Part 5 of my “12 Short Stories” – Challenge
Based on a prompt by Mia from deadlinesforwriters.com
Ellis wants out
When Paul came home, there was Helen on their sofa, her arms folded and her face grim. “What is it?” he asked. She huffed and handed him a letter. “I put my heart out there for them to look at, and they did not like it. I was afraid of being rejected. Which is what they did! What was I thinking, Paul?”
She slumped back into the cushions. Oh, dear. Paul had hoped for them to give Helen’s novel a chance. He loved most of what she did anyway, but this story was also bloody good in his opinion. Helen had something to say and a fascinating way with words. The novel was clearly based on her own life experiences, with a few unexpected twists on traditional story patterns. Paul had not expected a flat-out rejection.
He had been delighted when she had finally sat down and written this story living in her brain for ages now. He had been so proud when she had researched publishers and actually submitted her proposal to one company. Paul knew how big these mental hurdles had been for her. Neither of them had any experience in getting a book deal, which may have been lucky because this way Helen had also not had any previous rejection to make her even more anxious.
He unfolded the letter, which read:
“…, we are sorry to inform you that at the time we decided against accepting your submission for publication.
From what we have seen, you are an original writer and the premise of your story is certainly refreshing and unusual. However, the current reading trends make us doubt that your book would flourish. Ellis, your main character, has a captivating personality and her personal journey feels compelling. Sadly, we do not envision a demand for this particular type of tale with the wider public.
Another factor was the pacing, which could do with some restructuring and tightening. All in all, we feel we are not the right publishers for this book, but wish you the best of luck for your endeavours. Please consider us again in the future.”
“It’s not that bad, though. They did not exactly say they did not like it, did they?” Paul sat down next to Helen and put his arm around her. She sniffed. “First of all, they still rejected my book. And secondly, they confirmed what I had suspected: There are not enough people in the world interested in what I have to say!”
“But that is not a fact, is it? It is just one publishing company who are worried they might not be able to sell the book. They are not omniscient. There might be lots of people out there who would love to read Ellis’ adventure.”
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe it was all a bad idea from the start. Maybe I was delusional to assume anyone would want to get to know Ellis. Just because she has lived in my head for decades apparently does not mean that others would be interested in her too.”
Paul sighed. “I am interested in her. Or do I not count?”
“Of course you do! I just don’t want to go through this again. And risk rejection again! I don’t want to rewrite it all because also? I like it the way it is. What do they know about Ellis or me?”
“Let’s be clear: This is not a rejection of you as a person.”
Helen fidgeted. “They did not say Ellis and her story were interesting, just to be polite, right? You would have told me if you thought the story was mediocre or boring, wouldn’t you?”
He smiled at her. “You know I would have.”
“Then what exactly did you like about the book?”
“Honestly? My favourite moment was the scene when she wanted to give up, go home and forget all about the villagers and their problem, but then Wado runs after her and has that conversation with her. The way she at the same time realises she has this softness but also at the same time all this strength and power and especially the way you described it was just mind-blowing.”
“Not the sword fight? You don’t want to know the hours I spent on researching fencing rules and terminology. There is so much you can get wrong about fencing, and so many surprisingly boring details.” Helen grinned, then went serious again.
“Paul, you are almost always just so brave and unshakeable. How do you do it? How do I become unshakeable?”
“Firstly, you don’t have to become unshakeable. There is a lot to be said about being shakeable. Secondly, maybe you should ask yourself what Ellis would do. She is the one who went through this transformation while at the same time staying true to herself. I bet she has a lot to tell you. As for me, I believe in you, whether you do get your book published or never send it to any other company ever again. I am so proud of you because you did write your novel and found the courage to submit it.”
“Aww… Okay, let’s make dinner. There is some leftover pasta bake in the fridge.”
Since Paul felt peckish himself, he agreed to let the matter go. When they had eaten, they sat down to watch the news and later on check their various watchlists. They chose an old fantasy film they had not managed to see in the cinema. Fifteen minutes in, Paul got suspicious. Usually, he could count on Helen’s entertaining running commentary with anything they watched. He turned to see her staring right through the TV screen.
“Do you not like it?” he asked.
“What? Oh, yes, it’s great. Just… You know, I can see Ellis in my mind. I can see the village in the forest with all the timbered houses and the thatched roofs. Ilana’s lab with all those dusty books and Mibo’s kitchen with the big cauldron bubbling in the middle. When I close, my eyes I can almost touch and smell the blocks of wood Traki is stomping out to chop when he snaps again. This story wants out, Paul! I have kept it to myself for long enough! I just don’t know how to go through this a second time.”
Paul paused the film. Helen looked at him then back at the screen. “Right. Maybe I should just enjoy this evening with you now and let it all settle and sink in. Can we skip back by maybe ten minutes and restart the film?” Paul handed Helen the remote, and they went back to being absorbed in someone elses’s adventure.
When they went to bed, the last thing he heard was “She wants out this badly? She might want to help. Good night, Paul!”
Paul woke up in the dark. He was alone in bed, but could hear steps in the corridor and a door opening. He yawned and stretched, then got up to follow Helen quietly. When he peered into their study, there was Helen at the computer, her arms folded and her face determined. She unfolded, leaned forwards and said, “Ellis? Teach me how to try again!”