“Ja, offices are the home of intrigue, back-stabbing and old-fashioned dishonesty” – Trade Secrets contributor, Sean Mayne
Sean Mayne works for Cape Town’s favourite coffee company. When he can, he snatches minutes, sometimes seconds, to write. In 2014 he cracked the nod for the Adults Only Short.Sharp.Stories collection, picking up an accolade for Publisher’s Choice and simultaneously getting his piece of smut published in Playboy SA. In 2015, he was again published, in Incredible Journey. He is beyond thrilled to make the cut for 2017 as getting published is like tik for his frail ego.
Joanne Hichens, curator of the Short.Sharp.Stories Award and Sean’s recent kaffeeklatsch was a telling one to tell the least, e.g. did you know that Sean has been submitted to – and passed – a polygraph test? And once sold a waterless urinal to Pollsmoor Maximum security? No? Read on…
In your story, ‘The Unbelievable Truth’, the tension builds as Lenny and Doon – a couple of salesmen – await a polygraph test for a theft in their office. Have you ever been submitted to a polygraph?
Yes. And I passed. The interview starts innocuously: “So you live in False Bay? The sea views must be lovely, but seriously, how many times have you been to jail?” (Twice.) Then they delve into childhood. Like, “Did you ever pinch money from your mother’s purse?” (Yes.) Or reverse-psychology questions, like “Explain why you don’t fill up your car from petty cash?” (Because I catch the train.) Or “What do you think of the boss?” ( . . . ) I wondered at the time about using a polygraph for marriage vows, or marriage counseling. It got me scheming.
Was that the only inspiration for your story?
No. If there’s a lonelier profession than writing, it’s salesman. The entire psychology of selling is based on overcoming a fear of the word No! Probably because ‘no’ is the first word we learn after ‘mama’ and each working day is spent mentally preparing for rejection (kind of like entering a writing competition). This is done by clinging to a belief in the law of averages, which dictates that one in ten will buy from you. Or in reverse-psychology speak: only nine more ‘no’s’ before I make the first sale of the day. All sorts of kak swirls round in your brain before you pick up that scary phone and make a call (or submit your story) and it’s this mental anguish I tapped into.
So enter Doon, who’s having a bad run and is kind of desperate. Is he desperate enough to steal eight grand from his boss? That’s for the reader to discover.
Personal ‘office relationships’ are at the core of the story, as revealed through the eyes of Lenny. Would you agree that the office provides a pressure cooker when it comes to personal relationships? Did you capitalize on this?
Ja, offices are the home of intrigue, back-stabbing and old-fashioned dishonesty – similar to Survivor, except no one gets voted off – or not the person you tried to frame. Sales offices in particular are without morals because selling is concerned with manipulation. This is what makes crooked salesmen interesting. And isn’t story writing essentially a bunch of lies told in a manipulative way? Some people have a natural gift for selling, an aura, where customers magically say ‘yes’ to their offering. Of course the best of them are in jail for fraud. Sadly, I don’t have that aura, which is why I have to write instead.
Have you ever had a nine to five office job?
I had a sales job where the day started in an office. But the mornings degenerated into long breakfasts in cheap cafés as fellow salesmen and I dissected why that day, specifically, wasn’t good for knocking on doors. We’d reappear in the afternoon. Occasionally we’d sell stuff. Once I sold a perfume machine to Salt River Mortuary (there’s a braai grid outside the walk-in fridge, fyi); another time we sold a waterless urinal to Pollsmoor Maximum security and got to visit the kas (wyfie’s are real – high heels, lipstick, skirts, the works). Mostly I sold septic tanks (your shit is our bread and butter was my elevator pitch).
The office setting might be the most obviously associated with the concept of ‘trade secret’. Why choose this setting?
True. But nowhere in the story is there reference to ‘place’. The office could be anywhere. I did it to make the story dialogue-driven. The setting is stripped down to a bland corridor, a smoking nook, and a boardroom. I’m trusting the South Africanisms of the characters will provide context for the reader. It was a risk because I know how important ‘place’ is to a story – almost like it’s supposed to be one of the characters.
High on entertainment value, it’ a slick piece… As far as the writing goes, there are no inverted commas, the sentences often run on… Was this a conscious choice?
A wise editor once introduced me to contractions (I think it was you, Joanne). The idea of brevity snow-balled and soon any word ending –ly also had to go. It was inevitable that inverted commas would fall. But I love sentences that run on if it’s a first person narrative. It allows for an element of distraction (and manipulation), a key device if hoping to create a twist.
What writing Trade Secret would you like to share?
Make each word fight for its place on the page. Choppity chop chop.
Follow Sean on Facebook @lakesidemaynes
- Trade Secrets edited by Joanne Hichens
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- Adults Only: Stories of love, lust, sex and sexuality edited by Joanne Hichens
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