November 28, 2023

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night . . .


It has been said that one of the great financiers of the early 20th century liquidated his portfolio shortly after he discovered his chauffeur had dabbled in the market—and shortly before the great crash of 1929. I don’t know if the story is true or not. Nor do I care. But I certainly get the point—when the amateurs take the field, it’s time to sell your season tickets.

The question now rattling about my head is, “Will I heed the old nabob’s advice in light of what I see coming across my desk, or will I hang on to the bitter end, hoping the home team of old will take the field and route the illiterate mob?”

Here’s what I’m talkin’ about.

Every day it seems, I am harangued by someone’s grandmother who has spent the last two years attempting to recall and write down every significant moment of her life, or someone’s ex-alcoholic uncle who feels that writing about his misdeeds will cure the pain, or the would-be family genealogist who has discovered she is related to Gerald Ford (which also explains her dizzy spells, her uncle’s alcoholism and her grandmother’s inability to recall any moments of significance) and feels the rest of the world needs to know about it.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand their desire. We all like to hear ourselves in words. But, please. If you must put it all down on paper, consider limiting its distribution. Please don’t send any more self-published material. I know for a fact that I’m not near as interested as you are in hearing that your uncle Cosmo was once a drummer for Meatloaf or that your father worked at the very first Domino’s Pizza and claims to have made the first California-Style, Radish-Ketchup and Sardine-Fest deep dish. By the way, did you also note in your narrative that he and his best friend Herb Wheeler also smoked their way through three trash bags of Acapulco’s finest that same summer? Of course not, it’s about Dad.

And therein lays just the tip of the problem. Most of the yarns that come across my desk are about as shallow as a lounge lizard in full rut. And the lack of compelling content or characters does not stop these writers from also omitting plot, narrative, theme, structure, style, tone, setting, and, in most instances, punctuation. You would think they could make room for something other than: “The bone-chilling scream split the evening like a nine-inch cleaver, cleaving its way through an evening. The first part of the evening, before the big cleave, was silent like a cat on marshmallows, and the second half, after the cleaver cleaved the night, was a rowdy and raucous affair in which my grandmother and my drunken uncle took turns rolling fat ones and creating bizarre pizzas, each one more twisted than the last.”

Yikes! The only redeeming value with this sentence is that it did not begin with, “It was a dark and stormy night…”

And, even if you can forgive the fact that these books which keep accumulating on my desk, lack any of the common elements of a story line, you can’t forgive the fact that many of these writers simply can’t write.

Here…I rest my case: “By the time Lucinda had reached the window sill, Ruben (Lucinda’s cousin Ruben, not the father of her BMW mechanic) had trotted off to the edge of eternity, hoping for all the world he would find inner peace and, if he was lucky, also a winning lottery ticket, which, if he were to cash, could be his ticket to the good life and a chance to come back and make Lucinda his own forever and ever.”

Or: “It was late the night Mrs. Merkel shot her husband for having shacked up with the paperboy and humiliated her for the last time.”

I’m not paid enough to read this kind of stuff. Nor can I make it up. But the fact remains there is a steadily growing number of aspiring writers who, having attended some feel-good workshop at a corner yoga center in Sedona, now feel (because they have been told so by a middle-aged unemployed adverting salesman who they have just paid $140 to say so) that they can write.

They can’t. I mean they can. Obviously they are doing it or at least their cheap imitation of “it.” No one, obviously, can stop them. They will do what they want, or as the ad salesman would have it, “what they must.” It would be a laughable matter except for the fact their books continue to clutter my desk. It is a situation that became untenable over the holidays. I called in Sir William Randolph’s swat team and had my desk and the entire editorial department cleared as a holiday gift to myself.

The next morning, however, there were three more bubble-pack mailers on my desk when I arrived. I knew right off what they contained. Yes, you’re right, it was a dark and stormy sight.

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