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From Alpha to Omega and the Beta Reader, Too

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It took her at least six attempts before she finally ended up in Sheldon’s apartment. The first three involved her turning around at the halfway point between her door and his door.

For the fourth attempt, Penny stood at his door with her fist raised and ready to knock until she realized that she never knocks. And if she knocked this time, it would just be weird and she didn’t want it to be any weirder than it was already going to be.

Her fifth attempt is her standing in her apartment composing a text message asking him to come over. But, that was a stupid idea and she knew it so she quickly deleted it before it could be sent.

So on attempt number six, she just walked through the door and right into his living room. His empty living room.

“Well, that was anti-climactic.”

She saw his jacket hanging there and called out his name, “Sheldon?”

Moments later he appeared from the hallway and nodded at her in greeting. “Oh, hello, Penny, I was just in the bathroom –“

“Uhh. I don’t want to know.”

“Hanging up clean towels.”

“Oh, oh good.” Her attempt at playing it cool was horrible. Even trying to sit on the not-Sheldon’s-spot end of the couch resulted in her shifting in her seat for almost a whole minute before she finally felt comfortable.

Sheldon sat in his spot and watched all of this with vague interest. When she stopped fidgeting, he asked, “What exactly are you doing?”

“Well, I came here to – uhm. Listen, I hate asking for a favor.”

“Hardly.”

Before he could start listing the small favors she regularly asked for, Penny continued, “A big favor. Huge even.”

“Okay. Go ahead. Ask.”

“I kind of wrote a novel.”

“A novel? I thought you had talked about writing a screenplay.”

Penny nodded and smiled , “Oh, I was. But then I thought ‘they make movies out of books, too’. So if I write a book and then they make a movie out of it, that’s like double the money.”

He looked exactly like he did when he was about to tear down what passed for logic in her mind, so she cut him off, “So, the reason I’m here is I need someone to help me edit it. And, well, I thought maybe since you’re such a, well – what’s a nice way to say it – oh - you’re a perfectionist, I thought maybe you could look it over and tell me what you think.”

“What kind of novel is it?”

“Fantasy. Which is the other reason I thought you would be perfect for the job. So, do you have the time?”

Sheldon made his thinking-about-it-face and at any moment she expected him to pull out his phone to see if he could find room for her on his busy schedule. Finally, he looked at her with a dutiful nod and said, “Yes, I have time. Do you have a printed copy or would you like to do this electronically?”

“Well, I guess I could sneak into my boss’ office and print it out at work, but would e-mail be better?”

“E-mail will be fine.”

“Great! I can send it in just a few minutes.”

Penny jumped up from her seat and headed toward the door but then she remembered something and stopped.

“Oh, hey, what’s the new WiFi password again?”

“Penny, write it down.”

“Well, I will if you tell it to me.”

Sheldon sighed in exasperation, “The password is PennyWriteItDown, no spaces with each word capitalized.”

*

Three days later, she received the following e-mail:

Penny,

Please find the first draft of your novel with suggested changes to spelling, punctuation and grammar in the notes. I say “suggested” changes, but I cannot imagine you choosing to ignore them if you wish for your work to be read by an agent.

I have also attached a second document that includes extensive notes on characterization, plot and thematic analysis.

I have both positive things to say as well as constructive critiques. I discuss my greatest concern on page 37 of the second document.

I hope you find this helpful and if you would like to discuss it further, you know where to find me.

Regards,

Dr. Sheldon Cooper, B.S., M.S., M.A., Ph.D., Sc.D.

Instead of looking at things in the order he probably intended, she went directly to page 37 and found –

“Plagiarized? Oh. Oh, hell no.”

He had side-by-side comparisons and links to source materials and oh my God – she should have known all along.

Penny grabbed her laptop and went over to his apartment. She was glad he was alone because she really didn’t want anyone else knowing what she did in her plentiful spare time.

Sheldon was in the kitchen stirring a cup of tea and greeted her rather pleasantly despite the annoyed look on her face. “Oh hello, Penny. Did you get my e-mail?”

“Oh. I got it. And uhm – I did not plagiarize.”

“Penny, if you look closer you will see I have evidence to the contrary. Plenty of evidence.”

She sighed and put her laptop on the coffee table before clasping her hands in front of her. “Sheldon, I could not have plagiarized my novel from fanfiction for Age of Conan.”

“But –“

“Because I wrote the fanfiction you said I plagiarized.”

“Wait. You’re Penobia?”

She cringed. It was the first time she’d heard it out loud. “Well, Xenobia was already taken and I didn’t want to use my real name, so Penny plus Xenobia is… Penobia.”

For a moment, she worried that Sheldon was about to drop his mug of tea but instead he gently placed it on the counter.

“You’re – you’re one of us now.”

“No.”

“Penny –“

“No.”

Sheldon walked around the counter and toward her. She took a few defensive steps backward. “You write fanfiction.”

“Well, you read fanfiction and that’s just as bad.”

“Neither are bad. Fanfiction is simply a way of exploring a canon further. Many say it even gives them greater appreciation for the canon since it helps us know the characters and stories better by adding on to it. I see nothing wrong with that.”

“Well, of course you wouldn’t.” Sheldon flinched, as if that actually stung him and Penny clarified, “I just – I mean it’s not like I can tell my parents that sometimes on a Saturday night, I sit in my apartment and write fanfiction, can I? They’d just be all, ‘why don’t you put your talent to good use’ and ‘get a real job’ and ‘why are you wasting your time on something that will never make you money’ and -”

“I understand. Fanfiction has not reached mainstream acceptance yet. Now, Penny, did you read any of my other notes or just skip to the bit about plagiarism?”

“Uhhh. I just skipped to that bit. But I’ll read it now. Just – don’t tell the guys that I’m Penobia, okay?”

Sheldon shrugged and went back to the counter to grab his tea again. “They’re more interested in Star Trek and Lord of the Rings fanfiction than Age of Conan, so your secret is safe. Raj seems to have a predilection towards genderswap Spock and Uhura fic, but to each their own, I say.”

“Wellllll. I did not need to know that, but thanks. I’m gonna go read the rest of your notes now.”

“Good. Feel free to come back and discuss if you need any clarification.”

She raised her eyebrows skeptically and replied, “Your notes were longer than my novel. I’m pretty sure that’s good and well clarified right there.”

*

She spent all day and into the evening reading Sheldon’s extremely detailed notes. The good news was that it wasn’t all negative. He actually complimented her characterization and called her plot inventive, which was always nice to hear. The bad news was there was just so much to go through, and he’s so pretentious and it’s obvious he thinks he knows everything and –

“Wait a minute.”

Penny backed away from her laptop and immediately went over to Sheldon’s apartment. Leonard was home now so she pulled Sheldon out into the hallway for a little privacy.

“I’ve been reading your notes all day.”

“Oh good, is there something you wanted to discuss?”

“You bet. I’d love to discuss something with you, ThothAmon81.”

“Ghuy’cha’!”

Penny didn’t know whether she was supposed to say ‘gesundheit’ or what that was, but she guessed it was Klingon, which meant she definitely spent way too much time around these guys.

“You’re the pretentious troll who can’t help but leave long critical comments veiled as ‘just trying to be helpful’ on every single thing I write.”

“It’s not trolling if it’s true –“

“Shut up. You’re so rude and it’s not helpful at all and you need to learn how to be a little more constructive.”

“But –“

Penny poked him in the chest. It was clear by his expression that he didn’t like that, no sir, not at all. “Just because you’re hidden behind a screenname on the internet, it doesn’t give you the right to be rude.”

She turned around to walk back to her apartment and heard him call after her, “You really should consider finding a beta reader like I told you last week.”

If he said anything after that, she didn’t hear it for the sound of the door slamming.

*

Penny,

I feel now would be a perfect time to start a discussion on the ethical and legal issues of taking previously posted fanfiction and changing certain details so that you can publish as original fiction.

I once read in an online forum that some people consider this to be ‘uncool’, and one person even said ‘I can’t even’ in regards to a fanfiction writer doing this. Unfortunately, they did not finish their sentence so I’m not sure what they ‘can’t even’ do, unless they were just referring to how they can’t even finish their sentences properly.

I will send a meeting request to your e-mail shortly so we can discuss this matter at your earliest convenience.

Regards,

Dr. Sheldon Cooper, B.S., M.S., M.A., Ph.D., Sc.D.

*

Sheldon,

I’m still not speaking to you.

-P

*

She passed him in the hallway and on the stairs four times that week and each time he tried to address her, but she just glared and walked past him.

How dare he, she thought each time.

But, he was kind of right.

Maybe ThothAmon81 was going about it the wrong way, that was for sure, but he did have a point. Her tenses could get a little sloppy and she had a tendency to use the same words over and over and over again and there were plenty of things she could improve upon but –

He didn’t have to tell her like that.

So after ignoring his e-mails, his tweets, his texts, his meeting requests and his Facebook wall posts, she finally went to his apartment one day when she knew Leonard wasn’t going to be around.

Sheldon was at his laptop and he looked at her with a completely blank expression.

“Okay, this is really hard for me to say, but Sheldon, I forgive you.”

He looked confused. “But I didn’t apologize.”

Penny took the chair from Leonard’s desk and pulled it toward Sheldon so she could sit next to him. “Oh, I know sweetie. But that’s okay. I know now that you were just trying to help.”

“Of course I was.”

“And you wouldn’t waste your time posting those things unless you saw the potential for improvement, right?”

“Well –“ She rolled her eyes but he continued, “In your case, this is accurate. As you may have noticed, I have had many positive things to say about your writing, which I feel tempers the negative things.”

“Yes, I know. But… you really don’t need to be such a jerk, okay?”

“Pardon?”

Penny sighs and pats him on the shoulder. “No one on the Age of Conan anonmeme likes you. At all.”

Sheldon looked perplexed, “There’s an anonmeme? And – wait – no one?”

“They kind of think ThothAmon81 is a real dickhead.”

His jaw dropped in shock and Penny put up her hands, “Their words, not mine. The important thing is I know your intentions are good, you just have a way of talking to people that’s –“

“Off-putting. My kindergarten teacher wrote that on my report card.”

“What I’m trying to say is that if you actually want people to listen to you, you just need to be nicer. More tactful.”

He frowned for a moment and she started to think that tact just wasn’t something Sheldon Cooper was capable of. But after a moment he relented. “Perhaps you could help me with that. Since I’ve done so much to fix your novel –“

“Boy, that was quick. Already, a teaching moment. That’s not tact.”

“Hmm.”

“Just try to run things by me before you post them. You know, when you’re not sure. You’re helping me become a better writer, and I’ll help you stay out of fandom wank, okay?”

She waited to see if he knew what wank meant in this context but he eventually nodded in understanding sparing her from having to define it for him.

“Fine. Now, about your novel, I have a suggestion –“

“No.”

“I was thinking that you could use –“

“No.”

“A co-writer.”

Penny wrinkled up her nose, “Ehhhhhhhh.”

He gave her an annoyed look (or maybe that was just how his face always looked, she thought). “Your writing is fine, better than fine even. But you could use someone who is more detail oriented. Someone who can tell you what is proper weaponry and attire and so on for the era and setting of your story.”

“Proper weaponry and attire for my completely fictional era and setting.”

“It may be a fantasy novel, but we can’t have you bringing a machine gun to a scimitar fight.” Sheldon laughed at his own comment but Penny just glared. “My point is, you need someone who has the knowledge and is willing to do the research that will lend verisimilitude to your story.”

“But a co-writer? Really?”

“A researcher then.”

Penny stood and started toward the door, “I don’t know. Us working together? It seems crazy. And impossible. And we’ll probably kill each other. But... I’ll think about it, okay?”

Because, really, she thought, having Sheldon do all the boring research parts of it meant she got the freedom to write the fun stuff and that wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

Her hand was on the knob and the door was halfway open when he spoke again, “Oh, one more thing -”

“Later, Sheldon.”

“If you age your main characters down a few years, you could sell this as a Young Adult novel. The market for that genre is huge right now and you probably stand a better chance of getting published –“

Penny froze with her hand on the door. She closed it again and went back to her seat next to Sheldon. “Okay, fine, tell me more.”

*

And that’s how she became an author.

It’s also how her first book ended up with a dedication to her diligent and dedicated researcher, Dr. Sheldon Cooper, B.S., M.S., M.A., Ph.D., Sc.D.