From the Law Offices of Post, Mott and Urn.
11 June 2013.
Transcribed and arranged by Nathaniel Heely.
Q: State your name for the record.
Nathaniel Heely: Nathaniel Heely.
Q: Is that your legal name?
NH: No sir, it’s a pen name.
Q: Why do you use a pen name?
NH: Sometimes you’re just born with the wrong name. I look at my birth certificate and my brow just furrows. I can’t help but think ‘That’s not me.’
Q: Could you state your legal name
NH: Given the circumstances is that even necessary?
Q: State your name for the record
Kurt Rosenberg: Kurt William Rosenberg.
Q: You were born on May 20th. That makes you… nearly five months old. That correct?
KR: That’s correct… Do you know how long this is going to take?
NH: Put it simply I can’t write. My characters have stopped listening to me. They’re going on strike as it were. Except without demands, without any kind of communication except the most obtuse of actions. I say jump and they sit. I say sleep and they yell.
Bonnie Pillsbury: Look if I can be honest I’m very grateful for what Mr. Heely has done for me. But at some point he’s got to acknowledge that even children don’t live with Mommy and Daddy forever. I mean, you know, not in a functional household.
NH: I didn’t want to take legal action but the fact is I sit down to write, to bleed on my Macbook as it were, and nothing comes out. I spent forty-five minutes the other day trying to get Clayton Kershaw—not the baseball player, my fictional gardener—to just acknowledge his existence. I mean this is clearly prohibiting my ability to work and make a living.
KR: I don’t see what the deal is. I mean, I never agreed to a contract. I didn’t ask to be brought into the world by this man.
Clayton Kershaw: I was told by my lawyer that I didn’t have to answer any questions until he got here.
Q: It’s now 9:50, what time do you think he’ll be here?
CK: You got a pen and paper?
BP: Writing’s a relationship. Between authors and readers, between characters and their roman a clef counterparts. That ends at some point. Not every girlfriend is suing her ex because they broke up.
Q: Our records indicate, or perhaps, your records, your publications indicate—or seem to fail to indicate—that many of these characters were never themselves published.
NH: Is that supposed to be a question?
Q: I’m simply wondering if these characters that were never published, if you can even consider them fully developed characters. After all they’re just fragments of your imagination. To the published world they don’t exist. They only exist to you.
NH: I guess it depends on when you think a character’s life begins. Does it only begin when a reader reads the book. Or was he present the moment my pen hit the page or my fingers hit the key. Was he, as it were, knitted together in the womb of my brain?
Q: Have you received the letters from Mr. Heely’s lawyer?
KR: Yes, I have. They’re in my car actually.
Q: Your car, you say?
KR: Yes, sir.
Q: According to Mr. Heely you don’t exist in the time of automobiles. You’re a nineteenth century English poet and painter.
KR: According to him, sure.
Q: And when you received the Cease and Desist letters from Mr. Heely’s lawyer, what was your reaction?
KR: I figured if he wrote me in to being in the first place then anything that his lawyer or depiction of his lawyer wrote was just as meaningless.
Q: And when you say ‘meaningless’ you mean…
KR: I mean meaningless. I mean nothing.
Q: It is your presumption that Mr. Heely’s lawyer is just as fictional as you?
Q: And because of that you consider his actions—the lawyer’s—meaningless.
KR: That’s what I just said.
Q: Mr. Rosenberg, can I ask how you see your life?
KR: How do you mean?
Q: If a fictional character that Mr. Heely has created has a, in your word, ‘meaningless’ existence does that make your own life meaningless?
KR: I asked myself that question a lot of times. I guess if a man is making his own decisions, his life is never completely meaningless.
Q: You are saying you are being represented by this piece of paper?
CK: I’m saying I’m represented by what’s on the piece of paper in direct response to your question. Hold on, let me write that down. ‘I’m saying I’m represented by what’s on the piece of paper in direct response to your question.’
Q: Mr. Kershaw, Mr. Heely said he sent you no less than sixteen cease and desist letters…
CK: Kind of ironic isn’t it since [indistinct muttering]?
Q: Mr. Kershaw, if we could just stay on topic and answer my question…
CK: I mean what he wants is what we all want. Autonomous control. That’s exactly what his early fantasy trilogy Empire of Dirt was all about. The fact that the emperor could truly control everything in his kingdom. And now, what? That doesn’t apply to him?
NH: Absolutely not.
KR: That’s the point of stories, yes? You have to abuse your characters. All great writers are sadists.
NH: Everything that happens to a character is for a reason.
KR: I’m not under any illusions. I know he’s got a plot lined up. I know I have a role to assume.
NH: Obviously I’m not going to make a story without conflict. But the story isn’t about the character. Not always. It’s about reaching the ends by whatever means necessary. Communicating the lesson to be learned.
KR: But I don’t know what he’s thinking. And when he won’t show me, well, I have to do a little ad-libbing. Take things into my own hands.
NH: I know he’s only fictional. I can’t grab him by the lapels and yell in his face and berate him. But at times I feel that’s what I need to do. I don’t know how to get him to trust me.
Q: Mr. Rosenberg, are you aware of the literary theory ‘Reader-response criticism’?
KR: I suppose you’re going to tell me.
Q: To be short, Reader-response criticism places the highest value on how readers respond to the work—not what the author intended. The author’s intention is meaningless. Does this sound like something that’s happening to you?
KR: That answer’s more up to you than me.
Q: But I’m interested in your view.
KR: My view is that I’m in a two-way hell.
Q: Would you care to elaborate on that?
KR: Either my world is entirely based on other people and what they read. Or my world is entirely what I make with my own words. Hell is other people. Hell is yourself. Either way it’s still Hell.
NH: I’m the victim here, obviously! Are you seriously asking me that?
CKL: Hello, I’m Mr. Kershaw’s lawyer. I will be responding to any questions you have now.
Q: Mr. Kershaw I can assure you this is unnecessary.
CKL: There is nothing unnecessary about this. I’m here to protect Mr. Kershaw’s interests.
Q: No, but, you need to allow Mr. Kershaw to respond. He is the one being deposed.
CKL: I’m representing the deposed.
Q: Yes but… Mr. Kershaw! Mr. Kershaw! Where’d he go?
NH: Look, it’s a simple matter of economics and ownership. This is my livelihood! These are my characters! Mine!
AR: That’s all I’ll have to say. If you need anything else you can talk to my lawyer…
Q: That won’t be necessary.
KR: …we go from there? After the final page do we just magically up and go to live forever in the haven of our reader’s brains? No, man. That’s just not real. I stopped believing that a long time ago. It’s just not what happens. The story ends. We die. Everyone ends at some point. That or maybe we live forever bouncing forwords and backwords, never escaping the labyrinth.
NH: They’re fictional characters, they’re not supposed to think for themselves!
Front page image by Phil Roeder.