Short Fiction: I’m My Own Author

Ethan Goffman
I am the author of my own story. I don’t know how it happened and I don’t want it to be this way. I am in the midst of a passionate love affair that will end badly, though I haven’t yet decided how. I must write more backstory so that I can understand not only myself, but my lover, Juliet. Yes, I picked the most obvious name, however I’m not calling myself Romeo, but Morton. Morton and Juliet, almost a comic effect. How can this be a grand and tragic love story? Yet it will be that, but also, I hope, tremendously funny as my hopes and dreams are crushed. By a series of external events? By my own character flaws? By Juliet being so, so different from what she first appeared? I’m still in the process of working this out.
I’m doing all this to please my audience. And who are they? I don’t know, at least not yet. As the author of my own story, do I have the agency to bring the audience into being? Or are they pre-existing, my reason for writing? I won’t know that for a long, long time, long after Juliet and I have been hopelessly ripped apart. This must be an ongoing story, a novel or perhaps a trilogy. It will be epic. As the author, I have decided that. Or perhaps that will unfold as I write. Or it has been decided for me by some outside force, perhaps a publisher. Have I already signed a contract? That is undecided as I have not yet written backstory. Or is the publisher something outside the story itself? But how can the story exist without a publisher to bring it to an audience? An existential crisis! I’m obviously early in the writing process. I hope, believe, and pray that all will be revealed as the novel—or trilogy, quartet, or whatever—unfolds. Of course, I am deciding it all, which means that I will eventually decide how and why I was born and grew up. My origin. My back story.
What about Juliet, my one great love (at least in this first part of the ongoing story)? How will I develop her? What are the intricacies of her character? Or even her major features, her motivation? Why am I—or will I—be so consumed by her? I can make her Polish. Zalinsky. That means she’s most likely Catholic. And since I’m Morton, I’m Jewish. Morton Lipschutz. That means religion will come between us. But perhaps just in a light, comic way as I might decide that neither of us is particularly religious. Maybe I’ll make myself an atheist and Juliet a lapsed Catholic with a spiritual worldview. She might even believe in astrology, mediums and such, while I am a skeptic. This could be a source of friction between us.
My this is fun! The ability to invent details, whatever I want, to play god. Though I’m deliberately giving “god” a small “g” as I’m far from important enough to call myself God. Of course, I want the story, or novel, or series, or whatever it is, to be good, ideally great (at least I’ll aim for greatness, probably achieve mediocrity), which means that everything has to be at the service of plot and character development, to grip the reader and keep her turning pages—even if electronic ones. There’s that reader again, getting in the way. What’s the point of having godlike powers if you’re always using them to please some theoretical audience? Why do I go to so much trouble to placate these people I don’t even know (or other intelligent beings, if I want to go the sci-fi route)?
Anyway, back to Juliet. If she believes in mystical mumbo jumbo, perhaps she is also a naturalist, a vegan, a yogi, and an anti-Vaxxer. This could be what drives us apart, particularly as the story proceeds? Perhaps she refuses to get the Covid vaccine, while I am first in line, maybe even jumping the gun, finding a way to get the shot before others who need it more. Maybe I’m a bit of a sneak and a manipulator. It’s a better story if we’re both flawed, but in radically different ways. Maybe Juliet is a highly ethical person, but naïve, a bit of a klutz, while I’m a hard-edged, radical skeptic who doesn’t have the sympathy for her I should. But she is endangering me, and other people, by refusing to get vaccinated.
My, I’ve gotten the two of us into a conundrum—good for keeping the reader hooked—but there’s one huge narrative problem. What drew us together in the first place? Was it just her wholesome looks, her healthy red cheeks and hair, her innocent naivete? Maybe she mistook me for a sympathetic fellow because I played along with her spiritualism, pretended to think that the stars do, indeed, guide our destinies, as I chatted with her at some party, revealed tidbits from my past (which I still have to invent) just to get her into bed. That makes sense, as I’m a bit of a scoundrel. But now I’ve worked myself into a frenzy, thinking of her lovely flesh and flashing green eyes (perhaps she’ll have to be Irish and not Polish) and I really am hot for her. The imagination is a powerful thing—it has me all excited over this disembodied figment. I’d better do more to give her flesh and character and appeal. The initial scene where we meet has to be just right to get the audience believing, sympathetic to both characters, rooting for us. But the inevitable end has to be worked into the beginning—though the audience won’t know it until the tragic breakup actually occurs after I, the author, have worked them into a sympathetic frenzy. Unfortunately, as my own author, I’ll be suffering through all these twists and turns.
And how did I come to be my own author in the first place? I don’t know that yet, won’t know until multitudes of words come spewing out of my fingertips onto the electronic pages, won’t know until after multiple revisions. Heck, I don’t even know if this is going to be published serially, or if I have to work the entire manuscript out first. I prefer serial, as otherwise it’s simply too overwhelming. But what does my publisher want? And who is the publisher and am I authoring this publisher into being? But then why did I begin writing this in the first place? Had I already created the publisher or did the publisher solicit me?
I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know, and it’s killing me. I feel like smacking my head against a wall. Will I answer profound questions about the nature of being? Or am I going down a rabbit-hole obsessing over the audience and publisher? Shouldn’t I just tell a good story?
Perhaps my atheism will come out in an ugly statement during a fight over something stupid? Say, whether a coffee cup that Juliet dropped so that it shattered across the kitchen floor, fragments swimming among hot java, was preordained, filled with meaning, or just an act of physics. She’ll see it as a sign, I’ll call her a stupid klutz and explain it as the laws of physics. I’ll leave it to her to clean up, weeping, as I’m a bit of a sexist—but then again, she’s the one who broke it, isn’t she? I’ll have an important research project to finish upstairs, but really I’ll be sneaking e-mails to my other lover, Roxanne, while Juliet sweeps away the last few fragments then cries herself to sleep on the couch. Or perhaps she’ll walk in on me in the middle of one of these letters. But I’m crafty and have recently rearranged the room so that the computer screen faces away from me, giving me time to switch screens. Still, she’s grown suspicious and will eventually sneak onto the computer and find her way onto my secret e-mail account filled with love letters, plus evidence of a financial scam I’m involved in. Did she wangle the password from me, or was I careless and left the window with the secret e-mails open? Perhaps I secretly wanted to be discovered? Was it through guilt or to end a relationship I was secretly sick of, a secret even to myself?
My, what an cad I am, willing to sneak off with a lover in the midst of a pandemic and risk infecting myself and Juliet. Romeo would be ashamed! But, as an author, I’ll be sowing the seeds of a failed relationship, portraying great transgressions alongside petty domestic fights, showing the many ways a love affair deteriorates and finally shatters.
In any case, the shattered coffee cup does have meaning beyond the laws of physics, though not in the way Juliet thinks. It symbolizes the state of our relationship. It symbolizes my corrupt soul. I think this symbol even arose organically from the story, rather than being imposed, a sign of a truly great author! Or at least a pretty good one? Or perhaps it is a rather trite symbol, after all?
And is the research project that I was working on upstairs really a financial scam? Or is it actually this book? Am I sacrificing for my art, sacrificing my great love, my own soul, for a chance at immortality as an author? Is the character in the book writing me? Or is he too busy being a scoundrel? Am I a separate consciousness writing a myself who’s not really me? But doesn’t he have to, in a way, be me? Can I write myself into being or did my consciousness preexist? Perhaps it needed to exist for eternity. I certainly can’t remember a beginning, but then how could I if I didn’t exist prior to the beginning?
I’d better keep writing so that, eventually, I find out. I’m really excited about the first task—getting myself and Juliet into bed! Perhaps I’m my only audience, so I’d better be excited enough to begin that first scene. I’m going to need to keep at it so that I can reach the point, in the distant, distant future, where all is explained. It all begins with Juliet, but it will end with something very distant that I can only barely begin to perceive.


  1. hooray for you ! A good idea! A tumultuous affair ending in horrible or maybe not so
    horrible tragedy....maybe craftiness will interfere! Hooray...a great idea!


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