Thursday, January 14, 2016


At a pivotal moment in your writing-publishing life, you were living in a comfortable if cheaply built condominium within easy walking distance from the ocean.  Afternoon walks there with your then dog-in-residence, Molly, invariably produced an idea for a short story.  Because of the size of the condo, you had a pretty good work space which, on the night of which you write, you occupied with a manuscript you'd brought from work, a place where you could rely on sufficient distractions to prevent the concentration needed for editing.

Within the past week, you'd just turned down a job at least two individuals, the about-to-retire editor-in-chief, and the publisher, thought you were a natural fit for, couldn't, in fact, understand why you were doing what you were doing.  You were the lead editor of a small, well-funded scholarly publisher, an aspect of publishing that you'd entered with your only experience having been reading books published by university and scholarly presses.  

In a footnote of irony, you still own what was probably the first university press book you'd ever read, Writing Magazine Fiction. There you were, a high school sophomore, thinking grand thoughts of working your way into the diverse demographic  of pulp adventure magazines, including your favorites, mysteries, but also science fiction, fantasy, sports, and Westerns. You saw each genre as a challenge you'd surely meet, insuring a life of opportunity and satisfaction.

Back to 1367-B Danielson Road, Santa Barbara, CA 93108, where you fanned out on your work area the manuscript you'd brought home, picked up your red pencil, drew a large X through two paragraphs, them wrote in the margin, "Suggest we delete these as the information included has been repeated twice earlier."

You set down the red pencil, coming to terms with something you well could have realized earlier: Whether the submissions are in scholarly publishing or trade publishing, the chances of you as an individual finding one to truly excite you are about one hundred to one. You'd already been in trade publishing situations of your company going ahead with the publication of a project for which you had little enthusiasm.  

This project on your desk was a similar one.  You'd as yet failed to make the connection that as lead editor, regardless of the type of publisher, each bad book was an excuse to move you along your way with appreciation for your service and the very best wishes for future success in publishing.

The salient reason for your refusal of the job where you were considered a natural fit was the strong likelihood of the venture moving to New York.  You'd been commuting to Los Angeles with some regularity and had been able to rationalize, given the salary and benefits offer, a pied a terre in Los Angeles, where you could coordinate your class schedule with a night or two in LA.

You do not nor did then have anything against New York so much as you had a sense of Southern California, and now the Central Coast, being your home base, the place from which your perceptions, attitudes, and tastes began.

"But you dress like an Easterner and you seem to like the food in New York well enough," your prospective boss told you.  Both were true, except that you did not set out to dress like an easterner so much as not dress like certain styles associated with Las Vegas, Beverly Hills, and Hollywood.  

Even back then, when the reputation deck was more stacked to favor New York, there was no question one could find in the sprawl and mystery of Los Angeles the perfect bowl of soba, the ideal taco, the majestic barbecue, and those places who seemed to elevate the preparation of seafood and mollusks to perfection.  (Ah, The Tasty Q on Crenshaw.)

Back once more to 1367-B, where, looking at the manuscript before you now in terms of your awareness that its success of a particular title was predicated by the author's scholarly reputation, the lack of success a metaphorical tail to be pinned on the even more metaphorical donkey who was you.  Two years, you were thinking.  Two years before you will be thanked for your years of valuable service, wished the best of fortune with your career.

Yet another point:  Painful as it sometimes gets, you understood you would rather read bad fiction submissions than bad scholarly ones.  A fuse was lit somewhere.  For the next while, you heard it sizzling and sputtering, smelled its acrid smoke.  No more manuscripts brought home.  Extended walks at the beach with Molly.

The farewell meal was at the famed El Encanto Hotel, a splendid French onion soup with a tangy crust of cheese, followed by a butterfly of salmon, its skin crackling, its flesh moist and pink,  Asparagus, of course, and no mere Trader Joe's hollandaise sauce.  Over espresso, you were thanked for your years of "innovative-but-provocative" service, handed an envelope with severance pay, and offered the advice that perhaps your true strength is in trade publishing.

"I'll keep that in mind,"  you said.

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