Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Fragment of a scene

Kate was waiting for me when I left the lecture hall. I’d had worse T.A.s, seldom better ones: she was efficient, punctual and probably cared more about my job than I did. The worst people could say about her is that she has a nice personality. It was often also the best they said about her as well.

“You probably crushed some spirits in there,” she said, handing me a stack of papers that were messages from the university. They’d given me an email address even though I never checked it.

“A little crushing never hurt anyone. Anything interesting?”

She shook her head. “There’s a new writer in residence this week. Ronald Forbes, author of the Declare! series –.”

“I know who he is.” I kept walking.

“He sent an email about wanting to get together for coffee this afternoon; should I pencil him in?”
I wanted to say no. I knew Ronald of old, when he wrote for newspapers as Ronnie Forbes, before he created a story mill under his own name. Over a dozen novels come out a year by ‘him’, sometimes with the co-authors listed, often without. Declare! was your basic bare-bones plot: a unit of ex-something or others banded together by a mysterious leader who solved problems all over the world with extreme violence. The world of the thriller became an uglier place when communism died: the communists had standards. Terrorists didn’t. And Ronald and his cadre of authors had leapt into that, having torture scenes by all parties, shallow discussions on whether torture was a legitimate method of information extraction – often with the victim, while doing it. Some called it post-ironic. I didn’t think Ronald was capable of irony.

The lowest point in the series came after the spate of archaeological-thrillers that were all based around religious motifs led him to see an opening in that market. Ronald casually shoehorned Declare! into that by making it a ten-person unit and turning the mysterious leader – often widely held to be a younger John McCain – into Jesus reincarnated. Sales didn’t suffer. The series branched off into other genres after that under some shared-universe umbrella scheme that the best critics called a cheap parasol at best.

And we were to meet for coffee. He would probably ask if I wanted to write some of the series. The worst part was it would be a serious offer without malice in it. And I would say no. No, I don’t want to ghost write for you, Ronald. I would say no because it was all I had left.