I am having a conversation with an earnest young writer. I have no choice; I'm trapped in a doctor's waiting room; all the chairs are taken and he's in a leg cast sitting next to me. I'm pretty sure the receptionist, who has been reading my vampire novels and demands a new one everytime I have an appointment, has let it slip to Earnest that I am a real author (as opposed to a fake one? One who is only a figment? Ghost writer? I never get that label.)
After heaping me with praise for being the real deal, although he tempers the gush by admitting that he's never actually heard of me or any of my books, Earnest confides: "I have a fantasy novel that's ready for publication."
The standard published author response is to smile and congratulate him. Something vague, along the lines of "That's terrific." My watch tells me the doc is probably going to keep me waiting for another 30 minutes, so I might as well be nice. "That's great," I say, and think of Jesus weeping before I go on. "What's it about?"
"Well," says Earnest, before he launches into a description that tells me nine thousand things about his hero's backstory and absolutely nothing about the novel. It sounds like Lord of the Rings with only one guy being manly instead of twelve of them. While I listen, I amuse myself by inventing titles for this book of Earnest's heart: The Sauron and the Fury. Death of a Hobbit. Alas, Poor Gandalf.
From Earnest's lengthy description, his book is about as ready for publication as I am prepared to take the gold in Women's Olympic Skating. Just before I lapse into an irreversible coma, Earnest adds the final blow. "It's like Terry Brooks' Shanara novels, but not exactly." He gives me a hopeful look. "Do you know Terry?"
I am briefly tempted to claim Terry is one of my ex-husbands, just to enjoy myself in a small but evil way, but that kind of joke has a way of biting you on the ass in a small town. "No, I'm sorry, I don't."
"But you've read his books." Earnest is fan-anxious now.
I shake my head and invoke the Rule of Silence: Never explain to a fan why you don't read his idol's novels. Never. There Can Be No Adequate Excuse.
"I'm surprised." And he is. "You being a published author." Doubt, too, implying that maybe I'm not, you know, real. "You've read Lord of the Rings, though."
Bingo. Honest response: Not even if you drugged me. Polite lie: Many years ago. I make mine reasonably honest. "Nope."
Earnest is earnestly speechless for about two seconds. "What is it you write again?" Horror has given him temporary amnesia.
I could give him a run down of the backlist, but he's had enough jolts for one day. "Romance novels," I say, and observe the superior gleam appear in his eyes. He's about to explain to me that I write trash, in a polite, condescending way, and with the mood I'm in, I might break his other leg.
Before Earnest can patronize me, I say, "Excuse me" and wander up to the receptionist's window. To her, I say, "I will give you an ARC of Dark Need if you take me in right now."
I am on the exam table two minutes later. The doc's new tech comes in, puts up my x-rays on the light board and eyes me. "Ms. Kelly?" When I nod, he smiles. "Alyssa says you're a real author. I've been working on a novel myself."
I am sitting on a metal table in a large paper napkin that passes as a patient gown, so I can't make a break for it. "That's terrific," I say. "Have you met the other author out in the waiting room? Guy with the broken leg. Writes just like Terry Brooks." I think of a way I can make a break for it and get off the table. "Excuse me, I have to use the restroom."
I wash my hands nine times before I go back to the exam room, and it works. When I leave a half hour later, tech and Earnest are talking in the hallway. Both of them ignore me. It's okay. Not like I'm a real author.