(With apologies to Mark and Mike)
All he requested was a bag of Cozy burgers. Some people meet their literary muses in a Paris cafe, others in a Waffle House or roadside greasy spoon. Mine asks me to meet him at rest stop on I-70 with an aromatic bag of sandwiches from a famous Salina, Kan., burger joint. It seemed a simple enough request.
Hank joined me at the designated picnic table, at the aforementioned designated rest stop -- I judged from the box of chocolates he carried that he'd made a stop at the nearby Russell Stover factory outlet.
"So I'm a little curious about this, not having met anyone like you before," I said.
"It's simple, you just tell me what's on your mind, I eat my Cozy burger and we'll call it even. At least you didn't call me out in the middle of the night."
"That happens a lot?"
"It happens to my brother, Hugh, in Tennessee."
"I see. You wouldn't also be related to some guy in Paris named Hughes, would you?"
"Cousin," Hank said, around a mouthful of burger. "Haven't seen him in years."
"So is literary muse sort of the family business?"
"In a way, yeah. But what's your problem? I'm eating the burger, but you're not telling me about your writing."
"See, that's just it. There's not much to tell. I'll write a story that I think is pretty good, but then I read something by someone else and realize what I've written is just so much dreck. So I'll think about it a while and try to write some more, but I don't seem to make much progress."
"You have a critique group?"
"Well, sure, a great bunch of folks, but they're all better writers than me, and way better critiquers than me, too. I don't think I contribute much."
He wiped his mouth with a paper towel and reached for his second burger. "Man, it's been ages since I've had a Cozy burger. Thanks for bringing these."
"Sure, no problem. But what about me? I hate to be whiny, but I thought you were supposed to help me figure out how to be a better writer."
"That's not what I said. I said you bring the burgers and I'd listen. That's what I'm doing. I never said anything about giving you advice."
Oh great, I'd made an unnecessary trip to Salina and met a total stranger along the highway for nothing. I suppose my frustration showed on my face because Hank stopped in mid-bite.
"OK. I've got one one thing to say about what you've been telling me. You think too much."
"That's your problem. You think too much. And you compare yourself to others too much, but that's just a little bonus advice 'cause the burgers are good. You need to concentrate on not thinking too much."
"But that's how I write. I think about the story and I think about the characters and then I write. If I don't think it through, then it would really be dreck."
"I'm not saying you shouldn't think about the story, but you also over-analyze everything. What about the best story you ever wrote -- how did you feel when you were writing it?"
"Pretty good. It flowed, it almost wrote itself. But I thought about it, too."
"Sure, but I'll bet you mostly just sat your butt in the chair and wrote it."
"So there you have it."
He crumpled up the empty paper bag into a ball and threw it into the trash can.
"It's time for me to hit the road again. Thanks for the burgers," he said. He headed for a somewhat battered motor home. The back of it was plastered with bumper stickers from places like Wall Drug, Boot Hill, Pike's Peak and the Museum of Independent Telephony.
"Hey," I called after him. "You forgot your chocolates!"
"Just keep 'em and enjoy. You know about life and chocolate, I'm sure."
Sure, whatever. But maybe Hank has a point. But I'll try not to think too much about it.