You may not believe it to look at me now, but there was a time when The Jingmeister was not the international playboy you see before you.
Back in the time of Legwarmers and Jheri-Curl, your correspondent toiled in durance vile at Satan & Shyster, the Sixth Avenue purveyors of Pocket Books, the nation's oldest paperback publishers.
It's now been officially an eon since I darkened the door at 1230 Sixth, so I have no idea what publishing salaries are like these days for production drones like me, but in those days the pay was rather less than princely. I started at the company making a salary I liked to exaggerate grandiosely as "in the high four figures"; when I bolted in 1987 I had, by dint of Horatio-Algerian sticktoitiveness, worked my way all the way up to fifteen large. Wonder Woman (a graphic designer's assistant) and I lived as cheaply as one in a third-floor walkup in Red Hook (now, I'm given to understand, rechristened "South Park Slope" by real-estate weasels, which just cracks my ass up).
As a man who takes some pride in his appearance, it became evident very early on that if I were to aspire to be a dandified clothes-horse -- or indeed, wear any clothes at all -- I would have to take in extra work of some sort. It was well known among the Publishing Poor that local outfits farmed out copyediting work to freelancers, which is how it came to pass that I curvetted home one evening, dollar signs where my eyes usually reside, with my first moonlighting job under my arm.
A Harlequin Romance. Cha-ching!
Eventually I would work my way up from Harlequins to extremely louche Westerns; if you've ever perused any of Loren Zane Grey's mid-period Lassiter novels -- not Zane Grey, now, this is Loren Zane Grey, who was actually a collection of five or six pimply, simian hacks who churned out this dreadful crap by the bucketload -- you'll have seen my work. Likewise if you've ever have the pleasure of reading any of W. E. B. Griffin's earlier warnography, you'll see my sure editorial hand.
But Harlequins, now. I cut my teeth on those things, and even now they hold a special place in my heart. I can close my eyes and fondly recall how the evanescent plotlines, sprightly virginal prose and scrupulously chaste sex scenes induced a mild seasickness that I fought by working in a vat of Dramamine the Harlequin people nicely sent me.
I was a warrior. I did what had to be done.
Which is why I'm somewhat bemused by the report that Harlequin has recently entered into a cobranding deal with, of all things, NASCAR. "Harlequin will publish women’s fiction books with stories revolving around NASCAR - and featuring NASCAR's brand on the covers." we hear. "The first NASCAR-themed tome is In the Groove, by Pamela Britton. It'll hit bookstores in late January to coincide with the Daytona 500."
You'd have to be an absolute plank -- really, a rock, a stone, a worse than senseless thing -- not to just itch to know what happens when the immovable object of sprightly, virginal prose meets the irresistible force of a 5.9 Litre Magnum V-8 with 530 foot-pounds of torque at 6,500 rpm.
Well, I think in this Pamela Britton, Harlequin has got just the firecracker wordsmith who can pull it off. Check out another racing-themed page-turner she penned: Dangerous Curves, in which Special Agent Cece Blackwell heads up a team to investigate the murder of a NASCAR driver. I can't link directly to it, but you must must MUST allow yourself the ineffable pleasure of the passage exerpted at the Harlequin site. It begins, "She was five foot six of spandex-wrapped, thigh-high-boots-wearing, bustier-clad woman. And she wasn't happy."
When a book starts with a fizzy corker of a first salvo like that, you know you're in for a helluva ride, and the rest of the pertly snappy exerpt leads me to the chopfallen conclusion that when I ran screaming from my moonlighting job editing Harlequin Romances in 1987, I might have made a big, big mistake.
Honey, get me Rewrite!