Chapter Forty-eight

This just arrived in the mail:

June 15, 1993

James M. Reynolds
P.O. Box XXX
Baloneyville, Baloneyland 00000

Dear Mr. Reynolds,

According to our records you are in default of the "Advance Against Future Royalties Agreement" which was signed by you and notarized on 3/3/92.

As per that agreement, you were to deliver the first draft of a novel, working title, In the Bubble, on or before the Fifteenth of May. It is now the Fifteenth of June, and still no pile o' paper, Jimmy Boy. But don't worry, because it's me -- Kurt! I just conked old Notesie's secretary on the noggin with a shillelagh the size of a shingle (a shingle the size of a shillelagh?) and hijacked the word processor. Before I play some computer solitaire, Jimmy Boy, I thought I'd finish up this letter and get you out of troub -- Uhnnnk!

As I was saying, Mr. Reynolds, you are in default and unless you return a sum in the amount of $7,500.00 by March 26, 1997 or by Chapter Fifty-five, you may be subject to arrest and/or incarceration.

   The letter was unsigned -- so I threw it out. Probably a crank with nothing better to do. However, that was not the only letter I've received lately. In fact, I've been flooded with mail, some of it quite complimentary. I'm throwing it all out. Who has the time? Unless... I hire someone... a personal assistant... someone to open the mail, read it, sort it, answer it, freeing me to write the letters in the first place. Now... who?
   "No. I'm not interested."
   Come on, Maureen.
   "I didn't become a fictional character in a novel just to answer fan mail."
   Do it for me. It'll be fun. I'll let you write the personal thank you notes and sign my autograph on my picture. Come on. Here -- I'll read you one of the letters, you'll get a kick out of this. A reader writes... "Dear Jim. You are smart. You write good. I like you." And it's signed... "Your pal, Vin-kabooooooooooooom!!!"

   "Jim! Jim! Are you hurt?"
   Dammit! A letter bomb! It's a good thing this is fiction.
   "Looks like your writing style is starting to catch up with you. You've got to be more careful. Don't forget, characters can come back to haunt you, like Childress."
   You're right. In fact, Maureen, you're always right, and I've been thinking -- what are you doing later?
   "What am I doing? You mean, like, for dinner?"
   Yeah, for dinner.
   "Well, I don't know. I have no plans. No one does. Are you asking me to go out on a date with you, Jim?"
   I thought we might go out for dinner.
   "Then I guess we will."
   Because you're supposed to fall madly in love with me in Chapter Fifty-seven, so we might as well get started.
   "How romantic. You're a real character, Jim Reynolds, you know that? A real character. Say, have you seen today's newspaper?"
   Is that a trick question?
   "Because I feel so out of touch -- it's just been work, work, work, day in, day out -- I want to know what's going on in the world."
   You want to see the paper?
   "Yes, I do. Do you have one?"
   Yes. Here. I'm handing you a newspaper that I just found over here and, you know what? -- action of this kind is much easier to describe in the past tense.
   "Thanks... (she's reading now) 'FIRST FEDERAL SECURITY GUNMAN ARRESTED... Authorities announced today the arrest, following a 14-month manhunt, of the crazed gunman who stormed into the downtown branch of the now-failed First Federal Security Savings and Loan last year and riddled it with bullets. His name, (YOUR NAME HERE)' -- never heard of him -- 'is being run through police computers and matched with other crazed gunmen in the area, and, if possible, there will be a get-together of crazed gunmen featuring fireworks, a hootenanny and, weather permitting, a hayride.'"
   ("You can put it down anytime and be happy!" -- Dick Cavett)
   Now, what the hell did he mean by that? Was that a good blurb or a bad blurb?
   "I'm not sure. Did he mean that he couldn't put it down?"
   No, he said, "you can put it down anytime," and that makes him happy.
   "Well, he could be saying that anytime you put it down you've got a smile on your face because you're so happy that you're reading it. You see?"
   No. I think what he's saying is, you're glad to put it down. You become happy by putting it down. That's what I think that smarmy, smirking bastard said.
   "Jim, calm down, it's not that bad."
   Well, it's either a very positive, favorable review, or a snide, snotty put-down. Wait'll he asks me to give him a quote for his next book, boy...
   "That's highly unlikely, Jim. But, to get back to this newspaper story -- you must be awfully relieved to know they've arrested someone."
   Why? You thought I did it, didn't you? And yet, you still agreed to go out on a date with me.
   "I guess I like to live dangerously. Plus, I wasn't sure."
   Now why would I want to shoot up a bank? What good would come from it? And who would it appeal to? I'm not aiming at the blood-and-gore crowd. Kids can read this and find it just as confusing as adults do -- but on their own level.
   "Do you know this guy, (YOUR NAME HERE)? I've never heard of him before."
   Me neither. Is there a picture?
   "Yes. Here it is."


   You know, I can't get that Cavett blurb out of my head. Just what did he mean by that?
   "I told you, it was probably favorable."
   What do I do? Do I let them use it?
   "You've already got a bunch of good ones from Kurt, maybe you don't need it."
   But, I can't just use quotes from Kurt Vonnegut, Maureen, people will think he wrote the damn book.
   "Well he did -- some of it, at least."
   No, I need more. I need at least two, maybe three more good ones. And soon. I'm getting nervous about this.
   "What about Abe?"
   Very funny.
   "I was only half joking."
   Meaning what, that you were only half serious? (I'll check -- Ed.) No, no, that's all right, you don't have to check. Geez!
   "What about Joan Didion?"
   For a quote? She's too unreliable.
   (No, I like it now, I really do! -- Joan Didion)
   Well, maybe. Say, Maureen, what do you think of this new Ed.?
   "To tell you the truth, he's a little bit... naive."
   Boy, I'll say.
   (Editor's Note: I overheard you discussing the new Ed., who just happens to be my oldest son.)
   "Oh, uh -- naive in a positive sense is what I think I meant."
   As in innocent, trustful... pure.
   "Yeah, pure."
   (Editor's Note: In any case, did you receive my letter, Mr. Reynolds?)
   (Editor's Note: You mean you haven't been informed of our displeasure with your tardiness on this project?)
   No -- oh wait, maybe I did get something. But it was unsigned.
   (Editor's Note: There were two pages. You only saw the first page. You threw them both out.)
   So? What do you want?
   (Editor's Note: We, us, me, this company -- we want our money back.)
   And that was... how much?
   (Editor's Note: Don't play games. You know better than I do how much it was.)
   "All right everybody -- over there!" screams a crazed gunman who just burst in, waving his crazed gun at us. This is for real! I'm not imagining it! I try to act as a shield for Maureen, but he sticks the gun's nozzle in my ribs, and he isn't trying to tickle me. To make sure, I ask.
   "No, I am not trying to tickle you, you idiot! Get over there against the wall with the others and shut up!"
   Nice way to talk, I mutter sarcastically, out of earshot, under my breath, in Powloo. Then, the crazed gunman, who strongly resembles (YOUR NAME HERE), looks around.
   "Where am I?" he asks.
   (Editor's Note: You are somewhere in the imaginary tableau created by Mr. Reynolds here.)
   "Who the hell is this?"
   "That's Mr. Note," Maureen points out. "And you better be nice to him. Mr. Note is a powerful man. He's so powerful that he can ask for the return of a small advance against future royalties just for being a bit late in meeting a deadline."
   The gunman, feigning indignation, looks directly at Mr. Note. "You'd do a thing like that?" he asks, aiming the gun right up Note's left nostril.
   (Editor's Note: I, I -- I don't want the advance back, Mr. Reynolds, I don't. Keep the money. Keep it.)
   Why thank you, Mr. Note. Thank you. And just for that, I'll accelerate the writing process, turn in more pages, get more done.
   "You know, Mr. Note," Maureen interjects, "as long as we have your attention, it might be worth mentioning that Jim has already proposed a second novel to one of your editors, Ms. Anna Matopeia, and that, technically at least, your company owes him an advance on that book."
   The gunman, playing along beautifully, digs his gun further up into Mr. Note's right nostril. (You said "left nostril" before! -- Ed.) Okay, left nostril.
   (Editor's Note: Whatever you want! You can have it! You can have it!)
   He's squealing like a pig. Mission accomplished. Now I can reveal that the crazed gunman was in fact portrayed by (YOUR NAME HERE), our contest winner. (YOUR NAME HERE)'s name will appear in the next printing of this novel, should there be one. Congratulations!

(This ends Chapter Forty-eight. Still there?)

Chapter Forty-nine