Saturday, 12 May 2012

Death by Fiction

00:00:00 Posted by Ashley Lister 4 comments
This is the opening to my murder/mystery novel, Death by Fiction.

Glen #1
Friday 1, 7:00 a.m.

It began with the publisher’s letter.
It didn’t begin with the novel he’d slaved over for the previous year. Nor did it begin with any of the painstaking nights he’d wasted, struggling to find the right word or fill a glaring plot hole.
Admittedly, there had been that moment years earlier when Annabel touched his hand. She’d whispered, ‘You‘re a killer writer.’ The tiniest light brightened the inky depths of his life. He’d been basking in its weak glow ever since.
But that was all back-story—not beginning. This was the present.
A warning creak from the letterbox. A moment’s held breath. And then the faraway murmur of an envelope kissing the welcome mat. The publisher’s letter landed on the mat behind his front door. This was where Glen’s last hope began.
He picked up the envelope.
The franking label read M R White Publishing House, London. His own name and address, scribbled in his own inadequate scrawl, defaced the self-addressed, postage-paid envelope.
Heart pumping, he took a breath. The letter seemed much too thin, didn’t it? Even though he had never been accepted—only ever rejected—he dared to let himself believe that his most cherished hope had finally triumphed. Inciting Incident, the product of so many years struggling—of giving his heart and soul to the murder mystery story he needed to tell—had it finally been accepted?
He was wearily familiar with the processes of making unsolicited submissions.
Type a novel.
Send the novel to a publisher.
Wait for the publisher to send the novel back with a letter saying, ‘thanks but no thanks.’
But the slim DL envelope wasn’t large enough to contain his returned manuscript. That was a good sign, wasn’t it? The only reason anyone from M R White Publishing could possibly be writing to him in this fashion was with a letter of acceptance for his novel. He tried to summon another explanation. Any other explanation. Common sense told him he had finally been accepted. All he needed to do was open the letter and prove that was the case.
He shut his eyes, squeezing them tight enough to see pinpricks of red bursting from the black. When he opened them the letter was still there. A rectangle of manila bearing his name and address. He closed his eyes again and, this time, he had a momentary vision of the future.
For once, when he attended the writers’ circle tonight, he’d have something enormous to share with his beautiful Annabel. She’d smile, curving her sensual crimson lips, solely for him. Her heart—and hopefully her body—would finally be his. He could picture the scene as though it was happening.
“What’s that you’ve got?” She nods at the manila envelope in his hand.
“It’s a letter of acceptance.”
Her smile blossoms. Her cheeks dimple with a broad, delighted grin. “Are you serious?”
“M R White…” For the first time in his life, he’s able to talk to her without stammering. “…the murder-mystery publishing house. They’ve accepted Inciting Incident.”
“Oh, Glen!” She rushes toward him, her slender arms outstretched. Her rich perfume is a musk that makes him think of stylish women with New York glamour. She embraces him. He tries not to savor the pressure of her breasts pushing urgently against his chest. The others around the table, the other members of the writers’ circle, would snicker if they noticed his erection. He knows it would only be a puerile outlet for their jealousy. But it would also be embarrassing.
Her lips brush his earlobe. “I knew you’d do it one day. I knew you’d make it as a writer. I knew we’d be able to fu—”
He opened his eyes.
Annabel and the writers’ circle disappeared. He was left standing alone, staring at his reflection in the hall mirror. A gaunt figure in a hoodie and saggy-arsed jeans. Caffeine-thin, the wrong side of thirty, with circles beneath his eyes that made him look like he’d been repeatedly punched in the face. The manila envelope remained in his hand. His fingers trembled as he took the letter to his makeshift office.
The room should have been the house’s lounge. Because he had placed a scratched up desk and his ancient black Remington typewriter in one corner it now served as his office. There was a bookshelf crammed to bursting with over-read paperbacks and barely used writer’s manuals. The handful of magazines carpeting the floor all lay open at pages he’d once considered important and had subsequently forgotten. The waste bin overflowed with balled sheets of A4 typing paper.
He sat down heavily at his desk and stared at the typewriter. Its dusty casing was as hard and battle-scarred as military armaments. On the wall above the typewriter, white words on a black background, the legend from his motivational poster screamed down at him.
He sighed and ran trembling fingers through his hair. A part of him was desperate to see what was inside the envelope. Another part was terrified by the changes it could bring. He had longed for this moment for so long that, now success was in his hands, he wondered if he had ever really wanted that accomplishment.
This letter would change everything.
He already had a mental plan of the organized, efficient office this room would become. The Remington would be replaced by a state-of-the-art laptop. The picture of Annabel would become a signed posed photo, rather than the candid snapshot he had captured when she wasn’t expecting to be photographed. The five bottles of prescription anti-depressants on the mantelpiece would no longer be needed because a successful author was a well-balanced author. His hands began to shake as he understood he was on the verge of changing his life forever. He reached for the razor blade he kept beside the typewriter. The edge was dull and smeared with reddish brown bad memories. But it still served as makeshift letter-opener.
He skimmed those words again, drew the deepest breath his lungs could hold, then used the blade to slice the letter open.

Dear Mr. McKee,
I have read the opening pages of your proposed novel, Inciting Incident.
This letter is a courtesy to let you know that I won’t be publishing the steaming pile of garbage you have written.
It’s said in the publishing world, that a publisher needs to sift through a lot of shit in order to find one worthwhile gem. Your MS was proof of how badly that shit can stink.
This is the third time you’ve sent an unsolicited MS to my office. According to our records, the first novel you submitted was abysmal and the second was worse. This time, however, it appears you have outdone yourself.
I’m not an environmentalist but even I felt pity for the trees that needlessly died to print this inexcusable gibberish. I have given your MS to a local recycling company in the hope that they can make some good come out of your offensive absence of talent.
Please, do a favor to me and the environment and STOP WRITING. If you feel the need to be creative I’d suggest you take up a hobby such as chopping your hands off or committing suicide. I’d be happy to hear you were practicing either of those pastimes rather than starting to work on another novel.
Yours sincerely,

M R White


Copies of Death by Fiction can be purchased through the links below:


Adele said...

Oh please tell me that he murders everyone mentioned so far. One quick point spell-checker hasn't picked up on savor. Are you using a US version? Also try a little more action in the verbs - ie his hands began shaking etc - helps the audience engage. I love the cover.

Ashley R Lister said...

Hi Adele,

This is the US version - the publisher is based in the states.

And thanks for the tip. I shall try to give me a verbs a little more action in the future.



Lindsay said...

That rejection letter is both hilarious and horrifying. I hope that publishers don't actually send that type of letter, although it might put people off sending stuff constantly. I have a kindle now, so I'm going to have to download this.

Ashley R Lister said...


I had so much fun writing this rejection letter for the novel. It started off as a simple one-liner and then it grew and grew.

I think we should use it as a template for rejections next time the Dead Good Poets put together an anthology of poetry :-)