“Preface”

Maggie Gallagher, Contributor

Maggie won an Honorable Mention for this short story.

 

When I started writing A Lone Log Cabin I was twenty-eight, and terrified. I thought that I had finally found the story that I was supposed to tell, and to this day I still like to think that. I was a newbie in the industry, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The world was bright and flashy, new, but not without its thorns. Now that I am a published author, settled in my profession and publishing the Twentieth anniversary edition of A Lone Log Cabin, I thought it was time to share with you a time when I thought my career was over and I almost quit writing altogether.

 

The glass building crept into the sky until it seemed that building had truly fought out and won. That it had conquered the sky. All the glass on the building reflected the sunlight, letting no one see in. And that is how everyone who worked inside liked it. 

It was the best of the best. The best stock brokers, the best lawyers, the best engineers, the best doctors. The people in this building could end the world with a snap of a finger if they wanted to. But I was here for one person only. 

Issac Delaney, the world renowned Book Agent. 

I had followed his career for years before I had gotten serious about writing. When I was thirteen, I had only clicked on the interview because I thought Delany was a girl’s name. When I was sixteen, I watched as he published his debut novel at 28 and won the six different awards, including a presidential honor, for his first book alone. His following novels won 72 different accolades total. He was bright, and clever, and brilliant in every piece of press that he did, and I needed him. He would be the one to make this book into everything it could be. He had the connections. 

He was a God amongst men. 

I had already submitted my manuscript to other book agents, had gotten droves of offers, all of them offering money that I could not even picture, and had told them all I needed to think about it. Until after this meeting. 

The frayed edges of my skirt swayed in the wind as I made my way to the golden revolving door. The building’s reputation most definitely preceded it, with the building’s towering height and with the Illustrion-Eminence Building engraved above the entrance. Yeah, that definitely made me feel better. 

As I spun the door into the atrium of the building, I was met with a rush of warm air. Enormous marble statues stretching up to the ceiling flanked each corner of the room. God, the ceiling must have been 100 feet tall. The walls were all painted with red paint flecked with gold and silver, and made the whole room sparkle as you moved through it. The atrium was beautiful, there was no doubt about it, and those in the building were coveting this beauty. And the beauty only served to make my palms sweat more and to make my breathing more erratic. 

“Excuse me, Miss,” the well dressed woman behind me whispered in an exasperated tone, her gold jewelry clanking as she tapped me on the shoulder. “You need to keep moving–you are disrupting the flow of the entire entry way.”

“Oh I’m so sorry,” I apologized, quickly moving out of her way. She waited another moment before leaving, her eyes looking me up and down. I knew what she saw, what she spent her whole life looking down upon: the plaid skirt, the unironed blouse, the ill-fitting jacket, and the worn out shoes. But that fashionable woman didn’t need to say anything because it was all in her eyes. You don’t belong here. 

I shuffled forward across the atrium to the elevator, and reached my hand up to press the button. 

“No need for that, Miss, I can help you get to where you are going,” said a deep voice to my right. I turned and saw an older man around 60, dressed in a bellboy uniform, his graying hair slipping over his eyes. “What floor, Miss?”

“34th, please,” I said, trying to bolster my fast dissipating confidence as the elevator doors closed. 

“Pretty far up, must be something important for you.” 

I forced a laugh at his attempt to lessen my nerves. He was right. As the numbers in the elevator climbed higher and higher, the air was sucked out of this suddenly confined space. My leg began to bounce and I started to pick at my hastily painted fingernails, little flakes of red slipping off onto the meticulously cleaned elevator floor. 

I rushed off the elevator as soon as the doors opened and regretted it immediately; I heard a “good luck” and the sound of the elevator doors closing. I should have thanked that old man. 

The atmosphere changed as soon as I walked into the office. It became…cold? No–that wasn’t the right word. Everyone here seemed fearful of something. I watched a girl, who I could only assume was an intern, drop a fresh stack of copies and pounce over it to prevent anyone from seeing her mistake. A young man downed an entire cup of coffee in ten seconds, shook himself, and then returned to the mountain of work that sat on his desk. There was an urgency to everyone sitting in the office, everyone always doing something. Or, perhaps, more afraid of being caught not doing something. 

I walked over to the woman who was sitting behind the desk closest to the elevator. Her red hair was slicked back so far that it looked physically painful. Her outfit was pristine, gray blazer matching her slacks perfectly. 

“I have an appointment with Mr. Delaney that I wanted to check in for. Anita Reed,” I said and was instantly apologetic that I did not make my steps louder, as the poor girl jumped out of her skin when I started to speak. 

“Oh yes. Sorry, I’m Leslie. I can check you in, and…and let me just check his schedule to see if he is free right now.” She clacked away at her keyboard for a moment, and then smiled and looked up. “You’re in luck, he is. I’ll bring you in.” 

Wordlessly, I followed her through the winding hallways with the same carpeted floor, the same mahogany paneling, and the same light fixtures hanging from the ceiling until I reached a set of closed double doors. 

“Just knock and go ahead on in, he is expecting you.” She turned to leave, but stopped, sighed, and turned back to me. “Be careful. I would tell you he is just in a mood, but he’s always like this.” 

Those words, although well meaning, only further fueled the pit burrowing into my stomach. I stood there, paralyzed and unable to to reach up and open the door. 

“I can see feet under the door — whatever remarkable first impression you were hoping for has long since expired, so please come in so you can stop wasting everyone’s time,” said a voice from the other side of the door. 

Blush ran up my neck, and my nerves wound tighter after my first mistake. 

Strike One.

I reached up to the silver door handle, twisted it, and pushed my way forward into the room. 

Behind the desk sat Issac Delaney. He looked different from what I had seen on his interview. He looked older, and more exhausted. His brown hair was gelled back, in case a single strand of hair try to revolt against his authority. Glancing up at me, irritation was already on full display in his calculating brown eyes. The entirety of his wooden desk was barren except for a manuscript set in front of him. What struck me most was the walls in the room were barren, no decorations, no art. Not a single picture of his family, a friend, or any other living soul for that matter. The only thing that might have been individual to this room was the reading nook window in the far corner of the room that let sunlight stream in the room. I mean, if you are going to be in a glass building… 

“Are you going to sit, or are you going to take this meeting standing. I’ve heard it burns more calories. Causes your clothes to wear faster though,” he said, his eyes cutting sharply to a chair across from where he sat. 

“Of course not, I’m sorry to keep you waiting, sir.” He only scoffed and flipped through the pages in front of his. My pages. 

Strike Two.

“Now, this meeting here is a clerical error. My secretary sent the meeting invitations out before I read manuscripts, but when I set a meeting I attend a meeting. I am nothing if not a man of my word.” He leaned back in his chair, lacing his fingers behind his neck, and peered at me. “I hated it.”

My breathing skidded to a halt when those words left his mouth. The beginnings of tears stung my eyes and I tried to fight off the ball forming in the back of my throat. Hated it. 

Strike Three. 

“No, that’s not right–hate is a very strong word, as I am sure you know. I detested it.” He shifted his weight and place his elbows on his desk. There was something wrong about how he was looking at me. It took me aback for a moment before I was able to figure out what it was. Delight shown in his eyes. He was enjoying this. Enjoying eviscerating my work. 

 “I give people who circumvent the genre a lot of credit, you know. Most of the time their work is a flaming pile of shit, but at least they attempt to have some semblance of an original idea. Not your manuscript, of course. The plot draws to a complete halt after the opening chapter–nothing there to really glean anything from, and the writing…” He blew out his breath in a laugh that chilled my bones. “Well, the meeting is not long enough for me to get into that.”

My heart dropped further and further with every word he spoke. 

“This love story is meaningless. But I suppose that you want your story to be a novel for bored housewives because that is all this is. Sure, there is some overarching commentary on race in America and how wealth or power corrupts people and blah blah blah,” he said, bending his hands to mock a person speaking. “But what other book doesn’t.” 

“I will give you credit though–you got one thing right. The whole romantic subplot blowing up in the love interest’s face. The only part of the manuscript I enjoyed. Love causes nothing more than destruction to those around you. Nothing more, nothing less.” He dramatically motioned to my manuscript and picked it up, his long unkempt fingernails curling around the spine. I could smell the rank stench of alcohol on his breath from across the desk, “Story books all skip over the ending with pain and death or whatever else is in this remarkably bland piece of work. It doesn’t sell.” His tirade stopped quickly as if he had something else to say but bit it back. 

The edges of his desk and the wall blurring together. But I knew what to do here. Breathe. Count to ten. I had been prepared for this, from the internet, his secretary, everywhere I mentioned his name they told me he was…brusque to say the least. But the heat running from my face down to my neck and the consistent grinding of my teeth through this whole meeting to hold in my words had gotten the better of me. 

I tried to sit demurely in my chair, legs crossed, nodding politely as he ripped my work to sheds, ripped what I knew was good work to shreds. I had other offers, people liked this, I liked this. 

He stared at me for a moment, cocking his head to the side like I was some specimen that he was studying. A study in failure.

But I wasn’t. I did this. I wrote the 110,000 words and created this out of nothing. I was not some speciem that he could look at like that. Not some dog for him to kick just for fun. 

“Pathetic,” he muttered to himself, straightening his dress shirt and moving to get up. “I’ll have Leslie show you out.” 

“No,” I said to him, keeping my voice steady. I raised my eyes to meet his across the room, and there was no light in those cruel brown eyes. I crossed my arms across each other and sat as calmly as I could as with my heartbeat pounding in my ears. 

“No what?” he challenged, raising an eyebrow. “Miss Reed, you do not have the standing with me to tell me no–”

“I read about you, you know. The interviews, the Wikipedia pages, the New Yorker articles, all of it. You know what I gleaned from that? Who you want everyone to think that you are. Some success story, born out of divorce and tragedy and pain and pulling yourself out of it. But I am sitting here, across from you and do you want to know what I see? Truthfully? Because you seem to have so many people here running around trying so desperately to please you.” I stared at him. For just a moment his features changed, matching mine in anger. Then those years of practice kicked in and shifted back to calm. 

His bitter, hardened voice rang out through the room, “Choose your next few words very carefully. I can get you blacklisted from this industry faster than you can can take a breath.”

The silence in the room was thick as I stood there breathing for a few seconds. I couldn’t remember when I had stood up and crept forward towards him, but now we were both on our feet, facing each other. 

In that moment, I didn’t care if no one ever read this story. This man, in his $300 shoes, $1,000 belt, and an entire outfit that would pay for a year of my rent on my apartment. This pompous arrogant man had no idea. 

“I thought you were this beacon. Some guy who didn’t let the pain and cruelness of the world get you down, who didn’t let crap parents and a crap childhood get him down, but I was wrong in a way that I don’t think I have ever been wrong. I’m standing in front of you and I see a child, albeit one that was exposed to the brutish nature of the world a little too young. You want to know why you connected with the love interest losing everything? I’ve got a double major in psychology and sociology from Brown, and I can tell you. That wasn’t circumventing the genre. People who are raised with constant fighting often connect with those types of characters. When they are young they get sympathy, but with time all of that fades. Relationships built from that sympathy fade, too. And eventually the fighting fades, too.” I tried to reign myself in, remind myself who was sitting in front of me, who I was talking to, the kind of power that his man had. But the logical side of my brain had been completely overtaken by anger and embarrassment and fear. Nothing could have stopped me as the words flew out faster and faster. 

“They feel cheated because they never got that fairytale dream, but let me tell you waking up to this, the pain, the suffering, the work with no reward or end — when it feels like you are freaking Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a hill — feels worse. Never having the dream at all might be. So you might be right that loving anything around you is destruction and pain, but I’ll give you one piece of advice: “It definitely sells.” 

I was panting, my hands clammy from the adrenaline that slowly drained from my system. I looked up and the face I was met with wanted to eviscerate me on the spot. 

But I had gone too far to care. 

He moved to get up, only I collected myself first. I straightened my spine, and, for the first time since I walked towards this building, I was certain of something. I would be a published author. And those who I thought were the Gods of the world, were in fact not Gods. 

 

With  hindsight, what I did in that office could either have been one of the most insolent, child-like things or one of the bravest. I stopped writing for a year after that meeting, but I am still standing here. Success does not buy you a soul, dear reader, and fear is not a suitable replacement for love, no matter what a person who has been hurt one too many times will tell you. They don’t know if your book is good. They can’t invalidate your work unless you let them. They have no way of knowing everything. The people in the back of the room will thank you for persisting and I would like to thank everyone who told me that this little “story book” would not sell because you made me the person that I am today.  

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