Naming a literary executor
| I am thinking of turning my bathroom into a storehouse. My pile of unpublished, unsold manuscripts builds up. None of the closets in the house will hold all of them, thus removing the toilet and sink is the next logical step. I won't have to take out the bathtub; paper will fit nicely in it and I think I can rig up an outdoor shower to take its place. As for the other fixture, the trees are less than 75 feet from the house.
I used to think that if I survived the 'S' turn on the bobsled course when I was eighty-five, I would live forever, but now, living alone, I have come to realize that my constant diet of starch will probably carry me off in a few years. Thus, the thought of finding a literary executor comes to mind, and remembrances of Mrs. Toole float into my head.
Once again I am being too literary for my non-readers, but who can forget the story of John Kennedy Toole, his mother, A Confederacy of Dunces and the famous author Walker Percy? Toole disappeared in January 1969, his novel never having been accepted though he tried at Simon and Schuster. He was found dead two months later in his car in Biloxi, Mississippi. His mother carried on his quest, badgering Percy to read the manuscript, finally confronting him at his office at Loyola University in New Orleans one day with a 'badly smeared, scarcely readable carbon.' He read it, was able to convince Louisiana State University Press to publish it in 1981, and saw it go on to win a Pulitzer Prize.
What an inspiring story for all of us who try to write! Of course, I think most 'wannabe' writers would prefer to be on this earth the day our ship comes in, but I do think we should give thought to those reams of linen filling our closets, desk drawers, or bathrooms in my case. Who will play Mrs. Toole for me? My mother departed our world in 1983. Even if she were still alive, I would face competition from H. R. Schneider, the nom de plume of my sister, Janet. It's doubtful that my mother would choose between siblings, but if she had to, surely her pick would be the youngest of the litter, and that is not me.
To think of Mother as an advocate is pure fantasy. If she walked into the office of Richard Russo, or some other famous author tomorrow, the poor man would be frightened out of his wits by this ghost dragging chains and manuscripts of her two children/writers under each arm. She could save some effort by carrying a copy of God Of The Anthill, Janet's 1976 self-published collection of poems in her one hand. This slim 43-page volume would not weigh her down, and surely Mr. Russo would be more interested in it than in my Frick and Frack collection still in loose manuscript form.
It says something about fame, I am not sure what, that twenty-six years after publishing, a search on Google produces the following pithy phrase for the ‘Ant Hill’ title: "did not match any documents." Looking up the name H. R. Schneider unleashes lists of Germans who seem to have done something in German for Germans, but no American poet. Oddly, a search using her given name brings four hits, but none citing her her authorship.
I am Janet's executor; I have a copy of her will wrapped in waterproof plastic in a storage box in my garage. The document is almost Dickensian in its scope. Religious artifacts, gewgaws and photos of wolves are to be given to certain lucky people, unless the beneficiaries either do not want them, or have remarried or left the fold, in which case a grand search is to be made for other potential recipients listed. I foresee spending the rest of my days liquidating the estate, but reading through the will this morning, I note there is no provision naming a literary executor. This frightens me. Might I be named by some Indiana court by default? After all, I am purportedly a writer.
Janet writes poetry no more except to accompany her annual Christmas Card. Her study of wolves has ceased. She is spending her time writing her Magnum Opus, a biography of Thomas, Thomas a Beckett that is, the late Archbishop of Canterbury and the twelfth century foil of Henry II. If trying to execute the will does not kill me, being appointed to finish the book surely will. Before the hard drive on the old laptop I gave her crashed, she had found the Internet and discovered email. This discovery proved that Janet out of sight in Indiana was not Janet out of mind. In daily emails to her fellow writer and brother, she poured out her problems translating 12th Century Latin, while regaling me with humorous tales of Hank and Tom and their buddies.
If I must complete this work, I fear I am not up to the light, saucy tone she has imparted to the story. I can not be a Suessmayer to her Mozart. More than likely I will transform her soufflé into one of those heavy dumplings that drop into the stomach and sit there for days. The reader can realize this just by reading those last two lines. Conversely, it is doubtful that Janet can be my literary executor should she choose to survive me. Faced with a bathroom, and by then a small bedroom, full of paper, she would send up a few prayers to some obscure saint and consign my material to the home for wayward manuscripts. They deserve better than that.
I thought of naming my mentor. She has a wonderful Psychic to guide her and she retains her faith in my work, too much faith probably. If there really is no ‘there’ there, I fear she might continue to the detriment of her writing career. I need someone more realistic and someone with a special talent. Deep in thought, I looked out my window and saw the rain pelting down. It is chilly in here. I thought about my wood stove, and at that moment my mind flashed to a picture of my friend Pamela lighting my little grill last week during what felt like a hurricane. Imagine what she could do with a box of kitchen matches to my bathroom filled with papers. And knowing Pam, she would clean up afterwards.
It is the perfect solution! A Viking funeral! After the disposing of my collected works, she can put all the ashes, mine included, under a stone marked:
“H. R. Schneider’s Brother”
Someplace, somewhere, a writer sitting in his office at some university, just heaved a sigh of relief.
Valatie August 29, 2002