Thanks to Jeff, Iâ€™m now widely known to the world as an ex-wrestler turned mobster, with a murky past and a happy family life, whoâ€™s passing his time hunting big game in the South China Sea and trading weasels for iguanas in a remote corner of the world, where the navy patrols the Danube under noontime fireworks, fishing out bored swimmers looking to cool off…
Oh boy… Sometimes I wish all of that would be true. The (whole) truth is far more prosaic. Most of my adventures happen among books, me being a bookaholic. But how wonderful these adventures can be! Reading has brought me lots of excitment, and guest-blogging here brings back nice memories.
I remember a day far back in 1998, when I was writing most of my letters in longhand and only the official letters deserved to be printed, when I used to sneak in my wifeâ€™s office at the City Hall to get some time online when she wasnâ€™t using her computer. Besides from reading my emails and quickly uploading my answers (written the day before on my ancient second-hand Pentium 286) from a 3.5â€ diskette, I searched like mad the internet for some free online fiction. Back then, Romanians were blacklisted by Amazon.com, online ordering for foreign books was an utopic dream and the local public library was stocking only classics in English.
Thatâ€™s when I discovered a website called Infinity Plus, and the loads of fiction that a wonderful guy named Keith Brooke was putting out for us. Among the stories some of my favorite writers had allowed Keith to publish, there were some terrific texts written by names I had never heard of. One that really got to me was a story called â€œFlight Is for Those Who Have Not Yet Crossed Overâ€ by a guy named Jeff VanderMeer. There were other stories by him on Infinity Plus, so I read them and was blown over by his imagery and wonderful imagination. Among other nice things Keith Brooke was providing – along with the stories and short author bios – there were links to the (somewhat rare at the time) websites the authors or their fans maintained.
So I went over to find out Jeffâ€™s web presence and found an e-mail address and wrote him a passionate fan message. At the time I was editing a digest-sized magazine called Fictiuni, the only F&SF magazine that was published at the time in Romania. Its periodicity was erratic, but I had managed to put out some nice issues (two or three at the time, of the seven that got published by the time it folded, in 2001). I was also planning to move on from translating and editing for one of Romaniaâ€™s major publishers to founding my own publishing company and, a dream I still entertain, representing foreign F&SF authors on the Romanian book market. So, besides asking for the right to translate some of his stories in Romanian (to be published in Fictiuni), I dared to offer Jeff the chance to be the first author I was to represent here, in the carpathic landscape.
I got a quick positive answer, and I sent him a contract template for our future mutual benefit. He returned it almost on the spot, with a few ammendments that formed an eleventh paragraph, whose provisions Iâ€™m sure youâ€™ll spot if you read the following text, that Mr. VanderMeer got in his e-mail a few days later…
Dear Mr. VanderMeer,
My name is Pop Popescu and I am a lawyer. I am writing you on behalf of my employer, Mr. Horia Nicola Ursu, executive manager of Omnibooks, Ltd. The reason I am writing you for is the eleventh paragraph of the contract Mr. Ursu and yourself have agreed upon yesterday. Without consulting me, Mr. Ursu has signed this contract and mailed it to you yesterday, then started to fulfill the provisions of the incriminated eleventh paragraph. In short, this is what happened: At 3:00 p.m., Mr. Ursu took out all the money of the firm out of the bank and contracted an additional loan (with all the firm’s assets as guarantee), then bought a trumpet. (Trumpets are rather rare these days in Romania, you only can find them on the black market, where they are sold by former Afghanistan veterans from Ukraine, from the ex-Red Army surplus). At 9:30 p.m., Mr. Ursu entered by effraction in his neighbour’s backyard and stole twelve Tyrannosaurus Rex eggs (his neighbour is a renowned paleonthologist). The theft was discovered only this morning. At 12:00 p.m. (or was it 0.00 a.m.?), Mr. Ursu, naked as Asimov’s Sun, walked out in front of the Central Administrative building, blew in the trumpet six times and was caught by the two police officers and forced to follow them. He resisted, screaming as he was dragged towards the police car: “In the name of Jeff VanderMeer, I claim this city for the People’s Republic of Literature! I claim it twice!” (Later, he confessed that he claimed twice the city because he suspected he would not be released in time to fulfill the provision of the contract until next week). Mr. Ursu was placed under arrest, and, this morning, his house was searched with the approval of the County Judge and the theft of the Tyrannosaurus eggs was discovered. In consequence, despite my best efforts, Mr. Ursu has been sentenced to life emprisonment, under psychiatric control, for qualified theft, disturbing public order, black marketing, anticonstitutional activities, conspiration against the authorities of Romania and public exhibition of his belly-button (which is a serious offense against local traditions). Here I am coming to the point of my letter. The Omnibooks Copyrights Management Agency, Ltd. no longer exists. In consequence, the contract you will soon receive in the mail is no longer valid, and it should not be signed. However, before he was sent to the County Prison, Mr. Ursu demanded me to ask you to pay, according to paragraph IV.b. of the contract, the legal fees for his trial, and also a monthly allowance of 1500 US dollars to his wife, for whom he would no longer be able to provide, being emprisoned. Should you refuse, I am entitled to go to court to obtain all this.
Waiting for your answer and hoping we would not have the oportunity to meet in court, please, receive all my best wishes.
Pop Popescu, attorney-at-law.
P.S.: Would you be interested in buying two and a half tons of congealed strawberries? Mrs. Ursu is willing to sell them at a really nice price.
Yeah, thatâ€™s about how it happened… However, Iâ€™m now free again… and as Jeff has made the mistake to invite me to guest-blog here, more revelations about the true nature of my host and the nefarious things thatÂ happened during our two face-to-face showdowns will follow. Stay tuned!