“We really need this deep dive into the life of Mara Sparkle to sparkle a little bit more, John,” The Editor said, his dark, cruel eyes magnified through the lenses of his coke bottle glasses. They looked off brand and 10 years out of style. I didn’t like him before and the glasses made me hate him.
“We’ve told you before,” he continued. “This isn’t a place for your voice. You need to sound like Ms. Sparkle. She’s 23 and fabulous. You are 40 and fat. Remember, you can write celebrity biographies, or you can be composted like the others.”
“Yes, sir,” I said, briefly making eye contact but not too much. That was the trick. If you looked at an Editor too long, he or she would interpret it as defiance. If you didn’t look up at all, they would take that as you ignoring their commands. Either way was a sure trip to the compost bin.
You would think that explicitly telling someone he will be killed if he doesn’t produce enough would not be very effective, but it works with writers. I once knew a technical writer who kept a noose slung above his desk for motivation. It worked quite well. He penned 30 volumes of vivid, compelling stereo instructions then promptly hanged himself. He won a lifetime achievement award that year, too. Posthumously.
Not me though. I’ve not written anything, including stereo instructions, that would justify killing myself. It sure isn’t going to happen in the Ghost Writers’ Dungeon. It’s all bullshit versions of the truth. The politician who loves America and didn’t deserve that securities fraud conviction. The athlete who triumphed at the Olympics in spite of being dyslexic. The celebrity chef who turned out to be a white supremacist but now feels really sorry about it and opened a Thai restaurant.
Did you ever wonder how these, we’ll call them ‘not writers even in the loosest definition of the term,” managed to put down 300 pages of double-spaced type?
Neither did I before I wound up here, a windowless subterranean office with ever-flickering florescent lights that cast a sickly green hue on everything.
I sometimes wondered where I’d be if I hadn’t chosen journalism as a profession. Being sent to the Ghost Writers’ Dungeon seemed a tad unfair. They were cleansing the ranks, for sure, but this seems harsh. In a country where facts no longer mattered, telling the truth sometimes had it’s price. That would be a perfect heavy handed, self-satisfied quote for an investigative journalist to pronounce as he or she was taken to the compost bin or the dungeon after uncovering the widespread corruption of wherever.
But not me. I became a journalist because it was a lazy way to make a buck and get to be a writer. When I was 10 I penned a short story about my dog growing to gigantic proportions after a chemical exposure outside of a pharmacy.
I was the guy they sent to zoning commission meetings because the city council reporter didn’t feel like it that night. I covered night cops in a town with no crime. I went to peach festivals and oatmeal eating competitions. Face it — I was a hack. I’ve never made any secret of it, even if I was always insecure about —
“Hey,” came a gruff voice from somewhere down endless rows of cubicles. “No reminiscing.”
OK, John, get to work. Ms. Mara Sparkle. Born Pearl Bayonet in Texarkana, Arkanas in 1995. Daughter of a long-haul truck driver and a former Miss Miller County, 1994. How would Ms. Sparkle open with the story of her life?
Ever since I can remember, I always wanted to be a pop star …
No, John. That’s the opening line of “Goodfellas.” Think, damn you. What would Ms. Sparkle say about it. …
When you love someone, you’ve gotta trust them. There’s no other way. You’ve got to give them the key to everything that’s yours. Otherwise, what’s the point? And for a while, I believed, that’s the kind of love I had. …
Jesus Christ, man. That’s the opening to “Casino.” Have you watched anything beside Martin Scorcese movies in the past 39 years? And don’t say Tarantino. I could use the opener from “The Departed.”
I don’t want to be a product of my environment … Hehe. That would be sweet. I wonder if they would notice. The Editor doesn’t look like he’s seen anything that didn’t have Harry Potter in it. What an asshole. I bet he likes “The Big Bang Theory,” too.
I don’t want to get composted. Just write something, man. You always sit around and pretend you are some sort of latter-day Hemingway. Put your money where your mouth is.
Christ, I don’t know, man. I’ve never even heard her sing. I can’t imagine it being any good. But what’s there to lose.
I remembered, they put one of her songs on the laptop, this crusty piece of shit lapto—
Settle down. You can gripe about the laptop later. Get something down before they turn
you into worm food. If you’re lucky, maybe there’s a way out of here. Like an airduct or something. Note to self: Without being too obvious, look around for surveillance cameras and any kind of air duct that can accommodate a person of size such as yourself. Ooh, I like that. Person of size. That goes down better than fat.
I looked around the desktop and found the .mp3 file. “U do U, I’ll do me.” Ugh, text messaging really did a number on English. How is anyone going to believe this girl wrote an entire book. She can’t spell “you.”
I clicked on the .mp3 and, after taking three minutes to load during which I took stock of my life, it came on.
Thumping techno bass crackled through the cheap headphones and a clapping noise hurt my ears each time it popped. A frenzied, twisting symphony of synthesizer violins tangled violently with a tinny piano.
You do you … I’ll do me … I’ll do you, too … And you do me …
I pulled the headphones off. I raised my hand and wagged it back and forth.
“Hey Editor!,” I yelled loudly enough that the 300 or so people in the Ghost Writers Dungeon all stopped typing and turned toward me. “I’ll just take the fucking compost heap, please.”