Thursday, July 26, 2012

Guestpost: Elyse Douglas - Looking for Work

Looking for Work
by Elyse Douglas

When your work speaks for itself, don't interrupt. - Henry J. Kaiser

I worked as a graphics computer consultant while also working on a novel. An agency called and asked if I would handle a “difficult and challenging assignment.” It was at a leading investment banking firm on Park Avenue. I said yes. I dressed appropriately—corporate casual: khakis, button down shirt, loafers.

I entered the soaring-to-the-heavens building, going through 5 minutes of grueling security, but was respectively called Mr. Pennington, because I looked akin to investment bankers who are important and prosperous.

I played the part, carrying an impressive shoulder bag that had nothing in it except a protein-packed peanut butter bar and edits for a new women’s fiction novel entitled, Wanting Rita, that my wife, Elyse, and I were writing.

I was whisked to the upper floors that looked out over the impressive, gleaming towers of Manhattan. I stepped across gold carpeted hallways and passed shimmering enclosed offices, where determined men and women worried and jousted over important financial issues.

I was led across the trading floor, around islands of printers and computers, down corridors that opened, vast and wide, to more cubicles and computers, with even more people, dressed like me, hunched over keyboards, working assiduously. I was about to be involved with powerful people doing important work and I was ready for it. I was ready for the difficult and challenging assignments that lay ahead.

I was shown my desk, my computer and my printer. I lowered my shoulder bag with a dramatic sigh, aware that curious eyes were watching, and pretended to strain under its weight. Let them think I have important documents inside, I thought to myself. Let this first impression be one of “this guy has come to do difficult and challenging assignments.”

I sat, adjusted my ergonomically designed chair—one that was so carefully and skillfully designed that I could have been shot to the moon in ease and comfort. I booted up the computer. I logged on, using the highly secret passwords. I waited.

A tall, focused supervisor arrived, quiet and serious. “Welcome. Good to have you with us. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

He drifted away into the endless corridors and cubicles and glass-enclosed offices. I waited.

The district supervisor soon arrived. She was easy, friendly and attractive. “We have so much work to do. So glad you’re here to help us, Douglas.”

“Good to be here,” I said earnestly.

She soon ambled away, to some distant shore, where security doors released you through a hallway that led to more security doors and corridors and stairs and a bank of elevators.

I waited… At 1pm, I was told to go for lunch and return at 2pm. I did. At 6:30, I was kindly instructed to go home. Being the last worker on the floor, I did, shutting down the computer on which I had stared longingly for stale, protracted hours. I then wandered through the maze of cubicles and silent offices until I arrived at the bank of lonely elevators. They seemed to speak to me.

“Ah…Douglas, the vicissitudes of life: up and down, down and up.”

A week passed—one day looping into the next—each following the same familiar and grueling pattern. I never was given any work to do. Often, in quiet desperation, I worked on Wanting Rita.

One night, as I prepared to leave after a particularly fallow day, a co-worker drew up, flushed, perspiring and weary. “What a kick-ass day, huh? I’m beat.”

I mopped my brow with a tissue. “Oh, yeah. A real pressure cooker.”

On another evening, I left the hushed, empty cubicles, slouching my way to the elevators. I stood in an awkward silence. The CEO of the company was standing beside me. He stood aloof, dressed smartly in a suit and tie. No doubt he’d spent endless challenging hours wrestling with problems, financial quagmires and near life-and-death issues.

I, on the other hand—for nearly three months—had done absolutely nothing.

He eyed me suspiciously. I could hear him thinking: “Humm…last man out. Obviously, a dedicated employee. No doubt he’s been working on difficult and challenging assignments.”

I left the building with all the other essential people. I kept my head held high, but my shoulders a little slouched to show that I, too, had done important work and I was weary from it.

I never saw the supervisor again. I returned several times a week for about a year and was rarely given any work. When work gratefully arrived, it was elementary at best. Anyone could have done it.

Whenever I asked if there was any work for me, I was told “Oh, yeah, we’re going to be busy today.”

Then the day finally came: the assignment came to an end. Not with a bang but a whimper. “Good job,” I was told. “Thanks for all the hard work.”

Two weeks later, I received a call from the agency.

“Douglas, they want you back. They said you’re the only one they trust to handle the workload. Are you available?”

About the Author:

     Elyse Douglas is the pen name for the married writing team Elyse Parmentier and Douglas Pennington. Elyse grew up near the sea, roaming the beaches, reading and writing stories and poetry, receiving a Master’s Degree in English Literature from Columbia University. She has enjoyed careers as an English teacher, an actress and a speech-language pathologist. She and her husband, Douglas Pennington, have completed three novels: The Astrologer’s Daughter, Wanting Rita and a Christmas novel to be released later this year.

     Douglas grew up in a family where music and astrology were second and third languages. He attended the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music and played the piano professionally for many years. With his wife, Elyse, he has helped to pen The Astrologer’s Daughter and Wanting Rita.

     When asked how they write a novel together, Doug often answers, “Well… If Elyse is dismissive and quietly pacing, then I know something’s not working. If I’m defensive, dramatic and defiant, then I know Elyse will soon be scowling and quietly pacing. We remind ourselves of Rita and Alan James in our novel, Wanting Rita. How the books get finished, I don’t know.”

Find out more at, on Twitter, and Facebook.

Elyse Douglas and Pump Up Your Book Tours are also hosting a Kindle Fire Giveaway!!! Click here to find out more details.

About Wanting Rita:

     When his high school sweetheart experiences a devastating tragedy, Dr. Alan Lincoln reluctantly returns to his Pennsylvania hometown to see her. It’s been 15 years. Rita was a small town beauty queen—his first love whom he has never forgotten. He was a nerd from a wealthy family. Her family was poor. They formed a strong connection during their senior year, but Rita married someone else, and the marriage ended tragically.

     Alan’s marriage of three years is disintegrating, and he sees in Rita the chance to begin again with the true love of his life. Rita has been mentally and emotionally shattered, but she reaches out to Alan and fights to build a new life with him. During a passionate summer, however, the past and present converge and threaten their rekindled love, as Alan and Rita must struggle with old ghosts and new secrets.

Book Excerpt:

“She’ll be there, Alan,” Mrs. Fitzgerald said, in a quiet, hopeful voice. “She’ll be at Jack’s Diner. She’s been working there for a month now. It…well, it would just be a good thing…a nice thing if you could…” Her voice trailed off, then grew weak and brittle. “You’re the only person she’s asked about. But… you must be so busy. I mean, I know doctors are always busy. Of course, you’re busy, but… Well, if you could just go and see her…”

Then there was desperation. “I’m sorry to call you at your office, but I just thought…well, if she saw some old friends. She needs to…get out and…”

I’d heard that voice frequently working in the ER during my residency. A voice stripped of pride by a mounting panic.

“She’ll be so glad to see you again, Alan. I just know it. She was always so fond of you, you know.”

Just as I was about to end the conversation, she broke down, repeating the story of Rita’s tragedy in deep sighs and choking sobs. I waited, impatiently. She rambled and paused, hoping for a response. I didn’t offer any, so she continued on with a weepy intensity, with anger, remorse, and an occasional hacking cough. I listened coolly, aloof, frequently checking my watch. I was already behind. Patients were complaining to reception. I had mountains of paperwork to do and I hadn’t eaten lunch.

Mrs. Fitzgerald persisted, with surging emotion. Her pace became a desperate sprint to the finish line, jumping from self-pity to scorn, to cursing, to rage. She trampled on all my efforts to cut her off. So I waited for the end of emotion; for the end of her confessions; for the shattered voice that finally fell into a withering and feeble “Oh, God… please go see Rita… Please…”

I wasn’t moved in that hollow silence. My heart contracted with an icy chill—with the rush of unwanted memories. I wasn’t even moved when she timidly called my name to see if I was still there.

“Yes… I’m here, Mrs. Fitzgerald, but I have to go now. Thank you for calling.”

I hung up, abruptly, without another word. I wanted to erase her—erase the entire population of Hartsfield, Pennsylvania—from my mind.

I’d already heard the story. My sister, Judy, had called eight months before, stunned, teary and grateful to share. Two hours later, an old friend from high school, whom I hadn’t heard from in six years, called me stammering, shocked, and depressed. Then my father had called, using cold, sharp words. “They were trash. Didn’t you date that girl a couple of times? What was her name… Rita?”

It had briefly hit the national news, I was told, although I didn’t see it because I was in Barbados on vacation when it happened. Of course it upset me. It would upset anyone, but I had never been particularly fond of Mrs. Fitzgerald when I was a kid. And when I was a kid living in Hartsfield, she’d never been particularly fond of me. But then, with few exceptions, nobody was. Except Rita. Rita, at least for a fleeting miraculous time, had been fond of me. Perhaps, she had even loved me. And I, without a doubt—any doubt—had loved her.

In the last two years of high school, Rita had blazed with a beauty and magnetism that burned through a crowd like wildfire. She possessed a kind of languid rapture and soft exotic glow that I compared to the starlets of the 1940’s and 50’s; that mysterious mixture of fire and ice that arrested the eyes and heart in a breathless expectation. She was art, with her refined aristocratic nose, long chiseled neck, and voice like pure unraveling silk. Her lips were red, full, and often parted, as if in want of a kiss, though there was no pretension in this. At least, I never thought so.

She was full-figured and statuesque, with honey blond hair that fell in waves over thin ivory shoulders, in a longing, really—in a natural invitation to touch and caress. And she moved in an easy rhythm, as if hearing distant pagan music, with a gentle sway of her hips that sent ripples of fervent pleasure through any gathering of guys, and a humid jealousy through any crowd of gals.

Rita had been the town treasure. The prom queen. The beauty queen. The trophy. Men with cigars on the Courthouse steps jerked nods of agreement that Hartsfield could produce more than just thermal underwear. They produced Rita Fitzgerald: beauty, talent and personality. She’d go somewhere, New York, LA, and become somebody, and they’d be the proud town fathers who had supported her, nurtured her and helped her along. She could sing and dance, and she wrote poems and short stories that were published in the local paper. She was even going to write a novel about Hartsfield. For weeks after this fact was published in the Sunday paper, I observed that teachers, neighbors and town folk all had broader smiles, softer dispositions and kind words, where few had been offered before.

Whenever she had shined her large sea-blue eyes on me, I saw tenderness, wonder and intelligence; and when she took me into them, fully, and held me for a time, I felt primitive and exalted. During those rare moments when Rita and I had been close and I felt her soft breath on my cheek or in my ear, and whenever she leaned into me and I smelled the spring scent of her and looked into her blue eyes, wide with magic, I saw them break into prisms of fire so magnificent that I often went dumb and silent with desire for her.

As I stared vacantly ahead at the garish neon lights of Jack’s Diner, I felt the rise of apprehension and dread. Surely Rita had changed. Had the tragedy blunted her beauty and zest for life? Did I really want to see her defeated and small, working as a waitress at Jack’s Diner? Did she really want to see me?

Book Trailer:

Interview with the Author:

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