My literary agent is a very energetic person. So much so, that I sometimes feel that she must be part cocoa bean. I have to fight the urge to siphon off a dram for recreational use. She bounces when she walks. Her face does not simply form expressions, it is possessed by them. She gushes about my work, such that I sometimes feel guilty for not reiterating how much gushing actually goes into my work.
Today she has enthusiastically arranged for me to make the acquaintance of my publisher, which I suppose is a good thing. You scoff, because to you that is obvious. Of course it is a good idea to get to know the tiny human female who will be responsible for dissembling your treatise to the world! But no — to me, it is not so obvious, gentle reader.
There is but one thing that unnerves me, and that is meeting new people. I can never be certain how they will see me, and this case is even less predictable. Because, you see, she has read my autobiography. I will encounter not just the woman, but her beliefs. Thus, I am conflicted as I ready myself for the encounter.
Do I dress to appear more or less human? Male or female? Do I leave off the false eyelashes and eyebrows and let the chips fall where they may? What sort of person is she, and how will she respond — fascination or horror?
My agent never seems to notice. She takes the facial discrepancies in stride and thinks this whole “persona” business is a clever marketing ploy. Bless her, she is a PR person.
I present myself promptly at the sushi restaurant, but find that I am already late. This is unfortunate. They will have strategized; Laurie will have warned our guest that I am — what is the phrase she uses? — eccentric. Now Ms. Horsley will have expectations, and every word from my mouth will be scrutinized.
I look at the row of men standing behind the bar, slicing fish paper thin with deft hands, and wish I could just put on an apron and busy myself with that mundane task.
Laurie’s face transforms into her massive smile as she spots me lurking. She waves me over and before I can extrapolate the dynamics, I am shaking hands with the Vice President of Content for Tapas Media. She is polite, but focused, and her gaze lingers a bit longer on my face than is comfortable. No doubt she is looking for the adhesive that keeps my eyebrows in place.
“I ordered tea!” Laurie announces. I toast her tactfully, wondering if she really requires any additional spring in her step.
Adrienne slides a menu across to me. “I know you’re the food expert here. Do you want to just order for us, and we can share?”
She has a nefarious twinkle in her eye that tells me she is challenging me to remove my teeth. The joke is on her. Sushi is more than soft enough to accommodate my falsies.
“As you wish. Any dietary restrictions? Or shall I have free reign?”
Adrienne presses her lips down on a grin. Laurie performs a small wiggle in my periphery — her full-body indication that they are indeed in each other’s confidence.
“See? Consistent! He’s like Lestat, when he decided to become a rock star.”
The comparison squeezes a grunt from me. I despise the v-word. Any linkage between that ridiculous, overworked myth and my species is a dangerous and obnoxious piece of sentimentality in which humanity should never indulge. Real monsters are not former humans, they do not mourn the loss of the divine, they do not languish in darkness, they do not stop at drinking blood. They are most certainly not sexy.
“Right, sorry! No vampires.”
I return to my menu as she begins brain-typhooning, similar to brainstorming, but because she is involved, it will include stream-of-consciousness emails, pictures, status updates, and several sentences uttered so emphatically I lose myself in the upheaval.
My thoughts fuzz over as I let my nose meander to the sushi bar. I was going to order us some salmon, but it does not smell as fresh as the tuna. Perhaps some scallops? Something spicy, I think.
Sashimi truly is an art, as the fish must be caught in a certain way, so that the meat is not tainted by the fear. I have been asked if I have ever eaten human raw. Of course, I have. Cooking is merely the best way to preserve something against the elements, or imbue it with spices. The flavor profile of mankind, however, does not lend itself well to Japanese seafood preparation. And that has nothing to do with the killing method.
Fight or flight only appears to enhance…
“This Wednesday is National Eat What You Want Day, so we’re going to take advantage of it. We will launch the book as Dark Comedy.”
My attention snaps back to the woman across from me. “This Wednesday? How can this be accomplished so quickly?”
A small correction, gentle reader: more unnerving than meeting new people, is the idea of being presented as a main dish for all to see, a suckling pig for the carving, without time to take stock and prepare myself mentally. I haven’t liquidated any of my assets or scouted new territory if this publishing business goes awry.
“It’s perfect for Dark Comedy!” Laurie beams. “And the holiday! Oh my god! If we don’t launch then…”
Also bothersome is the idea that anyone might find me funny. I have said, upon many occasions, that if any individual on this earth is more entitled to gallows humor, I haven’t met them, but the body of the work is not meant to be comedic. It has a deep and meaningful purpose. A sagacious, but self-defeating one, it would seem.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to indulge my antiquity and clarify.” I blink at the women, all smiles. “It’s not going to be a physical volume?”
Laurie flaps. “Tapas is a website and an app. Tell him, Adrienne.”
“It’s all in the name! We distribute content in bite-sized portions, five minute reading sessions. People can try a free sample, and then decide to keep going, if they get a taste for the story! The Cookbook is perfect! It’s exactly the type of storytelling we’re trying to inspire!”
She shows me her phone; metaphysical covers scroll by.
The idea sinks in, finally. I lean back with a sense of déjà vu. That was how it all began, you see — publishing, I mean. But most people were illiterate and typesetting was a sticky thing. Because of this, the first publications were small: folios, pamphlets, monograms. Then education caught, and the inexpensive newspaper was born. Such is your thirst for knowledge that street vendors stopped selling water and began hocking news.
“From penny dreadfuls to Bitcoin offal.”
It is charming, this cycling of fashion, but troubling too. Genre fiction began in the periodicals of old: Dickens, Dumas, Melville, Burroughs. And here sits my humble, but very factual diary, about to be reworked into the fast food of literacy. It concerns me, because after all, I came out of hiding in an effort to cure your dependency upon the candy of artistic conceit.
The waitress approaches and helpfully points out the nigiri and special rolls. I order, but in the back of my mind, I am thinking about meals cut into morsels, plots disassembled. If absorbed in small pieces, at intervals, it could be beneficial, like a vaccine. After all, you would have time between entries to snap back to reality, to check your email, play Angry Birds, wonder if this weird story about a man-eating ghoul living in your neighborhood could be true. Perhaps you would even have an odd moment to contemplate a new home security system.
“People can read it as they travel to and from work, or binge it all at once,” she continues.
“Binging is unhealthy,” I mutter, too quietly, I fear. I wonder if they realize they are proving my hypothesis as they speak of fiction in gastronomical metaphor.
That would be too easy, I suppose. No rest for the wicked.
“Our hope is that eventually authors will embrace the format like you have, and just write for it.”
Dare I point out the premise of my work, yet again? I have tried with Laurie, but the intrepid entrepreneur sees only possibility.
“My life mirrors the format simply because it plays out in a series of events, linked by the central figures, but thoroughly lacking what could be construed as a cohesive plot.”
They chuckle, but Adrienne is still peering at my face, even as the first few rolls are brought to the table.
I cross my arms. “Forgive my stoic reception. I can see the utility of such an app in this technological age. I think my reservations stem from the fact that I collect antiquities — books, for example. The internet and its new language were sudden and confusing, and I am still adjusting. Trending, memes, friending, retweeting, LOLZ — it’s enough to make my head spin.”
“I see you on Twitter all the time! You’re great with social media,” Laurie persists, taking a piece from each roll.
“It has been very helpful. I can interact with people, learn from them, without having to explain myself. Everyone is anonymous there.”
“So you’re on board with the idea?”
“Yes. If anything, it will pull me further into the modern age. A monster does need to stay with the times, I think.”
She nods as if she always knew I’d see her brilliance. “We’re going to have to talk about how we want to market it. I’ll do a press release. Simon can put some entries up on his website, maybe some more recipes.”
“We’re working on banners and cover art.” Adrienne chews thoughtfully. “We really need a headshot of you.”
I blink. “No photography.”
Laurie clears her throat. “Simon doesn’t do pictures.”
I put a segment of spicy tuna in my mouth as an excuse to avoid the issue, but she is keen enough to wait until I have smashed the thing to a pulp with my tongue. “If you just told the world — and every alphabet agency in it — that you were an immortal, implicated in about two dozen deaths or disappearances per annum, and then gave out your recipes for same, would you want your face all over the internet?”
“Hmm. I see your point.”
She smirks. I sigh. She doesn’t believe it either. Like Laurie, she finds my precautions silly, if entertaining.
I’m telling you — one day you’re going to wake up and find that all frontal lobe activity has dwindled to a hum that reads rather like a celebrity Tumblr feed. I and mine will wander the earth like a scourge, gorging on the fattened calves and dimwitted offerings of your intellectual transgressions.
“Besides, it’d be pretty difficult to decide on which face to wear! I mean he’s a man now, but sometimes he’s a woman.” Laurie points at me with her chop sticks. “He has all these synthetic parts. Like that German guy on The Strain.”
The hiss is all I can manage.
Am I to always be plagued by Bram Stoker and his undead offspring? He should never have popularized the fiction of Romanian housewives. All that glitters is not vampires!
What is it they say these days?
Let me see: #thestruggleisreal.
She catches a look at my fixed expression and swallows her hamachi. “Sorry! Vampires. Right.”
“You won’t even take a selfie with me?”
My mouth falls open. “No!”
Adrienne’s blond head tilts as she grins. “But your face is fascinating.”
“I’m giving very serious thought to eating both of you.”
Laurie laughs. “Relax, Lector! If you eat us, we can’t do a sequel.”
I prop my elbow on the table and cradle my face in my hand. “How exactly does one sequel one’s life, Laurie?”
I return to my food — out of responsibility, I assure you. Discomfort and exasperation make me hungry. Bad things happen when I am hungry.