Friday, November 04, 2005


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!


Kevin Wolf said...

Perhaps I read some of your Harlequin work, Ned.

My mother collected every - I mean literally every - "novel" they published, for years. Picture boxes of 'em, starting with the early nurse-doctor ones and progressing - ah, but that can't be the word for it...

Once I read three of the damn things thinking maybe I could fake it - I knew what words were and that they are used to form sentences. Maybe I could pick an exotic locale, research it a bit and set one of their standard plots there.

Never got around to it, though. Was never able to choose between Harlequin Plot A and Harlequin Plot A.

the Heretik said...

Man, in 1985 they were calling Red Hook South Park Slope, right up by the docks. Of course I settled in pre hipster Greenpoint. Oy. Five hundred bucks for the top floor of a railroad rowhouse. Ha. That would have mad fine romance, non harlequin in nature.

Matt said...

"He was like one of those mimes you saw in the park, able to keep a straight face even as some dog doodooed on his leg."

I love it. But not as much as I love this post.

And here is something else I love: behold the single greatest NASCAR-related picture ever taken.

Neddie said...

Matt: Whoops of laughter chez Jingo. I hope the motherfucker itched a whole bunch.

Heretik: The name "South Park Slope" had already begun to appear in real-estate ads in the Voice when WW and I moved in to our 4th-Avenue walkup in 1984. God knows what they're calling it now: East Tribeca, for all I know.

lordy, it's getting complicated: xmbdkwb

Neddie said...

Kevin: what the hell was your mother doing with all those goddamned Harlequin Romances???!?!?!?!?

That's the desperately uncomfortable question you have to ask yourself....

PixelWeasel said...

Honey, get me Spellchecker!

It's excerpt, with a c, both times.

Neddie said...

Weasel: It's gratifying to see I'm being read so closely. Not to say obsessively.

A spelling flame. Classy. Very classy. You win this round, Doctor Subtilis. I bow to your mastery of the proper rendering of the Latinate dactyl.

Perhaps you might consider following up your devastating victory by going and fucking yourself. That'd be entertaining.

blue girl said...

First of all -- Matt and Jeddie -- I used that NASCAR pic in a post a few weeks ago -- so both of you are completely showing your disloyalty to blue girl in a red state -- and will be punished accordingly.

Second -- when you read the caption under the flip flip photo that Matt linked to -- it says, "My friend Bill sent me...."

Well, my brother-in-law Bill sent me that photo via email.

Now, I know Bill is a rather common name -- but, maybe it was the same Bill and whoa! Wouldn't that be weird?? (ok, little things amaze me...)

You both will receive marching orders soon for being so disloyal to blue girl. And it will be painful.

Bobby Lightfoot said...

Before, I simply wished to die.

Now my wish is to remain living that I may swallow fire ants and invite the spiders of the forest to make their nests in and eat of my brain.

Like a dog that chews its own flesh in frustration and contempt-for-self I wish to hurt myself deeply, deeply.


Kevin Wolf said...

Ned, I have asked myself that question: Why did my mother have so freakin' many Harlequin Romances on hand?

I've asked this even as I knew (no kiddin') that my mom has a genius IQ - at least as defined by MENSA.

I'm okay with the question. But the answer ... ? I'm saying too much here.

opavvtiz - "Oprah" translated into Russian

Mrs. Packer said...

Being too poor to buy proper books, gramma used to buy cheap romances for me to read. Four for a dollar at the local Grand Central store. I remember spending the night at gramma's and reading through a stack of romance novels. I was ten and began to think that kissing a handsome ski instructor who wore a tight turtleneck sweater was a rite (and a right) of passage. I also became certain that I was going to end up in hell for reading these books. See! See what damage these books can do!! I cringe, I absolutely shudder at the thought of our pure, upright Neddie contributing in and way, shape or form to the moral degredation of our youth.

I'll light a candle for you, Neddie. Then I'll use it to burn a Harlequin Romance.

James Finn Garner said...

I'm sure the people buying condos there don't want to think of it, but when I hear "South Park Slope," I think of Cartman, Kyle, Kenny and Stan moving into the neighborhood.