Guy Hasson is an SF author and a filmmaker. His latest books are Secret Thoughts by Apex Books and The Emoticon Generation by Infinity Plus. His 45-minute epic SF film, The Indestructibles, which he wrote and directed, will be released on the web in a few weeks, and his start-up New Worlds Comics will go live in July.
by Guy Hasson
I am highly disappointed with you SF Signal readers.
I didn’t want to return to Mary Belle, CEO of Digital Kingmakers. But you forced me to. Twice now.
To those of you with short memories: It started with a harmless guest post on SF Signal, a funny post that received no comments. Out of nowhere, I received a phone from Ms. Belle, claiming her GPO (Guest Post Optimization) expertise could make my guest posts go viral. I went out of curiosity and was outraged by her opinion of SF readers. And yet that post received 17 comments, viral by SF Signal standards and was chosen as one of the top 30 posts for that month.
True to my public word, I returned to Digital Kingmakers, where I received psycho, psychedelic insight into the psyche of the SF readers. (Don’t remember? What if I told you Benedict Cumberbatch, Neil Gaiman, and Guy Hasson walked into a bar?) I was enraged again. I claimed it would never work. Again. But Ms. Belle’s assertion that that one post would increase my sales in 1,000% a month were on the nose. A month has passed, and The Emoticon Generation‘s Amazon sales went up by exactly 1,000%. I begged you not to buy my book. Against my own financial interest. I begged you. But you didn’t listen. On top of which, that post received 17 comments too, and was chosen as one of the top 25 posts for that month. Again.
It’s like you want me to go back to her. Do you not realize what a nightmare those meetings are?
Well, I kept my word and returned to Digital Kingmakers for a third time. While the first time was infuriating and the second time was psychedelic, the third time topped them all by being so outrageous that had I written about it in a story, you would never have believed it.
Before we start, close your eyes. Try and imagine the craziest thing that could happen. I promise you that whatever you come up is not half as crazy as what really happened. I. Promise.
So. For the last time. Here’s what happened.
It began innocently enough, with me sitting in Digital Kingmakers’ conference room, sipping coffee, waiting for her to finish a conference call, trying to imagine what she would throw at me this time.
The email preceding this meeting was succinct: “With the next guest post on SF Signal, we’re going to rebrand you and basically relaunch your career.”
I had doubts, of course. It sounded impossible. But I had had doubts the last two times, and you had proven her right both times. So I was both apprehensive and excited.
Mary Belle entered only five minutes late and shook my hand. Though her pregnancy was now in full 38-week bloom (out of an expected 40), she was holding a glass of white wine in her hand and sipping it.
“Are you sure you want to be drinking that?” I said.
“Absolutely,” she said and sipped the wine again. “I’ve been having labor pains for the last thirty minutes. Doctors recommend a little bit of wine. If the labor’s not real, it goes away. If it’s real, it-Uhnnnn,” she closed her eyes and bent forward. Clearly, another contraction. “All right, it’s real.” She put down the glass.
I got up immediately. Before I could say anything, she looked at the time on her iPhone, “Contractions are two and a half minutes apart. I’m calling the hospital,” which she immediately did, calling for an ambulance.
“I’m sorry about this,” she told me.
“No, no, we can postpone, no problem. Just have everything go right,” I opened the door for her.
“Oh, there’s no need to postpone.” We were walking towards reception. “What I have to say can be summed up in two minutes. Walk me to the ambulance, and we’ll do it on the way.”
“Are you sure? I-”
“Sam,” this to her secretary. We’d reached reception, and were heading out. “I’m going into labor. Cancel all my appointments for today. I’ll call you in a couple of hours, when it’s over, and fill me in on everything.”
Sam’s mouth had dropped and by the time he was ready to respond, we were out the door and next to the elevators.
“A couple of hours?” I said.
She pushed the elevator button. “Last time my baby popped out of me on the way to the hospital. That’s why I’m going in an ambulance. Same thing’s going to happen today. Now let’s talk about you. Uhhhnn…” She took a few seconds to recover, then looked up at me. “Me and my team read all your books. You’ve got a major problem. They’re all great. But you have gone to great lengths to have a massive branding problem. Your readers don’t know how to categorize you.”
“What do you mean?” The elevator door opened. “Hopefully, readers see me as a good storyteller. And the quality-”
She shook her head. “Storyteller shmoryteller,” we walked in. “Ow,” she winced and grabbed her belly. I pushed the button for the ground floor. “Quality doesn’t sell books. Branding does. People are stupid, Mr. Hasson, even smart people. They need categories, and if they can’t fit you in a category they know, they won’t read you even when they love your stories. Ohhhhh…”She closed her eyes, concentrating on the pain. Meanwhile, the elevator stopped on the 18th floor and the door opened. An elderly man walked in slowly. “Look at the books you’ve published over the last two years: Secret Thoughts is a drama about telepaths that basically creates a new genre; The Emoticon Generation is classic science fiction for this age; and Tickling Butterflies is a fantasy!” The elderly man pushed the button for the 17th floor. The doors closed. “That’s no way to brand yourself.”
“But they’re all good!”
“Good shmood.” The elevator reached the 17th floor and the door opened. “Good doesn’t keep readers coming back. They won’t come back until they know they’re coming back for the same thing. What we need to do is find what category you fall into with all your books. We need to classify you clearly and memorably in their minds, so that always know they’re coming back for more of the same. The good news is that we can do it all in one guest post.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said.
“Arrrrr…” She almost doubled over and had to lean back. We were on the 12th floor.
Suddenly the elevator stopped between the 10th and the 11th floor. The lights went out for a second, then came back. The elevator did not move.
“That’s not good,” she said. Immediately, she called Sam.
Mary Belle kept the line open while Sam was finding out what was happening. “This is not good,” she told me. “Baby’s coming out in less than five minutes. That’s what happened last time.” Then, suddenly, to the phone, “Yeah, Sam. …All right. …Sit on them and make sure they do it as fast as possible. …But that’s going to be too late.” She hung up and looked straight at me. “Great. Elevator’s stuck. Some kind of technical problem. It’s going to take more than five minutes,” she began to take off her shoes. “We’re going to have the baby here.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
She was now taking off her panties.
“Don’t do that,” I said. “The baby’s not going to come in five minutes.”
Then a huge splash hit the elevator floor. Her water broke. It smelled like semen.
“You’re going to help me deliver my baby,” she said, slowly sitting down, then lying on her back. There was no room on the floor that wasn’t wet and my pants and shoes were wet, too.
“No no. No no no! The baby’s not going to come in five minutes!”
“Don’t be a little girl,” she said. “I need your help. Owwww….” And when she snapped back she opened her legs. “Shut up and assume the position.”
I did. What else could I do? I stared at her vagina, waiting for something to come out of it. This was not how I imagined the meeting would go.
“Ohhhh…” she was in pain, then snapped of it. “Thirty seconds to tell you my solution and the meeting’s over.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Concentrate!”
“Baby’s doing the work on his own. Listen closely. Here’s my…uhhnnn…my solution. There’s one trick I’ve been saving in my arsenal. It’s never been done before and it can only be used once. You’re the author I’m going to give it to. That’s how great I think you’ll become. Uhhhn!”
My heart was racing. I now believed what she believed, that the baby was coming out. I was not thinking about my career. But I had enough wherewithal to think that maybe this conversation was helping her with the pain. Which meant I had to keep talking to her about it.”What’s the trick?”
“You’re going to have to tell… Ohhhh!”
“Holy cow, I can see the head! Holy cow, I can see the head! What do I do? What do I do?”
“Nothing, nothing. He’s going to come out on his own. You just hold him gently when he comes out. Listen closely, Ohhhhh! Listen closely…” A tiny head was slowly coming out of her. “You have to tell your readers you’re telling them the truth now. You have to tell you invented me.”
For a split second, I forgot about the baby. “What-what, say what?”
“Tell them you made me up. I’m your crazy invention.”
“What the hell are you talking about?!”
“I am a figment of your imagination. That’s what you tell them. You’re the guy who invented a character that told him what to do to become viral – and that invention made you viral. Arrrr….! You’re the guy who wrote another guest post with the made-up character, claiming she told you how to increase your sales, which increased your sales. Aaaarrr!”
“Will you concentrate on the baby, please!”
The head was now completely out. I was holding it in my hands gently. The baby was still pushing himself out. But she wouldn’t stop talking. “And you’re the guy who brazenly wrote an article about how he gave birth to a woman’s baby while at the same time admitting she doesn’t exist!”
Now the shoulders were out. I was thinking, ‘You’re crazy! You’re crazy! You’re crazy!’ was playing silently in my head. This was not the time to insult her.
“You’re the guy who blows people’s minds,” she said. “That’s what you do. You mess with our minds in a way we never see coming. That’s your brand. That’s who you are, regardless of which genre you write in. You break boundaries and blow people’s minds. Do you understand?”
I was now holding the baby in my hands. He was slightly blue, and not crying.
“He’s out!” I shouted. “He’s blue!”
“He’s supposed to be blue,” she said. “Gimme! He’ll get pink in the first couple of minutes.”
I handed her the baby, who suddenly opened his mouth and started crying. The umbilical cord still reached into her, which I told her once she held the baby.
She hugged the crying baby and held him close to her chose. “Shh,” she whispered to him. “Shh..”
The umbilical cord was now completely out along with what I later learned was the placenta.
“He’s turning pink!” I said.
“Yeah, he’s all right.” The baby slowly calmed down and stopped crying.
I fell back against the opposite wall, realizing I what I’ve just gone through. But she wasn’t through.
“Listen,” she was speaking in a tone that sounded like she was talking to her child. “Are you going to write you made me up or not?”
“How can I do that? There’s Google today! People can just look you up.”
“That’s not going to change anything. You have to tell everyone I’m not real.”
“Listen. I record our conversation, like I recorded all of them. I can just post it on my website as proof.”
“Do it and you’ll never have a career again!”
“I held your baby in my hands!”
She shook her head gingerly. “That doesn’t matter. I am telling you that you have to tell your readers ‘the truth’. You have to tell them you made me up. That’s who you are as an author.”
I covered my eyes and exhaled, the tension going out. “Look,” I looked at her with tired eyes. “There’s no chance in hell I’m going to do that. But I’ll tell you what I will do. Just like the last two times, I’m going to write exactly what happened between us. Word for word.”
She smiled. “That’s enough.” And she exhaled, and the fatigue was finally on her face. “That one article, Mr. Hasson, that one article will not only increase your book sales in the long run, it will define you for the next few years. Everybody’s going to know who you are now.”
I didn’t respond. She picked up her phone and called Sam.
The elevator started moving fifteen minutes later. We didn’t talk about my branding again.
The baby was, and is, healthy and well.
And now the article is written and with a shaking finger, I’ll press ‘Send’ and send it to SF Signal.
Only one of us is right: Ms. Belle or me. As before, I leave it to you.