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In the spring of 1998, I was working a temp job, and my boss hated me. I didn't particularly blame him for this, considering I stayed up all night writing and arrived every morning bleary eyed from lack of sleep between ten to fifteen minutes late as a result. When I finally did show up, if I wasn't using the Internet to check basketball scores or NFL draft picks, I was calling my friends and daydreaming of a time when I would not be crushed by poverty and debt. It was on a Thursday that my boss told me not to use the phone for personal calls anymore, even if I was using my calling card and even if he had nothing better for me to do. It was on a Friday that I "bent" this rule and received what would become my last personal phone call at that office. It was my friend Heather, and I only remember her saying one thing: "They want to publish your book, Steve."
I had learned not to get my hopes up. I had learned that in the great lottery of artistic chance, if you hear that the head of Pocket Books is going to read your manuscript by the end of the week, give her about three weeks, and don't be surprised if she says no. As a matter of fact, count on it, and then pick yourself up the next day and keep trying. Keep temping. Keep writing.
I stayed on that phone call (to the delight of my boss) for an hour and a half just to make sure that it was real-that someone, some-where wasn't playing some cruel joke. When I was finally convinced, I hung up the phone, all numb and smiles, and went to my boss's office.
"Sir, I'm sorry I was on a personal call, but here's the thing...That was Heather, who's dating my friend Chris, and she got it to Eduardo and Jack, who went to college with her, and they all created a grass roots campaign with Greer...and long story short...they're going to publish my book, The Perks of Being a Wallflower."
After he smiled and said a genuine congratulations, I went outside to enjoy the last ten minutes of my lunch hour. I was flying on so much excitement that I don't remember the walk, the elevator, who I saw, anything. All I remember is that it was cold as hell and windy, and I found myself a little corner next to the building near a courtyard where nobody would be inclined to look. There I let everything settle. I let all that adrenaline calm down. And I cried my eyes out.
I had been writing for a long time. I had made a movie. I had worked for Hollywood studios. But this was different. This was my book and my main character, Charlie, who meant the world to me. This was a singular wish. And someone out there had said yes.
I finished my work that afternoon. I put a rib dinner on American Express that night. And everything was right in the world. Ten months later, after another dinner, I went with my sister Stacy into a bookstore, and for the first time, I saw my book on the shelves. That green cover and picture of the boy's legs, my name, and the title. All I could say was, "There it is." I didn't know what would happen to it. I didn't know if anybody would read it. All I knew was that it was out there, and as long as it was out there, there was a possibility.
So, when Greer Kessel Hendricks, who is my editor and dear friend, asked me to write an introduction to this collection, all I could think about were the fifteen young authors whose stories appear in this book walking into their local bookstores with their friends and families and saying: "There it is."
Then, I thought about the possibility for them. And for you. And I congratulate all persons involved. Because whether you picked up this book because you love short stories, are interested in young authors, thought the cover looked good, or want to hate it, you have it. It's in your hands right now. And there is a possibility that somewhere in these pages, you may discover something special. Something honest. Well-crafted. Messy.
For a long time, I have thought about the great American authors and literary movements. I've wondered what made them different. What made them special. Was it hard work, drink, brash arrogance, ambition both personal and professional? Was it their belief in an honest sentence, their schooling, their culture? Was it time? Or was it simply that some publisher liked what he or she read and put it out there and let the readers decide for themselves?
I have looked for an answer to these questions as long as I've been writing because it is my hope that the writers of today and tomorrow will strive for such work along with the musicians, filmmakers, painters, sculptors, and all the other artists out there.
As difficult and breakneck as our society can be at times, it is my belief that we can have that community, and all it takes is someone creating something, someone else being willing to put it out there, and someone else being willing to look at it for what it is. That's where it all starts and where it all ends. It is you with this book in your hand, ready to turn the page to the first story and see what you think of it. And then turning the page to the next story and the next. With that one gesture, you will be a part of what may be a discovery. What may be a new movement. A new voice to celebrate. With that one gesture, you contribute to the belief that there is always hope in the young. And if you hate it, well, what the hell. There's always tomorrow.
May 16, 2000