293.1: The boy who wrote never-to-be-sents.
Once upon a time, there was a woman who liked Twilight.
She wrote fan fiction and shared it with her friends — well, perhaps not her friends, but new friends that she made online, which is a magical dimension inhabited by fan fiction writers as well as loud barking but harmless trolls.
There was also a publisher. He, or she, bore a striking resemblance to Rich Uncle Pennybags, the mascot for Monopoly. (Wouldn’t it be interesting to see a Rich Aunt Pennybags? I’m thinking Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly, except with a monocle.) The publisher happened across the woman’s stories and proclaimed: “These are supremely publishable! Just take out the parts about Twilight and we have a deal!”
Every writer’s dream came true: she was discovered.
The woman’s first book produced a second and then a third. There were wars and rumors of wars, and also outside of the Bible, rumors of whether or not Fifty Shades of Grey was really meant to become a trilogy or if it just made financial sense to extend it as such. At this time the publishing world was searching for the next Harry Potter franchise, even if it meant producing a Harry Potter franchise for adults. (Harry Potter for adults. Awkward!)
Now a movie is in the works and the public is polarized about these books. Even adults can’t entirely fault Twilight. They say, “As long as it keeps the kids reading.” But Fifty Shades of Grey is merrily perused by college students, office rats and retirees. Should we also be relieved that adults keep reading?
In fact, the woman’s stories are helpful. They may even save publishing. Because the truth, you see, is that her stories help the midlist: for in life, not everyone is a rock star. Not everyone can be the best. It is a basic element of existence dwarfed by the blinding light of celebrity: most of us are born to be average, to exist as neither better nor worse yet merely in the middle. While this is agonizing to think about, most of us, without even really thinking about it, will be comfortable in the middle. It is less of a death sentence and more like an unappreciated gift. We think, Well that’s life. Let’s live it.
One day, it was announced that the author of that successful trilogy was going to visit a store in San Francisco that bills itself as the oldest independent bookseller on the west coast since 1851; like rumors of war and trilogies, the veracity of the store’s claim is at best vague. But no one questions an independent bookstore.
For weeks after the announcement, the dedicated booksellers of the store juggled repeated phone calls and inquiries about the event. They also placed orders for book and ticket sales, and this was all on top of their normal bookselling duties, which as most outsiders would not suspect are in fact quite plentiful. One can only imagine how busy the staff became, for indeed the woman had many fans, some of whom were coming to the store from abroad. Such dedication struck bemusement in the weary but steadfast hearts of the staff as well as upon their legs, which were strained a lot because by nature in retail you have to stand around at the cash registers or constantly be on the sales floor making it look pretty and providing customer service.
The time had now arrived for the woman to be in San Francisco. One employee of the bookstore was a new hire. He had only worked there in the summer past, which measured three months and some weeks, relatively the length of time between the announcement of the woman’s arrival and, at last, the night of her appearance. He was learning a lot about his job. He was overwhelmed. He kept at it because he was passionate about books.
He wrote letters to an imaginary boyfriend. Since this boyfriend was imaginary, they would never be sent, and as such he took to referring to them as “never-to-be-sents.” As in:
As I wrote in a previous never-to-be-sent, I have just been hired as an events coordinator at a bookstore. Tomorrow is my first day. It is a strange job for me because I am very shy and being social requires an exponential usage of internal energy.
The imaginary boyfriend was much like a prince: tall, guileless and pale in complexion. He was not quite royalty, but he was patterned after a real and dashing man who played baseball, which was close enough to royalty. His position was that of the starting pitcher, and on the same night of the woman’s visit, he would be starting for his team’s first game since winning a critical and historic victory. The boy who wrote never-to-be-sents would work hard to please the woman who wrote the blockbuster fan fiction while the princely man would work hard to help his team win the game. Though all three were together in San Francisco, itself a land just as magical as the online world yet far more local, none would know each other, least of all the shy boy and the princely man.