Fifty Shades of Ink. Episode 4: A Plot Universally Acknowledged

janeausten460Episode 4: A Plot Universally Acknowledged


“You … hate my novel?” I queried unbelievingly. “But … why did you bring me here?”

Noel shrugged and picked at one of his fingernails without looking at me.

“Let’s say I was intrigued that anyone could spawn such sense-shattering drivel and not know how catastrophically bad it really is. I wanted to meet such a person, out of sheer curiosity, at first. But now, I’ve come to realize that it’s my duty as an editor … well, let’s face it, as the greatest editor on the planet, to fix this toxic disaster you call a novel so that no one else ever has to suffer through it.”

“Toxic …” I murmured, stunned into simply echoing key words, in order to draw out this dialogue scene.

“Simply put, Robin Hackwright, reading this novel was the absolutely most horrific experience I’ve ever endured. I was diagnosed with bone cancer four years ago, and I can testify that reading your book was a less pleasant experience than months of chemotherapy and radiation. I recovered from the cancer. I doubt I will ever recover from this. In fact, I will go so far as to say you are, without a doubt, the very worst so-called writer that has ever lived. Now, the question is, are you going to flee this room now, or are you going to accept my assessment for what it is, the truth, and work with me on doing something about it?”

Well, reader, what do you think I did?


Noel’s assistant Chadwick helped me move my stuff from the hotel to a tiny room next to the editing chamber, containing only a cot, a chair, and a washbasin. This, I was informed, was where I would live, if life it could be called, while Noel and I worked. It was actually a lot cleaner than the fleabag hotel I’d been staying in, so I didn’t mind.

While Chadwick helped me get set up into the room, he talked to me about some of the famous writers who had worked in secret with Noel.

“I shouldn’t be telling you this stuff,” Chadwick said, but he did anyway, because there was no other way for the reader to get the backstory. “You ever heard of Atwood, Ishiguro, Rushdie?”

“Yes,” I whispered in holy awe.

“They all came here at one time or another with a steaming mess of a book in their hands. Their mojo had deserted them and they came begging Noel to help them get it back. He did, but it wasn’t pretty, let me tell you.”

“What happened to them?”

“Same thing as is probably gonna happen to you, honey,” Chadwick said, with a trace of pity in his voice. “If Noel can reduce Cormac McCarthy to a blubbering little girl, what chance have you got?”

I gulped.

The next morning, I sat waiting for Noel in the editing chamber, the manuscript in front of me. The door opened, and Noel strode in. He stood across from me, not sitting down. I looked into his eyes as defiantly as I could, though inside I was quivering more than [google things that quiver].

“Well, have you looked at them?” he asked.

“Looked at what?”

“My notes, of course,” he snapped. “Those little coloured strips of paper sticking out of every single page of that cursed plague ship of yours.”

“Of course I didn’t look at them,” I blustered. “I assumed you and I were going to go over them together.”

Noel’s eyes went cold. I flinched in spite of myself.

“Those notes,” he said in a voice so quiet it was menacing, “are your divine commandments. You will carry out every instruction written on every single one of those sticky notes, whether I’m here or not. Do I make myself clear?”

I nodded, swallowing my rage, and boy it was a mouthful. I turned to the first page and saw that the very first word of my manuscript, Pemberley, was circled in red ink, with an arrow to a sticky note that read: “What is this?”

I looked up at Noel.

“What … is this?”

He stared at me like I was some lower life form.

“Yes, what is it?”

“It’s my main character’s name. Pemberley Jones.”

 “Pemberley. You must be joking. This is a joke, right? That’s what you come up with for a protagonist’s name?”

“It’s Mister Darcy’s country estate, in Pride and —”

“I know what it is. I have read a book or two. The question is, have you?”

“Of course I have.”

“You’ve read Jane Austen.”


“Tell me, then, avid reader, what is Pride and Prejudice about?”

“It’s … it’s about finding your true love against all odds.”

Noel rubbed a hand across his forehead and muttered “Dear God.”

“I just liked the name,” I said hotly, my cheeks flushing. “I love Jane Austen.”

“Do you? Then by all that’s holy, please don’t desecrate her memory. It’s a pretentious, absurd name. Change it.”

I goggled at Noel in shock. In spite of his wealth and hotness, I was starting to suspect that he was a total jerk. I was still hoping, of course, that by the end of this editing relationship I would discover he was like this because of a tragic lost love in his past, and that he was actually a kind, soulful, loving man, but that hope was beginning to fade.

“Change it?” I cried. “I can’t change her name now. She’s … she’s Pemberley.”

“I have other business to attend to,” Noel said, glancing at his pocketwatch on a gold chain. “Change the name, and get to work on the other notes. If I come back and Pemberley is still Pemberley and not something human, like Janet, this arrangement is finished.”

Without waiting for my response he [google words for walking forcefully] out and the door slid shut.

I choked back my tears of shame and rage, pulled the manuscript close to me, and began to turn the pages. After “Pemberley,” the entire body of text on the first page of the novel had been circled in red ink, and the sticky note read


I turned over to the second page. Again the entire block of text had been circled, and the sticky note read FEEBLE. FIX THIS. As did the next page, and the next. I began to flip quickly through the manuscript. Not every single word had been circled in red ink, I was pathetically relieved to see, but on every page there was at least one comment or other along the lines of the first ones. Feeble. Risible. Moronic. Heinous. An atrocity against language. Not to mention the hundreds of stickies pointing out clichés, mixed metaphors, misused commas, logic errors, and dozens of other kinds of mistakes I had never even heard of before. There had to be almost as many words of criticism as there were words in the manuscript itself.

I wept quietly for a while, for my characters Pemberley and Traff, and for myself. Then I took out my notebook computer and I got started.

[ to be continued ]




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