by Robert J. Collins

A condition I share with roughly 50 percent of the human race is the inability to experience within my person the joys and agonies, the thrills and varicose veins of bringing an embryo through gestation to birth. Pity (I guess).

The closest I come to all that, I swear, is writing a book and get­ting it published. In fact, certain parts of writing a book may be worse. When pregnant you at least know something real is going on as the infant grows and moves around. There is never a stage in writing a book when it’s certain something real is going on. The publisher could suddenly be looking the other way as birth approaches.

I was introduced a little over nine months ago to an agent who wooed me with incense, sweet talk and fine wine in the warm glow of candles flickering in the breeze. We talked of this, we talked of that and before you know it he had me wrapped around his little finger. (Or was it the other way around? I forget. And by the way, the incense was his cigar.)

I woke the next morning, a little sore, but fully committed. My morning sickness was proba­bly a hangover, and it went away in a week. (Or did it? I still don’t feel good in the mornings.)

The first trimester of the ordeal involved a lot of starts, stops and erasures. You’d be surprised how many characters look interesting today, but can’t bring anything to the development of the story (except sit around and look interesting today). Those people have to be dropped from the story, meaning going back to page one to develop a different character.

It’s during this period I develop a craving for certain foods—usually beer and peanuts.

The middle trimester is when my legs start to swell. Sitting in a chair all day does that. It’s also the time an author begins to “show.” People stop me on the street and say things like “con­gratulations” or is this one “planned?” Gaunt eyes and even rounder shoulders than usual give it away. (To the “planned” question I always say “of course,” but I guess we all know that isn’t the case every time. I was content to just sit back and collect royal­ties from previous books.)

Rushing to delivery is a slide down a long and slippery slope. I’m ready, man, I’m ready. Nine months is a long time to be carrying someone else around. The problem in the book-writing business is that many of the details and fine-tuning strokes have to be adjusted at this time. (“No one likes that character? Write him out? I can’t. He’s the reason we’re in this mess.”)

During human gestation, lit­tle niceties like fingers and toes have developed as part of natural progression. In writing a book, those things are often refined at the very end, usually to satisfy an editor who is looking at the man­uscript for the first time. This period of labor can be more painful than you might expect.

I just finished reducing 409 pages of rough manuscript down to 259 pages of tightly edited, hard-cover-size paper. The process, for the last three weeks, involved reading every word of the damn book at least 50 times to get it right. Keiko stood by my side holding a cool cloth to my forehead, urging me to suck an ice cube and breathe deeply. I was screaming.

Then my water broke.

The publisher has the book. The fun part is starting—cover design, cover-blurbs and a brief bio of the author (looking serious as hell in the photo they chose). It will be called Ambassador Strikes and be on shelves early next year. Will my stretch marks ever go away?

My wife thinks it’s bad luck, or something, to talk about a book until it’s actually in the stores. She’s right in the sense that it happened once before to me—a Tokyo Weekender col­umn I wrote called “Tanaka and the Outsiders” was rewritten into book form and offered to a local publisher.

After all the labor pains men­tioned above, the manuscript was sent to the printers. Oooops. The publisher was taken over by an offshore operation. All existing contracts were cancelled. Tanaka never saw the light of day.

But Ambassador Strikes is in better (or at least bigger) hands. Of course I will talk about it in detail later (great mystery set in Washington, D.C., Chicago and Tokyo with a cool hero, Nick Conboy), but all I wanted to do today is to announce the end of my pregnancy.

I’m available. Can be had with a little wine and soft candle­light.