12 April 2024

Speaking to the Dead Authors
Part 1: F. Scott Fitzgerald

I stared at the friend request with mild annoyance.


Why did people have to do this? Was it a troll? Was it someone from a mental health institute? Was it a bot?


I’d not long ago posted about how F. Scott Fitzgerald was the author whose tales often made me want to rewrite the endings of books, and now here he was.


Sending me a friend request.


On Storiad.


I’d been trying to become a successful author for years now. I’d throw out lines like “My day job is the biggest investor for my writing” and “Statistically it takes five novels and persistence, and that’s it!” in order to make myself feel like it was all achievable. But in truth, my confidence was wavering. It kind of felt like being kicked around an MMA ring. Like someone was either trying to teach you a lesson in humility or they’d gotten the experience levels mixed up.


“Yeah. Two and two, right?”


“You know that’s a level two and a level twenty-two, right?”


I don’t know much about MMA. Just that a mate now has cauliflower ear because of it, so I assume it hurts.


So, back to Mr Fitzgerald.


I love his books as much as I hate them. The unsatisfying endings and depressing analysis of humanity leaves my heart feeling unclean and it makes me want to hug everyone and tell them it’ll be ok. It makes me want to smack a few people in the face for not having enough self-reflection to see how their actions hurt others. His stories are like a beautiful, poetic arrow that strikes right through my heart, leaving me in a state of reading and listening to something truly beautiful and psychologically tragic at the same time.

So of course, when I was ever-so-neatly filing away my emails, the often-discarded Social tab that was topped up with the usual desperate:


“See your Twitter notifications”




“Goodreads: Check out what your friends are reading and feel guilty that you only have time for audiobooks (Which of course are NOT as sophisticated as the good old printed page)”


When I saw the program, I used for a month and then cancelled because I didn’t have the time to keep going over it, it caught my attention. The word is pleasing to me. Like Story mixed with Iliad. Storiad. Something nice about the way it mimics a valley between mountains.


Then the name F. Scott “wants to be my friend”. Not gonna lie… I get along with Scotts as well as I get along with Nathans and Jessicas. (Just gonna alienate millions of people on names alone right here). When I saw F. Scott I thought “Are they an author now?” and grumpily started stalking them.


Then I saw their booklist.


It has to be a bot or a troll or something unethical, I thought with a creased brow.  And yet… the little hopeful sprite in me still clicked on “Accept Friend Request”.




With a roll of my eyes I think “I’ll just pay for one month and see who this is. If they’re not a publishing company trying to revamp these old books, I’ll report them.”


A few clicks and a minus in my bank account later, I give their profile a really good stalking. Thank the internet gods for that. Nothing. Nothing at all. I’d come up blank. It was as if a ghost had just plonked itself there and decided to sell books. Unfortunately, you can’t check the email associated with someone’s Amazon account, so I was at an end.


Should I message them? Should I ask and see?


Stuff it.


R: Hi. Thanks for the friend request. I love your books.


I sat there like a nervous dummy, waiting for a response. Unlike Facebook or other chatting software, Storiad doesn’t tell you when the other person is about to respond to your message.


Yeah. They aren’t going to respond. They’re either a publishing company selling new copies of old books or they’re a fake account trying to do the same. I shook my head and went to get a glass of water.


Then I came back to see a response.


Yeah. Knew it. Gotta be a…. wait…


F.S.F: Good afternoon, Rieae. Thank you for the compliment. Which book of mine happens to be your most favourite?


After a nose scrunching embarrassment at the old “#gamer name” being used as a real name, I got one of those strange feelings. Like when you get picked first for a school sports team. Or when someone yells out to the teacher that you’d know the answers. Like when you hear the final number called out in bingo, but you can’t quite believe it.


This has got to be fake. I wonder how long it’ll take before they ghost me. This could be fun.


R: Well, as a fellow writer, I must admit that all and none of your stories are my favourites. They are like exquisite cuisine that is both too filling and rich, yet leaves one wanting just one more bite.


That’ll get rid of ‘em. No one but the actual F. Scott Fitzgerald could bare such flouncy, flowery language, if the historical records are to be correct.




Yeah. Knew it. Faker.


I popped open the word document I’d been typing away at just as another message popped up. With a blink I clicked back.

You ready for round two, buddy? Oh…


F.S.F: Yes, well, that’s why my tales are not lengthy. I feel I was always quite adept at cutting to the quick of a story and extracting the literary marrow for my readers to feast upon. But you haven’t answered me to my satisfaction. Which story of mine is your most favourite?


I swallowed. May as well be honest. Could be a good way to procrastinate.


R: I feel like it’s cliché, but The Great Gatsby. I didn’t have to study it in school, but I helped other students with it.


F.S.F: A fine choice. I daresay it was my greatest work. And you say you are an aspiring writer? I hope you’re able to glean some quality inspiration from my works. What, pray tell, makes my books too rich for you though? Besides the obvious.


I bit my lip. It was barely two weeks ago I made a tweet about how he was the only author who perpetually made me want to rewrite the endings of his books, so yes. He did give me inspiration. I also had no idea what was obvious about them being too rich for me. Was it the characters were fiscally well off? Was it the language? I shook me head. This is just a troll, Rhi. Just a silly actor. You’re not going to offend the ACTUAL F. Scott Fitzgerald. You’re just going to tick off a weirdo fan or scammer.


R: Yes. Your books are always inspiring. Although, the bitter sweetness of the endings makes me feel incomplete. Like there is an element of life within them that is always snuffed out at the end. There is no afterglow. Just… well… shock. Shock and despair.


Silence again. Well, of course there’s silence. The sound on my laptop is deliberately turned off so no one at work thinks I’m doing something I shouldn’t be. Like talking to a dead author, I recently laid my heaviest criticism on. But I couldn’t help myself. I had to check. Something about it, fake or not, had gripped all of my attention.


F.S.F: You do realise that my stories aren’t meant to leave you with an afterglow? They are meant to highlight the fickle and changing nature of humanity by taking the activities that we glorify as desirable and normal. Then just as you feel that you are the protagonist, it’s flipped to reveal the rotten underside of how unfair life is.


I responded before I even thought about my answer.


R: But life isn’t unfair. Life is perfectly just. It’s a matter of perspective as to whether or not you feel it’s unjust.


F.S.F: I whole heartedly disagree. Life is tremendously unfair. There is no lady holding scales, blindfolded to the woes and plights of humanity. There is just a man born and bred into money that controls the pittance you receive, and if I do say so, his eyes are wide open.


R: That’s a very cynical viewpoint.


I’ve lived it, so I speak from the depths of experience.


I scrunched my nose as I withdrew a flaming retort for a more amicable one.


R: I haven’t lived the hardest life, but it wasn’t easy. The only way I could get through it all and still strive for my dreams was to swallow down the pill of eternal optimism and keep stepping forward.


F.S.F: And what hard life could possibly compare to mine? I lived with the worst of people, my heart shredded by what some may have called the most profound loves, and I spent my best years being used to feed the lavish addictions of my family. Penniless, pitiful and in constant pain that only the drink could sooth.


Something about the self-aggrandising pity party thrown in my face made my blood run white hot with rage. I typed a response and deleted it. I typed another one and deleted it. I typed a third one and stopped halfway, then deleted it.


Finally, I settled on: R: I had to live with people that thought like you.


Silence. This time from me. I slammed my laptop shut and stormed off to go and stab someone. Literally. With acupuncture needles. It’s amazing how soothing stabbing people to help them relax can be. It’s like suddenly because only the patient and their relief matters, you get to absorb some of that.


I turned everything off and singularly focused on the immediate tasks at hand until I went home that evening. Bestowed with new inspiration to write, I cracked open my laptop, only to see the response from Mr Fitzgerald. I was taken aback at first, but then I took the time to read it.


F.S.F: My apologies, Rieae. In years of writing and self-reflection, it isn’t often someone so aptly reverts the ugly mirror back onto oneself. It is always distinctly uncomfortable yet refreshing after the shock evaporates. Perhaps it’s the fear of someone plagiarising my work better that I could do. Perfects it’s pride that what we believe we produce is both monstrous perfection and having someone even suggest improvements offends the soul. Perhaps I’m just bitter that people still write after I stopped.


With a derisive snort I realise there is a pattern to his writing.


R: Every sentence must contain a portion of yourself, mustn’t it?


He stopped for a moment and I hoped it was to have a chuckle.


F.S.F: Is not every letter a heartbeat of your fingers?


R: Like the tips have been pricked and I bleed ink onto the page. I responded, sighing wistfully.


F.S.F: Have you much success from your writing?


Ouch. Right to the quick of me.


R: No. Well, sort of. It depends on what you mean by success. I’ve got a few loyal readers, but I feel like I’m perpetually just beginning. I’m not writing fulltime like I wish I was, and it doesn’t pay even its own bills yet, but I keep trying. I keep stepping forward.


F.S.F: You hope one day to write “fulltime”, as you say?


R: Yes. Every heartbeat brings me closer to that moment.


F.S.F: It is exhausting. Are you aware of this? It will burn you to ashes and your cinders will be blown into obscurity.


R: Like it did to you? My partner has their own money, so I’m not forced to write things I don’t want to.


F.S.F: You’re not working purely on your writing though. You may change your mind when your new friends want you to buy the finest whiskey on the shelf to keep up with them.


R: I’m an outlier, Scott. I don’t fit into the “in” crowd and have that unique social awkwardness that protects me from ever being in too deep with them. There are no Jones’s for me to keep up with. My life is filled with quite adventures and me caring for those who sink too deeply into the Jazz.


There was a moment of silence as he contemplated his next answer.


F.S.F: You sound like Ernest. The soul of a true mother.


I wasn’t sure if he knew I was a woman or not, so I couldn’t tell if it was meant to be a back handed compliment or a distinct eye roll.


R: He certainly outlived you.


F.S.F: Yes, but he wasn’t wealthier than me.


R: What do you mean? He outlived you so surely, he had more money than you, just on statistics alone.


F.S.F: Writing brought me more wealth than the kings and queens of England could imagine. It was society that made that about money. My life was rich. I feel even with all of the misfortunes I still lived three four lives in half of one. I wrote books I was proud of. Is that not wealthy and rich?


R: You’re not wrong. But I think we write in very different times, Scott. The world makes you feel like you have to sell a lot more stories and books, produce tales faster than they can be consumed, and buy things that are deemed as necessities when really, they’re just comforts. If you run a household, you’re required to work two jobs and a side hustle just to make ends meet and if you’re a woman you’re expected to do it while you carry the emotional burdens as well.


F.S.F: You sound like I did while I was catering to Zelda’s whims. Do you think it shows love to supply everything needed to your spouse?


R: I think it shows weakness. (I typed without thinking) I think it shows that you are so afraid of being alone that you’ll turn your partner into a child in order to keep them.


F.S.F: Then you are a romantic.


R: That’s depressing.


F.S.F: A romantic and a writer.


R: A romantic starving artist. Still depressing.


F.S.F: Quite the contrary. It’s inspiring.




F.S.F: Do you know why my stories were so popular? Why did my novels take to the skies while my short stories splashed into the mud of magazines?


R: I won’t take the joy of you telling me the answer by hazarding a guess.


F.S.F: I showed the world the glitz and glamor they craved, but I showed it to them through the eyes of a human. The very romantic, yet painful struggles of the feeling person is what took them. You called it a bitter sweetness that snuffed the life out of the stories as your came to their end. I say it cuts to the heart of the reader and makes them remember that they too do feel. They feel the same way anyone would feel. They can see themselves in Nick, Gatsby, Amory. They feel their pains. They remember moping as a forlorn child who didn’t understand loss. Most people still are that child. They remember hoping and dreaming for a better life. They remember the times they took a chance. They remember the pain of failure. My stories refresh that pain and show them something they often need reminding of.


I stayed silent, reading. Feeling. He was right. I wanted to know more.


F.S.F: They need reminding that they are not alone in their pain. Perhaps to romantics like us, the true sweetness of my stories comes from wanting to be Gatsby’s friend. Helping them in our own imaginations to make the right choices or just being the shoulder for good people to cry on. To be the friend of someone supreme as they break back down for a moment into being human.


R: So, you give your readers pain so they can imagine healing it?


F.S.F: Not consciously, but yes.


R: So… rewriting your endings to be happier or more satisfying would possibly rob them of that?


F.S.F: You can’t rewrite my stories. You can only write your own.


R: You got very philosophical all of a sudden.


F.S.F: Philosophical? No. The romantic mind can often be mistaken as a wise one. I’m not sure why, but it can.


I chuckled to myself.


R: What would you say is the way to be successful as a writer?


For a few moments there was silence. No beep. No typing. The dog snored on the lounge next to me and the cat rolled over on the beanbag, but nothing else. I revelled in that moment. I didn’t need anything else. Just my pretend dead author friend having spoken to me and my fingers to write.


F.S.F: A successful writer writes the soul of the time they live in. They take the dreams, hopes, loves and lives of the people they see, and they take a snapshot of it. That snapshot can then be transmuted into the imaginations of all those to come. Better than any film. Better than a painting. The reader is able to feel that they are standing in that time and place. They feel it. A successful writer makes their readers feel.


I paused and let the words flow into me. He was right. Fake or not, he was right.


R: Thanks, Scott. I have to go now, but thanks again for the friend request.

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