Saturday, September 12, 2009

Breaking the ice

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, if I may call you that, welcome to today's seminar on the future of publishing. Our distinguished guest lecturer is Professor Ollie Strohfresser of the Acme Publishing School here in New York City. (light applause) Professor Strohfresser has taught at Acme for nearly twenty-five years, the last four of those years as chairman of the department of "supply chain metrics." I have no idea what that is, but I'm sure we'll find out tonight. (some giggles) In addition to his storied teaching career, Professor Strohfresser has also managed to compile an unblemished record as a publishing consultant -- virtually every company he has done work for has seen its sales and profits decline substantially after following his recommendations. I see heads nodding out there -- you know who you are. But because we're in the publishing industry and we get to use words any way we want, we declare his record to be a rousing "success." (loud applause). The Professor has also written three books -- two published by Acme and one by Bigego Press -- and numerous short articles for too many obscure literary journals and blogs to name. He is, in short, one of us. He shares our reality. And we are delighted to have him here. Please welcome Professor Ollie Strohfresser. (raucous applause, standing ovation)

"Thank you for that lovely introduction, Lydia. All the time I am thinking, why is she saying all those nice things about me? (
polite laughter) Then I remember. Oh yes, I am getting paid for this. (more laughter) Let me begin like I always do, with a story to break your ice.

"There is a man who walks into a bar. (
tittering) No, this I am not making up. Perhaps you know the type -- at first glance he appears the artistic type, yet we look closer and we see it is, how shall we say, a veneer. Yes, it is a costume he wears. (shuffling of seats) He walks into the bar, this man with all his hair still on top of his head. He orders a Bombay Sapphire martini up straight. He asks whether they have those nice olives with almonds in the center. The bartender she knows how to fill a jigger, so she tells him, yes they do. She stirs the gin with its ice, puts it in front of him, and says, 'That will be twelve dollars, please.' The man says, "Look, I never carry cash and sad to say my credit cards have reached their limit. I used them to secure a loan for a deal I'm working on. A really big deal. But I've got a friend who's just finished a novel and the manuscript is right here in my bag. If you comp me the martini, I'll pay you back double once I sell his book. What do you say?' I see some of your eyes widen -- maybe you have met this man? Perhaps he is here among us, no? (again, tittering)

"The bartender says, 'Let me see it.' The man gives his manuscript to the bartender who starts to read it. Minutes tick away and she is appearing to be engrossed in this novel of his. After a while, she looks up and says, 'Hey, this is really quite good. I can tell your friend is a real writer -- the way he shades his characters -- wonderfully naturalistic, nicely stippled. (
the crowd giggles) It's almost like we know these people. Also impressive is his use of physical descriptions to underscore the overarching themes of loss and redemption. And the atmosphere of foreboding is sustained beautifully -- it's almost palpable. The writing gives me goose-bumps. A lot of work went into this.'

"'Say, you know a lot about writing, don't you? So how come you're a bartender? With your knowledge, you should be a publisher, don't you think?' (
scattered laughter)

"'Well, I used to be an editor at one of the big houses here in town, but I got laid off because none of the books I worked on made enough money to cover the overhead. Even if they sold well -- they still barely earned back the advances we paid. I've got to eat, so now I tend bar. It's not bad. Even on a so-so night, I make more than I used to.'

"'It seems like we're wearing similar shoes, no? So you'll let me have the martini?'

"'No way. You're the eleventh person this week who's tried to use an unpublished manuscript as collateral to pay for a drink. What do you think this is? -- a publishing company? (
loud laughter which quickly sputters out) I'm not going to lose this job because of a book. Go sell the damn novel and come back here when you've got money. Now out you go.' And then she kicks him out into the street." (a bright round of applause)

'Now we discuss supply chain, yes?'

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