It was near midnight on a night in late December. The madness of the holiday season was nearly over... just the ball drop to go... before the New Year began. I was at home, alone, reading. I was curled up on the couch with a book by one of my favorite Indie Authors, Andy Lockwood. I was finally getting around to reading his novel, House Of Thirteen. Our dog, Charlie, was snuggled up nearby. My husband was away for the weekend; spending time at our cabin with his guitar, and our other dog, Finnigan.
As I turned a page and sipped a bit of cocoa, I heard a faint mumbling voice emitting from the bookshelves to my left. Filled with my most treasured things; family photographs, stuffed ducks, books signed by Indie Authors, and a Snoopy music box - a gift from my husband - I was startled by the noise. There wasn't anything on those shelves, let alone in the whole house, that could have produced such a sound. Charlie hadn't stirred. The room became silent again, and I shook my head; surely I'd imagined it. After all, being deaf in one ear, I spend a lot of time hearing things and not hearing things differently than the rest of the world. I went back to reading.
A few more pages and sips of cocoa later, I heard the sound again. A muffled, mumbling voice. The words weren't clear, but it was definitely a voice. Then, the room became quiet again. Andy's writing was messing with my head. His story was getting into my brain. He's done that before. I got off the couch, reached over, and turned on the other lamp. Of course, extra light would eliminate the problem.
I sat back down, turned the page, and reached for my cocoa. As the cup drew close to my lips, I heard it again. A bit louder this time, low and rumbling, insistent in the expectation that I respond. No discernible words, mind you. Just a tone that required my full attention. I set my book and mug on the coffee table, and walked closer to the bookshelves. Charlie perked up his ears at my movement, but remained comfortable on the couch. The muffled voice persisted. I lifted the music box, thinking perhaps its mechanism was stuck. Nope. Snoopy was silent and perfectly still. Not even the slightest vibration. Then I heard it again. A low rumbled whisper, and as I bent to the lower shelf, it became louder. I reached for the leather-bound journal I bought a few weeks earlier. I hadn't used it yet... I was waiting for the right time, the new year, creatively important things to record...
I pulled the book from the shelf and it vibrated in my hands. I reached for the leather strap and unwound it from the clasp. The parchment pages fell open to the near-middle of the book, and a faint whiff of the scent of burning wood from a campfire lofted up from the binding. "I am the Genie of The Book," came a voice from somewhere inside.
I dropped the thing on the couch and ran across the room. Charlie yelped, raced into the bedroom, and crawled under the comforter. This was not normal behavior from a book, certainly not a blank book, even Charlie knew that. I glanced at House of Thirteen, still sitting next to my cocoa mug, and whispered, "Thanks, Andy."
The journal, still sitting open on my couch, puffed out a little bit of grey smoke and said again, "I am the Genie of The Book." I hesitated... but then, curiosity acting instead of intelligence; I picked up the book. "I am The Genie of The Book," it intoned yet again. It was nothing if not persistently redundant.
"Um, okay," I said. "What do you want?"
"It's not about what I want," it said. "It's rarely about what I want... It's about what you want. What do you want?"
Completely gobsmacked - and that is not a word I ever use, but nothing else fits here - I sat down on the couch, held the book in my lap, and replied, "Uh... I don't know what you mean. Can you rephrase the question in a form that might make sense to me, because right now, nothing is making a lot of sense to me. I've got a book talking to me - for which I blame a nightmare of Andy's courting, - and perhaps sour milk in my cocoa. So..."
The voice cleared it's throat, sounding much like a disgruntled Harrison Ford as it replied with exasperation, "I am the Genie of The Book..."
"Yes, you said that..."
"And, I'm here to grant you three Writing Wishes."
"Writing Wishes?" I asked
"Yes, Writing Wishes... what other kind of wishes do you think a Book Genie would grant?" Another small puff of charcoal smoke circled up to my nose. I swear, if it had eyes, the journal would have rolled them at me. The disgruntled Harrison Ford voice was not pleased.
"Ah... alright... Can you make my book a NYT Bestseller?"
"Why not?" I said, a bit frustrated and beginning to doubt the validity of the Genie. "That's a wish every writer has; I'm sure you've encountered that request before, haven't you? I'd think it would be an easy one."
"Of course, it's what every Indie Author wants. But that's not writing. That's selling. Two different things. One's controllable, the other one's SOOOO not."
"Oh. Well then, I'll need a little bit of time to think about this. How many wishes do I get; is it the standard three?"
"Well, sure," said the Genie, now with more of a soothing Tom Hanks voice. "Everything's got to have it's standards. Wishes are no different."
"Got it. And I'm guessing that asking for the annihilation of an author I don't like or getting Neil Gaiman to attend my next book signing is out of the question, too, right?"
"Now you're catching on. See, this isn't that hard. And don't forget to begin with 'I wish'; you should at least know that part, right? Everybody knows that part. You've seen Labyrinth." The voice shifted into a condescending Prince Humperdink. The changing voices thing was beginning to get a little unnerving. This thing would be so much easier to believe if the stupid Genie had an agreeable Robin Williams voice... something that at least made sense.
"Okay, three Writing Wishes." I thought for a minute. What would make writing better, easier, more fun... what did I need to improve my craft? I'd always been told - and told others - writing didn't involve magic - so this was a bit of a stretch for me.
Finally, after about fifteen minutes of thought, throughout which the book emitted silent three inch tall mushroom clouds of wispy smoke with an exasperated wheeze on every puff, I made my requests. "Okay, I think I'm ready."
"It's about time. I could have yellowed with age from all your procrastination." The Book Genie's Harrison Ford impersonation was really quite impressive. "Can we get on with this, please?"
"First, I wish for perfect grammar and spelling. That would eliminate the need for at least one editorial pass; but you've got to keep it current... none of this Canterbury Tales Olde English nonsense. Chaucer's nice, but he's dead. Let's keep him that way, okay?"
"Done," said the Genie, returning to the much more calming Tom Hanks voice. A green puff of smoke emitted from the middle of the binding, and a page magically turned. Did I say magically... well, okay, there really isn't a better way to describe it. The page turned by itself... I didn't touch the thing. The windows were all closed, no breezes in the room, magic was the only reasonable explanation. Okay, perhaps not reasonable - but it's an explanation... sort of. "What's next?"
"Okay, um, thank you." It seemed odd to be talking to a book... but I thought that if I was talking to it, and it was talking back, the least I could do was be polite. Who knows how this stuff will come back to bite you if you aren't respectful. "Second, I wish for one-click instant cover formatting and interior formatting with pagination so I'll never have file upload issues with the print house ever again. You can't even begin to imagine how frustrating it is to receive email after email from robots telling you that something is wrong with the formatting, but never being quite specific enough with the details so you can fix the problem on the first pass. Avoiding that headache would be magical, indeed."
"Sounds like a reasonable request to me." There was a yellow puff of smoke, more like a jet stream, than a mushroom cloud this time, and again the page turned. The tingling sensation that moved from my right hand to my left was small but perceptible as the page flipped. Also, this time, a little woosh noise happened as the pages changed position. Did a formatting wish take more energy to grant? Logically, it made sense. It was a heartier wish than spelling and grammar, after all. "You got it. Now what?"
"Wow, that's great. Thank you." I was down to one wish. What was a writer to do? You would think that with all the imagination stored up in my little brain, and the vast number of stories I can concoct on a near-hourly basis, this would be easy, but it's not. Wishes are difficult - more so when you know that there's a better than excellent chance they're actually going to come to fruition. You don't want to be wasteful, but you don't want to be ordinary. You don't want to wish for something you know you could accomplish without the help... but you don't want to miss an opportunity to make the writing craft easier, either. This wishing business was an arduous task. Who would have thunk?
It took a few more minutes of contemplation to decide on my final wish. It was a conundrum. The book was softly humming the theme from Jeopardy. It was a little distracting. After two choruses of the theme, the Book Genie said, "Can we move it along here... I've got places to be, stories to tell." The exasperated Harrison Ford voice was back.
"Alright," I said with a sigh, "I think I've got it." I took a deep breath and spoke my final wish. "I wish that the book reviews I receive from readers are honest, and that I learn to handle them with grace, without frustration, and without ego." The book was silent for a long moment. I knew that I was asking for something big... but really, if I had only one Writing Wish to have granted, this would be the one. Was it within the realm of what the Book Genie could accomplish? I didn't know. The book remained silent... two small puffs of alternating blue and magenta smoke, like smoke stacks, emitted from the middle of the binding.
After about three full minutes, the book spoke, and this time, much to my delight, with the intonation of Robin Williams. "Wow!" it said. "That's never been wished for before. "Whew! That's a big one." With a final, simultaneous puff of blue and magenta smoke, and a sound that resembled the crashing of waves upon the northern Maine coastline, the page turned and the Book Genie said, "Your wish has been granted." The book quivered in my hands for a brief moment, and then fell silent and still.
I felt Charlie's tiny, wet tongue licking my eyelashes and my nose. I opened my eyes. I must have fallen asleep on the couch. Andy's book and my now cold cocoa mug were on the coffee table, my journal was open on my lap to the first page. Written in my handwriting was a single entry:
Thank you is the best you can do,
and the greatest honor you can bestow upon any reviewer.
Don't Screw This Up!
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