I sit at the edge of my seat, facing my publisher. “So what do you think? Is it ready?”
She looks right back at my eager face and rubs the bridge of her nose as if she is working her way through a headache. “I mean…” she sighs. “Honestly, Moses, what the fuck?”
I can’t help but feel a little taken aback. Was ‘What the fuck’ a good thing? Like ‘What the fuck, I didn’t expect something this good.’ She doesn’t look like she’s praising me though. “So, is it… bad?” I ask hesitantly.
“I didn’t say that,” she answers.
“So it’s good?” I ask, feeling a little confused about her tone.
“No… No, I wouldn’t go so far as calling it good either. It’s just… you know… ‘What the fuck’”.
“I aehm… I don’t know what that means.”
“It means ‘What the fuck Moses?’ As in ‘What the fuck were you thinking?’ What’s the point of it?”
“I didn’t know it was supposed to have a point.”
“Well, usually it does. People don’t want to just close a book after they finished it and go: ‘We’ll that was a bunch of random nonsense. I have no idea why I even read it, I guess I’ll get on with my life now.’ You obviously put a lot of work into this, but who on earth is going to want to read it? You could have at least picked a genre and stuck to it or tried writing something somewhat normal.”
“You told me to write something that is fun to…” I start up, trying to find some common ground, but she interrupts me.
“Do you actively want to be broke? You know you’ve got to make money and you have to know that this isn’t going to make any. I mean… Ancient Lizards eating themselves to death, sex pacts with underwater fairies, parallel dimensions that need to be explained in depth using detailed mathematics, Vampires vs. Sociopaths, Ninja Duels, Insane Space Soldiers, Superpowered Yakuza… This… This is just weird. You can’t just throw a bunch of shit at a wall and call it a book regardless of whether or not it sticks.”
“I thought it was unique,” I mutter, my confidence shrinking by the second.
“It is, but so is sticking a banana in a jar of mustard. Doesn’t mean anyone will want to pay you for it.”
“Well… some people might want a banana with mustard. A lot of them are pretty weird, once you get to know them,” I argue. “A lot of people told me that they really like…”
“Moses,” she interrupts me again, “you’re not hearing me. I can’t publish this shit. It’s something, but it isn’t something that will have any readers.”
I fall silent. “So what now?” I ask.
She shrugs. “You could publish it yourself.”
I sit there stunned. She knows as well as I do that self-publishing the book would be a death sentence. I might as well stick it in a bargain bin at a local supermarket, only worse. Every day, an endless torrent of self-published books goes out into the world, only to disappear into the void. A lot of them are so bad you can find a spelling mistake on the first page. It’s like an army of mad monkeys typing out an endless stream of random words, sticking them next to each other, printing them out, and throwing them on an ever-increasing pile, where millions of other books already rest. The thought of my book, sitting in that gigantic pile, just another hidden gem waiting to be discovered but only getting buried deeper every day, breaks my heart.
“Please don’t make me do that,” I answer, all color drained from my face.
“I mean… you could have listened to our advice when we gave it to you. Written the things we told you to write.” she says.
I could have, but I hadn’t wanted to. I had considered it, but writing that stuff would have been nothing more than average. Hero is chosen from humble beginnings to do X and has character arc Y as he rises to the tasks ahead of him. The kind of story that has already been written a million times, only with slightly different events and backdrops. Out of my desperation, a small flicker of anger sparks. “Nobody wants to read the mediocre piece of garbage you told me to write,” I suddenly bark, surprising her and myself at the same time.
“Maybe so, but it would have been a mediocre piece of garbage that people would have actually bought. A sub-par burger with fries is still better than a banana with mustard,” she answers. There’s some flint in her voice now.
I know this is a good time to keep my mouth shut, go back to the drawing board, start over, and see what I can salvage out of this relationship. But I have had enough. I don’t want to be reasonable anymore. “There is another option,” I say, a mad, angry flicker of hope in my voice.
She wordlessly raises an eyebrow, wondering what I’ll come up with next.
I reach into my hoodie, produce my lightsaber, stretch out my hand, and flick the switch. It turns on with a familiar buzz. I can feel the heat of it almost burning my hands as I raise it into a guard position.
She considers the weapon with an emotionless, calculating glare. “Have you gone mad?” She asks, slowly getting up out of her rich leather desk chair. “How much worse do you want to make this?”
I answer neither of her questions. When she looks into my eyes, she finds only steel and knows which answer she is going to get.
“Alright then, have it your way,” she says with a sigh. She begins to transform as I step back from the desk. Her torso splits open, and a multitude of long, thin, spidery limbs made of shining metal emerge from it. The human flesh on her face splits apart, and slowly slides off it, hitting the ground with a wet slap. Below her flesh, the face of a machine is revealed, its eyes cold and uncaring. When you look deep into them, you’ll find nothing, only polls, statistics, and money. Those eyes show me an inevitable place, where art must die and mad hope must concede to reasonable thoughts. Where every story must have a point to it to be worth writing. Under the merciless glare of these eyes, everything unique, weird and wonderful must inevitably turn into yet another greyish blob in a never-ending sludge pipe of mediocre books.
When she has fully transformed, I am facing a deadly machine almost twice as tall as me. The remainders of her human flesh lie at her feet, like a discarded suit. She stands on six legs, all shiny like freshly polished chrome, and another four limbs protrude from her mechanical torso. Each one of her limbs ends in razor-sharp claws, ready to tear me to shreds. Even though my flesh is weak and easy to hurt, she knows my lightsaber is a formidable weapon that can cut through her as if she was made of butter. We size each other up for a few brief seconds. There will be no drawn-out duel, no long sequence of parries and feints. I take a deep breath, close my eyes to find a moment of peace, and open them again.
In the same heartbeat, we rush at each other. My weapon is raised high above my head and a madman's scream is in my throat. I am ready to die. Her many legs move with mathematical precision, clicking across the ground at an inhuman speed. Her four arms close in on me from every angle. I twist, dodge, slash and scream. We clash and come apart, stumbling toward the opposite ends of the office. A single one of her appendages clatters to the floor between us and I crumble to my knees. The lightsaber slips out of my hand. I can feel the pain of too many stab wounds. I touch my chest and it is wet with blood. There’s too much of it already.
“Alright, you win,” I croak, as my sight turns blurry. “I’ll self-publish.” I try to think of something witty to say, something to give a point to this story, but there is nothing I can think of. I slump forward, darkness embracing me as I lose consciousness.
She stands above me. Even in my death, she betrays no emotion. Her many appendages fold in on themselves until she has reverted back into a human-sized form. She walks over to her intercom and presses a button on it. “Send in the next one. Also, I need a girl to redo my make-up and a clean-up crew as well. This one made a mess.”