Chapter Fifty-one

   ("A massive undertaking!" -- The Weekly Blurb)
   ("Ambitious in its scope!" -- Blurbweek)
   ("A great read!" -- The Daily Blurb)
   ("Almost perfect!" -- Blurbs)
   ("Could be better!" -- Blurb World)
   ("A pretty good read!" -- Blurb-o-rama)
   ("Starts slowly, then picks up steam!" -- Blurb-o-gram)
   ("Slows to a crawl, right about here, with about fifty pages to go!" -- Joseph Heller)
   ("He's right, and I don't know if I can finish. I'm tired, confused!" -- James M. Reynolds)
   ("You can do it, Jimmy Boy, he was only kidding. Don't take everything so seriously!" -- Kurt Vonnegut)
   ("Keep it moving!" -- Maureen)
   ("Don't be a Nudnik!" -- Dancing Cloud)
   ("Give a hoot, don't pollute!" -- Greg, Sonny, Ben, and Farley)
   ("I'm speaking again, and you said I wouldn't!" -- Waitress at luncheonette around corner from courthouse)
   ("Drop dead!" -- Vinnie)
   ("The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, Jimmy Boy!" -- Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth President of the U.S.)
   ("Get to the point and tell us a story, a coherent, entertaining story with a linear plot, and characters, a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, or else!" -- Assorted readers)
   (Editor's Note: The votes are in Mr. Reynolds. It's time for you to make up your mind. Choose one:

          a. Complete, then deliver to us, a coherent, readable work of fiction.
          b. Continue this rambling, crazy-quilt narrative, doling out small, insignificant bits of
               information about yourself in a painfully slow process that tests the patience of everyone
          c. None of the above.
          d. Have you seen my son around? If he's sleeping on the job, I'll...
          e. All of the above.)

   So this is where I am, Maureen, this is where I am. You too. We're both here. We're both here now. Which reminds me, have you ever heard of The Book of the Book?
   "No, what is it?"
   It's the ancient holy book of the Sufis, the whirling dervishes of the desert. It is said that this book, The Book of the Book, contains all the great wisdom and knowledge learned by the Sufis. It's a big book, about five hundred pages long, and almost all of them are blank.
   Blank -- except for a short story about a King, a King who has heard about a book, a book called The Book of the Book, and he desperately wants The Book of the Book because he's heard that it contains all the collected wisdom acquired by the Sufis. But then, when the King finally does get the coveted book, he's terribly disappointed -- the book is five hundred pages -- but all of them are blank -- except for this short story about a King, a King who desperately wants this book, a book called The Book of the Book, and so on and so forth. From this comes the phrase, "You can't judge a book by its cover."
   "Is that true?"
   Well, for the most part. Even so, it's one hell of a story.
   "Unfortunately, Jim, I don't think it's addressing the immediate needs of your publisher, your editors, your readers -- your characters. This novel is becoming so self-conscious and inwardly-directed I feel like I'm intruding."
   That's just the effect I was aiming for. Hallelujah!
   "Jim, in all the confusion I forgot to tell you that you've been booked on a few talk shows."
   What? Already?
   "Yes, and the first one is coming up soon. Right now, in fact."
   "Welcome to 'Book Bag', I'm Brian Bookman, and my next guest is already a bit of a sensation in his own first novel which he's struggling to complete at this very moment. Please give a warm welcome to James M. Reynolds!"
   Thank you, thank you, Brian.
   "Sit down over there, Jim, if you would. Now, as I understand it, you're writing this book at this very moment."
   That's right, Brian. As we speak.
   I like to think so.
   "And so, the plot, everything that follows -- the next scene, the next chapter -- all that has yet to be worked out, would I be correct in saying that?"
   For the most part, yes.
   "And, is it also true that what I'm saying right now could be changed, or even eliminated, later?"
   It's true. Anything is possible -- within reason.
   "Then, tell me, Jim, and I'm sure our viewers will be interested in knowing this, just what is it that inspires you? Where do your ideas come from? What sparks that imagination of yours?"
   Oh, a variety of things, Brian. Anything from an old photograph to appearing on a cable talk show like this one. Being here now, in fact, is inspiring me to write about it.
   "Well, wouldn't it be the other way around? I mean, you're writing it at this very moment, it hasn't existed previously, me included, so -- aren't you kind of putting the cart before the horse?"
   Logic does dictate that one thing should precede another chronologically, Brian, but logic dictates a lot of stupid things, and besides, I like to think of reality as a two-way street.
   "Aha, very funny. Good line. Well, whatever, it sounds fascinating and I wish you all the luck in the world in completing it -- just don't forget us when they ask you to cut a hundred pages! Smooth sailing to you, Jim Reynolds... "
   Thank you, I --
   "My next guest is an author, a mystic, a King, a Sufi, and he's written this enigmatic book called The Book of the -- "
   I was hustled out, thrown into a limousine, driven across town, hustled into another TV studio, primped, preened, powdered, pampered, and pushed on stage.
   "Hi, I'm Harvey Black and my first guest on 'Book Blab' is Jim Reynolds, an author, and, I might add, an old friend. Have a seat, Jim. Sure, right there is good."
   You say we're old friends, but I --
   "Oh, let me expand on that. I met you earlier, but we were never formally introduced. I'm the reader who pointed out all the Freudian overtones in your novel, remember? I told you how you seemed to be fixated on a point in time, and space, and how it seemed to represent your inability to separate yourself from the womb, or your mother, or the television set. Remember?"
   Yes, I remember, but the other readers won't because I cut that section out. In fact, I dumped you along with it, so, as far as they're concerned, you're the new kid in town.
   "Oh, well, so be it. Anyway, Jim -- can I call you Jim?"
   Sure, Harvey, and I didn't mean to imply just now that you and I aren't friends, I just wanted you to understand that, to the readers at least, you're a brand new character.
   "I understand. Okay, Jim, let's get to the interview and what you're currently working on. Now, not to dwell on it, but when you make a large edit, as you did with my Freudian analysis of the book, for example -- something that must have been too provocative for you -- what goes through that mind of yours? I mean, how can you reconcile the loss of so much interesting material?"
   Well, that's quite a loaded question there, Harv, but let me answer you this way: I cut anything out of the book that I really, really like. I just don't trust myself. So, I may have liked that Freudian stuff a little too much, and that's why it had to go.
   "So, this talk show segment, right now, if it stays in -- it can't be too good or else it would be edited out, is that right?"
   That's right. But you can still be very proud of it just the same.
   "Fine, but, more importantly, what's the book about? I know you were on the Brian Bookman show and told him one thing, but I want to hear something else, something different."
   All right, here it is, in a nutshell: I am a writer, and I'm writing, and I'm confused -- something having to do with nuclear testing, or sticking my head in a Xerox, uh, copying machine, or whatever -- and I'm writing this novel, see, titled, tentatively, In the Bubble, and I'm trying to finish this damn thing and throughout the writing process I'm besieged by time shifts and reality shifts -- now I'm here, now I'm there -- and everything starts to come into question, everything is open to doubt, and no matter how hard I try I can't seem to escape this randomly-generated hell. And that's about where we are right now.
   "In a randomly-generated hell."
   Yeah. Something like that.
   "Very interesting, very interesting. Well, thanks for chatting with us on 'Book Blab', Jim Reynolds, best of luck with In the Bubble, and come back and visit us when your follow-up, One Hundred Million Bottles of Beer on the Wall, hits the stores... My next guest took the simple premise of a world gone mad and turned it into a delightful children's book... "

(This ends Chapter Fifty-one.)

Chapter Fifty-two