Cell phone rings loud and long. THE NOVELIST does not stir. This is repeated until finally THE NOVELIST gropes for it among the scattered possessions, picks up a metal object, and holds it to his face.
THE NOVELIST: Hello? Hello?
Cell phone continues to blare. THE NOVELIST looks at the cigarette lighter in his hand and groans. Then he finds cell phone, stares at the display, punches a few buttons.
THE NOVELIST (cheerily): Jack, how are you? Sorry I missed your call. I was writing. You know how it is when--
AGENT: Yeah, Frank.
THE NOVELIST: --when I'm writing, lose track of everything. I think I've really got it this time. Great characters, great plot, and the same taut, luminous prose the PEN/Faulkner Committee praised so much. I think this will be a winner.
THE NOVELIST lights a cigarette, sucks hard, and starts coughing.
AGENT: When can I see some of it? Your new editor has been asking. She's trying to clear up the old contracts.
THE NOVELIST: Putnam gave me a new editor?
THE NOVELIST: Penguin?
AGENT: They merged with Putnam right after you signed the contract. You went to the party.
THE NOVELIST: Oh. Yeah, of course. Well, you know how writers are, can't remember what we had for lunch yesterday--
AGENT: In 1997.
Dropping the phone and the half-smoked cigarette, THE NOVELIST scrabbles in his sheets and pulls out a pint bottle of Old Crow. He unscrews the cap and upends the empty bottle over his mouth.
THE NOVELIST: Fuck.
THE NOVELIST flings away the bottle and snatches up the cell phone.
THE NOVELIST: Sorry about that, I had to-- I was just-- Jack? Jack!
THE NOVELIST (too fast): But the new book is really coming along now.
A wisp of smoke is rising from the sheets.
THE NOVELIST: Jesus, Jack, please don't hang up on me! I know I've been blocked for a while, but remember the first book? Sixteen weeks on the New York Times list. And the second really wasn't that bad.
AGENT: Thanks for holding on. Were you saying something?
THE NOVELIST: I'm making great progress, really. [Lights another cigarette.] Uh, I've forgotten some details-- Can you remind me how much of the advance is due on delivery?
AGENT: I didn't actually call you up to ask about the contract.
THE NOVELIST goes dead still.
AGENT: I just wanted to congratulate you. You're being included in a new textbook. They want to reprint the Las Vegas chapter.
THE NOVELIST: Oh my God, really? Really? Someone remembers me?
AGENT: A lot of people still love that first book, even if-- But if you do have anything new, that would be good.
THE NOVELIST: Yes! I'm coming back! I still have it! Nobody ever wrote like Franklin Hunter!
THE NOVELIST reaches into a bedside drawer and pulls out a new pint bottle. He cracks the seal and takes a healthy gulp. Then he sniffs the air uncertainly.
AGENT: I'd be thrilled to see pages. [mutters] Not to mention astonished.
THE NOVELIST: What's the name of the anthology?
AGENT: Minor American Novelists.
THE NOVELIST spills the rest of the bourbon. The sheets and THE NOVELIST go up in flames.
(This started as a comment on LJ.)