A tall brunette walked to the front of the meeting room and stepped up to the podium. "Hi, everyone. My name's Jane, and I write Mary Sue novels."
"I've been coming to meetings three times a week for nine months now." Jane toyed with a thread hanging from the end of her sleeve. "I was feeling pretty good, and confident about earning my one-year chip, but this past weekend, I . . . I fell off the wagon."
Most of the audience shifted in their seats.
Jane pushed her shoulders back. "I knew what I was doing. I mean, I knew when I made my protagonist a virgin at twenty-six that I was heading down the wrong road. She's not a Christian fundamentalist, or unmarried and living in Iran. But I just couldn't bring myself to give her a fumbling backseat high school experience or a token bad marriage to an older man with regular erectile dysfunction. It's stupid, but . . . I really thought I could handle it."
Someone snorted loudly. A middle-aged redhead in the second row elbowed the bearded man sitting next to her.
"I kept writing, and made her beautiful and built and brilliant . . ." Jane stopped and covered her face with a trembling hand.
The redhead sighed. "The three killer B's."
Jane dropped her hand and bravely pushed on. "From there, I admit, it snowballed. I gave her a bottle-green Jag, and a job curating an art museum, and a Victorian mansion she bought for a song and renovated single-handedly. The next thing I knew she was gardening, raising hybrid roses and tossing together gourmet dinners for one."
A lanky teenager in a black leather jacket slowly clapped his hands three times. "So what did you name her? Elizabeth? Angelique?"
"Jennifer. Jennifer Jane Fairchild." Jane avoided his eyes. "I knew it was wrong. I knew it spelled the end of my sobriety, but you know . . . God, it felt so good to write it."
A thin, balding man stood up. "Tell us about the dog, Jane."
"I don't know what you mean." Jane's chin lifted. "I didn't write a dog in the story."
Everyone stared at her.
"All right. All right." Jane hung her head. "It was a golden retriever. Never sheds, never pukes or piddles on the carpet. Sleeps on the floor at the foot of Jennifer's antique brass bed. I named him . . .Goldie."
A tattered-looking man with a straggly goatee and a black cigarette planted between his chapped lips entered the meeting room and took a seat in the back row.
"Anyway." Jane paused to sniff a few times. "I did stop. I stopped as soon as Jennifer Jane stumbled across a Neo-Nazi plot to murder the democratic, extremely popular governor of her state. A murder which only she personally could prevent, of course, at great personal risk. I put away the pages in my desk."
"Oh, Jane." The redhead knuckled away a tear.
"I don't see what the big deal is," Jane snapped. "Sure, I know the rules. My protagonist should have been a recovering crack whore hiding from the cops in a flop house room with a sometimes-boyfriend named Wife Beater--"
The man with the goatee interrupted Jane by applauding loudly. One of the women sitting near him leaned over, asked him a question, shook her head and pointed to the door. The man with the goatee rose and walked out.
Jane rubbed some sweat from her face. "It's not like I'm going to publish it. Look, it was just a story. One story."
"That's how it starts, Jane," the balding man in the front row said, not without some sympathy. "One story, and then another, and soon you can justify every aspect of the Mary Sue novel. You join a writer organization, wear pink suits, have your business cards scented and go to luncheons once a month. And you know what the next step is after that."
Jane paled. "That won't happen to me."
"You never think it does," he said, "but then suddenly you're writing the last three words of your novel." He looked around the room. "And they are?"
The audience answered as a group. "Happily. Ever. After."
Jane burst into tears.
"I think we should have a reading now, to remind us all of why we're here." The balding man opened the book in his hands and began to read. "The Twelve Suggested Steps of Mary Sue Anonymous. Step One: We admitted we were powerless over Mary Sues--that our stories had become unrealistic."
As Jane groped in her purse for a tissue, the other people in the meeting echoed the balding man's words. Down the hall, the man with the goatee finally found the correct room for his meeting. He was welcomed by that group, and invited to step up to the podium and introduce himself.
"Howdy." He rubbed his mouth, dishevelling his goatee. "My name is Nick, and I write literary novels."