Southern Scotch

Southern Scotch

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Velvet Fist and Five Frightening Words

Have you ever heard a tale so cool you couldn't help replaying it in your head over and over again? I know two and I was part of one. And tonight I'm in a mood. If you are too, then here they are.

In his memoir, publisher Michael Korda told the tale of Five Frightening Words. The tale starred a powerful agent, one of the most potent forces around. The agent was always soft-spoken...invariably polite...and hell on wheels at business. The thing was, he never blustered. He never, never lost his cool. He never threatened, never yelled. In fact, he never raised his voice. At a point, though, in any proceeding, the dreaded moment invariably came: this quiet man--who, by the way, also never bluffed--would say the five words his world trembled to hear: 'Is that your final offer?' At this point, you see, any games had to stop. The question meant he was ready to walk--and walk off with a property, the loss of which might well cause your sorry head to roll. No debate: accept that risk or meet the figure that he had in mind.

The man some called The Velvet Fist taught me another great lesson, this one more painfully learned. In the early 90s, when my horror career was still hot, I did some agent jumping with hopes of earning kaboodles of cash. I signed on with The Velvet Fist, though he insisted I knuckle down and finish my third novel before he took it to market. I needed an advance, though, to write it. TVF held fast, though: he'd make us kaboodles if I wrote it first. I started, then caught wind of a hot new agent who was looking for clients and selling books on spec. I needed money, damn it. So...I sent TVF a short letter, informing him that I'd found new representation. And TVF responded on one of the tiny note sheets that had become his trademark: 'I suppose you must follow your star. Best of luck.' Now, he may have been livid. But those were his words. And, time and again, through the years, I would wish that he had gone off on me, giving me some grounds for rancor. TVF went on to reject every new book that I pitched him for years. But all I could hear was his gracious 'I suppose you must follow your star.'

I admire both these men more and more each year. Salut!

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