Dear Mr. Schaeffer:
I love literature of all kinds, which is one of the reasons I majored in creative writing. Now I want to write some literature of my own. Although I was pretty close to doing it in college, and even won an award for a story about a lost dog, I kept getting advice from my professors that I needed more “experience.” Now I realize they were merely hinting that they wanted to sleep with me, but being very naïve in those days, I enrolled in law school instead. That was a big mistake. Although I did get some experience, mostly what I got was more student loans. Now I’m a lawyer who’s been forced to write short stories if she’s going to make her mark on the world because she just doesn’t have the time to write a full-length novel.
This letter is about my stories. Do you mind if I bend your ear a little? My cycle of stories was to be thematically-linked and published together in a book called “Weekends,” which I chose as a theme because I love the weekends: it’s the only time I’m not working as an associate at a 235-attorney law firm in Detroit. (What do the weekends mean to me? They’re time for sipping wine with a friend, listening to the latest musical releases, catching up on magazines. That’s what my book is about.) Up until two months ago, my book was going very well. I finished the first story, which was about an epiphany that happens to a female character on a Saturday when her boyfriend places his hand on her knee at a baseball game. I gave it to my mother to read and she cried, saying it was excellent. (My mother also majored in creative writing.) With those words of encouragement, I started on the next story, which was about an epiphany that happens to a female character when she learns on a Sunday that she’s accidentally killed her roses by over-fertilizing them with Weed-Be-Gone. Again, my mother cried. But then my trouble started: I got word that the firm was adding me to the team of lawyers that defends lawsuits filed against one of our best clients, a large automobile manufacturer. The team is so important that we meet on Saturdays and Sundays, and you know what? Now I hate the weekends.
Boy, oh boy. Do you know what it feels like to have to give up the only project that was giving you a reason to live? If giving up the book wasn’t bad enough, my boyfriend hasn’t returned my calls since I knocked his hand off my knee and I just can't seem to resuscitate my roses. It’s all made me want to start a new series of stories: a cycle about the miseries that can come to a girl who gives up a writing career to become a lawyer.
What do you think about that theme? Is it literature? I really hate starting over, but it hardly matters since I burned the other stories yesterday. Also, do you have any ideas for a title?
Signed, Feeling Doubtful in Detroit
Dear Feeling Doubtful:
I don’t know if it’s literature, but here’s a simple test. If you’re willing to quit your job and face starvation in order to write the Great American Novel, there’s a slim chance you might be our country’s next William Faulkner. But I happen to know you didn’t quit your job. Instead, you joined your firm’s auto team. Frankly, it suggests that you might lack the drive necessary to become a literary great.
On the other hand, what do I know about literature? These days, one man’s literature is another man’s The Da Vinci Code. Lucky for you, in this conundrum lies the solution to your problem. Rather than writing literature for your mother, write some literature for the auto team. It will relieve your stress and you’ll gain a wealthy benefactor—not some crazy spinster living alone in a dark mansion but Ford or Chrysler or General Motors.
In your role as literary writer for the auto team, you’ll have many opportunities to make your mark. For example, you could write a legal brief that tells the story of the epiphany that a senior manager has when he realizes he could earn gobs of money for the company despite a serious safety glitch by simply refusing to listen to the head engineer. Literature? It just might be. Of course, as you assemble your masterpiece, you’ll have to dress up the story a little differently with what the hotshot litigators call “artistic license.” For example, the senior manager shouldn’t be the villain of the tale, but the hero, and the head engineer shouldn’t be the hero but just another drunken bum with “emotional issues.” See how it works? Although your mother won’t cry when she reads your brief, your clients are going to cry when you win their case—tears of joy, that is. It means they’ll be staying out of jail!
Yes, literature is a wonderful thing. But be sure to use your gifts wisely, and never become dependent on drinking whiskey.
Your friend, Evan Schaeffer
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