Morty (Last name unknown) was the founder and editor-in-chief of The Portland Review from 1921-2010. He is currently retired, living a life of modest luxury in Florida. “Helen!” he screams, “I need more cream. It’s hot out.” These are his stories.
The Killers (1926, Ernest Hemingway). Oh Christ. I remember sending that acceptance letter out in the mail. Great story. A little weird that there was little to no dialogue in it, but god, the writing was great. I think Ernie narrated it from a mouse’s point of view, originally. I can’t remember. You’d have to ask the currentReview editor to dig that one up. But man. He (Hemingway) hadn’t published very much at that point, I think just this book about cats, and was living in some European country eating biscuits or something). So my gut reaction to this story was that it was great and that we had to publish it. I mailed out the acceptance letter and the very next day I got a call.
“Yeah,” I said, answering the phone.
“Thank you.” God that voice. Sounded like. Well. It just sounded like some guy. Nothing special. It was like he wasn’t real. Some ghost was calling it. Or a computer, if they had those at the time. Maybe a calling machine. But the voice was just there, like a lump of crap. Flat. Affectationless. Dead to the world. For a second there I thought someone was about to off himself and called me, wrong number of course, as the his suicide call. Also, I hadn’t had a change to drink my morning Joe.
“Lissen kid. Don’t kill yerself until you get the person you wanna talk to. Like a lady. Ladies are good to talk to. They listen.”
“This is Ernie.”
“Yeah, great. And my friend Bongo Bob has a bridge he can sell ya.”
“No. I wrote The Killers. The story you accepted.”
“Jumping Jesus on a pogostick,” I said. “Don’t you live in Canasia or something? How’d the mail get there so fast.”
“I just want to thank you for publishing my story.”
“Oh yeah, it was pretty good. Had some suggestions.”
Ernie gulped. Young writers needed to be wrangled, you know? And it’s my job to do the wrangling. We, editors, see something that can be developed and we do that. No writer is born fully-formed. You see these chuckleheads being published in the Nude Yorker. You think that comes that easily? No. Editors mold the prose. The unsung heroes of the writing world, us. Editors. Someday someone’ll write something about whatever it is we do titled Whatever It Is We Do Is A Secret. But I digress.
“Kiddo, put a few lines of dialogue in there. Some breathing room. No one wants to read a list of cheese.”
“Kinds of cheese.”
“There are a lot of kinds of cheese. Brie. Monster. Charlie Cheese. Uh. Wednesdaydale. Yellow. Orange….”
And then the goober was getting ready to list things, so I cut the joker off.
“Dialogue. Scene. Stop with these long paragraphs and flowery sentences. You’re nuts are purple but your prose shouldn’t be.”
“My nuts are pink.”
“Well, what do you have that’s purple?”
“You need to go out there and live for a year son. Go hunt a lion. That’s how I got my job.”
And then I hung it and drank my coffee.
That, my friends, is how literature is born. And a legend. Helen. My cream! I need my cream!