Publish or Perish

grand pentacle of SolomonDiana rubbed her eyes and squinted at the monitor. Almost six million hits when she Googled grimoire! How would she ever find the right one?

Still, she checked them every moment she didn’t have to wait tables or sleep. She’d wake groggily, the imprint of a keyboard on her cheek, and try one more link before staggering off to bed.

She quit writing her latest novel. She barely ate. Laundry was done only when she ran out of underwear. Her clothes hung loose, and her brunette hair was thinning. But she finally whittled the choices down to one spell she might be able to pull off.

After the oddest shopping trip she’d ever taken, she shoved her couch against the wall to free up floor space and began pouring chalk into the shape of a pentacle. Candles were lit and added to the five points, spells were intoned, and a garlic-roasted chicken added in the center as the sacrifice, making her stomach rumble as the smell wafted through her small apartment.

Diana made it through the final Latin incantation and scanned the apartment urgently, both hoping for and dreading the results of her labors. Nothing. She slumped over, defeated. This had been her last hope.

But an eldritch light filtered its way through her despair, and her head snapped up. Something was happening.

The sickly green grew steadily more brilliant, until she had to shade her eyes against it. A bass voice intoned, “Why have you summoned me, mortal?”

The light was bearable now, casting a pale glow onto her hands. Diana’s gaze traveled slowly up. A hugely fat figure squatted in front of her, its belly cascading over its knees and fortunately hiding any personal details. Above the many chins, its teeth were pointed and bared in a challenging grimace.

Diana gulped. “You are here to serve me, are you not? But I must be certain you can do what I need. How are you at literary efforts?”

The lips closed and the figure’s expression mellowed into something resembling a smile. “Writing a book that you want to be remembered forever? I can help with that, sure enough.”

Diana braced herself against a surge of hope that brought tears to her eyes. “I’ve already written the book, but I get rejections from every literary agent I’ve sent it to. How are you at query letters?”

The figure rocked back on its heels, causing the entire apartment to shake. Diana’s teacup fell and shattered. A pudgy hand waved, and the bone china was mended as though it had never broken.

“Well, I don’t know about that,” the demon said. “Query letters are hard.”


Not my usual sort of tale (I normally avoid demons), but I’ve been critiquing queries lately, so this is in solidarity for all those currently in the querying trenches.

Avid writer and reader of Faerie tales and noblebright fantasy.

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Posted in My Stories
26 comments on “Publish or Perish
  1. Bernadette says:

    This is truly funny. Writing the book easier than the query.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Haha, witty and imaginative. The query letter, even magic cannot solve it!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. […] Publish or Perish by Cathleen Townsend […]

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Haha, I enjoyed this, very funny story. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. willowdot21 says:

    Well you should do it more often… loved it!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Annika Perry says:

    Cathleen, this has me chuckling…then I feel the quiver in my stomach…will I ever have to face the query writing demon?!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m hoping I can write a query letter someday that says I sold 5k copies of my last book. Apparently, that tidbit alone is enough to get a lot of agents to read the attached pages.

      Lately, I’ve quit writing queries, and I write blurbs instead. Much more me. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Diana has my sincerest sympathies. I would rather iron my husband’s underwear than write queries. But I might just start pouring chalk on the floor…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. These favorite lines put me in stiches: 😀 😀 😀
    “…garlic-roasted chicken was placed in the center as the sacrifice, making her stomach rumble as the smell wafted through her small apartment.”
    “…its belly cascading over its knees and fortunately hiding any personal details.”
    “Query letters are hard.”

    Ha ha ha. Even magic nor a demon can help. Hard indeed!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Ha! Too funny, Cathleen! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Anna Schlaht says:

    Hi Cathleen!

    I just wanted to say I love this short story! I lurked a little around your lovely blog because I read this on AW, but by the time I saw it, you’d already posted this short here! So I figured I’d leave an actual comment.

    I’m feeling this way about query letters right now, as I’m just starting to tackle my first one ever. I hope I don’t reach the point where I want to summon a demon, but we’ll see… I can’t promise anything. Hee. 😀 So funny!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s great to see you here, Anna!

      I’m glad the desperation reached you. I think we’ve all felt that way. It seemed appropriate for our collective mental health to take a step back and laugh at it. Once you’ve laughed at something, it loses some of its power to scare you.

      Btw, what’s your AW name? I’ll keep an eye out for your responses if you tell me. Or I’ll go crit your query thread if you PM me with it. I know–just what you need, someone else telling you what’s wrong with your query. But sometimes, the critique helps.

      And I like your travel blog. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Anna Schlaht says:

        Hi Cathleen! My AW name is Inspie. I believe you critted the first chapter of my novel when I posted it (thank you again for the help!) which I appreciate. 🙂 I haven’t posted my query yet, but if I do and you have time to take a look, thank you!

        But yes, I definitely think laughing at something helps lower the fear of it, and I know queries can be some of the scarier aspects of writing a book (because they’re a prelude to actually subbing your work to real agents, eek)!

        Anyway, thank you for the reply and the lovely comment on my travel blog (my hobby when I’m not writing books). I look forward to seeing your blog posts pop up on my Reader now!

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Anna, it’s always nice to make blog contact with Absolute Write members. I enjoyed your first chapter–there was some elegant writing in there, and it does take some courage to face the Share Your Work critters. We tend to be a blunt bunch. But it’s meant kindly, and I know that posting my stuff there has improved my writing far beyond what it would otherwise be.

    And laughing in the face of fear seems like the best possible response to me. 🙂


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