Pedro Vidal was the first person to whom I had dared show rough drafts of my writing when, barely a child, I carried coffee and cigarettes round the staff room. He always had time for me: he read what I had written and gave me good advice. Eventually, he made me his assistant and would allow me to type out his drafts. It was he who told me that if I wanted to bet on the Russian roulette of literature, he was willing to help me and set me on the right path. True to his word, he had now thrown me into the clutches of Don Basilio, the newspapers Cerberus.
"Vidal is a sentimentalist who still believes in those profoundly un-Spanish myths such as meritocracy or giving opportunities to those who deserve them rather than to the current favorite. Loaded as he is, he can allow himself to go around being a free spirit. If I had one hundredth of the cash he doesnt even need I would have devoted my life to honing sonnets and little twittering nightingales would come to eat from my hand, captivated by my kindness and charm."
"Senor Vidal is a great man!"I protested.
"Hes more than that. Hes a saint, because although you may look scruffy hes been banging on at me for weeks about how talented and hardworking the office boy is. He knows that deep down Im a softy and, besides, hes assured me that if I give you this break hell present me with a box of Cuban cigars. And if Vidal says so, its as good as Moses coming down from the mountain with the lump of stone in his hand and the revealed truth shining from his forehead. So, to get to the point, because its Christmas and because I want your friend to shut up once and for all, Im offering you a head start, against wind and tide."
"Thank you so much, Don Basilio. I promise you wont regret it."
"Dont get too carried away, boy. Lets see, what do you think of the indiscriminate use of adjectives and adverbs?"
"I think its a disgrace and should be set down in the penal code,"I replied with the conviction of a zealot.
Don Basilio nodded in approval.
"Youre on the right track, Martin. Your priorities are clear. Those who make it in this business have priorities, not principles. This is the plan. Sit down and concentrate, because Im not going to tell you twice."
The plan was as follows. For reasons that Don Basilio thought best not to set out in detail, the back page of the Sunday edition, which was traditionally reserved for a short story or a travel feature, had fallen through at the last minute. The content was to have been a fiery narrative in a patriotic vein about the exploits of Catalan medieval knights who saved Christianity and all that was decent under the sun, starting with the Holy Land and ending with the banks of our Llobregat delta. Unfortunately, the text had not arrived in time or, I suspected, Don Basilio simply didnt want to publish it. This left us, only six hours before deadline, with no other substitute for the story than a full- page advertisement for whalebone corsets that guaranteed perfect hips and full immunity from the effects of buttery by-products. The editorial board had opted to take the bull by the horns and make the most of the literary excellence that permeated every corner of the newspaper. The problem would be overcome by publishing a four- column human interest piece for the entertainment and edification of our loyal family-oriented readership. The list of proven talent included ten names, none of which, needless to say, was mine.
"Martin, my friend, circumstances have conspired so that not one of the champions on our payroll is on the premises or can be contacted in time. With disaster imminent, I have decided to give you your first crack at glory."
"You can count on me."
"Im counting on five double-spaced pages in six hours, Don Edgar Allan Poe. Bring me a story, not a speech. If I want a sermon, Ill go to Midnight Mass. Bring me a story I have not read before and, if I have read it, bring it to me so well written and narrated that I wont even notice."
Excerpted from The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon Copyright © 2009 by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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