Harry Rodgers hunched over his notebook. Globs of sweat, like rancid rain, mingled with the metallic globs of ink. His hands shook like an addict’s who has just gone into rehab and was experiencing the first hard-core taste of withdrawal. The lantern on his desk illuminated his work, like the penetrating light bulb that flashed in a suspect’s eyes as he was being interrogated for a crime. Harry squinted as his hand quivered, hovering over the page. “Oh, this is useless,” thought Harry, “I’ll never make the deadline.”
Harry Rodgers, a prolific writer of Adelle, a novel he has been working on for the past five years was recently published by Sampson & Sons. It was a huge success. The novel sold over a million copies and was on the New York Times Best Seller List for five consecutive weeks. The novel, about an African American woman growing up in the South during the heat of the American Civil War, who had an affair with a white Confederate soldier was an instant best-seller. Adelle’s lover, Henry Smyth, was currently being court marshalled for falling in love and pursuing Adelle. Adelle triggered international and interracial phenomena. He signed a contract with Sampson & Sons to write a sequel to his best-selling novel. Sampson & Sons paid Harry a staggering quarter of a million dollars in advance money in exchange for Harry’s upcoming book, A Woman of Class. Harry remembered the joys of writing his Novel, Adelle. He recalled every aspect of the writing process and the incredible delight he felt when he first saw his name blazoned across the cover.
Whilst writing Adelle, Harry’s fingers flew across the page as he dotted each ‘I’ and crossed each ‘T’. Like a sanctimonious scholar he religiously poured his soul into writing this novel. Night by night he’d sit on his favourite chair as his muse dictated words into his ears which he, Harry Rodgers, author extraordinaire, wrote down fervently, like some sanctimonious zealot, from the deluge of words that poured throughout his soul like a flood from his favourite muse. He finished Adelle in eight months. When he finished the Novel he poured a bottle of chardonnay into a goblet and drank in celebration, toasting to the success of his first Novel. His heart beat within him like a ravishing bird flapping its wings wildly within its cage. He glanced at the finished novel with a gluttonous hunger for success and fame. His first thought was the small fortune in royalties that this epic would accrue. Yet, the Novel was yet sitting on his desk, gleaming and polished...but quite...unpublished.
Next morning he walked over to the A perfect Print and had the printer print three copies of his beloved manuscript. Don Simon, the printer looked up from the enormous machine that whirred and applied ink that would produce three replicas of his work. “Is this your work, Mr Rodgers?” Harry squinted at the guy and nodded greedily. “Yes, this is my manuscript. I laboured feverishly over it. I wish to have it published as soon as possible.” he said to the lanky fellow behind the roaring machine. “Good luck, Signore!”
“Hmmm,” he thought to himself, “Who can be crazy enough to publish this Novel?” There were dozens of publishers in town who published women sagas. Two, in particular, were big publish houses whose criteria for submission were quite harsh. He read about the astounding amount of unsolicited material from aspiring authors like himself who submitted their manuscripts in hopes of getting noticed, only to be heartbroken when the rejections notice came knocking at their door. “It isn’t fair,” thought Harry, “I’ve worked my fingers to the bone, burning the midnight hour over this Novel to have some snobbish book seller turn its nose to it.” He thumbed through the list of publishing houses. He took a gulp of wine, and then picked three publishing houses on the list to send the manuscript to. His heart continued beating as he placed each copy of his beloved Adelle into each manila envelope. Three long weeks flew by and Harry waited impatiently for the response from the publishing houses...but none came. He thought about phoning them to find out the outcome of his manuscript, but had second thoughts. He didn’t want to sound desperate either. Weeks turned into months and still he waited for a reply but there was no joy. Then, as he was settling into his cosy chair near the fire on a cold wet winter’s day, Harry received a knock on the door. “Now who can at this late hour?” he asked himself. Rising from his chair he answered the door and was surprised to find Mr O’Mara, the postman standing there in the threshold baring three manila envelopes in his hand. Harry accepted the envelopes and thanked the postman for delivering them. This warmed his heart on a winter’s night. His blood ran through his veins, pumping warmly into his heart which began to beat again like a wild exotic bird. This was the moment of truth...this was his chance for success. He was giddy as a scholar on the Eve of graduation. He took a goblet and his Chardonnay and poured the drink into his empty goblet. Before sitting down in his chair to open the envelopes, he paused, meditated about his success as an author, swirled his glass in mid air and drank to his success. His fingers rattled as he tore open one of the envelopes. He glanced at the pink page printed in black Sans Serif font. He read:
Dear Mr Rodgers,
We regret to inform you that your manuscript Adelle has not been considered for publication.
The editors at Grutton and Grutton, Inc thought the material to be too racy and controversial for publication.
We wish you success in your literary career.
Mrs Sally Eggleston
Harry sunk in his chair, crestfallen. The bastards! How dare they trash his Novel, his baby like that? “They thought the material is too racy and controversial?” he said aloud. “I made Adelle into a heroine. Every African American will identify with Adelle. How can these bastards murder his heroine like that...stifling Adelle before she even breathed life into her lungs?” Harry tore through the other two envelopes. To his disdain, each publishing house refused to publish his manuscript. “Bastards!” he breathed as he gulped down the last dregs of Chardonnay. Angrily he threw the manuscripts against a wall. The pages all scattered about in a cacophony of leaves.
He had a good mind to rip his Novel to shreds. How dare some snobbish little Editor with half moon glasses refuse to publish his Novel? Was his Novel no good? He considered himself a good writer. He used action verbs, used perfect grammar, and created well-rounded characters. There must be a decent publisher out there who would adore his Novel and publish it. He leaved through the pile of publishing houses again. Then he came across this little publishing house on Sacred Oaks. The name sounded promising and their criteria for submission did not seem so daunting. Harry thought he should give Sampson & Sons a try. With great pride, he placed the manuscript inside a manila envelope and penned an impressive cover letter with a short bio and the description of his work. He carefully wrote the name and address of the publishing house on the front of the manila envelope. It was time to mail the manuscript.
Winter turned to spring and Harry was busy preparing meals and running errands. He didn’t give any thought to his manuscript. He laid it to rest deep within his drawer somewhere out of his mind. He couldn’t bear the thought of another rejection letter. It tore his heart to shreds thinking about his poor unpublished Novel....murdered before it even got a chance to live. He shook his head in disbelief. Then, one day, as he was preparing a cool salad for his afternoon meal, the telephone rang. “Hello,” Harry said. “With whom do I have the pleasure of speaking to?”
“Mr Rodgers?” echoed a lady with a Scottish accent. “This is Ms Anderson-Mackenzie Larrouse from Sampson & Sons Publishers. I am phoning to tell you that your Novel, Adelle, has been considered for publication.” Harry stood there with his teeth gritting against each other. He suddenly didn’t feel hungry anymore. His stomach churned.
“Thank you, Ms Anderson. This is the fourth rejection notice I have received within months of each other!” said Harry. He was about to hang up when Ms Anderson spoke again. When she finished speaking Harry’s heart leapt within his chest. Sampson & Sons had accepted his manuscript. They wanted him to sign a contract. Harry was overwhelmed. “Thank you, Ms Anderson....and may I say, that’s the sexiest accent I have ever heard! Is it Scottish?” he asked.
Chloe Anderson-Mackenzie Larrouse blushed and said, “Yes it is, Mr Rodgers. I’m half Scottish. My Mum was born in Aberdeen and my father was born in France. Now, Mr Rodgers, when can you come in and sign your contract?” Harry was dancing on air. He felt all light headed and dizzy. He thought he was about to faint. The clock on his wall said twelve O’clock. That’s when, according to him, the world stood still...that was the moment Sampson & Sons breathed life into his beloved Adelle.
“Can I come in tomorrow, Ms Anderson?” asked Harry. He was dancing in his kitchen. Ms Anderson glanced at her boss’s diary and pencilled in a time slot for Mr Rodgers to meet Mr Henderson, Editor-in-Chief of Sampson & Sons. “Will ten O’clock be convenient for you, Mr Rodgers?” asked Ms Anderson. Harry breathed into the receiver a little drunk. “That sounds perfect, Ms Anderson. I cannot wait to meet and kiss you.” Ms Anderson blushed and glanced at her boss. “It is Mr Henderson you have to impress.” she said. Chloe congratulated Harry again and put the receiver down. When the conversation ended, she walked over to her boss and showed her his diary. “You have an appointment with Mr Rodgers tomorrow at ten O’clock, Mr Henderson, to discuss Mr Rodger’s contract.” she said as she walked over to fix her boss a cup of coffee.
Mr Henderson accepted the cup of coffee and smiled at Chloe. “I’d love to meet the author of Adelle. Chloe, My dear....I think this could be a best-seller!” Chloe smiled at her boss and then quietly left the room. Harry was ecstatic when he got off the phone with Ms Anderson-Mackenzie Larrouse. He quickly ate his lunch and headed towards the wardrobe to put together a three piece suit for his ten O’clock meeting with Mr Henderson. His hands shook with excitement. What tie should he wear with his Pierre Cardin suit? He chose the one with the books. This, he thought, would be appropriate. After a nice bath he walked into the study. His writing desk was neat and tidy. He had not written anything else since writing Adelle. He was pissed off with all the amounts of rejection notices he had received these past few months that it put him off his writing. Diligently he removed his key from the upper drawer and bent over to open his bottom drawer. He carefully unearthed the original manuscript of Adelle from its burial ground in the bottom of his writing desk and kissed it.
Success came quickly after publication. He received a handsome cheque for $300,000 from Sampson & Sons in royalty money from the sale of his Novel. Adelle was at the top of the charts on the New York Times best seller list for eighteen consecutive weeks. This was followed by talk shows and interviews on many talk shows around the country. Many young girls read Adelle and admired the courage of the heroine who met Harriet Tubman in her struggle for freedom from slavery in one of the South’s cotton plantations. The book encouraged young adults to read about Harriet Tubman and about the slavery in America and Europe. He had received several threats as well from prejudiced political activists who threatened to boycott the book and burn the book for its pro-African American themes. It was written, after all, during the Civil Right Movement in the 1960’s when the country was torn in two. Harry thought he had to publish it. The book, Adelle must fight against all prejudice and win the fight against racism in America and the world at large. Harry signed a contract with Sampson & Sons to write a sequel to Adelle. They paid him a handsome quarter of a million dollars in advance to write the sequel. Harry had a tight deadline. He had until the summer of 1966 to write the sequel. The title of the Sequel came easy to him. He would call the sequel, ‘A Woman of Class’. The story would begin from the moment that Confederate Army soldier, Henry Smyth was out of jail and married Adelle. Henry Smyth was sentenced to five years in jail for failing to adhere to orders given to him by his superiors to abandon and turn over Adelle, a ‘negro’ woman, the daughter of a slave. A Woman of Class told the story about how Adelle Smyth, now married to a Confederate officer, fought for freedom against slavery with the help of Harriet Tubman and carved a name for herself.
The ideas for A Woman of Class were easy enough...yet when it came to put pen to paper, Harry was stumped. For weeks he sat on his desk attempting to write the first sentence, but failed. He’d stared down upon the black page with sweat pouring down from his forehead mingling with that of the metallic ink from his pen. Harry wracked his brains and wiped his forehead with a clean handkerchief then looked up at the portrait of the Muse Calliope hanging from the wall above his writing desk. He prayed to her for inspiration, but the Muse remained silent. He tapped his pen against the wooden desk, hummed a few tunes to himself, poured himself goblets of Chardonnay, but nothing came to him as he sat there attempting to draft the first sentence to A Woman of Class.
The nights dragged on and at the end of his wits, Harry sat there trying to come up with an opening statement to mark the empty page. It was ridiculous! He, a renowned author stymied by the silence of the Muse. “Come on, Calliope, Darling...talk to me! Inspire me with your musings!” Yet nothing came to him. Staring at his blank page he pulled on his earlobes, massaging them for inspiration...nothing! “Great...what am I going to say to Mr Henderson when I have nothing to show him?” In a few weeks’ time he had a meeting at Sampson & Sons with his Editor and he had no story for him. Mr Henderson would sue him for breach of contract and his writing career would be over in a blink of an eye. Exasperated he brushed his hair back and prayed to his favourite muse to speak to him. “For the love of God, inspire me, Oh Calliope!” Then he took out his poetry pad which he kept in a special drawer and he let his pen glide through an empty page. It took him an hour to produce a poem.
The Poet writes his poem,
With a steady hand round his yellow quill.
Dreaming sensual dreams, his soul yells
Speaking wisdom with bodacious words he fills
blank pages into books-- pen in ink well;
He burns the midnight oil as he writes--
A radical young rebel with new ideas,
Staring out the window his fancy takes flight
Like a dozen butterflies in velvet skies;
His heart skips with each rhyme and rhythm
From his quill as his words glide across the page
His words paint a multi-coloured scene like a prism
Reflecting his heart with the sagaciousness of a sage;
Projecting love, hate, compassion with each stroke
Like a craftsman he knits and weaves his words;
Playing with the ancient language he spoke
Not with tongue but with words to be heard
Not by the ear, but with the eyes;
The author, connives and schemes all day
Knitting his brows he opens up his mind
And listens carefully to the Muses' symphony;
And then inspiration comes like the minnow.
Spinning tales of love between a man and a woman,
Making love in a small yellow dingy out at sea;
The poet weaves each story with a crafty hand
Into these lacy tapestries he calls Poetry;
Like Shakespeare, taking pen to paper,
The poet sits by the window near his lamp;
And dreams of being a famous author;
His name engraved upon his book like a stamp.
Harry put down his pen. Why couldn’t he write a single sentence to A Woman of Class and yet write this stunning poem? It didn’t make sense, did it? He got up from his writing chair, stretched himself and walked into the kitchen to pour himself a cup of coffee. Morning dawned and he didn’t get a drop of sleep. He grew tired from exhaustion. How long had it been since he slept, eight days....a week? Surely this wasn’t healthy. He had to sleep and he had to produce a new manuscript. He lay on his bed and let his mind wander till he drifted into a peaceful dream.
Harry tossed and turned in his sleep. He dreamed of meeting Mr Henderson. In his dream, or nightmare, rather, he met with Mr Henderson. Mr Henderson asked how far he got with the sequel to Adelle. Harry began to sweat profusely and played with his tie. “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Mr Henderson,” Harry began, “But I’m afraid that I cannot write anything...I have nothing to write about.” Mr Henderson’s smile turned into a grimace and his demeanour changed abruptly. “I will give you until noon tomorrow to produce a spanking new manuscript, Mr Rodgers....or we, at Sampson & Sons will sue your assets off for breach of contract.” Mr Henderson said through gritted teeth. “Am I making myself clear, Mr. Rodgers?” said Mr Henderson.
Harry felt a tad sick. He sat in a puddle of sweat nervously untying his tie and looked at Mr Henderson in the eye. “Yes, Sir, I understand quite clearly.” Harry said. Mr Henderson smiled at him and buzzed Chloe in to escort Harry out of the office. Harry returned to his flat that afternoon and began to write, but nothing came out; the page defiantly stared back at Harry...blank and empty. Harry grabbed his pen and forced his hand to write. His hand shook and tried desperately to write, but no words formed. He looked up at Calliope who sat on a throne with her writing tablet laughing at Harry as he struggled to write. “Write, you bastard...write!” he told his hand. His right hand shook and then....it stabbed his left hand with the tip of the pen. Harry yelled in pain and exasperation. He was going mad!
At noon the next day, Harry felt sick. There he was....a famous author on the brink of a nervous breakdown with no manuscript to hand his Editor. He knew he was a dead man. Mr Henderson looked at Harry and smiled. “Well, do you have something for me, Mr Rodgers?” he asked. Harry couldn’t look at Mr Henderson in the eye. “No, Sir...I’m so sorry. I don’t know how to tell you this....I have no manuscript for you.” Mr Anderson rose from his seat. He pulled a revolver on Harry. Harry shook with fear. “I told you, Mr Rodgers....you have signed a contract with Sampson & Sons....a legal and binding contract. I warned you that if you didn’t produce a manuscript by Tuesday, the thirty-first of August, you would be sued. But I am going to cut a deal with you, Mr Rodgers...I will be nice and hold you captive here until you write that manuscript. You will write that manuscript or I will kill you! Now, write, you dog...write.” Mr Henderson pointed the revolver to Harry’s head. Harry was forced to sit on Mr Henderson’s desk and write his manuscript. Mr Henderson buzzed Chloe who came in with her pad and pencil. “Yes, Mr Henderson?” asked Chloe. Mr Henderson stood with his revolver still pointed towards Harry, never taking his eyes off him, and instructed his secretary to bring him in two cups of coffee and pastrami on rye sandwich for Harry. “Mr Henderson, why are you holding a revolver? What’s this all about?” she asked. Mr Henderson explained to his secretary how Harry was going to sit in his office writing all night till he produced the sequel to Adelle. “And Chloe, dear...don’t say a word of this to anyone in the office. If you do, you’ll be out of a job...got that?” Chloe nodded and a few minutes later she walked out the door.
The office workers were finishing their reports and were about to put the covers on their type writers when Chloe came back with a tray of coffee and the pastrami sandwich. Bertha, one of the secretaries to Mr Scheilheimer smiled at Chloe and asked rather curiously. “Is Mr Henderson going to stay all night with that young man? We saw him going into Mr Henderson’s office and he is still there. It’s six O’clock and he’s not out yet.” Chloe smiled at Bertha and said that Mr Henderson and Mr Rodgers were having a rather long meeting.
Knocking at the door, Chloe entered and placed the tray on top of the filing cabinet. Mr Henderson was sitting on the brown leather sofa near his desk, revolver pointed at Harry’s head. Harry was busy typing away while buckets of sweat poured down his cheeks. The black leather chair was damp with sweat. Harry typed any key...he wasn’t thinking about what to write. It was difficult to write having someone pointing a gun at you. “Thank you, Chloe, you may sit down next to me and shut your mouth. We are going to sit and wait for this Bozo to finish his Manuscript.” Mr Henderson pointed the gun at Chloe and beckoned her to sit down next to him on the brown leather couch.
The clock kept ticking into the night. The atmosphere was tense in that little office. Chloe sat and looked at poor Harry sitting there typing his life away while Mr Henderson pointed the Smith and Wesson at him. This wasn’t what publishing was all about. It was about good writing and a mutual understanding between author and publisher. Around nine O’clock, Harry stopped typing. Mr Henderson stood up and walked towards his desk. “You finish, Mr Rodgers?” he asked. Harry couldn’t move. He looked down at all the incoherent cacophony of words that he typed...and cried. He cried like a baby...pleading for a little comfort and kindness. “Is this your idea of a joke?” growled Mr Henderson. “What the devil is this garbage?” he asked.
Chloe stood up and tried to plead with Mr Henderson. “Thomas, please!” she begged. “Can’t you see how frightened he is?” She stood between Mr Henderson and Harry and cuddled Harry. Mr Henderson pointed the gun towards the two of them. “No...He promised me a manuscript and he is going to deliver! I told him he had until nine O’clock to finish the manuscript.” He looked at the clock on the wall. “It’s nine O’clock and he still hasn’t produced a manuscript except this garbage. Now, I am going to finish him and anyone who steps in the way of me.” A shot went off and a flock of birds sitting on the ledge flew off.
Harry sat in bed, his face all covered with sweat. His heart went on over-drive. What happened? Was he dead? Was he in heaven? He looked about and found himself in his room. It was three O’clock in the afternoon. He must have dozed off at seven that morning and he had a hell of a nightmare. The phone went and he was startled by the sound of it. He rose himself out of bed to answer the phone. “Hello,” he said. It was Chloe.
“Mr Rodgers, Mr Henderson would like to meet with you to discuss your progress. Would eight O’clock next Thursday morning be convenient for you?” Harry’s heart raced faster. “Yes, that’ll be good.” He lied. Chloe pencilled the date into Mr Henderson’s diary. “Ok, Mr Rodgers....we’ll see you next Thursday.” Before he hung up, he blew Chloe a kiss. Harry hurried to his writing desk. In a panic he grabbed his pen and praying to his favourite muse with all his might he asked the muse to inspire him. To his surprise, his pen rolled and glided upon page after page of prose. “Oh, thank you mighty Calliope...I knew you wouldn’t be silent forever! Thanks for saving my hide!"
By the end of summer a Woman of Class was finished. Mr Henderson was pleased and delighted with the manuscript. The book was a masterpiece rolling off the shelves at the drop of a hat. Harry became a well-known writer. Sampson & Sons Publishing Company became a big name in the publishing industry with dozens of well-established authors. “Shall we open another bottle of bubbly?” asked Harry as he opened his first proof of his latest Novel. “Yes, Harry...this calls for a celebration!” said Chloe as she kissed Harry. Harry opened the bottle of Chardonnay and poured two goblets of the bubby and handed one to Chloe. Together they clinked glasses and toasted to Harry’s success.