Submissions sought. There’s naught in the queue. Get fresh eyes on your opening page. Submission directions below.
The Flogometer challenge: can you craft a first page that compels me to turn to the next page? Caveat: Please keep in mind that this is entirely subjective.
Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.
What's a first page in publishingland? In a properly formatted novel manuscript (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type, etc.) there should be about 16 or 17 lines on the first page (first pages of chapters/prologues start about 1/3 of the way down the page). Directions for submissions are below—they include a request to post the rest of the chapter, but that’s optional.
A word about the line-editing in these posts: it’s “one-pass” editing, and I don’t try to address everything, which is why I appreciate the comments from the FtQ tribe. In a paid edit, I go through each manuscript three times.
Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this checklist of first-page ingredients from my book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are.
Were I you, I'd examine my first page in the light of this list before submitting to the Flogometer. I use it on my own work.
A First-page Checklist
- It begins to engage the reader with the character
- Something is wrong/goes wrong or challenges the character
- The character desires something.
- The character takes action. Can be internal or external action: thoughts, deeds, emotions. This does NOT include musing about whatever.
- There’s enough of a setting to orient the reader as to where things are happening.
- It happens in the NOW of the story.
- Backstory? What backstory? We’re in the NOW of the story.
- Set-up? What set-up? We’re in the NOW of the story.
- The one thing it must do: raise a story question.
Caveat: a first page can succeed without including all of these possibilities. They are simply tools you can use. In particular, a strong first-person voice with the right content can raise powerful story questions and a create page turn without doing all of the above. On the other hand, testing pages with the checklist no matter where they are in a story can help identify where a narrative lags and why it does.
Tara sends the first chapter of The Day I Met Bill Murray. The rest of the submission follows the break.
Earth can be a really weird and strange place, but I’m sure that you already knew that. To explain to you my little corner of the planet would do nothing but bore you. And for you to stop reading now would be a great misfortune… because you have no idea the strange adventure I’m about to take you on.
Now I know from experience there are people who cannot tell a story. They get bogged down in the details, many of which have no bearing on the main event. They drag their words as they near the end, trying to absorb as much of your attention as possible. To be in possession of someone’s attention is like a drug, and certain storytellers go so far as to drink the bong water in order to make that good feel last forever. That’s not me, no sir. The story I’m about to tell you is about the day I met Bill Murray.
You may think it’s unimportant, and maybe even a little self-indulgent, to tell you about myself before explaining the events that led me to meet our collective national treasure that is Mr. Murray. But it’s not. It’s really important that you get to know me first. It just is.
I was born in a small town in Ohio called Akron. You may know it as the butt of many jokes in TV and movies when big-city dwellers complain about visiting a small, amenity-free mid-western town. That town is usually Akron. Whenever that happens, us Akronites light up like a Christmas tree. We’ll pause the television and yell to all inhabitants of the house “hey, (snip)
Good voice, clear writing, all to the good. The voice is almost charming enough to draw me on, but not quite. When we lapse into background and a description of life in Akron, I had no interest. Yeah, the character’s life is boring . . . guess what? That makes for a boring narrative, too. Having looked at the rest of the chapter, I have no idea why all the detail about the character's life and Akron bear on the story about Bill Murray.
What is wrong in this character’s life? What goes wrong? What does the character need to have or to have happen? What are the stakes? The answers: nothing. For my money, you don’t have a story yet. I think it would be wise to skip all the stuff about Akron, get right to (and shorten) the discovery of Bill’s website, and get on with the story. I should add that I think there should be a motivation for Murray to have such a website somewhere along the line—why is it there? Start later, start with something happening, and make this good writing pay off with a story.
For what it’s worth.
Submitting to the Flogometer:
Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):
- your title
- your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
- Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ. Note: I’m adding a copyright notice for the writer at the end of the post. I’ll use just the first name unless I’m told I can use the full name.
- Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
- And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
- If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
- If you rewrite while you wait for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.
Were I you, I'd examine my first page in the light of the first-page checklist before submitting to the Flogometer.
Flogging the Quill © 2017 Ray Rhamey, chapter © 2017 by Kevin
My books. You can read sample chapters and learn more about the books here.
Writing Craft Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling
Fantasy (satire) The Vampire Kitty-cat Chronicles
Mystery (coming of age) The Summer Boy
Science Fiction Hiding Magic
Science Fiction Gundown Free ebooks.
. . . John Stewart just mentioned Akron!” We got a lot of recognition when LeBron James broke out onto the basketball scene, but as his career advanced, we began to vanish in his rearview mirror. Now, I think most people think he’s from Cleveland. And that’s ok, I guess. Whenever I travel and someone asks me where I’m from, I usually just tell them Cleveland to avoid the annoying ‘never heard of Akron, what’s it near?’ conversation.
My desire to leave my little often-ridiculed corner of the planet is really non-existent. Maybe it’s because I’m terribly self-deprecating, and to live in a popular city would strip me of the opportunity to tear myself down for the amusement of others. It also might be because I’m lazy and non-adventurous. I’ve been eating at the same Chinese buffet for the past five years for no other reason than I’m afraid the 500 other buffets won’t have a soft-serve ice cream machine. Plus, I know where everything is at King Buffet. If I switched, I would have to take the time to figure out where everything is. It would be like starting at a new school… not that I ever had to start over at a new school.
I do a lot of freelance writing at home. It’s mindless and technical writing mostly, the kind that makes people want to stick a fork in an electrical outlet or hang themselves by a noose in the rafters of their garage. Which makes this line of work perfect for me, because I hate moving and I hate adventure, so the prospect of death doesn’t interest me much. Sometimes I’ll pack my 500-pound laptop into my reusable grocery bag and head to my local coffee shop to prove to my neighborhood that I’m hip and trendy as I feverishly type away at the keys. I will furrow my brow as I pretend to revise the soul-crushing marketing dribble that my fingers vomited onto the open doc and refrain from dumping the oversized mug of coffee onto my lap just so I can remember what it’s like to feel things.
In my mind, my life is pretty par for the course. I’m a little overweight, but I never let myself get to the point where I become winded climbing stairs. I’m just perpetually on the cusp of being the physical version of my best self, but unwilling to put in the extra effort to get there. You can relate, right? Sometimes I think that when I get to be 90, I’ll berate myself for never actually seeing what I would look like lean and trim, but then I remind myself that there is no way I’m ever going to live to be 90. I have consumed too many buckets of chicken in one sitting and had too many birthday cakes for dinner to ever dream of coming close to clearing a century.
So, that’s me in a nutshell. I’m pretty unremarkable. I’m quite certain that if I didn’t tell you right out of the gate that this story ends with me meeting Bill Murray, you probably would have stopped reading by now. And quite honestly, I wouldn’t have blamed you. But now you’re thinking ‘how did this boring SOB ever meet they guy who played Peter Venkman?’ Well, it starts out in a peculiar way.
It was an unusually warm day in October and I had dragged my laptop to the neighborhood coffee shop for my public writing parade. I bought a blueberry muffin in celebration that swimsuit season was finally over, despite not having worn a swimsuit in over 10 years. The blueberry muffin really isn’t an important part of the story, I just want you to know how much I love blueberry muffins. I feel I have painted myself in a pretty unflattering light earlier and the blueberry muffin was an attempt to show I am warm and relatable. It was an attempt to get you to like me. I feel explaining my intentions is making you like me less. I am getting off topic here. It was a nice day and the coffee shop was pretty busy that morning. I didn’t even get my favorite table in the corner. I had to sit in the middle of the room and turn the brightness down on my screen so that no one could read the boring copy that I was actually writing. The project for that particular week was to research various dentist’s offices across the country and write a brief summary on services offered and the accommodations the office building provides practitioners. For each office, I would log on to the dentist’s website and browse the site and jot down the services that they were known for. Then I would search for the address on a map search and write down details about the area. Each office was basically the same and every website seemed to work off of the same template. That is, until I got to Dr. Joyce Delaney of Smiles, Smiles, Smiles. The website, which took forever to load, looked as if it hadn’t been updated since the late 90’s. There was animated clip art of smiles with red lips and bright white teeth and dancing toothbrushes bookending the office name Smiles, Smiles, Smiles… in Comic Sans, no less. The background of the entire page was in black and the text in white block letters, and a chip tunes version of Enter Sandman began to blast from my speaker that had been turned all the way up. Everyone in the coffee shop turned and looked at me as my cheeks burned red. That was just great, now they all assumed I was some weirdo perusing the bottom depths of the internet, rather than a serious freelance copywriter. The website was, by far, one of the strangest things that I had seen in all of my internet travels. Why would a website for a dentist use a Metallica song for it’s webpage? And if it was still an operating office, why hadn’t they updated the webpage? Such internet antics would be considered normal for a city such as San Francisco or Portland, where weird and retro were considered edgy and stylish. But this office was in a distant suburb of Traverse City, Michigan. I scrolled to the bottom of the page and copied the address of the building and looked it up using a map search. There was no street by the name Battery in all of Garfield Township. At that point, I emailed the editor and explained to them that Smiles, Smiles, Smiles wasn’t an actual business and moved on to the next assignment. However, my mind kept going back to that strange website. For some reason, I couldn’t move past it… I had to go back and snoop around the old internet ruins of the late 1990’s.
There were various blue links peppered throughout the site, and each led to an anemic information page. I dug through my grocery bag and pulled out a pair of earbuds and plugged them into the headphone jack. Just as I had hoped, each linked page had new music. There were some that I couldn’t identify, but the ones I could recognize were November Rain, Buddy Holly, and Even Flow by Pearl Jam. They were all really strange song selections to use emphasizing pages explaining costs of root canals and introductions of the office staff. Nothing that I clicked on gave me any indication that Smiles, Smiles, Smiles was anything other than a regular old dentist’s office. I did a general internet search to see if there were any reviews or any other mentions of the office. There were none. I searched for Dr. Joyce Delaney, and found that it’s a pretty popular name. Then, getting off-track a bit, I searched for my name, and spent about 10 minutes researching all of the professional doctors, lawyers, and noted professors who managed to do more with my name than I ever could. I looked up from my computer screen and stared out the window, watching the first of the fall leaves dance along the sidewalk and thought about all the ways I had gone wrong in life. What joy it would have brought my mother to be able to say that her child was a successful prosecutor living in Wilmington, North Carolina. If my mom were to look me up on Google, the only thing she would find is an old blog entry on MySpace explaining why Viva la Vida by Coldplay was the greatest song ever written. Where had I gone wrong? When did I settle for living below my potential? Worse yet, what if I was living up to my potential? My mother deserved more than to raise a child that reviewed dentist’s offices and thought Coldplay was a great band. I wonder if it was too late to join the army?
No, wait, I was going down that road again. Too many times I had gone down that road, and it always led me to the same place: stress eating through the dollar menu at Wendy’s. Now was not the time for an existential crisis. I was in the middle of an internet mystery.
With no answers to be found anywhere else on the internet, I went back to the original webpage and began to poke around. I copied the photos of the women listed on the staff page and entered them into a reserve image search. No images found. I called the number listed under the address and it took me to the oncology practice of a public hospital in Salt Lake City. I hit Select+All and copied the entirety of the site into an empty doc and began to comb through the text. And that’s when I saw it- something that was hidden on the main page. Between the address and the mission statement was the BMEX-1.2 Login. I hurriedly returned to the website and ran my mouse over the blank space… and there it was. A beautiful blue link to BMEX-1.2 Login.
I got to be honest- I paused for a long time before clicking on in. It was like when you are scratching a lottery ticket, and you have two cherries and one more box to reveal. You always pause for just a moment to bask in that magnificent moment where winning $10,000 is a distinct possibility. That’s exactly what it felt like. My brain was convinced that the link was just an accident, that perhaps the designer accidently added the link in a black font, and since no one uses the site it went forever unnoticed. But my heart… my heart held out hope that it was something more.
When I clicked on it, the new page opened almost immediately. It was a white screen with a grey box in the top left corner that asked for only one thing: a password. Without hesitation, I entered the word password, then 1234, and then 1111. Nothing happened. I leaned back in my chair and rubbed my chin with my hand. I feared that I was at the end of my internet adventure. I had used up all of my tricks in my very limited playbook. I leaned forward and typed password1234. Still nothing. I packed up my things and went home.
What the owner of the mysterious site had not taken into consideration when crossing paths with me was that I had nothing but time. I didn’t have any party invitations, no dates, no appointments… I had nothing but time to crack that code. If I had to go through every word in the English language, I was prepared to do that. If I had to shuffle through every number combination, I was prepared to do that as well. To start, I began searching for clues on the original webpage and began to plug in every word to see if it was a match.
This wouldn’t be much of a story if I were to tell you that I didn’t eventually get it right. It was in the description of one of the secretaries. It said that she loved playing bsebal. I originally skimmed over it as a typo… but then I realized that it may have been put there deliberately. I typed in the letter bsebal and I was in. My stomach sank down into my shoes as the bane of my existence at that moment- that tantalizing login page- faded into a new page. The new page had a dialog box that read “Warning: Addition Login Detected. Site locked.” And just like that, I hit a dead end. There was nothing more to discover, nothing else to crack. I went to bed that night dejected and heart-broken.
The following morning I woke up to a knock on my door. I just only been up for less than an hour and just barely passed the coffee intake threshold to be able to form sentences. I peered through the window next to the door and saw an older gentleman wearing a frayed baseball cap, loose-fitting blue jeans and a salmon polo shirt. I opened the door and saw a guy who looked just like Bill Murray.
“Hey, you little snot- were you the one who logged into my website?”
Holy crap- it was Bill Murray. I stood in the doorway trying to find words that expressed what I was thinking. The words never came.
Bill Murray pushed himself past me and stood in the middle of my living room. Looking around at all the dirty laundry- my bras, underwear, and what seemed like millions of filthy socks- I was horrified. No one had been in my house in months. I really had no reason to clean it. And now, Bill Murray was staring at me- amongst all of my underwear- waiting for me to say something.
“Well, are you?”
“Am I what?”
“Did you try and log into my website?” He repeated.
“…Are you really Bill Murray?” My brain just wouldn’t accept that it was him. My brain convinced me that there are billions of shapes of people and this one must just have a similar Bill Murray shape. And sound.
“Yes, I am.” He seemed annoyed. “Now can you tell me how you found my website?”
“I… I was researching dentist’s offices for my job, and I got Smiles, Smiles, Smiles, as an assignment. I… I thought the website was neat… and strange.” My voice was quivering. I hated that at that moment I couldn’t keep my voice from quivering. But adrenaline was coursing so fast through my body I’m surprised I didn’t just vibrate right out of the front door.
“And you just happened to find the hidden link and you just happened to know the password to get in?” He didn’t seem to believe me.
“I swear to you that’s all it was.” I think the panic in my voice eased his skepticism. That, and as I talked he began to look around at the shameful state of my living room. “I just thought it was neat and I love a good mystery and I wanted to see where the site led to. I didn’t see anything, it locked me out.”
“Yes, I know it locked you out… I designed it to do so.” He sat down on my sofa. I cringed as I watched one cup of a yellow bra disappear under his jeans. Bill Murray was sitting on one of my bras.
“Then why did you come all the way here? I mean… I don’t know anything that’s on there if that’s what you are worried about.”
He exhaled deeply, the way Phil Conners would sign at the mere sight of Ned Ryerson. “I panicked. I was afraid you worked for the government or a newspaper… and I had to come here to make sure.” He laughed to himself. “Clearly… you are neither of those.”
“Nope. Your secrets safe with me.” I reassured him, but my mind began to race, wondering what he could be hiding.
Bill Murray’s relief turned back into concern. “But how can I be sure you won’t try to figure it out? Before I came here you didn’t seem to care. You didn’t know that was mine. Now… you are probably dying to know what I’m hiding.”
“…Kinda.” I admitted.
“Bill… Bill Bill Bill Bill. You idiot.” He cupped his head in his hands. “Now I might have to kill you.”
I began to laugh, until Bill Murray looked at me with a face that told me he wasn’t joking. And it wasn’t one of those dry humor serious-not-serious stares. The weight of that stare told me that Bill Murray was thinking about killing me. I got to be honest, it’s not a good feeling to think that Richard Dreyfus’ goofy and overly-affectionate patient in What About Bob is thinking about actually murdering you. That look he gave me at that moment still haunts me to this very day.
“Please don’t… Please don’t kill me.” I surprised myself at how unconvincing I was at pleading for my life.
“…However,” He leaned back against one of my hooded sweatshirts, “I have always wanted to share my work with someone. But everyone I know in LA would run straight to the press.”
“Yeah, LA is the worst.” Or so I have heard from people on television. I also hear people say that the traffic is terrible.
“You would have to fly with me back to LA. Would you be willing to do that? I promise you…” His eyes grew wide with excitement, “You will not be disappointed if you agree to see what I’m about to show you.”
He acted as if he actually needed to convince me to come with him. Let’s be clear here. If Bill Murray came into my house and asked me to fly back with him to LA to look at a paper airplane he made, I would have given him an embarrassingly enthusiastic yes. So, for him to ask me to come back with him to see some top-secret project he was working on, it took all the strength I had inside of me not to vomit all over him in excitement like an over-stimulated housecat.
I could tell you what it’s like to travel with Bill Murray, but it’s really no different than traveling with anyone else. We argued about which way our gate was, and he insisted the entire time that we were going to wrong way and begged that we turn around and go the other way. And when I did manage to lead us to the correct gate, he didn’t even offer an apology. On the four-hour flight, we discussed which baseball team was better- the Chicago Cubs or the Cleveland Indians. He claimed that he was a more dedicated fan because the Cubs have been consistently bad and mocked more than the Cleveland Indians. I reminded him of a little film called Major League- a movie about the worst baseball team in the country- the Cleveland Indians. He called Charlie Sheen a fartface and demanded we sit in silence for the remainder of the flight.
Once we landed in Los Angeles, I realized that I had left my stove on. Maybe. I wasn’t sure. But by the time we had made it to Bill’s car and hit the road, I forgot I even had a stove. Traveling what felt like 100 miles an hour and weaving in and out of traffic, I wondered about how much experience Bill had at driving. After a few hours on the road, we had finally made it to a destination that was far from any type of civilization. His car kicked up dust as he pulled into a long dirt driveway like something out of Breaking Bad, and parked next to a boarded and abandoned ranch house. I scanned my memory from the events earlier in the morning, trying to remember where he landed on the whole ‘wanting to murder me’ idea. If he was planning on murdering me, flying me out to California and killing me in an abandoned house was a genius move. No one who knew me in Ohio would ever think to look for me in California.
He walked around the back and used a key from his keyring to unlock the padlock holding the boarded door in place. The inside looked- and smelled- as if an old woman who played the lottery, owned 10 cats, and chain smoked lived there. It kind of smelled like she even died there. There was a small antennae TV sitting on top of an unsteady TV tray, and a heavily stained red and yellow sofa in the living room. There were old ornate lamps with yellowed shades sitting on the floor next to ashtrays that were filled with cigarette butts. Our shoes shuffled over piles of opened letters, newspapers, and junk mail.
Bill walked over to a door on the far side of the living room and turned to look at me. “Listen little lady… I need to be… uh, I need to be clear here. What you are about to see is pretty weird, ok? It’s pretty weird. And you don’t live in my world. Where I’m from, your life and your legacy is measured by your body of work. We all want that… that…” He gestured as is he was grabbing his thoughts out of thin air, “that lasting legacy. One that means something.”
“I think you have a pretty good legacy.” I interrupted.
He dropped his hands and stared at me, obviously frustrated. He stared at me for a really long time, and I waited for him to say something but he never did.
“I mean- Ghostbusters was pretty great. And didn’t you make a serious movie about… it was like… about aquariums or something?”
He continued to deliver that classic deadpan stare.
In that moment, I felt my only weapon against uncomfortable silence was thoughtless prattle. “And Groundhog Day will forever be remembered because there are no other movies about Groundhog Day. And Scrooged- you managed to get a holiday movie in there and those things stick around forever.”
“I’m familiar with my career, ok?”
“So, what’s behind the door?”
He inhaled deeply, and as he exhaled he said “My masterpiece.” And he opened the door and led me down an ornate stone spiral staircase like something out of a Disney villains secret lair. When we reached the bottom of the stairs he grunted as he raised a lever and two rows of fluorescent lights illuminated the room.
“What in the…” My initial reaction was to jump back and run. The room was filled with large steel, human-size tubes. Each tube contained a naked human body suspended in a yellowish fluid. There’s something not right about being exposed to that much human flesh, and I really considered turning and running right back up the stairs. I mean, what the heck was wrong with Bill Murray? He just stood there with a big stupid grin on his face as he watched me cycle through all of the different shades of horror and disgust. I knew he was waiting for some type of specific reaction from me, I just didn’t know what he wanted. I slowly inched forward, zeroing in on a specific tube that contained a fairly overweight man with blonde hair. And like a bolt of lightning- I understood what I was looking at. I drew my hands up to my face and turned on a heel to look at Bill. With wild eyes, I asked “Is that… Is that…”
Bill’s smile grew even wilder as he nodded slowly. “Bingo. Give the little lady a prize. That is, in fact, Chris Farley.”
“Why is he… I mean, didn’t he… back in the 1990’s… he…”
“Died… you can say it. He died. But with a little help from some mad science… I brought him back.”
“Science, I just told you. Mad science.”
“Do you have a degree in biology or something? I mean… did you create clones using their DNA?”
“You know, I feel you are spending a lot of energy trying to figure out how I managed to do all of this, and not once have you asked me why.”
“I feel it’s perfectly normal to ask how you, Bill Murray, recreated the late, great Chris Farley in a tube.”
“You wouldn’t under---“
“I mean,” I interrupted, “when I tell this story to all of my friends, they are going to want to know how you did it. When you did it, even. It’s not like you’re retired or anything. Detailed specifics are going to be very important to people listening to this story.”
The child-like excitement drained from his face as he motioned me to follow him into a back room. The room had wall-to-wall chalkboards that were filled with formulas and equations. He showed me the file with consent forms, and combed through every single detail of the equations on the chalk board. If I’m being honest, I didn’t understand, nor remember, anything he said. I tried, but I suddenly became star-struck. Bill Murray was explaining math and science to me! I wish I paid closer attention so I could explain to you exactly how he recreated dead movie stars, but I can’t. All I can tell you is that Bill Murray crosses his sevens the way my really smart 11th grade algebra teacher used to.
We spent the entire afternoon exploring details of his science. Again, I’m really sorry I couldn’t remember anything. We walked back into the main room and I browsed all of the different tubed-celebrities. In addition to Chris Farley, there was Richard Pryor, Phil Hartman, Robin Williams, George Carlin, John Candy, Bernie Mac, John Belushi, and Sam Kinison. And at the very end of the line, secluded from the rest of the actors, was Gilda Radnor.
“Oh hey… it’s Gilda Radnor. Why is she separated from the rest of the---“
“No reason.” He interrupted and turned me around by the shoulders and led me back down the line.
“This is pretty amazing. You have all of the greats here…” I said as I admired the room. As I thought back on all of the great collective works… I noticed that there was someone missing from the comedy hall-of-fame. “Hey, wait a second… there’s someone missing.”
“Here it comes…” He rubbed his temples as if he knew who I was about to mention.
“What about Andy Kauffman?”
“And there it is.”
“Andy Kauffman was so funny, why did you leave him out? Did you not get along with him? Do you think that he was overrated? I could possibly see how a fellow actor might not like how he---“
“To recreate a dead celebrity, young one… they have to actually be dead.” He said.
I gasped. “Are you serious? He’s alive? What’s he doing? Why did---“
“Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa.” He held up his hands in mild annoyance. “We can save the complicated life story of Andy Kauffman for another day. Look around you, lady… look.” He walked over to the George Carlin tube. “It’s freakin’ George Carlin. Let’s focus on who is here instead of who is not, shall we? All of this took me a really long time.” Bill Murray seemed rather whiney.
I wanted to roll my eyes at the fact that Bill was being a little over-sensitive, but I didn’t. “So… ok, I’ll ask… why are you doing this?”
He smiled. “Why, I thought that you would never ask. What you are looking at here,” He gestured wildly with his arms, “Is my masterpiece. As comedians, we don’t really get the opportunity to make movies like Schindler’s List or Gone with the Wind. The happiness and joy we bring is fleeting, and will probably not really stand the test of time. People only remember the great comedians as nothing more than shallow cultural references. Tell me- what do you know about Groucho Marx?”
“Oh, uh… weird mustache and giant cigar.”
“Exactly. Now name me a movie he was in.”
“Yup. That’s what happens. Just like Eddie Murphy will eventually be remembered as they guy with the red leather suit.”
“How does resurrecting dead comedians help you be remembered for your work? I mean, you’ll probably end up in some scientific journal… you could probably give lectures on how you did it… but I don’t see---“
“I’m going to make a movie.” He placed his words carefully like he was building a tower out of cards. After he spoke, he stepped back to absorb my reaction.
“What?” I rubbed my face with my hands. It had been such a strange day.
“A movie.” He repeated. Clearly, my response wasn’t what he was expecting.
“Have you suffered brain damage?” He snapped. “Yes, a movie. A movie. I’m going to make a movie.”
The word movie began to lose all meaning. “Bill, you have discovered immortality. And you’re telling me you did all of this for a movie?” I was being a little more condescending than I had hoped, but it didn’t really matter because it was as if he wasn’t really listening to me anyway.
“Think about how happy it will make people.” He was beaming.
Now I feel at this point I need to explain myself for what happens next. My life, up until this moment, was painfully predictable. And it wasn’t because I had no control over my life- I had gone to painstaking lengths to make sure everything that happened in my life happened because I meant it to. And at some point, when faced with something so out of the ordinary and so bizarre, your brain stops fighting practicality. I knew, in the back of my mind, that Bill was crazy. I knew what he was doing was dark and probably nothing good could come from raising people from the dead. But in that moment, I saw something in Bill’s eyes that glistened with an unbridled optimism that I had never seen in another human being. And it’s the reason I asked him, “Have you written the movie yet?”
It was as if I had said the magic phase, and he giggled. “I have some ideas. Come.” He scurried over to a table that was littered with scraps of paper. “Whenever I’m out and about and I come up with ideas I write them down.” He began to feverishly hand me scraps of paper one at a time. “This one has to do with dragons… but I think that will be a bit much. This one is a post-apocalyptic story where they’re the only survivors… but I think it would be too dark.”
I picked up one of the scraps of paper and read, “This one just says Groundhog Day 2.”
Bill laughed nervously as he grabbed the paper out of my hand, crumpled it up and threw it over his shoulder.
“So, you’re telling me you don’t even have an idea what the script will be about?”
“I don’t.” He cringed.
“Would you like some help?”
Bill Murray dropped the scraps of papers in his hands and smiled at me.
And that’s the story of how I met Bill Murray. We had a rocky start at first with the death threat and all, and the airplane ride didn’t go so great, but over time we were able to develop a pretty great working relationship. Plus, he let me move into the small house upstairs, which was great, because my second day in California I got a call from my landlord telling me that my house burned down because I left the stove on.