“You wouldn’t be Elizabeth McMillan, now would you?”
Already his eyes had turned up to her, and his familiarity with her name could be a good sign. “That’d be me.” Should she thank him for remembering? That could sound much too novice! Instead Elizabeth took his offered hand, then released his fingers as she eased into her chair. It was comfortable. Why should she feel nervous? Yes, she knew him, but only from his photos.
“I’ve seen some of your plays.” Victor Kenneth trailed a finger down one side of his sandy brown hair that led to a hint of a goatee. “Or one, anyway. The Light Princess adaptation?”
“Oh! Yes, that was mine.” Her notebook stayed in her lap. He should ask to see it, right?
He was still remembering. “But that would have been … one hundred thirty-eight years ago.”
“The premiere!” Elizabeth wouldn’t hide her enthusiasm. “You were there?”
“Wouldn’t have missed it. One of my favorite stories, you see.” He spoke as a professional, but friendly as anyone, with an air that eased part of the tension that silently, humorously gripped her. Now his finger lifted, and he pointed to her lap. “It’s okay,” Victor said with a laugh, “you don’t have to act like you’re not here to do all you can to convince me of its value.”
Letting herself chuckle with him, she withdrew the book and lay it on the table between them. “Do you want, um …” Elizabeth’s blank mind only lasted part of a second. “A one-sheet, or …”
“I’m a little different,” Victor told her, quite relaxed. “Want to tell it to me without reading it?”
Without a script? Actually that might be easier. “All right.” A quick silent prayer slipped from her mind, and she sensed His encouragement. “This story … it follows Martha Fisher. Hers is a quiet community, lost in time, and also lost in all myriads of traditions they have come up for themselves in so many years. They have their own ideas of right and wrong. When she’s turned 14 — that’s the age of maturity in their culture — things change drastically when she finds —”
“Excuse me,” Victor cut in with a reassuring smile. “Are you describing a non- …”
“It’s a pre-world setting, yes. The rural United States.”
Giving a nod, he sat back again and let Elizabeth continue. “So imagine what happens when she finds out, from a young man who mysteriously arrives in her world and tugs at such strange feelings in her heart, that there’s another world that she’d never thought she could ever …”
Elizabeth had been slowing, watching his frown, though Victor Kenneth kept listening intently.
“Oh, you can keep going,” he said. “However, you probably already know that it’s …”
Already she was nodding, having read the rumors and hoped that was all they were. “It’s …”
“Not what our company needs right now, yes,” Victor finished, and gave a mock shrug.
Elizabeth wanted to debate that. “Surely though, your company wants to expand its offerings sometime? I know so many people who want this kind of thing in their novels!”
“And so far, our surveys show they are not plentiful enough to warrant a greater investment.” Victor Kenneth was almost squinting in thought; his eyelids wrinkled as he gazed up. “Pre-world fiction, it’s …” His hand was waving while he reached for words. “Been kind of done by now? Have you read the latest literature on the subject? Or are you very new to book fiction-writing?”
Come to think of it, she hadn’t read whatever data was out there about his publisher’s customer base. Elizabeth had to shake her head, adopting an expression of sheepish innocence.
“The pre-world stories are just not very popular,” Victor went on. “More of our readers tend to favor … stories, elements and settings that relate to things they know about, in real life. You see, space colonies, discovering fantastic creatures, seeing the Sovereign change a planet in 20 minutes … parallel timelines, the what-if worlds, if for example He had returned in the 15th century … or journeying for the first time to a galaxy at the edge of the known universe …”
“Mm-hmm, modern fiction,” Elizabeth interjected, and added a sarcastic sniff.
Victor gave another shrug. “Modern fiction.”
“Hmm.” Don’t give up now, His voice within was assuring her. “So what other publishers are looking into … something like speculative stories? Pre-world historicals? Old-Earth settings?”
“It’s not a matter of simply ruling out Old-Earth settings.” Victor spoke faster, as if he had frequently gone over this. “Going back to pre-resurrection realities yields so many storytelling possibilities, that’s for certain. Instead I am referring to less-realistic settings, stories and genres that contain more of … let’s say those way-out-there elements. Human-only romance? That kind of story has some adherents, but very few; most have long since found that trite after they’ve seen the original Groom and His Bride.”
Elizabeth had to agree and wanted to say so, that was why her story also included —
“Exploring personal boundaries?” Victor asked. “Without a more-modern foreshadowing and echoes of redeemed human minds, it comes across as shallow.”
Oh, she thought, and now was sure that some regret showed on her face.
“As for quiet communities lost in time, while once those seemed very appealing, the smaller themes and stagnation that modern readers associate with those kinds of stories …” Lightly Victor chuckled. “Of course I don’t mean such themes still cause anything like temptation! The only problem is that it’s hard for readers to take them seriously.”
Now he stopped, as if the case were made, his points proved, and they both should move on.
From around them came the sounds of quiet conversations from the few other editor-and-writer pairs, sitting at other tables throughout the small room. Elizabeth’s gaze wandered to the window nearest their table. Beyond her own reflected blond hair and pondering expression shone a gleam of metal; a shuttle was just gliding into view, likely bringing in more attendants to the conference. Lord bless them, she knew, but wouldn’t anyone write anything more imaginative than more novels about the same kinds of spaceships and fantasy worlds?
Something was tapping on the table, and Elizabeth turned back to see Victor Kenneth’s finger poking at her notebook. “How much of your project have you written?” he asked.
Opening the book, she showed him what she’d already typed on the pages. “Three hundred thirty thousand words. Two weeks, and …”
“Well, I’m a little out of practice. As you said, it’s been years since I wrote that play.”
If Elizabeth were reading Victor right, his face had suddenly become thoughtful. His finger moved to rest on his cheek, and his eyes had drifted back to the ceiling. Again she reminded herself, though it might be unnecessary: don’t press him. Let him think. Lord, it’s all for You.
Leaning forward, Victor’s suddenly rapt eyes focused on hers. “Your play was beyond excellent, Elizabeth. That gives me a confidence I might not ordinarily have with a newcomer to fiction writing … for yes, this long after, you nevertheless qualify as a newcomer. Let me make a suggestion to you. You’ve spoken of this main character of yours learning to experience another world. By that I’m sure you meant the world outside her community, the world with electricity, technology and other things this strange young man in her life would show her.”
Her mouth staying closed, Elizabeth nodded.
“Now think of the possibility here.” An idea was bristling in his mind, she could tell. “Suppose it’s a different kind of world Ms. Fisher discovers. Suppose something went wrong in a trip to the pre-world, taken by someone from our world — or a parallel version, I’m certain it could work theologically. So instead of a man from a city, limited in that time, you could have …”
“A … traveler from this world …”
“Crashing into hers,” Victor exclaimed, “and showing her from his perspective as a glorified saint that all that she’s known, the religious traditions, the cloistered community, that she …”
Elizabeth’s hand had slowly risen. “That is much different from the story I’d intended.”
And yours is a story, came a Voice in her mind, that I may want you to write another day. In the future, it could honor My Name in more incredible ways than you could do now.
Slowly the smile returned to Elizabeth’s face. Knowing this interview might need to be over, she rose to her feet. “But it’s worth thinking about. Thanks so much. I have some other writer friends who do that sort of thing; I may pass your idea to them.” Should she leave her pages with Victor anyway? She’d already thought to, so she lay her copy back on the table. “But I do hope you’ll keep me in mind,” she added, “when your readers decide they’re ready for more of that way-out-there speculative fiction.”