Saturday, May 23, 2020

The Gift: How I came to Edit & Publish Blood Cries

The story landed on my doorstep. I heard a knock. I opened up. A young woman stood on the welcome mat. She wore a fedora pulled down over one of her eyes and a trench coat: London Fog, I think. 

"Honey," I called to my wife upstairs. "Some dame from the 1940s is here."

A pair of ruby red lips curled into a frown. No one ever gets my humor. 

I persisted.

"What'll it be, toots?" I said in my best Humphry Bogart. I whipped a washcloth over my shoulder. (I had been doing the dishes.) 

Instead of answering, she brushed past me and headed for the kitchen. Along the way, she reached into a large red leather handbag and pulled out a manuscript, which she slapped down on the breakfast table in dramatic fashion.

"Oh no," I thought. "She's going to want me to read that."

"Read this," she said.

"Or maybe you could just tell me your name and state your business." Bogey again.

She crossed her arms. Some wavy brown hair was starting to pull loose from her ponytail. I put her age at between twenty-eight and thirty-two, but her face had a weathered look, as if she'd been beaten up by years of worry. 

"I know who you are," she said. "I know you know the story of the Reverend and you know about his connection to [FAMOUS AUTHOR'S NAME REDACTED]."

Sure I did. The Reverend she referred to was the so-called voodoo preacher, alleged to have killed off at least five members of his own family. I wrote a book about it, as reported by New Yorker magazineAnother well-known magazine writer used my research as the basis for a long article published online. 

"Okay," I said

"And you have experience in publishing?"

"It's not very hard these days. I'm sure you'll have no trouble self-publishing your manuscript."

"It can't be me that does it," she said, "and it's not my manuscript."

I stood there looking confused, as is my custom.

"Here's my offer. You keep half of the profits, if there are any. The other half will go to charity, as stipulated in the contract."

"What profits?" I asked. "And what contract? Lady, I don't know what you're talking about."

"I can talk a little about the contract, but I can't say who it's with." She rolled her eyes in exasperation. "You'll figure it out if you start reading."  

I picked up the manuscript and started thumbing through pages. Some of it was clearly written by the woman, whose name, I would learn, was Chris Hope. 

I thought to myself: Boring. 

But then I noticed the other part: the book-within-a-book by someone named Louella Harper. I had never heard that name before, but I did recognize the title and the copyright date as belonging to a very famous writer. Surely not, I thought. I read the first few pages. Could it be?

Was this the lost manuscript?

I looked at the woman, this stranger who had turned up at my home unannounced. "How did you get this?"

"I own the rights fair and square," she said.

"But how?" 

"Read it," she said, gesturing to the manuscript. "It's all in there."

"I don't want to read it," I said. "I want to know the truth."

"Read it," she said.

And I did. After I started, I couldn't stop myself. And the more I read, the more convinced I became that she was telling the truth. 

Now, I was faced with a simple choice: to help her, or not. To do something, or nothing. I suppose you've already figured out the choice I made.