Once upon a time, in a little Italian village nestled at the foot of the Alps, north of Milan, there lived a humble cabinetmaker named Giuseppe who wrote a weekly home improvement column for the local newspaper. Giuseppe was happy with his simple life, but he lacked one thing to make his happiness complete: a son to inherit his business and his newspaper column.
One day, after finishing a particularly difficult chest of drawers and perhaps one too many glasses of vino, Giuseppe spent the evening carving and decorating a marionette in the form of a little boy. “I suppose if I can’t have a real son to take over the family business, you’ll have to do,” he said as he dabbed a tiny sparkle of white paint onto each of the puppet’s blue eyes. “I will call you Intaglio.” He dressed it in a set of lederhosen and an alpine hat, spent a moment admiring his handiwork, and then went to bed.
At midnight, a brilliant blue light illuminated the little workshop. A beautiful fairy floated in through an open window and hovered over the bench where Giuseppe had propped the marionette. She sprinkled it with glitter, waved her wand, and said, “Little puppet made of oak, I grant you life, this is no joke. If you work hard and never stray, a real writer you’ll be someday.”
The puppet stirred, his wooden eyelids blinked, and he stood up on wobbly wooden legs. “I’m alive!” he shouted. “Thank you, beautiful Writing Fairy!”
“Intaglio, there will be many temptations in the wide world beyond the door of this workshop. I have filled your little oaken head with stories, but you must tell them truly, or you will never become anything more than a multijointed talking doll. And don’t quit your day job. Writing is spiritually rewarding, but it doesn’t pay much.”
“I promise, Writing Fairy. I’ll do my very best. You’ll see. Hey, I think I feel a story coming on! I’m going to start write…er…right now!”
“You do that. Farewell, Intaglio.”
So, Intaglio labored on through the night, and you can imagine Giuseppe’s surprise when he stumbled blearily into his workshop and discovered the little marionette very much alive and putting the finishing touches on a 700-page novel.
Intaglio set down his quill and clomped across the room to give Giuseppe a painful hug. “Good morning, Poppa! I’m full of life and rarin’ to write. Teach me everything you know so I can take over from you when you kick the bucket.”
“Well, I think it would be best to begin with the cabinetmaking. Writing is enjoyable, but it doesn’t pay for clothes, and coal for the stove, and fettucini, and…”
“I’m made of wood. I have no modesty, I don’t get cold, and I don’t need to eat, but I’m simply compelled to write. There will be plenty of time to learn about cabinets later.”
Guiseppe was so overwhelmed and delighted to have a son, of sorts, that he found he couldn’t deny the little puppet anything. He schooled him meticulously on the fine points of writing, but after exhausting his store of knowledge two days later, he discovered that Intaglio still wasn’t content.
“Poppa, I must learn more! I’ve got to master semicolons, and manuscript formatting, and Times New Roman 12-point font…all the many, many, many things you can’t teach me. I need to go to college.”
“But Intaglio, you haven’t even attended kindergarten. I doubt you could pass the entrance examination. Still, the University chancellor owes me a favor. Perhaps I could pull a string or two…”
The chancellor had more than one skeleton locked in the baroque cabinet he’d bought from Guiseppe, so, early the next morning, Intaglio was skipping merrily along the country lane that led to the University. It was a 30-mile hike, but wooden puppets have stamina to spare. As he passed a small cabbage farm, a cricket perched on a fence post chirped at him.
“Hey there, puppet-boy! Where you going?”
“I’m on my way to the University to get my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. I’m a writer.”
“You don’t say. You’re the first living marionette I’ve ever met. I’ll bet there’s a great story right there.”
Intaglio told him the story of his life, so far as it went. The cricket was impressed. “I’d pay good money for a story like that.”
“Nah, what do I know? I’m a cricket, and I’m broke. Later.”
Intaglio rounded the next bend in the road and was promptly seized and beaten up by a pair of disreputable-looking fellows in fedoras and pinstriped suits. They stole his lunch money and tossed him into a ditch beside the road. “So, tell me,” the larger one said, “what makes you think you can bebop through our territory without repercussions?”
“You just gave me a repercussion, I think. I’m trying to get to school so I can learn how to be a better writer.”
The smaller one bent down and hoisted Intaglio to his feet. “You’re a writer? Well now, that there is a horse of an entirely different color. Myself and my colleague are also writers, and we are always on the lookout for new talent. Perhaps you would consider joining our creative writing circle.”
“I think I need to finish my degree first. Besides, you beat me up and took my lunch money.”
“Oh, that was nothing personal. We had no idea you were part of the Brotherhood of Authors. Come with us, and we’ll ensure you are liberally reimbursed and trained in the cutting-edge techniques of modern fiction. You shouldn’t waste years of your life sitting in some stuffy classroom. What you need is to inhale the heady effluvium of a room full of writing writers. We’ll get you up to speed and on the bestseller list in no time. ‘Learning by doing,’ that’s our motto. Whattya say?”
Being a very gullible, trusting, and ambitious puppet with a short attention span and a brain composed of coarse-grained oak, Intaglio agreed immediately and accompanied the two thugs to a tumbledown shack at the center of a dense forest inhabited by wolves, exiled royalty, and senior citizens. Moments after crossing the threshold, he found himself chained to a rickety chair at a long table filled with children similarly chained to similarly rickety chairs. Everyone had a sheaf of paper in front of them, upon which they were scribbling feverishly with quill pens. The effluvium was anything but heady.
The large thug slapped a greasy, tattered parchment beside Intaglio’s stack of paper and shoved a quill into his hand. “Here’s the format. Get writing, slave.”
Intaglio squinted to read the parchment in the dim light filtering through the shack’s ragged thatch roof:
FAIRY TALE ROMANCE #436: SNOW WHITE ELLA AND THE SLEEPING FROG PRINCE
PARAGRAPH 1, LINE ONE: ONCE UPON A TIME, THERE WAS A PRINCESS. NAMED ELLA. AND A PRINCE. WHO WAS A FROG. SLEEPING.
“This is a load of pesto!” Intaglio pushed the parchment aside. “I won’t write it!”
The small thug brandished a rusty saw in Intaglio’s face. “You’ll write it, and you’ll like it. Otherwise, we start with the nose and select other parts at random when that’s gone. We’ll save your writing hand for last. Got it?”
“Got it,” Intaglio whimpered. He inked his pen and began scratching the vacuous words onto the topmost sheet of paper. Oh, what a fool I’ve been. However will I escape this horrible place?
To be continued…