In manuscript form, a novel decided to leave its author, see a bit of the world, and attempt to get published. Life out there, the novel discovered, is rough.
To the novel, it seemed like everyone it met wanted it to be not what it was. Longer. Shorter. This story--not that story. Move this there. No, keep it here. Add. Subtract. Faster. Slower. The language is too literary. Not literary enough. More. Less. Don't start here, for heaven's sake. Start there. No, don't start there. Start here. Your characters, novel, are wooden. Your characters are steel. They are real. They feel. I feel nothing for these characters, novel. I couldn't stop reading you, novel. I stopped reading you, in disgust. You're dumb. I hate you. That would never happen. Can they do that?
These are some of the things the novel heard said about and to it.
"I've been to that town," someone told the novel, "and it's not like that there." (The novel had invented the town; the town was a piece of fiction.)
"Less persuasion," said someone, of and to the novel. The person was the most rigid, maniacally opinionated person the novel had met so far in its sojourns. The person would not brook disagreement.
"I couldn't finish you," someone else said to the novel. "You bore me." The novel barely heard this because the person was, well, boring.
"I couldn't stop reading you," someone else said, "and I wish this sort of thing were selling, but it's not."
Someone else lectured the novel: "You don't know what you're talking about."
So the novel came back to live with the author for a while. It hadn't been able to find steady work. The novel said to the author, "I never felt as though they were reading me. I felt as though I were reading them, looking through a keyhole into their tiny worlds, in which they seemed unhappy."
"I'm sorry," the author said.
"It's not your fault," said the novel.
"It most certainly is," said the author. "I wrote you, and I rewrote you, and I rewrote . . . ."
"--What I discovered," the novel said, "is that almost no one has time to read, and those that do don't read with curiosity, exactly. If they read, they read the way gluttons eat, with compulsion but without awareness."
"I'll be darned," said the author.
"What I also learned," said the novel, "is that, unfortunately, I annoy people, but here's the problem: never for the same reason. I seem to be variously, multiply, and flexibly annoying. I am a font of annoyance. And now here I am--back living with you. I'm such a loser."
"No," the author said. "You're family. If the world needed either of us, it would have called long ago and left a detailed message. I love you," the author told the novel. "Stay as long as you like. You're actually a hell of a novel. I just read you again, when you weren't looking. I didn't realize you were good until you came back. Sometimes I actually apologized for you when you were away, I'm embarrassed to say."
"But what about . . . publication?" asked the novel.
"There's that," said the author. "But it's over-rated. Other things I've written have been published. Sure, a few people make a living at it, but they usually kill themselves doing it, or they mold what they write to an industrialized shape. Publication raises pride's blood-pressure in the author. . . . But as for you--would you be any different if you were published?"
"I'd be copy-edited," the novel said. "It's like cosmetic surgery. You know, 'having work done.' I'd have new clothes. I was thinking of a red jacket, as a matter of fact."
"Fair enough," said the author. "Those are good reasons to get published."
"Otherwise, no," the novel said. "I'd still be what I am, and I'm just not sure what they're up to out there. They have their own problems."
"How about if I buy a new red folder and have you wear that?" the author said.
The novel laughed. "That would be cool."
"Let's eat," said the author.