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This article by Richard K. Rein was prepared for the July 24, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Charlotte’s Web

Back and forth, forth and back, the spider in the upper

right hand corner of the window above our writer-hero’s computer dexterously

weaves his web. Damn, the writer thinks, this bugger moves fast, the

effort showing ever more effect with each passing turn. Meanwhile

the writer’s cursor blinks idly on the computer screen. Every once

in a while it moves from left to right, but almost as surely it moves

back, deleting much of what little it has just created.

The writer shifts in his uncomfortable seat and hunkers down over

the keyboard. Forget the spider, he announces to no one in particular,

he will keep pushing this cursor forward until he has a submission

for the Route 1 Newspaper summer fiction contest. Oh, they say it

isn’t a contest, but he knows better. They rank the entries somehow,

of course only after they have reserved places for their cronies and

advertisers, and then throw what they don’t like into the circular

file. Hell, they would take something from the spider if it fit their

mold.

But forget the spider, our writer will put forth a compelling piece

of fiction — something that will make them regret it if they don’t

print it. His story won’t be one of those — of the moment —

internal monologues. His story will be something with a beginning,

middle, and end, with some characters you can recognize facing some

drama and tension that will tighten your stomach even as your brain

soaks up the vibrant prose.

It won’t be some wispy little submission, either, like those columns

that the old editor used to cobble together at the last minute to

fill up the space on the next to last page of the paper. Anybody could

have written them, though our writer has to admit he still wonders

why two years after the old guy’s demise no one yet has stepped forward

to fill the space. It was bad enough that the paper had failed to

be published on a regular basis after his death or disappearance or

whatever you wanted to call it.

No doubt that had as much to do with the circumstances of his departure

as with the departure itself. The writer leans back from the keyboard

to ponder it: Really, that story could have been the stuff of a substantial

piece of fiction or non-fiction itself: The editor chronicling his

coronary heart disease in his own column, arranging the Caribbean

vacation to help reduce stress, and then disappearing into the waters

of the Bermuda Triangle after what turned out to be an ill-advised

scuba diving expedition. Imagine trying to run a business while the

owner and operator is missing for two full months. And even after

that sand spit of a nation finally declared him dead, there was all

that legal wrangling back here.

Strange. But whatever, the guy was gone, the paper floundered, the

back page column was kaput, and the fiction issue had turned into

a social club. As least the old guy had kept it interesting, and he

didn’t seem to play too many favorites.

All the more reason to knock this fiction piece out. Maybe this will

be the submission that turns that Fiction Issue around, and maybe

the Fiction Issue will convince those suits that finally took the

paper over — after no one else would have it — that good writing

makes a difference.

Overhead the spider’s web is taking shape. That little Charlotte will

be munching on flies in an hour.

So good characters, a plot that carries you like a freight train,

and . . . what else? Sex, he thinks. Yes, sex. He’ll use that 20-something

girl from a few condos down as the model for his leading lady. She

would fall for his middle age hero — improbable maybe but certainly

not impossible and something that our writer could imagine happening

in his very own case, if the truth be known. He’d be able to weave

some telling moments around this story line, for sure. Maybe he’ll

recast her as a teenage temptress — they’d snap it up as a film,

if they hadn’t already done "American Beauty."

Damn, this writing business is not as easy as it seems. The writer

shuffles through a stack of old Route Ones, produced before the chain

took over, and sized up some of the fiction issues. Maybe they’ll

cluster them in categories again, he thinks. A road story — perfect

for a paper named after a highway, after all. Maybe that temptress

can work at a motel, or — better yet — one of the high-end

luxury suite hotels. He’ll after come up with a name for the hotel

— Residence Inn, AmeriSuites, Hampton Inn, Do Drop In, No-Tell

. . . It’s hopeless — every name he grabs is already someone’s

registered mark or some hopeless pulp fiction cliche.

Damn, this writing is tough. Up above old Charlotte is putting the

finishing touches on her creation. He clutches one of the old newspapers

and gets ready to swipe the whole fibrous mass into oblivion. Forget

it, he thinks, someone will report me to some insect rights group.

But wait: Violence. Yes, he will add some violence to his plot. Our

writer smiles. He is diving deeper into this fiction field, and he

is growing.


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