I squirm in my chair as the woman across from me reads my excerpt. I call it my pilot, which is normally what you call the first episode of TV shows, the vast majority of which get rejected before the reviewer even finishes the episode. They schedule five reviews an hour. For twenty-minute episodes. Of course, this occurs to me right now. I know my face is washed a hue of eager, with a touch of anxiety, and the mildest hint of crippling fear.
She looks up. My world, in this moment, will either end, or be given wings. I’ll be given wings in it. Or something. Whatever.
“Look. It’s never easy, coming in here. I know you must be nervous.”
I giggle. It isn’t the appropriate response.
“The best thing I can give you is honesty.”
I see where this is going. I want to kindly ask her not to give me any of that. She’s already talking. She’s pretty set on it.
“Your tense switches from second person to third person to first person flash back narrative, within two thousand words.”
“Pretty breakneck pace, hey? Engaging?”
She’s not impressed. I can tell she’s uncomfortable, which happens to many people when they encounter great talent. She fumbles a bit and continues.
“I’m not sure you know what plot actually means…”
“It’s true… I don’t have much experience with farming.”
That was definitely the wrong thing to say. I’ll try a different tack.
“Plot, though, really, don’t you think that’s a bit… outdated? Do you think readers still expect it? I think they’re looking for something different.”
“That… perspective… notwithstanding, from the dialogue you’ve included, I must admit that I’d be surprised if you know how humans actually talk.”
This isn’t going how I’d expected. I don’t think she understands.
“I don’t think you understand.”
She cocks an eyebrow. Pretty sure I can safely interpret that as a sign we’re getting somewhere.
“My auntie reads all my stuff. She thinks it’s delightful.”
“That’s…that’s not to be ignored. Have you had any others review your work?”
Alright. She wants to talk business. Numbers.
“I’ve reached double digit views on my blog. Multiple times.”
“I don’t… I don’t think that is quite the calibre of reference I was hoping for.”
I see where she’s going with this. I had hoped to avoid bringing in the cavalry so soon.
“I see where you’re going with this,” I nod slyly. “Maybe Chairman Mao is a more… lucrative… reference for you?”
I struggle to get my wallet out of my pocket, which probably builds suspense. Once I get it unsnagged, I lay out three crumpled pink Maos and a couple greens for good measure.
“Maybe… four hundred Maos would change your mind?”
She looks at me in disbelief. I shouldn’t have put so much on the table at once. You have to do these things bit by bit, I’ve been told.
“You do understand that we are an international publishing house.”
“You do realize that if you are asking me to take even a second look at your trash attempt at a choose-your-own-adventure romantic memoir, let alone recommend it for review, you’ll have to give me a helluva lot more than four hundred Maos. In fact, that’s not even half the hourly rate I’d charge to cover the spa and meditation treatments I will need to purge your drivel from my system.”
“It’s a choose-your-own-memoir adventure romance.”
“That’s not a real thing.”
“Yes. Yes it is.”
“It’s really not. Did you hear anything I said after that? Look, I don’t mean to be rude, but it’s been a long day, your writing is subpar at best, you’ve tried to bribe me with your pocket money, which is really not cool, and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll just drop this attempt to force fiction of worth out of your delusions-of-grandeur addled brain and just go for something easy, one of the low arts.”
She better not ask me –
“Literature, serious fiction, it’s not for everyone – ”
I can feel it coming –
“Have you tried humour writing?”
Never. Never in my life had I been so offended. The lack of professionalism in publishing these days is appalling. To be spoken to so! To even insinuate that I would dally in the world of cheap laughs and wooden punchlines! The world waiting to be impacted by me, to take my words into the threads of its garments, and she would dare to peg me for a jester; so little time to be true to my gift, and here my pearls lay scattered and sullied before the gaze of this mean lady. I gathered up my insulted Maos, put them back in my wallet, and stormed out as animatedly as I could.
Being rejected by the system. It’s all just part of being an artist, you know. I hear her sigh behind me – an indignant glance backward reveals her massaging her temples, behind which lays her frontal lobe, the house of reason, in whose halls I’m sure she has already begun to consider how she’ll come to rue this day.