The Union of Pennames, Imaginary Friends and Fictional Characters (UPIFFC) now requires the anonymous employer of an associate penname to give the latter a yearly performance review. This event usually occurs in the sort of establishment where the wait staff all have the personalities of unpurged butter clams. As it goes with PR’s throughout the observable universe, the employer typically leads off with the employee’s strong points as a method of Trojan-horsing in darker observations. Sadly, for the employer, the penname has access to each and every of the former’s thoughts while the employer remains as clueless about the penname’s wicked ways as ever. To put it plainly, the whole thing goes to hell from the get go, and the only thing that I as Leila Allison’s employer get from our conversation is a tingling headache and bewilderment over the fact that my alias has the social graces of an irked thirteen-year-old child.
However, I may have gained something useful from this year’s face-to-face. I now present the missive that my penname scrawled on a stack of cocktail napkins not long after she dropped the pretense of pretending to listen to me—But I’ll give her this much: she writes awfully damn fast. Unfortunately, my headache has prevented me from reading it; and it may also be true that I only wish for it to be known that I have had nothing to do with its construction, just in case it too goes to hell from the get go.
Ms. Allison’s Employer
The clarion call for under-appreciated works of genius caused me to gaze thoughtfully at the file that contains my literary turkey pen. Now, don’t let unwholesome Upton Sinclair-like visions of fetid and cruel (must resist temptation to pun foul and fowl) conditions pop into your learned skull; the goddam Emerald City looks like a slum compared to my turkey pen.
As a penname, I exist on this side of the page, while you, the Reader and the Writer who chances forth on the strength of your own name, must be content with the side of the page at which “reality” is both less malleable and forgiving. We meet here in the page, and I come to you with sympathy; for from all that I have observed of your realm, I have come to the conclusion that it must be awfully tough to live where you just can’t go around saying and doing what you want. This makes you a bit touchy for your own good; you warrant special watching.
I can’t do much for anybody except do and say as I please. However, you naked-named writers “over there” may benefit by developing the penname knack for converting the misbegotten children of your muse—those which cause head scratching, rejections, and lay an overall blot on your reputation as an artist and a thinking being—and open your own turkey pen. There’s much to be said for the rewards of a tenuous grasp on reality. Such thinking makes royalty of us all.
I ask that you think of the pen as a small village, which is nestled out in the country and bears a strong resemblance to one of those weird little hamlets you see in old Universal monster movies. Literary turkeys don’t require food or water, nor do they make much noise. Inside their little realm they take the shape of turkeys composed entirely out of text—snood and wattle included. They really don’t do all that much except feed an insatiable appetite for recognition and prizes. Each and every last one of them proudly sports a blue vest, which is festooned with ribbons, medals and badges awarded in honor of the turkey’s significance. They look like 1960’s spy film banana-republic despots. And get this: every turkey honestly admires the accomplishments of the other turkeys—Try finding that in human society. There’s neither death nor boredom nor pain nor disappointment out where my little literary turkeys roam—I should live as large.
Every now and then, when my optimism is high, and my unnatural fear of poultry is low, I find myself dreaming of performing an act of literary alchemy: Call it foolish, but I dare to dream of turning a turkey into a swan. Every time I have attempted to do this in the past has led only to yet another turkey taking shape out in the pen. But I keep at it because I believe that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result better defines sticktoitiveness than madness; then again, I may be crazy.
So it came to pass that I had it in my heart to fetch big game from the pen. To do the job, however, I’d need an accomplice the same way that Frankenstein needed an Igor.
“What the hell is a literary turkey?” my pal, Gwen “Walking Boss” Cooper, asked when I finally got her to answer her phone.
“Well, Gwen,” I said, “they are the overcooked—I mean, overlooked—children of my muse. Most people call them turkeys, and to be honest, that’s the shape they take out in the pen. However, I think of them as brown dwarf orbs that lack the mass to shine as stars. But since they seem to prefer being turkeys, I have to call them that as well..” (Note: mixing metaphors is a sure-fire indication of turkey pen worthiness, so I’d better watch myself.)
“I see,” she said with a tone slightly snottier than what one should expect to hear in a pal’s voice. “I suppose Renfield was too attached to her husband to come along.”
I winced when she said that. But there it was, out in the open. You see, Gwen is one of my published Fictional Characters (or, FCs—you’ve gotta cap’ that, too—FCs think grandly of themselves) who lives somewhere out in the swan enclosure. Even though I had to scrape the frost off the last five or six emails she’d sent me, I didn’t know until that very call that Gwen bore a grudge in regards to Renfield Stoker-Belle appearing in two of my productions since she had last worked. We pennames, however (notice how I demurely small-case my job description), are the soul of congeniality and placation. Ever since the effed-up UPIFFC decided to include published FCs as members, I’ve had nothing but complaints from my cast and crew. I handle these ongoing situations the same way way-back movie producers do in old movies.
“Honey, baby, sweeeetie,” I sang into the phone. “Ya’ know I love ya’, dolly. And I think that heading out into the turkey pen will do wonders for your career.”
“Can the horseshit, Leila,” Gwen said. “I really don’t see how running herd on a bunch of turkeys can do anything for a star’s career but end it.”
Star? I thought. For the love of Francis de Sales, did she call herself a star? I considered putting words to that thought until I remembered the ungainly length of the leash I had fetched out of the closet. This trip out into the turkey pen would definitely require two pairs of hands. Besides, Renfield and every other remotely competent FC I had called before Gwen had begged off the detail with astonishingly lame excuses.
“I’ve got a special turkey out there, Gwen,” I said craftily. “With a bit of punching up and the editing, I think it will be the perfect vehicle for a performer of your stature.”
“Hmm,” she, well, hmmmed. I excel at reading between the M’s in hmm. And my ears told me that I had at last engaged an accomplice.
We headed out into the turkey pen in a juiced-up golf cart I’d dubbed “The Little Deus Coup ex Machina.” The village lay in the distance, and we set off on a winding road that was heavily rutted by plot-holes. I let Gwen drive because she is a Type-A FC, and I thought that placing her behind the wheel might improve her attitude. Moreover, I needed both hands free to award medals and such to the turkeys we passed along the way.
“My God,” Gwen muttered when the first turkey crossed in front of us, causing her to hit the brake, “it’s made out of words.”
This first of the many little turkeys to stop us on our way to the village was about the size of a sparrow. Despite his diminutive stature, he was in all must ways your standard turkey: snood, wattle, intelligence-free eyes. But, of course, there were the big differences. Mainly, he was wearing a tiny blue, medal-heavy vest, and his little body and cloak of feathers were composed of lines of black-and-white text in varying fonts—which were impossible to read because they stretched and contracted with his movements. This went for everything except those intelligence-free eyes, which were fashioned from zeroes that had periods set in the middle.
“What’s with the blue vest and medals, Leila?” Gwen asked as I traded salutes with the little turkey after I had fixed a tiny medal to his vest. He went away proud and happy.
“Oh, those,” I said. “Well, pinning a medal straight to a turkey’s chest doesn’t sound all that friendly to me, you goddam sadist, you.”
She smiled and shaped her right hand into a fist.
“No need to get ugly,” I said. “You see, the awards are honestly deserved. The poor little things cannot help being what they are, and such defenseless babes ought to be given special attention. That tiny fellow who was just here,” I continued, and I saw three more turkeys of varying sizes heading toward us, “received a medal that, roughly put, signifies that he continues to be the best turkey he is capable of being.” The three new turkeys ranged in size from that of a pigeon down to a chickadee. I reached into a large sack and procured three medals. The boldest turkey kissed me on both cheeks upon receipt.
After the ceremonies, Gwen shook her head and engaged the coup. We continued to drive slowly toward the village, stopping every now and again to award more medals.
“How many of these things are out here?” Gwen asked. She was getting adept at stopping the vehicle every ten yards or so.
“A thousand and fifty-seven .”
“Hoowee,” she said, which she spiced up at the end with a whistle. “Tell me, what’s that building up ahead? The one shaped like a church.”
“It’s a town hall of sorts,” I said. “I call it Our Lady of the Prepositional Phrase.”
“Like ‘Out in the Turkey Pen’?”
“Why, yes, smartass, just like that,” I said.
(Going the long way around just to insert a lame-ass joke is also indicative of turkey pen worthiness.)
“Let me see if I’ve got a handle on things,” Gwen said the next time she had to stop. We were hopelessly surrounded by an eager crowd of little turkeys, and weren’t going anywhere anytime soon—not with all the awarding and saluting. “The tiny turkeys are either poems or epigrams and the, well, turkey-sized ones are bigger pieces that nobody accepted.”
“I don’t recall giving you such a big brain when I wrote you,” I said.
“My self-developed big brain wonders what’s up with that long-ass rope you’ve been trying to hide from me ever since we came out here.”
“It’s a leash,” I said.
Gwen reached behind me, dug deep and pulled the leash out by the neck loop. Her head would have gone into it three times with plenty to spare.
“Tell me, Leila,” Gwen said, “how many words, on average, goes into the making of one of your literary turkeys?”
“Oh, anywhere from a hundred on up to five thousand or so,” I said.
She took a long, long look at the loop. “Do you sometimes come out here and bring one of the little ones back with you for editing?”
The word “editing” caused a furor to erupt in the ranks. Next to acquiring medals and ribbons, lit turkeys dream of being edited; they really don’t seem to give a rip about the prospects of getting published, mostly they just like attention.
“Now you’ve done it,” I muttered to Gwen out the side of my mouth, “now I’ve got to schedule time on the screen for all of them.” Which is precisely what I did. When at long last I had finally medaled the last turkey and had scheduled the final editing session, I spoke one word to the throng of assembled turkeys:
Every last one of them pointed a beak at the distant Mount Suspension of Disbelief, which lay on the other side of the Valley of Incoherency. (This sort of thing too is indicative–Ah, fuck it.)
“Thatta way,” I said to Gwen, who (to my relief) didn’t say a word and engaged the coup’s transmission and drove onward. We waved so long to the flock, and in the rearview mirror I saw each one making a kindly fuss over the awards given to the others, and the fuss was reciprocated. It gave me a warm glow, the same way motherhood must for women who don’t despise children as much as I do.
I could tell that Gwen had all kinds of questions about “Casper.” But since she was bright, I figured that she knew that all she had to do was wait it out until the great secret in my literary universe became clear to her. I figured wrong. Things didn’t go sideways until after we had crossed the valley in silence. It had been a pleasant drive, quite bucolic. Still, as it goes for me when all is right, Gwen (like everyone else in the universe) couldn’t help but put the needle in me.
“I hear that most writers know that there’s something wrong with their composition within a few pages or so—or at least the competent ones do,” Gwen said all friendly like. “Then, of course, there’s that other kind of writer who doesn’t pick up on the stench caused by the hot steaming pile that her mind has evacuated onto the page. This other kind of writer gets inured to the stink and just keeps at making it bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger…Does that sound like anyone you know, Leila?”
“You’re just dying to know how big Casper is, aren’t you?”
“You just can’t wait to get back to the swan enclosure and tell everybody about the 100,000-word turkey I’ve got out in the pen, right?”
Gwen hit the brake with both feet and we skidded to a stop. “You’ve got a 100,000-word turkey out here?”
“Well, he was after the first draft,” I said, “he may have gotten a skosh bigger since.”
“Well, it’s like this–” I stopped abruptly because a vast shadow encompassed the coup. Gwen’s eyes grew wide, but they were dwarfed by the huge smile that bloomed in her face. Although I had my back to the cause of the shadow: Casper.
Well, there he was–at least his head and neck. He was below the next dip in the road and his head and shoulders rose above the near horizon like a creation out of a Terry Gilliam cartoon. Imagine an immense turkey at profile, one composed of sentences, and about the size of the asteroid that could take out Detroit, and you’ll have Casper. Since you seem willing to do all that, I ask you to imagine such a creature sporting a circus tent-sized blue vest heavily festooned with medals and badges. Casper is the sort of thing you don’t forget seeing.
“Jesus key-riiist, look at the adverbs on that thing,” Gwen laughed.
“Never mind her, my beloved,” I said to Casper. I then motioned for him to come over and allow me to put him on his leash. “We need to go back into the house for a little editing and the presentation of a prestigious award.”
We bid farewell to my village of literary turkeys and took the long way back to my office (Casper, though a sweetheart, has never been too careful about where he steps). Gwen returned to the Swan Enclosure, no doubt this very moment telling everyone who will listen about the immense turkey that Yours Truly had created.
It took over an hour, but I body scanned Casper and made a manuscript copy. I then awarded him the “No Bell” prize for literature (no, i didn’t lie to him; it’s a collar that has no bell attached to it) and released him back into the pen. He went off happy, and the other turkeys clapped enthusiastically over his latest achievement. Casper’s pages stack nearly six inches high. I didn’t have the nerve to tell Gwen the truth, but for your information, he comes in at 292,313 words–almost 1200 pages.
It may take some time to carve this portly turkey down into a swan, but this is the task I have set for myself. Oh, and i didn’t lie to Gwen earlier about her taking the lead in this project either. I rather look forward to putting her through five or six-hundred pages of hell before giving her a happy ending that will encompass little more than a paragraph.
Till then, I’m certain that this tale exists only between you and I. Even though I had given it to my employer, there’s little chance that the rat bastard has read it because of that so called “tingling headache” that comes up so often with that person you’d think that it was a plot device.
If you have enjoyed this do visit Leila Allison’s author page and have a look at other stories in this group.
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6 thoughts on “Out in the Turkey Pen By Leila Allison”
It’s going to take a superhuman effort from someone to dislodge “Jesus key-riiist, look at the adverbs on that thing” from its new position as podium-topper on the internal list of lines that made me laugh a lot that I just made up this morning. My own rogue ideas end up burrowing underneath the lemon tree in my back garden (which would explain the weird angle it maintains). This was the perfect antidote to the mind numbing tedium I know simply as “Monday morning”. Loved it.
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I always apologize to my turkeys when I deliver them to the turkey pen, but the dear things always assure me that it’s the journey that counts. Best wishes, June
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What a metaphorical tour of metaphor disasters. I should note that I did the no bell joke before, and a million people did it before me. Even though I have my own turkey farm, I don’t use adverbs and don’t call me Shirley.
All your stories are true throughout. You never deter from voice or ‘reason’.
You have a very sharp writing brain which shows a wit and perception to whichever subject you write.
And if I ever get another cat I think I will call it Alfred if I make it wear a naked collar! (Loved the line!)
It is a pleasure to continually read your work.
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I plucked (see what I did there) this story at random from your back catalogue to read whilst waiting for my lunch to cook, and I wasn’t disappointed. Loved it. I feel sorry for all my poor neglected turkey’s languishing in pens I can no longer even find! Must go and give them some attention..
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Answers to Nik’s Questions:
1.) Yes, yes yes, I do regret not having a knack in a marketable genre. I know that isn’t exactly the question, but really, who wouldn’t want to be a working writer?
2.) You are too kind. A few years back I decided to write “something” every day. No holiday, no excuses. I write first thing before work, and I’m only good for an hour or two. But it builds up anyway, and is an odd achievement for a person as monumentally lazy as I am.
I like Turkey Pen a lot; it is a writers’ story meant for other writers. I was not surprised to learn that all writers have a version of the Turkey Pen. And I like Casper too. I saw him as a huge Terry Gilliam-like presence on the horizon.
Thank you for your support. It means a lot.
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