The dissolution of my book contract was brutal. It damaged me. Made me question my talent and abilities as a writer. In one fell swoop, I went from scheduling book-signing events and speaking engagements to collapsing into myself utterly and completely, unable—or, more accurately, unwilling—to fully rationalize being ghosted by my publisher. 

For the record, I wasn’t dropped by Introvert Press. Let’s get that straight. Wasn’t unceremoniously let go of the way you hear about some writers. What happened was I’d somehow managed to enter into a pub agreement with a con artist. Not sure who that says more about: me or Josh Jones, whose name I don’t need to change because it was his alias.

Heading into Thanksgiving of last year, everything, at least professionally speaking, was going exceedingly well. I’d just returned from Atlanta where I’d spent a weekend meeting area bookstore owners and attending the Atlanta Writer’s Conference. I’d been booked to return in May as a guest speaker. Back home, support for my debut novel was growing. Phone calls with Josh revolved around the marketing budget and what the distribution looked like for Blue Dream Playlist. The cover and promo graphics had been designed. Introvert was a week away from launching officially and publishing an anthology that included one of my short stories. It seemed like a machine in the making. All systems were a go. Until they weren’t.

Josh disappeared. His roommate said he’d gone hiking and hadn’t returned. He’d taken his laptop. Most of his clothing. His electric razor and his fancy wine key. 

Within our social circle, conjecture took over. He’d fleeced a number of writers who had paid him good money to edit their manuscripts. The prevailing theory was that he’d leveraged my manuscript and the anthology to coax money from an investor before pulling a Keyser Soze.

A bit of digging uncovered that, a few years prior, Josh, while using yet another assumed name, had developed a reputation in the Kansas City area for building tiny houses. Apparently, that’s a thing. He’s charismatic and was generally well-liked. After getting some investors jazzed about his small builds, he talked them into parting ways with their money. And then he vanished.

A couple years before that, and this time in Upstate New York under his birth name, he’d pulled a similar stunt. Instead of a publishing house or a tiny house, he’d been involved with a nonprofit. But after questions of missing money arose, he dipped. 

I see a pattern, said the blind man.

Josh didn’t make off with my money. What he took from me had greater intrinsic value. He robbed me of my desire to write. He was able to pull off what countless rejection letters and unanswered queries had failed at. The fucker had stolen my once unflappable belief in my ability to craft a well-written story. My computer went cold. My third manuscript lay dead at my feet, a used condom I’d discarded without finishing and filling. Notebooks full of notes I haven’t bothered to revisit since. Stopped workshopping. The roll I’d been on, cranking out short stories and essays, all of that is what Josh packed away in his duffel along with his electric razor and fancy wine key.

Since then, I’ve gone through a breakup, which was surprisingly amicable. Moved into a charming riverside cottage in another state. Picked up woodworking. I suppose you could say I’ve undergone a Josh Jones-like identity rebirth only minus the penchant for fucking people over. And maybe, just maybe, this essay, this exercise in mental masturbation, has served as catharsis. A flashlight of sorts to find my way back through the dark toward the thing I love most. For sure, I’ve missed it, the tap-tapping of the keys beneath my fingers.