Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Writer’s Christmas Tale


Three wise guys from the East Side went and found the baby dressed in swatting clothes and lying in a manager.

Meredith Soul, Vice President in charge of author relations at Disadvantage Publishers, was seated at her desk thumbing through the royalty checks that had been placed there for review several hours earlier. She stopped when she reached the one addressed to Melody McDonald. After three years of being on the market and selling only five copies, Melody’s book had suddenly jumped up to the 150,563rd position of best sellers, out of more than 12 million books on sale at Silos & Common. The jump was amazing, since Publishers had done nothing to promote the book; the recent sales were due mainly to the author’s efforts among friends, family and their acquaintances.

Her reflections were interrupted by the sounds of carolers singing outside the otherwise quiet streets: “God rest ye, merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay…” She stood up and closed the window; the noise was distracting her and she needed to think. The carolers, however, had reminded her that it was Christmas Eve; perfect – now she had two days in which she could work in peace and quiet.

After picking up the check addressed to Melody she looked at the e-mail on the computer screen; Melody had been particularly pressing lately. It was indeed true that the check from Silos and Common had been deposited into the company’s account a month ago, but Melody had already been waiting for three years to receive royalties for her book and Meredith was convinced that a few more months waiting wasn’t going to change a thing: what if there had been no sales at all? She wouldn’t have received anything anyway.

Meredith picked up the book in question and swatted at the unseasonal fly buzzing around her head; the annoying creature zipped out of her reach as the phone rang. She let the call go to voice mail – she rarely answered her phone because she never knew when an irate author was going to ruin her day by asking embarrassing questions about how things were going with his or her book, and it was best to let them think she was out of the office.

“Hi Merry, this is Ned Sugarsnak.” Ned had been one of the editors at the Publisher before the company had transferred from Park Avenue to Connecticut (less accessible to authors) and he had started his own publishing company. He was a nice enough guy, but she didn’t want to talk to him, either.

“It’s good to see you’re out of the office for awhile… I think. Listen I need to talk to you about one of your authors, so give me a call ASAP. Have a Merry Christmas, Merry.” She definitely didn’t want to talk to him – Ms. McDonald had been one of his favorite authors before he left Publishers and Meredith did not want to go there at the moment. “The name is MEREDITH,” she grumbled, “not Merry.”

She switched from internet to her excel files. The fly once more alighted on the screen, blocking her view of the numbers that signaled the rise in sales of Ms. McDonald’s book, How to Avoid Lunacy with Five Kids under Eight. The phone rang just as Meredith reached for the book so she could swat the fly; still staring at the fly, she picked up the phone instead. Flabbergasted, she stared blankly at the phone.

“Hello…hello. Is anyone there?” She continued to stare in horrified silence at what she had done, her eyes and mouth wide open. “Hello, Ms. Soul? This is John Dough, Ms. Melody McDonald’s lawyer; I am calling in her behalf. Are you there?”

Not that dratted woman, again, she thought. Rolling her eyes, she responded, “Uh…Hello. This is Meredith Soul speaking. How may I help you, Mr. Dough?”

“I have been speaking with our mutual client, Ms. Melody McDonald, and she is very distraught. It seems that she has written several e-mails to you regarding royalty payments that she feels she is entitled to receive. I have read through her contract with you and feel I must concur with her assessment. Our client has sold several hundred books, putting her well over the required fifty.”

Meredith was well aware of this; just before the fly had landed on the screen, she had seen that sales had arrived at 950 copies, and she wondered if it might not be a good idea to order a second printing. In fact, it had registered as a Top Ten best seller at Silos & Common one day in October…

“In fact, Ms. McDonald reached Best Seller status in October, earning herself the right to have that printed on her next book.” Was the man a mind reader? “At the moment, Ms. McDonald is in sore need of these funds, and since they are much overdue, we request immediate remittance of the entire sum. If nothing is received by January 2, 2013, our next conversation will be in court. Good evening and Happy Holidays.”

“Good Evening to you, too, sir. Good bye.” And good riddance to you. Happy Holidays, indeed. Slamming the phone back onto the hook, she walked back over to the window and glanced out. Obviously, the warmer temperatures that had kept the fly alive had plummeted; snow swirled relentlessly from the sky, covering the road below in a cold, wet, white carpet. She watched mesmerized as the wind, howling like a starving wolf, molded the snow into recognizable shapes that seemed to emerge from the flurries, before her very eyes.

She rubbed her eyes as one of the snowy shapes seemed to float toward her. She gasped: the figure now standing before her was Mr. Agnello, the owner of Disadvantage Publishers. He lived up on East Park Avenue in Manhattan, and had left for home hours ago. He tapped on the window, beckoning for her to open it up.

“Either I need to start wearing glasses, or I should start writing my own books,” she thought. She reluctantly opened the window as the tapping became more insistent. “Why doesn’t he just come through the front door? Maybe he forgot his keys.” As she turned toward the door to let him in that way, his voice echoed through the room.

“Ms. Soul, you must listen to me,” he thundered. “I had a car accident on the way home today; my car hit a patch of black ice and slid into the car in front of me, just as the car behind me slid into me. I was told to come warn you that the check will save more than one life and reputation.” He pointed toward another shape that had appeared in the snow-covered street. She jumped back, appalled, as she recognized the figure before her as a rundown version of herself.

“Remember, mail the check tonight on your way home.” His voice faded as he slowly floated back into the snow, leaving behind the memory of Meredith dressed in rags. She turned, shuddering, from the window.

That lingering memory stayed with her as she slid the check into an envelope and addressed it, slipped into her coat and opened the door. The pesky fly buzzed in a circle around her head, and then preceded her into the blustery night. The memory persisted until she reached the mailbox on the corner; as she dropped the envelope through the slot, she thought she heard the thundering voice of poor Mr. Agnello exclaim as the memory fled from her mind, “Merry Christmas, Ms. Merry Soul, and to you a good night.”