Fun, Follies and Loss of Innocence in Novel Land

A flying saucer lands on me

Man staring up at a landing UFO

How did my Old West saga turn into a space opera?

My previous post — I Give Birth to a Baby — told how I came up with a desperate ploy to get cash from a publisher so I could keep writing full-time.

I settled on churning out a western because I knew all about the Old West from watching cowboy shows on television.

Thanks to blessed inspiration and being kicked in the ass by desperation, I had the manuscript ready to go in a month.

Remember, that’s when typewriters ruled the writing world, and you had to retype your messy original draft into a clean manuscript on real paper, hoping that the jitters from coffee overload didn’t cause too many typos or that you didn’t rub a hole in the paper when erasing your mistakes.

When done, I tenderly laid my creation in an orange box that used to hold blank typing paper, wrapped the box in brown paper that formerly was a grocery sack (we’re back in the Dark Ages, folks), scrawled out a publisher’s New York City address, and taped up the whole mess.

Guy shaking piggy bank

Can’t we get some more pennies out of this thing?

At the post office, you count out coin after coin to pay not the weight rate, but the cheaper manuscript rate.

That’s the bone Uncle Sam threw to starving writers to help keep us alive and writing in our underwear so that culture would continue to flourish throughout the nation.

Then comes the Big Wait on the publisher

You spend the days sending brain waves into the ionosphere, willing the publishing company to get its butt off the pot and change your life.

Time goes by, and by, and by, and by, and . . .

What’s this? A package from the publisher!

Whoa, it’s heavy. I’m guessing they’ve already typeset my book in galley form, ready to go to press.

Yeehaw, padnuh!

What a feeling to know that my novel is going to be PUBLISHED.

I will get money.

I will eat something besides bananas and Spam.

I will buy new underwear.

Or at least wash my current underwear.

My baby gets ugly

I cut the sisal string off the package, tear off the wrapping paper and lift the cardboard lid.

There it is — my baby.

Wait a minute! That’s too ugly to be my baby.

What have they done?

The publisher’s minions butchered my manuscript!

Dictionary entry Rewrite

Oh, the horror! The dreaded R word! Without even consulting me!

They rewrote it as a space opera. Six-shooters have become ray guns.

Instead of plaid shirts and jeans, the characters are wearing body-hugging one-piece outfits with no fly in the front for taking a manly whiz in the desert dust, much less in outer space.

Then it all became clear.

The cover page had someone else’s name

It wasn’t my book.

It really was about a flying saucer. And it landed on me.

The blame-fool publisher sent me some other underwear writer’s manuscript.

Instead of “Death Rides the Picketwire,” I was looking at “Zarp Fingers the Wormhole.”*

*To protect the innocent, I have changed the other book’s name. Besides, that writer’s actual title sucked. My suggestion has more panache and marketing appeal.

Ooh, wait a minute, pilgrim! Perhaps the publisher wanted me to write a promotional blurb for that guy’s book, and he would do the same for mine.

Ah, here’s a letter. It’s, it’s, it’s . . . a rejection letter. For Zarpie. Poor sap. His hopes of building a new life of fame and fortune were gone with the solar wind.

Uh-oh. Now we’ve got a problem

What would you do with his flying saucer manuscript sitting on your wobbly kitchen table? Fling it into the waste basket?

Well, I couldn’t do that. I knew how I had labored over my missive, and I’m sure the other guy worked like a dog to create his pile of rejected paper.

Let’s face it, writers have to look out for one another, especially when a publisher can’t get an address correct.

So, I re-taped the pieces of the ripped-off wrapping paper until the package looked like Leatherface, trudged to the post office and counted out coins to send the outer space manuscript flying not into a wormhole but back to the rotten publisher in the wormy Big Apple.

I included a letter saying, in effect, this ain’t mine, buckaroo. Of course, the unstated subtext of my letter was: Dear Sir or Ms., What kind of a dumbass are you?

On reconsideration, maybe I was the dumbass . . .

Man slaps forehead

. . . because in my excitement at supposedly having been sent typeset galleys, I had forgotten about certain items which precede that phase, such as negotiating a contract, bargaining over the advance, and arguing with an editor over massive changes to make the book publishable.

So, in that same letter I nicely inquired about those items as they pertained to my own book.

The publishing company got back to me with a nicely worded letter that said it wasn’t necessary to negotiate those items because my manuscript didn’t fit their needs.

The unstated subtext of their rejection was: Please don’t send us any more of your western cow manure.

Crap. Now what?

NEXT: I’m Tagged as a Misfit

QUESTION: What cow manure have you written?


  1. Nancy Henderson

    This made me laugh from beginning to end. You are totally hilarious.
    Thank you for making my day. God Bless you and keep on writing.

    • Phil Cobb

      I will, Nancy, and thank you for making my day.

  2. Chuck Bartok

    I am so glad Nancy Lou referred me to your site. Still laughing.

    • Phil Cobb

      Thanks for stopping in, Chuck. (And a tip o’ the hat to Nancy.)

  3. Diane Stephenson

    Thanks for sharing another dose of laughter. You definitely have a way with words that brings out the smiles.

    • Phil Cobb

      You’re welcome, Diane.

  4. Lissa Johnston

    Now I have the visual version of an earwig and can’t get the image of fingering a wormhole out of my head. Lovely. ????

    • Phil Cobb

      Consider yourself lucky. You’ve been zarpped!

  5. Anitha

    Truly said. Writing is indeed a thankless profession until your manuscript gets returned with a note of thanks. However, perseverance always pays. Being in the know-how brings results. Thank you for sharing your inspirational journey.

    • Phil Cobb

      You are welcome, Anitha. Some of the journey wasn’t fun, but I’m laughing about it now.

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