You are writing a novel.
You send your friend an excerpt of the novel and he says that one of the characters seems like he could be played by Seth Rogen if your book gets made into a movie.
You decide to describe your main character as explicitly not Seth Rogen-like in order to prevent him from being played by Seth Rogen in the film adaptation.
When the protagonist locks eyes with this character, they observe that he is “not Seth Roganian in the slightest.”
You take a screenshot of this passage of your novel and post it on Twitter because you think it’s funny.
Your tweet gets a lot of likes and retweets.
Your tweet gets so many likes and retweets that it ends up on one of those late-night TV segments where celebrities read tweets about themselves out loud, and Seth Rogen reads your tweet about not wanting your character to be played by him in the film adaptation of your novel out loud on this TV show.
Your friend sends you a clip of this TV segment and is like, “Holy shit.” You feel a little scared. But then you watch it, and Seth Rogen doesn’t seem offended, he’s laughing at your tweet, he thinks this is funny. You feel relieved.
You move on with your life.
You visit your friend, he lives in Edmonton, you don’t really do anything because there isn’t anything to do in Edmonton, but you have a nice time. You look at some deer. You kick around some rocks on a road. You and your best friend make jokes about Seth Rogen the entire time. It becomes the new That’s What She Said. One of you sees a guy wearing a stupid shirt and says, “Oh, haha, Seth Rogen is going to wear that shirt when he’s cast in the movie adaptation of your novel.” It’s your new favorite meme. Ha ha ha, Seth Rogen. Ha ha ha, guy in your novel.
It’s all very fun for the both of you.
This happens in August. In January, your novel is finished. You send your novel to this press you’ve been eyeing for months now, that followed you on Twitter shortly after your original Seth Rogen joke went viral. Not that that’s your angle, of course – though you suppose coasting a bit on your insular internet fame couldn’t hurt.
In February, your Seth Rogen tweet pops up again in some Buzzfeed article curating funny things said by other people about celebrities. It gets a whole new crop of retweets. You hadn’t thought about the tweet in a while, but you think it’s still just as funny. You quote-retweet it and say fuck Seth Rogen and are immediately unfollowed by the press’s Twitter account.
Then, a week later, that very same press offers to publish your novel. They offer you a huge advance, which feels like a miracle. After all, this is the first novel you’ve ever written, being accepted by the first press you’ve submitted to. You are the luckiest person on earth. You come away with this sense of being really good at what you do, of having Really Done Something, and life feels good for a moment.
Even after you sign the contract, the press still doesn’t follow you back on Twitter. You find this a little weird, but it’s not too concerning. Presses are normally run by multiple individuals, it’s okay if one of them doesn’t like the things you tweet. And besides, they’re offering you a huge advance.
In April, the press announces your forthcoming novel on Twitter. You retweet the announcement. Cover art is made. You post it everywhere you can think of, gassing your book up to everyone you know.
But the reaction isn’t really what you expected. People are disappointed in you.
Your press has come under some scrutiny lately due to its masthead. The editors with whom you’ve been working for the past few months appear kind and capable, but they have remained anonymous. Their names do not appear anywhere on the press’s website or any of its social media accounts. Even you aren’t entirely sure of their names. This doesn’t bother you much. You can think of plenty of explanations for this that are less-than-dubious in nature.
But not everyone shares your laissez-faire attitude toward the way your press is run. People are demanding the names of the editors be released and begin referring to it as “basically Fluland.” Now there’s pressure. People are demanding you withdraw your book and make a public apology. You want to stay true to your convictions, but you feel torn. You could pull out of what feels like a miracle book deal and stay on good terms with your writer friends, or you could move forward and release the book to crickets. By the time the most scathing public callouts of you and your work come to light, you’ve already lost half of your Twitter followers. Your DM requests are full of puppet accounts calling you “cryptofash” and not even your oldest friends in the scene will message you back.
You decide to withdraw your novel. After all, there are other presses. You will find another home for it. Getting a few dozen people to read your work doesn’t seem worth all of this. How could it be?
What’s another one to three months?
Despite the undeniable pressure of the preceding few days, you feel an overwhelming certainty, a relief.
But then your press sends an email begging you to reconsider – and there’s more.
They tease that they have been in talks regarding a movie adaptation for your book.
You opened this email while sitting on the toilet, and once you read these words you stay in the bathroom for a long time, becoming well-acquainted with every curve of every letter in the phrase “movie rights” and the tiles closest to you on the bathroom floor. You sit until your asscheeks stick to the seat, and then you walk back into your bedroom and type a long email letting them know you’ve changed your mind.
There is backlash, many people don’t trust you, but it all seems worth it somehow.
You text a screenshot of the movie deal email to your friend in Edmonton. He’s the only person who still supports you, now that your writer friends have publicly denounced you.
He sends back a picture of Seth Rogen. Both of you laugh.
Once you’re locked-in to the book and movie deal, your press throws a few stipulations your way.
First, the movie deal they secured requires that all final creative decisions regarding the film adaptation be determined not by you but the movie’s director.
Second, in lieu of having complete creative control over the movie, you will be required attend one-on-one meetings with members of the main cast in order to advise their portrayal of your characters.
This seems like a fair compromise to you.
The first of these meetings occurs at the end of the year. By now, your novel has already been released. Despite the backlash you’d received upon initially announcing the book, it has sold a fair number of copies. The most observant readers have already pointed out that you are also the author of the now-ubiquitous Viral Seth Rogen Tweet, which has risen to such notoriety that it is now being rehashed and even blatantly plagiarized by other Twitter accounts. The reviews look to be fairly positive, but it’s too soon to tell.
You are flown out to Los Angeles and put up in an expensive hotel. You fall asleep alone in your suite, letting the weight of the king-sized comforter and the words book deal, book deal, book deal rinse away the mounting pressure you feel and the emptiness of having so few left to share it with.
The first one-on-one advising section is scheduled for the following morning. You wake up early, put yourself together, take a few bites of the hotel’s complimentary breakfast. You have been instructed to meet one of the film’s cast members in their own suite, which is on the third floor.
Riding the elevator alone, there’s this sense that something isn’t right. That everything has been too easy. You wrote your very first novel, winging it the whole way through. You submitted your novel without edits to a single press, which accepted it for publication despite its apparent disapproval of your social media presence. In the process, you’ve completely tanked your own reputation within online literary community, and yet somehow come out of all of this in the black, with a book deal, and you are now riding an elevator to attend a one-on-one meeting with the actor who will be bringing your character to life on the big screen. And it’s not just that this seems too good to be true, it’s more than that. There’s a certainty, now, that you can’t seem to shake. This is too good to be true.
As you make your way down the hall to the actor’s suite, you send one last text to your friend for moral support. “I’m about to go in,” you say.
He texts back immediately, “Have fun with…” and you see that he’s typing a second message.
“Don’t even say it,” you fire back.
Your friend doesn’t send you another message.
You’re standing outside the door to the suite now. There’s an eerie silence on the other side, not even a TV playing. You tell yourself the door is probably just thick, stop being so weird about everything, why can’t you just accept your own success?
You knock, and a muffled, “Just open it!” finds its way to you from deep inside the room.
You open the door and pull it behind you with a click. The actor is seated with his back to you on the far side of the bed, wearing a white t-shirt and slumped over in what looks like abject disappointment. You flinch and begin opening the door again, assuming you’d just barged into the wrong room.
But the man says, “No, wait, don’t go.”
“Sorry,” you croak. “Are you the actor?”
“I know,” he says, sighing. “The plan must be obvious by now.” He still hasn’t moved from the bed, still has his back to you.
You don’t respond. You don’t know what he means. In the confusion, you’ve let go of the door handle, allowing the door to the actor’s suite to once again slam shut behind you.
“I just want to talk.”
The actor stands up from the bed. When he turns to reveal himself to you, your face goes white. Nearly everything goes white. It takes all of your effort to keep yourself from collapsing onto the hotel carpet. The emptiness, the cognitive dissonance from earlier are thrust suddenly into focus. The novel, your press and its “anonymous editors,” the book deal, this movie, this trip – in a flash, you see them all for what they really are, and what you see terrifies you.
And standing before you, the horror of all horrors, his eyes forlorn and glistening, piercing you even through his thick, dark-rimmed glasses.
“Why didn’t you want me in your movie?”