“Picture your reader,” was the pithy advice my editor gave me yesterday.
Not sure he if meant literally, but I wasn’t going to embarrass myself and ask him to elaborate on it. I am imaginative – I can figure it out on my own.
So, tonight, I found a comfortable position in my desk chair and closed my eyes. I got this. Imagining things was my day gig.
Lots of faces flashed in my mind’s eye. From all continents. All skin tones, occupations, genders. Various degrees of intelligence and creativity.
I singled out a guy sitting in an armchair, reading a book under a floor lamp. The walls of the room were lined up with bookshelves, just like my own library.
I focused on the book pages in his lap and recognized paragraphs from my latest novel. I smiled, triumphant.
He was my guy. I had found my reader.
He turned page after page until he almost reached the last. Suddenly, he yawned. I gasped. He yawned again, harder even, his jaws cracking with boredom.
He stretched, placed a bookmark in between the pages and closed the book with a thud. He got up and threw the book on the side table, on top of other books.
Wait, wait, I protested. You must read the conclusion. You can’t drop a story without reading the ending, the best part. What kind of reader are you?
He shuffled to the bedroom and for in bed, wrapping his body against his wife’s.
How can you insult an author this way? I had worked myself to the bone for three excruciating months to come up with an earth-shaking ending to please my finicky editor.
Nope, you can’t disrespect me like this, buddy.
I focused on the wife, laying on her left side facing the window. The draperies were drawn and a fat moon was peering inside the bedroom.
“How was the book?” the woman asked, grabbing the husband’s hand and resting it on her belly.
“Dull as dishwater,” he responded. “I regret spending twenty-three dollars on it.”
“Did you finish it?”
“I couldn’t bring myself to read the last chapter.”
“Honey,” she said and turned around to face him. “Give it a chance. It might surprise you.”
“Nah,” he responded. “I’m done with it. Go to sleep now.”
Oh, no. I don’t think so, buddy.
I concentrated on his head with all my brainpower until he finally threw the covers aside and got up, wincing, holding his head with both hands.
That’s right, buddy. You are going to finish that last chapter.
The man waddled into the bathroom, but I made sure there were no more aspirins left in the medicine bottle.
That’s right. I am your God, I control your world. You do as I say.
With a groan, the man shuffled into the living room, picked up a bottle of plum brandy and poured some of the amber liquor into a tumbler.
Does alcohol help with headaches? I had no idea.
So, I took a chance and allowed him to drain the glass. And then another one. Mollified, he curled up in the armchair and placed his throbbing head on the armrest. To my dismay, he fell asleep in less than ten minutes.
No matter how much I yelled at him, he didn’t react, but continued to snore in his hairy chest, drooling on the front of his pajamas.
Ok, that method didn’t work, so I had to come up with something else.
I was resourceful. Persuasive. I was still the God of his world. I had to be a bit more devious, though.
In the morning, he stirred and scrambled to his feet. He stretched, grimacing at the pain in his shoulders and hips. But his features were serene – the headache was gone.
After two mugs of coffee and a big bowl of oatmeal, he looked alert, nimble. He sat down at his desk and opened his laptop.
For a minute he stared at the blank Word page and the pulsing cursor.
“How do you like Michael Prose’s book?” he typed and I grinned seeing his startled face.
Frowning and shaking his head, he pressed the backspace key several times, but the sentence refused to disappear. He gulped more of his black coffee to jolt his sluggish morning brain.
“I see you have a hard time finishing it.” I typed.
His eyes bulged at the fresh sentence on the screen and he glanced over his shoulders in the room. He then grabbed the laptop cover and tried to close it, but I made sure it didn't budge, no matter how much pressure he applied to it.
With trembling fingers, he typed: “Are you Michael Prose? The author of that deplorable book?”
“’Deplorable?’” I typed back, annoyed. “You can’t rate a book without finishing it. That’s lazy. Pathetic.”
“I need ONE paragraph to decide if a book is worth reading. Don’t need to finish it to rate it,” he played along.
“You’ve read ninety percent of the book, man. Not one lousy paragraph.”
“I was in a generous mood. I took pity on it. But I am done with it. I got other books on my list.”
“Look, you paid twenty-three dollars for it and read only ninety percent of it. Shouldn’t you get your money’s worth?”
“The ending won’t redeem the book. It probably sucks, just like the hook, your protagonist, main conflict, everything. Won’t waste any more time on it.”
I paused for a minute. “How about I give you your twenty-three dollars back?”
“You’d have to pay me ten times that amount for the time I wasted on your inadequate book.”
I was getting irked by now. “Listen, pal. You’re just a character in my story. I decide every move you make, every sordid detail of your pretend life. I can end you in a one-word sentence. With one click. Do not cross me.”
The man stared at the screen and the threatening blinking of the cursor. He gulped more coffee to fortify himself and then set the mug down with a bang.
“I am NOT going to read that last chapter,” he typed, defiantly.
“That’s cute – your bravado - but you don’t get to choose, pal. I am your God. You do as I say.”
“If you’re such a powerful God, why do you need my approval so desperately?”
My fingers froze mid-air. I gawked at his reply and yelped. My cheeks throbbed, hot and tingling, as though, he had slapped me hard across the face. Not once, but twice.
I opened my eyes, still dizzy after the confrontation.
Well, he wasn't my guy after all.
I'll try again tomorrow. Not all my characters/readers are that feisty.
I will find a nice, agreeable guy. Persuadable.
Okay, I'll beg. I’ll negotiate. Get on my knees, if I have to, alright?
What about you, reader? Would YOU be my guy?
Michael Prose here.