Friday, August 16, 2013

Summer Fiction Week — "Author's Query"

     This story is a relic from the pre-Internet age, when the New York Times Sunday Book Review would run tiny classified advertisements by authors seeking information from the public to help with their book research. As anyone who deals with the public is acutely aware, you never know what weirdness you dredge up when you cast your hook into that pond. This actual query caught my eye, and I wondered what kind of response the poor woman received.  

                                      Author's Query

                         For a book on button folklore, I would appreciate
                            hearing from anyone with any button-related
                            anecdotes or tidbits from the past or present.
                                                                  -- ELLARAINE LOCKIE
                                                                     627 Templeton Court
                                                                     Sunnyvale, Calif. 94087

Dear Ms. Elaine Lockie:

     Just yesterday I'm at the office a few minutes before an important pitch meeting, checking myself in the men's room mirror, when I see that one of the little white buttons from my button-down collar is missing. Puzzling, because it had been there in the morning; I was sure of it.
     Anyway, at first I think I can just unbutton the other button, so they'll match, and I'll get by okay. But I look like a bum, with my collar ends all sticking up. So I race around, hoping a secretary has a needle and thread. Luckily, Margaret does— a little sewing kit from a hotel — and I race back to the bathroom. I fish out the tail of my shirt and tear off the little extra collar button. It would be easier to take the shirt off, but I don't have time, so I just sew it on, my face an inch from the mirror. Guys walking into the restroom stare at me, but I don't care. I've never been so focused on a little button before. I get it on, tight, just in time, and bolt to the meeting.
     We didn't get the account, but at least I knew it wasn't because of a button.
     I hope this story is useful to you.
     Tom Coreno
     Columbus, Ohio

Dear Ellaraine:

     What a bee-yoo-ti-ful name: "Elleraine." Like music. The moment I read such a pretty name, I knew that here, finally, was one special lady. And when I saw that you were interested in buttons too, whoa, it seemed like fate. I, too, have been fascinated by our round and colorful helpmates ever since I was a young boy, and have many thrilling button stories that I could relate to you. 
     But first, tell me more about your project. I imagine you've already sold it to a big publisher, and gotten a big advance. That's swell. Nothing like a load of money to make a woman happy—or a woman and a man happy, if you catch my drift.
     But maybe we can help each other. Write me a letter, telling me all about your book. Don't forget to include a picture of yourself and return postage. I promise I'll write you back immediately.
     Dylan McManus
     P.O. Box 23043
     Joliet, Illinois

Dear Friend Lockly:

    Greetings! Please direct your attention to my article (enclosed) revealing NEW IMPORTANT TRUTHS of great interest to all readers of any button book!!! you MUST ask yourself why this knowledge has not been disseminated to the public? What WEB OF LIES is keeping it hidden from those WHO MUST KNOW?!?!?
     It should be a simple thing for you to pass my essay along to your contacts at the New York Times  and see that it is published. The WORLD HANGS IN THE BALANCE!!!!
     Arthur M. Gaynes
     Dearborn, Michigan

Dear Ellen Lockie:

     You want stories about buttons? Okay. Here's a story. Look at the enclosed photograph. That's my son, my beautiful son, Randall, who was 18 months old when he got hold of a stray button. He must have found it on the floor. Randy put the button in his mouth and choked to death on it, right in front of my eyes.
     There! There's a button "anecdote" for your book. How do you like that "tidbit"? Does that make you happy? I cried for three hours when I read your stupid little ad. I hope you die. I hope you choke on your little button book, you bitch. If you print this story, I'll come after you with all the legal might at my disposal.  Remember -- I know where you live.
      Mrs. Alan Lenckos
      Salt Lake City, Utah
Dear Ms. Luckie:

     I'm not sure how much of your book is going to concentrate on Civil War buttons. But to the extent that it does, would you please manage to get something right? The crossed saber pattern that you see with alarming frequency on the uniforms of so many enlisted men in Union battle re-enactments should in fact be worn only by officers. You can't imagine how many times I've had to upbraid people over this. It's really very simple.
     Abner Silverstein
     New York State Button Society

 Dear Miss Lokie:

     The Zipper Museum and Library is among the most popular tourist attractions in the state of Indiana, and contains over 15,00 historic and interesting zippers in a 5,000 square foot display tracing the history of the zipper from its roots in 16th century France to the present day. Surely no story of buttons would be complete without inclusion of the "metallic centipede of buttons" (Hardwood, 1909). I will look forward to hearing from you. 
     Cynthia Mead, curator
     The Zipper Museum and Library
     Porter, Indiana

Dear Ellaraine:

     I was sad not to hear from you, but I also understand. Maybe I was a little forward. Still, I'm hoping you'll write, because I know a wonderful story regarding buttons. Really, it is. Just wonderful.
     But first—how much are you paying for these stories? This tale that I have is great—there's a lion, and a castle, and of course lots and lots of buttons in all colors and shapes. So what are we talking here? Tell you what—a thousand bucks, and the story is yours, by return post. Just send the money order to the address below. I am looking forward to contributing my fine story to what I am sure will be an excellent book.
     Dylan McManus
     P.O. Box 23043
     Joliet, Illinois

     Note: The real Ellaraine Lockie must have done better than I imagined she would, because her book, "All Because of a Button: Folklore, Fact and Fiction" was published, in 2000.



  1. I have thoroughly enjoyed this week's short story series. U of Chicago Press, are you taking note? We have a winner here.

  2. Reading this wonderfully funny piece at 4:20am...hope my laughter didn't wake the neighbors.

  3. Reading this a second time (has it really been a year already) has brightened my Monday a bit -- merci.

    1. P.S. Oops, just realized., it's been two years. Time flies.


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