“I just wanted to stay abreast of industry trends. Now look at me.”
As I push a consent form towards her, these defeated words are spoken by the unlikeliest of criminals: Canadian, her once-trim waist thickening from middle age, an aspiring romance writer, Jan O’Hara buries her face in her hands and displays her shackled wrists. Combined with the pallor of her complexion against the orange jumpsuit, the look is not a good one for her. O’Hara knows this, which is why she’s agreed to speak to me.
“Tell them all. Tell everyone. Let my story serve as a cautionary tale.”
A year ago, O’Hara was just another romance-writing wannabe, dutifully composing novels by day and studying publishing trends by night. Though a fan of print books, a series of blog posts on the internet convinced her that a digital tsunami was about to sweep the publishing world. In O’Hara’s words, when that wave came, she was “determined to be a floater.”
She purchased her first eReader, downloaded several books, then talked about her ambivalence on her blog.
“My readership was encouraging,” she recalls. “When I didn’t instantly love my Kindle, they said I would adapt. They offered tips.”
Oberon is a custom leather and pewter goods company based out of California with a reputation for solid workmanship and delivery. O’Hara is clear she doesn’t hold them responsible for her downward spiral. “It’s not their fault that their products are my crack,” O’Hara says. “Plenty of people can purchase a journal or iPad cover without resorting to criminal activity. That’s obviously not true for me.”
To say O’Hara was obsessed seems an understatement. She purchased one product, then another. She juggled the household finances so her husband wouldn’t notice the strain on their accounts. At night, rather than sleep or write fiction, she’d dream of new designs and sketch them out. She sent so many suggestions to the Oberon Designs company, they took the unprecedented step of blocking her IP address.
O’Hara’s response? She moved to the public library.
Then she attended a local writing group and found others who shared her delight. What followed was a local crime spree that baffled authorities for months. Petty theft, extortion, prostitution – “The Obes,” as they dubbed themselves, used the inventiveness and creativity once reserved for the page as a means to fund their habit.
O’Hara won’t discuss her partners further, as their cases are now before the courts, but she will say they fed off one another’s zeal.
“When I could resist the dragonfly journal cover in sky blue, another in our crew couldn’t.” She shrugs, but I detect a hint of pride in her voice. “We were so gone.”
O’Hara doesn’t know if she can or would have stopped on her own, but local officials had caught a break. One Obe, Suzanne Stengl, was pulled over for speeding. The ticketing officer noticed her car held an inordinate amount of stationery. Stengl confessed during questioning, an elaborate sting operation was put into place, and only a few weeks later, O’Hara would lead law enforcement in a dramatic pursuit.
“I was driving my open-topped Jeep towards Head-Smashed-in Buffalo Jump.” Behind her, police cruisers kept pace. Overhead, a police helicopter repeatedly broadcast instructions to stop. In the seat beside her, whooping encouragement, was fellow writer Vivi Anna.
“We were going to pull the Canadian version of a Thelma and Louise,” O’Hara says. “I was so ashamed. What would my husband and kids say when they found out what I’d done for Kindle covers? And Vivi said there were no laptops in jail.”
But O’Hara didn’t make the final commitment. She stopped inches just short of the ledge. When I ask what changed her mind, she laughs softly. “They put a French-Canadian on the bullhorn in the ‘copter. He said” – her eyes grow soft in reminiscence—“‘Madame, please pull over now. There is no need for such… drrramatiques.’” She blinks and seems to recall where she is. “Only, his accent was much better, of course. He could really roll his Rs.” She sighs. “I love it when they roll their Rs.”
O’Hara laughs these days at the irony of a print- and digital-monkey being seduced by the spoken word. “All along I thought that it was digital that would be the end of my career. In a way, I was right, but not for the reasons I’d anticipated.” She winks. “How can one prepare for a French accent?”
She signs the contract permitting me to release this article, pushes it across the metal table, but I can see she has something more to say.
She holds out her hands. Her palms hold the fountain pen which was given to me by my grandmother when I graduated from university. That pen’s been with me to every reporting gig I’ve taken, and I’m dismayed I almost left it behind.
O’Hara bounces it in a gentle motion, as if weighing it. “What brand did you say this was?” she asks, though the subject hadn’t come up before now. She glances up and in the pause I swear her pupils have dilated. “It seems to have perfect balance…”
Yes, peeps, this is a satire. I have never owned nor operated an Oberon product. I have never visited Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, though it is a world heritage site and reasonably close.
What is true?
- All the people named in this article consented to their involvement.
- French accents are da bomb.
- I possess a rebellious streak that might push me to such extreme measures, someday.
What have you done for awesome stationery and writing supplies? What will you do? Tell me a story in the comment section.