At dawn, the yellow jackets emerged from unseen nests in the moist whorls of grass and flew toward Sophie’s garden; there the oxeye daisies stood, erect, waiting for the sun, the bees, the rituals of morning.
“Uh-uh,” Jana said, peering over the author’s shoulder. “Too flowery.”
“You think? I was going for mellifluous.”Jana snorted.
“Mellifluous? Hell, that’s the last thing we need. Too artsy-fartsy, and besides, it’s autumn, not summer.”“Oh, yeah.”
The author sat there a moment, staring blankly at the screen, and then deleted the sentence. “Damn, I really liked that one.”
The two of them had been batting first lines around for over an hour, the scriptwriter, Jana Wilson, finding something to hate about each one, but offering no solutions of her own. And all this had left the author drained and wondering why he had ever agreed to this project.
“Sucked,” Jana said.
“Oh, well, thanks for the encouragement.”
“Don’t go all ego on me, man.”
“Ha, fat chance with you around.”
Jana let the comment go; there’d be plenty of time for arguing down the road. Right now, she needed something—anything—to get the story line going, so she could do her magic and get the script for the opening scene to Mad Bill before he went ballistic, or rather more ballistic. He’d already called her on her cell twice, each time his voice more shrill and insistent. Bastard.
“Look,” she said, “why don’t you just try it again.”
“Yeah, okay.” He spun around in his chair and, after what seemed an interminable series of preparatory grunts, sighs, and throat-clearings, began clacking on the keys.
“How about this?” he said, tapping a finger on the screen.
He was born in a hospital that had since been torn down, grew up on a street that had since changed its name, in a house that had since changed its number; everywhere around him, his life seemed to be erasing itself.
“What the fuck is that?”
“I thought we could begin the novel—er, the movie, the cinemawhatsit, you know—with a description of the professor.”
Jana sighed heavily, completely frustrated. Why does he not get this? she thought. Cinema-biblio-maximus is so easy to understand. Christ, didn’t he read the brochure? The author writes, I rewrite, and then that fuck Mad Bill shoots the scene the way he wants it. All the while, the biggest fucking PR engine in the universe gossips away, creating buzz that will maximize the take when the book and movie are simultaneously released. But just look at him. He is completely clueless and so focused on a flowery first sentence that he can’t see that what we need is action.
“Listen,” she said, trying not to raise her voice. “That’s not a description; that’s a riddle. You’re fucking crossing my eyes with that one, and it’s not cinematic. How in hell can I open a movie with that?”
“Fuck.” He scratched his beard, as he always did when he was deep in thought. “What about this?” he said. “We can use that narrator guy, and you can use his words as a voiceover.”
“A voiceover of what, though?”
“See, we need some action, need to set the scene, pull in the readers and moviegoers.”
Minutes passed, both of them sitting there in a funk, staring into space, the author punctuating the silence with ums and self-policing shakes of his head, Jana responding with reciprocal grunts of disappointment.Finally, the author cleared his throat and raised a finger into the air to indicate his readiness to offer another solution. “Okay, here’s a thought,” he said. “I’ve been saving this sentence for another book, but it is action-packed.”
“Go for it, big guy. Let’s see what you’ve got.”
The author rubbed his hands together and then began keying in the words, Jana leaning on the back of his chair, trying to get a better look at the screen.
When she entered the room, every head at every table instinctively turned to look at her, not so much for her dazzling beauty, which was evident right from the start, but for the simple fact that she was still behind the wheel of a pink Cadillac convertible with nothing but momentum on its mind.
“Ha! That’s pretty funny.”
The author turned and beamed at her. “And cinematic as hell.”
“Yeah, but . . .”
“The production costs will be through the roof—stunt doubles, construction, not to mention the additional cars and crew we’d need to pull it off.”
“But it would be so cool.”
“Cool don’t pay the bills, sonny boy. No, we need something cheaper.”
“Yeah, way cheaper.”
The author looked back at the screen, moved the cursor to the SAVE icon, clicked on it, and then opened a new document. I’ll save that for later, he thought. Maybe talk to Mad Bill about it myself. “Okay,” he said, “something simple, then.”
“Yup.” Jana looked at her watch and began pacing. Mad Bill’s gonna fuckin’ kill me, she thought. “Got it!” He began clacking away again. Jana mumbled yeah, right under her breath, walked back to the computer, and read the words as he keyed them in, her expression growing darker with every word.
Julio Sanchez tucked the gun into his belt, rolled a toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other, and walked into the bright Miami sunlight, one thought and one thought only on his mind: to kill the bastard, today.
“Oh, come on! It’s perfect—and it’s cheap. You just have to film him walking out of a building for Christ’s sake.”
“Look, one, there was no Julio Sanchez character when we pitched this to the execs, and B, this is not a revenge story.”
“You mean I can’t add new characters? No novelist would agree to that.”
“Oh, sure you can, but not here, right at the start . . . and besides, I can veto or modify anything you write.”
The author jumped to his feet. “What?”
“Hey, don’t get in my face.” Jana backed away from him. “Jeez, didn’t you read your contract?”
“Of course I read my contract!”
“All of it?”
The author looked down at his feet. “Um. . .”
“Didn’t think so . . . Listen, here’s the deal: You write, I rewrite, and then Mad Bill shoots the scene any fucking way he wants.”
The author slumped back down in his chair. “I can see this is going to be a fun project.”
“Yeah, well, you should have thought about that before you signed on the dotted line.”
The author took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “Look, can’t we take a break or something?”
“No, we’re on the clock; I have to get something to Mad Bill by noon or my ass is grass.”
“Fuck. Okay, well, I do have this one other sentence I’ve been saving. It’s simple, it’s cinematic, and it would be pretty cheap to film, I think.”
The author keyed in the sentence and looked back to get Jana’s reaction. She read the sentence aloud: “That dog is dead, Jedadiah said, and that’s the truth of it? What the fuck?”
“What’s wrong, what’s wrong? You can’t be serious. We are not starting this book and movie with a dead dog. Besides, it sounds like something right out of Deliverance. Creeps me out.”
“But we are doing a murder mystery, right.”
“Yeah, but not about a hillbilly’s dog.”
“All right, then. Remember in the synopsis, the part about Inspector Wolf being a would-be writer?”“Yeah, so?”“So we could use his opening sentence as our opening sentence.”
“I don’t remember it. How does it go exactly?”
“It goes like this: The body was placed just so, with the arms and legs splayed like a paper doll, leaving Inspector Jamison with the distinct feeling that lunch would be delayed.”
“So, change Jamison to Wolf?”
Jana shook her head. “Nah, that’s not how our body is found; we just have some bones.”
The author ran a hand through his hair, tugging at it. “Right, right. Well, fuck me; I have no idea what to do now.”
“Don’t give up. Let’s just sit here a minute and think about it.”
“Fine.” He picked up a pencil and began nervously tapping it on the desk.
“Do you have to do that?”
“The pencil, it’s annoying.”
“Oh, sorry.” He tossed the pencil on the desk.
“No, wait,” Jana chuckled. “That’s it!”
“The pencil, the tapping pencil, it’s perfect!”
“I don’t get it.”
“Listen, screw the first sentence. Write anything you like. We’ll open the movie with an extreme close-up of a pencil being tapped on a desk by Jonathan. It will be so extreme; all you’ll see is a blurry slash of yellow coming across the screen and then the thud of the eraser on the desk, all Dolbied up to a gazillion decibels.”
“And then, then, as the opening credits roll, the camera will slowly pull back, and the audience will go like, wow, it’s a pencil. And then they’ll see his hand, then him, then the whole classroom. This is going to be great.”
“But don’t we still need a first sentence? I mean, most readers will notice it missing, right?”
“Why would they? Just go with your second sentence. No one will notice.”
“But second sentences are usually so mundane.”
“Well, fuck mellifluous. Just write, this is the first sentence of the novel, and be done with it.”
“You think? Sounds stupid.”
“I don’t know. There’s a certain simplicity, an honesty about it, like you’re not trying to trick anyone, like you just want to get the action rolling.”
“All right, I’ll do it.”
“Great!” Jana looked at her watch. “Yikes, look at the time. Tell you what; you pound out the opening scene while I run across the street to Mad City Coffee. You want me to bring you back a latte or something?”
“No, I’m already jazzed enough.”
“Okay, then. See you in about half an hour. And remember, when you introduce new characters, give me a paragraph or two about each one. It will help in casting.”
“Casting? I thought that was already done.”
“It’s a process, an ever-evolving process.”
Jana grabbed her jacket, slipped it on, and gave him a quick wave good-bye.
Jana stopped, her hand poised on the doorknob. “What?”
“I was just thinking. If you’re gonna change stuff anyway, is it okay if I use that narrator to get my points across?”
Jana sighed. “That puerile literary criticism crap?”
“Look, do what you want, but just understand, that narrator is gonna end up on the cutting room floor.”“But why?”
“Because he’s fucking annoying and . . . and . . . I just don’t like him.”
“But he has a contract, too, you know.”
Oh, sweet Jesus, she thought. He’s right.“
Look, suit yourself, but contract or no contract, he’s going to be minimized—trust me.” And with that, Jana opened the door, gave him a you-can-take-it-to-the-bank raised-eyebrow look, and was gone.
As soon as the door slammed behind her, the author sat back down at the computer and began keying in the opening chapter. Maybe this first sentence thing would work. If it didn’t, he could always come back and change it later.