The PlantStephen King
January 4, 1981
Zenith House, Publishers 490 Park Avenue South New York, New York 10017
I have written a book that you might want to publish. It is very good. It is all scary and all true. It is called True Tales of Demon Infestations. I know all the things in it from first hand. Contents include stories from “The World of Voodoo,” “The World of the Aether,” and “The World of the Living Dead.” I include recipes for some potions as well, but these could be “censored” if you felt they were too dangerous although for most people they won't work at all and in a chapter called “The World of Spells” I explain why.
I am offering this book for publication now. I am willing to sell all rights (except for movie rights; I will direct the film myself). There are photos if you want them. If you are interested in this book (no other publisher has seen it, I am sending it to you because you are the publishers of Bloody Houses, which was quite good), please answer with the “SASE” I have enclosed. I will send the manuscript with return postage in case you don't like it (or don't understand it). Please respond as soon as possible. I think “multiple submissions” are unethical, but I want to sell True Tales of Demon Infestations as soon as possible. In this book there is some “scary s**t!” If you know what I mean!
147 E. 14th St., Apt. E
Central Falls, R. I. 40222
TO: Roger FROM: John RE: Submissions/January 11–15th, 1981
A new year, and the slush in the slush pile grows ever deeper. I don't know how the rest of your toiling editorial minions are doing, but I continue to roll the existential rock of America's unpublished aspiring-at least my share of it. All of which is only to say that I read my share of crud this week (and no, I haven't been smoking what W. C. Fields called “the illicit sponduix,” either-I'm just having a prolix day).
With your concurrence, I'm returning 15 book-length manuscripts which arrived unsolicited (see Returns, next page), 7 “outlines and sample chapters” and 4 unidentifiable blobs that look a bit like typescripts. One of them is a book of something called “gay event poetry” called Suck My Big Black Cock, and another, called L'il Lolita, is about a man in love with a first grader. I think. It's written in pencil and it's hard to tell for sure.
Also with your concurrence, I'm asking to see outline and sample chapters on 5 books, including the new bodice-ripper from that bad-tempered librarian in Minnesota (the authors never snoop in your files, do they, boss? Ordinarily it would be a flat submission, but the poor performance of His Flaming Kisses cannot be justified even by our horrible distribution set-up-any word on what's happening with United News Dealers, by the way?). Synopsis for your files (below).
Last, and probably least, I'm appending an odd little query letter from one Carlos Detweiller of Central Falls, Rhode Island. If I were back at Brown University, happily majoring in English, planning to write great novels, and laboring under the misapprehension that everyone who publishes must be brilliant or at least “real smart,” I'd throw Mr. Detweiller's letter out at once. (Carlos Detweiller? I ask myself even now, as I rattle the keys of this ancient Royal-can that be a real name? Surely not!) Probably I'd use tongs to handle it, just in case the man's obvious dyslexia was catching.
But two years at Zenith House have changed me, Roger. The scales have fallen from my eyes. You don't really get heavyweights like Milton, Shakespeare, Lawrence, and Faulkner in perspective until you've lunched at Burger Heaven with the author of Rats from Hell or helped the creator of Gash Me, My Darling through her current writer's block. You come to realize that the great edifice of literature has one fuck of a lot more subbasements than you expected when you sneaked your first stroke-book up to your bedroom under your shirt (no I have not been smoking dope!).
So okay. This guy writes like a moderately bright third-grader (all declarative sentences-his letter has the panache of a heavyset guy walking downstairs in construction boots), but so does Olive Barker, and considering our creaky distribution system, her Windhover series has done quite well. The sentence in the first paragraph which says he knows all of these things “from first hand” suggests he's a ding-dong. You know that. His assertion that he's going to direct the movie suggests that he's a ding-dong with delusions of grandeur. I think we both know that. Further, I'd stake my last pair of skivvies (I'm wearing them, and mighty gray they are!) that, despite his disclaimer, every publisher in New York has seen True Tales of Demon Infestations. Loyalty to one's company can go only so far, chum; not even a moderately bright third-grader would start at Zenith House. I'd guess this letter has been patiently retyped and sent out by the indefatigable (and probably obsessed) Mr. Detweiller at least forty times, starting with Farrar, Straus & Giroux, or maybe even Alfred A. Knopf.
But I think there's a possibility-albeit an extremely thin one-that Mr. Detweiller may have researched enough material to actually make a book. It would have to be rewritten, of course-his query letter makes that abundantly clear-and the title sucks, but we have several writers on our books who would be more than happy to do a little ghost-writing and pick up a quick $600. (I saw you wince-make that $400. Probably the indefatigable Olive Barker is the best of them. Also, I think Olive has a thing for Valium. Junkies work harder than normal people, boss, as I think you know. At least until they die, and Olive's tough. She doesn't look too good since her stroke-I hate the way the left side of her face just hangs there-but she is tough.)
As I say, the chances are thin, and it's always a trifle risky to encourage an obvious crazy, because it is so difficult to get rid of them (remember General Hecksler and his book Twenty Psychic Garden Flowers? For a while I thought the man might be genuinely dangerous, and of course he was a large part of the reason poor old Bill Hammer quit). But actually, Bloody Houses did do pretty well, and the whole thing-blurry photos and all-came out of the New York Public Library. So you tell me: do we add ole Carlos to Returns or do we invite him to submit an outline and sample of chapters? Speak quickly, o great leader, for the fate of the universe hangs in the balance.
From the office of the editor-in-chief
TO: John Kenton DATE: 1/15/81
MESSAGE: Dear Christ, Johnny! Do you ever shut up? That memo was three pages long! If your weren't stoned, you have no excuse. Reject the damn query letter, tell this Carlos What's-His-Face to send his manuscript, buy him a pony, whatever you want. But save me the mother-fucking thesis. I don't get them from Herb, Sandra, or Bill, and I don't want them from you. “Shovel the shit and shut up,” how does that strike you as a motto?
P. S. Harlow Enders called again today-we're going to keep on drawing paychecks for another year at least, it seems. After that, who knows? He says there's going to be an “assessment of position” in June, and “a total review of Zenith's overall position in the market” next January-I construe those two fulsome phrases to mean we could be for sale next January unless our market position improves, and given our current distribution system, I don't see how it can. My head aches. I think I may have a brain tumor. Please don't send me any more long memos.
P. P. S. L'il Lolita is actually a pretty good title, don't you think? We could commission it. I'm thinking maybe Mort Yeager, he's got a touch for that sort of thing. Remember Teenage Lingerie Show? The girl in L'il Lolita could be eleven, I think-wasn't the original Lolita twelve?
TO: Roger FROM: John RE: Possible brain tumor
Sounds more like a tension headache to me. Take four Quaaludes and call me in the morning. By the way, M
ort Yeager's in jail. Receiving stolen property, I think.
from the office of the editor-in-chief
TO: John Kenton DATE: 1/16/81
MESSAGE: Don't you have any work to do?
TO: Roger FROM: John RE: Merciless huckstering by insensitive superior
Yes, I'll write a letter to Carlos Detweiller, next year's National Book Award winner.
P. S. -Don't bother to thank me.
January 16, 1981
Mr. Carlos Detweiller 147 E. 14th Street, Apt. E Central Falls, Rhode Island 40222
Dear Mr. Detweiller,
Thank you for your interesting letter of January 4th, with its brief but intriguing description of your book, True Tales of Demon Infestations. I would welcome a fuller synopsis of the book, and invite you to submit sample chapters (I would prefer chapters 1–3) with your synopsis. Both the synopsis and the sample chapters should be typed and double-spaced, on good quality white bond paper (not the erasable type; on erasable bond, whole chapters have a way of simply disappearing in the mail).
As you may know, Zenith is a small paperback house, and our lists currently match our size. Because we publish only originals, we look at a great many proposals; because we are small, the proposals we look at are, in most cases, returned because they do not seem to fit our current needs. All of which is my way of cautioning you not to construe this letter as a covenant to publish your book, because that is most definitely not the case. I would suggest you mail off the synopsis and sample chapters with the idea that we will ultimately reject your book. Then you will be prepared for the worst... or pleasantly surprised if we should find it is right for Zenith Books.
Finally, here are the standard caveats upon which our legal department (and the legal departments, so far as I know, of all publishing houses) insist: you must enclose adequate postage to ensure the return of your manuscript (but please do not send cash to cover postage), you should realize that Zenith House accepts no responsibility for the safe return of your manuscript, although we'll take all reasonable care, and that, as I said above, our agreement to look is in no way a covenant to publish.
I look forward to hearing from you, and hope this finds you well.
Zenith House, Publishers
490 Park Avenue South
New York, New York 10017
TO: Roger FROM: John RE: upon further study...
...I agree. I do write too much. Appended to this is a copy of my letter to Detweiller. Looks like a synopsis of The Naked and the Dead, doesn't it?
January 21, 1981
Mr. John Kenton, Editor Zenith House, Publishers 490 Park Avenue South New York, New York 10017
Dear Mr. Kenton,
Thank you for your letter of January 16th, in which I am of receipt of. I am sending off the entire manuscript of True Tales of Demon Infestations tomorrow. My money is low today, but my boss, Mrs. Barfield, owes me about five dollars from playing the lottery. Boy, she's a real sucker for those little cards you scratch off!
I would send you a “sinopsis proposal,” as you say, but there is no sense of doing that when you can read it for yourself. As Mr. Keen in my building says, “Why describe a guest when you can see that guest.” Mr. Keen does not really have any deep wisdom but he says something witty like that from time to time. I tried on one occasion to instruct him (Mr. Keen) in the “deeper mysteries” and he only said, “Each to his own, Carlos.” I think you will probably agree that this is a silly comment which only sounds witty.
Because we don't have to worry about the “sinopsis proposal,” I will spend my letter telling you something about me. I am twenty-three (although everyone says I look older). I work at the Central Falls House of Flowers for Mrs. Tina Barfield, who knew my mother when my mother was still alive. I was born on March 24th, which makes me an Aries. Aries people, as you know, are very psychic, but wild. Luckily for me, I am on the “cusp” of Pisces, which gives me the control I need to deal with the psychic universe. I have tried to explain all this to Mr. Keen, but he only says, “There's something fishy about you, Carlos,” he is always joking like that and sometimes he can be very irritating.
But enough about me.
I have worked on True Tales of Demon Infestations for seven years (since age 16). Much of the information in it I got from the “OUIJA” board. I used to do the “OUIJA” with my mother, Mrs. Barfield, Don Barfield (he is now dead), and sometimes a friend of mine named Herb Hagstrom (also now dead, poor lad). Once in awhile others would join our little “circle” as well. Back in our Pawtucket days, my mother and I were quite “social!”
Some of the things we found out from “OUIJA” that are described in “blood-curdling detail” in True Tales of Demon Infestations: 1. The disappearance of Amelia Earhart was actually the work of demons! 2. Demonic forces at work on H. M. S. Titanic. 3. The “tulpa” that infested Richard Nixon. 4. There will be a President from ARKANSAS! 5. More.
Of course this is not “all.” “Don't cool me off, I'm just gettin' warmed up,” as Mr. Keen says. In many ways True Tales of Demon Infestations is like The Necronomicon, except that book was fictional (made up by H. P. Lovecraft, who also came from Rhode Island) and mine is true. I have amazing stories of black magic “covens” I have attended, by taking a potion and flying to these covens through the aether (I have recently been to covens in Omaha, Neb., Flagstaff, Ariz., and Fall River, Mass., without ever leaving “the comfort of my own home”). You are probably asking yourself, “Carlos, does this mean you are a student of the 'black Arts'?” Yes, but don't worry! After all, you are my “connection” to getting my book published, right?
As I told you in my last letter, there is also a chapter, “The World of Spells,” which most people will find very interesting. Working in a greenhouse and flower-shop has been especially good for working spells, as most require fresh herbs and plants. I am very good with plants, Mrs. Barfield would even tell you that, and I am now growing some very “strange” ones in the back of the greenhouse. It is probably too late to put them in this book, but as Mr. Keen sometimes tells me, “Carlos, the time to think about tomorrow is yesterday.” Maybe we could do a follow-up, Strange Plants. Let me have your thinking on this.
I will close now. Let me know when you get the manuscript (a postcard will do), and fill me in as soon as possible on royalty rates, etc. I can come to N. Y. C. any Wednesday on the train or Greyhound Bus if you want to have a “publishing luncheon” or come here and I will introduce you to Mrs. Barfield and Mr. Keen. I also have more photographs than the ones I am sending. I am happy to have you publish True Tales of Demon Infestations.
Your new author,
147 E. 14th St., Apt. E
Central Falls, R. I. 40222
TO: Roger FROM: John RE: True Tales of Demon Infestations, by Carlos Detweiller
I just received a letter from Detweiller in regard to his book. I think that, in inviting him to submit, I made the biggest mistake of my editorial career. Oooh, my skin is starting to hurt...
from the office of the editor-in-chief
TO: John Kenton DATE: 1/23/81
You made your bed. Now lie in it. After all, we can always get it ghost-written, right? Hee-hee.
January 25, 1981
I feel almost as if I am in the middle of a goddam archetype-segments of the Sunday New York Times on the floor, an old Simon and Garfunkel album on the stereo, a Bloody Mary near at hand. Rain tapping on the glass, making it all the more cozy. Am I trying to make you homesick? Well... maybe a little. After all, the only thing the scene lacks is you, and you're probably paddling out beyond the line of breakers on a surfboard as I write these words (and wear
ing a bikini more non than existent).
Actually, I know you're working hard (probably not too hard) and I have every confidence that the PhD will be a world-beater. It's just that last week was a real horror show for me and I'm afraid there may be worse to come. Among other things, Roger accused me of prolixity (well, actually that was the week before, but you know what I mean), and I think I feel a real prolixity attack coming on. Try to bear with me, okay?
Basically, the problem is Carlos Detweiller. (with a name like that he couldn't be anything but a problem, right?) He's going to be a short-term problem, is old Carlos, like poison ivy or a mouth sore, but as with those two things, knowing the problem is short-term doesn't ease the pain at all-it only keeps you from going insane.
Roger's right-I do tend towardprolixity. That's not the same as logorrhea, though. I'll try to avoid that.
The facts, then. As you know, every week we get thirty or forty “over the transom” submissions. An “over the transom” is anything addressed to “Gentlemen,” “Dear Sir,” or “To Whom It May Concern”-an unsolicited manuscript, in other words. Well... they're not all manuscripts; at least half of them are what us hip publishing guys call “query letters” (getting tired of all these quotation marks yet? You should read Carlos's last letter-it would put you off them for life).