| Catapult Alumni
Fiction Excerpt from ‘Must Be Nice’
This novel excerpt was written by Katie Virnig in Lynn Steger Strong’s 12-Month Novel Generator.
Simi Davis made a career out of sharing her life on the internet, leveraging the rise of social media to evolve her college travel blog into a six-figure business as a digital influencer. So she is stunned when her husband, Malcolm, suddenly admits he no longer wants his life—and their marriage—dispensed to the public. And what’s more, he believes she’s addicted to Instagram.
Marital tensions rise when Simi finds herself in legal trouble related to her use of Instagram. Begrudgingly, she agrees to spend thirty days in a digital addiction center to mitigate potential charges. In rehab, she is forced to dissect her relationship with social media and its effect on her marriage and mental health. All while ensuring her followers don’t find out. But do they?
Must Be Nice is an imaginative social commentary that depicts a society where social media addiction is policed and treated like other substance use disorders. Using empathy and humor, it pries at the blurry line separating work and addiction in the world of digital influencing.
The photoshoot was almost done when Malcolm called Simi’s phone two times in a row. When she didn’t answer, he texted: hey can you call me ASAP?
Simi gripped her phone and leaned against a glass case filled with chocolate truffles and chocolate bars and chocolate balls and chocolate-covered fruit. The sweet smell of the candy store had made her want one of everything at first, but after breathing it in for three hours she was sort of over it.
Across from her, Trevor and Lottie actively set up for the final shot of the day. Margot was seated in the spot Simi would soon occupy, and although she was the stand-in, needed for light testing purposes only, she kept tilting her head and flipping her hair like it mattered. Simi found it endearing that her assistant got such joy out of being in the faux spotlight.
Simi ignored both of her husband’s calls and his text message. She was mad at him. But, also, she was busy. She marched her thumbs around the keyboard, double-tapping and swiping and skimming and scrolling through Instagram. It had been forty minutes since she last checked the app, and her notifications were once again ripe for review.
The post—a gallery of photos and a corresponding blog about her and Malcolm’s anniversary trip to Tennessee—was the one attracting all the attention. Simi had posted it yesterday—on their actual anniversary—and still, a full twenty-four hours later, she continued to field comments and questions and the occasional must be nice that came along with sharing one’s life on the internet. Good. This was good. She needed this. A hit of competence. An inkling that she did something right. Even if that thing was making her anniversary trip seem blissfully romantic when it had not been blissful or romantic. She knew its popularity was ironic. But whatever. When a post tripled in engagement the day after it was published, she had a right to feel good at her job.
Malcolm called again. A third time. No one calls three times without reason. And now Simi was beginning to think something was wrong. Really wrong. But, still, she didn’t answer. She silenced the ring, but didn’t kick it to voicemail because then Malcolm would surely know that she was screening his calls.
As she waited it out, she stared at the photo she had saved to his contact info, allowing the memory of its origin to come alive in her mind. Six months ago, Simi, along with a small army of travel bloggers, had been invited to ride on the Hilton Hotels float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. While they waited for their entrance, John Legend happened to stroll by. He greeted everyone kindly, shaking hands and taking selfies. At the time, Malcolm acted as if he wasn’t a person who regularly told people he shared a birthday with John Legend. As if he didn’t select “Ordinary People” as his senior showcase song at his high school choir concert and choke back tears during the performance. After John Legend walked away, Malcolm turned to Simi, eyes beginning to glaze, but also semi-embarrassed by his level of star struckness, so that his mouth formed a wobbly grin. Simi snapped a photo, and it never failed to make her laugh. Maybe one day you’ll love me as much as you love John Legend , she would joke.
The confusing thing was that Simi wanted to talk to the Malcolm in the photo. She did not, however, want to talk to the Malcolm who had ruined their anniversary trip. Or the Malcolm who had stood in their driveway last night—on their anniversary!—making hurtful accusations. How dare he try to demand her attention today.
And, so, she exhaled audibly when his photo disappeared again, and Trevor said, “Okay, Simi, we’re ready when you are.”
“Coming,” she said. She peeled her eyes away from the screen and left her phone, belly up, on the table beside Margot, who was now typing furiously on her laptop.
Simi hopped into position on the edge of the counter, crossing her legs at the ankles. The marble felt cool beneath her thin satin skirt. Behind her, brass shelving spanned the length of the wall, holding glass jars stocked with jelly beans and gummy worms and Tootsie Rolls.
Simi had chosen the newest retro-glam candy store in Phoenix as a photoshoot location because she wanted a setting that felt unscripted; fun but still refined. Not only did too much of the same look in an Instagram feed get boring, but it was essential that Simi consistently showcased her range—sultry and sweet, spontaneous and poised—to prospective brand partners. Yes, she was predominately a travel blogger, but if she wanted to segue the Simi Says brand into its own clothing line one day, she needed to show she could model it.
After a few minutes, Simi heard Margot’s voice rise above the pint-size portable speaker blaring Top 40 tracks. “Yeah, one sec,” she was saying. Simi turned toward Margot to see her own phone up to Margot’s ear. Her botanical print popsocket threaded between Margot’s middle and ring fingers. Margot was nodding as she rose from a backless rattan stool. Simi had the impulse to shout something wild, like Hang up now , or I don’t want to talk to him , but no one, not even Margot, was aware of last night’s flare-up with Malcolm, and Simi preferred to keep it that way. She grabbed her phone and earbuds from Margot’s outstretched hand.
She took a few steps away from the group and hissed, “What’s up?”
“Hey. Hi,” said Malcolm. He sounded relieved, like someone who had made it through the robot layer of customer service and was now speaking with a real person. “I need your help.”