It was crowded in the small cafe, mostly white people with dreadlocks planning out their ultimate frisbee schedules, and mothers in jogging outfits drinking triple espressos as they gently rocked their babies back and forth in high-tech strollers. One older man sitting in the window was chewing on an unlit pipe, and reading a dog-eared copy of The Ultimate Horse Behavior and Training Book: Enlightened and Revolutionary Solutions for the 21st Century. And there, off in the corner, at a small iron-legged table with a ceramic mosaic top, sat three men with their heads bowed in serious discussion. Had anyone bothered to look, they would have seen that it was the three great writers, Nicholas Sparks, the kid from Finding Forrester, and James Franco.
“Who’s first for critique?” James Franco asked.
“I’m first,” Nicholas Sparks said. “Obviously. I’m the best writer, so it just makes sense for me to go first. Does anyone need anything, though, before we start? I’m a millionaire, so it’s my treat. You will discover that I am as generous as I am talented at the craft of literature.”
James Franco asked for a cappuccino. The kid from Finding Forrester wanted a cup of herbal tea. Nicholas Sparks nodded. “OK, so one cappucino, one herbal tea, and one protein-infused mango-kiwi smoothie, extra protein. BRB.” Nicholas Sparks said BRB out loud. He loved words.
Nicholas Sparks returned to the table with their drinks. “You guys,” he said, “I’ve actually been thinking about it, and if you could just kick me back some money for the drinks, that would be awesome. It’s not that I can’t afford them. I’m close friends with Richard Gere, I think I can afford a round of protein smoothies. It’s more for YOUR sakes. You have to be ready to suffer for your art, and that requires fierce independence and self-reliance. And fierce independence and self-reliance means being able to pay for your own protein smoothies.” Nicholas Sparks referred to any kind of drink as a ‘protein smoothie’ the way that people in the South refer to every kind of soda as a ‘Coke.’
James Franco wadded up a $10,000 bill and threw it in Nicholas Sparks’s face. “Nicky, bro, relax, I’m also a millionaire. Also, independence and self-reliance is redundant. I learned that in my Symonims Class.”
The kid from Finding Forrester sipped his tea. “I’m a fictional character, so I don’t have any money.”
Nicholas Sparks nodded furiously. “I love that. I love fiction. That’s what I write. I write fiction.”
Everyone took out their copy of Nicholas Sparks’s story, “The Coldest Lighthouse.” James Franco went first with his critique:
“I was a little confused about why the protagonist, Benny, why he drowned at the end in a ‘swimming accident’ when all through the story you have examples of what a great swimmer he is. But maybe I just need to read it again.”
Nicholas Sparks smiled. He had a protein smoothie mustache. “You should definitely read it again, and I’m sure that you will love it even more the second time. To answer your question, Benny had to die because that is how drama works. I am surprised you don’t know that, but you’re just getting started. You are not a master of writing like I am. We should take a second so that everyone can write that down in your notebooks. ‘Death = drama.’ I also hope that when you read it, you were picturing Dax Shepard in the role of Benny, and Heather Graham in the role of Grace.”
The kid from Finding Forrester raised his hand. James Franco pulled his arm down. “You don’t have to raise your hand, bro.”
“I thought part of the pleasure when you read something,” the kid from Finding Forrester said tentatively, “was that you could imagine the characters however you wanted.”
“Oh boy,” Nicholas Sparks said, laughing in a really fake, disgusting way. “You guys are greener than I thought. No, that is an old myth made up by Charles Dickens as a joke. A reader should always know who the actors are that the writer envisioned for the screenplay adaptation of his work while they are reading the original work. That’s how you know if they get it right when they make the movie when you go see it on opening night with your whole family.” Nicholas Sparks shook his head. Hahaha.
James Franco, and his story, Paper Dolls, was up for critique next. Nicholas Sparks went first. “I like you in movies. But you are a terrible writer.” The kid from Finding Forrester agreed. Everyone agreed.
Finally, it was time to critique the kid from Finding Forrester’s story. “You are the man now, dawg!” James Franco said, with no hint of irony or awareness. It was like that old statistical parable about a thousand monkeys typing on a thousand typewriters for a thousand years. Except it was one monkey, talking, for ten seconds. But still. The kid from Finding Forrester took out his red pen and scribbled “I am the man now, dawg–revise?” in the margins of his story.
“I didn’t read it,” Nicholas Sparks said. “I was too busy rereading some of my own books. I would highly recommend for next time that instead of everyone bringing in their own story, we just bring in my stories.”
Just then, a gunman burst into the coffee shop and shot Nicholas Sparks in the face a bunch of times. Because that’s how drama works.