The Princess and the Placeholder

princess2a boyMy brother thinks he’s a writer. Gary got the notion after receiving positive feedback for his letters to the editor of a hot rod magazine. Now his favorite line is, “I can’t not write.” Whatever.

You see, I am a writer, and he knows this. I’ve taken countless creative writing courses, entered contests too numerous to mention, placed respectably in a few, and have indeed been paid for my work.

Gary has had his nose in one auto monthly or another for as long as I can remember. But I’ll bet he’s still more entertained by the pictures of all the pretty cars painted in crayon box colors, with shiny chrome blowers protruding from flame-striped hoods, than he is in the actual articles.

A while back he sent me a draft of a travelogue he had written, chronicling a 10-day trek to the Bonneville Salt Flats in his restored lime green ’48 Plymouth. He wanted my opinion of the piece, as well as advice on how to pitch a monthly column.

Always happy to share my expertise with aspiring authors, even siblings, I put aside the contempt I held for the decades of relentless teasing Gary and our older brother, Bill, subjected me to as a child. Back then, curled up on my Barbie pink canopy bed, my head buried in a Nancy Drew mystery, I asked nothing more from them than to be left alone. From periodic popcorn pelting to the stinging spray of a transparent yellow water pistol, there seemed no end to their infantile pranks. I can’t begin to count the number of times our mother responded to my plaintive cry, “MAAWWM!” I can still picture her running from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a dish towel, screaming, “Now, you boys, leave her alone!”

Sam I Am

After reading his story, I emailed my reply. “Good first draft. I like your folksy, down-to-earth style, not unlike that of Mark Twain.”

I lived to regret that comparison. He now signs all his emails, “Sam.”

My message continued. “First, get the guidelines for submission from their website. You’ll need a query letter. I can help you with that. Since you want to write a recurring column, you’ll need to bundle several pieces, to provide a sample of your work. Send them to me first to polish – you know, for spelling, grammar, sentence structure.”

God knows Gary never got higher than a C- in high school English. I, on the other hand, skipped third grade, excelled in language courses throughout my formative years, and competed in a multitude of spelling bees.

I patched that missive off and waited.

Pedal to the Metal

The next day, I received my brother’s response. “Sis, I went ahead and sent my story idea to the editor in an email. Was that okay?”

Horrified that he had blown his first (and probably only) hope for a paid writing gig, I dashed out a quick reply.

“Slow down, Bro, you’re gonna look too anxious! The publishing world has rules, and these rules must be followed. But maybe we can salvage this if we just take our time.”

Before I could hit the Send key, a new message landed in my Inbox. Another one from “Sam.”

He had forwarded the editor’s response. “Looks good. I might be interested. Send me the complete story, with pictures, when it’s finished, and I’ll be in touch.”

Damn. It’s not supposed to work that way. What about the query letter, the polishing, the bundle? And wait a minute. He’s not the writer in the family. I am. We all have our designated roles. Bill is the artist, I am the intellectual, and Gary is…well, the middle child – a sort of placeholder, a temporary distraction – until Mommy and Daddy’s little princess was born.

Still, he sought my guidance. What’s a good sister to do? I couldn’t just abandon him on the threshold of his newly discovered ambition, however unsuited to it he may be.

Before long, I was correcting spelling, unsplitting infinitives, inserting verbs where no verb had gone before, and spit-polishing Gary’s Twainesque works.

When he received the check in the mail, I was the first one he called. “I owe you dinner,” he said, after he shared the news. “I couldn’t have done it without you.”

You’re darned right, you couldn’t, I thought. But I kept this to myself. After all, he’s my brother. And besides, he knows that no matter how successful he becomes, I’ll always be the princess.



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4 responses to “The Princess and the Placeholder

  1. I hope your brother knows what a blessing his sister is! I really loved reading this, thanks!

  2. I remember being upset when my brother got a great grade on a paper he wrote (about me by the way)! I was like, “I’m the writer!” Good on you being a good sister. Ah… isn’t sibling rivalry fun?! 🙂

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