I admit I was crushed. I'd spent two years of my life writing Modern Moabites. Simon and Shuster was my last hope but, after ten long months, they were the last of the big houses to categorically reject it. I brooded for a month. I went back over the manuscript to see how I could punch it up but just lost interest. It was as good as I could make it. It was a shame to have wasted all that time and energy.
I investigated some vanity presses but decided that was too close to literary masturbation. As impressed as chicks might be by a wittily inscribed copy of my novel, I don't think there is anyone alive who can't spot a vanity publisher. It's like wearing a hairpiece—you might think you look better, but that is always offset by those who whisper "rug" behind your back.
I went back to work for the postal service. Don't knock it and no jokes, please; it's not a bad job and, when I'm sixty-two, I'll be the one laughing at the end of the month when my fat pension check comes rolling in. We have a great branch and all get along so I cringe when I hear the terms "going postal." Since I've never told anyone I write fiction, there've been no condolences. Life goes on as usual. There is no stress. I've got tons of time to myself. I'm taking up golf. In fact, and I'm not rationalizing here like my central character Roy Winston often does in Modern Moabites, but getting passed over by all those publishers is the best thing that's ever happened to me.
First off, there's no fifteen city book tour. I hate to travel, especially to boring places like Boston, San Francisco and Las Vegas. And I could never see what the big deal was about writing "Best Wishes to Ernie and Mildred" on the flyleaf. Why don't people get a life? Who knows what to say when people gush about your talent and explain how the novel has changed their life. And what about all those TV and radio talk shows! God! the same stupid questions to be dealt with over and over again. "That great character, Roy Winston, reminds me a little of Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair. Have you ever read Thackeray?"
Furthermore, I'll never have to suffer a mediocre review in the Times and have people attempt to comfort me. "They crucified Steinbeck, you know." So what if I never meet Monique. She might be a nubile literary groupie from San Francisco with whom, after a torrid year long affair of uninhibited sex, our love child would result. He'd be brilliant but have a little issue with bedwetting and torturing small animals growing up. Monique's mother, incidentally, would have had the same obsession with writers of her generation. She tried to seduce, during the morning and afternoon seminars respectively, William Styron and John Barth, at a Washington, D. C. weekend literary fair in the late sixties.
Another good thing is that the curse of any second novel is off my shoulders. No sophomore jinx, no writer's block, no agent calling and, after ten minutes of idle banter, finally getting around to asking how Moabites Redux (a working title) is coming along. You're always only as good as your next project, you know.
And, if I had to prove myself over and over again by writing more and more books, how would I get away from the psychological pressure of publishers, agents and my adoring fans? I'd probably have to escape back to my roots, reconnect with my high school sweetheart and, after another whirlwind romance, realize that this also was a major error so I'd Ieave her in the lurch once again because artists are flighty that way and begin to search the world over for experiences to write about to get the literary monkey off my back.
I'd end up getting kidnapped in Saudi Arabia but freed after a videotaped decapitation threat if I promised to write a book about the life of an Islamic terrorist. Yet I'm scooped by another writer with a British accent who looks better in cargo pants on CNN than I ever would and can fill in when Larry King is on vacation. I am then reduced, when the Reader's Digest Large Print edition rejects the condensed version of my first person hostage account, to zip over to Mali, learn that click tongue language and re-begin the Moabite sequel in that patois for the audio book market. The creative juices don't flow there either, but I fall in love with a nun who procures village women for me since she and I can't have sex without tremendous guilt. We truly love one another, but I become intrigued by the overall design of the external female sexual organs as they relate to nationality. I discover North African women have butterfly shaped labia. I begin sketching the private parts of North African women and work my way south to Capetown where I find the vaginal shape in that region is more semi-circular. Along the way I meet many European and Scandinavian women who, in the interest of scientific research, undress at the drop of a hat so I'm able to do even more massive comparisons and thereby complete my survey in record time.
Unfortunately Esquire and Playboy will not print the account of my sexual adventure, replete with detailed pen and ink anatomical drawings, because it is too sexist and would blow the lid off the Land Bridge theory to North America. I am therefore forced to return to the States in intellectual disgrace where any women I ask out want nothing to do with me as they think I'm just using them as guinea pigs for my next project.
I begin to drink bar rye with Gulf War veterans in seedy Lower Manhattan dives for companionship. That becomes too expensive so I buy Mexican vodka in bulk and rarely leave my upper West Side studio apartment. I read an article in a complimentary issue of New York Magazine about killing oneself using helium so I venture out to a party store, get the kit and try it at home but fall down laughing and develop a concussion. I emerge from the experience in a pool of odious bodily fluids on my kitchenette floor one week later, hungry as hell but without any memory of my past life. I'm cured for two weeks, or so I think, but I soon discover cardboard cartons filled with unsold copies of my first novel which Simon and Schuster published. Then the advance they gave me for the second book, which I've already spent, and my inability to invent anything interesting all comes back to me. I begin thinking of other ways to end my own life that are painless and very quick. My creative processes are so frazzled I'm not even clever enough for that. I spend weeks on the daybed sobbing into a pillow which commemorates an agricultural fair in the Pennsylvania Dutch country. This goes on for years, my body fluids slowly ebbing. I die. I just dried up, evaporated creatively and physically so there is no trace just like Jimmy Hoffa.
You see, then, why I'm sincerely thankful to all those publishers who turned down my novel with a brief form letter. They've saved me endless torment the likes of which Dante never imagined. I'm alive again. God bless them, each and every one.
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