The Prayers Of Agnes Sparrow
Randy Ingermanson 

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

No Ifs, Ands, or Butts by Randy Rooney

aka Randy Ingermanson

“Look, Reginald, what you need is a little discipline.” I squeezed the phone tighter to avoid screaming. Reginald is a good writer, but he’s been on chapter seven for about the last three months. “When you sit down to write, make yourself a goal and then stick to it. If you’re shooting for a thousand words, then don’t get out of the chair until you’ve got those thousand words.”

“You don’t understand,” Reginald said. “Things come up. Life happens.”

I knew I was about to be treated to twenty minutes of complaints about all the “stuff” happening in Reginald’s life. Whatever. He’s paying me for these coaching sessions, so if he wants to rant the whole time, that’s his nickel.

I leaned back in my chair in the shady spot on the back deck, took a sip from an icy bottle of Coke, and surveyed the work on our new septic system. My plumber, Sam, climbed out of the monstrous hole in the yard and trudged toward me, his face alight.

“. . . need to understand the ontological foundations of my story,” Reginald was saying. “Right?”

“Uh-huh.” I pressed the MUTE button and went to see what Sam was grinning about.

“I don’t suppose you got some Super Glue hiding around somewheres, do you?” he asked.

I felt a vein begin throbbing in my temple. “Um, why do you need Super Glue?”

Sam grinned. “Well, you know how some parts doesn’t always go together just right? Or else they go together fine, but then you give ’em just a little too much POP when you’re sticking Tab A into Slot B, know what I mean?”

Sam’s been working for me long enough that I know exactly what he means. I sighed and pointed inside the house to the utility room. “First drawer on the right. This isn’t going to cost me extra, is it, Sam?”

Sam muttered something indistinct and clomped inside my house.

I sat back down in my chair, checked my laptop to see if any new e-mail had come in, turned off the MUTE function, and said, “Uh-huh.”

Reginald was well into a lengthy discussion of the epistemology of self-revelation within the parameters of the fictive dream, a discussion that would not require any input from me for another quarter of an hour, I estimated.

Sam clomped outside, thudded across the deck, and went back to deal with Tab A and Slot B.

I clicked on the Junk folder in my e-mail and began reading a message from a Reverend Peter David Williams, who wanted to send me $8.5 million that he’d embezzled from a bank he worked at in Nigeria.

Fifteen minutes later, Reginald finished talking with a deep sigh and his standard stopping phrase, “You know what I mean?”

Something snapped in my soul. I was tired of this rot, bone tired. “Reginald, let me give it to you straight. What you need is some Butt Glue.”

“Some what?” Reginald’s voice jumped an octave.

“Butt Glue.” I knew I was going to make him mad at me, but I didn’t care. He was wasting his time and wasting my time. “Glue your butt onto that chair and finish chapter seven. Before you get out of that chair, I want you to e-mail me that chapter. All of it.”


“No buts,” I said.


“No ifs, either.”

Reginald didn’t say anything for a minute. All I could hear over the phone was anguished breathing.

Though he couldn’t see me through the phone, I shook my head. “Look, I don’t want any more lame excuses, ever again. Finish the chapter. E-mail it to me. Don’t call me back until it’s done. Got it?”

A long silence. “Got it.” Reginald’s deflated tone that told me he didn’t get it.

I hung up and set the phone on the table while I opened up my own chapter that I’d been working on all week.

“How much you got written there?” A voice boomed in my ear.

I spun around. “Sam! Where’d you come from?”

“I been standing right here waiting for you to get done reaming out that feller on the phone.”

“I wasn’t reaming—”

“And did you know that there was some kinda pressure in that Super Glue bottle of yours?” Sam held up the tube. “So when I opened it, a whole bunch squirted out all over Tab A. I hope we ain’t never gonna need to take it off Slot B, because it’s on there real good.”

“Does it work? All I ask is that this system is going to work for the next thirty years.”

“Oh, yeah, it’ll work. Super Glue lasts about a thousand years, easy, unless you got the antidote to take it off.” He leaned closer to peer at my chapter. “That’s a mighty funny way to end a storybook—on the word the.”

“That’s not the ending. It’s where I stopped writing on Monday, when I got a call from my editor with a question about a sentence in my back-cover copy that she thought was too long.”

Sam looked at his watch. “Today’s Thursday. That musta been one heckuva long sentence.”

I shook my head. “Things have been nuts around here all week. After my editor called, I checked the mail, and there was a notice for a package at the post office. So I went into town to get that, and while I was there, I checked my UPS box, too, and found a royalty check. So I cashed that, and ran into a friend at the bank, and when I got home . . . well, you know.”

Sam nodded sagely. “Yup, it was Thursday. Musta been a real good friend.”

“Don’t be dense. I got home at supper time on Monday.”

Sam just looked at me.

I scowled at him. “I don’t write on Tuesdays. I worked the whole day on a software project. I put in seven hours on it.”

Sam began pacing. “Last time I checked, there was lots more hours in a day than just seven. Which means you wasted a whole bunch of ’em not writing on that storybook of yours.”

“I told you, I don’t write on Tuesdays.”

“I expect you don’t write on Wednesdays, neither, then.”

“No, I do write on Wednesdays, normally.” I leaned back in my chair and crossed my arms. Sam just wasn’t getting it. “But yesterday, I had a conference call that was supposed to be an hour, only it wound up taking two and a half. Then I had to get after the excavator guy digging the hole for the septic system, and then my writing buddy called and we talked about writing for a couple of hours.”

Sam was punching in numbers on his pocket calculator. “I figger that left you a good three, maybe four hours to write some on your storybook.”

“Normally, yes, but I had an appointment with my accountant at three, and that took longer than usual, and then I went to check my box at the UPS store again, and then I got home and took a quick walk to get my inspiration flowing—”

“Bet it was flowing pretty thick by the time you got back. Seeing as how you’ve had it blocked up all week. Probably built up a good head of pressure on that there inspiration, right?”

I shook my head. “Sam, I don’t think you know how fiction works. I’ve got a plot structural element that isn’t quite right.” Which actually meant that I needed a new way to kill a jewel thief, but I didn’t want to tell Sam that.

Sam raised an eyebrow. “Well howdy-do! Can’t ya just keep writing and figger it out while ya type?”

“No, it doesn’t make sense to just write words when the structure’s all wrong. You need to think before you type. So I walked for about an hour, and I worked out what needs to happen next, in general terms, but—”

“Don’t give me none of them buts,” Sam said.

“What?” I stared at him. “What are you talking about?”

“That’s what you told that there feller on the phone when you was reaming him out fer being lazy.”

“I wasn’t reaming him out.”

Sam pulled a filthy Q-tip out of his pocket and fished around in his ears. He studied the massive results critically for a long moment. “Looks like my ears is getting pluggified again because it sure sounded like a reaming-out. Anyways, where did you want me to leave this Super Glue?”

I shrugged and stood up. “Anywhere. I need to take a walk, and then I’m going to finish my chapter.” I chugged the last half-bottle of my Coke and tossed it into the recycling bin.

“That’s just fine,” Sam said. “I’m gonna finish up with yer pipes, and then you can call in that escalator feller to fill the hole back in around yer spanking-new septic system.”

“You’re sure it’s going to last thirty years?”

Sam tapped the Super Glue bottle. “It ain’t never failed me yet.”

I took a walk out toward the pond, still steamed by Sam’s philistine attitude. He just had no idea how hard it is to write good fiction. When I got past the pond, I saw that one of the kids had left the back gate open. I went to shut it but decided that it might be nice to really stretch my legs and walk out on the horse trails for a bit. An hour later, I came back through the back gate, shut it, and headed up toward the house.

From a distance, I spotted Sam sitting on my deck feeding the ducks that had wandered up from our pond. I wondered if he planned to bill me for the time he’d been feeding them. I wondered if he’d raided my kitchen to find something to feed them.

I stopped at the greenhouse and took a long drink of water from the hose. When I came out again, Sam had disappeared.

I ran up toward the house. Where had he gone? He’d probably seen me coming and realized his little all-expenses-paid duck-feeding vacation was over for the day. No matter. I was going to knock an hour off whatever he billed me.

Sam’s truck was gone when I checked the driveway. I went back to the deck and plopped into my chair. First things first, of course—I checked my e-mail.

A message from Sam was the only thing new. It read:

“When you finish yer chapter, call me and I’ll bring the antidote.”

This cryptic message made no sense to me. I tabbed through to my word processor. My chapter was just as I’d left it. That was a relief. If Sam had decided to monkey with it, I could undo the damage, but it would be a waste of valuable time.

The phone on my table rang.

I leaned forward. Or tried to. For some reason, I couldn’t move.

The phone rang again.

I leaned forward, but I simply couldn’t get out of my chair. It was like I was—

A third ring.

I grabbed both arms of the chair and jumped it forward a few inches. A few more. And a few more. My fingers found the phone.

The Caller ID told me it was Sam, even before I pressed the TALK button. Sam’s voice boomed out of the earpiece. “You finished that chapter yet?”

I screamed into the phone. “How do you undo Super Glue?”

“That ain’t Super Glue; it’s Butt Glue,” Sam said calmly. “You finished that chapter yet?”

“Sam, you get back here right now because I’m going to wring your neck until you—”

“You finished that chapter yet?”

“No, I’m going to get started real soon. But . . . right now, I need to go to the bathroom.”

Sam chuckled. “Hope you type real fast, cuz it looked like you was taking a nice long drink down there at the greenhouse just before I left.”

“Sam, next time I see you, you are so dead.”

“You better hope that ain’t true, ’cuz I’m at Ace Hardware just picking out a bottle of antidote for that Butt Glue holding you in place while you finish yer chapter. But if you prefer that I run fer my life . . .”

I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, imagining fifteen different ways to murder a plumber. “All right, you win. I won’t kill you, but I need you here right away with that antidote stuff, whatever it is.”

“You gonna have that chapter done when I get there? If I remember right, you was having some problems with a plot structural elephant thingie. You got that fixed yet?”

I suddenly realized that one of the ways I’d thought of to kill Sam would work just fine on a jewel thief. “Yes, I have it fixed. I’ll have this chapter done in fifteen minutes.”

No ifs, ands, or buts.

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