By Matt Porter
I hate writing about romance. In fact, the idea of romance is completely repulsive to me. When I write, I want to write something that excites me, not some bullshit about two people that find each other despite all odds. My writing was good the way it was. I still, to this day, have no clue what possessed my hand as I wrote that shit onto paper. I thought my absurdist horror niche would see me through, but then I came to a shocking realization: If you want to make art and survive, you’re going to have to sell out. So that’s how I started writing my best-selling book to date: “Letters from Mort.”
At the time, I was working the floor at a Marshalls. My mom was paying my rent, while I dreaded paying back the loans I used on a creative writing degree. It’s a sad reality when you finally realize that what you want to do won’t pay the bills. The first time they shut your heat off, you’ll understand. There weren’t any big developments in my life at the time. There was a girl in the returns department, but she never paid me any attention. I don’t blame her. I was a creep. I didn’t know her name. I would just stare at her ass all the time. My life was pretty romance free, and I liked it that way.
Reality is even sadder when you realize that in order to be a successful writer, you need to write to appease an audience. Honestly, readers are the bane of all literary existence. A writer is never allowed to express themselves without asking “What does the reader want?” or “What is the reader going to get out of this?” It’s all shit. One time, I sent my agent a manuscript of “A Prolapsed Anus and Other Tales of Fun,” my collection of short stories, and all he said was, “No one wants to read a story about a man masturbating with a dead man’s intestines!” Who the fuck does he think he is? I don’t care if someone wants to read it! I want to write it! What is the purpose of self-expression through art if you’re conditioned to write for a reader? If one views writing as a right, is it right to write the rights of writers in a story made for readers that may be writers? Yeah…
After my agent rejected “A Prolapsed Anus,” he suggested I write something a little more marketable. I had no idea what he meant, but he went on to describe the unfortunately true nature of the industry: “I don’t know, Ellis! Write something like that Nicholas Sparks guy! He gets book sales, movie rights and merchandising. Just write something about a boy and girl and their struggle to be together. Give it drama! Give it love! Give it heteronormative romance! Middle-aged, middle-class women will love it! It’s not too hard.”
Here is a logical breakdown of why everything he just said is false. First, human romantic drama is boring. It’s unrealistic and impossible to connect with. Why would we want to escape our miserable lives into a world that doesn’t make us feel anything but sad?
Second, love is a societal construct employed by capitalist marketers to sell shit. They tell us (through bullshit like Nicholas Sparks) that it is the best thing we can experience. Our media and society condition us to believe that love is the reward of life, but it’s really just a big scam. I mean, look at Valentine’s Day, an entire holiday dedicated to buying shit for the sake of LOVE.
Lastly, heteronormative romance is completely unrealistic. Much like love, sexuality doesn’t exist outside society. Having a man feel a strong emotion for only one woman and not having a single thought about fucking anyone else (especially that sexy guy Joe with the washboard abs who works in the mechanic shop) is just as unrealistic as my only published work, “Love in the Time of Asexual Reproduction,” a sci-fi novel about the future of the human race, where we don’t have faces and reproduce by budding.
I refused to write it for a while. I kept editing “Anus,” hoping someday that it would be recognized as the true work of art that it is. I let my shitty apartment fall into ruin. I was ordering Chinese food for dinner three nights a week, with the occasional pizza and wings. My neckbeard was growing to new lengths. I looked like shit, but hell, I was making art. I started picking up fewer shifts at Marshalls, and my boss began threatening to fire me. I didn’t care. I still had a place to live, and I was doing what I loved. My mom called me one day while I was scribbling down some poems on the clock. She told me that she would no longer pay for my rent. That I need to get a “real job” besides being some clerk in a store. My book wasn’t selling well. After a series of bad reviews (centered on the grotesque nature of the book, not the writing), I had given up hope on “Prolapsed Anus.” Having squandered my money on unimportant nonsense (mostly a sickening amount General Tso’s chicken), there wasn’t much left for me to do but write the romance that everyone craved:
Letters from Mort
by Ellis P. Willmington
It was on the fifth day of October she first received a letter from a man named Mort. The letter was addressed:
Ms. Fiona B. Appleton
286 Loveless Lane, Apt. 3
Enfield Hills, WA
The first one was of no major significance. He simply stated that his family had lived in her current apartment when he was a child, and he would like to see how the place looks now. He would be visiting his dying father in a few days. Mort revealed in his letter that his father had been dealing with a seven and a half year battle with cancer. He signed the letter with the finest cursive writing: Morton Jameson Smalls.
Fiona began thinking about Mort night and day. She would drift to sleep and the idea of him would float around her dreams. She had no clue what he looked like, but by the sheer eloquence of his writing, she knew that he had to be a hunk. She imagined Mort wearing khakis and a plaid button down, tucked in with a braided belt. She was turned on by the idea of him possibly wearing boat shoes. At nights, she would think about Mort and touch herself. She pictured him working in a field with the evening sun casting a golden shadow hue on his chiseled abs. He would be sweaty, sexy sweaty. The kind of sweat that shows the hard work of a true man. She would cum within a few minutes.
Three days went by, and before she could even begin her alone time on Friday, Mort appeared at the door and knocked three times on the hardwood.
“Just a moment!” Fiona yelled from the top of the stairs, quickly pulling her pants up. She ran and swung the door open wide. There was a lanky man with a red bowl-cut standing in the doorway.
“Hi, Ms. Appleton?” His high-pitch voice almost cracked.
“Yes. And you are…?”
“I’m Mort Smalls. You received my letter?”
“Oh.” Her heart sank. The hunky man she had been masturbating to for the past three days was standing in front of her, and he was not the beefcake she imagined.
“May I come in?” he asked with a snotty tone. Fiona gestured to the hallway, allowing him to enter her apartment. He scanned over the living room, seeing the copy of “Moby Dick” lazily thrown on the couch. “You’re a reader, huh?” It became clear to Fiona that his tone was not an act, rather the true nature of his voice.
“I mean, yeah. I like to read,” she shyly replied.
“I don’t read,” he proudly declared. “Reading is for losers. And ha! What type of name is
Moby Dick?” He giggled a little bit. “Dick!”
“It’s actually a wonderful piece of classical literature. It’s a great tale of a man obsessed with this giant whale and…”
“Yeah, yeah. I get it. You’re smart.” He toyed with the dense tome a bit. “I’d rather wipe my ass with it.”
Fiona was repulsed by his behavior. He had been nothing but rude, but she knew that there had to be a good side of Mort Smalls. She just had to find it.
“Show me your bedroom,” he demanded. She took him up the stairs and led him down the narrow hall to her room. She had made the bed up nice and laid rose petals all over the comforter. This wasn’t the way she planned the initiation of their love making, but the setting was still spot on. “Well then,” he lowly growled after seeing the scene. “Do you wanna make a baby with Mort?”
She was startled by his initiative question. The eloquence of his speech did not match his written word. How she longed for the poetic language of the dream man again. Since she had not had sex in two years, Fiona obliged and threw herself down on the bed.
He slowly unzipped his Dockers while she removed her blouse that she bought at Marshalls the day before. He slid down his stained, off-white briefs and revealed his incredibly small penis.
“Why aren’t you hard yet?” she asked, nervous that she had done something wrong.
“Oh baby. It’s hard. It’s hard as fuck!” he yelled out with pride. Fiona shrugged and removed her American Eagle skinny jeans and cheap Target panties. He slid on a green Lifestyles condom and went to town. The lay wasn’t too great. Fiona had had a better time with her hand.
After an exciting five minutes of lovemaking, Fiona began to feel regretful. Why isn’t he the hunk I thought? Why did I still fuck him? It was then that Fiona decided she would change Mort and make him the perfect man. She would have that hunk of which she dreamed.
I sent the chapter to my agent. I was surprised when he only had great things to say. I mean, he always only has great things to say about my work. I guess it’s because I’m just so damn great. But, I thought I had made the joke clear. Apparently, I hadn’t. After abandoning my writing, I began picking up more shifts at Marshalls. That didn’t mean I stopped writing completely, I just needed to make money so I could live indoors. Sometimes, when I was bored at work, I would write poems on pieces of blank receipt paper:
When the dark hours of night come to a close
and the dark, heavy doors behind us lock,
that’s where I’ll meet you,
on the block of cement where
your father’s head was crushed
by those skinheads who wanted
nothing more than to spill what
they deemed impure blood.
I hope their bodies rot in hell
while ours rot sitting
on the sidewalk block
thinking about the crimes
they committed while they lived.
Yeah. I guess my poems are pretty good. I gave one to the girl who works returns, but she simply laughed and crumpled the receipt, promptly throwing it in the recycling bin. Sometimes, I wonder why no girls seem to like me, but then I remember that I am an amazing genius and that she probably can’t comprehend my intellect. I mean, there is one girl. Her name is Gretchen and she works in the back, but let me just say that there’s a reason she does.
One day, I was walking home from work (it’s only a few blocks from my apartment) when I received a phone call from my agent. He was very direct with what he wanted: “Ellis. You need to finish that Mort book. I showed a few publisher friends the first chapter at a party last week, and they’re real curious to find out what happens. I hate to say it Ellis, but I think this could be your biggest success to date.”
I took a detour from my walk that day and decided to go to Red Fish Liquors around the corner. I browsed their numerous shelves until I found a bottle of cognac. I knew that I would never be Hemingway, but I sure as hell could feel like him. Tonight, I thought, is going to be a long fucking night.
I got home, threw my favorite gray sweatpants on, sat at the table with my computer and tried to figure out where to go with Mort and Fiona. The first chapter had come to me so easily because I thought I was writing satire. Now, I had to write for real and that truly scared me. I sat at a blank screen for 30 minutes and after three drinks or so, I actually wrote something.
At first, I was pissed about writing this novel, but at this point, my position changed. I mean, I was still pissed, but now it was out of irritation, not the loss of my artistic integrity. I couldn’t write this novel because it was not an act of passion. I didn’t have the drive to write because it was no longer something I enjoyed. It’s like reading your favorite book in an English class. You used to love it, but now that it’s work, you find that the enjoyment is no longer there.
So there I sat for three days, drinking liquor I couldn’t afford and typing up a novel I couldn’t stand. On day four, I left and went to work, but everyone was annoying me more than usual. Gretchen kept trying to talk to me, but her repulsive face just distracted me from actually caring about what she was saying. The days went by, and I spent too much money at Red Fish on fancy liquors.
The amazing part of this situation was how fast I actually wrote it. It was hard, initially, because it was work and not passion, but as I eventually hit a flow, the book became easier and easier to write. I had the entire novel completed within a few weeks. “Letters from Mort” was probably the biggest piece of shit I had ever penned, but damn would it make me a lot of money.
I sent it to my agent once I had finally starved out any remaining artistic integrity. He called me back a few days later: “Ellis. You genius. You goddamn genius! This novel is going to do so well. I’ve sent it out to a bunch of major publishers. Let’s hope we hear something soon.”
This was great. Absolutely great. Ellis P. Willmington will forever be known as that guy who wrote “Letters from Mort.” I honestly would’ve been better off as the “Prolapsed Anus” guy, despite the chance someone might think I actually had a prolapsed anus.
A year went by and “Letters from Mort” was made available at all major book retailers. I never thought or hoped that I would be doing readings and signings at a Barnes and Noble, but there I was, wearing a shit-eating grin and sneaking drinks in the bathroom like I was a high schooler.
Fuck. It’s so degrading when a soccer mom tells you that your book is the greatest of the 21st century, especially when you’re aware of how awful it is. The book sales, however, helped line my pockets pretty well. I quit my job at Marshalls, and I haven’t seen Gretchen since. She once texted me and praised “Mort,” and that’s truly why I’m glad I never talked to her. Honestly, if you liked my book, I feel sorry for you. If you liked my writing, I’m sorry. Even this entire tale is convoluted and pretentious. I don’t understand why anyone can enjoy it.
After “Letters from Mort” was picked by some housewife magazine for their monthly book club, the buzz really started to explode. I received a call one day from my agent, telling me that some production company wanted the rights to make “Letters from Mort: The Movie.” They offered me so much money that I almost fainted from the thought. I had no choice but to accept.
The check came a few weeks later, and they announced that they had cast Nicolas Cage to play Mort and Meg Ryan as Fiona. My shitty novel was going to become a shitty movie, but at least the money was nice. That was really the only good part of my life at that time. After the release of the movie, I moved to a better part of town. It was nice to live in a place where the pipes don’t wake you up in the middle of night. After moving in, I went out to the store and bought a new oak desk. Then, I went to the fanciest liquor store I’ve ever been to and bought the most expensive bottle of cognac. After grabbing a box of expensive cigar, I went home, cracked the bottle, and began working on a sequel to “Letters from Mort.” It’s true. I wasn’t a real writer. But damn, I sure as hell was going to feel like one.