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Plumage from Pegasus
by Paul Di Filippo

THIS IS MY GUN, THIS IS MY PEN, SIR!

"Can one be taught to be a book editor or publisher in a few summer weeks?"
---Martin Arnold, "Creating Editors and Publishers," The New York Times, July 1, 1999.

The raw recruits filed nervously off the bus that had carried them from New York's Port Authority to the secluded camp somewhere in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. A motley group of informally dressed males and females, young and old, they each carried the only items they had been allowed and instructed to bring: a Barnes and Noble canvas bookbag held a copy of Strunk and White, an unabridged dictionary, a calculator, a wireless Palm Pilot with stock-market access capability, a box of red-ink pens, a spare pair of reading glasses, a pack of antacid tablets, and an ergonomic chair cushion.

The empty bus drove off. Clustering like spooked cattle, the recruits looked around the unpeopled grounds for guidance. But the mute barracks and other camp buildings some distance away offered no instructions on how to proceed.

"Maybe this is a test of our initiative," said one recruit.

"No way," said another. "I've heard some vague but scary stories from graduates. Our every minute here will be strictly planned and scheduled. There's no free time or self-direction at all."

"Makes sense," said a third. "After all, they've only got a few weeks to shape us into top-of-the-line editors."

"Well, all I know is that for the money they're charging us, we should have a better reception---jug wine and brie at the very least."

A door slammed, and all heads turned toward the sound. A lone figure had emerged from one of the barracks and now strode with macho determination toward them. As the elegantly suited small man drew closer, whispers began to circulate among the recruits.

"Is that---?" "No, it couldn't be." "Yes, I swear it's him."

The man reached a conversational distance and stopped. He superciliously sized up the recruits for a long minute, then spoke in a quiet voice.

"Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Michael Korda."

The huddled men and women visibly relaxed, which was precisely the reaction Korda had been counting on, for he now thrust his face forward aggressively and bellowed.

"BUT YOU MAGGOTS CAN CALL ME GOD! AND GOD'S ONE GOAL FOR THE NEXT THREE WEEKS IS TO TURN YOU PUSSILANIMOUS PUS-BUCKETS INTO EDITORS AT LEAST COMPETENT ENOUGH TO SHINE MAXWELL PERKINS'S SHOES! WHEN I SAY 'REVISE!', YOU'RE GONNA SAY 'HOW MANY CHAPTERS, SIR!' HAVE I MADE MYSELF CLEAR?"

Several people had fainted. All were trembling. One fellow dared to answer with a meek, "Yuh---yes, sir."

"I CAN'T HEAR YOU, WORM!"

"Yes, sir!"

Korda fell back into a normal stance. Clasping his hands behind his back, he strode up and down surveying his plebes. When he next spoke, his voice was once again quiet and reserved, exhibiting the patrician tones that had smoothed many a profitable publishing deal and soothed many a queasy author.


"I'm glad we have an understanding. Please realize that I bear you no personal animosity. Your histories and characters mean nothing to me, except insofar as they relate to your nascent editorial skills. I don't care whether you've graduated from an Ivy League school or a community college. As Tennessee Williams often told me, 'A sweet pot of red beans and rice trumps a lousy plate of lobster fra diavolo everytime, sugar-honey.' You're all the same raw material in my hands. And since I have very little time in which to mold your impressionable minds, I've found that terror works best. Consequently, your stay here will be punctuated with frequent unpredictable shocks---akin to the hostile buyouts you'll soon be experiencing in the workplace---all calculated to drive my lessons home."

The brave recruit who had previously responded now dared to ask a question. "Sir, are you the only instructor at the camp?"

"By no means. We'll have a number of visiting lecturers coming in who will assist me in honing your talents. These men and women range the gamut from editors to publishers to distributors to booksellers, from critics and reviewers to literary agents and Hollywood moguls. Each of these experienced experts will share their immense wisdom and knowledge with you---

"---AND YOU'LL SUCK IT ALL DOWN LIKE PIGLETS AT THEIR MAMA'S TEATS AND MAKE IT PART OF YOUR VERY CELLS!"

Once the leaves on the trees had ceased quivering and the sound of shattering window glass had diminished, Korda continued.

"Let me particularize just a few of the visiting editors who have graciously consented to enlighten you.

"We'll hear from Bill Bruford of The New Yorker, who'll instruct us in how to manufacture superstar writers out of wet-behind-the-ears, squeaky-voiced, creative-writing graduate students.

"Lecturing us on the niceties of claiming posthumous credit for reconfiguring the stories of deceased authors will be Gordon Lish, who will never let you forget his tenure at Esquire.

"Alice Turner of Playboy will explicate the usefulness of cognitive dissonance, concentrating on the juxtaposition of pubic hair to Norman Mailer-magnitude pontifications.

"Tina Brown of Talk will advise us about the benefits and pitfalls of Hollywood synergy.

"The legendary Edward Ferman has very kindly agreed to interrupt his retirement to help us understand how his legal adoption of the current editor of F&SF has insured the continuation of the Ferman publishing dynasty.

"And Helen Gurley Brown has likewise broken her well-deserved leisure to help us all achieve washboard abs."

Korda paused, then fixed the potential editors with the same adamantine gaze that had once made his opponent James Jones capitulate in an arm-wrestling bout at Elaine's that had already stretched on for half an hour. Knees wobbled as they awaited his next words.

"But on a day-to-day basis, I'm the only instructor you'll see regularly. And by regularly I mean IN YOUR FREAKING FACE TWENTY-FOUR-SEVEN! When you awake at four AM for your mock subway commute, I'll be the annoying fellow straphanger who spills coffee on your irreplaceable manuscript. When you pair off and sit down for a pretend three-hour lunch with your most important author, I'll be the lousy waiter who can't get your orders right. When you're eagerly awaiting the dummy sales figures on what you expect will be a bestseller, I'll be the intern who adds or subtracts an extra zero from the numbers. In short, for the next few weeks I'm going to be both your worst, most hated enemy, and your best, most cherished friend. When I'm done with you, you will have gone through the same baptism by fire that once took an editorial lifetime.

"Now, the first order of business is to get you neophytes into our fully staffed spa and salon for a stylish haircut, followed by a facial, a manicure and a pedicure. After that, you'll each be measured for a tailored power suit. An editor always has to look his or her best. AND RIGHT NOW YOU SLOBS LOOK LIKE A BUNCH OF PUBLICISTS OR SALES REPS! After that, you'll each receive half a dozen 600-page manuscripts which I expect to be line-edited before breakfast."

The recruits made a tentative step or two toward the barracks before being brought up short by Korda's stentorian assault.

"DID I SAY 'DISMISSED' YET, SLIME? NOW, HOLD UP ONE OF YOUR RED MARKERS HIGH, GRAB YOUR CROTCHES, AND REPEAT AFTER ME---!"

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