Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Perils of Publishers

A story I showed around to friends having met a friendly reception, I sent it off to an appropriate publisher, whose name I shall not stain by mention, lest it join the rogues gallery of those  who rejected the manuscript of Harry Potter, back in the day.  The periodical was chosen, not at random, but as having been the one to spring upon an unsuspecting world  my first mystery story, the eponymous offering of the later collection I Don’t Do Divorce Cases, available at your local bookstore -- or rather, might be, if local bookstores any longer existed, which they do not;  still, you can find copies online at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and at a price too nugatory to allude to.   And yet, like that base [ethnicity deleted], who threw away a pearl, greater than all his tribe (an incident recorded in the annals of our nation’s literature, somewhere), the editor -- at that particular juncture, on that particular day, the moon being in some unfavorable phase, and Mars having passed into the House of Detention -- did not choose to pick it up.  Whereupon the spurned offering, like some younger son packed off to the Colonies, shows up, uncloaked against the bitter winds, upon this very site, as though upon the doorstep  of an unfeeling world, to be gawked at by surfers and idlers:  and all for less than the price of a penny.
(“A Narrow Escape”:  vide infra.)

A typical publisher, in his lair


These dark events have prompted me to reveal the following vignettes, fruit of my similar experience the last time I attempted to venture  where angels fear to tread.  (The period covers my time in Princeton, an epoch you might have an opportunity of reading about, should ever my current publisher, asleep at the switch or possibly kidnapped by pirates, or spirited away by faeries, come out with the collection Princeton Follies  as long ago promised!)

Appropriate beverage to accompany this narrative:  
            Fifty-year-old port.
Consonant soundtrack: 
            Something tenebrous for the chamber,  with plenty of cello.

~       ~       ~


A stifling day in August.  The editor is having her periodic indisposition.  Over the transom my manuscript comes.


The publisher stops by the office of the tweed-clad editor; coughs, hesitates; he hates to say it  but… "…the pressure of investors.  And that comes down to circulation.  Now unfortunately, no-name material, however we-would-both-agree worthy, -- does  not  sell. So…"
The editor bites his lip and nods.  With determination he reaches into the slush pile.  Ha!  Something-or-other by some nobody  named “Justice”.  Discard without reading.


"Well there's only room for one of them, and this Princeton fellow shows real promise.  Your cousin's stuff is glittery, but shallow -- no staying power."
Casting about for a comeback and finding none, she abandons debate; then relaxes, as a cool smile forms upon her face.
"Pretty funny, coming from someone whose contract is about to be renewed – by my uncle."
"I—By-- ?  Well yes, I take your point.  Style, substance, all that, your cousin's got it, or may someday; let's go with it."


He shakes his head from side to side.  This is good, dammit, this is good, and from – what is his name?  from Princeton?
Enthralled, he scarcely notices  as the mother ship hovers outside the window of his fifty-seventh-floor office.  A beam enters slowly, completely silent.
Later, the office is empty.  The incident is never explained.


Syphilis: the Silent Killer

            In a shed in Tijuana, a sordid night of bought amours.   The man leaves behind a couple of silver dollars, takes with him something he hadn't bargained for.
            Years later, with another, a child is born.  The boy seems healthy, becomes an editor, moves to New York.
            That morning, a manuscript from an unknown author, from – New Jersey, of all places.  Yet he reads with growing interest.   A realization dawns.  He puts the manuscript down slowly, as he gazes at the framed portrait of Maxwell Perkins on his wall.  Their eyes seem to meet.

            He presses the buzzer.  "Miss Anscombe?  Something extraordinary…"
            The sound of a scraping chair from the outer office.
            Yet at that moment the spirochaete, having lain  long undetected, while having silently multiplied many times, obeys its bioprogram  and unleashes the full fury of its corruption.  Intelligence, morals --  nothing is spared.
            -- "Yes, Mr. --?"
            "Huh?  Um, -- oh,  -- Mother, the sun! give me the sun! ---  Ahhh… --  whyncha call up Bret Easton Ellis, see if he has anything left moldering at the bottom of his drawer."

No comments:

Post a Comment