I pressed my tray table up, locked it, then turned to face my husband.
"Four. No, five."
He raised his eyebrows a couple times. "Is it good?" he said. "Your book?"
I shrugged. "I think so."
"And it's ready? You're sure?"
I looked out into the night, peered down at the sprinkle of lights that wasColorado Springs.
"Yep. It's ready. I'm sure."
He squeezed my hand. "Cool. Give one to anyone who'll take it."
I shoved the covers down and swung my feet onto the plush carpet, tiptoed over to my brown and pink Hello Kitty tote bag. I unzipped the back pocket and dug under business cards, tampons, and lipglosses to find one, three, five jumpdrives. I cupped them in my left hand and opened my suitcase with my right, found my Monday day-of-the-week undies and folded the thumbdrives inside.
"Not yet, guys," I told the bundle. "You're not ready, not even close."
I switched off the bedside lamp and slipped back in bed, drew the silky sheets and pristine down comforter up to my chin. I squinted at the mini-chandelier above me. Moonlight twinkled on the crystals.
"Thank you," I said in a wee voice.
The woman drummed her French-manicure on the table between us.
"So. Do you have a sample chapter?"
I stuck my trembling hands inside my Hello Kitty bag, produced a packet of what I thought was my best work.
The hobbit painter tapped the table with a red Bic pen as she scanned my work. She didn't look up when she spoke.
"Too much telling," she said. She turned a page. "Not enough dialogue." She nudged the chapter back to me. "You write in passive. Stop."
She removed her rainbow, polka-dotted reading glasses and leaned toward me, attempted a smile. I tried not to stare at the parentheses ditches on either side of her mouth.
"Honey, it's like you typed out a phone conversation you had with your best girlfriend. Don't tell me what happened. Show me. Put me in the room with you."
She looked past me, raised her hand. "Next."
I breathed deep through my nose. "You busy?" I said on the exhale.
She sat straighter, patted the empty chair beside her. "Sit."
I sat, rooted for a lipgloss in my Hello Kitty bag, pinked my lips.
"So?" she said.
"So I brought my manuscript here."
"And the lady agent who decorates Frodos told me I write passive, that I don't use enough dialogue."
She pinched at the pleats in her slacks. "How long did it take?"
I sighed. My lips flapped. "About two minutes."
"No," she said. "I meant to write the book."
I huffed. "That's just it," I said. "It only took six months. It just flowed out of me, like pee.”
I peeked at her from under my lashes, to see if I'd offended her. She didn't blink.
I tilted my head. "Oh,
She plucked the cap off her pen and used it to clean under her nails.
"That happened to me too," she said. "Did you think because it just came out of you, it was great? That it was a gift from God?"
She chuckled and lifted my chin to close my mouth.
"Guess what?" she said in a whisper.
I spoke softly too. "What?"
"That's not a book. That's your first draft."
Jerry held up a red pen, waved it like a conductor’s baton. "This," he said, "is my scalpel. And now, I cut."
He bent over the projector and read silently for a minute or two. Finally he glanced up.
"Okay," he said. "First to go are the helping verbs. Eliminate words like is, was, am, were, etcetera."
He marked, read, and slashed some more, then turned to face his assistant.
Andy made red stripes all down the page. "No -ing verbs," Andy said. "Weakens the writing."
Jerry hovered beside the projector. He grinned as he drew looped lines through modifiers.
"Why use three adjectives when one will do?"
Andy tapped the overhead surface. "Not to mention, 'tall, dark, and handsome' is a cliche.'"
He looked over his shoulder at the screen then back down at the transparency, crossed out two more phrases.
"As are 'white as snow' and 'old as the hills.'"
Jerry examined the writing sample again. More red. The page seemed to bleed. Up near the front of the room, someone whimpered.
"People," Jerry said. "You've got to omit needless words. Trust me. Less is more."
At the bottom of the piece, Jerry paused. He grinned and drew a smiley face, tapped the transparency.
"This is great," he said. "'They buried the farmer in his overalls with the dirt still under his fingernails.' I like that, like it a lot."
Andy approached the screen in front of the room and pointed to the smiley face sentence with his pen.
"Plus this is where the story really starts, don't you think, Jer?"
Jerry stroked his goatee. "Good point. Who cares about all the stuff up top? This is your first sentence."
"What was that?" my husband said from bed.
"Five thumbdrives hitting the bathroom floor.” I waited.
"Five?" he said. "You didn't give any away? Not one?"
"They're not ready. I mean— The book's not. I have to go home and start over, omit needless words, add more dialogue, stuff like that."
"Yes, I'm sure. Believe me, I
am very sure."
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