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Kissing the Beehive  (Jonathan Carroll)


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  I do not like to eat alone and that is one of the reasons why I became famous. There is something both pathetic and unattractive about a person eating by themselves in public. Better to stay at home drinking orange soup from a can with a handful of dry white crackers in front of the TV, than be seen sitting by yourself waiting for that forlorn single meal to be served.

I was having lunch with my agent, Patricia Chase, when I made this observation. Patricia is a big beautiful woman with balls of titanium. She looked at me as she has so often over the twenty years we've known each other--her unique mixture of amusement, exasperation and scowl.

"Where do you come up with these ideas, Sam? There's nothing nicer than having a meal by yourself! You bring along a book or your favorite magazine, you don't have to talk or be the life of the party, you eat at your own speed.... I love eating by myself."

I ignored her. "On the other hand, the greatest thing in life is having dinner in a restaurant with a new woman. You order, and then you really get to talk with her for the first time. Everything till then has just been chatter. There's something magical about sitting with that new being in your life in a nice restaurant...."

She smiled and took a roll from the basket. "Well, my boy, you've had your share of meals with new women over the years. What's the latest report on Irene?"

"She calls and taunts me with the fact she's hired one of the best divorce lawyers in the city. Then she cackles when she says how much she s going to ask for in cows."

"But you had that pre-nuptial agreement thing."

"Those sound good when you're getting married, but somehow they go up in smoke when you're getting divorced."

"Irene was your third wife. My God, that's a lot."

"Just because you're mad at the fleas, doesn't mean you burn the blanket. Whoever said optimism was a good thing?"

"Seems to me that with all the money you're paying the other two, you should take Irene as strike three and just have girlfriends from now on. And speaking of money, what s up with your new novel?"

I cleared my throat because I didn't want the next sentence to come out either a peep or a squeak. "Nothing, Patricia. Zilch. The cupboard is bare. I'm word dead."

"This is not good news. Parma called and asked what was going on with you. He's used to chatting. He thinks you're hiding from him."

"I am. Besides, Parma's spoiled. I gave him five books in eight years and made him a lot of money. What else does he want from me?"

She shook her head. "It doesn't work like that. He gave you a big advance for the new book and has a right to know what's going on. Look at it from his side."

"I can't. I have enough to look at in my own life. Everything in the book is goo. All the characters are stuck in suspended animation and the story is going nowhere."

"The synopsis looked good."

I shrugged. "It's easy writing a synopsis. Ten pages of snap, crackle and pop."

"So what are you going to do?"

"Maybe I should get married again. Take my mind off things a while."

She sat back and had a good laugh. It was nice to see because I hadn't made anyone laugh for a long time. Especially myself.

The rest of the meal was a wrestling match between my glum and glib sides. Patricia knew me as well as anyone and could tell when I was faking it. I assumed her conversation with my editor, Aurelio Parma, had been a bad one because I was rarely summoned for a business lunch with her. Usually we spoke on the phone once or twice a month and then had a celebratory dinner whenever I handed in a new manuscript. "How far have you gotten?"

"The man's left his wife and is with the girl."

"That was on the first page of the synopsis, Sam!"

"I know, Patricia. That's what I was just telling you."

"Well, what about...." She tapped her finger on the table.

"Forget it--I've thought through all the 'what abouts,' believe me. I started a short story but it was so dreary that even my pen threw up. I'm telling you, it's bad. It's not writer's block, it's writer's drought. My brain's Ethiopia these days."

"You're lucky it hasn't happened before. You've published nine books. That's quite a few. Sounds like you're just written out."

"Bad time for that to happen. Especially with Irene out there, sharpening her knives."

We talked about other things, but the subject of my big .silence hung over the rest of the meal like Mexico City smog. When we were finished and getting up to leave, she suggested I take a vacation.

"I hate vacations! When I was married to Michelle we went to Europe, but all I wanted to do was stay in the room and watch CNN."

"I liked Michelle."

"I did too until I married her. She thought I could be a great writer if I only tried harder. What did she think I was doing at that desk all day, making sushi?"

Patricia gave me one of her wise old owl looks. "What would you rather do, write great books or ones that sell?"

"I gave up trying to astonish people a long time ago. There's a Russian proverb: 'The truth is like a bee--it goes right for the eyes.' one of the few truths I know about myself is I write books that are entertaining, but they'll never be great. I can live with that. I'm one of the few people I know who are genuinely grateful for what they've been given. I was in an airport one day and saw three people reading my books. I can't tell you how happy that made me.

I thought the subject was finished, but Patricia said "Need makes you cry, sing or spring."

"Huh?"

"I know those Russian proverbs too, Sam. I gave you the book, Dumbbell! It's all right to be satisfied with what you're doing if you go to bed at night feeling good. But you don't anymore.

"You wrote thrillers, they were successful, you were happy. Now you can't write, you're empty and sad. Maybe it's time to try and write a great book. see what happens. Maybe it'll get you out of your rut."

There was a long pause while our eyeballs dueled.

"I can t figure out if you're a bitch or a guru for saying that."

"A bitch. A bitch who wants you to get back to work so you can feed all your ex-wives."



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Excerpted from Kissing the Beehive (forthcoming) by Jonathan Carroll. Copyright © 1997 by Jonathan Carroll. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.