It all started innocently enough, one afternoon. Mercy had met a friend for coffee after concluding her first book club meeting. First, and last. At least for this group. The book had been atrocious! She wasn't even sure why she had given it the benefit of a doubt.
Perhaps, as an aspiring author, she had wanted to see what made people tick. Maybe joining a book club would clue her in on what she had been doing wrong. It was one thing to read a book and think about it, it was something else to read a book and discuss it with others who had also read it. Maybe this experience would be enlightening.
Over coffee she described the book they had read to her friend, Alice. Alice listened to her intently, and even a bit amused as Mercy described the plot holes and the missed opportunities. She watched Mercy talk with her hands, her wild gestures every time she mentioned something that particularly bothered her about the book's contents.
From the balled up fist that hit the table to drive the point home, Alice surmised that Mercy especially hadn't cared for the romance. It had been a sappy, cliche, unrealistic romp through a fantasy forest. They may as well have played Elton John's Can You Feel The Love Tonight and released fireflies to blink in time to the music.
And the ladies in the book club, they had eaten it up!
"Calm down it's just a book. They like what they're going to like." Alice stated, empty coffee cup in hand. She had finished it a while ago.
"It's just frustrating you know?" Mercy said, finally taking a sip from her cup. She made a face as the coffee touched her lips. it was cold. In her passionate deconstruction of the book club read she had forgotten to drink her coffee. "I've tried to write something for so long and I'm so hard on myself, yet this is the stuff that gets published. It was one small step away from those trashy romance novels my mom used to read." Mercy grumbled.
Alice laughed, "Excuse me, my lady, I seem to have lost my shirt. Could you perhaps help me find it?" she said in a mockingly deep voice.
Mercy managed a slight chuckle but there was still the sting. The realization that as outlandish as those books were, the authors were still published, and that was more than what she had done.
A sly grin came across Alice's face. "You should write one."
"Write what? A trashy romance novel?" Mercy questioned, taking another gulp of room temperature coffee. Perhaps she should get some ice and just go all one way or the other. Coffee wasn't really good somewhere in the middle.
"Yeah! Get a penname, like Cherry Baker or something. It's gotta sell otherwise people wouldn't do it."
Mercy rolled her eyes at the idea. "No, no, that's like the author equivalent of becoming a stripper."
"You're not a bad writer though, that would be easy money if you could do it better right?" Alice said, shrugging her shoulders. "Just think about it. How hard could it really be to write a sappy, sexcapade through Middle Earth?"
Mercy remembered finding the books her mother would leave lying on the end tables in the living room. The women all wearing flowy skirts with tight bodices, their boobs hanging out just shy of seeing their nipples. The men would be mostly shirtless or just completely naked with their important bits conveniently obscured so that the book could still be put on the shelf in public.
When she was a kid she didn't understand it and didn't dare open the books. If the cover looked like that who knew what kind of weird stuff was going on on the inside? As a teen she would hide them when her friends came over. Her mother never had a shortage of them, they seemed to be a dime a dozen. As an adult she had steered clear of them, uninterested in some perverted fantasy. There was no way she would write something so... so...
"You're not worried you can't do it are you?" Alice said in a singsong voice.
Mercy felt slightly insulted. "Why would I want to?"
"I don't know..." Alice replied. "It would be funny if you wrote one and it got published wouldn't it?"
That had been a few years ago now. Now Mercy stood in the library, looking for another book for book club. A different book club. She stood in the the "B" aisle of the adult fiction her eyes skimming over the colorful spines of many books, with bold book titles and even bolder author names.
Then she saw it. Nestled on the shelf near the top was a book by Cherry Baker. It would seem as though one of the librarians had a thing for explicit fantasy romance. She hesitated a moment before pulling it off the shelf. This would be the first time she had ever seen anything she had written published, and out in the wild.
Why did it have to be this one though?
She looked at the cover, the name displayed in an script font across the top. The Magician's Daughter, how original. The publisher had run a few different variations of the cover and this one was the one she didn't like. Her cheeks flushed just looking at the depiction of her two main characters on the front. A tall, dark and handsome man, mostly naked, looking like he was about to rip this over-sexed magician lady's robe clear off her body. There was so much more to these characters than boobs and abs. Kind of a shame really.
And what was with the storm clouds?
Alice was the only person close to her who knew she'd written this. Even for a romance novel full of explicit midnight - or even midday - romps, she had at least tried to give it a cohesive plot. Something a little bigger than the characters themselves, something she thought was good.
"Be the gutter, become the gutter, let your mind roll in it." Alice had told her, like a master trying to train a champion martial artist. Only, not.
The publisher had asked for a few changes but at the time Mercy was kind of excited that it wasn't a flat out rejection like she'd gotten so many other times. She hated to admit it but the book had become her guilty pleasure for a while. Writing it had been quite the adventure, if that was the word for it.
"Excuse me." a voice said quietly. She looked up to see another woman standing close to her.
How long had she been standing there watching her stare at this terrible cover? "Oh I'm sorry I'll move." she said quickly, putting the book back on the shelf. She moved further down the row, out of the way. With great haste she found the book she had come here for in the first place.
Mercy checked out and hurried back to her car. She had one more stop before she got home. Mercy's mother wanted her to come look at a few old things that were hers as a child. She said that she may want to keep some of it. Mercy wasn't really interested in any of that old junk, at least she didn't think so, but she couldn't really say no to Mom. Her mother had been cleaning out her house, making room to move Mercy's grandmother in with her.
The trip from the library to her mother's house was short. She made it there in no time, walking up the steps with cute pansies growing on either side. She didn't even have to ring the doorbell, she was expected. Her mother wasn't there to greet her when she opened the door, likely in a back room somewhere.
In the living room in her favorite recliner sat Mercy's grandmother, Patty. Her wispy, short white hair crowned her head in big curls, her reading glasses perched on her face. She held a book in front of her. She looked up from it when the front door opened, her eyes lighting up upon seeing Mercy.
"Hey Mercy! How are you?" she greeted her cordially.
Mercy had frozen in the doorway. She could feel her face growing hot with a bright red blush. It contrasted terribly with her pale skin, proclaiming her embarrassment to anyone within view. At the moment that was just Patty.
"Um, hi..." Mercy said, trying her best not to act as awkward as she felt. She recognized the book her grandmother held in front of her. The cover with the tall dark and handsome man, and the over-sexed woman barely covered by magic robes.
And the storm clouds and lighting. Really?
It had taken her a moment to remember that she had told no one about her romance novel. Only Alice. Patty had no idea who wrote the novel in her hands. At that thought, Mercy's color returned to a more normal shade of pale.
"It's nice to see you, Julie told me you were coming, she's in the back." Patty said. She had yet to put the book down, she was somewhere about three quarters of the way through.
"Yeah, good to see you too." Mercy said. She began to walk past Patty, but something wouldn't let her go quite so easily. In the end, she couldn't resist. "So uh... what are you reading there, Grandma?"
Patty paused, looking up to her before flashing a smile. "Oh, this. Julie suggested it. She's made a few good suggestions lately."
Mercy nodded slowly. Of course her mother would drag her sweet little grey haired grandma into a world of over the top sensuality and maybe dragons. Why not? What harm could it do except that this time Mercy knew exactly what the contents of that book were and she couldn't un-see just how buried in it her innocent little grandma had been.
"Well," Mercy began, digging her awkward hole just a little deeper. She just had to ask, against her better judgement. "Is this one any good?"
Her grandmother chuckled, turning a little red. "Oh, I like it. Reminds me of when I was younger."
Mercy went a little wide eyed, clearly not expecting that answer. How? She decided she didn't really want to know.
Patty seemed to pick up on her expression and she laughed a little louder. "Don't worry sweetie, I'll spare you the details, you've always been so modest."
Mercy did her best to laugh with her but all she could manage was halfhearted chuckle. "Yeah." If only Patty knew. Her granddaughter, Mercy, was Cherry Baker, her new favorite trashy romance author.