Ted and Frank sit at the counter of their regular Hullahoo bar for their weekly chat, and sitting not far from them we are overhearing their babble. It’s a busy night with many patrons sharing their corner.
“Do you have skeletons in your closet?” asks Ted, referring to a politician whose election failed after sex revelations surfaced in the media.
“Oh man!” Frank responds with a sigh. “I wouldn’t dare open it for fear they’d all tumble out with a rattling cabal. And you?”
“Mine are in the garden shed,” Ted confesses. “Too many to count. At night they haunt me, making me scream, yelling ‘why was I so stupid!’ Then Ann asks, ‘Are you all right?’ What am I supposed to say? If I told her, she’d probably run away.”
“But why do only men have skeletons in their closets?” Bert wonders, sitting next to Ted. “Women are never accused of hiding them.”
“Women use closets to store clothes, Bert,” Frank says. “You of all people who live with one should know. There ain’t any room for skeletons.”
“It’s because you guys are the perverts,” joins in Alicia, sitting next to Frank. “It’s us the weaker sex that always gets molested.”
“I know a few of you who collaborated quite eagerly in the molestation,” Frank shoots back.
“But you must’ve started it,” Alicia says. “Passing by in the office and glimpsing invitingly? Asking to have a coffee together, then lunch and then dinner, and then the nightclub with dancing cheek to cheek and more? And then the skeleton gets baked.”
“You could’ve said ‘No’ but instead you went along,” Frank says, grimacing. “Our skeletons are shared with your permissive weaker sex, but it’s always us who get burned.”
“I didn’t speak of myself, just the experiences of my girlfriends,” Alicia says, looking away.
“So you don’t have skeletons, only your girlfriends do?” asks Ted, pressing her. “Your type’s always the holy Mary.”
“They’re all hypocrites,” Bert shouted, gulping his beer. “Them so-called journalists who uncover these skeletons have tons of them in their own closets. He who’s without sin should cast the first stone. Remember Bible class?”
“If you remember, Alicia, the adulterer in that story was a woman.” Frank sneers.
“That was then and this is now,” Cathy buts in, sitting next to Bert. “Sad enough it took two thousand years for the roles to turn around.”
“But a man still needs a woman to make a skeleton,” Bert argues. “So you guys must have skeletons, too. That’s all I’m saying.”
“Not so, Mister Bert!” Cathy hollers. “You heard about that scumball of a sports coach that molested all those trusting young gymnasts against their will?”
“And that ugly guy in Hollywood who forced himself on actresses if they wanted a job?” Alicia adds.
“And what about that lewd role model of all husbands and fathers, Bill Cosby?” yells Cindy from the far end of Ted’s.
Sudden silence reigns at the counter. All males pull shameful faces feeling they truly belong to a bunch of public perverts. In an effort to turn the conversation back to the usual uplifting clatter, Ted asks Frank, “Can you share any skeleton you’re hiding?”
Frank’s face clears up. “So glad you asked. There’s one I want to get rid of. I took it out from the shed at Halloween but forgot it had an eye-operated talker. Each time trick-or-treat kids passed by, it squeaked ‘Come in and meet Frank Womanizer.’ The whole neighborhood came out, especially moms, who told their daughters to stay away from me! Colleagues gave it to me as an office award. I became the neighborhood villain. It ruined my chances of running for State Office.’
“You see,” Alicia says. “You ain’t any better than the rest of them. You better pay me a drink to make good.”
“Bert, any skeletons you want to share?” Frank asks, ignoring Alicia’s demand because he’d taken his killing libido pill.
Bert shifts on his stool, uncomfortable he’s put on the spot. “Mine are only financial. I claim the fifth.”
“Ted, would you volunteer?” Frank asks.
“The most embarrassing thing that got me fired. I had a bad dinner the night before and went with awful tummy cramps to the office. I was asked to see the boss and as he hadn’t returned yet from a meeting had to wait for him in his office when it flew out. I didn’t know it would be that bad. I almost fainted myself. I thought of running away but he suddenly came in, got furious, threw all the windows open, and shouted me out. It took me two years before I got hired somewhere else as everybody kept gossiping about it.”
Laughter all around. “But that’s not a skeleton that interests the media,” Henry says, sitting next to Alicia. He’s from The Washington Post, so he knows. “It must be juicy, not stinky.”
“Come on, Henry,” Bert says. “Why are male skeletons always female? Because you guys make it so? Skeletons do not wear their sex, so how can you see what’s what? Dirt diggers you are!”
“Hey, Bert, I must write to earn my bread and butter, man! You do it with financial crookery. I’ll find out and leak it to the Special Prosecutor.”
“Sure,” Bert retorts. “From sources at a bar.”
Then a busty skeleton enters the bar door and rattles to the counter. “Hi, I’m Stormy Waters and am for hire.”
“Can I buy you a drink?” Henry asks.
Sitting cramped in my window seat, I wondered why the moon had this mocking smile on his face. My heliphone didn’t ring. Maybe because of secret regulations between Heaven and air traffic control? I still didn’t know the whereabouts of Anita’s husband’s prison. Stumbling through customs on arrival at dawn, a voice told me that the cab driver would know. “Oslo fengsel,” he confirmed. After going through town, he turned into a long driveway lined by leafless trees and snow-covered grounds, ending at a red-stone somber building. “You wait,” I said and went in. The guards watched me, quizzically. I was dressed as a priest, my faith-inspiring white collar shining trustingly behind the white scarf around my neck. I didn’t speak a word of Norwegian but had many times mumbled Anita’s husband’s name, Wilhelm Lassen, that bloody Viking who’d trounced me with Anita.
I sat in the bare visiting room when Wilhelm Lassen entered, took the only other seat, his face one question mark. I gazed at his hands. As I’d suspected, he didn’t wear rings in prison. I hoped he spoke a bit of English.
“My name’s Father John,” I said. “I’m bringing you a final word from Anita.”
The man’s face grew grey, his lips tightened, his eyes squinted. “Anita is dead,” he said with a rolling accent. “I did not do nothing. She suffered shortage of breath. Who are you?”
“Her confessor when she lived with you in Geneva. She left this small package to hand you in case she’d die before you.” I pulled a blue jewelry box from my pocket and handed it to him. In it was a golden ring I’d dipped with a tweezer into a small base with liquid cyanide in the airplane toilet a short while before landing. A friend at a chemical factory had given me the deadly stuff, believing I’d use it to kill persistent mice in my basement. If Wilhelm would slide the ring on his finger, his skin would absorb the cyanide and death would follow soon.
Wilhelm opened the box and stared at it. “My wedding ring?” he asked. “I thought I’d lost it. Rar,” (‘strange’) he muttered. Then he shifted it onto his ring finger, looking sad.
The guard came in and warned me my time was up. I stood, said farewell to Wilhelm, and left as fast as I could. The cab driver took me rapidly to the airport, and I grabbed the first flight out to Amsterdam to erase my footsteps, hopefully having left pandemonium at the Oslo fensel. In Amsterdam, I got the last seat in a crowded United flight to Washington, mission accomplished, I reckoned.
Back home at night, the heliphone rang. It was Anita.
“Thank you, Johnnyboy. He’s nicely burning in Hell, screaming his lungs out.”
“But won’t I be punished?”
“No, you’ll be rewarded in Heaven when you get here in a while. Can’t wait.” Her heavenly voice drifted away.
“Crime pays in the afterlife,” I whispered and fell asleep, uncomfortable about Anita’s eagerness. Wilhelm’s death was reported as a suicide.
Once you reach a certain age the heliphone starts ringing. It always does around or a while after midnight. Nowadays, it rings more often. Past loves are calling in from the afterlife. The other night it was Amalia.
“I didn’ t see you at my funeral. Why didn’t you come? Why not bring me any flowers? After all, we spent some good times together.”
“Oh, dearest Amalia! Your voice sounds just like before. Australia was a bit far for me. Where are you now?”
“Much farther than Australia. You remember that day in the dunes?”
“Wonderful. I often dream of it.”
“So how come you didn’t marry me?”
“Blame it on my immaturity. I didn’t realize how good you would’ve been for me.”
“That figures; you were proposing all over the place after you left me. Are you any happier now?”
“It would’ve been nicer to share our lives together. If I’d had more than one life, I would’ve done it.”
“I’ll keep a seat reserved for you here then. Till soon.”
The heliphone broke off. That “soon” gave me the shivers. I got up and made myself a stiff Martini. What did she know?
Earlier this week, I got another call, from Irene.
“Nobody came to my funeral. Only Cindy, you remember, our bridesmaid, and that bloody husband of mine who’d left me by myself most of the time. Why did you divorce me? “
“Probably for the same reason your second husband left you alone.”
“We had so much fun together, don’t you remember that sofa?”
“I do, delightful, but you embezzled my money.”
“Come on. All that paper’s just monopoly money. You can’t take it over here.”
“What’s over here?”
“The purgatory. I don’t know why they put me here. It’s always cold. I spent time enough in jail.”
“Terrible. It surprised me you got yourself married again.”
“I got him the same way I got you.”
“By pretending he’d made me pregnant.”
“Yeah, I remember that. I think the purgatory is fine for you.”
The line broke off. I shivered again and took another Lorazepam. Was I lucky I got rid of her. She took all my money and still keeps calling me. That heliphone is a nightmare.
Mid-week wasn’t any better. It was Marilou, the fat girl from Switzerland, who I heard via the grapephone had suddenly passed away.
“I got heart trouble because I was overweight.”
“I’m so sorry, Marilou. I guess you’ve got plenty to eat now and can’t die anymore.”
“I still hate you. You only made love to me in the Alps because you got high rubbing my big boobs. You were a pervert.”
“I remember your telling me that. I broke my back lifting you up all the time because you couldn’t stay up on your skis.”
“I offered you my millions of Swiss Francs, but you only wobbled in between my boobs, said ‘Ahhh,’ and left me.”
“You told me the Swiss tycoon you married did it for your boobs too.”
“He was supposed to go before me. Now he’s got all my money and married an ultra slim pin-up from Vanity Fair.”
“Are you calling him too?”
“His phone is off the hook. I hate Vanity Fair.”
The heliphone died away. Marilou was one of those sad moments in life you want to forget but keep being reminded of. How did she get my number?
Last night was the worst ever. It was Anita from Norway, my biggest regret in love life.
“I wish I’d married you.”
“A bit late to tell me that now. What happened?”
“My husband murdered me.”
“Oh no! Why?”
“Because I kept dreaming aloud at night mentioning your name, saying that I loved you.”
“I hope they put him on death row.”
“Death row does not exist in my country. But hell does here.”
“Awful. You think I could do anything?”
“Go to his prison and poison him. I want him in hell right now where they’ll knife him with red-burning forks every second.”
“But they’d catch me and put me in prison as well.”
“Don’t worry. I’m told we have our ways up here and I’ll protect you.”
“But I won’t get you back, Anita. What’s the point?”
“You’ll be here soon enough, darling, and we’ll live happily ever after.”
That was enough to whip me into a frenzy and I swallowed two Lorazepams, but nonetheless, I stayed awake all night, shaking.
I’m on my way to Oslo now with a dose of cyanide wrapped in foil paper and my heliphone in my pocket to get word where that prison is. Pray for my soul.
I have attended many writers conferences and each one has its own atmosphere and character. What strikes me most of the annual BOOKSALIVE venue, organized by the WASHINGTON INDEPENDENT REVIEW OF BOOKS (WIRB), is its special spirit inspired by the venerable DAVID STEWARD, its President and founder. In four years, the WIRB has grown into a fully attended writers event with engaging speakers on salient author subjects and a tightly run but effective pitch program on the side.
And who would not be thrilled to sit at the same lunch-table with Bob Woodward, the key note speaker, and Kitty Kelley, that charming and cute lady-author who wrote many best-selling biographies of brand name celebrities of our time, and received a life-time award for her work at the conference, handed to her by David Steward? That was my honor!
Bob Woodward with Gene Meyer and Kitty Kelley (in blue) with David Steward
The Conference started off on Friday evening with a launching party and a packed workshop on how to pitch and write a query, and especially what not to do. Every writer knows that it takes a world to acquire an agent. If you want to get published, writing is not just writing, it is a business to get representation, because agents must make a living from your royalty when they sell your product to a publisher, who in turn must spend his money on printing and sending your book to bookstores. That’s for many writers the frustrating thing: so many want to write (like so many want to sing at American Idol) and so few make it through the grind. You must prove you have an outstanding “voice” and a book that “rings.” A writer becomes an author when he/she gets published, that’s the traditional deal. But agents are people too and know how hard it is. They won’t bite you when you pitch, but they do tell you when your book would be a tough sell (they know this from experience as they have to pitch your book to the publishers) and, if it is not marketable, you had better improve or drop it and start with something new .
Of course, traditional publishing versus self-publishing was again the talk of the day. Frustrated writers can now publish their books via Amazon-Create Space or small presses, but everyone, including traditionally published writers, still faces the uphill battle to market and sell their books. And agents won’t be interested in your self-published book unless you have sold thousands of them. In other words, publishing and getting known remains a vicious circle for many. There are millions of books in the clouds! What the BOOKSALIVE conference does is reinvigorate your spirit to keep trying, no matter what your “age.”
or in whatever psychological state you are:
Bob Woodward’s Key Note Speech was funny and deep on the political scene, his insightful interviews having thought him that whatever historical judgment will be felled on presidents and their administrations of our lifetime will occur only when we are all dead. Thanks for that. As a foreign writer from Holland I expressed my perplexity with the American voter for being so fixated on the personality and personal features of presidential candidates rather than choosing the political party that best represents your interests, as we do in a parliamentary system, regardless of the leaders. Bob Woodward then asked the audience if they were as perplexed as I, and to my surprise everybody raised their hands! Now what! Change the Constitution?
Two wisdoms of the conference stood out for me: If you do self-publish your work, do it as close to what is needed for traditional publishing (Larry De Maria: use a good editor, scrupulously research for your best interior and cover design, and do your marketing as best you can), and join and build your writers community (Jen Michalski) to talk about writing and escape your writer’s insularity. Why not start with the Washington Independent Review of Books at http://www.washingtonindependentreviewofbooks.com. You will not be disappointed and find a wealth of good material and people to talk to.
Back from “leave of absence!” ENCHANTÉ has been off the wires for a while because of overwhelming demands from other forces in our universe.
With winter temperatures in the Washington D.C. area falling way below freezing point, just after we experienced our worst snowfall in one hundred years, Valentines day hugs together with Presidents Day. Thank God we (well most of us) have Monday off.
During the past few weeks that ENCHANTÉ was dark, a number of things happened in our writers world: both Some Women I Have Known and Enchanting The Swan were crowned with video trailers. Happy Valentine.
Some Women https://youtu.be/CehtAV55QpU
We were also asked to review other writers’ books. This is a timeconsuming and serious undertaking if you want to do it well and give the author due credit for the time spent on crafting a book, whether fiction or non-fiction. More about that another time.
And we wrote a short story “A Naughty Romance” that will soon be available on Amazon.com.
One critical element all writers face is the famous “audience.” Some books do better than others because they are written better, belong to a more popular genre (be it romance, thriller, mystery, fantasy or science fiction), or are penned by an already successful author. Wise pundits say, “Write the best book you can.” There is some truth in that, but your “audience” will determine what is the best book and how many will buy it. Apart from advertising and social media campaigns, much depends how large that audience is and how you “catch” it.
If you depict a large sports arena, with twenty-five thousand people, the audience for your book is spread around in little patches of 4 or 5 people, running from 100 to 200 or 2,000 or more if you are lucky. Before electronic publishing, writers only had access to agents and publishers, and many saw their work rejected. Even now with electronic publishing available to almost everyone who wants to take up the pen, many want to write, but few make it alive through the grind. Comparisons with “Powerball” and “American Idol” are almost “cliché.” Amazon counts 12 million books in its clouds, but who reads them?
Take Romance for example. Romance features many sub-genres and styles (formulaic romance, “Harlequin” romance, Inspirational romance, Romantic suspense, Erotica, you name it). Each has its own “audience.” They also say that most readers are female; some stats go as high as 80%.
In some romance publishing and writers organizations, it is women that write for other women. Ever seen a male name on one of these books? And if it is a male author he may well use a female name! I attended once a Romance Writers conference and I was the ONLY male! A thousand participants sat on the hotel floor waiting their turn to get a book signed by Nora Roberts, their “Queen!”
Nonetheless, I feel inclined to write romantic stories and from time to time a thriller. That’s the way I am wired. I just don’t write romance the way that female authors do. And I have a different vantage point because of my different life, background, experience and environment.
Other friends write fantasy, science-fiction, or mysteries. Each of us faces the “audience” issue: where to find it or how will it find YOU! Well, if you manage to get published traditionally, the publishers may have access to that audience through their established channels. If you, after many rejections, finally decide to self-publish, you will have to do that all yourself. Soon you will notice that hordes of “marketing experts” besiege your wallet to help you reach your audience.
Apart from a few bona fide organizations and entrepeneurs, you face a racket of profiteers. My first offer came from a publicist asking $14,000 for one year, then reduced it to $8,000, and then to $4,500. Can you imagine? Did I take it? Of course not. How much royalty from your book would you have to earn before you make a positive Rate of Return? Assuming the marketing advice helps?
So what do we do then? Remain “undiscovered?” Stand in the line of American Idol, till our legs give up? Keep plugging on Twitter, Facebook, and whatever, in the hope to catch a fish? Go to fairs and farmers markets with your trunk full of books, and a sign hoisted up, “Buy My Book?” Do booksignings and sell 3 books an hour (if you are lucky)?
My experience so far is: attend a few writers conferences and learn the craft (lots of good books around, e.g. Writers Digest), write what you like and feel engaged in, submit drafts to your writing group, finish it with a good editor, who also helps develop your story, self-publish it with a small publisher or Amazon’s Create Space if no agent takes you after some 60 to 100 query letters, and then do all the marketing yourself, while trying to get some positive reviews. It’s a nuisance, but it’s a necessary evil if you want some recognition for your effort.
Some writers support groups like AuthorU.com (for daily advice) and BooksGoSocial.com (for affordable marketing and trailers) would be good sources to work with. There are others, but watch out for the “swindlers!” Because they are there on the look out as real predators to get your money.
Bye for now!
Bye for now