“You need to redo the edits, Sarah.” Her boss gives her a stern look, his dark brown eyes glint disapprovingly. “You’ve really gone overboard with these.” His position is quite unique in the company—he’s head of marketing and strategy, yet he oversees editing as well.
“What, all of them?” she exclaims. “I spent hours making those edits.”
Her boss sneers, “waste of your time then. I expect the re-edits to be done by tomorrow morning.”
“But it’s eight in the night already!” It’s on the tip of her tongue to say ‘that’s not fair’ but she doesn’t.
Her boss sighs, rubbing his temples. “Sarah,” he says, his crisp, upper crust British accent drawing out her name in a familiar fashion. “These are New Adult novels with fairly simple story lines. I asked you to edit basic grammar, not fact check and insert your opinions where you saw fit.”
“I can explain…” she begins before getting cut off.
“Alright,” he cuts in, picking up a manuscript, “why have you changed ‘Oxford’ to ‘LBS’ and why have you repeatedly cut ‘love’ from Mr. Bennington’s lines in Two Weeks in London?”
Her jade eyes flash in annoyance. Isn’t it obvious? “Because an individual who grew up in central London wouldn’t use the word ‘love’ at the end of every sentence,” she says rolling her eyes, “you should know, you are British and a central London raised brat.” She rolls her eyes again as he laughs at her softly. “And LBS has a far better finance based MBA program than Oxford.”
Her boss’s almost black eyes light up with laughter. “Sarah, let me teach you a very, very fundamental principle of marketing—know your product and know your target. Your product is a poorly written fantasy about an extremely hot, rich man falling hopelessly in love with a plain brunette, with no personality to speak of.” He holds up a hand when she tries interrupting, “Your target market is ‘Bessie May’.”
He shrugs, “That’s what I call her. Bessie May is American who lives in the suburbs of a smallish city and she’s one of two women —she’s either a tired mother of two whose sex life could use some spicing up or she’s a shy virgin desperately in need of Tinder.”
She snorts. Good grief. “That’s too much of a generalization.”
He smiles again. “That’s what marketing and strategy is based on, Sarah—generalizations. Anyway, an American woman living in the suburbs of a smallish city has no clue about different kinds of British accents. They see some BBC show with a character who says ‘love’ all the time and that’s how they assume we speak. And Oxford is probably the only English Uni that they know of—mention LSE OR LBS and they’ll get confused.”
“That’s an unfair generalization.”
He rolls his eyes. “The basic point I want you to understand is that the target does not care about accents or universities. The target doesn’t care about any specifics. It’s not your job to teach them the difference between a Manchester and a Birmingham accent. It’s your job to edit shitty books.”
She sighs. “What’s wrong with the rest of the edits?”
“Coffee in New York” he says, holding another manuscript, “I don’t understand why you’ve crossed out ‘two bedroom, two bathroom apartment in the Upper West Side’?”
Her green eyes widen incredulously. “How can a twenty one year old recent college grad with low paying internship afford that?” She huffs. “I pay 1.2 k to rent half a two-bedroom basement apartment in Brooklyn—and that’s a great deal!”
He sighs again, this time with a little more annoyance. “Once again, Sarah, Bessie May doesn’t care. She watches Friends and thinks that’s normal life. And why have you highlighted ‘even the mere thought of such a horrible act made her nauseous’ as problematic?”
She purses her lips determinately, knowing exactly why she’s highlighted that bit. “Because it’s about time we stop demonizing women’s reproductive rights as ‘horrible.’ A twenty one year old, recent college grad, would most definitely think about getting an abortion.”
“Sarah,” his tone is not harsh, but he is losing his patience, “We do not use the A word in New Adult fiction. Ever. Don’t take things too personally. You don’t see me demanding every ridiculous, exaggerated depiction of gay men be erased from popular culture, do you?”
“You should,” she says testily.
He laughs. “I am a highly paid marketing consultant Sarah and I’ve managed to snag a position in a major publishing house in spite of the fact that I’ve never taken a single literature course in Uni. I didn’t do it by reacting to everything I found ignorant or offensive.”
“Thanks for the advice,” she mumbles sarcastically.
“What am I, Sarah?” he asks suddenly, as if trying to make a point.
Raising her brows, she answers, “British?”
“And?” he probes.
“Highly paid? Really successful? From a ridiculously wealthy background? Gay?”
She rolls her eyes. “I give up, Sanjay, what?”
“Brown,” he answers, “Most Bessie Mays freak out when I start speaking. And even then, they assume I work at a Cash & Carry in some fuck-all neighborhood in Bradford.”
“I have no idea what the last part even means.”
“Not important,” he says, leaning back, “It doesn’t occur to them that I come from a family that owns one of the biggest steel manufacturing plants in the world. You don’t see me running around going ‘hey, I’m brown, I’m British, and I’m rich’ do you?”
“Maybe you should, seriously.”
He shakes his head. “I don’t care what Bessie May thinks—she may think, very inaccurately, that I’m from ISIS and start running in the opposite direction when she sees me and I still won’t be offended. All I care about is that she buys what I’m selling her and the only way I can do that is to make sure the product fits her perception of the world.”
“How magnanimous of you.”
“Bessie May is your target audience,” he says, ignoring her, “next time you decide to underline something as ‘problematic’ think what would Bessie May want.”
“No room for arguments,” he hands back the four manuscripts she’s edited during the day, “re-edit all of these and have them on my desk by tomorrow morning.”
“Fine,” she hisses. “You’re a slave driver. Hope you know that.”
He flashes a consoling smile, “Now, about this summary of yours…I like the concept. The story line is simplistic enough.”
She grimaces. “I’m not so sure about whether I should go ahead with this. My family didn’t spend a hell of a lot of money for my Wellesley degree so that I could write New Adult. What a waste.”
“Firstly, spending all that money for an English degree…darling, of course it’s a waste. Secondly, publish it under a pen-name, sell some books, make some money, and then write something profound as per your standards.” He says it all so matter-of-factly. “You’ve seen the New York Times bestseller’s lists—half the fiction books are poorly written drivel. That’s what sells.”
Her face reddens—there’s something else that bothers her. “I don’t know if the story line is…” her voice trails off.
“The story line is great. Twenty two year old, shy, quiet, receptionist calls on some fictional king to take her much younger brother. She runs his…labyrinth…that may be too complicated a word for New Adult. Let’s go with maze. Anyway, the heroine runs his maze—shags him many times along the way. He sends her brother back. Some gorgeous, bitchy exes make her sad. He tells them to fuck off. She marries him---I’d make her pregnant by the end of it for good measure. New Adult readers love pregnancy.”
She holds her head with both her hands. “That sounds god awful.”
He shrugs, “That’s what’ll sell, darling.” He pulls out a box of cigarettes and offers her one. “I won’t tell if you don’t,” he says conspiratorially and opens a small window for ventilation. There are strict regulations against smoking indoors, but it’s late-ish in the night and no one’s there to catch them.
Taking the cigarette, she lights it up. “The smell is going to stay, you know.”
“Eucalyptus oil,” he says, “burn some of that next time you need to hide your habit.” He takes a long drag, “why are you so bothered about the storyline? I know you’re a good writer and New Adult books are simple enough to be written in a few months.”
“You need a better reason than that.”
She sighs. “Some very famous, successful women went to Wellesley, you know. I don’t want to write some crap that encourages women to be pregnant, and completely dependent on some man who’s going to grant their every wish.”
“You take things too seriously, Sarah. Look at it as a means of making money, which gives you the opportunity to do what you want.”
“Perhaps there’s something else that’s bothering you?”
She looks at him sharply but doesn’t say anything.
He lets it go. “Let’s continue with our protagonist—you’ve described her as pretty, strong willed, slim, tall, and adventurous.” He pauses and tsks. “You’re going to have to write her as a plain, pasty skinned brunette who may be strong willed but not too argumentative. Do not, under any circumstances, describe her as slim. Say slim wrist or ankle, other than that leave any weight references out.”
He studies her character summaries for a few minutes, “basically, she’s a very average, maybe even slightly less than average looking woman who loves to read—that’s pretty much the extent of her personality. Most men…make that all men, do not notice her, except for this magical Elf King, who wants to fuck her senseless for reasons known only to him.”
“Goblin King,” she corrects, sniggering at Elf King.
“Yes, well, make sure you do not describe her facial features in detail. We want the reader to be able to insert herself into the protagonist’s shoes.” Giving her his secret ashtray that he has stashed away inside his desk drawer, he stands up and grabs his coat. “See you in the morning, Sarah. You can give me the manuscripts by lunch if you are not able to do so in the morning.”
“Nah, I screwed up so I’ll do what it takes to fix my mistakes,” she grins. “You going to The Box for drinks with Michael?”
“Michael is busy as usual, entertaining clients,” he smiles sarcastically as they get into the elevator “I’ll go home, open a bottle of pinot and complain about how crap it is.”
“Still beats my night,” she says, waving as they part ways.
By the time she’s done re-editing all four manuscripts, it’s three in the morning. She’s at the all-night coffee house right across the street from her basement apartment in Brooklyn—she thanks her lucky stars that she has the option of escaping her absolutely depressing and overpriced room when she has to work in the nights.
“Do you need anything Sar, or can I go to the back and play Halo?” Josh, the night shift waiter calls from the front.
“Nothing for now, thanks. I’ll come get you if I need anything,” she yells back. She’s the only one in the place so she knows she isn’t disturbing anyone.
“Okay,” he yells back.
She makes sure he has disappeared into the back room before taking out the summary she is working on. The protagonist seems easy enough to write—an average looking blank slate. The brother hardly has a role. The evil but gorgeous ex is pretty much supposed to be Bessie May’s own personal Regina George. The Goblin King…now he is supposed to be a multifaceted character described in minute detail.
She’s never believed her traipse through the Labyrinth was real—believing it to be a figment of her hormonal fourteen-year-old mind, instead. A dream so vivid that she felt as if she were living it. But she cannot deny that she is still affected by the experience and it bothers her deeply that she can’t quite remember the Goblin King. She remembers him being the most beautiful being she had ever laid eyes upon. She remembers how he made her feel. But she doesn’t remember him.
How on earth is she supposed to create this perfect, magical, male specimen and describe him in minute detail if she doesn’t remember him?!
She sighs. It’s 4 in the morning. If she runs home and jumps into bed, she has two hours before having to wake up and get to work. It’ll be far easier to pop in the little orange and black capsule in her pocket and go without sleep for the day. All-nighters were far easier to pull off in college, she thinks reflectively, swallowing a slow release Dexedrine capsule with black coffee.
“I wish,” she begins, “I wish….”
She doesn’t quite know what she wants. “I wish someone would help me describe the Goblin King in detail.” She stands up to leave—she’ll take a nice long shower and eat a ginormous bagel with cream cheese.
Just as she pushes the door to head out, a strong breeze knocks the door shut, trapping her inside. The lights waver. Loud, raucous thunder booms across the skies, drowning out the very-early traffic noises.
“How fortunate for you, precious, that I’ve decided to…grant your wish.”