A Most Disconcerting Title

By a vote of 5-4 in favor, the editorial team at Jackhammer Publishers agreed to move ahead on the manuscript that for months, years, eternity, languished sight unseen, unread, and unappreciated in what they call in the publishing industry the “slush file.”

Advocates for the book argued that while it was disconcerting on one level, on another level it was actually smart(ass), hysterical, and poignant. It might even have mass appeal for making tons of money for Jackhammer by converting the manuscript into a blockbuster movie if they could con some Hollywood director into putting it on screen.

The next step involved calling the author and offering congratulations that Jackhammer wanted to collaborate with him on putting his words into print.

They had no contact email address or telephone number for this author, the page with that information must have fallen out somewhere or maybe it had never been included to begin with. Even the unscrupulous literary agent who the author had overpaid to represent him on this book couldn’t be located. Turns out the agent apparently had declared bankruptcy before going out of business and moved into another line of work selling used cars.

But actually, not knowing who the author was could work to their advantage. The more the author kept himself hidden, the more it made him sound worth pursuing. Like cat and mouse. Maybe he was some kind of recluse like J.D. Salinger of The Catcher in the Rye fame and

wanted to be secretive about his work, assuming it was a him we’re talking about.

Harmony “Lolo” Chen was the Jackhammer lead commissioning editor in her late 20s who had first accidentally come across the full manuscript after it fell on the floor out of the slush file and she bent to pick it up. The title of the book both appalled and intrigued Lolo–I’ll Be Rich After I’m Dead. It led her to peruse the first chapter, examine more closely the second chapter and then started laughing as she read through the entire 365-page opus. Lolo told her colleagues they had to, in fact must, publish this book–she personally would investigate on how to find the author.


The funeral that day for who was identified in the death notice as a Mr. Jester Johnson was scantily attended; only his college buddy, along with cemetery workers who were curious and proud of having dug the ditch where the body would be buried, and a homeless bum having nothing better to do sat in the metal folding chairs set back from the plot from where he would be laid to rest. The arrangements for Jester’s funeral had been arranged by the old college buddy, who like Jester, had taken it upon himself to call himself a writer even if most of their stuff had never seen the light of day. The friend wouldn’t be around much longer in these parts, having used a mid-life crisis as an opportunity to take his unappreciated literary talents to a new life in Paris, France.

The Johnson death notice said he was a 66-year-old freelance writer from Carmel, Indiana, who had previously worked as an underwriter for a car insurance company. The notice added that Jester was most proud of a story called “Call Me When You Got Two Seconds,” which his friends thought was his most accomplished writing and that they considered too funny for words. What the notice didn’t say was that Jester’s survivors consisted only of an estranged sister who was still alive somewhere but she and Jester hadn’t spoken to each other for the last 10 years or so, after the funeral for their father who had passed away after working himself to death for 65 years.

Jester carelessly, or maybe he didn’t care since he had no dependents and was incommunicado with his sister, his only surviving close family member, had left no last will and testament, had never wanted any funeral and fuss made over him like this, let him go in peace by throwing his body in the river, but that wish was disregarded. During and at the end of his life, where he dropped over from being overstressed watching his favorite team, the Chicago Bulls, in an NBA playoff basketball game, all he wanted was maybe to get recognized as a good writer who hadn’t sold out for a few lousy bucks. Was that asking too much?


They gave it their best shot, but the Jackhammer people couldn’t locate the author. They’d keep searching, but meanwhile, Lolo Chen said they had to get his book out by Christmas, six months from now to take advantage of the increased holiday readership that would mean more sales for them.

Her editing counterpart at Jackhammer, Maximillian Jeffrey who on the ide wrote comic articles under the jokey pseudonym of Max-A-Million, said whoa, hold on a gosh darn second, weren’t they barreling into this project too fast? Shouldn’t they check to see if the book idea had been stolen from some other writer? How could this writer not have been seen or heard from before, and then suddenly his book emerges out of nowhere with something astonishing and funny that was sure to be a moneymaker? You couldn’t be too careful, said Max.


Lolo turned past the manuscript’s introduction to Chapter One, and giggled when she read the opening lines. Joking or not, the author had titled it, “How to Succeed at Failure.” The first sentences had grabbed her attention: “I’m a Complete and Utter Failure, I’ve failed at everything I’ve ever tried to do. I was born a failure and that’s how I’ll die.” She read on, with her red editing pencil at the ready:

“I was born to parents who were both total miserable failures, my brother Zack was a failure, my sister Hannah was a flop at everything she ever tried, and even my dog Eros couldn’t poop right. I took him to the vet to see what was wrong with him and the vet said he thought Eros

was constipated, but at least he was good at being constipated, some dogs don’t even have that talent.”

Moving on to Chapter 2, the author went into great detail how he had failed at becoming a novelist, that his work had been rejected possibly a Guinness Book of Records 2,575 times and that he had considered giving up writing and doing something else where he could fail at that equally as well.                                                                                                                 

But perversely since somehow writing was in his blood, and perhaps because he apparently was a masochist, he continued sending out manuscripts to agents and publishers who if they answered him at all, sent form letter rejections back often with the statement sounding something like this: “this is only one opinion, it’s no reflection on your work, and we wish you the best of luck getting it placed elsewhere.”

The day came, however, when a small literary press outfit accepted one of his short stories called, “Christ As You’ve Never Seen Him Before,” about a young guy named Fred who by some miracle had transported back in history to witness the birth of Jesus Christ. At the Nativity scene, Fred was still outfitted in his workout clothes at the gym, after he had gone back to ancient time. The story went on that Fred and Christ had become best buddies, were inseparable until they had a misunderstanding where Fred had expressed doubt in a joking way about Christ being the Second Coming with Christ saying bitterly that Fred might as well go back to where he came from, wherever that was, and Christ would go back to wherever he came from.

Other than being sacrilegious, the moral of the story, the writer revealed, was that apparently even the holiest of the holy, a Lord of the Universe, can sometimes be a humorless, oversensitive jerk who takes himself way too seriously. But they can be forgiven for their transgressions, that forgiveness is what separates man from the apes. At least that’s the hook the literary house took from the piece. They paid him $35, mailing him the check and a free copy of the magazine where his article had appeared, somewhat betraying his notion that he was a complete and utter failure



Lolo Chen was determined to make this book a success, even if it killed her since she believed it would sell like hotcakes if they marketed it properly. What they really needed was to get the book advertised on the television talk shows, places like Good Morning America, The View, and Jimmy Kimmel Live late at night, along with it being featured on Oprah’s Book Club, and Book TV on PBS.

But even beyond that, they desperately needed the author in person, and if they couldn’t find the real author, perhaps they would have to invent one.

Lolo remembered that book, A Confederacy of Dunces, which became a cult classic 11 years after its author, John Kennedy Toole, had died by asphyxiation. The word on the street was that the book got published through the efforts of Toole’s mother who coerced the writer Walker Percy to take an interest in the work. If that book could make money without the author being alive, could the same thing happen with I’ll Be Rich After I’m Dead?

Jackhammer editors and agents sat around a long Formica table to discuss what the name of the fake author should be. The names ranged from a jokey suggestion of Ernest Hemingway or William Faulkner to the alliterative Jack Johnson, until somebody remembered that was the name of the heavyweight boxing champion from the early 1900s and they might get sued if they tried going with that.

With no consensus, they voted to table the idea for later.



It came to pass that Lolo Chen got a nibble on where to find this unknown author, after accidentally coming across a death notice in the Indianapolis. Indiana newspaper about a writer named Jester Johnson, known among the literati for writing humorous and sarcastic pieces, including something called “Call Me If You Got Two Seconds,” which sounded like a funny read and something similar to what their anonymous writer might have crafted. With this hint, Lolo would contact the funeral home included in the death notice, find out who had paid for it and go from there. She got excited thinking she was finally on the path to identifying the mystery author.

But when she called the funeral home, all she got was a machine that said the phone number had been changed. When she called that number, the machine said “please leave a message, sir or madam, we will get back to you as soon as possible. Please stay safe and have a nice day.”

She waited a day or two with nobody calling back and then went on-line looking for an email address for the funeral home but when she punched in the website all she got was a dark screen with white block letters saying, “Under Reconstruction.” Struck out again.

Maybe the author himself, Jester Johnson, had faked his own death to somehow attract publicity for himself, but something didn’t add up. In fact, after a detailed on-line search, maybe Jester Johnson and this funeral home were both now dead.

She could call the newspaper, find out who exactly had placed the death notice but that sounded too creepy, they would think she was some kind of psycho, maybe even call the authorities on her. No, forget about going in that direction, anyway it could be somebody else had written the book, so she was wasting her time pursuing this Jester Johnson, since he apparently no longer existed, if that was even his real name.

Lolo thought she was at a dead end, maybe they would have to go back to that idea of creating a live fake author. But then out of the blue, she saw an email pop up on her computer screen. It was from somebody named “Wire Paladin” who claimed to be the author of “I’ll Be Rich After I’m Dead.”

Come on, Lolo said, was this real? That name rang a bell, where had she heard it? This Wire Paladin said he had gotten word that Jackhammer liked his book, wanted to publish it, and that he was ready to negotiate how to split the profits.

The first question, of course, was how this Wire Paladin had found out they were interested in his book, if in fact it was his book. There was no phone number listed with the email, did she dare writing back to him?

She showed it around to her colleagues who said what the heck, what did they have to lose in connecting with Wire Paladin other than getting involved with someone who might be nuts? If he truly was who he claimed to be, they could go from there.

Lolo emailed back requesting that he first tell them how he knew they liked his book. What else had he written? And how could they believe he wasn’t stealing from somebody else and that he wasn’t a lunatic?

She waited a few days but didn’t hear back from him. Obviously, it was a crank, she decided. Still, she had to wonder how the emailer had known about the book.


The next day there was a correction to the death notice in the newspaper appearing the day before about the demise of a Jester Johnson. The notice was in the corrections section of the paper that few people, certainly not Lolo Chen, bothered reading. The correction said there had been a typo, a huge misspelling of the deceased’s first name, somehow the p had been transposed into a t. The correct name was Jesper Johnson.

Like everything else regarding the man’s life, they couldn’t even spell his name right. The big mystery was how did the newspaper know to correct the error? If anyone cared to know, it came to pass that Jesper’s college friend over in Paris had scanned the Internet to find the newspaper’s website, and seeing the mistake, sent over an email with the correction.


All this, of course, was unknown to Lolo. All this time they had been trying to find out about the wrong person who might have written this book. Yes, the death notice had originally said the deceased author’s name was Jester Johnson but maybe that was fake too. Lolo was convinced somebody was playing a big joke on them.

Meanwhile, Lolo took the chance and emailed Wire Paladin again saying they hadn’t heard from him and if he still wanted to talk with them, they were ready to talk to him. She waited, but nothing. Silence. Obviously, a crank.


Wire Paladin, the name stolen from the old TV show, Have Gun Will Travel, was actually one Bart Barcliff, a former copy editor at Jackhammer who had been terminated several months before for inappropriate behavior regarding his female associate, Lolo Chen. Bart had vehemently declared his innocence but the die was cast, Lolo had said she had tried continuously to tell Bart she wasn’t interested in him, but he wouldn’t let go. Finally, Lolo had to turn him in to H.R., which after investigating the matter, served Bart his walking papers. Apparently, Bart didn’t take kindly to the action and vowed to get his revenge with her.

Through his former Jackhammer colleague, Max Jeffrey, who apparently had a big mouth, Bart Barcliff learned that the publishing company intended to publish this wild new book written by an unknown author who might be dead. Max told him one night while they were having a few brews at the editors’ local hangout, Bar Nun, all about how they hoped to have the book released by Christmas, and it was a big crazy accident how they came across the manuscript.

It was all Lolo’s thing, Max said, with after his fifth beer loosening his tongue, added his unsolicited opinion that personally he thought the book had “its moments” but doubted it would sell much without a big-name author attached to it and they were wasting their time worrying about who wrote it. Sure, Confederacy of Dunces had been successful even with its author dead, but that was one and done, Max said. The least they could do was have their author be alive.

So that’s where Wire Paladin came in, the subversive Bart Barcliff emailing from a computer in the public library claiming to have written the book, just to screw with Lolo’s head after she screwed him, although in his case, not literally. He had no intention of getting back in touch with her, because to keep using the library’s computer to send these phony emails might get him in hock with the FBI or the library police, whoever they were, ranging from getting a maximum sentence of being tossed in jail to having his library card revoked.


One night after watching TV, the real and still living Jester Johnson scanned through the Internet looking to where he might send his new screenplay, a takeoff from the Beatles movie, A Hard Day’s Night, although he flipped the title around to call it A Hard Night’s Day.

The plot had something to do with a rock-and-roll group called The Grasshoppers who had failed miserably at becoming successful, but one they were discovered by a businessman who owned a record shop and promised to gain them riches. And the rest was history. So what if Jester had basically stolen the idea from the Beatles’ movie? Maybe this time somebody would go for his work. What did he have to lose?

And that’s where on the Internet he hit upon Jackhammer Publishers, the place where he remembered that eons ago, he had sent in a manuscript but after that getting no feedback so the heck with them. But that was long before, maybe he should try again and so what if he got rejected once more, what difference did it make to his dignity and whatever shred of self-confidence he had left?

That afternoon, he emailed in the screenplay, expecting not to hear back from Jackhammer for months, if ever. He wrote in his intro to the screenplay that he was a successful author, with a well-regarded literary magazine having published one of his recent works called Christ As You’ve Never Seen Him Before.

“This new screenplay I’m sending you,” Jester wrote, “combines pithy insights about the music industry with rip-roaring humor that’s sure to have readers unable to stop laughing out of their minds.”

Should he add that long ago he had sent Jackhammer a book called I’ll Be Rich After I’m Dead but had never heard back from them? If he included that, and if they even bothered to read his new unsolicited submission, they would regard him as just another unnoticed failed writer trying any angle he could think of to get recognized. Better leave that part out about his book since they, by their silence, had already rejected it once before and might get annoyed that he wanted them to reject it again. But maybe they had never even seen it? In that case, maybe he should dare to send in the manuscript. No, forget that idea, then he would really look pathetic.


Several days after deleting into the trash file all the new unsolicited manuscripts of books and screenplays that had arrived in her inbox, Lolo Chen wiped her bloodshot eyes and sipped on a caramel macchiato. So much junk, so little time. With her job title as Commissioning Editor to advise Jackhammer on which books they should publish, couldn’t they find anybody who could write a halfway intriguing story that might make Jackhammer a couple of bucks?

She came upon another submission, this one a screenplay from a Jester Johnson, something to do with a rock band called The Grasshoppers. Jester Johnson? The idea for his screenplay didn’t excite her. But wait a minute, the author’s name rang a bell except wasn’t he already dead? What, he was now undead? Lola set it aside for now because she was going blind overdoing looking at the computer.

On her return from lunch, she had to attend to another manuscript that her colleague Max-a-Million Jeffrey had suggested she read for possible publication about God being a transvestite but not allowed to use the girls’ bathroom. By the time she finished reading over that one, which she ultimately rejected as not only too stupid but sacrilegious, disagreeing with Max that the thing had merit, she was too tired to bother giving the Jester Johnson screenplay a further look. Maybe tomorrow, or the next day if she remembered.


Jester didn’t wait to hear back from the five different production companies where he had submitted his new screenplay. As a writer, he was supposed to write but it was hard to write when nobody apparently was interested in what he wrote.

He sat at this writing desk on the foam seat cushion designed specifically for butt pain and better sitting comfort and pondered the first chapter of a book about how living on Mars might bring him success as a writer. Of course, it was a satire on how living on Earth he was a failure. But after the first chapter, where could he go from there? Jupiter? Pluto? People wouldn’t understand his point, if there was a point.

Maybe he should go back to his other idea for a non-fiction book, although at times it sounded too much of a cliché to be marketable, the true story of how his marriage had fallen apart after his wife took exception to his announcement that he was ditching the 9-5 life to become a writer. The divorce itself wasn’t as painful as her repeatedly mocking him for being delusional that he could ever make any money in his chosen profession, not to mention she claimed he was lousy in bed. Maybe the first part about him was true, but he would have to strongly disagree with the latter accusation.

“You have a darn good well-paying job, and now you want to throw that all away on some crazy dream,” she said, upon leaving him for her mother’s house.

She didn’t understand him, he was an artist, a creative spirit, there had to be more to life than working as a crummy stockbroker on Wall Street. Once the divorce became final, he sold the house, threw out his furniture, and moved to a buddy’s apartment in Indianapolis, before finding a cheaper efficiency to live alone in the Indy suburb of Zionsville. There he would stay until he hoped to get his big break as a writer. And if he didn’t, he didn’t.

That idea on writing about his divorce he soon discarded after finishing the first chapter and deciding who wanted to read this claptrap? Maybe instead, he should write from his ex-wife’s viewpoint, it would be about her divorce, not his. Now that had possibilities, he thought. Women wanted to read how other women got through their personal pain, right? He hit the delete button–actually, who cared about that?

Jester had been living on his investments from his former stockbroker job, and occasionally got some freelance consulting financial planning work, but that was few and far between. Most of his time was spent staying alone in his room and trying to write and not getting much out of the exercise other than occasionally taking satisfaction that at least he was doing what he was meant to do.

That day he picked out of the mail from all the junk ads a notice from his landlord–due to the rising cost of maintaining his apartment complex they were raising his monthly rent by $75. Already, the rent in the Indianapolis suburbs was too high, and now this? He would have to speak to the super not only about the higher rent but could they please fix his radiator that they had promised to fix last month and still hadn’t gotten around to it? With winter approaching, freezing to death might interfere with his writing where the first responders would find his stiff dead body slumped over the keyboard to his computer.

He had scolded himself it was time to move out of this place, find something cheaper in another state where the cost of living wasn’t so high. But inertia and the hassle of moving had kept him here for too long. Maybe this rent increase would get him off the snide. It sure would help if he sold one of his literary masterpieces.


That next morning Lolo Chen clicked the mouse through more manuscripts in her in box, reading a few titles before deleting the whole pile to the trash file. Nothing had come in that excited her, held any promise that it would hit the best-seller list. Only once every so often would she come across something that held any promise.

An hour later, Max Jeffrey posited at the staff meeting that the manuscript for I’ll Be Rich After I’m Dead needed a new title, this one sounded too dark and depressing and might turn off the reading public that was confronted with a world already depressing enough what with the war in Ukraine and rising food prices not exactly turning that collective public frown upside down.

But Lolo Chen was insistent and convincing, the title was funny, sarcastic, sophisticated readers would get the joke. By 9-0, they voted in favor of keeping the title, with even the former skeptic Max Jeffrey making it unanimous.

It was good that Max had brought up the subject since Lolo had meant to start editing I’ll Be Rich…but had gotten sidetracked with staff meetings and phone calls about other things having to do with administrative details amounting to nothing. It bothered her greatly that they had no live author’s name to go with the manuscript. Lolo had to fix that and soon, if they wanted to get this book out by Christmas, now only a few months away.

Maybe it was intuition, maybe it was happenstance, maybe it was because at this moment with Jupiter in the 5th House representing expansive interest and fortuitous prospects in the arts–if you believe in astrology–that Lolo came back upon the screenplay from this Jester Johnson and today, as opposed to previous days, the guy’s writing amused her. Not that the screenplay seemed marketable, but she could see the author had a charming dark sense of humor, she’d grant him that. Jester Johnson, yes, maybe they could use that name to go with I’ll Be Rich, if everyone agreed with the idea, a funny book, even if the author was using the name of a dead man.

Another staff meeting, another vote, but this time 4-5 against Lolo’s idea. Max Jeffrey, speaking for the negative majority, pointed out hey could get sued by the true author of I’ll Be Rich, what the heck was she thinking?

She was thinking she’d like to terminate Max Jeffrey because of all his negativity about attaching a real live author’s name to the book. But that wasn’t in her power at Jackhammer. If she wanted to pursue it, she’d have to take it up with the boss and owner of the publishing company, a Ms. Jerry Jane Jackhammer. That, of course, wasn’t her real name, but Jackhammer sounded like a bold, brash, and brawny name for a publishing company. Her real name, Annabelle A. Anthony, was enthusiastic about the project, and she trusted Lolo for her smarts about whether a book could be financially successful. She also considered Max Jeffrey to be a fine copy editor, if at times too arrogant and overly sensitive when it came to somebody editing and revising his work in a third or fourth read of a manuscript.

The next day, believing in her abilities to judge a book by its cover, Lolo asked for a second vote on whether to contact this Jester Johnson. They must use an author’s name for the book, and Jester Johnson sounded as good as anything else. Maybe with a lot of editing and revising, they could also fix his screenplay as well.

This time, she won, 6-3, and with that she got on the horn to call the contact number listed on the email. Of course, she believed that the guy claiming to be Jester Johnson was using that as a fake name, maybe he had seen the death notice for the poor soul who had recently died and thought who would know the difference, particularly since the real Jester Johnson apparently was now six feet under.


His phone rang and he looked at the name that accompanied the number of who was calling–Jackhammer Publishers. Really? Could it be they liked his screenplay? No, it couldn’t be true. He had always believed to his core, as someone once said, it’s bad when things are too good.

“Hello, Jester Johnson?” the lady on the other end of the line asked.


Lolo Chen giggled. “Even if you are really dead, I think we can make you rich.”

Jester laughed too, thinking he better show he got the joke. Sure, play along, maybe he was dead, and didn’t know it.                                                                                                                              

Whatever. After all his rejections had made him proud of achieving the distinction of being one of the most unsuccessful persons in all creation, he might as well take this as far as it might flow. Even if, God forbid, it meant being successful.

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Eric Green is a freelance writer with his articles appearing in the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, Highbrow Magazine, The Insider, and a number of satirical websites including Points in Case and Humor Times.