Episode 6: Friday – Jacques

Episode 6

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Sunrise reflections from the window danced to the rhythm of traffic on the other side of the curtains. The light came a little later each day as autumn deepened but the aroma of cut grass and flowers still drifted in. It was time for Jasmine Jackson to begin the daily ceremony.

It started with the sheer black g-string flowing sensually up her legs to fit tightly around her thighs with a snap of the band. Then the nylons. Jasmine would never wear panty hose, cheap vulgar panty hose. She wore only the finest nylon stockings, sheer black and strapless. The first nylon unfolded slowly up her smooth white leg, carefully, no wrinkles, just a shimmering smoothness until the nylon stopped short of white thighs.

And finally, the long flowing red gown with slits up the sides to show off those nylon-sugared legs.

Feeling sexy as hell, Jasmine went to her workstation and sat down, legs crossed to the side as though she were riding a horse sidesaddle. In a few minutes, the Jasmine Jackson website filled the monitor with its images of half naked men and women leaning against washers and dryers on the covers of books with the name Jasmine Jackson in bold letters across the top of each volume. She’d never had a bestseller; in fact, she had never sold more than a few hundred of each title but she had a loyal following, fans who waited eagerly for her next book and who sent her a barrage of flattering emails each time a new title was released.

She’d never had a book signing. She’d never met any of her fans in real life and she rarely went outside the building unless it was for research or inspiration in one of the local laundromats. It was so much more comfortable to stay at home and just write because the writing was everything. The emails of adoration were nice but it really didn’t matter to Jasmine what anyone thought about her writing. She was in this for the writing. Of course there was the occasional death threat from failed writer malcontents but let them come; the surprise they’d get.

It was time to write, time to light the mood candles, close her eyes and breathe deeply for a few minutes to get that creative high with the right side of her brain well oxygenated and opening the pathways to her creative wellspring.

And then of course, stick the big ass cigar in her mouth, which she’d never light but would hang from her lips throughout the day’s writing. They were cheap cigars but they did the trick It was the only male thing that Jacques allowed when he was Jasmine Jackson, writer. But then, didn’t women like cigars?

He opened his manuscript to where he’d last finished writing.

“I can’t just go out and screw someone,” says Hillary.

Dawn points her fork at Hillary. “And you can’t go on forever being faithful to the man who dumped you almost a year ago.”

He never wrote till he finished a scene or a chapter. He stopped at the height of things and the next day was like mounting a surf board already riding the crest of a wave—not a bad way to write a book set in a laundromat. All his, or Jasmine’s, books were set in laundromats and they were called laundromances. They had their own special rules:

  1. They must depict common life.
  2. They must be narrated by the laundromat.
  3. There must be at least one laundry tip in the story.
  4. There must be an element of real or potential romance (they are, after all, romances).
  5. None of the romantically involved characters are allowed to speak to each other.
  6. The main theme must always be Things Get Dirty, Things Get Clean.

It took a bundle of skill to write a romance story in which the romantically involved characters couldn’t talk to each other but in story after story Jasmine Jackson created intense relationships without one word spoken by one entangled character to the other. This was made a bit easier by having the laundromat tell the stories, the laundromat being sentient and all. And who better to tell stories than a being containing so many people with so many stories flowing through it every day. The laundromat dove in into their minds and bodies and found stories everywhere. You just had to accept that a building could do the talking.

Jasmine Jackson rolled the tip of the cigar over her lips as she started the day’s writing with an erection.

***

Thirty pages.

Not bad, Jasmine. Thirty pages in one day. You keep getting more and more prolific.

He packed Jasmine’s clothing into its brass box and took it through the hall to the bedroom.

Thirty pages. This one’s going to be out in record time.

The bedroom, like the rest of the flat, was high-ceilinged with tall windows overlooking the park. He walked to a bare wall on the far side of the room and pressed his right thumb into it. A section slid open to reveal a large walk-in closet lined with clothing and boxes. He placed the box with Jasmine’s clothing on top of a stack of other boxes and reached for a blue housecoat from one of the hangers. He threw on the housecoat and opened a drawer in one of the dressers lining the closed wall opposite the hangers, pulled out a pair of boxer shorts and put them on. Goodnight feminine me, nice writing, and hello masculine me. Back in the bedroom, he glanced around. It didn’t seem strange to him that the only furniture was a king size bed and a bedside table with a lamp. He figured his real world should be sparse so as not to encroach on his fictional world, which he liked to think was more real than everything else because it was the world of his own creation.

It was time to make supper, read his emails and rub elbows in cyberspace.

***

Street lights poured copper light through the windows. Candlelight flickered from the candles on the computer desk and on the coffee and side tables in the living room. Jacques’ face glowed eerily blue from the laptop. The writing was more important than the fans, but still, he loved reading emails from his fans. To them, he was this mysterious beautiful woman named Jasmine who wrote romance stories set in laundromats. They didn’t know where she lived or what she looked like. They had questions for her that she left unanswered, responding to their emails with simple notes.

Arial 5

Well, Coral, next time you go to the laundromat, take a notebook and pen like I do night after night, day after day, listening to the sounds of machines, the gushing of water filling the machines, the clicking of buttons and zippers in the dryers, the smell of bleach in the air, bulletin boards with their desperate messages and the thickness of the air. And by the way, Coral, I’m not famous and I’m not rich. I’m a writer. This is what he thought.This is what he wrote:

Arial 6

It wasn’t that he felt any sort of disregard for his readers. He set his stories in laundromats because that epitomized the core of his readers’ desperation—the hum of the machines, the sorting of clothing, the screaming kids—this was the stuff that defined them and he felt that by elevating the laundromat he might elevate their lives a little. Which meant he had to keep his identify secret—cigar sucking man in red dress wouldn’t cut it. He also noticed that most of his readers were single mothers and Jacques was sure that Jasmine’s books were the closet any of them ever came to romance.

Arial 7

Well, Judy, just stick with your next book until it’s finished instead of giving up when the writing becomes work.

Nothing annoyed him more than people who thought there was a magic piece of advice or a simple trick that would turn their daydreams into a national best-seller. Maybe it was because that was how he felt a long time ago until he just sat down and suffered through the work.

Well, Judy…

Arial 8

Um, no. Maybe when you have thousands of obsessive fans.

Arial 9

She’ll be reading this a thousand times and tell all her friends that she and Jasmine Jackson are fellow writers. My good deed for the day. I need a beer.

Mysteriously, there was always a six pack of Bud in the refrigerator.

(Would you like to write a laundromance? Click here for the rules.)

 

 

 

Episode 4: Wednesday – Jax

Episode 4

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Ratlas. That was its name, the lowest and the highest in its host of forms and meanings. It spoke from wherever it was and Jax listened. The specific words were incomprehensible, possibly even be labeled babble by some, but not to Jax. There was meaning for him in the rhythm of sounds, like a cacophony of disjoint music swinging and swaying through his mind, working its way into his body and soul. There were messages in the disarray of sound, messages of hope and despair—whatever was on Ratlas’ mind today. Each day. Day after day. “All will flush away,” it said.

Beautiful.

“I am the message on your answering machine that burns through the recording time before the meaning is clear.” This was the message he deciphered in the babble of sound.

Wonderful.

“You are my portal into the ears and eyes of humanity.”

Yes…I am.

“You must get my word out before it’s too late. You are the only one who can hear me, the only one who can save my message so that I can save you and the rest of the world.”

I’m going to be saved. We’re all going to be saved.

“You are my prophet.”

I am.

“You are hungry now. Go and eat. Think about my words. Carry my message to all those who are ready to listen. You know what you have to do. Eat now. Relax. And then to work.”

Eat. Relax. Work.

Jax rose slowly from his swivel chair, moving with the fluid certainty of a man with a purpose, a man with a message to spread and a world to save. His apartment was large but the walls were bare and the furniture sparse, a carryover from his childhood. He hadn’t come to the city to live life, he’d come to save life.He couldn’t remember the first time he’d contacted Ratlas. Or was it Ratlas who’d contacted him? It didn’t matter. He was the conduit between the message and the world and he wasn’t about to fail in his calling. He took a frozen turkey dinner from the freezer, turned on the oven and put the dinner in before the oven had a chance to pre-heat. While the dinner was cooking, he undressed and went into the washroom for his daily healing shower.

He needed the healing. So much of his life was a mystery to him. The context of his life, the orderliness of it. He often wondered about the way he lived. He knew that it wasn’t like others, not that he knew much of others and how they lived. He knew these things through the internet, through video sites, his readings, the news sites, the blogs and websites. One thing he was sure of was that the world was a mess, that all of humanity was coming undone and needed to be saved. And he’d known all his life that he would play an important role in saving humanity from itself. It was what he was born for. It was why Ratlas wanted him to carry the message.

He would eat, relax and work.

We’re all going to be saved.

***

As usual, the comments box on his blog, The Word In Its Forms and Meanings, was empty. He knew people were reading it. Ratlas had told him so. But they never reacted to his posts, not once, ever. Maybe Ratlas’ message was so powerful that his readers were cowed by his words and didn’t know how to respond. This is what he told himself and he believed it. He was the one spreading Ratlas’ word, saving humanity, making the world a better place to live and it was time to spread today’s message. He put his fingers on the keyboard, closed his eyes, blanked out his mind and, as he liked to put it, blogged from the soul.

DID YOU USE A PLASTIC BAG TODAY AND IF YOU DID SHAME ON YOU FOR USING A PLASTIC BAG IN A WORLD WHERE PLASTIC IS DESPOILING THE LAND THE AIR AND THE WATER IF FACT GARGANTUAN TRACTS OF OCEAN WATER ARE SO POLLUTED WITH PLASTIC THAT IT SPREADS FROM THE SURFACE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE OCEAN WTH PLASTIC SO THICK THAT IT CLOGS THE GILLS OF FISH BLOCKS SUNLIGHT TO THE LIFE THAT ONCE LIVED AT THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA AND IS DYING A SLOW DEATH IN THE ABSENCE OF THE LIFE-GIVING SUN AS GARGANTUAN MOUNTAINS OF USED PLASTIC PRODUCTS CONTINUE TO PILE UP OUTSIDE THE CITIES OF THE WORLD WHERE THEY POISON THE HINTERLANDS ONCE RICH IN IDYLLIC STREAMS TEEMING WITH TROUT AND SALMON BUT NOW SURROUNDED AND CHOCKED BY LANDFILLS BURSTING WITH PLASTIC DISINTEGRATING INTO ITS CHEMICAL MAKEUP AND THE CHEMICALS LEECHING INTO THE GROUND AND THE GROUNDWATER AND SPREADING INTO MAJOR WATERWAYS AND LAKES AND EVENTUALLY INTO THE SEAS AND THE OCEANS WHERE THEY CHANGE THE CHEMICAL COMPOSITION OF THE WATER WHICH EVAPORATES INTO THE AIR AND CHANGES THE CHEMICAL COMPOSITION OF THE AIR THAT WE BREATHE AND EVENTUALLY CHANGES OUR VERY OWN CHEMICAL COMPOSITION AND IT’S NO WONDER THAT CONDITIONS LIKE AUTISM AND ADD PLAGUE OUR OFFSPRING WITH CHEMICAL COMPOSITIONS CHANGING OUR VERY MOLECULAR STRUCTURE AND TURNING US INTO THE CHILDREN OF TOMORROW THE BROKEN DOWN GENETICALLY DISINHERITED MUTANTS WE’RE EVOVLVING INTO UNLESS WE STOP USING PLASTIC!

WE NEED TO STOP USING PLASTIC AND IF YOU USED A PLASTIC BAG TODAY THEN SHAME ON YOU AND LET’S HOPE YOU CAN DO BETTER TOMORROW AND IT SENDS THIS MESSAGE OUT TO YOU FROM THE LOWEST AND THE HIGHEST IN ITS HOST OF FORMS AND MEANINGS.

STOP PLASTIC!!!!!!!!

He loved posting all caps. So appropriate for spreading Ratlas’ word. It was the face force and power, something that would strike the eyes of his readers and bleed into their essence. He imagined the looks of horror, the outrage, the fear, the disgust and, in those rare moments when Ratlas offered hope, the relief and the wonder.

Who could comment from that elevated plane of sudden realization?

He opened his email and there it was, a response from the online learning guy.

Arial 4

“First thing I have to get straightened out, Mr. Gabriel…Ratlas isn’t a god. This has nothing to do with religion no matter how mystical Ratlas is.” Jax often talked out loud, as though someone or something could hear him. Maybe Ratlas.

But he’s wrong about the approach, he thought. What it offers is lessons on how to live that we might survive.

He’d already checked out the pricing and production process on his website.

How does he think I found out about him?

But Jax was excited. He needed to carry the message to the world and no matter how successful his blog was, an educational site produced by an expert in education would be perfect. He could advertise it on his blog and create links from the learning site to important pages on his blog. It was the best of all possible worlds and Jax was beginning to feel a little exuberant.

He would truly be the portal into the ears and eyes of humanity. He settled into the long task of describing what exactly he wanted from Jackson Gabriel.

 

Episode 3: Tuesday – Jackson

Episode 3

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Mrs. Gilbert had that look of someone who blended in well with the washing cycles of life. No doubt, she was worn, but worn well—and though the color had faded, the vibrance under the surface of her life was ageless. Jackson figured she was in her late 60s, maybe early 70s. She was tall and blocky with dark stringy hair—and wrinkles. Jackson had never seen anyone as wrinkled as Mrs. Gilbert. Her face was a landscape of valleys and promontories and it was sometimes difficult to say where her mouth began and where it stopped until she moved her lips to speak. Her nose was wrinkled. Her ear lobes were wrinkled. Her arms and legs were wrinkled. But stripped down to just her eyes, she could have been twenty. They sparkled.

Jackson had never seen her go outside. Like him, she had everything delivered to her door. It made him wonder where the sparkle came from.

“I had Mr. Joyce come in and take a look at that faucet,” she said with a warm voice that sometimes cracked when she talked for more than a few minutes. At first he thought she might be a smoker but she never had that smell that smokers had. He guessed that maybe it was allergies or just something she did after a few minutes of talking.

“I noticed, Mrs. Gilbert. Could you thank him for me. I must have been shopping when he came” Jackson, like Mrs. Gilbert, was tall but slim with a runner’s build though he didn’t run. His jaw jutted out just enough to suggest someone in charge of his life.

“I know how those little sounds, like leaky faucets, bother you, Jackson” Mrs. Gilbert knew of Jackson’s need for complete silence when he worked. She’d said once that he was so unlike the others and he’d wondered what the other tenants must be like. He’d never heard any of them, day or night and he only knew of them through Mrs. Gilbert. She was right about the noise thing though. One time he’d lost an entire day’s work because the sound of squirrels scampering in the eves had magnified to thunderclaps as the day wore into evening and made Jackson physically ill before the evening was over. The next day the squirrels were gone and Jackson couldn’t even recall anything being done about them.

“Well, I should get lots of work done today.” He smiled and nodded as he closed the door and he felt just the slightest presence of his mother. She’d died when he was a child but he had no lack of mothering from Mrs. Gilbert.

He had an uncle named Manzer—Uncle Manzer, his mother’s closest friend and someone he’d known since he was a kid but these days he might see him two or three times a year, when there were decisions to be made about his mother’s estate. Manzer took care of those things.

He walked across a room with high ceilings and windows, and pulled the curtains open. The park across the street teemed with runners, mothers with strollers filled with plump babies and retired baby boomers sitting on benches watching life pass by while they talked about lives that had long since faded in their memories and taking on new dimensions as names were forgotten and details changed over time, the way myths and legends evolve.

Those people, the boomers, were his demographic, his clients. Well, maybe not the ones sitting on the bench outside, but others…the ones who’d garnered knowledge and experience through lifetimes dedicated to the work ethic and being the perfect team players. Their brains were gold; their memories, chunks of rough diamonds.

Jackson was their cutter and polisher. His tools were an uncanny ability to extract information and present even the most esoteric concepts simply and clearly. He was the man behind Expert Life, that company everyone had read about in Forbes and Modern Business Innovation. Well, he liked to think that everyone had read about his company but his real thrill was when he nailed it. In the words from his website:

Arial 1

Given the generous pensions of the ones who were gold, Jackson was doing well, and it was the perfect gig for someone with his problem. He worked from home and he hired artists, programmers and web developers through online employment sites. He never had to go outside unless it was absolutely necessary—a sweet situation when you had a pathological fear of people. Put him on a busy city sidewalk and he would fold in on himself so completely he wouldn’t be able to function, he would barely be able to breathe. He’d fainted once, right on the sidewalk, in front of everyone, all those people. He’d needed five stitches to close the gap in the side of his head and he’d stained his favorite blue shirt. Mrs. Gilbert had nearly had a fit.

He never met in person with his clients or contractors. He did business through video messaging or email. Even so, he respected them—they still had things to say and contribute and they weren’t ready to sit on park benches or alone in their homes watching TV and waiting to die. Their years as senior managers were making more money for some of them than they’d made while they were working.

And the work wasn’t without its entertaining moments.

Roy Pickering and Jody Blake had worked at the same company for thirty-five years, starting at the same time and retiring at the same time. They’d been directors of different departments but they worked on the same floor and there were stories that you could feel the hatred they had for each other creeping in the halls between their offices. The hatred started when Jody found out that Roy was having an affair with his wife and it compounded a  hundred fold when she left him to marry Roy. After that, work was daily war between them. They stole each other’s best staff, they tried to get each other fired and for thirty-five years, they never once spoke to each other. Now they were retired, they still weren’t talking…and they were both clients of Jackson’s.

Both had just released courses on conflict resolution in the workplace and the fight was on in the forums. Just for the hell of it, he logged into BetterThanCollege: Self-Training for the Time Besieged, one of the forums that still tolerated the two. Right off, the first posting was from Roy.

Arial 2

But they paid their invoices on time and they trusted Jackson to keep their projects separate and never discuss one’s work with the other. Jackson was the best at what he did and they both knew it.

He opened his email and saw what looked to be something from a potential new client. The subject line read: Need course to save the world. Hope he doesn’t want me to come up with the reference material for that, he thought.

Arial 3

I believe I’ll be demanding payment in advance if I decide to take this one on.

Episode 1 – Surprise

Episode 1

Death loves an expensive cigar.

But there were so many to choose from—a maze of flavors, sizes, and brands, some in glass tubes, metal tubes, plastic wrap, cedar boxes, plastic boxes and metal containers. She would have felt confusion if she had been able to feel more than just the passing of one pointless moment into the next. 

Just get the most expensive one.

The woman with the streaky gray hair was patient but Natalie was beyond caring how anyone treated her. There was a time when for no reason she would have been condescending to this woman who looked so matronly dignified with her grandmother looks, the gold chain dangling from her glasses, the neat black sweater over white blouse—professional looking in a grandmotherly way but working in a tobacco shop attached to a supermarket. There was a time when she would have pointed that out, rubbed it in with snide remarks. But not now, not anymore.

“What’s the most expensive one you have?” Voice flat, uncaring. The woman nodded, opened the lid on a wooden box and gently lifted out a chocolate brown shape that reminded Natalie of a penis from a long-ago lover whose face she couldn’t remember.

“It’s a Cohiba Robusto. Cuban. The most expensive we have.” There was reverence in the woman’s voice. For a cigar. But it was the most expensive. It could have been a thousand dollars. She had plenty of room on her card.

It was $170.

She had a hundred and seventy dollar cigar. Now for the wine.

***

How simple the world becomes when you’re no longer a part of its color and noise with no roller-coasting between joy and pain. Decisions become easier because they don’t matter, decisions like selecting the wine for this special occasion.

Simple. The most expensive.

Forget labels with dates and wineries and logos. Forget Chardonnay, Merlot, Shiraz and all that crap. Forget red, white, rose, sparkling or dry. Forget body and aroma.

Go for the most expensive.

$49.99

Some bald asshole in a black turtleneck eyeballed her as he leaned against a kayak propped up in a display pushing a new line of wines called Nature Hound. There was a time when she would have been mildly offended by a wine called Nature Hound and perhaps slightly more offended by the crass commercialism of the brightly lit display in a wine store with subdued lighting, teak and rosewood walls, tasteful art and muted music. But not today, not anymore.

$52.79

Today, not even the asshole by the kayak with the cocky eye slant could offend Natalie. She was beyond that, long and far beyond. But he did look a little like Roger, the shape of his skull. Poor Roger.

 $79.98

By the time she’d met Roger she’d been so far gone she’d long forgotten what it was to feel anything. Like his cock inside her. And his weight bearing down on her body. Things like passion and excitement, joy and exuberance. Pain.

$137.99

It had all seemed so mundane, acted out to a boring script. So boring that she hadn’t even tried to fake an orgasm―just lay under him like a plastic doll with an artificial vagina. Not that he’d noticed. None of them ever noticed noticed. Why would they? Maybe they’d been looking for a plastic doll, a place to release their sperm where it had no consequence or meaning.

$419.77

She couldn’t remember their names. Except Roger’s. He’d been the last. After him she’d stopped having sex, about a month ago. She went for long walks, day and night, but not because she enjoyed walking. She just walked. She stood outside store windows gazing in and seeing nothing. She went to movies and stared at screens that might well have been blank. She drifted in and out of bars, floated through clothing stores and past perfume counters. Nothing caught her attention. Nothing interested her.

$6,106.29.

A 2009 Petrus. From Bordeau, France. Six thousand bucks. She bought it.

Now for the hardware.

***

The smell of oil-soaked burlap and machinery with a vague undertow of saw-burned lumber lapped at her nostrils. She faced a botched attempt at re-creating the outdoors through volume and wide walkways that were more like dark alleys leading off from the domed atrium at the store’s entrance. She barely noticed the screech of a deck saw aisles away under a dizzying high ceiling with shelves stretching into heights beyond reach and casting shadows on the concrete floor and dark shapes in the empty spaces of out-of-stock goods, and everywhere a sense of the subterranean, of life in the catacombs and caves of home improvement. The balding man with the round head and frog eyes was trying to impress her with his practical manly knowledge.

“Nope…” All authority and conviction, holding the yellow rope in his hands like it was a living thing, a rare and exotic snake, holding it like a gift. “…not the kind of rope you’d want to bungie jump with. Would be like falling on a steel cable. It’s…”

“I’ll take twenty feet.”

More than enough.

***

She remembered her father’s expensive cigars and her mother’s hatred of them: “All my dresses, my evening gowns for God’s sake, smell like your goddamn cigars!” The whole house smelled of cigar, even the guest rooms. It was the scent of Natalie’s childhood. Wisps of cigar smoke drifted through the room like velvet clouds. Not a bad cigar, but the wine wasn’t all that great for six thousand bucks a bottle. On the other hand, nothing had the full body of life for her anymore—that bouquet of interest in the next moment. But the wine had given her a decent buzz, enough to finish this. Just finish it. She reached over her head and tugged the rope. Taut. Strong. No give. 

Wouldn’t want to bungie jump with this.

It was clear to her now why she’d bought this condo, the room, with its wooden beams in the ceiling, strong enough with the steel eye hook to hold her weight.

No note. Why bother? Who’d read it?

None of the men she’d fucked would read it. Not even the women she’d fucked and definitely not her parents if they had still been alive. If she’d had a sense of humor she would have cracked a smile when she thought about how she’d buried them in separate graveyards so they couldn’t argue in death. She had their money and their house with five guest rooms that had never been used. She’d sold it.

For her it was nothing more than an echo chamber of her parents’ endless arguments and the smell of cigar smoke permeating her and her mother’s lives . Outside, the two acres of manicured lawns were seen by few others than the grounds keepers. She wasn’t surprised when she couldn’t remember the address when she sold the house. 

Her parents were gone. The house was gone. Any shred of life she’d ever had in her was gone. She was ice with blood vessels.

It was time. 

She steadied herself on the stool. She found it interesting that she wasn’t nervous or fearful. Her body was still and her mind was calm. She might have been in a meditation class. She’d tried that years ago but she’d been more interested in the instructor than learning how to meditate. It didn’t occur to her to look up at some deity that might save her or welcome her after the plunge away from her life, but this wasn’t something she’d ever think about. The only thing that caught her attention now as a churning feeling in her stomach. She tried to ignore it but the movement of things in her stomach was getting loud with strange digestive noises. 

And now it was more than noise. 

She was going to vomit.

Of all times: standing on a ladder, noose around her neck, thinking her last pointless thoughts, and she was going to throw up. The warning taste moved up into her esophagus, into her mouth—bile, acid, the shitty wine. No…she wasn’t going to die with a mouth full of puke. No…not that way. She lifted the rope from around her neck, stepped carefully down the metal ladder, walked unsteadily to the bathroom and fell to her knees over the toilet. It started instantly and violently and it was accompanied by a feeling she’d never known before, a warm feeling, a feeling. Something was growing inside her. She thought: This is a surprise.

(Sorry for the weird beginning, but this will make sense later int the novel. Tomorrow, we meet Jack, a man so paranoid that he keeps the woman he loves out of his life because he thinks she’s working for Them.)

How Do You Read a Coffee Break Novel?

read novel

You would think I would have the decency and the brains to limit the world’s first daily serialized coffee break novel to five days a week…those weekdays traditionally recognized as work days in the 1950s image of the perfect world where everybody clocked in at 9 in the morning and stumbled out at 5 PM. But I have neither.

And I don’t really feel bad about it. Not everyone works in an office. Not everyone has coffee breaks. Not everyone drinks coffee. And since this is a world’s first, not everyone knows how to read it. There will be chaos and war sprouting out of arguments over how to read a coffee break novel if you don’t have a coffee break. Families will purge members who drink tea on their coffee breaks. I’ve already received disguised death threats from football fans expressing their outrage that The Weekly Man will be published not just weekdays…but Saturday and Sunday as well…even though I had no say in that. You can thank the novel’s characters for that piece of insanity.

I’ve thought deeply about this and I’ve come up with some options.

You can read The Weekly Man five days a week on your morning or afternoon coffee break…and you can come in to work for a few minutes on Saturday and Sunday to read it. I foresee objections to this option and offer the following alternatives:

  • Stay home on the weekends and read three days’ worth of episodes on Monday.
  • Have your weekend coffee breaks at home in a room simulated to look like your work space.
  • Don’t bother reading those episodes, which will very likely increase the novel’s mystery aspect.

Personally, none of these options appeal to me, but then, I’m bald and have an unruly beard that I try to conceal from the public.

Now, let’s suppose you don’t have coffee breaks, don’t drink coffee, don’t work because you’re a 105 year old hippie like me, don’t have time on your 3 minute coffee break or…don’t whatever. I have a page, a hidden page that doesn’t appear on my website’s navigation bar because it’s a secret page. It has all the episodes, every single one of them listed for the whole two and a half months of its serialization.

One problem though.

Each episode will be posted on its scheduled date…not all at once. But you can still put aside some time and read say, a week’s worth or a few days’ worth. And you don’t even have to drink coffee while you’re reading. You can drink beer. Or tea. Click here for the secret page…but don’t tell anyone else. This is just for you.

Come to think of it, reading a weeks’ worth of episodes each Saturday would be more like the original serialized novels from writers like Dickens a thousand years before they had coffee breaks.

Using this secret link will allow you to read the whole novel after all the episodes have been published. But keep in mind…that would require a lot of clicking because each episode requires you to click to open it. You’ll get Click Thumb and Fingers and your hand will fall off.

Here’s another option that just occurred to me: Read the episodes at night while you drink coffee on a break from your evening activities. How cool would that be? You’re watching a movie with friends and suddenly stand up and announce, “I think I’ll have a coffee break now and read The Weekly Man.” You’ll be envied as the loneliest person on the block. I know this from experience.

I guess it boils down to this: Read it however you want. I’ve put together a few options to give you some choice and that choice is yours.

You can read The Weekly Man on its own blog here. https://www.theweeklyman.com. If you’re reading on a cell phone or tablet, read it at the secret place mentioned above. And check out the welcome page at https://biffmitchell.com/the-weekly-man for more options and lots of freebies for readers and writers.

 

Sometimes you have to cry before you laugh

Cry before laugh

Sometimes you have to cry before you laugh…or just do something that’s not anywhere near laughing…like being confounded, grossed out or puzzled. The Weekly Man is a mystery of sorts. In terms of genres, it would fall loosely into speculative/magical realism/humor/social commentary/not always so humorous. Something along those lines.

The first episode is not humorous. My apologies. It’s kind of serious, kind of gross, kind of foul-mouthed and kind of hopeful. You won’t like the main character…for now. However, if you don’t like serious/gross/foul-mouthed/hopeful, you can just skip it. It’s being published on a Sunday anyway, and my friends tell me they’d rather stay home and watch football than go into work so that they can have a coffee break and read the first episode of The Weekly Man.

Oh well.

But honestly, the first episode won’t make any sense until almost halfway through the novel anyway; however, it sets a tone that’s important coming into the story because, sometimes, it’s necessary to erect humor on a solid foundation of muck.

Dark muck.

There’s something deeply wrong with humans (that would be you and me), but I won’t get into that now. I will later…well into the story when, hopefully, you’ll see something intrinsically wrong with the way the lives of the characters unfold. It’s something we do all the time and it’s probably going to kill us eventually and that’s why the story starts on a down note.

There will be humor, but you won’t be slapping your knees or choking on coffee. It’ll be quiet and bothersome. And it’ll go well with your morning coffee.

Check out the new landing page with options for reading the novel and some interesting free stuff.

Media Release: Coming This Sunday: The World’s First Free Daily Serialized Coffee Break Novel

Landing Image

(Fredericton, Sept 4, 2019, For Immediate Release)

The serialized novel is about to enter a new chapter with the release of The Weekly Man, the world’s first free daily serialized coffee break novel, on September 8 this year.

“Dickens started this in the 1800s with The Pickwick Papers,” said author Biff Mitchell. “I’m paring the concept with the modern coffee break.”

The Weekly Man will be published episode by episode every day starting September 8 and continue until mid-November of this year.

“Each episode is short enough to fit into a coffee break,” said Mr. Mitchell. “The novel is mostly humorous and I’m hoping it will give people a morning smile, or even a laugh.”

The novel follows the lives of seven people who have sensed since childhood that something mysterious lurks under their daily lives. Their lives are changed forever when they make a stunning discovery.

“I can’t give too much information about the novel at the moment,” said Mr. Mitchell. “It has a few surprises and I don’t want to give them away. There’s a legitimate reason why the novel needs to run on the weekends as well as weekdays, but that’s a surprise as well.”

According to Mr. Mitchell, The Weekly Man explores a number of contemporary issues, especially our insane ability to ignore what’s happening in the real world and build our own realities no matter how wrong we know they are.

“We do this with climate change,” said Mr. Mitchell, “every time we buy a bottle of water in a plastic container. We do it when we eat fast foods, knowing they’re killing us, but we shrug it off and supersize.”

Mr. Mitchell has had several novels published through Double Dragon Publishing, but says, “Of all the things I’ve written this was the most difficult and the most compelling.”

The Weekly Man will be released September 8 at www.theweeklyman.com. You don’t have to sign up for anything. No requests will be made for email addresses. Just go to the site and read. A smartphone version will be available at https://biffmitchell.com/the-weekly-man. For more about Biff Mitchell, visit www.biffmitchell.com.

 

The World’s First Free Daily Serialized Coffee Break Novel has a Landing Page

Weekly Landing Page

I remember back in my days as a marketing manager and the first time I wasted thousands of dollars on a Google ad campaign by sending people to the company’s home page instead of the specific thing featured in the ad. For instance, advertise a special sale price on a brand of shoes and show the potential customer a home page with the sale they want buried in ads for clothing, furniture and a hundred other things.

Nothing drives a customer away faster than being pissed off at you for wasting their time and the only way to avoid this is to have a landing page…a page devoted to the advertisement that drew the web surfer. He or she is interested in the sale on shoes, not the availability of designer scarves and lawn chairs. The landing page takes them directly to it.

Wish I’d known that before I wasted all that money. But I know it now and, even though The Weekly Man is free, it occurred to me that a landing page just might be useful, especially for anyone picking it up after the story has begun.

The Weekly Man now  has a landing page with links to the cell phone version (not active, considering it’s not September 8 yet), a link where readers can start with the first episode an on to the current one (instead of having to scroll to the end of a blog to read the episode from bottom to top, something that becomes painfully arduous after the first month), links to handy documents like the character guide and a few freebies, including photo albums from one of the characters.

Right off the bat it asks the question that the reades is asking, “What the hell is this?” and then it gets into the answers. It also has free short stories that prove I can construct a sentence and line it up logically with other sentences to produce a story. (One of the characters in The Weekly Man writes with his eyes closed. I don’t do that. Anymore.) There are also some freebies for readers who would like to try their hand at writing.

With a little over a week until I post the first episode, things are starting to come together. I’m nervous as hell, knowing that this isn’t going to be easy…making sure that each episode is posted before midnight every day for two and a half months, but I did this for a month with my photography and I didn’t go crazy, die, fling myself off a bridge, jump in front of cars in the full moon light, start smoking, hide under my bed till the crying stopped or drink myself into a stupor. (Well, maybe I did drink myself into a stupor…but I won’t do that his time.)

You can see the landing page in all its grandeur right here.

Of Sequels and Serials: The Serialized Novel Is Back (Or Was It Ever Gone?)

Starting

When you think of a novel, you think of a thick book, bound tightly, surrounded by an attention-grabbing cover, a sparkling spine…and bursting with meaningful ink. You picture hundreds, no, thousands of book spines displayed in perfect rows along miles of shelves in libraries and bookstores. You see gold leaf titles embossed on red and green leather stretching into imaginary libraries of the gods. This is the world of books: volumes, editions, series, bestsellers, paperback, hardback, pocketbook, coffee table book…these are entities that you can pick up and thumb through, read at your leisure and use as paperweights when you’re finished with them.

But not all books started off as potential paperweights. Some of the best novels started off a chapter at a time in magazines and newspaper supplements. You had to wait a week or more to read the next chapter.

No one seems to be sure exactly when this started, but most fingers point to Dickens, who published The Pickwick Papers in 19 installments between 1836 and 1837. It wasn’t his best novel, and some critics point to its serialization as the reason for its rambling unfocused nature, but he did much better in 1860 with his serialization of Great Expectations.

So, what is a serial novel? Wikipedia defines it as “In literature, a serial is a printing format by which a single larger work, often a work of narrative fiction, is published in smaller, sequential installments. The installments are also known as numbers, parts or fascicles, and may be released either as separate publications or within sequential issues of a periodical publication, such as a magazine or newspaper.”

Whew!

My definition of a serialized novel: “I’m going to publish one episode of The Weekly Man every day for two and a half months or until I go crazy.”

So much for my definition.

But let’s look at other novels that tiptoed into the literary world a ‘fascicle’ at a time: Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Madame Bovary, A Tale of Two Cities, Crime and Punishment, Treasure Island, The War of the Worlds, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Phantom of the Opera, Ulysses, The Secret Garden, A Farewell to Arms, In Cold Blood and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

There’s something about being involved in an ongoing activity that attracts us: the weekly poker game, the weekly date night, the daily horoscope…how many TV series can you count on your fingers and toes? Here’s a hint: A lot more that you have fingers and toes! And more on the way. It’s not enough to give us a one to two hour movie anymore; it has to be a series of ten or more episodes culminating with a victory by the good guys and followed up by another series next season after it’s learned that the good guys weren’t really victorious because…look…the problem’s back for another season.

When you think of it…baseball, hockey, basketball…these are all serialized episodes in a team-writing story of victory and loss culminating in a grand finale called the championship game.

We’re very much a serial society. If something pleases or interests us, we want more of it. It’s not enough to go back and re-read a book or re-watch a movie or sports event; we want more. This explains all those bad sequels to movies that weren’t all that great to begin with. How many sequels did Dumb and Dumber really merit? It boils down to the “want more of this” urge that proliferates in a world where everybody milks the moment to squeeze out a little more.

But with the serialized novel, we’re talking about one story spread over equal intervals leading to one inexorable ending, not the kind of story “add-on” that comes with sequels.

Unless, of course, the serialized novel has a sequel.

Hmm.

Come to think of it…a sequel to The Weekly Man. It would be the world’s second free daily serialized coffee break novel.

The Weekly Man – What Is the Coffee Break Novel?

CoffeeNovel

Everyone needs a coffee break. It’s that period of time during the workday when you say to yourself, “If I don’t have a coffee right now, this minute, I’m going to kill somebody.” Not that you particularly want to harm anyone (unless, of course, telemarketers have your work number) but, you know, it might be Monday. It might even be Monday morning. On the other hand, it might not be a weekday. It might be Saturday or Sunday and you’re sitting on the beach under a beautiful blue sky thinking, “Damn, I’m missing my coffee break. Why don’t beaches have coffee?” I do this all the time and I’m sure you do as well.

So, now that we’re thoroughly covered the topic of coffee breaks and their contribution to a healthy (and alive) workforce and their absence from beaches, let’s talk about coffee break activities. Some people read newspapers because they hate trees and want to see every tree in the world turned into a newspaper with stories about the shocking conspiracy to deforest the planet by sending the rain forests off to the printers. Some people like to talk to their co-workers about what they watched on TV the night before. This used to be Game of Thrones episodes. Now, it’s arguments about what happened on old Game of Thrones episodes, especially the finale. Some people like to just sit and stare. I’m seeing this more often and it kind of scares me. But we won’t get into that. Some people like to transport themselves out of the workplace and into another world (not the ones staring…they’ll be doing that all day) through the medium of story.

And that brings us to the coffee break novel. I scoured the internet for over a minute and the only mention I could find was a Kijiji ad posted by me. So…I guess that leaves it up to me to make up…I mean, define the coffee break novel.

Let’s start by listing some characteristics. First, it’s intended to be read during the reader’s coffee break. This can be problematic given that some people might be missing two coffee breaks each week because their employers refuse to let them work seven days a week, forcing them to take weekend coffee breaks at home so that they don’t miss any of the story. This could actually lead to dysfunctional activities like sneaking into work on weekend mornings but I’m sure that most people will opt to create a reproduction of their workplace in their basement or spare room so as not to miss a single episode. Others might do some speed reading Monday morning.

And speaking of episodes…that’s another characteristic of the coffee break novel: It’s parceled out in episodes…each with just enough reading to get you through your morning java fix. The Weekly Man is just right for this. It’s naturally broken into episodes following the lives of seven characters, each with their own day of the week to tell their story. There is one spot where this runs awry and may require a three to four day break before plummeting head first into the dazzling conclusion but that’s a few months away and, by the time it comes, I think all two of my readers will need a short break.

The coffee break novel should be mostly light-hearted as in humorous. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be serious, heart-breaking, soul-blistering, tear-prodding, existential moments, of which there are a few in the novel, but these are introduced for the sole purpose of pacing the story like a roller-coaster. There will be no flat lining in any of my stories. I mean, even Mary Poppins had her down moments. But for the most part, it’s going to be humor and lightness of being because it’s your coffee break and you don’t need to be crying and borrowing tissues from your co-workers on your coffee break. (WARNING: The first episode of The Weekly Man is not humorous. But it has a sort of happy ending.)

There has to be a strong element of weirdness so that the novel is able to compete against the news of the day, which keeps getting weirder by the day. And besides, I’m weird and it’s my invention, so I’m calling for weirdness.

All coffee break novels should have more than one character. This makes it much easier to create things like conversations, conflict, plot, human interaction and all those other elements that might cause a story to become interesting. Plus, there has to be both male and female characters because that’s more like real life and we’re all big fans of real life, aren’t we?

Words. The coffee break novel draws on a list of easily recognizable and commonly used words with careful attention paid to correct spelling and usage. I’m seeing less and less of this in most of the world’s published content, either online or in print and I think this is something we all need to enthusiastically gossip about in all the right places…because we all know that meeting a challenge with gossip is more effective than meeting it with thoughts and prayers. Hopefully, The Weekly Man will lead us out of this barbaric mire of editorial carelessness.

Well, actually, that probably won’t happen, but as long as there are coffee breaks, there will always be a need for something to do during the coffee break…and now the world has one more thing designed specifically for that.

It’s called the coffee break novel and The Weekly Man is the first free daily serialized coffee break novel.

(Come back here September 8 for the first episode of The Weekly Man.)