[Introduction: Melanie Stormm continues her humorous series of posts about the misdirected emails she’s been getting. Stormm is a multiracial writer who writes fiction, poetry, and audio theatre. Her novella, Last Poet of Wyrld’s End is available through Candlemark & Gleam. She is currently the editor at the SPECk, a monthly publication on speculative poetry by the SFPA. Find her in her virtual home at coldwildeyes.com. Wipe your feet before entering.]
SECOND BOOK SYNDROME
Hello All, Melanie here!
When last we left our heroes…
Writer X was congratulating herself for having won the Cradensburg Flash Fiction contest when she realized something was missing from her life. She seemed to recall having a boyfriend but had misplaced him for several days…or months.
X set aside her gloating to search for her boyfriend, Tod Boadkins.
She discovered Tod in a catatonic state, wandering the haunted fields of Bleakwood, New Hampshire. He was carrying a finished draft of his second novel and an electric toothbrush. X brought him home to nurse him back to health. Apparently, he’s suffering from Second Book Syndrome.
Meanwhile, in Cradensburg, the building of a mysterious complex is still underway. Last week it attracted the ire of local activists who felt the scaffolding was blocking the “most scenic view” of the town’s clock tower. As the crowds got rowdier, local police released zombies to disperse the riot.
Will Tod recover from Second Book Syndrome? Will “the next big epic fantasy writer of all time” ACTUALLY write pages this week? Will Melanie continue to write introductions like these?
Without further ado…
Subject: THE PRAISE WILL COME ROLLING IN!!!!!
As I’m sure you know, the Cradensburg Flash Fiction Contest has just made its results open to the public and published my story to their facebook page. At any minute, I will be BASKING in adulation.
Things are gonna change!!! Neighbors will treat me with respect. Ms. B____ will invite me to her labor day picnic again, but more importantly than anything AND I MEAN ANYTHING, GLADYS, my writing critique group will realize that I am the next big epic fantasy writer of all time!!!!!!
Yes, they may have banned me for “plagiarizing Tolkien.” And YES, after lifting the ban, I may have been key to their winning the NaNoNutterButter contest against the Fantasy Writer’s MeetUp of Brokenheap, NH. But NONE OF THEM have actually SEEN any of my writing!!!! Secretly I think they all wonder if I’m really a writer at all.
Every time our group meets, I have to endure updates of so-and-so sharing “daily word counts,” and such-and-such “compiling a chapbook,” and what’s-their-face “editing a short story,” but what do they ever see from me??? NOTHING!!!! For some reason my novels aren’t writing themselves. But NO LONGER, GLADYS!!!! For I have written a thing and it won a contest and once they read it, ALL SHALL LOVE ME AND DESPAIR!!!!!
Anyhoo, I’m sure you’re dying to know how my writing is going. Well, I would have pages for you to peruse, but first there was that fire and now Tryxy and I are in the middle of driving my boyfriend, award-nominated fantasy writer Tod Boadkins, down to see a specialist in Arkham. And by in the middle, I mean we’re just starting.
My boyfriend, award nominated fantasy writer Tod Boadkins, is a shell of himself. Tryxy and I took him to the local hospital for treatment. Unfortunately, they only had one Writing-Related-Injuries Specialist and she was booked out until the 34th of next Febember!!!! Fortunately, the hospital in Arkham has a well known Authology department in the psychiatric wing, so it’s off to Arkham we go!!!
Tryxy and #bestkitten decided to tag along for the ride so that Tryxy can use the library at Miskatonic University to do research on Childhood Levitation. He tried to use our local library to write his paper, but he says Miskatonic’s university has so much more on the topic.
Hang on, Gladys, I have to wipe the drool out of my boyfriend’s beard and strap him into his seat.
Okay I’m back!!!
While we’re away, I’m going to need you to keep an eye on our house. Once they’re finished reading my story on Facebook, I’m sure the unwashed masses are going to assemble around my house in throngs. I need someone to make sure they keep clear of my flaming gladiola bulbs!!!! That’s where you come in. I just got a new bunch planted after the last exploded and I don’t need people trouncing my summer garden before it gets to grow!!!
It’ll be great to get my boyfriend back!!!! He doesn’t even know I’ve won yet and I’m dying to tell him when he’s capable of blowing his own nose again!!!! I keep telling him every five minutes to gauge whether he’s improving and it doesn’t even register. He just blinks those pretty blue eyes of his and stares into oblivion.
Toodaloo!! I’ll be sure to write tons of pages after I check my boyfriend in at Arkham hospital!!!
sent from my iPhone
Subject: Infiltrate my Writing Group Please!!!!!
Well I’m all the way down here in Arkham and my story has been published for four whole hours but I haven’t heard anything from my writing group!!!! I even checked our group texts and the only thing there is a text from Bevvy Hart posting a link to an article about the mysterious complex that’s being built along the town green.
Apparently she has time to read about the mysterious owners of the mysterious complex hiring a local PR team to combat the negative press from the scaffolding mishap but she can’t read my 673 word masterpiece??????
I almost gave her a piece of my mind but then I realized I should probably play it cool. After all, if every one knows that I’m waiting to hear from them, then I can’t act casual about my MASSIVE ACHIEVEMENT!!! I’ve been practicing my, “Oh, that story? Yeah, I guess it did win” for pretty much the entire drive down to Arkham and I’ve even added a casual toss of my hair. Of course my hair is in curlers right now, but it’ll be the envy of Cradensburg when it’s out!!!!!
Speaking of Arkham, the weather is terrible down here. First of all, there’s all these winged creatures flying around and they’re blocking what little sun comes through all the clouds of doom. It’s amazing what a trip two hours south can do to the
HANG ON GLADYS!!!! SOMEONE JUST TEXTED THE GROUP AND I NEED TO GO CHECK IT. IT HAS BEGUN!!!!
No, it has not begun. That was just Edwina replying to Bevvy’s article about the mysterious owners hiring the PR team.
This is the final straw!!!! Gladys, I am going to need you to:
1.) Pretend to be a novelist (I know that’s EXTREMELY HARD if you’re not a writer, but this is IMPORTANT)
2.) Infilitrate my writing group
3.) RAVE ABOUT MY STORY!!!!
Someone’s going to have to drop some hints to these people and it can’t be me!!!
4.) ASK EVERYONE WHAT THEY THOUGHT OF IT AND TELL THEM TO PUT IT IN THE TEXTS!!!!
No one will ever suspect.
In the meanwhile, Tryxy and I have my boyfriend, award nominated fantasy writer Tod Boadkins, loaded into a wheelchair and we’ve just arrived at the Authology department in the psychiatric wing and there’s these iron double doors with all kinds of signs that say things like, “Patients in Fragile Condition. Absolutely NO WORDS beyond this point!” There’s also this notice that requires all cell phones to be stowed away while in public areas so that inpatients aren’t tempted to steal phones and conduct novel research on google or update their blogs.
Gotta go, Gladys!!!! I’ll check on your progress when I get to the private visitor’s lounge!!!
sent from my iPhone
Subject: Worse than we thought
I can only assume your complete silence is due to the challenges of pretending to be a novelist. Not to worry, as you know, I am a patient and supportive person and I know how challenging this can be. If you’re having a hard time figuring out how to act like a writer, simply act like me. Writer’s are calm, charming, very intelligent, and not the least bit awkward.
Also we have a writerly glow. But if you do a hundred jumping jacks, you’ll work up a good glisten and that’s close enough.
I have an update on my boyfriend, award nominated fantasy writer Tod Boadkins. He has been admitted and he was immediately transferred into the Litraumatology Care Unit and assigned both a Bibliophysician AND a Compositional Therapist.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t accompany him because they have a strict NO LANGUAGE policy there and it’s too tempting to speak. The only people allowed in the unit are specially trained to communicate in a binary sign language that consists of side-eyes and shrugs.
Tryxy’s so sweet. He was planning to go research childhood levitation at the library but when he heard the doctor’s initial prognosis, he decided to stay with me here in the soundproofed visitor’s lounge. I don’t know how he’s going to get his paper on childhood levitation written. We’ve been taking turns going to the vending machine on the other side of the authology wing while we wait for updates from Dr. Hegemumph.
What am I going to do, Gladys???? My writing group hasn’t said one thing about my story and I’m going to explode if someone doesn’t congratulate me on my MAJOR WRITING ACCOMPLISHMENT soon!!!!! Tryxy is going to have to wipe my innards off the walls of Arkham hospital!!!!!
Trying not to google my boyfriend’s symptoms. What’s going to happen to him?? We’re the perfect writing power couple!!! Will he ever write again???? Am I going to have to nobly write for the two of us from this day forward??? Like a literary Porgy and Bess????? Why would he want me to write for the both of us when NO ONE EVER READS MY WORRRKKKKKKKK???????
A reader!!!! My kingdom for a reader!!!!!!
Now we wait.
sent from my iPhone
Subject: More updates
It’s very late, but Dr. Hegemumph has finally met with us before he leaves for the night. He’s an excellent Litraumatologist. Unlike some of the specialists here at Arkham hospital, he’s completely approachable. He has quite the strut! He worked as a Language Model before entering Authology and Litraumatology.
He keeps emergency hershey’s kisses in the pockets of his white coat, but removes the little paper plume with the word “kisses” printed on it so that he can share them with his patients and their visitors without accidental “word” exposure. Dr. Hegemumph took Tryxy, #bestkitten, and I back to a special viewing area where we could observe my boyfriend through a two-way mirror. They keep him in a specially designed sound proof room so that he can’t overhear people’s conversations and be inspired to write realistic dialogue.
When I saw him, I almost cried. He was laying in a bed in the sweater I put on him this morning with the matching pink socks I’d loaned him, but their were little plastic nodes and wires attached to his head. The wires ran to a wall full of electronic panels full of green blinking lights. In the room with my boyfriend, there was a frowny-faced man who kept his eyes on the blinking lights and made notes on a clipboard from time to time.
I asked Dr. Hegemumph what the man in the room does and he said, “It’s his job to replace the batteries on the blinking lights.” When I asked what the blinking lights do he said, “Make the writer feel observed and important.” According to Dr. Hegemumph, like actors, writers have a strong need for attention, but unlike actors, they go about attempting to get it in unusual ways. For example, they may spend months or even years writing a novel and then they will hide it away in a hard drive or underneath a rock expecting someone to read it. “Feeling observed keeps the writer pacified and less likely to attempt escaping treatment,” said Dr. Hegemumph.
I think Dr. Hegemumph and Tryxy kept talking, but I could only stare at my boyfriend, award nominated fantasy writer Tod Boadkins, and wonder how it came to this and whether anybody and I MEAN ANYBODY had read my story yet.
“How does Second Book Syndrome happen?” I asked.
Dr. Hegemumph thoughtfully unwrapped a hershey’s kiss. “A novelist’s first success can be somewhat accidental. Even if the writer is conscious of craft and overjoyed at publication, they’re still flummoxed as to why this story succeeded when others of theirs did not.
“After a time, they have to begin work on a second novel and the thing that haunts them is whether their previous success was a stroke of luck. In essence, they want to know that their second book is actually good, verses accidentally good. It’s a little like performing a death defying leap. Sure you did it once, but can you do it again?
“I’m not sure exactly what happened to your boyfriend, award nominated fantasy writer Tod Boadkins, but I’m sure that when the language parts of his brain have sufficiently recovered from the extreme exertion, he will be more than happy to tell us.”
And at this, Dr. Hegemumph took another piece of chocolate from his pocket and offered it to me but I didn’t see it because I was too busy checking my messages.
One of my neighbors texted me to let me know that my gladiolas had gone up in flames again. I also got this text from Ravenhair Silkenwind.
That felt pretty good.
In the hospital room, one of the blinking green lights turned red and then went dark. The attendant got up and changed the batteries.
Pages next week, Gladys?
sent from my iPhone
Ahem. <clears throat> Congratulations, X, on your Massive Achievement.
On X’s behalf, thank you, Cassy B!
Or…should I say, “Oh, that story? Yeah, I guess it did win.”
Ah yes, the famous duet from Shoggoth Row.
X, you is my woman now, you is, you is! An’ you mus’ write an’ plot an’ outline for two instead of one…
I love everything you’re doing here, Jim. X-D Especially bringing up the sensitive topic of outlining.
I’m going to have that song in my head now for the rest of the day, btw. That, and the soundtrack of “A Shoggoth On the Roof.”