Adios, Scheherazade by Donald E. Westlake (Simon and Schuster, 1970)
Donald Westlake, RIP, wrote this funny book around the same time that Hal Dresner wrote his funny book, The Man Who Wrote Dirty Books, both novels about the sleaze publishing racket, both published by Simon and Schuster. Both wrote for Midwood and Nightstand as young writers needing money experience, both were contracted out by Scott Meredith, both went on to bigger and better careers, both got a funny book out of the experience.
The narrator of Adios is a writer, 25, with a wife and kid and dreams of graduate school someday, knocking out a book a month for a New Orleans paperback house as Dirk Smuff. The pen name used to belong to his friend Rod, who now has a spy series with a better house at $3,000 advances, publishes articles in Playboy, and has a movie deal in Hollywood. The smut publisher still thinks they are getting Dirk Smuff novels from him, not knowing he has “a ghost” as they call it.
His cadre of writing friends all have ghosts, collecting part of the $1,200 per book minus the agent’s commisson; they all have better careers and magazine or mainstream book writers. All except the lonly narrator, who is having a hard time getting his monthly books in on time…first two days late, then three, then four, then nine…the agency tells him if he’s late one more time, they will replace him with an eager writer who can do the work.
He’s done 28 of these books, the income has been nice, and he wouldn’t know what else to do. He’s never submitted anything to a magazine or publisher in his life. He admires and envies his old college roommate, Rod (possibly Lawrence Block here), because in college the guy would write a new story every week and send them out and collect rejection slips until one day he sels a story to a Playboy-imitator, who later becomes the book publisher. (This is obviously William Hamling’s Rouge, that Harlan Ellison and Algis Budrys edited, and later started the Nightstand line.)
The novel consists of several failed attempts at the first three chapters of the 29th sex novel, Passion Sinner, originally Lust Under the Big Top until he realizes he couldn’t write a carnival novel effectively, although the first sentence has been in his mind for a while: “She used to be in show business in New Orleans until the pony’s platform broke” (p. 69 — a coincidence?)
But every time he tries to write fiction, he laspes into stream-of-consciousness ramblings about his marriage, his daughter “Fred” (Elfredna), the other writers he knows (Block, Drenser and William Coons? Maybe Silverberg?) and how he would like his own pen name instead of ghosting as Dirk Smuff (Westlake did some ghosting as Andrew Shaw, John Dexter, and Don Holliday, but was mostly known as Alan Marshall and Alan Marsh for Midwod and Nightstand.)
The narrator seems to be more Art Plotnik than Westlake — Plotnik became Drenser’s ghost as Don Holliday, and wrote under all the other names, never having his own.
He comes up with a great outline that cobbles together many sleaze plots — young Sally from the midwest heads to New York after graduating secretarial school, meets a young would be actor on the bus, has an affair, meets actor’s female cousin who is a lesbian, gets Sally into lesbiana, gets raped by her boss at the ad agency, leaves the lesbian cousin, lesbian cousin tries to hurt her, is saved by a hunky lead actor, seduced by actor, then
walking down the street, Sally meets a couple of sailors who engage her in conversation. The smuggle her abaord the battleship and when they are on the highs eas she blows the entire Seventh Fleet until, bloated with cum, she is harpooned by a passing whaler and sinks without a trace. (p. 83)
In another part, he mentions a ghost who wrote half of a normal sex novel, and suddenly in the middle Martians land on earth and start having sex with earth women in one great global orgy.
And you know, there may be old books out there with these very plots…
This a funny funny book, but also an insider’s view of how the publishing of smut paperbacks worked back then, with he agent acting as middle an. The agent in the book, Lance Pangle, never shows his face in public, and has his assistant do all the grunt work, not unlike Scott Meredith — Meredith did not exit, that was just a name for two brothers who were pulling sme great cons on the publishing industry, as well as being the men behind the curtain for some great literature (Norman Mailer, Arthur C. Clark, Issac Asimov, etc).
The narrator keeps writing about his past sex life, how he got a girl in college pregnant and had to marry her, how his marriage is falling apart, how he fears he will lose his sex novel gig, how he lusts for his friends’ wives and has fantasies…
He also snaps and can’t tell reality from fantasy anymore, the pages in the typewriter from his life…
The title comes from a book Rod is working on and wants to call Adios, Motherfucker, but his publisher says they’ll never get reviewed if that happens.
Westlake gets to put al kinds of bad words and graphic sex scenes in a 1970 hardback, when he couldn’t ten years eariler.
Not sure when Westlake stopped writing the sleaze — his career as a crime writer seemed to take off around 1966-68. There are some Alan Marshalls published in 1966-7, but like the Andrew Shaws of the time, were mostly likely penned by ghosts.
May be hard to find a resasnably priced copy of this one. I found a cipy at the library, old and beaten up and falling apart, last checked out in August 22, 1999, first checked out July 3, 1972.
This novel is ripe for posthumous rerpinting in paperback — hey, Hard Case, you listenin’?
Actually, what would be really cool is, say, a Stark House edition of this along with one or two of Westlake’s Midwood or Nightstand titles.
One, Sin Resort, was penned by his wife Nedra when he didn’t have time to meet a deadline.