NORTHERN CALIFORNIA INDEPENDENT BOOKSELLERS ASSOCIATION

THE REMAINDERS OF THE DAY
by X. Libris

Chapter 17: Confrontation on the Plane: Part I

"Those idiots," groaned Simon Harper of Verschleppen U.S. as he snapped the airline's telephone into its seatback cradle.

Flying across the country from New York to San Francisco in a last-minute plan to "save a difficult author," Simon and his colleague, Warner Villard, had waited a good 12 minutes into the flight before calling their office at the 'Schlep Tower in Manhattan.

"What's the problem?" asked Warner, already wincing: That week the German conglomerate was attempting to move its 6,322 American publishing imprints into a single warehouse, and the mistakes were bound to be plentiful.

"It's that Patriarch bunch again," said Simon, referring to Patrick Patriarch's Sons, Nephews and Male Cousins, one of America's oldest and most prestigious firms before it was recently acquired by Verschleppen and "upgraded to the 20th century," much to the horrors of its long-time staff.

"I'm thinking now we should have waited a season before folding 'em in," said Simon gruffly. "After all, we bought Patriarch because it's got the kind of unbelievable backlist that publishers still drool over."

"I know," said Warner. "Why, a good half-dozen of their titles are still in print."

"But in the interim, nothing's gone right. I don't know what the problem is with Patriarch. They're too . . . too . . . "

"Diversified?"

"No, that's not it."

"Commercial?"

"God, no."

"Scholarly?"

"Thank heavens, no."

"Trendy?'

"No."

"Flash in the pan?"

"No."

"Well, what else is there? Oh, wait, you don't mean . . . literary?"

"That's it!" groaned Simon. "We're just not used to a publisher that acquires a book on 'its merits' instead of a healthy P&L statement. Not to mention that every Patriarch book is loaded with these these big blocks of text . . . "

"You mean paragraphs?"

"I'm not against them per se. It's when they get too lengthy that we're asking too much of the reader. I'm against no subheads. I'm against those long, involved metaphors . . . "

"Metaphors! God!" exploded Warner. "They went out with 'The Notebook of Jonathan Livingston from Madison County!' No matter how you slice it, that kind of writing was just too complicated for the average reader even then. "

"Well, that's the problem with publishing today, isn't it?" pondered Simon. "You can't sign up a book just because it's good. You have to think, 'Well, where is the reader in today's market? Is he in an e-mail mode? Is he transitioning from the Super Bowl to March Madness? Does he think Jackie Chan has peaked?' You just never hear that kind of language from those Patriarch people."

"But Simon, wait a minute. Isn't that why we're going to San Francisco?" asked Warner, using a whisper for the first time. They both turned around in their seats, looking for the three heads they would recognize from the Patriarch firm - Patrick Patriarch III, editor Perk Maxwell and marketing chief Maggie Editoria - talking in their own whispered frenzy about 10 rows toward the back of the plane.

"Look at that," said Simon. "Patrick is right now scheming to leave Verschleppen and take his star author, Justin Thyme, with him, the fool. As though anybody cares about Thyme just because he's won a Pulitzer, for god's sake."

"Of course you have to admit, a Pulitzer Prize still means something to American readers."

"Really?" Simon turned back to his colleague with disaste. "Tell me who won for fiction three years ago. Or last year. It's like those Nobel wannabes from every godforsaken foreign country except ours. Some academic press like Farfar, Strep & Guru republishes their stuff for the library sale and everybody forgets they ever existed."

"Well, of course, Toni Morri- . . . "

"- was an exception, thank heaven. More authors like her and we'd all be in trouble. No, I mean that Justin Thyme is just another unreadable novelist. That's why we're going to San Francisco, to tell him he's lucky Verschlepen wants to keep him in the fold. After all, nobody knows how to exploit a Pulitzer like Verschleppen."

"So true. The basic thing is, we can't let Patrick take him away from us. We've got to show the world Verschleppen is the best publisher in the world, even if some of its authors stink."

"When they win prizes, we stand behind 'em," said Simon.

"But we're not going let these weak-kneed little mavericks run amuck. We're big and we're going to keep the Patriarch people in the machine. We're strong and we can tell even a chain store like You've Got Piles! with its stacks and stacks of books everywhere which stacks should be Verschlep - "

"Shhh, wait a minute," hushed Simon. "I just realized Tubby Shafts and his head buyer Chintzy are on the plane. See them over on the right side, about four rows up?"

Sure enough, Warner looked over and caught a glimpse of Tubby, the head of You've Got Piles, who had fallen asleep over a galley of the hot new book for executives. "Your Inner Brat."

"I can't believe Tubby hasn't finished that book by now," he said. "True, it's very dense for 60 pages and he did start it two months ago."

"I think he's taking a break after that really tough read last year," mused Simon. "What was it? 'Compassionate Abuse: Crushing the Little Guy.' Of course, Chintzy's going to kill us when he hears about our problem today."

"

What is it?"

"The new warehouse never got Justin Thyme's book. For some reason the bindery shipped the whole printing to that irresponsible little independent in Posterior that's always on credit hold - you know, Francisco's."

"Eight thousand books to one store?" said Warner aghast. "We've published the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the year, and nobody's got it but one store?"

"Well, remember, 'we' didn't publish it. Patrick will always say it's a Patriarch book, not Verschleppen's. Another reason to put our foot down. We can't have editorial autonomy if all our imprints are going to claim some sort of independence. All the books would come out different from each other. Meanwhile, it's clear we've got to get rid of that Customer Service guy at Patriarch. He just doesn't know our business."

"How long has he been there?"

"Thirty-eight years. Drowning in petty problems. He thinks we should pay Francisco's mailing charges for returning the books. I told him these independents get their way too much as it is. True, You've Got Piles hasn't paid freight in years - ."

"But Simon, wait a minute. This could play into our hands," said Warner. "Think about it: We're flying out to Posterior to keep Justin Thyme with us. So we'll just walk in and claim the books for Verschleppen! Maybe we'll have Francisco's fill a few bookstore orders from there! Thyme will see we've got his best interests at heart, and everybody will be happy."

"Great idea, but . . . whoa, did you see that man coming out of the lavatory? Why, it's Jesse Zebra of bladderbooks.com! What is he doing here?"

"I can't believe it," Warner said, peering over the seat in front of him. "And look! His top gun, Yahoo Flochart, is with him! This must be big, Simon! They never leave their Yukon together!"

"But what's going, Warner? You don't see this many publishing types on a plane unless we're all going to BAE." Simon was referring to the book convention that had recently been abandoned by publishers but was coming into its own again, the annual Books in Absentia Exposition.

Warner nodded. "I dunno. Something fishy. I have a feeling we're all going to Posterior. Whoever gets to Justin Thyme first is going to be the winner."

Chapter 18: Confrontation on the Plane: Part II

"Don't look now," said Patrick Patriarch III as he returned to his seat on the airplane heading to San Francisco. "They're peeking at us again."

"Oh, for heaven's sake," said Maggie Editoria, head of marketing for Patrick's publishing firm, Patrick Patriarch's Sons, Nephews and Male Cousins. "I can't believe it either," seethed Perk Maxwell, Patrick's star editor.

Yet all three peeked back through the crevices in the seats in front of them. "You have to admit it's kind of funny," said Perk. "They think we can't see them, but their heads look like a couple of bowling balls sticking out from the chai

rs."

"Well, to heck with 'em," said Patrick, trying to steer his colleagues' attention back to their inflight meeting. "We can't afford to be distracted," he said. "This is a mutiny we're planning, and they know it."

"They" were Simon Harper and Warner Villard, who headed the U.S. office of Verschleppen, the giant German conglomerate that had recently acquired Patriarch, itself one of America's oldest and most prestigious publishing houses.

From the start of that merger, the Patriarch staff had rebelled against the many corporate policies Verschleppen imposed on the venerable New York house.

For example, while the other of Verschleppen's 6,322 publishing imprints were contributing to Black Prejudice Month throughout the chain at You've Got Piles! with its stacks and stacks of White Aryan Race books everywhere, Patriarch had refused.

Patrick also supported Perk and his editors for objecting to Verschleppen's practice of "line marketing" on books that Patriarch was about to publish.

"Look at this," Perk huffed, showing a page from "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" to the other two. He was working on reprint orders for the famous Patriarch Paperbacks and was furious at editorial changes made by the "Verschleppen dunderheads in Line Marketing who have never edited a book in their lives."

Perk pointed to the passage in which Alice, sliding down the rabbit hole, worries about her cat, Dinah. "There are no mice in the air," she says, "but you might catch a bat, and that's very like a mouse, you know. But do cats eat bats, I wonder?"

Verschleppen's Line Marketing committee had not liked this passage at all. Made up of employees in sales, promotion and publicity departments, the committee had used its "marketing lens" to "soften" and "streamline" anything that might seem offensive to cranky bookstore buyers and readers.

Thus Alice's words, "you might catch a bat" were changed to "you might PLAY WITH a bat." Instead of "do cats eat bats, I wonder?" Alice says, "do cats BEFRIEND bats, I wonder?" Each time Alice repeats, "do cats eat bats?" the diligent marketers wrote "do cats MAKE ROOM FOR bats," "do cats VOTE FOR bats," and "do cats ROOT FOR bats?"

Lewis Carroll's text was now very cheery and "non conflictive," as the marketers put it.

"Why on earth - ?" Maggie started to ask.

"We can't have animal cruelty in literature!" Perk exploded. "We can't get a call from PETB (People for the Ethical Treatment of Bats), you know! It's the opinion of the line marketers that if Lewis Carroll lived today, he would WANT such changes to be made because he's 'unusually verbose,' and - "

"I can't listen to this any longer," said Maggie. "We're on this airplane to plot our escape from Verschleppen and start a new company with Justin Thyme at the top of our author list. So let's get our plans in order."

Thyme, whose long-awaited novel, "Ureter Sleeping," had just won a Pulitzer Prize, was about to make a rare appearance at Francisco's Bookstore in Posterior, California. The three Patriarch heads knew that when they left Verschleppen and started their own company, bringing Thyme along would send a message to other serious writers to come on board as well.

At the same time, they knew, "The Two Stuffies" of Verschleppen, as Simon and Warner had been nicknamed behind their ample backs by rueful Patriach staffers, were on their way to Posterior to win Thyme over as well. They hadn't figured out which of Verschleppen's 6,324 American imprints (two added within the last hour) they would eventually shove Thyme into. The point was to make a big splash of "embracing anew" this Pulitzer Prize author, thereby sticking it to the treasonous Patriarch deserters and bolstering the image of the Verschleppen uber all - well, above all.

"If Justin isn't slogging his way through a fifth of Scotch by the time we reach him," Perk said, "I'm sure he'll stick with us. After all, we discovered him."

"YOU discovered him, you mean," said Maggie. It was well known throughout the industry (which is to say, rumors flew at various lunch tables) that Perk had written much of "Ureter Sleeping" himself while Justin lay dead drunk on the floor. Perk himself had never owned up to his actual role as Justin's editor, however.

"Well, I think we've got the hot new book for next season," Perk said in a whisper. The Two Stuffies had once again peered over the backs of their seats 10 rows away, as if they could hear every word.

"You don't mean -- " Maggie asked as quietly as she could.

"Yes," said Perk, "Joe Disparagiola is signing with us as we speak." The three impulsively joined hands over Maggie's tray table to signal solidarity and celebration.

Only a few days before, during the West Spinster Dog Show, which was run entirely by unmarried women, one of the co-anchors, former baseball player Joe Disparagiola, had called the leading female pit bull "a great-looking bitch."

Unexpectedly, a very loud outcry rose up from the women who ran the Show, brought their dogs to the Show and watched the Show. "Hey gals, cool out, " Disparagiola had said, unintentionally fanning the flames of outrage even further.

When his co-anchor, the respected dog scholar Roger Cargas, pointed out that "bitch" was a historically valid term for female dogs and that the protesters were simply ignorant of the word's etymology, the uproar grew worse.

"Joe Disparagiola should have known that just the SOUND of the word is insulting to noncanine females," said Cammie Pygmalia, whose c.v. listed her as Chief Spokeswoman For Everything in the World. "Don't try to dilute the impact of this gigantic slur by drawing on fact, tradition or dictionary definitions," she said. "In this case, the ignorance of people living today is paramount."

As a result, although Joe Disparagiola was forced to resign, he came back fighting. His manuscript - with 1.5 pages competed so far and a dynamite title, "Son of The Bitch Returns" - had been the buzz of New York publishing circles and the subject of a heated auction. Editors from many houses bid themselves into a frenzy with offers topping 8 figures and escalator clauses with vacation packages, limousines, family inheritances and first sons thrown in.

Perk had stuck to the background, however, depending upon Joe Disparagiola to remember the one thing Perk had that nobody else could touch: An ability to help Joe write the other 354.5 pages.

Next: Confrontation on the Plane, Part III