The Debut Novel of Marcus Fiedler

A short story about an aspiring author that ponders the question: Why We Write?

by: Ellis Shuman

Marcus Fiedler sat at a narrow wooden table, a stack of paperbacks on his left and a simple blue pen positioned at his right. Additional copies of his book were packed in a cardboard box at his feet. He took a sip of the instant coffee Ruth Wilcott had brought to him a few minutes before. The accommodating owner of the independent bookstore on Central Street had been very excited to stage the signing in her shop.

This was Marcus’s first book signing, for his first novel published. His desk drawer at his home was full of half-written manuscripts, others were backed up in his laptop. One day he would complete them, he vowed.

Marcus was eager for the signing to start. Customers would snake through the aisles, he imagined, his novel in their hands as they awaited his signature. Their first edition copies would be quite valuable one day, especially if his dreams of following up with a sequel were realized. He smiled, thinking of his faithful readers meeting the author they adored. They would soon be lining up, he was sure of it.

But the bookstore was quiet at this evening hour. He looked at the nonfiction shelves to his left, and then at the rack displaying fiction bestsellers: James McBride and Abraham Verghese, Sarah J. Maas and Colleen Hoover. The latest Kristin Hannah novel. The new thriller by Tana French. J.K. Rowling, of course. One day soon, the award-winning debut novel by Marcus Fiedler would be a bestseller. Not only in the Central Street independent bookstore, but in Barnes & Noble stores throughout the country and on Amazon as well.

“Is everything okay?” Ruth Wilcott offered him more coffee.

“I’m fine,” he replied, clicking his pen open and closed.

“I’m sure people will be coming soon,” she said, patting his shoulder before heading into the Science section to assist a prospective customer.

How many books would he sell tonight? he wondered. Had he brought enough copies with him to the store? Imagine selling out on his first night! Imagine having to run a second printing! He clicked the pen again.

“Are you the author of The Ice Parade?”

“No,” Marcus told the fashionably dressed woman standing at his desk.

“I thought you were. You look just like that author — what was his name? He has a goatee just like yours. I saw an interview with him on television.”

“You’re thinking of Samuel Elkins.”

“That’s him! I thought you were Samuel Elkins. My mistake. So, you didn’t write The Ice Parade?”

“Maybe I could interest you in my novel,” Marcus said, sliding a copy of his book across the desk.

“Oh, no, I don’t think so. I came to buy The Ice Parade for my grandson. He’s a big fan of all that fantasy and science fiction, not me. But after seeing that television interview, well, I thought, you might be him. Thank you anyway.”

Marcu forced a smile as he picked up his phone and glanced at the time. It was seven thirty, and the store was nearly empty. He regarded the pile of books on the desk. His book. His novel. The appealing green and white cover of the paperback. The title bold and black, his name listed just underneath in the same pleasing font. He picked up a copy, felt its cool smoothness. The smart spine. His picture and bio on the back. Professionally designed, he thought. His future books would have quotes from well-known authors.



“This writer’s career is bound for the stars!”

The praise would be endless. How would he fit all the quotes on the cover? His publisher would handle that, he assumed. And his agent would give him advice. His future publisher, his future agent — all that was coming very soon.

“It’s very exciting to have a local author’s book signing in my shop,” Mrs. Wilcott had said to him when he approached her with the suggestion. “I’d be glad to arrange it.”

She had been very helpful. They printed up flyers and posted them in the nearby coffeeshops, on the bulletin board at the mall, and even in the grocery store. The Central Street bookstore was quite popular, usually crowded with customers, but not this evening.

Marcus stood up, restless. He sat back down and moved his coffee cup to the side. He picked up his pen.

As the minutes passed, he regarded the customers as they pulled books off the shelves, reading their covers and putting them back. Sometimes they would select one of the bestsellers and then proceed directly to the cash register at the front of the store. One or two smiled at him as they walked by his desk. A teenager picked up his novel, glanced at the front cover and read the summary on the back, and then went looking for The Ice Parade. Marcus was on his own.

“An author’s journey is a solo trip,” he had told his ex-wife, long ago. She had, at first, encouraged him to write but lost interest when he focused on his fiction and not on their marriage. The fantastical worlds he envisioned were bursting with life in his mind. It was his mission to make those worlds come alive in his stories. His ex-wife didn’t have patience for him as he pursued his dream of becoming a published author.

He was proud of his debut novel and of his success in completing it. From the very first moment when he came up with its plot and imagined the characters, he was certain that he would complete this manuscript, unlike all those unfinished attempts. It took him over two years, but he had been successful. It was time to release his book into the world. For that to happen, all he needed was a literary agent who would get the manuscript into the hands of a ready publisher.

Marcus frowned when he saw another customer selecting The Ice Parade. His novel was just as good as the one by Samuel Elkins, he believed. Even better, so why had Elkins found a publisher when he had not?

He had sent out queries to dozens of prospective literary agents and publishers. In the best of cases, he received form rejections. Most of his emails went unanswered. His spirts dropped as one by one, he crossed the publishers and agents off his list. The decision to self-publish came after many frustrating months.

He hired an editor to get his manuscript into shape and a talented graphic designer to produce a professional-looking cover. Marcus had invested two years of his life into writing the novel, so what was spending some of his savings to self-publish the book?

From his table in the bookstore, Marcus watched as a young man took a copy of Elkins’s novel to the cashier.

“I don’t care if I never sell a copy,” Marcus had once said to his ex-wife. “I’m writing because I need to write, because I need to tell my stories. I’m writing for myself.”

But what he had said to her wasn’t exactly true. He wanted more than anything else to sell copies of his book. While it was true he wrote for himself, he also wrote for the readers with whom he hoped to connect. Fans of fantastical worlds. Lovers of science fiction. If they enjoyed The Ice Parade, they would enjoy his book. But no one was purchasing his novel.

“I’m sorry you haven’t yet had any sales,” Ruth Wilcott said, when she approached him towards the end of the scheduled signing. “The store will be closing soon, and well—”

“Not as successful as I had hoped,” Marcus muttered, standing up. “I’ll just pack my books.”

“Your novel will remain on my shelves for sale,” she promised him. “I’m sure people will buy it in the coming days.”

“Thank you.”

He picked up the cardboard box from the floor and filled it with paperbacks. The appealing green and white cover. The title bold and black. His picture and bio on the back.

Famous author? That was not to be, he realized. He had worked so hard and it all came down to this. Not a single copy sold. Had he wasted his time all these years?

“Marcus Fiedler? Is that you?”

He looked up to find an elderly gray-haired woman standing before him. Her face seemed somewhat familiar, but he couldn’t immediately place it.

Before he had a chance to respond, she picked up the only paperback he had yet to pack. “I always knew you would become a successful writer.”

“Wait a minute. Mrs. Grant?”

“You remember me!”

“Yes, of course,” he said, as recognition set in. Mrs. Grant, his high school teacher. “First period English.”

“You were always such an outstanding student. Such a creative mind! I recall reading your compositions, your short stories. So imaginative, so original!”

English had been his favorite subject in school, and Mrs. Grant had been such a wonderful teacher. He recalled how excited he was to attend her classes, how he enjoyed his homework assignments. His good grades were a direct result of her regular encouragement.

“You should be so proud of yourself. A published book. I just knew it.”

“It’s all thanks to you,” he said with a smile.

“What an amazing cover, and such a title for a book. Parade of Ice. I wonder what your novel is about.”

He was about to tell her, but froze when she held out the book to him. “Well, I’ll just have to read this. Will you sign it for me?”

He picked up his pen, thought for a moment, and began to write. The first book dedication he had ever written. His only sale, but the night had turned out to be a success, after all.


Ellis Shuman is an American-born Israeli author, travel writer, and book reviewer. His writing has appeared in The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, and The Huffington Post. His short fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and has appeared in Isele Magazine, Vagabond, The Write Launch, Esoterica, Jewish Literary Journal, San Antonio Review, and other literary publications. He is the author of The Virtual Kibbutz, Valley of Thracians, The Burgas Affair, and Rakiya.

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