East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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The Toilet Story, or beware the tales you tell

My friend Hell (no, not his real name but yes, they really call him like that) is a fine writer and an excellent editor, and he is the sort that harbours very few (if any) romantic illusions about this writing business. Stealing a page from Quentin Tarantino, he often talks about “The Toilet Story”.

If you remember the movie Reservoir Dogs, one of the characters is an undercover cop, and he tells how he worked on creating his character before he started his job. The character-creation process involved inventing a story – in his case about a scary ten minutes in a public toilet – as part of his cover.

Well, pretend you’re Don Rickles… and tell a joke, all right?
The things you gotta remember are the details. The details sell your story.
This particular story takes place in a men’s room.
You gotta know all the details–whether they got paper towels or a blower to dry your hands. You gotta know if the stalls ain’t got no doors or not. You gotta know if they got liquid soap or that pink, granulated shit… they used in high school.

My friend Hell says writers are like that – just like undercover cops, they all have a Toilet Story they tell when somebody asks them how they started, how they broke through, what’s their life like, where they get their ideas.
It’s not the truth, because those that ask the question do not want the truth – they don’t want the painful fingers and the frustration, the rejection slips and the fear, the overdue bills and the instant noodles.
They want romance – and so the writers, being adept at weaving lies for fun and profit, give them just that.
A bit of romance, a bit of mystique, maybe a self-deprecating joke because underdog stories are fun, as long as they are romantic.
Writers build their own legend, and they have their well-rehearsed scripts, that fit the readers’ expectations.
The Toilet Story.

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