“And now we have with us, here at The Midnight Show, one of the most successful writers of our age,” anchorman Sean McGregor says. “His five last novels rocketed to the top of the best seller lists and remained there for months. He has been called the Jack Kerouac of the 21st century. His internet followers are legion. His new novel is out this week: ‘Scent of You”. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Christopher Quinn!”
There’s a round of applause. It seems heartfelt, more so for a late night show. The camera pans out and focuses on both men. Quinn sits, one leg over the other, a pleasant smile on his face. He looks relaxed when he nods slightly thanking the clapping that doesn’t fade, until he also makes a gesture with his hand to show his humility.
“Thank you, thank you,” Quinn says to the audience. “Thank you, Sean.”
“Pleased to have you here again, Christopher,” McGregor says. “First of all, let me congratulate you for your new novel, ‘Scent of You’. Do you think it’s going to be another success?”
“Well, Sean, the fact is that, according to my publishers, Specific House, to whom I’ve very grateful for their support and help, by the way, the preorders are indeed even better than those for ‘Blue’. So I have to say that yes, ‘Scent’ is already a success.”
More enthusiast clapping from the audience. Even some cheers and whistles.
“Wow, that’s great to know, Christopher. I have to tell you, I loved ‘Blue Moon’. It was such a magnificent work of art, a large tale encompassing half of the twentieth century, yet at the same time it was a tender, beautiful love story.”
“Thank you, Sean.”
“And told in your style! The way you use language in your books… it’s simply amazing, Christopher. I wish I could do that!”
“Well, we cannot have that, can we? Otherwise you’d be writing my books. Perhaps I could conduct your program then?”
Both laugh as the audience roars. When the noise lowers, McGregor keeps talking.
“Christopher, critics have praised your writing for the faithful way you depict women. How do you do that?”
“Well, Sean, the important matter here is that women are people, you know? What I do is treat them just like you would treat real people, with respect and love.”
“But your women are always so life-like. Dana from ‘Blue Moon’ just jumped off the page to the reader.”
“Maybe it’s because of my writing approach. There’s a saying about the supporting cast being the stars of their own movie, and if you manage to pull it off, it shows. All my characters have a life, even if you don’t see it in the pages of the book.”
“That has to be a lot of work, isn’t it, Christopher?”
“Yes, it is. Ultimately, writing a book is sitting down in front of your computer and just typing. But the amount of work you do before that, and after that, is huge.”
“After the actual writing, you mean?”
“Yes, Sean. Look, I always compare writing a book to a long journey. Before setting out you need to plan ahead, see whether you have the adequate clothes for your destination, pack, check your passport and tickets, and so on. Then you do your actual journey, and you hit the places you want to visit. Even so, while travelling you will always come up with unforeseen events, and you’ll have to deal with them. Those things happen when you write a book.”
“Well, I make a lot of careful planning. It’s the characters, as we said before, but also the places and the events. You don’t want to set a book in Rome and then have Romans come and tell you that such a street doesn’t exist, or you have misplaced it. In this internet age that’s unforgivable.”
“But doesn’t that constrain the freedom of the writer?”
“You need to do your research first, Sean, then after all, you’re a writer and you tweak reality as you see fit so that it suits your needs. There are historic details I’ve changed in all my novels, for instance. Mostly small ones, but they’re there for you to discover.”
“Tell me one!”
“Ah no, that’s a game I play with my fans. Check the internet, Sean, you’ll see they’re really good at it!”
“Oh, come on!”
“Absolutely not, that’s a promise I made to them. But well, go reread ‘Fire Within’, which is set here in New York, and look for a certain… geographical detail. You’ll see what I mean.”
“Do you see what he’s just done, dear ladies and gentlemen? He just made me read one of his old books… again!”
Laughter again. McGregor is good, and he knows it. Quinn is even better.
“Let’s talk a bit more about your new book, Christopher. What’s ‘Scent of You’ about?”
“Well, the protagonist a woman, Susan. She has lived an unhappy life for a long time, but she doesn’t realize it: we could say that she feels it’s her lot in life, and she doesn’t really have any other aspirations. But one day she has a chance encounter that will change everything, and we’ll follow her as she travels in new directions… And that’s all I’m going to tell for now!”
There’s more laughter.
“Ah, yes, you still want readers to buy the book, don’t you, Christopher?” Quinn nods while he smiles. “But our dear audience here at the studio are going to have a surprise, aren’t they?”
“Yes, Sean, that’s true.”
“Dear friends!” McGregor points at his live audience,”thanks to the generosity of Specific House, we have here for you…” and two men in tuxedos roll in a large wooden crate into the studio, “two hundred advance copies of ‘Scent of You’ by Christopher Quinn for all of you to discover how the story ends!”
The roar is deafening, but still McGregor manages to sneak something else in:
“And they are signed!”
“I’m home, darling!” Quinn says. He switches the lights of the hall on, then locks the door from the inside and carefully leaves the keys on the table by the door. He walks into the spacious hall.
A large bookshelf occupies two of the walls; in the corner they make is his desk. On the desk is a large computer screen, nothing more.
Quinn smiles, then goes into the kitchen. It’s immaculate and shiny, as if nobody had ever used it. He opens the fridge. It’s full of beers from different brands. He picks one, opens it and takes a long swig. He nods appreciatively.
There’s a note on fridge, from the cleaner. He disregards it.
Quinn strolls toward his bookshelves and stops in front of the left one. He caresses one of the books, then pulls it out and sticks his hand behind. There’s a click.
A hidden door opens to his left. Its panels follow the pattern in the wall; it was impossible to see it was there until it opened. Quinn enters to find himself at the top of a flight of stairs, then he closes the door. A line of led lights comes on, illuminating the stairs.
Quinn descends. There’s a corridor at the foot of the stairs, and the led lights switch on to lead the way off as the staircase ones switch off. A pale light outlines a closed door at the end of the corridor. When Quinn reaches it, he pulls out a single key and unlocks it.
She is inside, naked and bound to her armchair by leather bands on her arms and legs. The bands on her arms are long and flexible. The computer is on: the light came from its screen and one light bulb that hangs from the ceiling. She’s typing away incessantly.
The room reeks.
Quinn smiles. He approaches her.
“I’m home, darling,” he says. She doesn’t acknowledge him; she just keeps typing like mad.
Quinn looks above her shoulder and reads what’s in the screen.
“Oh, that’s really good, my dear,” he says. “What do I say, good? That looks brilliant! This is magnificent, darling. My last book is not out yet, and the next one is going to be even better!”
He touches her shoulder.
Then she screams.
This is my entry for this week’s Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: The End of a Long Journey. The challenge this week was to write approximately 1500 words, well, narrating the end of a long journey. Chuck challenged us to have a beginning, a middle and an end in what was basically the story of an ending itself.
The idea of a book being a journey came into my mind, but after that everything else went dark… I feel like I cheated, because my story doesn’t really end, though it is an ending.