Once Upon a Wild Time
A Fable You’ve Heard Before But Hear Me Out I Have A Point
Once upon a time in the far, far ago, there was a brutal bastard of a king.
(This post has no political commentary; you’re safe. It’s FAR too self-serving for that.)
This king’s claim to infamy was that he would marry a beautiful woman each night and kill her with the rising sun, mowing through his country’s female population like a scythe through wheat. (The “ago” had some wild notions of good governorship, huh? Things like this seemed to happen a LOT in the ago.)
This went on for a while. His courtiers grew nervous and edgy and all sent their daughters off to finishing school in Switzerland. One night, the king had a bit of a headache, and the Bride Of The Day (who was extremely clever) said “King, darling—instead of raping me now, why don’t I just tell you a nice bedtime story and you can kill me in the morning?”
And the king thought that was a pretty good idea. So he lay down and his scimitar-armed bodyguards moved closer to make sure that Scherry (that was her name) wasn’t going to try to stab the king with her perfectly-coifed nails or something while he slept, and Scherry began her tale.
She told him a great, gripping story (it was Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, which, if you remember, is one swinging good tale) and the king rolled over on his pillow to watch her speak. He forgot about his headache, and the bodyguards crept forward to make sure they didn’t miss a word.
She was a great yarn-spinner, and they were all caught up in the story. She’d just reached a thrilling moment in the tale when she stopped and looked out the high arched window.
“It’s just about dawn. I guess you have to have your guards kill me now. I’ll go quietly.”
The collective chorus of “No!” was so emphatic that the bodyguards realized they’d relaxed their guard, and the king thought that perhaps this was beneath his dignity. Still, what happened next in the story?
“I have to go do kingly things now,” he said, trying to look regal, “but I guess I won’t kill you this morning. You can finish the story tonight and I’ll have you killed tomorrow.”
The guards (who were damned tired of slaughtering innocent women) suppressed their cheers and Scherry cast her eyes demurely downward. “Thank you, my king.” She’d extended her reign as Queen by 100% more than any other of the king’s wives before her. Kudos to her.
For the rest of the day, the king was distracted, wondering what happened to Ali Baba. (The guards were also similarly distracted, but as they are bit players in this drama, we ignore their wish-I-could-binge-this-story urges.)
The night came at last. Instead of the wedding that all the courtiers were used to, they were dismissed to go home to their own families, where they went very gratefully. The king invited his best friend Dave to come and hear the tale, and Dave and the king settled eagerly on plump pillows to watch Scherry with rapt fascination. The bodyguards (whose numbers had mysteriously grown) gathered round. To protect their king, of course—not to hear the rest of the story.
Scherry was no fool. She very cleverly began telling the story of Aladdin and the Genie of the Lamp before she finished Ali Baba, so Dave, the king, and some dozen bodyguards were all leaning in, hanging on her every word, when once again she noted the arrival of sunrise.
“This has been lovely, my king—but it looks like it’s time for my beheading, so thank you for letting me live this long. Good bye.”
Cries and protests rang throughout the royal apartments. It seemed that various maids had crept in to hear the story, too, and a few stable boys were found curled up under the bed, their chin in their hands and their eyes wide and sparkling.
The king grandly announced that Scherry could live for one more day. The story would be finished tomorrow—and would all these servants please get out of his bedroom. The next day, Scherry told her tale in the king’s reception room. The following day, she was in the audience chamber. Courtiers abandoned their families to hear what happened next. Then courtiers brought their families with them. After a while, a few of the elite’s daughters crept home from Switzerland to join in the national craze, and to everyone’s cautious delight, they remained neither married nor beheaded.
How long could Scherry keep it up, you ask? How long was she able to delay her own execution by one more day, through the use of the storyteller’s most fiendish tool—the cliffhanger?
Well more than two years. In fact, thirty-three months.
To be precise, it was exactly a thousand and one nights.
And on that final night, the king looked at his wife and knew she was irreplaceable. (Plus, he would have had a riot on his hands if he tried to execute her; she was by far the most popular person in the land, and not a single bodyguard would have raised his scimitar to her.)
“I surrender. You win. You are my queen for life, Scheherezade.”
That’s the end of the fable, although if I was writing an epilogue, we’d have to discuss the king’s psychopathic serial killer tendencies, address the issue of rape and whether Scherry had to sleep next to the king, and possibly have a handsome captain of the guards neatly slit the king’s throat and take the throne as Queen Scherry’s devoted consort…
The reason I have the story of Scheherezade in my brain today is because I was talking with my friend Meredith Bond about good endings. (Merry and I have a very small podcast for authors called The Writer’s Block Party Podcast, in which I ask the stupid questions that most beginning authors are too embarrassed to ask, and Merry—who is multi-published—provides kind and useful answers.)
Merry and I were talking about the precious, fertile moment when a reader finishes a book; how do you lure her into buying the next one?
Do you offer an epilogue to the current book if she’ll sign up for the newsletter, thereby allowing you to keep in touch with that reader? (I do this!)
Do you provide the first chapter of the next book so she reads it and gets swept up in the next story and clicks the “buy” link at the end of the sample chapter? (I do this, too!)
Do you listen to those who say if you offer two options, you’ll more than halve your responses? Give readers ONE thing to do and they’re more likely to take the request seriously…so which one? The newsletter? The next book?
There is no real answer to this; it’s a question of do your best and see what happens. But it got me thinking. Every author who wants you to read the next book is Scheherezade, trying to tempt you into something you hadn’t necessarily planned to do. You carved out time from your busy day to finish that good book you were reading, after which you’re definitely going to empty the dishwasher and work on your tax return and throw in some laundry…
…but damn, that next book looks so GOOD.
If I ever started a publishing house, I would call it Scheherezade Publishing. Isn’t that a great name? If you get to it before me, go ahead; I can’t claim the name now. But I’m loving the deliciousness of the whole thing!
I’m off; I’ve got writing to do so you won’t execute me in the morning!