You know you’re a real writer when the quest for publication assumes a starring role in your dreams.
In last night’s feature presentation, I am attending college in England, or perhaps it’s some other English-speaking country that is not the United States. I pass the Doric columns in the front of the campus’s Ivy-covered main building on a busy city street and open the doors to the atrium. The interior is not that of a college, no lecture halls or meeting spaces, but a gigantic food court, the largest I have ever seen. And it’s packed with people. Every one of the thousands of tables is occupied. Neon signs advertise chili dogs and Chinese food. A carousel with horses spins laughing children in a slow circle.
After a few minutes of wandering the grounds, I realize I need to use a bathroom. A security guard directs me to a white door at the northwest end of the court. I pass through it and enter a white hallway, in which the only door has a horizontal brass sign no bigger than a bookmark. The sign reads: Publishing House.
I enter. Two women in their mid- to late 40s sit at opposite ends of a thick plank of wood twenty feet long. This is their shared desk. The desk is covered with stacks of manuscripts. Even though both women look harried, they smile and invite me to sit in the orange plastic chair equidistant from their respective stations. When one of them asks what I want, I tell them not that I’m looking for a bathroom but that I have written a novel. Immediately they become more interested in me and ask me to tell them the plot. After I finish, they look at one another as if they can’t believe their good fortune. That’s the most exciting idea we’ve heard in ages, they say, sincerely or not. May we read your work? As soon as I say yes, the door behind me opens, and a receptionist walks in and hands each of them a printed copy of my novel. Go treat yourself to a snack, the women say to me after the receptionist leaves. We’ll read this right away.
I order a cup of tea, then a second, then a third. Families come and go. Sunlight turns to darkness and then to sunlight again, and I’m still sitting at the same table. The carousel hasn’t stopped whirling. I decide to check on the women in the office to see if they have read my manuscript. As I reach for the knob, the door opens, and the women rush past me. They give me apologetic smiles. Sorry, they say, but it’s not right for us. Good luck, they say, and they disappear into the atrium crowd.
Pinpricks jab me along my hairline and at my temples. My body suddenly feels hollow, and I have to take several deep breaths to stop the white walls from undulating.
The answer was no. Another no.
I exit the food court through the columned entrance. The doors open not onto a busy street but a deserted beach. The air is cool, and there’s a light wind. All I can see other than sand and horizon is a shrink-wrapped stack of hardcover books sticking up out of one of the dunes. The stack is twice my height. I read the spines and see the titles of forthcoming novels, hundreds and hundreds of them, a monolith of publishing success stories.
I walk around the dune and head toward the surf. It’s low tide. I hear a cough, and behind me, appearing out of nowhere, is a friend of mine, an author of one of the novels in the shrink-wrapped tower. He’s wearing a gray hoodie and has his hands in its pockets. What did they say? he asks. When I tell him, he frowns and somehow pats me on the back without taking his hands out of his pockets. Don’t feel bad, he says. It’s a long process, full of randomness. We all went through the same thing. Don’t be discouraged. It’ll all work out. I promise. Then he walks back toward the dune, away from the water, and continues walking until he is gone from view.
When I finally stop staring out at the surf, I follow the path my friend took to the dune. He has left no footprints in the sand. I step around the dune and see that the tower of books is gone. In its place is a teak desk and ergonomic chair. On the desk are a laptop, a yellow notepad, and some pens. And more than a dozen handwritten notes, all of them written by authors whose novels were in the stack. Every letter offers the same sentiment: Hang in there. I pull out the chair, boot up the laptop, and open a new file.
And then I woke up.
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