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Writing is extremely hard work, and writing funny is one of the hardest kinds of writing there is. The world is such a tragic place that it does not, it seems to me, require great creativity to depict its misery; any good journalist can do it. But to show it as silly against all evidence to the contrary--oh, that is very hard to do. For that reason, of all the things I have had published I am proudest of my humor.
I produced a lot of it when I was a full-time professional writer, and I enjoyed some gratifying successes. Several humor pieces appeared in Playboy, garnering a couple of the magazine's annual awards in the Best Satire category. As evidence I submit two foot-high lucite monoliths in which are embedded silver bunny medallions engraved with my name. They serve as bookends in my office.
The exigencies of starting my literary agency compelled me to stop writing, however, and that's how it stood until I began writing a column for Charles Brown's science fiction trade publication, Locus. The subject of my column was the publishing business.
Those of us who toil in that trade don't always have either the opportunity or the objectivity to see the comical aspects of what we do. For one seeking a dark view of our industry there is much confirmation: publishers gobbling each other up, dedicated editors summarily released from long-held jobs, an antique and horrifyingly wasteful system of distribution, books orphaned and ruined by corporate indifference, cruel inequities between a pampered handful of best-selling authors and a host of desperately underpaid and unappreciated ones--well, I could go on and on. And I did,chronicling these and other harsh realities in my column for twelve years.
As time went by, however, I achieved a bit of perspective, and began to see the ridiculous side of our enterprises. The world is indeed a tragic place, and if you take for your measure of tragedy such horrors as the destruction of the World Trade Center in the United States, mass starvation in Ethiopia, chemical genocide in Iran, murderous warfare in Israel, and floods in Bangladesh, then the horrors of orphaned books, underpromoted authors, and bankrupt publishers do seem petty, pathetic, and preposterous by comparison.
Besides, even at their most earnest, authors and publishing people are very funny. Maybe that is because we consider ourselves descendants of Eighteenth Century wits, the bearers of the torch of reason that illuminates human folly. Or maybe it's because the dispositions of writers and editors are, more often than not, sunny. And why should they not be? Compared to workers in most other fields, publishing people have it pretty easy. As for authors, though they are an oppressed class, you only have to hold their oppression up against that of South African miners or Mexican farm laborers to keep things in proportion.
Most of the lampoons in this book were originally published in Locus. I am grateful to Charles Brown for tolerating their appearance in its pages, as he told me on more than one occasion that he did not feel his publication is the appropriate forum for satire.
As for the poems, toward the end of 1986, the phenomenon of editorial job-hopping in the publishing industry reached such a frenzied state that I was compelled to pen a few score lines of good-humored Iambic tetrameter about it. These were accepted by Publishers Weekly, the magazine of the publishing trade--in large measure, I believe, because they included the only known rhyme with the name of the then-Bantam executive, Lou Aronica. After the first one, and for several years thereafter, PW editor John Baker called me every autumn requesting another. He seemed to be under the impression that poetic inspiration is seasonally guaranteed, like the running of maple sap. Luckily, the turbulence of the publishing world proved to be unending, and as long as publishers went on devouring each other or playing musical chairs or overpaying for dreadful books, I endeavored to rise to the challenge of setting it all forth in rhyme.
Fair reader, you are well advised not to linger over the specific names of the personalities who populate these poems. Instead, read them for the gist, as you might read a Milton poem laden with classical references. (Not that I would presume to compare myself to Milton, unless you mean the late television comedian Milton Berle.) In fact, the faster you read the poems, the more you will appreciate the frenetic madness of the last decade. I will, however, be happy to annotate the names for scholars sifting through the midden of that once-great civilization known as book publishing.