This is a true story.
I was staring at a blank page on my computer, trying to come up with an opening line for a query that would draw the attention of the next agent I approached with my book. I had been sitting there for twenty minutes. Our dog, Sweetie, a rescue mutt with cancer, was hanging around my feet. I patted her on the head for a minute. Her tail wagged, and I asked, “Do you need to go outside?” She immediately jumped up and headed out of my office. She’s a smart dog. She has either figured out that “outside” means she gets relief for her full bladder or she associates the word with the snacks she always gets when she returns inside.
I had just gotten Sweetie out into our fenced back yard when I heard the phone ringing. I was expecting a call from my mother-in-law, so I raced back in to answer it, barely picking up the receiver before the voicemail message kicked on.
“Hello. Konwinski residence…” I said kind of sing-song, being silly, thinking it was Mom.
“Is this Theresa Konwinski?” was the reply. Oh brother. Just a sales call or a survey about who I was going to vote for in this year’s Congressional race. I should have looked at the caller ID.
“Yes, it is.” I tried to sound bored and disgusted so they would know I wasn’t planning to be on the phone with them too long.
“This is Stephen King.” What?
“Uh-huh.” Sure. Right. Stephen King.
There was silence on the other end. Then, “Seriously. This is Stephen King.”
“Stephen King the writer.” I know I sounded cynical. I’m not into being scammed. Jerks.
“Yes, Stephen King the writer.”
“If you’re Stephen King the writer, what’s the first book you wrote that received widespread acclaim?” I demanded.
Anyone might know that, I thought. That was stupid of me.
“Ok. If you’re Stephen King the writer, what’s your wife’s name?”
“Tabitha. I call her Tabby most of the time.”
They could have found that on Google, I decided.
“And what’s your dog’s name?”
“Molly, though most of the time I call her ‘Thing of Evil.’”
Well, the caller was three for three. I decided to try one more question.
“What is your least favorite book written by another author?”
“The Bridges of Madison County.”
Ok. So it might be the real Stephen King. Incredulous, I asked, “Mr. King, why are you calling me?”
“I read one of your short stories and thought it was good. I had a heck of a time getting your contact information. I just wanted to call you and tell you I liked the story.”
Here’s where I might catch this scammer, if he was a scammer.
“Justice. It was kind of grisly.”
“Where did you see it? It hasn’t been published anywhere.”
“On your website. I saw a tweet with a picture of a big green moon, and it looked interesting, so I clicked on the link, and there was your story. It was good. I wanted to tell you.”
Stephen King had been on my website? Wow. But why would Stephen King, the Stephen King, take time to call me about a short story that hadn’t won any contests or been published in any magazine. It was like a dream. I kept thinking I’d wake up with the phone in my hand and the dial tone buzzing at me.
“Mr. King, if you don’t mind my asking, what possessed you to call me?”
He hesitated for a second. “Truthfully, I’m not a hundred percent sure myself. I just liked the story. I mean, it needs a little work, but I can see a good base. Sometimes beginning writers need a little encouragement. You’re usually getting a bunch of rejection letters at first, so I guess I just wanted to say ‘hang in there.’ Have you written any other short stories?”
“Yes, and a couple of books, but they’re going nowhere.” That was the truth.
“Tell me the names,” he said.
“Well, I wrote a short story called ‘The Burial of John Doe.’”
“That sounds pretty interesting,” he answered. “What’s that about?”
“Just about a coroner and the people around him. It’s kind of about how the dead leave an imprint on the living.” That was the best description I could come up with on the spot, you know?
“Hmm. Is that on your website, too? I didn’t stay on there for long, to be truthful.”
“Yes, it is. I put that one up right before I loaded ‘Justice’ up.”
“Ok. Well, I’ll check that one out, too.” I believed he would. “What about your books?”
“The first one was called ‘An Extraordinary Year,’ and the second was called ‘Ragged Road.’ I had to self-publish because I couldn’t generate any interest in them.” I wanted to tell him about the nice reviews I’d gotten, the comments about my prose and the message of the books, but I realized it would sound desperate. Rookie.
“What are you working on now?” he asked.
“Another book. It’s called ‘Seven Secrets.’ I’m about half-way done with it. I’m also working on a quilt.” Ugh. Why did I say that?
“What did you say? You’re working on a quilt?” He sounded a little dumbfounded.
“Yes, a quilt.” I emphasized the word. “You know, a quilt that goes on a bed.” I was pretty sure he knew what a quilt was. I don’t know why I would say that to Stephen King.
He was quiet again for a few seconds. Then he said, “Stop working on quilts. Start working on writing. Work on writing every day. I’m pretty sure you’ve got the goods. Don’t get distracted.”
Now it was my turn to be quiet. Stephen King thought I had the goods.
“Well, thanks. Yeah, I’ll keep at it.”
“Good. I expect to see something on a shelf at Barnes and Noble one day. Ok, I gotta go. Good talking to you.” And he hung up.
I let my barking canine back in the house. Stephen King thought I had the goods. I walked back into the office and stared at the computer screen again, kind of in a trance. Then I began typing.
This is a true story.
In my dreams, anyway.