Confessions of a Failed Novelist.

This is the last piece of writing ever found by Alexander H. Cochran, a self-described failed novelist. His work was never published. 

My folks died when I could barely call myself a man. Fresh out of college and ready to face the world I was, when that truck hit ’em on the highway back from my grandfather’s funeral. They never had a chance. There was a lot of death in the air that day, I guess.

My daddy made his money in oil when I was a young ‘un, so I never had to worry about nothing from that day forward. Looking back, I like to think that was the first mark against me, as a writer. I never had to do it, never needed it to provide my next meal, would never not be alive the next day if I didn’t sell a story. I never needed writing to survive, at least not physically. But hell, maybe that’s just me making excuses in my old age.

Not that I hadn’t always wanted to be a writer, far from it. When I was going through my adolescence I could barely believe people got paid anything to write, let alone could make a hell of a living off of it if they were any good. Words had always had a strange old draw for me, they provided a kind of haven for my imagination, somewhere that worlds could be created and personalities fleshed out that were far more interesting than anyone I’d been unfortunate enough to meet in the real world, where they teach ya that a firm handshake is more important than a good story. Bullshit.

And it wasn’t that I was no good, or that I didn’t try neither. I wrote some stuff that I was kinda proud of too, but it never saw the light of day. My words were fine for me, but I couldn’t imagine how anyone else would be interested in any of the things I had to say. A curse of being even a moderately good writer is to be forced to be a great reader, and to be a great reader is to be aware of just how damn good so many others are at this writing business.

How, then, knowing the work of Papa Hemingway and Fitzgerald, of Verne and Faulkner and Whitman, how am I supposed to let my thoughts out into the world and try and compete with them? Anything I could think of in a year any of them could do on a bad morning. Hell, Hemingway wrote drunk better than I ever have sober.

I tried that too, tried every trick in the book to try and get something, anything that I wasn’t sick of the sight of by the time I finished writing it. I drank bottles and bottles and bottles of scotch, and it never did nothing for me. It didn’t make me no Hemingway, just made me tired and sick and cranky.

I tried to travel myself interesting, but that didn’t work, the cultures jumbled and produced a mess, so that nothing I wrote seemed honest or believable. I even locked myself in a damn cabin out by the lakes with nothing but a typewriter, a box of cigars and some matches, but I ended up using the matches to burn the mediocrity that I’d written and hightailing it back to the city with nothing.

You might wonder why I’m writing this now. I’ve asked myself that question too. Well, I know the answer, I’m going to die soon, my heart’s finally given up on me it seems. I guess I wanted to write something honest before I went, ’cause I think that might have been the problem all along. I worked so hard to create worlds, and emulate my heroes, that I never put an honest word down on paper. Not once, in my 45 years of trying to write, did I ever write anything that I would want to represent me, that I would want my name attached to once I’m gone. That’s why I never sold anything. Oh, I had the offers, would have made a tidy sum too. But like I said, I was never in it for the money. I’d’ve only sold if I knew it was going to go down real well in posterity, not some market pleasing fiction that anyone can churn out if they turn their mind to it.

I wanted to be a novelist remembered as a great, but in chasing that dream, and stubbornly sticking to it, I failed to be a novelist at all, and in ten years it may be that nobody even remembers my name. In trying to change the world, I overreached, and couldn’t even change my own. But that ain’t to say I ain’t proud to have tried. Better to shoot for the stars and dance with the moon than content yourself with changing to please the masses. Never forget that.

Sincerely,

Alexander H. Cochran
A Self-Confessed Failure

 

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Mercy

The sun glinted her final rays over the hills as she fled west. As she made her escape, her fingers clung promiscuously to the green meadows, knowing she was destined to slip away once more, as she did every evening. As the nightly abyss engulfed the landscape, the moon began to rise, bringing with it the tide that surrounded the small island every day, cutting it off from civilisation.

On the island stood a large abby, built two hundred years ago by those who once ruled here, and it was flanked by a small, enclosed town that provided sustenance for the monks there, and a few other amenities that had grown out of its proximity to the sea.

Every day without fail, the tide came in and isolated the small populace, making travel to and from the place next to impossible, with the result that the townsfolk had to resort to a rather bizarre schedule if they wanted to leave the town, often waking during the middle of the night to go out in search of the larger markets inland, before returning in the bright daylight to the relative comfort of their beds.

It was not often that the moon was obliging enough to bring the tides in at night, but it was not just the everyday folk who delighted when it did. Beyond those who rejoiced at a properly scheduled sleep, there were those with more sinister reasons for willing the alignment of moon and water.

In an ageing townhouse in the middle of the city, the killer sharpened his knife. Nowadays, we would call him a serial killer, but they didn’t have such an expansive vocabulary back then, nor as much competency solving crimes. People died horribly, and often, and even those who weren’t dead disappeared frequently, wandering off to begin life anew. The rare combination of the tide and the dark night provided him with just the opportunity for which he had been waiting, a time when his target had no hope of escape, even if they did see their end before it came.

There was no science to it, but he was always identified his victim ahead of time, knowing that ultimately the time would come when he could strike. He selected the elderly, the infirm, the drifters and those who begged for alms, for mercy to be laid upon them by this religious town. He was doing God’s work, he thought, sending those in need to a better place, ending their suffering before it became unbearable.

Finally satisfied with the cut of his blade, he pulled up the hood on his habit and melted out into the night.

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The Fall: A response to Laura Feasey’s Literary Lion

The sound of the wall crumbling was obvious before he saw any sign of his city’s impending doom. The sickening crunch of the wall folding under its own weight, stones tumbling down, crushing man and beast as they fell. It was heard all around the city, seconds before the collective scream of its citizens.

There was no hope for his people now, they were outnumbered by a superior force, with little to no chance of survival for anyone in the region. They had resisted too long, too well, and their conquerors would need to make an example of them.

There would be pockets of resistance, of course, brave men would die protecting their families, their friends, but it was ultimately futile. Men of fighting age would be killed, and the women and children would be taken as slaves. A generation of vitality reduced to ashes in hours.

His fate would be no different. If they didn’t kill him on sight they would take him back to their people, humiliate him, and then he would die a long, protracted, painful death. It was the way of the world. And he couldn’t bear it.

He was determined to fall as he had lived, as a king. He called for his finest purple robe, sat on his throne, and dared Death to come and take him as the flames that consumed his once great city illuminated the night.

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In response to Laura Feasey’s Fall prompt

Literary Lion: Water.

Beautiful_river_landscape_in_the_fallThe river cut her way through the countryside, carving serpentine patterns through the hills and valleys as she wound her way towards her destination.

She’d been complicit in so much over the centuries. She’d kept the residents around her fed and watered by giving life to their crops, she’d helped them transport their goods and trade with the locals further along her path. She’d helped unify the people of her valleys into building the thriving trading town in which they could now lain to live. She’d been good to them.

But now she was going to destroy them.

For now she carried something much more sinister than the trade ships and fishing boats that had traversed her curves for centuries. Now she carried boats from further afield, only fair as the men who surrounded her had grown richer and more ambitious. Now they traded with men from the Far East who brought their spices and their strange scented fragrances to take home a little of the wealth of the fledgling city.

There had been threats before, invasions even, as jealous eyes coveted the newfound wealth of the city, but none had ever succeeded in breaching her high walls, nor in breaking the will of her people.

This time, though, would be different.

For this time, it was not the warriors who hid aboard the ships that brought the threat, nor the weapons they brought with them, but a far more sinister cargo that they carried, something they themselves were not even aware of.

Down below deck, the rats scattered as the doctor entered with his candle, to deal with his patient who was coughing up blood.

The usual shoutout to Laura Feasey, whose prompt inspired this post. Check her out, follow her, read her stuff, it’s great.

Literary Lion: Time

Antique_Clock_Face

The clock sat in the corner, mocking her, as it had done for the past six months. It always feigned as if to go all the way round, and topple over, completing the full minute. But it never quite managed it. It always fell just short, sticking as gravity became too great for its weakened mechanisms.

Never quite managed to go full circle and start again. The irony wasn’t lost on her.

She didn’t know what she was expecting to happen. That clock hadn’t ever worked, really. The only reason it was still there was that it was the first thing that they had bought together to fill the empty house, and now, it helped to fill the void that he had left behind.

She wasn’t ready to admit that he wasn’t coming back yet, and so she left it there, ticking, mocking, broken. He had sometimes been able to fix the damn thing, more by luck than judgement she was sure, but it had been one of his trademarks. Whenever the clock was broken he would leap in to fix it, so there she left it, useless, hoping it might bring him striding back through the door one last time to lend a hand.

She hadn’t even said goodbye.

He’d been a victim of circumstance more than anything. One of the coldest winters on record, going at what should have been a safe speed over a country road on his motorbike, he’d happened to hit some black ice going over a hill, and was unlucky enough to have been met by a lorry that had lost its way. By all rights he should have been killed.

Sometimes she caught herself thinking it would have been better for everyone if he had been. Anything must be better than this, not knowing if he would ever wake up, not knowing if he would ever walk again if he did, not knowing, not knowing.

So she sat there, watching, waiting, and hoping. He’d worked miracles on the clock before, perhaps this one time the clock would work a little miracle on him. If the clock had taught her one thing, it was never to give up on something that seemed beyond repair. So she kept on waiting.

A more prompt response to Laura Feasey’s Literary Lion: Time challenge this week, hope you enjoyed reading.

King

Kalakaua's_crown_destroyedThe glass crashed over the side of the boat as he lost his footing and fell, the sound of him hitting the deck drowning out the muffled sound of the drink he had thrown disappearing into the sea, diminishing the efficacy of the gesture.

Nobody dared utter a word, not even a flicker of a smirk crossed their faces as he rose unsteadily to his feet. Nobody wanted to be next.

‘Anybody else have something they’d like to say to me?’ he shouted, to nobody in particular, waiting for somebody else to challenge him. ‘Come on now, we were all so chatty a moment ago, are we scared to talk all of a sudden?’

Eyes locked firmly to the ground as no one dared to meet his gaze.

It had been a quiet evening in the docks until that moment, but that was precisely the point. You never knew what would set him off. You could bring up the same joke that he was laughing about yesterday and today it would spark an explosion. Normally, it depended how much of the fiery brown liquid had passed between his lips, but even that was no guarantee of safety.

The children had scattered, looking for somewhere to hide from their father’s sudden rage. No doubt tomorrow it would be they that would be dragged out in front of him to apologise for making him act that way, for embarrassing him in front of his friends. Perhaps he would have to smack some sense into them, to show them just how disrespectful they had been to him and his guests.

He was the head of this household, and a king can’t show any weakness. Weak kings are dead kings, irrelevant kings, and he wasn’t ready for that, not yet. He’d worked too hard to provide for these ungrateful wretches, and it was about time they showed him a little respect. They would learn, whether they liked it or not. You don’t provoke the king.

Shoutout as ever to Laura Feasey for her excellent prompts. Got me in a real writing mood as soon as I got back from my writing-limiting holiday, so very grateful for that!