But somehow I managed it.
I was told that I could send extremely brief plots to a certain editor (who I won't name, but will state that I soon came to hate her fucking guts). One author who had to work with her, commenting upon her maternity leave, stated: "God, if only the human gestation period were much longer!"
So here I was having to boil down plots to a couple of hundred words, stripping out anything that might be construed as characterization. It was a chore, but one at which I labored. Comics gigs, after all, were good money in those days, and I desperately needed the money and the exposure. I was willing to jump through the hoops, no matter how sadistic they seemed.
This was one of the last I sent her, and was the moment I realized I'd never be allowed to write there while she was present. The comic title to which it was submitted was a fantasy book--set in a kind of dream world. Pretty much anything went there, so it was a great setting and a place to let the imagination run wild. The protagonists of the tale were the late fantasy authors Karl Edward Wagner and Robert Ervin Howard. (Yeah, I made sure the (shit)editor knew who they were before submitting the idea:
A story proposal for
James Robert Smith
The protagonist of this story is "Karl", homage to the late Karl Edward Wagner. Red bearded stocky guy who carouses in the bar all day. A guy called Two Gun (Robert E. Howard) is always trying to get Karl to follow him to the top of "the mountain". Karl will never go since, for all his size, he will not fight through the crowds of zealots who guard the flanks of the mountain. But each month, Two Gun takes it upon himself to go to the heights and hack his way through the zealots and climb to the pinnacle and look down upon the world and experience the chill air and the amazing sunsets. And each time he descends the peak, he takes it upon himself to visit Karl in his tavern and try to talk him into coming along.
All the while, we are shown that Karl enjoys his wine. He also enjoys his smoke and he enjoys his snort and he enjoys his hash brownies. Then a certain woman introduces herself to Two Gun. He brings her into the tavern, and she gives Karl a hit of something new. Two Gun makes his monthly offer and this time Karl accepts, since he seems to be in the throes of some strange, new kind of high. Together, they hack their ways through the zealots and climb the heights and look down from the pinnacle and see the world from the chilly spire.
Karl comes down.
He has always been a peaceful sort. But now he has hacked his way through the zealots who guard the mountain. He has killed.
Pondering, growing more agitated as he goes; he makes his way toward the tavern. He is now in a frenzy.
At the tavern, all turn to see Karl, no longer his usual musing self. Now he is all fire and rage. He smashes down the door to the tavern, his face a mask to do Odin credit. The one who gave him the drug is there. She is his target. "You!" And, "You," he screams through clenched jaws. He grasps her and hauls her to him.
"Give me more," he says.
Soon after submitting that plot, I received a phone call from said bitch editor. "I like this one," she told me. This was music to my ears. "I only have one problem with it," she said. This was a bit chilling, but as comics work is all hack work, I was prepared to be a hack.
"Sure," I said. "What do you need changed?"
"Well, it's the writers in the story."
"Karl Wagner and Bob Howard."
"What's the problem with that?"
"Can you change them to writers people actually care about?"
That was my last phone call with her.
(And, no, of course I didn't change the characters.)