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Red Line of the Witch City | 2012 | Manic Pixie Dream Love


I find that I learn a lot about my books after they're written. As much as I can, I try to write subconsciously. I don't like to plot. I just like to let the thing happen, let the book tell me what to do rather than the other way around. For me, the act of writing is like looking at a pointillist painting. You work close up and see things one way; then you stand back and see them another.  

-Elizabeth Berg


Having Written

Amber posing for my next book cover.

"How are your books doing?" asks Tara. I don't know that we were ever proper friends - depending on one's definition - but I am open enough online that she would be aware I am an author. (Incidentally, the sales of my first book have trickled as far as I can tell. My publisher still likes me well enough to want to keep publishing my books as I write them, but I gather I should not overly push my luck with them.)

Tara and I reconnected at the circle where I met Amber, before which we had bumped into one another at our community college a decade ago. As such, any recollections I had of her would have been laughably outdated. I found it best to approach her as though she were a pleasant stranger and let us find the level of our association organically. Now, I am fairly sure we are friends and, even if we are not yet, talking with her at this party convinces me that we ought to be.

I have no end of mutual associates with Tara. One, Renee, ranks as a good friend to both of us and her birthday is why we are gathered tonight. Rachael is another and she is who Tara suggests when I mention my first book was contracted for a potential SyFy series that has yet to be further developed (my personal belief is that my publisher wanted tempting properties in reserve and there was then no honest interest in making my book into anything more at least until I have a few more books out in this series). Rachael is a filmmaker in the authentic sense (while I do not doubt she has her share of celluloid skeletons in her Communications 101 closet, she is regularly paid money to work on productions) and Tara is exuberant that a fake movie trailer of We Shadows would be most likely to attract the attention of Hollywood types.

Amber and she begin to suggest casting and settings for a prospective shoot. I blush and try to deflect, as though I am moments from being revealed as a fraud. I look forward to this feeling fading, but am skeptical it ever will. So much of what I write flows out of me with minimal oversight from my ego or much of my conscious mind, so I tend not to actually know its value, except that people do occasionally buy it and I have witnessed a few comments from people that suggest I am better than I allow myself to acknowledge. Amber certainly thinks so, as she prompts me to tell Tara more details when I try to demur.

Through the rest of the party, I feel on my guard in case writing is again mentioned, though we are too occupied with a communal version of Draw Something and our personal dramas around the fire to revisit that topic. It is a lovely night with friends, pleasant strangers, and potluck. I will not allow my neuroses to get in the way.

The day after, Amber and I attend Merrill's birthday. We drive around the park that was the whole of the directions and it occurs to me for the first time that Bowdion Park is sufficiently large that, if Merrill has not managed to secure a pavilion, we will be reduced to searching. As we are about to turn around, we see a gleefully bouncing figure in a bikini top and white shirt who can only be Merrill.

There are few people present when we arrive and, though Merrill talks up the diversity of her friends, those in the pavilion busily discuss independently creating their own tabletop role-playing games. I do not have much to say, besides scanning them as potential characters for a story I once plotted out (through the vagaries of the supernatural, role-players become their characters and have to take out the unwitting friend running the game, an idea astounding for its unoriginality), so Amber and I take turns trying to push the other off the edges to pass the time until Daniel arrives.
Danse Macabre  

As more of Merrill's friends assemble, light sabers appear as if out of nothingness. These are not the splendor of simple plastic toys, running price tags ten times what one will find in Toys R Us. I avoid these, too, as hitting near strangers with plastic tubes seems a bit intimate. I opt to see if the advice of the primordial mother comes true, if running with sticks will lead to eye-gouging and if then it will cease to be all fun and games.

There is little immediate bloodshed. I turn back to the picnic table and see Merrill's friend Reese showing off his sketchpad. I offer the cover of my first novel for his professional opinion. (To my chagrin, I have a copy of the novel in the glove compartment of my car, a stowaway from a shipment of books I have yet to sell.)

As I hand it to him, a guy named Mario, sitting a few tables away, pronounces that he has the book.

"No, you don't," I say confidently and automatically. There are maybe one hundred physical copies of this book in circulation - and that is being quite generous. Most are gathering dust on the shelves of close friends and family. Without much effort, I could enumerate the owner of each. Why on earth would this stranger have my book? What does he have to gain by lying to me?

"Yeah, I do," Mario reiterates. "I really like it."

"You don't have a copy," I half-growl and half-laugh. "No one does."

"I do," he says, a bit perplexed by my vehemence. "I bought it at Non-Con."

I narrow my eyes at him. Only three people bought copies at that convention. Then it hits me that he was the third, snagging a copy just as I was packing up on the final day. Merrill points out to Mario that I am the author. He startles a moment and then has a look that I fear might be admiration.

"He's a big fan," Merrill assures me to his nods.

I thank him for reading, then hide the book away in my bag as soon as doing so will not provoke attention. When interest has been diverted to a picture Reese is drawing of Merrill cutting off the leg of another partygoer, I touch my forehead to Amber's and whisper, "It is time for us to go. I can't be around a stranger who has read my book. It's just not possible. So we have to escape. Kill as many of them as is necessary, but we have got to go now!"

Amber, for some reason, assumes I am joking. All the same, we are promised to another event - Second Saturday - a town away and I am willing to make that the excuse.

I attend this glut of monthly gallery openings not because of any inherent interest in visual art. As I have harped on, I like my art to look like things and not be too strange. As Second Saturday is full of candy embedded in plastic domes, Plexiglass boxes full of Nacho Cheese Doritos, and t-shirt ideas stolen from Threadless, I must admit that I am mostly in it for the free food. (I do not understand this as a sustainable business model, as one gallery offers me chicken wings, Caesar salad, and wine and I give them nothing in return. I am, of course, willing to exploit it to the hilt.)

Within half an hour of arriving, we are joined by Kei, Dan, their children, Sarah the Vet Tech, Daniel, and Merrill (dressed in something other than a bikini top). As we walk toward a gallery offering grapes and mini-cupcakes, some teenagers shout my last name. I give a wave which means "Yes, I once taught in your classroom and recognize you, too" and nothing more.

They pass and Merrill pronounces me a bit too dismissive.

"They are kids, what else am I supposed to do?" I ask, continuing. "I doubt I even remember their names now."

"They said they loved your book, too," she informs me.

I stop in my tracks and cock an eyebrow at her. "They did? I didn't hear that..." but they are too far for me to really contradict her now. I know the level of blindness and deafness I acquire when dealing with adolescents outside my professional context, so it is possible that said anything up to and including that they are secretly dinosaurs. "Eh, they probably didn't read it. I think I only ever sold one copy to a kid from their school. The librarian wouldn't even consider buying one."

"They said they loved it. You should be nicer to your fans."

I shake my head. "I don't think I have fans."

I cannot avoid and would never deny that being a writer is a facet of my identity. These two days have featured my characters toddling after me a bit too attentively, prodding the subconscious minds of associates to remind me that I am published. I think I would give up my gender and religion before I relented on typing and scribbling. No matter how engrossed I may seem in the experience, some part of me is perpetually focusing on encoding it for later use in a novel or story. It is said that women know within seven seconds if they would ever go to bed with a man. Within seven seconds, I have already sized an approaching stranger for a fantastical torment at the hands of a Malaysian demon.

While I feel reasonable pride in what I have written when I happen upon it later, this specter behind me of what I have written is intimidating. I feel I do not yet have the fully authority to call myself an author, partly because doing so would feel like resting on my laurels. I cannot be an author, I cannot be publicly acknowledged as such by my friends, because it would mean I deserve it. That, frankly, I am good enough in someone else's eyes. I only see the flaws in my writing, the things I could not do well enough, the weaknesses. I refuse to be convinced they are not likewise evident to my readers. So I will work while I have the light and hope, one day, to feel I have measured up.

Until then, I will seek out those free mini-cupcakes and forget I am a writer until it comes time to write.

Soon in Xenology: Male friendships. The Chase. Cupcakes.

last watched: Being John Malkovich
reading: Why Buffy Matters
listening: Feist

Red Line of the Witch City | 2012 | Manic Pixie Dream Love

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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