“The Editor-in-Chief will see you now, Mr. Hovah.”
Jay straightened in his chair and got to his feet. He could feel the surge of excitement, tingling his extremities, energizing his limbs. Finally!
The receptionist with the short brown hair and spectacles ushered him through the hall to the editor’s office. In gold leaf lettering, a glass panel read, Jorge Orwell. RealWorld Publishing. It was mid-afternoon, and Jay could see the sun poking through the blinds, striping the back wall with shadows. Jorge was unexpectedly good-looking for a man in his fifties, with a fashion sense straight out of Mad Men. Jay expected a halo of cigarette smoke and a glass of scotch, but there was only his manuscript. The sight of his writing, in the hands of the editor-in-chief, made him feel like he was tightrope walking across the grand canyon.
“Mr. Hovah. Please sit down.”
Jay didn’t feel like sitting, but did so anyway. “Thank you for me seeing me.”
“Yes, well,” he answered, looking over the manuscript once more, to be certain. “Mr. Jay Hovah. Can I call you Jay?”
“We like your book.”
Jay felt like a trapdoor had dropped from under him. Everything he had planned to say—every prepared answer for every imaginable question—flew from his mind. “Really?”
“This is certainly the kind of work we like to publish here at RealWorld. Tom Clancy. John Grisham. Political stuff. Big sellers. Your book reminds me a lot of the Manchurian Candidate. Have you read that?”
“No sir, I haven’t.”
“Well, it doesn’t matter. We didn’t publish it.” He chuckled softly to himself. “But we do have some issues to work out.”
A sick feeling came over him. He expected something like this would happen, that they would want to mess with his work, his baby, what he’d sweated over for ten years. But Jay could only sit and smile, like an idiot waiting for his girlfriend to say ‘yes’ to a marriage proposal.
“Don’t get me wrong, we love the concept. This Trump character, really great stuff, really interesting.”
“So, what’s wrong with it?” Jay managed.
“Nothing too hard to fix, really. We see this a lot with first-time authors. You’re trying to write too many books at once.”
“I don’t—I don’t understand.”
Jorge leaned in his chair, picked up the ring-binder containing Jay’s life work, and dropped it again. “Let me get straight to it. You’re writing a book about a terrible president. Great. But, this Trump character, in one chapter you have him groping women, grabbing them by their, um, private areas, without consent. He’s very crude. Sexist. Reminds me of that book about President Clinton. Have you read that?”
“Not really. No.”
“Well, anyway, the Clinton book sold millions.”
“Are you saying it isn’t original?”
“Nobody in the business cares about what’s original. Have you counted the vampire novels lately?” He waved the idea away. “No, the problem is you’ve given your antagonist too many flaws.”
“Are you saying Trump’s unrealistic?”
“I am saying it beggars credibility. You can have a novel about a sexist president who assaults women, or a racist president who is supported by the KKK and puts white supremacists in his cabinet, or you can have a president in the pocket of the coal industry who cuts environmental regulations . . .”
“I still don’t see—”
Jorge touched his fingers together, and took in a deep breath. “Is there anything good about Trump?”
Jay found that an odd question. He paused for a moment to think, answering finally, “Not really. No.”
“Can’t you see how that’s a problem? You’ve made Trump a narcissist who only talks about himself. A billionaire who cheats his workers and is continually filing for bankruptcy, but is somehow still a billionaire. He has no personality. No charisma. He’s also an idiot. Who’s going to vote for the guy?”
Jay started to feel small, and embarrassed. Whatever elation he had felt coming into the publishing house was turning into despair. Still, he tried to defend what he had spent a decade writing. “Racists. A lot of racists voted for him.”
“But how many racists are there in America? And what about women? Half the country are women. That’s half the vote right there.”
“Oh, well, a lot of women voted for him too, I guess.”
Jorge sighed. “OK. Look at the Clinton book. That president was good looking, charming, spoke eloquently and—here’s the important part—his affair with Monica didn’t happen until after he became president.”
“So what you’re saying is, people shouldn’t find out how bad Trump is until after the election?”
“Well, you could at least leave out some of the details. And give him some good qualities. Make him attractive. Or a clever speaker. A fat guy in his sixties with a bad comb over becomes president? And he tweets insults at celebrities late at night? No way that’s happening in the real world.”
“He’s seventy, actually, and I did leave out the stuff about Russia.”
“Right. That’s another thing I wanted to talk to you about. You’ve written a book about a sexist, racist, idiot, who is secretly working with Russia to subvert the government, and who, somehow, is elected president. Is there anything you’ve left out? Maybe you could make him mean to puppies. Or a cannibal.”
“That’s not a bad idea.”
“Mr. Hovah, I was joking.”
“All I am saying is, pick a plot and stick with it. This Trump character, he’s not believable. He’s a a comic book villain, a two-dimensional caricature, every American’s worst fears rolled into one. A believable hero has flaws, things that make them relatable, and for a villain to be believable, you’ve got to do the opposite. Nobody can be all bad.”
“Trump is all bad,” Jay said quietly.
“That’s not good writing.”
“So, does that mean you’re not going to publish my book?”
“Here’s what I am going to do, Mr Hovah. I’ll have some of my interns get in touch with you, after they write up some suggestions, and you can decide whether you want to implement the changes. Sound fair?”
Jay felt a mixture of hope and despair churning in his stomach. Did he really want to cut so much out of his book? Choosing between plot threads was like picking which limbs he’d like to keep. “Thank you, Mr. Orwell. I’ll definitely consider it.” Finding the strength to stand, he started for the door.
“Oh, and one more thing, Mr. Hovah. About the name. Trump. Really?”
Jay felt a tinge of irritation. What was it now?
“Was Victor Von Doom taken? I’m sorry. I don’t mean to sound rude. But, well, the Oxford English Dictionary defines the word trump as to invent a false accusation or excuse. I looked it up just before you came in. It’s a clever play on words, I’ll grant you, but we don’t do that here. At RealWorld, we’re looking for credible, not clever. Consider changing it.”