You’re at a reading: The final one of the season. The arena is packed, and a group of agents and editors comprise a panel of judges to choose the “Next American Author.” Ten finalists, of whom you are one, stand backstage, clutching dog-eared, marked up manuscripts. You survey your competition. Three poets, poring over their sheaves of poems.. Pah! Go stick your head in an oven, you think. The real writers write prose. You disguise your disdain by giving them a thin smile, hoping they trip up on their line breaks.
The Creative Nonfiction writers, or CNFers as they like to refer to themselves, share jaunty jokes and easy confidence, as if they know they have already won. Ironically, when they lose, the CNF crowd will later go out for a raucous time and swap stories of their immersion journalism and fly on the wall observations. Jerks. I’d like to CNFU, you think to yourself. Fiction is where all the real writing happens. But again, the toothpaste commercial smile appears on your lips.
Your stories are good and you know it. Via quirky characters who seduce readers with their charm and complicated plots, you have assembled a good collection of published work. (You even got a handwritten note from the New Yorker!) Your syntax is elegant, not unlike Faulkner, as it winds its way through tunnels and alleys, picking up the detritus of humanity in all its glory and wretchedness, revealing the complexity of the human experience.
Your only true competition in this arena is that wiry guy standing alone in the corner: Lance Strongworde. His prose is edgy, and lean, containing powerful verbs and nouns. His work has heft, and he has not been in the bottom three since this competition’s inception. Granted, that guy can write. Prolific, almost like a machine, Strongworde can compose on demand. Give him a prompt, and he cranks out a tale of such power it makes audiences weep and laugh simultaneously. A regular Ray Carver. You hate that guy. Where does he find the words?
Strongworde stands alone, appears to be reciting to himself from memory, half in shadow, his lips moving. Then you notice a hand pass something to him. Lance grabs for it, a small plastic zip loc bag. He opens the bag and swallows its contents. Before Strongworde stashes the bag in his pocket you notice the lettering on the outside: power words.
Damn! He’s juicing, being fed words like candy. No wonder writing doesn't seem to rip out his soul like the rest of us; he has no soul. He’s all artificial verbs and nouns.
Here’s my chance, you think. You can win this thing; all you have to do is turn him in. But what will make the better story? Portraying a tattle tale who receives much deserved accolades and a book contract, or waiting this out? Or later, in your blockbuster novel, where you reveal the truth about a character you call Ward Lanceatale, a man so bent on fame he chews up the last of his integrity for the sake of fame and money?Happy Writing.