Authors: E. M. Lilly
It wasn’t worth arguing. Besides she found herself curious what the genie would think of
Theater of Sin
, not that she’d believe that he’d tell her his true feelings. But still, a nervousness fluttered in her stomach as she dug out from a pile of manuscripts a copy that she had kept. Before she could move to hand it to Jack, it lifted from her hand and levitated to him.
“Ethan Blake,” he said, wrinkling his nose in distaste as he read the author’s name.
“If you’re only planning to make fun of the book then I don’t much see the point of this,” Emily said, curtly
“Not at all,” Jack insisted. “My disdain just now was because I had a master once named Ethan. This was before Lawrence Willoughby came into possession of the lamp. He was a disagreeable sort, and I’m afraid has spoiled that name for me. But I will still attempt to read this masterpiece without prejudice.”
The genie had said this with a straight face and without a trace of sarcasm, although Emily wasn’t convinced of his sincerity. Jack kept his expression blank as he read through the novel. He wasn’t kidding about being a fast reader. Emily had witnessed him reading before, but in those previous times he lingered over each page. Now, though, he was doing little more than glancing at a page before turning it.
While Jack rapidly flew through the book, Emily tried to look disinterested as if she didn’t care what his opinion was. But still, she snuck peeks at him and, if anything, found that fluttering sensation in her stomach growing more intense. After a half hour he was done. He set the four-hundred page book down and scowled as if he had tasted something bitter. That look of disgust he gave was too much for Emily. After thirty seconds of seeing him scowling in this fashion she found herself asking him what it was he had to say. He opened both eyes wide as if he were surprised by her impatience.
“Miss Mignon, I apologize for keeping you waiting,” Jack said. “I was simply trying to figure out how to put this more delicately. But to be blunt, are you sure this is the book you’d like to risk your professional reputation on?”
“It’s a wonderful book,” Emily claimed.
Jack shrugged, his lips twisting into a thin smile. “If you insist,” he said. “After all, you’re a seasoned professional in the publishing industry, while I’m a simple genie without any formal education. The fact that I’ve read over five hundred thousand books during my existence should be considered irrelevant, as also that I once served a master who is now considered one of the greatest writers of all time. So why should my opinion matter?”
Emily’s eyes narrowed as she studied Jack, trying to decide if he was lying or not. “Who’s this great writer you served?” she asked, her voice catching slightly in her throat.
“Being a seasoned professional, I’m assuming you’ve heard of William Shakespeare?” Jack said, one eyebrow arched.
Emily’s eyes narrowed further and her voice sounded off to her as she said, “You’re seriously trying to tell me you granted wishes for William Shakespeare?”
“Miss Mignon, I don’t believe I was just trying to tell you that, but that, in fact, I did,” Jack said, wrinkling his brow as if he were confused over Emily’s comment. “In a way you’re right to be questioning me since his real name wasn’t Shakespeare but John Bowles. A depressed sort. Very temperamental as most artistic types tend to be, but in my opinion, extraordinarily talented.”
“What wishes did you grant for him?” Emily asked, half-believing Jack despite herself.
“Mostly dealing with research,” Jack said. “I took him back in time so he could witness Julius Caesar, Richard the Third, Henry the Eighth, and others first hand.” Jack pursed his lips as if something were amusing him, and added, “His final wish was for his plays and sonnets to receive the recognition they deserved. Bowles was struggling badly when we met and couldn’t get anyone to produce his plays or publish his works. But as you are well aware, all that changed.”
“What was the downside to his wish?”
Jack gave her a look as if he was confused. “Miss Mignon, I apologize, but your question has me at a loss. His plays have been produced through the ages, and after over four hundred years he still may be the most famous writer of all time. I think I succeeded quite well in granting that wish.”
Emily’s eyes narrowed so much that she was nearly squinting. “Why wasn’t his real name used? Why Shakespeare?”
“A very simple reason. As you know in publishing, image is everything. Bowles was a short, pudgy man with stringy hair, a pug nose and big floppy ears. His works wouldn’t have achieved the success he wanted with his name on them, so Shakespeare was created. A tall, lanky handsome fellow with a scholarly look.”
“Except he didn’t get what he really wanted. You distorted his wish.”
Jack’s mouth twitched, as if he were fighting back an impish smile. “And how exactly did I do that?”
“I know writers well enough to know what he really wanted,” Emily said. “Which was immortality. He wanted his name attached to his works. He had no idea you were going to use a
nom de plume
, did he?”
“Possibly not,” Jack admitted. “But he should’ve been more careful in crafting his wish.”
“A lesson that I’ve taken to heart.”
“Oh, Miss Mignon, with your extreme cautiousness, I don’t believe that would be necessary.”
“Did this John Bowles at least benefit financially from his works?”
An impish smile finally broke through on Jack’s lips. “Unfortunately not,” he said. “A tall, lanky fellow who had masqueraded as Shakespeare stole all of the poor fellow’s money. A shame, but again, he should’ve given more thought to how he stated his wish.”
“You seem to be taking pleasure in how you distorted that man’s wish.”
“Not at all, Miss Mignon. But you must remember that the life of a genie can be extraordinarily tedious, and we tend to find amusement in small things, but in this case it’s purely gallows humor. I wish things had turned out better for Bowles. It was not my intention to distort his wish, or to leave him penniless, but simply fate intervening. Nothing more than bad luck. But all that is past history. So Miss Mignon, given my pedigree in helping a former struggling author who later achieved greatness, would you like my opinion of this novel that you plan to publish?”
Trying badly to seem unconcerned, Emily told the genie to go ahead and tell her his thoughts on the book.
“Very well. While the writing is very descriptive and uses a lot of clever phrases, there’s an overall pretentiousness that pervades the work. As I read this book, I couldn’t help picturing the author as a smug, self-important type who is more interested in making sure people know how much smarter he is than them than in writing a good book.” Jack hesitated briefly, then with an embarrassed smile added, “Miss Mignon, please believe me when I tell you that I have never tried this hard before to dissuade any of my previous masters from making a bad wish. I urge you to reconsider. Publishing this novel will not help your career.”
“Thank you for you honesty,” Emily said, her voice tight. “But I think I will go ahead with the wish as previously stated.”
Jack frowned at that. “I don’t understand your stubbornness regarding this,” he said. “Outside of this one lapse of judgment, you seem like an intelligent woman with both common sense and good taste. But very well, your wish has been granted, although I find this puzzling. There is something that I am missing here.”
“Thank you for condescending to actually grant the wish I had asked for,” Emily said, coldly. “It must be a real letdown having someone like me as a master, especially after serving Emperor Nero and Shakespeare, and who knows how many other famous persons.”
Jack was staring at her intently, as if he were still trying to figure out what he was missing. He shrugged his shoulders and let out a soft sigh. “It’s not a letdown at all, Miss Mignon,” he said. “I have found myself very much enjoying serving you, even if you are occasionally prone to sarcasm. And as far as your greatness, your final chapter has not been written yet, although being the editor for this book is not going to help your cause.”
Jack gave up his study of her and went back to the book he had been leisurely reading before
Theater of Sin
. Emily had said what she did to distract him, because he was getting close. While she believed that the book would be successful, she had an ulterior motive in wanting to publish it and she didn’t want Jack to guess what it was. Her impression of the author was entirely different than Jack’s—she pictured Ethan Blake as sensitive, thoughtful, and of course, brilliant. She had a reasonable guess of Ethan’s age since he had included his college information in his cover letter when he submitted the book. If Ethan had graduated at age twenty-two, then he’d be twenty-seven now, which would work out well if they were to end up getting married.
Emily had no idea what Ethan looked like, whether he was already involved with someone, or really anything about his personal life other than his home address and phone number. She tried looking him up online, but couldn’t find anything. No blogs, no website, and nothing on any of the social media sites. Maybe it was only a crazy romantic notion on her part, but his writing touched her, and she couldn’t shake this feeling that they were destined to meet, possibly even fall in love. Part of the details of the elaborate wish that she had outlined was that she would be allowed to spend two weeks in Ethan’s hometown of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, working with him on editing
Theater of Sin
. If he was already married or otherwise unavailable, that would be that—at least Emily would see a book published that she believed in. Likewise if there was no chemistry between them. But if things worked out as she hoped, they would fall madly in love during those two weeks, and they would end up getting married and live a bohemian lifestyle where they would travel the world and write books together. Maybe it was only a fantasy, but in her gut she felt it was more than that. As long as she had a chance to spend time with Ethan Blake, and more importantly, as long as Jack didn’t figure out the true intent for her wish. If he did, Emily felt it was a certainty that he’d cause some mischief to make her wish backfire on her, and for no other reason than that’s what genies did.
Even though Emily had detailed in her wish that she’d be given the go-ahead to purchase
Theater of Sin
, she still found herself tensing up when Mr. Pish approached her the next day to give her the news.
Mr. Pish, his manner brusque, explained that during an editorial board meeting they decided that they needed a new literary writer to champion. “That brought to mind the book you recently had me read,” Mr. Pish continued. He cleared his throat, and then made a constipated face as if he couldn’t fathom why he was doing what he was as he explained to Emily that since she discovered the book she’d be the editor for it. Emily understood that this must’ve pained Mr. Pish greatly as he wasn’t one who liked to share the spotlight. If it were up to him the associate editors would forever remain buried in the shadows without ever being given the opportunity to advance.
The first order of business was purchasing the novel which was left for Emily to do as the acquiring editor, although Mr. Pish told her the maximum amount that she could offer—which was the same amount that she had detailed in her wish. Emily understood all the ways a book deal could languish or fail, and she left nothing to chance or possible mischief from Jack when she made her wish. The purchase ended up being done in rapid time as Emily had specified, as was the contract, which in some cases could drag on for months. In this case Emily made sure it was completed within a month, which was almost unheard of within the industry. The publishing date that Emily had set in her wish was for fifteen months from the date of purchase. While that might sound like a long time—and in fact seem interminable for a first-time author, in the glacial world of publishing it was akin to running a four-minute mile, but would still give Emily enough time to make sure all the necessary prepublication work would be completed. The next two months were a whirlwind as Emily got everything set up so that
Theater of Sin
would be published according to the schedule that she had outlined in her wish. At the end of those two months, Mr. Pish came to her with a baffled look on his face as he explained that he wanted to send her to Ethan Blake’s hometown of Eden Prairie, Minnesota.
“We’re making a substantial investment in this novel, both financially and with our reputation, and given the scheduling and the tight deadlines that have been set it has been decided that the best course would be for you to work closely with the author to make sure the manuscript is properly edited,” Mr. Pish said, almost as if he were embarrassed by this. “This is highly unusual, as you well know, especially in this age of email and cell phones, and I recognize that this may be a hardship for you, having to leave your life behind to spend time in some Godforsaken backwoods of Minnesota.”
It was more than highly unusual. It was practically unheard of. In the rare cases where it was decided that an editor needed to work face-to-face with an author, that author would be flown to New York. Mr. Pish froze for a moment looking as if he had swallowed something down the wrong pipe, then attempted a scowl as he looked down his nose at Emily, who was seated behind her desk. In a low murmur, he added, “If you’re unable to do this, I’ll have to find another associate editor to take on this project.”
“Don’t worry, Mr. Pish, I’ll be happy to take one for the team,” Emily said with her poker face solidly intact since she had known ever since she made her wish that this request would be coming. Even though she already knew the answer to this since she had left absolutely nothing regarding her wish to chance, she asked her boss when she’d be leaving.
“You’ll be flying out Sunday.” He pushed a hand through his sparse hair, cleared his throat again, and then went over the travel and housing arrangements with Emily, moving closer to her desk as he did so, his heavy musk cologne nearly stifling. Emily wanted to kick herself for not working into her wish something about Mr. Pish abandoning that cologne, or at least not dousing himself with it.