Prince has to tell these stories because I never met this woman. He talked to her for the first time about a day after he was born at a workshop in Chicago. She was one of the editors there to grant what wisdom she could after reading just five pages of our work. She told us what we were by her actions. I’ll get out of the way. He loves an introduction, so here is The Prince of Darkness…
So Optimist, huh. Well she is so much fun and kind. We are going to have fun with her.
The first time she sat with me I thought I had something on my face. She sat and for a moment she just stared at me. She had the first five pages of Liefdom in her hand and she checked them for a second, and if I had to guess her mood I would say excited nerves.
“I have been looking forward to talking to you,” she said. “Jesse, my name is The Optimist and I am a freelance editor. I have been editing books for about a decade now and I am by occupation an avid reader. I read at least two hundred books a year.
“These pages are crazy.” She took a breath and looked at me and I grinned at her. I hope I looked a bit mad. I don’t know but she smiled and said, “You have a twisted, dark and beautiful mind and I have never read anything like this.”
She had a shred of Liefdom in her hands and she kept uncurling it and curling it back up again as she talked to me as if I might break down crying or eat her face. Every few seconds she would take a deep breath.
“This is a Hell like I have never seen before.” She nodded to herself and smiled. “I’ve seen my share of Hell. A lot of writers approach Hell and they all have their own takes on it, but this place you have described here is beyond anything I have seen before. It’s gorgeous in its horror and when I read it I could taste sulfur in my mouth.”
I chuckled. I was not doing a good job of professional, but shit I was like 22 hours old and I hadn’t gotten my feet set yet. You also have to take into consideration that none of us had ever heard anyone talk about our world like this. This woman was a fan. She had read five pages.
She told me a few little things she thought I could touch up on but she did not linger there. Instead she asked about my writing. My plans. Was there anything else in the works? What was I going to do with Liefdom when it was done?
Most of these questions I answered with a shrug. I told her that I did not know what I was going to do with it yet. Most of the manuscripts that were inching their way through the workshop were being gutted so badly the writers around me were being told to go back to the drawing board or abandon the project all together.
“This fucking workshop is a blood bath,” I said. “The agent hated my premise, said it was flawed and then he said I had a cute problem.”
She flinched. “A what?”
“The guy said that I had a scene where, ‘Fairies were being born out of flowers.’” I said it with the same girlish tone and the same ridiculous manner he said it and she shook her head with her mouth open.
“Listen, he is a great agent and he knows story very well. I would never go against him in any way, but Jesse. It does not matter if you have fairies riding two-week-old Beagles into battle with babies on unicorn colts through the rest of this entire book. You have no cute problem. Fairies, flowers or any other thing. Cute is not your problem.”
She talked to all the other editors about this. They all pulled me aside at some point during the workshop to assure me. Cute was not my problem. They were all hesitant to speak contrary to the agent but they had read about the Sulfur Fields and they had seen Blythe look into Glass. They knew that my work was not fluffy to the point of nausea.
So about two years later The Genius who is putting these workshops together is now editing my rewrite of Liefdom. Let’s stop here for a minute and focus just for a space on this abomination of a rewrite.
Now a rewrite is a rewrite. You gut the fucking thing. You leave its entrails on the shop floor and you listen to it mew as you stitch it back Frankenstein like into what it was meant to be the first time. Rewrites are supposed to be bloody, horrifying affairs. If you can’t hear the manuscript scream and beg, then you are just playing patty cake.
Well, when Artist had “rewritten” Liefdom I was not in charge yet. I didn’t take over until I convinced them they were bad writers and they had been forced to agree. When Artist rewrote this thing, what he did was polish a turd and wrap it in gold leaf ribbon and send it to a professional. While I am at this workshop I am about to tell you about, The Genius is slicing and carving and pounding that atrocity of a book Artist had paid her to edit into so many different and gruesome pieces that it is horrifying when we get it back.
While this is going on, we find out she is putting together another workshop with the same agent with a fantasy lean. We are getting two days of his lectures and then a real fantasy writer is going to come in and give a lecture.
Man, I was excited. I wanted to hear about the process and the theories of a true traditionally published fantasy writer. She ended up giving us revision advice and talking about her book for a while, but I still think I got my money’s worth.
I walked in the first day and The Optimist met me at the door to the conference room. “Oh Jesse, it is so good to see you. The Genius said you were coming and to look for you. I am so excited you made it. This is a really good lecture series (which is true), a really good chance to look at writing in a way that is not often talked about (which is also true). Come talk to me later if you get the chance.”
I did get the chance and she looked at me and said, “The agent told me to get a few writers together for dinner later. Are you interested? It will be a few of us, him and the guest speaker.”
Shit man, I almost shat myself. I said, “Yeah, I got no plans. I would love to come.”
“Meet us in the lobby at about seven.”
Sat through a lecture then ran upstairs. I called Bekah and geeked out for a while about how I was being invited with a group of writers to have dinner with the agent. We talked about how I was not going to mention my book because that would be rude. That I was just there to make connections. I smelled my armpits. I had forgotten that we could not smell. Give me a break I was still young. Then while I was shaking with excitement and fear, I ran downstairs.
Now I can do nonchalant really well. I can look at a beautiful woman and scoff. I can look at a great movie and pull my best bored face on. So when I stepped into this lobby to what I assumed would be a massive group of writers, I saw the agent, The Optimist, and a young girl. She turned out to be The Optimist’s daughter.
No one else.
I fucked up when I shook his hand. Too much thumb, way too high and I ended up shaking half of his hand and a lot of his jacket. He didn’t seem to notice. He plays nonchalant better than I do.
Then he asked, “Is this it?”
The Optimist said yes. And I played it cool. But do you see it? I was the only writer she was inviting. She had not gathered a group of people as he had told her she should. She had grabbed me and looked around and said, “Yeah, we’re good.”
Well he wanted to get Afghan. Which I didn’t even know was a thing. And it turns out that the city of Madison has an Afghan restaurant and I’m in the car with her, not freaking out that I am the only one here.
We park. We walk to the restaurant and I pull her aside as I am walking and I say, “Why am I the only one here?”
“You are the only one that belongs here.”
Yeah! Fuck right!
I stopped her and looked at her. “What did you say?”
“Listen, Jesse, you have to get used to this. This is your future. These kinds of meetings and dinners are going to be your life really soon. Get used to it. Get some practice. Now calm down. You look a mess. You’re gonna have fun.” She smiled again. “Close your mouth.”
So that is The Optimist. I can tell you that she asked how Gentry Mandrake was coming along (the hero in Liefdom). I told her I had a few chapters rewritten after The Genius had sent a few ahead of the rest of the document.
“Can I see them?” The Optimist asked.
This was not supposed to happen. You have to pay pretty good money to get a professional to give their opinion on your work.
“You sure?” I said, “I can give you a little something if you want me to.”
“No, I’m excited. Send me the first three chapters. I’ll talk to you about them tomorrow. Here is my email.”
She loved them, except.
“This character here,” she said. “This engineer. This one building the city in hell, gruesome by the way, but also, is he in the rest of the story?”
“No, just this first chapter. I needed to get in Blythe’s throne room and show what he is doing so I created the guy as an in.”
“Yeah you can’t do that,” she said. “You can’t ask me to care about a character that I am never going to see again just so you can get me in a room.”
“Well I have to. I mean I need to be in that throne room. I don’t have a way in.”
“Sorry but bullshit,” The Optimist said.
My fucking heart stopped. I stopped breathing. I just looked at her as dumb as a person can look. Just bored donkey dumb and I stammered. To my credit, I was only stammering because I had no fucking idea what to say.
“You are the god of this world. You can do anything. You have no excuse.” She smiled at me as she walked away. “Do better.”
And from that moment, I did.