If he tilted his head to the left and squinted, he could almost imagine that the keyboard was mouth. Grinning at him, daring him to stick his hand near it, just so it could bite.
Well, no. That wasn’t fair. The “almost imagine.” Because imagining was never the problem. Some days it felt that his mind was always in motion, detailing how he could craft reality into a better story-line. At night, sentences, plots, characters would dance on his eyelids, the world’s smallest movie screen, while he tried desperately to shut his mind down.
No. Imagining was not the problem. No, the problem was the keyboard.
That stupid keyboard.
Grinning at him. Mocking him. Daring him.
“Come on over and write, Neil.”
Because imagining wasn’t the problem.
Writing was what was hard.
“It’s writer’s block. Change of scenery.” Always the helpful person, his agent. Of course it wasn’t his agent’s job to hold his hand and help him through his psychic melodramas. “Head to New Orleans. Jackson Square always get your juices flowing; not that I like to think about your juices.”
“Asshole gets on a plane,” Neil reminded him.
“Yeah, yeah,” Vic agreed. “But you’re not trying to get away from something. I see you as trying to get to something, to find something. If you need twelve steps to do that in, fine, but don’t confuse that with thinking you’re trying to escape from something.”
“All of which would sound great in a story.”
“Not that you’d know,” Vic shot back, not taking even a moment to consider if mocking his client was the best route to take.
Neil let the silence spool out, counting the seconds. If Vic remained true-to-form, and he always did, he’d bust in right . . . about . . .
“Neil! Sorry. You know how I am. Sometimes the tail wags the dog.”
“I know, Vic. And you’re not wrong. I just can’t seem to get anything good on the page.”
“Anything good . . . ? Oh, hell. You’re not banging that ‘Happy Bunny’ drum again, are you?
Neil grimaced, thankful he wasn’t face-to-face with Vic. “The Happy Bunny” had been the only thing that he’d been able to write lately. But even it wasn’t marketable as all the bunny had done was get drunk on carrot vodka and masturbate to hard-core bunnerotica in his study. Somehow he just couldn’t see parents joyfully reading it to their toddlers. He hadn’t even let his wife read it, much less his son. More concerning to him, though, was what he thought the stories might say about him. After all, it was the only thing he could write of late.
“You know people love those books,” Neil said instead.
“People, yes. Me, no,” Vic replied. “All it does is turn a quick buck-“
“And kids love them.”
“-but you’re serious stuff is my bread and butter.”
Neil sighed, closed his eyes, and tilted his head back. For whatever reason Vic was not thrilled about being known as the agent for the author of the “Happy Bunny” series, no matter how beloved the books were. He was determined to be taken seriously by association of working with a serious author, which was more than a little insulting to Neil. As far as he could tell, all authors were serious, no matter what they wrote, even including the writers of tedious high school poetry; they, he knew, were deadly serious about it.
“It’s not writer’s block, anyway, Vic. I keep coming up with ideas, I just can’t seem to find the drive to get them down on paper.”
It was Vic’s turn to sigh. “All right. Then let’s try something different. A studio executive called me.”
“Come on, Neil. They love it.”
Neil felt his hands clench. “It was a throw-away joke, Vic. I thought you wanted to do serious stuff.”
“They took it seriously, Neil. And that makes it serious. They want to know how fast you can put a treatment together.”
He had written it into the middle of a short-story, just as a joke, an idea so horrendous that he honestly believed no one could support. It was the last story he had written before the full-scale word cramping had begun (Though the bulk of the story had been written before his son was born. It was only later that he added the joke to it.), during that period when he had first started reading “Good Night Moon” to his son every night.
For some reason it had struck him as funny, the idea of it becoming, not just a movie, but a full blown action flick. With that strange fixation in mind (which his wife had laughed off by casually saying, “You always get fixated on what you’re writing.”) he had made his character craft the opening of a movie trailer for the book. He had honestly believed that no one would ever take it seriously.
Ever since then, it had become the joke that no one seemed to get.
[Wide open on White House, night-time, full-moon, so well lit, but oddly spooky.]
Narrator (Deep sonorous voice Carl Kasell would be good.): In the great green room . . .
[Black-screen flash to-
[Interior. Man in black suit, back to camera, is looking out large windows at night-time Washington DC. This is an alternate universe, where security is more relaxed, no fences block the view. Inexplicably, the walls in the room are green.]
Narrator: There . . . was a telephone. . .
[Close-up of bright red telephone, it should be an old-fashioned looking one; big, maybe with a rotary dial?]
Narrator: And . . . a red balloon . . .
[Red phone rings. Man in suit picks up the handset.]
Voice Over Phone: Mr. President. It’s happened. The red balloon is in the air.
President: That’s it, then. We’re at war.
Voice Over Phone: Yes, Mr. President. Our only option is to destroy the moon before it attacks again.
[Close-up of President’s face, looking deadly serious and slightly sad.]
Narrator: This summer, see the beloved children’s classic brought to life . . .
President: Good night, moon.
[Close up of moon; fade to black.]
Neil knew that the first line was everything. Being eternally memorable was not its job, but it had to have integrity, and it had to have staying-power. It set the stage, obviously, for everything that was to follow.
Of late, Neil had come up with first lines, easily at times. But when he would sit down to write more, to expand on the premise that he had created, or even try to type up what little he had written, something seemed to go wrong with him. Doors would slam shut and lock themselves. The pen in his hand would grow heavy; the fingers hovering over the keys would freeze; his mind would cloud up.
The problem, the real problem, not the inability to write, was that he knew what caused it and he did not see an easy fix to it anywhere.
(To be continued . . .)