Another Example of the Illuminating Correspondence Between John Hodgman, Professional Literary Agent, and His Cousin, One ‘Josh,’ Who Aims to Be a Man of Letters.
BY John Hodgman
Thank you for your recent note. I see your point. Given your demanding job as a temporary employee, it may be difficult to find the time to write the novels that I tell you to write. On the other hand, many of the great works of our time were written by those who held full time jobs—in fact, salaried positions with benefits. Melville, for example, was a famous whaler. Did you know that? Borges was a jeweler. Some critics argue that their writings were enriched by their every day, 9-5 experience in the office. But whatever the case, they MADE the time to write. You should think about that. Josh: what’s ironic is that, by suggesting plots to you, I am actually trying to save you time. I am trying to save both of us precious time.
In this regard, let us speak for a moment about the timeliness of novels. Here’s an example. Did you happen to read the paper today? Did you see the article about the man who lived in the subway tunnels and forged a crown of used Metrocards and rode around on a giant (yet gentle) alligator from station to station claiming to be the King Under The Ground? Did you make it to the page wherein it was reported that, some years ago, he saved a poor orphan girl who had accidentally slipped off the platform onto the tracks? How he trained her in the ancient arts of Kung Fu in the pitch black of the oldest, deepest tunnels—such that by puberty, she could throw a punch through the inky darkness with blind, preternatural accuracy? Did you go on to read how after the King was killed by his deathless nemesis, a cruel MTA environmental engineer who had made a private vow to scrub the subway system clean of all grime, vermin, and pretenders to imaginary thrones, the young girl, now a coltish young woman with pale, pale skin was forced to emerge from her subterranean cocoon and make her way in the surface world? How she soon became the Tri-State Kung Fu Champion (Women’s Division), often pummeling men three times her size to unapologetic tears—even when she was blindfolded?! (Remember, she was trained in total DARKNESS!)
If so, then you also read about how she swore revenge on the brutal MTA engineer, forsaking a large fortune in Kung Fu tourney winnings to return to the dark realm of The King Under The Ground. You’ll recall how her adopted father’s killer resigned from the city’s payroll, how it was rumored that he had disappeared into the tunnels he once patrolled. How, for seven years, the young woman tracked him through the bores and crawlspaces beneath the city, foiling his many boobytraps, battling his armies of deformed flunkies, finally cornering him in a great tiled and antique subway station, long abandoned. How she found in her old foe an old man, now too pitiable to kill. How she learned, then and suddenly, forgiveness—a trait her foster father had long sought to train in her, which lesson she never fully learned until now. How, pardoning the engineer, leaving him to the muck and mire in which he had already buried himself, she returned to our sunlit world, wise and-impossibly-even more beautiful.
Well, that would make a great novel, Josh. Or a pretty good screenplay. But it’s too late for that one. By the time you read this, the 10,000 monkeys at their 10,000 typewriters have already stolen that story from the newsprint, sent it to their agents, and sold the film rights for more money than you will ever see. The hacks have outwitted you (and me!) again. And I only mention it to point out that every moment that you hesitate, every moment that you do not write what you see before you EVERY DAY, is a moment that you become more and more the cubicle-jockey, temp-wage, toner sniffing, mutant foot-soldier that you currently are, instead of the beautiful, instinctive, coltish, Kung Fu master-artist that I know YOU CAN BE! Perhaps it’s not too late for you to write that internet thriller I mentioned you. Get back to me on this.
Regards from your cousin,
Professional Literary Agent
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