Sunday, March 23, 2014


I've got a great story idea. Like many great story ideas, it was inspired by the headlines, but the headlines are only a kickoff point. The only thing I believe this story is missing is a hook. I'll lay out what I've got so far, though, and maybe you can help me come up with one.
     My protagonist - let's call her SubRosa ("sub" for literary submissions. Aren't Latinate puns the best?), has been working for years at a branch of a government agency. Following a semi-Stalinist purge of all the longterm managers (and that's just the prologue), a new head honcho - let's call her Juno - is brought in from a different branch of the agency. Juno is like no manager Sub has ever seen before. For one thing, her wardrobe is a dead ringer for those of Sub's young daughter's Barbie dolls, but Juno herself is no Barbie doll. Her outlandish clothing style, accompanied by the kind of heavy makeup and styling usually seen only in professional photo shoots, and her Aging Club Kid persona, mask a cool and calculating intelligence. One of Juno's first acts as manager is to convene a meeting of the office professional staff and inform them that, unlike the former disgraced honcho, she will not require them to sign in or out, or to keep the office apprised of their whereabouts during the standard working hours. There is only one limit placed on their new unaccountability: "Just don't embarrass me," Juno says with a subtle smile. It's a phrase that will come to haunt Sub.
     The reason for this largesse soon becomes apparent. Juno herself has no intention of being accountable for her whereabouts during the standard working hours, and by granting to others the same freedom she assumes by right, she plans to buy the loyalty of those inclined to take advantage of it. And her plan works. The staff professionals who share her deep commitment to their own entitlement begin to drastically cut back their hours on the job. And, when they are physically there, they no longer feel compelled to actually produce much work, because it doesn't take them long to discover that very little is expected of them in that regard as well. The office becomes divided into two camps: those whose goal is to get away with doing as little work as possible while still collecting a paycheck, and those who care about the agency's purpose and are appalled by what they see going on around them. Juno smiles, and flits off to an 11:00 a.m. yoga class. Those who are appalled by her have no power; she has divided and conquered; mission accomplished.
     Juno remains uneventfully in her title, though not at her desk, for ten years. When Sub inquires of her better-informed colleagues as to how this could be, she is told that Juno's father-in-law is deeply politically connected, as a result of which Juno's role as head honcho is "untouchable." Juno operates in her titular position by delegating almost all of the day-to-day work to her overwhelmed subordinate managers, while she herself is absent and, even to them, frequently unavailable. On the rare occasions when Juno's presence graces the office, she has been known to boast to those same subordinate managers about her own inherited power, her untouchability. She takes some level of pride in it. Over the years, she maintains the contacts and makes the decisions that can only be done at her management level. Otherwise, she is MIA, with only one notable exception: Halloween. You see, Juno is a wiccan. She makes no secret of it; in fact, a tiny, playful image of a witch on a broom hangs on the usually-closed-and-locked door of her usually-empty office. Although Juno always spends Halloween itself in Salem, Massachusetts, with her fellow wiccans, she always ensures that her minions at the office arrange an annual Halloween party (unheard of before her tenure) sometime that week, and she never fails to attend, in full costume. And since her daily attire could legitimately be considered by many to be a costume, it stands to reason that her actual costumes must be seen to be believed.
     In the end, Juno triumphs over all her foes. After 25 years of nominal employment with the agency, she retires with her full benefits and pension. The only side-effect of her tenure is that she has driven Sub's branch of the agency into the ground, destroyed its reputation, and trampled the rights of its clients. This is such a minimal price to pay that it does not even register on Juno's radar screen.
     A few years after Juno is safely retired, a news story breaks about the governor of the state in which she and Sub live and work. The story at first seems minor it itself, but it soon snowballs, revealing a viper's nest of corruption involving the governor and his cronies so brazen as to amaze even diehard political junkies. Eventually, many roads of dirty power and dirty money are traced back to one man who has profited perhaps more than any other under the governor's reign. One man who is so confident in his unassailability in the powerful position to which the governor has appointed him that he routinely ignores his own obvious conflicts of interest, freely voting on matters involving the agency he heads which affect his own financial affairs and those of the private company that bears his name. He is, you see, untouchable. And what, you might ask, does that man have to do with this story? You've probably already guessed. He's Juno's father-in-law, of course.
     So what do you think of my story? I know, it violates a lot of conventions of story-telling. For one thing, the protagonist plays no active role; she just watches the story unfold. And, for another thing, there's no hook. But maybe that's because the ending of the story hasn't been written yet.

p.s. Dad-in-law's resignation from the agency is a good start for the ending, though.

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