While pursuing my degree over those 18 arduous years, I had been obliged to work from time to time. After mastering the craft of janitorial work, I applied for, and was rejected by two publishing houses as a part-time, temporary, unpaid editor. (A good friend of mine said there are two kinds of people—the humble and those who are going to be. Somehow I occupied both categories simultaneously.) Eventually I talked my way into a part-time, temporary, low-paid position as an assistant warehouseman at Randall Book Company, in Orem, Utah. The employers there made it clear that they would tolerate me only until the Christmas rush was over, so I began to scan the premises for other duties to make me less disposable.
While wandering through one of the empty offices (there were several, as the firm was not on the most solid of financial footings), I found a stack of manuscripts. Actually several stacks, all thigh-high and leaning toward OSHA-like hazards. I naively asked what the thousands and thousands of pages falling over themselves were. After my reprimand for not being in the warehouse where I temporarily belonged, I was informed that the stacks were dozens and dozens of manuscripts that had been submitted to the firm for possible publishing. I naively asked why they hadn’t been returned after being read. The look I received was one I will not soon, or possibly ever, forget. They had not yet been read, I was informed, because the owners of the company were businessmen, not readers, and since the company’s finances were actually more precarious than those Pisa-like stacks in the abandoned office, that’s where the people who knew anything had to spend their time—to wit, juggling bills, not relaxing with some two-bit LDS novel.
Seeing the picture more clearly, I proposed a solution: I would read the manuscripts, inform the august businessmen of any quality writing that may have snuck in to the piles (which were growing daily), and send the rest back with kind regrets. I almost said I would do it for free, just to endear my sorry self to these fine men, when a strange lapse of practicality overtook me. In the end, my wife and I read them at night, for something less than minimum wage, and, behold, one gem after another began sparkling before our eyes.
Over the next several weeks we found a future bestseller, at least in the Latter-Day Saint genre, The Worth of a Soul, which is still available some 36 years later (alas, now from Deseret Book). We found novels that would stretch into multiple printings. We found young, hungry authors who actually had important things to say. In the end, we found the salvation of the company, and by the following Christmas we had five bestsellers, including a wildly entertaining game called Celestial Pursuit, which alone would bring over a million dollars into the company’s soon-to-be perpendicular accounts. And, by and by, with more coaxing and pleading and sacrificing, I earned myself a near permanent promotion to “Assistant Editor.” Whom, exactly, I was assisting was a mystery, of course, as I could never find the actual Editor, but such niceties were of trivial concern—I had a job.
For a while.
Eventually, with more Latter-Day Saint bestsellers under my belt, I was promoted to Managing Editor, though, again, whom I was “managing” was a mystery, as the other offices were still empty. But life was good, so, of course . . .
I quit school again.
Which meant that I needed humbling, which meant that I would soon be out of a job, which meant that I would be groveling for admittance to BYU again. I say “groveling” because BYU’s academic standards had the annoying wont of going up, making it harder for dilettantes like me to get in, and by the time I squeezed into school for the last time it was with the stigma of “academic probation.”
(Sorry about going back and forth in time, but this is a blog, and all blogs I have read seem to make an art of this. Also noteworthy, and also going back or forward in time—I have lost track—I was the very last person in the world to graduate from BYU under their old “General Education Program.” This program was discontinued sometime in the 80s, and the school gave students ten years to graduate under that program or be forced to matriculate into the new program. I graduated ten years later, to the day.)
But, as I have said, repeatedly, I eventually graduated (though not until I was managing editor of another publishing company, which, remarkably, did employ other editors), and I was poised for a wild ride into the firmament, and into the depths of ecclesiastical contumely—indeed, into the strangest and most wonderful and worst and best and most enigmatically quixotic journey I could have ever imagined.
Next: My infamous journey to a little fame and a lot of trouble.