RwA 3.1 200 ~ 299.9

HOME by Courtney Cook


A Vampire Novelist

Christi Nogle

On December fourteenth, I pour a glass of wine and settle in my easy chair, laptop on my knees. I make a tradition of writing this grant-application essay every year though I’ve never received so much as an encouraging rejection.

Why now? I want to take advantage of a rush of energy that I have, a willingness I have right now to go as far as I can as a writer. I’ve lost my passion for certain kinds of work before, and I know it won’t be the end of the world if it happens again, but I feel like it will be a shame if I don’t try to keep this going.

I’m also a little afraid to write this novel, and I feel that in my life I haven’t done enough of the things I’m afraid of doing.

All of that said, if you’ve read this far, you can see I’ve been very privileged and very fortunate already. I might not be the person who most needs . . .

And so on, a narrative of an aging middling ghost-person who’s always wanted to be an artist. One must appeal to people. I cannot play the young talent, so I play another part. It becomes quite tedious, I can tell you, to spend centuries at age forty-five.

I sit down, catch a typo. I send off the application before I can begin revising again and dash the wine down the sink. I need something more.

The city’s deep in bitter winter, snow drifted to the knee in places, all the holiday lights blazing. I’ll regret the dry cleaning but not the cold.

I slow at the all-night bookshop and focus past the painted trees to where my writing group huddles. I spot the violet-haired Lorie. She’s dabbling in memoirs this year, her warm yellow-sweatered form so lovely draped over her notebook. Such focus.

I gain speed. A very young man, a solitary figure, scrapes a car window just a few blocks away.


“It’s a long story. I suppose you’d call it a mugging,” I tell Lorie, after. The group has gone.

“Oh, but you have some blood in your, in your collar,” she says. She’s touched my neck without realizing she was going to.

“I suppose he split my lip,” I say. He did, but it’s healed. “Or, does my nose look fine?”

“You look absolutely fine. I told them you wouldn’t miss writing group again on purpose,” she says.

“They believed you?”

Lorie shakes her head slowly and smiles. She lifts her violet hair off her neck.

The writing group hates me, all but Lorie. I am deep in a novel about a vampire novelist who is writing a novel about a vampire novelist who is, well. . . They find it all so very tiresome.

Lorie tugs at my satchel. “Sit,” she says.


I am a vampire novelist writing about a vampire novelist. Since your call for submissions expresses some cynicism, dare I say derision, toward both vampires and “writers writing about writing,” there is a chance you will not read on. 

Do I still have you? Wonderful. Let me tell you a story.

“You haven’t sent something with this query letter,” Lorie says.

“I have. You think it’s a mistake?”

“I think it’s a little passive aggressive,” she says. She’s cross-legged on the ottoman surrounded by my papers, a terrible bookstore coffee in one hand and her famous red pen in the other. She sets the coffee on the floor and takes up my manuscript.

After a time, she says, “And I don’t know why you’d write the letter in the protagonist’s voice, anyway.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” I say.

“The vampire novelist writing about a vampire novelist.” Her voice is weak and thin.

I say nothing. I imagine she will put down the manuscript and the pen, that she’ll crawl to where I sit, offer her neck, but that doesn’t happen. The scent of the sweat on her neck changes, but she just keeps reading, striking out long passages.

Lorie is known for being a vicious editor. I’ll be angry when I read her marks, but I will make the changes. 

In the painted window behind her, snow keeps falling. It’s hard to watch her hunch over my newest chapter, so I take up my laptop thinking to finally get a start on the group’s pieces. I need to send them emails expressing regret.

What I do instead is pull up my grant application and read it through twice again. And then—I wonder why it’s never occurred to me before?—I search the email’s sent folder for last year’s application and the year before, and the year before. 

Why now? I want to take advantage of a rush of energy that I have
Why now? I want to take advantage of a rush of energy that I have
Why now? I want to take advantage of a rush of energy that I have

The last three years is all I’m allowed to see, but if I were to look at those from five and six and seven years back, would they be the same? How long have I been writing this novel?

“Did you hear me?” Lorie says.

“I’m so sorry. I think I was in a kind of trance,” I say.

“How long have you been working at this novel?”

“It isn’t a novel,” I say before I can stop myself, and I am moving, and I am the one who is crawling toward her, a supplicant. The room is suddenly hot and red.

Only I am still in the filthy bookstore wing chair. I see her face turned toward me but cannot raise my eyes to meet hers.

“Look at me,” she says. She waits.

“It isn’t a novel,” I say again. I am weak and shivering.

Lorie shakes her head and smiles. She lifts her hair off her neck, looks back at the pages. “The historical stuff in this part seems good to me, though, really authentic.”

“What part is that?”

“He’s just hiding out during another war, trying not to get involved, working on his novel, eating people and . . . rationalizing it’s all for their good. He seems to hide out in all these chapters, now that I think of it. Maybe that’s the key.” She pages back through to the end. “That’s the key flaw, I think. He’s always meeting these people and falling in love, too, but he never pursues any of them, really.”

“He never does the things he’s afraid of doing,” I say.

“That’s it,” she says.

Am I afraid to write the novel, afraid to become immersed in it? Go deep, never come out of it. Live in it and never leave.

The crowded bookshelves loom all around me. They taunt me. How much done with how little life. And myself, with all the life I’ve had and have taken, the proliferation of memories…

Memories from earlier tonight come in all their specificity, the struggle and blood, the kid’s hair so bright it glowed in the dim streetlight, his wallet with a fantastical beast tooled into it and pictures of his family inside. None of it is as vivid as this room and the yellow and violet of her. 

 “What happened tonight, Lorie,” I say, and I want to confess it, let her have me taken away or somehow finally put down—exiled from the group, at least—but now it’s she who won’t meet my eye.

 “You’re fine,” she says, “and I doubt you lost a lot of money in the mugging.”

“Gained, in fact. Almost sixty dollars.” Can she hear all my feeling in those words?   

“Well,” she says in a low voice. “Maybe we’ll go out for breakfast after we whip this novel into shape.”

“It isn’t a novel.”

She’s caught my eye. She says, “I know.”


The Book Signing

Lorraine Schein

After the reading, the author sat at a table in the back of the bookstore signing copies of his bestseller. The line of people holding his book snaked out the door; his hand felt cramped, his fingers hurt. His mouth ached from smiling.

As he scrawled his signature on the hundredth copy, wishing he could leave, the fingers of his right hand fell off.

His publicist sighed and pulled a new set of five from a promotional tote bag printed with the book’s cover logo. She placed them over his stubs without saying a word.

“Thanks…” he said wearily, flexing his new digits before picking up the pen again. “You people think of everything,” then he went on signing.

Riddled with Arrows 3.1: “Libraries & Bookstores”
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