The IHOP Novel

I had just started a job at a manufacturing company in their marketing department as a writer. Newsletters, website copy, that sort of thing, was what I was going to be doing. It had the shiny new job smell.

So, after my first week, my boss, Garret (not his real name), took me out to lunch to Panda Express, ostensibly as a “get to know you” sort of thing.

I was okay with that. We talked about what sort of books I read, what sort of movies I like, etc. He knew about my theology degree because it was on my resume. So we talked about that too.

Finally, he just said, “You’re too good. It’s too perfect. I have to ask you: will you read my novel?”

“Umm… Uh, Sure!”

Sure, Mr. Boundaries. I’ll read your novel. Great!

The car ride back to the office was taken up by his describing his novel, and why he wanted me to read it. My theology degree, the fact that I love sci-fi, and obviously, I’m a writer who is more familiar with grammar rules than he (a fact made obvious to me as I read the thing).

After work that day, I told my husband the whole thing. He cackles at my suffering. CACKLES. The awkwardness, the strange blending of work/not-work boundaries. The fact that I can’t really say no, because I just started this job a week ago, and Garret could fire my ass. All of it. He cackles. “Do you think it could be any good?” the hubs asks. I have no idea.

So the next day at work, Garret drops off the novel and says he’s just going to give it to me and then not ask about it until I’m done reading it. Then he will take me out to lunch, and we’ll talk about it.

Weeks pass. I start the novel, which is about aliens invading, mecha, and Christian teenagers who have to save the planet. The Collins Elite. Secret labs. Um… high school. But the main premise is that aliens have somehow made gravity not work anymore. So gravity is spotty, like electricity in developing countries or war zones, and people could just fly off the surface of the planet at any time. Really.

Um. While my husband continues to laugh at my suffering, I plod through this novel, which isn’t as bad as it sounds, honestly. The main character is a likable teen whose dad has gone missing, and he has a crush on this girl who is his best friend. You know. Aliens.

Christmas comes and goes, and we come back to work. One time when I am in my boss’s office, he says he has to break his word about not asking me how reading the novel is going. So, he says, “I have a proposition.”

Oh great, here it comes,” I’m thinking. I smiled.

He says, “I’d like to pay you $80 in IHOP gift cards to finish my novel in two weeks.”

I mumble something to the effect of, “Oh, that’s not necessary.”

He says, “Really. I want to pay you something, and I can’t pay you in cash. I can’t afford you.”

I mumble, “Normally I would charge $45 an hour… It’s really not necessary. I’ll just finish it a little faster…”

He continues, “No really, I want to pay you.”

“Okay, you can pay me, but let’s make it three weeks because I don’t have a lot of spare time right now.”

I take this story home to my husband, who cackles even more. “What is it with this guy?” My husband asks. Honestly, I have no idea.

Sure enough, the next day, Garret takes the whole Marketing team to Starbucks, gives us each $20 in IHOP gift cards. He then later appears at my desk with three more $20 gift cards.

So I’m reading the novel quicker now. Really, the biggest problem I have with the novel is the basic premise: that gravity has somehow been short-wired by aliens. But it goes along. The main character finds his dad is being held by aliens and busts him out. He goes to Mexico with the girl to escape the Collins Elite and the US government. It’s all just lovely, really. That and Garret consistently misuses semicolons and commas.

Um. So I finish the novel, and true to his word, my boss takes me out to lunch to talk about the novel. I write a four-page critique. I take my work seriously, even if I’m getting paid with ridiculousness. We have a long talk about the novel – its strengths and weaknesses. I say that the main character should have a true crisis of faith. Faith has more meaning when it bounces back. That he could do without the spotty gravity. He takes my comments remarkably well, one writer to another.

I take my family to IHOP four times and eat delicious pancakes. Kids eat free with a paying adult! Everybody wins.