The Great American Novelist


Alara Rogers

Marcia took the 17th draft of her third chapter, balled it up, and threw it in the garbage.

Jo, sitting on the bed across from her, asked, "Having problems?"

"Oh, good lord. Don't ask." She got up and went to the kitchen for the fifth snack of the day.

It was always like this. Ever since she was 8, Marcia had wanted to be a writer. She had grand and glorious dreams of epic novels, bestsellers, Pulitzers or even Nobels in literature. Whenever she walked into a bookstore, she looked at the general area of the "C's" and imagined books by Marcia Cotrill, thick books with beautiful covers and rave reviews on them, filling up the shelves. At night, she lulled herself to sleep with imaginary review excerpts from equally imaginary book jackets: "Cotrill's done it again!-- New York Times." "A work of art-- I couldn't put it down!-- Herald Tribune."

But when it came to actually writing the stuff, it never came out as grand and glorious as she wanted it to. Actually, it stunk. So she wrote, and rewrote, and never got further than Chapter 1 on any of her epics. This one-- "a sweeping saga of romance in the stars-- of the men who dared to conquer the interstellar distances and the women they left behind--" had gotten farther than most. She had actually completed two chapters this time. It was the third that was wrecking everything.

"You're going to get fat," Jo said as Marcia returned with her snack.

"Oh, shut up. It's diet fruit cocktail."

"I know. So were the last three bowls, and the one before that was diet pears. Just because it says 'diet' doesn't mean five cans of it won't make you fat."

Marcia put down her bowl and looked at herself in the mirror. Was she getting a bit chubby? She pulled her cheeks to the back of her face. No, that was awful. If she slimmed down, she might look like that. "I'm not fat."

"Yeah? Just keep it up. When they take your picture and put it on the book jacket, your face will fill up the whole thing."

"I'm not fat," Marcia repeated. "Now shut up, I'm trying to work."

"Scribbling six words on a sheet of looseleaf and then throwing it out is not work."

Marcia gave Jo her "you-can't-be-expected-to-know-the-tribulations-of-an-artist, you-philistine" look, picked up her bowl and sat back down on her bed. Usually food helped the thoughts come faster. She considered a blank sheet of looseleaf for five minutes, in between spoonfuls of fruit. Nothing was coming. Finally she shoved the whole epic into a folder and put it in her bookcase.

"You've decided to forget about Stargazers?" Jo asked.

"I plan on putting it on hold," Marcia said loftily. "Until ideas come to me."

"Just like your other four novels," Jo said. "Face it, Marcia. You're never going to finish any of that trash."

Marcia looked at Jo sharply. "What do you mean, trash?"

"I mean trash. I read your Chapter 2. With the love scene? 'He covered her breasts with passionate, lingering--'"

"SHUT UP! I didn't say you could read that!"

"Hey, I'm a member of the literate public. If I think it's trash, maybe everyone will."

"All you ever read's the stuff on the Lit List," Marcia said sullenly. "You have no knowledge of modern novels."

"Modern trash, you mean. The Young and Restless on paper."

"Well, what's wrong with The Young and Restless? Better than those stupid science fiction cartoons you watch."

"Hey, Robotech's more believable than Dallas. Nobody ever wakes up and finds out that the last year was a dream. and at least I read good literature. You wouldn't know Tolstoy if he bit you on the nose."

Marcia ignored this and began paging through her ideas notebook for a new epic to write.

"You know what your problem is? You don't know what you're talking about. You've never lived in space, or on the colonial frontier, or in an oil mogul's mansion."

"Haven't you ever heard of imagination?" Marcia said haughtily.

"Sure, and I'm all for it. But the topics you're talking about, you have to do research. And there's some things you just shouldn't write about unless you've experienced them. I mean, have your breasts ever been covered by passionate, lingering--"

"JO!" Marcia shrieked.

"I'll bet they haven't," Jo continued, smirking.

"You'll never know."

"The point is, if you're going to write schlock, why not write it about people you have experience with? You don't know anything about being 25 years old, you're only 16. And what you don't know about the real world would fill the Bible."

"Oh, and you're an expert on reality?"

"I'm not a writer. What I'm saying is, why don't you write about people your own age? Things you have experience with?"

"You can't write a bestseller about teenagers," Marcia said scornfully.

"So who needs to write a bestseller? You have your whole life for the Great American Novel. Start slow." Jo got up. "And now, it is time for me to go watch a stupid science fiction cartoon. You may continue to exist in my absence."

"It'll be a pleasure," Marcia muttered.

After her sister had gone, Marcia thought about what Jo had said. Write a novel about teenagers. Maybe she should. She did, after all, have experience.

Then the idea struck her, for the next sweeping epic. This one would be about a misunderstood teenage girl, who turned out to be the heiress of a dominating woman, a cosmetics mogul, who had abandoned her in an orphanage when she was born, and been tormented by guilt about it all these years--

When Jo returned, half an hour later, she took one look at the outline and burst out laughing. Marcia ignored her. This one would be a bestseller. She was sure of it.