by Scott Archer Jones

Fall approaches. The novel scurries into corners, a rat-like beastie, and you attempt to slip the leash back on. You know this book will kill you in these next months, where the light fades and days shorten into stunted, despairing winter.

1. Smarmy with self confidence, you read the first draft for the English Department in your Thursday seminars. You discover “experimental” does not mean “entertaining.” Lined up like the Supreme Court, they purse their mouths like sucking lemon juice through straws. They suck all your optimism away.

2. In your epic novel of a prisoner-of-war camp, you discover your depraved commandant is a Roman Catholic. Your publisher, Holy Trinity College of San Luis Obisbo, won’t like this. Oh no! The commandant is gay.

3. What a fool! You have sent in the first chapter as a stand-alone to twenty-five literary magazines, in the deluded hope of building an audience before full publication. You also believe you will win a Pushcart, though you dare not voice this dream. Seven publications never respond. Three post you in their online humor column. Fifteen rejections arrive, declaring, among other things:

“Unfortunately, your submission in its current stage is not for us at this time. Perhaps you should consider revision.”

“Unfortunately, your submission has not been selected for publication in our upcoming issue. We have received a lot of submissions by talented writers and artists, but we cannot publish everything we have seen. We very much wish you future success in publishing your work. Perhaps a less lofty venue would suit you better.”

“Thank you so much for submitting to Glamjocks Machinery. Unfortunately, we will not be using this submission this time around. In fact, we would never use it.”

4. In desperation, you send your first chapter to an old friend, Yokuri Odenjonwo. Yoki has taken the controls and levers of the Century Limited, a new litmag with no credentials and only two editors. Your friend publishes luminaries like Snag Cootz and Imogene Rosicrucian. Yoki pens you a personal note. “My God. I would have thought you of all people would have known better.”

5. Producing a dribble of ten pages a day, you struggle up to Chapter Thirteen. Thirteen is not auspicious. You renumber it Eleven, because, after all, William S. Burroughs once played with chapter delusion. Your last chapter ends up numbered Thirteen and One Half. While in your editor’s hands, all of Thirteen and One Half turns black, withers, and falls off the book. After you get the phone call, your testicles hurt. You fear cancer.

6. Drunk, you post your novel’s first line on Facebook, with the expectation of overwhelming buckets of Likes. You discover later some vicious little shit plagiarized it. He won the Bulwer-Lytton Contest in the Purple Prose category.

7. One of the great craftsmen of the twenty-first century, you spend two weeks to collect all the possible adjectives for what snow sounds like when you step in it. You have stepped in it, but it’s not snow.

8. For logic you find incontrovertible and unclear, logic that crushes you in those cold dank rooms of the novelist’s heart, you discover your book has to be a graphic novel. In Gaelic. You order six calligraphy pens and a rhyming Irish dictionary from Amazon.

9. During the fourth draft, you dream your book stalks you. The novel carries a razor in its crab-like table of contents. The ToC has twelve entries and reaches out like a spider’s arm with eleven elbows. As you run, staring over your shoulder into the dim-lit library, you make out the book—a ginormous paperback with dog-eared corners and those sibilant ripples of soaked pages—pages watermarked by gin and tonic. The G&Ts emanated from a bar named Writer’s Block. The book, like Shiva, possesses eleven avatars, one named the Destroyer. You wake up because you’ve wet the bed.

10. You have sold one hundred books before you notice your title is spelled Its a Cruel World rather than It’s a Cruel World. You discover more typos: your protagonist is named Mabel, Mable, Mapel, Maple, and Mappel. Mappel drives up to Mom’s house a multiple number of times in a Toyota Priapus. For two hundred pages, the boyfriend Harold morphs into Hairy. Mappel’s daughter loves to wear jewry. You’ve come off like a self-publishing wretch. Maybe you should have been an accountant or a plumber. That MFA—just flushed away.

Scott Archer Jones is the author of Jupiter and Gilgamesh: A Novel of Sumeria and Texas, a New Mexico-Arizona Book Award finalist and IPPY bronze medalist; The Big Wheel, released in March 2015; and a rising tide of people washed away, forthcoming from Fomite Press. He edits for The Prague Review and serves as treasurer for the nonprofit Shuter Library, which is always in need of donations.