As The Professor SpeaksbyHeyAll©
This was one of those days where it was tough being a college student... sort of. Erin was scheduled for a private one-on-one meeting in Professor Bell's office. It was required for all Creative Writing students before they got their degrees.
Professor Bell was known for being somewhat of a bitch. Not necessarily in a bad way though. Sure, she was tough, strict, and would occasionally humiliate a student in class. But the woman knew her stuff. She was the chairwoman of the writing department for a reason, and her advice was always gold.
It was still early in the semester and Erin made her way to the professor's office that morning. She brought her bag of essentials, which included a thin binder and her laptop.
When she reached the office, the door was open, and there was the professor, casually typing on her computer when she noticed the student and cracked a smile.
Erin tried to be her natural, fun loving self when she closed the door, as the professor had asked, and sat down in front of the desk to unpack her school work. They made small talk as they attempted to get to know each other on a more personal level for the very first time.
As intimidating as Professor Bell could be, she did have a much different demeanor outside of the classroom, with her feminine grace and air of sophistication. In other words, she was the total opposite of being a bitch when she wasn't required to be one.
Then it was straight to business. Erin turned her laptop over to the professor for a quick review of her work, while explaining everything that she had written. Professor Bell graciously and thoroughly did a quick review, giving notes and thoughts in the process.
"Looks good," the professor nodded, then turning the laptop back over to the student. "It has good flow. Fairly interesting, though the topic has been done by countless students."
"Thanks. I'll try to be more original next time."
Professor Bell leaned back in her seat. "So, this wasn't so bad right? You survived."
"What do you mean?"
"This meeting. You seemed tense coming in, like most students often are. Now you seem, I don't know, like yourself."
Erin wanted to reply: Actually, not so bad at all. In a strange way, you kind of remind me of my mom. Or some of my teachers from elementary school. An outward hardness for effect, but sweet on the inside. And in a surprising way, I find you to be quite pretty. There are a lot of attractive qualities about you. If you only presented yourself in a much nicer way, the college boys would be all over you. So there. But of course, she'd never say that to the professor. It just wouldn't be right.
"Was I that obvious?" Erin politely smiled. "Anyway, yes, I survived the dreaded meeting and avoided a potential onslaught of my writing being shredded to pieces."
"You're a terrific writer."
Erin beamed. "Thanks, professor."
There was that moment of awkward which often came during the end of appointments, and Erin should have taken that as her cue to leave, but she didn't.
"Is there anything else I can help you with?" Professor Bell asked. "Otherwise, you have been released from my custody for the time being."
"Good thing, too, because I've had enough interrogation for one day," Erin joked back. "But there's something I've been dying to ask you for a while."
"You must get plenty of students asking for job recommendations. You know, from your old position with the publishing office."
And it was some position, too. Professor Bell had previously been a senior in-house editor for a prominent publisher.
"Actually, not really," the professor replied. "Most students don't ask about my previous career. Besides, I left publishing nearly 6 or 7 years ago to come teach, which was my original plan after I graduated from college."
Professor Bell lifted an eyebrow. "You sound disappointed."
"Actually, I was hoping....nevermind..."
"A job recommendation?"
Erin blushed, "I've been involved with a lot of school clubs, social activities, and a few internships. They happened because I asked. Sometimes I get shot down, sometimes not."
"Initiative. I like that."
"So, is there any way you can help me? Or at least provide some advice? Anything would be appreciated. Anything at all."
Professor Bell nodded. "You've certainly got the chops for the book world. You're a hard worker and you're talented with vocabulary."
"What did you have in mind, career wise?" the professor asked.
Erin didn't hesitate. "I'd love to work as an editor. I used to edit papers for my dad's work. I also used to edit for the high school newspaper."
"Yes, I remember reading your essay about that."
"I'd also love to write my own novel someday. But that's for the far future."
"What would you write about?" the professor asked.
"Anything fiction. I don't have a specific plot though."
The professor thought for a moment. "Luckily, the publishing world is a tight-knit community, and I'm still close with people in the industry. So I might be able to recommend you for an editorial assistant position, which is where you'd start off."
Magic words to Erin's ears. Finally, this was going to be her break. She could already imagine herself working for a major publisher, editing and providing critiques to some of the year's most anticipated titles. Yes, that job was going to be hers, surely? She had deserved it, after all.
The professor continued, "But there are two big hurdles."
Suddenly, those dreams came crashing down to reality. Two big hurdles? But why? Competition is fierce, that's why.
"First," the professor said. "I can't just recommend anyone to people at the publishers. My reputation would be ruined. So you'll have to show me professional level stuff for your assignments. Then I'll take some of your work and forward them to people, then you'll be given a sample to edit, before they decide to hire you or not."
"That's doable," Erin quickly nodded. "Yes, I can do that."
"Secondly, the only position that I think may be available is for romance novels. I know this because I recently attended a dinner party where people were bemoaning the fact that there's a shortage of good editors with a talent for romance."
"That does sound interesting," Erin nodded.
"Yes, which means any recommendation I can give you would most likely be for romance themed books, because that's where they need more eyes."
"Then that's where I'll focus my efforts."
"Keep in mind that many of the books being published today are fairly explicit," the professor stated. "Times are changing. The marketplace is more accepting of salacious themes mixed in with romance."
"I'm not a kid," Erin smiled.
"I never said you were. But it's something important to consider."
"Thanks for the concern, really. But I read anything and everything. Nothing that hits the bookshelves offends me. And I do read erotica here and there."
"So this is something you're open to?" the professor asked with an eyebrow arched, giving that stern, slightly bitchy, expression she'd sometimes give in her classroom.
"Most definitely, Professor Bell. I mean, anything to get my foot in the door, right? I've always started from the bottom and worked my way up. Besides, it does sound kind of exciting. Work will never be boring."
"Then it's settled. I'll give you points for your current writing assignment, but I want to ignore it. Now, I want you to write something else. Something with romance."
"Romance? My assignment?"
"Yes, will that be a problem?" the professor asked.
"No, not at all. It just caught me a little off guard."
"Well, if you're interested in a recommendation, this is how we'll start. Purely optional, of course. If you want a shortcut to a big publishing job, this is your lucky break. There are tons of girls from ivy leagues who are competing for the same positions."
Professor Bell's lips pressed together and formed a pleased smile. After all, wasn't this the reason why people became professors? To hopefully inspire others? And to help guide them to their rightful paths in life? If that's true, then Professor Bell is succeeding with this student.
Erin beamed at the challenge. "I promise to give it my all."
"That's what I like to hear. Any ideas on how you'll begin?"
Once again, things came crashing down in Erin's little world. Where to begin? Where to begin? The age old struggle that writers face.
"I actually don't know," Erin replied in earnest. "I'm sure I can conjure up some ideas. Any recommendations that your friends would like to see?"
"They certainly aren't going to read anything that's novel length, for the sake of hiring a new editor. Try crafting something that's short and to-the-point. Something that'll show them you understand romance and erotica."
"But I'm not a romantic person," Erin playfully shrugged.
"Ever been in love?"
"No...well...yes...actually, it's complicated. I'll leave it at that."
Professor Bell shrugged back. "Foolish question of me. You're young. Of course you've never been in love! But you're an attractive young woman. Surely you've experienced romance in your life."
Now this, Erin could relate to. At least in the confines of her world at her age.
"Sure, should I draw upon that?"
"It could be a start, if you have nothing else to write about," the professor answered. "There are two schools of thought when it comes to writing stories. One is to take your life experience and channel those feelings. The other is to write whatever the hell you want, however you want. Maybe the truth is in the middle. Maybe there are no rules in literature. I don't care. Write whatever your heart desires."
Erin's mind suddenly raced. A challenge is a challenge. And Erin is a fierce competitor.
"You know, I feel my inspirations bubbling up already."
"Go on," the professor shooed. "You have other classes today, and I have other students to see. We'll meet again next week, but email me whatever you have beforehand, so I can read it thoroughly."
And there it was. Erin came to this appointment with a sense of timidness, and she left feeling as emboldened as ever. Incidentally, she had a whole new view of the professor as well. She had once viewed this professor as being an intimidating figure. Now she was secretly hoping that this professor could be a mentor to her.
Of course, she'd first need to produce quality work.
A head full of ideas had certainly been a blessing for Erin since becoming a writing major; sitting in bed, typing away on her laptop for whatever a professor had assigned.
But this? Sure, she had always loved writing about her life experiences. In fact, Erin was quite the chatterbox when it came to her own life. But it was usually for humdrum things. Nothing like what Professor Bell had suggested she do.
The day's classes came and went. Still no ideas. Her mind drew blanks, which was so uncharacteristic of her. It was mid afternoon, and with her roommate busy, she grabbed a book and headed to the campus park to lay on a bench, hopefully to also work on that pitiful tan of hers in the process.
Losing the Light by Andrea Dunlop was this week's reading, courtesy of a glowing recommendation by a friend. In it, a young woman comes into her own during a trip to France, discovering her identity, boundaries, and the dangers of adult romance.
How effortless it flowed. How spirited it was. Such a nicely composed book. It even began with an illicit student/teacher relationship, which Erin now thought was kind of amusing given this assignment.
A spark had been lit in Erin's mind, and she put the bookmark back inside the novel. If this particular author could make something like this seem so casual, then so could Erin, surely? Isn't inspiration the basis for most, if not all art?
This book had seemingly become Erin's inspiration. And who knows? This little assignment could become the foundation for Erin's first eventual novel. But that sort of thinking was years down the line, in the meantime, she'd need to land a job to pay the bills.
Reading time was done, and it was time for work.
She thought back to the first time she had ever kissed a boy. Then she thought about the first time she had ever kissed a girl, which was two years ago as a college sophomore. It felt like only yesterday. And it was with a former roommate too, who transferred to another university, a more prestigious one.
If Erin had to pinpoint any romance in her life, that would be it. How ironic, she thought. The only bit of romance she had experienced was with another girl, as all the guys she had ever been interested in only wanted her for sex.
It could make for a good romance story though. It certainly has the elements for romance; repressed desires, strong feelings, and the forbidden nature of it all.
For the next few days, Erin chipped away at her short story. She had read a couple of romance books in her life, as well as various erotic stories online, so she drew from that. But mainly, she drew from her own life experience. That college roommate she had. Those feelings she felt. She hoped it would all come together and showcase her potential abilities as a romance writer or editor. Whatever fate would hold.
Two nights before Erin's meeting with the professor, she had finally finished what she felt was a completed product- granted, it could use touch ups. She sat in bed, the laptop on her lap, and she prepared to email it to her professor.
It was entitled: Body Speaks
She tweaked the conclusion, which read:
My heart longed for a return to those days. Days of passion. She helped me understand things I never knew about myself. Was it love? Or was it lust? I don't know. These feels can be difficult to comprehend. Can't they?
And that was that. She updated the Word document and emailed the file to the professor, along with a note confirming their next appointment. She knew the professor was prompt with emails, and was a fast reader, so by the time they met again, the professor would have plenty to discuss.
They met at the same time, nice and early in the morning. Erin brought her computer and school stuff again, and she dressed a little nicer. Nothing heavy-handed. Just a cut above what she'd normally wear. After all, she needed to impress and show that she could be a professional.
When they met, Erin could swear that the professor did the same thing, dressing a little nicer than usual as well. If Erin could remember correctly, this was probably the first time that Professor Bell had ever tied her hair in a loose bun. It looked nice, and gave the professor a much softer appearance by helping to showcase a pretty face.
After some casual small talk, they sat down in their same spots. The professor behind her desk. Erin in front.
Professor Bell placed a printed copy of BODY SPEAKS on the table and spread it out. The pages were filled with enough red markings to make Erin's heart sink a bit.
"I know the look you're giving me," Professor Bell sympathized. "Don't be discouraged. I'm giving you extra criticism because you want to work in the industry. So I feel obliged to take you under my wing, so to speak."
Erin flashed an understanding smile. "Thanks, that means a lot. At first I thought you hated me."
"I don't hate anyone. If I did, it certainly wouldn't be you."
Erin laughed. "Some of my classmates then?"
"Does it seem like it?" the professor replied, making a joke off her hard line reputation. "I know I come off as abrasive sometimes, but we're in a university."
"I know. And I'm sorry for saying that."
The professor waved her hand. "Think nothing of it. Now, onto your paper."
For the next several minutes, Professor Bell gave a quick rundown of all the red markings, giving a brief analysis on the matter. Erin listened attentively as if this were a real job. The rest, the professor said, would be for Erin to read later.
"Thank you," Erin nodded appreciatively.
Professor Bell sat upright. "And then there's your eroticism. Or romance, whatever you want to call it."
"Is something wrong with it?"
"There's nothing wrong with it, per say. I just don't think it's professional caliber yet, which is what my former colleagues are looking for. They want someone who really gets it."
"Oh," Erin nodded, when she really wanted to say, god damn it.
"I didn't want to leave too many markings on your paper, regarding the romance/erotica aspect. I want you to figure that out for yourself, since those are the skills you'll be needing. Plus, it might violate university policy, wouldn't you say?"
"Are you kidding, Professor Bell? I'm not the least bit rigid. And I'm not going to tell. My roommate doesn't even know."
The professor smiled. "Scoot over here, then. Let me show you a few things."
Erin scooted her chair over to sit next to the professor, who was sifting through the small stack of papers. When she moved, Erin looked closely at the side of the professor's face, noting how attractive and charming this lady could be. There were a few strands of grey along Professor Bell's hair bun, which gave her a sophisticated and elegant look. Erin liked what she saw.
"Now, let's go over this briefly," the professor said with a pen in her hand.
So they did. Professor Bell sifted through several of the pages and made even more red markings, giving little notes and tidbits for improvement. Erin's eyes shifted back and forth, from the pages, to the professor's pretty face as she spoke.
The professor eventually put the pen down and leaned back. They looked each other in the eyes, this time, only a mere few feet away from each other.
"For romance," the professor explained. "There's got to be a good hook. Something that'll captivate the reader, which is why they're reading in the first place. If you want to be an editor for romance, you need an eye for these things. You have to know how to spot strengths and weaknesses. And that takes a lot of instinct as well."
"I understand what you're saying. I definitely could have done better. Part of that was-- you know -- I didn't want to hand in a dirty paper. You know what I'm trying to say."
Erin tensed and fidgeted with her fingers expressing that last part.
The professor smiled, "I'm not easily offended. Besides, if I assign something for you, then I want authenticity. Don't hold back on me. I won't allow it."
"Oh really?" Erin replied, jokingly raising an eyebrow.
"Obviously I don't want a porn script."
"There goes my re-write then."
Professor Bell laughed, "I'm sure you'll think of something."
The professor is laughing and smiling? At my terrible jokes? What's more amazing was that Erin was looking at this commanding lady as more of a motherly figure. She could feel their guards coming down, almost as if, they were becoming friends? No, maybe not that. But what else? Erin had always considered herself a pro at studying human interaction. So what was this? It certainly didn't feel like any ordinary professor/student relationship. She always kept things far too cordial for that, especially with this mean lady, who apparently is not so mean after all.
"In all seriousness, I do have a plan," Erin said. "There were a few details and thoughts that I held back. I could add them in and see what you think."
"Oh, sounds interesting. Do tell."
Erin involuntarily pursed her lips. "Now? I was going to write about it."
It was already strange enough having to write out her sexual fantasies and history. But to speak them to the professor? No thanks.
"Don't be afraid. I'm going to read this anyway, and so are the people at the publisher. It might even be better like this, since I can provide immediate feedback."