On Thanksgiving Day 1966, Vic and Greg sat on the porch steps of their new, seasonal residence. The previous night had been spent in their recently acquired queen-sized bed. They continued to feel that it was quite roomy (although they'd only used about a third of its width during the night) and comfortable (but they weren't paying too much attention). Now, on the porch steps, Vic had a complaint.

   "These steps are very cold. I don't think the steps at our real house ever got anywhere near this cold."

   He put his arm around her, and pulled her a little closer.

  "Greg, I like your arm around my shoulder, but that isn't the part of me that's especially cold, right now."

   He laughed. "I like my arm around you, too, but it wasn't meant to relieve a certain chilliness in your lower posterior regions. I was just going to suggest that part of the difference may be that this is late November, and we are usually doing our porch sitting between March and September."

  She shifted around a bit. "That's possible, I suppose. Whatever, I don't think I'm going to be able to sit here as long as we usually do."

   "Well, there's always the household of the Anderson family across the drive, where I expect a turkey dinner is in preparation. We could barge in there at any time."

   "That's true." But she didn't move. "This is a pretty nice place, isn't it? I guess I mean wildlife refuges, in general. We're pretty lucky to be here. Somebody should write a book about it. Wait, are there any books about it?"

   "If you mean descriptions of refuges - what's there, how to get there, when to visit - general non-fiction, I'm sure there are."

   "No, I mean fiction - real life."

   "I'm not sure it can be both of those."

   "What? Well, maybe I'm using the wrong words. I mean, telling a story about a wildlife refuge, but with fictional people and events, to make it real life. Are there any like that?"

   Greg thought a moment. "There are various stories about mountain men. You know, the stranger does something good for the local people, and the Chief gives him his beautiful daughter. They marry, and go off in the wilderness, where they hunt, fish, trap, and raise their kids."

   She glanced at him. "How is that about wildlife refuges?"

   "Well, it's not exactly, but it's a similar scenario. I was a stranger. I came to a wildlife refuge. I met the Chief's - the Refuge Manager's  - beautiful daughter, married her, and we live 18 miles out the god-awful road - which is kind of like going into the wilderness. We don't do much hunting, fishing, or trapping..."

   "You mean, none?"

   "Okay, granted. None. The story breaks down in spots, but..."

   "Nice try, Greg, but it's not about wildlife refuges. And you're making it about us. I'm talking about fiction, not about what's already happened. So, try again. Any stories about game wardens, or forest rangers?"

   "When I was young, I read one about the game wardens in Maine. Even as a little kid, it seemed to me like their adventures were much more fictiony than real. I thought that even more when I got to college, and learned what most game wardens do. Then, a couple of years ago, I actually learned about the Maine warden service, and found that they're a combination of cops, game wardens, and search-and-rescue experts. They really do chase murderers, and run the rapids of the Kennebec River."

   "Very interesting, but nothing about wildlife refuges. Right?"

   "Right. Okay, forest rangers. I don't think I know any books about them, but there are all sorts of movies, so there must be books. Their work is somewhat like on a refuge, in that they're working on a particular national forest. However, in the movies, they always seem to be traveling with a tame bear or a trusty dog."

   "Neither of which you have."

   "Which is probably true of all refuge managers, when it comes to tame bears. But I'm sure lots of refuge people have dogs."

   "Even accepting that, you're still telling me that no factual fiction books have been written about wildlife refuges. I guess that means we will have to write one."

   He looked at her. "We? Like, you and me. Us?"

   She looked back. "Well, why not? Who is better qualified than us, having lived the real-life version? Of course, I have my school work, so you'd have to do most of the actual writing. I'd be your editor, of course, and make the necessary improvements."

   "Whoa! Let's talk about this a bit. I'm going to write it, but you're going to improve it?"

   "Well, that's what editors do, isn't it."

   "That's debatable, I think. But, setting that aside, why do you think you'll need to improve my writing?"

   "Well, Greg, think about it. This is going to be a romance..."

   "Had we decided that?"

   "We're deciding it, now. Anyway, with a romance, we're going to have to go out of our way to attract the female audience. You are a male. I am a female, and know how women talk and think..."

   "No one knows how women think, but let's move on. I know you're busy with school, but I am working on two wildlife refuges, and spending most of my free time figuring out ways to spend more time with my wife in our conjugal bed."

   "You're doing pretty well on the second. However, I would like it more often, if you could arrange it. Now, about your work. Being at two refuges sounds pretty impressive, but we know that this time of year, most of your time is spent in the office. You could be using some of that time to write the novel."

   "Well, I can write that section in my head, right now. 'The refuge manager, being paid with tax payer dollars but with nothing to do, sat down in his office and began a chapter of his new novel.'"

   "Greg, don't be silly. We're trying to get people to understand wildlife refuges, and maybe want to work on one. That wouldn't help."

   "Even though that's what I do - or what you're asking me to do?"

   "You're confusing us with the people in our novel. It's not about us. We're just examples of how our hero and heroine would be."

   Greg's response to that would have been somewhat confused, so he didn't respond. Instead, he stood up. "Are you not still freezing your little...?"

   "Yes, but isn't this important and exciting? I hate to leave when we're making such progress."

  "Okay, hang on a minute." He went in the house, and came out with a blanket. He folded it in several layers, had her stand up, placed it under them, and sat them down, again. "Better?"

   "Oh, much. Thank you. I could sit here all day."

   He decided not to respond to that, either.

   "So, let's talk about the actual story. As I see it, our hero is fresh out of college, and coming to his first wildlife refuge. He's really good-looking - not movie star good-looking, but kind of rugged good looks, the ideal that almost any young woman has in her mind."

   "Can I interrupt you a minute? I thought I was writing this story."

   "You are. I'm just getting you started."

   "Okay. The other thing is that I don't think we want to consider him a hero. A hero needs something to be heroic about."

   "Well, we're trying to save the world, aren't we - or, at least, one little corner of it? Isn't that heroic? But okay, we'll call him something else. There's another word they use - is it protagonist?"

   "Protagonist is sometimes used for the leading man, or woman, but I usually think of a protagonist as needing an antagonist - good guy versus bad guy. Are we going to have any antagonists on our refuge?"

   "In our real life equivalent, we have a water stealer. There must be similar bad people on other refuges."

   "True, he was a bad guy for trying, but hardly a villain. Look, since our readers aren't going to know what we call our characters, why don't we just call them our main characters, and get on with it?"

   "Okay by me. I'm pretty sure you were just bringing up these objections because I was taking the lead on the story, after I said you were going to write it."

   He  touched her cheek. "Maybe, maybe not."

   She put her hand over his. "Okay." She kissed him lightly on the lips. "So, as I was saying, we have our leading man coming to the refuge. He's an excellent biologist - from book learning, anyway, since he hasn't had any real experience - but he's a city kid, with almost no knowledge of machines and maintenance. The hired guys on the refuge make fun of his lack of what they consider important knowledge. That's when our leading woman appears.

   "She's a pretty young woman, the daughter of the refuge manager..."

   "Beautiful young woman."

   Vic felt caught in a kind of trap. "If I say that you're mixing real life and factual fiction again, then I'm saying that 'beautiful' refers to me..."

   "It does. You are beautiful. I've told you that. But you're right; in factual fiction, our leading man might not have access to someone as beautiful as you. That won't be a problem because, like me, he's probably more interested in a woman's mind than he is in her appearance. On the other hand, without being vain or conceited, he must know that he's the epitome of every young woman's dream man. I don't think he'd settle for just a 'pretty' woman. I think she'd have to be 'very pretty,' or maybe 'extremely pretty' to interest him."

   She looked at him, and just shook her head. "Okay, he meets the extremely pretty daughter. She is a very good listener, and in no time at all, he has told her about his lack of mechanical skills. She offers to teach him. He is reluctant, both from manly pride, and because he isn't sure she's serious. He gives in, and in no time she has him driving all sorts of equipment."

   Greg shook his head. "There's no way that could happen in real life."

   She giggled. "Of course not, but this is factual fiction, remember? We can use a little imagination."

   "But seriously, Vic, isn't this going to detract from our leading man's approval rating, having to go to a girl - young woman - for lessons?"

   "Not at all! A strong, young man not afraid to tell a woman about his weaknesses, and then accept help from that woman? That just made him a real 'keeper' among most female readers.

   "As for the woman, she's a heroine, upholding the honor of her gender. It's a classic win-win situation. Our readers will love it, and them.

   "Now, to this point, our leading man has been concentrating on the intelligence and mechanical skills of our leading lady. But he is a man, and she is - what did we agree on, extremely pretty? That can't continue unnoticed. It isn't, and that's when our story becomes a romance. Who knows where it will go from here?"

   "Well, if it's anything like real life, I know exactly where it will go. If it does, I'm not sure I can write anything about it that will get by the censors."

   Vic giggled. "We do have a good time, don't we?" More seriously: "But a good writer can write about anything - with words, can make any event come alive on paper, as if it was really happening."

   "Oh, I can do that. Our readers won't dream of putting the book down, before they get to the end of the episode. The censors will howl, but the readers will think they're having the real thing, along with our characters. One question for you: Will you be nearby while I'm writing?"

   "I suppose so. Why?"

   "Because I'm going to be as stirred up as our readers - maybe more so - and I'm going to need to get rid of some of that excess emotion. As always, I have chosen you as the recipient."

   "That sounds very exciting and fun. We should carefully plan where and when you are writing, so we can take full advantage of the situation. Tell me this, though. Are there really censors who look for stuff like that?"

   "I have no idea; probably not, unless somebody complains. Then we might be banned in Boston or Kokomo, Indiana. Either would probably increase our book sales."

   She laughed, and impulsively grabbed his arm in hers. "This is so fun! But I know that, even in factual fiction, it can't be all about sex..."

   "In our real life, most of it is."

   She ignored him. "We'll have to put in some other stuff. I was thinking about a range fire. Some duck banding. Maybe some mist-netting. Maybe an attack by horned owls, and hearing and seeing coyotes in the dark. Even seeing a bobcat. And rabbits - both jack rabbits, and cottontails."

   "Vic, I don't know if I should mention it, but your factual fiction is sounding strangely familiar to me - like, maybe a repeat of a real-life story."

   "But those are the kinds of things that occur on all wildlife refuges, aren't they? I mean, a true story from one might be very similar to a factual fiction story at another, mightn't it?"

   "Well, I don't claim to be an expert on wildlife refuges - having been on a grand total of two, so far - but I think I am right in saying that they are not all alike, and that their stories will not all be the same."

   "Well, we can work that out as we go along." She still held on to his arm, but got very quiet for a few moments. "Do you know what I'm thinking, Greg? I'm thinking that we have a best-seller on our hands. This book is going to be sold all around the world, translated into a dozen different languages."

   "You think so, even before it's written?"

   "Oh, my, it's a natural. It can't help but be one of the most-read books of the year."

  "Not just with young women in love with the idea of a ruggedly-handsome city kid who develops into a real outdoorsman?"

   "No, with everybody. There's something for everybody - the outdoors, wildlife, hunting, government activities..."


   "Yes, but we don't want to overplay that. It's just part of the romance. Even the guys will like some of that."

   "I bet. Some of them may be so interested that they don't open their new copy of 'Playboy' until they've finished the book."

   She ignored that. "And you know what 'best seller' means?"

   He thought. "A Rolls-Royce? A long stay on the Isle of Capri?"

  "No, I don't think that authors make very much money on their first book, even a worldwide best seller. Too many other people take a cut before the authors get whatever is left. What I was thinking about is that a best-seller almost inevitably leads to a sequel. The original readers have adopted the characters, so to speak, and they'll demand to know more about them. So - sequel!"

   Greg looked at her, and shook his head in real admiration. "So, before we've written one word of the first novel, you have us writing a second?"

   "Sure. It isn't hard, once we take that first step. Just while we've been talking, I've written the end of the first book in my head. It contains the first words of Volume Two."

   "Really? Can I hear this?"

   "Sure. It needs some words - some conversation - to link everything together, but basically, it's this. Our leading man and woman... Greg, these people need names. I can't keep referring to them as 'leading.'"

   "We could call them Vic and Greg, as their stories seem somewhat similar."

  "Greg, be serious! Okay, I'm going to call them Jack and Jill, just to have some name for them. Don't you dare use those in the actual story, though.

   "Okay, Jack and Jill are sitting on steps much like these, but it's a much warmer time of year. The air is balmy. The sun is just going down, and there are enough clouds in the west to make for a lovely show of rainbow colors. A flock of geese fly overhead. A small rabbit hops toward them, and stops at their feet. They look at each other and smile. They look at the lovely sunset. The rabbit looks up at them."

   "Does the rabbit look at the sunset?"

   "I  don't know. You make the call when you write the chapter. Anyway, Jill looks back at him, then lays her hand beside his. They both have wedding rings."

   "So, they're legal, but this point?"

   "Greg, this is a solemn moment. Jack looks at the two hands, then looks at her. He smiles, and says, 'So, what happens next?'

   "And there you have the title of Book Two, and also the first words of the new story." She stood up, and held out her hand to him. "Let's go eat turkey!”

   They did.

The End


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