The voice on the other end of the landline that was connected to Martin’s antique, rotary dial, phone crackled and popped.
“Mr. Hanson, I don’t know what to tell you. If you can’t follow the submission process, no one is going to even look at your manuscript.”
“Bah! You young’uns—you’re all alike! Think that just because you got your new fangled typewriters and fancy calculators that you know everythin’! Well you don’t! You don’t know nothin’!”
“Mr. Hanson, you know darn well that nobody has submitted anything written on a typewriter in almost thirty years. It’s probably been another thirty years before that since any publisher took handwritten pieces like what you just sent in. And, for the record, I’m forty-seven. I have a grandson. I’d appreciate it if you’d stop calling me young’un and whippersnapper.”
“Don’t you tell me how to act, young man! You’re not too old for me to cut a switch!”
With that declaration, Martin hung up on his former student and, now, former literary agent, Tom Stevens.
“Tell me how to submit a manuscript! I submitted my first story seventy-five years ago. Pen and paper was good enough then. It’s good enough now!”
Of course, that first story hadn’t been good enough. No one bought it. So into the “file” it went. The first one in the cabinet; the filing cabinet that Martin had intended for housing all of his precious first drafts and originals that he felt would one day make up a priceless inheritance for his family.
“Priceless!” The word literally came out with a spat. Priceless was the word for it. Seventy-five years of writing. Seventy-five years of crafting stories drawn from his imagination and what did he have to show for it? A teacher’s retirement.
The cabinet now overflowed with pages. Book manuscripts, short stories, scripts, poetry. You name it, Martin had written it at one time or another. He had written despite the pain of arthritis. Despite the bitter disappointments. He wrote, was rejected, and then he wrote about that too.
Most of what was in the cabinet hadn’t seen the light of day in more than forty years. After the first several decades of rejection, Martin had begun to slow down. By the time he was in his fifties, nobody asked anymore if he was being published. By his sixties, he never even mentioned writing anymore, not even to his own family. He had never let another soul step into his fortress of solitude at the top of his attic stairs.
“Grandpa?” Every one of his grandkids had asked at one time or another, “What’s in the attic?”
“What does that mean?”
“One day you’ll find out. Don’t you worry about it.”
It’s all crap. He thought now. But it’s my crap. One day soon it’ll be their crap. The thought of his family having to slog through his writings almost made him giggle like a little girl. They’ll do it too! They’ll be too afraid to not read every word.
There were a lot of words.
There was the story of how he met his wife for the first time; a review of his first “talkie”; his journals from the war—he wrote everyday for two long years. There were stories of his four children growing up and his nine grandchildren following in their footsteps. He had more than one novel, a science fiction anthology, some private detective stories and, of course, his memoirs from forty-five years of teaching.
His whole life, literally handwritten out for his family to find one day. “Hmmpff! Maybe they’ll light a fire and keep themselves warm!”
Martin rummaged around in the attic office. He searched under the desk, behind the file cabinet and across the floor of the room. “Where did I throw that dab-nabbed pen?”
Finally Martin found the pen under some paper on top of his desk. Carefully, he pulled out a fresh sheet of pristine whiteness and began to write down some important advice:
All agents are idiots. Never pay them a red cent.
That’s where they found him the following day. Slumped over his old roll top, pen in hand, a neatly formed period at the end of his handwritten sentence.