Why be a writer when I’d rather be a seller?

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HE WAS A MISFIT when I met him.

Old.

Broke.

Disillusioned.

He was an author, he said.

“Selling any books?” I asked.

“No,” he said.

“Publishing is a tough business,” I said.

He nodded.

He agreed.

In the far corner of a dimly lit office sat a scarred and worn-out typewriter on the top of a scarred and worn out desk.

Neither had been used for a long time.

“What are you working on?” I asked, trying to make small talk.

“Nothing,” he said.

“You must be writing something,” I said.

“Not anymore,” he said.

“What did you used to write?” I asked.

He shrugged.

“I wrote a mystery once,” he said.

“What about?”

“Hard-boiled private eye,” he said. “Beautiful client. Long blonde hair. Longer legs. She was married and didn’t want to be. Said her husband was trying to kill her. Wanted to make sure he didn’t succeed. She wanted a private eye who knew how to throw his weight around.”

“Did he?”

“Didn’t have to.”

“Why not?”

“The husband was already dead.” The old man shrugged again. “Shot. The murder weapon was in her purse. Was a .38 caliber revolver. Said she didn’t do it.”

“Sounds like a winner,” I said.

“Didn’t sell,” he said.

I nodded. It was the least I could do. I offered my condolences. He didn’t want any.

“It’s difficult to find an agent,” I said.

“I had an agent,” he said.

“Tough to find a publisher,” I said.

“I had a publisher,” he said.

“New York?” I asked.

“One of the big ones,” he said.

“What happened?”

His was an ironic grin. “I thought when I signed the publishing contract that my worries were over,” the old man said. “I was an overnight sensation. I was headed to Easy Street. I was wrong.”

“How much marketing did the publisher do for the book?”

“None.”

“Advertising?”

“About the same.”

“Book signings?”

“One.” This time he laughed. “I set that one up myself,” the old man said. “Local library hosted an autograph party. Everybody who came already knew me. None of them figured I could write. One lady did say she would borrow the book if the library bought a copy.”

“Library buy a copy?”

“Wanted me to donate one.”

“Did you?”

“I did.”

“Did she come back and borrow it?”

“Hasn’t yet.”

“Why don’t you self-publish the book?” I asked.

“Can’t?”

“Why not?”

“Publisher still owns the rights.”

“You could get them back,” I said.

“Why bother?” he said.

“You can self-publish another one.”

“I’d have to write it first.”

“That’s what writers do,” I said.

“What’s that?”

“They write.”

The old man stood and shuffled across the floor toward the front door. “Don’t want to be a writer,” he said. “I’d rather be a seller.”

“How do you sell books?” I asked.

He grinned. “Nobody knows,” he said.

“First you have to be discovered,” I said.

“Have you seen my little town?” he wanted to know.

I had. One wide street. One narrow street. Might have been an alley. A stop sign. The traffic light doesn’t work anymore. The stores on the north side of town are empty. The ones on the south side have a going out of business signs. All that’s open are three service stations, a bank, and a chili joint.

“Hard to be discovered here,” he said.

“Why?” I wanted to know.

“Ain’t nobody looking,” he said.

And nobody was.

Caleb Pirtle III is the author of Secrets of the Dead, a noir thriller set just before World War II.

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