One Time Only

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A reclusive author decides to make a personal appearance for one fan.

Submitted: October 02, 2016

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Submitted: October 02, 2016

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Jack Hillerman was not a people person.

He chose a career that made a difference for a lot of people.

He even corresponded with people via email and regular mail.

But the one thing Jack Hillerman never did was public appearances.

Jack Hillerman was one of the top authors in the world. His work rivaled Pynchon, Steinbeck, Hemingway and Salinger. He was an authors author. Craft before commercialism. His work was intermittent. He sometimes went 10 years between works. But when a new Jack Hillerman novel came out, the world waited in anticipation. They knew that they were in for something special.

Hillerman was in his early 70's. Still larger than life, with a barrel chest and gray hair that was once a dark black. His beard was thick and his voice was soaked by years of whiskey consumption. Many people called him a throwback to Hemingway, but Hillerman liked to think he was the Orson Welles of Literature. 

From his home in Gardiner Montana, Hillerman produced his work. Although many novels were succesful, the one novel that people seemed to love was his first. It was published in 1965. It was called "Othello's Revenge". It was a high adventure tale set in the New Mexico desert. People searching for treasure, but ultimately what they found was the effects of greed. Hillerman wrote that novel in six weeks at the age of 20. Everyone loved it. They proclaimed him to be the new "Boy Wonder" of publishing. 

The years went by and Hillerman continued to work on books. People loved them but there was always that comparrison to "Othello's Revenge." The more the comparison appeared, the less Hillerman wanted to continue writing. Finally in 1983, Hillerman had enough.

After publishing a spy novel in the vain of James Bond, a critic took Hillerman too task for what was percieved to be "Selling out your craft for commercialism." The reviewer also accused Hillerman of "deliberately trying to forget that you were the one who wrote Othello's Revenge." Outraged by the review, Hillerman tracked down the review and made an in person appearance to question the review in person. In what amounted to a verbal assault on the critic, Hillerman implied that while it is one thing for someone to read a book, it is another to sit and question one's motives with the audacity to say that he sold out to commercialism. How dare the critic question him. After 30 minutes of this encounter, Hillerman took the typewriter from the critics desk and threw it out the window. 

That was the last public appearance of Jack Hillerman. 

For 33 years, Jack Hillerman became the Western Mountains version of J.D. Salinger. He would continue to publish books, but he never made a public appearance. The encounter with the critic left an impression with him. 

"If he represents the public, why in the hell would I want to be around them?" Hillerman would often ask himself.

It was a lifestyle that suited him just fine. He had money enough to where he realistically didn't have to do anything anymore. But he loved the books. It was his life. It was his way to continue his art. People still craved real storytelling and by god he was gonna deliver it. When his close friends and family would ask why he doesn't do any signings his standard reply was usually something like this:

"The closest that they need to be near me is when they buy the book. I give them the book, why give them my person?"

It was a philosphy that served him well, but as the years went by Hillerman started to think about his words and rules on public appearances. Nights he would wonder if his fans would forget about him and move on to some other author. He knew that one day he would be forgotten, he just wanted to make sure he was still remembered while he was alive.

During the 33 year hiatus from public appearances, Hillerman would recieve various requests for appearances. He would turn them down. He would also recieve fan mail and books to be signed. Sometimes people would ask why he never did public signings. He would write a letter thanking them for their readership and that he was busy on the next book. That seemed to work for all this time.

Until July 2016.

In July, Hillerman was hard at work on a collection of short stories. He finished a story and decided to go check the mail. As he walked down the mile long road to the mail box, it never occured to him that anything was gonna change his self imposed exile. 

That was until he read the letter from Michelle Davis from Boise Idaho.

Michelle was 35 year old college student. She was a single mother to 4 kids and was going to school at Boise State University for a degree in English. Her thesis was gonna be on Hillerman and was wondering if she could submit some questions to him for her paper. The purpose of the thesis was "In The Shadows, Writers who wrote the books and stayed at home." It was about how people like him and J D Salinger and Thomas Pynchon wrote the books but largely stayed out of the public eye. He flipped the pages over and saw her list of questions. He read them as he made his way back to the house. When he got into the living room and sat down, he reached for a pen to write some answers down. As the pen made the way to the paper, Hillerman realized that this wouldn't suffice.

Hillerman was gonna have to go in person to answer this woman's questions.

At first he didn't want to. He was comfortable at the ranch. But something about this woman's letter stirred a need in him. In his mind, a simple return of her questions wouldn't do her thesis any good. But if he went in person, perhaps he could help her a little better with her thesis. 

Hillerman looked over the letter to see if she left her contact information. It just so happened that she left her phone number. As Hillerman reached for his phone, a feeling of hesitation came over him. It had been a while since he contacted some one over the phone for an interview. Hillerman took a deep breath and dialed the number. On the third ring, a teenage girl answered the phone.

"Hello, Davis Residence," The girl said.

"May I speak to Michelle Davis, please?" Hillerman asked.

"Mom it's for you," She said. A pause before the girl asked, "May I ask who is calling?"

"Jack Hillerman," Hillerman said. "I'm returning her message."

"Some old dude named Jack Hillerman," The girl said.

Hillerman heard someone running to the phone. 

"Hello, Mr Hillerman,"

"You must be Michelle," Hillerman said.

"Yes sir, I am," Michelle said. "I am just honored that you called. I am speechless. Wow, I mean, just wow."

"I wanted to say that I just recieved your letter. I was flattered and quite touched. It had me thinking about your questions." Hillerman said.

"Oh, would you like to do the interview now?" Michelle asked.

"I had a different idea," Hillerman said.

"What would that be?" Michelle asked.

"May I inquire as to when your final thesis is due?" Hillerman asked.

"August 12th," Michelle said.

Hillerman took a deep breath before speaking. He wasn't sure if he should do what he was gonna do, but decided there was no going back at this point.

"Mrs Davis, I haven't made a public appearance in almost 33 years. I have been happy with that fact. I am quite comfortable here at my ranch in Montana. But for some unknown reason, your thesis has inspired me to break my self imposed exile." Hillerman said.

"Oh my god," Michelle said. 

"I shall come to Boise and answer your questions in person." Hillerman said.

"Oh wow, that would amazing." Michelle said.

"Would it be allright if I called you once my travel arrangements are made?" Hillerman asked.

"Yes for sure," Michelle said. "You could even stay here at my house."

Hillerman was glad she made that offer. He really didn't want to have to book a hotel room.

"I shall accept your invitation and hospitality," Hillerman said.

"I don't know what to say, Mr Hillerman," Michelle said. "May I ask you at least one question?"

"By all means," Hillerman said.

"Why are you doing this?" Michelle asked.

Hillerman hesitated before answering. He knew that off hand he did not have any kind of an answer for her.

"I shall call you in a few days and we will make arrangements then." Hillerman said.

He hung up the phone and decided to pack a suitcase. He went through his closest and found that most of his clothes were what old ranchers wore. As he dug through his closet, he found a couple of suits and packed them into his bag, he threw in a few other outfits and gathered up the rest of his needs and decided to throw them in his old pickup truck. 

Instead of calling Michelle Davis, Hillerman decided to make the trip from Gardiner to Boise right then and there. He made sure he had his wallet and all his supplies were in the truck. He hadn't made a long distance trip in a long time, but he figured things hadn't changed that much. He locked up his house and made his way to Boise.

Two days later he arrived in Boise. He had located Michelle Davis's address and decided that he would appear at her house to make the interview. As he parked the pickup, his nerves began showing. This was a big deal for Hillerman. This was the moment he had wondered about. Could he realistically make himself available for the public? There was only one thing for him to do.

He walked up to the front door and knocked. After a minute of waiting a little boy, no older than 5, answered the door. He looked up to Hillerman.

"Who are you?" The boy asked.

"I am a friend of your mother's, young man." Hillerman said. "Who are you?"

"I'm Christopher," The boy said.

"How do you do, Christopher?" Hillerman said. "My name is Jack,"

Christopher walked over and hugged Hillerman's legs. Hillerman lowered himself to the little boy's level and returned the hug. Hillerman lifted his head to see a woman who appeared to be Michelle Davis. Hillerman stood up.

"Michelle, I presume?" Hillerman asked,

"Yes, you must be Jack Hillerman." Michelle said. 

"I am indeed, Madam," Jack said.

"Please please, come on in." Michelle said.

"Thank you," Hillerman said.

Hillerman noticed that for a single mother putting herself through college, that the house was quite nice for the suburbs. Michelle directed them to the living room. Hillerman sat down on the couch and Michelle sat in the chair right across from the couch.

"I am just totally speechless," Michelle said. "Jack Hillerman is here in my house."

"Let's not tell anybody about this," Jack said. 

"I won't," Michelle said. "I will go get my notebook and we can begin. Would you like anything to drink? We only have juice, I'm afraid."

"I am a conesieur of Apple Juice," Hillerman said. 

"Apple it is," Michelle said.

As she went into the kitchen, Hillerman could still feel his nerves make an unwelcome appearance. He just wanted to do this one time only appearance, then head back to the ranch. He was an old man and didn't have the time or energy for such trips anymore.

Michelle made it back with a juice box and a notebook. She handed Hillerman the juice box and the straw. Hillerman looked over the juice box and couldn't quite figure out how to put the straw in. He grabbed his glasses from his shirt pocket and put them on. He figured out how to put the straw in and took a sip.

"I've never interviewed anybody before, I am a little nervous." Michelle said.

"I haven't been interviewed for a while either," Hillerman said. "I figure we can just make this up as we go along."

" I guess the first question is: Where did you go?" Michelle asked.

Hillerman had 33 years to come up with an answer. He had many reasons for it, the most notable reason was the incident with the critic. He had not found a suitable answer for himself, how was he gonna answer the question?

"Would you allow an old man to just ramble on for a little bit?" Hillerman asked.

Michelle nodded her head yes.

"When you become a published author, whether it is a short story or a novel, you start to feel pressure. Pressure from the publisher, from the editor, the agent, even the fans. You try to meet all the demands put upon you by them. Being a published author is a big responsibility. Nobody really tells you about the checklist you have to meet before you can finish a new piece of work. There comes a point where you come up with a percieved masterpiece, in my case "Othello's Revenge", that from then on you are held up to only one standard. Does this meet up to what "Othello's Revenge" was? No matter if people like it or not for it's own merits, you always have that hanging over your head. A point comes to where you decide that the reasons you were doing this for are not worth it, so you change the rules so to speak. You make it to where you take out all the variables that have been weighing down your work. You do it for yourself. You forget why you did it in the first place. Then, in the case of a stubborn old man such as myself, you get a letter that reminds you of why you got into the business in the first place." Hillerman said.

"Oh my," Michelle said. Michelle was scribbling down as fast as she could all of Hillerman's quote. Hillerman smiled.

Hillerman took a big breath. A weight had finally been lifted off his shoulder. All the years of self doubt and worry were taken away by one question. Michelle was a fan, not a reporter or some aspiring author looking for advice, she was a student who needed help with homework. That appealed to Hillerman.

What was to be a simple question and answer session turned into an allnight chat fest for Michelle and Hillerman. Michelle asked a lot of questions and Hillerman answered them. He even helped her write her thesis and as a special favor to Michelle, called her professor and told him of his visit to Michelle's home. Hillerman made it clear that he was only an interview subject, nothing more and nothing less. The professor agreed on the condition that Michelle had to take a picture with Hillerman and sign a copy of a book as proof that it really was Jack Hillerman that she was talking to. Hillerman readily agreed to that.

By late in the evening, Hillerman was feeling pretty tired. He got up and grabbed his duffel bag and pulled out a big binder. Michelle was in the other room, finishing up her thesis.

"Michelle," Hillerman said.

"Yes, Jack," Michelle said.

"I am leaving now," Jack said.

"Oh," Michelle said. She walked over to Hillerman, who was standing by the front door. 

"I thought you were staying here?" Michelle asked.

"I wanna thank you. For helping an old man like me leave his exile. For showing me that being in public can be fun. I hoped I helped you with the thesis." Hillerman said.

"You have and then some," Michelle said. She hugged Hillerman. 

"Before I go, I wanted to let you know that I have left you something. As a token of my gratitude and appreciation. I hope you enjoy it." Hillerman said.

Hillerman walked out the front door and made it to his pickup. Michelle waved as Hillerman drove off. She walked back in and closed the door. As she walked to the kitchen, she saw a big black binder on the table. Michelle opened it. Her jaw dropped as she read the title page.

It was the original draft of "Othello's Revenge". On the title page was a dedication: 

"To Michelle,

Thank you for your invitation. It made an old man feel better. Most fun I have had in years.

Your friend Jack Hillerman"

Michelle started to cry. If she was worried about passing her thesis, she didn't have to now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


© Copyright 2017 Robert Logan. All rights reserved.

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