WILMINGTON, N.C. When Armand St. Stephen heard that North Carolina, reeling from Hurricane Florence, faced more damage from Hurricane Michael he decided to do something about it rather than just watch nature’s destructive power on television. “It’s not enough to do a heckuva job,” he says, recalling former President Bush’s premature praise of FEMA Director Michael D. Brown. “You’ve got to do a helluva heckuva job.”
So St. Stephen called up the Army Corps of Engineers and suggested a new and unlikely source of raw material to sop up the aftermath of the first storm and prevent damage from the second: unpublished manuscripts by writers across America.
“When you mix a 400-page coming-of-age novel with a little flour, water and glue, you get a pretty darn good flood prevention device,” said the state’s Chief Engineer Warren Lamont. “Of course it looks like an elementary school science project along the lines ‘How A Volcano Works,’ but we’re not in the landscape gardening business here.”
Federal Writers Project workers pretending to work
The idea of linking unpublished writers with reconstruction efforts has a Keynesian “multiplier” effect, according to David Simon, an economist at the University of Missouri-Chillicothe. “If we can get underemployed writers–and believe me, they’re all underemployed–to crank out a short story collection at prevailing wages, then use it to fuel a waste-to-energy plant, we will ease unemployment and cut our dependence on foreign oil.”
Faulkner, waiting to deliver his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Tanning.
St. Stephen is currently working on a three-volume family saga in the manner of William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County novels. “It’s a stream of consciousness novel told through the voice of Darrell Suggins, the feeble-minded product of inbreeding between a scion of the old Southern dynasty and a syphilitic prostitute,” he says. St. Stephens provided this reporter with a sample dependent clause from a sentence of his work-in-progress:
. . . and it was not the knowingness or the beingness between the two who were the issue or the effluvium of their polar opposite forebears who yet shared the sameness and the oneness of the South yes the South with its crape myrtle and Yoo-Hoo Chocolate Soda and lightning bugs even though the drinking fountain yes the drinking fountain at Sonny Tufts Park in Atlanta had been shared yes shared by them illicitly and implictly even though they were brother and yes sister unknown to each other.
St. Stephen has been unable to find a publisher for the tome, and will ship his manuscript in three semi-trailer trucks to a processing plant in Charlotte, where it will be mixed with uneaten fish sticks from the cafeteria at Michael Jordan Junior High School to give it more substance.
Other writers with specialized literary talents will participate in the program as well. Dorothy Danville, an author of romantic novels disparagingly referred to as “bodice rippers,” has donated a 500-page draft of “Love’s Conquering Climax” to the cause, after trying for several years to sell it to Harlequin Books. “Ms. Danville’s work is very viscous, if I may use a fifty-cent word,” said Dick Martin, Director of Public Works for Raleigh, the state capital. “People are using it for caulking and roof tar.”
Some relief efforts have been rejected as misguided, in the manner of down jackets sent to South Pacific islands after tsunamis. Unsold books from New York comedy writers were returned by Wilkes-Barre when they failed to pass inspection. “We like our humor dry down here,” said City Manager Floyd Oehrke. “Bounty, the Quicker Picker-Upper, is more absorbent that broad political satire.”
On their way!
Massachusetts writer Con Chapman said he would send a container-load of material from the Massport Marine Terminal in South Boston as soon as a ship large enough to carry it arrived in port. “And that,” he noted proudly, “will be just my rejection letters.”