Maya crumbled up her twenty-second rejection letter and threw it, not caring where it landed. She sighed loudly and pressed her fingers to her temples. Her gray Persian cat, Vicky, snaked her way between Maya’s legs, hoping to get her attention. Maya took Vicky into her arms and plopped herself down on her loveseat. She sat there stroking the cat in a daze.
I can’t believe it! Another rejection! Can’t they see how good my story is? I should have gotten an acceptance by now. Maya took Vicky off her lap and stood up; she paced back and forth. Maybe I should call Rob. I can try to patch things up with him and get him to be my agent again. Maya pushed the idea out of her mind. If he were any good, I would have been published by now.
She went through the checklist in her mind of what she needed to do: she’s written several drafts, she had beta readers, she had proofread it, then she hired a professional editor, after that she found Rob through a mutual friend; which that failed. In the end, it was up to her to send query letters and sell herself to these publishing houses that don’t seem to want to give her a chance.
It was nothing new to Maya; she had to go after things and do them herself all her life. Even for her parents, who had migrated to Miami and only spoke Haitian. She was only four years old when they moved in with her uncle and aunt in a small converted garage. Growing up, she had to translate for her parents and do things that a grown-up would typically do. Maya knew at a young age that she wanted to be a writer. It was her namesake; she was named after Maya Angelou, her mother’s favorite author.
After graduating high school with a high GPA and a couple of scholarships, she registered for a creative writing program at Florida International University. She poured her energy and time into the courses, rotating between studying in the library or doing homework in her dorm. During those years, her father passed away. That’s when her relationship with her mother began to deteriorate. Her mother accused her of not seeing her father more often before he died. Maya tried to explain to her that she was going to become the greatest Haitian writer. Yet, it wasn’t enough to get her to speak to her again. Maya was more determined than ever to convince her mother and to fix their relationship.
Maya came across the crumpled letter and kicked it. Vicky raced after it with a flourish of her tail. She decided to take a walk in her new neighborhood of El Portal, an area not too far from Miami’s epicenter. The August sun beat down on her, making her clothes stick to her ebony skin. Maya turned a corner and spotted a bookstore. The lettering was painted above the entrance, and it was faded from years of sun and rain. Her pulse quickened, and she concealed a squeal.
Much of her childhood memories were of bookstores and libraries. She would check out the max of books at the local library and would make her mother stop at a bookstore if she happened to see one. Maya knew that she would be visiting this establishment often. She pushed through the heavy glass door, and a bell sounded above her head. Crowded shelves covered the walls from top to bottom, and even then, there were books stacked in corners. It smelled of aging paper and leather, the mix intoxicating Maya. She ran her fingers along the spines.
“Hello?” An accented voice spoke to her.
“Hi!” Maya said, searching for the person.
“Let me know if you need anything.” The voice said this time Maya found the older man hunched over at one of the bookshelves.
“Thanks, I will,” Maya said, and she went down an aisle.
She scanned the titles; Dante’s Inferno, Beowulf, The Old Man and the Sea. This must be the classic section. Maya kept going and found the reference section, then the books on writing. She had many of these titles and had read them more than twice. Her eyes came upon a title that she had never seen – Be the Best Writer in the World. Maya pulled the book out and peered at the back of it.
You’ve learned the craft of writing, and you’ve written your 10th draft. Your confident that your manuscript is top-notch and that it will get accepted. Yet you are struggling… you have been rejected numerous times. With this book, you will never have to deal with another rejection letter again! This workbook will teach you how to write the best query letters and convince any publishing house to take your book – GUARANTEED!
Maya turned the book over. There was no author name but a name of a company that she had never heard of – Caim Publishing. With her curiosity peaked, she decided to purchase the book and a book of poems by Nikki Giovanni. As she placed the books on the wide, glass top counter, the older man studied her. His glasses slipped down his bulbous nose, and he furrowed his bushy eyebrows.
“I didn’t know I still had this book.” He said as he picked up the writing book.
“It’s exactly what I need,” Maya said
“Is it?” The man said, ringing her up in his old-fashioned register.
“Yes, I’m a writer, and I’ve been struggling to get my book published.”
“Maybe you should look at your work instead of looking for answers somewhere else.” The store owner said, slipping the books into a plastic bag.
Maya frowned. “My work is fine; I just need a little extra help.” She said, snatching the bag from the counter.
“Enjoy your books, miss.” The man said as Maya stepped out into the boiling heat.
Sipping a glass of Chardonnay, Maya had the Be the Best Writer in the World book on her lap while she sat with Vicky on the love seat. Even though the sun had gone, the humidity and heat had remained. The A/C was set lower than the average, yet she felt comfortable. She reread the first instructions.
Read and fill in the blank:
I________________________ will follow the instructions and prompts in this workbook to the fullest. Signing my name will bound and seal me to the workbook’s abilities to help me become a great writer.
This book is way too serious. Maya thought of ignoring the first instruction and going on to the next. A thought came to her that perhaps writing her name on the book would be useful if she lost it somewhere. She scrawled across the line: Maya Beaufils. As soon as she lifted the pen off, the hairs on the back of her neck stood. Rubbing her neck, she glanced about her apartment. Vicky meowed at her and stared.
After having done the first five lessons, Maya yawned. The wall clock read: 10:42 PM. She should have been in bed an hour ago since she had to be up the next day at five. Her remote employer was in a different time zone from hers and would not accept her being late again. Maya didn’t care for the job, yet it was a writing gig. She was tired of writing resumes for clients that barely had anything to fill a page. Trudging to her bedroom, she thought about the exercises. They weren’t the typical assignments that she would have done in a class or even another writing book. So far, the lessons were to describe what she wanted to achieve.
With a large cup of black coffee in hand, Maya plopped herself in front of her laptop. She was very meticulous about her workspace; not even Vicky was allowed to be too close. The corner of the studio apartment was set up with a desk that converted from sitting position to standing, an ergonomic chair, a pot of succulent plants, sheer curtains for viewing out to the small park below, and a swinging ball pendulum.
As customary in her routines, Maya checked her emails first. It usually didn’t take long for her to filter out the junk, the rejection emails (which she would print out and wait until the end of the day to read), and the work-related ones. Her eyes scanned the emails, and she noticed she had many from a person she didn’t know. Who is this Steve McNamar? She opened one of them.
Maya reread the email. Red Brick Publishing? That’s one of the biggest publishing houses around! I think I’ve heard of Destiny Media Group… I’m pretty sure I had tried to get an agent from them. Did they change their minds? But this email… says that they’re almost finished with editing my book. Which book is it?! Maya closed the email and began reading the others. Her heart was pounding, and her lips curled into a wide smile. She was getting published, she had no idea how it happened, yet she didn’t care. I deserve this! I’ve worked so hard; I’ll just ask questions when I get to New York. At least now I know it’s for my book, The Uncharted Heart. She responded to her agent, printed out her flight information, and rushed to her room to pack.
As she piled clothes into her luggage, she realized she hadn’t seen Vicky in some time. She dropped the last piece of garment in and scanned her bedroom. Calling her name, Maya searched the apartment. She ended up outside, walking up and down the alleyway and then the block. Back inside her apartment, she noticed that Vicky’s food bowl was missing. What is going on? Maya thought to look for the cat food and saw that it was gone too. It’s like she never existed. She grabbed her phone and looked for pictures of Vicky. Nothing, no images. She searched her social media. That came up with nothing.
Frustrated, Maya sat on the love seat. She ran her hand on the seat, expecting to find cat hair, but there were no gray wisps. Goosebumps rose on her dark skin, and she rubbed them away. I don’t have time to worry about what it all means; my flight is tomorrow. Besides, now I don’t have to worry about it. Maya pushed the apprehension out of her mind and went back to her room.
The trip to New York lasted about a week, where Maya was wined and dined by the publishing house and her agent Steve. It all felt like a dream, a dream that she had been after for so long. She had taken the writing workbook with her and continued to complete the assignments inside. The writing prompts were strange to her, yet she believed that the book was helping her. Maya didn’t believe in witchcraft or magic, even though she wrote about them in books; yet she thought that what was happening to her was done by something otherworldly. She was not frightened by it; she wanted this.
It wasn’t until the plane ride back that she realized that she never told her mother what had happened. When she landed, she pulled her phone out and dialed her mother’s number.
“Manman! You won’t believe what has happened to me! I’m going to be a writer.” Maya said in Creole before the other could answer.
“Hello, who is this?” A man answered.
“I-I am Maya. Where is my mother? This is her phone number.” Maya said
“No, this is my number; I am Victor. I’ve had this number for five years now. You have the wrong number.” The man said.
“How could this be possible! I just used this number two weeks ago!” Maya said.
“I don’t know what you are talking about.” The man said and hung up.
Maya stared at her cell phone. My mother must have changed her phone number and didn’t give it to me. Once outside, Maya called for an Uber. She didn’t want to go home yet.
The Uber pulled up in front of her mother’s house in North Miami, where she had grown up. It was three blocks away from the library, the same library where she visited as a child. The Uber driver helped her pull out her luggage, and she dragged it up to the front door. Sweat trickled down the side of her face as she shoved her copy of the house key into the doorknob. The key didn’t turn. Puzzled, Maya tried again. Then the door was yanked open.
“Who the hell are you?! Are you trying to break in?” The woman said.
“What?! No?! This is my mother’s house!” Maya said, stepping back.
“Your mother? I’ve never seen you before in my life. I’ve been living here for the past ten years with my two sons.” The woman said.
“This can’t be possible! What is going on?” Maya said, more to herself.
“You better go, or I’ll call the police.” The woman said and slammed the door shut.
Maya stood frozen in place for a few seconds and then stormed off. What’s going on here?! First, it was Vicky and now my mother. They’re gone like they never existed. A sense of dread overwhelmed Maya as she trudged down the simmering sidewalk to a bus stop. She needed to sit down. I was growing tired of my mother, but it doesn’t mean I wanted her gone. A thought crossed her mind, and she pulled out the workbook. She remembered that one of the questions was if she would be willing to make sacrifices and had answered yes. No, not like this! The bookstore owner! I have to ask him to help me!
Exhausted, Maya pushed through the glass door of the book shop and found the store owner at the counter. She stumbled forward with the luggage and workbook in hand.
“Sir, please! You have to help me. I bought this book here over a week ago, and things started happening to me. My cat is gone, and so is my mother! I want them back!” Maya said and began to sob.
The older man peered at Maya and then at the writing book. “Did you sign it?” He said.
“What?” Maya said between gasps.
“The book, did you sign it?” The man said.
“Yes, there’s a part that I signed. It doesn’t mean anything. Are you going to help me?” Maya said.
“You signed the book. Even if I wanted to, what makes you think I can help you?
“But-But, you sold me the book. You know where it came from. I thought maybe you could tell me what to do.”
“You weren’t concerned with wanting my advice then, and now you want it?” The older man laughed. “Yes, I know where it came from. I know where all my books come from. They all have a story, and they are all here to help people, in some way.”
“Please, I want my mother back,” Maya said.
“My advice to you, since you are a writer, is to write down everything you can remember about yourself and anything else that’s important to you because it is not done taking.”
“What? Who’s doing this to me?!” Maya said.
The man pushed the book back towards her as a customer entered the shop. “I don’t take returns.”