Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Do Not Feed This Troll -- Popcorn by The Colonel #81

Uncle Jack, our mother’s brother, used to visit our mom on Sundays and after lunch would often nod off sitting up in the living room easy chair he liked and sometimes talk in his sleep. Not speeches, just intriguing snippets. He must have been dreaming that he was telling stories. We would write the snippets down and when Uncle Jack woke up, we’d ask him what they meant. He never knew, or so he claimed.
Uncle Jack, of the Greatest Generation, is long dead, but snippets survive. A sampler follows.

“Killed him for being too cheerful.”

“Gotta know the territory. No tickee, no shirtee.”

“Fire the sheriff. Not up to snuff.”

“Never did find his pants.”

“One by one, all got married. Old gang.”

“If the diamond finesse works at trick three, abandon the suit.”

“Never works unless she wears the little French maid’s hat.”

“Identical snowflakes! Identical snowflakes!”

“Broadway was better than the movie.”

“Do I look like a money tree?”

“Came home from the carwash with a different car.”

“We were kids together, had nothin’. Now look at ‘im.”

“Thought they were Jewish. Wrong again.”

“George the Third, quartering troops. Rebels.”

“Whatta president MacArthur woulda been.”

“Grew up without pets. Allergic. All of them. Turtles.”

“Survived the war, but not the same.”

“Square of the hypotenuse, my friend. Square of the hypotenuse.”

“Hailed us as saviors. Now look.”

“Feel stupid asking directions.”

“Repainted the house every year. Wacko. Shoveled snow off his lawn.”

“Don’t let ‘em in, floor still wet! Oh, Jeez.”

“Quit lettin’ the screen door slam!”

“Don’t show your temper to me, young lady.”

“Face like magic marker on a balloon.”

“In a kilt, playin’ an accordion. Laughed like hell.”

“Plenty of jobs. Still went off to college.”

“Better to ride the bus.”

“Rich as Rockefeller. Richer.”

“Proud of his boy. Bust his buttons.”

“Outhouses! I couldn’t believe it.”


Publishers are sometimes derided as cowardly. Here’s a contrary example from a better universe:

“Herr Hitler, thank you for coming to our editorial offices. Now that you are seated and we have served you coffee, let me begin with frankness.

“We cannot express how deeply we disagree with the views expressed in the manuscript you have chosen to submit to us. Yet there is no denying that it is an important book, perhaps the most important book since the Great War except for Dr. Keynes’s 1919 book on the economic consequences of the peace.  

“Please calm down, Herr Hitler, he’s only an Englishman. Have some more coffee and try to focus on the business at hand without any upsetting digressions. Thank you.

“Now then, to the point: we have decided to publish your book. To publish it whole, just as you have written it, without cuts and without changing one word, except for the title, which we’re shortening by 36 words to ‘Mein Kampf.’

“You will agree, we are sure, that our decision is good news for you. But it is also good news for us, and for many people, in this sense: we’re going to publish your book, yes, but first we’re going to kill you -- as you may have guessed from the taste of your coffee and a certain numbness spreading quickly from your extremities toward your heart.”


Contrary to the saying, “Never judge a book by its cover,” you should always judge a book by its cover. Publishers go to great lengths to make the cover of every book reach out to its intended readers with clues and cues.

“If the cover shows a strapping woman amid the stars, wearing a metallic brassiere and brandishing a light saber, chances are the book is science fiction.” (Emphasis added. Who said that? Johnny Mathis? The usual suspects, Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln, are out, for the same reason as Oscar Wilde -- anachronism. Winston Churchill is technically possible, but unlikely, although he was one strange dude for “the greatest Englishman who ever lived.” Who’s plausible? Ah!) --Harlan Ellison.

Judge books by their covers, and you’ll gain much valuable time for mumblety-peg, if that's where your heart lies.

Authors, here’s your special takeaway: the cover matters.

That may tempt you to seek artistic control over the cover of your book, but beware: you may not be the best judge of how the cover should look. Publishers have outsourced experts in this field, called “Mad Men.”

If you can listen to the voice of your muse, you can darn well listen to the voice of madmen. They have your best interests at heart, like every voice you hear. Obey them all, and your books will sell, sell, sell. No mean feat in these days of whatever it is there’s so much of these days.

Besides, unless you're Stephen King, there’s no way your publisher will let you have artistic control of the cover. You’re lucky if you control the title. Mark our words, your publisher will insist on having control of the whole text.

You may find that outrageous, but between us girls, your manuscript would actually benefit from the attention of editors like those at Reader’s Digest Select Editions (formerly Reader’s Digest Condensed Books).

Don’t worry about it, though, because your publisher probably doesn’t have any editors. They’re costly, like proofreaders, and therefore dispensable.

What your publisher doubtless has is a high-school dropout with a drinking problem who does exactly three things:

(1) downloads your digital “manuscript” directly from your Dropbox into the automated printing press/bookbinder,

(2) prints 1050 copies, and

(3) sends 500 to you, 500 to a list of reviewers and critics, and 50 to Amazon and to stores, against Adam’s off chance that anyone actually wants to buy one.

Being an author is rough on the self-esteem. Good thing writers are notoriously egoless and thick-skinned, like Norman Mailer, may his gentle soul rest in peace.

An AP report of January 17 said, "Bishops routinely moved problem priests from parish to parish rather than subject them to canonical trials or turn them into police." Bet the police were relieved.

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