Randy Ingermanson has published six novels and received about a dozen awards for his writing. He holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from UC Berkeley and is the entire software department for Vala Sciences, a San Diego biotechnology company. Randy is the inventor of the "Snowflake Method," used by novelists around the world to design their novels. He the publisher of the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, the world's largest electronic magazine on writing fiction. More than 1000 novelists read his daily blog, the Advanced Fiction Writing Blog. Randy's goal is to become Supreme Dictator For Life, and he may have already succeeded. Visit his site at www.SupremeDictatorForLife.com.
Why Aren’t You Famous? by Randy Rooney
aka Randy Ingermanson
...but you oughta do something about getting better known...
I was sitting in my office typing a novel when Sam the Plumber knocked on the front door. When Sam knocks, it’s a good idea to answer, if you value your door.
“Here’s yer bill for that new irrigation system.” Sam walked right past me and straight into my office. “Hey, this place is slick!”
“This place” is home to about three billion books, five hundred electronic gizmos, two filing cabinets, and an untidy stack of awards. I suspect it also houses a couple of my cat’s hairballs, but I’m not sure, because the filing cabinets are just too heavy to make an investigation feasible.
“Whoa, look at them there awards,” Sam said. “Real spiff. How come you ain’t famous?”
That is a question I ask myself at least once every ten years. And after several seconds of intensive thought, I’ve come up with an answer that makes me happy. “I dunno. I’m just not.”
Sam fingered a regional award I once won in which three people entered. One of us had to win, and it turned out to be me. “Well, you oughta be.”
“Look, fame is a fleeting thing. Some people get it and some don’t, but in the end, we all die and that’s the end of it.”
“Well, ain’t you just Mr. Sunshine today?” Sam scratched himself in an unmentionable place and then stepped close to a shiny brass plaque, which he began reading laboriously out loud, running a grimy finger along the words. “Well ain’t that something? You sure you ain’t famous? Maybe you been writing under one of them Sue-the-nim things?”
“Yeah, right,” I muttered. “Listen, I’ll send you a check for this bill in, um, a couple of weeks.”
Sam eyed me shrewdly. “Yeah, right. How about you pay me now, and make it in cash?”
My cat, Zephyr, walked in just then and heaved out a hairball onto Sam’s left shoe.
Sam sneezed and swore at Zephyr. “Get outta here, you little furball.” He sneezed again. And again.
“Allergic to cats?” I said with as much solicitude as I could manage for a guy who had just charged me enough money to feed the Chinese army for a year.
“Yub.” Sam wiped his nose on his hand, then smeared his hand on his overalls.
I made a mental note to give Zephyr extra kibbles. “Well, don’t let me hold you, Sam. I know you’ve got other customers.” I walked outside, hoping Sam would follow my lead.
He did. When we got to his truck, I noticed that he’d bought a new one with lots of shiny chrome, the kind with a long cab and a huge tool locker in the back. The size of truck that gets about three miles to the gallon.
Sam tucked his tools away and turned to look at me again. “Look, it’s none of my business, but you oughta do something about getting better known. Guy like you, a big-shot writer, you oughta be famous.”
“It’s not so easy” Do you have any idea how many authors there are in this country?”
“Five, ten, at least. That’s how many they got in the airport bookstore. I seen ’em on my last vacation to Hawaii.”
“Try a couple of hundred thousand authors. All fighting for those five or ten slots in the airport kiosk.”
“So why ain’t you one of ’em? A hunnert thousand authors—that gives you odds of what—fifty-fifty or so?”
I’ve seen Sam’s mathematical abilities in action before, so I wasn’t surprised. I decided to put it in terms Sam could understand. “Sam, do you know how many plumbers there are in this country?”
“Lots,” Sam said glumly. “There’s at least three right here in town. Probably five, tens times that many acrost the country. Figure at least a hunnert.”
“Wrong. There are hundreds of thousands of plumbers across the country. If you had one plumber for every thousand Americans, you’d need three hundred thousand plumbers!”
“That’s a lotta competition. More than you got with your writing thing, am I right?”
“And how many of those three hundred thousand plumbers are famous?” I asked, going for the kill. Sam would have to get this when I put it in language he could understand. He had to.
Sam scrunched his eyebrows in what appeared to be very painful thought for several seconds. “I reckon there’s only one famous plumber. After that there election, there’s one plumber everyone’s been talking about.”
“Joe the Plumber.” I said. “Thanks to John McCain, Joe the Plumber has shot to fame and glory.”
Sam got a very strange look in his eyes. “Yup, you got that right.”
I saw that I had him now. “How come you’re not famous, Sam? Joe the Plumber is famous. How come you aren’t? A big-shot plumber like you, you oughta be famous.”
A deep red spread across Sam’s rugged face. He mumbled something I couldn’t hear.
I stepped closer. “Say that again, could you? I didn’t hear it.”
Sam mumbled it a little louder. I caught only the last word, which sounded like “animal.”
I looked back to my house, but Zephyr was nowhere in sight. “Sam, I didn’t hear that. Can you say it one more time?”
Sam stared at the ground and scuffed the ground with his foot, smearing the remains of Zephyr’s hairball on my driveway. “What I said was this: did you know that Joe ain’t the first name of Joe the Plumber? Joe’s his middle name. Didja know that?”
I wondered what that had to do with anything. “No, I didn’t know that. What’s his first name?”
Sam cleared his throat. Mopped his forehead with his grimy sleeve. Grinned at me. “Samuel.”
I stared at him for a long minute.
Sam apologetically pulled out his keys and beeped open his brand-new truck. He yanked open the door. Lumbered inside. Heaved the door shut.
I didn’t say anything.
Sam rolled down the window. “What I’m saying is a big-shot writer like you, ya oughta be famous. It ain’t that hard. Get to it.”
“Yeah, right.” I watched Sam back out of my driveway and drive off.
When I went back into the house, Zephyr was sitting on my chair. He meowed hopefully and dashed out of my office toward his food bowl at a pace that said clearly, “Follow me.”
I followed him. Fed him. Watched him scarf down a bowl of kibbles.
When he finished, he followed me back into my office.
I sat down in my chair.
Zephyr leaped onto my lap, settled himself in place, and began rumbling his trademark jet-engine purr. His huge blue eyes locked on me in adoration and told me what he lacked the voice to say: “In my world, you’re famous.”
What more could a big-shot writer want?