The bedroom clock blinked 4:35 AM, its red LED at war with the white light radiating from my Kindle. As I powered my Kindle off, I felt a light go out in me, too. I’d just finished reading Dime Store Crime by Lynn Gardner, one of the most sensational novels I’d ever read, and now it was over.
Dime Store Crime, a thriller in which a homicide detective saves both himself and New York City from ruin, was a perfect balance of plot and character, action, and exposition.
Though sleepy, I was hankering to start a new Lynn Gardner book. So I decided to stay up for five more minutes “just to find another,” even though I knew I’d read it until I was no longer physically able to keep my eyes open.
The five minutes turned into hours, but not for the reason I hoped. I searched everywhere, but there were no more novels by Lynn Gardner. There weren’t even any short stories by her.
I felt as if an imp had pried my soul from my body. Why? Did she suddenly die after writing Dime Store Crime? Dime Store Crime’s prose was buttery, the words never getting in the way of the story. The plot and characters were compelling and genuine. There’s no way she was a one-book wonder. If my novel was a hundredth as good as Dime Store Crime, I’d quit the job I didn't have and write full time.
I’m Liam Greene, an unemployed ex-pharmacist who is a Netflix watcher by day (using my neighbor’s wifi and my brother’s Netflix password) and an aspiring novelist at night. Most nights, I do more aspiring than noveling, though, consuming somebody else’s sentences rather than creating my own. But, hey, they say that to be a writer, you need to be a reader.
The weirdest part of Gardner not having any other novels is that she didn’t write this one, either. Let me explain. Other than my copy, there wasn’t a trace of Dime Store Crime anywhere. No reviews, mentions on social media, or excerpts. I couldn't uncover a single fan, and believe me, this book should have had hoards of them. The book wasn’t on Amazon USA or on Amazon in the dozen other countries I searched, even though it existed on my Amazon Kindle. I owned the one and only copy of Dime Store Crime.
At 7 a.m., just as my upstairs neighbor was starting his day with what sounded like football practice, I gave up on Lynn Gardner, chalking this up to a mystery about a mystery.
My next read was Into the Elegance by William Thorne, another incomparably fun novel selected by an Amazon algorithm that chooses your next book based on your previous likes. Into the Elegance, an urban magical realism story, pitted wannabe gods against Zeus and Hera’s descendants. I thought Into the Elegance had been deposited on my Kindle through Amazon's Kindle Unlimited books program, but after a bit of research, I found that Amazon does not automatically download books to their e-readers. They recommend books, but the Kindle owner must initiate the download.
I was certain I didn’t download Into the Elegance.
As with Dime Store Crime, there was no trace of Into the Elegance anywhere on the planet, except for my Kindle.
What would you do if you were me, a twenty-nine-year-old with a future as dark as a black hole, in possession of two blockbuster novels that nobody else knew about?
My decision was easy. These books were too great not to be shared with the world. If I earned a little coin by shepherding them into existence, so be it.
I painstakingly retyped Dime Store Crime and sent it to an agent. My agent sold it to Simon & Schuster for $300,000, an advance I earned back five times over. Ebullient reviews peppered social and mainstream media. There was a movie coming, too, starring Adele Harper and Tom Windham. My second novel, Into the Elegance, was even more successful. To say I was happy would have been an understatement. I moved from my first-floor dungeon to a spacious condo overlooking Central Park. I even had a girlfriend for the first time in ten years.
I studied these two novels, dissecting every plot twist, sentence, emotional construct, character change, and scene. I analyzed the characters’ relationships, motivations, and psychological make-up, subsuming their lives. There’s no better writing tutor than a great book. What’s the saying about buying somebody a fish versus teaching them to fish? I learned to fish.
By the time my publisher wanted a third novel, I was ready.
I spent eight months writing The Bluebird's Song, a Victorian romance. I was pleased with how it turned out, delighted that I had become a novelist after all, thanks to Gardner and Thorne. This novel—my third, yet my first—was pure gold. With a sprightly keyboard click, I emailed it to my agent.
Three days later, my agent called. I snatched my phone out of my pocket, priming my ears for phrases like “another bestseller,” “beautifully written,” and "Nobel Prize material.”
Silence followed by a tone of angry disappointment buzzed my phone. She said, “HarperCollins published Lacy Walsh’s The Bluebird's Song five years ago. It’s word-for-word the same as your manuscript.”
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If you liked Stories Not Yet Told, I think you’ll enjoy my flash fiction, The Twenty-Six.