Why you should care

What harm could come from asking experts for some publishing advice? Nothing short of large-scale lunacy.

There was a certain kind of sleepy reptilian cool about him, and when they told us to take our seats, I heard him murmur under his breath, “Where?” About 20 of us had been huddled around equipment at a center table at the start of a course in video production at New York’s School of Visual Arts.

We sat down, but I knew something no one else had yet figured out. His single-word query was a product not of classroom clowning, but of a skewed world view. I watched him when he said it and knew that he had gone a dozen different ways with the instruction to sit down, and about half of them, based on his smirk and subsequent murmuring, were totally amusing.

His name was Josh and he wore thrift store Stacy Adams dress shoes, mud-colored bell-bottoms and a rust-colored crushed velour shirt. During a decade, the ’70s, when everyone was, in general, carefully coiffed, his hair was piled up on his head, uncombed but not unclean.

He was also a Black Jew who spoke Hebrew fluently and was what some might have uncharitably described as a “character.” It was probably inevitable that we’d become friends, and so we did. He was 16 and I was 14 with an already pronounced interest in media. The class was producing a news program, and I’d chosen to be a director. One day in the control room while listening to the instructor I noticed Josh, on Camera 1, whispering.

“Is he talking to himself?” I asked.

I was in a horror movie because we absolutely couldn’t show her Debt to Madame Lopez. … I drew one finger across my throat. If we showed the manuscript to her, we were dead.

My engineer shrugged. “Put me on his channel, please.” With my headset on, I could hear Josh loud and clear, or rather soft and smooth, and a woman’s voice also. Searching the monitors I discovered that he was talking to a production assistant, a classmate.

“So, what’s your favorite position?” I yanked my head around to the monitor where I could see her. She was … smiling. We were teenagers, it was 1976, and while Josh was no kind of handsome, as I listened I understood why she was smiling: He was droll as fuck and what he didn’t have in looks he much more than made up for in game.

I switched channels and got back to our news program, but making our way to the subway later on that day I asked him what the hell he had been doing. He smiled. “I was interviewing her.”

For? “Research. For the novel I’m finishing up.”

I’d been sending letters to magazines like Esquire and The New Yorker asking them to publish me since I was about 9 years old, and what I lacked in completed product I evidenced in hustle. So I had 20 questions about his novel and before he had answered three, I announced that I was going to be his agent and we were going to get it published.

We shook hands at the subway and he said he’d bring it the next day so I could read what I was now going to be repping. The next day he passed me a yellow bound book, handwritten, 250-some-odd pages in his tightly curled script and on the cover was a sticker with the title of the book, block-lettered there: Debt to Madame Lopez.

Wait, what?

In the age of Al Goldstein, Plato’s Retreat and Studio 54, stranger things had not only happened, they were happening.

Flipping through the pages, I found a James Bond–esque story of skulduggery, political peril and lots and lots of totally pornographic sex. These 250 double-sided pages of filth followed the exploits of Madame Lopez, a voracious femme fatale with designs on world domination. Not what I was expecting. But it’s not so much what you sell but how you sell it, or so I told myself. And in the age of Al Goldstein, Plato’s Retreat and Studio 54, stranger things had not only happened, they were happening.

So we walked around the city, and I formulated a plan based on the premise that porno books were published by someone. All we had to do was ask that someone and go from there. We were strolling, talking in a walkabout that paused, as luck would have it, in front of 1230 Sixth Avenue. Also known as the home of Simon & Schuster.

“Let’s go in here and just ask someone,” he said.

On the face of it? A really solid idea. Maybe they’d have a guide for next steps. And stepping into the lobby, I told the security guard why we were there. “He’s a genius author,” I said. “I’m his agent, and we were wondering who the right person would be to talk to about how to get something published.”

He grabbed a phone and before we could really process what was happening, the elevator doors rung open and out stepped a woman. “Hi, I’m the head of our YA efforts. What can I help you with?”

Young adults? Well, she had gotten half of that right. “Well, we’re interested in publishing something and were just curious about how this happens.”

“Who’s the author?”

Josh had already zeroed in on her and was nuclear bombing the charm. “I am. He’s my agent.”

“Do you have an actual story?”

“The manuscript is right HERE!” And Josh held it high over his head almost like he expected the lobby to break out in cheers.

“Well, come on up. We’ll take a look at it, and I’ll give you some advice!”

And for the first time ever I realized that I was in a horror movie because we absolutely couldn’t show her Debt to Madame Lopez, and riding up I tried to eyeball Josh and get him to realize this too. He smiled quietly at my hand signals. I drew one finger across my throat. If we showed the manuscript to her, we were dead. Or at least I would be. Just as quickly, I also saw that there was no power on Earth that would stop him from showing her.

Cold. Sweat. We sat and she gave us a breakdown on how it worked, praised our efforts and seemed to think it was cute that these enterprising teens were so excited by “literature.”

Swept away by her excitement, Josh threw the filthiest book I’d read since Henry Miller’s Opus Pistorum on her desk with a Eureka shout.

Then, and only then, did the gods smile on me. She fingered the manuscript, knitting her brow at the title and told us until we had real representation she couldn’t look at it in case they were to publish a book just like it and we could later sue her.

“He’s my representation,” Josh said.

“Do you have contracts?” She turned to me.

“Nope. But I’ll call you when I do!” Up, out the door and then down the elevator as quickly as possible. Josh was disappointed and then? Then he just disappeared, leaving me to finish the course alone and Debt to Madame Lopez to whatever fate had in store for it. Which, now, is me just looking at it about once a month where it sits in the bottom drawer of my desk in my home office.

OZYTrue Story

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