Saturday morning smile: a short story for all you writers &editors out there.
My alarm rang at 6:00 and I dragged myself out of bed, knowing I’d need the extra half-hour walking time this morning to clear my head. There was a stack of work waiting for me at the office and a long walk would put me more in the mood to tackle it.
After two cups of coffee and a hot shower, I felt like I could face the world again; after the hour’s walk I was really invigorated and ready to do my job. Today I’m going to find that best seller! I promised myself as I slid into my car seat and zoomed off to work.
“Good morning, Chelsey,” I said to my secretary as I walked past her desk. “Anything new?”
“Just the usual,” she answered, pointing to a stack of manuscripts ready to be mailed back to their authors. “Twenty three automatic rejects; seven for you to look at.”
“I guess that’s what I get for taking Friday off. I’m sure glad I have you to do the first sort for me.” I picked up the stack of manuscripts in the PERUSE basket and walked into my office.
The sign on my door read ‘Acquisitions’ but it might as well have said “Exhaustions.” It was in this room that I became exhausted every day. Maybe I should consider becoming a hamburger flipper at Burgers Abound?
“Nonsense…I love my job,” I told myself firmly as I sat at my desk. “I revel in the challenge of finding that really great story that will skyrocket our little publishing firm into the big game!”
I picked up the dozen-or-so manuscripts that were already on my desk and added the latest ones to the bottom of the pile. Someday I’ll get caught up. I dream the impossible dream: an IN basket with only THREE manuscripts.
Taking a few minutes to arrange my laptop and notepad, I sat down and picked up the top manuscript. No SASE. These didn’t usually make it to my desk. Chelsey must have thought it worthwhile.
I skimmed the cover letter. Author says she took a six week night class on Writing Stunning Fiction at a community college. Hmm… Word count 135,000–about the size of a normal novel. Okay so far. So I started:
On the shores of a most beautiful, shining lake there stood a quaint little log cabin, surrounded by a rich green verdant forest. Here lived the most beautiful Indian maiden with long silky black tresses. She lived all alone with only the most loyal animal companions to keep her company. The friendly little chipmunk, the clever fox, the gentle deer with its soft brown velvet coat…these were her best friends.
One morning as the radiant sun beamed down warmly on this glorious scene, the maiden stepped from her cabin and sat in front of the door, basking in the refreshing warmth of golden heavenly orb…
I glanced at the page count: 376 pages of superlative adjectives. Whoopee! Then I scolded myself; if the story’s good some of these can be edited out. I read on…
She sat gazing at the scintillating, pristine waters of the lake and sighed, a deep longing in her heart. If only some handsome brave would come skimming across the pristine waters to carry her away from her lonely existence, her bliss would be unsurpassed!”
“Oh, lady–get a life!” I exclaimed. “You’re going to get fat & lumpy just sitting there.” Where is the rest of the tribe, anyway? I wondered. I flipped the pages, skimming through several chapters to see if anyone else showed up. Chapter 4 began with a handsome brave who lived all alone on some mountain, longing for a companion. My, but these are antisocial people.
I sighed. Now it’s going to take another seven chapters to get them together. I turned to the end–which is exactly what a lot of readers would do–and read the last paragraph:
With utter rapture the young maiden threw herself into the arms of the handsome raven-haired brave. With utmost tenderness he swept her off her feet and carried her to his canoe. With swift powerful stokes he paddled away across the sparkling waters into the most glorious sunset, taking her to his wigwam far away on the mountain.
Yep, I thought. What else? Is he going to paddle right up the mountain? But she isn’t going to think much of a wigwam after her cozy little cabin. I wonder if she built it herself? Maybe she’ll build him one? I hope she took her axe.
Oh, Trish, I scolded myself. You’re far too practical to be a fiction editor! Especially soppy stuff like this. Then a naughty idea popped into my head: I could write a new ending! Something like this: And with a flip of her wrist the wicked editor tossed the beautiful maiden into the shredder. Nya-ha-ha.
And I proceeded to do just that. The End.
I must have a talk with Chelsey about her sense of humor. I picked up another manuscript –somewhere in this pile there will be something that we can publish and make our fortune on– but before I started reading my office door opened and Chelsey came in.
“A Mr. Johnson from the Blabb-Herald just called asking for permission to quote something from the speech you made to the writers’ group last week.”
“Well! And which of my many wise and witty remarks did he want to quote?” I asked with a bit of puff. Let’s face it, you can’t help but puff up a bit when people ask to quote you.
“You said something about some writers being like an old Ford you once had; the battery didn’t want to hold a charge very long.”
“What! Did I really say that? And he wants to quote that! What is he – a Chrysler dealer?”
“He didn’t really say.”
“Call him back and arrange a meeting. I want to find out what he’s going to do with it before I give my permission. Is there any chance I could get sued for saying that? Maybe you should call my lawyer, too.”
“Okay. By the way, here’s another manuscript. This one is kind of interesting.” As she handed it to me I caught the twinkle in her eye.
I glanced at it suspiciously. “What’s the storyline? I’ve already suffered through one of your little jokes.”
She laughed. “Thought you might find that amusing. This one’s about a boy in Chicago who was born to an unwed mother. She died when he was born, so he was raised in a foster home. His foster dad was an undertaker. When the boy got older this man wanted him to help with the bodies, and he got spooked and ran away. Living out on the streets he came in contact with a group of thieves who were stealing men’s hankies, and one day when he was snatching one from the pocket of a rich and kind gentleman, he fainted for lack of food and…”
“Hold on…” I interrupted. “When did this story supposedly take place?”
“Around the turn of the century.”
“Well…I believe it mentions Y2K somewhere…”
“Yeah, right. In these days of Kleenex they’d be lucky to find many pockets with a hanky in them, never mind trying to sell used hankies. Actually, it might be pretty hard to find “gentlemen” too. Did the writer send an SASE?”
“Yes, he did.”
“Then send it back. Tell him Oliver Twist has been done.”
“I think he knows,” she answered. “He’s signed himself Darles Chickens.”
“Oh, he’s got to be kidding. That reminds me, Chelsey. Someday I’m going to fire you for your sense of humor. Darles Chickens!”
“But I haven’t even gotten to the part where a psychopathic killer is hunting for him amongst the tenements…”
“Ah, that too! Just about every novel on the shelves nowadays has a psycho lurking somewhere in its inky pages. Most of our readers are parents with children and they are not going to go for a story of some psychopathic killer stalking a child.”
“You know, Chelsey, for centuries every tale had to have a big bad wolf trying to gobble someone up. But since the animal protection people have gotten involved, big bad wolves must be spoken of kindly. It was all bad press, we’re told. ‘The gentle wolf has been slandered and vilified,’ they say. So nowadays psychopaths are the big bad wolves. Perhaps someday they’ll form a society and push for better press, too.”
“Oh, help!” she exclaimed. “What morbid ideas you have, Grandma! Maybe you need to go for a walk in the fresh air. And watch out for wolves.” She went back to her desk, shutting the door behind her.
I sifted through the scripts again, found a title that sounded promising, and flipped through it. But before I could get back to Page One, Cathy, the Children’s Editor, knocked on my door, manuscript in hand. (I confess: I do envy her those four and five page scripts.)
“Hey, Trish. I have a story here I want to discuss with you. It’s about an owl that befriends a lost kitten.”
“Now that would be a great friendship,” I said. “Hello, lunch!”
“Don’t be naughty. He was a kindly owl and saves this poor lost kitty from dying of starvation by bringing him mice to eat.”
“I can just imagine it. ‘Here,’ says the owl, ‘I’ll save you from starvation by saving myself from starvation. You eat these and I’ll eat you. That way we can kill two birds with one stone.’ Er…I guess an owl might not think in those terms.”
“You’re becoming an owl,” she warned me. “Preschoolers might go for it…before they reach that cynical stage.” She frowned meaningfully in my direction.
I glanced at the clock. “You’re right. Time for coffee break. A Coffee Encounters double chocolate latte would mellow me down to a marshmallow. How about it?”
“Anything to help you out,” she laughed. “After all, you still need to dig that best seller out of this pile.” She flipped her finger through the stack of manuscripts.
“You said it. While were having coffee, I’ll tell you the tale of a lovely Indian maiden and her handsome brave.”
Really, I do love my job. Where else would I meet up with the Darles Chickenses of this world?