32 and still sleep with the lights on. This is a big problem. It's
wrecked any chances of my being as smoothly seductive as James Bond or
as ruggedly attractive and manly as John Wayne. I'm sure no one since
Thomas Edison has collected this much debt over light bulbs either. And
as if that weren't enough, there's this: Facing the reality of being an
adult who's afraid of the dark makes self confidence about as easy to
sustain as interest in a three-hour Kevin Costner film.

shameful. It's foolish. It's overwhelming and depressing. My chances of
making a change now are as slim as Mr. Costner involving himself in a
film I'll gladly pay to endure. Not after Waterworld. No way.

I guess we're both screwed.

anyone starts drawing conclusions here, let me set a few things
straight. I'm not talking about having to sleep by the subtle glow of a
child's Disney-movie night light. Picture a 20,000 candle-watt overhead
beam, and that's just in my bedroom. That one light alone has probably
affected the guidance of cargo ships off the coast of New Zealand.
Any day now the local power co-op will announce the unveiling of my
portrait in its lobby, complete with solid gold frame. I can feel it
each month when I open my utility bill.

I don't live this way
because I harbor some irreconcilable fear of monsters under the bed; I
gave up on Michael Myers and Freddie Kruger at sixteen. To have that
level of imagination now would give me a good excuse to see a therapist
and score some powerful prescription sleeping pills. Tylenol PM just
isn't cutting it these days.

Simply put, I'm terrified by the lack of success I've had with the one and only thing I've ever been remotely good at: writing.

I've had a mediocre poem or two published online. There was also that
three-year stint with a small weekly newspaper, where I mined Town
Council meetings for fool's gold and a monthly paycheck that barely
kept me from claiming non-profit status at tax time. Friends say I have
a gift, that I'm good with words, and my mother promises she's proud of
me whether I pen the next great American novel or not. But a mother's
pride isn't keeping Ramen noodles off the stove. I've begun harboring a
deep psychotic hatred of Ramen noodles, by the way. Ever wondered why
there are so many people walking around talking to themselves in Times
Square in New York City? Ramen noodles, my friend.

I labor at my laptop computer because I know this business isn't easy,
despite how Dean Koontz and Tom Clancy make it look. Every night as I
turn on the lights and pull the sheets over my head to block the glare,
I try telling myself that those men were once tortured and hungry souls
too. They feared the same unknowns. They trembled at the thought of
eternal obscurity. They would have done nearly anything to see their
work line a bookstore shelf.


I only ask
because yesterday I embarked on what I'm sure is my one-way trip toward
a limelight in which I can actually be proud to bask. Yesterday I stole
three nouns and nearly a dozen semicolons from Stephen King.

King will doubtfully miss these. I figure he has so many he can easily
spare a handful to support a fellow scribe. This is the man behind
Carrie and Cujo, the one who has made millions of people fear the
entire state of Maine. By itself The Green Mile contains enough successful words and punctuation marks to nourish a minimum of 50 literary careers.

The way I see it, plagiarism isn't just for collegiate term papers anymore.

must admit I didn't come to such a decision by myself. To have done so
would violate some basic code of the international dishonest and
unscrupulous writer's guild. Instead, in keeping with plagiaristic
tradition, I read about the recent success of others who have stolen or
been accused of stealing from fellow writers. Then I decided to heist
the idea back from them. No honor among thieves, right?

This all began earlier this month when I logged on to a reputable national news website and read the story of Harvard University
student Kaavya Viswanathan. At 17 she signed a reported six-figure
contract with a major publishing house to write two books. The deal
came after a debut novel about a studious teenage girl who can't get
into college because of an anemic social status. Her father enters the
picture to rescue her by concocting a plan to get the novel's
protagonist "a life."

The publishing company agreed to revise
the book, but later pulled out and nullified their deal when another
large firm claimed Viswanathan's story closely followed that of one of
their authors. It did and the young writer had to fess up.

image of me with a little light flashing over my head, because despite
the embarrassment and possible loss of stacks of cash, Viswanathan's
name and the title to the book in question showed up all over the
internet, which is where I stumbled across it. Then she landed several
national television talk shows spots where she had the chance to
tearfully plead for forgiveness for "borrowing" heavily from another

I doubt she did that for free; better yet, if she ever
decides to write an original novel and gets it published, people will
flock to bookstores just to make sure every word is in fact her own.
Scribble the right number of zeros on a cashier's check and I guess I
could wake up early and cry during an interview with Katie Couric or
Matt Lauer at seven in the morning. If it means people will speak my
name around office water coolers or maybe read my work to try and spot
the offending material, I'll take every word from Patricia Cornwell's
latest effort as is and just slap my name under the title. Even infamy
pays off these days and I could use the cabbage.

Then there's
the case of Dan Brown, author of the universally popular powerhouse,
The Da Vinci Code. Though a British judge dismissed a lawsuit claiming
he borrowed from another book based on the theory that Jesus and Mary
Magdalene had a holy child, I'm sure the allegations brought in a bit
of extra business, boosting the already outrageous hype surrounding
Brown's thriller and the blockbuster movie which soon followed. To
date, The Da Vinci Code has sold around 50 million copies worldwide,
and the movie grossed $77 million in its first weekend in American
theaters. Surely the box office sales in Vatican City were as impressive.

course I'm not looking for 50 million copies. Being a plagiarist might
make me a thief in the public's eye, but I'm not greedy. At the gas
station I always put my spare change in the "Need A Penny, Take A
Penny" dish near the cash register.

Right now 50 copies will
suit me; any amount to get my name out there and stock my refrigerator
with cold cuts and Hot Pockets. And it's not like I want to hurt people
who've worked hard to gain the success they have. These are just
desperate times.

So here's my idea for a bestseller: An Ivy
League college sophomore with telekinetic powers gains notoriety all
over campus when she and her rabid Saint Bernard discover the lost city
of Atlantis by decoding secret messages hidden in Thomas Kincaid paintings rescued from a burning Hallmark greeting card store in a small Maine town.

Hear that? It's the sound of morning television show hosts beating down my door.

Maybe tonight ships near the coast of New Zealand won't wander off course.