Dear readers, Jane has been out of touch for an entire week. How could that happen, you may be wondering? Jane is not sure...we think we were part of a Twilight Zone episode. Time got away from us, sent us to some universe where laptops refuse to send emails, and Wi-fi connections do nothing more than give you raspberries...it seemed, during the entire week we were away, that, well, we just weren't in Kansas, anymore. And, we weren't.
We were in Napa Valley, for a time. And, in Dallas, for a shorter time. The trips were better than anything in the Twilight Zone-- full of exciting people and events. Full of educational workshops and lunches. Chock full of the stuff dreams are made of. Jane will have several posts -- giving a full report -- during the week. We think some of what we have to note will surprise you. And inspire you. And, just entertain you.
Meanwhile, as promised, here is Part II in the continuing sage of Marilyn and Elsa, and their pursuit of happiness, ala: How to Fool Your Way into the Upper Eschelon in Six Easy Steps. Here, in Part II, Elsa's book unfolds...little by little, with the help of...oh, but we mustn't give it away. Do read on...
"Elsa, we need an outline to write a book. Now, sit down."
"Oh, good grief." Elsa fell to the sofa, crossed her legs and set her lips into a pout. "I don’t know for outlines, Marilyn. Can’t you do this part?"
"This isn’t MY book," Marilyn said. "Now, we agreed on six chapters. How do you want to identify them; 1,2,3,4,5,6?"
Elsa's eyes shot pointed daggers at Marilyn’s throat. "I thought you were smart about this stuff," she said. "1,2,3 4--good grief! Chapter one has to be about names. Everyone needs a new name. Here, let's call chapter one: Sassy Names for Sassy Dames. Yes, that’s good.
"Why do people give perfectly good children atrocious names, anyway? I mean, just look at me. Do I look like a Betty Jo? My mother must have been full of drugs or something when I was born. I know she didn't ask my father. He would never have called me Betty Jo. Don’t you think Elsa is…"
"Never mind," Marilyn blurted. She was anxious to get back the chapter outlines. If there was one thing she didn't need, it was a rehash of the whole Betty Jo story—something she’d heard approximately 99,949 times since they’d moved to Philadelphia.
"All right, Sassy Names for Sassy Dames. So, what kinds of names do you consider 'sassy,' Elsa?"
"Well," Elsa turned her face to the ceiling and began, "I like Kara, Cara, Ciarra, Sierra, Crystal, Colette, Karin, Nicole, Heather, Princess, Brooke, Brandy…"
As the night wore on, Marilyn found herself beginning to enjoy picking Elsa’s brain. Elsa was like Mae West; put to the task, when she opened her mouth a series of pithy paragraphs came out. Every few moments Marilyn snuck a glance at the manuscript sitting on the end table—the one her boss had thrown at her as she was leaving work, and wondered when she was going to get to it. But, Elsa didn’t seem to be running out of steam, and writing ‘How to Fool Your Way…’ was a whole lot more fun than…what was that manuscript? Oh, yes, The Nine Rules of Maintaining Equilibrium on the Deck of a Cruise Ship that is Listing in a Storm. Or something like that.
Finally, at midnight, Elsa yawned, complained of a headache, and trotted off to the bathroom to wash up. Marilyn looked over the 25 pages they’d outlined and felt good. As she listened to the water sloshing in the bathroom sink, she had a sinking thought; what if Elsa forgot the whole thing in the morning? Elsa wasn’t known to focus on anything for more than a few minutes, unless it was six foot four with straight white teeth and a fat wallet--and a mustache, of course. How long would she be able to focus on this book? Worse than that, what if she ran out of steam, and expected Marilyn to finish it? Marilyn swallowed hard, put the night's work away, and decided to let Fate handle the rest.
To Marilyn's surprise, Elsa's focus didn't wane. Every night, except for Fridays and Saturdays—Elsa kept at it. For a whole month. After Sassy Names for Sassy Dames, they developed, Make-up Tips Your Mother Won't Share with You, and, Round is as Real as You want it To Be. Then it was, Hair Today: Fair Tomorrow, and, Alluring Fingers and Toes. Then, finally, How to Set a Scene to be Seen In.
The process was fun, in surreal sort of way, since Marilyn didn’t believe for a moment that this manuscript would make it anywhere near a publishing house. Certainly, not HER publishing house, anyway.
She held on to that belief until the day Elsa breezed into the apartment at seven o’clock and announced, "I found a publisher for my book."
Marilyn was sprawled on her bed in a perpetual wilt, right arm flung over her forehead, hair in a frizz on her pillow, head pounding from lack of sleep and lunch. She summoned up enough energy to stare at Elsa through one blood-shot eye and wondered, Why is it that Elsa can do four extra hours at the library and still look as fresh and dewy as a Valentine's Day bouquet? There has to be a rest room with a couch in it, she decided. Elsa was napping in the middle of the day, that had to be the answer.
At this moment, well past dinnertime, the inimitable Elsa stood in front of Marilyn’s dresser mirror fussing with her satin curls, smudging freshly applied eye liner, pursing her perfect lips, waiting for Marilyn’s reaction to her declaration. Abruptly, she spun around and sailed across the room to flop onto Marilyn’s bed.
"You mean, OUR book?" Marilyn finally acknowledged her statement.
"Well, you’re just editing it," Elsa shrugged. "I’m really the creative voice behind it."
Marilyn reached beneath Elsa’s well-rounded derrière and rescued the crumbled pages of a manuscript on Decorating ideas from Under the Couch, some silly book written by an overwrought mother of two pre-schoolers. She bit back a retort in answer to Elsa's news. This little project wasn’t going anywhere, anyway, so why bother fighting over it? If she just humored Elsa for a little longer, they could send the book off to an obscure publisher in the East Canary Islands and let it die a quiet death.
"You found a publisher?" she finally said.
Elsa grinned, too much like a Cheshire cat, Marilyn thought.
"The nicest man came into the library today looking for literature on the Australian Outback and he was simply amazed to hear that I was writing a book. He offered to take it to his boss when we’re done. I mean, you can’t push a book written by your roommate, can you? Isn’t that conflict of purpose or something?"
Marilyn sighed. She ignored the conflict of purpose question. "Okay, so, who is this boss?"
"Darrin McAffee!!" Marilyn bolted upright. For a moment she couldn’t breathe. "McAffee and McGuire are my biggest competitors!" The words tumbled past her tonsils like rocks. Her throat tightened. "We can’t offer the book to them!" A despairing groan shook her shoulders, she buried her face in her pillows, hearing McAffee’s and McGuire’s guffaws ringing in her ears.
"Why not?" Elsa’s voice drilled through the thick pillows despite Marilyn's desperation to block it out. "Ken was very interested."
"Ken was just reacting to your Mae West drawl!" Marilyn pulled her head out and glared at Elsa.
Elsa gave a small sigh. She stood up, stretched her diminutive five foot two frame to its limit, held her head high, and said, "I invited him to dinner. Saturday night."
Marilyn bit her tongue. Okay, then, she said to herself, maybe this Ken person would be so mesmerized by Elsa he would take the book, and her too! Besides, Elsa was a truly talented cook. Her chicken cacciatore and peach pie alamode was to die for. As was her fettucini alfredo. And her lasagna…what a masterpiece! If Marilyn had to stomach Ken, whoeverhewas, for a night--she would do it for the food.
"So," she said, gathering the wrinkled pages of her manuscript and setting them right, "is it chicken cacciatore or fettuccini alfredo?"
Elsa was already half-way out the door. "Oh, I won’t be here. I promised to work for Alice at the library, then I’m meeting the gang at Moody’s. I thought it would be better for you to handle this. After all, you are the editor."
What, Marilyn thought, as she stared into the empty refrigerator Saturday night, do I prepare for a man I don’t know, don’t want to know, and don’t even think will show up?
She closed the refrigerator door and turned to the pantry. Nothing there, except one box of Cheerios and a cup of diet-sugar packets. That meant there was only one solution—she would have to make her one great stand-by, an omelet and a tomato salad. At least there would be a decent dessert-- since she'd bullied Elsa into making that mouth-watering peach pie, which was filling the kitchen with the most delightful smell, a smell that, in its fullness, momentarily cheered Marilyn enough to make her think the night might not be such a disaster, after all.
By six-thirty, the eggs were airing in the mixing bowl, the vegetables were sliced and diced, the tomatoes were marinating, and Marilyn found herself whistling as she set the table. As she tossed the tomatoes with her homemade dressing, it occurred to her that with her knowledge of the business, it would be easy to dissuade this Ken Whateverhisnamewas from allowing Elsa’s girlish good looks convince him to take this project seriously. She and he would have a laugh over it, she would send him off, and, that would save her, Marilyn, from the humiliation of actually offering the book to McAffee and McGuire.
The doorbell rang as she set the last fork in place. She nodded happily at the eclectic table setting of mismatched dinner plates and strolled to the door, straightening her frilly apron (thank you Elsa). Before opening it, she paused. She took in a deep, cleansing breath, and let it out very slowly. With a determination that tingled all the way down to her toes, she threw open the door.
"Marilyn Bunker, I presume?" The man before her smiled, clicked his heels, and held out a single red rose.
Marilyn was shocked into another universe, a wonderfully bright, but silent, universe. Ken Whateverhisnamewas — was a vision. Her heart began to flutter, her knees began to buckle, her eyes refused to blink; she felt her determination melt into a puddle at her feet. All she could do was stand there with her tongue hanging out.
"Ken Penny," the marvelous vision said, offering his hand.
"Marilyn," she found her voice and took his hand. Sparks flew from her fingertips. She accepted the rose and held it to her bosom. How touching, she thought. She turned and led Ken into the apartment, looking over her shoulder to make sure he was following properly. All the while amazing thoughts flooded her brain; maybe I’ve been too hasty; maybe he really should represent us on this book deal; maybe I can talk him into weekly meetings, long weekly meetings.
She showed Ken to his seat at the table and went to get a vase for the rose. Maybe, her mind continued to play with the possibilities, maybe we’ll need weeks and weeks of work on this book—head to head, shoulder to shoulder, knee to knee. Why, it might take months to finish this book!
"It’s only an omelet and a salad," she told him, bringing the salad to the table.
"I’m a happy man when a woman cooks for me," Ken smiled.
Marilyn might have swooned, had she not been holding onto the table so tightly. His dark hair, comforting smile, warm brown eyes, his stature, everything about him was so—dare she admit it—perfect. An uncomfortable thought poked a hole in her daydreaming--she had hoped he would be interested in Elsa, not the book, and now….oh, now she so hoped it was the book he was interested in, and not Elsa!
Dinner was delightful, full of small talk and job comparisons. Marilyn couldn’t remember any of it, she only knew she would sit there across from Ken Penny for the rest of her life, gazing forever into those deep brown eyes, if given the chance. But, all too soon, it was time for pie. Marilyn suggested they retire to the living room. She put coffee on to brew and brought the only pie plates and dessert forks she and Elsa owned—paper and plastic—into the living room.
"Elsa’s as pretty as a party cake," Ken was saying, "and about as intelligent." He gave Marilyn a knowing wink. "She actually thought the Australian Outback was a tourist resort for lottery winners." He chuckled and accepted a piece of pie.
"Elsa is quite unique," Marilyn agreed.
"I wondered about this little venture of hers," Ken spoke through a mouthful of pie. "Wow, this pie is terrific! I may eat the whole thing."
"Elsa’s…" Marilyn admitted, cutting him another slice. "She’s a very good cook."
"What I need to know is-- what kind of a writer is she?" Ken said.
"Well," Marilyn went to fetch their coffee. "To tell the truth, she’s the ‘creative mind’ behind the book, but I’m the editor. Maybe you’ve experienced that kind of a partnership?"
"Ah, I think I see what you mean. Without you, this book is a no-show."
Marilyn smiled, happily. He was so understanding.
"It’s still an interesting concept," Ken said, peering intently into Marilyn’s eyes. "I think it could go places—as a humor piece. How comfortable are you with letting McAffee and McGuire handle it?"
"I think that's a marvelous idea," Marilyn said. "McAffee and McGuire have a long list of successful humor books." She smiled, wondering if that was true.
"And you," Ken leaned across the love seat to brush Marilyn’s hair out of her eyes, "definitely have more gray matter between those pretty ears than Elsa. Between the two of us, we might be able to pull it off."
"Us?" Marilyn said. "You and me?"
Ken laughed. "Yes, that us. You and me. We’ll leave Elsa’s name on it, though. That would be best, don’t you think?"
Marilyn tried to remember how many people in MinnowLake could read and left off counting after four. When the truth came out, they would never acquaint Elsa Corstairs with Betty Jo Huffly, best friend of Marilyn Bunker.
"Yes," she agreed, "you and me, Ken Penny. Let’s shake on it."
And shake they did. We hope you will tune in next Sunday to see where Marilyn and Ken take Elsa's book. The plot thickens...
What's not to like about that?