There was nothing more dangerous in the world than an open mike with no time limit. People would get on soap boxes and never get off as others tried to choke down instant coffee and cheap baked goods.
Here was this war veteran-- his white beard down to his chest-- accusing listeners of taking advantage of his comrades. Here was this girl sharing poem after poem that she' d written on the bus trip over. Here was this middle-aged man reminding people every other line that he was, in fact, Jewish.
And there she was; stirring more cream into her coffee and trying to block it all out.
There were workshops afterward; then a reading and an award ceremony. A mere technicality, considering the winners had already been informed a few weeks prior.
A silver medal for something written over a weekend; a piece revised from old work that had been genius then and laughable since. Nothing for the pieces she'd put blood and sweat into. But a small bit of recognition was better than none at all, wasn't it? A foot in a door was a foot in the door; no matter how you sliced it.
Here was this housewife, rallying baby boomers on facts she'd made up. Here was this boy, making more sound than poetry. Here was this girl, fresh from a breakup, declaring all relationships to be useless.
And there she was; jotting each character down in turn. Taking them and storing them for purposes still undetermined. Declaring a person's personality by a few short (or not) minutes of ranting. It would be a terrible thing if she were to be categorized by what she wrote. But that was what she was going to do to them.
The chances were high that these people would never read her work. And, on the off chance they did, she'd just be vague about it. Take out the names they'd given at the beginning and make them into caricatures; more so than they had already done themselves.
That was the way to make characters; start with parody and then flesh out. Break down as far as possible and then expand to fill the room.
She wanted to get to the point of her being there. She wanted to get through the cookie-cutter views of writing a compelling story, get through the small-time author paid to plug their newest book. She wanted her medal and her picture taken for something she wasn't exactly proud of.
Here was this boy rewriting Star Wars. Here was this woman reading a teaching memoir. Here was this man, recounting a trip where nothing happened.
Here was five, ten, fifteen minutes of fame being stretched for all it was worth. Because, at the end of the day, everyone returned to the daily grind of work and school and life.
She wasn't going to get a chance here; she wanted her own escape. Her own five seconds.
The moderator, who had done nothing close to moderation, was calling time. People were standing, chatting, filing out; leaving cups, plates, and uneaten food on the tables.
Tucking her notes away before any readers could see them, she head off to accept her moment.