The Crystal Pistol

“You’re here for the workshop, right?” Prince said.

She was a cute mom of a woman and she looked up at him and smiled. “I am.”

“Then tell me about your book.”

Her face lit up. “Well, I am really nervous. The agent has been ripping everyone apart.”

“He is pretty brutal but that is why we are paying him, right?” Prince shook his head. “I guess we have to just learn how to bleed without letting ourselves die. So tell me about your book. I want to hear about it.”

She had an odd concept. A grave digger of sorts with a certain way of freeing the soul and a quest to help his disabled dead sister. She had so many different mystical ideas and they needed to be roped together, but she would take plenty of time to do that.

It had so much promise, but she was very right. The agent was crushing things.

He had a tendency to call you to his table, and though he started with a few positives, when he was done he had ripped so many holes in your premise, your writing, your characters, and your approach in general that most of the writers coming from his critique had nothing left to work with.

He was shredding people, and though he had torn Prince open quite a bit, he had not destroyed the entire piece. The agent asked as soon as they sat down what Prince read.

Which Prince had to guess at. He spit out that he had read a lot of Stephen King and the agent mentioned a few other names. Martin, Erickson, Cook. He hit a good number of fantasy gods, then he had sent us to Redwall and sent us on our way.

The Crystal Pistol he hit hard, too. When she came back from her critique, she looked a bit dazed and I asked her how it went.

“He tore apart the only things I really liked about it.” She grinned and shook her head, obviously discouraged.

“Well then, you have to look hard at what he said, figure out the issues with those things, and figure out how to make them work. Everything is salvageable if you can figure out how to fix it.”

Dinner, and I am sitting with The Crystal Pistol, The Big Sister, The Roller Derby Queen, and The Matron. We talk about the blood bath because it is all anyone can talk about, then we eat. There were a lot of broken dreams that night, and as I walked to my hotel room, I heard the cracking shards of people’s books snap and pop underfoot. I counted myself lucky that I was able to patch together a way around his big issue, and I wondered about the “Cute Thing” and what I was going to do about it.

That morning I slept in, and when I realized I would have to walk into class late, I decided I could not face it.

Prince wanted to go to class. He argued about it and yelled about it, but when we checked the syllabus we realized we were talking about villains that day and the agent had told us we had a good grasp on character and villains. So instead of face a room full of people turning to look at us and knowing we were late, we hid in our room. Ordered room service and just felt terrible.

Prince was raging, but every time he headed for the door he was pulled back by Shadow, Shade, or Guardian, who were writing the entire workshop off as a loss. See they did not have the ego or the self-esteem to walk into a room where everyone knew they had fucked up and still hold their head high. So we let the entire day slip by and Prince seethed. He set his alarm for two hours early the next morning. He showered, shaved, dressed, and went to sit in an empty bar to wait.

He got there at five o’clock but did not balk at all at waiting in a darkened room for people to start arriving.

“Where were you, JT?” The Big Sister asked. She started calling me JT that morning and has called me that ever since. It’s been 12 years and she is still the only person I let call me that.

“Idiot,” I said. “I’m a fucking idiot.” Prince gritted his teeth and shook his head. “But I am here now and ready for my meetings and to learn what I can. Did you see the agent yet?”

“No, I’m on the butcher’s block this afternoon,” The Big Sister said.

“Well no matter what he says, you have a computer waiting and you can always start over. Fuck them all,” Prince said.

She laughed, then I went to breakfast.

“Where were you?” The Crystal Pistol asked.

“Sick,” Prince said. And he had been sick. Sick with self-doubt and all the other things that get in the way of these sorts of events. Prince vowed, as he looked at her concerned face that morning, that he would never let this sort of thing happen again. Never let the self-doubt of him or any other alter get in the way of his career. Fuck those who laughed at him. Fuck those who did not have the balls to face the world. Prince refused to let them get in his way.

When The Crystal Pistol began to find a place to sit, Prince saw the group of editors had taken a table and there was an empty table near them. “Wanna eavesdrop?” Prince asked.

He sat inches away from an editor and listened to them talk about what they did. He learned a few things and tried to drown out the talking of those he was sitting with. When a spot opened at the editors’ table, Prince jumped up and smiled at the table of writers. He swung to the editors.

“Can I sit in?” he said.

They looked up at him and smiled. “Sure, have a seat,” The Genius said.

“Can we crawl into every computer on earth with a scrub brush and a chisel and rip away all the Times New Roman in the world?” The Optimist said to the table.

“Times is the worst.”

“Why?” Prince asked.

“It’s inaccurate,” The Genius said. “The letters are too close together and the wrong shape. The word count is off so that too many words fit on one page. A page of writing should have about 250 words on it.”

“Give or take,” The Optimist said.

“But Times is way off.”

“Hurts the eyes,” another editor said.

“Oh, it is killer on the eyes. I feel like my eyes are bleeding after a session of Times,” The Genius said.

“So what do I use?” Prince said. “What about Georgia?” That question had not come from him. Artist had popped that out there.

Prince heard in his head. “If they have a problem with Georgia then it doesn’t matter. Georgia is my accent. It hits my ears in a—”

Prince shut him out. That was ridiculous.

“Georgia is okay,” The Genius said.

“I like it just fine,” The Optimist said.

“Palatino though,” The Genius said. “That font is gorgeous.”

“Yes, yes give me Palatino every day,” The Optimist said.

“Okay,” Prince said. “I will.”

They looked at him with puzzled faces.

“When I am ready, I will give you Palatino.” He finished his bacon and found his way into class.

He dropped into the middle of class with The Crystal Pistol. “Seat taken?”

“Yours now,” she said.

And we sat together from that day on. The rest of the workshop, me and The Crystal Pistol were inseparable. Gossip, I won’t allow you to label us. That title implies a full-time endeavor. We did a tad of gossip. I would say we were enthusiasts. We had theories about the writers that were talented and that weren’t. We had ideas about what sort of things they wrote and what we could expect of them.

Very few people were made fun of.

No one’s work was criticized. But we had things to say about who was good and who might not be.

When I came back from my writer’s group meeting the first night we had one, I found The Crystal Pistol and gushed about The Courtesan. I talked about the brilliant mind she had and how excited I was about her story.

“I want to read your book,” The Crystal Pistol said. “Everyone is talking about it.”

“Everyone is talking about it?”

“Yeah, it is one of the ones that survived. All the editors are talking about it. I want to read it. Can I read it?”

Prince got on the phone with Bekah. This was the first time him talking to his wife. She sounded cute and when she said certain words, sexy, and he decided he could not wait to get home. Get some time with her and really get a lay of the land.

“Can you do me a ridiculous favor?” he asked.

“Sure, what?” Bekah said.

“Sure?” Prince said. “You didn’t even ask what it was.”

“Doesn’t matter. I’ll figure it out, what do you need?”

“What if I asked you to take off all your clothes?”

“Then I would need to slip into the bedroom.”

He laughed. “You’re awesome. Can’t wait to see you.” Prince got serious. “Listen, I have someone here that wants to read my book. She said she will start it when she gets it and I want to talk to her about it if she starts reading it now.”

“I’ll print off a copy and get it to you.”

“Drive it up here?” Prince said. He was wondering if he might get her to find a sitter for any children they might have and spend a night with him. Maybe meet a few people.

“No, I’ll overnight it.”

“Sure,” he said. “That would be fine.”

“I’ll send it to the front desk FedEx,” she said. “Love you.”

“Yeah, I think I love you, too,” Prince said. He hung up the phone a little breathless. He closed his eyes, trying to picture what she might look like, but couldn’t.

The Crystal Pistol read the book a little during the workshop, but most of it on the plane on the way home. She said she liked it but there was a hitch in her voice when she said it, and Prince knew she had found a few things she did not like, not wanting to tell us.

When Prince pressured her, she spoke about it a little, but not much. He took what he could and they didn’t talk for a while.

It was years of tiny notes. She sent me a Christmas card and we did the same. But she was published in 2012.

I looked into the publisher because she said they might like my work. This is what I found.

The publisher she used took in books and rated them. They were rated on a one through three system. If you got a one, then you paid for cover, editing, printing and shipping and they took their cut. If you got a two, they paid about half of all that and they took their cut. If you got a three, then they paid for all of it and a bit of marketing as well.

The fact of the matter is, if she hadn’t gotten a three she would have been taken. A lot of presses do this. There are so many sketchy presses that prey on writers who want to get a book out.

If you are wanting to publish a book, please do your research. Please check these things out. Please don’t let the shine of a publishing contract blind you to the presses out there that only want your rights and a cut of your money.

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