I’ve Got a Fortune in My Mouth

So we’re sitting at Panda Express, me and Lisa, and you can’t have Chinese without fortune cookies, can you, though fortune cookies were originally Japanese, they were served at a restaurant that was shut down by the government during World War II, true story, sorry for the run-on sentence.

Well, I bite into my fortune cookie, curious to see what the future holds, but somehow the fortune winds up in my mouth, not in my hand. I have to peel it out and spread it on the table, much to Lisa’s amusement. And here’s what it says:

SOON ALL OF YOUR DOUBTS WILL DISAPPEAR.

I’m tempted to add “in bed” after that, but I wonder if the message isn’t something more profound, sublime even. Who wouldn’t want all their doubts disappearing? I say “Great!” and prepare for a state of peaceful serenity. Sweet relief, here it comes. All that stands between me and Nirvana are two piddling obstacles. hardly worth mentioning.

Obstacle One: I don’t believe in fortune cookies. Some guy in a fortune mill churning out feel-good slogans does not (in my humble opinion) affect what really happens. And Obstacle Two, perhaps the greater one, is that recent events have conspired to drive me wooga wooga SNORT! insane.

To be specific: They were going to make a sequel to my zombie film. All we needed was the rights. But the owner of those rights wants to monetize his film collection, offering to sell the rights to all 300 of his movies (including my own Dead Heat) to the highest bidder, as soon as there is one, and there it sits.

I blame God.

“That’s sweet,” Lisa says, referring to my original fortune, not the God-blaming.

I try to imagine what earthly circumstances would make all my doubts disappear, like a blemish before stain remover, uncertainty begone – and darned if the universe doesn’t cooperate. No, they’re not making my zombie sequel. But something else pops up unexpectedly, in the form of an instant message from Beth, my former wife.

A group of us are planning a collection of stories about seniors and romance, she writes.

In fact, I’ve been getting emails about the senior romance stories, organized by some of my writer friends, which I’ve totally ignored because who cares, but Beth thinks I should give it a shot. I was pretty sure you’d be in on this, she writes.

The organizers are a coalition of romance writers, who are planning to issue a boxed set of romance novels with a common theme – finding love late in life, in your 50s or beyond. The books would be similar in tone, with a common setting and common incidental characters. Some of the writers are well-known in romance circles, and could give a mantle of respectability to those of us who aren’t.

They thought of me because I actually wrote a romance novel last year, just to see if I could do it, about a garbageman who falls in love with the woman whose trash he’s emptying. The book drew a collective yawn from the romance novel industry, but it was fun to write, especially the scene where Marty and Kelly rush a sick friend to the hospital, dodging traffic in a borrowed garbage truck.

But can I write another romance novel, in response to this golden-age opportunity? I decide no. My doubts, the supposedly disappearing ones, step in to yank this off the table. Until Greta, one of the romance writers, asks if my garbageman story might qualify as a senior romance. The guy’s on his second career, albeit a trash-centric one, and his girlfriend’s a bookish librarian – couldn’t they be in their fifties?

Oh, and there’s one more problem, Greta says, almost apologetically: The novel must have an earthquake in it.

That’s right, an earthquake.

They’re issuing a boxed set of stories about 50s-and-older couples who find love in the second act of their lives, when they least expect it, and (oh yeah) the town is threatened by an earthquake. Minimum Length, 50,000 words.

Deal-break city. I’m not writing a senior romance with a temblor in it, you have to draw the line somewhere. In fact, I’m starting to wonder about that fortune cookie. How can ALL YOUR DOUBTS DISAPPEAR in the face of a December-December romance where the earth moves, and it’s not a metaphor? My doubts aren’t melting away.

Then it comes to me.

What if, at the story’s climax, Marty and Kelly are rushing their friend to the hospital, dodging not traffic but the wreckage of a devastating earthquake? What if the roadway heaves and buckles at every turn? And what if, against this turbulent backdrop, their true love finally emerges?

I run this by my romance writer friends, and they’re totally on board. With minimal rewriting, basically one big scene, My Trashy Romance will soon join the pantheon, part of an exclusive boxed set available for print-on-demand next year. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, I feel like Pinocchio – because I’ve become a real writer, once again. All my doubts have disappeared, just like that fortune said, replaced by a satisfying overconfidence. While I’m at it, maybe I’ll find a way to get Dead Heat 2 produced and in theaters.

Thank you, Panda Express. Be sure to try the honey walnut shrimp.

#BetterLateRomance #PandaExpress

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