The Day I Almost Became a Great Writer

by Earl Staggs

“Litterbugs,” I said, flinching at the sudden pain. “People should be arrested for dumping trash on a public beach.”

Stubbing my big toe on something hard in the mushy sand only made a bad day worse. My latest attempt at writing a novel was hopelessly stalled. So far that morning, I had read all my Email — twice — wasted two hours in a stupid chat room, and scored a thousand points tossing wads of paper at the waste basket. Finally, I decided a barefoot walk along the beach might clear my writer’s block.

Writer’s block. Hah! That’s a joke. You have to actually be a writer to get that. I don’t think a pile of rejection letters qualifies you for it.

I leaned down and waited for the foaming surf to recede from around my feet so I could identify what was about to receive the venting of my pent-up frustration.

It appeared to be a thin-necked jar or vase with a small handle on the side, made of thick dark glass, encrusted with packed sand. I cocked my leg back and poised for a field goal attempt.

           Fourth and ten, score tied, two seconds on the clock, the crowd hushed in breathless anticipation.

Then I heard a faint sound. The wind playing tricks on my ears, I thought, but it sounded strangely like a small voice.

“Rubdadumjuh,” it sounded like.

My imagination, for sure. I started the kick but stopped short when I heard it again. Still very faint, but now the voice had a tone of urgency.

“Rubdadumjuh!”

It seemed to be coming from the thing I was about to boot far out to sea. Ridiculous.

Still….. I bent down close to it and cupped an ear to block the sound of the surf. This time, I heard it clearly. A small, squeaky, but very insistent voice.

“Quit screwin’ around and rub da damn jug awready!”

I backed away like a frightened crab.

“Hey, numchuck,” the voice called out, loud and clear this time. “Ya deaf? Pick up da ferschlugginer jug and rub it.”

I stood transfixed, assessing the situation. Candid Camera? No way. Nowhere to hide the camera. Aha! A practical joke being played by my writing buddies. They expected me to pick up the jug, rub it like a fool, they they’d jump out from behind a sand dune, doubled over with laughter.

Okay, what the heck. Let the silly dizbangs have their fun. Even in my depressed state of mind, I enjoyed a joke as much as anyone. I picked up the thing and gave it a couple of swipes.

Suddenly, a “Poof!” sound erupted from the jug and it glowed a brilliant green. A stream of lavender mist spewed from its opening. I dropped it like a hot ember and backpedaled a few feet.

The lavender mist rose, twisting and turning, slowly taking the shape of a man. Seconds later, there stood before me a squatty, crinkly-faced old man in a rumpled white toga. He looked familiar.

“M-M-Mel B-Brooks?” I stammered.

“Naaaahhhh” the old man said in a voice that sounded like his vocal chords were made of sandpaper. “Knew him, though, as a kid. Wanted to grow up to be a court jester as I recall. How’d he turn out?”

“He did all right,” I replied. “He makes movies now. But…but…”

The old man pursed his lips and nodded. “Movies, huh? With sound and everything?”

“Yes,” I said, “Sound and everything. But…who are you?”

He looked at me as if I had asked the dumbest question in history. “Where ya been da last couple thousand years, kid? I’m da genie in da jug.”

I squeezed my eyes shut, rattled my head back and forth a few times. When I looked, he was still there. I closed them again. Looked again. Still there.

“This is too weird,” I said as I turned and walked away. I had to get away from there.

“Dat’s it?” he called after me.

I turned back. “What?”

“Dat’s it?” he repeated. “You get a wish and all you can say is ‘Dis is too weird’? No piles of gold, no kingdom, no gorgeous harem broads?”

I jerked my head right, then left. No one in sight. I looked behind me. No one. I turned back to the old man. He still looked like Mel Brooks. He had picked up the jug and was busy flicking pieces of crust from it, muttering to himself. I thought I made out the word, “teflon.”

This had to be a dream. Or, I had totally lost my mind. My mother said that when I told her I wanted to be a writer.

But then, I thought, suppose it wasn’t a  dream. Suppose it was real. What did I have to lose? It wasn’t as if I had anything better to do, and no one was around to see me make a fool of myself.

“Are you serious?” I finally managed to say. “I get a wish?”

He gave me that dumb question look again. “No, dummix, I stay cooped up in a stinkin’ jug because I like it.” He seemed to be getting impatient. “Yeah, you get a wish. Dat’s da deal. Rub da jug, get a wish. You get whatever you wish for, I get thirty days outa da jug.”

My mind was a whirlpool, still trying to get a grip on this.

He squinted up at the sun. “Don’t take all century, Einstein. Let’s do dis thing so I can get home in time for da big race. Ben Hur’s going off at 3 to 1 in the fifth. After, maybe I can get a part in Mel’s next picture.”

My mind cleared a little and a thought filtered through the fog. If this was real, it was my big chance. If it wasn’t real, I had nothing to lose. Go for it!

“Well,” I began, not sure how to phrase it. How often does one make a genie wish? “The gold and the kingdom and all are tempting, but there’s really only one thing I’ve ever wanted. All my life, I’ve wanted to be a great writer. So my wish is…”

That was as far as I got before he interrupted.

“Not again!” He slapped his forehead. “Why me? Why do I get ‘em?” He looked at me and shook his head. “So you’re one a’ dem.”

“One a’ dem, I mean, of them? Them what?”

“A writer, dat’s what. First, it was a kid in England. Will somethin’. Snake-somethin’, Shake-somethin’, maybe.”

My mouth dropped open. “Shakespeare? William Shakespeare?”

“Yeh, dat’s it. He wanted to be a great writer too. And a big good-looking kid a few years back. Hemingstern, I think it was.”

“Hem..Hem…Hemingway?” Now I was stuttering. “Ernest Hemingway?

“Right. Him. He still around?”

“No, but he wrote some great books. Are you saying you made Shakespeare and Hemingway into great writers?”

Again, I got the look.

“No, no, no, kid, pay attention. I can move mountains with a snap of a finger. Ya want a castle filled with gold? A flick of a wrist. Ya want a harem? Piece a’ cake. I can even part rivers with an eye blink. Remember dat Red Sea trick?”

My eyebrows shot up. “You parted the Red Sea? Awesome.”

He shot a quick, nervous glance upward. “Uh, no, dat wasn’t mine, but I once did a small pond in Madagascar. What I’m saying is, anything’s possible. Almost. But makin’ people into great writers? Impossible.” He lowered his head, wagged it back and forth and slapped his palms against his thighs. “Why me? Why do I get ‘em?”

I was crushed. “But…but…why? I mean, if you can do mountains and rivers and you can do gold and harem girls, who not this?”

He looked at me for a moment. His features softened and I actually saw disappointment — even a touch of sympathy — in his aged eyes. “Kid, all I can tell ya is, some things can only be accomplished da hard way. I’ll tell you da same as I told Will and Ernie. Work your tail off and never give up. You keep crankin’ it out and, if it’s really in ya, little by little, ya get better. Oh, and don’t let a stack a’ Dear John letters stop ya.”

“Rejection letters,” I corrected.

“Whatever. Same thing. All ya can do is keep at it. Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know. Took me months. What with weather delays, shoddy materials, union disputes, you wouldn’t believe what I went through.”

By now, I was more than crushed. I was demolished. “I guess that’s it then.”

He looked sad now. Dejected, disconsolate. “Yeah, kid. Sorry.”

With that, he began to fade. Seconds later, there was nothing left of him but a trail of lavender mist spiralling back into the jug. I turned and started walking away, head down, my spirits dragging behind me in the sand.

His voice stopped me. “Hey, kid. Come back here a sec.”

I walked back.

“Do me a favor,” I heard coming from inside the jug. “Gimme a big toss into da sea. Maybe I’ll drift somewhere with some action dis time. Vegas, maybe.”

I did as he asked and watched the jug splash down and disappear between two big waves pretty far out. Then I turned toward home. I had some writing to do. Lots of writing. Give up? Never. If Will and Ernie could do it. . . .

Suddenly, I stopped as if I’d walked into a wall. It hit me that I hadn’t actually made my wish to become a great writer. All I did was mention it.

I still had a wish coming to me!

I plunged into the ocean at full speed, highstepping over waves.

“Wait! Come back! The gold! The harem girls!”

The End

This story originally appeared in FUTURES Magazine, April/May 2000.

34 Responses to The Day I Almost Became a Great Writer

  1. Absolutely, absolutely made my morning! Loved everybit of it. The build-up, wind-down, and ending. Way to go! Five stars.

    Pat Harrington

  2. Great story, Earl. I should be editing right now, but the time taken away from my work was well worth it.

    Laura

  3. EARL STAGGS says:

    Wow, Pat. Five stars from you is huge. Thanks a Texas ton.

  4. EARL STAGGS says:

    Hi, Laura!

    You’ve been buried under that pile of work way too long and needed a break. I’m glad you liked my story, and it’s a pleasure hearing from you.

  5. Hi, Earl,
    Loved the story…Doggone it though, wish you’d been able to catch that genie before he got swept out to sea…;-)

  6. Earl Staggs says:

    I’m sorry, too, Betty. Story of my life – a jug short and a wish late. 😉

    I’m glad you liked the story. I mostly write mystery and crime stories, but once in a while, I like to do one just for fun like this one.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  7. Very neat story, Earl. I hadn’t seen it in FUTURES, so glad I found it here.

    Good start on your homesite, too. I have a website, but Ii don’t think anyone ever goes there. Nobody ever says they read my books on Kindle. Or anyplace else.

    Five Star put 4 mysteries (OP) on Kindle. I asked them how they were selling.
    They didn’t know. I asked them who did know. They didn’t know that, either.
    Hmmm.

    But so far I haven’t given up–me an will and Ernie.

    Dorothy. PS. I’ve put my name on Google Alerts. So far I’ve learned that my name has appeared in an obit and that my OP books are selling for .99on eBay.

  8. Earl Staggs says:

    Hi, Dorothy.

    Thanks for visiting and I’m glad you liked the story.

    I plan to wade into the ebook pond soon and expect to learn by trial and error how to make it work. Or maybe I’ll wade in too deep and drown. We’ll see.

    And don’t even think of giving up. It’s not an option. We’re committed, and you know what they say about persistence.

    Best to you, my friend.

  9. Todd Aylard says:

    Greetings, I found this site through the CWC.

    The genie piece is hilarious! Made me laugh out loud! Good moral, too. I look forward to reading more of your work.

  10. Sam Douglas says:

    Earl,

    I held onto the message where you mentioned this story for days till I got the time to actually read it. I’m glad I did. Man, I absolutely loved this story, had me giggling at almost every line. But YOU, you should have jumped for the harem girls. You’re already a great writer.

    Sam

    • EARL STAGGS says:

      But, Sam, you gotta remember I was very young at the time. Gimme that choice now and watch what I opt for. Only thing is, at my age, I’d ask for the harem girls to come by one at a time. Pacing is the key now.

      Best to ya, pardner.

  11. Warren Bull says:

    Another winner! Keep ’em coming.

  12. EARL STAGGS says:

    Thanks, Warren. Glad you liked it and thanks for coming by. Best wishes for continued success with your collection.

  13. We should all be so lucky as to learn what to wish for and what to work at. I know this is a humorous piece, but it’s also very wise.

    • EARL STAGGS says:

      Jenny, I’m thrilled when someone enjoys this story and even more so when someone “gets” it. You did, and that makes you very wise. Best regards and congratulations again on your recent BIG news.

  14. Randy Rohn says:

    I loved the story. In these days of “LOL” its a cliche to say I was laughing out loud, but I was. In fact, I read some of the genie’s lines out loud just to hear the schtick.

  15. Larry Chavis says:

    Gee, Earl, are you sure you’re not related to the Chavises? Story of my life …

    Seriously, it’s a great story, and a good lesson for all of us writer-types who haven’t yet found the gold ring. Thanks.

  16. Hey, Earl,

    I’ve been keeping up with you over the years – just wanted you to know that I LOVED the humor in this story!
    Nancy

    • EARL STAGGS says:

      Hi, Nancy! We do go back a ways, don’t we? All the way back to those hallowed days of Futures. So great hearing from you. I know your family keeps you busy, but I’m glad you’re still writing. Best wishes to you, my friend.

  17. Barry Ergang says:

    “The Day I Almost Became a Great Writer” is further proof that a story with the byline of the venerable Earl of Staggs guarantees an excellent reading experience. Whether the tale is light or dark, your touch is always sure, your timing spot on.

    Well done, amigo. Well done.

  18. Well, you won my First Big Laugh of the Day award when you said, “Only thing is, at my age, I’d ask for the harem girls to come by one at a time. Pacing is the key now.” Earl, this really is classic, great, smooth writing, comedy and dead serious at the same time. Loved the whole thing and it’s all so true. With my imagination, that definitely includes the genie. I can see you tossing that bottle as far as you could, and immediately having second thoughts about having done so. Story of my life also. Great job!!!

  19. EARL STAGGS says:

    Beth, I’m so glad you liked this story. You can’t imagine how wonderful it is to receive such kind words from you. I wrote it a few years ago and it’s still one of my favorites of all my stories. As you know, I usually write mysteries, but once in a while, I like to do something just for fun. Nothing brightens my day more than a compliment on something I’ve done, especially from another writer as talented as you. Best wishes, my friend.

  20. literallydelicious says:

    Thanks for the laugh. And what a great job on the genie!

  21. Great story, Earl – which I always expect when reading anything of yours. And, yes, there is some wisdom there too. I admit I have a thing for “wish” stories – I wonder why I’ve never written one? Remember The Monkey’s Paw?

    Not sure these days what I would wish for. But Love is the greatest treasure, isn’t it? So, maybe that’s what it would be.

  22. I followed your link from Caroline Clemmons site. This was an awesome story. I don’t think you need a Geni’s help….you do fine on your own. I’d love to have you guest blog with me. Interested? email me at mizging @ gmail dot com. (that’s for those stupid bots out there.)

    Ginger

  23. EARL STAGGS says:

    Thanks, Victor. I certainly do remember The Monkey’s Paw and get a chill every time I think of it. I much prefer Genies.

    If your Genie can provide you with that greatest treasure, please send him my way.

    Best to you, my friend.

  24. I have to get across my respect for your kind-heartedness for those people that require assistance
    with that idea. Your personal commitment to passing the message up and down became
    extraordinarily insightful and has consistently empowered guys much like
    me to reach their goals. Your amazing warm
    and helpful tips and hints entails a whole lot a person like me and even further to my
    fellow workers. Thanks a ton; from each one of us.

  25. thelma straw says:

    I agree with Jenny – very wise. You have so many gifts!!! Thelma Straw in Manhattan

  26. Pingback: A Conversation with: Earl Staggs | M. M. Gornell's Blog

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