“How could you let this happen?” Mark barked at Kim as they walked down the hallway. “We had him on a strict schedule. Every time he finishes a book he has to write at least one short story. Otherwise he’ll just get too many ideas stuck in his head! People can’t just consume, they need to produce!”
“I dunno,” Kim whimpered. “He had a backlog of books that he had ordered from Amazon and they all came at once and he was really excited to dive in. He was just so happy… but he hasn’t left the apartment for a week now. Not even for Starbucks. Or Tim’s. Not even for good coffee, Mark. Outside coffee!” She flailed her hands in front of her in desperation.
“What kinds of books arrived? Who were the authors?”
“Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Adams… and Douglas Coupland.”
“Coupland!? Oh, no.”
“Well! You recommended those authors to him! You got him addicted in the first place.”
“They’re excellent authors if you read one of their books and then digest the information. But if you just keep reading them then you’re going to become really sarcastic. You’ll only see irony everywhere! He was supposed to take a break between readings to try and write his own stories. You were supposed to keep him on track. Ugh. Some people just can’t keep their reading under control.”
“Life After God wasn’t sarcastic or ironic,” muttered Kim, mostly to herself.
“And that’s why so many critics panned it when it came out. You can’t be sincere or genuine anymore if you want to make money. You’ve got to get a doctor to staple or stitch your tongue permanently in your cheek.”
They reached the door to Jared and Kim’s apartment just as Mark finished miming stapling his own tongue to the inside of his left cheek. Kim quietly unlocked the door. Mark grabbed the doorknob and flung the door wide open and walked right into the apartment. The door slammed against the wall and there was a flurry of movement on the couch. Mark kept walking into the apartment until he was right across from the couch where Jared sat.
Jared’s eyes were bloodshot. His hair was a mess. He was wearing nothing but a pair of striped boxers and a yellowed shirt. He was hiding his left hand under the pillow on the couch. He’d obviously been reading just before they’d busted into his apartment. There were a dozen coffee mugs, three pizza boxes and two books on the coffee table. An album by The Shins was looping in the background. He was absolutely listless.
“How’s it going, Jared?” Mark asked in a friendly, forced sort of way.
“Good,” Jared replied meekly.
“What are you doing?”
Jared couldn’t meet Mark’s eyes, so he looked around the room instead. He noticed the books on the coffee table and tried to non-nonchalantly put a pizza box on top of them. Leftover crusts in the pizza box rattled as he moved it.
Mark ignored the crusty rusty rattle and asked Jared point blank, “What do you have in your hand, Jared?”
Jared raised both his hands into the air and gave a weak smile. Mark shook his head. Jared hesitated a moment — then put a hand under the couch pillow and pulled out Douglas Coupland’s first novel.
“Oh, Jared,” moaned Kim, disappointedly.
“No, no, no, Jared!” ranted Mark. “Generation X is a fun read, but very few Gen Xers live like that. I mean, is that how your parents live?”
Jared was so embarrassed that he tried to get up quickly and run for the bathroom so he could hide out, but his legs, which were weak from both a lack of sleep and a lack of use, gave out on him and he fell back onto the couch. Mark took the book from Jared’s weak grip.
“I have a problem,” mumbled Jared. He looked up at Mark with tear-rimmed eyes.
Kim walked up to the couch and gently picked up Jared’s hand. “It’s okay. We’re here to help. Now, you just need to stop consuming so much media and produce some so that you can get some of these thoughts out of your head onto the page. What do you want to write about?”
“Close your eyes. Describe the characters you see.”
“A group of housecoat-wearing towel-carrying Gen Xers who become unstuck from time and visit pre-war Dresden?”
Mark and Kim exchanged worried glances.
“They could drink Zima,” continued Jared slowly. “Nobody seems to drink Zima anymore…”
Mark sat down on the couch beside Jared. “Try to come up with something original. And, if you can’t do that, just think of something that would be really ironic. Try to branch out a little in your writing.”
“…branch out in… writing.” Jared’s eyes suddenly widened and became clear. “I’ve got it! It’s a story about a tree that is a writer and has to come to terms with the fact that he makes his living writing paperback novels! Which is like, cannibalistic in a weird way because he’s making a living off the killing of his brethren… although I guess he’s not actually eating them. But… uhh… yeah, he lives in a condo with only hardwood floors. And he never reads anything online, it’s all in print form! We could call the story, ‘Paperback writer.’ It’s clever because a tree’s ‘back’ is basically paper and the tree is a writer. But he also writes paperbacks. And it’s the name of a Beatles song… and people always dig that. And… and… in the end he has his greatest work printed on himself. Self-sacrifice or something.”
Kim giggled and Mark smiled. “Let’s get your laptop. Every Day Fiction is going to love this one.”
Warren Klassen was challenged by his professor to try to write a fictional story.