Malcolm looked around. Everything was in place. The interview could begin as soon as Jackson Keller finished wiping the residue of white powder from his nose.
Malcolm Hall was excited, nervous, and a little star struck. Getting the reclusive author to agree to an interview was a major coup, one that could propel him to a bigger office and a better salary.
“The son of a bitch offered me some coke – and a ride on the Keller rocket,” Jill whispered to Malcolm.
Malcolm looked at her, surprised and alarmed. Jill smiled reassuringly.
“Don’t worry. I didn’t say anything, just smiled at him. I’m a professional, after all.”
Malcolm sighed in relief and thanked his assistant.
“Might kick him in the nuts after we get the interview, though.”
“Fair enough,” Malcolm said, nodding. He felt a little dizzy. He wondered if he was out of his depth. Jill rubbed his left shoulder and walked away.
It was time.
“We’re here today with best-selling author Jackson Keller. His latest novel, The Paladin Code, features hard-boiled private eye Drake Birch, a morally-challenged man who always seems to end up on the right side of things. So, Mr. Keller,” Malcolm turns to face Jackson Keller, “this is the third time we see Drake Birch in one of your novels. What’s so appealing about him?” (Instead of using Jackson Keller’s name the third time, substitute a small descriptor, like turns to face “his idol” or “the famous writer” or something like? Small stuff)
Jackson was busy lighting a cigarette and had turned away from the camera. He turned back to face Malcolm.
“Shit! Ok. We started, have we? Yeah. Drake. He’s a mean son of a bitch but he has his own code. The readers resonate with a man who has the balls to kick a few asses to get things done.” (other way around – the character resonates with readers – or readers relate to ?)
Malcolm paused a moment. He hadn’t been expecting such a forthright response. He was, however, in for bigger surprises.
“Um…ok! Let’s see,” Malcolm shuffled some papers in front of him, “I have a quote here from Siobhan McReedy of the New York Times. ‘Mr. Keller adds a lyrical quality to his writing that transcends the hard-boiled detective genre. In short, he is a poetic Raymond Chandler. His words fall like rain on my eyes, burn like fire in my soul.’ Well, quite a compliment.”
Keller knocked back a tumbler full of whiskey, burped, and then answered.
Malcolm paused again, waiting to see if the author would add anything to that. He didn’t.
“Care to expand, Mr. Keller?”
Jackson Keller poured himself some more whiskey, sitting back and twirling the contents of his glass.
“Sure. Ok. She understands me. Genius understands genius. How’s that for a quote?”
“Um…very nice. Very nice. You do, however, have some detractors. You are said to be misogynist, you use colorful language to excess, and the violence is over the top.”
“Yeah? Fuck ‘em.” (hilarious)
The room was silent. Keller tamped out his cigarette and lit another one. He took two large swallows of whiskey before facing the camera, oblivious to the shocked expressions on everyone’s faces.
“Uh…mmm…” Malcolm looked at Jill. She twirled her finger, indicating that he should keep on going.
“Do you have…uh…any advice to give to any of our prospective authors out there? I’m sure they’d love some advice from a five-time best-selling author.”
Keller thought for a moment before answering. He had a gleam in his eye that made Malcolm’s heart sink.
“Sure. First, get yourself a good laptop with a sturdy keyboard and some decent writing software. Get to know that keyboard. Feel it up. Caress it. Then…”
Keller paused and turned to the side camera, smiling.
“Then…finger-bang that bitch until she screams.”
“Uh…what the hell?” Malcolm was confused, mortified, and angry. The best-selling author of the last ten years was an asshole.
“Listen up, son. You gotta put in the work. Wear that keyboard out. Write until you can’t write another line, and then write another line. Read until your eyes bleed. Take notes. Study. Then, write some more.”
“I…I didn’t get that from your…uh…previous comment.”
“That’s because you aren’t a writer, boyo. Bet you remember it for a long time, though. Ha!”
Malcolm nodded. He hated to admit it, but it was true.
“Now, let me tell you a few other things that burn my bacon. These high school kids. They have blogs and TikToks and all sorts of vile shit. Just because your high school teacher gave you an A for writing a rhyming couplet doesn’t make you a writer.”
“Ok. Let’s move on…”
“And you stay-at-home moms who write these insipid little love stories and submit ‘em to writing contests. Just…stop. Go change a diaper.”
“Can I ask you…”
“Oh! And you high school English teachers. The fucking worst. Flaunting your cheap skills and superficial understanding of structure and rhetoric to a group of brain-dead kids. Please, for the love of God, show these miscreants how to use a comma properly. That is, if you even know how to use commas.”
Malcolm took off his microphone and stood up.
“Let’s all take a break,” he said tersely.
Maybe I can strangle the bastard without anyone seeing me. I bet Jill would help.
“Don’t worry. We can edit the hell out of it, Malcolm.”
Malcolm turned to Jill, frowning and shaking his head.
“Really? We’ve been at it two hours and I bet we don’t have more than ten usable minutes. The man’s a dick of the first water, Jill. Did you see what he did when we broke?” (usable hurts my ears a little – salvageable, or ten minutes we can use ?)
“Yeah. Peed in his own pool. Then he jumped in. The man’s a disaster on two very unsteady legs.”
Jeremy, a cameraman, sauntered over, grinning.
“He took another huge bump of coke, Malcolm. Says he’s ready to go.”
Malcolm’s shoulders sagged. He nodded, moving back to his seat.
“Let’s get this shit show over with, guys. Jill, can you…uh…pirate one of his bottles of whiskey? Maybe two. I think we’ll need it.”
“Already done, boss,” Jill smiled and clipped the microphone on Malcolm.
“Maybe get some of his coke as well,” Malcolm added, adjusting his tie.
Keller’s eyes were bleary and unfocused. He laughed out loud at nothing and slapped his thighs as if he were in on some great cosmic joke.
“Never use fuck in your books if you’re a beginner, boyo. Lemme tell you a secret. Fuck,” Keller leaned forward, swayed, then leaned back, “is a prostitute leaning into your car window, showing off her tits. That’s another word you can’t use when you’re beginning, by the way. She’ll offer you things the missus won’t do for you anymore. And it’s paradise. Absolute paradise – until the missus finds out and kicks your ass out the door. You wind up downtown, driving all the hipsters crazy because you eat meat and smoke. And their dogs shit all over the place. Fucking hipsters, right?”
Malcolm nodded absently. Fortunately, Keller hadn’t been mic’d up yet, so his words were for the benefit of the crew. Jeremy laughed. No one else did.
“Ok. Ready?” Malcolm looked at Keller, who nodded and almost fell over doing it.
“Mr. Keller. Tell us a little bit about how you use simile, metaphor, and allegory.”
“Use simile and metaphor as often as you say something sincere and nice to your wife. I, for instance, don’t use simile or metaphor.”
Malcolm blinked at Keller. Keller closed his eyes and hummed.
“You’ve been divorced three times, I see.”
“Would you uh…care to expand on that?”
The afternoon sun started to creep in through the French doors, casting bright light against the shadowed interior of the spacious but cold living area. Malcolm noticed that there were no photographs in frames anywhere. And, curiously, no books.
“You are a master at symbolism. Could you explain what that is, and why it’s so important to understand?”
Keller grunted and leaned forward to light a cigarette.
“Sure, son. You see,…” Keller waved the cigarette around and dropped it. Jill handed it back to him, making sure she gave him the lit end first. Keller put it in his mouth and spat it out, howling. He drank a tumbler of whiskey and spat several times, trying to get the taste of ash out of his mouth.
“Ready?” Malcolm smiled. Jill was fast becoming his best friend. (favorite person ?)
“Uh…yeah…symbolism. Fuck! That still hurts. Um…yeah… lemme give you some examples. My sweet cars represent my status as an elite member of the writing community. My kids represent the laziness and dissipation of the younger generation. My use of recreational drugs represent the spiritual emptiness that wealth and success can’t provide. Easy-peasy.”
“And use third person omniscient as your point of view if you’re a newbie writer. The narrator knows everything. Like a surly teenager. Like a wife who finds your phone’s passcode and goes through your texts and pics. Fucking wives, right?”
“That’s a unique take on the matter, Mr. Keller.”
“Damn right. Oh! And don’t ever use words like mellifluous, ineffable, or conflagration. Your readers won’t appreciate them because they don’t know what they mean. Write to the lowest common denominator, son. Be Hemingway, not Proust.”
“Take a minute and Google Proust.”
“I wasn’t going to ask…”
“Google Hemingway while you’re at it. You kids don’t read him, I bet. It’s all superheroes in underwear.”
“High school English teachers. Pah! A bane on the world of good literature.”
“Wasn’t your second wife a high school English teacher?” Malcolm blinked, trying not to smile.
“That was her side hustle. She was a full-time bitch. Left me for – get this – a woman! What can I say? After you go Keller, you’re ruint for another feller. Ha!”
“Uh huh. Clever. So…Mr. Keller…uh…I think we have all we need. Do you have anything to add? A little epilogue, perhaps?”
Keller glared at Malcolm.
“Smart-ass, aren’t you, usin’ some literary term to suck up to me. Ha! I know your game, boyo.”
“If you have nothing to add…”
“Hey! I didn’t say that. Maybe I got a little somethin’ somethin’ to say. Uh…well…”
Jill snickered quietly and Malcolm stared at Keller. He could see beads of sweat forming on the aging man’s forehead. He’s losing his hair. Karma.
“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. There.”
“He stole that from a song,” Jill whispered to Malcolm as they were readying to leave.
“Color me completely unsurprised,” Malcolm said, stalking out of the room without shaking Keller’s hand. He hoped that Jill would be as good as her word and kick the man in the jollies. Two or three times.
Keller took off his microphone and sauntered to the kitchen, pouring out some more white powder. He looked at the crystal container that housed his white magic. Thought I had more than that. He shrugged and snorted.
The film crew left. Keller sat in his chair and stared out at the expansive lawn, the afternoon sun glinting and the long fingers of shadows crawling towards the patio. He sipped a tumbler of whiskey and sighed. A gentle rain began to fall. The fireplace crackled and popped. Keller fell asleep in a chair on the patio, not realizing that he cried in his sleep.
This is so Del – ish! Keller is simple awful – I love him! A complete train wreck that I alternated despising and feeling sorry for. Malcolm’s rising ire is perfectly played out.
Just a couple mild suggestions: The parting scene above could use a bit more so as not to rush the wonderful wrap-up you have here. I would perhaps add a paragraph where Jill’s parting words bring home an especially painful point that Keller appears to ignore, something like I’m sure your kids are really proud of their dad. Bet you’re a real contributor to the family gene pool, the verbal equivalent to being kicked in the jollies – side note: your phrasing is a joy to read.
One thing other occurred to me and it’s only a thought that I’ll toss out there because I know you will use what works best for your baby here: A parallel between Malcolm and Keller’s reactions to each other. Malcolm may feel gutted to learn his idol is a substandard human being and, of course, Keller knows he is. Like both sort of reflecting the other’s disappointment; Malcolm in Keller and Keller in life. We don’t know why exactly he’s such an asshole but we also know inherently that celebrity can breed the biggest jerks on earth.
Lastly, the final line might benefit from a tweak. Keller fell asleep (passed out) in a chair, dreaming fitful dreams that made him cry in his sleep, all to be forgotten by morning. ???
Wonderful work, Del. I absolutely love what you have here!