CHAPTER ONE

Honour thy editor/beta-reader, for they shall lead you to the path of Righteousness, Grammar and Spell-check.

Under normal circumstances, the woman stalking down the street would seldom be given a second glance. Tall, with auburn hair, green eyes and a quiet disposition, she tended to blend into the crowd, and in truth, she liked it that way. On this occasion, however, her towering bad mood made her stand out like a small, looming thunderstorm.

Susanna Patterson had taken up work as an editor because she loved books, and the job description had claimed that it was a prestigious publishing company that had promoted hundreds of beginning writers, and that she would be able to read all the books she wanted, and help other people improve their writing.

For a newly-graduated young woman in a struggling economy, it had sounded like a dream come true. It was only after she started that she had learned the true meaning of false advertising.

In polite terms, 'Oddbins' was a 'penny-novel' publishing company. They did publish good work, on occasion, but the majority of their material was of the 'sensational but superficial' variety.

In reality, rather than the sunny advertisement, 'great working environment' was a boss with no sense of humor and co-workers who had mostly reached the point where they found it better to point and laugh rather than actually help each other.

OK, so maybe she should have looked around before mentioning that the Boss's hairdo looked like a dead hamster, but that still wasn't valid grounds for permanently assigning her to That Lot! He was the one who had told them to work on descriptive terms!

On a similar scale, 'all the books she wanted to read' meant wading through horrible literature that would have had Susanna's Tenth-Grade English teacher looking for the culprit with an axe, and 'helping aspiring writers' translated to forcing herself to be polite as she wrote refusal letters to people that had Susanna itching for an axe of her own.

Walking up to her townhouse, Susanna opened the door, dropped her keys on the side-table and her bag next to it, and walked into the living room, where the papers on the table indicated the presence of her friend and house-mate, Desdemona, who worked as a TA and occasionally bemoaned that she was following in the footsteps of her Shakespeare-nut father. Desdemona's father had been the one to name her, while her mother had been too knocked out on painkillers to veto the idea and offer a sensible (in Desdemona and her mother's opinion, at least; Susanna and Desdemona's father liked the name) alternative.

Pulling out a chair in front of the only area not covered by paper and setting down her laptop case, Susanna kicked off her shoes and continued into the kitchen for a drink.

Making a note that they needed more milk, Susanna pulled out the drinking chocolate, closing the cupboard just in time to hear a stumble and a loud curse that could only be Desdemona tripping over her discarded footwear. "Sorry, Des!"

The other woman, also a brunette, but smaller and with dark eyes, shot Susanna an evil look as she re-entered the room, carrying a jug of hot chocolate and two glasses. "Do you have to leave your shoes lying in the middle of the floor? One day, I'm going to break something, and I'll make you wait on me hand and foot until I'm better."

Susanna grinned and passed her a glass, placing the jug, and several sugar packets from the café down the road, on a hotplate between them. "Of course you will."

She took in Desdemona's furrowed brow as the other girl piled a stack of paper onto another stack to make room for her own pile of essays, "Is your boss still being a pain?"

The two friends had long since come to the conclusion that Desdemona's Head Teacher and Susanna's Chief Editor were long-lost twins. Desdemona's only response was to carefully move her laptop out of the way and a muffled groan as she thumped her head on the table. Susanna stifled a giggle as she scanned through her mailbox. "Just remember, no matter how bad marking essays is, it could be worse."

Desdemona lifted her head and uncrossed her eyes. "I think I can understand what some of those would-be writers put you through."

Susanna blew on her hot chocolate and opened a new document in Microsoft Word. "No you can't, and if you can, you need therapy."

Desdemona raised an eyebrow and sent a pointed look at the essays, which, upon closer inspection, were from the First Grade Standard English class. Susanna acknowledged the point, but maintained her martyred position. "At least you can chalk them up to inexperience. Mine are doing it deliberately."

Desdemona raised a second eyebrow right back. "I'll swap you one, and then you can tell me which is worse."

Susanna would have continued trying to discourage her, but Desdemona's face indicated that she would not be swayed. Sighing, Susanna handed over one of That Lot's more recent attempts, and picked up an essay.

Susanna looked over the first few paragraphs, ignoring Desdemona's strangled gurgle. The kid could use a few tutoring sessions on 'where/we're/were' and 'there/their/they're', as well as a bit on sentence structure (Susanna doubted that the essay was supposed to be written by Jedi Master Yoda, after all) but…

Her train of thought was cut off by a despairing wail and the need to duck as That Lot's Latest was thrown across the room, hitting a vase that Susanna had been trying to find a good excuse to get rid of.

Susanna looked back at Desdemona, but the 'I told you so' died on her lips as she took in her friend's anguished expression. "My eyes! My Brain! It burns us!"

Any Tolkien fan would be tempted by the obvious add-on, but Susanna had the feeling that Desdemona had been pushed far enough, and that a comment of 'My Preciousss', might be the last straw.

Besides, it was Desdemona's night to cook, and while Death By Chocolate was a very nice dessert, Susanna wasn't in the mood for Death By Deliberate Food Poisoning For Making Fun Of The Cook.

In their room a small group of rejected aspiring writers snuffed out the candles and exchanged grins. They had sent many documents to various publishing companies, but had never received any replies. That would change, now. The spell they had just cast would ensure that the publishers would have to read through their work! No more being relegated to the piles marked: 'To Be Read…Eventually…When We Can No Longer Avoid It'!

As long as they didn't get that editor who actually did write back, but declined their story, constantly told them to go take a writing course and probably kept the red-ink industry going single-handedly. She also seemed to take a fiendish delight in upsetting their plans for literary god-hood, and they were getting very tired of being on the receiving end of her pen.

Then again, the salesman at the Local Festival had assured them that it would work, and one editor could only go through so many documents, so the Chief Editor would probably hand their next copy off to someone a bit more understanding. Consoling himself with this almost-certainty and cheerfully disregarding Murphy's Law, the leader of the group looked around in satisfaction. "Publication, here we come!"

What could go wrong?

Another day in hell… reluctantly returning from her lunch-break, Susanna added another packet of sugar to her cooling hot chocolate and taking a gulp (sugar-highs really were the only way to get through some of these things), Susanna returned to her lap top, fingers dancing over the keyboard as she wrote a rejection letter that her boss would accept.

Susanna had been forbidden from using subtle sarcasm ever since an applicant turned out not to be quite as stupid as her writing would indicate, and had complained to the manager.

In Susanna's opinion, the writer was lucky to have escaped with a subtly sarcastic letter. According to the office rumor mill, re-tellings of Susanna's reaction to that document were still circulated as horror-stories to scare the Interns and Newbies.

Susanna's twin, Sarah, had always claimed that she became disturbingly passionate about literature at times (terms like 'Grammar Nazi' and 'Borderline Psychotic' also came up on occasion). Susanna personally thought that her reactions fell under 'Righteous Indignation', but perhaps Sarah had a point.

Oh well, back to wading through semi-legible documents in an attempt to find a plotline and proof that at least one person had a working spell-checker.

Maybe she should start buying shares in whatever company made standard red pens. At the rate she went through them while looking over submissions, she would make a killing.

Susanna was starting to seriously contemplate mass homicide when she picked up another 'Received Document'. It was a 'Group Effort' from a bunch of would-be writers that she had been forced to deal with before, generally known as 'That Lot'. The first time, she had cringed her way through the document, using up two red pens in the process, and written back with a suggestion that they look into taking a creative writing course, before thinking of being published.

The second time, she spent nearly an hour listening to Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture (Surprisingly relaxing, if you discounted the cannons at the end) until she calmed down enough to write a polite refusal and request that they get an impartial friend or parent to look it over before inflicting their 'art' on her.

The third and all further times, she put them off for as long as possible and tried to do them at the end of a day, so she could take her frustrations out at the gym after she got out of the workplace.

Sadly, today was one of those days when she had little else to do, so Susanna could only put off reading and editing the thing for an hour or so, if she took a very early lunch break. Letting out a martyred sigh, Susanna decided to just get it over with.

What higher power (aside from her Boss, who really needed to grow a sense of humor) did she ever offend in a previous life to deserve this?

Everyone always claimed that Karma was an evil bitch, but unless she had somehow been responsible for the massacre of several nations in a past life, suffering through this literary abomination had to count as cruel and unusual punishment.

True to form, the document was even worse than she had feared. The first few sentences alone were a dreadful combination of bad grammar, worse spelling and a complete lack of plotline, coupled with a firm, if thoroughly deluded, conviction of their own superior writing skills.

Convincing herself, yet again, that in a floundering economy, she really couldn't hand in her resignation over one little story, however badly written, Susanna firmed her resolution to just get it over with. It was like pulling off a band-aid, really. Reminding herself that she needed to visit the Stationary Department for a new batch of red pens, and to bring a copy when they asked why she went through them so fast, Susanna picked up a fresh pen and opened the neatly clipped papers.

She barely had the chance to reflect that 'Once upon a time' and 'It was a Dark and Stormy night' really were starting to get old, and someone needed to think up a new opening phrase, when there was a flash of light, and Rose felt herself falling.

With a yelp and a very descriptive curse, the young woman disappeared into the document.

Seconds later, one of her co-workers opened the door, looking around for the source of the yell. Seeing no one, he decided that Rose must have simply stepped out for a hot chocolate refill and left again. He caught sight of the author names on the latest document and winced; That Lot again. Maybe he should go warn the rest of the office that Rose was guaranteed to be in a bad mood for the day, and to approach with caution.

Poor girl; he didn't know what the Boss had against her, subjecting her to That Lot all the time. It would probably be far more productive to use them as a 'Last Place Consolation Prize' in the Employee Of The Month contests. If that didn't inspire people to work hard, nothing would.

.

.

.

.