The Writer's Life

The Room in the Elephant

It lies on the kitchen table like a tipped tombstone, this year of late nights and early mornings, of exhilaration and frustration, of too much coffee and too few showers. The Froot Loops box is prostrate, casualty of another rushed breakfast.

The kids are out the door. The dog is bark-begging back in. The spouse is gridlocked, Van Halen blasting him into the past if only for one more exit. His parting word to you, “finally.”

You repeat the word in whisper even though you know better. This is just another beginning.

But it’s done. Your first novel. Or your tenth. Drafted, redrafted, written and re-written.

You run your finger across the title, printed in 16 point Times New Roman.

The Room in the Elephant.

You are so clever.

It’s a story about a homeless man who happens upon an abandoned carnival ride – a collection of hollowed-out metal animals that once spun riders in a perpetual parade to nowhere. He makes his home in the largest of the rusting carcasses – the elephant. And it’s from there that he begins his long, strange, courageous journey back to life.

You pull at the rubber band and let it snap. The dog stops barking and tilts his head into a question.

You tilt yours into a dozen.

Is it too different? Too literary? Not literary enough? Are the characters memorable? Believable? Will it engage readers? Bore them to tears? 

You do a mental survey of books you’ve loved. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The Road. The Art of Racing in the Rain. The Peculiar Sadness of Lemon Cake.

It’s not like those. Not really. Except maybe in two ways.

It is a little left of center.

But perhaps more importantly, it desperately wants to be read. Do all books?

You pick up the Froot Loops box and stand it on end. Exactly seven Froot Loops spill onto the table. You eat the three orange ones. Then the single green and the two yellow.

The purple Froot Loop looks up at you, pleading. It wants to be eaten, too.

You look from the purple Froot Loop to your manuscript.

You’ve dreamed of being a published author for decades. Ever since that first story you wrote – the sad one about the girl whose hopes of being a dancer are crushed by an unintentionally cruel comment from her mother.

There is no dream more enduring than your dream of being published.

But maybe you won’t be. Maybe it’s not your turn. Maybe it will never be your turn.

You pause on that word, “never.” You choke on it.

Agents and editors don’t owe you anything. They might love The Room in the Elephant. They might hate it. They might think it boring and unsaleable. Or brilliant and unsaleable. They might think the same of every other book you write.

You reach for the purple Froot Loop and accidentally flick it across the table. It slides to the far edge and falls, landing with a soft, sad tap.

The dog barks.

You look at your manuscript again.

It’s out of your hands.

It wants to be read.

You get up and let the dog in. He goes right to the Froot Loop. And as the sun begins its slow crawl across the un-swept floor, accompanied by a symphony of slurp and crunch, you decide to believe it will.

You decide to keep dreaming.

17 thoughts on “The Room in the Elephant

  1. Reading your story just now, I thought of my novel. Coincidently, it’s about having dreams, being middle-aged. A handful of people who read it liked it. A lot. One said it would make a good movie. The other cried at the unpredictable and moving ending. It’s my first “written” story.

    Regardless of those good comments, the other day I have received another pass from an agent. I just started to query but I’m beginning to have an impression that vampires and zombies are more sellable today than writing about love, live and death.

    “You decide to keep dreaming.”

      1. Jennifer is right. Persistence matters. It’s true that many authors who dream of being published won’t. But if we believe we’re those authors, why do we even try?

        In the immortal words of the prophet Steven Tyler, “Dream On.”

        1. Am I crazy because it doesn’t matter to me whether I get published? I write because I have stories to tell. It thrills me when people take the time to read them, but my writing goal isn’t to be published, it’s simply to tell a good story. I won’t ever give that up.

          I love Fruit Loops, and I really enjoyed your story.

  2. This is a sad story. I guess it says something about our personality if we see it as sad or happy, her novel as secretly good or secretly awful. (Or if we see her as female or male.)

    1. Maybe it’s also about where you are in your journey.

      And by the way – I don’t know if her novel is good or awful. She won’t let me read it. And by “she” I mean the fictional author who might or might not actually be a “he” hiding behind a gender change in order to appeal to the notably larger audience of female authors who might happen upon this post.

      1. It’s an interesting point that you make regarding your notably larger female author audience, Steve. It did not escape my attention as well, not only here on your site, but elsewhere too. Do you think this gender imbalance puts male authors in a certain disadvantage, making their stories less sellable or at least less preferable as one might get the impression from what the agents are looking for?

        One of my brother’s constant advices for me is that I should publish under a fictitious female name. I would hate to think that he’s right.

        1. This is a very good question that I’m also pondering as I work to complete a novel or two. I suppose it really depends on the audience for the book. That said, I’ve read more than a few good novels for women, written by men. And some that I haven’t read are apparently quite popular. [See also: Nicholas Sparks.]

          1. Gender of the author matters to me – but maybe not in the way one would think! Being a female reader, I find novels that explore psychology or relationships to be more valid when written by a man. Because if he gets it wrong on the female psychology, I’ll know. But how would i know if Mr. Darcy actually exists? (David Nicholls’ One Day is a good example of male/female psychology exploration – packaged in what’s described as a “beach novel”)

  3. I believe most all beginning authors feel this way. I have hopes and dreams of one day seeing my work in print, and desperately hope I won’t have to self-publish all of it just to realize that dream. Some day, I would love to walk into a book store, even a library, and see a book there with my name on it… *sigh*

  4. I finished my first novel a few months ago and the first agent I queried asked for the full manuscript but I haven’t heard from her since. I was sure I’d written a good quality book for a few minutes after I finished it but ever since then I’ve become convinced that I just spent two years writing crap.

    I just got my first agent rejection today. But I’ve only queried a total of five so I figure I’ve got to query a hundred more and gather my respectable pile of rejections while I start on the second novel.

    It’s spooky how timely your posts always are for me. Also reassuring.

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