Andrew Nicholls ~ Our Committee

The Committee meets at the usu­al time, five min­utes past the hour, giv­ing every­one a moment for machine-made cof­fee and a cig­a­rette if they want it while the appli­cants wait in a large room with eight chairs (more than need­ed!) and some art out­side our offices.   They have the same cof­fee we have and some­times biscuits.

Today’s first sto­ry under appeal was print­ed fif­teen years ago but the writer was not hard to find.   She is liv­ing forty miles away and comes in by her­self with her doc­u­men­ta­tion. She has a trans­gen­der and a time-trav­el and a stab­bing with a “light sta­pler,” (??) so:  $350.  She looks sad in a use­less kind of way and asks if we have a restroom.  Mr. Allsop advis­es her, try the Sbarro.

The fees are in a frame under glass on the wait­ing room wall but hav­ing done this a lot we no longer need to refer to the list.  The print­ed list on the wall says:

  • $100 for writ­ing about a Palce (sic) you have not lived
  • $100 for writ­ing about a Job you have not worked
  • $150 for writ­ing about a pain you have not Suffered
  • $100 for writ­ing from a dif­fer­ent Gender or Orientation or from Handicapped if you are not
  • $150 for writ­ing from a Race or Tribe you are not in

We start late, at 10:15, because I have a phone-in con­fer­ence I need to do with the lawyer for my elder­ly parent.

When we get start­ed a Mr. Cobbett, who is white, states via Skype in ref­er­ence to an ear­li­er Summary Of Proof that we didn’t estab­lish he was writ­ing from the point of view of a POC.  Several phras­es from his sto­ry, e.g., “What’s a brutha to do?” are quot­ed to him.  Mr. Cobbett states that his char­ac­ter is from the South like him, but was nev­er intend­ed as a per­son of col­or.  Fine upheld.

A Ms. Wright states that our $600 fine is too much because all the mon­ey she has in the world is $750.   Mrs. Teeman observes that a find­ing of the Committee is a state­ment that some­thing you have appro­pri­at­ed belongs to anoth­er, so Mr. Wright  actu­al­ly only has $150 left in the world.

A Mr. Levesque (Skype) pleads a thing we hear so often that I joke we should have a code for it:  he earned noth­ing from his sto­ry, which appeared on “a lit­tle-known lit­er­ary web­site.” Mr. Allsop points out that a man fined for speed­ing in his car didn’t earn any­thing for speed­ing either.  The fine isn’t for what you earned, he says, it’s for what you did that affects us all, and affects future gen­er­a­tions who might find and read your sto­ry.  Think of them!

As we wait for the next in-per­son appli­cant there is a brief dis­cus­sion about what we’re going to do regard­ing the estates of some dead writ­ers which have not paid up as required.  Letters are draft­ed for the pub­lish­ers and dead writers.

When we resume, a Ms. Lucknow states that her entire sto­ry, in which she was in Afghanistan as a child slave, was intend­ed to be a dream, and she argues that she had this dream, and was affect­ed by it, so this sto­ry did in fact “hap­pen” to her.  Mr. Allsop reads her the Dream-Hallucination-Drug Trip-Story-Within-A-Story clause.  Fine upheld.

We have no great pres­sure to move through cas­es.  I most­ly enjoy lis­ten­ing to writ­ers talk.  There is so much to learn about the world and about the craft of writ­ing from hear­ing them describe how they do it!  Female writ­ers often defend writ­ing from the point of view of a male because they have sons, or had sons.  Mr. Allsop is strict in say­ing that if they love their sons their work along these lines should not have been writ­ten, free­ing up the writ­ing mar­ket for writ­ers like their sons to write about their own expe­ri­ences. Everything writ­ten from the view of a young boy, he says, costs a real young boy who is loved by some­one the chance to tell his sto­ry.  The same goes for men writ­ing girls.  When the writ­ers say they feel they can tell it bet­ter, with more “art” or “craft,” Mr. Allsop says, who are you to decide what is art before any­one else has had a chance to try?  Who are you deny­ing a chance by telling their sto­ry for them?  He asks, should Nazis be allowed to write the Holocaust?  Where is the line drawn?!

The sec­ond-last appli­cant today escaped as a child, she says, from Burma, for­mer­ly Myanmar, for­mer­ly before that Burma again, but has no papers to prove, regard­ing Place, that she was there.  She wrote for the Contemporary Asia Review from the view of a mem­ber of the Rohingya, she says, because of a Rohingya friend whose fam­i­ly was wiped out. In light of this, Mr. Allsop says, she should not have to pay any­thing at all, and he apol­o­gizes for call­ing her in. It’s nice that we have that discretion.

Lastly today a Mr. Nicholls is seen, appeal­ing his fine for writ­ing a sto­ry eleven years ago about being called in to see a Committee like ours, which didn’t then exist.  He says the events he imag­ined, in which he was sanc­tioned by a “Tribunal” for going through a cir­cum­stance he imag­ined that didn’t exist at the time, have come to pass, with our Committee hear­ing and with his $250 fine — the same amount, as it turned out, he was assessed for writ­ing his sto­ry — there­fore he should not have to pay that fine, he says, because he did (today) get called to the Committee, which was his Suffering.

He appeals the Gender fine because, he says, nowhere in his sto­ry was the gen­der or ori­en­ta­tion of the nar­ra­tor referred to or implied.

Mr. Allsop speed-reads the sto­ry and gen­er­ous­ly agrees with the last point.  But, he says with a wink, low­er­ing our fine to $100 means the writer has described a pain he has not Suffered, name­ly, the larg­er fine.  So this jus­ti­fies adding a sec­ond $150 fine, for a total of $300.

He quips that if Mr. Nicholls writes a sto­ry about this, that one will be okay.  We break for the day.


Andrew Nicholls was born in England, grew up there and in Canada, and has lived in Los Angeles since 1983. His recent short fic­tion has appeared in Black Clock, Santa Monica Review, New World Writing, Cosmonauts Avenue, Literature For Life, Los Angeles Review Of Books Quarterly, The Boiler, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Miracle Monocle, Kugelmass & oth­ers. He has been a tele­vi­sion writer (incl. as Johnny Carson’s head writer) since 1976.