Prose was a pretty thing with dark hair and brown eyes whose smile lit the world around her. This day found her hard at work. Sheets of paper lay scattered on the desk and floor, screwed up balls of the unwanted stuff littered the room and the quills that she so loved to write with – her most treasured of possessions – were spread out before her in loving array. Feathers and inkpots, scrolls, and the ability to create infinite worlds belonged to this dedicated writer, Prose was proud of every word.
“I have finished! I have finally made my mark.” Prose leapt out of her chair. “It is done at last, my very first story. It’s a pearler and once it’s published I know it will go straight to number one.” She hammered on the wall with her fist and the scraping of a chair on the other-side followed, then a came a knock on her door.
“Come in, come in Ink and hurry up.” Prose shouted, well aware that every writer in her building would be frowning at the interruption. Every time a writer placed the last dot on the end of a tale, indicating that the manuscript was ready for other eyes there was a celebrated shout: disrupting the usual quiet that enveloped her building.
Ink was a close friend, more of a brother than her true blood sibling who had left them years ago. Sketch had chosen to become a painter and as such had to live in the Virtuoso, the Art Capital of their world and although she was pleased, Prose missed the freckle -faced lad with the permanent smudges on his face and hands.
Ink stood grinning. He was younger than she by a year, with flaming red hair and a nose that was a little too big for his round face. A pleasant face with a ready smile and hungry eyes.
“I’ve finished it Ink.” A smile lit her face. “It’s called Tripping over Poppies.”
Ink sighed. “I wish I could finish something,” and his eyes took on that faraway look when inspiration took a hold, dreamy and out of focus. “I can’t finish a damn thing, I just keep getting these random thoughts and then I can’t help but start writing. Reams of the stuff lying about.”
Prose smiled, as indulgently as any sister he might have had and stepped forward to hug him. “I’ve finished my book Ink.”
He grinned back. “And you’re so lucky.”
She dragged him over to the table. “Look.”
“What are you going to do now?” He was genuinely earnest.
“Why silly,” and she gave him a playful push, “I’m going to the Publishers.”
“You are?” There was a note of awe in the question.
“Of course. Why shouldn’t I?”
“Oh, I could think of a million reasons.”
“Name one.” Prose crossed her arms beneath her breasts.
Ink walked to the window. “Rejection.” He whispered the word so low that she only just caught the implication. “You know Prose, if you get a rejection letter the shame will be for everyone to see. They don’t care. Those men in their tight suits and pinched expressions make a hell of a fuss when they come a callin’.” Ink rounded off the last word to emphasize the distaste he felt.
Anger dusted a rosy hue to her cheeks. “I won’t accept that! Not at all! Just because a book gets rejected by the Publisher doesn’t mean that it isn’t any good.”
Ink nodded. “I know that, but without them your book stays hidden from the world. No one will read it and then, it is as your words never existed.”
“Oh Ink really! What a load of rubbish, of course they exist. I haven’t spent long grueling hours agonizing over what phrase goes where and which word makes more sense to have it said my book doesn’t exist because of a rejection. God! I’ve had enough.” Prose had worked herself into a veritable fit. “I’ll take it to the streets if I get a rejection letter.”
Ink’s mouth dropped open. “Who speaks like that?”
“I do and make no mistake about it. I mean every word.” And Prose humphed her way back to the table. “There’s an envelope around here somewhere I will post it tonight and show them a thing or two.
Edit wasn’t considered special in any way, a plain fellow with not much to say and the literary agents up stairs made damned sure every one knew about it. It didn’t matter that he stayed behind most nights pouring over the hundreds of books they gave him to read. The lucky chosen would be put up for print. Nor did anyone acknowledge the dedication of the young man, as he combed through every word and every phrase. Making sure all was in its place so the writer’s story would please the readers.
“Edit!” The Reviewer screamed his name from up above.
The young man’s head shot up, his glasses slipped down his nose. “I’m coming.”
It was hardly heard of, being called from above to meet the big wigs. ‘Perhaps someone has finally recognized my work, it’s about time’ but as he climbed the last few steps his thoughts turned into doubt ‘God am I in trouble? Have I done something I shouldn’t have? Maybe that last book I sent though wasn’t acceptable and if that’s the case will the blame chalk up a mark against my name?’
He almost groaned aloud and caught the noise in his throat on the landing. Edit was greeted with a large room full of sofas and coffee tables. It was as neat as a pin. Posters covered the walls with flashy, bright book covers advertising the flavors of the month. He had never seen his work complete before, they were dazzling, something to behold and as he stepped forward Edit spied an open doorway. Raising a hand to his mouth the sight of all the books, bound and shelved bought tears to his eyes. “They are so beautiful.”
He didn’t notice that someone else had stepped up beside him. “They certainly are.”
The Reviewer was a big man not easily swayed to the excitement of others for he had been in the game for a good many years. “You have been recommended to me and since I am in need of a new Reviewer you’re it. Collect your things at once and begin, your desk is in the second room to the right.” He left Edit standing alone in shock.
On his desk sat a pile of manuscripts, a mountain of reading but it was going to be different he just knew it. No more corrections to be done, just plain reading and the decision to pass or fail were his. Edit was proud of how far he had come.
He randomly chose one and studied the name, ‘Tripping over Poppies,’ and opening it up to the first page, the young man took a seat.
It took him four days to read Prose’s book from beginning to end, the poignant story of a young girl and the need to be more than what she was. It touched his heart and even bought a tear to his eye, without hesitation Edit placed Prose’s manuscript in the box for publishing. It felt good to make a difference.
Ink flung opened the door. “Have you heard anything?”
Prose threw her hands up in the air. “Not a damned thing.”
“Well Scribe has.”
She could tell he was bursting to say more but she instead bent back over what she had been writing, the teasing was a much loved game between the pair.
“I’ll leave you to it then Prose, it looks as though I have disturbed your busy work and we both know how you hate interruptions.” Ink did his best not to smile.
They both burst out laughing with Prose jumping to her feet and rushing for Ink, clutching at each other with the air of excited gossip between them both, she shook his shoulders.
“Didn’t she write that comedy, ‘Wake me when I’m Bleeding’? She had high hopes for that one, in fact I heard the last two…” Prose whispered the next word, “Rejection letters gave her that white hair.”
Ink just nodded. He had yet to finish his manuscript, but everyone in the community felt the repercussions of a rejection letter no matter who received it. Theirs was a tight knit group, supporting each other in their writing pursuits, everyone hoping for that one big break which would offer them recognition and awarded accolades.
“You’re only as good as your last book.” Ink intoned the mantra they all lived by in a voice more than a little sad. “It was a rejection letter Prose. Everyone knows. They’re all talking about it. She will have to leave cause it’s her third.”
Prose hands began to shake. “Oh my.” There was nothing more to say.
For several minutes they stared at each other, silence a gaping wound in the shared news, for both knew what three rejection letters meant. Shame and the inability to write again within the community, long faces and heartache was just the beginning.
‘Edit’ the Big Wig called the young man’s name from his big desk in his oversized room, down the very end of the corridor. Everyone heard the shout and everyone looked up from the tottering piles of manuscripts littering stalls that lined the long walk.
Critic sat opposite Edit as he peered over the piles of books, an expression of trepidation on his fat face. “You’d best hop to it cause you know that the next time he calls your name, it will be with a whole lot of swearing in its wake and if your lucky he’ll only dock your pay for lagging.”
The young man swallowed and felt the first drips of sweat run down his back. “Do you think I’m in trouble?”
“How the hell would I know? I’ve never taken the walk but I’ve seen plenty who have and some of those just don’t come back.” Critic turned another page on the book he’d been reading, “I wonder what you’ve done?”
Edit slid his chair backwards and stood with a shaky hand to an already sweaty forehead. “Well, I suppose putting it off won’t make the news any better hey!”
Critic remained silent. There was nothing to say when the Big Wig screamed a name and Edit with a last look at his new desk and chair straightened his back.
The Big Wig was a man as thin as the Reviewer was fat. He wore a permanent scowl and the sleeves of his crisp white shirt were rolled up revealing stick like arms. “Just what were you thinking?” He loved yelling.
“On your recommendation they were going to put this piece of rubbish into print.” The skinny man waved Prose’s manuscript above his head as though he were brandishing a declaration of war.
“But I thought it was a work full of fine writing sir. A true piece filled with emotion and flair.”
“But that’s just it lad. You weren’t thinking.” The Big Wig had lowered his voice, a dangerous sign. “You nearly went and sent this trash off into print. We have a reputation to maintain, an audience to satisfy and mainstream is the only focus that should be given to anything set out for reading.”
Edit hung his head. He truly thought that ‘Tripping over Poppies,’ was a gem in the find.
“You’re going to have to learn a lesson if you’re to remain with us another day. You need to harden up and follow the guidelines set in place.”
The young Reviewer felt his heart swell. “I don’t want to leave, I only just got here.”
The Big Wig smiled, it was an expression of smug satisfaction. “Then we will test the mettle of your nettle Edit. You will deliver the rejection letter to the wanna be author personally and let’s see if you have what it takes to be one of us.”
Prose’s manuscript conjured up images. Fields of red poppies and the breaking of waves onto a white sandy shore, a horse and cart plodding down a dusty dirt track and a girl in a loose white dress running towards a grove of twisted oaks. “Sir can’t you find someone else. I’m happy to stay back and read another book of your choosing.”
“Not willing to get your hands dirty, hey Edit.”
“No sir. I mean yes sir, I’ll deliver it, if that’s what you wish.” He looked pitifully sad but picked up the long envelope.
Prose knew it was bad news, for Ink was sitting on her only other chair drinking tea, so who else could it be knocking on her door with such an unfriendly hand. For a moment, she thought about pretending no one was home, but dismissed the idea as a ridiculous one. Whoever it was would only come back. Ink shook his head but she waved him down and went to the door, yanked it open and stood glaring at Edit with hands on hips.
“What do you want?”
He sighed. “I have been told to give you this letter.”
Prose narrowed her eyes. She stared at the paper in his hand, a rejection letter no doubt. “I don’t want it. Take it back and be gone for if it’s only lies you wish to tell me, you’re not welcome in my home.” She cocked her head on the side, the man before her looked as if he would at any minute cry.
“I read your book you know and had marked it for publication, but the Big Wig said that I had to give you this instead.” His voice had gone small.
“You read it? You actually liked it?” She sounded pleased.
He nodded. “I did and wish that I had better news.”
Her fingers twitched but her hands remained fixed on her hips. “I won’t accept it you know. No one has the right to tell me that my hard work is to be a waste.”
Ink let out a short yelp.
Prose rounded on her friend. “I won’t Ink. I told you that it doesn’t matter.” She turned back to Edit, whose mouth flapped open like a waterless fish. “You can take that back and tell them, that I said they can put the letter where the sun don’t shine. You hear me Reviewer, I won’t take it. In fact, no one should ever take another one of those insulting epistles.”
Edit peered over her shoulder towards Ink. “Is she serious?”
“I am afraid she is.” Ink grinned, caught up in Prose’s challenge.
“Then what am I to do? If I go back without you accepting their decision I will be on the out.”
“You can come with us. I intend to take my voice to the Publishing House and from there we will see who has the last say.” And then she added for reassurance. “You really liked it then?”
“I did indeed. It made me cry a little.”
She clapped her hands at that and shot them both a triumphant look. “We’ll see indeed.”
They stood outside her door, a touch of doubt and trepidation hung in the air, layered with the grim determination for change. It was there in the light of that morning, upon the meeting of writer and reviewer that a new thought took shape. Together they knocked on doors inciting a riotous fever. All writers fear rejection and the knock that follows from the Publishing House. The hope in their hearts a now hollowed thing, each wishing that somewhere, even if it were just for a short time their book would be as loved by someone as they themselves had loved writing it.
The crowd swelled as the day wore on. At first, there were grumbles and denials about wanting a change, but Prose was a force to be reckoned with and having a Reviewer beside her seemed to shore up the need. Soon, the news of contention sprang up from lip to lip. It rose up like a wintery wind as it blew through the hallways of the Publishing House in a frenzied angst.
“What do you mean they’ve stopped writing?” The Big Wig shook a bony fist at the Head Reviewer. “They aren’t allowed to stop. It is we who has the say on what can be read and what cannot.”
For the first time in his working life, the Head Reviewer felt the onset of nerves. “Well it seems that they are in disagreement with having us decide what the readers can now read. It seems that the young man you sent off with a letter of rejection is with the mob downstairs.”
“He’s what?” The Big Wig’s face was turning an ugly shade of purple.
“Their leader is a girl sir. She has demanded that her book is to be put into print immediately and they have a list…” He looked abashed.
“Of what?” Demanded the skinny man, “what are you saying? We are to bow to these… these wordsmiths?”
“They want more books to be printed and some …” The Reviewer pulled out a large handkerchief mopping his face free of sweat, “are just plain ordinary. Not up to the quality of mainstream, but I am afraid they are very insistent sir.”
There was a knock at the door. A heavy thumping and Critic barreled through, pasty-faced and unsure. “They’re here.”
“Here? What inside the building?” The Big Wig’s eyes widened. “Then we’ve got to make them stop. Call out the guard, let loose the dogs! Do something to protect what we have in place.”
The Head Reviewer closed his eyes and sighed. “Perhaps we should just go and see what it is they truly wish from us and try to find a middle ground.”
“You can’t give writers a choice. For the love of rules and order, we have always taken them in hand and set the path for mainstream reading. What will become of the Publishing House if we allow just anyone to write a book?”
“I am not sure Big Wig. I really don’t know what will happen, but if we don’t do something to appease the mob outside, we may never print another book. There may not be anything left for us to do.”
Hopelessness rattled the wind from Big Wig’s chest: he fell back to his seat and surveyed the posters of mainstream book covers in their thick black frames with dismay. “So anyone will be able to publish?” and he shook his head.
There were a few minutes of silence. The baying of the mob outside made the room feel small. The Head Reviewer widened his eyes. “You know there could be a bright side to this calamity.”
“You think.” The Big Wig rolled his eyes. “Please, do tell.”
Laughing, a deep chuckle for it was suddenly all so funny. “How can we lose. We’ll be busier than ever.”