doubt—that my life’s calling was to become a writer. What a glorious resolution to indecision and doubt. What a bell-ringing, stupendous idea! What a happy, prosperous future lay out before me—and all I had to do was follow that yellow brick road until I found the wizard of literary fame and fortune!
I should have seen it a long time ago. After all, I wrote short stories in high school and college, didn’t I? Yes, of course. Remember the story about the guy who lost his gold Cross pen? He couldn’t find it anywhere! What a plot device! And what about the bookish fellow who loved science fiction? What a good read that was! He met a pretty girl at a bus stop who looked at him strangely. She turned out to be an alien from a distant planet. Actually, I believe I wrote the phrase “she was from a far, distant planet, out in the middle of nowhere,” because it was pretty far out there.
I read books too. I loved reading mysteries and biographies, best sellers and literary fiction. I wanted to begin my writing career that instant—that very lustrous moment! Not a second longer, did I want to wait. But I’d have to wait. The Guitorgan and the Safari lounge awaited.
During the evening of Neil Diamond, John Denver and Paul Simon melodies, I tinkered with ideas and themes for the great American novel—the book that would shoot me straight to the top of the best seller list. I explored catchy titles:
THE DINER DIARIES
A MORBID RESTITUTION
THE FABULOUS DETECTIVE
THE KILLERS OF KILDAIRE
DEATH IS A
LOW MEAN DOG
The ideas were pouring out of me. I was on fire, spinning out audacious plots, invective characters and clever dialogue. I couldn’t wait to finish the night of song so I could dive into my sterling new career as a professional wordsmith.
After work, I rushed back to my red and orange room, found some hotel stationary, snatched up a pencil and began to write my first—and surely one of the greatest—American novels.
I eagerly put pencil to paper…and waited…and waited. A strange feeling of numbness slowly pervaded my body, like a cold liquid. My eyes grew heavy, my arm and fingers tense. Thoughts and ideas tangled. Imagination withered. Confusion reigned.
Strangely, my hand wouldn’t move. I grew sleepy and lethargic.
“I’m just tired,” I said aloud. “Just need a few hours of sleep.”
My head dropped to the faux oak desk and I fell asleep.
At some point, deep into the night, I climbed into bed. I had a striking dream. A beautiful shimmering angel appeared and handed me a luminous golden scroll with some writing on it.
“It’s the title,” she said, beaming. “The title for your first book. Your breakthrough novel!”
“For me?” I asked, amazed and delighted.
“Yes. Just for you,” she said, well, angelically. “You will be beloved all over the world because of this title.”
I unraveled the scroll and read the title, astounded and overwhelmed. I suddenly awoke with a start in my darkened room. I snatched a pad and pencil, scribbled down the title and fell back into a sound sleep.
The next morning I awakened fresh and revived. Suddenly, I remembered the dream, the angel and the piece of paper. But I couldn’t remember the title. I anxiously reached for the pad. This was it! The title! A title from the angels—a sure sign that even the angels were with me. How could I possibly lose?
I lifted up on my elbows, focused, and read the title.
YOU BIG GUN YA!
My eyes widened, incredulous. My disappointed lips repeated it several times in a kind of desperation, in an endless variation of pitch, volume and gesticulation, praying that my eyes were playing tricks on me. Surely, if I focused hard enough, allowed the title to steep or ferment or, what was the word? Congeal! Yeah, if I just allowed it to congeal, it would reveal some kind of an eccentric, poetic, modernistic kind of... I strained, stretched and scratched. If I just allowed it to... YOU BIG GUN YA?!
I grew ill, lethargic and defeated. I sank a little and let the harsh reality of it wash over me in degrees of a creeping depression. I closed my eyes. I crumbled the paper—ripped it and flung it away. The better angels of my dreams had just shafted me! I lay back, lacing my hands behind my head: this writing thing was not going to be easy.
Nancy Kress said it best. “Fiction is about stuff that’s screwed up.” So now, Elyse and I just put characters and plot in play and just screw things up.
Copyright © 2012 Elyse Douglas
Elyse Douglas’ contemporary romance novels are entitled The Astrologer’s Daughter and Wanting Rita.
When his high school sweetheart experiences a devastating tragedy, Dr. Alan Lincoln reluctantly returns to his
Pennsylvania hometown to see her. It’s been 15 years. Rita was a small town beauty queen—his first love whom he has never forgotten. He was a nerd from a wealthy family. Her family was poor. They formed a strong connection during their senior year, but Rita married someone else, and the marriage ended tragically.Alan’s marriage of three years is disintegrating, and he sees in Rita the chance to begin again with the true love of his life. Rita has been mentally and emotionally shattered, but she reaches out to Alan and fights to build a new life with him. During a passionate summer, however, the past and present converge and threaten their rekindled love, as Alan and Rita must struggle with old ghosts and new secrets.
When asked how they write a novel together, Doug often answers, “Well… If Elyse is dismissive and quietly pacing, then I know something’s not working. If I’m defensive, dramatic and defiant, then I know Elyse will soon be scowling and quietly pacing. We remind ourselves of Rita and Alan James in our novel, Wanting Rita. How the books get finished, I don’t know.”
Elyse Douglas live in New York City.
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