Understandably, Harry Strong gave us the cold shoulder after Mom and Dad returned from their WonTon trip. Over the next few weeks we left dozens of messages. Finally his secretary admitted that he might be in his office.

He was pretty gruff to Mom on the phone. "We're sorry it didn't work out with Dr. Won Ton," Mom offered.

"Hmmm," the voice on the other end grunted. Obviously a rather large feather had been plucked from his cap. But it wasn't our fault! And besides, we still had a feather to offer him, didn't we?

"Monica's having a real tough time. Seems series are even tougher than usual to place. Times are hard, and no one wants to commit to a possibly endless series."


"We'll keep trying, if you insist, but have you folks considered a vanity house."

"Uh, what's that?" Mom asked nervously.

"I don't recommend those kind of publishers, you understand. You pay them to publish your book. You can just as easily publish it yourself. Which, in this particular case, might not be a bad idea."

"Publish it ourselves?" Mom quivered. "You mean we'd have to get a printing press and..."

"No, no. Most of the big publishers don't even do their own printing. When you self-publish you just coordinate everything. You get a typesetter to typeset the book, a printer to print it and possibly bind the books. Then, of course, you have to worry about selling them. But listen, go to your library and look for a book on it. There are a couple of good ones out there. A lot of people are self-publishing these days, and I think it might be just the thing for your folks."

"What would it cost us to do the series?"

"I'd start out with one book, if I were you. Printing'll cost something like five or ten thousand. To market it, well that could cost you anywhere from nothing to, well, the sky's the limit. But I'd say 15 or 20 thousand should be enough to give it a good shot."

"Well...thanks for the idea. But you'll still be trying to place it, won't you."

"Well....if you really want us to. But I wouldn't place too much hope in it at this point. But listen, one of the advantages of self-publishing is that if you can show it's a good seller, you can probably find a real publisher to take it on. They just don't want to take the risk on an idea that's never been done before."

If we had been devastated before, we were really crushed now. What had happened to this golden idea we had had? Now we had no hope. How could we self-publish the book? 15 or 20 thousand, indeed. How could we come up with that kind of money? Mom and Dad's debt had skyrocketed. Their credit cards were all maxed out. They didn't have one penny left on their home equity line.

Mom called Uncle Bill and filled him in on what was happening. "You could ask Pop," he suggested.

Mom almost dropped the phone. She was not exactly in good standing with her dad. In fact, we hadn't seen our grandparents in years.

"Their sixtieth wedding anniversary is coming up this month. We were going to have it here in New York...I know you weren't even planning on coming, but I can tell Dad you've invited everyone to Eagle Rock...Maybe you could patch things up."

"They'd never come," Mom sighed.

"Well, I think I can get them to come, that is if George promises to behave himself..."

"Bill, you know perfectly well it's Dad that picks on him!"

"I know, Mary, but if George could just take it in stride -- not let Dad get to him. That's just the way Dad is."

"I don't know, Bill, it's a good idea, but I don't know if George'll go for it."

"Well, you let me know, Mary."

Dad and Grandpa had been feuding since they first met. They'd gotten in an argument a long time ago, when Mom and Dad were first going out. Then Grandpa wouldn't give his permission for them to get married, so they eloped, which of course got Grandpa even madder. He had wanted to throw his only daughter a big wedding, when the RIGHT man came along, of course.

Dad and Grandpa have called truces several times since then, but they always end in earthquake-like screaming bouts, and we'd go another few years without seeing Grandma and Grandpa. The Cold War to us had always meant the war of silence between Dad and Grandpa.

It seemed pretty obvious why they never got along. You see, Grandpa is, well, he's even more eccentric than Dad, but in a different way, of course.

Grandpa is rather impulsive -- quite the opposite of Dad. Grandpa never plans anything. Which is not to say that Grandpa likes to take risks. He's actually quite conservative. But he goes with his instincts every time. Of course, he's extremely lucky, too. Anyway, he's one of those self-made men, you know, stubborn and proud -- the kind that can hold a grudge for a million years. Sort of like Dad.

"NO WAY!" Dad boomed when Mom asked him. By the end of the day he'd swallowed his pride, though. He knew it was our only chance. "Oh, okay," he conceded.

Mom called Bill and then told us.

For a second we all panicked. We flashed back to days of old when each year Grandma and Grandpa used to come up for a week in the summer. We'd spend three days solid cleaning and sweeping and scrubbing the scum off of everything. Then when they arrived, they'd practically pass out and tell us what a pigsty we had.

Of course, those days were gone -- our house was sort of presentable now. Well, it had been before we converted it into a giant office.

After giving it some thought, Mom and Dad decided it wasn't a good idea to let Grandpa know what we'd been doing. He'd launch into one of his tirades, and would lecture them on how we've been planning this thing to death. We were going to publish one book, no sense telling him we'd already written ten of them, and had the background material for another hundred.

Not to mention the fact that copy machines, fax machines, computers, reference books, and 37 filing cabinets packed solid with information didn't exactly make the best entertaining decor.

Nor the fact that the only available spare room in the house was now an office for our part-time employees, who were really draining every penny Mom and Dad could rustle up these days. (Felicia and Colby, by this point, thank goodness, were back in college, and only came over to help out when they happened to be home every couple of weekends or so.)

"Even if we get the money, we're going to have to cut everything to the bone," Mom sighed. "We're going to have to let Veronica and Feona go."

Dad was crushed. He kind of liked having some hired hands around. They never grumbled or complained when he had a job for them to do. Now if he had something to be done, he'd have to ask us, the master-complainers.

Mom and Dad sat them down and broke the news.

"I kind of figured it was coming," Veronica smiled. "I understand."

Us kids were kind of sad to see them go, too. They were like family in a way.

"If this thing ever works out, we'd really like to have you all back," Dad sighed. "You've all been great!" I could see the tears well up in his eyes.

"Yes, and because it's all so sudden," Mom continued, "and we have to start disassembling the office right away, we'll give you two weeks pay, but today will be the last day."

The tears were really flowing in Dad's eyes now. "Two weeks pay for nothing..." he muttered and tried to smile.

Mrs. Fitzenwahler, meanwhile, didn't say a word through all this. Later we were all hugging and everyone was teary-eyed and we waved good bye to Veronica, but Mom and Dad walked back into the office with Mrs. Fitzenwahler, and they closed the door. I shuddered and wondered what devilish remarks she was sharing with them back there. And to think, I was almost thinking I would miss her!

I stood there debating whether or not I should sneak a peak through the keyhole. Would I see Old Fire Fists turn into a lion and devour them before my eyes? Would she turn them into zombies with one of her black magic witch spells? Would they be her slaves forever? The beads of sweat were dripping down my forehead. I was biting my lip so hard it hurt. Just when I'd decided to go ahead and have a look, the door knob turned and I jumped back.

Mrs. Fitzenwahler was smiling. "Well, see you tomorrow, young man," she hissed.

"Huh?" I gasped, checking to see if there was any life left in Mom and Dad's eyes.

"Mrs. Fitzenwahler will still be coming in every day," Mom said, after she'd left.

"WHY?!!!" I demanded. She must have put a spell on them!

"She won't be collecting any money until after this thing works out," Dad assured me.


"Richard," Dad glared at me. "The poor woman doesn't have anything else to do."

"Oh, great. Now we're directing her social life. Wonderful. I'll never get rid of her!" I muttered under my breath.

Dad shook his head annoyedly.

I tried to smile. "Maybe we could stick her up in the attic with all the rest of this junk," I giggled to myself half-seriously.

But Mom and Dad weren't listening. They kept staring at the phone. "Okay, okay..." Mom sighed. "I'll call Dad already."

We wished her luck and braced ourselves for the grandfather of all earthquakes to erupt.

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